A Painful Goodbye Turned to Joy?
Jesus is “lifted” from the presence of the disciples to be at the right hand of the Father. According to Ron Rolheiser, “the Ascension names and highlights a paradox that lies deep at the center of life, namely, that we all reach a point in life where we can only give our presence more deeply by going away, so that others can receive the full blessing of our spirits.”
Think of what that means for us today. Many of our children are graduating from high school and preparing to “leave home.” While we celebrate their achievements, we are already thinking of what life will be like without them. We tend to cling to them. Others of us are burying loved ones and wondering what life will be like without them. How can we live as adult orphans?
When Jesus was preparing to leave this earth he kept repeating the words: “It is better for you that I go away! You will be sad now, but your sadness will turn to joy. If I don’t go away you will be unable to receive my spirit. Don’t cling to me, I must ascend.”
Why is it better sometimes that we go away? What is that spirit that makes itself known only in the absence of the one we love? Read more here: http://www.liturgy.slu.edu/AscensionA2017/reflections_rolheiser.html
Send us your Spirit, Lord! Turn our sorrow to joy, even in leave-taking!
An Infinite Creativity
“There was great joy in that city.” In the Acts of the Apostles, we read over and over again that the disciples were able to perform great works everywhere they went. Most of those great works were healings. Some were the driving out of demons. In each of them, the power of the Word of God brings conversion and joy. This weekend we continue to celebrate the joy of Easter. Yes, this is the Sixth Sunday of Easter and that means Easter joy.
To sustain that joy, Jesus promised the disciples that he would ask the Father to send them (and us) another Advocate to be with us always. That Advocate is the Holy Spirit. St. John Paul II wrote, “The Holy Spirit can be said to possess an infinite creativity, proper to the divine mind, which knows how to loosen the knots of human affairs, even the most complex and inscrutable.”
To believe in the advocacy of the Holy Spirit is to believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in everyone. The Holy Spirit can unravel the things that have us tied up in knots, that keep us awake at night. The Holy Spirit can mend our broken relationships—personal, communal and even those in the world.
We ask this weekend for the infinite creativity of the Holy Spirit to be alive and well in each of us, in our families, in our parish community and in our world.
As the number of Jesus’ disciples continued to grow, a problem arose. We call it “growing pains.” New needs were identified and someone needed to minister to those needs. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that the solution to the “problem” of large numbers of unattended or neglected people was to identify new ministers who would serve alongside the disciples. Their qualifications were simple. They were to be reputable, Spirit-filled and wise, devoted to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.
In the days following the Resurrection, the apostles prayed over, laid hands on the new ministers and anointed them. Then they were sent by the whole community to minister to those in need.
At St. Francis, there is hardly a Sunday when we don’t experience just such an ACTS event! We pray with outstretched hands for parents who just baptized their children, for First Communicants, for members of ACTS retreat teams, for St. Vincent de Paul volunteers, for our MLF teams, for our engaged couples being formed for sacramental marriage, for those who bring the Eucharist to our homebound parishioners, for our graduating seniors….the list goes on and on. What a great tradition of the early church that continues to call us to service!
We too pray that all these vital members of our community be Spirit-filled and wise, devoted to prayer and the ministry of the Word. You can help us with our own “growing pains” by answering the call to service, the call to continuing the acts of Jesus.
One way to answer the call is to serve at Mass. On June 3 and June 10, we will be providing training for liturgical ministers, specifically Eucharistic ministers, readers, altar servers and hospitality ministers. We highly encourage you to participate in these rewarding ministries.
Like Sheep We Listen
Oh, how we need that gate today! Thieves and robbers abound. Multitudinous voices vie for our attention. Like the sheep, we sometimes need to be carried on Jesus’ shoulders in order to hear HIS voice. Only then will we be safe.
Pope Francis often speaks of sheep and shepherds. He, too, reminds us that we are called on to look to Jesus as our shepherd, to see ourselves as sheep. We are not, however, being asked to succumb to an unthinkable herd mentality. Instead, we are listening discerningly to the call of Jesus. This is what God wants for us—to know the voice of Jesus so that we will not mistake it for other voices.
What will help me to tell the voice of Jesus from the other voices that call to me?
What can happen to me when I fall into the “herd” mentality? What snatches me out of that mentality?
Who are the shepherds in my life today?
Let’s Take A Walk
Talking, walking, sharing, and knowing—these are descriptors of the disciples’ actions as they walk to Emmaus. They are confused and feeling like all their hopes have been dashed. “We had hoped” is a recurring expression. Preoccupied and worried about what will happen next, they do not recognize Jesus walking with them. Their eyes are opened only when he stays with them and cooks for them. They recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.
