Monday, April 30, 2007

Tis a gift

We are all impacted by the giving or receiving of a Gift. A gift is defined as something given voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favor toward someone, honor an occasion, or make a gesture of assistance; present. It brings a good feeling to know that someone is thinking of your well-being. No matter how big or small, expensive or inexpensive the gift may be, none compares to the greatest gift given by God, and that is Salvation.

In Acts 11:1-18, we find Peter feeling the need to explain or expound to the church leaders why he invited and shared the Gospel with Cornelius and his friends, who were Gentiles, into the church. Peter began to share a vision given to him which resembled a large sheet coming down from the sky by its four corners. In the sheet, Peter observed four-legged animals of the earth, the wild beasts, the reptiles, and the birds of the sky. Then he heard a voice say ‘Get up, Peter. Slaughter and eat’, but Peter responded by saying, ‘Certainly not, sir, because nothing profane or unclean shall enter my mouth.’ God’s response to this was, ‘What God has made clean, you are not to call profane.’ The vision also showed Peter three men who were uncircumcised, that showed up at the place of worship. The spirit told Peter to invite them into the worship without any discrimination or reservation. This was a joyous moment because it gave the Unbelievers the same opportunity of receiving the Gift as those that already believed.

Psalms 42 expresses the great desires of David to show his true love towards God. It is when he was debarred from his outward opportunities of waiting on God, when he was banished to the land of Jordan, a great way off from the courts of God’s house. Note, Sometimes God teaches us effectually to know the worth of mercies by the want of them, and whets our appetite for the means of grace by cutting us short in those means. When we have plenty, we sometimes forget what it means to be in need. We must enjoy his Gift while we can.

In John 10, the parable shows the evidence of a thief and robber that comes to do mischief to the flock and damage to the owner. He enters not by the door, as having no lawful cause of entry, but climbs up some other way, at a window, or some breach in the wall. How industrious are wicked people to do mischief! What plots will they lay, what pains will they take, what hazards will they run, in their wicked pursuits! This should shame us out of our slothfulness and cowardice in the service of God. God is our Shepherd, and those that believe are his sheep, and they know his voice.

God has given us a gift for a purpose, and that is that we all come into the right relationship with him. Our thirst for his righteousness should be so strong, that our walk and talk should be evidence of our true Love for God, and people from all walks of Life will come running and asking what must we do to receive this wonderful Gift of Salvation.

(From Daily Reflections: http://www.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/daily.html)

Sunday, April 29, 2007

"I know my sheep"

Jesus was walking around Heaven one day and came out by the gates where St. Peter was hard at work sorting out those who would enter Heaven from those who wouldn’t. Jesus said, “Pete, you’re at the gate a lot. When do you take a break?” Peter said, “Never. This is my job. All the time.” Jesus, feeling compassionate for his friend said, “Hey, I’ll take over for a while, why don’t you grab a cup of coffee.” Peter gladly said yes and went on his way. Jesus opened the Book of Life and looked up to the next person in line. “Name?” he said. “Mary O’Donnell,” the old woman responded. Seeing her name he said, “Ah, yes, here you are. Head right on in, we’ve been waiting for you…Next.” A middle-aged man stepped up and gave his name, “John Smith.” Jesus looked at the Book and didn’t see his name. “Sorry John, you’re not in here. You’ll have to take that elevator over there…press the down button…Next.” Suddenly an old man appeared before Jesus and he looked familiar. “And you are…” Jesus asked. The man responded, “I’m a carpenter. And, I was told that my son was in there. I’d like to see him. You’d recognize him, he’s got nail marks in his hands and in his feet.” Jesus was stunned, he leaned forward, looked at the old man, smiled and said, “Dad?” The man’s eyes widened and he looked at Jesus and said, “Pinnochio?”
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“I am the Good Shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” We celebrate today the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. And, what a perfect day to be mindful of vocations as we hear this Gospel reading in which Jesus gives us this powerful image of Himself as the Good Shepherd.
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We first need to know a little bit about shepherds and what they do to understand what He means. In Jesus’ time, there were two kinds of shepherds. There was the hired hand for whom keeping the sheep was just the available job. He moved from flock to flock depending on the conditions of service and he would most definitely not risk his life for them. Seeing danger he would flee and leave the flock untended. Then there is the shepherd-owner of the flock who grows up with the flock and stays with the same flock all his life. He knows each and every sheep in the flock individually. He calls each one by name and knows everything about each of his sheep. He knows which ones are strong, which are weak; which ones might stray from the flock and would keep an eye on them. When in danger, he would risk his life to defend his sheep.
Jesus tells us that this is the kind of shepherd He is. He knows each one of us individually. He knows the cares and concerns of our lives. He knows our needs. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows what we can be.
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And this is the heart of vocation. Discovering our best identity – who we are called to be in God’s sight. God continually calls people. We must create environments in our lives, in our families where we help and allow people to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, so that they can follow where he will lead. The Good Shepherd is calling all of us to something. He is most definitely calling someone here today to the priesthood or religious life. The question is, can we hear His voice?
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The challenge is for all of us to create environments that are supportive of people who think they might hear the voice of the Good Shepherd calling them into a life of service in the church – as a priest, a deacon or religious sister or brother. It is up to us. We have to be the people who encourage our young to consider lives of dedication and service as priests and religious as something valuable. I don’t know if I would be a priest today if it weren’t for the support I received from crucial people in my life as I explored this call – Dominican sisters who taught me and encouraged a vocation in grammar school, my aunt Maureen who is a Sister of Mercy and who showed me the joy that can be found in religious life, Fr. Marc who was my first mentor and led me toward a life of priestly service, and most importantly my mother and father, who gave witness to me of what it means to live a Christian life.
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I challenge all of our young people to consider living a life dedicated to God as a priest or religious. And, even more so, I challenge everyone here today to pray for vocations and just as importantly encourage vocations. If you’ve ever thought that someone might be called to the priesthood or religious life, tell them. Maybe they’ve been waiting for someone to confirm what they’ve been feeling inside. We cannot bemoan the problem of fewer and fewer priests without recognizing our own responsibility in this regard.
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The question of vocation is all about identity. Who we are is what is important. And the only important answer to the question of our identity is who we are before God. St. Francis would remind his brothers, “You are what You are before God. That and nothing more.” The Good Shepherd helps us to see this. He knows who we are intimately and wants to help us grow to see ourselves primarily through the eyes of faith – as God’s sons and daughters. It is only when we know our true identity before God, that we discover our vocation.
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“I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and mine know me.”
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Let us pray that more young men and women will have the courage to pursue the vocation that God is calling them to; that they will follow the Good Shepherd. And let us be the people who encourage them to do so.
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May God bless the Church with many vocations and may God give you peace.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Innocence Project


There was a story in the news this past week that got surprisingly little coverage. It was the story of Jerry Miller who was put in jail 25 years ago convicted of a brutal rape in 1981. Last week, DNA testing proved that, without a doubt, Miller did not commit that crime. Imagine 25 years in prison for a crime that you did not commit. Miller’s case was also a milestone. This is not an isolated incident. Miller was the 200th person proven to be completely innocent by The Innocence Project since 1989.

This reality attacks one of the core lies told by people who support the death penalty: that there are enough safeties in place to assure that only the guilty receive this punishment. And yet, in the work that has been done by The Innocence Project, they have helped exonerate 200 people who have spent a combined 2,475 years in jail for crimes they did not commit. And begs the question of how many people have been executed who were also perhaps innocent? There’s no turning around a wrongful execution.

Another interesting statistic that this reveals comes in terms of where these exonerations have taken place. Most of these wrongful convictions happened in Texas (28), Illinois (27), New York (23). These are all states with the death penalty. Take Texas for example. Texas kills so many of its own residents that if it were an independent nation it would rank 5th in the world for executions. The traditional argument is that the death penalty is a deterrent to capital crimes. In other words, if you have the death penalty, people will not commit capital crimes. And yet, Texas has the greatest rate of capital crime in the country.

