Homily for March 29

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Homily for Palm Sunday
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily

Although it's at the very heart of our faith,
the story of the suffering and death of Jesus
is recounted in its entirety only twice a year,
and then in the same week:
on Palm Sunday and on Good Friday.

We encounter Jesus in this story
as in no other passage from the gospels.
Is he ever closer to us in our humanity:
than in his being betrayed, rejected and abandoned?
than in his physical and emotional suffering;
than in the naked loneliness of his last hours? 
than in the prayer he speaks to his Father
from the depths of his soul…  
from the height of the Cross?
than in his death: his final surrender to mortality?

If we do not come to meet Jesus in his suffering,
how can we hope to recognize him
when he comes to meet us in ours?

If we do not come to meet Jesus in his suffering,
how can we hope to recognize him
when he comes to meet us in ours?

Listen again to some of Jesus’ own words,
where he bares his heart to us and invites us to enter it. 

I say to you, one of you will betray me...

Take and eat: this is my body, given for you…
Take and drink: this is my blood, poured out for you…

You will deny me three times...

My soul is sorrowful even to death:
watch with me for an hour…

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak...

My God, my God: why have you forsaken me?

And recall the responses
of those who were with Jesus in those last hours,
those whose words and deeds 
might sometimes be our own. 

Betray you, Lord?  Certainly not me!

I do not know the man.
A cock crowed…
Peter went out and wept.

Crucify him! Crucify him!

So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd…

They crowned him with thorns,
mocked him, stripped him,
struck him, spat upon him…

Truly this man was the Son of God! 

Any of these words, these phrases, these images
would be hearty food for prayer and reflection 
in the week ahead.

Which of these words
(or others you heard in the scriptures today)
draw you closer to the humanity of Jesus
and thus to the doorway to his divinity?

We have entered the Week we call Holy
when Christians around the world will pause
to remember, to celebrate and to meet Jesus
in his suffering, in his dying and in his rising.

May the story of his Passion 
refresh and restore our faith
in his love poured out so generously for us.

May the words and sacrifice of Jesus, 
embedded in our hearts,
lead us to meet him in the peace and the joy of Easter.


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Pause for Prayer: PALM SUNDAY 3/29

Hosanna to the Son of David;
blessed is he who comes

in the name of the Lord,

the King of Israel.

Hosanna in the highest!
Though our worship today will lead to the gospel of the suffering and death of Christ echoing in our hearts, it will begin with blessing and waving palm branches and singing Hosannas.  Even here, on the first day of Holy Week, there's room for joy in Lent!  Here's a 16th century rendition of Hosanna to the Son of David by Orlando Gibbons, sung by Chanticleer.

Let's pause for prayer on this Palm Sunday...


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Pause for Prayer: SATURDAY 3/28

Christ of St. John of the Cross - Dali

My favorite Eucharistic Prayer is no longer found in the book we use at the altar but its beautiful language and rich Paschal theology still stir my heart. From a presider's point of view, this text seemed to pray itself, so easily did it lend itself to proclamation.  And this was a perfect prayer for Palm Sunday, following the proclamation of the gospel of Christ's suffering and death.  I commend these excerpts for your prayer and reflection on this Palm Sunday weekend...

Father, all-powerful and ever-living God,
we do well always and everywhere
to give you thanks and praise.

You never cease to call us to a new and more abundant life.
God of love and mercy, you are always ready to forgive;
we are sinners, and you invite us to trust in your mercy.

Time and time again we broke your covenant,
but you did not abandon us.
Instead, through your Son, Jesus our Lord,
you bound yourself even more closely to the human family
by a bond that can never be broken.

Now is the time for your people to turn back to you
and to be renewed in Christ your Son,
a time of grace and reconciliation.

You invite us to serve the family of humankind
by opening our hearts to the fullness of your Holy Spirit...

Father, from the beginning of time
you have always done what is good for us
so that we may be holy as you are holy...

When we were lost and could not find the way to you,
you loved us more than ever:
Jesus, your Son, innocent and without sin,
gave himself into our hands 
and was nailed to a cross.

Yet before he stretched out his arms
between heaven and earth,
in the everlasting sign of your covenant,
he desired to celebrate the Paschal feast
in the company of his disciples.

While they were at supper,
he took bread and gave you thanks and praise.
He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said:
Take this, all of you, and eat it:
this is my Body which will be given up for you.

At the end of the meal,
knowing that he was to reconcile all things in himself
by the blood of his cross,
he took the cup, filled with wine.

Again he gave you thanks,
handed the cup to his friends, and said:
Take this, all of you, and drink from it:
this is the cup of my blood,
the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.
It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven.
Do this in memory of me..

When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup 
we proclaim your death, O Lord, 
until you come in glory.

