Monthly Archives: April 2016

6th Sunday of Easter C: Better than Now


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

I’ve been riding the subway in New York City for years and I’ve noticed a lot of changes over time. Of course it’s still not polite to look at people. Eye-contact or striking up a conversation aren’t done on the subway. It’s better to close your eyes during the ride, if you can, but also still remember to hold on tight to any bags you have with you. Until recently people would have a newspaper or a book to read; sometimes you could even see someone saying the rosary or reading a prayerbook.

But that’s all gone now, hardly any newspapers or books. Now a lot of people are checking out their messages or playing games or listening to music on their smart phones. The digital world has taken over. People seem locked into the fast moving electronic worlds of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. That’s not just in the subway, of course. It’s above ground too. More and more people are locked into the world of electronic bites.

The new media always wants something new, as long as it’s faster than what was before. One of the newest programs out there, I understand, is designed to keep you abreast of the world of the here and now exclusively. It will tell you about the latest murder, what Donald Trump just said, who just died, did the Mets just win, and it all disappears in 24 hours. All gone. The past gets in the way of what’s happening now. Don’t get distracted by the past. Now is what counts. What’s now is the only important thing.

Of course, if you’re just interested in the news now you may miss the Good News. The gospel we just read doesn’t seem to fit in the new media. That’s because it sees the most important thing in life as what’s happening now.

I was talking to a Jewish friend of mine the other day and he’s going to the synagogue these days to lead the prayers because his father died around this time, over 50 years ago. He was only a little boy when his father died, but he has wonderful memories of him and the prayers seem to keep those memories fresh. He told me he wished young people would put their iPads and iPhones down and take in life that’s around them. Pope Francis said the same thing in Rome the other day.

I can understand why people take their electronic devices into the subway. It’s a confined world down there where you sit or stand with a lot of people you may not know. But I wonder if something else could lift us up down there.
Suppose we thought about the words that Jesus says in today’s gospel. “Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” Can you imagine that: God would come and dwell with me? The God who made heaven and earth and everyone one of the people I’m sitting across from. God is here with us all.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” What a wonderful gift that is! The Lord gives us peace. He tells us not to be troubled or afraid. He’s with us, even there in subway. He’s with all of us. We think we’re strangers, but we’re all his children in his hands.

Those are good thoughts to think about anywhere, anytime, aren’t they? They’re Good News. They lift up life as it is, that we’re living now. We need to hear them now.

Friday Thoughts: Tiny Rose

—Howard Hain

The Vine

I visited  Laurita Winery in New Egypt, New Jersey, some years ago. Some of us wanted to see how wine was made.  Ray Shea, one of the owners, and Nicholaas Opdam, the Oenologist or Vineyard Manager, gave us a tour.

“ I am the vine, you are the branches” Jesus says in today’s  gospel. He saw  the vineyard as an image of the play between  heaven and earth. Growing grapes is as challenging as sowing seed, which can fall by the wayside, or on hard ground, or among thorns, and the birds of the air can eat it up.

Vines are similar. At the very least, the vine needs pruning. But there’s more.They depend on the right climate, they need the right amount of water, the soil in which they’re planted needs feeding and watchful adjusting. Blackbirds can swoop down on the ripening grapes. Better than protecting nets is a circling red-tailed hawk, the vineyard keepers say.

“We need good weather and other things beyond our control,” they told us.  Twice a year the vineyard is blessed, in the cold of January and during the harvest in October.

They’re using the latest technology and the wisdom of wine-makers from all over the world at this vineyard. Solar panels circling the fields harvest the energy of the sun and a man made lake collects vital water. Yet it’s no sure thing. It’s a risky business.

“I am the vine; you are the branches.” I must admit, I hardly thought of the patience, the risk, the dimensions behind this image, which is so richly incarnational.  A loaf of bread or a bottle of wine came to the table from nowhere, I thought.

Not so.

At the Eucharist, bread and wine just come to the table, from nowhere. Not so.

