Thursday, April 30, 2009

Joseph the Worker -- May 1st

While reflecting on St. Joseph and this "worker" title, we might consider ourselves. Perhaps you can say aloud the following, inserting your name in the blank: "Today I am reflecting on ______________, the worker."

Here is a way of considering this notion of oneself as the worker. Many folks today experience very little of Dolly Parton's "9 to 5" song. Just eight hours a day is a dream for so many who are employed. Rare is the worker who has "R& R" time in the evenings or on weekends. This raises the question: How much work do we allow to serve as an excuse for not taking time to be with the Lord.

Even we who are priests can easily forgo time for prayer or spiritual reading or simply sitting in church or chapel before the Blessed Sacrament because we feel overwhelmed with parish work or obligations. We allow them to expand beyond all available time. Like parents, priests can always find that there is something to do around a rectory or parish. It is so easy to thing, "I'll get to that prayer time, to that rosary or that breviary soon ... which later in the day or evening becomes a race to finish or sloppy because of tiredness.

Today in our hi-tech, non-stop world, the challenge is to block work from becoming a curse. Work has always been looked up in the Scriptures as a blessing. But, if it keeps us from God, it is a curse.

Lord teach us to number our days* aright
that we might gain wisdom of heart. (Psalm 90, v. 14)
*[we might add "our time"]

And the Church's View of those first 100 Day's???

Most Catholics 'round the world have heard the words L'Osservatore Romano and know that it has something to do with what the Holy See is thinking ... since it is the Holy See's newspaper and that what it prints is carefully reviewed by more than an editorial board ... principally by the Secretary of State ... today the Salesian Cardinal Bertoni. It is interesting to read the newspaper's most recent article about President Obama's first 100 days.
Many thanks to Whispers in the Loggia for the copy of the editorial from L'Osservatore Romano.

Obama in the White House
The hundred days that didn't shake the world
One thousand three hundred sixty-one days separate Barack Obama from the end of his mandate. No one can know nor imagine what will happen in this time. In fact, many analysts describe the "occupation" of the president as a reactive one. Planned political strategy leaves the post -- as the case of the Bush presidency after 11 September 2001 proves -- to choices dictated by events.

In another perspective, this 29 April marks a hundred days of the first African-American president in the White House, traditionally a much-awaited point for an initial assessment, however inevitably partial. But rivers of ink have already flowed over these weeks that, according to many commentators, they've signified a decisive turn from the past, a redefinition of the very image of the United States in the world.

It might be that this capacity to communicate is one of the great traits of the president, recalling that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Like the architect of the New Deal, Obama utilizes the modern media -- radio then, internet today -- to spread the message of hope which the nation needs. The great crisis of 1929 can't be compared to the current one. And still the imprint seems the same. So too the ability of shifting the attention of public opinion in a pragmatic and functional way.

In these months Obama has seen his popularity grow only by having opened the doors to changes: he proposed direct negotiations with Iran to resolve the question of Tehran's nuclear program and invited Russia to new discussions for the reduction of its strategic arsenals. Above all, he's proposed a different role for the United States on the American continent, beginning to imagine new relations with Cuba. But in other and more concrete international scenarios, continuity in respect to the past is anything but compromised. Like in Iraq, where the administration is applying the exit strategy begun by Bush, and in Afghanistan. Here -- Obama declared -- is found the new front of the fight against terrorism. New only to a point, as it was in Afghanistan where the first US military intervention after September 11 took place. And not everything as a wish for discontinuity can be seen by the retention of Robert Gates at the helm of the Pentagon.

Even when, opening to Cuba, he's broken a taboo, Obama isn't much moved from his predecessors in the request for tangible signs on the part of Havana.

Similar evaluations can be made for the economic stimulus undertaken by the president. It's been accused of excessive statism by some, if not placing the country on the path to socialism. A calmer analysis, however, notes that Obama moves with caution: very reluctant in the face of the nationalization of financial institutions, he opened the private sector to his plan to save credit institutions. Revealing, according to the International Herald Tribune, an unexpected similarity with Ronald Reagan, the president who placed a flag for the state's retreat from the private sector. And much more statism revealed itself in the final months of the Bush-Paulson team with the partial nationalization of the titans of property lending, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Even on ethical questions -- which, from the electoral campaign, have been the forceful concern of the Catholic episcopate -- Obama doesn't seem to have confirmed the radical changes he had aired. The new guidelines regarding embryonic stem-cell research don't, in fact, line up with the changes foreseen months ago. They don't permit the creation of new embryos for purposes of research or therapy, for cloning or reproductive ends, and federal funds may be used solely for experimentation with surplus embryos. These don't remove the motives for criticism in the face of unacceptable forms of bioengineering that contrast with the human identity of the embryo, but the new regulations are less permissive.

A certain surprise has otherwise come about in these days through a bill designed by the Democratic party: the Pregnant Women Support Act would move to limit the number of abortions in the United States through initiatives of aid for distressed women. It's not a negation of the doctrine until now expressed by Obama on matters of the interruption of pregnancy, but the legislative project could represent a rebalancing in support of motherhood.

Signals of innovations in the Obama administration are undeniable. Above all on matters of the care of environment and in particular the partnership that seems born with Beijing. But maybe it's early to talk of revolution or imbalance in judgment, whether positive or negative. These hundred days have not shaken the world. Better to await the next one thousand three hundred sixty-one.

Today's First Reading

A rather unusual story is Luke's account of the Apostle Philip and his meeting with the Ethiopian Eunuch. Not too much is said about eunuchs in the New Testament even though there seems to have been more than a few eunuchs around. Self-mutilation was not well received in the Jewish community. In Leviticus and Deuteronomy eunuchs were not allowed in Temple to worship or be in the presence of the Lord. The Jews looked upon this style of life as a rejection of the purpose of life -- marriage and the continuation of the human race. It was also looked upon as a practice to an idol god. So, the question arises, why does the doctor, Luke, incorporate this story in his Acts of the Apostles? Clearly, it would seem, that Philip wants to help the eunuch come to know Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord. He had this desire despite the clear Jewish prohibitions against the eunuch class of men.

Luke makes clear that Philip received some divine inspiration and intervention to start out on the road to Gaza, a desert route. It was along this road that he encountered the eunuch from Ethiopia. Why is that added? Some scripture scholars note that this geographic designation is offered to explain that the man is a "black man," as might be said today, to distinguish him from being another Jew who happened to be a eunuch. Nonetheless, the man was experiencing a calling to know something about who God is. He was reading the writings of Isaiah as he rested in his chariot on his way home.

Again the Spirit led Philip to this man when he heard him reading the text. Strange, Philip thought. So it is not surprising that the Apostle would ask him if he understood what he was reading since he had not been permitted within the prayerful worship gatherings of the Jews.

After Philip completed his short-course RCIA class with the man, he is asked to be baptized. Now Luke's purpose in recording the event becomes clearer. Philip seems to be at a fork in the road: Leviticus and Deuteronomy contain God's own law about eunuchs. Despite what is written, the Apostle decided that the man should enter God's household. Why? This is a question we might seriously consider because there are issues in our own times and cultures that might be similar moments today's Apostles.

Pope Benedict, in one of his Wednesday homilies to the weekly audience in St. Peter's Square, noted about Philip that he "teaches us instead to let ourselves be won over by Jesus, to be with him and also to invite others to share in this indispensable company; and in seeing, finding God, to find true life." Philip believed that Jesus loved all people. Obviously the eunuch was a part of the world, a part of the people the Jesus loved, that Jesus died for. The Apostles seemingly decided to set aside the "rules" or "guidelines" that prevented his becoming a part of the Christian assembly. Jesus by his death and resurrection had made possible for all life with God.

So, we might ask ourselves, what about tolerance? What about those who seem to be condemned by biblical verses? Who draws the lines? What are the lines? Are the Philips among us today? Doesn't this story challenge an ever-ready response to people who may seem to be different? to people who may live in apparent contradiction to particular texts of the gospel? Perhaps the challenges this story from the inspired writer of the Acts of the Apostles are such that it is much easier to pass over this story very quickly and quietly.

St. Philip, open my mind to see this act of kindness
and to understand what brought you to your decisions.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Listen Carefully

"Anyone who comes to me I will not drive away;
for I have come down from heaven,
not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me....
And this is the will of the one who sent me,
that I should not lose anything of what he gave me...."

Even Jesus is charged with a mission and given an order. When we are confronted by the power of sin and the life of the gospels the Father wants of us, we confront once again the reality that holiness is not easy. Yet, Jesus reminds us, "anyone who comes to me, I will not drive away." Is this not an extraordinary promise? Do any of the people or ways of life that lead us into temptation and sin make a similar promise? None whatsoever!

Today we honor Saint Catherine of Siena, Dominican sister. She is noted for her remarkable simplicity, holiness and ability to teach others how to become holy. Even before she entered the Dominican convent, Catherine experience mystical moments with Jesus Christ. Pray to her, asking for her intercession for the graces needed to let the words of today's gospel give strength to the resolutions made in the Sacrament of Reconciliation when: "I firmly resolve with the help of your grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin."

Monday, April 27, 2009

Holiness is Possible for Us

Today's Gospel

Yesterday we considered becoming holy. It is a frightening experience for many. There is the thought that holiness means I have to sacrifice so much. Yet in today's gospel there is a clear message from Jesus Christ suggesting how holiness can be achieved.

For those seeking holiness, Jesus refers them to the Father. It is the bread that the Father has given us that enlivens the world. The bread he gives is more than the desert manna of the early Jewish people. Considering this, you might ask what is the manna that God the Father offers today in our world, our culture, our customs.

Perhaps we might describe the manna that is given to us today as similar to multi-grain bread. Today Jesus Christ himself is the bread from heaven. It is the Eucharistic meal given by the Father. Likewise today's manna is the marvelous gift of Sacred Scripture -- the written word of God. Also we might well consider the teachings or our Church as a part of the multi-grain bread given to us today.

To share in the gift of the Father that is our manna today there are several necessary actions. (1) You have to want the bread. (2) You have make an effort to get the bread. (3) You have to bring the bread to your home (heart). (4) You have to open up the manna given to you. (5) You have to eat the bread to gain its power.

To become "holy" you have to turn to your God and make your heart and mind ready to get the multi-grain bread that God wants in your life. Prayer, reading Sacred Scripture, spiritual reading, frequenting the Sacraments especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation: are these not the "stuff" of the spiritual multi-grain bread that we hunger for?

"I am the bread of life" Jesus said.

Where is holiness?

Today's Gospel

"Do not work for food that perishes but for food that endures for eternal life
which the Son of God will give you... 'What can we do to accomplish the works of God'"?

Come, follow me! This is a Jesus message so often said or implied in the gospels. Obviously to follow Jesus implies that we want to do the works of God.

Do the realities of our times challenge our people in this nation to return to a more obvious practice of one's faith? Are we not standing on the threshold of a doorway that is opening our hearts and lives to a "refresher course" in personal relationships with the Lord?

Come! Follow me! These invitations are so evident in the gospels. Often the customs of our times have made time with Jesus in prayer, in living a life modeled on the gospel message seem less important than all the distractions, all the invitations to be otherwise busy, that surround us.

Beneath these distractions there might be this power pulling at us: "Am I afraid to be holy?" This is a genuine question facing Christians in today's culture.

Sunday Reflection Deacon Gary Bockweg

Thanks again to St. Joseph's Deacon Gary Bockweg for another wonderful reflection.

Why do questions arise in your hearts?
That’s what Jesus asked his disciples
When he found them huddled in fear in the locked room.
When they were startled, terrified, and incredulous at his arrival.

Considering all his amazing deeds that they had previously witnessed,
We’d think they would have had complete faith in him.
And that they would have feared no one.

They had many times witnessed his awesome power.
Power over illness – curing the sick.
Power over nature – multiplying the loaves, calming the sea.
Power over Satan – driving out demons.
Power even over death – raising the widow’s son,
Raising the synagogue official’s daughter,
Raising Lazarus.

They'd seen all that with their own eyes.
Some of them had even seen him standing with Elijah and Moses
And heard the voice of the Father praising him.

And he’d even told them in advance that all of this was going to happen.
He was going up to Jerusalem to suffer, be put to death, and rise on the third day.
Surely they heard him.
But clearly they didn’t fully understand.
Peter responded saying “This shall never happen to you, Lord.”
And Jesus had to tell him – “Get behind me, Satan.”
We’re also told that the apostles questioned among themselves
What rising from the dead might mean.

It’s easy for us to think that with all the apostles had witnessed
They would have absolute, unshakable faith.
And yet we know that they abandoned him during his passion.
We know that they were greatly frightened by his arrest and death.
That’s why they were held up in that locked room.

At first glance it seems that they had it so much easier than we do.
But when you think about it – we’ve got a lot that they didn’t have.

We didn’t have to deal with the real shock of hearing that Jesus was resurected.
Most of us have heard that all our lives.
In fact, we probably hear those words with far less awe than we should.
It’s something we just take for granted.

The apostles had to live out the story with Jesus day by day.
With some danger and without knowing how it might end.
We learned the ending at the same time we learned the story.
And we learned the full story in the comfort and safety of our home or school or church.

And as we learned more detail and thought about it more
We realized that this story has stood the test of time for 2000 years.
We realized that hundreds of millions of others have believed the story
And passed their faith down to us.
When we read the writings or listen to the words of some of those believers,
When we consider the deeds and commitments of some of those believers,
We can find assurance that many who were better and brighter than us have believed.

