Monthly Archives: July 2021

Go Into The Gospel Story

Rembrandt, Crucifixion

The conversion experiences of saints are important. For Ignatius Loyola, whose feast we celebrate today, his conversion came about as he was recuperating from a serious battle wound in his family’s castle.

He was looking for something to read, and the only books his sister-in-law had available were a Life of Christ and Lives of the Saints. The Life of Christ, by Ludolph of Saxony, invited the reader to enter the gospel story, and so Ignatius, the battle hardened soldier who already knew the basics of faith from the time of his Baptism, began to know more fully the Jesus of the gospels. The soldier who showed no mercy, learned mercy. The man trained to be hard and unfeeling, became tender by reflecting on Jesus and the story of his Passion. He became a soldier of another kind.

The saints invited him to be a disciple too. They were from every century, place and social situation. You didn’t have to be a fisherman from Galilee to follow Jesus, they said, but when you follow him you must stay with him day by day, And so Ignatius, the soldier, learned to accept the daily graces he was given.

The Passion of Jesus was the gospel story Ignatius reflected on most . Go in and stand with someone there, see what they see and listen to them, the book he read said. Isn’t it likely that Ignatius the soldier would stand with the soldiers there, familiar as he was with those hard, efficient men finishing the job and anxious to head back to the barracks? Yet the day Jesus was crucified, one of them, the one in charge, suddenly saw Someone Else hanging on the cross with the criminals of the day.”Truly, this man was the Son of God.” 

Everything, everyone else on that dark hill changed then: the leaders shouting for death, the soldiers finishing up, the curious passing by, the women looking on from a distance. The earth quaked and the tombs were opened. Everything, everyone changed. The Son of God saw them all as his Father’s children. 

Too much to take in? Too much for the mind and moreso for the heart. That’s why the mystery of Jesus, especially his Passion, became a never-ending school for Ignatius. “Truly, this man was the Son of God,” who humbled himself to come among us, accepting even death on a cross. God loves us so.

It’s a school for our feelings too.  Feelings of inferiority or superiority, resentment and judgment, futility and denial. The hard soldier and the women looking on learned compassion together. The passion of Jesus is a school of compassion, where we learn to see things and feel things as he did. 

St. Ignatius Loyola (1491–1556)

Born in Spain, Ignatius was a soldier who was severely wounded in battle. During his recuperation he experienced a remarkable conversion, which he relates in the following passages: He is the founder of the Jesuits.

Ignatius was passionately fond of reading worldly books of fiction and tales of knight-errantry. When he felt he was getting better, he asked for some of these books to pass the time. But no book of that sort could be found in the house; instead they gave him a life of Christ and a collection of the lives of saints written in Spanish. 

 By constantly reading these books he began to be attracted to what he found narrated there. Sometimes in the midst of his reading he would reflect on what he had read. Yet at other times he would dwell on many of the things which he had been accustomed to dwell on previously.

But at this point our Lord came to his assistance, insuring that these thoughts were followed by others which arose from his current reading.  While reading the life of Christ our Lord or the lives of the saints, he would reflect and reason with himself: “What if I should do what Saint Francis or Saint Dominic did?” In this way he let his mind dwell on many thoughts; they lasted a while until other things took their place. Then those vain and worldly images would come into his mind and remain a long time. This sequence of thoughts persisted with him for a long time. 

 But there was a difference. When Ignatius reflected on worldly thoughts, he felt intense pleasure; but when he gave them up out of weariness, he felt dry and depressed. Yet when he thought of living the rigorous sort of life he knew the saints had lived, he not only experienced pleasure when he actually thought about it, but even after he dismissed these thoughts, he still experienced great joy. Yet he did not pay attention to this, nor did he appreciate it until one day, in a moment of insight, he began to marvel at the difference.

Then he understood his experience: thoughts of one kind left him sad, the others full of joy. And this was the first time he applied a process of reasoning to his religious experience. Later on, when he began to formulate his spiritual exercises, he used this experience as an illustration to explain the doctrine he taught his disciples on the discernment of spirits.

From Ignatius loyola’s own words, taken down by Luis González

Don’t Look Down on Yourself?

Today’s the feast of St. Peter Chrysologus, a bishop of Ravenna in Italy, who died around 450 AD. The prayer for his feast describes him as “an outstanding preacher of your Incarnate Word.”  You can see why in this excerpt from one of his sermons:

“Why do you look down on yourself who are so precious to God? Why think so little of yourself when you are so honored by him? Why do you ask how you were created, and don’t want to know why you were made?

