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Posted by on Jun 4, 2019

Ascension and Rituals of Farewell

Ascension and Rituals of Farewell

“Parting is such sweet sorrow,” Shakespeare wrote. We have a chance to contemplate what that means as we celebrate Jesus’ leave-taking, also known as The Ascension of the Lord. We certainly can relate at this time of year with so many goodbyes happening. Graduates are saying goodbye to the schools that have educated them as they look forward to new and exciting experiences in high school, college, graduate school, or a career. Parents are saying goodbye to the young people they’ve protected, supported, and guided at home, watching them start their own lives.

Each goodnight prayer and kiss is a promise to your children that your love stays with them through the night, just as God’s love stays with them through life. Goodnight and goodbye rituals are important for the development of spiritual strength and faith.  They teach us that there is a connection between the loved and lover that doesn’t end when one is invisible to the other.

The words goodbye, adieu, and adios all mean “God be with you.” They are words of blessing that commit another person to the care of God. Jesus exemplifies this power of blessing when he greets his disciples in Galilee after the Resurrection. He assures them of his presence as he directs them to “go and make disciples of all nations.” His final words are clear and powerful: “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Matthew’s Gospel ends with these words.

“I am with you always.” This is what a child knows when parent kisses or signs her with a cross at night or when leaving for school. It’s what is understood by a friend’s hug, a blown kiss, or hands waving. One of our family rituals involves standing on the curb waving until the people leaving have disappeared around the corner, taking our blessings and presence with them.

The final blessing at Mass is the liturgy’s goodbye. The words empower us to go forth and make disciples of nations, to be God’s peace in the world, to serve and love one another. The words acknowledge that between the entrance and dismissal rites, God has been present to us in a wonderful and mysterious way, and we are now being commissioned to do what we gathered to do. Poised at the threshold of the church, we are ready to bring Christ into the world. Everything we have experienced at Mass – our gathering, listening to the Word, and coming to the Table – has prepared us for this moment of departure.

Let’s try to acknowledge the importance of those last moments of Mass by paying attention, listening to the words of the final blessing, and taking them into our hearts. Jesus’ promise to his disciples that he would be with them always is our promise too. Let’s receive that promise with gratitude and pass it on to others, letting each “goodbye” become a promise of our love and presence.

God be with you.

Public domain image – Ascension of Christ

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Posted by on May 22, 2015

Why Mary is Important

Why Mary is Important

Hail Mary - F Fong

When we think or speak of Mary, the Mother of God, it is always important to keep in mind that she is best understood in the context of her relationship with her son, Jesus. Said formally, Mariology is always constructed in the context of Christology. This is so because Christ is the redeemer and the sole source of salvation. Everything in creation came to be through him. Mary, because of her role, participates in the creative and redeeming action of God in a special way.

Mary’s exceptional conception as sinless affords her the choice to live fully for God. She was not programmed to be good, but rather, Mary did not carry the deep fear of interference and resistance against God that exists in all other human beings. The rest of the human race has the grace and possibility to work with and overcome fear and anger, but we must work to limit our desire for control and instead surrender to God’s grace. We often do not choose right away to stop being resentful or angry. We often project onto others the responsibility for our own self-inflicted injuries. Mary had a clear vision of her place in life. She was born totally honest and prepared to grow. She chose to say “yes” over and over to these qualities, even when they brought suffering.

According to the Scriptures, Mary grew in her understanding of her son, herself, and the work of God in the world for salvation. We read more than once in the Gospel of Luke that she “pondered” how their lives were unfolding and what God was doing. She did not have a road map to reassure her of where they were going, but she had given her consent at the Annunciation and she trusted over and over. Her pregnancy was unexpected and controversial. The choices that Jesus made had consequences. His declaration in the synagogue that he was the Messiah brought immediate violence and ejection from the community. We find him and Mary later in the Gospel living in a completely new town, Capernaum, not a hill village like Nazareth but a fishing village.

Icon of the Wedding at Cana - Lucia 398 - CCWhen Jesus began his itinerant preaching and healing ministry we know that Mary, her sister and a group of women accompanied him as well as the crowds. This was not a normal lifestyle for first century Jewish women. Mary had to give up her reputation, village, old friends and the comforts of a house. In all of these ways she was an excellent listener of God as he called her out of the usual, the expected. She had to be quite aware of the danger that Jesus was in. In the Gospels, in village after village, the rage and jealously grew in the scribes and Pharisees. They hated his penetrating honesty, his clear perception of their air of superiority. They despised Jesus’ humility and closeness to the cast-offs of society. Mary must have constantly had to put her worries in the hands of God. She modeled an exceptional surrender to God and acceptance of His will. No one could have gone through this without being in deep prayer and interior connection to God all the time. She stood by Jesus from Cana to Golgotha and we have no reason to believe that she knew that “everything was going to be all right.”

