Monday, April 14, 2014

4/17/2014 – Holy Thursday – 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-15

      Last week, I received an email from Riley Manning, the religious reporter for the Tupelo Daily Journal.  This is one of the questions he asked me: For those who may not know, what is Holy Week and why is it important?
A. In answering that question, I paraphrased a quote from Pope Benedict XVI, who stated that during Holy Week, we Christians reenact, relive, and share in the mystery of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. In many ways, the events of Holy Week tell us what our faith is all about. 
      We find ourselves commemorating Holy Thursday today in the middle of Holy Week.  One event of significance we have in our Holy Thursday liturgy is the establishment of the Eucharist for us as followers of Christ.  Paul tells us the simple and profound words of Jesus during the Passover that he celebrates with his disciples: “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  In those words, Jesus gives us the gift of the Eucharist and the mandate that goes with it as well.  Paul goes on to say: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”
      Perhaps it is the washing of the feet of the twelve representatives of our community of faith, representing Christ’s disciples, that helps explains to us what the Eucharist means to us and how we are to live out our lives of faith in the mandate Jesus gives to us.  Last year at this Holy Thursday mass, Pope Francis, who had recently been elected pope, made headlines all over the world for what he did.  Normally, the pope celebrates Holy Thursday at one of the major basilicas in Rome, either St Peter or St John Lateran.   The pope usually washes the feet of 12 priests during the mass, symbolizing the 12 apostles.  However, last year, he visited a youth prison for the Holy Thursday celebration, bathing the feet of 12 inmates, which included 2 women and 2 Muslims.  That was the first time that women had ever been included in the foot washing ceremony on Holy Thursday as celebrated by a pope.  This evening, we will have the foot washing of 12 representatives of our community of faith.  However, all of us present today should feel Jesus washing our feet. Perhaps some of us feel resistance in our lives of faith right now.  Perhaps we are resistant to have Jesus wash our feet just as Peter was resistant.  Perhaps we don’t want Jesus to wash our feet, to give himself to us, to let him be servant for various reasons.  Perhaps we want our independence: to live according to our own laws and the laws of man rather than the laws of God.  Perhaps we don’t want to admit that we need to healed or saved or washed.  Or perhaps we don’t feel worthy.  Perhaps this year during Holy Week, God is calling us to name that part of ourselves that we need to surrender to him, that we need Jesus to love and to embrace, to wash and to clean. 
       Jesus gives us a mandate in the Gospel as he washing the feet of his apostles in a show of servanthood – to follow his model and to do for our brothers and sisters what Jesus has done for us.  The Gospel tells us that Jesus loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.  We are to love in the same way.  As Jesus washes our feet today, we are to feel love and gratitude in our hearts .  The way we approach the Eucharist and to live out the Eucharist, both today and everyday, is to flow out of that love and gratitude.
      Today we enter into the three days of liturgies before Easter – it is called the Triduum.  As we celebrate Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday together as a community of faith here at St James, let us see these three days of holy liturgies as a single prayer of final preparation as we enter into the redemption of humanity and the salvation of the world that is made present in the death and Resurrection of our Lord.  

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Reflections on the Way of the Cross

At St James Catholic Church this year, I made a very strong appeal for members to come to the Stations of the Cross this year.  We had a wonderful turnout this year – between 150 and 200 individuals joining us to pray the Stations of the Cross each week, both in Spanish and in English. Our wonderful Junior High Youth Group led the stations last night – a big thank you to them and to their advisors Ms. Dawn and Ms. Laine for a great job!  Here are some closing reflections from the Conclusion to the stations that we prayed last night – they are a wonderful commentary on our Lenten Journey:

We have walked the way of the cross with Jesus during Lent.  We have explored his way of love.  We did not do this just to remember events that happened in the past, but rather we did this to transform the way we live today.  Now we are challenged to change the way we walk on this earth.  We are challenged to walk with love by being people of responsibility, acceptance, faith, commitment, humility, compassion, friendship, selflessness, endurance, simplicity, forgiveness, trust, openness, and hope,  May God’s grace guide us on our journey of faith.  We ask this through the Holy Spirit, and through the salvation we receive through Christ Our Lord.  AMEN.

