Apr 17, 2014

Holy Thursday of the Lord's Last Supper

Our Blessed Lord invited to His Last Supper, the night before He would die, a select group of individuals.  It was not an open invitation. Instead Jesus invited them to a secret rendezvous place. Unlike previous meals where everyone could be present, this was a uniquely personal, intimate, and intense nighttime gathering. It had the air of mystery about it – even danger.

What Christ did at the Last Supper, his ritual actions, He told the twelve men to repeat. First with bread and then with wine: take, bless, break and pour out, and then give.  He told them, “Do this in memory of me”.

But this “memory” is not simply a mere mental recall “for old times sake”. It is a form of “remembrance”. Remembrance is personal and intimate; it is more than a historical or the retelling of a story. This type of making a memory present, evokes a real life presence – it brings to the here and now and unlocks an event from the past, making it present, come alive, shows itself again and allows it to release all its power.   

This is what we do.  Not only does Christ’s presence become real and substantial through the consecration of the bread and wine into his Body and Blood - His total giving of Himself  - from the moment of the Last Supper, through His passion and Death, to His Resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven, Christ offering of Himself to His heavenly Father on our behalf is also made present.  The Christ, whom we encounter in this Eucharist, is the Christ who still offers Himself on our behalf. How? Through priesthood!

A priest is one who offers sacrifice to the Almighty on behalf of others. This is what Christ does. He is the one eternal priest offering His body and blood in sacrifice for His one and only Bride whom He loves. His one sacrifice, which spills over into every age, keeps the Church holy through the grace of the sacraments.  

At the Last Supper, the apostles, by their own intimate association with Christ, became priests of the New Testament. For nearly 2000 years, countless other men have also shared in Christ’s priesthood, becoming stand-ins for the Bridegroom who continually offers his life to His Bride, the Church.

I stand here, unworthy, but with God’s grace, ordained into Christ’s eternal priesthood.  Here at this altar every day I take upon myself the actions of Christ the bridegroom who offers sacrifice for the Church his Bride, by taking the bread and wine and saying the words, “This is my body given up for you”, “This is my blood, poured out for you and for all”.

Such is the awesome responsibility of every man ordained who stands before this altar, not only representing Christ, but allowing Christ the Good Shepherd to be present in the midst of His flock so that Christ might feed them with His very life-giving body and blood.

Tonight we let us pray that more young men, or even a few, will dare allow themselves to be moved closer to this altar, to become stand-ins for the Bridegroom and to give their lives in the manner of Christ the High Priest for the salvation of the many.

But in order to do so, if he is to give his life completely for His Bride, he must first do so, not with the finery of positions or the glory of achievements, but with unassuming humility, gentle kindness and unseen patience. Before He laid down His life and offered us his body and blood, Christ first laid aside his royal robe for a simple towel and on his hands and knees, washed the feet of his disciples.

Apr 13, 2014

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion

From this Sunday to next, we will have journeyed through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Matthew's Gospel account of the Lord's final twenty four hours has allowed is to reflect on Christ’s journey, the depths of his love and how far he went in order to secure a place for us in the Kingdom of God. Today we contemplate on the themes which will be drawn out in much clearer fashion during this Holy Week in the context of the liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Christ went into his Last Supper knowing that a traitor sat before him. But Judas ultimately condemned himself for he could only call Jesus “teacher” and not “Lord” or “Savior”. We are not told by Matthew’s account how long Judas stayed at the table – a reminder to us that the premise of receiving Holy Communion is the acknowledgment first of our sins and the determination to avoid future sins. Failure to do so is a betrayal of the trust Christ has placed on us while we are seated here around his table.

Can we use the example of the apostles who, in the garden of Gethsemane, abandoned the Lord? No. Then, they had not received the gift of the Holy Spirit. But we, who have, through baptism and through confirmation, have a soul and a conscience enlightened by the gift of faith. Christ’s sorrow in the garden was not out of fear of death, but out of a love that fears that we would no longer believe in him when the Cross becomes apparent.

