Monday, April 25, 2011

If That’s All There Is…

Who is not being fed?

          I noticed a couple of nice articles about all the people being received into the Church this Easter and a couple of other articles talking about the fact that those joining are less than those who are turning their backs on the faith. Part of this equation, at least in the secular press, is always to presume that these folks must be going elsewhere because they are “not being fed” and that the blame lies with poor preaching by Catholic priests. Although the math might be right, everything else in the equation is gratuitous. People have always drifted away from faith; most haven’t or don’t find “more faith” elsewhere. We should not be taken in by such general or unspecific criticism; lessons in public speaking for Father are not the answer.

          The expression “fallen away” still is the most descriptive and generally applicable term to describe those who have dropped or been dropped from the parish lists. Most people drift off because they were never really part of the life of the Church. Some people just go away sad like the rich young man in the Gospel who wasn’t expecting Jesus’ invitation to come and follow Him. Invariably if people go elsewhere it is because they seek something more accommodating: perhaps the annulment didn’t come quickly enough or whatever (think of poor “Father Oprah” down in Florida). Poor preaching can’t really be the reason as it is nothing new in the Catholic Church. Despite our need to do better in getting the message across that cannot really be to blame. Besides, special effects do not a sermon make: some of the best homilies I have ever heard came from holy men who had never come close to kissing the Blarney Stone. The loss of the sublimity of Catholic worship is certainly more of a factor for people’s disenchantment and which must be coupled with the loss of the supporting culture.

I really think that the supporting culture plays an inestimable role in holding people; that sense of belonging cannot be underestimated. Let’s say 50 years ago, if you ran into the descendants of an immigrant family from southern Italy in the U.S. then they probably were not Catholic. Something happened on that Atlantic crossing or thereafter as they settled in their new country. This was one of the reasons Pope Leo XIII was so insistent on St. Frances Cabrini taking up her apostolate in the U.S. Someone had to receive these people in their new land and help them make a home here, a home like they’d had on the Mediterranean. Too often in the States they didn’t find the village culture of Puglia or Sicily and could not insert themselves into the Irish or German parishes in the big cities. They fell through the cracks, if you will.

          In our day, the cultural factor plays out very clearly with Mexican immigrants. I remember learning from some Mexican sisters working in the States in a parish visitation program that those coming from Mexico who had been educated in their faith could more easily be incorporated into parishes up north. Those coming from parts of Mexico where they had not experienced much beyond baptism, felt no ties to Catholicism at all and could be attracted to any church where they spoke Spanish.

          Years ago people said you could tell a Catholic church by the vestibule: no coat racks. Our cultural experience and our sense of belonging was not meant to be exhausted in “church-going”. As an older lady friend of mine explained it, she was so grateful as a little girl to be Catholic and not Anglican, because her Anglican friends ended up spending the whole of Sunday morning in church, hymn singing. Our cultural experience was different and it involved fasting, abstinence, processions, pilgrimages, lots of devotions and more depending on where in the world you came from. What we shared in common was an exquisitely sober, understated Sunday Mass, which never lasted more than an hour (for fear the parking lot wouldn’t be emptied out in time for the next Mass!). It was for all of the folk in the pews their time before the Throne of God. Silence and order entered into a life which might otherwise be hectic and noisy; here there was no pressure and no surprises. No one foisted himself or herself on anyone.

          Sunday Mass was the cornerstone of a cultural complex which included altar society, sodalities, Knights of Columbus, Holy Name Society, Legion of Mary, St. Vincent de Paul and the parish school, just to get started. The Sign of the Cross and meal prayers effectively set us apart from everyone else. We belonged; we knew who we were as Catholics; we were sustained by a whole way of life, by a culture.

          People who cannot comprehend the attraction of younger people to solemn liturgy, Gregorian Chant, polyphony and all things classically sacred, well, I wonder whether they are really in touch with themselves. The popularity of Adoration Chapels, as I have said before, should come as no surprise. People truly do hunger for sacred space; people really do want to watch and adore; people really do want to sit or kneel silently in His Presence. Most folks’ weeks are too full of stimulation: ear buds, big screen and 3D? Adherence to rubrics (a tip of the biretta to Fr. Z. of “Say the Black; do the Red!”) would really help immensely. Sunday worship must be restored to God and withdrawn from the realm of anyone’s discretion. The marquee out front with the theme for Sunday is not our style. Silence and a spirit of prayer must return to our churches.

