Sunday, April 29, 2012

Year B Fourth Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 4:8-12; Ps 118:1.8-9.21-23.26.28-89; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18

Our first reading for this Fourth Sunday of Easter is from the fourth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Before proceeding let’s take a minute and look back a couple of chapters, which will also allow us to look ahead to Pentecost, the profound significance of which is second only in importance to Easter. This realization is especially important this year when Pentecost conflicts with Memorial Day weekend, the traditional beginning of summer. It is often necessary to look at the Greek to assess to the accuracy of any English New Testament translation of a given verse. Acts 2:1 is a great example of this. In the New American Bible, which is normatively used by Catholics in the United States, Acts 2:1 says, "When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together," whereas, the King James Version, translating the passage much better, tells us, "When the day of Pentecost was fully come." The key word here is the Greek word translated respectively as "fulfilled" and "fully come," namely “sumplEroustha,” which, literally translated, means something closer to "being filled together."

My point here is not an abstruse one, but an important and fairly simply one. The King James Version’s translation, according to the late scholar of the history of Christian doctrine, Jaroslav Pelikan, "is an attempt to convey an emphasis on the 'fullness' of the Holy Spirit, which seems to be suggested by the Greek…" This is important, according Pelikan, because the "theological theme of the connection between the Holy Spirit and 'fullness' runs through the entire narrative of Acts." In our reading from Acts today the author, before writing what Peter says to the elders in response to his healing the crippled man at the temple gate, tells us that he was "filled with the Holy Spirit." But of importance to us today and every day is having the fullness of the Holy Spirit, living according to the Spirit, which is what it means to be a Christian, as it has meant ever since the very first Christian Pentecost. The Holy Spirit, according to Luke Timothy Johnson, "communicates the aspect of Jesus’ resurrection life that enables his personal existence to extend beyond the boundaries of his former physical body into the world." Stated more directly, the Holy Spirit is the way Jesus, after His resurrection and ascension, remains present in us and through us, which is precisely how the Church, in the words of Vatican II, is the universal sacrament of salvation.

When we look at second window on the East side of the nave of our beautiful cathedral, we see the Blessed Virgin surrounded by the disciples, as the Holy Spirit descends upon them with tongues of fire. The fruit of this third of the Glorious mysteries of the Rosary is the great love God has for us. In His Last Supper discourse in St. John’s Gospel Jesus tells His disciples, "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth" (John 14:16-17a). Then, continuing, He told them, "I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you" (John 14:18-20).

To state the matter crudely, how Jesus gets in us is exclusively by means of the Holy Spirit, a connection that positively explodes when we consider the sacraments, especially this Eucharist in which are participating right now. Indeed, it is through our baptism, confirmation, and on-going communion that we experience what heard about in our New Testament reading taken from 1 John, namely the great "love the Father has bestowed on us," which is precisely what allows us to "be called the children of God" (1 John 3:1). In an essay entitled "An Expedition to the Pole," Anne Dillard, sought to describe how the Holy Spirit works in and through our worship:
Does any-one have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or… does no one believe a word of it?.. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews
On this Good Shepherd Sunday I ask you to consider how else you know the Good Shepherd except by the Holy Spirit. My dear friends, Jesus is not content merely to shepherd you. He wants to befriend you. He wants you to follow Him, which means nothing apart from daily taking up your Cross because the path to resurrection runs right through the Cross; there is no getting around it. This prompts the question, What does a Spirit-filled person look like? A Spirit-filled person lives like Jesus, loves like Jesus, which means laying down her/his life for others for Christ’s sake and the sake of God’s kingdom, thus seeking to fulfill the petition from the Lord’s Prayer, "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

