Monthly Archives: January 2020

Numbers

Polls are everywhere in the political world today. Numbers indicate power and popularity.

I think Jesus’ disciples were interested in numbers too. In Mark’s gospel, which we’re reading at Mass these days, Jesus begins his ministry in Capernaum before an enthusiastic crowd. At the end of his first day, the whole town gathers at the door of Peter’s house and word reaches out to other towns and places that a prophet has come. The numbers go up. (Mark 1, 21-34)

But then enthusiasm dies down as Jesus’ authority is questioned. His own hometown, Nazareth, takes a dim view of him; religious leaders from Jerusalem and the followers of Herod Antipas cast doubts about him. Gradually, Capernaum and the other towns that welcomed Jesus enthusiastically turn against him. His numbers go down.

His disciples must have wondered why. Why are the numbers going down? It didn’t make sense.

Jesus answers them in today’s gospel. God‘s working in this world, the kingdom of God is coming, but human beings are mostly unaware of it.
“This is how it is with the Kingdom of God;
it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land
and would sleep and rise night and day
and the seed would sprout and grow,
he knows not how.
Of its own accord the land yields fruit,
first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once,
for the harvest has come.” (Mark 4, 28-34)

A greater power is at work in the scattered seed; but we know little about how it grows. The seed takes time, with its own law of growth; a great harvest will come, but still there’s mystery.

Meanwhile, we worry about numbers. Why are a growing number of Americans–almost 25%– giving up going to church or synagogue? Why are there so few vocations to our religious communities? So many of the good things in this world seem to be diminishing.

What can we do? Treasure the seed we have, scatter it as we can, look into the signs of the times. The Kingdom of God comes.

Be Merciful, O Lord, For We Have Sinned

David penitent


Because Jesus is often called “Son of David” in the New Testament and so many of the psalms are attributed to David, we may tend to idealize the great king.. David united the tribes of Israel and established a nation with its capitol in Jerusalem. Jesus himself appealed to David’s example when his enemies accused his hungry disciples of eating grain on the Sabbath.

Yet, the long narrative we read in the Book of Samuel today and tomorrow at Mass offers a darker picture of the famous king– he was a murderer and an adulterer. David had Urriah the Hittite, a faithful soldier in his army, killed so that he could have Bathsheba, his wife. (2 Samuel 11, 1-17)

Psalm 51 is the response we make at Mass after listening to the king’s sordid deed. Tradition says it’s David’s own response after he realized what he had done. The Book of Psalms calls Psalm 51: “A psalm of David when Nathan the prophet came to him after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”

“Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
And of my sin cleanse me.”

The psalm, the first of the Seven Penitential Psalms, asks God to take away both the personal and social effects of our sin, for our sins do indeed have emotional, physical and social consequences. Only God can “wash away” our guilt and cleanse our heart. Only God can “rebuild” the walls that our sins have torn down and the lives they have harmed. Only God can restore joy to our spirits and help us “teach the wicked your ways, that sinners may return to you.” Only God can bring us back to his friendship.

In the scriptures, David is a complex figure– a saint and a sinner. He’s really a reflection of us all. That’s why our response in the psalm at Mass today takes the form that it does –

“Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.”

Jesus’ Lake

Orlando Hernández     

The Gospel (Mk 4: 35-41) for the Saturday of the third week in Ordinary Time tells the dramatic story of Jesus’ miracle when He saved His disciples from the “violent squall” that befell their boats in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. I love how Jesus was peacefully sleeping in the stern.

According to the fourth chapter of Mark He had just finished a long day, standing on perhaps this very same boat, preaching to the many people that were on the shore. Our human Brother got tired, like all of us. The disciples had to wake Him and even dared to reprimand their Master: “ Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing ?” Our Lord swiftly takes care of the situation, as if this dangerous natural phenomenon were just a little, unruly child: “ Quiet! Be still!”   

 Jesus is apparently disappointed at their lack of faith, and they seemed to confirm His opinion as they say (One of my most beloved sentences in the Bible!): “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” They still did not understand the incredible Blessing that they were living with. Even now, some of us, at certain moments find ourselves at the perilous edge of our faith in difficult, stormy times. The Loving One is sleeping quietly within us, and we just can’t find the way to “wake Him”, or so we think. I also find myself suddenly, even in the midst of my most recollected moments, asking Him the question: “Who ARE You? “   

 I was thinking about this Gospel on our Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, as I stood on the prow of the wooden ship that was giving us a ride on the Sea of Galilee. Conditions were totally different from those in the Gospel. The blue waters of the Lake were totally calm, reflecting the clouds in the sky. It was very beautiful and comforting. On the shore we could discern the traditional sites of the Sermon on the Mount, of the place where Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?”, and of the ruins of the ancient town of Capernaum. I wondered where along that shore was the cove where Jesus stood on the boat and told His parables. To think that some 2,000 years ago He WAS here, at this lake, filled me with emotion.   

