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.
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March 24th, Palm Sunday
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.
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Photo: Nicole Grimes
May 20, 2012- Feast of the Ascension
The 12 apostles spent more than two fairly quiet years walking after Jesus as he moved back and forth from Galilee to Judea, frequently passing through Samaria. They heard his preaching, they saw his miracles, they were committed. But then things began to get a little rough.
In that first Holy Week, which was ushered in by the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, we saw two trials, one religious and one civil, and then the crucifixion. Finally, and most astounding, the resurrection itself. Then came those forty days of strange and mysterious visits when, from time to time, Jesus would suddenly appear among the apostles conveying extremely important messages which would help the Church to understand itself and to develop according to the mission that they had received from Jesus.
Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension and once again, we are dealing with startled, stunned and frightened apostles. There was Jesus standing and speaking to them, and then suddenly he begins to ascend to heaven and then disappears. What are they to do? In the next scene, they are facing heaven and two men in white were standing beside them. They said, “Why are you Galileans standing here looking into the sky? Jesus has been taken up from you into heaven and will come back again in the same way.” Would that make for shock, for wonder, for confusion? You bet. Now begins ten more days of fear and anxiety. That unpleasantness will come to an end in ten days as we celebrate the third most important feast in the life of the Church, PENTECOST and the descent of the Holy Spirit.
That question from those angels was really a challenge to us as well. Why are you standing here? You have got a job to do. Let’s get with it. We also need to know that in our heart of hearts we are being asked: Why are you standing here staring into space? You share in the missionary responsibility.
Let’s get with it.
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Last week, the Universal Church celebrated Holy Thursday. That day is especially important in the Church because on this day we mark both the institution of the Eucharist and the ordained priesthood. Pope Benedict XVI chose this day to chastise those priests who have called for the ordination of women and the end of priestly celibacy. There is little doubt that his remarks were occasioned by an organized call for disobedience in these areas in a number of countries, especially Austria.
No one should be surprised that the pope would take such a stand in view of the long established Church law regarding these issues and while the pope has ever right and even a duty to maintain long-established traditions in the Church, we still have the problem that somebody has to come up with a solution. The number of priests being ordained has been declining for half a century. In those five decades, we were shored up by short-term pastoral solutions – the diaconate, increased utilization of laity in leadership and pastoral roles, merging the parishes so that one priest could cover two or three parishes, etc., etc.
It seems, however, the tragic priest shortage in Europe and North America is of recent origin and the decline continues. Of more grave consequences was the failure to ever develop an adequate clergy in Latin America. With priests as the kingpin of the Church’s pastoral structure, their absence in adequate numbers leads to a failure of proper development and the lessening of membership. This has certainly been going on for years. A number of countries, such as Guatemala and Brazil, have lost a huge percentage of their Catholic members to Pentecostal and other groups. This is truly tragic.
This may be the largest issue facing the Church in the 21st century. In one way or another, a solution must be found.
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The Feast of the Nativity (Christmas Day) is in many ways the happiest day in the Church year while the Feast of the Resurrection (Easter) is the most important day in our religious calendar. However, in my opinion, today, Holy Thursday in Holy Week, does not suffer by comparison with these two other great feasts.
On Holy Thursday, we celebrate the establishment of the ordained priesthood and, of course, we celebrate the center of our faith, the Eucharist, the gift by which Jesus gives us his continued presence as the supreme source of our spiritual life and growth. Holy Thursday is also one of the most interesting in our liturgies in which we participate. It begins with explosive joy with the Church being decked with flowers, candles, golden vestments – every material thing that an individual parish can produce in order to reflect beauty, joy and a desire to use the best that we have in our service of worshiping. The same liturgy will end with an extinguishing the candles, the removal of the flowers the elimination of music and the transfer of the church from an explosive place of joy into a very large tomb as we move into the next day, this sacred Friday, a day we rightly call Good, in which we concentrate on the fact that God loves us so much that he gave us his only begotten Son.
I would hope that you will be able to attend the services on either of these two days but if that is impossible, please make every effort at some serious thoughtfulness, deep and committed prayer and an openness to God’s Spirit, which in a special way envelopes us during these special days of Holy Week.
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The end is approaching. Jesus experienced that triumphant entry into the holy city last Sunday and for the last three days has been staying with his friends in Bethany, which is suburban Jerusalem. However, the clock is running out.
For centuries, the Church has called Wednesday of Holy Week “Spy Wednesday” because it is on this day that the Gospel excerpt of Matthew tells about Judas’ final betrayal. He asks the chief priests, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” They gave him 30 pieces of silver. My guess is that this was the most awesome business transaction in human history. The Lord of Creation, God present in the human story, is bartered for a handful of change. The transaction is so bizarre that I don’t think we can really grasp it. However, my guess is that when we turn away from Jesus, once we know his love for us and what he has done for us, we all, in some limited sense, are like Judas, at the Lord’s Supper, which will occur tomorrow on Thursday evening. Judas who actually accuses himself, “Surely it is not I Rabbi.” And Jesus answered, “It is you who have set it.”
