In a couple of days, it will be Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week for many Christian churches throughout the world. It is a week of preparation, of intensifying our prayer life, of focusing our minds on what we are commemorating this week and following weekend. We call to mind that on Good Friday, Jesus Christ willingly suffered and died on the Cross, so that all of us may be freed from the chains of sin. We remember that on Easter morn, Jesus rose from dead, and by that event, we all have been promised eternal life, death no longer has hold of us.
This is what Holy Week should mean for us, but in reality does it? In our country, the marketplace has completely skipped over Good Friday, straight into Easter. Displays of bright colored clothing, Easter eggs, every possible sweet, crowd the store shelves. For many families, plans are going forward for gatherings for Easter Sunday dinners. Now these things are not bad in and of themselves. But we cannot forget what this passing season of Lent was for; what holy period of time we are now entering.
Now, I will be the first to admit, that my own Lenten experience has not been as intense, as focused as I wished it to be when the season started. But in these final days leading up to the Holy Triduum, can I; can all of us make a last intensive push to be ready spiritually for this coming week? Let’s give it “the old college try,” shall we?
I know I have been writing as much in the blog, as I should be. That being said, I going to try writing a post in thirty minutes, at least every other day. Let’s see what path that leads me down. Blessings to you all!
Hearing the first reading for today’s liturgy, how many of us are thinking, “Gee, this sounds familiar!” Now, leprosy, as experienced by the Jews of Moses time, of even the time of Jesus, was and umbrella term, that covered a whole slew of skin diseases. There were people who might develop a severe skin rash or infection, that would be considered leprosy, but that the sufferer could recover from. We see in the Book of Leviticus, that there was a ritual that had to be followed for that recovered person to perform in order to be readmitted into the community. Unfortunately, there were a lot of people who developed actual leprosy, the disease we associate with Damian of Molokai and his people; with Mother Theresa of Kalkuta in India. It was back then an incurable disease, a living death sentence, a disease that made a sufferer an outcast from his or her community forever. We may be able to identify a little; maybe a lot, with the fear that might strike a family, a community, a people, when a deadly, unseen disease threatens our health, our lives.
And maybe, like the people of Jesus time, we raise our eyes up to heaven and cry out “Where is God, with all this fear, this illness, with all this death! I am no theologian, who can give a deep thought that explain all this. What I can say is this; God is with us! His Spirit is with the scientists, who are finding and developing the vaccines to keep us safe. Jesus Christ is with the doctors, the nurses, the hospital staff, who care for our loved ones who may be ill, putting their own lives at risk. And the Spirit is within each one us, inspiring us to comfort a person going through hard times, to give of our time, talents, and treasure, to help those out of work, struggling with to keep a roof over their heads. And Jesus is with anyone who reaches out us, when we feel this pandemic weighing down on us.
I have a story to tell. One of my favorite saints is Francis of Assisi, there is a story of him and an encounter with a leper. Francis was dedicated to caring for lepers, as his brother friars shared that same dedication. In this shelter they had for housing local lepers, they would feed them, wash them, make them as comfortable as possible. Now, there was this one leper who did not appreciate the quality of care they were trying to provide them. He would swear at the friars, calling them incompetents, and some other words that should be mentioned in public. Francis heard about this, and went to meet with the leper. When he entered the room he was in, he gave his usual greeting; “Peace be with you! “ “Peace?” The leper snarled, “How can I know peace when you send me brothers who cannot help!” “Well” Francis replied, “I am here now, How may I serve you?” The leper said “I stink! I need to be bathed!” So, Francis ordered a tub of warm water be prepared; with fragrant herbs added. He lowered the leper into the water and to began to wash him. And wherever his hand touched the leper’s skin, the leprosy disappeared! The leper was so moved by the miracle, he went to the friars, and begged their forgiveness for the way he treated them. He was said to have lead a very holy life from that time on!
