Tag Archives: thanksgiving

Morning Thoughts: Joy Of The Cross

by Howard Hain

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My parish church was seriously damaged in a fire a few months back. It was pretty dramatic, devastating in many ways.

Since then the parish has continued on, celebrating Sunday Mass in a Union City public school gymnasium. Ironically, that public school is housed within a building that was once part of our parish community, built to stage an annual Passion Play—amazing how consecration begets consecration—grace begets grace.

Seeds long forgotten, suddenly popping up through cracks in the sidewalks.

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“…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…”

(Romans 5:20)

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Overall, the parish community over the last few months—during this period of “destruction” and “darkness”, of “uncertainty” and “grieving”—has been more alive than ever before. Amazingly enough, surely by grace, the various parish ministries seem to have expanded, at least in my unofficial and non-statistically-supported opinion. All this despite the fact that most of us have been hiding in our own upper rooms—doors tightly locked. Praying nonetheless.

No, praying all the more.

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“You are indeed Holy, O Lord….sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall…”

(Eucharistic Prayer II)

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Well, sparing you the details of our own little acts of the apostles, we received official word from the Bishop just this past weekend—Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity—that the church building will be reconstructed.

Believe me, this was not a forgone conclusion. In fact, there was good (and perhaps a better way to express it, “sober”) reason to brace for news quite the contrary.

But it will be rebuilt.

And renewed.

Praise the Lord.

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Sitting in the elementary school chapel of Saint Francis Academy this morning, just a few city streets from our still burnt-out parish structure, I thought about this fresh news. The Good News.

The Church will be rebuilt.

But that’s not how I heard it now.

No, that’s how man reported it.

God says it differently. He doesn’t report.

He speaks into being. God is the News.

And when He is most loving, He is most commanding:

“Rebuild My Church.”

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The irony is delicious, I tasted and saw; I was sitting in a little chapel named after the Original Knight of Lady Poverty, Francesco d’Assisi.

It’s a beautiful, joyful chapel, where God becomes man over and over again, and where children become disciples time and again. It is also the place where we adults, so very much pretending to be in control, came crawling to receive sanctuary—to be cared for during our days of distress.

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“Lord…look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church…”

(Order of Mass)

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Irony upon irony. Saint Francis Academy was originally an orphanage. For the past several generations it has been a beacon of what true elementary education—what true human formation—should look like—when led by the Spirit.

We have celebrated weekday Mass in the academy’s chapel almost every morning since the fire. Such generosity. Such openness. Such hospitality.

So welcoming. So joyful. So Franciscan.

So Christian.

God uses everything, always and in every way, for Good.

And He is never so creative as when manifesting new forms of humility.

For there we are, day in and day out, the homeless “know-it-alls” within the home of tiny tots. Roles reversed. Upside down. Little lambs feeding the uncertain shepherds.

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As I pondered this mystery this very morning, my little Francesca—my own little “flower”, my own little troubadour of God, my own incredible little girl—God’s little girl—to whom I have been chosen “to light and guard, to rule and guide”—tends to her studies just a few floors above.

The first-grade classroom at first glance seems impossibly small. But it’s truly a delight—safe, bright, full of promise—in spiritual reality, there is so much room.

Francesca finishes the school year this week, a week of events and performances and feasts, a week designed to catapult her and her fellow “novices” into a summer of playful absorption and merry-filled mission: public pools, French-braid festivities, and watermelon days and Italian-ice filled nights at the ever-popular Camp Grandma.

Ah, the goodness of God.

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“O Bonitas!”

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The old phase, “goodness gracious”, takes on totally new meaning. It becomes a sacrament. A sacred sigh. With divine significance. A poem made of breath. A cry announcing life.

That little one of whom I speak I love. Deeper and deeper each day. And I pray it’s all for the sake of God. For the love of God. Of His Divine Presence. The King of Kings—The Monarch of Mercy—an eagle and a butterfly—held completely captive—voluntarily held hostage—within the liquid heart of a ever-emerging child.

She is the entire universe within an ark of angelic giggles…all of creation within a jar of ceaseless surprise…the totality of God’s promise within a tabernacle of painfully-sweet joy—O Lord, may we truly learn how to pray!

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“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.”

(John 16:12-13)

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Francesca is all children. All children are Francesca. And by the Blood of Christ and the Holy Spirit of Adoption we too are now God’s children.

We are all God’s Francescas.

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Thank You, Lord, for the news. The practical and the permanent. The circumstantial and the promissorial. And thank You for expressing it Your unimaginable way.

For it is You, Lord God—the very same God who spoke to Francis nearly a thousand years ago through the Crucifix of San Damiano, a church almost completely in ruins—who now says to me, to all parishioners of the parish of Saint Joseph and Saint Michael, to all of Union City, to all of New Jersey, to all of America, and to all the world—both the world that is and the world yet to be.

