Meeting Fear: Easter I homily

Fear paralyzed the disciples. That is why they locked themselves in the upper room. They were afraid of the same folks who had conspired and come out against Jesus.

Their eyes fueled their fear. The disciples had seen Jesus die, and get buried. The tomb sealed shut; their hopes dashed—that’s what they had seen. And they reasoned, most reasonably, that whoever killed Jesus would come after them next.

Then came the news. The news was confusing. Some said one thing, others said a different thing. The news was contradictory. And there were all kinds of rumors. So no one knew what to believe, what was true, what was real.

Their eyes, putting together the evidence, the news and rumors they heard—all of those things added up to fear. Fear that paralyzed. Which is why the disciples didn’t venture out. Why they would go nowhere. They thought they were safer at home; and they thought their relatives were safer if they stayed away from them, didn’t go near them, so that they couldn’t be identified as being one of the disciples.

Fear then by the disciples. And our fears now. They have this in common: fear for our life, and for the lives of others. And, more importantly, fear that we’ve lost control; that what we thought was firm and sure, what we relied on, what we knew we knew, what we took for granted—that it had all been shifted. Like an earthquake shifts the ground underneath us.

The earth had quaked. Twice. Once on Friday afternoon and once early Sunday morning. Yet the scarier quaking was not outside but within.

And so, in fear, terrified that normal and expected was gone—in fear the disciples hid.

How does Jesus meet our fears? Not by saying, “It will be okay.” Not by trying to talk us through it. He simply shows Himself and says “Peace. Peace be with you. My peace. Not the illusory, porous peace that the world gives. But the peace which is Me. The peace which exceeds your imagination because it surpasses your understanding.”

And then He gave rock solid evidence of that peace. His peace. Which is designed and given to chase away all fear. Every fear. Fear of conspirators. Fear of viruses. Fear of death.

“He showed them His hands and His side.” The wounds. The torn and blood-soaked flesh. The evidence of the terror behind their fears, now transformed. What they had tasted on the night of He was betrayed; what they would taste again on Pentecost. His Body and Blood—that was the rock-solid evidence of His peace. That is what made real His love for them, because His love is inseparable from His flesh. And it eased their fears. For perfect love casts out fear. And there He was, Perfect Love in the flesh, wounded because of their fear and yet resurrected in order to restore a heavenly new-normal. Perfect Love Himself casting away their fear.

Clearly, one of them was not paralyzed by fear. Clearly, one of them was out and about, taking chances, doing what needed to be done, risking his safety and the safety of others. You see, Thomas was not with them when Jesus appeared to ease their fears.

It’s not that Thomas was unafraid or reckless. And it’s not that this one had greater faith. For when they said, “We have seen the Lord,” he refused to believe it. For the rumors, the news, even the change in their demeanor did not affect him. Stubbornly. Not out of careless love or humble acceptance. But because of stubborn pride, Thomas refused to shelter with the others.

So another kind of fear. But still fear.

How does our Jesus meet fear? Not by scolding. Not by setting us straight. Not by clamping down. And not even with impotent compassion. Jesus meets fear with fearlessness. The fearlessness buried within the peace that He is.

And so, “Peace be with you,” He says again. And the rock-solid foundation of His peace—the price He paid to set us free. His life laid on the line so that we could be safe.

Thomas is invited to reach out, to thrust, to touch and grab His Lord so that his hands might confirm what his eyes see and his ears hear. So that the sacrifice, now raised, might solidify the peace.

But Thomas does not reach out. He does not touch. He sees a man, and declares that this Man is “My Lord and my God.” And that is enough for Thomas. To know that Peace Himself stands before Him. To realize that Jesus’ presence can chase away fear. To be confident that the Lord’s word of peace, for now, in this time, is sufficient.

Thomas and the others will get to handle the Lord’s Body. They will get to taste and see the goodness that the Lord is. But for now, in this time, the blessing is that fears can be dispersed when we hold onto our Jesus, even when we are deprived of seeing, feeling, tasting.

This is not to say that the Eucharist is unimportant; that we can live without the medicine of immortality. By no means! However, what good is that medicine if we do not see it with faith? What good is Christ’s Body if we do not, with Thomas-like faith, say “My Lord and my God” when it is held before our eyes? And what help is it if we still live in our fears? If we still behave as if everything here and now matters more than the greater things we receive when we gather?

