Monthly Archives: December 2015

Jesus and the Elderly

Presentation
Jesus drew all people to himself, men and women, rich and poor, old and young. The gospels show that even at his birth he gave life to all.

In our readings these days at Mass, St. Luke tells of two old people, Simeon and Anna, who recognize the Child Jesus when he’s brought by Mary and Joseph into the temple after his birth. They give thanks to God and speak about him to those “waiting for the redemption of Israel.” (Luke 2, 36-38

The artist  describes their meeting in the portrait above. The two elderly people are transformed with wonder as they meet Jesus and Mary and Joseph.

We are living in an aging society; our elderly population is increasing. The temptation is to see old age as a stage in life when all is over, but this gospel story gives us pause. The Lord comes at every moment of life. He draws us to himself our whole life long.Not only did Simeon and Anna wonder at the child they saw and held in their arms, but they spoke about him to those “waiting for the redemption of Israel.”

The old have an important role in the Christmas story.

Readings here. .

Mother Teresa

FullSizeRender

Duk Soon Fwhang, a Korean born artist with a deep respect for Mother Teresa who will be soon be canonized by the Catholic Church, has painted the Albanian born woman a number of times. The one above I find particularly moving.

“She is a world hero as well as a Catholic saint,” Duk Soon told me recently, “We need more world heroes like her today when there are too many poor.” She showed me a prayer for the recognition of Mother Teresa as a saint. I think it says it all:

“Jesus, you made Mother Teresa an example of lively faith and burning charity, and an extraordinary witness to the way of spiritual childhood, and a great and esteemed teacher of the value and dignity of every human life. Grant that she may be venerated and imitated as one of the Church’s canonized saints…

May we follow her example by heeding your cry of thirst from the Cross and joyfully love you in the distressing guise of the poorest of the poor, especially those most unloved and unwanted.”

Friday Thoughts: Wise as Doves

.

There were shepherds in that region, living in the fields and keeping night watch by turns over their flocks. The angel of the Lord appeared to them as the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were very much afraid.

Luke 2:8-9

———

Perhaps the scariest thing to those of us who cling tightly to the things of the world is to accept the job that the Lord assigns us.

Oh, how so many of us are so quick to long for greater adventure!

Yet, when it comes to those humble, little shepherds to whom the angel of the Lord appeared, we are perhaps even quicker to long to be one of them—sitting quietly upon a gentle hillside, effortlessly tending to a passive flock, while the always-full moon provides a soft, ever-so-appropriate illumination from above.

But we are liars. For there’s nothing less romantic in each one of our daily lives, or more mundane. We simply have to be honest, or at least consistent. It all depends on how we look at it.  If we see the shepherds in such a delicate light then we also need to see ourselves in the same. For before the angel appears, the shepherds were hardly posing for picturesque landscapes. Perhaps it is for this very reason—their realness, their  authenticity, their holy simplicity—that the Lord choose them to be present when He revealed His glory.

It is exciting. We have a wonderful choice, then. Either our “boring” lives make us the kind of people to which God prefers to reveal Himself, or our lives are a lot more “exciting” than we ever imagined. Either way, what is vital to making such a decision is true sincerity and genuine gratitude. We need to thank God for who He has made us, for where He has placed us, and for what type of task He has assigned us.

A faithful, humble heart dreams and believes and sees great things among the most ordinary circumstances. Just look at the young virgin and the upright carpenter who the shepherds “went in haste” to find in a stable, adoring a child born within the company of the “lowest” of men.

If we spend our time dreaming of being someone else, living somewhere else, and doing something else we miss the opportunity of being exactly who God intends us to be—and when that happens—we are always in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and most tragically, doing that which matters very little.

For to be the first on the scene, the first to “lay hold”, the first to adore the New Born King, is as good as it gets, even for those whose “normal existence” isn’t standing around all alone—day after day in the scorching sun or biting cold, while picking fleas from matted-down fleece or scaring off hungry wolves.

———

The angel said to them: ‘You have nothing to fear! I come to proclaim good news to you—tidings of great joy to be shared by the whole people.

They went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger; once they saw, they understood what had been told them concerning this child. All who heard of it were astonished at the report given them by the shepherds.

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, in accord with what had been told them.”

—Luke, Chapter 2

.

Howard Hain

.

.

