Tag Archives: Conversion

Saint Augustine

Augustine baptism
Augustine’s Baptism, Gozzoli

August 28, Feast of St. Augustine

His feast comes the day after we honor his mother Monica. Augustine was changed by encountering the mystery of God. It was not his brilliant mind or human gifts that created the encounter; it was God’s grace, which we all look for.

Yet, look at the scene of his baptism, above. There’s Monica standing behind St. Ambrose. A mother’s prayers had something to do with it too.

Here’s Augustine himself on his conversion: “Urged to reflect upon myself, I entered under your guidance the innermost places of my being; but only because you had become my helper was I able to do so.” 

And God became his Light.

“O eternal Truth, true Love, and beloved Eternity, you are my God, and for you I sigh day and night. As I first began to know you, you lifted me up and showed me that, while that which I might see exists indeed, I was not yet capable of seeing it. Your rays beamed intensely on me, beating back my feeble gaze, and I trembled with love and dread. I knew myself to be far away from you in a region of unlikeness, and I seemed to hear your voice from on high: ‘I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me’”.

The Light was Christ.

“Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!,

Lo, you were within,

but I outside, seeking there for you,

and upon the shapely things you have made

I rushed headlong – I, misshapen.

You were with me, but I was not with you.

They held me back far from you,

those things which would have no being,

were they not in you.

You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;

you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;

you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you;

I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst;

you touched me, and I burned for your peace.” (Confessions)

Here’s a biography of Augustine by Pope Benedict XVI

Here’s a wealth of material on Augustine from Villanova University

The Conversion of Paul

Saints show us our capabilities, how far we can rise, from the depths to the heights. That’s why the church recalls the conversion of St.Paul a number of times in the church year. Today we hear it as part of our readings from the Acts of the Apostles.  As he readily acknowledges, Paul rose from the dust and became a powerful force in his church and in the world through God’s grace.

St. John Chrysostom says of him:  “Paul, more than anyone else, has shown us what we really are, and in what our nobility consists, and of what virtue a human being is capable. Each day he aimed ever higher; each day he rose up with greater ardour and faced with new eagerness the dangers that threatened him. He summed up his attitude in the words: I forget what is behind me and push on to what lies ahead. When he saw death imminent, he bade others share his joy: Rejoice and be glad with me! And when danger, injustice and abuse threatened, he said: I am content with weakness, mistreatment and persecution. These he called the weapons of righteousness, thus telling us that he derived immense profit from them…

The most important thing of all to him, however, was that he knew himself to be loved by Christ.”

May God raise up the Paul in us.

Discovering Him

 I retired about fourteen years ago. My husband, Orlando and I had great plans for our retirement. We wanted to travel, to relax, to have fun! But that wasn’t to be. God had other plans for us! Orlando’s parents in Florida got very ill and we were needed there. We became snowbirds , 6 months here and 6 months in Florida. Around that same time Orlando and I baptized our fourth grandchild, Isabel in a church if Florida. The day of the baptism our son and his wife had a surprise for us. After the baptism we were able to renew our marriage vows in front of our Lord Jesus Christ. For us that was very special because we had not gotten married in the church, we had been married about 25 years but at the court. It didn’t matter to us back then. We had spent over 40 years without God, at that time a church wedding hadn’t been important to us. Neither one of us had come from a religious family. When the priest started blessing us and our rings something happened to us in that ceremony. We were crying and laughing both at the same time. Grace was being poured on us from above!

    After that experience Orlando started convincing me to go to church on Sundays. He had been caught by the fever! Jesus had gotten his hands on him. Not so for me! Going to mass was a burden. Many times I would leave the church worse than how I had gone in. It was boring and ritualistic. But yet I wanted to make Orlando happy, so I would go. For some reason around that time I started having the urge to get married in front of God. I loved Orlando so much that I felt that maybe this would make our marriage even stronger.

    I had never been confirmed. My parents weren’t very religious. In Cuba, where I come from, I got baptized and had my First Communion but after that church did not come back into my life. Here in the U. S. life was hard. We were refugees . The Catholic Church was a great help but it didn’t inspire us to go back to it.

Well you can see what my problem was. I tried to marry Orlando in the Catholic Church but then I found out I needed to be confirmed. Was it worth it? Did I really need to marry Orlando in front of God? How was I going to work it out? I was here in NY for 6 months and in Florida the next 6 months. How would it work out with RCIA? You know now I realize that God had a plan for us as a married couple. Things worked out between our local parish here, American Martyrs Church in Bayside. NY,  and the local church in Hallandale Beach, FL where we were renting.

