Monday, March 30, 2020

Untie him--Lazarus called forth from the tomb.

Jacob Epstein's Lazarus at entrance to the chapel at Oxford University
   Yesterday's Gospel, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, tells the remarkable story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the Dead. Many have rightly and beautifully commented on how this story reminds us that in Jesus we all have new life.  Yes, we will all die physically, but we have new life through Baptism in which we are united to the death and resurrection of Christ.

  I think that the real challenge for us is found in the words of Jesus after Lazarus comes out of the tomb. "Untie him,and set him free."(John 11:44).

   The image to the left of Lazarus bound in burial cloths brings home the human condition. We are called to life in Christ but we are bound up in many ways, of course our sins, but also negative attitudes and thought patterns, false priorities, prejudices, spiritual blindness, etc.

   A first and understandable reaction to this is to say "Yes, dear Lord, I am tied up, bound up, in many ways, help me, set me free." That is, to be sure, an  honest prayer. but notice Jesus command is to the community, the family and friends of Lazarus. It is their job to untie him.

   For us it is, I believe, important to realize that we are called to untie, unbind, one another.  Indeed it is by the grace of God that we do this, but it is our job.  The easy part of this is reaching out to one another, to assist those who are tied up by sickness, by poverty, by injustice, etc.  The challenge is, however, to help unbind one another by speaking the truths to each other that the person spoken to does not want to hear.  I think here, for example, of loving interventions done to confront people with their addictions.

   At the present time we are passing through the corona virus crisis, a crisis that is no where near over. Though we are socially distancing, we are nonetheless on human community. This is a time to help untie one another from false attachments to things that aren't really necessary, from blindness to inconvenient truths.  Really, if you still think this whole thing is a hoax, wake up!

   Though we are passing through difficult times now, they are times, as Pope Francis pointed out in his Urbi et Orbi address last Friday, when we can truly become free and emerge a better nation, a better Church, a better world.

NB. A big thanks to Fr, Kevin Mackin, OFM of my friary community for his homily on Sunday that inspired part of my message.

Also, Here at St. Anthony Friary we have Mass and community prayer everyday because our chapel is private. It is open to our guests but we are not receiving guests at this time. We pray for you every day.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Adifferent Kind of Lent

   For many years, since way back in my seminary days one of my favorite writers is the French Jesuit, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Once considered contoversial, now more widely accepted, he was on of the first to integrate an evolutionary world view with his Catholic faith.

   I read several of his books but was especially moved by a poem/prayer that he wrote while doing archeological work in China. He found himself without bread and wine, unable to celebrate Mass, so he composed a beautiful piece called Mass on the World.  Over my nearly 49 years as a priest I have often re-visited this  prayer. As I thought of the many people who are unable to participate in the Eucharist because of the corona virus it came to mind once again.  Since it is rather lengthy I offer at the end of this reflection the beginning portion of this work. Perhaps especially those who cannot go to Mass at this time can reflect on this.

  Although I am blessed by living in a community that can have Mass together in spite of bans gatherings with the public in Churches, Mass on the World invites me to lift up in prayer the victims of Covid-19, their friends and loved ones, and all who will suffer financial hardship from this dread disease. During Lent I will bring my own meditations on Teilhard's great work to my celebration of the Eucharist. It also calls me to remind everyone that this is a time to stand together, to avoid sniping at one another bu using a political lense on this pandemic which is affecting the entire human race.

   Lent is indeed different this year. Giving up things doesn't seem to cut it for me at this time. If it works for others that is fine, but I would like to suggest that experiencing this time, perhaps in quarantine or self imposed separation, certainly be social distancing and doing so in faith, is the call of Lent this year.  By doing so in faith I mean praying for the patience to endure long times alone by not grumbling about the inconveniences I endure, and above all doing what I can to help others.

