Author Archives: vhoagland

What’s Inside? Mark 7:14-23

                                                                         

In Wednesday’s Gospel reading (Mk 7: 14-23), Jesus says: ” Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.”

    Later on, He tells His disciples: ” Do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not the heart but the stomach and passes out into the latrine (thus He declared all foods clean). But what comes out of the man, is what defiles him. From within the man, from his heart, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”

    Our Lord is once again talking about the pettiness and superficiality of so many of the rules and regulations that the scribes and Pharisees were always harping on. He asks us to focus rather on that “beam” in our eyes, the sinful, destructive tendencies that exist within us, and that we try to cover up.

    But this passage leads me to ask so many questions. In many of the Psychology courses that I took, the issue of ” nature vs. nurture” would come up, and makes me think of this Gospel. So many disturbing, horrible things can ” enter from the outside ” and damage or ” defile ” a child so that he or she grows up and displays many of these sinful behaviors listed by the Lord. Do we learn these evils, or did they already come within us at birth? How extensive is the power of our “original sin?”  Why do some people turn out ” nicer” than others?

    No matter what the answers to these questions, our Lord certainly wants people to be cleansed of ” all their evils” . Can we do it by following a set of rules and prescribed behaviors that our Church so lovingly provides? ….. Follow the Commandments, participate in the Eucharist, celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation,  fast, avoid the sinful influence of the media for us and our children, control our “dirty language” and “dirty pictures” in our minds, practice tolerance and forgiveness, and so on?

    Many, many people, like me, who received Catholic upbringing and instruction when young, failed to follow these rules. Others, by the Grace of God, gave these rules a good try and are still trying. Why? Was it God’s arbitrary choice?

    I really cannot answer these questions either. All I know is that after 43 years in the wilderness, after hurting God, myself, and others so many times, my Lord Jesus Christ came my way and struck me with his Love and Mercy. The gift of His Light helped me to see His Light in me, along with the many dark, dirty spots that would cloud my vision of Him.

    So I no longer try to analyze what harmful events in my life led me to so much sin, nor how my “inside”  got filled with so much darkness (although I try to spot those bad influences when they threaten my grandchildren, and carefully talk about it with their parents!). All I know is that God loves me so much, that I can’t help but try to be”better”, because I love Him. There is this beautiful sentence that I read in the magazine THE WORD AMONG US: ” It’s the relationship, not the formula that matters.”

    In his book, FALLING UPWARD, Fr Richard Rohr, talks about the importance of “shadow work” in the spiritual journey. It is a matter of careful ” seeing through ” our self-deception, as well as through all of those inner things that “defile” us: ” You come to expect various forms of halfheartedness, deceit, vanity, or illusions from yourself. But now you see through them, which destroys most of their game and power.” What are you looking at as you see through them? Rohr believes that you are looking into your innermost self at  the One who loves you.

   ” This self cannot die and always lives, and is your True Self.”

Orlando Hernandez   

St. Josephine Bakhita: February 8

An heroic African woman from the Sudan, Josephine Bakhita was kidnapped by slave traders when she was 9 years old and forced into slavery for almost 12 years. Pope Benedict XVI wrote of her in his encyclical letter “On Hope” as an example of God’s gift of hope. “To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope.”

“I am thinking of the African Josephine Bakhita, canonized by Pope John Paul II. She was born around 1869—she herself did not know the precise date—in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life.

Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying “masters” who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of “master”—in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name “paron” for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ.

Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a “paron” above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person.

She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her—that he actually loved her. She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme “Paron”, before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants. She was known and loved and she was awaited.
What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her “at the Father’s right hand”. Now she had “hope” —no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.” Through the knowledge of this hope she was “redeemed”, no longer a slave, but a free child of God.

She understood what Paul meant when he reminded the Ephesians that previously they were without hope and without God in the world—without hope because without God. Hence, when she was about to be taken back to Sudan, Bakhita refused; she did not wish to be separated again from her “Paron”.

On 9 January 1890, she was baptized and confirmed and received her first Holy Communion from the hands of the Patriarch of Venice. On 8 December 1896, in Verona, she took her vows in the Congregation of the Canossian Sisters and from that time onwards, besides her work in the sacristy and in the porter’s lodge at the convent, she made several journeys round Italy in order to promote the missions: the liberation that she had received through her encounter with the God of Jesus Christ, she felt she had to extend, it had to be handed on to others, to the greatest possible number of people.

