Long Teaching: Of the Meaning of “Mercy”

Back in Feb. 2016 I wrote this Year of Mercy Long Teaching Blog. I am offering it again in an updated “rerun.” I have found that not enough persons saw that blog and did miss this essential study of the meaning of “Hesed” Mercy. So I repeat it here. I have no pics included because of the length)

THIS WILL BE MY LONGEST BLOG EVER. (I wont make a multi-part one, either.)

PART ONE.

“WHAT IS MERCY?’” What’s the Bible say? What’s the Church say?
We could answer it BEST by stating that the best question really is WHO is Mercy… HE is Jesus!

We are covering that Personal side of Mercy in our Lenten Mission and DVD day of renewal and in guest talks in the parish–so the “Who” of Mercy will be greatly addressed.

Yet in the answering of the WHAT in Mercy: Here we go!

The word “mercy” in English has its roots in many beautiful words throughout the Bible. In the Hebrew word of the Old Testament, “hesed” is the most important one to understand. Hesed Mercy is defined as a covenant-pacted, steadfast, loving kindness act of God. .

We will study it here.

Also, in another beautiful mercy word of Scripture, the New Testament Greek gives the word “eleos” which means a kindness or good will offered from the giver towards someone in need who has some misery or affliction. The giver desire to help the one in need in a personal care. The one in need is called to repond.

In a third description of mercy in beautiful words, the Latin one for mercy is “misericordia,” derived from misericors, “merciful”, which is in turn derived from misereri, “to pity”, and cor, “heart.” So, mercy is heart-pity or heart-compassion in this other familiar term. In Medieval Latin, the word “misericordia” denoted various merciful things, and these senses were borrowed into English. Today, in our English language, mercy relates to tenderness, kindness, sweetness, compassion, and pity.

“Hesed” is the one I’d like to study here. Catholics can best relate to it for our deeper understanding of mercy. “Hesed” in Hebrew Covenant practice, and even practiced by Jesus’ life ( in His being a devout Jew), was the loving kindness of God found in direct relationship to His covenant promises.

Like His people in the Hebrew Covenant, we Catholics identify ourselves strongly as covenant people (in now the Christian covenant or New Covenant in Jesus the Son of God). Our Church is born in that Covenant, as Jesus established Himself as our source and foundation 2000 years ago. He is THE promise of God fulfilled, even as the God-man. Now we are commissioned to live in the Christ (or Christian) Covenant era. Jesus is the full revelation of God and the Personal Sign of the Covenant of Peace with God. Jesus is The Sacrament of God (as many Catholic councils and documents declare through the Ages). His is an Incarnate Wonder where and when His Divine Promise and Presence remains with us now always. It is the Church’s delight, so affirmed by gospels like John chapters 12-18 and Matthew chapters 16 and 28.

Mercy is The Deal of this abiding Presence of God to us. Jesus (on The Cross–and so pre-offered at His Last Supper Gift of Himself) is the covenant seal of the deal (or agreement) of God to humanity and of humanity (in Jesus, the God-man) to God. Jesus is God’s Mercy Deal. There is No other.

This is a “Hesed” gift. It is the lavish, forgiving, and loving and kind Action of God. It is the covenant we presently celebrate. It is not just a past deal of God to humankind; it is ongoing in the Eternal Son Who is our Sacrament. This deal is celebrated within the rites of Holy Mass. It’s a founding principle of ourselves as Christ’ Church, His Body. We have been covenanted to be in Christ who we are– His bride or embodiment of love, His people (Ez.34, 36,). Now the Spirit of God brings that new life or identity in Christ alive. The Bible ends in Revelation with the Call: “The Spirit and the Bride say come!”

So, we should understand–what is a covenant deal? As introduced in the Bible back a few thousand years, a covenant is a “blood-pact” –where one person says, “I will do this forever, if you will do that forever.” To mark the promise, they would cut an animal open from head to toe, then lay the two parts open opposite each other, and then walk in-between them and say, “May you do this and that to me if I am unfaithful to the vow.”
(Which BTW is where I think we get walking down the aisle for marriage with the groom’s family on one side and bride’s on the other–there is some symbolism of a deal in that.)

This flesh-and-blood covenant pact of early Old Testament times may seem to be a gruesome image to us modern people, but can we get at least the drama and seriousness of the animal pact? God was using such covenant-making actions to prepare His people for the super deal He’d make in His Son.

Now the Church seriously celebrates her covenant with God in a body and blood covenant sign: The Holy Eucharist. It’s what Jesus taught us to do at His Last Supper. He said: Do This.

We “do it” (Eucharist) as our obedient connection to Him. We “do it’ to please God. We imitate our faith forefather Abraham, that, of whom it is told, pleased God and inspired the covenant so offered by God to us.

Let’s remember that Genesis story of Abraham with God– in this man that “pleased God.”

Enter God…

When God “cut a covenant” with Abraham, God knew that man could never keep his end of the bargain. Therefore God caused Abraham to “fall into a deep sleep” so that Abraham would never have to walk through the “split me open if…” part of the ceremony. (Genesis 15:9-18) We see that it was really UP TO GOD to keep the covenant by extending MERCY again and again to this “prone to wander” people. And in order to do that, God meted out a great deal of LOVE, FORGIVENESS, COMPASSION, LONG SUFFERING and SACRIFICE so that the “covenant” would work.

Enter Jesus…
He comes in the “right time of history” to reveal the Covenant Sign to be as God’s Son offered, in response to Abraham’s willingness to offer his only Son Isaac.

Jesus was born for this reason: He is the fulfilment of the True Covenant. He is the once and for all sacrifice, our true “blood covenant” with God (read more about it in the New Testament book of Hebrews). It is by HIS blood that we enter into relationship with God and therefore receive the full extent of His mercy, love and forgiveness. All of this is offered to us because of what Christ has done for us on The Cross. He is our link between heaven and earth. We, too, are a “prone to wander” people, just as our spiritual ancestors were, and we too are still in need of His MERCY!

Pope Francis says Mercy is “the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.” Just this past week Francis said that Christians are all about bridges of connection with God. (We don’t want to put obstacles or walls up in the way for people to get to God; we are supposed to be ambassadors of reconciliation, even bridge builders in society.)

So throughout this Year of Mercy…

Remember that we are given MERCY, not because we DESERVE it, as we do not. And we are able to extend MERCY, not on the basis that others DESERVE it, as they may not! We love because we have first been greatly loved, we forgive because we have first been greatly forgiven…

God gives us mercy to free us from the bondage of sin and slavery in order to enter into a loving relationship with us. We pass that free gift on to others because we ourselves have been loved and set free. (Thus the JUBILEE! A year in which we focus on forgiveness and healing by encouraging each other to grow spiritually through the sacraments and works of service to promote unity in the Church and in our world.)

Mercy can be shown through tangible acts of love according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (see #2447). “The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities.”

This Lent and Easter in the parish I am concentrating our focus on the 7 Spiritual Works. While the bodily or corporal works of mercy are remembered better by Catholics, as they all appear in Matthew 25 (Feed the hungry, Give drink to the thirsty, Clothe the naked, Give shelter to the homeless, Visit the sick, Visit the imprisoned, and Bury the dead), still most people cannot name the other 7, The Spiritual Works of Mercy. These are actions on our spiritual side of outreach to others. The spiritual poverty of people is huge.

Here are the Spiritual Works of Mercy: Admonish the sinner, Instruct the ignorant, Counsel the doubtful, Comfort the sorrowful, Bear wrongs patiently, Forgive injuries, and Pray for the living and the dead.

In church homilies I am covering them, which you can find via this blog, too.

I pray that this year we will be like God in His Hesed– full of steadfast and loving kindness–and showing it in loyal service to Him in The Spiritual Works. To succeed in it, I pray that we can have Jesus in us as our Mercy. He Who was Mercy in the flesh in its most splendid, loving way–He lives in us now, His Body, to offer us participation in that faithful love and in that great extension of mercy to all! Awesome! Let us remember the great beatitude of Our Lord: ” Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Matthew 5:7

PART TWO MERCY MERCY MORE.
Do you want more on this topic? If so, then let’s go further in our study of Divine Mercy.

The Year of Mercy has us ask the obvious question: “What is Mercy?” We realize that a quick surface answer is not sufficient. Mercy goes deep. Way deep.

Let’s pose these questions for our pondering further… What is your own idea of Mercy, or what do you think others understand about it? Does Mercy mean benevolence or forgiveness? Or rather is it more about charity or generosity? Or does it lean more in definition in the goodwill category? Or, is Mercy more about to some kind of ‘loving leniency?’

Mercy — In a secular sense of definition, it is a word that sometimes is used as describing an act that is done by a person in power or control as an extraordinary offer to someone who is weak or needy. In a recent film, for instance, the violent over-taker is ready to shoot someone for not cooperating and submitting enough to them, and the person with the gun pointed AT them screams Give me mercy!, even while expecting their end to come. Some people understand “mercy” to be something of that description of a desperate last-course cry or need.

Mercy — In another definition, interviewed people thought of “mercy” as a word associated with hospitals. Some hospitals are actually named “Mercy Hospital” (like the one nearby in Baltimore).
People thought of mercy as witnessed in those actions of caring for the sick and dying (because it is not an easy thing to do). In a related definition, some posed mercy as in works like aiding refugees or displaced homeless people of the world, as in Iraqis or Syrians, since these kind acts for others are not easy and ask for so much compassion.

So sometimes mercy is defined in the heroic category.

We can ask, then: What inspires a person to give of their heart and soul to another in any need for mercy? Or, better asked, Who are we turning to for that inspiration? Who is always around to help offer it to us? (In the context of this Mercy Blog– our defined Person is Jesus. HE is our inspiration, and He lives in the people around us who offer inspiring example.)

Mercy — Let us not just see it as in the big, heroic acts, though.
Mercy is not only in large, difficult services in the Spirit of Care to others. Many people also will define it as our regular, small and consistent acts of treating people with kindness and forgiveness.

God is in the normal and small things, too, and He is needed there in His Mercy.

For the Christian, the self-examined life is one where we go looking for how God’s Mercy made it into our living in the day. At the day’s closing, how good it is for a believer to pray and ponder: How did God, in small or large ways, minister Mercy to someone today, as through me?

As we make daily self-examinations in our Christian walk, isn’t it good for each of us to review if we resisted Mercy or offended Mercy (Jesus) at all in the day just lived? We could ask ourselves: Was I ever cruel or harsh today to someone? Did I act carelessly or insensitively to someone today? Was I not willing to give someone a benefit of the doubt or a break of consideration?
Then, if we remember such a sin versus Mercy, we could then repent of it, since we were momentarily an obstacle, and not a vehicle, for the Merciful Christ to reach others.
Mercy also can be an admission of our not doing something in the positive. Perhaps a friend has been sick, and we come to realize it has been quite too long since we have called to check on them. Perhaps a person has suffered a loss, and we realize we have been reluctant and uncomfortable about checking in with them. Mercy can be in that kind of act of contrition and reflection in a night prayer, so to resolve to do something ahead.

