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Deacon-structing New Life

New_Life

It is not hard to find images of new life everywhere to highlight the joy and Good News of Easter – especially in this part of the world in at springtime! (Maybe these bunnies are a bit too much, but you get my point – and they are cute.)

But recently, I’ve been doing quite a bit of traveling that has also been a constant reminder to me that our world- our fallen world, with all its suffering and brokenness- is full of life and that life is being made new all the time.

And so, this week, and for the next couple of weeks, let me “deacon-struct” new life: not to “take it apart”, but to reflect on that gift that has been granted to all humans: the gift to begin again.

One of my favourite canticles from Scripture is commonly known as the Canticle of the Three Youths or the Canticle of Daniel. It is, according to Daniel 3:57-88, 56, one of the “songs” sung by the three young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Ananias, Azarias, Mishael) as they were in the furnace that King Nebuchadnezzar had thrown them in. It is a beautiful song of praise to God: “Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord – praise and exult him above all forever!” The canticle names all the creatures who praise the Lord: “angels of Lord, sun and moon, stars of heaven, shower and dew, ice and snow, nights and days, lightning and clouds, mountains, hills, seas and rivers, beasts wild and tame; all creation bless the Lord, praise and exult his name above all forever!”

This Canticle is sung with Morning Prayer at every Solemnity and so we are praying it daily throughout the Easter Octave. I have been praying it in a special way since we began working on Creation, a six-part series that will look at the Church’s Ecological teachings. Filming for Creation has taken us all over North America and we have seen “all creatures” and we have also seen “all creatures bless the Lord.”

Many of the stories we are telling in Creation are stories that show how we must care for God’s Creation. Sometimes our care for Creation is not what it should be; we are not the stewards or caretakers that God intended us to be from the beginning. When we don’t respect Creation or don’t live in the balance between the Natural and the Human Ecology, it sometimes leads to death. That is part of the fallen-ness of Creation. But when we do respect Creation, when we live in the balance and harmony, it is very much life-giving.

And that is the Good News of Easter.

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One place that we visited which is full of new life is the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, FL. It is a fascinating place.

PedroBlog2

You may have heard about CMA since this is the place where both Dolphin Tale films were made. The films tell the story of Winter and Hope, two dolphins who were orphaned at a very young age and the stories are based on this facility. In fact, Winter and Hope are real dolphins who still live at CMA.

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Clearwater Marine Aquarium is not a typical aquarium. You will not find a “dolphin show” here. CMA is primarily a rehab hospital for animals. Animals are rescued and brought here for rehabilitation and hopeful release back into the wild. In some cases, if the animal is not able to survive in the wild, they are able to stay at CMA or are taken to live at another facility that can care for them.

Turtle in Surgery

CMA is also an educational institution. Every day hundreds of children come through the facility – many school groups come too. During a visit, you may have the opportunity to watch while they do surgery. When we were there they were working on a turtle.

Winter

Winter is the protagonist of both films. “Dolphin Tale” is the story of how she lost her tail and survived against all odds. This story is the one that has made CMA famous. It is also a story that has moved so many people. It is truly a story of new life – not just because of how Winter survived against all odds, but because of what she is now giving back to all who come to see her. Daily, people with various disabilities and challenges, war veterans and amputees, come to see her and are inspired by her will to live and to help give meaning to others.

Hope

There are three resident dolphins at CMA. Hope is another dolphin who was found when she was very young. Here she is being fed after a training exercise. Hope was introduced in Dolphin Tale 2.

Nicholas

Nicholas is the only male of the three dolphins. Young people can come to CMA to be “trainers for the day” and learn all about the animals, how to train them and how to care for them. You can see the white blotches on Nicholas’ back. It is damage from sun exposure from when they found him as a baby.

Abby and Winter

Senior Trainer Abby Stone works with Winter at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. When we interviewed Abby she said that she believes Winter knows that she is helping people. You see, Winter does not have a tail and so in order to swim as most dolphins she requires a prosthetic tail. She wears her prosthetic tail about 30 minutes every day for therapy purposes only. We had the chance to watch as Abby worked with Winter and her “tail”.

Being at CMA was truly inspiring. Despite the secular environment, I was brought very deeply into the Mystery of God’s Creation. We are all Creation and we are all to live in harmony with each other– being at CMA truly helped me understand that not just humans and angels bless the Lord, but also flowers and trees, stars of heaven; birds of the air and beasts wild and tame; all the earth blesses the Lord. Even “dolphins and all water creatures bless the Lord” (Daniel 3:79).

