The Mystery of Life

April 4th, 2015

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This is our Passover feast,
when Christ, the true Lamb, is slain,
whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.

This is the night
when first you saved our fathers:
you freed the people of Israel from their slavery
and led them dry-shod through the sea.

This is the night
when the pillar of fire
destroyed the darkness of sin!

This is the night
when Christians everywhere,
washed clean of sin
and freed from all defilement,
are restored to grace
and grow together in holiness.

This is the night
when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.

What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?

Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.

– from the Exultet, the Easter Proclamation of the Easter Vigil

Reflection Question: The time of our deliverance has come. How can I keep something this wonderful to myself?

The Mystery of Death

April 4th, 2015

holy saturday

Our shepherd, the source of the water of life, has died.
The sun was darkened when he passed away.
But now man’s captor is made captive.
This is the day when our Savior broke through the gates of death.

He has destroyed the barricades of hell,
overthrown the sovereignty of the devil.
This is the day when our Savior broke through the gates of death.

– Responsory of the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday

Reflection Question: There is a great silence and stillness on earth today. The Lord has died in the flesh and is in the cold tomb. It will not be the end of the story for Christ, but what of us? What am I doing now so that I might die with Jesus and thus rise with him?

At the Foot of the Cross

April 3rd, 2015
Good Friday - Stabat Mater

Photo credit: Pieta by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

At the Cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
All His bitter anguish bearing,
Now at length the sword has passed.

O, how sad and sore distressed
Was that Mother highly blest
Of the sole-begotten One!

Christ above in torment hangs;
She beneath beholds the pangs
Of her dying glorious Son.

Is there one who would not weep,
Whelmed in miseries so deep
Christ’s dear Mother to behold?

Can the human heart refrain
From partaking in her pain,
In that Mother’s pain untold?

Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled,
She beheld her tender child
All with bloody scourges rent.

For the sins of His own nation,
Saw Him hang in desolation,
Till His spirit forth He sent.

O thou Mother! fount of love!
Touch my spirit from above;
Make my heart with thine accord.

Make me feel as thou hast felt;
Make my soul to glow and melt
With the love of Christ our Lord.

– from the 13th-century hymn Stabat Mater

Reflection Question: With Jesus giving us his Mother from the Cross, the entirety of Christ’s family is there with him, suffering with him, at his Passion, which he endures for our sake. How should I praise the Lord and glorify him for the love he has given me?

Keeping Vigil During Christ’s Agony in the Garden

April 2nd, 2015
Photo credit: The Agony in the Garden by Andrea Mantegna

Photo credit: The Agony in the Garden by Andrea Mantegna

Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.” He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.”

Matthew 26:36-39

Reflection Question: Jesus asks us to stay awake, to stay with him and keep vigil. As Christ and his body in the world today continue to suffer in the garden of the world, am I staying vigilant, or am I falling asleep?

We are Grains of Wheat

April 1st, 2015

grains of wheat

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”

John 12:23-24

Reflection Question: Am I prepared to die to self, to be as grains of wheat planted in the ground, so that I might, by my selfless love, bear much fruit in the world?

Patience and Forgiveness

March 31st, 2015
Photo credit: The Kiss of Judas by Giotto di Bondone

Photo credit: The Kiss of Judas by Giotto di Bondone

Then one of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over (Matthew 26:14-16).

“How great is your patience, most gentle Jesus, and how great my impatience!

“Alas! How poorly I tolerate a brother when he has said or done something against me. But you, for so long a time and without complaint, have endured your disciple Judas, who would soon sell and betray you, while I, for a paltry insult, quickly yield to anger and think of various ways of vindicating myself or of offering excuses. Where then is my patience, where is my meekness?

“Help me, good Jesus, and instill the virtue of your meekness in my heart in greater abundance, for without your inspiration and special grace I cannot enjoy peace of soul amid this life’s many vexations.”

– Thomas à Kempis, On the Passion of Christ

Reflection Question: It is sometimes difficult to do as Jesus asks, to “bear wrongs patiently and forgive those who injure you,” but the Lord does not ask the impossible of us. He asks that we do what we can and ask for the grace to do the rest. Remembering how Christ suffered and died for our sins, do I resolve to try, with God’s help, to be more patient with others?

Christ’s Anointing at Bethany, Our Anointing in Baptism

March 30th, 2015
Photo credit: Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Johannes (Jan) Vermeer

Photo credit: Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Johannes (Jan) Vermeer

Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him. Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.

