Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Prairie Catholic Article: through the Cross

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

A season for unity

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

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.

All are called by God to love Him.

All are called to serve Him.

Some are called to special lives of service,

to give witness to God's love through being a priest, religious brother, or sister.

Is He calling you?