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The fruits of the Holy Spirit

May 13, 2016

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HolySpiritDoveThe Fruits of the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is one of the three persons of the Triune God, the Most Holy Trinity, and St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians provides a list of nine fruits of the Spirit:  “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal 5:22,23).  These fruits emanate or proceed from the Holy Spirit, and they reveal what the Holy Spirit is like.  They serve as the Spirit’s character traits.  And because the Holy Spirit is a person of the Trinity, and because the three persons are one, the fruits of the Spirit reveal what God is like.

Good Fruits Intended to Grow.  The grace and power of the Holy Spirit give increase to these fruits.  Wherever the Holy Spirit receives welcome and cooperation, the fruits expand and intensify.  It may be a person or any size group, as small as a married couple or a family, or as large as a school or a parish, a business or an organization, a nation or the Church.  Whenever an individual or a group follows the prompting of the Holy Spirit, love, joy, peace, and the other fruits increase, but when the Spirit is opposed, these fruits diminish or vanish altogether.

Love.   Agape love is the highest form of love, love for both God and neighbor.  It is selfless, focused on the other person, given freely and gladly without condition or the expectation of repayment, expressed in service, and willing to suffer on another’s behalf.

Joy.  Joy is an interior contentment that comes from being close to God and in right relationship with others.  It is joy to know God’s love, presence, and compassion, to realize that all is an undeserved gift from God, and to be in compliance with God’s will.  Joy also comes with speaking and upholding the truth, honesty and integrity in relationships, enduring hardships, and decent conduct.

Peace.  Peace is the harmony that occurs when justice prevails.  It happens when resources are shared equitably, power is used for service, interdependence is fostered, information is shared openly and honestly, the dignity of each person is respected, legitimate differences are tolerated, the disadvantaged receive help, hurts are forgiven, and the common good is upheld.

Patience.  Patience is the virtue of suffering interruption or delay with composure and without complaint; to suffer annoyance, insult, or mistreatment with self-restraint, refusing to be provoked; and to suffer burdens and difficult tasks with resolve and determination.  It is also the willingness to slow down for another’s benefit, to set aside one’s personal plans and concerns, to go at another’s pace, and to take whatever time is necessary to address their need.

Kindness.  Kindness is a warm and friendly disposition toward another.  A kind person is polite and well-mannered, respectful and considerate, pleasant and agreeable, cheerful and upbeat, caring and helpful, positive and complimentary.

Generosity.  God gives beyond all measure and is lavish in generosity, and thus blessed with such munificence, it behooves a person to have an abundance mentality, a bigheartedness, and an unselfishness that shows itself in giving and sharing.  It is extended to family and friends, strangers, and particularly those in need, and is offered not only as money, food, and clothing, but also as time shared and assistance provided.

Faithfulness.  God is faithful to the covenant and infinitely reliable, dependable, and trustworthy.  Faithfulness is demonstrated by loyalty to friends, duties performed, promises kept, commitments fulfilled, contracts completed, vows observed, and being true to one’s word.

Gentleness.  Gentleness is sensitivity for another person.  It is concerned with another’s welfare, safety, and security.  It is grounded in humility.  The approach is careful, tender, delicate, considerate, affectionate, and mild-mannered, free of all pushiness, roughness, or abrasiveness.

Self-control.  Self-control is self-mastery regardless of the circumstances, to be in control of one’s self rather than to be controlled by temptations, events, or other people, especially when under pressure or in times of crisis.  It is a virtue to remain calm, cool, and collected, reasonable and even-tempered; to be alert and conscious, able to slow down, proceed with caution and prudence, and avoid an impulse or kneejerk response; to be a moderating influence; and to have the strength and courage to reject evil and choose good.

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St. James the Lesser, Apostle and Martyr

April 29, 2016

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StJamesLesserApostolic Identity.  There are two St. James among the original twelve apostles:  St. James the Greater whose feast is on July 25, and St. James the Less, the Lesser, or the Minor, whose feast is on May 3 and shared with St. Philip.  He is the second James on the New Testament lists of apostles (Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:15; Acts 1:13).  There are several explanations for why he is called “less.”  The most widely accepted reason is that he was younger than the other James who was greater in years.  Some believe that it was because of his short stature, that he was lesser in height, or because he was called at a later time than James the Greater.

