Tag Archives: lectionary

The healing power of Christ – the Eucharist

Taking communion to the sick and elderly is part of my ministry as a deacon, serving those at the margins of our world.

In the past three months I have taken communion to three persons who died shortly after my visit. I was also able to participate in their funeral. It is a great privilege to share the Eucharist with the dying a Viaticum, food for the journey.

But there was another visit which reveals to me the healing power of the Eucharist. I visited in April but I learned of this yesterday while taking Communion to the sick in San Agustín. There I encountered a young woman,  a catechist from a remote village of the parish.

She told me that her mother, who has been suffering severely for years from complications from an operation, has been able to get around and even get to church since the day when I brought Communion in April.

The older woman and her husband live far from the center of the village and you have to walk at least part of the way.

I had visited the couple twice before, in 2016. The first time was on Good Friday and they arranged my transport to their home on a horse. The second time was the day after I was ordained deacon. Both times I was accompanied by their son, Juan Ángel, a delegate of the Word in the village who was also preparing to be an extraordinary minister of Communion. He died a few months after my visit.

This April, after a Sunday Celebration of the Word with Communion, I went to visit them again. This time I could take my car part of the way but we had to walk about 20 minutes uphill.

DSCN4611

I arrived and we talked for several minutes. I mentioned that I had the Eucharist with me if she wanted to receive Communion. She seemed hesitant. She told me she had not gone to confession for some time – because she couldn’t walk the 45 minutes or more to the church and the priest had not had the opportunity to visit her at home. Here, in Honduras, there is often the belief that you must confess before receiving communion.

So she had had no opportunity to go to confession for years. I mentioned to her that what should stop us from receiving Communion is when one has committed a mortal sin and not confessed it. I, in questions which were both serious and a bit playful, to consider if she had committed a mortal sin. Had she killed someone? Had she slept with someone other than her husband? Had she denied God?

I wasn’t expecting her to answer me – they were rhetorical questions. But she said that every morning she prays and asks God’s forgiveness.

Such faith.

I then told her that we would go forward with the prayers and, when it was time for communion, she could decide.

We prayed and, when it was time for communion, she received the Body of Christ.

I left with a deep sense of her faith and of the way that Christ has been present for her – and for me.

When I heard yesterday from her daughter that she was getting better and could get up and even get to the church for celebrations, I was amazed and grateful. Receiving the Lord in Communion gave her the grace to get up, gave her the strength to move out from her house, gave he the healing to reincorporate herself in the life of the community, especially the church.

What is tomorrow’s Gospel? The healing of the woman with a hemorrhage, twelve years suffering but trusting in the power of Jesus, if she could only touch Him.

Jesús touched Doña Reina and she got up. How the Gospel fits her experience. I hope she can recognize that tomorrow.

The Eucharist, the Body of Christ,  heals and reincorporates us into the Body of Christ, the People of God, the Church.

The Lord has been good to us. We are very glad.

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The resiliency of the Reign of God

DSC08133I have a small tree in a pot on my terrace. It was large at one point, but nearly withered. Then it grew back, but something happened  a few weeks ago and the whole top of the small tree broke off. I thought it was dead, but I left in out and even watered it when there was no rain.

The tree is growing back.

While preparing for preaching this weekend I ran across the last verse of the first reading, Ezekiel 17:24:

[I, the Lord,] make the withered tree bloom.

But I first read it in a Spanish version:

…reverdezco el árbol seco.

Loosely translated,

“I make the dry tree green again.”

There is so much going on to dry out our souls these days – not only the news about separating families of immigrants in the US, the deaths of so many from violence and poverty, the war on the poor that is happening in so many places in the world. How many are feeling dried and drained by worries about their children, by trying to make ends meet, by so many squelched dreams? And then there is the personal dryness – Where is God? Why do I feel so helpless about all this? Is there anything one person can do?

In the midst of this, God promises to make the dry tree green again, to refresh our thirst-plagued spirits.