Sacrament of the Last Supper - Dali
We do this in memory of Jesus Christ,
our Passover and our lasting peace.
We celebrate his death and resurrection
and look for the coming of that day
when he will return to give us the fullness of joy...

Father, look with love on those you have called
to share in the one sacrifice of Christ.
By the power of your Holy Spirit
make them one body, healed of all division.

Keep us all in communion of mind and heart...
Help us to work together for the coming of your kingdom,
until at last we stand in your presence
to share the life of the saints,
in the company of the Virgin Mary and the apostles,
and of our departed brothers and sisters
whom we commend to your mercy.

Then, freed from every shadow of death,
we shall take our place in the new creation
and give you thanks with Christ, our risen Lord...


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Pause for Prayer: FRIDAY 3/27

This post comes a bit early but I know how busy folks are and how important planning ahead is for all of us.  There are many opportunities in Holy Week to participate and share in the greatest liturgies (services) the Church has to offer.  You may not be able to come to all of them, but plan now to come to as many as you can: your celebration of Easter will be all the greater and more joyful for having done so!  In that spirit, let's pause for prayer...
Holy Week is just days ahead, Lord.
In some ways, it will be an ordinary week: 
I'll still have to go to work, to school, to the store.
I'll still need to care for my family and friends. 
I'll still have to do laundry and take out the trash.
I'll still have to deal with life's everyday problems:
my responsibilities won't diminish or take a break...

And I'll do all this in a world that largely ignores
the names we give this week's special days:
                    Palm Sunday,  
                        Holy Thursday
                           Good Friday
                              Holy Saturday
                                 Easter Sunday
So I ask you to help me, Lord,
   to make and keep this week holy...

I hope and pray this week will be peaceful -
   in spite of all I have to do...

I hope and pray these days will be prayerful:
   that I'll make some time to spend with you alone
      and time to go to church on these holy days...

I hope and pray that in my mind and heart 
   these days will be different from any others,
   in how I see and experience the world around me,
   in how I plan and spend my time...

Help me know and live these days as set apart,  
   some solemn and some joyful:
      a time to grow in faith, and hope and love,
      a time to grow in my relationship with you...

Let this week not be like all the others, Lord -
   but let this week and all its days 
      be truly holy...


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Pause for Prayer: THURSDAY 3/26


Would that I'd long to hear your word,
with the hope for which I wait for spring...

Would that I'd serve my neighbors' needs
near as well as I tend my own...

Would that I'd think as well of all
as I do of my close and very best friends...

Would that I'd do what you ask of me
as sure as I follow my own desires...

Would that I'd be as fair and just
as I'd have others be with me...

Would that I'd speak when others won't
and let my lips give voice to truth...

Would that I'd help the unsure and weak
as your strong arms hold me secure...

Would that I'd think and act as pure
as the love and the peace you offer me...

Would that I'd pardon others' faults
with mercy I know I don't deserve...

Would that I'd make the time for prayer
that you have for me when I call on you...

Would that I'd open my heart to grace
as wide as it opens to foolishness...

Would that I'd think of my time as gold
to be spent with wisdom, prudence and care...

Would that I'd put all my trust in you
and not in my worries, doubts and fears...

Would that I'd love you Lord, my God,
as you love me forever more...



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Word for the Weekend: PALM SUNDAY

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Palm Sunday is the first day of Holy Week and is one of only two days on the church calendar when we proclaim and hear the complete story of the passion and death of Jesus. 

You can find the scriptures for Palm Sunday and background material on them here . Got kids? Material to help children prepare to hear the Word on Palm Sunday can be found here

The entrance rite for Palm Sunday offers several options and so it's possible that the Mass you attend may begin with a proclamation of the gospel of Christ's entry into Jerusalem. This will take place at Masses including a special Palm Sunday procession. 

Yes, the proclamation of the gospel this weekend is much longer than usual and you might hear some grumbling about that. But this is a story all Christians need to hear: it tells the depths of Jesus' love for each of us and for all of us...

Without the story of Christ's suffering and death there is no story of Easter joy and peace... 

Spend some time with all of the readings, especially the gospel. You might find it helpful as your read it to imagine yourself as one or several of the characters and ponder: 
     what if I had been one of the apostles? 
     what if I had been one of the priests, the elders or the scribes? 
     what if I had been Pilate? or Judas? or Peter? 
          or one of the bystanders in the courtyard with Peter?
     what if I had been the centurion at the foot of the Cross? 
     what if I had been one of the women at the foot of the Cross?
     what if I had been Jesus? 

At one time or another in our lives, we are all of these... 
     who am I, who are you 
        in this Week we call Holy?  


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Pause for Prayer: WEDNESDAY 3/25

The post just below this one offers an overview of Holy Week and a brief description of the liturgies mentioned in the text message above.


