“O Sacred Banquet in which Christ is received”

“At every Mass we are physically at the foot of the Cross and our Lord provides everyone who loves Him with an opportunity to be with Him on Calvary.” Father Marco Testa is a priest of the Archdiocese of Toronto. Here is his homily for Easter Sunday.

Christ our Passover has been sacrificed, alleluia; therefore let us keep the feast with the unleavened bread of purity and truth, alleluia, alleluia (Communion Antiphon, Easter Sunday, The Roman Missal).

Paschal Lamb of GodOn this holiest of days, we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the crowning truth of our faith in Christ. Our solemn celebration of Paschal Triduum began on Holy Thursday with the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper during which we contemplated the gift and mystery of the Holy Eucharist in which Jesus gives Himself to us and remains with us in the most blessed Sacrament of the Altar. During these three days we have commemorated the Easter mystery in all its depth and detail. We know however, that each time we participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the fullness of Good Friday, Easter and Pentecost is conveyed to us. Each time we participate in the sacred mysteries, the Pascha Domini (the Passover of the Lord), we die with Christ, we rise with Him and receive from Him the Spirit of Promise who transforms us and unites us to the Father in and through Christ (Fr. M. Louis Merton, Seasons of Celebration). The Mass is the Paschal Mystery. So we must always celebrate the Mass, any Mass with the unleavened bread of purity and truth; that is to say, with faith and devotion, reverence, gratitude and love.

holy-sacrifice-of-the-massToday’s Mass, solemnly and joyfully celebrated is like every other Mass and yet, it is different in one unique and absolutely critical aspect. At every Mass, in the offering of the Sacrifice, the action of Christ makes present the offering of Christ our Saviour on the Altar of the Cross. In the words of St. John Chrysostom, We offer even now that which was then offered, which cannot be exhausted. This is done for an anamnesis of that which was then done, for ‘Do this’ said He’, ‘for the anamnesis of Me’. We do not offer a different sacrifice like the high-priest of old, but we offer the same. Or rather, we offer the anamnesis of the Sacrifice (St. John Chrysostom in Heb. hom. 17:3; quoted in Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, p. 243). The unbroken, orthodox tradition of the Church does not deviate from the affirmation of this truth. At every Mass we are physically at the foot of the Cross and our Lord provides everyone who loves Him with an opportunity to be with Him on Calvary. The Psalmist prophesies of the Lord in His Passion: I looked for pity, but there was none; and for comforters but I found none. They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink (Ps. 69:20-21). In the Mass, in every Mass we are present with our Lady and our Lord’s most faithful followers in the one offering made for the world’s salvation. Our Lord Himself had prophesied: And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself (Jn. 12:32). In Himself our Lord brings to perfection all mysteries, so that there is one sacrifice and also one kingdom gathered from all peoples (Cf. Pope St. Leo the Great, Sermo 8 de Passione Domini). Through the ages, ours included, this prophecy continues to be fulfilled. This is the cosmic breadth of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Yet, as vast as this is, there is an intimate and personal quality to this Sacrifice, whose fruit is received in Holy Communion, the Eucharistic Banquet. There is a beautiful antiphon composed by St. Thomas Aquinas which expresses the profound mystery that takes place in the Eucharistic miracle of the Mass: O Sacred Banquet in which Christ is received: the memory of His Passion is recalled; the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory to us is given. Alleluia! Yes, this takes place at every Mass. Our Lord gives to each one of us the privilege of being united with Him in His offering to the Father. He gives us the opportunity to adore and thank Him for the gift of salvation; and in turn, transformed into His very likeness we proclaim the joy of the Gospel, the joy of salvation to the whole world.

ResurrectionOn this holy day we celebrate our Lord’s glorious resurrection; that because our Lord humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross…God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth (Phil. 2: 8-10). His resurrection is a real event, with manifestations recorded for us in the Gospels. And so the Mystery of Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection reveals God to us as humble and triumphant – humbled even unto death, death on a cross, yet triumphant over sin and death. God is both humble and triumphant. All of us will in this sacred celebration soon renew our baptismal promises. We do this once a year. Our Lenten penance has been a preparation for this act of faith. In rejecting sin and professing our faith in the Triune God, we will pledge our willingness to rise above our sins and failings, our weaknesses and to live in imitation of Jesus who poured Himself out for us on the Cross.

How is this Mass different? In a few moments we will all renew our baptismal promises. Our Lenten penance and sacrifices have been a preparation for this moment of renewed commitment. For some of us, long ago, the waters of baptism were poured upon us. As these living waters were poured, God poured Himself into our souls. Our hearts tell us that it is only in pouring ourselves out for others, our families, our loved ones, and even the least of our brothers and sisters that we are truly fulfilled. Today, all of us, young and old, renew our baptismal promises, certain in the knowledge that to be in Christ is to be a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). The renewal of our spirits in the ever-present grace of the Resurrection assures us of a continual renewal of our lives, provided we endeavor truly to be in Christ with integrity, and a humble commitment to a life of Christian discipleship. Authentic Christian life means a life of intense charity and self-giving both in prayer and good works. Authentic Christian life is a Eucharistic life because the Eucharist makes present God’s love poured out for us on the Cross and the victory of life over death and of love over hatred.

