Religious Education Classes for Monday, March 21, 2016 for children in grades 7-10 and Confirmation Class will take place as scheduled.
Our 2016 Mass and Service schedule for Holy Week at Immaculate Conception is the following: Holy Thursday, The Mass of the Lord’s Supper is at 7:00 P.M. Stations of the Cross will be held at NOON on Good Friday. Our Good Friday service will be held at 3:00 P.M. Our Easter Vigil Mass will be held at 7:00 P.M. Easter Sunday Masses will be held at 7:30 & 10:00 A.M. A blessed Easter to all our Parishioners and to those visiting in the area.
Holy Week is a roller coaster. An image which is apropos because it begins with “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” and ends with “Crucify him.” From the high of Jesus’ entrance into the city, entering through one of the many gates that surround the holy city, to the low point of carrying a cross back outside the city walls to a hill called Golgotha. There’s nothing that sounds good about that word…Golgotha. That’s one heck of a divine roller coaster.
Palm Sunday we center our attention more on the roller coaster being at the top of its highest point, where only a fearless child can look down from the top and say, “This is fun,” while adults are scared for their lives. Scared like these religious authorities who sense that this itinerant Preacher is pushing them out of their cushy jobs, just like Pope Francis, shortly after being elected to the Seat of Peter, told all those office priests in Rome to get out onto the street and do some real priest work. Do you think they had nice things to say about the Holy Father in reaction to his order?
How does Jesus get to the top point of this roller coaster ride of admiration? This groundswell of praise? Well, certainly on a colt, riding up the Mount of Olives that leads to the city gates of Jerusalem. What gets Jesus to this high point in his life where they shout, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” are all the mighty deeds they had seen. If any of us performed mighty deeds in the same manner Jesus did, a large group of fickle human beings would be shouting how you’ve arrived in the name of the Lord. And then five days later they’d want to crucify you. Just like Red Sox fans.
It’s the mighty deeds done in their midst that bring Jesus to this high point in his life. The raising of Lazarus; the curing of the blind man; the curing of the ten lepers; the words spoken from a distance, “Your servant is healed. You can head back home now.”
It’ the miraculous, the extraordinary, the events that caused so many to say about him, “We’ve never seen anything like this,” along with “God has visited his people.” It was God’s power, unlike any human power, revealed through the Son of God, who emptied himself and became one of us, that carried him up that hilly side of the roller coaster, causing these moody people to shout, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Did they really mean those words in their hearts? Do we mean those words if and when we call out to Jesus? I’m sure we do. And I’m sure they did also.
But does it take the extraordinary, the unexplainable, the miraculous for us to keep Jesus at the top of our roller coaster? Chances are, there may be times when we push his colt back to the bottom of the Mount of Olives. Or worse, wait five days and shout “Crucify him.” We can be pretty fickle. We’re Red Sox fans.
It’s the mighty deeds they had seen that brought Jesus to this high point in his life. The mighty deeds raised Jesus to stardom in the eyes of human beings. It’s no different today. Those who can perform what we consider to be mighty acts, be they in sports or the world of politics or economics, we raise them to the top of the roller coaster. Bill Gates has had more than a few people kiss his ring. We give them a shiny new colt and say to its owner, “The Master has need of it.” In the hearts of so many, we tend to allow these famously ordinary people to become our masters. Jesus teaches us that our true masters are the poor, the handicapped, the lowly and despised. They are the true masters of our goods and our souls.
But what brings Jesus to the high point in his life are not the mighty deeds. What raises Jesus to the top of this world and the top of our hearts are his teachings. His words.
“Love God and your neighbor. Love your enemies. Pray for your persecutors. If you love only those who love you, what good is it? Even the pagans do the same. Unless you pick up your cross and follow after me, you cannot be my disciple. Your reward will be great in heaven… who the heck wants to wait till then? Let one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did. Remember those lovely words from a few weeks ago? And so on.
When we hear these words, it’s no wonder why people are attracted to the mighty deeds.
It’s the teachings of Jesus that raise him to the top of the Mount of Olives. When we live out his teachings, taking advantage of the gift of Reconciliation when needed, then we keep the Lord on the top of our lives. If we ground our faith in mighty deeds alone, eventually we will shout “Crucify him.” But if we ground our faith in his holy and challenging teachings, we will walk past Good Friday and be raised with him on Easter Sunday. That’s the true Palm Sunday.
Holy week begins with a ride. It ends with resurrection, which never ends.
