Archive for March, 2010

Palm Sunday

March 29, 2010

This is the first day of Holy Week.  The entire liturgical year is meant to help us to walk with Our Lord in all the major events in His life.  Throughout Lent we have been meditating upon Our Lord’s passion.  This week, we concentrate in a particular way on each one of the last days of the Lord’s life and upon His death.  Holy Week is a time for all of us to really focus upon all that Our Lord suffered in order to save us.

Today we begin Holy Week and many of the Liturgies of Holy Week look a bit different from what we are used to.  Today, there was an extra Gospel reading at the beginning of Mass, for example.  The Gospel at the beginning of the Mass reminded us of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which Jesus made just a short time before He was put to death.  The crowd on that occasion was crying out and saluting Jesus as a King, as the Messiah who had been promised from the beginning of the world: “Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord!”  We distribute palms on this day to remind us of how the crowds had palm branches and laid them before Jesus as He entered the city of Jerusalem.

The Gospel during the Mass reminds us of how quickly the crowds turned on Our Lord.  On one day they cried out in joy and exultation at Jesus’ arrival and yet within a very short time, the same crowds were stirred up against Our Lord.  Just a few days after the crowd had shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David” they again cried out, but this time they to shouted something different: “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”

We take palm branches today, in order to remind ourselves that we, too, are quick to rejoice at the arrival of our King; we take palm branches today to remind ourselves that we who rejoice at the coming of Our Lord are the same ones who betray Our Lord whenever we sin.  Throughout the year, the palm branches that we take home will remind us of Our Lord’s victory over sin and death.

Palm branches are often used in Church art as a symbol for martyrs.  The palm branch is shaped like a “v” indicating victory, and martyrs have done just that: they achieved victory over sin and death by shedding their blood rather than turn away from God in sin.  The palm branches that we take home today, are to remind us that Jesus died for us and by dying, He won for us the ultimate victory.  Our palm branches also remind us of the fact that we are called to take up our cross daily and follow after Him.  We, too, are to be victorious over sin by rooting it out of our lives.

The whole purpose of Lent is to root sin out of our hearts and out of our lives: that is the reason for the tradition of giving things up for Lent.  Hopefully, Lent has helped all of us to grow in our self-discipline.  Hopefully, our Lenten sacrifices have helped us to make progress in overcoming sin.  If we have let our Lenten practices slip a bit, this week is the time to redouble our efforts.  Let us do our best to enter into this Holy Week.  Like everything else in the spiritual life: the more we put into it, the more we will get out of it.

Let us use this Holy Week in a particular way to meditate everyday this week on the Passion of Our Lord.  Realize that what He suffered, He suffered for each one of you and for me.  Our Lord did not suffer and die for humanity in general.  He had each one of us in His mind as He underwent His Passion.  It was His love for you and for me that motivated Him to willingly undergo His Passion.  The thought that Jesus Christ willingly suffered so much for each one of us should inspire within us a great hatred for our sins, but also a great trust and confidence in His mercy.  Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us sinners.  Amen.

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March 28th

March 28, 2010

This Sunday is known as Palm Sunday and it marks the beginning of Holy Week.  Palm Sunday commemorates Our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem shortly before His Passion.  On Palm Sunday, we all receive blessed palms, which remind us of the palm branches that the people spread on the road before the Lord as He processed into the city amidst the acclamation of the crowd.  At the Palm Sunday liturgy, there may also be a more solemn entrance procession, which, is yet another external reminder of our Lord’s solemn procession.

The entire purpose of the liturgical year is to help us to walk with our Lord in the various events of His earthly life.  During all of Lent our focus has been directed to the Passion of Our Lord in a general way.  Holy Week focuses us in a particular way on each of the last days of Our Lord’s life before His Passion, death and Resurrection.

Wednesday in Holy Week was traditionally called “Spy Wednesday” because on that day the Gospel reading recounts how Judas began to conspire with the Pharisees to put Jesus to death.

