Let all the devout, all who love God rejoice in this beautiful, bright Feast. Let the wise servants be glad and enter into the joy of their Lord. Let those who have borne the burden of the Fast, now receive their pay. And those who have toiled since the 1st hour, now receive their just reward. Let any who came after the third hour, gratefully join in the fast. And those who have come after the sixth hour, let them not doubt, for they shall suffer no loss. If any have delayed to the ninth hour, let them not hesitate, but also come. And they who have arrived only at the 11th hour, let them not be afraid because they delayed, for the Lord is gracious and He receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to those who come at the eleventh hour as well to those who have worked from the first. [Read more…] about Easter Sunday Reflection: St. John Chrysostom’s Easter Sermon
Liturgically speaking, Holy Saturday is the quietest day of the year – the time between Jesus’ death, and his resurrection which takes place at the Easter Vigil, technically Easter Sunday. Holy Saturday has always seemed to be such a quiet day in the midst of a very busy week – especially when I try to put myself into the shoes of the apostles, who would have distinctly felt the emptiness and loneliness of Jesus’ death most profoundly. The following is the text of an ancient homily from Holy Saturday as found in the Liturgy of the Hours – and is one of the most beautiful explanations I’ve found for the silence of this day:
What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.
You may not know that one of the promises clergy & religious make upon entering their vocation is to pray the Liturgy of the Hours (AKA Divine office.) This is a routine of prayers that they pray at various times throughout the day to make sure that they don’t lose sight of their relationship with God within their service to His Church. One of the hours they pray is called the Office of Readings, which includes both a selection from the Bible and something from one of the saints. The following is the reading for Good Friday, taken from the Catecheses by St. John Chrysostom, one of the early Church fathers. I moved it back to the front of the blog in honor of what we celebrate today, because Chrysostom says it all so much better than I ever could. If you’re looking for the readings for the day, click here to get them from the USCCB website.
If we wish to understand the power of Christ’s blood, we should go back to the ancient account of its prefiguration in Egypt. Sacrifice a lamb without blemish, commanded Moses, and sprinkle its blood on your doors. If we were to ask him what he meant, and how the blood of an irrational beast could possibly save men endowed with reason, his answer would be that the saving power lies not in the blood itself but in the fact that it is a sign of the Lord’s blood. In those days, when the destroying angel saw the blood on the doors he did not dare to enter, so much less will the devil approach now when he sees, no tthat figurative blood on the doors, but the true blood on the lips of believers, the doors of the temple of Christ. [Read more…] about Good Friday Reflection: The Power of Christ’s Blood (St. John Chrysostom)
The following is the text of Deacon Pat Hessel’s homily as preached at Holy Trinity Parish on October 20-21, 2018 (29th Sunday in Ordinary Time):
Two ladies were sitting in the doctor’s waiting room. One of the ladies lent her pen to the other. The lady who lent her pen wrote the following:
“They seem a bit behind in here today,” the lady with my pen says, as she nods toward the nurses striding through the doors. “You here to see Dr. Reid too?” she asks me in a raspy whisper.
I tell her I’m just here to get my blood tested, and I return her smile and lean forward to lay the magazine on the table.
“I’m here for a check-up,” she says as she slips the lid on the pen, the greying light in her eyes as she looks up at me. “Cancer,” she says. I nod, hoping my eyes speak the ache in my heart for her.
She continues: “You know what? Dr. Reid said the last time I was in here, that in our human bodies, the cells that only benefit themselves are known as cancer.” It’s like the whole waiting room had gone dead quiet.
“I think about that a lot. ‘The cells that only benefit themselves are known as cancer.’” She pats her bag. “Thanks again for the pen, dear.”
I swallow and falter. I can’t hear anything but the ringing of her words. How had I never known that cancer is the cells that only take for themselves? Cancer is what refuses to die to self.
