Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus – Year A – June 23, 2017

The heart of Jesus and our hearts

 

Introduction

 

Devotion to the Sacred Heart has very ancient origins. It has spread in the church especially starting from the seventeenth century through the work of a French mystic, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. In her autobiography, this Visitation sister tells the revelations she had and refers to the famous twelve promises of the Sacred Heart from which the pious practice of the nine first Fridays of the month was derived. It is on the inspiration of this saint that the feast of the Sacred Heart was established.

 

Like all forms of popular piety, this too entered into crisis after the Vatican Council II. The traditional image—the one showing the Sacred Heart “on a throne of flames, radiant as the sun, with the adorable wound, surrounded by thorns and topped by a cross” is in conformity with the description given by St. Margaret Mary to whom He appeared. This image, too, first exposed in every home, was gradually replaced by others that expressed a new theological concept and a new spiritual sensitivity.

 

In the post-council period, many devotional practices have been abandoned. That of the Sacred Heart instead received a decisive boost by the conciliar spirit that led to seeking the solid foundation of every form of spirituality not in private revelations, to which—rightly—a more relative value has been given, but in God’s word.

 

The mystical experiences of St. Margaret Mary had, for three centuries, a great importance and significant repercussions on the life of the church. They nourished the spirituality of God’s love and fostered a virtuous and committed moral life. However, theologians put forward reservations on these revelation reported by the saint. Today, they no longer are the foundation of devotion to the Sacred Heart, which instead is solidly rooted in the word of God.

 

Bible study led to some interesting discoveries. It was immediately realized that the devotion to the Sacred Heart was different from the others. It does not emphasize one of the many aspects of the Gospel message, but took the center of Christian revelation: God’s heart, his passion of love for people that became visible in Christ.

 

In the Bible, the heart is not only intended as the seat of physical life and feelings, but it designates the whole person. It is primarily considered as the seat of intelligence. We may find it strange, but the Semites think and decide with the heart, “God has given people a heart to think”—says Sirach (17:6). He relates even some perceptions of the senses to the Israelite heart. Sirach, at the end of a long life during which he accumulated the most diverse experiences and has gained much wisdom says: My heart has seen much (Sir 1:16).

 

In this cultural context, the image of the heart has also been applied to God. The Bible, in fact, says that God has a heart that thinks, decides, loves and can also be full of bitterness. This is exactly the feeling that is invoked when, at the beginning of Genesis, the word heart appears for the first time: “The Lord saw how great was the wickedness of man on the earth and the evil was always the only thought of his heart.”

 

What does God feel in the face of so much moral depravity? “The Lord regretted having created man on the earth and his heart grieved” (Gen 6:5-6). He is unfazed—as the philosophers of antiquity thought—; he is not indifferent to what happens to his children. He rejoices when he sees them happy and suffers when they move away from him because he loves them madly. Even if provoked by their faithlessness, he never reacts with aggression and violence.

 

The designs of the Lord, the thoughts of his heart are always and only projects of salvation. For this—the Psalmist says—“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Ps 33:11-12).

 

Until the coming of Christ people knew God’s heart only by “hearsay” (Job 42:5). In Jesus, our eyes have contemplated it. “Whoever sees me, sees him who sent me” (Jn 12:45), Jesus has assured his disciples. In his farewell address at the Last Supper, he reminded them of the same truth: “If you know me, you will know the Father also…. Whoever sees me sees the Father” (Jn 14:7-9). We can come to know the Father’s heart by contemplating his heart.

 

When we speak of the heart of Jesus, we refer not only to his whole person but also to his deepest emotions. The gospel refers often to what he feels in the face of human needs. His heart is sensitive to the cry of the marginalized. He hears the cry of the leper who, contrary to the requirements of the law, comes up to him and, on his knees, begs him: “If you want to, you can make me clean.” Jesus—the evangelist notes—gets excited from the depths of his bowels. He listens to his heart, not to the provisions of the rabbis who prescribe marginalization. He stretches out his hand, touches him and heals him (Mk 1:40-42).

 

The heart of Jesus is moved when he meets pain. He shares the disturbance that every person feels in the face of death; he feels sympathy for the widow who has lost her only child and is left alone. At Nain, when he sees the funeral procession advancing, he comes forward, comes close to the mother and tells her: “Stop crying!” And he gives her the son. No one asked him to intervene; no one has asked him to perform the miracle. It is his heart that drove him to move closer to those in pain.

 

The gospel relates also a heartfelt prayer of Jesus. A father has a child with serious physical and mental problems: he stiffens, foams and is thrown into fire or water. With the last glimmer of hope that remained he goes to Jesus, and, by appealing to the feelings of his heart, directs him a prayer, simple but beautiful: “If you can do anything, have pity on us and help us” (Mk 9:22). “If you can!” (Mk 9:23). It is not an expression of doubt about his feelings, but it is a pointer to a consoling truth: he is always listening to those who suffer.

 

In Jesus, we have seen God crying for the death of his friend, and for the people unable to recognize the one who offered salvation; we have seen God excited for the tears of a mother, touched by the sick, the marginalized, those who hunger.

 

The God who asks us confidence is not far away and insensitive. He is the one to whom everyone can shout: “Let yourself be moved!” The God who revealed himself in Jesus is not the impassive one the philosophers talked about. He is a God who has a heart that is moved, rejoices and grieves, weeps with those who weep and smiles with those who are happy. An anonymous Egyptian poet wrote, towards 2,000 B.C.: “I seek a heart on which to rest my head and I cannot find it, they are no longer friends.”

 

We are luckier: we have a heart—that of Jesus—on which to lay our head to hear from him at all times, words of consolation, hope, and forgiveness. Today’s feast wants to introduce us, through the meditation of the Word of God, in the intimacy of Jesus’ heart, so that we learn to love as he loved.

 

 

To internalize the message, we repeat:
Give us, Jesus, a heart like yours.”

 

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Birth of St. John the Baptist – June 24, 2017

The courageous witness of the Light

 

There is a video by Fr. Fernando Armellini with English subtitles
commenting on today’s Gospel reading:
https://youtu.be/2vCm-Fau24Y

 

Introduction

 

The cult of the Virgin Mary began to rise and develop in Jerusalem in the V century. A century earlier, in the IV century, the cult of John the Baptist was so widespread as to be considered universal.

 

The people paid tribute with an extraordinary veneration to this saint. He is the most represented in the art of all ages; there is no altarpiece, no group of saints in which he does not appear. He is covered with the characteristic camel’s hide, the belt around his waist and holding a stick that ends in the shape of a cross.

 

He is the patron of countless dioceses; shrines and churches are dedicated to him, beginning with the “mother of all” churches, St. John Lateran, founded by Constantine. The name John—translated in every language—is the most common name in the world. Many cities and countries were named after him (128 in Italy, 213 in France).

 

The Baptist is also loved by the Muslims. They named the famous Umayyad Mosque of Damascus, a symbol of interfaith dialogue, after him. How do we explain this sympathy?

 

The Baptist is not renowned as a miracle worker—this is, in general, a prerogative, which makes the saints popular. Whoever wants to obtain graces does not appeal to him, but to more powerful intercessors. So there are other reasons for such devotion.

 

The first reason is certainly Jesus’ praise of him: “When you went out to the desert, what did you expect to see? A reed swept by the wind? What did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? People who wear fine clothes live in palaces. What did you really go out to see? A prophet? Yes, indeed, and even more than a prophet. I tell you this: no one greater than John the Baptist has come forward from among the sons of women” (Mt 11:7-11).

 

Then, the simple people admired his austerity of life and his courage not to bend his head in front of the powerful. He defended the truth and justice with his life.

 

Finally, it should be said that it was mainly the monks who popularized his figure. Since the beginning of the fourth century, they populated the Judean desert where the Baptist had spent his life. They considered him one of them, a model of ascetic life and for this, they spread the cult.

 

The choice of his feast day—celebrated, since the time of St. Augustine, on the 24th of June—is linked to the summer solstice, the day when the sun reaching its zenith begins to set along the horizon. To believers, the decline of sunlight recalled the availability of the Baptist to disappear, to give the place to one who was greater than him. After recognizing in Jesus the expected messiah, he confided to his disciples: “My joy is now full. It is necessary that he increases but that I decrease” (Jn 3:29-30).

 

To internalize the message, we repeat:
Great are those who know how to step aside after fulfilling their mission.”

 

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12th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – June 25, 2017

It’s really risky to go

against the traffic

 

There is a video by Fr. Fernando Armellini with English subtitles
commenting on today’s Gospel reading:
https://youtu.be/t7afPK_t8_I

 

Introduction

 

Before entering a street, one must pay attention to the signs. It is necessary to determine whether, by chance, no one has ventured in a wrong way.

 

When observing the direction of travel in which other people move, the disciple of Christ has the immediate and sharp feeling of driving against traffic. If he chooses the paths of renunciation, the sharing of goods, unselfish love, pardon without limits, keeping one’s word, he sees the traffic moving in the opposite direction. He realizes that, no matter how much he proceeds with caution and prudence, the clash becomes inevitable. He will always be the one to suffer, to be considered out of place, to be accused of breaking the rules accepted by all.

 

The wicked views the righteous as a “reproach to our way of thinking” (Wis 2:14), “creates embarrassment” (Wis 2:12); annoying “because he does not live like others and he behaves strangely” (Wis 2:15).

 

In times of persecution, doubt of taking the wrong direction can arise in a Christian.

 

After checking if he is really following the directions of the Master, he must not let himself be caught by fear. That is the right direction; it is he who guides with open eyes and proceeds in the light.

 

 

To internalize the message, we repeat:
We will not be asked if we won or lost, but if we have fought for the right cause.”