As Christ’s enemies close in, it is apparent that even his disciples are also armed and even foolishly. The Good Lord will not allow himself to be a trophy or a prize to anyone. His love is not forced nor is it held back. He freely allows himself to be taken so that he can be faithful to the truth he is to declare about what he can offer for the salvation of the whole world. The Jewish High Priest Caiaphas accuses Jesus of blasphemy. If Christ were simply a holy man or a teacher then that charge would be accurate. Caiaphas represents all those who refuse to believe that God did in fact take on human form in Jesus Christ. Even Judas, when his eyes were finally opened, after Satan had got him to betray the Lord – Judas attempted to repent of his sin, but because it overwhelmed him so much, he despaired to the point of his own condemnation. He gambled away the gift of time. If only he would have waited three days.

It is often in silence that suffering speaks the loudest. Even Christ’s silence before his accusers was more painful for them than for him, for without a word the corruption of human justice was easily highlighted. It only takes one innocent man to make this point. The Roman governor Pontius Pilate instinctively knew this, hence his nervousness trying “to pass the buck” onto the Jewish people. Little did he know that for two thousand years his name would be publicly acknowledged every Sunday, not the Jews, as the one who condemned Jesus. Even in the mocking of Christ by the Roman soldiers, paradoxically Christ is given adoration, although contemptuously. And by the same measure as Adam had tasted the sweetness of the apple which brought forth death, Christ would taste the bitterness of death to restore life. Like Simon of Cyrene forced help Christ carry his cross, not being able to see the big picture is often where we find ourselves.

But strangely when we are often blind to God before our very eyes, nature herself, creation knows its creator intimately. Hence at the death of Christ the earth shock, the Sun eclipsed and dead bodies shuddered in their graves. And even at the cross where Christ died, a sign of a new order of creation stood waiting. In a culture where the men were reckoned brave and strong, it was the noble courage of the women who stood by the cross of Christ that is now worthy of imitation. And even when the bloodied body of Christ is sealed in a virgin tomb, one may meditate on the sacred womb of Mary which in the darkness of time and mystery embraced the body of Christ intimately. This Holy Week is given to us to instill, refresh and to awaken within us the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our savior.

Apr 6, 2014

Fifth Sunday of Lent - Passiontide

 “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”.  If seems like the ultimate guilt trip.  Was Christ responsible for the death of Lazarus?  We know, intellectually the answer. But when someone is stricken with grief, shock, disappointment and even anger, we have often heard people say things like, “If there is a God, why does he allow suffering.  Why did God allow such and such a person to die?  Where is God when you need him most?” The greater one’s love for someone, the greater is one’s suffering when they suffer.

This indeed reveals the vulnerability of the heart. Here we are all vulnerable – when we are confronted with suffering and pain.  So back to that question, “where is God when you need him?”  Why is He sometimes silent when there are tragedies?

Consider reflecting on just a few lines from the Gospel we have just heard. Hearing that his friend Lazarus had died, we read –

He became perturbed and deeply troubled and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.”  And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.” 

Where was God? God was standing at the grave weeping.  God suffered the pain of grief.   

If you think of God as sitting on a cloud in heaven, far removed from our world – think again.  Our God weeps. This is not only one little incident for his close and dear friend Lazarus.  He weeps also you and for me, when we die.  And I’m not talking about a funeral.

And we can die many times, even before our time. When we fall into despair, we die. When we are selfish – we die. When we sin and turn our back on God and others and think only of ourselves – we die. We die a thousand deaths before our time. And with every death God’s heart is crushed with pain and sorrow for you and me.  That’s where God is.

God is intimately, in the midst of our often-messy lives.  God is with us, not necessarily trying to answer all our intellectual questions, important as they are. First and foremost, Christ joins his heart to yours, to mine. Christ experiences the depth of our soul, our longings, our anguish, our hopes, joys and fears. He is often with us without words as intimate friends do not often need to speak. It is often enough to be assured that one is there to share the burden of the other.

Here’s a thought I think is worth reflecting upon.  Lazarus was dead for four days. Christ wants to roll back the stone from the tomb. Martha says no, because logically there will be a stench. Christ orders it to be moved. Here’s the question? When it was rolled back, was there the smell of death that was expected? No. The love of Christ for his friends will ensure that even though we die a thousand deaths, the lingering stench of death will not claim us if we remain in his friendship.