          The point being, that in a genuinely Catholic culture it has always been the para-liturgical out in the square (like a Holy Week in Sevilla or most anywhere in Latin America) which has satisfied folks' needs for expression. Churches themselves must be safe havens without all that which characterizes folk expression and celebration.

          A decade or more ago Catholic people were seeking out Byzantine Liturgy in their thirst for the Living God, in their desire to be fed (which had nothing to do with preaching). In our day, especially in some of the big cities but also in monasteries far from the rush of the maddening crowd, beautiful Extraordinary Form liturgy and nobly reformed celebrations of the Ordinary Form draw people and inspire requests for reclaiming our parish churches for beauty and order. I hope and pray that no more time will be lost in casting out the old yeast so that people might once again and universally be fed with the unleavened bread of liturgy in spirit and in truth.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Running for Joy

Easter Sunday – 2011
Acts 10:34; 37-43
Colossians 3:1-4
John 20:1-9

          The first reading for today is really the centerpiece of the account from the Acts of the Apostles of Peter’s mission to Cornelius and all in his household. Peter was the one surely who encouraged those good folk to Baptism, but Peter was himself encouraged by God to take this step through visions and signs, including the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Cornelius and family just as had happened to the disciples gathered in the Upper Room at Pentecost. The revelation from God was that even though they were pagans Peter should not to hesitate to baptize them and bind them to Jesus, Whose life-giving death upon the Cross and glorious Resurrection were meant to be proclaimed to the ends of the earth and to benefit all who believed in Him. Easter is a universal feast; Easter is for everyone and for all peoples of all times.
          In the second volume of the Holy Father’s book Jesus of Nazareth, which came out not that long ago, he speaks of the clear understanding from the very beginning that the good news of Jesus Christ and His Resurrection was not reserved for the People of the Covenant, the Jews. In fact, quoting St. Paul to the Romans 11:25, the Holy Father unites himself with our whole tradition which teaches that “... a hardening has come upon a part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved…” The mission to the pagans was of the utmost urgency, so that God’s beloved and chosen people could also be brought to Him in Christ in accordance with God’s plan.
This mission is urgent yet today; we need as followers of Christ, as His disciples and ministers, to do all in our power to see to it that all people, starting with family and friends, come in, are bound to Christ, the Savior of all mankind. No one should be left out through the fault of the witnesses to the Resurrection. We through our Catholic faith, we the baptized are obliged and empowered to carry on that same mission today for the sake of the life of the world.
          In this morning’s Gospel everyone is running. Mary of Magdala, saw the stone moved away and ran straight to Peter. Peter and the other disciple then ran to the tomb. We could say that running is what you do in a panic, but I think in this case running is what you do in the face of something this big, this great. As the Gospel says:
“Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”
          My hope and prayer for you today, for all of us, is that our Lenten penance, discipline, training (you choose the word!) now completed has us in better shape for a little running. Like Mary of Magdala, like Peter and the other discipline, we are not simply passive spectators to the great mystery of Christ’s victory in the glory of the Resurrection. We form an important part of the picture, which should see us running too, running to tell others the good news so that they with us can be bound to Christ. The goal is that we might sooner reach that “full number of Gentiles” which St. Paul talks about in the hope that Israel might come in too.
          The joy of Easter should not be lost on anyone and it is up to us to run and tell one and all that Jesus has won the victory over sin and death. There is no such thing as oblivion in death, thanks to the Risen One; life is not ended but changed. Alleluia! 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

His Victory

Easter Sunday
During the Night
The Easter Vigil
Rosary Monastery, St. Ann’s
23 April 2011
Romans 6:3-11
Matthew 28:1-10

