Sunday, March 20, 2016

We Know Not


Catholic Peace Fellowship
Deacon Tom Cornell

                      After the Last Supper, Jesus and his companions walked across the Kedron Valley to Gethsemane, the Mount of Olives.  If you visit Israel today, you will surely want to see the Mount of Olives where Jesus suffered his Agony in the Garden.  You come to a little stream at the bottom of the valley on the way.  The guide tells you, “This is the Kedron River.” You are surprised.  It’s not much of a river now, just a little stream, not much more than a trickle.  You can hop over it.  It was broader then, the guide tells you.  Jesus and the apostles took their sandals off to wade across.  Imagine it.  

                       Jesus knew he had a special relationship with the Father even as a boy.  “Didn’t you know I must be about my Father’s business?”  At his baptism he had heard the voice from the clouds, “This is my beloved son, listen to him.”   Then the Spirit led him into the desert where he fasted and prayed for forty days and nights to discern his mission.  And there he was tempted by Satan, who at last departed from him, for a while, we are told, for a while.  Satan would come back and tempt him again, maybe now.  As they waded across the river, if Jesus turned his eyes to the right, southward, did it occur to him that safety was not far away, escape?  The caves!  Caves where robbers and insurgents hid were just a night’s walk into the desert.  Night was about to fall.  By morning he could be far enough away....  True God, true man.  What drowning man does not grasp at straws?   

                         Jesus knew what was coming, who was coming, an arrest party, Judas.  In righteous wrath Jesus had upset the tables of the buyers and sellers in the Temple court; he had driven their animals out with a knotted cord and he had castigated the Temple authorities: “My house shall be called the house of prayer; but you have made it a den of thieves.”  He had enemies.  They were coming after him now, to kill him.  If he made it to the caves to hide for a month or two maybe the anger against him would pass, maybe the tide would turn again in his favor. Or maybe they’d just forget. 
                            Just a few days earlier the crowds had greeted Jesus on his arrival in Jerusalem riding on the back of an ass. Then they shouted for joy, wouldn’t you, wouldn’t I?  Imagine you are in that crowd.  “Hosanna, hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  They cast their cloaks down before him, and palm fronds.  We are in the same crowd a week later before Pilate’s praesidium.  This time the shouts have changed.  Now it’s “Give us Barabbas!”  “We have no king but Caesar!”  “Crucify him!”      
                             Imagine the humiliation on the Cross, Jesus stripped in front of men and women too, his mother.  His body is weakened by hours of beating; he heaves, gasping for breath.  Taunts are hurled up at him, gall and vinegar raised to his parched lips, three hours of this.  “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”  It is over.  The salvific act is completed.  We are saved.  At the reading of it we fall to our knees in awe and sorrow and we pray. 

                               God’s command to Abraham to spare Isaac signaled the end of child sacrifice.  The descendants of Abraham were never to do such a thing, the most horrid abomination among the pagans, feeding their sons and daughters to Moloch.  Today, old men -- and now old women, send young men -- and now young women to kill and to be killed in war and they call it sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice they call it, when it is more truly sacrilege.  God does not will the death of a sinner.  He did not will the death of Isaac and he did not will the death of Jesus.  God cannot will evil. Sin did it, we did it, you did it, I did it.  God willed faith and obedience, Obedience for Jesus was the acceptance of his destiny as it unfolded in the spirit and in the deeds of nonviolence.  And this Jesus did to the utmost, achieving atonement, at-one-ment.  But why such a brutal death?  To show us the ugliness of sin and the greatness of God’s mercy!

