Sunday, May 2, 2021

Conforming My Will to That of Christ

 


5th Sunday of Easter

at St. Mary’s in Salem

1-2 May 2021

Acts 9:26-31

1 Jn 3:18-24

Jn 15:1-8

Praised be Jesus Christ!

“I am the vine… If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.”

“Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.”

It is when you read or hear quotes like these that you understand just how unjustified the bad wrap is, given to Mother Church by people who either hate us without really knowing us or who may have been Catholic but cannot seem to manage turning their backs on us for whatever reason, without just one more parting shot. For their misery which they blame on Jesus, most anti- or former Catholics are in bad conscience. They are to blame; they are culpable and no one else, not their parents and not society or some mediocre or worse priest they might have known. They are wrong to try and blame the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, for all the injustice and cruelty they claim to have suffered.

Granted, it is truly unfortunate that the quotes we just read make no sense to them. But they are the ones who will not allow the Scriptures to apply to the Church as it carries out its mission in the name of Jesus. They reduce the Church acting in the name of Jesus to precious little or nothing beyond being a merely human institution at best, but probably corrupt at that. They refuse to see Jesus as God and accept the logical consequences of what that means in terms of His holy will for the life of the world as it is revealed to us in and through the Church which He established to carry on in His place, to guide and guard people until His Second Coming at the end of time.   

These two quotes from the readings for this 5th Sunday of Easter are classic St. John the Evangelist and not the only such as we read from St. John in both his Gospel, quoting the Lord Jesus directly, and in his first Letter. Sadly because of all the Church’s critics and with the complicity of our neighbors who seem to be caught up in negativism, St. John’s words present a message to which we are not accustomed: “…ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.”  Rarely do you hear that or get to hear the Church’s saintly confessors proclaiming this message, and working wonders at the same time, to demonstrate just how true it is.

Just think about how during the pandemic civil authorities in some states and in other countries around the world have been so restrictive on the Church, to the point of blocking access to churches for the Sunday Mass, the holy action which essentially defines us. We believe as Catholics that without the Mass we cannot properly survive in this world. Think of the added tragedy of the pandemic, which was and is people in the Church who restricted themselves and fellow Catholics even more than the civil authorities required! Some of these people have effectively placed themselves on the warpath against what the Second Vatican Council taught about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Mass understood as Sunday Mass is the source and summit of Christian existence. People who claim to be Catholic, no matter if they are priests, deacons, or bishops, when they further this restrictive agenda of our enemies, are indulging in an exercise which is usually labeled “cutting off your nose to spite your face…” What to do?

I suppose the real question is another, and namely whether we are reading the Scriptures from this Sunday correctly. Do we understand that as adopted children of God we need to ask of the Heavenly Father in the same way and words that Jesus did, He being the only begotten Son? God the Father will answer us, His adopted children through Baptism, just as He did the Lord Jesus, revealed over and over in His public life as God’s beloved Son.

Just a couple chapters earlier than what we just heard from the Gospel of St. John we read the words of Jesus: “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? No, it is for this purpose that I have come to this hour. ‘Father, glorify Your name!’ Then a voice came from heaven: ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’” [Jn 12:27-28]

Do we understand that as an obedient son or daughter of God what we truly want and ask of God, just as Jesus did time and again, is that His will be done in us and in all things? That is what we want.

St. Matthew’s Gospel may be more familiar to us from his account of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” [Matt. 26:39]

Jesus sought the will of His heavenly Father even unto drinking the cup of terrible suffering unto death. This is what we seek to share.

And among Jesus’ last words from the Cross as recounted in St. Luke: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” [Luke 23:34]

Not only does Jesus embrace the Father’s will for the salvation of the world through the death and suffering of His only Son, but He does this by forgiving those who did Him in and asks the Father to forgive them as well.

“…ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.”  What all then did Jesus endure and what is He asking us His followers to suffer and endure united to Him, the vine? And how is that getting whatever we want? What do we stand to gain? Somebody might be thinking, hey, you are pretending to give with one hand while really taking with the other.

