POETRY: On The Feast Of Saint John The Evangelist by David Brendan Hopes

September 26, 2018

The solstice moon rides within a ring of ice gleaming blue silver, blood silver, silver, mist silver. The snow is blue; cobalt silver on the moon-struck mountain. In the corner of the porch roof, against the moon, a spider spins a warped web. She is dazed with cold. Hunger. She stops. She starts again, spinning badly, past her time, utterly hopeless and beyond help. I cannot decide if this is beautiful or horrible. Either way, it cannot be looked at very long. The ice halo spreads and pales, swallowing the sky. In a dream the spider came down off the moonlit porch, to my bedside. I tried to explain it to her. This is the world. Many spirits of many kinds dwell in it and do not permit it to be pure. What called you? Tell me what you [...]

SAINTS: The Beloved Disciple — It’s All About Love, by Greg Friedman

April 16, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Colossians 3:1-4; John 10:1-9 In 1984 singer Tina Turner had a comeback hit with her recording of What’s Love God To Do With It?  Years later I drew a lot of smiles when I began an Easter Sunday homily with the song’s title.  It’s a question that explains the Easter Gospel, John 20:1-9, which tells us that Peter and the “disciple Jesus loved” came to the tomb early on the first day of the week after hearing Mary Magdalene’s report of the empty tomb. The Beloved Disciple arrives first but waits until Peter enters and sees Jesus’s burial wrappings neatly folded.  Peter doesn’t understand what he sees.  But the other [...]

SAINTS: Mary Magdalene — Witness To Death And Resurrection, by Greg Friedman

April 15, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Exodus 14:15-15:1; Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Matthew 28:1-10 Mary Magdalene is one of the main characters in the story of Jesus’s Passion, death, and resurrection. Mary was not a public sinner.  Nor was she the figure who anointed Jesus’s feet with her tears or wiped them with her hair.  She was, however, a faithful disciple.  Unlike the male disciples, who fled from Jesus’s crucifixion, Mary was present.  Matthew and Mark place her among those “looking on from a distance.”  Luke identifies her, as do the other gospels, with the women who went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. We can imagine what she must have endured after Jesus’s violent death.  Like anyone [...]

SAINTS: Mary — A Mother At The Foot Of The Cross, by Greg Friedman

April 14, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-17, 25; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42 No mother should bear the death of her son. I heard that sentiment expressed in my family as a teenager, when my favorite uncle died of cancer in his forties. My grandmother was never the same afterward. The Stations of the Cross capture similar feelings, at the fourteenth station, popularly known as the Pietà. It is a scene full of grief, a mother holding the lifeless body of her son. John’s Passion story, read on Good Friday, depicts Mary at the foot of the cross. Standing next to the disciple whom Jesus loved, Mary hears Jesus say, Woman, here is your son. And to the Beloved Disciple he says, Here is your [...]

SAINTS: John Paul II — The Witness Of A Pope, by Greg Friedman

April 13, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14; Psalm 116:12-13, 15-18; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-5 On Holy Thursday, 2003, Pope John Paul II issued his final encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, “On the Eucharist and Its Relationship to the Church.”  At the beginning of chapter one, the Pope quoted tonight’s Second Reading from Saint Paul, on the institution of the Eucharist.  The Holy Father wrote: The words of the Apostle Paul bring us back to the dramatic setting in which the Eucharist was born.  The Eucharist is indelibly marked by the event of the Lord’s Passion and death, of which it is not only a reminder but the sacramental re-presentation.  It is the sacrifice of the Cross perpetuated down the [...]

SAINTS: The Suffering Servant — “Here Is My Servant”, by Greg Friedman

April 12, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 69:8-10, 21-22, 31, 33-34; Matthew 26:14-25 Beginning on Palm Sunday, continuing Monday through Wednesday of Holy Week, and ending on Good Friday, the Liturgy of the Word presents to us a series of four special oracles.  The poetic utterances by the unknown prophet whose writings are found in the second half of the book of Isaiah are often referred to as the “Songs of the Suffering Servant.” The identity of the Servant is unknown.  The author may have had a contemporary figure in mind, but the context of the oracles has led contemporary scholars generally to see them as describing the “ideal Israel.”  This ideal represents the people who have come through the [...]

