Monthly Archives: May 2017

The Visitor

This Wednesday’s Gospel (Lk 1: 39-56 ) tells the beautiful story of Mary’s visitation to her cousin’s house in the hills near Jerusalem.

“ Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said,
‘ Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.’ “
This is indeed a precious, sacred event. Mary goes on to “ prophesy “ with her song-like, much-beloved Magnificat, a prayer that always seems new every time I pray it.
Nearly six years ago I was blessed to visit the wooded valley of Ein Karem, one of the most beautiful places in Israel. It seems almost miraculous how, with only one turn in the road, one leaves behind the barren Judean desert and enters this lovely area full of greenery and life. Up on one of the surrounding hills we visited the place that is commemorated as the site of the Visitation. The view from up there is magnificent. A delicate, elegant church stands there, decorated with symbols of fertility, life, and womanhood. A high wall against the hillside is covered with large stone-carved versions of the Magnificat in many different languages. Joyful song seems to exude from these stones, and from the rich greenery all around. Upon reading the prayer in English and Spanish I was caught up in that joyful feeling, as if, like John, Elizabeth, and Mary, I was also “ filled with the Holy Spirit “ of the Child Jesus. That joy stayed with me for the rest of the day back in Jerusalem. I felt like if I had undergone a powerful supernatural experience, like the one described in the Gospel.
That happy memory is still so vivid in my mind. I have been a Catholic for only a few of my 67 years. Incredibly, most of the time I am still in a sort of “ honeymoon “ with my Lord Jesus, who personally came and opened my eyes to the infinite love of God. So it has taken me a while to come to appreciate and venerate the bountiful power and grace that He has given His Blessed Mother in Heaven.
Her mission seems to me to have mysterious angelic dimensions . She is not only His Messenger, whether in Tepeyac, or Lourdes, or Fatima, but every time we call her she brings her Son, in the most generous way, as she did on the Visitation. All I have to do is invoke her name and she and her Son “ visit me “.

The simple prayer of the Hail Mary tells the story. She has come to me in quiet haste in some of my most sorrowful moments. At her greeting I answer: “ Ave Maria “. The fulness of her grace pacifies my soul, and excites it too, because the Lord is indeed with her as she shares that blessing with me. The child-prophet in me can even leap for joy. The greatest blessing seems to be that of God-given faith, to actually believe that what has been spoken to my soul by my Lord will be fulfilled. She teaches me to pray and trust. She brings me hope, and most of all the boundless love of the “ fruit of her womb “, the living, present, Jesus.
And then she prays for all of us sinners. A perfect prayer is her Magnificat. There is unfettered praise, wonderment, and gratitude at God’s great love. Once again most of all there is trust : trust in the mercy, the strength , the justice, and generosity of our God for all of us, for in one way or another, we are the lowly, the poor, the hungry.
Thank you, Blessed Mother, shining example for all saints, bringer of solace, sister, friend.

Orlando Hernández

The Guide Back

This Wednesday’s Gospel ( Jn 16: 12-15 ) our Lord continues to tell His disciples about the Holy Spirit.

“ I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when He comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth,. He will not speak on His own, but He will speak what He hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, because He will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that He will take from what is mine and declare it to you.”

Lately I am suffering from a slight disconnect with my intimate friend, Jesus. It’s as if I “ cannot bear “ what He has to tell me. So many outside problems seem to stand in the way of my prayer. Yet I know that Jesus is with me all the time, even when I find myself pushing Him aside. Thank heavens for the word of God. When I read today’s short Gospel as if Jesus is personally talking to me, I am filled with hope and consolation.
Jesus seems to tell me that even though lately our dialogue seems lacking, He is sending His Spirit to help out. First of all the Spirit guides us back to the Truth of God’s love for us. Never mind all the illusory lures and complications of this life, The Spirit enables us to see that God is the ultimate truth, the rock upon which we truly stand.
The Spirit of God will speak, perhaps in a whisper, the advice of a friend, or the song of a sparrow. He will make me hear what is important. He declares what is important to look out for. In His own time the Spirit will even once again let me feel the Glory that is God. He will take this Glory of Jesus, and therefore, of our loving Heavenly Father,and His own,  and show it to me. He will declare it.
All I have to do is find that moment of quiet and simply listen, because, Jesus, no matter what is troubling me, I trust in You. Because You trust in me. You do not give up on me that easily! Your Holy Spirit tells me so.