     In 2011 I was finishing my RCIA in St Matthew’s Church in Florida. We were told there was going to be a four day Mission at the church. We weren’t sure what that was but yet we were intrigued by what it might be. The first day we were there a priest all dressed in black with a giant heart on the left side of his chest, a giant rosary hanging from this thick belt, and a giant crucifix in his hand came to the pulpit and introduced himself, ” I am Fr. Vincent Youngberg and I am an alcoholic. ” That was a great way to start! He was a sinner just like me! During the next few days with his story and his preaching he slowly brought me closer to understanding why I was doing what I was doing. He led me to believe that Jesus, that God, wanted a relationship with me. He helped me to believe that he did exist!

The last day of the Mission Fr Vincent led us in a meditation. He said:

    “Everyone please close your eyes. Now imagine yourself sitting on the sand. You’re watching the ocean, relaxing under the warm sun. From the corner of your eye you notice a person walking towards you. You can’t see him well yet, but he looks like he might be walking straight for you. He is getting closer and closer and your heart is beating faster and faster because you can’t believe your eyes. Suddenly you realize that the person you saw in the distance that now is so close to you is no other than our Lord Jesus Christ. He comes close to you extends his hand towards you and gets you to stand up…..”

    Fr. Vincent continued but I was no longer listening. I was face to face with Jesus! I couldn’t believe what was happening to me. I was crying and laughing. I couldn’t find words to say, but I didn’t have to. He took me in his arms and said, ” Berta, you have no idea how much I love you. I have been wanting you to open the door to me for a long time. I am so happy that you are in my arms now. I will never let you go!” I had melted into his body. The hug he was giving me was delicious! Life was perfect. But then I became aware of Fr. Youngberg’s voice again bringing us back. I didn’t want to leave my Jesus, now that I had met him. But it was time and we had to part. I was back in the church crying like a little girl. They weren’t tears of sadness,no , they were tears of joy! Now I understood! I had been looking for him all my life, but didn’t know it. I knew for many years that there was something missing in my life and on that beautiful Lenten day I found it . God put Fr. Vincent Youngberg in my path. He was the one that led me through the whole process. My husband, my son and his wife, Isabel my granddaughter, the RCIA teachers and volunteers, the priests with their homilies, the new friends I had met in church, they all had a hand in leading me to meet Him!It was all designed by Him!

    In 2011 I became confirmed  during the Easter Vigil at American Martyrs Church. That summer Orlando and I convalidated our marriage on August 7, 2011 in front of our dear God, our family and our friends. In September 2011 I had my first retreat at Bishop Molloy Retreat House in Jamaica, Queens. I had found out that Fr. Vincent was a Passionist priest and his order had a Monastery and a Retreat House 15 minutes from my house! Orlando and I felt the need to go to the Holy Land and in November 2011 we joined a group from Texas and ended up with a Franciscan guide and our beautiful Lord Jesus leading us !

    All I can say about my new life is ” Thank You Jesus for your Love, and the blessings and grace you have brought into our lives! ” “Thank you for the beautiful Passionist priests that are now our friends, thank uou for the prayer group we are part of, thank you for my new friends, thank you for knowing that I am never alone! I love you my Triune God, without you I am nothing!!!!!”

Berta Hernandez

Scrooge and Dives

Kykkos Monastery mosaic representing the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

Second Week of Lent, Thursday

Luke 16:19-31

In Charles Dickens’ novel, A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge takes a voyage in time to Christmases past, present and future, and wakes up right after the shock of seeing the headstone of his own grave. Overjoyed and relieved to find himself alive, he immediately seizes the moment to transform his miserly existence to one of magnanimous generosity to the poor and needy. Dickens’ heartwarming classic captures the essence of repentance and personal conversion.

Jesus told the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (derived from Elazar, “God has helped”) to awaken the living to awareness of the grave in their own hearts. Listeners who travel to Hades with the rich man (Greek plousios, Latin dives) are given the opportunity to experience the mortal anguish of death and burial, and the regret of not having lived generously, detached from riches, for the love of God and neighbor. 