We also have the benefit of the New Testament.
And the scripture scholars.
We have the knowledge that Jesus is still here with us.
Even if we can see him.
We know we can receive him in the Eucharist – every day if we want.
We know that he’s dwelling among us – dwelling right inside each of us.
We’ve had that presence around us since our birth – and within us since our Baptism.

At the time they abandoned Jesus,
At the time they were held up in the locked room,
The apostles hadn’t yet received that Spirit.
They knew Jesus as a companion and a teacher.
Maybe even as the Messiah.
But not as an internal presence.
It was only with his visit to that locked room that they finally received that Spirit within.
That Spirit most of us have had all our lives.

And when the apostles finally did receive that Spirit, look at what they did with it.
They immediately went out and bore witness to everything they had experienced.
As we hear in the fearless words of Peter in our first reading today,
They stood up to the people they had feared, they stood up to the leaders.
With that Spirit within, the apostles began to spread the story.
Spread the Good News,
That God loves us so much that he actually came among us to redeem us.

They spread that Good News out to the whole world.
And they spread it out to all time.
They started the chain of witnesses that has carried the message
Across the world and across time to us.

So who has the better advantage – the apostles or us?
There are pros and cons for both.
But it’s hard to say that either has the clear advantage.
God calls all of us to believe and to give witness to our belief.
To give witness by our actions and example even more than by words.
He gives each of us ample gifts.
And all he asks in return is that we do the best we can with what we have.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Jesus Feeds the Hunger of Our Hearts

For a moment we seem to have left the post-Resurrection stories about Jesus in today's gospel. St. John brings us back to an event that happened before the Jewish feast of Passover, as he tells us. A large crowd was following Jesus -- but without food. There is no fast-food place; there is no marketplace. What are these hungry people to do? What would five barley loaves and two fish provide for such a crowd? You know "the rest of the story." And the disciples gathered twelves baskets of left overs from the five barley loves!

So, what should we learn from this event? Here Jesus' actions are a reminder that we need to have a firm belief in the good will and power he possesses. This event is a reaffirmation for all of us of his care. When we are confronted with any kind of hunger, we should not forget Jesus' words: "I am with you always." Whether there be a personal need or a communal problem, Jesus Christ is always present for us, ready to hear our requests, always willing to extend his hand to us.

Do you genuinely believe this? How do you experience his willingness to serve your needs? Prayer and trust are two realities that help us draw closer to Jesus. Personal time with an open heart before Jesus will affirm for you that Jesus will feed you more than you can ever ask of him.

"One does not live on bread alone
but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Mt 4)

So, the "word" comes to you not only in silent prayer but also form the very words of God found in scripture. Your bible is a genuine pathway that leads you to God.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


One of the works of Pope John Paul II put in place for our Church is what we celebrate throughout the world. During his homily on the occasion of the canonization of Sister Faustina on April 30, 2000, John Paul spoke these words: It is important then that we accept the whole message that comes to us from the word of God on this Second Sunday of Easter, which from now on throughout the Church will be called "Divine Mercy Sunday."

Apparently Jesus appeared to Sister Faustine more than a few times. Now many today are quite skeptical about such events. I will conclude this reflection with a reason for believing such miracles in our own time. But back to the flow of this reflection. In Sister Faustina's diary there are recorded 14 entries concerning Jesus desire that this feast become a reality in the Church. According to what Sister Faustina recorded, Jesus directed her to record his desired intentions for each day of a novena for divine mercy. Furthermore, Sister's diary records these words of Jesus to her: Do all you possible can for this work of mercy. My heart rejoices on account of this feast."

What did this Servant of God, John Paul II, mean when he said that "...we accept the whole message of the 2nd Sunday of Easter." What he meant was this: there is a strict connection between the Easter Mystery of Redemption and this new feast of Divine Mercy. There is to be understood that there is a genuine connection between the suffer, death, burial, resurrection, Ascension and sending of the Holy Spirit with this Sunday that follows Easter Sunday. This is the theme set out in the Responsorial Psalm today: "O give thank to the Lord, for He is good; his streadfast love endures for ever." That steadfast love is nothing else than God's mercy for us.

Three times in her diary Saint Faustina recorded these words of Jesus: (a) I want to grant a complete pardon to the souls that will go to confession and receive Holy Communion on the feast of his mercy;" (b) "Whoever approaches the Fountain of Life on this day will be granted complete forgiveness of sins and punishment;" and (c) "The soul that will go to Confession and received Holy Communion will obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment."

The Eucharist is the Fountain of Life. It is Jesus in his desire to pour himself as Mercy into our hearts. He stresses this attention to the Eucharist because we can so easily receive it with indifference. One of the diary entries follows: "My great delight is to unite Myself with souls .... When I come to a human heart in Holy Communion, My hands are full of all kinds of graces which I want to give to the soul. But souls do not even pay any attention to Me; they leave Me to Myself and busy themselves with other things. Oh, how sad I am that souls do not recognize Love! They treat Me as a dead object."

The promises of complete forgiveness are reminders as well as a call. "He is truly present and truly alive in the Eucharist ... waiting for us to turn to him with trust. The promises are for all of us to experience his cleansing love through Confession and Holy Communion -- to begin our spiritual lives again, renewed and made whole again. Each time we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Eucharist we accept his offing of a new beginning.

Back to the issue of credibility, of faith in appearances and of miracles accepted by the Church. In December I received a call to come to the Specialty Hospital at 7th and Independence Avenue to anoint a young man. When I arrived, the man's father told me he had had open heart surgery in October. During the operation the man's aorta ruptured. There was no on-the-shelf-aorta waiting for such a rare event. The world-renowned surgeon made an aorta for the man there but it required about 12 minutes ... 12 minutes without the man's brain receiving life-sustaining oxygen. The man was in a coma from that moment on. Several days after my visit with the father and my anointing the man, I returned with a very special mission I felt called to complete because of the extraordinary gift that had been given to me during my days of working with Pope John Paul II. He had entrusted to me one of his zuchettas ... the small skull cap worn by bishops, cardinals and popes. It is a gift that I have guarded and rarely let out of my room. I instructed John's Dad to put the zuchetta on John's head each day and say a prayer to Pope John Paul, requesting his intercession for John. That was in December when the doctors attending John presented his father with a statement that John was now in a permanent, vegetative state. I told John's Dad, "Do not give up." Take this zuchetta to John each day and pray. Now here is the rest of the story. Just three or four weeks ago John's doctors discharged him from the hospital not because there was still no hope but because they now had a patient who came out of a permanent vegetative state and was actually trying to speak. John is now in a rehab center where he continues to improve, sometimes trying to walk, responding to all directions, and is trying to learn once again how to talk. He has his good days and his bad hours but nevertheless all the physicians working with John say it recovery is without doubt a miracle. Medicine did not have any cause in his recovery. Miracles do happen. And if they happen, then it is not at all a surprise that Jesus appears to individuals like Sister Faustina. Her words should carry significance for all of us and help us bring ourselves to Jesus seeking his forgiveness and his new life.

