Sunday, April 28, 2019

THE EMPTY TOMB: WHAT DO WE DO NEXT? by DEACON TONY MARTUCCI


Let's look at the Scriptures to see how others reacted to finding the tomb empty. Witnesses to accidents or other major events often disagree on some details because they see things differently or have a different perspective. So it is with the Four Gospels. The writers all agree on the basic FACTS.
Matthew's Gospel says: The very first witnesses were the guards at the tomb, who felt a great earthquake and saw an angel who rolled back the stone and sat upon it. They fell in fear “like dead men”. Then they ran to tell the chief priests, who paid them and told the guards to “Tell the people that His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.
Women were the first disciples to discover that Christ's tomb was empty. Mark tells us it was “Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome”. Matthew says it was “Mary Magdalene and the 'other Mary'”. Luke says simply it was the “women who came with Him from Galilee”, later identifying them as “Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James”. John places Mary Magdalene alone at the tomb.
All the Gospels agree that the women found the tomb empty. In Matthew and Mark's Gospels the women saw an angel who told them Jesus had risen; Luke reported two angels.  In each account, the angel instructed the women to return and to tell Christ's disciples that Jesus was alive. The disciples did not believe the women. Luke reports that “Peter ran to the tomb” saw the linen cloths alone and wondered what had happened. 
In John's Gospel, after she found the tomb empty Mary Magdalene ran to the disciples, thinking that someone had stolen the body. She returned with Peter and John. John saw the linen cloth and believed. After Peter and John left her, Jesus  appeared to Mary Magdalene . She thought He was the gardener and asked Him if He knew where “they had taken the body.” Jesus called her “Mary:” and she recognized Him. He told her to tell the disciples what she had seen.
Both Mark and Luke tell of Jesus' appearance to two disciples “walking into the country”. Luke goes into greater detail and after they recognize Jesus in “the breaking of the bread”, they ran back to Jerusalem to share their joy at the news of the resurrection with the other disciples.
Next we read of Jesus appearing to the Disciples on the first Easter Sunday in Mark, Luke and John's Gospels.
John also has two later stories of Christ's appearance, one  week after Easter, when Thomas was present, and a third time when the disciples were fishing on the Sea of Tiberius. There, He instructed Peter to “feed His lambs and to tend His sheep.”
While the Apostles were filled with awe and joy at Jesus' Resurrection, yet they remained in seclusion until Pentecost, when they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they spread the news throughout Judea, Galilee and the entire known world.
Christ also appeared in a marvelous way to Saul of Tarsus. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul why do you persecute Me? Who are you, Sir? I am Jesus, who you are persecuting”. Jesus chose Saul/Paul “to be an instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles. Kings and Israelites.”
In Mark's Gospel we are commissioned by Jesus to “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel.” Matthew tells us “Go therefor and make disciples of all nations ... baptizing them ...teaching them all that I have commanded you.”
Luke says, “Jesus said to them,'Thus it written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
The Risen Jesus appears in the midst of His disciples with doors locked and bolted. They were understandably terrified . But Jesus calmed them down and convinced them that it was He. And Jesus said to them and to  us “You are witnesses to these things.”
What things are we to be witnesses of? Consider the following:
#1. The Death of Jesus;
#2. Testimony of Scripture to the Suffering and Death of Jesus;
#3. The Resurrection of Jesus;
#4. The Power of Jesus' Name.
This is the core of Apostolic catechesis. It hasn't changed in 2000 years. You and I bear witness to these truths by our daily lives.
1 Peter 2:9 says, “O chosen people, proclaim the mighty works of Him Who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light, alleluia.”
Easter is a fifty day celebration and so we continue to sing: “Alleluia, alleluia!! This day was made by the Lord: we rejoice and are glad. Alleluia”(Ps. 117:24)

THE SOWER AND THE SEED - NEW LIFE IN THE SEASON OF EASTER by RONNIE MARTELLA


The incredible thing about the parable of the sower and the seed, which we find in Mark’s gospel - chapter 4 and Mathew’s gospel - chapter 13,  is that we can find ourselves as the sower, as the seed and as the ground at different times in our lives.  In this season of Easter – a time so closely associated with new life and growth we are going to explore this parable in a few different ways.  This morning we will look at … Jesus as the sower….at ourselves as the ground/the receiver of the seed….and at ourselves as sowers of the seed.

Jesus the sower:
“Jesus is the sower. We note that, with this image, He presents Himself as one who does not impose Himself, but who proposes; He does not draw us by conquering us, but by giving Himself: He throws the seed. He strews His Word with patience and generosity, which is not a cage or a trap, but a seed that can bear fruit. And how can it bear fruit?    If we receive it.”

