Jesus, I Trust in You! The Divine Mercy of the Lord Endures Forever

April 23rd, 2014

God, who is rich in mercy, sent his only begotten Son so that we might be reconciled to him and attain life everlasting.  Traditionally during the eight days beginning with Easter Sunday, the Church meditates upon this infinite mercy of God.  Saint Augustine called this period “the days of mercy and pardon,” culminating on the Second Sunday of Easter, which he called “the compendium of the days of mercy.”  At the canonization Mass for Saint Faustina, Blessed John Paul II announced that this day would be known as Divine Mercy Sunday.

This coming Sunday, we will be celebrating the canonization of John Paul II as he is declared Saint John Paul II together with Saint John XXIII.  Thus, it would be good to consider the meaning of Divine Mercy Sunday.

The devotion of Divine Mercy has become quite popular year-round.  How we need this message today to remind us of God’s enduring mercy!  On the cross, Jesus opened his arms in loving mercy and forgiveness, destroying death and obtaining for us new life.  From his Sacred Heart, blood and water poured forth as a fount overflowing with mercy and compassion.

If we trust in Jesus and open our hearts to his, the Divine Mercy of Christ is a most extraordinary gift that can heal souls and provide us with an ocean of graces, leading us to be merciful ourselves.  Soon-to-be Saint John Paul affirmed that “Jesus Christ taught that man not only receives and experiences the mercy of God, but that he is also called ‘to practice mercy’ towards others: ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.’ The Church sees in these words a call to action, and she tries to practice mercy. . . . Man attains to the merciful love of God, His mercy, to the extent that he himself is interiorly transformed in the spirit of that love towards his neighbor.  This authentically evangelical process is not just a spiritual transformation realized once and for all: it is a whole lifestyle, an essential and continuous characteristic of the Christian vocation” (Dives in Misericordia , 14).

By loving one another as Jesus loves us, by being merciful as God himself is merciful (John 13:34, Luke 6:36), we provide others with the opportunity of an encounter with Christ.  It is part of the mission of the Church; it is part of the New Evangelization to which we are called.

“The Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first,” Pope Francis reminds us, “and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy. Let us try a little harder to take the first step and to become involved” (Evangelii Gaudium, 24).

That first step of being merciful to others in our hearts, in doing spiritual and corporal works of mercy and other acts of compassion and consolation, can take place in the many interactions we have with people in our everyday lives or through the many opportunities to serve others in the ministries of the archdiocese and our parishes.  “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others” urges Pope Francis (Evangelii Gaudium, 24).

The message of Divine Mercy is that God loves us – all of us – no matter how great our infidelities.  His unending mercy is greater than our sins.  We who have experienced the joy of having been raised to new life in the Risen Christ must allow him to live in us, so that the mercy that we received from his heart will flow to others.  In this way, the world is blessed with God’s merciful love, allowing him to heal and transform it.  The darkness is overcome and life made new again.

He is Risen! Alleluia!

April 20th, 2014

“Christians, to the Paschal Victim
Offer your thankful praises!
A Lamb the sheep redeems;
Christ, who only is sinless,
Reconciles sinners to the Father.
Death and life have contended in that combat stupendous:
The Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal.
Speak, Mary, declaring
What you saw, wayfaring.
‘The tomb of Christ, who is living,
The glory of Jesus’ resurrection;
Bright angels attesting,
The shroud and napkin resting.
Yes, Christ my hope is arisen;
To Galilee he goes before you.’
Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining.
Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!”

 

The Lighting of the Easter Candle

April 19th, 2014

“Christ yesterday and today
The beginning and the End
The Alpha and the Omega
All time belongs to him
And all ages
To him be glory and power
Through every age and forever”

(Roman Missal, Preparation of the Paschal Candle at the Easter Vigil)

 

Moving From Death to Life

April 19th, 2014

“As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale,
so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
(Antiphon, Evening Prayer, Holy Saturday)

 

 

 Reflection Question: How are you preparing to move from death to life?

Come, Let Us Adore

April 18th, 2014

We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you.
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Reflection Question: How do I show my gratitude to Jesus for his loving mercy?

Glory in the Cross

April 17th, 2014

“The Lord Jesus…took bread and…said, ‘This is my body that is for you.’ In the same way, also the cup…saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this in…remembrance of me’” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).

Reflection Question: How do I renew my faith in the mystery of the Eucharist?

Blessed Is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord

April 13th, 2014

 

“Today we gather together to herald with the whole Church the beginning of the celebration of our Lord’s Paschal Mystery, that is to say,
of his Passion and Resurrection.

“For it was to accomplish this mystery that he entered his own city of Jerusalem.

“Therefore, with all faith and devotion,
let us commemorate the Lord’s entry into the city for our salvation,
following in his footsteps, so that, being made by his grace partakers of the Cross,
we may have a share also in his Resurrection and in his life.”
(Roman Missal, Palm Sunday)

 

Reflection Question: How can each of us better show our fidelity to Jesus and his Gospel?