Orlando Hernández

Thoughts Upon The Cross: Bold Humility

by Howard Hain

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We should always strive to be fully united with The Body of Christ, in both thought and prayer. To think prayerfully, and to prayerfully think.

Let us then prayerfully embrace this particular moment:

Lord God, Father Almighty, let us use the talents, the gifts, and the abilities—that come from You, that will return to You, but that You have lent us for the time being—with maximum effectiveness, maximum efficiency, and bold humility—all for Your glory.

In the name of Jesus—in the person of Christ—as the Messiah Himself would offer.

Amen.

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Now, let us think, prayerfully.

What is “bold humility”?

Let’s explore an answer, slow and steady.

First, like all manifestations of God’s glory, “bold humility” is a matter of transcendence.

Second, transcendence is not merely a type of balance. Balance is something else entirely. It is something less than divine. Balance is a man-made religious concept. It is practical human philosophy at work in the world, depending on and functioning within human limitation. Unlike transcendence, balance does not stem from the theological posture of divine providence, and more so, it does not rely on the acknowledged power and faithful acceptance of divine grace.

For example, with regard to the matter at hand, “bold humility” is not merely the balancing of boldness and humility—it is not a matter of being equally bold and equally humble—as if on a scale of 1-10, a score of 5 for boldness and a score 5 for humility is achieved simultaneously—adding up to 10 and at the same time keeping the “seesaw” of virtue straight and parallel to the earth lying below.

No, “bold humility”, like all Christian (and therefore preternatural) virtue is not a matter of equally limiting each natural characteristic in order to fit them all within the confines of human potential and logical limitations.

In plain language then, “bold humility” is not simply a healthy combination of two virtues, namely “boldness” and “humility”.

And most directly to the point: Christ didn’t balance. He transcended.

Then what does transcendence mean in this supernatural sense?

Well, let us rule out a few more false understandings before positing a possible positive understanding.

It will prove helpful to also establish this negation: To transcend is not merely to eliminate. Nor is it merely to deny. By transcending one does not destroy the categories it transcends. So in this particular case we can say that “bold humility” does not “eliminate” or “deny” the category of “boldness” or the category of “humility”.

Now let us begin to state positively what Jesus accomplished—for Jesus most certainly transcended.

To transcend is to rise above and beyond. It is to journey through. It is to transform.

Transcendence fulfills the “categories” it leaves below—it completely and utterly fulfills each and every virtue that man could ever conceive—and not only at the same time or simultaneously, but eternally and to a maximum degree. Transcendence is perpetual fulfillment of all “goodness” to an infinite “degree”.

Transcendence is then what we might call: Active Shalom.

It is living, breathing “Fullness”. It is “True Peace”. It is “Oneness” and the “Unity of God”—alive and constantly in motion. For to transcend is also to enter and live within the Internal Consistency of The Eternal Creator Himself.

Transcendence is the ultimate simplicity of “I AM.

It is Ipse Christus—Christ Himself—God made man, the Word made flesh, the magnificence of God brought into visible light.

And it is human redemption at work.

For the person of Jesus is just that: He is the glory of God woven into and through the very fabric of humanity—taking humanity above and beyond itself—transforming it on earth and simultaneously bringing it back with Him to the Father in heaven—as a new, glorified, and righteous form.

Jesus both lifts humanity into heaven and manifests fully God’s glory on earth.

Bold Humility” is Jesus Himself.

He alone fulfills completely both “boldness” and “humility” without ceasing.

And by doing so He straddles two worlds—making them one. But yet He is much more than a bridge, much more than a mere mystical ladder. Jesus, if you will, is Jacob’s Ladder but built of human flesh—upon Whom not only holy angels ascend and descend between heaven and earth—but through Whom the very helix of humanity is redeemed and glorified.

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But enough words.