The hope born in her which had “redeemed” her she could not keep to herself; this hope had to reach many, to reach everybody.” Benedict XVI “Spes salvi” 2007

Josephine Bakhita died February 8, 1947 and was declared a saint in 2000. She is the patron saint of the Sudan and victims of human trafficking. For more on her, see here.

And this is from Passionists International on women’s rights:

UN Commission on the Status of Women: March 6-17, New York

This year’s focus:

  • Priority theme: Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls
  • Review theme: Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girlshttps://www.unwomen.org/en/csw/csw67-2023Read the Joint Statement of the Working Group on Girls, submitted by Passionists International here: (choose language) https://undocs.org/Home/Mobile?FinalSymbol=E%2FCN.6%2F2023%2FNGO%2F72&Language= E&DeviceType=Desktop&LangRequested=False *Official meetings of the Commission will be able to be viewed at: webtv.un.org For additional events, parallel to the UN meetings, see NGO-CSW Forum, below.NGO-CSW Forum – March 5-17, New York , In-person and VIRTUALParallel with UN CSW-67 Over the two weeks of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, NGO-CSW/NY organizes over 800 events during the Forum that inform, engage and inspire grass-roots efforts and advocacy needed to empower women and girls. This provides civil society organizations and activists an opportunity to engage in the processes and sessions of CSW without having UN-

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. It meets yearly to evaluate progress, challenges, gaps, and to increase Member States’ commitments to achieving women’s and girls’ equality and empowerment, and its intersection with all of the Sustainable Development Goals.

 Events will take place both virtually and in- person outside of UN headquarters, and are open to all individuals and organizations. You can attend events and network with others who share your passion in working for women’s and girls’ equality. REGISTRATION is required. All necessary information can be found here: https://ngocsw.org/ngocsw67/

Learning from Genesis

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Pope Francis, in his encyclical Laudato Si, , invites Christians to turn to the Book of Genesis to understand how they’re related to the earth.

Genesis makes clear in its first chapter that the earth, “our common home,” is God’s work. God works for 5 days to create the world; only on the 6th day does God create man, whom he gives dominion over creation– but not absolute dominion. God made this world, not us, and every created thing enjoys a distinct relationship to its creator.

The dominion we have from God is a gift and is not absolute. We’re to help, respect, understand, tend, care for creation: creation isn’t ours to do what we want with it.

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The 2nd chapter of Genesis describes the creation of man. The earth is dry dust, but water wells up making a soft wet clay from the dust. God, like a potter, fashions man from the clay, breathing the breath of life into him and making him a living being.

We’re creatures of the earth, the story says.  As we’re reminded on Ash Wednesday, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”

After creating man, God places him in a garden filled with all kinds of plants and trees. Two trees are singled out, the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Man is forbidden to eat from that tree.

What’s the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Why is it forbidden to eat its fruit?  There are different interpretations. Some interpret eating from the tree as a decision of moral autonomy. By eating its fruit, I claim a knowledge of good and evil; I say what’s right or wrong.

Not unusual to hear that today, is it? Some believe they’re in absolute control of their lives. They choose what’s right or wrong, good and evil, rejecting the limits of the human condition and the finite freedom God gives human beings.

Another interpretation sees eating from the tree as a decision to trust only in human experience and human knowledge that we gain as we grow and progress individually and as a people. Like children distancing themselves from their parents, we must be self sufficient, gaining a wisdom on our own. The danger is that human experience and human wisdom become absolute.  We distance ourselves from God.

Can we see both these approaches harmful to our environment? The first leads to a possessiveness of created things;  they belong to us alone and we can do anything we want with them.

The second way also leads to harming our environment. Pope Francis speaks of the danger of “anthropocentrism,” putting human beings at the center of everything, a trend he traces back to the beginnings of the Enlightenment in the 16th century. Trusting human knowledge and human creativity, some are convinced that science and technology alone can bring about a perfect world.

Technology isn’t enough to meet our present environmental crisis, the pope says, we humans need to change. We need to humbly accept our place in creation, as God meant it to be.

