Saturday, March 30, 2013
Our long journey through Lent came to an end with our Holy Thursday mass. We are now in the Triduum - Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil mass. It is seen as one continuous commemoration of Christ's passion, death, and resurrection. As we celebrate Holy Week, I was struck by one of the reflections in the daily prayers that I use each day in the publication Give Us This Day. They list a "Blessed Among Us". For this past Tuesday, the Jesuit priest and theologian Karl Rahner was chosen as the "Blessed Among Us". Rahner is consider one of our Church's most significant theologians of the twentieth century and the Vatican II era. Reading his theology is hard work, but the insights that he brings out are amazing. In The Word Among Us, it states that Rahner's quiet and methodical approach to theology bridged the gap between Catholic theology and the modern world more than any other theologian.
It is interesting how many in our secular world, and many in our government, now see the Church as the enemy and as irrelevant to the world. I never thought I would see such a thing in my lifetime. In the past fiver years in particular, I have seen such a change in the mentality of our world. Rahner tried very hard to implement the ideas coming out of the Second Vatican Council to the modern Church, and he expressed sadness as to how much of the promise coming out of the Council still remained to be fulfilled.
All of us as modern believers try are called to apply our faith in an attempt not only to understand the modern world, but to transform that world as well. I am thankful for examples such as Karl Rahner who help us and inspire us on our journey of faith.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Today is the morning we have been anticipating throughout our Lenten journey. Lent has been a very special time of preparation for us as Catholics. We have been kneeling at the beginning and ending of mass during Lent, signifying for us the penitential nature of this season, of the need to repent, to seek forgive, and to change our lives. The Church asks us to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Lent, and to practice the Lenten disciplines of prayer, almsgiving, and fasting.
We knew that this Lenten time of preparation would lead us to this joyful celebration of Easter. But it is interesting for us to see the reactions of those in our Gospel today as they come to the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene is worried and anxious, wondering what they have done with our Lord’s body. Peter and the other beloved disciple ran to the tomb to see what was going on, trying to figure out why the stone had been rolled away and why the burial cloths were sitting there in a pile. There is not a lot of joy in their responses, but rather anxiety, worry, and activity.
Sometimes it takes us a long time to realize the significance of an event, for it to penetrate our hearts and our lives, to reflect on its meaning and to ponder it. We have talking about the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela – the Way of St James – all during the Lenten season. Being a pilgrim is a spiritual journey, but sometime it takes a while to really have that journey make sense. In the pilgrimage group that I accompanied to Spain back in April, one of the members of that group was an 80-year-old parishioner from St Richard parish in Jackson named Lyons. I cannot even imagine what I would be like to go on that pilgrimage at 80 years old, walking about 200 miles over the course of 2 weeks. While we were walking on the pilgrimage route, Lyons kept on remaking to me – “Father Lincoln – I just don’t feel like a pilgrim. I don’t feel the Spirit on this journey.” When a pilgrim is hiking 15 or 16 miles a day in rough terrain and through whatever weather there is – through snow, sleet, rain, and hail that we had throughout our journey – it is tough not concentrating on what is going on physically during the pilgrimage. The spirituality of the pilgrimage is there, but a lot of times it is not until the pilgrim has some time to pray and reflect upon what has gone on, then the real profound spiritual lessons hit home. When we finally arrived at the Cathedral in Santiago de Compestela, when we hugged the statue of St. James and went to mass and did all the other pilgrimage rituals upon arriving at our destination, the spirituality of the pilgrimage took hold a bit more. And when the pilgrims arrive back home, the spirituality of the pilgrimage starts to resonate more and more with each passing day. I still have insights and reflections about my pilgrimage experiences as the days and weeks and months go by.
The Passion of Christ, our salvation through his death and Resurrection, his real presence in the Eucharist – these are all mysteries of our faith. And by the word “mystery”, we mean that its fully meaning can never by fully absorbed or understood by us, that on our faith journey, we will always grow in our understanding and comprehension of God and the divine presence in our lives. I always think about what St Augustine once said – that when we think we fully understand God and know what he is all about, then we know we really don’t understand God at all. Think again about Mary Magdalene and the disciples that found the empty tomb that morning. Their first reaction was not initially “Alleluia! Praise the Lord! Christ has risen!” They had not expected the resurrection, and it took them a long time to figure it out. But even on that morning, our Gospel says that the “other disciple,” the one who first arrived at the tomb, “he saw and believed.” Our belief will help us grow in our understanding, and our understanding will help us in our belief.
During Lent, many of us took on disciplines that helped up in our preparation during this Holy Season. When I was visiting one of the CCD classrooms, one of the teachers was remarking to the students that those Lenten disciplines should not end with Easter, but should influence our life of discipleship throughout the year. I recall one young man from St Richard parish in Jackson who started praying the rosary and offering support to the women at the abortion clinic in Jackson as part of his Lenten observance one year. Many years later, he now is one of the most active Christians in the pro-life movement in the Jackson area. As a new priest, this young man often came to me and tried to get me more involved in my pro-life efforts. I started going out to the abortion clinic myself during Lent my first year as a priest to pray the rosary with a group of parishioners, and that group still continue that practice to this day.
