Monthly Archives: July 2016

18th Sunday C: You Can’t Take It With You

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

For the last four Sundays our gospels have been from St. Luke’s journey narrative. From chapter 9 to Chapter 18 Luke’s gospel describes the journey Jesus takes from Galilee to Jerusalem where he will suffer and die and rise again. This is not an ordinary journey. He gathers disciples on his way. He’s not making this journey alone. On his way to Jerusalem Jesus calls people to follow him and he teaches them how to follow him, so that they may be taken up into the mystery of his death and resurrection.

We learn as we listen how Jesus called people then and what following him means. We learn how he calls people now.

For one thing, we see that some of those Jesus met then didn’t seem eager to follow him at all. For example, two weeks ago our Sunday gospel was about the teacher of the law who asks Jesus “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus tells him to love God and love his neighbor. But Luke says the teacher of the law, “wishing to justify himself” says “Who is my neighbor?” You get the impression that this fellow is a self-assured teacher who knows everything. He’s one of the scribes, the Jewish teachers whom the gospels say were hostile to Jesus. He’s there not to learn or to follow but maybe to compete, to show off what he knows or to discredit Jesus as a teacher.

Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, which seems to silence the teacher of the law. You wonder if the meeting challenged him and eventually changed him. We don’t know. What we do know is that Jesus met people on the journey to Jerusalem who didn’t respond immediately to his call, like the teacher of the law.

Matthew’s gospel has a similar story, about a rich young man who approaches Jesus on the journey and asks him “ What must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus tells him to love God and his neighbor and adds the challenge to “Go sell what you have and give to the poor and come follow me. But the young man “went away sad, for he had many possessions. ( Matthew 19, 16 ff.)

Again, we wonder if the young man ever reconsidered later? We like to think so. But the story doesn’t say. It only says that he resisted the call of Jesus. In the case of the rich young man, it looks like his life style got in the way.

Today’s gospel is about another person who doesn’t seem to answer Jesus’ invitation to follow him. “Someone in the crowd said to Jesus “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” You can see what’s mainly on his mind– money and maybe getting back at his brother. Not an unusual story, by the way. A lot of family fights are about money.

Jesus tells the man “I’m not here as your lawyer or financial mediator.” In fact, he cautions him about greed. “Life does not consist of possessions.” Then he tells the story of a rich farmer feverishly building barns for storing his wealth and thinking, “This will do it! I can rest, eat, drink and be merry for the rest of my life.”

“You fool,” God says. “You and your wealth can be gone in a night.”

It’s another story of Jesus’ call on his journey from Galilee to Jerusalem going unanswered.

As we listen to these stories, it’s evident that some then didn’t answer the call of Jesus to follow him and we see some of the reasons why. In the teacher of the law, it seems to be pride. He knows everything. In the rich young man, it was his life style, the good life. In the man in today’s gospel, it was money and greed and maybe anger with his family. The things make them deaf to the call that can bring them so much; they can’t hear.

It’s the same today. The journey of Jesus goes on in our time and in our lives. He calls us now and we may resist him, for many of the same reasons we’ve mentioned. We can be just as deaf as some were then.

But there’s something else we should remember as we read the gospel narrative of Luke about the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem. The journey is a favorite theme in Luke’s gospel. It occurs over and over. A key to its meaning is found in the journey reported in the last chapters of Luke’s gospel when Jesus, risen from the dead, journeys from Jerusalem to Emmaus with two of his disciples. They don’t recognize him, but he keeps walking with them unrecognized, patiently continuing to challenge their unbelief and reluctance, waiting for the moment when their hearts burn and they recognize him. He stays with them, the gospel says. The journey is a journey of mercy and patience. He will not leave them.

That’s what we should remember as we hear these stories from the past and see them also in stories of the present. Certainly we should learn to avoid what we see in these stories. But what about the teacher of the law, the rich young man, the man fighting over money? Did they only get one chance and that was it, or did Jesus keep walking with them and challenging them.

