Monthly Archives: February 2015

2nd Sunday of Lent B Jesus is Transfigured

To listen to today’s homily, select the audio file below:

Immediately before the account of his transfiguration on the mountain, which we read in Mark’s gospel this Sunday, Jesus and his disciples go up north to the villages around Caesarea Philippi, a major gentile city of the day. Mount Hermon, the great snow capped mountain that’s the principal water source for the Lake of Galilee and the Jordan River dominates that region. In bible, mountains are places close to God, where God reveals himself.

So here Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Some say you’re Elijah, John the Baptist come back from the dead, the disciples say. “Who do you say I am?” he said. “You are the Messiah,” Peter replied.

But as Jesus goes on to tell them he’s going to “suffer greatly, be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes and be killed and rise after three days,” Peter stops him. No, that’s not going to happen to you. That’s not the Messiah I mean. Jesus turns to him and says “Get behind me Satan, you are not thinking as God does, but as human beings do.”

‘You are not thinking as God does, but as human beings do.” Mark’s gospel, more than the others, insists that despite his teaching and the wonders Jesus works, his own disciples whom you would expect would know him best, don’t understand him that well. They think as human beings do. Of course we do too.

And so Jesus takes them up the mountain and is temporarily transfigured before them. It’s a temporary experience. A brief encounter. His clothes become a dazzling white. The great traditional figures of Moses and Elijah appear; a terrifying cloud overshadows them, a voice says “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” That’s the way the gospels describe it.

The disciples want more. Peter wants to set up tents so they can stay there. But then it’s over. They only have a glimpse of the One who walks with them. After they come down from the mountain they still don’t understand him.

But, still, they follow him.

The mystery of the transfiguration of Jesus reminds us that God periodically reveals himself to us. Periodically,we have intimations,  glimpses of God. We can’t create that experience on our own. God makes himself known. In St. Luke’s account of the transfiguration, he seems to indicate that prayer is one way to enter God’s presence.

And so we do all we can, we wait for him like  the disciples, but we’re absorbed in our human thinking. “Thinking like human beings.”

The mystery of the transfiguration also offers the promise of something that awaits us, something that is permanent, and not temporary. “Follow me.” Jesus says. We try to get ready for him. God will come, but here in this life he comes when he wills. We wait, we watch, we listen.  Jesus saysa Kingdom is coming, where the limitation of human thoughts and actions passes away and our waiting is ended and we shall see God face to face, not for a time but for eternity.
“This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”

The first reading for today is from the Book of Genesis. It begins “God put Abraham to the test.” He’s tempted. He takes his only son up a mountain to kill him. What a test that is to our human way of thinking. His only son, his beloved son. Everything he put his hopes in.

For Abraham this was the greatest temptation he or anyone could face. Everything’s lost; nothing more to live for. But God tells him  he’s not lost everything. No, he hasn’t. Go beyond your human thinking. God is for us, not against us.

Ist Sunday of Lent: The Human Jesus


To listen to today’s homily please play the audio selection below:

Mark’s gospel gives a short, straightforward account of Jesus facing temptation after his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist. In just four lines he says that

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,

and he remained in the desert for forty days,

tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.” (Mark 1, 12-13)

Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 4,1-11) gives a more extensive account of the temptations Jesus faced, as does Luke who follows Matthew rather closely. (Luke 4,1-13)

In John’s gospel we have no account of the temptation of Jesus in the desert, but in chapter 1, 10-11 he says “He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.” A strong indication of the opposition that Jesus, the Word of God, received when he came into this world.

He was opposed. He did not come among us as a kind of superman, immune from human hurt or human frailty. He was tempted, the gospels say, opposed by “Satan” by “the world” and even by “his own.” So strong was the opposition that it eventually put him to death.

It’s so important to see the human Jesus, his vulnerability, how like us he was. Yes, he was God’s Son, but the Word became flesh, St. John says. Equal to God, he emptied himself, St. Paul says, and took the form of a slave, and became obedient even to death on the cross.

When we look at Jesus in his humanity, we wonder, first of all, at God’s love coming to a world of weakness and frailty, our world. We can also see ourselves in his humanity, in the temptations and opposition he faces as a human being in his lifetime, and particularly as he enters his Passion.