Here are some interesting statistics on these 200 wrongful convictions:
· Exonerations have been won in 31 states.
· 14 of the 200 people exonerated through DNA served time on death row.
· The average length of time served by exonerees is 12 years. The total number of years: 2,475.
· The average age of exonerees at the time of their wrongfully convictions was 26.
· Of the 200 exonerees: (120 African Americans; 55 Caucasians; 19 Latinos, 1 Asian American; 5 other.
· The real suspects and/or perpetrators have been identified in 74 of the DNA exoneration cases.
· Since 1989, there have been tens of thousands of cases where prime suspects were identified and pursued—until DNA testing (prior to conviction) proved that they were wrongly accused.

What does this prove? I think it shows yet again that the decision of life or death belongs to God alone – we are simply not qualified. I think it also shows that as a society, we are willing to cling to lies to support a position of vengeance or convenience. No one is suggesting that criminals be let out on the street, but that sometimes there is a limit to what we as a society can do – protect itself by jailing people, but not to the point of taking life. It doesn’t matter if the life taken is through abortion, euthanasia, poverty, hunger or the death penalty; it is never ours to take.

Let us pray that we, as a society, embrace the culture of life.

Love, Fr. Tom

Sunday, April 22, 2007

"We want to be your little brothers"

Well, I have returned from Lithuania, and as I sit reflecting on the last week, I felt I really had to share the story of the friars in that country because it is a truly moving story.

Lithuania is generally regarded as the last country in Europe to embrace Christianity, not fully becoming a Catholic nation until 1387. The Franciscans were there right from the beginning, in fact, the very first Bishop of Lithuania was a Franciscan friar. As you can imagine, the Order grew tremendously during these times. At its height, there were over 500 friars in Lithuania. This situation persisted for many years.

And, then came the Soviet occupation. Just like most of the Eastern block, the Soviets as an atheistic state, treated believers, and religious in particular, very poorly. Given the amount of sway the friars had over the spiritual lives of Lithuanians, the Franciscans, along with all other members of religious orders were kicked out of Lithuania. The Soviets were brutal, closing all but one seminary - and even at that one allowing only 10 seminarians to enter each year. The number of priests in the country dropped by half as did the Churches. They would confiscate churches and turn them into warehouses, theaters or museums. Famously, the Cathedral of Vilnius was turned into the Museum of Atheism.

The friars who were deported from the country, came to the United States and settled in Kennebunkport, Maine. [They still maintain their monastery (www.framon.net) there and a guesthouse (www.franciscanguesthouse.com)] Here the maintained their religious life and their dreams of returning to Lithuania.

Back in Lithuania being a Franciscan was not so easy. The presence of the Order was basically sustained by two Diocesan priests who would secretly profess their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to each other every year, thus maintaining at least a small presence of the Order their. Even the current Provincial Minister there - Friar Astijus Kungys - attended the diocesan seminary while being a Francsicans, but even his teachers, rectors and formators at the seminary had no idea that he was a Franciscan. This was the life of hiddenness that the friars had to maintain during communism.

When independence came to that country in 1989, they began anew. At this time, there were seven priests who had secretly been professing this Franciscan way of life. They now came together openly and read the Rule of St. Francis, the way of life of the friars. In that Rule, they read:

"The Rule and life of the Friars Minor is this, namely, to observe the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by living in obedience, without anything of one's own, and in chastity...And if they believe these things and want to observe them faithfully and firmly unto the end...let them say unto these the word of the Holy Gospel (cf Mt 19:21), that they should go and sell all that is their own and strive to give it to the poor."

These men immediately sold all that they owned - their cars, their other belongings, even the furniture in their homes and began to live this 800 year old way of life again. They eventually re-established their connection with the friars in Maine and began to rebuild their way of life - that was at the very same time so ancient in Lithuania and now so new.

