Friday, April 6, 2012

GOOD FRIDAY - THE PASSION AND DEATH OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR


Isaiah 53

1 Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?

2 And he shall grow up as a tender plant before him, and as a root out of a thirsty ground: there is no beauty in him, nor comeliness: and we have seen him, and there was no sightliness, that we should be desirous of him:

3 Despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity: and his look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted.

5 But he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his bruises we are healed.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray, every one hath turned aside into his own way: and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was offered because it was his own will, and he opened not his mouth: he shall be led as a sheep to the slaughter, and shall be dumb as a lamb before his shearer, and he shall not open his mouth.

8 He was taken away from distress, and from judgment: who shall declare his generation? because he is cut off out of the land of the living: for the wickedness of my people have I struck him.

9 And he shall give the ungodly for his burial, and the rich for his death: because he hath done no iniquity, neither was there deceit in his mouth.

10 And the Lord was pleased to bruise him in infirmity: if he shall lay down his life for sin, he shall see a long-lived seed, and the will of the Lord shall be prosperous in his hand.

11 Because his soul hath laboured, he shall see and be filled: by his knowledge shall this my just servant justify many, and he shall bear their iniquities.

12 Therefore will I distribute to him very many, and he shall divide the spoils of the strong, because he hath delivered his soul unto death, and was reputed with the wicked: and he hath borne the sins of many, and hath prayed for the transgressors.
Today, Good Friday, is the most solemn day of the year for Christians.  Today we commemorate the crucifixion and death of our Lord and Creator, Jesus Christ, who came to this earth, taking on the form of a man, and spilling His Precious Blood to redeem us from the sure damnation that we all face.  The suffering Christ on the Cross is the picture of what love is all about - giving your life for others. 

I have posted a video below which takes scenes from Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ.  As graphic and gruesome as this video may be, it still does not show the full extent of the suffering of our Lord.  Please watch this video in prayerful meditation, and then get down on your knees and gave thanks to our most beloved Lord Jesus for his great and awesome sacrifice, offering his Life on the Cross to pay for our sins. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI's Palm Sunday Sermon: Jesus Christ Is the Conquerer of Death

Christ Reigning from
the Throne of the Cross
What does it mean to truly follow Christ?   Pope Benedict XVI gives great insight into this question in his sermon given on Palm Sunday.  He starts out by telling us that Christ our King is going to Jerusalem to fulfill Scripture and to be nailed to the Cross, which the Holy Father calls "the throne from which he will reign for ever, drawing to himself humanity of every age and offering to all the gift of redemption."  This is in direct contrast to what the world views as a king.  We see Christ nailed to the Cross, unable to even move, and yet the Holy Father tells us He is accomplishing the greatest work in the universe.  By His suffering, he is redeeming mankind from eternal damnation.  The Holy Father calls Christ "the conquerer of death." 

This goes against the "feel good" message that so many preach about Christ, that he came to relieve the physical suffering of humanity.  Certainly that is part of the Gospel message, but ultimately, Christ's greatest concern is not to free us from physical suffering, but from sin and eternal death.  And the only path to that redemption is through the Cross, which is Christ's throne.  Christ calls to us from the Cross, His Throne.  We must go to the Cross with Him.

As always, there is tremendous depth and meaning to the Pope's sermon.  It is worth reading and re-reading to gain all the many insights which it contains.  I have highlighted a few things that stand out to me.  I am sure there is much I have missed. 

Full Text: Pope's Homily on Palm Sunday
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Palm Sunday is the great doorway leading into Holy Week, the week when the Lord Jesus makes his way towards the culmination of his earthly existence. He goes up to Jerusalem in order to fulfil the Scriptures and to be nailed to the wood of the Cross, the throne from which he will reign for ever, drawing to himself humanity of every age and offering to all the gift of redemption. We know from the Gospels that Jesus had set out towards Jerusalem in company with the Twelve, and that little by little a growing crowd of pilgrims had joined them. Saint Mark tells us that as they were leaving Jericho, there was a “great multitude” following Jesus (cf. 10:46).

