Monthly Archives: March 2015

Hosanna In the Highest – Palm Sunday

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"The Hand of Christ. The Palm of Peace" by Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1897)

“The Hand of Christ. The Palm of Peace” by Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1897)

Today is Palm Sunday, the day we remember how Jesus was gloriously received as he entered Jerusalem amidst the shouts of “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” It was the only time that Jesus was received with great jubilation by the crowds as he entered Jerusalem. However, we have just read the “Passion of Christ,” and we know that these same people who shouted Hosanna will also shout “crucify him.”

Today, during the reading of the Passion we also shouted “crucify him” and it is fitting that we did. It was our sins also that he bore on the way to Golgotha. He carried the weight of the sin of all humanity for all time with him to his death. He died for my sins and for yours so that we might be saved from eternal death. Even though he died for all humanity, all humanity will not receive the same benefit from his death. He himself has told us the condition of discipleship, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow after me” (Mk 8:34). We can’t just live for ourselves. He has entrusted his plan of salvation to his Church, expecting those who believe in him to be a light in the world, sharing the Good News of salvation with others so that they might believe in him and their lives be transformed by his grace. We each have a free will and we each must make the choice to turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.

Next weekend during the Easter Vigil there will be thousands of people received in the Church throughout the world In a way, it will be a little like Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem as these people joyfully welcoming Jesus into their minds, hearts and souls, and the whole community will proclaim Alleluia as it was proclaimed for each one of us when we were baptized. During the Easter liturgy we all will renew our baptismal vows together as a reminder of what Christ has done for us and of our need to put our total faith in him.

The reading of Christ’s Passion today reminds us that our baptism is not only about the joy of welcoming Jesus Christ. It is about a lifetime of believing in him, trusting in him and being faithful to what he has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church. Our purpose in this life is to know, love and serve God so that we can be happy now and forever. When we refuse to be faithful to Jesus Christ, we once again say, “crucify him.” But Jesus shows us how to live our life close to God so that our faith will influence all the decisions we make.

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How do Catholics have a “personal” relationship with Jesus?

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Emmaus

From “Christ on the Road to Emmaus” by Duccio (1311)

Just a few days ago, an acquaintance asked me and some other friends, “How do you develop and foster your personal relationship with Jesus?

That phrase — “personal relationship with Jesus” — might remind us of evangelical Protestants more than Catholics.  But Pope Benedict XVI, addressing the world’s youth in 2011, confirmed that our faith “is not only a matter of believing that certain things are true, but above all a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. […] When we enter into a personal relationship with him, Christ reveals our true identity and, in friendship with him, our life grows towards complete fulfillment.”

To answer Krystin’s question, I reflected: What makes any relationship “personal”?

  1. We get to know one another.
  2. We have heartfelt, authentic conversations.
  3. We listen to each other.
  4. We forgive one another.
  5. We visit each other.

1. Get Acquainted.

How much do you know about Jesus?  As with any relationship, the foundation of our relationship with Jesus is built on ‘getting to know’ him.

Each morning before breakfast, I spend 10 – 20 minutes reading the Bible.  You can find the Daily Readings on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.  The Old Testament teaches us about our Heavenly Father and how he prepared us for his Son.  The New Testament reveals Jesus’ earthly life, his hometown, his family, and his friends.

I also learned so much about Jesus by making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Our small group ate some of the foods Jesus ate, walked the terrain, visited important sites related to his life, and so on.  What a difference it makes to visit a loved one’s neighborhood and homeland — especially that of Jesus.

There are many other ways to learn about Jesus, like reading the pope’s daily teachings, signing up for a Bible study, or other class at your parish.

2. Heart-to-Heart Conversation

What distinguishes “personal” relationships from relationships we have with coworkers or neighbors?  I say it’s the ability to speak honestly and openly, sharing our deepest concerns.  Throughout my day, I speak this way with Jesus – either aloud or in my heart – about anything / everything, including my concerns and my joys.

But how did this habit begin if I can’t physically see Jesus’ face and speak with him, like I do with others?  How can I remember to speak with Jesus throughout a busy day?

As I was growing up, my parents surrounded my sister and I with ‘holy reminders’: pictures and statues of Jesus in every room of the house.  We had many conversations about Jesus, and our parents taught us to speak with Jesus.  Since Jesus has always been a member of our family, always on my mind and heart, it was easy for me to continue this habit of welcoming Jesus into my daily, adult life.

If this wasn’t your story, set up your own ‘holy reminders’!  Place images of Jesus throughout your home. Have one at your desk, on your smartphone background, in your car.  Let these remind you to converse with him.  He is always ready to listen.

3. Listen.

Of course, any close relationship requires that we listen to one another.  Listening to Jesus – who is not only our friend, but our God – is essential.

During weekdays, I make a few minutes of ‘quiet time’ in the morning, mid-day, and evening.  I sit in a designated place, remain still, and open myself to listen.  Journaling with Scripture helps me focus on this in the mornings. It can be very difficult, with all my responsibilities and daily distractions, to stay committed to these ‘listening times’.  I’ve learned, however, that when I don’t schedule time to listen, my life becomes even more chaotic and stressful.

