April 16, 2017
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas
I Corinthians 5:6-8
Matthew’s gospel account of the empty tomb and the encounter with the Resurrected Lord that we have just proclaimed includes a detail that grounds the truth and power of the Resurrection of the Lord in reality: “Jesus met [the women] on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage.” Why did they embrace his feet? The feet are that part of the body closest to the ground. As we recall, it was the feet of the Apostles that were washed on Holy Thursday. Feet ground a human being in reality. Feet represent the human condition, never totally clean, sensitive and always in need of cleansing. Today’s actions by the women in the Gospel reveal that in Jesus, our human condition is redeemed.
Their embrace of his feet follow upon their discovery of the empty tomb and the encounter with the angel who urges them not to be afraid. We no longer need to be afraid of death because of the Resurrection of Christ. Not only does death have no more power, but also nothing can keep or seal off the power of God’s life in a tomb or any other place in which we might attempt to conceal it. No human deception or plan, no physical barrier or obstacle, can hold back the power of the new life of the Resurrection offered us in Jesus Christ.
At the end of the account of Jesus’ passion and death in Matthew’s Gospel which we proclaimed on Palm Sunday, there was the interesting line from Pilate to the chief priests and Pharisees after they had come to Pilate asking him to secure the grave so that Jesus’ disciples might not steal his body. Pilate responded: “The guard is yours; go, secure it as best you can” (Matt 27:65). “…Secure it as best you can.” There is no securing anything from the love of God in the world. All attempts to do so are futile.
“The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men” (Matt 28:2-4). The wisdom of this world, the drives of fear and death, attempt to keep the tomb locked. They attempt to control the narrative. They attempt to keep the power of death and sin alive. Yet, nothing can hold back the love of God. The wisdom of this world is futile and marked by death.
Pope Francis preached last evening, "In our hearts, we know that things can be different but, almost without noticing it, we can grow accustomed to living with the tomb, living with frustration. Worse, we can even convince ourselves that this is the law of life, and blunt our consciences with forms of escape that only serve to dampen the hope that God has entrusted to us."
It is a light that conquers darkness, a love that quells hatred, a life that destroys death forever. This is what we celebrated on the great night—last night—of the Easter Vigil, and it is what we celebrate today—this Easter Day—this day which the Lord has made.
The new life, the new being, that Christ gives us in the Resurrection changes human beings forever. St. Paul powerfully captures this idea in the second reading from his first letter to the Corinthians when he exhorts them and us today: “Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough…. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” The new life, the new being means that the old ways will not work anymore. One cannot secure themselves against the power of God’s deathless love in Christ, like the guards, representing the old ways, tried to do when they thought they sealed Jesus’ body in the tomb. There has been a radical change not only in Jesus but, because of Him, also in us, a change that the forces of death and its practitioners are powerless to seal, conceal or undo. God in Jesus Christ has brought it about and we are recipients of it, those of us who have been baptized into Christ—who celebrate “…not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth”.
This Easter day which the Lord has made and every day are forever changed. Stones and guards and human scheming and sin and the personal tombs we often bury ourselves in cannot keep the awesome power of God in Jesus Christ from doing what He wills. God cannot be chained; God cannot be bound. God cannot be buried; for God is not dead. He is alive. As the angel tells the women at the tomb: “He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.” Christ is risen, alleluia! He is truly risen, alleluia!
April 14, 2017
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas
Psalm 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-16, 17, 25
Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
The high priest questions Jesus in the account of the Passion that we have just proclaimed. The high priest questions Jesus about his disciples and about his doctrine. Jesus’ responds to the high priest, “I have spoken publicly to the world. I have always taught in the synagogue or in the temple area where all the Jews gather, and in secret I have said nothing. Why ask me? Ask those who heard me what I said to them. They know what I said.”
Jesus’ response reveals that it is for us to answer the question of the high priest. We’ve heard Jesus speak to us. Well, do we know what He taught us and what he said to us? Do we really believe it? How do we answer the high priests of our contemporary world when they ask us what Jesus has taught us in the Gospel revealed in Sacred Scripture and in the Tradition of the authentic teaching of his Church? Do we witness clearly or do we run and hide? Do we stand at the foot of the Cross with the Blessed Mother and the Beloved Disciple, or do we deny Christ as we lurk in the shadows of conformity with the contemporary world steeped in relativism and apathy for all that is good and true?