That was a translation of part of the address Pope Francis gave on July 16, 2017 to those gathered in St. Peter’s Square. Pope Francis says ….IF WE RECEIVE IT- SO HOW DO WE DO THAT?

First, we need to acknowledge and understand that God is extravagant when it comes to offering the seeds of the Gospel to the human heart. In the parable, the sower is throwing seed everywhere, even in places where the seed has little chance to grow.
If you’ve ever planted seeds, you probably prepared the soil, picked the best place, with the most sunlight during the day and whatever else was needed.  The way Jesus spreads the seed is so different, it could be considered wasteful, not at all the way a gardener or scientist would do it.  The seeds aren’t placed individually in the soil.  It’s done in a way the shows there is an unlimited supply, no fear of running out, never rationed or held back.  This shows how much God loves us.  We don’t have to be perfectly prepared or in the right place, He’s going to find us, He’s going to include us. 
AND SO…… If God is the sower in the parable
…who is the rocky ground…we are.  …who is the thorny shrubs…we are……who is the trampled path…we are…and If God is the sower… who is the good soil…we are. 
He knows this. 
It’s precisely why he throws the seeds everywhere.  He knows that you and I will certainly be in one of those 4 areas throughout our lives. He throws the seeds out everywhere because sometimes we are all over the place. And that’s the Good News for today.  He’ll never stop trying to reach us. 
He’s aware that today you might be the rocky ground and you might be the thorny shrub…and I might be the trampled path. 
But He also knows that at some point we get to the good soil and his seeds will land there too and they will take root and grow and we will return his generosity with a rich and holy harvest. 
So stay with it…Be patient with yourself because He’s patient with us. 
If you’re on rocky ground right now… If you’re trampling all over his seeds on the pathway your life…if you’re tearing at everyone and everything with the thorns of your dysfunctions  
Hang in there and keep trying to get to the good soil.
When you get there He’s still going to be sowing seeds.  Remember He’s got an unlimited supply and He will continue to sow them. 
He knows that eventually his seeds will land on our beautiful...tilled…healthy…rich…soil in the gardens of our hearts. 
And that’s why we come back here over and over again to nourish our soul gardens and be ready for his seeds.   We come back to school of leaders, back to grouping, back to ultreya.  Back to be nourished and weeded and cared for so the seed will thrive and produce a good harvest. 
Us as the ground/receivers of seed: PIETY/STUDY

In John we read that Mary, when she gets to the empty tomb, mistakes the risen Jesus for “the gardener.” Maybe it wasn’t an accident.   Jesus is “the master gardener” who came to clean up his garden and lead it into an abundant and fruitful life.
Jesus’ parable of the sower is aimed at everyone: the people who listen, and even those who don’t. 
We know that God can create growth in spaces where the most seasoned farmer or gardener wouldn’t waste good seed.  But all seeds have unexpected, unexplainable potential and possibility.  All of us have probably seen growth coming from cracks in sidewalks, driveways, even in walls.   Wherever a seed is willing to break open and try - there is growth.
A passage that complements the Parable of the Sower is John 12:24 in which Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  If instead of the word die, can we think of it this way… what a seed needs to do is “yield” or “relent” or “give in.”
For a seed to move from a state of dormancy to growth, it has to trust that the soil is warm enough, that there is enough moisture, and that there will be enough light to break through and grow. 
Think of what will happen when we allow the compelling nature of God’s love to break through our “seed shells” so we give in to all that God offers and promises.     
God-the-Sower uses rocky soil, rich fertile soil, and plants that were once thought of as weeds. If we pay attention to the Spirit… already creatively cultivating her holiness in us and all around us… our brokenness will make way for growth.
Even what might be considered weeds by some have purpose and value.  They retain the soil’s moisture, reduce erosion when the roots hold on to soil, and attract birds and insects needed for pollination.  Weeds are a part of an ecosystem we don’t totally understand, they are part of the natural world-God’s creation.  
Everyone counts, everyone can contribute.  We don’t or can’t always see it or understand it  
BUT
God measures by a different set of standards. In the parable of the sower, we learn that God throws himself upon the earth and shares himself with each of us and does not expect anything in return.
In the end…. it is up to us how we respond to God’s call.
Will we accept the word of God and allow it to soften the edges and break up the hard earth in our own lives?
We have been given the personal freedom to choose to accept God’s love. By choosing yes, we agree to cultivate the soil of our lives, so we may bear abundant fruit.
Among Christ’s parables about the land, this one about the sower and seed stands out in its teaching about how the seed of the gospel is sown and works in the field of life. No other parable shows us how the devil, the allure of the world and the cares of life conspire to root us from our lives in God.
Our world is full of distractions—the rocks, thorns and birds that conspire to prevent God’s Word and His calling from taking root and bearing fruit.
Those of us who have had a backyard garden know that it requires effort.  Each day we have to check on it.  If it hasn’t rained, it needs to be watered.  If there are harmful bugs and choking weeds, we need to get rid of them.   If not, these things will overgrow or kill the plants.  Even if good ground is properly cared for …. when it’s left to itself -    everything else moves in. Nothing useful can grow until it is cleared out.  We need to be aware of what is growing.
And we need to know when it is time to harvest.  For us as receivers of the seed…hearers of the word … it might mean it is time to grow in faith, it might mean it is time to go out into the field and become spreaders of seed ourselves.   It might be time for ACTION.
Us as sowers: ACTION
Let’s hear what scripture tells us about our action.
We reap what we sow- Galatians 6:7-10
Make no mistake: God is not mocked, for a person will reap only what he sows, because the one who sows for his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows for the spirit will reap eternal life from the spirit. Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up. So then, while we have the opportunity, let us do good to all, but especially to those who belong to the family of the faith.*