Family Relationship.  St. James was the son of Alphaeus and Mary (Mt 27:56; Mk 15:40).  His brother was Joseph or Joses. He is also known as the brother or cousin of the Lord.  The people of Nazareth asked of Jesus, “[Are not] his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?” (Mt 13:55; see Mt 12:46), or “James and Joses and Judas and Simon” (Mk 6:3).

Special Encounter.  Jesus appeared to James after he rose from the dead (1 Cor 15:7).

Apostolic Ministry.  James was the head of the early Christian church in Jerusalem and is regarded as its first bishop. When Peter was released from prison, he asked that word be sent to James (Acts 12:17).  James presided over the Council of Jerusalem in 51 AD, and with great wisdom and compassion, argued that Gentile converts not be obligated to follow the Jewish dietary laws (Acts 15:13-21), and because of his fairness, he is also known as James the Just.  Paul met with James in Jerusalem at least twice, once in 37 AD after he had spent fifteen days with Peter (Gal 1:18-19), and again in 56 AD when he conferred with James and the other presbyters (Acts 21:18).  Paul called James a “pillar” of the community, along with Peter and John (Gal 2:9), and acknowledged that he had a role in commissioning Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles.  The Letter of James is attributed to him (Jas 1:1).

A Martyr’s Death.  James preached the gospel with exceptional zeal in Jerusalem for over thirty years, and he inspired many people to become believers in Jesus.  His successes were met with fierce opposition by the leaders of the Jews who wanted to kill him.  In 62 AD a group of furious scribes and Pharisees demanded that James renounce Jesus, and when he flatly refused, they apprehended him, stormed to the pinnacle of the Temple and hurled him down to an angry mob below.  Still alive, the mob began to stone him, and as he prayed for their forgiveness, he was bludgeoned to death with clubs.

Symbols.  In religious art, St. James is represented by a bat or a fuller’s club as well as one or more stones, the instruments of his martyrdom, or an image of the Temple because he was thrown from it.  He is also sometimes depicted with a book or a scroll because he preached the gospel, with a pastoral staff or a walking stick because he was the shepherd of the church of Jerusalem, or a green branch or palm because he was a martyr.  There is another not widely accepted tradition that he was cut in half, so he is sometimes represented by a saw.

Patronage.  Along with St. Joseph, he is the patron saint of the dying.  He is also the patron saint of fullers, those who clean, shrink, and thicken cloth; hatters; and druggists.

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St. Adalbert of Prague, Bishop and Martyr

April 22, 2016

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StAdalbertSt. Adalbert of Prague was born in 956 in Bohemia into the Christian upper class Slavnik family.  His baptismal name is variously reported as Wojciech, Voytiekh, and Voytech.  He went to Magdeburg, Germany, and was educated by its archbishop, St. Adalbert of Magdeburg, who changed his name to Adalbert when he received the Sacrament of Confirmation.

When the older St. Adalbert died in 981, the younger Adalbert returned to Bohemia, and a year later, in 982, at the age of 26, was elected the bishop of Prague.  He entered the city barefoot, intent on bringing Christianity to the Czechs.

As bishop, he worked tirelessly to inspire Christians to live holier lives, to bring the gospel to non-believers in Hungary and Bohemia, and to reform the clergy. It was a bitter struggle.  He was resisted by stubborn clergy and political opponents.  His missionary work had achieved modest success.  Deeply disappointed, he was forced to leave Prague in 990 and fled to Rome.

Upon his arrival in Rome, Bishop Adalbert went to the Benedictine Abbey of Saints Boniface and Alexis where he became a monk.  Meanwhile, in 992 Duke Boleslaus of Poland petitioned the Pope that Bishop Adalbert be sent back to Prague, and subsequently Pope John XV reassigned Adalbert to his former post.

