Monthly Archives: August 2020

Eyes of Disquiet

Icon of Jesus Preaching in the Synagogue

22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Monday (Year II)

Luke 4:16-30

Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. 

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. 

Eyes are rarely impartial and detached. Objects of desire and aversion enter through the eyes, engender judgment in the mind, and precipitate action. 

He said to them, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, “Is this not the son of Joseph?” 

The eyes of Jesus’ townspeople searched the familiar face of their own native son, surprised to see him seated like a learned rabbi before them. 

He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’”

News of wonders and signs done in distant Capernaum by Jesus had reached the ears of the Nazarenes. But could the son of Joseph the carpenter have really done such extraordinary things? Skepticism and doubt hung over the assembly. Why didn’t he share his sensational gifts with his hometown first, where there were plenty of people in need of healing? Why wander off to strangers and leave his own unattended? Jesus gave voice to the puzzled crowd scrutinizing him. 

And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

Dangerous rhetoric was unleashed upon an insular group who did not see eye to eye with Jesus. He spoke no falsehood: the accounts of the celebrated prophets Elijah and Elisha reaching out beyond their national borders to the Gentiles were plainly recorded. But the truth stung in the present context, as it seemed to put unclean pagans in the divine favor. 

When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong.

Spirit-filled eyes would have listened thoughtfully, checked rising anger, recognized resentment and searched within for the cause of vexation. Why was the truth so irritating? Was divine mercy upon foreigners a cause of envy? Was the in-group’s exceptionalism being challenged? Why didn’t the idea of sharing enkindle joy rather than a shrinking of the heart?

Instead, sight fomented hostility and agitated the crowd as one body to strike the voice of truth so as to put him out of their hearing.

But he passed through the midst of them and went away.


A Sermon Beneath the Cross

Choir, Immaculate Conception Monastery, Jamaica, NY

                                                                                                                   By Orlando Hernández

     The Traditional Passionist Mission Prayer to Jesus Crucified expresses what happens to many of us Catholics after years of sitting at Mass or walking past crucifixes in churches, rectories and other religious places, even in our homes:     “Lord, Jesus, for how many ages have You hung upon Your Cross, and still people pass You by and regard You not, except to pierce anew Your Sacred Heart. How often have I passed You by, heedless of Your great sorrow, Your many wounds, Your infinite Love.”     

We look the other way, perhaps not wanting to be disturbed by His Passion, and the stark reminder of our own cruelty and mortality. Maybe we just take it for granted. This is an attitude similar to the one many of us have when we see His crucified people in the news, suffering all over the world, and we just change the channel. We feel more comfortable with happy news, with an image of a powerful, indestructible, sovereign God, instead of the “scrawny one on his cross,”  as the Catholic novelist Shusaku Endo writes.   

 Perhaps Peter was feeling like this in the Gospel for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. (Mt 16: 21-27):     “Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him, ‘God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to You.’”   

 Perhaps Peter sees Jesus as the Warrior King, the Anointed One, the liberator of Israel from the Romans. Jesus, of course, rebukes him sharply and declares one of the messages that we can get from looking at all those crucifixes in our church: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Maybe not a very inspiring “pep talk” from a Warrior King to His soldiers.     

At Our Lady of Victory Church in Floral Park, NY, a large crucifix hangs from wires, high over the first few pews. It is very impressive, similar to the one in “The Choir” chapel at the Passionist Monastery in Jamaica, Queens. I was sitting beneath it, admiring the artistry of this sculpture of the crucified Jesus, as I was waiting for Mass to begin. It was a beautiful object, nothing more.    

 I still had a half-hour wait so I started to read the Psalms on my phone. I was reading my beloved Psalm 24, which celebrates the entrance of the Arc of the Covenant, the Living God, into the Temple of Jerusalem. I always take it as an invitation to let God into my soul:  “Lift up your heads, O you gates,/ Be lifted up you ancient portals,/ Let the king of glory enter in.” …..

Suddenly, the Holy Spirit of God decided to stop me on my tracks and teach me a big lesson. Psalm 24 goes on : “Who is this king of glory/? The Lord, strong and mighty/ The Lord, mighty in war/ …..Who is this king of glory?/ The Lord of hosts, he is the king of glory.”     

I have many Catholic friends who talk about how we as a Church are engaged in a war. We are soldiers in this war; we are part of those “hosts.” However, I usually approach my spirituality in another way. I never think of my God as a military leader, a fighter, a general. But at that moment, in that Church, I felt it with all my heart, the urgency of the battle. I found myself asking: “Whom is He fighting against? Well, evil, suffering, and death, no?… And what are His weapons in this campaign?”      

