Saturday, March 30, 2013

Holy Saturday

From the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday, from an ancient homily:

Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

On this day that we dare to call Good, the Church gives us readings from Isaiah, the letter to the Hebrews, and John's Gospel on which to meditate. Here is the homily I gave at St. Joan of Arc, though I worry that any words I might say only cheapen the profound mystery of this day.

We waited. We hoped. We believed that our king, our savior was coming to save us. And now our king is seated on his throne, he is saving us, but it is not what we had in mind. This is not what we thought it would look like. Like Peter in the Garden, we might want to take up arms and defend this Jesus whom we love so much. We can’t stand to see him get arrested, mocked, beaten, and killed. We want to stop this. But just as he does with Peter, Jesus tells us that this has to happen. Because Jesus loves his Father and is obedient to his Father, this has to happen.
We love the Jesus who went about Galilee healing people and doing good. We love the Jesus who could feed thousands and then still have energy left to debate the Pharisees. But this Jesus, this man who lets himself get so abused by the powers of the world, we struggle with, because he may be calling us to the same thing. But he never calls us to suffer alone. This Jesus, this God-man who dies for us, is the ultimate answer for suffering and pain in the world, because he suffers all of our pains with us. When we try to deal with the question of how God allows suffering, the cross provides the answer. He doesn’t give us sufferings and trials while remaining immune to them himself. No, God himself has entered into the deepest suffering of humanity,and now he shares all of our sufferings with us. Whenever you’re going through a difficult time, people often say, “I know how you feel,” while in fact they have no idea how you feel. Jesus knows how you feel. On the cross, he felt the pain of every sin, every injustice, every hardship and trial that this life can conjure up.
And so, we have to let him do this thing for us, to let him die for us, because we never imagined that his victory could be just as big as it is. We had envisioned a kingdom where our enemies would finally be conquered, but we never thought that he could conquer death. Death was that ultimate reality, that ultimate end that we thought no one could touch. But Jesus can. His ultimate act of obedience to the Father is his ultimate act of love to us. Finally, we are reunited with our creator. Jesus has entered death in order to conquer death. The salvation he won for us is bigger and greater than we had ever dreamed of hoping for.
Picture the anger of that day; picture yourself in the midst of that ugly day. Put yourself at Pilate’s court; picture yourself among the crowds that are calling for his death. See Jesus up there, bloody and wearing a crown of thorns, his kingship mocked and derided.  How do you feel? Picture yourself at the cross; the crowds continue to mock him as he hangs their dying. His mother is brave enough to be there, her love won’t allow her to stay away. A few other women are there, but only one disciple. The rest are hiding, they’re scared of this cross that Jesus seems to have brought upon himself. But in this sea of ugliness and hatred, Jesus shines most brightly. The light of Christ’s love is hidden behind blood and tears, but for those of us with the eyes of faith, his light is shining brighter than ever before as he hangs upon the cross. It’s shining so brightly because he has freely chosen to embrace the Father’s plan to save us.
It is interesting to look at this particular version of Christ’s passion and death. In this, John’s portrayal, Jesus at first glance appears helpless as he is arrested and scourged. But if we look again, we see that Jesus is actually in control of the whole situation. He is actually the one who sets these wheels in motion. If we pay attention to the little details, we see that when Judas and the soldiers enter the garden, Jesus approaches them. He approaches them and says “Whom are you looking for?” He commands that they arrest just him and let his disciples go, and he stops Peter from his violent reaction. And during his trial before the high priest and before Pilate, he either answers or remains silent as suits his own purpose, he wont be pushed around by these powers of the world. Then on the cross, at the height of his pain, he still cares for others, entrusting John and his mother to each other, and in that act giving us Mary as our mother and protector for all time.
When we see how Jesus actually controls all the cards and calls all the shots throughout this story, we can see how it’s alright to let Jesus die. This too is part of his plan. So today, don’t let this be an average Friday, let this be a somber day. The time to celebrate the Resurrection will come, but this is the time to mourn his death, the death which we caused withour sins, but the death which frees us from our sins. While this day is somber and sad, there is a deep peace that pervades this whole day, because we know that the story is not over.
Remember back to the start of this service, we didn’t start the way we normally start all of our liturgies: with the Sign of the Cross. And at the end, we won’t have the normal ending, where the deacon says, “Go in peace.” That is because we are actually celebrating one continuous liturgy that began with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper yesterday evening, and won’t end until the end of the Easter Vigil tomorrow night. The sadness of this day is not the end of the story. So we can rest in the sadness, the peace, and the quiet of this day, because we know it is not the end. Follow Jesus bravely to the cross, and rest in the peace that the cross is not the end.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Diocese of Cheyenne Chrism Mass

