Sunday, March 31, 2013

It is a beautiful day! Happy Easter!

A few months ago I changed the ringtone on the alarm that wakes me up in the morning. Instead of the traditional harsh and jarring I now wake up to "A Beautiful Day" by U2.  I hoped that beginning my day this way might make me a little less grumpy in the morning.  Sometimes it works. The upbeat song is about losing everything but still finding joy in what one has.  Its a much better way to wake up.

How easy it is for us to miss the beauty of the day. I am sure you have had the experience of remarking on the beauty of the day only to have someone respond. "Thank goodness after the lousy weather we have had."  Or even still having our moment of joy over the days beauty being spoiled by the person who tells us, "Its going to rain tomorrow."  Why can't we just enjoy the beauty of a day, why do we have to dwell on yesterday or be anxious about tomorrow?

This is how we are called to experience Easter, as a beautiful day which does not dwell on the sins and sorrows of the past or the anxiety of tomorrow.  It is a beautiful day - it is the Resurrection day of the Lord.  The psalmist sings, "This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad," and so we must.

In his 1st letter to the Corinthians St. Paul calls us to
Clear out the old yeast...celebrate the feast, 
not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, 
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
The beautiful day of the Resurrection of the Lord, is a moment to leave past hurts behind.  To acknowledge that by His death we now now mercy.  It is a beautiful day, Christ is risen and I have hope that death has no power over us.

In John's gospel we are given the account of the breathless apostles who found the tomb of Jesus empty of everything but the burial clothes and therefore, "saw and believed."  They believed not because they understood.  Nor did they believe because they no longer had a fear or anxiety about what was to come.  What they did know was that it was a beautiful day because this changes everything.  The resurrection of the Lord makes this day and everyday different.

U2 concludes their song with the words
It was a beautiful day

Don't let it get away
Beautiful day
Touch me
Take me to that other place
Reach me I know I'm not a hopeless case
This Easter day is a beautiful day because we are not hopeless.  The tomb was empty.  We live without lamenting the past or creating an anxiety about an unknown future.  Because he is truly risen and death has no power over us.

It is a beautiful day.  Happy Easter

Thursday, March 28, 2013

What did Jesus look like? A reflection for Holy Thursday.

What did Jesus look like? I am sure it is a question we have all asked at one point or another in our lives.  Recent research on the famous Shroud of Turin, suggests that he may have had a bigger build then we've often imagined.  But despite that research and the nearly two millenniums of artist depictions, do we really no what Jesus looked like?  Does it matter?

A few years ago, while on retreat, my director asked me what I thought Jesus looked like.  He asked me if I saw his face in my imagination.  I told him, I didn't have a clear picture.  He gave it to me as a task for the retreat, and then he told me to draw or paint what I imagined.  Not only could I not imagine a face, I can't draw stick figures.  What a retreat I feared it was going to be.

I think that an answer to this question is what we see before us on Holy Thursday night.  What does Jesus look like?  He looks like a Master, taking the role of a slave and washing the feet of His disciples.  Jesus looks like the humble servant.

Despite a great deal of self centered behaviors, service is still very attractive in our world.  People do like to be of service.  Colleges and employers, look for service on an applicant's resume.  In our heart of hearts we want to do good in the face of suffering, look at what happened here in our midst after Hurricane Sandy?  But service for the sake of service is empty and can just be about making ourselves feel good, if it does not come from our relationship with Jesus who served.

In a talk that he gave to world diplomats our new Pope Francis, acknowledged the good that world leaders do when they serve their people but he went on to say

In this work, the role of religion is fundamental. It is not possible to build bridges between people while forgetting God. But the converse is also true: it is not possible to establish true links with God, while ignoring other people.
We can't  bring people together through acts of service while forgetting God and we can not think we are in relationship with God without service.  Jesus looks like one who serves, so that we may see his face in our service to others and that they may see God in us.

Jesus also looks like one who forgives and does acts that reveal that mercy.  Peter resists Jesus' attempt to wash his feet.  When Jesus insists, Peter then tells him to not only wash his feet but his hands and feet as well.  To which Jesus responds,
Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed
Our Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, reflects on this exchange as way in which we can understand our need for reconciliation.   In baptism, we are bathed in the waters of new life, we are washed clean of original sin, but the reality is, despite the bath of our baptism, we get dirty from our sin.  We have no need to be baptized again, but we do need our feet washed, we need to let the Lord forgive our sins.  We are good people, we do good things, we try to live lives that are commendable, but we sin and we need to be forgiven.  We are deceived if we think we can rest on our perceived goodness.  When we allow Christ to wash away our sin, we see His love for us.

