Sunday, March 31, 2013

Roll away the stone

Holy Thursday
Good Friday
Paschal Vigil
Easter Sunday

Today we complete our liturgical celebration of the Paschal Triduum - the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus - with Easter Sunday...but the celebration is really now just beginning. For the next 50 days, we celebrate Easter with unbounded joy.

After all, the unbelievable has happened.  On Friday, the apostles were left in the depths of despair.  Their teacher and master, the one they called Lord was put to death and placed in the tomb.  Now, some women are saying that the tomb is empty, the stone which stood in front has been rolled away.  Soon Jesus will enter into their midst with a greeting of "Peace."

And even today, 2000 years later, the unbelievable happens.  The Risen One comes to us with a simple offering, "Peace be with you."  He enters our lives so that he can give us life.  Will we roll away the stone that is in front of us and embrace the Risen Jesus in our midst?

My dear friends, let us be Easter people.  Let us radiate the light of the Paschal candle in all that we do.  Let our lives be a hymn of glory to our God and a resounding Alleluia to the world.  May we bless each other like the new water sprinkled upon us.  May we be Eucharistic Bread, sharing ourselves with all whom we meet.  The chains of death have been broken. All of creation rejoices in its Savior.  The love of God is victorious.  From death comes new life.  Yes, let us be Easter people who resound with great Easter joy.

Jesus is Risen.  Alleluia!
The stone has been rolled away.  Alleluia!
The tomb is empty.  Alleluia!
He is not here, but he has been raised.  Alleluia!
Why do you seek the living one among the dead?
Yes, he is truly risen indeed.  Alleluia!

Blessings on your Easter!


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Keeping Vigil

Holy Thursday
Good Friday
Paschal Vigil
Easter Sunday

Today we continue our liturgical celebration of the Paschal Triduum - the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus - with Holy Saturday and the Paschal Vigil. Originally, I was going to reflect on some of the rich imagery that the Easter Vigil Mass offers us: the interplay of darkness and light, water and oil, silence and sound.  After all, it is one of my favorite liturgies.  But, after an experience yesterday evening, my thoughts turned elsewhere.

Friday evening, I attended services at Santa Susanna, the American parish in Rome.  Afterwards, my plan was to "stop by" the Colosseum where Pope Francis would preside at the Stations of the Cross.  I figured I'd get the book, stay for a few stations and then walk home.  I was tired and still recovering from a string of large Vatican gatherings.  But, as often happens, my plans changed and I learned a good lesson.

As I approached the Colosseum, I ran into two priests that I know.  They convinced me to join them on the other side of the Colosseum where we could see the Pope.  Long story short, I ended up not getting a booklet, and I stayed for the whole thing!  But....

...As we stood there listening to the reflections (which were written by young people from Lebanon) I was struck by the event itself.  First, thousands of people crowded around the Colosseum, and Pope Francis sat atop a hill overlooking it all.  If you came to get a glimpse of the Pope, well that was all you were going to get.  Second, judging by the conversations around me, there was a large number in the crowd who probably didn't understand the Italian that was being spoken through the speakers.  But even with both of those things, the people stayed.  They watched.  They prayed.  They silently kept vigil. 

And I think this is what Holy Saturday is all about, even if it gets lost in the coloring of eggs and preparations for tomorrow's dinner.  On Friday, we remember the stark reality that Jesus died and is laid in a dark, cold tomb.  As darkness fell over the city of Rome, we gathered together to remember these events.  We stood together, praying for our broken world.  We bore witness that the Crucifixion of Jesus means something in our lives.    I'm sure that the individuals in the the gathered crowd all had different reasons for coming.  But, the fact is, they all came together in quiet, they all paused for a few moments to reflect and try to make some sort of meaning for their lives. 

At the end, Pope Francis offered some brief remarks that seemed to sum up what I was thinking.  He simply said that there was no need for him to say much because there is only one word that matters and only one word that remains - that is the "word of the cross itself."  The cross of Jesus stands in testimony against the evil that is in the world.  The cross stands in testimony of the response of God's deep and abiding love for us.  The cross stands in testimony that death will not have the final answer. It is important that we, too, stand in testimony of these things.  Today, Saturday, we wait.  We wait silently but confidently that the cross will bring us to freedom, to forgiveness, to love.  We stand in vigil, awaiting the Day of the Lord, but our waiting is done in hope and in confidence.

