Monday, March 30, 2015

Palm Sunday, Beginning of Holy Week - 2015

Yesterday, March 29, 2015, Passion (Palm) Sunday, I began my third Holy Week as an ordained Deacon.  I assisted at Mass at two of the three parishes that make up the Beverly Catholic Collaborative.  At the beginning of each Mass, there was the blessing of the palms, followed by my proclaiming the Gospel reading according to Mark; of Jesus’ triumphant entrance into the city of Jerusalem.  Crowds gathered around Him, shaking palm branches, and yelling out “Hosanna,” and proclaiming that the Kingdom of David was at hand.  Yet, during that same liturgy, we would hear the Passion of Jesus Christ according to Matthew; during which the crowds are now yelling out, “Crucify Him!”   

The five weeks of Lent were meant to be a time to prepare for this Holy Week, for in many ways, this week will be the most challenging of the Church’s liturgical year.  We are to recall the events that lead to the Crucifixion of Jesus, and to His Resurrection.  We are being challenged to reflect more deeply and personally on what those events mean to our world, our Church and for ourselves personally.  We are being summoned to; if just for this week, live a life of intensive prayer and meditation.  We are being challenged to open our minds, our hearts and our souls to the presence of our Resurrected Savior, and be willing to be transformed by Him; transformed into bearers of the Good News.  Evangelizers, by word and deed; to let others know of the love and mercy of our God!


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

An Old Argument Re-Surfaces, Communion in the Hand!

A long time ago, I was reading an issue of “Saint Anthony’s Messenger,” published by the Franciscan Friars.  I was scanning the comment letters, when I saw a letter in which the writer was complaining about a previous magazine cover depicting a woman holding a communion host in her cupped hands.  The writer was outraged that a Catholic magazine who depict a layperson (cannot remember if he made reference to gender) holding a consecrated Host.  The writer went on to state that because of this practice, the Eucharist was being demeaned in the eyes of the faithful.  Well, this letter got my dander up (I still had hair at the time!), and I wrote a reply, which actually was published.  As I recall what I wrote, I am sure I stressed that receiving on the tongue, or in the hand, were both valid choices.  What upset me, and continues to upset me, are those who believe that I am desecrating the Eucharist, when I receive in the hand.  For me, it is the greatest honor, the greatest joy, to be able to receive my Eucharistic Lord, in my hands.  To realize that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, loved me; loved all of us so much, that He humbles Himself each day to be with us, to feed and strengthen us.  He is willing be present in simple bread and wine, so He can be one with us.  This realization for me is awesome!

All this came to mind when I saw an article by Mathew N Schmalz, a contributor to the website Crux.  He also was commenting on how divisive how one receives Communion has become.  It is becoming a litmus test, a way to determine if you are for Vatican II reforms or against them.  Are you a “traditionalist,” or a “liberal” Catholic?  Do you believe in the sacredness of the Eucharist or not?  What should be the highest experience of Christ’s Presence among, has become just another theological or liturgical argument!


Since I was ordained as a deacon in 2012, I have distributed Communion at many, many Masses.  The vast majority of those who come forward to receive Communion come with their right hand cradled in their left hand.  Many approach me with a look of anticipation, a look of reverence in their eyes, as they receive the Body of Christ in their hands.  There are some who do come up to me and receive the Host on their tongues.  I see the same sense of reverence, in their eyes and in their voices, as they say “Amen,” and I place the Host on their tongue.  Whatever way we chose to receive the Eucharist, it is vitally important that we remember who it is we are receiving, and be open to His Eucharistic Presence.

Monday, March 16, 2015

A House Divided

March 13, 2015, was the third anniversary of the election of Pope Francis, as the supreme head of the Roman Catholic Church.  As he enters the third year of his pontificate, he appears to enjoy a great deal of support from the vast majority of the world’s Catholics.  However, on the opposite sides of the theological, ecclesiastical spectrum, there is a divided opinion.

When conservatives heard that the cardinals had elected a South American Pope, and a Jesuit no less; there were some who started getting a little nervous.  When he came out in just the white papal  cassock, throwing election night protocol to the winds, conservatives became increasingly concerned.  When traditionalists heard that he was not occupying the papal quarters; saw him adopting simpler vestments, compared to the liturgical finery of his predecessor; they were up in arms!
 
Then there were Pope Francis’ homilies, off the cuff remarks, and his actions towards reforming the Curia, the papal bureaucracy.  Not taking an extreme hard line approach against those who disagreed with the Church teachings on sexual matters, abortion, and homosexuality; while at the same time, denouncing the negative effects of a freewheeling capitalist system; caused some conservative commentators to question the legitimacy of his election.  Career bureaucrats in the Curia are upset over Pope Francis charges of clericalism, and cronyism in the Vatican.  They see his efforts to reform the way financial affairs are handled, as a threat to their way of patronage.  His intentions to introduce more laity, especially women, into the Vatican offices, are equally seen as threatening the curial lifestyle.

