Mar 30, 2018

Behind the Good Friday Text Message

There is, in the tradition of meditations on the Passion of Christ, reflections on his seven last words- Our Lord’s sacred utterances from the Cross. Each of his statements are worthy of reflection and meditation. Many spiritual writers and theologians throughout the ages had done so. 

"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do".
"Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise".
"Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother."
"My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"
"I thirst."
"It is finished." (From the Greek "Tetelestai" which is also translated "It is consummated.")
"Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."

While I would encourage you to meditate on his seven words, when we do so, we can often approach them too objectively, as if they were Christ's seven last text messages.  And maybe that's the corrosive effect of communicating through social media - we can either hide behind words, or we can keep people at a distance so that we are not caught up in the messiness of their lives. 

So that we do not approach Christ’s horrific crucifixion solely from a sanitized, or solely intellectual or purely spiritual point of view, I suggest we might also meditate briefly on his seven last senses

What did Christ experience during those three hours on the cross? Too much! It suffices to give a one simple mediation on each of his seven senses.

1 What did he feel? Pain, of course! That’s the sense of touch- when a hand comes in contact with fire, its natural reaction is to pull back. The hammered nails that went through his hands and feet were like molten lead poured on them, burning through them constantly. The instinct is to pull back, to pull away. But he can’t. It is continuous for three hours.
2 What did he smell? Calvary was a place of continuous executions.  The smell of rotten flesh, urine and feces. In the air, smoke carried with it the smoldering stench from a nearby valley where countless carcasses, leftovers from the thousands of animals sacrificed everyday in the Temple of Jerusalem. 
3 What did he hear? He heard insults from the crowd. He heard screams from the thieves crucified beside him. He heard mockery from the Jewish priests and laughter from the Roman soldiers.
4 What did he see? He saw the blue skies and the distant hills. He saw birds in the air flying gracefully and people coming and going about their daily business.  He saw his mother below, her own eyes filled with tears and sorrow.
5 What did he taste? He tasted the saltiness of his sweat as it dripped down his face. He tasted the gentle warmth of his own blood that streaked down from his forehead pierced open by thorns. He tasted on his lips the bitter sourness of wine when he was pressed to drink it, but would not.

The sense of touching, smell, of hearing, of sight and of taste. But there are two other senses, we know of, but yet do not fully understand.  

6. In the medical field one is called the “vestibular sense” - how the mind tries to adjust if you are up or down - if you are have been plunged deep into the ocean at midnight or engulfed by snow in an avalanche, which way is up so that you can fight to get to the surface? How did Christ sense the world from the dizzy, vertigo height of the cross? His body stretched out, he is frozen out of a world swirling around him, caught unnaturally, suspended in a place between heaven and earth - it does not make sense - the mind can not understand.

And the seventh sense? 

7.  The medical journal calls it “Proprioception". Sometimes an amputee would feel his leg that was not there, or feel someone’s gentle breath against the palm of his hand that he did not have.

Maybe, this was the most sacred of his senses, intensified by sacrificial offering of himself. Amid the torture, the fire of pain, the shouting crowds, the stench of death and the sight of friends and enemies, our Lord could sense his sacred mission.  

Even from the cross he reached out his hands to heal us, to embrace us in his arms with a love so tender. From the cross, he walks alongside you and me, helping us when we fall, steadying us when we become weak. From the cross he listens to our confessions, he breathes upon us the sweet aroma of his Spirit, looking into our hearts with the eyes of mercy and kindness that assures us that all is good, all will be good and all is good. He has saved us from our sins.

The Word became Flesh - our flesh, my flesh, my heart and my soul. The Word became deathly silence and dwelt among us.

Mar 29, 2018

The Sacred and the Secret

Holy Thursday of the Lord's Last Supper

Knowing that within 24 hours He would be arrested, crucified and dead, Jesus gathered His closest friends around him 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.

He was not all talk and no action. What He always said, He always did. What He preached, He practiced. He told the twelve men to repeat what He was about to do. 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 among friends “for old times sake”. It is a form of “remembrance”. Remembrance is personal and intimate; it is more than a historical or 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, calling it to come alive again, allows it to release all its power and energy.   

