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Holy Week Message Series “Dress Rehearsal” – Holy Thursday

Putting It Together: Know Your Role

Homily for Holy Thursday 2017

Readings for Holy Thursday

Last Sunday I began a message series called “Dress Rehearsal” that will continue through our Triduum liturgies. I’m calling the theme of the message series “Dress Rehearsal” to help us explore how the liturgies are a kind of symbolic “rehearsal” of the Christian’s life of Discipleship. What we do in this room is learn, through ritual, what the death of Jesus means for us and how we bring this truth onto the stage of the world.

Palm Sunday’s liturgy was a kind of initial “table reading” where those who gather for the Dress Rehearsal get familiar with the who, what and meaning of the drama that will unfold during the rest of Holy Week. We learned the drama we enact these days is  a rehearsal of the journey we disciples make following the crucified Jesus through our everyday life sacrifices eventually reaching the banquet of eternal life foreshadowed by the Eucharist. The overall story line played out in each of the liturgies of Holy Week we learned on Palm Sunday was “Paschal Mystery.” That short two word phrase contains the whole meaning of the drama we rehearse these days. The Pascal Mystery is what Jesus was all about, revealing by his life, death and resurrection that those who sacrifice themselves for the sake of others, those who die will discover a richer, fuller life. That life even has the potential of being unending because of the Paschal Mystery for those who give themselves over to Jesus. Death leads to life. Any death.

Tonight is the part of rehearsals when we learn what our roles are in the drama of discipleship that brings our life meaning. Who gets to be the lead? Who is a supporting actor? The liturgy of Holy Thursday is about what role the disciples of Jesus to play in the drama of everyday living of the Paschal Mystery.

You would think the Jesus get’s to the be lead actor, his name on the marque. In a way, Jesus is the star of the drama. But, he is a very different kind of star. He shuns the spotlight. Jesus doesn’t expect privilege. This lead actor in the drama of Pascal Mystery says all the characters in the drama will be servants. That’s the role of the disciple enacting the pascal mystery on the stage of everyday life. Disciples are servants. Disciples of Jesus die with the Lord in every act of self-sacrifice to make another person’s life better, more comfortable, more alive. Servant is the role assigned by the director Christ to everyone. No stars, no lead actors. Just a servant’s role for every person baptized into Christ.

To be sure, there are different kinds of servant roles. The Church points out that this is the day Christ gave us the role of priest as a way to manifest the servant Christ. Men are chosen to offer their life as priests, without the companionship of a spouse in imitation of Christ to serve their Christian family in daily offering themselves as a companion on the road to the new day of eternity.

There are other servant roles, too. Deacons to image the Christ who tends to the physical needs of those who need comfort. Bishops to lead like shepherds. There are Moms and Dads who sacrifice their own desires to ensure that their spouse and children have what they need to live life. Changing diapers, cooking, going to work are living the mystery death of self leads to life. There are the young Christians who help out at home cleaning their room or taking care of siblings, then who show compassion to friends. Servant roles come in all sorts of vocations! The oils that we received from the Bishop remind us that we are anointed to share in the mystery of Christ through servant who rejects the evil one’s siren call to think of self first. The Chrism oil made us servants who proclaim Christ, leading other to him. And when the servant suffers illness, Christ strengthens him or her to continue playing the role in union with His cross that served the world redemption.

Bishop Braxton announced this past Tuesday at a Mass in the Cathedral when the holy oils were blessed an opportunity for members of the laity to respond to the call to be servant to their parishes. Beginning this year there will be a training program for some of you to become a lay minister assisting your parish live out it’s mission to be a community that proclaims Christ. Called Into My Vineyard: Formation for Lay Ecclesial Ministry in our Parishes, this training of people from the parishes throughout the Diocese is meant to equip select parishioners to help keep our parishes vital and growing. Perhaps, tonight you might begin to hear Christ the director of our rehearsal saying to you, “You, my friend, would be good for the role of Lay Parish Minister servant.” If you hear that call and want more information ASAP, I’ve got a pamphlet for you with your name on it.

In a few moments I, the representative in your midst of Christ the servant priest will symbolically wash the feet of some of you.  Washing feet may seem very archaic, maybe even strange or too personal in our culture. We do it because Jesus said do this in my memory, like breaking bread and sharing wine. Washing feet is meant to be a rehearsal of my role as your servant caring for your spiritual (and sometimes emotional and physical needs). But the washing of feet for those who come to the sanctuary and those who observe the rite is a reminded  that every one of us has a servant role to play. Everyone of us has to let our pride die. All of us must stop thinking of ourselves as someone who deserves something and figuratively kill off our ego, letting the identity of Jesus take over. Only when we spend a life time rehearsing, practicing our role of servant will we be confidently unafraid to let go of life at our physical death and discover the fullness of life as we are invited to dine at the banquet of eternal life served us by Jesus Christ.

