Tag Archives: Catholic Church

The Legacy of Paul of the Cross

In the United States October 20 is the feast of St. Paul of the Cross, founder of the Passionists. You can find more out about him here.

Saints are raised up by God to meet the needs of their time. What were the needs of St. Paul of the Cross’ time, the 18th century,? He was living in a church weakened and humbled by political opposition, revolutions and new ways of thinking. The popes then were losing their power and influence in Europe, the Jesuits were suppressed, revolutions, like the the French Revolution, brought persecution, the suppression of church schools, religious houses, the confiscation of church assets. The 18th century saw a church humbled; some said it was a dying church.

A humbled church needed to be reminded of the humble Christ, who took the form of a slave and died on a cross and was raised up by God’s power. That’s what St. Paul of the Cross did through his preaching and ministry. His message was a message his time needed to hear. It was a message of abiding hope.

An “abiding hope.” That was the hope needed then. Most of Paul’s preaching and ministry took place in the Tuscan Maremma, a region north of Rome in Italy, the size of Long Island, NY. “Maremma” means swamplands. It was then a region of small towns and a few small cities suffering from chronic poverty and neglect. Only at the end of the 18th century did the region inch forward with some reforms. Ironically, after Mussolini controlled the swamplands in the 20th century, the region became a tourist destination. The world loves Tuscany now. Many would love a villa there.

In Paul’s time, though, the place was known for disease, poverty, beggars and homeless, and bandits. Year after year things never got better. Year after year the future never got bright. Year after year Paul and his companions went from town to town, set up a cross in a church or town square and spoke of the “abiding hope” promised by Jesus Christ to the people who gathered there.

His preaching of the Passion of Jesus brought an abiding hope to them. God was with them, no matter how dark things were, or how long the darkness lasted.

Are we living in a humbled church and a humbled world today? I wonder, as we struggle with this pandemic, if we’re becoming like the Tuscan Maremma. Some say it will all be over when everyone is vaccinated, or when the political scene settles, or when science produces a new miracle that makes everything perfect. But I don’t know.

I think we are going to need an “abiding hope” to keep us going. I think the Passionists still have something to do.

May God send laborers into our vineyard with that message. St.Paul of the Cross, pray for us.

Saints of Korea

The founders of churches throughout the world have an important place in our church calendar, because they did what Jesus commanded: “Go out to the whole world and preach the gospel, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 25 ) 

Church founders are apostles like Peter and Paul, founders of the church in Rome, (June 29), or monk-bishops like Boniface, founder of the church of the Germanic peoples, (June 5), Patrick, founder of the church in Ireland, (March 17) Ansgar, founder of the church in Scandanavia, (February 3),  Cyril and Methodius, founders of the church in the Slavic nations (February14).

The church in Korea, whose founding we celebrate today, can be traced back to the 17th century. Its foundation is special, as Pope John Paul II noted at the canonization of the Korean Martyrs, May 6, 1984:

“The Korean Church is unique because it was founded entirely by laypeople. This fledgling Church, so young and yet so strong in faith, withstood wave after wave of fierce persecution. Thus, in less than a century, it could boast of 10,000 martyrs. The death of these many martyrs became the leaven of the Church and led to today’s splendid flowering of the Church in Korea. Even today their undying spirit sustains the Christians of the Church of Silence in the north of this tragically divided land.” – Pope John Paul II at the canonization of the Korean Martyrs, May 6, 1984.

A priest, Andrew Kim Taegon and a layman Paul Chong Hasang, head the list of 103 martyrs canonized in 1984, but the early Korean church was from the first a church of laypeople. Decades before those celebrated today, it was without priests or bishops. All lay people, they kept faith alive at great cost and offered it to others. 

 By its nature, the Catholic Church draws from its member churches the gifts God has given them. The church is the body of Christ. May our churches today, old and new, be blessed with lay people like those who founded the church in Korea.

The Second Vatican Council, 60 years or so ago,  called for increasing the role of the laity in the Catholic Church. It seems to me that goal has still to be met, at least in my country. 

“Once again, Jesus sends lay people into every town and place where he will come (cf.Luke 10:1) so that they may show that they are co-workers in the various forms and modes of the one apostolate of the Church, which must be constantly adapted to the new needs of our times. Ever productive as they should be in the work of the Lord, they know that their labor in him is not in vain (cf.  1 Cor.15:58).”  (Decree on Laity, 33)

O God, who have been pleased to increase your adopted children in all the world, and who made the blood of the Martyrs Saint Andrew Kim Tae-gǒn and his companions a most fruitful seed of Christians, grant that we may be defended by their help and profit always from their example.Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.Amen.

