Easter

There are wondrous moments in life that we all experience a sense of joy;  falling in love – celebrating a marriage – the birth of a child;  each of us have experiences where we have felt a tremendous sense of joy; and yet,each of these is only a small taste of what God holds out for each of us.

Joy is irrepressible; it can’t be contained.  It’s not like pleasure in an activity, or satisfaction at accomplishing something; when we experience joy, we can’t hide it – we feel compelled or drawn to let it out; to share it with everyone and anyone we come in contact with. Joy is contagious; and it can even conquer fear.

Today we mark the most incredible cause of joy in the entire history of the human race – the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.  We celebrate and join with the members of the Church around the world, with the angels and the saints in heaven, in rejoicing at the Truth of God.

This is the day that all of creation was waiting for; when in the fullness of time, through the power of the Risen Christ we become what we were meant to be from the beginning of time; reunited with God for all eternity.

Sometimes we think the people of the past, who weren’t as technologically advanced as we are, were somehow naïve, or unintelligent.

In our more recent history, I don’t think any of us would consider those who grew up without the internet to be of lesser intelligence than those who have known the ‘web’ for the better part of their lives.  And long before cellphones, before television and radio, people knew and understood the realities of life and relationship; sometimes I think far better than our culture does today.

The people of first century Palestine, in Jesus’ day, were not stupid.  They knew the realities of human existence; of struggles and success, of conflict and peace, of work and rest, and of life and death.  Their experience and knowledge taught them that people don’t die and then just come back.

But following that first Easter, that is exactly what the disciples were proclaiming.  Jesus had died and had risen!  It was the message that spread throughout the known world, and people believed; many to the point of giving their very lives in defense of this Good News, the Gospel.  It was the message that through Christ, sin and death were defeated, and the promise of eternal life, being reunited with God as we were all meant to be, was given to all who believed.

Those who heard and accepted the Gospel message did so because of the witness of believers; because of the ‘light of Christ’ which was shining from them and the faith they were granted by God through the working of the Holy Spirit.

It’s interesting to note that while each of the four Gospels contains different insights into the teaching and works and actions of Jesus during his lifetime on earth, there are only a couple of episodes that are recorded in all four;  they all record the passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus- and they all record how St. Mary Magdalene was the first witness to the Truth of the Resurrection;  and even though she first met this truth with fear, that fear would give way to joy;  she in turn would be the one to take this joyful news and share it with the Apostles;  despite all of the turmoil and sorrow and horror that all of Jesus friends and followers and family experienced in the several days leading up to this, here was the message of indescribable joy that simply could not be contained.

He is Risen!

The authorities in Jerusalem could not defeat God’s plan; the power of the Roman Empire could not defeat God’s plan; even today, a world and culture that seems bent on self-absorption and self-destruction and relegating the Church to the fringes of society, cannot defeat God’s plan.  The light of Christ remains.  The Church remains.

In some way, at some time each of us here has been called by God to return to Him; directly or indirectly – perhaps by angels as the message of Christ’s resurrection is told to St. Mary Magdalene; perhaps through others’ words and actions, as St. Mary Magdalene was instructed to tell the news of the resurrection to the other disciples; perhaps by a whisper from God Himself in the very depths of our hearts, whether we recognized it at the time or not.

But God has called each of us into this victory;

– it is this newness, this fresh beginning, this rebirth that we are all called into, beginning with baptism and entering into the tomb with Christ we join in His Resurrection; in our own faith journeys; no matter how often we fall short, the victory of the Resurrection is held out for us over, and over and over; and when we really take the time to consider that, how could we not be filled with joy?  How could we not want to share that with others through our own witness to the goodness of God in our lives or the promise of eternity with God because of Christ’s rising from the dead? How could we not want to share in the sacramental life of the Church?

During our continuing journey in faith, each of us faces challenges and struggles; but God continually calls us and gives us the help we need to rise above those challenges and open our hearts to this great gift of Himself – His life- that He so desires to give continually to each of us.

That’s love; it’s a love which gives us hope; that is a hope that fills us with joy.

There is always time to consider the trials and tragedies and difficulties of our life on earth. There is time to consider the struggles the Church faces in the world. But this is not the time to reflect on those.

This is a time to celebrate; this is a time for great joy and happiness and gratitude.

This is Easter Sunday: this is the Day that the Lord Has Made.

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Let us Rejoice and be glad!

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…the wood is dry…

While still waiting and hoping (because hope springs eternal) that spring is, indeed, eventually going to make an appearance, I was looking out the window this morning on a fresh covering of snow – not much, but just enough to let me know that despite the calendar, the expected greening and budding is still just outside of reach.  As if to emphasize this, a robin flew down to the base of a maple tree and stood ankle deep in the new-fallen snow. (Good luck finding any worms in that, Mr. Robin)

But this desire for the sun’s warmth to break open the buds on the tree branches, and to draw the tulips out of their slumber caused me to reflect on the Passion reading from St. Luke – particularly the point where Jesus meets the women who are weeping and wailing as He carries His cross along the route to Calvary.

Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us’. For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:28-31)

I can’t help but meditate on this; it has given pause for thought for the past few years in general – but more specifically during Holy Week, when the contrasts between our deposit of faith and modern culture seem even more pronounced.

In the brief historical period when He walked among us as one of us, and what was only a short time for his public ministry (three years when compared to the backdrop of the past 2000 years), there was a ‘newness’. He fulfilled what Isaiah wrote, making ‘all things new’. To love God with our whole being, to love our neighbour as ourselves, and to express love for God through love of neighbour; these were not recommendations or suggestions – Jesus called them commands.  They are not options.  He came to make all things new – to gather us to Himself, to God; He came to give us eternity and complete fulfilment of our true potential – complete union and lasting relationship with The Eternal – a share in His Divinity from the One who shared our humanity.

That was when the wood was green; when the Church first emerged after He established it, and when through the Spirit at Pentecost she proclaimed and grew and spread, it was a time of great promise – of buds breaking forth.  Those branches spread, and over centuries shoots and tendrils and more buds broke forth so that there was no country on the planet that could claim it had not at least heard the name of Jesus. 

But now we live in a world where the gifts of faith and constancy are (at best) ridiculed or (at worst) decried as an infringement upon the ‘rights’ and conventional wisdom of a culture in which the sum total of the person seems to be their bodily functions; where humans are disposable depending upon some arbitrary determination of either their stage of development or decline; where everything depends upon the convenience and accomodation of the consumer, rather than the well-being of society or the greater good.

The daughters of Jerusalem would surely be weeping for us now. 

Yet, I have often seen the driest-looking of vines and branches, in some sheltered corner or neglected path, often ‘leaf’ and spread after a prolonged dormant period.  The wood may not be green, but it is certainly not completely dry ;and with God’s grace, I do believe we will still see a day when the buds spring up in the most unexpected places and bloom and grow as they did when the wood was green.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Passion (Palm) Sunday

Today we enter into Holy Week, the most solemn part of our liturgical year.  It is a week filled with ceremony and ritual, with devotions and observances.  It is really the week that moves right to the heart of our Catholic faith.   If we meditate on what the Gospels contain particularly as they apply to this week, we can see, perhaps in miniature, humanity’s relationship to God-or more specifically our own relationship to Christ and His Church.  And we can see how, at the center of it all- the good and the bad- is Jesus.

Our Palm Sunday liturgy begins with the recounting of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, being hailed by the crowd as the ‘Son of David’ – the Messiah – as they wave palm branches and welcome Him into the Holy City.  The city is crowded, as scholars tell us, for the upcoming celebration of the Passover; Jews from all over the Roman Empire have ‘come home’ to celebrate this most important festival in their religious year.  There would be an air of excitement, of anticipation and celebration already in Jerusalem.  Now add to that the thrill of someone entering being hailed as the One to Deliver Israel!

Some in the crowds would only know Jesus by reputation – perhaps heard stories of healings and miracles; some might have been present during some of His addresses like the Beatitudes, and have some grasp of His teaching on a surface level – but they like what they’ve heard.  They also have their own expectation of what a Messiah is supposed to be – so they, perhaps, believe that they are witnessing the deliverance of Israel from Rome.  There is a ‘superficial’ welcoming of Jesus.

But as the week unfolds, it becomes clear that they don’t really understand His teaching, or who the Deliverer really is.  His teaching challenges their pre-conceived ideas, their attitudes, their actions and their very relationship with God and each other.

And then, as we read in the account of His Passion, they turn on Him, and with a vengeance.  The people reject Him, His followers abandon Him, and the powers of this world attempt to completely destroy Him.

And at the center of this roller-coaster week of acceptance and rejection is Jesus;  Jesus who, fully knowing what awaits Him in Jerusalem, very publicly enters and acknowledges the expectations of the people;  Jesus, who during the time that one of His closest followers is preparing to betray Him for material gain, institutes the very gift of Himself, the Eucharist and the Sacramental Priesthood; Jesus, who allowing Himself to be taken, beaten and crucified, asks His Father to forgive those who have taken, beaten and crucified Him; Jesus who takes the shame of the Cross and turns it into the victory of the Resurrection and hands it on to us.

If we honestly reflect, we can see quite easily times in our world, when worldly powers will freely quote Jesus’ sayings when it serves their purpose; yet those same powers will quickly reject Jesus’ teaching when it interferes with their agenda or actions – particularly as it pertains to the unborn, the elderly, the poor or the marginalized.  We can also see, if we’re honest, the times that we embrace Jesus’ mercy and compassion, and times when we have withheld that same mercy and compassion from others in our thoughts, words, or actions.

We can use this entire Holy Week, beginning with today, as an opportunity to examine our own faith lives, using the Gospels as two different perspectives on our relationship with Christ;  we can see our own reaction to Jesus in the Palm Sunday Gospels – the times we welcome Jesus’ words and His teaching, handed down to us through the Church, and the times we have pushed His words and teaching away;  we can proceed all the way to Good Friday, when we see how, even in the midst of our own rejection of His words and teaching at times in our lives, He still embraces the Cross for us, and sacrifices Himself in His humanity, to share with us His divinity.

I urge you to take advantage this week, of any and every opportunity to spend time reflecting on the Gospels, participating in the Sacraments, and examining your own relationship with Christ and His Church.  Lay your joys and gratitude before Him like the welcoming crowds in Jerusalem – lay too, your sorrows and struggles at the foot of His Cross at Calvary; and recognize that in all of this, just like the events of Holy week, at the center of it all, is Jesus.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

5th Sunday of Lent

This has been a tremendous week, in which we have seen the election of a new Pope.  Our new Holy Father, Francis, has already given some indications of how his pontificate may unfold; quite frankly, I think it is an exciting time to be Catholic in our world.  We as a people of God, have much to be thankful for. But while we were raising prayers of gratitude, within hours there were those (both outside and within the Church) who were criticizing and condemning the election of Francis – both extremes, ultra-progressive or ultra-traditional portrayed him as the worst possible choice.  It seems, once again, as if our Pope is in a no-win situation.  People in extreme camps will never be satisfied.

We’ve all been in that position I believe, though likely not on that same scale; a no-win situation where we are faced with two choices, and no matter which way we decide, the outcome will not be a good one.  That when we are faced with choosing between what we want and God wants – or even more difficult – pointing out to others when their actions are contrary to what the Church teaches, somehow, someone will be on the losing end of that discussion.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. John, the Pharisees and scribes are using their knowledge of the Law of Moses, the backbone of their worship of God, as a weapon in trying to discredit Jesus.  They don’t really care what he has to teach them, or anyone else; they only know he is a threat to their position and practice among the children of Israel.

To me, one hint that they use the Law as a weapon or tool for their own ends, is the fact that in enforcing the Law, they are apparently very selective;  it says they caught a woman in the act of adultery – well, there must have been someone else with her; where was the man?  They don’t condemn him; but they use the woman because she is of lower standing in their culture.  They use her as a tool, the same way they use the Law.

But the Law is very clear when it comes to adultery, and so they present her case and hers alone, to Jesus.

This looks very much like a no-win situation for Jesus, which is precisely what these particular Pharisees and scribes are counting on;  if he agrees with her accusers and says ‘follow the letter of the Law’ (in other words, stone her to death), he is not really a champion of the lowly and marginalized;  if he says, ‘let her go’ he is telling them to abandon the Law, and effectively, that would be the end of his mission and ministry amongst the children of Israel.

They seem to think they have backed Jesus into a corner from where there is no way out.  Yet Jesus once again illustrates to them that God’s way of thinking is not their way of thinking.  He puts it back to them – ‘let anyone among you who is without sin be the first one to throw a stone…’  Look into your own hearts, Jesus is saying, and tell me that you have never, ever turned away from God in your words or your actions or your thoughts.  Tell me that you have always used the Law as a means of growing in your love of God and love of your neighbour.  Tell me that you have always followed the heart of the Law, mercy and compassion, rather than simply memorizing the letter of the Law.  Tell me that you have never made a mistake, travelled a wrong path, or deliberately chosen to do the opposite of what God asks of you.

Jesus, in his interaction with the woman, expresses the Law as it was intended – not as some weapon, or means of punishment or tool for feeling superior; but as a means of guiding people along in their relationship with God – he tells her, ‘neither do I condemn you…but from now on do not sin again.’  He knows she is very aware (especially after the day’s events) of the Law concerning her behaviour; she knows what she has done is wrong in the eyes of God, and Jesus tells her to stop. He also doesn’t ask her where the man is. Without preaching at her, he deals with her actions and hers alone.

That is correction, in love and charity; it’s a far cry from condemnation.

It’s easy for us to get caught up in the faults of others; somehow it can make us feel better about ourselves – if we ignore our own mistakes and point out the mistakes of others to somehow feel smug or superior.  But when we do that, we are behaving exactly as the scribes and Pharisees in today’s Gospel passage from St. John behaved.

This story does not mean we are to avoid correcting those whose behaviour distances them from God or is contrary to the teaching of the Church.  This does not mean we are to stop pointing out to secular authorities or corporations when their laws, policies or practices are unjust.  This does not mean that we are to stop advocating for the unborn, the elderly, the poor or the marginalized.

What it does mean is that we are to do this in a spirit of mercy and compassion, recognizing that we too have fallen short of the mark in our own relationship with God and with others, and that we are on this earth to support and strengthen each other in those relationships; that we are to help each other get back up when we fall, rather than knocking each other down in a race to be ‘God’s favourites’.

As long as we rely on the love of Jesus, following His teaching handed down to us, and live in the mercy and compassion of God, then when we need to correct ourselves or each other, it will really be a ‘win-win’ situation for all of us.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

…what a week (and then some)…

It’s been 48 hours since the election of our new Pope, Francis I.  I (like many) am quite excited to see how his pontificate will unfold.  He brings with him a reputation for concern for the poor, and a distrust of careerism within the clergy.

I do, like most, have a few random thoughts and observations about how the conclave unfolded, and how this week played out. 

While I don’t want to sound somewhat triumphalist concerning the main stream media (well, okay, maybe just a bit…mea culpa), I did take some delight (mea culpa) and actually some pleasure (mea maxima culpa) in how completely off-base the pre-conclave prognostications, predictions, analysis and demands for ‘change’ were.  It was as if we could all hear (and we likely all participated in the response) everyone in the news-booths respond, ‘Who?’ when the Cardinal Deacon announced ‘Habemus Papam’! 

Despite all of the worldly wisdom to the contrary, the Holy Spirit held the day!

It was with an equal measure of sadness and disappointment, however, that I noticed that within hours (seriously, in that short a time), how the ‘knives’ had already come out.  Progressives were decrying him as a ‘fascist’ while extreme radical traditionalists were condemning his election as the worst choice possible.  Both groups had enough people in each camp writing the most vile and pathetically un-Christian diatribes, that quite frankly, I just couldn’t stomach reading any more (and it actually takes quite a bit to get me to that point).

All I can suggest is that we pray for those who are unhappy, that the Holy Spirit appears to have an agenda other than their’s. 

I might share though, a video that might provide an analogical warning to those who throw stones at the Holy Spirit, as to what the outcome might look like….(this very brief video was actually made by my son David a couple of years ago), and a suggestion: lighten up!

And of course, we pray for our new Pope Francis, as he asked us all to do from that balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square.

‘Leo le Silhouette’

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

4th Sunday of Lent

When I was young, I used to really get annoyed when visiting relatives would say, ‘you look like your father’. It wasn’t just in physical appearance though. Apparently there were expressions, mannerisms and gestures that I had adopted from my father as I grew up.  That was part of that relationship; growing to somehow imitate, even unintentionally,my father.

Relationship is the key to understanding the parable that we read today in St. Luke’s Gospel – it is the account of what is often referred to as ‘the Prodigal Son’; sometimes it is more fittingly called the parable of ‘the Loving Father’.  Whichever perspective you choose to take though, ultimately this parable is about relationship; Jesus uses the circumstances between a father and his two sons (not just the younger son) to express God’s loving generosity and desire for relationship with His children.