Requires patience- James 5:7-8
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.

Avoid wanting credit for what grows- 1 Cor 3:3-9

Give Generously  2 Cor 9:6

How to do we sow and reap this harvest?
We can’t think, pray, read our way to a harvest.
Let’s suppose you want to plant a vegetable garden.
If you sowed seeds into the ground, you’d expect to see those things growing when it came time to harvest.
But, if you wanted to plant a garden and you hoped and prayed and read about tomatoes, but didn’t actually sow a tomato seed, well, you’d get nothing.
Everything you sow today will be reaped in your harvest tomorrow.
To have a successful harvest you must know what you’re planting.
So you want something different? Is there some habit you want to change?  Is there someone God has put in your life that you want to get to know,  to make a friend…?
You have to know what you want to “plant”, what you’ve been given to “plant” and have clearly defined goals you can sow every day.
St. Jose Maria Escriva once wrote: “May Our Lord be able to use us so that, placed as we are at all the cross-roads of the world- and at the same time placed in God- we become salt, leaven and light.  Yes, you are to be in God, to enlighten, to give flavor, to produce growth and new life.  But don’t forget that we are not the source of this light:  we only reflect it.”  (St Jose Maria Escriva, Friends of God, 250)
At the end of the story, Jesus says “they who have ears, let them hear.” In other words, he wants us to be aware, to learn something and take action.

To get the few that bear fruit, lots of seed must be sown by lots of people. So regardless of whether or not we think we have green thumbs, we farmers are being commanded through this parable to get the seed out there, sowing it everywhere we go, undeterred by the birds, the weeds, and the scorching sun.

So the parable of the sower has a twofold message:
As seed, our job is to get busy growing.
As farmers, our job is to get busy sowing.
The images of seed sown and leaven kneaded into dough, both of these reflect the reality of our lives, God’s call, and our cooperation with His grace. 
The seeds, the living Word, have been planted within us. Then, we’re to become the seed, the salt and the leaven for the Divine Sower who continues His redemptive mission in a world waiting to be reborn in Him.
However, the power contained in the yeast is not activated unless it is mixed and kneaded into the dough. We can’t just think about it...talk about it.
It isn’t usually flashy because when you work the leaven in, it’s hidden to the eye… but it transforms that loaf!  So it is with us in our culture!
All we are asked to do is to mix it up.
We have to get in the loaf. We must be in the world - where Jesus is - in order to be used to accomplish His ongoing work of redemption. Leaven that is not used in time spoils and loses its ability to work; it must be active or it becomes useless. Once hidden in the loaf, active leaven always raises the dough. That’s how it is with our cooperation with grace.
We pray for those in our lives with overgrown or overcome hearts. Often the stresses and circumstances of life can create a small clearing where a seed can actually germinate and take root. (plants in cracks in sidewalk) These divine moments can be opportunities to offer ourselves in the process of sowing, watering and reaping.  We pray to be aware of those moments…when God is putting us with that ONE person in need.
FOR THOSE GRACE FILLED MOMENTS
It all begins with awareness/care..one person, one seed, at a time. 
Right now you are holding a “bag of seed” – the word of God in your hand. The word of the Kingdom of God is always being sown in your life.
You can spread it wherever you go OR you can keep it for yourself.
St. Josemaria Escriva wrote,
"The sower went out to sow, to scatter the seed at all the crossroads of this earth. What a blessed task we have. We have the job of making sure that in all the circumstances of time and place the word of God takes root, springs up and bears fruit."