Questions regarding Holy Week

The religion reporter for the local newspaper asked me some questions regarding Holy Week.  Here are my answers.

(1) For those who may not know, what is Holy Week and why is it important?
Holy Week is the last week in Lent, starting with Palm Sunday.  During Holy Week, Christians reenact, relive, and share in the mystery of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. In many ways, the events of Holy Week tell us what our faith is all about.

(2) What is the purpose of the somewhat somber tone the Church takes in
the weeks leading up to Easter?
      Lent is a penitential season of preparation.  It is 40 days with Jesus in the desert.  Lent begins with the faithful receiving a smudge of ash of their foreheads, as they are told: "Repent and believe in the Gospel."  We accompany Jesus on his way to the cross, on his way to his passion, death, and resurrection.  The Church calls us to practice the Lenten disciplines of fasting, prayer, and acts of charity.  Without this period of preparation, without the somber and serious tone of this season, the celebrations of Easter would not have its full meaning for the faithful. The somber tone of Jesus' way to the cross is in contrast to the joy of the resurrection at Easter. Here at St James Catholic Church in Tupelo, we have had the theme during Lent of "Seeking God in All Things".  This theme reminds us that God is there with us in all the experiences of our lives - we just need to be cognizant of his presence.

(3) What are some of the rituals/traditions involved with Holy Week, and
how did they get started?
       Holy Week observances began in Jerusalem in the earliest days of the Church. Christians would travel to Jerusalem at Passover time to reenact the events of the week leading up to the Resurrection.  One Palm Sunday afternoon, groups of early Christians would wave palm fronds as they made a procession from the Mount of Olives into the city of Jerusalem.  At our Catholic church here in Tupelo, we wave palm fronds in a procession as we enter the church on Palm Sunday as we hear the Gospel reading of Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem and as we read the Passion narrative from the Gospel of Matthew.
      On Tuesday, all of the priests from our Diocese travel with other members of our parishes to the Cathedral in Jackson where we celebrate the Chrism mass.  The priests renew their promise of obedience to the bishop and receive the oils from him that we use in the different sacraments throughout the year.  The tradition of the Chrism mass can be traced at least as early as the 5th century.  It manifests the unity of the priests and the faithful with their bishop.  I will be making the journey to Jackson with the priest from New Albany and the lay ecclesial minister from Booneville to join in the celebration of the Chrism mass.
       On Holy Thursday, we celebrate a special Mass of the Lord’s Supper, commemorating the institution of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper. On the night before Jesus Christ was crucified, he changed bread and wine into his own Body and Blood, and he commanded the Apostles and their successors to act in his stead and make present this sacrifice in the mass. The priest washes the feet of twelve parishioners in this mass as a symbol of servanthood with Christ as our model as he washed the feet of the twelve apostles.  At the end of the mass, the Eucharist is removed from the tabernacle and the church is emptied of candles and lines to ready it for the commemoration of Christ's crucifixion on Good Friday.
      On Good Friday, the faithful gather for the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion. In this tradition, which includes reading the Gospel narrative of Christ's passion, the people also venerate the cross, in which the faithful process to the front of the altar, reverencing the crucifix with a kiss, a bow, a touch, or other gesture of dignity and respect. At St James, one of popular devotions on Good Friday afternoon is a re-enactment of the live Stations of the Cross on the grounds of our church, with members of both our English and Spanish speaking communities re-enacting the fifteen stations of Jesus' journey to the cross.  It concludes around 3:00, the time that Jesus died on Good Friday.
      The Easter Vigil mass on Holy Saturday is the highlight of the Church's liturgical year, recognizing Christ's resurrection and the salvation we have in him.  The mass starts after sundown and begins with the lighting of the Easter fire, symbolizing the light of Christ in the world coming out of his resurrection.  The Exsultet, an Easter proclamation, is sung at the beginning of mass.  The priest blesses the baptismal waters in the baptismal font, with all the faithful present receiving a special blessing with the holy water.  At this mass, adults who have been preparing for entrance in the Church all year receive the sacraments of baptism, Eucharist, and confirmation, a tradition that began in the early Church.  This tradition was revived in the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Holy Week concludes with the celebration of mass on Easter morning with the celebration of Christ's resurrection.