As we begin the fifty days of Easter, may our celebration of the Paschal mysteries make us always conscious of the power of Christ’s resurrection at work in our lives. May this power raise us up spiritually. May it lead us to pour ourselves out in love, in service; generously and in humility. This alone is a life worthy of God, who calls into His kingdom and glory (1Thes. 2:12). It is no less God’s own life. May our lives truly be hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3).
O sacrum convivium in quo Christus sumitur. Recolitur memoria passionis eius: mens impetur gratia: et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur. Alleluia!

 

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Do this in remembrance of Me

“The mysteries that we commemorate this evening can also only be recognized by revelation and our knowledge of them can only deepen through faithful discipleship and an intense life of prayer.” Father Marco Testa is a priest of the Archdiocese of  Toronto. Here is his homily for Holy Thursday.

‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me….This is the cup of the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor. 11: 24-26).

the last supperThis solemn celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper begins the Paschal Triduum during which the Church will celebrate the greatest mysteries of the Redemption. Holy Week, Easter and the ‘holy fifty days’ of the Easter season culminating in the celebration of Pentecost, all combine to spread the Easter mystery out before us in time in all its detail. In this Mass we commemorate three mysteries in their detail: the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the Priesthood, and our Lord’s command of brotherly love. In commemorating these mysteries, we recall them; we remember them but not in the way that we remember an event in the past as we would for example a birthday or an anniversary. The Church uses a very specific word to describe the remembering that takes place in this sacred synaxis or assembly; the word is anamnesis. Anamnesis has the sense of recalling or representing a past event so it becomes actively present. The understanding of the Eucharist as the recalling before God of the one sacrifice of Christ in all its accomplished and effectual fullness so that it is here and now operative by it effects is clearly brought out in all traditions of the early Church. And these traditions are in keeping with the oldest written account of the Eucharistic celebration; transmitted to us by the Apostle St. Paul in our second reading: I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over took bread….‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me….This is the cup of the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’ (1 Cor. 11: 24-25). It is to this tradition that we are faithful this evening during this solemn celebration and indeed at every celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In the words of St. John Chrysostom, We offer even now that which was then offered, which cannot be exhausted. This is done for an anamnesis of that which was then done, for ‘Do this’ said He’, ‘for the anamnesis of Me’. We do not offer a different sacrifice like the high-priest of old, but we offer the same. Or rather, we offer the anamnesis of the Sacrifice (St. John Chrysostom in Heb hom. 17:3; quoted in Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, p. 243). The unbroken, orthodox tradition of the Church does not deviate from the affirmation of this truth. The words of Institution, This is my Body, which will be given up for you. This is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, are not just words of a story that we are recounting. They are the action of Christ. Clearly then, the sacred liturgy is the work of God in which we participate. sacred vessels of MassThrough the liturgy Christ, our redeemer and high priest, continues the work of our redemption in, with and through his Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1069). The understanding of this engenders a reverence for the sacred rites and for everything associated with them: the church building, the altar, the sacred vessels, and yes, even for the sacred ministers, unworthy though they be of their office. In the absence of this understanding – and sadly this ignorance is all too pervasive, the sacred rites, most especially the celebration of the Eucharist, are unlawfully and tragically altered in favour of an immediate, simple satisfaction of feelings.

In the New Testament the word ‘liturgy’ refers not only to the celebration of divine worship but also to the proclamation of the Gospel and to active charity. In all of these situations it is a question of the service of God and neighbour (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1070). This evening, as we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we see the nature and purpose of the worship we offer to God reflected in the mysteries that we
commemorate: the celebration of divine worship in the institution of the Eucharist, the proclamation of the Gospel in the institution of the priesthood and active charity in our Lord’s command of brotherly love. These three mysteries are interconnected; related one to the other as a unified whole; one leading to the other, distinct yet in some manner incomplete or not fully operative or effective in the absence of the others.

The mysteries that we commemorate this evening can also only be recognized by revelation and our knowledge of them can only deepen through faithful discipleship and an intense life of prayer. In their absence, we literally scratch the surface of our being in Christ. So we must pray this evening that we might have the courage to make our very own these words of the Apostle Paul, we too say, Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things… that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection (Phil. 3:8-10)

altar of reposeHow is it possible for us to believe that Jesus Christ is truly present in the most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity – if not by divine revelation? We take our Lord’s words at face value. Truth Himself speaks truly or there is nothing true: “This is the Body that will be given up for you; this is the Chalice of the new covenant in my Blood, says the Lord; do this, whenever you receive it, in memory of me” (1 Cor. 11: 24-25). After Mass, as you well know, the Blessed Sacrament will be carried in procession through the church to the Altar of Repose and because we believe the Eucharist to be what our Lord says it to be, namely His Real Presence, we will kneel in adoration, that is to say, in profound love, and endeavour to make reparation for the negligence and indifference with which the Blessed Sacrament is often received.

