Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

The crowds greeted Jesus as he entered Jerusalem crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is the he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.” We too should be filled with love and joy every time the fire of divine love flashes in our hearts. That fire cannot only warm ourselves, it needs to be shared in order to be truly life-giving.

Entry of Christ into Jerusalem (1320) by Pietro Lorenzetti

If you can remember the first time you knew God loved you, wanted to be in relationship with you, or that Jesus was truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, then there is at least a spark of divine love in your heart. Your holiness and happiness depend upon allowing God to make that spark grow. God invites each individual to his loving friendship by means of ongoing conversion and growth in holiness. The work of the Church is to foster and support your friendship with Jesus so that you can more fully respond to his call. My prayer is that each of us will become, what Pope Francis calls, “missionary disciples.”

The Mausoleum of Cardinal Richard Cushing (Portiuncula Chapel)

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I think I took these pictures of Cardinal Richard Cushing’s mausoleum back in the fall. It is modeled after the Portiuncula, the small church which St Francis restored in Assisi. The beautiful mausoleum is on the grounds of the Cardinal Center in Hanover, Massachusetts.

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Cardinal Cushing’s resting place has a real beauty which I think speaks for itself.

This is the fourth post in the spring cleaning series.

A visit to the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston

Back in February I made a visit to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. It was a rough day. A nor’easter was passing through that later dumped a good amount of snow in Billerica, if my recollection serves me. The ICA’s building has quite the modern look on an excellent location on the Boston waterfront. In my opinion the ICA is more remarkable for its architecture than the art that is inside.

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The former Anthony’s Pier 4

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I have heard it said that culture represents the soul of a society. May our contributions to society build up its soul.

This is the second post in the spring cleaning series.

A few wintry phone photos…

Spring has sprung (at least in the parishes in Billerica where I serve). This time of year many starting thinking about doing spring cleaning. Over the next couple days I will be doing some spring cleaning of the photos that are smattered around my desktop. As I remove their thumbnails from my home screen I will post them here. Most of the “phone photos” were taken in the fall/winter. So out with the old and in with the new…

The four below come from Concord, MA in late December.

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IMG_1910Don’t forget: the most important spring cleaning requires making an examination of conscience and going to confession!

 

Collect for Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

The collect (opening prayer) at Mass today expresses the hopes of the New Evangelization.

Grant us, we pray, O Lord,
perseverance in obeying your will,
that in our days the people dedicated to your service
may grow in both merit and number.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

First, we ask for the strength to carry out the will of God in everything we do. Because of our weakness in adversity and infirmity, we need God’s help for us to remain steadfast in his service. For me, though, the second part of the prayer is what really caught my attention.

It matters little if our churches are filled, if they are not filled with the right sort of people. The right sort of people transcend socioeconomic groups because anyone can be dedicated to God’s service and love with God’s own love. In a word, this collect asks that the members of Christ’s faithful grow in quantity and quality. Our personal holiness is of the highest importance—not our money. However, making ourselves holy is not something we can do on own. God makes us holy. The worthy reception of the Sacraments make us holy. Our part in our sanctification is to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit and remove the stumbling blocks which we put in the way.

The connection to the New Evangelization is this: we need to become holier than we are now. If we become holier, others will be drawn to enter into the dynamic of encountering Jesus in the Sacraments of the Church and living the friendship he offers. An important step for the apostles in their sanctification was the leaving of their nets at the behest of Our Lord. Most, though, just need to leave their proverbial nets because their sanctification lies in doing their present work with a Christian spirit—extraordinary well with and for the love of God. This sanctification occurs in homes and workplaces. Think about it: the Church has parishes in our communities so that we can come to better know, love, and serve Our Blessed Lord!

Some (brief) thoughts on Today’s Readings

There is quite the juxtaposition in today’s readings at Holy Mass. In the first reading we see Susanna, falsely accused of committing adultery, set free and her perjurious accusers put to death. The prophet Daniel rebuked one of the elders who falsely accused Susanna saying, “Lust has subverted your conscience” (Daniel 13:56). For the reason we need to remember that purity protects against a host of spiritual maladies. Sin is not content to stay where it is. Sin’s nature is to grow worse and bigger. By practicing purity we stamp out sin at it roots.

In the Gospel, we see Jesus forgive an adulterous woman, while her ill-willed accusers depart in shame. The message for us should be clear: the devil and the world accuse and threaten, but Our Lord forgives. Anyone who would dissuade a person from making a good confession is like the devil or malicious crowds. Not only does confession remove sin, but it also strengthens one’s virtues. So let us run to receive Our Lord’s mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation!

 

 

Quarterly Results: what do performance and profitability have to do with the spiritual life?

I’ve been told that, in business, quarterly results are key indicators of a company’s future performance and profitability.  And although it may seem like the year just started, January 1st (when we celebrated the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God) was nearly three months ago! So I propose that this is an opportune moment for us to pause, and to take a quarterly account of how we are performing in our Christian lives and just how profitable it has been.

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If a progress report is important for business and finance then even more so is it for our spiritual lives. You may be surprised to learn that the Church has used one for centuries; it’s called the examination of conscience.  An examination of conscience is an intentional mental review of one’s thoughts and actions, acknowledging both the virtues we cultivate and the vices which hold us back. On a small scale this should be done daily; we thank God for the gifts we’ve been given and ask his forgiveness for our failures and faults. Sacred Scripture reminds us that even “the just fall seven times a day” (Proverbs 24:16). Now, there are certain occasions where we ought to examine ourselves a little deeper. Certainly we do this before making a good confession, since we are obliged (as best we can) to confess all of our mortal sins by kind and number. There are many formulas to assist us in an examination of conscience and most follow the pattern of the Ten Commandments.

