The most difficult times can produce the greatest spiritual blessings. God truly knows just what we need at every moment!

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Palm and Passion Sunday, Cycle C

Isaiah 50: 4-7; Philippians 2: 6-11; Luke 22:14 - 23:56

This week sees the climax of the mission of Jesus Christ in which the deepest meaning of his life is unfolded and in which his teaching becomes incarnated in his own words and actions.

Today's celebration is divided into two distinct parts: the procession with palms and the Mass proper.
In the first part the prevailing atmosphere is one of joy and the vestments in today's liturgy are a triumphal red and not the violet which has prevailed during the other days of Lent.

The reading from the Gospel in this first part recalls the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem as King.
He gets a rapturous reception from the crowd who acclaim him with words we still use in the "Holy, holy, holy...": “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. This scene is important for, in a few days' time, the same triumphant Jesus will be reduced to a battered wreck of humanity, calling forth the words of Pilate: "Look, it is a human being!" (Ecce homo). The same crowd, who on Sunday was acclaiming Him king, will , on Friday, scream violently: “Crucify him !!!”

Although efforts are now made to make the listening of the Passion less of an endurance test, there really is too much to be fully digested as we stand listening to one or three readers. Perhaps we should set aside a short period later in the day to go through the dramatic narration once more. Or perhaps, even better, we could focus on a particular passage which speaks to us more at this time.

And so we have:
- the last meal of Jesus with his disciples, a bitter-sweet experience for all,
- Jesus' struggle with fear (even terror) and loneliness in the garden, ending in a sense of peace and acceptance,
- Peter's denial of ever having known Jesus, the same Jesus with whom he had just eaten and who had invited him into the garden,
- the kiss of Judas, another disciple, sealing the fate of Jesus, and leading to bitter remorse and suicide,
- the rigged trial before the religious leaders and again before the contemptuous, cynical Pilate, the brief appearance before the superstitious and fearful Herod
This is followed by the implementation of the judgment:
- the torture, humiliation and degradation of Jesus,
- the way of Calvary - the weeping women, the reluctant Simon of Cyrene,
- the crowds, so supportive on Sunday, who now laugh and mock,
- the murderous gangster promised eternal happiness that very day,
- the last words of forgiveness and total surrender (emptying) to the Father. "Father, into your hands I surrender my spirit" - and in so surrendering it, he passed on that Spirit to us.

The drama is truly overpowering and needs really to be absorbed, one incident at a time.
It would be worth reflecting in which of these scenes I can see myself, with which characters I can identify as reacting in the way I probably would.

Through it all there is Jesus, the young 33 years old man (God-Man) who changed the history of the whole Universe. So, as we go through this day and this week, let us look very carefully at Jesus our Savior. We watch, not just to admire, but also to learn. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human being to walk on the moon. The American President of that time said: “This was the most important event of the whole history of humanity”. I don’t think so. I think that by entering into this Holy Week we are participating in the most important events of the whole history of humanity.

And we should learn … a lot.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Fifth Sunday of Lent - C

Isaiah 43, 16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3, 8-14; St. John 8, 1-11

I once heard an amusing story which an old priest related. This is what he said:
When I was five years of age, an elderly Sister of Charity (a teacher in my school) taught me a memorable lesson. She had caught me accusing a playmate of a "crime." She told me to point my finger at him one more time. I did it. Then she asked none too sweetly, "Do you see that while one finger is pointed at the boy, three fingers are pointed at you yourself?" As young as I was, she had made her point which will always stay with me.

But she was not finished. "Try, James, to spend more time in the future improving on your own faults," she said with no trace of a smile. "Then you will not have time to criticize others." To make matters worse the "charge" against my friend proved subsequently to be unjustified. This religious sister, a Sister of Charity, should have been named a Doctor of the Church.

This Gospel does give us a lot to think about, does it not? It can cause us to sit down with our face in our hands and rethink our own position on accusation and punishment which is what I suspect our controversial teacher intended in the first place.

Scholars say that early followers of Christ found themselves upset by this Gospel account. They wished John had never written about it. In their minds, the narration has the Teacher being soft on sin. But this is sheer nonsense. Jesus does not say to the woman, "Worry not. Adultery is quite permissible." Rather, He does say without qualification and, I dare say, with some anger once they were alone together, "Go, but do not sin again."

