Sunday, March 31, 2013

Day 1

Happy Easter!  Happy Sunday!

   Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord   

An irate subscriber 
called the local newspaper at midday,
demanding to know why he had not received
his Sunday morning paper.
“Norman,” came the reply, “today is Saturday.
The Sunday Times 
will be delivered tomorrow as usual.”
There was a long pause on the other end,
and you could almost hear the wheels 
turning in Norman’s head
before at last he said,
“Well—that just might explain
why no one else showed up 
for Mass this morning…”

On the first day of the week,
Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning…

Timing is everything, right?
And it’s no different when the eternal
breaks into what is transitory,
when God bursts onto the human scene.
Do not the Scriptures say
that it was “in the fullness of time”—
only when the moment was exactly right—
that God sent his Son to ransom us from sin and death?  (Gal 4:4-15)
Timing matters,
and divine timing matters most of all.

We’re all familiar with the first chapters of Genesis—aren’t we?—
which give us the well-known story of the creation of the world.
Over the course of six days,
God makes the heavens, the earth, and all their array,
and on the seventh day God rests.
We shouldn’t be surprised, then,
that when the Creator takes flesh
to rescue his creation,
the progression of days is anything but accidental.
Set the seven days of creation side-by-side
with the seven days of the Holy Week we’ve just completed,
and the parallels between the two are rather astonishing.
On the first day, when light was created,
Christ enters Jerusalem in triumph—
the Light from Light appearing in his own city.
On a Thursday night, as the sixth day begins,
Jesus partakes of the Passover lamb
on the same day the cattle and wild animals were created.
On that day when man was created—
and, according to an ancient tradition,
on the very same spot where Adam was buried—
the God-man was crucified that all mankind might be saved.
On the day when God rested from all his creative labors,
Jesus lay asleep in death, resting in the tomb.
And then, on Easter morning, early on a Sunday,
on the first day of the week,
the very same day when creation first came into being,
the human race is given a fresh start
as the new creation begins.  (cf. M. Mosebach)

Yes—God’s timing matters.

Unlike some other feasts—such as Christmas—
which float about through the seven days of the week,
Easter is always on a Sunday.
And that’s immensely significant:
Easter is always a Sunday,
because Sunday is always Easter.
Now, that’s not to say every Sunday should be celebrated
with chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, and brightly colored bonnets.
But every Sunday—not just this particular one—
ought to be marked by a festive, holiday atmosphere.
This is the day when Christ broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant over the grave!
This is the day when sin was vanquished
and the gates of Paradise reopened!
This is the day that sets us free—
the day of liberation for which we long!
And because of what happened today,
nothing will ever be the same again.
Which is why, from the days of the Apostles,
those who believe in Jesus have gathered on Sunday—
and not just once a year, but once each week.
Here—in Word and Sacrament—
and now—on this, the day the Lord has made—
we come together to rejoice through, with, and in him
whose resurrection gives new life to the whole world.

God’s timing matters.
And our timing matters, too.
That’s why we need to take back our Sundays.
In many ways, they’ve become just like any of the other six days,
except for squeezing in a trip to church.
We need to re-learn at our core that every Sunday is Easter.
Now, two things are essential to a true sabbath—
to a day of real rest,
to a day kept by people who know they’ve been set free—
and they are praying and playing.
To call Sunday the Lord’s Day
and then omit one or the other is to miss the point.
But “half-sabbaths” have become a specialty of our culture:
either we’ve gone to church but haven’t played,
or we’ve gone to the stadium but haven’t prayed.  (cf. T. Ryan)
Making time both to pray and to play
is fundamental to what Sunday is all about:
the day of our re-creation.

The younger of my two nieces 
just turned three last month,
but she seems to already understand 
this concept fairly well.
All through the somber season of Lent,
about halfway through Sunday Mass
she’d turned to her parents and ask repeatedly,
“Why we no sing, ‘Alleluia’?”
She’s been loudly singing “Alleluia”
(or her own version of the word, at least)
since shortly after she began to talk.
It’s absolutely her favorite part of Mass! 
She noticed—and was troubled by—its absence.
And I know of other little ones 
who’ve done much the same—
in their own way, giving voice to the great joy
which ought always to be the hallmark 
of this sacred day.
Unlike us grown ups,
they still know how to pray and play 
in the same breath.