Mercy also walks with us in our waking to sleeping time. In the course of our day, can we be open to Christ and His will (via our choices)? Can we see that Mercy walks with us? Can we kindly be giving up some of our own will for God’s greater good and will in spreading forgiveness around or showing sensitivity with people?

The idea here is that the persons who are flexible or cooperative or forgiving are the “merciful” ones. And Jesus lives and shines best through them. “O Mercy of God, inhabit me!”

Now, with those expansive considerations of Mercy, as treated above, let’s again at what “Hesed” means. “Hesed” means that mercy is about being godly and acting in virtue of life with The Lord. It is the act of being faithful to the One Who is always faithful to us. God’s favor is best thanked by it taking residence in our souls and being given back in acts in His sight.

Mercy in its Hebrew sense and its Christian definition is an action that always involves God. According to STRONG’S EXHAUSTIVE CONCORDANCE, this Hebrew word of “Hesed” (mercy) is used over two hundred times in the Bible. It is used 82 times in the PSALMS and 52 times in the New Testament. The “Hesed” term is so rich in meaning as to be almost untranslatable. It means so much more than in being kind and nice. Just as the word PEACE in Hebrew SHALOM means much more than the absence of war – but rather as a great prosperity and blessing experience— so also the word MERCY has a much richer and fuller meaning than in being compassionate or in not being cruel… “Hesed” mercy means TOTAL devotion, utter loyalty, unequalled love… The words abundance or reward to the fullest amount (i.e. plenty, overflowing, bountiful acts) can be used to describe “Hesed.” It’s a word implying one’s cooperating with the Heart and Spirit of God, and being humble in their humanity, as in selfless engagement in the world.

Just ponder about that for a moment.

“Hesed” was a Hebrew faith word on the lips of Jesus and deep in His mind, too. Jesus communicated it to His disciples, and taught that The Father’s mercy, His Hesed, was unfathomable. Yet Jesus said that Hesed could be experienced. Jesus said that He was the bridge to it. “I AM the Way to the Father….The Life.” He also said He was the image of The Heavenly Father. He, The Son, was helping the Father’s mercy to be lived out deeply on the earth. He would make it real and even eternal for us: as a Gift.

In every Mass by Catholics, we look to celebrate Divine Mercy. It is The Gift offered. At Mass, we present Jesus and His Mercy to the Father. God receives the amazing, loyal, generous, and pleasing Gift of His Son when the Church prays the Sacred Liturgy. The unfathomable is somehow experienced, even while we hardly comprehend its great value and meaning among us. Yet we do it, because Jesus said it was what we were to do. “DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME…. THIS IS MY BODY… THIS IS MY BLOOD, OF THE NEW AND ETERNAL COVENANT.”

The Church has a prayer early on in the Mass with our using the Greek word for Mercy, which is Eleison (as in Kyrie, Eleison–Lord, Have Mercy). This is more of the Gentile definition of holy pity or compassion. It is inserted at the Liturgy’s start, so to lead us in our first petitions to God, that Mercy is beckoned. We call out to the One Who Has Mercy to give.
Then, as the Mass goes on, we hopefully are ready to go deeper in Mercy by the consecration and then the breaking of the bread into The Hesed.

Pleading for Compassion is the Kyrie (and newer Greek meaning for mercy), and it is about being attentive to Mercy. When we say “Lord, have mercy,” think of it as saying ‘Lord, You have enveloped Your Grace and Mercy around me. Therefore, please pour it into the well of my being and to all these others who are gathered and praying for it here, and then may it flow and spread out to the world after this Mass ends. We are with You, Lord. Can You pour out Your Mercy on us?’

Or just, ‘Lord, have mercy flow to us here. We cry for it! Then help us give it to others. May the whole world want to receive Mercy and take it in! Start here, as we cry for it. ‘

This is how Mass is supposed to start. Plus, if any personal sins of ours come to mind as we start praying Mass, then we are to pray as sorry for them and to say that we do want help to turn away from them. Lord, have mercy!

THEN, as we reach the Anamnesis and Memorial action of The Mass in the Offering (the part of the Eucharistic Prayer where the priest moves his hands in invocation over the bread and wine, and then lifts the paten and chalice up with its gifts), NOW we move deeper into the loving-kindness and loyalty of God, as He comes in Sacrament/ Real Presence to us. This is the HESED MERCY. We are moving deeper in the Mass.

In the covenant prayer of Jesus from The Last Supper Mass, we are reminded how God is faithful; He keeps His end of the Promise. And, He helps us even for our end of the salvation deal.

In Jesus, God is Supreme in love.

We know that God is not to do all of the covenant work; we have our part of the deal. His side is indispensable, of course, but we are called to respond to Him, to make it complete. That is, if we can act in covenant love back with God, as heart-willing cooperators in His grace, then God can help us to see what His Mercy is all about. Amazing. It is about our being led fully back to intimacy with The Blessed Trinity. It is the joining-in-covenant unto the Holy Faithful One: God.

Getting to this realization of Mercy, we do holy works as not of our own goodness to give to God, but as more to find His goodness and Mercy to be planted in us to use, as so to give unto Him, via our free and happy cooperation.

Just think about that realization for a moment…

Mercy is something humankind lost in our fall into sin. We need to find it again, as we find ourselves becoming children of God now. This is our right disposition at Holy Mass.

The beginnings of the Kyrie Eleison show us that a good holy pity or compassion is what we see as a crying need in this broken world, and then, we move to the Offertory prayer to call down Jesus to be found among us. Then, as He appears as Eucharist, we long for the sweet, loving embrace of Him. This is what receiving Holy Eucharist is about. It is the summit Mercy experience of Holy Mass.

So maybe The Mass has three Mercy levels.
1.Kyrie. “Have pity on me, O Lord …(Ps. 6)” Lord have mercy
2. The Call of the Paraclete for Jesus to come to the altar gifts (the HESED understanding that we come to God reliant on His favors and benefits). We pray in such an Other-centered way in this time of Mass. Here we acknowledge how we are humbled dependents on God, not arrogant independents. We pray “let Your Spirit come upon these gifts and make them holy (to make usholy). We know that God’s realm and reign is all about His kindness extended to His creation and creatures. We call on that kindness. Come Holy Spirit.
3. Receiving Eucharist. As we pray to the Lamb of Mercy, we admit how we are unworthy to receive Him as “under our roof” but we ask Him anyway for His Word of Favor and His personal healing. And He gives it to “those many who are willing to receive Him.”

Say the Word, Lord. Say, Hesed.

Oh the wonderful Hesed!

In Mary’s Magnificat, she says “His Mercy does reach from age to age… and Holy is His Name.”

PART THREE.

If you are getting something out of this meditation on Mercy, then you are ready for an added finish to this meditation now. I wrote this part after a few months of pondering further this “Hesed” picture of God. I can also say that in watching our Mercy videos by Vinnie Flynn (Sunday 4/10 and repeated on Friday 4/22) that there is a whole lot more to understand about Mercy. Vinnie Flynn showed that he knew Mercy very deeply. If you miss the parish showings, then go to www.mercysong.org and order some of Flynn’s materials, such as the Person-to-Person three part dvd taping of his parish mission. It is what we watched.

Mercy: A Big Picture. A bonus Part 3.

Can we get a huge picture in our understanding of God as being full of mercy?! GOD’S HESED … the HESED of God …means redemption from enemies and troubles; in one’s preservation of keeping life and not perishing in death. HESED refers to the quickening of spiritual life; in redemption from sin; and in keeping in covenant with God (as in Abraham’s one or with Moses’ one) with Israel. The HESED experience, then, is a glad joining to the God of the Covenant. Mary’s songs says: “My soul proclaims the greatness of The Lord! My spirit rejoices in God the Savior!”

Mercy, then, is calling upon God for His commitment to save us. We mentioned here His covenants to us. We ask that it kick in on our part. We bow down in hope that God will flow through us. We understand all the more, then, of the Covenant of Jesus in His Body and Blood, and the need to participate in it via Mass and/or Eucharistic devotions. If we will submit to being His Body, or letting God embody us in Christ, then we will better catch on how receiving Christ’ Mercy in Sacrament gets us into His Incarnational Love. God weds man in Jesus. We are Christ’ Body. It is a covenant bod of Sacrament.

The Catholic Church is all about covenants and our seven Sacraments are much of being signs of God’s fidelity or His Hesed (His Mercy). In our prayers, so often we pray “Lord have mercy (on me)” and “Lamb of God have mercy (on us).” We also speak to God in the Lord’s Prayer as needing to show faithfulness back to God even as we have been served faithfully by Him. It really explains why we pray “forgive us our trespasses AS WE forgive those who trespass against us.” We are looking to be in Hesed (Mercy). Not only does God give mercy, but the mercy He gives we can use to act in a steadfast, faithful, and kind manner to others. It happens most meaningfully as we realize we are God’s covenant children, and Christ is embodying Himself today in the world, making us members of Himself. Hosanna! Hosanna!

Next comes the Eucharist of Mercy.

In the Resurrection accounts, often the disciples (post-Easter) still had difficulty in recognizing Jesus in His new state of being. I think that Jesus’ disciples of modern times have the same poor eye-sight of the heart in seeing that God’s Son and His Spirit are right here among us, and that the Sacraments and Church experience IS our time with Him in a special way. I think of the Emmaus story of Easter day when the two disciples were with Jesus on the road for quite a while, but would recognize only later in “the breaking of the bread.” Eucharist is meant to do the same today. Are we encountering Jesus so? His Mercy is right there. He said it plainly: “This is My Body… this is My Blood… of the new covenant. Do this!…”

If we are to act with God, then we need to appreciate God’s covenants to us (especially as expressed in Holy Mass as our renewal in covenant with God– and expressed in living the moral life and one of justice and peace in our days). Herein we show some fidelity or loyalty to our God and to His place in this world, via His Church, the One established on earth by His co-eternal Son Jesus Christ, the
Divine Mercy–THE HESED.

This one and only Eternal Son became Incarnate (coming in the flesh on earth). Now He wants to live in and through us. That’s the Incarnational Mystery we are in. We need to pray for the Divine Mercy to be accepted in the body of believers so we can be the body joined as to the Head, Who is Jesus. Jesus, the Head (and the Heart) desires to flow His mercy through us, to bless us, and to flow out into the world where Mercy is so desperately needed. And so close this blog rerun of Mercy.