Friday, April 11, 2014

4/13/2014 – Domingo de Ramos – Mateo 26,14 – 27,66

      Escuchamos una meditación muy larga de la palabra de Dios en la Pasión de Jesucristo esta tarde.  Para escuchar la proclamación de la Pasión de nuestro Señor del Evangelio de San Mateo, es importante para imaginar nuestra presencia en este lugar con Jesucristo y con la muchedumbre, en las calles y los barrios de Jerusalén.  Como seguidores de Jesucristo, somos participantes y espectadores como los demás. 
      En la narración de nuestro Evangelio, muchas personas han tomado muchas decisiones en sus vidas de fe – muchas decisiones para muchos razones.   Jesús tomó la decisión para seguir su camino a la cruz, para seguir la voluntad de Dios, para reconocer su identidad como el Hijo de Dios.  Jesús conocía que era un camino peligroso, un camino de mucho dolor.  Pero, nuestro Señor tomó su decisión en el amor y la compasión que tenía para nosotros, para todo el mundo. 
      Afuera de Jesús, había otras personas en las calles de Jerusalén este día.  Ellos hicieron decisiones sobre su fe y su destino.  Judas tomó una decisión para ser traidor a su Maestro.  Judas podía tener muchas razones para justificar su decisión, pero había un elección humana por su parte.  Y Pedro, la piedra, decidió negar al Señor tres veces, decisiones humanas también.  Poncio Pilato tuvo una decisión, y en esta decisión, Pilato firmó la sentencia de muerte de Jesucristo.
     Nosotros tenemos decisiones y elecciones humanas cada día en nuestro camino de fe – decisiones y elecciones grandes y pequeñas. Podemos seguir los valores de nuestra fe católica.  Podemos seguir el camino de la cruz con Jesús, el camino de salvación.   O podemos negar el amor de Jesucristo en nuestra vida, podemos destruir la confianza que nuestros hermanos en Cristo tenemos en nosotros.  Podemos tener solidaridad con Cristo y su cruz, o podemos vivir afuera de su camino.  Es nuestra decisión.  Hoy, entramos en la Semana Santa.  Es una experiencia muy profunda en nuestra vida de fe.  Vamos a aceptar esta invitación para acompañar a Nuestro Señor en su camino a la cruz.  Y con nuestro camino esta Semana Santa, podemos tener gozo con nuestro Señor en la resurrección de Pascua. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

4/15/2014 – Tuesday of Holy Week – John 13:21-33, 36-38

        We are now in the middle of Holy Week as we continue our journey toward Easter.  The Gospel story today may be a bit disconcerting to hear.  Lent is a time when we focus upon repentance and conversion, when we become more aware of the sins we have in our lives.  Lent is a time that helps us focus on those human weaknesses that we need to address in our lives. Today's Gospel is a foreshadowing of the human weakness that allow Peter and Judas to fall into sin, to miss the mark, to betray Jesus. 
         Judas and Peter find themselves in challenging situations.  I wonder, how do we respond to God when we are challenged, when we find ourselves in difficult situations?  Many of us may try to avoid such a troubling situation altogether, which may be a natural human response.  Judas and Peter were two men who were very close to Jesus, yet they turn away and do him wrong. To be sure, Judas and Peter were in life threatening circumstances just by associating with Jesus.  They were concerned about how the authorities would respond to Jesus and his disciples.  They may have felt pressure from the religious authorities in Jerusalem.  They may have had little time to reflect and pray about their reaction and the choice of actions they could take. 
         Yet, the events we hear today are an integral part of Jesus' passion narrative.  We understand these events in the light of Jesus' death and resurrection, in the light of the salvation which Jesus brings us.  We understand these events through the presence of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus sent among us.  These are the events that give us hope as we struggle through our own human weaknesses in life, as we struggle with all that keeps us from God and that weigh us down on our journey. 

         Let us pray for a greater understanding of the events that lead to Jesus' journey to the cross, for a greater understanding of those human weaknesses that we struggle to overcome as we walk with Jesus. 