DE COLORES

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

ACTION by RICK AND LISA KLARMANN

In Piety, our whole life is directed to God; study helps up establish a better relationship with God, and to come to know His will for us.  Action is the exercising of our mind, will and senses—basically doing something.  However, in the life of the Christian, our action has Jesus Christ as the focus or reason we do a thing—the things we do and say—our actions are a consequence of being Christian.

Apostolic Action takes Christian action a step further.  Apostolic Action is exercising the power of Love; love of God and love of neighbor to bring them closer to Christ.  Apostolic Action is important to us.  James reminds us that faith without works is dead.  

If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?  So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  [James 2:15-16]

• On Ash Wednesday, in the Best Lent Ever, Matthew Kelly reminds us that as Christians we are called to act in the world; not to be spectators.  We are called to take action—to take bold action—to be involved, to be engaged in the life of our culture and our country.

• Matthew reminds us that it is easy to get distracted by all of the things that we have little to no control over and that we can’t influence.  When we get caught up or discouraged by the things that are outside of our control or influence, we often wander away from what Matthew calls our ‘sweet spot.’  That place in our lives where we can have the most impact.  

How often have you heard the phrase, “Walk the talk and not merely talk the talk?” Apostolic action or to be apostles means living in Grace so that God can work through us to bring others to Himself.

“You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear much fruit.” [John 15:16]

Finally, Apostolic Action is essential to the Church

If we don’t act, the Church is not able to carry out its mission to, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” [Mark 16:15]  

How do we participate in the Church’s mission to ‘proclaim the Gospel to every creature’?  Does that scare you?  

It’s hard for me to recognize my Action.  I believe my action is something that just flows from who I am. For me, I can see moments when I have been Christlike in my actions, attitudes, and thoughts.  But until they become intentional, I’m not sure they are necessarily apostolic in nature.  

On the weekend, we learned that for our action to be apostolic it needs to be more than just being kind or considerate towards our neighbors.  A non-Christian and non-believer can perform good deeds.  To clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the sick or in prison are all good things, but if we fail to introduce them to Jesus, we have missed the punch line.  Remember, “The deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today” ― St. Francis Of Assisi.

On the weekend we learned about the qualities of Action:

• Rational – we need to employ our mind.  We need to have a plan of action.

• Resolute – our apostolic action needs to be bold, decisive, intentional.

Part of our Lent, we are praying for the conversion of poor sinners. I believe we need to go after the most influential who are doing the most damage. First, what comes to mind are those who lead Catholics in the wrong direction. Especially, but not limited to, those who are in positions of power and profess to be Catholic, while advocating falsehoods and immorality, leading Catholics to believe this is somehow the "New Catholicism."  "LOVE YOUR ENEMIES LENT" goes for 40 days, starting on Ash Wednesday and going until April 15 (Day 54). We will name a person each day and keep a running list. I encourage you to keep a notebook, and record each name, and pray over that notebook each day.  Let's ask God to convert these poor sinners!!!  

• Enthusiastic – our apostolic action needs to be enthusiastic.

• Constant – it is ongoing.  We need to look for opportunities.  We must avoid discouragement. 

I can read or hear about the laws being proposed or signed into law that are anti-life.  Laws that promote the killing of unborn children and even infanticide.

After attending the March for Life in Washington DC, we woke to the news about the law being proposed in New York that was to make New York the abortion capital.  It was disheartening to hear about the law being voted on in New York that would expand the killing of infants and the planned celebration by the supposedly Catholic Governor.  

It was a cold morning, but we knew that no matter how cold it was we had to attend the NJ Right to Life Rally in Trenton.  We couldn’t tell the legislators of New York how we stood on abortion but by attending the NJ Right to Life rally we could show our support to any NJ Legislators that happened to walk by.

After hearing about the bill in New York state, I was a little discouraged and had to be reminded that the final battle is already won—Jesus wins.  

• Supernatural – trust in God

It is His Grace, living in us, that helps us live out our Baptism; which in turn, helps to nurture the seed planted in their soul.  People want to see it in you before they will want to hear it from you.  

We know that our Apostolic Action is accomplished with Christ because our life in Grace and our prayer help us to trust that He is beside us.  “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me.” [Psalm 23:4]   

• Apostolic – everything we do, we do for the Lord, not for our own glory.
Jesus sent His Apostles, now He sends you and me to love and serve our neighbor through our Apostolic Action.  As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.” [John 20:21]

From the Cursillo perspective we all know the answer; we are called to proclaim the Gospel to those we meet in our moveable square meter by making a friend, becoming friends, and making them friends with Jesus.

