Category Archives: Motivational

Church Leaders

Peter the Apostle, Cloisters, New York

Keep Peter and the rest of the apostles in mind when thinking about church leaders. In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles . Peter describes how he was called from Joppa to bring the gospel to Cornelius, the Roman centurion, and his household. Joppa, you recall, was the seaport where Jonah began his perilous journey into the gentile world.

In Joppa, the tired apostle goes to sleep on the roof of Simon the Tanner’s house overlooking the vast sea and had a disturbing vision. Instead of his usual  kosher food  a gentile banquet is poured out before him, and as a good Jew Peter pushes it away.  Three times the vision invites the puzzled apostle to eat before vanishing.

Then, messengers appear at the door from Cornelius, a gentile soldier stationed in Caesaria Maritima, the main Roman headquarters just up the coast, asking Peter to come and speak about “the things that had happened.” It’s a gentile banquet that Peter is invited to attend in his dream.

“As I began to speak,” Peter says of their meeting, ” the Holy Spirit fell upon them as it had upon us at the beginning.” It was a gentile Pentecost. He baptized the Roman soldier, his friends and his household. “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but every nation is acceptable to him,” 

Did Peter truly understand where his visit to Cornelius would lead? Was the simple fisherman, who spoke Aramaic with a Galilean accent, who felt the pull of home, family and fishing boats, ever comfortable in a gentile world? Later, he traveled to Antioch in Syria and then to Rome, where he was killed in the Neronian persecution in the 60’s. Was he ever as confident in a gentile world as he was in his own? Was he ever completely comfortable at a gentile banquet?

Portraits of Peter in Rome usually portray him as a church leader firmly in charge of the church, holding the keys of authority tightly in hand. Clearly, he is a rock.

I saw another image of Peter years ago in the Cloisters Museum in New York. He’s softer, reflective, more experienced, not completely sure of himself. There’s a consciousness of failure in his face. He seems to be listening humbly for the voice of the Shepherd, hoping to hear it and ever surprised by the unexpected coming of the Holy Spirit.

Church leaders never fully understand the mysterious ship they’re called to steer. They have to listen for the Shepherd’s voice and look for signs of the Spirit.

Life Comes from His Wounds

ICON

The Passionists celebrate the Feast of the Glorious Wounds of Jesus on Friday of the second week of Easter. The four gospels tell the great story of the passion of Jesus, each in its own way. More than the others, John’s gospel points to his wounds, unlikely signs revealing the mystery of the Word made flesh.

On Calvary  a small symbolic group stands beneath the cross of “the King of the Jews”– Mary, the mother of Jesus, the disciple whom he loved, and a few others. A gentile soldier joins them.

This group represents the “new Jerusalem,” “the inhabitants of Jerusalem who look on the one whom they have pierced…and mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child.” (Zechariah 11, 10 )

They receive a precious gift. “It is finished!” Jesus declares, and bowing his head, he pours out his spirit on them. A Roman soldier thrusts a spear into Jesus’ side. “Immediately blood and water flowed out.” (John 19, 34)

Blood, a sign of his life, flows on those standing beneath his cross. Water, signifying the Spirit within him, is poured out on the world they represent. Far from ending his life, his death is the moment Jesus shares his life.“This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ.” (I John 5,6)

Artists afterwards picture the wounds of Christ as cosmic signs. They place the grave of Adam beneath the cross — generations wait for the new life Jesus brings. Creation, symbolized by the sun and moon, looks on expectantly, for Calvary is where creation too is redeemed. Angels collect the blood and water from Jesus’ wounds in cups representing the mystery of the Eucharist. All days are found in this one day. On Calvary, the glory of the Lord is revealed in his wounds.

St. Paul of the Cross in his letters often wished the one to whom he’s writing to be placed in the “wounds of Christ” or the “holy Side of Jesus” or his “Sacred Heart.”  “I am in a hurry and leave you in the holy Side of Jesus, where I ask rich blessings for you.”

These expressions may seem pious phrases until we read the story of Thomas from John’s gospel. Jesus shows the doubting disciple the wounds in his hands and side, and Thomas believes.

Belief is not something we come to by ourselves. God gives this gift through Jesus Christ. We all stand beneath the life-giving Cross of Jesus. May his life give new hope to us and our world.

Holy Thursday

For today’s homily, please play the video file below:

God of infinite compassion, to love you is to be made holy. Fill our hearts with your love. By the death of your Son you have given us hope, born of faith. By his rising again fulfill this hope in the perfect love of heaven where he lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.

Discovering Him

 I retired about fourteen years ago. My husband, Orlando and I had great plans for our retirement. We wanted to travel, to relax, to have fun! But that wasn’t to be. God had other plans for us! Orlando’s parents in Florida got very ill and we were needed there. We became snowbirds , 6 months here and 6 months in Florida. Around that same time Orlando and I baptized our fourth grandchild, Isabel in a church if Florida. The day of the baptism our son and his wife had a surprise for us. After the baptism we were able to renew our marriage vows in front of our Lord Jesus Christ. For us that was very special because we had not gotten married in the church, we had been married about 25 years but at the court. It didn’t matter to us back then. We had spent over 40 years without God, at that time a church wedding hadn’t been important to us. Neither one of us had come from a religious family. When the priest started blessing us and our rings something happened to us in that ceremony. We were crying and laughing both at the same time. Grace was being poured on us from above!

