Palm Sunday

April 9, 2014 by  
Filed under Catholic Commentary

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Palm Sunday is the great doorway leading into Holy Week, the week when the Lord Jesus makes his way towards the culmination of his earthly existence. He goes up to Jerusalem in order to fulfil the Scriptures and to be nailed to the wood of the Cross, the throne from which he will reign for ever, drawing to himself humanity of every age and offering to all the gift of redemption. We know from the Gospels that Jesus had set out towards Jerusalem in company with the Twelve, and that little by little a growing crowd of pilgrims had joined them. Saint Mark tells us that as they were leaving Jericho, there was a “great multitude” following Jesus (cf. 10:46).

 

On the final stage of the journey, a particular event stands out, one which heightens the sense of expectation of what is about to unfold and focuses attention even more sharply upon Jesus. Along the way, as they were leaving Jericho, a blind man was sitting begging, Bartimaeus by name. As soon as he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing, he began to cry out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mk 10:47). People tried to silence him, but to no avail; until Jesus had them call him over and invited him to approach. “What do you want me to do for you?”, he asked. And the reply: “Master, let me receive my sight” (v. 51). Jesus said: “Go your way, your faith has made you well.” Bartimaeus regained his sight and began to follow Jesus along the way (cf. v. 52). And so it was that, after this miraculous sign, accompanied by the cry “Son of David”, a tremor of Messianic hope spread through the crowd, causing many of them to ask: this Jesus, going ahead of us towards Jerusalem, could he be the Messiah, the new David? And as he was about to enter the Holy City, had the moment come when God would finally restore the Davidic kingdom?

The preparations made by Jesus, with the help of his disciples, serve to increase this hope. As we heard in today’s Gospel (cf. Mk 11:1-10), Jesus arrives in Jerusalem from Bethphage and the Mount of Olives, that is, the route by which the Messiah was supposed to come. From there, he sent two disciples ahead of him, telling them to bring him a young donkey that they would find along the way. They did indeed find the donkey, they untied it and brought it to Jesus. At this point, the spirits of the disciples and of the other pilgrims were swept up with excitement: they took their coats and placed them on the colt; others spread them out on the street in Jesus’ path as he approached, riding on the donkey. Then they cut branches from the trees and began to shout phrases from Psalm 118, ancient pilgrim blessings, which in that setting took on the character of messianic proclamation: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!” (v. 9-10). This festive acclamation, reported by all four evangelists, is a cry of blessing, a hymn of exultation: it expresses the unanimous conviction that, in Jesus, God has visited his people and the longed-for Messiah has finally come. And everyone is there, growing in expectation of the work that Christ will accomplish once he has entered the city.

But what is the content, the inner resonance of this cry of jubilation? The answer is found throughout the Scripture, which reminds us that the Messiah fulfils the promise of God’s blessing, God’s original promise to Abraham, father of all believers: “I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you … and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves” (Gen12:2-3). It is the promise that Israel had always kept alive in prayer, especially the prayer of the Psalms. Hence he whom the crowd acclaims as the blessed one is also he in whom the whole of humanity will be blessed. Thus, in the light of Christ, humanity sees itself profoundly united and, as it were, enfolded within the cloak of divine blessing, a blessing that permeates, sustains, redeems and sanctifies all things.

Here we find the first great message that today’s feast brings us: the invitation to adopt a proper outlook upon all humanity, on the peoples who make up the world, on its different cultures and civilizations. The look that the believer receives from Christ is a look of blessing: a wise and loving look, capable of grasping the world’s beauty and having compassion on its fragility. Shining through this look is God’s own look upon those he loves and upon Creation, the work of his hands. We read in the Book of Wisdom: “But thou art merciful to all, for thou canst do all things, and thou dost overlook men’s sins, that they may repent. For thou lovest all things that exist and hast loathing for none of the things which thou hast made … thou sparest all things, for they are thine, O Lord who lovest the living” (11:23-24, 26).

