Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Mass introductions - fourth Sunday of Lent - cycle A

Introduction to the penitential rite: 
Today, as we hear of Christ bringing healing into someone’s life, may we ourselves seek the light of the Lord in own lives and in our own. As we reflect upon the darkness that we are confronted with in our lives here on earth, let us call to mind our sins: 
Penitential Act - form C
Lord Jesus, you healed the man who had been born blind: 
Lord, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you call all sinners to repentance:
Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you call us out of darkness into your light: 
Lord, have mercy.

Introduction to the Nicene creed:  As Christ the Light continuously calls us to renew our life of faith, let us profess that faith in him: 

Prayers of the faithful:
Celebrant: As our Lord leads us and guides us in the right path, let us now offer these prayers to him today.
1. For our Church. may she always help us seek to light the world with Christ’s love, let us pray to the Lord.
2. For all those who live in the darkness of war, oppression, terrorism or persecution, may the Lord lead them to healing, safety, and wholeness, let us pray to the Lord. 
3. For enlightenment for those discerning their vocations and for those preparing for the Easter sacraments, that they might live by the light of Christ, let us pray to the Lord.
4. For our community of faith as we strive to lighten the burdens
of those in need around us, let us pray to the Lord.
5. For all the prayers that we hold in the silence of our hearts that are difficult to put into words.  May the Lord bring light to all in need and all 
who are searching, let us pray to the Lord. 
6. For the sick and shut-ins of our parish community
7. For the repose of the souls of the faithful departed.  

Celebrant:  O God of light and darkness, your goodness and kindness follow us all the days of our lives. Hear and graciously answer these our prayers according to your will, through Christ our Lord. AMEN.  

Sunday, March 19, 2017

29 March 2017 - Wednesday of the 4th week of Lent - Isaiah 49:8-15

      Isaiah proclaims God’s message to a people in exile, to a people who wanted to return to their holy city.  They were bitter, angry, and distraught.  Yet, Isaiah gives God’s people a message of hope.  He assures them that better times are ahead.  Though the nation of Israel feels forgotten and abandoned, God assures them that they are not.  We live in the midst of our reality.  And our reality in 2017 in America is a bit different than what was facing the people of Israel who had hopes of returning from exile.  Before the monasteries were founded, men and women who we know today as the Desert Fathers and Mothers went to the desert starting in the early third century to live as hermits and to withdraw from society.  The Desert Fathers and Mothers had a great deal of influence on the development of the Early Church and later were the inspiration for the founding of monastic communities.  St John of Egypt is a saint who we celebrate this week during Lent.  After starting his life as a carpenter, he apprenticed under a hermit, and after that hermit died, he set off for the desert wilderness in the middle of the fourth century where he lived in a cell that he carved out of a rocky cliff.  He walled himself into those cells until he died. He left a small window in the cell where he could receive visitors and where people could bring him water and food. Those cells were rediscovered in the early 1900s.  Many people looked to John of Egypt and the other Desert Fathers and Mothers for wisdom, including the emperor.  His life of prayer and self-denial inspired saints in the Early Church such as Jerome and Augustine.  Not all of us are called to be hermits or monks like John of Egypt.  But we are called to hear God’s voice in our lives, to spend time in reflection and discernment to hear God speaking to us in the silence.  

28 March 2017 - Tuesday of the 4th week of Lent - Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12

     Water is essential to life here on earth.  We need water to survive. And yet we see the devastation that water can bring, from the droughts that many places in the world suffer when there is not enough water, to the devastation of floods which we have seen in places like Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta in recent years.  Water is also an important symbol of our Christian faith, with the waters of baptism that bring us initiation into our faith and with the life giving waters that Jesus announces to the woman at the well that we hear in one of our Sunday liturgies during Lent. In Ezekiel’s message today, water becomes an important symbol for the Jewish people who had experienced a terrible exile from their beloved holy city of Jerusalem. Ezekiel, in his vision, describes a life-giving stream that nourishes trees that bear an abundance of fruit and that gives life to many creatures.  In many ways, that waterway is a sanctuary.  When I was living in both Africa and in South America, clean drinking water was something that was not common.  Many people suffered from illness or hardship for the lack of access to clean drinking water.  We turn on the tap and get all the clean water we need here in Mississippi; perhaps it is something we take for granted. When I think of the life giving water of our faith, I think of the many people who have passed down that faith for us.  For centuries, nuns and religious sisters have been instrumental in teaching that faith to the people.  I remember as a small child seeing the movie The Sound of Music.  In the devotional I read each day, Give Us This Day, Maria Von Trapp, the nun whose story is the basis of that movie, is featured as the blessed person of the day.  Even though she left religious life to marry, her story has inspired many.  After the death of her husband, Maria and three of her children became missionaries to Papua New Guinea.  She died on this day in the state of Vermont in 1987.  Thank you for the living water you give us, heavenly Father.  That you for the examples of faith you have given to us so that this life giving water can be passed on.  May we never thirst for that life giving water.  

20 March 2017 - Solemnity of St Joseph - Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary - Matthew 1:16; 18-21; 24A

We celebrated St Patrick’s Day on Friday, a feast day near and dear to the Irish American community.  Corned beef and cabbage is associated with that feast.  Since St Paddy’s Day was on a Friday in Lent this year, our Bishop Joseph Kopacz and many other bishops throughout the US gave a dispensation so we could eat meat on that day as a part of that celebration.  Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of Joseph, a beloved feast day of many Italian Americans, whose tradition they brought from their homeland.  Many Italian Americans have a feast of traditional Italian food on that day, which they share with the needy and the poor.  We hear the response of Joseph at the news of his son’s impending birth of Jesus in the Matthew’s Gospel today, a response that exemplifies faith, compassion, and courage. Mary and Joseph are such great examples of faith for us.  Often, when we are discouraged on our own journeys, we can turn to the examples of Mary and Joseph to enlighten us and to give us hope.  St Joseph, pray for us as we celebrate your feast day today.    

