Category Archives: spirituality

The Maccabees: Restoring the Temple

This week’s Mass readings from the 1st Book of Maccabees tell the story of the re-dedication of the temple of Jerusalem three years after its profanation  by Antiochus Epiphanes.  About the year 167 BC,  Jews under Judas Maccabeus re-conquered Jerusalem and restored the temple, the heart of their religion.

The first reading on Friday describes the rededication of the temple to its former glory. The Jews continue to celebrate it in the feast of Hannukah. (1 Maccabees 4,36-61}

The New Testament writers, certainly aware of this historic event, recall Jesus cleansing the temple.(Friday’s gospel) Entering Jerusalem after his journey from Galilee, “ Jesus went into the temple area and proceeded to drive out those who were selling things, saying to them, ‘It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.’” Then, “every day he was teaching in the temple area” until he was arrested and put to death. (Luke 19,45-48)

Cleansing the temple was a symbolic act. By it,  Jesus signified  he is the presence of God, the Word made flesh, the new temple of God.

Luke says Jesus taught in the temple “every day.” As our eternal high priest, he teaches us every day and brings us every day to his Father and our Father.

Jesus is the temple that cannot be destroyed. At his trial before he died, witnesses gave testimony that was half right when they said he spoke of destroying the temple. When he spoke about the destruction of the temple, Jesus was speaking of the temple of his own body. Death seemed to destroy him, but he was raised up on the third day.

We share in this mystery as “members of his body.” Yet, we’re a sacramental people and need places to come together, to pray and to meet God who “dwells among us.” We need churches and holy places. We instinctively revolt when we see them go, or are not frequented.

Old stories carry lessons.

Mother Cabrini

Mulberry Street, New York City, ca.1900

From 1880 to 1920 more than 4 million Italian immigrants came to the United States, mostly from rural southern Italy. Many were poor peasants escaping the chaotic political situation and widespread poverty of a recently united Italian peninsula.

Almost all the new immigrants came through Ellis Island; many settled in the crowded tenements of the New York region, where men found work in the subways, canals and buildings of the growing city. The women often worked in the sweatshops that multiplied in New York at the time. Almost half of the 146 workers killed as fire consumed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911, were Italian women.

Over time, the immigrants moved elsewhere and became prominent in  American society, but at first large numbers suffered from the over-crowding, harsh conditions, discrimination and cultural shock they met in cities like New York. Many returned to Italy with stories of the contradictions and injustices lurking in “the American dream.”

Mother Maria Francesca Cabrini

Mother Maria Francesca Cabrini (1850-19170), founder of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, an order of women missionaries , came to America in 1889 at the urging of Pope Leo XIII to serve the underserved poor. Her work is succinctly described on the website of the Cabrini Mission Foundation.

“She proceeded to found schools, orphanages, hospitals and social services institutions to serve the needs of immigrants in the United States and other parts of the world. Despite poor health and frailty, Mother Cabrini crossed the ocean 25 times during 29 years of missionary work, and with her sisters founded 67 institutions in nine countries on three continents – one for each year of her life.

Mother Cabrini was a collaborator from the start of her missionary activity. She was a woman of her time, yet beyond her time. Her message – “all things are possible with God” – is as alive today as it was 110 years ago. Mother Cabrini lived and worked among the people, poor and rich alike, using whatever means were provided to support her works. She was a progressive, strategic visionary, willing to take risks, adaptable to change, and responsive to every opportunity that arose to help others. In recognition of her extraordinary service to immigrants, Mother Cabrini was canonized in 1946 as the “first American saint,” and was officially declared the Universal Patroness of Immigrants by the Vatican in 1950.”

Be good to have leaders like her today in the church, as well as in society, wouldn’t it? “… a progressive, strategic visionary, willing to take risks, adaptable to change, and responsive to every opportunity that arose to help others.”

Her feastday is November 13th. “Mother Cabrini, pray for us.”

St. Martin of Tours, November 11

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Martin of Tours is a saint worth reflecting on,

Saints are the antidotes to the poison of their times, Chesterton said,  so what poison did Martin confront?

One was the poison of militarism. Martin was born into a military family in 316,  his father a Roman officer who came up through the ranks and  commanded the legions on the Roman frontier along the Rhine and Danube rivers. When his son was born his father saw him as a soldier like himself. He named him Martin, after Mars, the god of war.