Tonight I had the pleasure of attending the Diocese of Cheyenne's Chrism Mass, where the sacred oils for the following year are consecrated and all the priests renew their vows. Bishop Etienne's whole homily is worth reading, but his words to the priests particularly struck me:
"My brother priests, in a few moments, I will ask you to renew your own priestly promises. We are privileged to receive this anointing of Christ in three separate moments of our life; Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders. With this privilege comes great responsibility to more fully “be” the person of Christ. As priests, we stand in the person of Christ. Our ministry is to be the expressed intimacy and love of the Beloved for his spouse, the Church. Our celibacy is the key to our intimacy with Christ, so that our love for His Bride may be fully and only his love lived through us.

As priests, we are to share intimately in the paschal mystery. We are to become friends not only of Jesus, but also of his cross. The cross is the key to an open heart. Anyone marked by and for Christ through his anointing will experience the cross and the wounds of love. The question for us as his ministers is: Do these wounds create in us resentment or greater love? Do the wounds created by the sacrifice and generosity required of a true shepherd in the heart of Christ harden our hearts, or serve as entry points to better understand Him who chose us and sends us in his name? Do we take our hardships to Christ asking him to remove them, or to teach us through them? Do we ask that our will be done, or his? In short, is the priesthood we live ‘mine’ or ‘his’?"
And then, his simple summary of our need for the Church, addressed to the whole congregation:
"If we want eternal life, and we do, then we need Christ. And if we want Christ, and we do, then we need his Church."
It doesn't get much simpler than that. Christ is present in the Church He established, and in the Sacraments He entrusted to Her. Through them, we find eternal life.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Downward Spiral of Sin

I was struck in the first reading today about how Daniel alludes to the wickedness of the two men when he says "How you have grown evil with age! Now have your past sins come to term." The two elders who sought Susanna's death because she wouldn't give into them didn't just stumble into this horrendous sin while loving otherwise upright lives. No, sin eats at our lives bit by bit if we don't constantly turn to God for protection and mercy. With these two elders, it probably started with a lustful thought that they didn't will but came unbidden to their minds, but rather than turning it over to God they let it simmer beneath the surface, casually entertaining it. Eventually, as the reading testifies, they "They suppressed their consciences; they would not allow their eyes to look to heaven, and did not keep in mind just judgments." They turned their eyes from God to their own lust, until eventually it was easier to seem Susanna's death than to admit how far they had fallen.

Lust is the object of the story today, but this decline can happen with any sin: anger, pride, jealousy, greed and so on. It is easier if we turn every little sin, the things that happen dozens of times each day, over to him. The adage rings true that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. However, Jesus Christ can reach us no matter how far we fall and bring us back to the path of righteousness. Walk the road with Him, but if you wander off the road, only call on Him and He will come.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Road and Forgiveness

