As I write these lines on Monday, April 24, we have come to the end of the Easter Octave. For those of us who try to live by the liturgical cycle this marks the first full tilt work day since before Holy Thursday. Clergy are expected to be recovered from their paschal exertions and at their stations, ready to do business. World events conspire with the calendar to keep us vigilant.
Currently, we wonder about a shutdown of the federal government, and we ponder the second round of France’s Armageddon of a presidential election. Everywhere there appear new things to no longer be taken for granted. But if the sinews of the present grow brittle, the eternity operating within us offers a crucial perspective on the fragility of the moment. Answering that question, and delivering that answer, will be the work of preachers. Our own preaching patrons, Catherine of Siena and Vincent Ferrer addressed their times with prophetic authority precisely because they regarded eternity as more real than their immediate crises.
This issue becomes important for us in marking out the middle ground between obsessing about our situation and hiding from it. Our summons to witness demands that we engage with social realities as people for whom eternal life has become tangible already through the sacraments. The principles of this encounter flow from the ancient words we speak in the dark every Easter Vigil. As the celebrant carves the four numerals of the current year into the wax of the Paschal Candle he says. “Christ yesterday and today, the
Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to Him, and all the ages. To Him be glory and power through every age. Amen.”
This establishes the principle that every age of culture, politics, commerce, and science serves God’s plan for the human race. If God uses each age, we must live in each age. Consider that the Church was persecuted by the Roman Empire, then became an institution of it, and ultimately lived through the trauma of its fall. In the Middle Ages the Church became integrated into the feudal system and in the Renaissance as a major patron of the arts. Christ’s Body has passed through the storms of Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and Revolution. In succession Capitalism, Nationalism, Fascism, Communism, and Secularism have each challenged our place in the social fabric. In each of these ages, and from each of these movements, we have learned more about Christ and His Gospel, and about the essential power of the sacramental way of life He bequeathed to us.
At the same time, carrying with us the vocation of prophecy, the Church also offers a critique of her times as to mores, methods, and convictions.
If she had not the promise of the Resurrection we could not fulfill this complicated vocation. As it is, we already carry with us eternal life – the one thing that no age can take from us; and so the Church can be humbly and authoritatively present in each age. When we draw on this tremendous heritage, we learn from every movement but do not allow ourselves to be co-opted by any of them.
The Second Vatican Council offers a sterling example of the Church serenely learning from the times and critiquing them. But think how much has changed since 1965! We will not be done with the work of engagement until days are done.
In this age we, the Church, behold a technological revolution and its ramifications for each aspect of human life. The work place is not the same, nor is politics. The patterns of domestic life have changed, but then so has the way people relate to social institutions, including religious ones. The pace and expanse of communication continues to accelerate. It will be for us to learn from these developments and not just in practical ways like online donation and having a Facebook page. We also have to survey these changes in the light of the Easter Candle. They will give us new insights into Christ as He comes to us in the Scriptures and Sacraments. We will gain new perceptions of what it means to be just, temperate, courageous, and prudent, and new forms of art will serve the presentation of the Gospel. The significance of the human person will become more apparent, not less.
But as the age pushes us back to a rereading of all that has been given to us, our tradition will impel us toward a charitable critique of our times. This work of prophecy is ours from the Font, and we will not worship with integrity if we do not fulfill this commission.
The life flowing from Christ’s Resurrection keeps us serenely in this place of engagement, because we have learned that there will be another age for us to deal with after this one. When no new age comes we will be home.
If you were here for any of the Triduum services, I imagine that the numbers in attendance amazed you as they did me. When the great feasts bring non-churchgoers to church they offer us a heaven-sent chance to connect. To me this year’s Holy Week gave our whole parish community, laity, religious, and clergy, a singular chance to testify that Jesus lives and calls us to life. Succinctly put, the days were beautiful and they were effective; one could catalogue aesthetic successes, but one could also feel the conviction behind them. In this lies the difference between celebrating mysteries and executing ceremonies. Thanks go to the Holy Spirit for having gathered us all in such marvelous fashion and for having woven so many personal gifts into a fabric that is “revealing” in a whole new way. Certainly, I will never express adequately my gratitude to Him for including me in your company.
