Today the whole Christian world celebrates with joy the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The sacred liturgy today is truly beautiful. The dreary weeks of Lent are behind us. Our churches are illuminated magnificently. The bells are ringing constantly and the throngs of people who gather before the altars across the world are filled with joy and enthusiasm. Happy Easter! Happy Easter! Have a great Easter! When we gather as families later on that joy continues because we believe with all our hearts that the great event of history is being marked today – that the second person of the Blessed Trinity, having come among us, to join us, to be one with us, to assume a true human nature, has suffered and died for us and his infinite act of obedience and generosity more than balanced the endless acts of human frailty that had been committed throughout the centuries. He has risen indeed – Hallelujah!
Oh the joy and the celebration and happiness that dominates this wonderful day. It is probably the wrong day for me to say this but I want to mention that in the midst of that joy there is a serious note, or more accurately a serious responsibility. Jesus called the twelve apostles to journey with him for nearly three years. He was not just seeking out traveling companions. He did not want to gather admirers around him. The fact is that there was a job that had to be done and these frail human beings were to be the first people on the job. That job, that role, that vocation, is being a witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is what the apostles were. They were witnesses. They saw him alive. They saw him crucified. They saw his body. They saw him resurrected. And they were to tell the world of that awesome reality. And so they did and in the process commissioned others to join in spreading the good news.
It is 2,000 years later and the job is still there. It still needs to be done, still needs to be carried out day by day. It is wonderful that so many of us attend Mass frequently. It is good that we are happy to declare to others that we believe in Jesus Christ but we must also tell those people that we believe in the resurrection, that we believe that this awesome miraculous act had the purpose of documenting the infinite power that resided in and passed through Jesus of Nazareth.
Let’s continue to celebrate today, but remember that we have a job to do and we need to get started in the morning.
On Holy Thursday we look back to that awesome night when Jesus gathered with his beloved apostles and celebrated the ancient Jewish rite of Passover, and at the same time instituted the new rite that would be the Holy Mass where bread and wine mystically become the Real Presence of Jesus of Nazareth. And the apostles received both the directive and the power to celebrate the Eucharist to be the vehicle through which Jesus continues to be in and with his Church.
So on this very special day we celebrate both the sacraments of the Eucharist and Holy Orders. Of course, the evening reminds us also of things that reflect the wide range of human actions. We see Judas the traitor holding the purse but looking for a way to get a way from the table. We also see the Divine carpenter from a dusty village kneeling before his friends and washing their feet. In today’s world, this awesome symbol loses some of its punch. We move around in automobiles and if we do walk a short distance, it is on sidewalks and paved streets. In Jesus’ time, people walked on dusty roads in sandals or barefooted. The washing of feet was a much needed sacred symbol of hospitality and love.
Each of us needs to find ways to symbolically provide patience, service and love to those with whom we are sharing life.
Well, he made the decision. They waved 30 pieces of silver in front of him. Personally, I don’t think that Judas decided to betray Jesus simply because of the money. I think he looked ahead and was fearful that not only would Jesus suffer and die, but that His followers might experience the same end. I think Judas was looking for a safe exit- a safe exit in which he would have a little money to get himself a new start. Why did the Sanhedrin need Judas? The answer was simple. They knew Jesus was so popular with the multitude, that when they arrested him in public in the daytime, a riot could develop and they themselves would get into trouble. Late at night, in the garden, was where the betrayal would take place. Try to remember on Holy Thursday night that Jesus was in this garden with his friends, and suddenly, soldiers of the Sanhedrin would come out of the darkness- led by Judas. Judas experienced temptation and succumbed in the face of it. Now the ordeal begins. Let us stay close to our Lord over the next four days…
We have finally arrived. For nearly six weeks, we have endeavored to keep our minds and our hearts focused on the reality of Jesus Christ. Sometimes, it’s not all that easy, because of the never ending pull of worldly distractions, but this week it is a little easier to do. We actually walk a little bit beside and behind Jesus as He goes through the end of His public life here on earth. Remember His exciting entry into Jerusalem? The crowds were cheering, and He was being hailed as a savior, although the croweds did not really know what they were saying. Then, Jesus retreated to the Jerusalem suburb of Bethany, and with his closest friends, entered into what today we swould call a retreat- quiet, prayer, bracing himself for what he knew was coming. On this day, you might imagine that Judas has been made an offer by the enemies of Jesus. He’s thinking about it. Will Judas betray his master?
As we look back on our own spiritual journey, we sometimes remember times when we ourselves betrayed our Lord. We remember that act of unkindnesss or dishonesty or cruelty, when we failed to follow His example. We regret that today, and THIS is the time to make up for it. We cannot undo the pain we brought into someone eles’ life last year, but we can recommit ourselves to being better, more kind. This week is Holy, and challenges us to holiness- to being, in some limited way, like our Lord himself. To be kind, generous. Regretfully it is a never-ending challenge, but this is the week to respond to that challenge.
The media have made much of the obvious humility and simplicity that will mark the character and mode of operation of our new Holy Father Pope Francis. He has extraordinary gifts that will stand him in good stead as he exercises the extraordinary power and influence that comes directly or indirectly from the papacy.
