Sunday, August 20, 2017

With Eyes Turned Upward*

You’ve no doubt seen the reports and read the stories, and you’re probably just about worn out from news of it. But, if you still haven’t heard, tomorrow our country will see a fairly rare celestial event – a total solar eclipse that will sweep across our country from Oregon to the Carolinas. They say hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, from around the world will head to locations within the vicinity of the total eclipse to see it … including, I’m somewhat embarrassed to say, yours truly. Millions more will be watching from their own homes, schools, and businesses. Scientists will be observing and taking measurements, news channels will be broadcasting, and eyes around the hemisphere will be turned upward toward the sky.

I thought of this rush of attention preparing for Mass today because I imagine the scale of interest in the eclipse is something similar to that which Jesus would have generated in his day. People weren’t buying special sunglasses to go see him, of course, but they certainly were leaving their homes, heading out into the countryside to hear him and follow him, and above all spreading word about what he said and what he did. In his day, Jesus was something more than just rockstar famous – to meet him was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The Gospel we heard today is evidence of this. Jesus enters into a foreign territory, the region of Tyre and Sidon, and he is immediately confronted by a Canaanite woman. Though she would never have met, never even have seen Jesus, she clearly knew who he was. With a daughter tormented by a demon, she had heard of his power of healing; though not a Jew, she refers to him as “Son of David,” a clear reference to the Messiah awaited by the Jews. It’s evident this is not a chance encounter – this Canaanite woman has come with a purpose to find and confront the only one who can help her.

Limbourg Brothers, Christ and the Canaanite Woman (detail, c. 1412) from Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

It’s not just unexpected, then, how Jesus responds – indeed, it seems shocking, even cruel, that he treats her as he does. Notice he does not at first address her directly; when he does speak to her, he refers to her and to other non-Jews as “dogs”, a common epithet used to refer to Gentiles. To understand Jesus’s behavior, we have to add a little more context to the story. His disciples, like other first century Jews, awaited a Messiah – the one foretold by God to restore Israel to right relationship with God and to prominence before the Gentile nations. The Messiah would be the champion of Jewish identity – from the Jews and for the Jews alone.

And so when Jesus is approached by this pagan, Gentile woman, his disciples are dismissive of her; surely, Jesus the Messiah, the King of the Jews, will have nothing to do with her. Jesus plays along – he is the Jewish Messiah, and he has come first to redeem the lost children of Israel. But, as the Canaanite woman correctly points out, with her statement of great faith, the mission of Jesus is ultimately one for all peoples, one that breaks down barriers and divisions and unites, that offers reconciliation with God to Jew and Gentile alike. By testing the faith of the Canaanite woman, Jesus shows his disciples that they must move past their previous, narrow way of thinking and come to understand the full breadth of God’s plan of salvation.

We may look at the attitude of the disciples toward the Canaanite woman and wonder how they could be so prejudiced. And yet, as we have seen in our own time, in recent weeks, there is a terrible tendency among humans of any age to descend into tribalism. The violent clashes in Charlottesville a week ago, including the act of terror that resulted in a young woman’s death, have left many of us wondering whether the legitimate debates that mark our public discourse are being unraveled by unbridled hatred and fear. More and more, it seems we are giving in to the all-too-human weakness of defining ourselves by our differences, to see in the other not a potential friend and ally, not a fellow human being, but a stranger and a threat.

In the wake of Charlottesville, we’ve seen many who have spoken out in resistance to this mentality, and rightly so. Fortunately, the reality is that people of good will and decency still far outnumber those with more malicious intentions; but that does not mean we are excused to stand idly by and let someone else deal with the problem. What do we as followers of Jesus have to say in this new cultural climate? What does our Christian faith ask of us?

First, we must speak out against blatant evil. As our bishops have done throughout the past week, we must decry racism as the sin it is. There is a natural tendency all of us have to take interest in and have pride for where we come from, what our history is, and who our ancestors were. But if that interest and pride morphs into something antagonistic – something which opposes or does violence to another – then we must denounce such ideology as the false prophet that it is. As Christians, we believe in the dignity of every human being as created in the image and likeness of God, and this must be always forefront in our minds and respected by our actions.