                                              Mass on the World (the beginning)

“Since once again, Lord — though this time not in the forests of the Aisne but in the steppes of Asia — I have neither bread, nor wine, nor altar, I will raise myself beyond these symbols, up to the pure majesty of the real itself; I, your priest, will make the whole earth my altar and on it will offer you all the labors and sufferings of the world.
Over there, on the horizon, the sun has just touched with light the outermost fringe of the eastern sky. Once again, beneath this moving sheet of fire, the living surface of the earth wakes and trembles, and once again begins its fearful travail. I will place on my paten, O God, the harvest to be won by this renewal of labour. Into my chalice I shall pour all the sap which is to be pressed out this day from the earth’s fruits.
My paten and my chalice are the depths of a soul laid widely open to all the forces which in a moment will rise up from every corner of the earth and converge upon the Spirit. Grant me the remembrance and the mystic presence of all those whom the light is now awakening to the new day.
One by one, Lord, I see and I love all those whom you have given me to sustain and charm my life. One by one also I number all those who make up that other beloved family which has gradually surrounded me, its unity fashioned out of the most disparate elements, with affinities of the heart, of scientific research and of thought. And again one by one — more vaguely it is true, yet all-inclusively — I call before me the whole vast anonymous army of living humanity; those who surround me and support me though I do not know them; those who come, and those who go; above all, those who in office, laboratory and factory, through their vision of truth or despite their error, truly believe in the progress of earthly reality and who today will take up again their impassioned pursuit of the light.
This restless multitude, confused or orderly, the immensity of which terrifies us; this ocean of humanity whose slow, monotonous wave-flows trouble the hearts even of those whose faith is most firm: it is to this deep that I thus desire all the fibres of my being should respond. All the things in the world to which this day will bring increase; all those that will diminish; all those too that will die: all of them, Lord, I try to gather into my arms, so as to hold them out to you in offering. This is the material of my sacrifice; the only material you desire.
Once upon a time men took into your temple the first fruits of their harvests, the flower of their flocks. But the offering you really want, the offering you mysteriously need every day to appease your hunger, to slake your thirst is nothing less than the growth of the world borne ever onwards in the stream of universal becoming.
Receive, O Lord, this all-embracing host which your whole creation, moved by your magnetism, offers you at this dawn of a new day.
This bread, our toil, is of itself, I know, but an immense fragmentation; this wine, our pain, is no more, I know, than a draught that dissolves. Yet in the very depths of this formless mass you have implanted — and this I am sure of, for I sense it — a desire, irresistible, hallowing, which makes us cry out, believer and unbeliever alike:
‘Lord, make us one.’”
— Teilhard de Chardin, “Mass on the World”
[Editor’s Note: The above is from the beginning of “Mass on the World”, one of Teilhard de Chardin’s most mystical and poetic writings.  You can find background on his writing “Mass on the World”, its relation to the Transfiguration and a link to the complete text of “Mass on the World” here.]

Friday, March 13, 2020

Corona Virus, A Big Challenge

   I have just cancelled 3 Lenten parish missions due to Corona Virus. I did so considering not only myself but the parishioners where I was due to go and most especially my fellow friars who are elderly and very vulnerable to the virus.

   Now that I have said that I would like to offer some thoughts from a spiritual and religious point of view. Many are upset by cancellations and restrictions by various diocese and churches.  Keep in mind that preventing disease and sickness is just as important a part of the healing ministry of the Church as is the curing and treatment of those diseases. We have to balance our liturgical preferences with this moral responsibility. Communion on the hand rather than the tongue is not a decrease in reverence, but rather a different form of reverence.  As a priest saliva on my hands which can then come in contact with other communicants is not a good thing.

   In Italy and in some diocese of our country churches are closing.  I believe that in those cases it is necessary and may be necessary in more places very soon.  Some, in extreme emotional response, are saying that their access to Jesus has been blocked.  STOP IT! Yes, the Eucharist, for us Catholics, is the source and summit of Christian life. Jesus is present there in a special way, but it is not the only way that He is present.  He is present when we help the poor and tend to the sick (which is what the restrictions are doing.  He tells us Himself is present wherever 2 or 3 are gathered in His name.  Think about this and become more attuned to these means of encountering the Lord. The only thing to block us from meeting Jesus is a hard and stubborn heart.

   For all of us the days ahead may be difficult, but they are also possibly days of growth, days of realizing that we can live with a lot less, days of reaching out and helping others, days of realizing that all of us in the world, not just the USA, are in this together.  God Bless and stay well!

Moving Out and Moving Ahead Cautiosly