This week, most Orthodox and all Catholic Rite churches will celebrate the Exultation of the Cross. It marks the finding of the True Cross in 327 and the dedication in 335 of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built over the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. This feast marks something more than simple history. This feast gives us a chance to reflect on the meaning of the Cross, and ask the question of whether we are willing to take it up in our lives. Before His death, Jesus spoke of the Cross explicitly and implicitly. He spoke to Nicodemus of the Son of Man being lifted up, and referenced the episode of the bronze snake mounted on a pole. He invited the disciples to take up their cross and follow Him. He prophesied His death on a cross. They would have understood exactly the reference. While not necessarily an everyday occurrence, crucifixion was common enough in Roman-occupied Israel. It meant death, humiliating and literally excruciating. Jesus was to transform it. He embraced the cross, submitted himself in humility. Dying on the Cross, He put death to death, and robbed hell of its false claim on those who obediently submit themselves to God. In rising, He gives life to all who believe. Jesus Christ models for us that we who are sinners need to die to ourselves. More importantly, by the Cross, He gives us the only means of salvation and eternal life. We are invited to take up our cross. Too often, we ‘reduce’ the cross to something that frustrates or troubles us. Jesus does not want us to reduce the cross to only something like sickness or cancers, or a difficult family situations, or whatever else, as difficult as those things are. He wants us to carry our cross in the whole of our life - to submit our entire lives, not just those difficulties. He wants to be Lord of our entirety. Certainly, the Cross of Jesus transforms those difficulties, but He wants His Cross to transform us. He wants us to follow Him so closely that when others see us, they see Christians who embrace our own dying to self and seeking to exult Him. As Christians, we cry out everyday of our lives, as we carry our own cross, "We exult you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by your Holy Cross, you have redeemed the world."
Friday, September 15, 2017
Thursday, August 10, 2017
There is something wonderful about the Feast of the Transfiguration that Roman Catholics just celebrated on August 6th. There is some debate around the date itself. Some suggest that it was in mid-late September due to the mention of “Booths” and the connection to the Jewish Feast of Sukkot. Others suggest that it was the early spring before Jesus’ death and resurrection as He used it to prepare the three apostles for the cross. No matter, because what we celebrate is not when the Transfiguration happened, but THAT it happened.
We perhaps know the story well enough. Jesus lead Peter, James, and John up the mountain, there to be transformed or better allowed to reveal His inner majesty. They struggle for understanding, seeing Moses (the law-giver) and Elijah (the Prophet). Peter offers to build booths or tents, signifying his desire to stay there. They hear a voice that could only come from God Himself, informing them that this is indeed His Son, and the exhortation to listen to Him.
One could easily underestimate the meaning of the Transfiguration. As already written, it was a means of preparing the apostles for the scandal of the Cross, as they would see Jesus as divine and know that He was to suffer. But even more, St. Peter himself sees something more profound, and writes of it in his second letter (2 Peter 1:16-19). He states that he was there when they witnessed Jesus’ majesty and heard the voice of God. He sees it as proof that the faith he lived, and the faith for which he would ultimately die, was not one of “cleverly devised myths”. He uses that experience to encourage the believers to trust in the Lord.
Think about that: St. Peter, who struggled for the words, wanting to stay in that moment, must have spent the rest of his life thinking about that moment, reflecting on it time and again. When moments were rough, perhaps he thought of it. When things were well, perhaps it inspired him to more. We, too, have been invited to encounter the Lord. Perhaps it was less majestic than the Transfiguration, but no less noble. Do we allow our encounter to inspire our actions, and are we sharing of that encounter with others, aiding in their walk with the Lord?