• Make a friend.  Probably the easiest step.  All it takes is the will to take the first step; to introduce yourself.  It is important that we are looking for them, don’t expect them to be looking for you. 

• Becoming a friend.  Live a true, Christlike life.  Be interested in knowing them—what they believe and what they are interested in.

• Making them a friend of Jesus.  This final step is not accomplished unless it is done for Christ, with Christ, in Christ and like Christ.  Our Apostolic Action must be focused on Jesus; we desire that others love Jesus, and we are not worried whether or not they love us.    

We need to be open to and look for opportunities.

Recently, on our flight to California, I was sitting next to a gentleman that appeared Asian.  I noticed the book he was reading and writing in looked like a bible.  When the opportunity presented itself, I introduced myself to him and asked him if the book was a bible.  It was a bible, in Korean and English.  We talked for a few minutes.  I learned that he was returning home to California.  He had been teaching bible studies to Spanish-speaking people in north Jersey.  He said that he goes to New Jersey several times a year to teach.  When I told him that I was Catholic, he shared that his parents were Catholic, and he was raised Catholic, until in his words, “I got saved.”  

I wasn’t ready for the “Catholic until I got saved” comment.  I spoke with him a little more sharing my faith but felt insecure and inadequate to ask why left his Catholic faith.  After landing we both wished each other a safe trip and a blessed day.  But I felt like I missed an opportunity to share deeper.

As a couple, we complement one another.  We need each other’s support to get out of our own way.

Recently, after the birth of their second daughter, our son let us know that he might need some financial help.  Richard’s response was, “If he needed help, he would ask”.  Similarly, our niece who has asked for financial help in the past, indicated that they were having financial issues.  When we hadn’t heard from her for several weeks, Richard felt we should reach out to her.  For my part, I wanted Richard to reach out to our son and see if he needed help.  I was more willing to help our son than our niece, while Richard was more willing to reach out to our niece.

Sometimes our feelings and attitudes can get in the way; but together we can be open to all the opportunities that present themselves in our lives.  Maybe that’s why Jesus sent the disciples out in twos—to support each other; to be strength to the other when they are tired or worn down; and in our case, to reveal the attitudes that may get in the way of our being Christ to someone else.  

We also need to be prepared for successes as well as failures; sometimes people will be open for the message of the Gospel and there will be times that people are not willing to hear the Good News.  There will be times that you may see success in your apostolic action but there are times you may not.  As St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta said, “God does not call us to be successful; He calls us to be faithful.”

Our oldest son grew up Catholic, and got married in the Catholic Church, but ever since he and his wife have not had anything to do with God or the church.  When asked about Baptizing their first daughter, they said that they would let her choose.   Now, they have two daughters and all we can do is love them and pray that God works in their lives.  I’m sure there were things we could have said or done differently, but you can’t worry about what was, only what happens from now on.  We pray and hope and try to be an example of Jesus Christ in the world.  

Sometimes that is all you can do.  Remember, you may be the only bible that someone ever reads or hears.  Let me leave you with one last thought from Matthew Kelly:

“Go out tomorrow and create one Holy Moment.  Just one Holy Moment.  Not a holy day, not a holy hour, not a holy fifteen minutes, just one single Holy Moment.”  

A holy moment is a moment where you set aside self-interest, you set aside self-will, you set aside what you want to do and you just do exactly what you feel God calling you to do in that moment.

JESUS IN THE GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE by FATHER ED BLANCHETT

Let’s begin praying with a reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew. Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.” He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep. He said to Peter, “So you could not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Withdrawing a second time, he prayed again, “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!” Then he returned once more and found them asleep, for they could not keep their eyes open. He left them and withdrew again and prayed a third time, saying the same thing again. Then he returned to his disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Behold, the hour is at hand when the Son of Man is to be handed over to sinners. Get up, let us go. Look, my betrayer is at hand.” The Gospel of the Lord.

During this season of Lent, when praying the Sorrowful Mysteries, I’ve been thinking about the first Mystery: Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he died. It struck me that he must have been feeling weighed down by three strong emotions that all of us experience at times in our lives; maybe even more so now in this time of crisis in our Church: fear, loneliness, and a sense of failure.

So powerful were those feelings that, as the Gospel of Luke tells us, “His sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground” (Lk 22:44).

