The Triduum

The three holiest days of the church year.

Tonight, the table hosts a meal.
Tomorrow, the cross provides a place of execution.
Saturday, the tomb becomes a holding place for a man’s body,
a place of sorrow and of wondering.

But then, the table, the cross, and the bodies of men
become altars on which the daily sacrifices of life are
united to the eternal sacrifice of Christ the High Priest.

God renews His eternal “Yes” to mankind.
“It is very good.”
“I make all things new.”

The end leads back to the beginning.
The beginning of these three days is tied to their end.
The three days in one.
The pivotal day of eternity.

Which pattern? Adam or Jesus?

Image © rghenry – stock.adobe.com

After the switch of liturgical seasons mid-week at Ash Wednesday, it might be hard to remember that just last Sunday, the Gospel reading at Mass reminded us that “No one can serve two masters… You cannot serve God and mammon.” (c.f. Matthew 6:24)

In that Gospel, Jesus put before his followers the choice between serving the things of God, or being mastered by and serving the desires of the flesh on earth.

Fast forward to this weekend, the first Sunday of Lent, and we find the story of Adam and Eve tempted by the serpent in the Garden of Eden (the fall that led to Original Sin), contrasted against the story of Jesus tempted by the devil at the end of his fast of forty days and nights in the desert.

Between Adam’s temptation in the first reading and Jesus’s temptation in the Gospel, the second reading ties the two together:

Just as through one transgression condemnation came upon all,
so, through one righteous act, acquittal and life came to all.
For just as through the disobedience of the one man
the many were made sinners,
so, through the obedience of the one,
the many will be made righteous.”
– Romans 5:18-19

This Sunday, Adam is presented as the “type” (defined as “a person or thing symbolizing or exemplifying the ideal or defining characteristics of something”) of the one who fell for the temptation of the devil and chose the things of the flesh – the fruit of the tree in the garden that he had been commanded to avoid.

Jesus is presented as the new Adam, the true ideal who chooses the will of God and the ways of God, even through the three-fold temptation of the devil. First, the devil asks Jesus to turn stones to bread, calling upon his bodily hunger. Then, the devil calls upon Jesus’ trust in God’s word that he would command angels to bear him up and protect him, tempting him to throw himself from the parapet of the temple. Finally, the devil appeals to the power of God, tempting Jesus to worship him in order to gain all the kingdoms of the earth.

In this choice, Jesus faced the same reality he placed before his followers in last Sunday’s Gospel: Will you choose the things of God or the things of earth?

Adam chose the things of earth, Jesus chose the way of God. And immediately after this choice in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus begins his ministry in Galile and starts to call his disciples.

Through Adam’s disobedience, humanity encountered the judgement that stems from the effects of original sin. Through God’s choice to send his only son to save us, and through Jesus’s obedience and eventual crucifixion and resurrection, humanity enjoys the benefits of the in-flowing of God’s grace and Holy Spirit.

Our choice: Which pattern?

As our Lenten journey begins, we have the choice presented to us again, for the second Sunday in a row: Will we choose the ways and the things of the earth, or will we choose the ways and the things of Heaven?

Will we follow the pattern of Adam, or the pattern of Christ?

The deliberate sacrifices, penances, and spiritual exercises we invite into our daily routines in our Lenten journey present the opportunity for us to invite Christ more deeply into our hearts and minds. Let us pray for the grace to daily choose to conform our lives and our very being more toward his will.

In time, we might find ourselves choosing to sacrifice a little comfort in order to help provide for another person’s deeper needs, conforming to the pattern of Christ who avoided the temptation to turn the stones into bread.

In time, we might find ourselves trusting in God even more in the highs and lows of life, without taking risks or cutting corners and trusting him to save us when we throw ourselves from the parapets of daily life, following the pattern of Christ who trusted in God but did not put him to the test.

In time, we might find ourselves resting contentedly in what God provides for us and in the peace of his loving embrace, despite the trials of daily life. In this, we will find ourselves conforming more to the pattern of the Christ who wouldn’t worship Satan to gain the principalities of the earth, but instead kept his allegiance to the true God and thus carried all souls with him to the promise of eternal life.

Or, in time, we find ourselves falling more and more into the trap of the sins which pull us further into mammon: Pride. Envy. Wrath. Gluttony. Lust. Sloth. Greed.

In the desert of this Lenten journey, let us pray for the grace to see the moments of each day when we have the choice between God and mammon, between conforming to the pattern of Christ or conforming to the pattern of Adam. Let us pray for the grace to see the right choices, to carry our crosses, and to grow in our faith life and our journey towards God and heaven.

A final word, from St. Augustine…

While we are traveling the way of the Lord, you see, we should at one and the same time be fasting from the vanity of the present age, and feasting on the promise of the age to come; not setting our hearts on this one, feeding our hearts lifted up to that one.”
– Sermon 263A

So you think you’re going to heaven?

Ash Wednesday

Image © zatletic – stock.adobe.com

Years ago, when my wife and I were still dating (and definitely before we were married and had kids), I used to go to a coffee shop nearby almost every night. I’d spend time reading, writing, praying, and reflecting on my vocation in life. When we started dating, we used to start to go there together almost every night and just sit and talk for hours on end.