4th Sunday of Advent. C. Mary’s Faith

 

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

Sometimes, the simplest details of a gospel story reveal its deepest meaning. In Luke’s Gospel this Sunday, Mary goes “in haste” to the hill country to visit her cousin Elizabeth. She has just received the angel’s message inviting her to be the mother of God’s Son, and she says “Yes.” The angel told her that her cousin Elizabeth, though past child-bearing age, also has conceived a son. “Nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1,39-45)

Then, Mary goes “in haste” from Nazareth to visit Elizabeth who lives in the hill country near Jerusalem. The angel’s message, first disturbs her, then fills her with joy. She hurries to see the angel’s sign and share the promise she received. What does this tell us? Is it that faith, challenging and raising questions, spurs us on and gives joy. It’s God’s word; it’s true. Believe in it and act on it.

When Mary heard the message of the angel she did not disbelieve, St. Ambrose said, commenting on this gospel, “she was not uncertain about the message, she did not doubt the sign she was given, but happy with the promise, eager to be with her cousin, she hurried on in joy and went up into the hill country.”

“We’re blessed, who hear and believe,” the saint goes on. “ Every soul that believes, both conceives and gives birth to the Word of God and recognizes God’s works. Let the soul of Mary be in each one of us, to proclaim the greatness of the Lord. Let the spirit of Mary be in each one of us, to rejoice in God. According to the flesh only one woman can be the mother of Christ but in the world of faith Christ is the fruit of all of us.”

We share in the mystery we hear. Believe in it, live by it, rejoice in it.

Friday Thoughts: The Light of Your Face

Gerard David, Virgin and Child, (1510)

Workshop of Gerard David, “Virgin and Child”, (ca. 1510)

.

It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

—Galatians 2:20

———

It is utterly amazing what happens when we pray, when we ask God the Father for something in Jesus’ name—that is, when we sincerely ask for something that Jesus Himself would ask to be given.

God answers such prayers, always. For it is then that we pray in union with the Sacred and Most Pure Heart of Jesus.

I dare to say that such a prayer may look and sound something like this:

“Father, may I enter into the light of Your face?”

I say “dare”, for how can we? How can we who are so unworthy enter such a light?

It’s a good question. For we, by ourselves, can’t enter such a light.

But Jesus can…and He did and He does and He always will.

And Jesus lives in us, in our hearts—if we invite Him in, if we open our hearts and allow Him to enter—if we call out with David: “Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.”  (Psalm 24:7)

Jesus purifies our hearts with His presence…

…if we allow Him to overturn the money-changing tables within us…

…if we allow Him to “destroy” the “temple” within each of us, those temples built “with human hands” in order to glorify ourselves…

…if we allow Him to leave not “one stone upon another” in raising up a new temple, one not made with hands” but “in His own image”

…if we allow His “zeal” for His Father’s “house” to “consume” us, to consume us with the fire of His love—with the fire of the Holy Spirit—that divine, unifying love, shared between Eternal Father and Only-Begotten Son.

Then shall we be God’s holy dwelling place—His Tabernacle—purified and cleansed, “holy and righteous in His sight all the days of our life”.

And we shall be free, “free to worship Him without fear”.

For it will “no longer” be us “who live”, but “Christ Who lives in” us.

And Christ Jesus freely enters the light of the Father’s face.

———

Let us then, each one of us, pray prayers that Jesus would agree with, and let us do so with great hope and confidence in God’s mercy and love:

Lord Jesus, enter my heart.

Lord Jesus, purify me, cleanse my heart.

Lord Jesus, overturn the money-changing tables within me, those that serve my self and not God our Father.

Lord Jesus, destroy the temple built by myself, to myself—destroy the temple of self-love—leave not one stone upon another and then rebuild it in Your own image.

Lord Jesus, let your zeal for Your Father’s house completely consume me with the fire of Your love—the fire of the Holy Spirit—that divine, unifying love, shared between Eternal Father and Only-Begotten Son.

Lord Jesus, enter the light of our Father’s face on my behalf. For I am not worthy to enter that light, but if You only say the word, my soul shall be healed.

Lord Jesus, heal me of my scrupulous fear of myself, of my secret self-worship that places my weakness above Your forgiveness, my sin above the redeeming power of Your Most Precious Blood.

Lord Jesus, Your mercy, Your Love, is infinitely greater than my unworthiness. You are The Word made flesh, and You are always present. You are The Word always being spoken. You are healing always being offered.

I say “Yes”.

I accept. I receive Your healing. You speak and I live.

I thank You, Lord Jesus, for Your Cross and for Your Resurrection. I praise You for Your glory.