How do I live with such great words, such that I am not scandalized by Christ’s Church and turn away, as did many who heard Him talk about Himself as the true Bread come down from Heaven for the sake of the life of the world? Difficult as it can be, we need to claim the words of Simon Peter for ourselves, who answered Him when others walked away, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” [John 6:68]

I hope that Sunday, the Lord’s Day, gives you time to sort things out and understand it our goal to unite our will to that of Christ and therein find our consolation.

“Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.”

Praised be Jesus Christ!

PROPERANTES ADVENTUM DIEI DEI


Friday, April 23, 2021

Being Fed and Carried by the Only God

 


4th Sunday of Easter

at St. Mary’s in Salem

24-25 April 2021

 Acts 4:8-12

1 Jn 3:1-2

Jn 10:11-18

 

Praised be Jesus Christ!

        Today is popularly referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday. We take time to reflect upon why Jesus called Himself our Good Shepherd, Who lays down His life for the sheep.

I can remember one time on an official visit to one of the islands in the Caribbean that, as we were driving along, encountering, and having to stop for herds of sheep and goats crossing the road, my host gave me a lesson in defensive driving. In the islands he said, the herd always has the right of way, so you just stop and bide your time until they have crossed the street, path, or highway you are driving on. My host told me that in a face-off his own preference was for the goats. He said that in comparison (sheep vs. goats) the goats always came out on top, because they were smarter, they would not just blindly charge across the road following their leader. Seeing a car, goats would often stop and let you drive through, something which would never cross the mind of a sheep. Fair assessment of the relative merits of goats over sheep or not, with that piece of knowledge you can see how important the shepherd’s care and defense of the flock is, at least when we are dealing with hopelessly dumb sheep. Wolves, obviously, are not the only ones who present a danger to the flock. A modern-day shepherd must look out for car, bus and truck traffic as well.

My point, however, regarding Good Shepherd Sunday is not so much about us as sheep. We should not so much be concerned with assessing the relative helplessness of sheep and whether it is an insult to compare us to them. “We, the sheep of his pasture, the flock he guides.” No, the point is to focus rather on Christ Jesus as the Good Shepherd, Who lays down His life for the flock. This Sunday’s message about the Lord Jesus as the one who cares for the sheep, as the Good Shepherd, is about Him as the one and only Savior for us and for the life of the world.

To understand what I am getting at, there is nothing more fundamental than the preaching of St. Peter read to us from the Acts of the Apostles today. St. Peter offered a clear and uncompromising witness to those who heard him that day and on countless other occasions, when he proclaimed:

“There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”

“He is the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.”

How many of our people? How many priests today will not even deal with this affirmation made by St. Peter? I mean that notion that only in Jesus and nobody else… only in Jesus is our salvation! Confucius cannot save you. Mohammed cannot save you, nor can Buddha nor anybody else. Only Jesus is our life, our light, and our resurrection. He is the cornerstone. You cannot build a life worthy of your human dignity, made as you are in the image and likeness of God, the one and only God living and true, except on the Lord Jesus, the Son of God. Jesus alone, He only is the cornerstone of our lives.

Let the words of St. Peter sink in and not just wash over you, going in one ear and out the other!

 “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”

I think of all the family members you or I may have, who walk away from the Church. What about that good friend who claims she does not believe any more or that colleague at work, whom you know had a Catholic upbringing, but not only has no time for church; he never even prays in private? His mother and others may justify his apostasy saying that he is a decent guy. They defend his unbelief, his rejection of his only Savior and the Savior of the world by claiming that in his everyday life he is more charitable than most the folks you see in church on Sunday. It could be, but the point is another. We are focusing on God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, and not on our relative merits.

