Redwood Journal is a collection of writings authored by Harry Martin, including book and article publications and blog postings collected from earlier websites. It is, in a very real sense, a journal of the author reflecting his life and work, much among the Coast Redwood country of Northern California. But it is, even more, a journal of his tasks as a servant of the Cross, a douloscross. It is a journal of one who follows He who died upon the Cross, made red by His blood and arose from the tomb through His holy love.
Over the years these tasks have included firefighting, restaurant and camp cook, disaster medical planner, Protestant pastor, Permanent Deacon in the Roman Catholic Church, fire services chaplain, mental health advocate, Beeswax candle maker, writer and husband and father. All of these tasks, privileged assignments, for this simple servant of Christ have been sought to be done gloria Dei, for the glory of God.
6th Sunday of Easter – 9 May 2021 – Bible Readings for Mass: I: Acts: 10; 25-26,34-35, 44-48; Responsorial: Psalm 98; II: I John 4: 7-10; Gospel: John 15: 9-17
Life today is inundated with choices. From politics to products in the grocery store, from APPS to use in smartphones and tablets to which devices to use, choices abound. Even in our faith, it would seem the choices never end. What about liturgy? What about the many choices of Bible to read and study? What about the growing political and faith agendas that would cause us to pick and choose? Or what about the most volatile of choices, pro-abortion or pro-life? Life seemed to once be so simple. We spoke of crossroads. Now we deal with interchanges. Life, our choices, truly can be confusing, difficult, and especially at the speed we live these days, perilous.
Yet, once again, in the mercy and peace of The Holy Spirit, we are brought back into our Heavenly Fathers Presence to listen to His Son.
We are reminded of the conversation Jesus had with His disciples in the Upper Room, through our Bible readings today, that yes, we have choices to make in this life. These choices affect us in our daily journey and for all of eternity. But we are also taught with holy clarity that our choices needs be made as we realize a very important fact, Jesus chose us. Jesus chose you and me.
We are chosen by God. In the Gospel from the glorious Upper Room discourse Jesus tells us “It was not you who chose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit…” In more archaic English versions of Scripture the verb “chose” is (accurately) translated as “ordained”. Perhaps this has helped develop the erroneous perils of clericalism or the attitude among many Christians that it is those ordained or that have particular vocations to be called by God and fruitful in their ministry. But if we take Jesus at His Word and within the context of the Gospels and Apostles we must realize… Christ has chosen…us, as we are, to come to Him, receive Him and follow in His steps, to simply, abide in Him.And as we surrender to His holy mercy we learn we are indeed chosen, by God, to be…
Fruitful for Christ and His kingdom: Among many Christians there has developed a particular focus that fruitfulness for God is expressed in…matters of this world. For many big numbers at Mass or in a ministry equate to being fruitful. For some it may be the number of services to which they attend or prayers they say. Even for some the dynamics of love in a family are focused or even restricted to children that being produced. But with God Scripture clearly teaches us that it is in a vast array of Fruits of the Spirit that Jesus longs for us to be fruitful. For it is in those fruits the souls of others and our self will grow for Him. So our choice for God would be to grow ever more fruitful in those Fruits rooted in the love of the Father, from abiding in the Vine, His Son, and found in the power of the Holy Ghost. Our Blessed Mother, Mary, understood and showed us this choice so full of grace.
We are chosen, by our Lord, to be JOYFUL! It is with poignant beauty and irony that Jesus, at His Last Supper, moments before leaving for the Garden of Gethsemane, tells His followers… “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete”. Again the verb “complete” is well translated as “full” or “mature”. The truth, however, is clear, God, our Savior, wants our lives to be growing, maturing in His joy! This is not the absurd happiness expressed on TV by those who choose a particular drug, potato chip, car, or toilet paper. Worldly, futile happiness is found in the very insecure world of materialism or lusts, whether they be for false intimacy, power, or politics. God chooses us to know, daily, His joy that can prevail regardless of our circumstances. For God chooses us whether it be in the dark nights of the soul or in the joys of answered prayer and blessings.
We are chosen…ordained by God, to be fruitful and to be filled with His joy. It is really so very simple. Not always easy but simple. For God knows whom He has chosen. Yet we try to make it so very complex. We develop our own preferred mazes of faith and OBEDIENCE. I am too old. I am too young. I am not smart enough. I am ….fill in the excuses of choice. We nurture our models of approved fruitfulness and worship. We have a plethora of spiritual roadmaps, ways of worship, holy music, prayer, and love. Yet Jesus, in that Upper Room taught that there were just TWO choices we must make if we are to be abiding in Him. We are ordained, chosen to LOVE God and one another. Period. Full stop. And if that were not simple enough our Lord explains that we are to love God with all our hearts in the moment of time we live..not in our yesterdays or in our possible tomorrows.We are to love with all our heart…today. If our heart is harmed by sin, wounded by brokenness..to love with all our heart, today, with Jesus, wherever we are. And we are to love one another, as He loved us. Again, as we are, unconditionally, with the same unselfish love Jesus washed the feet of John the Beloved, or Peter who would deny Him three times…or Judas who would betray Him with a kiss. Jesus, knowing all this still….. LOVED. For God is Love. This would bring us to an important consideration. Where in the Gospel, in Scripture are we taught to, or how to judge love? We are taught..to love, not to judge love.