What about the tree of life in the Genesis narrative? In the garden the tree was a promise of continuing life. Once banished from the garden,  human beings face death.

tree-of-life

When Christ came in the fullness of time, he brought life to the world, Christians believe. In his death on the cross, the sign of death was replaced by a sign of life. His cross is a tree of life.

Here’s Pope Francis from Laudato si:

“The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality. They suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself. According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin. The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations. This in turn distorted our mandate to “have dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), to “till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). As a result, the originally harmonious relationship between human beings and nature became conflictual (cf. Gen 3:17-19).

It is significant that the harmony which Saint Francis of Assisi experienced with all creatures was seen as a healing of that rupture. Saint Bonaventure held that, through universal reconciliation with every creature, Saint Francis in some way returned to the state of original innocence.[40] This is a far cry from our situation today, where sin is manifest in all its destructive power in wars, the various forms of violence and abuse, the abandonment of the most vulnerable, and attacks on nature.”

Pope Francis, Laudato SI  66

The Days of Genesis: Genesis 1:1-19

The days that unfold in the Book of Genesis we’re reading this week get ever more complex. Before all,  there is God, Creator of all things, then light and water paving the way for a host of new things, non-living and living. Finally, we humans enter the picture. A complex, changing world it is, day by day.

Jessica Powers, a Carmelite nun and poet, wrote about our experience of that world– “Song At Daybreak”

This morning on the way

that yawns with light across the eastern sky

and lifts its bright arms high –

It may bring hours disconsolate or gay,

I do not know, but this much I can say:

It will be unlike any other day.

God lives in his surprise and variation.

No leaf is matched, no star is shaped to star.

No soul is like my soul in all creation

though I may search afar.

There is something -anquish or elation-

that is peculiar to this day alone.

I rise from sleep and say: Hail to the morning!

Come down to me, my beautiful unknown.

“My Beautiful unknown”. Our world is beautiful, but unknown, surprising, with variations that bring “anguish or elation.” Religious people should acknowledge this, since they believe in God who lives “in his surprise and variation”, but unfortunately we can make God too small. We “think like humans do.” The Book of Genesis describes our common home, complex, “willed by God in His wisdom.”

The Genesis account and the rest of the Bible deserve a search for their wisdom. I know there’s a new story that science tells, but Genesis and the Bible were there first. We should listen to that story too.

St.Paul Miki and Companions (1564-1597)

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Memorial to Japanese Martyrs,  photo:Alex Tora

February 5, 1597, near Nagasaki, Japan, 26 Christians suffered martyrdom: 6 Franciscan foreigners, 3 Japanese Jesuit catechists (Paul Miki was one of them), and 17 Japanese lay catechists. They were tied and chained to crosses and lanced by a sword.

An eyewitness wrote of Paul Miki: “Our brother Paul Miki as if standing on the noblest pulpit he had ever preached from, began by proclaiming he was a Japanese and a Jesuit and he was dying for the gospel he preached. He gave thanks to God for this wonderful blessing and ended his sermon with these words, ‘As I come to the end of my life you can’t suppose I want to deceive you. And so I tell you plainly there is no other way to be saved except the Christian way. I pardon my enemies and all who offend me, as my faith instructs me. I gladly pardon the Emperor and all who sought my death. I beg them to be baptized and become Christians themselves.’”

Christianity first came to Japan through the efforts of St. Francis Xavier who arrived there in 1549 and left in 1551, after bringing the faith to some 1,000 Japanese. The numbers grew, but Japanese political dissension brought strong opposition to Christianity. In 1587 foreign missionaries were forbidden to enter the country. The martyrdom of the 26 Christians in 1597 was the beginning of a series of persecutions in which thousands of Japanese Christians were cruelly put to death.

The Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo tells the chilling story of one of those persecutions in his novel, Silence (Penguin 1988). The American movie director, Martin Scorsese made a film version of the novel in 2015.

In the prayer for their Mass, we ask for the courage and faith of the Japanese martyrs:

O God, strength of all the saints,
who through the Cross
were pleased to call the martyrs St. Paul Miki and companions to life,
grant we pray, that by their intercession
we may hold with courage even till death to the faith we profess,
Through our Lord Jesus Christ…

Our church calendar includes saints from every nation and time because Jesus commanded the gospel be preached to all the nations. As we celebrate the church’s presence and development in places like Japan we look to them for signs of the Spirit at work, then and now. What can we learn from the church in Japan? What must we do to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth?