As Pope Benedict XVI said, Jesus helps us understand our true selves.  He is our Lord and God, who loves us and has a purpose for our life.  When I don’t listen to Jesus, I easily get caught up in the circumstances of my life, lose sight of his love, and forget life’s ultimate, deeper meaning.  When we don’t listen to Jesus, we can’t order our lives according to his mission for us.  Our life will become disordered.

4. Forgiveness

When someone hurts us and seeks our forgiveness, we repair our relationship by forgiving them.  Hearing a loved one forgive us is an enormous relief.  Why wouldn’t Jesus want the same for our relationship with him?

He does.  This is why he gave us the Sacrament of Reconciliation (cf. John 20:21-23), so that we can not only seek his forgiveness, but also hear and even see Jesus forgiving us through the ministry of the priest.  Not only that, but participating in this Sacrament shows Jesus that we ‘forgive’ him for the times we felt hurt by him — I recall the time I was so angry at God for allowing my chronic pain condition.

Coming to Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is such a profound gift to our relationship with him.

5. Visit.

Perhaps the most life-giving and important way that I deepen my relationship with Jesus is spending time with him.  Weekdays, I sit and visit Jesus in a Eucharistic Chapel for a few minutes.  On Sundays, I go to church early so that I can spend a few quiet minutes visiting with him.

Jesus also comes to visit me, especially when I welcome him “under my roof” during Holy Communion.

If I solely talked with Jesus in prayer, but never visited him physically, it would be like having a relationship with someone over the phone or online. We would be capable of becoming very close to each other, but missing the element of touch and physical presence.  The Eucharist allows our relationship with Jesus to become far more intimate.

A Church Like That

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Prostitutes

Prostitutes Around a Dinner Table – Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, c. 1893-1894

This past weekend, the Pilgrim Center of Hope hosted the Catholic Seniors’ Conference. During the Q&A time, guest speaker, Dr. Margarett Schlientz, proposed that we pray for ISIS. This hit a raw nerve with a man in the audience who asked whether she would pray for the Devil. Dr. Schlientz responded that we must pray for all souls. Having been a clinical psychologist for years, she saw many cases of people who were deeply wounded from experiences in their past that shaped their misguided thinking.

Wounded and twisted, but only God can know if they are beyond redemption or hope. And so we pray for even those who are the worst among us. And I ask myself, “Do churches and religious people make friends easily with those who are looked down on in society: jailbirds, prostitutes, drug addicts, drunks, thieves?” After all, “they” are surely not as close to God as the sinners who attend church. I’d like to tell you a true story…

Tony, a college professor of sociology, told the story of his visit to Honolulu. On his first night, he awoke at 3:00 am and left the hotel in search of something to eat. Tony found himself the only customer in a coffee shop until, suddenly, the place was filled with girls. From their conversation he learned a lot about Honolulu’s night life, for the girls were discussing their night’s work and their male clients. These girls were prostitutes.

Tony overheard Agnes, the girl sitting beside him, say, “Tomorrow’s my birthday. I’m going to be thirty-nine.” Her friend responded in a nasty tone, “So what do you want from me? A birthday party? Ya want me to get you a cake and sing ‘Happy Birthday?'” Agnes responded, “Why do you have to be so mean? I was just telling you, that’s all. I mean, why should you give me a birthday party? I’ve never had a birthday party in my whole life. Why should I have one now?”

When he heard that, Tony made a decision. After the girls left the restaurant, Tony and Harry, the manager, discussed throwing a surprise birthday party, after all the girls came in there every night. The men got together in the afternoon and decorated the place and prepared a beautiful cake.

The next day, at 3:30 am, the door of the diner swung open and in came Agnes and her friends. Everyone screamed, “Happy birthday!” Tony said he had never seen a person so flabbergasted…so stunned. Agnes’ mouth fell open. Her friend grabbed her arm to steady her. Then everyone sang “Happy Birthday.” Her eyes moistened. When the birthday cake with all the candles was carried out, she lost it and just openly cried.

Agnes looked down at the cake. Then without taking her eyes off it, she softly said, “Is it OK with you if I keep the cake a little while? I mean is it all right if we don’t eat it right away? I live just down the street. I want to take the cake home, OK? I’ll be right back. Honest!” And, carrying it like it was the Holy Grail, walked slowly toward the door. When the door closed there was a stunned silence. Not knowing what else to do, Tony said, “What do you say we pray?” And they prayed for Agnes.

When finished, Harry said, with a trace of hostility in his voice, “Hay! You never told me you were a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to?” In one of those moments when just the right words come, Tony answered, “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.” Harry sneered as he answered, “No you don’t. There’s no church like that. If there was, I’d join it. I’d join a church like that!”

And perhaps if he found a church like that he would give himself to a Savior like that.

The Catholicism of Creation

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During Friday Mass at my private middle school, the choir occasionally instructed us from the green Gather hymnal thusly:

The heavens are telling the glory of God, / and all creation is shouting for joy! / Come dance in the forest, come play in the field! / And sing, sing to the glory of the Lord!

