Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

OPPOSITION, OBSESSION, OBEDIENCE

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

GOOD FRIDAY, 2015

Dear sisters and brothers,

Throughout this week, beginning last Sunday, Palm Sunday, I have made it my task to attempt to get into the mind, the thinking of our Lord during these climactic events which we call Holy Week and to offer to myself and hopefully to you as well, some take away thoughts which together we might ponder in the days ahead. To help with the “take away” of my thoughts, each day I have attempted, using alliteration to give you three words which might serve as a beginning for thought and prayer.

Today in listening to Isaiah, St. Paul and to Jesus in John’s passion account, I offer these three words: opposition, obsession, and obedience. The first thought, opposition, is easily seen in the passion account just proclaimed. In fact, all of you acted in opposition to Jesus, by using words like “Crucify him” and “if he were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you” to use but two examples. The opposition, which Jesus encountered not just today but throughout his public ministry at the hands of religious representatives, was a steady current in his life and ministry. No matter how much good he did, it only seemed to excite opposition. Yet he persevered. During his final hours, he had to ask himself, “What in God’s name have I done to warrant this hatred, this vicious vengeance, this anger?”

The application for today, the connection to our lives, between the events we recall this afternoon and our daily lives is not hard to fathom. Can we become so stubborn that we no longer can find any good in a person? Can we become so emotional that we do not allow right judgment, logic and wisdom to control our thoughts and words when we are in the presence of someone with whom we may not agree or do not like? Finally, do we on occasion get mad even at God because we do not get what we wish, when we want it, and in the way we want it? The natural tendency of humanity is always directed towards complaint, contempt and contradiction. We can sometimes all too easily become an opponent of Jesus.

Jesus was obsessed with the task the Father had given him this day. It did not allay or lessen his physical suffering but in his mental anguish, he knew he was doing the right thing in sacrificing his life so that we might live. He surely must have known of the prophet Isaiah’s words foretelling this moment: “Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, while we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins . . .we had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way: but the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all. Though he was harshly treated he submitted and opened not his mouth. . . “

Why was he obsessed with the thought of his terrible sacrifice of self? The author of Hebrews this afternoon said, “for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.”

Are we obsessed by our love of God or is it like our TV set, we can turn it on or off at will? Are we obsessed enough to serve our sisters and brothers often enough with love and sacrifice to imitate in part the events in the life of Jesus we today recall? Is our obsession with our God like a spigot in the sink of our lives, able to flow both freely and hot and cold or worse yet, only lukewarm? Jesus got through these hours because he was obsessed with saving us, sacrificing for us, loving us to death. Is our love for Him and our desire to continue his saving work on earth simply a passing thought or a genuine obsession? Hebrews, one final time on the obsession of Jesus from the second reading: “In the days when Christ was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and with tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.”

For the saved, among whom you and I are numbered, it was the obedience of the Son to the will of the Father, which should be the main “take-away” from today’s liturgy. “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the course of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” [Hebrews in the second reading] I could go on for a good hour about the role of obedience in our life. “Christ died once for our sins, the just for the unjust . . .he bore our sins in his body upon the tree.” [1 Pt 3:18 and 2:24.] 

Obedience is a tough marker in checking our lives. To many adults it is an abhorrent notion, which, again in our minds, can often though not always lead to no good. We obey traffic laws easily enough and we pay taxes, which we think are too high and too unnecessary. But obedience to the law of God often seems more negotiable. We sin. We err. We fail. We forget. The cross, which in moments we will reverence, is nothing if not a reminder of the cost of obedience. Jesus today gives us the example. The author of the letter to the Hebrews says: “You have not resisted unto blood.” So we should not fear the anxieties, which our own lives and troubles occasionally cause. We will never have borne as much as Christ did. Obediently he shed his blood for us and obediently, willingly, totally, spent himself for you and I. Remember always, for Jesus it was not just an easy promise, which often flows from our lips. He really did love us to death. Obedience to the will of God and sacrificing his life for others is what this all about.

+RNL

HOSPITALITY, HUMILITY, AND HORROR

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

HOLY THURSDAY 2015
St. Jude the Apostle Cathedral

Because of the succession of small West Virginia and Virginia towns we lived in as a child, I only attended one Catholic elementary school in the first eight grades of my education. The school was run and taught by the Sisters of Providence of Terre Haute, Indiana. We lived right next door to the church, school and convent and whenever they needed someone to serve, the good sisters would call my parents and off I would go. I remember very well the three Holy Thursday liturgies from those days and especially the procession, which we will do at the conclusion of this Mass. I would carry a candle and the choir would sing something which sounded like Tom Tom Arrow but there would be a break in the music and Sister would use her cricket and all of us would turn to the priest holding this gold vessel with Jesus under class and together we would say, “O Sacrament most holy, O Sacrament Divine, All praise and all Thanksgiving be every moment thine!” Then the cricket would sound, we would turn and face forward and off we would go again.

