Tag Archives: faith

Believing for Others

The healing of the paralytic told in today’s gospel from Mark is a great story.(Mark 2: 1–12) Four friends bring him to the door of Peter’s house in Capernaum but the crowds are so dense that they can’t get in to see Jesus so they climb up on the roof, cut a hole in it and lower him down before Jesus. Was the paralyzed man conscious, or half conscious? We don’t know.

What ingenuity! What nerve! What determination on the part of his friends! Think of the logistics involved in it all. The pictures here show the ruins of Peter’s house now enclosed in a shrine and a picture from the shrine looking down into the house–possibly just where the man was lowered down.

We know Jesus forgave the man’s sins and then healed him completely, so he left the house carrying the mat that once bore him. The gospel wants us to recognize that Jesus the healer is Jesus who forgives sins. But some who heard his words of forgiveness that day were shocked by this action which they rightly judged was divine.

But I’m led back to the four friends who had a part in this miracle. Let’s not forget them. They believe and their belief makes them go to extraordinary lengths to  help another .  We believe for others as well as for ourselves. Faith reaches out; it doesn’t remain within.  Believing prompts us to do daring things.

Back to Peter’s house. Did Peter look up that day and say, “Who’s going to pay for that hole in the roof?” The story of the paralyzed man is a wonderful story. But it also has an ominous part to it. Scribes, sitting in judgment, call him a blasphemer for pronouncing sins are forgiven. Opposition to Jesus begins to build that leads to his death.

December 20: The Annunciation

Annunciation

 

St. Luke’s account of the Annunciation to Mary, read today at Mass,  follows the announcement of the birth of John to Zechariah in yesterday’s advent readings. Mary receives the angel so differently than the priest Zechariah. (Luke 1, 5-25,)

In the temple where great mysteries are celebrated, the priest won’t believe he and his wife can conceive a child. They’re too old. He doubts.

In  Nazareth, an unlikely place for a great revelation, the angel approaches Mary with a message far more difficult to grasp. “ The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

Mary believes and does not doubt, and so by God’s power she conceives a Son who will be born in Bethlehem. “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word,”

Medieval artists assumed that Mary was at home in prayer when the angel came, so they put the scene we have above at the beginning of books of prayer. Prayer enabled Mary to believe and accept what would come.The Annunciation scene pictured above was followed by the words beneath it in latin: “Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise.”

Isn’t that true for us all? Prayer helps us discern and say yes to what God wills. “Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise.”

My community, the Passionists, like other communities begins our prayers by reciting the Angelus, a prayer that repeats this gospel story. “The angel of the Lord declared to Mary, and she conceived by the Holy Spirit….”

Prayer opens the way to mysteries beyond us. As a woman of faith, Mary knew that, and we can learn from her.

At Mass today we pray:  “O God, grant that by Mary’s example, we may in humility hold fast to your will.” Open our eyes to see and our lips to say yes.

Readings www.usccb.org

Feast of The Immaculate Conception

Some question why Mary, the Mother of Jesus, has such a big place in our church. The words of the angel in Luke’s gospel, words we often repeat in prayer, are an answer: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.”

Mary is full of grace, gifted by God with unique spiritual gifts from her conception, because she was to be the mother of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son.

She would be the “resting place of the Trinity,” and would give birth to, nourish, guide and accompany Jesus in his life and mission in this world. To fulfill that unique role she needed a unique gift. She would be free from original sin that clouds human understanding and slows the way we believe in God and his plan for us.

“How slow you are to believe” Jesus said to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. Jesus made that complaint repeatedly as he preached the coming of God’s kingdom. “How slow you are to believe!” “What little faith you have!” “Do you still not understand!” Human slowness to believe didn’t end in gospel times. We have it too.

Mary was freed from that slowness to believe. “Be it done to me according to your word,” she immediately says to the angel. Yet, her acceptance of God’s will does not mean she understood everything that happened to her. “How can this be?” she asks the angel about the conception of the child. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.”  But the angel’s answer seems so incomplete, so mysterious.

Surely, Mary would have liked to know more, but the angel leaves, never to return. There’s no daily message, no new briefing or renewed assurance by heavenly messengers. The years go by in Nazareth as the Child grows in wisdom and age and grace, but they’re years of silence. Like the rest of us, Mary waits and wonders and keeps these things in her heart.

That’s why we welcome her as a believer walking with us. She is an assuring presence who calls us to believe as she did, without knowing all. She does not pretend to be an expert with all the answers. She has no special secrets known to her alone. “Do whatever he tells you,” is her likely advice as we ponder the mysteries of her Son.

 

 

Do Whatever He Tells you

Ignatius of Antioch

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Ignatius, bishop of the large early Christian center, was put to death in the third century in the Colosseum in Rome during the reign of Trajan when he was devoured by wild animals. His death is vividly portrayed in the picture (above) in the church of San Stefano Rotondo in Rome. We celebrate his feast October 17th..

On the way to Rome, Ignatius wrote seven letters to important Christian churches. The letters show him as a skillful teacher and writer; he must have been an eloquent preacher.