Bishop Adalbert had a tumultuous return.  A noblewoman had been convicted of adultery.  The crowd wanted her punished, but because she was repentant and the mob unruly, as an act of compassion the bishop gave her safe haven in the church.  The mob attacked, stormed the church, and killed her, by some reports, at the altar, by other reports, in the street.  In punishment for their evildoing, Bishop Adalbert excommunicated all those who participated in her execution.  The throng considered the penalty excessive and shifted their rage toward the bishop and his family.  Some of his relatives were murdered.  He was rejected, and fled to Rome a second time.

Again, there was a papal intervention.  The new pope, Gregory V, ordered Bishop Adalbert to return, but not to Prague.  Instead, the Pope allowed Adalbert to be a missionary.  Initially, he went to Poland, and then to the Prussians in Pomerania along the southern coast of the Baltic Sea.  While he went to preach the gospel, the local residents thought he was a Polish spy and executed him with his two companions, Benedict and Gaudentius, near Gdansk (Danzig) on April 23, 997, and was buried in Gniezno, the first capital of Poland.  His relics were transferred to Prague in 1039.

St. Adalbert of Prague was held in great esteem as a courageous martyr, outstanding missionary, and a monastic, and his popularity spread rapidly throughout Poland, eastern Russia, Germany, Hungary, and Bohemia, and his heroic witness served to inspire further missionary efforts in central and eastern Europe.  He is the patron saint of Poland, Bohemia, the Czech Republic, and Prussia.

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World Day of Prayer for Vocations

April 15, 2016

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GoodShepherd1Good Shepherd Sunday is the annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations.  This custom began in 1963.  It is a day set aside to pray for vocations to the priesthood and the permanent diaconate, as well as to the consecrated life, the vocation of priest, brother, or sister within a religious order that observes the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Sheep without shepherds.  Jesus was distraught over the dismal quality of spiritual leadership during his time.  When he looked out over the people, “his heart was moved for pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt 9:36).  So Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send laborers for his harvest” (Mt 9:37; see Lk 10:2).

The laborers are few.  The number of priests and religious has declined, there is a shortage, and there is a great need.  Bishops are anxious because there are not enough priests to staff the parishes in their dioceses.  Parishioners are anxious because parishes with multiple priests have been reduced, small parishes have been combined, and some parishes have gone without a priest.  Priests are anxious because more duties have fallen on their shoulders.

Ask the master.  Jesus told his disciples to pray for vocations, “Ask and it will be given to you” (Mt 7:7), and he reassured them, “For everyone who asks, receives” (Mt 7:8), and, “Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive” (Mt 21:22).

Pray for vocations.  Prayer should be offered by the Church at its liturgies, and this can be easily done with a petition in the General Intercessions or a special prayer offered by the congregation after Holy Communion.  A prayer for vocations can be offered before council, staff, faculty, and committee meetings.  Vocation prayer cards can be placed on the inside cover of hymnals, in the pews, on tables at the entrances, and in the Eucharistic Adoration chapel.

Family prayer.  It is also extremely important for families to pray at home together for vocations.  Parents who pray for vocations encourage their own children to consider such a calling, and children who are reminded regularly about service to the Church are more likely to keep an open mind, be better able to hear the call, and be more inclined to respond favorably.

Priests, deacons, and religious, and prayer.  It may seem obvious, but those who have accepted a religious vocation should pray for vocations.  It is a sad phenomenon that some priests and religious have grown disenchanted with their own vocations, their religious superiors, their diocese or religious institute, or the Church, and do not pray for vocations and do not invite others to consider one.  Statistically, over eighty percent of newly ordained priests report that a major element of their call was the personal invitation of a priest, but surveys of priests reveal that only thirty percent offer invitations.  Parishioners should pray that their priests and religious would be more positively disposed and actively engaged in vocation promotion.

Once is not enough.  The World Day of Prayer is a single day, and while it is important to prayer for vocations on Good Shepherd Sunday, it is important to prayer for vocations on other Sundays and weekdays, too.  It is tremendously important to pray for vocations regularly.

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What makes Jesus, The Good Shepherd, good?