I was  starting to imagine swords, and helmets, and breastplates, when suddenly I felt the urge to look up. My eyes were raised above me and I saw Him on he Cross, not a statue, but my Beloved Lord Jesus Christ. The thought struck me. THIS is the Warrior, the King of Glory. His weapons, incredibly enough, are surrender, non-violence, compassion, forgiveness, concern, self-giving, sacrifice, healing! That is what he offered me on that cross. In Revelation 19 it does say that He has a sword. It comes out of His mouth. It’s His Word, but it also says that He IS this Word. What word could possibly describe who He is except the word LOVE. That is the greatest weapon in this war! I was feeling dizzy, lost in Him as these thoughts swirled in my head. 

   Revelation 19 also describes the hosts of His Army. No military weapons either— just the white robes that He washed in His own blood, and I believe they were also equipped with hearts full of Love and all the work and sacrifice that it entails. So yes, as His warriors we carry His Cross in our hearts. This is how we can only possibly gain the ability to fight the evil around us and within our hearts. 

   I ran out of words beneath that Cross. I just sat there in pain and joy, sadness and glory, full of gratitude for the gift of His presence. I lost a little bit of my “life” right there.  He came with His Life, filled that empty space with it, and made me just a little more like Him. Thank You, thank You, thank You, Beloved, Prince of Peace, King of Glory.    

 Since then every time I pass a crucifix I take a second look, maybe say “Thank You”. My Patron Saint, Paul of the Cross writes:      “When you are alone in your room, take your crucifix, kiss its five wounds reverently, tell it to preach to you a little sermon, and then listen to the words of eternal life that it speaks to your heart.” 

The Double Eye

20 grani, Order of Malta, 1742. Obverse depicts the head of St. John the Baptist on a platter. Public Domain.

Mark 6:17-29 (Memorial of St. John the Baptist)

“Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him” (Mark 6:20).

Herod was “perplexed” and “in doubt”—aporeó (ἀπορέω). His eye was not single, but double—diplous (διπλοῦς). 

“The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is single, your whole body will be full of light” (Matthew 6:22).

Herod was attracted to the light; he enjoyed listening to John. The prophet’s simplicity, the tetrarch’s perfect foil, awakened his original nature. But darkness had an even stronger pull on the diploid potentate, whose inner compass swung between north and south, attraction and repulsion.

Body, soul, spirit, mind, heart and passions were all out of sync in Herod. The beguiling voice of Herodias, the drunken dance, and his “honor” before his guests snuffed out the glowing embers of John’s words.

Herod the Great, his ancestor, massacred thousands of infant sons on account of the birthday of an infant king. Herod Antipas beheaded the Forerunner of the Son of God on his own birthday. 

The birth of one triggered the death of others. Existence and non-existence supplant each other cyclically in a bipolar cosmos torn by envy and rivalry.

As the guests toasted the life of one, they dismembered the life of another. Did Herod see the irony of his birthday (deathday) party?

The Herodian bloodbath reached its pinnacle in the crucifixion of John’s cousin and Lord, whose resurrection to eternal life finally transcended the futility of the “dog-eat-dog” cycle.


Related posts: Head of the Class, Hebrews and Herod

The Passion of John the Baptist


August 29th recalls the the death of John the Baptist. Mark’s gospel tells the gruesome story. King Herod ordered his death, prompted by Herodias. (Mark 6, 17-19) Because his death is like the Passion of Jesus the church calls it “The Passion of John the Baptist”.

Venerable Bede says that John’s death is like Jesus’ death because they both embraced the same values.  If John stayed silent about Herod’s conduct, he may have gained a few peaceful years of life, but he was more concerned with what God thought than what powerful people on earth thought.

“His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless, he died for Christ. Does Christ not say: I am the truth?

He preached the freedom of heavenly peace, yet was thrown into irons by ungodly men; he was locked away in the darkness of prison, though he came bearing witness to the Light of life.

“But heaven notices– not the span of our lives, but how we live them, speaking the truth.” (Bede, Homily)

Wonderful line: It doesn’t matter how many years we live, but how we live them, “speaking the truth.”

For John that meant dying for the truth. What does it mean for us? It may not mean getting our heads chopped off, but we should expect some scars from the daily battle for God’s truth. ” May we fight hard for the confession of what you teach.” (Opening prayer)

The Single Eye

Parable of the Ten Virgins

21st Week in Ordinary Time, Friday (Year II)

Matthew 25:1-13 

“The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom” (Matthew 25:1).

The kingdom of heaven is Adam divinized—fingertip to fingertip, head to toe—all in Christ and Christ in all. 

“The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is single, your whole body will be full of light” (Matthew 6:22).

The word for “single” in Greek, haploús (ἁπλοῦς), is literally “without folds,” referring to a single, undivided focus without a “double agenda.” The eye of Christ is simple, limpid and uncomplicated.

Our lamp is the eye of Christ, lit by the oil of the Holy Spirit, fusing divinity and humanity (the wedding) in the heart of the Father. 

Simplicity and singleness of eye are worth more than all earthly treasures. 

Deification is becoming all eye—the divine eye: “The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me: my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing and one love” (Meister Eckhart, Sermon 57, Walshe trans.). 

One whose lamp is filled with oil is all eye.