The One Constant

I just finished watching a replay of Pope Benedict’s final General Audience; it was bittersweet for me.  I became Catholic in 2003, 20 years this Easter Vigil.  I learned about the faith through, among other people and books, the writings of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger; he was, so to speak, my spiritual father.  I had always been impressed with his humble love of the Lord; it seemed to radiate from his writings. Now, I watched as this man who influenced my catechism, leave St Peter’s Square, tired, older but still in love with the Lord and with the Lord’s church and her children.  I was thinking how things have changed, and then again, how they hadn’t.

Then to my amazement, EWTN had three commentators of which one, Fr. Dominic Mary of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word, had attended my Parish the first year I was catholic; we worked on a parish mission together. I remember this young parishioner as a very loving and devout Catholic. He went away to further his journey and become a priest; and now here he was, studying Canon Law in Rome and was commenting on this final General Audience.  I was thinking how things have changed, and then again, how they hadn’t.

Then I thought of Mary our Mother.  I thought of her at the foot of the cross as the body of Jesus was taken down and given to her.  I thought of how she held her son, as a babe, in her arms with all the love a mother could have.  I thought of how she now held her dead son in her arms with all the love a mother could have.  I was thinking how things had changed, and then again, how they hadn’t.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

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3rd Station – Jesus Falls the First Time

The Third Station – Jesus falls under the weight of the Cross the first time.

In the Movie ‘The Passion of the Christ’ there is a scene where we see Mary following her son along the Via Dolorosa; she is pushing herself through the crowds while keeping her eyes on Jesus – the eyes of love. On the other side of Via Dolorosa, moving in the same direction and looking at Christ is Satan – sneering. They are both looking at the same event, but seeing totally different things. There is a strong parallel, though diametrically opposed, within this station, that upon reflection allows us to better evaluate our own journey.

  • Jesus falls down.
  • Satan falls from heaven.
  • Jesus falls under the weight of the Cross – the weight comes from you and me – our sins.
  • Satan falls under the weight of himself – pride and rebellion. ‘Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven’.
  • Jesus falls because of others, but Jesus falls because of himself as well – for love for his Father he falls, for love for us he falls.
  • Satan falls because he sees only himself, love for self.
  • Jesus falls but is at peace – seeing in his fall mercy and justice for everyone.
  • Satan falls and howls in rage – seeing injustice towards his self.
  • Jesus falls under the weight of the cross and the heavenly hosts praise the triune God – seeing strength in love.
  • Jesus falls under the weight of the cross and Satan and his minions howl with glee – seeing weakness in God.
  • Jesus rises from the strength of love and continues again with the cross of our burdens.
  • Satan knows nothing but self-love and pride – he is too heavy to rise.
  • Jesus sees the good buried beneath the evil of mankind and strives to bring it forward.
  • Satan desires everyone to share his anguish, misery loves company.
  • Jesus simply offers himself to the Father; so their desire, that we might be forgiven and saved, can come to fruition.
  • Satan plots and plans and manipulates to bring his obsessive desires to fruition – ‘if I can’t have heaven then God’s children can’t have Him’

As we, in our own lives, walk the Via Dolorosa with Jesus, how do we view the weight of our own Cross? Do we follow Jesus and offer it up to God’s for his plan of salvation; or do we withdraw into our own self-pity and bitterness, seeing only the negative – adding more self-weight to our journey?

Heavenly Father may our Lenten observance strip our selfishness and empower our self-giving, may this purgation cleanse us from our tendency to weigh ourselves down, and allow us to rise with our cross and bring forth the love of God.

Suffice

At 1pm, our time, this Thursday, something will happen that hasn’t happened for over 600 years; the Church will go into a period of Sede Vacante; without the death of a Pope.  Sede Vacante, Latin for Empty Chair, is the term used when the Chair of St Peter is vacant.  Pope Benedict, due to failing health; and understanding that he can’t serve the demands of the Chair has decided in all humility to step down.  This great act of love for Christ and his bride, the church, resounds throughout the Catholic world.  Pope Benedict stepped into the shoes of Blessed John Paul the Great during the Year of the Eucharist and is leaving during the Year of Faith, which speaks strongly of this Pope’s ministry.

