Monthly Archives: July 2022

18th Week of the Year: Readings and Feasts

August 1 Mon Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Memorial Jer 28:1-17/Mt 14:13-21

2 Tue Weekday [Saint Eusebius of Vercelli, Bishop; Saint Peter Julian Eymard, Priest]

Jer 30:1-2, 12-15, 18-22/Mt 14:22-36 or Mt 15:1-2, 10-14 

3 Wed Weekday Jer 31:1-7/Mt 15:21-28 

4 Thu Saint John Vianney, Priest Memoria  Jer 31:31-34/Mt 16:13-23 

5 Fri Weekday [The Dedication of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major]

Na 2:1, 3; 3:1-3, 6-7/Mt 16:24-28 

6 Sat The Transfiguration of the Lord Feast Dn 7:9-10, 13-14/2 Pt 1:16-19/Lk 9:28b-36 


Wis 18:6-9/Heb 11:1-2, 8-19 or 11:1-2, 8-12/Lk 12:32-48 or 12:35-40 

Readings this week from Matthew’s gospel, chapters 14-17 offer the first of Matthew’s accounts of the miracle of the loaves and fish, the cure of the daughter of the Canaanite woman, the miracle of the storm at sea, and the confession of faith led by Peter. Matthew follows Mark’s narrative but softens Mark’s picture of the disciples and is less harsh on them for their unbelief.  

Most of the week we read from the Prophet Jeremiah and Nahum, from the time of the fall of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Of all the prophets, Jeremiah appears closest to Jesus, the Suffering Servant.

August 6th is the Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus, a feast originally celebrated by the eastern churches, then adopted by the western church. The feast is linked to the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, September 14th.

August 4th is the feast of John Vianney, patron of parish priests.

August 5 we celebrate The dedication of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, the most important church in Rome dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God. Some of the first feasts of the Christmas celebration were celebrated here. Mary plays an important role in the mysteries of Jesus Christ.

Martha, Mary and Lazarus

The feast of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, the family at Bethany, once feast of St. Martha alone is celebrated on July 29th. The family were all friends of Jesus and blessed with one of his most important miracles. The church wants us to see them all together.

But Martha still stands out in today’s feast. The  gospel readings from St. John and St. Luke feature her. Martha met Jesus when her brother Lazarus died and spoke those beautiful words of faith when Jesus asked if she believed he could bring life to the dead. “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” ( John 11:  )

Her faith was also the faith of Mary and Lazarus too. Jesus was at home with them.

Yet, there’s another side of Martha I can’t resist. The Martha who does everything and sometimes runs out of steam doing it. No matter how strong our faith, we’re still human. Isn’t Bethany Martha’s house? That’s what the gospels seem to indicate.That’s why this favorite picture of Martha introduces this blog. 

The 13th century Tuscan artist, Giovanni di Milano, brings us to Bethany where Jesus is visiting Martha and Mary. The table’s set for four people. That would be Jesus, Lazarus, Mary and Martha.

All of a sudden a knock on the door, and standing there are some of Jesus’ disciples, led by Peter. One  of them gestures towards Peter, as if saying “he told us to come.”

Poor Martha in her apron holds up her hands, “What am I supposed to do?”

There will be no miracle, except the miracle of Martha’s hospitality. More than four will be fed.

That story’s in the gospel if, like the artist, we let our imagination roam a little bit.

Almighty ever-living God, your Son was welcomed to Bethany, Martha’s house, as a guest. Grant, we pray, that through her intercession and that of her brother and sister we may serve Christ faithfully in our brothers and sisters and finally be received by you into your heavenly home. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Catechesis, Yesterday and Today

Who is God? God is a pure spirit, infinitely perfect. Where is God? God is everywhere. Why did God make you? God made me to know him, to love him and to serve him in this world and to be happy with him forever in the next. I can still recite those questions and answers from the Baltimore Catechism of my youth. Most people my age learned their faith the same way, I would guess. We learned through a catechism-based catechesis.

What about catechesis today? A catechism-based catechesis seems to be the ordinary catechesis our schools, parishes and dioceses still follow, often in a classroom setting. But is it the only approach to take ?