So, as we celebrate the resurrection of Christ today and the salvation we have in him, may we ponder its significance in our lives as we now journey through the Easter season, and may we live out the reality of the resurrection in our lives each day.
The Easter Vigil mass is such a joyful and wonderful time for us as Catholics – there is really no other mass like it in the rest of our Church’s liturgical year. I was speaking to some of our parishioners about this mass several weeks ago, and we were all remarking how the symbolism of this mass sticks out in our minds, how it so very dramatically represents what our faith is all about. The sun sets before our Easter Vigil mass began this evening, and then the Easter fire became a light shining in the midst of the evening’s darkness, symbolizing the light of Christ that is brought into our world and into our lives in our very special way through tonight’s celebration of our Savior’s death and resurrection.
Our first reading from Genesis tonight brings us back to the very beginning of the world, where there is this formless darkness covering the abyss, where wind is sweeping over the waters, and God announces: “Let there be light.” As we hear this reading in the midst of the darkness of our church, the symbolism is striking. The lights of the paschal candle – the lights of the small candles that we held which were lit off that paschal candle – they are all lights penetrating the darkness of the world.
We celebrate Christ’s resurrection today as we hear about the women who go to the tomb to anoint his body, but to their amazement they find that the tomb was empty. It took awhile for those women, the apostles, and the members of the early Church to figure out all the implications of what resurrection meant to them in terms of their faith. And that is for us to figure out as well. How does Christ’s death and resurrection affect our journey? How does it influence the ways we live out our faith?
The significance of these events, of the cross and resurrection, is present in our community in a special way in some of the sacraments that we will celebrate this evening. We have three adults who are coming into full communion into our Church. They have been journeying through the RCIA process this past year, they have undergone a time of prayer, discernment, and preparation. They will receive the sacrament of confirmation and will receive Christ in the Eucharist for the first time in their lives. We also have a group of six youth and children who will be receiving first holy communion for the first time as well. And a member of the RCIA group who is coming back to the Church in a very committed way will receive a special blessing tonight as well. The Easter Vigil mass had been the time in the early Church when adults would enter into the faith. The reforms of the Second Vatican Council, which we have been celebrating this year in the Year of Faith, revived this practice. With great joy, we celebrate this special moment with these members of our faith community.
As we celebrate this evening's mass, what we cannot forget is this: that the resurrection is intrinsically tied to the cross; that the cross is intrinsically connected to the resurrection. We had 40 days in the desert during Lent in order for Easter to really mean something to us in our lives of faith. We live in a world today where our faith is under attack, where our government is taking stabs at the freedom we have to practice our religion and to live out our faith. In order to see the light of the resurrection, we in turn must be lights shining in the darkness of our world. And while we had 40 days of Lent, we need to be aware that the Easter season does not end with this Easter Vigil mass and with Easter morning tomorrow. We will travel through the Easter season to Pentecost on May 27. For these next weeks during the Easter season, we will ponder what the resurrection of Jesus really means to us, we will ponder what it really means to live the resurrection in our lives.
We have had this cross of iron accompanying us during our Lenten journey in our parish this year, a symbol of how we have been accompanying Jesus during Lent as he makes his way to the cross. The cross of iron is located on the highest point on the pilgrimage route on the road to Santiago de Compostela. Last April, when I walked to the cross of iron with two other members of our pilgrimage group that had been walking for almost 3 weeks, I knew in my heart that I was approaching holy ground. That day we had some of the worst weather of our pilgrimage route. Our whole hike was filled with cold, wet weather, but that day in particular it was raining and sleeting, and the fog was everywhere. I had the stone with me that I had gotten from the backyard one of my parishioners in Yazoo City, a lady who had been suffering a lot of physical ailments that had confined her to her home for many years. I used to visit her each month in her home to bring her communion. She gave me that stone to take on my pilgrimage journey. I also had with me a plastic bag full of prayers and intentions that many parishioners and prisoners had written down for me to take. I also placed at the cross of iron a rosary that the Ladies Auxiliary of the Knights of Columbus from St Richard parish had made for me symbolizing the prayer of the Blessed Virgin Mary that I felt with me on my journey. One can see the cross of iron from a distance from many miles off – it looked so tiny on that far away mountain. Then, it gets lost in the midst of the mountainous terrain until you’re right there. As I turned that corner and saw the cross of iron before me, tears started streaming down my cheeks as I felt the presence of Jesus before me, as I felt all the prayers and intentions that I was carrying in my heart for myself and for many other people. After I spent some time at the cross of iron praying and placing the objects I brought with me at the cross, I went to a small shelter that was located there to get out of the wet, chilly weather. There were three young men from New York at that shelter who had been walking on the pilgrimage route. They were standing at the shelter watching the other pilgrims place their rocks at the cross of iron; they were joking around and telling off-color jokes. I was taken aback, and almost said something to them, but refrained from doing so. As we started walking again on the trail, one of these young men started walking with me. He started telling me how he and his friends decided to go on this pilgrimage after seeing the movie THE WAY with Martin Sheen about it. He recounted how he had grown up Catholic but had really lost his faith and had not gone to mass in a very long time. He told me how he was a divorced father, how he missed his kids so much. He told me that this journey he was making was in penance for all the sins he had committed in his life, and thought about how he needed to regain his faith. I thought about the crosses that we all bear, crosses that sometimes seem insurmountable and so difficult to bear. While I was put off by this seemingly disrespectful attitude I saw in this young man from New York at the cross of iron, at that holy ground, I began to see the crosses that he was carrying, the things that were weighing him down. I saw that in his own way, he was finding God again on this pilgrimage, he was struggles with his crosses and all that was weighing him down in life.
