Happy Easter – Pope Francis’ “Urbi et Orbi”

The Resurrection of Christ - Waldburg-Gebetbuch (1486)

The Resurrection of Christ – Waldburg-Gebetbuch (1486)

Happy Easter to all! We hope that you had a very blessed Easter, and your hearts are filled with the joy of the risen Lord!

These words from Pope Francis should inspire us and remind us of the hope we have because of our resurrected Lord:

This is the culmination of the Gospel, it is the Good News par excellence: Jesus, who was crucified, is risen! This event is the basis of our faith and our hope. If Christ were not raised, Christianity would lose its very meaning; the whole mission of the Church would lose its impulse, for this is the point from which it first set out and continues to set out ever anew. The message which Christians bring to the world is this: Jesus, Love incarnate, died on the cross for our sins, but God the Father raised him and made him the Lord of life and death. In Jesus, love has triumphed over hatred, mercy over sinfulness, goodness over evil, truth over falsehood, life over death.

That is why we tell everyone: “Come and see!” In every human situation, marked by frailty, sin and death, the Good News is no mere matter of words, but a testimony to unconditional and faithful love: it is about leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life’s troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast… “Come and see!”: Love is more powerful, love gives life, love makes hope blossom in the wilderness.

With this joyful certainty in our hearts, today we turn to you, risen Lord!

Go here to read the full text of his Easter message. May we all go forth to proclaim with our lives the joy we have in Christ’s resurrection – may each of our lives become an unspoken “come and see” to all we encounter!

“Urbi et Orbi”

How you can “console the heart of Jesus” this Good Friday

The Crucifixion - Andrea Mantegna (15th-cent, Italian)

The Crucifixion – Andrea Mantegna (15th-cent, Italian)

As I write, we are entering the sacred days known as the Triduum. Looking back over the past forty, I am shocked at how fast they’ve gone. It was a hard Lent (most notably because of the sudden death of my grandfather) and consequently, a good one. Mercifully small in comparison to His, I received a taste of the loneliness, sorrow, and desertion that our Lord chose to experience during the forty days before His passion. Human loneliness and suffering is a part of life after the Fall, but He did not have to experience it – He chose to so that He might be with us in our sorrow, and give meaning to our suffering.

Reading Mark’s account of the Passion this morning, I was struck by this passage:

Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads and saying, ”Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself by coming down from the cross.” Likewise the chief priests, with the scribes, mocked him among themselves and said, “He saved others; he cannot save himself.”

The people mocked Him for His inability to help Himself. Yet, they did not realize that it was not inability, but choice that kept Him on the Cross. He stayed there, because He did not want to save Himself; he wanted to save us. The people who stood there mocking Him, the soldiers who crucified Him, me when I betray Him like Peter did, you when you desert Him in His hour of need.

I have always dreaded Good Friday – as a child it meant small meals and hours of quiet with a long service thrown in there…..all things that are anathema in a child’s mind. But about 6 years ago a friend of my family’s gave us a copy of his thesis that is now available as a book: Consoling the Heart of Jesus (by Fr. Mike Gaitley). I’ll never forget Good Friday that year; I was 21 years old, and home from college for a year, so was attending services with my family…..in an echo-ey church, I sat there…..when things came together, made sense to me. I always knew that, yes, our Lord came to suffer and die for me – but it left me hopelessly resigned to never being able to do anything in return for such an enormous gift. Therefore why bother even trying…how would my puny sacrifices help in any way the suffering He did all those years ago? However, Fr. Mike’s words spoke to me: “you don’t have to do anything stupendous, just be with our Lord during this time. Tell Him you want to walk this journey with Him, as He walked it for you 2000 years ago. That’s all.”

All of a sudden an immense burden was lifted from me. No, Good Friday did not surpass my birthday or Christmas as my favourite day of the year, but my fear was gone. I could now look forward in a certain way to the fact that – small and insignificant as I was – I could do something for our Lord. That was doable. Not a Herculean task, like martyrdom or giving up sweets for 40 days, but a simple one: giving myself and doing nothing. My friendship, my time to be with Him during His suffering: “Could you not watch one hour with me?” as Jesus so famously asked Peter….

I need to be reminded of the flame that lit my heart that year, because time and life tend to chip away at our once-earnest resolutions. Today, let us all be reminded of the Love that never has dwindled since that day when our sin nailed It to the cross. Let us each spend time with Him, in silence…. sitting there, being with Him while He suffers, prays and prepares for His Calvary. Because we know that when we go through ours He’ll be there….waiting, watching, lifting us up so that when the days of darkness pass, we too will experience the Joy of life anew.