Holy Thursday is a day in which we remember the Lord’s Last Supper as well as the institution of the ordained priesthood.  In the morning there is a Mass at the Cathedral with the Archbishop.  At that Mass priests are invited to renew the promises that they made at their ordination.  It is also at that Mass that the Sacred Chrism will be consecrated.  That Chrism will be used to anoint the hands of the men who will be ordained this coming May.

In the evening of Holy Thursday, we commemorate the fact that Our Lord washed the feet of His Apostles.  At that Mass, the priest liturgically re-enacts that sacred event by washing the feet of twelve men from the parish.

Good Friday is the only day of the entire year when we do not celebrate Mass.  On Good Friday we remember the day Our Lord died for us and was buried.  We have a liturgy in which we are all invited to come forward and venerate the cross.  We also have a Communion service, but Mass is not celebrated on that day as a reminder of that day that Our Savior spent in the tomb.

Easter Vigil (Saturday evening) is one of the most important (and my favorite) liturgical celebrations of the entire year.  It begins with the blessing of the Easter Candle and a candlelight procession.  There are many beautiful prayers and the Gloria is sung while the bells peal and ring out as a sign of our joy.  There are several readings from the Old Testament, which recount Creation and Salvation history.  During the Vigil the candidates who have been in the RCIA will be Baptized, Confirmed and receive first Holy Communion.  It is truly a extraordinary celebration.  If you have never attended an Easter Vigil, I highly recommend you come and experience it for yourself.

God bless,

Father White

5th Sunday of Lent

March 21, 2010

Today’s Gospel presents us with a rather complex scene.  It was a very clever trap that the Scribes and the Pharisees set for Jesus by bringing the adulterous women before Him and asking Him what they should do with her.  We might not pick up on how treacherous this trap is if we don’t understand the historical background in which this event took place.

The reason that the Pharisees brought this woman to Jesus was not because they wanted a good legal decision or because they respected His opinion.  The Pharisees hated Jesus and they were trying desperately to trap Him in His words so that they could discredit Him before the crowd or get Him put to death.  The Pharisees brought this particular case before Him because they knew that it would put Him between a rock and a hard place, so to speak.

According to the Law of Moses, a woman caught in adultery was to be put to death by stoning: there was no question that that is what the Law of Moses required.  We also have to remember that during Jesus’ time the Romans occupied Israel: the Jewish people were under Roman rule and the Roman laws forbid the Jews from putting anyone to death.  Just think of the end of the Gospel: the Pharisees take Jesus before Pilate because they claimed that according to Jewish law He deserved to die, but they were not allowed to enforce the death sentence; they had to bring Jesus before the Romans to obtain the death sentence that they wanted.

With that background in mind, we can begin to see the difficult position the Pharisees have put Jesus into with the case that we have heard about in the Gospel today.  The Pharisees probably thought that they had finally trapped Jesus.  If He said that they should follow the Law of Moses and stone the woman, then He would have been encouraging them to violate the Roman law and the Pharisees could have handed Jesus over to the Roman authorities for encouraging others to ignore the Roman laws.  If Jesus instructed them not to stone the woman, then the Pharisees thought that they could accuse Him of contradicting the Law of Moses and then He would lose credibility with the Jewish crowds who followed Him.  They crowds would have viewed Him as a sellout to the Romans.  The Pharisees seemed to have backed Our Lord into a corner.

Jesus didn’t answer the question right away; instead, He bent down and began to write on the ground with His finger.  I have heard many theories about what it was that Jesus wrote in the sand.  Ultimately, I think the only answer we can give is that we are simply not sure what He wrote.  The way that Jesus escaped from the trap, however, was an act of sheer genius.  Jesus turned the trap back on the ones who set it.

