Deacon-structing: The Cross- Part 3

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Last Sunday was the Feast of the Triumph or Exaltation of the Cross. For the last two Sundays on the S+L Blog, we’ve been looking at why we exalt the cross, an instrument of death. We saw that Jesus died to destroy death forever, so we don’t have to be under the power of death anymore. Sin leads to death. But also disobedience. It was Adam and Eve’s disobedience that led to death.

Now listen to something St. Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, which was the second reading last Sunday: “He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:8). It was because of Adam’s disobedience that sin entered into the world. St. Paul also says that, in the same way that Adam’s disobedience made us sinners, Jesus’ obedience makes us righteous (Rom 5:19).

So I’m thinking that maybe this whole salvation thing doesn’t have to do so much with suffering as it has to do with obedience. How many times does Jesus talk about doing his Father’s will? “I have come not to do my will,” (Jn 6:38) or “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me,” (Jn 4:34) and “I do as the Father has commanded me.” (Jn 14:31) And in the Garden of Gethsemane, he struggles with God’s will (Mt 26:39-42; Mk 14:36; Lk 22:42; Jn 18:11), but he was obedient (Heb 5:8-9). And because of his obedience God highly exalted him (Phil 2:9).

And we, too, exalt him.

I wonder if that, in a way, is what last Sunday’s first reading — the story about Moses and the bronze serpent — was about (Num 21:4-9). If you think about it, God could have healed all those people with anything. Why ask Moses to make a serpent and lift it up on a pole and then ask all the people to look at it? Maybe it has something to do with obedience. Here’s God saying, “Do what I am asking you to do, even if it’s the most ridiculous thing.”

You know, in the S+L film about Brother André — God’s Doorkeeper — there’s a story about a little boy who’s dying. Brother André tells the mother to wash him in dishwater. Dishwater! How random is that? But she does, obediently, and her son is healed. Sometimes God asks us to do the most unexpected thing, so that when we get results we know that it was His doing and not ours. That’s what last week’s Psalm is about: “Do not forget the works of the Lord” (Ps 78:7). Don’t forget that it’s God who saves. Not you or me, or Moses, or the Pope or Brother André or anyone. And just as Moses had to lift that serpent up on a pole so that the Israelites could be saved, Jesus also was lifted up, so that we could be saved (Jn 3:14). Not because it meant suffering a horrible death, but because it meant obedience: doing the Father’s will, even if it meant death.

And guess what? We are called to imitate Jesus. Jesus said that If anyone wants to come after him, they must first deny themselves and take up their cross (Mk 8:34). That means, “Put me before your life and you will find your life” (Mk. 8:35). That’s what Adam and Eve didn’t do: they put themselves before God – and they lost their lives. Deny yourself all your personal needs and wants, accept your suffering and follow Christ, because that’s exactly what He did. This doesn’t mean that we have to go looking for suffering. But life comes with a certain amount of suffering and this suffering is necessary for life. That’s why “a grain of wheat has to die in order to bear fruit.”

We are called to be obedient, even though sometimes it might not make any sense. Accepting our cross may seems like pure craziness. St. Paul says its foolishness. But God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom (1 Cor 1:23-25). We have to accept it because that’s love. We are obedient to God, because of love. God loved us first: He became man. He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, because of love. Jesus says, “There is no greater love than give your life for a friend.” (Jn 15:13) It’s that simple. That’s the bottom line: the cross is a symbol of love.

So why lift high the Cross? Because that cross is a symbol of love: undying, everlasting, faithful, free, total and fruitful love – the love that sends Jesus to the Cross so that our sins would be forgiven forever and death would be destroyed. Remember, “For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son…” (John 3:16). In Spanish, this verse reads, “For God so loved the world that he “handed over” his only Son…” God doesn’t just send his Son, he hands him over. Because of love. And that’s why we venerate the cross and why we are not to be ashamed of the cross. St. Paul says we should boast of the cross (Gal 6:14). That’s why the cross is victory! That’s why we lift it high and why we leap for joy!

