Friday, March 30, 2012

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Palm Sunday Readings:
Procession with Palms: Mk 11:1-10 or Jn 12:12-16
Mass: Is 50:4-7/Phil 2:6-11/Mk 14:1-15:47

The Palm Sunday liturgy is a study in fallen humanity and our great need for a Savior. I am always amazed at how the crowds could go at once from singing the praises of Jesus, throwing palms onto the streets as if greeting a king to yelling out the words of condemnation, “Crucify him, crucify him,” all within the course of a few days. Problem is, as advanced as we are technically, we are not one bit more advanced sociologically than those gathered in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago.

We are still the fickle people whose pride stands in stark contrast to the humility of Jesus, as St. Paul writes to the Philippians. It is because of Christ’s humility before God—His Divine Obedience, that the gift of Eternal Life is open to us. Such a great gift at such a dear price—yet what is our response? It is no different than the crowds’.

Look at society. Mass attendance (or attendance at any form of organized worship) is down. Studies show that upwards of 25% of the population have no association with a regularly gathered community of faith. Other polls indicate that anywhere from 25-35% regularly attend worship. A look at the newspapers, TV, and radio paint a dismal picture of a humanity that has lost its moral compass and is searching for ‘love in all the wrong places,’ to quote the song.

That is what makes Jesus’ cry from the cross all the poignant.  My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” His cry is our cry as we struggle in the mire of sin and the culture of death. Our hope, however, is in the Lord, for once that cry is uttered; it is the Father who receives the offering of the Son, lifted up. In this movement of dying and rising, our salvation is won. God is waiting for us. Are we humble enough to let Him enter into our hearts and lives?

This selfless, total, and ultimate gift of agape love—love unto death—is the example of love we are to live in the world. It is this witness of agape love that transforms hearts. It is this virtuous example of ultimate gift that draws people to the Living Christ. It is the love God gives to us if we open ourselves up to receive it.

We, who call ourselves disciples, are then called to be that witness of love to the world. It is a love that is steadfast and true; not fickle and demanding. It is a love that knows no bounds, not one that places conditions. How we live as love is our proclamation of Christ’s working in and through us to the world.

 As we enter into Holy Week, let us reflect on the prayer of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein):

The Savior hangs before you with a pierced heart. He has spilled His heart’s blood to win your heart. If you want to follow Him in holy purity, your heart must be free of every earthly desire. Jesus, the Crucified, is to be the only object of your longings, your wishes, your thoughts... He wants your life in order to give you his.

Hail to the Cross, our only Hope!

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Mother's Love

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Annunciation. Situated nine months before the birth of Christ, we hear the readings of Luke’s Gospel where the angel appears to Mary, who becoming overshadowed by the Power of the Holy Spirit, becomes impregnated with the Word—the bearer of God’s Son (Luke 1:26-38).

I was recently at a retreat where the question was asked, “When was Mary closer to Jesus, when He walked on earth or when she received Him in the Eucharist?” What an appropriate question to ponder as we approach Holy Week, for I am always drawn to the figure of our Blessed Mother as the events unfold around her Beloved Son.

The angel’s watchwords: “Be not afraid” must have echoed through her mind and heart a million times. How could her Son go from being triumphantly honored in the streets of Jerusalem with loud “Hosannas!!” to cries of “Crucify Him, Crucify Him”? Where did she find the strength knowing her precious Child was being tried and beaten? What were His crimes? Teaching people how to love as God loves? What love must have had her anchored to the foot of the cross, unwilling to let her Son suffer alone? When I think of the Passion of Christ, I cannot help but be inspired by Mary—her strength, her conviction, her faith, and her love of God.

Where did this love come from? It goes back to my question and then extends to our love for Christ and how we are called to live as disciples. When a mother is with child, she feels every movement, every flutter. Her blood is her child’s. Her food and her drink is a shared offering with the life she carries within. Her whole life changes. Her love for what is not seen, not held, is immense. She is willing to give her all—her very life, for the life within--the one she cannot yet see or hold.

When Mary received Jesus in the Eucharist, she held her Most Precious Son in the most intimate of ways—from within. The co-mingling of their very being was once again, never to be parted. No man could separate her from her Son—not even death could take Him away from her. While He walked the earth, from childhood through His adult life, Mary could hug Him, feed and tend to Him, and watch His every movement, but the intimacy of the Mother and Child were never closer than prior to His birth—when the two were one in the great mystery of life.

