Staying with the Cross

Homily, Palm Sunday of the Passion of Our Lord B

Most of us don’t have a problem with anything that Jesus did during His years of public ministry, the miracles that He worked, His proclamation of the kingdom of God, or the healings that He performed. We might just think that three years is an awfully short time for His ministry. This summer, I’m coming up on my third anniversary of ordination to the priesthood, and it feels like I’m still just getting started. So maybe you think that Jesus should have given Himself more time, but we really don’t have much of a problem with what Jesus did during His life. But when we’re honest with ourselves, all of us—at one time or another—have a problem with the way that Jesus chose to die, that He would choose a path of such intense suffering to redeem the world, that He would tell His disciples, He would tell each one of us, that we must follow Him, deny ourselves, take up our own cross, and follow Him. We have a problem with the fact that God chose to redeem all of creation through suffering and death. 

We often find ourselves joining in with St. Peter, if we think back towards the middle of the Gospel accounts when Jesus gives His first prediction that He must be handed over, suffer, and die a shameful death, we say with Peter, “God forbid, Lord, that such things should happen to you.” When we or someone we love falls sick or receives a difficult diagnosis, when tragedy strikes, “God forbid that such things should happen to me or to my relatives. Why, O God, have you forsaken me?” We rebel against the Cross. When faced with difficulties or the slightest suffering, we begin immediately to question God’s love for us and the goodness of His plan for us.  

This great mystery of suffering is what we enter into, as we begin Holy Week. If God redeemed the world from the wood of the Cross, then our suffering too can have meaning, dignity, even value, when joined to the Cross of Christ, when patiently endured, with love and trust in God’s plan for us. Suffering never becomes easy. There are no easy answers when tragedy strikes. Our human nature revolts against suffering and death. Even Jesus prayed that this cup might pass Him by, “yet not what I will, but what you will,” O heavenly Father. We take this week as an opportunity to simply stay with the mystery of the Cross, not to expect that we will be able to understand suffering or comprehend it, but not to run from it either. To stay with Mary and John at the foot of the Cross, asking for that same trust and perseverance, to see it through to the new life of the Resurrection. 

Living in the Light

Homily, Lenten Sunday 4B

Among groups that work toward recovery from addictions, you often hear the adage that we’re only as sick as the secrets we keep. But this is true for all of us with unhealthy behaviors and bad habits. We’re only as sick as the secrets we keep. Not much has changed in the 2000 years since the coming of Christ. “This is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.” As we come to this Laetare Sunday, with more than half of the season of Lent behind us, how well are we doing? Are we living more in the light today, than when we first set out on Ash Wednesday? Or have we already begun to hide and cover over those ways in which we’ve fallen short in our Lenten resolutions? 

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never really liked telling other people about what I’m doing or giving up for Lent. In some ways, it seems too much like boasting. Or it infringes on the intimacy of our relationship with God, the hidden sacrifice that we offer, to “our Father who sees what is secret and hidden” (Cf. Matthew 6:4, 6, 18). Or we might be a bit superstitious, thinking that Lenten resolutions are like birthday wishes, that if we tell someone, it won’t come true.  

But we might have another reason for not wanting to share with others our Lenten resolutions. You see, if the people around us know what it is we’re doing or giving up for Lent, then they can actually keep us accountable and check in from time to time, “How are you doing with the prayers you wanted to say, or with cleaning out your closet? Are you really challenging yourself enough to depend more on God, or are you just doing what you’ve always done for Lent, because you already know that you can handle it on your own?” If the people around me don’t know what I’m giving up, then I still have a way out, when it becomes too difficult or tiresome. We’re only as sick as the secrets we keep. 

Hopefully, this Lent has already been an opportunity for us to live more in the light of Christ. Hopefully, we’ve struggled, and failed, and been humbled, to find that we’re not as strong as we would like to be. Hopefully, we’ve learned to depend more on the grace and strength that comes from God, and the strength that comes from our brothers and sisters. Only by willingly coming into the light, by being honest with ourselves in the sight of God about all the corners we cut, our laziness, our selfishness, by being honest with others about how we’ve wronged them and failed to live up to our own word. Only by willingly living in the light when we’ve faltered and fallen can we ever gain the strength to stand in the light of day.  

What are we afraid of? We’re only as sick as the secrets we keep. We only stand to lose the illusion of our false self, the lies that continue to hold us captive. We only stand to gain everything, in the Light of Christ, the source of every good. “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” If we hope for perpetual light to shine upon us in the next life, then we’d better make sure our eyes start to grow accustomed to it even now. No matter how much light God offers us, those who have blinded themselves and refused God’s healing will see only darkness. O Light of Christ, free us, save us, heal us, and make us whole. 

Commemorations during Privileged Seasons

March Message to Priests and Deacons, as Diocesan Master of Ceremonies

During Lent, and during a few other times of the year, instead of having Solemnities, Feasts, and Memorials or Optional Memorials, this third category is termed as “Commemorations,” all of which are optional, and these are observed a little differently. During Lent, Solemnities and Feasts are observed in the same way as at other times of the year, except that the word “alleluia” is not used.