On Holy Thursday morning, Pope Francis, challenged priests to be

Shepherds living with “the odor of the sheep."
Isn't that a wonderful phrase?  Sheep stink, feet stink, sin stinks and the Pope is telling us priests to be Shepherds in the middle of that stink.  Why? Because people need to see the loving and merciful face of Christ.

Jesus looks like the Eucharist, whose institution we celebrate tonight.  Someone recently told me of his experience attending a Seder.  He was moved to hear the words that are now a part of our celebration of the Eucharist.  Jesus was a faithful Jew, that is what the celebration of the Last Supper was, a faithful celebration of Passover..  If we want to see His face, we too must be faithful to the Eucharist.  In the Eucharist that looks like bread and wine, we see Jesus, who tells us to do this in memory of Him.  Do what?  Wash feet.  Die rather than be what you are not.  Consume rather than be consumed. If we want to know what Jesus looks like we need to faithfully attend and participate in Mass, so we can do what he commands us to do through that Blessed Sacrament

On this Holy Thursday night, I washed the feet of 12 people from my parish.  Six of them were under the age of 23.  These 12 are Church people.  They look like Jesus, because they already participate in the life of the Church, through school, religious education, youth group, outreach, and other parish organizations.  I their Pastor washed their feet in the name of Jesus, not just so I could show them what Jesus looked like, but so they could look and act like him in a world that so desperately needs them.

Do you want to know what Jesus looks like?  Wash feet.  Have your feet washed, be forgiven.  Take and eat.  Lay down your life.

Toward the end of the retreat I came upon a reflection by Anthony de Mello a Jesuit priest and spiritual writer. He writes about always being afraid to look in Christ's eyes for fear he should find in them an accusation for an unrepentant sin or a demand for something.  And then he writes

One day I finally summed up courage and looked!  There was  not an accusation.  There was no demand.  The eyes just said " I love you."
After I read those words.  I drew the picture above.  He loved me enough to let me see His face.

In these three holy days we will see what Jesus looks like.  We will see love

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

We Have A Pope

Shortly after Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI announced his resignation I realized that it was very likely that I would be on retreat during the Conclave to elect the new Holy Father.  Knowing that it was not a silent retreat but one being given to a group of priests.  I was confident that I would be able to keep up with the events, given our common interest and the communal rather then silent style of retreat. What I did not realize was the profound blessing it would be to share this experience with my brother priests.  In addition, the revelation of our new Holy Father and the name he has taken, spoke directly to my own heart as priest and pastor.

As I shared in yesterday's post, I had a profound experience of unity with the Cardinals as they were locked into the conclave; at the very same moment we began Mass here.  There is something special about participating in Mass comprised solely of concelebrating priests.  Our fraternity is strengthen in those moments in a way that I can not describe.  Knowing that 115 brother priests, who were called to serve the Church as Cardinal-electors of the new Pope, were assembled together at the same moment made our celebration of  the Eucharist a unique and profound occasion for me. I felt a deep love for my priesthood, my brother priests, the Church we serve and Christ who unites us.  I hope I will continue to remember and reflect on that moment.

When the white smoke began to billow from the Sistine Chapel, bells began to ring here in the building.  Again I was excited to be here with brother priests as our new Shepherd was revealed to us.  When the moment came, we were collectively confused, not being able to understand what the senior Cardinal Deacon said, other then the name Francis.  Quickly we all went to our smart phones to figure out who the Pope was.  We soon knew his name and then he was before us.  There was a definitive empathy in the room as we saw a man who looked caught off guard by this new mission to which the Holy Spirit called him.  We all knew that feeling and that look, because in a small way, we too have faced new assignments and overwhelming challenges.  Not being fluent in Italian, none of us were quite sure the words he spoke, but we collectively observed his demeanor change as he spoke to the people.  We know that look and that feeling too, because there is nothing more empowering then the prayerful joyful support of God's people. How wonderful it was to see that it was in speaking to God's people that he was put at ease.

No words were necessary to make the most important statement of Pope Francis today, it was his action that spoke loudest and clearest.  I noticed he was not wearing the Papal stole over his shoulders when he came to the balcony, it was instead in the hands of the Master of Papal Liturgies.  He would eventually put on the stole to bless the people but only after he first bowed his head asking for our prayer for God's blessing on him.  The humility of a priest before his people is essential to his mission, the mission of Jesus Christ who washed the feet of His disciples before he laid down his life for them.  My heart and my faith were deeply moved by this action of our new Vicar of Christ.