While considering the Spirit-filled person today let’s consider St. Gianna Molla, not least of which because yesterday, 28 April, is her liturgical memorial, when the Church remembers and venerates her. Gianna Beretta Molla was a physician in Italy who began experiencing intense pain during her pregnancy with the fourth child conceived with her husband, Pietro. Medical tests and examinations showed that she had developed a fibroma in her uterus, which was removed during surgery, leaving her unborn child unharmed. After her surgery and for the last seven months of pregnancy, despite on-going pain and further complications, Gianna resumed her duties as a devoted disciple of the Lord Jesus, as a wife, a mother, and a physician. A few days before the child was due, amid much concern, she told the attending doctor: "If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child - I insist on it." On the morning of 21 April 1962, a healthy baby girl, Gianna Emanuela, was born. Despite every effort to save both of them, on 28 April, amid unspeakable pain and after repeated exclamations of "Jesus, I love you," Gianna Molla died. She was 39 years old. Gianna Beretta Molla was canonized on 16 May 2004 by Pope John Paul II, with her husband and four children, including Gianna Emanuela, now a physician herself, present to witness her being raised to the altar.

In his homily on the day of Gianna’s canonization, Bl. Pope John Paul II said that she was "a simple," but "significant messenger of divine love." He quoted from a letter she wrote to her beloved husband, Pietro, a few days before their wedding: "Love is the most beautiful sentiment the Lord has put into the soul of men and women." The Holy Father, quoting from the Gospel of St. John, "having loved his own... loved them to the end" (John 13: 1), said this of Gianna Beretta Molla: "The extreme sacrifice she sealed with her life testifies that only those who have the courage to give of themselves totally to God and to others are able to fulfill themselves."

Jesus Christ does not merely love us to the end, my dear friends. He loves us without end. Otherwise there would be no possibility for you and me to live forever. In His resurrection, ascension into heaven, and most especially in pouring out the Holy Spirit upon us, Christ shows us that love is not merely as strong as death, but that love conquered death, which means we can say, Christus resurrexit quia Deus caritas est. Christ is resurrected because God is love!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

St. Gianna Molla, pray for us

Today is the liturgical memorial of one of my best heavenly friends, St. Gianna Molla. She became my friend five years ago today, as I was working on a homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, which was Year C of the Sunday lectionary. Ever since that day, she has been a wonderful friend and intercessor on my behalf, the one through whom the answer to so many prayers and petitions has been graciously granted by our loving and lovely God.

Gianna "got" what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, which is why she said things, like - "Our body is a cenacle, a monstrance: through its crystal the world should see God." I keep her picture in my den, at my office both at work and the in the parish. This is what came to me five years ago through her unbidden intercession:

It is only by striving to be holy, by cooperating with God in bringing about His purposes for us and through us, that, like the white-robed multitude, like Sts. Paul and Barnabas, like St. Gianna Molla, that we become stable and fill our role in God’s great plan. St. Gianna Beretta Molla, an Italian physician, began experiencing pain during her fourth pregnancy. It turned that she had developed a fibroma in her uterus. It was removed during surgery and her unborn child was unharmed. After her surgery, for the last seven months of pregnancy, despite pains and continuing complications, Gianna resumed her duties as a devoted disciple of the Lord Jesus, as a wife, a mother, and a physician. A few days before the child was due, amid much concern, she told the attending doctor: “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child - I insist on it. Save him.” On the morning of 21 April 1962, a healthy baby girl, Gianna Emanuela, was born. Despite every effort to save both of them, on 28 April, amid unspeakable pain and after repeated exclamations of "Jesus, I love you," Gianna Molla died. She was 39 years old. She was canonized on 16 May 2004 by Pope John Paul II, with her husband and four children, including Gianna Emanuela, herself a physician, present to witness her being raised to the altar. 28 April is her memorial... One may believe that the era of the saints is over, but it is always the era of saints until Christ returns in glory, when "the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and . . . will wipe away every tear" (Rev 7,17) as they, like St. Gianna Molla, having “survived the time of great distress,” join the white-robed multitude."
St. Gianna Molla, who showed that us that holiness is our baptismal vocation, on this, your glorious feast, pray for us!

Friday, April 27, 2012

"He doesn't look a thing like Jesus..."

Last Saturday I was driving my oldest son work when The Killers' song "When You Were Young" came on. Somehow it came up that we both thought it was cool that Brandon Flowers, the band's founder and singer, was from Utah. My son then noted that there were a lot of alternative groups that came from Utah, The Killers being among the most successful. Utah really was and remains a thriving place for alternative music. This goes back to early '80s, probably even the late '70s. The best description I can think of for alternative music is that it is post-punk popular music, which means that it ironically fuses these two things together, not taking either one that seriously.

It might surprise many to know that Flowers is an active member of the LDS Church. In fact, he's recorded an I'm a Mormon spot. The reason I mention this is because I think there's something deeply attractive to LDS young people about Alt. music as a way of expression that largely tends to eschew the notorious excesses of punk and heavy metal and the sappiness of happy-clappy pop music, which is not say that it has no edge, it does, a pretty sharp one most of the time. I love The Killers, especially this song because the first time I heard it I recognized it some weird, intuitive way.

In any case, The Killers' "When You Were Young" is our Friday traditio this week:

... but he talks like a gentleman

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Daily prayer "an obligation and opportunity for all"

Last week I read a review by Alan Jacobs in Books and Culture of a book by Brian Cummings, The Book of Common Prayer: Texts 1549, 1559, and 1662, that reminded me of something that I frequently realize and ponder whenever I read Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship, namely that the Protestant Reformation accomplished some important things, which took the Catholic Church all the way to Vatican II to realize. I posted about this back in January.

In his review, Jacobs, wrote the following about the magnificent achievement of Thomas Cranmer, the much maligned Archbishop of Canterbury, who was a reformer on par with Luther and Calvin, The Book of Common Prayer:
"But perhaps even more influential over the past 450 years has been Cranmer's decision to adapt the ancient canonical hours of monastic life to the needs of ordinary laypeople. Even the monks had found it unsustainable to pray the horae canonicae, the original eight daily 'hours' of prayer: their bodies' need for sleep forced them often to condense the sequence. But they prayed frequently, and a common understanding in medieval European society was that those prayers could be offered on behalf of those who had to work instead. However, Cranmer had inherited from Martin Luther a disdain for such a complete division of labor within the church: the Christian calling is a common one, he thought, and needs insofar as possible to be lived out by all in a common manner. Daily prayer is an obligation and an opportunity for all
"The possibility of transformation," writes David Benner, "lies right at the heart of Christian faith." Prayer, he also noted, plays "a central role in this deep inner work of transformation." Fundamentally, prayer is opening one's self to God, allowing God to work in us by the power of the Holy Spirit, bringing about this transformation. St. Paul, in his letter to the Christian community of Rome, wrote powerfully about this inner work: "we... who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.... Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God" (Rom. 8:23.26-27- ESV).

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Feast of St. Mark, Evangelist

It is fortuitous that the Feast of St. Mark falls during the season of Easter, especially given the Gospel passage we read in the liturgy on this great feast, which is St. Mark's version of the Great Commission.

Jesus appeared to the Eleven and said to them: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature... Then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God. But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs."

Accompanying signs are important because they indicate the risen and ascended Lord's ongoing presence in and through His followers. The Holy Spirit, as New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson noted, is the mode of the Christ's resurrection presence among us. It gets back to being Spirit-filled people. At our Confirmation we were marked with a sign on our foreheads through our anointing with Sacred Chrism, an anointing we are given being called by name. Do the signs of the Spirit's presence, that is, the gifts and fruits accompany us as they did the disciples?

The Gospel According to St. Mark is widely believed to be first canonical Gospel composed. It is also widely held that both the sacred authors of Matthew and Luke had St. Mark's Gospel as a common source from which derived material for their accounts of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. This account of the Great Commission is part of the so-called "Longer Ending," which consists of verses 9-20a, the latter part of verse 20, which says, "And they reported all the instructions briefly to Peter’s companions. Afterwards Jesus himself, through them, sent forth from east to west the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. Amen," is yet another addendum to the original text, the so-called "Shorter Ending." As originally composed, The Gospel According to St. Mark ended at verse eight. Nonetheless, verses 9-20 are canonical and belong to the inspired text, which was dogmatically set forth, after the canon of Scripture was challenged by leading Protestant reformers, by the Council of Trent. That it is of apostolic origin is indicated by the fact that both the so-called "Longer" and "Shorter" endings are cited early on by Fathers of the Church, indicating these addenda were composed and added by the second century. The vocabulary and style of these verses indicate these were not composed by the original author of Mark.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Being your (true) self

"Each of us is... called to be the unique and original self that we are in God," wrote Dr. David Benner in his amazing book, Opening to God: Lectio Divina and Life as Prayer. This is a theme that runs through all worthwhile Christian spirituality. It is also why it is important not to pretend before God. It (should) go without saying that we can't fool God. We can (easily) fool ourselves and, if we're honest, we are forced to concede that we often do. So, an essential part of being your unique and original self in God, which is, to cite Pater Tom (Merton), becoming who you are, who God created, redeemed, and is now sanctifying you to be, is realizing and acknowledging how falsely you often live, how little awareness you normally have of living authentically.

