Nehemiah’s Prayer

St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s Cathedral Nantes, France

On January 1, 2020 I started a plan to read through the Bible in a year. I am more than halfway through. This year I am reading the Holy Scriptures in the Douay Rheims version, an English translation from the Latin that predates the King James or Authorized Version (1611).

Today’s readings have me in 2 Esdras (Nehemiah), Proverbs, and Acts. As I read the first chapter of Nehemiah, his prayer to God after receiving word of the dire situation in Jerusalem post-captivity impacted me greatly. I have read this prayer countless times. This morning’s reading cut to the heart.

And when I had heard these words (regarding the condition of Jerusalem), I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days: and I fasted, and prayed before the face of the God of heaven.

And I said: I beseech thee, O Lord God of heaven, strong, great, and terrible, who keepest covenant and mercy with those that love thee, and keep thy commandments:

Let thy ears be attentive, and thy eyes open, to hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, night and day, for the children of Israel thy servants: and I confess the sins of the children of Israel, by which they have sinned against thee: I and my father’s house have sinned.

We have been seduced by vanity, and have not kept thy commandments, and ceremonies and judgments, which thou hast commanded thy servant Moses.

Remember the word that thou commandest to Moses thy servant, saying: If you shall transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations:

But if you return to me, and keep my commandments, and do them, though you should be led away to the uttermost parts of the world, I will gather you back from thence and bring you back to the place which I have chosen for my name to dwell there. (Nehemiah 1:4-9 DR).

The Catholic Church has traditionally understood itself to be the new Israel (Catechism of the Catholic Church 877). Just as Israel was God’s people in the Old Testament, the Church is his people now. https://catholicexchange.com/church-new-israel. So as Nehemiah hears of the condition of the city of Jerusalem and mourns over it, we too find ourselves weeping and mourning over our “Jerusalem.” And following the example of Nehemiah we are to fast and pray before the face of the God of heaven.

Nehemiah confessed the sins of his generation. Listen to his confession: “We have been seduced by vanity, and have not kept thy commandments, and ceremonies and judgments, which thou hast commanded thy servant Moses.” There were consequences for their sin. They found themselves scattered to the four winds.

Only God knows how much the recent events: fires, sacrileges and attacks on Christianity are a result of our sins of vanity, and failure to keep God’s commandments, ceremonies and judgments. That is not mine to determine. Yet it does seem appropriate to forsake the vanity that seduces us in order to follow the example of Nehemiah who wept, mourned, fasted and prayed.

Nehemiah reminds God of his promise to a repentant people: “But if you return to me, and keep my commandments, and do them, though you should be led away to the uttermost parts of the world, I will gather you back from thence and bring you back to the place which I have chosen for my name to dwell there.

Seduction by vanity looks a lot like casting blame on the culture instead of recognizing that the culture is where it is because God’s people (myself included) have failed to keep God’s commandments, ceremonies and judgments. I close with St. Peter’s powerful words in his first letter:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrongdoer, or a mischief-maker; yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God. For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:12-17 RSV).

Jesus brings division?

December 26, 2017- He Brings a Sword- Matthew 10:34, 37-39, Acts 7 ...
Jesus brings the sword

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew

Jesus said to his Apostles: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever find his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous will receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”

When Jesus finished giving these commands to his Twelve disciples, he went away from that place to teach and to preach in their towns. (Matthew 10:34—11:1 NAB)

Isn’t Jesus called the “Prince of peace?” Didn’t the angels announce in Bethlehem at his birth, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” And yet he himself said in today’s reading that he has not come to bring peace upon the earth, but the sword! These are words that are hard to square with our common perception of Jesus.

At this morning’s Mass our parish priest put it like this: Jesus did not come to intentionally create division, but his message and what we do with it as people can create division. We all have free will. If you accept his message and live in his way, but your loved one rejects his message and lives in opposition to Jesus, then division is created, as certainly as if a sword had come between the two of you. How often have we seen a relationship with another Christian closer than what exists between two family members who have chosen a different path.

The call for those of us who follow Jesus is to continue to love. The name of this blog is “Caritas in Veritate.” We follow the way of truth, but we always do it in love. People may disagree with us, even family members and close friends, but that doesn’t excuse us from loving them as Jesus loves. There is no better witness to truth “but to do justice [live like God], and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 NRSV).

