Monthly Archives: January 2016

4th Sunday C Help Us Lord to Believe


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

For two Sunday’s we have been reading the long account from St. Luke’s gospel of Jesus’ return to Nazareth, his hometown, as he begins his ministry in Galilee. I mentioned last week Luke’s interest in Jesus’ early life. More than any other evangelist, he writes about Jesus early years.

The four gospels take a dim view of Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus Christ. Early in his gospel, John says that Philip, one of Jesus’ first disciples,  invited Nathaniel to meet “Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nathaniel replies. (John 1,46).

 The gospels of Mathew and Mark  recall the sad rejection of Jesus by his hometown after his baptism by John the Baptist.  Matthew places it after Jesus has spoken to a large crowd in parables. Then, he goes to Nazareth and speaks in the synagogue to his own townspeople, who are at first astonished at his wisdom, but they wonder where did “the carpenter’s son” get all this. They know his mother and his family, and they reject him. (Matthew 13,54-58)

Mark’s gospel puts the event after Jesus has raised a little girl from the dead. Going to Nazareth with his disciples, he’s greeted in the synagogue with astonishment because of his wisdom; they’ve heard of his mighty deeds, but then they ask where did this “carpenter” get all of this? He’s “Mary’s son” and they know his family. Jesus “was amazed at their lack of faith.”    (Mark 6,1-5)

In Luke’s gospel Jesus goes into the synagogue at Nazareth almost immediately after his baptism and reads from the Prophet Isaiah the passage: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; He has anointed me…” Jesus says he’s fulfilling the words of the prophet. He’s the Messiah.

In the reading today the people of Nazareth not only reject him but try to put him to death. They are people who have known him all his life, we presume even members of his family are among them.

Here is a concrete example of what’s said in another gospel: “He came to his own and his own received him not.” Of course, their reaction surprises us. How could they be so blind? How could they not see?

Our first reading today may offer some insight into their reaction. It’s about the Prophet Jeremiah who also met opposition from his own people and was put to death for his claims. Maybe he can help us understand what happened at Nazareth?

The prophet speaks for God. “Stand up and tell them what I command you,” God says to Jeremiah, “I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” But when God first calls him, Jeremiah shrinks from the task. ” Don’t send me, I’m just a child.” They know me too well; I
I don’t have the status, the aura of a prophet.

That seems to be what happened at Nazareth. They knew Jesus too well. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” They doubt, they want more proof. “The prophet is honored, except in his native place,” Jesus says,amazed at their unbelief.

The prophet speaks for God, but what God says through the prophet may not be to our liking. Sometimes it seems too good to be true. We’re cynical people. We think like human beings, not like God. Would God promise us a life beyond death, beyond suffering, beyond disappointment, beyond failure. Could God be the carpenter’s son? Could it be true,as the Letter to the Hebrews says, “In times past, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets,but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son.” (Hebrews 1, 1-2) Could God so love the world that he would send his Son to bring us life?

Let’s not be too harsh with the people of Nazareth. When we are looking at them, we are looking at ourselves.

Let’s ask for faith, faith like Mary his mother had. Let’s ask that we listen to his words and believe in his promises. Let’s ask that we follow Jesus Christ in the mysteries of his life, death and resurrection, till he reveal himself to us and we share in his glory. Help us, Lord, to believe in you.

Friday Thoughts: Instrument of Peace


Jean Francois de Troy (1679-1752), Christ carrying the Cross, study

.When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.—John 19:30


The cross is merely an instrument.

For there is nothing inherently painful about the trunk of a tree.

It is not the cross itself that crucifies.

But there is something about the cross that leads us either to death or to life.

It is our relationship with that piece of “wood” that ultimately colors our perception of earthly existence and its inherent sufferings.

And Christ shows us the way.

For there has never been a man more at peace than Christ Jesus upon The Cross—for there has never been a man more aligned to the will of The Father.

Yes, from the eyes of the world it was complete chaos. It was an utter mess. Destruction. Torture. Shame. Disappointment. A mockery. But from Heaven’s perspective it was complete fulfillment. It was utter completion. It was wholeness. It was oneness. It was unity. It was Shalom.

For Christ knew the joy set before Him.

Yet He who existed before time did not manipulate time in order to escape what was in reality unspeakable pain.

And that is what He teaches.

Not to deny the pain. Not to even to avoid it. But to experience it from within the realm of His Kingdom, and as He Himself tells us, that Kingdom “is within”, that Kingdom “is at hand”.

That Kingdom is here and now when there is no separation between God’s child and His will.

Christ shows us this through His Passion.

He shows us that it is our relationship with those crisscrossed beams that makes carrying them either hard and heavy or “easy” and “light”.

He shows us that all our joy depends on our relationship with suffering—with our relationship with The Cross—with our relationship with The Tree of Life.

