Category Archives: spirituality

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.

Easter Saturday: We’re Slow, like the Apostles



Like the apostles we’re slow to understand the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The two disciples on the way to Emmaus are not the only ones slow to understand– we’re slow too.

Peter, who preaches to the crowds in Jerusalem at Pentecost, certainly was slow to understand. He speaks forcefully at Pentecost, forty days after the Passover when Jesus died and rose from the dead, but the days before he’s speechless. It took awhile for him and for the others who came up with Jesus from Galilee to learn and be enlightened about this great mystery..

Mark’s accounts of Jesus resurrection appearances, read on the  Saturday of Easter week, stresses the unbelief of his disciples. They were not easily persuaded.

For this reason, each year the Lord refreshes our faith in the resurrection, but it’s not done in a day. We need time to take it in, like the first followers of. Jesus, and for that we have an easter season of forty days. Just for starters.

The disciples are slow to understand the mission they’re to carry out because it’s God plan not theirs, a plan that outruns human understanding. A new age had come, the age of the Holy Spirit, and they didn’t understand it. The fiery winds of Pentecost had to move them to go beyond what they see, beyond Jerusalem and Galilee to the ends of the earth.

The Holy Spirit also moves us to a mission beyond our understanding. Luke says that in the Acts of the Apostles. “The mission is willed, initiated, impelled and guided by God through the Holy Spirit. God moves ahead of the other characters. At a human level, Luke shows how difficult it is for the church to keep up with God’s action, follow God’s initiative, understand the precedents being established.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles)

“You judge things as human beings do, not as God does,” Jesus says to Peter elsewhere in the gospel. We see things that way too.

Peter’s slowness to follow God’s plan remained even after Jesus is raised from the dead. He doesn’t see why he must go to Caesaria Maritima to baptize the gentile Cornelius and his household. (Acts 10,1-49) It’s completely unexpected. Only gradually does he embrace a mission to the gentiles and its implications. The other disciples are like him; God’s plan unfolds but they are hardly aware of it.

One thing they all learned quickly, though, as is evident in the Acts of the Apostles. Like Jesus, they experience the mystery of his cross, and in that experience they find wisdom.

April 18-24 : the Easter Season:The Long Day

www.usccb.org   (Readings for the Easter Season)

Weekday Readings for Easter Week

Monday: Acts 2:14; Matthew 28,8-15
Tuesday: Acts 2, 36-41; John 20,11-18
Wednesday: Acts 3,1-19; Luke 24, 13-35
Thursday: Acts 3,11-36 Luke 24, 35-48
Friday Acts 4,1-12 John 21,1-14
Saturday Acts 4, 13-21 Mark 16,9-15

The gospel readings this week recall the Easter appearances of Jesus to his disciples. The Acts of the Apostles, the continuation of St. Luke’s Gospel and an important reading in the Easter season,  describes how the first witnesses guided by the Holy Spirit, gave testimony and were received.  Luke describes the beginnings of our church and also offers an insight into our church  today.

The gospels for the Octave of Easter describe the appearances of Jesus to the first witnesses, Mary Magdalene, Peter and John, the Emmaus disciples, the women at the tomb, Thomas, and the disciples from Galilee who came up with him to Jerusalem.

In our readings from Acts on Monday, the witnesses begin to speak. Peter is the first. Just as it was with Jesus, his words are accompanied by a sign from God. The crippled man, a temple regular whom everyone knows, is cured by Peter and John as they come to the temple to pray. He becomes one of those who follow Peter and listen to him. He will be a sign that’s contradicted. The temple leaders refuse to credit him as a sign. (Acts, Wednesday to Friday)

From its beginnings in Jerusalem the church gradually spreads into the Roman world, incorporating gentiles, non-Jews, and eventually reaching Rome itself. Believers in the Risen Christ who give their testimony and signs that accompany their witness cause its growth.  

Morning and Evening Prayers here. Week I, Sunday readings all week.

Children’s Prayers here.

 

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

 

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.

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.