Sunday, March 29, 2015

PALM SUNDAY

Back in the 1960s, there was a TV show called “That Was The Week That Was,” which satirized current events. In many ways, it was a precursor to “Saturday Night Live” or “The Daily Show.”

Well, what we are beginning today will commemorate the ultimate “week that was.”

I’d like to take just a moment to invite you to think about what the days ahead mean to us.

The liturgies of this week are powerful and primal. We are a part of something both ancient and new, and what we do this week reminds us of that. The altar will be stripped. The cross will be venerated. The tabernacle will be emptied. The Blessed Sacrament will be moved. Bells will be stilled.

It is unlike any other time in our Catholic calendar.

This week, we need to take time to think deeply about what we are doing, and what we are remembering. Take time to realize what this week has meant to the world.

For close to two thousand years, we have gathered like this, in places like this, to light candles and chant prayers and read again the ancient stories of our deliverance and redemption.

But are we aware of what we are doing? Do we understand what it means? Do we realize the price that was paid?

This week, take a moment in each day that passes to wonder: What was Christ doing during this time of that one week all those centuries ago? What was on His mind on Monday, on Tuesday, on Wednesday? What sort of anguish? What kind of dread?

Has anything we have ever worried about, or lost sleep over, or agonized about, even come close?

He was “a man like us in all things but sin.” He must have been terrified. Long after the others had drifted off to sleep, did he stay awake and worry? Maybe he sat up alone, late at night, deep in thought or silent prayer. He was preparing for a martyr’s death. What went through his mind? Did he know doubt? Uncertainty? Did he wonder if there was another way? Did he wonder if there was any way to spare those he loved, especially his mother, from what was about to happen?

Perhaps more than once he thought, somehow, of all the others who would follow him. All the other lives, including yours and mine, that would be changed by what he was about to do.

Ultimately, that is what should give all of us pause—and send all of us to our knees.

He did it for us.

As you shop for Easter baskets and dye, and select your holiday lamb at Key Food or Trader Joe’s, I’d ask you to think of this. Ponder this. Make it a kind of prayer.

Remember what we are doing, and why.

Because, of all the calendars in all of human history, this is the one week that changed everything. This is the week that saw the institution of the Eucharist. It is the week that witnessed breathtaking betrayal, and denial, and torture, and heartbreak, and suffering, and death.

It is the week that would lead, ultimately, to resurrection.

Think of all that has happened because of this week. All the martyrs and missionaries, saints and servants of God who gave everything – all because of what we are about to celebrate, and remember.

Because of this week, the world has ever been the same.

This is “the week that was.” Seven days that shook the world.

And the tremors haven’t stopped.


H/T A Deacons Bench

Saturday, March 28, 2015

LENT - Spiritual Cross-Fit

There has never been only one way to run the faith-race. In fact, it might be helpful to think of the early Church as the first intentional attempt at spiritual "cross-training."

Cross-training is the concept that gets gymnasts lifting weights, football players taking ballet and skiers skating down highways. Professional coaches have long used the principles of cross-training - but it has only recently grown in popularity among casual athletes, largely because sneaker manufacturers finally discovered this wholly untapped market for a new line of expensive footwear - "cross-trainers."

But the early Church was practicing spiritual cross-training from its inception. For the benefit of all, present and future generations alike, there was the commitment to teaching. For the benefit of each other, there were the constantly flexed arms of fellowship. For the benefit of bonding the body and spirit, there was the tradition of breaking bread together. For the benefit of strengthening separate souls within a communal family environment, there was prayer.

This vigorous workout did for the early church what arduous cross-training is supposed to do for athletes - get them off to a running start with explosive power. With energy and endurance these new Christians built a reputation for the church as a community so spiritually fit that today we still look at it with wistful amazement.

Friday, March 27, 2015

LENT - The provocative cross



The cross is provocative ... no doubt about it.

And yet, we can't avoid it. This agonizing instrument of death is central to our identity as Christians. We wear it around our necks, we hoist it on our steeples and we claim to take it up as we follow Christ. It remains a majestic, mysterious and fitting focal point for our worship of a God who transforms evil into good and provokes us to follow him in faith.