John 12:1-3

Reflection Question: The word “Christ” means “anointed one.” Anointed ourselves in Baptism, we are meant to become Christ ourselves. How is Christ recognizable in my life?

Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord

March 29th, 2015
Photo credit: Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem by Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin

Photo credit: Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem by Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin

In Holy Week, the Church more fervently meditates on the Paschal Mystery. We begin today, Palm Sunday, with our Lord Jesus Christ’s entry into Jerusalem.

Exult greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!
Behold: your king is coming to you,
a just savior is he,
Humble, and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9).

With palms let us welcome the Lord as he comes, with songs and hymns let us run to meet him, as we offer him our joyful worship and sing: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.”

– From the antiphon for Morning Prayer, Palm Sunday

Reflection Question: As Lent comes to a close and we prepare ourselves for the mystery of our redemption in Christ’s death and resurrection, how do I praise him as King in my life? How do I seek first his kingdom?

Via Crucis in 2015

March 27th, 2015
Rome's ancient Colosseum before Pope Francis leads the Good Friday Way of the Cross (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Rome’s ancient Colosseum before Pope Francis leads the Good Friday Way of the Cross (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

In his Message for Lent, Pope Francis warns of a growing problem which we as Christians need to confront – a selfish attitude of indifference to one another and to God which has taken on global proportions.

Our Redeemer who gave himself on the cross is not indifferent to the human condition and neither can we be.  Our Holy Father reminds us in his message that we are one – “Whoever is of Christ, belongs to one body, and in him we cannot be indifferent to one another. ‘If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it’ (1 Corinthians 12:26).”

In reading this passage, our suffering Christian sisters and brothers in the Middle East and Africa immediately come to mind.  The oppression and violence in those regions persist with news of people being beheaded, crucified, set on fire, raped, sold into slavery, and kidnapped, while their churches have been desecrated and destroyed.  In recent months, many Christians have had to flee their homes, stripped of everything they own but the clothes on their back – and their faith in Christ.

In a very real sense, our Christian family is enduring the via crucis – the Way of the Cross.  Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham notes in his Lenten message that Christians in the Middle East “are in the fifth year of the Way of the Cross.” Meanwhile, like Mary at the foot of the cross, we suffer with them.

After Islamic extremists recently beheaded 21 Egyptian Coptic Christian hostages in Libya, Pope Francis said, “The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard.” Throughout history, the ally of atrocities has been silence. We must not remain silent. All of us must raise our voices, to say this is wrong and something must be done to stop it.

In addition to appealing to people’s consciences, we must also offer our prayers and spiritual support for suffering Christians around the world. Another way we can assist our brothers and sisters in need is through our support of Catholic Relief Services and other organizations that are providing humanitarian relief in the form of food, clothing, shelter and other material help.

Two years ago on Good Friday, newly-elected Pope Francis led his first Way of the Cross at the Colosseum. Showing prayerful solidarity with Christians facing persecution, the meditations were composed by Lebanese young people under the guidance of Cardinal Béchara Boutros Raï, the Maronite Catholic patriarch.

I invite you now to join in those meditations, keeping in mind the Christian people of the Middle East and parts of Africa. Just as we do at every Stations of the Cross, these young people prayerfully reflected on Jesus being condemned to death, taking up his cross, falling for the first time, and meeting his beloved mother as he climbed Mount Calvary. They prayed that like Simon of Cyrene, they could help Jesus carry his cross and share his sufferings, “because you are carrying it with us, because you triumphed over death for us.”

Reflecting on the sixth station, Veronica wipes the face of Jesus, the young people noted that “Veronica reminds us that you are present in every person who suffers.” At the seventh station, Jesus falls for the second time, we pray with them, “Come Holy Spirit, to console and strengthen Christians, especially those from the Middle East, so that, united in Christ, they may be witnesses of your universal love, in an area torn apart by injustice and conflicts.”

The eighth station, Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem, reminds us that, like those women who wept for Jesus, “our world is full of afflicted mothers” who have experienced injustice and suffering.

After reflecting on Jesus falling for the third time under the weight of the cross, these young people then meditated on the 10th station, Jesus is stripped of his garments, praying with our Holy Father, “Bestow, Lord, upon the children of the Eastern Churches – stripped by various difficulties, sometimes to the point of persecution, and weakened by emigration – the courage to remain in their countries to proclaim the Good News.”