“There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”

We cannot get around Jesus Christ; we cannot live and prosper without Him at the center of our lives. Ultimately, the problem is that our world has become too subjective. It pretends to be self-sufficient. Maybe we are crass materialists and chase after lesser goods or maybe we are just overly proud and will not bow our heads to anyone, not even to our Creator and Redeemer! Try and sort it out if you can! Sure, poor hopeless sheep need a shepherd and a good one, if they are to remain out of harm’s way. Would that we understood as much in terms of our own possibility of living and prospering in this life in hopes of entering into the fullness of life in the world to come! For us, life is not snuffed out in death as it is for dumb animals. We have an eternal destiny, precisely for how we are made. The tragedy in a faithless person’s life is not recognizing our destiny or refusing to accept who we are before God. At least the lost sheep knows he is lost and knows he belongs somewhere else, somewhere better. So stubborn is he not; the lost sheep would rather be in the shepherd’s care. He would rather hear the shepherd’s voice and follow safe and secure to green pastures and clear running water.

What then is our mission in the face of the lost sheep in the circle of our family and friends? Am I suggesting that you nag adult people who neglect their duties as Catholics? No! Should you shun everyone who is not Catholic or does not practice their faith? No! But I do ask you to build up your life on Christ the Cornerstone. Give witness by your firm belief and practice of the faith! Beyond fulfilling your duties as a Catholic, that should translate into seeking a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Your day must have its anchors in prayer, morning, noon, and night, in personal prayer simply defined as lifting your heart and mind to God.

“He is the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.”

Even St. Peter, at the very dawning of the Church and its mission of proclaiming Christ recognized the reality of rejection. He confronted it and sought as best he could by word and example to lead all he met to Christ the Good Shepherd.

“There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”

Praised be Jesus Christ!

PROPERANTES ADVENTUM DIEI DEI


Sunday, April 18, 2021

You have put on Christ

 


3rd Sunday of Easter

17-18 April 2021 at St. Mary’s in Salem

 

Acts 3:13-15, 17-19

1 Jn 2:1-5a

Lk 24:35-48

 

Praised be Jesus Christ!

        People in our day and time tend to be rather calloused when it comes to talking about sin, especially about mortal sin. For whatever reason, it seems those are not few who deny the possibility of serious sin in their lives, the kind of sin which amounts to a rejection of Jesus Christ. If we were to go around the table of the Last Supper with today’s Catholics there in place of the 12 Apostles, they would not use the words of Judas, Christ’s betrayer, to respond to Jesus when He announced that one at table with Him would betray Him. You will remember Judas’ comeback to Jesus; he said, “Is it I, Lord?” The people today to whom I refer are those with the attitude, “No way, Lord! It cannot be me!”

        All three readings this Sunday address the issue of Jesus come to save us from sin, both personal and passed down to us from the wrong choice our first parents made at the dawn of creation. The mystery of salvation is just that: it is pondering how God could have so loved our world as to forgive our repeated transgressions, first, healing the wound of Original sin, and then, opening up the gates of heaven to all who sincerely repent of personal sin. Jesus did not come to dismiss imaginary faults and failings; He came to raise up our humanity from the depths to which it had fallen.

        Three quotes from today’s readings stand out for me:

        “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

        (I repeatedly ask myself whether I do enough preaching on that point!)

“He is expiation for our sins…”

(Expiation basically has to do with making amends for our wrongdoing.)

        “…that his Christ would suffer. Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.”

        Let me assure you that this “No way, Lord! It cannot be me!” attitude, which I am talking about, is an almost universal phenomenon among Catholics in Western society. I have seen it in the United States, in Central and Western Europe, as well as in the Caribbean. It has to do with hardness of heart or a stubborn refusal to embrace something central to the Gospel message.

As a young priest at the Cathedral in Sioux Falls, 40 years ago, I experienced this very attitude in parents by home visits in preparation for their children’s first confession. The real problem was not so much with the children preparing for first confession, but with mom and dad. It seemed, back then maybe fewer in number or percentage than today, that there were parents with children in our religious education programs, both school and CCD, who had no sense of any kind of personal debt of sin, mortal or venial, and clearly communicated their personal dread of the sacrament of penance to their children. “No way, Lord! It cannot be me!”

        Most everywhere, we encounter this refusal to accept the possibility of serious sin in our lives when talking to older adults, who often jokingly claim they have no opportunity to commit sin, and for any number of reasons: because they are always working, because they never get out (some probably have used Covid isolation as an excuse), or because they are too old and crippled for that sort of thing. They deny or do not recognize or will not accept responsibility for their sins, no matter if they are big or small. Why? Simply in most cases because they never examine their lives.  And hence unlike Judas, who knew he had taken money to turn Jesus over to those who sought to eliminate Him, their response is: “No way, Lord! It cannot be me!”

