Fr. Alex’s Corner, March 31, 2019
The FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT
“Then the two disciples recounted…
how he was made known to them
in the breaking of the bread.”
The theme of this Mid-Lenten Sunday is God’s mercy and forgiveness. The story of the Prodigal Son is familiar to us. Note that “prodigal” appears nowhere in the Scriptures, and that this is less a story of a son, and more about a loving parent, an ABBA. We are called to return to God, if we have strayed, and enjoy GOD’S PRESENCE and His gifts of mercy and forgiveness. The so called “prodigal” son comes home to live in the presence of his father….
Our Fourth Reflection on the Mass
In our previous consideration of early Christian worship, we related how an Apostle or his delegate proclaimed the teachings of Messiah-Jesus, and the people responded by praying for others and even taking up a collection to help those in need, as Jesus said they should. Some of this was reminiscent of their Jewish ritual with emphasis on reading how God loved them, chose them, and taught them. Then, something quite different follows. Hebrew Scriptures say that the people were so fearful of God’s presence that they tried to avoid it. Remember when they told Moses that he and he alone should go up the mountain to speak to God? They were happy to wait for Moses to return and relate God’s word to them. They were too afraid to see God face-to-face.
Once Jesus came, that changed. The people longed to be in His presence – all the time. His resurrection and return from the dead was His way of saying that He wanted to remain with them, too. At the “Last Supper,” Jesus took bread and wine, said it was His body and blood. They should take and eat/drink it. Earlier, after He fed thousands in the desert, He said that unless we eat His body and drink His blood, we will not have eternal life (John 6).
It would take a few centuries for the Christian community to develop a vocabulary and academic understanding of the Eucharist. But of this we can be sure: the earliest followers believed that in the ritual of the Breaking of the Bread, Jesus became present to them in a unique and very real way.
My favorite Resurrection story is in Luke 24. Two disciples of Jesus were returning home to Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, late that Sunday afternoon. They talked about all that had happened that weekend, how Jesus was arrested, killed, and the quite unbelievable rumors that some women had seen Him alive earlier that day. A “stranger” came to walk with them. It was Jesus Himself, but they did not recognize Him. Why? Well, most likely He didn’t look like they had last seen Him, all bruised, bloody, and dead on the Cross. Plus, they were grief-stricken, disappointed, scared, and totally confused with it all. Their friend Jesus, who seemed like the Messiah-King just one week ago was now dead, as were their hopes and dreams of a Messiah. “The Stranger” spoke with them about all that happened, but it was when they invited Him into their home, at the end of the journey, that “they recognized Him in the Breaking of the Bread.” Shock and awe! They immediately ran back to Jerusalem – seven miles – to the Upper Room, and told the gathered apostles what had happened. Can you imagine their excitement! Then, as Luke tells us, Jesus appeared to them all. Yes, He’s alive, and He is here!
Recognizing Him in the Breaking of the Bread would now have a meaning for them all. The Ritual of the Breaking of the Bread became their way of celebrating the unique and real presence of Jesus, who did say, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Their gatherings included the ritual and confirmed their belief in the Lord’s presence. That “ritual” became “the prayer” of the community whenever they gathered to hear the Word of the Lord, and to welcome Him in their midst and into their lives.
“The Breaking of the Bread,” in the next Blog
Fr. Alex’s Corner, March 24, 2019
The THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT
“I have witnessed the affliction of my people,
and I’ve heard their cry….
Therefore I have come down to rescue them….”
(Exodus 3: 7-8)
Our Third Reflection on the Mass
Crystal clear in ancient Jewish worship is the belief that God chose them to be “a people peculiarly His own.” He is their God and they are His people. Their “history” is “His Story.” When they cried out to Him in their need, He heard their prayer and sent His chosen ones to save and rescue them. We read one such story in this Sunday’s (First) Mass Reading where God summons Moses, tells him “I am with you,” and directs him to lead “My people” out of Egypt. When Moses asks His name, God responds with the cryptic “I am who am.” Another translation of the name is “I am the One who always is.” i.e., God always was and always will be. Easier to understand? Perhaps!
