Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Holy Week: Week of Decision

Through the liturgical rites of this week we will walk with Jesus in His sorrow, His fear, His death and His Paschal Victory. On Palm Sunday, we reenact His entry into Jerusalem where He encountered the growing hostility of the religious authorities.  While preparing for Passover, He attempted to open the minds of His disciples to the message of the Law and Prophets so they would understand that His death was the healing balm for a broken world and that He was about to offer His Father the ultimate sacrifice of praise.  This sacrifice is offered for us, for you and for me. He became a curse so that we might receive a blessing. He was condemned so we might be forgiven. He died so that we might have eternal life. If we humbly gaze upon the blood-stained cross and the abandoned burial clothes, we will be enabled to lay claim to the glory that is ours as the Children of God and heirs to the Heavenly Kingdom. 

Throughout Holy Week the Church re-proposes to the world the mysteries of salvation with the hope that we might renew our relationship with Christ. With the eyes of faith, we shall look upon Him Who was pierced for our sakes and come to know the depth of Divine Love that alone can fill the longing of our soul. Christ holds up to our gaze the cross with this understanding: If we embrace it with love, as He did, we will find the fullness of life. Jesus embraced the cross, and in His great love he transformed it into an instrument of grace and power with which He would recreate the world. By the blood of the cross he won for us our salvation. Now He invites us to surrender our own sufferings, our own limitations, disabilities and distress to Him and thereby share in His own redemptive love. 

Moved with pity by the miserable condition of His people, the Beloved Son of God came down from His majestic throne to seek out and find all who were lost. We have heard the phrase, “He died for us,” so many times that we tend to nod our heads and mumble, "Yah! I know." For some reason, the gospel message no longer shocks us. Because of our sophistication and technical advancements we are not overawed by the news that we are delivered from the power of death. It is important that we turn our gaze beyond the superficial and mundane. There we will enter into the broader realm of wonder and awe. Allowing ourselves to stand at the foot of Christ's cross, as if for the first time, we shall enter into the mystery of redeeming love and transforming grace.  

The Apostle Paul reminds us, God never ceases to show the richness of His mercy throughout the ages. The transformation of the heart that leads to the confession of sins is “God's gift”, it is “His work” (cf. Eph 2:8-10). To be touched with tenderness by His hand and shaped by His grace allows us to acknowledge our sins and to receive Divine Mercy. The Cross of Christ shows God's judgment on sin and His compassion towards sinners. Divine mercy, expressed at the terrible cost of the violent death of God’s Only Begotten Son, is worthily received when we choose to repent of our sins. The proof that God’s mercy was not wasted upon us is shown when we live our gratitude for mercy by striving after holiness with zeal and joy.  

On the cross Jesus took our guilt upon Himself. He bore the full consequences of our sin and set us free. With a tenderness that never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and start afresh. Jesus not only accompanies us but actually carries us on His shoulders, making it possible for us to imitate Him in carrying our cross. Rejected by the people, condemned by the religious leaders, executed by the civil authorities, naked and degraded, Jesus entered once and for all through the veil to become the sacrifice of atonement. The people who were defiled by the blood poured out in violence and unlawful sacrifice were purified by the blood of the Lamb that was slain. No one is excluded from the mercy of God. Everyone is offered access to it. The Church is the Household of God that welcomes all and refuses no one. The doors of the Church are wide open, so that all who desire it can find acceptance and forgiveness.  

Through the mystery of the Incarnation, the human race is united and, as it were, enfolded within the cloak of divine blessing, a blessing that permeates, sustains, redeems and sanctifies all things. In the face of saving grace, we cannot stand idly by. But we have respond to the call of divine love with our whole being. Only then can we enter into a profound communion of love with Christ Who suffered, died and rose for us and be transformed into Sons and Daughters of God in the Son. 