Thursday, June 8, 2017
I want to share a secret: the Church is filled with sinners. I admit that it is not a very good secret. At times, though, we can pretend that it is a secret or that we are not really sinners. We act like this statement in itself is scandalous, ignoring that is the sinful behavior that is cause of scandal, not that the members struggle with sin. From the first apostles until now, this has been the case. Call to mind the original 12 apostles. They were not perfect. Time and again, they bumbled their way through life. Consider St. Peter, patron of our fair city. He sometimes got things so right - making the bold profession that Jesus is the Son of the Living God and having courage to take the first step onto the water, only to display complete ignorance to God’s will or take his eyes off our Lord. Or think of Judas, the man who could follow Jesus for three years, but sold him out for thirty pieces of silver, then to commit suicide in despair. The other apostles who ran, hid, or were skeptical. No, the Church, as beautiful as she is as a whole, is filled with sinners in her members. But that is good - the Church is a hospital for the sick, not a shrine for the perfect. We as members are not perfect, but the Body of Christ, united to Christ as head, is. While the vile acts of some priests have certainly challenged us, the message of the Church remains - that Christ is our savior. But we still act in such a way that suggests we can keep this secret. First, we members and leadership attempt to be “Nice”, and to avoid anything that would not be seen as ‘nice’. We become too accommodating, allowing bad behavior because we are in the Church (a problem that also plagued the early Church as some rejoiced in the freedom to sin) . We do not want to offend anyone, so we allow sin to go unchallenged. We too often allow unprofessional behavior in the workplace lest we come off as mean. We are members of the Church, after all, and we are supposed to love and accept everyone, right? The opposite of this being nice is also prevalent - we can be done right mean. We disparage those who do not meet our ideas of perfection, and we become too demanding. Specifically, we might look at incidents of members condemning a unmarried woman who is pregnant, or groups protesting funerals as God’s punishment. Neither of these extremes (nice or mean) reveal Jesus. Jesus is merciful, certainly, but He is also just. He spent time with prostitutes and tax collectors, but did not confirm them in their sins but called them to conversion. We need to be kind and loving, but the most loving thing we can sometimes do is challenge someone to be better, to respond to grace. Too often the charge of hypocrisy is thrown around when we do so, however. It is not hypocrisy to be a sinner seeking conversion, but it is hypocrisy to pretend like we do not sin, or to hold others to standards we do not apply to ourselves, however imperfectly. Only when we get beyond the fear of being called hypocrites, only when we stop fearing that we are sinners to be discovered, will we find the grace to move forward in the Lord. The truth is that there are sinners in the Church, but we are sinners who know our savior is Jesus who loves us and calls us to repentance.
Thursday, May 11, 2017
Despite the difficult weather patterns we have experienced, Spring is here. I love seeing the lawns green up, and even the yellow of the dandelions and daffodils provide a much-needed contrast to the white and gray hues of winter. The trees bud forth in glorious array, and the birds are chirpily building their nests and laying eggs. Even the children, not so long ago bundled-up to avoid the dread cold now are running free and un-encumbered.
What is not to love about Spring? Nothing, except my now distant memories of dreadful consigned service to household tasks called “Spring-cleaning”. As children, my brother and sisters and I were assigned our tasks to washing walls and floors, cleaning drawers and carpets, and in general to throw out all that was no longer useful or needed. It was so nice outside, but now we were trapped inside, not by necessity caused by the weather, but the results – dirt. Knowing now what I did not then, I might have asked why we were continuing a outdated tradition started when walls would get soot-covered by a winter’s worth of burning coal. I might have suggested to do the dreaded tasks on the inevitable rainy day. In obedience, I simply did it.
Looking back, now I see the wisdom in my mother’s tradition, all the same. Without spring-cleaning, we collect too much stuff, to the point that many have storage units that could fill-in for dumpsters. We hold on to things we do not need, all just because. Spring-cleaning helps sever those ties, and in the end frees us.
The same is true in the spiritual life. As we go through life, we collect pains and hurts, grievances, grudges, and gripes. They accumulate like the soot and clutter, little by little, until we just get accustomed to them. Regularly setting a time to address them is good for us, and how good it is when we truly do so. When we take the time to do so, even if it takes us out of the cheer of the outside world, we find that our interior world - our spirit and souls - experience a true peace and tranquility that comes only from God.
As Catholics, we have a great means of “spring-cleaning” in the sacrament of Reconciliation, but all Christians have access to the forgiveness of Christ. Invite Him in – ask the Holy Spirit to come and clean our heart and mind, and then to occupy it and not allow anything else to fill it (Mt. 12:43f). After all, Jesus Christ is raised from the dead to set us free. He gives us life, and life more abundantly, that we may live in the newness of life that this great season of Spring only begins to emulate. I am so thankful to my mother for teaching me the value of spring-cleaning.
