Each year the First Sunday of Lent shows us the vulnerability of Jesus. Satan comes to meet him just at the point of weakness. He found Jesus hungry and alone in the desert and he offered well being for free. This year St. Mark gives the story very briefly but he brings home in pithy fashion the strength in Jesus that made him vulnerable yet invulnerable: “He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.” Jesus had a security in God that enabled him to be serene while surrounded. Safety for Jesus does not mean a secure external environment: rather it lies at his inner core, allowing him to live beyond security. Interior well-being will serve him all the way to the Cross. This Sunday’s Liturgy invites us to stand with Jesus in the strength of weakness. As we receive Communion today the cantor will sing, or the choir will chant these words from Psalm 90, “The Lord will overshadow you with His shoulders, and under His wings shall you trust; His truth shall compass you with a shield.” These words of safety and the sacrament they accompany explain each other.
Absent of the sacrament we might look at God’s protection as a force field against all comers. We could look at divine favor as a TSA pre-check for the great and the good, a clear path to invincible security for those in the know. Such thinking must underlie the happy presumption that true Christians will evade the flu. But of course many of us daily communicants will get that virus and a whole lot worse.
Christ and all the martyrs walking after him in procession through the centuries testify that there is no reliable external safety. God does not change the rules of humanity for us, nor does He insulate us from its effects. Actually, He equips us to befriend the very fragility of human life. Following their Lord, Christians are notoriously unsafe with themselves; they become missionaries and monks, they bind themselves in marriage and religion, and they work at jobs that do not pay. Either their lives are constant “white knuckling,” or they thrive on some hidden power source.
Which brings us back to Communion! Giving himself to us as food, Christ becomes the living serenity of Christians. Like him they are not spared, but like him they are not looking to be. Indeed, they see life through his eyes and they behold a reversal of values. Without a sacramental vision life involves “getting” a series of commodities.
For this essay safety offers the most ready example. Safety is something I must procure by making enough money, and by being stronger than you. To be secure I must be on top and in control, and life means striving for and then maintaining a position. To this achievement worry will always bind me.
Think of other such commodities. Of course love is a commodity that I must get for myself if I am to call my life successful. I must also procure sexual experience, inclusion in a circle of friends. I must also go out and find an interesting life, and this will mean pursuing entertainment. Finally, of course I must find and retain the favor and defense of the Most High.
But viewing life through the Eucharistic lens, which is also the cruciform lens, reveals something altogether different. The commodities so many seek outside themselves actually lie within, not to seek but to share. With Christ’s sacramental intervention I become a lover. Rather than getting love, I am the one who can give it with no strings attached. Indeed, as I live the Eucharistic life my capacity to give this love widens so that the inclusion of others becomes a lifetime habit
With my core in God I have the security to be a truth-teller and an accepter of persons. Because I have safety inside I am safe for others. Rather than getting safety I give it. Even without a dime I walk through life as a benefactor. A startling promise comes with this interior wealth. The sharing of what God gives satisfies the human heart more than anything else. Being generous with others is generosity to myself. This is a verifiable experience.
The whole Lenten observance works to put us in touch with this truth of our sacramental selves. Prayer, self denial, and almsgiving move us from getting to giving, and who would have guessed that this is a movement from poverty to wealth and from fear to safety.
I would like to invite you to come to Mass this Saturday evening at 6 PM at St. Vincent Ferrer, when His Eminence, Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan will celebrate Mass for our parish. A party will follow in the Parish Hall.
This will be primarily a congegrational Mass but our choir will perform works of the season under the direction of James Wetzel.
Hide me under the shadow of thy wings – John E. West (1863-1929)
Jesu, the very thought of thee – Sir Edward Cuthbert Bairstow (1874-1946)
Paradisi portas – attrib. Manuel Cardoso (1566-1650)
This celebration marks two major milestones in our life; first,150 years of Dominican Parish Ministry in this neighborhood, and second, the Centenary of St. Vincent Ferrer Church.
The Mass on Saturday will be the first in a series of events planned to honor this double jubilee. Please consider changing your Sunday rhythm and joining us for this wonderful occasion.