The Exodus event deepened their relationship with Yahweh-God, and the Israelites would remember and recall it forever in their worship and family faith celebrations. Even today the faithful Jewish family sits down to their annual SEDER supper, and the youngest child asks this ritual question: “What makes this night different from all other nights of the year?” The parent responds in a ritual of words and foods how God saved His people from slavery and led them to the Promised Land.
No wonder the earliest Christians, converts from Judaism, kept sacred those “remember and recall” traditions. God is with us, He works through us. The Mass is successor to that tradition.
In last week’s Mass reflection we got as far as the Readings. The first (and Second) tell of God’s love and actions among His People and how their epic heroes responded. In the Gospel, Messiah-Jesus and His teachings were proclaimed as the fulfillment of God’s promises. Jesus healed their physical and spiritual ills and taught the New Commandment of Love. An Apostle or his representative explained the words of Jesus, and challenged the people to live them.
So we’ve gotten from the beginning to the homily. That pattern remains in our Catholic Mass.
One criticism of the prophets to the Israelites was that they no longer took care of the poor and they condemned sinners. Jesus made it very clear that we are a “faith family,” with God as “Our Father,” and we must care for one another. The Temple hierarchy criticized Jesus for associating with “tax-collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners.” What they failed to see was that when Jesus touched the hurting, they were healed; He fed those who were hungry; and the sinners He met were converted. Each action was a “miracle.” It was “an act of God,” who saw “the affliction of His people and came to rescue them.” “Heaven” was a reward to those who followed His example. Whatever we do for the least of the people, we do unto HIM. Heaven was His way of saying “gracias amigo.”
After the Gospel and reflection, the people prayed for the needs of their faith-community and the Church everywhere. (…our General Intercessions).
What followed? A COLLECTION! I quote St. Justin (100-160 A.D.) who describes our “Mass” less than a century after Jesus died and resurrected:
“The wealthy may make a contribution. They themselves decide the amount. The collection is placed in the custody of the presider, who uses it to help orphans and widows and all who for any reason are in distress, whether because they are sick, in prison, or away from home. In a word, he takes care of all who are in need.”
Praying for others is not enough. We have to help them…. Even critics of the early Christians often said of them: “Look how they love one another.”
Having listened to the Word of the Lord, they are ready to meet Him in the Breaking of the Bread. This ritual differs from all other forms of worship.
(to be continued in the next blog)
Fr. Alex’s Corner, March 17, 2019
The SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT
“From the cloud the Father’s voice is heard:
This is my beloved Son; LISTEN TO HIM.”
It may come as a surprise to many that atheism (a belief that there is no God/god) is of recent vintage. All ancient peoples and cultures believed in some supernatural being(s) who controlled the universe. They learned from cause and effect. Nothing happens unless “someone” does it. And so, if you were at war, you asked for help from the god of war. If you were looking for love, you sought help from the god or goddess of love. When there was a drought, you asked the god of rain to open up the skies and water your crops. People “prayed” to those gods, offered sacrifices, and acknowledged their “power,” but once they won the battle, found a lover, or got rain, they forgot the gods. Who needed them now? Certainly those gods didn’t talk to the people, and none of them offered a moral code by which to live their day-to-day lives.
All that changed when Yahweh-God called Abram (today’s First Reading), made a Covenant with him, and chose a nation to be His people. From that time, God spoke to His people many times, usually through His chosen prophets, and gave them a history, a purpose, and a code by which to live.
Since then, the worship of God’s Chosen people always included reading of God’s interventions in human history. The Jewish faithful gathered in the Temple or Synagogues to hear about their epic and national heroes. They were constantly reminded of their unique relationship with God through the inspired words and actions of their heroes. God’s words called them to a deeper relationship with Him and to be partners in His plan.
No surprise then, that the worship of the early Christians included hearing God’s words, most of all, those of His Beloved Son, the WORD made Flesh.
Last week we began a reflection on the ritual of the Mass. First of all, we said, we place ourselves in the presence of the Triune God, and are assured that God is with us in all our challenges.
