Tag Archives: Mass Reflections

Serving with Our Whole Being- Reflection for Mass of September 16, 2011

16 Sep

Friday, September 16, 2011
Memorial of St. Cornelius, Pope and Martyr, and St. Cyprian, Bishop and Martyr
Readings: 1 Timothy 6:2c-12; Psalm 45:5-6, 7-9, 16-17, 18-19 (R: see Matthew 5:3); Luke 8:1-3

As a Basilian Associate teaching high school French and English at Instituto Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (INSA) in Cali, Colombia, three years ago, when I would teach the last class period of the day, there would not be much time between the end of my class and Evening Prayer in the house. I certainly did not have enough time then to prepare lesson plans or to grade homework. I did have just enough time to clear my mind after teaching before walking across the schoolyard to the house for silent reflection before Evening Prayer with our community there.

Before proceeding to the house, I would stop in regularly to speak with the school’s psychologist, who had become a good friend of mine. She would practice her English with me, while I would speak to her in Spanish. During one of our conversations, a woman came to greet the psychologist. She had two of her children, students at INSA, in tow. The mother and children smiled brightly, sharing what was clearly a joyful moment with the psychologist. When they left the room, the psychologist turned to me and said, “You wouldn’t know this by what you just saw, but the woman who was here is a single mother with HIV.”

Sadly, this story is not unique in the apostolate we Basilians serve in Cali. In addition to poverty and diseases such as HIV-AIDS, rates of substance abuse and violence are extremely high. Women are frequently the single parents; the poorest of the poor; the abused; those who serve their communities most eagerly, and often serve us with the deepest reminders of the ills of a society and of the socially-ingrained sin of the world[1] on one hand, and of profound joy and charity amid these ills and sin on the other.

Of the four evangelists, Luke arguably pays most attention to the social position of women of his time.[2] When the story I just recounted occurred, I was writing a reflection on the passage we hear in today’s Gospel, the first three verses of Chapter 8 of Luke. These verses break from the narrative before it of the sinful woman in the Pharisee’s house[3] (although, significantly, that story also centers upon a woman and Jesus), and the Parable of the Sower directly after it.[4] Luke introduces characters as though he will continue with a story about Jesus, the women, the Twelve, and the unnamed “many others.”[5] However, at least in the case of the women, two of them, Mary Magdalene and Joanna– if this is even the same person as in Luke 8– are only named in one other place in this Gospel, at the empty tomb along with Mary, mother of James, in its resurrection narrative.[6] Susanna is mentioned in Luke only in the passage we hear today.

Luke tells us so little about “Mary, called Magdalene,”[7] Joanna, and Susanna. We know that Mary had been healed of “seven demons,” a grave spiritual infirmity,[8] and that Joanna had marital ties to Herod’s court.[9] Yet there is so much in so little in this passage. Indeed, I am drawn to just two words. First, in English, Mary, Joanna, and Susanna, among “many others,” are said to have “provided for Jesus and the Twelve out of their resources.”[10] The Greek word in this sentence for provided is διηκόνουν, a conjugated form of the verb διακονέω (di-a-ko-ne’-o).[11] We derive the English word “deacon” from διακονέω. This is not to say that the women in today’s Gospel reading were engaging in institutionally-ordained diaconal ministry; this meaning of “deacon” is anachronistic to the Biblical context. However, these women were engaging in important service (διακονία)[12] in the nascent Church at a time when lively debate among Jewish and Judeo-Christian leaders was taking place about the role of women in public worship.[13] Luke undoubtedly goes beyond what many of these leaders deemed comfortable in the place he accords to women, but he goes further yet in writing that the women provided for Jesus and the Twelve “out of their resources.”[14] The Greek word translated as “resources” is ὑπαρχόντων (u-par-chón-ton).[15] The English word here limits the range of meanings of a Greek word that has connotations of being in addition to one’s resources or goods.

I speculate therefore whether the Evangelist might have wanted to convey that the women were serving Jesus and the Twelve out of their being– who they were– more than merely out of their material resources. These little-known women and “many others,” then and now, in a special way the poor and the infirm– the single mother in Cali with HIV, for example– model for us the dedication of our whole being to the service of one another and of our Lord, who graciously gives to us his whole being in the Eucharist we celebrate.


[1] Richard M. Gula, Reason Informed by Faith: Foundations of Catholic Morality (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1989), 116-121. Gula discusses social sin, “a relatively new… concept in Roman Catholic theology,” at some length. He writes that “the notion of social sin articulates how social structures can shape our existence for the worse.” Gula highlights “but a few examples” of what he defines as social sin: “patterns of racial discrimination, economic systems that exploit migrant farm workers, structures [that] make it necessary that persons be illegal aliens and that sanctuaries harbour them, and the exclusion of women from certain positions in the church.” (Reason Informed by Faith, 116).

[2] Carroll Stuhlmueller, “The Gospel According to Luke,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 2:138.

[3]  Luke 7:36-50.

[4] Luke 8:4-8.

[5] v 3.

[6] Luke 24:10.

[7] Luke 8:2.

[8] Ibid.

[9] v 3.

