On the prow of the massive ocean liner, third-class passenger Jack Dawson played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the 1997 movie Titanic experiences one of the best moments of his life. Hovering dangerously over the icy waters below, he shouts out in a fit of ecstasy with arms extended overhead, “I’m the king of the world!” At the 1998 Oscar ceremonies, Titanic won eleven awards. Upon accepting the Academy Award for Best Director, James Cameron raised the trophy over his head and also shouted, “I’m the king of the world!”
Saint John, one of the twelve apostles, makes a rather bold statement. He says that whoever “believes that Jesus is the Son of God” actually “conquers the world” (1 John 5:5). In other words, there is something about a disciple of Christ that enables him or her to become king of the world by conquering it.
The “kosmos” that John refers to is the world apart from God and in opposition to him. Those with faith in Jesus Christ, however, conquer the defiant rebellion of that world. With the knowledge that Christ has saved us and remains with us “even until the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20), we can have the strength to endure the attacks of this world, with its regrets, disappointments, frustrations, and failures. For in Christ we have the indestructible hope of final victory.
Notice however that John intertwines this conquering hope with love of others. In other words, there is a link between the Christian triumph over the world and connection with other people of faith. Just as someone who loves his or her own father also naturally loves his or her siblings, so too love of God and love of our brothers and sisters in Christ are inseparable parts of the same experience.
Indeed, according to William Falk, Editor-in-chief of The Week magazine, “much of our happiness flows from our connections to other people, our sense of community and joint purpose.” In this regard, however, Falk contends that we are “in distinct decline.” Instead of communal kinship, “the ceaseless hunt for money, security, and consumer goods, dominate most people’s lives; time for family and friends, and the activities that build community and meaning, is often scarce. Loneliness is epidemic” (Mar. 30, 2018, 3). Referring to the now-familiar Danish concept of hygge, Falk argues that what our society really needs is this deep recognition: “Richness comes from human connection” (Id.).
Last week, we began a new Sunday message series that we’re calling, Bold Moves. During this Easter season, we want to encourage you to consider some bold moves in your spiritual life of faith. As we heard in the first reading, the apostles began the great adventure of spreading the faith by sharing everything in common.
One bold move you can resolve to make is to spend more time with this faith community. Explore our website (www.strendanparish.org) for the many opportunities to serve, give, and join our small groups, and conquer the world through some bold connections.
While Jesus lived, his disciples frequently demonstrated cowardice and confusion. After his resurrection, the story changed completely. Showing himself to be alive by many convincing signs, he appeared to the apostles for forty days and spoke with them about the kingdom of God. When they received the Holy Spirit, they became his witnesses in Jerusalem, in the nearby regions of Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth.
Filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostles made many bold moves. They spoke truth to power and proclaimed Jesus Christ, even when arrested by government officials, attacked by mobs, and threatened with death. They lived in community, sharing everything and providing for the poor, and eventually laid down their lives, fulfilling the final command of their master to “love one another as I love you” (John 15:12).
Indeed, the words “bold,” “boldly,” or “boldness” appear no fewer than ten times in the Acts of the Apostles, a New Testament book written by Saint Luke to chronicle the growth of the Church for the benefit of future generations of believers. After Peter and John were arrested and warned not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, for example, they prayed and “were all filled with the holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).
We begin a new message series this Sunday that we are calling “Bold Moves.” For each of us, there are times in our lives when we face the hard choice of retiring into familiar corners or stepping out boldly. A job offer, marriage proposal, career change, college admission, divorce petition, aggressive treatment plan for an illness, and other significant life-altering events often force us to choose between taking the safe course or making a bold move.
To the extent we pay attention to our spiritual lives, the same choice awaits us. Will we be a slave to fear or a child of God (c.f. Galatians 4:7), who trusts enough in the providence of the Father to strike out boldly in new ways? Spiritual growth results from a series of difficult choices to enter into and maintain healthy spiritual relationships, to pray with confidence, to endure suffering courageously and wait for healing, to work on deepening our knowledge of the faith, and to commit to a radical love of the poor and the unchurched.
Genuine disciples of Christ do not allow fear to interfere with their decision to serve in ministry, give to the church and to the poor, get involved in small groups grow in their faith, practice prayer to get closer to God, or share their faith to bring others to the Lord. Instead, they rather boldly embrace the uncertainty of change, the pain of suffering, the risk of sharing, and the inconvenience of real commitment, in order to make bold moves on behalf of the Lord.
Follow the apostles this Easter season as they boldly proclaim Christ to a waiting world and then make some bold moves of your own.