And it is the more we immerse ourselves into abiding in Him, into loving Him and one another, that we grow in the fruitfulness and joy He has ordained. Eternal, abiding fruitfulness of the Holy Spirit to give to our Heavenly Father in love and the fruitfulness of more children of our Lord following, with us, our Lord. For this we are created, redeemed and ordained, chosen by God.
5th Sunday of Easter – 2 May 2021 – Bible Readings for Mass: I: Acts 9: 26-31; Responsorial: Psalm 22. II: I John 3: 18-24; Gospel: John 15: 1-8
The Holy Spirit, on this 5th Sunday of Easter, brings us on our Gospel journey through great challenges to powerful promises and a walk with Jesus in His holy vineyard. We are called to journey in the Gospel Garden. I believe it is no coincidence that as we reflect on our risen Christ this Easter season that we realize much of the Easter story is found in gardens. From the passion of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to the fearful joy of the Garden Tomb Jesus brings us His Gospel, in so many ways in creation. Whether it be the wilderness testings, the mountain top transfiguration, the beauty of a cloister garden or our own humble gardens for God we can grow, fruitfully as we abide in Christ in His Gospel Garden.
But there are very real problems and perils we must face. In many ways, it is illustrated in the unique winter scene of Mont St. Michail off the coast of Normandy France. For many souls, life is much like a wasteland of frozen faith or hopes. Or maybe their faith is strong yet their call from God has brought them to places of great draining demands or isolated aloneness. But their faith, their love is focused on the beautiful mountain of their Lord and so to their home they press on. They, like each believer, seek to grow in the Gospel Garden.
In our own little garden at home we are approaching the peak of the spring time beauty. In spite of all the worries and concerns of life the garden, the flowers, trees, ferns and weeds all simply seek to grow and to be. I was observing and appreciating all this this week as I prayed upon our Scripture readings. But I have also been very saddened by the ongoing strife and judgement throughout the Body of Christ. This infects Christians whether they be Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or Protestant. The worldly spirits of politics, nationalism, and moral tangents tempts us to have our focus on the Gospel, upon Christ to be clouded or blinded. The growing fervor to decide, to judge whether others are worthy of the Eucharist or the mercy and blessings of God is something perhaps we can reflect upon as we walk in the Gospel Garden.
I have always been grateful that in the garden, regardless of the season, I have never observed the plants arguing. While a rose may be very large and rich in beauty it is content to grow alongside a simple perennial with countless tiny flowers. The clematis growing on the fence seems to have no concerns about judging the Calla lily across the path or the azalea at its feet. . The large Hawthorn tree seems actually to enjoy sharing its shade with the corral bells growing beneath its limbs. Each creation is intent on simply growing to be that which it is created to be. and to share that creation with their neighbor.
Now I know there will be those thinking the deacon is really losing it. But stay with me and together let us seek Jesus in the garden and in His Word for this Sunday.
In the first reading from the Book of Acts we have a dramatic glimpse in the Gospel Garden of the early church. The Church is alive and growing. In the holy mount of the mercy of the risen Lord they find a rich, joyous garden bed of life and fruitfulness. But then Saul of Tarsus shows up in Jerusalem. The disciples, knowing full well his reputation and background, are fearful and do not want him…in THEIR garden. Except for Barnabas, who takes Saul into his heart and under his wing. And the Holy Spirit brings the Church from their fears to grow in true holiness of the love of God. The welcome, the blessing, the mercy of Jesus brought not only the disciples but Saul into God’s Garden and Saul grew to be the man God created him to be, St Paul the Apostle. God’s garden was growing!
The Gospel Garden is a place of Life. Eternal, abundant, fruitful LIFE! And, as in any good garden, it will be tilled, pruned, weeded and…loved. It is to the Gospel for this day we hear Jesus speak of His will for our lives to be fruitful. And again in the garden we learn something of this. I have never encountered an apple tree judging an orange tree as unworthy of being a part of God’s garden. Nor have I ever heard the many vineyards telling the olive trees they MUST grow as the grape vines because, after all,THEY, were the example Jesus used!!!! Each tree, plant or vine simply grows where God has planted them to be, fruitful in the life God has given them.
Now the metaphor of the garden has limitations. Some would be quick to remind us plants do not have moral character. They have not the ability to choose. Or so is commonly understood. The lessons of Scripture, of the saints (St. Francis of Assisi, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Juan Diego and many others) would enlarge our hearts to realize there is far more to creation than our eyes see and our minds comprehend. But one thing our walk in the garden with the Risen Jesus would affirm for us is the Gospel Garden is, for all its simplicity, a place of holy truth.