Just a quick reminder on how to observe Commemorations of saints during privileged seasons (weekdays from December 17 to December 24, weekdays within the Octave of Christmas, and weekdays of Lent excluding Ash Wednesday and Holy Week):

  • Color of vestments for Mass and Liturgy of the Hours is of the season, not the saint. (Violet during Lent, even when commemorating a saint or martyr).
  • At Mass, just the Collect of the saint is used in place of that of the weekday. Everything else is from the propers of the weekday.
    (In this case, using the Collect of the weekday as the conclusion of the Prayer of the Faithful is recommended.)
  • The Office of Readings is prayed as usual, with its psalmody, first reading of the weekday with its responsory, second reading of the weekday with its responsory, but then the reading from the proper of saints is added with its responsory. The Collect of the saint is used as the one concluding prayer to the Office of Readings, followed by the usual concluding verse (Let us praise the Lord. And give him thanks).
  • At Lauds and Vespers, all is from the weekday, but for the concluding prayer after the Our Father, the Collect of the weekday is used while omitting its conclusion (Through our Lord…) and adding the Antiphon of the respective Gospel Canticle then the Collect of the saintincluding this time its conclusion (Through our Lord…), then, as usual, the blessing and dismissal.

Somewhat technical, I know, but not difficult once you get the hang of it. As these are optional, it is always safe just to use what is given for the weekday as usual, but then we’d miss out on some great saints. As an example, here is the concluding prayer of Lauds on Saturday, March 3, while commemorating St. Katharine Drexel:

O God, who grant us by glorious healing remedies while still on earth
to be partakers of the things of heaven,
guide us, we pray, through this present life
and bring us to that light in which you dwell. /
Now this wise virgin has gone to Christ.  
Among the choirs of virgins she is radiant as the sun in the heavens. /
God of love,
you called Saint Katharine Drexel
to teach the message of the Gospel
and to bring the life of the Eucharist
to the Native American and African American peoples;
by her prayers and example,
enable us to work for justice
among the poor and the oppressed,
and keep us undivided in love
in the eucharistic community of your Church.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Becoming a House of Prayer

Homily, Lenten Sunday 3B

“‘Destroy this temple, and in three days, I will raise it up.’ …Jesus was speaking about the temple of His Body.” Many of us during this time of year have a practice of spring cleaning, making attempts to clear out some of the clutter from our houses or offices, to simplify and get rid of things that we don’t really need, things that we rarely use anymore. It’s kind of amazing just how much clutter we can get used to and learn to live with. But many of us could really use a spring cleaning of our minds and our ways of thinking, as well. Just like the temple of the Old Testament and even the Body of Jesus, each one of us is called to become a “house of prayer.” But most of us have too much clutter in our habits of thought.  

We tend to worry excessively, to play out countless scenarios of what could happen in the future, and we plan our every possible reaction to every possibility, even though our experience has shown that very rarely do any of these hypotheticals actually come to pass in our lives. So much misspent energy and anxiety over inventions and fears of our own making. Most of us also have the clutter of unrealistic expectations, perhaps of how other people should drive, and how they should make way for us when we’re on the road. So instead of actually learning from experience, leaving earlier and giving ourselves more time to calmly and leisurely reach our destinations, in our cars we often end up in a frenzy of anger, lamenting to ourselves that no one else on the road seems to know how to drive. 

When I was in seminary studying for the priesthood, we were told that the default setting of priests should be intercessory prayer. So just like computer programs or phones have default settings that they can return to when being reset, so too, priests as mediators between God and man should have a sort of default setting, what we should normally be doing in any spare moment, whenever we’re not occupied with something else, we should always reset and come back to intercessory prayer, even as we walk or wait in line or shop at the grocery store, that we would be asking God to fulfill the various needs of those around us and those who have asked the help of our prayers. 

I know I have a long way to go to become the house of prayer that God is calling me to be. But each one of us is meant to be a dwelling place of God, a house of prayer. What is your default setting? Do you even have one? Do you ever give yourself the opportunity to be alone with God, or do we fill our lives with so much clutter, avoiding the silence, avoiding our vulnerability in the sight of God, but ultimately avoiding the intimacy that we so desperately need, in our relationship with the Almighty? St. Alphonsus Ligouri is quoted as saying, “Those who pray are certainly saved; those who do not pray are certainly damned” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2744).  

How much longer will we choose to live with the clutter of our sins, of our anxieties, of our anger and impatience, the clutter of our preoccupation with trivial matters and our obsession with what others might think of us? How much longer will we risk our eternal salvation on things that can never satisfy our hearts? Lord Jesus, come and overturn the tables, cast out the clutter of our minds and hearts, that we might be made—like You—a dwelling of Your Most Holy Spirit, a house of prayer for all peoples.