Author Archives: vhoagland

Wednesday, 3rd week of Lent

Lent 1

“Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19)

We often hear the Sermon on the Mount during the days of Lent. Let’s listen carefully to Jesus’ words on the mountain today. Before him, Moses brought God’s word to the Israelites from a high mountain. Now, Jesus teaches God’s word as Moses did. He does not abolish what the great patriarch taught; he brings it to fulfillment.

Sublime promises are made here, our God is gracious and near. But we are reminded that sublime things are reached by small steps. We must keep the “least commandments,” to enter the Kingdom of heaven. Lent is a time for remembering that small things like a cup of cold water, a visit to the sick, feeding someone hungry, clothing someone naked, speaking a “word to the weary to rouse them” are important commandments of God.

Yes, lent calls us to think great thoughts and embrace great visions of faith. But the law of God often comes down to small things, and the greatest in the kingdom of God are the best at seeing them.

“The most important things for you are: humility of heart, patience, meekness, charity toward all, and seeing in your neighbor an image of God and loving him in God and for God.” ( St. Paul of the Cross, Letter 1114)

What small step do you want me to take today, O Lord?
Help me see what’s right before me.
There’s a neighbor before me now,
made in your image.
What small gift can I give?

Tuesday, 3rd Week of Lent

Lent 1


In our lenten reading for today Peter’s question about forgiveness (“How many times must I forgive my brother?”) isn’t just his question. It’s a question we all ask.

Jesus answers that we should forgive as God forgives–beyond measure –and he offers a parable about two servants who owe money (a big reason people fight among themselves). The first of the servants owes his master five thousand talents, a huge sum. In an unexpected display of mercy, his master forgives the entire debt.

After being forgiven so much, however, that servant sends off to debtors prison another servant who owes him a few denarii, a mere pittance compared to his debt of ten thousand talents. He won’t forgive this small thing.

Now, isn’t the reason we don’t forgive others just as small? So many grievances and grudges people have against one another are based on small slights they receive, real or imagined. And the small slights never stop. They’re constant and they need constant forgiveness.

In this holy season, we look at God’s immeasurable forgiveness found in the passion and death of Jesus and learn from him. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Seeing God’s forgiveness, the saints say, helps us to forgive. He’s forgiven us so much. Shouldn’t we forgive too?

We need to keep the example of Jesus always in mind, especially the example he gave from the Cross. The founder of my community always  recommended that:
“Always bring to prayer some mystery of the life and passion of Jesus Christ. If then, the Holy Spirit draws you into deeper recollection, follow the breath of the Spirit, but always by means of the Passion. You will thus avoid all illusion.” ( St.Paul of the Cross, Letter 791)

How many times must I forgive today, Lord,
how many times must I be patient, kind, understanding,
willing to carry on even if no one sees or cares?
How many times did you?
Bless me with the graces of your passion and death.

Naaman and Two Mule Loads of Earth

Our first reading today from the Book of Kings about Naaman the Syrian is one of the stories that caused trouble for Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth. He questioned the faith of the people of Nazareth and they were angered enough to want to throw him off the cliff outside the town. 

Naaman’s story is filled with interesting lessons – the little Jewish slave girl who brings the great general with leprosy to Israel is a wonderful apostle, Israel’s king terrified about the political consequences of the visit is a good example of how a political viewpoint can blind you to everything else.

Naaman himself was angry because the prophet never came to the door when he appeared with his big military retinue, then he was told to go and wash seven times in the Jordan. The waters of the Jordan, which he didn’t think much of, cured him. God works in sacraments that appear so small. He brings new life in the waters of Baptism.

Our reading today, though,  omitted part of the story I like. Returning to the Prophet Elisha after he’s cured, Naaman wants to shower the prophet with gifts, but he won’t take any. “Naaman said: “If you will not accept, please let me, your servant, have two mule-loads of earth,* for your servant will no longer make burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the LORD.”

