Thursday of the Second Week of Lent (February 25th, 2016)

The prophet Jeremiah has a stern warning for us today- “cursed in the man who trusts in human beings”. Why are the words of the prophet so harsh?

Context is important and the context of the prophet’s words is the political, economic, religious and cultural situation that beset the Israelites as the once mighty Kingdom of David was coming to an end.

Jeremiah proclaimed the Lord’s word of truth in the catastrophic time immediately before and then during (and after) the events of 587 BC. Remember, this was the year that the Kingdom of David came crashing down on the Israelites. They were defeated by the Babylonian Empire and Jerusalem was completely destroyed.

Jeremiah is saying that for too long the Israelites have sought political, economic, solutions for their problems, rather than turning to God for his answers, they have ignored God, thinking they have the solutions, placing their trust in political and economic theories, rather than in God.

Where has this led the Israelites? The prophet Jeremiah insists that the means the Israelites are employing is resulting in their own destruction.   The Israelites have deluded themselves into thinking that their predicament is political, or economic and the solution is merely the application of yet another political or economic theory to their circumstances.

Jeremiah believes the predicament of the Israelites is deeper than the political and economic. The problem is a matter of politics or economics, but of the soul for which conversion to the Lord is the only solution. The Israelites were soul-sick and this was the source of their woes.

The Israelites did not believe the prophet Jeremiah’s assessment was correct. To the very end, they trusted, that through the machinations of politics and economics they could avoid responsibility for their sins. The events of 587 BC would demonstrate that Jeremiah was right and that the preference to trust in worldliness, in human beings, rather than in God, had led to destruction.

The parable presented by the Lord Jesus in his Gospel is as hard and uncompromising as the warning of the prophet Jeremiah. The rich man, preoccupied with his wealth and the worldly pleasures it affords him, ignores the beggar Lazarus whom he must literally walk over in order to enter or leave his house.

One can interpret the beggar Lazarus as God’s offer of grace, the means that God was using to save the rich man from the idolatry of wealth and pleasure. But alas! God’s overture could not have been more blatant. The rich man’s worldly pre-occupations obstructed his spiritual vision him and prevented him from seeing the offer of grace that would have saved him.

The rich man had everything that his wealth could afford and in the end he lost his soul.

Being materially prosperous is not by necessity sinful, but being selfish is gravely sinful. Cardinal George once opined that while the poor need the rich to keep them out of poverty, the rich need the poor to keep them out of hell. The late Cardinal’s words are as hard and uncompromising as they are true.

And they are also the most succinct summation of the lesson of Christ’s parable.

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Second Sunday of Lent (February 21st, 2016)

The Church’s first scripture for today takes us back to the beginning, to the first book of the Bible- the Book of Genesis.

We heard an excerpt from the great story of Abraham, whom God chooses to be the founding father of all the Israelites.

God offers Abraham a relationship, what the Bible calls a “covenant”. Remember, the God of the Bible is not an idea or a feeling or a vague cosmic force. The God of the Bible is a living, divine person, and as such he desires we relate to him person to person in a relationship.

Today’s excerpt from the great story of Abraham presents dramatic scene in which God presents his plan to Abraham, a plan which will place Abraham in a pivotal role- Abraham will give rise to a family and this family will become the means by which God will act in the world in extraordinary ways.

God’s relationship with Abraham will have real life and real world effects and consequences. So must it also be with our own relationship with God.

A relationship with God is not merely a quiet, passive, inner experience, but it always initiates a new way of life. A relationship with God changes us, indeed, it compels us to change. Change is one of experiences that we tend to dread because it compels an act of faith in the encounter with the unknown. Our status quo lends credence to the illusion that we are in charge and in control of outcomes. A relationship with God accepts that God is in charge and purpose and meaning in life are revealed, not so much in an attitude of control, but in an attitude of receptivity that is willing to accept God’s will as ever more important than our own.

Where will Abraham’s new way of life take him? He cannot fully know. He can only trust and wait. Where will the Church’s way of life take us? We cannot fully know. We must trust and wait.

Abraham’s experience of what I have just described provokes in him what the Bible describes as “a deep, terrifying darkness”. It is in Abraham’s encounter with what frightens him and what is unknown that engenders in him the experience of genuine faith- Abraham accepts God’s offer of a relationship, knowing that this relationship will be on God’s terms, not his own, and it accepting a relationship with God means that his life will change forever, opening him up to experiences he will not control and to possibilities that he had never considered to be possible.