My Peace I Leave You

The gospel readings for the remainder of the Easter season are from the Farewell Discourse of Jesus from John’s gospel. (Chapters 13-17) At Passover, Jesus’ hour arrives when “he had to pass from this world to his Father.” (John 13,1) The mystery of his death and resurrection is here.

At his announcement, uncertainty and questions disturb his disciples. They’ve known and loved him intimately; now he tells them he’s leaving, for awhile, and they will no longer see him, for awhile. They seem to hear only the word “death.” During the farewell discourse, the disciples, like Mary Magdalene in the garden, try to cling to him. “Do not cling to me. I have not ascended to my father and your father, to my God and your God.”

They’ll be living in the “in-between-time.” They wont see him again as they’ve known him physically; nor will they see him in glory, unless it’s the glory reflected from his cross. Jesus promises not to leave them orphans, but he won’t be with them as he was with them before in the flesh. He will be with them as God is with them.

The “in-between-time” is the time of the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, who will teach them all things. Jesus too will be present, but in sacramental signs and words and deeds they remember.

The “in-between-time” is our time too. Like the disciples, we want to see, to touch, to know more, to have what’s promised us fulfilled. But this is the “in-between-time.”

In today’s gospel, Jesus promises his disciples the gift of peace. He calls it his peace, a particular kind of peace, a believer’s peace, peace for the “in-between-time” when we don’t see yet and the mystery of the cross only hints at glory.

Jesus’ words appear in the prayer we hear before Communion at Mass. “Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles, ‘Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.’ Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your church, and grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will. “

We sin against this peace by cynicism, lack of patience, weak faith– sins of the “in-between-time.” We wish this peace to each other; we pray that God grant us this peace as we receive the Eucharist.

Fifth Week of the Easter Season

Monday Acts 14, 5-18
John 14, 21-26
Tuesday Acts 14, 19-28
John 14, 27-31
Wednesday Acts 15, 1-6
John 15, 1-8
Thursday Acts 15, 7-21
John 15, 9-11
Friday Acts 15, 22-31
John 15, 12-17
Saturday Acts 16,1-10
John 15, 18-21

Through the Easter season until the Feast of Pentecost our first reading at Mass on ordinary days is from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. The lesson we learn from Acts is that the Risen Jesus creates and guides his church through time through the ministry of his followers.

From chapter 13 onward Luke concentrates on the missionary activity of Paul the Apostle and those associated with him. A sharpened Jewish reaction to Paul’s preaching develops at this time, as well as a greater acceptance of his message by the gentiles.

Paul’s experience is that “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” (Tuesday) The church must take the same path its Lord took.

At the same time, church order– how the church functions– has to be looked after. “They appointed presbyters for them in each Church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith.” (Tuesday)

“No little dissension and debate” goes on in the church of any age. (Wednesday) We need to go back to Jerusalem to get our bearings. The church is always bigger than some of its members may think. (Thursday and Friday) No matter what, the Spirit guides the church. (Saturday)

At the Last Supper–the gospel from John is read this week– Jesus promises his disciples peace. (Tuesday) He is the vine, we are the branches. (Wednesday) “Remain in my love,” he says. We are his friends (Friday) and if his friends then we have to follow the path he did. (Saturday)

5th Sunday of Easter: Bless them All

Audio homily here:

When we read the Acts of the Apostles in the easter season, we see another form of church. The church of Paul and Barnabas is certainly different in structure from the church we know today.

There were no parishes or dioceses then. In Rome, if you asked where the Vatican was, they’d point you to a race course on a hill on the fringe of the city where the emperor had his private games. There were no monasteries or religious communities or other Christian institutions.

When Paul and Barnabas went to different places, they went to the Jewish synagogues where they spoke about Jesus as the Messiah. The reaction to their message was mixed, at best. At times they were violently rejected, but some Jews and some “God-fearing gentiles” – non-Jews who appreciated Judaism and its spirituality– accepted their message about Jesus and his promise of salvation.

The synagogue was the normal “catechumenate” where early Christian missionaries like Paul and Barnabas found converts to the faith. No synagogues, as far as we know, became Christian churches.

