Author Archives: vhoagland

26th Week of the Year: Readings and Feasts

SEPTEMBER 26 Mon Weekday[StsCosmas and Damian, Martyrs] Jb 1:6-22/Lk9:46-50 

27 Tue Saint Vincent de Paul, Priest Memorial Jb 3:1-3, 11-17, 20-23/Lk 9:51-56 

28 Wed Weekday [Saint Wenceslaus, Martyr; Saint Lawrence Ruiz and Companions, Martyrs] Jb 9:1-12, 14-16/Lk 9:57-62 

29 Thu Sts Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels Feast

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

30 Fri Saint Jerome, Priest and Doctor Memorial Jb 38:1, 12-21; 40:3-5/Lk 10:13-16 (4

OCTOBER 1 Sat Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Virgin and Doctor of the Church

Memorial Jb 42:1-3, 5-6, 12-17/Lk 10:17-24 

2 SUN TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Hb 1:2-3; 2:2-4/2 Tm 1:6-8, 13-14/Lk 17:5-10 

The first readings for most of this week are taken from the Book of Job, the dramatic story of a just man facing the problem of evil. Job is not an historical figure, but he represents all humanity in his questions. Why does God permit evil?

Luke’s gospel this week prepares for Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem which is described in Luke 9:51-18:14. The journey ends in his Resurrection.

A number of important saints are remembered this week in our church calendar. The memorial of St. Therese, the Little Flower, follows that of St.Jerome, the great scripture scholar. Both are doctors of the church, but so unlike as persons. One approached the scriptures mainly as a scholar,  through the mind. Therese approached them through the heart. 

The Vincent de Paul, the founder of the Vincentian tradition, is remembered on Monday.

The Philippines celebrates St. Lawrence Ruiz and his companions on Wednesday. In our neigborhood, they will be celebrating on Sunday.

Saint Vincent Strambi, CP

Saint Vincent Strambi

Today the Passionists celebrate the feast of St. Vincent Strambi, CP (1745-1824). In his early years as a Passionist priest Strambi was a well known preacher, writer and spiritual director. He was a close associate of St. Paul of the Cross and wrote his biography after his death.

He was chosen to be bishop of Marcerata during tumultuous years in Italian history when Napoleon moved to take over Italy, the papacy and the Catholic Church. Strambi was an heroic supporter of the pope and fought for the freedom of the church.

To understand most saints you have to understand the times in which they lived. They’re antidotes for the poison of their time. Unfortunately historians pay little notice to the challenging times Vincent Strambi lived in.

In 1789, following the French Revolution, a Reign of Terror struck the church in France, religious orders were suppressed, priests and religious were imprisoned, exiled, put to death. Word of the terror quickly reached Italy and Rome; the defenseless Italian peninsula would be the next target for France’s fierce revolution.

Pope Pius VI asked for prayers that Rome be spared, and he called on Vincent Strambi, then one of the church’s best preachers, to prepare the people for a blow sure to come. In packed churches and piazzas in Rome Strambi promised that God would not abandon his people. The Roman people gained strength from his words.

In 1796 Napoleon Bonaparte turned to Italy, demanding heavy tribute from the Pope and the Papal States. The murder of the French General Duhot in Rome gave him the pretext for invading the city, deposing and imprisoning the pope and declaring the Papal States a Republic. 

Religious houses were suppressed, their goods systematically confiscated. Strambi, a well-known opposition figure, fled to Monte Argentario, a Passionist sanctuary on the Mediterranean Sea.

In 1799 Pius VI died in exile and was succeeded by Pius VII who, in 1801, appointed Strambi bishop of Macerata and Tolentino, two important cities in the Papal States along Italy’s Adriatic coast, poverty-stricken from years of political and military turmoil. 

The bishops of the Papal States were largely responsible for temporal as well as spiritual affairs and Bishop Strambi became a champion of the poor in his diocese. He lived sparingly himself, without signs of wealth or position. The poor were constantly on his mind. “Don’t you hear the cries of the poor?” he said one day to the treasurer of his seminary, looking out his window. 

The education of poor children interested him especially and he urged his priests to care for them. In sermons he constantly looked to the Passion of Jesus for wisdom in the struggles of the time.  His devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus was influenced, at least in part, from reflection on the bloodshed the Napoleonic Wars brought to millions in Europe. Almost 4 million died as warfare rose to a level never seen before. Their blood was precious to God.