St. John the Beloved, in our second reading teaches without ambiguity or complexity that we can know we belong to the truth if we simply “…believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another…”. It is in this epistle John confirms what he shared in our Gospel..to believe in Jesus, to love as He loves us. He shares, too, in the Gospel that this simple fruitful life is ours as we remain or abide in Jesus. The Holy Spirit gave this Gospel to John many decades after the resurrection of the Christ. The Church had grown through many amazing graces. As it had grown John was also seeing the Body of Christ, the Living Eucharist, grow in complexity and conflicts. As John shared those words that Jesus shared just moments before His Passion was to begin…in the Garden… we can sense the longing of God that we not be distracted by lesser issues and places. We can sense the longing of Jesus for us to simply abide in His garden, to abide in Him, fruitful, holy, loving. But… what about?????
But is this too unrealistic? It may seem to be utterly foolish when we face with the harsh pragmatic realities and issues we must deal with as people and as Christians. When unborn girls and boys are being aborted how can this even apply? If a someone refuses to agree with the sacredness of life, as we may believe, how, then should they receive communion? If there are those whose life style does not agree with what is taught and understood from the Church how can they expect any blessing from God? How can a “walk in the garden with Jesus” even make any sense?
These issues are very, painfully real. And if we just focus on the issues, instead of the person, the people dealing with the issues we will find cause for judgment, rancor and strife. And these are only two examples. In every parish these issues will be present but so will many more (greed, pride, heterosexual lust and much more) . But the parish, the church, is NOT ISSUES. It is human souls. And it is God’s garden. While it is so much easier and simple to judge those who may sin in ways that have no appeal for me it ignores the reality that we are all wounded, scared, messed up. We are all sinners except for God’s grace. If we waited until we are perfect before we go to receive our Lord’s Body and Blood in holy communion none of us would (honestly) receive. And the prayer we all share “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. But only say the word and my soul shall be healed”, is unnecessary. So….Let’s go back to the garden.
The plants are not concerned with judging each other. The grape vine is concerned only in growing…grapes not olives, apples or roses.
WHAT IF, together, we simply seek to grow in the holy creation we each, individually, and together, are in Christ?
WHAT IF, as these moral creatures we are, we choose to show each soul we meet the Gospel beauty of life, the hope, the mercy that Christ will give to those who seek Him?
WHAT IF, instead of judgment we offer the merciful shade of grace and kindness to souls seeking simply to be, to love, to trust God for where they are at that moment of their life?
WHAT IF, we seek to grow in faith in God, and each other, as love believes all things, and we seek to love as Jesus loves us?
The Fourth Sunday of Easter – 25 April 2021 – Bible Readings for Mass: I: Acts 4: 8-12
Responsorial: Psalm 118; II: I John 3: 1-2; Gospel: John 10: 11-18
We are about midway in our journey through the holy season of Easter. It will culminate with the celebration of Ascension Sunday and then the following Sunday will be Pentecost. Our Bible readings are shining God’s light from our Lord’s resurrection and beginning to shine on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is nice to know where we are going. We humans generally like to have a plan, an understanding, of the course of life. It allows us to enjoy the feeling (the myth) that we are in control. Now, of course, we need plans. We need to prepare for what is occurring in life and what we are doing with this profound gift of being alive. Yet, sadly, this belief of control, keeping in touch, has, for many, become an obsession. This faith in technology and assumed control has impacted all ages. It has become a false cornerstone, a false shepherd of our time.
Now, the needed point of clarity, cell phones, tablets, computers, APPS, and technology is, in itself not bad. It is not evil. But when it replaces real, versus virtual, communication, when it takes our eyes away from LIFE and the roads we travel, when it replaces real people and especially God we have chosen a dangerous, false idol. To illustrate this point picture, for a few moments, what most lives would have been like IF, during this pandemic, cell phones, tablets, the internet were not an option. It would have been a loss of great and blessed resources. But it also would have brought us to realize those THINGS are not our God. They are not meant to be leading us as our shepherd.
We need to recognize these challenges and realize they impact all ages and in all aspects of our life. They especially impact our faith, often profoundly in times of stress, crises, or facing uncertainties. We long for clarity, security, and assurance that we are on the right path. And, being honest, that can seem to be found with some APPS, websites, and social media sources. But as the Word of God would teach and remind us today, Jesus is the foundation, the cornerstone of our life. We believe that, at least until things get rough. Regardless we still wonder, more often than not, Where is God leading?