Today, the Franciscans are the largest religious congregation in Lithuania - but with only 46 friars. How much things have changed and how much still needs to take place there. But, their way of life if vibrant again and more men will come to them. They have been given back some of the Churches that were taken away from them by the Soviets and are renewing all things in Christ and in St. Francis.

Fr. Astijus spoke of how this beautiful connection with the friars of the English Speaking Conference and the friars who kept the Order alive in Vilnius will help lead to new life, "If we love our spiritual fathers maybe a new generation will love us. You are our fathers, we cannot be orphans. You are our family, you are our elders. We want to be your little brothers and one community with you."

May God bless their endeavor!

Pax et bonum!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

That's what I'm talking about!

Red Sox overcome 2 more homers by A-Rod
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By Jimmy Golen, AP Sports Writer April 20, 2007
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BOSTON --Alex Rodriguez hit two more homers, but Coco Crisp tied the game with a two-run triple and then scored the winning run on Alex Cora's blooper during a five-run eighth inning Friday night in the Boston Red Sox's 7-6, comeback victory over the New York Yankees.
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Crisp was already in the highlights after toppling into the Boston bullpen in pursuit of Rodriguez's second homer of the game, a three-run shot in the fifth that gave the Yankees a 5-2 lead. Rodriguez went 3-for-5 and joined Mike Schmidt, who hit 12 homers in the first 15 games in 1976, as the fastest to reach a dozen in baseball history.
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Kyle Snyder (1-0) allowed one walk and struck out one while getting two outs in the eighth. With closer Jonathan Papelbon unavailable after pitching in each of the previous two games, Hideki Okajima pitched the ninth for his first major league save.
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Okajima retired Derek Jeter on a groundout and walked Bobby Abreu before Rodriguez lined out to second base. Kevin Thompson struck out to end the game. Mariano Rivera (1-2) allowed two runs on three hits, striking out one in two-thirds of an inning.
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Rodriguez, who has hit safely in all 15 games this year, also leads the majors with 30 RBIs and 65 total bases.
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J.D. Drew had three hits for Boston, which trailed 5-2 before David Ortiz led off the eighth with a double and Manny Ramirez walked. Drew moved the runners up, then Mike Lowell singled to make it 6-3 and bring in Rivera.
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Jason Varitek, who hit a two-run homer in the fourth, singled to make it 6-4, then Crisp tripled down the right-field line to tie it. With the infield in, Cora fisted a blooper over Jeter's head to the back of the infield dirt, driving in the go-ahead run.
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The Red Sox wore green uniforms to honor late Celtics patriarch Red Auerbach, with black "VT" patches in memory of those who died at Virginia Tech. And the Red Sox played more like the franchise that won the 16 championship banners that hung from the Green Monster before the game instead of the one that had the second-worst record in the NBA this season.
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Rodriguez flied out to the warning track in the second inning, then homered to left to lead off the fourth. Jeter and Abreu singled in the fifth before Rodriguez made it 5-2 with a line drive off Curt Schilling that sent Crisp back to the short wall and over it.
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Rodriguez, who entered the game 6-for-31 (.194) against Schilling, moved past Willie Stargell and Stan Musial into the top 25 on baseball's all-time homer list with 474. The Yankees third baseman also doubled and scored in the eighth.
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Yankees starter Andy Pettitte allowed two runs on eight hits, a pair of walks and a hit batter. He struck out three but allowed a two-run homer to Varitek, his first of the season.
Schilling gave up five runs and eight hits and a walk in seven innings, snapping a personal two-game winning streak and a 16-inning scoreless streak.
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Yankees catcher Jorge Posada injured his left thumb while catching and left the game in the middle of the fourth inning; X-rays were negative. Will Nieves replaced him behind the plate and threw Drew out trying to steal second.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Divine Mercy in Vilnius