May we live in Hesed.

A Spiritual Work of Mercy: Comfort the Afflicted (Tribute to Mother Angelica and St. Faustina)

Sunday’s Word for the Divine Mercy includes the great prayer of Psalm 118. It is a prayer about a new day of mercy. It calls for people in the land of promise to shout out in gladness for God’s Mercy. It also calls for people in the priestly line of Aaron to stay steadfast in hope and cry out in gladness for God’s Mercy. It calls for every person who longs for what is right and good to prevail to give thanks for a God of Mercy Who will answer those prayers. Here’s a clip from Psalm 118, as it was sung today:
Let the house of Israel say, “His mercy endures forever.” Let the house of Aaron say, “His mercy endures forever.” Let those who fear the LORD say, “His mercy endures forever.” Then the antiphon brings us to say together: R. Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting.
or: R. Alleluia, Alleluia!

As we seek God in His Mercy and then look to live out spiritual works of that Divine Mercy, we do so in a world with much pain and loss and trouble. The author of Psalm 118 knows the situation. He prays to God: I was hard pressed and was falling,
but the LORD helped me. My strength and my courage is the LORD, and He has been my savior.

Today I continue my series of the Spiritual Works of Mercy with you. Today we focus on “Comfort the Afflicted.” It fits so perfectly with today’s Psalm reading of acclaiming that God’s mercy is present to us and will be forever. It fits with the Gospel of today of Mercy coming in the Risen Jesus.

In this homily and blog, I would like to point out how two famous religious sisters (both who are now passed away) did some real good for me and others. Their spiritual works of mercy often were (and will long remain) a comfort to the afflicted.

Many people suffer in the ‘soul department,’ looking for their inner lives to be filled up, and be relieved of their emptiness inside or to have their spiritual desire (or want) met. These people are in the need of workers of the spiritual mercy of comfort. Their affliction is their spiritual dissatisfaction or their need for a renewal of their mind and conscience. Here is where this particular Comfort the Afflicted work of mercy is given.

Or, similarly, many Catholics have need of comfort from the affliction they face from the sinful world and from those living in rebellion versus God and in vices of the flesh, who in a sense polluting the spiritual air we breathe in this world daily. Catholics also get in some disgust of their own personal sin, especially the stubborn ones or the occasional mortal one that slips through the defenses– and hurts their spirit. They need comfort in The Spirit. They need relief.
Catholics also need the Church community and of any extra place or group that they can collect themselves to go and recover from all the false idolatrous allurements of this worldly, Self-centered society. They need relief there to get healed back into the Bosom and Heart of Christ. The Church of parish and diocese IS the first comfort and help in this spiritual walk together for Christ’ flock, yet the supportive extensions God has also provided can be very helpful, ones that bring comfort to the afflicted in spirit. I would like to name two such places or groups created by a pair of women religious who have proved so timely and good for people’s holy care.

One place is the airwaves, believe it or not. There is a community made there by EWTN for comfort and education and growth in their faith. It is accessible wherever one has a radio, tv or internet connection by phone or computer.
The other group are those Catholics drawn into the devotion of The Divine Mercy. There is comfort for the afflicted in Jesus’ Mercy. In this Year of Mercy we better believe it!

Firstly, I think of a worker of mercy in religious Sister and the long-addressed Mother Angelica, the dynamo sister primarily of Mobile Alabama. She gave people spiritual nourishment through the EWTN radio and tv air waves (and finally the Internet). It was sweet and wholesome comfort food for the soul and mind and heart. Mother Angelica just passed on to The Lord on Easter Sunday (3-28-16).

Secondly, I think of a worker of mercy (in this same Comfort the Afflicted) in Saint and Sister Faustina. She has led many during her 20th-century-life to become satiated and comforted with The Divine Mercy, as mainly passed on to the world through reading and inspirational devotional materials she received from Jesus to get into the faithful’s hands. This upcoming Easter octave day now is Divine Mercy in the Church, showing Faustina’s ministry impact. Her message did get out and is still getting out. Pope Francis’ declaration of this Year of Mercy also notes the connection and need for the Church to participate more in true Mercy in God.

Let us talk of Mother Angelica, first, about Works of Mercy to the spiritually afflicted. There was a vast void in mainstream Catholic media to reach a needy Church in America. Mother Angelica helped to fill it. What began as small operation became a large national (then international) outreach to comfort and nourish Catholics in their better knowing God and experiencing Him through traditional Catholic means. A large series of shows and programs were put on in Catholic media. Her station really came out of nowhere,and rose with God’s hand, to become strong.

As a seminarian in the 80’s and later as a priest, I (Fr. John Barry) took note of how many Catholics were now getting fed EWTN’s spiritual information and inspiration, to help supply what many parish churches were barely providing to their flocks in non-Sunday faith development or Bible study. Gratefully, EWTN was coming through with rich spiritual helps.

I also so comfort coming to afflicted Catholics through Mother Angelica’s EWTN network in programming to thwart so many fierce attacks on Catholicism from outside and within Christianity. The declining Christian culture in recent times has afflicted many a Catholic, and EWTN has been a means of helping remain in The Faith from harmful outside influences. Then, in the same period, Catholics have faced many hurtful or confusing unloving acts or attacks made by non-Catholic Christians upon them. Anti-Catholic communication/proselytizing has come on hard from unrespecting, combative non-Catholic Christians; but with Mother Angelica’s lead, they could now have a resource to answer that push against them. There are many good programs to turn to for one’s faith comfort and healing and strength. Mother has also kept a wary eye for over-liberal or progressively unorthodox Catholics in the ranks of America’s Catholic Church, giving even more comfort to Catholics to be faithful to God and to not join in the compromising spirit so prevalent today.

There was another comfort Mercy dimension to Mother’s EWTN network, which I have seen vividly in the past three decades of ministry. The homeward and/or the sick and dying now have a faithful, daily Catholic media companion to comfort them. Into the first decade of the new Millennium, one of those sick-and-dying was my own dad, Deacon Kevin Barry, who loved to have EWTN on during his confined years of pancreatic cancer, used it for nourishment and a faith activity to his regular day, right up to his Easter octave passing in 2004..

Early on with EWTN, for myself, I liked Mother Angelica’s live show as she just casually and personally spoke off-the-cuff about The Lord Jesus and our Church’s ways of following Him. I also liked Life On The Rock, and then, Crossing the Goal. I really liked it, too, whenever Fr. Benedict Groeshel was on the EWTN channel or whenever I had chance to catch the Journey Home shows. Now I like News Nightly, The World Over, papal coverage, and The Journey Home on EWTN tv, and on radio I like best the several call-in shows for explaining the Faith, especially Catholic Answers, and, of course, our own Morning Glory show (that I am on almost weekly)!
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Think anew now how the Merciful Work of “Comfort the Afflicted” can be defined.

If the airwaves is one surprising venue used by God to spur on these works, then consider how equally surprising it is that one religious sister of Poland could bring a revolution of comfort to the afflicted by re-introducing the Merciful Christ Jesus. As Faustina received revelations of The Lord in her prayer life, even amidst a difficult era for Poland, who would have guessed that these great intimate times of prayer to her could go around the world in blessing? Who would have guessed that a Polish pope was also in God’s plans in 1979 to advance this Polish sister’s findings? Her knowledge of Jesus in His Divine Mercy, and her good diary recordings of it, led Pope John Paul II to write a papal encyclical on Mercy, then later declare a Church Sunday for The Divine Mercy, which has led to this year’s Jubilee of Mercy declared by a successor to the Chair of Peter–Pope Francis. This Sunday is that annual Divine Mercy solemnity.

A devotion called the Divine Mercy chaplet has caught on in many places for Catholics to take up St. Faustina’s call. Religious orders have championed the mission (like various Marian orders), who see the Sacred Heart of Jesus devotion and Immaculate Heart of Mary devotion and this Divine Mercy prayer as all linked. They also see this time as one to get immersed in Jesus’ Blood and His Love before an age of persecution falls upon us. Who will take the Hint from Heaven to get closer in intimacy with the Mercy of God in Christ Jesus?

Both Mother Angelica and Sister and Saint Faustina brings comfort to the modern Catholic believers, who are trying to stay faithful to Christ and His Mission in The church, while being so afflicted with the wave of immorality and ungodliness plaguing our nation and world. It really is a work of mercy needed to daily handle the onslaught of anti-Christ and anti-Church spirit going on today. EWTN is a supplement help to gathering us into Jesus’ care and even the help of the Blessed Mother Mary of the Church. EWTN us there to serve and support the Catholic Church and the pope. The Divine Mercy and its devotion and intimacy with our Merciful God is now the thrust of Pope Francis’ ministry to the worldwide Church and to all believers in The Lord. Will this year be a banner one for Mercy?

If so, then there will be lots of Comfort to the Afflicted, as Catholics live out the Way of The Lord in the Holy Spirit.IMG_20150916_185206

Easter

HAPPY EASTER.
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baptism The altar of Easter morn
Adult Baptism at Easter Vigil
Interesting pelican window at St. Pius X parish only to be seen in the server’s dressing room (where I hear school confessions twice a year). The pelican is a mystical bird that gives blood from its side to give life (like Christ).

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Homily TOPIC: Praying for the soul of skeptics and agnostics out there. Can’t something or somebody reach them?

There are many skeptics or agnostics out there who don’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God nor that He arose from the dead and went on, then, to
found the Christian faith—all as an amazing historic event. It’s not that they haven’t heard the report, as many have. But they either don’t want to believe or “get it”, or they don’t care about His claim and proofs—thinking it’s too ancient a thing. Or it might be that kind of person who prefers to run their own life and circle their way, and can’t trust a God they cannot easily see, and who might mess up their own plans. Or maybe another reason for the non-believers is that they just might be some hurting or disappointed persons who don’t see the hope in life or evidence they want of God. Or its something else…

Yet among such persons—every year something happens where numbers of them come to see the Light of Christ. Something gets through to them. They become believers in Christ Alive, God’s own Son and Savior, Who leads them in the Holy Spirit to the Father.

It is often a regular person practicing their Christian faith that has an impact on them, in some way. It shakes them out of their comfort of being a skeptic or agnostic. They turn from the emptiness of that onto meaning in Jesus Christ.

Jesus keeps winning souls.

It’s not that some perfect explanation was finally given to the new found believer, or some perfect example of Christian living in a neighbor or family member or friend. It’s not frequently that some great miracle happened to the person come to Christ, like somebody’s lost eyesight was restored or someone’s cancer cured. It happens, but many new souls to the Lord don’t come so dramatically. They just come to God in some ordinary manner. Like, they need to know God or the Higher Power finally. Or, they need to finally be loved, and God supplies it.

