Parish of St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Catherine of Siena

A Parish of the Archdiocese of New York served by the Dominican Friars

April 20, 2019

The Lord is Risen – Pastor’s Reflection (April 21, 2019)

The Lord is Risen!

May you receive this day as a pledge on the promise that organizes your life of faith. 

At Easter, the Risen Lord appears to his followers but he is no longer with them.  He has passed over to a new mode of existence we might call the life of glory.  He takes fish and eats it, but he also passes through locked doors.  In him, humanity like ours has entered a life shorn of constraints but not of identity.

But in the flesh-bound world identity relies on constraints.  I know who I am because of the boundaries I live within.  I possess a priestly identity that shapes my life by obligations and prohibitions, and my vocation as a Dominican Friar binds me to a specific pattern of life, including where I live and how I work. 

My own history further defines me through experiences I have had and those I have missed.  I am Walter and Beverly’s son and they made defining choices for me: then I began to make them for myself.  So I carry the blessing and challenge of a particular history.  Further, I think of myself as German, from Kentucky, and from Louisville. Origins connect me to some and distinguish me from others.  Finally, my body presents the ultimate constraint, permitting some things and preventing others. 

My life offers more blessings than I can count, but more numerous are haven’ts, can’ts and won’ts that alsoshape it.

Human life includes these limits upon itself, and our manner of responding to them makes all the difference.  Dealing with them marks us as resigned or resentful, defiant or resourceful, stoic or imaginative, accepting or anxious.  Describing a life without these boundaries defies the imagination, but on Easter we sing Alleluias because Jesus lives it now, and through the sacraments he prepares us to join him in it 

Even the fleshly world offers hints of the life beyond flesh.  When I made my final vows in 1991, I promised obedience to God, Blessed Mary, Blessed Dominic, and my superiors “until Death.”  Such a promise sounds like the longest of restrictions: I must live within the vows until I die.  Less often do I ponder the commitment from the other side: it ends with the death of the body.  The vow itself recognizes that it will not obtain in a new life where the categories of this one will be gone.

Celebrations of marriage tell the same story.  I find each wedding to be a miracle of connection: for each member of a couple, their identity as spouse of the other will continuously shape the unfolding of their life.  Yet I ponder the startling words of Jesus, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”  (Mt. 22:30)

My Dominican identity pervades every aspect of my life, giving it shape, focus, direction, and much joy.  I will inhabit it gratefully for several decades, but what is that in comparison to eternity? 

Perhaps it is timely this Easter to ponder the gifts and limits of identity.  Often an aspect of ourselves becomes fundamental to our self-understanding, giving shape to our endeavors and our joys, but also to our exclusions and misunderstandings.  In fleshly life identity provides a place of fellowship, but also of fights.  When I discern how much identity means to others I take delight, but I also fear to offend.

I consider that my calling to eternal life is the truest thing about me.  It relativizes the other ways in which I envision myself, present myself, compare myself to you, or fight with you.  The death and resurrection of the Lord reveals human distinctions as passing things and invalidates violence in their regard.  At the same time, Jesus lived and ministered in a time and place, as a member of people, and as a child in a household.  So, the Incarnation ennobles these same distinctions as the means to a life beyond them.  What a paradox, that by embracing in faith the full complexity of my self and my story, I am made ready for a life with God who is utterly simple.

Much work remains for me to accept the gifts and limits that mark my fleshly life, and it will take still more work for me to embrace the diverse ways in which my neighbors identify themselves.  But all of these efforts will enable me to perceive our common and eternal identity with Christ in God.  This real truth quells suspicion, stifles envy, and prevents war.  Indeed, peace comes with perceiving that just beyond all the visible truths by which we must now live, there lies the great truth of the life that is coming to be, because Jesus lives.

Easter Peace!
Fr. Walter

April 13, 2019

Passiontide – Pastor’s Reflection (April 14, 2019)

The Palm Sunday Liturgy challenges me at my roots. I find myself carrying my palm, enjoying the beauty of the procession, and catching the mood of the happy crowds welcoming Jesus on the approach to Jerusalem.  Yet, every year that crowd turns on Jesus, and He ends up alone on Good Friday.  I ask myself if I would have stuck with Him once the glamor was gone.  Holy Week confronts me the paradox of recognition and understanding.  At some level I get Jesus and at a deeper level I do not, and this is why each year I must walk through Holy Week once more.  Here is the nature of Faith as a gift we spend a lifetime growing into.