Perhaps Holy Week 2017 can teach us about our capacity to bear effective witness all year long. To that end, I invite you to participate in eight days of prayer for a new Pentecost.
Consider some things so deeply implanted in us that they often go un-named. If you are reading these lines, faith probably makes a significant difference in your life. On the Cross you recognize your Savior, and in the Eucharist you experience His support and companionship. It is a fair bet that you have persevered in parish life because you are reorganizing your life around the truth of the Resurrection. Simply, you have the Easter Faith.
From this gift we derive comfort and enlightenment, challenge and nourishment: faith gives confidence in believing. But why is this gift so hard to share in our times? God is allowing you and me to live in a society that finds it difficult to believe. That which gives coherence and direction to our lives, eludes our contemporaries. So I ask: how do we react to living with secular people who do not “get it”? We could become defensive and circle the wagons against our age, or we could become angry and belligerent toward it. We could resign ourselves to being old fashioned, or we could decide that every age does its own thing and worry no longer.
But from the very frustration of not being able to share belief, we might also discover a whole new avenue of growth for ourselves, and find the depth of believing that shines forth in the Saints. When the Saints recognize the doubt, indifference, or error of their neighbors, they love all the more, and longing for the belief of their companions deepens their life of prayer. Standouts in this category are the two patrons of our parish, St. Vincent Ferrer (1357-141) and St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) were Dominican preachers who lived in a plague-ravaged Europe and sharply divided church. Both burned with desire that others would come to know the God who brought them so much joy and fulfillment. God responded to each with a singular gift of communicating the Gospel to their contemporaries.
I feel we have the task of begging God for the words, images and insights that will help the people of this time connect with the timeless content of what Christ reveals. I am inviting you to join me in prayer for this intention during the eight days that connect the two feasts of our patrons. We can ask these two holy preachers to pray that we share their zeal for truth, their love of souls, and their empathy with their contemporaries.
Mass will be offered each day for your intentions, starting on April 28, the Vigil of the Feast of
St. Catherine of Siena, and concluding on May 5, the Feast of St. Vincent Ferrer in the calendar of the order. (We also celebrated a feast day for St. Vincent Ferrer on April 5 according to the traditional calendar.) Prayers for this intention will be said at all our parish Masses and a sermon related to this octave of prayer will be preached daily in both of our churches. Please make use of the envelopes available at the shrines of St. Vincent and St. Catherine to let us know of your personal intentions. Please know also that the Friars in our community will be joining in eight days of pleading for the spread of the Gospel, so that more and more people may live serenely on the foundation of Christ’s promise of life.
I believe that when, from the gut, we desire others to have what we have, we have it all the more.
These days of prayer will open our Parish Jubilee, connecting the 150th anniversary of Dominican parish ministry in New York with the 100th anniversary of St. Vincent Ferrer church.
By tradition, “The Lord is Risen,” supplants conventional greetings during these days of joy (“He is truly Risen” providing the venerable response.) It is also the first Christian sermon, preached by Mary
Magdalene to the Apostles, garnering her the grand title of Apostle to the Apostles (Apostola Apostolorum) and the co-patronage of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans). She announced not just a fact, but a life. As He passes through doors and remains unrecognizable to His followers until the Holy Spirit lowers the barrier, Jesus without losing His humanity, has entered upon a new mode of life.
The gospels of the Easter Sundays to follow, six of them leading up to Pentecost, disclose the nature of that life and indicate that through the sacraments we have already begun to share in it. At Mass during the fifty days of Easter we always hear a first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, which chronicles how men and women organized their whole lives around the Resurrection from the moment of Pentecost. Without a word of the New Testament having been written, they become Christians, through Baptism and the Breaking of the Bread, the Teachings of the Apostles and the common life. Peter, Paul, and the other Apostles do not show up throughout the Roman world with a book to talk about, but with a life to share.