 Everyone in the boat was so quiet. The vessel was large enough for us to walk around, from one side to the other. The water was so still that we did not have to sit down. There was such peace, and yet I remembered the Gospel, how from one minute to the other a dreadful storm could come along and threaten our lives. Either way, our Lord is always with us, resting in our hearts.      

As we were returning, the boat staff played recorded music, well-known religious hymns like “Amazing Grace”, “How Great Thou Art”, and Gospel songs at a faster tempo. Many of us started to hum or sing along, even lift our arms, clap our hands, and “dance”. The Holy Spirit of joy was palpable. We would move around, look into each others eyes without fear, and smile, even laugh. There was such fellowship to this group of Pilgrims, so much love. I thank God every time I think of them.    

 The boat on the Sea of Galilee can be seen as a symbol of our Church, carrying the people of God. We move on, forward, to where Jesus is taking us. Sometimes it gets turbulent, but no matter what our problems, we’re in this boat together and our ship’s Master is always with us.

No Hope?

We’re reading from the 2nd Book of Samuel this week at Mass. The first 8 chapters describe David’s accomplishments as an ideal king. He unites the tribes of Israel and conquers Jerusalem from the Jebusites to make it his capitol– his greatest military victory. (Monday).

 He brings the Ark of the Covenant and places it in a special tent in his capitol city, acknowledging God’s primacy over this kingdom. He listens to the prophet Nathan, acknowledging the prophetic voice, God’s vice, in Israel.

God says to David, through the Prophet Nathan: “Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.’” Unlike Saul’s throne, David’s throne will stand forever.  (Tuesday-Thursday) 

But chapters 9-20 describe David’s darker side, beginning with his murder of Uriah and taking his wife Bathsheba. He’s accused by the Prophet Nathan. (Friday-Saturday)  Though he repents, dire consequences follow his sin. Yet, God remains faithful to David and his people Israel. 

One reason we keep reading the Old Testament is to see Israel’s history unfold and hear the promises God makes to her, in spite of her sinfulness and infidelity. It helps us deal with our own times

Yesterday I was reading the New York Times and I don’t think I ever saw its editorial and opinion pages so pessimistic about the future. There was pessimism about science, held captive by what was called “Surveillance Capitalism.” Money and greed control science and technology. There was pessimism about our political system and about climate change. No hope, no vision for science, capitalism or politics, even the physical world itself– all the big engines of our society.

The scriptures match the bad news we face, but they never quench hope. God has a parent’s love for us; we shouldn’t succumb to pessimism. We’re David’s children, through Jesus Christ. “The future of humanity rests with people who are capable of providing the generations to come with reasons for living and for hope.” (Gaudium et spes, 32)

Weekday Readings for 3rd Week

 

January 27 Mon Weekday

[Saint Angela Merici, Virgin]

2 Sm 5:1-7, 10/Mk 3:22-30 

28 Tue Saint Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Doctor of the Church Memorial

2 Sm 6:12b-15, 17-19/Mk 3:31-35

29 Wed Weekday

2 Sm 7:4-17/Mk 4:1-20

30 Thu Weekday

2 Sm 7:18-19, 24-29/Mk 4:21-25

31 Fri Saint John Bosco, Priest Memorial

2 Sm 11:1-4a, 5-10a, 13-17/Mk 4:26-34

1 Sat Weekday

2 Sm 12:1-7a, 10-17/Mk 4:35-41 

2 SUN THE PRESENTATION OF THE LORD Feast

Mal 3:1-4/Heb 2:14-18/Lk 2:22-40 or 2:22-32 

Upward


Identify the starting hold.

Place hands softly upon it.

Breathe.

Identify the first hand movement.

If a left hand, then identify left foot placement.

If a right, then right foot placement.

Weight the foot.

Let the body hang into equilibrium.

Push down upon the weighted foot.

Rotating that hip to the wall.

Allow the hand to rotate upward toward & slightly past the hold.

Lightly allow the hand to come back upon the hold.

Finger pads into place.