The next time you find yourself pointing a finger in accusation at someone; do steal a look at the three other fingers that are accusingly pointing at your own honorable self.
Then reconsider your accusation and think the truth that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is meant for you and not only for others.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Fourth Sunday Laetare Sunday
Joshua 5,9. 10-12; Psalm 34; 2 Corinthians 5, 17-21; St. Luke 15, 1-3. 11-32

We have all heard the story of the Prodigal Son many times. We have all lived the story many times. We have often been thoughtless and, like the young man, considered what was best for number one, and ended up hurting those who love us the most.

The deeper sin of the prodigal was that he took the money and ran. He was not concerned about his father's future. Ancient social security, if you will, demanded that he work his father's land, giving the father a portion of the results so his father would always have food on the table. The prodigal also sold his family's birthright, their portion of the Promised Land given to the Chosen People.

Many times we have been like the Forgiving Father. We have all been hurt by others without cause and then been called upon to forgive them. Perhaps, we haven't needed any motivation to forgive-- other than love. We looked everyday for the one who had offended us. Like the forgiving Father, we started the celebrations before the offender could complete his or her apology.

Many times we have been like the Elder Son. One whom we love has been hurt. Although the injured party has forgiven, we continue to hold a grudge and as such deny ourselves admittance in the banquet of the Father's love.

In every family there are times where there is hurt, anger, and alienation. But we cannot run away from our family. We only have one family and we must make every effort to be reconciled.

We are called to forgive, and we are called to seek forgiveness. Husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, parents and children, neighbors and strangers, we are all called to the ministry of being reconciled with one another just as God the Father seeks, through every person of every age, to be reconciled with us.

The wisdom expressed in this parable goes much further and teaches us that human sin can take the form of wild and rebellious behavior or, perhaps more commonly, of sullen, angry and judgmental attitudes. Civil law is concerned almost exclusively with rebellious behavior but, in the parable, it is clear that the sinfulness of the elder son is much more dangerous.

Those of us who lead quiet and "responsible" lives may very well fall into the trap of sullen, resentful and angry attitudes toward others who seem to be "getting away with murder." What we need to ask ourselves is whether we have the kind of love that can understand why others, often less privileged than ourselves, may need both correction and forgiveness.

When the elder son in the parable says to his father, "your son," (and by implication no brother of mine) has done wrong and should be punished, the father gently corrects him with the words, "Your brother" (and not just my son) "was dead and has come to life again." This wayward son has indeed sinned, but he has also repented and has paid a price for his sin. Now it is time to rejoice.

We cannot change unless we are first aware of what needs to be changed. Once aware of the areas of our lives which are ruled by negative forces like hate, anger, resentment, greed, vindictiveness, injustice or violence we need to repent. "Repent" in the Gospel calls not only for expressions of regret and sorrow; it also demands a radical change in my future behaviour, a profound change in the way I see God and people and other things. It calls for a re-ordering of my relationships with God, with Jesus, with other people and with myself. It means a real turning around of my life, a real conversion.

The context of today's passage is important. Sinners and social outcasts were "all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say". The Pharisees and Scribes, who were the "good and religious" people, were shocked and disturbed. "This man welcomes sinners and [even worse] eats with them." By their standards, a "good" person avoids "bad company". To be quite honest, don't we think the same? If so, then we are not thinking like God or like Jesus.

There is no force involved. The police are not sent out. Servants are not instructed to haul him back. No, the father waits. It is up to the son himself to make the crucial decision: does he want to be with his father or not?

Eventually he "came to his senses", that is, he realised the wrongness of what he had done. He became aware of just how good his father had been. The process of repentance had begun. He felt deeply ashamed of his behaviour and then, most significantly of all, he turned around to make his way back to his father.

In one of his novels Dostoyevsky describes a scene that he had actually witnessed.

A woman held a baby in her arms ----one who was a few weeks old--- and, according to her, she noticed when the baby smiled at her for the first time. All contrite, she made the sign of the cross on his forehead and to those who asked her the reason for this she said:
"Just as a mother is happy when she sees the first smile of her child, God too rejoices every time a sinner gets on his knees and addresses a heartfelt prayer to him". ("The Idiot")

Who knows? A person may be listening and may finally decide to give this joy to God, to smile at him before he dies...

What do we do in the sacrament of Reconciliation?
We examine our conscience, we repent for our sins, we confess them, and we amend our lives.
The father in the parable. He does exactly what the priest does in the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The anti-Catholic New Times

By Fr. Alphonse de Valk
Issue: April 2005

The Catholic New Times (CNT from here on in) has irritated many people for quite some time, but none more so than during the last year and a half. Its leading articles over this period of time have broken the last bonds which restrained it from falling out completely with the Church whose ideals it originally claimed to champion. On moral-marital-family issues its contributors now find fault with almost everything Catholic Church leaders say or do, while the positions they hold in opposition to them cannot be classified as Catholic. The editors fully approve of this public dissent from Catholic teaching.

