On this 7th Sunday of Easter we return to that liminal space. We find ourselves in between the Ascension and the great feast of Pentecost. Just as the disciples returned to the upper room in Jerusalem after our Lord’s Ascension and devoted themselves to prayer, so we too want to devote ourselves to prayer as we await the celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
But what will our prayer be? A prayer to return to normal? A prayer that everything will be just like it was before the pandemic?
Reading the Acts of the Apostles, I get a strong sense that the disciples knew in their hearts that there was no returning to the way things were before our Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection. After the Ascension they knew things were going to be different. That’s why they prayed. And I believe it was their prayer that opened them up to the great mystery (and reality!) of Pentecost that was unfolding in their lives.
During this in-between time, I think a healthy spirituality is going to include the kind of prayer that opens us up to mystery and reality – the reality that things are going to be different and the mystery of the Holy Spirit who will help us to negotiate these changes. In the following weeks, more details will be forthcoming regarding the kind of changes to expect at St. Mary’s and Our Lady of Fatima.
When our parish and mission open up again, change will abound. Please see Bishop Gainer’s letter regarding opening up in the Yellow Phase (See link below). Your parish staff and volunteers are already at work preparing. Please call the office if you would like to help.
In the meantime, as we await the great feast of Pentecost, let us pray:
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.
I remember my grandfather, ever the jokester, saying as we were leaving my grandparents’ house after a visit, “Some people bring joy when they come, others when they go.” I always think of that zinger when I think of the Ascension. But I also think of the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who said it would be a mistake to interpret the Ascension as “the temporary absence of Christ from the world.” Rather, “we go to heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus Christ and enter into him.” Heaven is a person: “Jesus himself is what we call ‘heaven.’“
Pope Francis has written, “The Ascension of Jesus into heaven acquaints us with this deeply consoling reality on our journey: in Christ, true God and true man, our humanity was taken to God. Christ opened the path to us…. If we entrust our life to him, if we let ourselves be guided by him, we are certain to be in safe hands, in the hands of our Savior.”
It is quite easy to see the Ascension of Jesus as simply a means to an end – Jesus going up to Heaven so the Holy Spirit could come down. As our Holy Fathers explain so beautifully, the Ascension is much more than that.
So while we indeed rejoice in our Lord’s coming and going – his coming as man and his going to the Father in fulfillment of the Paschal Mystery – we know that we have never really been alone on the journey. As Jesus reminds us, “I am with you always until the end of the age.”
The Sixth Sunday of Easter , May 17th
In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus says that he will not leave his disciples orphans. He promises to send the Holy Spirit who is “another Advocate” and the “Spirit of truth”. Jesus also tells his disciples, “… you know him, because he remains with you, and will be in you.”
As we find ourselves two months into the Coronavirus restrictions, we may forget that the Holy Spirit remains with us and in us. We may even ask ourselves if there is any proof that the Holy Spirit, given in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, is still alive within us especially when we have not received the Sacrament of the Eucharist in months?
In writing to the Galatians (5:22,23), St. Paul gets specific about evidence that the Holy Spirit is alive within believers. St. Paul calls this evidence the “fruit of the Spirit”. These are the virtues that Holy Mother Church has recognized as signs that the Holy Spirit is alive and well and at work within us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, modesty and chastity (St. Paul lists 9 fruits, the Tradition of the Church lists 12). Reflecting on these virtues is a good way to take our spiritual pulse.
These are the kind of times that test our resolve to believe and to live as those who have received the Advocate and the Spirit of truth. Jesus told his disciples, “the world cannot accept the Spirit of truth.” But we Christians do even as we find ourselves trying to discern scientific, economic, political and social justice truths in the light of the Gospel and with the help of the Advocate. Admittedly, this is not an easy task, but that is why we have been gifted with the Holy Spirit. And it is the Holy Spirit who helps us with the gifts of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord. These spiritual gifts are given to help us to live in God’s grace and friendship. And it is the same Holy Spirit who gives growth to the many fruits which are signs that we are living in communion with the Spirit’s direction. During these difficult times, when the world needs an app to remain calm, Jesus simply reminds us, “I will not leave you orphans.”
These words were spoken by Jesus to his disciples at the Last Supper as He was trying to prepare them for his suffering, death and resurrection.
We need to hear these words today, perhaps now more than ever. And yet how difficult it is not to allow our hearts to be troubled given the wave of trouble (“Trouble with a capital T!”) that’s chasing us.
What Jesus offered as an antidote to a troubled heart was faith – belief in Him, confident trust in Him – not in ourselves, not even in our “best laid plans of mice and men” because they often go awry. How true are those words of the poet, Robert Burns, today.
To strengthen his point about trust, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life”. Could this simple statement have meant anything other than follow what I have taught you, seek my truth and you will find the fullness of life? And do this in every moment of your life.
Jesus was neither a cockeyed optimist nor a fear monger. He knew what would help us to find peace in our hearts and he told his disciples to replace their fears with trust in Him. This was and remains today one of the most important things Jesus ever said.
Jesus does not say that we should suppress a whole range of human emotions, some of which do in fact trouble our hearts deeply. But he does tell us, that in the midst of our human sufferings, to look to Him – to remember His ways, to seek after His truths, and to allow His grace working on our good will, to help us find peace (which Jesus tells us only He can give in great measure).
The saints found this fullness of life, this peace of mind and heart even in troubling times, by learning to trust in Jesus as their way, their truth and their life. On this Mothers’ Day, let us look to one of the great spiritual Mothers of the Catholic Church. St. Teresa of Avila, for encouragement. She wrote, “Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you. All things pass away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things. He who has God lacks nothing. God alone suffices.”
Peace and all good,
A Message from Father Bob
In the “Good Shepherd” Gospel, Jesus tells us that he is the gate. He is the one who stands between the sheep in the fold and the outside world. We call that kind of in-between space liminal space. I know that is the kind of space I find myself in now.
I don’t think there are any words to ameliorate the range of emotion that follow the closing of a Catholic school. What I can tell you is that the closing of Lebanon Catholic was an agonizing decision. As Bishop Gainer’s statement says, it was a decision that took into consideration parishes struggling with financial stresses and other significant factors.
For now, I think it best to allow the grieving process to unfold. I know this wave of disbelief, anger and hurt must be allowed to happen. I also accept that I will have to bear the brunt of this wave because of where I stand as a pastor and trust administrator. I stand in that liminal space between canon law and civil law, between Diocese and parish, and between parish and school. Standing in that space charges me with making difficult decisions which seem, at times, to benefit no one. I accept that as a very heavy part of my priesthood.
But I am not the only one in that liminal space. The faculty, staff, students and families of Lebanon Catholic are also in that in-between place, facing their own challenges and uncertainties. And so it is for all of us, during this critical time, to allow faith, hope and love to occupy that space as well. How can we possibly make it through these difficult times without God’s help?
As I have said before, my ordination card is the Good Shepherd. I know there are those in the flock who would now say that imagery is lost on me and some have left the flock. They must be allowed to seek out greener pastures. But for those who remain, I will do my best to pastor the flock according to the heart of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
Perhaps this prayerful reflection by Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, is what we need when we find ourselves in-between:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time. And so I think it is with you; your ideas mature gradually – let them grow, let them shape themselves without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow. Only God could say what that new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
During this Easter Season it is my prayer that what now presents itself as darkness and death may issue forth in light and new life. May we be ever grateful for what we have received and may we be open to what God has yet to give.
May our parish family and the Lebanon Catholic family know that you are all in my prayers.
In His Healing Grace,
On the road to Emmaus, the disciples were walking down the road of disillusionment. What they had expected from life did not happen. Jesus was dead so apparently he was not the messiah they were hoping for. But when Jesus appeared to them, spoke to them and broke bread with them, the disciple’s disillusionment eventually gave way to recognition. They recognized that Jesus was not dead – he was sitting right there with them – and then filled with excitement, they returned to Jerusalem to share the good news.
St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) also walked down that road of disillusionment. Together with St. Teresa of Avila, he was trying to reform the Carmelite Order. But along the way, John did not get what he expected from life. Instead of cooperation from his brother Carmelites, some of them resisted his reforms to the point of throwing him in prison! This is how Mirabai Starr, in her book, St. John of the Cross: Devotions, Prayers and Living Wisdom, describes the saint’s ordeal:
“His cell was a tiny closet that had formerly served as a latrine. There was not enough room to lie down, and the only window was far above his head. Twice a day the friars took him out and flogged him.“Denounce Teresa!” they demanded. “Renounce the heresy of this so-called reform!”
As the months ground by, John began to fear that he had been abandoned by the Holy One. For the first time in his life, he questioned the existence of a God he could no longer feel or remember. And, as his soul dried up, he found he could no longer even conceive of this God to whom he had dedicated everything. When he tried to pray, all he encountered was a cavernous emptiness. He cried out, “Where have you hidden, my Beloved?”
Echoing from this cry came an outpouring of love poetry to God. He committed each poem to memory and recited them all again and again until they were etched on his heart. His poems became simultaneously a call to and a response from his Beloved.
At last after nine long months, one dark night, a sympathetic guard turned the other way as the frail friar made his escape. Taking refuge among the sisters in a nearby convent, he fell into an ecstatic state of love for God, from which he never recovered.”
In our current situation, many may be experiencing a form of disillusionment that we call a “dark night”. Living in our own Coronavirus captivity, our lives are marked by a lack of control and certainty. But St. John would tell us that at the threshold of uncertainty, what dwells beyond is not simply chaos. The darkness bears the Spirit of God, who broods over the waters of death and has power to work a resurrection. From darkness and death come Light and new Life. That is the impact of Easter. So, in these difficult times, let us remember we are not abandoned by God, but loved more deeply than we can imagine all the way through them. As the stories of the disciples on the road to Emmaus and the imprisonment of John of the Cross show us, life does not always give us what we expect. But our Risen Lord gives us more than we can imagine.
You looked with love upon me
And deep within your eyes imprinted grace.
This mercy set me free,
Held in your love’s embrace,
To lift my eyes adoring
to your grace.
– St. John of the Cross
A Message from Fr. Bob on Divine Mercy (and Hope!) Sunday
From the Magnificat:
On this Divine Mercy Sunday we recall the words of Saint Thomas Aquinas: “mercy consists in bringing a thing out of non-being into being.” We see this transpire concretely in the life of the early Church. The believers “devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to prayers.” They were filled with awe; they were witnesses of wondrous signs; they lived for the good of the other; they were selfless and generous; they overflowed with “exultation and sincerity of heart.” God “in his great mercy” gave them—and us—“a new birth to a living hope” through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is what the Apostle Thomas is looking for in the Lord’s open side.
I think this living hope is what Fr. Richard Rohr calls by another name – “mystical hope”. Mystical hope is different from “regular” hope in these ways:
1. Mystical hope is not tied to a good outcome, to the future. It lives a life of its own, seemingly without reference to external circumstances and conditions.
2. It has something to do with presence—not a future good outcome, but the immediate experience of being met, held in communion, by something intimately at hand.
3. It bears fruit within us in the sensations of strength, joy, and satisfaction: an “unbearable lightness of being.” But mysteriously, rather than deriving these gifts from outward expectations being met, it seems to produce them from within.
Wow. Each one of those distinctions is something to ponder!
We may all be hoping that the difficulties of the Covid-19 pandemic will end soon. We all hope for that outcome and that is a reasonable hope. But a mystical hope allows us to experience God in the present and in his great mercy – bringing into being something good where no good thing was thought to exist. (St. Thomas Aquinas above)
Let us give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love is everlasting!
Happy Divine Mercy Sunday,
An Easter Message from Fr. Bob:
Today we celebrate Jesus’ victory over death. He is risen! Death is not the end. But the Resurrection is not the end either. As I said in an earlier writing, just like those first Apostles we too, as Christians, live in the reality of the Resurrection.
I think the Easter reality – that from suffering and death new life can emerge – is evident in so many ways this year. Along with Mother Nature blossoming, it would seem that goodness has blossomed in the hearts of so many people and institutions. In the midst of so much suffering and death caused by the pandemic, we see more generosity, more compassion, more sacrifice, more helpfulness, and more understanding throughout our country. And I suspect that when we get the “all clear”, we will also see a wave of gratitude sweep across our nation.
For many of us this has been the Lent of a lifetime (as one parishioner put it). It has been historic and difficult, perhaps the most difficult thing some of us have ever had to endure. But hopefully we were paying attention to the lessons of love that this experience has taught us. And now, with an infusion of Easter grace (which the Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of supplying without sacraments), it is for us to live in the new reality of the Resurrection – a reality marked by goodness, generosity, compassion, sacrifice, helpfulness, understanding and gratitude – just like those first Apostles.
Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!
“Four Empty Things: the Church, our Hearts, the Cross, the Tomb.”
While many see emptiness as a void with not value, we Christians understand our present emptiness as a preparation to be filled with Easter Joy. The more empty we may feel, the more room for the Risen Christ to enter and fill us with Easter Light, Happiness and Peace.”
There are three important commemorations on Holy Thursday: the institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist and the giving of the great commandment to serve one another in love. This year these sacred remembrances will feel different for all of us.
Some 30 years ago I discerned a vocation to become a Trappist monk. Instead, I became a diocesan priest. This year I return to my Trappist leanings and celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in quiet solitude, thanking God
for the gift of my vocation and the gift of the Eucharist. (By the way, don’t worry about me and alone time. I’m good at it!)
To be sure, I will also offer the Mass of the Lord’s Supper for all of you who, because of the pandemic, are not able to receive the Eucharist. As I mentioned in a homily some weeks ago, I pray that you may be resourceful and resilient like the Japanese who, beginning in the 17th century, went without priests and the Eucharist for over 200 years and still kept their Catholic faith alive.
I pray that during this difficult time, your faith is still very much alive and perhaps even going through a period of deepening transformation. Know that Fr. Dagle and I are praying for you just as monks pray for the world.
Until we are together again, let us remember to live our Lord’s great commandment to serve one another in love. As Jesus said, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”