 

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13th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – July 2, 2017

Who has a big heart

is not content with a small house

 

There is a video by Fr. Fernando Armellini with English subtitles
commenting on today’s Gospel reading:
https://youtu.be/PBySO4cxooM

 

Introduction

 

The Hebrew word house does not indicate only the building but also the family, the cell of the society in which, especially in ancient times, the individual found asylum and felt welcomed and protected.

 

Man can’t do without this double house: “Some things you cannot live without: water, bread, clothes and a house for shelter” (Sir 29:21). For this reason, in the Middle East, hospitality is always sacred, as the insistent recommendation of the Bible attest: “Welcome one another into your houses without complaining” (1 Pt 4:9); “Do not neglect to offer hospitality; you know that some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb 13:2).

 

One wants to start a new family, however, is required to separate from his own home: “A man leaves his father and mother and is attached to his wife, and with her becomes one flesh.” (Gen 2:24). It is an abandonment that leads to a meeting intended to give continuity to life.

 

One day, even Jesus abandoned the security provided by the home of Nazareth. “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Mt 8:20). He also left the family: “‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ Then he pointed to his disciples and said, ‘Look! Here are my mother and my brothers’” (Mt 12:48-50).

 

To those who want to follow him, he asks the same responsibility: the courage to take a break, to take the flight toward a higher reality, to be introduced in a new home, in a new family, the family of God’s children.

 

 

To internalize the message, we repeat:
In the disciple, it is Jesus who knocks at our door and asks for hospitality.”

 

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14th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – July 9, 2017

“Small”: The only honorific title

recognized in heaven

 

There is a video by Fr. Fernando Armellini with English subtitles
commenting on today’s Gospel reading:
https://youtu.be/xlkbIiJBelU

 

Introduction

 

In the liturgical assemblies, common meals, trips in a caravan, public meetings, at every opportunity, the Jewish society discussed the issue on who would be the greatest, to whom greater honor belonged.

 

The blessed in heaven were involved in this race for the first places. They were categorized into seven classes, led by the martyrs. It is the same with the God of Israel, who could not be outdone by Eastern deities, Greek and Egyptian, to whom the title “great” was inevitably given. For this reason, Solomon proclaimed: “Yahweh is greater than all the gods” (Ex 18:11) and Moses assured the Israelites: “Yahweh is the God of gods and the Lord of lords. He is the great God, the strong and terrible God” (Deut 10:17).

 

In the last centuries before Christ, the statements about the greatness of God had multiplied dramatically. He was “the most high God, the great” (Est 8:12q). “Lord, you are great and glorious, wonderful, strong, invincible” (Jdt 16:13) and he was expected, therefore, to manifest his greatness. We read on Christmas Eve: “We await our blessed hope—the glorious manifestation of our great God and Savior Christ Jesus” (Tit 2:13).

 

And he appeared, in all his grandeur: a weak, poor, defenseless child “wrapped in swaddling clothes” by a sweet and caring mother of fourteen. It was just the beginning of his manifestation which culminated on the cross. From that day, all the criteria of greatness have been turned upside down.

 

 

To internalize the message, we repeat:
Only the children are able to grasp the mysteries of the kingdom of God.”

 

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15th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – July 16, 2017

Between Heaven and Earth: The Word

 

There is a video by Fr. Fernando Armellini with English subtitles
commenting on today’s Gospel reading:
https://youtu.be/lFLKLb6M8Yk

 

Introduction

 

What reliability does man’s word offer?

 

Not much. Dejected and disappointed, the psalmist kept repeating: “Help us, O Lord, none of the godly are left, the faithful have vanished. Everyone lies; with flattering lips, they speak from a double heart” (Ps 12:1-2). Today, the word continues to be devaluated: One does not believe in the promises. One feels secured only by written and signed documents: We hear “deeds and not words,” repeated.

 

Is it so with the word of God?

 

This refrain is repeated ten times in the first chapter of Genesis: “God said… and so it happened.” “The heavens were created by his word. For he spoke and so it was, he commanded and everything stood firm” (Ps 33:6,9). His word is not like that of man’s. It is living and effective, implements what it announces, does not lie nor disappoint.

 

The Greek mystic proposed to enter into a relationship with God through visions, ecstasies, raptures, paroxysmal trance. Biblical spirituality instead puts listening in the first place, because it is convinced of the absolute reliability of God’s word.

 

Hear, O Israel” is the most beloved prayer of the Jewish pity (Dt 6:4). “Hear the warning of Yahweh” recommend the prophets (Is 1:10, Jer 11:3). “Obedience (listening) is better than sacrifice,” says Samuel (1 S 15:22). “Sacrifice and oblation you did not desire: but my ears you have pierced,” says the Psalmist (Ps 40:7).

 

In the Bible, listening does not mean to receive a communication or information, but to adhere to, to receive, to keep in one’s heart and put into practice a proposal. It is equivalent to granting trust to God.

 

Those who listen to his word with these provisions are blessed (Lk 11:28).

 

 

To internalize the message, we repeat:
A fertile ground, receptive to the word of God, is present even in the most hardened sinner.

 

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