Pope Francis concluded with: "We continue this Way of the Cross in all of our days.  We walk together on the Way of the Cross , we walk carrying in our heart this Word of love and forgiveness.  We walk awaiting the Resurrection of Jesus who loves us so much.  It is all love!"

Friends,  let us wait and pray together today.  Let us find a little bit of space to reflect on the great forgiveness and love that, while buried in the tomb, has never left us, and that will spring up to new life within us.  Let us find new life from death.

Blessings on your Triduum!


Friday, March 29, 2013

The disciple took her into his home.

Holy Thursday
Good Friday
Paschal Vigil
Easter Sunday

Today we continue our liturgical celebration of the Paschal Triduum - the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus - with the Commemoration of the Passion of the Lord.  We recall the Crucifixion of Jesus on Calvary. I am always struck by the simplicity of the service.  It begins and ends in silence.  The altar and sanctuary are bare, devoid of any unnecessary adornment.  There is typically very little music.  We simply gather around the cross to pray, to listen, and to be with each other as we remember one of the greatest mysteries of our faith.  It is this last point, that of coming together, that resonates with me this year.

In all honesty, the story we hear is not pleasant.  There is betrayal and denial, striking and scourging and torturing of a human person, an angry mob yelling, "Crucify him," humiliation, and death.  There is no denying that we hear a story of unspeakable brutality.  It is not surprising, then, that we need to come together to support each other and be with each other as we listen to the events of that dark day so many years ago.  But, I also think that we come together because this was Jesus' last great commandment and gift before dieing.  He reminds us of our need to be with and for each other, and he shows us the way to do it.  Once again, we are given an example to follow, and this brings us hope and leads us to community.

Nailed on the cross, Jesus sees his mother and the disciple whom he loved.  Looking at them, he says, "Woman, behold, your son,” and then, “Behold, your mother.”  In this moment, it is as if he is saying, "You are not alone.  Remember that you have each other."  This text seems to be more than just a devoted son making plans for the welfare of his mother.  Both Mary and the Beloved Disciple are given a mandate from Jesus on the cross to continue the proclamation of the Reign of God, and they are to undertake this mission together.  But, this directive is not only given to Mary and the Disciple; it is given to all of us.  In a symbolic way, all of us are there at Calvary when Jesus reminds us we are not alone.  First, we have Mary as our companion who will form us in her maternal womb as she once formed Jesus.  And then we also have each other.  The mission of Jesus cannot continue only through the Beloved Disciple, but through all of us who are beloved of God.  Together, as a community, we go out into the world, proclaiming the death of the Lord, but also proclaiming that death (as we know) will not have the final answer.  This is difficult work, but it is not our work to accomplish alone.  

Last weekend, on Palm Sunday, we heard another account of the Passion (from the Gospel of Luke).  In this account we hear that the crowd, the soldiers, and one of the thieves jeered at Jesus on the cross saying, "Save yourself!"  Yet, Jesus did not heed their suggestion.  He does not save himself, but in this act of ultimate love, he saves the world, he saves you and me.  As I reflected yesterday, Jesus forgot himself, emptied himself, took the lowest place  in order that we might have life.  He put our interests before his own so that we might live together in the Reign of God.  Once again, Jesus gives us an example to follow.  By becoming a servant for others, we become FOR the others.  We are able to bring life to them and also to find life for ourselves.  

Invitation, sharing, giving, and the Reign of God.  These are the backbones of community.  As we look upon the cross today, perhaps we can see community formed by the outstretched arms of Jesus, the loving embrace of the world, and the giving of self to others.  Maybe we can see empathy - Jesus taking on our sins and frailty, walking in our shoes and calling us to do the same with others.  We can see the tender gaze of Jesus' eyes on us, calling us into community with him, with his mother, and with each other.  

