Easter Ongoing

eastermorningAs a liturgical season, Lent is rather straightforward. It is kinda’ easy to write about. There is Ash Wednesday to dramatically mark its beginning, and we all know we are moving relentlessly towards Easter. We count the days even as we mark Lent’s beginning. The Ashes make a visible mark upon us, reminding us that we are dust and to dust we shall return – but that is not the end of the story. We are reminded to repent and believe in the Gospel – but that is not the end goal. We are encouraged to pray, fast, and give alms – but those practices are meant to make room in our lives for God that we too may rise to the newness of life at Eastertide.

Perhaps some will wonder why I did not write, “the newness of life at Easter.” Isn’t Easter that day when we celebrate Jesus’ being raised from dead? Isn’t Easter the finish line, the ultimate, the highest of the high holy days, the pinnacle of the Church’s liturgical celebrations? No, yes, yes, and yes. Easter is not the finish line. Allow me some poetic license here, but Easter is to Eastertide, what Ash Wednesday is to Lent. It is the day we begin to count.

Eastertide is the 50-day season beginning on Easter Sunday with a dramatic mark in the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ, relentlessly moving to Pentecost Sunday. Easter and Pentecost correspond to two Jewish holy days, the first day of Pesach and the holiday of Shavu’ot. In the Jewish tradition, the days between these holidays are known as Counting of the Omer. The idea of counting each day represents spiritual preparation and anticipation for the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai.

Easter is not the finish line, but the “Ash Wednesday” of Eastertide when we again begin to count, to spiritually prepare and anticipate the giving of the Spirit on Pentecost. If in Lent we have traditional practices to help prepare us to celebrate the Risen Christ, what are we practicing in Eastertide? I think the answer is profoundly simple: we practice what we witnessed on Easter – resurrection.

The Catholic writer, Megan McKenna, has a wonderful vignette about practicing resurrection in her book, Not Counting Women and Children: Neglected Stories from the Bible. She had shared in a Bible study, “that life happens when we are interrupted, and that some of the most powerful acts of resurrection happen to the least likely people; that we are the people of resurrection and hope, called to live passionately and compassionately with others, to defy death, to forgive, and to bring others back into the community, to do something that is life-giving, that fights death and needless suffering.” It is at this point that someone asks, somewhat harshly, “Have you ever brought someone back from the dead.”  I love her answer: “My response was, ‘Yes … Every time I bring hope into a situation, every time I bring joy that shatters despair, every time I forgive others and give them back dignity and the possibility of a future with me and others in the community, every time I listen to others and affirm them and their life, every time I speak the truth in public, every time I confront injustice — yes — I bring people back from the dead.”’

If in Lent we made room for God, here in Eastertide we work with Christ, practicing what he has already shown us: newness of life. And so we practice resurrection in our own lives by introducing joy, forgiveness, listening, justice, compassion… and so much more. And we count the days to Pentecost when the Spirit is given that we may take the honed skills of resurrection into a waiting world.

Easter is coming

easter_crossEaster is coming
But for many of us, this is not the ultimate reality
There is too much pain and suffering in the world today.
Death has the last word.
It would therefore be foolish to say that the life and death of a first century Jew named Jesus makes a difference.
Why? Might makes right, Power is superior to compassion, and Despair is stronger than hope.
So I refuse to believe a man can come back from the dead.
Sometimes the most important facts are the hardest to accept.
Resurrection is a false hope.
How can you say an empty tomb changes everything.
Don’t you see “God loves the world” is a lie.
“Money is God” and “The one dies with the most toys wins.”
I will tell you what I tell my children
There is no more to this world that what you can see, hold, and buy.
There is no mystery in everyday life and there is nothing sacred about ordinary things and people.
Many of us simply do not believe that God can give life to the dead, bring light from darkness, and create something out of nothing.

But what if the testimony of the woman at the tomb was true?
Then God can give life to the dead, bring light from darkness, and create something out of nothing.
Many of us simply do not believe that there is nothing sacred about ordinary things and people,
there is no mystery in everyday life and there is no more to this world that what you can see, hold, and buy.
I will tell you what I tell my children. “The one dies with the most toys wins.” and “Money is God” is a lie. God loves the world.
Don’t you see an empty tomb changes everything. How can you say Resurrection is a false hope? Sometimes the most important facts are the hardest to accept. A man can come back from the dead.
So I refuse to believe despair is stronger than hope, power is superior to compassion and might makes right. Why?
The life and death of a first century Jew named Jesus makes a difference.
It would therefore be foolish to say Death has the last word.
There is too much pain and suffering in the world today.
But for many of us, this is not the ultimate reality