April 15, 2016

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GoodShepherd2Good vs. Bad.  The Fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday.  It is important to know the difference between a good and bad shepherd, and both Jesus in the Good Shepherd Discourse (Jn 10:1-21) and God through the prophet Ezekiel (Ez 34:1-10) highlight the differences.

Bad shepherds work for money.  Bad shepherds put in their time to get paid, but they really do not care about the sheep.  It is all about the money and not about the sheep.

Bad shepherds do not pay attention or listen.  Bad shepherds do not spend quality time with their sheep.  They do not learn the names of their sheep, nor do they get to know their individual problems or concerns, nor do they offer personalized help and advice.  Then, when it comes time to lead, the sheep do not listen or follow because there is no relationship or trust.

Bad shepherds put themselves ahead of their sheep.  Bad shepherds are more interested in their own pursuits than in the needs of their sheep.  In times of crisis when the sheep are under attack, whether it is from the outside, such as wild predatory animals or thieves, or from the inside, such as a corrupt or evil shepherd, a bad shepherd is not willing to sacrifice or suffer on behalf of the sheep, and instead of battling the evil threat, the bad shepherd sits by idly and does nothing, withdraws, resigns, or flees.

Bad shepherds take advantage of their sheep.  The sheep produce the wool; the bad shepherds wear fancy clothes.  The sheep produce mutton; the bad shepherds dine in elegance.  The goats produce milk; the bad shepherds drink fine wines.  The affluence of bad shepherds is at the expense of their own flock.

Bad shepherds are controlling and harsh.  Bad shepherds are authoritarian.  Their rule is top-down.  They do not take advice.  They are unconcerned about the input, opinions or feelings of others.  They are heavy-handed and mean-spirited.

Bad shepherds do not put in extra effort.  Every flock has sheep that need special care.  Some are weak, others are sick, and a few wander off.  Bad shepherds are unwilling to put in extra time or go the extra mile.  Sheep in distress are left to fend for themselves, and vulnerable and defenseless, their plight often goes from bad to worse, and bad shepherds do not care.

The Good Shepherd.  Jesus is good, and there are many factors that make him good.  His primary concern always is his sheep.  For Jesus, it is never about him, the money, a high lifestyle, an influential position, or power.  He has a special concern for each and every sheep, particularly those who are troubled.  He is present.  He listens.  He is strong, yet humble and gentle.  He upholds the truth, yet he is kind and compassionate.  He lived simply. He came to serve.  He emptied himself.  He was willing to suffer and lay down his life for his sheep.

Good Shepherd Ministry.  Parents are shepherds for their children, teachers for their students, coaches for their athletes, managers for their workers, civil officials for their citizens, and priests for their parishioners.  Anyone in a position of leadership should avoid the pitfalls of the bad shepherds and pattern themselves on Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

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The Acts of the Apostles – Scripture for the Easter Season

April 6, 2016

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StLukeEaster Prominence.  The Acts of the Apostles is used at Mass during the Easter Season more than any other book of the Bible.  Excerpts from Acts serve as the first reading for every Sunday Mass from Easter Sunday to Pentecost, as well as for the first reading for every daily Mass for all seven weeks of the Easter Season.

One of a Kind.  The Acts of the Apostles is unique.  There is no other book like it in the rest of Sacred Scripture.  It is not a gospel or a letter, the two other main genres of the New Testament.  Acts is in a class by itself, and it records the history of the beginnings of the early Church.

The Ascension Dilemma.  The first generation of Christians was faced with a serious question:  now that Jesus has ascended to heaven and is no longer present on earth in physical or bodily form, where is the risen Christ to be found?  According to St. Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, one of the primary and favored ways that the risen Christ continues to be alive, well, and present is in the community that Jesus formed, the Body of Christ, the Church.

The Risen Christ’s Fourfold Presence.  The first Christians “devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42).  The apostles taught about all that Jesus said and did, and the risen Christ is present when he is remembered and his story is told.  The communal life is the fellowship shared among believers, personal relationships based upon shared beliefs and values, work done jointly, and the companionship of fellow travelers on the spiritual pilgrimage through life; and the risen Jesus is present when his followers are together.  Christians assembled for the breaking of the bread, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist; and the risen Christ is present in his Body and Blood.  Christians also devoted themselves to common prayer.  It may have been two or three individuals, or a family, or a group of families, and whenever Christians pray together, the risen Jesus is present in each other and in their prayer.