The saints who followed them through the ages turn our heads because we perceive in them a life reshaped by the fact of the Resurrection. Two such are the Patrons of our Parish, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Vincent Ferrer. Both of them are Easter preachers. Like the Apostles, they walked through the world proclaiming the victory of Christ. They did not ground their work in institutions, but claimed the sacramental life as their sustenance. Each of them represents itinerancy, that aspect of life the Dominicans have inherited from the Apostles. They possessed the singular grace of having no real home, but lived lives on the road for the sake of the Gospel. They trod the byways of late Fourteenth and early Fifteenth Century Europe, a world depopulated by the Black Death and sundered by schism. In fearful times they preached from the courage of the Good Shepherd. Each challenged the age prophetically to recover the confidence that comes from Faith.
In the formation of our new parish, we are blessed to have two Patrons who accepted from Christ the gift and challenge of a life in motion. We, ourselves, have been launched into change by the decision of Christ’s Church. Our Patrons can teach us much about how to live in these times and preach to these times.
It comes to the Parish as a singular gift to the Parish that our Patrons have feast days so close
together. St. Catherine’s Day is April 29, while the Order now celebrates St. Vincent on May 5. (His feast in the general calendar is April 5, but Lent and Easter Week too frequently suppress it). This fortunate circumstance allows us to link the two feasts with a festival of prayer. So even today, as we begin the singular Octave of Easter, we will shortly celebrate our own parochial octave of prayer from April 28, the Vigil of St. Catherine, until May 5, the Feast of St. Vincent.
As with the St. Joseph and St. Jude Novenas we have already celebrated during this parish year, this Octave will be facilitated by our Dominican Shrine of St. Jude, and like the St. Jude Novena, this Octave will feature a series of special preachings. We will invite you to come to it with your prayer intentions, and we will also have a common intention as a Parish. This will be to pray for a new Pentecost; to ask the Holy Spirit, through the intercession of St. Catherine of Siena and St. Vincent Ferrer, that the preaching of our church may truly reach the men and women of this age.
These days of prayer will figure as the first event in a Jubilee of our own. The Dominican Friars took up their first parochial ministry in New York City in June of 1867, and the current Church of St. Vincent Ferrer was dedicated on May 5 of 1918. This gives a “Holy Year” between the 150th anniversary of our presence in the Archdiocese and the 100th anniversary of St. Vincent Ferrer Church. The Parish Year of 2017-2018 will have this Jubilee as its defining theme.
I believe that for a century and a half, Dominican women and men have undertaken in our city the Easter Preaching, after the pattern of Catherine and Vincent. I hope that our teaching, preaching, and our service in parishes and hospitals have all been a fulfillment of the Risen Lord’s greeting, “Peace be with you.”
Details on all of the above will follow soon.
The laws of mass-produced bulletins being what they are, I wrote these Holy Week lines way back on March 30.
I look forward to the holiest of times through a lens of bafflement. Information about events now comes so elaborately sauced with spin that I cannot figure out what meat lies on the plate. What am I to believe? With public affairs so obscured, the believability of Jesus startles me as I look forward to this Holy Week. In the long narrative of the Passion Jesus stands in a cloud of posturing as the real one. Pilate testified to this when he looked upon the scourged and mocked Jesus and said, “Behold the Man.” (Ecce Homo) (John 19:5) The Prophet Isaiah gave word, centuries in advance, to the credibility of Jesus when he prophesied, “There was, in Him no stately bearing to make us look at Him, nor appearance that would attract us to Him.” (Isaiah 53:2)
As Jesus carries His cross through these days He manifests in His person the startling truth of human beings. Behind our displays of muscularity; be they physical, technical, political, artistic, or financial, men and women walk this earth alone, vulnerable, and finite. Age, handicap, and illness do us the invaluable service of serving up the ungarnished and unvarnished truth about humanity in general, and ours in particular. The message of Holy Week is that God loves this truth of us and builds upon it, as He grounds the resurrected life on the death of Jesus. What is most real about us, becomes the way to the reality of God.
