Guest Post: The Day I Became Catholic

Today is Easter Sunday, and my first full day of being Catholic. At the Easter Vigil last night, I received the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. Looking back on last night and the previous days, weeks, months and years of my own faith formation, I can recall a wide range of emotions along the way. As my own relationship with God has unfolded, I have felt so much gratitude, both towards God and towards my beloved family, friends, and mentors who have offered me so much guidance and patient support. I felt humility before the outpourings of love from my loved ones and God, and of course I have also felt joy, sorrow, regret, and peace.

One particular emotion that seems to stand out is fear. For those fortunate enough to have been baptized into the church at a young age, it may be difficult to imagine the fear that accompanies joining the Catholic Church as an adult (or just a large child, in my case).

From an objective standpoint, fear is a strange thing to feel. Many people fear death or retribution or aggressive geese. Why would somebody fear life in God, forgiveness of sins, and boundless compassion? Why would somebody fear freedom from sin and worldly desires, the peace of God and knowing that death has been conquered? Like all great writers, allow me to defer to someone else. Specifically, the scriptures.

We find that in the bible, fear is indeed a very real, natural, and common response to an encounter with the divine. When Joshua is commissioned by the Lord to engage in his military campaign to take the land of Canaan, a land with hostile nations with military superiority, he must have been terrified. And yet, we find that God is continually encouraging Joshua, imploring him to “be strong and courageous, [to] not fear and [to] not be dismayed.[1]” When Manoah and his wife, parents of Samson, discover that the man they were speaking with was actually an Angel, they “fell on their faces on the ground.[2]” We find that when Daniel encountered Gabriel, the people around him were so terrified that they ran away, hiding themselves. Daniel “grew deathly pale, and [he] retained no strength.[3]” And truly, when the Angel arrives in Matthew 28 to announce the news, the wondrous, glorious, incredible news of Christ rising, the guards are knocked out cold and his first words to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are “Do not be afraid.[4]”

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Hesitation, Silence, and “Huh.”

Photo by Drew Herron, used with Creative Commons License
Photo by Drew Herron, used with Creative Commons License

You know what’s confusing? When you might have a vocation to religious life and you’re the only one who’s excited about it.

Over the past year, I’ve told a lot of people that I’m considering religious life. Their response is, at best, measured.

They choose words carefully and hesitantly. “Wow, you’re doing a lot of thinking.” “Huh.” Maybe a follow-up question. Sometimes just silence.

There are plenty of good reasons for some restraint. People close to me don’t want to unduly influence my decision. People unfamiliar with religious life are unsure where to direct the conversation. Acquaintances feel it’s not their place to give feedback on such a deeply personal matter. I get it.

But the aggregate result is unnerving. When no one encourages you about a vocation, and then people hesitate to respond when you do say something, you start to think you’re a little crazy.

I’ve wondered if I’m a terrible fit for religious life and everyone sees it but me, or if everyone else knows that women’s religious life is dead and I’m just too naïve to realize it.

It’s like I’m dating someone and everyone thinks I could do better but is too polite to say so, discretion thinly covering their internal disapproval.

I didn’t realize how deeply this all had affected me until last November when I met up with Father Tim, who has known me since he was a young parish priest twenty years ago. Father Tim is a raging extrovert, a charismatic guy whose ideas, thoughts, and emotions bubble out with unrelenting enthusiasm, and he was in full force that day.

“You should do religious life!” he said excitedly. “Not because it’s better than everything else, but because I think it would make you really happy.” I almost cried with relief. No one had ever said that to me before, and I’d started to think it wasn’t true.

Since then, his unbridled and continuing delight at the idea of my going into religious life has given me the freedom to consider it as a legitimate, and legitimately cool, option.

Granted, this says something about my own discernment; if I were leaning strongly toward marriage, I might find Father Tim’s clear preference pushy or intimidating.

Something like that happened to a friend of mine. His family and parish priest pushed him toward priesthood from a young age and never let it go, even after he clearly said he wasn’t interested. Being saddled with the expectation of priesthood created a deep resentment toward the idea that remains firmly in place 20 years later.

So I don’t know what the “right” response is, exactly. I do know that I have appreciated when people have kept the conversation going, particularly when they have shared their own stories of discernment, stories which I increasingly crave.

And I hope that people won’t be afraid to say this simple sentence (judiciously and only if accurate), to me and other discerners:

“Religious life is a great option, and I think you’d be fantastic at it.”