As we come to church today on Good Friday, on the day that Jesus died, at the culmination of his journey to the cross, our hearts are opened once again to the importance of Christ's passion to the context of our faith as we try to grow in our understanding of the salvation that we receive through his suffering, death, and resurrection. In the passion narrative from John’s Gospel, we hear the details of how Jesus is abandoned by many of his followers: how he is denied by Peter, victimized by those in religious & political power, and tortured, tormented, and abused by the Roman military. While we see the many facets of betrayal and abandonment in today's Gospel, we have great witnesses of faith as well, with the great testimony of the beloved disciple, the Virgin Mary, and the women who remain with Jesus at the cross.
We venerate the cross of Jesus today as we commemorate Good Friday. As his followers, we unite our sufferings with the sufferings that he endured on his way to the cross. In a few moments, we will venerate the cross of Jesus, the cross of redemption and salvation. We will place our stones at the cross and we will show a sign of veneration, love, and respect for his cross. We will be on holy ground in this holy place on Good Friday. May the meaning of this moment truly penetrate our hearts and our faith.
Monday, March 25, 2013
Saturday, March 23, 2013
I went to seminary for 4 years at Sacred Heart School of Theology in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in preparation to be a priest. Right before graduation, the school gathered at a sending ceremony to say farewell to all of us who were being ordained for the priesthood and to send us back to our home dioceses to serve as priests. At that ceremony, each graduate spoke a few parting words and were presented with gifts. The gifts included a Bible, to show us the importance of the Word of God in our lives and in our ministry. As priests, the Word of God is to be at the foundation of our faith & our lives as priests. We also received a towel, on which a portion of today's Gospel is printed: “Jesus poured water into a basin & began to wash the disciples' feet & to dry them with a towel that was tied around his waist.” What this towel and this Gospel passage tell me is that first and foremost, as a priest, I am not to put myself on a pedestal, but rather I am called to be a servant just as Jesus came to serve. One day Sister Paulinus came into my office at St Richard where I had the Bible and towel on my shelf, and she asked me about them. I told her the story behind them. She remarked how that towel said a lot about the seminary where I studied, how all of us, even priests, should aspire to servanthood. This is important for us all to remember, since in our modern society, the message is so often that we should get ahead, to succeed in our careers, to earn as much money and material things as we can. The message of serving God and serving our brothers and sisters gets pushed aside.
Servanthood is an important theme this evening in Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. We hear St. Paul tell us about Jesus offering his body and blood to his disciples during his last supper with them – this is servanthood as well. In his apostolic exhortation on the Eucharist, Pope Benedict explained how the Eucharist we celebrate as a community of faith draws us into Jesus' act of self-oblation and self-offering. Receiving Christ in the Eucharist is more than entering into the fixed condition of Jesus as the incarnate Word of God. In the Eucharist, we enter into the very dynamic of Jesus' self-giving., we enter into Jesus' servanthood. During our Eucharistic celebration, the bread & wine is radically changed into the body and blood of Christ, into Christ’s real presence. It is a change that is to penetrate the heart of our being, that sets off a process that is meant to transform the reality of our lives and our world. Jesus, the model of servanthood, gives us the Eucharist to transform our lives into servanthood.
This evening, during the foot washing ceremony, we will be washing the feet of members of our community. Our faith cannot truly penetrate our lives without understanding servanthood as an essential part of that faith. In our Gospel reading, Peter first objected to Jesus’ desire to wash his feet, but then consented to it, showing that he truly began to understand what was happening, that he wanted to be commissioned fully as a servant of Christ himself. As we witness the foot washing into this evening’s liturgy, may we let Christ’s servanthood guide us and mold us as we serve others. The towel that wipes our dirty feet will be a symbol of our servanthood to the Lord, of our servanthood to our brothers and sisters.