Throughout the centuries Mary has been understood as the second Eve who reversed the willfulness and disobedience of the first Eve. Even when this story is understood metaphorically, Mary still is understood as the first human to be perfectly and happily obedient. She is also appreciated as the mother of the Church because she remained as the center of the early church community and loved them as her own. But it is her maternity of Jesus which stands out as the most important role she has because of its eschatological (future reaching) character. What is meant by this is that she is not just a person who did something unique in the past. Mary was and is “full of grace.” In the spiritual relationship which she has with her son and the whole of creation, Christ’s grace pours through her as the first disciple to all of humanity. Mary mothers us (protects and strengthens us) if we let her. Catholicism understands all of humanity, living and dead, to be in spiritual solidarity, a mystical body. Because of this solidarity or communion, Mary can help us to have a readiness to commitment, trust even in unbearable loss, and unimaginable joy when we are united to her son.

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Posted by on May 19, 2015

Hispanic-Mozarabic Rite from Spain Celebrated

Hispanic-Mozarabic Rite from Spain Celebrated

AntifonarioDeLeón - Mozarabic - public domainOn May 16, 2015 the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated at St. Peter’s Basilica according to the Hispanic-Mozarabic Rite for the 4th time in history. The first time was in 1963 during the Vatican II Council. In 1992 it was celebrated by Saint John Paul II when the revised Mozarabic Missal and Lectionary were promulgated. And most recently, on December 16, 2000 the Feast of the Annunciation was commemorated according the Hispanic-Mozarabic Calendar.

The Hispanic-Mozarabic Rite, sometimes called either the Gothic or Visigothic Rite, is the ancient liturgy of Spain. (The term Hispanic in this case refers to its origin and reference to Spain itself.) The rite was formed and codified over the centuries by many great Saints, most notably St. Isidore (San Isidoro) of Seville and his brother and predecessor, St. Leander (San Leandro). Later, the councils and saintly bishops of Toledo took an active role in its standardization. Since the 11th century, the city of Toledo has been its primary home, with the city’s archbishop as its custodian and protector. Today Toledo’s archbishop is Braulio Rodríguez Plaza, who celebrated the venerable liturgy at St. Peter’s during a pilgrimage to the Eternal City.

The liturgy he celebrates is as ancient as the memory of Christianity in Spain. There are elements of the liturgy that remind people of the great liturgies of the East, such as the chanting of the closing words of the Holy, Holy in Greek and the standardized prayers of the faithful called The Diptych. There are elements that remind people of the Roman Rite, with its opening prayer after the Gloria and the structure of the Eucharistic Prayer. Then there are things that are familiar but seem to be out of place for a Roman Catholic, for example the Creed is prayed after the Eucharistic prayer, before the Our Father, and the “Final Blessing” is given right before Communion. People who are fond of dialogue at Mass will like that there is more interactive participation by the people. The same people might be turned off by the priest praying the Our Father for the whole assembly. But, then again, they might be excited by the fact that to each of the seven petitions of the Our Father the people sing “Amen”.

As a celebrant, I particularly like that the Mozarabic rite has ten proper (thematic) prayers for each Mass. This makes for a celebration of Mass that is unified in theme from beginning to end. In the Roman Rite we have only three proper prayers per Mass, plus a few proper Prefaces and Final Blessings. Whereas in the Roman Rite the introductions to the Our Father and the Sign of Peace are standardized and unchanging, in the Mozarabic Mass they are proper for each Mass and unique for each Sunday and thus contain the themes of the Mass.

The prayers of the Mozarabic Mass in general are longer than a Roman Rite Catholic would be used to, but they are very rich. A Roman Rite Opening Prayer (the Collect) is typically one sentence. By contrast, the Opening Prayer (Post-Gloria) in the Mozarabic Rite might be as long as a page or so. A Roman Preface is about a page while a Mozarabic Preface (Illatio) can range from a half of a page to three or four pages. Roman prayers are said to have a noble simplicity; Mozarabic prayers tend to be poetic and full of scriptural stories and teachings. Sometimes a Mozarabic prayer will even be a poem with rhyme and meter. One year I returned to Mt. Angel Seminary for a little R&R after Christmas and brought my Mozarabic Missal with me. As my old Latin teacher read through the Preface (Illatio) for Christmas he audibly gasped three or four times. As he finished, he looked up and said, “This is really beautiful Latin.” Then with a smile and love in his voice he added, “It’s about the Blessed Virgin.” I responded, “Who knows, maybe the great St. Isidore wrote that one himself.”