[10] Ibid.

[11]διηκόνουν,” in The New Analytical Greek Lexicon, edited by Wesley J. Perschbacher (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1990), 101.

[12]διακονία,” in The New Analytical Greek Lexicon, 92.

[13] Stuhlmueller, “The Gospel According to Luke,” 2:138.

[14] Luke 8:3.

[15]ὑπαρχόντων,” in The New Analytical Greek Lexicon, 417.

Homily Assignment on Vatican II’s Decree on Priestly Formation, Optatam Totius

8 May

The following is the last of three assignments I submitted for my course entitled “Thought of Vatican II” at the University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, ON Canada (MDiv Year II, Semester I, dated 7 December 2010). One of the options for this “integrative” assignment for those who foresee entering ordained ministry was to write a “homily,” taking into account one of the Decrees or Declarations (not one of the constitutions: Sacrosanctum Concilium, Dei Verbum, Lumen Gentium, or Gaudium et Spes)  of the Second Vatican Council as well as liturgical readings for the day on which the homily would be preached (It was not actually required to deliver the homily orally; only to write it). As I had presented earlier in this course on the Decree on Priestly Formation, Optatam Totius, my homily assignment focused on the same document. The original preface I wrote to explain the imagined liturgical setting and readings appears before the homily itself, and an appendix with the readings appears after it.

Preface

The liturgical setting of the following homily is a Mass of ordination to the presbyterate. In this homily assignment, I will correlate the core teachings of the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Priestly Formation, Optatam Totius, with the Scriptural readings I have selected for this Mass.  The first reading, Isaiah 61:3a, focuses on the universal divine commission to serve persons most in need. The Gospel acclamation, Luke’s quotation from Isaiah 61:1, carries forward this notion of service into the Gospel reading, Luke 22:14-20, 24-30, which joins the imperative of humble service given by Jesus to his apostles and to their successors with the institution of the Eucharist. Likewise, Psalm 116:12-13, 17-18 and its responsorial verse, 1 Corinthians 10:16, relate the themes of service in God’s name an Eucharist as both communion– among human beings and between humankind and God– and thanksgiving for God’s goodness. The second reading, 1 Peter 5:1-4, applies the Christian obligation of humility specifically to presbyteral ministry; a presbyter is not to work for his own gain, but for the good of all among whom the presbyter ministers.

Homily

The Fathers of Vatican II were highly attentive toward the significance of formation for ordained priesthood and toward presbyteral ministry itself. Two Conciliar decrees, Optatam Totius and Presbyterorum Ordinis, focused on these respective subjects. Vatican II as a whole was primarily a council of renewal of the Catholic Church, a council at once of aggiornamento, or bringing the Church up to date, and of ressourcement, a return to sources– to tradition both Biblical and extra-Biblical, with a special esteem of the early Church Fathers– and ultimately to God. This need for renewal of the Church is acknowledged in the opening sentence of Optatam Totius, the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Priestly Formation. This document begins by entrusting much of this ecclesial renewal to its priests and those who form men discerning the Sacrament of Orders. Optatam Totius declares: “This sacred Synod well knows that the wished-for renewal of the whole Church depends in large measure on a ministry of priests [that] is vitalized by the Spirit of Christ.”

The foundation of all priestly formation, then, is Christ, in whose priesthood the ordained participate. The priest is called, says Optatam Totius, to be vitalized, that is, enlivened, by the Spirit of Christ. In Christ’s Spirit– as our first reading from Isaiah puts it, “the Spirit of the LORD God”– the priest is anointed for service to God and to the Church, the people of God. During this very liturgy of priestly ordination, the priests, once vested with stole and chasuble, will be anointed with chrism on the palms of their hands. The Holy Spirit of Christ, begotten of the Father, is at this point called to rest upon the candidate for Orders, through the prayer from the Rite of Ordination that coincides with the anointing of hands: “The Father anointed our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. May Jesus preserve you to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God.” Together, the anointing with chrism of the hands of the newly ordained and this prayer recall the constant presence of the Holy Spirit among us. Not only in Holy Orders, but in our Baptism into the priesthood of the faithful, in Confirmation, and in the Anointing of the Sick recipients of these Sacraments are anointed with chrism. Thus, from our reception into the Church until our reception into the company of the saints in heaven, the Spirit of the Lord is upon us as God’s Spirit is on the prophets and upon Christ. In the Holy Spirit, “the Lord, the giver of life” (cf. the Nicene Creed), we are perpetually vitalized.

Renewed by the Spirit of the Lord, the Church and priesthood within it are by nature transcendent of earthly borders, such as those between nations, languages, cultures, and social classes, yet at the same time God shows preference toward the poor, the captives, and the oppressed. To these, Isaiah writes, he had been “anointed to bring good news… to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour.” Jesus made Isaiah’s mission his own from the beginning of his ministry, as we have heard in today’s Gospel Acclamation. That verse is drawn from Luke who, uniquely among the Gospel authors, includes Jesus’ quotation from Isaiah 61 before the Synagogue assembly in Nazareth on the Sabbath. In Luke, this is Jesus’ first act of public ministry. Jesus begins, as had Isaiah before him, by announcing that he had been sealed by the Spirit to evangelize, to free those held captive by that which is not of God, to restore sight to the blind, and “to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour.” We might recall that Jesus’ first act of prophecy, the words of Isaiah from the scroll, was well-received by his audience. However, for declaring that his message of reconciliation and of healing would extend to those most in need, whether Jews or Gentiles, Jesus draws the assembly’s rejection. Undeterred, Jesus continues his mission, as the concluding sentence of Luke 4 illustrates: “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.”

