Category Archives: spirituality

Our Lady of Sorrows: September 15

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The Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows is celebrated the day after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14). It’s also eight days after Mary’s birth (September 7). So this feast, we should remember, recalls Mary’s sorrows, her lifelong sorrows. 

When Jesus was born, the old man Simeon  told Mary a sword would pierce her heart. Today’s readings and prayers recall her final experience of that sword, when she stood beneath the Cross of her Son. But Mary experienced sorrow all her life. She is Our Lady of Sorrows. An earlier feast, the Seven Sorrows of Mary, made her lifelong sorrows more explicit.   

What were Mary’s lifelong sorrows? She was a human being and a believer. She experienced what all human beings experience- we’re contingent beings. An infant cries as it enters this world. “Our life is over like a sigh. Our span is seventy years, or eighty for those who are strong. And most of these are emptiness and pain.” (Psalm 90) You hear that complaint often in the psalms. It’s a human complaint.

Faith doesn’t inoculate us against sorrow. We don’t see clearly the promises of God. Mary, like every believer, experienced the sorrow that comes from not knowing. Her life, like ours, was not immune to sorrow.

The sword of sorrow struck Mary most deeply at the death of her Son. Mark’s gospel describes some onlookers at Jesus’ crucifixion: There were also women looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joses, and Salome.” They were looking on from a distance, not emotionally distanced. They were deeply engaged in the sorrow before them.  (Mark 15, 40-41) 

John’s gospel brings some of the women closer.  Mary, the Mother of Jesus stands at the cross itself. “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”

Mary stands by the Cross of Jesus, close by, not at a distance. She’s not absorbed in her own suffering, not afraid to see. Her standing by the Cross is significant. She enters the mystery of her Son’s suffering through compassion. 

She stood by him. Compassion doesn’t experience another’s suffering exactly, and it may not lead to taking another’s suffering away. Compassion enters suffering to break the isolation suffering causes. It helps someone bear their burden.  The sword, the spear, the sorrow, pierces both hearts, in different ways.

Our prayer for today’s feast says that when her Son “was lifted high on the Cross” his mother stood by and shared his suffering. “Grant that your Church, participating with the Virgin Mary in the Passion of Christ, may merit a share in his Resurrection.

Where is the Passion of Lord? It’s in the human lives of each one of us. It’s in the poor. It’s in the earth we’re destroying. Sometimes we can do something to relieve that suffering. Like Mary, we’re always called to stand close by as she did, and see. 

For a commentary on John’s Gospel see here.

For a study on Mary on Calvary see here.

For readings for the feast and the Stabat Mater see here.

The Triumph of the Cross: September 14

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Pilgims enteing the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

This ancient ecumenical feast,  celebrated by Christian churches throughout the world, commemorates the dedication of a great church in Jerusalem at the place where Jesus died and rose again. Called the Anastasis ( Resurrection) or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, it was built by the Emperor Constantine and was dedicated on September 13, 325 AD, It’s one of Christianity’s holiest places.

Liturgies celebrated in this church, especially its Holy Week liturgy, influenced churches throughout the world. Devotional practices like the Stations of the Cross grew up around this church. Christian pilgrims brought relics and memories from here to every part of the world. Christian mystics were drawn to this church and this feast.

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Tomb of Jesus

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Calvary

Pilgrims still visit the church and the tomb of Jesus, recently renovated , after sixteen centuries of wars, earthquakes, fires and natural disasters. They venerate the rock of Calvary where Jesus died on a cross. The building today is smaller and shabbier than the resplendent church Constantine built, because the original structure was largely destroyed in the 1009 by the mad Moslem caliph al-Hakim. Half of the church was hastily rebuilt by the Crusaders; the present building still bears the scars of time.

Scars of a divided Christendom can also be seen here. Various Christian groups, representing churches of the east and the west, claim age-old rights and warily guard their separate responsibilities. One understands here why Jesus prayed that ” All may be one.”

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Egyptian Coptic Christians

Seventeenth century Enlightenment scholars  expressed doubts about the authenticity of Jesus’ tomb and the place where he died, Calvary. Is this really it? Alternative spots were proposed, but scientific opinion today favors this site as the place where Jesus suffered, died and was buried.

For more on its history, see here.

And a video here.

Readings for the Triumph of the Cross

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“Do not forget the works of the Lord!” (Psalm 78, Responsorial Psalm) We remember his great works here. How can we forget them.