By their content and their very intensity, the Holy Week Liturgies continue the revelatory work of the Cross.  The events of the Passion and the Resurrection lay bare the love of God.  By this has the cross been transformed for us.  What served as an instrument of execution has become the primary icon of our identity as Christians.  We kiss the Cross, we guild and bejewel it, we crown our buildings with it, we wear it with pride.  By this sign we believe that the Maker of the World knows and accepts us.

But He knows and accepts us as sinners, and the Cross reveals profoundly the sin of humanity. Jesus is stretched upon its beams by the arrogance of empire, the cowardice of leadership, the defensiveness of religious people, and the violence of everyone.  The death of Jesus exposes these things in a specific time and place and it indicts definite institutional actors.  But all of these together represent the shadow side of us, thrown into high relief and thrust into God’s face.  In the Crucifixion occur the perfect worship of Christ and the anti-worship of humanity. 

Christ Crucified takes up the priestly stance assigned to Israel in the covenant with Moses.  As the perfect Jew, holding God’s good things in covenant, He returns to God that which belongs to Him, namely the humanity He had received as gift, not right.  The perfection of Christ’s humanity asserts itself in bringing the worship of gratitude and vulnerability into the most terrible of circumstances.  Here, Christ stands on the ground sanctified by Abraham, who on Mt. Moriah offered God his son Isaac, recognizing the he had received him as gift, not possession.  God responds to Abraham by providing a ram so that the Patriarch could make his response to Him, and redeem his son. The radical love of the Passion appears in Christ’s offering of His own humanity and in the Father’s acceptance of the offer without reprieve. The Father and the Son embrace each other across the human cruelty vainly interposed between them. 

The love of Father and Son shows us the transformative power with which God responds to true human worship. The victory of this power becomes apparent to us at Easter, and we experience it at each Mass, as God continues to transform our offerings. 

The love of Father and Son shows us the transformative power with which God responds to true human worship. The victory of this power becomes apparent to us at Easter, and we experience it at each Mass, as God continues to transform our offerings. 

But their love also delineates clearly the nature of anti-worship, which is to exercise possessory power over God’s gifts as confided to me, or to another. We know the futile freedom of trying to own our bodies and the isolation that rewards the quest for self-sufficiency. Do we also perceive the empty dominion we establish through the exploitation of another, even in the most genteel fashion? Do we realize the violence we do when we seek control over a group of God’s souls?

What Abraham and Jesus never forget is that all life belongs to God, and their holiness lies in recognizing this without fear, and with love. Embracing our non-possession of ourselves will found a solid spiritual life, will keep us in the way of moral conversion, and it will give us an open, candid presence to our companions. 

You and I are being formed by each Holy Week, and by every Eucharist in between, to live our lives in God’s presence in the way Christ shows, with the strength He gives. Honesty will show us progress to this point, but also a vast horizon of growth. The washing of the feet, the shared Eucharistic elements, and Christ’s crucified body will together challenge our arrogance and our presumption, rebuke our calculations and manipulations, and frustrate our complacency. All of this is a plan not for shame, but for freedom. The Holy Spirit has come to breathe this surprising liberty into hearts open to receiving it. He has come so that, “We might live no longer for ourselves, but for Him who died and rose for us again.” (Eucharistic Prayer IV) 

At Easter, Christians testify that they are becoming like Christ in fits and starts. They struggle to give their lives away, believing that when they succeed in this they find their lives all over again and better than ever.  

Blessings on your Holy Week.
Fr. Walter

Once again, I draw on my archives. I have been preaching a mission at our Parish of St. Gertrude in Cincinnati.  This has meant several days of intensive preaching on “new” material.  I have no doubt that these reflections will come your way in due time.  In the meantime, these words from 2016 came to the rescue of a tired preacher.-

April 06, 2019

Passiontide – Pastor’s Reflection (April 7, 2019)

Tomorrow, Monday, April 8 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 that 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 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 us 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 14 to testify to the one who has the power to keep you in motion toward the highest of goals.

Fr. Walter


P.S.  God is very good!  Writing day was March 28, and I had High School confessions, Bible Study, and then an early Friday departure for Cincinnati.  I was really in trouble.  Rarely do I find that bulletin letters have life after first printing but this one, from 2017 seemed to have some more mileage in it.  Have blessed days.