 

Canticle of Daniel
Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord;
Praise and exalt him above all forever.
Angels of the Lord, bless the Lord;
You heavens, bless the Lord;
All you waters above the heavens, bless the Lord.
All you hosts of the Lord; bless the Lord.
Sun and moon, bless the Lord;
Stars of heaven, bless the Lord.
Every shower and dew, bless the Lord;
All you winds, bless the Lord.
Fire and heat, bless the Lord;
Cold and chill, bless the Lord.
Dew and rain, bless the Lord;
Frost and cold, bless the Lord.
Ice and snow, bless the Lord;
Nights and days, bless the Lord.
Light and darkness bless the Lord;
Lightning and clouds, bless the Lord.
Let the earth bless the Lord;
Praise and exalt him above all forever.
Mountains and hills, bless the Lord
Everything growing from the earth, bless the Lord.
You springs, bless the Lord;
Seas and rivers, bless the Lord.
You dolphins and all water creatures, bless the Lord;
All you birds of the air, bless the Lord.
All you beasts, wild and tame, bless the Lord;
Praise and exalt him above all forever.
You sons of men, bless the Lord;
O Israel, bless the Lord.
Priests of the Lord, bless the Lord;
Servants of the Lord, bless the Lord.
Spirits and souls of the just, bless the Lord;
Holy men of humble heart, bless the Lord.
Ananias, Azarias, Mishael, bless the Lord;
Praise and exalt him above all forever.
Let us bless the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost;
Let us praise and exalt God above all forever.
Blessed are you in the firmament of heaven;
Praiseworthy and glorious forever.


Photo: Public Domain

Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi Address

Urbi_et_Orbi

Pope Francis did not give a homily at the Easter Sunday Eucharistic celebration this morning in St. Peter’s Square due to the long “Urbi et Orbi” address that followed the mass.  The English language version of his address – to the city and the world – is found below.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Jesus Christ is risen!

Love has triumphed over hatred, life has conquered death, light has dispelled the darkness!

Out of love for us, Jesus Christ stripped himself of his divine glory, emptied himself, took on the form of a slave and humbled himself even to death, death on a cross.  For this reason God exalted him and made him Lord of the universe.  Jesus is Lord!

By his death and resurrection, Jesus shows everyone the way to life and happiness: this way is humility, which involves humiliation.  This is the path which leads to glory.  Only those who humble themselves can go towards the “things that are above”, towards God (cf. Col 3:1-4).  The proud look “down from above”; the humble look “up from below”.

On Easter morning, alerted by the women, Peter and John ran to the tomb. They found it open and empty. Then they drew near and “bent down” in order to enter it.  To enter into the mystery, we need to “bend down”, to abase ourselves.  Only those who abase themselves understand the glorification of Jesus and are able to follow him on his way.

The world proposes that we put ourselves forward at all costs, that we compete, that we prevail…   But Christians, by the grace of Christ, dead and risen, are the seeds of another humanity, in which we seek to live in service to one another, not to be arrogant, but rather respectful and ready to help.

This is not weakness, but true strength!  Those who bear within them God’s power, his love and his justice, do not need to employ violence; they speak and act with the power of truth, beauty and love.

From the risen Lord we ask the grace not to succumb to the pride which fuels violence and war, but to have the humble courage of pardon and peace.  We ask Jesus, the Victor over death, to lighten the sufferings of our many brothers and sisters who are persecuted for his name, and of all those who suffer injustice as a result of ongoing conflicts and violence.

Resurrection-Piero-della Francesca

We ask for peace, above all, for Syria and Iraq, that the roar of arms may cease and that peaceful relations may be restored among the various groups which make up those beloved countries. May the international community not stand by before the immense humanitarian tragedy unfolding in these countries and the drama of the numerous refugees.

We pray for peace for all the peoples of the Holy Land.  May the culture of encounter grow between Israelis and Palestinians and the peace process be resumed, in order to end years of suffering and division.

We implore peace for Libya, that the present absurd bloodshed and all barbarous acts of violence may cease, and that all concerned for the future of the country may work to favour reconciliation and to build a fraternal society respectful of the dignity of the person.  For Yemen too we express our hope for the growth of a common desire for peace, for the good of the entire people.

At the same time, in hope we entrust to the merciful Lord the framework recently agreed to in Lausanne, that it may be a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world.

We ask the risen Lord for the gift of peace for Nigeria, South Sudan and for the various areas of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  May constant prayer rise up from all people of goodwill for those who lost their lives – I think in particular of the young people who were killed last Thursday at Garissa University College in Kenya –, for all who have been kidnapped, and for those forced to abandon their homes and their dear ones.

May the Lord’s resurrection bring light to beloved Ukraine, especially to those who have endured the violence of the conflict of recent months.  May the country rediscover peace and hope thanks to the commitment of all interested parties.

We ask for peace and freedom for the many men and women subject to old and new forms of enslavement on the part of criminal individuals and groups. Peace and liberty for the victims of drug dealers, who are often allied with the powers who ought to defend peace and harmony in the human family.  And we ask peace for this world subjected to arms dealers.

May the marginalized, the imprisoned, the poor and the migrants who are so often rejected, maltreated and discarded, the sick and the suffering, children, especially those who are victims of violence; all who today are in mourning, and all men and women of goodwill, hear the consoling voice of the Lord Jesus: “Peace to you!” (Lk 24:36).  “Fear not, for I am risen and I shall always be with you” (cf. Roman Missal, Entrance Antiphon for Easter Day).

Easter Video Reflection: How shall we find words for the Resurrection?