In the preconciliar Church, crucifixes, religious statues and images of the saints were covered with purple veils from the fifth Sunday of Lent through Good Friday, a period known as Passiontide. Even though the practice became optional at the end of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, many churches continue to observe the ancient custom.
The tradition alerts us to the fact that we have entered a time of more immediate preparation for Holy Week. It also removes much of the visual stimulation we normally experience at church to help us listen with greater attentiveness to the words of the Passion narratives read on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. Anticipation for the Easter season when the coverings will be removed also is intensified.
But there is an even deeper meaning to the practice. Veiling these holy objects reminds us in a strikingly visual manner that the faith we cherish was made possible only through the work of Christ in his suffering and death on the Cross. When the images, statues, and other religious articles are covered or removed entirely, we are confronted with the stark reality that, without the passion of the Christ, none of the subsequent flourishing of Christian values, culture, or tradition would have come into existence.
The glorious architecture erected in every soaring cathedral, the words written into flowing pages of great Catholic literature, the images painted on the canvasses of breathtaking works of religious art and the melodies sounded through the notes of sublime sacred music simply would never have come into being. We would have remained in our ignorance without the truth of God revealed in Christ and the Catholic intellectual tradition that followed. The moral goodness of saints like Mother Theresa and the enormous charity of Catholics in every age simply would vanish from the landscape of human history.
We have come to the end of our current message, Mass Communication. For the last five weeks, we have been exploring the various parts of our Sunday liturgy and what they say about our faith. In this last installment, we learn that the Concluding Rite of the Mass is not a simple dismissal. Rather, the blessing by the priest with the sign of the Cross, the words sending away the assembly, the actions reverencing the altar, and the recessional all echo the words of Christ to his disciples both before his death and after his Resurrection: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21; cf. 17:18).
Through the Word proclaimed and preached and the Sacrament shared and received, we are empowered to go out into the world to be Eucharist and bread for others. Indeed, our mission lies beyond the four walls of the church. Just as the apostles boldly made known the good news of Jesus and generations of disciples developed the Church out of the ashes of the Crucifixion as the greatest force for good in the world, we too are called to leave each Mass with the same solemn duty.
To the extent we ignore that charge, we tragically veil the beauty, goodness, and truth of our faith from a world in so much need of it.
Nearly a month after a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a national movement encouraged students to “walk out” of their schools last Wednesday for seventeen minutes, one minute for each of the seventeen people killed in the massacre. According to CNN, “the nationwide protest is both a memorial and protest action . . . to pass stricter gun control laws.”
At Saint Brendan School, we honored the lives of the fallen students and faculty members with a safety day, prayers for their eternal rest, and a moment of silence at our morning school Mass. It is entirely fitting that a Catholic community pray for those who have died and for prudent legislation that would prevent such tragedies in the future.
I write this article a few days before Wednesday. I pray for the safety of all students around the country and hope that their courage will produce both a moving tribute to the victims and an enduring witness of the power of solidarity, especially in the face of such an outrageous act of violence.
Today we hear in the gospel Jesus’ own reaction to the death of his close friend, Lazarus. Jesus wept for the tragedy, and the heartbreak, and the outrage of death itself. He was deeply troubled by the loss that comes with death. The word “perturbed” used in the passage comes from the Greek word embrimaomai, which connotes anger. Indeed, death is an outrage because it is fundamentally opposed to God’s plan. The loss that comes with death is real, the sense of abandonment by those left behind palpable.
Yet, our most fundamental belief is that God himself experienced the outrage of death. All the terror and suffering of this fallen world has been felt by the Creator. We believe in a God who does not absolve himself from the conditions of this world or stand by idly, watching from a distance. We believe in a God who enters into our pain and into the fullness of the human experience. Through the Cross of Jesus Christ, God takes responsibility for the fallen world we have established. Christ’s death is nothing short of radical solidarity with the darkest parts of the human condition.
This week, we explore the meaning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, as we continue our message series, Mass Communication. The bread and wine that have become the Body and Blood of Christ are a tangible declaration of his voluntary death for our sake. What is loss of life for Christ becomes nourishment and food for us all. What is his sacrifice re-presented on the altar each Sunday becomes a feast. What is his resurrection from the dead as we receive the Risen Christ in communion is God’s pledge that, amid the suffering and sorrow of this life, one day we also will rise, every tear will be wiped away, and, like Lazarus, Christ will call us forth from our graves.
Death is an outrage but Christ has conquered it and the victory is ours. This is what we remember each Sunday, as we receive the Lord and say, “Amen,” which means “I believe.”