Let us return to today’s Gospel passage and ask ourselves: what is really happening in the hearts of those who acclaim Christ as King of Israel? Clearly, they had their own idea of the Messiah, an idea of how the long-awaited King promised by the prophets should act. Not by chance, a few days later, instead of acclaiming Jesus, the Jerusalem crowd will cry out to Pilate: “Crucify him!”, while the disciples, together with others who had seen him and listened to him, will be struck dumb and will disperse. The majority, in fact, was disappointed by the way Jesus chose to present himself as Messiah and King of Israel. This is the heart of today’s feast, for us too. Who is Jesus of Nazareth for us? What idea do we have of the Messiah, what idea do we have of God? It is a crucial question, one we cannot avoid, not least because during this very week we are called to follow our King who chooses the Cross as his throne. We are called to follow a Messiah who promises us, not a facile earthly happiness, but the happiness of heaven, divine beatitude. So we must ask ourselves: what are our true expectations? What are our deepest desires, with which we have come here today to celebrate Palm Sunday and to begin our celebration of Holy Week?

Dear young people, present here today, this, in a particular way, is your Day, wherever the Church is present throughout the world. So I greet you with great affection! May Palm Sunday be a day of decision for you, the decision to say yes to the Lord and to follow him all the way, the decision to make his Passover, his death and resurrection, the very focus of your Christian lives. It is the decision that leads to true joy, as I reminded you in this year’s World Youth Day Message – “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4). So it was for Saint Clare of Assisi when, on Palm Sunday 800 years ago, inspired by the example of Saint Francis and his first companions, she left her father’s house to consecrate herself totally to the Lord. She was eighteen years old and she had the courage of faith and love to decide for Christ, finding in him true joy and peace.

Dear brothers and sisters, may these days call forth two sentiments in particular: praise, after the example of those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with their “Hosanna!”, and thanksgiving, because in this Holy Week the Lord Jesus will renew the greatest gift we could possibly imagine: he will give us his life, his body and his blood, his love. But we must respond worthily to so great a gift, that is to say, with the gift of ourselves, our time, our prayer, our entering into a profound communion of love with Christ who suffered, died and rose for us. The early Church Fathers saw a symbol of all this in the gesture of the people who followed Jesus on his entry into Jerusalem, the gesture of spreading out their coats before the Lord. Before Christ – the Fathers said – we must spread out our lives, ourselves, in an attitude of gratitude and adoration. As we conclude, let us listen once again to the words of one of these early Fathers, Saint Andrew, Bishop of Crete: “So it is ourselves that we must spread under Christ’s feet, not coats or lifeless branches or shoots of trees, matter which wastes away and delights the eye only for a few brief hours. But we have clothed ourselves with Christ’s grace, or with the whole Christ … so let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet … let us offer not palm branches but the prizes of victory to the conqueror of death. Today let us too give voice with the children to that sacred chant, as we wave the spiritual branches of our soul: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel’” (PG 97, 994). Amen!

Pope Benedict XVI

Ash Wednesday

March 5, 2014 by  
Filed under Catholic Commentary


My most favorite quote from the Psalmist is:  O God, You are my God, whom I seek.  For You my flesh pines and my soul thirsts, like a dry weary land without water.

Are you hungry for God and do you thirst for his holiness? God wants to set our hearts ablaze with the fire of his Holy Spirit that we may share in his holiness and radiate the joy of the gospel to those around us. St. Augustine of Hippo tells us that there are two kinds of people and two kinds of love: “One is holy, the other is selfish. One is subject to God; the other endeavors to equal Him.” We are what we love. God wants to free our hearts from all that would keep us captive to selfishness and sin. “Rend your hearts and not your garments” says the prophet Joel (Joel 2:12). The Holy Spirit is ever ready to transform our hearts and to lead us further in God’s way of truth and holiness.

Why did Jesus single out prayer, fasting, and almsgiving for his disciples? The Jews considered these three as the cardinal works of the religious life. These were seen as the key signs of a pious person, the three great pillars on which the good life was based. Jesus pointed to the heart of the matter. Why do you pray, fast, and give alms—to draw attention to yourself so that others may notice and think highly of you—or to give glory to God? The Lord warns his disciples of self-seeking glory – the preoccupation with looking good and seeking praise from others. True piety is something more than feeling good or looking holy. True piety is loving devotion to God. It is an attitude of awe, reverence, worship and obedience. It is a gift and working of the Holy Spirit that enables us to devote our lives to God with a holy desire to please him in all things (Isaiah 11:1-2).

What is the sure reward which Jesus points out to his disciples? It is communion with God our Father. In him alone we find the fullness of life, happiness, and truth. The Lord wants to renew us each day and give us new hearts of love and compassion. Do you want to grow in your love for God and for your neighbor? Seek him expectantly in prayer, with fasting, and in generous giving to those in need.

The forty days of Lent is the annual retreat of the people of God in imitation of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. Forty is a significant number in the scriptures. Moses went to the mountain to seek the face of God for forty days in prayer and fasting. The people of Israel were in the wilderness for forty years in preparation for their entry into the Promised Land.  Elijah fasted for forty days as he journeyed in the wilderness to the mountain of God. We are called to journey with the Lord in a special season of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and penitence as we prepare to celebrate the feast of Easter, the Christian Passover. The Lord gives us spiritual food and supernatural strength to seek his face and to prepare ourselves for spiritual combat and testing. We, too, must follow in the way of the cross in order to share in the victory of Christ’s death and resurrection. As we begin this holy season of testing and preparation, let’s ask the Lord for a fresh outpouring of his Holy Spirit that we may grow in faith, hope, and love and embrace his will more fully in our lives.

Let this be our prayer today and every day during Lent: “Lord Jesus, give us a lively faith, a firm hope, a fervent charity, and a deeper love of you. Take from us all lukewarmness in our meditation on your word, and all dullness in prayer. Give us fervor and delight in thinking of You and your grace, and fill us with compassion for others, especially those in need—that we may always respond with generosity.”

Salt & Light

February 9, 2014 by  
Filed under Catholic Commentary

 

Many years ago when I was in graduate seminary, there was a very wise man who taught us psychology and counseling. His name was Dr. Saverio Laudadio.  He held by a certain principle that he tried to pass along to those of us studying for the priesthood: If you want to be happy, stop worrying and fussing about being happy and get along to the task of being fulfilled: serve your community, deepen your understanding through reading and study, and above all do the work of the Church. First do something that fulfills you and happiness will take care of itself; will flow from such pursuits.

Happiness is a byproduct of fulfillment.  So don’t concentrate so much on being happy as much as seeking a life that fulfills you by becoming engaged in service to the world around you— a truly wise principle to live by.

This same principle can be applied to the spiritual life as well.  Do you want to be holy?  Stop fussing so much about your holiness and get going with the task of discipleship.  Discipleship requires that you learn to pray, read and study to deepen your understanding, and above all, perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  Discipleship is all about announcing, proclaiming and evangelizing, taking care of the poor, and doing what Christ calls you to do.  In so doing, we become holy behind our own backs.  Holiness tends to take care of itself because it is a product of God’s grace.  The divine life of God works within us and transforms us as we live out the gospel message.

My thoughts are inspired by today’s gospel passage: 

You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world; you are a city set on a mountain.

Salt, light, and a city…what do we notice about these three things?  They all exist for the good of something outside of themselves.  Salt—what does salt do?—it was added to meat to preserve it in Jesus time; it was and is added to enhance the flavor of food.  With regard to the Church, we are not meant to fuss about ourselves, but rather we, as Church, are meant to spice up the world and to preserve what is good and right and true in the world.  Like salt, we exist for the good of what exists outside of the Church.

What else can salt be used for?  Salt melts ice.  It makes things flow that are frozen.  The Church’s task, by being followers of Christ, is to loosen up a world that is frozen in its own self-regard and in its violent ways.  We are meant to have this melting influence on the world around us that it might flow in the direction of Christ and the kingdom of heaven.

Another way that salt was used in the ancient world was to salt the ground of a conquered nation so that nothing would grow in their fields again.  And so, salt has a destructive power.  Are we, as Christians meant to destroy certain things in the world?  Yes—we are to be a force against all manifestations of sin, all the ways in which human life is violated and discounted, all forms of hatred and violence, we are meant to interrupt them and get in their way.

We too are light!  Light illumines, not itself but those objects on which it shines.  So the Church’s purpose is not to look at itself, but to cast light on the world.  Light allows people to see and to move; it allows them to make their way.  That is why Jesus said: I am the light of the world; by His light people see what to do and where to go.  We, the Church, are meant to participate in His light; to illumine the paths of the world.

Light shines in dark places and illumines what is going on in them.  Salt is meant to interrupt and kill off certain things; and so light is meant to be shined into dark corners where hatred dwells, where violence festers, where old animosities and jealousies are still alive.  The Church’s job is to shed light where things need to be exposed for the good of the world.

Lastly, Jesus says we are a city set on a mountain.  In this we are meant to be a point of navigation.  A city set upon a mountain, bright and shining, we are meant to be a guide to all who can see it.  The world is guided to the safe harbor of the kingdom of heaven by remaining focused on the Church, a city set on a mountain.

