Good Friday: “It is finished”

1-the-crucifixion-eric-armusikJesus has received the last thing the earth has to offer him, a dirty sponge soaked with cheap wine, to quench in some way, the painful thirst that he experiences. This wine, of course, isn’t sufficient to satisfy his thirst, but it does allow for an important occasion of closure for Our Lord. He can now leave this world, having lived in it for over 30 years, and now he completes the mission he has been sent to accomplish: the salvation of the human race. “It is finished.” The earthly mission of Jesus is finished. He has carried out the divine plans of God the Father. For our sake and our salvation he has come down from Heaven, and he now offers himself completely to the will of his loving Father.

It is surprising how simply Jesus has marked this moment of completion, with a taste of wine and a few words from his suffering lips. It is a great example for us all. We need to realize that God has called us to a specific mission in the life of the Church; one that only you and I can carry out. In fact, our whole purpose of life is to discover God’s plan for us, and do it! Sometimes we might be anxious about our God-given mission. We might think: we are not strong enough to carry it out; we don’t have enough resources, or talents, or help to do it. Maybe our weaknesses and sinfulness lead us to other ways of discouragement. All of these worries are basically false. We have to be convinced that God—by his divine nature—cannot make mistakes. If God has called us to a task we can be sure that—with God’s help—we can do it! We have to hear the words of St. Paul, “I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion…” (Philippians 1:6). Jesus will see our good works to completion. From the Cross he sees us and our struggles, and offers us the strength to persevere. Let us put ourselves in the presence of God; let us simply offer one action after another for the glory of God and the salvation of the world.

The saints teach us with their lives that perseverance is essential. It is a special grace to pray for, and a gift to be grateful for. Jesus will grant us this gift of perseverance, through the many gifts of “graces of the moment” which lead us to discover and carry out the will of God at each opportunity of the day. Let us see that to receive this “wine of the moment” is an entry into the holiness of that occasion. Let us cast aside our fears of following Our Lord closely, thinking that we “don’t know where to begin”. We simply need to begin where we are—right where we are; we put ourselves in the presence of God and offer up the task at hand. This is the key to perseverance: to begin with calmness, and carry things out with peace, one step at a time, finishing everything with love. The Holy Triduum this year is an opportunity to persevere in our lives of faith. Good Friday is a good day for us to complete our Lenten prayers and practices. And, as you may know, today is a great day to get to the sacrament of reconciliation. Let us complete well this most holy time of the year; let us call out with Jesus today, “It is finished.”

Jesus, the Good Gardener

In this Sunday’s Gospel, we hear Jesus calling us to repentance from our sins. This is a universal call, to all men and women of his time and ours. Without doubt, Jesus’ preaching sometimes can be hard for us to hear: “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” (Luke 13:3). And during this time of Lent we are made more aware of our sins and defects. But we should never become discouraged, even when we realize how sinful we are. Jesus is, we might say, the Good Gardener, who looks after our growth with patience and attentive care. As we heard in the Gospel, when the owner of the garden did not find fruit on the fig tree, the Good Gardener made this appeal: “Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down” (Luke 13:8).

May we always be filled with hope during this season of Lent—this holy time of conversion and preparation for the Resurrection of the Lord. Our Lord cares for our changes of heart with his grace, and guides us through authentic repentance and spiritual growth. Let us trust in his cultivating guidance now and always. 

True Confessions: a short history of the sacrament of reconciliation in the Church

absolution2On the evening of March 13, I gave a brief presentation on the sacrament of confession to young adults of the Akron, Ohio, Theology on Tap group. We looked at how the Catholic Church has practiced the sacrament of reconciliation since the earliest days of its history. While the early Church focused on the reconciling sinners in a more public way (ie, through public penance) yet personal confession was also practiced. In the Middle Ages, and in a big way, through the monastic communities, the practice of personal confession to a priest became the norm, and is the current practice today. May we all approach God’s divine mercy during this time of Lent, and help one another get to the sacrament of confession as a proper preparation for Easter. Here is the PDF version of the collection of notes used in my  presentation: TrueConfessionNotes

Leaving fear behind

jesus-calling-the-disciples-connie-wendleton

Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” When they brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:10-11)

The miracle of the great catch of fish occurs at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. It is the first recorded episode of the friendship between Simon-Peter and the Lord, and it is moving each time it is read. At Jesus’ command Peter casts his nets into the deep, and catches an immense number of fish, so many that the nets rip, and the boats begin to sink. Peter then expresses his desire that Jesus go away from him because “I am a sinful man,” and he falls on his knees to emphasize this. Jesus, however, interprets Simon-Peter’s intentions and thoughts more correctly: he is afraid. Of what? Of the future, now that Jesus has entered into his life? Of the possible new responsibilities that are going to be placed on him? Of putting his trust completely in someone else? We don’t know exactly what Peter fears, but we can empathize with him. When we are confronted with God’s power in our lives, we too can become afraid.

Jesus’ encouraging “Do not be afraid” is exactly the next command that Simon-Peter (and we) need to hear at that moment. Jesus is with us, and the responsibilities we take on as a result of discipleship will not be assumed solely by ourselves, but with the help of the Lord. We need, however, to hear this divine encouragement in our prayer. We sift our fears and doubts through our conversations with Jesus. Like the Apostles, our response will be in the form of practical resolutions. As “they left everything and followed him,” so we make a determined response to follow the Lord in our daily lives. While we perhaps cannot leave everything behind like they did, we can at least begin by leaving behind our fears!