The evidence is clear. This is no longer a Catholic paper. CNT rejects the Church’s marital-sexual-moral teaching across the board. It also defies the solemnly-defined (May 1995) ordination of men only, and ridicules the 1900-year-old discipline of celibacy. It mocks Pope, bishops, priests and the faithful.

Is it any wonder that Catholics across the country are wondering—or perhaps despairing—why, first, this newspaper continues to carry the title “Catholic,” and second, why it continues to be promoted in Catholic churches and parishes?

Financially, CNT is doing well. The Feb. 13, 2005 edition carries a brief financial report: subscriptions brought in $130,000; advertising $68,000; and donations $82,000, enough to cover costs and leave something left over.

Intellectually and morally, CNT is spreading confusion and false teaching among Catholics. But does the local bishop know this? Does he ever read this newspaper? If so, why does he continue to allow it in the churches? If not, should parishioners not draw his attention to it?

Father Alphonse de Valk, C.S.B. is a priest of the Congregation of St. Basil and the editor of Catholic Insight magazine.

P.S. Please, see also Letters to the Editor, pages, 4 and 5. It is permitted to photocopy this article or reprint it for wider distribution.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Third Sunday in Lent
Exodus 3, 1-8. 13-15; Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 10, 1-6. 10-12; St. Luke 13, 1-9

Few years ago when Minister Joe Wright was asked to open the new session of the Kansas Senate, everyone was expecting the usual generalities, but this is what they heard:

“Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and to seek your direction and guidance.

We know Your Word says, ‘Woe to those who call evil good, but that is exactly what we have done.
We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values.
We confess that we have ridiculed the absolute Truth of Your Word and call it Pluralism.
We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.
We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.
We have killed our unborn and called it choice.
We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.
We have killed the elders and the sick and called it euthanasia.
We have defended the criminals and called it human rights.
We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem.
We have abused power and called it politics.
We have coveted our neighbor’s possessions and called it ambition.
We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.
We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.
We have even changed the sense and the meaning of the most fundamental words like marriage, freedom, tolerance, good and evil and we are surprised that nothing is going properly.

Search us, Oh, God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and set us free.

Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent to direct us to the center of Your will and to openly ask these things in the name of Your Son, the living Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen!”

The response was immediate. A number of legislators walked out during the prayer in protest accusing him of religious fundamentalism and fanaticism.

And the words of Jesus from today’s Gospel coming like refrain: "I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!"

When Jesus spoke about the events of His day, He said that in all these situations the people who died were not being punished by God. They, like all of us, suffered from the effects of evil and death in the world. What happened was horrible. Death is horrible. And death always comes much sooner than it is expected. Our time is limited. We must make the best use of it that we can. The reading goes on to present the parable of the fig tree which is going to be cut down if it doesn't produce fruit. In the second reading, St. Paul tells the Corinthians, "If you think you are standing, watch out lest you fall down."

These are not pleasant messages. We come to Church seeking union with God, and we pray for our needs. We hope to leave with good feelings. All of us like a warm, fuzzy feeling within ourselves. But religion is a lot more than warm fuzzies. Religion is being tied to a God who said "Follow me," and then was crucified. Nothing warm and fuzzy about that. This Sunday we are warned, "I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!" There is nothing warm or fuzzy about that either, but a deep reality is being invoked.

Jesus says, "If the fig tree does not bear fruit after one more year, cut it down." God wants us to repent, but time can run out.

Since the beginning of Lent the readings for the daily Masses have pleaded with us to turn away from sin. We heard the prophet Isaiah (55:7) say: "turn from your sinful ways." From the prophet Ezekiel (18:21), "you wicked man, turn away from all your sins." The prophet Daniel (9:5) tells us, stop rebelling against God's commandments. We're right in the middle of Lent. Over and over again, the prophets plead with us, stop sinning.

Why does the Church pick out from the Bible so many passages about sin? Are we still so sinful? Well …………………., yes, we still sin.

Just the briefest reading of newspapers will list a whole litany of sins people commit. High on the list would be sins against the Fifth and Sixth Commandments.

