Saturday, April 30, 2011

What's with the octave?

Today is the seventh day of the Octave of Easter, and I realized I had not really written anything about the octave as such. From our Jewish ancestors we receive a tradition of significant numbers. Starting of course with the ONE God, we speak of the TRINITY, we pray NOVENAS (9 days), the 40 days of Lent, the 50th day of Easter, PENTECOST, and for Christmas and Easter we celebrate an OCTAVE.

I have written in earlier postings about the Christian understanding of Sunday as the eighth day, the first day of the new creation. In our Easter liturgy that gets expressed in the way all of the 8 days beginning on Easter Sunday are celebrated with the same Solemnity of Easter Sunday, including the singing of the Gloria every day.

In the ancient Church the newly baptized would have worn their baptismal gowns throughout, laying them aside on the Sunday after Easter, the last day of the Octave, giving rise to the name for the Sunday, Dominica in Albis, White Sunday.

Tomorrow we complete the Octave, but the Season of Easter continues until Pentecost, the 50th day. Even though the lilies may fade our joy should not. Let us continue to proclaim the Good News, peace, and joy of Jesus.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A hand up

During the 50 days of Easter, the Church each year has us read the Acts of the Apostles to call us back to our starting point and remind us of the role of the church in the world.

The center of the reading today is a man who was born with some serious disability. He is brought by loved one each day to beg at the gate from those entering the temple area to pray. Most probably tried to ignore him, some probably threw him some change, some insulted him. Peter and John stop. They engage him in conversation. They invite him to look at them, instead of hiding his face in shame. Peter touches him, takes him by the right hand and raises him up, as Christ had been raised up. It is worth noting that Luke (the author of Acts) uses the same language for resurrection as for this healing. The man has after all received a new life.

We like to take up second collections, collect food for the local food bank, and these are all good things. The reading today reminds us however that nothing replaces direct human contact, relationships, in helping to change a person's life. It isn't easy , because the real poor aren't like the ones in the renaissance paintings of the bible stories, pretty, and clean, and poised. Our instinctive reactions may even be to distance ourselves or fear them. That's where grace comes in.

We can ignore them, throw money at them, or actually take them by the hand, raise them up, and help them to stand on their own two feet.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Earth is full of the goodness of the Lord

Do we actually believe this?
The refrain for today's psalm reminds us of just how profoundly we believe the world was reshaped by the resurrection of Jesus. The goodness of God fills the earth like air we cannot see it with our eyes but it is no less real. It not only surrounds us but by grace it permeates and fills our very being.

In an op-Ed piece today David Brooks writes about the unprecedented and unfounded pessimism in our country today. Despite measurable improvements, we insist on seeing the world as a bad place that is getting worse. That is not the gospel of this Octave of Easter. Can we call ourselves truly Christians, proclaimers of the good news if we choose to participate in that? In this face of those who would point to sin and evil, as if it has any real chance of winning.

We are called to be the ones who sing, "The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord" and to make that goodness perceptible by our words and actions. There are more than 2 billion Christians. That's 2 billion people who are called to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Our psalm response is not in the subjunctive as if it were a hope, or a dream, it is a statement of fact. Let is live as if we really believe it.

Monday, April 25, 2011

What is truth?- Pilate's question

Winston Churchill is quoted as saying, "A lie gets half way around the world, before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."

On this Monday in the Octave of Easter the gospel recounts how after the resurrection, the chief priests and the elder paid the guards a large sum of money to claim that the disciples of Jesus had come and stolen the body, to lie. It's easy to understand how easy it was for these guards, who had no vested interested in the matter, could rationalize their participation in the lie. After all, how many people really cared about the death of the leader of a little group of Jews, and they could use the money to buy food for them and their families. What real harm would it do?

These are the kind of rationalizations we use when we lose sight of the centrality of the truth. For John's gospel, which we read on Sunday's in the Easter season, the concept of truth is at the very heart of the gospel, and in our present culture seems more in danger than ever. From those who wish to paint truth as something relative("that may be true for you"), to those who for political motives continue to deny basic facts like the citizenship or religion of the president, we see an assault on the basic concept of truth.

As we begin the 50 days of the Easter season, the gospel today calls us to renew our commitment to foundational principles. There is such a thing as truth. The truth is knowable. And we as Christians must demand of ourselves and others that we speak the truth, even when it is a truth we don't want to hear, or is a truth that costs us.

I am the way, the truth, and the life.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

This is the day the Lord has made

But didn't God make "the day" long before Easter?

At the Easter Vigil we began the readings with the story of the creation of the world in Genesis, "evening came and morning followed, the first day."

Today's responsorial psalm reminds us that God did not make the world once, but twice. With the resurrection of Christ, in the words of the Exultet, earth is united to heaven, and a new world is born. It may look to the human eye like old one but it is not.

The early church would speak of this not as the first day, or the seventh day, but the eighth day. As I sit here on my front porch in Richmond, the sun is shining, the birds and singing. As I look across the street at the cemetery of Historic St. John's Episcopal, I am reminded that with the resurrection Jesus changed forever the meaning of words like cemetery, and death. He opened the gates of heaven and gave us eternal life.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Descended into hell

We rarely think of that line from the apostle's creed, but this would be the time, between the death on the cross and the resurrection.

