Monthly Archives: February 2021

2nd Sunday of Lent:

For this week’s homily, please watch the video below.

Fr Rick Frechette is a Passionist, a priest and a physician, who has spent most of his priesthood  in developing countries.

He was born in 1953 in Connecticut, joined he Passionists as a novice in 1974, was ordained in 1979, and received a Doctorate in Osteopathic Medicine in 1998.

The movement he started in Haiti to both  improve the lives of the very poor and empower them with leadership, is under the patronage of St Luke, evangelist and physician.

For more information, see StLukeHaiti.org

Saturday, First Week of Lent: Loving Enemies

Lent 1

“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have heard that it was said,

You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.

But I say to you, love your enemies,

and pray for those who persecute you,

that you may be children of your heavenly Father,

for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,

and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5: 43-48) 

When people talk about love today,  they’re usually focused on romantic love, “falling in love”, or loving yourself. Not much talk about loving others or loving your enemies today.

 “Love your enemies”, Jesus says in today’s gospel. Have a love that imitates God’s love,  our heavenly Father “who makes his sun rise on the bad and the good and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”

Is that love beyond us?

We’ve been told from earliest years that there are some people you can’t trust; they’ll take advantage of you; they’ll harm you. You have enemies in this world. Be careful.

Certainly Jesus doesn’t condemn reasonable caution. He had enemies too and he was careful what he said and how he dealt with them. Evil exists. Rather, Jesus warns against  a pessimism that leads us to condemn someone or some groups absolutely. We see no possible goodness or possible change in them, only intractable evil.

We don’t see as God sees when we think like that. The sun of God’s goodness shines on this world; the rain of his mercy softens its hardest places. His love changes people for the good.

We can’t just reason our way to a love of enemies, we must pray to grow in this love.  Jesus not only taught us, but showed us by his own example how to love our enemies. Look at him in his Passion, says St. Aelred:

“Listen to his wonderful prayer, so full of warmth, of love, of unshakeable serenity – Father, forgive them.  Is any gentleness, any love, lacking in this prayer?
 
  Yet he put into it something more. It was not enough to pray for them: he wanted also to make excuses for them. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. They are great sinners, yes, but they have little judgement; therefore, Father, forgive them.
 
They are nailing me to the cross, but they do not know who it is that they are nailing to the cross: if they had known, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory; therefore, Father, forgive them.
 
They think it is a lawbreaker, an impostor claiming to be God, a seducer of the people. I have hidden my face from them, and they do not recognise my glory; therefore, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
 

Teach us, Lord, a love like yours,
that never gives up or draw limits,
or settles for those in its small circle.
Help us to love like the sun and the rain
that reach everywhere.

Thursday, 1st Week of Lent: Does God Answer Prayer?


Readings here

Jesus said to his disciples:”Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find;knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asked for a loaf of bread,or a snake when he asked for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.( Matthew 7, 7-12)

Our readings in the 1st week of Lent, most from the Gospel of Matthew, are devoted to prayer. Today’s reading faces the question– Does God answer prayer? For some, God–if there is one–doesn’t pay attention to us at all. We’re on our own. No one’s listening and no one cares.

Jesus knew his Father listens and cares. He asked for things in prayer and teaches us to pray as he did. In the Garden of Gethsemane he asked over and over that his life be spared. “Father, let this cup pass from me.” As he knocked the door opened, the answer came, yet not as he willed, but as God willed.  “An angel came to strengthen him.” He went on to do God’s will. He suffered and died, and rose from the dead.

In our 1st reading from the Book of Esther, Esther and her servants “ lay prostrate on the ground, from morning until evening” praying for deliverance from their enemies. Their prayer is similar to Jesus’ prayer in the garden. They’re filled with fear, without resources, humbled, but they get what they ask, and more than they ask– an immediate, surprising victory over their enemies.  

From Jesus and Esther, we learn that God hears prayers and is never deaf to them. God’s answer is more than we ask–but according to his will. He gave his only Son the gift of new life after he passed through a trial of suffering and death. God’s answer to Esther was more immediate.

From Jesus and Esther we learn too that humility leads to prayer. Both are stretched out on the ground, humble before God, and their humility leads them to cry out to the One who hears them.