Where do catechisms come from, anyway? Martin Luther was the first to compose a catechism in question and answers for ordinary people in the 15th century. In response, the Dutch Jesuit Peter Canisius composed the first Catholic catechism in 1555 followed by three others afterwards. The Council of Trent called for a catechism to be written as a resource for the clergy, and that catechism appeared in 1556. Robert Bellarmine later composed an influential catechism requested by Pope Clement VIII; after that, bishops from all over the world composed catechisms for their people.

As we might suspect, Catholic catechisms that followed the Protestant Reformation were composed to give a clear picture of the Catholic faith and were strongly influenced by apologetic aims.    

The Second Vatican Council in the 1960s had a different purpose. It was called to renew the church for its mission in the modern world. To bring its message to the worldwide church the council participants recognized the need for catechesis. It would not be a small task, because so many aspects of church life were being renewed.  Pope St. Paul VI, who presided over much of the council, considered the council itself the great catechism of modern times. It would be hard to encompass the council’s work in one book. Still, some catechisms appeared after the council was over.

 In 1997 Pope St. John Paul II, responding to the wishes of many of the world’s Catholic bishops, promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Faith to foster the aims of the council. In 2006 the bishops of the USA published the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, which interspersed stories of saints and others as examples of the faith expounded in the book. A number of other catechisms appeared after the council. “Periods of renewal are intense moments of catechesis,” the Catechism of the Catholic Faith acknowledged in an introductory paragraph. (CCC, 8)

Catechesis beyond Catechisms

In making its decisions and recommendations the Second Vatican Council looked into other times besides the Council of Trent. The history and traditions of the church’s earlier periods, especially patristic times, influenced much of the council’s work. In his catechetical sermons St. Cyril, the 4th century bishop of Jerusalem, instructs his catechumens to memorize the creed as a summary of the scriptures they learned.  There were no catechisms then. Books were rare; many people were illiterate.. A memorized creed was their primary book. Catechesis in patristic times used a range of ways to form Christians in their faith.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes this broader approach to catechesis in its introductory paragraphs. “Quite early on, the name catechesis was given to the totality of the Church’s efforts to make disciples, to help people believe that Jesus is the Son of God so that believing they might have life in his name, and to educate and instruct them in this life, thus building up the body of Christ.” (CCC 4) 

The Catechism identifies various ways the church’s catechesis occurs:  “while not being formally identified with them, they are: the initial proclamation of the Gospel or missionary preaching to arouse faith; examination of the reasons for belief; experience of Christian living; celebration of the sacraments; integration into the ecclesial community; and apostolic and missionary witness. (CCC 6) 

Preaching in all its forms has a catechetical dimension. Searching for reasons we believe is important to catechesis. Living with people who believe is important. Participating in the liturgy and the sacraments is important. Doing good works and taking part in the missionary activity of the Church are important. Catechesis, then, goes beyond knowing a book and its definitions. 

Catechesis isn’t just for children either, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states. Young people and adults need to grow into the fulness of the Christian life. “Catechesis is intimately bound up with the whole of the church’s life.”(CCC 7) It takes place through the whole of life.

Desiderio Desideravi

Pope Francis’ recent letter “Desiderio Desideravi, on the Liturgical Formation of the People of God,” (June 29, 2022) is an important contribution to catechesis today. “ I do not intend to treat the question in an exhaustive way,” the pope writes; he offers only “some cues for reflections,” but his letter is clearly a call for a liturgy-based catechesis to form the People of God, since liturgy is fundamental to the life of the church. 

“I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer,” Jesus said before the Last Supper. His words, spoken in the context of a liturgy, reveal the depth of the love and desire of the Holy Trinity for us. (DD 2)

Peter and John and other disciples were not the only ones there at the table that night, Francis writes, but “ in actual fact, all of creation, all of history” were there when Jesus reveals “ his infinite desire to re-establish that communion with us that was and remains his original design, and it will not be satisfied until every man and woman, from every tribe, tongue, people and nation (Re 5:9), shall have eaten his Body and drunk his Blood. And for this reason that same Supper will be made present in the celebration of the Eucharist until he returns again.” (DD 4)

The Eucharist is the great sign of God’s universal love, revealed in the Word incarnate.  His body offered, his blood poured out gives meaning to his death and resurrection that followed the supper. The “breaking of the bread” became the sign Jesus offered his first disciples to heal them “from the blindness inflicted by the horror of the cross, and render them capable of “seeing” the Risen One, of believing in the Resurrection.” That same sign is given to the blind and unbelieving today. (DD7)

God’s love, revealed in the Word incarnate, is signified further in the sacraments and the rest of the liturgy as well. The liturgy is a privileged encounter with Jesus Christ. God first loved us, Pope Francis writes, and we in turn are called to love God.