4/16/2014 – Wednesday of Holy Week – Matthew 24:14-25

         Yesterday, I traveled to Jackson to attend the Chrism mass with others from the different parishes of Deanery 5 in Northeast Mississippi.  The Chrism Mass takes place in the Cathedral of each Diocese in the Catholic Church, reminding us of our oneness in Christ through Baptism and its holy anointing, made possible by the ministry of the Bishop and his priests. The Chrism mass is also a key moment in which the unity of the Bishop with his priests is manifested and renewed. During the Chrism mass liturgy, the entire assembly is called to renew its baptismal promises.  Along with the other deacons and priests of our diocese, I renewed my vow of obedience to Bishop Kopacz and I renewed my commitment to serve God’s people here in St James and in our diocese.
         As I renewed my promise of obedience last night, I thought about how many aspects of our lives concern making choices, for renewing my obedience to the bishop was indeed a choice.  There are good choices we can make, choices that bring us closer to God.  Then, there are choices that take us away from God, choices that are like rocks that build up in our pockets and weigh us down. 
         In today's Gospel, we hear how Judas betrayed Jesus, how he shared the meal with Jesus and the rest of his disciples in celebration of the Jewish holidays, while at the same time knowing in his heart that he would deliver Jesus into the hands of those who wanted to kill him.  Judas is an example of choosing to go down the wrong road and abandoning our faith. 
         Then we have Jesus, the Son of God, who could have demanded that people serve him. But Jesus came to serve others, not to be served.  Tomorrow, on Holy Thursday, we will remember how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, an action usually performed by a slave or a servant for a guest who had just come in from the dirty streets.  Jesus came to serve and to help others, which is so different from the attitude that Judas had, how he would betray his friend for his own personal gain.

         As we observe Holy Week this week, let us remember all those things we need to get rid of so that we will be more like Jesus, who came to serve, and less like Judas, who betrayed Jesus and thought of his own gain.

4/14/2014 - Monday of Holy Week – John 12:1-11

        Today we hear a very striking Gospel account of Jesus' encounter with Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus.  Mary is in a home near the city of Jerusalem during the last Passover that Jesus would partake in just before his death.  Mary takes a jar of enormously expensive perfume that would cost thousands & thousands of dollars in today's money.  She lovingly anoints Jesus' feet with the perfume.  In response to this action, Judas remarks that it would be better to give this money to the poor, that this is just an extravagant waste. 
         It is observant of us to remember that Mary was the one whom Jesus complimented for have gathered at his feet to listen to his teachings.  Also, when her brother Lazarus died, it was Mary who rushed out to Jesus when he came to their home, weeping & pleading, “Jesus, if you would have been here, my brother would not have died.” 
         In today's Gospel account, Mary falls at Jesus’ feet as if she knew something the others did not quite recognize: that Jesus would soon die and would need to be prepared for burial.  Sensing something, Mary wants to do something special for him. 
         In ancient Israel, anointing was used for rituals of elevating one's status, such as anointing the head of one becoming a priest, prophet, or king.  Or, it was used in a status transformation in anointing the whole body of a dead person who moves from his earthly family to becoming a deceased ancestor.  Here, neither Jesus' head nor his whole body is anointed, just his feet.  In ancient Israel, the feet were the body zone that symbolized action.  The anointing of Jesus' feet points to a ritual of a forthcoming transformative action in which Jesus would do something significant.   It's worth noting that the streets where people walked in ancient Israel were very dirty, so it was customary for guests to have their feet washed by a slave when entering a home before they ate a meal.  But, in this case, a slave does not do the washing, but rather Mary, the wealthy mistress of the household.  In this action, she acknowledges this forthcoming significant action that will be occur in Jesus' life. 

         As we hear this wonderful Gospel story today at the beginning of Holy week, we might wonder: How can we, in the circumstances of our own personalities & our own daily lived reality, how can we be like Mary of Bethany in this Gospel story?  Her life had been so deeply touched by Jesus that she wanted to do something precious and significant in return to honor him.  How can we do the same?  Can our lives be so deeply touched by Jesus acting in our lives that we also want to respond in a very special way?  May we really think about this as we approach Holy Week and Easter.