In last week’s gospel account, Jesus encounters a woman sitting at a well. When he asks for a drink of water, she says, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” When he offers to give her living water, she responds with similar incomprehension: “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep.” The woman soon comes to believe that Jesus is some sort of “prophet.” Following her encounter, she returns to the village, asking the others whether Jesus could “possibly be the Messiah.” At the end of the story, what Jesus has been trying to convey all along is finally declared by the townspeople: He is “truly the savior of the world.”
The shifting names for Jesus in this story, from “Jew,” “Sir,” “Prophet,” and “Messiah,” to “Savior of the World,” are signs that a lack of faith eventually can give way to genuine belief. In a similar way, the story of the man born blind, who was given sight by Jesus in the gospel account this week, evinces the truth that faith can develop over time.
Jesus has gone up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, one of three obligatory annual pilgrimages to the Temple at that time. During a key moment, most likely after the ceremony of light that ended at dawn when the Jews would face away from the rising sun to repudiate pagan worship of the elements, Jesus announces that he alone is the true “light of the world.” He is faced with immediate rejection and an extended argument with “the Jews” erupts.
Soon thereafter, Jesus heals the man and again faces controversy from the Pharisees, who take exception to the healing because it occurred on the Sabbath. Over the course of a lengthy inquisition, the Jewish religious leaders increasingly demonstrate their blindness to Jesus’ identity, while the once blind man begins to see more clearly, first referring to Jesus as a “man,” then as a “prophet,” as one who is “from God,” and finally as the “Son of Man,” to whom he offers worship that is fitting only for God. Over time, the man healed of blindness comes to realize that Jesus is the light of the world.
The fifth century Christian writer, Prosper of Aquitaine, penned the now famous saying in Church theology: Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, which is translated as “the law of prayer is the law of belief.” In other words, the Church has always acknowledged that what we believe comes out of how we worship, not the other way around. Because the true vocation of all human beings is the right worship of God, all faith first arises within liturgical ritual.
People come to church for many reasons, and not everyone sitting in the pews believes everything the Church teaches. But it is good that they are with us because, ultimately, spiritual growth and enlightenment are rooted in the practice of our communal prayer and worship. To grow in our faith through the liturgy should be our hope, as we continue to explore the various parts of the liturgy and what they say about our faith in our current message series, Mass Communication.
On a long journey home, Jesus passes through the region of Samaria inhabited by people considered to be the ethnic and religious rivals of the Jews. He stops at a well for some water and encounters a Samaritan woman. A story of faith ensues, as Jesus leads her on a journey to new life in the Spirit. The stages of her faith development mirror the spiritual growth each of us experiences when we are willing to listen to God’s Word and seek to encounter Christ in his Church.
Since drawing water normally was done with other villagers in the morning or evening, the presence of the Samaritan woman at the well, alone in the heat of the day, suggests that she had something to hide. Indeed, we later learn that her lifestyle was irregular. Most of us come to church with something to hide from God, others, or ourselves. But when we choose to connect within the community, open up and share our pain, we begin a journey to a better life.
Jesus first asks the woman for a drink, but he actually is thirsting for more than regular water. He wants to give her something far greater than the physical water for which she had come to the well. He longs to give her spiritual water that will satisfy her completely. As we learn to connect with other believers, we begin to experience healing in the living waters of Christ that move us away from a superficial desire, like consumers, merely to quench our thirst for a moment to a deeper commitment of faith as a disciple.
Over the course of their discussion, Jesus foretells a future when the whole world will come to worship the Father in a new way. True worship, he says, is “in Spirit and truth.” The Mass today is the greatest form of worship ever known. We pray to the Father through the truth of Christ in the Holy Spirit. And when we break out of our spiritual isolation and pray together, we cannot help but come to know the Lord more fully.
Soon the woman comes to see Jesus as more than a man, a prophet, or even the Messiah. He eventually reveals his divinity by using the divine name given to Moses in Exodus 3:14 (“I am”). Similarly, we come to church and participate in small groups to grow in faith and begin to see Jesus for who he really is.
At the end of the story, the woman leaves her water jar and goes into town to tell her neighbors about Jesus and “many more came to believe in him.” After connecting with others at church, praying together at Mass, finding healing in the community, and growing in faith, then we too are ready to love others by inviting them to encounter and know Jesus.
This week in our message series, Mass Communication, we are learning how important it is to listen to God’s Word each week. Just as Jesus led the woman on her spiritual journey, the Church helps us to connect, pray, heal, grow, and love. But only if we are really listening.
