40 Hours: Thursday Evening Solemn Vespers

Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

So I’m now in my early forties and when I was growing up, like a lot of people my age, I think, Eucharistic adoration wasn’t something that I encountered. In those days shortly after the Second Vatican Council, a whole lot of the old got thrown out to make way for the new. That was kind of like throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and it was never supposed to happen. Were there excesses and abuses tied in with some of the old traditions? Yes. But that never meant that everything old was supposed to go away. Instead, the intent of the Council was for everything old to be made new again. And so, in these days, we see a lot of people returning to the devotions that gave people a sense of the mystical and a glimpse of the beautiful and an intimate connection with God who is higher than the heavens, but also nearer than our own hearts. And the most beautiful of these devotions is the worship of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

We’ve gathered here, then, to spend these forty hours in renewed devotion to the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. What has been beautiful for me to see is that this devotion has not been restricted to any particular age group, but has involved everyone from the youngest among us to our seniors. There have been groups of teens who got up early and came for prayer at three in the morning. Children in our school have been coming as a class throughout the day, and that will continue tomorrow. But probably the most touching to me was last night at the opening Mass, when so many families came together. They say the family that prays together stays together. I have no idea if that’s true or not, but I know that praying together gives families a common experience, and roots them in the communion of the Lord. Children who see a love in their parents that comes from their love of the Lord will certainly be able to look at others and love them in Christ. The family that worships the Blessed Sacrament together may be the family that makes it possible for others to see Christ in them.

Because that’s exactly what this forty hours should be saying to us. Yes, we worship Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Yes, we receive Christ in the Eucharist. But yes, we are also called to be Christ to one another and to receive Christ in them. As we serve one another in gratitude, we are Christ for them. As we allow others to minister to us in our need, they are Christ to us. As we gather in faith, we become the presence of Christ for one another. As our service to the poor, needy, or afflicted radiates hope to those in need, we become the presence of Christ to others. As we love one another into a community of grace, we are Christ to a world that desperately needs God’s presence. The Christ in us is the same Christ in the Eucharist we receive and the Eucharist we adore. By worshipping and receiving the Eucharist, we become a divine presence in our world in a way that has absolutely nothing to do with our own efforts or worthiness, but is all about our Jesus.

And we are all the Body of Christ in whatever way we have been called. This evening’s reading from St. Paul reminds us that we are not all the same, we do not all have the same gifts, we are not all in the same place on the journey of faith, but we are all absolutely part of the Body of Christ wherever we are and whatever our gifts may be. None of us can have the audacity to lord our gifts or talents over others, because they are just that – gifts – and we would not even have them if it were not for Jesus and his gift of the Holy Spirit. As we serve one another in Christ, we should be moved with humility by the way God works through us. Jane Ehrlich from our staff was telling me that they had some difficulty finding someone to play Jesus in our living stations this year, because people felt unworthy. And you know, they’re all absolutely right. None of us is worthy to play Jesus, but that’s okay, sometimes we are called to play Jesus anyway.

You may find yourself called upon to witness to someone who doesn’t believe in God and feel totally unworthy of it. And of course, you are. But that’s okay, God will give you the words and the grace and you’ll be fine. I struggled with my vocation for a long time because I felt like I was unworthy of it, and I was absolutely right about that. I am completely unworthy of being a priest of Jesus Christ, but that didn’t change the fact that I was absolutely being called to be that priest, and it didn’t change the fact that everything I do as a priest is a result of God’s abundant graces that are poured out on me each day. We’re all in there somewhere. We are unworthy, but we’re called anyway, we are graced beyond anything we can accomplish and beyond anything we deserve, and we are all the Body of Christ.

It is our experience of Christ in the Eucharist that makes this happen. Our worthiness comes from Christ himself, who is really present to us in the Eucharist each time we receive it, and each time we adore. In the Eucharist, Christ washes away our unworthiness to reveal the icon of Christ we were all created to be. There’s a prayer by St. Thomas Aquinas that I like to say when I prepare for Mass. It begins like this:

Almighty and ever-living God,
I approach the sacrament of your only-begotten Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ.
I come sick to the doctor of life,
unclean to the fountain of mercy,
blind to the radiance of eternal light,
and poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth.
Lord, in your great generosity,
heal my sickness, was away my defilement,
enlighten my blindness, enrich my poverty,
and clothe my nakedness.