Daily Readings, Daily Bread

Reading the scriptures daily and on Sundays in the lectionary and the Liturgy of the Hours is one of the great reforms begun by the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council. It’s part of an effort to seek renewal through the Word of God. Yet, after 60 or so years, we’re still getting used to it.

For one thing, reflection on the scripture readings is a new way to reflect on our faith.  The scriptures are old and we live in a new world. As we search for “the face of God” in scripture we have to “trust” we will find it there.

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”The daily scriptures are daily bread, but they may not be easy to digest. We go from Matthew, preoccupied with the tensions of his church with Pharisaic Judaism,  to Luke preoccupied with an outreach to the gentiles, to the other New Testament writings, each with its own purpose.

Then there are the various readings of the Old Testament. They can be hard to understand, but the church wisely keeps them side by side with the New Testament. They hold a treasure all their own. We need to understand them better.

We need help to appreciate this daily bread, this varied diet served up. We need people like those hostssss on the cooking shows on television who not only  tell you what to eat but make those strange dishes appetizing and appealing. We need good homilists and good catechists.

We need a “lamp, shining in a dark place.” So we ask: Come, Holy Spirit, fill our hearts with your light.”

December 23: Birth of John the Baptist

birth john


Luke’s gospel recalls in detail the birth of John the Baptist before the birth Jesus. “The hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.”

Like Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah are recognized in Luke’s gospel for their role in the birth and raising of the child. However lonely and independent John appears later in the gospels, he was influenced by them and by the extended family that surrounded him from his birth. (They’re all there in the icon of his birth, above} Besides Zechariah giving him his name, they all left their mark on him. “The hand of the Lord was with him,” but human hands were on him as well.

He had faith like his mother Elizabeth who recognized the Spirit’s presence in her pregnant cousin Mary visiting from Nazareth. John later would point out the Lamb of God among all those who came to the Jordan River for baptism.

He had faith like his father Zechariah who devoutly celebrated the mysteries of God in the temple of Jerusalem as a priest. At the Jordan River,John regularly called pilgrims on their way to the Holy City to prepare the way of the Lord in their own hearts.

Undoubtedly, John was a unique figure, a messenger from God, a voice in the desert preparing the Lord’s way. But there were  faithful people behind him, as they are behind us.

The Troubled Crowds

“At the sight of the crowds,” our gospel reading today says,”Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned,like sheep without a shepherd.Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” (Matthew 9, 34-38)

How should laborers in the harvest today approach the troubled crowds?

In his 1977 novel “Lancelot” Walker Percy tells the story of Lancelot, a man confined to a prison hospital after setting fire to his beautiful ancestral home in Louisiana and murdering his wife and her lover. The man’s fed up with today’s world and turned against it, but he’s still trying to figure out what life’s all about. He’s on to something, one of Percy’s phrases.

An old priest visits him frequently in the prison hospital– his only visitor, it seems– and listens to him, but hardly says a word. That’s partially because Lancelot doesn’t think much anymore of the faith the priest represents.

Yet, the priest listens. Lancelot occasionally asks him if he understands. “Perhaps I talk to you because of your silence. Your silence is the only conversation I can listen to,” Lancelot remarks. Only as the book ends does he say to the priest: “Very well, I’ve finished. Is there anything you wish to tell me?”

On retreat this week, we’re reading Pope Francis’ exhortation, “Gaudete et exultate”, a wonderful exploration of holiness today. At one point, the pope says “Nor can we claim to say where God is not, because God is mysteriously present in the life of every person, in a way that he himself chooses, and we cannot exclude this by our presumed certainties. Even when someone’s life appears completely wrecked, even when we see it devastated by vices or addictions, God is present there. If we let ourselves be guided by the Spirit rather than our own preconceptions, we can and must try to find the Lord in every human life.”
(42)

We’re sent as laborers for the harvest, but are words the only tools we have to use. Is silence, along with a persevering concern, ways to engage the troubled crowd?

Getting Ready for a Priestless Age

Some sobering reflections at a meeting of my community this week. People are leaving the church.

In his book ” Catholics in America, The Faithful,” James M. O’Toole, writes about Catholic history from Revolutionary times till the present.

The church was largely a “priestless” church when our country began in the 18th century.  “…early American Catholic lay people were very different from those who would come after them. The institutional presence of their church was always thin and uncertain. Priests and parishes were few in number and widely scattered. Catholics’ connection to their church was less than they might have thought ideal.”

O’Toole  offers a lengthy  analysis of the devotional and catechetical  materials of the time and writes: “What scholars  have come to call a ‘print culture,’ grounded in printing and distribution networks, supported the religious practice of Catholic lay people in the priestless age.” (p.33)

It looks like we are facing “priestless times” again, doesn’t it? What’s our version of a ‘print culture’ to be? I think we have to work hard on it.  What  can we give to Catholics whose kids aren’t going to church, whose neighbors are “spiritual but not religious,” who need an anchor themselves in these stormy times?