Abraham’s experience, and the description of faith as “a deep, terrifying darkness” might confound our sensibilities, accustomed as we are to a culture’s construal of faith as limited to a positive, emotional experience. Faith can and does evoke positive emotions, for authentic faith imparts meaning and purpose to our lives. However, limiting faith to positive emotions distorts faith’s true significance, and risks making faith into something akin to how Karl Marx described religion- as an opium of the people. Authentic faith, accepted for how the Bible describes it, looks and feels a lot like what Abraham experienced- an experience that didn’t just make him feel good, but that changed his life, and ultimately, changed the world.

The other reality of authentic faith that is presented to us in this story is the relationship of authentic faith and the acceptance of a relationship with God with sacrifice. It is in the midst of a sacrifice that Abraham encounters the Lord.

There is no relationship with God without a sacrifice. Why? Because a relationship with God is always about love and the condition for the possibility for love is sacrifice. A relationship with God without sacrifice is merely pretend and love without sacrifice is merely a pretense. As it is with our relationship with God, so also it is with our relationships with one another.

Thus, the pinnacle, the high point, what the Church proclaims as the source and summit” our lives- the Holy Eucharist, is a sacrifice. We offer ourselves to God as a sacrifice in response to God offering himself to us.

 

The Eucharist is a great sacrifice, indeed the greatest sacrifice. It can only be this, because through the Eucharist we receive God who is love- and there is no love without there also being a sacrifice.

(The presence of the crucifix in our sanctuary signals this truth to us, what we receive here is a sacrifice, what we do here is a sacrifice- there is no other worship that God desires, except the sacrifice of the Eucharist, through which we participate in Christ’s sacrifice offered on the cross).

Our second scripture is an excerpt from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, in which the Apostle highlights for us the truth that this world is not all that there is, and the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead reveals this awe-filled truth.

The limitation of human experience to this world is a persistent temptation, but to do so misunderstands the purpose of the world, which has not been created by God as an end in itself, but as a means- a means by which God introduces himself to us and through which we pass to a world greater than this world. We call this new and greater world heaven.

During Lent, the practice of fasting highlights to us to truth that this world is not all that there is, and that ultimately, they pass away. We do not live by bread alone, at least worldly bread (or worldly food) for worldly bread only satisfies us for a moment and we will hunger yet again.

Instead, our desire is for the food that sustains us and prepares us for our lives in the world to come. This food is the divine life of Christ himself and this nourishment is given to us in the Eucharist.

The Eucharist prepares us for heaven, which is why our participation in the Eucharist cannot be accepted by us as simply a spiritual option, but it is a grave necessity. For, without the Eucharist, we will face our journey to the world of heaven malnourished and find ourselves in the presence of Christ unprepared.

The hunger we experience in our fasting and the longing for food we endure should be taken by us as a sign that our hunger should be for the Eucharist and our longing should be for the food that the world at its best directs us towards, but cannot give- the divine life of Christ.

Christ the Lord reveals that the purpose for which this world was created as a means to introduce us to God and to get us to heaven. When we construe the purpose of this world as being as an end in itself, the meaning and purpose that this world is meant to give, becomes elusive and our experience of the world becomes frustrating.

The Eucharist reminds us again and again of the purpose for which God created the world. The world was created to take us to heaven. We return again and again to the Eucharist to remind us of this revelation.

Finally, Christ’s Gospel for today presents the dramatic mystery of the Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus.

By this is meant that the disciples of the Lord Jesus see him, if only for a privileged moment, for who he really and truly is- he is God.

It seems just a few weeks ago that we gathered to celebrate the dramatic mystery of the “Christ-Mass”, the privileged moment when the Church reveals to us through the awe-filled wonder of our worship the mystery of God, who in Christ, has accepted as his own, a human nature, and through that human nature has experienced for himself, a real, human life.

As Christians, we do not believe that God is merely an idea or a feeling. Nor do we accept that God is merely some vague, cosmic force. Instead of these reductions, we believe that God, in Christ, was born, lived and died as one like us, and in doing so, demonstrated his love for us. For God in Christ did not have to do these things, but accepted them as the means by which he would meet us face to face.

The story of the Transfiguration reminds us that the humanity of Christ is not the end of who he is, but the means by which he uses to reveal to us that he is God.

There is a line in the text of today’s Gospel that presents all this to us in a way that should cut deeply into our hearts.

