Friday, March 21, 2008

Easter Triduum: The Transforming Power of Christ's Love

... an article from

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Behold the Man

This came as an email from by Peter Herbeck
Behold the Man.
Hopefully you will be receiving this email on Good Friday. In your prayer today, or as you attend the Good Friday liturgy, ask the Holy Spirit to allow you to hear and receive Jesus’ words to you from the cross. As you gaze upon him, let him speak to you. He wants to tell each one of us in this Men’s Movement what it means to be a man, to be God’s man.

Jesus is the truth about you and me. Never is that truth more eloquently communicated than from the cross. On the cross he bears our grief, our shame, the isolation and the ultimate judgment that sin, our sin, has produced. He took my place, bore my punishment, and took my destiny upon his shoulders. He shows us our end, where our lives were headed, what we deserved, and in that act, he is telling us the truth about what our attachment to sin has produced.
Sin is a lie. It’s a false promise, a dark delusion. It promises life but delivers death. It promises life apart from God, but Jesus declares to us and to all the principalities and powers that it is a lie! There is no life apart from God! Not only did he reveal the truth about sin and sin’s destiny, but he broke its power over us: "he abolished death and brought life and immortality to light." (1 Timothy 1:10)
He is our brother, the faithful Son, God’s ultimate man, "one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15) He fought a no limit battle against sin, "to the point of shedding his blood" (Hebrews 12:4) so that he could bring "life and immortality to light" for us. Because of the cross we can now see, and the way to life is revealed.
Jesus speaks powerfully to each one of us today from the cross: "Follow me. This is the way to life! Obey the Father no matter what the cost. Love Him, trust Him and you will find life." This is what it means to be a man: to say no to sin, and yes to God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength!
Jesus is the Father’s word to us. May we all hear that word today with new clarity and power; may he grant us a new capacity to trust him in every circumstance and to more radically abandon ourselves to him no matter what the cost.
Peter Herbeck
Holy Thursday 2008

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Archbishop Hanus Reflects on Hope at Chrism Mass

Chrism Mass homily of Archbishop Jerome Hanus, OBS, March 18, 2008:

Last November, Pope Benedict XVI published his second encyclical: Spe Salvi. It deals with Christian hope.
I began studying it and using it for meditation in the month of December. At the same time, I was also very much preoccupied with my ninety-eight-year-old mother, who was getting weaker by the day. I visited her several times last year, and we would talk about her approaching death and her hope for eternal life.
One section of Pope Benedict’s new encyclical has the title "Eternal life–what is it?" The Holy Father asks the question, "Is the Christian faith also for us today a life-changing and a life- sustaining hope?" (10).

Certainly it was for my mother. Her life and her dying would not have made sense without her faith.
The Pope invites us to think about when it all starts for us Christians. He paints the scene of parents bringing their child to be baptized. He makes use of the classic form of infant baptism found in the Roman Ritual for centuries. The priest first of all asks the parents what name they had chosen for their child. Then he continues with the question, "What do you ask of the Church?" The parents answer, "Faith." Then comes the next question, "What does faith bring you?" And the parents answer, "Eternal life."

Our faith is the key to eternal life. Mom was able to live the kind of life she did because of the gift of faith which she received at baptism. She was able to endure with dignity the sufferings and hardships of life, especially the pain and sufferings of her last years, because she had a great hope in eternal life.

So the Pope makes this initial point in his encyclical: because we believe, we hope.

But Benedict XVI doesn’t just leave it there. He asks another question. (We are coming to understand that this Pope appreciates the questions which contemporary human beings have.) As he reflects on faith and hope leading to eternal life, he asks, "Do we really want this – to live eternally?"

Then he observes that "perhaps many people reject the faith today simply because they do not find the prospect of eternal life attractive. . . . To continue living forever – endlessly – appears more like a curse than a gift. Death, admittedly, one would wish to postpone for as long as possible. But to live always, without end – this, all things considered, can only be monotonous and ultimately unbearable."
Certainly that is the experience of many. Human life, because of sin, because of illness and tragedies, because it is often full of sorrow and suffering, can become almost unbearable.
The Holy Father is touching on the very heart of our human existence. "On the one hand, we do not want to die; above all, those who love us do not want us to die. Yet on the other hand, neither do we want to continue living indefinitely . . . " (11).

In the course of this encyclical, the Holy Father calls our attention to several individuals who are powerful models for Christian hope. The story of one is particularly appropriate to recall as we celebrate this Chrism Mass during which oil will be blessed for use in the life of the Church.