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Lent is a season to reflect and ponder the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. The liturgical destination of our Lenten journey is the Sacred Triduum, when we celebrate the giving of the Eucharist, the Cross, and the Resurrection. It is tempting to ignore Good Friday, to view it as something simply ‘gotten’ through or around. Easter Sunday is easy to celebrate with joy. The gift of love that Christ leaves in the Eucharist as well as the model of charity in the washing of feet is happy. But it is Good Friday that ties these days and themes together and gives them their power to change our lives. Good Friday is difficult because we do not like the Cross or always understand what it truly means. We try to avoid it because it symbolizes suffering, sacrifice, and pain. Ultimately, Lent is about remembering that there can be no resurrection without the Cross.
It is the Cross that marks our lives on this earth. We are marked with the Cross at our baptisms; and this is renewed with each Sign of the Cross. Jesus instructs us to take up our cross daily. This is not an optional activity for a few followers, nor one that is a one-time deal, or when convenient, or on a limited schedule. Every disciple has cross, and it is part and parcel with following Jesus.
The cross is not light, in discussing or in fact. Crucifixion was cruel, slow, and methodical. People could be dying on the cross in excruciating (literally from the cross) pain for days. As one of our Eucharistic Prefaces (Preface III of Ordinary time) states, the Father “fashioned the remedy out of mortality itself”. When Jesus embraces and dies on the cross, He takes upon Himself the entire burden of the world’s sins. By His innocence and obedience, He puts sin and death to death. The Church Fathers and countless saints spoke of the cross and resurrection in terms of the re-creation story. Adam and Eve, by their disobediently taking of the fruit of the tree of Knowledge, cause sin to enter the world. In the Crucifixion, Jesus stretches out His hands not to take but to give. He is revealed as the New Adam, the Blessed Mother Mary as the New Eve who stands beside her Son. This makes the Cross the Tree of Life. How Jesus dies is not just incidental, a matter of convenience, simply chosen because crucifixion was the current tool of capital punishment by the Roman government. It was God the Father’s plan, His ultimate choice, from before all time. He intended that the wood of the Cross be the means of our salvation.
Jesus willingly gave His life, so that we could see how ugly our sins are to the Father by our looking at Jesus on the Cross. In the cross, he fulfills the promise of the Eucharist, the most blessed fruit of Tree of Life, which brings us eternal life in the Resurrection. But we must ponder our sins and allow them to be put to death, along with our own. We cannot go around the cross – we must go through it.
Instead of avoiding the Cross this Lent, we are to take up our cross and follow. He will put our sins to death. We submit ourselves in obedience to Him, and are to receive often and well of the fruit of Tree of Life: Jesus, the Eucharist. By doing so, we return to the Garden for which we were created, where we will walk with the Lord for the rest of eternity.
Thursday, March 2, 2017
The season of Lent is one of intense preparation for the celebration of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The season has its roots in the ancient Church as adults preparing to be baptized and received into the Church entered the season as a sort of 40-day retreat, following the example of Jesus himself as he fasted in the desert. It is marked by three spiritual practices in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, as well as some Protestant Churches: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as encouraged by Jesus (Matthew 6). What was good for those newly entering the Church was then seen as supremely good for all members, newly baptized and those whose baptism may be a distant memory. Fasting from food, and perhaps even certain foods such as meat, forces our wills to submit our bodies to a higher good as we are reminded that God is the giver of all sustenance, and body and soul experienced greater union. Prayer unites our souls and spirits and raises them to the Heavenly Father. Almsgiving, giving of money or acts of charity to the less fortunate, unite us to one another. Instead of isolating us, Lent is really about uniting us: us to ourselves, to each other, and to God. It makes sense, too. Christ’s Resurrection is the salvation of humanity from sin and death. It is the re-creation of the entire universe through His obedient self-sacrifice on the Cross. It undoes the ‘Fall’ of creation. As we read in the Creation account, sin entered the world because of the disobedience of Adam and Eve, and because of their sin, the rest of humanity is born into original sin where we are separated from the God who lovingly created us. The serpent lied when he said they would not die. Certainly physical death was not immediate, but death is more than physical (the separation of body and soul) – it is any separation. Man and woman were no longer comfortable in their own bodies, but were ashamed of their nakedness. Man and woman blamed each other and the serpent for their moral failures. They desired to hide from God. These Lenten practices seek to undo them. While it is through the sacrament of Baptism that we put to death this original sin, we still deal with its effects. The Lord desires to give us the grace to live united. Lent is about seeking greater union with Holy Trinity of the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving help us to live in such a way that we bring unity to the world that has been divided by sin and death. May we live this Lent well, and come to greater union with Christ, one another, and even our own selves this Easter.