That’s not a figurative description, it’s actually a medical condition: Under severe emotional stress, the small capillaries can become so filled with blood that they burst, allowing blood to seep into the sweat glands. Knowing what was ahead of him, it’s understandable that Jesus – in his human nature – would be overwhelmed by his emotions. Luke’s description of this scene, by placing us in the middle of this most private time of Jesus, invites us to engage in deeper reflection and consider times when we, too, have given in to our feelings.

When Matthew describes this scene as was just read, he says that Jesus “began to feel sorrow and distress” (26:37). But I think that, even before those, his first emotion would have been fear. Like all Jews at that time, Jesus was all too familiar with the very public Roman way of execution: death by crucifixion.

It was an incredibly cruel and brutal manner of putting someone to death. First, there was the scourging of the body with whips that tore the flesh and weakened the victim, then forcing the criminal to carry his own cross through the streets of the city, despite the loss of blood. Finally, the criminal was fastened to that cross, forced to hang there until his legs could no longer hold him up. Unable to breathe, the victim slowly died of asphyxiation. The soul of Jesus must have been shrinking with fear as he thought of facing those terrible physical tortures.

But Jesus didn’t allow his fear to turn him from his mission, which included his passion and death. Instead, he made the decision with seven simple words: “Not my will, but yours be done!”

We’ve all experienced fear and anxiety: taking a wrong road at night and losing our way; worrying when we or our loved ones have a serious illness or accident; feeling anxious about losing our job; fearing not being accepted by our peers. But the word of God constantly challenges us to look beyond our fear and anxiety. I once heard a Scripture scholar say that the words “fear not” or “do not be afraid” appear in the Bible 365 times—once for each day of the year!

But that doesn’t mean that we won’t experience these emotions or that we should run away from them: Because we are fragile human beings, because of the many dangers in the world around us, because of all the uncertainty, it’s just impossible to be free of all fear and anxiety. Both are normal and natural responses to threats or danger and, under many conditions, they’re there to protect us from harm, the classic “fight or flight” impulse.

Instead, we should understand “do not be afraid” to mean, “do not let fear determine your choices.” I’m going to say something that may surprise you: many sins, I believe, are driven more by fear than by a desire to do evil. For example, people often tell lies because of the fear of looking bad or being criticized rather than with the intent to harm others. Or they insult or ridicule other people out of fear, of not being accepted by those around them. Even sexual sins are often driven more by the fear of not being loved than by lust.

Returning to Jesus’ agony in the garden, the Gospels describe Jesus who is so overcome with fear that it actually causes a bloody sweat. But, despite that, Jesus didn’t allow his fears to turn him away from his mission, his passion and death. Instead, he made the decision with seven simple words: “Not my will, but yours be done!”

The second strong emotion Jesus experienced in his agony was a profound loneliness. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all state that Jesus asked Peter, James, and John – his three closest friends, ones whom he had taken in a very special and personal way to the major events of his public life; we’ll hear about one of those in this weekend’s Gospel, in fact – to accompany him into the Garden and to keep watch and pray with him. But each time he rose from prayer and went to them, he found them sleeping. His disappointment was obvious: “So you could not keep watch with me for one hour?” Then, in the compassion that only Jesus is capable, he adds, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt 26:40–41).

But it was obvious: Jesus couldn’t count on the emotional and spiritual support of even his best friends. He would have to face his sufferings alone.

Isn’t that something that we see all around us today? All over the news we have how large numbers of people in our nation experience strong feelings of loneliness—this coming at a time when communication through social media, opportunities for travel, or connecting with people on the Internet have been more abundant than ever. I once heard someone put it like this: “We’re now so well connected, but we’ve never before been so alone.”

Adult children so often leave their families to find jobs in places far from home. I know that I, and many of you, can recall so many friendships formed in high school or college that didn’t survive the many moves that we or they have made. Romantic relationships can be strained or broken when new jobs require cross-country transfers. And hearts are broken when those dreaded words are spoken: “I just don’t think we are a good fit. But we can still be friends, right?” Add to this the huge numbers of people whose marriages have been broken by separation or divorce.

So it can be very spiritually helpful to reflect on the loneliness of Jesus, during his agony in the garden, and how he dealt with such feelings. As he became aware that he couldn’t rely on human support, he turned to his Father in heaven. Without doubt, he thought about those two powerful moments in his life—his baptism and his transfiguration on the mountain— when he heard the voice of his Father: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17). He was strengthened by the comforting message: “I love you. I am with you. I will never abandon you.”
The Church teaches us that God has spoken the same words and made the same promise to each of us at our own Baptism: You are my beloved son/daughter. In you I take delight. “I will never forsake you or abandon you” (Heb 13:5). Loneliness isn’t a disease. It’s a painful situation that may just have to be endured. That doesn’t mean that we’re powerless at such times: sometimes it can be ended when we try to reach out and make connections with others. But, in the meantime, we can try to find comfort in the fact that Jesus, our savior, has shared—that he understands—our pain. During this Lenten season, we can draw spiritual strength and inspiration from walking with Jesus during his agony in the garden.

