Apr 4, 2021

The Blast from the Past, Present

 



Easter Morning 2021


Nearly two thousand years ago, a crowd of witnesses to his death on the Cross and his burial in a nearby tomb, discovered it was now lying empty. So incredible was the mere thought of a resurrection from the dead, even the women presumed that his grave was desecrated and his body stolen. But in a few hours into that first day of the week, Sunday, what followed would change the whole course of human history and salvation. 


Even though all but a few of his frightened disciples had abandoned Jesus in his last hours when he was arrested and killed, they were now talking about his Resurrection from the dead; Christ standing physically before them even with the wounds from the nails in his hands and feet. They could not have invented such a story, for such an event was impossible to them, unthinkable. It was clearly a Resurrection from the Dead, not resuscitation back to life. In fact, the Risen Christ scolded them for their lack of faith, if not their limited imagination. After all, before his death, they witnessed his many miracles, even rising others from the dead. 


On that first Good Friday, God experienced death in the most cruel and barbaric manner possible. On that first Easter Sunday, he sends death into its rightful place forever – to Hell. So, Easter Sunday doesn’t just see us celebrating the historical event of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from death. His Resurrection has cosmic dimensions, sending a mighty wave throughout the whole universe in every direction, even beyond the dimensions of our own human experiences. Only through the gift of faith can a disciple reach out into this new form of life and living, becoming one with Christ so completely, that nothing can interfere or get in the way, even our own death. This is why the Sunday Mass are so crucial. 


It is my prayer that, as disciples, having been granted that gift of faith in the Resurrection of Christ that we many never let go of his hand only to fall into darkness. May every Sunday see our grip on our faith becoming stronger and stronger, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen

Apr 2, 2021

Death will come



You, your loved ones, your family and your friends - all of us, you and me will die. That is certain. 

It could be said that if there was no death, there would be no need for faith, or even religion. If Adam and Eve did not sin, they would not need faith in God, as God was always present to them and they innocently shared their lives with Him and God with them - heaven on earth, as it was in the beginning. 


But because we sin, we die. Death will come to us all, that is certain. 


In the meantime we often think that we are firmly planted on this earth, and that we can, in the meantime, busy ourselves with living our lives. Heaven, we imagine is so far away, and hell too we imagine, is a dungeon, buried so deep it can be forgotten.


A parishioner once told me that a local cemetery had a very beautiful name, “Eternal Hills”. It seemed for them so peaceful and reassuring. I thought to myself later, that hell has also eternal hills. And that is seriously no laughing matter. 


This planet earth we live on is tiny, and heaven and hell are immense. Our world, our life is only but a thin membrane between heaven and hell and we can easily puncture it, one way or another, in fact we do. 


The Cross of Jesus Christ is the only thing that can hold up heaven and hold down hell. We are all walking on thin ice but a time will come when the ice will break and death will open up beneath us. We will not be saved from death. But we can be saved from its doom if we are holding on to Christ’s Cross and believe that eternal life worth living for comes from Him alone. 


A Christian does not fear the Cross of Christ or even death. We will not be distracted by the world’s false advertising that we can live as we are now, forever. Nor can a Christian be indifferent to the Cross of Christ, for it shows in living color what evil hearts can do when provoked by the truth. A Christian can not despair either by looking at the Cross. Christ’s body upon it is a sacrificial love offering to His Heavenly Father that proves that you and I are worth dying for, regardless of what we think about ourselves. A Christian can not place their faith or hope in solutions to help us avoid the Cross, that would be, not to create heaven on earth, but hell. 


Instead, the Christian who holds onto the venerates the cross of Christ and believes in the saving power of Christ’s body and blood, receives the medicine of immortality and the anecdote eternal life with God forever. 


A comfortable cross?

 

Good Friday

...It happens all the time. People get arrested. We are used to the sight, whether we see it be as we drive by minding our own business, or watching it on tv or the internet, even from the perspective of someone recording it with their phone or playing back footage from law enforcement. We are used to it. Unless we are the actual victim, instead of being traumatized, we are more often worked up emotionally. 

Individuals get executed. We are used to reading about it, following the appeals process, the back and forth legal arguments about drugs used to administer lethal injections, photographs of the convicted on death row.  And when it’s over, for many of the curious, their life goes on as usual.

