Archive for the ‘Prayer and Spirituality’ Category

 

The Mother of All Liturgies: The Sacred Triduum

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

After living and celebrating the holy and penitential season of Lent, we enter into Holy Week which is the holiest and most important time in the Liturgical Year. Holy Week is the time in which we enter into the Paschal Mystery of Christ in a most unique and profound way. This reaches its climax in the celebration of the Triduum, the greatest of all liturgies, on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil when we truly walk with Christ and enter into his saving mystery. Even though the Triduum is celebrated over three days, it is actually one liturgy that begins Holy Thursday evening and ends late Holy Saturday night. In fact, it is often called the “mother of all liturgies.” Through the Triduum, we literally walk and journey with Christ from the celebration of the Last Supper, to the Agony in the Garden, through the Passion and Crucifixion, unto the celebration and joy of the Resurrection. It is a powerful and moving experience that all Catholics should experience if they are able to.

Holy Thursday

The Triduum begins on Holy Thursday night with the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The Triduum starts on a very celebratory note as we thank God for the gift of the Eucharist and the institution of the Priesthood. For the first time in weeks, we sing the Gloria and we recall with great love and thanksgiving the true Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who in anticipation of his sacrifice on the Cross gives us his Body and his Blood as true food and drink. “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (John 6:55-56) With the institution of the Eucharist, Jesus also gives the command “Do this in memory of me.” Through this command, Jesus institutes the Priesthood of the New Covenant and gives the Apostles the authority to act in his person and through the power of the Holy Spirit change bread and wine into his Body and Blood. Thus, Holy Thursday recalls the great gift and mystery of the Priesthood through which Christ dispenses the great wealth of sacramental grace.

On Holy Thursday, we also recall that during the Last Supper in John’s Gospel, Jesus washed the feet of the Apostles. Through the reenactment of the washing of the feet, we are remember that Jesus himself came to serve and that we are also called to serve and bring Christ’s presence and Good News to the most vulnerable and outcast of society.

The mood of the Liturgy changes quickly after the Celebration of the Eucharist as we begin to move into the Passion of Christ and the beginning of the Agony in the Garden. In dramatic fashion, the altar is stripped and the Eucharist is processed out of the Church and the faithful are invited to enter into Christ’s passion. The absence of the Eucharist in the church is a reminder of the Lord’s passion and the cost of losing our communion with Christ through sin. What began as celebration now pauses in solemnity and sorrow as the passion of the Christ has begun.

Good Friday

The Triduum resumes with the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday. The liturgy begins in silence as the priests enter the Church and then prostrate themselves before the altar as a sign of penance and sorrow. We then move into the Liturgy of the Word which includes a passage from Isaiah’s description of the Suffering Servant. We then pray the powerful Psalm 22 which Christ exclaimed from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” The Passion according to St. John is then read followed by the Veneration of the Cross. In this powerful moment, we literally find ourselves at the foot of the Cross adoring Christ, the Lamb of God, who as both Priest and Victim, offered himself for the salvation of the world. Finally, the Eucharist is brought in procession back into the Church so that we may receive the very Body of Christ, the fruit of the New Tree of Life, who is Christ crucified. The Eucharist is then taken in procession back out of the Church and the liturgy again pauses as we enter into the time of hopeful anticipation of the Resurrection.

The Easter Vigil

The Triduum ends with the celebration of the Easter Vigil which is the climax of the entire Liturgical Year. It is the celebration of the Resurrection of the Christ, and the entire loving plan of salvation accomplished in Christ.

The Easter Vigil begins in total darkness, the darkness of sin and the darkness of the grave. Then, the Easter fire is lit outside the Church which represents the light of the Resurrection. The Paschal Candle is then prepared and slowly brought into the Church in solemn procession as a symbol of the Resurrected Christ. As the Paschal Candle is processed in, the priest sings “Light of Christ.” The light of the Paschal Candle shatters the darkness of sin and death! As the Paschal candle continues to process into the Church, the individual candles of the gathered faithful are also lit, reminding us that each and every one of us, through our Baptism, are called to be the light of Christ in the world. Suddenly, the entire church is full of light, the light of the Resurrection!

“Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels! Exult, all creation around God”s throne! Jesus Christ, our King, is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!” These powerful words of the Exultet the great prayer of the Church that first announce the Good News of the Resurrection are then proclaimed. This begins the Liturgy of the Word that is a series of nine readings. These readings cover God’s entire plan of salvation accomplished in Christ, beginning with Genesis, then the Exodus, then readings from the Prophets. Then, in glorious fashion, the Gloria is sung and as the lights of the church come on, the full celebration of the Resurrection begins. The Epistle of Paul is read and the Gospel is proclaimed. Christ indeed is risen!

After the homily, the full fruits of the Resurrection are made visibly present through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. The Elect and Candidates who have been preparing for full communion with the Catholic Church are received into the Church. Finally, the Easter Vigil and the entire Triduum concludes with the Celebration of the Eucharist.