This model of Christian hope is probably not known to most of us. But she is the patron saint of the Sudan. Her name is Saint Josephine Bakhita [pictured above]. She was born in the second half of the 19th century, in Darfur – a name well-known to us today because of the tragic condition of that part of the world. When she was only nine, she was kidnapped by slave traders. She was sold in the slave markets of northern Africa, not just once but several times. Each of her masters treated her horribly. They worked her unbelievably hard for a child; they abused her physically and in many other ways. They even branded her with knives, rubbing salt in the wounds so that she would be permanently scarred.

Her awful life took somewhat of a turn for the better when she was purchased by an Italian businessman and brought to Venice, Italy. A different Italian family took possession of her. In her last years as a teen, she worked more as a nanny to a young daughter of the family. Then she began to learn about Christianity.
Up to this point in her life, the only masters she knew were those who had abused and enslaved her. Now she learned that there was a Master, a divine Master, who didn’t hurt people. Rather, this divine Master was kind and good, goodness in person. This Master had created her, loved her now, cared about her, and was inviting her to a life that was completely different than what she had experienced. "What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her ‘at the Father’s right hand.’ Now she had ‘hope’ – no longer the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: [Listen to what she later wrote in her memoirs] ‘I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me – I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good’" (3).

In her 21st year, "On 9 January 1890, she was baptized and confirmed and received her first Holy Communion from the hands of the Patriarch of Venice" (3).

The sacred oils used in those sacraments must have meant so much to her. The words of the prophet Isaiah, proclaiming that a suffering servant would come on a mission of salvation, brought her such joy. Saint Josephine Bakhita heard Jesus, her new Master, saying, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives" (First Reading and the Gospel for the Chrism Mass).

Prior to her baptism, she had been "without God" and "without hope" (cf. Ephesians 2:12). Through her baptism, she received the gift of faith. This faith gave her hope and filled her with longing for eternal life.
Jesus showed her that there is a God, One who is not an indifferent, distant being, unconcerned about us. God rather is a Person who loves us, creates us, sustains us, and comforts us. Jesus showed her how to live, how to hope, and how to die.

In her last years, she suffered many physical ailments. She was confined to a wheelchair and her body marked by pain and disease. Mentally she suffered the trauma of remembering her years in slavery. But she bore all of this with a great sense of hope. She died in 1947. Like my mother, and like millions of other Christians, she was anointed with the oil of the sick. With that sacred anointing, Christians are united once again with Jesus, the Christ, the anointed One.

What a gift – those sacred oils! What a gift all the sacraments are! And what a privilege is ours, my brother priests, to be able to share God’s comfort with the sick and the dying in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

We also are privileged to use the oil of catechumens and the Chrism in the Sacrament of Baptism. Thousands of young people and many adults will be anointed with the Chrism in the Sacrament of Confirmation. I will be the privileged but unworthy instrument, the bishop, acting in the person of Christ, using the sacred chrism, to anoint our next priest in the Archdiocese, Deacon Rodney Allers, who is assisting at today’s liturgy.
He will become a member of this presbyterate, joining his energies to those of his brother priests, who work so hard to be faithful ministers of Christ the High Priest, leading the people to Jesus the fountain of their salvation (cf. Prayer of the assembly for the priests in the Chrism Mass).

I thank the priests – those present today and those not – for their continued zeal, for their strong faith, for being heralds of hope especially to those who are without hope. Thank you for proclaiming the Gospel, in season and out of season. Thank you for stretching yourselves in selfless service of God’s people. The Chrism of salvation, with which your hands were anointed on your ordination day, was not used in vain.
The Spirit of the Lord came upon you. You were anointed, so that through you the Lord Jesus could heal the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to captives, and give the people oil of gladness in place of mourning. May Christ continue to strengthen you, to bring to completion the good work he has begun in you (Ordination rite).

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI on Purgatory and Hope

I just finished reading Pope Benedict XVI's second and most recent encyclical (November 2007) Spe Salvi (On Christian Hope)

Among the numerous interesting passages in this encyclical, the Holy Father's beautiful treatment of the topic of purgatory stood out to me (in my mind rivaling St. Catherine of Genoa's writings on purgatory for their beauty and profundity).

