Archive for the ‘Messages’ Category

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

 

 

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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

EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C – March 3, 2019

A reading from the Book of Sirach 27:4-7
A reading from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 15:54-58
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 6:39-45

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

Ready of not, here it comes.  Wednesday our foreheads will be marked with ashes as we enter the Lenten Season.  Some may find the thought of Lent depressing, especially as they remember the words with which the ashes can be imposed: Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.  That is not entirely a bad thought to remember.  We do not have here a lasting city.  All who are born into this world will die.  That would be depressing were it not for the Feast that crowns the Lenten season.  That is what Easter is all about.

There are other words that can be used with the imposition of ashes.  I must say that I prefer to hear the one anointing tell me to turn away from sin and believe the Good News.  Lent is a time for us, whether we have made this journey many times, or as Catechumens we are making it the first time, a time for us to hear the Gospel and believe it. It will be a time to hear the Lord’s call and respond.

Lent is a time for us to fast.  The Fridays of Lent are to be meatless.  Some will see this as an opportunity to take off the pounds we put on during the season of self-indulgence.  But that is not the deeper purpose of fasting and abstaining.  Fasting and abstaining help us to focus, to pray, and to listen.  Lent is not meant to be a glum season.  It is meant to be a joyful season.  Isn’t it always joyful when we hear Good news?

So, let’s listen to this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word.  It is a happy coincidence that these readings will lead us into the holy season.  In the first reading, Ben Sira challenges us to listen to ourselves.  What do our utterances say about us?  What we say reflects to others what we think.  Our speech announces what we value, and what we love.  It is one thing to judge others by what they say.  It is quite another to hear what our speech says about us.  As the test of what the potter molds is in the furnace, so in tribulation is the test of the just. /  The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; so too does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind.  It is one thing to judge others by their talk.  It is quite another to dare to hear what our talk may say about us.  Ah, but if we are embarrassed by what our talk says about us, Lent is a time to reflect, root out the negatives, and let our words reflect that we are renewed in our discipleship.  If we allow it, grace and the Spirit will help it to be so.

Here are two adages that I continually reflect upon.  You might want to give them a try, too.  If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?  And then St. Francis’s admonition applies: Preach the Gospel always.  Only when necessary use words.  Remember what would Jesus do?  In other words, what do our values and actions say about us?  As Paul urges us in the second reading: (M)y beloved sisters and brothers, be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

This Sunday’s gospel may not be easy to hear.  Sometimes we can be uncomfortable as we sit under the Word.  The same can be said for those first hearers.  What was Jesus’ tone as he told the disciples this parable?  We might be tempted to think he was raging and pointing an accusing finger at them.  But remember, this is addressed to his disciples, to those who have made the choice to follow him and strive to imitate him.  This is early in the Gosple; these are disciples who have just begun the journey.  There is much formation that still needs to happen.  The Lord does not want to break their spirit.

I think if we were sitting in the midst of that group and listening, we would have found Jesus’ tone encouraging.    He urges us not to spend time judging others, but rather focus on our inner selves.  Don’t be afraid to recognize characteristics that need to change, even if that is the wooden beam in our eye.  In other words, don’t be afraid even if we have to make major changes, to admit major faults.  

What are these times all about?  What are held up as values to be sought after?  Wealth.  Power.  Primacy of place.  Sexism, racism, and political polarity spew forth from the evening news.   If any one or all of those attitudes apply to me, I have to look in the mirror and recognize that.  But I don’t stop there.  In the course of the coming Lenten Season, with the grace of the Spirit to help me, I can die to those attitudes and live in union with Jesus who encourages me (us) to rise up and follow.

Sisters and Brothers, we can change.  We will be amazed at how liberating it will be to shrug off those tired values that stifle us and we learn to love.  The Gospel Jesus announces is about love, the love of God for us and our response of love.  The challenge for us will be to recognize the relationship we have with others, our brothers and sisters in the Lord and then to love one another as we are loved.  Like Jesus did, we must reach out to the poor, the off scouring of society, the rejected, and recognize Jesus in them, and to recognize them as our brothers and sisters.  Jesus touched the lepers.  He shared table with sinners and prostitutes and tax collectors, with all those who were hated by society.  He made them feel accepted and loved.  That is our challenge.  We don’t have to judge others.  We just have to let ourselves be changed, to grow in grace and to love as Jesus loves.

Now we will transition from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  As part of this Assembly in which all are welcome, we gather around the Table to co-celebrate with the Presider and experience transformation, the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Lord, and our transformation, through our sharing in the meal, into the Body of Christ.  The Second Vatican Council taught that the Eucharistic Liturgy is the source and summit of all we do in Christ.  As we enter into Lent may we have the faith and trust to let it happen.  Christ’s love transforms us.  Our going forth to love can transform the world and heal it.  We have reason to hope.

Wednesday the tracing of the ashes will invite us to repent and believe.  Do you agree that we need Lent this year?

Sincerely,

Didymus