We exist because "God is love" (1 John 4:8.16). Therefore, we exist in order to love. Holiness is nothing other than  loving others and yourself as God loves them and you. God's love for us was manifested not only in the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, but by Christ's sending the Holy Spirit. Expanding a bit on my Sunday reflection on the New Testament reading, which added insight is heavily influenced by having watched the amazing 2004 Swedish movie Så som i himmelen (i.e., As It Is in Heaven), Saturday night, we must be convinced of what Scripture tells us, that "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:17- ESV). The Father saves the world by sending His Only Begotten Son, who, in turn, saves the world by empowering His followers with the Holy Spirit and sending them, that is , us!

God is love's beginning and end because "God is love." Hence, when we truly love others we are loving God. What else can Jesus have meant when He said that when we serve those in need we are serving Him (Matt. 25:40- ESV)? Benner went on to write, "A heart that is genuinely open to love is a heart that is genuinely open to God - whether the person recognizes this to be true or not - and this is why acts of love are acts of prayer. As with love, the origin and the end of prayer is God. Our role with prayer, as with love, is to allow it to flow through us rather than block its flow." It is only by losing our lives for Christ's sake that we are saved. This paradox extends to the fact it is only by losing ourselves that we first discover and then become who we truly are, who God passionately wants us to be: Spirit-filled people on fire with the love of God.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Jesus Christ: our Advocate with the Father

Our New Testament reading for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year B (i.e., this year), is taken from my favorite non-Pauline epistle, that is, from 1 John. In our reading, comprised of the first four-and-a-half verses of the second chapter, the readers, originally the Johannine community, but today you and I, are exhorted not to sin. As well know from our own experience, this far easier said than done, but I'll come back to that in a moment. In verse 6, which falls outside the scope of the lectionary for today, we are told to be Christlike, that is, if we claim "to abide in him ought to live [just] as he lived." This would be living without sinning.

Sandwiched between the opening exhortation not to sin and the closing verse telling us to be like Him, is the meat and cheese of this reading. The metaphorical cheese, is the reassurance that even if we do sin Jesus Christ, "the righteous one," acts on our behalf before the Father, that is, takes on Himself the burden of our sins. So, when we sin it is important that we not get discouraged, or give into despair, but to turn to our Advocate. Really, this is our hope. We should all be relieved to know that we can't save ourselves, but most us, myself included, spend a lot of trying (and failing).

The meat, it seems to me, especially because there is so much angst about being obedient, about doing the right thing, even to the point of reducing faith to morality, is that following Him in faith, like His first disciples, who left everything to follow Him, is the only way to know Him, and knowing Him is the only way to love Him (otherwise we might merely be fascinated by or even infatuated). Therefore, "whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. This is the way we may know that we are in union with him" (verse 5).

The proposal set before us in this reading is verifiable through experience. The experience of endeavoring to keep His commandments, but desiring doing so for no reason other than love (all of His commandments are encapsulated in the two great commandments), and to realize that even when you fail He is there for you, showing you that in Him you are always already victorious. As He urged John and Andrew, "Come, and you will see" (John 1:39).

"Heaven is the whole of our hearts..."

Since I missed posting our traditio yesterday. So, I am doing it today belatedly. For some reason I am feeling a bit nostalgic this morning. So, "Heaven," by the Psychedelic Furs is our traditio (i.e., that which is worth handing on) for this second week of Easter.