With those virtues seemingly well-developed in his character and personal habits, I want to pray that in utilizing them he will see a very much-needed result flowing out of his leadership and administration. I am referring to the virtue of being able to easily admit that one is wrong. We all make mistakes, lots of mistakes, and anyone who knows any Church history understands that the Church has made lots of mistakes. Beginning with the persecution of the overpowered pagans in the 4th century, the cruel treatment of native populations in the New World, the issue of slavery, theft and torture in the Spanish Inquisition, the participation in the murderous wars over religion following the Reformation, etc., etc., etc.
Happily, none of these things or even a vestige of them are in our future, but policies and judgments will be made and occasionally they may be insensitive and counterproductive as far as good pastoral care is concerned. Simplicity and humility are virtues which will allow a person no matter how powerful to admit that they have made a mistake. Let us pray that our new pope both has and utilizes that gift.
May God bless Pope Francis. Viva el Papa Francisco!
It is almost over. For five weeks the Church has been calling us to examine ourselves more honestly, to center our thoughts more clearly on the reality of Jesus of Nazareth and enter into a spirit of prayer that would carry us forcefully into Holy Week and the great Feast of the Resurrection.
Holy Week is here and the next seven days we will symbolically walk with our blessed Lord. First, he experiences a brief triumph as he enters on a donkey (a symbol of royalty) and cheered wildly in his honor as he enters the city gates of Jerusalem. The text of Matthew’s Gospel says that the crowd was huge, very excited, tearing branches off trees and even laying down their cloaks so that the animal could, a symbolic sense, walk on a carpet. Then it gets quiet.
Jesus and his disciples would again go outside the city to the suburban town of Bethany and he will abide with his close friends for three very quiet days of prayer and preparation.
Wednesday has Judas cutting a deal. He promises to give the enemies of Jesus the opportunity to arrest him at a time when it can be done quietly without instigating a riot.
Thursday reminds us of the institution of the Eucharist and the beginnings of the priesthood.
Friday we call “good” but it is awful and holiness explodes on Saturday as we anticipate the celebration of the actual resurrection.
The whole process will be over in just a few days. If we have slipped a little during the past weeks, this would be a good time to say I am going to give it my all, to concentrate on this sacred week for ourselves and for our families.
Neither one is free to do whatever he so chooses. The pope is bound by tradition and the Code of Canon Law. President Jinping is governed by the Politburo, a group of 25, who have very real power over the major decisions that will be made in China. Lately, China is a real cause for worry because it has been acting very aggressively in terms of crowding its neighbors in a number of different ways. The world is especially concerned about the tension that has been building up between China and Japan. Though neither country wants war, history shows that many wars have gotten started without the leaders in either country really wanting them to begin.
Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us.
In this first week, several million words have been written or uttered about Pope Francis, but I think the two words most commonly used are “simplicity” and “humility.” In dozens of different ways in these first few days the pope has demonstrated that he is not a stickler for propriety or formality. In Buenos Aires, he took the bus to work and in Rome, he walked out into the crowd in St. Peter’s Square on his first Sunday in office. The man who was just elected as leader of the Universal Church jumped on to the bus with his brother bishops as he rode across St. Peter’s Square. No popemobile yet!
These are wonderful gestures and if they can possibly filter down to life in the Church at the diocesan level and at the parish level, it will do a tremendous amount of good. The Church is saddled with symbolism, not from the first century, the time when men and women walked around after actually knowing Jesus of Nazareth, but rather from the 15th century. At that time, codes of dress were enforced by European royalty to separate themselves in a very dramatic way from the multitudes. So far, Pope Francis is indicating that while he realizes that he is the bishop of Rome, he is not only NOT separating himself from the multitude but he recognizes that he is part of it.
I love Church history. It is a dramatic story of every possible human value and failure. I often describe many of the “customs” that have attached themselves to the Church as barnacles. Maybe rust is a better word! The fact is, however, that the Church needs to constantly be refreshing itself and not allowing yesterday’s habits and traditions choke off spontaneity, innovation or joyful optimism as we walk with our Lord and Pope Francis into the future.
The Roman Catholic Church is so big, scattered over the entire world and confronting every conceivable type of problem, whether it be economic systems, theological rebellion, language barriers or economic and social crisis. This new pope has a very full plate. However, he has to start somewhere. Where should it be?
I think the obvious thing is that if you are heading an organization with 1.2 billion members, you have to have help. The Church has known this since the beginning and the helpers to the Holy Father, in his role as universal shepherd, is clustered from a series of buildings and offices in the tiny, independent state of Vatican City. It is only 108 acres in size but it has “observer” status in the United Nations. For several years, the media have been filled with embarrassing stories about the ineptness of the pope’s staff, the Curia. Time and time again, the Vatican Bank has been accused of laundering money, the pope’s butler steals sensitive correspondence, documents are leaked to the Italian press, cardinals are publicly at odds with each other, etc., etc., etc.
This is where I hope that our Holy Father would start.
I hope the Holy Father would reach back to Buenos Aires and pick up a couple of people that he has worked with successfully for 30 years. He could also find talent in Ottawa, Berlin, Cape Town and Manila. It may take a while for outsiders to work effectively together but if they are really talented, they will catch on quickly.
Isn’t it wonderful to have hope and optimism? Those commodities have been a little short of late. May God guide Francis I through the narrow streets of the Vatican and may he open up the Church as it is symbolized by St. Peter’s Bernini’s columns, embracing the whole world.