NOVEMBER 25 Mon Weekday
[Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr]
Dn 1:1-6, 8-20/Lk 21:1-4
26 Tue Weekday
Dn 2:31-45/Lk 21:5-11
27 Wed Weekday
Dn 5:1-6, 13-14, 16-17, 23-28/Lk 21:12-19
28 Thu Weekday
[USA: Thanksgiving Day]
Dn 6:12-28/Lk 21:20-28.
Alternative readings are available in the Lectionary for Mass (Volume IV).
29 Fri Weekday
Dn 7:2-14/Lk 21:29-33
30 Sat Saint Andrew, Apostle
Rom 10:9-18/Mt 4:18-22
Fr. Don Senior, in his biography of Fr. Raymond Brown the American scripture scholar, says that one of Brown’s best books was “The Churches the Apostles Left Behind.” Scholars like Brown and Senior say the apostles left churches behind, not one monolithic church that was everywhere the same. The Gospel of Mark, for example, is different from the Gospel of John and it comes from a church different from the church represented in John. There was not one orderly church, but squabbling, disorderly churches, yet churches just the same.
The New Testament churches were developing churches, the scholars say. They describe them as being on a trajectory. They’re not set in stone or isolation or perfect; they’re interacting with each other and their time. And by the power of the Spirit they’re developing slowly into the church that Jesus wants to bring about.
These insights have great consequences for ecumenism, for one thing. The churches the apostles left behind help us understand Christian churches today and the challenge to keep on a trajectory towards Christian unity.
That’s true also of the particular church we may belong to. I’m thinking of something one of the people who comes to our 11 o’clock Mass here at the monastery told me recently. She enjoys the different priests who celebrate that Mass here, she said. “You’re all so different. In fact, I don’t know why you don’t kill each other.”
Certainly one of the reasons why we don’t kill each other is the presence and patience of Jesus himself. For all his complaint about his own generation, Jesus never gave up on it, but gave himself to it day by day, as he does for us. Our prayer and liturgy together keeps us on the path that leads to what God wants us to be.
The Gospel for Thursday of the 33rd week in Ordinary Time describes the poignant moment when Jesus stood upon the slope of the Mount of Olives, and our Lord wept (“Dominus Flevit”) over the Holy City of Jerusalem: “ As Jesus drew near Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If this day you only knew what makes for peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes. For the days are coming upon you when your enemies will raise a palisade against you; they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides. They will smash you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.’” (Lk 19: 41-44)
On the second day of our pilgrimage to the Holy Land our group of 33 stood upon the place where, over the centuries, people have believed Jesus said these words. From this high point we looked upon the vast panorama of the city of Jerusalem, rising from across the Kidron Valley. On our side of the valley (the Mount of Olives) we were surrounded by vast Jewish graveyards that covered most of the slope. Large quantities of older limestone tombs right below us were vandalized and damaged by the retreating Jordanians in the 1967 Six-Day War.
To our left, numerous, newer, empty gravesites waited for the bodies of well-to-do, living Israelites who could afford the exorbitant price for a spot where the first thing that they will see on the day of the Resurrection of the Dead is the Holy City of Jerusalem.
All around you could see hill upon hill densely populated by Arab and Jew. In the middle of the landscape, the ancient city rises, surrounded by the high, crenelated wall that was rebuilt by the Turks some 5 centuries ago. In the center of the wall stands the “Golden Gate,” where Jesus is said to have entered the city on Palm Sunday. Many years ago, this gate was sealed with stones by one of the Muslim rulers in order to prevent Him from ever doing this again!
The imposing Temple Mount rises right behind the wall. Where once the center of the Jewish religion stood, beautiful Muslim structures stand now. How the world changes! Jesus’ predictions sadly came true for His people. Interspersed upon the thousand of houses, mosques and buildings all around, one can spot the towers and domes of churches where it is said the holiest of events took place: Caiphas’ house, where Jesus affirmed “I AM” and Peter denied Him, the Cenacle, where the last supper and Pentecost took place, the Basilica of the Agony in Getsemane, and further up, behind and above the lovely Dome of the Rock, the blue domes of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where our Lord died and was resurrected.
It is all overwhelming to see; tears came upon the faces of most of us as we looked in silence (before we fell into the frenzy of picture-taking).
Behind us was the small church named Dominus Flevit (Jesus wept) commemorating the Gospel moment. This church was completed in 1955 by the Franciscans, and designed by the Italian architect Antonio Balucci, who throughout the 20th century designed many of the important churches in the Holy Land.
This building was said to be shaped like a tear drop. I was attracted to the structures standing on top of each of the four corners of the building. They looked like elegant, slim jars of some kind. They were actually supposed to represent “tear flasks.” In ancient times, some people would collect their tears in small flasks that had that shape. Perhaps the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears used such a flask.