Second, we should not be afraid to take account of our own spiritual houses. The way to combat evil is to work for good, but that is only done well if we have searched within ourselves and rooted out the evil found there. Conversion of heart is a central message of our Christian faith, and one that we must learn again and again. We may not be able to remake the world single-handedly, but we can seek to start with ourselves. Perhaps each of us could reflect upon where we are tempted by the forces of division: perhaps, to view the person across the quad a particular way because of how they look; or to judge our roommate or our classmate because of a slight we’ve perceived; or to dismiss a group of people because they think or act in a way different from our own. Jesus challenges us, just as he challenged his disciples, to look beyond outward differences and find in the other our common humanity within.

Finally, I think that we as the Body of Christ, the Church, have a special role to play in the cultural and political climate of today. In an era in which we both celebrate diversity but also desire unity, too many are giving into the forces of factionalism and sectarianism, defining themselves by a party or ideology or background that emphasizes division rather than commonality. As Christians, though we know that these are narrow-minded ways of thinking. God doesn’t look at the color of our skin or our political tendencies or our cultural background when he looks at us; he peers instead into our hearts, to know and love us as the individual he has created us to be. The family of God is defined not by the outside but by what lies within.

Many today are speaking out against being excluded and marginalized – that they or those they care about have been victims of forces of injustice and fear. As we seek to hear their voices and understand their concerns, we as Christians also must point them to a reality beyond this one. Our fallen, sinful world is not going to be fixed by merely adjusting our way of thinking. We need salvation, redemption, what Jesus offers and the world cannot give. Jesus may have been rockstar famous in his day, but it seems that in our day we've forgotten that only he can give true freedom. In the end, the voices we hear rising around us, speaking out… we recognize that they are clamoring, ultimately, for Christ.

It’s always amazing to me that when we gather here on Sundays each week, we do so in a way that stands in great contrast to the forces of division that seem to dominate the headlines. We come from every ethnic background and cultural tradition, from every walk of life and political ideology; we come as young and old, as rich and poor, as man and woman, as the Jew and as the Canaanite woman – and yet, here, we gather as the one People of God. The Church is the most diverse social group known to history, and yet we are the most united as well, raised out of every difference by our common faith in Jesus.

Friends, as we start a new semester here at the university, let’s not allow the forces of darkness to eclipse the light that Jesus gives. We must speak out against evil where it rears its head, but we can never condemn as evil the person who differs from us. Just as Jesus taught his disciples by drawing out the faith of the Canaanite woman, he seeks to teach us now as well. Each day he gives us the grace to look beyond the categories of “us” vs. “them” and to see instead the other as a fellow human, a likely friend, and a potential brother or sister in Christ. He came to unite, not to divide, to turn our eyes upward toward him, to grant us the peace and justice that many so ardently now desire. What he started, we are called to continue – across our campus, across our city and state, and beyond – to point others to Jesus, again and again. As we share in a few minutes his Sacrament of Holy Communion, may it empower us to go forth from this church to proclaim to the world his Good News.

*This homily for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time was crafted partially in response to the violent events in Charlottesville, VA, on August 12-13, 2017.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Tending Our Houses Like Mary

When I was a kid, my mother – like many mothers – made us kids do chores around the house. These usually weren’t too demanding – dusting or vacuuming mostly – but we moaned and groaned about them as kids do. My siblings and I noticed that Mom always seemed particularly keen on having a clean house when company was coming over. Relatives from out of town, family or friends visiting, even the Terminix man – it didn’t really matter who was stopping by, the house needed to be immaculate.

And of course, it’s not just women who are like this. My dad was just as fastidious about the yard, if not more so. Of course, as I got older, I understood much better where they were coming from. The external setting of our lives – our homes, our lawns, our neighborhood – reflects something about ourselves. Where we live – and the condition it is in – says something about who we are.

The Dormition and Assumption of the Virgin (c. 1432), Fra Angelico

Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption – our belief in faith that at the end of Mary’s life, Jesus brought her body and soul into heaven. She who was the Ark of the New Covenant – the vessel which God had chosen from all time to bear his Incarnate Son into the world – was preserved from sin and from its every effect because of whom she bore. From Mary, Jesus receives his humanity; within Mary, Jesus first dwelt among us. Just like a house can tell us something about the person who lived there, so too can Mary reveal to us something about Jesus.