Luke’s Gospel teaches that conversion is a lifelong gift. All through our lives Jesus calls, even though we resist him, even though we fail. At the end of St. Luke’s story of the passion, Jesus’ last words are to a thief who failed. He calls him again, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”

Friday Thoughts: A Room Full of Toys

An Old Man and his Grandson ca 1490 by Domenico Ghirlandaio

Domenico Ghirlandaio, “An Old Man and his Grandson”, ca. 1490

 


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Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.

—John 14:1


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awoken by the night

the good father makes his rounds

peeking into rooms to make sure all is where it should be

a silent prayer

a midnight blessing

a distant siren

a room full of toys

a smile

a memory

giving life to his own father’s watchfulness many years before

the needy cat cries

he better attend to her needs

before she awakes the rest of the house

but before returning to bed

he’ll lovingly recall

once more

a great promise

a great hope

a room full of toys

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In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?

—John 14:2


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—Howard Hain

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Feast of St. James, the Greater. July 25

James the greater
James and John were sons of Salome and Zebedee, the gospels say, and at the Sea of Galilee Jesus called them to follow him. They were fishermen, relatives of Jesus. The gospels mention James first; he must have been the oldest. They’re described as quick-tempered and ambitious but they were part of the innermost circle of Jesus’ companions. They heard him teach and saw him transfigured in glory and then shaking with fear in the garden of Gethsemane before his death.

Our first reading at Mass for the Feast of St. James reminds us that “we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians, 4,7) A good description of James and his brother John. They’re earthen vessels indeed, as our gospel describes them, using their mother Salome as their intermediary, looking for a big place in the kingdom they hope Jesus will bring. Earthen vessels break easily.

Jesus asks them if they can drink from the chalice that he will drink from, the chalice of serving others, no matter what the cost. “We can,” they say.

His brother John and his mother Salome stood near the cross of Jesus, but James fled immediately when Jesus was seized in the garden. Yet, God’s “surpassing power” filled him with treasures of faith, and James drank from the cup he was asked him to drink.

According to the Acts of the Apostles, James spoke bravely about Jesus risen from the dead to the people of Jerusalem and to the Jews visiting the Holy City from all parts of the world at Pentecost. He became a leader of the Jerusalem church.

In the year 41, Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great, became king of Judea and ruled in Jerusalem. Educated in Rome, he knew how to favor the emperors of his time and he also knew how to please the powerful Jewish ruling class that had a key role in his kingdom.

When the Jewish Sanhedrin accused Christians of threatening the peace of Jerusalem, Herod sent his soldiers to seize James, the son of Salome and Zebedee, and had him executed by the sword. Strike the shepherd, Herod reasoned, and the sheep will scatter.

James was the first of the apostles to die a martyr’s death. “My cup indeed you will drink,” Jesus promised, and his promise came true.

17th Sunday C: Are Prayers Answered?

Audio version of homily here:

Two wonderful readings in today’s Mass for the 17th Sunday of the Year. (Genesis 18,20-32,Luke 11, 1–13)

The Genesis story says that God came down to stand with Abraham before two notorious cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, that stood near the Dead Sea. Should these places be destroyed? God comes down and looks at these evil cities with Abraham at his side.

Not a pretty picture, the two cities where corruption and evil of every kind have taken hold. We might imagine seeing the same picture in some places we know today.

But Abraham speaks up for them, and how familiarly he speaks to God! “Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city; would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it for the sake of the fifty innocent people within it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to make the innocent die with the guilty so that the innocent and the guilty would be treated alike! Should not the judge of all the world act with justice?”

How simply they talk together. “How about 45 people? How about 30, 20, 10,” Abraham asks? “I would save the city for 10,” God says at the end.

We’re told something about God here. God certainly doesn’t want the world destroyed, even if evil seems so bold and prevalent. God who made heaven and earth stands with us as we look regularly at our world, seeing what we see and even more. God wants to save what God has made.

We’re also told something about how we as human beings should face evil in our society as we listen to Abraham, our father in faith. He stays hopeful about the world he lived in, even at its worse. He wants to save it too. Shouldn’t we follow him?

Notice Luke’s version of the Our Father in the gospel for today. Unlike Matthew, Luke omits the phrase “who art in heaven.” Does the evangelist want us to know that God is not a distant God, far away and unavailable–in heaven? God is the Father standing at our side, looking on the same reality we do. A Father who gives us daily bread and nourishment, who opens the door we think is closed. A constant watchful parent, ever present, never far away.

