Learn from the Fig Tree

Jesus told his disciples a parable.
“Consider the fig tree and all the other trees.
When their buds burst open,
you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near;
in the same way, when you see these things happening,
know that the Kingdom of God is near.
Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away
until all these things have taken place.
Heaven and earth will pass away, 
but my words will not pass away.”

Luke 21:29-33

The same day we read the terrifying night visions from the Book of Daniel in our lectionary (Daniel 7) Jesus offers a parable about the fig tree and other trees. Learn from them– summer is near.

It’s another way to see the coming of God’s kingdom. It will be like the coming of summer, the earth flowering in abundance, Jesus promises. 

The coming of God’s kingdom doesn’t destroy creation but brings it a surprising summer. 

Saving Santa Claus

Santa’s coming to town for Macy’s annual Thanksgiving Parade. From the parade he’ll go into the store  for Black Friday and be there for the rest of the days till Christmas.

But Santa Claus is more than a salesman, isn’t he? He’s a saint– Saint Nicholas. He reminds us Christmas is for giving rather than getting. His story of quiet giving mirrors God’s love shown in Jesus Christ.

Telling his story is one of the ways we can save Santa Claus from being captured by Macys and Walmart and all the rest. First, take a look at our version for little children. Then, you might want to go on to our  modest contribution for bigger children– like us:

A Thanksgiving Prayer

Noah

Thanksgiving is a good time to remember our blessings, starting with Creation itself . “All it takes is one good person” like Noah, Pope Francis says in “Laudatory Si’. Here’s his prayer:

All-powerful God,
you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned
and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty,
not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Saint Andrew Dũng-Lạc, Priest, and Companions, Martyrs

3 children 1

Three Men in the Fiery Furnace. Roman Catacombs

On November 24 Catholics celebrate the feast of Saint Andrew Dung– Lac and 117 other Vietnamese martyrs killed in the 18th century in a cruel persecution of Christians. They are remembered as martyrs who gave their lives for their faith; their martyrdom also caused many non-Christians in their native land to inquire what made them so brave to endure such suffering and death. “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christianity,” the early Christian writer Tertullian said.

Since their time, many others in Vietnam have bravely given witness to their faith in wars and long years of persecution. Christianity is now strongly rooted in that part of the world.

The joy of the martyr has always puzzled those who do not share their faith. How can someone be joyful in the midst of great torture and pain. Here’s a letter of Saint Paul Le-Bao-Tinh, one of the Vietnamese 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.”

“Christ is with me. I am not alone–Christ is with me.” That’s the faith that enables Christians to enter the mystery of the passion of Jesus and know the joy of his resurrection. It’s a faith that explains the strength of the Church in Vietnam.

The Book of Revelation and the Gospel of Luke

The Book of Revelation and the Gospel of Luke

The two scriptures brought together these last two weeks in our lectionary are an interesting combination. The Book of Revelation with its stark imagery of the destruction the end times brings is paired with the Gospel of Luke. 

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great.
She has become a haunt for demons.
She is a cage for every unclean spirit,
a cage for every unclean bird,
a cage for every unclean and disgusting beast.                                                     A mighty angel picked up a stone like a huge millstone
and threw it into the sea and said: ‘With such force will Babylon the great city be thrown down, and will never be found again.’ (Rev 18: 24-26)

Luke’s Gospel recalls Jesus and his disciples entering Jerusalem, the city sparkling with its almost completed temple. The disciples are dazzled by the massive new structure. There will not not one stone left on other, Jesus says, warning of the frail world we live in. Yet, Jesus is much more optimistic about life in this world than Revelation is. He speaks of the mercy of God. On his way to Jerusalem he keeps calling sinners. He does so even as he dies on the cross. He never looks at the world as unredeemable. He calls the tax collector, Zachaeus, but he never tells him to give up his job. He warns against burying your talent in the ground. Not matter how bad the times are, we have something to do. He also said not to search into the time and day the Son of Man will come. Our cross is a daily cross, Jesus says. He will help us bear it till he comes again.  

 The best commentators on scripture are the scriptures themselves, St. Augustine taught, and so we read the Book of Revelation and the Gospel of Luke together.

At our evening prayer we read from the Book of Revelation frequently but not its grim passages about the fall of Babylon. We read the beautiful promises of life beyond this. At the end of the day, we go into the night listening to the songs they are singing in heaven.  There’s going to be a great day. 

St. Clement of Rome

St. Clement of Rome is honored in an ancient church near the Colosseum,    probably built over his home. A wonderful place to visit when in Rome. He wrote an important letter around the year 95 to the church at Corinth, which was having troubles with its leadership.

After the death of the apostles there was no blueprint for church administration; the change from apostles like Paul and charismatic preachers like Apollo to bishops was not an easy one for early communities like the Corinthians. It was not an easy change for the church in Rome either. 

New structures were evolving, and Clement is an important witness in their evolution. In his letter he appeals to the Corinthians to do what Jesus told his followers to do: follow him as one flock follows its shepherd. They must walk together.