Our prayers are answered in different ways, but there’s always answer and the answer comes from love.

St. Paul of the Cross recognized the mystery surrounding petitionary prayer. In a letter he responds to someone who remarks that God’s playing games; we’re not sure of the outcome. Our faith is tested when we pray for things.

“I thank the Father of Mercies that you are improved in health, and you say well that the Lord seems to be playing games. That’s what Scripture says: ‘God plays on the earth,’ and ‘My delights are to be with the children of men.’  How fortunate is the soul that silently in faith allows the games of love the Sovereign Good plays and abandons itself to his good pleasure, whether in health or sickness, in life or in death!”

(Letter 920)

Lord,

I ask, I seek, I knock.

Hear my prayer 

and let it be done

according to your will. Amen

Praying with Creation During Lent

 Father John O’Brien, a liturgist from my community, wrote an essay in 2004 entitled: “Thomas Berry, the Easter Vigil and the Greening of the Liturgy” 

“This essay”, he wrote, “ argues that the next horizon of liturgical development will require a paradigm shift in understanding and spirituality. This is a shift from a present anthropocentrism to a new role and placement for creation. Although the liturgy has used the stuff of creation to celebrate the magnalia Dei, it has emphasized that water and food, bread and wine, soil and oil, rocks and rivers are at the service of the human community. Creation exists for human use and the promotion of human redemption. If this redemptive motif prevails, humankind may flourish into the immediate future. But the earth that sustains human life will be diminished and destroyed.”

The liturgy can help us acquire this new vision, John suggested, and the Easter Vigil might be a good place to start. The play of light and darkness in the vigil, the fire in the dark, the Genesis readings, the waters of baptism and blessing are reminders of creation in the Easter story.  But in his essay John recognized that people weren’t exactly flocking to the Easter Vigil then. They’re not now.   

Better to start with our daily liturgy, our daily prayer? Should we look more closely at what our prayers say and how we pray every day? 

Daily prayer, particularly the psalms, can help us bond with creation. The reading from Isaiah this Tuesday says God’s word comes down from heaven like rain and snow, watering the earth and providing for the human family as well. Rain and snow are more than figures of speech, they’re messengers from God, beyond human control. Created by God they lead us to God, bestowing his gifts on us. God speaks daily through created things like these, the psalms say: 

“The heavens declare the glory of God;

the firmament proclaims the works of his hands.

Day unto day pours forth speech;

night unto night whispers knowledge.  (Psalm 19,2-4)

Morning with the rising sun, evening with the promise of new light, with a voice not heard, without speech or words, creation speaks for God and is promised a place in the new creation with us. 

The Holy Spirit, the “Lord and Giver of Life”, “God adored and glorified along with the Father and the Son” sustains creation, Elizabeth Johnson writes in her book “Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love” (2014). Key biblical images, powerful natural forces like blowing wind, flowing water, and blazing fire expand the notion of the active presence of the Spirit in the world God made.

At morning Mass candles are lit. Tongues of fire come upon us now. The fire that created the Big Bang billions of years ago is with us now, as the bread and wine, and water enter our cosmic prayer.

Can daily prayer, if we let it, give us eyes to see creation as our partner in praising God. Our readings this 1st week of Lent are about prayer. They begin Monday with the final judgment from Matthew’s gospel. Those judged ask “when did we see you” in the “the least.”

Can we say “the least” also includes creation, which today we have reduced to the least? Can prayer be a way of seeing it?

FEBRUARY 22-27: Ist WEEK OF LENT

FEBRUARY 22 Mon The Chair of Saint Peter.Feast

1 Pt 5:1-4/Mt 16:13-19

23 Tue Lenten Weekday. Is 55:10-11/Mt 6:7-15

[Saint Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr]

24 Wed Lenten Weekday Jon 3:1-10/Lk 11:29-32 

25 Thu Lenten Weekday Est C:12, 14-16, 23-25/Mt 7:7-12 

26 Fri Lenten Weekday Ez 18:21-28/Mt 5:20-26

27 Sat.  ST.GABRIEL POSSENTI, CP 

[Saint Gregory of Narek, Abbot and Doctor of the Church]

Dt 26:16-19/Mt 5:43-48 

28 SUN SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT

Gn 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18/Rom 8:31b-34/Mk 9:2-10 