Again, we need to get a little background to understand what Jesus did.  The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the day and they were very prideful people.  They loved the places of honor, they loved to be seen praying in public, and (if we look at other places in the Gospel) they didn’t see themselves as sinners.  The Gospels tell us that the Pharisees were often scandalized because Jesus ate with sinners.  This implies that they did not hold themselves to be sinners.  In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus even told a story about a tax collector and a Pharisee going to the Temple to pray.  The tax collector wouldn’t look up to Heaven, but stayed in the back begging God for mercy; the Pharisee stood up and thanked God that he was not sinful like the rest of humanity and then went on to boast about how often he fasted.  (cf. Luke 18:9-14)

Keeping this attitude of the Pharisees in mind, let us look at what Jesus said to them in today’s Gospel: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  The trap was turned back upon the Pharisees.  If they maintained that they were without sin, as we have seen they tended to do, then they would throw their stones at the woman and would themselves be guilty of breaking Roman law and would be punished by the Romans as criminals.  If they chose to avoid breaking the Roman law by not throwing stones, they would be admitting their own sinfulness.  Once they realized that the trap that they had set was turned against them, the Pharisees dropped their stones and went away, leaving the woman and Jesus alone.

Jesus was without sin, but He did not condemn the woman.  Jesus came to bring mercy and forgiveness to all of us.  He died to save us from sin and death.  There isn’t any sin that we can commit that Jesus would not forgive us for, if we only approach Him and ask for His mercy.  He gave us the Sacrament of Reconciliation so that our sins could be washed away by His grace.  Jesus does ask us to go and sin no more, just as He told the woman in today’s Gospel.  When we come to confession, we are supposed to have the intention of at least trying to do better.  As often as we fall, we know that we can come back to Jesus and He will freely extend His mercy.  We also know how unhappy sin makes us, and how it offends Our Lord, and so we should do our best to avoid sin and the occasions that lead us into sin.

This whole season of Lent has been given to us as an opportunity to examine our lives and turn away from sin.  During these forty days of Lent, it is good for us to reflect on our actions and on our habits so that we come to recognize the things in our hearts that we need to change.  Let us use this season to work on rooting sin out of our lives so that we can live in the true freedom of the sons and daughters of God.  We were made to be free and sin enslaves.  This holy season is a time to break free from sin and start over.  Let us use this Lent as a time for all of us to renew our commitment to Our Lord and to begin to walk more faithfully with Him.

March 14th

March 16, 2010

This Sunday is known as “Laetare” Sunday and it marks the halfway point in our Lenten journey towards Easter.  The word Laetare is a Latin word that means rejoice.  Laetare Sunday is meant to give us a slight respite, liturgically, from our austere Lenten atmosphere in the Church.  Laetare Sunday is a reminder that Easter will soon be here and so we take a moment to rejoice that we have passed the halfway mark.

There are a few liturgical signs which denote the subdued rejoicing of Laetare Sunday.  The priest may wear rose-colored vestments on this Sunday instead of the violet that has been worn since Lent began.  The sanctuary may also be decorated with rose.  Rose is meant to be a sign of subdued joy.  It is not yet the full rejoicing of Easter (signified by white), but it is not the somber violet that we have seen up until this Sunday.  There may be flowers in the sanctuary of the Church, whereas all the other Sundays of Lent the decoration is supposed to be sparse in order to indicate the penitential nature of the season.

Laetare Sunday can be a good opportunity to take a moment during this holy season to examine how our Lent has been going up to this point.  If we have not been faithful to the Lenten practices that we have decided to take on this year, this Sunday is a good time to renew our efforts.  If we have been faithful, then this Sunday is a good time to commit ourselves to persevere throughout the second half of Lent.

Let us all continue our efforts to root sin out of our lives and draw closer to Our Lord, in order that we may celebrate Easter with hearts that have been purified by this holy Lenten season.

God bless,

Father White

3rd Sunday of Lent

March 16, 2010

In the Gospel today, we hear about the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.  The Gospel tells us that Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.  There was a lot of bad history between the Jewish people and the Samaritans.  The Samaritans were half-Jewish.  At one point in Israel’s history, the Kingdom of Israel was divided between the North and the South.  Both the Northern and the Southern Kingdoms were conquered by other nations, but the Northern Kingdom was conquered over a hundred years before the Southern Kingdom was conquered.  When the Northern Kingdom was conquered the conquerors not only deported many people out of the Land, they also imported many people from other nations into the Land in an attempt to force them to lose their own identity and assimilate more easily into the empire.  The people who remained in the Land did, eventually, inter-marry with the pagans from other nations.  Through many generations of inter-marriage, the people of the Northern Kingdom lost their Jewish identity.  They continued to consider themselves as part of the Chosen People, Israel, and they continued to worship God, as the Israelites did, but they began to worship Him in pagan ways and they also began to worship other gods as well; they viewed God as one god among many others.  As a result of this loss of identity and loss of pure faith, the Jewish people of the Southern Kingdom resented the people of the Northern Kingdom, the Samaritans as they became known, and they didn’t want anything to do with them.  The Southern Kingdom was also conquered and exiled, as I mentioned.  When they eventually returned to the Land after 40 years of exile they set to the task of rebuilding the Temple.  When they first began to rebuild the Temple, the Samaritans offered to help.  The Jewish people of the Southern Kingdom wanted nothing to do with the Samaritans from the North.  They viewed the Samaritans as even worse than the pagans, and they did not want them assisting in the rebuilding of the Temple.  This of course greatly offended the Samaritans and they rejected outright the worship that the Jews offered in the Temple.  From that time all the way down to Jesus’ time, the Jews and Samaritans had nothing to do with one another.  So it was rather shocking (even to the woman at the well) that Jesus (a Jew) would talk to her (a Samaritan).  Clearly Jesus was not restricted by the cultural norms of His day.

Through His conversation with the woman, Jesus slowly helped her to realize with Whom she was speaking.  Ultimately, He revealed Himself to her by showing her that He knew all about her life and her sins.  Many of us have a similar experience: when we first encountered the Lord, we were convicted of our sins.  God is all holy and in order for us to draw near to Him, we need to rid ourselves of sin.  The Saints all felt themselves to be the greatest of sinners; this is because the closer one is to God, the more one realizes how unworthy they are before the Lord.  The Lord wants us to turn away from sin and give our whole heart to Him.  We cannot love the Lord with our whole heart if we are still attached to sin.  When we encounter the Lord, He calls us to leave sin behind.  It is impossible to encounter the Lord (I mean really encounter the Lord) and not come away changed.  The Lord is not content to leave us in our sins: when we encounter Him, He calls us to leave sin behind and follow Him with all our hearts.

After the woman-at-the-well encountered Jesus, she was not content to keep her knowledge of Him to herself.  She went into town and told others about Jesus; she drew other people to come and encounter Jesus for themselves.  That is also the mission of every Christian.  We are not given the gift of faith for ourselves only: we are given the gift of faith that we may share it with others.  Once we have encountered Jesus, we are called to share what Jesus has done for us with others and thus draw them to encounter Jesus for themselves.

At first, the people of the town went to see Jesus solely based on the testimony of the woman.  Once they encountered Jesus for themselves, they no longer believed based on the testimony of another, they too had their own personal encounter with Jesus.  If we do not share the faith with others, they will not come to believe.  Faith comes through hearing.  How can people hear, if no one shares the message with them?  And how could people share the message, unless they were sent?  We are all sent: by virtue of our baptism we are commissioned to take the Good News of Jesus Christ out into the world.  We are all called to bear witness to Christ in our daily lives: both in our words and in our actions.

Today we celebrate the first of three Scrutinies with the Elect in the RCIA process.  The Scrutinies are a rite that those who are seeking to enter the Church go through: they are meant to help the elect be more aware of sin and their own need for redemption.  During the Scrutinies, we will all pray that the elect will encounter Christ and have the power to overcome sin in their lives, just as the woman at the well did.  These last few weeks before Easter is a time for you, elect, to grow in your knowledge of Christ and in self-knowledge.  The prayers of these Scrutinies encourage you to come to a deeper knowledge and love of Christ, and they also encourage you to seriously examine your own hearts that you may come to a true repentance and sorrow for past sins.  The Church’s hope is that during these last few weeks of Lent you will grow in your desire for Christ: just as the Samaritan woman did.  The woman encountered Christ, which made more aware of her sin, and then after coming to know Christ, she went out and shared her faith with others.