So as we pass through these days take note of who in the story wants to demonstrate power to us; Pilate, Herod, the High Priest, and the crowd. As we entertain their claims we realize they all act in God’s drama.
By contrast, we contemplate how Jesus, knowing His God, has the security to be real for
Himself and for all of us.
On Palm Sunday we ponder the way in which Jesus permits Himself to be misunderstood by the crowd, as we are misperceived by those close to us.
On Holy Thursday we marvel as He washes feet, addressing Himself in love to the the part of us that bears the dirt and smell of the road we have walked, and recognize how much of our life is shaped by our mileage.
We see how He promises to be with us through time under the forms of the most basic food and drink, and recognize the many hungers and thirsts of your own life.
We hear how He names His loneliness in the face of betrayal, and denial and we recall the isolating record of our disappointments.
On Good Friday our ears perk up as Jesus says to the High Priest, “I have spoken publicly to the world. I have always taught in a synagogue or in the Temple area where all the Jews gather, and in secret I have said nothing.” (John 18:20) In Jesus there is no muscularity of secretiveness or
On Easter we recognize the otherworldly paradox that we are impressed by the
un-impressiveness of Jesus, and therein lies the power to look beyond the unimpressive things that used to impress us. We share in divine life through His very human death and so we do not shy aware from any part of human life. We present ourselves to the world without spin because we now carry in ourselves the news that may be believed.
Tomorrow, Monday, April 3 opens a new phase in the Lenten cycle which we call “Passiontide.” The liturgical focus now shifts from moral conversion to a contemplation of the suffering and death of Jesus. At Mass every day this week you will hear a distinctive Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer. Each Mass
contains such a preface, and it indicates the particular reason for which we give thanks at a given Eucharist. It is worth noting we take the stance of gratitude at every Mass, even when we commemorate something as terrible as the Suffering (Passion) and Death of the Lord. The preface reads as follows:
It is truly right and just,
our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father,
almighty and eternal God.
For through the saving Passion of your Son
the whole world has received a heart
to confess the infinite power of your majesty,
since by the wondrous power of the Cross
your judgment on the world is now revealed
and the authority of Christ crucified.
And so, Lord, with all the Angels and Saints,
we, too, give you thanks,
as in exultation we acclaim:
Put simply, I am thankful at this time because the Death of Jesus has caused me to perceive the power of God in a particular way. In Passiontide, I recognize His power over power. He has subjugated what has subjugated me.
The Cross channels the human power to dominate. Jesus walks the Via Dolorosa carrying the weight of Imperial Rome, official religion, and the crowd. Each claims control over life, and the three have colluded to “get” Jesus. Jesus Crucified is bound in the place of all those who pay the price for life having the order that someone else thinks it should have. But since we look at the Cross through the lens of the Resurrection we recognize that God has judged all of this power to be futile and responds to it with His own unfailing power to give life. God judges our efforts to dominate, to overawe, and to manipulate to be vain, and yet He loves us and calls to a life beyond such dead stratagems.
By contrast we are amazed by the authority of Jesus who has lost every shred of His own human
power, save the power to love which serves for the healing of the rest. We smirk at the idea of love having power but look how it has reoriented our lives. The helplessness of Jesus has transformed our behavior, our thinking, and our longing in a way that no totalitarian or revolutionary could ever dream of. You read these lines not because you are afraid of God, but because you love Him and desire Him.
By the life of the sacraments this perspective of God is now ours. We are equipped by Him to see through, lovingly, the vanities of our own time and to confess that the victory of Jesus is more real than they.
Next Sunday it will be time to acknowledge the power in us of the powerlessness of Christ. On Palm Sunday we walk in procession and confess to the world that Christ’s transformation of us has begun, but is incomplete. We celebrate another Holy Week because we need to, and our witness is not our triumph but His.
Consider gathering at St. Catherine’s and walking to St. Vincent’s next Sunday, April 9, to testify to the one who has the power to keep you in motion toward the highest of goals.