After thirteen densely-packed verses that recount the mission of John, the baptism of Christ, and his temptation in the desert, Jesus opens his mouth for the first time in last week’s gospel passage, marking the beginning of his public ministry. His words are terse and pithy: “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” A twofold action, Jesus calls his people to express remorse for their sins and turn back to God with all their hearts.
In our new message series for Lent, Mass Communication, we are exploring the various parts of our Sunday worship and what they say about our faith. The focal point this week is the Penitential Rite. In an action that is highly counter-cultural, we stand before God during the introductory rites of the Mass and openly confess in a public setting that we are sinners.
The rite absolves us of venial, or less serious, sins and prepares us spiritually to receive the Eucharist. Together we recall our common need for salvation and express sorrow for our false desires and the “pride of life” through which we have become our own gods.
There are three forms of the Penitential Rite. After one of them, the Confiteor or “I confess,” the assembly says or sings Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, Kyrie Eleison, which is Greek for “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” It is one of the oldest known prayers of the Mass. After the assembly has confessed their sins, the priest prays for absolution.
The Scripture readings today emphasize the great value of the gift of Jesus to humankind. As Saint Paul writes, God the Father “did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all” (Romans 8:32). The story from the Book of Genesis in the first reading illustrates the precise nature of God’s sacrifice to redeem us from sin. The pain and anguish Abraham must have felt in nearly slaughtering his only son Isaac at God’s command prefigures the cross and shows the tender love the Lord has for all of us in giving his only Son to die for the human race.
The account of the Transfiguration in the gospel is similar. While it anticipates the Resurrection and future glory of Christ, it also comes immediately after the announcement of Jesus’ passion and death and therefore illuminates the whole journey to the cross that is to follow. When the presence of God appears in a cloud, the Father’s voice acclaims: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Those words reveal a status that far exceeds that of Moses and Elijah with whom Jesus converses. It is no less than God’s own Son who will die on the cross.
The Penitential Rite ultimately gives way to the Gloria, a hymn of praise found in Christian prayer books as early as the year 380 A.D. The placement is deliberate because even while confessing our sins we anticipate the remarkable favor of God’s forgiveness, born out of the greatest gift we could ever know, the death of God’s own precious Son.
Over the last five weeks in our Sunday message series called, It’s Better In Here, we have been reflecting on all the reasons that our lives are enriched when we come to church. In our homilies and the bulletin articles written by parishioners, we have shared the beauty, goodness, and truth that we discover in church. More so than anywhere else, we find in our cozy parish transcendence, peace, support, stability, guidance, love, welcome, and total belonging. It is the one place in our world where it is truly safe to ask questions and where we can contribute our talents to the mission of God and feel valued.
The source and summit of this spiritual wealth is rooted in the Mass we celebrate every Sunday. Indeed, “the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows” (Vatican II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, n. 10).
That’s why I’m so excited about our new Lenten message series that we’re calling, Mass Communication. Each week we’ll reflect on the various parts of the Mass and what they say about our faith. This series is a tremendous opportunity for all of us to deepen our understanding and appreciation of “the greatest prayer of the Church.”
Today, we welcome Bishop William Justice, auxiliary bishop emeritus of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, who will speak at all the Masses on the often-missed richness of the simple Gathering Rite that we celebrate at the beginning of each Mass.
In the short gospel reading today, Jesus sums up the core of his message, when he urges his listeners to “[r]epent and believe in the gospel” because it “is the time of fulfillment.” God now is breaking into history to fulfill his promises and bring his whole plan to completion in the kingdom embodied in the person of Jesus.
After the Great Flood described in the first reading, “every creature—human and nonhuman—is assured that God is still the Creator and that the basic divine relationship to the world still holds.” (Fretheim, Terence. The Pentateuch. Abingdon Press, 1996, 82). Indeed, the flood itself, as St. Peter points out in the second reading, actually “prefigured baptism.” The covenant that God established in the post-flood account through the rainbow sets the stage for his great work of redemption in salvation history that began with Abraham in the Old Testament and culminated in the salvation offered to us through baptism by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
The Gathering Rite of the Mass rallies Christians every Sunday to celebrate this new covenant in Christ Jesus. In the solemn entrance procession, the singing by the assembly, the wafting of incense, the greeting by the presider, the Gloria and the opening prayer collecting the many strands of the people’s individual concerns, we recognize our unity as the gathered people of God. Our thoughts turn to the mystery of the liturgy through which we experience, once again, the unbreakable promises of God.
It’s not often that I consult the Urban Dictionary, an online glossary of slang words and streetwise lexicon. Searching for the perfect word to describe the behavior of the healed leper in the gospel reading this weekend, however, it seemed necessary.
