Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Good Shepherd

Probably one of the most ancient, and certainly the most popular, images of Jesus is as the Good Shepherd.  While St. John describes Jesus as the living bread, the vine, and living water, the shepherd motif is something that we can relate to.  Might I suggest it is the parental nature of the image.  Even as adults we want the nurturing and nourishing that our parents offer us.  I notice junior high age children at Mass, who will lean into their moms and dads. We all want that same level of comfort and compassion.

Throughout the ministry of Jesus he demonstrates his shepherding ability.  He goes into homes, synagogues, and on street corners and   proclaims good news.  Jesus listens to the stories of people who are in pain and socially forgotten.  He brings healing to the hurting and compassion and peace to those who are broken.  In a very real way Jesus exercises care and compassion for all people.

Yet like any good shepherd he guides the sheep along right paths.  When his disciples become too full of themselves, he teaches them about the cross.  He challenges his hearers to live beyond simply following rules and regulations, and to live at a higher 'level' of life.  This ongoing call to conversion and discipleship is encouraged and blessed along the way as Jesus invites his disciples to a life of holiness.  More so, as he washes the feet of the disciples he reminds them, and us, that we must carry out his mission and ministry.

We do that in the Church.  The Bishops are our shepherds, and with the clergy to help them, they are to share the Good News into the corners of the earth.  The image of the shepherd reminds us that we all have a responsibility to share our faith as well as to nurture one another.  Persons who encounter our Church, or those that are disciples today, should have an experience of the Good Shepherd.

St. John will tell us quite plainly today that we are sons and daughters of God.  His holy people.  We are gathered together by a shepherd who will leave ninety-nine sheep in the wasteland, so as to seek one who is lost.  Because of our Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist, we have an intimate relationship with God.  There is a worth and value about us that cannot be removed.  That should teach us something about how we respond to God for all that we have received, and how we relate to others who are blessed by the Good Shepherd.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Keeping Easter Joy Allive

As we are launching into May, our Easter flowers are looking sort of sad now.  I do not think that we have any lilies left at all.  The Baptismal font is becoming less appealing, and our candle display is almost depleted.  During advent or Lent we would be looking forward to the big celebration of Christmas or Easter.  But during the Easter season we have all sort of grown weary of proclaiming 'alleluia.'

But maybe to maintain that same sense of Easter Joy is not so much about more lights and color, as it is a sense of direction.  Looking ahead to the Ascension readings, the apostles who had been with Jesus all the way through the death and resurrection, stand around unsure of what to do next.  When we get to this point of this awesome season, rather than beginning to put things away, maybe we should put into action all of the truths that we have taken away from this season.

Hopefully the time of Lent allowed us to understand that there are parts of our life that we can do without and are not life-giving.  We might have realized that there are higher goals that we can set for ourselves, and achieve, if we put our faith into action.  Sometimes all it takes is that radical decision to love or to forgive.  Months ago I had decided to keep my desk clean and organized.  I began the habit of filing and throwing things away.  I know that I will not read that mailing later, and I know it is more advantageous to file a piece of paper now, than when I come back to the office in the morning.  But this has helped also in sending out consolation cards, birthday cards, and anniversary cards.  Every little bit helps.

To keep our faith fresh means that we engage in those profound actions of prayer, meditation, and works of charity, because  this is what our baptism calls us to do.  Otherwise we are simply boxing up a 'season' and placing it on a shelf until next year.  The real work of the Easter season is the making known the Good News of the Gospel message.  Imagine from this day on you would wear a bright t-shirt  with the letter 'E' on it.  Every-time someone asks about the shirt you would have to explain your faith with them.  Well we get a baptismal garment at Easter are are asked to wear it boldly.

While the flowers are fading we have to make a special effort to keep the meaning of Easter alive in our lives.  Folks should know that we are still celebrating Easter.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Feast of St. Mark

In a parish far away, long, long ago, we had used a horse trough as the baptismal font, for the Easter Vigil.  Of course we fancied it up with a skirt and flowers, and the like.  But I would think about how  after our dozen or so adults were baptised, Sparky the horse would have use of this tub when ever he or she needed a refreshing drink.  I think of this as I am reading about the dignity of the Baptismal font.  I suppose if no one knows its a trough it really doesn't matter.