St. Teresa Benedicta and St. Maximilian Kolbe

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Teresa Benedicta

A number of martyrs are remembered in our liturgy in mid-August. August 9, we remembered Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein, who died in the concentration camp at Auschwitz on today in 1942.

August 10th, we remembered Lawrence the Deacon, one of the most important martyrs of the early church.

August 14 we remember Maximillian Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan priest, who also died in Auschwitz about a year before Edith Stein, August 14, 1941.

Peter Brown, an historian of early Christianity, says it wasn’t the bravery of Christian martyrs that impressed the Romans. The Romans were a macho people; war was in their blood. They prided themselves on dying bravely.

What the Romans marveled at was how Christian martyrs approached death. They saw something beyond death. They considered themselves citizens of another world, who followed Jesus Christ in how they lived. They believed in his promise of everlasting life.

Lawrence the deacon, for example, could have escaped Roman persecution, but he wouldn’t abandon the poor of Rome in his care. Jesus said take care of the poor.

Centuries later, Maximillian Kolbe was a priest who wouldn’t abandon the vocation God gave him.

Before World War II, Kolbe was active as a Franciscan priest, promoting devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. He ran a large, successful Franciscan printing enterprise in Warsaw.

In 1939, after invading Poland, the Nazi arrested him and a number of other Franciscans and imprisoned them for some months. They ransacked their printing place, probably hoping to intimidate them. Then, they left them go.

Instead of being intimidated, Kolbe began to house refugees from the Nazis, some of them Jews. That got him into trouble, so he was arrested again, on February 14th, 1941, and sent to Auschwitz to do hard labor.

Concentration camps like Auschwitz where Maximillian Kolbe and Sr.Teresa Benedicta died are the nearest thing to Calvary in modern times. More than 1500 of them were spread mostly through German occupied territories in Europe. Twenty million people died in the camps in the Second World War, 6 million were Jews. 1.3 million people went to Auschwitz; 1,1 million died there.

Five months after Kolbe entered Auschwitz, in July 1941, a prisoner from his barracks escaped. In reprisal, the Nazis took 10 men from the barracks to put them to death by starvation. One of them cried out that he had a wife and children who would never see him again. Father Kolbe stepped forward and offered to take the man’s place.

He was the last of the ten men to die of starvation and an injection of carbolic acid two weeks later, on August 14, 1941.

Many stories of Kolbe’s ministry among the prisoners in Auschwitz were told after his death when Auschwitz was liberated. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 19, 1983, who called him “Patron Saint of Our Difficult Age.”

He was a sign of God’s love in a place where God seemed absent.

Maximillian Kolbe’s death on the vigil of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven has been seen as a further sign. God’s hand reached into the dark horror of Calvary to save his Son. God reached out to Mary to bring her, body and soul, to heaven. God reached into Auschwitz and other camps of horror to bring suffering human beings to glory and peace.

Ezechiel, for those over Thirty

We‘re reading the Prophet Ezekiel at Mass these days. Early Jewish scholars considered him hard to read; only those over 30 should read him, some said. We have the same difficultly. The lectionary for today, Friday in the 19th week of the year, offers a gruesome story of infanticide. A infant girl is thrown out to die. Not a pretty story to look at.

It’s a story harsh to hear and hard to understand. Infanticide, a form of abortion. child abuse, gender discrimination, prostitution, ingratitude, forgetfulness of God. Ezechiel describes his own society in dark terms. Yet, all the while God is there. We’re offered a shorter version in our lectionary to spare us from the ugly details.

But don’t miss God’s intervention:

“You became mine, says the Lord GOD.Then I bathed you with water, washed away your blood, and anointed you with oil. I clothed you with an embroidered gown, put sandals of fine leather on your feet; I gave you a fine linen sash and silk robes to wear. I adorned you with jewelry… You were exceedingly beautiful, with the dignity of a queen.”

“But you were captivated by your own beauty,
you used your renown to make yourself a harlot,
and you lavished your harlotry on every passer-by,
whose own you became.”

“Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were a girl,
and I will set up an everlasting covenant with you,
that you may remember and be covered with confusion,
and that you may be utterly silenced for shame
when I pardon you for all you have done, says the Lord GOD.”
{Ezechiel 16, 1-69)

Ezeckiel’ story of the abandoned girl is a story of sin and redemption. All the while God is there.

Look at the hard times, don’t ignore or hide from them, but see them with the eyes of God, the prophet says. “Thus says the Lord GOD,” I swear I am coming… I will claim my sheep…I will save my sheep…I myself will look after and tend my sheep.” (Ezekiel 34,1-11)

Good words for us today?