And You Lord, speak quite clearly.

In fact, You speak with unbelievable clarity:

“Rebuild My Church.”


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Thanksgiving’s Coming

Thanksgiving Day’s coming Thursday in the USA and many will be with family and friends. We have just come through a brutally fought election and I wonder if some Thanksgiving gatherings this year will be as peaceful as in other years. Will fights continue over the table?

Our Mass readings these days are from the Book of Revelations and Luke’s gospel where Jesus speaks of the last times. They’re frightening, upsetting times.  “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.” (Luke 21,11)

Notice, though, the promise of peace found continually through these readings announcing chaos and destruction. “Not a hair of your head will be destroyed,” Jesus says in the gospel today. (Luke 21,19) God’s with us in the chaos.

In our Reading from Revelations today people are singing songs of victory. No matter how chaotic the times, God’s there in them, working his purpose in the chaos. The battle’s won, not lost, through the abiding power of God.

“Great and wonderful are your works,
Lord God almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
O king of the nations.”  (Revelations 15, 4)

We can sit down at Thanksgiving singing a victory song and remembering that not a hair of our head will be destroyed.

I see this year on Thanksgiving Day the church celebrates the feast of the Vietnamese martyrs killed in the 18th century. Saint Andrew Dung– Lac and 117 others were put to death in a cruel persecution of Christians. One of the characteristics of Christian martyrdom is the joy of the martyr in the midst of a frightful situation. Here’s a letter of Saint Paul Le-Bao-Tinh, one of the martyrs:

“I, Paul, in chains for the name of Christ, wish to relate to you the trials besetting me daily, in order that you may be inflamed with love for God and join with me in his praises. The prison here is a true image of everlasting hell: to cruel tortures of every kind – shackles, iron chains, manacles – are added hatred, vengeance, calumnies, obscene speech, quarrels, evil acts, swearing, curses, as well as anguish and grief. But the God who once freed the three children from the fiery furnace is with me always; he has delivered me from these tribulations and made them sweet, for his mercy is for ever.

“In the midst of  torments, that usually terrify others, I am, by the grace of God, full of joy and gladness, because I am not alone – Christ is with me.”

“I am not alone–Christ is with me.”

I suppose we can say that no matter bad we see the times, we can sit down at Thanksgiving with joy.

 

 

 

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28th Sunday C: The Gift of Life

 

To listen to this week’s homily, please select the audio file below:

Some years ago, I visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC with a cousin of mine who fought in that war. We were passing along the wall where names of those who were killed in that war were inscribed, when he stopped and pointed to a name.

One day, he said, his artillery unit was ordered to a forward position; he was the officer in charge. Just as he was ready to get into the helicopter, word came that he was wanted for a meeting at headquarters, so he got out of the helicopter and told a junior officer to take over; he would join them as soon as he could.

That day the unit took heavy fire; the name he pointed to on the wall was the officer who took his place.

“Why am I living and he’s not?” That’s a question he keeps asking, he told me. “Why am I alive?”

That’s really the ultimate question in today’s readings. The lepers who were cured by Jesus were facing death. There was no cure for their disease. Leprosy was so frightening then that those affected by it were driven from their homes and families to live in isolated places and forbidden to go near anyone. Jesus gave them the miracle of life.

It didn’t matter if you were rich or poor. Namaan, the Syrian general, whom we read about in our first reading, was one of the most powerful people in the world, but he had leprosy; it was a death sentence. In desperation he went down to Israel looking for a cure, a miracle. Washing in the Jordan River, he received the miracle of life.

The ten lepers were cured, our gospel reading says, but only one was truly thankful. The other nine seem to take the life they were given for granted. Do those nine represent most of us? The one who was thankful was a Samaritan.

Namaan, the Syrian, was also thankful. He went to the prophet Elisha after being cured and offered him gifts. No, the prophet said, life is God’s gift, not mine, and he wouldn’t take anything from the Syrian.

“Then at least let me take some dirt from this place, ‘two mule loads of earth,’” Namaan says, “so that I can take it back with me and  stand on it and remember and give thanks to God for what I have received here. “ He won’t forget the gift of life and how to use it.

That’s the great challenge we all face–not to forget that life is a gift and it’s been given to us by God to live well every moment, each day, as long as God gives it to us.

Our church is a place of thanksgiving. Above all, our church is a place where we give thanks. Our Mass is also called Eucharist, an act of thanksgiving. “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” “It’s truly right and just” that we do this. In this place we remember the God of Life who gives us life. Here too we receive a promise of life beyond this, greater than this, through Jesus Christ.

We have been given the gift of life, a precious gift. Don’t take it for granted. We thank God for it and try with all our strength to live it as we should.

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