Easter is coming

Text: David Loose

The Gospel of Luke – The Resurrection

resurrection-of-christ-iconIn the Book of Job, chapter 14, Job is pondering the deeper things of life. He is asking the age old question in the face of pending or possible death?  Will a person, once dead, live again? (יִ֫חְיֶ֥ה cf. Job 14:14). The question has now been answered. The tomb is empty. The defining conviction of Christian hope is that because Jesus was raised from the dead, the grave is not the final reality of human experience. “Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is risen. Continue reading

One short sleep past

tn_2013 Easter 2“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so; For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow Die not, poor Death…. One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And death shall be no more, Death, thou shalt die.” So wrote the 17th century poet John Donne about the freedom from the seemingly unsurpassable power of death and the promise of new life, eternal life at the core of our Easter celebrations. Continue reading

An incomplete ending

resurrection-of-christ-iconThis year in the cycle of liturgical years we are primarily using the Gospel of Mark for our Sunday readings. But then this particular Gospel is the shortest of the four canonical texts and so it requires “a little help” to fill in the whole of the year – especially during the long stretch of Ordinary Time between Pentecost and Advent. This year, as per normal for Year B in the cycle of readings, the 17th through the 20th Sundays or Ordinary Time is from the Gospel of John. Continue reading

Busy Lives

Busy-LivesMay the grace and peace of the Risen Lord be with you. He is risen, Alleluia! Alleluia! I trust these words find you well, blessed, and part of the Easter people celebrating our awesome and loving God. As an Easter people we will not just celebrate one day – we are about to begin a whole season of Easter from now until Pentecost Sunday on May 24th. In that same period, your life begins to accelerate with a Parish Picnic (April 12th), Confirmation (April 26th), First Holy Communion (May 2nd), Mother’s Day, final exams, graduations, summer vacation and camp planning, getting ready for college, and a whole list of things around the home and office.

Life can be breathless. Sometimes we need to take a breath and see how far we have come. To ponder our successes, our failings, all the hurdles we jumped, disasters we dodged, and things that got accomplished. As strange as it might seem, the Easter Season can be a time to think about Lent. At the beginning of the classic refrain of Lent is “What are you giving up?” One parishioner who loves chocolate considered giving it up entirely for Lent. I asked, “Will that bring you closer to God?” The response was, “Not really. I just end up being cranky and miserable for all of Lent.” I am pretty sure that was not the hoped for result. Within the tradition of prayer, alms giving, and fasting, there needs to be a path that makes room in your life for our God who is ever close to us.

So…, we have journeyed through Lent and arrived at Easter – it is an important marker on the bigger journey of life. Back in the day, before GPS, this is when a ship at sea arrived at the end of one leg of the voyage, and we would take navigation fixes to verify our position. If the Lenten leg of the journey was to make room in your life for God, what was the result? Are you closer to God? Did you make room for God? Did that “making room” result in some transformation or conversion large or small? Were you filled with God’s presence and shaped by God’s grace? We have journeyed through the mystery of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection in the celebration of Holy Week – and now He is risen.

I think a great Easter season question is this: “What began in Lent, will you continue to let it grow? And where is this all taking you?” Life with God in heaven is the answer in the long-term, but it strikes me that a nearer term goal might be centered in the way we look at all this. If Lent was the period in which we “made room for God,” I would suggest that the next segment of this transformation is “we should make God the room.”

What I mean by this is that God should be not merely the reference point but the whole context out of which we operate. God is not merely the source of our existence, he is the substance of our existence, the very life we have, and without God we would be lifeless, even if we are alive. Put another way, if Jesus is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all.

Between death and Resurrection – we wait

holy-saturdayGood Friday has passed and now it is morning on the second day. And we wait, even as we are busy about things. This morning last vestiges of the sparseness of Lent and Good Friday will give way to the many hands readying our church for the Light of Christ to enter the main doors. And yet we wait.  The Elect and Candidates of RCIA, along with their sponsors are waiting. They too wait. All filled with Hope.

“The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God… For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.” (Romans 8:16-19, 24-25) Continue reading

What is ours to do

tn_2013 Holy Thursday foot washingThe days of Holy Week, Triduum, and Easter are very special, but these days just past seemed especially so. With the help of many people, we were able to do two new things this year: (a) use San Damiano as our place of Eucharistic Reserve following the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, and (b) process through the streets of downtown Tampa as part of the celebration. Many, many people have called, emailed, or made a point to mention to me how special Holy Thursday was for them.  One email commented that in almost 70 years of Holy Thursdays, none had moved her spiritually as did that evening.