Of all the gospels, Mark’s gospel gives us the most realistic picture of the human Jesus. Mark doesn’t describe the temptations Jesus faces in the desert at the beginning of his gospel because he will describe them as Jesus makes his way through the towns of Galilee where he gathers disciples and meets opposition from the scribes and Pharisees. The growing opposition he meets there leads to Jerusalem, where he’s put to death.

Mark’s account of the Passion of Jesus shows us Jesus fearful in the garden and crying out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!”

When we see Jesus we see ourselves. We live in a world where we face temptation. When we look to him, however, we see where our wisdom and strength and courageous patience can come from. Following Jesus, we will live.

Friday after Ash Wednesday

Lent 1
Mt 9, 14-15

The 30 or so years that Jesus Christ lived on earth are brief on the timeline of human history. Hardly visible at all. But we believe Jesus, “in the fullness of time,” changed the way we look at life and time itself in those years. He’s God’s revelation to us.

His first disciples saw him, listened to his words, followed him and told us about him. They tell us very little about his birth and early years. The part of his life they tell us most about is the story of his death and resurrection. It’s the longest story in the gospels and we believe it’s the key to understandi the One “who is, who was and is to come.”

How can we understand that story best? Shall we study it academically, maybe read a popular book like Bill O”Reilly’s “Killing Jesus”? Shall we ask historians or scholars what it means?

My community, the Passionists, always begins Lent by celebrating on the day before Ash Wednesday the Feast of the Prayer of Jesus in the Garden. The feast points out the best way to share in the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection– enter the Garden of Gethsemane and pray there with Jesus.

Gethsemane is more than a place, it’s an experience humanity shares. Jesus came to the garden in his humanity and faced there the mystery of death, the fears and helplessness it brings, the questions about God’s care, God’s love and God’s will that humanity faces.

He shares our humanity. We enter the garden–not to fall asleep or simply observe Jesus at prayer–but to face death as he faced it, to face our fears and questions about God’s will and care that he faced then, and to draw divine support as he did.

In his spiritual diary, St. Paul of the Cross said that sharing the humanity of Christ leads to sharing his divinity; meditating on his death and resurrection leads us to new life.

“I also had knowledge of the soul united in a bond of love to the Sacred
Humanity and, at the same time, dissolved and raised to a deep, conscious, and
felt knowledge of the Divinity. For since Jesus is both God and Man, the soul
cannot be united in love to the Sacred Humanity without being at the same time
dissolved and brought to a deep, conscious, felt knowledge of the Divinity.” (Diary)

Thank you, Father, for the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ,
the Word who made the universe,
the Savior you sent to redeem us,
who came as one like us
to make us one with you.

Ash Wednesday and Mystical Death

for Swahili

A letter St. Paul of the Cross wrote about “mystical death” may help us celebrate Ash Wednesday.

“You can live as a true servant and friend of God by dying each day: ‘We die daily; for you are dead and your life is hidden with Christ in God.’ It’s a mystical death I want you to undergo. I’m confident that you will be reborn to new life in the sacred mysteries of Jesus Christ, if you die mystically in Christ more and more each day, in the depths of the Divinity. Let your life be hidden with Christ in God…

“Think about a mystical death. Dying mystically means thinking only of living a divine life, desiring only God, accepting everything God sends without worrying about it. It means ignoring everything else so that God can work in your soul, in the sanctuary of your soul, where no creature, angelic or human, can go and where you can experience God working and being born, as you mystically die.

“But I’m in a hurry, and this note is getting too mystical, so listen to it with a grain of salt, because we don’t get it.”    (Letter, Dec 28, 1758)


Ash Wednesday’s a good time to try to “get” what the saint is saying.  Ashes are placed on our foreheads in the form of a cross and a few simple words are said: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

A reminder we will die. Yet, this brief symbolic act says much more. A daily mystical death is now taking place within us. Our physical life will end, the ashes tell us; the day and hour unknown. But ashes in the form of a cross say Jesus Christ changes death. “Dying, you destroyed our death. Rising, you restored our life.” Jesus Christ has made his risen life ours. His gift is hidden from us; what he promises we will experience when we enter his glory.