                               Just imagine:  what if Jesus hanging on the cross had prayed, “Father, you are just.  I demand justice now.  Avenge me!”  There would have been no salvation.  No!  He prayed, “Father, forgive them.  They know not what they do!”  Jesus obeyed.  Jesus heard the will of God in the depths of his soul and he acted upon it: God demands compassion, forgiveness.  So were we saved, by his obedience and his prayer of forgiveness, in the final revelation of God’s love, the Paschal Mystery, life out of death.    
                             From what are we saved?  From sin, of course, the results of sin, hell.  Rings of torture, fire, steam and ice in Dante’s Divine Comedy are poetic images inadequate to describe what it is not to love any more, to be alone.  “Hell is not to love anymore” (George Bernanos).  Sin is a deliberate rupture of right relationship.  Sin is a turning from love.  Sin is refusal to acknowledge Truth.  “What is truth?” Pilate asked, not the last skeptic.  From what are we saved?  From the wages of sin, death, the second death, hell, utter alienation.  It need not be.  It is true.  God’s seal on Christ’s redemptive act is the Resurrection.

                               Forgiveness is an act of will to break the cycle of vengeance and violence and death.  Jesus forgave.  Peace is Christ’s gift to us, a peace that the world cannot give.  There can be no peace without justice.  Pope John Paul taught there can be no true justice without forgiveness for we are all enmeshed in the web of guilt.  Vengeance is death.  Forgiveness is life.

                                Oh God, take away our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh.  Inscribe in our hearts your law of justice; carve into us the New Commandment that Jesus gave his own at the Last Supper, to love one another “as I have loved you,” that is, even unto death.  Make us know that every time we turn to violence even in a just cause we shout, “Give us Barabbas!”  Every time we put loyalty to nation-state above loyalty to God we shout, “We have no king but Caesar!”  Every time we strike out in anger to harm or to kill, we shout, “Crucify him!” 

                                Forgive us, Lord, we know not what we do!  W

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Works of Mercy, Works of Peace

Catholic Peace Fellowship
Deacon Tom Cornell

Pope Francis has designated January 16th World Day of Peace this year in an especially moving appeal for the things that make for peace.  He declared indifference a fundamental spiritual problem, indifference first of all to God, then indifference to our fellows and to the fate of our common home in defiance of the Two Great Commandments.  It is all too easy to be indifferent to men and women in prison.  They are not like us, we assume.  We are respectable, hard-working, law-abiding citizens; they are not.  “If they didn’t belong there they wouldn’t be there,” some will say.  “This is a free country,” they argue, “and everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, and we have the fairest laws and the most honest courts in the world.”  And the kicker: “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.”  The fact remains that the United States has less than five percent of the world's population but almost a quarter of the world's prisoners.  The US is number one all right!  China with four times our population comes in a distant second.

 Pope Francis has long made prison ministry a mainstay of his vocation. On nearly every foreign trip he has made he has visited prisoners to offer words of solidarity and hope, and he still stays in touch with Argentine inmates he ministered to during his years as archbishop of Buenos Aires.  And Francis has gone farther than his predecessors in condemning the death penalty, saying there is simply no justification for the death penalty today.  He has called for its world-wide abolition. He has called life prison terms a "hidden death penalty" and solitary confinement a "form of torture" — and said both should be abolished as well.  "Jesus tells us that love for others — foreigners, the sick, prisoners, the homeless, even our enemies — is the yardstick by which God will judge our actions….  Our eternal destiny depends on this.”

I remember a conversation I had with the associate warden at Danbury federal prison in 1968.  “You are an educated gentleman,” he told me.  “You will soon learn that most of the men in here are good for nothing.  They’ve always been good for nothing, and that’s all they’ll ever be.  Good for nothing!”  And so that’s the way he and the rest of the staff treated us, as good for nothing.  1968 was the most tumultuous year across the globe since 1848, and although I had helped to conceive it, for better and for worse, I missed half of it.  I missed the police riot at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.  I had to see what I saw of it on TV in a Mafia dorm.  The Mafia guys rooted for the cops.  “Kill the ______ hippies!”  I was lucky to be assigned to that dorm because it was safe there.  Rape is a constant threat in prison.  When an effeminate man was assigned to our dorm and one fellow declared “he’s mine!” the Mafia boss told him that if there were any force involved he would wake up the next morning with his throat slit.  Nothing happened.