The Most Jarring of All Facts: Resurrexit Sicut Dixit

1025- Anastasis Loukas, Phocis

 And he saw and believed.

People of God: see and believe!

We have seen the betrayal of Holy Thursday, known the despair of Good Friday, and felt the loneliness of the quiet tomb on Holy Saturday. During this past week, we remember the betrayal, despair and then eerie quiet that surrounded Marathon Monday in this city just a year ago.

But now, on this Easter Sunday, in this very place, we may see and believe that tomb is empty – empty not because someone has moved the body – but rather empty because the Lord is risen!

Easter Sunday doesn’t wipe away the death of Jesus: it doesn’t wipe away the pain and suffering that we have felt in our own lives either – it doesn’t bring back lives lost – but it does show us all that even in the darkest shadows of death, the light of Christ summons us back to a world that isn’t perfect, but still filled with the loving embrace of God’s love. This love is found in the care of our family, friends, neighbors, and please God, our Church too.

Easter – the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God – transforms Jesus’ existence. He lives, no more to die. And so too it is with us: Easter doesn’t guarantee us happiness; but it does promise us salvation.

The Good News of Easter is that the promise of salvation isn’t pushed off into some distant time: no, our salvation is the experience of God among us right now. It’s in the form of the Eucharist that we will share in just a few minutes; it’s in the form of forgiveness, compassion, and mercy. It’s in the form of each other – you and me – when we take others down off their crosses so that they can rise again.

The Easter event is not something that just happened once, as if it were simply dot on the map history. The reason we celebrate Easter is not because of one event in history: we gather here to celebrate Easter because the Spirit of the Risen Christ lives in each one of us in our hearts, minds, and our actions too. This Spirit resides in each one of us because someone, at some point in our lives, loved us enough to bring us to be baptized, so that we might become part of the Body of Christ.

As the sun rises this morning, we recall that there are days in our lives that are filled with the light of life, and yet, at the same time, there are days filled with darkness. Our lives are lived between light and darkness: sometimes it is our own fault, sometimes we’re innocent by-standers, and still other times we don’t even know what has happened – we’re just left to pick up the pieces of our lives.

But – Easter stands out as God’s great yes to all of us – to all humanity. The sun fades each day, but the light of Christ does not: the light of the Son – the Son of God – shines on each of us precisely because Jesus, God’s Son, has risen from the dead.

Today, by coming here, we have taken the same journey of Mary Magdalene: hoping against hope that the events of Good Friday could be reversed. We have taken the same journey as Peter, running toward the tomb, not daring to hope that God could be as good as to raise Jesus from the dead.

Brothers and sisters: the question asked of us today now that we are here in the same place as Mary and Peter is what are we to do? What are the things that we’ve buried in the tombs: is it shame, anger, grudges, lack of mercy, or refusing compassion? What are those things that we have sitting in the tombs of our lives, perhaps out of sight, but not out of mind, thinking that they aren’t weighing us down? We all have them: maybe we cannot bring ourselves to say I’m sorry; or perhaps we cannot say, “I forgive you.” Maybe we’ve let our relationship with a friend, a sibling or a spouse go cold – perhaps even we’ve lost touch with God.

Whatever these tombs are located – the forgotten slights or the old wounds — today we remember that Mary and Simon Peter and all of us too – still go running to the tomb to find the most jarring of all facts: the tomb is empty, death has been defeated, the Lord lives no more to die: Christ is risen, Alleluia!

 

 

 

 

Patristic Voices: Hieratikon – The Easter Homily of St. John Chrysostom

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By: Thomas Palanza, Jr.

Have you ever thought that God wasn’t all that fair?  You probably have, but if not then you probably should.  The psalms certainly do (see psalm 10).  Fair is not, however, an appropriate word to ascribe to God.  Fair means “agreeing to what is thought to be right or acceptable” (Merriam-Webster).  Since God – in his very being/essence/nature – is goodness, beauty, and truth then he does not agree to what is thought to be right, he simply is what is right.  So when we find a situation where God doesn’t seem to be fair, perhaps we should ask ourselves if this is simply because we don’t see what is really right.

This “unfairness” of God takes two obvious forms: we either think he is being too generous or too harsh; sometimes both at the same time (see Mark 4:25).  Easter is one of those moments of unfairness.   We might not think this at first, but let’s take a look at St. John Chrysostom’s Easter homily and see if we can begin to see Easter as a time of “unfairness.”

1

If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let them enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.

If anyone is a grateful servant, let them, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord.

If anyone has wearied themselves in fasting, let them now receive recompense.

2

If anyone has labored from the first hour, let them today receive the just reward.

If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let them feast.

If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let them have no misgivings; for they shall suffer no loss.

If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let them draw near without hesitation.

If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let them not fear on account of tardiness.

3

For the Master is gracious and receives the last even as the first;

He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first.

He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first;

To the one He gives, and to the other He is gracious.

He both honors the work and praises the intention.

4

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward.

O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy!

O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day!

You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today!

The table is rich-laden: feast royally, all of you!

The calf is fatted: let no one go forth hungry!

5

Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.

Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.

6

He that was taken by death has annihilated it!

He descended into Hades and took Hades captive!

He embittered it when it tasted His flesh!

And anticipating this, Isaiah exclaimed:

“Hades was embittered when it encountered Thee in the lower regions.”

7

It was embittered, for it was abolished!

It was embittered, for it was mocked!

It was embittered, for it was purged!

It was embittered, for it was despoiled!

It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!

8

It took a body and came upon God!

It took earth and encountered Heaven!

It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not seen!

9

O death, where is thy sting?

O Hades, where is thy victory?

10

Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!

Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!

Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!

Christ is risen, and life reigns!

Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!

For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that have slept.

11

To Him be glory and might unto the ages of ages.

Amen.

Indeed, John portrays a very “unfair” God.  A god who is much, much, much too generous for our human palates.  John Chrysostom was not an easy going person.  He was continually at odds with the wealthy and powerful and was exiled twice mainly due to his uncompromising uprightness.  Yet here, we see him inviting to the great Easter Vigil not just those who have done well observing the practices of the Church, those who have given alms, who have fasted, and who have been steeped in constant prayer.  No, here we see John inviting – even more emphatically – begging people to come to the Easter Vigil to celebrate.  We can see this most clearly in paragraphs 3 and 4.  John alludes to the parables of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24), and the Workers in the Vinyard (Matthew 20:1-16), all of which portray a God who is unfair – unfair because he is far too generous!

What does this mean for us?  First, we must ask ourselves, what kind of Christian am I?  Am I the kind that believes they are worthy of going to Church and celebrating the Great Feast?  Am I the kind that sees all of the “Easter Lilly Christians” and judges them as less worthy than myself to participate at the Lord’s Table?  If we identify with this kind of Christian, then John’s message to us is clear – “The Master is gracious and receives the last EVEN AS the first!”  Or am I the kind of Christian that does not think they should be at Church this Easter?  Am I the kind of Christian who is afraid of the judgment of other Christians?  Am I the kind of Christian that is longing to meet God, but afraid to do so at the same time?  If we identify with this kind of Christian, then John’s message is equally clear – “Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward!

To all kinds of Christians, John is telling us to joy in the glory, the goodness, the grace of God!  What matters is that you come to the feast ready to be joyful – for the only thing that can ruin the feast is if you do not participate in it joyfully!  Everything else that you are, that you have done, none of that matters on this night.  One thing alone matters, that you answer the Master’s call joyfully, honestly, lovingly.  If you come to the Easter celebration in love with God then you come to the Easter celebration doing all that God asks you to do.

On Light Shows and the Light of Christ: A Reflection for the Easter Vigil

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I think most people would agree that Disney World has nothing significant to contribute to the spiritual life, and if it does, that something is certainly not in any proportion to the astounding cost one pays to walk its suspiciously happy streets.  Having visited there recently with some dear friends, however, I am less inclined to poopoo the spiritual possibility nestled therein.

As far as my people-watching skills could tell, there were really two sorts of people present during my visit.  The first was far more common:  they were the folks that–well aware of  how much they paid for their families–were at Disney World to be entertained.  They paid for a product and demanded a very damn good one in return.  I do not blame these people in the slightest, and suspect very many of them go home frustrated.

The second sort of person seeks less entertainment than they do an imaginative experience for themselves and their families.  They go to Disney (paying just as much money, I should add) seeking entry into a world that is otherwise – one where perhaps magic, princes, princess, and evil sorcerers may exist.  Especially during the Magic Kingdom’s nightly light show, this sort of person, the one who desires to be elsewhere, can actually achieve their goal of feeling like they are in a different world.   In a mind-blowing use of high-tech projection, Disney’s master artists bring Cinderella’s Castle to life, making it seem like its bricks were falling from the sky, changing colors, and being rebuilt to the heavens.  It was not only stunning, but also almost made a believer out of me.  Their use of light was playing on deeper, more magical sensibilities deep within me.