But this feast doesn’t commemorate an event that happened 2000 years ago. Every Sunday and every day, in churches everywhere, Catholics will be gathering around the table of the Lord and celebrating the Mystery of the Cross, because the Mystery of the Cross is the same as the Mystery of the Eucharist. It’s the same sacrifice. And so, the forgiveness of sins, our perfection and our salvation is taking place all the time, with every Mass that is celebrated all around the world. That’s pretty cool.

So we celebrate the Cross for the same reason why we celebrate the Eucharist: because of love. That’s why we sing “Lift high the cross.” The next line is “the love of Christ proclaimed.” It’s all about love.

That’s why I love another song, one that was written for World Youth Day 2002 by Susan Hookong-Taylor and Ana DaCosta. It’s a song that really brings home this Mystery of the Cross. It’s a great song because it is truly a worship song. That’s what we should all have been doing yesterday, on the feast of the Triumph of the Cross, as well as everyday: worshiping.

“Love, lifted on the Cross for me, my Lord, my God, my Salvation. Love, lifted high to set me free, my Lord, my God, my Salvation.”

This is the final installment of a three-part reflection on the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. Click here for Part 1 and for Part 2.  

Know the Scriptures, know Christ

At Salt and Light, we make a concerted effort to keep alive the memory of the Second Vatican Council. It’s not, as some might think, because we appreciate history. It’s because we look to the future.

Those Catholics who are familiar with the history and context of Vatican II and with the sixteen official documents it produced can appreciate the courage and wisdom of the Council Fathers to construct a road map for our times on essential issues like the Church in the modern world (Gaudium et Spes) and the role of the Laity in the life of the church (Apostolicam Actuositatem).

But, interestingly enough, a strong argument can be made, and is made, for the primacy of another Council document that at first may not appear to be particularly novel.  It’s the document on Divine Revelation, the word of God (Dei Verbum).

Today access to the Scriptures is taken for granted. We even hear Pope Francis regularly instructing the faithful to carry a little book of the Gospels around, “in your purse, in your pocket, and read a passage from the Gospel during the day.” (Morning homily, Sept. 1, 2014)

But widespread reading and study of the Scriptures is a modern phenomenon. It was indeed a development when in 1965 the Council Fathers urged all Christians:

“…to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the “excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:8). “For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” Therefore, they should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine word, or through devotional reading, or through instructions suitable for the purpose and other aids…” (Dei Verbum, 25)

This document on Divine Revelation is not merely one element of the ecclesial vision of Vatican II. It is a cornerstone, precisely because it is a perpetual starting point; with the Scriptures a church can always be built.

At the same time, there is the great challenge today of educating Christians about the Scriptures. Valid questions from our contemporaries can be asked of any of us: how well do you know the Scriptures? What does it mean to know the Scriptures? How do you interpret the vicissitudes of history in light of the Scriptures? What do the Scriptures say in the context of our world today? How are they unique from other religious texts or holy books?

In our educational series The Church Alive, the Scriptures are brought to life in the context of our ongoing discussion on the New Evangelization. The accompanying study guide contains thirteen in-depth biblical reflections for personal use or group study sessions. It was natural for us to include this most essential element in the project. As the Bishops at the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization wrote:

“Frequent reading of the Sacred Scriptures… is not only necessary for knowing the very content of the Gospel, which is the person of Jesus in the context of salvation history. Reading the Scriptures also helps us to discover opportunities to encounter Jesus, truly evangelical approaches rooted in the fundamental dimensions of human life: the family, work, friendship, various forms of poverty and the trials of life.” (Message to the People of God, 4)

Today there are all kinds of programs and self-help initiatives designed to help people live more deeply meaningful or happy lives. In the Church we are encouraged to practice spiritual exercises, to participate in the sacraments and pray on a daily basis.  An informed and educated frequent reading of the Scriptures should be near the top of that list.  And remember, there are two moments of encounter with the Real Presence at Mass: in the Eucharist, and in the word of God.

Perspectives Daily – The Canadian Bishops Visit Ste. Anne de Beaupre

Today on Perspectives, the bishops of Canada visit the Shrine of Ste. Anne de Beaupre and we talk to Archbishop Murray Chatlain.