St Paul urges us to live not as persons who find meaning in dust, but as persons who live now in heaven. Not as those who identify with all our human fears and weaknesses, but as those who identify with and bear the fearless image of the resurrected, glorified, transfigured Christ.

To get past their fears, Thomas and the other disciples had to be content with nothing more than the words of peace that came from Christ’s mouth. And seeing Him at a distance, without handling His hands and side. And letting His Word sink in. As that settled deeply within them, then they were reintroduced to the peace that adheres to Christ’s Body and Blood. And then the medicine became a truly healing remedy.

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Jesus & Satan in Hades

As Our Lord Jesus Christ descends into hell, the devil says, “Who are you? You look like an ordinary human, but you stride about like someone who’s in charge. Are you not afraid?”

In reply, Jesus says, “I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid of the terror of war. I’m not afraid of the horror of famine. I’m not afraid of the panic in pestilence. Because I’m not afraid of death or hell. And I’m not afraid because you because I am God’s Son.”

Satan answers again, “So are you claiming to be God? The God who can overrule my God-given claim over the dead; my authority over the grave?”

Our Lord responds, “I am indeed the Lord God. I am the Lord who cast you to the earth, and permitted you to rule the underworld. I am the Lord who allowed you to terrorize men and women so that they might seek Me.”

“So then what are you doing here?” says the Accuser of all mankind.

“I am,” say Our Lord. “I am the One who has now entered your territory in order to reclaim and take back all those who are Mine, all who recognize Me and wish to follow Me out.

“So I am here to release all people from all their fears: the fear of war, the fear of being shorted, the fear of pestilence, the fear of death. I know that when they see Me and My love, they will no longer fear. For perfect love casts out all fear. And I know that when have no fear, they will live boldly. The fearless disregard their own danger. And so the fearless live for others.”

“How did you get here? Who let you in?” the diabolical one wonders.

“You let me in. You foolishly thought that when I took a body, you could defeat Me. You thought that, when we met in the wilderness, you had not won because I was not yet weak enough. And so, as I determined, as I willed, evil men abused and tortured Me, and put Me to death. And, like a fish seeing a shiny object, you were hooked. By my death on the cross, I captured you. For you thought that you had swallowed a man, like all other humans; but you encountered God Himself.

“And here is my real intent. I will undo your envy, your cruel deception. You tricked humans into ruining my creation, but I will make all things new again. So I’m here to ‘let the whole world perceive and know that things cast down are being raised up, things grown old are being made new, and all things are returning to their perfection.’”

“But I,” says the devil, “I continue to work on earth. Look, I have made wars. I have raised up evil tyrants and terrorists. I have people in the same nation, and state, and city against each other. I have weakened economies, and governments, and relationships. And even now, I’ve returned with pandemic.”

Jesus, shaking His head, said: “You have done nothing. For nothing happens without my say-so. And nothing is outside of the works of my salvation. So I’ve permitted these things, as I let you weaken Job. But what you’ve not learned, what you will never learn, is that I know Mine, and Mine own know Me. They know that I will never leave them, I will never forsake them; no matter how bleak things look, no matter how hopeless things feel. They know this, because they know that in this combat stupendous, when Life and Death contended, the victory always remains with the Life of the world.”

And with that, the earth quaked in wild jubilation so that “the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after Christ’s resurrection.”

Beloved, in our baptism and the holy sacraments, in the cup of salvation, we have taken a sip of this resurrection of Christ and His saints. May we, by our faith and love, merit draining the entire cup when we are “caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

NOTE: Inspired by the latter half of sermon 65 (On the Resurrection of Lazarus)
by St Peter Chrysologus.

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Unimaginable Joy? Easter Day Homily

Christ is risen! Nothing else matters.

Which is why one of our bishops once said that, “Other people would not think this a time for festival. [But] far from being a time of distress, it is a time of unimaginable joy.”

How can this be? How can today be a time for unimaginable joy?

Today we truly want to gather; and yet, out of love of each other and all others, and in obedience to our bishops, we are deprived of what we really want. Deprived so much that it hurts—perhaps more deeply than we think. Which may be why we’re acting out in ways that are uncharacteristic; or feel a bone-deep sadness; or sense more keenly our separation.