Rome was mobilizing then to stop invading barbarian tribes, and soldiers, like the emperors Constantine and Diocletian, were its heroes.  But Martin wanted nothing to do with war. As a young boy he heard a message of peace and non-violence from Christians he knew. Instead of a soldier, he became a Christian catechumen, over his father’s strong objections.

Martin was a lifelong peacemaker. He died on his way as a bishop to settle a dispute among his priests.

Another poison Martin confronted was the poison of careerism. Elected bishop of Tours by the people, Martin adopted a lifestyle unlike that of other bishops of Gaul, who were increasingly involved in imperial  administration and adopting the privileged style that came with it.

Bishops set themselves up in the cities;  Martin preferred to minister in the country, to the “pagani”, the uneducated poor.

Are the poisons of militarism and careerism around today? We remember our war veterans today.So many died in terrible wars these 100 years and many bear the scars of war. Militarism, the glamorizing of war, is still around.  So is careerism .

The story that epitomizes Martin, of course, is his meeting with a beggar in a cold winter as he was coming through the gate in the town of Amiens, still a soldier but also a Christian catechumen. He stopped and cut his military cloak in two and gave one to the poor man. That night, the story goes, Christ appeared to him in a dream, wearing the beggar’s cloak. “Martin gave me this,” he said.

Pope Benedict XVI commented on this event.

“ Martin’s gesture flows from the same logic that drove Jesus to multiply the loaves for the hungry crowd, but most of all to leave himself to humanity as food in the Eucharist… It’s the logic of sharing.

May St Martin help us to understand that only by a common commitment to sharing is it possible to respond to the great challenge of our times: to build a world of peace and justice where each person can live with dignity. This can be achieved if an authentic solidarity prevails which assures to all inhabitants of the planet food, water, necessary medical treatment, and also work and energy resources as well as cultural benefits, scientific and technological knowledge.”

Well said.

In medieval Europe farmers, getting ready for winter at this time, put aside food and meat for the cold days ahead. Martin’s feast day was a reminder to them to put aside something for the poor. The poor are always with us; are we remembering them?

Today  Veterans’ Day in the USA honors those who fought in our country’s wars. It was originally called Armistice Day celebrating the end of fighting between the Allies and Germany on November 11, 1918. The United States lost 116,516 troops in the 1st World War; other countries lost millions more. The wars that followed added to that count.

Caring for Creation

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St. Francis is one of those super saints  to keep in mind, even after his feast day. I mentioned in a previous blog the statue of Francis facing St. John Lateran and Pope Innocent’s dream of a young man who, like Francis, held up the church’s walls ready to fall.  Francis helped renew the church.

In his encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis paints a verbal picture of Francis, holding his arms out to the created world, caring for our endangered planet:

“I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology, and he is also much loved by non-Christians. He was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.

“Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human. Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason”.

“His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’”. Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behaviour.

“If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.

What is more, Saint Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness. “Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker” (Wis 13:5); indeed, “his eternal power and divinity have been made known through his works since the creation of the world” (Rom 1:20). For this reason, Francis asked that part of the friary garden always be left untouched, so that wild flowers and herbs could grow there, and those who saw them could raise their minds to God, the Creator of such beauty. Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”

I like the pope’s words: “Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”

Guardian Angels

We usually associate Guardian Angels with children. In the gospel reading for the Feast of Guardian Angels, October 2, Jesus says we can’t get to heaven unless we become like little children whose “angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”  (Matthew 18,1-5,10)

Artists, like the above, usually picture Guardian Angels with children, protecting and guiding them as they go on their way in a dangerous world.

Yet, the angels we read about  in the Bible are more than protectors of children; they’re signs of God’s involvement in the whole world. They bring God’s message to Mary and Joseph and the prophets. They bring bread to Elijah in the desert and save Daniel in the lion’s den. They’re part of God’s providential hand dealing with the world. They guide nations, the human family and creation itself.  Angels are everywhere instruments of God’s power and love and justice. 

However smart or independent or grown-up we think are, God knows we’re still little children. We never outgrow God’s guidance and care: we have “loyal, prudent, powerful protectors and guides. They  keep us so our ways cannot be overpowered or led astray.” So that’s us in the picture above.