“Two mule-loads of earth.” The Empress Helena brought earth from the site of Calvary to the church of the Holy Cross in Rome in the 4th century when she brought relics of the cross to be honored there. The earth is still there.

We’ve placed rocks from many countries of the world in our Mary Garden at the foot of the statue of Mary and her Child. (Above)

Earth itself is holy. So simple it can be ignored. Yet all life depends on 6 inches of soil. Of all the memorabilia Naaman could have taken from Israel, he took two mule-loads of earth. He learned to appreciate the gifts of God that appear so small. He had it right.

Monday, 3rd Week of Lent

Lent 1


Luke’s Gospel begins the ministry of Jesus with his rejection in his hometown of Nazareth. Rejection is an important part of the mystery of his death and resurrection.  Jesus lived most of his life in Nazareth among “his own.” (Luke 4,24-30) Yet, as he begins his ministry he is rejected by ” his own”  in their synagogue, a rejection Jesus must have carried with him;  how could he forget it?

Crowds welcoming  him to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday call him “the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee,”  but not many from Nazareth accompanied him there.  Some women from Galilee, most importantly his mother Mary, stand by his cross as he dies. Still, Jesus didn’t find much acceptance in Nazareth.. “He came to his own and his own received him not.”

The Cross on Calvary draws attention to the physical sufferings of Jesus in his passion–the scourging, the thorns, the crucifixion. But let’s not forget his interior sufferings, especially rejection from “his own,” who knew him from the beginning. Only a few followed him to Jerusalem.

The lenten gospels tell us rejection doesn’t stop God’s mercy and love. On Calvary Jesus shows God’s love in his outstretched arms.

We share in the great mystery of his death and resurrection. We may never be nailed to a cross as he was, but there are other ways to bear a cross. Rejection by “our own,” perhaps someone close to us, may be one way we share in the sufferings of Jesus.

Lord, help me  face the slights the come from those close by, from my Nazareth, from “my own.” The mystery of your Cross is not played out on Calvary alone, It’s played out in places and people close by, where we live now. Give me the grace to live in my Nazareth as you did in yours.

Water for a New Garden

Here’s St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Instruction to Catechumens and his description of the Spirit as living water. Fire and wind are the forceful, powerful symbols that describe the Holy Spirit, but don’t forget water. It’s the symbol Jesus used when the met the Samaritan woman in today’s gospel: 

The water I shall give him will become in him a fountain of living water, welling up into eternal life. This is a new kind of water, a living, leaping water, welling up for those who are worthy. But why did Christ call the grace of the Spirit water? Because all things are dependent on water; plants and animals have their origin in water. Water comes down from heaven as rain, and although it is always the same in itself, it produces many different effects, one in the palm tree, another in the vine, and so on throughout the whole of creation. It does not come down, now as one thing, now as another, but while remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it.

  In the same way the Holy Spirit, whose nature is always the same, simple and indivisible, apportions grace to each one as he wills. Like a dry tree which puts forth shoots when watered, the soul bears the fruit of holiness when repentance has made it worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit. Although the Spirit never changes, the effects of his action, by the will of God and in the name of Christ, are both many and marvelous.

  The Spirit makes one a teacher of divine truth, inspires another to prophesy, gives another the power of casting out devils, enables another to interpret holy Scripture. The Spirit strengthens one person’s self-control, shows another how to help the poor, teaches another to fast and lead a life of asceticism, makes another oblivious to the needs of the body, trains another for martyrdom. His action is different in different people, but the Spirit himself is always the same. In each person, Scripture says, the Spirit reveals his presence in a particular way for the common good.

  The Spirit comes gently and makes himself known by his fragrance. He is not felt as a burden, for he is light, very light. Rays of light and knowledge stream before him as he approaches. The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend and protector to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, to console. The Spirit comes to enlighten the mind first of the one who receives him, and then, through him, the minds of others as well.”