As the kings of northern Spain fought their way south during the Reconquista (Reconquest), they brought with them the liturgical books of the Roman Rite. When they arrived in Toledo, they found Catholics who had maintained their faith and liturgy during the 400 years of Islamic rule. While living under Islamic rule these Catholics had learned Arabic and adopted new fashions of clothing, but never lost their identity. They were dubbed, “Mixto-Arabs” or Mozarabes and the rich faith and liturgy that sustained them against persecutions and trials then, still nourishes and inspires them and many others today.

During this season of the Resurrection, let us close with the Prayer for Peace (Ad Pacem) for the Sixth Sunday of Easter from the Hispanic-Mozarabic Mass.

Conserve in your peace, Lord, those whom you redeemed with the abundant out-pouring of your blood; free from scandal those for whom you hung upon the wood. Make worthy, through works of charity, those who, being guided by your grace, you adopted as sons and daughters. So that we who celebrate the victory of your resurrection, rising at the time of the Last Judgment, will be placed crowned at your right with the sheep. R/. Amen

Grant this, Oh God, through the author of peace and love, our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom you are one lone and co-equal essence in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, reigning for ever and ever. R/. Amen.

Image: 11th Century Mozarabic Antifonary Folio from the Cathedral of León, Spain
Public Domain

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Posted by on Apr 17, 2015

The Easter Proclamation and the Identity of the Deacon

The Easter Proclamation and the Identity of the Deacon

exsultet1In his blog, Deacons Today: Servants in a Servant Church, Deacon William Ditewig, PhD reflects on the role of the Deacon in singing the Easter Proclamation, the Exsultet: “Exult, Let them exult, the hosts of heaven.”

Deacon Ditewig traces the history of the Easter Vigil liturgy and the important role of the deacon in the lighting of the Paschal candle, as well as his proclamation of the Light of Christ in “Christ, Cross, Candle, and Gospel: An Early Lenten Reflection on the Deacon and the Exsultet.”

From the earliest times of the Church, according to Deacon Ditewig, the bishop was likened to God the Father, the presbyters (elders, priests) were viewed as the apostles, and the deacon was the Alter Christus (Another Christ). In fulfilling this calling, the deacon proclaimed the Gospel — the Kingdom of Heaven — and provided for the sick and needy in mind, body, and spirit.

The blessing and lighting of the Easter Candle and the proclamation of God’s saving power symbolize the deacon as Christ carrying the cross which is now transformed into the glorious light of salvation, dispelling the gloom and bringing new life and vision into the world.

Listen to the Exsultet sung here:

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Posted by on Apr 17, 2015

The Resurrection of Christ and Planet Earth – It’s not all about us.

The Resurrection of Christ and Planet Earth – It’s not all about us.

Earthrise (NASA photo ID AS11-44-6552)The Catholic Church and the broader world community are looking forward to Pope Francis’ forthcoming encyclical on the environment. Generally, Christians tend to see the earth and all of creation as a motion picture studio back drop for God’s saving action in the Christ Event — the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus. However, there is more to our relationship with the Earth and with Christ than a motion-picture-type approach suggests. Patheos, a collection of blogs focused on faith, presents a panel discussion representing many viewpoints on the impending human-caused collapse of our planetary life-support system.

Overflowing love

What we tend to overlook is that all of creation is the ongoing reality of God’s overflowing love. Nature is a major facet of God’s self-disclosure. Creation is God’s great art project, which the Holy One holds in existence. The Book of Genesis makes it clear that we are part of this great Divine creativity. Humanity is taken from the earth and given life through the Divine breath. The Christ Event is God’s very immersion into creation. The Divine Word, God’s highest and most complete God Self disclosure, becomes truly human and remains truly divine in Jesus of Nazareth. God’s irruption into human history is part and parcel of the divine irruption to bring all creation to fulfillment in Christ according to St. Paul and the ancient tradition of the Church.

The Jesuit paleontologist and philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, gave us a post-modern vision of all creation spiraling upward to its fulfillment: the Omega Point which is the Cosmic Christ. His book, the Divine Milieu (The Divine Environment / Context), and his mystical poem, La Messe Sur le Monde (The Mass on the World), convey the ongoing creativity in the universe and that facet of creation which is the human species. This does not mean that everything is God – pantheism – any more than art we might produce is identical with us. The things we make reflect our creativity, but they are not us. According to Chardin, our gift of consciousness not only allows us to be aware of God’s activity but to take part in it by God’s out-poured love for us.

Participating in God’s saving activity

The ongoing Christ Event sweeps us and all of the cosmos toward creation’s fulfillment in Christ, the Omega point. The Second Vatican Council, in its key documents the Church and the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes – Joy and Hope) and The Light of Nations (Lumen Gentium), affirms the centrality of God’s action in human society and creation and our need to participate in this saving activity. Social and political oppression generally go hand in hand with the destruction of the environment and the human life-support system, resulting in poverty, war, and ignorance and the degradation of humanity.