        But Father! or in this case, Archbishop! You are trying to lay a guilt trip on us! No, not at all! My object is that we grow in our understanding of why the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became Man, came down from heaven to save us both from the consequences of Adam’s sin and from our personal share in it evident by reason of our own bad behavior, by what we personally have done or have failed to do. We should not be so much guilt-ridden, but rather recognize or accuse ourselves of being guilty as charged of personal sin. We need to own up to our sins in the light of just who our loving Christ is for us and who we are and can be in Him.

        “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

        Well, I guess I sort of laid it out there. Responsiveness to the Lord Christ Who saves us has radical but truly wondrous consequences for us as we strive to live out our Baptism. In the early Church where Easter was the time for baptizing all kinds of new Catholics, these men and women wore their white baptismal garment for eight days straight, from the time of their baptism at the Easter Vigil until the next Sunday, now a week ago for us, namely Divine Mercy Sunday. From my three years stationed in the Holy Land, I remember that during Easter Week in Jerusalem the Ethiopean and Eritreian pilgrims wore white in the spirit of that old tradition from the first days of Christianity. Thinking about it, the words we use to clothe an infant with the white garment after baptism have their striking importance:

        “You have become a new creation and have clothed yourself in Christ. May this white garment be a sign to you of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring it unstained into eternal life.”

        Would that it were so! My request is that you rededicate yourself to examining your conscience every night before going to bed. Start with the two great commands of love of God and love of neighbor, go through the ten commandments and the precepts of the Church. Before you close you eyes on another day, sincerely ask the Lord’s pardon for what you have done wrong or failed to do. If you are guilty of grave sin, make the firm resolve to change your ways and to get to confession as soon as you can.

Jesus, yes, “He is expiation for our sins…” It is our firm belief that God so willed “…that his Christ would suffer. Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.”

Praised be Jesus Christ!


PROPERANTES ADVENTUM DIEI DEI


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

We Won't Need Another Generation

    Back in Holy Week, a Facebook Friend picked up on a very brief reflection (not much more than a paragraph) I had offered on my hopes and expectations for the future of the Vetus Ordo within the Church. She wrote:

     Your Excellency,

May I ask you privately a delicate, indiscrete and complete undiplomatic question that you obviously don’t need to answer. What piece of the puzzle have you seen when you published this incredible sentence last weekend: "The Lord has convinced me that we won't need another generation to be able to see and rejoice in the Church's consolation through the restoration of the Sacred Liturgy in all its glory."

    Cum Ave, Eva

    In my reflection, I had announced or half promised, but almost sine die, that I would produce a systematic treatment on what inspires me in the Vetus Ordo and thus explain the reason for my hope in its future. Eva's request for an explanation kind of caught me off guard. Here is how I sort of responded to her question:

    Hi, Eva! Greetings from South Dakota!

    The best answer I can give you is that I really will have to do a more systematic and complete treatment of the topic in order to be able to explain myself. What inspired the sentence you quoted was the great consolation I experience now in retirement, being able to regularly celebrate the Vetus Ordo Low Mass in my chapel here at home in Sioux Falls.

    You might say, that I am expressing my confidence in the holiness of the Church and my hope that many more older priests and bishops will be won over by the experience of the Vetus Ordo. More later, when I am able to publish something systematic on the topic! Have a blessed Easter!

