Friday, March 29, 2013

Reflections on Good Friday

As we continue Holy Week, we come upon the focus on the death of Christ remembered on Good Friday. It is easy to think Jesus a hapless victim who got caught by unfair authorities hellbent on His destruction because he challenged them.  It is easy to believe He was unable to save Himself as He did others, as some sneer at Him as He hangs on the Cross.  These are easy because it is nothing more than a historical footnote of a tragic death of a good man 2000 years ago.  What is not easy to believe, in fact many take offense at the idea, is that He willingly did it and that He had to because of what I and every other human being had done.  Many say that it is an insult that someone should have to die for them.

First, everything is Scripture points to Jesus knowing exactly what was happening and willingly going into the fire.  On many occasions He tells His disciples what will happen to Him in Jerusalem.  They fail over and over to listen.  He makes no effort to dissuade Judas. He deliberately goes to the Garden of Gethsemane knowing full well Judas will seek Him out there.  He does run nor resist arrest.  He does not argue or plead His case either in front of the Sanhedrin nor in front of Pilate.  He does not tap into His divine authority to destroy those who plot against Him or who are carrying out the over the top torture or the execution. Why?  Purely because He loves us.  No other reason.  The Father loves us, even in our deep ugliness and distorted look from our sin.  His son pays a debt we cannot; His act of supreme love, a total emptying of self repays the debt incurred by our every act of selfishness, hatred, intolerance, prejudice, pride, wrath, and every other action that despises the integrity and dignity of those around us.

But He does not force this act of forgiveness upon us.  We have to acknowledge the need we had for what He did and ask for help.  That is hard.  We have a tendency to carry the weight of our mistakes, our inhumanity, our grudges, our biases, and our hate as if they prize possessions. Many believe that if I ignore them that they simply disappear  into the ether.  All that is done is that they are pushed deep into the subconsciousness where they fester and pollute; leaving the individual a veritable potpourri of hate,  impatience, and anger.  It builds resentment ad hostility.  Reality cannot be run from, only masked, and then only for a moment.  The Cross reminds us that a Loving God does not want us crushed and enslaved by our own choosing, but wants to lift these crosses from our shoulders and replace them with a freedom.  How sad that so many see this as an insult and sternly allowed themselves to be weighed down through all of life.  It is a variation of "Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven."  In hell, I can keep my biases, prejudices, grudges, intolerance, and pride.  In hell, I can be selfish and materialistic.  Even if it keeps me in a place that makes me miserable, even if it poisons every relationship I have, people can prefer enslavement to such things to the new life Christ extends to us through the Cross and its forgiveness of all sin.  Why?

Because a new life means a new way of living.  If I allow God to wipe away my sinfulness, I cannot embrace it again.  I have to use new ways and embrace new things.  Patience must replace impatience, understanding must replace intolerance, trust must replace grudges, selflessness must replace selfishness, and so on.  I think we are all too unaware that the sin we choose to carry become heavy crosses in other people's life.  Personal selfishness helps weighs down others in fueling a crushing need for the basics (be they physical or emotional).  My grudges become crosses thrust upon the shoulders of those with whom I am angry.  I could go on, but hopefully the point is taken.  As Christ say: "Whatever you did or did not do for the least of my brothers (and sisters) you did or did not do for me.  Hence when we thrust a cross on someone else, we thrust it onto the shoulders of Christ.  When we choose anger, cruelty, revenge, lust, greed and other self centered crosses on others to carry, we thrust them onto the Christ who loves each and every one of them.  Life comes with enough natural crosses (sickness for example) with the necessity of our putting crosses on other people's back or even weighing ourselves down with these unnecessary crosses  Even in the natural crosses, Christ helps us carry them...why on earth would we think a it a good things to pile on more ?!