Meanwhile, the mystery of his death and resurrection is at work in us now. Enter this mystery mystically, St. Paul of the Cross says. Daily, deliberately, attentively accept God working within you. A new life is being born in you, though you do not see it.  Desire it, accept what God sends, without worry. God is working within you through the mystery of the Lord’s cross.

Yet, the saint says in his letter that he has to hurry off, like the rest of us, to something else. He’s going somewhere, he has something to do, someone to see, and he tells his correspondent that you can’t think about deep things too long. No, we can’t.

And so, we only glimpse the mystery of the ashes that placed on us. Still, let’s hear the Lord’s voice in today’s readings and the signs of the liturgy. Ash Wednesday is an ambassador God sends to remind us he is at work in us; he’ll send  graces through the days of Lent and Easter. Yes, all the days of our life.

Embrace his cross each day and die mystically and be born anew.

En Espanol

Una carta que San Pablo de la Cruz escribió sobre “la muerte mística” nos podría ayudar a celebrar el Miércoles de Cenizas.

“Tú puedes vivir como un verdadero ciervo y amigo de Dios si murieras cada día: ‘ Morimos diariamente; porque tú estas muerto y tú vida está oculta adentro de Cristo en Dios.’ Es una muerte mística a la que yo quiero que tú te sometas. Tengo confianza de que tú renacerás a una nueva vida dentro de los sagrados misterios de Jesús Cristo, si tú mueres misticamente en Cristo más y más cada día, en las profundidades de la Divinidad. Deja que tu vida se pierda dentro de Cristo en Dios…

“Piensa sobe la muerte mística. Morir misticamente significa pensar solamente en vivir una vida Divina, deseando solamente a Dios, aceptando todo lo que Dios manda sin preocuparse sobre ello. Significa ignorar todo lo demás para que Dios pueda obrar en tu alma, en el santuario de tu alma, donde ninguna criatura, angélica o humana, puede ir, y donde tú puedas sentir a Dios trabajando y naciendo, mientras tú mueres misticamente.

“Pero, estoy apresurado, y esta nota se está poniendo muy mística, así que escúchala pero no te obsesiones, porque esto nosotros no lo podemos captar.”( Carta,  28 de diciembre,1758)

El Miércoles de Cenizas es una buena ocasión para poder captar lo que el santo está diciendo. Cenizas son untadas sobre nuestras frentes en la forma de una cruz y unas sencillas palabras son dichas: ” Recuerda que tú eres polvo y al polvo retornarás .”

Un recuerdo de que vamos a morir. Sin embargo, este breve acto simbólico dice tanto más. Una muerte mística diaria en este momento está tomando lugar dentro de nosotros. Nuestra vida física va a terminar, nos dicen las cenizas; el día y la hora, desconocidos. Pero cenizas en la forma de una cruz nos dicen que Jesús transforma la muerte. ” Al morir Tú destruistes nuestra muerte. Resucitando, restaurastes nuestra vida.” Jesús Cristo ha convertido su vida resucitada en nuestra vida. Este regalo de Él está escondido de nuestros ojos; lo que Él promete lo experimentaremos cuando entremos en su Gloria.

Mientras tanto, el misterio de su muerte y resurreción está operando adentro de nosotros. Entra adentro de este misterio misticamente, nos dice San Pablo de la Cruz. Diariamente, deliberadamente, atentamente acepta a Dios obrando dentro de tí. Una nueva vida está naciendo en tí, aunque no lo veas. Deséalo, acepta lo que Dios te manda sin preocupación. Dios está obrando adentro de tí a través del misterio de la cruz del Señor.

Sin embargo, el santo dice en su carta que está apurado y tiene que irse, como el resto de nosotros hacia otra cosa. Va para algún lugar, tiene algo que hacer, alguien que ver, y le dice a su corresponsal , que no se puede estar pensando sobre cosas profundas por mucho tiempo. No, no podemos.

Y así, nosotros solamete vislumbramos por un segundo el misterio de las cenizas que untan sobre nosotros. De todas maneras, escuchemos la voz del Señor en las lecturas de hoy y en los signos de la liturgia. El Miércoles de Cenizas es un embajador que Dios nos manda para recordarnos que Él está operando dentro de nosotros; Él nos mandará Su gracia a través de los días de Cuaresma y de Pascua. Sí, y todos los días de nuestra vida.

