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Friday, February 16, 2018

Passion Sunday

Every day when mass is celebrated, just before the Eucharistic Prayer, Catholics throughout the world sing or recite the Sanctus: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts.   Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest.”  When we sing or recite this great hymn of praise, we unite our hearts, minds and souls with all the angels, saints and the whole Church in a prayer of thanksgiving.

The Sanctus presents us with two very different images of God.  In the first two sentences, we acclaim God the Father who is awesome and powerful, holy and glorious.  In the second two sentences, we remember that in love and humility this awesome and powerful God came to us in human form and offered himself, God the Son, as a sacrifice, dying to take away all our sin.  Whenever we repeat the Sanctus, we should remember Passion Sunday and Good Friday and that the voices that cried out “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest,” are the same voices that turned against Jesus just a few days later shouting, "Crucify him." 

Hosanna is a Hebrew word that means, “Save, we ask.”  The people who greeted Jesus on the road into Jerusalem spreading their cloaks, waving branches and crying out, “Hosanna in the highest,” were expecting a king, a liberator, or a conquering hero.  They wanted Jesus to save them from the Romans.  They were not looking for a Savior, who was meek and humble “spurned and avoided by people, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, one of those from whom people hide their faces” (Isaiah 53: 3).  They did not expect a suffering, servant king.  It was not until after the Crucifixion and Resurrection that the disciples and other followers of Jesus understood that through his willingness to die on the cross, Jesus Christ entered into that fullness of glory we sing about in the Sanctus.  “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts.   Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest.” 

Lord God,
as we enter this Holy Week,
let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus.
Empty us of our pride and selfishness;
draw us close to his cross,
that as we celebrate his passion and resurrection,
our lives may become models of self-sacrificing love.
We ask this through Christ, our liberator from sin,
who lives with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever.

5th Sunday of Lent

There are so many important messages in today’s readings for the 5th Sunday of Lent that I could write a treatise and still not cover everything. So, I will focus on just one line in today’s gospel, John 12: 23, “"The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  Up to this point in St. John’s gospel, Jesus repeatedly told his mother, his disciples and other followers, “My hour has not yet come" (John 2: 4) or “my time has not yet been fulfilled" (John 7: 8).  The signs of glorification were there at Jesus’ baptism and at the Transfiguration but now, these signs are about to become a very tangible reality. 

This is the hour that the Children of Israel had been waiting many millennia for, but they didn’t recognize it.  This is the hour the disciples had been waiting three years for but they didn’t understand it.  This is the hour Jesus had been waiting his whole life for and it troubled and distressed him but he endured it for us.  This is the hour when Jesus “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Hebrews 5: 9).  This is the hour when our salvation was secured by Jesus’ acceptance of death. Like the grain the wheat that dies to produce much fruit, Jesus had to die so that all of us can have eternal life. 

Our observance of Lent is a progression through the ministry of Jesus leading up to his crucifixion, death and resurrection.  During Lent, we re-read and re-live the great events of salvation history in the "today" of our Church’s liturgy (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1095). We engage in “spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works)” (CCC 1438).  We do all these things to prepare ourselves spiritually for the glory of the Resurrection so that we will recognize and understand the enormity of the event. 

It is OK if you are not ready yet, there are thirteen more days until Easter and there are many opportunities to help you prepare.  Join us at our parish mission March 30 – April 1.  Come to our parish penance service March 31.  Participate in the Station of the Cross on Friday March 28 or the Out Door Stations of the Cross on Saturday, March 29.  Listen to our choir as they present the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to John on Wednesday, April 7.  Now is the time.  The hour has come. 

Father in heaven,
The love of your Son led him to accept the suffering of the cross
That we might glory in new life.
Change our selfishness into self-giving.
Help us to embrace the world you have given us,
That we may transform the darkness of its pain
into the life and joy of Easter.
    Grant this through Christ our Lord.

4th Sunday of Lent

Today is Laetare Sunday.  The name comes from the first words of the Introit at Mass, "Laetare Jerusalem" -- "Rejoice, O Jerusalem." It is a day of rejoicing within the penitential season of lent.  So, you may ask, what do we have to be joyful about today?  Our country’s economy is a mess.  The world is weighed down by wars and internal conflicts.  Television, radio and newspapers are full of bad news.  Where is the joy?

As we hear in the first reading from 2 Chronicles 13, the people of Jerusalem felt the same way thousands of years ago.  In their sinfulness, they turned away from God.  The Babylonians sacked their city and burned their Temple to the ground.  The invaders slaughtered many people; they tore those not killed away from their homes and carried them off to Babylon as slaves.  Today’s Responsorial Psalm, Psalm 137, is their lament.   “By the streams of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. On the aspens of that land we hung up our harps.”  The people of Jerusalem would know no joy until they returned home to a Jerusalem restored to them by a pagan King. 

