Monthly Archives: August 2018

Why I Am A Catholic

by Orlando Hernandez

The Gospel readings for this week are full of harsh, ominous sayings by our Lord Jesus. They are filled with characters worthy of rejection by God: the scribes and Pharisees, the careless servants, the foolish virgins, all headed for damnation, punishments, gnashing teeth, Gehenna! I actually could relate to all these unfortunate souls. In many ways I feel as guilty as them. It was very hard for me to choose a Gospel reading to write about.

Careful re-reading and prayer came to the rescue once again. Incredibly, the threatening reading for Monday (Mt 23:13-22) began to show me a way out of Gehenna. Jesus starts proclaiming the “woes” against the scribes and Pharisees. They “lock the Kingdom of heaven before men” (Don’t I in my mind, do this for so many that I judge as hopeless, cruel people?). Jesus goes on to say:

“ Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’ Blind fools, which is greater, the gold, or the temple that made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If one swears by the altar, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.’ You blind ones, which is greater, the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?”

I do not wish to comment on the historical background for this writing, the bitter conflicts between Pharisaic Judaism and the Church of Matthew at the time, which might have influenced Matthew’s writing. What I need to do is to express what Jesus tells me when I read His attacks on the Pharisees and scribes.

We are not supposed to “swear”, but an oath can be a kind of pledge, a commitment that leads to a way of life. Why are so many people committed to follow the Catholic Church? Is it the “gold,” the grandeur , the power of the institution that calls to us, and gives us some sense of security? When we walk into a church building are we simply mesmerized by the splendor all around, the vastness of the place, the large crowd, the ritual, the gold, the place of leadership, respect, and wisdom that we give to our priests and bishops? Is it because we need to belong to something greater than ourselves? What is this “something” that is so great?

This week, Pope Francis is ministering to an Irish Church that has been greatly diminished. Almost 50% of Irish Catholics have left. New civil laws scoff at the precepts of the Church. Fr. Martin Coffey CP once talked to us Passionist Associates about the incredible wealth and dominance that the Church had over Irish culture and government. Yet the power led to hubris, abuse, and corruption. Many Ministers of God went the way of the pharisees in the Gospel. They forgot to act with “judgement and mercy and fidelity”. The Church was like those cups and graves that were shiny on the outside and dirty on the inside. With the news of recent weeks, we wonder if this process of diminishment has also been accelerated in our own Church in the USA.

For my part, and for millions like me, it was never the “gold of the temple” nor the gifts on the altar that captured me. It was the Living God within that temple, in that altar, that made everything “sacred.” Within the tabernacle we have those humble little pieces of Bread that hold greater power than the Vatican and all the Cathedrals put together can ever have! Yes, these “temples” are holy and we “swear” by them, but they are empty buildings without the Life that dwells in them. In the same manner, out lives as Catholics are just as empty if we don’t just relax, take a deep breath, and let Jesus fill our hearts with the power of His Love. Jesus has always been the one that calls me to “Church.” I go to mass to be with Him. Only then, can I look around and feel the greatest reverence for His people within that building. In this Monday’s Gospel Jesus goes on to tell us: “One who swears by the altar swears by it and all that is upon it ; one who swears by the temple swears by it and by Him Who dwells in it ; one who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by Him Who is seated on it.”

I have this great faith that we will overcome all these problems in our Church. Too much bleeding and suffering has gone into it. What gives me the right to feel this way? The loving intimacy with which Jesus Christ, my Lord, has claimed me gives me the right. He is ready to give this to everyone. How dare we approach Him when we have so much in common with those Pharisees, unreliable servants, and careless virgins? Because He died for all of us. The answer to the whole puzzle somehow lies in His Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

“Therefore, brothers [and sisters], since through the blood of Jesus we have boldness to enter into the sanctuary by the new and living way He opened for us through the veil, that is His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our herts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.” (Heb 19-22)

A few years ago someone said to me, “I don’t go to mass because I just don’t trust those priests.” I love and trust quite a lot of priests, but what I told the man was, “The priest I go to meet at mass is called Jesus Christ.” Jesus is the ultimate Power that can lead us to say : “I am a Catholic.”

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” (Heb 4:15-16)

Orlando Hernandez

21st Week of the Year, b

Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b/Eph 5:21-32 or 5:2a, 25-32/Jn 6:60-69 (122)

27 Monday Saint Monica
2 Thes 1:1-5, 11-12/Mt 23:13-22 (425)

28 Tuesday Saint Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
2 Thes 2:1-3a, 14-17/Mt 23:23-26 (426)

29 Wednesday The Passion of Saint John the Baptist
2 Thes 3:6-10, 16-18 (427)/Mk 6:17-29 (634)

30 Thursday
1 Cor 1:1-9/Mt 24:42-51 (428)

31 Friday
1 Cor 1:17-25/Mt 25:1-13 (429)

SEPTEMBER 1 Saturday
1 Cor 1:26-31/Mt 25:14-30 (430)

Listen to Ezechiel

The Prophet Ezechiel, Rubens

We usually look to the gospels or other parts of the New Testament in our lectionary for wisdom day by day. The Old Testament readings don’t seem as relevant as the New; the words themselves– “old,” “new”– suggest that.