That’s the sense of Sunday we need to recover,
because timing is everything.

Your newspaper was probably delivered as usual this morning.
May nothing else be usual about this day!
It is Easter, so it must be Sunday.
And it is Sunday, so it must be Easter.
As we, in a few moments, renew the promises of our Baptism,
let us also recommit ourselves
to a genuine keeping of the Lord’s day:
this first day of the week;
this day of play and of prayer;
this day when a tomb once found empty
still fills hearts with wonder and delight.

This is the day the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad!

Saturday, March 30, 2013


   Holy Saturday   

The earth—our earthly nature—
         should tremble at the suffering of its Redeemer.  
The rocks—the hearts of unbelievers—
         should burst asunder.  
The dead, imprisoned in the tombs of their mortality, 
         should come forth, the massive stones now ripped apart. . . . 
What is to happen to our bodies 
         should now take place in our hearts.  

Saint Leo the Great

Friday, March 29, 2013

Catching Up

Photos from a couple of events that I just haven't had time to post yet...

As I mentioned earlier, I went ice fishing with my sister and her family back on March 9.  It was not only a fun day...but I actually caught something!

Those who know me know I've never been much of a fish I gladly threw him back.

And then on March 17, I led a pilgrimage to St. Patrick's Church in Hogansburg.  This was the "mother church" for our region, established back in 1834.  Times have changed, and the church will close next July.  As you can see, a sizable number of grateful folks from the "daughter churches," along with their pastors, made the trip for the visit (which included a talk on the parish's history) and time of prayer.


   Friday of the Passion of the Lord   

Listen to the Lord’s appeal: 
         Do not be afraid.  
This cross inflicts a mortal injury, 
         not on me, but on death.  
These nails no longer pain me, 
         but only deepen your love for me.  
I do not cry out because of these wounds, 
         but through them I draw you into my heart.  
My body was stretched on the cross as a symbol, 
         not of how much I suffered, but of my all-embracing love.  

Saint Peter Chrysologus

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Messing with the Menu

   Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper   

The Seder meal— 
the ritual supper which is at the very heart
of the Jewish celebration of Passover—
was already a fixed tradition more than a thousand
(maybe even twenty five hundred) years old
when Jesus reclined at table
to share his Last Supper with his disciples.
We heard the menu—still careful followed today—
prescribed by God to Moses in the Book of Exodus:
unleavened bread, because the Israelites left Egypt in such haste
there was no time for the dough to rise;
bitter herbs, recalling the harsh and bitter cruelty
of the slavery they had endured;
and roasted lamb, recalling the sacrifice
whose blood was applied to the doorframe of the house,
that the angel of death might pass over God’s chosen ones.

Customs that ancient and that venerable
are not ones you tinker with lightly.
So it should make us sit up and pay attention
when just this year a group of American rabbis
They’ve suggested adding…a tomato.

You see, Passover was never intended
to simply commemorate 
an event from long ago.
It’s about liberation—
about the freedom the Lord desires 
for his people,
both way back then and still even now.
The supper isn’t mean to just recall 
what happened in history;
it’s meant to set people free in each new generation.
And these American rabbis have looked around
and realized that not all slavery was left behind in Egypt.
They’ve looked at the migrant workers—
tomato-pickers, in particular—
whose hidden labor provides us with so much of our food,
and seen a people often underpaid and overworked,
sometimes even beaten.
“The truth is,” one of the rabbis said,
“there are people in our own country
who don’t have to imagine what it is like to be a slave.”

These socially-conscious rabbis, of course,
are not the first to tinker with the Passover supper.
Jesus did the same thing nearly twenty centuries ago.
And it would have surely been quite attention-grabbing to the Apostles
when their Master and Teacher began to deviate from the script
as they shared the Seder in that upper room.