    After that experience Orlando started convincing me to go to church on Sundays. He had been caught by the fever! Jesus had gotten his hands on him. Not so for me! Going to mass was a burden. Many times I would leave the church worse than how I had gone in. It was boring and ritualistic. But yet I wanted to make Orlando happy, so I would go. For some reason around that time I started having the urge to get married in front of God. I loved Orlando so much that I felt that maybe this would make our marriage even stronger.

    I had never been confirmed. My parents weren’t very religious. In Cuba, where I come from, I got baptized and had my First Communion but after that church did not come back into my life. Here in the U. S. life was hard. We were refugees . The Catholic Church was a great help but it didn’t inspire us to go back to it.

Well you can see what my problem was. I tried to marry Orlando in the Catholic Church but then I found out I needed to be confirmed. Was it worth it? Did I really need to marry Orlando in front of God? How was I going to work it out? I was here in NY for 6 months and in Florida the next 6 months. How would it work out with RCIA? You know now I realize that God had a plan for us as a married couple. Things worked out between our local parish here, American Martyrs Church in Bayside. NY,  and the local church in Hallandale Beach, FL where we were renting.

     In 2011 I was finishing my RCIA in St Matthew’s Church in Florida. We were told there was going to be a four day Mission at the church. We weren’t sure what that was but yet we were intrigued by what it might be. The first day we were there a priest all dressed in black with a giant heart on the left side of his chest, a giant rosary hanging from this thick belt, and a giant crucifix in his hand came to the pulpit and introduced himself, ” I am Fr. Vincent Youngberg and I am an alcoholic. ” That was a great way to start! He was a sinner just like me! During the next few days with his story and his preaching he slowly brought me closer to understanding why I was doing what I was doing. He led me to believe that Jesus, that God, wanted a relationship with me. He helped me to believe that he did exist!

The last day of the Mission Fr Vincent led us in a meditation. He said:

    “Everyone please close your eyes. Now imagine yourself sitting on the sand. You’re watching the ocean, relaxing under the warm sun. From the corner of your eye you notice a person walking towards you. You can’t see him well yet, but he looks like he might be walking straight for you. He is getting closer and closer and your heart is beating faster and faster because you can’t believe your eyes. Suddenly you realize that the person you saw in the distance that now is so close to you is no other than our Lord Jesus Christ. He comes close to you extends his hand towards you and gets you to stand up…..”

    Fr. Vincent continued but I was no longer listening. I was face to face with Jesus! I couldn’t believe what was happening to me. I was crying and laughing. I couldn’t find words to say, but I didn’t have to. He took me in his arms and said, ” Berta, you have no idea how much I love you. I have been wanting you to open the door to me for a long time. I am so happy that you are in my arms now. I will never let you go!” I had melted into his body. The hug he was giving me was delicious! Life was perfect. But then I became aware of Fr. Youngberg’s voice again bringing us back. I didn’t want to leave my Jesus, now that I had met him. But it was time and we had to part. I was back in the church crying like a little girl. They weren’t tears of sadness,no , they were tears of joy! Now I understood! I had been looking for him all my life, but didn’t know it. I knew for many years that there was something missing in my life and on that beautiful Lenten day I found it . God put Fr. Vincent Youngberg in my path. He was the one that led me through the whole process. My husband, my son and his wife, Isabel my granddaughter, the RCIA teachers and volunteers, the priests with their homilies, the new friends I had met in church, they all had a hand in leading me to meet Him!It was all designed by Him!

    In 2011 I became confirmed  during the Easter Vigil at American Martyrs Church. That summer Orlando and I convalidated our marriage on August 7, 2011 in front of our dear God, our family and our friends. In September 2011 I had my first retreat at Bishop Molloy Retreat House in Jamaica, Queens. I had found out that Fr. Vincent was a Passionist priest and his order had a Monastery and a Retreat House 15 minutes from my house! Orlando and I felt the need to go to the Holy Land and in November 2011 we joined a group from Texas and ended up with a Franciscan guide and our beautiful Lord Jesus leading us !

    All I can say about my new life is ” Thank You Jesus for your Love, and the blessings and grace you have brought into our lives! ” “Thank you for the beautiful Passionist priests that are now our friends, thank uou for the prayer group we are part of, thank you for my new friends, thank you for knowing that I am never alone! I love you my Triune God, without you I am nothing!!!!!”

Berta Hernandez

Feasts for Tired Believers

Central Italy, 1800s

The Passionists celebrate two feasts immediately before Ash Wednesday. The Solemn Commemoration of the Passion of Jesus Christ on the Friday before Ash Wednesday. The Prayer of Jesus in the Garden on Tuesday before that day.

