Good Friday

Good Friday
Isaiah 52:13—53:12  +  Hebrews 4:14-16;5:7-9  +  John 18:1—19:42
April 2, 2021

We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; but the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all.

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click HERE to read Monsignor Charles Pope’s reflection

click HERE to watch Bishop Thomas Olmsted’s homily (11:44)

click HERE to watch Bishop Michael Burbidge’s homily (5:19)

click HERE to watch Archbishop Alexander Sample’s homily (14:42)

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click HERE to read the 2014 Good Friday address of Pope Francis

click HERE to read the 2009 Good Friday address of Pope Benedict XVI

click HERE to read the 1998 Good Friday address of Pope St. John Paul II

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references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church cited for this day by the Vatican’s Homiletic Directory:

CCC 602-618, 1992: the Passion of Christ
CCC 612, 2606, 2741: the prayer of Jesus
CCC 467, 540, 1137: Christ the High Priest
CCC 2825: Christ’s obedience and ours

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What is most striking about the scene in Gethsemane is not the betrayal of Judas, but the wandering of the other apostles.  Only two continued to follow Jesus after his arrest, Peter and John.  They follow Jesus, bound and carried away by the soldiers, at a distance:  their faith is wavering.  We know that before the night is over, Peter denies his Lord and Savior three times.

It is only John, the Beloved Disciple, who continues to journey with Jesus.  It is John who is beneath the cross with our Blessed Mother Mary.  We can be sure that even at the Cross, John, the youngest of the apostles, perhaps in his early twenties at this time, did not fully understand the death of his Master.  He wept for his Lord but could not fully understand what was taking place there on Calvary.

We know that of the apostles, only one did not become a martyr, and that apostle was Saint John.  It was he who had been faithful to the Lord’s Cross, who had shared Our Lord’s death not at the end of his life, but near the beginning.  Throughout the rest of his life as an apostle he prayed deeply about this great gift, this great sacrifice that Christ made.  Throughout the rest of St. John’s life, as he continued to serve others, his mind turned back, year after year, to that Good Friday and the hill of Calvary, where the love and the glory of God were brilliantly revealed.

Through the Eucharist which Christ, at the Last Supper, had given St. John the power to celebrate, John was able to enter into that scene once again, to return to that day which is today, and to that hill of Calvary.

There is no offering of the sacrifice of the Mass on Good Friday.  Yet still we are able to share in the fruits of that sacrifice.  As we enter into Holy Communion with Our Lord, let us turn our minds again to the sacrifice of Calvary, and the love in Christ’s Sacred Heart which allowed Him to offer it for our salvation.

Crucifixion - Massys

Holy Thursday — Mass of the Lord’s Supper

Holy Thursday — Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Exodus 12:1-8,11-14  +  1 Corinthians 11:23-26  +  John 13:1-15
April 1, 2021

Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that His Hour had come to pass from this world to the Father.

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click HERE to read Monsignor Charles Pope’s reflection

click HERE to watch Bishop Thomas Olmsted’s homily (14:40)

click HERE to watch Bishop Michael Burbidge’s homily (8:01)

click HERE to watch Archbishop Alexander Sample’s homily (16:43)

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click HERE to read the 2018 homily of Pope Francis

click HERE to read the 2012 homily of Pope Benedict XVI

click HERE to read the 2003 homily of Pope St. John Paul II

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references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church cited for this day by the Vatican’s Homiletic Directory:

CCC 1337-1344: the institution of the Eucharist
CCC 1359-1361: Eucharist as thanksgiving
CCC 610, 1362-1372, 1382, 1436: Eucharist as sacrifice
CCC 1373-1381: the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist
CCC 1384-1401, 2837: Holy Communion
CCC 1402-1405: the Eucharist as the pledge of glory
CCC 611, 1366: institution of the priesthood at the Last Supper

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You might be tempted to think that Jesus, knowing that in just a few hours He was going to be nailed to a cross, would have had more important things on his mind than a meal.  If someone came up to you, and told you that you were going to be killed in less than 24 hours, would you sit down for a meal?  Many people would skip eating all together:  after all, if you really knew that you were going to die in less than 24 hours, why feed your body?  Wouldn’t there be more important things to put first?

But if you would answer “yes, I’d sit down for a meal,” then ask yourself, “Would you sit down for a banquet?”  Would you spend about three out of your remaining 24 hours at a banquet?  That’s what Jesus did.  Of course, to use the word “banquet” is still selling short what Jesus did at the Last Supper.  Yet the Last Supper was a banquet.