The answer to that question is really simpler than we would make it. Jesus would and will always lead us closer into His Presence. As the Gospel reading affirms Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord, is the Good Shepherd. He Finds us when and where we may stray and brings us back to where we are meant to be. And we must accept, as the Gospel teaches, it isn’t only about us, or our path with God. Our Lord has other sheep that do not belong to this fold that He also shepherds on the paths of His Kingdom. We are not in charge. We are sheep. We are not the navigator or the one who decides who is to follow and who may or may not be following as we would expect. We, simply are not in control at least to the extent we feel we should be. We are sheep. Jesus is the Shepherd.
And Christ is leading us closer to Him. He leads us to be close that we may hear, see, follow God to the fullness of His Kingdom. This is a journey of faith. There is much unknown and, at times, perhaps uncertain. But the Holy Spirit speaks clearly that it is into God’s Presence we are called. And that we are called to be the child of God that we ARE and the child of God we ARE TO BECOME.
Where is God leading? Closer into His Presence and to be and become the child of God, the sheep He would love and shepherd. It is in one of the great Psalm confessions or prayers we see this expressed.
This glorious season of Easter let us take the time to quietly sit or walk with our risen Lord. Perhaps you may want to invite our Blessed Mother Mary, or another special saint to join you and our Lord and then quietly, from your heart, look to Jesus and confess, JESUS, The Lord is my Shepherd.
3rd Sunday of Easter – 18 April 2021 – Bible Readings for Mass: I: Acts 3: 13-15, 17-19; Responsorial: Psalm 4; II: I John 2: 1-5a; Gospel: Luke 24: 35-48
This third week of Easter is in rather sharp contrast to this week in our world. There has been another mass shooting. The Covid 19 pandemic continues to be a very real battle with efforts of medicine and practices of all those concerned with the health of others and themselves battling viral mutations and fears. And even in the church, where we should be celebrating the Presence of our Risen Lord, there are that intent on focusing and fueling divisions and strife. All these events to which we are witnesses would challenge and seemingly mock the power and promise of Jesus, risen from the dead. In many ways, the ways of the world and the powers of darkness seem as powerful as they were when Jesus suffered His passion and died on the cross. But as it was for the early Christians so it is for the faithful today. The reality of the cross will only become clearer as we seek our Lord and His return.
And the promise and power of Christ risen from the dead, the power of His resurrection, is even more relevant and real. And it is to these Truths that far surpass the news of the day, we are called to be witnesses.
Every believer, no matter their age or place in the Body of Christ is called to bear witness for Christ. It is an inherent part of our being that we ARE WITNESSES! We proclaim in our words and deeds our loves, our hates, our beliefs and our doubts. What, or more truthfully, whom does our witness proclaim? Is life all about…me, my accomplishments, my accumulations or perhaps if we have encountered sufferings is it about sharing a new “organ recital” as we testify to whatever ailment has beset us? Or are we, as created and redeemed by God proclaiming the truth of the cross and the power of the resurrection?
As we carefully listen to the Scripture for today we hear the clear call from God to proclaim His Presence in our lives, to bear witness of Jesus conquering sin and death. This resurrection witness is expressed in our actions and our words. St. Francis of Assisi told his brothers to “preach and if necessary, use words.” Our testimony, if real, will contain key essential elements of Christ in our life.
The message of LIFE: If we examine the actions and words of Jesus, before His Passion and even more so after His rising from the dead, we see a dynamic message of LIFE and life in abundance. He encounters us in our struggles, fears, and failings and seeks us to follow Him beyond our self to GROW in the holy joy of body soul, and spirit found in Him. This brings us to ask, what do we proclaim to others, or to ourselves? Is the message of encouragement, hope, growth, and maybe even change? Or is it a message of fear, suspicion, or worry? Is our favorite hymn of worry or wonder for beauty of God and Creation?
The Witness of Mercy and forgiveness: As Jesus encountered the disciples HE encountered lives locked in rooms of fear, hiding behind doubts and guilt. Jesus, then, and now, comes to us where we are. But He comes bringing hope and the holy joy of mercy. Christ knows and understands each of us. He knows, better than any other our flaws, wounds, our brokenness. And, as the refrain from the Responsorial proclaims, we call to our ” Lord, let your face shine on us.” As we are on this pilgrimage through these difficult times we need to take care that our words and our deeds share that message of mercy and forgiveness with others. It is important to note when Jesus encountered His struggling followers He did so, again, where they were. Change, repentance, conversion, yes it would occur as they followed and drew close to Him. But there would be times when forgiveness would be impossible without Him. But it must be a part of their on-growing witness.
The testimony of God’s peace and love: It is in the world of conflicts and strife, it is as we carry our crosses that we are called to grow in genuine holiness. That holiness, that sanctifying grace of God, is revealed perhaps most powerfully in the peace of God that surpasses all circumstance and understanding. It is validated, undeniably, in lives that allow their souls to see others as God does, with His love. Now lest anyone worry that I am speaking of a fuzzy, spineless emotion void of any character I am not. We are redeemed to see others beyond their failings and sins to the God-loved soul within. (Or simply to see others as God sees..each of us). We are to share, amidst the very real chaos of the world, the peace of He who reigns eternally in God’s Kingdom. And we are redeemed to share the healing blessing of God’s love with souls wounded by the false loves of the world and by the hates that those counterfeits will inflict.
