Jesus Alive With Us

Following upon last week’s article describing the Passion of Christ, for Easter we here consider how the four Gospels present Jesus risen from the dead. All four Gospels begin with the holy women
coming to the tomb on Easter morning to mourn Jesus. There is a colossal earthquake, shaking heaven and earth. Angels come to the tomb and roll away the stone, revealing that death no longer binds Jesus. He then appears to His disciples, commissioning them to bring His salvation to the world. Each Gospel also focuses on other events that demonstrate lessons from the Resurrection for us. As with the passion narratives, Matthew and Mark have similar accounts. Matthew contrasts the universal truth of the faith with the dishonesty of the world, as the authorities in Jerusalem bribe the Roman guards to say that the disciples somehow stole the body of Jesus from under their noses. By contrast with these worldly powers, Jesus tells the Apostles to unite all nations in the teachings and purifying authority of Christ. True to form, Mark presents a very brief account of the risen Christ.

Even when they hear from the holy women about the angels and the empty tomb, the disciples still have trouble believing the in the Resurrection. Jesus appears to them, rebukes them for their lack of faith, but still commissions them to bring the Gospel to the world in face of much opposition. Here, as throughout Church history, God brings salvation even through very imperfect people.
Luke and John focus on the comfort Jesus brings to His people. Luke describes Jesus as consecrating hospitality, meals and the home. Thus, Jesus appears to disciples on the road to Emmaus. They do not know it is Jesus, but they listen to His words and invite Him to stay with them. They finally recognize Him in the breaking of the bread, which is both an example of devotion in common life and a sign of the Eucharist. Likewise, when appearing to other disciples on Easter night, Jesus goes out of His way to eat with them. John describes the appearances of the risen Christ more at length, focusing especially on the forgiveness that He offers

Thus, John describes the repentant Mary Magdalene as the first witness to the risen Christ and the first evangelist to the others. Likewise, when Jesus appears to the Apostles on Easter night, He offers them the power and authority to forgive sins. Later on, Peter makes a threefold proclamation of his love (albeit an imperfect love) for Jesus, reversing his earlier threefold
denial. In that context, Jesus forgives Peter and restores Him as shepherd of the flock. The Gospels thus emphasize how Jesus, the conqueror of death, brings us consolation and healing, and calls for us to share these gifts with a fallen world.

Ways of Seeing the Passion of the Christ

On this Sunday, the main Gospel reading focuses on the Passion in preparation for the Good Friday remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice for our salvation. Continuing last week’s reflection on the four
Gospels, this article will comment on how each of them presents His sacrifice for our salvation.The Gospels of Matthew and Mark are similar in how they describe the true suffering of Jesus.
We proceed from the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus says “Not my will, but Thine be done” to the hill of Golgotha, where Jesus quotes the beginning of Psalm 22, “My God, my God why have Your forsaken me.” In contrast to the sacrificial love of Jesus is the dishonest envy of the leaders of Jerusalem, the puzzled cowardice of Pontius Pilate, and the faltering of even His disciples. Only Simon of Cyrene helps Him (involuntarily), with the devout women mourning in the distance.

The two Gospels vary slightly in their signs of triumph over death. In Matthew, when Jesus dies, an earth communion of saints. Mark presents, in the garden of Gethsemane, a mysterious young man clothed in a shroud. He casts away the shroud; but then the young man (presumably an angel) is there at the empty tomb on Easter morning, now in a white robe announcing the Resurrection. It is an image of humanity casting away the domination of death and receiving a new status as a people of everlasting life.