Our Lenten readings for the 1st week teach us how to see as Jesus sees–through prayer. On the mountain Jesus teaches the Lord’s Prayer, the common prayer of God’s children. God is Father of us all, the One who gives us daily bread, forgiveness and strength when testing comes. God’s gift of prayer opens our eyes and our hearts. Like snow and rain, the gift of prayer falls on all. All can pray. (Tuesday)

Prayer is about more than ourselves and our own needs. The story of Jonah points out a world bigger than our own. As children of the world we must pray and work for its good. (Wednesday)

Never lose confidence in prayer and what it makes possible. “Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find. Knock and the door with open” Jesus teaches. (Thursday)

Make sure as you approach the altar to pray that your heart is free from resentment, harsh judgment and anger. Otherwise, your prayer become weak and blind. You cannot see.  (Friday)

We must pray even for our enemies. For our Father causes the sun to shine on the just and the unjust and the rain to fall on saints and sinners. (Saturday)

This week opens with the Feast of the Chair of Peter. (Monday) Our church is a teacher of prayer. The Passionists celebrate the Feast of St. Gabriel on Saturday.

Lent is an important time to teach children to prayer. Here’s a site that can help. OurChildrenPray. You may also find this new website on Prayer helpful in your own prayer:

https://praydaybyday.org

“The Works of Mercy are Innumerable”

“Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God for you. Consider how their lives ended and imitate their faith. “ (Hebrews 13, 7)

Let’s listen to a leader of our church, St. Leo the Great who preached a sermon about prayer, fasting and almsgiving, the three usual recommendations for our lenten season, on Ash Wednesday. He led the Roman church early in the 5th century. The times were troubled, maybe somewhat like ours.

Barbarian tribes were pouring through Rome’s defenses along the Rhine River on its northern frontier then, threatening the Italian peninsula. In fear, most of Rome’s elite left for the safety of Constantinople, the empire’s new center. The army was not capable of defending the city. Those remaining barricaded themselves in their homes with everything they had, convinced the world was ending.

As Lent began Leo preached this sermon on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Pray, fast and give alms. Yet the pope’s eye focused on the most important of these lenten recommendations for his time – almsgiving. 

Leo puts it in more elegant language than mine, but he tells his people “It’s time to stick together.”    

“There is no more profitable practice as a companion to holy and spiritual fasting than that of almsgiving. This embraces under the single name of mercy many excellent works of devotion, so that the good intentions of all the faithful may be of equal value, even where their means are not.,,  The works of mercy are innumerable. Their very variety brings this advantage to those who are true Christians, that in the matter of almsgiving not only the rich and affluent but also those of average means and the poor are able to play their part. Those who are unequal in their capacity to give can be equal in the love within their hearts.”

“The works of mercy are innumerable.” Rich or poor can show mercy, according to what you can do, I hear the pope saying. You may not be able to go to church as you did in another Lent, or pray some prayers you said before, or give up some things you did in other years, but you can reach out to others in these unsettled times. Forget yourself and think of someone  else and do something for them. “The works of mercy are innumerable.” Love makes them all equal. 

I hear Pope Francis talking like that too.  What can we do for others?

A Book for Lent

St. Paul Cross

Lent begins next Wednesday, February 14th. Some years ago a publisher asked me to write a book entitled A Lenten Journey with Jesus Christ and St. Paul of the Cross, to be part of a series of reflections on the daily lenten gospels that included thoughts of saints of different religious orders. The book has just been translated into Japanese.

I was initially skeptical about the project. From early on I’ve seen lent as a time to give up something and take up some devotional practice like the Stations of the Cross. Yes, Lent was a journey with Jesus, and I appreciate the daily scriptures that take us through the season with him, but where does a saint come in, even a saint important to me, like St. Paul of the Cross, the 18th century founder of my community the Passionists ?

Working on the book made me see lent differently. First, for St. Paul of the Cross lent was a time to leave the quiet mountain at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea where he lived and prayed and go to work in the Tuscan Maremma, then a swampy, malaria infested region of Italy, overrun with robbers and desperately poor. All through lent, carrying a cross and a bible Paul went from village to village preaching God’s love to people whose lives were often on edge with fear and lost hope.