I would like to invite you to be part of our Parish Lenten Retreat for 2018. This will take place on Saturday Morning, February 17, at St. Vincent Ferrer. In Lent we seek discipline, and perhaps our cultural and political life can point us toward a discipline that is apt for our times, conversation. Can we rediscover the discipline of listening to someone, listening with every sense? How do we make people safe to speak their minds and then truly entertain what they have said?
In the end, the life of our church and our nation has developed through conversation, and so this artful practice becomes a way for our church to witness to our age.
9 AM Coffee, etc. in the Parish Hall
9:30 AM Conference in the church
10 AM Shared Silence
10:30 AM Conference
11:15 AM Stations of the Cross
Noon Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Lent
During these weeks of Lent we would like to experiment with a new time of Eucharistic Adoration at St. Catherine’s, namely Sunday afternoon. We hope this time will be helpful to those coming to and from the hospitals to visit family and friends. The time will also complement the weeknight adoration we currently have at St. Vincent Ferrer.
We will expose the Blessed Sacrament at 3PM and pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.
Benediction and reposition of the Sacrament will take place just before the 5 PM Mass.
Here is a schedule of Services for Ash Wednesday
7 AM Low Mass St. Catherine of Siena
8 AM Low Mass St. Vincent Ferrer
10 AM Sung Mass St. Vincent Ferrer
12:10 PM Low Mass St. Vincent Ferrer
1 PM Sung Mass St. Catherine of Siena
5:15 PM Low Mass St. Catherine of Siena
6 PM Solemn Mass St. Vincent Ferrer
Music of Palestrina, de Lasso, Byrd.
Allegri’s haunting Miserere will accompany the imposition of ashes.
7:30 PM Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Conference and Confessions
at St. Vincent Ferrer (Ashes are distributed before exposition.)
8:30 PM Night Prayer and Benediction at St. Vincent Ferrer
Thus far this year we have not been able to catch our rhythm on “family” Masses. We will try to rectify that for Lent.
At the 10 AM Mass at St. Catherine’s we will have “Family Mass” on the Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Sundays of Lent.
The children enrolled in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, and all other children present will be invited to come forward for the solemn proclamation of the Gospel, followed by a Lenten Family Catechesis.
I do hope this will serve you for a fruitful Lent.
In recent essays I have pondered the moment of Holy Communion through the lens of the Communion Antiphon which accompanies it. Now we have come to the brink of Lent During the Forty Days we live differently and gain a whole new vantage point for contemplating the Eucharist.
While you and I receive it weekly or daily, catechumens prepare assiduously, with longing, to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” Ps. 34:8. The stunning fact of new communicants prompts us to grasp anew the preciousness of the Holy Things. Significantly, each day of the Lenten season brings a fresh antiphon and this points to the power of the Lenten observance to disclose so much of the Faith.
On Ash Wednesday the “imposition” of ashes takes pride of place in the minds of many. But hopefully this Wednesday, you will come to Mass, receive your ashes, and stay for communion. Ponder the relation of the two moments. As you accept the ashes on to your person you proclaim
yourself a penitent, in need of reform and renewal. When you receive the Eucharist you take into yourself the means for carrying out what you have pledged. Already you respond to Jesus who gave us the “impossible” law of love and then gave us the unimaginable wherewithal to live it.
On this first day of Lent, as you prepare and come forward to receive, you will hear the following text recited by the congregation, sung by the Cantor, or chanted by the choir.
He who shall meditate on the law of the Lord day and night
shall bring forth his fruit in due season. Ps. 77: 29-30
Here, the Liturgy pairs the reception of the Eucharist and the pondering of Sacred Truth. Seemingly, it says nothing about prayer, fasting, or almsgiving, themes we might have expected. Or does it?