A brief prayer follows, always directed to God the Father, and always in the name of Jesus the Son. We ask His guidance and help to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in our challenges.
Then come the READINGS. The First (and Second) testify how our ancestors heard God’s word and their response. Generally they are success stories with examples of people suffering to be faithful.
Then comes the GOSPEL, THE JESUS STORY. Jesus speaks to you and to me. In today’s Transfiguration story, Luke tells how Peter offered to “build three tabernacles (tents)” to honor Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. Then The Voice from Heaven intervenes: Jesus is unique, the Beloved Son. LISTEN TO HIM.
That, my friends, is what worship calls us to do. Being hearing-impaired, I know the difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is automatic, if you are able to hear. Listening is an act of the will. You have to choose to listen. And that’s what God is telling us today. LISTEN TO HIM.
There are a billion Catholics in our world. Every one of them who attends Mass hears that same Gospel on a given Sunday. Imagine if every one of the “listener-billion” did one good thing, that very day, in response to the Beloved Son’s words. E.g. one billion random acts of kindness in a single day! Could this change the world? What do YOU think?
The homilist is to explain the words of Jesus – and give some practical advice. But it is the “role” (vocation) of the Listener to listen – and to do.
The people of the “Old” Testament changed the world because they believed in God who spoke to them. They listened (usually). They tried. Through them, God gave the world a Savior. WHAT CAN GOD GIVE THROUGH US? A living example of that very same Savior! That’s exactly what He calls us to do.
Let’s LISTEN. And DO.
Fr. Alex’s Corner, March 10, 2019
The FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT
“Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.”
That prayer introduces our Gospel reading on this first Sunday of Lent: after His Baptism, Jesus goes into the desert for 40 days of fasting and prayer. When He is hungry, who shows up but the devil. And he didn’t bring a pizza. He’s here to tempt Jesus. So, you think Jesus is “in trouble?” Nah!
Spiritual writers say that our temptations tell us who we are and what we’ve become. How we fight and succeed against our temptations, tells us who and what we will be. In this temptation story, Jesus tells the devil to go back to hell. There’s a new Sheriff in town. Jesus is now in charge, as He goes into the cities to proclaim the Kingdom of God.
Now it is time for us to listen. “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” (Psalm 95)
With that introduction, I want to begin a series of reflections on THE MASS (as I promised last week). This will not be profound theology, because “profound” is something I am not! These are some thoughts I’ve picked up over a lifetime of attending Mass and fifty-three years of celebrating it. I will not do it sentence by sentence, although that’s how I will start today, because of the significance of the two “sentences” which begin the Mass: the Sign of the Cross, and the first greeting.
We begin with the Sign of the Cross to consciously place ourselves in the presence of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Like writing a letter, we address a specific person. Here, we call the Father who created us, the Son who redeemed us, and the Spirit who helps us to do all this.
We consciously place ourselves in the presence of God, lest we think this is just some arbitrary ritual. Whether or not we are “in trouble,” we pray, “Be with me Lord.” (I once saw a sign in a school which said: “There are two rules in this place. One, there is a God. Two, you are not Him.” I like that!) So, “be with me, Lord” is our prayer, and then comes the response: “I am with you.”
“The Lord be with you.” There are many ways a priest can greet the people. Some use Trinitarian greetings used by St. Paul in his writings. But “The Lord be with you” comes straight from God. The Sacred Scriptures record times where God (or an Angel speaking on His behalf) calls a person to some unique task. The person is usually stunned, and pleads, “no, not me, I can’t do that….” Then God says, “Don’t be afraid, I am with you.” Examples: God calls Moses to go to the Egyptian Phara0h to release God’s people. Moses asks how can he do that. God says: “I am with you.” Joshua is told that he must succeed Moses and lead the people into the Promised Land. How can he succeed the great Moses? God says, “I am with you.” Jeremiah doesn’t want to be a prophet. He’s too young, he’s not a good speaker. God says, “I am with you.” When the Archangel Gabriel tells the young Virgin Mary that she is to become a mother, even before she asks how is this to happen, the Angel says, “Hail, the Lord is with you.”
