The love of Christ urges us on

Seventh Thursday in Eastertide (5/12/16)

Today, we have heard the final part of Jesus’ prayer to His Father at the Last Supper (of which we have been hearing for the past few days). Many call this chapter (chapter 17), or at least the first part of it, the High Priestly Prayer.  The next line in John’s Gospel, after today’s reading is: ‘When he had said this, Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to where there was a garden, into which he and his disciples entered.’ [1]. Jesus has finished His last meal with His apostles and now moves towards His passion. His greatest act as a priest; His sacrifice of Himself to atone for our sins.

Now some might think it strange that Holy Mother Church chooses to revisit the Last Supper so soon since the last time we celebrated it; after all, it is only about seven weeks since the celebration of the Sacred Triduum where we dived deeply into His passion, death and resurrection.  There might be the temptation to think: ‘We have been through it already, why bring it back up during our celebration of Eastertide?’

Because it is that central, that foundational to Christ. His words to His Father, in front of His disciples brings a degree of clarity to what He is about and what we should be about also; which will be made totally clear to them in a few days during Pentecost – when His Holy Spirit comes.

Today’s gospel, contains the explanation why His mission is so important to Him. ‘Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world.[2]  Christ loves each and every person, and His whole being desires that we see what He sees; the ultimate joy of creation – the creator.  How do we know this? He tells us so at the beginning of His High Priestly Prayer: ‘Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.[3] Christ knows what mankind is made for.  He understands that we won’t be complete and at total peace until we enter into that eternal life. He knows that we can’t find rest until we are completed. Or as St Augustine says, so beautifully, in the very first paragraph of His Confessions ‘…You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.[4]

Brothers and sisters, why does Holy Mother Church urge us to go out into the world and proclaim the good news of Christ?  Why have so many men and women throughout the last 2,000 years offered their talents, their time, their energy and, yes, their lives (as today’s celebration of the martyrs Sts. Nereus and Achilleus highlight)? Because we understand how empty a life can be until we allow our hearts to rest in Christ. We can’t help but let others know what we are feeling.  It can’t be contained. This is who we are, what we are made of and for.

But, as humans, letting those around us know the good news can still be daunting. We might tend towards inactivity in regards to proclaiming the Gospel because of fear of reactions; fear of unworthiness; concern about our talents. But take heart and remember what the martyrs understood: ‘Emmanuel’ – God is with us. He is our eternal companion. We show our joy, introduce its reason and allow God to do the rest. I would like to finish with a quote that is always in my mind and heart, especially in times of doubt or being overwhelmed; it is from Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love):

There are times when the burden of need and our own limitations might tempt us to become discouraged. But precisely then we are helped by the knowledge that, in the end, we are only instruments in the Lord’s hands; and this knowledge frees us from the presumption of thinking that we alone are personally responsible for building a better world. 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).[5]

The love of Christ urges us on[6]

With firm resolve let’s respond with the pilgrims’ exhortation heard on the road to the shrine at Santiago de Compostela, Spain for almost 1,200 years: ‘Ultreya!’ onward!

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[1] Jn 18:1
[2] Jn 17:24
[3] Jn 17:3
[4] St. Augustine, Confessions, paragraph 1
[5] Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI, paragraph 35
[6] 2 Cor 5:14

Art of Love

As I opened my Breviary this morning I realized that this was a sort of special Good Friday (as if Good Friday wasn’t special enough). Today, is March 25th, and if it wasn’t Holy Week we would be celebrating the Solemnity of the Annunciation, the feast of the incarnation of our Lord. As I reflected on the import of the symbolism that the day of His death is being celebrated on the day of His conception it brought me back to the early representations of the manger scene.  In those paintings and other artworks[1] you could see Jesus in the swaddling bands that also were used in death.

Here is a powerful lesson in just what our Lord came to do.  He had a mission and that mission is each of us. But I fear that this understanding and appreciation of what God did for us and what we mean to Him has been faded in the past 100 years.  Does our Lord’s passion impact us as it should? And when I say ‘us’ I mean ‘me’ first and foremost.

I pray that this year I can open myself up to the greatest act of love ever. I pray that this year I can allow the grief of what I did to our God to bring the sting it should; and the overwhelming wave of unworthiness and joy explode in my heart for His 33 year act of love for me.

I wish the same for each of us.

Adoramus te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi.
Quia per sanctam crucem tuam redemisti mundum.

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[1] Such as:
The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekial, 1308-11 by Duccio
Nativity by Jacopo Torriti
Nativity Scene Fresco (1310) by Giotto Di Bondone
Stained Glass at St. Denis Basilica in Paris (ca 1100s)
Madonna and Child (1319) by Ambrogio Lorenzetti

Take a step.