I am so happy, as a priest and just as a Catholic Christian when someone comes into the faith or back to the faith. It’s why one of my favorite tv shows is EWTN’s Journey Home—a show about people’s conversion stories or re-version stories to Catholicism.
I have an Easter connection when those testimonies are told, or when a convert or revert here in the local parish comes to Christ and His Church. It feels like Jesus is Present and operating. He is Alive.
In the Easter Vigil as nine persons went through instruction to become fully initiated Catholics last night, it really blessed me. It was joyful. I was up past midnight with the post-celebration for it, so excuse a slight lack of energy this morning, but my soul is burning alive and glad.

Now, there aren’t a huge number of stories like theirs. There are many who have not come to Christ or returned to Him or His Church. We live in a part of South Bowie, Mitchellville and North Upper Marlboro where the majority of residents are non church-goers. We still have so many to reach.

Some of them are strangers to us, of whom we’re going to have to un-stranger them if we are to pass on the gospel and Jesus’ hope to them.
Others are familiar folk, who show no Catholic religion interest. I wish they’d believe in the Risen Jesus and find the vitality of mind, soul and heart to be happy and have life’s purpose clear before them.
But it seems they don’t have that.

There was a high school friend who came in here for a funeral Mass, being out of church for decades. The Mass was very stirring, with interesting testimonies, good songs, and a general spirit of hope afresh in the church. I felt that I did a decent job with the homily and my general involvement with the family and my appropriate attitude and tone for the funeral, so I asked him, later at the reception, about whether he felt the Spirit it in the Mass at church. He said he felt nothing. He has never come back, nor has he called me again, even though we were once “chummy” in high school and didn’t live far apart. We still have some similar interests, but it hasn’t drawn us together. Perhaps I should be more on the appealing side to him to get back to faith, but I trust that it isn’t what will “do it” for him. Not even if his former pal becomes the local priest and pastor of his neighborhood. That’s not the “sign” that will catch his attention. And I know that scenario pretty well from other type parish situations.

There is a saying from Stuart Chase that comes to mind. “For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.”

That’s where this old chum is at. I accept it, but I keep thinking of him and praying for him. I hope my consistent witness to living the Catholic faith back here in my home town will at least be something he might recognize and give some notice to. That’s what I tell others who have a stubbornly dis-interested or a carefree person who could be a believer, but is not. Let’s keep a consistent, loving witness up in our lives for them.
But the conversion is going to happen via some other outside means that ourselves. And, if it happens, then we can rejoice it did happen. We’ll see.

I do wish sometimes for more of the dramatic thing to happen to people to get them to faith, if it could help.

I will tell of one such story about somebody who had a miracle happen to them. In Weirden Germany there is a Catholic church with a stone figure atop it for an unusual decoration on its roof. It is a stone figure of a Lamb. It was put up there for a reason.
An artisan was once working on that church roof, pre-Lamb decorations. He had a terrible slip and off balance mishap and down he fell off from the roof. This country church happened to have sheep running around besides it. A lamb just happened to be in the spot where he landed from his high fall. The lamb absorbed much of the impact of it, and, though the lamb died, the man lived and eventually healed from his few broken bones. The lamb was a life-savor and a life-giver.
That event in his life helped him to see the Light. He wasn’t much for being at church before on Sundays, except to do jobs mid-week and get paid for it. Now he suddenly got it about Jesus as the Lamb of God. He understood that for the lamb that broke his fall, it only happened because it surprised the creature and it couldn’t get out of the way in time.
As for Jesus, called the Lamb of God in prayers at Mass and in the Bible, He was the Lamb that saw all our falling, and purposely got in the way to save us from death. He was a Lamb of love and sacrifice.
The artisan worker man now got it. He goes to church each week now. The Lamb of God prayer before Communion is quite a dramatic song for him to hear now. And he is the one who erected a lamb statue on the roof for all to see.
I wish sometimes that my friend has a return to God kind of story like that. I want to share Christ’ amazing love alongside him, even right here in this parish…

Or I wish that some amazing Bible fact or illustration or spiritual phenomenon would reach the skeptic or agnostic. While God mostly chooses to work in ordinary ways, I like the story out of Newgrande Ireland where they found this mysterious prehistoric tomb, built around 3000 b.c. (That’s 500 years older than the great Pyramid at Giza.) What is special and perplexing (and a great challenge to the mundane non-believer) is that some ancient persons built this burial chamber, with such hope in an afterlife, that they got it so that on the shortest day of the year the sunrise bursts into the chamber at a certain angle that it floods with beams of light for about 17 minutes. Historians and archeologists guess that this was made for the sunlight to take souls of the dead away onto new life beyond in the skies. Interesting fact. Can it rouse at least one soul to turn their own attention to get rescued from death to life? ‘Hope so. Because Jesus is the One who does such wonders, all the time, not needing the 17 minute time frame, but He enjoys that seeking spirit of the ancient peoples outside modern Dublin, in Newgrande. If a person 5 millennia ago sought the Light for rescue from the shadows, then I am hoping some skeptics and agnostics out there in this city and region are pondering their own wonder of being rescued by The One Who Is Light.

Good Friday homily: Forgive Injuries

Mass Intro.
In Maryland, we celebrate today, March 25th, exactly, the anniversary of the founding of Maryland as a colony, one for religious freedom, in 1634. Our parish west sanctuary window shows the English connection we have– of Jesuit Fr. Andrew White, the one who prayed the Mass on St. Clement’s Island, Md., marking Maryland’s beginning. It wasn’t Good Friday that year, but it was the Feast of the Annunciation, which, was a great beginnings day for our colony and state., in the womb, that Jesus came to earth. I was pastor there in that corner part of the diocese before I came here. I was praying some Masses on or across St. Clement’s Island; there is a large cross erected there on the island and sometimes the Jesuits bring a piece of The True Cross for Masses there.

Pic of island cross
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IMAG0204HOMILY. Jesus on The Cross is Love & Mercy at its greatest. It is Love best expressed ever on earth. It is Mercy and Forgiveness best expressed ever on earth. It the blessed combination in Jesus. We were the object of that intimate affection and care from God. He came to give us love and mercy. In Jesus. God, too, was hoping we’d return and love Him back. That would be Jesus’ gift of the Cross to the Father: souls returned.
Love Ran Red
Chris Tomlin wrote a song and cd two years ago entitled “Love Ran Red” about the crimson red all around Calvary and all over on Jesus and all spilled to the ground that first Good Friday. The lyrics went “At the Cross, At the Cross, I surrender my life… where your Love Ran Red, and my sin washed white. I owe all to you, I owe all to you.”

The image of the saving blood of Jesus’ splashed and spread all over the wood, while also spilled out like gallons of red pain all upon the hillside under the cross, and even left in a crimson trail where He walked along to Calvary–this is a Color of a Forgiving God. Love Ran Red gushing out onto the centurion who pierced Him, and then the blood of the Crucified was born by Mary as she held her Son in her arms before His being wrapped up into the shroud and onto burial in the tomb. All the objects of blood red was scattered about on Calvary, such as huge nails stained from their job, and the bloody crown of thorns, and the mockery king’s cloak they had put on him for sport, it was left on the ground all red-stained from the scourging’s work, and little streams and puddles of Jesus’ blood offering was at the foot of the Cross, running near where John and Mary and Mary Magdalene and few others were kneeling. Even pieces of flesh, His Body, were seen here and there, most which had peeled off his ribs there on the hill, loosening from the wear of the torture and trial before. St. John, seeing all this, would remember the Lord’s Last Supper’s words, This is My Body, My Blood, given up for you.

All this Blood-and-Body Red was of Jesus’ Self Offering of Love and Mercy given for us. Red was the color of love and of the Divine Mercy. It is poured out at Calvary not just to spill on that ground 2000 years ago, but for the Divine Mercy to pour out upon all of sinners. The “Good” in this Friday is that it was salvation blood for us to have our sins have a victim and offering in our brother Jesus.

Today the bloodiness of the first Good Friday turns to the deep spiritual reality of what happened there and how we are meant to presently experience it. While not at the Foot of the Cross like Mary was, we still nonetheless are asked to be intimate and close to the Mystery, realizing: This Body and Blood of Jesus was/is for us. Because we desperately needed it/need it. We see the Body and Blood from our hearts— in that part of our honest heart that knows he/she deeply needs a Savior.

Some in the world or even churches think that Jesus’ Cross is just some gesture of God from the past, but that’s where the spiritual reality surprises us. It is made present for us. It’s not just a past thing.

The Body and Blood of Christ from the Holy Mass, as established the night before at the Last Supper, is our particular, present connection to the Mystery. Jesus’ offering is a presented to go through time in “the Lord’s Supper.” Jesus said (didn’t suggest): “Do this in memory of Me.”

You could say that Jesus cleans up the bloodiness and horror of His Cross Sacrifice by establishing it as the bread and wine covenant sacrament to become His Body and Blood.
Yet while we see bread and wine, at first, in a Mass, Jesus says it is changed to become Him for us and into us. As He showed His apostles how to do so. Jesus is Sacrament. His Body. His Blood. Love and Mercy run into us at the Mass.

Yet even so striking, in our meditation tonight, Love Ran Red for our sins. Our sins cried out to God and it needed a answer and remedy and offering. Multitudes upon multitudes upon multitudes upon multitudes upon multitudes of sins from sinners needed a perfect answer of love and mercy. Like your sins. Like mine. We got the Answer and Remedy in Jesus on The Cross.

It is such an amazing and deep and lasting gift to sinners that we Catholics now never have to stop receiving of it. We have a Mass going on every second in the world, even scores of them at a time, but at least there is one celebrated in every second of time until Jesus returns. We definitely fulfill a Bible verse that urges: “Proclaim the death of The Lord, until He comes again.”

It’s the Year of Mercy in the Church in this Holy Week 2016 and we try to understand how much God’s love and mercy calls for us to repent of sins and stay turned from them, and so to give love and mercy in return to others as a gift of thanksgiving to God. Our forgiveness from God in Christ is not a past thing, but one that is active in us. This is why we do such things as practice the Spiritual Works of Mercy. I have gone over most of the seven for you this Lent, but saved the toughest one for now. Forgive Injuries is a work of mercy we are called to.

It almost seems impossible to do, but Jesus expects it. It will take grace! Lots of it! Among the injuries we suffer, and the offenses, and trespasses, and hurts and pain endured from others– Jesus asks us to forgive each of them. He taught so in the Lord’s Prayer: “Pray: Forgive us, Lord, our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” He taught so in the sermons: “Forgive, as God has forgiven you.” “Do not return hated for hatred. Make love your aim.” “I say, even, pray for your enemies.”

