Archive for the ‘Messages’ Category

NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C – AUGUST 11, 2019

A reading from the Book of Wisdom 18:6-9
A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-12
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 12:32-48

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.  Those are the words that begin the reading from Luke’s Gospel in this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word.  Sometimes I think every home should have those words inscribed, framed, and hanging on the wall in a prominent part of the house.  Do not be afraid.

Why is the Liturgy of the Word such an important part of our worship?  Because it is essential for us to hear the story, to remember, and to be renewed and transformed by what we have heard.  

When I was a child, the Liturgy of the Word was called The Mass of the Catechumens.  For that part of the Mass, those preparing for Baptism could be present, before they were dismissed with an instructor to discuss the teachings in the texts.  The baptized stayed for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  In those days, the Sunday Mass obligation was fulfilled if you were present for the Offertory, Consecration, and Communion.   So you could come late, arriving just  before the Offertory and then leave as soon as the priest shut the tabernacle door, signaling that Communion was over.

The Catholic faithful got the message that the first part of Mass was not all that important.  Protestants were Bible thumpers.  Catholics had Holy Communion.  Sadly, many Catholics never knew the Story beyond the Baltimore Catechism.  They were not known for reading the Scriptures.  They had their rosaries and devotional booklets instead.  Some still maintain the practice of coming late and leaving early, as long as they receive Holy Communion.  Alas.

That understanding changed with the Second Vatican Council.  Now Sunday Mass is comprised of the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Christ is present in both.  Both transform the Assembly.  The faithful ought to be present for the entire Liturgy, from the Entrance Procession to the Final Blessing and Dismissal.  We don’t have the space to talk about the kind of participation that is called for that is in sharp contrast to the way pre-Vatican II Catholics heard Mass.  That is a discussion for another time.  We need to be reminded of the importance of the Scriptures in our lives.  As the people of God assembled, we need to know the story.  It is knowing the story that will keep us going through the difficult times, the times of darkness, and the times that otherwise might tempt us to despair.

The first reading from the Book of Wisdom speaks to the Jewish people living in Egypt a century before Christ’s birth.  Surrounded by people who followed pagan practices, the Jews, who might be tempted to abandon their faith for the gods of the Egyptians, need to be reminded of their history.  God defeated those who held their ancestors captive.  God led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and into the Desert of Freedom in the Night of Passover.  Somehow those ancestors remained faithful to God during their long period of slavery and believed that God would conquer their foes.  The point is, God was faithful in the past.  God remains faithful.  So must the Jews in Alexandria remain faithful to their faithful God who will deliver them.

It would be worth your time to pause here and read the whole of the 11th chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews and so put into a context this week’s second reading.  The author puts before the Hebrews the long litany of faithful witnesses in their ancestry.  It is important for them and us to recognize that that fidelity was constant even though there were periods of hardship and, sometimes, little to support their faith.  There are many in these times who are finding little to support their faith and are quitting the practice of their faith.  They may still be believers, but the current scandals compel them to look elsewhere for faith support.

We call Abraham our ancestor in faith.  Abraham responded to God’s call and set out on a journey without knowing where the trek would take him.  God promised that Abraham and Sarah would have countless descendants, as numerous as the stars in the heavens or the sands on the seashore.  Abraham and Sarah had advanced to the threshold of old age without Sarah’s giving birth to a son.  Yet, they remained faithful.  In time, God’s time, not theirs, it happened.  Isaac was born.  We heard about that just a couple of weeks ago.  Remember?

All those witnesses in Chapter 11 of the Letter to the Hebrews experienced hardships that might have broken lesser souls; but they persevered in faith.  We, 2000 years after the Letter to the Hebrews was written, can add to that list of patriarchs and prophets, our litany of saints, those from every age of the church up to and including those of recent history – Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Pope John XXIII, Archbishop Oscar Romero, Dr. Tom Dooley, Damian of Molokai, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and many, many more, including your family members gone before you.  Take pride in their stories.  Be encouraged to continue on the Way of Faith.

It is important for us to remember how many in our history were martyrs for their faith.  What the world saw as defeat and tragic ends, we see as the triumph of the cross and the martyrs’ victory in Christ.  We know that they live in glory.  Knowing that, we ought to be encouraged when our own faith weakens.