And we are reminded by the parables that God works through little things, like grains of mustard.

As Pope Francis writes in Gaudete et Exsultate (16), “This holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures.”

And we can remember the wise advice of Dorothy Day:

“Young people say, ‘What can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?’ They cannot see that we can only lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time; we can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment. But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform these actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.”

I remember especially these words from prison of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian peasant martyred in 1943 for his refusal to serve in Hitler’s army.  cThey can both challenge and sustain us, to be resilient workers in the Reign of God:

“Today one hears it said repeatedly that there is nothing any more that an individual can do. If someone were to speak out, it would mean only imprisonment and death. True, there is not much that can be done anymore to change the course of world events. I believe that should have begun a hundred or even more years ago. But as long as we live in this world, I believe it is never too late to save ourselves and perhaps some other soul for Christ. One really has no cause to be astonished that there are those who can no longer find their way in the great confusion of our day. People we think we can trust, who ought to be leading the way and setting a good example, are running along with the crowd. No one gives enlightenment, whether in word or in writing. Or, to be more exact, it may not be given. And the thoughtless race goes on, always closer to eternity. As long as conditions are still half good, we don’t see things quite right, or that we could or should do otherwise….
“If the road signs were stuck ever so loosely in the earth that every wind could break them off or blow them about, would anyone who did not know the road be able to find his way? And how much worse is it if those to whom one turns for information refuse to give him an answer or, at most, give him the wrong direction just to be rid of him as quickly as possible?”

Jesus, Eichmann, and sanity

“He is out of his mind.”
Mark 3: 21

Jesus was healing the sick, touching lepers, listening to the outcasts, challenging the rigidity of religious leaders. He was on the margins. And so his family was worried about him and wanted to take him home and drive some sense into him. “He is out of his mind.” He’s really out of it. He’s nuts.

As I meditated on this reading this week, preparing to preach this Sunday, I recalled an extraordinary essay of Thomas Merton, “A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann,” found in Raids on the Unspeakable.

Merton was deeply moved by Hannah Arendt’s reports on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a mastermind of the Holocaust and the deportation of Jews to Auschwitz and other death camps. Originally appearing in The New Yorker, Arendt’s reports are found in Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.

But what most struck Merton was the apparent sanity of Eichmann. He was no psychotic, but was adjudged perfectly sane by a psychiatrist who examined him.

Yet Jesus’ relatives thought just had lost his mind.

Merton’s remarks are relevant – not just for Eichmann and Jesus, but also for us today.

I am beginning to realize that “sanity” is no longer a value or an end in itself. The “sanity” of modern man is about as useful to him as the huge bulk and muscles of the dinosaur. If he were a little less sane, a little more doubtful, a little more aware of his absurdities and contradictions, perhaps there might be a possibility of his survival. But if he is sane, too sane … perhaps we must say that in a society like ours the worst insanity is to be totally without anxiety, totally “sane.”

Are we sane like Eichmann or out of our minds like Jesus?

 

 

 

Despising the manual worker

“Isn’t this guy the carpenter’s son?”
Matthew 13: 55

All too often the world looks down on manual work and on those who work in our fields and factories, those who clean our buildings or service our cars. White collar work, intellectual work, and business savvy are valued more than the sweat of those who clean our schools and hospitals or grow and harvest our food.

josephEven Jesus experienced this dismissal of the value of manual work. They tried to dismiss him and his wisdom since he is only “the carpenter’s son.”

Yet today, as the world celebrates the Day of the Worker, a national holiday here in Honduras and other countries, the Church celebrates Saint Joseph the Worker.

I see this around me here in Honduras. Shortly after I got here I read the president of the National Congress referring to the people who work in the countryside in our part of the country as “gente del monte,” which (because of the ambiguity of the word monte as either hill or weed) can be translated as “hillbillies” or “hayseed.”

But this is not only here. I remember how the university students who came from the farm or were studying agriculture seemed to be seen as less important than those studying engineering who came from a big city. And this was at a land-grant university.