Trespasses sound not as bad as injuries, yet they are forgiven. We can really get hurt by crossed boundaries and violations of other’s rights. Another spiritual work of mercy is to bear wrong’s patiently. That sounds easier than forgive injuries, because one can get scarred by an injury and be hurt for life, so “Forgive Injuries” seems a level up on a scale of difficulty. Yet we hear what Jesus said on The Cross for us: “Forgive them… for they know what they do (or how bad it is.)” Jesus suffered quite an injury. Crucifixion to Death. And on top of it, He was bearing all the sins of the world upon Himself there on The Cross.

He forgave injuries, and some of them were from you and me, even if you think there were worse sins than yours, yours still hurt him. God was so disturbed by our sins and separation from Him, that He came and died for us sinners. That is forgiving injuries.

Now, if you believe upon Him, then you know that the One who forgives all injuries is in you. He has lessons to teach of love and mercy.

So our coming to Eucharist regularly, or even coming to the wooden cross in the church middle aisle tonight, it is opportunity for our response to His Love and Mercy. And it’s our saying how we embrace what He has done for the world (and keeps doing), and pray we can pass the forgiveness along.

Remember the Holy Father’s visit in September 2015? The campaign was “Love is our Mission” by Pope Francis and his message was to practice mercy in that love, for Jesus always did so. popejeep

Good Thursday Homily Sent Ones of Mercy

If Jesus could use the Twelve Apostles with their weaknesses, He can certainly use us, too, as His agents of Divine Mercy and Good News.

It is Holy Thursday in the Year of Mercy. On this date, on Passover 33 a.d., the Lord laid the foundation of Himself and His apostles for His Body, the Church. He instituted the Eucharist and Holy Orders for it, and He chose men of whom He had entitled His “sent ones” to serve His Gospel after this Last Supper with Him. The title of “apostle” means sent ones.

Now in 2016, while there are the many apostles for that defined Church (like our Archbishop Wuerl and three auxiliaries for our Church of Washington), there also is a commission for many “sent ones” among the regular believing people as to go out with the Gospel of Mercy. That’s you and I. That has been the Church’s message all this Jubilee Year. What have you been doing in Mercy lately?

Now we might think that our weaknesses might hinder our being a good “sent person” of the Gospel of Mercy. We might know of our own small fears or other reasons to be reluctant to be a workman of mercy, but The Lord would not want you to sell yourself short. He wants you to be full agents of His Mercy. He wants you to know that His first apostles had their weaknesses. The apostles were not some elite group, but more like a motley bunch.

Jesus chose Simon, later the one known as Peter or “The Rock.” Peter wasn’t always solid, though. At the dramatic climax of Jesus’ ministry, in the courtyard of the high priest, he folded. He wasn’t steadfast, but denied any association with Jesus, so to save his own skin. Peter was quite human in this way, like some of us in our own weakness, in not taking stands for Jesus as the culture slides downhill into secular humanism. God still called Peter, and this big fisherman came through, after all.

Jesus chose Andrew, Peter’s brother. In John 6:9, before the multiplication of the loaves and fish, Andrew makes an embarassing faux pax. He sees hundreds to be fed, and remarks to Jesus how “there is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, and so that’s all we got, Master, for this overwhelming need.” Andrew had a tone about him that maybe was being funny in how ridiculous the situation seemed to him. Jesus said: “That’s about enough to feed them all, Andrew. Bring them here.” Andrew must have been startled and humbled. He would have much to learn about Jesus.

Perhaps some of us are like that. The world has too much misery, so we might wonder: How can there be enough Mercy for all? Jesus knows the answer to that. He hopes you can find enough faith so He can use you to bring your part to that answer.
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Jesus called the brother apostles James and John and originally they looked real good, with a prompt response to Jesus’ call as they “left everything and followed Jesus (Mt. 4:21).” But we discover later they were following Jesus for some wrong reasons and looking out for their own glory, as in Mark 10:35, they told Jesus “we want you to do for us whatever we ask you–that we may sit one at your right and the other with their left.” These words show that their motives were real off. It reminds me of the times in campus ministry and then in singles ministry (as the priest chaplain) of how some people joined up not so much to connect in their Catholic faith but just to hook up with cute girls or cute guys!

But can Jesus still work with people whose motives stray from a pure path? The answer is yes. People can find the honest way again.

Jesus called Bartholomew, also known as Nathaniel, but we know little about him. He is described as “a person without guile,” so we suppose he was an innocent man, a straight shooter. However, we don’t hear of anything he’s said or done in Scripture, so perhaps he was a man of good internal faith, but not much of one for likewise good external actions. Was Bart shy or timid?

Another lesson here: I think with Jesus, He can use us even if we’re a little slow to act or reserved and slow to reveal our emotions or actions. There is still a lot of Mercy I think He can channel through us.

Matthew the apostle had a past that was all very obvious and greedy. Yet God helped him change and used him big time. Is our past an obstacle? Let’s not let it be. Mercy can free us and start ministering mercy to others.

Simon the Zealot had been a violent vengeful man. Jesus showed him a much greater alternative life of love. It was a matter of Simon turning his will over to God more. Maybe that’s the path of someone here, and think of the mercy that can flow because of it!

Thomas the Apostle’s big flaw was his doubting and disappearing act. We have people with those weaknesses today that God says He can use for spreading His Mercy. You may have gone missing over your internal struggles, but God can even use that in your witness ahead if you’ll listen more for God’s answers. Tom did and was a great mercy man of the Gospel to India later.

I made the point at the homily start, and I repeat it to close. If Jesus could use the Twelve Apostles with all their weaknesses, He can certainly use us, too, as His agents of a Gospel of Mercy.

As we move on now to the footwashing ceremony, consider how Jesus so loved His Apostles, and how He also loves you and me.

Sacred Triduum: Its Meaning

The progression of Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday is the most special time for the Catholic Church and her members. It’s the Sacred Triduum.

It is a series of liturgies all linked with one another. Holy Thursday (or Maundy) starts the Triduum and it doesn’t really have a concluding blessing because it picks up again on Friday’s liturgy and again a concluding blessing is not done in it, but passed onto when the first Easter Mass is celebrated (at the Saturday Vigil), and then a big one is done: ” Go in Peace, Alleluia, Alleluia! Thanks be to God, Alleluia, Alleluia!” This special dismissal is chanted and it signifies the three-fold Triduum celebration of Christ’ Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection. The one celebration (Thursday to Sunday) in liturgy is now complete.

Someone noticed also in a recent funeral that we didn’t have a final blessing at the Mass, but just a procession out after the closing prayer. This is the same theology in liturgy (as the Triduum), as the Mass of Christian Burial leads to the burial rites (at the cemetery) where a final part of the liturgy (from the Mass) is then completed, and a final blessing may be imparted at the burial’s closing.

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We are in Holy Week. Tonight (Monday) is the Chrism Mass for the priests, bishops (and some deacons) at the cathedral. The clergy renew their vows of service in the presence of their Ordinary (the head bishop). The liturgy includes the blessing of the three holy oils to be distributed to all the parishes and diocese institutions and ministries that use the oil of catechumen, or oil of the sick, or oil of chrism.

This is the most solemn week of the entire Christian liturgical year. Holy Week has its Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion and its Chrism Mass, but the highlight of the Holy Week are the liturgies of Holy Thursday evening Mass, Good Friday’s evening service, and Holy Saturday’s Evening Mass and/or Easter Sunday Masses.

Liturgy literally means, “the work of the people.” But, St. Benedict reminds us that it also means, “the work of God!” So, liturgy is where the work of the people, and the work of God come together in one mystical celebration. Liturgy is not simply ritual! Liturgy is a mystical celebration where God and humanity, heaven and earth meet. It is a Sacred Encounter! And what time better to share ourselves in liturgies than when Jesus offered and shared Himself (Thursday) and became the Sacrifice and Salvation for us (Friday) and was raised triumphant as Redeemer of the world (Sat.pm/ Sunday).

The liturgy committee and parish music groups and clergy prepare well for accommodating/serving these holy gatherings in The Lord. The Lord comes to give us special grace now. All Catholic members should also be disposed to the celebration, and try to participate in the church. For those who cannot, there are media helps and/or ways one can join in at home.
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Palm/Passion Sunday’s liturgy helped us to understand that it was our world that most spurned its Savior. Love came down to us and we all became guilty of having Love crucified. We are sinners in this world and sin was the reason for the Cross of Love. We really don’t get it about our fallen condition if we don’t have a tear for Jesus’ Crucified. It is His act of love to take upon Himself our shame. It is His act of making loving forgiveness come even out of the world’s worst crime. The Lamb of God is come to give mercy and peace to the ones who turn from their sin and embrace Him.

In Palm/Passion Sunday, first there was the initial joy of welcoming Jesus into the city of our life (in the Hosannas and palms) but the drama Gospel helps us recall how all too quickly (five days later) the celebrated One was on Calvary’s wood. That stark reality has us turn to the Lenten verse which admonishes us: “If you do not deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me, you cannot be My disciple.” Being a believer does requires real sacrifice and commitment. It requires us to invest in the virtues of Faith, Hope and Love which God has outpoured for us.

This readies us to go with The Lord through the Sacred Triduum.

The Triduum begins with Maunday, or Holy Thursday as we celebrate the institution of the Mass with the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper. We also celebrate the institution of the ordained priesthood and honor our presbyters (ordained leader/servants). Likewise we celebrate the care of the Holy Spirit in the Church to bless us in our needs and special moments, as the oils used in sacraments are brought forward in the early part of Mass.

After the Mass we begin the liturgical journey of the Passion with Jesus to the Agony of the Garden, the betrayal and arrest, the mock trial of injustice, and the night in prison. It’s a long night for Jesus!
The procession of Eucharist on Thursday night to a place of repose remembers His journey from the Upper Room to the Garden where they prayed and where He would be arrested, upon Judas’ betrayal. (The place of repose stays open until the ten o’clock hour at St, Edward, for those who want to linger, like the apostle’s did with Jesus that original Maundy.)

Good Friday is the commemoration of the Lord’s Passion on the cross, and the Veneration of the Cross. We call Good Friday, “good,” because we celebrate the loving sacrifice of God in Jesus for everyone, and for each one of us personally. It begins with the trial before Pilate, and ends with the crucifixion of Jesus, His death on the cross, and being laid to rest in the tomb. Here we focus on every suffering and every drop of blood Jesus shed for each of us personally. We meditate on how much God loves us, and we respond personally to his call of love on our life. We give ourselves completely to Jesus because he first gave himself completely to God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit for each one of us personally. The reverence of one cross in church is meant to be meaningful to each one coming forward, even if the gesture is simple (a touch, a kiss of the wood, a bow).
Good Friday also has the Stations of the Cross devotions in the afternoon.

Holy Saturday is eerily quiet and still. We try to reenact and capture something of the sense of absence that the first followers of Jesus must have felt after he died on the cross. No liturgies. No Communion. No Sacrament in the tabernacle. All church decor is gone or draped. All is empty and lifeless. This is true until the evening shadows come. Then, we celebrate the Easter Vigil.

While the world might just know this Saturday night as just another weekend night, we have an Easter Vigil to celebrate new converts into the Catholic Church and/or people receiving Sacraments for full initiation into it. In this longest Mass of the year, we go all the way through salvation history in our readings beginning with creation and the call of the chosen people. Then, in the gospel we discover the empty tomb of Jesus Christ and the sheer amazement of the first disciples! First the women, then the men. First the laity, then the clergy. We too are amazed. From death to life! From darkness to everlasting light! From humiliation to glory! From sin and sorrow to holiness and joy! All is made new in the Risen Christ!

On Easter morning we begin with joyful shouts of Jesus Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Those who do not participate in the Easter Vigil go to Easter Sunday Mass (or some go to both). The happiest event in history is Jesus being raised. It shows all of the promises of God to be true and reliable, and that new life is possible to the soul of the believer, even unto eternal life. What an offer! God offers us Mercy unto Eternal Life with Him.

So we make room for His Victory in us. With big open hearts we say “Yes” and “Amen” to God, and “Glory” to His Name and “Alleluia” in our souls and on our lips. We join in Eucharist with Jesus Christ, celebrating the intimacy of God available now, even on earth. We celebrate Christianity, or “Christ in us, the Hope of Glory.”
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While some people will focus in these March days rather on Spring and Cherry Blossoms, or NCAA basketball, or new movies coming out, or other such things– our Lord is THE high attraction right now for us, and all else pales in comparison.

We know that the world may not even care that we take joy in Him. In fact, the world is persecuting Christians as never before. We especially remember the genocide of Christians and religious minorities under ISIS. We think of religious sisters of the Missionaries of Charity killed this past month in Yemen. We recall all the pushing against religious freedom of the religious Little Sisters of the Poor here in the USA, with many others taking lawsuits (like our own Archdiocese of Washington or EWTN media) to stand against forced funding of health care abortions or related offenses to God. The secular humanists want the Christian culture gone here, and they are aggressively advancing that agenda while Christians mostly are silent. That takes place in our 2016 Lent and Holy Week. Jesus still is persecuted in His people, as the last Beatitude (Mt. 5:12-13) said would take place. For those who would be steadfast in Him, He promises reward in heaven.

There is also good news in Easter 2016! We have an RCIA class of persons to join the parish and fully become Catholics. Many hundreds of others in our diocese parishes have the same thing going on. Around the world, Christianity is growing in places (it grew a bit in the USA last year), such as by leaps and bounds in Africa and India! There are more catechumens in Africa then members of the Catholic Church. It is reported that some 6,000,000 Muslims accepted Jesus in Africa in one year alone! (*JMT Ministries report.) We also have a boom time for interest in the Church, thanks to an affective Pope Francis. Two new households in our parish this year attribute the pope’s influence to their new membership at St. Edward parish. There are signs of hope everywhere!
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We journey on this Holy Week to Easter. It’s not just rituals or customs we hold this week, but encounter with God and celebration of His Gift to us of Mercy and Salvation. The liturgies of the upcoming Triduum all celebrate a Reality in the spiritual realm.
Whereas we believe in Liturgy that God Is now here, we do so in contrast to a world that brazenly shows its gall to say that God is nowhere. It’s all in a difference of a move of a “w” left or right. Such is the difference between light and darkness, life of death, or heaven and hell.

Let us really have a Happy Easter! Christ is risen! New life now is ours. He is here with us!

Pray for the Living and the Dead: A Work of Mercy.

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There is a power in prayer. As we unite to Jesus and pray by His Altar and Cross and Resurrection signs, there is a communion with God in the soul which we can hardly fathom as to how special it is. What a priviledge and a what a position we have in prayer, whether it be communal or personal. In prayer we can unite to God so closely in heart-to-heart love with God and/or in Sacrament and Paschal Mystery with Him, even being embodied in God’s Presence through His Son Jesus Christ. Engaging in prayer with God is a Work of Mercy of real importance and effect and consequence–for we are participating in the Divine.

This Holy Week we will recall especially how Jesus invited His apostles to pray with Him in the Upper Room and out to the Garden of Gethsename. IMAG0206

As we know God better in this spiritual communication avenue, we learn how much “God is One” and that all He creates is bound together in Him and drawn to be one with each other and with Him fully. We learn that all prayer enters into this oneness factor. As we pray, God asks us to seek and pray for unity and the abiding of love of all His creation. And so we understand how Mercy leads all of us believers to “pray for the living and the dead” as our spiritual commission.

We pray for the living in all our petitionary prayers in private and at Holy Mass. Some persons we name specifically (as in for our brother or sister and for good to come to them—all via God’s kindnesses that we petition Him for); others we name in general to the Lord (as like in pleas for angelic protection for all those in harm’s way–like for police and fire personnel, or missionaries in terrorist territories).

We pray also for the dead, because we are just as united to souls gone on, as we are to one’s seen living now. So we offer up prayers and Masses for our loved ones, even for general souls in purgatory, and for people who have died. We pray in Masses of Christian Burial in the week after a church member dies and gather to celebrate our communion in Christ Jesus and to recognize the unifying, recreating, lifting Force of Who the Holy Spirit is. We pray in a reality then that “life is changed but not ended” for the newly departed person from us. We pray for “eternal rest to be granted upon them… and perpetual Light be upon their soul.” We pray in hope of Jesus’ fulfillment of a Great Resurrection Day to come for the earth, in His Coming in revealed Glory.

The conclusion of our Holy Week focuses on the Great Promises of Christ Risen, that as He is risen in victory, so may His followers go. As He said to the amazed apostles, “You know the way into this eternal life… for I Am the Way.. you enter into it by Me… and this is life, that in knowing God and His Son.. (to lead you to salvation and eternal life).” John’s Gospel offers many explanations of it, and right in the middle of its message Jesus says “Abide in Me, and I in you” (ch.15) and “pray in Me that all may be made one.”

Humanity is one big family and Christ calls us One Body of believers, and so it is how we His followers see it.
He is the God of covenant for an elect people, so as He calls us, we gladly answer and obey and live and love and pray in and by Him.

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The most difficult prayer is likely the one of contemplation of Christ Jesus’ suffering Passion and His Death Sacrifice by Crucifixion. It’s our Good Friday prayer this week with fasting and abstinence for many of us. As we put on our Walls by the Stations the line from Philippians, “He humbled Himself for us…,” so then, can we humble ourselves and bow before Him in solemn prayer? And can we make Sunday Mass our regular bowing down to The Lord at each week’s start in the year? Is it asking so much of us?!

Pray for the Living and Dead: A Work of Mercy.

Do we really believe we make contact with God in prayer? Do we believe that Eucharist or Confession opens up graces for us in their encounter? Does having a priest praying with us give us a sense of the Lord manifesting HIS priesthood to us by this channel or instrument of HIS choosing? These are Sacrament helps for prayer.

Prayer in the Church and by believers is by the Immanence of Christ among us. He is present to us so. Incredible it is!

I once was permitted to communicate several days to a Catholic astronaut who was in outer space. He was far, far away and yet we exchanged spiritual and friendship messages to and fro. It was a little startling in the technology of us being able to do it. Yet we were doing it.
Yet, that rare experience just tells me how great prayer really is– that we can talk and listen to God, and even ask for favors for one another as His dear children.
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Instruct the Ignorant: Works of Mercy Teaching

As we have done throughout this Lent, let us talk of another Work of Mercy: Instruct the Ignorant. We had a pointed lesson from Jesus of it in this past Sunday’s Gospel of the Woman Caught in Adultery.

Yet first of all, in a general sense, this Work of Instructing the Ignorant is about the call for spiritual persons to pass on their good insights learned about God, for others’ benefit, in the pursuit of the Common Good. It is about sharing the how to’s for new life awakenings to spread to more souls, because we all need to know God better.

The word “ignorant” may be a turn-off word in this Work of Mercy, so let’s define the work as instructing people spiritually who are uninstructed or under-instructed, or uninformed or under-informed. This IS the task of parents, priests, teachers, catechists, wise friends and many more persons of the faithful. It is a work of mercy not just for the wise or the advanced or the older folk to give– it can be given and shared by anyone with a blessing of knowing God and His truth, of something of God which might benefit another who has a need to grow in their mind and heart and soul in some area.

A proverb states: The people perish for lack of knowledge.

We Catholics measure a revelation by something’s true accord with the Catechism, the Bible, properly-informed points of conscience, and of course, the teaching Magisterium of the Church via bishops and the pope in Christ’ Body through the ages. We have a rich deposit of faith in our Church to draw on, yet orthodox and faith-filled teachers are needed to assist Catholics in knowing it.

Instructing the Uninformed or Un-enlightened (a nicer term than ignorant?!) can be done by a third-grade girl helping to teach pre-schoolers at a vacation Bible school. It can be done by an older teen sibling teaching a younger teen sibling the simple meaning and value of Catholic chastity for their life ahead. It can be done by a parent teaching their children to pray. It can be done by a pre-marriage counseling-couples team giving a retreat for engaged persons. It can be done by a single adult explaining some nuts and bolts of Catholicism to a curious non-believer over lunch out at work. It can be done by a senior teaching a catechism class. It can be done by an advocate of pro-life ministry helping to awaken an abortion rights person of the real lives being lost in the womb over their practice.

Now let’s look at the Gospel from last Sunday which tells us that ignorance can very ugly in its state, and it’s the Temptor who often would like so lost or confused over important knowledge. It is a matter of life and death in which Jesus judges in John 8. “Instruct the Ignorant” can be a Work of Mercy into a dire situation, and to offer what proposes salvation over damnation.

The scene in John 8 is a mob gathered to stone a woman. Jesus is confronted by the angry men, ignorant (or at least numb) of the depths of their own hatred and darkness of heart, and ignorant, as well, of Divine Mercy, which their own Judaic background espoused. These men have brought to the famed rabbi, of whom they dislike and sorely want to discredit, a woman caught (by them) in the very act of adultery.

They want to stone her to death, but only first with the rabbi Jesus’ thumbs-up to the deed. If he doesn’t go along with the judgment, then they have him in some seeming contradiction to Moses and Mosaic law, so they have figured–in this reputation-breaking trap they’ve set for Jesus.

Jesus will need to instruct these ignorant men, and teach us all, as well, a memorable lesson. He will live up to the most supreme of titles as “rabbi” (teacher).