The same proclamation of the kingdom of God for which Jesus was sent is also our purpose and our imperative in priestly ministry in Christ’s stead. An entire chapter of Optatam Totius is devoted to “matters [that] have a special bearing on the sacred ministry” of the presbyterate, namely those of pastoral service: “catechetics, preaching, liturgical worship, the conferral of the Sacraments, works of charity, [and] the duty of seeking out the straying sheep and unbelievers,” according to article nineteen of this decree. Not to be disconnected from the intellectual and spiritual formation for priesthood treated in previous chapters of Vatican II’s Decree on Priestly Formation, nonetheless “the promotion of strictly pastoral training” for priests-to-be is given a special place as the title of the sixth chapter of Optatam Totius. Without this pastoral dimension, the import of the Catholic priesthood and of priestly formation is minimized. As pastoral training is necessarily linked to intellectual and spiritual formation of clergy if priestly formation is to be considered holistic so, too, I go as far as to say that those pastoral services enumerated in article nineteen of Optatam Totius all ought to be understood as works of charity. Here I do not read into Optatam Totius a concept not in the document; the same article nineteen of this decree underscores the chief “qualities to be developed in seminarians,” such as promotion of dialogue, and “a capacity to listen to other people and to open their hearts in a spirit of charity to the various circumstances of human need.”

My emphasis on the pastoral aspect of the presbyterate and of priestly formation, and on all pastoral works as works of charity, comes from my experience as an associate of the religious community of priests to which I belong, the Basilian Fathers. I was sent early in my priestly formation to Cali, Colombia, to teach high school French and English and to learn Spanish. As I gradually learned not only a new language but a new culture, I noted that, in addition to abject poverty, most people of the Basilian school and parish had received little catechetical instruction. The mission of the Basilians in Cali, then, was at once to alleviate the material poverty of those whom we served, as well as to provide an education– often entirely subsidized– to these people in both religious and secular disciplines. From that, there developed a deep bond of love between the Basilians and the residents of our parish neighbourhood. This was impressed upon me one day when, as a community manual labour exercise, I was washing clay roofing shingles in our schoolyard. A poor man on the street approached the schoolyard gate and greeted me with a smile, “Hola, Padre”– “Hello, Father!” Not yet ordained at that time, I had difficulty then– and I still do– with being called “Father,” for the pastoral responsibility that this title denotes, yet if I were to be called Father, all my works, I prayed, would be acts of charity. My priesthood, modeled after that of Christ, would be pastoral by definition. Priesthood is an anointing to pastoral acts of charity, whether one is a parish priest, a high-school, university, or seminary instructor, a scholar; whether one is praying, in recreation, or is washing shingles in a schoolyard. Priesthood is pastoral charity, oriented toward the good of human community and finally toward God.

My appointment to Colombia increased my awareness that priesthood, as a ministry of ecclesial leadership in charity, takes into account both the universal Church and the local church.  At the same time, the universality– the catholicity– of the Church became more evident to me as did the particular needs of local churches, regions, and nations. I was sent from Edmonton to Cali, after only six months as a Basilian associate, the earliest stage of formation in our religious community. The differences between the two churches are remarkable; the relative affluence of Edmonton over Cali, the religious devotion inherent in Colombian culture, and the linguistic dissimilarity between the two places are but a few of these distinctions. Nonetheless, the same Mass is celebrated in both Edmonton and Cali; Edmontonian and Caleño Catholics belong to the same Church in communion with the See of Rome.

Regarding priestly formation in particular, Optatam Totius holds in tension the recognition of the necessities of local churches and of those of the universal Church. The decree begins with an accent on the former: “Since the variety of peoples is so great,” says article one of Optatam Totius, “only general rules,” such as the establishment of “Program[s] of Priestly Formation” by regional bishops’ conferences, “can be legislated.” In Optatam Totius’ next article, though, which begins its chapter on “the intensified encouragement of priestly vocations,” the document is clear that “the task of fostering vocations devolves on the whole Christian community.” The encouragement of vocations to ordained priesthood evidently begins at the local level– in homes, in schools, and in parishes– yet it extends universally. To those who will be ordained shortly: The best way to encourage vocations, not only to the priesthood but to the specific vocation to which God calls each Christian, is to live your own divine calling to Holy Orders joyfully. In today’s second reading, the author of 1 Peter acknowledges that his vocation as an elder– literally, a presbyter– is not easy. He is “a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed.” Articles nine and ten of Optatam Totius echo this eschatological balance of 1 Peter of the “obligations” and even “hardship of the priestly life” with joy “in the blessedness promised by the Gospel” and by a “profound identification of” the priest’s entire life with that of Jesus Christ.

