Monthly Archives: September 2016

Friday Thoughts: A Simple Landscape

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George Cole, “Harvet Rest”, 1865

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A painter has a great advantage, as does a writer I suppose. He can scratch out, erase, and paint over. He can throw out and start again. He can expand the landscape or focus in on a detail. There is great freedom in creation. Yet none of it has any value unless it comes from and leads back toward God.

The great sweeping landscapes painted throughout the years. I want to dive into so many of them. To run toward the distant hills, to sit beside the babbling brooks, to hitch a ride on the hay wagon making its way round the bend. But most of all I want to join the peasants, working the fields or gathered around the base of a giant oak for a bite of second-day bread, and perhaps even a sip of slightly watered-down wine.

I want to hear the simple strings of a Spanish guitar, the worn-out wood of a French violin, the voice of yet another “Maria” toiling beneath the Italian plein air.

The pleasant thought of resting beside a river bed—of catching a not-so-quick nap within the shade of God’s ever-expanding and contracting canopy of leaves.

Even the bark of an English Foxhound could not interrupt thee!

———

I don’t want to be told that this isn’t reality. I don’t want to be told that it’s a bit romantic.

I want to live simply. I want to work an honest wage. I want to stop at noon to give the good God rightful thanks and praise.

I want to visit the graves of the dead with a bouquet of hope and faith.

I want to truly retire each night.

———

Love is enough.

It is enough for you and for me.

———

There is never enough if that we fail to see.


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—Howard Hain

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Morning Thoughts: Counting Drops

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Massimo Stanzione, “Pieta”, (1621-25)


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For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

—1 Corinthians 13:12


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Nothing.

Some days all we can do is count raindrops. There seems to be little else on the horizon.

For we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor. 5:7)

On days such as these, a friend, a family member, a neighbor—perhaps even a stranger—may ask us if anything is wrong.

The answer is short and straightforward: “No, nothing at all.”

Yet, it is precisely that.

“Nothing” is precisely the problem:

The abyss of faith.

It’s hard.

It’s hard to journey in darkness.

It’s hard to swim in a bottomless sea without attempting every once in a while to touch bottom.

It’s also hard not to wonder if there’s something dangerous swimming just below.

But we must resist temptation, no matter its shape or size.

We must keep our eyes on the Island of Hope, with its very distinct Tree of Life, firmly planted, and reaching far above the horizon.

Instead of looking backwards or beneath, we must look to Christ lifted high up upon the Cross.

———

We too must ascend. We too must rise above knowledge, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead…” (Phil. 3:13)

And we must never despair. Never.

And why would we? God’s drops of love are everywhere.

Start to count them. Start to count this very day. Count the drops dripping from Christ’s open wounds. His crucified presence abounds; there are so many instances of Christ being put to the test—of Christ being nailed to the Cross—right in front of us, each and every day.

The Crucified Christ we personally discover within our immediate presence, literally within arm’s reach, just may be that same friend, family member, neighbor, or stranger who asked us just a little while ago if anything was wrong.

———

Count your blessings on the outstretched fingers of the Lord.

Order your days according to the Stations of His Cross.

For without the Passion there is no Resurrection.

That’s part and parcel of The Promise:

God became man, so that man may dwell eternally with God.

His promise is everything.

Our doubt is nothing.

And the space in between, the space between His promise and our doubt, is filled with the very real stuff we call “life”— “the nuts and bolts” of daily existence, the building blocks of the Body of Christ—the Kingdom of God.

We just have to continue to walk, in faith, one step at a time. Knowing that we never walk alone.

Christ is always with us. He shares our total existence—in all things but sin—and even that, He got to know well. For the Guiltless One took upon Himself our sins and those of the whole world.

Jesus not only hung upon the Cross, He was yanked on all the while He was up there—the weight of a fallen world ceaselessly pulling down on His spotless hands and feet.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin…” (2 Cor. 5:21)

———

Nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

Jesus held back not a drop. He gave it all. And we in return are offered everything:

Sons and daughters of God. Co-heirs of the Kingdom.

How can we ever repay such a gift?

That’s the point. We can’t.

It’s grace. Pure grace.

Unwarranted mercy, non-merited compassion and forgiveness, unearned love.