[1]

Easter is too great, it is too important to just give it 24 hours.  Here we are on the fifth day of the octave of Easter.  We are still trying to absorb its meaning, its weight, as it pertains to mankind in general and to each of us in particular.  There is so much that we need to unpack for our benefit. Today, we continue to hear about the impact of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection on His apostles – and us. For me, today I am reminded of one of the four pillars of the Church – she is apostolic and therefore so are we.

There is a line in the epic fantasy trilogy the Lord of the Rings that has always struck me.  Frodo Baggins is reminiscing with Gandalf the wizard about what Bilbo Baggins used to tell him. ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.[2]

The apostles have just seen their leader slaughtered and all hope had disappeared – now they are hiding from the authorities.  Even with the recent news from some of their followers our Gospel reading has them in the upper room with the doors locked.  But to their amazement the recent news is true – Christ appears to them and assures them of His victory – He has died and He is risen; and what is more – it was always to be so.

But this good news comes with responsibility, obligation, a mandate, and that is to go out from that room, step into the road.  What is more they will have to continue what He had started: ‘that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’[3] Why? Because: ‘You are witnesses of these things.[4] This is no small request; this is what made Him enemies and so it only figures to bring danger to the apostles.  But they stepped into the road nonetheless. The Acts of the Apostles, where are first reading is from, gives us witness to their first steps.

Brothers and sisters we too have been given this great news of our salvation.  We too participate in the celebration of seeing Christ glorified (which we will see again in a few minutes on this altar in the Eucharist), and we too have the same commission leveled to us – step into the road.  There is no denying that by being members of Holy Mother Church we are called to take up the great commission that Christ gave His apostles ‘Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.[5]

What will our answer to our Lord’s mandate be?

  • The apostles left the security of the upper room and took courage that their risen Lord would not leave them alone: ‘And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.[6] He assures them at the commissioning. Can we take from this the same assurance?
  • The apostles broke from their closed circle to go out and help a sick world – a world that hated their master’s message. It was for that reason that went out to help those who Jesus loved – to bring the peace and joy that they had been given. Are we ready to take the same step for the same reason? Pope Francis insists that we do so; during a General Audience in October of 2013 he said as much. ‘This is what Jesus told us to do! I insist on this missionary aspect, because Christ invites all to ‘go out’ and encounter others, he sends us, he asks us to move in order to spread the joy of the Gospel![7] Don’t be ‘sacristy Catholics’ Pope Francis said that day.

Friends we are celebrating the good news of salvation given to us by our Lord.  Within each of us should be a love that is trying to burst out; an overwhelming desire to bring this good news that has given us peace and joy, to others. Let us give it a way out – let’s go out of our door and take a step onto the road. Bilbo told Frodo: ‘if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.’[8] We don’t have to worry about keeping our feet as long as we hold tight to our head – Jesus Christ.

Christus Resurrexit! Vere Resurrexit!

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[1] Homily for the Mass for Thursday in the Octave of Easter (Cycle II) Acts 3:11-16, Lk 24:35-48
[2] Lord of the Rings 1.3.74 JRR Tolkien
[3] Lk 24:48
[4] ibid
[5] Mt 28:19-20a
[6] Mt 28:20b
[7] Pope Francis General Audience 10/16/2013
[8] Lord of the Rings 1.3.74 JRR Tolkien

Prayer and Choice

Today, Jesus enters into Jerusalem a Hero, at least to those who are following Him. Of course not everyone is happy to see Him: the Sanhedrin is not happy; the Romans are nervous; of the citizens of Jerusalem, many of them are not pleased.  But His followers, those who profess Him as their Messiah are exuberant.  These followers choose to be with Him. They see in Him a winner, one who gives them the hopes they are desiring. But, in a few short days that exuberation will dissolve; they will flee from being followers; they will walk away from their choice and melt back into the people of Judah.

Brothers and sisters, we too have professed Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior; we have chosen to be followers and we are exuberant.  We have, with special intensity, walked with Christ during this Lenten season and hopefully we have reached Holy Week stronger disciples.  Unlike almost 2,000 years ago where His followers fled on Holy Thursday I am confident that our intensity in our devotion to Christ will grow throughout the Triduum.  Our test will come after Easter. Will the fruits of our Lenten exercise remain with us once Easter is celebrated? Will our desire for a renewed closeness with Christ continue? Will we continue to choose Christ as our example and model for living our lives?

These are very important questions to ask ourselves. They are not questions brought about by fear of failure in as much as they are questions of love. God, who is Love, has given us freewill to choose Him or not; and Satan knows this all too well.  As members of God’s family, out of our love for them, we need to concern ourselves with our ability to live up to our familial responsibilities and to defend ourselves from the attacks of our powerful enemy. We should ask ourselves every day, if not more frequently, about our choice.  To not do so is putting ourselves in danger of drifting away from Jesus Christ; in effect turning our backs from our loving family.