Here’s the final picture.  After Christ’s prayer Lazarus is called forth from the tomb, he is still shrouded with his feet and hand still bound. St. Augustine provides us with a powerful image here of the journey to full repentance and conversion. Christ calls us, caught in the death of sin, to come forth from the hiding place of darkness and show ourselves. And as we step out into his light we do so aware of what still binds our hands and feet. Christ calls out to the Church to untie the sinner so that freed from the entanglement of sin and despair, the sinner might live again a new life.

Is this not the Sacrament of Confession and the absolution of sins, whereby the repentant sinner who dares respond to the command of Christ is assured of a new beginning, a new awakening? Many came to believe in Jesus because he raised the dead Lazarus to life. Let us pray likewise, that we will never be obstacles to the salvation of others, but witnesses who, with our lives, point towards the kingdom of God, where freed from the corruption of sin and death, we shall reflect God’s glory with every creature through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Mar 30, 2014

Fourth Sunday of Lent

There are so many layers to any portion of the Scriptures.  We have to be prepared to slowly uncover them.  This demands patience. A virtue not many are willing to exercise. For example, we hear that because someone is born with a disability, it’s somehow a punishment from God.  It’s very ironic. God doesn’t punish anyone with disabilities.  However, in our present society an unborn baby, for example, is often punished, has to pay the ultimate price, if found with a disability, deformity or even because the unborn child is a girl and not a boy.  Humanity’s inhumanity often punishes the vulnerable when one plays God with the lives of the innocent. It is ironic that perfection is often demanded from the not-so-perfect.  

Christ stepped into an imperfect world. But he did not go round the world fixing things and mending broken people like some sort of repair man.  His miracles are best described as “signs”.  When we see a sign - any sort of sign, we naturally reflect on its meaning - what it is pointing us to.  Jesus gives sight to the blind.  He could have snapped his fingers (and he didn’t even need to do that!) But no. Instead Christ uses his saliva, mixes it with soil to make clay and smears it on the darkened eyes of the blind man. Than has him run away to a pool of water to wash it off. Only then, does the man see. And when he does, Jesus is not even around for him to identify.  So what do we make of this? Christ’s miracles, remember, are not feats of showmanship.  They are signs we must interpret, pointing us to a bigger, more wonderful appreciation of what God is doing.  

We are all blind beggars, living in our own darkness. ‘Even though I should walk in the shadow of darkness….” Yet, Christ the Good Shepherd enters the chaos and confusion of the darkness we can so easily become captured in. “Let there be light” God said.  “I am the light of the world”, says Christ. Christ comes to make all things new - a new creation, a new world. Consider how God made man in Genesis. He took clay and breathed His Spirit into it.  Does not Jesus do likewise, taking clay, making it moist with the substance of His own spit, and smearing it on eyes of the blind beggar - that’s you and me. He wants us to see Him in a new light, not a blinding light - but a light what slowly warms a cold and hardened heart.  

It is understandable that someone can be afraid of the dark.  It is also understandable that someone who lives in the darkness for a long time can be so used to living in shadows and shades of gray. But is it, however, sad when one is afraid of the light. For that reason, Christ comes as the soft dawn of a new day - He is a gentle, patient and a kind shepherd. Christ wants us to see that through Him we can become a new creation. He can transform lives. He heals lives. Through His touch, and at times it is messy, Christ allows us to see ourselves as a new creation.  If you want a concrete example of the blind seeing and the old becoming a new creation, go to confession. Go regularly and let the gentle light of God’s grace help you to one day see God face to face in all His glory.


Extra Notes

Although it is lengthy, today’s Gospel selection (Jn. 9:1-41) has depth. For example, we should note that it was Christ who sought out the blind beggar, as he likewise seeks out all of us to bring us out of darkness, in its many forms, into his light. This journey can never be instant. If one literally lived a life, never exposed to light, a sudden burst of sunlight could blind a person. God, in the wonder of creation has given us the gift of the dawn which gradually breaks upon us. In the same way, our good Lord does not instantly bring sight to the beggar. Why does Christ go through this whole drama of spitting onto the soil and then, with his finger, mixing it into a paste, smearing it on the beggars eyes and sending him off to a pool renowned for healing properties? Why not simply restore his sight in an instant?

Through his ritual, Christ reminds us of Genesis and the creation of Adam, the first man, made from the clay of the earth into which God breathed his Spirit. Even though there is holy water nearby in a pool, Christ uses his own saliva, to make the point that the healing comes from him directly, from the properties of his own self, not from the water from a spa.