Now on the left, many saw Pope Francis as one of them, and expected a wholesale change of Church’s teachings on women’s ordination, sexual morals, homosexuality, and on divorce and remarriage.  And they were extremely disappointed when none of that happened, and with the Pope’s indications that such radical changes was unlikely to happen under his watch.  There are survivors of sexual abuse by clergy who feel that this Pope has not moved fast enough to implement worldwide protections for children, or to hold any bishops accountable for covering up the clergy abuse scandal.  Many are disheartened at the slow pace of the reform of the Curia.  There is a feeling among left wing Catholic reformists, that Pope Francis is all fluff and no substance.


Now I think the conventional wisdom is that when both extremes of a social spectrum are against you, you must be doing something right.  There are many commentators in the middle, one of them being John Allen of the Boston Globe’s website Crux, who feel that Pope Francis has already achieved much.  His reform of the Vatican’s financial system is in place, despite one curalist attempt to weaken it.  His council of cardinals, who are advising him on how to reform the Curia, has presented suggestions that have been discussed with all of Church’s cardinals.  The Synod of Bishops will convene again to discuss the status of the family in the Church and the world.  And Pope Francis continues to encourage open discussion on these and other topics among the Church’s bishops.  Where this will lead, no one is sure.  This will be a test of whether the Pope will continue to be a collegial shepherd, or be the Supreme Pontiff, enforcing his will on the bishops.  John Allen has written an interesting column on what we could see on what the third year of this pontificate might bring.  Strap in folks, this could be quite a ride!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Walking the Way of the Cross




This past Friday, I was given the opportunity to lead people in the Stations of the Cross.  The devotion was held at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church, in downtown Beverly, MA.  The church is old, big, the interior cavernous.  Even with the lights on, it seemed dark inside.  The old furnace has a hard time heating the church, so there was a bit of a chill in the air.  We had about 30 individuals attending the service.  I came out into the sanctuary, dressed in my alb and purple deacon stole.  And for the first time, a wireless microphone; the interior of St. Mary’s soaks up sound, even my loud voice.  I invited those in the pews to join me in walking the Way the Cross; after a short prayer, we began.

This devotion has a long history.  Most scholars credit the Franciscan Friars with establishing the Way of the Cross in its present form.  The Franciscans had already been given responsibility for the Holy Places in the Holy Land, by the Pope.  In Jerusalem, the friars would lead pilgrims through the streets, along the route Jesus would have walked to Calvary.  During the 15th and 16th centuries, Franciscans in other countries began to set up outdoor shrines, imitating the places (or stations) where Jesus would have stopped on His way to His crucifixion.  Later, they requested, and received papal permission to set up Stations of the Cross in their churches.  It was not long afterward, that Rome extended that permission to bishops who wished to also set up Stations in their own churches.
 
The Way of the Cross is a devotion that helps us Christians to remember that Jesus, though the Son of God, was also human; that for Him, the Way of the Cross was a journey into suffering and death.  Realizing this, as I walked and prayed each of the Stations, I found myself entering into a different spiritual space, a solemn space, a sorrowful space.  Sorrowful, because I was sensing the pain and suffering that Jesus went through for us.  For us, He was willing to totally empty Himself, give all that He had on the Cross, so that we would be freed from the power of sin and death.  How often do we forget that?  The Way of the Cross helps us to remember. 

The devotion also reminds us that if we decide to follow Christ, we follow Him everywhere, even to Calvary.  If we follow Him, it means that we are willing to empty ourselves in service to Him, and our brothers and sisters in Christ.  First to empty ourselves of our selfishness, our pride, our self-centeredness, anything that gets in our way of loving God and others.  Then we empty ourselves of our talents, our skills for the sake of Christ, and the world.  It is not easy; it can be very hard and painful.  Still, Jesus Christ calls us to follow; but if we answer that call, we can be assured that we will not be alone on this journey.  Christ assures us that though the journey may be full of suffering, Easter dawn awaits.