Contact soft and firm.

Allow your body to hang into equilibrium.

Breathe.

Identify foot placement of non-weighted foot.

Place your foot slowly, surely upon the hold.

Make no contact except with the hold.

Point your toe just before contact.

Be precise.

See the foot into full position.

Appreciate the security, the physics, the architecture.

Breathe.

Notice your self upon the wall.

Allow your heart to beat.

Your deep respiration to still.

A slow beautiful exhale.

Yes.

I am.

Thank You.

Identify your next hand position.


—Howard Hain

THE PASSIONISTS: 300 YEARS

The Passsonists recently commissioned the painting of an icon to celebrate their founding 300 years ago.This year and part of next year the icon, a tryptic painted by a prominent European iconographer, is traveling to different Passionist communities throughout the world.

The top part of the icon shows the heavenly origins of our congregation. The hand of God the Father surrounded by his angels offers the Passionist Sign,  symbol of the community, to the world, signified by the sun and the moon. The Dove, the Holy Spirit, brings this gift into the world. 

Our congregation is not just a human creation, it’s from the hand of God, through the Holy Spirit. It’s not simply human in its origin.

The congregation is to keep alive the mystery of the Passion of Jesus in the world. The central panel of the icon is focused on Jesus Crucified.

Mary, his mother, points to her Son. She’s the sorrowful mother, holding a cloth to her tearful face; two angels surrounding the Cross weep with her.

Paul of the Cross stands on the other side of the Crucified Jesus, looking at us. He has one hand on his heart and the other extended to us. His mission to proclaim this mystery to the world. 

The Cross stands on a rocky cave containing a coiled monster in yellowish green. Artists sometimes place the bones of Adam and Eve beneath the Cross, which brings them new life, but here the artist has a symbol of evil that must be defeated. 

That evil is the “forgetfulness of the passion of Jesus” that Paul saw affecting the world of his day. Great changes were taking place in his time, the 18th century. The Enlightenment, a movement still affecting our world today, had begun. It fostered a new enthusiasm for human learning and human progress. It brought about a scientific revolution and an industrial revolution that changed the way we live and think in our western world. 

The Enlightenment has brought benefits, but it also brought about a forgetfulness of religion. diminishing religion’s importance in western society. It also brought about a forgetfulness of creation, as Pope Francis claims in his letter on the environment, Laudato Si. Human flourishing came before the flourishing of creation. 

The side panels of our icon have portraits of Passionist saints and blesseds. St. Gabriel Possenti and Blessed Dominic Barberi on the right facing us, and St. Gemma Galgani and Blessed Isidore de Loor on the left. They follow Paul of the Cross in his mission.

Gemma certainly represents the women called to share in the Passionist charism, religious women and laywomen. 

Isidore de Loor, represents the religious brothers who embrace the Passionist vocation, but he also represents all those who, from beyond Italy, from Europe and the rest of the world, would follow the Passionist charism. Isidore bears a cross on his forehead; he suffered from cancer during the Nazi wartime occupation of Belgium. 

Blessed Dominic Barberi represents the missionary outreach of the Passionists. As a zealous missionary to England he received Cardinal Newman into the Catholic Church.

Gabriel Possenti grew up in 18th century Spoleto, a center of the Italian Enlightenment. He was an Enlightenment child, who found the wisdom of the Cross as a Passionist.

The angels at the top of the panels of the saints link them and those who come after them with the heavenly mystery revealed to Paul Danei 300 years ago. Recalling the past, the icon points to years ahead.

Paul in Sin City

We’re reading Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthian for the next few weeks at Sunday Mass. Paul wrote a number of letters to the Christian community he founded after reaching Corinth about the year 50. It was the most exasperating community Paul dealt with, but the Corinthians made him think about faith, so we can thank them for keeping Paul on his toes.

Corinth was a rich, sprawling seaport, being rebuilt as Paul arrived, a frontier city attracting ambitious people from all over the Roman world. They were people who wanted to get ahead. Corinth was a city of “self-made” people; only the tough survived there. It was also a center for prostitution and sexual commerce. We could call it a “sin” city.

Maybe that was a reason why Paul wanted to establish a church there. He was God’s apostle to the Gentiles. Where could be better meet Gentiles than a seaport connected to the whole world. If Christianity could take root there, it could take root anywhere.

