Saturday, February 28, 2015

Walking the Way of the Cross

This past Friday, I was given the opportunity to lead people in the Stations of the Cross.  The devotion was held at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church, in downtown Beverly, MA.  The church is old, big, the interior cavernous.  Even with the lights on, it seemed dark inside.  The old furnace has a hard time heating the church, so there was a bit of a chill in the air.  We had about 30 individuals attending the service.  I came out into the sanctuary, dressed in my alb and purple deacon stole.  And for the first time, a wireless microphone; the interior of St. Mary’s soaks up sound, even my loud voice.  I invited those in the pews to join me in walking the Way the Cross; after a short prayer, we began.

This devotion has a long history.  Most scholars credit the Franciscan Friars with establishing the Way of the Cross in its present form.  The Franciscans had already been given responsibility for the Holy Places in the Holy Land, by the Pope.  In Jerusalem, the friars would lead pilgrims through the streets, along the route Jesus would have walked to Calvary.  During the 15th and 16th centuries, Franciscans in other countries began to set up outdoor shrines, imitating the places (or stations) where Jesus would have stopped on His way to His crucifixion.  Later, they requested, and received papal permission to set up Stations of the Cross in their churches.  It was not long afterward, that Rome extended that permission to bishops who wished to also set up Stations in their own churches.
The Way of the Cross is a devotion that helps us Christians to remember that Jesus, though the Son of God, was also human; that for Him, the Way of the Cross was a journey into suffering and death.  Realizing this, as I walked and prayed each of the Stations, I found myself entering into a different spiritual space, a solemn space, a sorrowful space.  Sorrowful, because I was sensing the pain and suffering that Jesus went through for us.  For us, He was willing to totally empty Himself, give all that He had on the Cross, so that we would be freed from the power of sin and death.  How often do we forget that?  The Way of the Cross helps us to remember. 

The devotion also reminds us that if we decide to follow Christ, we follow Him everywhere, even to Calvary.  If we follow Him, it means that we are willing to empty ourselves in service to Him, and our brothers and sisters in Christ.  First to empty ourselves of our selfishness, our pride, our self-centeredness, anything that gets in our way of loving God and others.  Then we empty ourselves of our talents, our skills for the sake of Christ, and the world.  It is not easy; it can be very hard and painful.  Still, Jesus Christ calls us to follow; but if we answer that call, we can be assured that we will not be alone on this journey.  Christ assures us that though the journey may be full of suffering, Easter dawn awaits.

After the Station where Jesus in laid in the tomb, I walked to a large bas relief in the church.  It portrays the Resurrection, and standing before it, I read a passage from the Gospel of Luke (24: 1-8), where the women find the empty tomb.  And two men appear before them and announce:  “He is not here; he has arisen!”  On that note of hope, I stood before altar, and blessed those who are in the church, turned and bowed before the Eucharistic Presence in the tabernacle, and left the sanctuary. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Reflection on the Readings for the First Sunday of Lent - 2015

Genesis 9:8-15
Psalm 25: 4-5, 6-7, 8-9 (10)
1 Peter 3: 18-22
Mark 1: 12-15

The story of Noah and the Ark has in many ways has become a child’s fairy tale.  Most depictions of the story look like a cartoon, showing friendly animals, lining up two by two, to enter the Ark.  We see Noah and his family, smiling as they welcome the creatures coming towards them.  Yet, like most of our modern fairy tales, the origin of the story of the Ark; the deeper meaning of the story, can be grim and frightening.

We see God, looking out at the humanity that inhabits His world and seeing only evil and corruption.  Like a potter, unhappy with the pottery he has made, God intends to destroy His creation, wipe the slate clean.  Yet, God is a creator, not a destroyer.  While He intends to wipe out the evil, He sees the good that still exists, exists in Noah and his family.  So God saves a remnant of humanity, and insures their survival.  And Noah and his family, humanity is reborn, life begins again.  And the Creator promises never to destroy all humanity again, and the rainbow is the sign of that promise.  He will seek another way to save His people from the power of sin. 

And that way is found in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who, through His death and resurrection, freed all humanity, past, present, and those yet to come from, from the power, and consequences of sin.  And with that freedom, with the fulfillment of the promise the Father made to His creation, the “kingdom of God is at hand.” 

This is the Good News that Jesus is calling us to accept and believe.  To believe that God does love this world, loves us; loves us so much He gave us His Son to save us, to heal us.  That kind of love calls for a response from us, and that response is to change our lives, to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, to live the Gospel!

The season of Lent is meant to be a time of preparation, a time of reflection, a time of conversion.  A reflection on what our lives have been, and to see, in light of the Gospel, what needs to be changed.  And we prepare our hearts to be open to experience the joy, and wonder of Easter morning, to celebrate the love of God

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Reflection on Ash Wednesday - 2015

Joel 2: 12-18
2 Corinthians5: 20-6:2
Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18

“Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.”  (Joel 2: 2-13)

In the frozen, snowbound Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the celebration of Ash Wednesday goes on.  I have been assisting at two Masses, and one service, distributing the ashes; marking each person’s forehead with the sign of the cross (or at least, I am trying to!).  Each time, I tell the person: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”  I am encouraging them to hear, and accept, the Good News, and to change their lives.   Ashes on the forehead are an ancient symbol of repentance, from the time of ancient Israel, and further back in time.  But it is only a symbol, it has no power, it has no meaning, if the recipient does not commit himself or herself to living the teachings of Jesus Christ. 

Now this requires change; a change in the way we live our lives.  It is a call to enter into a closer, more loving, and a deeper relationship with our God.  It is a call to let go of our selfishness, our self-centeredness, and reach out the Father; and to reach out to each other, friend and stranger alike.  It is a call to let go of the bad self image we can have of ourselves; and realize that God love us for who and what we are, no matter how bad.  And we are called to reach out to the other wounded persons we meet, and share this Good News, whether by word, and by action. 

Lent then, is the season wherein we can enter into a more disciplined way of life, with the aim of growing closer to God.  We are encouraged to make even more time for prayer, where we open our hearts, to let God in, so that we can experience that Love that surpasses all other types of love.  And as our experience of that Love grows and grows, we are impelled to make more and more room in ourselves for God’s Presence.  We need to discover what is our internal clutter, that personal junk, which is getting in our way of loving God.  This is where the discipline of fasting comes in, where we can discover what we really need to live, and what we can do without.  Where we can discover how it feels to be empty, and ready for Christ to come, and knock at the door of our hearts.  Finally, receiving such a great gift from the Father, we feel the need to share that gift of love with others, others who maybe alone, feel unloved, who believe they are alone in a cruel dark world.  By practicing almsgiving, we learn to reach beyond ourselves, and touch those around us, whether they are family, friends or strangers.  And we learned that we are not just called to share from our “surplus,” but to share ourselves totally with others.

The season of Lent has been, is, and always will be an opportunity to deepen our commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  An opportunity and it will be a challenge for all of us.  The challenge to grow in our faith and to no matter often we might fail, we pick ourselves up and begin again.  We will not be alone on this Lenten journey, Jesus will be us, inspiring us by His Word, and He strengthens us with His Body and Blood.  And on Easter morn, He will be there to welcome us, into a much more wonderful life.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Snow, Snow, Go Away!!

We are digging out of our third snowstorm in Massachusetts!  If I hear someone singing "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!"; I am going to lose it!