After the Station where Jesus in laid in the tomb, I walked to a large bas relief in the church.  It portrays the Resurrection, and standing before it, I read a passage from the Gospel of Luke (24: 1-8), where the women find the empty tomb.  And two men appear before them and announce:  “He is not here; he has arisen!”  On that note of hope, I stood before altar, and blessed those who are in the church, turned and bowed before the Eucharistic Presence in the tabernacle, and left the sanctuary. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Reflection on the Readings for the First Sunday of Lent - 2015



Genesis 9:8-15
Psalm 25: 4-5, 6-7, 8-9 (10)
1 Peter 3: 18-22
Mark 1: 12-15




The story of Noah and the Ark has in many ways has become a child’s fairy tale.  Most depictions of the story look like a cartoon, showing friendly animals, lining up two by two, to enter the Ark.  We see Noah and his family, smiling as they welcome the creatures coming towards them.  Yet, like most of our modern fairy tales, the origin of the story of the Ark; the deeper meaning of the story, can be grim and frightening.

We see God, looking out at the humanity that inhabits His world and seeing only evil and corruption.  Like a potter, unhappy with the pottery he has made, God intends to destroy His creation, wipe the slate clean.  Yet, God is a creator, not a destroyer.  While He intends to wipe out the evil, He sees the good that still exists, exists in Noah and his family.  So God saves a remnant of humanity, and insures their survival.  And Noah and his family, humanity is reborn, life begins again.  And the Creator promises never to destroy all humanity again, and the rainbow is the sign of that promise.  He will seek another way to save His people from the power of sin. 

And that way is found in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who, through His death and resurrection, freed all humanity, past, present, and those yet to come from, from the power, and consequences of sin.  And with that freedom, with the fulfillment of the promise the Father made to His creation, the “kingdom of God is at hand.” 

This is the Good News that Jesus is calling us to accept and believe.  To believe that God does love this world, loves us; loves us so much He gave us His Son to save us, to heal us.  That kind of love calls for a response from us, and that response is to change our lives, to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, to live the Gospel!

The season of Lent is meant to be a time of preparation, a time of reflection, a time of conversion.  A reflection on what our lives have been, and to see, in light of the Gospel, what needs to be changed.  And we prepare our hearts to be open to experience the joy, and wonder of Easter morning, to celebrate the love of God

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Reflection on Ash Wednesday - 2015



Joel 2: 12-18
2 Corinthians5: 20-6:2
Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18

“Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.”  (Joel 2: 2-13)



In the frozen, snowbound Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the celebration of Ash Wednesday goes on.  I have been assisting at two Masses, and one service, distributing the ashes; marking each person’s forehead with the sign of the cross (or at least, I am trying to!).  Each time, I tell the person: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”  I am encouraging them to hear, and accept, the Good News, and to change their lives.   Ashes on the forehead are an ancient symbol of repentance, from the time of ancient Israel, and further back in time.  But it is only a symbol, it has no power, it has no meaning, if the recipient does not commit himself or herself to living the teachings of Jesus Christ. 

Now this requires change; a change in the way we live our lives.  It is a call to enter into a closer, more loving, and a deeper relationship with our God.  It is a call to let go of our selfishness, our self-centeredness, and reach out the Father; and to reach out to each other, friend and stranger alike.  It is a call to let go of the bad self image we can have of ourselves; and realize that God love us for who and what we are, no matter how bad.  And we are called to reach out to the other wounded persons we meet, and share this Good News, whether by word, and by action. 

Lent then, is the season wherein we can enter into a more disciplined way of life, with the aim of growing closer to God.  We are encouraged to make even more time for prayer, where we open our hearts, to let God in, so that we can experience that Love that surpasses all other types of love.  And as our experience of that Love grows and grows, we are impelled to make more and more room in ourselves for God’s Presence.  We need to discover what is our internal clutter, that personal junk, which is getting in our way of loving God.  This is where the discipline of fasting comes in, where we can discover what we really need to live, and what we can do without.  Where we can discover how it feels to be empty, and ready for Christ to come, and knock at the door of our hearts.  Finally, receiving such a great gift from the Father, we feel the need to share that gift of love with others, others who maybe alone, feel unloved, who believe they are alone in a cruel dark world.  By practicing almsgiving, we learn to reach beyond ourselves, and touch those around us, whether they are family, friends or strangers.  And we learned that we are not just called to share from our “surplus,” but to share ourselves totally with others.

The season of Lent has been, is, and always will be an opportunity to deepen our commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  An opportunity and it will be a challenge for all of us.  The challenge to grow in our faith and to no matter often we might fail, we pick ourselves up and begin again.  We will not be alone on this Lenten journey, Jesus will be us, inspiring us by His Word, and He strengthens us with His Body and Blood.  And on Easter morn, He will be there to welcome us, into a much more wonderful life.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Snow, Snow, Go Away!!


We are digging out of our third snowstorm in Massachusetts!  If I hear someone singing "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!"; I am going to lose it!