I see two levels of connection here. First, if we seek in Lent a stronger communion with Jesus, we must meet him again in the Scriptures. A great prayerful and ascetical commitment for the season would be a meditative reading of one whole Gospel. You may find that texts very familiar to you leap off the page in whole new ways at this particular time in our history or your history. But what we say of Christ, applies equally to His sacraments. Entree to the limitless meaning of the Eucharist will also be through the Word of God. For instance, we cannot grasp the Lord’s intent in Holy Communion if we do not know the story of the Passover in Exodus, or even the perennially surprising Gospel of Holy Thursday, John 13’s Washing of the Feet. This too is telling us how Holy Communion serves us in the Christian walk toward God. Quite simply, when we receive communion the Lord is washing our feet, cleansing us, nourishing us, and refreshing us to keep walking.
But if I do not perceive the Eucharist apart from God’s Word, I also cannot find the Law of God expressed more clearly than in that same Eucharist. Put simply the Scriptures and the Eucharist each give the best explanation of the other. It all comes together in love. In this wondrous sacrament the Lord gives Himself to me without cost and without strings, in a way beyond either my expectations or my understanding. In this is the love.
The unilateral choice to befriend another is the law God makes visible in the free gift of creation, and the same Law Jesus fulfills for all of us on the Cross. He befriends us that we may have eternal life. When I receive Communion He fulfills this law for me so that even now I may have a life beyond the bounds set by nature. This Law will be fulfilled in me as the unilateral choice to love becomes the organizing principle of my life. So when I receive Communion in faith, and let it have its way in me, the Law of God set out in the many words of Scripture will also become legible in my own life.
Now, as you receive the Eucharist at the outset of Lent, you can see prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as the instruments of communion. By self-denial you uncover your desire for connection at all levels, by prayer you become more alert to this gift, and by your almsgiving you amplify its fruits.
When you and I fulfill the Law of Jesus we will not fail to fulfill ourselves.
Blessings to you in the planning of your Lent.
Today as you receive Holy Communion you will hear this text read, sung by the Cantor, or chanted by the Choir.
A multitude of the sick, and those who were troubled with unclean spirits came to Him:
for power went forth from Him and healed all.
In the completely ordinary, utterly amazing moment of Holy Communion that same power will go forth from Christ into you and me, and it will enter us for our healing. It passes inside to touch each of us and grow each of us in just the way needed, at just the time needed. Just think of all the men and women processing with you to receive the Lord. Each of them walks to this moment of connection seeking that capacity to love in which true happiness exists. Each person in the communion line, and the one at the altar, receives Jesus so as to challenge a fear, or an anxiety, or a hurt that keeps us locked in self-absorption. Jesus finds us with our wagons circled around our wounds and nurtures in us the strength to be lovers. Indeed, we are lovers with his love, which fosters the good of the neighbor because it first sees the good in the neighbor, because of the Good that is God.
This moment of the Mass provides a fresh takeaway every time in the pairing of the text and the action. It offers yet another vantage point on the mystery of the Eucharist which draws us to itself in all the seasons of living. The Communion Antiphon accompanies communion and comments on it.
A suggestion: as you walk to communion contemplate the line of people ahead of you. Obviously you want to name your own needs for Holy Communion, but there will be a second to lift up the many invisible needs and longings all around you.
Think too of this paradox, as you find yourself in a line, you realize that you are one of the multitude. You are one of the many people who need, and your hunger has placed you in this line on this Sunday. Life on our streets teaches this same lesson to anyone with eyes away from the phone long enough to perceive it. All around are needy people carrying bags, some visible.
But there is another truth of Holy Communion. You will be fed alone, person to person, in your own encounter. As surely as Jesus knelt and washed Peter’s feet so he comes into your soul and adapts to your way of thinking, and perceiving, and speaking. Here is the guest who knows already the problems and patterns of his host, and knows as surely the way to their healing. What a beautiful paradox: you are a face in a sea of humanity, and every hair of yours is counted.
Each time you make this familiar walk from pew to altar, the antiphon will offer a fresh insight. By bringing text and action together in our minds we access the discipline of worship and life established by the Incarnate Lord who had a family, and a job; God will bring forth challenge and encouragement from the your life’s familiar people and times, places and things. For Him the communion life is not complete without you.