24 March 2017 - Blessed Oscar Romero - Mark 12:28 - 34

      We have been highlighting different holy men and women in our Sunday liturgies on our Lenten journey here at St James.  Many older parishioners here at our parish have told me that even though they grew up in a devout Catholic family and attended Catholic schools, they really did not learn a lot about the saints growing up.  One only needs to go to the Amazon website to see how many thousands of books there are on the saints to recognize the renewed interest there is in the saints in the modern world.  Devotion to the saints was mocked and rejected in the Protestant Reformation, but now the Protestants are some of the ones most interested in the saints today; I can say that having grown up Protestant myself. Blessed Oscar Romero is the saint we honor today.  Being seen as a traditional, conservative priest, the aristocracy and military leaders of his native country of El Salvador applauded his appointment as Archbishop of San Salvador in the midst of that country’s civil war in the 1970s. They thought he would support those in power in the country and unite against the poor and the working classes struggling against oppression.  Yet, just three short years later, Oscar Romero would be martyred by members of that country’s military while celebrating the mass in a parish in his archdiocese.  He would be seen a voice of the voiceless, an advocate for social justice and the values of the Gospel, for standing up for the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed in the world.  Pope Francis declared that Romero was indeed a martyr for the faith, and not just involved in the messy politics of his country as many of his critics charged.  He is beloved by many in the world today, including Pope Francis, for his courage in proclaiming the Gospel and his selflessness in giving up his life for that Gospel.  When we hear the scribes and Pharisees trying to trap with trick questions, as we do in today’s Gospel, let us remember how we can in many ways be obstacles to the Gospel message taking root in our world. Not all of us are called to be martyrs in the way that Blessed Oscar Romero was.  But all of us are charged with being messengers of the Gospel message in the reality of our world. 

23 March 2017 - Thursday of the 3rd week of Lent - Luke 11:14-23

      “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”  We want to be with Jesus, don’t we?  We want to live his values.  We want to make the right decisions.  But sometimes, we think we are doing the right thing when we are really way off track.  In this week of March in 1976, a military coup took over the country of Argentina.  Argentina was one of the 10 wealthiest counties in the world in the 1950s following the wake of WWII.  It was a very educated country with a lot of resources and strong ties to Europe.  However, after a lack of confidence in Argentina’s economy and political environment, the military took over in a coup, which was supported by most of the population, including the wealthy, the Middle Class, the aristocracy, and the Catholic Church.  They thought that the military government would bring stability and order to a country that was spiraling out of control.  However, then people started disappearing from society after being picked up by government officials, never to be heard from again.  The country did not want to face the reality of what was happening, so the people kept quiet in silent denial.  A group of mothers and grandmothers, many of whom were related to those who were disappeared, decided to speak out.  They began gathering on the Plaza de Mayo, the main public square in the capital city of Buenos Aires.  They were subject to harassment and resentment and even arrest, but they carried on.  Their witness brought publicity to what was going on.  The military dictatorship in Argentina collapsed in 1983.  The courage and dignity of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo shook up the conscience of that country.  It is estimated that more than 20,000 Argentine citizens disappeared, never to be heard from again.  Most were tortured and killed.  Would we have the courage to speak up in such circumstances?  Do we gather with Jesus or do we scatter?  Are we with Jesus or are we against him?  

22 March 2017 - Wednesday of the third week in Lent - Matthew 5:17-19

      Matthew’s Gospel was probably written to speak to a Jewish Christian group of believers that was living in the Holy Land.  Matthew shows Jesus as being loyal to the Jewish traditions; it shows Jesus as being the last in the great line of Jewish prophets.  He is not a heretic or blasphemer, as he is often accused of being by the Pharisees.  He is loyal to his Jewish faith to his very core. Jesus emphasizes today that he did not come to contradict the Jewish law, but rather he came to develop it and complete it.  Jesus does not degrade or demean the law of God.  Rather, he elevates it and brings it to a greater meaning. We can become so obsessed with external observances of Church laws and regulations.  We can become scrupulous or fearful with regards to the Lenten promises we undertake. Recently, in a Catholic forum on the internet, I saw where someone  asked if it is permissible to switch one’s penitential promises that were made at the beginning of Lent.  In other words, can we promise to do one thing, but then change in the middle of Lent when it is not having its desired spiritual effect?  This person mentioned that he realizes that there is value in persevering, but that he is just not making it with his Lenten promises. He mentioned that he had some very meaningful Lenten practices in previous years in prayers, reading, and sacrifices, but that this year it just feels like going through the motions.  Instead, he has started working in his yard, finding fulfillment in that, lifting up that work in honor of Jesus and Mary.  One person replied to this post that he did not think it was not sinful in changing his penitential acts, that creating a beautiful yard in honor of Jesus and Mary was a very wonderful Lenten action.  I would agree, finding the response and the actions of the man asking the question very much in the spirit of Lent and the spirit of Jesus.  Sometimes we are called to be creative and pragmatic on the road of faith.  Again, we can focus too much on our exterior actions.  But what is the interior change that is taking place?