And Holy Thursday was just the start. The celebrations of Good Friday, the Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday were just as moving and Spirit-filled. All of the Easter Sunday services were standing-room only with three of the morning masses having people extending out the front door onto the steps.  We friars were wondering if we should add more Masses on Easter Sunday – but the questions of when and where left us scratching our heads.

There just seemed to be a wonderful spirit about these celebrations. I wonder if the Holy Spirit has ushered in a new sense of Hope along with the election of Pope Francis.  Our Holy Father continues to demonstrate what is ours to do by simple acts of humility and direct words about how the love of Christ is to form us and our actions in the world.

At the Chrism Mass, the pope spoke directly to priests about their ministry – but they are words that should speak to each one of us who would carry the name “Christian:”

A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed. This is a clear test. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news. Our people like to hear the Gospel preached with “unction,” they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives, when it runs down like the oil of Aaron to the edges of reality, when it brings light to moments of extreme darkness, to the “outskirts” where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith. People thank us because they feel that we have prayed over the realities of their everyday lives, their troubles, their joys, their burdens, and their hopes. And when they feel that the fragrance of the Anointed One, of Christ, has come to them through us, they feel encouraged to entrust to us everything they want to bring before the Lord: “Pray for me, Father, because I have this problem,” “Bless me,” “Pray for me,” – these words are the sign that the anointing has flowed down to the edges of the robe, for it has turned into prayer. The prayers of the people of God. When we have this relationship with God and with his people, and grace passes through us, then we are priests…. (Pope Francis, Chrism Mass homily 2013)

Then at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday – celebrated in a youth detention facility – he washed and anointed the feet of young men and women, Catholic and not.  Words and action – simple yet speaking volumes.

But not all are so enamored with Pope Francis.  One group has called for Pope Emeritus Benedict to come out of retirement, take up again the Petrine Ministry and declare Francis an “anti-pope” before he destroys the Church. They hear the words of the Gospel, and their witness of Pope Francis washing the feet of the imprisoned is quite different from mine. Here is one view:

“I am a young, recently ordained priest. Tonight, I planned on preaching about the Eucharist and the institution of the priesthood. How can I speak about such things – the self-offering of Christ, the 12 viri selecti – when our Holy Father is witnessing to something different? I feel like going up to the congregation and saying, “I don’t have any idea what the symbolism of the washing of the feet is. Why don’t we just all do what we want.”

Hmmm? When I look back on my life as a leader in the Navy and business, I wish I had “washed a few more feet.”  Perhaps not a literally as Jesus, but in a way that served others consistent with the mission, vision, and values of the company.

Christian ministry is about vision (the Kingdom of God), mission (go to the ends of the earth), and values (salvific service). It is not about doing what one wants. If one is a pastor, the people will do what you do. So? We should be asking if what we do is true, necessary, and helpful in the light of the Kingdom of God and salvation?  And do you let others know why you do what you do? In that moment our values are writ large; our struggles for holiness and a virtuous life are on display.

St. Bonaventure once wrote that humility is the guardian and gateway to all the other virtues. It seems to me that Jesus washing feet and the pope washing feet portrays the core value of what it means to serve as priest. Humility – while you are reviewing the parish finances, meeting with the bake sale people, after having heard hours of Holy Week confessions and you thought you might actually get lunch today, another person says, “Hey Father, can you hear one more confession?” – or one of a hundred other tasks that seminary never mentioned.  In that moment your sense of vision, mission, and action as priest will speak volumes about the model of priest one enacts.  The question is will it model Jesus? Will people see Jesus in our priestly ministry?  Will it encourage them to follow Christ? That is why we are ordained.

While I thought of all this in the light of the young, newly-ordained priest who is not enamored with Pope Francis, in truth, all the above is larger than ordination. This is why we are baptized. It is what is ours to do.

May God in his mercy, grace us to do what is ours.


Connecting the dots


Road to Emmaus by He Qi

The daily Mass readings for the Wednesday in the Octave of Easter includes the well-known account of two travelers on the road to Emmaus. Earlier this week I included a commentary on the passage. This morning in Mass I offered a few thoughts on the passage.

It seems to me that we all have plans. It is my experience that those plans never unfold quite as we had planned.  Some are side-tracked, some laid aside for other plans, others fall away forgotten or unused, and some are part of disappointment, discouragement, or a life slipping off the rails. Continue reading