There's too many kings/Wanna hold you down/And a world at the window/Gone underground

There's a hole in the sky/Where the sun don't shine/And a clock on the wall/And it counts my time

Diaconate, a Spirit-filled ministry

I felt that after more than 5 years of continuous blogging a short Easter hiatus was very much in order. As I emerge from my self-imposed silence I am finding it very difficult to discern a re-entry point back into posting on a regular basis. As I was reading Jaroslav Pelikan's theological commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, which is the very last book published by the great historian of Christian doctrine before his passing in 2006, I came across something he wrote in his commentary on Acts 2:1 ("When the day of Pentecost was fully come") that reminded me about the root of my blog, being a Catholic Deacon, which is all that the fancy-looking Καθολικός διάκονος means.

In his theological reflection on this foundational passage, Pelikan highlighted "[t]he theological theme of the connection between the Holy Spirit and 'fullness'," which, he noted, "runs through the entire narrative of Acts." He went to on cite examples from the text of the marvelous book of Scripture of those who were filled with the Holy Spirit, along with the example of Ananias, who was not. In this he points forward to Acts chapter six, where, as a result of the complaints of the Greek-speaking widows of the early Christian community, who complained they were not being treated fairly in the daily distribution of food, the Twelve instructed the community to "pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty" (Acts 6:3 ESV), noting that being "full of the Spirit" was a requirement.

One of these men, of course, "was 'Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom' (6:5)." Stephen, Pelikan went on to point out, was also noted for being "'full of grace and power (6:8)"... who at his protomartyr's death, 'full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus stand at the right hand of God' (7:55)."

Blessed fruit from my own ministry, part of which is leading RCIA, with one of our Neophytes, Lexy, following the Easter Vigil

In the ordination prayer for deacons their bishop, with hands extended over them prays:

In the first days of your Church
under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit
the apostles of your Son appointed seven men of
     good repute
to assist in the daily ministry....

send forth upon him the Holy Spirit,
that he may be strengthened
by the gift of your sevenfold grace
to carry out faithfully the work of the ministry.

The sevenfold grace referred to are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the same ones referred to when the sacrament of Confirmation is conferred: Wisdom, Understanding, Right Judgment, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, also known as Reverence, Wonder (and Awe). These gifts, along with the fruits of the Spirit, which are set forth by St. Paul in Galatians 5:22-23 - "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal. 5:22-23 ESV) - are what a Spirit-filled person looks like, lives like. It seems to me, both from my studies and my experience, that living a Spirit-filled life is essential for being a deacon. Theologian Herbert Vorgrimler, in his tremendously worthwhile book, Sacramental Theology, put it well and succinctly when he wrote: "In his person, the deacon makes it clear that the liturgy must have consequences in the world with all its needs, and that work in the world that is done in a spirit of charity has a spiritual dimension." This is only possible if a deacon is Spirit-filled.

Friday, April 13, 2012

"I want love to..."

Jack White's "Love Interruption" is our Friday traditio for this Friday in the octave of Easter because it truly is all about God, who is Love, that is, agapé. Especially during Easter, I can't help but invoke the last line of the Holy Father's 2006 Urbi et Orbi: Christus resurrexit, quia Deus caritas est! Alleluia!

"I want love to, forget that you offended me or how you have defended me, when everybody tore me down". Most of all, speaking only for myself, I want Love to resurrect me, but this song reminds me that can't happen until Love kills me, thus making me die to myself.

Happy Easter!

I posted the song because I love it and it speaks about love in a way that many of us Christians too often ignore, opting instead for a sickly, sentimental kind of thing, which is not the kind of relationship Christ seeks to draw us into. He loves us too much for that.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Acts during Easter

Eastertide, what a lovely time! For me and for many it is a time of spiritual rejoicing as well as physical and mental recovery. I am studying the Acts of the Apostles over the days of Easter, using Jaroslav Pelikan's theological commentary, which is part of the wonderful Brazos series of theological commentaries as my vehicle, along with a few other resources. It has been a number of years since I last studied Acts over Easter. The time before I used F.F. Bruce's indispensable Acts of the Apostles. I often say that for me being Catholic is how I live the tension between being a Protestant or being Orthodox. Bruce, of course, was a Protestant, as was Pelikan, initially a Lutheran, became Orthodox later in his life. Pelikan was a historian of Christian doctrine. His Brazos theological commentary on Acts was the last thing he published before passing away in 2006.