Using the the Roman legions as an analogy, Clement urges them to be like soldiers who depend on one another. They must be a community to be the church of Jesus Christ.

“Think of the soldiers who serve under our generals, and with what order, obedience, and submissiveness they perform the things which are commanded them. Not all are prefects, nor commanders of a thousand, nor of a hundred, nor of fifty, nor the like, but each one in his own rank performs the things commanded by the king and the generals. The great cannot subsist without the small, nor the small without the great. There is a kind of mixture in all things, and thence arises mutual advantage.

“Let us take our body for an example. The head is nothing without the feet, and the feet are nothing without the head. The very smallest members of our body are necessary and useful to the whole body. All work harmoniously together and they are under one common rule for the preservation of the whole body.

“In Christ Jesus let our whole body be preserved intact. Let every one of us be subject to his neighbor, according to the special gift bestowed upon him.

“Let the strong not despise the weak, and let the weak show respect to the strong. Let the rich provide for the wants of the poor; and let the poor bless God, who has given them what they need. Let the wise display their wisdom, not by mere words, but through good deeds. Let the humble not bear testimony to themselves, but leave witness to be borne to them by others. Let those who are pure in the flesh not grow proud of it and boast, knowing another has bestowed the gift of continence on them.

“Let us consider, then, brothers and sisters, of what matter we were made. Let us consider how we came into this world, as it were out of a grave, and from utter darkness: who and what manner of beings we were. God who made us and fashioned us, having prepared bountiful gifts for us before we were born, introduced us into this world.

“Since we receive all these things from God, we ought for everything to give God thanks; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Evidently, the problem of church leadership Clement addressed was not limited to Corinth. His letter was read in a number of other Christian communities at the time. The transition from apostles to bishops was not an easy one; the Roman church faced it as well.

Historians like Eamon Duffy see the Roman church originating in the large, thriving Jewish community in Rome which was concentrated in Trastevere and spread out to found numerous synagogues in the city– some of which evolved into early Christian house churches. Peter and Paul, who came to the city and were put to death there in the Neronian persecution ( 62-63 AD), were acknowledged and celebrated by these house churches as their leaders in faith. 

“The Roman synagogues,” Duffy writes, “unlike their counterparts in Antioch, had no central organization. Each one conducted its own worship, appointed its own leaders and cared for its own members. The same way, the ordering of the early Christian community in Rome seems to have reflected the organization of the synagogues which had originally sheltered it, and to have consisted of a constellation of independent churches, meeting in the houses of the wealthy members of the community. Each of these house churches had its own leaders, the elders or ‘presbyters’. They were mostly made up of immigrants, with a high proportion of slaves or freedman among them–the name of Pope Eleutherius means ‘freedman’.”(Saints and Sinners. A History of the Popes. Eamon Duffy, Yale University Press, 1997 p 6)

Rome was slow to recognize a chief bishop, Duffy and other historians claim. Clement was later recognized in the list of popes, but more likely he was spokesman for the Roman house churches, representing an eminent church whose leaders were apostles, Peter and Paul. He was designated to write to the Corinthians urging them to unity under their bishop.

The papacy as we know it emerged slowly. San Clemente and Saints John and Paul nearby are two Roman house churches from the early Christian period. Visit them if you’re in Rome.

San Clemente, 1800s
Saints John and Paul

The Presentation of Mary in the Temple

Mary temple

Mary, Presented in the Temple: Giotto

The Presentation of Mary, November 21,  is an ecumenical feast that originated early on in the church of Jerusalem.  A  Jerusalem tradition claims Mary was born there near the temple where her father Joachim provided lambs for the temple sacrifices. He and his wife Ann, old and childless, were blessed with a daughter whom they presented in the temple as a little child. The tradition is honored by Christian churches of the east and west.

The church of St. Ann in Jerusalem, situated today next to the ancient temple site, was built on the place where Mary was born, this tradition says, though other places, like Nazareth and a city nearby, Sepphoris, also claim to be her birthplace.

st.ann basilica

Church of St. Ann, Jerusalem

The Jerusalem tradition seems to have some support in Luke’s gospel, which says that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was married to Zechariah, a temple priest. Mary’s family, then, would be connected to the temple.

Luke links Mary a number of times to the temple. Forty days after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph go there “when the days were completed for their purification,” (Luke 2,22) Luke also says they brought Jesus as a child to the temple to celebrate the feasts. Jesus calls the temple familiarly “my Father’s house.”

Another early source, the apocryphal  gospel of James. suggests Mary was presented in the temple as a little girl and suggests she lived there until her arranged marriage to Joseph. The four gospels seem to place Mary in Nazareth, far from the temple, for most of her life. That’s where the angel speaks to her, Lukes’ gospel indicates.    