Recognizing Its Beauty Today 

We need to recognize the beauty of the liturgy and its fundamental role in our faith today, but the pope in his letter speaks of some obstacles to a liturgy-based catechesis, warning of two tendencies, one he calls neo-Gnosticism, the other neo-Pelagianism:

 “The first, neo-Gnosticism, shrinks Christian faith into a subjectivism that ‘ultimately keeps us imprisoned in our own thoughts and feelings.’” (EG 94) Neo-Gnosticism might be described as shrinking the world into what I happen to be interested in now, what I’m doing, what’s going on in my life, what I think is good for me.  Nothing else matters. The early gnostics dismissed much of the world as evil, and so made the world too small.

Neo-Pelagianism cancels out the role of grace, the pope says. It leads us to believe we can do anything we set my minds to. I don’t need anything beyond what I can do with my own hands and my own mind. So why do I need God?  These two tendencies today endanger an encounter with Christ in the Eucharist and the liturgy. 

The liturgy provides a remedy for the two tendencies, Francis says. It “frees us from the prison of self-referencing nourished by our own reasoning and our own feeling.”  It frees us from small-mindedness. On the other hand,“It does not leave us alone to search out the mystery of God. Rather, it takes us by the hand, together, as an assembly, to lead us deep within the mystery that the Word and the sacramental signs reveal to us. And it does this, consistent with God’s action, following the way of the Incarnation…” (DD 18)

The Way of the Incarnation

The liturgy follows the way of Incarnation, the pope continues, which means it invites us to wonder at creation as a work of God. This a challenge today, the pope notes, a challenge “extremely demanding because modern people — not in all cultures to the same degree — have lost the capacity to engage with symbolic action, which is an essential trait of the liturgical act.”

In “Desiderio Desideravi” Pope Francis quotes extensively from Romano Guardini, a German liturgist and theologian who warned of symbolic illiteracy present in today’s modern world. “We must become once again capable of symbols,” Guardini wrote.  Symbolic illiteracy not only endangers liturgical life but, as Francis wrote previously in his letter “Laudato si’,  also endangers the way humanity relates to creation and the environment.

“Liturgy is done with things that are the exact opposite of spiritual abstractions: bread, wine, oil, water, fragrances, fire, ashes, rock, fabrics, colours, body, words, sounds, silences, gestures, space, movement, action, order, time, light. The whole of creation is a manifestation of the love of God, and from when that same love was manifested in its fullness in the cross of Jesus, all of creation was drawn toward it. It is the whole of creation that is assumed in order to be placed at the service of encounter with the Word: incarnate, crucified, dead, risen, ascended to the Father. It is as the prayer over the water at the baptismal font sings, but also the prayer over the oil for sacred chrism and the words for the presentation of the bread and wine — all fruit of the earth and work of human hands.” (DD 27) 

In his letter, Pope Francis makes his own the words of Pope St. Paul VI at the close of the second session of the Second Vatican Council: “God must hold first place; prayer to him is our first duty. The liturgy is the first source of divine communion in which God shares his own life with us. It is also the first school of the spiritual life. The liturgy is the first gift we must make to the Christian people united to us by faith and the fervour of their prayers. It is also a primary invitation to the human race, so that all may now lift their mute voices in blessed and genuine prayer and thus may experience that indescribable, regenerative power to be found when they join us in proclaiming the praises of God and the hopes of the human heart through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit”. [7] (DD 30)


Though Pope Francis describes his letter as  “some cues for reflections,” Desiderio Desideravi certainly sees the liturgy as the “catechism” of the church today. It’s a school for the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and a path for the People of God on their journey in the modern world. The pope calls for the church’s ministers to bring this treasure to those for whom it may be “hidden in the field.” He asks everyone to discover the beauty of the liturgy each day. 

As the pope says in his letter’s opening paragraphs, the liturgy is not something separating us from others. With Peter and John who prepared the Supper “in actual fact, all of creation, all of history” were there. “The world still does not know it, but everyone is invited to the supper of the wedding of the Lamb (Re 19:9).

