Tag Archives: Peter

August is Here

At the start of each month I email members of the Confraternity of the Passion and anyone else who asks a calendar indicating the scripture readings for the Mass and the feast days of the saints we remember that month.

The reason I do is that following the church calendar is an important way to grow in faith.It puts us in touch with the scriptures in our daily lectionary and the wonderful world of the saints.

Reading the daily scriptures together with fellow believers throughout the world develops a common mind, as it were. Fortunately, not just Catholics use the daily lectionary, some Protestant churches use it now too; so more Christians read the same scriptures together through the year.

Praying together can bring us together, we hope. Praying the scriptures together, which the Catholic church encouraged at the Second Vatican Council, is a step towards Christian unity. Blessed Dominic Barberi, Passionist whose feast is August 26th was especially dedicated to the work of Christian unity.

This month at Mass we continue reading from Matthew’s gospel. With chapter 14, Jesus begins to establish his church, built on Peter, a rock, but a frail man who with the other disciples must follow Jesus to the cross.

The following chapters from Matthew offer an instruction about the nature of the church. Its members must care for each other and forgive those who have offended them. At the same time they’re obliged to correct their fellow Christians, even to the point of separation from the community. (Matthew 18)

During the first few weeks of August we’ll continue reading from the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers about the Jewish exodus from Egypt led by Moses. Then we’ll read about their occupation of Canaan under Joshua and the Judges.

It’s a brutal occupation. Our lectionary softens our exposure to it by limiting what we read about it, but even so, why the violence? Why so many exterminated in the name of God? The scriptures raise questions and cause objections as well as give answers and raise our hopes.

Here’s where good commentaries and wise answers help; otherwise, we lapse into biblical fundamentalism. I’m reading the commentaries from the New American Bible, which recognize we can’t read these books as literal history. There’s a human hand at work in them.

God reveals himself progressively to the human family, which is intent on its own welfare and quick to destroy rather than build. God works in mud. Here’s a quote I like:

“Progressive revelation throughout Israel’s history produced far more lofty ideals, as when the prophets see all the nations embracing faith in Yahweh, being joined to Israel, and living in peace with one another (Is 2:2419:232545:2225Zec 8:2223), and the New Testament teaches us to love even our enemies (Mt 5:4345).” (New American Bible, Commentary)

There’s another way to look at the violence and exterminations found in the Book of Joshua:

“The theological message of the book is unmistakable. God has been faithful to the promise of the land. If Israel relies totally on the Lord for victory; if Israel is united as a people; if the law of herem is kept and no one grows rich from victory in war—then and only then will Israel possess the land.”

We’re a long way from possessing the land. “Your kingdom come.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Martha, Martha

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We read St. Luke’s account of Jesus’ visit to Bethany for the Feast of St. Martha. It’s part of Jesus’ journey from Galilee to Jerusalem (Luke 10,38-42), a journey Luke describes,  not by miles, but by the people Jesus meets.

Jesus is a prophet speaking God’s word as he goes. Some reject him outright on his way to Jerusalem.  Jesus enters the house of Martha and Mary as a prophet speaking God’s word. Unfortunately Martha, busy about many things, misses his word and Jesus rebukes her. Mary hears his word and is praised. Good as she is, Martha’s carrying too many of the “cares of this life” when Jesus visits.

That’s what Luke wants us to learn from this gospel- the cares of this life can get in the way of hearing God’s word. But we all know there’s more to Martha than what Luke tells us here. Other New Testament sources praise this good woman.  John’s gospel, for example, says that  Jesus was a long time friend of Lazarus and his sisters in Bethany.

I keep two other sources in mind when I read Luke’s story.  One is a painting (above) by the 13th century Tuscan artist, Giovanni di Milano, showing Jesus with Martha and Mary at Bethany.

The artist imagines a supper at Bethany. The table’s set for four people– that would be Jesus, Lazarus, Mary and Martha. But look at the others coming in the door. Obviously, they’re Jesus’ disciples, led by Peter. One disciple gestures towards Peter, as if saying, “He told us to come.”

Poor Martha in her apron holds up her hands in frustration, “What are we going to do?”
There will be no miracle. The miracle is Martha’s hospitality. Thanks to her,  more than four are going to be fed. We need artists like di Milano to flesh out what the gospels say.

The other source I like is St. Augustine who obviously has a soft spot for Martha and the work she does. Both Martha and Mary had the same holy desire, Augustine says: “ They stayed close to our Lord and both served him harmoniously when he was among them.”

Martha served him as the “Word made flesh,” who was hungry and thirsty, tired and in need of human care and support. She longs to share what Mary enjoys, his presence, his wisdom and his gifts. And she will find her desires fulfilled.

“You, Martha, if I may say so, will find your service blessed and your work rewarded with peace. Now you are much occupied in nourishing the body, admittedly a holy one. But when you come to the heavenly homeland you will find no traveller to welcome, no one hungry to feed or thirsty to give drink, no one to visit or quarreling to reconcile, no one dead to bury.”

