19 April 2014

Let me gaze upon thee

"Jesus, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
some day to gaze on thee face to face in light
and be blest for ever with thy glory's sight."

- Saint Thomas Aquinas

Anointing the body of Christ

"Therefore anoint your Head, pouring out on him who is above whatever devotion or delight or affection you have. Anoint you Head, so that if there is any grace in you it may be ascribed to him, and you may not seek your own glory but his."

- Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

On the burial of Christ Jesus

"But the burial of Christ occurred to strengthen the faith of our resurrection, for from our belief that our head was raised up, we also believe that we will be raised up. And so, in order for his resurrection to be certain, he had to be buried honorably in a public place and also guarded by soldiers to remove any suspicion."

- Saint Bonaventure

18 April 2014

Images from Good Friday in Rome

This evening I attend the Liturgy of the Passion of the Lord in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome. As one of many priests helping with the distribution of Holy Communion, I was seated behind the altar and so saw very little. Following the distribution of Holy Communion, however, I was able to take a couple of pictures:

Pope Francis, following the Prayer after Communion.
Pope Francis leaving the basilica, in rather a hurry.
The crucifix left for the veneration of the faithful.
As I exited the basilica, I was struck by the only Cardinal visiting with the faithful after the Liturgy, His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura:

Cardinal Burke takes a lot of heat in the press and from Catholics, but he truly has a pastor's heart.

As history repeats itself...

There are troubling reports coming out of the city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine that Jews are being required to "register" and declare their property or face expulsion and confiscation.

In light of this, this message is particularly needed at this time:

Who will be hardened?

Sweet Jesus,
who will be hardened
as not to groan and cry out in spirit
when he hears with his bodily ear
or considers with his mind
those horrible shouts:
Away with him! Away with him!
Crucify him (John 19:1-16)!

- Saint Bonaventure

17 April 2014

Pope: The littleness of the priest brings genuine joy

This is the first year since Archbishop Lucas imposed hands on my hand and ordained me a priest of Jesus Christ that I have not concelebrated or ministered at the Chrism Mass with the Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. But it is also the first year that I have concelebrated the Chrism Mass with the Bishop of Rome.

Today the priests entered the Vatican Basilica through the famed Bronze Doors and vested in the long hallway just inside. As we were vested, someone came over a loudspeaker to announce that there was no need for us to jostle our way forward because a "bella posta," a beautiful spot, was prepared for each of us. At least for me and the priest I accompanied, the man could not know how true his words proved to be:

Taken from my chair before the beginning of the Chrism Mass
In his homily, His Holiness Pope Francis spoke of the "littleness" of the priest, a littleness which I have often experienced and am particularly feeling at this moment (I will try to post more on this later today or tomorrow morning) and priestly joy, the text of which follows, via Vatican Radio, with my emphases:
Dear Brother Priests,

In the eternal “today” of Holy Thursday, when Christ showed his love for us to the end (cf. Jn 13:1), we recall the happy day of the institution of the priesthood, as well as the day of our own priestly ordination. The Lord anointed us in Christ with the oil of gladness, and this anointing invites us to accept and appreciate this great gift: the gladness, the joy of being a priest. Priestly joy is a priceless treasure, not only for the priest himself but for the entire faithful people of God: that faithful people from which he is called to be anointed and which he, in turn, is sent to anoint.