Our Father has given us free will in order to make a simple choice. To love or not to love…and “greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”.

We love one another by dying for each other—by “spending” our lives in service of one another—and the cross is the bridge that allows us to span that exchange.

The cross is merely an instrument.


“For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”—Hebrews 12:2



—Howard Hain


Dorothy Day

When Fr. William Bausch ended his service as pastor of St. Mary’s, Colts Neck, NJ, some years ago, he gave the parish a gift– a statue of Dorothy Day, which is outside the main entrance to the present church. She’s an elderly woman sitting quietly on a bench.

Her quiet appearance may throw you off. The Jesuit poet Daniel Berrigan wrote at the time of her death in 1980: “Those of us who knew her in her later years were tempted to regard her, I think, rather thoughtlessly…She seemed to always have been as she was: serene, graced with her aura of piety and pity.”

Actually, Dorothy Day who dedicated herself to championing the poor was one of the most dynamic and challenging figures in the Catholic Church in recent times. In 2013 the Catholic bishops of the United States voted unanimously to push her cause for canonization as a saint.

Some might not consider her a candidate for sainthood. She was born in Brooklyn in 1897. Her father was a journalist and her family  moved from place to place– the West Coast, Chicago– and she became of journalist too.

As a young woman in the 1920s she was part of the bohemian scene in New York City, a rebel with “a passion for freedom to the point of waywardness.” (Daniel Berrigan) She had a failed marriage, attempted suicide, had an abortion. After the birth of her daughter, she became a Catholic and then founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, which worked for the poor and social justice, was critical of capitalism and against war. With that kind background, I wonder how many Catholic parishes would invite her as a speaker today.

I’m delighted the bishops are pushing for her canonization. Saints are antidotes to the poison of their time. Dorothy counteracts a lot of poison. There’s the poison in the way we look at the poor and the weak in our society, for example; in our trust in war, in our belief in our political systems. She questioned those positions.

What’s more, she’s an example of the power of faith. Many today, of course, write off the Catholic Church and religion in general, as irrelevant. As a young woman she read a lot, from the Communist Manifesto to the bible. She wanted to reform the world, but as a young woman the church put her off. Christians looked like everyone else, she said:

“I did not see anyone taking off his coat and giving it to the poor. I didn’t see anyone having a banquet and call in the lame, the halt and the blind…I wanted everyone to be kind. I wanted every home to open to the lame, the halt and the blind…Only then did people really help their neighbor. In such love was the abundant life, and I did not have the slightest idea how to find it.”

Yet, remarkably, through the disguise, in the dirt that so often hides it, Dorothy found the pearl of great price. She embraced the Catholic Church.

I think Dorothy Day also contradicts the belief that people no longer search for God, that God is irrelevant. She writes in her autobiography “The Long Loneliness” “All my life I have been haunted by God…A Cleveland Communist once said, ‘Dorothy was never a Communist; she was too religious.’ How much did I hear of religion as a child? Very little, and yet my heart leaped when I heard the name of God. I do believe every soul has a tendency toward God. ‘As soon as someone recalls God, a certain sweet movement fills his heart…Our understanding never has such great joy as when thinking of God.’” (St. Francis de Sales)

She reminds us the “long loneliness”–that’s the title she gave to her autobiography–  is the search for God that goes on in us all.

There’s a lot poisoning our times; Dorothy offers an antidote to it. “It is a great pity that there are not many more like Dorothy Day among the millions of American Catholics. There are never enough such people, somehow, in the church. But, without a few like her, one might well begin to wonder if we are still Christians, her presence is in some ways a comfort, in some ways a reproach.” (Letter from Thomas Merton)


Her autobiography “The Long Loneliness” is worth reading and rereading.  The Catholic Worker has a blog at .  Here a short video from CNS

3rd and 4th Sunday C; His Own Turn Against Him

Audio homily here:

Luke begins his account of Jesus’ public life by recalling his return to Nazareth after his baptism by John in the Jordan. This Sunday and next Sunday we read from Luke’s long account of that event.

Mark and Matthew tell this story later in their gospels, but Luke, who concentrates more on Jesus’ early life than the other evangelists, puts the beginning of Jesus’  public life in Nazareth, in the synagogue where he worshipped, among those who knew him best. (Luke 4, 14-21)

Luke paints the coming of Jesus into this world in broad, sweeping terms in his gospel. Caesar Augustus was the world’s ruler, Herod ruled in Palestine, others ruled under them. At the same time, he focuses on Jesus’ own personal history. Born in Bethlehem, Jesus’ first home is an obscure village in northern Galilee– Nazareth, where he grows “in wisdom and age and grace, before God and man.” There he was brought up.

