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Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Easter Vigil

The Easter Vigil is the church's attempt to bring together all the mysteries of faith in a single liturgy. Of course, this can't be done, but we have to try. From the new fire, to the Paschal candle, from the reading of the history of salvation to the baptism of new Christians or the renewal of our baptismal vows, the liturgy is like a smorgasbord of the finest spiritual foods that can be overpowering for even the hungriest spiritual heart.

If, like me, you can't absorb everything being celebrated, pick one of the symbols to enjoy.  Focus on the new fire or the Paschal candle. Pray before the font of newly blessed water and sign yourself with it every time you enter church. Bring some of the Easter water home and place it in the center of your kitchen or dining room table. Invite everyone to bless themselves with it before meals. Read again the creation accounts in the scripture and delight in God's gifts to us. There is no reason we can't return to these mysteries throughout the Easter season. After all, there are fifty days of Easter to rejoice, to sing, to greet one another with joy and Alleluia's.

The Eastern church has a simple custom that helps them keep the Easter spirit alive in their hearts. Every time Eastern rite Catholics meet one another during the Easter season they say, "Christ is risen," and the response is, "Truly, he is risen." Offering and receiving this greeting allows a simple religious practice to become a part of daily life. When religious practices and prayers are completely private or reserved for church, the life of faith is limited as well. That Christ lives within and among us as an eternal light is not something to keep to ourselves. Easter's joy is a gift for the whole world.

Today, find a way to make your faith public and joy filled.

Who has impressed you most with the transparency of their faith in daily life?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

"Whom are you looking for?"

Jesus' question to the soldiers, temple guards and Judas is telling. Those who came out at night to capture him were not looking for a Messiah. Neither were they looking for goodness or compassion. They are like police along the side of a major highway clocking the speed of cars whizzing by. Anyone breaking the speed limit is stopped and handed a ticket. No one is exempt, even government officials.

Like speeding drivers, Jesus had broken the law and had to be punished. That he had walked peacefully among the people, reaching out to the broken and abandoned, did not matter. He had claimed an identity for himself that others painted as blasphemy and he had to be stopped. The soldiers and temple guards were just doing their job. Judas, however, knew better, but his greed was such that he denied what he saw and experienced of the living God for the sake of personal gain.

Today's liturgy forces us to ask painful questions. What are we looking for in our faith? Do we want, like the soldiers, an ordered, simple way to fulfill our obligations, or do we want to be transformed into women and men of conviction and action on behalf of all people seeking to know and enter more deeply into God's love. The questions are stark and unforgiving. There is very little gray today. Let our yes be yes or our no be no. Anything else is from the evil one.(Mt 5:37)

Today, say yes to living the Good News despite your hesitations.

Whose life has most moved you to live the Gospel with integrity?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday is a wonder filled day of overwhelming fulness and hope. Not only does the Lord wash the feet of his disciples, he also breaks bread with them and reminds them to do the same for one another and for the world. It is all too much for us to absorb.

Depending upon the culture from which we come, it is like having a meal with our closest friends. The table is beautifully set, the foods are simple but elegant, and the gestures touch our hearts in places we often avoid. God is among us breaking down every barrier that separates us not only from one another but from creation itself. There is a fulness and depth to today's scriptures and liturgy that washes away our doubts and despair, and reminds us that the new Covenant is Jesus promises more than we could ever imagine.

God is with us; God is among us; God is waiting for us to turn again with hope renewed to the gifts he has presented to us in all that is. Every time we break bread with others, every time we offer overselves to one another in service, we are reminded of the Last Supper and are challenged to live with the conviction that life has meaning beyond that which we can see or understand.

Holy Thursday helps us to walk by faith, not by sight. For a day or a moment we pause and know that every darkness will be suffused with the light who is our God, and that which seems to make no sense will be tranformed by the God who waits for us at the center of our most frightening fears.

Today, breathe in the gift of the Eucharist and rejoice.

Do have a memory of Holy Thursday and helps you live in God today?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Judas

"Surely it is not I, Rabbi?" Mt 26:24

The high priests offer Judas thirty pieces of silver, the price of buying a slave in the ancient world, if he will hand Jesus over to them. How awful! Judas sells the Lord as if he were selling a slave, and indeed that is how Jesus presents himself to us. Kneeling down to wash the feet of his disciples, Jesus becomes a non person in his society. Slaves had no political rights. They were the property of those who owned them, and while some of them, no doubt, were well treated, they had no security.