Are we not in a comparable position? Don’t we have to accuse ourselves of having failed so many times to do the good to which we are committed? But enough of that. It is true that Friday will remind us of a grim historic moment in the human story, but far more important is the joy of the Resurrection, which is just beyond Good Friday, a joy in which we are invited to celebrate right now and for all eternity.
Let us go forward.
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Take a look at the front page of today’s paper. The stories are a mixed lot. Some are exciting, such as that newest discovery in the area of cancer research; others are sad, such as that plane crash; and some are very boring, such as the never ending debate between the Republican contenders. However, there is no mention about Jesus of Nazareth on that front page!
What we have in our hearts is more important than today’s front page since tomorrow that printed page will be meaningless. What is important is that on this Tuesday of Holy Week we grasp that we have the wonderful spiritual gift of being dramatically reminded of who we are and, more importantly, who we are in relationship to the God who created us and Jesus who has redeemed us. It is a quiet day during Holy Week but we need that quiet. We need time to think.
So skip the front page today and give some thought to opening the Gospel and reading the Gospel of St. John from beginning to end. It will take less than an hour. It is a wonderful way to lead into the rest of this week, which is so awesomely important to us.
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It is here, this wonderful awesome week that causes Christians around the world to pause and endeavor to go vicariously day-by-day and step-by-step through the same experiences that Jesus of Nazareth underwent in the last days of his public life. Today is Monday. We need to make plans now as to how we will use our time towards the end of the week. Check the parish schedule and try to fit some events into your schedule for the beautiful and joyous celebration of Holy Thursday. Live quietly through Good Friday when Christians around the world are remembering the death of the Lord. Finally prepare for the joyful celebration of the Resurrection, whether it be on Saturday night or Sunday morning.
Let’s move into this week knowing that we need to think, we need to pray, we need to be conscious of our own weaknesses and yet, at the same time, we need to celebrate the magnificent reality of our redemption, a redemption that we remember in a very special way during this HOLY week.
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Palm Sunday, April 1st
Today is Palm Sunday, the first day of a week that we have always called Holy. The Church makes use of a very simple external sign or symbol on Ash Wednesday to remind us that ultimately we will give an accounting for our lives here on earth. So today, it makes use of the simple sign of palm branches. Ash Wednesday should remind us of the shortness of life. Palm Sunday should remind us of the glorious, triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, a triumph that all of us are called to share when we go into eternal life and celebrate his eternal triumph as the Lord of history.
The Passion story of all four Gospel writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – will be read this week. It is a crucially important part of scripture, the bedrock of our faith, the cause of our salvation and our joy. So, the Gospel will be read today, twice in the middle of the week and again on Good Friday. This is a story that we should never cease studying and should never cease seeing it as a crucially important part of the personal lives of each and every one of us. Jesus Christ died, he died for you and me and his death is the key to eternal life and eternal joy.
With the Church across the world, let us enter into this holy week and try and draw as much spiritual benefit from it as we can.
Happy Palm Sunday.
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Catholics are famous for using “holy” water. When you enter one of their churches there are fountains at the door and the parishioners dip their fingers into that water and make a sign of the cross as they proceed into a place in the pews. When someone gets a special sacred object, such as a rosary or prayer book or missal, blessed, if it is convenient, the priest or deacon will sprinkle the object with water that was blessed back in Holy Week. The Catholics are all used to that but for those outside the Church it certainly seems strange. They ask the intelligent question, can water be holy?
The answer is yes and no. Yes, water is holy because everything that God has created is holy. Holiness merely means to be in some sense in union with God. For human beings, it is using the gift of free will correctly. In nature, it is just living according to a being’s nature. In that sense, every sunrise, sunset and flood is holy. Is water that is blessed by the Church holy in the sense of being better than other water? Not at all. Its substance, its physical makeup is in no way changed. It is just that it has been set aside for a special…holy…purpose.
The essential aspect of holy water is that we use it with the sign of the cross to remind us of our baptism, that day years ago when, either by the decision of our parents and sponsors or by we ourselves, we turned and committed ourselves to Jesus Christ, to faith in him, to walk in his footsteps and to live by his teachings. I am willing to admit that many Catholics don’t think about that as they come tripping into Church a little bit late, dip that hand, splash that water, make a fast sign of the cross, genuflect and get on their knees. All of those gestures reflect at least an explicit desire for holiness. It is just that the Church would like us to do them a little more slowly, a little more thoughtfully and with a little greater appreciation of what they stand for and symbolize.
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