          “And there, coming to meet them, was Jesus.”
I can remember as a young man in seminary, 22 or 23 years old, being very much perplexed by the insistence of one of my scripture professors hammering home again and again in class that the appearances of the Risen Christ were more important than the fact that the women and Peter and John saw the empty tomb early in the morning on Easter Sunday, saw and believed… I never really understood his insistence.
I guess it must have been one of those academic/professorial things, like dissecting frogs in biology class. There are certainly lessons to be learned from looking at the parts, but a frog is a frog when it’s alive and hopping around with all of its parts. Any child could tell you that the empty tomb was a great surprise and terribly important, but the whole message comes through as we have it from the Gospel: “And there, coming to meet them, was Jesus.” Empty Tomb and Risen Christ: no child would ever separate them; together they tell the story; together they make that good news which is more than just one alleluia worth.
          Sadly, we really can, just like the absent minded professor of the comedy, get out of touch or miss the bigger picture of things. Our Lenten penance and our meditation on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ in this Holy Week are meant to bring us to the joy of this night, to the tenuous light of the Easter candle, to the simple but oh so profound joy, exultation really, of learning that the tomb is empty “And there, coming to meet them, was Jesus.”
          The strife is ore, the battle done, now is the victor’s triumph won…. Alleluia, as the old Easter hymn goes. Easter must be seen for what it is in all its glory: more than a remembrance or recalling, Easter is an actual victory and victory celebration. Easter is now and it is everything, because in the Resurrection of Jesus the whole scene changes, the script for the play of humanity is definitively rewritten, not so much for the sake of a new and happy ending, but as a launch into that which is beyond time.
          The world around us is way too much here and now. Maybe that’s why in terms of sentiment even for Christians (and I say this sadly), maybe that’s why even for Christians Easter takes a sentimental second place to Christmas and the Baby in the manger. Our faith in the Son of God become man like us in all things but sin, offered up upon the Cross for our salvation, risen gloriously on the third day, breaking the bonds of Hell, this is our faith! It is anything but everyday, anything but a recipe for healthy and happy living. The world, the universe, everything but everything is changed because Jesus has won for us the victory over sin and death. Alleluia, He is Risen as He said! Alleluia!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Sinless in the Sinner's Stead

Good Friday
Celebration of the Lord’s Passion
Rosary Monastery, St. Ann’s
22 April 2011
Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
John 18:1-19:42

          “By force and by law he was taken; would anyone plead his cause?”

I often wonder just how ready you and I are to identify with the Lord Jesus delivered up for all of us. Without even wishing to be too radical about it all, I wonder how many of us would be ready to face jail or some other curtailment of our civil rights for the sake of defending the truth, let us say against a government which does not defend the defenseless (by promoting abortion or mercy-killing of those who cannot speak for themselves) or against any earthly power which deprives me of choices which are fundamental choices and in conformity with the teaching of the Church and the dictates of my conscience as informed and enlightened by God’s law. Could I face the persecution many of my Catholic brothers and sisters face in countless countries around the world today?
“By force and by law he was taken; would anyone plead his cause?”
“It’s just not fair!” We hear said over and over again. Most of us spend a goodly amount of time rebelling against the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. Life should be decent we claim, decent and dignified for one and all. And yet Jesus was taken, and very much alone with none to defend Him, Jesus was indeed taken “by force and by law”: He the sinless one in the sinner’s stead.
“During his life on earth, he offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard.”
That the Father heard the Son’s prayer is sure; it is our faith which teaches us this. He hears the prayers of all who identify with His Son in the very same way. Good Friday is a meditation on His terrible and undeserved suffering, which He shouldered just as He shouldered the Cross, for the sake of the life of the world. Jesus humbled Himself that we, sinful humanity who turn to Him, that we might be exalted in Him. If we share His Cross we will share His Glory.
Why do we venerate the wood of the Cross today? What is the sense or what meaning should that genuflection, that bow have? How can we explain that kiss for the wood today, of our crucifix which is a remembrance of the Cross drenched with His Blood so long ago? What kind of a statement are we making? Does it come from the heart? Or is it just a simple and unthinking gesture, little more than one of the many quick swishes of the hand and arm with which we bless ourselves each day? Or does this veneration of the Cross touch our souls and say clearly where we want to go with our lives? Our veneration of the Cross should be our way of saying by gesture: “Jesus, I am with You, with You all the way to the Cross”!
          I really don’t want through more words than that to detract from your individual meditation on Jesus’ love for us as evidenced in His Sacrifice for us upon the Cross, but I would like your honoring His Cross to be, yes, a thank you, yes, a sign of affection for Him on your part, but also a yes, here am I, Lord, I come to do your will. I pray that your veneration of the Cross today would be a “yes” to the invitation from Jesus that we become a new creation in Him, that we set our hearts on His world, on the life of the world to come, that we bind ourselves without reservation to Jesus, just as for our sake Jesus allowed Himself to be bound to the Cross.
“We had all gone astray like sheep, each taking his own way, and the Lord burdened him with the sins of all of us. Harshly dealt with, he bore it humbly, he never opened his mouth, like a lamb that is led to the slaughter-house, like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers never opening its mouth [] by force and by law he was taken; would anyone plead his cause?”
It may be that we expect too much out of this life in terms of justice and fairness, maybe not, maybe we live in quiet desperation, hoping for little or nothing. The point is that in one direction or the other we have strayed and most certainly we have failed to bind our lot in this world to Christ and to His Cross. Let us turn together in repentance and in hope to Him Who reigns, Who rules the whole world upon that life-giving Tree. Behold the Wood of the Cross!
Nos autem gloriari oportet 
in cruce Domini Nostri Jesu Christi: 
in quo est salus, vita et resurrectio nostra 
per quem salvati et liberati sumus.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fullness of Love and Life in Christ