After speaking about the realities of hell and heaven and the extremes of spiritual darkness and absolute purity, Pope Benedict begins to explore the topic (my emphasis in bold):

46. Yet we know from experience that neither case is normal in human life. For the great majority of people—we may suppose—there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God. In the concrete choices of life, however, it is covered over by ever new compromises with evil—much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul. What happens to such individuals when they appear before the Judge? Will all the impurity they have amassed through life suddenly cease to matter? What else might occur? Saint Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, gives us an idea of the differing impact of God's judgement according to each person's particular circumstances. He does this using images which in some way try to express the invisible, without it being possible for us to conceptualize these images—simply because we can neither see into the world beyond death nor do we have any experience of it. Paul begins by saying that Christian life is built upon a common foundation: Jesus Christ. This foundation endures. If we have stood firm on this foundation and built our life upon it, we know that it cannot be taken away from us even in death. Then Paul continues: “Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:12-15). In this text, it is in any case evident that our salvation can take different forms, that some of what is built may be burned down, that in order to be saved we personally have to pass through “fire” so as to become fully open to receiving God and able to take our place at the table of the eternal marriage-feast.

47. Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ's Passion. At the moment of judgement we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy. It is clear that we cannot calculate the “duration” of this transforming burning in terms of the chronological measurements of this world. The transforming “moment” of this encounter eludes earthly time-reckoning—it is the heart's time, it is the time of “passage” to communion with God in the Body of Christ[39]. The judgement of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice—the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together—judgement and grace—that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate”, or parakletos (cf. 1 Jn 2:1).

48. A further point must be mentioned here, because it is important for the practice of Christian hope. Early Jewish thought includes the idea that one can help the deceased in their intermediate state through prayer (see for example 2 Macc 12:38-45; first century BC). The equivalent practice was readily adopted by Christians and is common to the Eastern and Western Church. The East does not recognize the purifying and expiatory suffering of souls in the afterlife, but it does acknowledge various levels of beatitude and of suffering in the intermediate state. The souls of the departed can, however, receive “solace and refreshment” through the Eucharist, prayer and almsgiving. The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death—this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today. Who would not feel the need to convey to their departed loved ones a sign of kindness, a gesture of gratitude or even a request for pardon? Now a further question arises: if “Purgatory” is simply purification through fire in the encounter with the Lord, Judge and Saviour, how can a third person intervene, even if he or she is particularly close to the other? When we ask such a question, we should recall that no man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other—my prayer for him—can play a small part in his purification. And for that there is no need to convert earthly time into God's time: in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain. In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too[40]. As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.


Friday, March 14, 2008

St. John Fisher on Spiritual Combat (Psalm 6)

St. John Fisher on Psalm 6, from his Exposition of the Seven Penitential Psalms (1508) [pp. 20-21, Ignatius Press, 1998]: this provides a great reflection on the power of the sacrament of confession:

Psalm 6

1. Unto the end, in verses, a psalm for David, for the octave.
2. O Lord, rebuke me not in thy indignation, nor chastise me in thy wrath.
3. Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak: heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.
4. And my soul is troubled exceedingly: but thou, O Lord, how long?
5. Turn to me, O Lord, and deliver my soul: O save me for thy mercy's sake.
6. For there is no one in death, that is mindful of thee: and who shall confess to thee in hell?
7. I have laboured in my groanings, every night I will wash my bed: I will water my couch with my tears.
8. My eye is troubled through indignation: I have grown old amongst all my enemies.
9. Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity: for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping.
10. The Lord hath heard my supplication: the Lord hath received my prayer.
11. Let all my enemies be ashamed, and be very much troubled: let them be turned back, and be ashamed very speedily.

"The third part of the psalm now follows, where the prophet, trusting to have been forgiven indeed, rejoices in himself with a bold and hardy spirit. The virtue and strenght of the grace of God is marvellous, for when it pierces and enters the soul of any creature, it causes him to be bold and to hope well, so much so that he dares now to make fresh battle against his enemies. Take heed and behold the sudden change in this prophet caused by the goodness of God: whereas he was only lately vexed and troubled with fear and dread, now, comforted by the grace of almighty God, he has the audacity to despise his enemies and to command them to go away from him saying: discedite a me omnes qui operamini iniquitatem, I command you, all you doers of wickedness, to go from me. Truly the doers of wickedness are those who are busy causing sins to be done, such as the damned spirits by whose enticement sin first entered into man's soul. Of this disposition are the wicked and malicious devils who never do anything but craftily deceive men's souls with their frauds and bring them into the snares of sin. Therefore, the prophet says to them, discedite a me omnes qui operamini iniquitatem, go from me all you doers of wickedness. He shows the reason why they ought to go from him, that he no longer belongs to them. While he was the servant of sin, he was under the power of Satan and his ministers, but now, since he has turned himself to almighty God by true penance and has utterly cast away and forsaken his sins, he is completely delivered from the power of the devils.

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