The maximum sentence for violation of the Selective Service law is five years and $250,000 fine.  Most men convicted under the draft act as I had been got two to three years.  I must have had the shortest sentence in Danbury, only six months, for burning my draft card.  But it was horrible, even if it was “baby-time,” as the inmates called it.  Even so, I value the experience.  Without it I would not understand the suffering of people behind bars.  It is unremitting boredom.  No one in jail is happy, guards included.  Prison guards have the shortest life expectancy of any occupation.  And the cooks!  Unhappy people cannot cook.  The food was terrible; whatever they cooked they ruined one way or another.

Preaching on this subject has little if any positive effect on parishioners.  REC does!  REC, Residents Encounter Christ, is a Cursillo based three-day retreat program that brings eight or so parishioners into a prison for a couple of over-nights so that they can share their faith journeys with prisoners, called “residents” rather than convicts.  Mostly middle-class white men share their lives with mostly poor men of color.  They laugh together at the silly games woven into the program.  That’s the best part for me, to hear them laugh.   You don’t hear much of that in prison.  And we find that we have much more in common than not.  We come to see these men as brothers and sons, if only for such a short time.  It is forbidden to have any on-going relationship with the men.  It’s here and now and that’s it!

 Who benefits from this program, REC, the prisoners or the parishioners?  You guessed it, the parishioners of course.  They cannot fail to notice the disdainful glance of a prison guard when he sees a civilian carrying a Bible.  These church people are advocates for the inmates!  That’s not what the guards want!  Most importantly, the parishioners come to realize how little correction there is in the correctional system, how little penance in the penitentiary, how little justice in the Justice Department.  Then they are open to questioning how much defense there is in the Defense Department.  

Ask your pastor if he knows how to contact a REC organizer.  If he doesn’t, call the chancery office.  Visiting the prisoner is a corporal work of mercy.  Praying with the prisoner is a spiritual work of mercy.  In the end, the merciful will be shown mercy.   W


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Take Heart!


Catholic Peace Fellowship

Deacon Tom Cornell

         The Catholic Church is the largest and oldest association of people in an organized structure on earth in all of history.  In two thousand years’ time, over so vast an area with so many people, we’ve had the opportunity to make just about every mistake conceivable.  It’s no wonder there have been scandals.  It’s painful!  So why love this corrupt institution?

                   First of all, the Church is not corrupt, not in itself.  Some of its representatives have been, yes!  But the Church remains the Mystical Body of Christ and the Holy Spirit will never desert us.  “The gates of hell will not prevail.”  Members might fail, some very badly, but the Church remains what it is, bringing us Jesus in word and sacrament.  If it were not for the Church not many people on earth would ever have heard of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, Lord and Savior.  Jesus would be lost to history were it not that his followers kept together and developed, from New Testament times, the basic hierarchical structure of the Church, East and West, with bishops, priests and deacons, the same structure and the same seven sacraments throughout the far-flung ancient world up to the present day. 

          Here we have the biblical readings every Sunday revealing God’s plan of salvation.  Then there are the saints.  If we have villains, we have the most marvelous heroes too.  Their memorials, their stories, their feasts, are strategically placed throughout the year.  Their lives tell us what authentic Christian discipleship is all about.  We must admit, their stories are often sanitized for mass consumption and dumbed down, sorry to say.  The details of their lives are censored to suit certain constituencies.  Take Saints Francis and Anthony, for instance.  Francis rocked both the Church and the state.  We don’t hear much about that today.  He not only excoriated wealth and privilege but the political life of his day.  He fought in a battle of Assisi against Perugia before his conversion, but thereafter he refused further military service.  His Rule for the lay Third Order forbade members to bear arms under any circumstances.  Hundreds, then thousands of men joined the Third Order in Italy rather than serve in the military.  The princes didn’t like that at all.  They pressured the Pope and that section of the Rule was dropped.  They had their way.  Money talks, even in Rome! 

          St. Anthony was a hell-raiser; he wasn’t just the sweet looking guy walking around in a brown robe with the Baby Jesus sitting on a Bible in his right hand and a big white lily in his left.  People called him “Il Martello,” “The Hammer.”  He relentlessly hammered away at the bankers of his day.  He’d have had a fine time at Occupy Wall Street.  He’d fit right in!  The bishops took him seriously at last and condemned usury at an area Church synod.  The Church today has taken the same stand, essentially in line with Occupy Wall Street.  But who hears about that from the pulpit?  Nevertheless, our Church is truly a champion of the poor and oppressed and of peace.  Pope Francis has brought that right to the fore.  And he is probably the best loved man on earth. 