The Triduum is a powerful liturgical experience, not only during the celebrations at the parish, but also throughout the entire three days. One is able to literally experience and live the Paschal Mystery, the passion, death, and Resurrection of Christ. It is a profound way to truly contemplate the face of Christ and to deepen our communion with him. In addition, walking this journey with our Lord only deepens our awareness of the power and reality of the Resurrection and the presence and power of Christ in our lives. I encourage all to experience this journey of grace!

Lenten Reflection: A Tale of Two Gardens

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

As we begin our Lenten journey of conversion and repentance, we find that we often struggle with the old Adam within ourselves that is still inclined to sin and worldly desires and our new life in Christ that was given to us at baptism and is continuously renewed through Eucharist and Penance.  As a good reflection for the Lenten season, scripture reveals that there is a remarkable parallel in the Old Testament and the New Testament between the disobedience of Adam and the results of His sin, and the perfect obedience of Jesus and the results of his righteousness.  I call it “The Tale of Two Gardens.”  Here we so clearly see how Jesus completely atones for and reverses the sin and disobedience of Adam and though His sacrifice on the Cross restores our communion with God and once again obtains for us the gift of grace and eternal life.

Let us go back for a moment and recall what happened in Genesis Chapter 3.  Adam is in the Garden of Eden, and he is knows no suffering or evil and enjoys intimate communion with God and complete unity and harmony with his wife Eve and the rest of creation.  However, he is confronted with a temptation from Satan, and because of this gift of his free will, faces a fundamental choice.  Adam can either eat of the Tree of Life, which represents intimate communion with God through obedience to his plan and goodness, or he can choose to reject God, his life of grace and goodness, and view himself as a god who can determine for himself what is good and evil.  We know from the story that with Eve’s participation, Adam eats of the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Thus, through their disobedience, Adam and Eve were banned from eating of the fruit of the Tree of Life, which represents the loss of  eternal life and union with God.  They now suffer death, separation from God, and the natural consequences of sin.  Consequently, through Adam, sin and disobedience entered the world and through this original sin, all human beings from that moment are born disfigured by sin.  We no longer know God as our Father and are inclined to do our will and determine what is best for ourselves. We have literally forgotten who we are, images and children of God, and the dignity and destiny to which we are called.  But hope is not lost, for out of the chaos of that first sin comes the first announcement of the good news of salvation:  A savior will be born of a woman who will crush the head of Satan and sin and restore the human family to salvation and grace.

Now let us go to Matthew 26:36-46.  We find Jesus the New Adam in a garden:  the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before his Crucifixion.  Here, like Adam, Jesus faces a fundamental choice, although this one is quite different.  Jesus can either obey the Father’s plan of salvation that on the next day he will be beaten, scourged, and be nailed  Cross for three agonizing hours in order to die for all of the sins committed against him for all time.  Or Jesus can preserve his life, disobey the will of the Father and follow his own will and desires.  Not only does Jesus obey the Father, but he completely surrenders himself to the will of the Father three times, which in Scripture always means perfection:  “Father if it is possible, let this cup pass, but not my will be done but yours.”  Jesus perfectly obeys the Father’s plan to embrace the Cross to save us from our sins.  However, this obedience of Jesus has remarkable consequences.  Through His obedience, not only does Jesus atone for the disobedience of Adam, but He is hung upon the wood of the Cross, the tree of our salvation.  But this is no mere man hung upon a tree but Jesus  is God Himself.  Thus, because he is God the crucified Jesus becomes the New Tree of Life from which Adam and all his descendants had been banned since the first sin.  But what exactly were they banned from?  They were banned from eating of the fruit of the Tree of Life.  If Jesus hung upon the Cross is the New Tree of Life, then what is its fruit?

 

Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. (John 6:53-56)

 

Thus, the fruit of the New Tree of Life is the Eucharist, Jesus’ own body and blood, that He gives us to eat and drink so that we can once again have intimate communion with God and eternal life that was lost through the disobedience of Adam.

Consequently, through His perfect obedience, Jesus embraces the Tree of the Cross, which becomes the New Tree of Life and the fruit of the New Tree of Life is the Eucharist which once again gives eternal life, union with God, and destroys sin and death.  Jesus is the New Adam that reverses the sin of Adam and brings salvation to all humanity.

As we look into our own hearts, we face the same kind of fundamental decision each and every day.  Do we choose to follow the old Adam within our selves, or do we choose to follow Christ and cooperate with his grace in our lives?

Thus, we see in these two passages why the Father’s plan requires that Jesus must be fully God and fully human.  Jesus truly becomes God’s mercy and reconciliation to man and at the same time he becomes man’s obedience and reconciliation to God.  Because Jesus is truly human, His perfect obedience to the Father atones for the disobedience of the first man Adam.  But also because Jesus is God, He has the power to become in himself the New Tree of Life that restores humanity’s communion with God that was lost through Original Sin.  All of salvation history culminates at this moment, bringing out the depth of Christ’s meaning as He hung upon the tree and exclaimed the words, “It is finished!”

Forgive Me Father for I Have Sinned: Why Confession?