Witness and Miracles.  “Many wonders and signs were done through the apostles” (Acts 2:43; see Acts 5:12).  The apostles gave heroic witness, and the risen Christ was present in their excellent example.  The apostles also worked great miracles, such as when Peter cured a lame beggar (Acts 3:1-10), healed a paralytic (Acts 9:32-34), and raised Tabitha from the dead (Acts 9:36-42); and the risen Christ was present in every mighty deed that they performed.

Mutual Concern, Generosity, and Unity.  Furthermore, “All who believed … had all things in common” (Acts 2:44; see also Acts 4:32).  Christians were attentive to each other and shared with each other so that no one among them would be needy; and the risen Christ was present in their mutual concern and in their generosity.  Finally, “the community of believers was of one heart and one mind” (Acts 4:32).  Unity is a distinguishing characteristic of Christians.  Oneness of mind is a common way of thinking and shared set of core beliefs, and oneness of heart is a common love and passion for Jesus and his gospel, God and neighbor.  When the Christian community exemplifies this sort of unity, the risen Christ is present.

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The Easter Season

April 1, 2016

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EasterCandleLength.  The Easter Season is fifty days, not forty days, like Lent, or four weeks or slightly less, like Advent.  The Easter Season extends from Easter Sunday to Pentecost.  It is sometimes known as the “Festival of Weeks,” seven weeks of seven days (49 days), plus one, the fiftieth day, Pentecost.

The Octave of Easter.  The first eight days of the Easter Season are known as the Octave of Easter.  Easter is the greatest Christian feast, so great, in fact, that it cannot be celebrated adequately on a single one day.  All eight days from Easter Sunday to the Second Sunday of Easter are considered solemnities, the Church’s highest ranking feast, and each day is celebrated with festivity and joy.

The Easter Novena.  The last nine days of the Easter Season extend from Ascension Thursday to Pentecost Sunday, a novem, Latin for “nine.”  Jesus instructed his disciples “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait … [because] in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4,5).  The nine days from Ascension to Pentecost are a novena, a period of prayer before the coming of the Holy Spirit.

The Easter Liturgical Color.  The liturgical color for the Easter Season is white.  Gold is not a liturgical color, but it may be used to accent the white.  Together, they are symbols of joy and glory, as well as the Resurrection.

The Easter Liturgical Word.  The special word for the Easter Season is Alleluia.  It is used for the dismissal from Mass, and it is added to the antiphons and responses for the Liturgy of the Hours.  It is only found in the Book of Revelation (19:1,3,4,6), and it is an exclamation of great joy that means “Praise God!” the sentiment of the Easter Season.

Easter Eating.  The self-denial of Lent is set aside during the Easter Season.  It is not a time of fasting, but rather a season of celebration, a time for “a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines” (Is 25:6).  Jesus once said that “As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast” (Mk 2:19b), and because Jesus was with his disciples for forty days from his Resurrection to his Ascension (Acts 1;3), it was not a time of fasting then, and so it is not a time of fasting now.

The Major Easter Symbol.  The foremost symbol of Easter is the Christ Candle, also known as the Easter Candle or the Paschal Candle.  It represents the Risen Christ who is the Light of the World (Jn 8:12; see also 1:4-5,9  and 12:46).  The candle is given a prominent location during the Easter Season, usually in the sanctuary or somewhere in the front of the church, and after Pentecost it is moved back to its usual place.

The Easter Sacraments.  The Easter Sacraments are the Sacraments of Initiation:  Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation.  Because these sacraments are celebrated at the Easter Vigil when catechumens and candidates are welcomed into the Church, they are also featured throughout the Easter Season.  It is the preferred season to celebrate Baptisms within Sunday Mass, and the ideal time to celebrate First Holy Communion as well as Confirmation.