What does Jesus know about this situation? He sees judgment, ignorance, immaturity and very little love inside His accusers. Jesus knows that the opposite of hateful ignorance is known instruction into wisdom and love. All Wisdom Incarnate is in Him, God’s Only Son. All love is in and through Him. He is the Knowledge of God walking the earth, the planet of which He Himself has made. He is God as man. The revelation and insight He gives will always be true and right and good for human and earthly living (and our further destiny).

But before Him now stands some ignorant men. Jesus is being challenged in His use of Mosaic law. What these wicked accusers don’t realize is that The One God Who talked originally to Moses and Who was present before them, HE is right there in the flesh with them as they attack Him on Mosaic law. It is the height of ignorance! But Jesus will instruct the ignorant.

As they dare Him, they stand in self- righteous ‘airs’ in supposition that they knew much more than He! Imagine that dark pride of theirs. Think of how Jesus felt inside about it: Here mankind goes again– thinking that they know better than God does. These men even want to twist My Father’s laws and decrees, to justify their killing a sister Jew, with whom they scorn with disgust. Yet where first is their disgust with their own infidelity to God? And Jesus will point it out to them by His writing all their own drastic, dark, mortal, cry-out-to-Heaven sins on the ground for them.

Jesus knows how these men are really aware of their own hatred and darkness. It’s buried in their conscience and it’s fairly ignored in their heart feelings. It’s a chosen blind eye to justice; it’s a type of ignorance. Jesus will instruct and show them what IS true, and seek to enlighten them. He instructs these ignorant men that God sees all what they deny. The Judge can act now, but are they ready for God’s Light of Truth?! If they are–“then He who is without sin may throw the first stone.”. Jesus questions them: If Moses’ teaching is to round up serious evil-doers to be punished unto death, like for this adulterous woman, shouldn’t worse offenders (like them) be accused first and dealt with?! It’s here that the men drop their stones and go.

The woman terrifyingly had been awaiting her fate. Jesus tells her “noone is left to condemn you and neither do I condemn you… Go and do not sin in this way any longer.”

The conclusion here is that God wishes to inform us all about our guilt of sin and so bring us each to repentance. We cannot afford to remain in darkness and avoid deal with our sinful ways. Jesus’ teachings are meant to convict us to humble ourselves and to bow to the Divine Mercy. God desires to instruct and enlighten us towards knowing Him and the goodness of His love.

Judgment before The Almighty awaits each sinner, but “the ignorant” (you and I) have the Lord’s Revelation and instructions to come out of the dark and to embrace the Light. God desires us to be saved, not condemned. God is a God of life and opportunity, not One of death and dismissal of others.

In modern application of this Work of Mercy in high drama, I think of those leading the fight in the Church versus abortion in the land as one of the examples equal to the kind of situation in the Woman at the Well story, don’t you too? There is much need of this Work of Mercy there, and it’s life and death and heaven or hell at stake.

Indulgences

In the parish Liturgy Committee, we were talking about the gain of an indulgence by one’s worthily going through a Holy Door of this Jubilee of Mercy. Then, while that sounded nice, we wondered: Who knows anything today about indulgences? Who seeks them? What would it mean to anyone to get one?

I commented that the word indulgence sounds kind-of-intimidating or mysterious or ancient to some Catholics. I said that the word could be updated to something nicer sounding like “holy incentive.” Our God is a God of reward (e.g. see the benefit God gives for those who live the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 or the Works of Mercy in Matthew 25) and indulgences are more about showing people that as a believer practices something very special in their faith, God recognizes it! In that Divine recognition, God gives the Church a way of someone seeing the place of blessing they reach for loving and serving God so well. It is not a work of earning anything, it is a blessing for doing what pleases God. I might compare the reward of climbing around a mountain range is that you may get to see a hidden waterfall or find a great vista view of nature and countryside. Climbing a mountain is a work, but the reward is already there waiting for anyone who so ventures that special trail. You don’t earn the waterfall or top of the mountain view, really, but you reach a place where the great hidden view is now visible and appreciated for its beauty and rarity.

So it is for someone in an indulgence for practicing the Jubilee Year of Mercy in some special, certain way. You reach a place where God’s blessing (already there) can be found. The Holy Door passing through is celebration of one’s participation in the Divine Mercy. It is much like a holy incentive to be very engaged in doing God’s will. God’s will is for us to be merciful, as the Savior said: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Jesus didn’t say work for it, but that by our being merciful in faith, in our Lord Jesus Christ, we are put in Him and that obtains us graces of His Mercy and Love.

So there are some lists of things to participate in, by this Year of Jubilee, where the Catholic Church has said we could gain an indulgences (holy incentive to do something that will bless us). And you can celebrate that you have entered and participated in Mercy by going, then, through a Holy Door, to say: I am in and part of this!

Now two Sundays ago I accidentally walked through a Holy Door. I had not prepared myself for the honor! So, really, no honor was afforded me. 🙂 I was just going through one of the Basilica Shrines’ front doors, and, while I saw some special handles and markings, I was just routinely walking inside the church. Then, I caught on. Oh!! Excuse me! Usually a pilgrim meets some holy exercises and prayers done, and THEN heads to the Holy Doors and the Jubilee indulgence involving them. So, my passing through the space was not “counting” yet. 🙂

In previous Jubilee Years in the Church, pilgrims were encouraged to visit Rome and basilicas there with holy doors for the indulgence, yet Pope Francis has asked that holy doors be established around the world for this Jubilee. So, already, the National Shrine has one.

Our parish liturgy committee met last week and we discussed making our own one at St. Edward the Confessor church, to be introduced at the end of Easter time, perhaps at Pentecost. There is the famous novena that is done at that time of the Church calendar, too, and we can probably incorporate it, along with the Jubilee things the Holy Father suggests. Stay tuned for those plans….

This teaching on my blog continues now into deeper explanations. This blog gives me a place to thoroughly explain something which a homily doesn’t afford me. I also had research help from Deacon Barnes in this blog, so I thank him for the start on our all better knowing this Catholic practice of indulgences, plus I think a parish council member for proposing a parish holy door for an indulgence ahead for parishioners.

So, with going through a Holy Door, meeting the pope’s Jubilee observance, there is the indulgence received. There’s that ancient word again: “indulgence.” Some people with a sense of history also know that the word or practice (of gaining indulgences) was somewhat of an issue of the contention of the Protestant Reformation (separating from Catholicism) a half millennium ago. Yet gaining an indulgence is really a very good thing. Let me explain it. Mark Shea’s article on indulgences (written back in a January publication) is quite helpful, as he says: “Practically no Catholic gives much thought to them. They languish in the Church’s attic of doctrinal knick-knacks. So why bother with them?…” Then, he gives two good reasons for indulgences. He says: “First, indulgences, while relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things, are nonetheless minor tributaries to the Church’s river of grace and are therefore intrinsically interesting. But Second, and most important, a proper understanding of indulgences among laypeople is surprisingly helpful toward healing rifts in the Body of Christ.”

What does Shea mean? He means that it is a great witness to the present work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit IS that RIVER OF GRACE and we are good to look to participate in the things where HIS blessings flows. The Holy Spirit and Jubilee are greatly linked. That’s our Catholic faith of believing in ongoing conversion in Christ Jesus. God has more work to be done in us.

Consider the Old Testament verse Jesus cited when in the Nazareth synagogue to announce His ministry. He said He was “proclaiming a Jubilee, with the Spirit of The Lord upon Him, announcing Good News to the poor of heart, liberty to captives…and God’s favor outpoured.”
Now you are hearing in that Lukan Gospel of Jesus-talk in the manner of something like that of indulgences and its practicw in His Name today, as, in The Church, we are participating in something to bring favor and freedom to our lives under God.

Shea says (in that second reason above) that Catholics can help non-Catholic Christians to properly understand “works” in this approach of faith. Shea points out that “works” are started by participating in God’s grace, and not by our own goodness. God’s goodness is that He lives in us for His own good pleasure and He will use us as an instrument of His Grace. Jesus is alive in us! He will live and love and act through His body of believers.

This certainly is the understanding of Catholic saints such as Francis and Clare of Assisi, or Augustine, or the recent Servant of God Fr. Schwartz (DC priest to the missions recently celebrated by the Vatican). We live as instruments of The Lord’s work on earth to sow peace, love, and understanding in faith. It’s a saintly thing to do.

Yes, it is much of the misunderstandings (of what place “works” have in salvation, or even, what would be the definition of a “work” related to salvation,) which becomes bones of contention of Catholics to non-Catholic Christians of Luther or Calvin’s persuasion into a split with Rome. I know these feelings quite well. I have known many non-Catholics who wrongly put up a beef with us on “works” and I have to gently set them straight. I tell them that most anything good we do as believers would be categorized as “works” and, recognizing that, would they stop reading their Bible or serving others if someone accused them of doing ‘Catholic works’ to get to Heaven? Certainly not. We are grace-filled, therefore, we do holy things as Christians!

Mark Shea adds to this point, writing: “I do not disagree that Luther had a point about the ‘scandalous traffic in indulgences’ of which the Renaissance Church was guilty. Even the Council of Trent agreed with that. But, as a convert, I came to discover the Renaissance Church was guilty, not of the theology of indulgences (which is, as we shall see, simply a theology of charismatic grace) but of simony–that is, of sinfully selling that ‘grace’ for cold cash like a stock investment. So then, Luther was right–partly. But Rome was (in her theology if not her Renaissance practice) right too. How? Catholic theology has an incorrigible knack for obscuring marvelous insights in confusing terminology. Thus, for instance, she speaks of “temporal punishment for sin” which sounds to Protestants as though Jesus didn’t do enough and you still have to endure extra torture so you’ll be fully ‘punished’ in addition to the 80% or 90% of the punishment He took for you. In reality, ‘temporal punishment’ is just Catholicese for what Protestants call ‘chastisement.’ That is, it is pain unto life such as Scripture refers to when it tells us God punishes all those he loves as his children. (Hebrews 12:5-6). In short, temporal punishment is part of how God redeems our sinful actions and turns their consequences into occasions of sanctity rather than damnation. For as Paul says, ‘suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.’ (Romans 5:3-5). This is the common sense reason why repentant murderers are forgiven, yet not freed from prison. The consequences of the sin remain, but, by grace, they are turned to glory.”

Did you get all that?! Thanks, Mark, for trying to clear indulgences up. So indulgences are not a treasury of merit as what we Catholics have been accused of.

What is “merit”? Well, it isn’t “extra righteousness earned by particularly nice people who pitched in to help our well-meaning but inadequate Savior’s effort at redemption” (which is what many people think “merit” means). Rather “merit” is an old-fashioned term whose modern equivalent (according to theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar) is “fruitfulness.”

Now we’re in Protestant territory! Christians, as all Protestants know, are graced to bear fruit by the work of Christ (John 15 and all that). We are commanded by God to bear grace to the world and to each other. For as C.S. Lewis observes, God “seems to do nothing of himself which he can possibly delegate to his creatures.” We are thus to bear fruit by acting as agents of grace, doing the will of God and generally “wielding our little tridents.” And the power of the Holy Spirit (as all Christians know) is absolutely necessary for this fruit to exist at all, much less ripen. So, in bearing fruit, we are not talking about “works salvation.” We are talking about cooperation with grace.

Now one of the manifestations of grace, as every charismatic knows, is the charism or the spiritual gift in a person. In them Godxequips us for every good work, so His Word proclaims. Spiritual gifts are graces given via the members of the Church so that the Body is built up in love (Rom. 12, 1 Cor. 12, Eph. 4:11-16). Some of the gifts given to the Church are more famous (tongues, prophecy, healing, etc.). But nestled right in the middle of them is a gift which does not get talked about much. That gift is the gift of mercy. (Rom. 12:8)

An indulgence is a formal apostolic enactment of the gift of mercy. It is directed at members of the Catholic communion under apostolic authority through their baptism into the Church. That means that indulgences are not a form of earned justification (since that was already freely given in baptism), but are instead given to lessen the temporal punishment due to sin already forgiven. In short, they are an aid to growing in holiness, not a coupon for buying the forgiveness of God.

An example: I, a man with a bad temper, get baptized, calling on the Lord to be saved. What does that make me? Usually it makes me a Christian man with a bad temper since the gift of new life is grace, not magic. Baptism is not an instant cure-all. It is a gate into the transforming grace of God which, with our cooperation, can eventually heal our brains, hearts and bones.

So then, I come home from baptism full of transforming grace and, finding you did not give me the chocolate Easter bunny I wanted, break your window in a rage. I repent. I am forgiven by God and you. All my guilt is taken away by the blood of Christ the instant I repent.
But I still must pay for the window and I still, by grace, have to do something about my temper. Moreover, I am strapped for cash (since I have several broken window lawsuits pending which did not magically disappear when I was baptized). But (asking for God’s help) I do what I can to pay you back. You (a Christian with the gift of mercy) forgive the remainder of the debt and even give me a little something so I can afford anger management counseling and legal fees. You have, in effect, granted me a partial indulgence, relieving the temporal punishment for my already-forgiven sin and helping me toward sanctification with your charism.

So it is with the Church. For she has been graced with all charisms, graces, gifts and fruit (called by medieval theology “the treasury of merit” but referred to by St. Paul as “every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). And as the communion of graced believers, the Church has the power to authoritatively administer that blessing where she wills, just as Paul had (Eph 3:2). Indeed she is simply doing as St. Paul’s told her to and using her spiritual gifts, especially the gift of mercy, in granting indulgences by her apostolic spiritual authority–the authority of the graced believer (1 Cor. 12:31).

Long ago, such mercy was visible in the lessening of severe penances required of those guilty of serious sin–penances which, but for indulgences, could last months or even years. (That’s why old Catholic prayer books offer “Indulgences of 365 days attached to doing thus and so.” This originally referred, not so much to “days in Purgatory” [there are, after all, no clocks there], but to earthly days of penance.) But that leaves us in a bit of a puzzle since nowadays, the relaxation of those severe penances makes the grace of indulgences largely invisible. To be sure, the Church still says an indulgence can, in some unfathomable way, help us in the process of sanctification. (And proofs of a negative are hard to come by.) But the nature of that help is very mysterious. Maybe the grace comes in the form of “extra strength” to love under difficult circumstances. Maybe some other way. I, at any rate, don’t know.

“But,” my Evangelical friends blurt out, “people have to earn indulgences. That’s salvation by works!” No, that’s pastoral common sense akin to St. Paul’s dictum “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” (2 Thes. 3:10) Similarly, if a sinner will not repent by acting in obedience to grace, he shall not receive an indulgence. For indulgences are like student grants for people who want to study sanctity, not like free diplomas for slackers who want to party. They are spiritual gifts to help us work out our salvation with fear and trembling, not carte blanche so that we needn’t bother with sanctity at all. And even so, they are granted with incredible ease and frequency for the most trifling acts of obedience to grace–like saying an “Our Father” or reading Scripture for 15 short minutes. Evidently, God and His Church want us to be blessed and graced!

So in the end, this Evangelical-gone-Catholic came to realize what a great pity it is (and one long overdue to be rectified) that many honest Protestants like myself have feared indulgences as nothing but a corrupt medieval money-making scheme. They are nothing of the kind originally and, though their good name was dragged through the mud by Tetzel and his ilk, they have been nothing of the kind since Trent. It is high time lay Catholics make clear, in Protestantese, that indulgences don’t make cents, they make sense!
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A Gospel in Lent (Weekday–3/8/16) John 5:2-15

Jesus heals a Paralyzed Man near the Pool of Bethesda. John 5:2-15.
Or, also known as Jesus heals an Impotent Man at The Pool of Bethesda.
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You will need to read the gospel. It starts like this: Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep (market or gate) a pool, which is called in the Hebrew as “Bethesda,” having five porches; and in these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, paralyzed, withered, waiting for the famous but unpredictable movement of the waters there for medicinal healings…

As you complete the reading, you see that it focuses on Jesus and His power to heal and save us, as well as on a paralyzed man or man of inability/impotence of action who is laid low. Note the painting above and its representation of the Bible story.

A Q & A on the reading.

Q. WHAT do we understand by this situation and these words used to describe it and the man’s part in it?

A. These words have both a literal and spiritual meanings. Bethesda has acted as a sheep-market, with a sheep-gate. Spiritually, people are sheep and Christ is the Gate. Bethesda is a place of porticos and a pool of water for refreshment. This pool sometimes is a stirred hot spring bubbling up. There is a pool that cannot be controlled. It is a physical spot of hot springs for healing, with unpredictable times when the water is stirred up. Whimsically, the people describe the hot springs times as that as when ‘the angels come by.’
While the pool brings some people a physical healing, it may symbolize the baptismal pool near at hand, but by which Christ must come and baptize us into it, for physical aid but even more for spiritual birth and new life.

Q: Why the odd question by Jesus? Doesn’t everyone there want to be made whole/ healed? Doesn’t this long-time suffering man?

A: Jesus offers to His people the healing we need. We need to choose and accept the power of Christ to remedy our lives. We need to give consent to God. He waits for it in many cases. He wants to bring us into a pool of spiritual water, even to the eternal truth of the Word of God, which is called a pool by reason of the knowledges of good and truth which it contains. The Word of God is sometimes called a pool, sometimes a fountain, sometimes a well, and sometimes a river, and all in relation to the several states of its reception in the human mind, being called a pool, when it is received merely in the knowledge of what is good and true; and being called a fountain, when it is received together with the life and love of knowledge; and being called a well, when it is admitted in a state of less purity; and lastly, being called a river, when it is seen in connection with its divine source, or with the fountain of living waters, in The Holy Spirit.

Q: What is the significance of this pool of Bethesda?

A: in the Hebrew tongue, because by Bethesda is meant the house of mercy, God wants to pour renewal on us of his forgiving love. The people gathering by it know they need a healing. Could we admit that we need more of the Word of God in us for healing our soul? Without the Word, we are impotent folk, not acting fully in the promptings of The Lord. With Jesus coming, He asks if we will get up, find His strength in us, and go serve Him. So many fall short of their healing, so Jesus comes to help, and He will send a representative and servant for those purposes of getting others to the Spirit’s refreshment and baptism’s new life.

Q. And what do you here understand by the moving of the water?

A. Angels can help us get into healing moments, and even act through natural means of blessing. Christians can let Christ live in them and become human means to helping a person be healed. The Spirit is the movement in the water and in the soul. We can help stir the Spirit by invoking Him and depending on Him and using His power for our sanctification. By moving waters, The Spirit vivifies.

Q. And how do we understand the words about this certain man and his infirmity of thirty-eight years?

A. According to the sense of the letter, these words relate to a man who had a bodily infirmity, though it does not appear of what nature it was, and who had been waiting a long time in one of the porches for a cure; but according to the spiritual sense of this history, the infirm man here spoken of is to be regarded as a representative figure of all those in the Church, who labour under spiritual infirmity, and especially under that particular one, which prevents their deriving from the Word of God or the Sacraments that spiritual strength and support which they are instituted by Christ to bolster us.

This spiritual infirmity is self-described by the man as his being unable to get to the source of life. It could be interpreted for modern application as any person today who are finding themselves out of Word and Life of The Sacraments. “I have no one to move me” says the man. Sometimes Christians are inert or inactive (impotent spiritually) and need conversion.
thus, the intervention of Jesus is needed. The Church and her alive members need to be servants to others to be nourished in The Word and Sacraments. The Church needs dedicated ones to living daily on the Scriptures and The Eucharist.

Jesus wills that people be made whole. He says to those underfed– stand up and live in Me for your nourishment and strength.
Jesus says to the man in the story and to us: Rise, take up your bed, and walk. Get up into a dynamic existence in Me. Take up the bed of relaxed and tepid or lazy faith, and don’t lie down as such anymore.
Walk by faith now.

Q. What of the very end of the story, when Jesus finds him in the temple, and says to him, Behold you are made whole, sin no more, lest a worse thing come to you — what does one make of that?

A. It was a sin to be so lazy in the faith for some of us. (If that is the meaning we derive of our being asked to rise up in The Word and Sacraments), and The Lord is glad to see us now in the Temple of His Body. So we are to keep moving forward in conversion. We are still capable of the sloth of before. By the divine injunction to sin no more, JESUS exhorts us to really live now according to the divine order and to seek freedom of sin. There are people who get started in a renewal, only to slide back to a place worse than before. Jesus has seen this happen in His people, and He hopes it not for us. What Jesus is saying here is “keep listening to Me.” I will keep coming to you to move you to the greater things of the Kingdom of God and the realm of The Spirit.

Q: So, finally–what does the Pool of Bethesda story mean to you now?

A: I have lived twice in the city of Maryland called Bethesda, most lately at Our Lady of Lourdes parish (1998-99). The pool in Bethesda could be at the Hyatt Regency! They have a nice indoor one there!
But seriously, I see every parish and its ministries (whether at Our Lady of Lourdes or St. Edward or St. Matthew the Evangelist cathedral) as a pool of new life in Jesus, where He comes to nourish us in Word and Sacrament, personally, via Himself to us, to His Body, the Church.
This John 5 story can happen any day at one of our parishes.
The question is: who will help that happen? Who are the apostles/disciples with Jesus to serve Him today in healing the lame?