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How shall we find words for the Resurrection? How can we give expression to the conquest of death and the harrowing of hell and the washing which has joined us to God’s life? There are no words – there are only the wrong words – metaphors, chains of images, verbal icons – that invite us into a mystery beyond words. Jesus’ victory over death belongs to the Church’s ongoing pastoral and sacramental life and its mission to the world. The Church is the community of those who have the competence to recognize Jesus as the Risen Lord. It specializes in discerning the Risen One. As long as we remain in dialogue with Jesus, our darkness will give way to dawn, and we will become “competent” for witness. In an age that places so much weight on competency, we would do well to focus every now and then on our competence to discern Resurrection.

The Silence and Courage of the Resurrection Witnesses

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Easter Sunday – Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter is the promise that death will visit each of us. But more important, it is the assurance that death is not the last word. The Resurrection of Jesus prompts us to recall, from the darkest moments of grief to life’s smallest trials, how much God comforts us and gives us the strength to persevere. The Easter mysteries give us a new identity and a new name: we are saved, redeemed, renewed; we are Christian, and we have no more need for fear or despair.

Through the powerful Scripture readings of the Triduum, and especially the Gospels of the Easter Vigil and Easter morning, we catch glimpses of just what resurrection means. How can we give expression to the conquest of death and the harrowing of hell? We must honestly admit to ourselves that there are no words. Therefore we turn to the experiences of the women at the tomb in Mark’s Resurrection account and to Mary Magdalene, witness of the Risen Lord, to find images and words to describe what has happened.

The Silence of the Women

Mark’s Gospel text for the Easter Vigil [16:1-8] leaves us more than perplexed. We read that after discovering Jesus’ tomb to be open and empty and hearing the angelic message about the resurrection and a future meeting with him in Galilee, the women “went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Is it possible that Mark’s Gospel can really end with 16:8? Early Christian editors, puzzled by such a shocking ending, supplied two more conventional endings for the Gospel; the longer of these is printed in most bibles as Mark 16:9-20. Nevertheless, the question lingers: What can we say about a resurrection story in which the risen Jesus, himself never appears? How could Mark differ so much from Luke’s masterful resurrection chapter [24] or John’s highly developed portraits of the first witnesses of the resurrection [20-21]?

Rather than dismiss the strangeness of Mark’s ending, let us reflect carefully on what Mark’s Gospel offers us. First of all, we never see the Risen Jesus, himself. We are offered instead a rather haunting scene. It early morning, still dark, and the women arrive at the tomb for a near impossible task. The tomb is already opened and they are greeted by someone from heaven who commissions them: “Go and tell his disciples and Peter that he goes before you into Galilee; there you will see him as he told you.” [16:7]

The fear and trembling that accompanies the women prevents them from telling anyone about what they have seen. Of what are they afraid? By remaining silent, are they disobeying the message of the angel to “Go and tell…?” What are we to make of the silence of the women?

Mark’s resurrection story contains an initial declaration and summary statement of all of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel: “Do not be alarmed!” [16:6]. The reader is told to abandon every fear. Second, the reader is told: “you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him” [16:6].

The crucifixion of the Lord Jesus was not the final, definitive moment of his life. As Christians, our faith is not placed in a crucified, dead man, nor in an empty tomb, but in a risen, living Lord who lives among us with a whole new type of presence. “He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you” [16:7]. The message of the resurrection in Mark’s Gospel is given to us. The event is simply too great to be presented with meager words!

Mark’s resurrection account is constructed to unsettle us–to undo the ease that makes us forget that the call to discipleship is the call to the cross.  Throughout the entire Gospel, we are invited to view our lives in the shadow of the cross.

The women go to the tomb, drawn unconsciously by the powerful and enticing mystery of God about to be revealed to them. They flee from the tomb [16:8] shocked by the awesome message of Jesus’ resurrection. Faced with this rather incredible news of the resurrection of the crucified Jesus, the silent and fearful flight of the women is not only understandable but also highly appropriate.

Is it not also the same for you and for me? When faced with the awesome power of God at work in our lives, raising those dead parts back to life and restoring our dashed hopes and crushed spirits, a response of silence and fear, wonder and awe, is also understandable and at times appropriate –even for us.

The Witness of Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany (sister of Martha and Lazarus), and the unnamed penitent woman who anointed Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-48) are sometimes understood to be the same woman. From this, plus the statement that Jesus had cast seven demons out of Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:2), has risen the tradition that Mary Magdalene had been a prostitute before she met Jesus. But in reality we know nothing about her sins or weaknesses. They could have been inexplicable physical disease, mental illness, or anything that prevented her from wholeness in mind and body.

Mary Magdalene is mentioned in the Gospels as being among the women of Galilee who followed Jesus and His disciples, ministered to him, and who, according to each of the evangelists, was present at His crucifixion and burial, and went to the tomb on Easter Sunday to anoint His body.

Jesus lived in an androcentric society. Women were property, first of their fathers, then of their husbands; they did not have the right to testify; they could not study the Torah. In this restricting atmosphere, Jesus acted without animosity, accepting women, honoring them, respecting them, and treasuring their friendship. He journeyed with them, touched and cured them, loved them and allowed them to love him.

In our Easter Sunday Gospel [John 20 :1-18], we peer once again into the early morning scene of sadness as Mary Magdalene weeps uncontrollably at the grave of her friend, Jesus. We hear anew their conversation: “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” “…Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means, Teacher). … “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her. (John 20:15-18)

Because of her incredible message and mission, Mary Magdalene was fittingly called “Apostola Apostolorum” (Apostle to the Apostles) in the early Church because she was the first to see the Risen Lord, and to announce His Resurrection to the other apostles.

