Thursday, April 27, 2017

Post-Lent review... How did you do?

Lent is now behind us, yet in our excitement for Easter (and for Lent being over), how often to you take a moment to look back at your Lenten journey to do a post-game review?

As a volunteer leader and business school graduate, the concept of doing a formal "review" after an event or activity is a long held important practice... one that, unfortunately, tends to get overlooked even at the highest levels.  Still, it remains a staple of standard practice, and for good reason... It affords those involved, and the entire organization, a chance to review everything after the fact... what went well, what didn't, and lay the groundwork for next time.  The same is true for looking back at our Lenten journey.  So... how did you do?

I have to be honest, I sometimes fail to practice what I preach.  For as important as a post-lenten review might be, I hadn't thought of the idea until now.  I didn't even really think about it until this morning when I read the following article that was tagged in the daily
Angelus email:

Do I remember the date of my baptism?  No... not at the moment.  I believe it was in January of 1963, but I need to look this up.  But in trying to remember the date of my baptism I was reminded of what I wrote in my posting going back to the 1st Sunday of Advent.  In that post I noted, "that According to the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy promulgated from the Second Vatican Council, “The season of Lent has a twofold character: primarily by recalling or preparing for baptism and by penance, it disposes the faithful, who more diligently hear the word of God and devote themselves to prayer, to celebrate the paschal mystery.” "

Also in that post that my mission for this Lent would be to focus on Baptism while going over our readings for this Lent, and to see where it would take us.  After all, I had only just learned of this connection of Baptism to Lent, so I felt this was an important journey.  So, how did I do?  Well, as to the first part... making sure to focus on Baptism while reviewing our readings week after week, I feel was successful.  I was in fact able to find baptismal references in all our Sunday readings this Lent... some more obvious than others, but still present in all of them.  But where did this journey lead me?  I'm not exactly sure.

Our faith journey isn't always a straight line.  It's not always obvious, and to be sure, it is anything but quick.  In fact, I've noticed that our lectionary has embraced the concept of "the slow reveal."  Showing us a little bit at a time so we can digest that before moving on.  This is how it was with the prophets.  This is how it was with the Apostles.  Our understanding of God isn't instantaneous... it develops over time, through the Holy Spirit.  Patience and perseverance are key gifts to embrace as we grow our relationship with the Lord.

So as to my better understanding of Baptism and Lent through the scriptures... my journey is not yet really complete.  Going through our readings for Cycle A, I think I have a better understanding... but each Liturgical Cycle has it's own special message.  I couldn't give a fair analysis until I make it through Cycle B and Cycle C.  Yes, I've been through these readings before, and I could make a quick study of them now, but instead I've decided to embrace the slow reveal and let them come in their due course.

As for my developing an understanding of the importance of our Baptism... of this I am certain... like I learned from Dr. Jerry Galipeau earlier this year, and reminded again through this article posted on the Angelus, I would not be where I am today if not for my baptism, and for that I am eternally grateful!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

3rd Sunday of Easter

Easter is about revelation!  On Easter Sunday we revealed that the tomb was found empty.  Last week Jesus revealed himself to the Apostles in the upper room, reminding us that “Blessed are those who have not seen, but still believe.”  This Third Sunday of Easter, Jesus is revealed through the breaking of the Bread.

Acts 2:14, 22-33
Psalm 16:2, 5, 7-11
1 Peter 1:17-21
Luke 24:13-35

In our first reading from Acts of the Apostles we have Peter, discovering his voice and standing before all of Jerusalem giving witness about who Jesus was and what happened there.  It’s both a reminder to those present who also witnessed these events, and a much necessary explanation for those who (like us) were not there (especially Luke’s primarily Gentile audience).  The heart of Peter’s message reminds us that this messiah was killed by his own people, but through that act, as prophesied by their greatest king, David, has been raised by God, and sends his Holy Spirit.  Our Psalm follows through on this theme of prophecy and redemption as we sing, “Lord, you will show us the path of life.”

Our second reading continues our study of 1st Peter.  Here we are reminded that we must conduct our lives with reverence, even outside of the Christian community.  We have been humbled by what Christ did for us, and our actions need to reflect that great gift.  All our actions must be representative of how we want to be seen by the Father.