in persona ChristiAs instituted by our Lord, this Sacrament is the fruit of the Eucharistic Sacrifice that can only be offered by an ordained priest. The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: ‘The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.’ ‘And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the
same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner. . . this sacrifice is truly propitiatory.’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1367). This means among other things that the Eucharistic Sacrifice is more than a memorial. It is the action of Christ Himself. It is the means by which we make propitiation for our sins but also the means by which all the faithful who through Baptism share in the Priesthood of Jesus offer their praise, sufferings, prayers and work; and by means of this our offering, our lives acquire a new value. Our Lord’s sacrifice on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offering (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1368). By what authority could a mere man, a sinful man for that matter, renew this sacrificial offering if not by the authority of Christ Himself? Yes, at the Altar, in the Confessional and in the celebration of the other sacraments the priest, a man like others yet also unlike any other, acts in persona Christi. This too is mysterious and yet it is the means by which the mercy of God is communicated to men and women through the ages and in the Eucharistic sacrifice celebrated, lived and prayed; thus the Church becomes the visible community of God’s mercy.

055-055-JesusWashingTheApostlesFeet-displayWhen he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you’ (Jn. 13:12-15). Our Lord’s command of brotherly love is no less a mystery since it expresses the kenotic, that is to say, the self-emptying nature of the Son of God who emptied himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men (Phil. 2:7-8). The God who washes the feet of His disciples is also the God who was despised and rejected by men; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised…wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his wounds we are healed (Is. 52: 15f). This too is mysterious and this mystery of God who becomes a servant is at the heart of the mystery of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ which in the new covenant of His Blood, the Precious Blood of the Messiah, embraces both Jews and Gentiles; and of them it makes a single people, the new People of God. This messianic people, then, that is to say the Church, though it does not in fact embrace all mankind and often seems to be a tiny flock, is yet the enduring source of unity, hope and salvation for the whole human race. It is established by Christ as communion of life, of love and of truth; it is also used by him as an instrument for the redemption of all, and is sent out into the whole world as the light of the world and the salt of the earth (Lumen Gentium, 9). This also is mysterious and we who belong to Christ are called to live and serve this mystery by living a life of intense prayer and charity, centred on the mystery of the Eucharist, the source and summit of all of the Church’s varied efforts.

The three mysteries that this Mass commemorates are indeed at the heart of the greatest mysteries of the Redemption. Tomorrow, in the Solemn Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion the truth of God’s nature will be fully revealed in the Sacrifice of the Cross; and on Easter Sunday we will renew our Baptismal promises secure in the knowledge that to be in Christ is to be a new creation (Cf. 2 Cor. 5:17). Let us be one with our Lord this evening and in the coming days. Let us also be mindful always that the fullness of Good Friday, Easter and Pentecost is also compressed within the compass of every day’s Mass; whether a solemn and glorious celebration such as this Mass or a quiet, prayerful and reverent Mass, such as we offer daily here throughout the year. It suffices to say that regardless
of the Mass being celebrated, whatever the occasion, we have an obligation to conform faithfully to liturgical rules because this work is principally the work of God in which we participate. Each time we participate in the sacred mysteries, the Pascha Domini (the Passover of the Lord), we die with Christ, we rise with Him and receive from Him the Spirit of Promise who transforms us and unites us to the Father in and through Christ. (Fr. M. Louis Merton, Seasons of Celebration).

Holy MassThe Easter Mystery is not celebrated only at Easter but every day in the year, because the Mass is the Paschal Mystery. This is the Mystery which establishes and forms us as a People; the Mystery in which we live, through which we are saved and with which we are intimately bound. His Mystery is our Mystery. Let us ask our Lord for a special grace this evening. Let us ask Him to teach all of us to pray the Mass, to live the Mass, to love the Mass; that our generation also may be united with His offering; and that we may be ever mindful that whenever the memorial of this sacrifice is celebrated the work of our redemption is accomplished (Prayer over the Offerings, Holy Thursday, The Roman Missal).

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Are you being served?

Posted at Catholic Insight

Jesus washes feet of PeterAll through the long, harsh Canadian winter, the sounds of coughing, sneezing, and sniffling were commonplace. Viruses and bacteria sensed the vulnerability of weather-weary bodies and attacked with a vengeance, and it seemed as if the entire population was having a coughing fit; except for me. I had nary a sniffle throughout the entire winter.

But by some cruel April Fool’s joke, as the temperatures began to rise and the snow melted away, I developed one whopper of a cough and cold that completely knocked the stuffing out of me, reducing me to a shivering mess cocooned under layers of fleece and down in an effort to stay warm. By the third day of my infected state, I was unable to do much of anything except sleep upright so that I could breathe. Casting aside friends’ well-meaning advice to take oil of oregano, and realizing that a nasty cold had progressed to something more serious, I got a prescription for some heavy-duty drugs that had the effect of knocking me out. I couldn’t do much of anything at all. Nasty little bugs had successfully rendered me non-productive except for my constant cough which was definitely productive.