                   We just celebrated the feast of Saint Martin of Tours, “patron saint of soldiers,” as he is called.  As the son of a Roman army officer, Martin was forced, conscripted into the army for a twenty-five year term.  The persecution of the Church was over by his time and Christianity was now the state religion.  But when Martin was baptized he refused further military service and sat out the next war in a prison cell for a year.  It was after his release from prison and the army that he cut his cloak in half to share it with a beggar.  St. Martin should be publicly invoked as “patron saint of conscientious objectors” at least as well as soldiers. We have to ask, why isn’t he?  The patron and model for parish priests is the Cure of Ars, Saint Jean Batiste Vianney.  He was a French army deserter and hid out in the woods for over a year.   

          We of the Catholic Peace Fellowship propose active nonviolence for defense against tyranny and oppression of any and every kind.  But those who protect the freedom and security of their fellow citizens honorably in the military deserve our respect and support too.  When their patriotism and bravery are abused, when they are sent to unjust war and useless slaughter, then we must protest in the name of God.  Patriotic rhetoric will not make up for the abuse of our soldiers or comfort them when they feel they can not resign after four and five and six deployments because there are no jobs for them back home.  It should make us all pause – more veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have committed suicide than were killed in battle.  The Veterans Administration makes a mockery of the chauvinistic cant, “Support Our Troops”!  Treatment is so poor and so delayed that many simply walk away. 

          There are things worth dying for, I haven’t the slightest doubt: among them our faith, “a faith to die for,” as Michael Baxter put it.  Ancient Christian communities are being decimated in Egypt, Iraq and in Jesus own home country, Christians accepting death rather than renouncing our Christian faith.  Let their witness strengthen ours.  
          We are a family, our Church, and like any other family, with a rascal or worse here and there, but a Mother Theresa, a Damian the Leper, an Ignatius Loyola, a Francis Xavier, a Therese of Lisieux, a Dorothy Day, a Franz Jaegerstaetter, a Francis, a Clare and an Anthony.  They are our brothers and sisters and our examples.  They give us heart. 

                       The world we know today is faced with more grave threats than ever before in history, threats to our very existence.  If we are to deal with the proliferation of nuclear weapons, with climate change and global warming, with endemic poverty and the just revolutionary claims of the world’s disinherited, with terrorism, and with massive dislocation of peoples, know that the Catholic Church is a voice of sanity in this insanity, this  chaos.  We have all we need.  We have the Book and the table and we have examples to show the way, Dorothy Day not the least among them. 

         Was it a sign?  Dorothy Day died just as the sun set on the last day of the liturgical year 1980.  This is a new day, a new liturgical year.  Take heart!  If we learn from her example and have the courage that the Holy Spirit offers us, neither capitalism nor the sovereign national state will survive the 21st Century. 

          Take heart, and take part!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Believe Him!

22 Sunday B  #125 

Deut 4, 1-2. 6-8
Ps 15
Jas 1, 17-18.21b-22. 27
Mk 7, 1-8. 14-15. 21-23

Saint James-Saint Mary Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
August 30, 2015
Deacon Tom Cornell