Jesus promises the Samaritan woman the gift of living water. So, according to Cyril, the Holy Spirit is a fountain of living water bringing life to a new garden. At Pentecost the heavens opened as in the beginning. At Pentecost there’s an outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh, Peter says,  and a new kind of water is poured out on the earth:

“Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams.” Acts 2,17 Then, many came to be baptized. We’re welcoming new members to our church this Easter.

   Fire can go out, winds die down, but a fountain of living water keeps flowing, now, tomorrow, all through the years, until God’s work is complete in the garden of creation.

3rd Week of Lent: Readings and Feasts

 MARCH 13 Mon Lenten Weekday6 2 Kgs 5:1-15ab/Lk 4:24-30 

14 Tue Lenten Weekday Dn 3:25, 34-43/Mt 18:21-35 

15 Wed Lenten Weekday Dt 4:1, 5-9/Mt 5:17-19 

16 Thu Lenten Weekday Jer 7:23-28/Lk 11:14-23 

17 Fri Lenten Weekday [St Patrick, Bishop] Hos 14:2-10/Mk 12:28-34 

18 Sat Lenten Weekday

[St Cyril of Jerusalem, Bishop Doctor ] Hos 6:1-6/Lk 18:9-14 


1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a/Eph 5:8-14/Jn 9:1-41 or 9:1, 6-9, 13-17, 34-38

Last week’s weekday readings ended with the story of the Prodigal Son; this week’s end with the tax collector who prays in the temple and finds mercy. There are also readings from the Book of Hosea this week; he’s the prophet whose unbroken love for his unfaithful wife reminds us of God’s relationship with humanity. God wants us back.

The Sunday’s readings from cycle A, the Temptation of Jesus and his Transfiguration are basic catechetical teachings. The 3rd Sunday readings, from the Book of Exodus and John’s multi-leveled account of the meeting of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, prepare us to meet him in sacraments. 

The story of Naaman the Syrian general (Monday) is also a multi-leveled story. Naaman’s appreciation of the saving water of the Jordan recalls the mystery of baptism, celebrated in the Easter mysteries.

Naaman and the Samaritan woman, both interesting characters, remind us that sacraments are meant for complicated people who are drawn gradually into the mysterious reality of God’s grace.

Sacraments can be easily forgotten or unappreciated, simple signs as they are. They draw on the natural world, which can also be unappreciated, as we are learning today. 

Can a renewed appreciation of nature lead to a greater understanding of the sacraments? Can figures like the Samaritan woman and Naaman Can figures like the Samaritan woman and Naaman remind us that the sacraments are meant for people immersed in their own time and place?


For this week’s homily please watch the video below.

3rd Sunday of Lent a

When I was a boy, many years ago, I learned about my faith through the questions and answers of the catechism. “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.”

If I were to enter the Catholic Church today I would be given a copy of the Apostles’ Creed” which is a summary of our faith, and I would be asked to listen carefully to this reading from John, the meeting of Jesus with the Samaritan woman. It’s one of the great catechetical gospels we read in lent. 

John’s gospel says that Jesus set out from Judea, where John the Baptist was baptizing, for his native Galilee, and he that he “had” to pass through Samaria where he met a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. 

He “had” to meet this woman. So it’s not by chance that Jesus meets her.

“It was about noon, and Jesus, tired from the journey, was sitting by the well.” 

The Samaritan woman came for water. She comes alone at noon, not the usual morning or evening time, when women came in groups with their water jars.

And…she doesn’t hesitate at the sight of a man there, obviously a Jew, whom the Samaritans intensely disliked. She answers sarcastically when Jesus asks for a drink! 

“What! You a Jew, ask for a drink from a Samaritan woman?” She’s a strong woman.

But Jesus, tired as he is, keeps talking to her, about thirst and the living waters God provides, and gradually, as he talks, the woman recognizes he’s speaking about more than water in the well. He’s speaking about the fulfillment of all the dreams associated with this holy place. 