Easter Scripture Texts.  The gospels of the Easter Season focus on the appearances of Jesus after his Resurrection, near his tomb, in the Upper Room, on the road to Emmaus, and along the Sea of Galilee. The featured New Testament book throughout the Easter Season for both the first reading on Sundays and every weekday is the Acts of the Apostles, a powerful statement that the risen Christ remains alive and well within the Christian Community.  The second readings on the Sundays of Easter are taken from the first letter of Peter in Year A, the first letter of John in Year B, and the Book of Revelation in Year C.

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Sprouting Green Plants Symbols of Easter and the Resurrection

March 23, 2016

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RisenChristStainedGlassGreen Plant Imagery.  A sprouting or fresh new green plant is a symbol of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Scriptural Basis for the Spiritual Symbolism.  The death of Jesus is not the last word, the final end.  After Jesus spent three days in the tomb, God the Father raised him from the dead (Acts 2:32a; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 13:30,34,37).  His death on the Cross resulted in new life, and because an emerging green plant is new plant life, it is a symbol of the Resurrection.  Jesus suggested this imagery when he said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (Jn 12:24).

The Seed Metaphor.  The seed represents Jesus.  The planting of the seed in the ground represents the burial of Jesus in the earth in a tomb.  The seed’s germination period represents the time that Jesus spent in the tomb.  The sprout breaking through the ground, finally visible in the daylight, represents Jesus breaking past the stone that covered the entrance of his tomb, his resurrected body seen clearly at daybreak in the rays of dawning sunlight on Easter Sunday morning. The plant arrayed in beauty represents Jesus’ glorified body.  The emergent green plant represents Jesus’ victory over death and his triumphant new life.

Plant Locations.  The most common location for a green plant that represents the Resurrection is at the foot of the Cross.  Some of the droplets of blood that Jesus shed fell to the ground immediately beneath him, and the blood that flowed forth as he died is the seed of new life (see Jn 19:34), not only for Jesus himself, but for all believers, not only new spiritual life and grace on earth but also eternal life in heaven with God in glory forever (see Jn 6:54).  The other common location for new green plants is along the ground at the entrance to his empty tomb.

Plant Varieties.  A wide variety of green plants are used symbolically for this purpose:  a tuft of sprouting new green grass, a new green shoot off of a vine, unfolding green foliage on the stem of a fresh flower, or budding green leaves on a shrub or tree.

Easter Art and Decorations.  Fresh greenery is widely used decoratively on Easter and throughout the Easter Season.  Green plants and flowers frequently are positioned around the base of an Easter Cross, prominently displayed either inside the church or outdoors.  Greenery is also commonly displayed in front of the altar or the pulpit, around the Easter Candle, or elsewhere in the sanctuary, as well as in other locations throughout the church building such as entrances, gathering places, meeting halls, and office reception areas.

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Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord A Dual Feast

March 17, 2016

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The Dual Nature of the Feast.  Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord.  It is a dual feast.  It has traditionally been known as Palm Sunday because the Mass begins with a gospel text that recounts how palm branches were used to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem, and because palm branches are blessed at the beginning of Mass and carried in procession as part of the Entrance Rite.  It has also traditionally been known as Passion Sunday because the Passion Narrative is proclaimed during the Liturgy of the Word.

A Unique Aspect of the Palm-Passion Liturgy.  This is the only Sunday of the entire liturgical year in which two separate gospel passages are read at the same Mass.  The liturgy begins with a special opening rite with the gospel proclamation of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem as the crowd waved palms and cried out, “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Year A, Mt 21:1-11; Year B, Mk 11:1-10 or Jn 12:12-16; Year C, Lk 19:28-40). At the regular gospel time the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ is proclaimed in its entirety (Year A, Mt 26:14-27:66; Year B, Mk 14:1-15:47; Year C, Lk 22:14-23:56).