I so then bow down all the powers of my soul and humbly ask our Heavenly Father in Your Most Sacred Name:

“Father, may I enter into the light of Your face? For it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

Amen.

———

“Blessed are the pure of heart, they will see God.”

—Matthew 5:8

 .

.

(Friday Thoughts is a new series to appear every Friday, written by various members of the extended Passionist community.)

3rd Sunday of Advent C: The Year of Mercy

Audio homily here:

In the time of Jesus when pilgrims from Galilee came up to Jerusalem to pray in the temple, they came a number of ways. Many came down the Jordan Valley, a journey of 90 miles. When they reached the city of Jericho they turned eastward onto a steep, winding road that ascended for 3500 feet and went on for 15 miles to the city of Jerusalem. I have a picture taken from an airplane in the 1930s showing that winding, climbing road through the desert. It had to be the hardest part of their journey.
Bethany 2

In the bible the journey to Jerusalem, especially the last part up that steep winding road through the desert, became a symbol of the journey to God we all make. We’re pilgrims on our way to meet God, and that way, our life journey, can seem hard. It’s not always easy. I think that’s why John the Baptist went into the desert to preach, where the hard winding road began.

John’s father, Zachariah, a priest in the temple in Jerusalem, told John at his birth: “You, my child shall be called a prophet of the most high, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.” (Luke 1) Where precisely did John prepare the way? We can’t be sure, but many think it was at the River Jordan near Jericho where he welcomed weary pilgrims and invited them into the refreshing waters of the river, that they might be strengthened for the last part of their journey. But more importantly, he strengthened for the journey of life they were living.

In today’s gospel, we see ordinary people, soldiers and tax-collectors among them. John spoke to each of them, not eloquently, but simply. He told them to do God’s will all their lives. If they did that, God would bring them into his presence.

Certainly, John would use the words of Prophet Isaiah, as we do all through Advent. Isaiah also knew the road to Jerusalem and saw it as a hard journey, but God would make sure we would make it, he said. God would lead the blind on that road, the deaf, the lame– no one was too weak or too small. God would help the lost sheep to make that journey. The weakest of humanity would make the journey by God’s mercy.

This week we began, as Pope Francis has asked, the Year of Mercy. He opened the door of St. Peter’s Basilica on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary to begin the year.

We might see this year as simply a Catholic event, but it’s more than that. Right now, our world needs to hear of God’s mercy.

In his encyclical Laudato Si, on the care of our common home. The pope mentions that for almost 200 years, since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the time of the Enlightenment, our world has been convinced of the unlimited progress of human power and potential. Unlimited human progress. We can do anything. But there are signs in our world now, ominous signs, that our world is weak and blind and lame. There’s increasing skepticism, increasing fear, an increasing option for violence. We’re worried about the way ahead. We’re worried about the future.

We have to open the door of our own minds, in this year of God’s mercy, to know that this is God’s world. Yes, the journey isn’t going to be easy. It’s a winding, wearying, road where the end isn’t in sight. We don’t have all the answers, but we have the one important one. God is with us and he is with our world, weak and blind and lame as it is.

God is our hope.

Opening the Door

Holy Door
Yesterday Pope Francis in a symbolic gesture pushed open the door to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome to begin the Holy Year of Mercy. Opening a door is an invitation to go in, to see what’s inside, even if we have been in there before. The pope is inviting us to go into the mysteries of our faith, to look again and appreciate them.

We forgot so easily and need to remember. This is a time to open the doors to our own parish churches, as the pope did the door to St. Peter’s, asking for the grace to see them again. They’re not just buildings, remember, they’re places where we meet God– the merciful face of God, Jesus Christ. He is the great sacrament, God’s Son, born of Mary, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. On the third day he rose again. He’s present in all the sacraments we celebrate in this place. This is his church.

He tells us to “be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful.”

Our parish church is where we celebrate “the mysteries of faith.” Faith alone unlocks the mysteries of this place. So at the door we make the sign of the cross, the sign of faith. This is a place where we are blessed by God, the creator of all things, by his Son, Jesus Christ, and by the Holy Spirit. “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The opening of the Year of Mercy is a good time to push open the door of our parish churches and see them again. This evening I hope to do that on the last day of our parish mission, here at Good Shepherd Parish, Rheinbeck, New York.