One Ash Wednesday, after attending evening Mass together and receiving our ashes on our foreheads, we headed to the coffee shop together.

As we walked in, another younger man who I had befriended – someone studying for ministry in a Protestant seminary, with whom I often enjoyed discussing faith topics and our different faith traditions – came up to Suzanne and me.

“So you got your ashes… Now you think you’re going to heaven?”, he asked.

I was taken aback. We had always had such wonderful, mutually respectful discussions. This was the first time had been rude, or forceful, or abrasive. I didn’t have much to say in the moment, as I was so shocked.

As the years have passed and I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on his words and implication, some of what I might have said has formed in my head.

Rend your hearts, not your garments

In the readings for Mass on Ash Wednesday, we hear, “Rend your hearts, not your garments” (Joel 2:13a), and “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them… When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you… When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting… But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting.” (c.f. Matthew 6)

The Mass readings for Ash Wednesday certainly seem to discourage outward signs of fasting and almsgiving. But the very act of receiving the ashes means we walk out of the church with a sign of the start of our fast.

It’s important to remember, though, that it’s a sign that’s intended to remind us that we come from dust, and to dust we will return, to help kick-start our focus on our private self-denial and growth in faith that we seek during our Lenten journey. The ashes are a reminder of the call to continue our journey toward God – to turn back around and journey toward him if we’ve turned away – and to start our Lenten journey.

The ashes quickly fade, but the effort to rend our hearts begins anew, with a renewed focus and fervor, as our Lent begins.

Faith and works

I venture to guess that my friend was really getting to the heart of many of our prior conversations, which was on the age-old (500 years old?) discussion of the relationship of faith and works. I could go into essay-length writing here on that point alone, but I won’t… there’s a great summary of the “faith and works” discussion by Jimmy Akin over at Catholic Answers.

A Lenten journey

Ash Wednesday (and receiving our ashes) is the start of a wonderful journey. I’ve always been one to not know what I’m going to give up or do for Lent until I wake up Ash Wednesday morning.

Sometimes, especially when I was younger, it was self-denial – giving up something that I really enjoyed. That can often be very fruitful. One of the best examples of that was seeing my second-oldest son give up Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (one of his favorite things in the universe) last year. He went through some tough temptations through Lent and had a hard time holding to his fast, but he held strong and grew in his own self-control and focus on other priorities through the experience.

In recent years, I’ve focused my journey on adding some activity to my day-to-day – something like reading the daily readings, or some part of the Bible each day, or going out of my way to do a few extra “good turns” for others each day, or resolving to take over some household chore that someone else usually does.

Conclusion

If my friend asked me the question today, “So you got your ashes… Now you think you’re going to heaven?”, my response would be something like, “I have faith in my new life in Christ, and I continue to work out my salvation by taking part in His sacrifice. I hope to be among the saints in heaven.” That’d inspire quite a discussion, I’m sure.

I hope and pray that your Lenten journey this year is a fruitful one. Let’s keep working together and supporting each other on this journey of faith, this journey to become better Christians, and to hopefully “see” each other in heaven someday.

“No divisions among you”

Today’s Second Reading, from the first chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth, is very appropriate in our current world and political climate:

“I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that all of you agree in what you say,
and that there be no divisions among you,
but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.
For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers and sisters,
by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you.
I mean that each of you is saying,
“I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,”
or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”
Is Christ divided?
Was Paul crucified for you?
Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel,
and not with the wisdom of human eloquence,
so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.”

– 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17

Sparrows

I’m learning how (emotionally) overwhelming ministry can be at times. When you put yourself entirely into God’s hands at the service others, you run into situations and moments that give you new perspectives on life, gratitude, need, hope, despair, and more.

Last week after a evening of outreach to a family in need in our community, I was driving home when these words came to me, which I later posted on Facebook:

I’m coming to believe that when Christ weeps, or even when he goes up the mountain or across the water to pray, that it’s for anyone who has a deep longing or unanswered need.

Then when I was coming home from helping them a bit more again this week, I was overcome by the emotion of the moment and the pain of their situation. Jason Gray’s song “Sparrows” came on the radio just then, and I was reminded that each life, each moment, good or bad, is in God’s hands.

“If he can hold the world, he can hold this moment.”

This week as we wrap up the liturgical year and turn the page to a “new year” in the Church, we’re left with the lingering memory of the Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. On the last Sunday of the Church year, we reflected upon Christ as the King of all time and space. This has long been one of my very favorite days in the Church year.

All of us – rich or poor, blessed and needy, whole or broken, are like sparrows in the hands of a good, gracious, and merciful King.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?

Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?

Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin.

But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.

If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?

So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’

All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.”

-Matthew 6:25-33

As we turn toward our secular holiday of Thanksgiving, I give thanks for all the blessings I have, and that all of us have, from the King of creation. And I ask for the blessing of His grace to continue to sustain me, and to help me grow, in His service.