Following the lead of Vatican II, Pope Francis looks for a liturgy that invites the world to its table. “We must not allow ourselves even a moment of rest, knowing that still not everyone has received an invitation to this Supper or knowing that others have forgotten it or have got lost along the way in the twists and turns of human living. This is what I spoke of when I said, “I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.” (Evangelii gaudium, n. 27).

Today’s blog is longer than others on this website because I see “Desiderio Desideravi” offering some context for what we’re doing here. Hardly a day goes by when there isn’t a reflection on the scriptures from the liturgy’s daily lectionary or the saint of the day or season of the year or one of the mysteries of faith on this blog. I find doing them, to use the word’s of St. Augustine, a way to discover “Beauty ever ancient, ever new.” I marvel I don’t get tired of doing this. (Well, I admit sometime I do, but it passes) I think the other contributors to this blog feel the same.

The pope’s letter inspires me. Don’t stop, it says.

Victor Hoagland, CP

My Mary Garden

We’re reading the Prophet Jeremiah these days, who scolded the people of his time, especially their rulers, for letting the garden lands God gave them go to waste. The same prophet then promises his people in exile that God will bring them back, “like watered gardens, never again shall they languish.”

We have a beautiful Mary Garden here in Queens, New York. Recently I noticed some tiny pebbles, their colors disguised in dirt until I washed them. Our garden is on a terminal moraine where the Laurentine Glacier stopped 20,000 years ago leaving tons of rocks and pebbles. A wind the other day shook the trees in our garden till they gave up seeds, scattering them on the ground.

I put some of those tiny pebbles in the small Mary Garden I have in my room. I also put pine cones and an acorn in it. They’re signs of hope and like hope they’re hidden. We have to wait for their treasures.

Today can we hear Jeremiah scolding us for wasting the creation, the “garden land”, God gave us? The God of Deep Time, the Creator of heaven and earth, gave us the humble soil, life-giving water, all the connected things of our universe, and we have wasted them.

But God does not turn away, the prophet says. I have a small picture of Mary and the Child in my Mary Garden, “Salus Populi Romani”, “Rescuer of the Roman People”. The original 6th century icon is in the church of Saint Mary Major in Rome. Popes and people through the centuries sought Mary’s intercession in plagues and other disasters, and so should we. 

Mary holds her Child, the Word through whom all things were made, Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Mary Garden, Passionists, Immaculate Conception Monastery


Treasures: Matthew 13: 44-46

By Orlando Hernandez

In this Wednesday’s Gospel (Mt 13: 44-46) our Lord gives us two short, beautiful parables about what “The Kingdom of Heaven is like .” He first tells us the story of a “person” who finds this treasure in a field, hides it again, and gives everything he/she has in order to buy that field.

Who is this person? What is this treasure? Why buy the whole field? Is the treasure too big to walk away with? Then there is the story of the merchant who also gives up everything he has to be able to buy this “pearl of great value” (or “price”).

I used to think of both parables as exhortations to give up all our worldly “possessions” in order to deserve the right to enter the Kingdom of God, and the salvation that it offers. I still think that this is the primary meaning of these stories, and it is indeed important and beautiful. However, over the years, I have wondered whether these parables also invite us to consider the Heart of this Master of the Kingdom. How does this King feel about us? Here are three little stories that have always moved me. I hold them like treasures in my own heart. In a way, they remind me of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ:

C.S. Lewis has this wonderful image of the Diver, who stands naked, divested of everything He had, at the brink of a high cliff. He opens out his arms, and dives headlong into the dark, violent sea below. He enters the freezing water and pushes mightily toward the even-colder bottom, past mud and filth, until He snatches the object that He was looking for out of the thick muck. He swims back up, but it is too late. He is out of air, He is about to die. But somehow He rises up full of life! He reaches the surface and opens His hand toward heaven to offer the prize He has rescued. It is the Pearl of Great Value: you and me, humanity, all of Creation.

Armando Guerra (in English it means “making war!”) is truly a soldier of God. He preaches these great talks at our Emmaus Men’s Retreats in Miami, FL. He likes to tell us that a “pearl of great value” is the product of great pain. As many of us learned In grade school the oyster winds up with a grain of sand or a small rock stuck within its shell, irritating its soft body. The oyster covers this painful object with a smooth, shiny substance called nacar, or mother-of-pearl. This only makes the object larger and torments the animal even more. The smooth rounded object grows and grows as this agonizing process keeps on repeating itself until the oyster dies. Yet, when the shell is opened up, a beautiful, valuable pearl is found inside. How can so much beauty come from so much suffering? Thank You Beloved Jesus, savior, crucified and risen! May we suffer with You in hope and trust, even joy.