The Passover Meal was the ritual meal by which the Jews declared that the sacrifice of their ancestors had been worth it.  If they had to choose for themselves, they would do it all over again.  They would make that choice because freedom from slavery is worth the price that had to be paid, for God had something greater in mind for His Chosen People than slavery.

Some Jews, like Judas Iscariot, thought that that “something greater” was a powerful kingdom on earth.  But Jesus came into this world for something that goes beyond any earthly hopes, plans or desires.

Jesus came into this world to destroy the power of sin and death.  Jesus came into this world to offer freedom from sin, not from Pharaoh.  Jesus came into this world to open up again the gates of Heaven, not the Red Sea.  This is the freedom that Jesus won by dying on the Cross.  But tonight, Jesus institutes the Eucharist.  He establishes the Holy Eucharist in the form of a sacred meal.  In reality, it is a sacrament that allows us to share in the power of the Cross, and makes us present at Calvary.

This Sacrament of the Eucharist is the foretaste of all of the goodness that God has prepared for us.  Jesus gave us this Sacrament on the night before He died as a way of sharing in His promise to deliver us from every form of slavery.  He wills to free us through the Eucharist from every one of our sins, and to lead us from this world into something that is greater and that lasts forever.

Lent 6-4

Wednesday of Holy Week

Wednesday of Holy Week
Isaiah 50:4-9  +  Matthew 26:14-25
March 31, 2021

… from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.

Recent scandals in the Church prompt reflection upon the person of Judas Iscariot.  Why did Jesus choose him to be an apostle?  Didn’t Jesus know that Judas would betray Him?  Or is that precisely why He chose Him?

Divine Providence is difficult to parse.  It’s difficult, and perhaps even pointless, for us to reflect upon Judas from God’s providential point of view.  However, the Church does call us to reflect upon Judas from our own point of view:  that is, as sinners like Judas.

Can each of us imagine hearing Jesus say about oneself:  “It would be better for that man if he had never been born”?  Surely such words only apply to the worst of sinners, such as Judas?  In fact, Jesus did not choose Judas for eternal damnation:  rather, Judas chose that for himself.  Likewise, each of us chooses each of our sins.  It’s in the face of one’s sins that one has a choice to remain in sin, or to turn to Jesus as the one through whom we can find forgiveness.  Even and especially in our sins, Jesus wants us to turn to Him.  Yet we remain free until death to make the choices that we will.

Lent 6-3

Tuesday of Holy Week

Tuesday of Holy Week
Isaiah 49:1-6  +  John 13:21-33,36-38
March 30, 2021

So Judas took the morsel and left at once.  And it was night.

On the last two days of Lent before the Sacred Triduum starts, the Gospel Reading focuses on Judas Iscariot.  Yet while tomorrow’s passage from Matthew looks solely at Judas, today’s passage from John also looks at Peter, another apostle who will betray Jesus.

Jesus is God.  As a divine person, He could at any moment during Holy Week have turned away from the path leading to Calvary.  Even on the afternoon of Good Friday as He hung upon the Cross, He could have miraculously escaped, transporting Himself far away to safety:  indeed, even to Heaven.

All that is to say that Jesus is the primary “actor” in the drama of Holy Week.  The acts that Jesus did or did not carry out during Holy Week determined man’s salvation.  Any other “actor” within this drama is a second-string player.

Why, then, do the Gospel Readings today and tomorrow focus more upon those who betrayed Jesus than on Our Savior Himself?  The answer is that the Church is calling you to recognize yourself in Judas and Peter.

In the sinful persons of Judas and Peter we witness two different types of betrayal:  Judas by deed, Peter by word; Judas with a kiss, Peter by turning his back.  Judas cries, “Hail, Rabbi!”, while Peter cries, “I do not know the man!”

There are many different ways in our lives by which we betray Jesus.  But there is only one way for the chasm between our sins and God’s love to be bridged, and that is Jesus’ self-sacrifice upon the Cross.

Lent 6-2

Monday of Holy Week

Monday of Holy Week
Isaiah 42:1-7  +  John 12:1-11
March 29, 2021

Here is my servant whom I uphold, / my chosen one with whom I am pleased ….

The Old Testament’s Book of the Prophet Isaiah contains four brief passages called “servant songs”.  Isaiah never names the servant who is described.  But in the earliest years of the Church, these servant songs were sung in praise of Christ, who fulfilled during Holy Week what they proclaim.