On March 16th, I was ordained a deacon, so now I have the privilege and the responsibility of preaching at Mass. Here is the very first homily I delivered for real (ie: not a practice homily in class). The readings are for the 5th Sunday of Lent, Year C, and this homily was delivered at St. Joan of Arc in Arvada, CO, where I have been blessed to be working for almost two years. Friends at the parish were kind enough to record a video of the homily, but I'm not clever enough to know how to upload it, so the text will have to suffice. Enjoy!
Walking; our life is a journey and when we stop, there is something wrong. Walking always, in the presence of the Lord, in the light of the Lord, seeking to live with that blamelessness, which God asks of Abraham, in his promise. 
With these words, our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, addressed the cardinals in his first mass as pope, and so it seems like an appropriate way for me to begin my humble ministry as a deacon. The Christian life is often envisioned as a journey or a path, we see these images throughout the bible. In the first days of the Church, Christianity was known as “The Way.” As we move along this “Way,” God has shown us his goodness once again in giving us a man after his own heart, humble and loving, to lead his church. Pope Francis’s motto when he was a bishop in Argentina was “lowly, and yet chosen.” By now maybe you’ve heard the stories of how he rode the bus with the cardinals back to their house, and how he stopped off to pay his own bill at a hotel. The Pope of the whole church, the Vicar of Christ on earth, stopped to pay his bill! I’m sure he’s causing headaches for his security detail, but he is showing us true humility in his actions as well as his words. With a new pope in Rome, and a new deacon here at this ambo, this is a time to reflect on how God’s love for us, while it is ancient, is still always new, and to look ahead at God’s love going forward. When you’re on a journey, when you’re on “The Way”, you don’t look backwards, you look forward, you look ahead.
We see this in the first reading, where Isaiah says: “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” This message from God is hopeful under any circumstances, but look at the title and description of God here, that really helps us magnify these words. The reading opens with: “the Lord, who opens a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters, who leads out chariots and horsemen, a powerful army, till they lie prostrate together, never to rise, snuffed out and quenched like a wick.” This, of course, is referring to the crossing of the Red Sea, where God split the water and allowed the Israelites to pass through on dry land. After recounting all that, God says through Isaiah “remember it not, consider it not.” He is saying “Yes, I did all that, but now something new is happening, don’t even think about that old stuff.” Now, I don’t know about you, but if I ever manage to split even a puddle in two, I never want you to forget it because that’s the top of my game. Nothing better is coming. But God can split a sea and say “That’s nothing, something better is coming, look ahead.” Look ahead. 
Now, I’m not saying to ignore the blessings in your past, but don’t long for them at the expense of the blessings God wants to give you now. Rather, use them, use the memory of them, to propel you forward even further into God’s goodness. That’s what the Israelites weren’t doing: they were in difficult times, and so rather than trusting in God they were longing for the good ol’ days. They memory of God’s previous deeds should have given them confidence, but instead they were despairing. They were looking backwards, not looking ahead.
The Jewish people were being told to look ahead, but they were struggling. When we consider our past, present and future, what are we looking ahead to? Looking on the horizon, we see that the Easter Triduum is almost upon us, where we will celebrate the forgiveness Christ won for us on his cross. While these events happened 2000 years ago, in the mystery of our Catholic liturgy they are made present again. In every celebration of the Eucharist, and especially in the celebration of Easter, the events of Christ’s death and resurrection are made present again. Not just remembered, but made present again. It is in these events that we find our forgiveness and mercy, in the person of Jesus, and it was exactly that forgiveness and mercy that the woman in our gospel today found when she found Jesus.
Try to imagine the shame this woman felt. This woman was caught “in the very act of adultery,” as the Pharisees said. This poor woman was dragged mercilessly into the temple (their church) before Jesus and all the people in order to be used as a pawn in a legal debate that the scribes and Pharisees wanted to engage in. It’s clear they don’t care about justice, because we never hear about her husband or the other man involved here. Also, notice that throughout the whole story, the Pharisees never speak to her, they only speak about her. They only want to use her to try to snare Jesus in a legal trap. So they present him with this situation they think will trap him, they think they've finally got him. If he pardons her, then he is clearly flouting the Law of Moses, and this is everything to the Jews, and then they could arrest him outright, despite the crowds. But if he condemns her, then his lack of mercy would make him unpopular with the crowds, so arresting him would finally be easier. Jesus sees right through their game, and he refuses to play it. Here’s where we have this strange detail of him writing in the dust. Scholars don't know what to make of him writing in the dirt, they have a few ideas, but we can’t know for sure what he was doing there. We don't know what he wrote or drew, but whatever else it means, the action seems to express disdain for the whole affair. He would rather play in the dirt than have this discussion with them. He refuses to enter into this meaningless debate where the love of his Father had no place.
Lets be honest, this woman was in the midst of a very serious sin. She was clearly lost. She needed help, love, and mercy. She didn't need condemnation. The Pharisees wanted to use her, but God, in his incredible mercy, worked through them to bring her to the one person she needed to see: mercy incarnate, Jesus Christ. Mercy and forgiveness come only through Jesus Christ, and God used the Pharisees to bring her from her sin and brokenness straight to him. Very often, we can see the love of God breaking the sad circumstance of our life. Just like with this woman, God will work through strange means, from the unpleasant to the tragic, to accomplish his will for us too. Sometimes they can be obnoxious, whether it’s a traffic jam, an unpleasant coworker calling you to greater patience, or even a bad homily. God can be working through the major tragedies of life, too. In the loss of a job, a major illness, or even the death of a loved one, God is inviting you to a deeper relationship and a greater faith. It hurts, oh it hurts. It hurt for this woman to be publicly exposed to the sneers of the Pharisees and the crowds, but in this pain we find Jesus. Even in the midst of our sin and our brokenness, God finds us, and he says "Go, and sin no more."
This happens especially in the beautiful sacrament of reconciliation. Here especially God meets us right where he met this woman: in our brokenness and the pain it causes. Sometimes, waiting in line for confession feels like waiting in line at the grocery store: you're there with your cart of sins and you say "I've got four taking the Lord's name in vain, eight impure thoughts, and seven lies." And Father says "Well, that adds up to three Hail Mary's and an Our Father." Great, have a nice day. No, going to confession is more like a battle or a courtroom drama, or like the gospel story today. Waiting in line for confession, all the powers of hell stand ready to accuse you and condemn you before God, to spout how unworthy you are, but one by one, like the Pharisees in the story, they fall away, unable to condemn you, until it's just you and Jesus, present in the person of the priest, and Jesus says “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” Whatever twisted road she was on that led her to that sin, Jesus took off of it and pointed her forward. He met her right in the midst of her brokenness and brought her out of it. This is hopeful for us. Jesus will meet you, wherever you’re at, and set you back on the road to him. But be warned, the road to Jesus inevitably leads to the Cross, but it doesn’t end there. It goes through the cross to the Resurrection. This morning at our ordination the archbishop told us, quite blatantly, that he doesn’t care what we think, he only wants to hear the gospel. And so like St. Paul, I preach Christ, and him crucified. So look ahead, look ahead at the Cross, but don’t stop there, look ahead at the Resurrection, when every tear will be wiped away, and always know that Jesus walks this way with you.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pope Francis's First Address