These two Popes have led the church back into a stronger understanding of what it means to be catholic.  They have urged us, and given witness to, that being Catholic is more than just a description of who we are; it is integral, foundational to our very existence.  If we don’t live our faith to best of our ability then we don’t really understand what Catholicism is about.

Throughout his whole life Pope Benedict has spoken strongly about the prevailing attitudes in the world, especially in the 1st world nations of Europe and North America.  He has alerted us to the dictatorship of relativity, where nothing is absolute and truth is subjective.  Pope Benedict and Blessed John Paul the Great both lived through the horrifying times of the 20th century when man felt no need for God – when man felt that they were the answer to every question and problem.  They saw first-hand that when mankind has no need for God, then mankind fails to understand the beauty and dignity of themselves.  When mankind ignores the absolute truths then truths are just what the powerful think they are.  Pope Benedict’s legacy will be, in part, his drawing a line against the attack on God and his children; his standing up for the truths of our faith.

But another aspect of Pope Benedict’s ministry, and maybe the most important, is his teachings on what Christianity is foundationally about. From the first paragraph of his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, he says: ‘“God is love, and He who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him” (1 Jn 4:16). These words from the First Letter of John express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny. ..We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. Saint John’s Gospel describes that event in these words: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should … have eternal life” (3:16).

Being Christian is, first of all, being in a personal relationship with God!  We don’t follow abstract ideas and self-help improvement strategies; we follow God, who loves us.  We walk with him; we talk with Him; we live with Him.  We are His as He is ours! And more to the point; we follow someone who we see, know personally. From his first book about Jesus of Nazareth: “The great question…: (but) what has Jesus really brought, then, if he has not brought world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world? What has he brought? The answer is very simple: God. He has brought God! He has brought the God who once gradually unveiled his countenance first to Abraham, then to Moses and the prophets, and then in the wisdom literature—the God who showed his face only in Israel, even though he was also honored among the pagans in various shadowy guises. It is this God, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, the true God, whom he has brought to the peoples of the earth. He has brought God, and now we know his face, now we can call upon him. Now we know the path that we human beings have to take in this world. Jesus has brought God and with God the truth about where we are going and where we come from: faith, hope, and love.”

Brothers and sisters, this is what our journey of faith should be about, this is the real Catholicism, not multivalent theologies that address political and social wrongs in the world; but a personal loving relationship with our creator and savior.  From knowing this Love within us we can go out and address the ills of the world, but without it? Well, we will just repeat the past century’s ideologies about truth that relegate truth the whims of the powerful which never satisfy; never address the source of ills; never produce lasting fruit.

In today’s Gospel we once again go up Mount Tabor with Jesus and Peter, James, and John where we witness the greatness of our Lord in his transfigured body.  We can see the Mass ‘typed’ in this event and we can see the beauty of Jesus both on Mount Tabor and on the Altar.  But at the end of today’s Gospel we hear: ‘After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.’  In Mark: ‘they no longer saw any one with them but Jesus only.’ And in Matthew we hear: ‘they saw no one else but Jesus alone.

Jesus alone – that is what we are given, Jesus alone.  Pope Benedict comments on this in his February 28th 2010 Angelus: “Jesus alone is all that the disciples and the Church of every epoch have been granted; and this must suffice on the journey.  The only voice to listen to, the only voice to follow is his, the voice of the One going up to Jerusalem who was one day to give his life to “change our lowly body to be like his glorious body”’ This is who we have a relationship with, the real God, the God made man, the God who wants man to be like himself.  This is what Christ’s Church is foundationally built upon.

A loving dialog with a family member who urges us on, leads us.  With Him we are strengthened.  And no matter what stage of life we are in we always have this relationship, our talents and strengths might change but Jesus with us never changes.  We can rest assured and at peace that with Jesus we are whole.  And maybe this is Pope Benedict’s last teaching moment as Pope, by renouncing the Petrine Chair he put into action what he spoke about in in his first encyclical: “In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord. It is God who governs the world, not we. We offer him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as he grants us the strength. To do all we can with what strength we have, however, is the task which keeps the good servant of Jesus Christ always at work: “The love of Christ urges us on” (2 Cor 5:14).”

At 1pm this coming Thursday we will be without a Pope, but we will always have our Lord, and he alone will suffice!

The 1st Station

For this season of Lent I would like to reflect on The Stations of the Cross.