Perhaps, Pilate too frequently provides the grounding for our response to the high priest’s question with his own cynicism, “What is Truth?” The manipulative character of Pilate is displayed when he moves from asking cynically as to what is truth to his self-serving declaration before the crowd that he finds no guilt in Jesus. How can one witness to guilt or innocence, right or wrong, virtue or vice, if one has no room for the truth? Pilate with firm purpose omits to state that he finds Christ to be innocent. Pilate lies by omission. He short-sells the fullness of the truth. It is the Truth that is crucified today and every day when we cowardly fail to witness to the high priest’s interrogation of the nature of Christ’s doctrine—the Truth in Love.
Without Christ we are lost. So, Jesus gives us Mary, his own Blessed Mother to be our mother as his last gift to us from the Cross. Mary shows us the bravery of discipleship and silently answers the high priest’s interrogation by her attentiveness at the Cross of her Son—her witness to the Truth. Her loving and hopeful surrender to the will of the Father in assisting Jesus’ obedience to the Father’s will in offering his life for our salvation strengthens us and shows us what we must do with gratitude for all that Jesus has done for us. Mary shows us that there is nothing secret with her Son’s mission or doctrine. We cannot hide anything that Christ has revealed or taught us in Scripture and Tradition. We cannot adequately live our Christian faith, given to us by Christ, without the assistance, example, and intercession of our Blessed Mother who stands by us in our own share in her Divine Son’s Cross. The answer to the high priest’s question that Jesus asks us to answer is that of love, the sacrifice of the Cross, the statement of truth, the fullness of the truth spoken with courage, and hope in the face of sin and death.
|The Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci|
April 13, 2017
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
Psalm 116:12-13, 15-18
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
One of the first bitter fruits of the sin of our first parents in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve did not trust God, was the loss of trust on the part of human beings towards God, between man and woman in particular and among human beings in general. This introduction of suspicion in place of trust produced domination and oppression; in place of love it produced violence and possession. The first reading from Exodus speaks of the Passover. The Israelites are spared the last punishment to be visited upon Egypt. They are first to prepare a meal to be eaten as part of a sacrifice; they are to eat with their shoes on their feet as a people in flight. They begin by fleeing and seeking refuge from oppression. They begin their flight as a mob of refugees but it is the Covenant made between God and Moses on their behalf that makes them a people on pilgrimage to the Promised Land. The Lord keeps His promise.
The Israelites by God’s mercy are led dry-shod through the Sea, as we will sing in the Exultet this Saturday night at the Easter Vigil. Israel’s oppressors are drowned; their freedom is given to them by the Lord. That gift of freedom is the fruit of God’s Covenant. It is the Covenant by which God makes them a people with an identity and a sense of belonging. They move from slavery and being possessed as property to freedom and belonging to God and to each other. The Lord keeps His promise.
The Lord Jesus celebrates the Passover meal with His chosen disciples, each called by name. He washes their dry feet, made dirty by the grime of their sinful human condition. The Lord Jesus washes their feet and commissions them to do the same for others. The Lord keeps His promise.
The Last Supper is the first Passover fulfilled. The Last Supper first prefigures the lasting Passover; the Lord’s giving of His life freely on the Cross. The Lord who has power to lay down His life and to pick it up again—does so with unconditional love for us in His Cross and Resurrection.
The Passover is about trust. The trust of Moses is imperfect and incomplete so he is prevented from entering the Promised Land. The trust of Jesus is perfect and complete and He leads us each washed clean into His Kingdom. Jesus is trusting and obedient to His Father’s Will because He completely loves the Father. Jesus trusts Peter, although Peter will deny him out of fear and weakness. Yet, Jesus knows this and intentionally trusts Peter. Jesus trusts the three apostles to stay awake with Him to pray—although Jesus knows that each of them will fall asleep. Yet, Jesus knows this and intentionally trusts the three apostles. Jesus trusts Judas as His apostle, although he knows that Judas will betray Him. Jesus is not suspicious and He is not naïve in His trust of Judas or the other apostles. Jesus is intentional and conscious about His trust because it is part of His mission of redemption. The capacity to trust is part of the human condition that is in need of being redeemed. Jesus is fully aware and He trusts. The Lord keeps His promise.
Jesus trusts the disciples with His mission, to wash each other’s feet with mercy and forgiveness—part of trust. Jesus trusts the Apostles with the ministry of the priesthood to celebrate the Eucharist and to shepherd His people. The Eucharist is about trust. The trust of the Eucharist is an intimacy of agape; it is an intimacy of charity. The Eucharist makes us become the Church and not simply a congregation of like-minded individuals. The Eucharist gives us the grace to trust.