2nd Sunday of Easter ~ Divine Mercy Sunday; 11 April 2021; Bible Readings for Mass: I: Acts 4: 32-35; Responsorial: Psalm 118; II: I John 5: 1-6; Gospel: John 20: 19-31
Our journey with the risen Christ continues this second week of Easter. This Sunday is also recognized, by the Church, as Divine Mercy Sunday.
The Devotion to the Divine Mercy of Christ was given to Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska in Poland from 1931 – 36. As is usually the course of our devotions there are questions and issues that could challenge some. However, the core message of faithfully seeking the Divine Mercy of Jesus is a message and value of great worth and brings us to the Scriptures of this day.
As is the norm during Easter all our Bible readings come from the New Testament (with the exceptions of the Responsorial, coming from the Psalms).
The first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, gives us a dynamic picture of the early church in Jerusalem. The faith community, although persecuted, was growing in numbers, and the faithful were of “one heart and mind” as they shared all they had with each other, and for God’s Kingdom. It was a time of great power as the Apostles shared, in word and deed, the Gospel of the crucified and risen Christ. It was also an extraordinary testimony of the mercy of God. For these leaders of the early church had, just days earlier, fled their Savior and God in His passion. And for each of them, in real ways, their healing and forgiveness were found in His holy wounds.
The second reading from the First Epistle of John weaves for us the holy fabric of God’s mercy as a tapestry of faith, love, and obedience to Christ.
But it is in our Gospel, for this Easter Sunday, we see so clearly the mercy of Jesus shared with the disciples and particularly with Thomas who, without guile, and in honest doubt still sought Jesus whom he loved. The story of “Doubting Thomas” is familiar with most Christians. Perhaps it is because there are realities with which we can identify. Like Thomas most of us are, at times, encountering uncertainties, fears, and doubts. We long for clear tangible evidence of that which Jesus promises is….truth. This especially becomes an issue when confronted with the harsh realities of the world and the cruelty it can bring..the cruelty of the Cross.
It is vital to accept that Jesus did not reject Thomas for his imperfect faith. Christ did not condemn His struggling disciple trying to sort out the events, the teachings, the theologies and intense emotions with which he contended. Jesus came to Thomas as he was. It would have been so beautiful to have been in the rooms with the disciples as Jesus, again came in, past doors securely locked, and stood in their midst. And to see Thomas, with them, as he saw Jesus through his confused eyes of fear, and struggling faith. And then for Thomas to see the eyes of Jesus looking at him, with the holy gaze of mercy, peace, of welcome. And as Jesus saw Thomas he saw through the doubts, the fears, the worries to the disciple he had created and redeemed. And he saw a heart of longing faith hungering for…God. Jesus called Thomas to Himself and simply invited Thomas to see, to touch, to enter His wounds of holy love.
And it was as Thomas entered the wounds of His Savior he was healed. And it was as Jesus entered the woundsof Thomas he found the peace, the wholeness, the holiness, of love.
The story of Jesus and Thomas is one of the countless stories of God’s mercy. The greater the need, the conflicts, the sorrows the greater the opportunity for the mercy of Jesus to prevail. I believe it was no coincidence that the call to Divine Mercy was given to an uneducated nun in Poland as the horrors of World War II exploded. It is especially in lands and homes, minds and hearts, in conflict and fear that Jesus seeks to bring His mercy. The world, even the Church has souls lonely for peace, acceptance, and love. There is a famine of hope and mercy in so many lives. And if we deny God’s blessing and mercy to others it is to re-open the Wounds of Christ shared in the breaking of His Body and sharing of His Blood. The mercy, the blessings of God were shared by Jesus, not with the sinless or perfect. They, His holy wounds, were shared with…us.
There is a significant verse in the Epistle for today. It states: “And his commandments are not burdensome…”. As we seek the mercy of the Risen Jesus in our lives we need to remember that same mercy we need and seek is meant to be shared. It is also helpful to remember that about burdens… a burden is never heavy when it is made to be carried by someone else. We need to prayerfully look and understand that what we may impose, as essential upon others, if it is truly of God, would not be burdensome. May, what we share, help others know Christ and His mercy and the freedom of His grace.
The words of a Taize chorus (again, from Poland) can help us grow in the mercy, the forgiveness of our risen Lord and Savior:
God is forgiveness, God is forgiveness, God is forgiveness,
Dare to forgive and God will be with you.