Quite an interesting way to think about cancer. Yet, it makes sense. Cancer cells multiply in an uncontrolled way, and if not effectively treated, can cause the death of all the other cells in the body. They look out only for themselves.
In our Gospel today, James and John were very much focused on themselves. They told Jesus that they wanted to be in the most favoured positions when Jesus came into his glory. That meant that they would be above the others. They would be the winners and, by definition, the others would lose.
The other apostles were angry with James and John. But were they angry because they knew that James and John were making a very selfish request, or were they angry because they actually wanted to be the first ones to ask Jesus for this favour? It seems to me that the others also shared the visions of glory that James and John wanted for themselves, because, in response, Jesus called all of them together. He taught all of them that true greatness rests not in power and authority, but in service to others. Jesus knew that, like the cancer cells, James’ and John’s desire for self-importance would be to the detriment of the Gospel message.
I spoke a couple of weeks ago about competition and envy. It seems that’s what the apostles had fallen into. And Jesus, again, told them that they had it wrong. Each of them should have been focused on helping each other – not competing with each other. They should have been concerned about the people who would hear the Gospel from them, not their status as favoured disciples. Their importance rested in their willingness to serve others. If they didn’t understand that, they would have been like the cancer cells – destroying the body of believers, rather than building it up by serving it.
But we’re conditioned to put ourselves first. Just a simple example. The other day I was going into Tim Hortons. There was another guy walking to the door, just behind me. I held the door open for him, but I made sure I got in first. I was happy to hold the door open – behind me – but I didn’t want him to get in front of me in the line-up. My luck he would have been making the Timmy’s run for the whole work crew – six different kinds of coffee, then doughnuts, muffins, sandwiches. I didn’t want to have to wait for that. In fact, he probably just bought a coffee for himself and left.
Have you ever passed up that perfect parking space, right in front of the store, so that maybe the next person could have an easier time of it? Yeah, me either.
And then I think about those door-crasher deals on Black Friday, when the stores open at 5:00 am and people push and shove each other so they can get one of those few low-priced items before anyone else?
Now, these are silly examples, but I think they capture our mindset. We want the best for ourselves, and in general that’s okay. But what we often don’t think about is that what benefits us is sometimes to the detriment of others.
Now I got to the door at Tim Hortons at least a second or two before that other guy. It was only fair that I should be ahead of him in line. You saw that perfect parking spot first, it was only fair that you took it. You waited outside Best Buy for three hours. It’s only fair that you get that big-screen TV at a bargain price.
Certainly, there are times when, for practical reasons, we have to put ourselves first. And I’m not suggesting that you should go and stand for hours opening the door at Tim Hortons, and only get in line when there’s no one else coming. That would be silly – especially if it was 30 below. The examples are meant to challenge the prevailing mindset: the mindset that says “me first.” And that mindset can affect our lives and the lives of others in ways that are far more important that standing in line or getting a parking spot. When we think only of ourselves, we become like the cancer cells, and cancer cells hurt the whole body.
Jesus was talking about a different kind of mindset: a way of thinking and acting that puts other people first. And, for the most part, that’s just not the way our society thinks.
Jesus taught his disciples a lot of things. His disciples saw him preach to the people, heal the people. Jesus didn’t do those things to make himself important. He did them out of compassion, and as a way of preparing his disciples for positions of leadership when he was no longer around. You remember when he told them, as he approached his death, that he must leave so that the Holy Spirit could come to them. His purpose was not to make himself indispensable, but to prepare them for the important work of spreading the Gospel when he was gone.
Jesus is calling us to a higher way of being in the world. Jesus, who had all the resources of heaven and earth at his command, chose to lead by serving. He became higher by going lower.
You’d think that one of the places where we would be most likely see the “me first” mindset among people in positions of leadership would be in the business world. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal was titled: “The best bosses are humble bosses.” Their use of the word humble was very similar to the concept of servant leadership that Jesus spoke about in the Gospel today. I’ll read a brief quote: “Humility is a core quality of leaders who inspire close teamwork, rapid learning, and high performance in their teams. Humble people tend to be aware of their own weaknesses, eager to improve themselves, appreciative of others’ strengths, and focused on goals beyond their own self-interest.” “Focused on goals beyond their own self-interest.”