In myriad of ways, Jesus reaches out to touch us, to comfort us, to heal us in whatever way we need it. He, in turn, expects us to share that grace with anyone else in need that may cross our path. God is with us, in many mysterious ways! Rejoice, and be at peace!
Merry Christmas! Although, this has been the most, shall we say, “unique” Christmas Day we have ever had. There have been Christmas Days we have celebrated during times of conflict, hard economic times, times of disasters, both as individuals, families, communities, and nations! But never, in my memory, have we a time of such as this Corvid pandemic!
We are in grave situation that affects the whole world. Millions of people have been stricken! Millions have died! Economies have gone south, thousands unemployed! And our political leaders seem incapable of breaking out of their ideological strait jackets; arguing, stonewalling, while millions suffer. And we are all getting worn down by it all. It is coming to a point where saying, “Merry Christmas;” sounds very hollow.
Yet, for the Church, the community of believers, this day the cry goes out “Rejoice!” For “ unto us a child is given;”on this day God fulfilled His Promise to send a Savior, His Son! On this day, we are reminded that God has not left us alone, He is with us in our times of suffering, of doubt, of feeling hopeless! We may not be able to acknowledge His Presence, but Jesus is with us, around us, within us. He shares His Spirit through Scripture, prayer and other people we come in contact with! He shares Himself in the Eucharist, Holy Communion, Bread for the hard journey, whether within ourselves or without, that we are on!
So this day, whether it is clear and sunny or cloudy and stormy; remember what this day is truly about. Rejoice!! For “unto us a child is given!”
A long time ago, when I was in college, a group of us decided to go on a trip to climb one of the White Mountains. We rented a cabin and got an early start in the morning. I soon learned that I was not in shape for mountain climbing! I soon learned that I was not in shape for mountain climbing! I sat down on a rock outcropping, and told my companions to go own ahead, I would wait for them when they came back down. My classmates were not going to allow it. They literally dragged me up to the summit! And what a view awaited us, the beauty of the White Mountains range, it was breathtaking, it was a spiritual experience.
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah is revealing a special mountain, the mountain of the Lord of the hosts. He calls on the people to climb the mountain, to reach the summit, and experience the joy of the Lord. There is promise of healing, the promise of a feast! Something like the feast Jesus described in his parable about the king and the wedding feast. He tells of a powerful king who is having a wedding feast for his son. He invites the important people of his kingdom to come, but they “diss” the king, they insult him by not coming. The king makes those people pay for their insults. And he then calls the common folk to come to the feast.
Many writers of the spiritual life use the metaphor of one climbing the mountain of the Lord, striving reach the summit. Climbing a mountain can be hard, very hard some. The same with striving to live the Gospel, it can be hard, full of challenges spiritually! Some of us may not bother, just stay where we are, live where we are. But if we open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, we can feel the pull to move on, we will have Jesus walking besides us helping us forward. Every moment we take the time to read and reflect on Scripture; every moment we enter into prayer, every time we come here to worship, to receive the Eucharist and experience intimately the presence of the Lord; we continue the journey upward, towards the summit. There have been those who gone before us, some living, some deceased, who have recorded the experience of their own climb, who can teach, but mostly inspire us onward. Jesus Christ, the King, calls out to us, “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, everything is ready, come to the feast!”
I grew up in the North Shore of Massachusetts. Now, while I was a young boy, my father and one of my uncles’s co-owned a small, wooden outboard motor boat. We would bring it up with us to the Sebago lakes region, where we usually rented adjoining cabins. Now they also used to take the boat out into Lynn Harbor, where they, myself, my brothers and cousins would sometimes go fishing. Now one Saturday, it started out to be a beautiful day. We were just at the entrance of the harbor, almost into the ocean, when suddenly, this squall hit! I mean the waves started getting very big, the boat was bouncing all over the place, as my father and uncle tried to get the boat to an anchorage. After one big bounce, the rear bench we kids were on, suddenly broke, and we were sprawled on the bottom of the boat. What had been an adventure, was turning into something very scary. We finally made it safely to the Nahant town dock. But I will never forget how scared; how really scared I was.