During the time of Jesus, arrests and executions were part of daily life. Although oftentimes cruel, it was nothing particularly unusual for someone who lived in the Holy Land two thousand years ago. A daily walk in and out of the city, along the roads, guilty or innocent, you would pass by dead and half dead bodies hung on crosses. They littered the landscape with billboards displayed what offense they committed. Back then, you would have probably learned to keep your eyes down and move on.

The same was true regarding the slaughtering of animals at the temple and the smearing of blood on the altar. Jewish pilgrims continually arrived in great numbers at the temple of Jerusalem. Some brought their own livestock to be slaughtered and sacrifices as the price of sins committed. Others bought an animal in the temple market. Even when Christ had disrupted the buying and selling of the sacrificial animals a few days before, it wouldn’t take long until they got back to business as usual again. The point he was making, was quickly forgotten.

There was even, to all appearances, nothing unusual about Christ’s crucifixion and public execution. Every week leading up to Good Friday and every week thereafter, someone was being nailed to a cross and crucified. Mangled bodies, blood-drenched crosses, hanging corpses. Unfortunately, that was the usual sight people were so used to. If you had seen one, you saw them all.

Our familiarity with the cross, even the figure of the crucified Christ, is today something that we are very much used to. It is displayed on buildings both outside and inside. We represent Christ’s crucifixion visually in art, fashion its image into fabrics and jewelry and adorn our holy places with it. We are used to seeing it.

Historically, there is nothing unusual about a man being arrested, tortured, and crucified to death, be he innocent or guilty. We are used to that by now. What is unusual and unique is that this innocent and sinless man secretly planned his whole life towards the hour of his death by crucifixion by being slaughtered on the cross. Why?

We can easily say, "Because He loved us". But many have and are willing to die for the love of someone. No doubt, during Christ time, many were crucified because they put their family, their nation, their loved ones first before their own lives and were willing to pay the price. We might say that He was doing the will of His Father. And of course, He does. But Christ’s death on the cross was not a lesson for us in obedience, come what may. In fact, the Romans used the cross to teach obedience.

So why is Christ’s cross and His death so different from everyone else’s, so unique in all of history? A clue takes us to what he did a few days back with his arrival into Jerusalem and what he did in the temple that sealed his fate on the cross. He forcefully drove out the money changes and the animals being sold for slaughter. He was telling us in more words than one, “All these ritualistic sin-offerings - this is over. You don’t need to sacrifice these animals any more to be cleansed from sin. I am your sacrifice. I am all you need to take away your sins. I am the sacrificial lamb. I, not these dumb beasts, these burnt offerings, I must be slaughtered in sacrifice because I alone, through my body and blood, can cleanse deep all the sins of the whole world."

For you and me to be cleansed of our sins, it is not simply enough that Christ freely went to His death on the Cross as the eternal Passover lamb. We get that right in our sacred images and spiritual reflections. But in order to be cleansed of our sins, we have to literally be cleansed, and cleansed deep. That is why Christ’s death was so horrific. To disentangle us from the messiness of our sins, God had to plunge Himself into the sewage of fallen humanity  and quite literary pull us out. His precious blood as to mix with the filth of our sin in order to wash it away. If we don’t allow him, we are passive onlookers, observing from a distance without getting our hands dirty. That's now how salvation works. It's messy for you and for Christ.

How does this happen? “Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life within you”. Our engagement with the sacrifice of Christ and the cleansing of our sins takes place at this altar every Sunday, the day of hope.

When we approach the Cross of Christ we might say in our hearts “You died to take away my sins. I am sorry you had to, but I am grateful you did. I do not want to prolong your agony as you fight to save me. Rescue me. With your help, I will sin no more.”

Apr 1, 2021

The Substance of God is no accident




Holy Thursday

There is a simple time honored test to illustrate trust between two people. It is used as a bit of fun with children, as an icebreaker by a team captain and also with seriousness by the psychologist. 

It basically involves two people. One stands behind the other, who says “close your eyes and fall back and I will catch you”. What typically follows is a silence. The one with their eyes closed, being asked to fall back, must make a decision of the mind. 


Do they believe in the presence of someone being there that they can not see, or feel, who is silent? Could it be a prank, a set up, that would have me foolishly fall back with no one there to catch me?


