Sunday, March 30, 2008

Divine Mercy

Yesterday in my Christian Spirituality class, we discussed Ronald Rolheiser's book, The Holy Longing: The Search for A Christian Spirituality. I highly recommend it. In particular, we discussed the chapter on "Consequences of the Incarnation for Spirituality". As you may recall, last week I posted a selection from the Office of Readings describing Christ's descent into Hell.

Rolheiser includes a brief story from G.K. Chesterton's Everlasting Man:

A man who was entirely careless of spiritual affairs died and went to hell. And he was much missed on earth by his old friends. His business agent went down to the gates of hell to see if there was any chance of bringing him back. But though he pleaded for the gates to be opened, the iron bars never yielded. His priest also went and argued: 'He was not really a bad fellow, given time he would have matured. Let him out, please!' The gates remained stubbornly shut against all these voices. Finally, his mother came; she did not beg his release. Quietly, and with a strange catch in her voice, she said to Satan: 'Let me in.' Immediately the great doors swung open upon their hinges. For love goes down through the gates of hell and there redeems the dead.
This Sunday we contemplate and celebrate the Divine Mercy of Jesus Christ. For me, it is a mercy that is reflected in the greeting the Christ gave to those locked in the upper room. Even though they had abandoned Him in a time of need, He did not dwell on the past. "Peace be with you!"

He went on to say, "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” When a court proceeding is dramatized, we often hear the judge sentence a criminal to death by saying, "May God have mercy on your soul." What I have come to find particularly interesting about that statement is that it somehow presupposes that we are permitted to simply delegate forgiveness to God. That it is OK to 'write off' someone because of their actions, and let God take it from there.

I have come to realize that it is not OK. As difficult, painful, unfair, and even impossible as it may be for me to actually forgive someone for something he or she does, that is what I am called to do. I recall the days that followed the Virginia Tech shootings. Perhaps you do as well. Since I only live two hours from the campus, the news coverage was even more intense. I remember one night in particular, I was sitting on my bed, surfing the Internet. I came across a photo of the shooter. He had a gun in each hand and was staring intensely into the camera. I stared back. I remember being struck, stunned, jarred by the stare. I remember thinking, "What could be going on behind that cold, evil stare?" However, as much as I deplored what he had done, I could not deplore Seung-Hui Cho.

I found myself praying, "God, this is one of your children. I pray that this troubled young man finds rest in your arms." And a sense of peace came over me. I knew that God took it from there. As I reflected upon that event over the ensuing months, I have come to a deeper appreciation of what happened. Rolheiser does a much better job of articulating what I have come to realize than I ever could:

The view of the incarnation being proposed here never says that we forgive sins, that we bind and loose, that we heal each other, or that we anoint each other. It is Christ, working through us, who does this. The power is still with God, not with us, but in the incarnation God has chosen, marvelously, to let his power flow through us, to let our flesh give reality to his power.

I just pray that God will give me the grace to be an instrument of His peace. I pray that in the face of injustice and injury, he gives me the grace to say, "Peace be with you!" I pray that he gives me the grace to treat others justly and charitably, so that I am not in need of his Mercy. However, I pray that when I inevitably fall short of the mark and do stumble, that His merciful arms are there to pick me up, hold me, and send me back on my way - his way!

Thanks be to God! Alleluia, Alleluia!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Countdown Begins...

As I mentioned last week, my wife and I will be heading up to Washington, DC next month to celebrate mass with the Pope. Sure, sure, there will be 45,998 other people there too, but who is counting? The more the merrier! Didn't James Joyce once describe the Catholic Church as "Here comes everyone"?

We are equally excited about the opportunity to get away, just the two of us, for a night. This June we celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. We are not quite sure where the years went, but our four children have filled them with wonderful joy and lasting memories. However, those same children make it a bit tough for us to have "couple time" Therefore, a prayer of thanksgiving for the Papal visit as an opportunity to recharge our relationship is certainly appropriate!

In order to be eligible for the ticket lottery, Katie and I had to agree to "prepare spiritually for the Mass" No further details were provided. So, what is a Catholic to do?

One of the other parishioners in our parish who will be making the trip did some research online and found a study guide the the Archdiocese of Washington, DC prepared to help folks prepare for the visit. It is based upon B16's most recent Encyclical, Spe Salvi. Although reading and studying such documents has become more than a devotional practice for me now that I am enrolled in our diocese's Pastoral Ministry Leadership Formation program, it is just not Katie's cup of tea. She is most certainly a woman of deep faith. However, when I embarked on the discernment process for the diaconate, she made it quite clear: "I will support you in every way that I can. I believe that you are called to be a deacon. However, I am not called to be a deacon. I do not want to be a deacon!" Church documents are not where she finds spiritual nourishment.

So we continue to search for a way for her to prepare.

Now that he has finished covering the Triduum, Rocco has started what must be a high point of his journalistic career (second only to his coverage of the death of JPII and election of Pope Benedict). Take a look over at Whispers to see what he has to say. As an added bonus, his post pointed me to a series of columns published in the Catholic Standard about the papcy. Take and read!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus...

"Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord.
We praise you with greater joy than ever on this Easter night, when Christ became our paschal sacrifice.
He is the true Lamb who took away the sins of the world.
By dying he destroyed our death; by rising he restored our life.
And so, with all the choirs of angels in heaven we proclaim your glory and join in their unending hymn of praise"

- Preface of Easter I

I have always found the preface to the Eucharistic Prayer to be a moment of contemplation of the universality of Christ's church. The priest's invitation for us in joining with the heavenly host as they sing God's praise allows me to connect my prayer with all of those who are on this earth now, as well as those who have gone before us!

I think of my grandparents, friends, and mentors who have gone on to their eternal reward. People like Msgr. Charles Kelly, my campus minister during my years at the College of William and Mary. I also recall family and friends who are not physically present, but who are sharing at the same Eucharistic Table nonetheless. Father Kenneth Lasch, my childhood pastor, in New Jersey. Or My parents in Williamsburg, Virginia and sister in Arlington, Virginia.

But this Easter, a whole new group of folks came to mind. People I have never met in real life, some of whom do not know that I exist! Bloggers. People of faith who have shared parts of their faith journey with me via websites such as this. I prayed for Deacon Greg Kandra, as I imagined him singing the Exsultet for the first time at an Easter Vigil. Or Rocco, of Whispers, whose "on the spot" reporting of all things ecclesial is expressed with a deep faith that shows that, for him, this is not just about reporting facts. Recently I came across the blog of a young teacher in Texas, Andie, who has taken to writing a blog of her own. When I read Theophany All Over I am able to see the strong faith of a woman living out a life of vocation. There are many others, far too many to list here. But you get the point.

I am connected to them all. One Bread, One Body, One Lord of all. Each time I receive the Eucharist, that Unity is present. I am connected to the full communion that is the Church!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

This is the night...

By far, my favorite hymn is the Easter Proclamation, The Exsultet. The ancient chant, echoing throughout a candlelit church filled with the aromas of incense, always reminds me of the timelessness of our faith. For me, the reference to the "necessary sin of Adam" calls to mind an Ancient Homily that imagines a conversation between Christ and Adam in Hell. If someone was to ask me what Easter is all about, I could not come up with a better explanation than this ancient hymn:

Rejoice heavenly powers! Sing, choir of angels! Exult all creation around God's throne! Jesus Christ, our King is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, O earth in shining splendor, radiant in the brightness of your King! Christ has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes for ever!

Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory! The risen Savior shines upon you! Let this place resound with joy echoing the mighty song of all God's people!

My dearest friends, standing with me in this holy light, join me in asking God for mercy, that he may give his unworthy minister grace to sing his Easter praises.

V The Lord be with you.
R And also with you.
V Lift up your hearts.
R We lift them up to the Lord
V Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
R It is right to give him thanks and praise.

It is truly right that with full hearts and minds and voices we should praise the unseen God, the all-powerful Father, and his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. For Christ has ransomed us with his blood and paid the price of Adam,s sin to our eternal

This is our passover feast, when Christ the true Lamb, is slain, whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.

This is the night when first you saved our fathers: you freed the people of Israel from their slavery and led them dry-shod through the sea.

This is the night when the pillar of fire destroyed the darkness of sin!

This is the night when Christians everywhere, washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement, are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave.

What good would life have been for us, had Christ not come as our Redeemer? Father, how wonderful your care for us! How boundless your merciful love! To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.

O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

Most blessed of all nights chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead! Of this night scripture says: "The night will be as clear as day: it will become my light, my joy. The power of this holy night dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy; it casts out hatred, brings us peace, and humbles earthly pride.

Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth and man is reconciled with God!

Therefore, heavenly Father, in the joy of this night, receive our evening sacrifice of praise, your Church,s solemn offering.

Accept this Easter candle, a flame divided but undimmed, a pillar of fire that glows to the honor of God! Let it mingle with the lights of heaven and continue bravely burning to dispel the darkness of this night!

May the Morning Star which never sets find this flame still burning: Christ, that Morning Star, who came back from the dead, and shed his peaceful light on all mankind, your Son who lives and reigns for ever and ever.


He is risen, Alleluia, Alleluia!!!!!

Thanks be to God, Alleluia!!! Alleluia!!!

Ancient Homily: The Lord descends into hell

Something strange is happening - there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: "My Lord be with you all." Christ answered him: "And with your spirit." He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: "Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light."

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are held in bondage come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

For your sake, I your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

- Ancient Homily on Holy Saturday

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Habemus Papam !!!

My wife and I have got two of the hottest tickets around!!! Well, at least in the Catholic world. As I am sure you are aware, B16 will be making his first (and probably only) trip to the US in less than a month. He will celebrate Mass publicly twice; once in DC and once in New York.

Tickets were distributed to each diocese. Ours received 400. The decision was made to distribute them via lottery. 4,000 people applied.

Well, the drawing was last week, and wouldn't you know it, they pulled my name! So, On April 17, 2008 (my birthday, by the way) Katie and I will join 46,000 other people in celebrating the Sacred Liturgy with the successor to St. Peter!

I don't think it has really set in quite yet. I am really excited about being able to take part in a worship experience that will connect my faith to that of the Universal Church in such a tangible way. Granted, St. Peter's Basilica is a bit more sacred a space when compared to the National's new stadium, but I will take what I can get!!!