These readings invite us to pray to God in a familiar way when we face evil in our world. That advice might not be a popular today. Recent surveys of religious belief say that many Americans believe in God, but does that mean they believe in a familiar God, like the God revealed in our two readings today? Or is God simply unknowable, maybe possible, uncertain, or someone for an emergency? Is God someone we can talk to as we face hard days, and does God answer our prayers?

In facing the violence and hard times of today, we often hear calls for prayer, but today you also hear some say: “Forget about prayer, let’s do something about it.”

If we hear our first reading for today, Abraham’s prayer was doing something about it. His prayer came from his concern and love for people and cities dsperately in need. And God was not unconcerned either, if we understand our reading right. God hears.

Prayer is not something we should forget about. It’s the most important step to take when we need to be delivered from evil.

Is God at the Convention?

Our political conventions are beginning. A time, especially this year, when we wonder about our future. No perfect candidates, no perfect plans, no perfect solution. Should we pay any attention at all?

I’m thinking of John Henry Newman, the illustrious 19th century English theologian who converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism in 1845. An Italian Passionist priest, Fr. Dominic Barbari, received him into the church.

Newman’s conversion came through his efforts to bring the Church of England, then struggling against the rationalism of the Enlightenment, back to its orthodox Christian roots. He sought the answer in studying  early Christianity and its development to the present day. The Oxford Movement begun by Newman and other university friends strongly affected the Anglican church and other Christian churches of his time.

Originally convinced that the Catholic Church was corrupt and unfaithful to the gospel, Newman came to accept it as the Church founded by Jesus Christ. An important reason for his acceptance was his study of the Donatists, a 4th century Christian group that split from the larger church over who should be members of the church. The Donatists believed that the church should be a church of saints, not sinners.

Newman came to understand that the Church develops over time, and its development takes place in the real world, which is the world of saints and sinners. The spirituality he arrived at was anchored in this reality. We live in a world of weeds and wheat. “Nothing would be done at all if one waited until one could do it so well that no one could find fault with it.” We don’t live in a perfect world or a perfect church.

The world we live in is blessed by God with a purpose and a mission. No, it’s not perfect nor will it ever be perfect.We may cringe at the circus our political world can create these next few weeks. But that doesn’t mean we don’t try to make politics live up to its ideals. In all the hoopla God is at work.

 

16th Sunday: Martha and Mary

Martha Mary 2

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

This Sunday at Mass we read from the Gospel of Luke about the visit of Jesus to Martha and Mary.

It’ s hard for us to keep the gospels separate and let each evangelist tell the story he wants to tell, and so when we hear about Martha and Mary in Luke’s gospel, we can’t help but think about the Martha and Mary in John’s gospel, who live in Bethany, whose brother Lazarus dies and whom Jesus will raise from the dead.

In John’s gospel Martha seems to shine, as she runs to meet Jesus and expresses her faith  when her brother dies:

“’Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.’

“Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.’

Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,kand everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”* lShe said to him, ‘Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.’” (John 11, 21-27)

You can’t ask for a stronger expression of faith than that, can you?

But Luke presents the two women differently in his gospel. So let’s hear his story. This is the only mention Luke makes of Martha and Mary in his gospel. It’s all he tells us about them. He doesn’t say they live in Bethany or that they have a brother named Lazarus who died and was raised.

No, this story is part of Luke’s journey narrative of Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. Luke wants to tell us that Jesus the prophet is making his way to Jerusalem and when he enters your house you should listen to him. That’s what Mary does, she listens to him. Martha is too concerned with taking care of things and she misses what he says.

I suppose we can say that like Martha we can get so caught up with what we’re doing that we miss what Jesus the prophet wants to say to us. We might be doing very good things, but we all need to listen more. We might be the best people, but even the best people may not listen enough.

Still, I  find it hard not to praise  Martha as we listen to Luke’s gospel. St. Augustine obviously had a soft spot for her. He says that Martha cared for the “Word made flesh,” who was hungry and thirsty, tired and in need of human care and support. “She longs to share what Mary enjoys, his presence, his wisdom and his gifts. And she will find her desires fulfilled.