Priesthood, configured to Christ, is more than the power to confect the Eucharist, although this sacerdotal privilege is not unimportant. As per article eight of Optatam Totius, the priest must “be taught to look for Christ in many places: in faithful meditation on God’s word, in active communion with the holy mysteries of the Church… in the bishop” whom they assist, “the poor, the young, the sick, the sinful, and the unbelieving.” The Eucharist is only the beginning of Christian service; the priest who confects it for and receives it with the people of God must not, as today’s Gospel and second reading both affirm, “lord it over” those whom we serve as leaders. The Eucharistic feast must be united with and must give way to service. Moreover, as we heard in today’s Responsorial Psalm, the Eucharist, over which the priest presides, is at once an act of thanksgiving and one that draws human beings into ever-closer communion with one another and with God.

Let us pray, then, for the priestly candidates present before us here, and for all priests and those in formation for Holy Orders, that they might be joyful instruments of and participants in the priesthood of Christ. In this Eucharistic celebration we thank God for the gift of priests, “the hope of the Church,” as concludes Optatam Totius, and for those entrusted with their formation.

Appendix: Readings for Homily Assignment on Optatam Totius

Thought of Vatican II- SMT 3670 HF

Readings are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, selected according to The Rites of the Catholic Church, trans. The International Commission on English in the Liturgy (New York: Pueblo Publishing Co., 1980), 2:102-106.

First Reading: Isaiah 61:1-3a

1The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
   because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
   to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and release to the prisoners;
2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
   and the day of vengeance of our God;
   to comfort all who mourn;
3to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
   to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
   the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 116:12-13, 17-18 (Response: 1 Corinthians 10:16)

12What shall I return to the Lord
   for all his bounty to me?
13I will lift up the cup of salvation
   and call on the name of the Lord

 R: Our blessing-cup is a communion with the blood of Christ.

17I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice
   and call on the name of the Lord.
18I will pay my vows to the Lord
   in the presence of all his people. R.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 5:1-4

1Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you 2to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it— not for sordid gain but eagerly. 3Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. 4And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away.

Gospel Acclamation (Luke 4:18-19)

 Alleluia.

 The Lord sent me to bring good news to the poor and freedom to prisoners.

 Alleluia.

Gospel Reading: Luke 22:14-20, 24-30

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16for I tell you, I will not eat it* until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ 17Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ 19Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 20And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

24A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28‘You are those who have stood by me in my trials; 29and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, 30so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: We Believe as We Pray– Reflection for Mass of April 1, 2011

1 Apr

Friday, April 1, 2011
Ferial– Friday of the Third Week of Lent
Readings: Hosea 14:1-9; Psalm 81: 5c-10ab, 13+16 (R: 10+8a); Mark 12:28b-34

Shema Yisrael, Adonai eloheynu Adonai echad– Hear, O Israel! The LORD our God is one LORD.”[1] This greatest of ancient Jewish prayers is a case of the principle Christians would later call lex orandi, lex credendi: the law that is prayed comes to be the law that is believed.[2] Indeed, Jews still pray the Shema twice daily as the LORD commanded them in the Book of Deuteronomy: “Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest. Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.”[3]

These words of the LORD clearly were assigned a place of prominence; they were to be fixed as the primary focus on the hearts, on the homes, on the heads, and on the bodies, specifically the wrists, of the faithful. Similarly, Jesus affirms for us in today`s Gospel that this prayer leads us to a deepened faith, again illustrating for us the notion of lex orandi, lex credendi. That faith gives rise to a love of God that becomes affixed in our hearts, in our innermost homes that are our souls, in our minds, and in our bodies wherein lay our strength.[4]

Out of six hundred thirteen Mitzvot, or religious statutes, in the Torah,[5] Jesus cites only two as the Commandments than which there are none greater. The first is the Shema of Deuteronomy, while the second is from Leviticus: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”[6]

In its original context in Leviticus, the scope of this second of the greatest Commandments is restricted to the Israelites’ “fellow countrymen,”[7] those bound to the covenant between the LORD and Israel. However, Jesus challenges us to broaden our horizon of who our neighbour is. Of course, we need not to walk too far through downtown Toronto to have our concept of neighbour challenged: near to here we find the poor, the mentally ill, the addicts, the newcomers and refugees. Jesus reminds us that these, too, are our neighbours. One cannot be said to love God without loving these people, often the least valued and most forgotten of our preoccupied, capital-oriented society.

I have increasingly been taking note in my reading of the Gospels of late how many pericopes end in silence. Today’s Gospel reading is another example of this; the scribe who had asked Jesus which is the greatest Commandment, and indeed all the other religious leaders with him, did not dare “to ask [Jesus] any question.”[8] I doubt that these religious leaders fell silent because they were wholly satisfied with Jesus’ answer. They knew how correct and how wise Jesus had been in expanding their sense of neighbour and, with it, their sense of God. They knew all too well, as we know all too well, the rectitude of Jesus’ teaching and how difficult this teaching is to live out. If our love of neighbour does not extend to those who evoke the most disgust in us, then even our worship, our “burnt offerings and sacrifices,”[9] become not an act of love of God but an act of proud idolatry, of saying “‘Our god’ to the work of our hands.”[10]

Even amid our pride and our failure at times to see the least among us as our neighbour, though, Jesus still tells us comfortingly, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”[11] How, then, do we make up this distance from God’s kingdom? On our own, entrance into God’s kingdom is impossible. Only in relationship with God, through consistent prayer, will our weakness, our divided hearts, and our distance from God be overcome, and will we come to see our neighbour, and God, for who they truly are.