When have you had just such an experience? Discovery often occurs on walks—some that involve human companionship and others occur when we spend time walking in nature settings. Discovery, recognition, and knowing often come from the desire to spend time with another and the commitment to be attentive to the other. A walk with another so often brings great clarity to confusion. The words of others make sense of what is troubling and nonsensical.
“Let’s go take a walk” is an invitation to share, to think about, to listen, to recognize new truths, and to realize new blessings. Walks exercise our bodies, our minds and our hearts. In the case of the disciples, the conversation and the revelations not only warmed their hearts; their hearts were burning. They were “on fire” to go out to others and to share. They wanted to talk!
When’s the last time your heart was burning? What was happening? Who was there? And do you want more of those experiences? How would that happen?
Let’s spend time together this Sunday to know the Lord in the table of the Word and in the table of the Eucharist that we share. Will we recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread in our very midst?
And then this coming week, let’s take time to share our own sacred stories of transformation with others as we walk or as we break bread in a shared meal. Let’s be filled with gratitude to all those have handed on the faith to us in families, in our faith communities, and in teaching and modeling.
Acts of Disciples Today
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer.” These four core activities of the early Church describe discipleship today. They are the vision of Church today—a community of love and selfless care for one another. And this isn’t simply a nice story! These are the faith communities that we live, day in and day out!
At St. Francis, these core activities are alive and well, thanks largely to the RCIA process and ACTS retreats for persons of all ages. For many in our parish community, the experience of RCIA and/or an ACTS retreat is followed by participation in an SCC, a small church community, that intentionally commits to living lives of prayer and worship, learning and reflection, community and service. The communities might be made up of couples, singles, families with children, men only, or women only. At SFA, some have been gathering together for more than 20 years.
In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus enters the disciples’ locked room and breathes on them, creating them anew with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The power that the Spirit gives them is to forgive sins. Imagine Easter joy being amplified by this forgiveness.
Is there a locked room of your heart that needs the Holy Spirit to enter? If there is someone you need to forgive, pray each day for God’s blessing on that person. If your heart is not yet open to forgiveness, pray for the desire to forgive. Are you in need of forgives? Receive the sacrament of Reconciliation.
May Easter joy be yours in abundance!
What draws you to participation in the rituals of Holy Week? I have asked many parishioners and friends that question this week. Some like the visual symbols—the palms, the music, the praying in silence (keeping watch with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane), the veneration of the cross, the washing of feet, the Easter fire and candles, the Stations of the Cross, the baptisms of adults. Others began to reflect on the meaning of many of these visual symbols. You reflected back to me some of the ways that you are drawn to participate in the meaning-filled liturgies of Holy Week.
When we hear “Do this in remembrance of me” on Holy Thursday, what is the “this” that we are asked to do? How do we “wash feet” in our ordinary days?
Just before Jesus’ last words, “it is finished,” he said, “I thirst.” When Jesus says “I thirst” as he is hanging on the cross, was his thirst for a drink or was it for all of us and for our love? For what do you thirst this Good Friday?
And as we anticipate the joy of Christ Risen, what new life has come to us through our observance of Lent? How has darkness become light? What “bindings” have been loosed? What have we left behind in the empty tomb?
As we truly live the Paschal Mystery these next few days, I know without a doubt that what stays with us, what is deeply seared in our souls is the experience of journeying together. Our private settings have become public. It is the public witness that Jesus gave us of LOVE lived, laying down our lives, even unto death! Christ is Risen, alleluia!
Processions and the Process of Conversion
The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem—a glorious procession with palms and vivid red colors—begins our celebration of Holy Week. We complete Lent and enter this Holy Week raising our voices with hosannas of praise. The crowds ask “Who is this?” Lent has given us all an opportunity to reflect on who Jesus is to each of us this year? How have we discovered or rediscovered Jesus’ influence In our lives this Lent?
We hear the story of the passion of Jesus every year. We hear of the disciples’ betrayal. We would like to think that we would never do that—that we would stay awake with Jesus, that we would never deny knowing Jesus, that we would not abandon Jesus. This week gives us the opportunity to reflect on the times when we fail to live up to the promises we made at Baptism. Did we deny our faith for convenience or fail to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, bury the dead, or visit the sick? Did our silence in the face of injustice, or our failure to act on behalf of others cause more hurt and suffering for the most vulnerable among us?
“My God, why have you abandoned me?” Can you hear this cry from anyone in our world today? As you hear and watch the news of the world this week, will we hear the cry of the abandoned, of the suffering?
As we carry our blessed palms this Sunday, we can take them and let them be a reminder to us all year long of Jesus’ sacrifice and his words to us from the passion. Our palm branches can remind us to ask for forgiveness and commit to making a greater effort to remain alert to the needs of others around us. Our Rice Bowls are ready to be turned in and our palms take their place, reminding us that we are always in procession—in the process of being converted more deeply in our faith and in our actions.