Our Gospel, in a story unique to Luke, is one of most beloved of the resurrection stories… Jesus’ appearance to Cleopas and another disciple as they were traveling to the town of Emmaus.  These two disciples, like many others who came to follow Jesus, are now lost and bewildered after having been witness to his passion and death.  They thought they had found their deliverer only to have those hopes dashed on a cross.  Jesus joins these men on the road, although they do not recognize him, and they talk about the events they just experienced.  During their journey Jesus reveals to them those prophesies in scripture that foretold of the Messiah.  When they reach Emmaus, the men ask Jesus to join them for a meal, during which Jesus says the blessing and breaks bread with them.  Through that action, at that moment, they see Jesus for who he is.  Once they recognize Jesus, he vanishes from their sight, and having been astonished at what they experienced, rush back to Jerusalem to recount their experience to the Apostles (who themselves have just experienced a visit with the risen Jesus).

Final thoughts:
In our Gospel Jesus was revealed through the breaking of the bread.  This is what our Mass is all about.  That by gathering together, sharing our story, and breaking the bread, that Jesus is revealed to us.  His body.  His blood.  Given freely for our redemption and salvation.  The thrill that Cleopas and his friend felt which caused them to race back to Jerusalem is the thrill we are meant to feel after every celebration of the Mass.  We have met Jesus in the breaking of the bread.  An ordinary act that reveals the extraordinary.  Yet all too often, as we attend Mass week after week, that extraordinary miracle seems, well, less so.  Some might even say, “ordinary”… even “boring..”  This is why we need the season of Easter… to remind ourselves that this is anything but ordinary… anything but boring.  During Easter the world around us springs with new life, serving as a reminder that this new life is also within us, through Christ our Lord.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

2nd Sunday of Easter (Sunday of Divine Mercy)

He is risen, Alleluia, Alleluia!  Contrary to popular opinion, the joy of Easter didn’t end this last Sunday, it’s only beginning!  After spending 40 days in reflection of our Baptism through prayer, fasting, and alms-giving, we’ve only just begun the 50 day celebration that is the season of Easter.  During Lent the focus of our readings was remembering our Salvation History… how we became a chosen people by God.  Now, during Easter, our focus shifts from the past to the future…how do we live out the Gospel message.

Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

Normally our first comes from the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament), but during the season of Easter our first reading comes from The Acts of the Apostles.  Why the change?  Because this book tells us the story of how we became Church.  Acts is the sequel to the “Greatest Story Ever Told.”  After St. Luke completed his Gospel, he realized this was not the end of the story, but a beginning… the beginning of the Church.  And like every audience that falls in love with a great book or movie, the early Church wanted more, so Luke gave us the ultimate sequel with the second part of his Gospel, The Acts of the Apostles.  Jesus ascends to Heaven, and now the Apostles, hesitant at first, but then having received the Holy Spirit, boldly go out to spread the Gospel and the story of Jesus.  This week’s passage gives us a glimpse at what life was like for those first 3,000 who were baptized after Pentecost.  We get a picture of a community that has turned away from selfishness to providing for the needs of others.  Our Psalm reflects the joy they must have felt as we sing, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his love is everlasting.”

Our second reading for this Sunday and for the rest of the Easter Season comes from the 1st Letter of Peter.  While the authorship of Peter’s two letters may be open for debate, the revelation expressed is fitting for our Easter Season study.  In this opening greeting this week, Peter is expressing his joy to the communities over their belief and dedication to Christ.  When Peter says, “Although you have not seen him you love him;” it’s a phrase that touches our own souls at an intimate level.  Peter knew Jesus, and through what he saw and learned came to believe.  I think Peter marveled at the power of the Holy Spirit which inspired others to join with Christ though they, and we, had never met him in the flesh (beyond the Eucharist, of course).

This joy that Peter felt is also echoed in our Gospel from John.  We refer to this as John’s Pentecost story as this is when Jesus sends them the Holy Spirit, but wrapped around this all to brief account is the ever favorite story of Thomas the Apostle.  Thomas was absent from the group when Jesus first appeared in the upper room, so he is skeptical of what they say of that experience.  Thomas wants proof… a need that many of us have when confronted with things we find hard to believe.  Jesus appears again, this time with Thomas in the room, and all his doubts are put to rest, but Jesus also takes this moment to say that “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”  Some might read this as Jesus casting aspersions onto Thomas, but let us remember, Jesus loved Thomas, as he loved all Twelve of the Apostles (yes, Judas too).  Instead he wanted to make this a “catechetical moment” for future generations.  Knowing what difficulty the Apostles would face in the days, months, and years ahead in spreading the Gospel, Jesus wanted to leave them a message of hope and inspiration.  It is this hope and inspiration that carries us in our faith, and reminding us of our own blessings as we continue through this Easter Season.