Jesus tells her something, however, she’d rather not hear: 

“You have had five husbands, the man you are living with now is not your husband.”

She must have heard this, less as an accusation than as the truth; she doesn’t turn away. 

She puts down her water jar and hurries to the town to tell her neighbors about the one she’s met. For two days Jesus stays in that town, the gospel says. The tired One who sat by Jacob’s well and talked to the woman is welcomed as a Savior.

Those entering the Catholic Church today are usually given a copy of the Apostles’ Creed, and the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman, from St. John’s gospel, is read. What should we take from this story?

The story reminds us of two important things. 

First, that God gives the gift of faith. We don’t bring ourselves to faith; it’s God’s gift.  And God keeps offering  this gift. Through faith God keeps helping us see who we are, our place in this world, and promises us what we can’t imagine.

Secondly, it reminds us that we receive faith like the Samaritan woman. We’re people of our own time and place, with our own opinions, prejudices and experiences of life. But whoever we are, God offers us the gift of faith. 

God continually engages us from our experiences, however complicated and disturbing they are.  

It’s important, too, to see that Jesus, weary as he is, keeps talking to the Samaritan woman. God keeps talking to her. 

Some think that our church can’t say anything meaningful to people today. It’s too old and tired, and our world is too complicated for its message.  Our gospel however seems to say an old and tired church should keep talking to the world today. Like the tired Jesus, it has something important to say.

Jesus at the well is an image of our loving, patient God. He’s also an image for our church.

Saturday, 2nd Week of Lent: the Prodigal Son

Rembrandt, Return of the Prodigal, Moscow

The story of the prodigal son is one of the longest in the gospel, but it’s also one of the most important. It’s not just about one boy who goes astray, of course, it’s about the whole human race– all of us– are the subject of this story.

“Give me what’s mine,” the son says boldly to his father. We all tend to say that. And the boy takes off for a faraway country, a permissive paradise that promises power and pleasure, in fact, it promises him everything;  he can do anything he wants.

But they’re empty promises, and so the boy who had so much ends up with nothing, in a pigsty feeding pigs, and they eat better than he does.

Then, he takes his first step back. He “comes to himself,” our story says; he realizes what he has done. “I have sinned.” 

How straightforward that reaction! Not blaming anybody else for the mess he is in: not his father, or the prostitutes he spent so much of his money on, or the society that fooled him. No, he takes responsibility. That “coming to himself” was the first gift of God’s mercy.

He doesn’t wallow in his disappointment and his sins and his failures and what they’ve brought him. They don’t trap him. He looks beyond them to the place where he belongs, his father’s house. It wont be an easy road, but he starts back home.

There he’s surprised by the welcome he receives. More than he ever expected. The father takes into his arms and calls for feast.

This is our story too. The story of God’s mercy. Let’s ask for the gift to know ourselves. Let ask for the gift to keep going to our father’s house. Let’s ask for the gift to know God’s embrace, God’s warm embrace. The embrace of his love.

Our first reading from the Prophet Micah reminds us that nations stray as well as individuals. Let’s not forget God’s mercy falls on the world as well as each person.  We pray for a world that can wander far from God.

How easily we leave your side,

Lord God,

for a place far away.

Send light into our darkness,

and open our eyes to our sins.

Unless you give us new hearts and strong spirits,

we cannot make the journey home,

to your welcoming arms and the music and the dancing.

Father of mercies and giver of all gifts,

guide us home

and lead us back to you.

The Sorrows of Mary

The Sorrowful Mother, El Greco

Jesus was born of Mary. She was his mother, and she also was his disciple when he began his mission. From the time the angel spoke to her in Nazareth, a sword pierced her heart. 

“How can this be?” Mary asked the angel who announced his birth. It would not be the last time she asked that question. Mary did not know what lay ahead. She could only trust, and trust is hard when you face the unknown as she did.