I love the way Pelikan describes the Acts of the Apostles:
Acts is a book of frenetic actions amid a constantly shifting scene: conspiracy and intrigue and ambush, hostile confrontations and fierce conflicts sometimes to the death, rioting lynch mobs and personal violence (-> 28:31), "journeyings often" (2 Cor. 11:26 AV) and incessant ravel on an Odysseus-like scale all over the Mediterranean world (->27:24), complete with shipwreck and venomous serpents, "chains and imprisonment" (Heb. 11:36), followed in at least two instances by a successful jailbreak, though only with the aid of celestial mechanics (5:17-20; 12:6-11; 16:26-28), famine and earthquake, crime and punishment (as well as a great deal of punishment, sometimes even capital punishment, without any real crime ever having been committed)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Urbi et Orbi- Easter 2012



Dear Brothers and Sisters in Rome and throughout the world!

"Surrexit Christus, spes mea" - "Christ, my hope, has risen" (Easter Sequence).

May the jubilant voice of the Church reach all of you with the words which the ancient hymn puts on the lips of Mary Magdalene, the first to encounter the risen Jesus on Easter morning. She ran to the other disciples and breathlessly announced: "I have seen the Lord!" (Jn 20:18). We too, who have journeyed through the desert of Lent and the sorrowful days of the Passion, today raise the cry of victory: "He has risen! He has truly risen!"

Every Christian relives the experience of Mary Magdalene. It involves an encounter which changes our lives: the encounter with a unique Man who lets us experience all God’s goodness and truth, who frees us from evil not in a superficial and fleeting way, but sets us free radically, heals us completely and restores our dignity. This is why Mary Magdalene calls Jesus "my hope": he was the one who allowed her to be reborn, who gave her a new future, a life of goodness and freedom from evil. "Christ my hope" means that all my yearnings for goodness find in him a real possibility of fulfilment: with him I can hope for a life that is good, full and eternal, for God himself has drawn near to us, even sharing our humanity.

But Mary Magdalene, like the other disciples, was to see Jesus rejected by the leaders of the people, arrested, scourged, condemned to death and crucified. It must have been unbearable to see Goodness in person subjected to human malice, truth derided by falsehood, mercy abused by vengeance. With Jesus’ death, the hope of all those who had put their trust in him seemed doomed. But that faith never completely failed: especially in the heart of the Virgin Mary, Jesus’ Mother, its flame burned even in the dark of night. In this world, hope can not avoid confronting the harshness of evil. It is not thwarted by the wall of death alone, but even more by the barbs of envy and pride, falsehood and violence. Jesus passed through this mortal mesh in order to open a path to the kingdom of life. For a moment Jesus seemed vanquished: darkness had invaded the land, the silence of God was complete, hope a seemingly empty word.

And lo, on the dawn of the day after the Sabbath, the tomb is found empty. Jesus then shows himself to Mary Magdalene, to the other women, to his disciples. Faith is born anew, more alive and strong than ever, now invincible since it is based on a decisive experience: “Death with life contended: combat strangely ended! Life’s own champion, slain, now lives to reign”. The signs of the resurrection testify to the victory of life over death, love over hatred, mercy over vengeance: "The tomb the living did enclose, I saw Christ’s glory as he rose! The angels there attesting, shroud with grave-clothes resting".

Dear brothers and sisters! If Jesus is risen, then – and only then – has something truly new happened, something that changes the state of humanity and the world. Then he, Jesus, is someone in whom we can put absolute trust; we can put our trust not only in his message but in Jesus himself, for the Risen One does not belong to the past, but is present today, alive. Christ is hope and comfort in a particular way for those Christian communities suffering most for their faith on account of discrimination and persecution. And he is present as a force of hope through his Church, which is close to all human situations of suffering and injustice.

Jesus Chrsit is Risen

It's just not Easter morning for me without Keith Green's Easter Song. I am exhausted, but joyful beyond words. So, I will use words written by St. Paul to the Church at Corinth:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Cor. 15:12-20- ESV)
As Pope Benedict proclaimed on Easter 2006: "Christus resurrexit quia Deus caritas est!"- "Christ is resurrected because God is love! I believe and it makes all the difference in the world, the difference between hope and despair.