St. Mark's Gospel describes the dignity of the font, or more so of baptism from another direction.  For Mark the Kingdom of God has a great sense of urgency. The movement in his text is fast paced as the journey of Jesus moves very quickly.  More so the center focus on Mark is the proclamation of the Gospel stemming from our own conversion and discipleship.  A true disciple is wholly committed to the Lord, and speaks about the Kingdom of God.  They can use words if they want to; paraphrasing Francis of Assisi. 

For St. Mark the true dignity of one's baptism would be to recognize who we have received and imitating the mystery that we celebrate through our practice of dying to oneself.  Jesus is portrayed as often reiterating to his apostles the dynamics of discipleship.  The Apostles are shown to misunderstand the teachings of Jesus and to become concern about their own status and position.  Throughout Jesus offers the reminder that to follow him means to serve God and one another.  Loving God with our whole heart, mind and soul, is the process of dying and rising with Christ.

The oppressed, powerless, and anawim, accept Jesus fully because they have no expectation of status.  The rich, for example, will have a more difficult time, since they hope to retain a name for themselves.  If we want to live with the Lord we have to be willing to die with the Lord.  This conversion and discipleship is a difficult task at best.  It includes an ongoing process of striving to walk on holy ground.

Perhaps a true disciple would not be too concerned about being baptised in a trough.  It goes along with washing feet and being born in a stable.  But it is our heritage that we continue to proclaim Good News.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Go and Proclaim the Gospel

Under the heading of "Potlucks, Comfort Food and Faith," Sharon Blezard writes in her Stewardship of Life, "Come to Christ's table, come as you are, come helpless, come hopeful. Eat and live to go and tell."  This verse sort of sums up the Gospel for today.  The disciples of Emmaus meet up with the Apostles to tell them that they too have seen the Lord.  Then they begin to re-tell the story, of which we already know, about how they met Jesus 'on the way,' and recognized him in the breaking of the bread.  While these disciples are still speaking, Jesus stands in their midst.

This is not the first time something like this has happened.  At another time, a man comes to request that Jesus come to his home to heal his child.  While Jesus is speaking a woman with a deep bleeding wound comes up behind Jesus, and touching his outer garment finds herself healed.  There is this neat connection between the telling of the story of Jesus, proclaiming the Word of God, and listening to Jesus, that results in Jesus showing up with healing and peace.  Sharing the Word and the Bread is an occasion of revelation and new life.

At the beginning of Passover the youngest child will ask the father, "what makes this meal important."  The father then begins to tell the story of the Passover and of salvation.  But that sharing faith brings us to focus on our relationship with God and others in addition to leading to a deeper understanding of God and life.  More so we have all experienced how speaking about various moments of our life can bring about healing and even a sense of peace where there has been anxiety or hardships.  Certainly this was the case for the Emmaus disciples who poured out their grief to Jesus, who in turn showed them how these events fit into salvation history.

Part of the reason that we do the same ritual, using the same words, at Mass every day, is that we are different people each time we come to Liturgy.  Okay maybe not every day, but we have various joys and concerns we come to Mass with throughout our lives.  I only have to look at my eighth graders who were just beginning their grade-school journey when I came here.  Their big concern were these other strange children and whether they would get lunch.  Today it's high school and life beyond that.

When we tell our faith stories Jesus has a way of showing up.  And where there is Jesus people have a tendency of being fed, nurtured and nourished.  Anymore I invite people to the funeral luncheons to share their faith stories of the deceased.  As disciples it would seem necessary to tell about the moments which we had encountered Jesus 'on the way,' so as to encourage, heal, and forgive.  Our own sharing of faith stories allows us to grow closer to the mysteries which we celebrate.

Baptism and confirmation makes us bearers of Good News.  just as Peter's faith is no longer a private matter but a public obligation, we have to go out and share everything we have seen and heard.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Do not Fear

Today's Gospel conveys a moment of crisis in the early Church community.  The Christians of Hebrew background, and those of Greek origin, are in conflict over food and the basic nuts and bolts of the community.  The Presbyters determine that they do not have time to take care of these conflicts, serve at table, and preach the Word of God as well.  After some prayer and reflection they appoint several of the elders to be table waiters.  These men will be what we call Deacons in in our Church today.  The Diaconate began and continues to be one of service.