What do we learn? At least two important things:

First, we learn that the Risen Jesus can indeed save us from eternal death. Mary, conceived without sin and perfect throughout her life, was saved from any corruption or decay; but she is not the only one who is destined to live body and soul for all eternity. You and I are sinners, but Jesus also desires to bring us to himself in heaven, to raise us body and soul on the last day. What he has done for Mary is a promise of what he desires to do for us.

Second, from Mary, we learn something about the kind of disciple that Jesus wishes us to be. Mary bore Christ physically within herself, bringing him into this world – that was her vocation and her glory. You and I are charged with carrying the Lord in our hearts, bringing him to the world and those whom we encounter at each moment. The vocation to holy discipleship that we all share by virtue of our baptism goes far beyond merely believing in Jesus or following him in some abstract way – rather, he wishes us literally to bear him, to bring him to others in all that we do.

My friends, what is the state of our spiritual houses? Does our life on the outside – before family and friends and neighbors – reflect the presence of the One who is to be at the center of our existence, who is to dwell in our hearts? We can’t carry Christ to the world, as we are called to do, if we refuse to let him be the Master of our own spiritual home. Let us ask continually for the intercession of our Blessed Mother to open our hearts to the Lord, that he may reign always in our hearts here on earth, so that at the close of our lives, he may bring us too to the joys of his heavenly kingdom.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Some Thoughts on the Priestly Vocation

St. Peter Preaching in Jerusalem, engraved print by Philips Galle (c. 1580), after painting by Marten van Heemskerck

NB: The following is a short homily I delivered at the holy hour on the eve before this year's priestly ordinations. It is based upon a reading from the First Letter of Peter, chapter 2, verses 2-10.

It is easy to marvel at the workmanship of human hands. In my time as pastor at the parish at the university in Fayetteville, I’ve seen some amazingly beautiful new buildings constructed – the awesome expansion of the football stadium; gorgeous new fraternity and sorority houses; avant-garde administrative buildings and student centers. It seems that the wonders of what we humans can build is limited only by the breadth of our imagination.

But any architect will tell you that the most important part of a structure is its foundation. According to the apostle Peter, in the reading we just heard, God desires to build his Church like a spiritual house upon the foundation of his Son Jesus, once rejected by all but who has become the cornerstone. We, like living stones, are fashioned by God into his likeness – and perhaps none more so than those called to share in his priesthood.

In the training to become a priest, and perhaps especially in the years after ordination, it is easy for us priests to become focused on the many skills and abilities we are called upon to develop. We wish to be known as great preachers and wise counselors, as shrewd administrators and inspiring leaders, as well-loved by our parishioners and well-respected by our brother priests and much-trusted by our bishop. Each of these things – though good in themselves – can however also present a danger, for they are like the ornamental trappings of our priestly houses. Externals can be impressive; they can capture the attention of those who see us only from the outside. But if we attend too much to them, we risk letting the interior foundation of our spiritual house – our identity in Christ – crumble to the ground.

A good priest is not notable for his golden tongue or his brilliant business skills or the fact that every family in the parish wants to have him to dinner. A good priest is one who lets himself be molded each day into the image of Christ, a stumbling block to the world but the cornerstone of the chosen ones of God. It is through faithful, humble, sometimes painful service that a good man becomes a great priest – often in ways unseen or unappreciated. But the spiritual fruit that he bears, and the pastoral care with which he ministers, does not pass unseen by God.

Brothers, in this hour of prayer before the Eucharistic Presence of our High Priest, whose priests you will become tomorrow, we pray for you just as we pray for ourselves. It’s easy to marvel at the externals of the priestly life, but what you will do and who you will be in your priestly ministry will not be defined by the breadth of your imagination or even by the number of skills and abilities you will or will not display. Rather your success as priests will only be accomplished by the workmanship of the hand of God – that is, by the degree to which you allow God to fashion you each day as a living stone in the likeness of Christ. This is our hope and this is our prayer. May God who has begun this good work in you bring it to fulfillment.* Amen.

*A prayer from the Rite of Ordination to the Priesthood.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Proclaiming the Easter Message

There are some announcements, some bits of news that must be given in person. We have so many diverse means of communication, especially in our modern era – from emails to text messages to all kinds of social media – but we also still understand that some important messages must be conveyed face to face. 

In the Gospel, we heard how this is true also for the most important message ever communicated. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to the tomb of Jesus, wishing to honor their dead friend by anointing his body, something they had not done the previous Friday because Passover was beginning. They come, in other words, in mourning, dismayed that the one in whom they had believed had been put to death but unable to let go of their love for him entirely. And as we hear, they are met with a bit of fairly important news – “He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.”