May this Holy Week be filled with acts of love and forgiveness, with blessings of new insights in our daily conversion experiences and with intentional processions with the community as we celebrate the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus!
Lazarus, Come Out!
Here we are, deep into our Lenten journey on this 5th Sunday of Lent. We see Holy Week and Easter on the horizon. We sense the nearness of the joy of our Easter celebration. Our popular culture and marketing see nothing but Easter bunnies, chocolates, flowers, Easter eggs, and new Easter outfits. Everything is happy and beautiful. We are urged to jump ahead in the story and disregard what our journey to Easter is really all about. But we know well what lies ahead in the story of our Lenten pilgrimage through Holy Week.
These are days that remind us of hard truths and hard realities. These are days that press us to look at what we sometimes prefer to avoid or deny. What about suffering? What about death? What about heartache and heartbreak? What about disappointment, sadness and broken dreams. What about weakness, my own and that of others? What about pain and loss? What about when nothing seems to make sense, when we try to wrap our heads and hearts around tragedies which are beyond our comprehension? What about the trials and tribulations of everyday life? These days of Lent and the journey toward Easter are days that help us frame, focus, and understand the pathway of our lives. In our Christian faith and our Catholic spirituality we call this the “paschal mystery.” This mystery is about the mystery of Jesus’ own life, death, and resurrection and about the same pattern of life, death, and resurrection we can trace so clearly in our own lives.
Ultimately, we have a choice in answering these questions. We can decide that there is no answer and that everything is capricious and random—that there is no real meaning to it all. Or we can look with eyes of faith to see and believe that there is a meaning and purpose for our lives with the joys and sorrows that accompany us. We can see, in the example of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, an illumination that shows the meaning and purpose of our own lives. This is what we believe and celebrate in these days of Lent. It has been said: “It was love that held Him on the cross, not the nails.” We see in the paschal mystery what love is and we see what love does. That’s the important part—what love does.
We listen to the first reading this Sunday and hear the words of the prophet Ezekiel who speaks on behalf of God saying: “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back. . . I will put my spirit in you that you may live.” In the Gospel we hear Jesus calling to his friend Lazarus who had been dead in the grave for four days: “Lazarus, come out!” But was Jesus calling Lazarus to come out to the same life he had before he entered the tomb or was he being called to a new and different life? Surely it was to a new life—to a resurrected life.
So, to what are we being called when we hear Jesus shouting for us to “come out!”? In these readings we hear the voice of God reminding us that we are called to come out to new life. We are called to a life that is lived in the paschal mystery, namely, to live in the pattern of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We are being called to come out, to rise, to be set free, and to walk into new life. We are being called to come out and rise to a new life of love that keeps us here in our lives because of love. We are called to rise to forgiveness, compassion, mercy, and care for those in suffering. We are called to be with those who are alone. We are called to rise to love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This is what new life, outside the tomb, looks like. And even when it is hard, painful, or confusing, we continue with faith that God will bring resurrection and will walk with us in good times and in bad.
There is a quote from President Teddy Roosevelt which expresses the way of this mystery. While he has never been acclaimed for his theological presentations on the journey of the paschal mystery, it is, nonetheless, this great mystery which lies at the heart of his writing when he says: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” In short, the paschal mystery calls us to dare greatly.
What we believe as followers of Jesus is that we are called out of the tomb to something great, rich, fulfilling, graceful, and life-giving. In the words of Pope Francis: “Each day in our world, beauty is born anew. It rises transformed through the storms of history.”
Seeing With Our Hearts
Can you imagine blindness? Most of us think of blindness as the absence of sight, but blindness can take on so many other meanings. If we think of spiritual blindness, we might look at many things in life and begin to see that what is happening, or what has happened, is wrong. We often say, “Oh, now I see” when we come to understand something in a different light.
At other times, we say, “I never saw that coming” or we ask, “Why didn’t I see that when it was happening?” The readings this week are all about what is seen and what is not seen, light and dark, blindness and sight.
If we start today by reflecting on our own blindness, we have to ask ourselves, where do we not see evil? Are we blind to hatred that destroys the good name of another? Are we blind to the prejudices that populate our lives? Do we recognize domestic violence when it is happening around us? Do we see how we blame the victim or make judgments about the behavior of others? Do we hide behind language like “hate the sin but love the sinner”?
Do we have the courage to ask others to help us to see? At Mass this weekend, we have the opportunity to ask God to heal our blindness, to move us out of darkness to light. And on Monday night at 7 pm, come to listen to Miriam and Monica as they explore light and fire as symbols in our Lenten journey.
May the blindness of hatred, the darkness of war, and the gloom of greed be transformed by the Light of Christ. We want to see with our hearts. We want to see as Jesus sees. We want to see as God sees!
“Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the hearts.” May I choose to see the goodness in others, the world, and myself.