Abraza su Cruz cada día y muere misticamente para poder renacer.


Jumatano Ya Majivu
Padre Evans FwambaCp
Mt. Paulo Wa Msalaba aliandika, “Kifo ni fumbo” na kinaweza kutusaidia kusherehekea vyema Jumatano ya Majivu. Maisha kwa watumishi wa kweli ni kuwa marafiki wa mungu, kwamba tunakufa kila siku; kifo chetu na kuishi vimefichika kwa kristo na kwa mungu. Hiki ni kifo ambacho ni fumbo ambalo, nina hakika kwamba tutazaliwa katika maisha mapya kupitia mafumbo matakatifu ya Yesu Kristo, kadiri tunavyo kufa zaidi na zaidi kila siku katika fumbo la kifo cha Kristo na katika undani wa mungu. Tunatambua maisha yetu yote yamefichika ndani ya kristo na mungu.

Fikiria juu ya kifo cha fumbo. Kifo cha fumbo kinamaanisha kufikiri maisha ya kimungu, kumtamani mungu peke yake. Kupokea mapenzi ya mungu bila wasiwasi wowote. Hii inamaanisha kudharau kila kitu ili mungu afanye kazi ndani ya mioyo yetu, ambapo hakuna kiumbe chochote kinaweza kuingia wala malaika au mwanadam. Hapo tunaweza kuona kazi ya mungu ndani yetu katika kufa kwetu ambayo ni fumbo.
“Ila nina haraka, na maandishi haya yanakuwa fumbo, basi yasikilize na punje ya chumvi kwani hatuwezi kuelewa.” (Barua, Dec 28,1758)

Tunapopakwa majivu, ishara ndogo ya msalaba hafanywa kwenye paji la uso na maneno yafuatayo husemwa, “Kumbuka wewe u mavumbi na mavumbini utarudi.” Hiyo alama ya msalaba inamaana kubwa sana. Inatukumbusha kwamba tuliumbwa kutoka udongoni na humo udongoni tutarudi. Kwamba maisha ya mwanadam ni msalaba na kifo ni fumbo kwetu.

Tunakumbushwa kwamba maisha yetu ya kimwili yataisha na kwa ishara ya msalaba, kifo chake Kristo kitabadili maisha yetu kwa ufufuko wake na kuturejeshea uhai.Majivu yanatukumbusha kwamba sisi hatujui mda wala siku tutakapokufa. Mt. Paulo anasema kwamba tafakari kila siku na kupokea kwa makini kazi ya mungu inayofanyika katika maisha yako. Maisha mapya yanazaliwa ndani yako, ingawa huwezi kutambua au kuona.

Mungu anafanya kazi ndani yako kupitia fumbo la msalaba wa Yesu.
Tunapopakwa majivu tunatafakari juu ya msalaba na maisha yetu. Leo tusikilize masomo na ishara za liturijia. Jumatano ya majivu ni kama balozi aliyetumwa na mungu kwetu kutukumbusha kwamba mungu anafanya kazi maishani mwetu. Katika mfungo huu mtakatifu wa kwaresima, mungu anatutumia neema katika kipindi kizima cha kwaresima na pasaka, ndio, na katika maisha yetu yote.
Tupokee msalaba wa Kristu kila siku na tuwa tayari kufa na Kristu katika fumbo la mateso na kifo chake ili tuweze kuzaliwa upya.

Mission: St. Joseph, Keyport, NJ


I’m leading a 3 day mission at St. Joseph Parish in snowy Keyport, New Jersey, ending Ash Wednesday. The theme of the mission is: Following Jesus Christ. Last night, we remembered how Jesus called others to follow him into the world. Parishioners read from the call of the disciples from St. John’s gospel and I spoke about the way Jesus in Mark’s gospel led his disciples into the town of Capernaum, into its synagogue, the house of Peter and then on the road where they met a leper.

Today Jesus calls us to go with him into our world, into our towns and cities, our churches, our homes and along the road where we meet the poor, the lepers of today. He’s leading us there.