When Paul arrived there around the year 50 AD, he did what anybody has to do when they go to a new place– find a place to stay and get a job. He stayed in the house of Prisca and Aquila, a Jewish Christian couple who owned a small shop in Corinth. He worked as a tentmaker in their shop. He met people, and Paul spoke to them of Jesus Christ, and they believed.

Then on the Sabbath in the synagogue he made contacts too, but I think Paul probably did most of his preaching while working. A lot of things can happen when you are working.

To form new believers, Paul asked some of his friends with large houses to hold meetings there. A lot of things happen in homes that don’t happen in church.

Paul generally founded a church and moved on. But when he moved on, troubles often started in many of those communities, so sometimes he wrote letters, and sometimes he had to come back himself to try to straighten things out. There were some grave problems in the church at Corinth. The church was split into factions, based on wealth, status and friendship. It also was confused about sexual morality.

Paul reminded the Corinthians where they came from and who they were. Not many of you were wise or well-born, he told them. God chooses the weak things. God still does.

Pilgrim Spirit

                                                                                                                                   

 By Orlando Hernández
     Both the Gospel for the First Sunday in Ordinary Time, and the one for the Second Sunday, tell the story of the Baptism of Jesus at the Jordan River. In both Gospels the Spirit of God is seen descending upon our Lord in the form of a dove. It is a supernatural event where the Holy Trinity shines before the eyes of John the Baptist. (Mt 3: 13-17, Jn 1: 29-34)   

 Most religious tours to the Holy Land take their pilgrims to a place where they can prayerfully remember this moment. The site that years ago was used by all tours was a small dammed-in reservoir at the source of the river, very near the Sea of Galilee, all stocked with bathrooms, showers, rental of white gowns, restaurant, and souvenir shops. It was losing its popularity because it seemed so commercialized and artificial. So the Israeli government created a national park much farther south along the river bed, near Jericho and the “Mount of Temptation”, closer to the area where Jesus was probably baptized by John.

The place has a new Visitor Center, which charges for the showers and gowns for Evangelical Pilgrims who want to go into the waters of the small stream where the Israeli army allows water to flow just for this purpose. There are platforms and stairs leading into the water. It is a rather lovely place in the middle of the Judean desert. The Jordanians on the other side have a similar facility, with an Orthodox Church at the site.    

 Young, Evangelical Christians were having a ball sloshing around in the river. We Catholics would not dare go into those brown waters, but Fr. Charles poured  a small amount over each of our heads, and we renewed our Baptismal vows. It was a very solemn experience. Then, everyone went off to take pictures.    

 I had to sit down by the water. I could not leave the spot. I was overwhelmed by being there, and so was my wife. Perhaps it was the hot desert sun, but I sensed a shimmer all around. My Lord was once there, and still is now! I felt our Abba leaning over us. Was He well-pleased with us? One of our fellow pilgrims, Felicia, a Nigerian-American from the Bronx, stayed with us. She is Catholic Charismatic like us, and somehow we found ourselves standing up, holding hands, and praising God at the top of our lungs. We did not care how crazy we looked. It felt so right. I lost all sense of where I was in the dazzling light. I ran out of things to say in either English or Spanish, and starting praising in words that I did not understand. We sang, we cried, we laughed like children. The tour guide had to come and tell us that it was time to go.  We went back up to the bus “like men dreaming,” big smiles on our faces. We looked into each others’ shining eyes, lovingly.  

   The Baptist said, “On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, He is the One Who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” (Jn 1: 33b)  That’s what the Baptized Prince of Peace had done to us that day, no one can tell me otherwise. The Lord gave us a “Baptism of the Spirit” right then and there! The beauty of our Faith is that we do not need to travel thousands of miles to have this experience. Our beautiful Father can open up the clouds of our distraction and doubt, and look lovingly upon His “Beloved Son” right within our hearts. Their Living Spirit is constantly “coming upon” us if we just invite Him in prayer.    

 That day in Palestine, on the way back to the bus, we saw a spot where it seems someone leaves bird seed, and white pigeons come to feed. They were so wonderful to see, symbols of the Spirit of Peace. A few feet away, behind the barbed-wire fence,  the desert is still littered with unexploded land mines left there by the retreating Jordanian Army back in 1967. The Israeli Army has just left them there, a reminder that after all, we live in a very dangerous world. One could say that 2000 years ago, on that blessed day at the Jordan, Jesus’ pilgrimage would begin: His long, holy journey to the Cross, so that today I can dare to pray:


                                                    Holy Spirit, Beloved of my soul, I adore You. You enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me.  Thank You precious God! Let there be peace on earth.