In today’s gospel, John 3:  14 – 21, Jesus tells Nicodemus and he tells us why we should be joy –filled in the midst of our troubles.   We should be joyful because God loves us.  In what has to be the most well-known passage in scripture, Jesus says “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”   This is GOOD NEWS and is the heart of the Gospel message.  God loves us!  Because God loves us, God sent us Jesus for our salvation.  This also is the core of St. John’s message in 1 John 4: 8 – 10, “for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.”  God loved the children of Israel but they turned away from his love.  That did not stop God from loving them.  God loves each one of us even when we reject his love.  God loves the whole world in the midst of economic crises, wars and conflict.  Thomas Merton said, “Love seeks one thing only: the good of the one loved. It leaves all the other secondary effects to take care of themselves. Love, therefore, is its own reward.” 

So, on this Laetare Sunday, we should reflect on and rejoice in the mystery of God’s overwhelming, unconditional and magnanimous love.  Rejoice O people of Peachtree City “and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult.”

Loving and gracious Father,
you still love the world so much
that you keep giving it Jesus your Son.
May his cross be our sign
that you are with us
in times of misery and pain.
May we look up to him and learn from him
to open our hands and hearts to one another
and to give ourselves with our gifts.
May this help the world to see your light
and to accept the Son you have given us,
Jesus Christ, our Lord for ever.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

3rd Sunday of Lent

The Temple in Jerusalem figured prominently in the life of Jesus.  Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple forty days after his birth.  St. Luke tells us, “Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, “(Luke 2: 41). And on one of these trips, when Jesus was twelve, he stayed in the temple after his parents left, reminding them “I must be in my Father's house” (Luke 2: 49).  During his three years of ministry, Jesus often taught in the temple astounding and confounding the Scribes and Pharisees.  On Palm Sunday Jesus ended his triumphant procession into Jerusalem in the temple area.  At his death, the veil in the sanctuary of the temple was “torn in two from top to bottom” (Mark 15: 38). 

Jesus had a tremendous respect for the temple.  He called it the house of God, a house of prayer and the house of His Father.  The temple was sacred space. It is not surprising then, that he would be offended by people “making my Father's house a marketplace" (John 2: 16).  Each of us would be angry if someone violated our home.  And so he drove out the money-changers and the people selling animals for sacrifice.  But this dramatic act is not the crux of the story. 

 The Temple of Jerusalem was a symbol of the old covenant God made with Abraham, Moses, the prophets and kings.  Roman soldiers destroyed this temple in 70 AD. Through Jesus, God presents us with a new covenant and a new temple.  Although the authorities tried to destroy Jesus and “the temple of his body,” they failed.  By the sacrifice of Jesus for our salvation and the power of the Holy Spirit, a new temple is created and that new temple is us.  In 1 Corinthians 3: 9, 16-17, St. Paul says, “For we are God's co-workers; you are God's field, God's building. …Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.” 

Lent is a good time for us to consider how our lives reflect the Spirit of God dwelling in us and how we demonstrate that we are temples of the living God.

Holy God, we often turn our hearts
into houses of pride and greed
rather than into homes of love and goodness
where you can feel at home.
Destroy the temple of sin in us,
drive away all sin from our hearts,
and make us living stones of a community
in which can live and reign
your Son Jesus Christ,
our Lord for ever and ever.

2nd Sunday of Lent

In today’s gospel, St. Mark presents the Transfiguration (Mark 9: 2-10). The Greek word for transfigure is metamorphose which means change of form or appearance.   In the Gospel story Jesus takes Peter, James and John to the top of a mountain where his appearance changed before their eyes.  First his “clothes became dazzling white.”  Then Moses and Elijah appeared and had a conversation with Jesus. At this sublime moment, Peter tried to stop the action so he could capture the experience and enshrine it in three tents.  But before he could move, a cloud came over them and the three disciples and Jesus heard the voice of God say: “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to him.”    In a flash it was all over.  The disciples looked around and saw only a very human Jesus.    For Jesus the Transfiguration was affirmation that his mission was valid.  For the disciples, it was an astounding event they would not understand until after the Resurrection.    

Throughout scripture, the people who have direct encounters with God come away changed individuals.  Abram, Moses, Elijah and all the prophets were ordinary folks from many different life circumstances. After they experienced God, they changed, becoming Old Testament superheroes.  Saul of Tarsus met Jesus on the road to Damascus.  The encounter transformed him from Saul, a persecutor of Christians to Paul, the most ardent Christian in the Greco-Roman world.  No one can meet God face to face and remain the same.  It is a transforming event.  

As Catholic Christians, we believe that we experience the real presence of God when we receive Holy Communion. We hear the words of God in sacred scripture, song and preaching. And we encounter God in our interactions with one another in our families, in our parish and in our community.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that the “vocation of humanity is to show forth the image of God and to be transformed into the image of the Father's only Son” (1877).  Every time we attend Mass, receive the Eucharist, read scripture and join in Christian fellowship our lives should be transfigured.  Our encounters with God should shine through in everything we say and do. In 2 Corinthians 3: 18, St. Paul, the ardent Christian says, “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit.” 