Not only must I decide to believe in their word.  I must believe that they are present, even though I am in darkness. 


Of course, this helps us understand and appreciate the Real and substantial Presence of Christ in the Eucharist at a particular moment in the Mass, marked by our ringing of the bell - the call, as it were, to abandon our natural senses, our instinct to judge by appearances, in a way to hear the mystical voice of Christ saying, not “Here is my Body” or “Here is my Blood”.  Instead Christ says, “This is my Body”. “This is my Blood”, even though you cannot see. 


With the priestly words of consecration, making present in the Mass the reality of Christ’s unseen presence, let go of your earth down senses. For it is not bread that will cushion you, not shapes that will assure you, colors that will guide you, or symbols that will assure you. They are but accidents of what is natural, not the substance of the supernatural. 


Earthly bread, what you see in this world of natural light, is not the here and now of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. Instead “This” is the eternal Christ, all of Him, on earth as He is in heaven, for He is the bodily substance of the light of heaven, a light that darkness can not understand. 


Of course at the Last Supper, His Body and Blood shared with the disciples around the table on that first Holy Thursday night was substantially present to the apostles before their eyes, before their senses. 


Young John, for example, was able to physically “snuggle” into the chest of our Lord and physically feel and draw comfort from the security and warmth of Christ’s body. But years later, in his maturity, John would recall the words of the resurrected Christ to the doubting Thomas who had wanted to return to the sensual proof of the Lord’s new bodily presence, Christ reminded him, “blessed are those who can not see, but yet believe”.


We can not see, or even feel Christ’s presence in the same way as John, Thomas or the other apostles did during the Last Supper. But that is not what we should want, nor seek for. Those who saw Him in broad daylight, felt his bodily warmth up close and personal, and heard His voice with their ears, would after the Last Supper, run away into the darkness to hide from Him. 


We find ourselves still living in the shadows, but with a difference. “Even though I should walk in the valley of darkness, you are at my side”.  Our mind, when enlightened by the Holy Spirit, will assure us that when we perceive the Blessed Sacrament, that our senses are defective. It is only with the gift of supernatural faith that we know, albeit intellectually that Christ is substantially present at the words of consecration when bread and wine are changed into the reality of the Risen Lord standing before us, beside us, in front of us. 


But even knowing that He is present in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, however reassuring it is. It is not enough. 


Going back to the example I began with. He, in a way, asks us to let go, to allow ourselves to fall into His embrace, trusting that He will in fact catch us, and enfold us within the strength of His glorified Body. In short, rather than leaving Him standing in the dark, we dare to enter into the embrace of Holy Communion with Him. 


So where do we begin? We must begin in the same way as His early disciples first came to know Christ. They did so personally, and intimately, through listening for His voice, searching for His presence, and by the repentance and the confession of their sins, trusting in His Divine Mercy. 


Mar 27, 2021

The Palm Branches Out

 


Throughout our history, every year on Palm Sunday we gathered in mass in the piazza outside the church. We all held palms and listened to the Gospel announcing that Christ our King was at the city gates, ready to enter. I went among you showering down holy water, blessing the palms you held, so that they would become a visible reminder of the Christian joy of following in behind Christ the Shepherd who leads His flock to victory. Accompanied the ministers around the altar, we would then enter the historical drama of the Gospel as it recounted the events about to unfold leading up to Good Friday and the sacrificial death of Christ. This year, like last year, our song of “Hosanna, Hosanna” seems like a distant echo from years past. 

Whether you stop by the church on Sunday to pick up a fresh and blessed palm attend Mass, make some time within the church in adoration of the Eucharistic Presence of Christ at His altar, or find yourself at home in prayer making Sunday sacred, know that I will have offered Mass for you and your intentions. I only ask that you make your own little sacrifices to God in thanksgiving for the graces He still continues to shower on us and also in petition that He will protect, heal and guide our community during these uncertain and tense days and weeks ahead. 

It is worth recalling from Scripture, from St. Luke’s gospel account, that as our Blessed Lord approached the city amid the joyful excitement of the people gathered to welcome Him, before going forward, Christ stood back. From a distance as He looked over the city before Him, Christ wept. God weeps for our city, for our nation.