St. Caesarius , a French bishop writing in the fifth century evoking the image of the incarnation, gives us a beautiful mediation on this, “Let the saliva of Christ go down to the ground and gather the earth. Let he who made the earth, remake it and he who created it, reform it and recreate it.” (Sermon 172.3)

The Lord told the blind beggar to wash off the muddy paste from his eyes, so that we would not think there were any actual healing ingredients in this mixture. Again, we are reminded that it is Christ alone who restores sight to the blind, nothing else.

Note that the beggar regains his sight, not within sight of the Lord, but at the location of the pool of water. This way, Christ ensures that hundreds will witness the miracle and hear the testimony of the beggar, who becomes like a missionary without even knowing or seeing Christ at this stage. When it becomes time for the beggar to see Christ, note that it is again Christ who initiates this encounter of a lamb trying to find its way home (cf. CCC 588). And it is only when the beggar is able to see and then look upon the face of God in Christ, does the Lord ask him to make a profession of faith.

In the same manner that Christ initiates and makes use of a drawn out pattern of ritual to allow the blind beggar to approach him for healing, to recognize him as Lord and to make a profession of faith, to worship him giving thanks and praise (cf. CCC 1151, 1504), we too make use of ritual in our Sunday Mass to bring us into a deeper communion with Christ, so that when we say, “Yes Lord I believe”, it is not because we have benefited from a miracle, but that we have been granted the privilege of everlasting life.

(“The faith that was to speak in that answer received not sight, but life” St. Hilary of Pointers)

We come before the altar of the Lord, blinded by sin and searching for the light of faith to guide us. In God’s presence we are all beggars in need of healing. We cry out “Lord have mercy”.

May our journey through the darkness and shadows cast by this world be always guided by the voice of the Good Shepherd. He leads us towards the light of heaven. The closer and closer we get to heaven, it’s light purifies our bodies and souls so that one day me might look upon the very face of God and not be afraid.

Dante captures beautifully these themes in the Comedia

And as the water splashed over the edge
Of my eyelids, at once it seemed to me
That that long river became circular.
Then, as people who have been masked
Appear other than they have been before
If they took off the looks they disappeared into,
So were the flowers and sparks changed before me
Into the greater ceremony, so that I saw
Both of the courts of heaven made manifest.
Paradiso 30:88-94)

Mar 23, 2014

Third Sunday of Lent

During the Liturgy of the Eucharist the priest will mix a little bit of water into the wine. Water points to the weakness of humanity and wine to the richness of divinity. When God became man, God restored humanity to its fullness, breathed once again his Spirit into mere flesh and blood. The priest prays quietly while pouring a few drops of water into the wine, “by the mixing of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

Whereas the Church’s liturgy will speak this mystery in signs and symbols, the Holy Scriptures will likewise with words. Today’s Gospel in particular demonstrates that everything in our human nature is reflected beautifully in Christ himself and is brought to salvation through him (CCC 2560).

St. Ambrose explains that in this portion of Scripture. Jesus is tired from a long journey in order that he might refresh us as we tire easily on our own journey through life (cf. Mat 11:28). Christ comes to the well thirsty while speaking of himself as the only one who can satisfy our deepest thirst to be filled with God’s saving grace (c.f. CCC 2652).

Who is this woman at the well? It is all those who find themselves wounded by sin and scarred by the sins of others. She represents all of us, but especially the vulnerable, the weak and desperate. Christ the Good Shepherd is also prudent. By sending his disciples away lest they become an distraction, he himself to be alone with this woman, risks his own reputation to save her, reaches out to this wounded and frightened lamb patiently and with gentleness.

In her dialogue with Christ, the Good Shepherd is not afraid or embarrassed to point out her sins. She is challenged to look at them face to face. But the woman at the well is cleansed and washed clean from her sinful past only as she enters deeper and deeper into conversation with Christ to the point where she not only recognizes him as a holy prophet, but also the Messiah. She concludes at the end that Jesus Christ is the savior of the whole world.

The Gospel demonstrates that Our Lord continuously and constantly invites us into a dialogue that never ends, one we would never tire of - we thirst for God. This dialogue with the Lord is called prayer. It is not our gift to God, but it is his gift to us.

