Fr. Alex’s Corner, April 21, 2019
“Jesus Christ is Risen, Alleluia.”
“He has truly Risen, Alleluia.”
That is the traditional early-morning Easter greeting of our Polish people (Friars, too). One says the first part, the other responds. (I tried to print it in Polish, but my spell-check went into convulsions!)
Another Lent has passed and it is Easter. I miss Easter in the parishes. It’s busy, but good busy. The ceremonies, music, Easter flowers, all proclaim something very unique is celebrated this day.
The Blessing of Fire and the Easter Candle on Holy Saturday was always my favorite. One year, just as the ministers walked outside for that ritual, all the lights in the church were extinguished to dramatize the coming of “Christ, our Light.” As we began walking into the dark and quiet church, a little child cried out, “Mommy, I don’t like this,” and she started to cry. I admit I was thinking, why do people bring little kids to church on a night like this?” But she calmed down, and while the fire was passed on from one candle to another in the congregation, the little one chirped, “Mommy, now I can see your face,” and she giggled for all the world to hear. It was with even greater enthusiasm that we all sang out, “Thanks be to God.”
The little girl could see Mommy’s face. In a sense, that is the message of Easter: we should see things a little differently in the Light of the Risen Christ.
The news these days merits the fearful cry of that little child: “I don’t like this.” Many of us might agree. Too many of our national and international leaders are condemning, accusing, destroying both each other and the order of things. Rarely does one hear a rational call to come together to make things better. Of course the media picks this up and amplifies the noise and magnifies the evil.
This past week much of the world watched with grief and horror as a fire engulfed the world-famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. It was like watching the crucifixion.
Commentators and common people alike testified that Notre Dame is many things: an architectural gem, a place to visit, a center of European culture and French history. For the citizens of Paris, it is the center of their city and their life. It is also a church where Mass is celebrated every day.
All that fell like rubble into the center of church. What we saw was a pile of … what?
But as the videos showed during the fire and in the aftermath, there was one thing that hung over the mess: THE CROSS. It just hung there in all its dignity, in all its mystery, in all its power. I don’t know whether that Cross is a permanent fixture or a Lenten reminder. But it certainly stood out!
Good Friday testifies that throughout our own past and present, no matter what kind of messes we create or encounter, THE CROSS is always there. It is an instrument of death, but also a sign of resurrection, of new life. I think God was sending us a message this week. Very dramatic. Very real. Something the whole world watched together. And isn’t it interesting that in spite of all the rancor and disagreement in our world, when the President of France announced that “we will rebuild,” one billion dollars was pledged and the sum increases daily. This, to me, is a sign that our good people really want to build, to make better, to improve, rather than destroy, dis-unify, dehumanize. There are good, kind, responsible people in our world. We just have to get them to the places where they can do good. We need to see good done. “Mommy, I can see your face.”
On this Easter feast, on behalf of all our Franciscan Friars, I wish you a Happy and Holy celebration of this feast of new life.
We’ve been late with our postings these past few weeks. I have some business to take care of and we may not post for a few weeks. But, like Jesus, we shall return.
Fr. Alex’s Corner, April 14, 2019
PALM SUNDAY and HOLY WEEK
“Jesus Christ, Crucified,
have mercy on us.”
This happened long ago, but so did the Crucifixion, and we still tell the story. I’ve told this story before, but it’s one of my “faves.” We don’t often tell Confession stories, but this is less about sin than about innocence, and I’ve changed the boy’s name.
We were called to hear confessions at a school for children deemed “intellectually-challenged.” The Franciscan Sisters advised us that these children probably were not guilty of sin, but knowing right from wrong and accepting responsibility for one’s actions were part of what they were teaching the kids. One Sister said not to spend too much time because the school bus was on its way….
So, I sat in a sacristy when “David” walked in. The kids had name tags so that we could appear friendly. David was a little guy with a lot of self-confidence. He asked my name and was checking out the room. So I began: “David, is there anything you want to tell God you are sorry for?” “What?” I repeated my question. David thought for a minute and said, “I’m sorry for my Grandma.” “Why are you sorry for your Grandma?” “Because my Grandpa died and now Grandma is always sad and sometimes she cries.” So I suggested that the next time David sees Grandma, he should give her a hug, tell her he’s sorry Grandpa died, and that he loves her. David liked that and described just how he would do it. In detail. So, again, I asked, “David is there anything YOU want to tell God you are sorry for?” Again, he thinks, wiggles his nose, and: “I’m sorry for the girl next door. She was hit by a car, has a lot of bandages, and she can’t go to school.” So I suggested that the next time he sees her, he should tell her he is sorry that she got hurt and tell her what he learned in school that day. Again, he thought that was a good idea and described – in detail - just how he would do that….