It was a bit much to ask from young boys in their first throes of puberty, but the Marty Haugen-leaning taste of our choir director prevailed against this fact and others, such as that Americans had changed a great deal since the 60s, and were much less inclined to be seen dancing in forests. What’s stuck with me over time, though, is that first line, which is adapted from Psalm 19, the “Psalm of the Sun”:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the works of his hands. Day unto day pours forth speech; night unto night whispers knowledge.

It occurs to me that, if Christ is Catholic (as Hans Urs von Balthasar noted, he is), and if “[a]ll things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be”, then Creation must have some sort of Catholicism. Amen, amen, “What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race” (Jn 1:3-4).

Creation harbors a sort of protoevangelium, or primitive gospel. Paul tells us, “Ever since the creation of the world his (God’s) eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made” (Rom 1:20). How so? Well, “from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator” (Wis 13:5). As Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
crushed
(from “God’s Grandeur”)

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GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.
(“Pied Beauty”)



Flower
When perceiving something beautiful, the natural thing is to want to thank somebody, even if imperceptibly. But nature is not all sunshine and dewdrops, of course. Animals eat each other. Some insects enslave and zombify each other. The jewel wasp, for example, stings a cockroach with venom that blocks it’s escape instinct neurotransmitters, then leads it back to a burrow by the antlers where it deposits an egg in its abdomen, and then leaves before closing the burrow entrance with pebbles.

Nature can be ruthless, unruly and undependable. “It’s not for no reason that Christ called Satan the Prince of this world,” observed Simone Weil, and human hearts aren’t the only things that death touched when it entered. But that whole sentence Weil refers to is, “Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out” (Jn 12:31), and just a few verses earlier Jesus uses this poignant nature metaphor:

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.

If even nature was thrown into a warp by the sin of our first parents, the redemption of Christ will extend literally to the ends of the earth. “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them” (Isa. 11:6). Paul’s “O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55) will apply to the redemption of man as well as the ant-decapitating, honey bee mind-controlling phorid fly. In the mean time, closeness to nature provides Catholics with a God-given description of our faith. In “The May Magnificat”, Hopkins compares Mary to Spring:

All things rising, all things sizing
Mary sees, sympathizing
With that world of good,
Nature’s motherhood

Czeslaw Milosz saw this implied familiarity between nature and faith when he wrote his trio of poems on “Faith”, “Hope” and “Love”. The last one goes:

Love means to learn to look at yourself
The way one looks at distant things
For you are only one among many.
And whoever sees that way heals his heart,
Without knowing it, from various ills–
A bird and a tree say to him: Friend.
Then he wants to use himself and things
So that they stand in the glow of ripeness.
It doesn’t matter whether he knows what he serves:



boytree

Stand in the glow of ripeness. That is, in the light of beauty, goodness and truth; in their full incarnation. That’s as good a definition of holiness as any. That’s an excellent description of evangelization, in my opinion. While we wait for nature’s odd couples to settle their differences, we can wonder at, and participate in, the flux of death and resurrection that ripples out across the universe, encompassing grains of wheat and white dwarf stars, from the center of the Cross – indeed, the heart of the Church. So let’s occasionally break free from the four walls, the flourescent light, the manicured lawns, and keep up with our old Mother Earth, visiting her from time to time.

For,
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with
ah! bright wings.
(from “God’s Grandeur”)
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Be Contrary!

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“The Elevation of the Cross” by Rembrandt, c. 1633

“Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted. (Luke 2:34)

In meditating on Christ, we see many of His signs of contradiction: God who is All became nothing. The Infinite chose to be finite. Rich became poor. First became last. Giving is receiving. To Reign is to serve. Strength is in weakness. Power is wielded in meekness . . . just to name a few.

God, in Christ, reveals that what appears to the world is not actually what is in reality: surrendering brings victory, being nailed to the cross is freedom, death means life.

So how can we imitate Christ in a culture that promotes the opposite of His life and message, where might makes right, power is in wealth and putting ourselves first promises happiness? How can we refrain from the lure to be cynical, judgmental and depressed when we are not mighty, not wealthy and never seem to get ahead?

Lent offers us a great way in its 40-day call to watch, pray and fast.

Watch! Be on the look-out for all the many ways in a day we are tempted to sin.
Pray! The second you are tempted, call out to God for help, “Come Holy Spirit, now!”
Fast! Deny what tempts you by making no provision for the flesh (Romans 13:14) and opening room for God to act so that . . . .
When tempted to pride, choose to be humble.
When tempted to greed, give.
When lust attracts, practice chastity.
When anger rises, douse it in patience.
When tempted to indulge, abstain instead.
When envy enters, push it away with kindness.
When sloth creeps in, persevere with diligence.
Be consistently grateful, constantly praising and ceaselessly proclaiming, “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me!” (Philippians 4:13)

Easter will come and perhaps you will not be mighty, wealthy or first, but certainly more humble, generous, pure, patient, prudent, kind and energetic.