    Caveat emptor! As they say. I am still not there in terms of working the thing out. But Low Sunday/Divine Mercy Sunday and the repetition today Monday of that beautiful Mass with its Epistle from 1John 5 pushed me slightly over the edge. What I think I want to do is sketch out, not even really outlinewithout any particular order a few of the reasons for my hope. 

    a) Sadly, you might say, the Novus Ordo mainstream is losing it. They consider us about as extreme as they hold the dear departed Hans Kueng on the left or so many transgressives who still insist on calling themselves Catholic. The Novus Ordo embraces neither us nor them, but seeks to hold down what they fashion as middle ground. We see it in their irrational rage against people who somehow do not toe the line on COVID restrictions at Mass or "deviate" from their lock-step pattern for renewed liturgy. Many good people are not abandoning the Church but are withdrawing from the center so-called in search of a home. Daily ever more of these good people find their way to us.

    b) Our fair weather priest friends are increasing in number. My guess is they are mostly middle aged and are not personally won over by the Vetus Ordo. These are the men who generously, selflessly celebrate the Old Rite out of genuine solicitude for the faithful who request it of them. And the people will carry them, perhaps evening winning them over.

    c) Most importantly, I guess, I am looking to my own "old man's" "old priest's" heart and rejoicing maybe yet from afar in what I shared with Eva: I am expressing my confidence in the holiness of the Church and my hope that many more older priests and bishops will be won over by the experience of the Vetus Ordo. Especially my brother bishops would I encourage to allow themselves to be carried by the young people in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice and look at the possibility of committing to the old Breviary.

    When I get around to writing my treatise, the ars celebrandi of the Vetus Ordo will certainly take the yeoman's share of explaining or illustrating my optimism in our bright future. For priests and others who pray the Old Office let me simply note the way the core message of 1 John 5 is sported through both Mass and Breviary for this Sunday and Monday. My guess would be that the preponderant number of Novus Ordo preachers gathered the inspiration from elsewhere. In doing so, permit me to say that they fell short of what the confession of Thomas the Apostle can bring to bear on our world.

    I think I will stop there and file this report as one more stone in an edifice that, please God, I might find both the time and the eloquence to properly and completely present. 

PROPERANTES ADVENTUM DIEI DEI




Sunday, April 11, 2021

Conquering the World by Faith

 


2nd Sunday of Easter

at St. Mary’s in Salem

10-11 April 2021

Acts 4:32-35

1 Jn 5:1-6

Jn 20:19-31

 

Praised be Jesus Christ, Alleluia!

        On this 2nd Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, let me draw your attention to the message announced in our 2nd Reading for today, taken from the first letter of St. John.

        “And the victory that conquers the world is our faith. Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

        I suppose people generally have little difficulty talking about victory, as in Christ’s victory over sin and everlasting death through His passion, death, and resurrection. The question would be how does that apply to the average Christian in his or her life? When do you ever hear people in Catholic circles talk about us, you and me, conquering not sin and death in Jesus Christ, but conquering the world by reason of our faith in Jesus the Son of God? Let us say it another way! What does faith have to do with conquering the world?

        “And the victory that conquers the world is our faith. Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

We know that faith has to do with getting to heaven when we die, but conquering the world is something different. How many people really think that as Catholic people we are primarily focused on conquering the world? Granted, people will concede a moral dimension to Catholic faith; they will say it has something to do with being a decent citizen and that implies a certain obedience or subjection to God’s Law. But subjection unto victory may seem hard to grasp.

There is a dimension of achievement in practicing the faith. Generally, we speak of the practice of the faith and commonly refer to getting to Mass on every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. Our Mass attendance is an essential part of the Catholic equation. Even so, whoever talks about our vocation to faith as Catholics as being our way to conquer the world?

Did St. John intend this text to be understood just as we read it here in English?  Out of curiosity, I looked up the Latin Vulgate and the Knox Bible translation. The Latin and our modern translation, based on the Greek original, correspond perfectly. The Knox Bible is quite helpful in confirming our understanding, as it reads: our faith, that is the triumphant principle which triumphs over the world.” [1]

Why did St. John speak about conquering here, about faith as a triumphant principle, and what did he mean? How is it that as followers of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, we are out to conquer, yes, conquer the whole world? Lots of nominally Catholic people would scoff at the very notion. There is no getting around the idea that if we are talking about conquering, then we are talking about bringing people to join us, to be part of the Catholic Church. What other possible sense could conquest or triumphing have?

The key to understanding what we intend is wrapped up in the understanding of what is meant by resurrection. I would contend that the person who really and truly understands what resurrection from the dead is all about is the one and only one to have any real or adequate idea of the significance for the life of the world of Jesus’ rising from the dead.

