Monthly Archives: October 2016

31st Sunday C: Mercy Goes Everywhere

Audio homily here:

Luke’s gospel talks about God’s mercy, not in definitions but in stories. Today at Mass it’s the story of Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector in Jericho. He was a wealthy man who climbed a tree to see Jesus as he was passing by through his town, and Jesus called him and stayed with him in his house on his way to Jerusalem. In many ways, his story is an interesting lesson that shows how God’s mercy works. It works everywhere. (Luke 19, 1-10)

Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector in Jericho, which means he was an agent for Herod Antipas, who ruled Galilee and Perea in Jesus’ day. Archeologists have uncovered the ruins of many of Herod’s building projects in Galilee and elsewhere, and it’s evident he built on a grand scale and built lavishly, to impress his allies the Romans.

You needed money for this kind of building, of course, and that’s where tax-collectors came in. There was no dialogue or voting on government spending then. Herod told his army of tax-collectors, “Here’s how much I need; you go out and get it. Go to the fishermen along the Sea of Galilee and the farmers around Nazareth and the shepherds in the Jordan Valley and the merchants in Jericho and get what I need; I don’t care how you get it out of them.”

And so the tax collectors went out and got the money, keeping some for themselves too. That was the way the system worked. You needed to be tough and relentless for that job, and it had to leave you hard headed and hard hearted. An unsavory profession. People thoroughly resented them. They wanted nothing to do with them.

Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector in Jericho, was the one whom Jesus called and the one he stayed with on his way to Jerusalem. God wanted to do something for him.

The only thing Jesus says in the tax collector’s house, a place into which others wouldn’t go, is: “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” No thunderous warnings, no stern corrections. Salvation has come and they sit down for a feast. You can hear in the story echoes of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, also from Luke’s gospel.

It’s interesting to note, too, that Jesus doesn’t call Zacchaeus to follow him, as he told another tax-collector, Matthew. He doesn’t tell him to give up his job and get out of that dirty, complicated situation. No, as far as we can tell Zacchaeus was still chief tax-collector in Jericho after Jesus left, still taking orders from Herod Antipas, still part of a sinful world. But that’s where Zacchaeus will experience salvation, even there.

That might be one of the interesting lessons about God’s mercy. It works in the real world and in real life. God’s mercy works in the difficult, complicated situations that people experience in life. It’s not always easy to get away from life as it is. Yes, surely Zacchaeus was a changed man from his meeting with Jesus. God reached out to him, God came to his house, God called him to change, and he did. “Behold, I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone, I’ll return it fourfold.” He was changed by his experience of the mercy of God.

We hope we are too.

Friday Thoughts: Innocence Itself



A small, beautiful child.

What could be more innocent?

The tiny face of one born a few days before.

What could be more pure?

At what age does that stop?

When is it that we no longer see an innocent child, but instead, just one more man or woman walking the crowded streets?

If the child is our own, probably never.

Parenthood is a gift.

A gift beyond telling.

Yet every person we shall see this day was once a child.

Every person we shall see this day is still a child.

A small, beautiful child.

What could be more innocent?

The tiny face of one born a few days before.


Can you imagine what Saint Joseph felt?

What it was like to hold Jesus in the crook of his arm?

To present Innocence Itself to the world?


True humility has little to do with wanting to be humble.

It has nothing to do with wanting to look small, tiny, and somewhat sad.

True humility comes through grace.

The grace of knowing that no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, you on your own cannot stop innocence from being slaughtered.


Somewhere, right now, the infant Jesus is being rejected.

Saint Joseph can hardly believe it:

Here He is. The Son of Man. Please don’t do anything, don’t say anything, don’t even think anything that offends His dignity.”


The next time we are tempted to judge anyone perhaps we should remember that.

Perhaps we should use our imagination, our faith, our hope, our love—all the gifts and talents that come from God, that return to God, but that God Himself lends us for the time being—to find a child.

For wasn’t that very person, the one who is about to be judged, once too only a few days old?


Think of Saint Joseph holding Innocence Itself.

Think of Saint Joseph humbly holding a tiny child, a tiny innocent child reaching out to all mankind with outstretched arms—so innocent that it’s hard to even imagine that all the world, that each and every one of us doesn’t immediately reach back with all our might to tenderly embrace this most precious gift—the most precious gift that a guilty world could receive.

Innocence Itself.