———

Grace-filled moments such as these, when we realize just how small we truly are, bring us astonishingly close to the Creator of all—wonderfully close to Him Whom nothing can be compared.

They fill us with hope, the hope of what is to come, the hope of what Christ Himself promises.

In the meantime, let us keep counting raindrops. They too shall soon cease to fall. For one day, even faith will no longer be needed, for we shall see God “face to face.”


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Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

—1 John 3:2


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—Howard Hain

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26th Sunday C: Social Justice: What is It?

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

The last two Sunday’s our first reading has been from the Prophet Amos. Today’s reading from Amos is linked to the story that Jesus tells in Luke’s gospel. He speaks of a rich man living very comfortably, living luxuriously, who can’t see the poor beggar, Lazarus, outside his door. God judges him severely.

Having these two readings together, we can understand why some people in Jesus’ time thought he was a prophet. Jesus’ message about the poor was like that of the prophets. We can see also how important social justice is in the gospel. We can’t have religion without justice. Religion without justice is an affront to God who wishes all his children be justly cared for and loved.

Let’s take a look, first, at Amos, the prophet. Amos was ordinary sheepbreeder, he bred sheep in northern Israel about 700 years before Christ. In his time Israel was very prosperous and so were the countries around her, Syria, Phoenicia, Egypt, but their prosperity came at a price. They had everything they wanted–at least, the elite of those societies had everything they wanted. More often than not, though, their prosperity came at the expense of the poor.

In our readings these last two Sunday’s you hear Amos’ severe indictment, not only of the people of Israel, but of her neighbors as well. They’re trampling on the needy. He fiercely attacks those who are well off and don’t see the poor of the land.

“…lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches,” eating the best food, drinking the best wines, not caring at all about those who are falling apart around them.

Amos was an ordinary sheep herder, but he knew what was going on, and he wasn’t afraid to say what he saw. He calls out everyone, kings, rulers, political people, priests, religious leaders, business people, anyone who’s cashing in on the needy and the poor of the land.

The Lord won’t forget what you have done, he tells them.

God won’t forget what you have done. Notice, the prophet doesn’t appeal to economics and say it’s not good economics to neglect the poor and have a society of “have’s and have nots.” No. The prophet doesn’t appeal to politics and say a fractured society isn’t good for a community; it’s going to lead to violence, riots, internal instability. No. The prophet doesn’t appeal to human good feeling and say that being good to the poor will help you feel better about yourself. No.

A prophet like Amos sees the world through God’s eyes and God’s values. That’s who the prophet is: one who sees the world through God’s eyes and God’s values. “Your kingdom come. Your will be done.” The goods of this world are not just for some people, for the few. This world is God’s world, and it’s meant for the good of all. That’s what the prophets say. That’s what the saints say, saints like Mother Theresa say the same thing. They see the world through God’s eyes and God’s values. That’s what social justice means, it’s justice for all.

That’s what Jesus says in his parable today. Notice, Jesus doesn’t say much about the rich man who’s dressed well and eats well. He doesn’t tell anything about the house he lived in, or his status in society or the way he got his money, or his wealthy friends, or where he spends his vacations. No. In fact, he doesn’t even tell us his name.

The only name Jesus offers in the parable is the poor man’s name, Lazarus, who has the same name as the man Jesus raised from the dead. How different too that is from our society, which knows the names of all the rich and famous and forgets the names of the poor.

We need to listen to prophets and saints. We need to listen to the teaching of Jesus in the gospel. We need to see things right. We need to see this world as God sees it.

And we need to act justly in our world, justly to all.

Morning Thoughts: I Have a Dream

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Mary Cassatt, “Mother and Two Children”, (1906)

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Let us put it all away.

Put away all the toys.

All the distractions.

Let us dream.

Let us dream of peace. Perfect peace. This very day.

I want every human being to love truth. To dwell in beauty. To live in wonder of God’s creation.

To think.

To stop.

To ascend.

To rise above the facts. To float above the circumstances. To kiss God on the cheek.

To laugh.

To cry.

To smile at a child.

To shake hands with a friend. To hug an enemy.

To hope. To believe. To pray.

To give great thanks. To humbly offer praise.

To graciously receive. To generously give.

To be alive.

To not be afraid.

———

I want every human being to ask: Why isn’t it always this way?