In the catechesis I suggested we look again at the simple ways we were taught to pray, like the Sign of the Cross and the Our Father. In prayer we come know Jesus Christ. For our closing rite we held lighted candles, symbols of our baptismal call. We listened to a wonderful testimony from a couple who returned to church recently; the choir provided inspirational music. Afterwards there were refreshments in the parish hall.

Praching (2)

Tonight we turn to the Passion story of Mark. In our catechesis I suggested reading the bible during Lent, because we can know Jesus Christ through the bible. In recent times our understanding of the bible has grown as archeologists, historians and other studies enlarge what we know of the world Jesus lived in and the early writings that tell of him. The New American Bible Revised Edition is a good choice to read because it contains the same translations read in the liturgy and its notes are up to date and well written.

Knowing more about the books of the bible can help us understand them better. For example, the Gospel of Mark, generally considered the earliest gospel, was probably written in Rome for Christians who had been shaken by a fierce, unexpected persecution under the Emperor Nero. The persecutions caused Roman Christians to question their faith in the light of this absurd injustice.

Mark’s gospel doesn’t answer their questions. Instead, it presents the innocent Jesus as he faces suffering and death holding on to a belief he is in his Father’s care. From death, he will rise again.

Tonight we read from the story of the Passion of Jesus in Mark and reflect on its meaning. We’ll also hear a testimony from one of our young parishioners here at St Joseph’s and be given a small cross as a reminder of Jesus’ words, “Take up your cross and follow me.”

Mary White O’Donnell

I gave this funeral homily at a church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where my cousin was buried today……….

The Catholic Church ended the first phase of its Synod on the Family a few months ago, and now Pope Francis wants to hear from the church throughout the world how marriage and family life can be strengthened and understood. If Mary and Bill O’Donnell were alive today I would have suggested to Pope Francis to talk to them, because I thought they knew more about family life than any priest or bishop or (forgive me if this seems irreverent) even the pope himself.

Mary and Bill didn’t write books or give lectures, they weren’t self-proclaimed experts, but they were living books on marriage and the family. If you watched them you learned a lot.

Whenever I visited 5 Farmhouse Lane, I often spent a few minutes looking at the big wall of pictures that Mary created in the room where she and Bill would sit in their later years, watching television, waiting for the phone to ring or the door to open. Some were old pictures of the White and O’Donnell families, lots of wedding pictures, pictures of baptisms and plenty of pictures of kids. The pictures stretched through generations, the latest usually were stuck on the refrigerator in the kitchen or near the telephone.

For Mary those pictures represented the treasures of her life. They were what she loved and gave her life to. She had a story for each of them, and she was a wonderful story-teller. The pictures summed up her life as a daughter, a wife, a mother, a mother-in-law, a grandmother, a friend. They were gifts from God and Mary loved them all.

Most of you who were pictured most prominently on that wall are here in church today–her children, their husbands and wives, her grandchildren. I know you wont forget how she lived and how she loved you.

We bring her body to church to remember our ties with her, but more importantly to offer her to God though Jesus Christ, his Son, for the next phase of her life. “I go to prepare a place for you,” Jesus told his disciples before he died. We listen to his words as if they were spoken to us.

“I go to prepare a place for you,” a place with many rooms. What a beautiful, concrete description that is of that unknown place we’re all called to, the new life we’re promised by Jesus Christ. A place of many rooms. What does that mean except, perhaps, that we’ll be gathered there together, with the ones we loved and we’ll see them again.

So is that a promise that Jesus makes only to his disciples then? No, it’s a promise he makes to us now.

Later in our prayers at Mass we’ll say:

“Remember Mary whom you have called today from his world to yourself. Grant that she who was united to your Son in a death like his may also be one with him in his resurrection.”

That’s true, isn’t it? This last year or so, particularly, Mary shared in the Passion of Christ at home and then at St. Mary’s Home in Cherry Hill, NJ, where she died. Many of you stood by her. The Lord was with her then as he is now.

