We hurry through doors, because we want to get inside. But cathedral doors are not ordinary doors; they try to slow you down and get you ready for what’s inside.
The apostles stand at the western door of the Cologne Cathedral. Peter and Paul are nearest the door itself. Above them is the scene of their martyrdom under Nero. They’ve given their lives to the truth that’s told here, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was sent from above, and by his death and resurrection he calls us to follow him to glory. They’re teachers of faith who invite us to believe. You might call this door a version of the Apostles’ Creed.
Earthly rulers, like Charlemagne, stand at the door too, witnesses of another authority. The faith is to be lived on earth as well as heaven.
The images of prophets, teachers, martyrs and saints on the outside and within the cathedral echo the same promise. The Cologne Cathedral was an important church that welcomed pilgrims from other parts of northern Europe and so, besides the Three Kings, images of the popular saints honored at other shrines along the pilgrim routes of Europe, like St. James of Compestelo, are found there. It encouraged a common vision of life that made the various peoples one.
In days when people couldn’t read, they read the cathedral’s stained glass, paintings and sculpture. With them can we see the building’s reach into the heavens pointing to a world above, a world where the promises of God will be fulfilled?
I took a picture of a stained glass window of the Last Supper in the Strasbourg Cathedral. Jesus hands a morsel to Judas, who then goes out into the night. How beautifully the artist captures the sadness of the Lord.
The Three Kings who visited the Infant Jesus are honored at a shrine in Germany’s Cologne Cathedral, where their relics were placed after being brought there in the 12th century from Italy. Images of the kings appear everywhere in this part of Germany; the rich gold reliquary holding their remains is one of the cathedral’s treasures.
“The purported relics,” our guide told us a few weeks ago, as if settling the matter.
But suppose we ask : “ Why were relics of the Three Kings brought there in the first place?” That invites some speculation.
The earliest Christian churches often traced their faith to those who brought it to them. Rome, for example, looked to the apostles Peter and Paul. Greece honors Peter’s brother Andrew for bringing the faith to their land. Other parts of the Christian world claimed other apostles, like Simon and Jude.
I wonder if Cologne, the Roman colony along the Rhine, at the “limes,” the end of the world, saw the Three Kings as appropriate patrons for their church so far from the land of Jesus as well as from the early churches first blessed by his gospel. Late in receiving the faith, did this land see the Three Kings as the bearers of the faith to them? They were not left out.
“Go out to the whole world,” Jesus told his disciples.
The cathedral reliquary (above) portrays Jesus in glory as Teacher and Lord. On the bottom left is a scene of the Three Kings paying homage to the Child on Mary’s lap. They come from the ends of the earth. On the bottom right, Jesus is baptized in the River Jordan, sanctifying not only the waters of that river but the waters of the Rhine as well. A simple portrayal saying everything: All nations are called to the promise of his life.
“The Vatican said recently he doesn’t exist,” our guide informed us as we visited Cologne Cathedral in Germany a week or so ago and looked up at the imposing statue of St. Christopher near one of its entrances. Then, we passed quickly on.
Afterwards, I told him the Vatican didn’t say Christopher never existed, but as of now there is no historical evidence for the popular saint who carries the little child on his shoulders. For one reason or another, no historical evidence exists for a good number of our early saints.
But does that mean there is no Christopher? Actually, If you look at what he’s doing, there have been–and still are– many Christophers. (Bearers of the Christ Child) His type of holiness is mostly unrecognized, but very real. He’s there in the men (and women) who day after day carry children on their shoulders, getting them where they must go and keeping them from the dangers little children face.
Not much glamor in that job, but children need carrying, especially today.
I was going out for supper with a couple the other evening, and they told me to take my own car because the back seat of their car was taken by safety seats for their two grandchildren. Modern Christophers.