What began at His Last Supper and channeled through the explosive power of His Resurrection, at every Mass, this is what happens. Whether we are alert or tired, tuned-in or distracted as were his twelve apostles in the Upper Room or the soldiers guarding His tomb, Christ's offering of Himself to His heavenly Father on our behalf, is made present.  The Christ, whom we encounter in this Eucharist, is not frozen in time. He still offers Himself to His Father on our behalf. How? Through priesthood!

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. And flowing out from the sanctuary like a great wave that begins as a ripple, it floods down the steps of the sanctuary. Christ's love and mercy streams out over the whole world. 

Many of us are afraid of its power and at times we will run from its course, looking for higher ground or safe places. But for those who stand still, allowing themselves to be vulnerable to the love and mercy of God, it washes clean all the filth and dirt of sin and despair.

At the Last Supper, the apostles, by their own intimate association with Christ, became priests of the New Testament. They were sent into the world to create waves. But what type? Not social upheaval, cultural wars or political victories. The men who share in Christ’s priesthood, open up the floodgates of Divine Mercy which, generated from this Holy Mass, flow forth from the holy sanctuary of the heart of Christ to renew the whole world. 

May these waters never be allowed to become stagnant, to become breeding grounds for parasites or polluted by the carelessness of man. How will the tide-pools of God's mercy remain always fresh and life-giving?

So pray and encourage your sons and brothers to search for the Upper Room of the Last Supper. Pray also for your parish priest and deacon and all who serve the People of God. Pray that we will always faithfully channel the great reservoir of God's mercy, especially through the Holy Mass and the Sacrament of Confession.

The cleansing of the sins of the world began at the table of the Last Supper in the Upper Room with Christ at its head and his apostles gathered around Him. But before He laid down His life and offered us His most sacred Body and Blood, in unassuming humility, gentle kindness and unseen patience, He first laid aside His royal robe for a simple towel.  On His hands and knees, He washed the feet of His disciples who would likewise wash the feet of every man, women and child in the mercy and love of God.

Tonight we let us pray that more young men, men of adventure, having first experienced the secret of God's mercy in their own lives, will dare wade upstream, climb the steep steps to the Upper Room in search of its source - Christ's tender love from His Sacred Heart - the unscrupulous giving of His Body and Blood in atonement for the sins of all humanity. 

Mar 26, 2018

Alabaster and the 30 Pieces

The Gospel of the Passion of Our Lord as recounted by St. Mark begins with a nameless woman who literally breaks open an alabaster jar of precious perfumed oil and pours it over the head of Jesus. Alabaster is an expensive translucent Egyptian marble. This jar the woman held must have, not only been costly, but beautiful.  And the perfumed oil, called spikenard - also very expensive - a delicate extraction of the oils of particular flowers - the aroma must have been out of this world!

This one event sets the scene for  Holy Week. What is precious, beautiful, what has value, is then broken, cracked open and its contents poured out and smeared, almost recklessly. It seems such a waste. Christ will be taken, blessed and broken, his precious blood spelt, sprayed and smeared over all those in close proximity to the cross.  

But note what someone cries out, “No. Don’t waste is expensive jar and perfume.  We can make money out of it!”   Only someone like Judas can put a price on salvation – thirty pieces of silver.

But for Jesus, he gives us his life as a free gift, without complaint nor conditions.  We do not earn his love, we do not pay for it. He has reminded us that we can never be calculating in our discipleship, gambling with our salvation, trying to put our money on being on the right side, “Without cost you have received, give without cost.” (Matthew 10:8).  “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:36).

This is why this Holy Week is so important.  But we are not to be passive containers, jam jars or Tupperware into which Christ’s life is poured and then we are placed in a cupboard.  Christ shows us how precious our bodies and souls are, how to spend our live, give without cost, without looking for anything in return, without even looking to win. Christ entered into his Holy Week with humble obedience to his Father’s will, “Not my will, but thine be done”. He allowed is most precious body and most beautiful soul to be held in the hands of his Father, even if he was to fall to the earth, be broken, smashed and spilled out.

Stripped of everything on the cross, his body cracked upon, smashed and his life poured out, he breathes his last and there is silence.

Dare follow him into that silence?  

If we do, then two things I recommend especially this Holy Week

1. We renew our trust that our lives, our bodies and souls have meaning and purpose already determined by God himself. We are not defined, molded or crafted by the powers of this world.