This Good Friday, as we are thankful for the eternal love God shows as he Son dies for us; let us resolve to let go of the unnecessary crosses of wrath, selfishness, and such that we pile on our own shoulders and upon the shoulders of others.  Let us let these crosses dissolve through the love shown us so that we might live as those who are free and wants others to be free of the crushing weight of greed, bias, and selfishness

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Reflections on Holy Thursday

Tonight begins the Triduum (three days) in which we celebrate the central core of our faith.  Tonight we celebrate the Mass of the Lord's Supper.  This day we normally celebrate the founding of the priesthood and the Eucharist.  Both are founded as divine service ordered towards the salvation of humanity.  Both only exist in that they serve as ways that God and His people can be unified.  Let me take this in two parts:

First, in the giving of the Eucharist, Jesus shows us that God loves us so much so that He holds nothing back from us.  He gives us the life of His only Son to satisfy the eternal debt we had incurred through our rebellion to God.  God never writes us off.  God never says that we have gone past the point of no return in this life.  No matter how hateful, vindictive, selfish, and unforgiving we have been towards Him or towards others.  God wants to forgive, He wants to no longer hold our failings against us.  He wants us to rise to the glory and full capacity of our being human beings.  As we could not do this for ourselves, He does it for us.  He sacrifices Himself!

He solidifies this in giving us the Eucharist.  In Judaism, when a sin/peace offering was done (and this includes the Passover) the person (s) who brought the unblemished animal forward for sacrifice, not everything was burned on the altar.  The person had to eat part of the sacrifice or the sacrifice lost its meaning. In uniting the person with the sacrificial offering, the person admits that the animal received the sentence rightfully due the person and in eating it receives the benefit of the sacrifice.  In John 6, Jesus says, "Unless eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no life within you."  Jesus came, as St John the Baptist calls Him, to be the Lamb of God, the lamb that God Himself would provide (as Abraham told Isaac), the unblemished human being who would be sacrificed for us.  At the Last Supper, Jesus takes the elements commonly used in the Passover meal (or any meal for that matter), bread and wine, and proclaims them to be, as in A=B, to be Hos flesh and His blood which would now be able to breath new life into those who choose to follow Him.  Jesus so loves us despite our imperfections that He gives all and only ask that we love Him in return.  How is that love lived though?

This leads to the second point.  In most places the Chrism Mass is celebrated today.  The Chrism Mass is where the oils to be used throughout the diocese are blessed by the Bishop.  The oils:  Sacred Chrism (used in all baptisms, confirmations, and ordinations to the priesthood and the episcopacy), the oil of catechumens (used in baptism) and the oil of the sick (used for the Anointing of the Sick).  During the same Mass , priests are asked to renew the promises they made at the ordination. All of this is done because there is service to be rendered.  As they are the ones who have the duty of attending the the sacramental needs of their parishioners, they are reminded that that relationship is that of a servant to those he serves, where HE is the servant.

This point is driven home by an action takes place during the Holy Thursday Mass: the Washing of the Feet.  In Semitic cultures, the foot was the dirtiest part of the body and only the lowest of the low servants was charged with the task of washing feet.  Peter, during the Last Supper, is taken aback when Jesus starts washing feet.  This simply was not done.  The washing of feet was a humiliation.  Yet, here is Jesus doing so.
 When He finishes doing so He instructs the apostles that as He has done so they should do. When Jesus founds the priesthood it was not create an aristocracy, but a group of servants! He, as servant, offers Himself up for the good of others.  He expects the same of those who will be ordained to carry out His mission. I have said in the past about myself that I realize that the parish is not my kingdom nor are parishioners my subjects.  Properly, I am to be a servant of those placed under my care.  For service to be rendered necessitates  selflessness.  Every scandal the Church has ever endured has the same repugnant seed of selfishness, from Judas' betrayal to the sex scandals if recent ages.  That we are called to serve is why the pastor is called to wash the feet of his parishioners, it is meant to be humbling and remind him that he is the servant of the congregation, not its master.

However, the pastor and priests are not the only ones called to serve. Note that same chrism used in Holy Orders is used in baptism and confirmation.  Sacred Chrism was used to set aside a person as a priest, prophet, or king.  When a person is baptized, during the anointing with Chrism, they or their parents are told that they are now consecrated to share in the service of Christ, that is, in His mission. hence, all who claim to be Catholic are called to serve others and serve God: we serve God by serving others! No more than selfishness can reside in the heart of a cleric can it reside the heart of any baptized person. The Body and Blood are given to us to become better servants. So, how is it I serve today?  How is it you'll serve today?