I think of the “principle of subsidiarity” on the feastday of the Guardian Angels. God spreads his  power around. I also remember that sometime ago I nearly hit a truck ahead of me but something suddenly stopped me. “Thanks.”

O God, in your infinite providence you deign to send your holy angels to be our guardians. Grant to us who pray to you

that we may be defended by them in this life

and rejoice with them in the next.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son.

St. Thérèse and the Poison of Unbelief

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We celebrate the feast of St. Thérèse, a Doctor of the Church, October 1. Saints are antidotes to the poisons of their times, G.K. Chesterton once wrote. They reveal what’s wrong in their world and counteract its poison by their own lives. Mother Theresa, for example, saw a world poisoned by its neglect of the poor.  She not only pointed out the evil but did something to remedy it.

What poison does St. Thérèse reveal? She lived in France as the 19th century was coming to a close, when the poison of unbelief, which first infected French intellectuals like Voltaire, had spread to the country’s ordinary people. Many rejected faith in God and traditional religion. In their place they put their trust in reason and their own lights. As the psalmist said of his own time, “There is no thought of God in them.”

Raised in a family of firm faith and traditional beliefs, Thérèse’s childhood was nourished by a sheltered life. Her faith grew in the Carmel of Lisieux, which she entered at 14. There she lived a life of prayer, with people of faith inspired by the spiritual wisdom of the Carmelite tradition. Yet limitations of sickness and unrealized dreams challenged her.

In her last days, she was plunged into a darkness that brought her an experience of  the poison of unbelief. God permitted her to be “invaded by the thickest darkness,” she said, and “the thought of heaven, up to then so sweet to me, was no longer anything but a cause of struggle and torment.”

In her experience she saw herself as a voice for those who do not believe.

“Your child, however, O Lord, has understood Your divine light, and she begs pardon for her brothers. She is resigned to eat the bread of sorrow as long as You desire it; she does not wish to rise up from this table filled with bitterness at which poor sinners are eating until the day set by You.

Can she not say in her name and in the name of her brothers, “Have pity on us, O Lord, for we are poor sinners!” Oh! Lord, send us away justified. May all those who were not enlightened by the bright flame of faith one day see it shine. O Jesus!

if it is needful that the table soiled by them be purified by a soul who loves You, then I desire to eat this bread of trial at this table until it pleases You to bring me into Your bright Kingdom. The only grace I ask of You is that I never offend You!” (Manuscript C, chapter 10)

Sharing the darkness that comes with unbelief, Thérèse  prayed in their name, “’Have pity on us, O Lord, for we are poor sinners!’ Oh! Lord, send us away justified. May all those who were not enlightened by the bright flame of faith one day see it shine. O Jesus!”  Her “struggle and torment” linked her to unbelievers “ not enlightened by the bright flame of faith.”

Mother Theresa seems to have had a similar experience of that darkness. Do other believers today share, in different degrees and different ways, that experience of darkness, that “dark night”, so that “those not enlightened by the bright light of faith may one day see it shine?” It seems so.

Here’s a description of how Thérèse  saw herself:

Since my longing for martyrdom was powerful and unsettling, I turned to the epistles of St Paul in the hope of finally finding an answer. By chance the 12th and 13th chapters of the 1st epistle to the Corinthians caught my attention, and in the first section I read that not everyone can be an apostle, prophet or teacher, that the Church is composed of a variety of members, and that the eye cannot be the hand. Even with such an answer revealed before me, I was not satisfied and did not find peace.
  I persevered in the reading and did not let my mind wander until I found this encouraging theme: Set your desires on the greater gifts. And I will show you the way which surpasses all others. For the Apostle insists that the greater gifts are nothing at all without love and that this same love is surely the best path leading directly to God. At length I had found peace of mind.
  When I had looked upon the mystical body of the Church, I recognised myself in none of the members which St Paul described, and what is more, I desired to distinguish myself more favourably within the whole body. Love appeared to me to be the hinge for my vocation. Indeed I knew that the Church had a body composed of various members, but in this body the necessary and more noble member was not lacking; I knew that the Church had a heart and that such a heart appeared to be aflame with love. I knew that one love drove the members of the Church to action, that if this love were extinguished, the apostles would have proclaimed the Gospel no longer, the martyrs would have shed their blood no more. I saw and realised that love sets off the bounds of all vocations, that love is everything, that this same love embraces every time and every place. In one word, that love is everlasting.
  Then, nearly ecstatic with the supreme joy in my soul, I proclaimed: O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling: my call is love. Certainly I have found my place in the Church, and you gave me that very place, my God. In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and thus I will be all things, as my desire finds its direction.