The third source of suffering for Jesus in his agony, I think it’s not unreasonable to consider, was a sense of failure. With a few exceptions such as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, he hadn’t been able to convince any Jewish religious leaders that he was the long-awaited Messiah, the Meschiach, the Christos, the Christ, the Anointed One in whom God’s promises would be fulfilled. And, being one who could read hearts, he knew that even the common people who had welcomed his teachings, who were thrilled at his healings and other miracles would soon join the crowd calling for his death. And, maybe worst of all, even his chosen apostles and friends would abandon him in the end.

Again, isn’t that often our own experience? We work so hard and put our best efforts into some important project, only to see it fail or be rejected. Or we try to reach a certain goal or dream in our lives, only to see ourselves fall short. Parents can feel a deep sense of failure when one or more of their children get into trouble with the law, become addicted to drugs or alcohol, get divorced, drift away from the practice of their faith. Most of the time, parents have no reason to blame themselves for these problems, but they may feel responsible—along with a deep sadness and a sense of helplessness. So it can be helpful for any of us who experience failure to recall that Jesus, our Savior, truly understands what we are going through.

But there’s hope. In the midst of his feelings of fear, loneliness and failure, Jesus is given consolation: As we hear in the Gospel according to Luke: “To strengthen [Jesus], an angel from heaven appeared to him” (Lk 22:43). What comfort did this messenger from heaven provide? I’d like to think that the angel revealed to Jesus the billions of people who would come to believe in him, who would receive Baptism and the other sacraments, and live faithful lives of love and service, many even to the point of sharing in his sufferings through their own martyrdom. Not that such consolation would help much in the immediate situation, but that – in the very long run – it was worth it.

During this Lenten season, we can draw spiritual strength and inspiration from thinking about Jesus’ agony in the garden. Maybe we can learn to embrace our own times of agony together with him, so that those times can be sources of spiritual growth for ourselves and for the people the Lord brings into our lives. Who knows, it’s even possible that our prayer on this mystery will inspire us to act as comforting angels to people around us who are hurting or bearing heavy burdens in their own lives?

My dear brothers and sisters, my fellow Cursillistas, you may have heard the saying that there’s no Easter Sunday without Good Friday. We couldn’t celebrate our Lord’s Resurrection if He hadn’t given up His life for us! That might be something to remember as we continue to go through such difficult times in this period of history and the Church. I’d like to close with a Prayer to Agonizing Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, taken from a Eucharistic Vigil Guide that was published several years ago:

O Jesus, Who in the excess of Your love to win hearts, do give abundant graces to those who meditate on your holy passion in Gethsemane, I pray You to lead my heart and soul to think often of the most bitter agony You suffered in the Garden, to pity You and to join with You completely.

O most Holy Jesus, Who bore during that night the weight of all our sins and paid for them, please grant me the great gift of contrition for my many sins which caused You to sweat blood.

Most Holy Jesus, by virtue of the terrible struggle You endured in Gethsemane, give me the power of complete and final victory in the temptations that beset me, especially those to which I am most often subject.

O my Jesus, by virtue of the anxieties, fears and the unknown but intense pain which You suffered on the night in which You suffered on the night in which You were betrayed, give me the light to follow Your holy will and to think upon and to understand the enormous effort and formidable struggle You endured victoriously in fulfilling not your will, but the will of the Father.

Praise to You, O Jesus, for the agony and the tears poured out during the Holy Night, for the sweat of blood and the deadly distress You endured, that solitude more frightful than man can imagine.

Praise to You, most sweet but vastly sorrowful Jesus, for the prayer at once human and divine which poured forth from Your agonized heart during that night of ingratitude and of treason.

Eternal Father, I offer to You all the Holy Masses of this moment, of the past, and of the future, united with Jesus in agony in the Garden of Olives.

O Most Holy Trinity, cause the knowledge and love of the Sacred Passion of Gethsemane to be diffused in the world.

And, O my Jesus, may those who love You and look upon the crucifix remember Your incredible pain in the Garden, and may they follow Your example, learn to pray well, to fight and overcome so they may eternally glorify You in heaven.
Amen.