Christos Anesti!

Jesus, resurrected, appeared to St. Mary Magdalene, which is why she is apostula apostulorum

Alithos Anesti. Christ is is Risen, He is truly Risen. Alleluia!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Holy Saturday: The Triduum continues (in silencio)

Today is oddest day of the year, the quietest day of the year, a day that forcefully bids us to be still and listen to the silence. In this vein, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, writing about how to pray, observed something highly apropos of Holy Saturday:

Prayer is primarily an encounter with God; on certain occasions we may be aware of God's presence, more often dimly so, but there are times when we can place ourselves before him only by an act of faith, without being aware of his presence at all. It is not the degree of our awareness that is relevant ...

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday: Thieves in paradise

Reading: Luke 23:43

"I tell you this: today you will be with me in Paradise"

As Jesus hangs on the Cross, one of the thieves who is hanging beside Him (tradition tells us his name was Dismis), pleaded with the Lord to remember him when He entered His kingdom, which will be given Him by the Father. Jesus, ministering to others even in the midst of His own agony, assures the paradoxically-named "good thief" that he would be in "paradise" that very day with Him.

For Jews of Jesus’ day “paradise” was that part of Hades thought to be the abode of blessed souls until their resurrection, with some even understanding it to be a heavenly place. Most of the early church fathers, taking their cue from this Jewish belief of the late temple period, also wrote about such a place, which we call “the limbo of the fathers,” where the souls of just men and women await the resurrection of the dead. Indeed, an in ancient homily for Holy Saturday, the preacher, who is unknown to us, tells us about Jesus’ descent to “paradise” and His encounter there with our first parents. In this ancient homily, the Lord approaches Adam and Eve “bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of [Christ] Adam… struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ Christ answered him: ‘And with your spirit.’ [Christ] took [Adam] by the hand and raised him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.’” Christ then says to Adam, “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.”

However, in the best English translations of the Apostles Creed, which has its origins in the very early Church of Rome as a baptismal creed, the Latin words descendit ad inferos, is translated as "descended into hell," not "descended to the dead." On this basis, Hans Urs Von Balthasar argued that believing Christ only went to "paradise" understood and articulated as the "limbo of the fathers" falls short of the mystery of the depths Christ endured for our redemption, which is nothing other than full realization of God’s love for us. Balthasar provocatively held that Christ had to have suffered what Dr. Alyssa Pitstick, in her critique of Balthasar’s theology of Holy Saturday described as, "the full force of what would have awaited sinful mankind without a redeemer,” namely “complete rejection by the Father without hope of mercy or reconciliation. By descending into this utter abandonment, Christ bore the punishment humanity deserved, thereby manifesting the extreme extent of God's love."

The way around this important conundrum is Dismis himself, the thief, justly punished for his crime, who says to the other thief who is pleading with Jesus to get all of them down off their crosses, "we are paying the penalty for what we have done. But this man has done nothing wrong," who recognized Jesus in his moment of greatest need as the fulfillment of his deepest desire with these words: "Remember me when you come into your kingdom," showing us that in his last moments, through the experience of the Cross, this thief grasped the mystery of faith.

Good Friday: The Triddum Continues

Christ on the Cross with the Two Marys and St John EL GRECO (1588)

"He mounted the Cross to free us from the fascination with nothingness, to free us from the fascination with appearances, with the ephemeral."- Msgr. Luigi Giussani

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Holy Thursday: The Triduum Begins

"Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, 'Lord, do you wash my feet?' Jesus answered him, 'What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.' Peter said to him, 'You shall never wash my feet.' Jesus answered him, 'If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.' Simon Peter said to him, 'Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!' Jesus said to him, 'The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.' For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, 'Not all of you are clean.