As we continue to adore our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament as we observe these forty hours, may our worship unite us ever more as families, ever more as a community of faith, ever more as the Body of Christ we have been called and created to be. May we set aside our unworthiness to instead take up, with incredible humility, the grace so freely given to us in this Blessed Sacrament. May we become ever more aware of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and in one another. May we open ourselves to the challenge of reaching out to others in love as we contemplate the great Charity of Christ in this Saving Sacrifice. May we receive with gratitude the bountiful graces of our God in every moment of our lives.

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Sometimes it’s hard for things to get through to us, isn’t it? One of my friends in seminary used to say that the Israelites had a pillar of cloud leading them by day, and a pillar of fire by night. So how come they couldn’t believe that God would take care of them? What more did they need? Today’s readings speak of that dilemma. The people did not, in fact, believe Moses or they never would have made the golden idol. They didn’t believe Moses in his day, nor Jesus in his day. Salvation isn’t supposed to be that hard. God reaches out to us in every moment, all we have to do is recognize that and respond to it. We don’t need glitzy human testimony. We have the Lord poured out for us Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. How blessed we are to have such testimony to God’s love and mercy. May we accept that mercy today and always.

Opening Mass for Forty Hours Devotion

Readings: Exodus 12:21-27 | 1 Peter 1:17-21 | Mark 14:12-16,22-26

Brothers and sisters in Christ, it is truly an awesome privilege to be here tonight as we begin this Forty Hours Devotion. We are a people blessed and graced by our God with nothing less than the very Real Presence of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who has saved us from our sins and takes away the sting of our death by giving us the promise of eternal life. So it is with great joy that we look forward to these forty hours of Eucharistic adoration and worship, knowing not what graces we will receive individually and as a community during this time, but confident that those graces will be much more than we could ever hope for or imagine.

This evening's Liturgy of the Word speaks to us very eloquently of the Eucharist in terms of God's saving work throughout time. Even back to the Israelite captivity in Egypt, God was looking out for his people, hearing the cry of their distress, and planning to save them in every way. These readings then speak of a people marked by their being elected as God's chosen people. The ancient Israelites were chosen to be saved from their captivity and we have been chosen to be saved from our sins. These readings also define us all as a people marked by faith, hope and love.

In the first reading from Exodus, the people have not yet left Egypt. Moses is still trying to convince Pharaoh that he should let the people go out in to the desert to worship God, but Pharaoh is still stubbornly resisting, just as the Lord foretold. What we have in the reading, then, is the last of the plagues that will certainly cause Pharaoh not only to let the people go, but actually drive them from the land. That plague, of course, would be the death of all the first born of the land. But that death would not touch the first born of the Israelites, God said, if they would slaughter a lamb and sprinkle the doorposts with the blood. Then the houses would be marked as those of the Israelites, and the destroyer would not enter. This Passover sacrifice certainly marked the people for safety, but it also marked them in faith. They were given a ritual that would last for generations, one they still celebrate, in which they would recall this great saving act and pass that faith on to their young people.

In the second reading from the first letter of St. Peter, we are reminded that our redemption from sin and death was not just purchased with something perishable, but with the precious Blood of Christ. Because of that, we are to conduct ourselves as a ransomed people, as a people marked by hope – by a hope beyond all hopes, by a hope that was purchased at great price, by a hope that will never disappoint or pass away.

The Gospel shows Jesus giving this glorious, miraculous mystery to his apostles. "This is my Body … this is my Blood." We make that reality present every time we celebrate the Eucharist, in grateful remembrance of the Lord's sacrifice for our redemption. This beautiful feast of the most precious food marked the apostles, and all those who would be touched by their ministry and preaching, with the love of God beyond all telling.