At least 40 times in the Bible. “I am with you,” or “The Lord is with you” begin messages that call, challenge, or calm the fears of those “in trouble.”
At Mass, God is calling us to something. How can we who are weak, sinful, or just too human, respond to God’s call? How!?! “The Lord is with us,” that’s how. That’s the meaning of that greeting. It’s not “Good morning, folks,” at the beginning, or “Hasta la vista, baby,” at the end. It is the promise that God, whom we have called in the Sign of the Cross, (HE) IS WITH US, and will remain with us in the challenges to which He calls us.
I really wish the words were “The Lord is with you,” and your response, “And with you, too.” I’d probably say, “Thanks. I needed to hear that.” But that’s what it all means. And that’s just the beginning. Think about it…. (Next week: the Opening Prayer and “the Challenges.”)
Fr. Alex’s Corner, March 3, 2019
The Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
“And the Word was made Flesh
and DWELLS among us.”
(The Angelus Prayer)
Ash Wednesday comes late this year, but it is coming this week. I hope you make time to “pray, fast, and give,” as the Gospel of Ash Wednesday exhorts us to do. Then begins the Holy Season of Lent, a time of prayer and more intense listening to the words of God, and, by all means, to THE WORD OF GOD, Jesus Christ, the Beloved Son, in Whom the Father is Well-pleased.
Important as Lent is to Catholics, as I look at the calendars we’ve received from our local parishes, the March pictures depict our Blessed Mother at the Annunciation. If there was ever a paradigm, or an example, for what Lent is about, we can see it in Mary’s response to the message of the Angel. “I am the maidservant of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). The result of her response? “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus Christ, Son of God and the very Word of God, became a human being, like us in all things but sin, and He began to live in our midst.
I have often read about a priest in NYC who works with young people and is quite the evangelizer. One of his “shticks” is his emphasis that instead of saying “The Word was made flesh and DWELT among us” (the traditional response in the Angelus prayer) we should proclaim, “and DWELLS among us,” as a reminder to ourselves, first and foremost, that Jesus continues to live in our midst. He did say, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in their midst” (Matt 18:20). In the celebration of Mass, our preeminent prayer of worship, that becomes very clear. Or it should.
The Mass doesn’t make a lot of sense unless we believe that we are in the presence of God. We acknowledge that He is God, we aren’t, and we listen to Him… and remember….
In these last months, with the disheartening news of the sins and crimes of priests, I have tried to spend time in prayers of atonement. Pope Francis may suggest a “time” of atonement as part of our response to the crisis. But the more I think of it, important as atonement may be, the only credible response is CONVERSION! When the crippled man was brought to Jesus, the man was told to “Get up, pick up your bed, and WALK!” And walk, we must!
In the weeks to come, I’d like to share with you my own reflection on how the Mass is an example, a paradigm, of how to do this. For us, the Mass is Jesus’ way of saying, “pick up your bed and walk.” This will be a personal reflection, and not profound theology. Profound isn’t me! It‘s what I have come to “see,” especially now, in retirement, as I have more time to read, reflect, and pray.
I’ll do this one section at a time. If something else merits our attention, we can take a time out. I pray this helps you understand the Mass more deeply and, maybe, help in organizing your private prayer.
One point you can expect: I will say that “Go, the Mass is ended,” the traditional translation from the eminent Latin “Ite, Missa est,” is a perfect example of how a poor and erroneous translation has left so many of us with a misconception of what the “Missa est” is all about.
In the meantime, let us listen as Jesus warns, in this Sunday’s Gospel, that the blind cannot lead the blind, lest they both fall into a pit. We need “to see,” and to see things as God sees; to treat one another as the merciful God treats us; and to make an attempt to love as God loves. The Word of God DWELLS among us, and is quite happy being called, “TEACHER.” Lent is His “class,” a graduate course in how to be truly human. Let’s thank the Lord for being invited, and let this Lent be a time to STOP, LOOK, LISTEN – and, then, WALK!
“Turn away from sin, and be faithful to the Gospel.”
Or, as I told many generations of school children: “Be Good, and listen to Jesus!”