Our prayer goes on:

“Give Mary, with all the others, kind admittance to your kingdom. There we hope to enjoy forever the fullness of your glory, when you will wipe away every tear from our eyes. For seeing you, our God, we shall be like you for all ages, and praise you without end through Christ through whom you bestow on the world all that is good. “

So where is Mary now? Her tears are being wiped away, I think, and she’s in one of those rooms that Jesus speaks of, with those who went before her, with her husband Bill and her family. I think too, she’s hanging up the pictures, waiting to see us again.



6th Sunday B: Moved with Pity


To listen to the audio for today’s homily just select play in the audio bar below:

For the last four Sundays, we’ve followed Jesus beginning his ministry in Galilee according to Mark’s Gospel. Mark has a very lively, concrete way of describing Jesus entering fully into the life of our world. He describes Jesus after his baptism going to Galilee, calling four disciples to follow him and share his life, and then in one momentous day, a Sabbath day, entering a town, Capernaum, a little fishing village along the Sea of Galilee. He enters the synagogue at Capernaum where his teaching amazes the people and he drives out an unclean spirit who calls him “the holy one of God.” All through his life on earth Jesus will give life and face evil.

From the synagogue Jesus goes into Peter and Andrews’s house, a compound near the synagogue, where he cures Peter’s mother in bed with a fever. News about someone speaking with authority and curing the sick in Caphernaum spreads like wildfire. At the end of the day the whole town is at the door of Peter’s house.

We watch a whole town come alive in Mark’s gospel because Jesus is there. He changes the place and its people, the synagogue, the church where they worship, the homes they live in. Mark wants us to realize also that what happened there in Capernaum is meant to happen again, in other people, in other places, in other churches and homes.

That’s why Jesus says “Let’s go to the nearby villages; this is why I have come” to Peter and the others the next day after the momentous day opening his ministy. “And so they went to the villages nearby, where he taught in their synagogues and healed many.” (Mark 1,38-39) But it’s not just to the nearby villages around the Sea of Galilee that Jesus will go, not just to the world back then. It’s to the world here and now that he comes. It’s not just to the people back then, it’s the people here and now that he comes– to us.

It’s important that we keep that in mind when we hear in today’s gospel about a leper who approached Jesus. The leper probably met Jesus on his way to one of the nearby villages. A leper in those days would be outside the villages and towns, in a deserted place. His disease made him unclean, dangerous, and so he had to leave his family and society to live alone. If anyone came near him, he had to warn them off. “Unclean, unclean!”

But the leper in our story comes up to Jesus and kneels before him. “If you wish you can make me clean.” How did he know about Jesus? Did he hear the news from Capernaum, from people who told about him? Someone from his family?

Mark says that Jesus “was moved with pity, stretched out his hand, touched him and said ‘ I do will it, be made clean.’”

The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.”

This is the first miracle in Mark’s gospel where details of how Jesus healed are given. “He was moved with pity.” “He stretched out his hand, touched him and said, ‘I do will it, be made clean,’” Then Jesus told him to go show himself to a priest, who would verify that the man was free from leprosy. He also told him not to tell anyone about what happened, but the man told everybody.

Jesus heals the leper, not as a show of power, but because his heart was moved with pity. He touches the leper, whom everyone pushed aside and feared to touch. His words are not just words; his heart speaks in them. “I do will it, be made clean.”

That was the miracle then, but if this is not just about then, what about now? Today there are probably only a few people in the world with the leprosy the man experienced then, but certainly there are those now who feel like him, like a outsider, a stranger, someone who doesn’t belong, a failure perhaps.

Jesus brought his disciples with him then to do what he did. Now, are we to have our hearts moved with pity and reach out and touch somebody like the leper?

Or, are we the ones who need to experience the love of Jesus. Are we like the leper ourselves, out in a desert place, alone and adrift? Do we need his healing?

This is our Sabbath day, this is Lord’s time; he has come to our place and to us.

Come With Me

Jesus garden

You went into the garden and fell to the ground
and prayed
yet all humanity was there
holding the cup of death
and hearing itself in your words.
“Father, if it possible, let this cup pass from me.
The cup of death.
you drank
contained our fears and cries too,
our sweat of blood.
“Your will be done,” you said.
“Your will be done,”we say
and wait for an angel to strengthen us.