That regularity in prayer is the point of the Shema. By praying the Law enjoined on us, we will gradually come to believe in that which we pray: lex orandi, lex credendi. Then, that in which, or better yet in whom, we come to believe, God through an expanded notion of neighbour, we will come more fully to love.

WRS

[1] The Shema– Hear, O Israel! http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Scripture/Torah/The_Shema/the_shema. html. Accessed 30 March 2011. See also Deuteronomy 6:4.

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1124. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s1c1a2.htm. Accessed 30 March 2011. This section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church reads: “The Church’s faith precedes the faith of the believer who is invited to adhere to it. When the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith received from the apostles – whence the ancient saying: lex orandi, lex credendi The law of prayer is the law of faith: the Church believes as she prays. Liturgy is a constitutive element of the holy and living Tradition.”

[3] Deuteronomy 6:6-9.

[4] See Mark 12:30.

[5] Judaism 101: A List of the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments). http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm. Accessed 30 March 2011.

[6] Leviticus 19:18; Mark 12:31.

[7] Leviticus 19:18.

[8] Mark 12:34.

[9] Mark 12:33.

[10] Hosea 14:4.

[11] Mark 12:34.

A Brief, Prayerful Announcement– Reflection for Mass of March 25, 2011– Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

25 Mar

 

Friday, March 25, 2011
Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord
Readings: Isaiah 7:10-14, 8-10; Psalm 40: 7-10; Hebrews 10:4-10; Luke 1:26-38

…And now, a brief announcement… “The Holy Spirit [has] come upon [us], and the power of the Most High [overshadows us].”[1] Nine months from today, we will celebrate Jesus’ Nativity, but the process of our bearing Christ into our world begins now, as we celebrate this Solemnity of the Annunciation of our Lord. We are urged, then, to begin, if we have not already begun, to be converted and to open our hearts and minds to renewal, to be better disposed to do the will of God… End of announcement.

Looking over my notes for the Liturgical Presiding practicum, I saw that our class had been told clearly about proper brevity and placement of announcements within the order of the Mass. Announcements are to be made where a natural break occurs within the Mass, for instance between the reception of Communion and the Concluding Rites, so as not to be disruptive to the flow of the liturgy.[2]

Amid our activities outside of the Mass, although in a different way than at Mass, announcements can be timely and humourous, thought-provoking, or even inspiring. For example, a creative television commercial may make one laugh or be likely to buy a product or adopt a lifestyle change. More deeply, the expected birth of a child within a family, announced during a family dinner, is a message of remarkable beauty.

However, many announcements are ill-timed, too long, repetitive, or disruptive, whether within or outside of Mass. Let us return to the examples of the television commercial and the pregnancy announcement. Some commercials are effective by their repetition in moving us to buy the products advertised, yet I detest seeing the same commercial multiple times in a row, unless it is a profoundly creative use of thirty seconds. Such a recurrent announcement is disruptive to whatever show I am trying to watch.

How might the announcement of an impending birth of a child be as disruptive, albeit in a different way, as the repetitious or dull television commercial? Today’s Gospel, I think, answers that question. I imagined upon re-reading Luke’s infancy narrative that I had been given the role of evaluating the Angel Gabriel’s technique in Liturgical Presiding. I do indeed have a similar assignment for the class I am in; for it I took notes on last Sunday’s Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada. The presider was not an angel.

If Gabriel were not an angel and if this were a Mass, the little Pharisee in me concerned with liturgical rubrics would have had a lot to say. In class, we are reminded not to begin Mass with a secular greeting in place of a “sacred” one, and thus to begin in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and then “The Lord be with you.”[3] Poor Gabriel gets off to a bad start here: “Hail, full of grace.”[4] The Greek imperative Χαῖρε, which we read as “Hail,” can also mean “Rejoice” or a simple, underwhelming “Hello!”[5] No wonder Mary found Gabriel’s salutation disconcerting! Then Gabriel proceeds to make a verbose and unfocused announcement. He not only tells Mary that she will bear a child, but that the barren Elizabeth will as well.[6] Then Gabriel simply departs from the scene.[7] If I had been in Mary’s place, I, like her, would have been “greatly perplexed.”[8] Herein, though, lies the success of Gabriel’s announcement: It allows for Mary’s participation in the narrative, much as the participation of the People of God during Mass contributes to good liturgy.