“A Vision Thing”

 

Here’s a favorite picture of mine from the Staten Island Ferry. You say it’s a picture of the New York skyline?

I say it’s a picture of water that gave birth to the city. True, isn’t it? The water was here first. The city came to be because water brought the world here, making the city a capitol of world trade and drawing millions of human beings to this place. 

These waters once abounded with fish, the surrounding areas abounded in game. Plenty for all, so the native peoples allowed the original Dutch settlers a little piece of land for themselves.

 Now look at it. The man who built the new World Trade Center claims it’s the tallest building in the country, challenging the heavens–like Babel.

.Be careful, though, about challenging the heavens and forgetting about the earth. Be careful about the waters that brought you where you are. No fish or oysters here to eat now. Little space for the waters to go when they rise. And they will.

Don’t forget– the water was here first. It’s a “vision thing.” That’s what Pope Francis says in “Laudato si”.

This week’s readings from Genesis are good readings for improving our vision.

Take a look at the UN vision, from Passionist International, at the United Nations:

UN Water Conference: March 22-24, New York

Water is an essential element to be addressed in all its facets as changes in water cycle contribute to climate change, inducing both fast-moving wet shocks (increasing storms, flooding) and slow-moving dry shocks (desertification, draught); is essential for health and sanitation, food production and nourishment; and our ocean life is increasingly being threatened by pollutants, fishing practices, and now attempts at deep sea mining extraction. Glaciers, which hold 3⁄4 of the world’s fresh water are rapidly melting. Water must be protected in all its forms. Water is life. It is at the heart of adaptation to climate change, and

Access to water and sanitation is a human right.

Water and sanitation flow through every aspect of sustainable development. A well-managed water cycle is critical to human society and the integrity of the natural environmentThe vision for this Conference is that we all fundamentally understand, value and manage water better and take concerted action to achieve the internationally agreed water-related goals and targets, including those contained in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

See how water intersects with multiple goals for sustainable development:

https://www.unwater.org/water-facts

More about the conference:

https://sdgs.un.org/conferences/water2023/about

Sustainable Development Goal 6 – Water and Sanitation

https://sdgs.un.org/topics/water-and-sanitation
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals: https://sdgs.un.org/goals

*Registration for in-person attendance to the conference is open until February 10thPlease let me know asap prior to that date if you are interested in attending in New YorkNote: Live webcast of official meetings can be viewed at webtv.un.org

February 6-12: Readings and Feasts

FEBRUARY

6 Mon St Paul Miki and Companions, Martyrs Memorial Gn 1:1-19/Mk 6:53-56 

7 Tue Weekday Gn 1:20—2:4a/Mk 7:1-13 

8 Wed Weekday [St Jerome Emiliani; St Josephine Bakhita, Virgin]

 Gn 2:4b-9, 15-17/Mk 7:14-23 

9 Thu Weekday Gn 2:18-25/Mk 7:24-30 

10 Fri St Scholastica, Virgin Memorial Gn 3:1-8/Mk 7:31-37 

11 Sat Weekday [Our Lady of Lourdes; BVM] Gn 3:9-24/Mk 8:1-10 

12 SUN SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Sir 15:15-20/1 Cor 2:6-10/Mt 5:17-37 or 5:20-22a, 27-28, 33-34a, 37

In our readings from Mark’s Gospel this week Jesus goes into gentile territory. Jesus’ parable dismissing the prohibition against unclean food and other strictures (Wednesday ) prepares for his journey into gentile territory and his missionary outreach there. (Thursday and Friday)

The readings from Genesis this week give us an opportunity to reflect on the environment with Laudato Si’.

The feast of the martyrs of Japan, Paul Miki and Companions (February 6) recalls the suffering that marks the beginning of Christianity in Japan. Remember the church in Japan. 

St. Josephine Bakhita (Wednesday), like St. Agnes and St Agatha, offers an heroic story of an abused woman sustained by God’s grace. Pope Francis called attention to abused women in the Congo and Sudan a few days ago on his visits there. St. Scholastica (February 10) is a woman who brought about a storm. (Thursday)

Friday we remember Our Lady of Lourdes, a day of prayer for the sick.