Look at the Sparrow

A Man Named James

james-help

James at Starbucks

Back in April, I was out at a Starbucks near our house for an evening of reading for my diaconate program’s Philosophy course. I had about a week to read roughly 200 pages of St. Thomas Aquinas (and that’s not an easy read!)

As the Starbucks was getting closer to closing, I was reading a section on Aquinas’s explanation of the problem of evil when I noticed a younger man, probably mid-20’s, anxiously interacting with the staff. He kept asking to use the phone, was calling various people, trying to figure out where he was, how to get somewhere. He eventually asked one of the women working a the Starbucks if she would give him a ride to the Greyhound station in St. Louis when she got off of work.

It got to a point where my gut, and/or the Holy Spirit, kept tugging at me, telling me that I should introduce myself to him and ask if he needed help.

So I packed up my books and notes, walked over, offered my hand, introduced myself, and asked if he needed anything.

That’s when I meet James.

Theology on the Lawn

On Thursday, August 4, I will give a presentation in Holy Family Church’s free “Theology on the Lawn” series, titled “Stories of Saints & Martyrs“. I will focus on stories of interesting lives of saints and martyrs with whom you might be less familiar. Some of these stories will hopefully inspire new thoughts on our own striving for faithfulness to our baptismal calling in our own lives.


Theology on the Lawn: A free series of talks on faith topics, Thursday evenings this summer at Holy Family Church in Granite City.

Talks begin at 7 P.M. in Mary’s Garden at 2300 Sheridan. In case of rain, we’ll meet in the adjacent Conference Center. Talks last 20-30 minutes, followed by fellowship & free snacks. Bring the family, bring friends and neighbors… just bring your own lawn chair!

  • Thursday, July 14: The Holy Mass (Father Jason Stone)
  • Thursday, July 21: God’s Voice in the Daily Life (Michael Halbrook)
  • Thursday, July 28: Merciful Like the Father (Deacon Neil Suermann)
  • Thursday, August 4: Stories of Saints & Martyrs (Michael Halbrook)
  • Thursday, August 11: Our Mother Mary (Father Jason Stone)

 

Date: August 4, 2016
Time: 07:00 p.m.
Event: Theology on the Lawn: Stories of Saints & Martyrs
Topic: Stories of Saints & Sinners
Sponsor: Holy Family Catholic Church
Public: Public

Theology on the Lawn

On Thursday, July 21, I will give a presentation in Holy Family Church’s free “Theology on the Lawn” series, titled “God’s Voice in the Daily Life“. I will focus on discerning God’s voice in the big and little moments and events in our daily lives. I will share personal examples and inspire reflection on such moments in your own life. This talk is intended for all ages, at all stages of openness to God in one’s life.


Theology on the Lawn: A free series of talks on faith topics, Thursday evenings this summer at Holy Family Church in Granite City.

Talks begin at 7 P.M. in Mary’s Garden at 2300 Sheridan. In case of rain, we’ll meet in the adjacent Conference Center. Talks last 20-30 minutes, followed by fellowship & free snacks. Bring the family, bring friends and neighbors… just bring your own lawn chair!

  • Thursday, July 14: The Holy Mass (Father Jason Stone)
  • Thursday, July 21: God’s Voice in the Daily Life (Michael Halbrook)
  • Thursday, July 28: Merciful Like the Father (Deacon Neil Suermann)
  • Thursday, August 4: Stories of Saints & Martyrs (Michael Halbrook)
  • Thursday, August 11: Our Mother Mary (Father Jason Stone)

 

Date: July 21, 2016
Time: 07:00 p.m.
Event: Theology on the Lawn: God's Voice in the Daily Life
Topic: God's Voice in the Daily Life
Sponsor: Holy Family Catholic Church
Public: Public

Class of Twenty-Twenty-Something

Now that the “cat’s out of the bag” and has been officially communicated to the clergy of our diocese, I can say a few words about how our diaconate “class of 2020” is now the “class of 2021” or (as we started to say) “2020-something”.

We started as the smallest diaconate class in the history of our diocese – 7 men – and through the spring, two men discerned their way out of the calling and the program, leaving our class with just 5 men.

Our formation team discussed with us on our retreat last weekend the current situation and their desire to re-open our class for new applicants to become new aspirants. The new aspirants would apply and go through interviews and vetting this fall, start an abbreviated aspirancy in January, and then join with our class entering candidacy next summer.

In the meantime, our class’s academic formation will pause through the fall. We’ll still receive and begin pastoral assignments later this summer, and still meet monthly for spiritual and pastoral formation, and theological reflection.

It means that it extends our formation by about a year, and pushes out ordination a bit for those who end up called to ordination. But it’s a journey, and it’s a good one, and I think my classmates and I have come to peace with this, and are ready to move forward and meet the rest of our class!

So… do you know a possible candidate who might be interested in applying for aspirancy? Do you think you or someone you know has perceived a call to the diaconate? Please grab the announcement letter and the brochure that our director has released… and if you’d like, I’d be more than happy to talk with you personally about it too. I’d even give you a ride to the informational meeting on July 31 if you were interested.

Please join me in praying for my classmates, and praying for some more great candidates for ministry in our diocese.

Seven-Deacons