“Martha, if I may say so, you will find your service blessed and your work rewarded with peace. Now you are much occupied in nourishing the body, admittedly a holy one. But when you come to the heavenly homeland you will find no traveller to welcome, no one hungry to feed or thirsty to give drink, no one to visit or quarrelling to reconcile, no one dead to bury.”

“No, there will be none of these tasks there. What you will find there is what Mary chose. There we shall not feed others, we ourselves shall be fed. What Mary chose in this life will be realized there in full. She was gathering only fragments from that rich banquet, the Word of God. Do you wish to know what we will have there? The Lord himself tells us when he says of his servants, Amen, I say to you, he will make them recline and passing he will serve them.”

Friday Thoughts: Pray the Mass

Paul Cézanne Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses) 1895-1905

Paul Cezanne, “Bathers” (Les Grandes Baigneuses), 1895-1905 

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“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”

—1 Thessalonians 5:17


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Come with me. I love to go. I so love to go. The Mass in its abundant overflow.
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“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…” (John 3:16)
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Come with me. It doesn’t matter what language you speak, nor what color skin your flesh happens to wear. Come. Be one with the Lord.

Pray the great prayer of the Church. Pray with sinners like me. Pray with all God’s Angels and Saints.

Pray the Mass. O, how God loves for us to share, to participate in Christ’s salvation of the world!

Living sacrifices. Gifts of bread and wine.

Come. Come. He is so very real. So much love. His Liturgy kisses each individual brow.

Begin your day by adjusting your ear…

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” (Psalm 95)

Pray the Mass. Live it at home. Hour by hour. Minute by minute. Work through the Mass as you work through your day—knowing that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is being celebrated at every moment throughout the entire world.

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“The Lord be with you. And with your spirit.”
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Antiphon to Antiphon. Introductory to Concluding Rites. Let the Mass order your day.

The Sign of the Cross upon opening your eyes.

“Kyrie, eleison…”, as you rise from bed.

A morning shower beneath God’s infinite reign of mercy: “Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”

Read. Confess. Sing. Proclaim.

Wash the dishes. Run to the store.

Always praise. Yes, always praise: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.”

Head to work. Attend a meeting. Go for a run.

“Alleluia, alleluia”:  The Gospel Acclamation.

It’s almost high noon. Enjoy the Sun. The light of God’s face. Hear the Holy Spirit’s instruction and inspiration for the day. Hold up your wounds, pray in union with God’s Crucified Child…

Offer the Universal Prayer while waiting for the bus…

Intercede for the entire world: the salvation of souls, the conversion of sinners, a unified church, the remembered and forgotten souls in purgatorial fire…

…for the sick, the persecuted, the poor, the imprisoned, the hungry, the thirsty…for every single soul for whom God wills us to pray…

For all the intentions of Jesus’ Most Sacred Heart.

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“I believe in one God…”

Time for lunch.

Prepare the table. Acknowledge God’s goodness. Accept His gifts:

“By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ…”

Live. Breathe. Be free and at ease.

Let the Eucharistic Prayer flow into the core of your being:

“Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord…”

“…Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts…”

Watch as angels ascend and descend…your gifts borne “by the hands of God’s holy Angel to His altar on high…”

A priest at this very moment lifts the hands of Christ:

“Through him, and with him, and in him…”

———

Afternoon arrives:

“Behold the Lamb of God.”

Ask Jesus to come into your soul. Properly position yourself at the foot of the table:

“Lord, I am not worthy…but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

Jesus thirsts to enter. Learn to open wide. Beg God on bended knee. Beg Him for the grace to generously give and graciously receive:

“The Body of Christ.

The Blood of Christ.”

“Amen.

Amen.”

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Sitting in traffic. Waiting on a call. Wanting to get home.

“Period of silence or song of praise.”

Rest beneath the external chaos, enter the internal peace of the Kingdom that resides deep within. Remember that Jesus—Body, Blood, Soul, Divinity—continues to transform your entire being.