On the flight back from Europe a number of Dutch teenagers were watching a video of big bare-chested Vikings flailing each other with their swords in non-stop violence. Was the Christopher in the Cologne Cathedral a sign to generations past that masculine strength is more than swinging a sword? You’re strong when you serve the weak.
To hear the audio of today’s homily please select the audio slider below:
“Love God and love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus says. The question then is: How do we love God and neighbor in the world we live in, for example, in our families? That’s the question the recent Synod of Bishops considered, the synod convened by Pope Francis who invited church leaders from around the world to join him in looking at the times in which we live, “the signs of the times,” and see how we can adapt to the changing conditions of society.
For two weeks in Rome, leaders of the Catholic church studied reports they received previously from all parts of the world, shared their reflections and made some preliminary recommendations. Now, the pope asked them to bring their reflections home to be discussed by their local churches and then return to Rome to continue the process with him next year.
It’s a long, extended process, over two years; it’s not finished yet.
You can read about the synod in your diocesan paper or online, and I hope you do, because it gives us an interesting look at family life in all parts of the world. You can find the working paper from the synod on the Vatican website.
Let me mention a few things from the working paper for the synod. As you might suspect, it reflected on the family from the perspective of the bible and church tradition, but then in Part II it takes up the challenges a family faces today.
One is a perennial challenge: lack of communication in families. Husband and wife not talking to each other, children not talking to parents. Where there’s no communication in a family, there’s a loss of meaning and an experience of love. (64)
Families can also be torn apart by violence and abuse, an abuse that can be psychological, physical or sexual. Families can be damaged by addictions to alcohol and drugs. The synod then mentions some dangers today from the social media and the internet, particularly pornography. (66)
Let me quote from its document: “… Television, smart phones and computers can be a real impediment to dialogue among family members, leading to a breakdown and alienation in relationships within a family, where communication depends more and more on technology. In the end, the means of communication and access to the Internet replace real family relationships with virtual ones. This situation runs the risk of leading to not only the disunity and breakdown of the family but also the possibility that the virtual world will replace the real one.” (68) The people on television, video games, become more real than the people in your home.
The economy and work also influence families. Let me quote again: “The pace of work can be fast and sometimes even exhausting…and increasingly hectic life leaves little opportunity for moments of peace and family togetherness…Increasing job insecurity, together with the growth of unemployment and the consequent need to look for work elsewhere, have taken their toll on family life. “ (70)
There’s a need for governments and businesses to make sure there are decent jobs and just wages, as well as programs that assist families and children. (71)
I think you can see from these few examples that the synod is looking at real life situations.
The 3rd chapter of the synod document gets most attention in the media. “Difficult Pastoral Situations.” The first difficult situation it mentions is the increasing number of couples, particularly in North America and Europe who are living together, without getting married. They do this for different reasons, the surveys say. Sometimes its because of “financial need, unemployment and lack of housing.” Sometimes it the “fear of making a commitment and the idea of having children. They don’t want to make definitive decisions or have responsibilities that come with marriage. The leaders of the church are asking–and we all have to ask– how can we help young people enter into the long term relationship which is marriage? (82)
Another difficult situation, “especially in Europe and across America is the very high number of people who are separated, divorced or divorced and remarried.” Because of their situation, many of them can’t receive Holy Communion. The questions being asked is what can we do to help these people and how can we make them and their children feel at home in the church? (86)
The final difficult situation is about same sex marriage. The synod is rejecting the view that homosexual unions are the same as the traditional union of man and woman. “Yet, at the same time, we need to make clear that men and women with homosexual tendencies ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.’” (110)
There’s an opposition, then, to “redefining” marriage between a man and a woman through laws permitting a union between two people of the same sex. We’re trying to find a balance between the Church’s teaching on the family and a respectful, non-judgmental attitude towards people living in such unions. (113)
I began with the simple words of Jesus, “You shall love God and your neighbor. Not easy in a complex world, but we’re called to do just that.
When Pope Francis called for the synod he asked the bishops to consult their people and listen to them. He asked for transparency in discussing these issues. He recognizes there will be different ideas and different solutions concerning these challenges. He said we are on a journey. It’s a unique process the pope has begun and I hope we all can enter into it.
The website has a commentary on the Passion Narratives by Fr. Don Senior, CP, and information on Passion sites, devotions, prayers, spirituality and recent studies.
In recent studies, for example, there’s a review by Fr. Paul Zilonka, CP. of Bill O’ Reilly’s recent book “Killing Jesus.”
It’s a work in progress. A lot more material will be added in days to come, so drop in every once in awhile. The Passion of Jesus is at the heart of the mission of the Passionists, the community I belong to. It’s a mystery that can feed your soul. I would be grateful for any suggestions you may have.
The site will play on any computer, iPad or smart phone. We hope eventually to develop the website into a multi-lingual site that will literally reach the whole world.
I’m very grateful to the person who did such a beautiful job in formatting the site. A work of art in itself. A special grace brought this site about.
St. Augustine offers Proba, a Roman woman who asks his advice about praying, some insights into the Lord’s Prayer.
“When we say: Hallowed be your name, we are reminding ourselves to desire that his name, which in fact is always holy, should also be considered holy among us. I mean that it should not be held in contempt. But this is a help for us, not for God.
And as for our saying: Your kingdom come, it will surely come whether we will it or not. But we are stirring up our desires for the kingdom so that it can come to us and we can deserve to reign there.
When we say: Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are asking him to make us obedient so that his will may be done in us as it is done in heaven by his angels.
When we say: Give us this day our daily bread, in saying this day we mean “in this world.” Here we ask for a sufficiency by specifying the most important part of it; that is, we use the word “bread” to stand for everything. Or else we are asking for the sacrament of the faithful, which is necessary in this world, not to gain temporal happiness but to gain the happiness that is everlasting.
When we say: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, we are reminding ourselves of what we must ask and what we must do in order to be worthy in turn to receive.
When we say: Lead us not into temptation, we are reminding ourselves to ask that his help may not depart from us; otherwise we could be seduced and consent to some temptation, or despair and yield to it.
When we say: Deliver us from evil, we are reminding ourselves to reflect on the fact that we do not yet enjoy the state of blessedness in which we shall suffer no evil. This is the final petition contained in the Lord’s Prayer, and it has a wide application. In this petition the Christian can utter his cries of sorrow, in it he can shed his tears, and through it he can begin, continue and conclude his prayer, whatever the distress in which he finds himself. Yes, it was very appropriate that all these truths should be entrusted to us to remember in these very words.”
To listen to the Homily please select the audio below:
In today’s gospel, the enemies of Jesus try to trap him with their question about paying taxes to Caesar. Taxes are always controversial, and they were more so in Jesus’ time. Refusing to pay them might make you a hero in people’s eyes, but your moment of glory would soon bring you the sentence of death.
Jesus’ answer squarely acknowledges the rights of a government to be supported by their people. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” He seems to imply there are bigger things than paying taxes. Stay where you are, he says, you can be a revolutionary there.
Can we be revolutionaries where we are? In unfavorable times, in times as they are? And is that where Jesus asks us to follow him, in our lives as they are?
The gospels say Jesus called some like Peter, James and John to leave their lives as they were and follow him, but most of those he called remained where they were as his followers.
Think of one of the first he called, Peter’s mother in law. When he raised her from fever she got up to wait on them. She was back at her life as it was.
He told many whom he cured to go home to their lives as before. When Jesus left Jericho for Jerusalem he left behind Zachaeus, the chief tax collector, evidently still the chief tax collector but now a changed man.
And what about Mary his mother? She did not seem to follow him on his missionary journeys but remained in Nazareth until the days when her son went to Jerusalem to suffer and die. Nazareth at that time must have been a hard place to be.
Perhaps the hardest places to follow Jesus and revolutionize are where we are.