“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’ Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’ He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’

Luke 16:19-28

The fact that the rich man was moved to pity and mercy for his brothers, desiring their repentance and conversion so as avoid the torment of regret in the afterlife, shows that the parable was directed to hearers who still have a chance to change their lives. The watchful “awaken” from the parable like Scrooge, fully alive and able to make an about-face (metanoia).

The rich man’s confidence that a warning from the grave would effect the cure of the complacent was an illusion confirmed by historical events.

But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’ He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’”

Luke 16:29-31

Jesus’ miraculous raising of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha (not the poor man of the parable), only intensified the desire of the chief priests to return Lazarus to the grave and kill Jesus as well (John 12:9-11). Above all, the Easter event of Christ’s resurrection had little to no effect on those whose wills were bent on eliminating the life and influence of Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 28:11-15).

Conversion is a mystery. May each day be received as a gift of divine mercy in the ongoing journey of metanoia. 

The pity of plousios
Lies buried underground,
But prophetic parables
Turn profiteers around.

-GMC

Paul’s Conversion: January 25th

 

Saints show us our capabilities, how far we can rise, from the depths to the heights. That’s why the church celebrates the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul every January 25th. As he readily acknowledges, Paul through God’s grace rose from the dust and became a powerful force in his church and in the world.

St. John Chrysostom says of him:  “Paul, more than anyone else, has shown us what we really are, and in what our nobility consists, and of what virtue a human being is capable. Each day he aimed ever higher; each day he rose up with greater ardour and faced with new eagerness the dangers that threatened him. He summed up his attitude in the words: I forget what is behind me and push on to what lies ahead. When he saw death imminent, he bade others share his joy: Rejoice and be glad with me! And when danger, injustice and abuse threatened, he said: I am content with weakness, mistreatment and persecution. These he called the weapons of righteousness, thus telling us that he derived immense profit from them…

The dramatic conversion of Paul is recalled in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles at Mass. Luke describes this event three times, a way of acknowledging Paul’s special  role in the spread of Christianity from Jerusalem to Rome.

  Paul’s conversion and ministry is a work of God, who uses the apostle for his own divine purposes. It’s not Paul’s genius or imagination that achieved so much. God’s grace brought him to the ground on his way to Damascus and God’s grace sent him on his mission.

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  Jesus says to him. From that meeting Paul gained the conviction that faith is a gift that justifies us and that the church is the body of Christ. He did not come to those beliefs on his own.

Paul’s great conversion story in Acts introduces a succession of stories recalling the conversion of the gentiles. Paul has a prominent part in these stories,  an agent whom God sends and constantly empowers. But he never forgets the moment he was blinded by a light that made him see.                                                                                                

The Acts of the Apostles is not just a description of the past;  it’s a template for the church of every age. Personalities like Paul and human factors play a part in her growth, but the church’s advance is not principally through human power, reason, or imagination. The power of God’s Spirit guides and supports it through time.

We need to humbly recognize the church as God’s church, created in the image of God’s Son, and gifted by the Spirit.

Blessed Dominic Barberi

img-Blessed-Dominic-Barberi

August 26th,  the Passionists remember one of their great missionaries, Blessed Dominic Barberi, born in Viterbo, Italy, in 1792. Early on, God inspired him to be a missionary to England.

The desire to work for Christian unity grew after Dominic entered the Passionist community, where he taught theology and was a spiritual director. In 1842 he went to England hoping to bring the English church and the Roman Catholic church together as one. Initially,  he tried to engage the leading religious scholars at Oxford in dialogue.

The Industrial Revolution was changing that country, however, and thousands of poor Catholic immigrants from Ireland were flocking to the great English factory towns, fleeing famine and looking for work. Priests were needed and Dominic, though he never spoke English well, tirelessly preached and ministered to them.

Dominic never got his wish to engage the learned scholars of England as a lecturer at Oxford, but he was noticed by them all the same. One of  England’s greatest intellectuals, John Henry Newman, was attracted to Dominic, not by the religious tracts he sent to him, but by his zeal and humility. Newman was looking for those qualities in the Roman church at the time.

“If they want to convert England,” Newman wrote earlier, “let them go barefoot into our manufacturing towns, let them preach to the people like St Francis Xavier–let them be pelted and trampled on, and I will own they do what we cannot…Let them use the proper arms of the Church and they will prove they are the Church.”

Dominic, humble, zealous and faithful, used “the proper arms of the Church.” When Newman decided to enter the Catholic Church, he asked for Father Dominic Barberi to receive him.