My dear elect: someone undoubtedly led you to Christ.  You are not here by accident; someone likely invited you to join the Catholic Church.  In a very short time, you will encounter Christ in a very special way in the Sacraments of Initiation.  The Church’s prayer for you today is that your encounter with Christ will turn your hearts away from sin and make you faithful witnesses of the Gospel to others.  Remember that faith is a gift; and like the Samaritan woman, we need to share our faith.  When we share our faith, it grows within us.  Faith is like a fire: when it is shared it is not diminished: it spreads.  We are all called to be witnesses to those whom we encounter in our lives; we are called to be light for the world.  Dear elect, may God strengthen you through these final weeks of preparation.  May we all let our light shine before others and draw many to the Lord.  Amen.

March 7th

March 5, 2010

After the priest finishes his own preparation prayers, and the congregation has finished singing the Lamb of God, the priest holds the consecrated Host aloft and says: “This is the Lamb of God . . .”  We all respond to this proclamation with the prayer “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

This prayer that we all recite together is a reminder that none of us is worthy, on our own, to receive our Lord: God’s grace and mercy are always a freely given gift.  We can not earn them, we can only receive them.

Reception of Holy Communion is the high point of the Mass.  After we receive Our Lord, we should spend time with Him thanking Him and telling Him all the other things on our hearts.  It is also good to just sit still and be aware of His Presence within us after we have received Him in Holy Communion.  We should avail ourselves of the time that it takes for everyone else to go to Communion as well as the time it takes the priest to purify the vessels.  That is time that we can spend with our God, Whom we have just been intimately united with in Communion.

The Concluding Prayer usually asks that the grace that we have received will strengthen us and keep us faithful as we go out into the world.  The priest then blesses the people and dismisses them.  The dismissal is really a sending forth.  It is not just “It’s over, you can go now.”  It is more of a commissioning: “Go and share with the world the grace that you have received.”

The exit hymn is a chance for us to praise our God, in song, for all the great things that He has done for us: especially for giving us the gift of Himself in the Holy Eucharist.

I hope these reflections on the Mass have been helpful.  I know that it has been a long series, but I think it is important for all of us to be reminded of why it is that we do what we do in the Sacred Liturgy.

God bless,

Father White

2nd Sunday of Lent

March 2, 2010

In today’s Gospel, we hear about the Lord’s Transfiguration.  It might seem like a strange Gospel to have on the Second Sunday of Lent, but the Church gives us this reading at this time for a purpose.  In the Gospel we hear that Our Lord took three of His disciples (Peter, James and John) with Him up a mountain and there He was miraculously transformed before them and His glory was revealed to them.  What in the world does that have to do with our forty days of fasting in preparation for Easter?

It often helps to know the larger context that surrounds a Gospel passage: immediately preceding this event, the Lord had just begun to predict that He would be put to a shameful and cruel death.  The Transfiguration is meant to reassure His disciples and strengthen their faith.  The very same disciples who were with Jesus on the Mountain during the Transfiguration (Peter, James and John) were the same disciples that would be with the Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane, as He prayed in agony shortly before His crucifixion and death.  These disciples were prepared and strengthened by this vision of the Lord’s glory and their faith was re-affirmed by the Father’s voice.

While Our Lord was transfigured before them, they also saw Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus.  Moses and Elijah represented the Law and the Prophets, or in other words: the Old Covenant.  The fact that Moses and Elijah appeared and were conversing with Jesus shows that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the promises of redemption contained within the Old Testament.  All of the Old Testament pointed forward to the coming of the Savior: Jesus Christ.

The Gospel then tells us that Moses and Elijah were speaking with Jesus about His approaching “exodus” at Jerusalem.  The exodus in the Old Testament was when God miraculously freed the people from their slavery in Egypt and we now know that it foreshadowed what Jesus would do for the entire human race.  When the Gospel says that Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus about His “exodus” they were talking about the accomplishment of a new freedom miraculously won for the people by God.  Through His death and Resurrection, Jesus freed the entire human race from slavery to sin.  All of the Old Testament was looking forward toward a Savior who would come and redeem the world.  Jesus is that Redeemer: He conquered sin and death: He has won the victory for us; we only have to accept that gift and faithfully follow Him.