But keep in mind, the Church is not raised up on the mountain to aggrandize itself and think of itself as great, to increase its own power, rather it is meant to be visible so that the world can see it and know it and guide their lives by it.

And now, here’s the devastating thing about this gospel; we must listen to it carefully.  What if the salt goes flat?  How can you restore its flavor?  It becomes good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.   Light hidden under a bushel basket serves no purpose at all.  What happens to us, the Church, when we lose our saltiness; when we put our light under a bushel basket?  We lose our whole purpose.  Once we lose saltiness, we lose our distinctiveness, our spicy particularity, our slightly annoying uniqueness.  When the Church simply blends in with the world, it no longer helps the world.  I repeat: when the Church simply blends in with world, it no longer helps the world and loses its mission to the world.  Once we look like everybody else and sound like everybody else; have all the same opinions and ideas as everybody else, then we are no longer what Christ intended us to be.  Then, who needs us?

The Church must hold on to its saltiness or it preserves nothing; it spices up nothing; it challenges no one, and upsets no one.  Then we have failed as a Church.  If we allow the din of public opinion, cultural and social dissolution to dim or put out our light, then we have failed as Church.  We’ve put our light under a bushel basket.  Then, we become as dark as everybody else.  We become as unfocused as everybody else.  We become a vague echo of the secular culture around us.  We are meant to look and sound differently.  If we are not, then we as Church have failed.  My brothers and sisters be salty, be light, be that city upon the mountain for the good of the world!!!

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

February 8, 2014 by  
Filed under Catholic Commentary

We celebrate the great feast of the Presentation of the Lord.  A few days after his birth in accordance with Jewish law, He is brought to the Temple for His circumcision and presentation.  In this His whole life is offered to God by Mary and Joseph.  The feast of the Presentation is a very “churchy” feast.  What I mean is that it is a feast that emphasizes church, liturgy, and ritual.  Our readings today reflect this churchiness.  The first reading speaks of sacrifice in the Temple—a ritual act by which God and humanity are linked.  The second reading from the letter to the Hebrews talks about Jesus as a priest.  A priest is someone who performs a ritual sacrifice.  So Jesus in his own person links together divinity and humanity; He is in His own being and person, a priest.  Then we hear our beautiful gospel taken from that familiar passage of St. Luke describing Joseph and Mary bringing Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem so that He might be consecrated to the Lord.  This Temple is for the people Israel the most sacred of places and they engage in this ancient ritual act circumcision, purification, and presentation.

When I was coming of age in the Church, in the late sixties and early seventies, there was a kind of reaction against liturgy.  There was more of a stress on the social action of the Church—the Church out in the world working on behalf of the poor and marginalized; working for social justice—and so getting out of the church was the preeminent value.  And there was consequently a tendency to underplay or devalue the liturgical, the ritual, and the churchy side of things.  In fact, people who loved to spend time in church were kind of poopooed a bit and looked down upon.

What is interesting is that there is a revival going on right now.  20something and 30something Catholics and other young Christians have developed a deep interest in liturgy, ritual, and the practices of the Church such as candles, processions, vestments, stained glass, incense, and ritual action.

Luke makes mention of the prophetess, Anna and Simeon the prophet—two people who spent almost their whole day in the Temple; they loved the Temple, its practices, customs, and rituals.  They remind me of those women in my childhood who would stay after Mass to pray the rosary, make the Stations of the Cross, and pray novenas.  Many of them were elderly widows praying for their families and friends.  They, like Anna and Simeon, gained much comfort from spending this time in church.   And so it seems that young people today are being drawn back to these churchy expressions.

What is the importance of all of this?  Why are the readings emphasizing it?  Why this feast day?  Why am I placing such stress on the liturgical life of the Church?—especially in light of the need for social justice and to get out into the world.  Love and Justice—liturgy is about love and about justice.  First love—when a young man is falling in love with a young woman, he tends to do odd and extravagant things.  He might send her flowers for a week.  He might write her a love poem—even if he is a lousy poet.  He might, if really extravagant, stand outside her window and sing her a love song.  People in love often do exaggerated and extravagant things to express their love.  As love begins to bubble up within you it goes beyond what ordinary language and gesture can express.  It moves into the artistic, the poetic, and extraordinary.  The liturgy and ritual are expressions of love—our love for God.  It is a love the rises up within us and becomes this extraordinary and flowery speech and gesture known as liturgy and ritual.  It takes form in stained glass windows, incense, poetic language and gesture.  When I walk in to celebrate the Mass I dress in these colorful, beautiful robes, I enter by way of a procession up the aisle surrounded by singing and I bow and kiss the altar.  All of these gestures are gestures of love.  And so this is how the Church expresses its love in these extravagant and extraordinary ways.