The women receive this message not by observation but by the communication of God, from the very mouth of an angel. It is therefore something from heaven, something that by ourselves we are unable to conceive. After the betrayal and abandonment and accusation and violence of all that had come before, after Jesus submits to all of the evil that the world can inflict, the message from heaven is that death has been conquered by life. Evil gave it its best shot, but the goodness of God was stronger.

Three Marys at the Tomb (1876), William-Adolphe Bouguereau 

This message – this communication of a fact so stunning that it makes the women afraid even as they are filled with joy – this is the Good News of Easter. It is, in many ways, the only message that the Christian community has for the world, but the richness of its meaning is one that can never be exhausted. That the tomb is empty, that Jesus is risen, that the evils of this world are nothing in the face of God’s love must be a revelation that you and I encounter anew every day. “He has been raised just as he said.” We do not know yet know ourselves life beyond the power of the grave, but in Jesus we experience this Good News even now, and we rejoice in it.

Of course, like Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, we are called to do more than just receive the message. We also must share it anew. Just as the angel communicated their salvation to them, so too he called them to share it with Jesus’s disciples, hidden away in sorrow and bewilderment. The women believed, and having believed, they encounter Jesus himself. Having put their trust in the Good News that he had received, Jesus appears, showing that he is indeed risen and they have nothing to fear.

For some months now, our friends with us this evening – the catechumens and candidates of our community – have also been preparing to receive the presence of Jesus in a new way. They have sought to deepen their faith in the Lord, putting aside doubts or fears, and instead embracing the Good News that has brought them to our Catholic community. Tonight we are reminded that like Mary Magdalene and the other disciples on that first Easter morning, each of us who places our faith in the Resurrection of Christ receives the reassurance of our faith through his grace. Like them, you and I are called to bring the Easter message – that Christ the Lord has been raised, and we too with him – to those who need to hear it, those who are dismayed by the evil of the world. We who profess faith in Christ have a message to share with them, a gift to give to them. “He has been raised just as he said.”

It is this message which is our mission as Christian believers. In the sacrament of confirmation, which we will celebrate in a few moments, you and I are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, the one who raised Jesus from the dead, and who now fills us with his power to announce that message by our lives. Like the women at the tomb, like the disciples of Jesus, and the early Church, we are called to let go of our fearfulness and bewilderment and instead to rejoice in the power that the Risen Christ conveys to us to spread his Good News to the world. We are missionaries of the Easter message, sent forth to share personally what we ourselves have received.

Friends, the angel from heaven told the disciples that Jesus would meet them in Galilee. He meets us too in our daily lives, in the settings that are familiar to us and part of our routine; but gladdened by the message of his Resurrection, our lives are not the same as before – what is familiar has been made new. Through our daily prayers and works of service, let us announce anew – to ourselves and to those still plagued by sorrow and bewilderment – that eternal proclamation of Easter: that the goodness of God is more powerful than evil, that love is stronger than hate, that God has defeated death with the life of the Risen Christ.

May God grant you his joy in this holy season!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday: Testifying to the Truth

Paolo Veronese, Crucifixion (c. 1582)

We see its likeness everywhere – on billboards, bumper stickers, and jewelry. It comes in all shapes and sizes and made of just about any material. The cross is a ubiquitous symbol, all around us, and for that reason, one that has in many ways lost its meaning, even for many Christians. In the venerations of our Catholic tradition, we tend to use the crucifix – that is, the cross with the body of Jesus on it – but even that I think at times is a symbol we have become accustomed to, and thus overlook.

Today, we are reminded again of the terrible reality of what the cross stands for – of what a crucifixion actually is. Far from a status symbol or fashion piece, it was a brutal means of execution and something meant to inspire terror in those who saw it – in short, a warning not to oppose the powers of the world.

Judged according to worldly standards, the Cross of Christ is certainly a defeat. Jesus’s public life as a preacher and healer ends with his ignominious death, hanged on a tree for all to see. But as we heard in the Gospel narrative, Jesus is not helpless. He suffers and submits to what others have plotted for him, but he does so willingly. The purpose of his life – and his death – is, in his words, to testify to the truth.

A few weeks ago, I noticed something about our crucifix behind the altar that I had not noticed before. If you look closely, Jesus’s right hand – though nailed against the wood – is in the traditional position of blessing or teaching, the thumb, index finger, and middle finger extended with the other two fingers curled against the palm. What a beautiful if subtle way of teaching us that, when seen with eyes of faith, the Cross is not a defeat but a victory, not an end but a beginning. Jesus’s death is the final teaching to humanity about the love of God for us, that the Father would send his Son to suffer and die to save us from eternal death. The Cross is an eternal blessing that opens for us the way to eternal life.

When we come forward later in a few moments to venerate the Cross, we honor the particular way that Jesus showed us the depth of his love. Jesus came to testify to the truth, by his life and by his death. When we recall his sacrifice – indeed, when we unite our own sacrifices and sufferings to his – then we too testify to the truth of God’s love.

Friends, though it has now become something common, even ordinary to us, every crucifix should remind us of the saving of Jesus – that it was real and it was terrible. But the Cross is not the last word, for Jesus is no longer dead but lives forever. United to him, he will bring us to victory over death and every power of this world. May the Cross of Christ be our foundation in faith, our hope for eternal life, and our model for how to follow the Lord.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Holy Thursday: The Legacy of Christ

One of the more important things that a responsible adult needs to do is to write a will. I remember when my sister and her husband were preparing to welcome their first child, and my dad told them, “You know, guys, it’s time for you to get a will.” They were a bit taken aback by his suggestion – when you’re starting a family, after all, who wants to think about what life will be like when you’re dead? 

With some reflection, though, they could see what he meant. Making a will allows us to set our affairs in order, providing for our loved ones and stating clearly what we want to happen with our legacy. In the era of Jesus’s day, it was not uncommon for a patriarch to gather together his family and explain what inheritance he was giving to each of them and how they were to honor his legacy when he was gone.

The Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples has many facets by which it can be approached: it is an intimate meal among friends; it is a Passover meal, commemorating the time when God brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt; it is the setting of Jesus’s betrayal and the beginning of his Passion. But for the Christian community, this supper in the Upper Room is also when Jesus gathered us together as his family and shared with us his legacy, what he desired us to inherit from him, and how he wished us to honor him by it.

The Eucharist – our communion with Jesus’s Passion, death, and Resurrection by means of receiving his Body and Blood – is the preeminent gift of our Lord to his loved ones, both the disciples gathered in the Upper Room and us at every liturgy at which we gather. It his lasting legacy, the gift of Himself and even more the gift of a sharing in what he accomplished on Calvary. Like St. Paul said to the Corinthians, we receive this gift as something passed on from those before us, a truly spiritual inheritance given by Jesus from generation to generation. Each time we gather at this altar, we are not simply partaking in what looks like bread and wine – rather we are truly communing with the Lord, receiving anew as it were from Christ the identity and the legacy that he has given to us as his Church.

The Last Supper by Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret (1895)

Of course, like any inheritance, the Eucharist is given to us not only to be received but to be used in accord with the intention of the Lord who has given it. Like any family treasure, we can misuse it, devalue it, even defame it if we forget the reason Christ willed it to us. What is that reason? He shows us clearly in the Gospel. Washing the feet of the disciples, Jesus becomes the servant, humbling himself to show us how to serve him. At the heart of Christ’s gift of himself in the sacrament is his desire that we might become, by the graces of the Eucharist, visible signs and examples of Eucharistic love in our service to one another. Receiving the Lord from on high, we become sharers in his identity – our hearts opened so that our hands may work, washing the feet of the world.

The disciples were taken aback by the act of service that they were shown. But after his passion, death, and resurrection – after they had come to understand what that Holy Thursday night had meant, when they remembered Jesus’s command to remember him – they understood that they too had the mission to wash feet. We too remember the same each time we gather around this altar. Empowered by Christ himself in the Eucharist, we bring Christ to others by our service, by our love, by the very way we live our lives.

Each year, the Church in our diocese takes up a collection on this day to support the education of our seminarians, the men who believe God may be calling them to be priests in service to his Church. Perhaps God similarly is speaking to the heart of a man here today in that same way; or perhaps God is speaking to the heart of a young person considering the consecrated single life; or perhaps to two individuals in love – who feel an attraction to each other – but who are called to see in each other their way to holiness and to heaven through holy marriage; or to any of us in a particular way that only the Holy Spirit knows. Any vocation, any mission by which we define our lives – the way we work out our salvation, in the words of St. Paul, through fear and trembling – must have at its heart ... feet-washing, the service of God through humbled love for the ones around us.