“No, there will be none of these tasks there. What you will find there is what Mary chose. There we shall not feed others, we ourselves shall be fed. What Mary chose in this life will be realized there in full. She was gathering only fragments from that rich banquet, the Word of God. Do you wish to know what we will have there? The Lord himself tells us when he says of his servants, Amen, I say to you, he will make them recline and passing he will serve them.”

Want to see Bethany, home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Take a look here.

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The Feast of Peter and Paul

The church of Rome considers Peter and Paul her founders. They came to the city and preached and died  there during the persecution by Nero in the early 60s. Their burial places, marked by great churches, St. Peter at the Vatican and St. Paul Outside the Walls, are among the treasures of the city.

They could not be more unlike: Paul, the educated Pharisee from Tarsus, who came late to Christianity and like a runner raced from place to place in the Roman world to plant the faith. In the end, he believed God would give him “a crown of righteousness”  for his mighty efforts.

Peter,  the fisherman from Galilee, was named by Jesus  the Rock on whom he would build his church. He denied Jesus three times and then was called by Jesus  three times  to shepherd the flock. Warily, he went to Caesarea to baptize a Roman soldier, Cornelius. Then, he went to the gentile cities of Antioch and Rome to tell the story of the One he had seen with his own eyes.

We ask for Paul’s zealous faith to bring the gospel to the world before us, and Peter’s deep love for Jesus Christ which he voiced at the Sea of Galilee and at his preaching and death.

St. Augustine commented on this feast and on the threefold call Jesus made to Peter. Jesus called three times to conquer the apostle’s “self-assurance.”

“Quite rightly, too, did the Lord after his resurrection entrust his sheep to Peter to be fed. Not that he alone  was fit to feed the Lord’s sheep, but when Christ speaks to one, he calls us to be one. And he first speaks to Peter, because Peter is the first among the apostles.

“Do not be sad, Peter. Answer once, answer again, answer a third time. Let confession conquer three times with love, because your self-assurance was conquered three times by fear. What you had bound three times must be loosed three times. Loose through love what you had bound through fear. And for all that, the Lord once, and again, and a third time, entrusted his sheep to Peter.”

“Today we celebrate the  the passion of two apostles. These two  were as one; although they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, Paul followed. We are celebrating a feast day consecrated for us by the blood of the apostles. Let us love their faith, their lives, their labors, their sufferings, their confession of faith, their preaching.”

“May your church in all things

follow the teaching of those

through whom she has received

the beginning of right religion.”

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The Council of Jerusalem

Our reading at Mass today from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 15, 7-21) brings us to a critical moment in the life of the early church– the Council of Jerusalem, which decided whether and on what terms gentiles would be accepted into the new Christian movement. Its decision to admit the gentiles led to a rapid expansion of the church as non-Jews from all parts of the Roman world became Christians.

Luke Timothy Johnson has a fine commentary on this crucial event. (Acts of the Apostles: Sacra Pagina, Liturgical Press 1992)

Did a meeting really take place? Johnson writes “we can state with considerable confidence that in the first decades of the Christian movement an important meeting was held concerning the legitimacy and basis of the Gentile mission; that participants included Paul and Peter and James and Barnabas; that certain agreements were reached which, in one way or another, secured the basic freedom of the Gentile initiative. The most striking agreement between the sources comes, in fact, at the religious level. With only very slight variation, both Luke and Paul agree that the basis of the mission to the Gentiles was a matter of God’s gift, (Acts15,11. Gal 2,9) and that God was equally at work in the Apostle Paul as he was in the Apostle Peter. (Acts 15,7-8.12; Gal 2,8)

Notice the hesitancy of  the original Jewish followers of Jesus to accept gentiles into their ranks. That’s evident in Peter’s strong reluctance to meet the Roman centurion Cornelius as he visits believers of his own kind around Joppa. Not only are the disciples slow to recognize their Risen Lord, they’re slow to accept his plans for expanding their ranks. Peter must see signs of God at work in Cornelius before baptizing him and his household. Paul, James and Barnabas also must see God’s gifts in the outsiders they meet before they recognize that God is calling them to believe.

God sows seeds of faith, but we’re as slow to recognize the action of God in others and other situations as the first disciples were. We have trouble seeing God’s action in the stranger and in the unexpected. We need  enlightenment.

Johnson notes that the Church’s journey through time is marked by conflict and debate. We must accept those conditions today too. Those who follow Jesus will not always agree with each other; there are strong opinions and differences among believers.

One thing I would add. Besides conflict and debate, our reading today speaks of the “silence” that comes as they debate. We’re in the presence of our transcendent God, whose ways and thoughts are above ours. We need silence to discern God’s will. Debates can get in the way.

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It’s the Lord!

sinful man
John 21, 1-18

I think I know where this gospel took place– Tabgha, a quiet, wooded area on the Lake of Galilee just south of the ancient town of Capernaum. Easy walking distance from the town that was the center of Jesus’ ministry.

The name Tabgha comes from the seven springs of water flowing into the lake there. When I visited some years ago, flocks of birds were singing in the trees and drinking from the streams of water.

For centuries fishermen must have pulled for fresh water from the springs, and perhaps fry some fish over a fire on the beach. It’s a likely place where Jesus would come to pray. Tradition– two centuries-old churches are on the site–says he met his disciples here after his resurrection.