Sometimes we're shocked by the statistics. Children having children. Half of couples getting married first live together before married. Abortion used as birth control. In one city, a news broadcast reported that half of the babies born each year are born out of wedlock. More shocking, fifty percent of all pregnancies end in abortion.

On the other hand, these same prophets tell us to keep God's commandments and God will raise us on high (Deuteronomy 26:19). The prophet Isaiah (55:6) and the prophet Daniel (9:9) remind us, if we "seek the Lord," God is full of compassion, ready to forgive.

Pope John Paul II – in the book “Crossing the threshold of hope” writes:

“… convincing the world of the existence of sin is not the same as condemning it for sinning.”God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him." Convincing the world of sin means creating the conditions for its salvation. Awareness of our own sinfulness, including that which is inherited, is the first condition for salvation; the next is the confession of this sin before God, who desires only to receive this confession so that He can save man.”

This evening we begin the Lenten mission, on Friday we will have Lenten Penitential Celebration. What a superb chance for Reconciliation with God, with neighbor and with yourself?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Canada's Push for Euthanasia

Interview with Michèle Boulva Director of COLF.
The disabled and dying need true compassion, not premature death, says the director of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family. In this interview, Michèle Boulva spoke with ZENIT about the growing pressure to spread euthanasia in Canada.

Question: For some time now, a movement has emerged in your country in favor of the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide. Is this movement growing and having a lot of impact on public opinion?

Boulva: These extremely worrying questions have been on the front page of Canadian news for some 15 years, every time that the media publishes dramatic cases or that a draft law is being promoted.

It must be said that the aging of the population associated with improved health care is a perfect recipe for the promotion of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The promoters of these practices, unworthy for a civilized society, state that we should all have the right to choose our way of dying and the moment of our death. They argue that society does not have the right to impose added sufferings on us, forcing us to live against our will.

MONTREAL, Canada, 21 FEB. 2007 (ZENIT)

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Second Sunday of Lent - Cycle C

Genesis 15, 5-12. 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3, 17-4, 1; St. Luke 9, 28-36

As a missionary during my 16 years in Africa I sometimes experienced very touching situations. I remember one time when some African Christians were sitting in a village for a retreat. The subject was how to best spread the Gospel. Various methods were suggested running from literature and brochures, to videos, to radio announcements. Finally a young woman arose and she said, "When we judge that a pagan village is ready for the Lord Jesus, the first people we send in is a Christian family. It is their lives that will inspire the villagers to think seriously about becoming Christian. They are better than a hundred books or videos or radio announcements. They will be the keyhole through which others will see the Lord Christ. To spread the word and help the growth of the Church, Christians must not so much promote as attract." The woman's views carried the day.

As Albert Schweitzer, who was a superb "keyhole" or revelation to others by his own life, testified, "Example is not the main thing. It is the only thing."

There is a Christian proverb saying: “verba movent sed exempla trahunt” – which translated means,: “words move us, but examples attract and fascinate.”

"It’s also valid today in our daily lives. The best we can do in order to spread the message of Christ is to live our lives in such a way so that others can see God through us as they peek through the keyhole which is revealing how we live our lives."

The Lord "took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white." (Lk 9. 28-29) Why does the Lord reveal his glory to the Apostles in this way?

St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that this grace was given to strengthen the Apostles for the Cross which was to come by giving them a glimpse of the Resurrection which would be purchased only by the blood shed upon the Cross.

The transformation or transfiguration of Jesus that the disciples experienced was not simply something they were to see and experience as happening to him alone.
It was also an invitation for them to undergo a transformation and transfiguration of their own.

Like the Christ of today's Gospel, we too must become transfigured or transformed. The Teacher is saying to us, "Do not dwell on my Transfiguration overly long today. Rather, continue or perhaps begin to work on your own transfiguration." Christ is betting on each one of us here to become an attractive "keyhole through which others will see the Lord Christ.”

For me it was few weeks ago that I realized that there is a necessity of a constant transfiguration or rather transformation in my life. After Mass one Sunday, a young nine year old girl with a sunny smile came up to me and gave me a letter. I took the letter, I said thank you and put the letter into my pocket. A few hours later I opened it … and I was struck by the message enclosed in it. This is what I read and what I share with you today:
I realized that this child is a messenger from God telling me that I have to take some serious steps in my life to change it, to be serious, trustworthy and able to say something meaningful in my homilies.

What have I done in my life besides unfolding beautiful stories in my homilies? This child showed me that I have to constantly transform my words into actions. God is inviting you also to do the same.