But it was only a few years ago when I realized why I am so sensitive to this. My parents were blue collar workers. Though my dad eventually worked in the office, he began working on the floor of a steel fabrication plant. My mom had several jobs in offices but also spent several years working in a supermarket distribution center, candling eggs and going through fruit and vegetables.

There is a dignity in manual work that it is so easy to ignore. There is also a tendency to over-value intellectual work, to esteem thinking over doing.

Thus it is interesting that today is also the anniversary of the death of Thomas A Kempis who wrote in The Imitation of Christ:

“A humble countryman who serves God is more pleasing to Him than a conceited intellectual who knows the course of the stars, but neglects his own soul.”

Today is also the anniversary of the initiation of the Catholic Worker, distributed at the May Day rally in 1933.

Today I also recall the death of Monsignor George Higgins, a strong advocate of the worker and of unions, in 2002, and the death on the same day of Ade Bethune, the artist whose work has appeared prominently in The Catholic Worker for decades.

It is good that today we honor Saint Joseph the Worker by honoring all those who work, especially those who work with their hands. Where would we be without them?

 

The Good Shepherd – two perspectives

I have two homilies in me on this Sunday’s readings. I don’t know which one I’ll share, though I might end up sharing both, since I’ll probably be preaching in two different celebrations – in a Celebration of the Word in a remote village and at a Mass in one of the municipalities in the parish.

shepherd

The first perspective on  Jesus as the Good Shepherd that I want to share is of a shepherd who encourages and consoles us.

Jesus care for us, the sheep. He knows us – with all our faults and all our gifts. He wants the best for us. John in the second reading reminds us that “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.”

Jesus seeks us out. Knowing us, as sometimes lost and wandering, he has come from the Father to seek us out. He finds us even in the brambles and carries us back to the flock. If he carries us on his shoulders, it’s quite likely that our bowels will be loosened in fright and we’ll crap down his back. But he loves us with all our crap – and wants to carry us back to the security of the flock.

Jesus also guards and protects us. When we are with Him, we may face dangers – but He is there at our side.

But he loves us so much that He willingly gives us life for us. Yes, it is dangerous and fearful. He did sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. But He knows that giving up oneself brings life.

Jesus, God-made-flesh, is the Good Shepherd who is for us.

But the second perspective is one that challenges us who serve the People of God, God’s flock.

Are we like the Good Shepherd?

Do we know our sheep, as Jesus knows His sheep? Do we have the smell of sheep from getting down into the mud with them?

Do we seek out the lost sheep, instead of being content with the faithful few? Do we go out into the brambles and offer the lost a way out, a way of hope? Or, do we want a comfortable church?

Are we willing to pick up the sheep and carry them home with tenderness? They’ll be dirty and smelling – and may crap on us.

Finally, are we willing to give our lives for them? This may mean martyrdom – which is a gift that God gives to a few. But then there is the dying that happens every day when people serve others in love, go the extra mile to comfort someone, forgive even their enemies?

Are we like the Good Shepherd or are we hired hands, who are content with our little rituals and minimal duties?

But, don’t worry. Even if we are mere hired hands, the Good Shepherd seeks us out and, with love, brings us back and offers us another chance to love.


The image is taken from the web page of Mount Saviour Monastery, a close up of the statue in their cemetery.

Give Thomas a break

Preparing to preach today, I was struck by how narrow our vision is when we consider “doubting Thomas.” I said in my homily that we are too hard on him.

He wasn’t in the Upper Room (with its locked doors for fear of the authorities) when Jesus appeared. The apostles there were startled and terrified (as Luke 24:37 puts it).

Jesus shows them his wounds and they are filled with joy, at least in John’s Gospel (20:21). In Luke they are incredulous for joy and amazed (24:41) or, as the NRSV puts it, “in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.”

Eating with him, they seem to be convinced that it is really Jesus, risen, and not a phantasm.