The last story. Sometimes, at the end of a painful talk about self-knowledge, Armando passes around this box that looks a lot like a souvenir treasure chest (maybe he got it at Disney World), and he reads for us the parable of the treasure in the field. He has us consider that the “person” in the parable is God. He has buried this treasure in the field of His heart. He has given everything He has, even His life for it. What’s inside this “treasure chest” ? He lets us look within, one-by-one. Armando has cleverly cut and pasted a mirror at the bottom of the box. When you look inside the treasure chest, you see yourself. It seems this Kingdom of God is a Reign that is primarily ruled by the infinite power of Love. Thank You Father !

Orlando Hernández

Traditions about St. Ann

As one might expect, a saint like Saint Ann has a rich history in the Christian church. She’s honored from earliest times in the eastern churches as the mother of Mary.

Around the year 550, a church in her honor was built in Jerusalem on the site where her home was said to be, near the Pool of Bethesda, where Jesus cured the paralyzed man. Since then, many churches honoring her have been built throughout the world and she appears frequently in Christian art.

Feasts of St.Ann

Feasts in honor of Mary’s birth (September 8) and her presentation in the temple (November 21) – inspired by the Protoevangelium- were introduced into the liturgies of the Eastern churches in the 6th century. Feasts in honor of St.Joachim and Ann (September 9), the conception of St.Ann (December 9), and St.Ann alone (July 26) have been celebrated from the 7th century in the Greek and Russian churches. In the western church, the feast of St.Ann has been celebrated on July 26 since the 16th century.

Why was the story of Ann and Joachim so popular in the Eastern Christian churches, first of all?  For one thing, Christians on pilgrimage to the holy land wanted to know as much as possible about the earthly life of Jesus and Mary and so stories about Ann and Joachim satisfied their curiosity.

Her story also supplied information about the family background of Mary and Jesus, which supported the traditional belief that Jesus is Son of God and Son of the Virgin Mary.  Early on, these beliefs were  questioned by heretical elements within Christianity as well as by outsiders hostile to the faith.

Finally, and just as important, Ann and Joachim offered inspiration to mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, grandmothers and grandfathers –to live their lives in their circumstances of family life.

Devotion to St. Ann in Europe

In the western churches, devotion to St.Ann was fed by a popular belief that relics of her were brought to France by Mary Magdalen, Lazarus, Martha, and other friends of Jesus who crossed the stormy sea from Palestine to bring the Christian faith to the region around Marseilles.

Her relics were buried in a cave under the church of St.Mary in the city of Apt by its bishop, St.Auspice, according to this story. But when barbarians invaded the area, the cave was filled with debris and almost forgotten, only to be unearthed 600 years later during the reign of Charlemagne.

You can see from this story why sailors and miners would be devoted to St. Ann. When crusaders from Europe – many from France – went to the Holy Land in the 11th century, they rebuilt the early church of St. Ann in Jerusalem. By the 14th century, devotion to St. Ann was on the rise throughout Europe.

There are reasons for this growing devotion. In the mid- 14th century, Europe was struck by the Black Death,  a plague that raged everywhere for over 150 years, wiping out almost 30 percent of its population and bringing fear, famine and death. Families bore the brunt of the catastrophe as they tended their sick and cared for the healthy.

They needed models like Mary and Joseph, protectors of their Child in difficult circumstances. Extended families needed models like Ann and Joachim, grandparents who supported their child and grandchild.

When the plague ended, Europe’s population expanded dramatically in the late 15th and 16th centuries; new towns and cities sprang up everywhere and families were uprooted from places and people familiar to them. Relatives and friends were separated, work was often hard to find. Families needed help to stay together and survive.

At a time when children were under pressure, sometimes neglected, faith suggested the biblical models of Mary and Joseph, Ann and Joachim.  Images of the nursing Madonna and the caring grandparents became important sources of inspiration.

Groups of Christians arose known as Confraternities of St. Ann, dedicated themselves to caring for widows, orphans and families under stress. Images of Mary and Ann, nursing their children, playing with the Christ Child and/or John the Baptist were more than pious pictures; they had a social purpose as well.

One picture from this era, still popular today, portrays St. Ann teaching her little daughter how to read.  Sometimes the words on the book are words of scripture; sometimes they’re basic numbers or letters of the alphabet: 1,2,3,4-A,B,C.

Playing with children, teaching them the ABC’s, passing on the mysteries of God to them are vital actions. Simple as they may seem, they are holy actions and they can make those who do them saints.

Living in a World of Weeds and Wheat


After speaking to the crowds in parables, Matthew’s gospel today tells us, Jesus enters a house where his disciples ask him: “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”(Matthew 13:36-37)  Why do they want an explanation of the parable about the weeds in the field before any other parable, we wonder ? What’s so important about it?

The parable immediately follows Jesus’ opening parable of the sower in Matthew’s gospel. It’s about a man and his servants who plant wheat. Once the wheat was planted, they rejoiced and went to sleep. All was done; they had only to wait for a good harvest.

But an enemy comes and plants weeds in the wheat field. You can hear distress as the man’s servants become aware of it. They weren’t expecting this. Their immediate response is to go and pull the weeds up. 

The servants seem to match the rocky ground Jesus describes in the parable of the sower. They hear the word and receive it with joy, but “when some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word” they fall away. (Matthew 13:20-21) They’re overwhelmed by the sight of the weeds.

Jesus’ disciples would seem to be like them at this point in Matthew’s gospel. Then, the pharisees were bent on putting Jesus to death. They’ re joined by the Herodians, the followers of Herod, who ruled in Galilee. The cities that first received Jesus with joy are rejecting him now. His own family wish him to abandon his mission.

His disciples were expecting a wheat field, but at this point their world looks like a field of weeds. And so their first request to Jesus is:  tell us what this is all about? 

It’s not just Jesus’ immediate disciples who wonder about what they see, others do as well. In our celebration of the Feast of Apostle James recently, Matthew has the mother of James and John appealing to Jesus for a privileged place in his kingdom. She had the same dreams as her sons. Could she represent the many others in those Galilean cities where Jesus first ministered, who abandon him when they see a field of weeds instead of the wheat field they were hoping for.

Does Matthew also have in mind the Galilean world of his day, a world where the disciples of Jesus seem to be overwhelmed by a resurgent Judaism led by the pharisees? And to take it one step further: In our part of the world today, as we see a church in decline and a society split into factions, do we have a similar vision of things? We’re living in a field of weeds!

Parables call us to questions and answers. The parable of the weeds and the wheat proclaims, first of all, that God is confident in the seed he has sown. No need to be afraid of the weeds. Our world will never be a perfect wheat field. We live in a world of weeds and wheat, don’t forget. No need to try to eradicate every evil we see. As today’s reading from Matthew teaches: we have to leave this world to judgment of God.

The parable calls us to question the way we look at life. Just weeds? No wheat? Or do we see both. Do we trust in the Sower who has sown wheat? 

We read this parable at Mass today. The Lord came to us as wheat. I believe it was Ignatius of Antioch who said “I am God’s wheat.” So are we.

The Struggles of Jeremiah

Let my eyes stream with tears day and night, without rest, Over the great destruction which overwhelms the virgin daughter of my people,over her incurable wound.

If I walk out into the field, look! those slain by the sword; If I enter the city,look! those consumed by hunger. Even the prophet and the priestforage in a land they know not. (Jeremiah 14:17-24

Today’s first reading from our lectionary is a classic picture of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 598 BC, from the Prophet Jeremiah. The dead still wait to be buried, people are starving for food, prophets and priests wander about bewildered by what’s happened. 

Just as important as the description of the devastated city is Jeremiah’s reaction to it. He’s no distant onlooker, he’s there, part of it all, and his eyes are filled with tears, day and night.

That’s Jeremiah. It’s his city and his people that have been struck “a blow that cannot be healed.” Instead of the Babylonians or the Judean leaders whom he had warned, Jeremiah addresses God. “You alone have done all these things.”

Does Jeremiah have something to say about our situation today?

“Nowhere else in the Old Testament does the eternal, invisible God become so involved in human experience and communicate within it as in the person of Jeremiah,” Fr. Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP, writes in his commentary on Jeremiah in the Catholic Study Bible.