Final thoughts:

The second Sunday of Easter is celebrated world-wide as Divine Mercy Sunday.  It originated in the year 2000 in honor of the canonization of St. Faustina Kowalska.  Sr. Faustina, from Poland, was a Christian mystic and nun who experienced apparitions of Jesus.  She is known as the “Secretary of Divine Mercy” based on her writings that centered on the mercy of God, to trust in the abundant mercy of Christ, and to show mercy to others.  Her visions and her devotion to Divine Mercy is captured in a painting by artist Eugene Kazimierowski, which was painted under the direction of Sr. Faustina.  A version of this painting hangs in our own church in one of the North side altar shrines.  God’s mercy is what brought Christ to us, so it seems only fitting that we celebrate His divine mercy on this 2nd Sunday of Easter.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Forget Easter Sunday - Celebrate the Paschal Triduum!

That's right... I said it.  FORGET Easter Sunday.

Growing up Catholic I was always lead to believe that Easter was our most important holiday, and for us Easter meant Easter Sunday.  After all, that’s when the Easter Bunny left us treats.  As I grew into adulthood, however, with an ever growing understanding into the depth and breadth of our faith, I learned that Easter Sunday wasn’t our most important Liturgical celebration.  Instead that distinction falls on the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday evening… the conclusion of our Paschal Triduum.

Acts 10:34a, 37-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23
Colossians 3:1-4, or 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8
John 20:1-9 or Matthew 28:1-10

While the readings for Easter Sunday are important, they are also just a very small piece of the story of our relationship with God.  It's like eating only one hors d'oeuvre at a banquet... it gives you a foretaste of the great food to come, but could hardly be considered nutritious or filling.  Unpacking the readings for this Sunday, like we do every week in our regular Adult Faith Formation sessions, gives me the same problem.  I can't really give you a sense of the importance of these readings without grounding them in the stories that precede them. 

Easter Sunday’s beautiful Gospel from John about how the tomb was found empty means nothing if not for our first reading from Acts of the Apostles, where Peter is explaining to Cornelius (a Roman Centurion) about who this Jesus fellow is.  And even then, the passage we hear doesn’t even mention Cornelius, so we lose even more context.  And still, that’s not enough context to substantiate the wonder that is Easter.  At the very least, you need to allow yourself the opportunity... the retreat... the blessing of all Holy Week has to offer.  The Liturgies of Holy Week, the Paschal Triduum, are like a full three course meal.

The first course:  Holy Thursday and the Mass of the Lord's Supper, with the story of the Passover from Exodus, Paul's story of the institution of the Eucharist, and John's glorious Gospel where Jesus washes the feet of his Apostles. 

Our second course:  Good Friday, where the prophet Isaiah tells us both the glory and the tragedy that faces God's servant, where Paul extols to the Romans how Jesus was a high priest who also understood weakness, and John's deeply moving story of Jesus' passion and death. 

Then comes our main course:  The Easter Vigil, where in darkness we re-tell the tale of our becoming a people of God, from Genesis, through Exodus, through the Isaiah and the other prophets, and through St. Paul.  By the time we’re done with our journey with all these readings our Gospel of the Resurrection now has enough context to reveal it's radiance.  Only then is the Glory of Easter truly revealed.  Sticking with our theme of the great banquet, Easter Sunday becomes more of a nice aperitif, a delightful pallet cleanser for the amazing stories yet to come during the entire season of Easter.

So for this Easter, don't come just for one hors d'oeuvre on Easter Sunday.  Instead, come to the Feast that is Holy Week.  Only by knowing the whole story will you see why we believe when we find the tomb is empty.

Final thoughts:
When I think of Mass on Easter Sunday I am reminded of Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 13:11):  “When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.”  We live in a multi-generational Church, which is, of course, representative of our lives.  Yet so much of our Catholic practice is rooted in an adult context.  When we share our faith with children, we need to take a simpler approach, to allow them to experience Christ where they are.  But as we grow mentally and physically we also need to grow in our relationship with God...  Grow to see the depth and richness of our faith and our traditions.  We need to allow ourselves to grow out of our understanding of Easter as just this one Sunday.  The true richness of Easter lies in the real feast that is in the full three-course celebration of the Triduum, culminating with the Easter Vigil. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion

During  our celebration of Palm Sunday there is no other time in the Liturgical Cycle where the readings wreak such havoc on our emotions, where we are taken from a growing state of pure joy to utter despair within the course of just one Mass.   For weeks now we’ve been celebrating Jesus’ triumphs… gaining new followers in Samaria with the woman at the well, curing the man born blind, and last week, raising Lazarus from the dead.  With joy and revelry the people welcome Jesus into Jerusalem cheering and waving palms, but the dark undercurrents that have been following us all along are now coming to fruition…

Matthew 21:1-11
Isaiah 50:4-7
Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24
Philippians 2:6-11
Matthew 26:14-27:66

We begin our Mass outside in front of the church as we relive the moment of Jesus’ triumphal entry into the City of Jerusalem.  With our opening reading from the Gospel of Matthew, we see Jesus has planned for everything as the people cheer in welcome for this great prophet from Galilee.  We, like the citizens of Jerusalem, wave our palms in honor of this new deliverer.

Once inside the church, we hear a familiar reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, reminding us that a prophet’s life can be very difficult.  More often than not, the people do not favor what the prophet has to say, yet for all the verbal and physical abuse they suffer, they are still compelled to deliver the Lord’s messages.  Our Psalm echoes the despair they often feel, be they Isaiah, or Paul, or Mother Theresa, or Jesus himself.  How does this remind us of our Baptism?  It is through our Baptism that we are made prophets ourselves, and as a result, may face similar scorn by all except God.

Our second reading is from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  He notes carefully that while Christ Jesus was in the form of God, he never sought equality with God.  Rather, as Paul states, “he emptied himself,” to become obedient… to live a life of service to God and others, and from that, become the greatest of us all.  Not only is this meant to remind us how Jesus’ sacrifice is what lead to his greatness, but it’s a guide for all of us to follow.  As Christians we are meant to follow Jesus’ example, to empty ourselves of the mundane and focus on a life of service to others.  Our connection to Baptism rests in the line that “every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”  The very act of Baptism cries this confession.

This takes us to our Gospel, and Matthew’s view of Jesus’ passion and death.  In a way, this Palm Sunday liturgy is a microcosm of what we experience through the liturgies of Holy Week, as we visit again Jesus’ last days through Holy Thursday and Good Friday.  Though we may have heard the story before, it is interesting to note that each of the four Gospels give us unique perspectives that speak to their different audiences.  As we read through Matthew’s account, remember that he is speaking to a primarily Jewish audience.  As such certain details may or may not be included (for instance, no need to explain details of the Passover).  Also find that Matthew has peppered his story with scriptural references, reminding us that the events unfolding before us have been foretold by the prophets, making us witnesses of prophecy being fulfilled.  And what of our connection  to Baptism?  This is made clear as we remembered by Paul’s letter to the Romans (Romans 6:3), “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”

Final Thoughts:
Palm Sunday marks the transition from Lent to the Triduum, where our reflection on Jesus’ life, passion, and death are intensified.  During Mass we usually read the Passion stories together as a group.  This allows us to put ourselves into the action and better connect with the story by playing the people in the crowd.  Yet that crowd which sang “hosanna” at Jesus entering Jerusalem is the same one we hear yelling out “crucify him!” at his most desperate hour.  We’re never comfortable playing the part of the crowd.  Like Peter, we like to say we would never betray our Lord like that.  Yet we are more like Peter than we want to think.  Every time we deny Christ and his teachings, we are like Peter.  Every time we sin, we are like Peter.  Flawed, scared, human.  The point is not to feel guilty, but to recognize our transgressions for what they are and move on.  To recognize that WE are the crowd.  To seek forgiveness, to find reconciliation.  To give meaning to Jesus’ passion and death by move past it into the light of the Resurrection!