     Do you ever wonder: what was worship like in those first days of the Church, the Mass?  The Jesus people were almost all Jews.  They gathered at synagogue on Saturday as they always had and then on Sunday, the day of the Lord’s Resurrection, they met again, most often in private homes.  There they sang hymns.  Maybe they had a letter from Saint Paul or John to read.  They certainly had psalms to sing.  They did not have a reading from the Gospel.  No Gospel had yet been written.  But they remembered Jesus.  They would share their memories of what Jesus said and did, his Sermon on the Mount, the feeding of the 5,000, his healings and exorcisms.  The presider, an apostle or his designated successor, a bishop or presbyter, which in Greek means elder or priest, would then have a few words, a sermon, or maybe a deacon might preach.  Some would state prayer intentions and all would say together the prayer the Lord had taught them.  Then the presider would invoke the Holy Spirit over gifts of bread and wine.  He would repeat Jesus’ words at the Last Supper just as Father Tom will do in a few minutes.  Then he and a deacon would distribute Communion.  There would be a short thanksgiving prayer, a blessing and a closing hymn.  Then the deacons would take the consecrated bread to the home-bound.  Just like today! 
     From the beginning we find the same basic structure of the church hierarchy, bishops, priests and deacons, and the same basic structure of our central act of worship, the Eucharist, Mass.  Except at first there was no reading from the Gospel.  The first Christians expected Jesus’ Second Coming any day, so there was no perceived need to write his story down.  The Apostle Mark would be the first to write that story, the Good News, as he called it, evangelion in Greek, gospel in Old English, good news in our language, around the year 65 A.D., some thirty or more years after the Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection.  Matthew and Luke were the next to write their Gospels, perhaps ten or so years later. 
     John was the last to write, John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was a young man when he lay beside Jesus at the Last Supper.  He was probably about twenty years old at that time.  He would be the only apostle to live out his days and die a natural death.  He wrote his Gospel perhaps thirty years after Matthew and Luke, near the end of the First Century.  You certainly must have heard, as we went through John’s Sixth Chapter the last few weeks, that Jesus in John doesn’t sound like the Jesus in Mark.  John's language is exalted.  Mark's is plain and down to earth.  How could that be?
     Imagine what it must have been like for the earliest Christians.  After following Jesus for three years, having witnessed his miracles and heard his profound world-up-ending teaching, having discovered his empty tomb, then experiencing the Risen Lord alive among them again, they must have spent the rest of their lives trying to figure out what had hit them.  John’s Gospel reflects their mature understanding, that Jesus is the Incarnate Word of God.  John begins his Gospel with the words, “In the beginning.”  The first words of Genesis, the first words of the Bible are, “In the beginning.”
     We start our readings today with the Letter of Saint James.  It seems appropriate.  This is my first sermon in Saint James-Saint Mary Parish.  Do we have any parishioners from Milton with us here today?   Saint James, as you know, was a relative of Jesus.  He led the church in Jerusalem.  And he wrote a most important letter about the relationship of faith to works.  We are saved by faith in Jesus.  Nothing that we could possibly do would merit our salvation.  We cannot earn salvation.  We are saved by faith, a free gift.  But if our faith is genuine, then it will show in the way we live our lives.  We believe in Jesus, the only begotten son of God.  But do we believe Jesus, do we believe him that it is better to give than to receive, that we must love our enemies, that if our enemy hungers, we must feed him?    

Saturday, July 25, 2015


17 Sunday B  #110

2 Kgs 4, 42-44
Ps 145
Eph 4, 1-6
Jn 6, 1-15

Saint Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
July 26, 2015
Deacon Tom Cornell

          Jesus went off to the other side of the Sea of Galilee and a large crowd followed him, impressed by the signs he gave by curing the sick.  Jesus climbed the hillside and sat down there with his disciples.  It was shortly before the Jewish feast of Passover.  Looking up, Jesus saw the crowds approaching and said to Philip, “Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?”  He only said this to test Philip; he himself knew exactly what he was going to do.  Philip answered, “Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give of them a small piece each.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, “There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that between so many?”  Jesus said to them, “Make the people sit down.”  There was plenty of grass there, and as many as five thousand men sat down.  Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks and gave them out to all who were sitting ready; he then did the same with the fish, giving out as much as was wanted.  When they had eaten enough, he said to his disciples, “Pick up the pieces left over so that nothing gets wasted.”  So they picked them up and filled twelve hampers with scraps left over from the meal of five barley loaves.  The people, seeing this sign that he had given, said, “This really is the prophet who is to come into the world.”  Jesus who could see that they were about to come and take him by force and make him king, escaped back to the hills by himself.  (JB trans.)