This great Paschal Triduum brings us to sadness and loneliness, but also to hope and community.  Let us pray that we might hear the words and see the example of Jesus on the cross.  To take each other into our homes.  To give our lives for each other.  To build community.  To find new life from death.

Blessings on your Triduum!


Description of photos: (from top to bottom) The Crucifixion by Niccolo dall'Arca in Bologna (I particularly like the representation of the carpenter on the far left who made the cross); Scene from the Gospel of John that is in the entryway of the community where I live; back of the ambo from the Church of St. Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo; Cross from the outdoor Church of St. Pio in San Giovanni Rotonodo.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Do you realize what I have done for you?

Holy Thursday
Good Friday
Paschal Vigil
Easter Sunday

This evening we begin the liturgical celebration of the Paschal Triduum - the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus - with the Mass of the Lord's Supper.  We recall the Last Supper that Jesus ate with his disciples.  And, in this liturgy, a strange thing happens.  When the Gospel is read we don't hear the expected words, "This is my body...This is my blood."  Instead, we listen as Jesus takes a basin or water, ties a towel around his waist, and washes the disciples' feet.  We hear the mandate of Jesus: "I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do."  We are given an example to follow, and this leads us to community.

Christian songwriter Michael Card, in his song The Basin and the Towel, makes this point in his refrain:
And the call is to community,
The impoverished power that sets the soul free.
In humility, to take the vow,
that day after day we must take up the basin and the towel.
In the simple and humbling act of foot washing,  Jesus invites his disciples (and us) into community by showing them (and us) how to be a member of community.  It involves letting the self go and being for the other.  Jesus reverses the logic of his day (and our day).  He takes not the highest position, but the lowest.  He does not exalt himself, but empties himself.  He becomes the servant of the others, letting go of himself so as to be with the others in an intentional and authentic way.  With great humilty, Jesus shows us a supreme act of love - love not for himself but for his friends.

If you reread the passage you will see a succession of action verbs throughout the story (he rose, took off, tied, poured, washed, etc.)  The love that Jesus models is not one of lip-service or lofty platitudes.  It is, rather, an active love - one that "does" for the other.  This is how we build community, by emptying ourselves and actively loving those around us just as Jesus did at the Last Supper.  This impoverished power sets him free and sets all of us free.

In the end, this is what Eucharist is all about.  Jesus gives of himself to us.  It is an act of love that is a gift and a task.  His flesh and blood are gifts given to us for all time.  We truly receive Jesus in the communion ritual.  At the same time, we must be Eucharist.  That is, we must be in communion with our sisters and brothers.  At every mass, this is symbolically acted out as we, all together, approach the altar to receive the body and blood of Christ.  We join together in the same line and sing the same hymn.  We do not hoard the food, but share it.  We assent in our "Amen" to receive and to be "The Body of Christ" here and now.  As we do at Mass, so we must do in our families, schools, work places, communities, and world.  This is no easy task, but it is the task given to us by Jesus.  Day after day, we must take up the basin and the towel.

This great Paschal Triduum begins in a surprising way.  Let us pray that the God of surprises might help us to live and love as Jesus did.  To serve and not to be served.  To wash each others' feet.  To build community.  To find new life from death.

[I first heard Michael Cards' The Basin and the Towel while helping at a summer family retreat at the Marianist Family Retreat Center in Cape May, NJ.  One evening, parents wash their childrens' feet in an act of reconciliation and love.  Click here for a link to the song.]

Blessings on your Triduum!


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

True power is service

Tuesday, 19 March, the Feast of St. Joseph Husband of Mary, was a momentous day.  Of course, it was the inaugural mass that officially began the Petrine ministry of Pope Francis as Bishop of Rome.  It was also memorable for me, because it's probably the first time I understood most of the homily given in Italian!  And, it was a very good homily.  I would encourage you to read it (in English) at the Vatican Website.  But, I'll offer what I think were the highlights below.
Pope Francis on the big screen.

So, Tuesday morning, my alarm buzzed way earlier than normal (and maybe before some in the US had even went to bed).  It was so early, the coffee hadn't been started in the house.  In the twilight hours of the morning (without coffee mind you), I made my way with a few other Brothers to St. Peter's Square to be present at the mass. I'll be honest - it was a long morning, and I had considered not going because of the crowds and mayhem that I expected would come with a larger-than-normal Papal mass.  But, in the end, I'm glad that I was there to witness the event, even though it included standing for about six hours.  (There was limited seating and I didn't have the golden ticket!)  I do believe it was a once-in-a-liftime event!

Pictures of the crowd don't do it justice.
But even in the big crowd, you can find a familiar face.  (Can you find Fr. Pachi?)

In the homily, Francis said, "How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand....By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans, and not simply to his own."  This same simplicity and humility was shown in the installation ritual.  After praying at the tomb of St. Peter with the Eastern Patriarchs and the College of Cardinals, Pope Francis left the Basilica and entered the Square.  After a few prayers, he was presented the "pallium," a white shawl of sorts made from lamb's wool that he wears over his shoulders and then the fisherman's ring (in deference to Peter the fisherman.)  In a turn of events, the ring is not solid gold, but simply gold-plated and is a hand-me-down.  Evidently, it had been made, but never worn, during the time of Pope Paul VI.  With simplicity and little fanfare, Francis officially began his ministry.
While it's difficult to see, some of the acolytes have white baseball caps on.

The mass.

More of the mass.

Before the mass, Francis rode around the Square greeting the crowd and stopping to kiss a few babies.  One of the most poignant moments was when he descended from the Pope-mobile to greet and embrace a man with severe physical disabilities.  He put into practice what he said in the homily: "[To be a protector like Joseph] means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about....Caring, protecting, demands goodness, it calls for a certain tenderness....We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness! "  Most definitely a tender moment, not only for the individual, but for all who saw it (even if only on the jumbo-tron.)
Pope Francis in the crowd.

Coming down our pathway.

Just look for the tall guy dressed in white.

The Pontiff also had some pointed words for the cadre of political officials (and all of us) who came for the mass.  "Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be “protectors” of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world!"  Taking cues from his namesake, Francis of Assisi, he repeatedly mentioned care for the physical world.
Giving the homily.

Probably my favorite message came at the end of his homily.  Referring to the Petrine ministry, he said: "Today, together with the feast of Saint Joseph, we are celebrating the beginning of the ministry of the new Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter, which also involves a certain power. Certainly, Jesus Christ conferred power upon Peter, but what sort of power was it? Jesus’ three questions to Peter about love are followed by three commands: feed my lambs, feed my sheep. Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross. He must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Only those who serve with love are able to protect!"  These are good words for me to hear as I spend the next few years preparing to be of service in the Society of Mary and in the Church.  Oh that I may heed the words of Pope Francis with the help and grace of God!"
A memorable picture.

I have decided that this is probably the last "big" event I'll attend for a while.  My little introverted self is tired of big, jostling crowds.  I'll wait for "Pope Frenzy" to die down a bit before venturing to the Vatican.  But, I must say, it has been a lot of fun - the initial shock, the anticipation, the joy, the surprise, the learning, and the prayer.  And, I hope, that all of you who read this blog have enjoyed it as much as I have. 

I'll leave you with some other photos from the Sunday Angelus the weekend before.


I actually think there were more people for the Angelus than for the mass.

I guess the Holy Spirit decided to make a repeat performance.

When the Pope entered, he simply said "Buon Giorno."  He ended with "Buona Domenica, e Buon Pranzo" (Have a good Sunday and a good lunch.)

Reading his reflection on Sunday.

I saw this "satellite" car near the Vatican and couldn't resist a picture.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Tonight was truly amazing, awesome, wonderful, and so many other things that just haven't sunk in yet.  Never in a million years did I think I would be in St. Peter's Square to see white smoke billowing out of the Sistine Chapel and then to see a new Pontiff emerge from the balcony.  As I type this, I'm getting chills. 
St. Peter's with the Sistine Chapel in the background.

The facade of the Basilica.