For they can never capture.

Jesus is profoundly free.

The best we can hope for is a glimpse—a fleeting image of the living, breathing manifestation of “Bold Humility” in ultimate action.

It takes silence.

It involves leaving the senses and faculties behind.

It requires “spirit and truth”:

We must stare at The Cross.

We must experience—firsthand—The Crucified Christ.


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Let us then pray once more:

Lord God, Father Almighty, let us use the talents, the gifts, and the abilities—that come from You, that will return to You, but that You have lent us for the time being—with maximum effectiveness, maximum efficiency, and bold humility—all for Your glory.

In the name of Jesus—in the person of Christ—as the Messiah Himself would offer.

Amen.


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Water and the Spirit

baptism jes

In the easter season the Risen Christ comes to us in signs and sacraments. The Sacrament of the Eucharist is one of his signs, but let’s not forget the Sacrament of Baptism, another gift we receive from the Risen Lord. He blesses us in water.

Water is a sign of death and of life, says Saint Basil the Great.

“Like a tomb, the water receives the body, symbolizing death; while the Spirit pours in the quickening power, renewing our souls from the deadness of sin into their original life. This then is what it is to be born again of water and of the Spirit, the water bringing the necessary death while the Spirit creates life within us…

“ Through the Holy Spirit comes our restoration to paradise, our ascension into the kingdom of heaven, our return to the status of adopted children our liberty to call God our Father, our being made partakers of the grace of Christ, our being called children of light, our sharing in eternal glory – in a word, our being brought into a state of all fullness of blessing both in this world and in the world to come, of all the good gifts that are in store for us. Through faith we behold the reflection of their grace as though they were already present, but we still have to wait for the full enjoyment of them. If such is the promise, what will the perfection be like? If these are the first fruits, what will be the complete fulfillment?”      Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit

 

 

Thoughts Upon The Cross: Act Like A Man

by Howard Hain

saint joseph, holy family.

To all men it may concern (definitely including me):

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Complaining is not strength.

It is actually quite unbecoming, to say the least.

In fact, it can easily become extremely boring.

And when it spills forth from the mouths of men who are appointed to lead, it manages to take on a whole new level of tediousness.

It becomes outright pathetic.

Of course, I am not talking about having private conversations with friends or colleagues, the kind of back and forth that can often strengthen and give great consolation. No, that falls under fellowship, under spiritual friendship. In those situations, practicing vulnerability and allowing oneself to be seen as truly struggling is actually a sign of strength.

What I am referring to are those too-often times when “leaders” openly and repeatedly complain in front of the very people they are chosen to lead and inspire—in front of the very people they are chosen to protect, guide, and encourage. Or to put it in more spiritual and pastoral terms—in terms of the “Good Shepherd” if you will—instead of feeding their sheep a sense of hope, a sense of security, and a sense of peace, the shepherds themselves cultivate and offer their flocks an atmosphere of worldly concern, a stream of ongoing despair, and a diet of downright near hysteria.

It is so embarrassing.

And the scope is broad, for appointed “leadership” comes in many forms: public officials, all kinds of employers, managers, politicians, coaches, pastors, administrators, teachers, and most certainly, and perhaps most significantly, every married man and father in the world.

God have mercy on us.

Forgive us our many failures.

Especially for us Catholic Christians, called to imitate in a special manner the Crucified Christ.

And this isn’t simply a matter of ever-changing public opinion. No, it’s a matter of being inherent in the very idea of leadership itself.

Shepherds lead, sheep follow.

Think about it, when was the last time you saw an artwork depicting a small group of little lambs carrying a full-grown living breathing Jesus?

Needless to say, never.

And in terms of practical and applied philosophy, let us then keep this significant and relative reality in mind: When it comes to real and everyday concerns, chances are that the most grueling day for most of us modern men is only as difficult as the normal, run-of-the-mill, daily employment of a mother of three—not to mention if that mother is also working full-time, single, in an abusive relationship, and/or barely speaks English—then it’s no contest—and in our current “ever-progressive” society, these conditions unfortunately too often apply.