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Happy Valentine’s day. From the appearance of many stores, though, it seems like we have been celebrating it since a few days after Christmas. Sadly, that is only symbolic of what many might understand of Valentine’s day - a secular and commercialized ‘filler’ for the period in between Christmas and Easter, between the toys and the candies. But, as a Catholic, I recall that it is really more, though it is true that we do not commemorate it as such any longer. Instead we celebrate the memorial of Ss. Cyril and Methodius, the two brothers credited with sharing the faith with the Slavic nations. St. Cyril is the designer of the Cyrillic alphabet which bears his name as a result. Part of the reason that the Church no longer commemorates St. Valentine is that there is a confusion about which saint of at least two is really commemorated, and that so many legends have come to surround these Ss. Valentines. According to most, the one honored was a Catholic priest of Rome who was imprisoned for the radical action of teaching about the natural and sacramental nature of marriage. The emperor claimed for himself the right to the first ‘encounter' with the soon-to-be married women of Rome, and St. Valentine clandestinely witnessed the marriage of many young couples to protect their virginity and chastity. It is said that even in prison, he continued his bold defense of marriage as the intimate union of man and woman, in a free, full, faithful and monogamous relationship. He saw that marriage in the Christian sense was a direct result of the teaching of Christ, but that the practice of the emperor having his way with would-be wives was against even the natural order. For this bold proclamation, he gave his life. The love of his life was Christ, a chaste, but nonetheless intense, love. The love he defended by his death was a marital love between man and woman. How far detached, therefore, we have become in our secularized celebrating of this man of faith. It is separate from the love of Christ, often marked with a thinly veiled lust, and is no longer referencing lifelong, marital relationships. Maybe this is because we have lost an understanding of marriage and love itself. Perhaps, it is as many recently are saying, that the real vocational crisis in the Church is the vocation of marriage. These next days between now and St. Valentine’s day, instead of focussing solely on all the hearts and cards, chocolates and roses, we can examine our loves. Would St. Valentine recognize it as from Christ? Would it please the Lord? Perhaps, too, instead of all the stuff, we focus and truly prepare to give our hearts to the beloved, whether it be to a significant other, especially one’s spouse, or the Beloved of every heart, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Friday, December 23, 2016
Merry Christmas! I hope that this season is one of peace and joy for all. Christmas is a season - it only begins on December 25. The Twelve days of Christmas, of carol fame, begins - not ends - on Christmas day. Indeed, the twelve days ends on the feast of the Epiphany, we we remember three events in which Christ is revealed to the world (the arrival of the Magi, the Baptism of Christ, and the first miracle at the wedding at Cana). Different cultures have different endings of the season culturally, for example marks is through February 2 (the feast of the Presentation), while others end with the official end of the liturgical season on the Baptism of the Lord, this year January 9. There is something profoundly human (and humane) about this. We prepare for Christmas with another season, Advent, to prepare our hearts to celebrate His birth, but also for His glorious return in the Second Coming. In the Church, we need that time to prepare. While not as intense as Lent, it is a season in the Catholic and Orthodox churches marked by prayer and penance (and even fasting by some). But after such preparations, we also need to to celebrate, and do so for more than one day! Why all this preparation and celebration? Because Christmas is so much more than celebrate a birthday, thought true it is that in part. The Church recalls that Christ was born, but also that He will come again, and when better than when we celebrate His first birth. For a deeper understanding of the meaning of His birth, we need look no further that to some of the carols that we sing during this season. Hark the Herald Angels Sing tells us "God and sinners reconciled”. Silent Night proclaims “the dawn of redeeming grace.” The First Noel reminds us that with His [Christ’s] blood mankind hath bought.” Indeed every Christmas hymn (the religious ones, anyway) tell us the story of the Birth and the reason behind it. Clearly, this is no mere child, but is a Divine Being with a heavenly purpose. Being the Second Person of the Holy Trinity (the persons of the the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit in the one Being of God), Jesus took flesh (the Incarnation) in the womb of Mary, and He was born in a humble stable. While some might quibble about the date, the fact is that He was born, and we celebrate that fact. God became Man, became one of us, so that He would lead us to Himself. He was born that He might offer His life to the Father to redeem us. This is the core of the Christian faith, which begins with Christ’s Incarnation and Birth. He came to die on the Cross to bring the Father’s grace and loving presence to us. With that noble purpose, we need much more than one day. So sing long and well those glorious songs of Christmas and share the joy of our salvation with all.