For Jesus, women were equally as able as men to penetrate the great religious truths, live them and announce them to others. There is no secret code about this story, which is still astonishingly good news more than 2,000 years later. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

[The readings for Easter Sunday are: Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Colossians 3:1-4 or 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8; John 20:1-9 or Mark 16:1-7 or Luke 24:13-35]

(Image: “Holy Women at the Tomb” by William-Adolphe Bourgeureau)

Deacon-structing: A Memorial

Crucifix

I set out to deacon-struct Holy Week and soon found that I was faced with a monumental task. I looked at each of the key moments of the Passion: the entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, Gethsemane, the trial, the way of the Cross and crucifixion… the burial… there is so much there. I have always been drawn to the mysteries of Holy Week and the more I study and pray with these mysteries, the more I feel I am over my head.

I guess that’s why it’s a Mystery. When we use the word “mystery” in our Faith, we don’t mean it’s something that has to be solved, like an Agatha Christie novel. Rather, it means that it is something so profound, so amazing, so vast, that it cannot be fully understood in human terms; it cannot be fully explained in human language. And so we are called to understand it only in part and to stand at the foot of the Mystery and contemplate it; to gaze upon it and let it change us. As Pope Francis says so beautifully in Joy of the Gospel with regards to the neighbour: “remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other” (EG 169). That’s what we do when faced with Mystery.

And that’s how we should approach Holy Week. It is not something to “understand” but something to behold: to gaze upon. We are called to walk with Jesus through his passion and death.

But that doesn’t mean that we are not meant to try to understand it as much as possible. This understanding can help us enter more deeply into the Mystery of the Passion.

For example, a few times I have been honoured to be part of a Jewish Seder meal. This is the Passover meal that Jesus would have been celebrating. I remember coming out from the meal with a whole new understanding of the Mass. Once we know what the ritual of the Seder is, we come to appreciate what Scriptures tell us about the Last Supper much more deeply. For example, why are they dipping bread in a dish (Mk. 14:20; Jn 13:26)? Which of the four ritual cups of wine is the cup that Jesus is says is “the cup of the New Covenant” (Mt. 17:28; Mk 14:24; Lk 22:20)? What is the hymn that they sang when it says, “after they had sung the hymn…” (Mt. 26:30; Mk 14:26)? Or the fact that in the synoptic Gospels Jesus dies on the day after Passover (Mt. 26:17; Mk 14:12; Lk 22:7) , but according to the Gospel of John, it was the day of preparation for the Passover (Jn 19:31). There is so much there and I don’t think I could do it justice. It is certainly enough for a lifetime of prayer and meditation.

But today I can’t stop thinking about one thing: The Cross. We have no idea what people at the time thought about or felt about this instrument of torture and death. When Jesus said “pick up your cross and follow me” (Mt. 16:24; Lk 9:23) what did people think? Was that a common expression at the time? Would he have said today, “pick up your electric chair and follow me?”

 And the fact that almost immediately, the followers of Jesus seemed to embrace this “Cross.” I’m sure they remembered Jesus saying “pick up your cross and follow me” but did they remember him saying “do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19)?

Did they understand that it is through the Cross that Jesus saves us? That it is through the Cross that Jesus makes all things new: by destroying death forever and forgiving our sins. I wonder when they started signing themselves with this sign, the “sign of the Cross.”

I wonder if they began signing themselves with this sign as a reminder of who they were: As a reminder of the love of God. Did they remember what Jesus told Nicodemus that “God so loved the world that he “gave” his only Son? (John 3:16?) Did they think that this thing that Jesus did for all of us they were called to do for others?

What did Jesus mean when He said, “do this in memory of me?” I don’t think he was just talking about eating bread and drinking wine. Was He speaking about washing each other’s feet? Did he mean going up on the Cross like him? I’m pretty sure He wasn’t talking about merely “remembering” him.

In Spanish, when Jesus said, “do this in memory of me,” He says, “hagan esto en conmemoración mia.” That means something closer to “do this to honour me.” It is not about remembering Jesus. That when we remember Jesus we are to do something or when we do something we are to remember Jesus. I suppose it could mean that, but I think it means that we are to do something so as to commemorate Jesus and what He did for us. Commemorate is not just to remember. It is not just to honour. According to the Oxford Dictionary, commemorate means “to keep in the memory by means of a celebration or ceremony” and “to be a memorial to.” But I don’t even think this is exactly what Jesus meant. After all, He didn’t say “do this to commemorate me” (hagan esto para conmemorarme). Perhaps, “do this so that it is a memorial to me and to what I have done.”

St. Paul refers to this very moment in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 11:23-26). To them he writes that, “whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Our “eating of this bread” (which symbolically can mean doing all the things I mentioned above) is a proclamation of the Lord’s death and a reminder and sign that He will come again.