“All that I have suffered since I left Italy has been well compensated by this event,” Dominic wrote later, “ I hope the effects of such a conversion may be great.”

And they have been.

Longer biography here:

Writings of Blessed Dominic can be found here.

Blessed Dominic is buried here.

 The Touch of Love

    In this Wednesday’s Gospel (Mk 8: 22-26), Jesus heals a blind man at the town of Bethsaida. This healing does not happen right away:

        ” People brought to Him a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. Putting spittle on his eyes He laid His hands  on the man and asked, ‘ Do you see anything?’ Looking up the man replied, ‘ I see people looking like trees and walking.’ Then He laid hands on the man’s eyes a second time and he saw clearly; his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly.”

    This passage has been interpreted as an example of how the healing that comes from God happens gradually, in steps. We must be trusting and patient.

     In line with this, I see in this Gospel the invitation of Love toward my conversion. I was blind to the marvelous reality of a loving God in my life. By example and prayer, good people ( like my son Frank) brought me to Him. He took me by the hand and led me outside of my sphere (my village) to the intimate place where only He and I interact. He touched me. He questioned me (“Do you believe?”). He enabled me to see, at least a little bit, as if in a “mirror dimly” ( 1 Cor 13:6). He touches me again and again so that I can see Him and ” see everything distinctly”. In a sense I am no longer blind. I can begin to, in the words of Walter Burghardt, take “a long loving look at the real”.

    And so this passage also reminds me of His wonderful gift of prayer. He takes me by the hand to the isolated place “the private room” , and many times I cannot see Him in this darkness. Then He works His miracle and opens the eyes of my soul to His presence.

    Like Mary Magdalene, I cry within the dark, stony, tomb of my distress, my guilt, my doubt, loneliness and despair. Suddenly He calls to me: ” Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?”. I look out into the blinding light. I can barely see the hazy human silhouette standing there outside. I cannot recognize Him. Then He calls me by name. I realize this is the Friend who has by now healed me, accompanied me, taught and loved me for so long. In some strange, deep, indescribable way I can see Him! He is my Lord and my God!

   Thank You, Jesus, my Beloved.

       Orlando Hernandez

The Conversion of St. Paul

January 25th is the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. It came in a blinding moment, so different than the call of Jesus’ other apostles.

Caravaggio’s dramatic painting of Paul on the flat of his back, arms outstretched, helplessly blind is a vivid picture of humanity before God.

Conversion is God’s work; God alone gives the gift of faith.

The first reading for his feast tell the dramatic story of his conversion. (Acts 22, 3-16)  In the gospel of Matthew,Jesus announces why he was called – to preach the gospel to all nations.(Matthew 16,15-18)

“May the Spirit fill us with that light of faith.”

For St. John Chrysostom  “Paul, more than anyone else, has shown us what we really are, and in what our nobility consists, and of what virtue a human being is capable. Each day he aimed ever higher; each day he rose up with greater ardour and faced with new eagerness the dangers that threatened him. He summed up his attitude in the words: I forget what is behind me and push on to what lies ahead.

“When he saw death imminent, he bade others share his joy: Rejoice and be glad with me! And when danger, injustice and abuse threatened, he said: I am content with weakness, mistreatment and persecution. These he called the weapons of righteousness, thus telling us that he derived immense profit from them…

The most important thing of all to Paul was that he knew himself to be loved by Christ.”

May God give us that grace .

Today ends the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

May God give us all that grace.

Gratitude

by Orlando Hernandez

Five years ago I attended my first Catholic Charismatic prayer meeting. I was very much excited by all that music, praising, and shouting. I felt as if the Holy Spirit was right there “in my face.” A very fiery lay preacher spoke to us. She asked people from the audience to come up and thank God in front of everybody. There was silence. Nobody was coming up. Suddenly, I was there on the floor (with my bad knees!) yelling thanks to God for so many things, my wife, my grandchildren, my health, my faith, His sacrifice on the cross, the beauty of the world…and I don’t remember what else. The place remained quiet, and the preacher turned to the audience (I guess trying to shame them a little), and said, “This man here is the tenth leper!” Me, a leper? Gee, thanks! I had only a faint memory of that passage in the Bible. It has haunted me ever since.

In this Wednesday’s Gospel (Lk 17:11-19), Jesus is approached by ten lepers outside a village (they are not allowed there, of course). From a distance they cried to Him for mercy. The Lord “saw them” and instructed them to go show themselves to the priest. They walked away.

