Moving forward: With forgiveness and hope
The following is the homily Msgr. Paul J. Swain, rector of St. Raphael Cathedral, gave at Palm Sunday Mass to St. Raphael parishioners who gathered at St. Patrick Church in Madison:
What a week! I am not talking about the week we have just been through. I am talking about the week Jesus went through detailed so graphically in the Passion according to Matthew. In comparison to him, we're in pretty good shape.
It has, however, been quite a week for us as well. People keep asking me how I am doing which I appreciate. I recall the little girl who asked her brother: when you lie around doing nothing, how do you know when you're done? This week I spent a lot of time doing nothing. With this Mass I declare that time is done. Today we begin to look and move forward with hope.
Holy Scripture is one of God's greatest gifts to us. What the inspired writer recorded is offered to teach and reassure us especially when times are tough as they have been this week, and to motivate and empower us to look and move forward with hope.
Invited to deeper faith
There are two passages in the Gospel we just read that seem especially worthy of reflection this day. The first was when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane. Matthew tells us that he began to feel sorrow and distress. Jesus said, my soul is sorrowful even to death. You and I can relate to that. And he said, My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Those words touch our hearts as well.
Articles on Cathedral fire:
Past articles on Cathedral:
Diocese of Madison links:
Most of the Stations of the Cross remain on the walls in the burned out Cathedral church, but one fell and was recovered. It was the eighth station, when Jesus met the women of Jerusalem. You will recall that in one of the traditional versions of the Stations of the Cross Jesus is quoted as saying, Women of Jerusalem weep not so much for me, but for your children. I have wept this week, as have many of you. That is okay. The women wept out of love, and so do we.
But then he said: yet, not as I will, but as you will. God does not cause arsonists to burn down churches, but he does use moments like this to invite us to deeper faith if we open ourselves to his will. His will is always better than what we might wish for ourselves or understand at the moment. It was after he said these words that Jesus was betrayed, falsely condemned, beaten, denied, and crucified. But there was a purpose to it all, the salvation of souls and the forgiveness of sins. God so loved the world that he sent his only son.
'Father, forgive them'
Certainly we all wonder why such a tragic and senseless violent act forces us to pray here at St. Patrick Church rather than at St. Raphael Cathedral. Yet if we open ourselves fully and allow his will to guide us, we will lose any anger or fear or melancholy we feel.
In the Passion recorded in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus from the cross prays: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. That is our prayer today for the gentleman in custody should it be found in a court of law that he started the fire.
Forgiveness does not condone wrongful acts or remove the consequences of ones actions. But it does encourage contrition, and removes the burden of resentment from those who hurt. Jesus tells us it is okay to sorrow; he did. He also forgave, and so should we. Trusting in God's mercy, out of our sorrow good will come. From darkness comes light.
The second passage we might reflect on is from the Last Supper. The apostles are gathered with Jesus in the Upper Room. Matthew tells us: Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, take and eat; this is my body. Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying: drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins. The Institution of the Holy Eucharist.
We recall the covenant: I will be your God if you will be my people. God keeps his word; we struggle a bit especially in times of challenge. The Holy Eucharist is one means by which God remains with us. When we receive the consecrated bread and wine we receive Christ himself. This truth is a mystery and article of faith. From the Holy Eucharist if we are open we will receive the grace to persevere with hope. Christ is with us.
When I came out of the rectory to see what the fuss was about at 5:40 last Monday morning, I saw flames in the lower steeple area. At the time I hoped the fire might be localized. I
wondered whether I could retrieve the Blessed Sacrament, the Body of Christ, reserved in the Tabernacle at the other end of the Church. But then horrendous orange flames blew up in the center of the roof and I knew that was not possible. My heart ached.
Some hours later the fire was under control though smoldering continued and small flash fires had to be addressed. I asked someone about whether it would be possible to see if the tabernacle had been saved. Three firefighters volunteered to go in. I was able to peek in the door and point the direction but fallen debris hid that corner. I went back outside to get out of their way.
In a few moments the three brave firefighters, in full regalia blackened from their dangerous and courageous work, came walking slowly toward me with great reverence.