In his letter to the Christians at Ephesus,  however, you sense his days for words are coming to an end. He’s entering the silence of death where words are not important, Ignatius writes–  faith and “ being faithful to the end,” are what count:

“It is better to remain silent and to be than to talk and not be. Teaching is good if the teacher also acts. One teacher ‘spoke, and it was done,’ yet what he did in silence was worthy of the Father. He who has the word of Jesus can also listen to his silence…”

What does Ignatius mean? The Word of God silent? True, in his early years at Nazareth, Jesus is silent. Before his baptism in the Jordan by John he’s  silent, until the voice of the Father says, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”

Then his public ministry began, yet many didn’t hear him at all. Finally, when he’s arrested and taken to the cross to die, the evangelists say  Jesus was silent.

Silence is part of facing the mystery of God. Here and now, some things can’t be known or explained. Like terrorism, natural disasters, the suffering of children. Why? God is silent. Again,  Ignatius:

“He who has the word of Jesus can truly listen also to his silence.”

Saint Monica

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We remember a mother and her son this week, St. Monica and her son St. Augustine. I heard a song long ago that said: “A Mother’s Love’s a Blessing.” Augustine could have sung that song.

In his “Confessions,” he praised God for bringing him “late” to a faith he found beautiful; he also acknowledged a mother’s tears and prayers helped bring him to Jesus Christ. She was like the woman in the gospel who, as she brought her dead son to be buried, met Jesus who saw her tears and stopped the funeral procession and raised her son to life.

“ I was like that son,” Augustine says. ‘I was dead. My mother’s tears won me God’s life.”

Like many women of her time, we don’t know much about Monica. She married a man named Patricius, a tough husband who put her down and went out with other women. They had three kids, but Augustine was special; she followed him, hoping be would be the person she knew he could be. Above all, she wanted him to have faith.

He was a hard son to deal with, smart, well educated, hooked on the “lovely things” about him, deaf to her advice, blind to the path she wanted him to take, but she followed him anyway, convinced God had something big for him to do, and she finally got her wish

Doesn’t she sound like many today? How many today love their kids, or their husbands or their wives or their friends, but worry they’ll get mixed up in the wrong things–not going to church, deaf to the gospel? But they stick by them anyway.

That’s not easy to do and so it’s good to remember Monica and the moving words to God Augustine wrote in his Confessions. Did he ever show them to her, I wonder?

“O beauty every ancient, O beauty ever new. Late have I have loved thee. You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”

Fittingly, the church celebrates Monica’s feast on August 27th,  the day before her son’s.

Is This All There Is?

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In his sermons on the sacraments, which he preached to some newly baptized,  St. Ambrose in the 4th century shows a keen appreciation of the power and weakness of signs. They signify so much, but we find them hard to accept. “Is this it?” he hears them say as they approach the waters of baptism.

We’re reminded that encountering God through sacraments, which Pope Francis describes in his letter Desiderio Desideravi as weakened today by our lack of a symbolic sense, has always been difficult for human beings who, like Thomas, want to see.

Ambrose calls on stories of the Old Testament: the Israelites were saved as they flee from Egypt through the waters of the Red Sea, the cloud that guides them on their way–foreshadowing the Holy Spirit, the wood that makes the bitter waters of Marah sweet–the mystery of the Cross.

“You must not trust, then, wholly to your bodily eyes. What is not seen is in reality seen more clearly; for what we see with our eyes is temporal whereas what is eternal (and invisible to the eye) is discerned by the mind and spirit.” (On the mysteries)

Remember Namaan’s doubt as the Assyrian general stood before the healing waters of the Jordan, Ambrose reminds his hearers. There’s more here than you see or think.

So we’re invited into an unseen world. Still, aren’t we also like those whom the saint addressed? Is this it? Maybe more so, for schooled as we are in the ways of science and fact, we look for proof from what our eyes see. We live in a world that tells us what we see is all there is.

And now it’s a world made more untrustworthy by the Covid19 pandemic. Are sacramental signs, taken from creation, now less trustworthy?

Faith is a search for what we don’t see. God desires to approach us through signs. Will he not help us approach him that way? Believe, God says.

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary



Faith gives life and sends you on a mission. That’s what it did for Mary, Luke’s gospel says. That’s what the mystery of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, May 31st, does for us.

Mary believes the angel who announces in Nazareth the coming of Jesus, and she’s empowered by the message. So she sets out “in haste” for the hill country of Judea to visit Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah, who also was with child. It’s not an ordinary visit. She goes “in haste” because she’s inspired by a sense of mission. She hurries to Judea to announce good news to her relatives serving in the temple of God.

Faith is not a burden; it empowers us. It does not cripple us, it enables. Faith takes us beyond our dreams and what we hope for.

 “Blessed are you who believed,” Elizabeth says to Mary.

“You too, my people, are blessed,” comments St. Ambrose, “ you who have heard and who believe. Every soul that believes — that soul both conceives and gives birth to the Word of God and recognizes his works.

“Let the soul of Mary be in each one of you, to proclaim the greatness of the Lord. Let the spirit of Mary be in each one of you, to rejoice in God. According to the flesh only one woman can be the mother of Christ, but in the world of faith Christ is the fruit of all of us.”

