Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, a day when scripture tells us that crowds of people welcomed Jesus like a hero as he rode into the city of Jerusalem mounted on a donkey. Pope Francis’s message for Palm Sunday helps us to understand the meaning of this event and prepares us for the rest of Holy Week.
Holy Thursday follows with Jesus celebrating his last Passover meal with his close friends. We remember this Passover meal as the institution of the Eucharist when Jesus asks his friends to remember him in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the wine. But there is one more significant gesture that he performs that night, the washing of his disciples feet. The washing of another’s feet was a task done only by slaves. Jesus hopes to show his disciples that it is only in washing the feet of others that we show love, the true gift of service to each other. That message is so hard to understand, that Peter initially refuses to allow Jesus to wash his feet, only to relent after Jesus insists.
Good Friday recounts the events around the death of Jesus on the cross. The church celebration on this day is sombre and subdued. We enter into the suffering of Jesus as he walks with his cross to the hill of Calvary. Our minds and hearts are focused on his death and the people who accompany him through this difficult journey. Jesus shows us that even in times of suffering, we can be instruments of love. He consoles the women of Jerusalem, he forgives those who have participated in his fate and he experiences thoughts of abandonment from his father.
Holy Saturday, the day after the crucifixion is a day of mourning and reflection. We, like Jesus, enter a sort of tomb to really experience what has happened in the past few days. We are encouraged to stay in this liminal space, stay in the suffering and death of Jesus. But the story is not ended.
The Easter experience completes Holy Week. The sufferings of Jesus can only make sense when we allow our own difficulties and sufferings lead us to the Resurrection. We need to live out all of the events of Holy Week, so that the Easter of our lives can be fully appreciated.
This coming Sunday, March 22, is Solidarity Sunday, a day in which we join with the rest of the Catholic community around the world to promote the “One Human Family, Food for All” campaign. This year’s theme is “Sow Much Love to Give”. We are all invited to not only share our material goods with our sisters and brothers in the Global South, but also to think about how we can better sow seeds of faith and love within ourselves. Where is our relationship with God and others?
As Canadians, we have so much love to give. Our country is rich in resources, land and water. This is not the case of other members of the human family. Natural disasters, economic inequity, wars and gender inequality have stripped many of access to food. Hunger is not caused by a lack of food in the world, but by unjust systems that distort the distribution of food. We are all in this together. That which impacts our southern neighbors, impacts us. Their needs become our needs. As Catholics, we are called to support and share with those who are the poorest of the poor. We become more human when we work in solidarity with the poor.
Our efforts do carry fruit. Development and Peace, the Canadian arm of Caritas Internationalis, a global campaign introduced by the Holy Father, is working hard to support the fair distribution of food. Their website gives some concrete examples. This Sunday, please give generously. If that is not possible, you may check the website of The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace and make an online donation.
Giving of ourselves to others is a call to our greater sense of humanity. Not only do we help others in the process but we grow in love and joy as we share our gifts with other members of our human family. Our example as Christians is a true witness to the Gospel message of love for the poor.
This week I came across an interesting prayer that I would like to share with you. The author invites us to feast and not to fast during Lent in order to come closer to God. I invite you to feast, not fast this Lenten season.
A Lenten Prayer
The other day I read in the newspaper that February is designated as heart month by the Heart and Stroke Foundation. During this month there is a concerted effort to raise awareness on how to look after our hearts by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. One of the most important factors in having a healthy heart is to eat well. The foundation proposes several strategies to increase our consumption of fruits and vegetables. Changing our eating habits can lead to a significant improvement in heart health and quality of life.
I was reminded of how we also need to remember to keep our souls healthy. The liturgical season of Lent, which begins this February 18 could be considered a special time when we become aware of the need to look after our relationship with God by looking after our souls. If our heart health depends on what we eat, by the same token we need to pay attention to what we feed our souls. Are we mindful of what we read, sites that we frequent online, television shows we watch or the types of relationships that we keep? These are the nutrients we feed our souls with. If we were to say, we are what we eat, then what we feed our souls with is what we become.
There are many resources on the net that are “health food” for the soul. I am suggesting a few that I have found helpful. Also, you may find some spiritual reading that will help you to nurture your relationship with God and help to feed your soul in a positive way. Pope Francis in his Message on Holiness for Lent 2015 invites us to look after our neighbor this Lent. For those of us who prefer to respond to God through actions, Busted Halo has a suggestion for a Lenten Calendar , called Fast, Pray, Give .
God is reaching out to us in so many ways, let us open the door to him and become soul healthy people.
What is the Synod on the Family? A Synod is a gathering of various members of the church to discuss important issues of faith. In this case, those gathered together will be selected cardinals of the church and some lay people who will come to reflect and dialogue on central issues concerning families today.
What is extraordinary this time, is that Pope Francis has requested that each Bishop conduct a consultation on the family from the faithful in their diocese. The bishops of Canada have prepared various questions important to Canadians to be reflected upon. In Montreal, it was decided to focus on those questions that seemed most important to the people living in Montreal.
The questions as prepared by the Canadian bishops and the diocese of Montreal are all accessible on the Montreal Archdiocesan website. To make it easy to respond, you can answer online. If youwish you can also send your responses to email@example.com. If you only wish to answer some of the questions as they pertain to you, that is sufficient. The answers to the questionnaire will be summarized and sent to the Canadian bishops and then forwarded onto the Vatican committee concerned. The Montreal deadline is February 28, 2015. The data will be used to prepare the agenda of the Synod on the Family.