Let us continue our “Dress Rehearsal” in humble gratitude for being called a member of the cast of disciples. We’re putting it all together, glad to have the role of servant sharing in making the Paschal Mystery a reality in this world following the lead of Jesus on the way to the fullness of the Kingdom of God.

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3rd Sunday of Advent Homily: Open the Door!

Readings for the Third Sunday of Advent
Zephaniah 3:14-18A
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:10-18

churchdoorstmaryThe main interior doors of our church were “sealed” before Mass with a rope across them and a sign posted asking people to use the side aisle doors for this weekend. After the homily, the hymn “Theres a Wideness in God’s Mercy” was sung and a prayer blessing God for the symbol of church doors was prayed at the doors asking that parishioners who walk through them would always remember they were crossing over a threshold from the world of death into a place where the mercy of God is encountered in the sacraments. This was done to help people understand the significance of the opening of the “Holy Door” at St. Peter’s in Rome that inaugurated the beginning of the Holy Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis the previous Tuesday, and the “holy doors” that have been designated by Bishop Braxton throughout the Diocese of Belleville where a plenary indulgence may be gained without traveling to Rome.


Usually, people don’t pay too much attention to doors. In everyday life, people don’t usually notice the doors they walk in and out of. What’s the big deal about a door? A door is a necessary part of our buildings; a way to get in and out. Folks don’t pay a lot of attention to doors until they can’t get through the doorway! When the key to the house is locked inside and the owner is locked out, then doors are noticed! Or when people arrive at church to find that the door they usually go through to get to their pew is blocked by rope and a sign is posted “Please, use side aisle entrance.” Then a doorway gets noticed. So you’re probably asking what’s going on, Father? Why couldn’t we get into church like usual, today/tonight? 

Let’s just say I wanted you to notice the doors of our church. I wanted at least some of our congregation tonight/today to be shaken out of routine so that we all might reflect on the symbolism of a church door, in particular the “Holy Door” that Pope Francis opened at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome last Tuesday to begin the Holy Year of Mercy. Throughout the world, and here in our own diocese, doors in certain churches are being designated “Holy Doors” as part of the Holy Year of Mercy so that members of the church that can not travel in pilgrimage to Rome can still journey to a special place to walk through a “Holy Door.” Making pilgrimage to church with a Holy Door is a way to encounter God’s mercy that Pope Francis is asking all Catholics to focus on throughout the Holy Year. (By the way, our doors are not one of these designated sites for pilgrimage, but I wanted them to be symbolically “sealed” to make a visual point with my teaching today. A list of “holy door” sites was given you in the bulletin last week and will be posted on our parish web-site.)

So let’s ponder the symbolism of doorways for a moment! Doors are something we pass through many times a day. They don’t seem that important. Yet on a deeper level a doorway is a threshold to another reality. Thresholds like a door demarcate a division of space. Before we go through a door we are in one space or room and then on the other side of the door, we’re in another room. Or, on one side of a building’s exterior door you’re “inside” and on the other side you’re “outside” (yet, you could say going out a door of a building you enter the great outdoors!) A door threshold is a kind of boundary between two places, or even two kinds of existence.

Do you remember? Maybe not so much now-a-days, but it used to be a custom for a groom to carry his new bride across the threshold of the front door of their new home. People understood the gesture of carrying the woman through the doorway to mean this couple had left their single lives of being someone’s children in their parent’s home to enter a new reality where as bride and groom they set up a new home. Crossing the threshold was the beginning of their reality as husband and wife, in a new home where children would call them by new names, mom and dad.

The doors of this “House of the church” can carry the same weight of meaning. On one side of the door is an old way of life. Inside the door a new way of existing is celebrated. That’s why certain rituals of the church are done “at the door.”  When a child is brought to be baptized, the priest greets the infant at the door of the church. By baptism the baby will passover from the world of death and enter the halls of heaven in baptism. Greeting the child at the door we visually say you’re crossing over from the world of death “out there” to the life of Heaven we experience “in here” around the banquet table of life. This profound truth of our being united to the Body of Christ is repeated at funerals. The bodies of the dead are met at the door. Before the body passes through the door it is clothed in a white garment that reminds the living our deceased were clothed with life in Christ in baptism and now they will pass through the gates of heaven. In here the Mass anticipates the banquet of life of the new room the deceased has entered, heaven. Perhaps, not everyone can see a ritual done at the doors of our church, but those who are the primary participants are invited to experience the mystery being enacted, the baptized are able to pass from one kind of life “out there” to a new kind of life celebrated and made real just across the threshold of dying with Christ. On a deeper level a doorway is a threshold to another reality.