Jesus acted always in the interest of others, and he challenged James and John: “Can you drink the cup that I drink?” His brand of leadership – leadership through service – involved suffering. Suffering could mean just waiting a little longer in the line at Timmy’s, or it could mean sacrificing your very life – as Jesus did.
A life of service necessarily involves sacrifice. But for those who really understand what Jesus was saying today, each sacrifice is a joy. A joy, not because we like to make our lives difficult. A joy, because with each sacrifice we can make someone else’s life better.
Whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.
He calls each of us to do the same.
On Tuesday, June 12, 2018, Deacon Pat Hessel preached the following homily to students at St. Peter the Apostle High School in Spruce Grove:
Have you ever felt irrelevant – insignificant – like you really didn’t matter? Maybe you’re not a star athlete or a top student. Maybe your parents or your friends don’t always have enough time for you. You might think that you’re not the kind of person who can make a difference.
In Jesus’ time there were lots of people who felt that way. More that half the population was slaves. They were considered to be owned by someone else – someone else’s property. In fact, some people actually sold themselves into slavery because it seemed easier than trying to scratch out a living on the land. These are the sorts of people Jesus was talking to in today’s Gospel. Few people were wealthy and powerful in those days, and most people came in a distant second. But Jesus was telling them that they were the salt of the earth – the light of the world. How does that make any sense?
Well, just before the reading we heard today in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus had told them: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…blessed are those who mourn…blessed are the meek…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. These people knew a lot about being meek, about mourning, being poor, being persecuted – but no one ever told them those were good things.
Can you understand why the people were captivated by his teaching? Imagine you felt like you really didn’t matter and some influential person came to you and told you that you didn’t have to be rich or famous or powerful to be important – that you were already important – you were the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
But this wasn’t just some cheesy pep talk. Jesus is God – the creator of the world. And he was telling these people how the world really works. The powerful and the wealthy and the arrogant couldn’t identify with his message. It made no sense to them because they thought they had the world figured out. Jesus was telling these people that in their meekness and poverty – in their supposed “insignificance” – they had the power to bring healing and illumination to the world. Understand that in those days salt was used, among other things, to preserve meat, and to disinfect wounds. It was essential to their way of life. And, of course, light was and is a requirement for life. And in the days before electricity and light bulbs, they would have been even more aware than we are of the importance of light.
So, when Jesus called them salt of the earth and light of the world, it was a big deal. But what does it mean for us? If salt and light are so important, does that mean we need to do really important things if we are to respond to Jesus? Remember the words of Mother Teresa: “We cannot all do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
There’s a guy at Holy Trinity who goes every Wednesday and sits near the abortion clinic in Edmonton. He doesn’t carry a poster. He doesn’t march up and down the street. He sits quietly and prays for the babies and for their parents. There’s a young lady who came with us on our mission trip to Jamaica this year. Before she left, she asked her friends for donations of school supplies. She brought those supplies with her for the children down there. I think all of you have seen news stories about young people who see the problems and hurt in the world and do what they can to help, like starting a “Go Fund Me” page or organizing a fun run. Some kids take the time to visit or call their grandparents. I know that here at SPA a number of charitable works have been organized and carried out by the students. Small things done with great love. None of these things is earth-shattering, but each is relevant and significant.
When Jesus said that these people were the salt of the earth and the light of the world, it wasn’t like he waved a magic wand and suddenly everyone became someone different. He said that they already were salt and light. But he said that salt can go bad. We can cover our light with a bushel basket. That’s our choice.
But his clear message to you is that you should never avoid doing the right thing because you think you don’t matter – that you’re insignificant or the good things you do are irrelevant. Jesus said it very clearly: “You matter!”