In making us to become the Church the Eucharist is also so closely identified with the other sacraments. The Eucharist as a covenant of trust between Christ and His Church is united with the sacramental covenant of marriage, the trusting and complete self-donation of a man and woman to each other with intimacy that confers holiness on husband and wife. The sacrament of Holy Orders, especially the vocation of the priesthood, is laden with trust, the trust to say "yes," the trust to persevere in obedience and celibate chastity, the trust of the Seal of the Confessional. Jesus entrusts all of this to His Church and to his priests serving within the Church. His gift of Himself on the Cross is at the heart of the gift of His Body and Blood on Holy Thursday. The gifts of the bread and wine become His gift of His Body and Blood at Mass that in turn make us His Church. In doing so, Jesus knows our sinfulness and He trusts us as He frees us to trust Him. The Lord keeps His promise.
|Jesus, I trust in you!|
|Photo by Donna Ryckaert|
April 11, 2017
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas
Isaiah 61:1-3a, 6a, 8b-9
Psalm 89:21-22, 25, 27
Today, in this liturgy, we will bless and consecrate the holy oils that we shall use in the administration and celebration of the sacraments throughout the coming year: the Oil of the Catechumens, the Oil of the Sick, and the Sacred Chrism. As priests, and as your bishop, we each will renew publicly the promises that we made on the day of our ordination. How are these two actions united in this Liturgy, the blessing of oils and the renewal of our promises? The relationship between these actions cannot simply be functional or only ceremonial. The relationship between these two actions—the blessing of oils and the renewal of priestly promises—is centered on Jesus Christ—Priest, Head and Shepherd of the Church. It is Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh, who calls each one of us and saves us from sin. It is Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, who is the fulfillment of the prophesy of Isaiah that we have read today. It is the prophesy that Jesus read in the midst of the synagogue as recorded in Luke’s Gospel. It is the prophesy that Jesus reads again sacramentally in the proclamation of this Gospel at this Chrism Mass.
The Oil of the Catechumens addresses the restlessness of the human heart. It is the restlessness that can be settled by God alone. The Oil of the Catechumens is applied over the heart of the one who is to be baptized. It makes manifest the mystery that God seeks us out even before we desire to seek Him. God comes to us before we are baptized and washed clean of sin. The Oil of Catechumens reminds us as priests that we are stewards of the Lord’s mysteries and not their masters. It is God who initiates our salvation and gradually prepares us for the fullness of the truth that we can only understand by the light of faith. Faith answers this restlessness. The Oil of Catechumens prepares us for the gift of faith that saves us from the darkness of restlessness and the confusion that corrupts our reason because of the effects of original sin.
The Oil of the Sick is the visible sacramental of the healing and merciful mission entrusted to the Church by Jesus. It is used in the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick in which God’s faithful people, wounded and suffering because of sin and its effects of violence and illness, receives the Grace of forgiveness and healing offered by God from within. The anointing manifests the healing first of the relationship between the person and God by His forgiveness of sin. It manifests secondly the healing of the ruptured relationship among persons because of the injury caused by sin. Finally, it manifests the healing and redemption of physical and spiritual suffering brought about because of the Devil’s assault on the originally created right order of the world brought about by our own sin and selfishness. This oil signifies the hope and fortitude of Christ’s healing compassion and the victory of His Cross over despair, presumption and fear.
The Sacred Chrism is a mixture of olive oil and sweet-smelling vegetable oils. The anointing with Chrism that takes place at Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders is the fulfillment of the promise spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, “You shall be called priests of the Lord, men shall speak of you as ministers of our God.” Each Christian receives the Holy Spirit and becomes one with God’s priestly people at Baptism. Each Christian is strengthened for this mission at Confirmation. Each Christian becomes a member of God’s priestly people through anointing with Chrism. Each priest and bishop shares particularly in Christ’s sacrificial mission through being anointed by Chrism on the hands—where Christ was pierced for our salvation—hands that healed others. Each bishop is also anointed with Chrism on the head—where Christ was pierced by a crown of thorns in mockery and rejection of the Truth. Priests and bishops are anointed with Chrism to teach, to govern, and to sanctify, as being ordained in the image of Christ, Head and Shepherd of the Church. In so doing they are ordained to foster the authentic unity found only in the Truth of Jesus Christ and not in passing consensus of opinion. This is the unity for which Jesus prayed.
Chrism sacramentally manifests God’s healing of the confusion of egotism. It manifests the Triune God’s conquest of the chaos of autonomy. It makes real the liberation of those caught in the self-absorption of sin. The anointing with Chrism brings about our belonging in communion with Christ and our neighbor as His people, the Church. This anointing unites us to Christ in the ministerial priesthood as brothers in service to this priestly people as we are configured to Jesus as Head and Shepherd of His Church. Chrism manifests the sense of belonging that comes with communion as opposed to the alienation and isolation wrought upon us by sin and selfishness.