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An Overview of Holy Week

The images above give us thumbnail sketches for the high points of Holy Week and this post
offers an overview of the liturgies of Holy Week. While I hope you'll find these comments helpful,  you'll only begin to truly understand Holy Week by participating in it's liturgies.

In the week we call holy, the Church celebrates the most ancient and beautiful rites in its spiritual heritage. These are the most important days of the whole church year, even though they are not days of obligation.

Holy Week begins this year on March 29 with Palm (Passion) Sunday. With different degrees of solemnity,  parishes will commemorate the Lord's Entrance into Jerusalem with a blessing of palm branches and a procession. At this Mass every year, the Passion, the story of the suffering of death of Jesus, is recounted in the gospel. This year we will hear the Passion according to St. Mark. The Passion is proclaimed on only two days of the year: Palm Sunday and Good Friday

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week are the final days of Lent and most dioceses will celebrate the Chrism Mass early in Holy Week. At this Mass at the cathedral, the bishop blesses and consecrates the holy oils that will be used beginning at Easter and through the year until next Easter.

Lent ends at sundown on Thursday of this week and we enter the Paschal Triduum (pronounced trid-oo-um, it means 3 days). The Triduum is one feast, celebrated over three days.

The “three days” are numbered from sundown Holy Thursday to sundown Good Friday; from sundown Good Friday to sundown Holy Saturday; and from sundown Holy Saturday to sundown Easter Sunday. The liturgical moments of that one feast are:

- The Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday night includes: the presentation of the holy oils; the Washing of Feet (as Jesus did at the Last Supper); and a procession with the Eucharist to the altar of repose.  Prayer before the reserved sacrament at this altar may continue until midnight.

- The Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Friday includes: the Word liturgy;, the sung Solemn Intercessions; the Veneration of the Cross; and Communion from the reserved sacrament.

- The Easter Vigil (the first and greatest Mass of Easter) on Holy Saturday night includes: the lighting of the new fire and a candle light procession with the Easter Candle, leading to the sung Easter Proclamation; the Liturgy of the Word which, in full, includes 9 scripture readings; the liturgy of baptism and/or, if no one is to be baptized, the renewal of baptismal promises; and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Easter joy overflows in the celebration of the Eucharist on Easter Sunday morning.

The Triduum closes with Evening Prayer on Easter Sunday night.

Yes, these liturgies are lengthy but they are also rich and beautiful in symbol, ritual, prayer, and song. It is a shame that many Catholics go to their graves without ever having celebrated the most important feasts of their faith!

Know that you are invited to celebrate this great Paschal feast.

Set aside these hours to give thanks and praise to the One who set aside his life for us that we might have forgiveness of our sins and the gift of God's peace.

And for a more in-depth look, spend a few minutes with Gabe Huck's reflection here:

For Christians, our every year has its origin and its climax at a time determined by the earth and the sun and the moon and the human-made cycle of a seven-day week. The marvelous accidents of earth's place and sun's place, of axis and orbit make cycles within human cycles so that days can be named and remembered and rhythms established. First, we wait for the angle of the earth's axis to make day and night equal (going toward longer days in the "top" half of earth, longer nights in the lower half). Then we wait for the moon to be full. Then we wait for the Lord's Day and call that particular Lord's Day "Easter" in English, but in most other Western languages some word that is closer to an old name, "Pesach" or "Pascha," made into English as "Passover." 
In these generations, we are finding out how, on the night between Saturday and that Sunday, the church ends and begins not just its year but its very self.
We do not come to this night unaware. The church has spent the time since Thursday evening in intense preparation. Even more, we have had the 40 days of Lent to tear down and to build up toward this night.
And the night needs a week of weeks, 50 days, afterward to unfold. The 50 days are Eastertide; only after Pentecost does life return to normal. 
The church came very early to keep something of the spring festival known to Jesus and the first followers. They were Jews and that first full moon of spring was Passover. For those who followed Jesus, whether Jew or Gentile, this was the time when the story of the deliverance they proclaimed in the death and resurrection of Christ was placed beside the story already told at this festival, the deliverance of the captive people from Pharaoh. Very early on, that proclamation came to be made not in words alone but in the waters where those who were ready to stake everything on such a deliverance, on this Christ and this church, passed over in God's saving deed.

- Gabe Huck in The Three Days: Parish Prayer in the Paschal Triduum

We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
for he is our salvation, our life and resurrection;
through him we are saved and made free!

- Galatians 6:14


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WEDNESDAY is March 25!

When I get ahead of myself I often make mistakes!  My earlier post on the Annunciation has been corrected in light of the reality that WEDNESDAY of this week (not Tuesday) is the 25th!


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