As the Council Fathers wrote:

Therefore, the council focuses its attention on the world of men, the whole human family along with the sum of those realities in the midst of which it lives; that world which is the theater of man’s history, and the heir of his energies, his tragedies and his triumphs; that world which the Christian sees as created and sustained by its Maker’s love, fallen indeed into the bondage of sin, yet emancipated now by Christ, Who was crucified and rose again to break the strangle hold of personified evil, so that the world might be fashioned anew according to God’s design and reach its fulfillment. – Gaudium et Spes #2 (emphasis added)

Image: Earthrise (NASA photo ID AS11-44-6552)
public domain

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Posted by on Apr 16, 2015

Easter and “Eastering”

Easter and “Eastering”

Icon of the ResurrectionEaster is a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection and what that means for all human beings and the whole of creation. It is an event which gives us hope; a time to remember that good is stronger than evil and death is not the end of life. But the resurrection also has divergent interpretations. For some, Jesus never really died but instead was revived. Some say that he died but his body was stolen and buried somewhere else. For some, it is a question of the resuscitation of a corpse so that Jesus had a revived human body and had to die completely at a later time. For others, it is the return of Jesus in a transformed body. Still others believe that Jesus came back as a vision, seen either interiorly or externally but in a ghostly form.

Catholicism (and most of Christianity) teaches that Jesus returned as fully human and fully divine in a transformed body. He could walk through walls, yet he could eat (Lk. 24:36-23). He could vanish in a moment but had wounds that were of flesh and could be touched. The story of the encounter with Thomas the Apostle (Jn. 20:26-29) is one example. The people closest to him did not recognize him at first. Both Mary Magdalene in the garden (Jn. 20:11-18) and the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35) mistook him for someone else, a gardener or a fellow traveler respectively. Only through his words and actions did they come to recognize him.

Various traditions of Christianity also emphasize different aspects of Easter. A few focus primarily on the symbolic nature of this miracle, i.e. that all human beings can experience a new life in Christ at the time of death. Most Christians, however, believe that the entire Paschal drama (the Paschal Mystery) from Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday to Easter cannot be separated into parts. With Easter, in this understanding, creation was made fundamentally new in the here and now. It also means that the risen Christ manifested an existence that all will share in in the future Eschaton (the last days) — the reconciliation of all to God.

Because of the entire Paschal Mystery, the Holy Spirit and grace are understood as active in the day-to-day world, inviting and drawing people to God in very tangible ways. According to St. Paul all of us are recapitulating in our lives the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (Phil. 3:10-11). The famous Catholic paleontologist, geologist, philosopher, and theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. saw this movement of human history towards its fulfillment in Christ as taking place in everything in the entire universe. As he examined every level of creation from the most basic subatomic (as much as he could know in the 1950s) to the macrocosmic realities of the galaxies, he saw a movement toward greater unity (communion) and consciousness.

What Jesus did at the Last Supper was to place himself as a unique offering of love to the Father, an offering that is shared by us. His self-giving and adoration, and their rejection by those in power, became a historical event on the cross the next day. But, out of the sacrifice of his life came the triumph of God over death and sin for all humanity. No evil or tragedy is beyond the reach of God’s love and redemption. Easter is the absolute promise that the human condition and the way the world currently is is not a meaningless lonely journey to oblivion. Jesus “Easters” us every day when we let his love and guidance into ourselves and our lives as we struggle with our crosses of loss, hurt, or disordered living. We live Easter here and now imperfectly, but this Easter will be fully realized in the future in the Kingdom of God.

Icon of the Resurrection, by Surgun. Public Domain

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Posted by on Jun 13, 2014

Crepe Paper and Sticks Become a Bird for Pentecost

Crepe Paper and Sticks Become a Bird for Pentecost

 

Feathers all ready for flying

Feathers all ready for flying

The primary image of Pentecost is that of tongues of fire that accompanied the sound of a rushing wind and settled over the heads of the disciples, both men and women, gathered in the upper room of the home in Jerusalem where Jesus had celebrated the Last Supper with his friends and then appeared to them on several occasions after the Resurrection. In this unforgettable moment, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and empowered them to witness to what they had seen and heard of the love of God and the coming of God’s Kingdom to the world. The Church was born on that day nearly 2,000 years ago and the Holy Spirit continues to breathe life and love into God’s world through ordinary men, women, and children.

Many ways of celebrating Pentecost exist around the world, beginning with the gathering of the community to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. For children, other activities can make this a special day as well.

Common symbols of the Holy Spirit include a dove, the wind, and a flame. A craft I learned many years ago makes an enjoyable activity for children to celebrate during Easter Season and Pentecost.