It’s almost as if when we celebrate the sacrifice of the Eucharist, we are transported back in time to the foot of the Cross. Not that Christ dies again everytime we are at Mass, but that we are taken right back there and we are part of that sacrifice once more. I don’t know how to explain it better; we don’t recreate the sacrifice of the Cross. We don’t repeat the sacrifice of the Cross. Rather, it’s more like God makes us present to the sacrifice of the Cross, which it happening all the time in Kairos time. This is the commemoration, the memorial, the proclamation. It is more than just a memory, although a memory, more than just an honouring, although very much in honour.

In fact, memory is very important in Jewish tradition. For a Jew to “remember” actually had this significance: to make present again that which had already taken place. Many Jewish prayers and Psalms call us to “remember.” For the Jews at the time, and to this day, the Passover meal is a “participation” in the Exodus. The Passover for Jews is a memorial, a remembering, but also a “making present” the deliverance that God had granted their ancestors with the exodus from Egypt.

And we “do this” in a very special way every time we celebrate the Eucharist. But let me offer a very simple way that all of us can “remember” in a practical way, every day. We remember by making the Sign of the Cross. When I sign myself with the Cross, I am calling to mind all of this. Especially, I am calling to mind the sacrifice that I am called to do like Jesus on the Cross. I am reminded that I am called to die to my own petty ego needs; my own desire to be loved and to be special; my own needs to be right and to be needed. I am called to “die to myself.” I am called to sacrifice my own needs for the needs of others. As a husband, that is what I am called to do: put my wife’s needs before mine. Every time. As a father, I am called to place my children’s needs before mine. Every time. As a Christian, I am called to put others’ needs before mine. Of course, this doesn’t mean I become a throw rug for everyone to walk on but it does mean that I am called to consider other people’s needs to be more important than mine, every time. This, I believe, is true freedom: freedom from my own petty needs. And that is what Jesus did on the Cross: He set us free!

And when I remember, by making the Sign of the Cross, I do it in the name of the Father, of the Son and the Holy Spirit – a reminder of another awesome Mystery – the Mystery of the Holy Trinity. Not only do I remember in my mind, but also in my mind, my thoughts, my knowledge, my head; and in my heart, in my feelings, in my emotions and soul; and with my arms, through my actions, my service. It also reminds me that I am to love God back; with all my mind; with all my soul and my heart; and all my strength, and to love my neighbour as myself.

This Holy Week, let us walk with Jesus and let us remember. When we do, at Mass and at daily prayer; every time we make the Sign of the Cross; every time you put other people’s needs before your own – when we wash others’ feet, when we “remove our sandals at the sacred ground of the other” – remember the memorial. Let Christ be present to you and let yourself be present to him.
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Send me your comments – especially if you know what the original Aramaic is for “do this in memory of me.”

 

(CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

 

Archbishop of Montreal Responds to Supreme Court Ruling – Perspectives Daily

Today on Perspectives, the Archbishop of Montreal welcomes the Supreme Court decision protecting the liberties of Loyola Catholic High School, CCCB President’s message for Holy Week and Easter, Pope Francis to visit the White House and CNS travels to the historic burial of Richard III.

Deacon-structing Lent: part 4

Baptism_Lent

So far in part 1, we looked at questions people have regarding fasting and abstinence, in part 2 we looked at suffering and in part 3 we looked at what Scripture has to tell us about why Jesus had to suffer.  I think when people think of Lent, that’s what they think about: fasting, abstinence and suffering. Add to that penance.

It is true that Lent is a penitential season, but do you know that the word “Lent” comes from the old English word, “lencten” which  was the word used for “Springtime?” It comes from the old Germanic: “Lengen-tinza” which literally means “long days” (think of the English word “lengthen,” to make long – that’s the same root as the word Lent.) So the word ‘Lent’ refers to the lengthening of days; to the light that is defeating the darkness.  I think most of us think of penance and fasting when we think of Lent, but Lent is also about light defeating darkness. That’s what we see in the fourth Sunday of Lent this year. (On 4th Sunday in Cycle B with Jesus speaking with Nicodemus and also in Cycle A with the story of the man born blind).

How many of you, when you think of Lent, think of Baptism? (I would hope that those preparing for Baptism are thinking of Baptism during Lent; but the rest of us?) Recently, I received a book by Jerry Galipeau titled, You Have Put On Christ: Cultivating a Baptismal Spirituality. In it, he says that Lent is a baptismal time. He quotes the Second Vatican Council Document Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #109:

“The season of Lent has a twofold character: primarily by recalling or preparing for baptism and by penance, it disposes the faithful, who more diligently hear the word of God ad devote themselves to prayer, to celebrate the paschal mystery. This twofold character is to be brought into greater prominence both in the liturgy and by liturgical catechesis.”

 And so, Lent has a two-fold character; two equally important strands: a baptismal one and a penitential one – we tend to over-emphasize the penitential one.  Traditionally, those preparing to be baptised or received in the Church do their final preparations during Lent. They are called Catechumens and we do see a special baptism emphasis for them during Lent, but all of us should be recalling our Baptism. At the Easter Vigil we will all be renewing our Baptismal promises.