St. Matthew’s gospel account reminds us that the first thing that Our Lord did when He entered the city was to heal the blind and the crippled. As soon as He did so, the religious leaders forced Him to leave. We also must allow Christ to work through us to bring healing and hope to those who are blinded by fear or isolated in loneliness. 

But Christ does not give up on us. The following morning, this time without the fanfare of the crowds or festivities, Our Lord pushes His way into the temple grounds and with all His bodily strength and emotion causes havoc to the money changers and marketeers who had dared to make financial capital out of spiritual hunger. Surely this is a stark reminder to us, that even though our economy at this time is taking a hit, we can never allow it to be a false god to replace our dependence on the true God who does not rise and fall continuously, but through Christ has risen from the dead, never to die again. He alone is the cause of our hope. 

As we enter into Palm Sunday, the gateway to the holiest week in our Christian calendar, join me and support each other in prayer for those who are still hidden away in illness or in fear. Pray for the souls of those who have died, and for their families and loved ones. Pray for those in the medical field who put themselves in harm’s way to bring healing. Pray for those who serve us in the stores and delivery services. Pray for those in uniform who protect and serve us. Pray for those in leadership, our public servants, that they will always foresee the common good. Pray for your pastors that they may become more perfectly attuned to christ the Shepherd, Christ the Priest, Christ the Servant. Pray for the salvation of your soul and that God will renew the face of the earth to reflect His glory and His love which endures forever. 

Father Cávana Wallace
Pastor

Mar 20, 2021

His Finest Hour


Today's Sunday Mass for the Fifth Sunday of Lent allows us to contemplate on how our Blessed Lord gradually prepared himself to forfeit His life for us on the Cross. Christ’s immediate preparation for His death is put into context in this Sunday Gospel with the arrival of certain Greeks who approach Him.  We are not told exactly what they said to Him, but one thing's for sure - Our Lord seemed, from our perspective, agitated. He then starts talking about a seed having to die in the depths of the earth in order for it to come to life, to grow and bear fruit.

Some have speculated about what the Greeks could have said to Our Lord. Maybe, because of the mounting political opposition to Christ and with His arrest imminent, maybe the Greeks offered Him asylum.  Maybe they asked Him to return to Greece with them - that He would have crowds listening to him in Athens - He could dialogue with their great philosophers and wise men!  He’d be safe in Athens.  And even if He felt compelled to die for His beliefs, the Greeks would have reminded Our Blessed Lord that He could have a death like the great philosopher and wise man Socrates who, arrested for spreading new ideas and refusing to worship the Greek gods, he willingly accepted, even welcomed his execution and death. 

And that Socrates was not put to death in a long, drawn out excruciatingly painful and barbaric execution, but instead was given the opportunity to die with dignity and respect. He was given a cup of poison to drink, then allowed to walk around until he felt drowsy. He was then given a comfortable couch to lay down and put his feet up, until he quietly slipped away in the gentle embrace of the sleep of death - beautiful and dignified!

How did Christ respond?  He couldn't respond quoting Scripture. The Greeks didn't have the Jewish Bible.  So instead, Our Lord used images from the language of nature. “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”

Our Blessed Lord was not trying to be a philosopher. The prospect of the Cross does disturb Him greatly. He calls His approaching death by crucifixion, He calls it His “hour”. He says “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.”

But what was that final purpose.  His final purpose was not to influence our minds, our to give us a new teaching or philosophy of life - or a school of thought, or a manner in which we can become all better people.  As important as all that is - Christ’s final purpose is to save our souls and to help us to reach heaven.  Because of His love for us, He will take upon Himself the price of human sinfulness and pay that price Himself.  

Christ could have avoided it. He had the divine power to even prevent his body experiencing any pain whatsoever.  But no.  Because of His intense love for you and me so that we would not die in sin and lose the opportunity to reach heaven, He willingly, freely, He desired with every fiber of His being to save us, even though in justice we do not deserve it.

The horrific truth of Christ’s crucifixion, is that you and me are fully responsible for it. He bleed to stop us bleeding! But often, we try to be like the Greeks in the Gospel today and offer Him a “more comfortable” solution.  We so often resist soul searching - so uncomfortable it is - it’s so much easier to present oneself refined and polished, sophisticated, ready in an instant to pose for the camera - anything to avoid looking interiorly, within the history of our lives, searching with for that old wound that still slowly bleeds.      