It is a line at the beginning of today’s Gospel that reveals that in Christ’s conversation with the prophets Moses and Elijah, that the three spoke about “his exodus” and what “he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem”.

What is Christ’s exodus? What did Christ accomplish in Jerusalem?

Christ’s exodus and his accomplishment is his acceptance of suffering and his passage into death on the cross. It is here, God in Christ’s experience of the reality of a human nature becomes total, complete- God enters into the rawest facts of being human- the experience of death itself, with all its fear of the unknown, with all its terror of oblivion. He permits himself only the act of faith that we all must make in the face of death- an act of faith that believes that death is not an end, but it is a new kind of beginning. All this Christ does so as to draw humanity close to himself. All this Christ does so that when we enter into the raw facts of life ourselves, we do not do so alone, but we do so with him.

An idea cannot do what I just described. No can a feeling. Nor can a symbol. Nor will a vague cosmic force.

But God in Christ can, and for our sake, he does.

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Saturday of the First Week of Lent (February 20th, 2016)

Today’s first scripture, an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy, identifies the Israelites as set apart by God for a mission.

Moses makes it clear: Being chosen by God is not about privileges and exemptions, but about mission, a mission that necessitates the acceptance of a new way of life. Through this new way of life the world will learn about the Israelites’ unique relationship with the Lord and be inspired to accept the one, true God as their God, and with this acceptance, come to live in the manner that the Israelites live.

The mission of the Israelites is lure other people to know God, and in coming to know God, choose to love and to serve him. The invitation to know God is expressed through their way of life. Thus, if the Israelites do not live in a manner that introduces people to God and invites them to know, love and serve him, they are not accomplishing their mission.

What is true for the Israelites is true for the Church.

The Church is the visible, tangible sign of Christ’s life and presence in the world. In fact, the Church, contrary to some who construe the Church as being little more than an institution, is the extension of the Incarnation of God in Christ throughout space and time, throughout history. Through the Church people come to know God in Christ, and by knowing him, are invited to love and serve him.

Thus, the Church is always a public reality- the Church is a way of life that presents itself in the world through worship and works of mercy and these activities of the Church, signifiers of our way of life are meant to be public, within culture and challenging culture, supporting culture and changing culture. The Church is not meant as a retreat from the world, but it is meant to be out in the world.

Though out in the world, the Church is not meant to be worldly, providing divine sanction for whatever the culture proposes or values. Instead, the Church is meant to always be boldly herself, unique in her way of life, and through her unique way of life, always be an invitation to know, love and serve Christ.

Because the Church presents a unique way of life, what Christians say and do, how we live, will confound the expectations of the world.

This is what Christ intends for us to understand in his Gospel.

Christ’s expectations of us are not ordinary, but extraordinary. Living as a Christian means that more will be expected of us, not less.

In other words, friendship with Jesus Christ is not to be construed by the Christian in the worldly way that some people cultivate relationships with powerful people so that they can get favors and special treatment. Instead, friendship with Jesus Christ sets us apart as a people who rather than trying to manipulate Christ for our benefit, are trying to imitate his love for God and for our neighbor.

Being ever more Christ-like is what the Christian way of life is about, through our imitation of Christ’s love for God and neighbor we seek to become for others a route of access to him, an introduction to Jesus, a way of making him known.

It is through our sincere attempts to imitate the love of God in Christ in all its audacity and strangeness that we fulfill our mission and become the people God has chosen us to be.

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Thursday of the First Week in Lent (February 18th, 2016)

The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Esther.

The Book of Esther is a romantic adventure story that has as its heroine an orphaned Israelite by the name of Esther, whose beauty captures the attention of the emperor of the Persians and whose intelligence and integrity saves the lives of her fellow Israelites.

Today’s scripture passage from the Book of Esther presents Esther, who has become the new and favored wife of the emperor of Persia faced with a dilemma. Risk offending her husband and losing her status and privileges in the royal court and possibly saving the Israelites from genocide or retreating into self-interest and luxury while leaving the Israelites vulnerable to their enemies.

Esther chooses the former rather than the latter, and as a result of her courage and willingness to take risks, the Israelites are saved from their enemies.

The lesson? Esther was the recipient of all the benefits of worldliness. As wife of the emperor of the Persians she had at her disposal all the wealth, pleasure, power and honors that the world lavishes on the high and mighty. And yet she knew that of greater value than worldly attainments is the integrity of her character and the dignity of human life. What would it profit her to gain the whole world if it resulted in a rotten soul?