Crepe Paper & Stick Birds

Supplies:

2 thin sticks or branches – about 1 1/2 to 2 feet long
String or yarn – 1 foot length
Cellophane tape
Crepe paper – white, yellow, red, orange
Orange ribbon (optional)

Making your bird

Take two sticks of unequal length and tie them together in the form of a cross. Use string or yarn to tie them securely and help hold them in the cross shape.

2012-04-17 17.02.28

Next take a bit of the crepe paper and wrap it around the yarn to help stabilize the bird’s body.

Take the orange ribbon or a bit of orange crepe paper and wrap it around the tip of the shortest end of the sticks. Go around the stick enough times to make a beak and a head for your bird. If you use ribbon, you can use crepe paper to cover the body-end of the beak and build up a head.

2012-04-17 17.07.17

Once the head has been formed and the center stabilized, take a long strip of crepe paper, tape it to the stick or to itself, and begin wrapping it around the sticks.

2012-04-17 17.14.49

Cover both sticks completely with crepe paper. Leave only a little of the beak showing.

Close-up of head

Close-up of bird’s head

Take strips of whatever color of crepe paper you are using and tape them to the bird’s wings and tail. Some will want to tape them all along the wings. Others will put them only at the tips. Either way works just fine.

Feathers all ready for flying

Feathers all ready for flying

When the feathers have all been attached, the bird will be ready to fly.

Away we go!

Away we go!

 

This bird can be constructed to celebrate Easter, the Resurrection (as a phoenix), or Pentecost (as a reminder of the Holy Spirit who comes igniting the fires of love and settles like a bird on those called to God’s family).

Come Holy Spirit. Fill our hearts with the fire of your love. Blow where you will in our lives. Strengthen us to respond with the freedom of a bird flying in your love.

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Posted by on May 29, 2014

Savoring the Feast of the Ascension

Savoring the Feast of the Ascension

 

The Feast of the Ascension is traditionally celebrated on the 10th day before Pentecost. In many places these days it is celebrated on the Sunday before Pentecost so more people can attend Mass.

On this day we remember and celebrate the day, forty days after the Resurrection, that Jesus was taken into heaven, hidden from the disciples’ sight by a cloud. (Acts 1:9) Following His instructions, they returned to Jerusalem and spent the next days in prayer, until the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost.

One traditional way to celebrate the Ascension is to go fishing. Why? An ancient symbol by which Christians identified themselves and each other was a fish. The Greek letters that spelled fish (ΙΧΘΥΣ – ICHTHYS) could also be taken as the first letters for the words, Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.

Going fishing is not always possible, however, so another way to celebrate is through a festive meal. A fish pie is a special treat.

Fish Pie

Ingredients:

Pie crust for a two crust pie.

Sauce:

3 Tbsp. margarine or butter
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Cup water
1/4 Cup white wine or light fruit juice
1/4 Cup onion, minced
1 Tbsp. parsley
Balsamic vinegar to taste (optional)
Salt, pepper, chili powder, thyme, tarragon, savory to taste

Filling:

Tuna or other canned or fresh fish
Potatoes
Vegetables: Carrots, Green Beans, Peas, Corn or others liked by your family

Saute the onion in the melted margarine or butter. Add the cornstarch and stir. Add water and wine. Stir frequently as the mixture heats and thickens. Add the spices and mix well. When the sauce has thickened, add fish, boiled, cubed potatoes, and steamed vegetables.

Put the filling into an unbaked pie crust and cover with a top crust. If desired, cut a fish and some “rays of glory” into the top crust for venting.

Bake at 400º for 35-40 minutes until golden brown.

Serve the pie hot, with a nice salad, a bit of sparkling cider, juice or wine, and a light dessert for a special family celebration of the Ascension.

 

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Posted by on May 13, 2014

Incarnation’s Power

Incarnation’s Power

Throughout Easter Season, we reflect on the wonder of the Resurrection and the resulting transformation of a few frightened followers of Jesus into a living community of faith that could go out and change the world. A seemingly ordinary carpenter, whose encounter with the divine led to a new life of preaching the good news of God’s loving, transformative care for all, offends and threatens the powerful rulers of his people. He is condemned to a shameful, tortured death, and dies in a very public way for all to see; but he doesn’t remain dead in his tomb. He rises and appears physically, with wounds intact, to his friends. Frightened at first, they come to believe that the one who comes among them, shares meals with them, and allows them to touch him and his wounds is truly their teacher and their Lord.