        With this in mind, let us reflect for a moment on the Gospel account of my patron Saint Thomas the Apostle. What in effect happens when Thomas gives up his sorrowing over the death of Jesus and places his faith in the Risen Lord? What happens when Thomas touches the wounds from the nails in Jesus’ hands and places his hand in where the spear of the soldier opened up Jesus’ side? Thomas cries out, “My Lord and my God!”  He does not simply say “My Jesus, it is truly you!” No, he says much more in saying, “My Lord and my God!”

        It is here that we discover the nexus between faith and conquering. Prior to Thomas’ confession of faith in the Risen Lord, in today’s Gospel scene we witness the appearance of the Risen Christ to the other apostles. He takes away the fear of the disciples, empowering them, sending them out with the power of judgment, the power to either forgive people’s sins or to hold them bound. As a prelude to that empowerment, He showed them His hands and His side, the evidence that through death He had won the victory, Jesus was the conqueror of sin and death.

        Sadly, people today are embarrassed/apologetic about rejoicing in the victory of Christ in the glory of the Resurrection. Why? Basically, because their faith is not in Jesus, the Son of God. Their faith falls way short of what it should be.  “My Lord and my God!” If you said it and truly meant it, that confession of St. Thomas would take all the blasé out of your believing. Very simply, you would be set on fire. The most common and concrete expression of this kind of faith in the life of a Catholic is something we commonly experienced over a half century ago by mixed marriages. Often the non-Catholic party joined the Church before the wedding or at some point thereafter. I remember when I was 16 years old, my uncle, who had never been baptized but who had always taken my mother’s older sister to church, over the years joining her more and more until he finally decided at age 60 to be baptized a Catholic. I know because he told me so when he asked me to be his sponsor. With just the parish priest and me as his sponsor present, while my aunt was very sick in the hospital, he was baptized and confirmed. My uncle explained to me that he did it for her so that she would not die without knowing him to be a Catholic. She got better and they had maybe twenty years of shared Catholic faith. Was it married love that won the day? Could be! But it certainly was the faith of the Church which conquered and brought him to baptism.

our faith, that is the triumphant principle which triumphs over the world.”  It is a matter of seeing Jesus for Who He is, namely the Son of God!       

Praised be Jesus Christ, Alleluia!


PROPERANTES ADVENTUM DIEI DEI



[1] et hæc est victoria, quæ vincit mundum, fides nostra. Quis est, qui vincit mundum, nisi qui credit quoniam Jesus est Filius Dei? (Vulgate)

and this is the victory which overcameth the world, our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? (Douay-Rheims)

our faith, that is the triumphant principle which triumphs over the world. He alone triumphs over the world, who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (Knox Bible)

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Alleluia! Frantic for the Good News!

 

Easter Sunday

at St. Mary’s in Salem - 4 April 2021

 

Acts 10:34a, 37-43

Col 3:1-4

Jn 20:1-9

 

Praised be Jesus Christ! Alleluia!

“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

It is with these words of St. Paul that at Easter Mother Church has chosen to explain just who we are in Christ the Lord now Risen and gloriously reigning over all creation. They are words which should be pondered and most of us could use more time to reflect upon them. We would hope for light, for more understanding of just Who Jesus is and who we are in Him. Really, we need to shout out that message: I no longer live but Christ lives in me. This is the sense of our baptism into His Death and Resurrection.

“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

Let us go for a moment to the Acts of the Apostles and the passage chosen for our first reading today for Easter Sunday! There St. Peter is recounting to his listeners the notable events of that first Easter, of Christ’s Resurrection Day. There are lots of things in that message of Peter’s that are well worth pondering. I think they could give us hope, as well as a clearer understanding of what our Catholic faith is all about.

There Peter describes the ministry of Jesus which he and the other disciples witnessed both in Judah and in the holy city of Jerusalem. Peter describes Jesus as anointed by God with the Holy Spirit. God was with Him and He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil. In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter then proclaims himself and the other disciples as witnesses to the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He tells us that those then whom God chose as witnesses saw the Lord Risen. They ate and drank with Him, and Jesus sent them forth to preach and testify that in Jesus all the prophecies of the Old Testament had found their fulfillment. Through professing faith in the message that the apostles preached, forgiveness of sins was available to all who believed in the Risen Christ.