I interviewed Jerry Galipeau for the SLHour for the first week in Lent and afterwards I decided that this Lent I was going to pay extra attention to the readings and prayers and look for all the baptismal themes. I was not sure as to what I was going to find. Then I came to the readings for the first Sunday in Lent. There are Baptismal elements in all the readings all throughout Lent, but let me use the first Sunday, Cycle B as an example:

The first reading from Genesis 9:8-15 takes place just after the flood. God is establishing a Covenant with all Creation; He will never again destroy with a flood. The flood was a cleansing, but also an opportunity for a new life, a regeneration. St. Peter, in the second reading (1 Peter 3:18-22) , tells us that the flood and the Ark prefigure Baptism. That’s what happens at Baptism: it is a cleansing and also an entering into a new life, a new life in Christ.

But the first reading is not directly about the flood; it is about God establishing a Covenant. Guess what I found: The YouCat (the Church’s youth catechism given to us by Pope Benedict XVI.) It says that “Baptism is a covenant with God” because “the individual must say Yes to it.” (YC#194) That makes sense since every Sacrament involves our action and God’s action: We do something and God does something – that’s a covenant. In Baptism, we do something: the prayers, the ritual, everything with the water, the oils, the white garment, the candle – that our part. Then God does his part; He sends us his Grace. In Baptism, we primarily receive two Graces: We are freed from sin and we are reborn as children of God (CCC#1213).  By going through the waters of Baptism, literally plunging into the waters (the word baptism comes from the Greek baptizein, which means “to plunge”) just as the people in the time of Noah went through the flood, we die to sin, all sin is buried in the waters, and we come up on the other side, reborn into Christ. Baptism is a death and a resurrection. St. Paul says that all who are baptised are baptised into the death of Christ, we are buried with him, so that as Christ is raised, we too can walk in the newness of life (Rom 6:3-4; Col 2:12). In Baptism, we are freed from all sin and we become children of God, no longer slaves to sin, but as adopted sons and daughters of God, who now have access to God’s very life, to the life that Adam and Eve had in the Garden of Eden. We must say yes to that. God does his part and we must agree. That’s what makes it a Covenant.

Now, the Gospel from the first Sunday in Lent is always about Jesus going to the desert. It’s easy to look at Mark’s version (1:12-15) and focus on the fact that Jesus goes into the desert – that’s very Lenten, very penitential. But what happens just before Jesus goes into the desert according to Mark? He is baptised! Then all Mark says about Jesus going to the desert is that “he was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness” and in the desert he overcomes temptation; he overcomes sin and he is among wild beasts and the angels minister to him. Who else lived among wild beasts and the angels ministered to them? Adam and Eve. So according to Mark, Jesus going into the desert is an analogy to what happens at baptism: We are freed from sin (Jesus never sins; he overcomes temptation), no longer slaves to sin but having all the benefits that come with being children of God, the Communion with God that Adam and Eve had.

And then what does Jesus do? He begins his ministry. And that’s what we forget about Baptism. Baptism is not the end of the journey, but the beginning. Baptism is the door to Faith and to ministry in the Church. God establishes a Covenant with us and we have to do our part.

So Lent is a time to remember and reflect on our Baptism. For most of us, we were baptised many, many years ago – we don’t remember it – some of us don’t even know when we were baptised or where. Some don’t have a relationship with their Godparents. We should know, at the very least when and where we were baptised. I was baptised on February 8th, 1969 at San Francisco de la Caleta Parish in Panama City, Panama. I know who was there, I have photos and I know who my Godparents are. Do you? Your baptism is where it all began. I would not be here today, as a Deacon, working at S+L and writing this, had I not been baptised. Most of you would not be reading this and would not be in Church every Sunday had you not been baptised – and I don’t mean Catholic baptism; I mean all Christian Baptism, because it’s all the same. We believe in one Baptism. If you are baptised in any Christian denomination, you are baptised – you’ve been freed from Original Sin and you have become a child of God. But we forget and don’t give Baptism the importance that it requires.

I used to think that since I was so young at my baptism and still very young at my Confirmation, there should be a second Confirmation – around our 30s when we truly accept, with full knowledge that we want to be Catholic followers of Jesus Christ – when we would renew our baptismal promises with full consent and knowledge. Most of us have forgotten our baptismal promises. But we don’t need a second Confirmation. At every Mass, when we pray the Creed, we are renewing our baptismal promises, and it is done with special importance, as a community during the Easter Vigil, at the end of Lent. So Lent is a time when we remember and reflect on our Baptism, so that at the Easter Vigil we can renew with vigour our part of the Covenant. God does his part; let’s prepare during this Lenten season so we can do ours.

Come back next time and we’ll deacon-struct Holy Week.

My Personal Journey Through Lent

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Rosina Di Felice

As Lent quickly approaches, I reflect on how it is one of the most thought provoking periods for me during the liturgical year. I must admit though, this has not always been the case.

My early recollections of Lent, as a young child growing up in an Italian family in Montreal are quite vivid. I recall a somewhat gloomy period of sacrifice that consisted of giving up red meat on Fridays. By contrast, Palm Sunday was joyful. I was mesmerized by the waving of palms during mass in our crowded church and carrying our palms home and learning to make pretty crosses that we proudly displayed in our home. Good Friday was a somber day. It was difficult watching outdoor reenactments of the stations of the cross and trying to fathom what it was like for Jesus. I remember wondering why it was called “good” Friday when Jesus suffered so much for us. But Easter Sunday came and we rejoiced. Jesus is risen! It was a special time – a rebirth – a celebration with family. We feasted on lamb, rabbit and made traditional delicacies – beautiful eggs wrapped in bread braids.