In today’s Gospel, we see the disciples going on ahead of Jesus, by boat on the Sea of Galilee, they also, run into very rough weather, they too were being tossed about by the waves. The fishermen of the group were probably concerned, the landlubbers in the group were probably scared out of their wits. On top of everything else, there is this figure moving towards them through the stormy water, so they think, it’s got to be a ghost, right? Then Jesus calls out “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Now, Peter, wanting proof, asks Jesus to command him to come out and meet him on the water. He probably also wants to show Jesus that he has the right stuff, unlike these landlubbers. And Jesus calls him to come out to him. And he is doing it, up to a point. He suddenly realizes he is walking on water, in the middle of a squall, and he thinks “Holy “bleep!!”; what am I doing out here!!” He begins to sink into waves, and Jesus has to rescue him! So what happened? He had begun to looked at the storm around him, losing sight of Jesus, and giving into his fears! What was it Jesus said to the disciples when they first saw him, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
We are living in frightening times! We see a threat to our health, to our lives that appears invisible, but is very, very real. We see an economy that was once the envy of the world, come crashing down. We have people out there in our community, who are afraid, because they do not know how they will pay bills, buy food, pay rent or mortgage! No matter how much we may deny it, I am willing to bet that everyone one of us feels something of the fear that is abroad in this country, in this world.
“Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Peter ran into trouble because he was not focused on Jesus! We can give into fear, if we are not focused on Jesus Christ, the Son of God! We need to become aware of His Presence in our lives, in every moment. We need to really listen and focus on His Word! We are all called to look to the altar, where we see ordinary bread and wine, that will soon become the Body and Blood of Christ! And we will receive Him, and be strengthened by Him for the times that ahead. The problems may not disappear, they may get better, they may get worst. But we are not alone in our struggles, we not alone with our fear; Jesus is with us in this journey. He will always be with us, supporting us in the midst of whatever storm we are in!
“At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
To quote Thomas Paine, “These are times that try men (and women) souls.” We have experienced once again the horrors of mass shootings, in El Paso TX, and Dayton, OH. It should shake everyone’s being down to their souls. No other country, that is not at war or in civil strife, has suffered the casualties we have in the United States, from gun violence. People from around the world cannot understand how a country, so modern, like the United States, can let this bloodletting continue.
The answer is both simple and complicated. There are those in this country who feel they are losing control of it. That immigrants and of other races are taking what was once theirs; jobs, control of local governments. They see government, especially the Federal government taking away their lands, their jobs, for protection of the environment. They see gun ownership as the only means to protect what they see as their rights. This might only express some of the reasons why the country is so full of hate, so divided; and why some feel driven to pick up the gun.
But Jesus has said, “All who take the sword will die by the sword.” (MT 26:52). What is called for are laws to remove or at least control access to military style weapons. There also must be dialogue between peoples, to understand the desires, the needs, and the fears of all sides. We need a responsible government, whose goals are to preserve the general welfare, and not their own political power.
Jesus said that the primary commandment for his followers was to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul. The second important commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. The challenge of these two commandments have always been before us. Never before in our society’s history, had meeting that challenge been so important!
“Hear, O Lord, the sound of my call; have pity on me, and answer me. Of you my heart speaks; you my glance seeks.
Your presence, O Lord, I seek. Hide not your face from me; do not in anger repel your servant. You are my helper: cast me not off.
I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27
We have experienced many tragedies in our world, in our country, in our community, and in our Church. Our world has been shaken by the massacre of innocent Muslims in New Zealand. Our country continues to experience natural disasters. Communities in my home State have witnessed shocking violent crimes. And the Church still struggles with the effects of the clergy sexual abuse scandal.