Friday, April 17, 2009

back at the lakeside


Today's gospel might sound like a repetition, albeit elaborated, of yesterday's gospel story composed by St. Luke. This makes one wonder what is going on with the evangelists. Well, John's story today is elaborated with other details because these seems to be some distance between John's writing and that of the Synoptic gospel writers (Matthew, Mark and Luke). John most likely wrote his gospel almost a quarter of a century later ... it is estimated that John wrote his recollections around the year 90 AD. In that period of time John had gone on his way as a missionary. In that time he had established a church, like what we might call a larger archdiocese, still united with Rome but with its own liturgy.

What we might gather from this gospel is a reflection on all of the readings that have occurred during this first week of the Easter Season. When you sift all that has been said, I believe, you come to this: Jesus Christ so often comes in ways that are not immediately recognized. Ours is journey of discovery. But, if the effort is given, you will make the discovery. And that discovery: Jesus Christ is born, Jesus Christ is there for you.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Table Fellowship -- Reminder: Sins are Forgiven

Today's Gospel Reading Luke 24:35-48

The Emmaus disciples, fresh from their astounding experience with the risen Christ, returned to tell the others. They found the others talking about the appearance of Jesus to Peter. At that time Jesus appears to them again. He realizes that there continue to be doubts about him in their minds and hearts. Just inviting them to touch his body to assure them that he was not a ghost was not sufficient. He asks them to have a meal with him. He wanted to bring back to their minds his "table fellowship" with them.

He does this to convince them that was has indeed been victorious over death. He has returned from among the dead. It is St. Luke's words that tell us how he did this in a way not unlike his Emmaus hotel meal with Cleopas and another disciple: "... he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures." In particular Jesus explains to them that it was already written that he "would suffer and then rise from the dead." But even more was prophesied: that repentance ... would be preached in his name to all the nations."

In the very next verse of Luke's gospel, not included in today assigned reading, Jesus tells them, "And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised." And what was that? The Holy Spirit would empower them to preach the word "to all the nations."

When Jesus asked to have a meal with them, he was affirming for them that their sins were forgiven, especially St. Peter's denial of Jesus while standing at a brazier during his trial. See the connection? Here is wants them to know that sin has been forgiven by his death and that the promise that he would give his body for them is renewed.

Jesus promises this to us each day. Because we have sinned and are weighed down by our sinful pasts, he gives himself to us each day in the Eucharistic meal: "This is the body of Christ."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Receiving on a Day of Giving

Today's Gospel Reading Luke 24:13-25

Today we hear an account of a marvelous gospel event. At the same time we have already heard or will hear reminders that almost every Post Office will be closing at 8 PM -- at least here in Washington, DC. Why? Because we face the annual reminder that very little in life is free. It is the premier day of giving back to the IRS!

Yet, there is every day of the year another experience of giving not from us but to us. A wonderful friend of mine often says, "Everyday is Christmas!" The gospel today is a reminder that everyday is an opportunity for us not necessarily set aside for making payment on an obligation to our government but to receive a freely given gift from the God who created us, who has given us the world we live in. We are reminded of this daily gift in the Lucan account of the two frustrated , frighted and fleeing two disciples on the Emmaeus Highway.

This gospel story along with the other post-Resurrection accounts of the "appearances of Jesus"is an opportunity to recognize what we can experience every day: how Jesus Christ meets us somewhere along our daily faith journey.

Perhaps we just do not recognize the various obstacles that challenge our days as or even the good events of every twenty-four hours as special gifts from God. Like the Emmaeus disciples we may indeed have events which, if we take the time to listen to and reflect on, can be the Holy Spirit leading us on to a better relationship with our God. Like the travelers, we have to take time for some prayer so that God can open up our eyes and hearts to hear him. Likewise for us there is the extraordinary gift of the Eucharist. Each day Jesus Christ is opened up to us in the earthly experience of the heavenly banquet. This is my body; this is my blood -- my gift to you in the breaking of the bread.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Who Is The Gardener? Easter Tuesday

Today's Gospel Reading -- John 20:11-18

Today's gospel story is not new. Consider this question? What does Mary Magdalene represent to you? How does she help you? Yes, you! What do you do, what are your inner-most feelings when your heart is broken, when you feel totally bewildered, when you experience loss, when disappointment causes pain, when confusion causes sleeplessness or when you simply want to draw closer to God?

"Why, God, why aren't you giving me an answer, a peaceful heart? Why are my plans failing? Why do I doubt? Why can't I beat that one fault or sin that hurts so badly? Where are you when I need you?"

What is a gardener? A person who tends a plot of good earth to cultivate flowers, vegetables or fruits is a gardener. S/he tills the soil, takes some usually very small seed and with much expectation and vision of a bumper crop plants the seed and nurtures this work, the garden of her/his planning.

Who is the gardener of your heart? How does God use other people or events to plant the seeds you need in your heart? How does God send the Holy Spirit in those Magdalene moments of your life of searching that you might experience?

Mary Magdalene had to ask, had to admit to herself and others that she was hurting, that she needed help to find what (who!) she was missing. Only when she asked the man she believed to be the gardener, only then did she begin to find what she was seeking.

Do you listen for God's answers in your searchings? Do you recognize the gardener who wants to till the soil of your heart? Do you see this Mary Magdalene moment as a key that can unlock so much of your heart? Perhaps, as never before, Mary Magdalene is God's gardener for your heart when it is seeking to find his help.

The spiritual life does not remove us from the world
but leads us deeper into it.
(Fr. Henri Nouwen)

Monday, April 13, 2009

That Empty Tomb!!! Easter Monday

Today's Gospel Reading

The gospel reading, while addressing the duplicitous reaction of the chief priests to the information that Jesus had risen from the dead, is for us in our time and culture a genuine challenge to our personal "status quo."

People visit cemeteries for one reason: to mourn a loved one or close friend. Imagine what would happen if you reported that a visit to our Gate of Heaven Cemetery, or any cemetery, was most unusual. Imagine the reaction if you reported that the grave site of your visit was found to be empty: a large pile of earth beside an empty coffin and the lid to a concrete grave liner and in the bottom of the grave the empty liner. Within an hour CNN would be on the spot. Reporters would be coming from around the world. You would be plagued by interviewers. At the same time there would be questions about foul play, about grave robbers doing the unthinkable. This is what society would surely want. This what the chief priests wanted in order to maintain the "status quo." To report that the convicted and crucified man had risen from his grave would certainly give validity to the reports that Jesus had appeared to some of his friends.