I think both feasts are inspired by our missionary founder, St. Paul of the Cross, (1694-1775) who spent many years announcing the graces of lent in the villages and towns of the Tuscan Maremma in Italy..

It was a challenge. The Tuscan Maremma was then a place where graces seemed gone. An area in Central Italy facing the Mediterranean Sea, almost 2,000 square miles– roughly the size of Long Island and New York City together– it was the poorest, most troubled part of Italy in Paul’s day. Only gradually, towards the end of the 1700s, after his death, did it begin inching towards recovery.

St.PaulCross.017

Now Tuscanny is a popular tourist destination. Then it was an unhealthily mix of hills and swamplands. Malaria was widespread, roads often impassible, dangerous because of bandits. Farmlands were abandoned; beggars everywhere. The people in isolated villages and hill towns suspected outsiders.

Paul and his companions preached there for many years. Every year it was the same; it never seemed to change. You need other eyes and another kind of heart to work in a world like that and not get tired.

And so I think as they packed their bags for their lenten journey into the Tuscan Maremma they had to remind themselves what was there before them: the mystery of the Passion of Christ. They needed to pray so they wouldn’t forget. That’s what Jesus did before the mystery of his Passion.

It’s still so today, isn’t it?,. These two feasts are for tired believers, as well as missionaries, who face the world where things don’t seem to change. We need another way of seeing things and another kind of heart to journey on..

If you want to pray these feasts with the Passionists, go here.

 The Touch of Love: Mark 8:22-26

In this Wednesday’s Gospel (Mk 8: 22-26), Jesus heals a blind man at the town of Bethsaida. This healing does not happen right away:

        ” People brought to Him a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. Putting spittle on his eyes He laid His hands  on the man and asked, ‘ Do you see anything?’ Looking up the man replied, ‘ I see people looking like trees and walking.’ Then He laid hands on the man’s eyes a second time and he saw clearly; his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly.”

    This passage has been interpreted as an example of how the healing that comes from God happens gradually, in steps. We must be trusting and patient.

     In line with this, I see in this Gospel the invitation of Love toward my conversion. I was blind to the marvelous reality of a loving God in my life. By example and prayer, good people ( like my son Frank) brought me to Him. He took me by the hand and led me outside of my sphere (my village) to the intimate place where only He and I interact. He touched me. He questioned me (“Do you believe?”). He enabled me to see, at least a little bit, as if in a “mirror dimly” ( 1 Cor 13:6). He touches me again and again so that I can see Him and ” see everything distinctly”. In a sense I am no longer blind. I can begin to, in the words of Walter Burghardt, take “a long loving look at the real”.

    And so this passage also reminds me of His wonderful gift of prayer. He takes me by the hand to the isolated place “the private room” , and many times I cannot see Him in this darkness. Then He works His miracle and opens the eyes of my soul to His presence.

    Like Mary Magdalene, I cry within the dark, stony, tomb of my distress, my guilt, my doubt, loneliness and despair. Suddenly He calls to me: ” Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?”. I look out into the blinding light. I can barely see the hazy human silhouette standing there outside. I cannot recognize Him. Then He calls me by name. I realize this is the Friend who has by now healed me, accompanied me, taught and loved me for so long. In some strange, deep, indescribable way I can see Him! He is my Lord and my God!

   Thank You, Jesus, my Beloved.

       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.

St. John Bosco, January 31


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Numbers are Down

Numbers seem to indicate power and popularity. I think Jesus’ disciples thought that about numbers too. In Mark’s gospel, which we’re reading at Mass these days, Jesus begins his ministry in Capernaum before an enthusiastic crowd. At the end of his first day, the whole town gathers at the door of Peter’s house and word reaches out to other towns and places that a prophet has come. The numbers go up. (Mark 1, 21-34)

But then enthusiasm dies down as Jesus’ authority is questioned. His own hometown, Nazareth, takes a dim view of him; religious leaders from Jerusalem and the followers of Herod Antipas cast doubts about him. Gradually, Capernaum and the other towns that welcomed Jesus enthusiastically turn against him. His numbers go down.

His disciples must have wondered why. Why are the numbers going down? It didn’t make sense.

Jesus’ answer comes in today’s gospel. God‘s working in this world, the kingdom of God is coming, but human beings are mostly unaware of it:
“This is how it is with the Kingdom of God;
it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land
and would sleep and rise night and day
and the seed would sprout and grow,
he knows not how.
Of its own accord the land yields fruit,
first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once,
for the harvest has come.” (Mark 4, 28-34)

A greater power is at work in the scattered seed; but we know little about how it grows. The seed takes time, with its own law of growth; a great harvest will come, but still there’s mystery.

Meanwhile, we worry about numbers. Why are a growing number of Americans– giving up going to church or synagogue? Why are there so few vocations to our religious communities? So many of the good things in this world seem to be diminishing.

What can we do? Treasure the seed we have, scatter it as we can, look into the signs of the times. The Kingdom of God comes.