Monday, April 09, 2012

Homily Easter Sunday Mass during the Day: The Light of Christ

christ the light 2 This morning, I am so happy to be celebrating with you this Easter Sunday, the Sunday of my first Easter Triduum as a priest. Last night’s celebration of the Easter Vigil in which 19 catechumens and candidates were Baptized and brought into Full Communion with the Catholic Church, was a wonderful experience. I must say though, it really didn’t hit me until Kevin, our Music Director, and the choir sang so beautifully the Hallelujah Chorus of Handel’s “Messiah” right after Communion. I was so fixated on what I had to do and what was coming next that my heart had not been opened yet to the joy of this day. That Hallelujah burst it wide open!

Imagine the joy our catechumens and candidates felt! Some of them had not yet been baptized and so they descended into the Baptismal font with Fr. Chuck, were immersed three times in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, rising out of the waters filled with Divine Life. They were one with Christ in a special way. In going down into the water they died with Him as he did on Good Friday. In rising out of the font, they were raised with Him as he did today. They then were immediately confirmed, as were the candidates for Full Communion who had been baptized in other faiths. They were sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit who enhanced and completed the graces they received in Baptism. Finally, they received their first Holy Communion, in which Christ fed them with his glorified Body and Blood under the appearance of bread and wine. What a miraculous night! In one continuous celebration, they died and rose with Christ; were washed of their sins; their souls were infused with Faith, Hope, and Love; they were made sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Christ, and co-heirs with him of the riches of heaven; they were made members of the Church, soldiers for Christ, and now share fully in Holy Communion! Little Sabrina Bergman, one of the girls who was baptized, was already a bundle of joy, wait until you see her now, filled with so many powerful graces!

The power of this day reaches all of our hearts wherever and whoever we are… just as it reached the hearts of St. Mary Magdaline and the women; and the hearts of St. Peter and St. John, causing them to run to the tomb in search of Jesus. Even Catholics who rarely attend Mass, find their way back to this Easter day. Each one of us, from the daily Mass-goer, to the Christmas-and-Easter Catholic, have carried some darkness that Christ today wants to illuminate with his glorious Light. Today, darkness is no more; it yields to and is conquered by, the Risen Son. No matter what type of darkness we carry, Christ today conquers it with his healing light: whether it be darkness of mind in not knowing our faith very well, darkness of heart in not caring much about it, darkness in memory of an offense that has kept us away, or the darkness of a tragedy in the family or of frustration with ourselves – no matter the darkness, the healing Light of Christ shines on it today.

Have you all ever been to Mammoth Cave in south central Kentucky? I remember going on a field trip there in high school. One of the schticks they do is to lead a group of people into the heart of the cave and then turn out all the lights. Then the tour guide asks the group to put their hands in front of their faces and try to see them. It’s no use, he says. In a dark room or a dark house, our eyes will eventually pick up on some small source of light like the moonlight or a lamp in the distance. But in the heart of that cave, there is no light to get used too. Our eyes will never adjust, he says, not matter how long we sit there. At that moment it begins to get very uncomfortable. Perfect Dark. The moment you can start to feel the tension in the cave, the tour guide slowly turns the lights back on much to everyone’s great relief. We got a sense of this last night, when all of the lights of the Church were off, representing the individual and collective darkness that mankind suffers without the Light of Christ. Soon though the Easter Candle, lit from the Easter fire, showed us the way.

The temptation for each of us is to just get used to the darkness rather than let the Light of Christ illuminate it. We become acclimated to bumping around in the night – it becomes our new normal. And I’m speaking for all of us here today, myself included. We get used to the same bad habit, guilty pleasure, personality quirk, or weakness and we forget that the Light of Christ is much stronger than that thing we try to give up every year for Lent. We forget that the Light of Christ has actually already won. We tend to think of ourselves as downtrodden and hoping for victory, rather than victories and hoping to maintain the victory. It’s like being in Mammoth Cave, holding my hand in front of my face trying to see it in the dark, and then using it to cover my eyes once the tour guide turns the lights on. Or it’s like sitting outside at the Easter Vigil, when the Easter fire has burned out, rather than coming inside with the Easter Candle and all the lights.

Don’t let the devil rob you of your joy. Again, everyone from the daily Mass-goer to the Christmas-and-Easter Catholic has something holding them back. Today, no matter what it is, let Christ’s Light heal and conquer it. Today is a day of joy and gladness – a joy and gladness that lasts for 50 days, and God-willing well beyond – as Christ works in our hearts with His grace, getting us more used to him than to the darkness, making new, or deepened, faithfulness to Him and to His Church our new normal. Today he leads us and he not only turns on the light, but walks us out of the cave, and he not only keeps the Easter fire burning, but leads us into the Church and into the center of the divine life of the Trinity. In the great movie, The Mission, Mendoza, a slave hunter on the cusp of conversion, says to the Spanish Jesuit, Fr. Gabriel: “For me there is no redemption, no penance great enough.” Fr. Gabriel replies, “There is. But do you dare to try it?” That is our Lord’s challenge to you and me: Do we dare try to let His Light, His Joy, His Redemption transform our lives?