The Transfiguration of Our Lord also teaches us something about our own personal spiritual lives.  I am sure that we have all had some experience in which we were particularly aware of God’s hand at work in our lives.  God is always at work, if we have eyes that are open to see.  Whenever we have those experiences of God’s grace at work in our lives, those moments are meant to encourage us both at the time of the experience and in the struggles and difficulties in the future.  We should thank God for experiences of His grace and we should call them to mind, especially when we are experiencing difficulties and struggles.  Those experiences of God’s grace can help carry us through the difficult times in our lives.  Whenever we are feeling disconnected from God or whenever we are struggling and finding life burdensome, it is good to call to mind those times when we have experienced God’s love and His mercy and His grace.  Those experiences can reaffirm our faith and can give us the strength that we need to bear our daily crosses.

The reason that the Gospel passage about the Transfiguration is given to us in this second week of Lent is precisely to encourage us and fortify us to continue our Lenten journey toward Easter.  The Transfiguration is a small reminder of what awaits us: the joy of the Resurrection that we celebrate at Easter, but also the glory that awaits us in Heaven.

The Transfiguration is a reminder that there is more than this life.  Our eternal destiny is to be forever with God in Heaven.  God wants us to enter into His glory and His joy.  But we have to be faithful to Him and carry our cross daily in imitation of Our Lord in order to attain to that joy and glory.  Saint Paul said it well in our second reading today: our citizenship is in Heaven.  We can so easily become preoccupied with the things of this earth and forget that we are not made to live in this world forever: we have a Heavenly homeland and we have to keep constant guard over our hearts lest we become too attached to this world.  We can live very well in this world, and yet we are only passing guests in this life.  This life is a testing ground: this life is a preparation for the next life.  This life is passing away; the next life will last forever.  Let us prepare ourselves well for the next life.  Let us bear our crosses patiently and stand firm in the Lord with our eyes fixed on the goal: Heaven.

Lord Jesus, may meditating upon Your Transfiguration fortify us to persevere in our Lenten practices.  May our self-denial and penance help us to detach our hearts from the things of this world and prepare us for the everlasting joy and glory of Heaven.  Amen.

February 28th

March 2, 2010

After the conclusion of the Eucharistic Prayer, the Mass continues with the Communion Rite.  This rite includes our immediate preparation and reception of Our Lord in Holy Communion.

To prepare ourselves, we together pray for our daily bread in the prayer that Our Lord taught us: the “Our Father.”  Towards the end of the Lord’s Prayer, we pray that God forgive us, as we forgive others.  This conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer leads very naturally into the sign of peace.

When we exchange with one another the sign of peace, we should call to mind Our Lord’s teaching that we ought to be reconciled with others before offering our gift at the altar.  (cf. Matthew 5:23-24)  The significance of this gesture is more than just our wishing peace to those in our immediate proximity at church.  The sign of peace is meant to be a reminder to us that we are called to forgive everyone and not to hold any grudges.  We cannot harbor hatred against others and receive God, Who is love, into our hearts at the same time.

Following the exchange of peace, the Lamb of God is sung.  This ancient invocation calls upon Our Lord to grant us mercy and peace.  The term “Lamb of God” should call our minds back to the Old Testament, where lambs were offered in order to atone for sins.  By saying that Jesus is the “Lamb of God” Who takes away the “sins of the world” we are reminding ourselves that Jesus died to save us and through His death on the Cross, we are able to obtain mercy and true peace from God.

While the congregation is singing the Lamb of God, the priest bows and prays his own prayer of preparation.  The words of this prayer are quite beautiful, so I thought I would reproduce them for you here: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit your death brought life to the world.  By your holy body and blood free me from all my sins and from every evil.  Keep me faithful to your teaching and never let me be parted from you.”  [This prayer is the first option of preparation prayers for the priest, which are found in the Sacramentary.]

We will conclude our reflections on the Mass next week.

God bless,

Father White