Feasts are for Reflection

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Feasts are for reflection. In  The Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, September 15th,  Mary  follows  Jesus, even in sorrow.

The 13th century icon above, from the Ryerson collection from the Art Institute of Chicago, once belonged to a European pilgrim to the Holy Land who brought it home as a reminder of a pilgrimage. What places did that pilgrim visit? Surely, Bethlehem where Jesus was born, and Jerusalem where he was crucified and rose  from the dead. In both places , Mary was there with her Son.

In the picture on the left Mary is a joyful mother  holding her Son, a divine Son whom the angels praise.  She is a daughter of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a daughter of the human family whom she represents. She never loses that joy, which she invites us to share.

In the picture on the right, Mary stands with John, an image of the church, beneath the cross of Jesus. Angels are astonished at the sight. Jesus seems to enfold his mother and the disciple whom he loves in his arms..

The gospel reading for the feast of Mary’s Sorrows, from St. John. says simply that Mary stood by the cross of Jesus. She’s a brave woman, not afraid to come close to the fearful place where Jesus was put to death. The Book of Judith, ordinarily the 1st reading for the feast, praises Judith, the brave and wise Jewish woman who’s not afraid to stand with her people at a dangerous moment in their history. Two women of courage face suffering and the challenge it brings.

The prayers, traditions and art of this feast take up the theme of Mary standing by the cross. She’s remembered  in poetry, music and art. “Stabat Mater” Here’s an example in Gregorian Chant and Pergolesi’s magnificent baroque setting.

At the cross her station keeping
Stood the mournful mother keeping
Close to Jesus to the last.

Women mystics, like St.Bridgid of Sweden, a mother herself and an important pilgrim to the Holy Land, saw the life of Jesus, particularly his passion, through a mother’s eyes. Wouldn’t Mary draw close to her Son’s cross and then hold him in her arms as they brought him down. The gospels do not mention it, but women like Bridgid were sure it was  so.

Women mystics like Bridgid gave us the Pieta.

A study of the Pieta in art in early medieval France shows the various ways this scene was pictured in art before Michaelangelo’s Pieta became an overpowering icon surpassing others. “Often she is viewed as caught up in the horror of the moment, but she is also shown praying or even gazing into the distance, as if contemplating comforting memories or the reunion to come. Her demeanor ranges from youthful innocence—the Purity that Time cannot age—to careworn maturity—Our Lady of Sorrows.”

Sorrow. like joy, has a range of faces. Mary shows us them all.

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, originated in Jerusalem at the place where Jesus died and rose again. A great church called the Anastasis ( Resurrection) or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built by the Emperor Constantine, was dedicated there 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 today 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.

Morning Thoughts: She Planted The Sun


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There once was a little girl who loved to write “love”.

Over and over she wrote the lovely word.

Straight. Crooked. Curved. Upside down.

“Love”, “Love”, “Love”…

She drew hearts and placed all around.

And in a corner she planted the sun.

Day after day she pecked away.

A little hen marking the ground where she play.

All kinds of chicks came to stay.

She lined her dolls in pretty little rows.

A beauty pageant, all kinds of hair.

Straight. Curly. Blond. Brown.

She loved them all.

Did she favor?

She rotated each day.

She knew who needed extra care.

Though all to be happy.

That the only rule.

No room in her garden for overcast days.

And how her family grew.

She had, my God, so many to attend!

Amazing she could even keep track.

Yet each tiny doll held a special place.

She simply made room.

A little girl who loved to write “love”.

Over and over she wrote the lovely word.

Straight. Crooked. Curved. Upside down.

“Love”, “Love”, “Love”…

She drew hearts and placed all around.

And in a corner she planted the sun.

———

Miriam…Marie…Maria…

Mary…

I guess it depends on the day.

Accent. Pronunciation. Spelling.

Even eye color may change.

But it’s always the same little girl.

Age to age.

Place to place.

The same little girl

Helping save the human race.

The same little girl

In the fullness of time

Forever known:

Full of Grace


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—Howard Hain

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