First, Jesus knelt down to wash feet.
It was customary to have a household servant
make the rounds early in the proceedings,
ceremonially washing the hands of all the guests.
It was unheard of, however, that the head of the household
should take such a lowly task upon himself—
and bathing not hands already scrubbed clean,
but dusty, stinky, calloused feet.
Do for one another, he commands, as I have done for you.
When it comes to charity among those
who dare speak and act in his name,
there can be no task too humble.

And after returning to the table, Jesus shakes things up again.
Instead of blessing the God of all creation
for providing us with bread from the earth
and the sweet fruit of the vine,
he says, Take, eat, and drink. 
This is my Body.  This is my Blood.
Flesh and blood were repeatedly mentioned during the Seder meal,
but they were the flesh and blood of the Passover lamb,
not of the supper’s host.
And so Jesus reveals himself to be the Lamb of God,
instituting a Sacrament—the Holy Eucharist—
that he might remain present always
among those who believe in him—
food to sustain us on life’s pilgrimage
as we wait for the Lord to come.

But Jesus didn’t stop there, either.
This Body is to be given up,
and this Blood is to be poured out.
That is the language of sacrifice,
and sacrifice is uniquely the work of a priest.
Now, Jesus did not come from a priestly family—
his lineage from the tribe of Judah, not Levi.
And yet he speaks of making an offering to God—
offering not animals on an altar of stone,
but making a total gift of himself on the wood of the Cross.
Who better, really, to be our High Priest,
the mediator—the bridge—between heaven and earth,
than he who is both true God and true man?
And in his most daring move of all,
that his one, perfect sacrifice might be renewed in every age—
that God might continually touch the lives of his people
and that his people might continually
be able to reach out and touch their God—
Jesus shares his priesthood with those men he has chosen
and called to his side.
Do this in memory of me.

No, Jesus didn’t add any tomatoes to the Passover menu;
tomatoes, in fact, wouldn’t be introduced in the Middle East
for another eighteen hundred years.
But the startling changes he did make
were for much the same purpose:
he had come into this world to set slaves free.
When God created man and woman,
he placed them in Paradise—in a playground, a pleasure garden.
(And is it not walking again in a garden
that we’ll find our Lord at the end of this sacred Triduum?)
We were made, you see, for freedom,
not to ceaselessly toil and till the ground.
But sin and—with it—death
have made the human experience one tainted by suffering.
The Son of God has taken this suffering upon himself
and—like the Sedar ritual—turned it completely on its head.
What once bespoke destruction
has become in him the source of everlasting life.
To ransom us slaves, God gave away his Son.

As a French poet once insightfully put it,
“Christ did not come to do away with suffering;
he did not come to explain it;
he came to fill it with his presence.”  (Paul Claudel)
And so Jesus remains present with us
wherever charity and love prevail.
Jesus remains present with us
wherever we break the Bread of Life.
Jesus remains present with us
wherever his holy priesthood is exercised.
He remains present
because he radically altered and fulfilled the Passover.
He remains present that he might set us free forever
and renew the face of the earth.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


"For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, namely, 
'He was counted among the wicked'..." (Luke 22:37)

   Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord   C 

On February 12, 1913—
just over 100 years ago—
Frederick Poulin was the last man
to be executed in the electric chair
at the state prison in Dannemora.
The Schenectady bartender
had been caught in a love triangle 
a year and a half before,
leaving Charles Leonard shot dead;
the details of both 
the relationship and the killing
are, of course, disputed.

Accounts from the time state
that, on his way to the death chamber,
Mr. Poulin carried in his right hand a little crucifix.
That same crucifix had previously been carried
in the hands of 19 other condemned men at Dannemora
who had preceded him
in taking the fatal walk to the chair.  (cf. Press Republican, 2/11/13)

Now two others, both criminals,
were led away with Jesus to be executed.

Those two convicted criminals mentioned in our Lord’s Passion—
they stand for us all, do they not?
The Son of God took flesh and dwelt among us
because the human race was on death row.
Because of sin, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes.

