Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER – C – April 28, 2019

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 5:12-16
A reading from the Book of Revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 20:19-31

 

My dear Friends in Christ,

Isn’t it strange how memories of past events surface?  For me, those memories seem to be triggered by similar events, similar to those in now distant years.  I woke with a start and his name flashed through my mind, a name I hadn’t thought of for over forty years.  I remember the shock I felt when I first heard the news that he had been murdered by a shotgun blast as he peered from his front door on a snowy night in 1969.  He was a black man who lived in a mostly white neighborhood and was an activist for racial equality.  The killers had thrown a snowball against a window.  The sound alarmed his wife.  She peered through the bedroom window and saw the intruders hiding behind her husband’s car in the carport.  He went to the front door to investigate.  She cried out too late to alert him to the danger and heard the blast that killed him instantly.

I think of the historical events of those years and they seem remarkably similar to events in these times.  Violence ran rampant in the country.  Riots and demonstrations on college campuses and in city streets demanded that race relations and war be reconsidered.  John Kennedy’s slaying in Dallas ushered in an era of change the way, in the same year, that Vatican Council II opened windows and let the wind of renewal and change rush through the Church.  Then Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated.  Watts, Detroit, Selma, and other city’s found new fame as places where citizens banded together and stood in the face of police batons, snarling dogs, and the rush of water from fire hoses.  Kent State and other campuses experienced sit-ins.  Student demonstrations led to valence and bloodshed.  Pictures of anguished students crying out in the camera’s eye haunted all who saw them.  So did the picture of the naked and napalm-seared young girl running down a Viet Nam street shriek of the horrors of war.

Those years are distant now.  They were the years of my formation and the beginning of my priestly ministry.  It seemed that the church for which I was prepared in the seminary years ceased to be with the Council’s closing and the issuing of new foundational documents called Constitutions that called the Church as the People of God to a new springtime, a new Pentecost.  Pope Francis renews that call as he urges us to be a servant church, a poor church that ministers to the needs of the poor.  He challenges the bishops to be shepherds in the midst of the sheep.  Bishops and clergy should not see themselves as being over the people, but among them.  It seems to me that the pope is inviting that new Pentecost, that reformation that was proclaimed by the Council.

From this vantage point, Pentecost seems the most apt analogy.  We are used to sanitizing and tranquilizing Scriptural scenes – Pentecost among them.  There was the sound of a violent wind blowing in the place where they were, and over their heads appeared tongues as of fire.  Yet when we see stained glass or holy card representations of the scene, everything looks tranquil and serene without a hint of violence.  Looking back on those years and remembering the violence in the streets and the upheaval in the Church, I believe the world experienced the rush of the Spirit in those winds of change.  The winds continue to blow through the violence of the present times.  

Nothing would ever be the same, following the Council, no matter how nostalgically some would come to think of pre-conciliar days.  Those times may have seemed safer with people kept in their proper places, in an established hierarchy, and with roles carefully defined according to sex and race.  The evils of sexism and racism wore sanitized masks.  But the violence and the wind tore away those masks and Justice and Equality became the new catchwords to define the emerging era, and continue to define.  Pentecost is dangerous, as are hurricanes and forest fires.  We must remember that those who emerged from the first Pentecost could never go back to what they were before.  They had been transformed forever.  So were we who matured in the 1960s and experienced the new Pentecost.

Which brings me back to the man whose name came to me in the night 50 years after his murder.  He and I had appeared on a panel together to address the question of racial equality.  The Council document, The Church in the Modern World, called for us to be involved in societal change and to be engaged in the plea for justice.  To speak as part of that panel before an all white audience seemed like the right thing to do.  It was a packed house.  My co-panelist was the only African-American person in the room.  Several of us spoke in turn of our desire to see this new era of justice emerge and to see the crime of racism cease.  I cannot remember what I said.  I am sure it was safe and sanitized.  I was new to speaking out, new to the Church’s role as an implement of change in society.  I did not want to rankle the assembly.  Polite applause followed my remarks.  Then he spoke last.  I remember sitting in stunned attention as he lashed out at the establishment and at the Church for tolerating the abuses against which he now spoke.  It seemed like a call to anarchy for which I had not been warned.

He finished his speech and called for an intermission.  To this day I do not know what possessed me.  Without forethought, I reached over and pulled the microphone back to myself and asked everyone to wait a moment.  Then I turned to the speaker and acknowledged his pain.  I admitted that I could not understand the pain because I had not experienced it.  But also I said that anarchy was not the answer.  We, he, those like him, and the Church, all of us ought to work together.  Together we could be a leaven for the change he longed for.  Apart and at odds, hostility and chaos would be the only results.  I pledged to work with him and never be complacent with the status quo.

