Saturday, April 19, 2014

Hell Trembles With Fear

Today is Holy Saturday, 2014.

Jesus has lived, died, and is now in the tomb. "Darkness covers the earth."1

Nearly 2,000 years later, we know that the tomb could not contain Him. We know that the shrouded Light rose from the bowels of the earth, shedding His brilliant Light upon a sleeping, no, dead world shrouded by sin.

The grieving and mourning of those that loved Him must have been unbearable. Yet, Liturgically speaking, that is where we also find ourselves.

Mourning and grieving over our participation in the sufferings of a God who loves us so much that He became one of us. Mourning and grieving in our trials and sufferings as well.

But there is a peace in knowing that this is not the end of the story; for Christ, nor for us.

Just as we are now able to see the tomb containing Him Whom was present at the Creation, knowing that His Resurrection, His Victory is merely moments away, we learn to seek and to find joy a midst our trials and sufferings.  We know that we too share in that Resurrection and Victory. This helps us to "get through", helps us to endure and to go on.

We do not belong to this world. We belong to Christ. He offers new and everlasting life.

This, my friends, makes hell tremble.

Oh; tonight is the Easter Vigil. It is my favorite Liturgy, rich in Scriptural readings (17 counting the Responsible Psalms) that recount God's plan of salvation through history. We'll see Baptisms, First Communions, Professions of Faith, and Confirmations too!

The Second Reading in today's Office of Readings is from "an ancient Homily on Holy Saturday."  Here it is:

The Lord descends into hell

Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.
1 Isaiah 60:2

Monday, April 14, 2014

Holy Week 2014: Who Are YOU?

I did not set out to give up blogging for Lent, but it turns out that it's taken me from Ash Wednesday to Holy Week to get one in here. (I'm currently quite busy with some very important work, and blogging is just low on the list of priorities at the moment.) Even this post will be a "cheat" since it is just a re-working of one of my favorite reflections:

We have now entered Holy Week of 2014.

During this Holy Week we will have many opportunities to spiritually walk with Jesus.

Yesterday, Palm Sunday,  we began this walk with Him as He was received with shouts of "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!"

The Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, or the Easter Vigil) is one liturgical celebration. If you have never participated in all three consecutively, I encourage you to do so.

On Holy Thursday, we will be with Jesus as He institutes the Eucharist and the ministerial Priesthood; we will be invited to stay and pray or to fall asleep in His darkest hour.

On Good Friday, we will walk with Him as He is betrayed, reflecting perhaps upon the ways we too have betrayed Him. We will follow Him as He is deserted, beaten, illegally tried, condemned, inhumanely tortured, spit upon, and ridiculed. We will be there as the shouts turn to "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"

We will witness Him carrying the cross, falling under the weight of the cross, crawling under the weight of the cross; already so near death that Simon is forcibly pressed into service to help Him. Perhaps for a moment, we will reflect upon the opportunities we have to help Him as well.

We will witness Him take our sins upon Himself so that the chains of sin can be broken.

Adam and Eve ate of the tree of life thus bringing death into the world. Jesus, the Lamb of God, hung on a tree of death bringing the gift of everlasting life to a world that does not deserve Him, desperately needs Him, and obstinately rejects Him.

We have the opportunity to be present as our Lord gives us to His mother and gives His mother to us; to be there as He gives up His Spirit, dies for us, and is laid in the tomb.

On Holy Saturday, I will blog about that day. However, today I want to encourage you to see yourself through the eyes of the witnesses.

Who are YOU in the Passion of the Christ?

The Pharisees – Knowledgeable of religion, its practices and traditions, but unable to see that God is in our midst…so busy with what we think is important that we are deaf to what Jesus is telling us is really important.

Judas - When we grow weary that the mission of Jesus may not be what we want it to be. We become self-absorbed, thinking that we know better than God. In choosing our own will over God's Will, we betray Him.

Peter – When we allow fear to overwhelm us. When we are afraid to stand up for what is right and true. When we are afraid to proclaim or even acknowledge our Faith. When, although we have walked with Jesus, touched Him, spoken with Him, seen the wonders He has done…right in front of us; we run away at the most critical of times.

The crowd – When we close God out and listen to others and allow them to influence us to accuse others wrongly or to shout for blood.

Herod – Reducing Jesus to some small wonder-worker or looking for some magical sign.

Pilate – When we give in to the crowd telling us what to do, pressuring us to do something…even when we know it isn't right. Or when we are so caught up in ourselves and our own worries that we attempt to create our own truth or deny there is such a thing as truth…even when THE TRUTH, Christ is there before us.

The soldiers – When we continue to sin, although our sins tear at, bruise, scourge, and pierce our Lord…all while He is pleading for us, "Father, forgive them." Here, the word He uses is ABBA, a word that was really used by young children when addressing their fathers. A word that may be better translated as "Daddy". "Daddy, forgive them."

The scoffing criminal crucified next to Jesus – When we allow ourselves to become so angry and bitter that we are actually angry and bitter with God.

Perhaps we are like some of these people. Perhaps we are like all of these people. One thing is for sure though. We are, each and every one of us;

Barabbas – the notorious sinner who truly deserved to die, and in fact had already been condemned to death…but instead, Jesus, our God who humbled Himself and became one of us, took our place on the cross and died for us so that we might live.

It's hard to accept that we are like many of these people, that we hurt the Lord by our actions. But it's important to remember that while we are not perfect, we are not totally imperfect either. It gives me hope to see myself in some of the other witnesses as well. Maybe we are like:

Simon - Yes, at first reluctant to carry the cross, but picking it up anyway; and certainly transformed by that journey to Golgotha and seeing a forgiving Christ praying and offering Himself for all...for you.

Veronica - When we see Jesus in the poor, the weak, the innocent yet condemned of the world; and we don't just stand by...we act!

Mary - When we love our children so much; knowing that they are really a part of us; feeling, really feeling the pain that they suffer; wishing that we could make the hurt go away....submitting to the Will of God, no matter how painful.

The penitent thief - When we accept what we truly deserve but find the Grace and the courage to rely on Divine Mercy...and receive it!

God bless you. +++

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Not Catholic? Great! Read this about Lent. Catholic? You too!

Today is Ash Wednesday, and once again we begin Lent.

Now if you're not Catholic, watching Catholics this time of year can be confusing, and I know that for some it even becomes frustrating.

Even if you're Catholic, you might not be clear about what the purpose of Lent is. Maybe you just do the same thing over and over again each year without a real plan just because that's what you've always done. Maybe you're just doing what you think the Church tells you to do.

"Tells you to do?" Yeh, that can be a real hangup if you're not Catholic. But that's also why you stand to benefit greatly from observing Lenten practices; maybe more than many of your Catholic friends.

Well, what I am saying is that the real benefit of the Lenten journey is the result of an interior desire to improve your relationship with God. That means doing it because it's the right thing to do and you want to do it.

Improving your relationship with God is about conversion, an on-going process of conforming to the Christian life. That means conversion really relates to our disposition with ourselves and others as well as with God.

We accomplish conversion through examination of conscience, admitting our faults, reconciliation, spiritual direction, empathy and action with regard to the poor and suffering, working for and defending what is right and just, enduring suffering and persecution ("take up your cross daily"), etc.

During Lent, we give special attention to the need for prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. I've used the term "rightly ordered" before, and I will use it here again. To be clear, this means the correct order of things. Rightly ordered, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are expressions of interior penance.

In Matthew 6: 1-18, Jesus presents the proper order as coming from within. Some people get hung up on what He states not to do, but the point He makes is to DO them, but to do them from the heart, the interior.

Now that penance word. Penance expresses our contrition for our sins and our intention to turn away from sin and our attachment to it. Interior penance is best expressed through - you guessed it - prayer, fasting, and almsgivng.

So if the correct order comes from within, why does the Church insist Catholics focus more closely on these during Lent? Because we're human. We have a tendency to forget and/or neglect how to do something without practice.

That is why we say we are "practicing penance." Hopefully, if we practice well enough, we'll get good at it and begin to do it on our own. Perhaps recognizing the benefits of the outward actions will prompt the interior motivation I have been speaking of.

Okay, so today is Ash Wednesday. It's a day of fasting and abstinence. And there'll be more abstaining on Fridays during Lent. You probably get the "fasting" part, but "abstinence?"

Abstaining from meat is a form of penance. It is a very small sacrifice which reminds us of THE sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

When the Church says "do not eat meat on Fridays during Lent", unfortunately it is the outward act which receives the attention. However, the Church is giving us this very small and very simple directive, a precept of the Church, to help us to recognize that we are to grow, to mature beyond a small mandate onto deeper expressions which spring from the interior conversion of the heart.

Enough for today. I hope you find this useful.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Time to Lent Up! What's Your Plan Look Like?

A former manager (and an old friend whom I miss) used to say, 

"If you want to be successful, you have to follow this outline:
  • Know your goal
  • Make your plan
  • Write your plan.
  • Work your plan.
  • Review your plan daily.
  • Never give up."
Ash Wednesday will arrive in less than 5 days. If you're reading this, you cannot use the excuse that it caught you off guard.

Don't wait til the last minute, quickly coming up with "something to give up or do for Lent" just as a formality or out of obligation. You're much better than that and certainly are called to be much better than that.

I encourage you to "Lent up" this year. Take your Lenten journey to the next level, whatever level that may be. Stop eating the "baby food" of your Faith when there's an unbelievably satisfying banquet that awaits you.

You know what I mean, so I won't even put the guilt trip on you by actually stating that lame thing you keep repeating every Lent. The one that is your "go-to". 

Let's face it. If it was that tough, you wouldn't keep choosing the same thing over and over. If it was something that really edified your Faith, you would have quit it all together (if it's a "give up " thing) or would have continued it regularly (if it's a "going to do" thing).

While you pray about this, thinking about what your plan will be, keep in mind what the purpose of Lent is in the first place.

Right, plan. Make a plan, not just a quickie item or two. Consider a combo: Give up something and utilize the savings (financial or time) on something good or spiritually constructive.

Perhaps an outline of your plan could be:

  • I recognize A as being something in my life that I struggle with or that is holding me back from having a more meaningful relationship with God, so I am going to eliminate A from my life.
  • I recognize that B would be something that I could really use or do that will help me grow spiritually or with my walk with God, so I am going to add B to my life.
  • Additionally, I see X as something in my life that I enjoy. I see Y as a need that my church or someone else has. X is not necessarily "bad" for me, but by eliminating this particular thing from my life during Lent, I  can use the money (or time) that I usually spend on X to give to Y.
While this is just one suggestion of what your plan outline might look like, feel free to use it for yourself. You just have to fill in A, B, X, and Y.

Of course I don't mind telling you that first, your goal should be to become more like Jesus.

Then write your plan down. Look at it. Read it over. Know it.

When Lent arrives, you will be immediately ready to work your plan. Do what you set out to do.

No matter how much you think you know your plan, review your plan daily. Reviewing it visually once you have put it into practice may help you to see things that can be modified to help you achieve the goal you have set.

If you falter or mess up, don't give up. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start again. Never give up. 

God never gives up on you.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Examining the Purpose of Lent

The beginning of Lent, is one week away. We will be hearing more about penance, fasting, abstaining, etc. People will be talking about what they are "giving up" and when they "are allowed" to do this or that.

It can be easy to lose sight of the real meaning of Lent if the focus is solely on rules or on penitential acts and not on the interior transformation that the Church intends to guide us to and that God is calling us to.

Christians are called to be transformed and conformed more closely to Jesus. We are called to a conversion that is constant and continuous. Lent presents an opportunity to more closely examine our commitment to this conversion and to reorient our lives in a more Christ-like manner.

Rightly ordered though, it is the interior which prompts the exterior. This means that our Lenten practices should be internally motivated. This internal desire to become more like Jesus finds meaningful expression in outward signs and actions. These outward signs and actions in turn call us to an even deeper exploration of the meaning of the Christian life, increasing our desire to become more like Jesus, and so on, and so on.

To become more like Jesus should be our goal during Lent. Observing its practices with an understanding heart truly open to that end can help to shape and transform our lives and thus "the world."

In the coming weeks I will write more about the Lenten journey and hope to encourage you along the way.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Learning to Speak Spanish May Make Me a Better Lector

I have a great appreciation and love for my service as a Lector in my Parish. A while back I wrote this post regarding Lectors and service.

Three weeks ago I wrote this post about learning to speak Spanish.

At the time I did not see a connection between the two, but I do now. That's what I'd like to share with you here.

Something that has become very clear to me is that in the Spanish language (and I understand many others as well) there is a much more precise pronunciation of words and syllables. Much more precise. In fact, it has become clear to me just how lazy one can become speaking only English.

Hailing from the New Orleans metropolitan area for the first 38 years of my life has formed in me an extra "lazy" pronunciation. We have a very "laid-back" pronunciation (accent). Oh, and sorry Texans, but living here for the past 8 1/2 years has not really been much help either.

This has become evident, almost painfully so, as I have completed a little more than 3/4 of the first level (there are five levels) in the Rosetta Stone course. The course affords me the opportunity to hear myself speak the language. Oh brother!

It becomes even more obvious when I attempt to speak with friends whose native language is Spanish. Many times they correct my pronunciation of words that I "thought" I had achieved the proper pronunciation for. I am pretty hard on myself, so it's difficult to learn that what I accept from myself is not really acceptable.

However, this type of correction is exactly what I need and want and why I appreciate the honesty of my friends for helping me with this. You see, I am truly motivated to do this correctly and not just "get by" or accept something that is less than what I am able to achieve.

Just "scratching the surface" to explain a bit, there are 29 letters in the Spanish alphabet, not 26. (Oh, I understand that as of 2010 this has been "changed" in some locations to 27 letters, but I believe that it is more accurate to stick with the 29. Yes, yes, I know that even that was disputed by some. And yes, I have gone beyond the RS course in my studies.) Even the letters which correspond with the English alphabet have their own names and pronunciations.

Last week I came up in the rotation for service as Lector. This means that I began preparing right around the time I began to realize these things about my pronunciation in Spanish. So as I was preparing, I thought to myself, "You already take this service very serious, but perhaps you need to concentrate harder on a more exact pronunciation of the syllable during your readings."

I did, and I was pleased with the result. I will continue to include better pronunciation in my prayer and preparation. I am happy that this is a "side benefit" or result of my learning to speak Spanish.

Now I really need to get the rolling r sound down with those "rr" words!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Need Prayers for Baby. NOW!!!

PLEASE pray for baby "Tuesday" who has been given this name because Monday is the day Tuesday is scheduled to be killed by abortion.

Pray this child will LIVE.

Oh, and there's some late-breaking developments that are promising, so please stop NOW and pray.

Thank you friends.