As I mentioned before, two of the biggest areas considered in quarterly reports are performance and profitability. By way of metaphor we may see our performance in the context of our personal holiness or friendship with Jesus.  How are we doing in regards to our friendship with the Lord?  We’ve heard the term “state of grace” a thousand times; all it simply refers to is the state or condition of our friendship with God. Conversely, being in a state of mortal sin means to be separated from that friendship. The discussion of profitability needs a bit more nuance. Instead of profitability the Church uses the term merit, a word which appears in the Mass from time to time. Strictly speaking, merit is the promised reward due for the performance of some good action. Merit achieves a salvific quality when it is inspired by, accompanied by, and completed with God’s grace.

On this second point, merit, let’s be clear: God owes us nothing and we can do nothing on our own to make ourselves pleasing to him. God loves us because he is good, not because we are! How great is God! He…loves…us! So it’s humbling to consider how easily sin can rupture our relationship with God. In pouring out His perfect and faithful love God gives us the Sacrament of Baptism to erase the stain of Original Sin and to infuse the grace of his friendship into our souls. Frequent confession enlivens and strengthens that baptismal grace, that friendship, (and if one is in a condition of mortal sin, friendship is restored). This covenant of friendship (which began at our baptism) can be compared to a corporate contract, where we can merit a bonus for our successes (virtues) and a penalty for our failures (vices), “where more is given, more is expected” (Luke 12:48). Transformation in grace makes us pleasing to God and it is why Our Lord instituted the Seven Sacraments—the tangible means by which our transformation in holiness, in friendship, takes place.

The Sacraments of the Church radically change our relationship with God. Through Baptism we become beloved sons and daughters of the Father; and by all the Sacraments we remain with, are strengthened by, and grow in His friendship as we do the good and avoid mortal sin. Now here’s where things get good: when we enjoy the divine friendship we cultivate the capacity to merit an eternal reward from God; that is, by his grace and friendship, our actions participate in and move us toward true joy in this life and Heaven in the next! The love and mercy which God has and continues to give us empowers us to act meritoriously in everything we do – evils and sufferings we endure as well as both the little, hidden acts of love and those big loving moments redound into eternity! To return to our business analogy for a moment: to be spiritually profitable means to “store up treasure in heaven” (Matthew 6:20), that is, to merit eternal reward by doing good deeds in faith and out of love for the goodness God has shown us.

Since we are at the end of the first quarter I invite you to take an account of yourself. Make an examination of conscience daily and most especially participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where the Lord waits to deepen our friendship with him. If you remember, at the beginning of the year I invited everyone to take a particular saint as a special friend, to get know him or her better throughout the year. If you’ve accepted this invitation how has the friendship progressed? How is your commitment to your Lenten disciplines and penances? If you’ve grown wearisome turn to God for strength and ask for the intercession of Our Lady, your guardian angel, or your saintly friends for help. Just as there is no retirement without hard work, there is no Easter Sunday without Good Friday.

May the accounting of your performance (holiness) and profitability (merit) show that you are on a trajectory for the Father’s House. Do not be discouraged. Remember what Saint Augustine teaches us, when God crowns our merits, he crowns his own gifts. Let us continue to see, not that we are rich, but that we are poor and the beneficiaries of God’s infinite mercy and grace. Let us continue to participate in and to receive the abundant gifts that the Father desires to bestow on us, his children.

*A version of this first appeared in the parish bulletins of St Mary, St Andrew, St Theresa in Billerica, Massachusetts.

Poor Clares and Our Weakness

This morning I celebrated Mass at the Poor Clare Monastery in Andover, Massachusetts. The crucifix in their chapel portrays Christ in agony a few moments before death looking up to the Father (view it here, bottom right). Because of its prominence in the chapel, the sisters look at this image many times a day. Beneath the crucifix is a tabernacle and monstrance. Everyday the sisters spend several hours here. I wonder how their hearts are moved by their frequent beholding of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. As cloistered sisters their “work” is unseen by the world. The value of their contemplation outweighs anything that we can make with our hands or accomplish by our efforts. How many souls have been converted on account of their prayers?

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In today’s first reading we heard the rhetorical question, “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah?” (Hosea 6:4a). We could rightly add our own names to the list because we, too, are convicted by what follows, “Your loyalty is like morning mist, like the dew that disappears early” (Hosea 6:4b). We do not know how to pray as we ought and we are unable to persist in our piety for long. Our weakness should not lead to despair, but to hope. It is true that God strikes down sinners and kills them with the word of his mouth (cf. Hosea 6:5). If we rightly account our weakness, however, we become strong because God promises to heal us, bind our wounds, and raise us up (cf. Hosea 6:1-2).

Our Lord told a parable of two men praying in the temple area, the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18: 9-14). The Pharisee thought himself righteous, though what he thought mattered little because one cannot make himself righteous as righteousness is bestowed by God. The tax collector knew himself to be a sinner, but he left righteous because he was humble and turned to God for mercy. We should never adopt the complacent, self-satisfied attitude of the Pharisee if we want to go to Heaven. The more we know we need mercy, the more we can beg Our Lord for it. True strength comes not from physical might, but from loving with God’s own love.

May we always pray with the tax collector, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”