 This passage starts with those who consider themselves ‘righteous’ (Pharisees and scribes) complaining that Jesus is mixing with sinners at a meal – a meal being a close and intimate setting of welcome and hospitality.  Jesus then relates the parable to those who ‘practice’ their faith by regulation,concerning those who stray.  We’ve all heard the parable numerous times in numerous ways, so I won’t repeat the entire thing here; but it is important to recognize that both sons in the parable fail to enter directly into relationship with their father; they are both more concerned with ‘getting what they want’ than simply accepting their father’s love and generosity for what it is.

We know the younger son, who really wasn’t entitled to any property given the culture of the time, demanding and being given his share of ‘the inheritance’; he completely takes the privileged life he’s led for granted, and in a final act of ingratitude basically says to his father, ‘ I wish you were dead; the only thing standing between me and what I want – material wealth and pleasure – is you.’ (Remember, it’s an inheritance – you only get the inheritance normally when someone dies.)

Even when he decides to return to his father, it’s not for any great conversion of heart or spiritual awakening; it’s basic need.  He’s hungry, and he knows his father has much and he can at least get shelter and a decent meal as an employee; so he rehearses a grand speech to ‘soften dad up’, to convince his father to feed and house him.

Even the elder son, when news of his brother’s return arrives, misses the point. He starts listing off all the things he has ‘done’ for his father, expecting something in return; a kind of ‘quid pro quo’ – you owe me x because I did y.

 Neither of these sons realizes that all the father wants is to continually give to his children, to have them close, to love them and have them love Him. 

To the younger son, he cuts him off when he starts off his rehearsed speech and embracing him rejoices that he is returned so the father can have him near, simply to ‘be’ with him.  To the elder son, instead of negotiating a reasonable compensation for all of his work, he tells him ‘you are always with me and all that is mine is yours.’

We all have times when we drift away from what we know to be what God calls us to; times when we put our own ambitions or desires or wants ahead of what we are truly called to – other times we can become ‘annoyed’ that God hasn’t responded to our prayers or our desires the way we think He should.  When we begin to think God ‘owes us’ because we practice our faith or have spent our time in devotions to get something we want from God.  There is enough of the younger son and elder son in each of us that this parable should speak volumes to our own spirituality and our own consciences.

But it is in recognizing that all the Father desires is to have His children close, to provide for them, and to have them live in relationship with Him, that we really come to appreciate this parable, the Church, and those around us.  Living out that relationship, we can truly become a reflection of God’s desire for that same relationship with everyone around us; that others will find that we too ‘look like our Father’.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

…our modern cathedrals…

Every now and then, we all write something down either in a letter, an assignment, an essay; and every now and then we look at what we’ve written at a later time and wonder…’did I really write that’?

As part of a course I’m taking, students were given a description of a visit to a grand Gothic cathedral in Europe, describing how the breathtaking construction within elevated the spirits of those standing inside, and simply taking in the view of it all; how the entire structure seemed to speak of the soul’s reaching up towards the immensity and unlimited wonder of God.

The assignment was to write an opinion on what type of structures we build today as our own modern cathedrals. This is part of what I wrote:

“At this point, our culture seems to prize material gain, comfort and entertainment above all else. The latest and greatest structures constructed are reserved to financial institutions, luxury hotels, casinos and sports and entertainment centers. This is not just a phenomena of the west; the world’s tallest structure is in Dubai, while the Raj Palace Hotel in Jaipur, India is among the top three most expensive ( the presidential suite costs $45 thousand per night) . No expense is spared on edifices like the Caesar’s casino complexes (and the irony that I use the example of ‘Caesar’ is not lost on me). These structures speak more to an almost insatiable appetite in our modern age for more material, more entertainment, more pleasure – and a complete neglect of the interior or spiritual life. These are the ‘great cathedrals’ of our modern age, an age which revels in and worships material wealth, physical pleasures and personal status. History has taught us that all of the great empires of the world declined and collapsed over time – yet the cause of their demise was not invading hordes or even natural disaster. The collapse of each great empire was the direct result of complete moral decay from within. This is exemplified in the Roman Empire, particularly in the third and fourth centuries when the people were treated to an excess of ‘Bread and Circuses’ to distract them from the economic and political crises the empire was facing. Those who set aside dependence on the material are less affected by the decay and collapse of these systems; the worldling sets his heart on things that pass and can never completely satisfy; the Christian sets his eyes and heart and soul on God who is the only one who can completely satisfy the desire of our hearts. “

Just a little thought as we continue wandering the lenten desert…

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!