Tag Archives: Catholic Church

The Legacy of Paul of the Cross

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 politics, 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 the 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 politics, pandemics, climate change, if we’re becoming like the Tuscan Maremma. Some say it will all be over when the political scene settles, when wars are over, 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.

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 and the Passionists here and here.

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.

Browsing Through A Library

From time to time I like browsing through the large collection of books we have downstairs. Libraries, bookstores, now the internet, are treasuries and junkyards all at once. You never know when you’re going to stumble upon something that sparks questions or open your mind. 

Awhile ago, I stumbled on a book called Pride of Place: The Role of Bishops in the Development of Catechesis in the United States, by Sr. Mary Charles Bryce. It’s  a study of catechisms and catechesis in our country from the time of Bishop John Carroll, way back in the 18th century, to the 1980’s. How are we going to teach and form our people in faith? That’s the question they were asking then. It’s a question we face now.

Catechesis is on my mind lately. We’ve had a big development in theology and scripture and liturgy since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, but has that reached the ordinary people of the church, young or old? I think we need a better way to make the riches of our faith available to them. Catechesis is one of our prime needs as Catholic schools decline and dioceses, parishes, religious orders and their resources diminish.

“Pride of Place” Sister Bryce called her book, a title from an old pastoral letter of the American bishops on catechesis. Not a bad priority for the church today. How are we going to pass on the faith we have received in our time. What are the words and ways we’re going to use? Pope Francis in his recent letter Desiderio Desideravi calls us to see the liturgy as a catechetical school.

The Eternal Word needs to become incarnate from age to age:

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”  (T.S. Eliot)

We need to renew our liturgical life. We need  good catechetical sites online and there’s still something to be said for the books in our library downstairs. They were gathered by people before me, who were wondering about things as I am now.  Someone recognized  Sister Bryce’s book was a good book to hold on to.

Thanks.

The Troubled Crowds: Matthew 9:36

“At the sight of the crowds, 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?”

In Pope Francis’ exhortation, “Gaudete et exultate”, there’s 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 words may not be the only tools we have to use. Is silence, along with a persevering concern, ways to engage the troubled crowd?

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.”

Living in a Fading Church

In his book ” Catholics in America, The Faithful,” ( Harvard University, 2010)  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, O’Toole writes,  “…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.”

So what kept things going in a church “thin and uncertain”? 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)

Prayerbooks were a large part of their support, it seems.

It looks like we are facing “thin and uncertain” times again as Catholic institutions, parishes, schools, religious groups decline, doesn’t it? What’s our version of a ‘print culture’ to be? 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? I think we have to think hard about it. 

Should we think about prayerbooks again? How about the social media? I find the lectionary, the feasts, and what they offer spiritually day by day a great support. Certainly we will have what we need in these “thin and uncertain” times. God will provide.

December 23: Birth of John the Baptist

birth john


Luke’s gospel today recalls in detail the birth of John the Baptist before the birth Jesus and his later mission. “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.” (Luke 1:80)

Just as Luke recognizes the role of Mary and Joseph in the birth and raising of Jesus, he recognizes the role of Elizabeth and Zechariah in the birth and raising of John. Each help John grow and become strong in spirit. However lonely and independent he appears later in the gospels, John was influenced by them and the extended family that surrounded him from his birth.

Luke’s gospel often see one person’s fidelity influencing another. “The hand of the Lord was with him,” Luke writes, but human hands were on him as well.

John had faith like his mother Elizabeth who recognized the Spirit’s presence in her pregnant relation 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 his birth, Zechariah signs away the gift of his name– and probably his hope that his son would follow in his steps. John would have a different calling. At the Jordan River, John called pilgrims to prepare the way of the Lord in their own hearts as they made their way to the temple and the Holy City, Jerusalem.

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.

Don’t forget either his relative, Mary of Nazareth. At the end of his account of her visit with Elizabeth, Luke mentions “Mary stayed with her for three months, then returned to her home.” (Luke 1:56) That would mean she stayed on till the birth of John, wouldn’t it?

I don’t see Mary in the icon of John’s birth (above), but she must have been there. Were there other times too these families met? Artists portray the children playing together later. They could be right. We influence one another more than we think.

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.