We are left to ponder what was going through their minds. Were they disappointed, and discouraged (go all the way to Jerusalem to fulfill the taxing requirements of Leviticus Chapter 14:1-20)? Or were they touched by His words of power and left with faith and hope? After all, they must have heard of so many healing done by Jesus already. Perhaps, even as they took two or three steps the miracle was already beginning to take place:

“As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked Him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, ‘Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?’ Then He said to him, ‘ Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.’” (Lk 17: 14b-19)

It turns out that Charismatic preacher was giving me a very kind compliment. Ever since my conversion, I have always related to all those paralytic, bleeding, blind, foreign, and “unclean” characters in the Gospel. That was the condition of my soul before my Lord manifested Himself to me and I thank Him with all my heart just about every day.

But do I thank Him enough? Am I not also like the other nine lepers who never came back? Every day is filled with countless miracles from God. Just waking up every morning, to breathe in the life-giving air, to feel the light of the sun, to know that God loves me so much and will never let me go, to feel love in my heart…..I usually forget to thank Him for these gifts, along with so much that, for His own reasons, He has chosen to give me in my life. I just go about my day without any thanksgiving, and even begin to fuss and complain about all my petty problems, and trudge along the way, until He gently nudges me, and reminds me of His loving Presence.

Perhaps those nine healed lepers felt great gratitude towards Jesus and gave thanks to God in their own way, but they were thinking about going back to their families, even getting a job after all this time of isolation. Where would they get the money to buy the birds, the lambs, the yarn, the hyssop, the bran flour, the oil and other things for their rituals of purification by the priests, and so on? I truly believe that in spite of all this, the Lord was also with them. Last week, a reader of this blog (cenaclemary12) wrote :
“People have so many activities and responsibilities to fit in each day. Make the most of each moment as a gift of God.”
This is one of my goals as a Christian. This is my daily prayer:

Thank You, thank You, thank You, Beloved, King of Peace!

Orlando Hernández

You Want a Sign

 

    In this Wednesday’s Gospel (Lk 11: 29-32) our Lord says :

    ” This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.”

    Our Lord seems so frustrated and annoyed with the people of His time ( and I’m sure with us too!) . Like them we want easy fixes to so many sufferings, complications, and problems that plague our personal lives and our society. ” God, please manifest Your great power and heal our world!”

    Our Lord seems to imply that the solutions begin with our changes of heart, where, like the people of Nineveh, we listen to God’s word, repent, and become servants of God’s will which is always our welfare and happiness.

    But we want a ” great sign” to startle us out of our stupor. Our Lord seems to say that His own death and resurrection is that sign.

    Only 2 weeks ago we remembered the anniversary of the passing of my wonderful friend, Fr Owen Lally,CP, the leader of our prayer group. His spirit still lives in us. Our group still stands strong. Through Fr Owen’s guidance we always strove to be ” the sign of Jonah”. Fr Owen wrote:

    ” Our Resurrection with the Lord is the sign of Jonah. Our old self transformed by grace into our true self IS our resurrection. Our entire life’s journey has as it’s goal the renewal of the old man of sin into the new man of grace in Christ. Individually this is wonderful to see, but to bring several brothers and sisters into unity is the true icon of the risen Lord.

    Mutual Indwelling is the result of becoming human together. The sign of Jonah was the survival of our Lord’s being in the belly of the earth. We are in the belly of the whale by our baptism and deep immersion into the water. Whoever is in Christ is a new creation. ‘ Whenever two or three are gathered together in my name I am there.’ ‘ This is the Sign by which all shall know that I have come forth from God, that you love one another.’ The primary way to make new Christians and to get vocations is to love one another and become one in community.”

    The Passionist Community has graciously allowed our Prayer Group (Fr Owen’s Prayer Group) to meet on Sundays, after mass, at the Passionist Monastery in Jamaica, NY. Sometimes when I walk into that Monastery Chapel in the middle of our prayer meeting, I am struck by the awesome power of 30 to 40 people, who have given themselves fully to song and praise, to love and support for one another.  In this place the Spirit of the Risen Jesus is alive in all His Glory, a sign to the world that Love is supreme, that there is hope, that our Lord reigns!  In a way we feel like God’s prophets. We are compelled to walk through our own Nineveh and proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom!

Orlando M. Hernández