I remember our conversation during the break.  He apologized for what I had taken to be a broadsiding.  I pledged my support of his cause.  We promised each other that we would remain in contact and parted that night as friends.

Three weeks later, Edwin Pratt was shot to death in a snowy night in the neighborhood we shared.  It has been years since I have thought about him.  His name came to me in the night.

Now I remember and wonder how far have we come?

Sincerely yours in the Risen Christ,

 

Didymus  

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EASTER SUNDAY

A Remembrance

 

Sometime afterwards he told someone that when the phone had first rung he felt a twinge pass through him and he caught his breath.  Odd that he had held his hand over the receiver and listened to the rings, counting them, knowing how many he had before the answering machine would take over.  He lifted the receiver to his ear and paused before he spoke the single word, “Yes.”  Afterwards he tried to remember how many words it had taken the caller to deliver the news that changed his world.  Had time really slowed, putting everything into largo, so that there were cavernous pauses between each staccato word, letting him hear the beat of his heart and the sound of his own swallowing?

Replacing the receiver, he sank into the chair and studied the face of the clock on the living room wall.  He wanted to etch the exact moment into his memory.  The precision of date and time seemed important.  He thought it fortunate that the date had no other significance.  It wasn’t a major holiday.  No member of the family had been born on the date.  He wondered if he would live to see the return of the date on which his eldest son had died alone in a crosswalk on a dark street in a town on the other side of the country.  What was it that the officer had said? Oh, yes.  It had been raining.  Rain might have contributed to the accident.  But so had speed, the caller said.  “Your contact information was on a card in his wallet,” the voice said.  “It is hard to determine what your son was doing, walking on that lane at that time of night, alone in the rain.”

A child is not supposed to die before the parent, he thought, even if the child is estranged.  How can reconciliation happen then?  He looked at his son’s high school graduation picture that hung amid the family memorabilia on the dining room wall.  So much promise, so much hope in those eyes.  He remembered their last conversation on a park bench, while children played tag and sunbathers lolled on blankets.  Why had he been so closed to his only son?  He held his clenched fist to his forehead as he remembered saying, “I do not want to hear from you again until you come to your senses and get your life back in order.  You are throwing away your future.”  He hadn’t meant what he said and had wanted to take back his ultimatum.  Instead, he had sat on the bench and watched as the young man, with slumped shoulders, shrugged, raised his arm in a wave, and wandered away, disappearing among the other strollers on the path.  

He knew he had to call the others in the family, the boy’s sisters.  But he needed time to sit with this before bringing in his other two children.  What could they do about it at this time of night?  He would wait until morning, he thought.  Let them have their rest.

He went to the basement, to the room that had been his son’s; to the room that remained just as it was the last night the young man had slept there.  He sat on the edge of the bed and noted how strangely barren the room was.  There were no trophies for sports achievements, no awards or accolades in frames, nothing that celebrated the remarkable student he had been.  

A crucifix lay on the pillow.  An icon of the Mother and Child hung on the wall opposite the foot of the bed. Why hadn’t he been able to understand his son’s fascination with religion?  Why had he laughed and dismissed the interest as a passing fancy that would fade with the coming of maturity and the next season?  He gazed at the icon and wondered what it would be like to pray and to believe that there was someone who would listen and care.

He picked up the crucifix and weighed it in his hand.  Why would anyone want such a grim reminder of humanity’s cruelty?  Where was the consolation?  All he could see was defeat in the body that sagged from the crossbeam, and the thorn-crowned head slumped to the side.  Then he saw his son’s body on that wet roadway and wondered if, with his last breath, he had reached out, if he had prayed then and experienced its folly.

He carried the crucifix as he climbed the stairs and padded his way to the sofa, where he sat and wondered if there had been a reunion between the son and his mother as life left his body.  His wife had grieved the estrangement between her husband and their son and had distanced herself from her husband after that separation in the park.  He suspected that there had been clandestine meetings and secret phone conversations.  He had told her he didn’t care as long as he didn’t have to hear about them.  Why couldn’t she have understood that he could not accept a son who chose to live like a vagabond, a beggar, content to be a street-person, and for what purpose?  To walk with poor people, to be with them and share their burden.  The father was embarrassed.  Why wasn’t the mother?  Then he wondered if there had been a son and mother reunion, did they pity him now?  Would they forgive him? 

The clock chimed.  He was startled to note that it was nearly dawn.  Had he dozed?  He thought he must have slept because the night had flown by so quickly.  He was hungry.

 

Brown bread broken lay on the plate before him.  A mug of last night’s coffee steamed as he stirred in the sugar.  He spread a bit of honey on the bread and tasted its sweetness and swallowed.  Such simple things give comfort.  For a moment he could hear the laughter and conversation that used to emanate from the kitchen table when his family sat to meals in those days before his son’s strangeness emerged and the family fractured.  He could hear the voices and feel the presence.  

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