The second focus of the liturgy is Justice.  St. Thomas Aquinas said the liturgy is the act by which we render to God what is due to God.  That’s what justice is.  I am in a just relationship with you when I render to you all that I owe you.  My brothers and sisters, what do we owe God?  EVERYTHING!  Our being, our life, our breath, every thought we think, every desire we have.  We owe God everything.  God is our Creator and Redeemer.  What if we spend our whole lives and never thank God even once?—never praise God once.  Our lives would therefore be unjust!  We owe Him everything but pay him nothing in thanks and praise.  The liturgy is an act by which we thank and praise God and thereby render to God what is due to Him.

This may seem odd because for so long we haven’t emphasized it.  I regularly hear someone say, I go to Mass but I don’t get anything out of it—it’s kind of boring.  That’s unfortunate but the Mass is not meant to be entertainment.  The Mass is there as an act of Justice by which you render to God what you owe Him.  Whether you are in the mood or not; whether you are entertained or not, it is an act by which you are rendering to God justice.

Lest this sound like God is a calculating moneylender who’s waiting for us to pay Him back.  When we are just with regard to God; when we have presented ourselves properly in praise and thanks then we become just on the inside.  Our lives become properly ordered and are made right.  By way of the readings and prayers of Mass, we are reordering our way of thinking and acting according to God’s ways instead of the ways of the world.  There is no better way to prepare ourselves to go out into the world to work on behalf of the poor and marginalized, and to work for justice than what we do here in church through prayer and ritual.

At the Temple, Jesus was offered back to the Father by Joseph and Mary.  At the Mass, the priest offers Jesus back to the Father at the consecration on behalf of us all.  There is no greater act of thanks and praise from God’s people than the Mass with its prayers and rituals.  I pray that each and every one of us here present is in a just relationship with God on this feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

Catholic Commentary

August 26, 2013 by  
Filed under Catholic Commentary

 

Pope Francis: Christianity is a way of life, not a label

 

By Kerri Lenartowick

 

Vatican City, Aug 25, 2013 / 09:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his Sunday Angelus audience, Pope Francis emphasized the importance of truly living a Christian life rather than letting it become a superficial label.

 

“In the gospel, Jesus tells us that to be a Christian is not to have a ‘label’ but to live and testify to faith in prayer, in works of charity, in the promotion of justice, in doing good,” Pope Francis told the audience gathered in St. Peter’s Square Aug. 25.
Jesus himself is the way to a truly lived faith, explained the Pope.
Sunday’s gospel reading includes the story of a man who asks Jesus if there are few that will be saved.
“Jesus doesn’t respond directly to the question: it is not important to know how many will be saved, but above all it is important to know the way of salvation,” Pope Francis recounted. “Jesus tells us that there is a door to enter into the family of God. This door is Jesus.”

Jesus offers himself as the way of salvation to all.

“Everyone is invited to enter this door, to go through the door of faith, to enter into His life, and to allow Jesus into their lives, so that he may transform them, renew them, and give them full and lasting joy.”
The Pope went on to say that today there are many doors “inviting us to enter, promising instant happiness, which is an end in itself and has no future.”
But Jesus “shines a light in our lives that never goes out. It is more than just a flash.”
We must not be afraid to enter the door of faith in Jesus, encouraged Pope Francis. We must not be afraid “to let him enter more and more into our lives, to get out of our selfishness, our being closed off, our indifference towards others.”
This way of Jesus is “narrow” because “he asks us to open our heart to him, to recognize ourselves as sinners in need of his salvation, his forgiveness, his love, and to have the humility to accept his mercy and let us be renewed by him.”
The Pope led the crowds in the Angelus prayer. He then spoke of his concern for the continuing situation of violence in Syria.
“From the depths of my heart, I wish to express my closeness in prayer and solidarity to all the victims of this conflict, to all those who suffer, especially the children,” he said

“Let us pray together, ‘Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us’.”