On the final stage of the journey, a particular event stands out, one which heightens the sense of expectation of what is about to unfold and focuses attention even more sharply upon Jesus. Along the way, as they were leaving Jericho, a blind man was sitting begging, Bartimaeus by name. As soon as he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing, he began to cry out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mk 10:47). People tried to silence him, but to no avail; until Jesus had them call him over and invited him to approach. “What do you want me to do for you?”, he asked. And the reply: “Master, let me receive my sight” (v. 51). Jesus said: “Go your way, your faith has made you well.” Bartimaeus regained his sight and began to follow Jesus along the way (cf. v. 52). And so it was that, after this miraculous sign, accompanied by the cry “Son of David”, a tremor of Messianic hope spread through the crowd, causing many of them to ask: this Jesus, going ahead of us towards Jerusalem, could he be the Messiah, the new David? And as he was about to enter the Holy City, had the moment come when God would finally restore the Davidic kingdom?

The preparations made by Jesus, with the help of his disciples, serve to increase this hope. As we heard in today’s Gospel (cf. Mk 11:1-10), Jesus arrives in Jerusalem from Bethphage and the Mount of Olives, that is, the route by which the Messiah was supposed to come. From there, he sent two disciples ahead of him, telling them to bring him a young donkey that they would find along the way. They did indeed find the donkey, they untied it and brought it to Jesus. At this point, the spirits of the disciples and of the other pilgrims were swept up with excitement: they took their coats and placed them on the colt; others spread them out on the street in Jesus’ path as he approached, riding on the donkey. Then they cut branches from the trees and began to shout phrases from Psalm 118, ancient pilgrim blessings, which in that setting took on the character of messianic proclamation: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!” (v. 9-10). This festive acclamation, reported by all four evangelists, is a cry of blessing, a hymn of exultation: it expresses the unanimous conviction that, in Jesus, God has visited his people and the longed-for Messiah has finally come. And everyone is there, growing in expectation of the work that Christ will accomplish once he has entered the city.

But what is the content, the inner resonance of this cry of jubilation? The answer is found throughout the Scripture, which reminds us that the Messiah fulfils the promise of God’s blessing, God’s original promise to Abraham, father of all believers: “I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you ... and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves” (Gen 12:2-3). It is the promise that Israel had always kept alive in prayer, especially the prayer of the Psalms. Hence he whom the crowd acclaims as the blessed one is also he in whom the whole of humanity will be blessed. Thus, in the light of Christ, humanity sees itself profoundly united and, as it were, enfolded within the cloak of divine blessing, a blessing that permeates, sustains, redeems and sanctifies all things[Without Christ, humanity has no hope.]

Here we find the first great message that today’s feast brings us: the invitation to adopt a proper outlook upon all humanity, on the peoples who make up the world, on its different cultures and civilizations. The look that the believer receives from Christ is a look of blessing: a wise and loving look, capable of grasping the world’s beauty and having compassion on its fragility. Shining through this look is God’s own look upon those he loves and upon Creation, the work of his hands. We read in the Book of Wisdom: “But thou art merciful to all, for thou canst do all things, and thou dost overlook men’s sins, that they may repent. For thou lovest all things that exist and hast loathing for none of the things which thou hast made ... thou sparest all things, for they are thine, O Lord who lovest the living” (11:23-24, 26).