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

 

     Often called our “second baptism”, the sacrament of Penance cleanses us of our sin and restores us to new life in Christ.  It is a great sacrament of healing, one which ought to be approached often and with great confidence and trust, and is truly a fountain of mercy and grace flowing from the heart of Christ himself through the Church.  But many times, the question is asked:  “Why must we confess our sins to a priest?”  This is a great question frequently asked by non-Catholics and even many Catholics.  Let’s explore these reasons more closely. 

     First, it is Christ himself that established the sacrament of Penance and the confession of sin to one who shares the apostolic ministry entrusted to the apostles and their successors. He gave the apostles and their successors the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive or retain sins on the evening of his resurrection (see John 20: 19-23).  Thus, we confess our sins to a priest first and foremost because it is the will of Christ.  But it goes much deeper than that.  As with any sacrament, the priest is ministering in persona Christi which means “in the person of Christ”.  That simply but powerfully means that Christ is really present and working through the priest.  Thus, it is Christ who baptizes, Christ who confirms, and Christ who hears our sins and forgives them.  We are not just telling our sins to a mere man, but to Christ himself who is truly present and working through the priest. 

     The second reason has to do with the nature of sin and the healing that is needed to bring about true penance or reconciliation.  First, when we sin and deliberately choose to disobey God and turn against his goodness, it wounds or in the case of mortal sin severs our relationship with God.  It is we who break the relationship, not God.  God, like with Adam after the first sin, always searches for us and calls us back to himself.  This is what we call the divine dimension of sin.  Sin always affects our relationship with God and either diminishes or destroys the life of grace within us.  Through confessing our sins to the priest, we are confessing our sins to Christ himself who restores us to our relationship to the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit.  We come to the foot of the Cross and lay our sins before the Lamb of God who washes them away through the blood that flowed from his side.  That is what really happens when one goes to confession.   

    Secondly, when it comes to sin, there is no such thing as a “private sin.”  Yes, sin can be done privately in that no other person knows about it (but God does), but even a sin that is done in private still hurts and effects others.  Every time we sin, even if it is alone, it affects our ability to love, to be in relationship, and to live in communion with others.  This is certainly true when we commit a sin that directly affects or hurts another, but even sins committed in private, and even our sinful thoughts hurt others indirectly as well.  Sin by its nature isolates and wraps us in ourselves.  Thus, every sin has social consequences, harming and even destroying our relationship with others.  Even more powerfully, as a member of the mystical Body of Christ the Church, sin wounds our communion with the Church and in the case of mortal sins severs our relationship with the Church.  This is called the human dimension of sin.  By confessing our sins to the priest, we are also confessing to the leader and representative of the community and the Church, and therefore our relationship with others and the Church is also reconciled.  Therefore, by confessing our sins to a priest, both the divine and human dimensions of sin are reconciled and our communion with God and the Church is fully restored.    

     The third reason we confess our sins to a priest has a lot to do with our human nature.  God in his wisdom knows that the confession of our sins brings about a deeper and more complete healing of ourselves.  The more we become isolated the more sin is allowed to fester and become worse.  Sin loves to operate in the dark.  When we keep sin inside ourselves it becomes like a cancer eating at our souls and our humanity.  The best way to defeat sin, like cancer, is to get it out and to bring it into the light of Christ.  The reality is that unless sin is brought into the light and brought out of ourselves, true healing is very difficult.

     This is the beauty of the sacrament of Penance.  It brings about in us a true healing.  When we confess our sins to another, we are required to look the sin squarely in the eye, take ownership and responsibility for it, and admit it to another.  We literally empty ourselves of sin so we may be filled with the grace of Christ.  The Catechism powerfully brings out this aspect of the confession of sins: 

    

The confession (or disclosure) of sins, even from a simply human point of view, frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with others. Through such an admission man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the Church in order to make a new future possible. (1455)

  

     This is the most powerful aspect of the sacrament of Penance.  Remember that all the sacraments are visible tangible signs that make present to us in a natural way what God is doing supernaturally.  God is communicating his grace to us in a way that we can really know and experience his love for us.  Penance is an extraordinarily human and tangible experience of God’s mercy and forgiveness.  If we were to only ask God for forgiveness, we would simply have to trust that he has forgiven us.  But through confessing our sins in the sacrament of Penance, we have in a real and fully human way given our sins to Christ, and then we in turn experience and know Christ’s forgiveness in a real, human, and tangible way through the ministry of the priest.  At the end of confession, the priest lays his hand upon us calling down the power of the Holy Spirit, and we hear and know the reality and power of Christ’s mercy and forgiveness through the prayer of the Church:

 

God, the Father of mercies, through the death and the resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

 

     Therefore, by confessing our sins to a priest, not only are we participating in the sacrament of Penance that Christ established and is working through, but it also fully heals us from the consequences of sin, brings about a more real and complete healing of our human nature, and we also come to know and experience in a real and powerful way God’s love and mercy that pours forth from the heart of Christ.  May we, through this season of Lent, come to a new and deeper appreciation and practice of this powerful sacrament of Christ’s healing, grace, and forgiveness. 