Very importantly this order came out of a need in the early community.  The successors of the apostles determined that in order to continue the mission and ministry of the Church this new group of ministers were needed to serve in the Church.  While we try to shy away from conflict, we also have to realize the importance that these moments can have in a community.  Like any of our growing pains they invite us to look at our life, our purpose, and most importantly our relationship to God the Father.

What is essential here is to recognize that this community goes into prayer to bring resolution to the situation.  Problems are brought into the faith context.  It would be nice if we could do that in parishes today!  The early Church would often gather for prayer and liturgy before making major decisions or sending missionaries off on a journey.  Our lives begin to unravel when we lose that connection to holiness and truth.  To be sure so does our faith community when we lose sight of the ministry entrusted to us.

I can think of a dozen families whose children went off to a distant college, a volunteer program, or even to the military.  This movement was one probably a difficult moment, a conflict really, in which change and growth was taking place.  There was some letting go that had to be done, as well as dying to one;s self.  The early Church in beginning a new order of ministry had to re-evaluate how it was carrying out the Gospel message.  The ministry could no longer be the twelve apostles visiting every once in a while, or relying on their letters.  In order to survive the Church had to journey through this crisis (there would be others to follow)

Again and again this is a reminder to us that we have to go back the cross throughout our faith lives.  Sometimes we are called to make radical and even unpopular decisions in our lives.  But we have to base them in the Spirit and Truth of Christ Jesus.  Our Church can never be lethargic in its proclamation of the Gospel.  The people of God take responsibility for the faith they profess, and continue to renew it in the waters of the paschal mystery.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Light of Christ

As the election season draws close the Church continues to encourage voters to carefully contemplate the candidates of their choice, and to discern, whether of not their candidates stand up to the standards of life, justice, and peace, which the Church advocates.  Of course we understand that candidates will make wide and sometimes broad promises so as to make themselves appealing to voters.  A candidate could state that they, "Stand for good things and want people to be happy."  Well, that is nice but what does it mean?

To be sure the Church has taken many hits in these last several years; some of its own making, and others because of its stance on life issues.  The latter is an area that is a non-negotiable for the Church.  I remember well a young girl in my freshman religion class who asked why the Church just cannot believe like everyone else.  Well that would make things a lot easier.  But the Church is called and sent to proclaim the values of the Gospel.  There are certain values and teachings that will always be part of the Church. 

The Health and Human Services Mandate is one of several obstacles that the Church faces in the future in effecting it's ministry.  The government is in a very real way insist that the Church deny its own teachings so as to provide a government service.  Already we have seen in the area of adoptions that the Church has had to cease in providing a service.  As a Church do we now need to stop in believing and professing the essentials of our faith?  In infringing on religious liberty the culture around us seems to be trying to make religion insignificant in the lives of people.

Early in John's Gospel the author states that as Christ came as light to the nations, men and women preferred the darkness.  The darkness that we see is not only an inclination to evil, but to ignorance as well.  It is absolutely amazing that in a time when there is so much information available about the teachings of the Church, so many persons are so uninformed, relying instead on half-truths and blatant misinformation about the Catholic Church.

The prophetic nature of the Church insists that it's teaching authority, as well as all men and women, continue to be advocates of life, justice, and peace.  We have to continue remind  men and women that all peoples share in the dignity and integrity of God.  To be catholic means to believe in and to stand forward for all issues about life and the incredible need to strive for holiness in life. 

at baptism we receive a candle, lit from the paschal candle, and are told to keep the flame of faith alive in our hearts.  We have to make it clear that we are children of light.  It is important to en flame our hearts, minds, and soul, and to be bright for the Kingdom of God. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Peace be with You

The passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ remains the source of identity and strength for every Christian.  The wounds of Jesus do not reveal shame as much as they reveal the redemptive power of His suffering.  Now a lot has been written on the wounds of Jesus by mystics and theologians alike.  Jesus plainly told the apostles that he would have to suffer, die, and rise, so as to complete his mission.  The wounded-ness of Christ directs our thoughts and meditations towards the great and self-less love of God the Father and also the Body of Christ here on earth that suffers.

