Holy Saturday: Blessing of Food

Reading:  Deuteronomy 26:1-4, 10b-11

Holy Saturday is a rough day for us Catholics, I think.  We started last Sunday with a triumphant procession with palms, only to end with the death of Jesus in the Passion.  On Thursday, we gathered for the joyful celebration of the institution of the Eucharist – an incredible gift from our God – but then, yesterday, we ended the week by realizing the cost of that Eucharist: the Passion and death of our Lord.  It’s been a roller coaster week of death and life, of triumph and disappointment, of joy and sadness.  And today, well, today’s even harder.  We have the memory of the cross fresh in our minds from yesterday.  And we know the joy that’s coming tomorrow.  But for now, all we can do is wait.

And we’re not so good about waiting, are we?  We live in a culture where we want immediate gratification.  But all we can do today is gaze on the sealed up tomb, symbolized in our church by the empty tabernacle, the extinguished sanctuary lights, and the stripped altar.  We are absolutely yearning for life to burst forth from the tomb and destroy death forever.  And it will, but not yet.

This reminds me of when I was a kid, and mom would start cooking for Easter.  Days before, she would prepare Easter calzone, a traditional Italian Easter food that her father used to make.  She would bake lamb cakes made of Aunt Mia’s sour cream pound cake recipe, one of my two favorite versions of that cake.  The smells would be incredible, and we longed to nibble on the jellybeans that decorated the lamb cake, or have just a little slice of the calzone.  And we’d get to do that, but not yet.

Not yet because it’s not Easter yet, and we’re still observing the Paschal Fast, still waiting, still hoping, praying and believing.  There will be joy in the morning, but for now, all we can do is wait … even as our hungry tummies growl, as we smell the wonderful things baking in the kitchen.

Food gives us powerful memories, especially on feasts like this.  We always remember the things we ate on Easter Sunday, or on Christmas, and even the Irish soda bread on Saint Patrick’s day!  In so many ways, the food we prepare and eat reminds us of who we are, reminds us of those we love, and reminds us of the wonderful mysteries that we celebrate.  It’s important to cook our traditional foods because they are gifts to us from the One who provides food for our stomachs as well as food for our souls.  It’s important that young people learn to make these foods so the tradition doesn’t end, and that they hear the stories of those great traditions so that the grace will live on.  The children need to know who we are as a people of faith and why we do what we do, and eat what we eat.

We gather here today then, to thank our Maker for providing for us once again.  We ask his blessings on the feasts of tomorrow, just as he has blessed us with the whole reason for tomorrow.  We remember the stories of our family traditions, as well as The Story that brings us together on Holy Week and Easter.  The time is almost here.  The fast is almost over.  We eagerly await the Feast and the feasting.

Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Ordinary Time: Mardi Gras

Today’s readings

“Every good giving and every good gift is from above.”  This word that we have from St. James today is so encouraging on this Mardi Gras day.  As we get ready for the spiritual rigors of Lent, we might be tempted to see our fasting, almsgiving and prayer as onerous and undesirable.  But when we realize that everything that we have is a gift from God, and that God gives us everything that we need, we might find it a bit easier to give up something, to reach out to the poor, and to enliven our prayer lives.  Every good gift is from above, and taking forty days out to remember that is a joyous thing indeed.

Thursday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Sometimes we can be such arrogant little creatures. We presume that the blessings we have now are due to our own wonderful merit, and forget all about the grace of God. So how often have we been like the rich man, sumptuously dining on the good things God has given us as if they were the fruits of our own creation, and ignoring all the while the Lazaruses at our door? Jeremiah makes it clear how welcome that kind of behavior is in the kingdom of heaven: “Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the LORD.” Blessed instead, the Psalmist tells us, are those who hope in the Lord. We should celebrate our blessings for what they are: gifts of God, gifts to be shared with those in need. “For the LORD watches over the way of the just, but the way of the wicked vanishes.”

Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas

Today’s readings

What did you get for Christmas?  Was it everything you’d hoped for?  Or are you at that stage of life where gifts are nice, but you really don’t need anything special?  A lot of my family has come to that point, except, of course, for my nieces and nephew.  But it’s hard to find a special gift for the rest of us, because we’re at that point where the gifts aren’t so important as it is to be together at Christmas and enjoy one another.

Today’s first reading is exhorting us to something similar.  While the rest of the world waits in line for hours to get a Nintendo Wii game, or whatever the coveted gift of the year may be, we have the consolation of knowing that nothing like that is ultimately important, or will ever make us ultimately happy.  The real gift that we can receive today, and every day, is the gift of Jesus, the Word made flesh, our Savior come to be one with us as Emmanuel.

St. John tells us quite clearly: “Do not love the world or the things of the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  Because what we have is so much better than anything the world can give.  The real gift this Christmas, and really every day, is the gift of eternal life.  And we have that gift because Jesus came to earth and chose to be one with us in our human nature.  That’s why the angels sang that night, and why we sing his praise every day of our lives.

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The Epiphany of the Lord

Today's readings

We gather together today to celebrate the twelfth day of Christmas.  Today is the traditional day for the celebration of the Epiphany of the Lord, a time when we can see who Christ really is, when our eyes are enlightened, and our hearts are opened.  Because there is a gift to be had here today; more precisely, I think there are three gifts to be had here today.  The magi famously offered their three gifts: gold, frankincense anhttps://i2.wp.com/img.villagephotos.com/p/2004-2/653261/3Kings.jpg?w=736d myrrh.  I don’t think we can expect to receive those gifts today, although we’ll use a bit of frankincense later in this celebration.  But the Scriptures today speak of three gifts that come with this Christ Child … the one who continues to lay sleeping in the manger on this holy day.

The first fist gift he brings us is justice.  Justice is what people long for in every age.  When everyone has what belongs to them, when no one is poor or needy, when the marginalized are brought into the community, when the wrongly imprisoned are free, when everything is right and we are all in right relationship with one another and with God, that is justice.  People have striven for justice in every age and place.  While we are all called upon to do what we can to make justice happen in our world, we know that we do not ultimately have the power to bring the real justice that this world longs for all by ourselves.  That can only be done by God, and in God’s time.  Our psalmist today says, “Justice shall flower in his days…” The gift the Christ Child brings is the possibility of that great day of justice.  We know that because Christ has died and risen, we can count on the salvation that will be ours on that day when everything is made right.

The second gift Jesus brings is peace.  Peace, too, can be an elusive thing for us, and peace, too, has been sought after for ages upon ages.  We often think of peace as the absence of conflict.  And that alone is daunting.  We have conflict in many places today.  We think of Iraq, Afghanistan, and many places in the middle east, to say nothing of Africa, Korea, and many other places.  I’m not even sure, honestly, how to count the number of wars being fought today.  And this says nothing about the lack of peace that is violence in our communities, discord in our families, and unrest in our hearts.  If we are to define peace as just the absence of conflict, it is clear that even that is beyond us. 

But that’s not how God defines peace.  Peace is more than a feeling, it is a way of living, or more exactly, a way of being.  It stems from the right relationship that is justice.  In fact, we are told that if we are to desire peace, we must work for justice because peace can’t happen in an unjust world.  If the mere absence of conflict is a peace that we can’t seem to achieve, how much less will we ever be able to come to a peace that is a completeness of right relationships with God and every other person?  And yet, this child in the manger is the one who has come to bring “peace till the moon be no more.”

The third gift Jesus brings is light: the revelation of the mystery.  And that’s what we celebrate today.  “Epiphany” means “manifestation,” it means coming to know what’s right in front of us.  Coming to see the revelation of Christ in the Scriptures, in the Church, in the Sacraments, and in every person and place.  It is a celebration of light, light that is the glory of God, appearing and overcoming the darkness of a world that does not know God.  Jesus came to a world that was darkened by the absence of justice and peace, into a world which in some ways didn’t want to be brightened by his life.  So basically, he was coming into a world not much different than the one we experience today.  Our time’s need for justice and peace is obvious, and the world’s refusal to come to the light is well-known.  But we have the light.  Jesus came to bring us that light.  Maybe it’s not the light of the star on that night, but it’s the light of Scripture, of his presence in the Eucharist, and his activity in the Church and in our hearts. 

We who have received the wonderful gifts of his justice and peace and light, are called to bring those gifts to the world, because the gifts we receive are never just for us.  St. Paul tells the Ephesians – and us – today that we are called to be stewards of these gifts, given to us in grace. And so, just like the magi, we are the ones who need to bring our gifts and open our coffers.

Epiphany is the feast of those called by God's grace to leave behind the familiar and accustomed and to go searching for Christ in, what seems to be, the most unlikely places.  Where will we find him and what gifts shall we bring when we discover Christ in our world?  In place of frankincense, we could advocate for poor families, especially for single parents and the newborn.  There are 25 million poor children in our otherwise-wealthy country, and untold numbers throughout the world. In place of gold, we could contribute to help those at shelters for homeless families, or international programs for children and the aged. In place of myrrh, we could visit the sick and dying.

The gospel story tells of a light in the sky that guides the foreigners to Christ.  We don't have the star; but grace is continually given to help us find Christ. God's grace does what the star did for the Magi, it guides us to the out-of-the way places where Christ can be found.  The Magi came bearing the types of gifts one would bring to royalty in a palace.  But today Christ isn't found in a palace; he isn't rich, he is poor.  The Epiphany reminds us that each day Christ manifests himself to us in the world's lesser places and in surprising people.  Those are the places to go looking and bearing gifts—starting with the most important gift, ourselves.

We will come forward in a few moments to pay homage to our king, just as did those Magi so long ago.  When we offer our gifts on this holy day, perhaps we can also offer the gift of ourselves, this gift that we ourselves have received from God himself.  As we begin this year, perhaps we can resolve to make our giving an act of gratitude for all that we have received.  Nourished by our Savior today, we can go forth in peace to bring gifts of justice, peace, and light to all the world.

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