His followers remained frightened and in hiding until the feast of Pentecost, fifty days after the Resurrection, when the Holy Spirit whom He had promised to send came upon them with all of the Spirit’s great gifts: wisdom, understanding, right judgment, knowledge, courage, reverence, and wonder. With the strength of the Spirit, they went forth, drawing on the power of God and began to change the ways of the world. The changes didn’t happen overnight. Many of the them have taken centuries to be accepted. Many more remain to be accepted universally (the equality of men and women, for example). But the Spirit continues to work through the community of Jesus’ followers.

Divine Power: Nothing Is Impossible

The importance of the Incarnation as source of the power behind all of this is expressed beautifully by Michael Casey in his book, Fully Human, Fully Divine: An Interactive Christology. Casey writes:

Jesus, fully divine and fully human, is the point where human history intersects with the creative and sustaining hand of God; at this point of meeting nothing is impossible.” (p. 129)

Because Jesus is fully divine as well as fully human, and because we as Church (community) are the Body of Christ, ultimately nothing good will be impossible. God’s will to be reunited with all of humanity and all of creation, sharing the life of the Trinity with all, can and will be realized.

Incarnation. Resurrection. Two facets of the power-filled intersection of human and divine life.

Fully Human, Fully Divine (2004: Ligouri/Triumph)

Public Domain image by Robert & Mihaela Vicol

 

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Posted by on Apr 19, 2013

Forgiveness Requires a Response

Forgiveness Requires a Response

Beach at the Sea of Galilee

Beach at the Sea of Galilee

Easter season is a time when we rejoice in Jesus’ Resurrection. We celebrate God’s great love in becoming human, living a totally human life, and being faithful in obedient love even through torture and a shameful death on the cross. We speak of salvation for all resulting from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Yet sometimes we also beat ourselves up for our sinfulness and responsibility for Jesus’ sacrifice and death. But beating ourselves up is not what Jesus wants for us. Jesus comes bearing forgiveness and that forgiveness requires a response. The evidence is clear in Scripture and we need to remind ourselves of it regularly.

Jesus’ disciples did not expect that he would be raised from the dead. In those first hours and days after the crucifixion, they must have been terribly upset with themselves. If only I had …   If only I hadn’t …  We should have …. We should never have allowed him to … What will I say to my family when I go home? I’ve been such a fool. I should have known it was all too good to be true. They all said I was chasing a dream. On and on their thoughts must have raged. When the first reports came in regarding the resurrection, from the women of all people, their response was natural. The women must be hysterical. Such a thing could not happen.

Nevertheless, throughout that first day of the week, the risen Jesus came to them. They did not recognize him at first. He looked like a gardener. He looked like a fellow traveler on the road and potential dinner companion. Once they recognized him, — when he came into the room despite locked doors it was pretty clear who  he was, — but the feared they were seeing a ghost. Always, however, Jesus reassured them. “Peace,” he said to those hiding behind locked doors.  “Do not be frightened,” he said to the women in the garden who first found the empty tomb. “What little sense you have! How slow you are to believe all that the prophets have announced!” he said to the travelers on the road to Emmaus. Then at supper with the travelers, he took the bread, blessed it, broke it and shared it and they knew it was the Lord. Immediately they walked back to Jerusalem to tell the others.

As the days passed, the disciples left Jerusalem and returned to Galilee as he had told them to do, through Mary Magdalene and the other women. They had been fishermen and so they went fishing. Anything to bring some sense of normality again! Yet early in the morning, after fishing without luck all night, a man in seen on the shore. The man calls out to them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. They do and the nets are filled. “The disciple Jesus loved” told Peter, “It is the Lord” and Peter threw on some clothes and jumped into the water to swim to the Lord. The others brought in the boat with its marvelous catch. Jesus may not have looked like the man with whom they had lived for the past three years, but this time they knew it was he. He cooked breakfast for them and then spoke directly to Peter, three times asking “Do you love me?” Each time Peter responded that he did and Jesus instructed him with slightly different words each time, “Feed my lambs; tend my sheep; feed my sheep.”

Each time Jesus appears, he reassures his friends and he reassures us as well. All is forgiven. All is OK. We need not dwell on the past. We must move ahead and tell others what we have seen and experienced. We are not to beat ourselves up about what we have done wrong or the times we’ve failed to do the right thing. We must recognize those times as having happened and accept forgiveness for them. Forgiveness is always offered to us. Then we must move forward rejoicing — carrying that peace, love, and forgiveness that comes from our Lord God into our world.  There’s plenty of bad news there already. Our job is to carry the Good News, spreading it far and wide through our actions and our words.

Alleluia! He is Risen!

 

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Posted by on Apr 1, 2013

Rejoice — He is Risen!

Rejoice — He is Risen!

Easter_Lily_by_Boston_Public_Library

Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus this week. We sing “Alleluia, praise the Lord,” with great gusto. We rejoice in God’s power over death and the promise of new life. We call out to all who will hear, “He is risen.”