Despite the anger of the son who stayed behind, the celebration continued, with or without him. Nothing in the world could stop that joyous celebration of the one who was dead and is now alive. Certainly not the anger of his sibling.
And, we must remember that nothing in this world is ever meant to stop the celebration that began on the first Easter Sunday close to 2000 years ago. A certain Person there was dead also, but his returning to life began a celebration that we his followers are meant to never stop. Our celebrations are not limited to Irish Dinners and Spaghetti Suppers. May we never live our lives like Jesus is not risen. We live in the hope of what really occurs after death. We live in joy, despite a bewildering world. We move forward with love for God and neighbor. We practice forgiveness and rejoicing, which is what the other son in the parable refused outright. He wanted his brother still dead. We live in faith and share the Good News. To live this way is to say that he is risen, and no longer in the grave.
I saw the movie Risen that came out recently. It’s well done and highly recommended, especially for this religious time of the year, being the season of Lent. It’s the story of a Roman soldier who, like the rest of the Roman army, worshipped the pagan gods of the Empire. False gods with no voice; no attention span; no hearing of requests being made; no reactions or breath. When this soldier spoke a “prayer” to an idol in the movie, I thought to myself, “What a waste of words and thoughts. No one’s listening.”
Eventually, this Roman soldier sees the one alive who he saw dead on the Cross. “How can this be? I saw this man dead on a Cross with my own eyes! And now I see him sitting in the midst of 11 overjoyed Apostles, and Mary his Mother, as well as Mary Magdalene, all smiles.” Needless to say, the world of the Roman soldier was shaken to the core. As was the world of the Apostles because they had no idea what he meant when he said the Son of Man will be raised on the 3rd day.
In the heart of Lent, the Church gives us this incredible parable of Jesus that goes by many different names, most notably The Parable of the Prodigal Son. The parable is told by Jesus in reaction to his being accused by the religious authorities of welcoming and eating with sinners. If I were to go out there in the streets of Worcester and do the same; eat with sinners; spend time with them; converse with them; tell jokes with them; I’m certain I would get accused of the same as Jesus did by some prominent people. Appearances are not always what they seem to be. What matters is intention. Jesus’ intention was to offer his sons and daughters a better way than the life they were presently living. A way of hope and goodness; a way of self-respect and discipleship for the Lord.
When hearing this parable read, most hearers would say that the heart of this story is centered in the virtue of forgiveness. Instead of condemning his son, and assigning him to hired worker status after the young man squandered his entire inheritance, the father gives instructions for a party. It makes no sense, except to God. You would think the father would at least have mixed emotions at his son’s return. Happy that he’s alive, but scolding him for living a life of dissipation. But there’s not even a scent or whiff of scolding. There’s pure celebration, at the father’s command.
What this joyfully tells us is that, when we return after moments of dissipation, after actions that do in fact offend God and others, that his forgiveness is total. absolute. It’s not human forgiveness, where we tend to hang on to certain elements of our hurt and pain. God gets hurt when we sin. We crush his Sacred Heart. But his forgiveness is complete with no other angles.
This parable, however, is more than forgiveness. It is also resurrection. From being dead to being alive. How many scrapes have we gotten ourselves into over the years, yet somehow we seem to come out the other side of them? How many times were we heading toward a certain type of death, or death itself, yet here we are, alive and still standing?
The very first resurrection is not Lazarus, or the son of the widow of Nain, or the 12-year old daughter of Jairus. The first resurrection is Jesus on the first Easter morning. From that first resurrection flow many other forms of resurrection, where we were dead but are now alive. I’m not talking about the after death experiences of the few who have them, where they see a light and then return to this mortal life. They’re wonderful stories that tell us there’s more to our lives than the here and now. But if we believe in the resurrection of Jesus, we don’t need those stories.
What I am talking about are the many death events we all experience on this journey, yet we return alive. Where sorrow, contrition, and the desire for forgiveness raise us from the grave of deadness of soul. That’s the Prodigal Son. Where the forgiveness of the father brings about the resurrection of his son. And the son’s willingness to be raised from the death of his ugly life that was going to Hades in a handbasket, returning to the joy and comfort of his father’s house. This is a secondary form of resurrection that flows from the first resurrection of Jesus. These resurrections happen to us many times over the course of our lives, preparing us for the one that lasts forever.
If you haven’t done so already, imitate the Prodigal Son by seeking forgiveness this Lent. There’s no better preparation for the very first resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave.