Reflection for Stations of the Cross

Reading: Matthew 26:17-20, Matthew 26:26-30

“My appointed time draws near.”

In this statement, we see that Jesus was clearly very aware of his impending death, but we also see that that death was not something imposed on him by human beings. The sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross for our salvation was eternally ordained by God the Father from the very beginning of time. The time appointed now draws near for Jesus, and he is ready to accept the Father’s will. That begs the question of us, how well have we observed Lent now that Jesus’ appointed time draws near? In just nine days, we’ll be into Holy Week. These days of Lent, for me, have just flown by, and now we’re gathering at the end of it. The appointed time draws near. Have we been faithful to our Lenten resolutions of fasting, almsgiving and prayer? Have we grown in our spiritual lives this Lent? Where has God taken us this Lent, and have we gone willingly with him?

The recounting of the Last Supper in the Gospel reading this evening reminds me of these past few days. Our parish just finished observing Forty Hours of Eucharistic adoration and devotion. We gathered for Mass, adored the Lord, prayed various prayer services and heard some witness talks. Many graces have been received and we don’t even know what all of those graces will be yet. But we do rejoice that, knowing that his appointed time was near, Jesus gave us the most Precious gift of the Eucharist: his own Body and Blood, to nourish us and to be his Real Presence in the world until the end of time.

In these remaining few days of Lent, even if we have time for nothing else, may we take some time to be grateful to our Lord for his gift of the Eucharist, as he willingly gave his life for our salvation. The appointed time draws near.

Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

It’s annoying when people call us on something and they’re right, isn’t it? But the Christian disciple knows that it is the job of our brothers and sisters to correct us when we stray, and the Christian disciple receives that correction as a grace. That’s clearly not how the hearers of the book of Wisdom received it, and it is certainly not how the religious authorities in Jesus’ day received it. But it cannot be so for us. If our witness is to be authentic, we must always pray for the grace to receive loving correction in the spirit in which it is offered. We must pray, too, for those who offer it to us. And we must pray for the strength of character to offer it to our brothers and sisters when we are called upon to do so.

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.