Monthly Archives: September 2021

Wisdom from the Restoration Period

Assyrian captives bound for exile c.600 b.c.

Our lectionary readings from the Old Testament last week and this week are about the Restoration Period in Jewish history, the time when the Jews returned to Jerusalem and Judea from exile around 520 B.C. Our readings are from the Prophets Zechariah and Baruch and from the Book of Nehemiah this week. 

In the restoration period not all the Jews returned from exile in Babylon. Some waited to see how it worked out; others decided to stay in Babylon for good.

Those who did return found it hard building a temple and restoring Judaism. Jerusalem and Judea were now under Persian control. The Jewish monarchy was gone.  Foreigners had moved into the city and were resisting attempts at restoration. Some Jews who stayed on were not interested in restoration either. Facing this, the returnees had to wonder about the promises made by prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah.

In our reading today, the Prophet Zechariah reaffirms God’s promise – all nations will come to Jerusalem and its temple:

“Thus says the LORD of hosts: There shall yet come peoples, the inhabitants of many cities; and the inhabitants of one city shall approach those of another, and say, ‘Come! let us go to implore the favor of the LORD’;and, ‘I too will go to seek the LORD.’

Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to implore the favor of the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men of every nationality, speaking different tongues, shall take hold, yes, take hold of every Jew by the edge of his garment and say,“Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” (Zech 8:20-23)

God’s plans are greater than you think, Zechariah says, but he gives no indication when this will happen, and so the Jews certainly wondered if this were true. 

The Prophet Baruch whom we read on Friday and Saturday this week compares the Jews in exile questioning the prophets to the Jews in the desert questioning Moses. But exile, like the desert, is a time of God’s mercy, Baruch says. Wisdom comes in time of exile.  Exile, like the desert, is a place where God helps you grow.

“ In the land of their exile they shall have a change of heart; they shall know that I, the LORD, am their God. I will give them a heart and ears that listen and they shall praise me in the land of their exile, and shall remember my name. Then they shall turn back from their stiff-necked stubbornness… And I will bring them back to the land I promised on oath to their ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and they shall rule it. I will make them increase; they shall not be few.” (Baruch 2:30-35)

Last week the Passionists concluded a symposium in Rome on “The Wisdom of the Cross”, part of the 300th anniversary celebration of their community’s foundation. Some speakers at that symposium suggested the wisdom of the cross is a wisdom for today, when our world and our church wonder whether there’s a future at all. 

 “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe, who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being, and who sustains all things by his mighty word.When he had accomplished purification from sins, he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, as far superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” (Hebrews 1: 1-4)

The mystery of the Cross is a revelation in Jesus Christ that keeps us aware of God’s plan for our world and for us.  It’s our desert and exile when we keep it in mind. It’s where God changes our heart, gives us ears to listen and draws us to hope for the promised land. It’s a mystery we should share. 

SEPTEMBER 27-OCTOBER 3: READINGS AND FEASTS

SEPTEMBER 27 Mon Saint Vincent de Paul, Priest Memorial Zec 8:1-8/Lk 9:46-50 

28 Tue Weekday [Saint Wenceslaus, Martyr; Saint Lawrence Ruiz and Companions, Martyrs]

Zec 8:20-23/Lk 9:51-56 

29 Wed Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels Feast

Dn 7:9-10, 13-14 or Rv 12:7-12a/Jn 1:47-51 

30 Thu Saint Jerome, Priest, Doctor of the Church Memorial Neh 8:1-4a, 5-6, 7b-12/Lk 10:1-12 

OCTOBER 1 Fri Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Virgin, Doctor of the Church Memorial

Bar 1:15-22/Lk 10:13-16 

2 Sat The Holy Guardian Angels Memorial Bar 4:5-12, 27-29 /Mt 18:1-5, 10 

3 SUN TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Gn 2:18-24/Heb 2:9-11/Mk 10:2-16 or 10:2-12 

We hear this week from Zechariah, like Haggai, a prophetic voice in the Restoration Period. He (scholars say there are two writing under the name)  urges the temple be rebuilt and promises Jerusalem will regain its place, in fact all nations will come to make it a greater kingdom,  but it will not be soon. Joining Zechariah are Nehemiah and Baruch, also prophets who spoke during the Restoration Period.

Important saints this week: Vincent de Paul, Jerome, Therese of the Child. Jesus.   Saint Lawrence Ruiz,  an important saint for the Philippines, was among 15 others martyred in Japan September 28, 1637.

Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are celebrated September 29 and Guardian Angels October 2. 

The gospel readings Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are from Luke 9-10. As usual, on feasts like those for the angels, the readings from the gospels that reference them are read. 

Morning and Evening Prayer, Week 2, here.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Hold On To Dreams

The Prophet Haggai, James Tissot

Not much optimism in our world today. Too many signs of bad days ahead; in fact, they may be already here. 

We’re reading in our lectionary this week about the Period of Restoration, when some Jews returned to Judea and Jerusalem to restore Judaism, about 520 BC. Their dreams were fed by prophets like Jeremiah who promised: “Shouting, they shall mount the heights of Zion, they shall come streaming to the Lord’s blessings: the grain, the wine, and the oil, the sheep and the oxen; they themselves shall be like watered gardens, never again shall they languish.” (Jer. 31)

Their dreams are dashed by what they find, a city in ruins and a people there who want no part of them. So they turn away and take care of themselves.