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Today, Lent takes on a much deeper purpose in my life. It’s truly a special time for spiritual growth. No longer do I think of it as only a period of sacrifice and abstinence. It is much more than that. It is also about reflection, repentance and almsgiving. I embrace lent, as it gives me the opportunity to get closer to God. It allows me to prepare for Easter, similar to how Advent prepares us for Christmas.

Lent is the time where I focus on God and make a more concerted effort to put Him first in my life. I spend much time thinking and reflecting on my relationship with God. It’s a challenging time where I take a hard look in the mirror and identify where I can make changes – where my walk does not match my talk.

Fasting and Abstinence

In addition to the usual abstinence and fasting on holy days, I gave long thought to what I would give up this year during Lent. Years ago, coffee, chocolate and sweets would have been contenders.  However, I needed to look deeper. I wanted to choose something that perhaps was taking me away from God. Giving something up is great, but taking action is even better.

When I identified what I wanted to give up during Lent, it made me become aware how much I depend on other things rather than God and how they are leading me away or neglecting Him. Inspired by Pope Francis’ humility, I’m giving up all personal shopping for things that I want – rather than things I need. And maybe at the end of the 40 day journey, I’ll depend on material things less, thus altering my behavior.

Almsgiving

Lent is also a time to evangelize and do good. It’s a time to remember all those less fortunate and give back. I will redirect time and money that would have been spent shopping for material things, and instead will participate with my family in feeding people at a homeless shelter and donating a few grocery items every week to a food bank.

Reflection & Repentance

In this very noise-filled and media-cluttered world, it is becoming harder to hear God’s voice. Add to that how time-starved we are, with a growing list of to-do items every day. But where is God on my to-do list? How often do I spend quality time with God in silence, meditating, praying and repenting? This is why I vow to turn off all distractions and spend an hour in silence every day dedicated to prayer and reflection. After all, if my goal this Lent is to grow in my relationship with God, how can I do so without spending more one on one time? I look forward to the Holy Spirit guiding me further on what I am called to do.

Perhaps my thoughts will inspire you to share your own personal journey with others in your life. Even though Lent is a personal time, the peace and joy we feel is even greater when we share it with others in our lives. Not only does this strengthen our faith, but it strengthens our sense of community with our brothers and sisters.

Matthew 5:16 “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

CNS photo/Octavio Duran

The Transmission Faith is Always a Communal, Ecclesial Event

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Third Sunday of Easter – Sunday, May 4, 2014

Today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (2:14, 22-33) presents us with the first of six discourses (along with Acts 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 5:29-32; 10:34-43; 13:16-41) dealing with the resurrection of Jesus and its messianic significance. Five of these are attributed to Peter, the final one to Paul. We may call these discourses in Acts the “kerygma,” the Greek word for proclamation (I Cor 15:11). In Peter’s address we can distinguish an introduction and two parts: in the first part (vv 16-21) he is explaining that the messianic times foretold by Joel have now arrived; in the second (vv 22-36) he proclaims that Jesus of Nazareth, whom the Jews crucified, is the Messiah promised by God and eagerly awaited by the righteous of the Old Testament; it is He who has effected God’s saving plan for mankind.

To demonstrate that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah foretold by the prophets, Peter reminds his listeners of our Lord’s miracles (v 22), as well as of his death (23), resurrection (24-32) and glorious ascension (33-35). Peter’s address ends with a brief summary (36). Peter was able to declare the message that can change the life of every one who heard it. That message has not changed nor lost its power in our day. It is a message that still brings hope to the hopeless, life to those dead in sin and forgiveness to those struggling under the burden of their sins.

A catechetical and liturgical story

The Emmaus story of today’s Gospel is at the heart of Luke’s resurrection chapter (24). Luke’s story of the two disciples on the road (vv 13-35) focuses on the interpretation of scripture by the risen Jesus and the recognition of him in the breaking of the bread. The references to the quotations of scripture and explanation of it (24:25-27), the kerygmatic proclamation (34), and the liturgical gesture (30) suggest that the episode is primarily catechetical and liturgical rather than apologetic.

When we meet the disciples on the road to Emmaus, it is evening, and the glow of that first Easter day has begun to fade. Resurrection at this point is nothing more than a rumor or a tale. Buried beneath their verbal exchange lies a deep yearning and a holy hunger. Intimately intertwined with their skepticism is their hope, and their need for God to be alive, vibrant and present in their world of death. But the baggage of their doubt impedes the fervor of their faith and they fail to recognize Jesus. Without being aware of what they are really saying along the road, the two disciples profess many of the central elements of the creed of the Christian faith yet they remain blind to the necessity of the Messianic suffering predicted in the Scriptures.