Can we say that for Mary the temple, home of prophets and wisdom,  signifies God’s presence. Like Jesus she loved that holy place, but like him she believed the temple of God can be found everywhere, in Nazareth, Bethlehem, even on Calvary.(cf. John 4, 22-26) “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Paul would say later to the Corinthians. (1 Corinthians 3, 16) 

St. Paul of the Cross, founder of the Passionists, had a great devotion to this mystery and dedicated his first retreat on Monte Argentario in Italy to the Presentation of Mary. On this feast, over three hundred years ago today, he received the habit of a hermit from Bishop Gatinara in northern Italy, and a few days later entered upon a 40 day retreat where he experienced the presence of God. He named the first retreat of his congregation after the mystery of Mary’s Presentation and returned to that retreat each year, when he could, to pray there during her feast.

Please pray for the Passionists, the community he founded, that we may find God’s presence today and gain wisdom from Mary, the Mother of God.

34TH SUNDAY: READINGS AND FEASTS

NOVEMBER 21 Mon Presentation of Mary Memorial Rv 14:1-3, 4b-5/Lk 21:1-4  22 Tue St Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr Memorial. Rv 14:14-19/Lk 21:5-11  23 Wed Weekday[St Clement I, Pope  Martyr; St Columban, Abbot; USA: Blessed Miguel Agustín Pro, PriestMartyr] Rv 15:1-4/Lk 21:12-19  24 Thu St Andrew Dũng-Lạc, Priest, Companions, Martyrs Memorial [USA: Thanksgiving Day] Rv 18:1-2, 21-23; 19:1-3, 9a/Lk 21:20-28  25 Fri Weekday [Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr] Rv 20:1-4, 11—21:2/Lk 21:29-33  26 Sat Weekday 26 [BVM] Rv 22:1-7/Lk 21:34-36  27 SUN FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT Is 2:1-5/Rom 13:11-14/Mt 24:37-44

Thursday is ThanksgivingDay in the USA, a day at home with family and friends. The readings for most of this week, from the Book of Revelation and the Gospel of Luke, describe a world turned upside down. Hardly readings for enjoying a family feast in the security of your home. 

But faith embraces a world upset and a world secure.

Martyrs also are remembered this week. Cecilia, Clement, Andrew Dung-Lac and companions, Catherine of Alexandria.

Monday, Presentation of Mary in the Temple, is a special feast for the Passionists. Pray for them.

Next week Advent begins. Christ comes.

King of the Suffering

                                                                                                                                             By Orlando Hernandez

       Wow! Advent and Christmas are coming up so fast! The Feast of Christ the King is upon us. In Year C, the Gospel for this feast (LK 23: 35-46) presents us with the powerful story of Jesus and “the Good Thief” upon their crosses, side by side. Years ago my Pastor once preached that this Gospel displays the kingly power of Jesus, that of pardoning wrongdoers. This is no small thing. It is the very nature of our all-powerful, all-loving God.

       Upon reading this Gospel I cannot help but remember a Passionist prayer that I “fell into” two years ago. My patron saint, Paul of the Cross, recommends that we remember and meditate upon different scenes in the Passion of our Lord. In an Ignatian sort of way we are to plunge into, to get lost in a particular scene. It will not be pleasant at all, but Our Father in Heaven will reward us with the magnificent grace of experiencing the Divine Love of the Trinity.

       So I tried to pray as Paul of the Cross suggests. I tried to relax and quiet my mind and asked, “Father, what moment of His Passion means the most to me?” A flood of images came. I was ready to give up, when suddenly I imagined myself on a cross squirming in pain, suffocating, and begged my God to deliver me from this suffering. I felt a gentle force moving my head to the right. There I saw my Lord Jesus on His own Cross. Beneath Him people were mocking Him, laughing at Him, “dissing” Him (“King of the Jews, Hah!, King of Losers!”). Even my crucified accomplice  on the other side of Jesus was putting Him down. I tried to defend Him, admit our sinfulness,  His innocence, but it did no good. I asked Jesus for His mercy. His eyes turned to me and He promised me Eternal Life. I got lost in those eyes. He was beautiful; He was beauty itself. 

       I rested in that Beauty until a terrible storm and the unbearable pain in my body brought me back to the awful scene. They were breaking the legs of my screaming accomplice. I looked to Jesus for help, but He was gone, His head down. It seemed He could do nothing to console me. I was all alone. The executioner’s club struck my knees mercilessly. I screamed in pain as my body collapsed. I could not breathe!

       Suddenly I found myself attached to a respirator in an ICU unit. It wasn’t working. I was suffocating, alone, along with every other victim of COVID in the planet. I could not even scream. 

       My eyes opened, and they were full of tears. I was sitting comfortably in my “prayer armchair” wondering, “Was this just a daydream? It was so real. Why did you give me this vision? (If it was a vision), Lord? What are you telling me?” There was only silence. My mind, body and soul rested in this silence. What I perhaps felt the most was gratitude and awe before the love of this all-powerful God.

       “He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. 

        Because of this, God greatly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name,

        that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,

        of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth 

        and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2: 8-11)