(CCC 2560)

"If you knew the gift of God!" (Jn. 4:10). The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human being. It is he who first seeks us and asks us for a drink. Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God's desire for us. God thirsts so that we may thirst for him (Cf. St. Augustine, De diversis quaestionibus octoginta tribus 64, 4: PL 40, 56).

The journey of Lent brings us to the Cross of Christ. Lifted high on that Cross Our Lord calls out once again, "I thirst". ‘If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Psalm 95

Mar 18, 2014

St Joseph, husband of Mary

To the man whose words were never recorded in the Scriptures, the Church honors today with a great solemnity, so important his life and example are for us all.

St. Joseph’s privilege was to be the husband of the Virgin Mary – truly a match made in heaven. As her husband he became the head of the family. Indeed, as a wife, Mary was subject to him. But her natural submission to him as her husband protected her – he saved her honor, her life when her pregnancy before marriage would have been scandalous and life threatening.

Although he was foster-father to Jesus, let us never underestimate his fatherhood. St. Joseph had the same rights of a father over a son as any father of his day enjoyed and exercised. Not by the will of nature, but by grace Joseph was the father of Jesus, a fatherhood delegated to him by God. And as Jesus considers us his brothers and sisters, St. Joseph also becomes a father figure for us - our guardian and our protector. He was responsible to provide food and safety from the sweat of his own brow to the young boy who would grow up to provide miraculous food to all freely. St. Joseph guided the boy Jesus in his relationships with the world, protected him at home and gave him the hands on experience of the job site. To imagine the young boy Jesus running into the open arms of St. Joseph, calling him “father”. Is it any wonder today is the anniversary of many priest’s ordinations (my own included), for when the priest receives Holy Communion, like St. Joseph with the vocation of being a Father, Jesus will also rush into my hands for me to embrace.

St. Joseph provides for us all a true example of faith in the midst of conflicts, doubts and contradictions.  To accept the truth of Mary’s child, to accept that the God of the universe should be born in destitute circumstances, that accepted the exile of Egypt not knowing for how long. This was a man who could count twenty three kings of Israel as his ancestors, a man of noble blood who was now content to be a commoner, mending broken tables and ploughs for a living – a humble man without ambition or an agenda but to simply be faithful to God’s commands often against the odds. His humility was his power. He knew when to bow out and take a back seat for when the young Jesus who grew up calling him father, looked to the heavens and called out to God as Father on that unforgettable day in the temple, we never hear of him again.

Mar 15, 2014

Second Sunday of Lent

Jesus takes three of his closest collaborators up a mountain.  They didn't go up to look at the view of the countryside below. Christ wanted to show them something else, something quite extraordinary – so incredible that they would hardly believe their own eyes. That’s what happens in the Gospel we have just heard.

The brilliant light that was shining from Christ’s face and from his body, which shone through his garments, was, for the disciples, a rare and privileged glimpse into Christ’s divine nature.

However, what we also get a glimpse of is the perfection of man himself in all his glory. Only when we see man made in the image and likeness of God, when we see humanity filtered through the divine light of God, we get a glimpse of what Christ himself offers us for our tried and weakened bodies.

How many layers do we have to shed? How many “skins” do we have peel off? How much of our own armor we build up around ourselves has to be dismantled so that God’s glory can shine forth from every pore of our being?

To this end, I offer you a Lenten exercise.  Last week I went to one of our local shelters which feeds, clothes and comforts the homeless, and men and women who have been scared by various types of addition or desolation. You could see the effects of neglect on their bodies, their clothes, their skin, their faces and complexion. However, if you allow yourself to see our brothers and sisters, our neighbors, in the gentleness of God’s light, as incredible as it is, you might just get a glimpse of a hidden beauty, a childlike vulnerability, an image of what each person is truly like in the sight of God.  And then, we will also see the heavy cross, with all its splinters and blisters, wounds and bruises, that has to be carried to Calvary.

This is why the Church gives us the holy season of Lent. To help us see through the sufferings of this life to a glimpse of the divine and never be disheartened. Easter will come to us all.  But first, following our Blessed Lord, we have to carry our cross to Calvary, help with each other’s cross along the way and allow God’s light to cleanse our sight, purify our actions and to guide us to heaven.