The Two Creations

In his homily on the readings for Mass on Monday, Pope Francis spoke of two creations, the first described in the Book of Genesis and the second described in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus goes among the people, and “as many of those who touched him were saved.”

Regarding the first creation, God gives us the responsibility to nurture creation, Pope Francis said.

“It’s our obligation as Christians. For us there is a responsibility to nurture the Earth, to nurture creation, to keep it and make it grow according to its laws. A Christian who does not protect creation, who does not let it grow, is a Christian who does not care about the work of God, that work that was born from the love of God for us. And this is the first response to the first creation: protect it and make it grow.”

We advance the second creation by advancing in faith, by touching Jesus in faith.

The popes daily homilies can be found here. Gems of spirituality.

Who are the Passionists?

SignWho are the Passionists?

A good question in this year the church devotes to the Consecrated Life.

Religious movements begin with a call. Usually God calls one person first – like Peter, James and John – who in turn call others. The Passionists, – a religious movement of priests, brothers, women religious and laypeople – are found in most parts of the world today. Their founder is St. Paul of the Cross and they’re called to keep alive the memory of the Passion of Jesus Christ.

St. Paul of the Cross: Saint for Hard Times

The first thing you should know about the Passionists is their founder.  His name was Paul Danei. He lived in 18th century Italy and for 81 years experienced hard times – times in many ways like our own.

Italy’s economy then was severely depressed as countries along the Atlantic Ocean like England, Spain and France captured world markets. As its trade dwindled, poverty and unemployment spread across the Italian peninsula.   “Poor Italy!” Paul would say of his battered land.

The church in Italy also experienced hard times as Europe’s monarchs grabbed its resources and held the popes under their thumb. It was the beginning of the Enlightenment in Europe, and “enlightened” scholars and scientists were teaching that real progress came through human efforts alone. No need for revealed religions or prayer or spiritual help, they said.  God, if God exists, was little involved in human affairs.

Some 18th century pundits were predicting that religion, and the Catholic church in particular, was coming to an end.

Just the time for God to call for saints.

In 1714 young Paul Danei had a striking experience of God.  It happened during an ordinary sermon in an ordinary church, preached by an unknown priest. A sense of God and a desire to serve him filled his heart. Over the years his experience grew and it centered on the Passion of Jesus Christ. So taken was he by this mystery that eventually Paul Danei preferred signing his name as Paul of the Cross.

If you asked St. Paul of the Cross today for some words of wisdom, he probably would point to a cross he usually carried and tell you to look at the world you live in, then look at Jesus Christ in his cross. Maybe he would say something like this:

“Are your times bad? Is your church shaken? Is God nowhere to be seen? Well, what about him? A dreadful time, when God seemed to have abandoned his Son? Yet, God was never closer than in that dark moment, and God is close to you now.

“I found him first at a bad time, in an ordinary church, listening to an ordinary sermon. You can find him too. Don’t be afraid of the darkness. And be ready: God uses simple things to come to you.”

In his youth, Paul worked for his father, a “poor tobacconist” who moved his family and small store from one town to another in northern Italy to make ends meet. Six years after hearing the sermon in church the young man had another strong experience of God.

“In the summer of 1720, at the time of the grain harvest, after communion at the Capuchin church in Castellazzo on a street corner near my home – I was raised up in God in the deepest recollection with complete forgetfulness of all else and with great interior peace…”

Shortly after, Paul made a retreat of 40 days in a small room in a nearby church where he experienced temptations and spiritual consolations as he prayed in imitation of Jesus Christ.  At his local bishop’s request he kept an account of how God worked in his soul; his retreat account is considered a classic of Christian spirituality.

The Passion of Jesus was at the heart of his experience; it would always be at the center of his spirituality. For him, it was the door into the Presence of God where one rested “in the bosom of the Father” and received the blessing of “great interior peace.”

Paul’s retreat is one of the reasons Passionists today promote retreats and spiritual direction as important ways to discover God in our lives.  In the United States alone, they staff 10 retreat centers, like Holy Family Retreat Center in West Hartford, CT, Our Lady of Calvary Retreat Center in nearby Farmington, CT, Holy Name Retreat Center, Houston, TX, Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center, Citrus Heights, CA, and Bishop Molloy Retreat House, Jamaica, NY.