On May 5, 1809, after occupying Rome and most of the Papal States. Napoleon declared the region under French control and the temporal power of the pope abrogated. On June 6, 1809 Pius VII placed notices on church doors throughout Rome excommunicating anyone cooperating with the French.  July 6, the French general Radet arrested the pope and brought him north to Savona.

Napoleon then demanded bishops sign an oath of loyalty to his new government. Refusal meant exile and imprisonment, signing was an act of disloyalty to the pope. 

“I am ready for prison and for death. I am with the pope,” Strambi declared. On September 28,1808 he left his diocese under guard for northern Italy where he remained for 5 years under house arrest.

After Napoleon’s defeat in 1814 the church’s exiled leaders returned. Bishop Strambi returned to his diocese in May, 1814;  immediately the pope asked him to come to Rome to preach a nine day “retreat of reconciliation” in late July and early August. Not all met the French invasion heroically.

In 1816 a typhoid epidemic followed invading armies. Food shortages and inflation spread through the bishop’s diocese. He opened hospitals for the dying and sought supplies for his suffering flock. 

Physically frail from birth, Bishop Strambi became increasingly ill and found it harder to manage his diocese. By 1814, the world too had changed. The Papal States had no bishops in the long chaotic period of the Napoleonic invasion and new forces demanding change came to power. Strambi recognized it was too much for him.

In 1823 he asked the new pope, Leo XII, to allow him to retire. The pope accepted his resignation on one condition, that he come and live with him as an advisor in the Quirinal Palace, then the pope’s residence in Rome. A local commentator said of the departing bishop: “ He was a man who lived a holy life, giving alms to all and content with only the necessary for himself. We are sorry to see him go, for we lose a good pastor. The cries of the poor are especially loud, for they lose one who cared for and sustained them.”

Vincent died in Rome on January 1, 1824, having offered his life to the Lord in place of that of the pope who was seriously ill. 

Pope Leo ordered the process for his canonization 8 days after his death. He was declared a Saint in 1950 and his relics now rest in Macerata, the city where he was a zealous pastor for twenty-two years.

St. Vincent Strambi’s room, Saints John and Paul Monastery, Rome

With the help of the Holy Spiirt, I on my part will do all I can that the living image of Jesus crucified be imprinted in the hearts of each of you. I do this gladly, not counting the cost. I consider myself fortunate to give my lifeblood so that Christ might be formed in you. I can say, like the apostle, that because of my love for you, I want to share with you “not only God’s message, but our very lives, so dear have you have become to us.”

I urge you, then, to look attentively on the Image of the Crucified, the bishop of your souls, on his throne of grace. In that way I shall fulfill my obligation to announce to you the death of the Lord, an obligation arising from my profession in the Congregation of the Holy Cross and Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. I shall do all I can to urge you all to fulfill your duty to love him who first loved us, who offered himself on the altar of the cross for us, who shed his blood for us. 

( Letter to the people of Marcerata on becoming their bishop)

Catechisms and Saintly Catechisms: Padre Pio

Where do catechisms come from? They’re recent instruments for forming people in their faith. Martin Luther was the first to compose a catechism in question and answers for ordinary people in the 15th century.

In response to Luther, the Dutch Jesuit Peter Canisius composed the first Catholic catechism in 1555 followed by three others afterwards. The Council of Trent directed a catechism be written as a resource for the clergy and that appeared in 1556. Robert Bellarmine later composed an important catechism requested by Pope Clement VIII and after that bishops from all over the world composed catechisms for their people. I can still recite questions and answers from the Baltimore Catechism of my youth.

Catechesis was done in earlier centuries without catechisms, through preaching, sacraments, the feasts and seasons of the year. The Second Vatican Council changed the language of the liturgy from latin to the language of the people and revised the liturgical prayers and rites so that they better serve as catechesis. Some today want to maintain the primacy of the catechism in catechesis but, while they’re still useful, we need to catechize more through the liturgy, sacraments, feasts and seasons. It’s a task of the Second Vatican Council remaining to be done. 

Today’s the feast of Padre Pio, the Italian Capuchin friar who’s one of the most popular saints of modern times. I would say he’s a saint who’s a catechism. He was a stigmatic, who carried the wounds of Christ in his body. Church officials were wary of him;  investigation after investigation questioned his credibility, but ordinary people recognized his holiness. To them he was a striking sign of God’s presence in an ordinary human being. Padre Pio taught that, not through a book, but through himself.

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. They were acknowledging what we all know: people are better catechisms than books. 

Padre Pio reminds us of that today.