This is truly a unique opportunity for the Catholic faithful of Montreal and of the world. Pope Francis is convinced that the voice of the faithful as concerns issues of family are important and should be listened to. Let us take this golden opportunity to reflect and discuss with others how, as family, we live our faith and offer our suggestions on the issues that we face in this time.
Our bishops are listening, let us participate in faith and hope for a future that is rooted in our Catholic values and lived experience.
February 2 has been named the World Day for Consecrated Life and this year in particular is a year dedicated all the Catholic religious communities in the world. By tradition, consecrated people were those who belong to various religious communities such as sisters, brothers and priests. They live in communities such as monasteries, convents and religious houses. More recently, other forms of consecrated life have emerged such as lay apostolates or consecrated persons who live in the world in smaller groups or alone but adhere to various ways of life in prayer and work. There are many forms of lay apostalate, but all are marked by a dedication to God in their personal lives.
The history of religious communities in Quebec goes back to the colonial days when brothers and sisters came from France and dedicated their lives to the betterment of the community that was growing in leaps and bounds. We owe much of the beginnings of our schools, hospitals, universities and social services to sisters and brothers who dared to educate, nurse and accompany the destitute in conditions that were less than ideal. We hear the names of some of the foundresses and founders of religious communities in our street signs, names of schools and buildings. I personally know of many religious who are still working today quietly behind the scenes with dedication to teach new immigrants, accompany persons who are mentally or physically handicapped or leave for foreign countries to help bring needed skills to countries in distress.
Have you ever crossed paths with a religious brother or sister who has been a sign of hope for you? Or maybe you have been helped by an institution such as a school or hospital that was founded and may still even be financed by a religious community? It may be time now to remember them and give thanks for all that they have given to society and continue to do.
– See more at: http://www.diocesemontreal.org/blogues/en/the-year-for-consecrated-life/#sthash.UbyrArxs.dpuf
The New Year is just beginning and it’s not too late to think about making our New Year’s resolutions. For the second year in a row, Pope Francis has presented us with some great ideas that can nuture our spiritual lives and bring us closer to God. Here they are as the Catholic News Service has summarized them:
- “Take care of your spiritual life, your relationship with God, because this is the backbone of everything we do and everything we are.”
– “Take care of your family life, giving your children and loved ones not just money, but most of all your time, attention and love.”
– “Take care of your relationships with others, transforming your faith into life and your words into good works, especially on behalf of the needy.”
– “Be careful how you speak, purify your tongue of offensive words, vulgarity and worldly decadence.”
– “Heal wounds of the heart with the oil of forgiveness, forgiving those who have hurt us and medicating the wounds we have caused others.”
– “Look after your work, doing it with enthusiasm, humility, competence, passion and with a spirit that knows how to thank the Lord.”
– “Be careful of envy, lust, hatred and negative feelings that devour our interior peace and transform us into destroyed and destructive people.”
– “Watch out for anger that can lead to vengeance; for laziness that leads to existential euthanasia; for pointing the finger at others, which leads to pride; and for complaining continually, which leads to desperation.”
– “Take care of brothers and sisters who are weaker … the elderly, the sick, the hungry, the homeless and strangers, because we will be judged on this.”
Pope Francis has a gift for using symbols to get his point across. Speaking about the “oil of forgiveness” reminds me of how oil heals and gives flavor.
Is there one resolution that draws your attention? Maybe God is nudging you to make a change in your life for 2015?
Moonless darkness stands between.
Past, the Past, no more be seen!
But the Bethlehem-star may lead me
To the sight of Him
Who freed me
From the self that I have been.
Make me pure, Lord: Thou art holy;
Make me meek, Lord: Thou wert lowly;
Now beginning, and alway
Now begin, on Christmas day.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, sj
One of the central figures of the Christmas season in North America is Santa Claus. He is pictured as a jolly old man, round and smiling with a red suit and black boots. Living in the North Pole, he mounts his sleigh pulled by reindeer and bring toys to all the children on Christmas Eve. There are songs, poems and even movies produced about Santa Claus.
So where does this mythical figure come from and how has he become connected to Christmas?
The origins of Santa Claus stem from St. Nicholas whose feast day is celebrated on December 6. My parents have memories of the tradition of St. Nicholas in their native Germany. Someone in the village would dress up as St. Nicholas and he would go from house to house giving the children oranges and candy.
The real St. Nicholas was a bishop in a part of Asia Minor, now near Demre, Turkey. Born around 270 AD, his parents were devout Christians at a time when Christians were being persecuted. Nicholas’s parents died in an epidemic when Nicholas was a young boy and he was raised by his Christian uncle. Already at a young age, he showed signs of great holiness. Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra in what is now Turkey while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, and his love for children.
He was a key player in the advancement of Christian thought during the fourth century after the conversion of the Roman Emperor, Constantine. The many stories now told about him alude to his desire to serve his people with loving kindness and compassion. One of these stories tells of how he gave gold balls to a family of poor young girls to pay their dowries. In some European countries, on the feast of St. Nicholas, they give children oranges that represent the gold balls. In North America, this custom became St. Nicholas or Santa Claus who brings gifts to children on Christmas Day.
St. Nicholas can be an inspiration to us in the way that he saw Christ in the poor and needy. Whenever we see a Santa Claus, let us remember the true Christian roots of this mythical figure.