Saturday, July 30, 2011
Sunday, July 17, 2011
of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Saturday, 16 July 2011,
St. George’s, Grenada
Nehemiah 8:1-4a, 5-6, 8-10
Rededicating today this Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is in a sense almost as dramatic as the events we heard about in our first reading from the Old Testament prophet Nehemiah, recounting what happened when the forgotten/neglected book of the law was discovered by a younger and more impressionable generation of leaders and taken out and read to all the people. Thanks to this discovery, to good leadership and to their openness, a people once again came to appreciate their having been chosen by God as His very own people. They came to know of their treasured relationship with the living God which had been rejected or neglected by their parents. You might say that youth and good will together found their way back to obedience to the law and thereby to the God Who had never stopped loving His people. Please, God, that this rededication today would have a positive and invigorating effect on the faith life of all in the diocese of St. George’s in Grenada!
“(F)or this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
It has been almost 7 years since hurricane Ivan blew through town. While 7 years might not be much to some, it does mean that a lot of Grenada’s children and youth never experienced the “before” of this Cathedral as compared to our joyful “after” of today. Granted, this rebuilding or restoration after the storm can’t be compared to that eventful day described by Nehemiah. Other than the building itself, things haven’t fallen apart here in Grenada for lack of a church building; nobody here has forgotten God’s law or grown up ignorant of their Catholic faith because the Cathedral was in ruins. We can say, however, that having this house of worship, this house of prayer back again gives to you all a special point of reference for your life and identity as Catholic Christians, as a diocese, as a local Church. This church can serve as a point of reference for understanding who we are in the only world which counts: in God’s world. Thanks be to God! Thanks to all who worked so hard! Thank you to all of the donors and benefactors who contributed to the reconstruction!
What indeed does it mean to be back on Church Street and in this building? We know that the word “cathedral” comes from the word “cathedra” which is the proper term for the bishop’s chair here in this church. Before the Babylonian exile in the Temple at Jerusalem the only chair or seat was the so-called “mercy seat” or propitiatory within the Holy of Holies where once a year the high priest entered alone to sprinkle the blood of sacrificed animals in expiation for the sins of the people. Outside the Temple building proper, which was preserved as space for God alone, however, there was a column where the king stood and which was a point of reference for the people and for the king before God Almighty for Whom the Temple was so to speak His footstool and heaven His throne.
The bishop’s chair, the cathedra, is for us in the New Testament a unique point of reference, focusing the people’s gaze and with authority drawing us to Christ, the Shepherd of our souls and our Redeemer. Anywhere, not just in church, not just in this cathedral and not just from his cathedra, your bishop can teach and through teaching the faith which comes to us from the apostles, he can bind you as one to the confession of St. Peter as we heard it proclaimed from Matthew’s Gospel: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” While it may be true that we don’t necessarily need the brick and mortar or the roof over our heads for worshiping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, still in many ways it is so much better to have this place. Different from the old Temple days, besides Mass times, you can come in to this house of prayer anytime and without the mediation of the high priest, you can place yourself directly before the mercy seat, not the footstool of the Almighty but the Tabernacle housing the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus, True God and True Man, here present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, Jesus, the only mediator between God and men, Jesus perfectly present for us, whole and undivided under the form of Bread.
“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked His disciples and after Peter responded with his confession of the true faith, the Lord declared that not flesh and blood but God the Father Himself had revealed to Peter, in the midst of the other disciples, the presence among them of His only begotten Son. In this place and in a very special way, we stand in continuity, we stand at one with St. Peter. Here with all due solemnity you/we profess our faith together with the bishop. Normally, unless we live close by, we worship in our parish churches and Father mentions the bishop’s name along with that of the Holy Father as he prays for us the Eucharistic Prayer. Here we see the bishop and are reminded of the Shepherd Who sits at the right hand of the Father and will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
Seeing the kind of destruction which Ivan brought in September of 2004, no one here has any illusions about the permanency of structures built with human hands, but our faith is not really in the building itself. The building is a reminder of the teaching outlined by St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians:
“(Y)ou are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
This Cathedral then is a visual aid, a constant reminder that it is we, living stones anchored on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, steadied and made secure forever by Christ Jesus Himself, we are as one God’s Holy Temple, His dwelling place among men.
On my first visit to St. George’s six years ago, the clean-up had been done, but all that was left standing really was the tower and the apse with the Crucifix. I remember clearly that people were still debating about the whether, the where and the how of rebuilding. There were all kinds of considerations and priorities to be kept in mind, as everyone agreed that the Catholic Church in Grenada should set a proper example by meeting the urgent and basic needs of the people first and foremost. All things come in their own good time and I assure you, I am glad you did decide, that you rebuilt this church as a house of prayer, as your cathedral and not just as a memorial to an older generation that long before you had sacrificed to build on this spot. Praise God! You have your cathedral back and on Church Street!