The Gospels of Luke and John emphasize the compassion and command of Jesus. Luke describes many of the same events as Mark and Matthew, but adds such events as the devout women
weeping with Jesus on the way to the Cross and Jesus comforting them as well. On Calvary, Jesus prays, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do,” hears the repentant thief’s confession, and gives him the wondrous promise, “Today you will be with Me in paradise.” John describes Jesus’ power and majesty as He is virtually marching off to triumph through the Cross. Thus, for example, at His very arrest, Jesus’ thundering proclamations, “I Am” (reflecting the name of God, “I Am who Am”) show forth a power that causes the soldiers to retreat; and in the conversation with Pilate, Jesus is very much in control. Likewise, He shows divine authority even on Calvary, entrusting Mary and John to each other and pronouncing His last words, “It is consummated.” The Gospels thus, in their different ways, show the true suffering, compassion and power of Jesus as He offered His life for us, in anticipation of the Resurrection.

The Gospels and the Four ways of Seeing Jesus

As Holy Week and Easter approach, it is helpful to read about the crucifixion, death and Resurrection of Jesus, as described in the four Gospels. As outlined in a bulletin article from January, the four Gospels present the life of Jesus from different perspectives in order to bring out the full richness of this mystery.

Next Sunday, this article will discuss their different ways of presenting the death of Christ. And on Easter Sunday, the focus will be on their presentations of the Risen Christ, then and now. As a preparation, it is helpful to consider the general style and themes of the four Gospels. Matthew presents Jesus as the teacher of Divine Wisdom, who fulfills the promises made to Israel and brings salvation to the whole world. Thus, Matthew contains the full three-chapter Sermon on the Mount, which outlines the general principles of the Christian life, and contains more parables than the other Gospels.

It begins with a genealogy that traces the history leading up to Jesus and describes over and again how the prophets spoke of Him; and also, through the Magi and the final great commissioning, the Gospel presents the faith as encompassing all nations. Mark is the most dramatic of the Gospels, focusing on how Jesus battles the forces of evil and presents vivid accounts of the miracles and conflicts between Jesus and the demons. This Gospel barrels right out of the gate at the beginning with John the Baptist as the voice of one crying out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” It then presents in quick order Jesus’ time in the desert, the calling of the Apostles and a series of miracles and exorcisms in the first chapter alone, with a fast pace that continues to the end. Luke presents more of the beauty and compassion of God.

For example, in the infancy narratives, he describes the great canticles of Zechariah, Mary and Simeon. And this Gospel is the one that contains such material as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the conversion of the thief on the cross, and the final scene of joy and blessings in the Temple. John is more the mystic, who presents fewer events, but calls for deep reflection on them.

Thus, he begins with a poetic description of the Incarnation and then proceeds onto a seven day structure that provides the theme of Jesus bringing out a new creation. John focuses on seven miracles and the lessons to be drawn from them, and describes at length the Last Supper discourse, which contains many paradoxes, leading to the triumph of the Cross and Resurrection. The four Gospels thus helps us understand in different ways the mystery of our faith and the pathway to everlasting life.

The Sacrament of Honesty, Restoration, and Friendship

As we continue through the Lenten season, it is helpful to renew our focus on the call to conversion and upon the sacrament of continual conversion, namely, Confession. As the Catechism notes, the Church describes this sacrament in five ways; the sacrament of conversion, the sacrament of forgiveness, Confession, Penance, and Reconciliation; and each of those descriptions emphasizes an important aspect of this great gift. See Catechism 1423-34.

It is thus helpful to consider each of these as ways of understanding this celebration of God’s mercy. The first two descriptions focus upon our turning to God and the freedom He offers us. Conversion refers to turning away from the darkness and burden of sin into the light and freedom of the children of God. Conversion is certainly our action, but it begins with the grace and truth that God offers us and that we then respond to. See Catechism 1989.

And, when we convert from sins, we become open to the forgiveness, the freedom from sin that Jesus won for us. The question is not whether God will forgive sins; the question is our openness to that forgiveness, to that freedom. In the sacrament of Penance, we show the courage to be free children of the light. The three main names for this sacrament then reflect how we show the courage to be free. The term Confession indicates understanding and honesty, with ourselves, with the Church and with God, the courageous acknowledgement of the sins that hold us back. The alternative is an evasiveness, a vague uneasy feeling that enables sin to continue dominating our lives and our world.