Let us return to today’s Gospel passage and ask ourselves: what is really happening in the hearts of those who acclaim Christ as King of Israel? Clearly, they had their own idea of the Messiah, an idea of how the long-awaited King promised by the prophets should act. Not by chance, a few days later, instead of acclaiming Jesus, the Jerusalem crowd will cry out to Pilate: “Crucify him!”, while the disciples, together with others who had seen him and listened to him, will be struck dumb and will disperse. The majority, in fact, was disappointed by the way Jesus chose to present himself as Messiah and King of Israel. This is the heart of today’s feast, for us too. Who is Jesus of Nazareth for us? What idea do we have of the Messiah, what idea do we have of God? It is a crucial question, one we cannot avoid, not least because during this very week we are called to follow our King who chooses the Cross as his throne. We are called to follow a Messiah who promises us, not a facile earthly happiness, but the happiness of heaven, divine beatitude. So we must ask ourselves: what are our true expectations? What are our deepest desires, with which we have come here today to celebrate Palm Sunday and to begin our celebration of Holy Week?  [Here the Holy Father is speaking to those who feel that Christ's Gospel message is one of social justice, of enriching the earthly, material lives of humanity.  But as the Holy Father says, "we are called to follow our King who chooses the Cross as his throne."  Our Lord did not choose physical comfort but suffering, and if we are to follow Him, we must choose this same Cross.] 
Dear young people, present here today, this, in a particular way, is your Day, wherever the Church is present throughout the world. So I greet you with great affection! May Palm Sunday be a day of decision for you, the decision to say yes to the Lord and to follow him all the way, the decision to make his Passover, his death and resurrection, the very focus of your Christian lives. [The Holy Father is urging the young people to choose not the way of materialism, which leads to death, but the Way of the Cross, which leads to life.  To do this, we must make Christ, not the things of this world, the center of our lives.]  It is the decision that leads to true joy, as I reminded you in this year’s World Youth Day Message – “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4). So it was for Saint Clare of Assisi when, on Palm Sunday 800 years ago, inspired by the example of Saint Francis and his first companions, she left her father’s house to consecrate herself totally to the Lord. She was eighteen years old and she had the courage of faith and love to decide for Christ, finding in him true joy and peace.

Dear brothers and sisters, may these days call forth two sentiments in particular: praise, after the example of those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with their “Hosanna!”, and thanksgiving, because in this Holy Week the Lord Jesus will renew the greatest gift we could possibly imagine: he will give us his life, his body and his blood, his love. But we must respond worthily to so great a gift, that is to say, with the gift of ourselves, our time, our prayer, our entering into a profound communion of love with Christ who suffered, died and rose for us. The early Church Fathers saw a symbol of all this in the gesture of the people who followed Jesus on his entry into Jerusalem, the gesture of spreading out their coats before the Lord. Before Christ – the Fathers said – we must spread out our lives, ourselves, in an attitude of gratitude and adoration. As we conclude, let us listen once again to the words of one of these early Fathers, Saint Andrew, Bishop of Crete: “So it is ourselves that we must spread under Christ’s feet, not coats or lifeless branches or shoots of trees, matter which wastes away and delights the eye only for a few brief hours. But we have clothed ourselves with Christ’s grace, or with the whole Christ ... so let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet ... let us offer not palm branches but the prizes of victory to the conqueror of death. Today let us too give voice with the children to that sacred chant, as we wave the spiritual branches of our soul: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel’” (PG 97, 994). Amen!
We must forsake this world and all of its ways and cling to the Cross of our Lord, to His Throne, if we are to be saved.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Our Enemies Give Us The Victory

Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week in which we commemorate the Passion of Jesus Christ when he suffered and died to redeem us from sin.  This is the holiest week of the year in the Liturgical Calendar.  Palm Sunday is that day in which Our Lord entered Jerusalem on a donkey in fulfillment of the scripture from Zachariah 9:9:  "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion, shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem: Behold thy king will come to thee, the just and saviour: he is poor, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass."  Jesus was greeted with great rejoicing by those who had just seen him raise Lazarus from the dead.  But in only a few short days, many of these same people would be shouting for his death.  But if these people had not been calling for the death of our Lord, it is possible that we would not have a Saviour.  Read on for an explanation.

