Tag Archives: Liturgy

Our Lady of Sorrows: September 15

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There were also women looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joses, and Salome. These women had followed him when he was in Galilee and ministered to him. There were also many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.”  That’s how Mark’s gospel describes some onlookers at Jesus’ crucifixion. (Mark 15,40-41)

John’s gospel brings some of the women closer. He places Mary, the Mother of Jesus, standing at the cross itself. “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”

She stands, close by,  not at a distance, not afraid to see, not absorbed in her own suffering, not disengaged from him or his sufferings. She enters into the mystery of the cross through compassion, which doesn’t experience his suffering exactly, but enters it to break the isolation suffering causes and helps someone bear their burden.  The sword, the spear, pierces both hearts, but in a different way.

Compassion is a necessary part of the mystery of the cross.

The Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, which we celebrate in the Roman calendar  on September 15th, was placed after the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross (September 14) only recently, in the 20th century by Pope Pius X.  He took the feast,  formerly the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of Mary, and placed it on this date which is the octave of Mary’s birth (September 7).

The prayer for today’s feast says that when her Son “was lifted high on the Cross” his mother stood by and shared his suffering, but as yesterday’s feast of the Triumph of the Cross makes clear, Jesus  lifted high draws all to himself to share in his resurrection.

Compassion leads to a share in Jesus’ resurrection.

For a commentary on John’s Gospel see here.

For a study on Mary on Calvary see here.

For readings for the feast and the Stabat Mater see here.

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The Passion of John the Baptist

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The death of John the Baptist, ordered by Herod and sought by his wife Herodias, is a dramatic tale of revenge and loyalty vividly told in Mark’s gospel. Because it’s like the Passion of Jesus the church calls John’s death “The Passion of John the Baptist”  and remembers it  August 29th.

Venerable Bede has a thoughtful homily on John’s death, a martyr’s death.  It’s like the death of Jesus Christ because they both embraced the same values, they were both unjustly killed for embracing those values.  If John stayed silent about Herod’s conduct, perhaps he would gain a few peaceful years of life, Bede says, but he was more concerned with what God thought than powerful people on earth.

“His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless, he died for Christ. Does Christ not say: I am the truth?

He preached the freedom of heavenly peace, yet was thrown into irons by ungodly men; he was locked away in the darkness of prison, though he came bearing witness to the Light of life.

“But heaven notices– not the span of our lives– but how we live them, speaking the truth.”

Good thought. It doesn’t matter how many years we live, but how we live them, “speaking the truth.”

For John that meant dying for the truth. What does it mean for us? The opening prayer for this feast asks that ” we might fight hard for the confession of what you teach.” Maybe not getting our heads chopped off, but getting some scars from the daily battle for God’s truth.

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Psalms say it all

I like the way psalms say it all. “Rejoice in the Lord, you just!” a psalm response said recently. No need to double your efforts or think hard about something. “Rejoice in the Lord, you just!”

The earth rejoices in God, our king. Why not join it? The “many isles are glad.” Be glad with them.

The psalms have a way of stilling our souls and calling them into the quiet grace of God’s presence. Does everything depend on us? No, it doesn’t. God “melts the mountains like wax” and “guards the lives of his faithful ones.” We think we have to know everything, but only God can do that.

We take part in the liturgy, not to know more and more, but to be drawn closer to God. The scriptures, prayers and actions feed our minds and hearts, but only little by little. One of the special graces of the psalms is invite us to rest in God as a child in a mother’s arms.

Most of the psalms in our liturgy are songs of praise. “Rejoice in the Lord!” Some cry for help. They call us to simple, deep prayer. Keep your eye on them in the liturgy. They’re wonderful basic prayers.

“Although the whole of Scripture breathes God’s grace upon us, this is especially true of that delightful book, the book of the psalms.” (St. Ambrose)

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Friday Thoughts: Simple Awe

Picasso, The Blind Man's Meal, 1903

Picasso, “The Blind Man’s Meal”, (1903)

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The ear that hears, the eye that seesthe Lord has made them both.

—Proverbs 20:12

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It is the simple times. It is when we are doing life one dirty dish, one utility bill, one ordinary errand at a time that deepened faith creates an awe-filled stir.

For much is said of the bells and whistles of supernatural faith—but what is most supernatural is the presence of “all”, of “everything”, of “heaven and earth” in each dirty dish, each electric bill, each trip to the dollar store. What is most supernatural is the acknowledged presence of God in day-to-day life.