During Lent, the Church insists that we come to terms with what our desire for wealth, pleasure, power and honors has done to our souls. For many, the example of Esther is a sign of contradiction to a life of compromise to worldliness. For all of us, the example of Esther presents an ideal toward which we should all strive. Worldly success is not the end towards which our lives are to be directed. Prosperity is not in itself a sign of virtue or of divine favor. If we will risk little or nothing for the sake of our integrity or for that of the dignity of human life, then our identity as disciples of the Lord Jesus is merely a mask that we wear rather than the truth of who we really are.

We can accept the word of the Lord Jesus in his Gospel as an instruction about prayer, an invitation that our relationship with God be personal, and as with a genuinely personal relationship, that we be willing to express to God in prayer our desires and our needs. We need not fear reprisals for our honesty. God in Christ presents himself as our friend and as one who knows us better than we know ourselves.

God who, in Christ, reveals himself to be our heavenly Father, and who becomes, in Christ, our brother does not receive the reality of our desires and needs with accusations and threats, but with compassion and understanding.

God in Christ reveals that God always desires what is good for us, and as such we can trust, that though we may not always receive in response to our requests what we want, that God is always acting on behalf of our greatest good. In the midst of hardship trusting that God desires what is good for us can be difficult, and in these instances, we should consider the cross of Christ- where what appeared to be an end, was ultimately revealed as a new and unexpected beginning and what appeared to be an terrifying evil, was transformed by God’s love into the revelation of the greatest good.

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First Sunday of Lent (February 14th, 2016)

Today is the first Sunday of the Season of Lent. Lent is a time of preparation that for Christians so that they can participate in the great events of Holy Week with heightened awareness and deepened appreciation of what Holy Week is all about.

Holy Week immerses the Christian in rituals through which we remember the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus. In our remembrance of these events we receive what we have remembered. As such our experience of Holy Week is not just calling to mind historical events from the past, but it is truly and really an encounter with Christ in the present. Holy Week presents to us Christians a privileged opportunity to encounter Christ.

During Lent, Christian prepare themselves for Holy Week through 3 specific practices- prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These practices are not extraordinary for Christians, but are ordinary expressions of the Church’s way of life. But during Lent, Christians are reminded that these are the kinds of things one does and should be doing as a disciple of the Lord Jesus.

Why are prayer, fasting and almsgiving so important to Christians?

Prayer for the Christian is time dedicated to making oneself present and available to Christ. It is through prayer that we take the time to be with Christ and get to know him. Christ knows us better than we know ourselves, but do we really know him? If we are sincere about being Christ’s disciple and accepting his offer of friendship, then we will seek to spend time with him. Christ is not an idea or a feeling, but a living, divine person who offers to be in relationship with us, and you cannot have a relationship with a person of any real significance if you never have time for the person whom you claim is your friend.

Fasting is for the Christian a way of reminding ourselves that nothing in this world is meant to ultimately satisfy us. Why? Because God has created us for heaven, and this world is not all that there is, and is leading us to a world that is greater and more important. This world is not an end in itself, but a means by which we get to where God wants us to be. The things of this world are not meant to be taken for granted, but are gifts we should appreciate. Fasting reminds us of all this.

Christians give alms because through our almsgiving we imitate Christ’s generosity to us. Christ gave us his very life as a gift, a gift that we could not earn and did not deserve. In our almsgiving we give gifts to people who did not earn and do not deserve our generosity. As Christ gave his gift to us, so we give our gifts to others. Almsgiving expresses that our reverence for Christ’s generosity towards us is not just idealism, but a practical, concrete, way of life.

Lent prepares Christians for Holy Week. Holy Week is a privileged encounter with Christ. The practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the specific ways we are prepared to encounter Christ during Holy Week.

Our first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy. The Book of Deuteronomy helps us to understand how the Israelites came to understand that God had chosen them for a mission and acceptance of this mission meant they would have to accept a new way of life that would set them apart and make them unique.

Today’s excerpt from the Book of Deuteronomy describes an element of Israelite worship, during which an Israelite, while making an offering to God, recounts for the priest the great and wonderful God has done for his people. God is not for the Israelites an idea or a feeling, but a living divine person who acts in the lives of the people he has chosen.

As it God is for Israel, so also is God for his Church.

We Christians remember and recount every time we assemble for worship the great and wonderful things God has done for us in Christ.