The youth who offered these meditations next reflected on Jesus dying and then being taken down from the cross. They prayed that those fleeing wars and violence might return home, and that “the blood of the innocent victims may be the seed” of a new “more fraternal, peaceful and just” Middle East, a region that might “recover the splendor of its vocation as the cradle of civilization and of spiritual and human values.”

At the 14th station, Jesus is laid in the tomb. But we know that this is not the end, and so we pray with the young people that we be “children of the light who do not fear the darkness,” and that all who have lost hope may find faith in Jesus’ victory over sin and death.

During this upcoming Holy Week and Good Friday of 2015, as we remember Jesus’ Way of the Cross, let us also prayerfully remember the Christians in the Middle East and Africa, our brothers and sisters, and let us walk and stand with them in solidarity.

 

Women Religious Manifest the Faith and Love of the Virgin Mary, Bride and Mother

March 25th, 2015
Women Religious

Sister Virgin Oyente holds a baby during the open house at Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara. (Photo credit: Jaclyn Lippelmann)

When we look to the scene of the Annunciation, we find the archangel Gabriel sent by God to a humble daughter of Israel, Mary. She is told of God’s plan for her, and on her response would depend the fate of all mankind. Here was the focal point of all creation, “the fundamental event in the economy of salvation,” said Saint John Paul II (Redemptoris Mater, 39). Her answer would change forever her life and that of the world.

The mystery of the Annunciation brought humanity to the pivotal moment. Pope Benedict XVI explained that after a long period of courtship, then came the definitive moment, the establishment of a new and everlasting covenant – “[I]t was as if God made a marriage proposal to the human race. And in our name, Mary said yes.” Her acceptance was essential because the Word would enter the world by taking on human nature through the very flesh and blood of the Blessed Virgin.

In her fiat, her “yes” to God, Saint John Paul says, Mary was “guided by spousal love, the love which totally ‘consecrates’ a human being to God. By virtue of this love, Mary wished to be always and in all things ‘given to God’” (Redemptoris Mater, 39). In humbly accepting God’s call, Mary is forever the example of what we mean by faith – true, profound faith – and love for the Lord.

Throughout human history, in the divine teaching set out in scripture, God’s love is presented in the image of the nuptial love of a husband for his bride (CCC 1602-17). In the book of the prophet Hosea, the Lord says to his people, “I will betroth you to me forever” (2:21). Christ, the Bridegroom, embodies this love in his union with his Bride, the Church.

Mary is the model for us all, but consecrated religious view her in a special light. “The consecrated life has always been seen primarily in terms of Mary – Virgin and Bride,” wrote Saint John Paul, and the “spousal dimension, which is part of all consecrated life, has a particular meaning for women, who find therein their feminine identity and as it were discover the special genius of their relationship with the Lord” (Vita Consecreta, 34).

In a culture that struggles to understand the consecrated religious life, that wonders why anyone would want to become a nun or religious sister (or religious brother) instead of getting married, we might pause a moment to reflect on the vocation of consecrated life as a living sign of the nuptial union of the Church as Bride with her Spouse, particularly with respect to women religious (Vita Consecreta, 3).

When we speak of the personal quality of the solemn profession of vows, the “yes” to God that is given, we highlight the declaration of each sister to unite herself to the Lord Jesus in a bond of commitment, dedication and love that marks this profound level of discipleship. Each religious sister is reminded, in the language of spousal love, how complete and total is her self-giving to Christ in a love that focuses totally on him. He, in turn, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, embraces each sister in a love that makes it possible for his presence to be manifest in each of them.

A long tradition helps us to grasp in human terms the reality of this love through the use of symbols and images. As a sign of their union with Christ, many women religious wear a habit, and some wear a ring to explicitly identify themselves as a “spouse of Christ” and a “mother of souls.”

Through their lives consecrated to the Lord, in their religious communities and out in the world, in a blessed and particular way, each religious sister becomes fruitful, fostering the spiritual “birth and growth of divine life in people’s hearts” and contributing to the growth of a new humanity (Vita Consecreta, 34).

On this Solemnity of the Annunciation in the Year of Consecrated Life, we joyfully express our thanks to God for our women religious, who show in their lives the love of the Virgin Mary, Bride and Mother, handmaid of the Lord.