Christians in Solidarity with Jews for Jewish High Holy Days

 

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the Israelites thus: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts of horns. On the tenth day of the seventh month is the Day of Atonement, on which expiation is made on your behalf before the Lord your God. It shall be a sabbath of complete rest for you, and you shall practise self denial, from evening to evening you shall observe this sabbath.” (Leviticus 23).

The above biblical citations refer to what have become the Jewish High Holy days, in the seventh month, known as Tishrei. The first day has been expanded over time into a two day holiday which Jews call Rosh HaShanah, the New Year. Being in the seventh month it is obviously not the Jewish New Year, for that is in the first month, Nisan, which contains the Passover freedom festival. In the seventh month Jews celebrate the world’s NewJews Praying in Syn Year, the anniversary of Creation. Often repeated throughout these days is the declaration: “Today is the birthday of the world. Today God will bring to judgement all the world’s creatures.”

Rosh Hashanah 2014 begins in the evening of Wednesday, September 24 and ends in the evening of Friday, September 26. It begins in a festive mood. “Blessed are you, Lord, Sovereign of the universe, who has sustained and supported us and enabled us to reach this moment.” We are grateful for the gift of life during the past year. However, the mood is both happy and serious at the same time. It is the beginning of a ten day period of judgment and therefore of penitential reflection. One is encouraged to examine one’s life during the past year, express regret for sins and errors, confess before God and resolve to improve conduct during the New Year ahead. We can then ask and expect God’s forgiveness. However, if our sin was against another person, we must first secure their forgiveness before expecting that of God.

Yom Kippur 2014 begins in the evening of Friday, October 3 and ends in the evening of Saturday, October 4. On Yom Kippur, the penitential mood is dominant. The prayers move around a wide range of religious emotions: awe and reverence before God’s majesty; tenderness and love as gifts of God’s love; tears of regret and noble resolve. The congregation, many dressed in white throughout the day, alternately bow and sway, cry and laugh as they move through the liturgy. The final hours are filled with intense spiritual passions and ultimate exaltation. We believe that God has indeed listened to our prayers and will forgive us. Now the New Year can begin in joy.

The prayers throughout this period are heavily dependent upon Psalms as well as other Rabbinic and medieval poetic writings. These reflect a wide range of spiritual moods and theological attitudes and may vary from community to community.

Pope Francis and the Jewish Community

Pope-With-Jewsih-GroupOn the eve of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) this year, Pope Francis met at Domus Sanctae Marthae on Wednesday January 18 with Jewish leaders to mark Rosh Hashana. Among those attending the event were World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder, Latin American Jewish Congress President Jack Terpins, WJC Treasurer Chella Safra and a number of Jewish community heads and senior WJC officials. 

“We want to share with the pope our message of peace and prosperity for the New Year,” said Claudio Epelman, executive director of the LAJC and theWJC official in charge of relations with the Vatican. 

As Christians, we remember over two thousand years that comprise the story of the Christian community, from its beginnings within the Jewish community in Jerusalem, through the dramatic evolution that occurred as the Church took root in gentile communities of other cultures, to its present situation as the largest faith community in the world. The early Church and Rabbinic Judaism both took shape about the same time, both rooted in Biblical Judaism. But very soon in the history of these sibling communities, negative stereotypes of Jews and Judaism dominated the Church’s relations with the Jewish community. That led to the demeaning of Jewish faith and the persecution of Jews, culminating in the role that the Church’s theology played in setting the scene for the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis during World War II. 

Hymn by Judah HaLevi 

Judah HaLevi was one of the great poetic liturgists in Jewish history.  Here he captures the essence of the Yom Kippur experience, as expressing our yearning for God’s mercy, grace and help in coming closer to God and being the beneficiary of God’s blessings. 