Today, a day after the Christian world celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus, we might ask ourselves again, "Do I really understand what the gospels are reporting to me? Have I honestly thought about the consequences of Jesus' resurrection in my life?" Or, do I move back to the "status quo" of my daily way of living? Do I feel my life needs to be different because I truly believe that Jesus did rise from his tomb? Do I realize that my life has to be different because of this? Can I return to my usual failures, my habitual ways of sin? It is so easy to put the burden of my "status quo" upon other people, other pressures and other desires. Easter Sunday is a reminder that our proclamation that "Jesus Christ is risen today can only result in a new way of living if we truly mean what we say. Otherwise, like the chief priests, we are standing behind the "status quo."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Sunday 10:30 Mass Homily

There are specific stories or events recorded in the Evangelists’ account of the life of Jesus Christ that seem to have stronger attraction for us. Today’s Lucan gospel story is one of those stories. In the story of the Emmaeus Highway events there is a particular sentence that reflects both confusion and doubt. Luke has written these words spoken by an seemingly unknown fellow traveller to a Cleopas and another disciple of Jesus who were getting out of town, as it were: “Oh, how foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared.”
St. Mark made a similar observation in his gospel: “they (disciples) did not believe (that Jesus had risen).” St. Matthew wrote “they doubted.” Lastly, St. John wrote “they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” These were the closest associates of Jesus. They had heard him make many references in his preaching about the long-awaited Messiah whose mission would be completed only by his dying and rising.
Their experiences raise the question: Do we, almost 2000 years after the event, do we take this Easter Sunday event for granted? To believe in the fullest degree means that I have to have in my mind and heart as understanding and acceptance of the whole story of what I mean when I say “I believe.”
On this Easter Sunday afternoon, you might ask yourself just what “he is risen” means for you. If the itinerant Galilean preacher was crucified and buried and that was the “end of the story,” perhaps we might not be here today. The life and messages of Jesus’ life would become simply a part of recorded near-East history. Perhaps we would not have an area of the world called “the Holy Land.”
If Jesus had not risen, imagine all that might never had happened. For me, first and foremost, I would wonder about the promises of forgiveness for my sins and a new life that he preached would be so much better than anything experienced in human life.
If this Jesus, the Messiah, had not risen, as the prophets said he would, could we ever believe that God, the Father, the Creator, had another kingdom, another place where my soul would be with him, where I would know the fullness of Jesus’ loving mercy.
Each time I read or hear read the Emmaeus story, my heart, my attention become focused. Like the two travelers in Luke’s gospel, my heart is set afire. I want to have the same experience they had. I want to know and feel what it means to believe “he is risen.” If I truly come to believe that Jesus is truly risen, as the two disappointed disciples did, then I will know that the journey we call the spiritual life is a genuine life in which I am coming to know the truth. The Divine will become the center of my life. I will be learning that the Spirit of God is so much greater, so much more exciting than my own human capacity. My “I believe” bring to me the experience of “the highest level of belonging to the Creator of the galaxies and bring a part of the human (and redeemed) race” (Nouwen, Home Tonight, p 43).

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Celebrate Your Last Mass As If It Were Your First Mass

Eternal Rest Grant Unto Him, O Lord

Reverend G. William Finch
St. Raphael's Parish

On Friday morning, April 10th, priests of the Archdiocese as well as parishioners at St. Raphael's Parish were stunned to learn that Fr. Finch died very shortly after leading his parish in the Commemoration of the Lord's Supper Mass. Father Finch was ordained in 1989.

Please remember him and his family and the people of his parish in your prayers.

What a blessing: to return to God after finishing the celebration of the Lord's Supper Mass during the Sacred Triduum.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord
and let perpetual light shine upon him.

Where do I go now? Easter Sunday, 2009

He has died. His mission is finished. Lent is finished for another year. Our Lenten resolves? Are they finished? So, where do we go now? Where can we go? The gospel for Easter Sunday Mass puts an interesting sight before us. Three close friends of the Crucified Christ are drawn to his tomb -- one, Mary Magdalene, surely went to the tomb out of love, out of sadness, a sense of loss The others, Peter and John, rush to the tomb because Mary reported that the sealing stone was removed from the tomb's entrance. Most interesting is an admission by John that his faith was not all that strong. Speaking of himself in the third person, John wrote "and he saw and believed." Believed what? What was already written in the Scriptures: "that he had to rise from the dead."

In all honestly, we might question our own belief that Jesus truly was risen -- risen from the death that brought his earthly body to Joseph of Arimethea's tomb. All of the Evangelists reveal an uncertainty of belief in the Resurrection. They seem to find it almost impossible to accept a reality they do not understand. Mar writes: "... they did not believe." Matthew describes a reaction to a post-Resurrection event: "... they doubted." In Luke's account of the Emmaeus

Perhaps these words of uncertainty, these expressions of doubt are necessary for all future generations as a support in moments when our faith in Jesus or his Church are weak These hesitations serve all of us well. If those who were so closely allied with Jesus in his public life and ministry were initially restrained from total belief, then our questions, our temptations to walk away from the Church and Sacraments should not be as frightening as some have experienced in a personal doubting in Jesus' messages to them.

As the story of Jesus' rising and the accounts of his post-Resurrection "visits" to the disciples circulate among the people, the wall of doubt began to crumble. St. Paul, some years after the Resurrection would testify "Last of all ... he appeared to me."

Today, this modern-times Resurrection day, stands as a reminder to us that the call to be a faithful follower of Jesus is first and foremost a challenge to our hearts. Our "Alleluia" and words of resurrection must be real, must be strong. Do I genuinely believe he has risen from death. Do I believe with all that is in me that this event seals my own salvation? If you have this kind of believe then you can believe God loves you as you are. Archbishop Desmond Tutu's words speak to us now: "God loves us not because we are lovable. No, we are lovable precisely because God loves us."

Maintain a special, prayerful relationship to the Resurrection is for you a personal moment not simply an historical fact. It is for you an awareness that you truly believe in the mystery of the Resurrection and its promise that Jesus' life has brought you to be the recipient of the Father's prodigal love. story he recounts the Risen Jesus' words to the two travelers: "How slow of heart to believe...."

Friday, April 10, 2009

"Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."

Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.

Even to the Son of God the inevitable comes. Death is the final enemy that every human being must face. The final words that are heard from the Cross, the altar of Jesus' sacrifice, Jesus' Eucharist, speak to us of his victory, his fulfilling his mission. Jesus has defeated the sin begun in the Garden of Eden. Those final words of the Bethlehem child are a son's prodigal moment to his Father: "Father, I am coming home to you with all the sins of past and future generations removed by my commitment to your will. Now I die to show my love for you and to shall all sinners my love for them."

Jesus' commending his life, his spirit to the Father is for all humankind the most convincing sign that we die as we live. Throughout his life, Jesus lived and taught the meaning of love and submission to the Father's will. He was always giving himself to God, his Father. These words of a suffering and loving Son, this final thought from a martyr's lips remind us that the will of God the Father remains always and forever a duty for us to fulfill -- no matter the cost! It is love, it is obedience that speaks to each of us. Jesus speaks to the Father and Jesus continues to instruct the wandering sheep of his flock: we are, all of us, called to surrender our wills to the Father.