For readings and scriptural commentary cf.  www.usccb.org

The Passion of John the Baptist: Mark 6:14-29

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Mark’s gospel today tells the gruesome story of the death of John the Baptist, which prefigures the death of Jesus. King Herod ordered his death, prompted by Herodias. Human sinfulness is on display in this court banquet, which the artist (above) describes very well. The women smugly presenting John’s head. The man pointing his finger at Herod and Herod denying it all. John’ eyes are still open, his mouth still speaks.

Venerable Bede says that John’s death is like Jesus’ death because they both embraced the same values.  If John stayed silent about Herod’s conduct, he may have gained a few peaceful years of life, but he was more concerned with what God thought than what powerful people on earth thought.

“His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless, he died for Christ. Does Christ not say: I am the truth?

He preached the freedom of heavenly peace, yet was thrown into irons by ungodly men; he was locked away in the darkness of prison, though he came bearing witness to the Light of life.

“But heaven notices– not the span of our lives, but how we live them, speaking the truth.” (Bede, Homily)

Wonderful line: It doesn’t matter how many years we live, but how we live them, “speaking the truth.”

For John that meant dying for the truth. What does it mean for us? It may not mean getting our heads chopped off, but we should expect some scars from the daily battle for God’s truth. ” May we fight hard for the confession of what you teach.” (Opening prayer)

Presentation of Jesus in the Temple: February 2

Model of Jerusalem Temple, Israel Museum

We celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple February 2nd, 40 days after his birth. St. Luke describes it in his gospel. (Luke 1-2) Our Christmas decorations may be down, but this event for Luke is the highlight of his Christmas story. The temple in Jerusalem is more important for him than the stable in Bethlehem. 

The model of the Jerusalem temple in Jesus’ time that archeologists have reconstructed (Above) may help us see why. The temple dominated the city then. God was present here, “my Father’s house” Jesus called it when visiting as a young boy, listening to its teachers and asking them questions. (Luke 2: 25-41) In Luke’s Gospel the angel announces John’s birth to the priest Zachariah there. ( Luke 1: 5–25) Jesus is presented as an infant there. ( Luke 2: 25-38) For Luke the temple has a central role in the mission of Jesus.

At the outset of his ministry in Galilee, Jesus said that his “exodus”– his death and resurrection, must take place in Jerusalem. He died and rose again as the Passover was celebrated in the temple. (Luke 22:1) His followers prayed there as they waited to be “clothed with power from on high. “ ( Luke 24: 49) After his ascension into heaven, they “ then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God. (Luke 24, 52-52) Their first vibrant proclamation of the gospel takes place there after receiving the Holy Spirit.

Luke’s account of Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple initiates this relationship. Luke doesn’t dwell on the ritual when Mary and Joseph present the Child. He doesn’t give us the name of the priest or describe what Mary and Joseph do. At the heart of his story, God reveals himself through the Infant to two elderly Jews, Simeon and Anna, who wait patiently for the Messiah.

They’ve waited for years, but long waiting has not dulled their eyes. Waiting has made them sharper; they see salvation in this little infant, ” a light of revelation to the gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

True, though, waiting can dull our eyes? Year by year can diminish what we expect and hope for. Day after day, faith can get tired. Prayers can become rote, sacraments routine. A holy place just another place.

Not so for these two elderly Jews. Their steady presence in the temple made them sharper, quicker to recognize the light that came to that place. Hopefully, it will be the same for us.

We bless candles today, praying that our church may be a place to see the light of Christ and recognize his will for us and our world. May the temple of God we are never grow dark, but a place for God to dwell.

Simeon holds the Child in his arms; Anna proclaims him to all. Mary, his mother, hears the prophecy that a sword will pierce her heart as she shares the life, death and resurrection of this Child. A beautiful example for us.

Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Rembrandt

This feast is an ancient feast celebrated by Christian Churches of the east and west. It calls for a procession after blessing candles. Early in the 5th century, Christians in Jerusalem went in procession this day from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, symbolically accompanying the Child, Mary and Joseph to the Temple of God, carrying candles to light their way. 

When the feast was celebrated in Rome, the procession took place from the church of St. Simeon in the Roman forum to the church of St. Mary Major on the Esquiline Hill, the church where many early feasts of Mary found a home.