So we come to the gospel.  Just prior to this reading, Jesus has been teaching the disciples about how complete their trust and faith in God must be.  They must live lives that proclaim that trust.  God feeds the birds of the air.  God has made the lilies of the field more splendid than Solomon and all his glory.  God has placed humankind above all the other orders of creation in this world.  So we should not rely on things, but seek to give our lives over entirely to God.  And the rest will follow.

That provides us with the context for today’s gospel.  Hear Jesus say, Do not be afraid.  Disciples should live with the freedom of the children of God.  The kingdom awaits the faithful ones.  Live in the poverty of spirit; live with confidence and without fear.  Treasure awaits in heaven.

What is there about us, and how we are living in the world, that would give evidence that we have taken this teaching to heart, and that we believe it?

I remember a young man, a sailor, in the first hospital where it was my privilege to minister to the sick and the dying.  His first response when he was told that his cancer would kill him was frustration and anger.  He stared at the ceiling and clenched his jaw when I stopped by to see him shortly after the doctors had broken the news to him.  It was not a good time for a visit.  I told him that I would stop by tomorrow and we could visit then.  When I arrived the next day, he was transformed.  He had left his bed and was visiting other patients with similar conditions to his own.  He told them not to give up hope because God loved them.  That was his mission through the remaining days of his illness.  He asked me to promise that when the end was near for him I would bring him Holy Communion for his final journey.

The hospital called at three in the morning and said that his time was here.  In those days it took me about 20 minutes from the time I received the call to the time I was on the hospital floor.  I remember walking down the hall toward his room.  The light was on and he sat in his bed, propped up by pillows.  His eyes searched anxiously and then relaxed when he caught sight of me.  He was not able to talk.  He could not lift his arms.  I held the Host before him for his proclamation of faith that now consisted of a nod.  I broke off a fraction of the Host, placed it on his tongue, and held a straw for him to sip a bit of water.  He swallowed.  He smiled.  I sat by his bed and held his hand.  In an hour he went to glory.  I ask him every now and again to pray for me because I am still on the journey.  I want to be faithful to the end the way he was.

That is what this gospel is really about, perseverance to the very end.  There is work to be done, Jesus says.  A great deal has been entrusted to disciples – the handing on of the kingdom.  In this period between the resurrection and the Lord’s return, the disciples must do the work that the Lord entrusted to them.  Even if the return is delayed, that expectation should not waver.  Remember Abraham and all those other witnesses?  Remember the saints in our tradition?  They were faithful to their vocation over the long haul, even when the Master delayed his return.  So should we be.  Remember that we belong to a servant church.  Our witness is expressed in service, doing what Jesus did, the way he did it, among the poor, the aliens, the disenfranchised, the sick, the imprisoned, the outcasts, and any other sisters and brothers devalued by contemporary society.

We complete the Liturgy of the Word and transition to the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  The Eucharist is about renewing and remembering.  Jesus said: Do this in my memory.  That translates, do this and I am present.  Jesus said to the disciples, to us, do Eucharist.  Not passive spectators as our ancestors might have been, the faithful are called to exercise the Priesthood of the Baptized and to co-celebrate with the presider in the celebration of the Eucharist.  The faithful are called to full, active, and conscious participation in the celebration of Eucharist.  In doing this, the Assembly is transformed into the Body of Christ that they recognize in the Bread and the Wine, the Christ they recognize in the Word that was proclaimed, and the Christ present in the Assembly.

Remembering all who have done this before us, we share in the meal.  We are strengthened to continue on the way until Christ comes again.  And we are sent out to be that presence in the market place.

There is a final note that we need to remember.  Notice in the parable what Jesus says the master will do when he returns and finds those servants faithful to the tasks entrusted to them.  He will gird himself, have (the disciples) recline at table, and proceed to wait on them.  Imagine that.  Talk about a turning of the tables.  The Son of God serving the disciples is an incredible image to contemplate.  Unimaginable as it is, we have the Lord’s word on it that that is his intention when he returns.  In the meantime, doesn’t that eliminate any excuse we might have for being other than servants now?

Think about it.  And do not be afraid, Little Flock.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus    

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AN EASTER GREETING, April 21, 2019

Dear Friends in Christ.

Springtime in the desert means that the night air is fragrant with the scent of orange and cactus blossoms.  From my patio I watched the Easter moon cast its glow causing the surroundings to shimmer.  A mourning dove, perched on the wall near me, sang to its partner in the sky.  Strange how all those elements come together to remind us of Mystery.