Each time a priest says the Eucharistic Liturgy's words of consecration and raises up the Body and Blood of Calvary's victim, we witness the moment of his complete and total surrender to the Father's will. In that moment when he is raised up above our altars, we witness what Fr. Cessario presents as "the only option" for living. Jesus is the perfect commitment to the Father's will.

This Jesus is dead. Your Jesus has died. There are no other words from him to you Never forget now what he said earlier to the disciples at the Last Supper: "... I have called you friends." What does he mean by this word we hear so often used? In his mind a friend is a person to whom he had entrusted a particular, priceless treasure: you are my friend "because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father" (Jn 15:15). And he continues: You did not choose me but I chose you" (v 16).

Today as you recall his final words, realize the he chooses you not once but each day and in every breath of your life. He never abandons you. He chooses you to die with him daily, to offer yourself to the Father in destroying the sin in your life. His final words should remind you, as he reminded his disciple friends, that you should more than hear his words. You should be what St. James the Apostle taught: be doers of the word.

Each time you think of Jesus Christ, each time you pray to the Father, recall these final words of your Redeemer: "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." Each day "lift high the cross" and proclaim the love of Jesus Christ.

In closing, as mentioned in the introductory presentation of the seven last words of the Crucified Jesus, this blogger's reflections were inspired by the recently published words of Father Romanus Cessario, a Domincan priest and teacher at the Archdiocese of Boston's seminary. His words were delivered on the last Good Friday at St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York City and have been published by Magnificat, the well-known Catholic publication of daily reflections and prayer. The title of Father Cessario's work is The Seven Last Words of Jesus, published in February, 2009. Father Cessario's work is worth having as a "vade mecum" for each Holy Week.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

It is finished! "Consummatum est."

"It is finished."

Jesus' life is quickly coming to an end. Recall the first three words expressed his genuine care for those around him. Conspirators are forgiven; a lifelong renegade is given heaven; and a mother and a friend are entrusted to each other. In the next two words Jesus turns to expressions that reveal the suffering he is and has endured both psychologically and physically. Today and tomorrow we consider the fulfillment of his mission, the moment of his complete surrender for every human being that has and ever will live. Listen closely to these final words as you look upon a crucifix, as you imagine, if you can, your being at the foot of his Cross. You should be stunned.

Now he says for us and to his Father that the work entrusted to him is finished, is completed in an extraordinary totality. As Fr. Cessario said in his presentation at St. Patrick's Cathedral last year on Good Friday, "The once-and-for-all sacrifice for our sins is completed." Jesus' consummation of his mission is unique because it reaches far beyond his agony and death. "It is finished" is an utterance that reaches back to the first, the original sin, that has tainted and will taint every human being that is born. Everything, everyone has been "Christianized" by this sentence from the heart of a loving brother. It is a kind of baptism: these words of Jesus are like water poured over humankind. It is the water and blood from the body of Jesus over all humankind to wash clean the sins that have broken God's plan for the world and for each person in the world.

Jesus' "consummatum est: is so much more than a door shut on an event or a moment in history. It is a forever-gift of God's love through and in his Son for all humankind. From this moment on and from its very beginning before this utterance from Jesus' lips world history will never be the same. Perhaps we might say "Consummatum est. Reformatum est." It is finished; the world is reformed. All humankind are given the gift of divine forgiveness. Jesus' sixth word is his expression of love to his Father, his saying that he has completed his mission, his earthly life, to atone for the hurt, the pain, caused by the sinfulness of humankind.

Jesus' "consummatus est," brings each of us into an intimate friendship with Jesus if we want it. In this sentence we know he is more than brother. "Redeemer" is the only word that can express what he has become in this outpouring of love. The Easter Vigil hymn, The Exultet, proclaims: "O truly necessary sin of Adam that merited for us so great a Redeemer." Look at this Jesus. See in him your Redeemer!

Consider on this Spring day the ebb and flow at an ocean's shoreline. For most of us, sinners that we are, that movement of water is much like our response to God's love for us, to Jesus' sacrifice. That original sin continues to impede the continuous participation in the radical, reciprocal love of God for us.

As we hear in our hearts these penultimate words of Jesus, let the Holy Spirit invade our wills to resolve with all that is in us to give our lives each day, as best as we can, to our mission, to our efforts to achieve what God's plan is for each of us. If we can do this, especially through our prayer and the Sacraments of our Church, then we shall one day be able to say to our God who has been so good to us, that "It is finished as you wanted it to be for me in my life."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

I Am Thirsty

"I am thirsty"

It is no surprising that Jesus would speak of thirst from his Cross. But we should also try to understand what he is thinking when he utters these words to us. St. Thomas Aquinas answers our inquiry simply: these words are Jesus' "ardent desire for the salvation of the human race." Jesus is saying to you that his thirst is far beyond a bodily need. His thirst is for your soul, my soul. In his dying moments he teaches us that the the pain and suffering have a singular purpose -- to bring all of us to the Father not in a broken order but healed, repaired, returned to the order of God's plan for all of us and all humankind.

Jesus calls out his thirst to each created human being to turn from the broken order created by sin. God created us in and for goodness but sin in so many ways has damaged us. Fr. Cisserio points out that even in dying Jesus continues to be the good shepherd who "lays down his life for his sheep" (Jn 10:11). During the trying moments of his passion he continues his efforts to tend the flock entrusted to him by his Father.

And what do his words now speak to each of of us individually. His call for thirst relief is another eternal invitation to turn away from what causes his suffering, his thirst. His love for us is his asking that we come back to the Father with a loving heart, a heart freed form the bonds of one's own sinfulness. This is a very personal moment in the passion for each of us. He is speaking to you now.

For an instant his words, "I am thirsty," speak volumes about the damage sine has caused in our world. Today we might well hear these words as the result of speciif sins. I am thirsty because so many lives have been scarified on the table of abortion; so many lives have become wrecks on the rocks of immorality; so many lives have been injured by the arrows of vicious tongues, so many lives have been tainted by the commerce of greed; and so many lives and families have been ruined by addiction to drugs, alcohol, racial hatred and pornography. And these are just a few of the causes of Jesus' thirst in our world today.

Is it a surprise the these words of Jesus are so significant in our society? Do not consider abandoning whatever sin or sins bring you to feel so personally Jesus' thirst cry. Rather pray for the grace to be holy and free from sin.

He is thirsting for your love.

Monday, April 6, 2009

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Think for a moment: Jesus has been beaten, scourged, crowned with thorns and nailed to a tree's parts and then raised upright to being more jarring and killing torture. Yet, and don't forget this: his first three words were not about his pain or suffering. No, no complaining or whining. He speaks words of pardon, words that welcome a sinner into heaven and words that offer to us his mother as our mother. Not a sentiment about his horrific experiences .

