Saturday, March 31, 2007

Palm Sunday

Whether in the pre-reform liturgy or in the present, the Latin Church's way of celebrating this day truly reflects life when one thinks of how quickly the Hosannas of Passion Sunday pass and the palm branches are laid aside for the reading of the Passion (this year from Luke's Gospel). Even the Jerusalem procession on Palm Sunday afternoon from Bethphage to St. Ann's just inside the Sheep Gate (as close as a Christian in procession dare get nowadays to the site of the Old Temple) is more marked by the view of the City from Dominus Flevit than by any idea of the stones crying out should the children remain silent.
Here in the neighborhood the surface of the pond was rippled for a couple of weeks by one man's exasperated and exasperating plea for more hosannas and palm waiving in our Catholic life and church services (?) after the example of our separated brethren, who scour the islands always on the lookout for an unreflective, frustrated or bored soul susceptible to the temptation of settling for a Sunday morning jump and shout marathon instead of worship in spirit and in truth. Our man seemed willing to call for a casting aside of the more restrained and sustained Catholic reading of the Scriptures, of the silences not often enough respected and even of the Holy Sacrifice. Waiving of palms, dancing and shaking up and down the aisle, packing 'em in seemed to him to be viable alternatives and adequate signs of the presence of a Holy Spirit, who evidently isn't to be counted as present if sumthin isn't burnin... at least to his mind.
I had a friendly intruder in the yard at breakfasttime the other day, who told me he had abandoned the Catholic faith of his youth for a race related confession set up by some 1970's social theorist. Why he did it for this guy or when he did it, he didn't say.
A certain Milingo keeps telling the press he doesn't put any stock in the canons and what they have to say about certain acts as violations of Catholic communion which leave one outside the fold (excommunicated). One wonders by whom and why this old man is being bankrolled to fly to Brazil and beat the bushes for sympathizers for his liason with a Korean acupuncturist on the eve of a visit from the Holy Father and a celebration of Catholic faith for Latin America. Does he miss us enough to say I'm sorry and return, or will he continue to jump and shout in search of company who will to accept him on his terms?
Meek and riding on a donkey He came, the Son of David. Somewhere on the Mount of Olives (we call the place Dominus Flevit) He stopped and shed tears over the City and its inhabitants who did not recognize the hour of its visitation. They were expecting a different sort of Messiah. Many folks today must be doing the same.
We'll waive our palms and sing our Hosannas; we'll shout them loud, children, maybe so. But we'll quickly lay them aside in respect for His obedience to the Father's will, even unto death, death on a Cross.
I always understood as a child that in Catholic Liturgy we were caught up into the great things, the cosmic things, the ultimate things, the things of heaven. I never doubted, no matter how long the liturgy, that I was where I was supposed to be. In the children's choir we worked hard to learn Latin antiphons we didn't comprehend; we sang Kyrie's, Sanctus' and Agnus Dei's. It was all great and God was there. It still is great and God is still there. From the simplest chapel to the greatest cathedral we sing our hosannas and then do our best to accompany the Son of David from the Upper Room to Gethsemane to Pilate to Golgotha... and beyond, of course!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Be reconciled to God

Fourth Sunday of Lent – 18 March 2007

“So we are ambassadors for Christ; it is as though God were appealing through us, and the appeal that we make in Christ’s name is: be reconciled to God.”
(from II Reading: 2 Cor. 5: 17-21)

Jesus’ teaching in Luke’s Gospel Chapter 15, which centers around the powerful and beautiful story he told his listeners and which comes down to us through the Church is the one we popularly refer to as the parable of the prodigal son. The prodigal son is the younger son of two working on the farm with his father; he gets restless for some reason, demands his share of the inheritance, takes it and goes off to the big city and blows it all partying. Misery helps him come to his senses. He heads home with his confession all rehearsed: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired hands.”
It’s a very happy story for the prodigal son and the way the story goes, we have to say with St. Paul that “it’s all God’s work”. As we learn from putting the three readings from this Sunday together, God, in Jesus, is the one who gives us the fruits of the Promised Land to eat; he prepares the banquet for us through no merit of our own, in fact just the opposite. Even though we have sinned against him, he takes away our shame, as Joshua said; he dresses us up in a festal garment, puts sandals on our feet and a ring on our finger! He doesn’t even let his son finish his confession of guilt. He was lost and now he is found; he was dead (to us anyway) and now he has come back to life.
It is a fabulous story and it is truly good news for us as well. What’s the special message for this Sunday then? I think it’s simply: Make your honest and complete confession of sin and then just enjoy the way God fusses over you! “…be reconciled to God.”
Whether we interpret Paul’s words to the Corinthians and to us using the words of the Psalm, “taste and see the goodness of the Lord,” or whether we tell and retell the story of the father’s unbounded love for even his prodigal son, the bottom line is the same: “I will rise and go to my father and tell him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” The father does the rest.
We never get happy or totally at home with confessing our sins, with admitting guilt, with taking the responsibility for something we’ve done or we’ve failed to do, causing something to go wrong. I guess that’s human nature, that’s human pride. Swallowing that pride and confessing our sins are a very grown-up, a very mature kind of thing. A good example of regular confession on the part of parents is what makes all the difference in a child’s first confession, as well as every confession after that first one. As a child, I don’t need to know what mommy and daddy confess to the priest in private, but watching them stand in line for confession and watching them kneel down to say their penance and say thank you to God after confession shows a child what he or she needs to do. Young people, especially adolescents, have an even rougher struggle with pride, just because they are still maturing. That’s the lesson of the prodigal son: he had to end up indenturing himself to somebody as a swineherd and nearly starving before he came around and put things in his life right. He ultimately did humble himself and return home, choosing to live in the right world, the good world created by his father.
How is this right world of the Church supposed to be? How is a good family supposed to be? Love and mutual respect within a family really are priceless. We can get by without a lot of creature comforts if we have each other in that good sort of way. The same is true of life in the Church: our Church “family” doesn’t have to be all that flashy. It is the spoiled child, really, who complains about things being boring. If somebody balks at going to church on Sunday, because it’s boring, I know I’m faced with a maturity issue. Parents and parish priests who anxiously try to make Sunday Mass an experience, to make church entertaining, are missing the point. Beauty in worship has its place, but pageantry and the spectacular are just for entertainment, part of that which the younger son ran off to the big city for, only to find out that the real stuff of life was what he’d left behind at home with his father.
This is the Fourth Sunday of Lent already. We’re only two weeks from Palm Sunday. Use these two weeks yet to see how things are going in your life. Has pride the upper hand in your life? When was your last good confession? Are family, church and school the center of your life? Can you distinguish between celebration and partying? Recognize your dignity and your worth! Learn the lesson the prodigal son had to learn the hard way and which the older son never did quite learn!
“So we are ambassadors for Christ; it is as though God were appealing through us, and the appeal that we make in Christ’s name is: be reconciled to God.”