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Homily Good Friday – Christ, Still King on the Cross

chris the king About three years ago, I went on a retreat with a group from St. Athanasius before my third year of theology and I saw a crucifix I think I will never forget. Our retreat was to the EWTN Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, AL. When we arrived at the grounds of the Shrine and monastery, the first thing we saw was a large castle, complete with all the architectural elements and furniture of a real castle.

The reason they have such a castle, practically, is so that the constant stream of pilgrims to their Shrine will have a place to congregate, eat, visit the gift shop, or listen to retreat directors without disturbing the quiet of the square outside that is between the castle and the Shrine Church. But, spiritually, this castle is a very real reminder of the spiritual warfare that is waged all around us and the necessity for all of us to engage this battle with courage and resolve. And a castle always reminds us that we have a king, Jesus Christ, who has fought and won the battle against sin and death.

As we passed through the castle and crossed the square toward the Church we noticed two long colonnades on either side, one containing the Stations of the Cross and the other the crucifix that I so vividly remember. It was life-sized and commissioned by an artist to reflect the wounds which are shown in the Shroud of Turin, the burial cloth in which Jesus was wrapped when he was laid in the tomb. Literally every inch of his body was slashed or wounded. The sight of it almost made me recoil, it was hard to look at. But I think this has been the common reaction of all mankind since that first, dark, Good Friday afternoon. Indeed, as Isaiah the prophet foretold, “Many were amazed at him – so marred was his look beyond that of man, and his appearance beyond that of mortals – so shall he startle many nations, because of him kings shall stand speechless … He was… One of those from whom men hide their faces” (Isaiah 52:14-15; 53:3).

Crucifixion was the most painful and degrading punishment that the Roman empire employed, so horrible that Romans were exempt from it – it was reserved for the worst criminals of the lands they occupied. The words of the great Roman orator, Cicero, show how infamous a punishment it was: “That a Roman citizen should be bound is an abuse,” he said, “that he be lashed is a crime; that he be put to death is virtually [as to kill one’s closest relative]; what, then, shall I say, if he be hung on a cross? There is no word fit to describe a deed so horrible.”[1]

How then does the castle hold true? Is this the king we were all prepared to meet? He is king, and upon the cross, especially so. But we need not be afraid, for He is unlike any king we have ever known. Isaiah, again, foretold “Because of his affliction he shall see… his portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty, Because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked” (Is 53:11, 12). And the author of the Letter to the Hebrews proclaimed “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us… confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help” (Heb 4:14, 16).

“To men Christ’s kingship may seem paradoxical: he dies, yet he lives forever; he is defeated and crucified, yet he is victorious”[2]. But, throughout His Passion and Death that we contemplate today, Christ’s Kingship is maintained. Our account from John’s Gospel in particular emphasizes

“that Jesus freely accepted his death (Jn 14:31) and freely allowed himself to be arrested (18:4, 11). The Gospel shows our Lord’s superiority over his judges (18:20-21) and accusers (19:8, 12); and his majestic serenity in the face of pain, which makes one more aware of [Jesus’ triumph] than of his actual sufferings.”[3]

His kingship as a man was meek and moderated. He did not allow the royalty of his divinity, his claim on all creation, to have the glorious splendor it deserved because He did not come to exercise earthly power. He wanted a spiritual reign, to rule over hearts. To prove it, he made his cross his last earthly throne: Upon his death on the cross, “God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee must [bend], in heaven and on earth and under the earth; and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:9-11).

What then does Christ’s kingship mean for us? The Catholic Church is the budding forth of his kingdom on earth (Lumen gentium 5). Each one of us is called to participate in this kingdom and expand it through our good works. The Lord should be the king of our families, and he should reign among our friends, neighbors and colleagues at work.[4] But his reign starts with each of us. Does he reign in our minds with firm belief in truth and doctrine? Does he reign in our will with obedience to the will of God? Does he reign in our hearts with love for God above all things? The good thief, at his bitter end, looking at Christ on the cross, recognized his kingship, placed his trust in him and received the promise of heaven: “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power.” (Lk 23:42). We faithful Christians do not wait till our bitter end; we make this same appeal tonight as we embrace and kiss the cross, on which hung the salvation of the world.