In the midst of such celebration, I find myself thinking about the experience of the disciples during the  final hours before Jesus’ passion and the first days following his resurrection. As Catholics, we don’t skip over those experiences in the race to celebrate Easter. Begining with Palm Sunday, we spend an entire week remembering those crucial events of salvation history, as well as the promises and prophecies that were fulfilled during that week so long ago.  From the excitement of seeing Jesus greeted with hosannas and hailed as the one who had been so long expected as he entered Jerusalem in a procession, to the devastation of his death as a condemned criminal in a place of public execution, his followers then and now experience a roller-coaster of emotions. By the time we reach Holy Saturday morning, there is a certain emotional numbness that sets in. What more could there be that will happen?

On Holy Saturday morning, I usually feel a bit detached and quiet. There’s so much to be done before Easter Vigil and then Sunday morning’s celebration. Yet there is that numbness that follows Good Friday’s liturgy and the recognition of what happened to Jesus, as well as what continues to happen to so many who follow his lead in serving the poor and announcing God’s command that we love and care for each other and our world.

Anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one knows the numbness that follows. Whether death was the final moment of a long or painful illness, or release from a period of mental/physical decline, or the peaceful final breath of a person who has lived long and well, those who remain experience a certain emotional pain and numbness to other concerns and activities. When death occurs unexpectedly, through violence or accident, the devastation is extraordinarily powerful. We question how God could let something like that happen. We may yell at God or turn away. We may also turn to each other in faith: giving and receiving support.

For the disciples on that Saturday morning, when they couldn’t even hold a proper funeral for Jesus, I suspect “numb” would not begin to describe the way they felt. Their hopes and expectations had been dashed. They feared for their own lives. They didn’t know how they would ever be able to face their families and friends, many of whom had probably warned them against leaving home and jobs to follow an itinerant preacher around the country. Unlike our experience, based as it is on knowledge of the Easter event, there was no hope of redemption in the suffering they were experiencing or that Jesus had endured.

Yet into the midst of this experience, on the first day of the week, the women took spices to the tomb and discovered that death cannot hold the author of life in its snares. The stone had been rolled away; the tomb was empty; angels asked why they sought the living among the dead; Jesus met them in the garden and sent them to tell the others that he was risen and would meet them in Galilee. The news was greeted with disbelief. The women must be mad with grief, maybe a bit hysterical. The men went to see and discovered for themselves that the women had not been mistaken about the tomb: it was definitely empty. Later that day, Jesus came into the locked room where his disciples were gathered: fear and sorrow had by this point been joined by confused concern about the story told by the women and others who claimed to have seen the Lord. He invited them to touch him. He ate with them. He instructed them about the new reality that had burst forth into their world and all of creation. Life does not end with physical death. God is not defeated. We are children of God who will share in new life forever.

The numbness of loss turns to the numb wonder of gain. Could it really be true? Could God really love us that totally? Can all be forgiven? Does life continue unended? Is death really a passage into newer, more abundant life? Are we really the ones who will bring the good news of this reality to our world?

If all of this is true, and with the early Christians we believe it is, then thankful rejoicing is the most appropriate response. So we move from the rejoicing in a promise of earthly power (Palm Sunday processions), through the mandate to serve each other and feast on the Lord’s own Body and Blood (Holy Thursday), into the mystery of death (Good Friday), and out the other side to the assurance of new, more abundant, unlimited life in the Resurrection. For this we shout, Alleluia! Rejoice and be glad! The Lord is risen, He is ruly risen!

Happy Easter – all fifty days of it!

 

Easter Lily by Boston Public Library – George Cochran Lambdin 1830-1896 (artist); L. Prang & Co. (publisher)

 

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Posted by on Apr 18, 2012

Divine Mercy – Entering the Locked Rooms of our Hearts

Divine Mercy – Entering the Locked Rooms of our Hearts

 

Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Vilnius

Divine Mercy Sunday falls each year on the second Sunday of Easter. On this day we hear the story of Jesus’ appearance on Easter evening to his disciples who were hiding in the locked room where they had celebrated their last meal with him only a few days earlier. They were confused, frightened, bewildered, incredulous, and all the emotions in-between. They knew he had been executed. They knew that for the most part they had deserted him in his time of suffering. Yet the women had come bearing the message that he was risen from the dead. Peter and John had found the tomb empty. And now … here he was before them.

What would he say? “You blankety-blank sorry excuses for friends — I don’t know what I ever saw in you!” “How could you abandon me?” “Go take a long walk off a short pier.” “I’m done with you!”

The rest of us might have said such things. Such feelings would be accepted as only human. But Jesus said nothing of the sort. What did he say? “Peace be with you.” Not just once. He repeated it that night and again the next week, when he came again, with a special mission to reassure Thomas of his resurrection.