With a disposition that is more comfortable being a server than a servee, life at the height of my illness was certainly humbling. For one thing, I couldn’t go to work because who would want to be cared for by a contagious nurse? I wasn’t much use at home either and my family, God bless them, scolded my attempts at self-sufficiency and told me off whenever I refused their help. It took an entire week to recover to the point where I felt decent again, just in time for Holy Week.

While I was sick, I had some time to read and one of the writings I perused was Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s reflection on Jesus washing the feet of His apostles. In his thoughts on Peter’s initial refusal to have his feet washed, I saw myself. When I insisted on doing things for myself even though I was clearly in no position to do so, I was refusing to have my feet washed, rejecting the service of others and telling them I didn’t need them.

Pope Benedict wrote that Peter’s refusal was really a refusal of God’s goodness and grace; it was a denial of the need for spiritual cleansing and pardon. His action was overflowing with pride, ingratitude, and lack of understanding of what Jesus was trying to teach him. Pope Benedict explained that “accepting[ing] the washing of feet means entering into the Lord’s action, sharing in it ourselves, letting ourselves be identified with that action. To receive this washing means to continue with Christ to wash the soiled feet of the world…. Love is received only by loving.”

In order to serve, there has to be someone who needs to be served. The recipient is just as important as the servant, and both are on either side of the same coin called humility. So if we desire to receive God’s grace that He often gives to us through the love of others, then we need to realize that sometimes we have to be  on the receiving end of a loving gesture. The grace to receive a person’s kindness is just as necessary as the servant’s grace to serve and both are needed in God’s plan of salvation. We can only understand what it means to serve if we know what it means to be served.

Pope Benedict XVI. (1987). Journey to Easter: Spiritual Reflections for the Lenten Season. New York: The Crossroad publishing Company.

Painting: Washing the Feet by Palma Giovane (1548 – 1628). Wikimedia.org under a  Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

 

 

 

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Confession and the little child within us

Posted at Catholic Insight

800px-Ethiopia_Innocent_Prayers_of_a_Young_Child_(3405971322)I have been thinking a lot about confession lately. As the First Confession and First Communion catechist in my parish, the past few weeks of class have been focused on mortal and venial sin, repentance, forgiveness, mercy, contrition. It has been a very fruitful time for my hard-working students. With the assistance of their parents, the children memorized the Act of Contrition. We rehearsed mock confessions so the kids would know what to expect and what to say and our Associate Pastor gave the children a reassuring talk.  They even learned Latin - in persona Christi. By the end of the few weeks, I was confident that they were ready for “the real thing.”

When the big evening arrived, my excited class lined up at our designated area. Clutching their copies of the Act of Contrition which I had given them “just in case,” they fidgeted nervously but quietly as they waited their turn. Some of them whispered their concerns as I stood with them and provided moral support.

“Why can’t we go behind the screen? I don’t want him to see me.”

“But what if he thinks I’m a bad person?”

“What if I’m not sure it’s a sin?”

“I’m so scared!”

“What if he remembers what I said and next time he sees me he won’t like me?”

I reassured the kids that it was all right to be nervous about confession. Some of them were surprised when I pointed out that adults who have regularly been going to confession for many years still feel tense when they confess their sins.

Each of the children in turn knelt before the priest and hesitantly began: “Bless me Father for I have sinned. This is my first confession and these are my sins.” Because they were not inside the confessional, I could see little heads nodding up and down as Father kindly spoke to them. After absolution, the children knelt in front of the tabernacle and prayed their penance. What a beautiful sight to see little children, with hands folded and heads bowed,  praying earnestly before Jesus.  Before heading home, the students thanked me and with beautiful smiles, many of them gave me a hug, whispering their gratitude in my ear.

Reflecting on the evening, it occurred to me that we all have the same “what ifs” as my class.  Admitting our sins to a priest, even though he is in persona Christi can be uncomfortable, embarrassing, and humiliating. When we take the Sacrament of Reconciliation seriously, we acknowledge the weight of our sinfulness and in humility, we are ashamed and repentant. The humble attitude of a little child is necessary to make a good confession.

In a recent homily, Pope Francis stressed the need for humility in admitting that we are sinners in need of Jesus’ mercy and healing. “He will not find us at the center of our certainties. That is not where the Lord looks. He will find us on the margins, in our sins, in our mistakes, in our need for spiritual healing, for salvation; that is where the Lord will find us…. This is the path of humility: Christian humility is not within the virtue of saying: ‘I am not important’ and hiding our pride. No, Christian humility is telling the truth: ‘I am a sinner.’ Tell the truth: this is our truth.”

Often, little children show us what we need to do in order to deepen our relationship with the Lord and the most obvious example is in the Sacrament of Confession. Little children present themselves before God in openness and faith. They are uncertain but they desire to please Him. They are scared but they trust that if they tell the truth all will work out well. They begin their confession nervously but they finish triumphantly, God’s mercy radiant in their beaming smiles. The little children will lead us and like my class, you may feel like hugging someone after you acknowledge your sins before Jesus and receive His forgiveness and mercy.

 

Photo fromWikimedia Commons. Ethiopia: innocent prayers of a young child. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The God whom we adore is the God of the living

 “Every stage of our human life has been sanctified and consecrated by the presence of the Son of God.” Fr. Marco Testa is a priest of the Archdiocese of Toronto. Here is his homily for the fifth Sunday in Lent (A)

Untie him and let him go (Jn. 11:44)

lazarus risingAs we continue our Lenten observances of prayer, penance and spiritual renewal, on this fifth Sunday in Lent the Gospel proclaims the resurrection of Lazarus; and we are faced with the ultimate mystery of our existence. I am the resurrection and the life…Do you believe this? (Jn. 11:25-26). With Martha we also place our faith and hope in Jesus our Saviour: Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world (Jn. 11:27). This act of faith which we make individually and collectively establishes us in a communion with Christ our Saviour in this life. Consequently, we make a serious and purposeful commitment to Christian discipleship that prepares us to overcome the barrier of death not only at the moment of death but even as we live our lives here and now, for faith in the resurrection of the dead and the hope of eternal life open our eyes to the ultimate meaning of human existence. God created us for resurrection and life; and this truth gives an authentic and definitive meaning to human history, to the personal and social lives of men and women, to culture, to politics and the economy. This is the culture of life. Without the light of faith, the entire universe finishes shut within a tomb, devoid of any future, any hope. This, by contrast, is the  culture of death.

We have then a definitive perspective on human existence and this perspective encompasses the totality of who we are and who we become; for life, we well know, is not static. Christian life is a journey into the mystery of God Himself. This is how Blessed John Henry Newman described the dynamic nature of our Christian life: Christ himself vouchsafes to repeat in each of us in figure and in mystery all that He did and suffered in the flesh. He is formed in us, born in us, suffers in us, rises again in us, lives in us….We are ever receiving our birth, our justification, our renewal, ever dying to sin, ever rising to righteousness (Sermon 10, “Righteousness Not of Us, But in Us” in Parochial and Plain Sermons, p.1048). These words capture the nature and purpose of our Christian commitment and because of this truth we affirm the beauty and purpose of life, of sacrifice, of suffering, for all these contribute to our transformation in Christ. In this process nature and grace work in concert and we experience the truth of our Lord’s own words: Live in me, and I in you (Jn. 15:4). God is present in our joys and in our sorrows, in our life and even in our death, when it comes. Every stage of our human life has been sanctified and consecrated by the presence of the Son of God.

03_Pope_John_Paul_IIIn our times perhaps no other person taught us these truths in word and through the example of his life especially in his later years, than Blessed John Paul II. His accomplishments during one of the longest and richest teaching pontificates in history are manifold. On April 27th, he will be canonized in Rome together with Blessed John XXIII. Some of you may have a living memory of Blessed John XXIII; most of us probably saw Blessed John Paul II when he visited Canada. Some of you may also remember the day of his papal election, when he emerged on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica and said, Be not afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ! The very first thing he did was to reaffirm the simplest and oldest Christian confession of faith; a confession we make every Sunday and which we ourselves have just made our very own in the reading of the Gospel. Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world (Jn. 11:27). In his first encyclical he stated: Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of man, is the centre of the universe and of history (Redemptor hominis, 1). “The opening paragraph of Redemptor hominis deliberately evokes the beginning of the Communist Manifesto, bluntly contradicting Marxism’s man-made, self-destructive salvation through violent revolution…. John Paul II had firsthand experience of the destructive ideologies that did not understand the human person. He was unshakably convinced that [as the Second Vatican Council taught], only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light…. Christ…by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and his love, fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear (Gaudium et Spes, 22)” (Michelle K. Borras, “Five Essential Insights of Pope John Paul II” in Columbia Magazine, April, 2014, p.14-15). That supreme calling is a share in God’s own life by grace here and now and in eternal life. This is why Blessed John Paul fearlessly defended the dignity of the human person. He wrote: The Gospel of God’s love for man, the Gospel of the dignity of the person and the Gospel of life are a single and indivisible Gospel (Evangelium Vitae, 2). The God whom we adore is the God of the living.

untie him and let him goUntie him and let him go (Jn. 11:44). Though these words were spoken by our Lord of Lazarus, they are no less applicable to you and me personally and to all of humanity collectively. In Lazarus we can see humanity freed and no longer bound by the finality and darkness of the tomb. All that we are and become in the course of our earthly life has value and meaning and purpose. Jesus is the Lord of history, the one who was to come into this world precisely because each human person is of infinite value; and that is why in choosing to live life with our ultimate purpose in mind we become one with the disciples of Christ our Lord throughout history and with our Jewish brothers and sisters in building the culture of life. This is the culture that sees the protection of persons in their moral, intellectual and spiritual development as the defining goals of society; namely, our daily lives, culture, politics, and the economy.

Evidently, not everyone sees it this way but we do and we must be clear about this. It is necessary, absolutely necessary for us to live as we think, lest we end up thinking as we live. This is to say that when we allow ourselves to be influenced by the spirit of the world we risk losing our way. Our Lord has chosen us to be the light of the world but this privilege is not without cost. If you were of the world, the word would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you (Jn. 15: 19-20). We all remember the attempt on the life of Blessed John Paul II; and perhaps each one of us has experienced in some way the cost of fidelity to the truth, to the Gospel of life. Where do we draw our strength? From the one who has conquered sin and death, hatred and unbelief. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (Jn. 16:33).

As we prepare to celebrate Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum, soon to be upon us, the sacred liturgy of this fifth Sunday in Lent reminds us that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, which the resurrection of Lazarus prefigures, is the event that gives ultimate meaning to our human existence; and not only our existence but also to our suffering and even most especially to our death. In Christ Crucified and Risen is manifested the power of God and His love for us His children. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it gain: this charge I have received from my Father (Jn. 10: 17:18). His victory is our victory and the truth and splendour of His resurrection enlighten our lives now and even the hour of our death.

I am who am and my counsel is not with the wicked, but my delight is in the law of the Lord. I have asked my Father. He has given me the nations for an inheritance. I lay down and slept and I rose up again, for the Lord sustained me. Those who pray the traditional Divine Office will recognise these words which some composers have beautifully set to music (Cf. Andrea Gabrieli, Motet: Ego sum qui sum).* They are the antiphons that accompany the first prayers of Easter Sunday. They summarise the truth we profess: Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of man, is the centre of the universe and of history (Redemptor hominis, 1). Christ yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to Him and all the ages (Lucernarium, The Easter Vigil, The Roman Missal). And this Saviour, the Lord of history is not far from each one of us, for ‘In Him we live and move and have our being…for we are indeed his offspring’ (Acts 17:28). Our Saviour sustains each one of us. May He strengthen us to sustain one another.

*(Ego sum qui sum, et consilium meum non est cum impiis, sed in lege Domini voluntas mea est. Postulavi Patrem meum: dedit mihi gentes in hereditatem. Ego dormivi, et somnum coepi et exsurrexi, quoniam Dominus suscepit me.)

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A Feminine Genius Responds to Jimmy Carter

Posted at Catholic Insight

Joan of ArcJimmy Carter, the thirty-ninth president of the United States, is making the rounds of the major media outlets and talk shows pedaling his new book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power. The description on Amazon.ca reads in part:  “A Call to Action addresses the suffering inflicted upon women by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts and a growing tolerance of violence and warfare. Key verses are often omitted or quoted out of context by male religious leaders to exalt the status of men and exclude women. And in nations that accept or even glorify violence, this perceived inequality becomes the basis for abuse.”

Of course, Mr. Carter takes special  aim at the Catholic Church, accusing us of suppressing women because we don’t allow them to become priests. In the process, he shows his complete ignorance of all things Catholic. In an interview on MSNBC, he opined that in the Catholic Church,  “women are not qualified to have an equal role in the service of God as men. And of course, men all over the world take this as a proof that they can abuse their wives or pay less pay.”

I wrote a response to Mr. Carter on my blog at Catholic Insight. I invite you to read it over there.

http://catholicinsight.com/a-feminine-genius-responds-to-jimmy-carter/

Photo Source: Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution – Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. Bayonne, France; Statue of Jeanne d’Arc in the Guardian Angels’ Chapel of the cathedral.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Power of Sunday Family Dinner

Posted at Catholic Insight

Thanksgiving_DinnerThe advantages of the family gathering together to share a meal are well documented. Many experts in various fields of expertise tell us that the family meal helps our kids to stay off drugs, do better in school, learn to socialize, bond with family members, make healthy lifestyle choices. Family mealtime is important.

In the Gospels, we see that Jesus spends much of his time eating with others: the wedding feast at Cana, feeding the five thousand, dinner with Mary, Martha and Lazarus, making breakfast at the seashore for His apostles, breaking bread with the disciples he met on the road to Emmaus, and of course, the Last Supper. For Jesus and his disciples as well as for the people of His time, mealtimes were significant. They conveyed community and in Jesus’ case, showed His love for His followers.

Like most families, we are very busy during the week. With seven of our eight children living at home and all doing different things from working full-time and part-time jobs, going to school, and involved in extra-curricular activities, it often seems that our domestic church has a revolving door and a twenty-four hour open kitchen. On most evenings at dinner time, no one would ever suspect that nine people live in my house.

It is a poverty of our times that we have filled our waking moments with so much activity. Time spent together as a family has become a casualty of our busyness and for most people, Sunday has lost its significance as the Lord’s Day. As Catholics we need to rediscover Sunday as the most important day of the week where we gather in thanksgiving and praise for Jesus’ sacrifice and also to strengthen the bonds of family.

On Sunday, we take part in two meaningful meals. At Sunday Mass, we celebrate the memorial of Jesus’ sacrifice in the Holy Eucharist, the sacrificial meal. Through the Blessed Sacrament, “we unite ourselves to Christ who makes us sharers in His Body and Blood to form a single body.” (Catechism of the Catholic church, 1331) We continue our celebration at the Sunday evening dinner table where we unite with each other as one family. The Holy Eucharist nourishes our souls so that we can do God’s will. Our Sunday evening meal provides the nourishment we need so that fueled by love of God and love for reach other, we can go out and do His work.