The deeper our trust, the more complete our surrender, the less “exciting” the external signs need to be. Or to express it differently: The least “exciting” times become so overwhelmingly profound that bells and whistles are hardly noticed.

We are told that we need an ear that hears and an eye that sees.

But what is it to have them?

Is it being still within God’s presence while the sponge soaks, the envelope seals, the cash register line slowly shortens?

The skeptic may see such a man as confined by complacency, dangerously satisfied, or simply numb. The skeptic may even call such a man “blind”.

That is certainly one way to look at it.

There is another:

Or is it that the mighty awe of a salvaged life has finally taken hold?

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Turning to the disciples in private he said, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”

—Luke 10:23-24

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—Howard Hain

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Birth of John the Baptist

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Jesus himself praised John the Baptist for his holiness; one reason the church celebrates John’s birth and death in its liturgy. Luke’s gospel recalls John’s birth in detail, ending with the words:“The hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.”

Like Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah are recognized in Luke’s gospel for their role in the birth and raising of the child. However lonely and independent John appears in the gospels, he was influenced by them and the extended family he belonged to. They all left their mark on him. “The hand of the Lord was with him,” but human hands were on him  as well.

He had faith like his mother Elizabeth who recognized the Spirit’s presence in her pregnant cousin Mary visiting her from Nazareth. John would point out the Lamb of God among all those who came to the Jordan River for baptism.

He had faith like his father Zechariah who devoutly celebrated the mysteries of God in the temple of Jerusalem as a priest. At the Jordan River,John called pilgrims on their way to the Holy City to prepare the way of the Lord in their own hearts.

Undoubtedly, John was a unique figure, a messenger from God, a voice in the desert preparing the Lord’s way. But there were  faithful people behind him, as they are behind us.

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Welcome to Ordinary Time

Creation
The Easter season ends with the Feast of Pentecost and we’re into ordinary time in the church year. Unlike other feasts, Pentecost has no octave; ordinary time is its octave. Most of the church year is ordinary time; most of life is ordinary too, but the Spirit is there just the same.

“Their message goes out to all the earth.” We read the Acts of the Apostles during the Easter season as Jesus’ apostles, led by Peter and Paul, ventured on their way from Jerusalem to Asia Minor and to Rome, empowered by strong winds and tongues of fire, Yes, the Spirit can bring us to the ends of the earth, but the Spirit is also there in the few steps we take every day, though we’re hardly aware.

We tend to minimize ordinary life. Just ordinary, nothing’s happening, we say. Yet, day by day in ordinary time the Risen Lord offers his peace and shows us his wounds. Every day he breathes the Spirit on us. No day goes by without the Spirit’s quiet blessing.

 

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Silent Clay

The daily Mass readings for Eastertime, from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John, are so different in tone. As its title suggests, the Acts of the Apostles is a fast-moving account of a developing church spreading rapidly through the world through people like Paul of Tarsus and his companions. Blazing new trails and visiting new places,  they’d be prime targets today for frequent flyer programs and travel sites on the internet.  Always on the go.

The supper-room discourse of Jesus from the Gospel of John, on the other hand,  seem to move slowly, repeating, lingering over the words of Jesus to his disciples. They tell us to listen and be quiet, sit still. Don’t go anywhere at all.

St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, was inspired by St. Paul, the Apostle, to preach and to teach. Many of his letters end telling his reader that he has to go, he’s off to preach the gospel somewhere. He was a “frequent flyer.”

But the Gospel of John also inspired him; it was the basis for his teaching on prayer. Keep in God’s presence, in pure faith, he often said. Enter that inner room and remain there. Don’t go anywhere.

“It’s not important for you to feel the Divine Presence, but very important to continue in pure faith, without comfort, loving God who satisfies our longings. Remain like a child resting on the bosom of God in faithful silence and holy love. Remain there in the higher part of your soul paying no attention to the noise of the enemy outside. Stay in that room with your Divine Spouse…Be what Saint John Chrysostom says to be: silent clay offered to the potter. Give yourself to your Maker. What a beautiful saying! What the clay gives to the potter, give to your Creator. The clay is silent; the potter does with it what he wills. If he breaks it or throws away, it is silent and content, because it knows it’s in the king’s royal gallery.”  (Letter 1515)

 


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