Let’s get on the social media.

By Faith, Not By Sight

At Mass today we hear St. Paul reflecting on his life in his Second Letter to the Corinthians. “We walk by faith and not by sight,” he says. You can look at yourself by faith or by sight. Obviously, some at Corinth are looking at Paul “by sight,” what they think he is, but Paul sees himself in another way, by faith.

“We are treated as deceivers and yet are truthful;
as unrecognized and yet acknowledged;
as dying and behold we live;
as chastised and yet not put to death;
as sorrowful yet always rejoicing;
as poor yet enriching many;
as having nothing and yet possessing all things.”   ( 2 Corinthians 5,1-16)

Some in Corinth see Paul as a deceiver, a nobody, on his way out, beaten, sorrowful, poor, having nothing. Paul sees himself by another light. The NAB commentary on 2 Corinthians says that, though Paul speaks personally he assumes his experience is shared by other people of faith. We’re all called to walk by faith and not by sight.

And so, how do we see ourselves today?

Today, the 58th year of my priestly ordination, I’m beginning a Mission at St. Mary’s Church in Kingston, New York at 7 PM. It’s the last of the Revive Missions sponsored by the Archdiocese of New York that I’m taking part in.

Some would say the church is responsible for the ills of our world, it’s passing away, beaten, a sad thing, having nothing to say any more. But, Paul begins his reflections proclaiming “Now is an acceptable time. Now is the way to salvation.” So, “We walk by faith, not by sight.”

Fidel

fidel

Dear Lord,

     The death of Fidel Castro, Cuban dictator, brought joy to many and sadness to others. In Miami there were celebrations in the streets of Little Havana. In Cuba there were nine days of mourning. Many of my friends ask how I feel about the death of Fidel. I’m neither happy nor sad. As a Christian I don’t rejoice in someone’s death. What I do is put them in Your capable hands, my Lord. I’m no one to judge!

     I’ve been praying for Fidel’s soul. Unfortunately I can’t forget that because of his political views and cruel policies generations lost their country and way of life. Torture, executions, imprisonment, all took place if you dared to disagree with any of his policies. Freedom no longer existed. Indoctrination began! Your churches, Lord, were closed. Prayer and religion were no longer necessary, we now had Fidel.

     My mother decided that she needed to leave Cuba for my sake and her own. In 1962 we became refugees. Thanks to the U.S., which opened its arms to us, we began a new life. It wasn’t easy, my God. Here we were penniless in a new land facing a new language and new obstacles. But with the help of family, the U.S. government, and the Catholic Church hope began to spring up and we survived.

     We left Cuba, my God, afraid and without much hope. We left Cuba because one man lost his way and the need for power overwhelmed his ideals. Fidel did have wonderful ideals, but the dark side won, in his case.

     I’ve been in the U.S. now for over fifty years. I’m in love with You, my Lord Jesus and I have to admit that happened here in the U.S.. Good things happened to most Cuban refugees. Most of us survived. We progressed. We lived full lives. But we never will know what could have been. The Cuba of today is nothing like the Cuba of yesterday. For some it’s very sad, for others it’s life. For me it is Your will, my God! May You, our Lord and Savior have the mercy on Fidel that he neglected to have for many of his people.

Berta Alvarez-Hernández

Is God at the Convention?

Our political conventions are beginning. A time, especially this year, when we wonder about our future. No perfect candidates, no perfect plans, no perfect solution. Should we pay any attention at all?

I’m thinking of John Henry Newman, the illustrious 19th century English theologian who converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism in 1845. An Italian Passionist priest, Fr. Dominic Barbari, received him into the church.

Newman’s conversion came through his efforts to bring the Church of England, then struggling against the rationalism of the Enlightenment, back to its orthodox Christian roots. He sought the answer in studying  early Christianity and its development to the present day. The Oxford Movement begun by Newman and other university friends strongly affected the Anglican church and other Christian churches of his time.

Originally convinced that the Catholic Church was corrupt and unfaithful to the gospel, Newman came to accept it as the Church founded by Jesus Christ. An important reason for his acceptance was his study of the Donatists, a 4th century Christian group that split from the larger church over who should be members of the church. The Donatists believed that the church should be a church of saints, not sinners.

Newman came to understand that the Church develops over time, and its development takes place in the real world, which is the world of saints and sinners. The spirituality he arrived at was anchored in this reality. We live in a world of weeds and wheat. “Nothing would be done at all if one waited until one could do it so well that no one could find fault with it.” We don’t live in a perfect world or a perfect church.