As a people of faith, we are challenged to live in Mystery and say boldly to the world that there is more than what the senses can behold.  There is something more important than what is tangible, more important than youth, or beauty, or wealth, or power.  We are dared to trust that the darkness will not triumph, nor will war, or hatred, or prejudice, not death nor any of the powers that threaten humankind bringing us to our knees in near despair.  There is something that can be experienced only when all else has failed and the powers of darkness have done their worst.  We must never forget that Jesus, in the last moments of his dying, was enveloped by darkness.  He felt abandoned as he cried out to Abba, Father, and asked: Why have you forsaken me?

The Lenten Journey is that kind of walk, that time of being alone with Jesus, when we are invited to enter into the darkness and experience the worst that can befall us.  Every year the season begins with the Temptations in the Desert.  Look at them closely and you will recognize that they sum up all the temptations we can suffer in life, as what dazzles and distracts might make us wonder if God will triumph.  We hear God’s plea: Let me be your God.  You will be my people.

Easter, in the northern hemisphere at least, comes in springtime.  Winter has done its worst.  We have survived.  There have been ample signs of the power of darkness.  Horror stories of war, famine, disease, exploitation of the weak and the poor, global horror have all been there in the nightly news.  Perhaps some have felt estrangement from the church as we heard told stories of clergy and religious sexual abuse of children.  Perhaps some have felt estrangement from a loved one.  Some might have kept the lonely vigil by a deathbed and watched and wondered how life would ever be endurable without the loved one.  Others might have experienced the most bitter blow of betrayal by someone loved and trusted that is at the heart of Christ’s Passion.  Some may have been brought to their knees by all those things that tempt us to think of tragedy – the ultimate defeat.

In all of Scripture, the passage that is dearest to my heart is the Emmaus story.  Their having witnessed Jesus’ destruction on the cross has shattered the two travelers’ faith.  We had thought that he was the one who would set Israel free.  The mysterious Stranger invited them to revisit what they had experienced and this time to view it through the prism of faith.  He broke open the passages that referred to him and his suffering. Did not the Son of Man have to suffer these things and so enter into his glory?  After they had pressed the Stranger to stay with them, and he, in Eucharistic language, had taken the bread, blessed and broken it, and given it to them, and he vanished from their sight, they remembered that they had recognized him in the Breaking of the Bread.  They knew it was the Lord as they recalled their hearts burning as they walked with him On The Way and invited them to share in the new perspective.

The Emmaus story is important for us to remember.  Notice that the Lord did not revise recent history for the two.  He did not take away the horror of the passion and death.  It had happened.  But the Good Friday they had witnessed was not about defeat, but about victory.  Easter dares us to trust the story and believe in the Mystery.  It might be that Easter can only hold sway in our lives when we have been brought to our lowest point, when our strength has been depleted, when everything else has failed us, and we are still alive.  The cross is still the cross, and it is horrible.  But in the light of Easter, it is also a sign of hope and promised victory.  Behold I make all things new!

May every Easter blessing be yours.  May your faith be strengthened.  May your hope be renewed.  May your love, nourished by the broken Bread and the Cup poured out, be the reason you dare to be that for others until He comes again.  May your hearts burn within you as you continue to journey with the Stranger on the Way.

A favorite quote from a favorite saint, Thomas More, seems apt by way of conclusion.  Pray for me, as I will for thee, that we meet merrily in heaven!

Sincerely yours in the Risen Christ,

Didymus

 

 

THE PASCAL TRIDUUM – April 18-20, 2019

Dear Friends in Christ,

Perhaps you think of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday as three separate feasts.  You would not be alone in that perception.  The truth is that the three celebrations are of one feast that continues over three days.  The Pascal Triduum (the word means three days) does not have three distinct liturgies.  It is one Liturgical journey over three days that results in the most important celebration of our faith in the church’s Year.  The shame is that so many have never allowed themselves to have the experience.

I remember a letter I received many years ago from a senior woman parishioner.  She was a life-long Catholic and had always practiced here faith.  Only illness had ever kept her from Sunday Mass.  She wrote that that year, because of something I had said, she had made the complete Triduum for the first time.  Before, she had always celebrated Easter Sunday.  Occasionally she had attended Holy Thursday, rarely, Good Friday, and never the Holy Saturday Vigil.  She wrote lamenting that fact because this year the Triduum had proved a moment of faith that she would never forget.  She wrote on Wednesday of Easter Week and said that already she found herself looking forward to next year’s Triduum.  Witnessing the adult-emersion Baptisms awed her.  She had never seen the like.  So rich was the moment, she found herself wishing she could be baptized again.