Holy Thursday
Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Rosary Monastery, St. Ann’s
21 April 2011
Exodus 12:1-8. 11-14
I Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-15

“It was before the festival of the Passover, and Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father. He had always loved those who were his in the world, but now he showed how perfect his love was.”
          In the Opening Prayer for Mass on this day we proclaim that Jesus gave us the Eucharist “to reveal his love”, that He gave us the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper (as it is called on Holy Thursday) “to reveal his love.” Our central prayer intention for this evening is that “in this Eucharist we may find the fullness of love and life.”
          By way of Old Testament prophecy, we see in the Passover commemorating Israel’s liberation from the slavery of Egypt the sure sign of God’s love for His people, whom He set free and set on the road to the Promised Land. Love is about respect and service and in the Washing of the Feet we see another powerful witness to Christ’s love for us, His people, for whom He laid down His life. The bread and the cup of which St. Paul speaks are the symbols of the new and everlasting covenant in Christ’s Body and Blood. We proclaim the death of the Lord Who loves us even unto the Cross and Grave until He comes again in glory.
          But where is love really? What is love all about? Where and how does the Church, Christ’s Bride, His other self if you will, where and how does the Church effectively witness to the love of Christ crucified? How does the Church disclose what is going on for us in His Sacred Heart? One way the Church does it and has always done it over the centuries is through its ministry of charity. We only need think of somebody like Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She teaches to love as Christ loved. She is one of a whole army over the centuries which has loved without counting the cost, loving as Christ first loved us.
          That is one element, a very practical one, but there is also a truly significant symbolism or imagery which relates more of the story and helps us comprehend more fully and profoundly what God-like love is all about.
          Lest we forget, the imagery is not something all that evident or clear for some folk. I can remember back as a seminarian in the early 1970’s being exposed to the theories and teaching of Christiane Brusselmans (1930-1991). She was a Catholic religious educator, catechetical advocate for children and a pioneer in the implementation of the Rite of Christian Initiation in the United States. She had some good things but to my mind was really oddball about not putting a crucifix in the baby’s room at home. I think she had a favorite plaque she recommended a Jesus, the Good Shepherd, hugging a couple of fluffy white lambs. When you are less than 25, as I was at the time, and the woman talking to you is big and red-headed, speaks with a thick Belgian accent and has bishops and cardinals all cow-towing to her, well, you keep your thoughts to yourself. But both back then and now I find something terribly wrong with anybody who would deprive a baby of an encounter with Jesus on the Cross.
          Just the other day, my sister and I were talking fondly about missing the Crucifix which shows up in all the old family pictures of us as babies taken in Mom and Dad’s bedroom. “God so loved the world…” says John 3:16. Jesus prophesied that He would draw all men to Himself when He was lifted up, and we know that means lifted up on the Cross, not when we see Him sitting down on a big rock somewhere out in a field cuddling fluffy lambs.
          But where is love really? What is love all about? Where and how does the Church, Christ’s Bride, His other self, where and how does the Church effectively witness to the love of Christ crucified? How does the Church disclose what is going on for us in His, in Jesus’ Sacred Heart?