The Fathers of the Church, though, preached a lot from the Old Testament and reflected on it more often than we do. For one thing, they saw in the Old Testament an image of the church. We need to reflect on our poor church these days.

In today’s gospel reading (Matthew 19,23-30) Jesus says that the rich will find it hard to enter the kingdom of heaven. Who does he tell that to? To his disciples with Peter as their spokesman.

During his ministry Jesus was cautious about saying anything the Romans and those occupying Palestine might see as meant for them. He’s careful about social or political statements that could end his ministry quickly. Look what happened to John the Baptist.

The Prophet Ezechiel (Ez. 28,1-10) in our Old Testament reading today, however, isn’t afraid to criticize the rich and powerful of his time. Even as he faces the dark world of his own people, he inveighs against the Prince of Tyre, a small Phoenician kingdom entrenched along the Mediterranean Sea, where Lebanon is today. Smart traders and skillful politicians, they saw themselves as a model society for that part of the world.

Did the Jewish ruling class, in exile in Babylon, see Tyre as a model for rebuilding Jerusalem? Ezechiel sees too much of Tyre’s unjust ways and arrogance to buy into becoming a nation like them.

Even when your own world is dark, don’t lose your voice for criticizing social issues affecting others, Ezechiel seems to say. While you struggle with your own sins and failures, keep struggling to promote a just society throughout the world. God’s call is to work for its good.

In this “moral catastrophe” we’re in as a church today because of child abuse, I hope we and our episcopal leadership, facing our failures, won’t abandon other areas of social justice, like immigration and poverty.

Listen to Ezechiel.

20th Week of the Year b

Prv 9:1-6/Eph 5:15-20/Jn 6:51-58 (119)

20 Monday Saint Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church
Ez 24:15-24/Mt 19:16-22 (419)

21 Tuesday Saint Pius X, Pope
Ez 28:1-10/Mt 19:23-30 (420)

22 Wednesday The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Ez 34:1-11/Mt 20:1-16 (421)

23 Thursday
[Saint Rose of Lima, Virgin]
Ez 36:23-28/Mt 22:1-14 (422)

24 Friday Saint Bartholomew, Apostle
Rv 21:9b-14/Jn 1:45-51 (629)

25 Saturday
[Saint Louis; Saint Joseph Calasanz, Priest; BVM]
Ez 43:1-7ab/Mt 23:1-12 (424)

Ezechiel, for those over Thirty

We‘re reading the Prophet Ezekiel at Mass these days. Early Jewish scholars considered him hard to read; only those over 30 should read him, some said. We have the same difficultly. The lectionary for today, Friday in the 19th week of the year, offers a shorter version of Ezechiel’s story of the young infant girl “thrown out on the ground as something loathsome, the day you were born thrown out to die.” Not a pretty story to look at.

It’s a story harsh to hear and hard to understand. Infanticide, a form of abortion. child abuse, gender discrimination, prostitution, ingratitude, forgetfulness of God. Ezechiel describes his own society in dark terms. Yet, all the while God is there.

“You became mine, says the Lord GOD.Then I bathed you with water, washed away your blood, and anointed you with oil. I clothed you with an embroidered gown, put sandals of fine leather on your feet; I gave you a fine linen sash and silk robes to wear. I adorned you with jewelry… You were exceedingly beautiful, with the dignity of a queen.”

“But you were captivated by your own beauty,
you used your renown to make yourself a harlot,
and you lavished your harlotry on every passer-by,
whose own you became.”

“Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were a girl,
and I will set up an everlasting covenant with you,
that you may remember and be covered with confusion,
and that you may be utterly silenced for shame
when I pardon you for all you have done, says the Lord GOD.”
{Ezechiel 16, 1-69)

The story of the abandoned girl is a story of sin and redemption. All the while God is there.

Ezechiel was a priest brought captive to Babylon along with King Johoiachin and members of the Jewish elite after the Babylonians crushed the Jewish revolt against them in 597 BC. Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, left Zedekiah to rule in Jerusalem, but Zedekiah revolted five years later. The Babylonians had enough and destroyed Jerusalem completely.

The Jewish elite in Babylon were convinced God would never permit Jerusalem to be destroyed. It was destroyed. Then they were just as convinced their city would be rebuilt quickly and they would rebuild it.

God will take care of it, not you; in God’s time, not yours, Ezechiel insists.

Hard times then and now bring out different responses. God is absent, some say. Hard times are blessed times, Ezechiel says. God is more present than ever in hard times.

Hard times give rise to quick solutions. “This is the answer, I am the answer,” some say. God is the answer, Ezechiel says.

Hard times cause fingers to point blame. “The politicians did it.”
“The liberals, the conservatives did it.” “Look into your own heart,” Ezechiel says, “and ask God for a new one.”

Look at the hard times, don’t ignore or hide from them, but see them with the eyes of God, the prophet says. “Thus says the Lord GOD,” I swear I am coming… I will claim my sheep…I will save my sheep…I myself will look after and tend my sheep.” (Ezekiel 34,1-11)

Good words for us today?