Where, then, did new believers go? They gathered in the houses of other believers, in “house churches”, usually bigger houses belonging to merchants. The owners and their families lived in these houses, but they also conducted their business in part of the house. Their servants and slaves would live and work there too.

In his Letter to the Romans Paul sends his greeting to Prisca and Aquila and the “church in their house.” They were husband and wife, a couple of merchants who ran a leather business in Corinth. Paul lived with them for almost two years; he worked and taught in their house. After that, he lived in their house in Ephesus and founded the church in that city. He calls them “ my co-workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life. I am grateful to them but also all the churches of the gentiles.”

In Rome there were no churches as we know them till the 4th century, but historians count 25 house churches where  Christians met in the early centuries in that city.

Our church structure developed since then, we can see  a development in our first reading today. Paul is appointing leaders in every church. But there’s something important this early time can teach us. At the end of his Letter to the Romans, after expounding on some of his most profound teachings, Paul remembers a number of people in Rome he wants to greet. Prisca and Aquila and all the church in their house are the first; they must have moved back to Rome.  Then there are  a number of other names that seem to come spontaneously to his mind. They’re the names of ordinary Christians, not just the owners of the houses where Christians meet and their families, but the servants, the slaves, the ordinary people whom Paul lived with and worked with and prayed with side by side.

Unfortunately, this section of his letter is never read in church. It should be; it breathes with affection and appreciation and love for all the people who are the body of Christ. Listen to it.

Greet Prisca and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus,
who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I am grateful but also all the churches of the Gentiles; greet also the church at their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the firstfruits in Asia for Christ.
Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you.
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners; they are prominent among the apostles and they were in Christ before me.
Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord.
Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys.
Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus.
Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus.
Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord.
Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.
Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them.
Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the holy ones who are with them.
Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you. ( Romans 3,3-16)

Paul doesn’t want to leave anybody out. You can hear his love for them all. That’s the love Jesus had for his disciples. “Love one another, as I have loved you.” That’s the love that should be in our church, no matter what its structure is.

Friday Thoughts: A Note to a Dear Friend (and you are one of them)

Thomas couture soap bubbles 1859

Thomas Couture, “Soap Bubbles”, (1859)


A Note to a Dear Friend (and you are one of them),
You know that I never will be able to give enough thanks and praise to our Good God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, for all the blessings He has made manifest thru you: your thoughts, your words, your actions, your prayers—the intention of your heart—but most of all, His Divine Presence in you, with you, and working thru you.
No pure intention goes unanswered.
I have received so much.
My family has become so rich.
Praise be to God for His obedience in you—for allowing yourself to be an instrument in His mighty, powerful, faithful, and always present hand.
Thank you for your sacrifice.
Thank you for placing it upon the altar.
Thank you for participating in the sufferings of Jesus.
Thank you for offering up.
Thank you for receiving.
Thank you for doing so in union with Christ Jesus.
Thank you for praying the Eucharistic prayer.
Thank you for assisting Christ at Mass.
Thank you for saying “Amen”, “So be it”, “Yes”.
God bless you.
God bless you.
God bless you.

—It is I, little Howie Hain of Long Island, who pens this message and prayer to and for you. I, a small, poor, silly man, offering you the child of an Eternal King a present. I humbly wrap it in The Loving Wounds of Jesus. I devoutly seal it with The Precious Blood of Christ Crucified. And I gently deliver it upon the luminous rays of Christ Risen, Christ Ascended, and Christ promising to come again.
Please then receive this small “coin” as if handed to you from the poor woman in the Gospel whom Jesus praises—offering “little” but all that she has. Receive it as from a dear friend, a friend filled with gratitude, a friend bowing down his soul to praise the Lord, a friend asking The Good God to bless you—all of you—each and every one of you—those I have spent much time with in person and those I have spent much time with at Mass and in prayer but have never “met” nor even laid human eyes upon.
Christ is mighty.
His family is real.
The Community of Believers is present.
The Communion of Saints surrounds us.
The Holy Angels cheer!
“Holy, Holy, Holy…”



In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.   Amen.