Our God is higher than the heavens, more awesome than any of the world's mysteries, but our God also continues to be in our midst, continuing his work among us, continuing to gift us with salvation, continuing to bring us back to himself. We do not worship a god who has set the world in motion and then retired to view our history from afar. We believe in a God who is intimately involved in our lives and our history so that we can never fall so far from him that he cannot reach us. We believe in God who has sent his Son Jesus Christ into our world, to walk among us, to share our sorrows and feel our pains, to die our death and show us the way back to the Father. Christ is really present here among us as we gather, here among us as we hear the Word proclaimed, here among us as we receive the ministry of the Church, and here among us as we partake of the Eucharist, the great sacramental meal that he gave us as an everlasting remembrance. Because Christ is really present among us, we are a people who have been marked by faith, hope and love. We have received the grace of God's saving action throughout history and have been redeemed at a great cost.

We gather here then, for forty hours, to celebrate the nearness of our God and to worship Jesus Christ, really present here among us. We gather for forty hours because the number forty has always signified a sacred period of time: the rains during the time of Noah lasted 40 days and nights; the Jews wandered through the desert for 40 years, our Lord fasted and prayed for 40 days before beginning His public ministry. The 40 Hours Devotion remembers that traditional "forty-hour period" from our Lord's burial until the resurrection. In the Middle Ages, the Blessed Sacrament was transferred to the repository, "the Easter Sepulcher," for this 40 hour period of time to signify our Lord's time in the tomb.

This Blessed Sacrament that we worship in these 40 hours is the same Christ we will receive in the Eucharist this evening – and every time we gather for Mass. And that Christ we receive in the Eucharist is the same Christ we serve in our brothers and sisters. Our Catholic experience of Jesus Christ is never just "me and Jesus." Our personal relationship with Christ is important, but it is always defined by our communal experience. So these forty hours may challenge us to reach out to others in ways we have resisted in the past, because the more we see Christ as we worship, the more we'll see Christ in our daily lives.

What we celebrate in these days is that Christ is present to us in all of these ways every single day of our lives. We are looking for these forty hours to remind us of that great gift. Having celebrated St. Patrick's feast so recently, I am reminded that his Breastplate hymn sings of this wondrous presence so richly:

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

May this forty hour retreat of adoration and worship of the Blessed Sacrament remind us that we are all caught up in the faith, hope and love that is ours in Christ. May we all in this time become ever more aware that our Christ is really present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, every time we gather in faith for the Eucharist, every time we worship the great hope present in the Blessed Sacrament, and every time we reach out in love to our brothers and sisters.

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Today’s readings remind us that our God is not forgetful. He is not one of the gods of false religion who supposedly made the world and set it in motion, then backed off and watched things unfold. No, our God is a God who created the heavens and the earth and everything that is in them, and remains in our world to guide and direct and heal and strengthen and re-create the world through the power of his Holy Spirit. And so everyone is to hear the message of the Gospel before the world and its days are wrapped up and come to a close. Those who died not knowing Christ will be raised up to hear that word and all flesh shall see God’s glory. God is continually at work in our world through his Son Jesus Christ who does the Father’s will. May we too do the Father’s will so that all might see and belive.

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Today’s reading

The waters that flowed from the temple in the first reading are the same waters that were stirred up in the pool at Bethesda, and those are the same waters that if you’re real quiet, you can hear flowing behind us. The waters of baptism are those waters that freshen all of the world and those who live in it. Those waters of baptism provide healing for our sins and hurts and grievances, and all the things that we find so difficult to let go of. We merely have to wade into them as our Lord invites us in, and we may indeed need some help to get in there. We, at least have been in them before and have been washed clean. Our joy is now to look back at our baptism and recommit ourselves to the healing waters that wash away our sins and bring us pure and joyful to our God.

Solemnity of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary

Today’s readings

josephToday I think we have to be impressed with the faithfulness of Joseph. When he became betrothed to Mary, he got more than he could ever have expected. It certainly would have been easy to divorce her quietly when the news of her pregnancy became known, and it certainly would have been difficult to continue the relationship under those circumstances. Yet, he was faithful to the word of the angel in his dream. Being faithful to that word preserved the heritage of Jesus, so that he would be born of David’s line.