We are a very busy people.  Who can be expected to devote three days to a religious observance?  It is true that each part usually lasts over an hour.  Rumors about the length of the Vigil abound, even with many pastors reducing the number of readings to three.  I think that is unfortunate.  But that is the way I am.  Some think that hearing seven Scripture readings is too much to ask of anybody.  Is it?

Think back and reflect on the Lent we just completed.  What were we doing through those six weeks?  The Church encouraged us to fast, to pray, and to give alms.  Why?  We are better for each practice.  Giving ourselves over to all three can renew and transform us and have an impact only on our faith lives, but also on our relationship with the entire Church, and with Jesus Christ.  Experiencing hunger, we recognize an emptiness that only Christ can fill.  Sitting in and being enveloped by silence, we can find ourselves open to the God who longs for us to let God be our God, just as God longs for us to be God’s people.  Giving ourselves in service and sharing our wealth, we can come to identify with those in need and see Christ in them. 

In the Lenten process we turn away from whatever separates us from the love of God in order to give ourselves more completely to God.  Having completed the forty-day journey with Jesus in the desert, do we now experience a holy longing to give ourselves to the Triduum, a need to be there with the Church of which we are parts, and celebrate the core mysteries of our Faith?  The Church doesn’t make the celebration of the Triduum obligatory, as in holy days of obligation.  The urgency to join in the celebration comes from within.

We come together in the worship space on Holy Thursday evening.  We should notice two things as we enter.  Lent is over and gone is the purple of that season.  White vestments and hangings are the order.  Flowers may adorn the space.  Second, as you pass the reservation chapel, you will notice that the tabernacle is open and empty.  There is no reserved consecrated Bread.

The Assembly of our sisters and brothers gathers in the evening, just as Jesus did with his disciples on the night before he died.  We gather and we listen as the Word proclaimed reminds us that we are involved in Passover.  We remember that Jesus is our Passover Lamb of Sacrifice.  Paul instructs us that when we gather we renew what Jesus did when, during that night, he took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them, inviting them to eat his body.  And he invited them to drink from the cup of his blood.  We are to continue to do that each Lord’s Day until Christ comes again in glory.

You might expect that the gospel proclamation would be about the institution of the Eucharist, too.  In stead, we hear John’s Last Supper narrative about Jesus, the foot washer.  The reading, in fact, is a complement to the institution narrative.  We are challenged to live what we have heard.  Jesus speaks to us here and now.  When he finished washing their feet, Jesus said to them: What I have done for your, so you should do for one another.

If we share in the meal, we must realize that the result will be our be that we will be sent to do what Jesus did; not only to wash feet, but also to minister to our sisters and brothers within and outside the community.  In your parish tonight, you might be invited to be a foot washer.  Or, you might be invited to have your feet washed.  In either role, chances are you will feel uncomfortable.  Either role is humbling.  Do not miss the important symbol that is being proclaimed.  This ritual of feet washing is what the Church ought to be about – always.  We are a servant church.  We are not about splendor and aggrandizement.  Bishops and priests are not over the people of God.  They should not see themselves as being in power over anyone.  Pope Francis causes consternation every Holy Thursday by the selection of those whose feet he chooses to wash.  Young people in jail.  Males and females.  Some Christians, some not.  Some believers.  Some not.  What do we take from this?  The pope is called to be the servant of the servants of God.  So also should we be.

After the feet washing is completed, we move on to the celebration of the Eucharist.  We give thanks for the life we live in Christ.  We receive Christ’s Body and Blood.  We are one with Christ and one with each other as Church.

The Liturgy of Holy Thursday has no conclusion or dismissal.  Instead, in procession, the Consecrated Bread will be carried to the reservation chapel.  We will be invited to stay, to watch, and to pray as we await the next segment of our Triduum celebration – Good Friday.

It is clear that the Liturgy of Good Friday is a continuation of, and not separate from, the Liturgy of Holy Thursday.  There is no entrance rite.  Instead, once we have reassembled in the Worship Space, we pause for a moment of silent reflection to ponder the solemnity of this night of the Lord’s Passion.  We pray that we will be open to entering into the Liturgy of the Word.  We hear the Prophet Isaiah’s Suffering Servant who seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be punished by God.  In reality, the Servant is God’s beloved.