2. Ask for the grace and the opportunities to be strengthened with simple and uncomplicated faith - a faith and spirituality that can not be bought, sold or exploited for profit or to keep someone in a job.

But be warned, we will be tested and challenged. Like a precious alabaster jar of perfumed oil, if we never open up and release the fragrance of our souls to fill the world with it's sweet aroma, then held in the hands of God, we too must be broken open. But trusting in God, we will also be restored in our own resurrection and victory with Christ who reminds us, "Destroy this temple, and in three days, I will raise it up".

Mar 3, 2018

God's Violence

The Gospel we have listened to (John 2:13-25), has exposed us to "violence". Too often we can fall into the  habit of thinking of Christ in the images we are so accustomed to seeing him portrayed in stained-glass windows or holy cards. 

As beautiful as the image of Christ the Good Shepherd, gently carrying a little lamb on his shoulders - rewind the story. You'll notice that the typical shepherd had a slingshot which he used on various occasions, not only on the wolves, but on any wayward lamb that separated itself from the flock, hitting him with precision right on the ankle. That got to hurt!  

The little lamb was hurting bad, couldn't walk, was mad as hell with the shepherd. It probably tried to wrestle itself away from the shepherd, but the more it struggled, the more that ankle throbbed with pain. 

I'm sure the shepherd also suffered some cuts and bruises, maybe even a few bites, as he tried to steady the lamb securely around his shoulders! After some time of violent protest, the lamb had to give up - it was to weak, tired, sore. It abandoned itself, submitted to the commandments of the shepherd.  

It would take time to heal, during which, "forced" to be hanging around the neck of the shepherd, that lamb would slowly beginning to trust the shepherd, become "attached", so much so that when the swelling came down, the bruising disappeared and the pain subsided, when it was placed on its all-fours again, the lamb would never leave the shepherd's side again. 

I provide this image as an introduction to the passion of love that "rages" within the heart of God, revealed to us in the scriptures today.  The first reading describes God as a jealous lover, as someone who is very protective of us, knowing how easily we can be lead astray. The Commandments are to protect us from ourselves, and from each other. God knows how his children behave when he's not looking! When we break the commandments, we break our heavenly Father's heart, who knows the dangers we are often tempted to entertain.

And in the Gospel, we see our God in Jesus charging around the holy temple, smashing and destroying anything which stood to exploit and abuse the tender faith of his people, particularly the poor and vulnerable so close to his heart.

But let our Lord's example can never be an excuse for our own "righteous" violence.  When we are passionate about something, we tend to destroy, we tend to want to get even, we bully and intimidate in order to teach someone a lesson, or to make a point.  Christ not only overturned the tables that were set up like barricades between God and his people, Christ turned the tables around, "destroy this temple (do violence against this temple) and in three days I will raise it up." When we destroy something, all we can do is try to glue it back together.  But it's never the same - even the memory of our past sins and injustices can still haunt and shame us.

This is why, as Christians, the only "destructive behavior" we can embrace, must be modeled on the actions of Christ. 

Is not the Lenten practice of penance, in a way a type of "violence" against our natural tendency to be complacent, to be lazy, apathetic, even bored with what we become so used to in our relationship with God, our neighbor and our brothers and sisters?  Our temples do need to be cleansed, sometimes, a deep cleansing. At times we have to do violence to our fallen nature, so that with God's gentle but powerful grace, we can be cleansed from the pollution of sinful attachments, destructive habits and selfish attitudes. 

If we allow Christ the Good Shepherd of our souls to get in there and cleanse this temple, even allow it to be toppled, as scary as it might be, then we might be finally free to love with genuine passion, with purity, with justice but must of all without fear or suspicion, regardless of the world we find ourselves in.

"Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up".  We are told the disciples remembered Christ saying this after the resurrection.  But, they forget it during his crucifixion.  The only one who didn't, was Christ's mother. She stood beside the cross, while they slowly destroyed and crucified her Son to death. 

She experienced violence, barbarity, cruelty and utter destruction.  But she believed, even in the hour of death, that God would triumph and Christ would rise again. When you feel the rage within, the anger around or the violence about, stay close to mother Mary. She always assures us that the Good Shepherd never abandons his flock.

Gardening Kingdom

  We often hear this phrase, “The Kingdom of God ''.  We even pray, “Thy Kingdom Come”.  This “Kingdom” was the hallmark of Our Lord...