Saturday, March 28, 2015

Palm Sunday

                                    Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion

Agony in the Garden
Stained Glass Window
Assumption Church
Fairfield CT*

Today's  reading of the Passion of our Lord is the highlight of the Church year. This year we hear St. Mark's account of the Passion. Next year we will hear St. Luke's account and the year after we will have St. Matthew's account. Of course, on Good Friday we always have the Passion according to St. John. Although each of the Evangelists approaches the life of Christ in a different way, they draw very close to each other when it comes to the Passion.

The narrative of the Passion seems like a great drama with a cast of characters we can all identify with. If we could be in the drama, what role would we play? Would we be like the disciples who fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane? Or would we be part of the crowd who mocked and taunted Jesus only a short time after cheering Him and waiving palm branches.

Maybe we would like a more important role. We could be the woman who anointed Our Lord with precious oil. We could be Pontius Pilate who condemned Jesus, or Peter who denied Him, or even Judas who betrayed Him. Still, it is clear from today's readings that we are supposed to play the part of Jesus, Himself. The Church has always recognized that in His Passion and Death our Lord gave us an example, which we must follow. Many times during His time on Earth Jesus said, "Follow Me." Many times He urged us to take up our cross and follow Him.

Today's readings show that it is through the practice of humility and self sacrifice that we come to follow the Lord.  At the Last Supper Jesus told the disciples that He would give up His body and blood for us all, and that they should share in this sacrifice. When He asks us at every Mass to eat His Body and drink His Blood, he is also asking us to share in His sacrifice on Calvary.

Today's first reading is about humility and self-sacrifice.

            I gave my back to those who beat me,
            my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
            my face I did not shield
            from buffets and spitting.

St. Paul in the letter to the Philippians says that Jesus "humbled Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

This is the point of all of our little sacrifices during Lent. Everything that we gave up or did was to remind ourselves that we do not live just for ourselves.  Humility means giving up our own pride and ambition for the sake of others. Didn't our Lord say that we must deny ourselves in order to save ourselves? That we must lose our life in order to find it?

Our Lord was a great teacher but the Passion shows us that He taught by example.


Reading 1. Isaiah 50: 4-7
Reading II. Philippians 2: 6-11
Gospel. Mark 14: 1—15:47 (the Passion).

* Photographic image by Melissa DeStefano. Click on image to enlarge.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Unless a Grain of Wheat Falls

                                    5th Sunday of Lent

Today’s first reading from the Prophet Jeremiah refers to a new covenant between the Lord and his people. We are all familiar with the Old Covenant. It was written on stone tablets and we still refer to it as the Ten Commandments. You know, you shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not bear false witness, or you shall not covet your neighbor’s goods to name just a few.   

Writing 600 years before the time of Christ, the Prophet pointed out that the people had repeatedly broken or ignored the agreement they had made. However, they will get another chance but this time the covenant will not be written on stone but on our very hearts. Heart is, of course, a symbol or metaphor for our souls, or our whole being, to put it in modern terms.

The way of the Lord will be in us as if it was part of our genetic makeup.

I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts…No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the Lord. All, from the least to the greatest, shall know me…
It will form our conscience and no one can say that they can’t distinguish right from wrong. We can, however, refuse to listen to our hearts or darken them to the point where we think we can get away with anything. Today’s responsorial psalm asks,

Create a clean heart in me, O God.

So, what is the nature of this new covenant? It is clear from the teachings of Jesus that it built upon the old covenant but went much further. Its commands no longer apply to members of your own family or tribe or nation. Moreover, the understanding of the commandments goes much deeper. Not only are we to love our neighbor as ourself but also to love our enemies. A clean heart will tell us that anger is not far from killing, or that lustful thoughts are not that different from adultery.

We know that when the Jews of the time of Christ heard Jesus expound on the nature of the new covenant, and on their blindness to its real teaching, they reacted bitterly. We shouldn’t look back and blame them, however, because most of us today find it as difficult to see or hear the message. We don’t like to talk about the seven deadly sins anymore but that doesn’t mean they have gone away in our enlightened age. Is our world free of pride, lust, gluttony, avarice, anger, envy, and sloth?  

In today’s gospel St. John gives us the reason why Jesus had to die on the Cross. It’s as if his enlightened teaching and parables were not enough to convince. Even the healings and incredible miracles were not enough to convince people then and now. He came to sacrifice himself to save us from ourselves by showing us that the sacrificing of our own selves was the way to true happiness.

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.

I’m not saying that we have to die on a cross. Jesus died for us although many even today still are suffering cruel persecution and martyrdom. But a clean heart will tell us that we have to give up selfishness and self-centeredness even if it only means being more considerate of the person right next to us. It is not just the vocation of priests and nuns to give up their own desires and ambitions for the sake of others; it is the vocation of each one of us.

Paradoxically, Jesus tells us that only when we do so, will we truly find our own self. In today’s second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews we see that the suffering of Jesus on the Cross culminated in his Resurrection. Our own little sacrifices during Lent should remind us of all the sacrifices that we have been called to make in our lives. As we approach Holy Week, we should reflect on the real possibility that we have been carrying the Cross along with Jesus on our own journey through life.


Reading 1. Jeremiah31: 31-34
Reading II. Hebrews 5: 7-9
Gospel. John 12: 20-33 (a grain of wheat)