But this man, Jesus:
he has done nothing criminal.
And yet he dies—
neither rebelling nor turning back,
nor loudly protesting his innocence.
Rather, Jesus humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a Cross.
As we’ll pray in a few moments—
praying as his saving Passion is renewed for us in the Eucharist—
“though innocent, he suffered willingly for sinners
and accepted unjust condemnation
to save the guilty.”  (cf. Preface, Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord)

A small crucifix in Dannemora was passed down
through the hands of twenty condemned men…
…but it points to the Cross which has now been grasped in faith
by countless sinners across twenty centuries:
the same Cross we are called upon
to contemplate during this Holy Week;
the same Cross whose sweet wood
we will kiss again with tenderness on Good Friday;
the same Cross which has remained
the paradoxical sign of hope for the hopeless,
who recognize their real and urgent need for a Savior.

Joy-filled crowds, who only know half the story,
can wave their palm branches
in a frenzied welcome fit for a King.
But we who dare to stand by Christ to the end,
knowing that he will likewise always stand by us,
raise instead the instrument of his death
which signals not man’s final defeat,
but God’s ultimate victory.
With us and for us, Jesus willingly chose to be condemned,
nailing our sentence to his Cross.

Behind the thick, high walls 
of Dannemora’s prison,
there is a Catholic chapel—
a small church, really—
built, stone by stone, 
by the inmates there.
It is dedicated to the Good Thief.
With that dying criminal 
who steals his way into Paradise,
with all who cling 
to Christ and his Cross, we pray:
Jesus, remember me
when you come into your kingdom.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Takin' it to the streets

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everybody!

   Fifth Sunday of Lent   C 

Pope Francis.  
It’s going to take some getting used to, isn’t it?

We don’t know too much about our new Holy Father just yet,
so the whole world is eagerly watching his every move.
You’ve already heard—of course—
that as Cardinal Archbishop in Buenos Aires
he led a rather simple life:
staying in a small apartment; cooking his own meals;
riding on buses and subways rather than in limousines.
He was a “priest of the streets”:
a down-to-earth shepherd living right amongst his poor flock.

In fact, on his very first day as Supreme Pontiff,
he stopped by the hotel in which he stayed before the Conclave
to pick up his luggage and pay his own bill.
We shouldn’t be too surprised, then,
at the news out of Rome this morning:
it seems that, for breakfast today,
Pope Francis decided to stroll out of the Vatican
to a neighborhood café and order an espresso.
When he was done, the Pope asked the barista, “How much will it be?”
“That’ll be 5 euro,” came the answer.
As the Pope reached into his pocket for the money,
the barista joked, “You know, we don’t get many Popes in here.”
Which is when Pope Francis replied,
“And at these prices, you won’t get many more, either!”

(OK…so I made that story up…
…but it sounds like it could happen, right?)

We welcome the election of our new Pope
right in the middle of this Year of Faith…
…and it sure seems he’s the right man at the right time.
In his native Argentina,
Pope Francis showed a strong commitment 
to the new evangelization—
to revitalizing the Catholic faith among his people.
In an interview published just about a year ago,
then-Cardinal Bergoglio said
that faith “is not a possession, but a mission.”
The future Pope continued:
            We need to come out of ourselves
            and head for the [margins]*.
            We need to avoid the spiritual sickness
            of a Church that is wrapped up in its own world:
            when a Church becomes like this,
            it grows sick.
            It is true that going out onto the street
            implies the risk of accidents happening,
            as they would to any ordinary man or woman.
            But if the Church stays wrapped up in itself,
            it will age.
            And if I had to choose between
            a wounded Church that goes out onto the streets
            and a sick withdrawn Church,
            I would definitely choose the first one.  
                  (Vatican Insider, 2/24/12)

Out in the streets.
That’s where our new Pope seems most comfortable.
And that’s where Jesus seems right at home, too.

In this Sunday’s familiar and dramatic gospel story,
we find Jesus not sitting within the temple,
but outside of it—in the surrounding area.
It is there among the common people that he’s teaching,
first by his words, and later—so powerfully—by his actions.
It is there in the streets that Jesus
encounters the adulterous woman and the murderous crowd—
both desperately in need of healing and mercy.