During the week, I rely on quick, usually nutritious, practical dinners that are eaten at different times as people come and go. But Sunday is different. Sunday dinner is an event. Delicious smells waft through the house hours before dinnertime. Dessert is expected and does not disappoint. If guests join us for dinner, they are welcomed as part of the family.

A friend told me that when he was growing up, Sunday evening dinners were special in his home, too. His mother took great care in preparing the delicious meal and she used the good dishes to show how important the dinner was. Whenever anyone asked her why she went through all that preparation, she explained that they were celebrating the feast of Christ the King.

As we gather together in love and as we thank and ask our Lord to bless us and His bounty in the Grace Before Meals, we too celebrate the feast of Christ the King. Our Sunday feast is His Sunday feast because the meal that we share is a very concrete sign of His Providence on His day.

The week may be busy and the weeknight meals plain and eaten hurriedly. But on Sunday, gather the family now and in the years ahead. Celebrate each other. Celebrate God’s bounty. Celebrate the feast of Christ the King.

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The physical effects of the scourging and crucifixion of Jesus

69_Mark’s_Gospel_X._the_crucifixion_image_2_of_2._Jesus_crucified._after_RubensFor the March print edition of Catholic Insight Magazine, I wrote an article on the physical effects of the scourging and crucifixion of Jesus.  The article was part of a Lenten meditation on Jesus’ ultimate self-giving act of love and sacrifice.

The first part of the Lenten meditation was written by  Fr. Marco Testa whose homilies often appear on this blog. In his article, he reminded us that “Christ crucified is both the form and the content of the Christian message; a timeless message that is always relevant. Our fidelity to the Cross guarantees the authenticity of our discipleship and, ultimately, our salvation…. Many have fallen away and have turned from the Cross, and a cross-less Christianity is perhaps one of the subtlest temptations of the antichrist. Salvation is ours only through the power of the  Cross.” (Testa, 2014, p. 10)

The second half of the meditation explained what would have happened physiologically to Jesus as he was scourged, made to carry part of His cross, crucified on Golgotha and then buried. Jesus willingly and obediently suffered a most barbaric torture out of love for us.

“The suffering of love is redemptive, transformative, and life-giving, making visible the self-giving Love of God. For this reason the Crucifix is understood as an icon of the Trinity. Therefore, we look to Golgotha and recognise that the Saviour who hangs on the Cross for the world’s salvation makes visible for us the Mystery of God’s self-giving Love and He invites us to be one with Him in His saving work.” (Testa, 2014, p. 10)

The editors have published The physical effects of the scourging and crucifixion of Jesus on the website. I invite you to read it here:

http://catholicinsight.com/the-physical-effects-of-the-scourging-and-crucifixion-of-jesus/

Testa, M. (2014, March). Looking to Golgotha: The Passion of our Lord. Catholic Insight Magazine, 22, 10.

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The Glory of the Cross

A holy life is our glory and the means by which we glorify God and participate in His own life, even now. Fr. Marco Testa is a priest of the Archdiocese of Toronto. Here is his homily for the Second Sunday in Lent (A)

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and do not be afraid’ (Mt. 17:7)

transfiguration 6On the second Sunday in Lent we always read the Gospel of the Transfiguration of our Lord. We do so in order that our focus may be directed towards the glory of Easter and our Lord’s victory over sin and death by His glorious Resurrection. Our Lenten penance is not an end in itself but a means to an end; that cleansed of our faults and sanctified in both body and mind we might more fully appreciate and participate in God’s own glory. The word that Sacred Scripture most commonly uses to describe the nature of God is glory. Quite rightly we associate glory with power, majesty, radiance, awe and wonder. Yet, all the Gospels, especially the Gospel of John, speak of God’s humiliation as His exaltation, His glory. By faith, we are seized by the beauty and glory of the Crucified Christ. In this mystery of the Transfiguration a twofold glory is revealed: the glory which our Lord possesses as the eternal Son of the Father and the glory that is manifested in His sacred Passion; the glory that is manifested from the unsurpassable torture of Holy Week. God Himself is “whipped to blood, crowned with thorns, mocked, spat upon, ridiculed, nailed, pierced…In this consummate ugliness, this unspeakable outrage, shines a picture of divine beauty, of divine glory. The Gospel of the Transfiguration presents us with a vision of the glory of God on its way to the Passion” (Hans Urs Von Balthasar).

