Tag Archives: Passionists

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Faith gives you life and calls you to live with a mission. That’s what it did for Mary, the mother of Jesus. Luke’s gospel before today’s reading said that Mary believed in the message of an angel in Nazareth. She welcomed the Son of God to be born of her. He brought life to her and to the world.

He gave her a mission, Luke’s gospel says today.  Mary set out “in haste” for the hill country of Judea to visit Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah, who also was with child. Mary has a mission.                                                                                                                        

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb.” The infant who would be John the Baptist, leaped for joy, the gospel says.

Both of these women had exceptional faith. Mary, the younger woman, accepted what the angel asks, even as she questions how it will take place and the meaning of it all.                                                                                                                                 

Elizabeth, the older woman, conceives with her husband, Zechariah. But she’s an old woman, pregnant with a child. However miraculous her pregnancy was, she must have felt fear and uncertainty for having a child in her old age. Like Mary, she must have asked, “How can this be?” “What does this all mean?”

Mary’s visit took those fears away. The child in Elizbeth’s womb leaped for joy. Elizabeth’s fears were turned into joy. Faith gives you life and sends you into life on a mission. Exceptional faith, in the case of Mary and Elizabeth led to an exceptional mission. 

In spite of what some people think, faith is not a burden that cripples you. Faith is a gift that empowers you. It takes you beyond your dreams and what you 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.

The Voice of the Faithful

Apollos is mentioned  in Saturday’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles (18,23-28).   He reminds us that Peter, Paul and the other apostles were not the only teachers in the early church. Others brought the message of Christ to the cities and towns of the Roman Empire and Apollos was one of them.

He’s an eloquent, learned teacher who came to Ephesus from Alexandria, one of the great centers of Jewish and Christian learning, and drew a following by preaching about Jesus. But Apollos doesn’t know everything, so a Jewish couple, Priscilla and Acquila, “took him aside and explained to him the Way of God more accurately.”

They were disciples of Paul whom they supported by giving him some work in their tent business. They traveled with Paul and certainly listened to his teaching, but I don’t think they were ever considered teachers as he and Apollos were. They were considered “hearers of the word,” more likely. Well informed, for sure, but still among those we would call today “the faithful.”

Yet, let’s not forget what important teachers “the faithful” are, as Priscilla and Aquila remind us.

I remember a story a brilliant priest I knew told me long ago about a baptism he was conducting for an infant born to a member of his family. His father was the baby’s sponsor and according to the rite then was expected to recite the Creed.

“Can you say the Creed, Dad?” the priest said to his father.

“Who do you think taught it to you?,” the father sharply replied.

Faith can’t survive in this world without the faithful, ordinary Priscillas and Aquilas explaining it and  passing it on. It begins with parents, godparents and family passing on the faith to children. It continues in daily life as ordinary Christians share their faith with others. The church today needs to strongly acknowledge this key mission of the laity.

Pope Francis is urging the laity to speak out in his call for a synodal church.

Praying in Jesus Christ

Farewell Discourse of Jesus. Duccio

“I pray for them,” Jesus says in Tuesday’s gospel as he looks to his disciples in the supper room and also to us who are his own today.

We who are so conscious of how poorly we pray need to remember Jesus praying for us and in us.  Is it possible to speak to God, we ask ourselves? We’re so easily distracted, so weak in faith, so bound to life as it is. How can we to go to God in prayer?

“Let the Son who lives in our hearts, be also on our lips,” St. Cyprian says in his commentary on the Our Father. Jesus joins our weak and stumbling prayers to his own. He prays in and for us and gives us the assurance we will be welcomed and heard.

“I pray for them,” Jesus said in the supper room. Then, he prayed for his disciples when they left the supper room and entered the Garden of Gethsemani. They fell asleep, forgetful of everything. A stone’s throw away, Jesus prayed and his prayer was not only for himself but to strengthen them as well.

“I pray for them,’ Jesus says in our liturgical prayers. We speak to God the Father “through Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.”

Whenever we pray, whether with others in public prayer or praying alone, he enters our prayer. “Let us pray with confidence to the Father in the words our Savior gave us,” we say as we begin the Our Father at Mass.

Our confidence in prayer comes, not from our own wisdom, or holiness or faith, but from Jesus who says “I pray for them.”

Reinterpreting Life Through the Cross


During the Easter season, we go to Calvary to reinterpret what we saw there. Reinterpreting life is at the heart of the Easter mystery. It invites us to see life differently. Listen to the 4th century Saint Ephrem the Syrian:

Glory be to you, Lord,
You raised your cross like a bridge to span the jaws of death, that we might go from the land of death to the land of the living.
Glory be to you, Lord,
You took on a human body that every human being might live.