Stop and go. Almost home. Evening approaches.

The prayers the priest says quietly at the altar—pray them too—ceaselessly in the silence of your consecrated heart.

“Lord Jesus Christ…free me by this, your most holy Body and Blood…

…keep me always faithful…never let me be parted from you.”

Park the car. Say hello to a man who’s homeless. Briefly visit a confused elderly neighbor. Prepare to sit peacefully around your kitchen table. Practice patience. Hug and kiss the kids. Allow the joy of Christ to radiate outward from the eternal spring within.

At the close of supper, give great thanks, and call to mind an after-communion prayer:

“What has passed our lips as food, O Lord, may we possess in purity of heart, that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity.”

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Now circle around and approach the end of this blessed day much like the way you began—for somewhere out there—Mass is just about to begin:

“The Lord be with you. And with your spirit.”

Brush your teeth. Prepare to sleep the sleep of a most blessed mystical death. Ask Mother Mary to help you dress for the flight.

“May almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

———

Kiss your wife goodnight.

Turn off the lamp.

Close your eyes in God’s perfect peace. The Mass at your right hand. Its liturgical rhythm steadily beating within your sacred heart.

Darkness descends.

“Go forth, the Mass is ended.”

The best is yet to come.

Faith. Hope. Love.

Eternal Life.

And as always: “Thanks be to God.”


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“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…”

—John 3:16


 

—Howard Hain
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(Note: All italicized quotations are from The Order of Mass, unless otherwise indicated.)
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After Thoughts: Liturgy of Seasons

Maurice de Vlaminck partie de campagne 1905

Maurice de Vlaminck, “La partie de campagne”, 1905

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Be still, and know that I am God.

—Psalm 46:11


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Don’t move. If you do, you’ll burst into sweat.

This is when you know it’s hot. The slightest movement brings about spontaneous combustion.

God will have His way. If the cold wont get you to sit still in front of a fire, then the oppressive heat of summer will stop you in your tracks in the middle of an otherwise busy day.

That is until modern HVAC has its way.

So much progress. So much heating, ventilation and air-conditioning.

I wonder if we’d pay more attention to the Church calendar, more attention to prayer, more attention to God in general if we spent more time within His seasonal elements. I am fairly certain we’d spend a lot more time sitting still.

Yes, modern climate control may give us more time in many ways, but that certainly doesn’t imply that we spend that time well. For we are very weak, and most additional “freedom” most normally results in increased amounts of wasted, fruitless, and spiritually-empty activity.

Besides, voluntary sitting still is very different than forced stillness. Voluntary is certainly better—in terms of us using our freewill wisely, and in terms of us positioning ourselves to “know” God’s presence—but, on the other hand, when stillness is forced upon us, we actually might do it. We actually might stop, and we actually might be more concerned with “not moving” than just about anything else. That’s a funny consequence of truly compulsory conditions, when they come about through God’s perfectly ordained plan: The more we’re forced into something by factors greater and holier than ourselves, and the more we don’t resist but cooperate, the more we find ourselves desiring the consequences of the very conditions that were “forced upon us” in the first place.

When was the last time you had to sit still for any extended period of time in front of a fire in order to keep warm on a dangerously cold night, or sit extremely still in order to fend off the truly oppressive heat of a summer afternoon?

For that matter, forget the extreme cases, when was the last time you or I didn’t have a modern source of heating or cooling within a few steps on even moderately cool or warm days?

Most of us living within this culture and during this time are no longer very dependent upon “our sister Mother Earth” to force us into life changing ways. Yes, I know of course about the big storms and floods, the fires and earthquakes—the catastrophic natural events—but in terms of day-to-day living for the great majority of people in the Western world, daily climate is not something that cramps our modern, in-control-of-everything style. It is really quite ironic when we stop and think about it, for we hear so much about climate change, and yet most of us who may ponder that very question do so while comfortably residing within temperature-controlled homes, offices, and automobiles that make us almost oblivious to natural and seasonal weather changes.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we should collectively trash our heating or a/c units and move back into the pre-HVAC age. I enjoy my heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning as much as my Middle-Eastern and Central-American neighbors living next door.