Holy Week was Jesus week of decision. It is also a week of decision for us. As disciples of the Lamb that was slain we must decide to love our enemies, count as our neighbors those who we think little of. Because Jesus is our Lord and Savior we must decide to give up the material things that offer us nothing but only drain us of real life. Because Jesus is our Lord and Redeemer we must decide to go where God calls us, follow where God leads us, no matter how inconvenient it is, how difficult it is, how painful it might be. We must decide to live life to the full and not as mere spectators. Lord Jesus you died and rose for love of us, help us to live and die for love of You. Amen. 
--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO

Holy Week Helps

During Holy Week we are reminded of what we are commemorating, the very love that Christ has for us, the great love of God who was so good to us that he experienced a cruel death out of love for each and every one of us. The Gospel of the Passion tells us what it is that the Lord suffered for us during these great events and how they affected us as Christians to this day. So we see the Last Supper. We see Good Friday and the death of the Lord on the cross. And ultimately, once the stone is rolled across the tomb, we await the Resurrection.

And so we see two Passovers. Remember the Passover that the Jews were to celebrate at the time of these Passion events. Why was everyone going to Jerusalem? It was to prepare for this great feast where the Jewish people commemorated the Passover by slaughtering the Passover Lamb. Remember the first Passover? The angel of death passed over the homes where the blood of that lamb marked the lintel of the home and the first born was saved. From that event, the people of Israel exited Egypt, exited their slavery through the Red Sea to go to the Promised Land. That was the first Passover.

The Gospel of the Passion discusses a second Passover. At this Passover so many years later we see a new lamb, the Lamb of God, that unblemished lamb whose sacrifice we partake of, who has washed us in his blood. Once the blood of that Lamb enters our souls, we also will be saved. Not only will the firstborn be saved, the firstborn of God, the people of Israel, but now all people can be saved, all people who partake of the lamb have that ability. We the Gentiles can be saved because we been marked with the blood of that Lamb, the blood of Christ who died for us.

During Holy Week, we enter into these great mysteries just as the Jews did. They did not merely remember these past events but they also entered into them as something that is still happening in their lives and we do the same. The sacred rites that we celebrate this week are outward signs of a reality that we continually partake in. We continually partake in Holy Thursday when we participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We continually partake of Good Friday when we receive the Eucharist. We are  washed in the Blood of Christ in the confessional. We continually partake of the passion, death, and resurrection of the Lord every time we come to Mass. This is not just a past event. It is an event that should have an effect on us every day. So this week is set aside as holy, to be holy, and we should make this week holy for ourselves.

 Make this week a remembrance of Christ’s Passion. Do things differently. Allow Christ to enter your normal schedule, to interrupt your normal life so that you might pray more, have more time for quiet. Turn off the TV. Silence the phone. Just think. What if you did not listen to a single ounce of news this week? No newspaper. No CNN. You wouldn’t need any more Prozac! But, too, you will be recognizing that there are many events that happen throughout the world, but none of them are more important than the event of Christ’s Passion, death and resurrection. Let us make that truth a priority this week. Make it a priority to enter into this Holy Week with more silence, more prayer, more introspection, more church. Why? Because we need this. We need this intense week of holiness to remind us for the rest of the year that the sacrifice of Christ is more important than anything else in the world. If Christ did not die for you, your life would be nothing. Death would still have power over you. If Christ did not die for you, you would not have grace. If Christ did not die for you, you would not have heaven. If Christ did not die for you, you would be worthless. But because Christ died for you, you have grace in this world, and you have heaven in the next world. Your nature has been exalted above even that of the Angels. Why? Because Christ died for you. Let us show him how much we love him by our actions this Holy Week.

--Father Jacob Meyer,Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Synagoga and Ecclesia: Old and New Covenant of God

One of my favorite topics in the seminary was Second Temple Cultic Rituals of the Jewish People. When we talk about the word cultic it means ritual not just crazy people gathered together drinking Kool-Aid. In the time of Jesus, the temple had all the sacrifices for different purposes. Some sacrifices were of sheep or goats or bulls or grain. Some were libations of wine. The Jews did all these different sacrifices in order to maintain the covenant or to repair the covenant that was broken so often. It was broken so often that it broke the heart of God! 