St. Justin, Philosopher and Martyr (c.100-165 AD)

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Justin Martyr

We need Christians today like St. Justin, the 2nd century philosopher we remember June 1. “We need to make our teaching known,” he said. Still true today.

In Justin’s time, philosophers were the mentors and teachers of Roman society and were welcomed in the forum and private homes of the Roman world. St. Paul addressed them in Athens with limited success.

Born in Nablus in Palestine of Greek parents, Justin studied all the philosophers of his time in Alexandria, Athens and Ephesus. It may have been in Ephesus around the year 130 that he encountered Christianity when, walking along the seashore, he met an old man who told him the human heart could never be satisfied by Plato for “the prophets alone announced the truth.”

“After telling me these and other things…he went away and I never saw him again, but a flame kindled in my soul, filling me with love for the prophets and the friends of Christ. I thought about his words and became a philosopher..” (Dialogue 8)

Justin was influenced, not only by Christian teaching, but also by the example of Christians he met:

“I liked Plato’s teaching at first and enjoyed hearing evil spoken about Christians, but then I saw they had no fear of death or other things that horrify, and I realized they were not vicious or pleasure-loving at all.” (Apology 2,12)

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Ruins of the Roman Forum

s a philosopher Justin championed the cause of Christians who were increasingly being attacked by society. Donning a philosopher’s cloak he taught and wrote in Rome about the year 150 AD. He was a new kind of Christian, a Christian philosopher engaging Roman society on its own terms. He gave Christianity a Roman face and voice.

Justin defended Christians against the charge they were atheists and enemies of the Roman state. Christians were good citizens, he wrote, who pray for Rome, though they don’t worship in temples, who had no statues of gods or who did not participate in the religious rites of the state.  Justin’s writings give us a unique picture of 2nd century Christianity and early Christian worship.

In his “Dialogue with Trypho, the Jew” Justin offered the traditional Christian defense of Christianity to a Jewish antagonist. The Jewish prophets predicted the coming, the death and resurrection of Jesus, Justin argues.

In the documents of Vatican ii, Justin is recognized as an early example of Christian ecumenism. (Evangelium Nuntiandi 53) Through the Word of God all things came to be, he said.  The Word became flesh in Jesus Christ, but Justin linked the biblical Word to the Logos of the philosophers. “Seeds of the Word” were scattered throughout the world, Justin claimed. Every human being possesses in his mind a seed of the Word, and so besides the prophets of the Old Testament, pagan philosophers like Heraclitus, Socrates and Musonius lead us to Jesus Christ, Justin said. (Apology 1,46)

A prolific writer and teacher, Justin was an early Christian intellectual using his talents to promote his faith, Unfortunately only three of his writings come down to us. Other Christian intellectuals followed him, using the tools of philosophy to dialogue with the Greco-Roman world.

Finally, rivals in Rome pressed charges against Justin as an enemy of the state and he was  brought before a Roman judge along with six companions. Sentenced to death, they were beheaded probably in the year 165 AD. The official court record of their trial  still survives.

Sustainable Development Goals


We are living in a time of wars and climate change. Can we do anything? Let’s not be afraid of big ideas. Why not think big?

In September 2015 world leaders at the United Nations agreed to work for 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The goals aim to “eliminate poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change, while ensuring no one is left behind. They recognize that ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that build economic growth and address a range of social needs including education, health, social protection, and job opportunities, while also tackling climate change and environmental protection.” https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/development-agenda/

Cities have become an important focus for Sustainable Development, because today more than half the world’s population lives in cities and that number is expected to reach two-thirds by the year 2060. In cities “the battle for sustainability will be won or lost,” one UN expert remarked. https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2018/07/un-forum-spotlights-cities-struggle-sustainability-will-won-lost/

The 11th goal of Sustainable Development is “making cities safe, inclusive, resilient and sustainable by 2030. Sustainability differs from city to city, but quality of life means among other things, adequate housing, work and employment, clean water and air, access to public transportation.

Mayors throughout the United States have recognized the important role that cities can play in achieving the SDGs. In 2018, New York City was the first city to issue a report on its progress towards sustainability. https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/international/downloads/pdf/NYC_VLR_2018_FINAL.pdf

Governments, civil society and the private sector are all called upon to contribute to the realization of these goals. https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2016/05/mobilizing-citizens-of-the-world-to-achieve-the-2030-agenda/

At a time when countries are building walls and thinking only of themselves, why not think big? What can we do? Our church, at least here in the US doesn’t seem active enough.

Life Comes from His Wounds

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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.