The Prophet Haggai speaks: “Thus says the LORD of hosts: This people says:“The time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.”(Then this word of the LORD came through Haggai, the prophet:) Is it time for you to dwell in your own paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways! Go up into the hill country; bring timber, and build the house that I may take pleasure in it and receive my glory, says the LORD.” (Haggai 1:1-8)

We too are a people promised so much. The wars we fought would bring peace to our country and the world. Science promised a cure for everything and unlimited treasures from technology. I remember the heady days after the Second Vatican Council and the promise of a renewed church. Who expected Covid 19 and Climate Change, a fractious country and church, a world that’s a mess? 

On the feast of St. Matthew, September 21, St. Paul challenged the people of Ephesus: 

“You are no longer aliens or foreign visitors: you are citizens like all the saints, and part of God’s household. You are part of a building that has the apostles and prophets for its foundations, and Christ Jesus himself for its main cornerstone. As every structure is aligned on him, all grow into one holy temple in the Lord; and you too, in him, are being built into a house where God lives, in the Spirit.  (Ephesian 2: 19-22)

There’s more than Covid 19 and Climate Change going on in our world. God’s kingdom is coming, being built even now. Not a time for building paneled houses for ourselves. Time to “Go up into the hill country; bring timber, and build the house that I may take pleasure in it and receive my glory, says the LORD.” 

Restoration Period: Ezra/Nehemiah/Haggai

As I see it, some today want to restore America as a Christian nation. That means creating a judicial, educational and political system favoring Christianity and restoring privileges once enjoyed by Christian churches. It also means limiting the rights of non-Christians already here and limiting others like them from entering our country. Is that a fair summary?  

We’re reading this week from Ezra, Nehemiah and Haggai, writers from the Period of Restoration, when some Jews returned to Jerusalem from exile anxious to restore Judaism. (522-486 B.C.). Good readings for today.

Judea was no longer a Jewish province, but a Persian province then. Jewish kings no longer reigned there and the temple was in ruins. A large number of foreigners and some Jews who never went into exile resided in Judea and Jerusalem. The idealistic returnees didn’t have a free hand.

The Prophet Haggai, who only spoke for a few months, in 520 BC, advised the returning exiles to accept the present government, the Messiah will come at a future time we do not know. Until then, continue to rebuild the temple. God will be present there whatever it looks like, Haggai said.

There’s no perfect time or place; God is present in imperfect times and places like ours. The temple and the church are never finished in time, they’re always being built. 

Ezra insisted on faithfully reading the scriptures, for him the Torah. The consistent reading of God’s word Ezra promoted gave the people the cohesion they needed; otherwise they would have fallen for the wisdom of the day.

God gives us wisdom day by day. Search for it.

Nehemiah was the brick and mortar figure of the Restoration, the practical person. Perfect buildings and the perfect places don’t exist, he believed, but do what you can day by day. Keep building.

The building of the Temple at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah was associated with the celebration of the Feast of Booths, when the Jews lived in tents for 40 years during their journey through the desert. 

We live in tents, day by day.

September 20-26: Feasts and Readings

SEPTEMBER 20 Mon Saints Andrew Kim Tae-gŏn, Priest, and Paul Chŏng Ha-sang, and Companions, Martyrs Memorial

Ezr 1:1-6/Lk 8:16-18 

21 Tue Saint Matthew, Apostle, Feast Eph 4:1-7, 11-13/Mt 9:9-13 

22 Wed Weekday Ezr 9:5-9/Lk 9:1-6 

23 Thu Saint Pius of Pietrelcina, Priest Memorial Hg 1:1-8/Lk 9:7-9 

24 Fri Weekday Hg 2:1-9/Lk 9:18-22 

25 Sat Weekday Zec 2:5-9, 14-15a/Lk 9:43b-45 

26 SUN TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Nm 11:25-29/Jas 5:1-6/Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48 

We read from the Book of Ezra and the Prophet Haggai this week, two important sources describing the period of the Restoration, when a small Jewish community returns to Judea around 520 after exile in Babylon, thanks to the Persian king Cyrus.

Jewish history, like Christian history afterwards, is not unrelated to our own experience as a church today. The restoration of the temple and its liturgy is a key task Ezra and Nehemiah undertakes. It was a key task undertaken by the Second Vatican Council. 

This week’s readings from Luke’s gospel are from chapters 8-9,  part of Jesus’ Galilean mystery, which prepare his disciples for his great journey to Jerusalem.

The popular 20th century saint, Padre Pio, is remembered September 23, as well as St. Matthew, apostle and evangelist, September 21. 

The unusual beginnings of the church in Korea are celebrated September 20. They’re unusual because the church in Korea was founded, not by missionaries from the west, but by Korean laypeople.   

Learning from the Saints 

The saints in our liturgical calendar are not just names described by dates and a few words. They’re much more. They tell us how God works in time through his church.