          Do you suppose I could get a nod or a quiet little “Amen” out of you if I suggested that we need to turn down the volume and slow the rush in our lives a bit if we want to really understand or appreciate what Jesus did for us and how God loves us? I think Jesus must have tried to do so with those present at the Last Supper; He sought to focus the disciples and calm all their fears and distractions there in the Upper Room on that Holy Thursday Evening. Our worship space and time ought to do the same for us; it needs to offer us the possibility of grappling with our question or questions about love and the Cross. Tonight in a special way, but always at Mass we ought to be able to access what is meant really by love, we ought to be able to receive an answer to our prayer intention: that “in this Eucharist we may find the fullness of love and life.”
          I can remember at a retreat house in Italy seeing a sort of famous modern sculpture of St. John the Evangelist falling back in fright with Christ crucified looming over him. I remember in the gift shop of that house they had a black and white postcard with a picture of that sculpture; I even bought a couple to take with me as a reminder. The concept displayed by that sculpture is wrong however. Jesus on the Cross did not repel or frighten and in my lifetime and experience of growing up in a Catholic family He never frightened any of us, especially not as children, no matter what Ms. Brusselmans and others of her school may have thought. We knew and understood that on the Cross Christ was lifted up for our salvation; on the Cross He drew all to Himself. His Cross did not loom over us or threaten us. When we say that the Holy Eucharist, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is an unbloody renewal of His Sacrifice once and for all on the altar of the Cross, we are also saying that here Jesus attracts, He draws to Himself, here at Mass and especially here at this, the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, it is indeed He, the Lord Jesus, the Lord of Life and Love, Who attracts; He draws us to Himself and incorporates us into the mystery of His boundless love.
          Is it too little to answer the question “Where is love?” by saying “Why it is right here! Just be still and know the Lord Who loved you even unto death”? I think not; I think the teaching shines through clearly at Mass, that is if we let it.
          The symbolism of the Cross, of the Holy Eucharist, just like the witness of the Church to God’s love for His people through her works of charity (code word: Mother Teresa) is rooted in the believing life of faithful people at home, the very people who lovingly placed that crucifix on their bedroom wall. If that was not your experience, if you have complaints about your home life, set them aside in favor of what you know to be true and allow the Lord to work through you to see to it that everyone in your household today has a better chance than maybe you did of encountering the selfless love of the Son of God in you, as you give and never count the cost, as you give not for the sake of chalking up points or receiving some kind of a trophy or merit badge or a mother or father of the year award, but Godlike for the sake of His Holy Will.
In a sense, our prayer intention for this evening is a life project. Let it be so! Let us draw strength for that project from our worship here this evening. As we continue now with the washing of feet, as we pray the Eucharistic Prayer and receive the Lord in Holy Communion, the Lord Who gave Himself up entirely for our sake, as we watch and pray with Him in Gethsemane at the Altar of Repose, may we indeed come to find the fullness of life and love in Christ.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cerebral Enough for You?