The Resurrection account from the Gospel of St. John gives us a snapshot of just who these first witnesses to the Resurrection of Christ were: Mary of Magdala, Peter, the beloved disciple John (at this point in his gospel, John is referring to himself, not using his own name, but calling himself “the other disciple”). These first witnesses to the empty Tomb are obviously quite young. You can tell that because all three of them are running; the foot race of Peter and John to the tomb is more than enough evidence of that. Although His disciples profoundly venerated Jesus in life and were sorely tried by His death, the empty Tomb left them confounded. Mary of Magdala’s words, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him”, were evidence that none of them had expected to find the burial cloths cast aside and His Body gone. At that point, Jesus’ own prophecies of His coming Resurrection had still not sunken in.

In wishing you all a happy and blessed Easter today, I guess I cannot expect better of you than of those young men and women, the first witnesses to the Resurrection. They had spent their lives, a good three years of their lives anyway, in company night and day with Jesus. They had listened to His teaching; they had witnessed His miracles both of healing and of casting out the power of the devil. The first disciples surely had the faith, I guess, but it was conditioned. In many ways, their personal baggage or prejudices limited their faith; no doubt their personal sins did as well. Theirs was far from a wholehearted surrender to Jesus the Christ.

My profound wish then is that we might all grow in faith in the Risen One. May our days of Easter, after the penance of Lent, be a joyful time to ponder Christ the Lord in all His Majesty and Glory. Jesus once crucified and now risen saves us; He frees us for mission just like He did those first disciples. May we learn the lesson and share the joy! It is never too late to change our ways and become more and better than those who frantically run about not being able to make sense of these great events which have brought our salvation.

Praised be Jesus Christ! Alleluia!

PROPERANTES ADVENTUM DIEI DEI


Saturday, April 3, 2021

How Things Are or Should be in God's House

 


Holy Thursday – Evening Mass

of the Lord’s Supper

at St. Mary’s in Salem - 1 April 2021

 

Ex 12:1-8, 11-14

1 Cor 11:23-26

Jn 13:1-15

 

Praised be Jesus Christ!

        Let me say a little this evening about two of the images which define our celebration of Holy Thursday, the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper: first, Jesus washing the feet of His disciples at the Last Supper before He died upon the Cross for our salvation and, secondly, the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts of the houses where the children of Israel ate that sacred meal.

        Foot washing!

All six years that I was stationed in Port of Spain, Trinidad, I celebrated the days of the Sacred Triduum with a group of lay people in a cloistered convent of Dominican nuns. The sisters were few in number, elderly and mostly sick. The people who came to their convent for Holy Week were the same ones who throughout the rest of the year kept an eye on the sisters and saw to it that they got to the doctor and were otherwise cared for. You might say those good lay people washed the feet of the sisters day in and day out all year long. On Holy Thursday evening, at the invitation of the sisters, I, the Pope’s representative in the Caribbean, came and ceremonially washed the feet of 12 men and boys. In a sense, I was doing it on the sisters’ behalf to return thanks to those good lay people, who cared for them and clearly showed they understood Jesus’ teaching about the foot washing.  

Since COVID has sort of cancelled the foot washing, I thought I would concentrate more this evening on our recalling that at the Last Supper we have the institution of the Eucharist, of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The second image: the blood on the doorposts, marking the homes of the Hebrews to be spared from death by the angel sent by God to kill the firstborn of Egypt!

Tonight, in a special way, we celebrate the very heart, the center of our Catholic life, which was so eloquently described by St. Paul in the passage just quoted from 1 Corinthians 11:

“I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread… For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”

 Yes, Holy Thursday is all about Christ’s saving death upon the Cross. This evening, we come to understand it better through the images of two sacrificial meals: first, in Egypt the ritual meal of the Passover lamb, sacrificed, not only to be consumed by the people ready to march out of slavery in Egypt, but that their homes could be marked with its blood and they be spared from the angel of death. God’s Chosen People were fed and thus strengthened for their journey out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery and eventually after 40 years in the desert into the Promised Land.