"When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, 'Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.'" (John 13:1-16 ESV)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Monday, April 2, 2012

Bl. Pope John Paul II, in memoriam

It seems impossible that Pope John Paul II passed away seven years ago. I have told this story here before, though I am adding a few personal details: I remember staying with my Granny at her (then) rural home in October 1978, as the conclave to elect a pope to succeed to Papa Luciani was underway. I stayed up very late, badly wanting to know who the next pope would be. I was transfixed. This would be not unusual, except that I was 12 years-old and not Catholic and, in fact, knew next to nothing about the Catholic Church. Also, I only knew one or two Catholics. Watching live and alone in my Granny's living room, I remember him emerging on the central loggia of St. Peter's Basilica. I felt something like a jolt of electricity go through me as I saw him. It was an amazing experience.

I also remember seeing him in 2005, not long before his death, appearing on the balcony of the Apostolic Apartment and giving his apostolic blessing to the pilgrims gathered in the Square. My feeling at that time was much the same, even though I was now Catholic and had been at that point for a very long time.

O Blessed Trinity, we thank You for having graced the Church with Pope John Paul II and for allowing the tenderness of Your Fatherly care, the glory of the Cross of Christ, and the splendor of the Spirit of love, to shine through him. Trusting fully in Your infinite mercy and in the maternal intercession of Mary, he has given us a living image of Jesus the Good Shepherd, and has shown us that holiness is the necessary measure of ordinary Christian life and is the way of achieving eternal communion with You. Grant us, by his intercession, and according to Your will, the graces we implore, hoping that he will soon be numbered among Your saints

With ecclesiastical approval
Camillo Card. Ruini

Vicar General of His Holiness

for the Diocese of Rome

JPII, I still miss you, even as I love Pope Benedict XVI, who certainly would've been Bl. Pope John Paul's pick to succeed him.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Passion Sunday Vespers Homily

Reading: Acts 13:26-20

Do you recognize Jesus Christ? Do acknowledge Him as Messiah and Lord? Do you believe that He died for your sins? Do you believe He rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and now reigns at the Father’s right hand? If you say that you believe, Do you proclaim Him as Lord and Messiah, King and Savior, by your manner of life?

Our reading from the Acts of the Apostles this afternoon, taken from a sermon given by St. Paul in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch at the beginning of his first missionary journey, is part of what is known as the original, or apostolic, Christian kerygma. The word kerygma is a Greek word that can be translated simply as “preaching,” but, being a bit more precise, means something like “to proclaim as a herald.” In the Christian context, the adjective “kerygmatic” is most often applied to straightforward proclamations of Jesus’ life and ministry not aimed at theoretical reason, thus seeking to lay out a theology, and certainly not a well-thought out soteriology, but is a simple and matter-of-fact re-telling of the salvific event of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

St. Paul Preaching in the Synagogue

In his Sabbath sermon Paul recounts to his fellow Israelites in Asia Minor how their brethren in Jerusalem, along with the chief priests, scribes, and elders, failed to recognize Jesus and so, unwittingly, fulfilled the words of the prophets with which they were all so familiar, like “the reading of the law and the prophets” (Acts 13:15) the congregation Paul was addressing heard proclaimed that very day. So, the apostle tells them, after their Jerusalem brethren fulfilled everything that had been prophesied about Jesus and crucified Him, God raised Him from the dead.

In like manner, in addition to confessing the Church as one, holy, and catholic, we confess it to be apostolic. The Church is apostolic in a two-fold way. First, apostolic refers to the fact that we belong to the Church of Jesus Christ established by the apostles, who responded to the immediate and powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the first Christian Pentecost. The Church’s apostolicity is safeguarded by unbroken apostolic succession. As Catholics, this is what we tend to think about when we discuss the meaning of “apostolic”. The second and equally important sense that the Church is apostolic is closely linked to kerygma, as well as to the first sense. An apostle is yet another Greek word that literally means “one who is sent out.” We, too, are sent out to proclaim the death of the Lord Jesus and to profess His resurrection until He comes again, which is nothing less than the apostolic kerygma, or mysterium fidei (i.e., mystery of faith). So, let us enter into this Holy Week in gratitude for our faith, the realization that “Christus resurrexit quia Deus caritas est”- "Christ is risen because God is love"- and be heralds this Good News!

Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Kings 21:1-6; Ps 5:2-7; Matthew 5:38-42 Jesus, Ahab, or Jezebel? This is the question posed to us by our readings. What do yo...