There is no small urgency to mounting a significant challenge to a wrongly and broadly held presumption that contemporary liturgy’s essential content is cerebral. It is when we are caught up in the faulty logic of presuming that contemporary worship is a catechetical content waiting to be embellished that we come up with all of the abuse and distortion of the last 40 years “in these or similar words” (substitutions for Psalms, use of all manner of puppets, pop music taped or otherwise, dance or aerobic gesturing, etc.). In a lot of ways we’ve painted ourselves into the proverbial corner and there is nowhere to go from here. The Mass as we find it on paper is not a basic premise for a catechetical event just waiting to be planned by a well-meaning committee. Lots of people are speaking will all kinds of enthusiasm about the rich treasure trove of the new Roman Missal for the English speaking world. Please, God, let it be so!
          The tragedy in all we experience to date, because of planning committees and the creativity imposed upon us, consists not only in the loss of any sense of good taste or reserve. Indeed it provokes a faith crisis at least among the young, who find the whole setup all too human and on the basis of the evidence presented begin to wonder what God really has to do with an operation which seems all too creative, a fabrication in a sense. One wonders at times whether Father isn’t suffering from the same crisis of faith as he too finds himself caught up in the charade. Maybe Father needs a “lifeline” to save him from the “logic” of the last forty years. Maybe he sees no way out; maybe he has despaired of anything better. I do not think what I am saying is farfetched. Take just the one example of a priest’s availability to those who seek the sacraments today!
Before all of the advances in technology, recourse to the telephone was rare and certainly prioritized such that if you needed Father for a sick call you phoned the rectory and he answered… and he came. If you didn’t have a phone, you sent the neighbor with a car to go and fetch Father for the person in need... and he came. Today Father hides from non-prioritized, spontaneous and unthinking use of the phone; he does so with answering machines and all sorts of other technology which perhaps restore priorities and the privacy which in the old days resulted from ordinary folks not daring to reach for the phone without a life and death reason. Today in lots of parishes we have a situation where the maze is so perfect that a loved one is no longer confessed, anointed and accompanied by the Lord of Life for that last journey. Does this trouble Father at all or is he having doubts about the operation as well? I had a bishop complain to me that he has never been able to reach one of his priests directly by telephone: the secretary or housekeeper takes the call and at Father’s convenience Father may or may not return the bishop’s call… Just think how much harder it must be for a lay person seeking him without the willingness to be subjected to the scrutiny of Mrs. So and So!
Without the habit of regular confession, all that remains for most Catholics is that weekly hour of power, which can be reshaped at will, it would seem, and used for all sorts of things, with “experts” taking to the pulpit in conformity with a logic inspired by truly entertaining shows on your friendly, not-so-local, devotional, cable channel. Mass becomes Sunday school, if I can simplify the expression a bit, and there is no doubt that the rupture with our liturgical past does indeed exist and is in fact complete.
          A film of a Low Mass celebrated at the high altar of St. Peter’s by Pope Pius XII in 1942 is making the rounds of the blogosphere these days. One is struck by the presence of what looks like an omni-directional radio microphone on the altar. The Basilica is packed and the Square is filled to overflowing with people as well. A sea of humanity, baptized humanity, stands or kneels before the Throne of God, not entertained by orchestra or choir, not even seeing anything on jumbo video screens, in touch (perhaps?) acoustically thanks to that microphone and minimal contact with the same Latin text they know so well from Sunday Mass in their parishes. What indeed is Mass really about? It would be most hard to attribute its intellectual or cerebral content to the words alone.
          A younger priest friend of mine, who has never celebrated Mass in Latin, shared with me his despair over the possibility of correcting or eliminating the liberties which priests take with the vernacular, rendering it discursive, casual and really a fabricated thing. Personally, I am not without hope because of my experience with the changes to my own mindset and ars celebrandi which oriented worship has brought me. Turning together to the Lord (ad Orientem) with those who gather in my chapel for Mass, from the Preparation of the Gifts until it is time for the Prayer after Communion, makes a positive difference in the way I preside and, I would dare say, it frees people to pray to the Lord together and directly, without the scrutiny of Father’s unwanted eye contact. I would urge priests to “turn to the Lord”; it might rekindle the faith or fan that spark into a blaze.
          The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass needs to be returned to its “pedestal” if you will. The “have-mass-kit-will-travel” mentality does not help matters. There are folks who have the stipend to command the baptism of a grandchild on their patio and make it easier to move right into the catered reception. Is this not a diminution of the sacrament? I know of folk who have managed by hook or by crook to get Father to come to their home to celebrate mass on their wedding anniversary each year. The mass becomes too little as Father bends to including all the special rights of holding hands or whatever which are dear to them as a couple from their college days. Do birthdays over a certain age need to get marked with a mass in the home before a supper with family and friends or as a prelude to some great holiday event? Can this be done just so without diminishing the Sacrifice itself?
          The Holy Father has infinite patience in these matters and I guess I should too. There are times, however, when I wonder if it isn’t time to call out the fire brigade…

Lest We Fall!

"Someone who has dipped his hand into the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man is going to his fate, as the scriptures say he will, but alas for the man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born!" 