That Passover meal, celebrated before the Exodus and repeated annually by Israel, prefigured the Holy Eucharist and the Good News of our being saved in Christ’s Blood shed upon the Cross. At this Holy Sacrifice we are nourished with the Body of Christ and by His Blood truly saved from everlasting death.

Lots of people, when they come to confession, accuse themselves of being distracted at Mass. They say that their thoughts are not centered on what is happening at the altar. A lot more of us should probably recognize that we are guilty of not being focused or not making an honest effort to play our proper role in the Holy Sacrifice. Not all these distractions are our fault; the situation is far from hopeless as we can always do better both as individuals and as a congregation. Let me mention just a few suggestions in hopes of motivating one and all to a deeper awareness of what we are all about in the Holy Eucharist!

We need to prepare ourselves for Mass. Our whole life should be a preparation to get the most out of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. That means living a good and holy life, faithful to God’s commands, cultivating a life of personal prayer and being charitable to our neighbors. It also means using the Sacrament of Penance not just to free our souls of mortal sin, but also to dispose our hearts to encounter Jesus and receive Him worthily in Holy Communion. Truth to be told, although it may not be a big thing, getting cleaned up and dressing properly for church can make a big difference in how we encounter the living God at Mass.

Perhaps the biggest element in terms of our immediate preparation for Mass, of getting ready to encounter the Lord at Mass is the Communion fast. For the lay faithful that means refraining from solid food certainly, but really abstaining from everything but water for an hour before it is time to receive Holy Communion. It also means being punctual and getting to church in enough time to say our private prayers in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. St. Mary’s in Salem has the tradition of praying the Rosary before Mass. We start a half hour before Mass to leave those last ten minutes before the hour as quiet time in church. Speaking of which, the interior of the church is quiet space reserved for you and the Lord. It is not a place for conversation. Silence in church is very important. It not only sets the proper atmosphere, but just like our genuflection before the altar clearly indicates that we know Whose House this is and Who it is Who rules the universe.

Over the years, Holy Communion time has caused me personally the greatest amount of concern and often sorrow. In most places around the world, but especially here in the United States, the distribution of Holy Communion is rushed for no good reason. I say no good reason, because gone are the days, even in big cities, where you must have people in and out of church in 50 minutes so that the parking lot can be emptied in time for the next Mass. With or without the parking lot rush, that is also my personal objection to Communion distributed standing in the center aisle. It takes away people’s composure and sometimes even their freedom to focus on the Lord Who comes to them in Holy Communion. At the rehearsal with the confirmands and their sponsors on the 17th of March before Confirmation with Bishop DeGrood, I did a little catechesis explaining why I really like the way Communion is distributed here in St. Mary’s. The parish is fortunate to have a Communion rail covered with an altar cloth which makes clear that the Communion rail is an extension of the altar itself. It is a beautiful and powerful image. Here at St. Mary’s you can come up and kneel at the rail with your hands under the cloth to receive Communion on the tongue. You may receive Communion in the hand kneeling if you so choose. You can come up and stand at the rail to receive either on the tongue or in the hand. We are talking about absolute freedom to choose among the options for Communion approved by the Church. Thanks to the rail, you have time to compose yourself and think about the King of kings and Lord of lords Who comes to you in His fulness, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

The Lord feeds you and saves you from everlasting death. Do your part to welcome Him with all due respect and devotion!

At the end of Mass this evening we will transfer to the Altar of Repose the Holy Eucharist reserved for Holy Communion on Good Friday. The church will remain open until midnight so that you can keep company with Jesus and express your loving gratitude to Him for the gift of His very Self. For the first part of that time, I will be back in the confessional for all who wish. Remember that because Holy Saturday’s Easter Vigil is different, that this evening and tomorrow, Good Friday, after the conclusion of the 1:30 pm Liturgy will be your last organized opportunities for confession before Easter.

Praised be Jesus Christ!