Jesus didn’t wait for the lost to find him;
he went out to seek and find them.

So far during this Year of Faith,
we’ve undertaken a number of initiatives here in our parishes
and—praise God—I believe we’re seeing them bear fruit.
We distributed a thousand Year of Faith booklets in November,
half of them going to fallen away Catholics.
We’ve strongly promoted the Sacrament of Penance;
not only have we increased the availability of confession,
but we’ve also seen more people taking advantage of it—
some of them, after many, many years.
We’ve got better than 50 people—some weeks, as many as 75—
participating in the ten-part Catholicism series.
Fr. Stitt’s virtual tour of the Vatican
brought in about 150 folks 10 days ago,
and I hope many will be taking part in today’s actual pilgrimage
to St. Patrick’s Church in Hogansburg.
And—as some of you have noted—
Mass attendance appears to be up;
we even seem to have more young people
in our churches on Sundays.

But the most encouraging thing I’ve noticed
is not something I can mark on a calendar or a tally sheet;
it’s a shift in attitude I’ve observed in so many of you.
More and more often I hear you telling me stories
about how you’ve reached out to someone
to invite them back to the practice of the faith,
or even to check out the Catholic Church for the first time.
I’m seeing a new confidence, born of renewed conviction.
You’re rediscovering the supreme good
of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord,
and you just can’t keep it to yourselves.
Our Catholic faith—as our new Pope says—
“is not a possession, but a mission”;
it necessarily takes us out into the streets.

And so this Sunday we’re announcing
our next “big thing” for the Year of Faith:
on Divine Mercy Sunday—the Sunday after Easter—
we will be beginning the 40 Hours Eucharistic Devotion.
40 Hours was once very common
here in Malone and across the North Country,
but now—as far as we know—hasn’t taken place
anywhere in the Diocese of Ogdensburg for several decades.
We think it’s high time to dust off this venerable tradition.
Basically, from early morning until midnight,
the Blessed Sacrament will be exposed for adoration
and various liturgies and devotions will be scheduled
for a total duration of—you guessed it—40 hours.
(More specific details can be found in this weekend’s bulletin insert.)
This is about coming together to spend time with Jesus:
not before a pretty statue or painting of him,
nor contemplating noble ideas about him
in our minds and hearts,
but sitting attentively before his real presence in the Eucharist—
just like those crowds did, gathered around Jesus in Jerusalem.
In the weeks ahead we’ll be asking for volunteers
to sign up and commit to an hour or two of adoration
during the course of these two and a half days.

But we’d miss the whole point if we stopped there.
And—to be honest—it’s the “grand finale”
to which I’m most looking forward.
On Tuesday, April 9, after an evening Mass,
we’ll be taking Jesus out into the streets:
we’ll have a Eucharistic procession,
carrying the Blessed Sacrament into and through our community.
With candles and incense, prayers and songs,
we’ll be making it clear that the Savior we worship
didn’t come to stay locked up inside our pretty churches,
but still desires to go out and touch a hurting world.

Can you imagine the impression it’ll make
on the people of this village—
not to mention the truckers driving down Main Street—
to see hundreds of Catholics
making such a visible, public statement about their faith?
And can you imagine the momentum it will generate
as we continue through this Year of Faith—and beyond—
to keep introducing our friends and neighbors to Christ,
to keep helping the lost find their way back home?
Do start making plans now—as much as you are able—
to take part in the upcoming 40 Hours.

We recall that, in ages past, God led his people
through the mighty waters of the sea
and then through the desert wasteland,
accompanying them all along their long journey to freedom.
And we know that Jesus, likewise, stayed very close
to the sick, the sinner, and the poor,
announcing to them the Good News of salvation.

It is the very same Lord who walks with us today
and stays near us still.

Let us, then with our Holy Father, Pope Francis,
strain forward to what lies ahead:
the pursuit of life’s true goal,
our upward calling in Christ.
Let’s not hesitate to take this faith
out into the streets.

*Original: "periphery"