De Colores! Father Ed

Sunday, April 14, 2019

THE BLUE LAUNDRY BAG - A REFLECTION by JOANNE M. PALMISANO

In my family, the rite of passage for a college age child was to receive a laundry bag from my Mom before one went off to college.  My mom always was one for addressing needs and having a laundry bag was a priority.  In my case, she talked constantly about needing a laundry bag prior to starting college. It was a “must have” item.  Being me, I just listened to her.  Mom bought a blue laundry bag for me.

I really liked my laundry bag which was made of blue cloth with a drawstring. It was durable, easy to use and store.  My trusty laundry bag held up for thirty years.  As I matured, the bag became more than a holder of dirty and clean clothes, it became an all-purpose bag.  It carried Christmas and birthday presents.  It carted housewares, party supplies and various miscellaneous items.  I always remembered who gave me my laundry bag along with love and care attached to it

As each of the two grandchildren went off to college, the importance of a laundry bag arose, well for me.  I did not have to worry about them buying one for themselves because it did not appear to be on their list of “needed” items.  Memories flooded me about my bag.  My approach was different than my Mom’s.  I waited until packing time to give it to each one of them.  Each was given a different color.  One was gray and the other a marble white and green.  Of course, they could have rejected it, but did not.  Yes, they are using their laundry bag.

During this process, it hit me that this simple item meant more to me.  Besides being a tradition, it became a symbol of love and care.  This triggered the idea of passing on other things, such as, values and life skills.  Like my parents had prepared me for the next phase of life, I hoped that my husband and I were doing the same for the grandchildren.  Hopefully, when they see and use the laundry bag, they will be reminded of home along with the love and care attached to it.


THE SEA SHELL COLLECTORS - A REFLECTION by JOANNE M. PALMISANO


Although it has been twenty years, I still remember the incident when ten women were walking on Captiva Island, Florida for about one hour. It was a short stop over until we left for the airport.  We all dashed out of the rental car onto the beach and scattered in the same basic area in search of sea shells.

I searched alone.  Finding small scalloped shape shells with at least one horizontal maroon stripe on the shell, I collected as many as I could.  Once reuniting with the others, I was amazed at all the different types of shells each one of us had gathered.  No one collected the same shell.  Each of us focused on one particular shape and size. I could not get over this.  Although I made a comment about it, we were in a rush so I do not know the reaction of the others.

I had never been on a beach with so many shells of so many varieties. Maybe I was, but never noticed it.  The beauty of nature and God’s creation was right in front of me and I noticed it. I was so lucky to have been a part of that moment. I talked about the sea shell collectors on Captiva Island for months, showing everyone I could my shells.  In my excitement to share the experience, I gave a few shells away.

In retrospect, the shells represented us, all different and unique. Although we were celebrating being forty years old, most of us never met prior to the trip. It was just a “friend connection’ based on our birth year.  We all enjoyed the trip to Sanibel Island for a long weekend with Captiva Island being a side trip. We all respected each other and enjoyed each other company. More importantly, we became sea shell collectors together.

PRACTICE - A REFLECTION by JOANNE M. PALMISANO


It was a crisp clear blue sky morning about fifteen years ago.  As I approached the church stairs, images of going to basketball practice invaded me.  A huge smile overcame me since my favorite memories of practice occurred here at this same parish.  The gym was across the parking lot from the church.  Attending daily Mass became my new practice court. A journal and prayer book replaced the basketball. With God as my coach and the community as my teammates, I prepared for the game of daily life.

Greeting friends, entering into prayer, joining in the Mass, hearing the word of God, seeing the consecration of the host, hearing Eucharist prayers, receiving the Eucharist, receiving the priest’s blessing, alone prayer time and finally talking with various friends was the “practice” routine.  Maybe, I would arrive early before Mass to recite the Rosary or stay later on Wednesdays to recite the Divine Mercy Chaplet. 

Participating in daily Mass prepared me for the upcoming day.  This happy time and place transformed me.  A peace overcame me.  By the time I left the church, I was ready for the day. In addition, I developed strong relationships at both parishes were I attended daily Mass. I maintain those friendships through attendance at Sunday Mass, church events, phone calls, cards, dinner dates and retreats.

I no longer attend daily morning Mass routinely.  Being discussed with God, who fully understands, I have a shorter daily routine of “practice” with daily praying to God through journaling and devotions at home or at work.  Depending on my daily schedule, I tend to switch up “practice” with adoration, and Mass.

Although my daily “practice schedule” has changed, God’s grace and coaching stays with me through my daily living.


Note from Joanne: "Since 2004, this reflection stayed in the writer’s heart.  With renewed writing, this finally popped out."