—Howard Hain

Death Destroyed

On this Friday in the Easter season the poetic St. Ephrem the Syrian has this beautiful description of Christ conquering death:

“Death trampled our Lord underfoot, but he in his turn treated death as a highroad for his own feet. He submitted to it, enduring it willingly, because by this means he would be able to destroy death in spite of itself. Death had its own way when our Lord went out from Jerusalem carrying his cross; but when by a loud cry from that cross he summoned the dead from the underworld, death was powerless to prevent it.
 ” Death slew him by means of the body which he had assumed, but that same body proved to be the weapon with which he conquered death. Concealed beneath the cloak of his manhood, his godhead engaged death in combat; but in slaying our Lord, death itself was slain. It was able to kill natural human life, but was itself killed by the life that is above the nature of man.
  “Death could not devour our Lord unless he possessed a body, neither could hell swallow him up unless he bore our flesh; and so he came in search of a chariot in which to ride to the underworld. This chariot was the body which he received from the Virgin; in it he invaded death’s fortress, broke open its strong-room and scattered all its treasure.

Little Sisters of the Poor

For the last 7 days I have been with some of the Little Sisters of the Poor on retreat at their place in Flemington, NJ. We’ve been reflecting, for the most part, on the scripture readings from the lectionary for these days in the easter season, and I put some of my reflections down in previous blogs.

The Little Sisters of the Poor are currently engaged in a dispute on health care with the United States government and the case is before the Supreme Court. Here’s a website explaining their stand. They’re not an advocacy group; they take care of the elderly poor in residences in this country and throughout the world. Holy women, they’re doers, not talkers.

I didn’t mention the case in my talks these days; they were days of prayer and reflection. But the easter readings from the Acts of the Apostles do seem to offer them a template for this experience. As the teacher of the law Gamaliel said about the Jewish-Christians arranged before the Sanhedrin,, “If it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.” Acts 5, 39

Another lesson we learn from the Acts of the Apostles is that the mystery of the passion and resurrection is always present in our lives and the journey we make together as a community. No matter how dark it seems, God brings us to life and light. That’s the way the Kingdom of God comes.

The Little Sisters know a lot about caring for the elderly, especially the elderly poor, something our government may not know much about, if truth be told. Instead of prosecuting them for breaking a law, wouldn’t it be better to get their advice how to treat the frail elderly? Care for an aging population is a growing challenge for our society.

The Little Sisters know something about it.

Gift of the Easter Season

We think of the easter season from Easter to  the Ascension of Jesus into heaven as a period when little happens, but St. Leo the Great thinks otherwise.

“Those days which intervened between the Lord’s Resurrection and Ascension did not pass by in uneventful leisure, but great mysteries were ratified in them and deep truths were revealed.
In those days the fear of death was removed with all its terrors, and the immortality not only of the soul but also of the flesh was established. In those days the Holy Ghost is poured upon all the Apostles through the Lord’s breathing upon them, and to the blessed Apostle Peter, set above the rest, the keys of the kingdom are entrusted and the care of the Lord’s flock.
It was during that time that the Lord joined the two disciples as a companion on the way, and, to sweep away all the clouds of our uncertainty, reproached them for the slowness of their timid and trembling hearts. Their enlightened hearts catch the flame of faith, and lukewarm as they have been, they are made to burn while the Lord unfolds the Scriptures. In the breaking of bread also their eyes are opened as they eat with him. How much more blessed is that opening of their eyes, to the glorification of their nature, than the time when our first parents’ eyes were opened to the disastrous consequences of their transgression.
Dearly beloved, through all this time which elapsed between the Lord’s Resurrection and Ascension, God’s Providence had this in view, to teach his own people and impress upon their eyes and their hearts that the Lord Jesus Christ had risen, risen as truly as he had been born and had suffered and died. Hence the most blessed Apostles and all the disciples, who had been both bewildered at his death on the cross and backward in believing his Resurrection, were so strengthened by the clearness of the truth that when the Lord entered the heights of heaven, not only were they affected with no sadness, but were even filled with great joy.”