Forty days ago, we began our Lent with our usual expectation, our usual anticipation. And then the usual became unusual. Our fast shifted dramatically, and our Lent became less comfortable and more strict.

Today, of all days, we should be together. And rejoicing. And all our pent-up Lenten discipline should be bursting forth. Yet instead, it feels as if Lent has been extended; as if we need to fast from the Eucharist and from each other for another 20 or 30 or 40 days. As if we need to repeat Lent again.

So how can this be a time for festival? How can this be not a time of distress, but a day of unimaginable joy?

It is, not because we feel right, or feel like celebrating. Today is a day of joy precisely because of what we celebrate today. Precisely because Christ is risen.

And now, because of this year, because of the unsettling circumstances of this year—now we get to understand in a more profound way, what Our Lord’s resurrection means.

We celebrate the end of death’s grip. So death may come, but it has no hold on us. Since Christ is risen, we slip through the Grim Reapers fingers into the joy of heaven.

We celebrate the end of fear and anxiety. For our deepest fears, our most anxious feelings, are tied directly to our mortality. But this day of resurrection means that all that scares, all that makes us uneasy—all that has been overthrown. And, with Christ beside us, supporting us, embracing us—as He always does—in Him, we can rest secure. And so our uneasiness may be calmed in Him. Our disquiet may be soothed and appeased.

That’s, of course, easy to say. And it may be hard to imagine. But this is a day, not when uncertainties, but when our faith allows us to say, Christ is risen! This is a day when we defiantly say to the devil, death, and all doubts, that Christ is risen! This is the day when we look through the tears, looking each other in the eye, and say, Christ is risen!

For this is the day of all days, the day of resurrection, the day when we acknowledge that what happens here is a light momentary affliction which can be borne with equanimity and Christian poise since we know what lies beyond, and what fullness of gladness awaits us.

St Dionysius of Alexandria was the author of the words I said at the beginning: that “Other people would not think this a time for festival. [But] far from being a time of distress, it is a time of unimaginable joy.”

He said that to his diocese in the midst of a time worse than ours, during one of the deadliest pandemics in history, when 5000 people died each day in one city.

St Dionysius could say that because he not only believed in the resurrection, but he also was convinced that the truth of Christ’s resurrection has the power to shape how we think, how we behave, how we live in this time.

And so he was not promoting unrealistic hope as a way of ignoring empirical tragedy. Instead, this saintly bishop was rejoicing in the opportunity such circumstances present for our faith––to go out of our way to love and serve our neighbors, spreading gospel hope, in both word and deed, in times of great fear.

And this we can do for only one reason: because Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death and viruses, and bestowing life and the joy of living in those who hold fast to Him.

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Imitating Death: Good Friday Homily

What we offered Our Lord, and what He graciously took from us, was the consequence of the contagion of sin. We offered a body capable of death, a body incapable of resisting disease, a body riddled with mortality. And He decidedly embraced our gift.

  • We offered death when we determined that our fears are greater than our hope.
  • We offered death when we asserted that our choices are greater than our sacrifices.
  • We offered death when we insisted that our values are greater than Truth, and our morals are better than the life of others.

What we offered to our Lord was nothing sustainable, nothing healthy; and everything that led to the grave. And that is what Our Lord lovingly took from us and knit to His divine nature.

He did this not to give us a way to escape viruses, but to help us live with them and live through them. He took our death, not to lessen the evil but to transform hell to heaven. He took our mortality, not to make living easier but to make Life—the Life that He so deeply wishes to live in us, the Life that He is—to make this authentic life accessible and abundant.

Our response should be gratitude. Not to demand better or more. Not to accuse Him of torturing us. Not to complain about why He’s letting this thing go on.

Our response should be gratitude. A gratitude that is not simply looking for a silver lining, or trying to make the best of things, or learning some lesson.

Genuine gratitude begins within the heart. And then works its way out through the hands and mouth.

Heart-felt gratitude recognizes that we have a right to nothing from Our Lord. Because what we’ve offered Him is death. So heart-felt gratitude acknowledges that all that Our Lord does and doesn’t do, all that He gives and withholds, all that He arranges and permits—all of this is for our good so that we reach out to Him, so that we yearn for Him.