¿Me incluyo en este número?

Lectura del santo Evangelio según Mateo:

En aquel tiempo, Jesús dijo a sus apóstoles: “Yo los envío como ovejas entre lobos. Sean, pues, precavidos como las serpientes y sencillos como las palomas. Cuídense de la gente, porque los llevarán a los tribunales, los azotarán en las sinagogas, los llevarán ante gobernadores y reyes por mi causa; así darán testimonio de mí ante ellos y ante los paganos. Pero, cuando los enjuicien, no se preocupen por lo que van a decir o por la forma de decirlo, porque en ese momento se les inspirará lo que han de decir. Pues no serán ustedes los que hablen, sino el Espíritu de su Padre el que hablará por ustedes. El hermano entregará a su hermano a la muerte, y el padre a su hijo; los hijos se levantarán contra sus padres y los matarán; todos los odiarán a ustedes por mi causa, pero el que persevere hasta el fin, se salvará. Cuando los persigan en una ciudad, huyan a otra. Yo les aseguro que no alcanzarán a recorrer todas las ciudades de Israel, antes de que venga el Hijo del hombre.” (Mateo 10:16–23)

La lectura del Evangelio del leccionario de hoy es inquietante. De verdad, muchas de las palabras de Jesús lo son. El contexto de estas palabras, obviamente, es una conversación entre Jesús y sus discípulos, que posteriormente se convierten en sus apóstoles. De las Escrituras y la tradición sabemos que ellos soportaron todas estas cosas frecuentemente mientras salían a predicar el evangelio. Todos sufrieron el martirio con la excepción de san Juan el Amado, y su vida no era nada fácil.

A lo largo de los 20 siglos de historia cristiana, hombres y mujeres han escuchado estas palabras y se han preguntado si se aplicaría a ellos. Para millones de ellos ha sido el caso. Hoy hay personas sin cuenta en todo el mundo que conocen la realidad de este pasaje profético de la Biblia pronunciado por nuestro Señor.

¿Y qué de nosotros? Cada vez que he leído este pasaje me imagino un peligro distante y distópico que nunca me afecta la vida, ni la de mi familia. ¿Pero si tú y yo no tenemos esta ventaja? ¿Qué pasa si estamos incluidos en el número de los que claman en Apocalipsis 6:9–11?

Cuando el Cordero rompió el quinto sello, vi debajo del altar, con vida, a los degallados por anunciar la palabra de Dios y por haber dado el testimonio debido. Y gritaban con fuerte voz, diciendo: —Señor, que eres santo y siempre dices la verdad, ¿cuándo nos harás justicia y vengarás la muerte sangrienta que nos dieron los habitantes de la tierra? Se les entregó entonces un vestido blanco a cada uno y se les dijo que esperan todavía un poco hasta que se completara el número de sus compañeros y de sus hermanos, que como ellos iban a ser martirizados. (Biblia de América)

No sabemos lo que el día de hoy ni el mañana nos trae. Debemos oír la palabra del Evangelio de hoy y no buscar la forma de excluirnos de ella o presentar razones por qué todo esto no nos sucede (como ha sido mi costumbre). Solo Dios conoce nuestro futuro y con eso Jesús nos da una palabra de alivio y un desafío.

We don’t know what today and tomorrow holds for us. We should hear the word of the Gospel today and not immediately exclude ourselves or come up with all the reasons why it won’t happen to us (as has been my custom). Only God knows our future, yet Jesus does give us comfort and a challenge.

La palabra de alivio: “No se preocupen por lo que van a decir o por la forma de decirlo, porque en ese momento se les inspirará lo que han de decir. Pues no serán ustedes los que hablen, sino el Espíritu de su Padre el que hablará por ustedes”.

La palabra de desafío: “Todos los odiarán a ustedes por mi causa, pero el que persevere hasta el fin, se salvará”.

Una oración por la preservación de la fe.
(San Clemente Hofbauer, 1751-1820)

Oh Jesús, redentor, autor y consumador de nuestra Fe, te suplicamos desde lo profundo de nuestro corazón afligido, no se extinga la preciosa luz de nuestra Fe. Nos aflijan los disgustos, nos afecten los infortunios, pero que no nos falte la Fe.

Oh Jesús, autor y consumador de nuestra Fe, concédenos la paz y la unidad. Confórtanos y consérvanos en tus santos servicios, para que por ti y en ti vivamos siempre. Amén.

Am I Included in that Number?

Sermon for the Feast of the Forty Holy Martyrs by St. Theodore the ...

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew:

Jesus said to his Apostles: “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to another. Amen, I say to you, you will not finish the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” (Matthew 10:16–23 NAB)

Today’s Gospel reading from the lectionary is disturbing. Honestly, many of Jesus’ words are. Who is Jesus talking to? Obviously in context he was speaking to his disciples who became his apostles. From Scripture and tradition we know that they endured these things in spades as they went forth to preach the gospel. They all suffered martyrdom with the exception of St. John the Beloved, and his life was no cakewalk.

Down through the 20 centuries of Christian history men and women have heard these words and wondered if it would apply to them. For millions it has been the case. There are countless people today in many parts of the world who know the reality of this prophetic passage of Scripture spoken by our Lord.

What about you and me? Whenever I have read this I have imagined some distant, dystopian danger that would not impact my life or the lives of my loved ones. But what if you and I don’t have that luxury? What if we are included in the number of those who cry out in Revelation 6:9–11?

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the the testimony they had given; they cried out with a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed. (NRSV)

We don’t know what today and tomorrow holds for us. We should hear the word of the Gospel today and not immediately exclude ourselves or come up with all the reasons why it won’t happen to us (as has been my custom). Only God knows our future, yet Jesus does give us comfort and a challenge.

The comfort: “Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of the Father speaking through you.”

The challenge: “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.”

A Prayer for the Preservation of the Faith
(St. Clement Hofbauer, 1751-1820)

O my Redeemer, will that terrible moment ever come, when but few Christians shall be left who are inspired by the spirit of faith, that when Thine indignation shall be provoked and Thy protection shall be taken from us? Have our vices and our evil lives irrevocably moved Thy justice to take vengeance, perhaps this very day, upon Thy children? O Thou, the author and finisher of our faith, we conjure Thee, in the bitterness of our contrite and humbled hearts, not to suffer the fair light of faith to be extinguished in us. Remember Thy mercies of old, turn Thine eyes in compassion upon the vineyard planted by Thine own right hand, and watered by the sweat of the Apostles, by the precious blood of countless Martyrs and by the tears of so many sincere penitents, and made fruitful by the prayers of so many Confessors and innocent Virgins. O divine Mediator, look upon those zealous souls who raise their hearts to Thee and pray without ceasing for the maintenance of that most precious gift of Thine, the true faith. We beseech Thee, O God of justice, to hold back the decree of our rejection, and to turn away Thine eyes from our vices and regard instead the adorable Blood shed upon the Cross, which purchased our salvation and daily intercedes for us upon our altars. Ah, keep us safe in the true Catholic and Roman faith. Let sickness afflict us, vexations waste us, misfortunes overwhelm us! But preserve in us Thy holy faith; for if we are rich with this precious gift, we shall gladly endure every sorrow, and nothing shall ever be able to change our happiness. On the other hand, without this great treasure of faith, our unhappiness would be unspeakable and without limit! O good Jesus, author of our faith, preserve it pure within us; keep us safe in the bark of Peter, faithful and obedient to his successor and Thy Vicar here on earth, that so the unity of Holy Church may be maintained, holiness fostered, the Holy See protected in freedom, and the Church universal extended to the benefit of souls. O Jesus, author of our faith, humble and convert the enemies of Thy Church; grant true peace and concord to all Christian kings and princes and to all believers; strengthen and preserve us in Thy holy service, to the end that we may live in Thee and die in Thee. O Jesus, author of our faith, let me live for Thee and die for Thee. Amen. (from The Raccolta)

Are you keeping the saints busy?

What is the Communion of Saints? | Catholic Life - The Roman ...

Some time ago two coworkers were talking a few cubicles away from me and one said “If you believed in asking the saints to pray for you, which I don’t, maybe you should ask John Knox (Scottish Presbyterian reformer) to pray, because he’s probably not too busy.” The insinuation is that Catholics are keeping their saints busy. If only it were so!

The conversation continued with chuckles and with an assurance that there is a hole in the Catholic theology of the “Communion of the Saints.” I listened and immediately wondered what I would do the next time one of my coworkers asked me to pray for them. Am I any more qualified to lift their concern in intercession to God? Just because I am on earth, how is my prayer more effective than the prayer of one who is in the very presence of God?

I know that the idea of asking the saints to pray with us and for us is foreign, even abominable to many who identify as Protestants or Evangelicals. The ironic thing is that the joke was being made by someone who should know better, but that is not the point of this article.

The point is that the Church is one, whether in heaven or on earth. The writer of Hebrews tells us in chapter 12, after giving us a run down of the faith of many Old Testament saints, that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” Mary Healy in her commentary on the book of Hebrews writes: “As we run this race, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, as if filling the stands of a huge sports arena. They are the saints of the old covenant (now joined by those of the new covenant), who are rooting for us and passionately interested in the outcome of our lives.”

These are more than pictures or statues or memories in a dusty history book; they are real, living (more living than ever) saints who have won the victory and are in the very presence of God and of the Lamb in heaven. We are united not only in prayer, but also every time we celebrate the Mass which draws heaven and earth together through the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world for their sin and ours.

The book of Revelation gives us another clue to this amazing ministry the saints have in heaven. In chapter 5, verse 8, John writes: “And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”

Now of course the unfounded argument or accusation is that Catholics pray to the saints, somehow elevating them to a divine status reserved only to Jesus. This, of course, is not true. What is true is seeing the saints as any other member of the Body of Christ whose main role is to continue to be part of that Body and care for one another. So when you ask me to pray for you, you are not divinizing me, but asking me to fulfill my God-given role of ministering to you as part of the Body of Christ. When I ask St. Francis de Sales to pray for me, I am not divinizing him, but asking him to intercede on my behalf.

One of the great gifts that my Catholic faith has given me is recognizing that death does not separate us. We are in the Church Militant; the saints are in the Church Triumphant; but it is one Church and Jesus Christ is our Head. Another benefit of the gift is knowing I have earthly and heavenly intercessors pulling for me, rooting for me and passionately interested in the outcome of my life.

(Originally published December 5, 2018

Don’t Cry over Spilt Milk!

Introduction - Idioms and Proverbs

I don’t remember spilling that much milk as a child, but I do remember hearing my parents repeat the proverb often. I’m sure I didn’t fully capture the meaning they were trying to convey as they hoped to teach me how to grow up into a mature, responsible adult. There’s no point to being upset over something that has already happened and cannot be changed.

Three years ago today I began employment with the company that made it necessary for me and my wife to leave New York City after 15 years of residence there. Three years later I am approaching four weeks of having lost that job due to downsizing and reorganization. How does not crying over spilled milk apply here? I guess there is no point to being upset over something that has already happened and cannot be changed. And that is true!

Losing employment at my “tender age”—15 months from the traditional age of retirement—means starting all over again and putting myself back out into the job search world in a very economically unstable time. It means deciding what I want to do, if I get to choose, with the hopefully many productive years still ahead of me. Before losing my job I worked for twelve weeks remotely due to Covid-19. It helped me realize that not all work takes place within the confines of an established work site or office cubicle.

I’ve connected with a “talent transition and development company” thanks to my former employer and I’m taking advantage of the insights and advice being offered. New ideas of marketing my skills are “agitating my gray cells” as Hercule Poirot would say. I hope to keep you posted as I move forward.

During the time I spent working in my former company, work anniversaries were marked with coffee with the president/CEO and coworkers who had the same anniversary month. One of the icebreakers in that social gathering was to write the number of years of employment on a sheet of paper and pose for a picture with the group. I kept those papers marking “1” and “2” years of service. I didn’t get to “3”. That would have been today.

I will not cry over split milk or coffee! The best is yet to come!

Far from the Maddening Crowd

I am spending a week far from the maddening crowd. I find myself in a rural county with less than 15 COVID cases, visiting family.

This slowdown comes on the heels of losing my job due to downsizing by the company I worked for the previous three years. Taking that job in 2017 led me out of the nation’s most populous city to a small borough in a neighboring state.

