Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - March 11, 2018

One of the traditions of Lent, a devotion which can be used throughout the year but which is more prevalent in Lent, is the Stations of the Cross. The Way of the Cross (as it is also known) arose as a way to walk with Christ on the way to His crucifixion. The Romans would force a prisoner to carry his own cross (actually just the cross-beam) in order to make a public spectacle of him. Pilgrims to the Holy Land would walk that path and reflect upon Christ’s sufferings. Those who lived in the region were quick to offer their assistance, setting up stands – or stations – where visitors could stop and hear the story of what had happened on a particular spot. Some of those would be very meaningful to people, and some would be especially fanciful. The latter would often be stories made up by people who wanted a cut of the offerings that the visitors would give. Certain stations became more popular than the rest, eventually leaving us with the fourteen we know of today.

The Stations of the Cross became popular when pilgrims returned home and wanted to continue the prayerful experiences they had. People would set up their own Way of the Cross, with Stations that corresponded with the ones they had visited in Jerusalem. In time, it became customary to set up images of the Stations in churches so that a local parish community could pray them together. One main feature, of course, is that they are usually located around the perimeter of the church so that people can walk from one to another, thus continuing the idea of walking with Christ. The guideline on their placement is that the Stations should begin and end close to the Sanctuary. They can go either direction, however, and I knew of another parish like ours where the Stations were in the stained glass windows. A new pastor was leading the Stations the first night, but the windows were dark and hard to see. It was only at the end that the parishioners informed him that he had gone the wrong direction.

At St. Malachy, we have several different experiences of the Stations. On Friday afternoons at 2:10, the school children lead the parish in a simple version that was designed for young people but can be quite profitable for adults. On alternating Friday evenings we celebrate the Stations in a traditional way but with a modern reflection, Everyone’s Way of the Cross. On the other Friday evenings, such as this coming Friday, we have a special presentation of the Living Stations. Our crew does such a beautiful job and truly makes the Living Stations a prayerful experience.   

On Good Friday 1991, Pope Saint John Paul offered a different set of Stations that were completely Scriptural. The fourteen stations he offered were: 1) Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, 2) Jesus, betrayed by Judas, is arrested, 3) Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin, 4) Jesus is denied by Peter, 5) Jesus is judged by Pilate, 6) Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns, 7) Jesus bears the cross, 8) Jesus is helped by Simon the Cyrenian to carry His cross, 9) Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem, 10) Jesus is crucified, 11) Jesus promises His kingdom to the good thief, 12) Jesus speaks to His Mother and the Disciple, 13) Jesus dies on the cross, 14) Jesus is placed in the tomb. Feel free to use those Stations as an alternative for your prayer sometime. But however we choose to pray them, alone or in common, we remember that we are walking with Christ on the way He traveled to bring us salvation.                                   

                                                                                              Father H  

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Third Sunday of Lent - March 4, 2018

One evening when I was a boy, my parents took me to a special event at another parish. While there, they suggested that it would be a good time for all of us (including me) to go to Confession. I went in and knelt in a dark box, waiting the priest who turned out to be rather stern. When it came time for the Act of Contrition, my nerves got the better of me. I stumbled over the line, “Who are all good and deserving of all my love.” What came out was that God was “deserving of all my sins.” Very loudly, the priest informed me that I had gotten it wrong. What he didn’t know, poor fellow, was that my mother was on the other side of the confessional. He opened her side next, and he never stood a chance. Years later, as a newly ordained priest, I was hearing confessions when a little girl made the same mistake I had once made. I was glad that she had chosen to go behind the screen (it wasn’t a choice in my day), for she never saw me laughing. I made myself a promise that day never to yell at anyone in Confession.

Since then, I have often thought that we could learn from the mistakes people make with the Act of Contrition. Perhaps I should start by saying that the priest who corrected me at least had a point. God does not deserve our sins. That thought reminds us that we have never done anything to “deserve” the love God gives us. His love is a free gift. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, He gives us love far beyond what we could ever hope for or expect.

What I have heard frequently comes up at the very beginning in the version I grew up with. We say, “O my God, I am heartily sorry for all my sins.” Often, however, it comes out as, “I am hardly sorry for my sins.” I always suspect that may be truer than we’d like to admit. Even when we are forgiven, we still have concupiscence. Concupiscence is a result of Original Sin and of each of our sins. It is the inclination to sin that comes from the attraction to things that are wrong, and it produces our inclination to sin. While we promise to turn away from sin, we know that we are weak and that the temptations that come our way will seem, in some way, good to us. We should never let that feeling keep us from seeking God’s mercy. Even if we are only “hardly” sorry, He will help us to want His mercy more and more.

With many people, the issue is not so much what we say as how we say it. There is a tendency to rush through this prayer, as with most any prayer we say frequently, and lose sight of what we are saying. That is why I like to remind people that we do not need to use just the prayer we memorized in second grade. The ritual book gives several different suggestions for the Act of Contrition, including the very simple, “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” When I go to Confession, I say the prayer in my own words, and it comes out differently every single time. This is such a personal moment for me that I prefer to pray the Act of Contrition spontaneously.

Despite the serious notes that I have made here, I hope we can get a little smile out of such things as “hardly sorry.” I would like to give you a lighthearted look at Confession to combat the trepidation we sometimes bring to the sacrament. I want everyone to know think of Confession as a joyful experience, without any fear of intimidation, even if someone does get mixed up on the Act of Contrition.
                                                                                     Father H