“Kiss the Crucifix”, says Pope Francis


Via Crucis, Walsingham (Photo©LawrenceOP)

Via Crucis, Walsingham

In our own times of darkness and humiliation, consider what Pope Francis reminds us: our Lord went through it all before, for us. For you….for me. If only we could realize the depth of this fact – that He would have gone through His suffering, His humiliation, His death if you were the only person on earth – then, we would do as Pope Francis encourages: “Kiss the crucifix and say: for me, thank you, Jesus, for me.”

Read the whole article here: Pope Francis: Kiss the Crucifix

Pope Francis: Meditate on the Passion in Holy Week

Peter’s Denial – Quimper Cathedral

In his homily this past Sunday, Pope Francis encourages us all to meditate on the Passion of Christ during Holy Week. To see ourselves in the Passion story, ask ourselves: “who would I be”?

Read the full text of his homily here: Pope Francis’ Palm Sunday Homily

Let’s follow the urging of our Pope, and spend some time this week reading one of the Passion accounts. And don’t just read it, but put yourself into the story, imagine you are walking the roads where Jesus walked to Calvary, be with Him during His journey to the Cross. When someone you love is suffering, you want to be with them, to help them, to shoulder some of their pain, and possibly to lighten their load a little. The soldiers forced Simon of Cyrene to help carry Jesus’ cross; we, too, can help carry His cross, not because we are forced to like Simon, but because we love Him so much that we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Making Confession easier: Fr. Z’s tips for a good confession

Fr. Z’s 20 Tips for Making a Good Confession

Most of us have difficulties going to Confession. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time putting in to words things I wish I’d never done. The harshness and ugliness of my sin appears garish in the light of the spoken word. Yet…..our Lord loves each one of us so; and when we honestly confess our sins and receive absolution, they vanish. While not perhaps a technically-Theologically-correct analogy, I often think of our Lord having an “ocean of mercy”, and the biggest sin we can commit is akin to a drop of water in the Atlantic. If we doubt this, or think that “my sin is too-big”, or keep revisiting things we’ve done and confessed from a feeling of guilt, we are unconsciously denying the power of His cross. Of His passion and Resurrection.

In these last days before Easter, when we will celebrate the Jesus’ triumph over sin and death, let us turn to Him in this sacrament. Like a good spring cleaning that leaves our homes fresh and clean, Confession is like a spring cleaning in our secret hearts. When we have a special guest coming, we find ourselves dusting, mopping, putting fresh flowers in corners of our home; in Confession we can do the same to welcome our Lord at Easter!

I recommend that you take a look at Fr. Z’s tips for making a good confession. He removes some mystique from the sacrament, and gives a healthy dose of good common sense about how to go about making a good confession.

Image: ©Lawrence OP. Used under Creative Commons license

“See How He Loved Him” – Homily for 5th Sunday of Lent from Fr. Ray Ryland

The Raising of Lazarus, Geertgen tot Sint Jans (15th century, Netherlands)

The Raising of Lazarus
Geertgen tot Sint Jans
(15th century, Netherlands)

Those who remember Fr. Ryland from his days at St. Peter’s will immediately think of his bright smile as he celebrated Mass, and his beautifully crafted homilies. The joy that he exuded as he truly became in persona Christi and brought heaven to earth in the Eucharist. He has passed from our sight, yet remains with us still in spirit. And in his teaching. At CUF, we are so grateful that we have several of his homilies on file, including this one from the 5th Sunday of Lent in 2008.

“See How He Loved Him”

Imitating Christ as he spent forty days in the desert praying for the grace to undergo his passion, we too, spend these last weeks of Lent preparing to focus on His betrayal and death. Yet that is not the end of the story. For Christ, or any of us. Because it is through death – laying down our lives – that we reach life. And not a life that will pass away, but life Eternal. As Fr. Ryland so succinctly put it:

We ordinarily speak of this world as the “land of the living,” but in fact it is the land of the dying. We’re all dying, moment by moment, day after day. But by God’s grace we’re also preparing for life in the land of the living, the eternally living.

We pray and trust that Fr. Ryland is now in that “land of the living”, the land towards which we all strive every day.