SAINTS: Peter — Waiting For The Cockcrow, by Greg Friedman

April 11, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Isaiah 49:1-6; Psalm 71:1-6; John 13:21-33, 36-38 Peter is a central character in the Passion narratives.  On Palm Sunday each year, we hear the story of his denial of Jesus. In John’s Gospel, read today and on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, Peter is also prominent.  We know what will come on Good Friday, as Peter stands in the courtyard of the high priest and blatantly denies knowing Jesus.  But in today’s selection, from the Last Supper, that denial is juxtaposed with the betrayal of Judas.  The power of evil is at work, reaching even into the circle of Jesus’s disciples.  Judas leaves the supper and goes out into the night, to gather the forces to arrest Jesus. Meanwhile, Peter is [...]

SAINTS: Martha And Mary — Sisters Of Lazarus And Intimate Friends Of Jesus, by Greg Friedman

April 10, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Isaiah 42:1-7; Psalm 27:1-3, 13-14; John 12:1-11 During Holy Week the liturgy begins telling the story of the passion of Jesus.  The four gospels do not offer consistent versions of Jesus’s passion and death.  They know nothing of the style of reporting found in the twenty-four-hour news cycle of today!  Instead, the gospels offer theological reflection, taking common details from the tradition and shaping them to each story’s purpose. John’s gospel suggests that one event triggering the arrest of Jesus is the raising of Lazarus.  In that story, we meet Martha and Mary, sisters of Lazarus, and hear them dialogue with Jesus about resurrection and life. Today’s story is a peaceful [...]

SAINTS: Clare — Walking Into The Gospel’s Challenge by Greg Friedman

April 9, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24; Matthew 26:14-27, 66 To this day, pilgrims trace the steps of Saint Clare on the evening of Palm Sunday, 1212.  She left her home, in an upper level of the city of Assisi, Italy, next to the cathedral, and made her way down down, down, through the narrow streets, coming at last to the city gate.  There, her choice to follow the gospel, in poverty and surrender to God, was made definitive as she stepped out into the night.  Joined by Francis and his companions, Clare made her way to the chapel of Saint Mary of the Angels, known as the Porziuncola.  Her hair was cut off, symbolic of her dedication to God, and she received the simple dress of a nun. In a film that I [...]

SAINTS: Catherine Of Siena — A Reformer And Reconciler, by Greg Friedman

April 8, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Ezekiel 37:21-28; Jeremiah 31:10-12; John 11:45-57 The prophet Ezekiel proclaims that the Lord will bring the Israelites back from exile and return them to their own land.  Catherine of Siena may have meditated on that prophetic word, from our First Reading, as she struggled to reform the church in the fourteenth century. Catherine was a Third Order Dominican known for her prayer, her severe ascetical practices, and her learning.  Out of her periods of contemplation, she reached out in spiritual letters to enlighten and instruct others.  Such activity for a woman drew suspicion and slander; Catherine was investigated and cleared of any charges of heresy. Soon her fame spread and drew papal notice.  She became [...]

SAINTS: Stephen — Witness To Christ, by Greg Friedman

April 7, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Jeremiah 20:10-13; Psalm 18:2-7; John 10:31-42 In the Gospel of John, Jesus escapes stoning by the crowds, who believe him guilty of blasphemy.  That fate did not escape Stephen, the first to be martyred for believing in Jesus.  The Acts of the Apostles tells Stephen’s story in chapter seven, and the church celebrates his feast immediately after Christmas.  But Stephen seems more a Lenten saint, as he anticipates the death of Jesus. In keeping with the debate portrayed for us in John’s Gospel, as we’ve been hearing over these past weeks at Mass, the climactic moment comes today in John 10.  The “Jews” (again, recall the caution in using this term lest we fuel an anti-Semitic [...]

SAINTS: Bernardine Of Siena — Devotion To The Holy Name, by Greg Friedman

April 6, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Genesis 17:3-9; ; Psalm 105:4-9; John 8:51-59 When I was a boy, it was customary for Catholic men and boys from around my city to march in a “Holy Name” parade.  We came from all over town and ended up at the ballpark, where an altar was set up for prayer and Benediction, the blessing with the Blessed Sacrament.  This popular devotion was to counteract the improper use of the name of Jesus and to witness to the Christian faith in a secular world.  It is a devotion made popular in the fifteenth century by the Franciscan Bernardine of Siena. Bernardine was acknowledged as a great preacher of the era.  He had entered the Franciscans at age twenty-two, after spending time nursing plague victims in his [...]

SAINTS: Maximilian Mary Kolbe — Witness In The Face Of Cruelty, by Greg Friedman

April 5, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Daniel 3:14-20, 91-92, 95; Daniel 3:52-56; John 8:31-42 The story of the men in the fiery furnace, from the book of Daniel, is a colorful story and the subject of a great old Gospel song.  It tells the triumph of God’s power in the face of a cruel king’s persecution of Jewish exiles.  In the twentieth century, furnaces of a different kind consumed millions of bodies in the Nazi holocaust. Conventual Franciscan Maximilian Kolbe, imprisoned in Auschwitz in 1941, witnessed many fellow prisoners taken to the gas chambers or killed in other brutal ways.  He had been interred along with Jews and others from his native Poland after Germany and the Soviet Union overran his country. Father Kolbe was a [...]

SAINTS: Leonard Of Port Maurice:— Promoter Of The Way Of The Cross, by Greg Friedman

April 4, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 102:2-3, 16-18-21; John 8:21-30 Today’s First Reading, with the sign of the bronze serpent lifted up to cure snakebitten Israelites in the desert, parallels Jesus’s statement in the Gospel that when he is “lifted up” on the cross all will recognize him and his mission from the Father.  These passages put me in mind of the popular Lenten devotion of the Way of the Cross. In recent years the Holy Father has led the Way of the Cross during Holy Week at the Colosseum in Rome.  This annual custom would have pleased the great Franciscan preacher Leonard of Port Maurice.  In the eighteenth century he set up Stations of the Cross in 572 locations in various parts of Italy, [...]

SAINTS: Margaret Of Cortona — Three Stories Of Mercy by Greg Friedman

April 3, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Daniel 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30; Psalm 23:1-6; John 8:1-11 Two women accused of adultery are the focus of today’s scriptures.  We add to the mix a lay Franciscan whose conversion from a state of public sin inspired others to penance in the thirteenth century. From the book of Daniel comes the story of Susanna, a woman wrongly accused of adultery.  It becomes the occasion for the hero of the book, young Daniel, to trap the elders who lusted after Susanna and brought the false accusation. In the Gospel, Jesus is presented with a woman caught in adultery.  Her guilt is not in question, though, under Jewish law, her partner in the sin is not on trial.  Jesus challenges those publicly shaming the woman to [...]

SAINTS: Jeremiah — A New Covenant, by Greg Friedman

April 2, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalm 130:1-8; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45 The figure of the prophet Jeremiah walks into our liturgy in the fifth week of Lent, and his personal passion and death foreshadows that of Jesus. In the decades before the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and carried its ruling class into exile, Jeremiah fearlessly confronted idolatry and the bad political alliances of Judah’s kings.  He paid the ultimate price after the fall of Jerusalem.  Jeremiah himself was exiled to Egypt and there, tradition tells us, was murdered by some of his own people who conspired against him. Most poignant of all his oracles is found in Jeremiah 31.  There the Lord promises a “new covenant” to the [...]

SAINTS: Teresa Of Ávila — A Woman For More Than Her Time, by Greg Friedman

April 1, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Jeremiah 11:18-20; Psalm 7:2-3, 9bc-12; John 7:40-53 In the classic Saint of the Day: Lives, Lessons, and Feasts, which I used alongside the lectionary in preparing these reflections, there’s a great description of Saint Teresa of Avila: Like Jesus, she was a mystery of paradoxes; wise, yet practical; intelligent, yet much in tune with her experience; mystic, yet an energetic reformer.  A holy woman, a womanly woman. The lectionary readings continue to give us the sense of the growing plot against Jesus.  Today we hear a snippet from the plot against the prophet Jeremiah, then we listen to discussions about whether Jesus is the Messiah.  The chief priests and Pharisees debate this as well, and a [...]

SAINTS: Ignatius Of Loyola — A Soldier’s Spiritual Conflict, by Greg Friedman

March 31, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Wisdom 2:1a, 12-22; Psalm 34:17-21, 23; John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30 You know me, and you know where I am from.  I have not come on my own.  But the one who sent me is true, and you do not know him.  I know him because I am from him and he sent me. (John 7:28-29)  These words are from today’s Gospel of John, as Jesus, threatened by his enemies, nevertheless comes to the Temple in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles.  He begins to teach openly about who he is.  His words challenge those who would claim intimacy with God but are in fact far from it. In this second part of Lent, we focus more sharply on who Jesus is and how his identity and mission clash with the world.  This conflict will surface in [...]

SAINTS: Anthony Of Padua — The Hammer Of Heretics, by Greg Friedman

March 30, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 106:19-23; John 5:31-47 Before he became the “go-to” saint for finding lost objects, Saint Anthony of Padua had another nickname: “The Hammer of Heretics.” A contemporary of Saint Francis of Assisi, Anthony was one of the first scholars of the Franciscan movement, appointed as a teacher of theology yet combining learning with holiness.  Anthony put those talents to use as a great popular preacher. It wasn’t his first choice.  He had hoped to be a martyr, inspired by the first Franciscan martyrs whose bodies he saw in his native Portugal in 1220 when they were brought back from Morocco.  That experience led him to join the Order and seek a similar fate. [...]

SAINTS: Gianna Beretta Molla — A Mother’s Total Offering, by Greg Friedman

March 29, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Isaiah 49:8-15; Psalm 145:8-9, 13cd-14, 17-18; John 5:17-30 One of the most affectionate lines in all of scripture occurs in our First Reading today: Can a mother forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?  Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. The beautiful comparison of God’s love to that of a mother for her child is captured in the life of Saint Gianna Beretta Molla.  Born in northern Italy in 1925, she pursued a career in medicine and became a physician and surgeon. Gianna and her husband Peter had three children.  While pregnant with her fourth child, Gianna was told she had a uterine tumor.  Among the options offered by her doctors was a complete [...]

SAINTS: Ezekiel — Prophet Of Liturgy And Rebirth, by Greg Friedman

March 28, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12; Psalm 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9; John 5:1-3a, 5-16 When there are people to be baptized in my parish during Lent, the whole season takes on a different character.  Everything leads to the waters of the font. The conclusion of the catechumens’ journey through the Lenten season focuses their final preparation for the Easter sacraments.  We hear the scriptures at Mass through the filter of those entering the church.  We celebrate rituals – large and small – with the Sunday community and in the circle of candidates and sponsors. But in the end, we come to the waters of the font.  To help us in “sighting” our destination, today’s liturgy offers us a beautiful reading from the [...]

SAINTS: John The Evangelist — Jesus’s Identity And Mission by Greg Friedman

March 27, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Isaiah 65:17-21; Psalm 30:2, 4-6, 11-12a, 13b; John 4:43-54 Today begins a semi-continuous reading of the Gospel of John.  The organizers of the Roman Catholic Lectionary for Mass wanted to present a healthy portion of the fourth Gospel, to help us appreciate its richness.  The sequence of texts also helps us focus on the person of Jesus and his mission. John’s Gospel is at once profound and elegantly simple.  From its opening words announcing the Word Made Flesh, to the accounts of the signs of Jesus (such as today’s cure of a royal official’s son), to the three great scrutiny gospels used in the rite of adult initiation, to the majestic Passion narrative, the fourth Gospel offers us a [...]

SAINTS: Paul — Helping To Shape Our Christian Identity, by Greg Friedman

March 26, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints 1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13; Psalm 23:1-6; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41 Old Testament readings take priority in Lent.  Most of the First Readings on weekdays are from the Hebrew scriptures; the First Reading each Sunday is chosen to recall the story of salvation.  The writings of Saint Paul, however, also appear on the Sundays of Lent.  As I was trying to find a place in this book for the Apostle to the Gentiles, a friend reminded me of how Paul bridges the Old and New Testaments.  His theology helps to shape much of our Christian identity. Paul bookends Lent with his themes.  On Ash Wednesday, we read Paul quoting Isaiah, At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped [...]

SAINTS: Martin de Porres — The Humble Exalted, by Greg Friedman

March 25, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Hosea 6:1-6; Psalm 51:3-4, 18-19, 20-21ab; Luke 18:9-14 Picture the simple Dominican brother Martin de Porres moving humbly among the sick and poor of Lima, Peru, in the seventeenth century.  His work was long and arduous as he cared for orphans, slaves, and poor children.  His hours of prayer and penance strengthened this ministry.  At first only a lay helper in this community, thinking himself unworthy to be a vowed religious, Martin was eventually invited into full membership.  His life of prayer and witness moved the Dominican community to receive him as a lay brother. Like the tax collector in today’s Gospel, Martin himself was someone whom society rejected.  As the illegitimate son of a Spanish [...]

