Monthly Archives: January 2022

St. John Bosco, January 31


St. John Bosco, (1815-1888) was born in northern Italy, then experiencing the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. His father died when he was two and he was brought up by his mother who struggled financially raising him, yet took care he had a good religious and humanistic education.

At twenty, John entered the seminary and once ordained a priest he devoted himself to helping young men facing a society moving from farms to factories, from an apprentice-based economy to one based on machines. He provided for their education and spirituality. He was joined by Mother Mary Dominic Mazzarello who took on the education of young women.

As young Italians began to immigrate to other countries in search of work, John Bosco and his companions accompanied them to North and South America. The Salesian community he founded spread throughout the world as educators and missionaries.

The opening prayer for his feast calls John Bosco “a teacher and father of the young.” He believed firmly that young people needed a good educational formation, but he also believed they needed teachers who took a fatherly interest in them, as God is Father of us all.

“The young should know that they are loved,” he said. As a boy he himself knew what the loss of father meant. As a young man he enjoyed circus entertainers, so he knew we need entertainment. But he also said, “ I do not recommend penance, but work, work, work.”

“Let us regard those boys over whom we have some authority as our own sons. Let us place ourselves in their service. Let us be ashamed to assume an attitude of superiority. Let us not rule over them except for the purpose of serving them better.

This was the method that Jesus used with the apostles. He put up with their ignorance and roughness and even their infidelity. He treated sinners with a kindness and affection that caused some to be shocked, others to be scandalised, and still others to hope for God’s mercy. And so he bade us to be gentle and humble of heart.” (Letter, John Bosco)

The church must always look at the “signs of the times in the light of faith.” We pray for people like John Bosco to meet the needs of the young today.

At the Caves: Mark 5:1-20

Caves along the Sea of Galilee

By Orlando Hernández

The Gospel for Monday of the fourth week in Ordinary Time (Mk 5: 1-20) follows the story from the end of Chapter 4. The disciples, after the terrifying experience of the storm in the Sea of Galilee, “came to the other side of the sea to the territory of the Gerasenes”. They were about to undergo another scary experience. From the caves in the mountainside, a naked, wild-eyed, scarred, bleeding man, strong enough to break chains, crying out in a terrifying voice, runs right up to them! (I have often wondered if any of the disciples stepped up in front of Jesus to defend Him, or if they stayed behind Him!) To what must have been everyone’s relief, the man prostrates himself before Jesus. It turns out, a host of demons have possessed this man, and Jesus drives them out of him. At the end, the man is “sitting there, clothed and in his right mind.”

     This story has always had a special, if disturbing, meaning to me. I don’t think I have ever been possessed by demons, but I must confess that, even after all these years with Jesus, I still have all these fears, prejudices, resentments, and hatreds (of myself and others) in my mind and soul, which come out of nowhere and torture me in a way that makes me think of the Gerasene demoniac.

     On the Pilgrimage to Israel this was one of the places that I most wished to visit. There, I wanted to kneel by those cave-tombs on the mountainside and beg Jesus to finally rid me of these personal flaws. The site is neatly kept by the Israeli government as a national park, next to the highway that goes around the Lake. One can visit the ruins of an ancient Orthodox Church and Monastery that commemorates the miracle by Jesus. I was not interested in seeing this place, so I detached myself from the group and climbed up the trail to the steep hills that were dotted with caves. A winding steel staircase led up to the caves but I knew that I did not have enough time, so I stood there at the bottom. I was all alone, surrounded by this arid, lonely landscape. I could imagine the screams of the possessed man echoing all around, and within me. I felt the urgency. If not here and now, when? I threw myself upon the ground and started to beg Jesus, whose presence I felt so strongly, to deliver me from all these things that torment my soul. I moaned. I cried. I yelled. Then, a quiet attitude came within me, not peace, but acceptance. Somehow I felt that the calm, quiet message that my Lord was giving me was this:

     “I will not release you of these ‘demons’. They will be with you until the day you die. They are part of your cross. What I will do is be with you always, and help you to control them. I will never stop teaching you to love yourself and others. You can count on me.” I felt with certainty that this was Jesus’ message. 

     I stayed there for a while, until my wife came to tell me that the group was leaving. I did not say a word during the bus ride back to the hotel in Tiberias. That night I dined and laughed with my fellow Pilgrims. But that moment at the hillside was always in the back of my mind. That night my sleep was troubled, and I kept on dreaming that I was going in and out of those dark caves. To this day this memory haunts me.

     To this day I fight with these elements of negativity within me. Of course, I am not alone. Wonderful people of God surround me, helping me to be a better person. Occasionally , I meditate and pray in Ignatian fashion and visit those caves with my Lord at my side. The Holy Spirit of God fortifies me with the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Eucharistic Christ comes within this old, crumbling temple of my soul, and boy, does He clean up! I realize that there is nothing I can do without Him. Without Him there is no meaning in life. 