In the religious movie “The Shack,” the character of the Holy Spirit collects the tears of a heart-broken man in such a flask, promising that She would use these tears to water the garden of his faith and healing. St. Paul writes that the love of God is poured upon us by His Holy Spirit. In prayer, I imagine a luminescent waterfall. Is it His tears? Can the impassible God weep over us? Our Lord Jesus certainly did!
Back to the pilgrimage. We were unable to celebrate mass inside the small church (it was reserved by a Spanish group), but we celebrated on one of the many covered spaces along the mountain side. Fr. Charles said that it was a miracle that we were even able to get this spot. It was special. We sat on benches and plastic folding chairs on top of a sandy floor (Holy Ground)! Some surrounding trees and a plastic roof protected us from the growing heat. Behind the table that served as an altar we could see the expanse of the Holy City that Jesus wept over. The seriousness, the holiness of the occasion cold be felt in our group. Our friendly conversations stopped one by one; there was a great silence, even before Mass started.
Fr. Charles read this same Gospel (Lk 19: 41-44). In his homily, he focused on Jesus’ words, “If this day you only knew what makes for peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.” He spoke about the dangerous tensions that exist between Arab and Jew, Muslim and Christian, in this city and country, the poverty and suffering of so many Palestinians. He asked us to pray quietly for peace. I thought of the strife, the destruction and hatred that afflicts most of the Middle East and so much of the world, the opposition and conflict that exists even in our country of the United States.
I could smell the dust of the ancient, broken stones. I imagined this dust covering the face of the staggering, bleeding, (probably weeping) Jesus, telling us on the way to Calvary, “weep for yourselves and for your children”. I thought about my 5 grandchildren and the future that might await them, and I cried, kneeling upon the sand. I started to plead, “Jesus, Wonder-Counselor, Prince of Peace, teach us on this day what makes for peace. Open up our eyes and teach them to see the hidden way of love.”
But the noise of hundreds of people all round us began to distract me. Other groups, celebrating their own Liturgies, were singing in their own languages and playing loud guitars. A group of young people had come out of the church and they were laughing and bantering noisily, while another guide was reading the Bible to his own groups as loudly as possible, stopping often to tell everyone to “Shushh!” It did little good.
With a faint smile on my face, I became aware of this mass of humanity, each person lost in their own intentions, competing for air and space. I closed my eyes and imagined Invisible Tears falling softly upon everyone. Jesus the Pilgrim was weeping over all of us.
On November 18th, we honor the great apostles, Peter and Paul, in the ancient churches where they were buried: the Vatican Basilica of St. Peter and the Basilica of St. Paul, both built in the fourth century. The two apostles are founders and protectors of the Roman church.
Rome’s Christians marked where these apostles were martyred with special care. Peter, early sources say, was crucified on the Vatican Hill in 64 near the obelisk not far from the circus of the emperors Caligula and Nero and was buried nearby. The Emperor Constantine erected a basilica over his burial site in 326, while Sylvester was pope. Later in 1626 the present basilica replaced it. Recent excavations have uncovered Peter’s burial place under the papal altar of this church.
Paul, tradition says, was beheaded on the Ostian Way, outside the ancient city walls, in 67. Constantine built a large church over his grave in 386. It was rebuilt after a fire in 1823 according to its original measurements. The apostle’s grave lies before the main altar of the church.
We build churches honoring apostles and saints, often enshrining their relics, because we believe they watch over us even now. “The company of the apostles praises you…From their place in heaven they guide us still.”
Defend your Church, O Lord,
by the protection of the holy Apostles,
that, as she received from them
the beginnings of her knowledge of things divine,
so through them she may receive,
even to the end of the world,
an increase in heavenly grace.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen (Collect for the feast)
NOVEMBER 18 Mon Weekday
[The Dedication of the Basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles;
USA: Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne, Virgin]
1 Mc 1:10-15, 41-43, 54-57, 62-63/Lk 18:35-43
or, for the Memorial of the Dedication, Acts 28:11-16, 30-31/Mt 14:22-33
19 Tue Weekday
2 Mc 6:18-31/Lk 19:1-10
20 Wed Weekday
2 Mc 7:1, 20-31/Lk 19:11-28
21 Thu The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
1 Mc 2:15-29/Lk 19:41-44
22 Fri Saint Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr
1 Mc 4:36-37, 52-59/Lk 19:45-48
23 Sat Weekday
[Saint Clement I, Pope and Martyr; Saint Columban, Abbot; USA: Blessed Miguel Agustín Pro, Priest and Martyr; BVM] 1 Mc 6:1-13/Lk 20:27-40
Dear Readers, I just came back from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. As some of you probably know, this trip can have a profound effect on a person’s soul. Fr. Victor asked me to write about some of the experiences I had, both externally and internally.