It was hard for a child to understand and embrace the importance of this day in both the life of Jesus and of the Church. So, following upon the theme I set on Palm Sunday, I would like to take just a few moments to reflect on what must have been on the mind of Jesus on this night long ago. Again, following the formula I have used throughout this week and will employ again tomorrow and on Holy Saturday night, I would focus on three things which might have been on his mind: hospitality, humility and horror.

It was Passover night and Jesus wished to celebrate this massive moment in the religious life of every observant Jew with his friends. Knowing that his life was down to minutes and hours and not days, he wished to do the hospitable thing and welcome them to share one final meal together. A preacher’s trick on Holy Thursday is to often ask the congregation, if they knew they had only a day to live, with whom and how would they wish to spend that time. It is was a slam dunk for Jesus – he would spend it with his friends, even inviting the one he knew would betray him – Judas.

However, he did not wish to leave them or us alone and so he used the occasion to institute the Eucharist taking the very bread and wine, two elements on every table at Passover in those days and telling them that they were to do the same. The perfect host, wishing the friendship, the relationships might never end and at the last supper he would institute for the first time the first supper, which we do two millennia later when we gather for Mass. What truly magnanimous host ever wishes to say goodbye to those whom he or she loves? Even though tragedy would precede triumph, Jesus was ever solicitous of his friends as he is of each of us. Are we hospitable to the foreigner, the stranger, the homeless, the hungry, the medically indigent? Have we learned anything from this night and this example of the Lord?

But during the meal, he also knew that he had one more lesson to teach his friends who would outlive him on earth. Try as hard as he might, and he tried often; they just never learned the fundamental lesson of discipleship, which was humble service to others. They would quarrel among themselves and then ask him who would have the first places at his side in the life, which was to come. Wrong question, he replied. Did he not say, “The Son of Man has come to serve and not to be served.”? The miracles, the teachings, the healings had all gone to their heads and they naturally thought that their inheritance would be a life of relative ease and comfort. After all, they had walked the dusty paths, slept in strange beds and it would be their time to be waited on. Humble they were not – none of them at this moment, so the greatest among them put on an apron and proceeded to wash their feet, the dirtiest and filthiest part of their bodies. The ministry of humble service was once more put before them and they still did not get it. He tried. He humbled himself. We priests are privileged to serve you, hopefully always with the deepest humility. Even approaching this altar tonight, it must be and always will be a service of love. We are humbled before our God each and every time we raise the bread and wine and it becomes his body and blood. Sometime we may forget that, as did the disciples, who could not understand why in the world he would wash their feet.

Finally, and perhaps the easiest thing to understand is that his thoughts and his head were full of horror at what he knew was likely to happen to him. In a matter of minutes, he would one more time ask the Father to allow the cup of pain and suffering to pass from him. One thing our Lord was not was a hopeless romantic. From the circumstances of his birth, throughout his life, and especially in the three years of his ministry, he knew it was going to end badly for him. But he persevered, he plowed on, he trusted His Father in heaven right to the end. There was hope to be found this night in horrors of his mind. Only hope can overcome horror. Only hope in God can help one through loneliness, through a sense of failure, through the inevitable rough patches od daily living. Jesus knew that soon, perhaps not soon enough, he would once again be united with his Father and our Father and the horror of that which was to come would itself be overcome with a sense of accomplishment.

Soon the priests and I will have the true privilege of washing the feet of some of you. It is a reminder that He whom we wish to serve and make present to you later in this Mass humbled himself in the penultimate symbol of service, the cross being his last act of humble sacrifice. We wish to serve you. It is our mission. It is our life. It is our hope. And should we fail, it is also our horror. Jesus gave us this night long ago the gift of sharing with you the bread of life, the sacrament most holy, the sacrament of his divinity. Tonight we welcome him into our lives; we offer him the hospitality of our hope and our faith. Truly all praise and all thanksgiving should every moment be his, thine.

+RNL

NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM

Friday, January 11th, 2013

This common farewell saying among our Jewish sisters and brothers came true this past December 30th for our thirty seminarians, three priests and myself as we made a wonderful pilgrimage to the land of Jesus’ birth. With absolutely idyllic weather for five of our seven days in Israel (cloudless blue skies and daytime averages in the mid-70’s,) we visited all the holy places, prayed at them, took one day at the end for a silent day of recollection, recalling all that we had seen and experienced, and then set our eyes on home. For myself, I believe it was my seventh trip to the Holy Land and in all likelihood will be my last. Many of you will recall that I led a semi-pilgrimage using a cruise ship for our conveyance in the Fall of 2011. It was then that I thought, if at all possible, I would love to bring those who are preparing for the priesthood to experience for themselves the incredible sense of the presence of Christ in the midst of modern day Israel.

We stayed at only two places, the Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem (nothing to do with the US university of the same name) and the Hospice of the Franciscan Sisters on the Mount of the Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee in the northern part of the country. Both places had chapels where we prayed morning and evening prayer together, but daily Mass was celebrated in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the Church of the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor, the Church of the Primacy of Peter along the Sea of Galilee and the Church of St. Peter in Capernaum. Additional time was made available for lengthy private prayer in the Church of the Dormition of Mary on Mt. Zion (Jerusalem), the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, and the Church of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel above Haifa. Additionally, every evening during Vespers or “Evening Prayer” I gave the seminarians about a twenty minute reflection which I had worked hard on prior to departure.

As many people say when they have finished a visit to the land of Jesus’ birth, they can not listen to the Gospels, indeed the whole of Scripture, in the same way again. To understand spatially what it meant to walk from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemani, to appreciate the topography for the trip down from Nazareth to Cana or even better, the three trips from Galilee to Jerusalem for the major feasts adds so much more to one’s understanding of the Incarnation and Christ among us in history two thousand plus years ago. We had a superb guide in Hani, an Arab-Christian and former principal of the Christian Brothers High School in the Old City and he, better than I ever could, made the scriptures come alive and he often connected the dots of words and places. We also had, and perhaps even more importantly, a great bus driver who kept us alive along challenging roads.

The two priests whom I ordained last May, Fathers Tim Corcoran and Victor Amorose came along. It did not seem fair to announce while they were in the seminary that I was inviting all the seminarians to come to the Holy Land at Christmas/New Years 2012/13 and leave them at home because they were “unlucky” enough to be ordained just prior to the trip. Along with our Vocation Director, Father Carl Melchior, the four of us were able to lead the community in prayer and provide for them sacramentally. It would be hard to precisely define the major moment for my traveling band of seminarians as each would likely have their own favorite spot. But we left the region of Galilee on Epiphany, right after celebrating the Solemnity in the Chapel at the hospice on the Mount of the Beatitudes and I came across this line from the gifted Father Robert Barren, Rector of Mundeline Seminary in Chicago and author, who quoted Archbishop Fulton Sheen speaking about the part of the Epiphany Gospel where the Magi or wise men disobey Herod’s orders and return to their homes by a different route than that which they came. Archbishop Sheen said, “of course, they went home a different way. No one who comes to Jesus ever returns the same way that they came.” I hope that was true of all of us.

I am exhausted and sleep does not come easily yet. I lost ten pounds in walking and climbing (in the Catholic Church, nothing seems worth seeing without climbing steps) and longed for my McDonald’s sausage biscuit for eight days, but it will be a while before the memory of this final visit of mine dims and the looks on the faces of those who, God willing, will some day serve you as priests as they stood on the Mt. of Olives with their faces toward the West and the place where the Temple once stood and then walked down the steep hill into the Garden where Jesus prayed and met his accusers.

For me now, “next year in Jerusalem” will now mean that moment when someone comes, hopefully, to lead me into the new and heavenly Jerusalem. The men I travelled with have a lot longer journey ahead of them, but they learned much about the cost of discipleship and following Jesus.

+RNL

THERE IS ROOM AT THIS INN

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

“She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” [LK2:6]

At this "Inn" the Holy Family occupies the same kind of tent as those residing at Pinellas Hope.

 Two years ago this very night, literally wrapped not in swaddling clothes but rather three blankets covering those pitiful, ill fitting and impossible to wear with dignity hospital gowns, I was rolled in a wheel chair to St. Anthony Hospital Chapel for a Christmas Eve vigil Mass. I will readily admit to being an emotional wreck that night as my endocrinologist had visited my room within the hour before Mass to tell me that there was strong evidence that my kidneys may be failing, dialysis at least temporary, was a strong possibility and the reality of going home in two days as planned could be discarded. I was lonely, depressed, and fearful for the future, and weeks since offering or attending Mass. I was essentially spiritually homeless. At some point in the journey from hospital room and bed to the chapel, I had a moment to look out that evening on what was an unusually cold night here, and saw about ten homeless people along St. Petersburg’s Fifth Avenue, making their way slowly to their overnight accommodations outside and underneath the expressway adjacent to St. Vincent de Paul and across from the hospital. I thought to myself, “Lynch, you have little to complain about or to fear. You at least are being taken care of. Someone is watching over you.”

Before Christmas Eve dinner about 150 residents gathered for Carols, a reading from Luke's Infancy Narrative and some prayer and reflection which I felt privileged to lead.

Earlier this evening, I led an interfaith Christmas prayer service at Pinellas Hope. It was entirely optional for the 396 residents living there tonight, in tents and tiny wooden casitas and it preceded the annual Christmas eve dinner, which for five years have been the gift of one of my colleagues and his family. Two homeless people brought a small plastic replica of the baby Jesus seemingly out from nowhere and placed him into a manger scene consisting of, you guessed it, the same kind of tent they live in 24/7 at Pinellas Hope for however long they reside there. Those in attendance were proud that their baby Jesus had a place to stay, which they had erected and prepared. We fed 176 on this Christmas Eve and as two years ago, it is from the homeless I have learned a sense of gratitude and a deeper meaning of Christmas.

Homelessness is a central part of the Christmas story. The long awaited Messiah and King of Israel was born essentially homeless but still loved, longed for, and embraced. It is so often when we are encumbered by the stress especially of this season, that we lose as I did two years ago the sense that it is precisely in adversity that God works His best wonders. Someone historically anonymous made room for Mary and Joseph that night, gave them a place where a child could be born, and to which visitors, unlikely visitors at that, could come and pay their respect and their reverence.

Mrs. Kurci and Ed, the gardener who lovingly cares for "The Garden of Hope" where fresh vegetables are being grown for use in feeding the homeless housed there.

Those visitors, the shepherds were also homeless. Nomadic by nature and vocation, they had no way of knowing for sure where they might be the following year or what challenges might await them. Yet, they saw a star and heard the voices of ones sent by God and for a time left behind every worldly possession they owned to share this seismic moment in human history when God took on our human form and dwelt amongst us.

And while the Christmas story is so charming it is also challenging. Homelessness for Mary, Joseph and Jesus did not end when the new mother and her child were capable of travelling safely and securely back to their home in Nazareth, but rather because of jealousy they would soon flee and become illegal immigrants making their way to alien Egypt, living essentially homeless until it was safe to return home and begin again their life as a family.

The Kurci Family baked 30 sweet potato pies from sweet potatoes grown and harvested from the "Garden of Hope" inside of Pinellas Hope.

We come to Church tonight to sing ancient hymns of joy and happiness reminding us of that “holy night”, to hear again the story of the dear Savior’s birth. Tonight Christ is not born again in human history but Christ can be reborn in each of us. However, we cannot and must not leave him homeless but rather make a home for him within ourselves. The Christmas story can match every longing, fear and anxiety we have tonight and as in the game of poker, “raise it” as well. But the love of God, the trust and faith in God and the hope in God which marked the central figures of that first Christmas assures us that we need not be homeless but have found Him for whom generations longed to see, to experience, to know.

Every year for five years on Christmas Eve, the Murphy family and their neighbors have purchased and served the Christmas Eve dinner at Pinellas Hope. Here are just a few of them before the "rush" begins.

Spiritual and religious homelessness also means that all of us need to recommit to meeting Christ regularly in the sacraments of the Church. It is time for Catholics to Come Home. Sadly but realistically, we know that the second largest Christian body in the United States, behind practicing members of the Catholic faith, is to be found in Catholics who have left us or fallen away from their faith. Perhaps you have seen in recent days the invitations conveyed on television asking those who have been hurt, felt alienated, perhaps embarrassed by the patent sinfulness not of the Church but of some of its leaders and members, to return. We promise a better reception should you return than whatever the circumstances were which caused you to leave. Just as we want and work to alleviate the pain of homelessness in our society, county, city, and neighborhood, we want to alleviate also the pain of spiritual homelessness. Our priests, our deacons, our religious and our lay leaders have all been working to provide a genuine welcome. My two homeless friends at Pinellas Hope could only bring to the manger tent an image of Jesus. We want those who are spiritually homeless to receive the real thing, Jesus, body and blood in the Eucharist and other sacraments of the Church.

There is room within the “Inn of Christ’s Church” and we promise to do everything we can to make you feel at home again.

I cried two years ago at that Mass I described at the beginning, not knowing if I would ever see another Christmas. I now truly believe that God heard the prayers of many and of myself that night, for I was released the day after Christmas as planned and now wish to devote my remaining energy to spreading the truly good news of Christmas and Easter: Christ was born, Christ has died, Christ has Risen, and while Christ will come again, He is among us tonight and every day, just for the asking. In the name of the Word made flesh, I beg you to come home not just for Christmas but for the rest of your life.

Wishing all God’s people, Catholic and non-Catholic, the greatest of blessings this Christmas day and peace to all people of good will. Merry Christmas.

Bishop Robert N. Lynch