We too share in this intimacy each time we receive the Eucharist. No one can ever separate us from Christ if we truly believe that He lives in us, Body, Mind, Soul, and Divinity. The challenge for us is that we, just like Mary, cannot hold Christ within forever. We must ‘give birth’ to the reality of the Lord in our lives. Like Mary, that task is not always easy—in fact—at times it may come at a great price. But our hope is in that despite the cost, nothing can separate us from the One who loves us so dearly.

Be not afraid! The world needs to hear the Good News that “God so loved the world that He sent His only Son so that we might not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16)! May we also lift up our prayers of thanksgiving to the Blessed Mother, who through her great love for us, said her “Yes” to the Lord’s invitation, thus giving us the gift of life eternal!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Walking with Christ through the Paschal Mystery

Fifth Sunday of Lent
Cycle B Readings: Jer 31:31-34/Heb 5:7-9/ Jn 12:20-33
RCIA Scrutiny Cycle A: Ez 37:12-14/Rom 8:8-11/Jn 11:1-45

The Church continues to reflect on readings from both Cycle B and Cycle A (for those Liturgies where Catechumens are called forth in preparation for the Great Vigil).  The reading from John’s Gospel, Chapter 11 is the raising of Lazarus—Christ’s power over death which prefigures His own triumphant victory.

I want to take a few minutes, however, to reflect on the Gospel from Cycle B (John 12:20-33). In this, we hear the story of Greeks who walk up to Philip and ask, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Philip tells Andrew and Andrew relays the request to Jesus. Jesus’ response and the ensuing events may seem a bit cryptic:

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.”

“I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.”

How many people do we know who are searching for peace, contentment, and happiness? The problem is, happiness is fleeting and peace and contentment come at a price, for we can only find true peace, contentment, and joy, through Christ. To know Christ, to be able to see Him, we must be willing to let go of all that holds us back from opening our heart and mind to Him.

While Christ is the grain of wheat that must die so we may have eternal life, we too are the grains which must crucify our will to become one with Him, so that others may know Him through us. His sacrifice is ours as we strive to be like Him.

The path to Heaven is the path of holiness and virtue. Humility is the first step. We cannot dictate the terms of our service to Christ. To know His glory, we must become servants of Him who saved us.

The voice from Heaven that proclaims Christ’s glory is the same voice who revealed the Son to us in His baptism (This is my Son, of whom I am well pleased (Mk 1:11))  and again in the Transfiguration (This is my Son, listen to Him (Mk 9:7)). God has revealed Christ in our midst and people are thirsting to know the Lord and seeking to encounter Him today just as the Greeks were in Jesus’ time. We may ask ourselves, however, how do we encounter the Living God?

Christ has been revealed to us through the Word and continues to be revealed to us through the Eucharist. The challenge for us, as disciples, then becomes how to give witness to Christ alive in our lives. How do we, as believers, show Jesus to those who desire to see His face?

We cannot do this on our own power—we must rely on the Holy Spirit to infuse us with the grace to be channels of God’s Divine Love.  This requires sacrifice, for we must be willing to die to self to live in Christ. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), reminds us of this as she contemplates how, through love, we overcome the ways of the world as we walk with Jesus towards Calvary:

Love is stronger than hatred. In the end there will be only the fullness of love... If we accept the whole Christ in faithful self-giving, by choosing and walking in the way of the imitation of Christ, then he will lead us through his Passion and Cross to the glory of the Resurrection. 

Let us continue to pray for the gift of humility as we strive walk with Him each day. Amen!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

For God So Loved the World

Fourth Sunday of Lent
Cycle B: Chr 36:14-16, 19-23/Eph 2:4-10/Jn 3:14-21 OR
Cycle A: Sm 16: 1b, 6-7, 10-13/Eph 5:8-14/Jn 9:1-41 (2nd Scrutiny)

This Sunday we celebrate Laetare Sunday.  Latin for “Rejoice”, the entrance antiphon from Isaiah 66:10-11 reminds us:

Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning; exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast.

Many priests will wear rose vestments and some Churches  will be adorned with flowers. A little over half-way through this penitential season, there are signs of hope. We are a people of hope. John’s Gospel from the Cycle B reading reminds us why we have such hope.

I facilitate catechetical formation topics and one of my favorite questions to ask is: “If we are to proclaim the Good News, what is it?” The usual response is a deer-in-the-headlight look followed by guesses on how Jesus loves us and how He calls us to love one other. Not stopping, I then ask if they can give me the nugget of Scripture that contains the entire proclamation of the Good News. A deafening silence usually ensues.

How can we evangelize, how can we catechize, if we do not know the message of the Good News? How can we hope to draw people to life in Christ and His Church if we do preach the message with conviction and zeal?