Lent is a time for transformation.  It provides us with many opportunities to re-form our lives, change our hearts and allow the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us so we can “show forth the image God.”  We have a special opportunity for personal transformation this week through our parish Lenten Mission beginning this Sunday and continuing until Thursday.  Please consider joining us in worship, prayer and fellowship as we journey through Lent.  

Loving Father,
for a fleeting moment
you glorified your Son on the mountain
to encourage him to carry out his mission
and to strengthen his disciples.
Let the presence of your Son in this Eucharist
and the words he speaks to us
transform us and give us light and strength
to take up our task in life
and to lighten the burden
of our brothers and sisters,
until you transform us with him
in the lasting light of your glory.
We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord.

1st Sunday of Lent

Today’s gospel for the First Sunday of Lent, Mark 1: 12 -15, is the same gospel we heard four weeks ago.  The words Jesus proclaims in this gospel, the first recorded words of his public ministry, are so profound we should embrace them every day. After spending forty days of temptation in the desert, Jesus enters Galilee preaching, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”    The time is now, the kingdom of God is here now, turn your lives around now and believe, really BELIEVE, the Gospel (Good News) that God loves us right now.

Believing in the gospel message is not just an intellectual exercise; it is an exercise of the heart.  Our Saviors’ call to repentance is a call for a radical change of heart (metanoia).  The term metanoia comes from ancient Greek, meaning to change one's mind, i.e. to repent and have a spiritual conversion. Jesus invites us to repent so that we can experience fulfillment and enter into the Kingdom of God.  This is what Lent is all about.

Beginning with Ash Wednesday and continuing until we celebrate the Great Easter Vigil, we are invited to turn away from all the things that separate us from the love of God.  We are invited to unload all the things that drag us down. We are invited to open our hearts to God’s love.  And when we achieve this, we are invited to renew our baptismal vows, to become that new person we promised to be and to assume our proper place in the kingdom of God.  As St. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5: 17, “whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”

“This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”  

God of mercy,
you give us the forty days of Lent
to help us become aware of the desert in our hearts.
Thank you for letting us come to you
with a life marked with the scars
of our own defeats and failures
and those caused by others.
Heal us, Lord, and forgive us,
make us whole and wholesome again.
Give us the strength of Jesus,
that we may be faithful to you
and live for one another.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Sunday, February 11, 2018 we celebrate World Marriage Day and on Wednesday, February 14, 2018 we celebrate St Valentine’s Day.  World Marriage Day, sponsored by Worldwide Marriage Encounter, “honors the lifelong commitment of husband and wife as head of the family, the basic unit of society. It salutes the beauty of couple's fidelity, sacrifice, and joy in daily married life.”  For Catholics Saint Valentine’s Day commemorates the martyrdom of three saints; two near Rome in the 3rd Century and one in Africa.  From my limited research, none of them had anything to do with romantic love.  Facts aside, Saint Valentine’s Day has been associated with love since the middle ages. 

Pope Francis has written extensively about the different dimensions of love in his 2016 Encyclical Letter, Amoris Laetitia, The Joy of Love.  In regards to marriage, the Holy Father writes: “The sacrament of marriage is not a social tradition, an empty ritual or merely the outward sign of a commitment.  The sacrament is a gift given for the sanctification and salvation of the spouses, since ‘their mutual belonging is a real representation through the sacramental sign, of the same relationship between Christ and the Church’.” (72)  The Holy Father goes on to say that: “Christian marriage is a sign of how much Christ loved his Church in the covenant sealed on the cross, yet it also makes that love present in the communion of the spouses.” (73) 

Given the Holy Father’s assertion that marriage is a “gift given for the sanctification and salvation of the spouses,” it is not surprising that on January 18, 2018, he convalidated a marriage aboard a Papal flight over Chile for  LATAM flight attendants Carlos Ciuffardi Elorriaga and Paula Podest Ruiz.  The couple wanted to have a religious ceremony but an earthquake on the day of their wedding, February 27, 2010, caused the collapse of their rural parish church. So, they had to make do with a civil ceremony.  This simple act of Papal, pastoral compassion did raise a few eyebrows.  His response was, “The sacraments are for human persons. All of the conditions were clear. And why not do today that which could be done today, and not delay it for tomorrow, a tomorrow that perhaps would have been ten, eight years later? And when we arrived here it was all finished.”   

St Valentine’s Day is a special day to celebrate love.  Marriage is the lifelong commitment of two people to grow in mutual love, spirituality, gratitude, sacrifice and faithfulness.   And so, this week we celebrate love and commitment. 

Prayer for World Marriage Day
 by Father Bill Dilgen, S. M. M.

Father we thank you for your tremendous gift of the Sacrament of 
marriage.  Help us to witness to its glory by a life of growing
intimacy.  Teach us the beauty of forgiveness
So we may become more and more One in Heart, Mind and Body.
Strengthen our dialogue and help us become living signs of your love.
Make us grow more in love with the Church so we may
renew the Body of Christ.
             Make us a sign of unity in the name of 
Jesus, our Lord
 and Brother.