This is made all the more imperative because the demands that society seemingly forces upon us makes living within our family very difficult. At times we can spend the extra effort and time to push society and Satan away, and Lent is a very good season to do this, but to do so continually is a very hard undertaking. How can we hope to live in the family of God when these pressures from Satan and society implant within us doubts about our capabilities?

A few years ago I spent five days at a Cistercian Monastery near Dubuque Iowa. At one point I was talking with the retreat house master about their life in the order.  During the conversation he said that He and His brothers choose with their feet every day; they could just up and leave whenever they felt like it. But he said – the intimacy of prayer was a great strength, beyond imagination.

As we transition from our Lenten journey and enter the great events of the Sacred Triduum and onward I urge us all to dive deeply into our prayer life and allow God to open our hearts to His wisdom and most importantly His Love. Let’s follow the words of that wise Cistercian brother and take advantage of prayer – this great strength that is beyond imagination.  It is the surest way to keep our choice of Christ ever first in our hearts like we are in His.

 

Clearly

Brothers and sisters, we have made it to the threshold of the great events of our salvation. We have followed Christ throughout His and our Lenten journey. This is very important; Christ was the first to experience a Lenten Journey. Remember back to the first week of Lent when we heard proclaimed Christ being driven into the desert where He fasted and prayed and dealt with the devil. But His Lenten journey didn’t end as He left the desert; it continued until Calvary. His life among us was a Lenten journey and everything that Holy Mother Church teaches us about participating in Lent is the fruit of what Christ did first.

  • His Lenten journey was one of continual prayer, fasting and alms-giving in the form of miracles. Ours has, or should have had, the same emphasis: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
  • Christ’s movement was towards Jerusalem and His great act of love – His Pasch. Our movement is to embrace His Pasch and help others do the same.
  • Christ’s Lent was done in humble obedience to His Father. Our Lent should be exactly the same.
  • Christ’s Lenten journey was a great witness to His Father and so should be ours.

The difference between our journey and Christ’s is that He was one with His Father and our Lenten journey helps us to grow closer to our heavenly Father – to discern better His will and to strengthen our ability to live the life that He desires. In short, we have been trying to see God clearer.

Each week during this season we have journeyed with Christ as He moves decisively towards Jerusalem. We have been witness to His revelation of His Father’s plan and His part in it.  Hopefully, we have embraced His words and, step by step, come to understand them as they relate to each of us.

And so we come to today, this 5th Sunday of Lent, where we are turning the corner towards Holy Week (next week is Palm Sunday when Christ arrives in Jerusalem). At this point in His journey He has a large following traveling with Him and He can feel the expectations of this throng – which includes us.

Today’s Gospel places us in this journey and it gives us what seems to be an odd exchange. It starts with a simple request: ‘Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”[1] But Christ’s answer seems strange, disconnected: ‘“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.[2]

Though His answer seems strange it cuts right to the heart of who He is, and our deepest needs.  The Greeks want to see the man Jesus, they are in awe of this Galilean because of the spectacle that He has been for the past three years or so. Jesus Christ knows this – he has been dealing with groupies since His baptism.  He knows that they are missing, what the French would say is His ‘raison d’être’ His reason for existing – but hopefully they won’t much longer.  In less than two weeks He is going to offer Himself for them; He is going to suffer and die for them; He will pay their ransom. He will be the grain of wheat and fall to the ground by being placed into a tomb, and by doing so He will produce the fruit of salvation.

This is the Jesus these Greeks truly desire in their heart; not the miracle worker; not the charismatic anti-establishment hero. It is the Jesus we desire to see as well; the Jesus that loves us more than anyone, even ourselves. But both the Greeks and we have to come to that awareness; and to be able to do that we have move past our self-centeredness; we have to open ourselves to God.

Our entire Lenten exercise has been to come closer to Jesus, to clear the lens of our heart so that we can see Him clearer, understand Him better.  Like the Greeks we can easily fall into the trap of seeing the Jesus we want to see. We need to allow the real Jesus to penetrate our hearts – and Lent is the time we set aside to do this with special intensity.

Brothers and sisters, in less than two weeks Christ will give each of us a chance to easily see Him. He is going to climb high on the cross to give us that view. Are we ready to understand what we will see? Has our Lenten exercise cleaned our heart’s lens so that we see Him as He truly is?  It is not too late to make sure our view is clear.  It is not too late to move further away from our self-centeredness. We just need to start and all that takes is for us to turn to God and from the depths of our heart humbly cry out ‘Father, I have sinned against you[3] and ask for forgiveness.

Why not start now?  In a few short minutes Calvary will be here before us.  We will watch as Christ offers Himself for each us on this altar – we will participate in Calvary. I urge each of us, when Father Holds up the Body and then Blood of Christ and the bells ring – in the silence of our hearts lets cry to God ‘Father, I have sinned against you[4] All of us need to say these words; some of us hold within mortal sins which require the Sacrament of Reconciliation (ask our priests, they will help). While all of us hold within us shortcomings such as venial sins and doubts.  These words are important for everyone; they are the key to our Lenten journey – without this disposition our view remains clouded.