The root of the word ‘evangelization’ comes from the Greek ‘evangelion’, or Latin “evangelium” which means “to proclaim.” The words of the Roman emperors were proclaimed as evangelium (good news) because as self-proclaimed gods, their words had profound effects for the people of the empire. Heralds of evangelium announced victories in battle and advancements that were more than words—they were life-changing realities. How much more life changing is the news of the victory over the grave won for us by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?

As we turn our eyes towards Jerusalem in our Lenten journey, we must remain people of hope. Hope is the theological virtue given to us by God to remain faithful. Perseverance is closely connected to hope—for it is hope in God and His Good News that allow us to persevere the trials and tribulations of this life so we can be with Jesus in His Eternal Kingdom.

Now, back to the reason for our hope. What is this short kernel of Scripture, that Good News that we are called to proclaim? We need to memorize this and have it with us at all times. It must be the foundation of all we do. It is the hope of why we believe and the reason we persevere. Found in the Gospel of John, I have seen it on a poster at just about any sporting event-- it seems someone always has a sign that reads: John 3:16. Let us never forget this Good News: For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.

Let us live as a people of hope and shout this from the roof-tops, for this message proclaimed by the True Son of God is truly Good News for all people! It is the reason for our joy and is the foundation of our hope. Amen!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Catholic Pride

I am Irish and proud of it. While my family has been in this country for generations, every March 17 we remember the courage and fortitude of our Irish ancestors who came to this country with the hope of a better life. Working in the mines of Pennsylvania and as housemaids, they faced many hardships including discrimination based on ethnicity and religion. They did not lose hope, however. Their faith gave them the strength to forge ahead. Their children's children rest on the foundation of their hard work and dreams.

I think about what is going on now regarding the challenges to our religious freedom. It is my greatest desire that we rely on that same strength and courage that many of our ancestors had when they came to this new country to build their dreams. Let us be proud of our Catholic faith and our heritage as we continue to build on the dream that is the American Dream, the light that drew our brave ancestors to freedom.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

I Thirst

Ex  20:1-17/1Cor 1:22-25/Jn 2:13-25 (Third Sunday of Lent)
Ex 17:3-7/Rom 5:1-2, 5-8/ Jn 4:5-42 (Third Sunday of Lent/ Year A Scrutinies)

As we reach the 3rd Sunday of Lent, for those preparing to enter into the Church at the Easter Vigil the readings are for the first of the Scrutinies and reflect the Cycle A readings of the Liturgical Year. The Scrutinies are an intense time of inward reflection as catechumens prepare to enter into the waters of baptism, dying to their old life and rising to new life in Christ, are confirmed and brought to the Table of the Eucharist. For Masses not celebrated with those enrolled in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), readings for Cycle B are used.

For all, we continue our Lenten walk with Christ as He travels towards Jerusalem and ultimately the Cross. This gives us time to reflect on who Christ is to us. Do we recognize Him as our Lord and Savior? Is He central to our lives and every decision we make? Do we love Him above all others? Are we using this time during Lent to abstain from behavior that draws us away from holiness or are we counting down the days until we can revert back to our old habits? Do we pray more fervently? Do we seek the face of Christ in all we meet as we delve into our own soul to find God dwelling in us?

The Cycle A Gospel from John is the familiar story of the Samaritan woman at the well. There are many layers to this story, from the cultural taboos between the Samaritans and the Jews to the public encounter between a Jewish man and a woman who was not his wife, to the reason why this woman was getting water mid-day rather than in the morning when the rest of the town’s women were drawing theirs’.

The Cycle B Gospel from John is the story of Jesus clearing the moneychangers from the Temple. I would like to focus on a line from this Gospel in contrast to part of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman.

In the Temple, Jesus’ anger is fueled by the sinful activities taking place in the market area of the Temple, where the focus of the moneychangers and sellers is on cash and profit and not God. Angered by what He saw, Jesus clears the marketplace; all the while His disciples recall the words of Scripture, “Zeal for your House will consume me” (Psalm 69:9).

At the encounter with the woman at the well, Jesus asks her for a drink. During their conversation, after revealing to her all that He knows of her, He reveals to her that He is the source of Living Water; He is the Messiah. Surprised the Lord is talking to a woman, a Samaritan—no less—His disciples chastise Jesus. The woman, however, goes back into the town and tells of her encounter with the Messiah and the townspeople come to meet Him. Jesus stays with the Samaritans and many came to know Him, not solely because of the words of the woman whose eyes were opened, but because they too had an encounter with the Living Lord.