The First Reading on Monday of Holy Week presents the first of these four servant songs.  We might imagine God the Father speaking these words of His only-begotten Son, whom He sent from the paradise of Heaven into our world of sin and death.

Jesus is a servant.  All the words that Jesus speaks and all that He does and bears this week reveals Him as a servant.  Yet He’s a servant in a two-fold way, and we ought at the beginning of Holy Week reflect upon both of these.

Whom is Jesus serving through the sacred events of Holy Week?  Secondly, He is serving us.  All that He speaks, does, and suffers is for us:  to bring us salvation.

First, however, Jesus is serving His heavenly Father.  During Holy Week it’s easy for us to lose sight of God the Father.  Our view can become myopic, focused simply upon Jesus saving us.  But in saving us from the power of sin and death, Jesus is preparing us for new life.  This new life is given to us even during our earthly days through the gifts, the fruits, and the grace of the Holy Spirit.  But this new life in this world is only a foretaste of eternal life with our Father in Heaven.  Jesus is serving His Father during Holy Week because God the Father longs for each us to enter into His company.

Lent 6-1

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent

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Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Ezekiel 37:21-28  +  John 11:45-56
March 27, 2021

So from that day on they planned to kill him.

This morning’s Gospel Reading bears a sense of anxious anticipation.  Its final verse leaves us on the edge of our pew:  “They looked for Jesus and said to one another as they were in the temple area, ‘What do you think?  That he will not come to the feast?’”

Just a few verses before, St. John the Evangelist explains the reason for the heightened sense of anxiety:  “So from that day on they planned to kill him.”  The motive for this plan of the chief priests and Pharisees is the focus of this morning’s three readings.

Both this morning’s First Reading and Responsorial Psalm come from books of Old Testament prophets:  the First Reading, from Ezekiel; and the Psalm, from Jeremiah.  Both look to Israel’s future, when a shepherd king would reign over a united Israel.  The Responsorial is very strong in describing this shepherd

Yet the language of king is only implied, although in two ways.  First, Ezekiel prophesies about Israel being restored to one kingdom.  However, second and more intriguingly, Ezekiel prophesies that “there shall be one prince for them all”:  not one “king”, but one “prince”.  Twice in the verses that follow, Ezekiel identities David as this prince.  Through the prophet the Lord declares:  “My servant David shall be prince over them, and there shall be one shepherd for them all”; in the Holy Land, Israel shall dwell “with my servant David their prince forever.”

Everything that Ezekiel and Jeremiah prophesy about this shepherd king is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.  More specifically, Jesus fulfills His earthly mission as Christ the King upon the Cross on Good Friday.  Jesus is drawing close to “His hour”.  Through the New Passover—the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass—we are able to enter into Jesus’ life and saving mission.

Lent 5-6

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

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Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Jeremiah 20:10-13  +  John 10:31-42
March 26, 2021

“If I do not perform my Father’s works, put no faith in me.”

Some disagree with the saying, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, claiming that a little is better than none.  They do not see that those having the little often self-righteously and proudly conclude they know it all.

The Pharisees, purported Scripture scholars and experts in the Mosaic Law, fell into this latter category.  When Christ revealed Himself to them as the Messiah, though they had well documented knowledge of the miracles He had performed, they immediately rejected the evidence, accused Him of blasphemy and prepared to stone Him.

What rendered them more dangerous than their intellectual presumption, and perhaps their fear of losing authority and position, was their faithlessness, their lack of God’s light and love.  In this, Christ Jesus is their opposite, and this opposition to the Pharisees is what each of us must imitate:  knowing that in God, we have everything we are, and that all we are, God calls us to give:  for the sake of others, and for the greater glory of God.

Lent 5-5

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord [B]

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord [B]
Isaiah 50:4-7  +  Philippians 2:6-11  +  Mark 14:1—15:47
March 28, 2021

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

The depth of Jesus’ suffering is so profound that it gives us sinners pause.  How can we approach the mystery of Jesus’ Passion and Death?  It’s like approaching a tornado, or a snarling Doberman Pinscher, or a Mack truck doing 75 mph down the Interstate:  every instinct inside us tells us to flee.  So it is with the Cross, if we understand what it truly is.

Reflect on the cross first as a human sign.  As a means of torture and death, the cross was perfected by the Roman Empire.  Death was not enough for those sentenced by the Romans to crucifixion.  The cross was devised to prolong the experience of dying.  As if having nails run through one’s limbs—pinning one’s body to pieces of wood—wasn’t enough, the body was nailed to the cross in such a way as to make breathing an agony.

The feet were propped against a footrest which was not meant to give rest.  The footrest was meant to give the crucified person only enough leverage to push his body upwards in order to breath inwards, for as long as his muscles could bear the weight of his body.  The cross was meant by the Romans to be a sign that inspired fear:  fear of Roman power, and fear of what would happen to the person who acted against their rule.

Eventually, the person who was crucified could no longer lift his body up to breath inwards, so that he was unable to exhale the carbon dioxide from his lungs.  So the actual cause of death for most of those who were crucified was asphyxiation.  This is why at the end of the Passion narrative, the evangelist tells us that Jesus “gave up his spirit”.  These words of the evangelist are a play on words.  At the moment of His death, Jesus could no longer force His body to breathe.  But at the same time, He gave the Holy Spirit:  the Spirit of love between the Father and the Son.

It’s in Jesus giving up the Holy Spirit that we see that, as horrifying as the physical agony of the cross is, the spiritual agony of the Cross is far worse.  In our sinfulness, we find our instincts telling us to flee from the Cross.  This is where today’s Responsorial Psalm gives us insight into the mind of God.  This is where God reveals the Cross to be a divine sign.

How can we start to reflect upon the Cross as a divine sign?  Every year, the Responsorial on Palm Sunday comes from Psalm 22.  Only about one-fourth of the psalm is proclaimed.  In the Passion according to St. Mark the Evangelist, we hear Christ crying from the Cross the refrain of this day’s Responsorial:  “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

We might ask ourselves why Jesus prayed these words from Psalm 22 while nailed to the Cross.  Did Jesus really feel abandoned by God the Father?  Jesus came into this world to be the Messiah of Israel:  to be Israel’s king.  Jesus came into this world in solidarity with the nation of Israel.  We hear this connection between Jesus and Israel when we listen to the entire 22nd psalm.

The first words of the psalm are words of spiritual agony.  “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”  Jesus cries these words as the King of Israel:  as Israel’s leader.  Jesus cries these words because this was the experience of the people of Israel.  The nation of Israel had felt abandoned by God.

Of course, from our comfortable armchairs in the 21st century, we know that God had never abandoned Israel.  Time and time again, Israel had abandoned God.  It’s like the old saying, “If you feel that there’s a distance between you and God, guess who moved?”  Nonetheless, as the leader of Israel, Jesus cries the cry of His people, but only to lead His people forward, out of their despair.

Even the sinner King David, in composing this psalm, led his people.  As their king, David led Israel from the self-righteousness of the first verse—accusing God of abandoning His children—to the last verses that look beyond the individual’s suffering, to hope for an entire people.  The psalm concludes by praying:  “I will live for the Lord; my descendants will serve you.  The generation to come will be told [about] the Lord, that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have brought.”

The Annunciation of the Lord

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The Annunciation of the Lord
Isaiah 7:10-14;8:10  +  Hebrews 10:4-10  +  Luke 1:26-38
March 25, 2021

… the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel ….

In the person of Jesus Christ, God and man are united.  This is the good news that Saint Gabriel came to announce to Mary:  that she would bear in her womb the one through whom all human beings could find eternal life.  The profundity of this news overwhelmed Mary, and made her fearful.  What would this mean for her life?

Throughout the world and throughout history, human beings have sought to find meaning in their lives in many ways.  Similarly, human beings have always searched for love in their lives.  We know that there are many different things which people in the world call love, but Jesus Christ and the Church He established upon this earth clearly teach us that there is only one real type of love.  It is that love which over many years would lead Mary to Calvary.  Only this real love is strong enough to destroy death.

If Mary had understood the fullness of her vocation, she would likely have feared the annunciation of Saint Gabriel even more than she did.  Both the Annunciation and its consummation on Calvary are sacred events which call us to consider how God expects us to accept the Holy Spirit in humble submission to the will of God.  Mary is the greatest disciple of Our Lord.  Beyond her questions she says “Fiat”:  “let it be done unto me according to your word”She accepts the fullness of the Holy Spirit and bears the Body of Christ.  She is the model for us who strive faithfully to say, “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”

Those who have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Baptism and have had them strengthened in Confirmation turn to Mary, asking her intercession during their journey towards Calvary, and asking for perseverance to pray beneath the Cross.  As each of us shares in the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, may we be transformed in mind and heart, in order to bear the real love of Christ in the world:  in the midst of those around us who are seeking God more deeply in their lives, or who do not yet know Him.

Annunciation - Fra Angelico