—Howard Hain



I wrote this prayer after hearing Wednesday’s Gospel (Luke 13: 22-30). 

Our Lord says: ” Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘ Lord open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘ I do not know where you are from.’ ” (Luke 13:24-25)

    Beloved Lord. I kneel before Your narrow gate and pray that it not close. I know I have no right, but I beg for myself and for all those who refused to know You: the arrogant, the violent, the ones who “set their mouths against the heavens” (Ps 73), the evildoers. ” How suddenly they are devastated; utterly undone by disaster ! They are like a dream after waking, Lord, dismissed like shadows when you arise.” (Ps 73).
   I accept Your will, dear Lord, and throw myself at Your wisdom and mercy. Will the day come when You no longer know us? As we wail and grind our teeth and realize the error of our ways, will You look upon us one more time and have pity on us, and let us taste the scraps from that blessed table of Your Kingdom ?
Are You, Yourself, bleeding upon the cross, the narrow gate to our salvation? Is there a limit or an end to Your Love for those who don’t deserve it? Today I want to love You, but I kneel in the company of those ” who will be last”. Forgive me. Please forgive us.

Orlando Hernandez

Morning Thoughts: Arriving in Hope


Camille Pissarro Entree du village de Voisins 1872.jpg

Camille Pissarro, “Entrée du village de Voisins”, 1872


Waiting and waiting, for exactly what I’m not sure.

The sun to rise.

The day to end.

The water to boil.

Mass to begin.

The cock to crow.

Christ to return.


A new day is here.


Father, thank You.

Jesus, I love You.

Holy Spirit, have Your way.



—Howard Hain


30th Sunday C: Be Merciful to Me a Sinner


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

Luke’s gospel, which we’re reading on the Sunday’s of this year, is a “gospel of prayer.” It sees prayer as central to the life of Jesus and central to our lives too.

In the gospels we’ve read the last few Sundays at Mass Jesus teaches us how to pray, but also touches on some of the difficulties we face when we pray. In last week’s gospel, the parable of the poor widow and the unjust judge, Jesus pointed to one difficulty. He tells us that we can grow tired of praying. For one reason or another, we give it up or it becomes occasional. Maybe we don’t think praying is doing any good. God isn’t listening, or we’re not good enough to speak to God.  Maybe we think we can take care of ourselves. We don’t need the help of God. For these and other reasons we can lose our appreciation of prayer; we think it’s really not necessary, and we give it up.

Jesus offers the example of the poor widow who keeps knocking at the door of the unjust judge. She looks like she doesn’t have a chance in the world getting what she wants, but she doesn’t give up, she keeps going until the unjust judge gives her what’s coming to her. In the parable Jesus is also telling us: “God is the very opposite of the unjust judge. Don’t you think God, who made you and cares for you and loves you, hears your prayers? But–and here’s what’s often behind our difficulty– his answer comes on his time and now ours.

In today’s reading, the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican praying in the temple, Jesus points to another difficulty we can experience in prayer. Prayer is meant to bring us before God, but the Pharisee in today’s gospel seems more interested in himself than in God. His prayer sounds more like an exercise in positive thinking. He’s telling us how good he feels about himself.

“I’m not like the rest of humanity,” he says, as he runs through his credits. “I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.” He’s kept all the laws a good Jew should keep. He rates himself especially high as he looks at the publican standing at a distance, not even raising his eyes to heaven. “A disgrace!” he says to himself.

Prayer isn’t talking to yourself; it’s not speculating about life; it’s not getting away from things that bother you; it’s certainly not an exercise for feeling good about yourself. Prayer is going before God, “Our Father in heaven,” God who is beyond us, yet who invites us to come like a child, his own child, to speak to him.

Jesus says the publican–a “sinner” in Jewish public opinion at the time – prays well with his simple prayer: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” He’s heard by God and goes from the temple justified.

There’s no long analysis of himself and his sins in the publican’s prayer. He’s more intent on throwing himself on the mercy of God. Humble before God, God raises him up.

That’s what prayer is, humbly approaching God. Like Moses on Sinai, we take off our shoes before God who is all holy, but not distance. He is merciful, a God welcomes us and speaks what he wants in simple words we can understand, and gives us gifts we can’t measure.

