Sunday, April 27, 2014

Responding to God...wherever

9 of the 10 Cheyenne seminarians
This weekend I got to travel to St. Meinrad, Indiana to attend the diaconate ordination of two men who are studying for the Diocese of Cheyenne, Hiep Nguyen and Augustine Carrillo. And from Indiana, I watched just a little bit of the canonizations via Twitter of Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II. And while I was celebrating with them, elsewhere in the world my nephew was baptized. God's has showered his blessings on his church at the end of this Octave of Easter. It's been a banner weekend for the Church, and for me personally!

The baptism party
To have all these things happen on the same weekend got me thinking about what they have common. What I think they all have in common is a commitment to service, a commitment to follow God wherever he wants to lead you. My nephew's parents have no idea what their son's baptism will require of them (or him!), and the new deacons have no idea what this step will mean for themm but they are all committed to God anyway. The newly canonized popes show us the kind of holiness that is possible by staying committed to God for your whole life.

Tapestries from the canonization
The difficult realization here is that I can't find happiness (holiness leads to genuine happiness) by dong what I want with my life. I am a fallen human and my vision is skewed. I can only find real happiness by finding the Lord's will for my life. With our new saints interceding for us, I pray that we all have the courage to seek and to follow the Lord's will for our lives.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Silence of the Cross

What do we say about a day like this? Words threaten to cheapen the mystery. No words do justice to this reality that God died for me, and because of me. He died because of my sins, and to save me from them. And because no words can adequately address the mystery of the death of God, I want to reflect very briefly with you about silence.

Mary and John at the foot of the Cross
As we reflect over Jesus' Passion that we know so well, one of the first things that strikes us the noise of it all: the crowds shouting for Jesus' death, the soldiers beating him, the people ridiculing him on the cross. There is a lot of anger, and that anger is noisy. The noise of Good Friday makes the moments of silence all the more meaningful.

Throughout the whole trial, the times at which Jesus chooses to be silent in front of Caiaphas and Pilate are remarkable. The first reading says "Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth." In his private conversations with Caiaphas and Pilate, and when he was in front of the crowds, there would have been opportunities to defend himself, to explain more fully who he was and what he was about, but Jesus knew that silence was the only answer when confronted with the mystery of human sin and redemption.

And then the silence of Jesus leads to the cross. On Calvary, Mary's silence is what catches our attention. Amidst the shouting and cursing, amidst the hammer and nails and spears and swords, Mary's silence strikes us as something holy, as something particularly right when everything else is so wrong. And so from the cross, Jesus gives John to Mary, and he gives Mary to John. In entrusting his mother to John, he also gives her to the Church, and to each of us, to be our mother.

Michelangelo's Pietà at St. Peter's Basilica
So Mary is our model of silence and of trust, trust that in the midst of a very wrong world, in a world that hates the God of Love, love will in fact win in the end. Picture Mary holding the body of her dead son. There is nothing more wrong than a parent holding the body of their dead child. It is the image of all hope being defeated. Yet we don't see Mary crying out in anger. All we see in Mary is a deep trust, trust that though all hope seems lost, somehow the God who has carried us this far will make even this right.Only this Mother and this Son provide any hope that something so wrong could be turned right.

So the only response for us to so great a mystery is silence. At this point, when the enemies of God appear to have their victory, we go to the tomb with Jesus, and we wait in silence. The liturgy of a Good Friday begins in silence, and it ends in silence. The joy of Easter will come, but for now, all we have is silent adoration of the mystery of the God who love us so much that he died for us. So from now until Easter, let a somber silence mark your lives. There is sadness today, but there is peace because we know how the story ends. If we join Mary and silently wait through these days, then we shall be present when the Resurrection breaks upon us. But for now, the only response to so great a mystery is silence.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Meaning in the Suffering Servant

Today we hear the third song of the Suffering Servant. In it, we hear some lines that make it a bit more obvious that this Suffering Servant is Jesus: "I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; My face I did not shield from buffets and spitting." These lines from Isaiah are easy to think of when we see Jesus abused and beaten during his Passion.

The Prophet Isaiah in the Sistine Chapel

But these lines, and the whole of the third song, help us get closer to this painful mystery of suffering. Anybody who has loved has known suffering, suffering is a part of the human condition. Sometimes we beg to God to take away our suffering, and this is understandable. But I think what we are seeking more fundamentally is for our suffering to not be meaningless. I think our subconscious prayer is "Lord, please let the trials of my life have meaning."

Holy Week gives meaning to our sufferings. The sufferings we experience in our life are not meaningless and empty because they make us more Christ-like. When God looks at your soul, if he sees a soul that has suffered deeply because of love, he sees a soul that looks more like his own Son than a soul that never suffered because of love. Jesus suffered because of his love for us, and if we embrace the suffering that comes from loving him and each other, then that makes us more Christ-like before the God the Father.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Trusting like the Suffering Servant

In today's first reading, we hear the second song of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 49:1-6). In it, the Servant (who will be revealed to be Jesus) tells how God has called him from his mother's womb. God has formed and perfected this Servant for a specific purpose. The Servant knows he has a special purpose and so he is confident in the God who called him to this purpose: "I am made glorious in the sight of the world, and my God is now my strength!"

I think sometimes we drift through life trying to find or create a purpose. We're not sure what life is supposed to be about, so we try to create our own meaning. But real meaning in this life can only come from the one who created this life. To find out what life is about, either in a big picture sense (why are we here) or in a specific sense (what should I do with my life), you have to turn to the Author of Life. And when you turn to God and say, "What the heck is this life about?", he may not tell you immediately. God wants you to walk this path of unknowing with him. He wants you to trust, just like the Suffering Servant trusted.

Halfway through today's reading, the Servant says: "Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, Yet my reward is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God. All will be made clear in the end, but for now, our part is to turn to the God who made us and to trust him.


Monday, April 14, 2014

The Quiet Suffering Servant

Caravaggio's "Christ at the Column"
Caravaggio's "Christ at the Column"

It has been far too long since I've written here, so I thought Holy Week would be a good time to jump back into writing. At Mass for the first three weekdays of Holy Week, in preparation for the Triduum, we hear the first three Songs of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah. Go read it if you haven't heard it. The Book of the Prophet Isaiah has four songs that seem to point to the suffering of a righteous servant. We won't hear the fourth song, the most famous one, until Good Friday. This Suffering Servant is Jesus as he will be revealed to us through his Passion.

The first song from today's Mass gives us beautiful imagery about how this servant will treat the weak and broken: "A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench." (See the smoldering wick as an image of weakness, easily snuffed out, whereas something like a flaming torch represents strength) This servant of God's will establish justice, but he wont trample over the weak and broken. He is going to be different in that he won't establish justice by loud preaching, but rather quietly. This quiet, gentle path to justice is that of the Lamb led to slaughter on Good Friday, but ultimately ends in the exuberant rejoicing of Easter morning. So enter into this Holy Week with the quiet justice of the Suffering Servant.