———

Perhaps though most of all, I want us to be honest.

Honest about our desire to love. Our desire to be kind.

With no embarrassment, with no shame.

Freed from all worry that people will think it strange.


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—Howard Hain

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Sunday Vespers: Head of an Old Fisherman

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“Marble Head of an Old Fisherman” 1st-2nd century A.D.  Period: Imperial. Culture: Roman. Medium: Marble

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I’ve seen your face before.

We’ve spent time together before today.

You are so beautifully broken.

Made of marble, yet fragile as clay.

The years have chiseled deep.

The salt air has sanded away.

I hope one day to look just like you.

Yes, I know, it’s a lofty goal.

The calm countenance of a wise, humble, seasoned priest.

O, yes you are!

I see right though that meager disguise.

A fisherman, a priest; they’re practically one and the same.

Saint Peter, Saint James, Saint John…

The Fisher-King kept those three extra close.

Plus, your hat gives it away.

Chipped or not, I know it’s really a halo.


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“Come, follow me…and I will make you fishers of men.”

—Matthew 4:19


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—Howard Hain

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http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/252536

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25th Sunday C: The Lord Hears the Cry of the Poor

Listen to the homily here:

As our young people begin school we pray for them, but let’s not forget to pray for good teachers for them. When I entered my community, The Passionists, in 1950, I was fortunate to have a teacher who went on to become one of the leading figures in the environmental movement. His name was Father Thomas Berry. You can find information about him on Wikipedia. He died in 2009.

I remember the first day he came into class with a stack of booklets in his hands. “We have to know what’s going on today in the world,” he said, “and so we’re going to study The Communist Manifesto.”

Now remember, this was 1950. Senator Joe McCarthy had begun a witch-hunt to root out Communist sympathizers and I think The Communist Manifesto was on the church’s list of forbidden books. We studied it.

Fr. Tom never mentioned Joe Mc Carthy or the threats of a Communist takeover in Europe or what was happening then in China. No, he was interested in where the Communist Manifesto came from. Beyond Karl Marx and Lenin, he traced it back to the Jewish prophets and their demands for justice for the poor and human rights. Probably the prophet with the strongest voice against injustice to the poor was the prophet we hear in our first reading today: the Prophet Amos.

Amos was sheepbreeder, he bred sheep in northern Israel about 700 years before Christ. In those days Israel prospering and so were the countries around her, Syria, Phoenicia, Egypt, yet prosperity came at a cost. They were getting everything they wanted–at least, the elite of those societies were getting everything they wanted– and more often than not it was at the expense of the poor.

You can hear Amos’ indictment, not only the people of Israel, but her neighbors as well, for trampling on the needy and destroying the poor of the land.

“When will the new moon be over,” you ask,
“that we may sell our grain,
and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat?
We will diminish the ephah,
add to the shekel,
and fix our scales for cheating!
We will buy the lowly for silver,
and the poor for a pair of sandals;
even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!”

Amos was an ordinary sheep herder, but he knew what was going on, and he wasn’t afraid to say what he saw. A prophet calls out everyone, kings, rulers, political people, priests, religious leaders, business people, anyone who’s cashing in on the needy and the poor of the land.

The Lord won’t forget what you have done, he tells them.

God won’t forget what you have done. Notice, the prophet doesn’t appeal to economics and say it’s not good economics to neglect the poor and have a society of “have’s and have nots.” The prophet doesn’t appeal to politics and say a fractured society isn’t good for a community; it will lead to or to violence, riots, internal instability. The prophet doesn’t appeal to human good feeling and say that being good to the poor will help you feel better about yourself. No.

A prophet like Amos sees the world through God’s eyes and God’s values. “Your kingdom come. Your will be done.” Saints like Mother Theresa do the same thing. They see the world through God’s eyes and God’s values.

That’s why we need to listen to prophets and saints. They help us see things, even the complicated things, right.

Friday Thoughts: Completion


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Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church…

—Colossians 1:24


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One more day. A few more hours. A couple more minutes.

The joy of wrapping things up. Of finishing strong. Competing well. Seeing things through.

The anticipation of rest. Of a good meal. The best. Of the company of those you love, of those who know you best.

How can there be another round? How can I possibly do one more day?

Questions we ask when we are truly spent.

