Category Archives: Inspiration

Ash Wednesday

 

 

 

Want to know more about the Passion of Jesus, a mystery that helps us know the mysteries of our lives? Follow the commentaries of Donald Senior, CP. 

Want to know more about the Stations of the Cross? Look into the history of this devotion and some examples of it.

 

A Book for Lent

St. Paul Cross

Lent begins next Wednesday, February 14th. Some years ago a publisher asked me to write a book entitled A Lenten Journey with Jesus Christ and St. Paul of the Cross, to be part of a series of reflections on the daily lenten gospels that included thoughts of saints of different religious orders.

I was initially skeptical about the project. From early on I’ve seen lent as a time to give up something and take up some devotional practice like the Stations of the Cross. Yes, Lent was a journey with Jesus, and I appreciate the daily scriptures that take us through the season with him, but where does a saint come in, even a saint important to me, like St. Paul of the Cross, the 18th century founder of my community the Passionists ?

Working on the book made me see lent differently. First, for St. Paul of the Cross lent was a time to leave the quiet mountain at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea where he lived and prayed and go to work in the Tuscan Maremma, then a swampy, malaria infested region of Italy, overrun with robbers and desperately poor. All through lent, carrying a cross and a bible Paul went from village to village preaching God’s love to people whose lives were often on edge with fear and lost hope.

Lent isn’t a time for turning inward, away from world you live in, Paul reminds me. Lent is a time to go out to the wounded world before you.

Secondly, Paul engaged his world, the world of the Tuscan Maremma, in the light of the gospel, especially the Passion of Jesus Christ. For him that mystery was not limited to a time long ago, when Jesus suffered on a Cross; it was there in the people before him. From village to village, he held up a Cross to anyone who would hear as a mirror of their reality and a pledge of the great mercy of God. Jesus died and rose again.

The Passionists celebrate two feasts immediately before Ash Wednesday to prepare for Lent. This Friday we celebrate the Solemn Commemoration of the Passion of Jesus Christ. On the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday we celebrate the Prayer of Jesus in the Garden. Both feasts come from our missionary founder.

I can see him packing his bags for his lenten journey down the quiet mountain for the villages and towns of the Tuscan Maremma. He must remind himself what he will see. He must pray so he doesn’t forget.

“May the Passion of Jesus Christ be always in our hearts.”

Ash Wednesday, I will be preaching at the Cenacle Retreat House, Ronkonhoma, NY

March 2-4, I will be also be preaching a weekend retreat at the Cenacle.

Mark 6: A Ministry to “Unclean Spirits”

In today’s gospel from Mark at Mass, Jesus commissions his apostles for ministry. He summons “the twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.” (Mark 6, 7) Jesus often drives out unclean spirits in his ministry, Mark says. After he’s baptized in the Jordan and comes to Capernaum, Jesus and his disciples go into the synagogue on that “paradigmatic day” and Jesus first drives an unclean spirit out of a man. (Mark 1, 16-34)

When Jesus and his disciples cross the sea into pagan territory– an important new step in his ministry– Jesus meets a man in the tombs and drives the unclean spirit out of him. (Mark 5, 1-20)

As Jesus extends his ministry “whenever unclean sprits saw him they would fall down before him and shout, ‘You are the Son of God.’ (Mark 3,11) Unclean spirits were favorite targets for Jesus in his ministry.

What’s an “unclean spirit”?

In their fine commentary on Mark’s gospel John R. Donahue, SJ, and Daniel Harrington, SJ, say “In this context ‘unclean’ (akatharton) primarily connotes not a moral (even less a sexual) fault), but something opposed to the “holy.” In the command of the Old Testament to be holy (Leviticus 11,44) it implies life, wholeness and completeness,( Leviticus 21, 17-21) whereas uncleanness implies something that should not be, something out of place ( e.g. soil in a farmer’s field is productive, while in a house it’s dirt). The opposite of the realm of the holy is the demonic, hence the spirits there are “unclean”. Physical defects or psychological aberrations can make a person “unclean”in a sense of incomplete, imperfect and out of order.”
(The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina, Liturgical Press 2002 page 80.)

Jesus did not engage primarily the intellectual establishment or the religious establishment when he came. He engaged the chaotic world of the “unclean spirits.” He set up a “field hospital” to use a phrase dear to Pope Francis.

That can be a messy, scary world as we see in Mark’s gospel. Just think of the poor man in the tombs, chained and hurting himself. Who wants to deal with him? But Jesus gives his disciples “authority” over unclean spirits. His followers have the power to take them on.

Ecumenism

I attended a beautiful Methodist funeral this week at a funeral home in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. I prayed and sang with the members of the family and their friends. Some years ago, before the Second Vatican Council, I would have been told “In no way is it permitted for the faithful to take part in any way in non-Catholic services.” (Canon 1258)

We have come a long way in our relations with other Christian churches and other religions. In the days of St. Francis de Sales in the 16th century, Christian churches were fighting each other over religion. Francis de Sales as the bishop of Geneva, Switzerland, chose to approach religious differences through dialogue and not arms. His approach anticipated the Vatican Council decrees on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratia) and Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate) which told Catholics to respect the religious beliefs of others and dialogue with them.

Dialogue means listening to the other and offering what you know in return. It’s an on-going process that ultimately, I think, has its roots in the created world we live in, which we know little by little. The word “respect”is a beautiful word, meaning “looking again,” Francis de Sales based his spirituality on respect for the variety of creation. We’re “living plants” in the garden of the world. We need to keep “looking again.”

And while we respect others, we need to “look again” at our own tradition to appreciate it and see it “ever ancient, ever new.”

We’re ending the Church Unity Octave on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the Apostle, January 25th. St Francis de Sales, St. Paul the Apostle, St. Paul of the Cross, pray for us.