The early disciples were ordinary men and women like all of us alive today. Like them, we hide away, locking our fears, hurts, anger, doubts, shame, and uncertainty deep within. We hesitate to let anyone see or touch us in our pain, even our Risen Lord. So he comes to us too and offers peace. The mercy and absolute forgiveness of God are ours through Jesus. As our deacon, Patrick Conway, reminded us all Sunday morning, our best response is to allow Jesus to enter into our lives in their deepest, most hidden and hurting areas with God’s loving mercy and healing power. When we receive Communion, we, like the disciples in that locked room, find our Lord and Savior in the midst of our lives and we too receive the power to forgive and the gift of being forgiven.

As we bask in the gift of Divine Mercy this week, may the mercy, love and peace of the Risen Lord be with each of us. Then may we carry God’s mercy forward with us to all we meet in the year to come.

Painting by Eugene Kazimierowski.
Photograph by Alma Pater.
GNU Free documentation license.

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Posted by on Jun 8, 2011

Waiting in Anticipation for the Holy Spirit

Waiting in Anticipation for the Holy Spirit

Fresco from St. Charles Church, Vienna

Easter Season is drawing to a close this week. The season itself lasts fifty days. It begins with Jesus’ Resurrection and concludes with the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The last nine days, from the Feast of the Ascension until Pentecost, are a special time of prayer to invite the Holy Spirit to come into our lives ever more deeply as well.

Jesus promised his followers that when he returned to his Father, he would send a Paraclete to them. Some translations use the term Advocate for Paraclete. The choice of word, as is generally the case in translating, gives a slightly different sense to the promise and its implications.

Advocate is a term used to describe lawyers who plead the case of persons accused of wrongdoing. Advocates are also people who argue on behalf of people who are at a disadvantage in a social setting or a negotiation. Advocates are people everyone needs at one or another point in life. Having an Advocate sent from Heaven on our behalf is not a bad thing. It can be quite encouraging. Yet the term carries with it a sense of our unworthiness and sinfulness. We need someone to represent us in dealing with the Father.

A couple of weeks ago, our pastor suggested that the word Paraclete might actually be better translated as Cheerleader. In this sense, the Holy Spirit is the one who encourages us, seeing the good we do, how hard we try, how we keep falling and yet encouraging us to get up and try again. Fr. Ron explained that God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is our cheerleader, our biggest fan. God got excited enough about humans to become a human (Jesus). And Jesus returns to the Father, fully God and fully human, promising to share that spark of Love, the Holy Spirit, with all of us too.

What a wonderful promise! Not only do we have an advocate who’ll plead for us when we mess up; we also have a cheerleader who’ll be there to cheer us on as we keep trying and keep believing that we really are lovable.

In these final days before Pentecost, lets hold on to this promise, waiting for the gift of an even deeper relationship with our God. A relationship that doesn’t depend on how well we manage to live our lives, but rather on how crazy God is about each of us and how much God wants us to respond in love to that gift of love.

Come, Holy Spirit, come!

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Posted by on May 7, 2011

Sharing in Divine Mercy

The second Sunday of Easter is known as Divine Mercy Sunday. The Gospel reading (Jn 20:19-31) tells of Jesus’ appearance to His disciples in the Upper Room on Easter Sunday evening. He appeared among them, wished them Peace, showed them His wounds and asked for something to eat. Then He breathed on them, the breath of the Holy Spirit,  and told them to forgive sins. He told them to continue the work He had begun, taking the Good News of God’s love out to all the world.

When I was growing up, the message of this Gospel’s story of the granting of power to forgive sin was generally presented in terms of the power of priest to forgive sins in the sacrament of Penance (now more often known as Reconciliation). However, as I listened to the Gospel proclamation last Sunday, the Good News I heard was of the gift given to all of us as followers and disciples of Jesus – the power to forgive those who hurt us in some way.

Forgiveness does not come easily to anyone. When hurts come along, it’s often much more satisfying to plot revenge, or bask in a stew of martyred pouting or otherwise hold on to the hurt. But Jesus knew something we often miss. The one most hurt, the one most diminished, the one who suffers most from such behavior is the one who engages in it! Perhaps that is why He was so quick to forgive those who had abandoned and denied Him just a few days earlier.

As we live our calling as followers of Jesus, we share the task of bringing forgiveness, reconciliation and peace to our families, communities, nations and world. Anything that stands in the way of this mission is to be suspect. We can’t forgive through our own power. Some wounds are just too deep for our human ability to heal. But Jesus is with us and He can heal them if we are willing to open them to His touch. And as we receive healing, we are called to pass it on, so that the waves of forgiveness and healing at last embrace all the people of the world. It’s truly a noble calling.

Peace be with you.

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