The apostles are gathered together, frightened and anxious, not having any sense of direction.  Fear, grief, and anxiety will do that to us.  The peace that Jesus offers is not an absence of hostility, but rather an inner calm that offers strength and courage even in the midst of adversity.  We can recognize that in the martyrs and holy men and women, and even the apostles after the Pentecost.

The apostles experience of the risen Christ fills them with joy.  Like the women at the tomb they too must tell their companion Thomas.  Thomas though is still trapped at the tomb, hobbled by fear.  What we have seen throughout the sacred scriptures, healing and reconciliation cannot take place where there is a lack of peace.  When we begin to recognize the wounds, and through an experience of Christ come to know peace, we can begin the healing and forgiveness that is afforded us through the Paschal Mystery.  But we can be like Thomas and take a long while to accept the power and grace of Jesus into our lives.

From the Beatitudes, to the life of Francis of Assisi, Rerum Novarum, all the way to the John Paul's challenge of the Culture of Life, the Church, the people of God, are sent forth to be peacemakers.  Encouraged by the love and mercy of God the Father, through the Son, we carry out the mission of reconciliation to all peoples everywhere.  Just as Jesus proclaimed good news, we share the Gospel message with one another.

It is comfortable in that room behind a locked door.  But this is not how Jesus expects us to live.  We are challenged to disengage from fear and anxiety and seek the peace and forgiveness only Jesus can offer.  Then we can be better able to lift each other up.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Post Resurrection Joy

There was a movie many years ago entitled, Groundhog Day.  The main character continued to wake up on Groundhog Day, and tried in vain to "shock" his life back into a cycle of normalcy.  During this the Octave of Easter, we have continued to read from the various resurrection accounts.  From one perspective it is seemingly redundant, but it helps us to continue to celebrate what is the center and main theme of our faith.  The Paschal Mystery gives joy and hope to our journey of faith.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal alludes to each Sunday of the Church year as being a 'mini-Easter.'  In a very real way each time we celebrate the Eucharist we do so from their perspective of the memorial of the Paschal Mystery.  So whether it be the chapel Mass wit the Fourth graders, or the 9:30 Mass on Sunday (our version of a High Mass) we are recollecting the Jesus event of suffering, dying, and rising.  While seemingly boring the Mass is new each and every time.  More so it becomes an opportunity to reflect upon and grow closer to the mystery we celebrate.

A difficulty occurs when we try to force our own pious devotions on the Mass.  We insist that certain elements or an atmosphere be created, because it helps me pray.  We like to be in charge so we take possession of some aspect of the liturgy and try to control it.  Or we believe that we should have an intense spiritual experience each and every time we go to Mass.  These expectations are very different from the description of communal prayer as found in the Second Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.  St. Luke speaks about a community gathering together as in communion; one body together.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a powerful moment of grace and blessing for each of us which cannot be trivialized.  Men and women of faith are transformed by what has occurred for us at the cross and resurrection. The Mass, and the Body of Christ, the Church, is a springboard into the world to be about the mission of Jesus Christ.  We do not gather together to pray individually, but to renew the gift of Christ within us.  This is so we can go and proclaim the Gospel of the Lord.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A life of Baptism

It's been a week since the high holy days.  The flowers are already looking old, and the marshmallow eggs are either eaten or getting sort of gooey.  The Office of Readings has been centering on the Catechism of Jerusalem.  Today the text centers on the Oil of Gladness, which Christ received, and we too take part of.  The writers reveal that the Oil of Gladness is really the Holy Spirit and when we share in Baptism we also receive the Holy Spirit.

The farther we move from Easter, the easier it is to forget the joy and the challenge of the Easter sacraments.  Like the flowers and candy we can begin to get sort of faded and "gooey."  There is a real danger that those great changes that we made in Lent, and confirmed when we renewed our Baptismal promises, can become a regular part of our life again.  We really have to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to keep us focused on the transforming effects of the sacraments we receive.

There is always a danger though that the sacraments are minimized to where they become 'good luck charms.'  We bring our children to Baptism and Eucharist to get 'blessed,' and we ourselves can easily move away from a regular practice of prayer and fasting.  After all it's not Lent anymore!  But then our lifestyle becomes one where we are avoiding punishment and seeking to gain favor with God.  Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist, are about an intimate relationship with God; and nurturing and nourishing that relationship.