The Pressing Crowd

jesus-sower-e-long-rtJesus withdrew toward the sea with his disciples. A large number of people followed from Galilee and from Judea. Hearing what he was doing, a large number of people came to him also from Jerusalem, from Idumea, from beyond the Jordan, and from the neighborhood of Tyre and Sidon. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him. He had cured many and, as a result, those who had diseases were pressing upon him to touch him. And whenever unclean spirits saw him they would fall down before him and shout, “You are the Son of God.” He warned them sternly not to make him known. (Mark 3: 7-12)

In the Gospel we see the Lord “needing to get away” from the all the people coming around him, trying to touch him. Of course, this is because Jesus had healed so many, and his fame had spread far and wide. Jesus opts for a boat to provide a place of refuge so that he is not crushed. Of course, being true God, Jesus could escape injury from the crowd through divine intervention (he had done this on another occasion) but because he is also true man, Jesus calls for the boat that will carry him and the Apostles to safety. Nonetheless, I like to think that Jesus invites, and perhaps even enjoys, the pressing of the crowds upon him. After all, that is why Our Lord came to the earth, to “…draw all men to Myself” (John 12:32).

Because we are all called to be faithful disciples, we need to consider how effective we are at getting people closer to Jesus. Is Jesus’ fame extended farther and wider because of our witness?  Recently in Mass, at the moment of distributing Holy Communion, I thought of the crowds pressing upon Jesus. May our sacramental life, especially our Eucharistic life, be a starting place where we begin to invite everyone to personally encounter the Lord!

Come, Lord Jesus. Advent Aspirations

Guest contributor, Rev. Rene Schatteman, offers a series of aspiration prayers for the season of Advent. The whole series can be used, one each day leading up to Christmas Eve. 

  1. Come, Lord Jesus, fill our souls with your grace.
  2. Come, Lord Jesus, fill our hearts with your love.
  3. Come, Lord Jesus, fill our minds with your light.
  4. Come, Lord Jesus, fill our limbs with your strength.
  5. Come, Lord Jesus, fill our world with your peace.
  6. Come, Lord Jesus, give us the capacity to prepare well for your coming at Christmas.
  7. Come, Lord Jesus, give us the grace to serve you faithfully each moment of each day.
  8. Come, Lord Jesus, teach us to love Mary, your mother and our mother.
  9. Come, Lord Jesus, teach us to love St. Joseph, the man you chose to be your father.
  10. Come, Lord Jesus, show us how to sanctify our daily work.
  11. Come, Lord Jesus, show us how to delight in serving others.
  12. Come, Lord Jesus, help us to spend our energies joyfully in serving our family.
  13. Come, Lord Jesus, lead us to appreciate the joy to be found in doing all to please our Father God.
  14. Come, Lord Jesus, inspire us to follow you in making a gift of our life to others.
  15. Come, Lord Jesus, help us to be thankful for the example you have given us.
  16. Come, Lord Jesus, open our hearts to the flood of your graces.
  17. Come, Lord Jesus, O Wisdom from on high, and govern all creation with your strong and tender care.
  18. Come, Lord Jesus, O Sacred Lord of ancient Israel, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.
  19. Come, Lord Jesus, O Flower of Jesse’s stem, rule over all nations and all peoples.
  20. Come, Lord Jesus, O Key of David, open the gate of heaven and lead us on the way to eternal life.
  21. Come, Lord Jesus, O Radiant Dawn, bring light to those who dwell in darkness and doubt.
  22. Come, Lord Jesus, O King of all the nations, and bring joy and peace to every heart.
  23. Come, Lord Jesus, O Emmanuel, King, Lawgiver and Judge, make your kingdom a reality.

The struggle against selfishness

child1Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples and telling them, The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him. They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.

Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples and telling them, The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him. They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” (Mark 9:30-37)

Jesus is always for us the model in all things. He calls us to a complete transformation of heart, mind and body, so that we live only to carry out the will of God in our lives. This is our vocation: to be so identified with Jesus that we live not for ourselves but for God and for those around us. For Jesus, this means, of course, that he will be mistreated, suffer and die for us, so that he will rise again from the dead, and lead us into everlasting life. His disciples “did not understand the saying and were afraid to question him” about it. Perhaps this was because they knew that this plan would involve them in the sufferings he is talking about. We, too, have a hard time understanding the sufferings of Christ, as we know that we have to follow the Master. None of us enjoys suffering! In any case, his Apostles try to change the subject, away from suffering, and onto themselves (who of them was “the greatest”). Isn’t it true that when we try to avoid the sufferings of Christ we also are led to a kind of resting on ourselves, our comfort, our preferences or advantages? It’s hard for us to be abandoned into the divine plans of the Lord in such a way that we forget about ourselves, and yet we—like the Apostles—know that this forgetfulness of self, this self-denial, is what Christianity is all about.

Thankfully, Jesus clearly spells out the proper attitude the Apostles should have: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all”. Once again in the teaching of Jesus we see the essential importance of humility. Strive to be the last of all, and the servant of all. To focus on the needs of the simple humble people in need around us, in this passage symbolized by care of children, is to know and love Christ himself. It is a constant struggle for us “to get out of ourselves” and to be generous with the others around us. Self-love and selfishness lead to so many problems for us, for the Church, for the world. Of course, this has been the constant struggle for the moment of Original Sin, and it is repeated in our own lives as we strive to overcome the tendency to selfishness. But with the grace of God, and the faith and the hope, and the love that come with that grace, we can begin again. And isn’t that exactly what Our Lord is teaching his Apostles (and us) here? You can begin again. You have been selfish and self-oriented, you have wondered whether you are the greatest, but you can have a new start in humbly reaching out to the others in need around you. Begin here, begin now. May the grace of the Lord always be near and within us so that we can begin again in our struggle against our selfishness, and lead us into the mission of generous service to God and neighbor. Amen.