All Our Lord does and permits is about more than you and me. It’s about us—all humanity, and even more, all creation.

Gratitude begins within the heart, within the soul. But if it stops in the mind or in the heart—then gratitude dies. If our gratitude is only a sincere, ‘Thank you,’ then it fades as it leaves our lips.

True gratitude for all that Our Lord has done; true gratitude for Him taking our death-loaded gift—true gratitude is imitating and putting into practice toward others what He has done for us.

Imitating the sacrifice. That’s what the Psalmist points us to. To give thanks to the Lord, I will take the cup of salvation—which is inseparable from the cup of suffering. For salvation comes through suffering. To taste salvation is the drink down suffering. As Our Lord did.

I will receive this saving cup, embrace this salvific cup, drink down this salutary cup—drink it down to the dregs for the sake of another. That’s Our Lord’s way. And we give thanks when we imitate Him by making His way our way.

What this looks like was described by one of our bishops during a plague many years ago. While others were intent on self-protection, self-preservation, and avoiding the sick at all costs, this saintly bishop reports that:

Most of our brother-Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of another. Heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. (St Dionysius of Alexandria)

Like these passion-bearers before us, we become Christ-like when we live without fear, not because we think that the news reports are overblown, or the fears of others unreasonable, or the threat not real. We imitate Christ by relentlessly and unselfishly helping those in need. We imitate not by hoarding our goods and wallowing in our anxiety, but by emptying our pantries and offering whatever compassion we can. We imitate Christ by heeding the rules, yet for the sake of others; and by not letting this present evil paralyze our ability to support.

The death of Our Lord is our death. He dies our death to free us, both from our future death and from our present dread and apprehension.

And in His suffering and death, we see our way of life. How we can live without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him and for others, all the days of our life.

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Loving to the End: Holy Thursday Homily

To love someone to the end is to do whatever you must for their good, their well-being, their health, their safety, their care. It means sacrificing your ideas of what is silly, what is right, what is helpful.

The ‘someone’ we are to love to the end is not the person we choose, or the person we wish to care about, or the person we think is worth the effort. The ‘someone’ is ‘anyone.’ And every person—the stranger, the ignorable, the person we can’t stand, and the person whose views we find disagreeable, even repulsive.

This is not negotiable. Neither is the truth that we are to sacrifice our best, our stuff, even our life for their benefit.

This is not negotiable, because it was not negotiable for Our Lord Jesus Christ. The ‘someone’ He loved to the end was each person—including weak-willed Peter, and conniving Judas, and the abusive soldiers, and the people who clamored for His death. He put His life on the line for each and every one so that they might have a chance at repentance, amendment, and transformation.

If we are authentic about following in the footsteps of Christ; if we are real about not just identifying as Christian, but being ‘Christian’ in life and deed; if that’s our ultimate goal, and not just a nice idea: then sacrificial loving for whomever is not negotiable.

Perhaps this pestilence has helped both to enliven what it means to sacrifice, and truly to see the other for whom we sacrifice. And if it has, then by this experience we are deepening our participation in Christ Jesus when He “knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father” and then determined, with stubborn determination, to love all unto the end.

Our Lord’s love to the end is certainly realized in His sacrifice on the cross. It’s the price He pays to ransom and redeem us. St Peter tells us that “not with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ” we are redeemed from aimless conduct, from living a life that doesn’t lead upward or forward, but sideways and inward.

Yet Jesus’ sacrifice is more than just His death on the cross. He lays down His life. Which means that He lays out for us His flesh and blood to be the food that is actually able to see us through death and the fear of death. The bread changed into His flesh and the wine changed into His blood—that’s His greatest gift for us. And it’s how He loves us not just with the end of His life, or even to the end of our life—but, more so, to the goal and purpose of life and living.

Let’s try that again. The Eucharist feeds the ability to set aside all fear of another, all fear of how this will end, and all fear of what death can do. And, in that way, the Eucharist effects a transformation that is more than changed behavior. It can renovate how we see purpose, how we see others, and how we approach the scary and the frightening.

So the Eucharist is not about uplifting us spiritually, or connecting us symbolically. The Eucharist is aimed at helping us get past our fears, and more deeply into the Christ Jesus who has already undone the things that undo us; who has already overwhelmed the things that overwhelm; who has already defeated the fears that paralyze.

Christ’s holy body and blood take us past these things, fueling our desire to be in our living what we hope for in our minds.

Perhaps this pandemic has had the strange benefit of helping us see how much of our life in God depends on the Holy Eucharist. How much our life as Christians is both supporting each other, and more so living from Christ’s strength.

I know that, for most, it is truly hard being deprived of Holy Communion. It feels not good, even unfair. Yet I pray that it has increased our hunger and thirst for Our Lord’s Body and Blood. That this deprivation has helped us realize how much we actually should rely, not just on each other, but on Our Lord. And that we rely on Jesus, not as an idea of hope or a comfortable part of our life, but that we rely on His flesh and blood to move us away from a life that just goes along, to a live that truly lives for the end.

Too often, we don’t see the importance, the help, the necessity, the benefit until we are deprived. And sometimes we don’t really get the sacrifice, the ‘loving us to the end,’ until our routine is shaken.

We will gather again. The deprivation will end. Our Lord will see to that, in His time and for His purpose. And perhaps He has permitted, or even arranged this difficult season, so that we might long for each other by yearning for His sacrifice by which He continues to love us through now to the end.

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Paschal Triduum Resources

Triduum means “three days.” The Paschal Triduum refers to the holies three days, in which we commemorate the suffering, death, and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Live-streaming these unique and dramatic services is certainly not the same as being there. But in today’s situation, it can be helpful so that we don’t lose track of our ‘church time.’

To assist you, booklets for the three services (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil) are attached. Due to the unusual circumstances, the services need to be slightly modified.

On Thursday and Friday, the live-stream begins at 2 p.m. PDT. On Saturday evening, it begins at 7 p.m. PDT.

Booklets for Tenebrae (the service of darkness) are also included. Tenebrae is live-streamed at 7 p.m. on Thursday and Friday evenings.

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Tears of Repentance: Holy Wednesday Homily

When we see people suffer, when we contemplate the scale of misery and grief, it seems right to feel sorry for them: to pity their circumstances, and the trauma that we’re observing. For tears of lament are often the only compassion we can offer from a distance; and the best way we have to express our empathy.

Why, then, does Our Lord speak so roughly to the women who are doing what is so natural? Why does He rebuke them for their tears? And why does He tell them to turn inward, to weep for themselves and for their children?

Our Lord is not unmindful of grief. He wept when He saw Lazarus’ tomb. He wept when He foresaw the destruction of Jerusalem. But now, at this time, He calls not for tears of pity or lament, not even for tears of compassion, but for tears of repentance.

Tears of repentance. That is what Our Lord asks for.

Yet, at this time, why must we repent?

  • Certainly, because of our lack of care and concern.
  • Because we have been more anxious and less prayerful.
  • Because we are not using this long Lent to our greatest spiritual advantage.
  • Because we are focusing more on the pandemic and less on Our Lord’s mercy.
  • And, perhaps, because we are using this unsettling time as an excuse to set aside our Lenten fast, our Lenten devotion, and our Lenten sacrifice of self.

Repentance is authentic and real when it is practiced even when, especially when, our routine is thrown off. Repentance is authentic and real when it asks more of us, and requires greater sacrifice. And repentance is authentic and real when what we refuse to deal with confronts us.

That is what Our Lord foresees when he looks at the weeping women. He sees that, soon, they will face a crisis. A crisis much greater than any we feel now. A crisis that will require greater sacrifice, and to confront what they ultimately pin their hopes to.

Our Lord foresees, not just because He knows all. He foresees, because He is suffering through all present and future sufferings as He treads with the cross to Golgotha. And so His words are not words of pride. He’s not saying that their weeping is pointless because He is manly and can do this and so doesn’t need their pity. Rather, Our Lord says, “Weep not for me,” because He knows that genuine, authentic, real tears of contrition will help them and us, much more than feeling sorry for His trauma, His suffering, His impending death.

Tears of compassion express our empathy. But tears of repentance cleanse the soul. They guide us to look beyond, to look for hope. Most of all, tears of repentance help us to commit to the change, the amendment, the transformation of our life so that we can attain greater things. Not just getting past this pandemic, but getting closer to our heavenly goal.

Afterall, that’s why Jesus is on the road of suffering. That’s why the women meet Him and weep for Him in the first place. He’s not suffering for a cause, or going to death to prove a point. He’s there to renew their reason for being, to restore their life in God, and to transform them into persons well suited for His heavenly kingdom.

He’s doing His part. It’s the greatest part, and the greatest sacrifice. And instead of sympathy and lament, He simply asks us to offer tears of authentic and real repentance.

Those tears are good. But they must also be converted into acts of sacrifice.

  • Sacrificing our self-pity by reaching out to others. Sacrificing our pride by doing what is best for others.
  • Sacrificing our anxiety by putting unwavering trust in Our Lord.
  • Sacrificing our desires by offering more prayers.
  • And even sacrificing our life, when needed, by willingly drawing near to minister to another.

Tears of repentance. Which then turn to deeds of love. Which in turn focus our hearts and minds where they are designed to be—on following Our Lord in the way of the Cross. That’s Our Lord’s gentle and tender word to the women, and to us now and when we are enabled to gather again.

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Forsaking Our Lord: Holy Tuesday Homily

“They forsook him and fled.” That is by far the most devastating sentence in the story of Our Lord’s Passion. It means that He was left lonely, bereft of the support of His closest friends. Even if they could do nothing, they were not standing beside Him, or standing up for Him, or offering any aid.

We also hear Jesus say, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me.” But that cry comes not from misery or complaint, but out of mercy; not from lack of help by God, but from their agreed upon determination that He needs to die in order to restore all creation. (St Leo) And so the Father forsaking His Son is not the same as what the disciples did. They fled in fear. The Father withdraws His help and abandons His Son into the hands of violent men so that He might be their Savior—the Savior and salvation of those who hate Him, abuse Him, kill Him.

Never do we hear, “Mother, why have you left Me.” Because the Holy Mother does not forsake or leave her Son. She is there, every step of the way. It seems as if she can’t do much, as if she doesn’t do much. But her presence, even from a distance, gives Our Lord strength to carry His burden, strength to face the ostracization, the abandonment, the rejection by His own.

The example of the Blessed Virgin teaches us how to support and reach out to those in need, even during this pandemic. And the non-example of the disciples also teaches us, if in a opposite manner.

Judas’ betrayal helps us see that we don’t always know the larger plan, and so should not take matters into our own hands when things aren’t going the way we think they should. St Peter’s denial helps us when our bravado is too quick to say that we’ll be there. And the fleeing of the disciples helps us see that we ought not let people alone, that we ought to reach out to them in their need. Even if we feel helpless, even if distance keeps us from being close, we can still reach out to the isolated, listen to the frustrated, talk things through with the anxious, and offer whatever material assistance we can in whatever way is best.

But does Jesus really need someone else to stand beside Him, to comfort Him, to support Him? He is the Son of God, the One who raised the dead, and who is able to call down a legion of angels. So why does Our Lord need help? And St Paul tells us that every person should “prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every one shall bear his own burden.” (Gal 6.4-5) So why don’t we just take care of ourselves, and let others deal with their own issues?

That’s the thinking of the disciples whose fears overwhelm, who are too afraid to expose themselves to another, who have forgotten the words Our Lord prayed in the garden: ‘not what I want, not what I think is best, but Thy will be done.’

The disciples leaving Jesus to fend for Himself is wondrously contrasted with the example of St Simon of Cyrene. They choose to flee; he is compelled to stay. They will not help; he bears another’s burden, and so fulfills the law of Christ.

In His humanity—in the weak, vulnerable nature that He assumed for our salvation; in the mortal body that He graciously chose to knit to His divine nature, so that we could partake of and commune in His Godhead—in our flesh, as one of us, Our Lord needs someone to step forward and carry His cross.

And in this time, He needs us not only to take up our own cross, but also to assist another—the neighbor, the friend, the relative, the enemy.

For a moment, Jesus is the enemy to St Simon of Cyrene. For St Simon is forced to do what he hates, what he wants to flee from. St Simon is compelled to leave behind his two sons in order to help, support, and assist a stranger, one who is clearly not welcome.

Yet, in short order, the compulsory task becomes a privilege and a joy. Because St Simon did not flee into himself. He stood with Jesus; or, to say it better, Jesus stood with Him, extending His love and embracing Simon with the Lord’s own strength.

And drawing on the Lord’s strengthening mercy, Simon proceeds to carry the Lord’s cross. He walks with the Lord, carrying the weight, up the hill, to the place of death.

This saintly man reveals how Our Lord’s suffering can strengthen us; how His Passion can move us outside of ourselves; how it gives us a willingness and a merciful spirit for the good of another. This saintly man demonstrates how bearing with another is actually helping to carry the Lord’s cross; by which we are saved since His cross contains nothing to fear, nothing to flee from—but every hope and strength, both in these days and in the days to come.

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The Aroma of Life: Holy Monday Homily

Like the perfume of the incense which clings to our clothing and to our hair, the sweet-smelling savor of the costly ointment from Mary filled the whole room.

Certainly, that ointment had been purchased in order to chase away the stench of death as Lazarus lay dying. Certainly, Mary and her sister Martha were going to use that costly perfume to anoint Lazarus’ dead body. However, Christ had raised Lazarus from the dead. And so, the cologne sat on a shelf, waiting for the opportune time.

That time came when Christ entered the room. In order to cover the stink of her own sins, Mary lavishly poured this expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet. And then she let the pleasant scent soak into her hair. It was an act of repentance. It was an attempt to chase away the disgusting odor of deadly pride, lust, wrath, greed, apathy, gluttony, and envy.

It was also Mary’s way of connecting her life to Christ’s life. She wanted the fragrance of His kindness and humility, the sweet-savor of His love, the refreshing scent of His mercy and forgiveness, to cover her, head to toe. And so “Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.”

Without denying Mary’s act or intention, Jesus, as He often does, turned the image. The perfume which permeated the room now became the smell of defiance. Against death. And against the fear of death.

“Let her alone,” Jesus says to the betrayer who will rush Jesus to death while also taking death into his own hands. “Let her alone. She has kept this [perfume] for the day of My burial. She is anointing me as if I were dead. This perfume, which was for her dying brother, is now announcing my impending burial.”

Most likely, there’s another bottle of costly perfume on the shelf. For one bottle will not do when a person has died. Like the first, this second bottle will not be used for Lazarus. He doesn’t need it since he has been raised. Instead, this second bottle will travel with Mary, and the other Mary, when they go to the tomb early in the morning intending to perfume Christ’s deceased body. But that second bottle will never be used for its intended purpose. Instead, it will remain as perpetual reminder that the stench of death, and the stink of despair, and the reek of fear, no longer need to be chased away or covered over.

In these unsettling days, Mary’s act, and her perfume, and the unopened bottle that sits on her shelf—these are constant reminders that our fears and anxieties, our apprehension about dying or causing death, need never get the best of us. And the shudder that we feel deep in our bones when we hear the words ‘pestilence,’ ‘pandemic,’ or ‘virus,’ or ‘plague’—that feeling is also diffused by the sweet smelling savor of Our Lord’s perfumed body.

Fear and the fear of death, like an unpleasant odor, can stick to us and emanate from our bodies into the nostrils of those around us. But, like Mary, we can use the fragrance of our hope, the perfume of our kindness, the cologne of our confidence, and the aroma of our love to diffuse and scatter and chase away this stench—from ourselves and from those around us. And we can, with our care for others, let the Life that Christ draws us to, and lives for us and through us and in us—let that life permeate every place, every person; most especially the lonely, the isolated, the fearful, the vulnerable, and those who enveloped in fear.

As Mary has shown us, the aroma we give off begins with an act of repentance; and setting aside our pride and inwardness; and then bathing ourselves in fearlessness, with the surety that, no matter how these next weeks go, Christ’s resurrection has overwhelmed the stench of all death.

And then we can be what St Paul says we are: the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved, and the aroma of life leading to life. For, as Mary has shown us, “God always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.” (2 Cor 2.14-16)

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Tough But Not Unbearable: Palm Sunday Homily

This Holy Week is tough, but it is not unbearable.

It is tough because we are not in our usual Holy Week routine: coming to the church, focused on Our Lord’s Passion, participating in the unique liturgies, and building toward Easter. All in the way to which we are so accustomed (perhaps too accustomed?).