By this time, I’m frantic. I imagine Sister Mary ‘Get-them-on-the-bus-on-time’ standing outside the door waiting for David (and me!). So once again, “David, is there anything you want to tell God you are sorry for?” (I’m a priest hearing confessions. I expect to hear sins…!)
Again, the quizzical look, the wiggling nose, and then, he looks me straight in the eye: “I’m sorry for Jesus!” “David, why are you sorry for Jesus?” He points to the cross on the wall and says, “because He’s hanging on the Cross. And that’s got to hurt.”
Yeah, I was speechless…. I have no idea what I said.
I’ve heard many inspiring sermons on the Passion of Christ, read some good books, too. But it’s David – that little intellectually-challenged theologian - that I think of every Good Friday and all the days leading to it. He mastered the mystery.
You see, little David saw Grandma suffering, and the girl next door, too. To him, Jesus was just as real. “He’s hanging on the Cross. And that’s got to hurt.”
Think about this as you hear the Passion proclaimed this Palm Sunday…. It was real. Jesus was real. The Cross was real. “And that’s got to hurt.” Ask yourself, “why is He there?”
When I get to Heaven, and Jesus has time for a cup of coffee, I will ask Him: “who thought up that scenario? Wasn’t there an easier way…?”
But in the daily news there are people of all ages who are suffering terribly. Some for their faith, others because of injustice, and some just because they are where they are.
Maybe our “David’s” have something to teach us. By our thoughts, by our prayers, our sacrifices, and certainly by our words (“words matter!”), perhaps we can look at them and say, “That’s got to hurt.” Maybe, just maybe, we can start a Resurrection. David would love that. Jesus will, too.
As for you and me, let’s make this Holy Week a holy week!
[Sorry that my Blog has been posted late these weeks. Circumstances…]
Fr. Alex’s Corner, April 7, 2019
The FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT
“The Lord has done great things for us;
we are filled with joy.” (Psalm 126)
Our Lenten Mass readings are stories of God’s mercy. The prophets threaten punishment and divine vengeance, so it’s no wonder the people were afraid to see God face-to-face. But when Jesus appears, He is so kind and forgiving that some Jewish religious leaders take this as a sign that He is not from God. Some claim He’s in league with the devil. They keep testing Him. In today’s Gospel, they bring a woman caught in the act of adultery. Certainly He will agree with their condemnation. That’s not the way the story ends. “Neither do I condemn you,” He says, “and from now on do not sin anymore.” Imagine how that woman felt! And what the bystanders were thinking. The presence of God made all the difference…!
Our Fifth Reflection on the Mass
One might wonder what the Apostles were thinking that Thursday evening when Jesus broke bread and said it was His Body; they should take it and eat. Then, the wine. It was His blood for them to take and drink. Then, “Do this in memory of me.” In our previous Blog-reflection, I told the story of two disciples who “recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread” in their home on that first Easter night. They would forever remember the moment. And the ritual of Breaking Bread became “the prayer” of the Apostles and all followers of Jesus Christ.
Historians say that at the time of Jesus’ preaching, there was expectation that the Messiah was about to come, and that particular Passover filled them with joy and excitement. That explains their wild welcome of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. When Jesus told the Apostles to prepare a place to eat the Passover meal, they expected Jesus to proclaim Himself the Messiah, The Anointed of God, and the new King of Israel.
It didn’t quite happen that way. First, Jesus washed their feet and told them they must love and serve one another just as He loved and served them. Then came the Passover meal.
The annual Passover meal was the principal festival for Jews. It “remembered” that pivotal moment of their history when God commanded them to smear the blood of a lamb on the door post of every Jewish home in Egypt. In the final plague, the Angel of death would PASS-OVER each of those homes, saving them from death. The next day they were allowed to leave Egypt for the Promised Land. When the Jewish people celebrated the Passover meal in their homes, they not only “remembered.” It made the past event, and their God, present.
None of the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper mention the lamb, so central to the celebration. As the Jews ate their Passover meal, a lamb had been OFFERED, that is slaughtered, and its blood was POURED on the Temple altar in atonement for the sins of the people. That was a sacred ritual. At Jesus’ supper, there was no lamb. Instead, Jesus said that His body would be given, i.e. OFFERED, and His blood would be POURED. The Apostles recalled that John the Baptist pointed to Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” He was the new Lamb; this was a new Passover. What was done with bread and wine at that Table would be done with Jesus’ body and blood on the Cross the next day. These two events are one reality. Doing all this in remembrance of Him makes His sacrificial event present. Jesus is present for us to take and eat; to take and drink. God comes to us in the breaking of the bread…. That is what our Mass is all about!
Holy Week is coming. We will incorporate a few more Mass reflections in the weeks to come. Meanwhile:
The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy!