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It feels like winter…

It is hard to think about Easter after shoveling 13 inches of snow from the entrances to the church and rectory this morning. In a hemisphere where the arrival of spring is coterminous with the celebration of Easter, I miss the robins chirping and the crocuses pushing their way up through the earth. I miss the blue sky with its promise of warmth and the bright sun shining to bring light to grey skied days. It doesn’t ‘feel’ like Easter. It feels like winter.

For many people, often it doesn’t ‘feel’ like Easter, no matter the weather or the season. What they are pre-sent to is the loss of a loved one, the death of a spouse, the frailty of bodies that ache more and minds that remember less today than they did yester-day. There are many reasons in their world for it ‘not to feel like Easter.’

The women too, who made their way to the tomb that surprising morn, were not ‘expecting Easter’ either. It didn’t feel like spring or resurrection to them. It just felt like loss and death and the end of a dream that had inspired such hope in them. “God had been in their midst in the person of Jesus, and everything had changed.” There had been a reason to get up, a reason to dream big, and a purpose to their life – to make sure that everyone knew what they had come to know in Jesus. And now that dream was laying (they thought) stone cold dead in a tomb.

Yet, here is a truth about this greatest of all days and this greatest of all feasts. Easter is not dependent upon emotions. The resurrection happened, whether the women expected it or not. The resurrection happened whether the disciples believed the women’s account or not. Jesus appeared to them despite the locked doors, despite having barricaded the world without from their grief within. No barrier, no pain or loss or doubt would stop the Risen One from touching their lives anew with the promise of LIFE and life to the full. “Peace be with you. See my hands and my side. Do not doubt, but believe.” Death, winter, pain, loss – none of these will stop the Risen One from breaking into our lives.

Perhaps it does not ‘feel’ like Easter this year. That’s okay. It doesn’t have to. All that is needed are hearts willing to trust in a promise from beyond the grave. Winter does end. Pain is not ultimate. Life triumphs. Jesus has risen. Let us rejoice and be glad…

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

March 31, 2013

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A teacher was working with her first grade kids, trying to teach them about the seven last words that Jesus spoke on the cross. “Does anyone know the last words that Jesus spoke before he died?” she asked. Little Johnny, after a bit of a pause, raised his hands excitedly in the air. “I do. Jesus’ last words were: ‘I’ll be back.’”

Maybe that is not the most theologically nuanced understanding you’ll ever get, but little Johnny certainly understood the most important part of the Easter story. Jesus would indeed be back from the tomb. The great revelation of Easter is simply this: Like Jesus, we were born to rise. You see, if Jesus did not remain in the grips of death, if this tomb could not and would not hold this one life, then it will not hold us either. Jesus indeed is back, and nothing is the same.

And so that unsettling question, asked of the women coming early to the tomb takes on a special significance for us. “Why do you look for the living one among the dead? He is not here…” That is not what the women expected to hear. They expected death at the tomb. They expected a body to anoint. They came to the tomb, knowing that it was over.

We know that same fruitless journey, don’t we? Even though we “KNOW” the resurrection has happened, we still keep going back to the same behaviors and decisions and patterns that don’t work for us, don’t we? We keep visiting the tombs that keep us from life.
• That nagging little bickering we do at family gatherings around an event that happened 20 years ago.
• The protecting of our time and our calendar when people ask us to step outside our comfort zone to help the neighbor or serve the broader community.
• The shaming that we do to ourselves when we fall in our human weakness, and stop believing that God can and does forgive us.

On a societal level, we hear the bellicose saber rattling of North Korea, and so to ‘calm things down’, we fly two nuclear bomb capable stealth bombers over the south… That’s the best we have?

In a hundred ways, we journey back to the tomb, as if it is not empty, as if it holds no promise of change, no hope to believe in, no power to transform our lives. We keep looking for life in the same places that have only held death or partial life, expecting that something will be different. It is so easy to hang on to things that don’t work anymore because it’s easier than risking the emptiness of the tomb.

Do you know that like I know that this Easter? It was not as good of a Lent as I would have liked, precisely because I kept going back to the places that only partly work for me, hoping that it would be different this time. Why was I looking for the living one among the dead?

Perhaps you know that experience of life. To the degree that you do, hear again that three word “theology” by that 1st grade student: “I’ll be back”, which tells us we don’t need to go to the same places any more. He is NOT there where there is death. But “He is back” in a way from which we can draw life and power and love… We are meant to rise with Him.

We can choose a different path, a different way of living.
• You who are with us this Easter and suffering from depression or even despair, for whom life feels flat and without joy … hope and meaning will find you again. You are made to rise.
• You who have been victims of others’ sometimes horrible, always selfish choices. You can know again your dignity and your deep down inviolate goodness. (It is in you to forgive.) You are meant for love.
• You who are paralyzed by some fear … you are made for courage
• You who are shamed by your sin … you can rediscover your innocence.
• You whose doubts haunt you … You can sing your alleluias again.
• To you who are discouraged by the institutions in your lives, be it church or nation or any group, the crumbling of things can begin their rebuilding into something even better.
• You who face your own impending death … or the death of a loved one. You can find the confidence that you – and they – will be well. We are born to rise.

My friends, in other words, no matter what has happened to you or ever would nothing, nothing, nothing can keep you from rising.

Johnny was right. Jesus is indeed BACK. And because of that, NOTHING can keep us from rising.

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Much has been made in the media of our new dear Pope Francis. His style certainly has caught people’s attention. Perhaps it is merely the media fascination with something that is new. Or the media being introduced to what you and I know to be Christianity’s best kept secret: our preferential option for the poor. But somehow, these humble gestures from a humble man have had a profound impact on people’s perceptions of the church and of the papacy.

And, the good news is that Francis keeps surprising us. (And at the same time, giving headaches to his head of security – by stopping motorcades and kissing babies and touching the people and letting them touch him.) And in case you didn’t know, today, in Rome, he chose to celebrate Holy Thursday mass in a juvenile detention center, washing the feet of convicted offenders – both male and female. “WOW” says the media.

Yet, why should this be so surprising? According to one blogger, “It’s amazing that we are shocked, stunned almost at his humble gestures and tenderness. When all the while that is exactly what our Church leaders should have been doing all the time – the humble works of mercy and compassion. This should be the norm. I’m so grateful for this renewal in our Church…”

IT IS WHAT WE SHOULD BE DOING ALL THE TIME… Maybe you have that perspective down. Maybe what this new pope is doing is not surprising to you at all, because, like him, you have made it a habit to bake a monthly casserole or stop by the grieving widow’s house, or do the roommates dirty dishes. But, like the media that can’t quite figure this new pope out, it is so easy to get caught up in so many things, that we forget what really matters. That is why tonight is such a remedy for us, such a blessing in our world. Tonight, in humble gestures of washing feet and having our feet washed, we are reminded of what really matters, and what we SHOULD BE DOING ALL THE TIME.

In Francis’ own words to the prisoners today, he said simply: “This is a symbol, it is a sign… This washing is a symbol of the LOVE that breaks your real chains.” Most of us don’t have chains like those kids in Casal del Marmo prison. We are not locked up in a correction facility, symbolically shacked inside prison walls. Instead, it can be pride, jealousy, careerism, unforgiveness, or a kind of narcissism that only sees how things effect us, that chain us, that keeps that greatest force – THE humble gesture by the humble man – Jesus – from setting us free to love.

And that is what tonight is all about – whether it is in the meal that is before us on this altar, with the hill of Calvary looming behind it, or the towel and basins that are waiting to be used… They are invitations to know the freedom of loving without counting the cost, of serving without caring about who notices,

Tonight, let these simple gestures, begun by a humble savior and repeated in wonderful ways by a humble shepherd in Rome, be your invitation to break whatever chains your heart, and allow you to do what the church should be doing, and IS doing, all the time…

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Who cleaned up after the parade?  Someone had to clear the streets after the triumphal entry.  To make the road passable for the carts and donkeys and foot traffic.  It is the part of parades that even now we don’t give much thought to.  Picking up all that was left behind.

So, in my imagination, I began to wonder – what went through that un-named person’s mind.

Maybe it was the practical side:

•    What a waste of perfectly good shade.  This is not very environmentally friendly…

Maybe it was the forlorn side:

•    Great.  Another party that I didn’t get invited to.  So why am I always the one who has to clean up after everybody else’ mess?  But maybe it was the redeeming questions that went through his heart:

•    What do people see in this Jesus that I don’t see?

•    What is it about him that so attracts so many people to follow him?   To put their cloaks down in front of him?

•    What allowed these folks to reverence him enough to follow with their lives?

If there is a question that this triumphal entry might leave with us this day – can it be just that:

Do I reverence our Lord enough to follow him with my life?

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Imagine this retelling of the Palm Sunday Passion from the perspective of those who expected a military and political Savior – and that was almost everybody.

For days, Jesus and his disciples meet secretly outside Jerusalem. They plan where their weapons will be stored, where horses will be waiting, where various militia will assemble and wait until they receive the word to strike. They also organize crowds to hit the streets at just the right moment (to create intimidation, distraction, and fear in the Romans and all those in Jerusalem who collaborate with them). “Operation Sacred Vengeance” is about to begin.

Then on Palm Sunday, Jesus mounts a white horse. He is carrying a huge sword, but has it hidden in a palm branch. His disciples are similarly well-armed with swords, daggers, and shields, all camouflaged behind palm branches. They are mounted on warhorses, prepared for battle. The word goes out and the crowds assemble. In each man’s right hand is a sword or dagger raised to the sky, concealed beneath a palm frond or coat. Younger men and boys carry concealed torches, ready to light them, march on the city, and create mayhem when the battle begins.

“Hosanna!” the people shout. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord to execute vengeance on our enemies!”

Word spreads and people stream out from the city to welcome the freedom fighters.
As they cross the brow of the hill near Bethany and the city comes into view, Jesus gives a rousing speech. “It is wrong for the heathen idolaters to have power over the faithful people of God!” he shouts. “That wrong must end today! We have suffered enough. Now we will make our persecutors suffer!” The people cheer and chant, “Victory! Victory! Crush the Romans! Kill the collaborators!”

The Pharisees hastily interrupt, nervous now that bold words are brimming over into action. “Shouldn’t we wait a little longer until we have more weapons and troops? Some of our advisors think this battle is premature.”
“Are we trying to be Goliath, or are we David?” Jesus asks defiantly. “Those who live by restraint will die by restraint. Now is the time. Now is the day of annihilation for our enemies.”
“Who is with me in our holy cause?” Jesus asks. The crowds shout, “We are!” in a roar that echoes across the valley into the streets of Jerusalem. “Who is willing to fight to the death and avenge the blood of our ancestors?” Again the crowds shout, “We are!” “And who will shed a gallon of Roman blood for every drop of our blood that is shed?” Again the crowd erupts. Then the branches and coats are thrown to the ground and blades glisten in the sun.
And so the battle for Jerusalem begins. << put down notes >>

No. That is not what happened. The real story is very different, and maybe even harder to hear. Listen now to what really happened, for the differences here strike at the very heart of Christianity itself. Which is to say, the difference strikes at our own hearts.

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

March 24, 2013

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Even the angels are silent. They know that this is no ordinary walk. They know this is no ordinary week. For hinged on this week is the door of eternity.

Let’s walk with him.
Let’s see how Jesus spent his final days.
Let’s see what mattered to God.

When a man knows the end is near – only the important surfaces. Impending death distills the vital. The trivial is
bypassed. The unnecessary is overlooked. That which is vital remains. So, if you would know Christ, ponder his final days.

He knew the end was near. He knew the finality of Friday… Knowing that he had just one week with the disciples, what did Jesus tell them? Conscious that the last sand was slipping through the hourglass, what mattered? Enter the holy week and observe.

Feel his passion. Laughing as children sing. Weeping as Jerusalem ignores. Scorning as priest accuse. Pleading as disciples sleep. Feeling sad and Pilate turns.

Sense his power. Blind eyes…seeing. Fruitless tree…
withering. Money changers…scampering. Religious leaders…cowering. Tomb…opening.

Hear his promise. Death has no power. Failure holds no prisoners. Fear has no control. For God has come, God has come into your world…to take you home.

Let’s follow Jesus on his final journey. For by observing his, we may learn how to make ours. (from Max Lucado: And the Angels were Silent.)
The schedule is as follows:

Confessions: Mon, Tues, Wed – after the 8am mass until…

Wednesday: 2:30 pm – Stations of the Cross led by the 8th grade

Holy Thursday:
8:00 a.m. Morning Prayer –
10:00 a.m. Chrism Mass – at the Cathedral
7:00 p.m. Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Adoration begins after Mass
11:45 p.m. Night Prayer

Good Friday:
8:00 am: Morning Prayer
7:00 pm: Celebration of the Lord’s Passion

Holy Saturday:
8:00 am: Morning Prayer
8:00 pm: Easter Vigil

Easter Sunday:
8:00 a.m. Mass
11:00 a.m. Mass

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There are a lot of churches in the holy land. These churches were built to honor specific moments in the life of Jesus and Mary: the church of the Annunciation and Visitation; the church of the Multiplication of the Loaves, the church of Lazarus, the church of the Holy Sepulcher, just to name a few. Many of those churches were designed by one architect in particular, Antonio Barluzzi, and have a distinct architectural feature that binds the church to the event. Dominus Flevit – where the Lord wept, is shaped like a vessel used to collect tears back in the day. [called a Lacrimarum] At the church of the shepherd’s fields, the ceiling is made to look like the stars in night sky where the shepherd heard the angel chorus. The church of the Beatitudes is eight sided for each of those foundational sayings of the Lord.

It struck me, though, that there was no “Church of the woman caught in the act of adultery.” Maybe there are obvious reasons for that. But I thought: “What a loss. Wouldn’t it be both wonderful and amazing to pray about our propensity for judgment, and our need for forgiveness? It could be the pilgrimage spot for all who have fallen from grace and stand in need of mercy and forgiveness. It could be the patron church for the judgers and the judged alike.”

