Dearest Parishioners and Friends,
Alleluia. Christ is risen! I wish you a most Joyous Easter, as we celebrate the victory of divine love. Alleluia. Christ is risen!
Let us heed the invitation of this ancient homily (excerpt), attributed to St. John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople (d. 407), and now traced by some scholars to an older tradition coming from St. Hippolytus (d. 235), long read in the Orthodox Midnight Easter Liturgy.
If anyone be devout and a lover of God, let him enjoy this beautiful and radiant Feast of Feasts! If anyone is a wise servant, let him rejoice and enter into the joy of his Lord. If anyone has wearied himself in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If anyone has labored from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward (cf. Matthew 20:1ff). If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let him keep the feast… If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let him not fear on account of his delay. For the Lord is gracious, and receives the last even as the first: He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; to the one He gives, and to the other He is gracious. He both honors the work, and praises the intention.
Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and whether first or last receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the Day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you!
Let all partake of the Feast of Faith Let all receive the riches of goodness. Let no one lament his poverty, for the Universal Kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn his transgressions, for Pardon has dawned from the Tomb! Let no one fear Death, for the Savior’s death has set us free!
Christ is risen, and the Angels rejoice! Christ is risen, and Life reigns! Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the tombs!...For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that slept (cf. I Corinthians 15:20). To Him be glory and dominion through all the ages of ages!
Yours in our Risen Lord,
Dearest Parishioners and Friends,
Holy Week is upon us. My prayer for us is that is be holy—in other words, that it be imbued with and an extraordinary experience of Divine goodness. Exteriorly and humanly speaking, many of the events that we will acknowledge are tragic. We know, in faith, however, that, through them, Jesus communicates to us Divine goodness. Tragedy thereby no longer has the last word. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:55)
This is paramount to bear in mind. Otherwise, we may simply offer passing acknowledgment to Jesus, wave and say “thank you” and then move along, and not really let ourselves be drawn to Him in greater intimacy. Exteriorly and humanly speaking, the Cross is tragic. But, really, “to us who are being saved, the Cross is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18)
Edith Stein, also known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (who died in Auschwitz in 1942), so eloquently states, “One cannot desire freedom from the Cross when one is especially chosen from the Cross”. If, at the Cross, Jesus pours forth His heart, then, at the Cross, we are chosen.
We are indeed chosen. We are beloved. Let us journey with our Beloved, and let ourselves be drawn to Him. We may struggle, at times, to know that this means. Let us express, in all simplicity, any confusion or fear or indifference. Jesus will do the rest. The victory of love has already been won…
Yours in Him,
We may sometimes wonder, “Why church?” Church can sometimes be so complex or repetitive or disappointing or, dare we say, seemingly unspiritual. For me, the only veritable reason to go to church is if, in church, we experience something that we do not experience elsewhere. The truth is that we do. But we must look with eyes of faith to see it. In church, and only in church, we experience Jesus in the Eucharist. You may have noticed that you cannot give yourself the Eucharist at home! Hence, the words of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, 20th century Italian mystic (canonized in the Roman part of the Church in 2002):
Keep close to the Church at all times, for in the Church you find true peace, since she alone possesses Jesus, the true Prince of Peace, in the Blessed Sacrament.
As we continue our Lenten pilgrimage, here is a prayer that may help when we come together in Church:
O Crucified and Risen Lord,
we gather here in this place rendered holy by You,
in particular, by the mysterious presence
of your glorified body, of your Person in the Eucharist.
We rejoice to be with You.
We rejoice to be together in You, sisters and brothers.
We come to sing Your praises, to hear Your word, to enjoy You.
We come with dreams,
and also with burdens, which we secretly hope will be transformed by You.
Although we may sometimes wonder how close you are,
may Your presence here relieve any doubt.
As You often said to Your disciples, You say to us “Peace be with you.
With a whisper of our hearts, we entrust ourselves to You, O Lord.
Deign fill us with the overflow of divine love,
so movingly revealed at the Cross and in the Resurrection.
Thus shall goodness and mercy follow us in the coming week, and all the days of our life.
Dearest parishioners and friends,
On this Fourth Sunday of Lent, we are blessed with the parable of the Prodigal Son, a familiar story of being lost and being found, a revelation that we all need. Why do we need such revelation? Because we struggle to believe that God's love is truly unconditional. Why do we struggle to believe that God's love is truly unconditional? Because we have no experience of any other relationship being one of purely unconditional love. Even in the best of relationships, there are some strings. And, in the best of relationships, we, of course, cannot expect to be celebrated when we have gone astray.
But, St. Paul tells us in Romans, chapter 8, verse 39, "Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus". "Nothing" means no that there are no conditions, and that, thankfully, we cannot break God's heart.
To acknowledge oneself as prodigal is to acknowledge onself as a sinner. It can be uncomfortable talking about sin. It is, in fact, liberating. I know that I am a sinner, that is, I know that I do not always love. I also know, in faith, that God is in loving pursuit of me when I break my own heart because I choose not to love.
We are sinners in the hands of a loving God. We are children of God who happily and gratefully acknowledge, when they do not love, that, although unworthy, they will be received, embraced, and celebrated unconditionally. Every time we receive the Eucharist, we have this type of experience. The Eucharist is our "welcome home".
Henri Nouwen, Dutch priest (+1996), in his book "The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming" speaks eloquently of being found and being welcomed home:
I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. The question is not "How am I to find God?" but "How am I to let myself be found by him?" The question is not "How am I to know God?" but "How am I to let myself be known by God?" And, finally, the question is not "How am I to love God?" but "How am I to let myself be loved by God?" God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home."
Lent is about coming home...
Gratefully yours in Christ,
From the desk of the Rector