It’s just that I was forced into thinking about this. You see, my daughter is off from school and busy playing and making the “noises” that accompany such joy, and my wife is currently a busy little bee, walking in and out of each room, cleaning, straitening, and unpacking the laundry. I had little choice but to leave the house to get a few undisturbed moments of quiet. So here I am behind an urban two-family home, sitting within a somewhat screened-in gazeebo on a blacktopped driveway, trying not to move.

I thank God for allowing me to sweat. For reminding me of just how much I cannot control. For reminding me that exterior stillness and interior peace, although connected, are not one and the same. I also thank Him for allowing me to forget for the time being just how sensitive my feet, especially the first few toes of my left foot, are to the cold.

And now that I think about it, now that I have begun to give thanks, I’m realizing that it’s really not that bad. It’s not that hot. It’s kind of nice in fact. And I definitely notice that it has kept my writing in check. The word count of this piece has most surely been stunted, and I am very, very certain that that is for the best. I think I’ll leave it here then and wrap it up. And afterward, I’ll spend some time doing just about nothing, allowing the heat to box me in and keep me comfortably quiet.

I must admit though, I feel a bit guilty, knowing that it won’t be too long before I walk back into a climate controlled, air-conditioned environment—that is once the mosquitos begin to bite (thank God for screens!).

But maybe that’s just the point.

God’s will has its way.

His seasons, His entire world, always speaks to us.

His Liturgy never ends.

The Liturgy of Seasons cannot be stopped.

 

Happy Monday of the 15th week in Ordinary Time!

(Year: C(II). Psalter: Week 3. Liturgical Color: White. Memorial: St. Benedict.)

(Monday, July 11, 2016.)

(Hot. Humid. Partial Sunshine. Very Slight Chance of Thunderstorm.)

(Sunset 8:28 PM. Moon: Waxing Crescent, Illumination: 45%.)

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—Howard Hain

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15th Sunday C: The Good Samaritan

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

“Jewish Settlers, Attacked, Needed Help. A Palestinian Doctor Didn’t Hesitate.” That was the headline of a story in the New York Times this week. Doctor Ali Shroukh was driving from a west bank town to Jerusalem to pray at the end of the Moslem celebration of Ramadan when he came upon a car of Jewish settlers overturned after a Palestinian gunman shot and killed its driver, Rabbi Michael Mark, 46, father of 10 children. His family were injured in the incident and the Palestinian doctor treated them till help arrived.

“His response,” the Times article said, “ was an act of kindness in a conflict often bereft of it, particularly amid the violence of the last nine months, when Palestinians have killed more than 39 Israeli. Over 210 Palestinians have also been killed, many while committing an attack or intending to do so.

Who is treated and who is not, is a contentious issue.”

A story like that helps us to understand the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which Jesus told in response to the question of a scholar of the law, “ Who is my neighbor?” The Samaritans were the Palestinians of Jesus’ time. Just a few Sundays ago, you may remember in our gospel story,
James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples, wanted fire to come down from heaven upon a Samaritan village that refused to let Jesus and his disciples pass through. You remember what the Samaritan woman in John’s gospel said to Jesus when he asks her for a drink of water. “How can you, a Jew, ask me a Samaritan woman for a drink?” (John 4, 9)

Hard feelings and the animosity between the two peoples were strong. Acts of kindness between them were almost unheard of. Yet Jesus says that’s what loving your neighbor means. A neighbor can be nice or difficult, great or horrible, easy to talk to or hard to figure out, just like us or not like us at all. Jesus says you have to love them all, and that’s not easy.

When we love our neighbor that way we love people the way God loves them. Neighbors can come in all shapes and sizes. God loves them all, “the long and the short and the tall.”

Neighborhoods, too, can be bigger than the one we live in. What about the neighborhood of our world? More and more it seems our world neighborhood is breaking down into armed camps or walled fortresses. More and more it seems we are concerned, like the priest and the Levite in our parable today, with getting where we are going and ignoring anybody else, whether it’s poor immigrants fleeing from wars or economic hardship, or people without jobs and what they need to take care of their families. And what about the racial tensions that are pulling our own country apart now? We’re looking at a wounded world, a wounded country; we need to stop and take care of it.