Friends, on this Holy Thursday, the anniversary of Jesus’s institution of the new covenant of his love, our hearts are moved to “thanksgiving” (the word in Greek? Eucharistein), thanksgiving that our Lord has given us this spiritual inheritance, this gift to be embraced and shared and lived out each and every day. Every time we share in this sacred meal, we receive anew from Jesus our identity as members of his Body, sharers in the covenant of his Blood, sent forth by him to renew the world with our service and charity. May Jesus in this Eucharist strengthen us to always honor the inheritance he has given us and fulfill the mission to which he calls us.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday: The Suffering Servant

There is a natural instinct we have as humans to avoid pain – we recoil from a hot stove, we jump at a sudden loud noise, we flinch if it seems someone is about to strike us. In extreme situations, if we sense immediate danger, we even get an adrenaline rush to defend ourselves and fight back if necessary. In short, we don’t bear well insults and especially injuries without avoiding, complaining, or even fighting back in some way. 

And yet, the Passion narrative that we just read tells us that is just how Jesus responded during his own torture, crucifixion, and death. When accused, he remained silent; when flogged, he did not cry out; when given a crown of thorns and a scarlet robe to mock his claim to divine kingship, he did not weep. Instead, Jesus stands as the calm center within the chaotic storm of sin around him – seeing all, bearing all, enduring all. The only clear word that we hear him speak in the narrative are the words of the 22nd psalm: Eli, eli, lema sabacthani – “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

In this moment, perhaps more than any other in his life, Jesus is accomplishing the mission of mercy for which he came. He is the Suffering Servant, the one who bears the sins of Israel, accepting on their behalf (and ours) the weight of the consequence of sin. Though he is the rightful heir to his ancestor David, the triumphant king of Jerusalem, he nonetheless chooses to embody literally the words of the First Reading of Isaiah: “I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.” Though he possesses inwardly the eternal experience of the Father’s love, Jesus gives himself over to the experience exteriorly of being completely abandoned, forsaken, in union with what our own wicked humanity has chosen apart from God.

Jesus sets his face like flint, in the words of Isaiah, so that he may speak a word that will rouse the weary. By remaining silent, Jesus demonstrates that God accompanies every experience of human suffering. Jesus says this to us via his silence, through his acceptance in utter obedience of what his Father desires, not to subject his own Son to torment but to raise us – his adopted children – to the life of redemption. For all who are lost, downcast, abandoned, rejected, divorced from the abundant life of God – Jesus says to you in his passion, “I have entered into what you are experiencing and I am there with you; do not be afraid.” 

Honoré Daumier, Ecce Homo (1850)

Jesus accepts silently what you and I would have rightly suffered – and it is precisely for that reason that in the face of injustice you and I cannot remain silent. Christ suffered and died for the redemption of all, and in so doing he has given every human person a greater dignity and value than we had before. Thus every offense against human life is, in a sense, an offense against Christ. The examples, of course, are easy to call to mind: the continuing and, it seems, escalating violence in Syria; the constant assault against the unborn in our country and others, now numbering in the hundreds of millions; the continued legacy of retribution by means of the death penalty, including the eight individuals scheduled to be executed in our own state beginning next week; the ever-present injustices against the low-income, the marginalized, the minority, the immigrant. These issues and more must be seen by us not merely with our political lenses or judged by our individual moral compasses; we must also see them as matters to be approached via our faith. Through our prayer, our sacrifices, our efforts to support causes of justice and especially to work for justice in our own lives through mercy, patience, kindness, gentleness – we make that redemptive work of Jesus expand just a little farther, like the rays of a rising sun, to dispel the forces of darkness.

Friends, as we start this Holy Week, we are reminded that it is out of love for us that Jesus humbled himself, even to the point of death on the cross. Calling upon his powerful name, we in turn must speak out against those injustices which defame the dignity he has given to every person by his blood. Even more, we must ensure that our own lives are reflections of his mercy and peace and unity, even bearing patiently our own suffering at times, so that we can further give praise and honor – with every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth – to the name that is above every other name: Jesus Christ the Lord.