 

Mary as Mother and Model of the Church

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

On August 15th, we again celebrate the great feast of the Assumption when Mary is assumed body and soul into heaven.  This feast is the crowning jewel in the life of Mary and her Assumption is directly attributed to the fact that she is full of grace and that she lived a life of perfect union with her Son.  Thus, the Assumption highlights in many ways Mary’s role as Mother and Model of the Church.  This title of Mary is not new, but has been attributed to her from the beginning of Christianity, especially by the early Fathers of the Church.  More recently, Vatican II affirmed and reflected upon this important role of Mary in the life of the Church and in our own lives.  As Catholics, Mary is a great gift to us from Christ who wills and desires that we love and honor her as our own spiritual mother, and follow her great example of faith, charity, and holiness.

Mary enjoys a special place of honor in the Church, an honor that is even exulted above that which we give the angels and the saints.  Why is this?  First, we do not worship Mary—for Mary would be horrified if we ever exulted her to be at the same level as God.  However, we do honor Mary in a special or exulted way because of her unique faith and holiness, and because it was through Mary’s faith that Christ was able to come into the world and accomplish his work of salvation.  Without Mary’s yes or fiat at the Annunciation, Jesus would not have become incarnate:  “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)  As St. Augustine reflected, “All of creation held its breath awaiting the fiat of Mary.”

Thus, Mary is the perfect model of faith and exemplifies the type of faith all of us in the Church should possess.  Mary desired nothing but to do the will of God and all through her life she pondered with an open and docile heart the mighty works of God and the mystery of her Son, Jesus Christ.  Thus, Mary is the first and perfect model of the Church’s “pilgrimage of faith”.  As Vatican II teaches:

 

“Thus, the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, grieving exceedingly with her only begotten Son, uniting herself with a maternal heart with His sacrifice, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this Victim which she herself had brought forth.. (Lumen Gentium, 58)

Not only is Mary the model of the Church’s pilgrimage of faith, but Mary is also the model and image of the Church’s destiny in glorification in Christ.  Mary, by being assumed body and soul into heaven, already enjoys the fullness of the Resurrection and is a great sign and witness to the victory won by Christ through the blood of the Cross.  Mary shows us in herself the ultimate and final end of our pilgrimage of faith—sharing in the glory of the most Holy Trinity and living in the communion of all the saints.  Mary shows us all that salvation in Christ is real and is the ultimate goal and destiny of the Church.  This is why the two final Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary, the Assumption of Mary and the Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth, are ultimately about Christ:  They show us that the grace of Christ’s redemption is real and effective, and Mary stands as a great sign of hope and encouragement for us all.  As Vatican II again states:

“In the interim just as the Mother of Jesus, glorified in body and soul in heaven, is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected is the world to come, so too does she shine forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come, as a sign of sure hope and solace to the people of God during its sojourn on earth.” (Lumen Gentium, 68)

Mary is not only the Model of the Church, but she is also the Mother of the Church in the order of grace.  We see this most profoundly in John’s gospel when Jesus, as his last gift to us on earth, lovingly hands over to us the motherhood of Mary:

Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother”s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. (John 19:25-27)

Through this gift of Christ, Mary’s Motherhood not only is for Christ the Head, but also extends to the Body of Christ, the Church.   Just as Mary nurtured, protected, and provided for her Son, so does Mary nurture, protect, and provide for her children in the Church.  Mary is our spiritual Mother who through her motherhood desires only to bring us into a deeper and intimate communion with her Son.

What does this mean?  It means that just in the same way that she brought forth her Son into the world through her faith and instrumentality at the Annunciation, and the manifestation of his public ministry through the miracle at the wedding feast in Cana, Mary continues to manifest and present her Son to souls through her constant prayers and intercession and through her gentle witness “Do whatever he tells you.”  (John 2:5)  As Vatican II powerfully teaches:

“This maternity of Mary in the order of grace began with the consent which she gave in faith at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, and lasts until The eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this salvific duty, but by her constant intercession continued to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation.  By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into the happiness of their true home.” (Lumen Gentium, 62)

Therefore, since Mary’s motherhood is a gift to each of us from Christ, devotion to Mary should be an essential part of the life of every Christian.  Devotion to Mary should always lead us to deeper union with Christ.  We never pray to Mary as an end, but ask her to intercede for us to Christ.  She would be horrified if devotion to her ever took away our focus on him!  Everything that she was and did was not only to bring about her own deeper communion with Christ, but to also bring others to a more intimate knowledge and union with him.  This is why we honor Mary as the perfect disciple of Christ and the Model of the Church.

Devotion to Mary does not take away from Christ, but rather augments our knowledge of his life and virtues.  Mary shows us that salvation in Christ is real and possible, and she also shows us what it looks like.  If you want to know Christ, know his Mother!  Mary is the perfect model of faith, hope, and charily and she continues to show us even today how to come into a stronger and more real relationship with Jesus.

Mary’s prayers and intercession before Christ on our behalf are very powerful because of who she is and the role she played in God’s plan of salvation.  She is the Mother of Christ, so she has a unique and special relationship with him.  He has a special place in his heart for his Mother, and so he honors in a very special way her prayers and requests.  Through Mary’s prayers and intercession, we have a unique and privileged way to the heart of Jesus.  This is why prayers and devotion to her have been at the heart of the Church’s life from the very beginning.

In addition, Mary, through her Immaculate Conception, was created free from sin and was completely filled with grace and love throughout her life.  She was created with a capacity to love God and others that far exceeds any of us.  Thus, her love for us and her prayers for us are extraordinarily powerful.

Therefore, as we continue on along our own journey of faith, seeking and contemplating the face of the Lord, and especially during this holy and penitential season of Lent, may we all strive to grow in our relationship with Mary and entrust ourselves more deeply to her maternal care, that she may present us as a pure and holy gift to Christ her Son.  Pray for us O holy Mother of God, that we may be worthy of the promises of Christ!

Catechesis: Handing on the Person of Christ

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the St. John Bosco Catechetical Conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville.  It was a fantastic week of networking and collaborating with catechists and catechetical leaders from literally around the world who are working tirelessly in the vinyard of the Lord in handing on the faith to those the Lord has entrusted to them.  The ministry of catechesis is one of the most crucial ministries in the Church and is part of the Lord”s commisioning to the Chuch to “baptize all the nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teach them all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)   I thought that this would be a great opportunity to reflect upon what exactly is catechesis, and that in reality, we are all catechists and are called to hand on the very Person of Christ.

What is catechesis?  Catechesis comes from the Greek meaning “to echo.”  It is the mission entrusted to the Church by Christ to “echo” or to faithfully hand on what Jesus has revealed to us through his Incarnation, his life and mission, and the Paschal mystery of his death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven.  In fact, through catechesis, it is not so much what we hand on but Whom.  As John Paul II simply but profoundly states in his letter on catechesis Catechesi Tradendae:   “At the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, ‘the only Son from the Father…full of grace and truth.’”  (CT, 5)  Here we see the essence of what catechesis is:  the handing on of the person of Christ, and truth he reveals and the life of grace he offers to us.  First and foremost, catechesis must hand on the truth of Christ and who he is; the full revelation of the Father and the full revelation of our own humanity destined for eternal glory.  For it is only in the truth of Christ that we can come to know true freedom and the fullness of human life:   “For I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.” (Jn 10:10)  This truth about Christ in turn leads us to his life, a life of abundant grace found especially in the celebration of the sacraments and most profoundly in his real presence in the Eucharist.  As catechists, we are the instruments the Lord uses to echo this truth so that others may come first to know him and then have communion and life through Him.  “[Catechesis] is to seek to understand the meaning of Christ’s actions and words and of the signs worked by him…Accordingly, the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ:  only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity.”  (CT, 5)

Thus as catechists, we hand on not our own teaching, but Christ’s teaching.  What a profound gift it is to be the instrument Christ chooses to use to bring his grace and truth to those entrusted to us!   In order to be true and effective catechists we must have the humility to know and understand our role of instrumentality.  With this precisely in mind, Pope John Paul beautifully and powerfully lays forth the role of the catechist:

Every catechist should be able to apply to himself the mysterious words of Jesus: “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me”.  Saint Paul did this when he was dealing with a question of prime importance: “I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you”.  What assiduous study of the word of God transmitted by the Church”s Magisterium, what profound familiarity with Christ and with the Father, what a spirit of prayer, what detachment from self must a catechist have in order that he can say: “My teaching is not mine”! (CT, 6)

This indeed is a tall order and we don’t do it perfectly!  But, if we as catechists are to more faithfully echo the person and teaching of Christ, then we ourselves must see that we are immersed into his mystery in our own lives by contemplating and pondering the mystery of Christ through prayer, the sacraments, and our own personal study and ongoing “faith seeking understanding” and conversion of heart.   The more we are rooted in Christ, the more perfect and clear will be our echoing of Christ and his truth.  We see in Mary, who was the first catechist, the first to echo Christ and his truth, a profound living example for us who catechize.  For often in the gospel do we see Mary “pondering these things in her heart.” (Lk 2:19)   She allowed the mystery and truth of Christ to so penetrate her being that she was able to perfectly reflect the light of her Son.  As John Paul explains:

Christ is the supreme Teacher, the revealer and the one revealed. It is not just a question of learning what he taught but of “learning him”. In this regard could we have any better teacher than Mary? From the divine standpoint, the Spirit is the interior teacher who leads us to the full truth of Christ (cf. Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:13). But among creatures no one knows Christ better than Mary; no one can introduce us to a profound knowledge of his mystery better than his Mother.  (RVM, 14)

Thus, it especially when we ponder with Mary the mystery of her Son through the rosary that we sit at the “school of Mary” and come to a deeper knowledge and communion with her Son.  Through the rosary we join with her in pondering in our own hearts the saving truth of Jesus Christ and come into a more intimate communion with him.  This is why the rosary is above all a Christ-centered prayer in which we learn Christ with and through the intercession of his Mother.  Therefore, devotion to the rosary can be a powerful spiritual tool in helping us come to a deeper knowledge of Christ so that we may be ever more faithful in “echoing” Christ through our ministry of catechesis.

May we all entrust ourselves to the maternal intercession of Mary who was for us the model catechist, and the first to hand on the Person of Christ.  As Pope John Paul II powerfully prays:

May the Virgin of Pentecost obtain this for us through her intercession. By a unique vocation, she saw her Son Jesus “increase in wisdom and in stature, and in favor.” As He sat on her lap and later as He listened to her throughout the hidden life at Nazareth, this Son, who was “the only Son from the Father,” “full of grace and truth,” was formed by her in human knowledge of the Scriptures and of the history of God”s plan for His people, and in adoration of the Father. She in turn was the first of His disciples. She was the first in time, because even when she found her adolescent Son in the temple she received from Him lessons that she kept in her heart.  She was the first disciple above all else because no one has been “taught by God” to such depth. She was “both mother and disciple,” as St. Augustine said of her, venturing to add that her discipleship was more important for her than her motherhood.  There are good grounds for the statement made in the synod hall that Mary is “a living catechism” and “the mother and model of catechists.”

May the presence of the Holy Spirit, through the prayers of Mary, grant the Church unprecedented enthusiasm in the catechetical work that is essential for her. Thus will she effectively carry out, at this moment of grace, her inalienable and universal mission, the mission given her by her Teacher: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (CT, 73)

Go in Peace to Love and Serve the Lord

Monday, June 27th, 2011

     Pope Benedict XVI, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, preached a very powerful homily on the Eucharist as the antidote to the many evils in the world.  However, the Eucharist is the antidote only if we, who receive the Real Presence of Jesus Christ, allow the Body and Blood of Jesus to transform our hearts and minds so that we can go out and transform the culture by being a true witness of Christ.  This is why we are commissioned at the end of Mass to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”  We come to Mass not only to worship, but we  ourselves are sacrificed to the Father with Christ really present in the Eucharist so that we may be graced, transformed, and prepared to go out and do Christ”s work, and to be his presence in the ordinary places of secular life.   This is at the very heart of our mission as lay members of the Church.   As the Second Vatican Council teaches us: 

But the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer. (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, 31)

 

     Therefore, we must resist the temptation to leave our Catholicism at the door of the church and realize that each one of us is empowered by the Eucharistic Christ to go out and make a difference in the world, to be the presence of Christ and the Church where there is much darkness and sin.   Only through our presence enlightened, transformed, and graced by the Real Presence of Christ can our culture be transformed from a culture of death to the culture of life. We cannot afford to sit on the sidelines anymore, there is too much at stake!  We must have the courage and the consolation to know that Jesus is truly with us, and that he will give us the strength, the words, and the wisdom to make a difference in world.  Communion with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist calls us to mission, and the mission fields are not in a far away country.  The mission fields are here, in our families, in our parishes, in our schools, in the workplace.  These are the places where we must make a difference and make the light of Christ known to all!

     With all this in mind, let us meditate on the powerful words of the Holy Father who is reminding us of the power of the Eucharist in our lives and our calling to go out and share in his redeeming work and be his witnesses to all we encounter:

So from the gift of Christ”s love comes our special responsibility as Christians in building a cohesive, just and fraternal society. Especially in our time when globalization makes us increasingly dependent upon each other, Christianity can and must ensure that this unity will not be built without God, without true Love. This would give way to confusion and individualism, the oppression of some against others. The Gospel has always aimed at the unity of the human family, a unity not imposed from above, or by ideological or economic interests, but from a sense of responsibility toward each other, because we identify ourselves as members of the same body, the body of Christ, because we have learned and continually learn from the Sacrament of the Altar that communion, love is the path of true justice.

Let us return to Jesus” act in the Last Supper. What happened at that moment? When he said: This is my body which is given to you, this is my blood shed for you and for the multitude, what happened? Jesus in that gesture anticipates the event of Calvary. He accepts his passion out of love, with its trial and its violence, even to death on the cross; by accepting it in this way he transforms it into an act of giving. This is the transformation that the world needs most, because he redeems it from within, he opens it up to the kingdom of heaven. But God always wants to accomplish this renewal of the world through the same path followed by Christ, indeed, the path that is himself. There is nothing magic in Christianity. There are no shortcuts, but everything passes through the patient and humble logic of the grain of wheat that is broken to give life, the logic of faith that moves mountains with the gentle power of God. This is why God wants to continue to renew humanity, history and the cosmos through this chain of transformations, of which the Eucharist is the sacrament. Through the consecrated bread and wine, in which his Body and Blood is truly present, Christ transforms us, assimilating us in him: He involves us in his redeeming work, enabling us, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to live according to his same logic of gift, like grains of wheat united with him and in him. Thus unity and peace, which are the goal for which we strive, are sown and mature in the furrows of history, according to God”s plan.