Lord, today I beseech you,
Hear my prayer, Lord!
Lord, reveal Your strong right hand,
Show us Your power out of love, Lord!
Lord, my heart so moved, moans within me,
The strength of this emotion leaves me faint, Lord!
Lord, when You think of me,
Let is be for good that I am remembered, Lord!
Lord, I hope for Your salvation
Your grace will comfort me, Lord!
Lord, You are my Creator, my Rock,
What, but You, can help me, Lord?
Lord, Turn Your tender mercy towards me,
Do not regard my sin, Lord!
Lord, You are all that I desire,
My thoughts focus on Your unity, Lord!
Lord, my heart grows weak in this out pouring of emotion,
My soul is in misery, Lord!
Lord, in your faithful love, hear me,
Hear the urgency of my prayer, Lord!
Lord, all my thoughts are in Your hands,
You know my inmost depths, Lord!
Lord, look at me with open eyes,
Heal my pain, my agony, Lord!
Lord, before the gathered crowd, I praise You,
Sustain me in a prayerful stance, Lord.
Lord, You know how I yearn for Your salvation,
Grant my soul rest, Lord!
Lord, incline Your ear to hear my cry,
You always show mercy, Lord!
Lord, my God, I hope in You,
I pray that my salvation is near, Lord!
Lord, confirm me now as Your servant forever,
Does it matter if my sin appears, Lord?
Lord, how long must I remain a prisoner,
How long must I be entombed in sin that sears my spirit, Lord?
Lord, I sing in praise of Your unity,
Still, tears of grief well up in my heart, Lord!
Lord, in my weakness, I exult You,
Redeem me from my fears, Lord!
Lord, I trust in You for good things to come,
Your magnificent reign is all encompassing, Lord!
Lord, be patient with me, I worship You,
I seek your grace, Lord!
Lord, be attentive to my plea
Respond soon to my call, Lord!
Lord, with tenderness bring me your healing,
Revive my heavy heart, Lord!
Lord, my soul grows weak from my distress,
Day and night I cry to you, Lord!
Lord, out of the depths raise me,
reverse my captivity, Lord!
 

Rosh-HashanahAs our Jewish brothers and sisters prepare to observe a day of repentance and reconciliation this year, and come before God with fasting and prayer, we join with them in expressing our fundamental solidarity of faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  With them we recall our common trust in God’s grace and mercy, which we have inherited from the Jewish experience of God.  With them we honor the richness of Jewish prayer that is at the core of Christian prayer.  With them we confess our sins, both personal and corporate.  With them we name with sadness and shame the sins of the Christian churches towards the Jewish people, especially our contempt for their spiritual traditions. In solidarity with them we seek forgiveness and reconciliation and pray for peace among all people, cultures and religions.

Perspectives Daily – The Bishops of Canada Look to the Middle East

Today on Perspectives, Pope Francis’ weekly general audience, the Patriarchs of the eastern Churches travel to the United Nations, the Maronite Church celebrates Liturgy at the CCCB Plenary and the CNEWA Canada board meets in Beaupre at the Plenary Assembly.

Evangelizing the culture

One of the differences between The Church Alive and other S+L series is that it wasn’t filmed in our own studios.  Admittedly, from the outset Cheridan and I succumbed to the “go big or go home” syndrome, because we were convinced that any serious attempt to appeal to young people and non-Catholics meant being visually on par with the best secular media productions.

So we reached out to the biggest and, in many ways, the best television production company in Toronto: the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).  We ended up with a team of about twenty people, many of whom work on popular programs like The National and Hockey Night in Canada.  Apart from being extremely professional and efficient, we found them to be curious (dare I say interested) and highly supportive of what we were trying to do.

When we returned to our S+L studios after each day of filming, we would always comment to each other on this delightfully unexpected experience.  And it was affirming for us that such an organization, which from the outside looks indifferent or at least neutral to all matters Catholic, has within it people open to hearing about how God is working in the world.

The Catholic Church has a great story to tell, but it has to be told well.  And when we “do our thing” with confidence and joy, the results are staggering.  This is what I call evangelizing culture.  It sounds like a broad, theoretical idea.  But it’s really about one-on-one encounters and fostering relationships.

As you’ll see from this latest promotional video for The Church Alive, it was our desire for visual quality that brought us to the CBC studios.  Without them the series wouldn’t have happened.  I can’t help but think, in the context of the New Evangelization, that maybe our best and most penetrating work is done in collaboration with those outside the church as well.