God is forgiveness, God is forgiveness, God is forgiveness,
Easter Sunday is the greatest of the Christian holidays. It is a celebration of Jesus, Savior and Lord, rising from the dead. As the resurrection is celebrated it also is a time of joy for new life, of growth. Some critics complain that the Christians “stole” Easter from the Jews as it developed during Passover. Or, on an even broader scale, that it was taken from the pagan religions and many customs associated with the vernal equinox. In a very real sense… Yes! Joyfully Yes! The roots of both the Hebrew faith and pagan religions are a part of the tapestry of humanity that celebrates this holy, joyful feast. This historical, global scale is also what occurs in families and our personal journey with and to God. It isn’t a matter of theft. It is a reality that we grow from the faith, the practices we had and, hopefully, we grow unto the Truth who is Jesus. And this journey is not perfect or complete for any of us. None of us can claim to possess all the Truth or answers. That is only found in God. So Easter is a celebration that recognizes the journey of humanity and of all creation from our early beliefs and practices into the fullness of Truth found in the risen Savior and God, Jesus the Christ.
As the stone door of the tomb was rolled away Jesus stepped out into the glory of a new creation where sin and death are conquered. As Christ on earth welcomed and blessed Hebrews and Gentiles with the Gospel of conversion (change, growth, new life and direction) the Risen Jesus would both welcome and empower all who are seeking the Way of His Kingdom. The Risen Savior would seek those who were frightened, wounded, and struggling with doubts and lead them to grow in His mercy and forgiveness. Even Peter with his denials of his Lord was sought by God, who is forgiveness. And it is important to understand the Risen Lord, The Messiah, appeared first, not to the Apostles, not to the priests and leaders of the Hebrews. The great religious scholars sought not the tomb where he laid.
The first to experience and realize the miraculous joy of Easter were women who loved their Lord and came, hoping to complete the preparation of His Body for burial. They were, in the realities of that era, often seen as lesser humans than men. As evidenced by their burial task they were normally in the place and roles of servants. But they came in courageous love, however unsure their faith. And it was those hearts of love coming with their imperfect faith that Jesus chose to first reveal His risen Presence. It was the women who would first witness, to the Apostles and to the world Jesus had risen from the dead. It would be their message shared with Peter and John that would send the men racing to the tomb with tremulous disregard for their fears and doubts. And as they came and saw they knew in their hearts what had happened. Jesus was alive in the hope dawning in their hearts. It would be, from the empty tomb they would grow in the Truth, the grave was not where Jesus was meant to be. And neither were they.
Christ, victor over sin and death, conquerer of Satan, would visit His follower in their locked, fearful rooms and on their wanderings of sorrow and doubt. Jesus met His disciples where they were. He waited not for perfect faith, understanding or the fullest of pious love. He met them where they were… as he meets us. As we celebrate the holy joy of Christ risen we acclaim our Alleluias! That great word of faith and joy affirms: “Our God reigns!”
It is time we leave the tombs of our doubts and fears. It is time we place our faith in Christ Crucified and Risen from the Dead instead of placing our faith in our failings or our limited understanding of the sins and faults of others. Together we are invited by Christ to see, enter into His holy wounds, and realize anew our hope and healing, our holiness and joy is found, not in our practices or assumed perfections, but in His wounds of redeeming love.
And prayerfully may we understand it is not for us to judge and decide how God and His infinite graces, God’s boundless blessings are to be shared. We are all unworthy. We are all broken in sin. And it is for us all Jesus found His way to the cross and tomb. He knew it would be where He would find us. And it is from there He leads us. Sin, death, the devil are conquered. But some would say, why then is there so much suffering, hate, evil in the world? The Easter journey is the Way of the Cross. Evil, sin, death are conquered. And it is our calling, our privilege to, with and in Christ, manifest Christ’s victory into the world He leads us.
Easter Vigil is an ancient celebration in the Roman Catholic Church. While familiar to Catholics it is important to reflect on the many elements of this Mass. It concludes the Triduum [Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil]. It also completes Holy Week and the season of Lent. It is held, at dusk or later, on Saturday night and marks the dawn of the Easter celebration and season. The Easter Vigil is recognized as being, normally, the longest Mass of our Liturgy. It contains an immense treasure of Bible readings, Responsorial Psalms, and prayers. It is also an ancient traditional time where Catechumens are baptized, First Communion is given for adults, and Confirmation is sacramentally shared. All of these facets are shared in the joy and glory of the resurrected Christ.
The Easter Vigil also includes the lighting of the Paschal Candle. It will be lit at all the Easter season Masses, baptisms, and funerals throughout the coming year. Lit, from the holy fire at the start of the Vigil and carried into the darkened church it marks the end of our darkness and the coming of the Light of Christ. It is placed in the large candle stand next to the ambo. What follows is, again, a very ancient part of our worship, the proclaiming of the Exultet. This great prayer of praise shared by Christians in countless Easters is rich in both beauty and lessons for our faith. Because it is a long prayer it often is not fully appreciated. For this Easter Vigil, I share it. I encourage us all to reflect upon the Biblical beauty and holy love expressed in these words. May the Spirit and Truth of the Exultet to our Risen Christ be deeply rooted and grow in our hearts.
Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven, exult, let Angel ministers of God exult, let the trumpet of salvation sound aloud our mighty King’s triumph!
Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her, ablaze with light from her eternal King, let all corners of the earth be glad, knowing an end to gloom and darkness.
Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice, arrayed with the lightning of his glory, let this holy building shake with joy, filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.
(Therefore, dearest friends, standing in the awesome glory of this holy light, invoke with me, I ask you, the mercy of God almighty, that he, who has been pleased to number me, though unworthy, among the Levites, may pour into me his light unshadowed, that I may sing this candle’s perfect praises.)
(V. The Lord be with you. R. And with your spirit.) V. Lift up your hearts. R. We lift them up to the Lord. V. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. R. It is right and just.
It is truly right and just, with ardent love of mind and heart and with devoted service of our voice, to acclaim our God invisible, the almighty Father, and Jesus Christ, our Lord, his Son, his Only Begotten.
Who for our sake paid Adam’s debt to the eternal Father, and, pouring out his own dear Blood, wiped clean the record of our ancient sinfulness.
These, then, are the feasts of Passover, in which is slain the Lamb, the one true Lamb, whose Blood anoints the doorposts of believers.
This is the night, when once you led our forebears, Israel’s children, from slavery in Egypt and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea.
This is the night that with a pillar of fire banished the darkness of sin.
This is the night that even now, throughout the world, sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices and from the gloom of sin, leading them to grace and joining them to his holy ones.
This is the night, when Christ broke the prison-bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld.
Our birth would have been no gain, had we not been redeemed.
O wonder of your humble care for us! O love, O charity beyond all telling, to ransom a slave you gave away your Son! O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ! O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!
O truly blessed night, worthy alone to know the time and hour when Christ rose from the underworld!
This is the night of which it is written: The night shall be as bright as day, dazzling is the night for me, and full of gladness.
The sanctifying power of this night dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty. On this, your night of grace, O holy Father, accept this candle, a solemn offering, the work of bees and of your servants’ hands, an evening sacrifice of praise, this gift from your most holy Church.
But now we know the praises of this pillar, which glowing fire ignites for God’s honor, a fire into many flames divided, yet never dimmed by sharing of its light, for it is fed by melting wax, drawn out by mother bees to build a torch so precious.
O truly blessed night, when things of heaven are wed to those of earth, and divine to the human.
Therefore, O Lord, we pray you that this candle, hallowed to the honor of your name, may persevere undimmed, to overcome the darkness of this night.
Receive it as a pleasing fragrance, and let it mingle with the lights of heaven.
May this flame be found still burning by the Morning Star: the one Morning Star who never sets, Christ your Son, who, coming back from death’s domain, has shed his peaceful light on humanity, and lives and reigns for ever and ever.
Good Friday, the most solemn and sorrowful day in the Christian year. There are no celebrations. For Catholics it is a day of fasting. Mass is not said, only Holy Communion will be shared. It is a day to be quiet, to still the tumult of our world and minds. It is a time to listen..for..and to God. It is no accident or seeming penance that the liturgy remembering our Lord’s Passion is so full with God’s Word. It is a time to listen, to think, prayerfully of all God has done for us.
Jesus faced the cruel mockery of a trial. He who came because He loves us found…hate. He who came to free us from self and sin found bondage, beatings, and humiliation.
Good Friday was a day of crushing disappointments. The followers and friends of Jesus had been convinced He was the Messiah, the Christ. They believed He would deliver them from the hated Romans. And we, much as His earlier followers, often believe He will deliver us from our disappointments and failures, of the world, in the Church, each other, ourselves. But the disappointment is so deep. Jesus died. And so, it seemed did their hopes, their faith. As we carry our disappointments, our failures (real or assumed) we must remember Mary, with her dead Son, and His friends carrying Jesus to the tomb.
But..they did not realize as they carried the broken Body of Jesus they carried holy love spilled out for us all. They did not yet realize that He who was crucified came not to free them from the hated Romans but to free them for the holy power of forgiveness and His love. And as we carry our disappointments, wounded lives we share the same holy path of the Cross, with The Crucified. This sorrowful day of disappointment is day of appointment to better know Jesus and the mercy-filled embrace of His Crucified Love.
We adore you O Christ and we bless you. For by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.
Holy Thursday ~ 1 April 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper: I: Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14; Responsorial: Psalm 116; II: I Corinthians 11:23-26; Gospel: John 13:1-15
With the Holy Thursday liturgy we begin the Paschal Triduum, the three days preparing for and leading to the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection on Easter. Even if we are unable to fully attend or participate in the glorious liturgies we are invited by the Holy Spirit to enter in with our prayers, readings, reflections and service to God and each other. In so many ways the amount of anticipation and spiritual preparation we enter into will determine the degree of true celebration and realization of our risen Lord at Easter.