———

To be in Christ’s Passion is to think that there can’t possibly be more. That this, this very moment, has to be the end.

But Christ continues. So does His Passion.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

—2 Corinthians 12:9

———

He’s sweating blood in the garden. He’s scourged at the pillar. He’s crowned with sharp thorns.

He carries His cross. He’s stripped. He’s nailed.

He hangs for hours, for all passing by to see.

———

But He hangs not alone.

A powerful woman, a tender-hearted disciple, a handful of faithful women, a couple of good law-abiding men, a few soldiers doing their duty, an evolving circle of “innocent” bystanders, and of course, a hoard of mockers. They are all on hand.

Yes, the mockers, they are there for sure. But they don’t stay the entire time. Their shame shows them the door.

The evil spirits, on the other hand, they stay till the end. Taunting. Challenging. Hating Christ’s inevitable victory over death:

“Come off that cross, you coward! Fight like a man!”

———

There are times when laughs and cries sound very much the same. When the heart bursts forth from the valley of death.

“Is he laughing?”

“Is he crying?”

“Has he gone insane?”

Or has he finally finished taking upon Himself all the blame?

———

 “It is finished.”

And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

—John 19:30

———

And that was just the beginning.

Almost like the first week of school.

Now all of Jesus’ younger siblings get to follow His rule:

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Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,

who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame

and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

—Hebrews 12:2


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“And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

—Matthew 28:20


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—Howard Hain

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Morning Thoughts: The Promise of a New Day

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Lord, how long?

Lord, why?

Lord, why so much darkness, so much pain?

Love, my child. Just love. Leave everything else to me. I know that you ask these questions out of love, and I don’t blame you for asking, but be in love, my child, be in love with me. Stay in love with me. Be living breathing love with me. Your brothers and sisters, our brothers and sisters, are starving. I am starving. You are starving. We all hunger. And I am with you. Do you doubt that I feel everything that you feel? Would I do that to you? Would I leave you alone? I told you, that I will never do. My promises are truth. My words are not from yesterday, they are not for tomorrow. No, my words and my promises are for today, for right now. They are not part of history, they create history. Now go, get up once again, be brave. The power of my love brings life into existence. You carry my death with you. My resurrection can not be stopped. It’s happening right now as you step into this hour. Those that love you are running toward an empty tomb. You are in the garden. Reassure them, reassure them all, reassure everyone you shall meet this very day, that all I say is true.


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—Howard Hain

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Laudato Si and Thomas Berry

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This weekend we had a program at our monastery in Jamaica, New York, entitled Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si and the Wisdom of Thomas Berry, Passionist. The main presenters were Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, senior lecturers and research scholars at Yale University.

The program began Friday evening with the award-winning film “Journey of the Universe” produced by Tucker and Grim along with Brian Swimme, which brilliantly portrays the story of our universe as science today explains it. On Saturday Mary Evelyn and John lectured on the pope’s encyclical, the influence of Thomas Berry and the contribution of native peoples to the critical question of the environment. I was among the commentators responding to their presentations:

I was one of Fr. Thomas Berry’s first students. It was at Holy Cross Preparatory Seminary in Dunkirk, NY in 1950. It’s usually not noted in biographical material about him, but Tom taught history to seminarians that year and I was in his class.

I remember the first day he came into class with a stack of booklets in his hands. “We have to know what’s going on today in the world,” he said, “and so we’re going to study The Communist Manifesto.”

Now remember, this was 1950. Senator Joe McCarthy had begun a witch-hunt to root out Communist sympathizers and I think The Communist Manifesto was on the church’s list of forbidden books. We studied it.

Yet, Tom never mentioned Joe Mc Carthy or the threats of a Communist takeover in Europe or what was happening then in China. No, he was interested in where the Communist Manifesto came from. Beyond Karl Marx and Lenin, he traced it back to the Jewish prophets and their demands for justice for the poor and human rights. The long view of history was what interested him.

After the Communist Manifesto, we studied St. Augustine’s City of God. Two loves are building two cities, Augustine said. Again, Tom didn’t dwell much on the historical events used by Augustine to illustrate his theory of history. It was the overall dynamic of the two loves in conflict over time that interested him.