Bringing the light to these sins is the first step in dissolving them and being clean and pure. And then there must be the struggle to overcome sins. And Penance is the term for that struggle, that sacrifice that unravels the bonds of sin and restores our lives and the world. In prayer, sacrifice and charitable works as well we unite our efforts with Christ to build that restoration. See Matthew 6:1-18; Tobit 12:8; Catechism 1434.

nd then, with that light and struggle, we come more and more into friendship with Jesus. Venial sins damage and lessen that friendship; mortal sins break it altogether. The name Reconciliation reflects how the grace of God and our cooperation restores friendship with Him and, by extension, with all of His people throughout space and time. It is certainly an obligation for Catholics to receive this sacrament at least once a year and if one has committed a mortal sin. And it is advised to confess about once a month. But, as with the Mass, it should not simply be an obligation but a celebration of the light, the freedom, the friendship that Christ offers us even on earth and one day beyond sin and death, in the realms of eternal love.

Speaking With Jesus’ Mother and Our Mother

This Monday, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Annunciation, the glorious event in which Mary becomes the Mother of God by accepting the message from the Archangel Gabriel through her our Savior will be born. At that moment, the divine Son took on human nature for our salvation and our glory. It is a good occasion to reflect upon the most common way in which we likewise approach Mary, the prayer that begins with Gabriel’s words, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.”

The Hail Mary prayer begins with an address to Mary that is drawn from both Gabriel’s initial greeting and the words Elizabeth spoke at the Visitation in greeting Mary, “Blessed art thou among women and blessed in the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” By joining with Gabriel, we likewise are united with the angles themselves in asking Mary once again to bring the love of Jesus to the world. And then, in repeating the words of Elizabeth, “Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus,” we join with her in welcoming Mary and Jesus into our homes and neighborhoods.

By the mid-eleventh century, it was becoming common among monks and nuns to join these two phrases together during their daily prayers to have a sense of joining with the angels and saints to honor Mary as the one who brought Jesus Christ into the word at the Incarnation. There was a sense that, in honoring Mary, we are joining with her in bringing Christ into the world today. Many devout members of the laity also took up this practice, sometimes repeating this salutation 50 times, a practice that became the basis for the rosary.

In the 15th century, the faithful began adding the petition, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” And, in 1566, the Church’s official Roman catechism endorsed this additional petition, which focuses our attention on the two most important times of our lives, the present moment and the time of our death. For, while the past is fixed and the future unknown, we have in the present hour the freedom to respond to the grace of God; and our response should reflect our final goal, namely that by the end of life, we will be able fully to receive and give that divine love. And, by honoring Mary and invoking her prayers, we ask her to guide and help us to make the present moment always reflect the glory of God, so that when our time comes we will, with her, enter into the light of Jesus forever.

Plans For A New Church Hall

As most of you know, we have been planning on using about half or a little more of our $1 million savings on building a new church hall to provide more space for meals and parish gatherings and for the religious education classes and parish groups to meet.

Our initial budget for the project was about $600,000. And, after interviewing several architects, we settled on one of them last September and thought that we would move forward soon. However, he and the Diocesan Office of Planning, Construction and Facilities then made a proposal that was vastly above our budget.

The Pastoral Council and Finance Council responded creatively with a number of cost saving ideas; and we started looking into local builders. We have consulted some construction companies and considered some other options that would bring the cost back into our budget range.

One of the possibilities is adding onto the current church annex, instead of building a new structure. Either that plan or a new building would provide space for a hall that is about twice the size of the current church annex, expand the kitchen, and make about four rooms available for religious education classes and other meetings.

I will get back to the parishioners soon about the plans on going forward, and I certainly welcome any ideas that people have. While we are working out plans for the future, I would ask everyone to join me in making a 30 day Novena of prayers to ask for the intercession of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of builders, for this project. The novena will start on March 19, the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, and the novena prayer is described on the flyer in the bulletin.