As you know, I was in St. Peter's Square this morning when we had black smoke.  This afternoon, I returned with Bros. Javi and Joseph to wait once again.  The difference this time was that the rain was quite a bit harder!  My feet were wet and my arms were tired from holding an umbrella.  5:00 passed with no signal which meant that an inconclusive vote had been reached...again we had to wait. 
All we could see.

Bro. Joseph and Bro. Javi

Your's truly
And we even found Bro. Dani in the crowd.

But, the crowd was growing and there had been rumors all day that today would be the day.  I didn't really believe them.  Several laughs came from the crowd as a pigeon roosted on top of the Sistine chimney.  The Holy Spirit?  In my typical sarcastic way I mentioned that it was probably just a warm place to rest for a bit.
There was no way to get a good picture of the crowd, but it was massive.
Pigeon on the chimeny

Chimney Cam quickly became Bird Cam

Shortly after 7:00, a collective gasp went up from the that smoke?  What color is it?  NO WAY!  The crowd went wild when it became very obvious that the smoke was WHITE!  Something short of chaos followed...cheering, hollering, hugging, smiles and looks of disbelief all over the place.  It was soon confirmed as the bells of St. Peter began to peal, adding to the cacophony that had become St. Peter's.

....White Smoke!!!!!

The revelry begins

I wonder how big the ballots are, because there was a whole bunch of smoke!

The bells ringing....beautiful music.

During the next 45 minutes, there was a sort of electricity in the air.  Question of who do you think it will be?  Moments of realization that I was actually here, not watching on television, but actually in the place where millions around the globe were watching on television.  And the rain even stopped! 
We were very happy.

A regiment of the Swiss guard with a band marched in, followed by a regiment and band of the Italian guard.
The Swiss Guard

The Italians

As we waited, not knowing what would happen next, spontaneous chants of "Viva Papa" echoed through the Square.  We sang the Salve Regina, we prayed the Our Father.  It was quite impressive to experience this sense of togetherness with thousands of others from all over the globe. 

Then, a light came on.  Literally, the lights of the balcony came on and, again, a collective cheer came from the crowd.  A Cardinal came out and exclaimed: “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum; Habemus Papam.” In English, “I announce to you a great joy; We have a Pope.”  Then his name was given, and honestly, no one understood it!  Who?  What was that?  Something about Francesco?  
"Habemus Papam"

Slowly, the news filtered through the crowd...Jorge Mario Bergoglio?  From Agentina?  A Jesuit???  And he took the name Francesco?  Then, all the curtains on the balcony opened, the Cardinals came forth, and we got our first glimpse of the new Pope.
Francesco I

Some of the Cardinals

The Cardinals and the new Bishop of Rome

Francesco I then gave his blessing "Urbi et Orbi" - to the city of Rome and to the whole world.  This was, perhaps, the most moving for me.  He spoke of the "journey" that we are all on together.  We prayed an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be in Italian for Pope Emeritus Benedict.  Before giving us his blessing, he asked that all gathered pray that God's blessing be with him, and he asked for a silent prayer.  Kid you not, there were probably hundreds of thousands of people there, and the entire place was absolutely silent.  We're talking "hearing a pin drop" silent.  The only thing heard was a distant police siren...unreal! 

The Pontiff then gave us his blessing, and concluded with "Buona notte e Buon riposo" - "Good night and Sleep well."  An appropriate end to the evening in that, as I looked up, a few stars were starting to emerge from the cloudy skies.
From the big screen.

Still can't believe that I was there and took this picture.

St. Peter's Basilica

Once more the crowd erupted and the bells pealed (I understand even the bells in Dayton were ringing.)  We made our way through the crowd back near home where we enjoyed a celebratory meal of pizza and beer!  A good end to an extraordinary evening.
Toasting our new Pontiff.

It's getting late, and I'm sure I've forgotten things.  But, this is good for now.  I haven't even looked online yet, but I'm sure everyone is sizing Francesco up.  For now, let's just pray for God's many graces and blessings upon our new Pope, upon our Church, and upon all people of good will. 

Good night and sleep well, my friends!