Some time back I started to review Fr. Robert Barron's reflection (Word on Fire) on the Catholic Faith concerning Hell and what we must believe. Time and commitments intervened and it was not done, but the proclamation of the Passion according to St. Matthew and the lot of Judas got me thinking again. My worry is for all of us who presume prerogatives simply because we have been at table (if you will) with Jesus. My worry is that not only in what we do wrong or fail to do right or fail to do at all but also in failing to hear (take cognizance) of the word of the Son, as the Voice of the Father admonished in words to hear at the Baptism of the Lord in the Jordan or Transfigured on Mt. Tabor, we are not stung to the heart by His woe statement having application to more than the crime of tragic Judas: "Better for that man if he had never been born!" 

Fr. Barron, I wish to stick with St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, with the graphics of medieval and rennaissance frescoes and paintings of the Final Judgment. The children at Fatima had the message to be heard and heeded in terms of the final end of not only that one, but of all those who fail to register the words of the Son of Man: "Better for that man if he had never been born!" 

Fire and brimstone on Palm Sunday? Yes and why not? Ours is a spiritual combat and failing to take up arms against the Evil One, against the "accuser of our brothers" whom Jesus by His victory on the Cross has cast out, failing to struggle is declining the invitation to choose life. Do little boys and girls today play at being heroic and chivalrous? Some do, I am sure. But I fear that heroism and the patriotic fight are not common fare in the domestic culture of our day. The do or die tension of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy is lost on the folk, I fear, and relished as a movie experience to be lumped with the violent of the vampire genre...

I won't shout "fear for your soul!" but I will take a clue from St. Paul and say "Watch out lest you fall!" The richness of Scriptures draws us to follow Christ, hurrying on behind Him in the beauty of His fragrance, but also cognizant that if we are not with Him... well, then we are against Him. At some point, our grave choices against life and love as willed by God, our materialism on the backs of the poor and potential future generations, our languishing in the shadows, like Judas and his read on what should have been expected from the Messiah, meek and riding on a donkey, whom he refused...well, at some point those choices or no's will catch up with us. "Better for that man if he had never been born!" 


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Prophecy and His Passion

"One of them, Caiaphas, the high priest that year, said, 'You don't seem to have grasped the situation at all; you fail to see that it is better for one man to die for the people, than for the whole nation to be destroyed.' He did not speak in his own person, it was as high priest that he made this prophecy that Jesus was to die for the nation - and not for the nation only, but to gather together in unity the scattered children of God." (Gospel for Saturday of the 5th Week of Lent) 

I think that this year is the very first time in my whole life that I have not found incongruous St. John's application of the word "prophecy" to Caiaphas' interjection into this conspiratorial gathering and exchange. The boy Daniel shouting out that he would have no part in the stoning of Susannah, yes, but finally and only today also Caiaphas gets a 'yes' to being prophetic in the fullest sense of the word. The high priest for that year, by office, was not predicting, he was teaching as prophets do, laying out or exposing God's plan for His people. Incredible! In my 61st year of earthly life the Evangelist breaks through!

Personally, of course, this has multiple lessons for me. It is a great encouragement to return again and again to the Scriptures for nourishment. There is certainly and much benefit from aiming at outdoing St. Jerome in striving for familiarity with the Holy Writ! St. John in this passage recognizes the teaching authority of the high priest despite his adversarial position to God's Holy and Anointed One! With that lesson, in terms of established authority and my duty to religious obedience without necessarily complicating the equation by scrutinizing somebody's personal moral stature, there is much I and our society could learn to restore civilization and culture.

Fair warning then! My Holy Week this year will be lived or meditated better, I think, in the sense that it has finally dawned upon me just how close the chief priests and Pharisees were to Jesus in this whole drama. St. John not only knew (remember from the Passion according to St. John: "So the other disciple, the one known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who was keeping the door and brought Peter in." ) but he taught that the struggle is indeed at close quarters. Not only are a man's enemies those of his own household but sometimes they can even prophesy in God's Name.

St. Jerome insisted that ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ. Others and many teach us to go again and again to the unquenchable source which is God's Word, as written down, as handed down and interpreted by His Church. May we all open our ears and our hearts to Him and to His Word living within His Church! May our Holy Week turn on no few lights and lighten all the dark corners which have not yet understood!

Prophecy? Yes, even from Caiaphas as high priest that year!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Just Too Good!

This piece over on The Chant Cafe' is too good not to link. I have a number of dear friends I'd like to give it to and offer them a quiet corner to read and reflect: Common Misapprehensions