The holiness of the sites we visited was indisputable, but I must admit that one of the greatest blessings I had on this journey was the company of the other travelers in our group. I was touched by the goodness, the friendliness, and the faith of each one of them. Each meal that we shared, each passing conversation that we had, was a lesson on what it means to be a Christian. I will always be grateful for having met these wonderful members of the Body of Christ.
One of our fellow travelers was Fr. Balufu Basekela. He lived for many years in Rome, and finally spent the previous two decades of his life as a parish priest in a diocese in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a place quite different and far away from his native Congo. He had just retired and the Parish had given him this trip as a gift for his years of service. He seemed to love every minute of the trip. His camaraderie, his humble, pleasant way was a joy to us all.
The Holy Land displays a large collection of ruins and stones, both large and small, from century upon century of construction and destruction. It reminds us of the instability, even insignificance, of the things we humans give ourselves credit for.
The Gospel for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary time points to this phenomenon : “While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, ‘ All that you see here — the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.’” (Lk 21:5-6)
In Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is built over the sites where our Lord Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected from the dead, is another example of the impermanence of human works. The place is a sprawling complex of chapels, rotundas, domes, and fragments thereof, built , destroyed, and rebuilt over the centuries. At the heart of the church is the Aedicule, a small all-marble chapel divided into two chambers. It was last rebuilt in the early 1800’s over the believed remains of the cave where Jesus was buried.
To enter within, one stoops through a small, ornate entrance into a rectangular(or was it octagonal?) space called the Chapel of the Angels . It is believed to be the place where the shattered stone that sealed the entrance to Jesus’ tomb once lay, and angels stood over it in power and joy. A fragment of that original stone is said to be in there, but I was in too much awe of the place to remember . The marble walls had been sculpted into the semblance of folds of curtains, plants, and little angels all around.
All 33 of us barely fitted inside this cramped space, with a small stone table in the center for celebrating the Mass, with everyone standing up. This was no place for persons who suffer from claustrophobia, but nobody complained . Fr. Charles, our guide, and Fr. Balufu were our celebrants. While the Liturgy of the Word was taking place all of us would shift our place so that 3-by-3 , we could crawl through the tiny entrance to the next chamber and spend a few seconds there. This chamber cannot comfortably accommodate more than 3 people at a time.
On one of the marble walls there is a small window which gives us a glimpse of the original limestone tomb-cave . On the other wall is a stone shelf for priests to celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Beneath the shelf there is a centuries-old horizontal marble slab, less than two feet off the ground, which is believed to cover and protect the actual slab of rock where Jesus rested, and two days later opened His eyes and sat up full of Glory, Power, and Love for us!
Two thousand years later, we knelt on this stone and had our short personal moment with Him. His Presence was overwhelming. The desire was to remain there , with your face to the rock and just stay for God knows how long ( Eternity?). However, there were good people waiting outside with whom you had to share this blessing. The experience was so powerful and satisfying that it did not matter that it was so brief.
After everyone was finally back in the Chapel of the Angels, the two priests went into the burial chamber and proceeded with the Liturgy of the Eucharist. They came back out and gave us the Host, and then we had to leave. There were hundreds of people waiting in line to get in there.
Later that day, four of us were sitting with Fr. Balufu at a small table in an Arab luncheonette having some food. We engaged in small talk, and shared our life stories with each other. At one point one of us commented on the time at the Holy Sepulcher and I found myself telling Fr. Balufu, “Wow, what an experience it must have been for you as a priest to consecrate the Host in the place where Jesus resurrected!” He became serious, almost sad, his eyes still back there, and commented, “What I felt the most was how small I was, how insignificant, before the greatness of God. I felt humbled.” We just sat there quietly for a while in the light of this holy man’s company. I had tears in my eyes and a faint smile in my face as I nibbled on the falafel sandwich.
A couple of weeks ago back in Jamaica, Queens, at Mass, we read from the Book of Wisdom something that can help me appreciate that moment, and the mystery of the Passion and Resurrection, for that matter: “ Before the Lord the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.
But You have mercy on all, because You can do all things; and You overlook people’s sins that they may repent. For You love all things that are and loathe nothing that You have made.” (Wisdom 11: 22-24a)
By Orlando Hernández
NOVEMBER 11 Mon Saint Martin of Tours, Bishop
Wis 1:1-7/Lk 17:1-6
12 Tue Saint Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr
Wis 2:23—3:9/Lk 17:7-10
13 Wed USA: Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, Virgin Memorial
Blessed Eugene Bossilkov, CP
Wis 6:1-11/Lk 17:11-19
14 Thu Weekday
Wis 7:22b—8:1/Lk 17:20-25
15 Fri Weekday
[Saint Albert the Great, Bishop and Doctor of the Church]
Wis 13:1-9/Lk 17:26-37
16 Sat Weekday
[Saint Margaret of Scotland; Saint Gertrude, Virgin; BVM]
Wis 18:14-16; 19:6-9/Lk 18:1-8