So, if this not-so-gentle “correction” applies to you (as it most certainly applies to me) know that many are praying for us, many feel for us, many love us, many even need us, but we need to do our part:

Act like a man.

For sake of Christ.


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Let us pray:

Lord God, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, we give you praise. Help us Father, help all men, all those called by You to lead. Help us to follow the only True Man, Your Only Begotten Son, Christ Jesus—our Lord and our God, and living Innocence itself. May we follow Him and Him alone, so we may be properly equipped—emotionally, physically, and spiritually—to lead those You have entrusted to our care. Make us strong and patient, courageous and persevering. Let us learn through the example of Saint Joseph the true meaning of humility, obedience, and selfless sacrificial service. Teach us to cherish silence and value greatly the grace of a truly developed interior life. Inspire us to love our wives and children with sincerity and integrity and profound gratitude. And when need be, Heavenly Father, show us how to be truly decisive, how to act with boldness in defending Your truth, and how to be utterly fearless in helping rescue those crushed by injustice and hypocrisy.

In all matters may we always do Your will and act on Your behalf—with minds made spotless, hearts made pure, and bodies kept chaste.

We ask this in the name of Jesus, in the perfect unity of the Holy Spirit, for Your endless glory.

Amen.


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Thoughts Upon The Cross: Speak Life

by Howard Hain

Sandro Botticelli, The Last Communion of Saint Jerome, early 1490s (detail)

Botticelli, “The Last Communion of Saint Jerome”, early 1490s, (detail), The Met


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Heal us.

In the form of bread.

Our tongues like cribs.

You come to rest.

A sacred place.

A mother watches.

A father can hardly believe.

Greatness simply conceived.

Silent.

Yes let us be.

Help us not to speak.

No words can be.

No thoughts except those that flee.

Yes.

Hold our tongues.

Into quiet place.

Stillness.

Let us wait.

Till hear You cry.

A hungry child.

Tucked in for night.

A drop of milk.

In reality blood.

In the form of wine.

The angels sing.

Holiness explodes.

Heaven down to earth.

Saints to and fro.

Blessings forth.

Grace abounds.

The sick are healed.

The blind can see.

The lonely find friends.

Children unwanted?

They finally reach home.

We look.

We see.

We wonder.

How could it be?

It’s Him!

It’s Him.

Right there.

The One nailed to the tree.

Alive again.

Within my mouth.

And at my right hand.

And to the left.

And straight ahead.

And there!

Yes, there too!

In that hopeless situation.

We thought all was lost.

But, no, it’s Him.

He really does care.

And He calls us over.

To Himself.

And yes.

Silence changes forms.

It’s again time to speak.

What else can we do?

The Eternal One.

The Son of Man.

The Conqueror of Strife.

Let us smile at one another.

Let us speak life.


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http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/435728

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Attached to Love

This Wednesday’s Gospel (Jn 15: 1-8)  continues recounting Jesus’ farewell discourse from the night of the Last Supper:

Jesus said to His disciples : ” I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does He prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. ”