Mary, Mother of Mercy

olp
“Hail Holy Queen, mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope.” Why is Mary called “mother of mercy?” First of all, because she acknowledged she had received the mercy of God which, like the oil poured on kings and priests, gave her power “to fulfill what is beyond human capabilities.” (Anthony Bloom)

Her cousin Elizabeth declared her “blessed among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
Mary’s responded: ‘The Lord who is mighty has done great things to me, holy is his name.” She knew God’s mercy was a work in her to restore the human race. (Luke 1, 43-48)

How, then, was Mary merciful? How did she fulfill what Jesus taught “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful?” How did she live a merciful life? How did she do those works of mercy that tradition ascribes to the merciful person:
• Feed the hungry
• Give drink to the thirsty
• Clothe the naked
• Shelter the homeless
• Visit the sick
• Visit the imprisoned
• Bury the dead

• Admonish the sinner
• Instruct the ignorant
Comfort the sorrowful
Bear wrongs patiently
• Forgive all injuries
• Pray for the living and the dead

We might say we don’t know whether Mary did these things or not; the scriptures hardly say anything about her and her life. But the scriptures say a great deal about her Son. Does he not reflect his mother Mary and Joseph, the man who brought him up? The mystery of the Incarnation tells us he did. From him, then, we know what Mary was like.

What is Mercy?

Prodigal son
“Be merciful as your Father is merciful,” Jesus says. What does the word “mercy” mean? Where does it come from? The Russian religious writer Anthony Bloom points to the Greek word “eleison,” a word still used in our liturgical prayers: “Kyrie eleison,” “Lord, have mercy.” “Eleison” has the same root as the word “elaion,” which means olive tree and the oil it provides.

The olive tree has an important role in scripture, beginning with the story of Noah,in the Book of Genesis. “After the flood Noah sends birds, one after the other, to find out whether there is any dry land or not, and one of them, a dove – and it is significant that it is a dove – brings back a small twig from an olive tree. This twig conveys to Noah and to all with him in the ark the news that the wrath of God has ceased, that God is now offering man a fresh opportunity. All those who are in the ark will be able to settle again on firm ground and make an attempt to live, and never more perhaps, if they can help it, undergo the wrath of God.”

God’s mercy is offered to the whole human race, the story of Noah says. Mercy is not just for some, it’s for all. We’re all in the same boat. It brings a new beginning, a fresh opportunity, another chance, the storm is over.

“In the anointing of kings and priests in the Old Testament, olive oil is poured on the head as an image of the grace of God that comes down and flows on them (Ps I33:2) giving them new power to fulfill what is beyond human capabilities.” (Bloom)

In the New Testament, in the parable of the good Samaritan, the man who comes upon the victim beaten and robbed and left by the road, pours olive oil into his wounds to soothe and heal him. Mercy soothes, heals our wounds. Jesus turns to so many, like Bartimaeus, the blind man, whom he calls to follow him “up the road,” and Zacchaeus, the tax collector, whose house is changed by his presence. He is the “merciful face of God.”

Good Shepherd Parish, Rheinbeck, NY

IMG_1516
I’m preaching a parish mission at Good Shepherd Parish, Rheinbeck, New York, December 5-9. The theme of the mission is “Be merciful, as your Father is merciful,” the theme of the Holy Year of Mercy that Pope Francis called for last March.

The holy year begins December 8th and ends November 20, 2016, “the Sunday dedicated to Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe–and the living face of the Father’s mercy.”

Each evening, from Monday to Wednesday, I’ll be preaching on God’s mercy.

Monday: Jesus the Living Face of the Father’s Mercy. In Luke’s gospel Jesus is truly “the living face of the Father’s mercy” from his birth till his death and resurrection. His miracles and encounters with many during his lifetime, like the blind man and Zacchaeus, the tax collector, reveal his gift for changing people and bringing them joy. We experience the mercy of God in the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Tuesday: Mary, Mother of Mercy. “Hail holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope.” God’s gift of grace enabled Mary to be what Jesus asked: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” It enabled her to embrace so many mysteries of God’s hidden plan, especially the mystery of suffering and death. We, “banished children of Eve,” cry out to her; she is “our life, our sweetness and our hope.”

Wednesday: Jesus, the Bread of Life. In his encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis invites us to see in the Eucharist a call to care for the earth, our common home. “The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation. The world which came forth from God’s hands returns to him in blessed and undivided adoration: in the bread of the Eucharist, ‘creation is projected towards divinization, towards the holy wedding feast, towards unification with the Creator himself’. Thus, the Eucharist is also a source of light and motivation for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation.” (LS 230)