[1] Navarre Commentary, St. John, 186.
[2] Ibid., 181
[3] Ibid., 173-174
[4] In Conversation with God, Vol. 5, “Christ the King”, by Fr. Francis Fernandez

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Rite for the Blessing of a Child in the Womb

gerard Vatican City, 3 April 2012 (VIS) - Beginning in the second week of May when many countries around the world celebrate Mother's Day, the text of the "Rite for the Blessing of a Child in the Womb", having received the approval of the Holy See, will be made available in parishes throughout the United States. The announcement was made recently in a note issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops informing the faithful that the the text - printed in both English and Spanish - has received the "recognitio" of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and chairman of the episcopal conference's Committee on Pro-Life Activities, has explained that the blessing was prepared to "support parents awaiting the birth of their child, to encourage parish prayers for and recognition of the precious gift of the child in the womb, and to foster respect for human life within society". The blessing may be imparted either during the liturgy or outside of Mass and the text will eventually be included in the Book of Blessings, after it has been revised.

The blessing of unborn children was promoted by Archbishop Joseph Edward Kurtz of Louisville. When bishop of Knoxville he had asked the Committee on Pro-Life Activities to see whether a blessing existed for a child in the womb. When none was found, the committee began preparing a text which was presented to the Divine Worship Committee in March 2008. In November of the same year the full body of bishops approved the prayer and it was sent to the Holy See for the "recognitio".

Monday, April 02, 2012

Homily Palm Sunday – A Deeper Faith

palmsunday_jesuschrist37 Today marks the beginning of a rapid succession of external rituals in the life of a Catholic. We are reminded of Ash Wednesday when we received the blessed ashes on our foreheads. Today we receive palm branches and we fold them into neat little crosses. On Holy Thursday we have the foot-washing. On Good Friday we kneel and kiss the Cross. And Saturday night, the Easter Vigil, is filled with incense, chants, exclamations, water, oil, and light. All of these, even the deadening silence and emptiness of the altar on Good Friday, are rich experiences that flood our senses.

It somehow makes sense that we show up in such larger numbers to these liturgies than to the common Sunday obligation. Our Lord made us to be sensing beings and uses our senses to relate himself to us. But what will we do when Easter is over and the rest of the liturgical year marches on? What will we do when all the sensational things give way to the sobriety and noble simplicity that most often marks the Holy Mass?

Let us begin today, Palm Sunday, and continually until Easter Sunday, to re-examine our Faith. We must not forget that all of the external rituals of our faith are not ends in and of themselves. We have them to remind us of the deeper spiritual realities that they signify. Religious sentiment and feeling are good and appropriate in response to these beautiful things for they often serve as invitations to more fully enter into our faith. But our experiences of these things must not stop at the level of feelings, for feelings come and go. We must consider the underlying spiritual effect that is taking place. Deep down what we are really longing for is something greater than ourselves. We are longing to know the Lord, to shout to him “Abba, Father!”(Mk 14:36); “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord… Hosanna in the highest!” (Mk 11:9-10)

We proclaim the same thing today that the Jews did centuries ago. The Jews of Jesus time, though, were only caught up with the spectacle of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem; they had not let Him enter into their hearts. Up to this point Jesus had been telling those he cured to remain silent. He had also been disappearing when the people would rise up to make him king. They wanted a Messiah who would rule with military might and free them from Roman occupation. But our Lord wanted to teach them that his kingdom is of heaven, not of earth, and he wishes to reign in hearts, not palaces.

This day, though, is different. He allows them to proclaim him as king to teach us to look for kingship not in one who is dominating and ambitious but in One who is humble and obedient. Therefore our Lord – who in his Divinity deserved to ride into Jerusalem upon a golden throne, with a team of chariots, on a path of fine tapestries and gold – rides instead on the poor throne of a donkey along a path of cloaks and palm braches. This he did to the shouts of “many people” (Mk 11:8), a “great crowd” (Jn 12:12): “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel” (Jn 12:13). But, then, only a few days later, this same group of Jews, riled up by the high priests, turns this acclamation into a death sentence, into a trumped-up charge of blasphemy (Navarre Bible, Mk 11:1-11). Pilate said to them, “what do you want me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” They shouted, “Crucify him” (Mk 15:12-13).

It’s easy to shout with praise and acclamation to Jesus when everyone around us is shouting too. But when the leaders of our society disperse enough ill will, are we quick to condemn him? Do I preach Christ, and Him Crucified only when I am surrounded by attentive parishioners or brother priests? When I’m out with friends or on the annual family camping trip do I praise him still or am I tempted to speak otherwise?

How can we live differently today? You and I have to make sure that our faith doesn’t stop at the externals. If we live our lives no deeper than the surface level, then we are easily swayed by those who have the loudest voice. But when we allow the external signs of our faith to take us deeper then we come to know the truth of our faith and come to know Christ for who He really is. If we allow the grace of his Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension, signified by so many beautiful rituals over these coming days – when we allow that grace to penetrate deeply into our hearts, deeper than our surface feelings, then Christ can begin to mold and transform us into Catholics who are always faithful, always at His right hand, even if we are the only ones standing up for Him, even when there is “darkness… over the whole land” (Mk 15:33).