     The healed Gerasene man wanted to stay with Jesus, but the Lord gave him the mission to stay and give His message to his people. The message, after all, is Love. Lord, You hold me up me with such an awesome Love! Thank You. Let me be an instrument of that Love.

The Possessed Man: Ottheinrich Bible. Library of Congress.

FEBRUARY 1-6: Readings and Feasts

1 Tue Weekday

2 Sm 18:9-10, 14b, 24-25a, 30—19:3/Mk 5:21-43 

 2 Wed  Presentation of the Lord Feast

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

3 Thu Weekday [St Blaise, Bishop and Martyr; St Ansgar, Bishop]

1 Kgs 2:1-4, 10-12/Mk 6:7-13 

4 Fri Weekday Sir 47:2

-11/Mk 6:14-29

5 Sat St Agatha, Virgin Martyr Memorial 1 Kgs 3:4-13/Mk 6:30-34 

6 SUN FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Is 6:1-2a, 3-8/1 Cor 15:1-11 or 15:3-8, 11/Lk 5:1-11 

The 4th week of ordinary time this year begins with a memorial of St. John Bosco, founder of the Salesians, one of the largest religious communities in the Catholic Church. 

Mark’s Gospel returns to accounts of the marvelous cures Jesus works on both sides of the Lake of Galilee, the gentile side and the Jewish side. (Monday and Tuesday) It continues with Jesus sending out his disciples.(Wednesday and Friday) and the account of John the Baptist’s death, (Thursday) which reminds us that Jesus also was destined to experience the mystery of the Cross.

The Old Testament readings from 2 Samuel recall David’s loss of his son Absalom, his death and Solomon assuming his throne.

The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is an important feast inspired by the infancy narrative of St. Luke. The Temple is a symbol of God’s presence in the world, in the church and in ourselves in St. Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.

St. Agatha, February 5, is one of the principal women martyrs of the Roman world. Her story is similar to that of St. Agnes, another early Christian woman martyr.

Readings for the week here.  

Storms at Sea:Mark 4:35-41

Rembrandt, Storm at Sea, Gardner Museum,

Earlier in the day, Jesus taught the crowds and his disciples gathered at the lakeshore, Mark’s Gospel says. His words were wise and reassuring, words to set the course of your life on. “On that day, as evening drew on, he said to them ‘Let us cross to the other side.’”  (Mark 4:35-41)

Then, he and his disciples sail onto the Sea of Galilee and “ a violent squall came up, waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern asleep on a cushion.” They were afraid they were going to drown, and Jesus in the stern of the boat seemed asleep, unaware of their fears. It’s hard to make him out in Rembrandt’s dramatic picture of the storm, above.

A good image of how life can turn out, isn’t it? Words of faith bring such strength and assurance. “Peace be with you.” “I am the vine, you are the branches.” “I’m with you all days.” “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

Then, the storms come; unexpectedly, powerfully, with frightening suddenness sometimes, turning our lives upside down. Overwhelmed by life’s quick tragedies and doubts, we forget God’s assurances. Like Jesus in the boat, God seems asleep, unaware of our experience.

Mark’s gospel is good to reflect on today, isn’t it? A pandemic, political and economic storms, the planet endangered by wild seas and changing weather. 

“The winds and the sea obey him,” our gospel today reminds us. God is for stormy times as well as fair. He doesn’t want us to perish. “Have faith,” he says, “I’m with you.” God’s with us in storms. 

Still, like the disciples we say “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” ( Mark 4:37)

The Numbers are Down

Numbers seem to indicate power and popularity. I think Jesus’ disciples thought that about 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’ answer comes 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– 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.

The Wisdom of Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Acquinas

The feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, January 28th, in my student days was a day for presentations honoring the saint. The presentations were not about the saint’s life but his wisdom. Thomas Aquinas was a great theologian dedicated to the search for truth.

He was a man of faith, searching for understanding. That’s the definition of theology–faith seeking understanding, an understanding that draws us closer to God and helps us know God, the source of all truth.

He was a man of questions, who approached great mysteries through questions. That’s the way St. Thomas begins a sermon he once preached, found today in the Office of Readings for his feast:

 “Why did the Son of God have to suffer for us?” he asks as he looks at the Cross of Jesus. The passion of Jesus was necessary, the saint says, for two reasons. First, as a remedy for sin, and secondly, as an example of how to act.

Interestingly, the saint doesn’t spend much time asking why it’s a remedy for sin. He’s more interested in the passion of Jesus as an example for us. To live as we should, we need to look at Jesus on the cross, an example of every virtue:

“Do you want an example of love? ‘Greater love than this no one has, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ That’s what Jesus did on the cross. If he gave his life for us, then it should not be difficult to bear whatever hardships arise for his sake.