Mary’s fiat– her faithful “Here am I,”[9] which does not replace her perplexity at her conception of God made human but overcomes it– is an announcement in itself. In fact, her announcement is the most important one of today’s Gospel reading. Let it be our announcement, too, then, for it is appropriate at all times and at any time. And now, our brief, prayerful, announcement: “Here [are we], the servant[s] of the Lord, let it be done to [us] according to your word.”[10]

WRS


[1] Luke 1:35

[2] “Eucharistic Liturgy.” Course notes handout, Liturgical Presiding, SMP 3165 HS (Toronto: University of St. Michael’s College, 23 January 2011).

[3] Dennis C. Smolarski, How Not to Say Mass: A Guidebook on Liturgical Principles and the Roman Missal, 2nd ed. (New York, NY/ Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2003), 51.

[4] Luke 1:28. The Greek Χαῖρε, κεχαριτωμένη (Hi’-reh, keh-cha-ri-tō-meh’-nay) literally translates as “Hail, [woman] being (or, who is) made graceful.” See also The Greek Bible, http://www.greekbible.com/index.php.  Accessed 23 March 2011. Search for Luke 1:28, then click on the word κεχαριτωμένη to open the lexical entry for the verb χαριτόω, “I make graceful.”

[5] The Greek Bible, entry on the verb χαίρω. http://www.greekbible.com/l.php?xai/rw_v-2pad-s–_p. Accessed 23 March 2011. This word appeared on an exam in the New Testament Greek course I am taking, as part of a multiple choice question, “God revealed himself to Moses on Mt. Horeb (Exodus 3:14) in the Septuagint (The Greek translation of the Old Testament) as…” The correct answer (in Greek, from the Septuagint) is Εἱμι ὁ ὠν (“Amy ha own,” meaning “I am the one being” or more eloquently, “I am the one who is.” One of the incorrect choices, which was good for a few laughs in class, was Χαῖρε, το ὀνομα μοι Θεος ἐστίν (Hi’-reh, tah ah’-nah-mah moy thay-ahs’ es-tin’), which means in this context, “Hello, my name is God.”

[6] Luke 1:31, 36.

[7] Luke 1:38

[8] Luke 1:29

[9] Luke 1:38

[10] Ibid.

It Is Good to Be Here- Reflection for Mass of August 6, 2010- Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

8 Aug

Friday, August 6, 2010
Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
Readings: 2 Peter 1:16-19; Psalm 97: 1-2, 5-6, 9+11 (R: 1a and 9a); Luke 9:28-36

This Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord brings to mind my beginning as a Basilian Associate. My spiritual director in Edmonton at the time had been working with me during our meetings on praying over the readings of the coming days. During one meeting, we discussed Luke’s version of the Transfiguration. My spiritual director asked, “If you had to focus on one theme in this Gospel on which to preach, what would that theme be?”

Luke’s Transfiguration narrative provides us with many details, so it was a difficult task for me to stay focused on a single theme. For example, I am often drawn to the words of God the Father that are also recalled in today’s first reading from the Second Letter of Peter: “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”[1] Three of the most trusted Apostles, Peter, James, and John, accompany Jesus up the mountain.[2] Moses and Elijah, representative of the law and the prophets, converse with Jesus after his clothes are made to shine a dazzling white.[3] Poor Peter, barely able to stay awake,[4] misspeaks more than once. He does make an interesting comment about the three tents, recalling the Jewish Festival of the Tabernacles.[5] Jesus, likewise, literally came to dwell among us according to John’s Gospel, or, more faithfully to the Greek, He “tabernacled” among us.[6] Also, in the Lukan Transfiguration, the whole Trinity is present: the Father in the voice, the Son in the human person of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in the cloud.[7] That cloud, as well as the mention of Jesus’ “departure,” in Greek exodon, point ominously to the Passion and death of Jesus.[8]

All of these details are fascinating and quite appropriate fruits of scholarly research. Yet this theophany- an amazing manifestation of God’s power- for all its awesome display, calls us to a deeper simplicity. Noticing my struggle to focus on a particular detail of the Transfiguration- I was more like Peter, who Luke tells us “did not know what he was saying”[9]- my spiritual director pointed me toward what he thought was most significant in the story: Peter’s simple words, “Master it is good that we are here.”[10]

Like St. Peter, how good it is when we can spontaneously speak and pray those words. This week, I spent about two days translating a French interview transcript into English for Salt and Light Television. The interviewee, Montreal Cardinal Archbishop Jean-Claude Turcotte, spoke to one of our producers about the upcoming canonization of Brother André Bessette. Cardinal Turcotte related the healings performed while Brother André ministered at Collège Notre-Dame and at St. Joseph’s Oratory, and then through Brother André’s intercession after his death. Cardinal Turcotte said of the pilgrims who still visit the Oratory by the thousands that a sense exists that it is good to be there. Even those who will not be healed of physical infirmity nonetheless receive consolation, and have said, “We have peace.” Those pilgrims, through the prayers of Brother André, are prepared for their “great passage from life to death,” a transition that will bring new life but that is “never easy.”[11]

Let us then pray that, through the intercession of Brother André and the whole Communion of Saints, our lives on earth might be a process of transfiguration, our being made fit for eternal life with God in heaven. Let us join, with St. Peter and with the pilgrims to St. Joseph’s Oratory, in praying in thanksgiving as we celebrate this Eucharist that foretells our coming into God’s glory: “Lord, it is good that we are here.”