The synagogue at Nazareth was probably like other synagogues in the towns of Galilee. Some, like that at Magdala on the Sea of Galilee, have been excavated in recent times. It was a small one story rectangular building, with two tiers of seating all around its walls, made for a town of no more than 500 people. In the middle of the synagogue was a stand holding copies of the various books of the scriptures. The synagogue was the center of life in those towns.

Jesus has returned to Nazareth after beginning his ministry “all through Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and praised by all. (Luke 4, 14-15) Now, back home, he goes into the synagogue on the Sabbath, “as he was accustomed to do.”

He gets up from his place to read the scriptures. (From the same place where he sat for years? Was Mary his mother there with him?) He’s “ handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.

He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring glad tidings to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down,

and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.

He said to them,

“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

A short sermon, and a powerful statement. “This scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, Jesus says. I’m anointed to bring glad tiding to the poor. Jesus claims a messianic calling.

His neighbors, who have known him for years, are first impressed, then question him, then deny his claims, then threaten to put him to death.

In their gospels, Mark and Matthew describe opposition to Jesus coming first from the scribes and Pharisees, the leaders from Jerusalem, but Luke sees opposition to Jesus coming first from his own hometown, from family, neighbors and friends. He knows how important this rejection is.

It’s true, isn’t it? When we enter this world, we enter the small unit of human life, a family, and beyond the family, the people and places that shape us early in life. We’re subject to this important smallness, our “Nazareths” where we grow “in wisdom and grace.” We’re first nourished there; we look for lasting love and support there. It means so much to us.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus will know opposition. Leaders of the people, public officials will oppose him.  In his final days, his own disciples will abandon him. Only a few will stand by his cross. The physical sufferings he endured were great. He was scourged, his head was crowned with thorns, his hands were nailed to a cross, he died hanging there long hours alone.

But rejection from his own at Nazareth will weigh heavily on him. It was a big part of the mystery of his cross. “He was amazed at their unbelief.” Yet, Jesus who embraced humanity with love, embraced Nazareth too. He loved it with God’s great love.

We have to pay a lot of attention to where we’re born, where we’re brought up, our families, the people we live and work with. Nazareth is important to us.


Friday Thoughts: Perfect Purpose


Lord God, let me truly enter Your Church.

Yes, my Lord, let me truly enter Your Body.

Let me enter Your Glorious Wounds.

Yes, my God, let me pierce the wound in Your Side.

And let me go deep within.

Let me make my way to Your Sacred Heart—and let me find its core—the essence of Your Being.

O then O Lord, O then shall I be!

For then shall I be as You will me to be—an individual drop of Your Most Precious Blood—circulating deep within—all to the perfect purpose of the Body, all in the perfect unity of the Spirit, all for the perfect glory of the Father.

God be praised!

So be it. So be it.

Amen. Amen.


—Howard Hain


Second Sunday C: A Wedding at Cana in Galilee


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

Cana and Nazareth, two small towns in Galilee, a mile or so apart, play a large role in Jesus’ early life and the beginning of his mission. They weren’t thought much of in Jesus’ day. Nathaniel’s remark, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” applies to Cana too.

Nazareth was situated on top of a mountain in upper Galilee; Cana was down closer to the plain of Esdraelon. The couple whose wedding Jesus and his mother attended likely came from a farm family, perhaps they were relations, perhaps only friends. It was a small town wedding. That’s all.

Yet, John’s gospel calls the miracle Jesus performed there, turning water into wine, the first “sign” of the promised kingdom to come. (John 2, 1-12) In John’s gospel “signs” are usually big miracles, like the raising of Lazarus from the dead or the cure of the man born blind. The miracle of water turned into wine doesn’t seem to measure up to signs like that.

What would have happened at Cana if there were no miracle that day? Well, there would be a family embarrassment, of course, but it would soon be forgotten.

Yet, this is the first sign of God’s kingdom coming, John says, and it happens in a small town for a couple whose names we don’t know. Could the miracle worked in Cana be a sign of God’s great love for nameless places like that and unknown people like them everywhere?

God loves everyplace, everything, everybody, small though they may be. God delights in the Canas of this world and the people living in them. Jesus not only gifted the wedding with wine but stayed for the feast.

Our reading from Isaiah today describes God as a bridegroom taking lowly Israel as a bride:

“No more shall men call you ‘Forsaken’

or your land ‘desolate’.

But you shall be called ‘ My delight’

and your land ‘espoused’

for the Lord delights in you

and makes your land his spouse.

As a young man marries a virgin,

your builder shall marry you,

and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride

so shall your God rejoice in you.”


Words fulfilled when Jesus came to the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee. His first sign.

Friday Thoughts: because you love Him


Ribalta, “Christ Embracing St. Bernard” (1625-27), detail

Jesus Christ Is Real.

Do not be afraid to feel His presence.

Ask to see His wounds, not for proof, but because you love Him.

Ask to see so that His wounds may become the womb, the womb from which you may be truly born again.