The Holy Thursday liturgy is very distinct from other Masses. It focuses upon and solemnly celebrates that sacred night when Jesus instituted the sharing of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. It is also, traditionally, the time when the Holy Oils of the Church are consecrated and blessed for the coming year at the Chrism Mass and when priests renewed their sacred vows. After the Mass, the Sanctuary and altar are all stripped of the liturgical linens, candles, and vessels. and the Real Presence, the consecrated Hosts, are placed in a separate Altar of Repose commemorating our Lord’s burial. And this sacred night also includes a rite practiced at no other time of the year, the Washing of Feet.
It is really quite extraordinary and vital that the Spirit of God led the Church, as the liturgy grew, to include this part of the Holy Thursday celebration.This distinction is also seen in the Gospel of John. The account of the washing of the disciple’s feet is not included in the three synoptic Gospels. It is only in the fourth Gospel written almost 90 years after our Lord’s Ascension that we see it. This brings us to wonder, Why? And why is this rite a part of the very significant Mass commemorating the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Why didn’t Matthew, Mark and Luke mention the event? And why did the Holy Spirit do so in John’s Gospel?
Much like the disciples that night in the Upper Room we gather at this time with many questions. It is a time of uncertainty with so much in life uncertain and seemingly in flux. And for many in the world there are real dangers of body, soul and spirit.
These difficult realities were being experienced by the disciples. They were being shared by the Hebrew people spoken of in our first reading at the institution of the Passover. They were shared by the young, struggling church St Paul wrote to in the second reading. Life is full of perils, uncertainties, and questions. The longing for normalcy, for control, stability is so very strong. And it also can be very elusive. Jesus on that first Holy Thursday night gave to his followers, then and now, the answers, the graces, we need to prevail and grow in His Kingdom.
We asked earlier why was the washing of the disciples feet only mentioned in John’s Gospel. Why is it a part of the Holy Thursday Liturgy? What does it have to do with the Eucharist?
With this Gospel coming decades after the others, it comes with the insights gained by those years of watching and ministering in the early church. The fact that this fourth Gospel has the most in-depth account of the actual thoughts and message of Jesus just before He goes out to the Garden of Gethsemane is significant. I believe that the Beloved Disciple, in caring for and watching the beloved church grow through those early decades brought the realization that there were some important aspects missing. John in leaning upon the breast of Jesus at that first Eucharist knew, very powerfully, the importance of the Body of Jesus. But he also knew the Words of Jesus were equally needed. There would be no Eucharist without the Living Word of God. It would have been just another Passover. But he who learned to listen to the heartbeat of God knew the necessity of LISTENING to the WORDS and ACTIONS of JESUS. The REAL PRESENCE of the EUCHARIST would not be without the Living REAL PROMISE of the Christ. And the Washing of the Feet of the followers of Jesus spoke in word and action of the Eucharist becoming the Body of Christ in the world. Holy Thursday is a solemn celebration of Jesus the Word, Jesus the Servant and Jesus the Savior. They cannot be separated one from another.
This Holy Thursday with the challenges of a pandemic and sickness still very present we are called to be followers of Jesus who seek to listen to the Word of God. We are called, like John to allow ourselves to learn to listen for the very heartbeat of Jesus. As we dismiss the hate and doubts of the world, the noise of fear, worry, and judgments we draw close to hear and heed the voice of Him who would promise to the sinful criminal, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” These Holy three days, let us each take time to listen to Christ.
As we seek God’s Word we realize that He would remind us we all have shared a very difficult year in passing. Our steps have known uncertainty, worry, major detours from our normal paths of work, family, and worship. We have encountered a nation that has had bitter battles of politics, race, and even of our faith among the believers. Our feet, our steps, like the disciples in the Upper Room have been wearied, bruised, and wounded. And often like those disciples, we want to forget or ignore some of those places and pains. But Jesus takes off His robes of privilege and welcomes the towel of a servant. He knowingly blesses and washes the feet of each disciple. All but one would flee at His arrest. One would betray Him. One would deny Him repeatedly. But Jesus blessed and washed them all. We are each reminded of Christ the King, that night, fully aware that His Father had given all power to Him, choose to rule…with a towel. And He calls us to do the same.
As we listen to and serve our crucified and risen King we are brought to share in the bread and sacred cup of our Savior. In the breaking of the bread, the breaking of His Body and in the sharing of the cup, His Holy Blood we share in the Real Presence, the Body of Christ. It is in the Holy Communion, in this Holy Common-Union we share in and become the hands, the feet, the eyes and ears of Jesus. And it is that sacred grace that calls us to reach out, to welcome, to bless those God brings us to encounter. It is also where we realize that Jesus truly Present in the Eucharist is also truly Present in our neighbor.