You are alive. Those who killed you sowed your living body in the earth as farmers sow grain, and it sprang up and brought forth an abundant harvest of human beings from the dead.

Come, brothers and sisters, let’s offer our love. Pour out our treasury of hymns and prayers before him who offered himself on the cross to enrich us all.”

Reinterpreting life through the mystery of the Cross is at the heart of the charism of my community, the Passionists. In our Mary Garden here at the monastery, Mary stands with her Son on the stump of a cedar tree. A dead tree, yet brought to life by the presence of Jesus carried in Mary’s arms.

The Cross of Jesus helps us see life in our world, a “Faithful Cross” it’s called in an ancient hymn. And it is.

I have a feeling we need to spend a lot of time reinterpreting what we’re going though now with Covid 19 through the mystery of the Cross of Jesus.

Passionist Saints


 The Passionists, are a small and relatively new community in the Roman Catholic Church, but we have a good number of canonized saints and members proposed for canonization. Beginning with our founder, St. Paul of the Cross, who died in 1774, each generation of Passionists has produced men and women recognized for their holiness.

We’re hoping Father Theodore Foley who died in 1974 may join the ranks of Passionist saints such as Paul of the Cross, Vincent Strambi, Gabriel Possenti, Dominic Barberi, Gemma GalganiCharles Houben, Isidore DeLoor and Eugene Bossilkov.

Saints are God’s answer to the poison of their times, and it’s important to see them as they oppose it. Saints are firm believers and examples of heroic virtue. They’re signs of God’s power in a sinful world and God marks them out as saints through miracles performed through their intercession.

For example, St. Paul of the Cross was an antidote to the forgetfulness of the passion of Jesus which followed the Enlightenment, a 17th century movement that denied or minimized the role of faith and religion in human life. We’re still feeling the effects of the Enlightenment today.

St. Vincent Strambi opposed the Enlightenment as it was expressed in the political schemes of Napolean Bonaparte, who tried to subordinate religion to his own dreams of European domination. Vincent was a brave Italian bishop who resisted the emperor and suffered for it.  Like him, the Bulgarian Bishop Eugene Bossilkov suffered and died under an oppressive Communist government in Bulgaria in the 20th century.

Gabriel Possenti resisted the lure of the Enlightenment in the 19th century. As a young man, he chose religious life rather than the inflated promises of success that tempted so many of his contemporaries.

Saints like Gemma, Isidore de Loor, Charles Houben seem to be people who fit St. Paul’s description of those called by God. They were not wise by human standards, they don’t have a lot of human power, they’re not of noble birth. They’re “the weak of the world God chooses to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1, 23-28)

Our Passionist saints tend to be ordinary people, of no special note, easily unnoticed and misunderstood, subject to the sufferings, disappointments and failures that come in life. God chooses them to be signs that he does not abandon his people and, in fact, can do great things through them. Charles Houben was a healer. Gemma bore the signs of Jesus’ passion in her body.

It takes awhile to know saints like these. That may be because we often don’t understand our own times and the poison afflicting it.

St. Gemma Galgani


Gemma Umberta Pia Galgani

Gemma Galgani died on Holy Saturday, 1903 in Lucca, Italy. Her death should have been completely unnoticed. She was often sickly in her 25 years of life and had to be taken care of. She left no children or family/. No hospitals, schools or any human achievement bear her name. Disappointments marked her life at every turn. She never got her wish to enter the Passionist Nuns or any other religious community.

Yet, at the news of her death on Holy Saturday, her neighbors gathered quickly in the Lucca’s ancient streets proclaiming “A saint has died.” Today in the Easter season we’re celebrating her feast.

Holy Saturday, the day after Jesus suffered and died, is the day before Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples. They report that he ate and drank with them for some days before ascending into heaven. He showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. He appeared to them, not just to prove he was alive, but affirm his love for them and for the whole world. He promised life. 

Gemma knew the mysteries of Jesus’ death and resurrection in a special way. She spoke familiarly with the Risen Jesus, as we see from her writings, and in a unique way she bore his wounds in her body.

“Poor Gemma”, she called herself; but she was’t poor. Frail in body and mind, she wasn’t a  failure. In declaring her a saint, Pope Pius XII said that Gemma experienced what the great apostle Paul experienced: “I have been crucified with Christ and the life that I live is not my own: Christ lives in me.