The Romans force Simon of Cyrene
to assist Jesus in carrying the Cross
In meditating upon the Stations of the Cross, I have always found the 5th Station, in which the Romans force Simon of Cyrene to assist Jesus in carrying the cross, to be very ironic.  The Romans did not force Simon of Cyrene to assist Jesus out of any compassion for our Suffering Lord.  It was to keep Jesus alive long enough to get Him to Calvary where they could nail Him to a Cross and crucify Him.  Yet, it was the Romans and Jews, the ones who wanted Jesus dead and out of the way, who were the people who enabled Jesus to successfully fulfill his mission of dying on the Cross and redeeming mankind.  The Apostle Peter, who professed great love and devotion to our Lord, actually tried to stop Jesus from dying, and our Lord's response to Peter was to call him Satan.  If Peter had been successful, we would not have a Saviour. 

I always took this lesson of the assistance of Simon of Cyrene to mean that often those who declare themselves our avowed enemies and seek only our destruction can sometimes be the very ones who will give us the help we need to succeed in gaining eternal life.  Those who love us the most are sometimes the ones who are more harmful to us in the long run.

In the traditional breviary today, there is a sermon from St. Leo the Pope in which he describes this ironic scenario in which Satan, by stirring up such hatred against Jesus, actually defeated himself.  It was Satan's intense desire to destroy Jesus through the Jews that Jesus was crucified and defeated our arch enemy and redeemed us from his hands.  As St. Leo says in his sermon:
But he was undone by his own malice. For he brought upon the Son of God that death which is become life to all the sons of man. He shed that innocent blood which was to become at once the price of our redemption and the cup of our salvation.
Here is the entire sermon.  Evil can never defeat our Lord, who actually uses evil to defeat itself.


The Lesson is taken from a Sermon by St. Leo the Pope

Dearly beloved, the Solemnity of the Lord's Passion is come ; that day which we have so desired, and which same is so precious to the whole world. Shouts of spiritual triumph are ringing, and suffer not that we should be silent. Even though it be hard to preach often on the same solemnity, and do so meetly and well, a priest is not free to shirk the duty of preaching to the faithful concerning this so great mystery of divine mercy. Nay, that his subject-matter is unspeakable should in itself make him eloquent, since where enough can never be said, there must needs ever be something to say. Let human weakness, then, fall down before the glory of God, and acknowledge itself unequal to the duty of expounding the works of his mercy. Let us toil in thought, let us fail in insight, let us falter in speech ; it is good for us to feel how inadequate is the little we are able to express concerning the majesty of God.

For when the Prophet saith : Seek the Lord and his strength ; seek his face evermore : let no man thence conclude that he will ever find all that he seeketh. For if he cease his seeking, he will likewise cease to draw near. But among all the works of God which weary the stedfast gaze of man's wonder, what is there that doth at once so ravish and so exceed the power of our contemplation as the Passion of the Saviour? He it was who, to loose mankind from the bonds of the death-dealing Fall, spared to bring against the rage of the devil the power of the divine Majesty, and met him with the weakness of our lowly nature. [Christ defeated Satan not with the nature of God, but with His lowly and weak Human Nature, a most cruel defeat for the Evil One.]  For if our cruel and haughty enemy could have known the counsel of God's mercy, it had been his task rather to have softened the hearts of the Jews into meekness, than to have inflamed them with unrighteous hatred. Thus he might not have lost the thraldom of all his slaves, by attacking the liberty of the One that owed him nothing.  [If Satan had not been blinded by his hatred of God and Goodness, he would have realized that allowing Christ to live would have given him victory. Killing Christ gave the victory to our Lord.] 

He shed that innocent blood which was to become at once the price of our redemption and the cup of our salvation. [It was our enemy, who wants all of us dead, who shed the Precious Blood that gives us Life.]  Wherefore the Lord hath received that which according to the purpose of his own good pleasure he hath chosen. And such was his loving-kindness, even for his murderers, that his prayer to his Father from the Cross asked not vengeance for himself but forgiveness for them.
The next time you are on the receiving end of persecution or cruelty and hatred of any sort, remember, this may very well be what will help you to gain eternal life. 

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