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John’s gospel says that Peter and other disciples of Jesus came to Galilee after the Lord’s death and resurrection and went fishing. Through the night they caught nothing, but at dawn they heard a call from the shore to cast their nets out again.
“… Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.”

They caught of large catch of 153 fish. Jesus then called from the shore to come eat some fish at a fire he had started and he gave them bread and some fish to eat and revealed himself to them.

Peter has a leading role in this story. He jumped into the water to get to the shore. Then after they have eaten, Jesus takes him aside and three times asks the disciple who denied him three times, “Do you love me?” A beautiful statue  (above) marks that moment.

Three times the apostle who cursed and swore in the courtyard of the High Priest that he did not even know Jesus answers “Yes, I do. I love you.” And Jesus tells him “Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep.”

A great example of forgiveness . No scolding words or recriminations. No “I told you so.” No warning, “You do that again and …” No demotion, no putting on parole. Rather, Jesus gives Peter new responsibility. “Feed my lambs” as I do. A beautiful picture of God’s mercy.

Instead of punishing him, God calls Peter to new things. The mercy of God always calls us to something new, some new life.

Tabgha, along the Lake of Galilee where Jesus met his disciples, is a wonderful place to visit. I wonder if Jesus prayed here during his days in Capernaum and called his disciples to rest awhile. Here he communed with God his Father; here he prayed and forgave. His memory lingers at this lovely place besides the Sea of Galilee.

Prayer and forgiveness go together Jesus taught. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Today’s gospel tells us to pray and forgive. Maybe  someone  has hurt us, maybe there’s some situation we’re facing now. A job we don’t like, a home situation we’re angry about, something in society that upsets us.

Pray and forgive.

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Revelation

    In this Wednesday’s Gospel ( MT 16: 13-18 ) Jesus asks His disciples:

            ” ‘ Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ They replied, ‘ Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Then Simon Peter said in reply,’ You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. ‘  Jesus said to him in reply,’Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.'”

    Over the last week I have allowed myself to be angered and distressed by the news on TV. Out of so many things, what I found most disturbing was the underreported story that the Congress is quietly crafting nearly 100 “riders” that take away or degrade all types of environmental laws, from energy conservation, to the Endangered Species Act, to the protection of the oceans, rivers , lakes, groundwater, and air. There seems to be no way to stop these new laws from being enacted.

    I feel helpless. I even feel embarrassed to ask my Lord Jesus, in prayer, “Why?” . In the darkness I feel Him asking me, ” Who do you say that I am? Am I just a nice priest or prophet to be remembered and venerated? Do you believe that I am the Son of the Living God? Don’t you trust that I am the Savior of the world? Do you have faith that I AM in charge? Don’t you know how much I love my creation?”

    His soothing presence reminds me that only by loving can I begin to do anything about these problems. So I surrender myself, in hope and confidence, to His Will. Like Peter, I confess His kingship. I will be His instrument. He will show me the way.

    And I am not alone. I am part of a great community of love, His Church, where I meet so many good people who want to do good for this world. We also have Peter’s successor, Pope Francis. He is a compassionate man, a rock of righteousness, a strong voice in our world, strong enough to reach the ears of the powerful. His message advocates for the poor, the oppressed, the dispossessed, and also reminds us of our urgent need to protect God’s Creation.

    So, Beloved Heavenly Father, never mind my thoughts and the thoughts of men. You have given me confidence in You, and I thank You for Your Revelation: Christ lives, and loves, and cares for us . We are not floundering alone in a wild, threatening sea. We are standing on firm rock.

Orlando Hernández

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The Chair of Peter

,Holy Spirit

The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter has been celebrated on February 22nd  in the Roman Catholic Church since the 4th century. This was the day the ancient Romans remembered their dead, and so today we remember the founders of our church, Peter and Paul.

The chair is a teacher’s chair, not a royal throne. It has a symbolic place behind the main altar of Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica.  A window bearing the symbol of the Holy Spirit casts its light on the chair and those who sit upon it, Peter the Apostle and those who succeed him.

Today’s a good day to look at our present “chairman” Pope Francis ,who became pope on March 13, 2013 and ask what’s he teaching?

From his first days as pope he has taught simplicity by the way he lives and relates to people. He also has consistently shown a love for the poor. He’s calling the church to be what he says is ” a field hospital,” a church that welcomes the wounded and struggling peoples of this world.  As countries worldwide close their borders to growing numbers of immigrants, he is asking that we build bridges, not walls.

In one of his first letters after becoming pope Francis called for joy in the gospel, joy in the challenge of reaching out to the world that God always loves. His great encyclical letter, Laudato Si, which he addressed to all the peoples of the world, addresses the crucial question of climate change. Together, as a worldwide community, we need to care for creation as our common home. Recently, the pope addressed the important relationships of marriage and family, which summed up the deliberations of a previous church synod.

A teacher needs students; a shepherd needs sheep to follow him.

Today is a good time to visit that great church built over the tomb of Peter and pray for the church’s teacher and shepherd today: Pope Francis.

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