—–

Note on material used from the interview of Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, conducted for Salt and Light Television: Over the last few weeks, I have had the privilege of translating this and other French-language interviews for an upcoming documentary on Blessed Brother André Bessette, csc. Brother André will be canonized on October 17, 2010.

For more information, please go to www.saltandlighttv.org, and stay tuned for Salt and Light TV’s coverage of Brother André’s canonization. He will be known to the universal Church as St. André of Montreal.

 


[1] Luke 9:35, 2 Peter 1:17. This verse is also a repetition of Luke 3:22, in which a voice from heaven speaks these same words as Jesus is baptized.

[2] Luke 9:28

[3] Luke 9:29-30

[4] Luke 9:32

[5] Luke 9:33. See also Zechariah 14:16, Deuteronomy 16:13-15

[6] See John 1:14. The Greek word in reference is εσκηνωσεν, literally “tabernacled” or “build [one’s] tent. The same root is found in Luke 9:33, in Peter’s words, “Let us build three tents (‘skenas’- σκηνας).”

[7] See the Entrance Antiphon for Mass on the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.

[8] Carroll Stuhlmueller, “The Gospel According to Luke,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 2:141.

[9] Luke 9:33

[10] Ibid.

[11] Jean-Claude Turcotte, interviewed by Sébastien Lacroix for Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, July, 2010. Translation from French is mine. See note above.

‘The Life of Man is the Glory of God’- Reflection for Mass of June 28, 2010

28 Jun

Monday, June 28, 2010
Memorial: St. Irenaeus, bishop and martyr
Readings: Amos 2:6-10, 13-16; Psalm 50: 16bc-23 (R:22a); Matthew 8:18-22

About two weeks ago I spoke with a journalist on the subject of heresy, admittedly not a topic that I think about often. “What is heresy? Who are heretics?” were the basic questions asked of me. As it was suggested to me, I had in hand the definition of heresy from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith.”[1] Unfortunately, that definition only got me a few minutes into our three-hour conversation.

With my mind drifting while I was preparing to meet the reporter, I thought briefly of St. Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies,” directed against the Gnostics.[2] In the second century, these Gnostics were teaching heretically that the spirit was imprisoned within our corrupt material bodies and that it could ascend to eternal life only upon our physical death. Irenaeus’ main counterpoint was that body and spirit were created by God, were good and will ascend together to eternal life.[3] Any mention of Irenaeus’ treatise, though, would have been even more futile in my discussion with the journalist.

Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies,” however dense, nevertheless contains some magnificent quotations. Perhaps his most well-known is this, included in today’s Office of Readings: “Life in man is the glory of God. The life of man is the vision of God.”[4] Here, St. Irenaeus provides not so much a denunciation of heresies but a tremendous testimony to the dignity of humankind, created in God’s image, and in turn to our dependence on God.

To lose our notion of these two fundamental truths, I posit, is the ultimate heresy. Pride that disregards God and thus cannot have a proper grasp of human dignity is as seductive in our time as it was in the era of St. Irenaeus. The wilful ignorance of God by the ancient Israelites at the height of their prosperity drew the ire of the prophet Amos. Today we hear from Amos the startling finale of the six “oracles against the nations,” of which the first four are directed against foreign peoples, the fifth is against Judah, and the sixth is a scathing criticism of the ancient Israelites’ decadence.[5] This was not what Amos’ target audience wanted to hear; Israel was reminded that it, more than other nations, had benefitted from God’s grace in its history, having been delivered from Egypt and from the Amorites.[6] Israel, more than its neighbouring peoples, knew better than to have abandoned its covenant with God.

As Amos’ oracle shocked the ancient Israelites, our Psalm response in today’s liturgy still has an alarming character. Not many Christians can or ought to ignore this warning: “Remember this, you who never think of God.”[7] The repetition of these words, however disturbing, should make us think and pray: How often do I think of God? How often do I adore and thank God? How often do I embrace the divine gift of my vocation above “a place to lay [my] head”[8] or above religious or secular ritual,[9] however important these are? Most of us are quite adept in such areas, but we can always improve with regular and attentive prayer.

Without denying the corruption of sin, we must remember the presence of God and unite ourselves to Him. God, St. Irenaeus wrote beautifully, is with us as “a constant goal toward which to make progress.”[10] In His love for humanity, God sent His Son, the Christ who “revealed God to [us] and presented [us] to God.”[11] Let us pray that we might be ever mindful of that relationship between humankind and God- Father, Son and Spirit- to whose glory and by whose abundant love we are given life everlasting.

WRS


[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2089.

[2] The word “Gnostic” comes from the Greek gnosis, for knowledge. Gnostics in general believed that secret divine knowledge had been revealed to them that had not been granted to all Christians as a matter of faith. Valentinus, of whose writings only fragments have survived to the present, was the particular target of St. Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies.” See Irenaeus, Against Heresies, I.1.

[3] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V.6.

[4] Ibid., IV.20.7.

[5] Philip J. King, “Amos,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 1:246.