This week of welcome exile brings me encounters with grandsons, chickens and rabbits, far from the maddening crowd.

Unfortunately, my penchant for staying connected and the responsibilities I have back home inform me of the increasing instability of our time. There will always be those who take full advantage of a crisis for their own aims and not necessarily what is best for the general welfare.

Statue of St. Junípero Serra pulled down in Los Angeles

This becomes especially worrisome when those entrusted with governance and spiritual guidance cower to the maddening crowd. We await our government leaders to fulfill their constitutional responsibility to protect and defend us, yet they seem more focused on safeguarding their political futures.

We look to spiritual leaders to lead us in truth with courage and they respond with sophistries and point out that their hands are tied—it’s up to the laity! That response is honestly worst than the former. That is not what they are called to.

So what do we do? For the first group we have the ballot box. We are no longer silent. We don’t wait around for the next French or Cultural Revolution. For the second group we turn to our Lord, we pray, we take up spiritual arms, and we stand in vigil before our churches and the glorious reminders of the symbols of our faith. We remember those before us who gave their utmost for the kingdom of God and the social kingship of Christ. I think of the Vendeans in France (1790s) and the Cristeros in Mexico (1920s).

As Christians face our own challenges in 2020, hopefully a remnant of our spiritual leaders will come out of hiding, honor Christ, embrace suffering and join us!

¡Viva Cristo Rey!

St. Junipero Serra, pray for us!

Saint Junipero Serra
Catholic Saint Junipero Serra, canonized by Pope Francis in 2015 during his papal visit to the United States

At the canonization of Fr. Junipero Serra, Pope Francis said, “Junipero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it.” Fr. Serra established nine missions from San Diego to San Francisco. He is know as the Apostle of California.

God most high, your servant Junipero Serra brought the gospel of Christ to the peoples of Mexico and California and firmly established the Church among them. By his intercession, and through the example of his apostolic zeal, inspire us to be faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I’m a doorkeeper

For a day in your courts is better
    than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than live in the tents of wickedness
(Psalm 84:10 NRSVCE)

Last weekend our parish reinstated Masses after a three-month hiatus due to the pandemic. Right on the heels of the return of the weekend Mass was a return to daily Mass, something I treasured every day until March 18. The 6:45 a.m. Mass was my daily time to encounter our Lord–Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist. That daily meeting with Jesus made the difference in my day. Suddenly that encounter was no longer possible! How my heart yearned for our Lord!

Returning to Mass was not a return to what we experienced pre-March 18. Social distancing must be practiced, masks are expected, and seniors and those who in poor health are discouraged from attending. In the midst of all this I have been heartened to see my brothers and sisters returning with hunger, courage and vigor.

I have a new role at daily Mass in this post-pandemic world. I am an usher, or as I prefer to think “a doorkeeper in the house of my God.” What a joy to greet folks as they walk through the open front door (to minimize touching surfaces) and give them a hidden smile (behind my mask) and open the door into the nave (again to minimize contact with surfaces).

My duties also include dismissing each pew to go forward to receive our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. My heart sings for joy as I watch my fellow parishioners partake of the Bread of Life!

I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness! I trust you have had a blessed Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus! And that you have been able to return to the house of our God.

This Catholic cannot join in!

Pope Francis has asked the following to happen on May 14. I take this request from the Holy Father’s Twitter account.

I would like to remind you that on 14 May, believers of every religion are invited to unite themselves spiritually in a day of prayer, fasting and works of charity, to implore God to help humanity overcome the coronavirus #pandemic. #HumanFraternity #PrayTogether

I cannot join him in this prayer because the apostle Paul warns us not to do this very thing in 2 Corinthians 6:14—7:1 (NABRE):

Do not be yoked with those who are different, with unbelievers. For what partnership do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness? What accord has Christ with Beliar? Or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said:

“I will live with them and move among them,
    and I will be their God
    and they shall be my people.
Therefore, come forth from them
    and be separate,” says the Lord,
“and touch nothing unclean;
    then I will receive you
and I will be a father to you,
    and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of flesh and spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God.

Believers of every religion cannot unite themselves spiritually! The only One who can unite us is Jesus Christ!