According to an entry made by “Pistol Packin’ Pappy” in 2010 on the crowdsourced dictionary website, the word “reppin’”—which is short for “representing”—means “to be showing off your colors, letting the world know who’s your crew and hood.” According to a secondary definition in the local patois, the word also means to be “[g]etting up in someone’s face to let them know who you are, who you run with, and where you hang.”
The gospel reading tells us that the man Jesus healed of leprosy “spread the report abroad.” In other words, he was representing by letting the world know that Jesus healed him of the terrible disease and was now his crew.
Indeed, leprosy was an incurable disease and a death sentence that imposed a total quarantine. As the first reading says, the Law of Moses required that lepers, once diagnosed by a priest, be declared “unclean.” To identify himself and thereby avoid accidental contact with a healthy individual, the leper was required to wear tattered clothing, leave his head bare, muffle his beard, wear a bell around his neck, and cry out “unclean, unclean,” in order to warn others of his immediate presence.
Combined with the common physical ailments of sores, disfigurement, loss of limbs, and blindness, the anguish of leprosy was absolute. I can only imagine the sense of joy and relief the healed man experienced when Jesus made the bold move of stretching out his hand in pity and touching the defiled individual with his curative power. Covering his tracks to avoid sensationalism, Jesus warned the man not to publicize his recovery. Apparently unable to contain his delight, however, he began reppin’ Jesus everywhere.
In this book, To Light A Fire on the Earth, Bishop Robert Barron identifies a spiritual hunger in every human being, a “hungry heart, hungry for God, and that means we’re ordered for something that goes beyond . . . what we can see and [that] . . . [n]o amount of the merely natural will satisfy the hungry heart” (Crown Publ’g, 2017, 138). Unlike the leper restored to health, however, too many of us fail to recognize this deep hunger fully or how Christ satiates it. As a result, we do not represent Christ to the world as we should.
The term, New Evangelization, began with an Italian priest, Monsignor Luigi Guissani, who “drew the conclusion that what Western culture really needed was . . . a new determination to preach Christ to the world” (Id., 116).
For five weeks now, we have shared all the reasons we believe that It’s Better In Here than out there: beauty, goodness, truth, verticality, and a sense of belonging and being valued. Now, it’s time to rep it out there! Invite someone to church.
After demons flee helplessly at Jesus’ command in last week’s gospel reading, he walks the short distance from the synagogue in Capernaum to the home of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, in this week’s gospel, and heals her of a serious and most likely life-threatening illness. Soon thereafter, he cures many people in the village.
Although the New Testament records numerous healings—by one account, at least 37—the gospel passage today poignantly reveals the tenderness with which the sick and suffering are attended to by Jesus. In the case of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, he “grasped her hand, and helped her up,” a detail that reveals his kindheartedness. In the case of the people who were cured, the Greek word used in the passage (therapeuō) suggests more than a physical remedy. The implication is that Jesus was therapeutic, spending time ministering on a personal level to each malade. Not interested merely in removing the source of the suffering, he compassionately cares for every person individually.
Also inspiring is that it was the disciples of Christ and those drawn to him who brought the sick for him to heal. Simon and Andrew with James and John told Jesus about Simon’s mother-in-law, and the gospel passage says that “they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons” (Mark 1:32). In another instance, four men hacked through a roof and lowered a paralytic man on a stretcher to see Jesus (Mark 2:1-12). Later the people “scurried about the surrounding country and began to bring in the sick on mats” (Mark 6:55). In another passage, Jesus opened the ears of a deaf man brought to him by the people (Mark 7:32). Likewise, when he arrived at Bethsaida, “they brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him” (Mark 8:23). Over and over again, it was the compassion of those seeking Jesus who made the effort to bring the sick to him for healing.
Next week, the Church celebrates World Day of the Sick. People everywhere take time to pray on this day for those who are ill and for those who work to alleviate their suffering. In our own parish, I have witnessed the healing power of Christ in the kindness of our members, from parishioners scheduled to visit the sick every week to the simple act of assisting an elderly parishioner down the aisle to receive communion.
So far in our five-week message series, It’s Better In Here, we have claimed that the church, as opposed to the world, is the best place to discover beauty, goodness, and truth, as well as a direct connection to the transcendent God. But it’s also better in here because healing from life’s wounds can be found in this place. If you are willing to entrust yourself to others and open up about your own struggles, you will discover the restorative power of Christ in the loving and caring hands of the People of God, who will carry you to Jesus.