Listen again to the words from our first reading:

The LORD is a God of justice,
who knows no favorites.
Though not unduly partial toward the weak,
yet he hears the cry of the oppressed.
The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan,
nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint.
The one who serves God willingly is heard;
his petition reaches the heavens.
The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds;
it does not rest till it reaches its goal,
nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds,
judges justly and affirms the right,
and the Lord will not delay.”


The Lord hears the cry of the poor.







Friday Thoughts: Tobias and the Angel



Thomas Wilmer Dewing, “Tobias and the Angel”, 1887 (The Met)


Since my daughter’s earliest days, we have played this little game:


I look at her and say, “Sometimes you love someone so much...”

And she softly responds, “…it makes you cry.”


We both get glassy eyed and gently smile.




What is it?


“It” is a person

His name is Jesus

His skin is many colors

He is 33 years old, and also 7, and also 84, and also 40…


He is God. He is alive. He lives in you and me.


Tell Him that you love Him.

It is Jesus.



Sometimes you love someone so much…it makes you cry.”



—Howard Hain



Morning Thoughts: Full of Grace



Pablo Picasso, “Mother and Son with Handkerchief”, 1903


If there was a man named Silence, what would he say?

If there was a man named Trust, what would be his worry?

If there was a man named Hope, what would he miss?


If there was a man named Love, what would his mother’s name be but Mary?


Yesterday I met a mother who just buried her son. Just the two of us on a city sidewalk. The cars, the buses, the children leaving school, even the woman close by and working in her garden…they all kept moving.


If there was a man named Hug, what else would he do?


—Howard Hain


Monday Night at the Mission


Last night at St. Theresa’s Church in Woodside, Queens, New York City, I spoke about the gift of prayer and the simple prayers we know, like the Sign of the Cross and the Our Father, which can be our teachers of prayer. God gives us, saint and sinner alike, the gift of prayer.

Tonight, I spoke about the saints as our teachers. What can we learn from St. Theresa of Lisieux, the patroness of this parish? A doctor of the church who was 24 years old when she died, one of three women who have that honor. St. Theresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena are the others.

Theresa added two titles to her name after she entered the Carmel. She was Theresa of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. I spoke about her spirituality of childhood this evening. She received a grace on Christmas night when she was 13 years old:

“Jesus, the gentle little child of one hour, changed the night of my soul into rays of light…On that night of light began the third period of my life, the most beautiful and filled with graces from heaven. What I had been unable to do in ten years, Jesus did in one instant, contenting himself with my good will, which was always there. I could say to him as his apostles did, ‘Master, I fished all night and have caught nothing. More merciful to me than he was to them, Jesus took the net himself, cast it, and drew it in filled with fish. He made me a fisher of souls. I greatly desired to work for the conversion of sinners, a desire I hadn’t experienced before. I felt love enter my heart, and the need to forget myself and pleasing others. Since then I’ve been happy.” Chapter 5, Story of a Soul.

In the gospels, Jesus told us to become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven. I reflected on a definition of spiritual childhood given by St. Leo the Great. To be a child means to be free from crippling anxieties, to be forgetful of injuries, to be sociable and to live wondering before all things.




Sunday at the Mission

At our mission tonight at St. Theresa in Woodside, New York, I’ll continue reflecting on the gift of prayer.

We all have the gift of prayer. We can pray. God gives that gift to saints and sinners alike, though we may tend to think only saints and “good” people can pray. But that gift is given to all, because God is Father of saints and sinner alike. Prayer is a gift of God’s mercy.

Prayer is a gift given to all; it’s meant to be used continually. Like the gift of faith growing  like a mustard seed, the gift of prayer is meant to grow.

We’re reading all this year at Mass from Luke’s Gospel, which is called a gospel of prayer. It’s called that because the evangelist offers many examples and teachings of Jesus on prayer. Now, at this point in the  liturgical year especially, our readings at Mass seem to be devoted to prayer.

Last week, for example, we heard the desperate prayer of the ten lepers: “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.” Today we heard the parable about the widow and the unjust judge. Next week, we’ll hear the humble, almost hesitant prayer of the publican: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Later on in Luke’s gospel, when Jesus dies and enters his glory, we’ll hear the cry of the thief: “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” All these readings tell us God gives the gift of prayer to everyone, the sinner, the desperate, everyone.