crucifix.0The glory revealed to Peter, James and John is a glimpse of the glory of the Resurrection, a glory that we too are destined to share; however, it is the Passion that leads to the glory of the Resurrection (Preface for the Second Sunday in Lent, The Roman Missal). Consequently, we are ever mindful that we preach Christ crucified…Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1Cor. 1:23-24) Our Lord Jesus Christ is the radiant light of God’s glory and the perfect copy of His nature (Heb.1:3). Those who gaze on the Crucified Christ in faith are able to perceive that His hour of highest spiritual beauty – and glory – is a moment of utmost bodily degradation. In His humiliation of the Cross the Saviour brings near and makes visible the divine glory for we see in Him the ineffable love of God for sinners. This is a love, a beauty and a glory that can only be perceived by a prayerful, contemplative gaze. It is only by means of prayer and penance that we can come to some understanding of why our Lord brought about our salvation in such weakness, diminishment and pain. No human life is exempt from diminishment and pain. If we are given the grace to grow older, the weight of years alone brings about diminishment. Why must it be so? Perhaps our own diminishment is meant to conform us to the self-emptying of the Son of God on the Cross. This may very well be the grace of old age. That our redemption has taken place through suffering of the flesh and spilling of blood may mean that it could take place in no other way. It is for this reason that above all things we must seek simply to be with Jesus and to learn from Him what He alone can teach us in the silence of prayer. On the Cross we have the ultimate and only adequate answer to the problem of evil, the only solution to the mystery of sin. The world’s redemption could only be brought about “in the mystery of a love that by suffering understands all the insults inflicted upon it” (Hans Urs Von Balthasar). Our profession of faith, if taken seriously, is journey into the depth of this Mystery.

What do we discover as we come to know more of this this mystery? Quite simply, that the essence of Christian discipleship is to be with Jesus and to learn from Him who accompanies us on life’s journey and who is never distant from us by means of His grace. We must endeavour to abandon ourselves to the will of the Father as He did, and in this is our peace: not only our peace but also our way to holiness, to glory. St. Paul reminds us in our second reading that God has saved and called us to a holy life (2 Tim. 1:9). A holy life is our glory and the means by which we glorify God and participate in His own life, even now. It is in light of this universal call to holiness that we should consider not only our Lenten discipline but also our own life, generally speaking. Holiness is a concept that is too
often misunderstood; yet it is the duty of all. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves, in all your conduct; since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1: 14-16). We should regard our annual observances of holy Lent as a time of special effort to grow in holiness and in our understanding of the riches hidden in Christ our Lord; as a time when we commit ourselves anew and with greater fervour to the Christian life which, by its very nature and purpose is a call to share in the holiness of God Himself.

HolinessThe entire virtue of what we call holiness lies in faithfulness to what God ordains. (The Joy of Full Surrender, (Paraclete Press), p.17). Surely, this is what we learn when we contemplate the life and Passion of our Lord. Fidelity to duty, discipline of life, moral rectitude; these are the ways in which we are faithful to what God ordains. They are no less the means by which our lives are so transformed and so transfigured that we come to live for the praise of his glory (Eph. 1:12). Anything that contradicts these principles is a path to misery and destruction. Thus we look to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2). The freedom from sin that God offers us is freely given to us but it comes to us at a great price for we are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith (Rom. 3:24-25). After His glorious resurrection our Lord asked the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory? (Lk. 24:26) And so it is with us; we must be willing to recognize what is best for us in what God ordains for us. The entire virtue of what we call holiness lies in faithfulness to what God ordains. Like the disciples on the mountain, the revelation of God’s will for us, whether it be in the suffering that He asks of us or permits us to endure, or simply in the challenges that we face in living; these may confound us and might even cause us to be very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and do not be afraid.’ The tenderness of this scene reveals to us something of the compassion of the God whom we worship and adore. He is near. He has borne our burdens. Though He dwells in unapproachable light, He has made known to us His desire to share His glory with us and in His Passion He has become the means by which we attain this glory. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us (Eph. 1:7-8).

eucharist1Like Peter, James and John, we too are privileged to perceive the glory of the Lord; a glory however that is veiled in the poverty, humility and vulnerability of the Crucifix that hangs before us and in the Sacrament of the Cross, the Eucharist. These reveal a love so powerful that neither hate nor death could conquer it. Because we receive and worship this Sacrament, this same love is at work in the hearts of all who believe. By its power great deeds of love are done and by its power our understanding increases and deepens so that in time, we come to see and to understand that the Passion of our Lord gives a human face to the love of God for a fallen humanity; and that our own sufferings, mysterious as they may be in both their origin and purpose, place us in the very heart of the Paschal Mystery. Suffering is not meaningless nor is it without purpose, and neither is our life. Nothing short of suffering, except in rare cases, makes us what we should be; gentle instead of harsh, meek instead of violent, conceding instead of arrogant, lowly instead of proud, pure-hearted instead of sensual (Bl. John Henry Newman, “The Sweet Yoke of Christ,” 1839). May we be generous in our sacrifices and single-minded in our desire for holiness of life; that in all things God may be glorified (1Pet. 4:11).

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OECTA and the further destruction of Catholic education

The union of Ontario Canada’s Catholic english speaking teachers, Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA), has voted to form a delegation that will march in this year’s gay pride parade in Toronto. This latest development continues the meteoric destruction of Ontario’s publicly funded Catholic schools. It is a natural consequence of the introduction of Gay-Straight Alliance clubs in our school boards.

Especially if you live in Ontario, please read my article at Catholic Insight. This scandal will affect all of us, whether or not we have children enrolled in the publicly funded Catholic schools.

Make your strong objection heard. My article includes links to OECTA, the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario (ACBO), and to Cardinal Collins, president of ACBO.

http://catholicinsight.com/oecta-and-the-gay-pride-parade/

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