Tradition describes seven of Mary’s sorrows: The Prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:34-35) The Flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-21 The Loss of Jesus for Three Days (Luke 2:41-50) The Carrying of the Cross (John 19:17) The Crucifixion of Jesus (John 19:18-30) Jesus Taken Down from the Cross (John 19:39-40) The Burial of Jesus. (John 41-42)

“Your own soul a sword shall pierce, “ the old man Simeon told her in the Temple as he held her newborn Son in his arms. His prophecy was fulfilled in the events of Jesus’ birth. The poor stable he was born in was hardly something Mary would have wanted. Exile in Egypt, with the threats and deaths that took place, was hardly something she ever planned for. When Jesus at twelve years stayed behind in the temple after a Passover celebration, it was a sign of his future mission, but what would Mary, his mother, know of that? She only knew then what it meant to lose him.

And what was Nazareth like? The Jews who settled in the mountain villages of Galilee were strong believers that God’s kingdom would come as the prophets promised. How would it come? The mother of James and John – relatives of Jesus and Mary– believed it would come through a powerful revolution; they were willing to fight for it. Even before Jesus rose in the synagogue at Nazareth to proclaim his mission, Mary knew that would not to be his way. His rejections caused her sorrow.

Luke says that Mary, his mother “ kept all these things in her heart.“ (Luke 2:51) She remembered sorrows as well as joys.

The last four of Mary’s sorrows came when the sword of Jesus’ Passion pierced her heart. She followed her Son to Jerusalem with the others and was there when he was arrested and sentenced. She stood at the cross when he died; she took part in his burial in a garden tomb. 

Some of this information we have from the gospels, some from tradition. The Stations of the Cross presents Mary meeting her Son as he went to Calvary carrying his cross; she then held him in her arms as he was taken down from the Cross.

Tradition is a general word. The gospels rest on multiple sources.Is one of them, perhaps the most important source – Mary, who “kept these things in her heart.” How much of what we have in the gospels and from tradition are her memories?

Devotion to the Seven Sorrows, like the Stations of the Cross, is a meditational prayer. Words and pictures lead us to reflect and imagine the mystery of God found in Mary’s sorrows. They lead us on to the mystery of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus.

Friday, 2nd Week of Lent

Joseph’s story from the Book of Genesis–our first reading today– prepares for the story of Jesus. Joseph, his father’s favorite, was rejected by his jealous brothers and sold for twenty pieces of silver. Left for dead or to be enlaved, Joseph became a ruler in Egypt. Eventually, he saved his brothers and all their families from starvation.

Joseph, his father’s favorite, was rejected by his own brothers, a special kind of pain.Yet afterwards, merciful and forgiving, he embraced them and saved them.

In today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel, after being acclaimed by a large crowd welcoming “the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee” and spreading their cloaks and casting branches before him, Jesus is rejected by the chief priests and elders of the people.  (Matthew 21:1-18)  

You’re rejecting the Son of the Landowner, Jesus says in a parable directed to them. Their answer was death for the One proclaiming the coming of Kingdom of God.

Physical pain was not the only pain Jesus endured in his Passion, our readings indicate. Rejection by enemies, then by his own friends, was a large part of his sufferings. 

Is he rejected by us? As we follow the Passion of Jesus we’re not distant observers with no part in the story. “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” the spiritual asks. Yes, we were there, we share in the rejection but also the mercy and forgiveness Jesus showed.

Like the story of Joseph, the story of Jesus does not end in rejection and death. “The stone rejected by the builders will become the cornerstone.” Risen from the dead, Jesus promises forgiveness and life for all ages.

You went to Jerusalem, Lord, to announce a kingdom come, a promise of God fulfilled. a hope beyond any we could conceive. Teach us to keep the dream of your Kingdom alive even when we see it denied.

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Fridays in Lent are good days to follow Jesus in the Stations of the Cross, and ancient devotion. Here are some online resources:


Stations of the Cross; Text 

Stations of the Cross for Children:

Prayers :