 

Ask the Cardinal: The Lenten Penitential Practice of Fasting

April 10th, 2014

Why does the Church say that we ought to give up something for Lent, including abstaining from meat on Fridays and fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday?

In his Letter to the Romans which we heard at Mass last Sunday, Saint Paul urges us to live not according to the flesh, with a concern for worldly things, but according to the Spirit, in which we find true life.  Lent is the special time of the year that reminds us that it is not by bread alone that we live.  Each of us is much more than just our physical body in its material world. Fasting from food for a certain time or giving up other things or activities invites us to focus on the spiritual dimension of our existence and thereby “acquire freedom of heart and mastery over our instincts” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2043).

In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with enjoying a good meal with a nice juicy steak.  To be sure, we celebrate Thanksgiving and solemnities in the Church with a feast.  But the Gospel speaks about a sense of detachment from worldly desires and having a longing instead for the bread of life and the living water that quenches all thirst (John 4:14, 6:35-58).  Fasting helps to teach us the virtues of detachment and temperance and the beatitude of spiritual poverty.

Life is often spoken of as a journey.  If we seek a happy life, it is important to know where we want to go and how to get there, rather than wandering aimlessly.  Fewer things are more frustrating than to get lost or find ourselves on the wrong road.  For this reason there are maps, traffic signs and rules of the road, which are not meant to constrain us or make travel more difficult, but to help us get to our destination.

The same is true of the Lenten season and the various penitential practices that the Church commends to us, including fasting, almsgiving and prayer.  We may be tempted to find the emphasis on penance, conversion and the need personally to take up the cross to be negative and burdensome.  After all, we talk about depriving ourselves and “giving up” things. Yet quite the contrary is true.  The perennial Lenten practices of fasting, almsgiving and prayer are not meant to be burdens along the way, but helpful traveling aids for getting our bearings, turning in the right direction and traveling on the right road so that we arrive at our heavenly goal.

The message of Christ is to follow him.  He is the way.  Through penances, little self-disciplines and self-denial, we turn our lives around to accompany Jesus in his temptations in the desert, his compassion for the poor, and ultimately in his suffering for our sins on the cross, by which he conquers sin and death and transforms them into healing, forgiveness and eternal life.

Since it is intended to foster conversion and a more holy life, traditionally fasting has been closely linked to almsgiving.  As Saint Gregory the Great taught, when it is simply about giving up something without giving away something, we are fasting to please ourselves, not God.  Rather, we make a fast holy “by other good things being added to it. The abstinent are to be admonished that they offer to God an abstinence that pleases Him when they bestow on the indigent the nourishment which they withhold from themselves” (Pastoral Rule, III, 19; see also Isaiah 58:6-12).  Thus, we are encouraged to give to charities, to donate to food banks and find other ways to help those in need.

The option is ours.  Lent can be either an obligation or an opportunity.  As we go into Holy Week, this time can be just one more burden that we must endure with all of its seeming negative overtones – or it can be a blessed time to gain something, to find that better way to take so as to share in the new life of the Risen Christ.

 

The Sign of Our New Life in Christ

April 6th, 2014

“Your brother will rise.” These beautiful words spoken by Our Lord to Martha, grief-stricken at the death of her brother Lazarus, are part of one of the most familiar and beautiful Gospel stories.  This story of the raising of Lazarus, which we hear on this Fifth Sunday of Lent, prepares us to enter into the mystery of death and the promise of resurrection that is at the heart of our journey through Holy Week and the Easter Triduum.

Jesus asks Martha if she believes what he has said.  On Martha’s lips we hear her own profession of faith. “I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the One who is coming into the world.”

Martha’s profession of faith is one of several in the Gospels that is a template for our own.  Every disciple of the Lord has personally to profess belief in him as Lord.  In Matthew’s Gospel, Peter is asked, “Who do you say that I am?”  He replies, as must each of us if we are to be a disciple, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Today, as part of an extraordinary statement of Jesus that “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, once he dies, will live…,” there is the challenge, “Do you believe this?”  Martha’s response has to be our reply, the answer of every disciple, “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe…”

The liturgy for the Fifth Sunday of Lent focuses our attention on the ultimate outcome of Jesus’ mission, ministry and Gospel and the events of his passion and death.  This Sunday we are asked to renew our faith in the fulfillment of the Paschal Mystery – the resurrection, not just of Jesus but of each of us.

As was mentioned a few weeks ago in this blog, these are also the final days of preparation for the elect, the men and women who will make this same profession of faith and be baptized or confirmed and become full members of the Church and thus able to receive the Eucharist and live with a new found hope in the promise of the Resurrection. For Martha, it was the raising of her brother that was the sign of resurrection. For the elect and for you and me, it is the baptismal font that is the sign of our new life in Christ at the Easter Vigil and all through the Easter season.

As we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments” (no. 1213).  In order to demonstrate this graphically, in many churches the font sits at the entry of the church, or sometimes at another spot visible in the church.

The baptistery has always been a significant aspect of church architecture.  Some Catholic churches have baptisteries.  Today the baptismal font in many churches is a significant part of the sanctuary itself.  Over the many centuries of Church life, free-standing baptisteries were also a feature. For example, while the Leaning Tower of Pisa may be the most famous of the three buildings that comprise the cathedral close, the magnificent baptistery is a work of art itself.

In the baptistery at Saint John Lateran, built in 440, there is an inscription above the font that is said to be written by Pope Sixtus III and it perfectly captures the renewing power of the waters of Baptism and the saving grace of the life of a Christian.   As we make the ascent to Jerusalem and Holy Week, these words of Pope Sixtus give us hope and cause for joy:

“Here is born a people of noble race, destined for Heaven,
whom the Spirit brings forth in the waters he has made fruitful.
Mother Church conceives her offspring by the breath of God,
and bears them virginally in this water.

“Hope for the Kingdom of Heaven, you who are reborn in this font.
Eternal life does not await those who are only born once.
This is the spring of life that waters the whole world,
taking its origin from the Wounds of Christ.

“Sinner, to be purified, go down into the holy water.
It receives the unregenerate and brings him forth a new man.
If you wish to be made innocent, be cleansed in this pool,
whether you are weighed down by original sin or your own.

“There is no barrier between those who are reborn
and made one by the one font, the one Spirit, and the one faith.
Let neither the number nor the kind of their sins terrify anyone;
Once reborn in this water, they will be holy.”

 

Praying with the Family of God in Our Lenten Journey

April 2nd, 2014

At the end of the funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II, when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger came forward for the final commendation and farewell, he paused for several minutes as the crowd cheered, crying out “Santo Subito” while waving banners that also read in translation, “Sainthood now!

Days earlier, on April 2, 2005, the people assembled in vigil at Saint Peter’s Square were praying for John Paul, asking the intercession of Mary and the other saints when Archbishop Leonardo Sandri came out to announce, “At 9:37 p.m. (2:37 p.m. EST), our Holy Father returned to the House of the Father.”  The people would again call on the holy disciples in heaven in that beautiful litany of the saints at his funeral.  But already, in addition to people praying for John Paul, they were asking him to pray for us, adding their own testimony to that of Cardinal Ratzinger, who said in his homily, “We can be sure that our beloved Pope is standing today at the window of the Father’s house, that he sees us and blesses us.”

During Lent, we are invited to draw closer to the Lord through prayer and other practices of spiritual renewal.  We do not journey alone, as part of some privatized or individualistic faith, but as part of a community (Lumen Fidei, 22, 39).  While we can and should engage in personal prayer, “those who believe are never alone” (Id., 39).  In particular, the Catechism of the Catholic Church instructs, “Prayer is Christian insofar as it is communion with Christ and extends throughout the Church, which is his Body” (No. 2565).

Jesus himself gave us a special model prayer and it begins with “Our Father.”  In offering up these words, even when said by ourselves in private, we do not pray alone in isolation, but with the entirety of the Church.  To pray to God as “our” Father is to recognize that he has made us his children by adoption and we have responsibilities to each other as brothers and sisters of the same family.  We do not exist in solitude, closed in ourselves.  We are a faith community.

For this reason, in the many different prayers that might be said, the Church exhorts us to pray with one voice in communion with the whole Body of Christ – with the saints in heaven, with those others who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and are awaiting the fullness of union with God, and with those of us who are now making the faith journey on earth.  In this prayer, we praise God, thank him for his many blessings, and ask the saints and others to pray for us as we also offer intercessory prayers for others.

In calling us to be missionary disciples, Pope Francis reminds us that no one is saved by himself.  We all need the help of others, we all need the prayers of others.  This is why our Holy Father began his papacy asking that we pray for him.  “We are the community of believers,” he affirmed more recently, “we are the People of God and in this community we share the beauty of the experience of a love that precedes us all, but that at the same time calls us to be ‘channels’ of grace for one another, despite our limitations and our sins. The communitarian dimension is not just a ‘frame,’ an ‘outline,’ but an integral part of Christian life, of witness and of evangelization” (Audience of January 15, 2014).

How comforting it is to know that others are praying for us.  How fruitful it is to share love for one another in this way.  It is no wonder that we invoke particularly those holy men and women like John Paul II who have gone before us and for whom the battle is over and the triumph secure.  With the saints at our side as we make our Lenten journey, praying with and for us as we pray for others, the love of God can transform us so as to make us worthy of the promises of Christ.