The world we live in is blessed by God with a purpose and a mission. No, it’s not perfect nor will it ever be perfect.We may cringe at the circus our political world can create these next few weeks. But that doesn’t mean we don’t try to make politics live up to its ideals. In all the hoopla God is at work.

 

After Thoughts: Liturgy of Seasons

Maurice de Vlaminck partie de campagne 1905

Maurice de Vlaminck, “La partie de campagne”, 1905

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Be still, and know that I am God.

—Psalm 46:11


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Don’t move. If you do, you’ll burst into sweat.

This is when you know it’s hot. The slightest movement brings about spontaneous combustion.

God will have His way. If the cold wont get you to sit still in front of a fire, then the oppressive heat of summer will stop you in your tracks in the middle of an otherwise busy day.

That is until modern HVAC has its way.

So much progress. So much heating, ventilation and air-conditioning.

I wonder if we’d pay more attention to the Church calendar, more attention to prayer, more attention to God in general if we spent more time within His seasonal elements. I am fairly certain we’d spend a lot more time sitting still.

Yes, modern climate control may give us more time in many ways, but that certainly doesn’t imply that we spend that time well. For we are very weak, and most additional “freedom” most normally results in increased amounts of wasted, fruitless, and spiritually-empty activity.

Besides, voluntary sitting still is very different than forced stillness. Voluntary is certainly better—in terms of us using our freewill wisely, and in terms of us positioning ourselves to “know” God’s presence—but, on the other hand, when stillness is forced upon us, we actually might do it. We actually might stop, and we actually might be more concerned with “not moving” than just about anything else. That’s a funny consequence of truly compulsory conditions, when they come about through God’s perfectly ordained plan: The more we’re forced into something by factors greater and holier than ourselves, and the more we don’t resist but cooperate, the more we find ourselves desiring the consequences of the very conditions that were “forced upon us” in the first place.

When was the last time you had to sit still for any extended period of time in front of a fire in order to keep warm on a dangerously cold night, or sit extremely still in order to fend off the truly oppressive heat of a summer afternoon?

For that matter, forget the extreme cases, when was the last time you or I didn’t have a modern source of heating or cooling within a few steps on even moderately cool or warm days?

Most of us living within this culture and during this time are no longer very dependent upon “our sister Mother Earth” to force us into life changing ways. Yes, I know of course about the big storms and floods, the fires and earthquakes—the catastrophic natural events—but in terms of day-to-day living for the great majority of people in the Western world, daily climate is not something that cramps our modern, in-control-of-everything style. It is really quite ironic when we stop and think about it, for we hear so much about climate change, and yet most of us who may ponder that very question do so while comfortably residing within temperature-controlled homes, offices, and automobiles that make us almost oblivious to natural and seasonal weather changes.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we should collectively trash our heating or a/c units and move back into the pre-HVAC age. I enjoy my heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning as much as my Middle-Eastern and Central-American neighbors living next door.

It’s just that I was forced into thinking about this. You see, my daughter is off from school and busy playing and making the “noises” that accompany such joy, and my wife is currently a busy little bee, walking in and out of each room, cleaning, straitening, and unpacking the laundry. I had little choice but to leave the house to get a few undisturbed moments of quiet. So here I am behind an urban two-family home, sitting within a somewhat screened-in gazeebo on a blacktopped driveway, trying not to move.

I thank God for allowing me to sweat. For reminding me of just how much I cannot control. For reminding me that exterior stillness and interior peace, although connected, are not one and the same. I also thank Him for allowing me to forget for the time being just how sensitive my feet, especially the first few toes of my left foot, are to the cold.

And now that I think about it, now that I have begun to give thanks, I’m realizing that it’s really not that bad. It’s not that hot. It’s kind of nice in fact. And I definitely notice that it has kept my writing in check. The word count of this piece has most surely been stunted, and I am very, very certain that that is for the best. I think I’ll leave it here then and wrap it up. And afterward, I’ll spend some time doing just about nothing, allowing the heat to box me in and keep me comfortably quiet.

I must admit though, I feel a bit guilty, knowing that it won’t be too long before I walk back into a climate controlled, air-conditioned environment—that is once the mosquitos begin to bite (thank God for screens!).

But maybe that’s just the point.

God’s will has its way.

His seasons, His entire world, always speaks to us.

His Liturgy never ends.

The Liturgy of Seasons cannot be stopped.

 

Happy Monday of the 15th week in Ordinary Time!

(Year: C(II). Psalter: Week 3. Liturgical Color: White. Memorial: St. Benedict.)

(Monday, July 11, 2016.)

(Hot. Humid. Partial Sunshine. Very Slight Chance of Thunderstorm.)

(Sunset 8:28 PM. Moon: Waxing Crescent, Illumination: 45%.)

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—Howard Hain

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