This year, we have a number of men and women who will be coming into the Church at Easter, to be fully initiated into the life of the Church, through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist. Easter will be their sacred hour, as it is ours, as it is for us every Sunday. 

Their journey, our journey, is not one that takes us to Athens where we can pose and philosophize, admire the museums and gaze at the pretty pictures.  Instead, the journey always takes us to Jerusalem, into the very Heart of Christ, opened up for us on the cross and its power to heal harnessed through every Mass where we know ourselves to be forgiven, freed of our sins, strengthened by His love most pure, and fed by His glorious and Risen Body and Blood.

Let us pray, brothers and sisters, that we will have the strength and the humility to accept the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross for our sins and respond by confessing our sins, professing our faith and living lives worthy of Christian discipleship.

Mar 14, 2021

Lenten Spring Forward


This Fourth Sunday of Lent, traditionally known as "Laetare Sunday," is flavored with a sense of joy. Although this season is marked by the sobering disciplines of penance, today we hear the words from Holy Scripture "Rejoice Jerusalem!" as we proclaimed for our introit, that is our entrance “hymn”, which sets the pace of our journey. Halfway through Lent, we can say, we have the Holy city of Jerusalem in sight with an expectation of Easter ahead of us.

And this is good news! It assures me that there is a goal to which we are striving for, and it is in sight. Today, we get a hint of it.  The penances we do and the sacrifices we make are not an end in themselves. That would be sheer cruelty - even a hell!  

Instead, our penances and sacrifices help us reach a happy goal.  Yes, they can take much effort and endurance to do, like rowing a boat at times through rough waters and then through various storms.  But then we hear someone cry out “land ahoy!”, we don’t stop. Our rowing instead becomes animated with a joy that what has been sometimes like a dream is now becoming a reality. Christian hope and joy are inseparable.

This is why, I want to assure you and encourage you, that the sacrifices you make out of love of God and your neighbor, are well spent.  And that has to be the motivation - love of God and our neighbor. 

If the motivation of my sacrifices is to make me feel good about myself - then the focus is not God, nor God’s beloved sons and daughters - the focus easily becomes selfish. When I depend on others to make me happy, when they don’t, then how easy it is to be filled with the opposite of joy. The opposite of joy, is not sorrow.  It is despair. And if I depend on my friends to make me happy, then I risk turning them into earthly gods and goddesses.

And that does not please our Heavenly Father. What does?  “God loves the cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7), the one who can rejoice, even when burdened, who has an inner strength even when weak, who can disarm the strong even when injured, who can heal even when weak, and can give life abundantly even when dying.

Of course, this is Christ - Christ on the Cross, lifted high and shown to the world by God. A terrorist would flaunt a crucified man on a pole in front of us to to frighten us, to scare us into submission or provoke us to destructive anger.  

But our Heavenly Father lifts high the Cross of His beloved Son, not to bring fear - but freedom, healing, strength and - even joy! The Cross shows us how much evil and sin God will take, an ultimate punch bag, so that, exhausted after fighting Him, the devil will not have full strength to go after you or me. And then comes Christ’s resurrection, the ultimate victory, demonstrating that there is no stopping Christ and the coming of the Kingdom of God.

This does not make sense if we do not believe in the Easter event, the physical resurrection of Christ from the dead.  (“Whoever does not believe has already been condemned”) To see the Cross in the light of the Resurrection, allows us to rejoice, to have hope that what we are asked to endure, the sacrifices we willing make for the sake of love God - do in fact bring us to a new life. “So that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

I will therefore encourage you by making a point with a visual reminder.  Look at the portrayal of Christ on the Cross here at St. Margaret's.  Unlike other crucifixes you might see that may show Christ in all his agony and unimaginable pain - look again at Cimabue's cross above the rood screen in this church. Does it not hint of his resurrection - as if Our Lord was gracefully being lifted up from death itself in the powerful but gentle dance of the resurrection? The cross is never the final word. 

Let us ask God for the grace of a new motivation to carry whatever cross we may find ourselves with and do so joyfully, knowing that, if we do so out of love of God and neighbor, then we too will share in the joy of our own resurrection from the dead.

The Blast from the Past, Present

  Easter Morning 2021 Nearly two thousand years ago, a crowd of witnesses to his death on the Cross and his burial in a nearby tomb, discove...