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Called to Follow St. Veronica: Wiping the Face of the Outcast

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On Good Friday, we remember how much Jesus suffered in order for us to have life. We are also reminded that we are called to take up our own crosses out of love for God and for one another. As Jesus carries his cross, it’s difficult to comprehend the depth of his loneliness, as his friends and disciples left him and he was surrounded by a crowd of people relishing in his pain. Even in the midst of such intense suffering, however, there are glimpses of hope.

One such glimpse comes when St. Veronica wipes Jesus’ face. It seems like a small act, but it took immense bravery. As the crowd looked on, Veronica pushes through all of the people and shows her support for one who has been labeled an enemy by compassionately wiping his face of the blood and sweat that poured down his face. I can’t imagine that wiping Jesus’ face took away the weight of the cross or lessened the pain of the thorns pressing into his head, but this little act of kindness must have done something to heal the ache of loneliness at a time when all of Jesus’ friends had abandoned him, and he became a true outcast. While the pain of the cross bearing down on his shoulders and the thorns piercing his head must have been intense, the knowledge that his friends had fled and he was surrounded by people who were celebrating his suffering must have been even more unbearable.

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The Sweet Words: But the Sweetest Deed – A Good Friday Reflection

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“You are not one of his disciples, are you?”

“What is truth?”

“We have no king but Caesar!”

In these three phrases – two questions and an exclamation – the entire drama of Good Friday unfolds.

The disciples run.

The religious leaders betray one of their own.

The state collapses under pressure.

And then Jesus is on the cross. Jesus, the Christ, the alleged fulfillment of all God’s promises – is hung on the cross.

Yet, we call this day “good.” We call it Good Friday.

We don’t call it good because Jesus’ disciples, the religious leaders, and the state all showed themselves to be powerless to stand up against their dark sides.

We don’t call it good because Jesus was hung on the cross and mocked. We don’t call it good because an innocent man was put to death.

Rather, we call this day good because it is on this day because two extraordinary things happened:

(1) Jesus, on the cross, reached out – stretching his arms out as far as they could go, moving beyond the nails in his hands to pull the entire story of what God is up to in the world to a stunning climax: his arms reached out to the ends of the earth, pulling in the just and unjust, the wicked and the kind, the jealous and the content, the sinners and saints.

This posture, this motion, describes what God does when seeing the world in its broken and battered state; it depicts how God reacts to the suffering in our community and to the suffering in our lives. Arms wide open, suffering with us.

(2) Perhaps equally extraordinary to the wide-open arms of the Crucified Christ is what happens after Jesus dies. Pierced by a lance, blood and water flow from his side.

And this, my brothers and sisters: is the greatest gift we can receive – the water and the blood.

The water of baptism – wherein we are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection.

And the Blood – the Blood of Christ – his very life force, which we receive time and time again in the Eucharist.

In baptism, we are not only baptized into the death of Christ – but the newness of life that he shares with each one of us.

And then, in the Eucharist, we are constantly reminded and strengthened through this pouring out of the very essence of God into our hearts and souls so that we may more clearly witness to the same love that Christ showed each of us on the cross.

Saint Augustine once wrote: “Love is a sweet word, but a sweeter deed.”

Today is Good Friday – the words of disciples, leaders, and the state failed: but the deed of love prevailed.

It is a good day.

Meditating Good Friday

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Christ Crucified with the Virgin, Saint John, and Mary Magdalene
by Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641)

GOOD FRIDAY is a peculiar day. Not only do we call one of the most solemn days in our liturgical calendar “Good” (a fact whose origin still eludes scholars), but the actual celebration on this holy day differs from the familiar weekday Mass at our local parishes. The liturgy of this day, like Holy Saturday, does not allow for the celebration of a Mass. Instead, we are led through several readings, an adoration of the Cross, and a Holy Communion. The whole ceremony, the whole day even, is shrouded in the gravity of the Passion.

So how do we commemorate this day? Well, the liturgy offers us a beautiful way to experience this somber day. Indeed, blessed are we that our liturgical calendar offers us a whole day devoted to reflection on and commemoration of the Cross of Calvary. The readings and rituals on this day allow us to enter into the solemnity of the day.