Our Lord gave himself to the people of the Old Testament time and time and time again only to have this covenant be broken. And remember this is not a contract. A contract is just a legally binding thing. There are conditions X, Y, and Z that you have to meet. A covenant is a giving of oneself. It is like marriage. Marriage is a covenant not a contract.” If you do not do the dishes every single night after dinner, I am out of here.” That is a contract. That is not how marriage works. A covenant is a giving of oneself. 

Blessed Virgin Mary Holding Christ in Doorway of Strausbourg Cathedral

The art of the church helps us to understand the covenant of God. In the Cathedral of Strausbourg is one of my favorite statuary pieces. It is in the main entrance way. The Cathedral of Strausbourg is a stunning Cathedral with a big arch and big carvings in Strausbourg, France. The central image is the Blessed Mother holding out the Christ Child. Our Blessed Mother is the gate to the life of grace in many ways, for she is the one through whom Christ into the world, so she is there offering her Son to the world. 

Statue of Synagoga at the Strausbourg Cathedral

But on either side, on the pillars, are two statues, one of Synagoga (synagogue) and the other Ecclesia (the Church). The old covenant and the new, the Old Testament and the New Testament. Both are beautiful women. Beautiful. Dressed beautifully. Both obviously made splendid in the eyes of God. But the statue of Synagoga has a light veil across her eyes, blinding her. And although she is dressed regally, she carries a spear that has been snapped in several places, and she is holding onto that spear even though it is broken. 

Statue of Ecclesia at the Strausbourg Cathedral

And then you look at the statue Ecclesia, the Church and she is crowned and she has a mantle upon her and she is clutching a cross but the veil lays not over her eyes but over her hand, that hand which clutches the cross. Why? Because ultimately the covenant of the New Testament, the covenant that was brought by Jesus Christ, is not the covenant that is made by the agreement of the people of God with God himself. There are indeed agreements between God and us at our baptism, but our baptism cannot be broken by our sin. Why? Because the covenant is not by our blood or the blood of lambs or goats or by wine or grain, but it is the covenant of Jesus Christ and HIS blood. While we in the Church cling to the cross of Christ, and while we in the Church are incorporated into that covenant through baptism, it is not a covenant that is dependent upon our actions. No sin that we can commit will break that covenant because the covenant is wrought in the Blood of Christ. It is eternal. It is never ending. It cannot be broken. And so that is the symbolism behind the veil on the hand of the Church. While we cling to it, it is not ours. We cling to the cross of Christ, but it is not us that makes this covenant worthwhile. It is Christ. 

A lot of people look at the statues and say that we are down on the Jews, but that is not what it is at all. The statues are to be a reminder to us. How often do we, who have been incorporated into the Church by baptism, act like that statue of Synagoga? We act as though we cling to a broken spear, to our former ways which have broken our relationship with God time and time again, although they have not broken the covenant. But we have broken our relationship with God through sin and for some reason, we still cling to those sins. We are still blindfolded to the fact that we need to recognize our sin and turn away from it. We still prefer darkness. We do not understand the words that Jesus speaks in the Gospel, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground it remains just a grain of wheat but if it dies it produces much fruit.” We cling to our grain of wheat that is ourselves, our little protective wall. “I am going to keep my grain of wheat, and I am going to have control over it. I am not going to let God have it because it is mine, and I am not going to let anything touch it, and I am not going to suffer.” 

That statue of Synagoga represents us clinging to something that is less than what God wants us to have. While the statue of Synagoga is beautiful, all she needs to be crowned is to reach up and remove the veil. It seems so simple. There is nothing keeping her from it. She is not a slave. She is not bound. She is free. And so are we. We need to reach up and remove the veil which is our blindness in our hearts to Christ, our blindness to our sin. Confession is the way that we do that. We have to die to ourselves. We cannot have control even over our own lives. We must allow God to have control. We need to make the right choices so that we do not need to worry about when the time is right. We let God worry about us. It is not us but God working through us that frees us. It is God keeping his covenant.