So we call upon the Holy Spirit to be our constant companion and guide.  Throughout our day we need quality prayer time and to develop a regular practice of reading Sacred Scripture.  More so, we must pay attention to avoid doing evil and learning to do good.  While the marshmallow eggs are probably a loss, around the parish office we still have Lillies from a few years ago.  We planted them where they could spread their roots and soak up the nutrients of the soil.  If we want to grow we need that oil of gladness.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Church alive

Way back in the 1980s, John Paul II proposed a "New Evangelization."  Using the riches of the Church's tradition, and rekindling the missionary nature of the Church, John Paul recommended a new era of preaching the Gospel and sharing the 'Good News.'  Many a catholic are uncomfortable with the term 'evangelization,' yet it is our term from the very beginning of the scriptures.  What Peter and Paul are doing in the Acts of the apostles, and the Patristics, is evangelization.  In its simplest form they are sharing the message of the Gospel with other people.

In the U.S. Catholic Bishops document, Go Make Disciples, our Bishops bring this task of evangelizing back to the parish community, and the individual catholic.  In one part of the document the Bishops state, "Each one of us in virtue of our baptism is called to live our faith and to bear witness to the Gospel."  It  seems as if we had become used to 'Father' and 'Sister' doing church things for us and to us, and the rest of the church was simply along for the ride.  Our initiation into the Church suggests that we take responsibility for the Church and its ministries.

The vision of the Vatican II for the laity was a body of believers which continued to reflect on the Gospel, learn about the Church and it's teachings, and carry out missionary and charitable works.  Following Christ Jesus as disciples was seen as a hands on experience.  Even when we speak about stewardship in the Church we do so in the context of being gifted by God, and sharing those gifts so as to unfold the Kingdom of God.

I am more amused that saddened at people who proclaim a catholicity because they can execute a Sign of the Cross, but are apart from any faith community, and live as they wish.  In our reading of the Book of Acts, and the history of the early Church, we will find this to be a problem.  Some groups and communities tended to go their own way.  The early Church continued to draw these folks back into the fold as best as possible.  Ownership of our faith though is not about deciding where a flower pot should go in the Church, but how to respond to the crisis and brokenness of the world around us.

Our Churches are set up to be places of evangelization.  Our ministries teach, sanctify, and proclaim good news, in all the actions of the parish.  Hopefully like the churches in the Acts of the Apostles, our Parish communities will shake with apostolic zeal.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Alleluia, Christ is Risen

In a parish far away, the alleluia verse was spoken.  There was nothing more depressing than 70 persons speaking "alleluia" in a monotone, as you are carrying the Gospel book.  This is a feast of singing and chanting of the most awesome and wonderful gift imaginable.  The Passion, Death, and Resurrection, of Jesus Christ brings us salvation and peace.  This feast allows for us to rise above Sin and Evil and live as children of the light.

The new life we receive in the risen Christ cannot be a reprise of old thought patterns, bad habits, sinful behaviour, or worldly desires.  The disciples in Mark's Gospel often misunderstood what it meant to die to oneself, so as to rise again.  Jesus becomes the sign and symbol of dying and rising and allows us to fully engage in conversion and discipleship.

St. Paul speaks about removing the old leaven in order to possess the new leaven of faith.  Paul will state in several of his letters that persons baptized into this sacred mystery live that mystery by their holy lives.  Through Jesus Christ forgiveness and reconciliations are possible.  More so, we are to be faithful stewards of the grace and the blessings that we have received through this sacred action.  Despite the threats of pain and the anxiety caused by fear, we can and should speak what is true and right, and learn to do good.  Resurrection faith does not allow for wallflowers in life, but faithful and active participants in the walk of life.

It is nice to baptize the adults.  They are more than a little surprised as I pour pitchers of water over them.  But faith does that too.  When we make choices and decisions based on our faith, and allow our faith to carry us along, then we will be surprised at the outcomes in our life.  Reconciliation, peace, and joy, are some of the virtues that will arise when we imitate the mystery of faith we celebrate.