When we find faithfulness difficult, we have Joseph to look to for help. Through his intercession, may our work and our lives be blessed, and may we be found faithful to the word of the Lord.

Fourth Sunday of Lent: Laetare Sunday

Today I preached two homilies. One was for the regular Mass of the day, the Cycle C readings, including the Parable of the Prodigal Father. The other was for the Mass of the second scrutiny of the Elect, the Cycle A readings, including the cure of the man born blind.

Cycle C Readings

Whenever we hear a story like the Parable of the Prodigal Son, don’t we find that we know it so well, that we almost tune it out as it’s being proclaimed? I am guessing if I went up and down the aisles today and asked people at random to summarize the story in their own words, almost everyone here could do it easily. Don’t worry – I’m not going to test you! But the bad part about knowing a parable so well is that we almost know it too well. We may indeed tune it out, and because we think we know what it’s all about, we miss what the Spirit is trying to do in us as those words are proclaimed.

There are some techniques that can help us with that, of course. One of the best is attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola. His technique is that you have to put yourself into the story. So you sit with your Bible open to Luke chapter 15, and you quiet yourself. Then you read very slowly, stopping whenever the Spirit prompts you to reflect on a word or phrase – maybe it’s a word or phrase you haven’t seen before. After you’ve taken time to do this, you go back and read it again, trying to imagine yourself in the story. Maybe you will put yourself in the place of one of the two brothers, or one of the servants, or perhaps in the place of the gentile citizen who hired the wayward son to tend the swine, or even just a bystander, watching all this unfold. In any case, you try to imagine the setting, the place and the sounds, and try to hear the words being spoken and to be present to the action as it unfolds. Then when you’re done, take some time to reflect on what God was trying to say to you in all that. That’s a great way to freshen what may be a stale look at an old familiar story. So that’s your homework today. Sit in a quiet spot for half an hour with Luke 15 open in your lap. Who knows, there may be a quiz next week!

Seriously, I give that to you as a tool to understand it better. You may find yourself feeling much like one or the other of the brothers from time to time – maybe you often find a little of both of them in you. But, to me, the story isn’t really about either one of the brothers, and the prodigal in the story is not the wayward son. We know that the word “prodigal” is related to the word “prodigious” and means generously, even wastefully, extravagant. The prodigal one here then, is the Father, who is extravagant with mercy and forgiveness and grace. So today, I want to focus on the character of the Father in this story.

And I want to focus on the Father through the lens of today’s celebration. Traditionally, today is Laetare Sunday – laetare being Latin for “rejoice.” Sometimes this Sunday is celebrated by the wearing of rose-colored vestments, rather than the Lenten violet. I don’t have a problem with rose-colored vestments, but I’m not wild about the one we have, so as you see, I’m wearing violet today! But still, this is Laetare Sunday, and it reminds us that even in the “heaviness” of Lent, there is reason for rejoicing. It might be good, then, to ask ourselves two questions. First, what is there to rejoice about in the Parable of the Prodigal Father? And second, what in the world gives us cause to rejoice today, here and now, in our own lives?

Let’s begin that reflection by looking ahead for a minute. Less than three weeks from today, we will gather on the evening of Holy Saturday here in a darkened Church. That darkness represents the darkness of a world defiled by sin, but also the darkness in our own lives when we have lost sight of faith, hope and love. But the Church does not despise that darkness, no. Instead the church bravely stands up in the midst of it, lights a fire, and sings the great hymn known as the Exsultet. Exsultet is also a Latin word for “rejoice” and “rejoice” is the first word of that hymn. So as we reflect on the rejoicing to be found in today’s Gospel parable, and the rejoicing to be found in our own world and in our own lives, I am going to offer that reflection through some of the words of the Exsultet hymn.

The Pharisees mentioned at the beginning of today’s Gospel are strongly in favor of despising the darkness. They would prefer to write off the tax collectors and sinners that Jesus prefers to dine with, and they are indignant at Jesus’ acceptance of those people. Maybe this parable could speak to us, then, when we would prefer to write people off. Because we would often write off those who have wronged us, those who are our enemies, whether personal or societal. We would prefer sometimes to write off those whose poverty and homelessness are the result of their own poor choices. We would prefer to write off those who refuse to accept our way of thinking. But the Father isn’t having any of that. Instead, he pours out faith on us giving us the opportunity to see these people through God’s eyes, if we will but take the opportunity to do so. Through those eyes of faith, we can see a world that is surely steeped in sin, but just as surely painted gloriously with the goodness of God. And to that kind of defiant, in-your-face attitude against the darkness, the Exsultet cries out in joy,

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs 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!

I said I wanted to focus on the father, and so let’s take a look at what he does in this parable. A good Jewish father of that time would have sat motionless as the wayward son crawled to him and spit out that whole story that he practiced while he was tending the swine. He would have heard it, and probably rejected that son, and with good reason. The son took his portion of the estate, effectively saying “I wish you were dead.” He then used his inheritance for all kinds of immoral living, and finally ended up completing his degradation by working for a Gentile and tending swine, an occupation forbidden by the Law. The father would have been right to reject him and send him on his way. But that’s not what the Father does! The father instead pours out hope, not sitting motionless but running out to meet his son while he was still a long way off! And to the other son who was indignant and refused to join the celebration, he also went out to meet him on the road, pleading with him to come in and promising him everything in return. Our Father pours out this hope on us, no matter how far we have fallen, no matter where our bad choices have taken us, no matter how many times we have sinned, no matter how many of our hopes have been crushed. When our hopes are gone, the Exsultet sings of our great hope in Christ:

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.

If anything comes through to us in this parable, if there’s one message that we receive, it should be that we can never fall so far that God can’t reach us. In great love, the father of the parable runs out to meet a wayward son, and later to plead with an indignant son. He wraps the wayward one in fine clothes and new shoes and jewelry and throws a magnificent feast with the finest of food. He invites everyone to the feast. Our Prodigal Father drenches us with that same kind of love. He runs out to meet us where we are, calling us to come back to him. He wraps us in the new white robe of our baptism, making of us a new creation in Christ. He brings us to this holy place for this magnificent banquet and provides the finest of food through the body and blood of his own Son. To the outpouring of that kind of love, the Church’s only response can be,

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

Today’s Liturgy is a call for all of us to attend to our vision. Do we see others as God sees them? Do we even see ourselves as God sees us? How do we see Christ at work in our lives and in our world? Do we accept God’s prodigious mercy and love as it’s poured out on us, and perhaps even as it’s poured out on those who we think are unworthy of it? May we cast aside any obstacles to the faith, hope and love that our Prodigal Father longs to wrap us up in. Then maybe we too can become a source of God’s prodigious mercy, maybe our little corner of the world can know faith in the face of blasphemous disbelief, hope in the face of crushed hopes, and love in the face of hatred, and the peace that passes all of our understanding in every place we walk. May we carry the defiant light of God’s love into our world to brighten every darkness and bring joy to every sorrow.

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 humankind,
your Son, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.



Cycle A Readings

Whenever I read today’s first reading, I always think of my father. Dad has a way of seeing in people things that others don’t see. There’s almost nowhere we can go with Dad where we don’t find someone he knows – I think it’s an Irish thing: he never met a stranger. This can be very irritating when we have a thousand errands to do and Dad’s chatting with someone he knows while we’re hauling the groceries out to the car. But his vision is certainly a gift from God, and so many people are grateful for what he’s seen in them, and have been inspired to do things they never thought they could because of that vision.

That’s the kind of vision that is required in today’s first reading. Jesse and Samuel were all taken by Eliab, who was tall and good looking and radiating confidence. Surely Eliab must be the one to be anointed king. But God had them slow down and realize that he hadn’t chosen Eliab, or any of the other of Jesse’s first seven sons. He had chosen David: the lowly little kid out tending the sheep. It turns out he made an even more splendid appearance than Eliab or any of his other brothers. What was truly splendid was what God saw: his heart. The beauty of what was inside him qualified him to be the special king of God’s choosing.