Perspectives Daily – Cardinal Archbishop of Havana Addresses Canadian Bishops

Today on Perspectives, day two of the 2014 CCCB Plenary Assembly featuring the day’s activities, interviews with Cardinal Archbishop of Havana, the Papal Nuncio to Canada, and a look back at events from this past weekend here in Quebec.

Perspectives Daily – New Papal Nuncio Addresses Canadian Bishops

Today on Perspectives, day one of the 2014 Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops Plenary Assembly, with messages from the president of the conference and the Papal Nuncio. We also take a look at the 350th anniversary celebrations of Notre-Dame de Quebec.

Prayer to Our Lady of Sorrows

A Prayer to Our Lady of Sorrows on her feast day, September 15:

OurLadyofSorrows

O most holy Virgin, Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ: by the overwhelming grief you experienced when you witnessed the martyrdom, the crucifixion, and death of your divine Son, look upon me with eyes of compassion, and awaken in my heart a tender commiseration for those sufferings, as well as a sincere detestation of my sins, in order that being disengaged from all undue affection for the passing joys of this earth, I may sigh after the eternal Jerusalem, and that henceforward all my thoughts and all my actions may be directed towards this one most desirable object. Honor, glory, and love to our divine Lord Jesus, and to the holy and immaculate Mother of God. Amen.

Deacon-structing: The Cross- Part 2

CRUCIFIX SEEN ON GOOD FRIDAY AT NEW YORK CEMETERY

Today is the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. Last week on the blog, we looked at why we honour the Cross: Because it reminds us that Jesus died to save us.

And this is where I have a problem. Why do we need to be saved by Jesus’ death? I remember growing up learning that we are made clean, that we are redeemed by Christ’s blood, that Jesus’ death forgives all our sins. St. Peter says that we are ransomed by the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19). But why? Why couldn’t God save us by just having one big party instead? Why death?

I’m sorry to say that we don’t have the full answer to that. It’s a Mystery. There are Mysteries to our faith — not mysteries that we have to solve, like a murder mystery — but capital “M” Mysteries because they are so awesome that there is no way to explain them. But that doesn’t mean that, “Oh, it’s a mystery and we’ll never figure it out, so let’s forget it.” No, we need to keep praying and trying to understand them. We need to dwell in their presence, because maybe we won’t understand them intellectually, but I can guarantee you that when we dwell in the presence of these Mysteries, they will transform us. And that’s what we’re trying to do here: to grow in the presence of this Mystery of the Cross.

Okay, so Jesus really died. That means that in His humanity, God Himself suffered, died and was buried. So, this God, who is life, who loves us so much — more than you can ever imagine being loved — came down from heaven, became a human being, took on all our imperfections, all our sinfulness, all our brokenness and nailed them to the Cross. Why? To destroy them forever.

In the seventh book of the Harry Potter series, The Deathly Hallows, there’s an inscription over the grave of Harry’s parents that reads: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”  J.K. Rowling didn’t come up with that one. St. Paul wrote it first, 2000 years ago, in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15:26). And that’s because death is the result of sin.

Back in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had no sin, so they had no death. That’s why God told them that if they ate from the fruit of the tree, they would die (Gen 2:17). And that’s what happened, when they ate from the fruit, out of their disobedience, sin entered into the world. They didn’t die immediately, but they fell under the power of death. So that’s the consequence of sin: death (CCC 1008). So when we say that Jesus died to forgive our sins, we mean that he died to destroy death. We are saved because Jesus destroyed death.

I can’t think of a better illustration than that of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Edmund betrays everyone -– he is disobedient –- and because of that he has to die. That’s the consequence. And the only way to save Edmund is that the one who established the consequences of disobedience would die in his place. And that’s what happens: Aslan takes Edmund’s place. Now, in the case of Jesus, not only does he take our place so that we don’t have to die, but he destroys death for ever — he defeats death. On the third day he is risen! (CCC 655). Now we can be reconciled and reunited with God, into life eternal, as Adam and Eve were in Eden.

This is the second installment of Pedro Guevara-Mann’s three-part reflection on the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. Click here for Part 1.