Then the Writer of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that Jesus learned obedience through his suffering.  The implication is obvious; so will we through ours.  We can approach our Great High Priest with confidence because Christ, in spite of his struggles and temptations to the contrary, embraced his suffering and death.  He has become the source of eternal salvation for all.  The result is that we can live in hope, regardless of how dire the circumstances surrounding us might be.  The prize, if you will, has been won for us.

If you are able, stand for the proclamation of John’s account of Christ’s Passion.  If the proclaimer is accomplished, resist the temptation to follow along with a printed text.  Let the words wash over you and catch you up in the wonder of what is unfolding.  Notice that in John’s account, Jesus remains Lord.  With full knowledge he carries the cross to Calvary.  Notice that he mounts the cross as a king would his throne.  Christ reigns from the cross and pours himself out to the shedding of the last drops of blood and water from his pierced side.  It is finished.  With those words, Jesus proclaims that he has accomplished all that the Father gave him to do.  He breathes forth his spirit in peace.

The gospel passage concludes with the body of Jesus being wrapped in burial clothes, similar to the swaddling clothes he had worn when he lay in the manger, and laid in the tomb in which no other person had ever been buried.  It is finished.  Yes, but the beginning is not far off.

Following the proclamation of the Passion we will gather around the altar, this time, not to celebrate Eucharist, but to pray for the renewal of the whole world and all its inhabitants, so that the original order planned by God at the beginning of time might be restored and all will come to know God’s love and peace.  I hope the prayers will not be rushed, or that you will become impatient.  There is much to ponder as sectors of society are put before us and as intercessory prayer is offered for them. There is much to pray about in these times and many signs of the ongoing Passion of Christ being lived by those who suffer.  Remember, too, the intercessor is Christ in, with, and through whom we pray.

A short Communion service concludes this part of the Liturgy.  In former times, Good Friday was the one day that Eucharist was not celebrated, nor was Communion offered.  We fasted on Good Friday even from the Lord’s Body and Blood.  In some ways, I wish it were that way again.  We should experience emptiness at this point in the Liturgy and a holy longing for Christ to come and fill it.  Certainly it would place all our other needs in perspective and our wealth, too.

The Easter Vigil is THE celebration of Easter.  Tomorrow morning will be the First Sunday of Easter, continuing what began this night.  It is meant to be celebrated in the night and can be timed to conclude at dawn’s first light.  Monasteries can do it that way.  Only a few parishes will be able to.  But the symbolism is rich and powerful.  Some will rush the start and have the Vigil Service begin before nightfall.  Be that as it may, the Liturgy begins with the New Fire.  Fire symbolically consumes all that was, as the old order passes away.  Out of the Fire comes the spark that lights the Easter Candle, the principal symbol of the Risen Christ.  It is that Light that will scatter the darkness.  I pray your fire will be of sufficient size to merit the name fire.  A can of Sterno flickering leaves much to be desired.

As the burning Candle is carried into the dark church, Christ, our Light is proclaimed.  The Assembly responds; Thanks be to God.  Three times the dialog is exchanged.  Flickering candles lit from the one Candle announce the spread of the faith in the Risen One.  The Exultet is sung, calling on all of creation and all women and men to rejoice in what happens this night.

By the Light of the Candle, Lectors proclaim the various readings that in reality make up a recap of Salvation’s history.  We begin with the Creation narrative and conclude with the Resurrection narrative – and the empty tomb.  Many parishes will eliminate several of the readings.  If that is the case in your parish, I hope you will take the time to read the missing selections for yourself.  You deserve the whole story.

I am sorry if I have taxed your patience by the length of this note.  I will be brief with the remaining commentary.  Following the return of the Glory to God and the ringing of the bells and the singing of the Alleluia, in full light the Gospel is proclaimed.  Then it is time for the Elect to be baptized.  They will be presented to the Assembly who in turn, in union with all the saints in the Litany will pray for the Elect as they journey to the Font.  The Assembly has prayed for the Elect all through the Lenten Season.  Now they pray as the Elect are initiated through the Waters of Baptism and are anointed with Chrism, then to be brought to the Table for their first participation in the Eucharist.  There may well be tears.  They will be tears of joy for the wonder that Christ is accomplishing in them through his dying and rising.

The Easter Season begins.  May you be blessed and renewed in the faith we celebrate here.  And may you be a sign always of the presence of the Risen One as you imitate Christ in service.

Happy Easter!

Sincerely yours in the Risen Christ,

 

Didymus