There's just no escaping the cross. It's not a prime-time special that we can turn off at will, and it's not a public execution that we can choose to turn away from and ignore. No, as Christians we are required to be witnesses for this execution, and to witness it in a way that means more than giving intellectual assent to the central role of the cross in a particular plan of salvation. Our role is to be truly "provoked" by the cross -- a word which comes from the Latin provocare, which means "to call forth." God uses the cross to provoke us, to call us forth, to stimulate us to action, to arouse our passion.

This means that we witness the execution by embracing a life of sacrificial service. Hebrews speaks of a ministry of encouragement and mutual support, one that involves meeting together, provoking one another to love and good deeds, and acting as a passionate community of faith. The cross is powerfully provocative as it calls us forth and stimulates us to love one another, to do good and to be the Body of Christ in the world.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

LENT - Look at the Cross

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Tuesday invited all Christians to accept God’s love without being critical and making objections.

He was speaking during the homily at morning Mass in the Casa Santa Marta.

Taking his cue from the Bible reading of the day that speaks of how the children of Israel complained against God during their journey through the desert and of how they objected to the “wretched food” provided, the Pope pointed out that God offers us salvation in a thousand different ways but too often we are incapable of accepting his “divine ways”.

He said that as narrated in the reading from the Book of Numbers the Lord sent in punishment saraph serpents which bit the people and many of them died.

So Moses prayed for the people and obeying the Lord’s command, mounted a bronze serpent on a pole giving salvation to anyone who looked at it after being bitten.

Only Moses’s intercession, and the symbol of the cross on which Christ will die – the Pope said – provides salvation from the poison of the snakes.

And describing the attitude of many Christians today as “spiritually whimsical”, Francis said that we often commit the same kind of error, “becoming sullen and grumbly”.

“How many of us Christians find ourselves ‘poisoned’ by the dissatisfactions of life. Yes: God is good but… we are Christians but… This kind of Christian ends up not opening his heart to God’s Salvation, but always posing conditions. ‘Yes, I want to be saved but in this way…’ This attitude poisons the heart”.

Pope Francis said that to not accept God’s gift in the way it is offered is a sin. It poisons our soul, deprives it of joy. And Jesus – he said – solved this problem by climbing Mount Calvary.

“Jesus himself takes that poison upon himself. This ‘tepidness’ of ‘half-way’ Christians who show enthusiasm at the start of Jesus’ journey only to become dissatisfied on the way. The only way to heal is to look at the Cross, to look at God who takes upon himself our sins: my sin is there”.

How many Christians – the Pope concluded – today “die in the desert of their sorrow, grumbling and not accepting God’s way”.

“Let’s look at the serpent, at the poison, there, in the body of Christ. The poison of all the sins in the world and let us ask for the grace to accept difficult moments. To accept the divine way of salvation, to accept this ‘wretched food’ that the children of Israel lamented... Let’s accept the paths that the Lord leads us on. May this Holy Week – that begins on Sunday – help us to turn away from the temptation to become “Christians yes, but…”.

LENT - Psalm 5

Psalm 5 encourages us to make an open outcry to God.
"O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice," says the psalmist; "in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch. For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil will not sojourn with you."

Believe it or not, we can gain relief simply by speaking honestly about our troubles. "Talk therapy" is the technical term, and it can do a lot of good for people feeling depressed, stressed or anxious. Professional therapists all agree that talking, articulating, voicing, speaking or otherwise expressing our ideas, thoughts and feelings is a good thing.

So why not talk about your feelings with God, who is the ultimate listener? In the morning, plead your case -- ask for help with frenemies, co-workers and relatives. Pray for strength to face the challenges of the day, knowing that the Lord is "not a God who delights in wickedness."

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Annunciation of the Lord



When Luke's Gospel reports the Annunciation of Jesus' birth to Mary, we proclaim her blessed and "favored."

But Mary may not have felt "blessed" or "favored." She had to accept first that all her life plans were about to be changed forever.

She would bear a child, under truly unusual circumstances, and be transformed by that process in ways she could not ever imagine.

Surely her relationship with Joseph was also now altered for all time. How would he react to her news? What could he say?

But despite the tumult that welled up inside her heart, Mary's response to the angel Gabriel's message is straightforward: "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).

In these words, Mary discovered the "secret" of living. It is giving! Mary offered up herself, all of her, to God's mysterious will and way.