Let’s do this – all of us – so that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, when Holy Week comes we are not the among those in the Gospel who only heard thunder, nor even the ones who thought they heard angels – but people who clearly hear and see our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.

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[1] Jn 12:20-21
[2] Jn 12:23-24
[3] Lk 15:18
[4] ibid

Shade of the Almighty

Yesterday evening, as I was looking at the empty cross after our living stations production, Psalm 91 came to mind.

He who dwells in shelter of the Most High
and abides in the shade of the Almighty
says to the Lord: “My refuge,
my stronghold, my god in whom I trust!”

In my mind’s eye I saw up there, on that cross, the outstretched arms of Christ; it dawned on me that those outstretched arms were the shelter of the Most High; they cast the shade of the Almighty.  It is in and under those outstretched arms that we are meant to be.  They are our protection against the buffets of the evil one; they are our strength, our reassurance.  From under those arms of love we can rest in total safety, refresh our tired bodies and souls, and feel peace and joy.

I thought that if this is so desirable for us, then it is from those arms we must go out to bring others under their shelter, to share the shade of love and help others to come to the peace and joy we receive; and it is back to them, to that stronghold, that we can go to heal our wounds and re-energize from those efforts.

Participation

As I reflected on the opening part of the Mass today, “The Commemoration of the Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem” it came to me that there were five types of people, five groups that participated in Christ’s entrance.

The disciples
There were his His followers, those who witnessed to His ministry for the past three years or so.  Those who saw His miracles; heard His words; and yet time and again tried to keep from Jesus the annoying little ones who came to greet Him – or the sick and suffering who tried to touch him – thinking that He had more important things to do. Those who, if their hearts were opened to His message would not have been surprised by the events of the next seven days – but they were.

The Following Crowd
Then there were the people of the land who got caught up in the event that was Jesus.  They might have witnessed a miracle of healing; they might have partaken in the miracle of the fishes and loaves – they were caught up in these physical acts.  They were following a persona of greatness, one that they gave Jesus from their own hopes and dreams.  They didn’t understand what His greatness was about.

The Inhabitants of the City.
Then there were the inhabitants of Jerusalem. These people who were used to the maneuverings and manipulations of government and church.  They were sophisticated, wise to the world; or so they thought.  They were shaken, as the gospel tells us, by this procession, this pseudo-invasion of the rustic followers of this upstart.  There was no place in their scheme of life for someone to throw this type trouble into the mix of the politics of the day.  This display disturbed their sensibilities and they were annoyed to have to deal with it.

Mary
Then there was Mary, she who said yes to God.  She who understood the meaning of Christ; His life, His mission, His entrance into Jerusalem.  She who in her quietness, praised God’s will louder than any.  She trusted, and loved.  She kept her fiat from conception to this day and beyond as she carried Christ’s cross within her heart.

Us
Which brings us to the final group – ourselves. We who year after year enter into Holy Week and the Sacred Triduum listening to this entrance in Jerusalem; hearing about the how he was treated.  So I have to ask myself, and you, what group do we fall into?

The Disciples?
Do we enter into Holy Week only partly understanding what Christ has shown us throughout the year, indeed our lives.  Do we only partially listen to His message not caring to really dig into it?

The Following Crowd?
Do we enter Holy Week expecting Christ do something for us, perform a miracle for our comfort instead of expecting Him to perform a miracle for our eternal salvation. Do we want immediate and material gratification – no more pain, no problems, things handed to us – instead of joining with Him to affect true peace and joy through salvation and the cross that achieves it?

The Inhabitants of the City?
Do we look at Holy Week as an interruption in our daily lives – almost a bother? Do we begrudge the time we spend at Church or at home in prayer?  Do we chafe at the celebrations as taking us away from our work, friends, families ourselves?

Mary
Have we come to Holy Week and the Sacred Triduum with the obedient trust that she has with God?  Do we desire to participate totally with our Lord in His Pasch?  Not wanting to leave His side, always to be there and share with Him as He goes through His passion, death, and resurrection for us?  Do we offer our own fiat to the Father as thanks and praise for Christ’s fiat and Mary’s?

Depending on where our hearts and our minds are as we enter Holy Week and the Sacred Triduum our understanding and participation to today’s greeting over the palms will very.  I pray that each of us finds ourselves with Mary and take to heart this beautiful greeting where we hear:

Therefore, with all faith and devotion,
let us commemorate
the Lord’s entry into the city for our salvation,
following in his footsteps…

May Holy Week and the Sacred Triduum be a time of intense participation with our Lord for each of us.