          Those of you who follow the readings in the misssalette notice that I read a different translation of the Gospel reading.  Our bishops allow us to use the Jerusalem Bible translation at Mass, and I’m very grateful that they do.  The new NAB translation is simply awful.  The translators may have been fine theologians, but they needed an English major.  Now let’s take a look at the readings.

          Our first reading from the Second Book of Kings has the Prophet Elisha feed one hundred men with twenty barley loaves, “and when they had eaten there was some left over.”  That clearly foreshadows today’s Gospel story from John.  Since the beginning of Advent we have been reading from the Gospel according to Mark.  But today and for the next four weeks we will be reading from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus’ “Bread of Life Discourse,” beginning with the multiplication of the loaves and fish to feed the five thousand.  There are those who say that the real miracle wasn’t a physical multiplication but a moral miracle, that the men had hidden bread on their persons and, under the influence of Jesus’ teaching, they opened their secret stores to share freely with all around.  Personally, I prefer to think it was a real, physical multiplication, but you can take your choice.  Or maybe it was both. “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.”  I know it.  That’s my story. 

          The first time I heard Dorothy Day speak was in the spring of 1953, sixty-two years ago, at a Friday Night Meeting at the Catholic Worker headquarters down in the Bowery when the Bowery was the City’s skid-row.  I don’t remember who the speaker was that night or the topic.  All I remember is that someone got up to say, “As Catholics we all believe in the right to life.  If we believe in the right to life we must also believe in the right to the means to life, food, clothing, shelter and the like.  People should have a sense of security that these needs will be met.”  That proposition is still debated in this country today, but even then, at the Catholic Worker, it was a settled question.  But Dorothy Day didn’t like what she heard.  She stood up to pitch the conversation to a higher plane:  “Security, security!  I don’t want to hear any more about security!  There are young people here tonight.  And there are great things that need to be done, and who will do them but the young?  And how will they do them if all they are thinking about is their own security?”  Then she started stringing Bible quotes together:  “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow.  They do not toil nor do they spin, yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these…; think not on the morrow, what you shall eat and what you shall put on; your Father has care of you”  She ended with, “Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies it remains alone.  But if it falls into the ground and dies it bears a great harvest.”  By then she had me.  I took up my sleeping bag and followed her.

          I learned from experience that the hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.  I cannot doubt that the Lord performs miracles for my life has been a string of them, beginning with Monica who consented to be my wife and to take the chances, the risks that come with a life dedicated to practical nonviolence.  Many of you know, some may not, that I was a civil rights activist down in Alabama with Father Dugan as well as here, arrested in Selma. I was arrested I don’t know how many times for peace protests.  And I was imprisoned for five months during the Viet Nam war.  The average sentence of those convicted under the Selective Service Act at that time was three years; the maximum was five years.  God and Judge Thomas F.X. Murphy were good to us, giving us such a light sentence, just half a year.  So was my boss.  He kept me on at half-pay.  And The New York Times commissioned me to write an article for the Sunday magazine on my prison experience.  That brought in the rest of my lost income.  That seemed like a miracle.  Then Jimmy Carter gave all of us who had been convicted of nonviolent offenses in protest against the war full pardons on the very first day he was in office.  That means, on a job application, if I am asked if I have ever been convicted of a crime or a felony, I can legally answer NO!  Another miracle.  

          And we did accomplish great things.  We tore down the legal structures of racial segregation in this country through nonviolence.  We held the military back from the use of the nuclear option in Viet Nam through nonviolence.  General Curtis LeMay was urging President Johnson to nuke North Viet Nam back to the Stone Age.  Johnson pointed out a White House window, to us!  We can’t get away with it, he told the general.  And we reintroduced nonviolence into the mainstream of Catholic and Protestant moral theology.  And then there is the family, our family.  Monica and I have seven descendants.  They are all practicing Catholics, healthy, happy and bright.  How blessed we have been!  How can I doubt?