One carried the large ciborium which glistened so golden that it seemed beyond this world. One carried the ciborium in which was the Body of Christ we had bowed down to at Eucharistic Exposition the previous Friday. It too glistened a gold that took my breath away. The third carried the corporal, the white cloth on which the Body of Christ rested in the Tabernacle.
I have no idea what I said, but I hope I expressed how grateful I was and am to them. It was perhaps the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. This time I wept for joy. In the midst of fire, smoke, anxiety, and loss, our Lord was with us, our Lord is with us.
The Passion Gospel concludes with Joseph of Arimathea taking the body of Jesus, wrapping it in clean linen and laying it in the tomb. You may recall that in the Cathedral there hung on the mosaic of Raphael and Tobias a crucifix, a dark wood cross with a white corpus. From afar the mosaic looked to be in good condition but the crucifix was gone.
Again the wonderful firefighters made a special effort to look for it. They recovered the wood cross undamaged. The corpus was found separated and with part of the left arm missing.
Again they brought these to me with great reverence. Again I hope I adequately thanked them.
As I carried this beautiful artistic rendering of the body of Christ to the rectory, I felt a little like Joseph of Arimathea gently cradling the broken body of Christ. We hope to use this crucifix when we reverence the cross on Good Friday.
Move forward with hope
The Passion reading ends with Jesus in the tomb. Like Mary and the others we now await the dawn in sorrow and uncertainty. But we know the rest of the story. Our Lord overcame the dark time of his Passion and death and rose again, his light shone. Next week on Easter we will celebrate his glorious victory over sin and death. His light continues to shine in our dark time.
Let us look and move forward with hope, supporting one another, trusting in God's will, grateful for the presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. And together let us ask our Lady who models hope, and our patron St. Raphael, the archangel of healing, to pray for us.
Easter hope: Death is not the end
When my mother died unexpectedly recently, a brother-priest gifted our family with these inspiring words of hope:
"I extend my deepest sympathy at this time of your mother's death. She had a long life filled with joys and blessings! Not only did she live in God's country here on earth. But she was a member of Immaculate Conception Parish, which connected her to Christ. I am sad for your loss, but I am filled with joy for her. She will celebrate the most beautiful Easter!"
I think that this priest knew my mother.
We celebrated the Easter hope that he shared in the funeral Mass of Resurrection for Mom at Kieler. The shared faith and presence of priests, friends, relatives, and others magnified God's light of hope revealed in the Mass. It changed our tears into rainbows!
The death of a parent causes pain because it robs us of a loved one and it leaves a painful Calvary void. In the Gospel of John, Christ felt this pain when Lazarus died. Christ wept because death robbed him of his friend. But Christ did more than weep. Christ raised Lazarus, which differs from, yet points to Christ's resurrection at Easter.
We will rise on last day
As baptized Christians we have a certain hope that we will rise glorious with Christ on the last day! For Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father so that we too might live a new life!
And so for those who faithfully "live out" their baptism, life is not a dead end street with no exit. Rather for the faithful believer, death opens the door to the fullness of eternal life.
Every day is a gift
My mother's life reminds us that every day is our gift from God. What we do with each day can be our gift back to God. This is expressed beautifully in the poem "Lord, I shall pass this way but once. Therefore if there is any good at all that I can do, Lord, please let me do it now. Please show me how. For I will never pass this way again."
Our family is convinced that Mom responded faithfully to her baptism graces and offered her talents to serve her family, friends, and God. We believe that she lived the corporal and spiritual works of mercy as she fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, counseled the doubtful, sheltered the homeless, and more.
From ashes to new life
The memory of her active love lives in our hearts! But we also hope and pray that God will gift her with an eternal Easter in heaven. In the book of Corinthians 2:9-10, St. Paul writes: "Eye has not seen nor ear heard what God has prepared for those who love God."
May Spring's bright greens remind us of this hope of the Easter season! For this is the day God has made. Let us rejoice and be glad and pray that my mother has joined her family, friends, and your loved ones in Heaven.
And may St. Raphael's rise from the ashes of the fire to new Easter life.
Fr. Don Lange is pastor of St. Bridget Parish, Ridgeway and Immaculate Conception Parish, Barneveld.