Matthew, the tax collector


Jews  usually turned away as they passed the customs place where Matthew, the tax-collector, was sitting. But look at our gospel for today:

“As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.”

To celebrate their new friendship, Matthew invited Jesus to a banquet at his house with his friends – tax collectors like himself – and Jesus came with some of his disciples. They were criticized immediately for breaking one of Capernaum’s social codes. “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus’ answer was quick: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words `I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Hardly anything is known of Matthew’s part in Jesus’ later ministry, yet surely the tradition must be correct that says he recorded much of what Jesus said and did. Tax collectors were good at keeping books. Was Matthew’s task to keep memories? Did he remember some things that were especially related to his world?

The gospels say that wherever Jesus went he was welcomed by tax collectors. When he entered Jericho, Zachaeus, the chief tax collector of the city, climbed a tree to see him pass, since the crowds were so great. Did Matthew point out the man in the tree to Jesus, a tax collector like himself, who brought them all to his house, where Jesus left his blessing of salvation? And did tax collectors in other towns come to Jesus because they recognized one of their own among his companions?

Probably so. Jesus always looked kindly on outsiders like Matthew who were targets of suspicion and resentment. True, they belonged to a compromised profession tainted by greed, dishonesty and bribery. Their dealings were not always according to the fine line of right or wrong.

But they were children of God and, like lost sheep, Jesus would not let them be lost.

Pope Francis said he got his vocation to be a priest on the Feast of St. Matthew, when he went to confession and heard God’s call, a call of mercy.

Matthew’s Gospel?

The gospels themselves recall little about Matthew, an apostle of Jesus. We have his name, his occupation and a brief story of a banquet that took place with Jesus and some of his friends after his call.  ( Mt 9: 9-13; Mk 2:3-12; Lk5:18-26) As it is, the gospels concentrate on the ministry and teaching of Jesus. 

In the early centuries, those who knew Jesus told his story and brought his message to the world. As they died, writings about him gradually appeared, but there are only scarce references to who wrote them. St. Justin Martyr in the early 2nd century speaks of the “memoirs of the apostles”, without indicating any author by name. Later in that century, St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, writing against the Gnostics who claim a superior knowledge of Jesus Christ attributes the gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They are eyewitnesses who really know Jesus firsthand; they have given us their “memoirs.” 

Scholars today are less likely to credit Matthew’s Gospel to the tax-collector from Capernaum whom Jesus called. Some of his memoirs perhaps may be there– after all he came from a profession good at accounting for things. But too many indications point to other sources. Why would Matthew, if he is an eyewitness, depend on Mark’s Gospel as he does? Language, the structure of the gospel, the circumstances it addresses, point to a Jewish-Christian area beyond Palestine as its source, probably Antioch in Syria, probably written around the year 8o, after the Gospel of Mark.

Traditions says that Matthew preached in Ethiopia and Persia, but they have no historical basis.

He is remembered as a martyr who died for the faith, but again there is no historical basis. 

Better to see Matthew as the gospel sees him: one of the first outsiders whom Jesus called. And he would not be the last..

 God’s Word is Love Part 2 

                                                                                              By Orlando Hernández

     Our expression, “The Word of God” has so many meanings and dimensions. I think of it as the Power that created everything, which is the infinite Love that God is. We also think of Jesus, the Logos, as the Word of God. “All things came to be through Him, and without Him nothing came to be.” (Jn 1: 3) Prayer with Jesus is direct contact with the Word of God, specially at the Eucharist. We also read or listen to “The Word of God” in holy Scripture. I believe that our God speaks to us through the text. A passage can affect or instruct us in different ways at different times. Then, a preacher, a spiritual director, a child, a friend, a homeless person in the street, can suddenly speak to us with the Word of God.

     In the end, I see the “Word of God” as God’s intent to communicate, and even more, to commune with us. Why? Because our God loves us with a love that is immense, and wishes us to experience this love, to share it, and act on it.  Often the Word of God can seem beyond our understanding, as if it were an advanced, specialized, or foreign language. Yet we can still appreciate it, perceive the love, the invitation to intimacy with the Giver of Life, an invitation to the Glory and Joy that God is.

     The problem is that, for many of us, for different reasons throughout the day, our hearts are like hardened, cold soil, unreceptive to the seed of this Divine wooing that is constantly taking place, even in moments of pain and sorrow. Only through perseverance on our part, united to God’s perseverance can we perceive the “Zoe”, the life to the fullest, that God speaks into us through His Word. 