We must start by remembering that prior to the resurrection of Christ, no one, good or evil, had access to that perfect union with God that we call heaven, the beatific vision. The the old testament vision of the world there was Sheol- in hebrew, hades-in Greek, the abode of the dead. He'll is seems can be a misleading translation because for most us that conjures up images of fire and pain. In fact, as we understand it, the experience of Sheol was different for different people.

Jesus descended to Sheol to free all the just ones who had gone before him. We can imagine the list beginning with Adam, and Eve, Abel, the first homicide victim, Abraham and Sarah, Moses, the prophets, and all the millions of unnamed souls who tried, as best they knew how, to live their life according to the will of God.

This classic resurrection icons show Jesus rising from the tomb holding these people by the hand, the broken chains of death lying on the ground. With the resurrection of Christ the gates of heaven, a place formerly reserved for God and angels, are opening to mere mortals like you and me.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Passion of our Lord

While the gospel for Palm Sunday varies from cycle to cycle, every year on Good Friday we read the Gospel of John where it all goes according to plan. As Pope Benedict points out even Chiaphas is doing God's will, even though he doesn't know it.

When we reflect on the gruesomeness of the crucifixion, how can anyone doubt the love of the God of Christianity. Our faith proclaims a God who so wanted to be united with us, and prove his love for us, that he became incarnate, and endured more suffering than most of us could ever imagine.

Today we venerate the cross, knowing that we need not fear any cross that life might bring

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thirty Years later,150 Yeats later

Thirty years ago in 1981 in my hometown of Danville I participated in the Easter Triduum that would shape the rest of my life. It was in that Easter Vigil that i was received into full communion with the Catholic Church. At 20 years of age, I had no idea what it really meant or where it would lead. Sure I had gone to the classes and read the books, but that only gives us a superficial, intellectual knowledge of the faith. The faith has to be lived to be understood, and even then, we still see dimly as in a mirror.

Thirty Holy Thursday's later, I am even more moved reflecting on what that evening with his disciples would have been like, Jesus knowing that the end of his mission was near and trying to prepare his disciples for what would lie ahead.

For one of my parishes, St. Patrick, this marks the 150th anniversary of their first Holy Thursday mass in their church. Easter was early in 1861, March 31st. By Holy Thursday March 28, Virginia had not yet succeeded and both side were courting its residents. The uncertainties and fears of the parishioners must have resonated with that of the disciples in the gospel of the day, both wondering what the future would bring.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The problem with the cycle

In the Catholic Church we celebration the story in a liturgical cycle. Scattered around that cycle are the events of the life of Jesus. It helps to organize and understand the history of our faith. The problem is that we forget that God is not bound by our cyclical or even linear notions of time and space. The life of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) was is and will be beyond our concept of history, past, present or future.

We conclude the Easter Season with the celebration of Pentecost and speak of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church. In reality Genesis describes the Holy Spirit as being present at the creation of the universe.

Today's reading from Isaiah eludes to the presence of that same Holy Spirit
The Lord GOD is my help,
therefore I am not disgraced;
I have set my face like flint,
knowing that I shall not be put to shame.
He is near who upholds my right;
if anyone wishes to oppose me,
let us appear together.
Who disputes my right?
Let him confront me.
See, the Lord GOD is my help;
who will prove me wrong?

The one who upholds our rights, our advocate, the one who will appear together with us.

This is the image the gospel gives us for the Holy Spirit, the promised advocate. Even in our darkest hours we are never alone.

All too often we look to our feelings for truth. The fact is, how we feel at any given moment can be the result of literally hundreds of factors, many of which are beyond our control. We all like those moments when we feel the nearness of God, but we should not be so foolish as to believe that if we don't feel it, God is not there, God has abandoned us.

Like Isaiah we should set our face like flint and regardless of how we feel, we should know that the Lord God is our help.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What happened to Judas?

The short answer is we don't know.

John's gospel today takes great pains to show that even in his own death, Jesus was in control. It is Jesus who dips the morsel and gives it to Judas. It is at that moment John tells us that Satan entered Judas and Jesus commands him to do what he is going to do, do quickly.

We know that Judas is so contrite that he gives back the money, and so distraught that he commits suicide. Years ago before we understood the human mind, the suicide alone would have been judged a mortal sin. Now we know that the "full consent of the will" required for mortal sin rarely accompanies suicide. And since John makes the point that "Satan entered him", it at least calls into question how much was the mortal sin of Judas.

One thing is certain. John goes to great pains to point out that it is all in God's hands and works together to bring into being the new and everlasting covenant.

Do we know where Judas is at this moment? No. Is there reason to hope he is in heaven? Yes. And if there is hope for Judas there is hope for us all.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A study in opposites

How do the truly powerful behave?