Here's the text from Pope Francis's first speech. I'm still taking in the whole day. He seems to be a man of real humility and in that he is truly the Vicar of Christ. Read on:

You know that it was the duty of the Conclave to give Rome a Bishop. It seems that my brother Cardinals have gone to the ends of the earth to get one... but here we are... I thank you for your welcome. The diocesan community of Rome now has its Bishop. Thank you! And first of all, I would like to offer a prayer for our Bishop Emeritus, Benedict XVI. Let us pray together for him, that the Lord may bless him and that Our Lady may keep him. 
(Our Father... Hail Mary... Glory Be... ) 
And now, we take up this journey: Bishop and People. This journey of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches. A journey of fraternity, of love, of trust among us. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world, that there may be a great spirit of fraternity. It is my hope for you that this journey of the Church, which we start today, and in which my Cardinal Vicar, here present, will assist me, will be fruitful for the evangelization of this most beautiful city. 
And now I would like to give the blessing, but first — first I ask a favor of you: before the Bishop blesses his people, I ask you to pray to the Lord that he will bless me: the prayer of the people asking the blessing for their Bishop. Let us make, in silence, this prayer: your prayer over me. 
(...) 
Now I will give the Blessing to you and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will. 
(Blessing) 
Brothers and sisters, I leave you now. Thank you for your welcome. Pray for me and until we meet again. We will see each other soon. Tomorrow I wish to go and pray to Our Lady, that she may watch over all of Rome. Good night and sleep well!