What can these two Gospels tell us about Jesus’ yearning? The Lord has a desire for us to be with Him. His thirst in Samaria is the same as the thirst from the Cross, when He cries out: “I thirst.” For what does the Lord thirst?

St. Thérèse of Lisieux, reflecting on a picture of the crucified Christ on a holy card, came to understand the Lord’s cry from the Cross as a call to evangelize:

I understood that I was then to pour it (love) out upon souls. The cry of Jesus on the Cross sounded continually in my heart: “I thirst!” These words ignited within ne an unknown and very living fire. I wanted to give my Beloved to drink and I felt myself consumed with a thirst for souls. As yet, it was not the souls of priests that attracted me, but those of great sinners; I burned with the desire to snatch them from the eternal flames (Story of a Soul).

John’s Gospel account notes Jesus is in Jerusalem for Passover. People were coming to believe in Him because of the signs and the wonders they saw, but the Gospel notes that “Jesus would not trust Himself to them because He knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well” (Jn 2:25). Jesus knows how fickle humanity is—the marketplace in the Temple exemplifies our inability to recognize the priority that God should take in our lives. People believe as long as they receive the benefits—but when opportunities arise for us to profit—God was easily set aside. We see evidence of that in today’s culture, where instant gratification and the attitude of “What’s in it for me?” reigns over the virtuous and holy life to which Christ calls us.

This brings me back to the cry from the Cross. Jesus thirsts for souls: your soul, my soul. All souls. He loves us enough to take our sin upon Himself in His innocence and offering it up to His Father, becomes the Sacred Sacrifice, which atones for all sin for all time. No greater love has been shown to humanity than this. We who do not deserve it, yet what is our response? Do we realize the saving power of Christ and proclaim this message of salvation to all we know as the Samaritan woman or do we prefer the safety of a lukewarm faith? Do we live lives of conviction and zeal, or do we allow ourselves to become content with a faith that fits conveniently into our goal-oriented busyness? One life attracts, the other distracts.

Let us reflect on our actions this week and ask ourselves, when we hear the cry from the Cross, how will we respond? Are will willing to offer of our lives completely to Christ in order quench His thirst for souls or do we ignore His cries?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

This is My Beloved Son: Listen to Him

Second Sunday of Lent
Gen 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18/Rom 8:31b-34/Mk 9:2-10
The story of Abraham and Isaac always moves me. As a parent, I look at Abraham and wonder what must have been going through his mind as he took Isaac up into the mountain, knowing God wanted Isaac offered as a holocaust—the son whom Abraham had waited for until his old age.
How heavy must have Abraham’s heart been as he walked with his son—yet how deep his faith and trust in God must have been! Preparing for the sacrifice, Abraham built an altar and was readying to offer up his son when a voice came from heaven, acknowledging Abraham’s devotion and his willingness to give everything to God, including the very person most precious to him. Upon this, God makes a covenant with Abraham, promising to bless him abundantly—and his ancestors to follow—for his obedience.
The story of the Transfiguration parallels the story of Abraham and Isaac—with Jesus ascending the mountain with Peter, James, and John. Transfigured before their eyes, Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah, with a voice coming down from heaven—reminiscent of not only the Old Testament story but Jesus’ own baptism—a voice proclaiming,  “This is My beloved Son. Listen to Him.”
Instructed not to tell of the account until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead—the disciples are confused and wonder what being raised from the dead meant.
In short—God asks nothing of us that He would not do for us. Offering His Son on the Cross, Jesus became a holocaust for our sins so that we may know eternal life. Innocence offered for those who were not, saved through suffering and sacrifice for those of His time and all time.

The love God shows for us is beyond our comprehension. All He asks of us is to listen to His Son and turn away from sin. When we do, His blessings pour down upon us and we will know the richness of His mercy, love, and forgiveness. Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it?
Despite the great lengths God is willing to go for us, we in our brokenness wrestle with being able to conform our will to His. Rather than humbly bowing down before Him, overcoming the hurdles and breaking down the walls that block the path taking us directly into the Father’s loving arms, we turn our back on God and push Him out of our lives. The culture, political scene, media, even the divisions with the Church work to destroy the very foundation of obedient love we are called to live as a faith-filled people.
This week, let us contemplate the obedience of Abraham, the depth of his faith and love for God, and his willing obedience despite what must have been an epic inner struggle. Let us pray that when we are faced with challenging decisions and circumstances, we have the clarity and love to embrace God’s Will. Imagine the society we would create if we followed God’s plan rather than deciding to ignore the words of our Savior, thinking we actually know better than God what was best for humanity and all of His Creation.