Lent isn’t a time for turning inward, away from world you live in, Paul reminds me. Lent is a time to go out to the wounded world before you.

Secondly, Paul engaged his world, the world of the Tuscan Maremma, in the light of the gospel, especially the Passion of Jesus Christ. For him that mystery was not limited to a time long ago, when Jesus suffered on a Cross; it was there in the people before him. From village to village, he held up a Cross to anyone who would hear as a mirror of their reality and a pledge of the great mercy of God. Jesus died and rose again.

The Passionists celebrate two feasts immediately before Ash Wednesday to prepare for Lent. Last Friday we celebrated the Commemoration of the Passion of Jesus Christ. Tomorrow, Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, we celebrate the Prayer of Jesus in the Garden. Both feasts come from our missionary founder.

I can see him packing his bags for his lenten journey down the quiet mountain for the villages and towns of the Tuscan Maremma. He must remind himself what he will see. He must pray so he doesn’t forget.

“May the Passion of Jesus Christ be always in our hearts.”

FEBRUARY 15-21: Lent Begins

The final daily readings from Mark’s gospel, on Monday and Tuesday this week, introduce us to the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday. The Pharisees ask for a sign (Mark 8:11-13) The sign Jesus gives is his death and resurrection. The disciples at this point in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 8: 14-21) still do not understand him.

Unfortunately, we’ll only have readings from the story of Noah as the flood descends on the world. We’ll miss the ending of the flood narrative and the story of the Tower of Babel, great passages from the Jewish scriptures, The Genesis narrative deserves a better place in our lectionary.

The Passionist calendar on Tuesday has a memorial of the Prayer of Jesus in the Garden. We must enter this mystery through prayer, as Jesus did. St. Paul of the Cross understood the place of prayer for entering the mysteries of God.

The readings and rites of Ash Wednesday offer basic directions for entering the Lenten season–prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We’re administering ashes differently this year because of the pandemic. The 1st Sunday of Lent recalls the Temptation of Jesus, this year from the Gospel of Mark. This year is something of a desert for us too, isn’t it?

During Lent saints’ feast days are few, not to overshadow the readings and events of the season. Most of those celebrated are optional memorials in the liturgical calendar of the USA. 

FEBRUARY 15 Mon Weekday Gn 4:1-15, 25/Mk 8:11-13 

16 Tue Weekday Gn 6:5-8; 7:1-5, 10/Mk 8:14-21 

Prayer of Jesus in the Garden Heb 5:1-9/Luke 22:39-46

17 Wed Ash Wednesday Jl 2:12-18/2 Cor 5:20—6:2/Mt 6:1-6, 16-18 

18 Thursday after Ash Wednesday Dt 30:15-20/Lk 9:22-25 

19 Fri Friday after Ash Wednesday Is 58:1-9a/Mt 9:14-15

20 Sat Saturday after Ash Wednesday Is 58:9b-14/Lk 5:27-32

21 SUN FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT Gn 9:8-15/1 Pt 3:18-22/Mk 1:12-

Lent: Let’s Go Online

Lent begins this Wednesday. A different celebration this year because of Covid 19 . Like so many things, we need to go online during this season of grace. 

Here are some online resources that may be helpful. We will be commenting on the lenten liturgy day by day at http://www.vhoagland.wordpress.com , the site you’re on now.

The lenten liturgy leads up to Holy Week and the mysteries of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus. You can find material on these mysteries and the Stations of the Cross at:

The Passion of Jesus:   http://passionofchrist.us

Commentary on the Passion Gospels: https://passionofchrist.us/commentary/

Stations of the Cross:   Video  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waaMOBJ5e1Q&list=PLLUFZUgOPMFxkmfgBNS4Kfm8XxEwoAd6f&index=11

Stations of the Cross for Children: https://passionofchrist.us/stations-of-the-cross-children/

Prayers :  https://passionofchrist.us/prayers/

Studies on the Passion of Jesus: https://passionofchrist.us/recent-studies/

For material for leading children into the lenten season see: https://ourchildrenpray.com

Scripture Readings for the lenten season: http://www.usccb.org

The Passion of Jesus is a wise and tender book that reveals God to us. “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.