“This entire visible universe is yours to dwell in.  It was for you that the light dispelled the overshadowing gloom; for you the night was regulated and the day was measured: for you the heavens were brightened with the brilliance of the sun, the moon and the stars. The earth was adorned with flowers, trees and fruit; lovely living things were created in the air, the fields, and the seas for you, lest you lose the joy of God’s creation in sad loneliness.

“And the Creator is still devising things that can add to your glory. He has made you in his image that you might make the invisible Creator present on earth; he has made you his legate, so that the vast empire of the world might have the Lord’s representative.

“Then in his mercy God assumed what he made in you; he wanted now to be truly manifest in men and women, to be revealed in them as in an image. Now he would be in reality what he was in symbol.”

Tents, Temples, Churches and Chapels

“The tent, which was called the meeting tent, Moses used to pitch at some distance away, outside the camp. Anyone who wished to consult the LORD would go to this meeting tent outside the camp.” (Exodus 33:7)

We hear in today’s first reading that God comes down from a remote mountain top to a tent outside the camp. The tent is be taken down and pitched again, as Moses asks the Lord. “If I find favor with you, O LORD, do come along in our company.This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own.”

God comes along in the company of stiff-necked people.. What a beautiful way to put it!

Eventually the tent becomes a temple, once the people are settled in the land. Psalm 15 sees the two together. “O Lord, who can abide in your tent? Who can dwell on your holy hill? Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart. ( Psalm 15.1–2)

N.T. Wright, in his book “The Case for the Psalms” comments on how unbelievable this presence of God seems in today’s world that, like the Epicureans of old, can only accept gods who are remote and uninvolved or like the Stoics can only accept gods who are hidden to a pantheistic universe. 

The tent and the temple are not convenient gathering places “ they are the place of promise, the place of presence, the place out of all the earth where the living God has chosen to live.”

“The Temple turns out to be an advance foretaste of YHWH’s claim on the whole of creation. We are to see the Temple as establishing, so to speak, a bridgehead for God’s own presence within a world that has very determinedly gone its own way. It is a sign that the creator God is desiring not to provide a way to escape from the world (though it may sometimes feel like that) but to recreate the world from within, to set up a place within his creation where his glory will be revealed and his powerful judgments unveiled.”

(Wright, N. T.. The Case for the Psalms (pp. 91-92). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.) 

Can we see our churches and chapels in that light?

July 26- August 1: Readings and Feasts

JULY 26 Mon Saints Joachim and Anne, Parents of Mary Memorial

Ex 32:15-24, 30-34/Mt 13:31-35 

27 Tue Weekday Ex 33:7-11; 34:5b-9, 28/Mt 13:36-43

28 Wed Weekday.Ex 34:29-35/Mt 13:44-46 

29 Thu Saint Martha Memorial Ex 40:16-21, 34-38/Jn 11:19-27 or Lk 10:38-42 

30 Fri Weekday [Saint Peter Chrysologus, Bishop and Doctor)] Lv 23:1, 4-11, 15-16, 27, 34b-37/Mt 13:54-58 

31 Sat Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Priest Memorial Lv 25:1, 8-17/Mt 14:1-12 

AUGUST 1 SUN EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY  Ex 16:2-4, 12-15/Eph 4:17, 20-24/Jn 6:24-30

The readings from Exodus and Leviticus we have for a good part of this week are reminders how important the events at Sinai were for the Jewish people and, consequently, for us. God enters into a covenant with his people and they receive a way of life. Still, they turn away to look on false gods. Moses intervenes for his errant people. I like his simple prayer: 

“If I find favor with you, O LORD, do come along in our company.This is indeed a stiff-necked people;  yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own.”

Matthew’s gospel offers readings from Jesus’ lengthy teaching by the sea. His parables summarize what he taught during this public life. Simple and profound. On Saturday we have the account of the martyrdom of John the Baptist which prefigures the death of Jesus. 

Monday we celebrate Joachim and Anne, parents of Mary. Devotion to St. Anne appears in many popular novenas in our churches, asking her intercession. Then, faithful Martha is celebrated July 29th and Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits is remembered July 31st.

Mary Magdalene

John_20_15

St. Gregory the Great  got it wrong identifying Mary Magdalene with Mary, the sister of Lazarus and the sinful woman (Luke 7,38ff)  who washed Jesus’ feet. She’s one of the women followers of Jesus who came up to Jerusalem with him, mentioned in Luke’s gospel. She was a star witness at his resurrection. Her feast day is today, July 22.

 Yet,  Gregory’s description of her spirituality is right on.

Here’s an excerpt from his beautiful sermon in today’s Liturgy of the Hours:

“We should reflect on Mary’s attitude and the great love she felt for Christ; for though the disciples had left the tomb, she remained. She was still seeking the one she had not found, and while she sought she wept; burning with the fire of love, she longed for him who she thought had been taken away. And so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see him. For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice of truth tells us: Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.

