What is the biggest problem the human race faces today? If you ask 100 different people that question, you might get 100 different answers! There are indeed some huge problems out there. If you ask me, however, I would answer in one word – DECEPTION. Granted, I could also give another one-word answer – sin. But deception is what caused the original sin of disobedience to God. Eve believed the deception of the devil. She said, “The serpent deceived me” (Gen. 3:13). Sin and death entered the world, and a host of evils followed.
Why do we have to die? Where does death come from, anyway? We know that death is a fact of life, but in today’s readings, we are told that “God did not make death.” It entered the world through the instigation of the devil, who deceived our first parents into disobeying God’s commandment. Death is a punishment for original sin. But the Lord Jesus shows his power over life and death, as we see in today’s gospel.
This is basically Job’s plaint to God, and it is also uttered by Jesus’ disciples as well. Many people, even many Christians, who are undergoing severe trials, have at least been tempted to ask this. Today’s readings tell us that God is Lord of wind and sea, and indeed he does show us his care in countless ways.
Growth is a fact of life. Seeds are planted, take root, and grow. The readings and Responsorial Psalm talk about trees – those trees that bear fruit and gather the birds of the sky in their branches. As we once again start celebrating Sundays in Ordinary Time, we concentrate on the growth of God’s kingdom, both within our hearts and in the world at large.
The origin of this feast goes back to the 13th century, which some Church historians have called “the greatest of all centuries” because it was such an “age of faith.” Through the efforts of many people, especially St. Juliana de Cornillon and St. Thomas Aquinas, this solemnity was instituted for the whole Church by Pope Urban IV in 1264. The Eucharist is honored, of course, on Holy Thursday. But because that day also commemorates other events connected with the sufferings and death of the Lord, another feast was needed to give more focus to the Blessed Sacrament.
You are well aware of this question about how you see the glass – is it half-empty or half-full? In other words, are you an optimist or a pessimist? I remember discussing this topic with a priest when I was in my teens – a very long time ago! This priest said that he was, by temperament and personality, inclined to be a pessimist. However, he indicated that he had become, as he put it, “an optimist by conviction,” based on Romans 8:28-39.
One of the very first religious lessons that we all learned as children: There is one God in three Divine Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I grew up and received my early religious instruction in a parish staffed by priests who came directly from Ireland, so you better believe that we heard the story of St. Patrick teaching about the Trinity by using a shamrock…more than a few times!
Most Catholics would probably identify Christmas and Easter as great feasts of the Church. Perhaps not as many would think of Pentecost in that way. But indeed, it is! Pentecost is called the “birthday of the Church.”
Thursday or Sunday? Some years ago, I was visiting Vatican City and was present for Ascension Thursday Vespers in St. Peter’s Basilica. The following Sunday, however, I attended Mass elsewhere in Rome and the Ascension was celebrated there! The fact is, in many places, even in the Diocese of Rome, the Ascension is now transferred to the Sunday before Pentecost. The mystery, of course, remains the same: After his resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
Today’s readings are among the most tender in the lectionary, in terms of expressing God’s love for us. Not only is God’s love emphasized but also his choice, his initiative in loving us first (cf. 1 John 4:19). Psalm 115:3 says: “Our God is in heaven; whatever he wills, he does.” God has freely decided to love us, save us, and give us the best of all good gifts, the Holy Spirit. The first reading is a prime example of this.
I had a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye as I heard the organ intone the first notes of the Veni Creator Spiritus. It was June 2, 2017, at the Circus Maximus in Rome – the celebration of the Golden Jubilee of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal with some 35,000 people from all over the world in attendance. I couldn’t help thinking that this very hymn, with the Gregorian chant melody, was sung often on the Duquesne Weekend. And here we were, 50 years later, singing it in Rome, with two of the original participants – my wife Patti and David Mangan – present on the stage. It was a special moment for me and, indeed, for all attending.
Do you prefer good fruit or bad fruit? I know…a ridiculous question! Everyone, including the Lord our God, wants good fruit. And the Lord will do whatever is necessary so that we bear good fruit, both interiorly as well as exteriorly. Our readings deal with that today.
Today we hear about two images: the rejected stone and the good shepherd. Jesus is the stone rejected by the builders, who has become the cornerstone (Responsorial Psalm 118). And Jesus is also the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.
Why bring up the ugly topic of sin? The Easter Season is such a joyful time that it seems out of place to talk about sin, right? Not really. Because Easter, by definition, celebrates Christ’s victory precisely over sin. And that is a common denominator in our readings today.
As a kid I was fascinated with the Church calendar hanging in my grandma’s kitchen. I would look at the saints who were pictured there each month and read what it said about them. I remember being curious that the Wednesday of Holy Week was called “Spy Wednesday,” and the Sunday after Easter was named “Low Sunday.” I found out that it was called “low” only because Easter is so “high.”
“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone.” This song written by the Gaithers aptly expresses our resurrection faith and what it means in our lives. Today is a victory celebration. Today we rejoice in the definitive triumph of Jesus over Satan, sin and death. The resurrection of Jesus is the pledge of our own salvation, resurrection and victory. “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” Alleluia!
Last year, in April 2020, we were wondering how long our lockdown due to this “COVID thing” would last, and if we would be free by Easter. Well, we all found out, didn’t we? Now in April 2021, we are a year later – older, wiser, and thankful that we are seeing some signs of progress.
Today’s celebration has a dual focus: the Blessing of Palms and Procession commemorating the glorious entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem amid the cheers and palm branches of the crowd; then the Mass, in which the emphasis is on the Passion and Death of Jesus. In fact, today is officially called “Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord.” We go from Palms to Passion in the space of an hour or so! Holy Week and Good Friday bring us to a bitter remembrance. But we rejoice that just one week from now, we are back to glory again celebrating the Lord’s resurrection. Indeed, Holy Week is a study in contrasts.
How is your heart? Because of the Fall, we know that “the heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). As we get closer to the end of Lent, we are called today to a “heart exam,” a spiritual EKG. The goal of Lent, indeed the goal of the whole Christian life, is to develop an obedient heart, as Jesus had.
The Fourth Sunday of Lent is traditionally called Laetare Sunday, meaning “rejoice,” from the first word of the Entrance Antiphon: “Rejoice, Jerusalem!” (Isaiah 66:10-11). Very appropriate, because we hear about God’s mercy today, and that is truly something to rejoice over! “His tender mercies are over all his works” (Psalm 145:9).