One Mass with Two Distinct Moods.  The Mass has two very different sentiments or feeling tones, jubilation, then lamentation.  The opening scene is festive.  As Jesus mounted the donkey the excitement rose to a fever pitch.  The crowd swelled.  Full of joy, the people waved their palm branches with gladness, laid their cloaks on the roadway with reverence, marched next to Jesus in happiness, and raised their voices with exuberance as they confidently proclaimed Jesus as the “Son of David” (Mt 21:9), “the prophet” (Mt 21:11), and their King.  As the Mass begins with the procession with palms, we honor Christ as our King and sovereign Lord, and the procession with palms into or around the church is intended to recapture the energy and enthusiasm of Jesus’ regal cortege from Bethpage down the Mount of Olives and through the gates of the Holy City, Jerusalem.

An Abrupt Change.  Only moments later there is a jarring mood shift.  The former exhilaration comes to an abrupt halt.  The tone suddenly becomes dark and dreary with the proclamation of four somber readings.  The first reading is the third Suffering Servant Canticle of Isaiah (Is 50:4-7) with the sad words, “I gave my back to those who beat me” (Is 50:6a);  the Responsorial Psalm is Psalm 22, the first portion which foretells a chilling aspect of the passion of the Messiah, “They have pierced my hands and my feet” (Ps 22:17b); and the second reading is the Christ Hymn with the grim statement that Jesus became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8b).  The culmination of the Liturgy of the Word is the proclamation of the Passion, the painful account of how Jesus was scourged, crowned with thorns, nailed, crucified, and killed.  This bitter account causes our hearts to ache with sorrow.

The Paschal Mystery.  Holy Week begins with mourning, weeping, and lamentation.  The Cross is the most ignominious of all deaths, yet it is through the Cross that Jesus ultimately triumphed as our King and Savior.  This solemn week is filled with anguish and grief, but it ends with an ever greater mood shift, the joy and exaltation of the Resurrection and Easter.

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ADULTERY: Sex crime headline misses the point

March 11, 2016

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UnknownWhen it comes to the headlines in Jn 8:1-11, the woman caught in adultery is the lead story.  It is a sex crime.  It is salacious.  It is dirty laundry.  It was the talk of the town.

The mercy, compassion, and forgiveness of Jesus is the main point of this gospel.  Yet, because sexual offenses get so little attention in the gospels, and because the Sixth Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex 20:14), is commandment that deals with sexual sin, and because other sexual sins fall in this category, when it comes to this gospel it is common to fixate on the woman’s sexual sin, and by extrapolation, our own sexual sins.

Jesus and the woman may be on center stage, but who are the worst sinners in the story?  Who should be in the headlines?  Who are the real bad guys?

The scribes and the Pharisees caught a woman in the act of adultery.  They were the town snoops, voyeurs.  They violated her privacy.  They were the self-appointment morality police.

The scribes and the Pharisees brought the woman out into the town square and accused her.  They made a spectacle of her and were glad to shame her in public.  They humiliated and embarrassed her, and it did not bother them at all.  They made her private sin known in public, and it would always be held against her.  They ruined her reputation.

The scribes and the Pharisees were legalists; they knew the letter of the law and insisted that it be applied fully.  They wanted to throw the book at her.  The law says that she should be stoned, and they were ready and willing to execute judgment.  They were without compassion or mercy.  Instead, they were harsh, heavy-handed, and cruel.

The scribes and the Pharisees tried to entrap Jesus.  They hoped Jesus would answer wrongly.  Their goal was to get some dirt on Jesus so they could accuse, convict, and kill him.  Jesus was honing in on their territory, and it was their sinister plot to eliminate the competition.

The scribes and the Pharisees used the woman as a pawn in their evil scheme.  They had no regard for the woman, whatsoever.  If they could use her to accomplish their goal, even if it caused grave harm to her, it did not matter.  They were callous, indeed.

The scribes and the Pharisees were “guilty as sin.”  To them Jesus wisely said, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (Jn 8:7).  And remarkably, one by one, the scribes and the Pharisees went away.

When it comes to the mercy of Jesus, his compassion for the adulterous woman gets the most attention, but it misses a critical point.  While Jesus did not condemn the woman (Jn 8:11), it is imperative to note that he did not condemn the scribes and the Pharisees either.  There was no reprimand, no punishment.  They got off free.  The mercy of Jesus is incredible, beyond our comprehension.  It extends to every sinner, even scribes and Pharisees.

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