Without illusions, without ideological utopias, we walk the streets of the world, bringing within us the Body of the Lord, like the Virgin Mary in the mystery of the Visitation. With the humble awareness that we are simple grains of wheat, we cherish the firm conviction that the love of God, incarnate in Christ, is stronger than evil, violence and death. We know that God is preparing for all people new heavens and new earth where peace and justice prevail — and by faith we glimpse the new world, that is our true home. Also this evening as the sun sets on our beloved city of Rome, we set out again on this path: With us is Jesus in the Eucharist, the Risen One, who said, “I am with you always, until the end of world “(Mt 28:20). Thank you, Lord Jesus! Thank you for your fidelity, which sustains our hope. Stay with us, because the evening comes. “Jesus, good shepherd and true bread, have mercy on us; feed us and guard us. Grant that we find happiness in the land of the living.” Amen.

Holy Week and the Crucifix at St. James Academy

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

 

The Story of this Crucifix – A Father and a Son

At the opening of our new Catholic high school, St. James Academy in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, our chapel needed a Crucifix.

A friend and donor approached me regarding a nationally known artist who created life-like representations of people from various walks of life. My friend talked to this artist about creating a life size, real depiction of Christ’s Crucifixion. The artist not only agreed to do the work, but placed it first in front of 19 other commissioned projects. My friend generously agreed to fund the Crucifix.

Upon arrival at St. James, our staff, students and parents were so moved by this realistic depiction of the crucifixion that we held a special viewing for the community to reflect on Christ’s sacrifice and love. Visitors from outside our school still come to our chapel to witness this moving piece of art.

Finally, the artist himself visited our chapel. The story he told about his work was equally moving. The Crucifix held great meaning for him because the model for Jesus was his son from whom he had been estranged. As the production continued, he and his son reconnected and their relationship was renewed.

A father and a son brought back together again by the sacrificial love we witness in Christ’s life.

Easter Blessings,
Mike T. Alex
Executive Director of My Catholic Faith Delivered
Past President of St. James Academy

Apostleship of Prayer

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

Today, as sort of an annual ritual around the end of the Christmas season, I meticulously went through all the cards, Christmas letters, and family photos that we received over the past several weeks. I saw many of them as they came in, but I always go through the whole pile to make sure I didn”t miss anything.

One thing that fell out of a Christmas card from a dear priest friend was a leaflet from the Apostleship of Prayer, containing the Pope”s intentions for each month of 2011.  It dawned on me that this would be a most helpful thing to post at the beginning of each month. Before giving the Pope”s intentions for January (I”m 12 days late, so another few minutes won”t hurt anybody), I”d like to recommend two privileged times for remembering the Pope’2012-04-24 18:32:15′s intentions:

First, there”s the Morning Offering, which is a great way to start the day:

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day, in union with the holy sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart: the salvation of souls, reparation for sin, and the reunion of all Christians. I offer them for the intentions of our bishops and for all the intentions recommended by our Holy Father this month. Amen.

Second, there”s the family Rosary. At the beginning or end of the Rosary, to gain the indulgence for praying the Rosary, as well as to manifest the unity of our prayer with that of the universal Church, it”s customary to pray an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be for the Pope”s intentions.

But what are the Pope”s intentions this month? Here they are:

Care for Creation. That the riches of the created world may be preserved, valued, and made available as God”s precious gift to all.

Unity of Christians. That Christians may attain full unity, witnessing to all the universal fatherhood of God.

I will post his intentions for subsequent months at the beginning of each month. In the meantime, check out the website of the Apostleship of Prayer for more information on this pious practice.

 

Meditation and a Clean Conscience

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

This fall Pope Benedict is giving a series of Wednesday audiences on women and their contributions to the Church, with a particular emphasis on their holiness and teaching.

In yesterday”s address, the Holy Father focused on the life of Marguerite d”Oingt, a French Carthusian nun who lived at the turn of the 14th century. He noted that while the life of a medieval mystic might seem irrelevant at first glance, her spiritual journey contains many lessons for people today.

I point this one out in particular because the Holy Father stressed Marguerite”s insistence on daily meditation on God”s infinite love for us [more]as the means of our transformation in Christ. He said that she “invites us to meditate daily on the life of sorrow and love of Jesus and of His mother, Mary. Here is our hope, the meaning of our existence.”

Pope Benedict magnificently summarized her message this way:

“Rubbish is not only on different streets of the world. There is rubbish also in our consciences and in our souls. Only the light of the Lord, His strength, and His love is what cleanses us, purifies us, showing us the right path.”

Doesn”t this speak to the renewal of our minds that St. Paul discusses in Romans 12:2:

“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

There are many ways that conscience can and does “get dirty.” That”s the problem. Marguerite d’2012-04-24 18:33:32′Oingt”s prescription of daily meditation points us toward the solution.

On a lighter note, at the end of yesterday”s address the Holy Father greeted in English a contingent of pilgrims from Pittsburgh and gave them his apostolic blessing. It was the least he could do after their beloved Steelers were hammered by the Saints last Sunday!