--Father Jacob Meyer

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Rise up in Spendor! Your Light Has Come

The word Epiphany means a showing, a manifestation. Our thoughts go back to the feast of Christmas. There we commemorated God the Father giving himself to us in his only Son. St. John the Evangelist  put it so beautifully in his Gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but will have eternal life.” So everyone of us, every single member of the human race, was in danger of perishing, of eternal separation from God, from the life of the Blessed Trinity and and separation from heaven. And so God, in his infinite love, gives up his only Son. So we are reminded over and over again about the infinite love of God for each and every one of us, whether saint or sinner, whether Jew or Gentile, God shows no partiality. It is the will of God that everyone should be saved. Everyone without exception. God wants everyone to come to know him, to come to enjoy the abundant life, to enjoy that eternal life which we can begin here and now. Eternal life means participation in God’s very life. And eternal life does not mean that we have to wait until we die to begin to experience God’s life in our hearts, in our life, in our minds. 

So we are reminded of that gift of God. And as with every gift, there is also a task. Everyone who has been given a gift has also been entrusted with a task, a mission. So love of God is both a gift and a task. It is a gift and a talent. We have been given the gift of Christ. We have been given the gift of faith. We have been given the knowledge of God’s unconditional, unending love for each and every one of us. So we are reminded about our task, about our mission. 

God sends us a wake-up call. Isaiah says, “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem.” Let us insert our name here. “Rise up in splendor, Sally!” “Rise up in splendor, Sam!” He is calling each one of us. “Rise up in splendor! Your light has come!” Do not be sleeping! Do not hold onto the gift you have been given! Do not keep it to yourself! Rise up in splendor! Your light has come!  Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount, “You are the light of the world. So let your light shine before men and so that seeing your good works they may give glory to God.” So we who have been given this gift of Christ, who carry this gift of the light of Christ, are called to shine this light wherever we are placed. In the workplace. In our homes. In our schools. On the national level. Every Christian has got this commission to shine the light of Christ. So rise up in splendor! Your light has come! The glory of the Lord shines upon you. 

And sometimes we forget that. At times we think that we are too simple, too unworthy for the Lord to shine through us. But Isaiah tells us that darkness covers the earth, and why is that? Why this urgency to rise up in splendor? Because darkness covers the earth. Thick clouds cover the people. Look at the world. The world is filled with lies and corruption. The world is immersed in the darkness of sin. God wants to make you an instrument. And he wants to make you a conduit of his grace. And a conduit of his salvation. He is calling you to be a light in the world which is covered in darkness for upon you the Lord shines and over you appears his glory. 

Someone who understood this call was St. John Paul II. He understood this call to rise up in splendor. Isaiah says, “Nations shall walk in your brightness and kings by your shining radiance.” We must realize the gift of God that we have, that we have been entrusted with. And if you and I were to cooperate with God’s grace, then nations shall walk by our light. John Paul II’s life and testimony was such that nations walked by his light. 

As Pope,  John Paul II made a visit to his native Poland and on the last day of his visit, there was an outdoor Mass. Approximately 2 million people attended that Mass. In and during the Mass St. John Paul II extended his hands over everyone there and he quoted Scripture. He said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Over 2 million Christians gathered together and he quoted Christ, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Jesus said, after his resurrection, to the apostles, “Peace be with you. Receive the Holy Spirit.” And he was gone.  

I now quote to you from St. Paul, “Do not quench the Holy Spirit. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit.” My dear brothers and sisters, be strong! You must be strong! You must be strong in this strength that your faith gives you! Do not be discouraged. Never detach yourselves from Christ. St. Paul reminds Timothy, “I exhort you to stir into flame the gift that you received at the imposition of my hands.” This is what St. John Paul II did during his Mass. He stirred into flame the gift of God that those people had. It was not the gift of fear or timidity that the people received but the gifts of power and love and self-control. These are the gifts that you and I have each received. So we need to revive and turn into flame these gifts. And we do this by quoting Scripture. We should read Scripture every day and then we will see the Scriptures come alive and will begin to transform our lives. “Rise up in splendor! Your Light has come! Stir into flame the Spirit you have received. Go out and bring light into the darkness.”

--Father James Kumbakeel