          Now the miracle we are all about to witness and partake in is the Eucharist, what the Bread of Life Discourse is all about.  Jesus so loves us that he gives himself to us as food and drink in bread and wine consecrated by his priest upon this altar.  When we eat his body and drink his blood we fulfill a desire planted deep in our souls and we become, or begin to become, what we eat and drink.  “Man ist wass man isst” is a German proverb that means, “One is what one eats.”  John tells us in his First Letter, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed; but we know that when he appears we shall be like God, because we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3,2). We shall be like God, for we will see him as he is!  In the meanwhile, we have the Bread of Life and the blood of the Risen Lord.  Let us all eat and drink worthily in faith.    

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Laudato Si'

13 Sunday B  #98

Wis 1, 13-15. 2, 23-24
Ps 30
2 Cor 8, 7-9. 13-15
Mk 5, 21-43

Saint Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
June 28, 2015

Deacon Tom Cornell

Our first reading from the Book of Wisdom reminds us that all creation is good, and that God created us in his own image and likeness.  We read in Genesis that at the Creation God gave man dominion over the earth and over all that is in it, not to despoil or misuse it but to till it, to make it prosper, to nurture our common home. 

The whole world has been waiting for the Holy Father, Pope Francis, to weigh in on the ecological crisis.  Is it a crisis?  Is climate change, global warming a fact or fraud?  Is it the result of human activity?  Is Mother Earth under threat?  Is it a matter of life and death?  Is the scientific evidence in?  Is it a moral question?  On June 18, the Pope gave his answer in an encyclical letter, addressed to all people living on Earth.  Its title is Laudato Si’, or Be Thou Praised, from The Canticle of the Creatures by Saint Francis of Assisi.  The answer is yes.  Yes, it’s real.  Yes, 97 percent of all scientists agree.  Yes, this is a moral, a religious question and should be addressed from the pulpit.  Otherwise, why would the Holy Father publish such a letter, almost 200 pages long?   The response world-wide has been overwhelmingly favorable.  Our Pope is seen, by Protestants as well as Catholics, by non-Christians as well as Christians, by non-believers as well as believers, as the preeminent voice of conscience in the world today.  One of Pope Francis’s major points in his letter is that environmental degradation hurts first and worst the poor.  Let us consider that in light of today’s Gospel reading.
Jairus was an official of the local synagogue, a well-respected, a wealthy man.  He didn’t have to push through the crowd to approach Jesus.  People made way for him.  Then he fell at Jesus’ feet to beseech him.  It was important in those days how one approached another person in public, especially someone he did not know, and especially if he was going to ask a favor.  Although Jairus was a leading citizen, he prostrated himself on the ground before the penniless itinerant preacher-healer Jesus and begged:  “My daughter is at death’s door.  Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live!”   Mark interrupts the story abruptly.  A poor old woman enters the scene.  Jairus is kept waiting by an old impoverished woman, a woman suffering from a flow of blood.  It is not just that she is ill and poor and a woman; she is unclean, ritually unclean.  Women were considered unclean once a month, but this poor woman had been haemorrhaging for twelve years.   
Notice how the woman approaches Jesus.  The crowd makes no way for her, she does not fall before him; she is afraid even to approach Jesus face to face.  She dares only to stretch out her hand and touch his clothing, “the hem of his garment,” from behind.  When Jesus realizes that healing power has gone out of him, he demands to know who has touched him.  Then in fear and trembling she comes forward and falls before him to explain herself.  “Daughter,” he tells her, “your faith has saved you.  Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.” 

          Then Mark returns to the story of Jairus.  Word comes that his daughter has died.  Jesus tells him not to fear but to have faith.  As they approach Jairus’ house they hear the din of wailing.  Finally the touching scene: Jesus takes her hand and says, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”  She gets up and walks around, and finally the charming detail, “Give her something to eat.” 

          What are we to take from this “miracle within a miracle,” as it is called, the story of Jairus interrupted by the story of the woman with a flow of blood?  The action stops, the powerful synagogue leader is put on hold, for the sake of a woman, a second-class citizen in those days, and worse, one who is poor and  worse than that, “unclean.”  The lesson is this:  in the economy of Jesus, in God’s economy, it’s not the big-shots but the poor, the sick, those who are pushed aside who come first, not the big-shots, but the little-shots.   Nowadays we call it “the preferential option for the poor.”  Not that any are excluded!  The Holy Father makes it clear in his really beautiful encyclical that Christian solidarity is universal friendship, no one is left out.  But those who have the means must be especially mindful and open-hearted and open-handed to the poor, as Paul tells us in our second reading today.  And everyone can do something to stem the tide of pollution.  Plant a tree, or at least a tomato.  Eat locally grown food.  No more plastic bags from the supermarket.  Take reusable cloth bags of your own.  Don’t flush for everything.  Dry your clothes in the sun and the breeze!  They’ll last longer and smell better.  Little steps like these make a difference, and they raise consciousness. 