SAINTS: Teresa Of Calcutta — Longing For God With Our Whole Being, by Greg Friedman

March 24, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Hosea 14:2-10; Psalm 8:6c-11ab, 14, 17; Romans 5:12-19; Mark 12:28b-34 No list of Lenten saints would be complete without Saint Teresa of Calcutta.  I was fortunate enough to see her in person in June 1981.  I didn’t get to meet her personally but felt blessed just to be in her presence. Little did we know that this saintly woman had, for many years, walked a path of inner darkness.  Several years ago, Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, promoting her cause for sainthood, edited a book called Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light.  He recalled the years she endured dark nights of the soul, despite her great love for God and certainty that God had called her to special work with the poor. Father Kolodiejchuk says that, [...]

SAINTS: Patrick — The Struggle Against Evil, by Greg Friedman

March 23, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Jeremiah 7:23-28; Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9; Luke 11:14-23 The popular book, The Rite, which was later made into a movie, tells the story of a young priest who learns how to fight against the very real manifestation of the devil’s power.  Through prayer and the power of God mediated through the church’s ritual of exorcism, people throughout the centuries have been delivered from the grip of evil. Today’s Gospel, from Luke, gives one of many episodes in the story of Jesus where he drives out a devil and brings relief to a person who has been possessed.  In the process, Jesus describes the intensity of the struggle against evil.  It was a struggle Saint Patrick knew well.  As the “apostle to [...]

SAINTS: Francis de Sales — From Lawyer To Spiritual Guide, by Greg Friedman

March 22, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9; Psalm 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20; Matthew 5:17-19 When we think of Moses, we often think of the Ten Commandments, the laws that God gave to Israel.  Today’s First Reading offers an address by Moses to the people, in which he encourages them to observe the Law and thus witness to the nations of the greatness of their God. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is portrayed as the “new Moses,” as he teaches the Torah, the Law of Moses, in the Sermon on the Mount but expands it in light of the kingdom.  Jesus offers ways in which the Law is to be enfleshed in love and mercy, even beyond what Moses taught. Saint Francis de Sales was marked by his family for a legal career, following [...]

SAINTS: Alphonsus Liguori — Gentle Moral Teacher, by Greg Friedman

March 21, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Daniel 3:25, 34-43; Psalm 25:4bc-5ab, 6, 7bc, 8-9; Matthew 18:21-35 In today’s gospel, Peter asks Jesus a question: How often should we forgive a brother who offends us?  Peter suggests that perhaps seven times would be a generous offer.  Scripture scholar Father Raymond Brown notes that, at this point, we who know Jesus’s answer are inclined to criticize Peter.  How stingy!  We know Jesus is going to respond with a whopping seventy-seven times, suggesting forgiveness without limit. But, Brown comments, who among us, realistically, might squeeze out a second, or, just maybe, a third act of forgiveness?  After that, wouldn’t we say, Enough!?  At that point, Brown says, Peter is looking [...]

SAINTS: Damien Joseph de Veuster of Molokai — A Mission Among The Lepers, by Greg Friedman

March 20, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints 2 Kings 5:1-15a; Psalm 42:2-3, 43:3-4; Luke 4:24-30 Leprosy is a disease that gets a lot of attention in the Bible.  Jesus, who himself healed lepers, cites the story of the cure of the Syrian leper, Naaman, in today’s gospel, as he challenges his hometown audience with the rejection of prophets in their native place, while foreigners like Naaman receive God’s favor. In modern times leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, is treatable, but at the time of Saint Damien of Molokai it was still feared.  Those suffering from the disease were kept as far as possible from others, as on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, on a remote, inaccessible peninsula.  It was there that the Belgian missionary Damien came, [...]

SAINTS: Moses — Knowing We Are God’s People, by Greg Friedman

March 19, 2017

From: Lent With The Saints Exodus 17:3-7; Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9; Romans 5:1-2, 5-8; John 4:5-42 The character of Moses is forever burned into the consciousness of a generation of moviegoers by Charlton Heston’s portrayal of him in The Ten Commandments.  Moses strides through the film, leading his people out of Egypt, stretching his staff over a divided Red Sea, and bringing the tablets of the Law down from his encounter with God on the mountain. We hear about many different dimensions of Moses in Lenten readings drawn from the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy.  In describing the ritual for offering first fruits from the harvest of the Promised Land, Moses says that the people must describe themselves thusly: A wandering Aramean was my [...]