As priests, each of us ministers sacramentally because of the anointing at our ordinations. It is Christ who ministers through us; it is our humanity that either clarifies or conceals that mystery to the benefit or detriment of God’s People. God chose to save us through Jesus’ humanity. Christ has invited us, His priests, to walk with Him more closely than other Christians only for the sake of revealing this mystery to God’s Priestly people through our lives and the earthen vessel of our humanity. We are anointed and ordained for that mission and none other.
Our priestly ministry uses the oils that we will bless and consecrate—the Oil of the Catechumens, the Oil of the Sick, and the Sacred Chrism—not just functionally or in a minimalist celebration of a rite or liturgy—but in the mystery of our priestly lives and friendship with Jesus and with each other. We use the Oil of the Catechumens at Baptism, but this oil also affects our ministry when we recognize humbly that the people whom we baptize are first brought to us by God. God has been very much at work in their lives before we ever encounter them or they encounter us. As priests, we listen to our people in their restlessness and we pastorally indicate where God is present to them and where he is leading them—to the bath of Baptism—to the light of faith—where they find true rest in the presence of God. This is an especially important aspect of our ministry today where so many voices in our society attempt to trick us into living as if God does not exist; or, if He were to exist, that He really does not care about us.
We use the Oil of the Sick not just when we go to the hospital (and we should do so frequently) to administer the sacrament of the sick; or when we celebrate this sacrament communally in the context of Mass on select Sundays or Feasts. This oil also affects our priestly ministry when we articulate the hope and confidence that God provides to people who suffer from illnesses. It affects our priestly ministry when we preach the truth that death does not have the final word. It affects our ministry when we courageously do not succumb to the cynicism of our times that sees life as nothing more than a selfish and brutish existence with the weak and the vulnerable being cast aside like failures of nature’s lottery.
We use the Chrism not just simply at the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation or the ordination of priests and bishops. Chrism imbues our priestly ministry as we heal the alienation of people who have mistakenly decided not to belong to God or to anyone else. Sacred Chrism affects our ministry when we heal those who passively accept estrangement from God, from their neighbor, and from themselves. The Sacred Chrism with which we were anointed at all of these indelible sacraments in our lives unites us intimately to Jesus Christ and converts us to be men of communion—at one with God and at one with our brothers and sisters for the salvation of all—including ourselves. Chrism makes us one with Christ who came to serve and not to be served; who preached the truth, who healed the sick, who welcomed the stranger, who freely gave His life in the unconditional love of His Passion and crucifixion. In our share in Jesus’ ministry we foster the identity of the baptized as the People of God who otherwise might be seduced by the lie of individualism to not belong—to become a non-people.
The initial reading by Jesus of this prophesy of Isaiah (in Chapter 61) was fulfilled in the hearing of its proclamation by those gathered. Yet, we must remember that in its fulfillment Jesus was rejected and scorned by the people because of the shock of His obedience and love for the will of the Father over all other things. This people did not want to acknowledge its fulfillment of salvation in the here and the now of Jesus’ reading, preferring to treat it as some abstract ideal. The fulfillment was accomplished by His Cross, the sacrifice of love.
As priests, the anointing with Chrism at our ordination enables us intimately to be one with Christ—this also includes oneness with His rejection and the rejection of His Gospel—by a seemingly religious people enamored with and made complacent by the status quo. This day, on which we renew our promises and on which our faithful people pray for us, can offer us an opportunity for an examen of our priestly ministry and of the effectiveness of our preaching of the Gospel. Do we make clear Christ’s fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy by our lives, ministry and preaching? Do we preach more than the status quo of complacency and cynicism? Do we preach communion and belonging in the face of individualism and autonomy? Do we preach the dignity of matrimony in the face of selfish and utilitarian relationships? Do we preach mercy in the face of illness? Do we preach compassion in the face of abandonment? Do we preach the peace of God in the face of restlessness? Do we share intimately in Christ’s rejection because of our fidelity to His Gospel and Mission that is fulfilled in our hearing?
As Pope Benedict XVI preached several years ago at the celebration of the Chrism Mass, "The bath in which the Lord immerses us priests is Himself—the Truth in person. Priestly ordination means: being immersed in Jesus Christ, immersed in the Truth. I belong to Jesus in a new way and thus, I belong also to others, that His Kingdom may come. Dear Brothers, in this hour of renewal of promises, we want to pray to the Lord to make us men of truth, men of love, and men of God. Let us implore Him to draw us ever anew into Himself, so that we may become truly priests of the New Covenant."
|Photo by Donna Ryckaert|