Having this house of worship, this house of prayer back again gives you a special point of reference as I say: a point of reference for understanding who we are in the only world which counts: in God’s world. Can I configure/set myself up like a computer or some kind of super-phone as I see fit, choose for myself how I will be Catholic, about whether Sunday Mass will be part of my life, about whether and how and which of the Commandments I’ll obey, about the importance of the Sacrament of Penance in my life for the worthy reception of Holy Communion? Is my will and how I see my life necessarily God’s Will? Not hardly! That’s why Ezra the scribe read the book of the law of Moses to the people; that is why they began to cry and had to be encouraged to celebrate, now that they had opened their ears and their hearts to God’s law.
“(F)or this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Join me today not only in rejoicing but also in begging the Lord to forgive those, to open the ears of those, to touch the hearts of those who stubbornly set their own rules and prefer a natural sunset to the Dawn who visits us from on high, Christ the Lord! Turn to the Lord with your bishop, let his chair, his cathedra in his cathedral church remind you of the Lord Jesus here among us, who one day will sit in judgment over us all. Be reminded always, both at Liturgy and when you come to visit this house, not only just of the loving God Who gave the law, but of God’s only Son, who gave His life for us upon the Cross! Buildings come and go; they are not absolutely essential, but they can certainly inspire us and direct us on our path to God.
St. George’s has its Cathedral back! Thanks be to God!
Saturday, July 9, 2011
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A
“As the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth… so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.”
… the edge of the path; … on patches of rock; … among thorns; … on rich soil: [^] … he is without understanding; [^] … there is no root in him; [^] … the worries of this world and the lure of riches choke the word; [^] … he hears the word and understands it.
Whenever I hear this parable I thankfully remember my time in the Apostolic Nunciature in Berlin. The short corridor to the chapel was decorated with original stained glass windows portraying this parable of the Sower and the Seed and every time I passed when it was light outside the windows offered me a reminder, let’s say an examination of conscience in terms of my responsibility to be a hearer and an “understander” of God’s word; even though I many times sin or fail, as Jesus says to His disciples and to us, I am most fortunate as I am among those who understand, as are you, for by His great gift I was granted access to the mysteries of the Kingdom. As He tells us in today’s Gospel:
“(T)he mysteries of the kingdom of heaven are revealed to you, but they are not revealed to them… in their case this prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled: You will listen and listen again, but not understand, see and see again, but not perceive. For the heart of this nation has grown coarse, their ears are dull of hearing, and they have shut their eyes, for fear they should see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their heart, and be converted and be healed by me.”
This phrase reminds me of a priest up in the U.S. who some people tout as a modern day Fulton J. Sheen. His name is Fr. Robert Barron and he has a network TV program in Chicago, but I know him from a powerful internet presence, especially his videos on YouTube. While he teaches on every imaginable topic, just like Bishop Sheen back in the 1950’s, I wish to mention his attention to the criticism of religion coming from modern day atheists, people on the edge of the path who just don’t get it; they don’t understand or won’t understand God’s word at all. Fr. Barron is of a mind that we should all be trained to answer these critics who reject God and His Church. Father would like to see a revival and not just for priests and seminarians of the study of apologetics, which Webster’s dictionary defines, and I think satisfactorily so for our purposes, as: “1: systematic argumentative discourse in defense (as of a doctrine) 2: a branch of theology devoted to the defense of the divine origin and authority of Christianity.” For those of us who know our catechism, it is basically standing up for our faith.
Fr. Barron lives in hope of converting these atheists and that is good, for you and for me an apologetic stance in matters of faith and religion means putting our lamp, the lamp of faith, on the lamp stand where it belongs, and filling our space with light. For us it is first and foremost, as I say, lighting the lamp of truth, the truth which comes from God, and sweeping our house clean to make it ready to receive Christ, our Bridegroom.
We may not always be 100% sure about everything, but we do know and understand. In matters of faith we are not that patch of rocks without depth. Perhaps we could be more profound, we could take things more to heart and try better to understand, but we do know; we do understand. In point of fact it is the worries of this world and the lure of riches that choke the word in our lives.
Speaking of worrying, I worry an awful lot about young people especially, as they are really too exposed to noise and distractions today. One of the things which makes me cringe in traffic, for example, are young people in vehicles seemingly just driving around with very loud music blaring. Too much video and audio stimulation doesn’t deserve to be called stimulation because its effect on us is, has to be numbing. We need to think things through; we need to think things out and that can’t be done with the TV always there to one side or loud music pushing everything out of our space.
Older folk once upon a time listened to music: way back, maybe, there was a program on the radio which received their full attention every Sunday before dinner. I have a friend here in Trinidad who really listens to music yet; she gives it here full attention for that hour or whatever it is and even reads up on the artists or the composer. That is not the kind of sound I’m talking about; that is still an active participation in an art form and not something which just fills what might be an enriching silence and perhaps a space for prayer.
… the edge of the path? … on patches of rock? … among thorns? … on rich soil: where are you? Do a special examination of conscience for yourself on those points! You may not have a corridor of stained glass to remind you of the parable and for that matter neither have I for a long time, but the parable is familiar and easy to remember in its four distinctions; even without props we can still test ourselves for receptivity. God’s word bears fruit in our lives to the extent that we are attentive to the word and allow it a place deep within our hearts and for our lives. Why would anyone reject God and in favor of what? I really cannot imagine.