“If you want patience, you will find no better example than the cross. Great patience occurs in two ways: either when one patiently suffers much, or when one suffers things which one is able to avoid and yet does not avoid.

“Christ endured much on the cross, and did so patiently, because when he suffered he did not threaten; he was led like a sheep to the slaughter and he did not open his mouth. Therefore Christ’s patience on the cross was great. In patience let us run for the prize set before us, looking upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who, for the joy set before him, bore his cross and despised the shame.

“If you want an example of humility, look upon the crucified one, for God wished to be judged by Pontius Pilate and to die.

“If you want an example of obedience, follow him who became obedient to the Father even unto death. For just as by the disobedience of one man, namely, Adam, many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one man, many were made righteous.

“If you want an example of despising earthly things, follow him who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Upon the cross he was stripped, mocked, spat upon, struck, crowned with thorns, and given only vinegar and gall to drink.

“Do not be attached, therefore, to clothing and riches, because they divided my garments among themselves. Nor to honours, for he experienced harsh words and scourgings. Nor to greatness of rank, for weaving a crown of thorns they placed it on my head. Nor to anything delightful, for in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”

St. Thomas’ great theological work, the Summa Theologica can be found here.

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 also 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.”

“Your” Kingdom Come

Mustard Plant

“Jesus said to the crowds:
“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

To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God,
or what parable can we use for it?
It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground,
is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.
But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”
With many such parables
he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it.
Without parables he did not speak to them,
but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.

.”  (Mark 4, 26-34)

A “man” scatters seed on the land in the parable from Mark’s Gospel we read today. In Mark’s previous parable, it’s a Sower who can be God as well as man. In this parable only a man can be so lacking in knowledge and attention he doesn’t know how the seed sprouts or grows.

Day and night, as we go about life, we don’t see or understand everything. We are creatures, not God.

The Kingdom of God is beyond human power to build and understand, the parable also says. “Of its own accord the land yields fruit.” God of his own accord brings the Kingdom about. “Your Kingdom come.”

We can’t understand or see the growth as something as small as a mustard seed. How can we understand how the Kingdom of God grows?

How hard to humbly acknowledge we don’t control or fully understand the world we live in. The two parables for today tell us to recognize our limited power and wisdom. We’re told, “You can do anything if you believe and put your mind to it.” Not true. We’re human beings.

Yet we have to bring what we can bring to see. As another of Jesus’ parables says, we have to bring our light to this dark world. It may be a small light, but we must put it on a lamp stand to see what we can see in the house of our world.

The parables of Jesus put us in our place as we go through life.

Listening to Parables

In the first chapters of his gospel Mark highlights the remarkable actions of Jesus in the towns near the Sea of Galilee as he confronts demons and heals many. Only in chapter 4 does Mark give examples of his teaching. For Mark, what Jesus did was more important than what he said. When he taught, he taught in parables– “without parables he did not speak to them.”  

“A parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought.” (C.H. Dodd)

Jesus drew from life around him for his teaching, from the natural, religious and political worlds he and his hearers knew so well.

Galilee was a land of farms and vineyards, farmers and fishermen. When Jesus spoke of the ways of seed and soil, of nets cast into the sea, he shared a world his hearers also knew. When he spoke of David feeding his followers on the Sabbath or Elijah the prophet, or scribes and Pharisees, his hearers knew those figures as well.

His references to the political world – if we follow Mark’s indications, for example– were more carefully couched. When the scribes from Jerusalem accused him of casting out devils by the power of Beelzubel, the prince of devils, Jesus responded: “A house divided against itself cannot stand… How can Satan drive out Satan?” (Mark 3: 23-24)

The world Jesus lived in was a divided house politically, as the descendants of Herod the Great fought each other for power and control. Like other political dynasties, they were powerful at the time, but then fell.

The economy of Galilee in Jesus’ time was expanding under Herod Antipas. Large cities like Tiberias, Sephorris, Caesarea Philippi, Caesarea Maritima were being built, roads to ship Galilee’s produce laid out, funding for the development put in place. Some were enriched by it; many others were not. Jesus spoke of the failures of his society in his parables.

The parables of Jesus do not simply describe his world; they’ re meant, in C. H. Dodd’s words  “to tease the mind into active thought.” Jesus wanted those who heard him to think and question, to wonder and continue to explore. His parables don’t leave us knowing everything. Rather they ask “What do you think and what will you do about it ?”

If we hear ourselves saying “ I know that story, I heard it before” we haven’t heard .

We don’t live in the time of Jesus, but his parables still teach us. His parables drawn from nature may be especially important today as our world faces climate change. We need to re-engage more deeply with nature and it seasons and its care

We also need to engage in our religious and political worlds as he did. We’re not spectators looking on, accepting what we see on a screen. We’re meant to have minds teased into active thought.  What do you think and what will you do about it ?”

“What do you think of your church and what will you do about it?”

“What do you think of your world and what will you do about it?”