Forty Hours Devotion: Thursday Evening Vespers

Reading: Hebrews 12:18-24

The letter to the Hebrews draws our attention to two living pictures. First, there is the worship gathering of the old Law, at Mount Sinai, with Moses as the presider. There the people gathered in fear, because anyone who might see the Lord would certainly die. The worship was of a God of fire and judgment, and a covenant marked by strict observance of the Law. Sinners really had no place in this worship space, because their own rejection of the covenant marked them for destruction.

Second, there is the worship gathering of the New Covenant, at Mount Zion, the centerpiece of the New Jerusalem, with no one less than Jesus Christ as the presider. Here the people gather in joy, because the Lord embraces us to live. The worship here is of a God of mercy and compassion, and a covenant marked by “the sprinkled blood which speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.” Sinners are central to worship on this mountain, where Christ offers himself as salvation for the sins of the whole world.

This second mountain is where we gather today, entering with joy this holy ground, aware that with us are gathered “countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.” And it is Jesus that we have come to worship on this altar, in these holy forty hours, aware that we are the holy people of God, the people he came to save, the ones he longs for.

I borrowed a tradition from Anne Hillebrand of our pastoral staff when my father died. At family gatherings, we have a special candle that we light to remind ourselves that he is with us, certainly not in a physical way, but as we Catholics believe, among the Communion of Saints. Jacqueline Skelly and I had a conversation this morning that reminded me of this little tradition. We see here so many beautiful candles burning with love for God. They are symbols of the light of Christ, certainly, but also symbols of all those people that the author of the letter to the Hebrews speaks of: the countless angels, the assembly of the firstborn, the spirits of the just made perfect. All of the angels and saints and our faithful departed gather with us on this holy night to adore the Lord.

This is an opportunity to see the Church, as it were, in a whole new light. The offical Evening Prayer, or Vespers, of the Church always speaks of the Church in a special way, in the image of Mary. We have more Marian prayers in Vespers, and we sing Mary’s song, the Magnificat. But she stands in the place of the Church, being the image of the faith the Church has in Christ. And so, tonight, we have the worship of the Church gathered in the Assembly of the Lord. We’ve come to celebrate the New Covenant that Jesus ratified in his own blood. We celebrate the nourishment we have in Christ’s own body, we celebrate his complete presence, soul and divinity, incarnate among us in our praying.

But it’s also important for us to remember that the presence of Christ, and the Communion of Saints, do not leave us when we leave this holy place. As we recognize Christ our Lord in the Eucharist this evening, so we should always recognize him in our brothers and sisters, the poor and the outcast, the sinners among us, the ones who frustrate us, those who are fallen, prisoners, the elderly and the terminally ill, the unborn, and all the people God has created and called his own. Christ is present with us in a special way during these forty hours, but he is also present to us in important ways every hour of our living. As we have come to adore the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament tonight, let us resolve to adore the Lord in all the people God puts in our path from this moment forward.

As we gather here before our Eucharistic Lord, the love that God has for us is palpable, but so is the love that God has for everyone. It is important for us to be welcoming witnesses of every person, so that they can see Christ in us, but also so that we can see Christ in them.

And so we pray with joy this night, gathered in the presence of all God’s holy ones, asking that the Church Triumphant would be made manifest in all its glory, here and now, and in every age to come.

Easter Homilies

Thursday of the Second Week of Easter

Today's readings [display_podcast]

In these Easter days, the Scriptures begin to speak to us about the gift of the Holy Spirit. This gift, is not rationed, as Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel reading. This gift is empowering and renewing and, according to the Psalmist, de-marginalizing.

We all know the kind of men the Apostles were. Yet now, given the gift of the Holy Spirit, they have been transformed completely. Cowardice has been replaced by something very close to bravado. Ineffectuality has been replaced by miracle work. Hiding has been replaced by boldness fired by the truth. In a sense, they have been resurrected in these Easter days. They are new creations because of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

This is the gift that Jesus wants for us in these Easter days too. He wants us to know a complete transformation by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Having done penance during Lent, we now have the grace of that Spirit to transform our lives, our hearts, and our desires during Easter. And we are assured by our Risen Lord that the Spirit will not be rationed. Whatever it is that is lacking in us will be completely transformed in the Spirit so that we too can boldly proclaim the wonderful works of our God.

That transformation happens little by little as we put ourselves in the presence of our God. We have that opportunity today with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. And beginning today, we have more of an opportunity than before. The hours for Adoration have been extended until 9:00pm when Adoration will conclude with Night Prayer and Benediction. Not only that, but this will now happen not just once, but twice each month. We will begin, as we always do, immediately following Mass today in the Chapel. I hope you’ll be able to spend some time with Jesus in prayer today.

You never know how what gifts the Spirit is longing to bestow upon you, and how much they will transform you.