Our Lord promises us that we can always be connected to Him, like branches to the main stem of the vine. Last weekend, as I watched the constant rain, I had this beautiful Gospel on my mind. I thought about how all this falling water is unable to directly benefit the growing leaves of spring unless it passes through the roots and the trunks of the trees into the branches, bringing life and nourishment to these leaves, flowers, and fruits.
In the same manner, it seems to me that true happiness and meaning in life cannot be absorbed from the world or the culture around us, but only by going to the true source of life, our Lord, ” the true vine “. The sap with which He strengthens us is His Love, His very blood, His life- force,which was shed on the cross  and we receive with the Eucharist. I agree with what He says : ” Whoever remains in me and I in him, will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. ”
What are these fruits that we are to bear? I have often wondered. I mentioned true happiness and meaning in life. How is that achieved ? First of all by remaining in the Lord, as He says, surrendering to Him, joining Him intimately in prayer, receiving His holiness, becoming like Him. But fruit is something that the plant gives to others. In last Sunday’s mass at my parish, the intercessory prayer asked for us to be able, by our acts of self-giving and service, to bring the message of Christ to the world, to be disciples. Perhaps this is the fruit we are to share.
Father Ignacio Larrañaga one of my favorite spiritual writers says that this message of Jesus is that we have a divine Father, who cares for us as His beloved children. Therefore, we are all brothers and sisters, and we had better behave like it!
I asked my wife Berta about this and she said that the fruits are actually more and more people discovering Jesus through us. How? By our example of lives lived in peace, joy, selflessness, faith, hope, and love. Quite an intoxicating brew, like Canaa- wedding wine, straight from the true vine!
But our Lord points out that with these wonderful gifts comes pruning ( Ouch ! ) . Our beloved Father comes with clippers and reduces us to stubs. Is it so that we don’t get too proud? Henri Nouwen, reflecting on this pruning image indicates that pain and sorrow come to our lives sooner or later. We get cut down to size, and our need for God explodes. This is how we grow in holiness.  Blessed are the poor in spirit!
Sister Maria Grace, C.P., in her foreword to “The Autobiography of Saint Gemma Galgani”, writes : ” Life is a series of losses , as little by little we are emptied of those things that we cling to . Our usual way of handling such losses is to simply endure the pain with a bit of self-pity. Gemma’s message is : Give them freely, with love ; don’t let them be taken from you.” When I talked about this to Fr Francisco Murray, another Passionist, he shook his head indignantly and exclaimed, ” Our loving Father would NEVER intentionally send us pain and suffering.”  I must admit that this pruning issue is just a mystery that I don’t fully understand.
When I was visiting Spain, my host pointed out the vineyards of La Mancha on a cold, windy March day. The vines had been cut down so they looked like stunted stumps, barely alive. He said that this is done so that in May the new branches will make the best grapes, from which Valdepeña Wine ( one of my favorites) is made. That day, I also thought of this Gospel, and of the Passion of my Lord, Jesus, the true vine, cut down and disfigured like that, in order that the best fruit might follow. And He certainly is my number one guide and example.
Must I then be constantly wishing for all types of suffering in order to become the best Christian? Perhaps not. Our Lord says : ” You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.” Reading and praying with Scripture, listening to God in prayer, this too can in a way prune us of our pride and self-reliance. For the ” word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword , penetrating between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart ( Heb : 4, 12)”. Ouch, again!
Dear Lord, being your disciple can be very exciting and delightful, but also more than a little scary. Please, Beloved, I beg You, don’t let me be disconnected from you and become dry and withered, fruitless and loveless. Let me follow You always, for without You I ” can do nothing” that is worthwhile.

Orlando Hernández

Thoughts Upon The Cross: The Imitation of Christ

by Howard Hain

Francisco Goya, The Third of May, 1808 in Madrid, 1814-15 (detail), oil on canvas, (Museo del Prado, Madrid)

Francisco Goya, “The Third of May, 1808 in Madrid”, 1814-15 (detail)


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I hear, ironically mostly among clergy, that the spiritual classic “The Imitation of Christ” is no longer really relevant—that it is too hard, too negative, too oppressive—written for a time when plagues and famines and wars were rampant, when men hardly lived to what we now call “middle age.” But most of all, perhaps, I am told through cute smirks and smug expressions that it is a book not for our “age”, that it no longer applies to our advanced “civilization”, that it no longer rings true in the triumphant “West”.

I ask: Are we free of plagues, free of war, free of famine?

Are not our priests and religious sisters dying off rapidly? Are not babies systematically massacred inside their mothers’ womb? Are not children starving for their fathers to marry their mothers, for there to be a man who actually lives in the same home?

Do we no longer thirst?

Or have we “moved passed” Christ’s inconvenient cry from the Cross?

It seems to me that Christ Himself put little value on living past “middle age”.

Perhaps imitating Him would not be such a barbaric idea.

Lord, have mercy on us.


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Francisco Goya, The Third of May, 1808 in Madrid, 1814-15 , oil on canvas, (Museo del Prado, Madrid)

Francisco Goya, “The Third of May, 1808 in Madrid”, 1814-15, oil on canvas, (Museo del Prado, Madrid)


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