Yet, prayer tries our patience. Like the poor widow facing the powerful unjust judge, whom we read about this Sunday, we may not see our prayers answered quickly. We can then grow weary praying. In his parable Jesus says our prayers are answered “speedily,” yet we have trouble understanding that word “speedily.” It doesn’t match our timetable or our expectations. We don’t like waiting.

We also can make prayer too small and limit it to things entirely personal. Today, some would reduce prayer and meditation to ways to gain inner balance or to bring your blood pressure down. Prayer is bigger than that. It’s asking for “God’s kingdom to come, God’s will be done.” Prayer is meant to  open us to new horizons, new undertakings, to see the world with the eyes of Christ.

Far from leading us away from the world, we are led in prayer to face a world crippled by violence and strife. Only God can help us. Please Lord, come and assist us.

I’m going to pose some questions to those here at the mission:

What prayers are you attracted to?

Are there any places that lead you to prayer?

Any trying times in your life that you found yourself praying?

Then I’m going to reflect on some of our common prayers, like the Sign of the Cross and the Our Father. After that, we will have Benediction.


29th Sunday C: Pray, Pray, Pray

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

If I ask you what gifts you have, you might say, “Well, I can cook a good plate of pasta, or I’m a pretty good carpenter. I can fix a lot of things around the house. I think I’m a good mother or good father, good grandmother, good grandfather.” We actually have a lot of gifts; many we may not be aware of.

Now, I can tell you one gift we all have.  Unfortunately this gift is one we may not be aware of. That’s the gift of prayer. We all have the gift of prayer. We can pray. Let’s begin our reflection on today’s gospel about the widow who gets what she wants from an unjust judge with that. We all have the gift of prayer.

If you notice in the gospels, Jesus teaches his disciple how to pray, but he never says they can’t pray. He never says that to anyone: he presumes that prayer is a gift everyone has.  Prayer is a gift God gives to everyone, whether we use that gift or not. The greatest sinner as well as the greatest saint,  has the gift of prayer.

Think of the thief on the cross next to Jesus, who turned to Jesus and said  “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” We might guess that the thief hadn’t prayed in a long time, maybe his prayer is a cry of desperation. But he prays, and is prayer is answered. More than he ever expected. The gospels are  filled with that kind of prayer.

Now, what Jesus is concerned with in our parable today is that we get tired of praying. For one reason or another, we give it up. Maybe we don’t think praying is going to do any good. God isn’t listening, or we’re not good enough to speak to God.  Maybe we think we can take care of  ourselves. We don’t need the help of God. For all of these reasons we can lose our appreciation of the power of prayer; we think it’s really not necessary,  so prayer becomes an unused gift, a neglected gift.

Now, let’s look at the example in the gospel that Jesus gives. He offers the picture of “a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being.”  He’s a dishonest judge, one of “Untouchables” He doesn’t care about God or anybody else. He seems to have absolute power, or at least he thinks he has.

On the other hand, there’s a widow, who seems to have no power at all. She seems powerless, maybe someone has cheated her; someone has wronged her. She’s looking for justice, but can she get it? We could speculate further. Who caused this injustice ? Maybe it’s a friend of the judge, or the judge himself who seems to control everybody and everything.  but whoever and whatever it is, she wants what’s right, and humanly speaking,  it doesn’t seem she has any chance of getting justice.

But she keeps going, she doesn’t let up, she doesn’t lose hope. She’s persistent. The judge says, “She keeps bothering me, she wearing me down, and he finally gives in and justice is done.
What about God, Jesus asks? Compare him to the unjust judge. He’s the very opposite, He cares for the poor widow; he wants justice done.

“Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says,”Jesus says,
Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones
who call out to him day and night?
Will he be slow to answer them?
I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.

We hear those words of Jesus and questions arise.  Justice will be done, the rights of God’s chosen ones will be secure. God will see justice done speedily. Speedily?

Speedily for us means right away, doesn’t it? And when things are not done right away, we lose faith, we wonder if God cares or can God do anything about it at all.

That’s why we have to keep the poor widow in mind. What keeps her going is faith and hope. It’s obvious she believes she has Someone more powerful that the unjust judge on her side. And so do we. But God’s way of securing our rights, God’s way of having his kingdom come, God’s time is not ours. We have to keep praying, keep knocking at the door, keep asking, keep seeking, night and day.

The biggest problems in the world, the greatest challenges we face can be met, if we like the poor widow believe in the gift of pray and pray with faith, night and days, that God’s will be done.