Sunday, April 26, 2015

An Extraordinary Holy Year - a Year for Mercy

A few weeks ago, Pope Francis formally announced an Extraordinary Holy year starting with the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary on December 8, 2015 and ending on the Feast of Christ the King, November 20, 2016 (the start coincides with the 50th anniversary of the formal closing of the Second Vatican Council). Holy years are typically held every 25 years (2000 was the last one of the ordinary year), but extraordinary years are held at the authorization of the Pope. Holy years involve spiritual activities as well as a formal opening of certain “Holy Doors” such as one of the doors of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. This extraordinary Jubilee has the theme of “A year of mercy”, and is the Pope’s invitation to all Christians to celebrate in a special way the mercy of Christ. Pope Francis, in doing so, is asking all Christians to seek the mercy of Christ and to proclaim it to those who do not know Him. In fact, Pope Francis added a title to Jesus - The Living Face of the Mercy of the Father. Jesus reveals the mercy of God to us.
The Pope is recommending that we focus on one verse from Luke 6:36 - “Be Merciful as your Heavenly Father is Merciful” - as our theme for the year. As he and Pope Benedict XVI are fond of reminding us, God never tires of forgiving us, and this is His mercy in action. He also reminds us that no one can be excluded from the mercy of God. We are to welcome all who are seeking the Face of God. It is a message that the world needs, and a message that has power to move the world. But it is a message that needs to be properly understood, too, or else instead of reflecting on the Living Face of the Father’s mercy, we would be looking at an all too human face of failure.
Mercy is helping others live with their proper dignity. It involves an element of justice, that one is righting a wrong that the other is unable to correct him or herself. Mercy always leads to the truth and a higher human dignity. Many might mistake mercy for weakness, but it is really a strength - to right the wrong, to seek amends. It is a mistake to think that mercy allows condoning or even approving of sin - but that would lack truth and human dignity, and ultimately even charity as God is just, and while He is forgiving, it is presumptuous to assume that He will forgive one’s continuing to sin with not desire of conversion. In the end, this misguided concept is false compassion. Such false compassion denies the moral teachings of the Church and affirm an “anything goes” attitude. But it is just as equally wrong to dismiss people because they are not living a completely moral life - it lacks mercy. Instead, it invites people to come to God where they are, but challenging them in gentle and compassionate ways to living in accord with truth and justice as God would desire. Mercy is following the example of Jesus with the woman caught in adultery. He forgives her, but calls her to conversion (“Go, and sin no more.”). Even Pope Francis’s often quoted sound bit - “Who am I to judge?”, needs to be seen in the context of mercy, which it is only when one reads the full statement: “[a person] who is seeking who is seeking God, who is of good will - well, who am I to judge?” takes on the element of one who is seeking a life in accord with God’s will, seeking His grace.
Such a concept is one that we need. It is for this reason that Pope Francis has invited us to this special year of Mercy - to encounter the Living Face of the Mercy of God, to hear the call to conversion and to invite others to contemplate and respond to Mercy in their lives as well.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter praise

CHRISTIANS, to the Paschal Victim offer sacrifice and praise. The sheep are ransomed by the Lamb; and Christ, the undefiled, hath sinners to his Father reconciled. Death with life contended: combat strangely ended! Life's own Champion, slain, yet lives to reign. Tell us, Mary: say what thou didst see upon the way. The tomb the Living did enclose; I saw Christ's glory as He rose! The angels there attesting; shroud with grave-clothes resting. Christ, my hope, has risen: He goes before you into Galilee. That Christ is truly risen from the dead we know. Victorious King, Thy mercy show! Amen. Alleluia.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Exultet

Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven, exult, let Angel ministers of God exult, let the trumpet of salvation sound aloud our mighty King's triumph!
Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her, ablaze with light from her eternal King, let all corners of the earth be glad, knowing an end to gloom and darkness.
Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice, arrayed with the lightning of his glory, let this holy building shake with joy, filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.
(Therefore, dearest friends, standing in the awesome glory of this holy light, invoke with me, I ask you, the mercy of God almighty, that he, who has been pleased to number me, though unworthy, among the Levites, may pour into me his light unshadowed, that I may sing this candle's perfect praises).
(Deacon: The Lord be with you. People: And with your spirit.) Deacon: Lift up your hearts. People: We lift them up to the Lord. Deacon: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. People: It is right and just.
It is truly right and just, with ardent love of mind and heart and with devoted service of our voice, to acclaim our God invisible, the almighty Father, and Jesus Christ, our Lord, his Son, his Only Begotten.
Who for our sake paid Adam's debt to the eternal Father, and, pouring out his own dear Blood, wiped clean the record of our ancient sinfulness.
These, then, are the feasts of Passover, in which is slain the Lamb, the one true Lamb, whose Blood anoints the doorposts of believers.
This is the night, when once you led our forebears, Israel's children, from slavery in Egypt and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea.
This is the night that with a pillar of fire banished the darkness of sin.
This is the night that even now throughout the world, sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices and from the gloom of sin, leading them to grace and joining them to his holy ones.
This is the night when Christ broke the prison-bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld.
Our birth would have been no gain, had we not been redeemed. O wonder of your humble care for us! O love, O charity beyond all telling, to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!
O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!
O happy fault that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer!
O truly blessed night, worthy alone to know the time and hour when Christ rose from the underworld!
This is the night of which it is written: The night shall be as bright as day, dazzling is the night for me, and full of gladness.
The sanctifying power of this night dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.
On this, your night of grace, O holy Father, accept this candle, a solemn offering, the work of bees and of your servants' hands, an evening sacrifice of praise, this gift from your most holy Church.
But now we know the praises of this pillar, a flame divided but undimmed, which glowing fire ignites for God's honour, a fire into many flames divided, yet never dimmed by sharing of its light, for it is fed by melting wax, drawn out by mother bees to build a torch so precious.
O truly blessed night, when things of heaven are wed to those of earth, and divine to the human.
Therefore, O Lord, we pray you that this candle, hallowed to the honour of your name, may persevere undimmed, to overcome the darkness of this night. Receive it as a pleasing fragrance, and let it mingle with the lights of heaven. May this flame be found still burning by the Morning Star: the one Morning Star who never sets, Christ your Son, who, coming back from death's domain, has shed his peaceful light on humanity, and lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Holy Saturday Reflection

From the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday:
Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.
He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ Christ answered him: ‘And with your spirit.’ He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.’
I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.
For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.
See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.
I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.
Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.