Mysteries of Light

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Even though I was raised in a large, Catholic family and received 12 years of Catholic schooling, I left the Church as an undergraduate and didn’t come back until I was in my 20s. My newly rediscovered love for Christ not only led me to study His teaching, but also to take a fresh look at traditional prayers and devotions used by Christian disciples for countless generations as aids to growth in the spiritual life.

And so I enthusiastically embraced the Rosary as the most time-tested and efficacious spiritual weapon in our arsenal after the sacred liturgy itself. Even so, it always seemed strange to me that we had an entire set of mysteries for Luke 1-2, namely the Joyful Mysteries, and then we had to jump to Luke 22 for the Agony in the Garden, the first Sorrowful Mystery. It seemed to me that Luke 3, Luke 4, Luke 5, and so on, up to Luke 22, also contained much solid meat for contemplation. Therefore, I heartily welcomed Pope John Paul II’s introduction of the Luminous Mysteries as a means of encouraging the faithful to prayerfully contemplate Christ’s public ministry.

Love for the Church

Luminous Mysteries: Biblical Reflections on the Life of ChristEach of the Luminous Mysteries is inexhaustibly rich, and so I recommend obtaining good meditation guides and reflections on the new mysteries to help plumb their depths. In particular, I recommend Tim Gray’s Bible study entitled Luminous Mysteries: Biblical Reflections on the Life of Christ, with a foreword by Archbishop (and soon to be Cardinal!) Raymond L. Burke. This dynamic study is available at www.emmausroad.org.

Today, however, I would like to briefly mention two refrains that run through all the Luminous Mysteries that I think are extremely important for Catholic laity today. [more]

The first refrain is “love for the Church.” We live at a time when many people are to some extent open to Jesus Christ, but want nothing to do with His Church. So what has the Pope done? He has encouraged us, by means of the Luminous Mysteries, to contemplate the public ministry of Christ. What was at the heart of this ministry? Nothing other than the proclamation of the kingdom of God–that it was “at hand.” Well, was it or not? And if it was, where did it go? About a century ago, French heretic Alfred Loisy bemoaned that Christ promised a kingdom, and all that we got was the Church.

We joyfully respond that the Church is, in fact, the kingdom of God on earth. The Church continues, despite our own human failings and weaknesses, to bring the light of Christ to all the world. It’s no accident that the central document issued by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) on the mystery of the Church is called Lumen Gentium, or “Light of the Nations.”

The Luminous Mysteries help us to see the Church as our Mother (cf. Catechism, nos. 169, 507), and not as a merely human institution or an outside force that’s imposing arbitrary rules on us. Now more than ever, especially given the horrible scandals that have afflicted the Church in this country, we need to affirm–to proclaim from the rooftops–our love for the Church!

Do Whatever He Tells You

The other refrain running through the Luminous Mysteries is the virtue of obedience. Of the new mysteries, the one that I gravitate toward is the Wedding at Cana. Mary’s simple words are striking and still ring out today: “Do whatever Jesus tells you.” This message calls forth our obedience. This theme runs through the other mysteries as well. The proclamation of the kingdom calls forth from us an “obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5). In the Transfiguration, Our Heavenly Father declares, “This is my beloved son . . . listen to him” (Mt. 17:5). Even in the Institution of the Eucharist, the Church is commanded to “do this in memory of me” (Lk. 22:19). In fact, Jesus bluntly tells us that if we don’t “do this,” we have no life in us (cf. Jn. 6:53). So Our Lord means business. We need to do what He tells us.

Perhaps it would be easier if Jesus were in our midst telling us things to do. And yet, even though He no longer walks the earth, He does speak to us through His Church, and notably through the successors of Peter and the other apostles. Jesus says if we hear and obey them, we hear and obey Him (cf. Lk. 10:16). And further, if we hear and obey Our Lord, then we are also obeying Our Blessed Mother, who lovingly exhorts us to do whatever He tells us.

Many contemporary problems are rooted in disobedience to authority in the home, in society, and in the Church. Disobedience and dissent wreak havoc. Those in authority surely have contributed to the problem, but obedience is our virtue, not their virtue. Let me explain.

My daughter Brenda’s favorite verse (she quotes it for me all the time) is Colossians 3:21: “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Fair enough, I will be judged on this verse and similar verses, as will priests and bishops–our spiritual fathers. I’ve encountered many Catholics who are angry, provoked, or discouraged, and those who so alienate the faithful will be held strictly accountable by the Lord.

But I’m still ready for Brenda when she playfully cites her verse, as I counter with the preceding verse: “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” Those in authority will be judged on how they exercise their authority. We, on the other hand, will be judged according to how we obey legitimate authority.

Only God’s authority is limitless. Surely we’re not bound to follow laws or directives that are immoral or which go beyond the scope of one’s authority. But in general, our disposition toward Church authority should be one of respectful obedience. We must encourage our children to do whatever Jesus tells them and to hear the Good Shepherd’s voice coming from His Church.