The Healing Cross: A Homily

The dirt had been cleared away, and the three wooden crosses lay carelessly in their grave one on top of the other. No honor, no respect, no veneration had been shown these instruments of death. And why should they have been? They were used to execute criminals: traitors, murders, serial thieves. The worst of the worst. The people who threaten our bodily life, and so scare us more than he who can destroy the soul. For we fear all threats to our quality of life, and are too glib about threats to our spirit, to our life in God.

Yet one of these crosses had been used to rescue us from threats we don’t take seriously; threats we put off for another day. One of these killing implements was actually life-giving: in a way we too often take with indifference. One of these murderous tools was the sweetest wood which had soaked in the blood of the Just One, pierced by sweetest iron. One of these was Faithful Cross above all other, the one and only noble Tree, the Tree of Life Himself whose fruit is our redemption, whose foliage and blossom cures us from the contagion of fear.

Which one? How to tell? That was the question that confronted Empress Helen. Looking down, she and the others with her had no way of knowing if they had simply found more Roman artifacts or the wood of the True Cross on which had hung our salvation.

The Bishop knew. He knew that the Cross of Jesus, the Cross of Sorrow, was where God’s blood was shed to heal and restore and transform not just humans, but all of creation. And if it healed all, then it could heal one.

So the Bishop fetched a woman wracked with infirmity, the very picture of our weakened state, one whose illness made people shrink back in fear and cringe in horror. That one woman, like the mother pleading for her daughter’s healing, like the woman who hemorrhaged for 12 years, like the little girl lying dead on her bed—that woman was brought to the blood of Jesus, embedded and inseparable from the wood. Instead of reaching to touch the hem of His garment, the healing, life-giving wood was gently applied to her disease-riddled body.

And as the relic of the True Cross touched her, all death and disease fled in fear. Now the virus that frightened ran away. Now the fatal illness was cured. Now the Grim Reaper’s grip was broken.

Not that the lady nevermore died. Lazarus, Talitha, the man from Nain, and the bodies of the saints that came out of the tombs after Our Lord’s resurrection: their bodies eventually gave out. Because their rising at that point was a sign of what was to come, and so not yet the glorification and transfiguration of their bodies. But that doesn’t mean that nothing happened to this dear woman and the others. Rather, it means that Tartarus and the grave, and we in our fear of death, all learned that death’s grip is not permanent; that mortality is terminated one day; and, in fact, that death is converted from the decay to transformation.

All of that the Holy Cross gains for us. All of that Christ’s death and resurrection opened up for us.

And so the woman was cured, by the touch of the relic of the True Cross. And since that relic has not changed; since Christ’s blood is still mingled with the wood; since Our Lord’s Cross remains the means of salvation—such a cure from disease, such a delay of the grave is also available to us, when it pleases Our Lord, in our own relic of the True Cross.

That is why this relic is prominent on our tabernacle; why I bless you with it especially during this pandemic; and why, when we are able, I encourage you to venerate our relic of the True Cross. For it is not a piece of religious art, but connects us to Our Lord’s saving work in a way that is only exceeded by the Holy Sacraments.

Yet there is another reason why I bless you with the relic of the True Cross; another reason why the Finding of the Holy Cross is such an important feast; another reason why this sign of execution is a symbol of our faith.

Our life in God is lived not individually, holed up in our homes. It is lived together, beneath of shadow of the cross. For now, for every sensible and prudent reasons, we are necessarily apart. But this separation is not, and can never be, normal for us. We must, in time, come together. Not merely because we like each other, or miss each other, or just want to be together.

We must, in time, come together because our life is no life unless it is lived together, in the community, in the Body which is Christ’s and of which He is the head.

The cross is the symbol of this: of our life together. And it is that symbol especially now, as we bear one another’s burdens in prayer, in acts of charity, in ensuring that justice prevails over greed, and in protecting each other not in fear but out of self-sacrificing love.

All of that, and most especially a love which sacrifices our convenience and even our life for another—all of that is both seen and made real in the Cross of Christ. Looking to the Cross should both bring this to mind, and inspire in each one of us a spirit to live heedless of our selves and mindful only of the lives of the weak, the vulnerable, the unborn, the helpless, the marginalized, and those who place themselves in harm’s way.

That is part of what Christ means when He tells us to take up our cross. Which is really a small portion of His Cross. To take up the cross is to realize that we must be together, because our way, our pathway to sanctity, our road to the resurrection of the body—that is always a route of charity, of selflessness, or love that thinks of no one but another. That is the love that flows from the heart of Christ, whose blood from that pierced heart adheres to the relic that sits on our altar. In that precious blood, which is stuck to the Cross, we see what love is; and most of all, what it means to be united with each other in Christ.

Not yet, but soon we shall be together. While we wait, let’s not get too comfortable with how things are now—with our separation, with the unreal way we connect. We should be grateful for this small mercy which we need in our weakness. And let us recall that, in fortunate and unfortunate circumstances, we are together in Christ. But let us also yearn, and pray earnestly, for that time when our words of concern for each other are met with a true and sincere commitment to be gathered at the foot of the Cross in our parish; and to use that love which flows from Christ’s side on the Cross to live unafraid, unanxious, not giving into passion, but looking forward to that day when the healing that has begun in us is brought to its full completion in the heavenly kingdom; where, by the prayers of the saints, Our Lord Jesus Christ is glorified with His Father and the Holy Spirit, world without end.

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The Finding of the Holy Cross (May 3)

There are two feasts of the Holy Cross that are celebrated in the Western Rite calendar. The one shared with the Eastern Rite is September 14, which we know as “The Exaltation of the Holy Cross.” It commemorates the return from Persia of the (quite large) relic of the Holy Cross after Persia was defeated by Emperor Heraclius. This feast also commemorates the dedication of the Church of the Holy Cross on Mt Calvary. The second feast is called “The Finding [Inventione] of the Holy Cross.” This feast, which occurs on May 3 each year, commemorates St Helen’s discovery of the True Cross.

In the Western tradition, the feast of The Finding of the Holy Cross is of such importance that it is permitted to supersede any Sunday after Easter (except Low Sunday). This is good since it allows us a second celebration of Our Lord’s salvific suffering and life-saving death.

As we recall the story of the finding of the Holy Cross, this feast also brings to mind the healing power of the Holy Cross. For this is how it was determined that the actual cross Our Lord died on was among the three discovered by St Helen. “Macarius, Bishop of Jerusalem, after praying to God, applied each cross to a woman who was suffering from a grievous disease; the first two were of no effect, but at the touch of the third she was healed immediately.”

In this episode, we see that an instrument of suffering becomes a means of healing; the executioner’s tool becomes an aid to life. And this is why such a cruel implement is both a token of glory and the sign to which we look, like the Israelites of old, in order to be rescued from the contagion of sin and the sting of death.

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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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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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