I always pray for vision like that. It’s so easy to go with what we like to see. We tend to hang around with people who are like us and are drawn to activities that give us pleasure. We collect the things that look nice to us and tend to create the kind of world we’d like to see. But that first reading calls us to overcome this blindness and catch the vision that God uses: a vision that sees to the very heart of people and the world. When we fall short of having that kind of vision, we are afflicted with a kind of blindness that severely afflicted the Pharisees in today’s Gospel reading. “Surely we are not also blind, are we?” That’s the crucial question in today’s Gospel. You don’t have to do a great deal of study to figure out that the blindness Jesus is talking about is not mere physical blindness, but the Pharisees don’t get that. Which is why they are truly blind.

Today’s Gospel then is a kind of journey to clearer vision. We are all born blind, in a sense, and it takes the presence of Jesus to clear our vision. Just as the man born blind was sent to the pool of Siloam, we too are sent to the waters of baptism, which clears our eyes and helps us to really see. In baptism, the darkness of life is transformed by the presence of Christ, the Light of the World. During the course of all the questionings that follow, the man’s vision becomes clearer and clearer. At first he doesn’t know who Jesus is or where to find him. Later on he testifies that Jesus is a prophet and finally, with the help of Jesus’ instruction, that Jesus is the Son of Man and worthy of worship. We make this same journey ourselves. From the waters of baptism, we need to continue the conversation and return to Christ again and again to grow in our faith. The vision that worked for us when we were young no longer suffices and we must be set aside old ideas to make room for newer, bolder proclamations about the power of Christ’s light in our lives.

From another point of view, this Gospel reading is almost comical. Here are the disciples and all the religious authorities – the Pharisees – standing around discussing amongst themselves this man born blind. First, the disciples wonder how it is that he came to be blind and asked Jesus if it was the man’s sin or his parents’. Then we have the Pharisees fretting about the man being cured on the Sabbath. And next they’re questioning everyone they can find to see how it is the man came to see. While they are discussing the matter to death, Jesus is quietly not only healing the man’s physical blindness, but also attending to his faith. And at the end of it, they’re all still wondering how this came to be.

It’s the behavior of the Pharisees that illustrates what Jesus considers to be true blindness. Physical blindness is easy enough to overcome; but this blindness that starts in the heart tends to remain, just as it does in the lives of the Pharisees when we leave them at the end of today’s Gospel. They, like Samuel and Jesse in the first reading, would do well to remember that the source of true sight is God himself, who sees into the heart.

This reading is a wonderful point of reflection for us during Lent. Seeing our Elect pray the second scrutiny and look forward to his baptism, we are called to look back at our baptisms and see once again the Christ who cleared our eyes and longs to overcome whatever darkness reigns in us. During Lent, we have the opportunity to reflect on the parts of our lives where our vision is severely limited, and allow Jesus to help us move into real light. Lent is the time to journey with our Elect and renew ourselves in the faith, clearing away whatever prevents us from seeing Christ and responding to his grace in our lives.

Traditionally, today is Laetare Sunday – laetare being Latin for “rejoice.” Sometimes this Sunday is celebrated by the wearing of rose-colored vestments, rather than the Lenten violet. I don’t have a problem with rose-colored vestments, but I’m not wild about the one we have, so as you see, I’m wearing violet today! But still, this is Laetare Sunday, and it reminds us that even in the “heaviness” of Lent, there is reason for rejoicing. It might be good, then, to ask ourselves, what in the world gives us cause to rejoice today, here and now, in our own lives?

In a few weeks, the Mass of the Easter Vigil will begin by telling us all the reasons we should rejoice. That Mass begins with the sung Easter Proclamation – the Exsultet – which tells the whole story of God’s mercy and sings God’s praises. It is sung in the darkened church, proclaiming that, even in the darkness of our world, the light of God’s mercy still reigns and has power to overcome everything that keeps us from the true Light of the world. It begins: Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels! Exult, all creation around God’s throne! Jesus Christ our King is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!