Jeremiah  struggles with God. He “paradoxically combines exceptional obedience to God with vigorous argumentation against God, he struggles with doubt and anger, and at times succumbs to them, only to be purified and transformed (Jer. 9:1; 15:19).”

There are no quick answers for him, Fr. Carroll writes: “The biblical message comes  not simply as a finished polished discourse, but as an intuition, or to use Jeremiah’s words , as ‘fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones’ ( Jeremiah 20:10). Jeremiah frequently provides us with a message on its way to becoming the final word of God, struggling to come to birth and seeming lost in the dark birth canal. “(Jeremiah, 20:17) (Reading Guide 304-305)

As we look at our own world in the grip of a devastating wars, climate change, global pandemic, what about Jeremiah’s words to God: “You alone have done all these things.” 

I think we struggle like him. 

The Story of Ann and Joachim

Joachim 1
Joachim among the Shepherds

We celebrate the Feast of Ann and Joachim today, parents of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.  The New Testament says nothing about them, but an early 2nd century document called the Gospel of James tells their story,

Ann and Joachim lived in Jerusalem, the ancient source says, where Joachim, a descendant of David and a wealthy man, provided sheep and other offerings for the temple sacrifices. The two had ties to Bethlehem nearby and Nazareth in Galilee.

They were well off but for twenty years disappointment clouded their marriage: they had no child. Even after vowing to dedicate their child to God, no child came. And so, at a time when children were treasured, they were thought poor. Descendants of David, they were blamed also for failing to continue the line the Messiah would come from.

Stung by criticism, Joachim spent more time in the mountains, brooding among the shepherds and their flocks. As her husband distanced himself from her, Ann too grew sad. God seemed far away.

In the garden one day, noticing some sparrows building a nest in a laurel tree, Ann burst into tears: “Why was I born, Lord?” she said, “birds build nests for their young and I have no child of my own. The creatures of the earth, the fish of the sea are fruitful, and I have nothing. The land has a harvest, but I have no child  in my arms.”

At that moment, an angel of the Lord came and said, “Ann, the Lord has heard your prayer. You shall conceive a child the whole world will praise. Hurry to the Golden Gate and meet your husband there.”

At the same time, In the mountains an angel in dazzling light  spoke to Joachim, “Don’t be afraid, the Lord hears your prayers. God knows your goodness and your sorrow and will give your wife a child as he did Sara, Abraham’s wife, and Hannah, mother of Samuel. You  will have a daughter and name her Mary. Give her to God, for she will be filled with the Holy Spirit from her mother’s womb.  Go back to Jerusalem. You’ll meet your wife at the Golden Gate and your sorrow will turn into joy.”

Joachim and Ann met at the Golden Gate to the temple, the place of God’s presence. They embraced as they spoke of the angel’s promise. Returning home, Ann conceived and bore a daughter, and they called her “Mary.”

Joachim 4

When she was three years old, Ann brought Mary to the temple to learn the scriptures, to pray and take part in the Jewish feasts. She watched her father bring lambs to be offered in sacrifice. She grew in wisdom and grace in God’s presence.

Mary in temple Giotto

When Mary approached marriage age– then 15 or so–her parents arranged for her marriage as it was customary. They sought the high priest’s advice, tradition says, and Joseph of Nazareth was chosen as her husband. Nazareth was then their home.

The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she was to be the Mother of Jesus. By the power of the Holy Spirit she conceived the Child.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph returned to Nazareth where Jesus grew up. He was raised in a large extended family that included his grandparents, Ann and Joachim, who cared for him as a child.

No one knows just when or where Ann and Joachim died, but Jesus must have treasured them in life and on their passage to God.

The 2nd century Protoevangelium of James repeats a fundamental theme of  the Book of Genesis: God promises Adam and Eve many children who will enjoy the blessings of the earth. God repeats the promise to an aged, childless couple, Abraham and Sarah, and again to Hannah, who bemoans her childlessness to the priest Eli in the temple. In the same way, God gives a child to Ann and Joachim. Mary, their daughter, brings blessings to the nations through her son Jesus Christ, born of the Holy Spirit.

Giotto’s 14th century illustrations (above) from the Arena Chapel in Padua. helped popularize the story of the parents of Mary in Italy, Europe and the rest of the western world.

It’s an important story for grandmothers and grandfathers. Like Ann and Joachim they have a big role raising the next generation. More than they think.