The fourth word may lead us to consider that finally he has been broken, that he is crying out because of the pain and torture. Yes, the human feelings cry out abandonment but not a conviction that he Father has removed his care and protection. So, what is Jesus' reason for this pleas as he draws closer to the moment of his death? Again, I turn to Fr. Cisserio's 2008 Good Friday reflection mentioned at the outset of these reflections. This Dominican priest believes that "[H]e wants us to believe beyond all doubt that, whatever dark sentiments may envelope our hearts and minds, 'nothing can separate us from the love of God'" (Rom 8:30).

As you look at Jesus nailed to a cross, imagine that you are there, watching him during the final hours or moments of his pain-filled death. See in his suffering a sign to you that even though he is the Son of God, he is submitting to God's will for him. We should see in this moment of resignation Jesus' gift of restoration. His cry is telling us of the restoration of the human race. Here we witness sinful humanity as it is reunited with the Father's friendship. At the moment of these words, the broken order -- a theme Fr. Cisserio carries through his reflection on each of the words of Jesus -- is set aside. A new divine plan is established for the world --- the "new order of fruitful love." Here we must recognize that "[I]t is better for us to be restored than not to have need of restoration." Think about this last sentence of a few moments: it is a powerful link to Jesus Christ.

To those who are strong enough to abandon as best as possible their ways of sin, of fracturing the divine order for us, this dying Jesus, whose hands were immobilized by two nails, touches our sinfulness. He transforms us. He renews who we are, who we were meant to be.

This can happen because your Christ did not renounce what God willed of him. This happened because he did not despair. This came to be because this Jesus did not give up the hope of "embracing God."

Jesuit scholar and saint, Robert Bellarmine, said it all: Jesus gave witness to these feelings of abandonment "so that all might understand the great price of our Redemption." Jesus is saying to you and me that our restoration was costly. Wherever there is sin in our souls, Jesus heals.

To ransom a slave, you gave away your Son.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Woman, behold your son!

"Woman, behold your son .... son behold your mother."

The reflections on the first two words of the Last Seven Words of the Crucified Christ draw us to consider God's plan, God's ordering of our universe. We considered how sin wreaked its havoc on humanity in specific ways. Today, considering the third word, we encounter the experience of one particular person's relationship between herself, her Son and the human race. Theologians believe that Jesus' words to Mary and to St. John while he was dying on the cross we spoken not for them alone but for you and me, for all humankind. What was Jesus thinking when he spoke these words?

Jesus was attempting to arouse in our hearts "the expectation of belonging. Jesus, in caring for Mary's well-being after his death, is also his giving to all humanity his care for us not only in his redemptive death but the gift of his mother, one whose life was total surrender to the Father. Hence, in the English-speaking world we call the day of her Son's death "Good" Friday. At the foot of the Cross John learns first hand the reality of God's love for us.

We have come to believe that Mary is no ordinary woman. Quite the contrary. We believe she is not only the mother of Jesus, the Son of God, but also the mother of our Church because she "embodies the dearness, the holiness and the goodness" of her Son's gift of redemption to sinners.

Fr. Cisserio reminds his hearers that Origen, a Church Father of many centuries ago, wrote that we should remember that Mary "introduced us into the mystery of divine love that Jesus creates on the Cross." Could there be any other reason why we have to be careful not to divinize Jesus' mother?

We know that Mary's life was unique from the moment of her own conception, a reality verified by the angel, Gabriel, and his earth changing visit to Mary. The journey with her Son to the Calvary hill had to be made by Mary. She had to endure the fullness of her vocation, her mission to be the mother of the Redeemer. Her motherhood achieved its fullest maturity as she walked to the hilltop with Jesus. No other disciple, friend or relative could share Jesus' love and suffering as deeply as she did. It is our pride in this woman that she was ever the loyal, loving mother of her Son. Why else would we call her the mother of God and our mother as well?

We might consider this: it was the disobedience of Eve, her pride, her arrogance that caused havoc for God's plan. Yet, it was the obedience of Mary that repaired the Garden of Eden damage to humanity. The firsts Eve lacked faith, trust in God; the new Eve replaced that lacking by her complete trust in what God asked of her.

With Jesus' words to Mary, we witness the Son of God a new motherhood to Mary, her care for all of us. She immediately is given the role of helping her Son restore God's plan. She became for sinners the mediator of God's grace. For this reason the Church and her saints teach us that the best avenue to Jesus is through his mother.

Maternal love we experience in Mary is the embodiment of tenderness, compassion and sustenance. We have come to know these values in Mary's special role to protect us in our lives. Recall the many titles given to Mary in our Church, in so many nations throughout the world. Could any other reality be a strong sign of the countless way Mary continues her maternal care and love for you?

The Second Word of the Crucified Christ

"Today you will be with me in Paradise."

These words bring us to a moment when we encounter one of the grand mysteries of our faith. When we hear these words of response from a dying Jesus, most Christians latch on to them because they are words of hope spoken to all sinners. They are words of promise to the sinner in each of us. Jesus gives a promise to a seeming stranger, someone so different from himself, that humanity has given the unusual appellation, "the thief who stole heaven." This is Dismas, the convicted thief.

To carry forward a thought from the reflection on the first word, we should see Dismas as a man who thwarted God's plan, God's relationship with humanity. His life of thievery broke the promise of all things being good in the lives of those from whom he stole. His life was a challenge to God's seventh commandment: "You shall not steal" (Exodus, 20:5). Thievery was quite commonplace in Jesus' times. It is a sin that continues in our times under many guises. Yet, it is to the petition from this thief that Jesus bestows what all sinners ultimately hope to achieve: Jesus beatifies this criminal in his final moments of life. "Today you will be with me in Paradise." What, we can ask, was there that brought a recognized criminal, a recognized sinner, to speak his request for a place in "your kingdom"? There must have been something in his heart that led him to be so different from the other criminal on the third cross. History does not afford us a genuine answer, a factual answer.

However, Fr. Cisserio turns our thoughts to an apocryphal story or two that truly has no verification in truth but that Christians in the early centuries used to bring comfort to themselves and to further the presentation of Jesus as a sign of God's love for all humankind. Perhaps there is a smidgen of truth ... at least there is something in the story that makes us latch on with hope that comforts our own hopes and spirit.

This is the story. At some point in his early years, Dismas had the opportunity to meet or come to know the Holy Family. There seems to have been something in the relationship between Mary and Jesus that captured the apparent coldness, love-starved heart, of Dismas. It was something that he never forgot. Despite his life of sin, there was at his final moments of life a memory of what he felt when he met Jesus and Mary that moved him to petition forgiveness. Mary, herself, may have sought his recognition by her dying son. Nonetheless, here we are reminded that at some moment, in some place, others are praying on behalf of sinners, on our own behalf. We might recall for a moment the number of priests, sisters and brothers who answer God's call to the cloistered life. In their monasteries each day there are countless prayers raised to God on behalf of sinners, all sinners, for their acceptance into God's kingdom. It is the same practice when we ourselves, especially in November's cold and bleak days, ask a loving and forgiving God to bring sinners to Paradise.