God in Christ has made us his people, indeed his own family.

God in Christ has permitted himself to experience all the facts of human existence, even the raw and troubling facts of suffering and death. In doing so, he has transformed these experiences forever, making them not ends, but new kinds of beginnings. Nothing in this world that we experience can evade God in Christ’s power to redeem and to save.

And every time we assemble to worship God as he wants to be worshipped in the Mass, God in Christ makes himself really and truly present to us in the Blessed Sacrament, giving us a way of that we can share in his divine life right here and right now.

In our second scripture for today, we have an excerpt from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans.

St. Paul speaks about how our profession of faith in the Lord Jesus saves us. What does this mean?

Now, it might be good to consider first what St. Paul does not mean: our profession of faith in Jesus Christ is not like a spell that we cast that if we say we belong to the Lord Jesus we get to go to heaven.

By profession of faith, St. Paul has in mind something more akin to an oath, a solemn oath by which we give our lives over to Christ, placing our selves at his service. In this respect, being saved means being delivered from one way of life which is worldly, idolatrous, and selfish and accepting a new way of life- Christ’s way of life. This is what the Church is- Christ’s way of life and accepting this way of life as our own saves us, that is, delivers us, from another way of life.

Christ’s way of life takes us to God, makes us God’s friends, and through Christ’s way of life in the Church we become the people that God wants us to be. But we must accept Christ’s way of life as our own and our acceptance must be conscious, deliberate and intentional. Only when our profession of faith in the Lord Jesus (which means our acceptance of his way of life) is conscious, deliberate and intentional, can we be saved (that is delivered from other ways of living that are contrary to God, frustrate us, and sicken and kill our souls).

Today’s excerpt from the Gospel of Luke presents the dramatic encounter of Christ with the devil.

The devil is a fallen spirit or angel that in his anger at God for loving humanity, seeks to undermine and subvert God’s plan for the people he loves.

We Christians do not think of the devil as merely a symbol or metaphor, but as someone very real and very dangerous. The devil wants us to say no to God so as to make us unhappy, and ultimately destroy us. Once we give in to devil and say no to God our soul hollows out, life empties of purpose and meaning. We increasingly become more selfish and self-interested. God will not have this. He wants humanity to flourish in this world. And, as such, he acts in Christ to overcome the devil’s influence over us, and over the world. We Christians believe that God has come into this world in Christ and his presence and power remains in this world in the Church so as to defeat the devil and rescue people from his influence.

Christ submits himself to the devil’s temptations so as to demonstrate his willingness to experience a human life in its totality. God in Christ knows what first hand what temptation is and the potential of its destructive power. He is also willing to meet the devil face to face and fight on our behalf.

The devil tempts Christ three times, and in each of these temptations he is trying to persuade Christ to use his divine power for self-interested and self-aggrandizing purposes. Of course, Christ will not- his power is true love and true love is not manifested in what is selfish or self-aggrandizing.

True love reveals itself in sacrifice, in a willingness to offer to others what is good and true and beautiful, even if this offer costs everything to give and even if the gift is not deserved or appreciated.

The true love of Christ, his sacrifice, will be seen with its greatest clarity in the cross. On the cross, God in Christ offers his divine life to us, even when this offer is not appreciated, even when it is scorned. On the cross God in Christ will forgive us, even when his forgiveness is not deserved.

The true love of Christ revealed to us on the cross defeats the power of the devil. The devil presumed that because of the cross that God would have no choice but to hate humanity and to destroy us. But God would not do this, and in the end manifested that his life is stronger than death, his love is greater than all our hate, and his willingness to forgive us is a undeserved and unexpected gift that he is always willing to give…

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Saturday after Ash Wednesday (February 13th, 2016)

In his Gospel, the Lord Jesus seeks friendship with a tax collector and then goes so far as to make this man his disciple, that is a public representative of Jesus himself.

The tax collector is so overjoyed by his friendship with the Lord and his new mission in life that he hosts an extravagant party, inviting his own friends to meet the Lord Jesus and share in his joy.

This is viewed with curiosity and contempt the Pharisees and scribes.

Why?

Tax collectors during the time of Christ’s revelation were not merely civil servants, but were considered to be collaborators with the foreign powers that ruled Israel. Remember, during the time of Christ, the Israelites were subjects of the Roman emperor, and as subjects, they were taxed. Many Israelites resented this taxation as much as the resented that their nation was ruled by Caesar. The Pharisees and scribes are expressing this resentment and the anger and contempt such resentment engenders. Christ, it seems to them, is currying favor with the enemies of the Israelites, when he should, if he was a true Israelite, shun tax collectors and refuse to associate with them.