When Thomas heard the news, I wondered if he thought the other apostles were suffering from an illusion, projecting their dreams to visualize a risen Jesus.

Perhaps Thomas was seeking a real encounter with Jesus and was suspicious of their stories. After all, these same disciples had been told of the risen Jesus by the women who had the courage to go to the tomb that Sunday morning. But they seem to have dismissed the women and doubted them. They were the doubting disciples – of course, the women had brought the message and, in a macho world, who listens to women?

But when Jesus comes to the disciples the next Sunday, he doesn’t chew him out. Rather, he invites Thomas to come and put his finger in the wounds. He invites intimate contact.

And how does Thomas respond? With one of the most profound affirmations of Jesus in the Gospels, “My Lord and my God.”

Thomas gets a bad rep – while the other disciples get excused for their doubts. But Thomas opened himself to intimacy, to touching the wounds of the Lord.

Do we long to touch the wounds of the Lord? Or do we want to keep Him at a distance?

The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas_by_Caravaggio


Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da, 1573-1610. The Incredulity of Saint Thomas.[retrieved April 8, 2018] Original source: Wikipedia Commons.

 

 

Thunderstruck

This past Sunday I preached in a small town about 40 minutes away. I also preached at the 7:00 pm Mass in Dulce Nombre. I wasn’t going to share this except that as Padre German approached the altar to offer the gifts he whispered to me, “Hablaste del corazón” – “You spoke from the heart.” Here are some notes – in English – from my homilies.

I approach preaching today with trepidation. The first reading (Deuteronomy 18: 15-200 has a message for all of us who preach.

“…if a prophet presumes to speak in my name an oracle that I have not commanded him to speak, or speaks in the name of other gods, he shall die.”

Am I preaching me? Or am I transparent – allowing the message of Jesus and the Reign of God to come through? Do the people hear God or just my words.

There are so many people who speak in the name of God but are held in the embrace of the powers of this world, the economy, political parties, racist ideologies. Their preaching serves not God, but an idol.

The Gospel (Mark 1: 21-28), on the other hand, recalls Jesus speaking, preaching, in the synagogue. The people are amazed. We don’t know what he said, but his very manner of preaching moved people.

There was a coherence between what he said and who he was. He, the Son of God made flesh, lived the Reign of God and made it present. Thomas Merton once wrote, “The saint preaches sermons by the way he walks and talks, the way he picks up things and holds them in his hand.”  I image that is what the people saw in Jesus – holiness made present in living form. He is truth and love made flesh. His words spring from his heart.

But then something happens in the synagogue. A man tormented by an unclean spirit begins to shout. The unclean spirit cannot take the truth and the love that is there present before him.

The words of Jesus threaten this spirit who cries out: “Have you come to destroy us?”

Jesus responds simply: “Be quiet. Get out of him!”

The words of Jesus are words that generate hope and heal wounds. They are words that give life. The spirit leaves, convulsing the man and making a racket. The convulsion within the man is brought out into the open and the man is healed.

But what strikes me about this reading is that the people are amazed at the preaching of Jesus and are “amazed” that unclean spirits obey him. The Spanish lectionary states that “todos quedaron estupefactos” – all were stupefied (or thunderstruck).

How often do we come into church, awaiting a boring sermon and not expecting anything new, anything that will shake us up.

But with Jesus, all is wonder.

Would that we lived with a sense of wonder, a sense of letting ourselves be surprised by the marvels around us – the marvel of Word and Eucharist in church, the marvels of love between spouses and among parents and children. But all too often our hearts, as well as our eyes and ears are closed to the marvels, the wonders around us – the wonders of creation, the wonders of people caring for the sick and elderly, the wonders of people working hard and with a spirit of joy.

And so I pray that God will open our eyes and ears, our minds and hearts so that we may let ourselves be thunderstruck by the marvels God shows us every moment of every day.


With gratitude for the commentaries of José Antonio Pagola:
http://iglesiadesopelana3b.blogspot.com/2017/11/j-pagola-ciclo-b-20172018.html