Is not the scene of the "good thief" stealing heaven so loved by most people because it is a clear message to us who have sinned, to us who through our evil have also thwarted the divine order in our world, that there is hope for our salvation?

Dismas' words express his desire to have a relationship that exceeds his past experience with sin, with thievery. Obviously Dismas is asking for eternal happiness, eternal peace that did not exist in his life, so often the case in the lives of sinners.

So, what is Jesus thinking when he gifts Dismas? Most assuredly Jesus wants all sinners to see in Dismas none but ourselves. Regardless of how we have turned away from God at time or how we have broken the divine order of things, especially in the lives of others, we, too, can ask "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Lk 23:42). Despite our failures in loving God and others, we have an assurance from this exchange of words and our deeply meaningful hopes that Jesus will turn back to us and say "Today you will be with me in Paradise." Fr. Cisserio offers a 17th Century Spanish poem we might consider in ending this reflection.

O holy Cross, I have always prayed spontaneously,
and with so much faith,
do not let me die without confession.
At least I am not the first sinner who, on you,
O holy Cross,
has confided myself to God.
(La divocion de la Cruz, Pedro Calderon de la Barca)

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The First Word of the Crucified Christ

"Father, forgive them,
they know not what they do."

Let us begin this series of reflections recalling this: "Father" is the very first word that the already tortured Jesus speaks from the pain-filled experience of his crucified body. It is the first word he used in teaching the disciples how to pray. The word "Father" must be laden with meaning that is easily passed over in repetition. So, we begin our journey of understanding what Jesus was thinking, what Jesus was teaching as he hung in abject humiliation. Jesus first word is a sign of his love, his pardon for his prosecutors. It is a plea for all of humankind.

There is obvious pathos in this first word. It can bring us to consider the reversal of divine order that sin has brought into our world. Fr. Cessario makes an interesting observation that we might keep in mind at the outset of these seven reflections: "If sin matters not a white to us then neither will pardon for sin....Those who are impervious to sin remain impervious also to forgiveness." Recall the seeming finality in the definition of the word impervious: "incapable of being penetrated." Perhaps this alone could be a thought throughout the last days of Lent.

Consider for a moment that sin and forgiveness are mysteries. When God created all things, there was a definite ordering or design. Everything he created was good and for the good Creating us, God created an ordering between us and everything else because of our intelligence. But in that relationship between God and us is the famous Eden edict: "don't eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil." What this edict does is instruct humankind that there is a relationship that demands obedience. It was St. Thomas Aquinas, the Dominican theologian, who offered a simple definition of sin: "a sinful action is one deprived of its true ordering, the ordering from the maker of heaven and earth." Sin is a turning away from God and l things good. St. Augustine wrote about this relationship between God and his creations as an "eternal law" to make clear that we remain subject to God's plan, his design, his ordering.

In a nation where individual freedom is paramount, some folks may feel that because they were not involved in making God's laws, they are not bound by them. Because a majority of a population might wish to reject or rescind the Creator's plan or even a part of it does not mean that the Creator has rescinded or will rescind his design. Furthermore, simply because some set themselves outside God's plan does not mean that God has given up or will give up on the order that governs our relationship.

Yet we cannot forget Jesus' prayer to the Father "that all may be one ... as we are one" (Jn 17:21-22). Jesus reminds us that we human being are very specially created Jesus' words point to a divine-likeness we possess in our relationship to the Father. This gift of divine likeness should teach us that we cannot be truly ourselves unless we make of ourselves a sincere gift to God. But then there is sin. Because we fail through sins, we, all sinners, need forgiveness. This is why Jesus would speak the word, "Father, forgive them."

Jesus' call to the Father for his gift of all that he is --love-- is how God rather than be a vindictive God, restores the order or relationship he had established through his forgiveness. It is Jesus, the Suffering Servant, who brings to our world the singular, distinctive gift of God's love in his forgiveness. It is the voice of Jesus, his thinking about all sinners, that announces a new relationship -- Redeemer and Redeemed! Dying on the cross, he is fulfilling his Last Supper invitation: "This is my body which will be given up for you; do this in memory of me." On Calvary Hill Jesus died so that we might be gift with the forgiveness of our sins. It is, without any doubt, the gift that keeps giving.

It is this first word form the cross that establishes an ordering or relationship within our Church. It is a reality found "no place else, in no other institution or forum." The Church has the ability to forgive sins for God: "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Jn 16:19). How can this be? Only God can forgive sins, sins that damage his relationship with us, his created beings.

And to understand Jesus' Intention in this first word, we must understand his expectation created by this word: " your enemies" (Lk 6:27). It is the command to forgive as we have been forgiven. Look at our world and its history: so many broken places, so many broken relationships. These are living testimony to what happens when human beings remain locked in the failure to forgive.

It is this first word of Jesus from the cross that challenges us to know what it means that God has created an order in our world that sin has destroyed. Also, it is a damaged order that has been restored by God's forgiveness and our divine-likeness in forgiving those who have sinned against us.

"Father, forgive them."

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Seven Last Words

A week from today, the Church and many other religions will recall the three hours that Jesus would suffer on the cross and then die. Our Church has marked these three hours with solemn and stark ceremonies since the eighteenth century. Servant of God, Jesuit Father Alphonsus Messia, died in Lima, Peru on January 4, 1732. This dedicated missionary to the New World devised and practiced the devotion during these sacred minutes of Good Friday. He initiated a reflection on the seven last words (Today we would call them the seven last sentences) for the three hours of Jesus' suffering and death. By the year 1788 the devotion was introduced in Rome and began its spread throughout the world. Beginning tomorrow Prayer on the Hill will provide a reflection on each of the "words." Dominican Father Romanus Cessario was the guest preacher of the seven last words at St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York City. His reflections and instructions are the basis for the Prayer on the Hill offerings for these seven days. It is this blogger's intention and hope that these reflections will make Holy Week more meaningful and grace-filled for you.

As a preparation, you might put the following thoughts into your heart. Today most people want to know more about Jesus. Why did he have to endure three hours of suffering and dying? After the journey with the shouldered cross, why more suffering, the suffering of crucifixion? Fr. Cessario noted that "Death by crucifixion allowed Jesus sufficient time to reflect, and to speak." In these painful moments he was able to think and offer the words of a dying man.

What was he thinking in those painful moments? It is the seven words that introduce us to the mind of Jesus Christ. In these final words we come to a deeper understanding of the humanity of Jesus. Again, Fr. Cessario's reflection:
They are words that bring forgiveness:
Father, forgive them.
They are words that announce Christ's purpose for us:
This day you will be with me in paradise.
They are words of invitation:
There is your mother.
They are words that reveal sympathy with all forms of human suffering:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
They are words of desire and assurance:
I thirst.
They are words that announce a love that lasts for ever:
It is finished.
They are words that instruct us about the most important of things in life:
Father, into you hands I commend my spirit.

Remember this:
These words were spoken for us only once. Treasure them.