[6] Amos 2:9-10.

[7] Psalm 50:22a

[8] Matthew 8:20

[9] See Matthew 8:21-22. Jews in Jesus’ time had great reverence for the dead, and much emphasis was placed on proper burial to honour deceased family members. The teaching to “let the dead bury their dead,” designed to shock first-century hearers, should be understood as an example of a hyperbolic proverb. The point of this saying is that discipleship of Christ must take precedence over ritual, although the latter might be of profound importance. This instruction is not that the rituals themselves are wrong or trivial, but that they, too, come from God. However, these are subordinate to the greater gifts of fellowship and mission in Jesus Christ. See also the Lukan parallel of today’s Gospel reading, found in Luke 9:57-62.

[10] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V.7.

[11] Ibid.

Do Not Judge, so that You May Not Be Judged- Reflection for Mass of June 21, 2010- St. Aloysius Gonzaga

21 Jun

Monday, June 21, 2010
Memorial: St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious
Readings: 2 Kings 17:5-8, 13-15a, 18; Psalm 60: 1-3+, 5, 10-11 (R:6b); Matthew 7:1-5

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.”[1] Jesus’ simple teaching recorded in Matthew’s Gospel has been one of the most misinterpreted. For good reason, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in his Homily prior to entering the conclave that elected him as Pope Benedict XVI, spoke of the “dictatorship of relativism”[2] that threatens our world. That relativism, which “does not recognize anything as definitive”[3] but proposes a logically incoherent system whereby one cannot or ought not to judge one principle to be truer than another, was not what Jesus advocated.

On the other hand, especially in our North American society, persons become engrossed in show trials or legal dramas, or television programs that present real-life civil cases whose palpable animosity is made accessible to the viewing public. While the viewing of many of these programs is not wrong per se, their popularity may suggest an obsession with reproachful judgment of others from the comfort of our homes to which Jesus’ warning in today’s Gospel reading more directly applies.[4]

Notably, Jesus’ saying about judgment is explained through the use of hyperbole.[5] Those in Jesus’ time or in the target community of Matthew’s Gospel would likely have appreciated the hyperbolic humour in the saying about taking “the log out of [one’s] own eye” before removing “the speck [from one’s] neighbour’s eye.”[6] At the same time, profound caution to be aware of our own faults before those of others and of our need for forgiveness is conveyed by this instruction.

The proscription against judging others does not bar us from distinguishing good from evil; in fact we must constantly differentiate these as faithful and rational moral agents. However, that teaching is deeper than merely judging and acting morally; by it Jesus draws us into the mystery of God’s bountiful mercy. As God is merciful toward us, we must not condemn, lest we likewise be condemned, but we are to act mercifully toward our neighbour. We ought to even exercise that mercy pre-emptively, just as God anticipates our sins and our struggles, and is ever-present to assist, to console, and to forgive us.

As we profess in our Creed, we believe that Jesus Christ “will come again to judge the living and the dead.” That judgment, though, is founded on merciful love that is God’s very nature. Thus, we pray during the first Eucharistic prayer in intensely moving words: “Though we are sinners… do not consider what we truly deserve, but grant us your forgiveness.”[7]

St. Aloysius Gonzaga, whose memorial we celebrate today, especially understood this mercy of the divine judge that we are called to replicate. A prince by birth, he placed himself at the service of the plague-stricken hospital patients in Rome. He contracted the plague himself and died at the age of twenty-three years.[8] In his humility, St. Aloysius thought it “better to be a child of God than the King of the whole world.”[9] Let us pray that we might follow the example of St. Aloysius of consecration to our one true King and Judge.

May we, through the intercession of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, patron of youth, come to a greater love for God, be preserved from sin, and at the hour of death be welcomed into the embrace of God’s mercy by which we are judged and by which we conduct ourselves toward one another.

WRS 


[1] Matthew 7:1, Luke 6:37

[2] Joseph Ratzinger, “Cappella Papale, Mass ‘Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice’:  Homily of His Eminence Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Dean of the College of Cardinals, Monday 18 April 2005.” http://www.va/gpII/documents/homily-pro-eligendo-pontifice_20050418_en.html. Accessed 20 June 2010.

[3] Ibid.

[4] This paragraph is derived from the video reflection for 21 June 2010 by Fr. Michael Manning, SVD, posted on the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. See http://www.usccb.org/video/reflections.shtml

[5] John L. McKenzie, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 2:75.

[6] Matthew 7:5

[7] The Catholic Liturgical Library, “Eucharistic Prayer I (Roman Canon), Mass of the 1970 Missal.” http://www.catholicliturgy.com/index.cfm/FuseAction/Text/Index/4/SubIndex/67/ContentIndex/22/Start/9. Accessed 20 June 2010.

[8] “Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, June 21,” in Living With Christ, Large Print Edition,  Vol. 16 No. 6 (June 2010), 168.

[9] Quote Catholic, “Saint Aloysius Gonzaga: Child of God.” http://www.quotecatholic.com/ index.php/holiness-devout-life/st-aloysius-gonzaga-child-of-god/. Accessed 20 June 2010.

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