And always give thanks for God’s great gifts to us, first for the world he has created for us and then for our Catholic faith, for our Catholic Church, and for such a Holy Father.  Long may he live!       W

Sunday, May 31, 2015



Dt 4, 32-34. 39-40
Ps 33
Rom 8, 14-17
Mt 28, 16-20

St. Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
May 31, 2015
Deacon Tom Cornell

The eleven disciples set out for Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them.  When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated.  Jesus came up and spoke to them.  He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you.  And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.”  (JB trans.)
                    Today’s reading from Deuteronomy has Moses address the Hebrew people after they had been led out of Egypt, after the Covenant, the Ten Commandments had been given at Mount Sinai, as they were about to enter the Promised Land.  God had to remind them again and again through Moses: there is but one God who led you out of slavery.  There is no other! One!   Keep my commandments, not the Ten Suggestions, but Ten Commandments.  God had to call the People back, time and time again.  Many fell away.  But to the Jews who remain faithful to the ancient Covenant to this day, the one-ness of God is the depth of mystery, the rock of their faith.  (Hassidic Jews today sing a song that goes, “Einer iz Gott, un Gott iz einer, un wayter keiner!”  “One is God and God is one and beyond him none!”) 
          To the Muslins too, the one-ness of God is central.  (I’ll never forget how fourteen year old Ahmed’s face shone when he said to me, “Allah waheed!”  “God is one,” as he pressed his prayer beads into my hand. His faith was palpable.)  It is hard for Jews and Muslims, to say nothing of atheists and agnostics, to understand that we Christians too believe that God is one -- and also that God is three.  One God, three divine persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  How can that be?  That’s not for me to say.  It is for me to believe, because Jesus, who rose from the dead, said so in today’s Gospel.  In John’s Gospel it’s even clearer, “I and the Father are one.”  And it has been the teaching of the Church since the beginning.  It’s a faith our ancestors went to the Coliseum for.  Persecution has followed the course of the Church, and the blood of martyrs has been the seed of Christians since the beginning.
          Upon seeing the risen Lord on that mountain in Galilee, some of the eleven doubted, or hesitated.  The original Greek word literally says they stood in two places (edisastan), confused, as if not knowing which way to turn.  It should be a comfort to you and me to know that even those who walked the earth with Jesus, who ate and drank with him and witnessed his many miracles had moments of doubt.  Without doubt there cannot be belief.  We believe because we wish to believe, we will to believe.  But even this desire is not of our own but a grace, a free gift of God.  In his love, God always makes the first move.  Take his gift and be glad, and share it! 
          The disciples went out and did as Jesus told them, out to all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of he Son and of the Holy Spirit, the Triune God.  All nations are now God’s special children, brothers and sisters in Christ, one family, each and every one an actual or a potential member of the Mystical Body of Christ. 
          For many Christians, these are hard times; persecution of Christians has seldom been so widespread or vicious even in the land of Jesus’ birth.  The age of martyrs is not over.  Archbishop Oscar Romero died a martyr’s death for the Faith thirty-five years ago.  Last week a quarter of a million people gathered in San Salvador, four national presidents and six cardinals of the Church, to witness his beatification.  It’s on the front page of today’s issue of Catholic New York.  Not everyone is happy about that.  Learn that history, if you don’t already know it, and ask yourself why. 
          The last line of Matthew’s Gospel is a promise that will be kept.  “I am with you always, yes, even to the end of time.”  We are not alone.  We will never be alone.  And after the last empire crumbles, the Church will still stand, even until the last day when all will be made new, even us.