I think about some of the great men and women throughout the ages like Thomas Beckett, or Francis of Assisi, whose radical and faithful decisions gave witness to the Gospel values Jesus spoke of.  For those that have the formal 'St' before their names, and those without, they had made the decision to live counter-cultural lives founded upon the power and grace of the resurrection.  St. John tells us early on in his Gospel, "God so loved the world ..."  Wonderful things happen in the midst of selfless love.  

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Garden Tomb

Early on in Mark's Gospel, John the Baptist sends disciples to discover who Jesus is.  Jesus invites them to walk with him and to report to John what they see and hear.  Of course Jesus himself will pronounce that his ministry is about healing the physically broken, the forgiveness of sins, and freeing those bowed down by oppression.  In a word, Jesus comes to pronounce the good news of salvation.

For those who were his closest followers, all hope seems to be lost as Jesus suffers a horrific death, and is laid in a borrowed tomb.  For them there is no fame or fortune, or even that earthly kingdom that they dreamed about.  But as in the past, those who hold out hope and the possibility of salvation are those considered to be outsiders - the women.  They remain vigilant at the cross, and taking responsibility for the body of Jesus (read 'Body of Christ') they will return to properly prepare the dead body.  Everything moved so quickly on Friday.

The notion of remaining faithful even in the midst of chaos and death is both one of holiness and a sign of a mature faith.   A brother priest mentioned to me a few weeks ago that the phrase he misses from the "old" prayers, is just after the Our Father we would pray, "We wait in joyful hope the coming of our saviour Jesus Christ."  That says so much of what our lives must be about on a day to day basis, but in particular when life seems to unravel.

There is a line from a Monty Python skit in which a group of soldiers beset by a dragon would cry out, "Run away, run away," as they retreated. We can feel tempted to do that when life is awful.  Standing faithfully before evil, and confronting evil people, puts evil to shame.  I have been looking for stories to use for my homily tomorrow from the series of books, Jesus Freaks.  These are folks who stood for justice, peace, truth, and the holiness of God.  They refused to be frightened into submission.  Some of them brought about change, others awareness of an evil, and others were simply a sign of courage and strength.

So we sit at the tomb waiting for the resurrection.  And we do this because of everything we have seen and heard.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Passion of the Lord

Most of us probably missed the phrase last week, on Palm Sunday, spoken by the narrator.  We are told that Judas goes off to prepare to betray and hand Jesus  over, and that 'it was night.'  Early on in John's Gospel, John theologizes that Jesus has come into the world as light of the world.  But people preferred the darkness.  More so evil deeds are done in the dark so as not to be revealed, and the perpetrators will not be known.

John, from whose passion account we read from today, has a deep imagery of the contrasts of light and darkness.  Jesus as light of the world will be as a beacon shining in the midst of men and women.  Persons who seek the truth, and long for righteousness will be drawn to the light of Christ.  In the few miracle stories that there are in John, the blind, sinful, and the possessed, are seeking healing and wholeness in their lives.  These people live on the outside of society and are apart from others, and essentially from God.  Jesus Christ becomes the light which guides them to healing and communion with God and others.

The cross then continues to be this sign that the light of the world came into a darken world to reveal God's love and salvation.  The cross is a great comfort to us in that it conveys hope and promise.  But the cross is also a challenge to faithful discipleship.  Mark underscores that the apostles run away from Jesus.  In matter of fact a few chapters before the passion account, Mark indicates that even the family of Jesus thought that he might be mentally ill.  So that on the cross Jesus is seemingly very much alone.  Being faithful to the implications of the cross means that sometimes we stand alone for truth and righteousness.  John will remind us that Jesus came among his own people, yet they rejected him.  Today in many ways we continue to reject the presence of Jesus in many ways.

In a time and place where personal relevance takes precedence over core truths and values, the cross stands in the midst of the fray suggesting a counter-cultural response to the world around us.  Jesus does not only do 'nice' things for peoples, but suffers and dies for us too.  The cross is God's way of saying 'Amen' to the human family.  "If God is for us, who can be against?"  St. Paul's quandary offers us the insight and courage to live according to the sign of the cross.