We just remembered Saints Cornelius and Cyprian (September 16) who died martyrs a few years apart in the middle of the 3rd century. One was bishop of Rome, the other Bishop of Carthage in Africa. They lived in times of fierce persecution, before the peace brought by the Emperor Constantine in 312.

Sacrificing to the gods. Capitoline Museum, Rome

 As church leaders they constantly faced death and at the same time had to deal with difficult circumstances in the church. They’re not the only ones we remember from those crucial times. There are other church leaders, like Pope Callistus 1, (October 14), Pope Fabian (January 20), Pope Sixtus and four of his deacons (August 6), Lawrence the Deacon (August 10)  who lived through those times. We remember all of them in our calendar. 

Besides church leaders, we remember other members of the body of the church from those  hard years. Heroic women, like Agnes (January 21), Cecilia (November 22), Agatha (February 5), Felicity and Perpetua (March 7), Two doctors,  Cosmas and Damian (September 26) and a soldier Sebastian (January 20).

What can we learn from them? They remind us that in troubled times many leave the church. Faced with persecution, which was easily avoided then by simply offering sacrifice to the gods of the time, many Christians left the church. They would have joined the emperor, Marcus Aurelius (above), and offered homage at another altar.

Church leaders struggled with the question then of the “lapsi”, those who had left. Should we look for their return? Leave them to God? What kind of faith did they have anyway? Church leaders strongly disagreed on the approach to take. Cyprian is important because he was a church leader who took the side of mercy. Like good shepherds, go in search of the lost sheep. His writings are important too because he stressed the need for unity in his troubled church.

The women martyrs are important witnesses. The accounts of their lives are often called legends, but is that because they suffered so much alone, with no one at their side to give an eyewitness account? They suffered harsh torments, yet, like Mary they remained faithful.

The two doctors, Cosmas and Damian, continued to practice their skills, even in dangerous times. They didn’t give up on their calling. They kept healing people. Bad times are not times to give up.

Sebastian, the soldier, found himself serving a government at odds with his church. He too remained faithful. He was suspect and eventually killed because he treated Christian prisoners well.

We’re often reminded in the scriptures to remember those who have gone before us. The saints from times of persecution are special examples to follow. They offer wisdom for seeing our own times. We should pray to them and keep them in mind.

Feasts are for Reflection

Ryrson cross
Feasts are for reflection. In  The Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, September 15th,  Mary  follows  Jesus, even in sorrow.

The 13th century icon above, from the Ryerson collection from the Art Institute of Chicago, once belonged to a European pilgrim to the Holy Land who brought it home as a reminder of a pilgrimage. What places did that pilgrim visit? Surely, Bethlehem where Jesus was born, and Jerusalem where he was crucified and rose  from the dead. In both places , Mary was there with her Son.

In the picture on the left Mary is a joyful mother  holding her Son, a divine Son whom the angels praise.  She is a daughter of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a daughter of the human family whom she represents. She never loses that joy, which she invites us to share.

In the picture on the right, Mary stands with John, an image of the church, beneath the cross of Jesus. Angels are astonished at the sight. Jesus seems to enfold his mother and the disciple whom he loves in his arms..

The gospel reading for the feast of Mary’s Sorrows, from St. John. says simply that Mary stood by the cross of Jesus. She’s a brave woman, not afraid to come close to the fearful place where Jesus was put to death. The Book of Judith, ordinarily the 1st reading for the feast, praises Judith, the brave and wise Jewish woman who’s not afraid to stand with her people at a dangerous moment in their history. Two women of courage face suffering and the challenge it brings.

The prayers, traditions and art of this feast take up the theme of Mary standing by the cross. She’s remembered  in poetry, music and art. “Stabat Mater” Here’s an example in Gregorian Chant and Pergolesi’s magnificent baroque setting.

At the cross her station keeping
Stood the mournful mother keeping
Close to Jesus to the last.

Women mystics, like St.Bridgid of Sweden, a mother herself and an important pilgrim to the Holy Land, saw the life of Jesus, particularly his passion, through a mother’s eyes. Wouldn’t Mary draw close to her Son’s cross and then hold him in her arms as they brought him down. The gospels do not mention it, but women like Bridgid were sure it was  so.

Women mystics like Bridgid gave us the Pieta.

A study of the Pieta in art in early medieval France shows the various ways this scene was pictured in art before Michaelangelo’s Pieta became an overpowering icon surpassing others. “Often she is viewed as caught up in the horror of the moment, but she is also shown praying or even gazing into the distance, as if contemplating comforting memories or the reunion to come. Her demeanor ranges from youthful innocence—the Purity that Time cannot age—to careworn maturity—Our Lady of Sorrows.”

Sorrow. like joy, has a range of faces. Mary shows us them all.

Seesaw Days

The thoughts of a child.

Seesaw dreams.

Boxes of books

Now stored away. 

Come floods

A brand new day.

Once arrogance 

Now fear.

An abundance of energy

Frozen in stone.

But a long-haired gray kitty still resides

The shelter of a warm left thigh.

He seldom plays

Lost in an aging haze.

Kitty-cat dreams

Seesaw days.


—Howard Hain