It’s the reason why the Passionist nuns keep a guest house for those who wish to come apart and rest awhile at St. Joseph Convent located on 170 acres of peaceful woodlands in Whitesville, KY.

Paul ended his 40-day retreat convinced that God wanted him to begin a new community in the church, but the times were unfavorable. Most church and government authorities thought there were already too many religious communities in the world.

After a disappointing attempt to interest the pope in his cause, Paul and his brother John Baptist lived as hermits, then as priests, on Monte Argentario, an isolated mountain on the Mediterranean Sea at the edge of the Tuscan Maremma (at the time the poorest part of poor Italy). They began preaching missions in this run-down land of small towns built above unhealthy swamplands, where bandits roamed the lonely roads and foreign armies periodically fought battles for control of Italy.

Traveling from town to town, they would set up a large cross on a platform in the town square, preach to the people for 12 to 13 days and then move on to another place. Paul emphasized daily prayer, especially meditation on the Passion of Jesus, as the door into the Presence of God and strength in the darkness of life.

After the missionaries left, some wrote to Paul looking for spiritual help. His letters back to them (over 2,000 remain) focus mainly on helping them to pray. If people prayed, he said, his work was done; God would do the rest. He was tender and blunt, enormously patient with them, because he knew from his own experience that God works slowly, tenderly sometimes bluntly.

They told him their doubts, their fears, their temptations, their yearnings, their questions and sufferings. He called these things their “darkness,” and drawing on John’s gospel, a favorite source, told them that darkness is where the Light shines. Don’t be afraid of it.

“Darkness and suffering can be your friends,” he wrote, “faith comes alive in the dark.”

By a “high providence” God sent Jesus Christ to dwell among us. In the darkness you share in the mystery of his Passion and Resurrection.

“We carry the cross with Jesus and don’t know it.”

Paul never probed into the causes of human darkness by social analysis nor did he offer much psychological advice or counseling, so popular in spirituality today. “I am a blind guide,” he said of himself and warned against over-analyzing. “You shouldn’t be looking at what you’re going through and philosophizing minutely about it and reflecting so much on yourself… By thinking too much about yourself, you lose sight of the Sovereign Good.” The wise and tender book of the Passion of Jesus will teach you to understand yourself and understand life, he taught. Let it guide the way you pray and the way you live.

But for him the Passion of Jesus was not limited to the words of the gospel. It was a mystery found everywhere.

Certainly, Paul saw the Passion of Jesus relived in the Tuscan Maremma, the poorest part of Italy, where he spent most of his life. “I saw the name of Jesus written on the foreheads of the poor.” He lived among poverty-stricken people but could do little to change the economic and political systems that kept them poor.

Like Paul, Passionists today still see the Passion of Jesus burnt into “the foreheads of the poor” and point to the strengthening message of the cross. But in solidarity with the poor they are also trying here and now to stand up for human rights and build a just society, especially in some of the poorest parts of the world. They see the struggle for justice and peace and the integrity of creation as a vital part of their spirituality.

In earthquake-ravaged Haiti, Father Rick Frechette, a Passionist priest and medical doctor, runs a free hospital for children and sets up schools for street kids near Port-au-Prince. In Jamaica, West Indies, Passionist Sister Una O’Connor built the Catholic College of Mandeville to train teachers for the next generation of Jamaica’s youth.

Young volunteers belonging to Passionist Volunteers International currently are offering a year’s service to the rural poor in Jamaica and Honduras.

At the United Nations, Father Mirek Lesiecki, CP  heads up Passionist International, a NGO group that brings dreams for peace, justice and the integrity of creation to bear on the decisions made by 191 nations. On television, The Sunday Mass brings the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to households around the United States.

Since the 18th century, the Passionists have given the world a remarkable number of saints, besides their founder, Paul of the Cross. Their martyrs and holy men and women testify to the community’s holiness.  They’re hoping God will send them saints as a new global age begins. 

Father Victor Hoagland, CP,   is the author of  “A Lenten Journey with Jesus Christ and St. Paul of the Cross”  Christus Publications, 2011

February 10, 2015