We are baptized and confirmed under this great symbol.  The next time you make the sign of the cross, make sure that it is done deliberately and boldly.  Look at the cross.  Recognize the  one who loves us more than we can imagine and challenges us to faithful discipleship.  Then maybe we can become the sign of the cross.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Jesus washed the feet of his disciples

When I was a young priest many eons ago there was a parish down the street which washed hands, not feet, on Holy Thursday.  The congregants would come forward as at communion, and wash each others hands.  The liturgist in me was absolutely appalled that the pastor would take such liberties with the Mass, but somewhere deep inside I thought that was not such a bad idea.

Once in awhile I have even thought that instead of shaking hands at the sign of peace, maybe we should wash each other's feet.  There was a scene in a Neil Simon play a dozen or so years ago in which the mother of the family tells the history of the dining table. She emphasizes that this is more than a table, it is a place where there have been celebrations and gatherings, in times of great joy and in sorrow.  Because of the life that has taken place around the table, she insists that is be treated with care and even reverence.  The Eucharist we celebrate can never be reduced to a bread and wine party.

The Gospels could have put the foot-washing a chapter earlier, or as part of a post-resurrection story.  But washing feet has an intimate relationship with the Eucharist we celebrate.  Our Jewish brothers and sisters have a far greater appreciation of the theology of blood and covenant than we do, but this is what is happening here. Jesus is to suffer and die, and in doing so becomes the source of the new and eternal covenant,  More so, Jesus shows himself to be the suffering servant in the very self-less act of washing feet.  When Jesus suggests that what he is doing the disciples must do for one another, he is not only speaking to the twelve, but to us as well.

The paschal sacrifice washes away our hurts, animosities, sinfulness, pride, anger, and jealousies .  The Eucharist is about a communion with God and each other.  Discipleship invites us to follow Jesus and most importantly to have the humility and forbearance to wash feet of each other.  Just like we share in the Eucharist we also share in Jesus' ministry of serving others.  It is a way in which we profess and witness to the faith we have received.

At  the end of the Mass the people of God are challenged with, Go and Proclaim the Gospel.  Maybe because we live as catholics day in and day out, we forget the radical nature of our call, but we are to be evangelizers in the world today.  While we will not be washing hands anytime soon, but we will continue to participate in this beautiful and powerful action of God's selfless love for us.  Hopefully we can grow into our role as disciples who desire to wash other's feet.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Surely this was the Son of God

The centurion who stood guard near Jesus had witnesses countless crucifixions.  He had helped put people on the cross, and had probably participated in the vindictive torture of many.  But as this pagan sees how Jesus dies, he makes what could be considered a profession of faith.  He stands there watching the horro with honesty and truthfully.

On this Palm Sunday that is really the challenge as to how to approach this recollection of the death of Jesus on the cross.  When we look at the broken body of Jesus we are challenged to own the death and possess it.  More so we might also recognize the brokenness of the body of Christ in the world today.  The horror of Sin and Evil afflicts every aspect of human life and activity.  But we believe that it is by dying that we are restored to eternal life.  St. Mark wants us to understand that this Kingdom that Jesus' establishes is not some far off place, but it is here in our midst.

In the Gospels that ones who are able to embrace the Paschal Mystery first are the poor, broken, and the anawim.  They do not have attachments to power, authority, or prestige. They try to hold on to what little dignity and integrity they have.  Mark begins his account with a woman who pours expensive perfume over Jesus as a sign of devotion and commitment.  She risks, and receives, criticism for her actions.  But this is her response of faith.  A true disciple spars no expense in devotion to the Body of Christ.

In John's passion account the insiders are shown to be the outsiders, and those on the outside discover truth.  It has a lot to do as to whether the cross becomes religious art, with an occasional devotional leaning, or whether it is the life that we live on a day to day basis.  In the texts today, and all of this week, we run head on into the transforming power of the cross.  When we are courageous enough to die to the Sin and sinfulness of life, we begin to experience new life.  Again as always I think that what the Gospels are calling us to is way beyond simply being nice to others.

The cross is a radical sign of God's faithfulness.  In a similar radical way we have to respond to all of the good that God has given to us.  Our lives becomes an ongoing conversion and discipleship.  I would love to have an outdoor procession on Palm Sunday so as to have that sense of walking with Jesus.  Because in the end that procession with the Lord is what our faith is all about.  Some day go into the sanctuary and look up at the crucifix.  It can be a powerful experience.  But it is an experience we should have every day.