No, do not fear. Do not doubt. Do not explain it away. Do not shudder when His hand lands upon your shoulder.

No, lean into Him.

Place your head against His chest and be still, and know that He is God.

Hear His Heart
Feel His Breath
Rest in His Embrace

Jesus Christ Is Oh So Very Real!


—Howard Hain


Friday Thoughts: Playing Around

Bruegel, Children's Games, 1560

Bruegel, “Children’s Games”, (1560)


…and a little child will lead them.

—Isaiah 11:6


It’s the simple moments. It’s playing hide-and-seek. It’s pretending that what isn’t is.

Like a game made-up as we go, with only a single rule: It has to make us laugh.

But not the kind of laughter that hurts anyone or anything. No, it has to be true laughter, the kind that comes from and through kindness, through truly wanting to be with one another—so much so that we’ll make up just about any old game, just as long as we wont have to go our separate ways.

“Life” then becomes one big beautiful “excuse” to stay together, and our “actions” take on a tremendously meaningful fashion. They become like soft pieces of colorful clothing gently placed upon our joy-filled affections.

Little children know this through and through. They’re constantly changing and tailoring their “clothes”, adapting and accessorizing as they go, with only one goal in mind: for the “fun” to continue. But the fun they seek is not the kind that you and I normally desire—for little children know what few adults remember. They’re not so easily tricked. They know that fun, true fun, has very little to do with the actual game being played, in and of itself. For little children it’s all about what the game, as a mere instrument, allows them to experience—the freedom to let out love.

That’s why the type of game they play can turn on a dime. It just doesn’t matter.

Rules? Scores? Time-limits?

Who cares about stuff like that?

Are we “laughing”? Are we having “fun”? Are we still “with each other”?

Are we still in love?

These are the only questions that matter to a small child!

And with prayer it is much the same. Saints make up all kinds of “games” in order to “excuse” the time that they want so desperately to spend with God. They play all kinds of little games. They slide beads, they sing little songs, they pretend to be statues while playing hide-and-seek with the Lord, and some—the ones that the world most often calls crazy—even dream up little tales and fanciful stories, imagining along with God what could be if only everyone in the world would join in and play together.

But this is no big secret. All saints in one way or another come to say the same thing: Every technique, every approach, every means of entering into prayer…each and every one…they’re all part of one giant “excuse”, one seemingly never-ending “game”. For at the end of the day, techniques and approaches are at best a mere prelude to divine laughter—that infant-like sound composed of pure joy, that only the Love of God can bring into being.


He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

—Mark 10: 14-16


—Howard Hain


The Epiphany

Audio version of homily here:


Today, the Feast of the Epiphany, we remember the mysterious visitors from afar who came seeking the new-born King of the Jews. (Matthew 2,1-12)

Years ago, I remember wandering through the catacombs of Rome where early Roman Christians buried their dead. On the burial places of their loved ones they scratched the name of the deceased, little symbols and prayers, sometimes a picture from the bible.


In the catacombs of Priscilla there’s a 3rd century grave that belongs to a Roman woman named Severa. Her simple profile appears with an inscription that reads, “Severa, may you live with God.”

Beside the inscription are figures of the three Magi coming with their gifts to the little Child sitting on Mary’s lap. Over the Child is a star and the figure of a man, probably Balaam, the prophet who predicted a star would announce a new king in Judea. (Numbers 24,15-19)

What did this mean to her, you wonder? Surely Severa believed the Child brought eternal life to her and others like her. Perhaps she was baptized on the feast of the Epiphany, the oldest of the Christmas feasts, the most important day after Easter for baptisms in Rome and other western churches.



Her faith, which she would have expressed in the Apostles’ Creed, is the same as ours today. God made this world and guides it to its destiny. Jesus Christ is God’s Son, born of Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. On the third day he rose from the dead.

Severa believed in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

The Roman woman knew, too, the story of the Magi and Herod, the powerful king, who threatened the life of the new born Child. The power emperors who ruled Rome then were so much like the ruthless king, but Severa knew the Child was more powerful than them all. He would bring her to another world, God’s world.

“Severa, may we live with you in God.”


Friday Thoughts: Not Worthy

Albrecht Durer Saint Peter

Durer, “The Four Apostles” (1526), detail of St. Peter


When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.

Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”

When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.

—Luke 5:8,10,11


It is our job, perhaps our only job, to continually put ourselves into a perspective—in a relation to Christ—that causes us to truly believe with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds that we are not worthy of His sacrifice, His gift, His love for us as embodied in the Crucifixion and His glorious wounds—and then to share that “divine unworthiness” with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds with every brother and sister of Christ we cross.

For it is truly the most “unworthy” of news that best delivers the Good News.


“The centurion said in reply, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.”

—Matthew 8:8


Howard Hain