Monthly Archives: November 2019

Saving Santa Claus

Santa’s coming to town for Macy’s annual Thanksgiving Parade. From the parade he’ll go into the store  for Black Friday and be there for the rest of the days till Christmas.


But Santa Claus is more than a saleman, isn’t he? He’s a saint– Saint Nicholas. He reminds us Christmas is for giving rather than getting. His story of quiet giving mirrors God’s love shown in Jesus Christ.

Telling his story is one of the ways we can save Santa Claus from being captured by Macys and Walmart and all the rest. First, take a look at our version for little children. Then, you might want to go on to our  modest contribution for bigger children– like us:

A Thanksgiving Prayer

In a recent issue of the New York Times “Climate News” the author listed a number of resources for Thanksgiving Day when the issue of climate change comes up at table. Is that inviting the day to become a battle ground?

Pope Francis, after completing his encyclical Laudato Si. wrote: “All it takes is one good person” like Noah. Instead of arguing, could we pray this Thanksgving for the spirit of Noah. Here’s the pope’s prayer:

All-powerful God,
you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned
and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty,
not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

Clay Feet

As the church year ends we read from the Book of Daniel and the apocalyptic sections of St. Luke’s gospel about the future, the day of the Lord, when the kingdom of God finally comes and humanity and creation itself reach the goal intended by God from the beginning.

But we’re used to normal lives, like that described in Luke’s gospel. Like those in the days of Noah and the days of Lot we prefer “eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building.” (Luke 17, 26-30)

This week’s readings make us uneasy, because they point to a future not normal at all: “wars and insurrections, nation rising against nation, powerful earthquakes, famines, plagues, awesome sights and mighty signs in the sky”  And there’s persecution besides.(Luke 21, 7-28)  Not easy to accept..

Yes, Jesus promises not a hair of our head will be harmed,  we will have the strength to endure whatever happens, we’ll be able to give testimony,  we will have the wisdom to understand it all. But still,..

Then, there’s Daniel….

The Book of Daniel recalls King Nebuchadnezzar training Daniel and three other young Jewish exiles in Babylon to serve as his advisors. The king has a lot to do and he needs a brain trust to help him see where he’s been and where he’s going. People in charge always need advisors.

Daniel gives Nebuchadnezzar an unexpected picture of the future. His kingdom will come to an end and other empires take its place. Like all great political powers, his empire has clay feet; it will collapse and fall to the ground. The only kingdom that endures is God’s kingdom, a stone hewn from a mountain.

Daniel wasn’t afraid to present the king with reality. Is that what we learn from him? God works through reality, even wars, earthquakes, famines, plagues, persecutions. Yet, the kingdom of God will come, no matter what. So don’t be afraid of the future.

Some people may have thought Daniel was dreaming. He was really looking at reality. Some people think faith is dreaming, but it isn’t.

“When these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” (Luke 21, 28) Look up with faith.

The Last Days

We began this week with the Feast of Christ the King and now all week we’re reading from the Old and New Testament about the last days. We share the kingly power of Jesus. We shouldn’t forget that as we read about a world turned upside down, floods, earthquakes, plagues and famines, when “awesome sights and signs will come from the sky.” (Luke 21,11) Who can survive?

Our readings sometimes refer to actual historic events experienced by Jesus and his disciples, like the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. As we look at our times, with its wars, political strife and increasing stores of nuclear weapons, we can be afraid..

Our days can seem like the last days. Even our personal experiences can lead us to believe that. I heard someone say awhile ago he thought the world ended when his marriage broke up. It took him years to get over it.

It’s no accident the Feast of Christ the King opens this week. By baptism we share in the kingly, priestly and prophetic power of Jesus. It’s not enough  just to hold on. We should face these days bravely, Jesus says.They’re a time to give testimony. Don’t worry about what words to say or what you are going to do:  “I myself shall give you a wisdom that all your adversaries will not be able to refute.” Don’t worry, “not a hair of your head will be destroyed.”

Don’t forget, though, as our reading from St. Luke for the Feast of Christ the King reminded us, Jesus was king, priest and prophet on Calvary.


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

The Churches the Apostles Left Behind

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.

Hanukkah and Christmas

Hanukkah, an eight day Jewish celebration, which can occur in late November to late December, and Christmas, the Christian celebration on December 25th, are celebrated close together in time, but are they connected beyond that?

The quick answer usually given is no, but think about it a little. Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes IV in 167 BC.

After conquering Judea, the Syrian leader plundered the temple, ended Jewish services and erected an altar to Zeus in it. Leading a Jewish revolt, Judas Maccabeus reconquered the city, cleansed the temple and initiated an eight day celebration in memory of the event. Eight lights lit successively call people to God’s holy place.

Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ approximately 167 years later.

Both of these feasts are about the Presence of God. For the Jews God was in the temple as Creator and their Savior through time. For Christians God reveals his presence in Jesus Christ, who proclaimed himself God’s Son, “the light of the world” as he celebrated the Jewish feasts in the temple. (John 7-10)

All the gospels report that Jesus cleansed the temple  and spoke of himself replacing it. Luke’s gospel  begins in the temple with the promise to Zechariah of the birth of John the Baptist and ends as the Child Jesus enters his “Father’s house.” (Luke 1-2) Our readings today link the restoration of the temple by Judas Maccabeus and the Jesus cleansing the temple: 1 Mc 4:36-37, 52-59/Lk 19:45-48

Far from being separate, Hanukkah and Christmas are connected in their celebration of God’s presence. Hanukkah reminds us of the temple, the place of God’s provisional presence. The Christmas mystery reminds us of the abiding presence of God with us in Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, the Light that never fails, who gives life to all nations.

Pilgrim Tears

     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.
Orlando Hernandez