The stigmata, the bodily experience of the wounds of Christ, is a rare experience. It was not reason Gemma was declared a saint. Her heroic life of faith, patience and humility revealed her union with Christ, living in her.

The stigmata is a rare experience given to individuals, but it’s not meant for individuals themselves; it’s given to strengthen the belief of many. In Gemma’s time, “enlightened” thinkers like Freud and Jung were beginning to explore the human person. They were little concerned with God’s presence in human life. They would likely have dismissed Gemma’s spiritual experiences as delusional. A number of  Lucca’s “enlightened” people had that opinion of her.

Gemma’s Passionist spiritual director, Father Germano, was introduced to her while preaching in Lucca. He saw God working in her. The church concurred in his judgment by declaring Gemma a saint in 1940.

Many today still define humanity in human terms and sees success here on earth as our ultimate goal. Gemma is a strong reminder of God’s presence in humanity, in ordinary people, even in unsuccessful, imperfect people. Her devotion to the Passion of Jesus gave her a deep sense that Jesus loved her and lived in her.  She saw her life fulfilled in him and she believed his promise of life beyond this. 

Many today think the spiritual world faraway; for Gemma it wasn’t faraway at all– saints and angels, Jesus himself, were ever at her side. She once wrote: “Often I seem to be alone; but really I have Jesus as my companion…I am the fruit of your passion, Jesus, born of your wounds. O Jesus, seek me in love; I no longer possess anything; you have stolen my heart.”

Lucca Streets
Lucca St. Michael 3

We’re not alone. Jesus Christ is our companion as well.

You can get St. Gemma’s Autobiography or a The Life of St. Gemma Galgani by writing to the Passionist Nuns, 1151 Donaldson Highway, Erlanger, Kentucky 41018
(859)371 8568

“Then one day I became very discouraged because I saw that it was impossible for me to become a Passionist, because I have nothing at alI: all I have is a great desire to be one. I suffer much seeing myself so far from realizing my desires. No one will be able to take this desire away from me. But when will it come about?” Letter to Germano

Gemm’a buried at the Convent of the Passionist Nuns in Lucca, Italy. The house where she lived before she died has been turned into a museum honoring her. Both places worth a visit.

Her feast day is May 16th.

Weekday Readings: 5th Week of the Easter Season


MAY 8 Mon Easter Weekday Acts 14:5-18/Jn 14:21-26

9 Tue Easter Weekday Acts 14:19-28/Jn 14:27-31a

10 Wed Easter Weekday [St John of Avila; USA: St Damien de Veuster, ]
Acts 15:1-6/Jn 15:1-8

11 Thu Easter Weekday Acts 15:7-21/Jn 15:9-11

12 Fri Easter Weekday [Sts Nereus and Achilleus; St Pancras,]

Acts 15:22-31/Jn 15:12-17

13 Sat Easter Weekday [Our Lady of Fatima]

Acts 16:1-10/Jn 15:18-21

Acts 8:5-8, 14-17/1 Pt 3:15-18/Jn 14:15-21

The gospel readings for the remainder of the Easter season are from the Farewell Discourse from John’s gospel. A good source to reflect on the presence of Jesus in the sacraments.

“I will not leave you orphans,” Jesus says, yet he will not be with them as he was before, but he will be with them in signs, as God is always with them. The Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, will teach them all things; Jesus  will be present in signs.

The Acts of the Apostles continue to describe  the church’s journey in time. This week’s readings describe the successful missionary efforts of Paul and Barnabas among the gentiles in the Asia Minor cities of Lystra, Derbe, and Pisidia. The mission raises questions in the Jewish Christian community at Jerusalem. Are the gentiles taking over? To meet what some considered a threat and others an opportunity,  a council was called in Jerusalem, which has  enormous consequences for the church.

Conflict causes the church to grow, Pope Francis said some time ago: “But some in Jerusalem, when they heard this, became ‘nervous and sent Barnabas on an “apostolic visitation”: perhaps, with a little sense of humor we could say that this was the theological beginning of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: this apostolic visit by Barnabas. He saw, and he saw that things were going well.”

Previously in his homily, the pope said that persecution or crises bring growth, often hidden. In the 1960s and 70s, as the church in the western world experienced critical times and decline, tremendous growth took place in Africa, Asia, and South America. Today there are 1.2 billion Catholics in a world of 6 billion people.

And it’s not over yet.

Is This All There Is?


