17 April 2014

An odd feeling this Holy Week

As we enter today into the Sacred Triduum, my favorite time of the year, I feel a bit disconnected. This is the first year in at least two decades that I find myself without the work of any preparations for these days, whether it be practices with servers or preparing sacristies, cleaning churches or candlesticks, writing homilies or double-checking rubrics, or even the last minute fitting of the Easter Candle into its socket. None of these this year are mine and it feels very strange.

Each of these tasks, tedious as they sometimes maybe, I enjoy very much and find them life-giving. There is, ordinarily, something exhausting and frantic about them, but also something that gives structure and calm to these days, a sense of purpose.

This year I am a priest in Rome without any of these tasks, one who simply attends the various liturgical celebrations marking the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and I feel a bit like a tiny row boat simply drifting on the waves. In years past, if you will, the tasks associated with Holy Week have always served as something of a rudder for my prayer, guiding me and leading me into these mysteries. Now I must simply yield and allow myself to be carried.

12 April 2014

A Palm Sunday laugh - Or is it a noun or a verb?

Palm Sunday is one of the days in the liturgical year where we encounter a word that is both a noun and a verb, depending on how it is pronounced: prophesy. And every year the congregation mispronounces it, must to the pain of my ears and to the weakening of the proclamation of the Passion of the Lord.

After Jesus is mocked, spit upon, and slapped before the Sanhedrin, they ridiculed him further, saying, "Prophesy for us, Messiah: who is it that struck you" (Matthew 26:68)?

When the Passion of the Lord is proclaimed in parts, the congregation is given this line and rather than pronouncing the word properly as a verb they pronounce it is a noun. Every. Single. Time. At least wherever I have been. This year, though, the word might actually be pronounced correctly.

As I sat down with the Pray Together published the Sunday Missal Service, I could not help but laugh when I noticed something I do not recall seeing in the past:

I do not expect it will work - old habits are hard to break - but it is certainly worth a try.

Homily - At the Blessing of Palms - 13 April 2014

Homily at the Blessing of Palms
Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

May the Lord give you peace! Centuries ago, as Jesus prepared to enter into the city of Jerusalem in triumph, the people came out to meet him. Who can say precisely why they gathered around him? Some, no doubt, wanted simply to see him. Others surely wanted to hear what he would say. Still others perhaps came out only to see what the commotion was about.

Today we, too, have come to gather around “Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee,” but why have we come (Matthew 21:11)? What are the motives of our hearts? As with that first procession with palms, some have surely come out of mere curiosity; others because parents have insisted they come; and others yet simply to fulfill an obligation. But some have no doubt come because they truly want to meet Jesus the Christ.

My friends, in his Apostolic Exhortation EvangeliiGaudium, Pope Francis has given us an urgent invitation. He writes:

I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least to an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord” (3).

Carrying, then, the palms of his victory in our hands, let us clear the road of our hearts before him to encounter him anew.

Homily - Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion 13 April 2014

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

“Then what shall I do with Jesus called the Christ” (Matthew 27:22)? Without knowing it, Pontius Pilate asked the question that every person must answer. He chose to wash his hands of him, though his claim to innocence cannot be wholly justified (cf. Matthew 27:24).

Many of the scribes and the Pharisees saw him as a threat to their authority and chose to actively work against him (cf. Matthew 26:3-4). Judas, one of the chosen Twelve, chose to betray his Master and Teacher and later despaired (cf. Matthew 26:49; 27:5). The crowd chose to have him killed because he was not the kind of king they wanted (cf. Matthew 27:22). Peter denied ever knowing him, but soon after repented (cf. Matthew 26:70, 75).

Mary and John chose to remain with him, even while he was crucified (cf. John 19:25-27). Joseph of Arimathea, together with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, chose to love him and honored his corpse (cf. Matthew 27:58-59, 61).

Today each of these choices have been made about Jesus called the Christ. In the end, they come down to one of two choices: rejection or love. What will I do with him today? What you will you do with him today?

07 April 2014

Homily for Grandma's Funeral - 7 April 2014

Homily for the Funeral Mass for Mildred Margaret Zehnle

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

May the Lord give you peace. We have come today to the altar of God to accompany Grandma on this her final journey and though we cannot now go with her to the end of her journey, we seek to go with her as far as we can. We will walk with her into “the valley of the shadow of death” so to entrust her into “the hand of God” (Psalm 23:4 Wisdom 3:1).

This hand into which we now entrust her formed man from the dust of the earth (cf. Genesis 2:7). It is the same hand that reached out to touch and heal the blind and the sick and that raised the dead (cf. Mark 8:23-25; Matthew 8:3; and Mark 5:41). It is the same hand that took bread and wine at the Last Supper to set a table before us (cf. Psalm 23:5). It is the same hand that was nailed to the Cross and was shown to the Apostle Thomas when he doubted the Resurrection of the Lord (cf. John 20:27).

Within this hand is contained all of the power of the cosmos together with “grace and mercy” (Wisdom 3:9). The Lord Jesus continually stretches his hand out towards us so that, just as he lifted Peter out of the swirling waters, so he might raise on the last day all those who grasped his hand and yielded themselves to his love (cf. Matthew 14:31).

This hand is the hand of the one true Shepherd who will lead those who hear and follow his voice through the dark valley. It is he

who knows even the path that passes through the valley of death; one who walks with me even on the path of final solitude, where no one can accompany me, guiding me through: he himself has walked this path, he has descended into the kingdom of death, he has conquered death, and he has returned to accompany us now and to give us the certainty that, together with him, we can find a way through. The realization that there is One who even in death accompanies me, and with his “rod and his staff comforts me”, so that “I fear no evil” (cf. Ps 23 [22]:4) — this was the new “hope” that arose over the life of believers.[1]

It is this hope that has brought us to together today as we pray that Grandma may now “dwell in the house of the Lord for endless days” (Psalm 23:6).

Throughout her life Grandma sought to take hold of this hand, sometimes feebly and sometimes with strength, so that she might not let go of the Lord’s hand. She knew, as Pope Francis recently reminded us that

the Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk [of grasping his hand]; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.”[2]

When we stand before the Lord, both throughout our lives and at life’s end, what other words are there that we can say to the Lord?

Today we, too, must take the Lord’s hand so that we might not be discouraged “as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen” (II Corinthians 4:18). If we take hold of his hand we will find our sorrow tempered with joy because “joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.”[3]

Today, Grandma,

May you return to him
who formed you from the dust of the earth.

May holy Mary, the angels, and all the saints
come to meet you as you go forth from this life.

May Christ who was crucified for you
bring you freedom and peace.

May Christ who died for you
admit you into his garden of paradise.

May Christ, the true Shepherd,
acknowledge you as one of his flock.

May you see the Redeemer face to face,
and enjoy the vision of God for ever.


[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 6.
[2] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 3.
[3] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 6.