In the Gospel of John Jesus refers to himself as the Sheep-gate. The Sheep must go past him to get out of the sheep-pen to eat in the pasture. A gate is another kind of door. Jesus is the door through which we must pass to get to eternal life. Jesus is the way into a life of peace among humanity. Jesus is the door that opens to reveal God’s mercy-full love for men and women that redeems us from sin, the door that opens up to the possibility of the banquet hall where death is not invited.

This is why Pope Francis opening a door in Rome, to inaugurate a Year of Mercy is such a big deal. The Holy door at St. Peter’s in Rome and the doors of all churches throughout the world remind us that God wants us to come into God’s heart and know how much we are loved. By walking through the door of a church we say we accept Jesus as our redeemer, that he is the door into God’s new home is prepared for us where nothing we’ve done can destroy us or separate us from God. This is the purpose of the Holy Year and Holy Doors in the mind of our Holy Father, that we might discover anew that we loved by a merciful God.

But, here’s the deal. Listen to the words of John the Baptist in today’s Gospel. John was leading people through a symbolic ritual, too. He didn’t open a door. John’s symbolic gesture was to give people a bath in river water. The bath was like a door though. The baptism of John was a sign that those washed in the Jordan River were stepping out of one kind of life and entering a new relationship with God. The subjects of John’s baptism were saying I choose to live in a new reality, where God’s law comes first. People, wanting practical suggestions for how to live on this side of the threshold they had passed through in the Jordan asked John, “What shall we do now that we’re living in a new identity, new way of life dedicated to God, rejecting the past?”  And John said, “Put into practical action what you say you want, to live God’s rule! Be people of peace, not violence.” Those who walk through any church’s door are expected to repent, too,  to walk out the door changed by the Love of God experienced in the church’s sacraments. As Pope Francis is encouraging those who seek the release of temporal punishment for our sins (a plenary indulgence) by walking through a door called “Holy,” go and practice corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Help people cross over, in this world, the threshold from an existence of woe and suffering to a life where peace and comfort are possible. Then will God’s mercy be Good News to the world.

This is the cause of our joy this “rejoice Sunday” of the season of Advent! Jesus is the presence of God who has come into our midst with Good News and has opened the door of salvation! God doesn’t punish those who open their hearts to his mercy, he rejoices (c.f. first reading) we had the courage to admit our wrong and welcomes us with love, a love that will open the doors of the perfect life of heaven. He loves with a mercy that enables us to live even now on this side of the threshold of eternity in his presence in this building and as his presence in the world beyond our church doors.


 

A RITE OF RECALLING THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE DOORS OF A CHURCH prepared by the author

At the end of the homily Father Joe will ask the assembly to face the doors of the church and sing;

There’s A Wideness in God’s Mercy – Verse 1

(During the first verse, priest (& deacon) process to the main interior padded doors of the church.)
At the door (Adapted from Liturgical Gestures, Words, Objects by E. Bernstein and used in the Diocese of Belleville training of Lay presiders for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest)

Deacon / Reader:
I am the door.

Fr. Joe:
Front doors, back doors,
sliding doors, revolving doors,
barn doors, garage doors,
glass doors, wooden doors, screen doors,
yes, and more.

But person-door?

Deacon/Reader:
I am the door.  All who enter through me will be saved.

Fr. Joe:
Salvation door.
Kingdom door.
Porta coeli – Jesus door.

Deacon/Reader:
I am the door;
all who enter through me will be saved
and will go in and out and find pasture.
Enter by the narrow door.

Fr. Joe:
Enter by the Jesus door,
Through the heaven-earthly door.

Prayer Blessing God
Adapted from the Book of Blessings, Blessing of church doors and the prayer said by Pope Francis before opening the Holy Door of St. Peter. 

Let us pray.

Blessed are you, Lord, holy Father,
who sent your Son into the world
to reveal your omnipotence above all in mercy and forgiveness,
by the shedding of his blood,
grant that we might live a year of grace,
a fitting time to love you and our brothers and sisters
in the joy of the Gospel.

Continue to pour out on us your Holy Spirit,
that we might never tire of turning with trust
to the gaze of him who we have pierced,
your Son made man,
the shining face of your endless mercy,
the safe refuge for all of us sinners in need of pardon and peace,
of the truth that frees and saves.

He is the Door,
through which we come to you,
the inexhaustible source of consolation for all,
beauty that never sets,
the perfect joy of life without end.

Grant that your faithful may pass through the doors of our church,
and be welcomed into your presence,
so that they may experience, O Father, your abundant mercy
whenever we gather to for the Eucharist,
the Sacrament of Reconciliation
and all the sacraments we celebrate in this house of the church.

Through Christ our Lord.

As the doors are opened and deacon and priest return to sanctuary the assembly sings

There’s A Wideness in God’s Mercy – Verse 2 & 3


Homily for 2nd Sunday of Advent: Mercy comes!

Readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, Cycle C
Baruch 5:1-9
Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11
Luke 3:1-6

2nd Suday AdventIn our modern world, people might hang calendars on their walls to keep track of what day it is. Folks keep track of appoints and birthdays on their smart phones with applications called iCalendar or Outlook. In school, students study a subject called History and have to learn dates on which important events happened, like December 7, “a day that will live in infamy!” In this day and age we have a thing called the Gregorian calendar, commonly used throughout the world, to tell us what moment in history it is. Back in the day of the Gospel writer, a unified calendar the world agreed upon as we know now didn’t quite exist. Instead, you’d situate an event with telling people who was in charge, maybe a reference to your particular cultures calendar might be thrown it. If I were to talk about an event that was announced last March 13th in the way Luke dates the appearance of John the Baptist I might say.

In the seventh year of the presidency of Barack Obama; in the first year of Bruce Rauner as Governor of Illinois; on the 22nd day of Adar, 5775 in the Jewish calendar and in the tenth year of Bishop Braxton’s ministry as Bishop of Belleville: The Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, Francis, declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy!

Luke’s announcement dates the appearance of John the Baptist proclaiming God was establishing a new era. It was in a time, Luke says, when there was a need for people to experience something other than the oppression of civil and religious leaders making life miserable for them. It was in a time when human cultures, Roman and Jewish and various sub—groups of Jewish observance, made knowing God as a loving God difficult. Politics, religious differences, governments all made it hard to believe God was in control and that peace among people was even possible. A new day, a time of favor was needed.

Things are not much different, today, are they?

People motivated by misdirected religious fervor take the lives of innocent civilians in foreign lands and in our own country. Politicians stir up fear among citizens of people who are “not like us” all the while vilifying one another as something almost evil, follow them and doom will descend. Violence, power and manipulating the fears of a population become the so-called solution to our problems.

Into this mess has come a voice, Like John the Baptist, who proclaims “Change your hearts, change your way of life! God loves humanity and forgives men and women. God can heal the hurt we cause one another. He desires reconciliation, he shows us mercy!” Pope Francis, in giving us a Holy Year (Jubilee of Mercy – official Vatican website), is reminding members of the church that violence and fear and manipulation are not God’s way of fixing the problems of the world, the church or our own individual lives. MERCY, forgiving wrongs and seeking to heal the hurts of the past are the way of true peaceful living. MERCY is God’s gift to humanity that will enable every person to know they are loved and need not see others as a threat to their existence, but a brother or sister seeking what all people want, a chance to live, to live in peace, now and forever.

Jubilee Mercy LogoThis year will be a time to remember where we need not fear God but long for his coming into our  hearts. The fact that God’s love can cure what’s wrong with humanity is revealed in Jesus who is “Merciful like the Father.” The Holy Father’s hope is that if we encounter how much we are loved by God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and in the celebration of the Mass we will extend that love through Corporal and Spiritual Acts of Mercy towards others. We’ll cooperate with God’s mercy in building a more peaceful world. Recall that “corporal” has to do with taking care of the needs of the body, “Spiritual” with the needs of the soul and relationships between people. Corporal mercy is shown in feeding the poor or clothing the naked or caring for the sick. Spiritual mercy is shown when we help people turn away from sin or teach another something they were not aware of that will help them have a better life. These works of mercy are how God knocks down, how God will level the mountains of injustice that are the seemingly impossible boarders to cross between races. Valleys of fear of people who are different from us can be filled with spiritual and corporal works of mercy! As Pope Francis said in his homily at a Celebration of Reconciliation for Several Penitents with individual confession and absolution on the eve of the 4th Sunday of Lent last spring:

“Dear brothers and sisters, I have often thought of how the Church may render more clear her mission to be a witness to mercy; and we have to make this journey. It is a journey which begins with spiritual conversion. Therefore, I have decided to announce an Extraordinary Jubilee which has at its centre the mercy of God. It will be a Holy Year of Mercy. We want to live in the light of the word of the Lord: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (cf. Lk 6:36). And this especially applies to confessors! So much mercy!
I am confident that the whole Church, which is in such need of mercy for we are sinners, will be able to find in this Jubilee the joy of rediscovering and rendering fruitful God’s mercy, with which we are all called to give comfort to every man and every woman of our time. Do not forget that God forgives all, and God forgives always. Let us never tire of asking forgiveness. Let us henceforth entrust this Year to the Mother of Mercy, that she turn her gaze upon us and watch over our journey: our penitential journey, our year-long journey with an open heart, to receive the indulgence of God, to receive the mercy of God.”

On this 6th day of December of the year of our Lord 2015, let us rejoice that God is coming with MERCY in this moment of time, this era of History to help us, to show us how to change our lives so that we are ready to welcome him when he comes at the end of time, the conclusion of historical time.


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