So, if somehow, Antonio Barluzzi were to have built such a church, what would have been the distinct architectural feature? I thought first that it would be a church in the round, with altar in the middle symbolic of where the woman would have stood. And then I thought the altar would be of clear glass and would have been built on a pile of fist sized stones, so that those stones, never thrown, would be clearly seen as a testament to our sinfulness. Though both of these elements would work, I realized what the distinct architectural feature would have to be.

Mirrors.

Mirrors positioned in such a way, that no matter where you sat, you only saw YOUR reflection in them, not anyone else’s. Mirrors which would invite each one to look upon their own faces and the hands clenched around the stones of judgment that we still tend to carry, even though we know we need the very forgiveness that the crowd was at first unwilling to give to the woman.

That is the turning point of the gospel narrative, isn’t it? Jesus was not going to get into a debate with them about the justness or unjustness of the Mosaic law. That would not serve him, or the woman well. Instead, Jesus holds out the proverbial mirror to each member in that crowd. Instead of seeing someone upon whom they could inflict their righteous outrage, an obvious sinner ‘caught in the act’, he invites them to see their own hearts and their own brokenness.

That’s when the stones begin to drop, with quiet thuds on that dusty square. When the ones holding them realized what those stones said about them – how they symbolized THEIR hardness of heart and THEIR failure more than the sin of the woman before them. When they saw that, when the mirror was clear enough for them to see into their own hearts, those stones had to fall to the ground.

And you, this week, what will allow you to see yourself in that same way – holding onto a stone of judgment that needs to be dropped? What mirror do you need to look into to see clearly into your own life and know that you too, need forgiveness and mercy? What will allow you to gaze upon you with the same fierce compassion of the savior’s gaze upon that woman inviting her to “sin no more?”

It is a church that should have been built in some corner of some road over in the holy land – called rightfully “the church of the FORGIVENESS of the woman caught in the act of adultery.” And that honors the forgiveness of each son and daughter who has ever walked the face of the earth, searching, not for judgment and condemnation, but mercy and forgiveness. Perhaps mirrors would be the distinctive architectural feature.

Yet, I wonder if here at St. Ann’s – we have already the distinct architectural feature that might be perfect for that church. It is that image of the cross rising from the hill of Calvary and that stretches from hemisphere to hemisphere, from side to side embracing the entire world. Under the mirror of that kind of love, we are to see ourselves and our sisters and brothers. In a love that embraces the entire world, we can see a savior who says to us: “Has anyone condemned you? Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

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Holy Week…

There is meant to be something different about Holy week. Something that changes us, that allows us to enter into THE story that is at the heart of everything. To that end, I want to share with you some news about a St. Ann school Alum who allowed the story of Jesus to change him. T.J. Kayser was sentenced to jail for 10 days for trespassing on Vandenberg AFB. His was a non-violent act of civil disobedience. You may agree with his act, or you may disagree. But what was stunning to me was his ‘statement’ he made at his sentencing. It reads, in part, as follows.

Upon receiving a copy of the Statement of Probable Cause for my arrest at Vandenberg AFB on October 21, I noticed an error in the statement. It says, and I quote: “Kayser was asked what he was doing on Vandenberg AFB. Kayser stated ‘nothing.’” I would just like to say that this was not my response because “nothing” is precisely the opposite of what I was doing. “Nothing” is what far too many people of good will do. While schools lose funding and people sleep on the streets of this country, billions of dollars are spent on preparations for nuclear war and most people do “nothing.” While ICBMs are tested at Vandenberg AFB, polluting the water of the Marshall Islands with depleted uranium, and the coast of California with exhaust from rocket fuel, most people do “nothing.” I was not doing “nothing” because I did “nothing” for too long and I can do” nothing” no more.

Exactly 50 years before Oct. 21st, the world was brought to the brink of nuclear destruction during what is referred to as the Cuban Missile Crisis. I can only say that we have not yet learned our lesson and that there has been far too much “nothing” during those 50 years. I understand that by deciding not to do “nothing”, I have put myself at risk. I understand that perhaps those who have been commissioned by the state to make such judgments may deem it necessary that I be punished with imprisonment for refusing to do “nothing.” I am prepared for this, as I cannot in good conscience pay fines that will ultimately support a system that defends the rights of war-makers at the expense of peacemakers. I am prepared for whatever sentence might be passed down, but I am not prepared to do “nothing.

I am powerfully reminded as I read TJ’s statement about another man who stood before the powers that be and testified to the truth. A man who was unwilling to do ‘nothing’ – but rather, chose to accept the consequences of his decision to push the love of God into all the broken parts of our world. As we enter Holy Week next Sunday, the story of sacrificial love continues to call us to be not just observers of some divine drama, but to become participants in the ongoing transformation of the world Jesus died to save. Will you do ‘nothing’ or will you too, become a part of story that continues to bring salvation to all? (for a full copy of TJ’s statement, go to: lacatholicworker.org)

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