All of this, of course, fits the theology and spirituality of the gospels well. Jesus is a slave for us. He chooses this role not only to position himself as the champion of the poor, but to help his disciples realize that the power they will be given after his resurrection is not the power of money, property and a large family, traditional signs of God's blessing. Rather, they will be servants of all, announcing a freedom beyond political categories not only to Jews, but to all the world. Once again, Jesus turns the world upside down.

Whenever we encounter this paradox in our own lives we are startled, even dismayed. We do everything we think necessary to achieve success, but the result is bittersweet at best. The emptiness of success without the deepening of our relationship with God and others envelopes us. Only when we serve others freely and graciously in order to announce the power of God within and among us is there lasting joy.

Today, pray for nothing except to do God's will.

Have you ever experienced deep joy in serving others without any hope of reward?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Blind and Deaf

"Master, who is it?" Jn 13:15

Peter never fails to fascinate us. In today's gospel, the Lord tells his disciples that one of them will betray him, and Peter, leaning back against the Lord's breast, asks who it is. He almost appears nosy, and even though Judas takes a morsel of bread from Jesus indicating he is the betrayer, the text tells us, "none of those reclining at table realized," about whom he was speaking. How could Peter not know? A possible and appropriate answer in the context of the gospels is that Peter "had eyes and ears" but could neither see nor hear, and almost all of us have met Peter in ourselves and in others.

Too often I have been with families whose children are drinking excessively at a party. Clearly out of control, the young people announce they are going to a bar for a night cap. No one says anything, and by their silence they seem to encourage even more drinking. More important, no one asks about a designated driver, and no one volunteers to be the designated driver. Somehow everyone's eyes and ears are closed, and a very dangerous situation rolls on without intervention. Even as I write I think of those times when I have been in this situation and said nothing, pretending it was not my business or excusing myself because no one seemed to be listening.

Was Peter intimidated by Judas because he had the money? Did he tell himself that he must have misunderstood Jesus about the "morsel" of bread? We could imagine a thousand scenarios, but all of them paint Peter as someone who speaks without listening and because he does not hear the Lord's commands, cannot see or hear what is evident to every listener.

Today, ask the Lord to unstop your ears and uncover your eyes.

Have you ever chosen to say or do nothing in a a situation that is obviously dangerous for others?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Anointing

"We gave him the power to die; he will give us the power to live." St. Augustine, Office of Readings

St Augustine often offers us rich food for thought and prayer. In today's Office of Readings, he insists that we should have no shame over the death of Jesus. Rather, he says, "it should be our greatest hope," since we cannot gain eternal life by our own efforts. Life forever in God is a pure gift, such that we can never fully appreciate or understand. How is it that God would want to live with us forever? It can only be that God sees in us what he has created, not the mess we sometimes make of our lives.

Surely this was true of Mary in today's Gospel. No matter what she thought of herself, her willingness to use expensive oil to anoint Jesus's feet and dry them with her hair was a powerful sign of her gratitude and devotion to Jesus. That Judas would criticize Mary and Jesus' disciples for this act of kindness and love, while understandable, is shallow and self serving. Would it not be better for all of us to see with Mary's eyes the torment of the Lord as he prepares himself for death? Wouldn't it be better for us to look at the poor in the same way? Rather than judge and condemn those with nothing, we need to put ourselves in their shoes and see with Jesus' eyes and heart.

Today, ask God to calm your spirit and open your eyes to all those who suffer.

Who has most impressed you with their faith in the face of suffering and death?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Palm Sunday

"Now a young man followed him wearing nothing but a linen cloth about his body. They seized him, but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked." Mk 14: 50-52

Palm Sunday introduces us to an intriguing young fellow, someone who it is easy to smile about or ignore, but we should do neither. The young man wearing nothing but a linen cloth who runs off naked when the leaders of the Jews try to seize him, at first seems to be an embarrassment, but as we read further in Mark's gospel, he appears again at the tomb of Jesus. The same young man who appears to be captured and killed, leaves his burial cloth behind so that Jesus' disciples will know that nothing can contain the Lord, neither death nor life.

No matter how hard we try, it is difficult to let go of our desire to figure out life and death. If we are able to understand something or someone, we tell ourselves, we will be able to control it. Nothing can be further from the truth of the gospel. The majesty of God, this week experienced in his suffering and death, cannot be reduced to words, gestures or rituals. Jesus, the Son of God, is beyond language and easy classification, but he is always with us even when he seems to run away naked. Without the eyes of faith we are blind to the mystery of how much God loves us. Faith alone allows us to "see" that God chooses never to live without us.

Today, ask not to avoid death, but to live with the belief that there is no death in Christ.

Have you ever been tempted to run away from life in order to escape death?