     Last time I wrote about the “Season of Creation” that is now going on in our Church, a united focus on the beauty of, and also the threat to our planet and everything on it. We pray to our Creator: 

    “In the Season of Creation, we pray that You will call to us, as from the burning bush, with the sustaining fire of your Spirit. Turn us from our inward gaze. Teach us to contemplate Your Creation, and listen for the voice of each creature declaring Your Glory. Give us hearts to listen, enlighten us with Your Grace, and fill us with the hope to quench the fires of injustice with the light of Your healing love that sustains our common home.”

     I pray that the Word of God be perceived in the beauty and wonder of nature, filling us with awe, love, and gratitude to our God. 

     I have never forgotten a story written by the Argentinian writer, Jorge Luis Borges, titled “The Handwriting of the God.” In it, an Inca priest or leader is imprisoned and starved by the Spaniards in a tiny dungeon. To torment him, his captors have put a jaguar right next to him, separated only by bars. The captive is waiting for the gods to rescue him by sending a holy message of power that will change everything. As he dies of hunger, he becomes fascinated by the designs and patterns of the jaguar’s fur, as they become more and more like mysterious words. In the end, the captive man understands “the handwriting of the god” and becomes free in the glory of a spiritual experience.

     “The handwriting of the god”, The Word of God, is all around us. We can see it in those blessed days when the wind on the leaves seems to whisper sacred messages into our ears, or when the roar of the waves speaks of might and greatness. The rocks seem to converse when the brook rolls over them. The song of birds, even the sound of our breathing reminds us of the mercy and love of our life-sustaining God. The “handwriting” can be read in the patterns of the waves and ripples, in the textures of different barks of trees, in the geometry of leaves and flowers, the plumage of birds, the patterns in a cat’s fur. 

     Last week, at the Children’s Zoo in the Bronx I suddenly fell into this ecstasy of wonder and gratitude as I saw the beautiful, small creatures all around, surrounded by the music of the voices of four and five-year olds, filled with a joy that eleven year-olds can no longer feel in a place like this. The bark of a tree caught my attention when suddenly from a hole in the trunk a small, furry, black-and-white monkey emerged and looked straight at me. It was eating a little morsel. Unthinkingly, I uttered, “What’s that orange thing it’s eating?” From behind me a little voice said, “Don’t you know? It’s a carrot.” I turned around and saw this beautiful four-year old cautiously smiling at me. I suddenly remembered that we, God’s children, are also part of this wonderful tapestry. We are part of the message, the Word of God, which is Love. We are beloved!

     Dear Readers, if you haven’t done it, just take a little time away from the computer, the phone, the TV, and spend some moments in a park, a garden, or a church.

 Experience the Word of God. Only this way can we find the love and the zeal to save our suffering planet, our humanity, our trust in God’s eternal plan of Love!

     If you want to know more about this observance of The Season of Creation, or about the Laudato Si movement, you can go to https://seasonofcreation.org/ –

Saints of Korea

The founders of churches throughout the world have an important place in our church calendar, because they did what Jesus commanded: “Go out to the whole world and preach the gospel, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 25 ) 

Church founders are apostles like Peter and Paul, founders of the church in Rome, (June 29), or monk-bishops like Boniface, founder of the church of the Germanic peoples, (June 5), Patrick, founder of the church in Ireland, (March 17) Ansgar, founder of the church in Scandanavia, (February 3),  Cyril and Methodius, founders of the church in the Slavic nations (February14).

The church in Korea, whose founding we celebrate today, can be traced back to the 17th century. Its foundation is special, as Pope John Paul II noted at the canonization of the Korean Martyrs, May 6, 1984:

“The Korean Church is unique because it was founded entirely by laypeople. This fledgling Church, so young and yet so strong in faith, withstood wave after wave of fierce persecution. Thus, in less than a century, it could boast of 10,000 martyrs. The death of these many martyrs became the leaven of the Church and led to today’s splendid flowering of the Church in Korea. Even today their undying spirit sustains the Christians of the Church of Silence in the north of this tragically divided land.” – Pope John Paul II at the canonization of the Korean Martyrs, May 6, 1984.

A priest, Andrew Kim Taegon and a layman Paul Chong Hasang, head the list of 103 martyrs canonized in 1984, but the early Korean church was from the first a church of laypeople. Decades before those celebrated today, it was without priests or bishops. All lay people, they kept faith alive at great cost and offered it to others. 