I wish you a quiet Sunday with space and time for reflection and thought. You may discover that the house of your soul needs sweeping out as it has become cluttered for lack of attention on your part. Let His light shine into every corner, clean well and make room for Him! Take on your mission in the light of His word! Be light and salt for this world of ours, which is often out of touch, without depth and totally distracted!
PROPERANTES ADVENTUM DIEI DEI
Sunday, July 3, 2011
Saturday, July 2, 2011
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A
Romans 8:9. 11-13
“Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
If you are of average height and weight, the claim “One Size Fits All” might be credible, but when you are little larger, like I am, especially when it comes to caps or golf hats, you know that the claim has no basis in fact. The “All” is a presumption, and in fact, without foundation. I know. Those caps never fit me.
Today’s Gospel was the very same one we just heard Friday, on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus; that feast is a powerful and beautiful meditation on God’s love for us which took flesh in His Son Jesus. When that same Gospel is read on the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, however, the focus is more on the gentleness and humility of Christ. It includes an invitation to follow Him closely. Be it clear, however, that although it is the same Gospel passage even so we are not just plopping the same hat on another head today. We’re digging deeper into the treasure trove which is Holy Scripture, into the Gospel which reflects that wealth in a very special way.
The interpretive key for the Gospel of this 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time can be found in the 1st reading, taken from the prophet Zechariah:
“See now, your king comes to you; he is victorious, he is triumphant, humble and riding on a donkey…”
Some English translations of our passage from Matthew’s Gospel use the expression “meek and humble” instead of “gentle and humble”. In either case we are reminded of the Beatitudes also from Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus promises that the meek shall inherit the earth, the meek shall be victorious, the meek shall be the ones to conquer. This Sunday tells us who and how Jesus is and how we can be one with Him in His great victory. Go figure, as they say, when our Commander in Chief, our King, is neither a commander nor a chief, but humble.
“Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion!”
There are loads of tools out there for self-improvement. Years and years ago, the classic book title for this genre was “How to succeed in business without really trying”. Or was that a Broadway play? My Dad’s generation had an association called “Toastmasters”, which helped you improve not only your public speaking but also how you met and greeted people. Since then there have been tons of audio and video tapes produced and sold, weekend seminars advertized in airline magazines, and now everything you can imagine digitally produced to help you make yourself better, to help you succeed, however you might see that success.
I doubt however if many have any luck in selling their product who advertize according to the line “How to succeed in business without really trying”. No, I’m more impressed by the “true grit” and maniac exercise programs which promise you good looks and stamina beyond your wildest dreams if you call the number at the bottom of your screen right now; those programs demand hard work and seem more promising. Even so, and rejecting all the preachers/entertainers we see on TV who promise you friendship with God, plus a new home, a new car and a great relationship besides, it must be said and even shouted out that real life and God’s promise is so much more.
The king promised by Zechariah is more; our life as subjects or as followers of the great king is meant to be for us so much more. Yet how hard it is for us to see our lives as more than a response to a code, a set of rules or a teaching! How hard it is to imagine that Jesus Himself has invited us to share His yoke, to share His burden, to share His Cross! This week I happened to see a video from Dublin, Ireland where they stopped people randomly on the street, asked if they had been baptized Catholic (to which all said yes) and then asked them if they went to Mass on Sundays, to which question all but one said either never or hardly ever. In answer to the why don’t you go, nobody I saw came back expressing any appreciation for the fundamental message of the Gospel:
“I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children.”
Too few people, too few young people and not only young people, seem to understand the fundamental truth of our faith that God’s Kingdom is life and love shared, now and for all eternity. We’re competing with no one of a Sunday morning; we have nothing to sell. We’re celebrating our relationship with, our being yoked to Jesus, gentle and humble in heart. The word “boring” doesn’t apply because what we do in worship is neither goal-oriented education or achieving, nor (God forbid!) is it entertainment or a pep rally.
Make your Lord’s Day restful, leisurely with space and time for reflection! Binding us under pain of mortal sin to Sunday Mass is a good thing, because at least here and at least on His Day, the Lord’s Day, we should be able to catch our breath, to find ourselves and to see Who it is we are under the yoke with, Jesus gentle and humble in heart. The slogan “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” is nothing short of perverse. Sunday, just like our daily prayers, awaken us to the only type of success or accomplishment worthy of being called success, triumph and victory. Our real enemies are not the laundry basket piled high, the desk full of unanswered correspondence, the guy infected with road rage who cuts us off in his selfish hurry to get wherever he is going. No, the enemies are fallen-aways from the ranks of the Principalities and Powers. No amount of gym time, no amount of jumping and sweating prepares us for that battle. Our victory is an ultimate one we win yoked to Him. The victory in fact is already won and it belongs to the Lamb upon the Throne Who was slain and now lives forever!
Accept His gentle yoke!