In the readings today we are given two contrasting images.
In the gospel we have Judas, complaining that the perfume used on the feet of Jesus should have been sold for 300 days wages, while John makes it clear that Judas's real motivation had nothing to do with caring for the poor. In addition we have the Pharisees, fearful that they are loosing sway over the people plotting not only the death of Jesus but the death of Lazarus as well. Greed and envy and fear of lose of money, position, and power seem to be the driving forces.

In contrast we have the reading from Isaiah, a prophet reference to Christ, describing how the truly powerful one will come.

Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
Upon whom I have put my Spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations,
Not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
A bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
Until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

What are the internal forces that drive us this day?
Fear, anxiety, envy, greed...
Or a sense of true peace and interior stillness that comes from union with the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Begotten before all the ages

One of the phrases changed in the new English translation of the mass is "eternally begotten of the father." The aforementioned new translation is not only closer to the Latin but actually conveys the idea more clearly. It is not that he was eternally begotten since we know that begetting is a rather instantaneous process, but the point is that the second person of the trinity existed always.

Without thinking about we can fall into the mindset that Jesus came into being at the annunciation or the nativity. This is simply not our faith. He became incarnate at the annunciation, and was born at the nativity, but he was begotten before all the ages. Through him all things were made.

Today's famous first reading of the three young men in the fiery furnace, an example. In the furnace, the king sees a fourth that "looks like a son of God." Certainly scripture scholars will debate this as the debate the connection between the trinity and the three "visitors" that Abraham hosted, but for me, the signs of the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the Son are clear in Old Testament as well as the new. And perhaps just as important the signs of their presence are clear in our world today, if we but have the eyes to see.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Courage to be alone

In today's first reading we have the story of Sussana, unjustly accused, condemned to death, and saved only by her faith combined with the courage of Daniel. Sussana prayed, God heard her prayer and inspired Daniel. But imagine what might have happened had Daniel lacked the courage to stand out from the mob screaming for her death and defend her.

This reading also reminds us of the millions of women around the world who even now in the 21st century lack the most basic human rights. The story of Susanna continues to be repeated around the world, but for most of these women there is no Daniel. The rest of the populace around them is too beaten down and terrorized by their own leaders to speak up.

Daniel heard that voice of God deep within his heart. He knew what was right. He had the power to change the outcome and he recognized his moral responsibility. Was he sure he would prevail in court? No, but he did what he could.

Let us pray that God will continue to inspire new Daniels and that the Daniels of our age have that same courage.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Mothers and Fathers

Today's readings use images of mothers and fathers, both painful and loving. The first reading poses the famous rhetorical question, "Could a mother forget her child?" While we would like to tell ourselves "Of course not", we know that the answer is yes. Each day around the world children are abandoned by their parents or worse. While the news would have us focus on sexual abuse of minors by priests, the vast majority of children abused in our world are abused by those much closer to them, parents and other relative and family friends. Most of this abuse will never be reported or even spoken of.

The wounds inflicted on these children, often invisible to the eye, are deepened by the fact that they are inflicted by those whom the child innately trusted. They leave the victim feeling isolated from the world.

There are those who will say that nothing can heal these wounds. If that is true, then the gospel is a lie. The good news of Jesus Christ is that with God all things are possible. In the gospel today we are reminded not only of the unity between Jesus and God, his father, but also of the loving father we have in God. As brothers and sisters in Christ we have the perfect mother, the blessed virgin Mary. For the Christian, these are not simply pious platitudes, but real relationships. No matter how dysfunctional our biological family may be these readings remind us that we are part of another family, and there is no limit to the power of God's love.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Do you want to be well?

In today's gospel Jesus asks the critical question of the man sitting by the pool, "Do you want to be well?" Even more interesting is the fact that the man never answers the question. It's a simple yes or no question. Jesus ends up having to simply command him to get up take his mat and go home.

Do we really want to be well? If we were truly well, embracing the gospel fully, each day living as Christians, imagine how it would change our life.
What truly sinful pleasures would you have to give up? What would you have to give up for the poor? What sacrifices would be required?

The sad truth is that many of us really want to be just good enough. We want comfortable Christianity. We tell ourselves that sin is inevitable, forgetting that we have been set free. We tell ourselves that our sins are really mortal sins. That's old-fashioned. We think all be forgiven, simply because god loves is. We forget that the God of love is the one who taught us that from the one to whom much is given much will be expected.

We need to believe the paradox of the gospel, and trust the good news enough to embrace the gospel fully.

Do you really want to be well?

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Power of Faith

In today's gospel the royal official comes to Jesus on behalf of his sick son asking to come that his son may be healed. Like most of his time, he believe that Jesus would lay hands on him pray over him, give some instruction: in short, do something. Instead Jesus simply tells him to go home, his son will live.

The official's response is reminiscent of the call of Abraham, who went told to go simply left, no debate, no questions, no doubt. Both men trust the words, the words of God the Father, the words of Jesus Christ. John's gospel begins "In the beginning was the word..."

Do we still have that faith in the simple power of words. Each time we celebrate the Eucharist, it is the words of Christ that change mere bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Do we still have the faith of the royal official?