27 March 2010

The Path of Purification

My blog is just a few days old, but given the attention in recent days to the sins of priests and bishops, it seems worth recalling my very first post, entitled "The Church is Always in Need of Being Reformed". In part, I wrote:

"Why is the Church always in need of being reformed? Because I am always in need of being reformed.

"Yes, the Church is holy because she is the spotless Bride of Christ, vivified and sanctified by God the Holy Spirit. But she is also an assembly of human persons, each of whom is a sinner in need of redemption, and for this reason, the Second Vatican Council likened the Church to the Incarnate Word, who is a single Person with two natures: one divine and one human. Because the Church is 'at once holy and always in need of purification, (she) follows constantly the path of penance and renewal.' (Lumen Gentium 8)"

This path of penance and renewal is the Way of the Cross, and we are called by the Lord Jesus to follow Him in that Way each day of our lives. But during Holy Week, our need for constant conversion is brought home to us with great force by the sacred liturgy, the source and summit of the Church's life. To help the people of my parish enter fully into the sacred mysteries we celebrate during these days of Holy Week, I wrote to the people of my parish:

We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for He is our salvation, our life and our resurrection; through Him we are saved and made free.

These are the words of the Entrance Antiphon for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper which we will celebrate this week on Holy Thursday, and by these words, taken from Chapter Six of St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, we are reminded of several essential truths of the Christian faith:

✠ only by Jesus Christ are we made free
✠ only by Jesus Christ are we saved from sin and death
✠ only by our share in the Cross of Christ do we find our salvation, our life, and our resurrection

Because our lives are so full of noise and distraction, so full of anxieties and disappointments, so full of struggle and grief, we risk losing sight of these saving truths and the evangelical freedom that they can bring to our hearts. The strain we have all experienced in this Great Recession, the normal struggles of family life, the challenges of raising children and remaining faithful to the promises of our Baptism -- all of these things can impede us from hearing and heeding St. Paul’s exhortation:

We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ! But how do we do that? How do we glory in the Cross of Christ?

The first and most important way is that we take up our own crosses each day and follow Christ in the obedience of faith. Living in fidelity to the promises of marriage, ordination, or religious profession, living as faithful witnesses to the Gospel, living by grace the life of the new creation -- these are the practical ways we glory in the Cross of Christ. And given the complexity of these tasks, a quick reference guide to Christian faith and life would be most useful and is included with this letter. On the back of the Holy Week Schedule, you’ll find the Ten Commandments, the Precepts of the Church, and the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, along with a brief Act of Contrition for the times when we do not live according to these precepts. Please read and ponder these simple measures of the authenticity of our lives, and where needed, resolve to take your failures to the Lord in the Sacrament of Penance and to begin again the daily work of following Christ in the Way of the Cross.

The schedule for each day of Holy Week is included, and each of us is called by Christ to accompany Him to His Passover:

✠ On Palm Sunday we go with Jesus to Jerusalem where He will arrive at the Hour for which He came into the world.

✠ On Holy Thursday we gather with Jesus in the Upper Room to receive the New Commandment of love and the inestimable gifts of the Priesthood and the Eucharist.

✠ On Good Friday we stand with Jesus in the Praetorium and walk with Him to Calvary, even as we acknowledge that we also stand in the howling mob that shouts: Crucify him!

✠ On Holy Saturday we keep vigil with the holy women who kept watch at the tomb, and in the night we worship the Lamb once slain who reveals His Resurrection in the New Fire and the Paschal Candle.

✠ Finally, on Easter Sunday we rejoice and exclaim: Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us; therefore, let us keep the feast!

The Passover of the Lord, which only English-speaking Christians call Easter, is usually known by some form of the Hebrew word for the lamb sacrificed at the Jewish remembrance of Passover, pesach. From this term we get our words pasch and paschal, so that the passion, death, and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus is called the Paschal Mystery. This is what we celebrate at every Mass, on each Sunday of the year, and most especially in the sacred days of Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum: Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and He alone is our life, our salvation, and our resurrection.