From Augustine, we studied Christopher Dawson and his book The Making of Europe. Dawson, one of the 20th century’s “meta-historians,” wasn’t interested only in Europe; he was interested in the whole panorama of civilizations that came before it. That was Tom’s interest too.

As far as I remember, Tom didn’t speak of the universe and its evolution, his focus in later years, yet you could see him heading that way. He had a mind for the long view of things.

Pope Francis in Laudato Si also has a mind for the long view of things, it seems. The pope doesn’t quote from The Communist Manifesto, but he insists, more strongly than the manifesto, on the rights of the poor, to which he joins a strong insistence on the rights of the earth.

Can we also hear echoes of Augustine’s City of God in Laudato Si? I think so. The pope speaks of two loves in conflict. There’s the love that builds the city of man. How describe it today? How about blind consumerism; we love things too much. We love our vision of material progress too much. We love our technology too much. We love our control over the earth too much. We love ourselves too much. The result is “global indifference” to an environment falling apart. (Laudato Si, 9,14)

Opposing that love is a love the pope sees in Francis of Assisi, “who was particularly concerned for God’s creation, for the poor and the outcast…he would call all creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’… If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs.” (LS, 13)

Berry, like the pope in Laudato Si, accepted science’s view of our environment, yet also like the pope he distanced himself from a major trait of the era of the Enlightenment which unfortunately causes us in the western world “to see ourselves as lords and masters of our environment, entitled to plunder her at will.” (LS, 2)

Science teaches us a lot about our environment and its perilous condition today, but knowledge is one thing and love is another. Two loves are at work. Love doesn’t always follow what we know, especially if our hearts are fixed on something else. Love is hard to change.

I heard the preachers and teachers and ordinary folk in the workshops that followed our workshop presentations bemoan the poor reception the pope’s encyclical has received so far. Why isn’t the environment a critical issue in our parishes, in the media and in the political world? Why aren’t we undergoing what the pope calls “an ecological conversion?”

There are many reasons, I suppose, but one thing seems sure. It’s not going to happen overnight through some quick fix. We need to get ready for the long haul. And what does that mean? We need wise teachers and leaders to guide us, like Thomas Berry and Pope Francis.

“The present time is not a time for desperation, but for hopeful activity.” Thomas Berry, CP

Victor Hoagland.CP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

24th Sunday C: Blessed are the Peacemakers

Audio Homily here:

This Sunday  we remember the coordinated terrorist attacks on the World Trade Towers in Manhattan 15 years ago that caused 2,994 innocent people to die. That same day the Pentagon in Washington was also attached with loss of life. 

All behind us? From what we know it doesn’t seem so. How do we make our world a place of peace? Security preparations? Yes, but what about peace-making? That’s what our readings today are about, forgiveness and peacemaking. Let’s take a look at them.

The first reading talks about God who is angry with his people. “Go down Moses and tell my people I’m angry and they’re going to be punished for turning away. But Moses implored the Lord, Don’t let your anger blaze up against your own people. So the LORD relented in the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people.”

The first step in peacemaking is to do what Moses did. We need to pray for peace, to ask God to move our hearts and the hearts of those who espouse violence. We must pray for the gift of peace.

The second readings from Paul’s Letter to Timothy invites us to a more personal project. Peacemaking involves knowing yourself. We have been forgiven by God for our sins, we must recognize God’s power to forgive everyone. Paul speaks gratefully for being strengthened and mercifully treated by God for what he had done. We must recognize our own capacity for violence, for pride, for harming others.

The gospel readings tell us about the work of peacemaking in simple stories, and the first lesson we learn from them is that that peacemaking takes time and patience. What about the shepherd who must leave the rest of his sheep to find the lost one? There’s a risk involved. It’s dangerous to leave the sheep untended, but peace and forgiveness are worth the risks.

Like the woman searching for the lost coin in a dark room in her house, you may think you are working in the dark. There are no blueprints or perfect formulas for peacemaking, no sure path to success.

Finally, listen again to the great story of the Prodigal Son. Notice the patience of the father. He has no idea where the son is or how he’s doing, yet he’s patient. He waits, searching the road. Then, one day the son comes back and the father is ready to receive him. Peacemaking involves a lot of patience.

Today we remember the violent attacks and the loss of innocent lives. We pray for them.

Yet, we also pray for peace and ask God to help us be peacemakers.