The Holy Preaching of Holy Obedience – Pastor’s Reflection (February 28, 2016)
Holy Week celebrates the obedience of Jesus, which is the human contribution to God’s triumph over sin and death. That God builds His victory on this foundation testifies that He has made obedience integral to our nobility. Jesus Crucified does not submit as a slave, or resign Himself as a servant, He loves as a son. His Resurrection shines as God’s response to deep human vulnerability.
Christian living takes its shape from this pattern. Every Baptized person stands in Christ’s place before the Father, and grace so orients us that we may live undefended lives in His presence. This view on life lies close at hand, for you find yourself in a parish confided to religious who have a vow of obedience, and they make Christ’s pattern of love their life’s task. For Dominican Friars and Sisters, life unfolds as a series of assignments. With each one comes the challenge of going beyond compliance to meet the mind of the superior who made the assignment so that we give it 100%. We perceive that living on these terms does not compromise us but fulfills our human dignity.
I understand our parish merger to be such an assignment. It came to me as Pastor in a distinct fashion, but it also came to the Brothers who serve with me, and indeed to everyone who worships at St. Vincent’s and St. Catherine’s. The assigned task from the Archbishop is that we become a single community of souls, a parish in the Archdiocese of New York. The logistical aspects of the task defy counting, but the essential work at hand demands an assent of spirit.
The work of our merger has proceeded over the last six months precisely because of the men and women who have given this assent, and embraced a new way of doing things as part of their discipleship. I can attest to the growth in charity that has come upon all of us who have given ourselves to this task. This love took visible form at Mardi Gras when men and women from across the parish worked and celebrated together showing in themselves a joy of transformation already experienced.
Holy Week will take our embrace of the assigned task to a deeper level. The celebration of the rites will give vivid expression to the unity already accomplished, but the power of the liturgies will also deepen the charity that gives real life to our parish community. Holy Week will have this power among us because we will celebrate the saving obedience of Christ by accepting in a yet deeper way the mandate of His Church in our regard.
Holy Week’s movement from liturgy to liturgy unites us in sharing Christ’s conscious surrender of Himself into the events of His Passion, and the intensity of the rites pulls us into His focus on accomplishing the plan of the Father. Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday exert the same effect on us that Christ’s life had on His contemporaries – they gather souls. In its essence Holy week is not private and it is not convenient. By its nature, this time demands that we suspend ordinary operations and to be gathered with the Church so that we may become more the Church as these liturgies connect us to the Lord’s Death and Resurrection.
This value carries such weight that the Church opposes the unnecessary multiplication of Holy Week liturgies. An example of this principle is that on Holy Thursday, and Holy Saturday evening, priests may not celebrate a private Mass, which they may do on any other day of the year. We are all to go through Holy Week together. Therefore, since the mind of Church is that we should be one parish, we will accept that mandate by celebrating a common Holy Week, using both churches in a unified celebration.
Obedience costs dear, and Holy Week tells the story of Christ paying the cost of this way of loving. I am mindful that the sharing of Holy Week will inflict the hurt of loss, and more than anything I wish I could take that away. At the same time, I am convinced that if we do not share this core of Church life, we will not become a parish. Holy Week testifies to us about the terrible pain and the wondrous blessing of insisting on the deeper love, and to this we are now called.
In next week’s letter I would like to go over with you in detail the plan for Holy Week and the thinking behind it. In the meantime, I hope we can trust in the way the Gospel is working in our midst. Its tangible effects are there to be seen, heard, and touched. God will not fail to make good on holy beginnings.