Our gospel reading is really a direct challenge to each of us and to all of us, isn’t it? Thank God for the Palestinian doctor who stopped to care of a family of Jewish settlers. That kind of love brings healing far beyond that time and place. That kind of love is the only kind that will heal our world, and we ask the Lord to make us capable of loving like that.

Friday Thoughts: Walled Garden (2)

(Please note: This is part 2 of a piece entitled “Walled Garden”. To read part 1, simply click here: Friday Thoughts: Walled Garden (1))


pissarro orchards at louveciennes 1872

Camille Pissarro, “Orchards at Louveciennes”, 1872

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And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

—John 19:27


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On leaving the convent I came upon the friar I noticed on my way in. The little dog was no longer around. We approached each other as if we had met before. He was kind. He was middle-aged. He was simple. And then the strangest thing occurred. He took me by the arm, the way men stroll in Italy, arm-in-arm, during the evening passeggiata—the evening stroll.

But I had never met this man before.

Yes, it is certainly strange to have an unknown man approach you and link his arm in yours.

He led me toward a dirt path. We strolled. We spoke little. He didn’t speak English and my Italian was tiny. But it was nice. Peaceful. It didn’t feel strange. I only now use that word, for from a somewhat forced “objective” perspective, it seems that it had to be.

He was a man of God. And he saw I was too, before I had any idea God had undeservedly entrusted me with such a gift. The gift of loving God. The gift of wanting Him more than I could ever explain. The gift of being an outcast here in this world of time, a wanderer, a pilgrim, a crusading knight of Lady Poverty—of being—in yet again, some strange kind of way—a lady-in-waiting—patiently and painfully anticipating the exuberant arrival of the one and only eternal groom.


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He brought me to what appeared to be an old foundation. I understood from what few words we exchanged that this was the remains of an abandoned orphanage. And then we began to head back toward whence we came. I remember offering him some bread that I had in my bag, purchased that morning in the city of Assisi up above. He lightly touched his stomach with one hand and shook his head “no”—a kind, polite, gracious, and utterly grateful, “no-thank-you” kind of “no”.

When we arrived at the door of the convent I understood from his gestures that he was inviting me to see something inside. It was clearly something that I had not yet seen. I motioned “yes” and we entered. We climbed a staircase and walked down a hallway. We were in an area not open to the public. The walls revealed its age. And we approached a door. A wooden door. And he unlocked it with an old large skeleton key. He opened the door and motioned for me to go inside, quietly informing me that this is Saint Clare’s cell. I entered and he remained outside. He gently pulled the door closed.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I was safe. I knew I wasn’t locked in. I was pleasantly confused. I looked around. It was small. It was literally a cell. Enclosed. All stone. A low tight arched ceiling. Bright. Dark. Cozy. Warm. Beautiful.

A tabernacle. A womb. A virgin’s womb.


 

At the end of the somewhat rectangular shaped room was a small alter-like shelf. I knelt before it. I have not the slightest recollection of what I prayed.  Of what I thought. Of anything spiritually taking place. I was just there. And I remained a few minutes. And then I left. I opened the door and I was all alone. No friar. I closed the door behind me and made my way back down from where I had come.

It seemed as if nothing extraordinary had happened. It was all so normal. So everyday. Yet it was nothing of the sort. It was extraordinary. It was an encounter. I think. Perhaps.


 

I think of little Mary. Alone in her room. I think of a gentle breeze and the sight of a bowing angel.

“Hail, full of grace…”

What a name, what a title to be given!

Gabriel holding the key that opens the door.

The young, chosen, highly-favored virgin agrees to hear his message, to walk arm-in-arm with him, to accompany him to she knows not where. She agrees to accept God’s invitation.

The Holy Spirit comes upon her simple life, her simple way, her simple manner.

The power of the Most High overshadows her daily existence.

Our Father confirms her trusting posture, her grace-filled instinct to utter the purest of prayers:

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“Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38)

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Jesus entered a private, off-limits room. He made His home there.

And He never left.


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“…when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret…”

—Matthew 6:6


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—Howard Hain

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