Ignatius of Loyola, in his Spiritual Exercises, a four week long retreat, invites his retreatants to recall our Lord’s Passion during the entire third week. In introducing the week, he encourages us to “ask for what I desire” and advises that “[h]ere it will be to ask for heartfelt sorrow and confusion, because the Lord is going to his Passion for my sins.” He further advises, “Consider what Christ our Lord suffers in his human nature, or desires to suffer… begin here with much effort to bring oneself to grief, sorrow, and tears… Consider how his divinity hides itself; that is, how he could destroy his enemies but does not, and how he allows his most holy humanity to suffer so cruelly” (See §§193, 195, 196).

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Guest Post: Worth My Time – Reflections on Holy Thursday

Block print with hand coloring 1991 19.5 x 10.5

By: Brother Will Tarazza, OFM Cap.

Call me crazy, but I love when the Mass of the Lord’s Supper goes for 2 to 3 hours. Yes, I enjoy the high liturgy. Yes, the choirs and the musical accompaniment captivate me. However, these are not the reasons why I would want this liturgy to go that long. When I was visiting Rome a few years ago while studying abroad in Spain, I went to the Church of Santa Susanna for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. This is a Paulist parish that is designated for English speaking Catholics in Rome. I hadn’t been to an English Mass in months, so I thought it would be a good time to participate fully in my native language. As we got to the washing of the feet, only one chair was brought forth in front of the altar. At first, I was confused. I thought, why would he only wash one person’s foot? As the priest divested his chasuble, the lector explained to the audience that all were invited to approach the center aisle to have their feet washed. Sigh. This is going to take forever, I thought. Only a few people stood immediately to get their feet washed, mostly kids. I did not plan to go.

Since there was some time, I started to reflect on my own discernment to be called to the ordained priesthood. I watched as the priest bent over to kiss each foot that passed through the washbowl. He probably didn’t know many of the people who’s feet he was kissing. He didn’t know the roads those feet had walked or the pains they have endured; yet, he washed and kissed each foot. This was a real witness to the love of Christ who laid down his life for us. It didn’t matter where the apostles had been or what they had done; yet Jesus loved them and washed their feet. They were given a task to love and serve unconditionally likewise. If this service is an unconditional task, I thought, why should foot washing be limited to a select few to save time? Shouldn’t we all recognize our need to be served no matter where we have been so that we too can serve? This really got me thinking about how I would want to live a life as an ordained minister. The ordained priest’s vocation is to lay down his life to be a representative of Christ. It is a life of service to anyone who comes to have his or her feet washed! But sometimes, we have to give the people the time to recognize their need to have their feet washed. Can we give them this time? The Church of Santa Susanna did! So a half hour into the washing of the feet, I got up and had the priest wash and kiss my feet as a response to my desire to serve Christ as an ordained priest. God allowed me to understand that if I am going to serve, I have to know how to be served by Christ himself.

It was only later that the people who jumped up immediately to have their feet washed moved me. In a sense, they were saying, “this life is tough, and I need someone to wash my feet to relieve some of my pain.” I’m not sure if any parish does this in the United States. All I know is that this affirmed the kind of priest I aspire to be. I don’t want to be selective in my love for God’s people. I want to wash the feet of anyone who sits in the chair. This may take a lot of time; however, if it brings people to Christ, isn’t it worth it? May you have a blessed Triduum.

Brother Will Tarraza, OFM Cap is a member of the Province of St. Mary of the Capuchin Order. A native Mainer, Br. Will met the Capuchins at the Catholic University of America. He enjoys liturgical theology and watching the New England Patriots. He currently resides at the province’s formation house in Jamaica Plain, MA as he studies at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.

Holy (Week) Thoughts: Walking with the Lord

Holy Week for Barb

I went for a long walk yesterday around the campus of Boston College, and I could not go anywhere without seeing all the visiting high school students on their college visits. It is, after all, Holy Week, which means for most: April Break!! And yet I couldn’t help thinking that these young students were walking a path not unlike that of Jesus. They too are looking into the unknown that awaits them in college. They can see the end result, much as Jesus did, but the journey in between will be wrought with challenges, joys, insecurities, triumphs, and failures.

I am especially attuned to their angst as I am currently working with students on the graduate level who are trying to decide between BC and other schools for their theological and ministerial studies. At the end of the day, discernment always comes down to trust. Can a student trust that they will get the education they need? Does a student trust that they will get the communal and spiritual support they need to succeed? Will the student trust that a school is the best fit for them? Only trust will get them to take the leap of faith and dive in.

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Catholics thinking "how"!

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