The stranger on the road to Emmaus takes the skepticism and curiosity of the disciples and weaves them into the fabric of the Scripture. Jesus challenges them to reinterpret the events of the past days in light of the Scriptures. However, Cleopas and his companion are “foolish and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have said!” (v.25) The Messiah had to suffer and die in order to enter into his glory. Luke is the only New Testament writer to speak explicitly of a suffering Messiah (Luke 24:26, 46; Acts 3:18; 17:3; 26:23). The idea of a suffering Messiah is not found in the Old Testament or in other Jewish literature prior to the New Testament period, although the idea is hinted at in Mark 8:31-33.

Finally in the intimacy of the breaking of the bread were their eyes opened and they recognized the Risen One in their midst. At Emmaus, the risen Christ performs the same basic actions that he performed at the multiplication of the loaves (9:16) and at the Last Supper. The many meals of Jesus, especially his last supper, can be said to be in the background of the evangelist’s mind in describing this moment of recognition (cf. Lk 5:29; 7:36; 14:1,12,15,16; 22:14). With this experience of the Risen Jesus the Emmaus disciples believe.

Understanding the resurrection therefore implies a two-fold process of knowing the message of the Scriptures and experiencing the one about whom they all speak: Jesus the Lord, through the breaking and sharing of bread with the community of believers.

Emmaus journeyThe journey motif

The journey motif of the Emmaus story is not only a matter of the distance between Jerusalem and Emmaus, but also of the painful and gradual journey of words that must descend from the head to the heart; of a coming to faith, of a return to a proper relationship with the stranger who is none other than Jesus the Lord. The Lord always listens to us and is always there. It is part of the Lords’ pedagogy with regard to his disciples to always listen to them, especially when times are hard, when one has fallen, experiences doubt, disillusionment and frustration. His words make the hearts of the disciples “burn”, they remove them from the darkness of sadness and desperation, provoking in them the desire to remain with him: Stay with us, Lord.

The dejected disciples begin to change only when they are enlightened by the risen Christ, who explains from the Sacred Scriptures how God works in a resistant world and among resistant, sinful people like us. It is indeed an ironic victory because the forces of rejection and experiences of suffering and sinfulness, themselves, become the means by which God’s purpose is accomplished in the world!

Words that transmit life

Allow me to share with you a very striking section on “the Duty to Evangelize” from the Lineamenta (preparatory document) for the 2012 Synod of Bishops on “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.” This passage offers a unique perspective on today’s Emmaus story.

(#2) “The words of the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35) illustrate that proclaiming Christ is open to failure; their words were incapable of transmitting life. In recounting their frustration and loss of hope, the two disciples proclaimed someone who was dead (vv 21-24). For the Church in every age, their words speak of the possibility of a proclamation which, instead of giving life, keeps both those who proclaim and those who hear bound in the death of the Christ proclaimed.

The transmission of the faith is never an individual, isolated undertaking, but a communal, ecclesial event. It must not consider responses as a matter of researching an effective plan of communication and even less analytically concentrating on the hearers, for example, the young. Instead, these responses must be done as something which concerns the one called to perform this spiritual work. It must become what the Church is by her nature. In this way, the matter is placed in context and treated correctly and not extrinsically, namely, by placing at the centre of discussion the entire Church in all she is and all she does. Perhaps in this way the problem of unfruitfulness in evangelization and catechesis today can be seen as an ecclesiological problem which concerns the Church’s capacity, more or less, of becoming a real community, a true fraternity and a living body, and not a mechanical thing or enterprise.”

Questions for reflection this week

1) As Church, as pastoral ministers, as lay leaders, have we ever felt that our words are incapable of transmitting life to others? Have we proclaimed someone who was dead rather than the living Lord? How have our words and the message of the Church kept people bound in the death of the Christ proclaimed?

2) What prevents us from becoming a real community, a true fraternity and a living body, rather than a mechanical thing or enterprise?

3) What have been the historical events that have influenced, hindered and impeded our proclamation and our way of being Church? How have certain events helped us to refine and rethink our proclamation?

4) What does the Spirit say to our Church through these events? What new forms of evangelization is the Spirit teaching us and requiring of us?

We are once again pilgrims

During my first visit to the French ecumenical community of Taizé many years ago, I heard this meditation offered by the late Brother Roger Schutz and his community. It has remained with me ever since.

“We are once again pilgrims on the road to Emmaus…
Our heads are bowed as we meet the Stranger
who draws near and comes with us.
As evening comes, we strain to make out His face
while he talks to us, to our hearts.
In interpreting the Book of Life,
He takes our broken hopes and kindles them into fire:
the way becomes lighter as,
drawing the embers together, we learn to fan the flame.
If we invite Him this evening, He will sit down
and together we shall share the meal.
And then all those who no longer believed
will see and the hour of Recognition will come.
He will break the bread of tears at the table of the poor
and each will receive manna to their fill.
We shall return to Jerusalem to proclaim aloud
what He has whispered in our ear.
And no doubt we shall find brothers and sisters there
who will greet us with the words:
“We, too have met Him!”
For we know: the mercy of God
has come to visit the land of the living!

[The readings for the Third Sunday of Easter are: Acts 2.14, 22b-28; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1.17-21; and Luke 24.13-35.]

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2011 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store. Book editions for Year A and C reflections are coming soon.

Perspectives Daily – April 22, 2014

Today on Perspectives, a look at Easter at the Vatican with Pope Francis.