There is a cartoon going around this week titled ‘Lenten Observance’; it shows the pope listening to a cardinal. The cardinal is saying something and he looks astonished.  The caption at the bottom reads: “You’re giving up what!?’ – a little humor during a trying time.

Funny as it is; it does, however, bring to light a very important aspect of our Lenten journey especially; and our whole journey of faith as well – our ability to discern truth and allow it to affect us.

One of the basic aspects of Lent is to review ourselves, to take stock of our relationship with our Lord and each other.  To truly do this we need to seek for the truth about ourselves and allow what we find to affect us; and this is one of the hardest things we can try to do.

In the first station of the cross ‘Jesus is condemned to death’ we meditate on the dialog between Jesus and Pilate, and Pilate with the Sanhedrin and their crowd.  We see Pilate ask Jesus ‘What is truth?’  Blessed John Paul the Great, in his 2000 Way of the Cross meditations, comments about this question: ‘This was no philosophical question about the nature of truth, but an existential question about his own relationship with truth. It was an attempt to escape from the voice of conscience, which was pressing him to acknowledge the truth and follow it

And as we see by Pilate’s actions – that even though he knows somewhat what the truth is – he finds it too hard to follow; he succumbs to outside pressure and internal weakness.  His question to Jesus is a convoluted, desperate attempt to assuage his own guilt and erase shame. He can’t or won’t allow truth to lead him, to affect him.  His refusal to follow the truth leads him nowhere.

St. Paul, on the other hand, the premier adversary of Christ’s church is struck by the Truth and allows it to affect change in his life. Regardless of the cost St. Paul understands who he is now and what he should be and follows the Truth to his Lord.  It wasn’t an easy journey, as his Epistles and the Acts of the Apostles relate to us, but it was the right one.

This week our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has followed the example of St. Paul and has followed the Truth. Through prayerful discernment he too has realized who he is now and, even though it wasn’t an easy decision, he made the choice to follow Christ’s plan for him and the Church.  His trust in God; both as his guide and as the world’s ruler and protector gives him the strength to follow the truth.

This week, Pope Benedict looked within himself, in the light of the truth, and in doing so has grown closer to God.  He put into action the words from his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est: ‘In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord. It is God who governs the world, not we. We offer him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as he grants us the strength. To do all we can with what strength we have, however, is the task which keeps the good servant of Jesus Christ always at work: “The love of Christ urges us on”’ (2 Cor 5:14).

May each of us allow the truth to affect us, may we allow the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to who we truly are so that we can improve and grow closer to God.

Come Lord Jesus

It is now the end of Ash Wednesday, I have led or assisted in 2 Masses and 3 Ash Services; I am tired.  But in the middle of all this I watched the Ash Wednesday service form St. Peter’s Basilica, the Holy Father’s final public Mass.  I sat and watched as the man who formed me as a new catholic, whose books and writings taught me the faith, celebrated his last Mass at St Peter’s main altar as Pope.  I am physically and emotionally drained.  This will be an intense and precious Lent as I turn to the Lord, more than ever, for strength, guidance, wisdom – Love.  Push to the side all the academic, theological discourse – all the journals and papers – as important as they are right now I need someone to accompany me and encourage me.  This doesn’t surprise me; for if I have learned anything from Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict that what I need is the foundation of the faith, this personal relationship with Christ.  I can’t turn to a lofty idea for this succor, I need a friend, a brother, a father – I need God.  Now, late in the evening, I can’t get out of my mind the final lines of today’s second reading:

“Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.”

Come Lord Jesus, I need you!  The least of your ambassadors, this great sinner, desires to be yours more than ever.

More than something that you pick up

There is an Episcopal Church in Bolingbrook that on certain occasions has signs out front.  Most are announcing programs but some are more creative.  A few months ago they had a sign that read ‘Pray Globally, Serve Locally’.  I thought this rather limited, it reduced prayer to concern about this part of our journey.  It seemed to preclude any dialog with the creator outside of earthly needs.  It flattened faith to the horizontal, imminent aspect. It said ‘We are the body of Christ’  And though it spoke of service, which is a great thing; it seemed limited as well, at least in connection with the first part of the sign.  I thought, ‘Pray divinely, serve divinely’ was a better use of our gifts.  Then as fast as it entered my mind it left, until yesterday.

Yesterday they put a sign out front announcing their Ash Wednesday Services, which read: ‘Ashes to Go’.  It seemed too light-hearted, too whimsical; it deflected the reader from remembering the powerful, eternal reason for the Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent which starts with it.  To me it just said, come in and get ashes then go about your business as usual.

Now, I am pointing this out not to put this Episcopal Church in the crosshairs, but to point out a general current flowing through many of the denominations in our country, indeed in the whole world; even within our own church.  To varying degrees we have lost the transcendent aspect of our faith.  We have become, in some ways, social service organizations with crosses, bells and smells.  We do for the sake of doing, we follow what our parents did and taught us.  If there is a more profound reason it is usually: because we want to help those who are hurting, which is indeed a great calling, part of the greatest.

But, this current of religiosity falls short of the source that should be our motivation.  Today’s Gospel gives us the account of Christ showing his disciples a better calling – fishers of men.  The first reading gives us Isaiah’s vision of his dialog with the heavenly hosts and St Paul tells the Corinthians  that what he is handing on to them was what he was handed by Christ and his apostles.  We see today that faith is, as the Holy Father said ‘a personal encounter’

Love our neighbor as ourselves’ is a lofty, honorable ideal, it is a worthy calling for everyone.  But this calling is what everyone should do; it even defines what a government should be.  If we listen to our elected officials describe why they are in office they will tell us it is to help our fellow citizens, and I think almost all of them believe that.  Our calling as follower of Christ is to: ‘…love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind… and love your neighbor as yourself.’  This is what we are called to do; to be. Jesus tells us that ‘The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.’ Not one but two.  Through the love of the first we can love the latter.  Through knowing the first we can come to know the latter.

In this New Evangelization we need to bring into clear focus this all important relationship with God, this foundational source of our life if we are to truly help each other; for it is in our relationship with our creator that we complete our creation; we can’t do it on our own.  We need to regain that sense of the divine, the divine that comes to us, the divine that devotes himself to us, if are ever to truly devote ourselves to our neighbors.  Anything short of this intimate relationship with God leaves us vulnerable to withering; withering of our energy and our love; and that, in turn, leads to despair of those we trying to help and have left hanging on dashed hopes.

It seems to me, that this Lent I need to refocus on my relationship with the Lord, allow His Holy Spirit to pierce my defensive layers and show me my weaknesses in our relationship, to burn away, so to speak, my prideful impurities so that we, the Lord  and myself, can become closer.  By participating in this purgation at the hands God can I be sure that I love my neighbor as myself. All of this can start with the understanding that ashes are more than something you just pick up.

Can We?

Today’s Gospel contains, what could be thought of as some of the most ominous words in the Bible. ‘Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.’  When His own townsfolk refused to listen to His message; when His neighbors couldn’t see past the one they thought they knew to the truth and instead of accepting His words they tried to hurt, if not kill Him, He just left them.  It seems that God turned His back on His creation when they wouldn’t listen.  This might give us some concern, and indeed it should – but maybe not for the reason we might think.

God, almighty never has and never will leave His creation to fend for themselves; no matter how obstinate we might be it isn’t in His nature to give up on us.

“This saying is trustworthy:
If we have died with him we shall also live with him;
if we persevere we shall also reign with him.
But if we deny him he will deny us.
If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.

We hear in 2 Timothy 2:11-13.  If we return to our Lord, He is waiting like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son.  This is the main point of this parable!  His Love for us will never allow Him to turn His back.

No, that isn’t what the last sentence in today’s Gospel should give us concern about.

Our concern should be: can we be like Christ in those situations?  ‘Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.’  Not to reject them but to allow them the freedom to come to understand His message, to give them time to embrace the Gospel message.  He won’t force them and He won’t coerce them – none of that fits within love.

Can we; after witnessing to the Gospel and coming up against resistance such as Jesus did – turn and leave quietly, maybe in humiliation, maybe in fear?  Can we just kick the dust off our sandals and move on to the next opportunity of witnessing God’s message?  Can we radiate the love that St. Paul speaks of so eloquently in our second reading?  Can we, deep down, allow God to work, and trust in His greatness and goodness – not allowing our pettiness to interfere in His working through us?  This is the concern that, at least to me, I have from today’s Gospel. Can we?