And we speak out, where is God in all this? We seek the Lord to come to our aid; to give us comfort. The truth is that he is always with us. He is present in ones who give us help and comfort. He speaks through those who speak up for the poor and forgotten. And we feel his Presence, when we are still, and listen for his voice.
“Behold, the fiery sun is rising; may blindness at last depart-let us speak nothing underhanded, let us consider nothing dark. To God the Father be glory, and to his only Son, with the Spirit, the Paraclete, for everlasting ages. Amen!” *
On this January 6, 2019, many Christians will be in church, celebrating the Epiphany of the Lord. We are celebrating the moment, when three magi, wise men, came from the east and proclaimed to the leaders of Jerusalem that the birth of the Messiah had been revealed to them. They had traveled from a far land, to see with their own eyes, this wonder. Their belief in this revelation was so strong, that they were willing to make this risky journey, guided only by a unique star, to a foreign land. And the Gospel gives no indication that they were disappointed at what they found. Finding a small child, with his peasant mother, in a simple village house; they “did him homage.”
We are all seeking that intimate encounter with Jesus Christ, with our God and Savior. Sometimes, that life journey may take many years; sometimes, the encounter can happen in just an instant. We find that we need to give up our own preconceived images of Christ; let the Holy Spirit guide us on our journey; and be open to what the Scriptures will reveal to us. And above all, open ourselves to the experience, the wonder of the Eucharist; which in a real sense, is food for the journey we are on.
There have been others, who have also been on this journey before, who, by sharing their own experiences, can help guide us on ours. Some of my favorites, Francis and Clare of Assisi, who made living the Gospel of Jesus Christ an intimate part of their lives. Teresa of Avila, founder of monasteries and mystic. Caryll Houselander, laywoman, artist and mystic; who had a vision of Christ in every passenger of a train she was on. Thomas Merton, author, monk, and mystic. Despite being in a monastery, he was always on a journey, seeking our Risen Lord. And finally, I would recommend Sister Wendy Beckett, who recently passed away. Hermit, art historian, media star; she brought a fresh look at art, with both a scholar’s and mystic’s eye.
I am still very much on journey, seeking the Lord. I have sometimes gone off course, sometimes felt like not going any further. But always, I feel that tugging to continue on; something many pilgrims feel, to finish the journey. I still am not sure what I will find; I have faith that when I truly see the Lord, with eyes of faith; I will bow and do him homage.
It has been several months, since last my fingers touched a keyboard for this blog. Now that I have something to say, my laptop will not load the WordPress page for it. So I am using my IPhone, and my thumbs this morning.
It is safe to say that current news involving the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church is beginning to wear me down. Living in the Boston area, the so called epicenter of the crisis, I have struggled to be both a faithful Catholic, and a supporter of accountability. I, perhaps foolishly, thought that, at least in Boston, we had begun to turn a corner and begin to rebuild the community.
Then came the report of the Pennsylvania grand jury, and other reports from other cities, states, and overseas. The amount of news of the inability of the Pope and bishops to get a handle on the situation was another blow to my “spiritual” gut.
Perhaps the among the things that has kept me from drowning in a sea of depression has been my interest in Church history. I am well acquainted with both the glorious and inglorious moments in the life of the Church. We are a world-wide community of both saints, great and small; and sinners. Many of us are to a lesser or greater degree, both. And there have been dark, indeed, some very dark moments, that the Church has risen up from and shined.
Another saving factor has been my prayer experiences. Moments when the Holy Spirit breaks through my shell of indifference and depression; and the Light of the World blazes forth within! There are moments when I am joined with others in worship, when the Presence of Christ is felt deep within me.
There will more dark moments in the life of the Church that will be revealed. We need to be open to those moments, move through the pain, sense of betrayal, and doubt. As we seek healing for ourselves; we need to be healers and reconcilers for others.
We need to hold on to that faith, and believe in the promise Jesus Christ made to the first disciples, and to us, that the powers of Hell will not prevail against His Church!