Christ understands the situation differently.

Instead of shunning, Christ offers friendship, and this offer of friendship accomplishes what shunning the man never could- the man meets the Lord Jesus and discovers and receives from him a new way of life. Whereas the approach of the Pharisees and scribes left the tax collector to languish in his sins, Christ’s approach gives him the possibility of a second chance at life. A man imprisoned by a worldly system that dominates him and makes him a enemy of God, is set free to become God’s friend.

It is friendship with God in Christ that changes lives, and transforms those who are enemies of God into servants of God.

This is precisely the kind of transformation Christ can accomplish for us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In this Sacrament, we present ourselves as sinners, as we all are, but what we receive from him is not a cold rebuke but the invitation to become again a friend of the Lord Jesus, and in this offer of grace, we receive the gift of another chance.

During the season of Lent, the Church asks that we prepare ourselves for the great events of Holy Week, events that are really an encounter with the Lord Jesus, by participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is not a spiritual option for a pious few, but an ordinary practice of the Church’s way of life. All of us have sinned, either by what we have done or what we have failed to do, and all of us are soul sick and in need of the care of Christ, the Good Physician.

Christ’s care is offered to us in the Church, which really is, whether we understand it as such or not, what Pope Francis describes as a “field hospital” for the world. The Church is supposed to be a refuge and place of healing and hope for those who are wounded by sin, and it is in the Sacrament of Reconciliation that Christ acts through his priests to heal our sin-sick souls.

As I said, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not meant simply to be something extraordinary, but it is intended by Christ to be the ordinary practice of a disciple. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is an integral practice of the Church’s way of life. During Lent we should not only call the practice of the Sacrament of Reconciliation to mind, we should participate in it- we should do it. Why languish in feverish soul-sickness, when Christ the Good Physician is ready and willing to offer you healing and hope?

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Thursday after Ash Wednesday (February 11th, 2016)

Today’s first scripture is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy. The Book of Deuteronomy helps us to understand how the Israelites came to understand that God had chosen them for a mission in the world, a mission that would necessitate a new way of life.

Through this way of life, the Israelites would demonstrate their relationship with God, but also, they would, through their way of life, evoke curiosity about the God they worshipped and serve as an invitation to know the one, true God.

God will not coerce the Israelites to accept this way of life, they must choose it freely, but once they have made this decision, their bond to God would be as unbreakable as the bond of husband and wife. The Israelites must decide. They must choose.

So also is it for the Church.

As Christians, our faith necessitates a decision. God in Christ has chosen us, a fact that is evident to us in our Baptism, but have we chosen Christ?

The decision for Christ means accepting the unique way of life that is revealed to us in the Church. It is from the Church that we receive the way of life that Christ asks that we accept.

Lent is a privileged time when we are compelled to consider our decision for Christ and whether or not we are fully engaged in the way of life that Christ has given to us. The practices of Lent, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are not meant simply as seasonal observances, but are integral to the Church’s way of life. They are not held in suspense prior to Lent or discarded when Lent is completed. Instead, they are the ordinary expectations of the Christian way of life.

They also manifest whether or not our decision for Christ is real, or if just a matter of a superficial appearance.

Christ the Lord speaks of his own passion, death and resurrection in his Gospel, highlighting the “end” towards which our Lenten observances are directed.

As I mentioned yesterday, Lent comes to its proper end, to its fulfillment in the great events and mysteries of Holy Week. It is during Holy Week that the Church participates in the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. In ritual we remember the passion, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and in Sacrament we receive what we have remembered.

The worship of the Church, which reaches its apex, its height, its fever pitch during Holy Week is not merely a perfunctory gesture, a mere artifact of human culture. Instead, it is always an encounter with the Lord Jesus himself.

The sacred center of the Church’s worship is always Christ and the revelation of Christ must always present his cross to us, for it is in the cross that the fullness of who he is and what he asks of us is vividly displayed.

All disciples bear their own share in the cross of Christ by this is meant that our love for Christ will always necessitate some kind of sacrifice. The specifics of our sacrifice will be different for each person, but all who love and serve Christ will be asked to make a sacrifice, and it is through our sacrifice that depth of our faith, the endurance of our hope, and the truth of our love will be revealed.

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