 By its nature, the Catholic Church draws from its member churches the gifts God has given them. The church is the body of Christ. May our churches today, old and new, be blessed with lay people like those who founded the church in Korea.

The Second Vatican Council, 60 years or so ago,  called for increasing the role of the laity in the Catholic Church. It seems to me that goal has still to be met, at least in my country. 

“Once again, Jesus sends lay people into every town and place where he will come (cf.Luke 10:1) so that they may show that they are co-workers in the various forms and modes of the one apostolate of the Church, which must be constantly adapted to the new needs of our times. Ever productive as they should be in the work of the Lord, they know that their labor in him is not in vain (cf.  1 Cor.15:58).”  (Decree on Laity, 33)

O God, who have been pleased to increase your adopted children in all the world, and who made the blood of the Martyrs Saint Andrew Kim Tae-gǒn and his companions a most fruitful seed of Christians, grant that we may be defended by their help and profit always from their example.Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.Amen.

The United Nations: Channeled Waters in God’s Hand

UN. General Assembly

The United Nation’s General Assembly begins this week in New York City. World leaders are arriving at the UN and already there’s talk that nothing good will come out it. It’s easy to blame leaders, and we do it all the time. Some are easy targets. Anyone governing a country or running for office today can expect withering scrutiny and criticism. Church leaders aren’t immune either.

“Like a stream is the king’s heart in the hand of the LORD;
wherever it pleases him, he directs it.” (Proverbs 21,1)

Interesting that our reading for Mass on Tuesday, the beginning of the UN meeting, should begin with this verse from the Book of Proverbs.” The stream is called “channeled water” in other versions and commentaries, a water for fertilizing arid land.  ” It takes great skill to direct water, whether water to fertilize fields or cosmic floods harnessed at creation, for water is powerful and seems to have a mind of its own. It also requires great skill to direct the heart of a king, for it is inscrutable and beyond ordinary human control.” (Commentary NAB)

So God is there directing the “channeled water” of the nations and their rulers, seemingly with a mind of their own, but in God’s firm hand.

St. Augustine in our liturgy recently had a sermon on the Good Shepherd in which he warns church leaders not to lead the sheep astray but to be like Jesus.  When they are like him they are “like the one Shepherd, and in that sense they are not many but one. When they feed the sheep it is Christ who is doing the feeding.”

Pray for good leaders for our church, Augustine continues:  “May it never happen that we truly lack good shepherds! May it never happen to us! May God’s loving kindness never fail to provide them!”

But the saint goes on . We must do something more than pray, we ourselves must be “good sheep,”  because “if there are good sheep then it follows there will be good shepherds, since a good sheep will naturally make a good shepherd.”

Is that something that applies to us as citizens of the world and of the United States? Are the leaders we blame mirrors of ourselves? Are we getting the leaders we deserve?  Add to a prayer for good leaders, then, a prayer for good citizens. God make us good citizens, and good leaders will come.

“A king’s heart is channeled water in the hand of the LORD;

God directs it where he pleases. (Proverbs 21,1)

25th Week of the Year: Readings and Feasts

SEPTEMBER 19 Mon Weekday [St Januarius,] Prv 3:27-34/Lk 8:16-18 

20 Tue Saints Andrew Kim Tae-gŏn, Priest, and Paul Chŏng Ha-sang, and Companions, Korean Martyrs Memorial Prv 21:1-6, 10-13/Lk 8:19-21 

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

22 Thu Weekday Eccl 1:2-11/Lk 9:7-9 

23 Fri Saint Pius of Pietrelcina, Priest Memorial Eccl 3:1-11/Lk 9:18-22 

24 Sat St.Vincent Strambi, Passionist Eccl 11:9—12:8/Lk 9:43b-45 

25 SUN TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Am 6:1a, 4-7/1 Tm 6:11-16/Lk 16:19-31 

Leaders from all over the world meet for three days at the UN in New York this week from September 20-22. 

Readings from the Wisdom literature.  Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are read most weekdays. “The heart of the king is like channeled water in the hand of the Lord, He will direct it wherever he wills.” Good thing to remember as the UN meets this week.

Readings from Luke: Jesus prepares for his journey to Jerusalem was confirming his disciples in their mission. Luke 9-9.

 The Feast of the apostle Matthew is Wednesday.

The memorial of the Korean martyrs and the foundation of the church in Korea is recalled on Tuesday.

The popular Padre Pio is remembered on Friday.

The Passionists celebrate St. Vincent Strambi on September 24