Last night during a holy hour I prayed for a Pope that would make me a better priest.  As I reflect on who this new shepherd appears to be, I am filled with hope that my prayers have been answered.  Those who are close to me or have heard me reflect on faith know that the Spiritual Exercises of St.Ignatius  have been foundational to my spirituality, the life of an active contemplative.  I look forward to his Ignatian inspired leadership which teaches that the work we do is Ad maiorem Dei gloriam. All for the Glory of God.

Beyond his Jesuit spirituality the Holy Father has chosen the name, Francis.  It was announced that he has chosen to be the first pope called by this name, in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, who heeded God's call to rebuild the Church. I suspect it may also be reflective of the great Jesuit, Saint Francis Xavier, the missionary to Asia.  Like Francis Xavier, who gave his whole heart to the people for whom he was sent to preach the Gospel, I know that in this age of New Evangelization my priestly ministry must have the same fervor and zeal. More importantly in my almost 4 years as a Pastor I have been about the work of rebuilding the Church at Holy Family in Hicksville.  In one month's time we will, God willing, see our church building physically renovated.  This was important work which needed to be done to preserve the structure as a fitting place for worship. Our renovation has also been symbolic of what needed to be done spiritually in a community that had been broken by scandle and struggle.  I am so grateful for a Pope who I hope will help me to be the Pastor I have been called to be, rebuilding the Church, physically, communally and spiritually.

We have a Pope, The Lord has given us Francis, to rebuild His Church and in so doing share in the building of the Kingdom of God. May our prayers sustain him and bless him.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Extra Omnes, "Everyone Out" - But not really

L'Osservatore Romano photograph
If you did not have the opportunity to observe the final public moments of the Cardinal Electors beginning the conclave, you should watch the brief video of the Master of Papal Liturgical Ceremonies, Monsignor Guido Marini announcing the time for all those who are not participating in the conclave to exit the Sistine Chapel followed by his dramatic closing of the doors.  You can watch the video below.  

The latin phrase declaring the closing of the chapel, is "Extra Omnes." Which is basically translated, "Everyone Out."  Watching the video one gets a vivid image of the cardinals being locked in and the rest of us locked out.  But is that really the case, is the rest of the Church separated from these 115 electors?  Are they truly locked away to make such an important decision for the Church and the world?  I am going to suggest that the opposite is true.

I am currently on a retreat with other priests from my diocese and the diocese of Brooklyn as well as one priest from the Archdiocese of New York.  (Incidentally, he really wants his Cardinal to come home!) Today the other priests and I watched the cardinals walk in procession into the Sistine Chapel and just moments before Msgr. Marini closed the door, we went into a chapel here to celebrate Mass.  It struck me as we celebrated Mass together how closely linked we were to the events on the other side of the ocean.  These 115 Cardinals are my brother priests.  They were ordained to do the very same thing I was ordained to do.  They have been called to live their priesthood in service to Church as cardinals, but they are simply priests called by God to celebrate the sacraments and lead His people to eternal salvation.  In thinking this way I felt great empathy for them and the task that lay before them.  I offered Mass for them and with them and did not feel locked out.  Instead I felt united with them through the sacred liturgy and the fraternity of priesthood.

Beyond me and my brother priests, I have a profound sense of the whole Church's unity with the cardinal-electors.  One only need observe the throngs filling the piazza of St. Peter's to understand he the whole Church is literally gathering for this moment.  All of the thoughts, opinions, hopes and dreams for the new pope have been overwhelming.  How could these 115 men listen to it all, process it all and truly hear where God was calling them?  The only way that they can, is to do what they are doing now, closed in, listening to the guidance of the Holy Spirit without distraction, receiving the fruit our prayers, unadulterated by media or politics.  They are not closed off but close to the Church as they undergo this sacred task.

This week I heard an interview with the Archbishop Emeritus of Washington D.C., Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.  He described his experience of the 2005 conclave as a liturgy, a continuous experience of prayer, not a political convention or a secret boardroom experience.  How true then it is that this conclave is not an experience of "everyone out" but like all liturgy everyone is in, united by Christ through sacrament and prayer.  When the doors of our Churches close to begin Mass, we are not closed off from the world, but closed in, free from that which distracts us so we may truly be united with Christ and His Church.

When Blessed Pope John Paul II, spoke his inaugural words to the Church, he told us to not be afraid but to open wide the doors for Christ.   In the remaining days of this conclave, may our hearts, souls and prayers be in that sacred liturgy so that the doors will soon open and a new Shepherd may be sent out to all the world.

If clip does not work go here