In John’s readings from the Last Supper today and tomorrow, Jesus’ disciples , Thomas and Philip, appear unsure of the way and the power of Jesus himself. An important question raised in mystagogic catechesis.

 St. Ambrose in the 4th century met the same uncertainty of signs as he spoke to the newly baptized of his time. 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 and the table of the Eucharist.

Encountering God through sacraments in weakened further today by a lack of a symbolic sense, Pope Francis writes in his letter Desiderio Desideravi . Now, more than ever, human beings, like Thomas and Philip, want to see. We want immediate experience.

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)

The Assyrian general, Naaman, doubted as he 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, we’re like those whom the gospel describes and the saint addresses. Is this it? Moreso now, 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.

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 in me, Jesus says.

Readings here.

Saints Philip and James: May 3

Saints Philip and James. Duccio

We celebrate a feast of the apostles each month. Why? Every family wants to find out how it began. Our church began with the apostles. Today, May 3rd, we remember two apostles together, Philip and James.They’re celebrated together because their relics were placed side by side in the Church of the Twelve Apostles when it was built in Rome in the 6th century.

Philip was called by Jesus to follow him the day after he called Andrew and Peter. (John 1:43-45) James, who is also called James the Less to distinguish him from James, the brother of John, was the son of Alpheus and a cousin of Jesus. He  later became head of the church in Jerusalem. His mother Mary, stood with Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalen beneath the cross of Jesus. (John 19: 25)  He was martyred in Jerusalem in the year 62.

On a feast of an apostle you expect to hear one or more heroic act or wise saying, but in today’s reading from St. John’s gospel  we hear an apostle’s clumsy question instead. During his Farewell Discourse, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father.”

“Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Philip says to Jesus, who responds:

“Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own.”

Can we hear exasperation in Jesus’s words? Some commentators think so.  Jesus’ apostles are slow to understand him, uncertain, fearful–even ready to betray him. Philip isn’t the only one who can’t fathom Jesus and his message. 

Called by Jesus, they’re human. Their humanness and slowness makes us realize where our power comes from. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us be the glory!” The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ.

But before we dismiss Philip, let’s remember he pointed Jesus out to Nathaniel at the Jordan River and he brought Greek visitors to Jesus as he was entering Jerusalem to die on a cross. ( John 12: 20-23) He never stopped pointing to the One whom he tried to understand. It’s an apostle’s gift.

The apostles make us realize the patience of Jesus, which is the patience of God. They  reveal the different gifts and weaknesses found in the followers of Jesus.

Church Leaders

Peter the Apostle, Cloisters, New York

Keep Peter and the rest of the apostles in mind when thinking about church leaders. In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles  Peter finds himself called from Joppa to bring the gospel to a Roman centurion, Cornelius, and his household. Joppa, remember, was the seaport where Jonah began his perilous journey to Nineveh and the gentile world.

In Joppa, the tired apostle asleep on the roof of Simon the Tanner’s house overlooking the vast sea has a disturbing vision. Instead of the usual  kosher food  a gentile banquet is poured out before him; as a good Jew Peter pushes it away. Three times the vision invites the puzzled apostle to eat.

Then, messengers appear at the door from Cornelius, a gentile soldier stationed in Caesaria Maritima, Rome’s headquarters just up the coast, asking Peter to come and speak about “the things that had happened.” He’s invited to the gentile banquet he saw in his dream.

“As I began to speak,” Peter says describing their meeting, ” the Holy Spirit fell upon them as it had upon us at the beginning.” It was a gentile Pentecost. Peter baptized the Roman soldier, his friends and his household. “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but every nation is acceptable to him,” 

Did Peter know then where his visit to Cornelius would lead? Was the simple fisherman, who spoke Aramaic with a Galilean accent, who felt the pull of home, family and fishing boats, ever comfortable in a gentile world? Later, he traveled to Antioch in Syria and then to Rome, where he was killed in the Neronian persecution in the 60’s. Was he ever completely comfortable at a gentile banquet and a gentile world?

Artists usually portray Peter in Rome as a church leader firmly in charge of the church, holding its keys tightly in hand. Clearly, he is a rock.

I saw another image of Peter years ago in the Cloisters Museum in New York. He’s softer, reflective, more experienced, not completely sure of himself. There’s a consciousness of failure in his face. He seems to be listening humbly for the voice of the Shepherd, hoping to hear it and ever surprised by the unexpected coming of the Holy Spirit.

Church leaders never fully understand the mysterious ship they’re called to steer. They have to listen for the Shepherd’s voice and look for signs of the Spirit.