A novena is a devotion that involves offering a particular prayer each day for a certain number of days. The tradition of praying novenas goes back at least to the early Middle Ages and has received official Church approval many times. The most common novenas involve praying a certain prayer for nine days; and in fact the tern “novena” is derived from the Latin word “novem,” for “nine.” However, some novenas have been extended to longer periods of time, including novenas for 30 or 40 days. The faithful commonly pray novenas for a deceased person, in preparation for a feast day (such as the Immaculate Conception or Pentecost), to emphasize a devotion (such as Divine Mercy or devotion to Mary) or for a particular intention, such as the success of our building project. Novenas unite the prayers of many people and many days, joining the power of heaven to our prayers and efforts so that we may together build up the Church to reflect the love of God on earth

The Concentration of the Mind

During the retreat that I was on two weeks ago, the retreat master Fr. Peter Ryan, S.J, discussed the wisdom of discernment, especially drawing from the works of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order. Among other things, he pointed out that especially in the modern world, the struggle is not with the lack of things we can learn, but in choosing what to learn, what to put into our minds. For, we have a seeming endless array of entertainment, information, news (true of false as the case may be) and ideas that people set forth. We can be more able than ever to gain deep knowledge and benefit from such insights. However, it is a great challenge to sift the wheat from the chaff, to sort out what is truly helpful, inspiring, ennobling and true, from the irrelevant, the scandalous, half-truths, half-baked ideas, and flat out falsehoods.

It is a point that the great Dominican St. Thomas Aquinas made three hundred years before St. Ignatius. The main vice opposed to true studiousness, the pursuit of real knowledge and wisdom, is not so much laziness, although that can be an issue; the difficulty is more often an undisciplined desire to know all sorts of things that are easier, cheaper, or more appealing to superficial desires; lesser things, or even false knowledge, often gets in the way of the deeper truths that set us free. One thinks about the time people spend keeping up on the latest news, latest fads, predictions about the future, or even dwelling on scandals or outrages, compared to time with prayers, sacred learning, fine literature and even deeper and historic culture.

In this context, and as Lent approaches, it is helpful to ask about the information and images that we focus on, and the amount of time each day absorbing popular culture, or superficial ideas, as opposed to the time in prayer and good learning.

It would be helpful to reduce the time with news, social media, and cheaper entertainment to make room for deeper wisdom. (Sinful entertainment and gossip should of course have no place ever in our lives.) And then it is helpful to set aside that time in learning, reflection and prayer.

For example, one of our parishioners has generously purchased copies of the Lenten Companion from Magnificat as an aid to this reflection and prayer.

The parish website also has a list of some helpful places to learn more about the faith, and of course the FORMED website has a great deal of programs that can deepen our understanding.

With the vast array of possibilities, let us open our minds to the things of heaven, and thus make that divine light more on us and through us to all the world.

Series – Faith in America

TRUTH, FREEDOM, TRADITION, FRONTIERS:

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN AMERICA

Saturdays, February 23 – May 4

From 1 to 2 in the church annex

               

     

Fr. Horkan will give talks on the heroes and heroines, the growth and the struggles, the past and future of the Catholic Church in America from the colonial days to the present.  

Feb. 23:     The Faith Comes to a New Land: The Church in Colonial America

March 2:    The Faith and Revolution: The Church and the Early Days of the United States

March 9:    The Faith in a Young Republic: The Church in Early 19th Century America

March 16:  The Faith as a Nation Grows: The Church in the Mid-19th Century America

March 23:  The Faith, War, Liberty and Industry: The Civil War and the Late 19th Century

March 30:  The Faith and Rising Powers: The Church in Early 20th Century America

April 6:      The Faith and Rapid Change: The Church in America during the 1920s and 30s

April 13:    The Faith in War and Peace: World War II and the Early Cold War

April 27:   The Faith Renewed and Challenged: Vatican II and the 1960s and 70s

May 4:      The Faith, Crisis and Initiative: The Church in America at the New Millennium

Lent and the flourishing of faith

On March 6, we will celebrate Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season. The term “Lent” comes from the old English word lenchen, which means springtime. The most obvious basis for this term is that Spring always begins during the Lenten season. But there is also a deeper connection. As the fields and lawns begin flourishing during springtime, so Lent is meant to bring about a flourishing of our faith. Following both Jewish and Christian traditions, the Catechism especially recommends acts of prayer, sacrifice and generosity towards others in order to bring about this springtime of faith. See Catechism 1434; Tobit 12:8; Matthew 6:1- 18.

To draw an analogy from agriculture, we need for a harvest the rain and sun from the sky, the plowing and preparing of the fields on the earth, and the planting of seeds in these fields. Likewise, in prayer we open our hearts and minds to the grace and light of heaven. In acts of sacrifice and penance, we prepare our souls, minds and bodies as fields of the Lord. And, in works of goodness, generosity and charity, we plant the seeds of faith in our homes and communities to bring forth a rich harvest of grace for the world.

And so, as Lent approaches, it is important to make definite resolutions about how we will be prayerful, self-sacrificing, and generous. Regarding prayer, one could make such resolutions as: (1) setting aside a certain amount of time each day with the Bible, devotions or simply informal prayer; (2) praying with the family or friends on a regular basis; (3) reading the Biblical passages for Mass ahead of time; (4) learning more about the saints and praying with them; or (5) praying for the dead, for family and friends and for people who are struggling.

Regarding sacrifice, disciplining of our desires prepares the way for the Lord. In our lives examples could include: (1) cutting back on television or the internet; (2) getting to bed and up in the morning a bit earlier; (3) giving up a favorite food for a time; (4) not insisting on temperature setting being exactly what one likes; or (5) taking regular time in silence to reflect upon one’s life, goals and relationship with God and others. Such sacrifices in turn enable us to make resolutions regarding generosity with others such as: (1) listening to others more; (2) thanking others for their efforts; (3) writing encouraging letters or emails, or calling those who would appreciate the attention; (4) giving extra time or resources to a worthy cause; or (5) simply performing one’s duties with more cheerfulness.

These ideas are but a few ways in which we can make this Lenten season a springtime of faith for us, the Church and all the world.

Good Works and the Flourishing of Faith

This article concludes this five part discussion of how to build, in a steady and consistent way, our friendship with God through His Son Jesus Christ. In particular, this article will focus on good works as the flourishing of faith.

We must of course remember that our call to this friendship and finally to glory in heaven is a free gift, which no amount of good works can earn. Our status as sons and daughters of God not only begins by divine grace, but is carried out and completed through this power of God. However, we must choose to continue to accept this gift through our faith, hope and love of God; and if these virtues are real, they will include good works. For, as St. James wrote, “Faith, by itself if it has no works, is dead.” James 2:17.

It is not only that authentic faith manifests itself in a better life and that good works make the faith attractive to others, as important as those facts are. It is also the case that, if we act in a manner called for by God and His Church, our relationship with Him, and with the communion of saints, will grow and become more joy-filled. By contrast, if we act in a fashion contrary to the callings of God and His Church, such faith, hope and charity will decline and eventually vanish, as Jesus illustrates in the parable of the houses built upon rock and upon sand. See Matt. 5:24-27. In living this life both worthy of God and leading to greater relationship with Him, it is important to begin by keeping the commandments, especially the Ten Commandments.

For, as Jesus told the rich young man, “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” Matt. 19:17. But, as He also made clear to that man, we are called to go further than simply keeping the commandments; we are called to a life of heroic virtue, each in our own way. And, in discerning how to act with generosity, courage and divine love, we should set our sights high. Thus, for example, it is a good idea for all people regularly to read the Sermon on the Mount, which sets forth the overall principles of a Christian life, and consider how we are fulfilling those sacred words. Likewise, learning about the saints and praying with them should inspire us to live in a manner worthy of their company, now and for all time.

And, of course, we should always ask how we would act if we actually saw Jesus, Mary and the angels and saints with us. For they are with us now; and we strive one day to see them, and be welcomed by them, in eternal glory.