As with Mary so with us, faith gives life and sends us on a mission..

Four years ago, on May 31st, we blessed our Mary Garden here at Immaculate Conception Monastery. We will celebrate Mass in our chapel at 11 AM and pray afterwards in the Mary Garden to Mary, Queen of All Creation.

Wednesday, 5th Week of Lent

Lent 1


Readings
Those listening to Jesus teaching in the temple area claim they’re “descendants of Abraham.”(John 8,31-42) They know well the splendid temple buildings, its well-ordered worship, its ancient traditions, and so they ask: “Why listen to this man? We have what God promised to Abraham; it’s automatically ours”.

But God’s promises are not automatic, Jesus says. “If you were the children of Abraham you would be doing the works of Abraham.” The great patriarch, a nomad, found God’s promises revealed from place to place. He discovered the works of God in time. So must we.

John’s gospel was written well after the temple and Jerusalem itself were destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Jews and Jewish Christians in his time, “descendants of Abraham” may have longed for the restoration of ancient structures now gone and the surety they found in them.

This gospel would remind them, and us, that Abraham, “our father in faith,” ventured on paths unknown.

Does that sound like our times? We’re called to have Abraham’s faith, a mystic faith. In our first reading today from the Book of Daniel three children thrown into the fiery furnace in Babylon sing in the flames.

Is God telling us to do that today? Sing in the flames and God will lead us on.

Two centuries ago, St. Paul of the Cross urged those who sought his advice to hold on to the Unchanging One we meet “in spirit and truth.” God will be our guide..

“Jesus will teach you. I don’t want you to indulge in vain imagery over this. Freely take flight and rest in the Supreme Good, in God’s consuming fire. Rest in God’s divine perfections, especially in the Infinite Goodness which made itself so small within our humanity.” (Letter 18)

O God, you are my God,
For you I long.
My body pines for you,
Like a dry, weary land without water. (Ps 63)

You guide our steps into the unknown. Lead us on.

Poor in Spirit

Christmas is a time of poverty. The Spirit of Bethlehem is one of smallness, of tiny new beginnings that open our minds to the infinite largeness of Incarnate Wisdom. The Christ Child heals us of our presumption. The New Born shows us that we simply don’t know what God has in store. His impoverished delivery stops us in our tracks. We stand like beasts in a stable, our knowledge, our understanding, our science, our facts, our truths stripped of eternal value. All that remains, whether we’re shepherds or kings or someone in between, is for us to nod along with the tiny beat of the drummer boy offering his seemingly meaningless gift. Let’s welcome Christ Jesus, Innocence itself, by being poor with Him. Let’s let go of preconceived notions of having control. To stand before the Lord in our nothingness is worth more to Him than any amount of gold, frankincense or myrrh. Our humility before the bright light is pure praise and prayer to the One Who offers us everything.

—Howard Hain

Mary’s Mother

by Howard Hain

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Albrecht Durer, “Virgin and Child with Saint Anne”, ca. 1519 (The Met)

Christmas is a time for grandmothers.

They bake and cook and decorate. Their homes become mini North Poles, diplomatic outposts of Santa’s Castle.

At its core, Christmas is of course all about Jesus. All about Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. All about the Holy Family.

The Holy Family is an extended family though. And it doesn’t stop at grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, or even cousins and distant cousins.

Just ask Saints Joachim and Anne, Zechariah and Elizabeth, or John the Baptist—not to mention all the unknown relatives whom the child Jesus surely encountered throughout His Galilean days. Ask any one of them about the far-reaching ripple effects of family grace.

Those touched by Jesus have a tendency to appear bigger than life.

Look at Santa Claus.

Most of us are aware that he is really Saint Nick.

But do we stop to wonder who Mrs. Claus really is?

I think she’s Saint Anne.

After all, Mrs. Claus is seen as everyone’s grandmother, especially when it comes to holiday cheer. But when it comes to truly celebrating the birth of Jesus, it is through Saint Anne that we approach the gates of Christ’s Nativity.

Mary’s Mother holds a special key. She is first among grandmas, first among those who pinch chubby cheeks, who pass along one more extra sugary treat.

———

Saint Anne help us. Speak to us. Show us how to be grand parents to all those around us, especially the little ones. Stir up the spirit of Advent. Bake away the holiday blues. Cook up a dish of Christmas love that only your hearth can serve.

———

Come one, come all, to the home of Saint Anne. Come with me to Grandma’s house for a holiday visit. Taste and see. Enter her kitchen, where the hot chocolate can always fit a little more whipped cream, where you hear the constant refrain: “eat…eat…eat…”

At Grandma’s your plate is never empty.

Her table is continually set.

She always sees Jesus as having just been born.

She is always wrapping Him up tightly in swaddling clothes.

It is simply grand.

To Grandma, Jesus is always an innocent child.

And she can’t help but see Him deep within both you and me.


(Dec/21/2017)

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com


Web Link: Metropolitan Museum of Art. Albrecht Durer, “Virgin and Child with Saint Anne”, ca. 1519