Anointed with the oil of gladness so as to anoint others with the oil of gladness. Priestly joy has its source in the Father’s love, and the Lord wishes the joy of this Love to be “ours” and to be “complete” (Jn 15:11). I like to reflect on joy by contemplating Our Lady, for Mary, the “Mother of the living Gospel, is a wellspring of joy for God’s little ones” (Evangelii Gaudium, 288). I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that priest is very little indeed: the incomparable grandeur of the gift granted us for the ministry sets us among the least of men. The priest is the poorest of men unless Jesus enriches him by his poverty, the most useless of servants unless Jesus calls him his friend, the most ignorant of men unless Jesus patiently teaches him as he did Peter, the frailest of Christians unless the Good Shepherd strengthens him in the midst of the flock. No one is more “little” than a priest left to his own devices; and so our prayer of protection against every snare of the Evil One is the prayer of our Mother: I am a priest because he has regarded my littleness (cf. Lk 1:48). And in that littleness we find our joy.
At the conclusion of the Chrism Mass, Pope Francis prays the Ave, Regina caelorum.
For me, there are three significant features of our priestly joy. It is a joy which anoints us (not one which “greases” us, making us unctuous, sumptuous and presumptuous), it is a joy which is imperishable and it is a missionary joy which spreads and attracts, starting backwards – with those farthest away from us.
A joy which anoints us. In a word: it has penetrated deep within our hearts, it has shaped them and strengthened them sacramentally. The signs of the ordination liturgy speak to us of the Church’s maternal desire to pass on and share with others all that the Lord has given us: the laying on of hands, the anointing with sacred chrism, the clothing with sacred vestments, the first consecration which immediately follows… Grace fills us to the brim and overflows, fully, abundantly and entirely in each priest. We are anointed down to our very bones… and our joy, which wells up from deep within, is the echo of this anointing.
An imperishable joy. The fullness of the Gift, which no one can take away or increase, is an unfailing source of joy: an imperishable joy which the Lord has promised no one can take from us (Jn 16:22). It can lie dormant, or be clogged by sin or by life’s troubles, yet deep down it remains intact, like the embers of a burnt log beneath the ashes, and it can always be renewed. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy remains ever timely: I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands (cf. 2 Tim 1:6).
A missionary joy. I would like especially to share with you and to stress this third feature: priestly joy is deeply bound up with God’s holy and faithful people, for it is an eminently missionary joy. Our anointing is meant for anointing God’s holy and faithful people: for baptizing and confirming them, healing and sanctifying them, blessing, comforting and evangelizing them.
And since this joy is one which only springs up when the shepherd is in the midst of his flock (for even in the silence of his prayer, the shepherd who worships the Father is with his sheep), it is a “guarded joy”, watched over by the flock itself. Even in those gloomy moments when everything looks dark and a feeling of isolation takes hold of us, in those moments of listlessness and boredom which at times overcome us in our priestly life (and which I too have experienced), even in those moments God’s people are able to “guard” that joy; they are able to protect you, to embrace you and to help you open your heart to find renewed joy.
A “guarded joy”: one guarded by the flock but also guarded by three sisters who surround it, tend it and defend it: sister poverty, sister fidelity and sister obedience.
Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to poverty. The priest is poor in terms of purely human joy. He has given up so much! And because he is poor, he, who gives so much to others, has to seek his joy from the Lord and from God’s faithful people. He doesn’t need to try to create it for himself. We know that our people are very generous in thanking priests for their slightest blessing and especially for the sacraments. Many people, in speaking of the crisis of priestly identity, fail to realize that identity presupposes belonging. There is no identity – and consequently joy of life – without an active and unwavering sense of belonging to God’s faithful people (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 268). The priest who tries to find his priestly identity by soul-searching and introspection may well encounter nothing more than “exit” signs, signs that say: exit from yourself, exit to seek God in adoration, go out and give your people what was entrusted to you, for your people will make you feel and taste who you are, what your name is, what your identity is, and they will make you rejoice in that hundredfold which the Lord has promised to those who serve him. Unless you “exit” from yourself, the oil grows rancid and the anointing cannot be fruitful. Going out from ourselves presupposes self-denial; it means poverty.
Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to fidelity. Not primarily in the sense that we are all “immaculate” (would that by God’s grace we were!), for we are sinners, but in the sense of an ever renewed fidelity to the one Bride, to the Church. Here fruitfulness is key. The spiritual children which the Lord gives each priest, the children he has baptized, the families he has blessed and helped on their way, the sick he has comforted, the young people he catechizes and helps to grow, the poor he assists… all these are the “Bride” whom he rejoices to treat as his supreme and only love and to whom he is constantly faithful. It is the living Church, with a first name and a last name, which the priest shepherds in his parish or in the mission entrusted to him. That mission brings him joy whenever he is faithful to it, whenever he does all that he has to do and lets go of everything that he has to let go of, as long as he stands firm amid the flock which the Lord has entrusted to him: Feed my sheep (cf. Jn 21:16,17).
Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to obedience. An obedience to the Church in the hierarchy which gives us, as it were, not simply the external framework for our obedience: the parish to which I am sent, my ministerial assignments, my particular work … but also union with God the Father, the source of all fatherhood. It is likewise an obedience to the Church in service: in availability and readiness to serve everyone, always and as best I can, following the example of “Our Lady of Promptness” (cf. Lk 1:39, meta spoudes), who hastens to serve Elizabeth her kinswoman and is concerned for the kitchen of Cana when the wine runs out. The availability of her priests makes the Church a house with open doors, a refuge for sinners, a home for people living on the streets, a place of loving care for the sick, a camp for the young, a classroom for catechizing children about to make their First Communion… Wherever God’s people have desires or needs, there is the priest, who knows how to listen (ob-audire) and feels a loving mandate from Christ who sends him to relieve that need with mercy or to encourage those good desires with resourceful charity.
All who are called should know that genuine and complete joy does exist in this world: it is the joy of being taken from the people we love and then being sent back to them as dispensers of the gifts and counsels of Jesus, the one Good Shepherd who, with deep compassion for all the little ones and the outcasts of this earth, wearied and oppressed like sheep without a shepherd, wants to associate many others to his ministry, so as himself to remain with us and to work, in the person of his priests, for the good of his people.
On this priestly Thursday I ask the Lord Jesus to enable many young people to discover that burning zeal which joy kindles in our hearts as soon as we have the stroke of boldness needed to respond willingly to his call.
On this priestly Thursday I ask the Lord Jesus to preserve the joy sparkling in the eyes of the recently ordained who go forth to devour the world, to spend themselves fully in the midst of God's faithful people, rejoicing as they prepare their first homily, their first Mass, their first Baptism, their first confession… It is the joy of being able to share with wonder, and for the first time as God’s anointed, the treasure of the Gospel and to feel the faithful people anointing you again and in yet another way: by their requests, by bowing their heads for your blessing, by taking your hands, by bringing you their children, by pleading for their sick… Preserve, Lord, in your young priests the joy of going forth, of doing everything as if for the first time, the joy of spending their lives fully for you.
On this priestly Thursday I ask the Lord Jesus to confirm the priestly joy of those who have already ministered for some years. The joy which, without leaving their eyes, is also found on the shoulders of those who bear the burden of the ministry, those priests who, having experienced the labours of the apostolate, gather their strength and rearm themselves: “get a second wind”, as the athletes say. Lord, preserve the depth, wisdom and maturity of the joy felt by these older priests. May they be able to pray with Nehemiah: “the joy of the Lord is my strength” (cf. Neh 8:10).
Finally, on this priestly Thursday I ask the Lord Jesus to make better known the joy of elderly priests, whether healthy or infirm. It is the joy of the Cross, which springs from the knowledge that we possess an imperishable treasure in perishable earthen vessels. May these priests find happiness wherever they are; may they experience already, in the passage of the years, a taste of eternity (Guardini). May they know the joy of handing on the torch, the joy of seeing new generations of their spiritual children, and of hailing the promises from afar, smiling and at peace, in that hope which does not disappoint.
I was able to take another photograph of Pope Francis as he made his way back to the sacristy:

An odd feeling this Holy Week

As we enter today into the Sacred Triduum, my favorite time of the year, I feel a bit disconnected. This is the first year in at least two decades that I find myself without the work of any preparations for these days, whether it be practices with servers or preparing sacristies, cleaning churches or candlesticks, writing homilies or double-checking rubrics, or even the last minute fitting of the Easter Candle into its socket. None of these this year are mine and it feels very strange.

Each of these tasks, tedious as they sometimes maybe, I enjoy very much and find them life-giving. There is, ordinarily, something exhausting and frantic about them, but also something that gives structure and calm to these days, a sense of purpose.

This year I am a priest in Rome without any of these tasks, one who simply attends the various liturgical celebrations marking the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and I feel a bit like a tiny row boat simply drifting on the waves. In years past, if you will, the tasks associated with Holy Week have always served as something of a rudder for my prayer, guiding me and leading me into these mysteries. Now I must simply yield and allow myself to be carried.

12 April 2014

A Palm Sunday laugh - Or is it a noun or a verb?

Palm Sunday is one of the days in the liturgical year where we encounter a word that is both a noun and a verb, depending on how it is pronounced: prophesy. And every year the congregation mispronounces it, must to the pain of my ears and to the weakening of the proclamation of the Passion of the Lord.

After Jesus is mocked, spit upon, and slapped before the Sanhedrin, they ridiculed him further, saying, "Prophesy for us, Messiah: who is it that struck you" (Matthew 26:68)?

When the Passion of the Lord is proclaimed in parts, the congregation is given this line and rather than pronouncing the word properly as a verb they pronounce it is a noun. Every. Single. Time. At least wherever I have been. This year, though, the word might actually be pronounced correctly.

As I sat down with the Pray Together published the Sunday Missal Service, I could not help but laugh when I noticed something I do not recall seeing in the past:

I do not expect it will work - old habits are hard to break - but it is certainly worth a try.

Homily - At the Blessing of Palms - 13 April 2014

Homily at the Blessing of Palms
Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

May the Lord give you peace! Centuries ago, as Jesus prepared to enter into the city of Jerusalem in triumph, the people came out to meet him. Who can say precisely why they gathered around him? Some, no doubt, wanted simply to see him. Others surely wanted to hear what he would say. Still others perhaps came out only to see what the commotion was about.

Today we, too, have come to gather around “Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee,” but why have we come (Matthew 21:11)? What are the motives of our hearts? As with that first procession with palms, some have surely come out of mere curiosity; others because parents have insisted they come; and others yet simply to fulfill an obligation. But some have no doubt come because they truly want to meet Jesus the Christ.

My friends, in his Apostolic Exhortation EvangeliiGaudium, Pope Francis has given us an urgent invitation. He writes:

I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least to an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord” (3).

Carrying, then, the palms of his victory in our hands, let us clear the road of our hearts before him to encounter him anew.

Homily - Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion 13 April 2014

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

“Then what shall I do with Jesus called the Christ” (Matthew 27:22)? Without knowing it, Pontius Pilate asked the question that every person must answer. He chose to wash his hands of him, though his claim to innocence cannot be wholly justified (cf. Matthew 27:24).

Many of the scribes and the Pharisees saw him as a threat to their authority and chose to actively work against him (cf. Matthew 26:3-4). Judas, one of the chosen Twelve, chose to betray his Master and Teacher and later despaired (cf. Matthew 26:49; 27:5). The crowd chose to have him killed because he was not the kind of king they wanted (cf. Matthew 27:22). Peter denied ever knowing him, but soon after repented (cf. Matthew 26:70, 75).

Mary and John chose to remain with him, even while he was crucified (cf. John 19:25-27). Joseph of Arimathea, together with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, chose to love him and honored his corpse (cf. Matthew 27:58-59, 61).

Today each of these choices have been made about Jesus called the Christ. In the end, they come down to one of two choices: rejection or love. What will I do with him today? What you will you do with him today?