“At first she sought but did not find, but when she persevered it happened that she found what she was looking for. When our desires are not satisfied, they grow stronger, and becoming stronger they take hold of their object. Holy desires likewise grow with anticipation, and if they do not grow they are not really desires. Anyone who succeeds in attaining the truth has burned with such a great love. As David says: My soul has thirsted for the living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God? And so also in the Song of Songs the Church says: I was wounded by love; and again: My soul is melted with love.

“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek? She is asked why she is sorrowing so that her desire might be strengthened; for when she mentions whom she is seeking, her love is kindled all the more ardently.

“Jesus says to her: Mary. Jesus is not recognized when he calls her “woman”; so he calls her by name, as though he were saying: Recognize me as I recognize you; for I do not know you as I know others; I know you as yourself. And so Mary, once addressed by name, recognizes who is speaking. She immediately calls him rabboni, that is to say, teacher, because the one whom she sought outwardly was the one who inwardly taught her to keep on searching.”

Some recently, using flimsy evidence from 3rd and 4th century gnostic writings, want to “de-mythologize” Jesus and romanticize his relationship with Mary. Some claim he was even married to her. Their claims have been sensationalized in the  media and unfortunately get a wide hearing.

Better to listen to the earlier witness of the four gospels and the evidence of the New Testament. They recognize Mary as a disciple who was one of many women followers of Jesus and loved him. Their witness is older and more reliable. There’s also new archeological evidence about Magdala, Mary’s hometown, that helps us understand Mary Magdalene. Take a look.

I started watching The Chosen and notice Mary Magdalene is still saddled somewhat with the “sinful woman” past and is from Capernaum rather than Magdala. Still, a nice presentation. It’s not afraid to present the human situation Jesus became part of, and I especially like its way of bringing women into the gospel world. Mary Magdalene among them.

Grumbling Times

The Exodus, James Tissot

Today’s reading from Exodus tells us that one month after they leave Egypt,” the whole assembly of the children of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron.” The children of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died at the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!” (Exodus 16:4-5)

One month after they leave Egypt, they’ve forgotten the Lord’s mighty deeds and promises.

Food and water run out, triggering their complaints, but God gives them enough to go on. Manna, bread from heaven is their daily food. Water comes from the rock that Moses strikes with his wooden staff. A cloud by day and fire at night guide them.

Still, they grumble, and so do we. Food and water figure in climate change today, so does a confusion of leadership. As the world moves on through the desert now, can we learn from our ancestors’ journey then? 

That’s what St. Paul told the Corinthians to do in the 10th chapter of his first letter to them. “These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us…” 

Jesus promises to be Bread from heaven, the rock for our thirst.  (1Cor. 10:4) The Spirit is a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

Let’s expect grumbling–these are tough times– but hopefully that grumbling leads to a deeper faith. The Book of Deuteronomy, the last of the 5 books of the Law, ends with Moses and the people poised to enter a new land after almost 40 years of desert wandering. Significantly, they’re poised, not there yet, not yet in possession, still hoping in the promises of God. 

We need this large view of history today, don’t we?

Sustainable Development Goals


What can we do as we swelter through the heat these days? We wonder in a world worried about its future. Can we do anything? Let’s not be afraid of big ideas. It’s time to think big.

In September 2015 world leaders at the United Nations agreed to work for 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The goals aim to “eliminate poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change, while ensuring no one is left behind. They recognize that ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that build economic growth and address a range of social needs including education, health, social protection, and job opportunities, while also tackling climate change and environmental protection.” https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/development-agenda/

Cities have become an important focus for Sustainable Development, because today more than half the world’s population lives in cities and that number is expected to reach two-thirds by the year 2060. In cities “the battle for sustainability will be won or lost,” one UN expert remarked. https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2018/07/un-forum-spotlights-cities-struggle-sustainability-will-won-lost/

The 11th goal of Sustainable Development is “making cities safe, inclusive, resilient and sustainable by 2030. Sustainability differs from city to city, but quality of life means among other things, adequate housing, work and employment, clean water and air, access to public transportation.

Mayors throughout the United States have recognized the important role that cities can play in achieving the SDGs. In 2018, New York City was the first city to issue a report on its progress towards sustainability. https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/international/downloads/pdf/NYC_VLR_2018_FINAL.pdf

Governments, civil society and the private sector are all called upon to contribute to the realization of these goals. https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2016/05/mobilizing-citizens-of-the-world-to-achieve-the-2030-agenda/

At a time when countries are building walls and thinking only of themselves, why not think big? What can we do? Our church, at least here in the US doesn’t seem active enough. It’s time to support big ideas. The signs are here to read.