That proclamation of the Exsultet almost seems out of place in our world today. All we have to do is pick up a newspaper to be convinced of the darkness that pervades our lives. Wars and terrorism claim the lives of innocent people and young soldiers alike. Crime in its many forms takes its toll on our society. Injustice and oppression still exist in our own nation and abroad. The poor still hunger and thirst for the basic necessities of life. And then we could look at the darkness that seems to reign in our own lives. Sin that has not been confessed. Bad habits that have not been broken. Love and mercy that have been withheld. All of these darken our own lives in ways that we don’t fully appreciate at the time, but later see with sad clarity. Our world and our lives can be such dark places in these days. But to that darkness, the Exsultet sings: Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor, radiant in the brightness of your King! Christ has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes for ever!

What’s great about the Exsultet, I think, is the kind of “in your face” attitude it has about joy. Yes, the world can be a dark place, but that darkness is no match for the light that Christ brings to the world. Yes there is sorrow and sin and death, but they are no match for the joy of Eternal Life, the life that comes only from Christ’s triumph over the grave. Of this kind of joy, the Exsultet sings: What good would life have been to 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.

Today’s Liturgy is a call for all of us to attend to our vision. Do we see others as God sees them? Do we even see ourselves as God sees us? How do we see Christ at work in our lives and in our world? Where we encounter obstacles to the clear vision that we must have in this darkened world, we should set them aside and allow Christ to anoint our eyes so that we can see as God sees, this God who sees into the heart. Then as the darkness that exists in our own lives is transformed to light, maybe our little corner of the world can know compassion amidst sorrow, comfort amidst mourning, mercy against intolerance, love against hatred, and the peace that passes all of our understanding in every place we walk. May we carry the flame of God’s love into our world to brighten every darkness and bring joy to every sorrow. 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 humankind, your Son who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday of the Third Week of Lent: St. Patrick

Today’s readings | Today’s saint

St-PatrickToday’s readings are the ultimate words that remind us that it’s not about us. As Fr. Fragomeni pointed out this past Monday at our Lenten Mission, we have to give up the baggage of thinking we are so very important. Jesus makes it clear: “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

St. Patrick knew the virtue of humility. He had every right to complain about his lot and turn away from God. At 16, he and a large number of his father’s slaves and vassals were captured by Irish raiders and sold as slaves in Ireland. Forced to work as a shepherd, he suffered greatly from hunger and cold. Life was not easy for him. But after escaping to France, he studied to be a priest. In a dream, it seemed to him that “all the children of Ireland from their mothers’ wombs were stretching out their hands” to him. He returned to Ireland and led a concerted effort that drenched the pagan culture there in Christianity and won many souls for Christ. Humility did not allow him to forget the people of Ireland even after having suffered among them.

In his wonderful work, the Confessio, Patrick tells us the source of his humility and peace: “Therefore, indeed, I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper, so many favours and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on me in the land of my captivity. For after chastisement from God, and recognizing him, our way to repay him is to exalt him and confess his wonders before every nation under heaven.”

Whatever the circumstances of our life, we are called to remember that it is not about us; we are not all that important. Instead of exalting ourselves, we must humble ourselves, trusting in God alone to exalt us.

Friday of the Third Week of Lent

Today’s readings

“You are not far from the Kingdom of God!”

I had a teacher in seminary who used to say that to people whenever they had a really insightful comment or answer in class. And it is that insight that we are all being called to in today’s readings. In the reading from Hosea, God tells the people that they need to understand that he is their salvation. Salvation for them is not going to come through alliances with Assyria or any other fickle foreign power, nor will that salvation come through the worship of pagan idols. Who then will help them? “I will heal their defection, says the LORD, I will love them freely.”

The value here is that God alone is all we need to provide us with all we need. Our response to that has to be complete devotion to God. The scribe figured this out in today’s Gospel reading. Listen to him again: “God is One and there is no other than he.
And to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Perhaps during these Lenten days, we too can come to an understanding that loving God and neighbor is what should consume our every thought. When we get there, we can hear the same words of encouragement as did the scribe: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God!”

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