It is tough. But this Holy Week will not be unbearable. At least, not if we keep in mind what Holy Week is really all about. It is about Christ bearing our sins to death on the cross, so that we don’t bear that burden. This light, momentary burden that we bear is simply part of “the sufferings of this present time [which] are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Rom 8.18) And, compared to what happened in other places at other times (during plagues or gulags or lion arenas), this “burden is [truly] light.” (Mt 11.30)

That our Holy Week burden is light is not to make light of it. It is more than a mere inconvenience to be deprived of celebrating together the holiest days in the year. But as Christ the Lamb took on the sins of the world, so now, for a little while, we are asked to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal 6.2) by sacrificing our time together to keep others safe. Let us remember that the holy disciples had to endure those unimaginably excruciating days and hours when they believed Life had died and death had won. In a similar way, we now, for a little while, need to “endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” (2 Tim 2.3) But let us never forget that those “who endure to the end shall be saved.” (Mt 10.22)

Again, this year’s tougher than usual Holy Week is, as St Paul says, “our light affliction, which is but for a moment.” But this momentary affliction is, even now as we live through it, “working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (1 Cor 4.17) Unless, of course, we’re not letting it work in us. Unless we’re so caught up in our fears and anxieties, so caught up in how this hurts me, that we’re not seeing the others who are co-sufferers or, most importantly, the others who are suffering because we have been selfish.

And now we’re back to Our Lord. He did not consider what He was missing out on. He did not pray for Himself. He did not do what He did so that He would be safe. Instead, everything He bore, everything He endured, everything He suffered was for another; for us; for me, and for you.

Consider this when you’re sitting at home, following safe practices. And think of what Our Lord endured when you think these rules are too silly, or too much, or too unbearable. “Let this mind be in you, which was in Christ Jesus” who thought nothing of Himself, who made humility and humiliation His weapons, who was obedient to every plan, every directive from His Father: who did all these things, even to His own harm, in order to protect just one. And another. And more. And all.

The longest trial, the toughest times, the weeks and months of being denied family and friends and church and Eucharist—have we forgotten how it ends? How it always ends. Holy Week always culminates in Easter. The “it is finished” is always met with “He is risen.” Whether it’s last year’s Holy Week, or this one that is harder, stranger, sadder.

We will not be deprived of each other forever. We will gather again, and receive the Bread of Life. Not this week, but soon, by the prayers of the Saints and the grace of Our Lord.

And while we wait, we can continue to be the Body of Christ. To each other: by our prayers, by our phone calls, by sacrificing what we think is best, by our little mercies. We can, even now, learn from the disciples—not by fleeing into ourselves as they did, but by doing as they should have.

  • By helping to bear another’s burden, as did St Simon of Cyrene.
  • By providing whatever refreshment we can, as did St Veronica.
  • By standing with the lonely, as did the Holy Mother.
  • And by supporting the grieving, as did St John.

Too often we’re so caught up in ourselves—our own anxiety, complaints, frustrations and grumbling—that we don’t see the other who needs us. Too often we’re trying to learn from this that the lesson is to continue living as Christ and His Saints did.

And too often we’re so caught up in today that we forget tomorrow’s joy: The time, which is not that far away, when “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain [because] the former things are passed away.”

The former things passing away—that includes this pandemic. As well as all the other things that frighten or weigh heavily. Or, to be most specific, the death of the killing things, and the death of death itself. These are the things that not only will pass away, but that also really should have no hold on us. For the passing away things pass away because they are within Our Lord who bore in His body to death on the cross, so that we might live in the newness of life.

Beginning now, even while we are apart, let us live this newness of life, this new normal. Let us now, during this tough Holy Week, be willing

  • to sacrifice our needs for the needs of our neighbor,
  • to embrace a greater sense of responsibility for our wider community,
  • to develop a deepened feeling of gratitude for our many blessings
  • to have a heightened concern for the elderly and vulnerable, and an increased respect for our those around us who give so much.

Then you will see: the joy will begin to build, as it has every Holy Week. And it may even build to a greater height of rejoicing and song than we’ve ever experienced.

Through the prayers of His Holy Mother and of all the Saints, may Our Lord Jesus grant us both the strength to endure and the joy that comes through such endurance; to whom, with His Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: now and ever, world without end.

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