Stile Antico & Flying Buttresses; or The Importance of Being Beautiful

Last October on a rainy evening I found myself in an old stone church in Shadyside (a borough in Pittsburgh). On a typical Saturday night I’d be at home for “family night” or perhaps at one of the various venues where I search out the folk music I love so well…..yet this evening we were in a gothic church with soaring ceilings and flying buttresses (sorry, I just had to use that word :) ) galore! The reason being: Stile Antico. A choral group hailing from England with an average age of about 27, they are stunning audiences everywhere they (extensively) travel.

I didn’t set out to write a concert review for an event long-past, but today as I sat at my desk on a similarly rainy day, memories of that evening haunted me. From the first piece, my ears – my heart, even – were transfixed by the beauty of what they sang. Such music is impossible to describe, it must be heard to understand. So….. I’ll let their voices speak for themselves. Please, please watch the video of them singing William Byrd’s Agnus Dei – it’s a perfect Lenten meditation: “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.”

Their singing and the building which held it, made me think a lot about beauty in liturgy. Perhaps a subtle rebellion against being raised in a family that prized beautiful liturgy (our parish growing up had a professional schola from Yale University every Sunday, and a procession that would put a papal Mass to shame :), I have always hesitated to be “dogmatic” about such things. Nor do I intend to now. But I do know that that night I was  moved to a deeper faith because of that music.

Steenwijk_Interior_of_a_gothic_churchIt made me wish that everyone I know (as well as those I don’t!) could experience the piercing beauty of a glorious church filled to the rafters with many voices weaving their tapestry of sound throughout the space! If only more could hear that music in the context of a Mass – for the timelessness of it puts one in mind of heaven and opens our hearts to Beauty Itself. Like any good music, the polyphony sang that night endures through centuries, crosses generations – I was not the only young person there, but there were plenty of octogenarians as well – and reveals in our own hearts a stirring, a longing for something beyond our present world.

Perhaps we (especially within the Catholic Church) need to become more attuned to our rich musical history, and incorporate it into our lives, our liturgies, our hearts. Instead of dismissing the music of past centuries as incomprehensible to the world today, perhaps we should see it as fulfilling a need that people don’t even recognize they have! Not that renaissance polyphonic music is the catch-all answer to the deepest longing of every heart – nor will it resonate equally with everyone – yet I think there is something about it that does (and if it doesn’t should) touch a place deep inside of us that reminds us of and spurs us onto our eternal end.

One of our aims here at CUF is to help form the laity in truly Catholic culture. An essential part of this is art that – while very much glorying in this world – gives to man a window on the world beyond. It does not necessarily mean that it has a religious label slapped on it. But it does mean that it reveals some aspect of the truth in a unique way, and leads man a little closer to his Creator through the beauty of His creation.

Synod Prep 101: Are You Ready?

In roughly six months’ time, the Church will convene an extraordinary synod to discuss  the “pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.” (Read the lineamenta, or preparatory document, in full at the Vatican website).

In the days preceding and following the synod this October, Catholic news sources–as well as secular–will be abuzz with commentary on this significant meeting.

But when the Holy Father, after receiving the counsel of his advisors (the bishops and lay men and women whose expertise has been sought), speaks authoritatively on questions pertaining to family life, will we let the words of Peter fade as quickly as the newest headline emerges? Will we allow the assessment of the secular media to influence our understanding of the synod’s outcome?

Preparing well to receive the teaching of this synod will ensure that its significance is not lost. And will the synod be significant? To quote the preparatory document:

“The mission of preaching the Gospel to all creation, entrusted directly by the Lord to his disciples, has continued in the Church throughout history. The social and spiritual crisis, so evident in today’s world, is becoming a pastoral challenge in the Church’s evangelizing mission concerning the family, the vital building-block of society and the ecclesial community. Never before has proclaiming the Gospel on the Family in this context been more urgent and necessary.”

Catholics United for the Faith urges its members to consider the questions the Holy Father has asked the bishops (see Section III of the preparatory document). Now is the time for us to study more closer the Church’s teachings on family life so that, when called upon by the Holy Father, we may be ready lay witnesses of the “gospel of the family.”

For an introductory explanation of God’s plan for marriage and families, read our Faith Fact on this issue. The CUF website has a plethora of resources to help inform and form Catholics on many aspects of family life. If there is a particular question you are searching for, leave a comment here or email us at questions@cuf.org–we are here to assist.

Defense of the faith is not a duty solely consigned to the Holy Father or his brother bishops! What an honor we have, as the lay faithful, to lovingly participate in the mission of the Church by bearing witness to the Truth of her teaching.

Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) is a lay apostolate founded in 1968 to equip the laity to know and live out their calling as followers of Christ. If you are interested in learning more about living your lay vocation, visit our website for more information.

getting to the heart of Lent

The Agony in the Garden by  French painter Jacques Callot (1592-1635)

The Agony in the Garden by French painter Jacques Callot (1592-1635)

My cousin and I were talking the other day about the spiritual life. It was in the midst of a difficult time for us as we were losing a family member; and deep in sorrow we thought a lot about loss, death and the mysterious ways of the Lord. He said something that struck me and that I’ve been thinking about ever since:

You know we often think of the spiritual life as doing big things, loading ourselves up with sacrifices and burdens for our Lord. But it’s really much simpler (and harder, I might add :), all we need to do is let go our hold on everything that hinders us from following Him.

This seems to be a perfect thing to meditate on during Lent. During these 40 days our Lord was in the desert with nothing. He stepped away from his preaching, his family, his followers, his life – that is, what appears to us as the important things, the visible things – and was alone. With nothing, not even food. Most of us are not called to eat nothing for 40 days, but we can fast from our own preconceived ideas and patterns of life. Instead of thinking we need to busy ourselves by taking on extra activities and charitable works perhaps we need to let go of all our ideas about life – even the good ones – and start anew.

As this has been on my mind the past few days, I am puzzled: how to reconcile this with all my goals, desires, even the things I feel called to do? Aren’t we supposed to put our faith into action? What I came to realize is that this doesn’t have to be a 40-day suspension of any spiritual or physical activity. However, we can mirror in our own lives the Church’s rhythm of fast and feast. These 40 days can be our journey through the desert, where we let all our dreams, goals, hopes, fears be stripped away, so that we can see the one essential thing: that our Lord loves us and wants our hearts to be one with His. That is all that matters. Nothing more.

Lady Day and the Angel’s Greeting

annunciationblog“Full of Grace.” For many of us Catholics who routinely recite these words of Gabriel in the Hail Mary, the expression “full of grace” may be so familiar that we might fail to catch its profound significance.

This is no ordinary greeting. In fact, no one in salvation history had ever been addressed like this before. And note that the angel does not say “Hail, Mary, full of grace.” Gabriel says, “Hail, full of grace.” The angel addresses Mary not by her personal name, but with the title “full of grace.”

As some Scripture scholars, such as Joel Green in his commentary on The Gospel of Luke, have pointed out, it is as if Mary is being given a new name. John Paul II, in reflecting on this passage in his book Theotokos, said “full of grace” is “the name Mary possesses in the eyes of God” (p. 88):

In Semitic usage, a name expresses the reality of the persons and things to which it refers. As a result, the title ‘full of grace’ shows the deepest dimension of the young woman of Nazareth’s personality: fashioned by grace and the object of divine favor to the point that she can be defined by this special predilection. (p. 90)

But what does this unusual title mean? The Greek word in this passage commonly translated “full of grace” is kecharitomene. This word is in a past perfect participle form, indicating an action that began in the past and continues in the present. It literally can be translated “you who have been and continue to be graced.” In fact, the same verb is used in Ephesians 1:6–7 to describe not simply grace in the general sense of God’s showing his favor on someone, but the particular kind of divine favor that is associated with forgiveness of sins and redemption. Therefore, it is as if the angel is saying to Mary, “Hail, you who have been and continue to be graced . . . Hail, you who already have received the forgiveness of sins and the gift of redemption.”

One can appreciate why many have turned to this verse for biblical support for the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception—the belief that Mary was conceived full of grace and without the stain of original sin. Indeed, this verse indicates that Mary already had the working of grace in her life before the Annunciation scene. In other words, while certainly not serving as a definitive “proof-text” for the Immaculate Conception, Luke’s Gospel clearly reveals that Mary already had forgiveness of sins and redemption before the angel Gabriel ever appeared to her.

Gabriel’s words, therefore, reveal the most significant aspect of Mary’s early life. On the surface, she may appear to be simply a young, betrothed woman dwelling in nowhere Nazareth. But in the midst of this seemingly uneventful life, God has made her “full of grace” as He quietly prepares her for the most important mission any woman ever embraced in the history of the world: to become the Mother of God.