As you may have read in my last post, I am in Vilnius, Lithuania this week for the Spring meeting of the English Speaking Conference of the Order of Friars Minor. I serve as Executive Secretary of this group. This afternoon we had the most remarkable experience. We went to meet with Valdas Adamkus, the President of the Republic of Lithuania. A genuinely good man who cares a great deal for his people and who has a great love for Jesus and the Franciscans. It was an honor to meet with him today. But, that is not the remarkable experience that I mention.
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As we left the Presidential Palace, Fr. Astijus, the Lithuanian Provincial Minister, said, "Let us go to the Chapel of Divine Mercy. Did you know that the original picture of Divine Mercy is here in Vilnius?" To say the least, I did not. What a wonderful, surprising treat in our afternoon. This image is the only one that was painted under the direction of St. Faustina and it is stunning. When we went into the chapel there was Eucharistic adoration taking place and so we were fortunate enough to spend a few moments in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and this blessed image of Divine Mercy.
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Here is a bit of the history of this image: Today there are many variations of the Divine Mercy Image around the world, the most famous being the Hyla, Vilnius, and Skemp Images. The Vilnius Image, featured here, is the original image painted under Sister Faustina's direction by Vilnius artist Eugene Kazimirowski in 1934. This Image is named after the town where the Image was painted and first hung for public display. Both the Hyla and the Skemp are named after the artists who painted them.
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According to Sister Faustina’s diaries, on the evening of February 22, 1931, while she prayed alone in her cell, Jesus appeared to her as the King of Mercy. He stood dressed in an ankle-length white garment with one hand raised in blessing. The other hand was touching his breast, from which flowed forth two rays: one red, the other pale.
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In silence the nun gazed intently at the Lord, overwhelmed with awe but also full of great joy. “Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You,” he told her. “I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel, and [then) throughout the world. I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish. I also promise victory over [its] enemies already here on earth, especially at the hour of death. I Myself will defend it as My own glory” (Diary, 47-48).
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During the same visit Jesus requested that a Feast of Mercy be celebrated in the entire Church as another sign of his unlimited love.“I want this image, which you will paint with a brush, to be solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter; that Sunday is to be the Feast of Mercy” (Diary, 49), Sister Faustina said Jesus told her “On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon souls who approach the fount of My mercy The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment....Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet” (Diary, 699).
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Because Faustina was not an artist, her spiritual director Father Sopocko took her to a local Vilnius artist named Eugene Kazimirowski, who painted this Image directly under Faustina’s supervision. Sadly remarking, “Lord, who will paint You as beautiful as you are” (Diary 313), Faustina had the artist change the face at least 10 times. Finally, Our Lord told Faustina that it was good enough - to leave it in the state it’s in. When she told Our Lord of her disappointment, he comforted her by saying: “Not in the beauty of the color, nor of the brush lies the greatness of this image, but in My grace” (Diary, 313).
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At Father Sopocko’s urging Sister Faustina asked Jesus about the meaning of the two rays. The pale ray, Jesus answered, represents “the Water, which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls. ...These two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender mercy when My agonized heart was opened by a lance on the cross” (Diary, 299).
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The painting’s first home was the corridor of a convent near Father Sopocko’s parish rectory. But Jesus had other plans for its placement, and requested the image be moved to the church. “By means of this Image I shall be granting many graces to souls; so let every soul have access to it” (Diary, 570), he told Sister Faustina.
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News of the painting spread. In 1935, as part of the celebration of the Jubilee Year of the Redemption of the World, thousands of people venerated the image when it was publicly displayed at the Eastern Gate to Vilnius, Poland, on the Feast of Mercy. (Vilnius is now located in Lithuania. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in August 1991, Lithuania was granted its independence, with Vilnius as its capital.) Two years later the painting was blessed and hung in St. Michael’s Church in Vilnius. The painting currently hangs in the Church of the Holy Spirit in Vilnius.
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Just recently it was accidentally discovered at a prayer group in Arizona, that the face on this Image perfectly matched the one on the Holy Shroud of Turin. This restored Vilnius Image is the only Image painted under St. Faustina’s direction.
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Personally, I have to say, I like this image better than the more popular Hyla image. It has a realism that seems to jump right off of the canvas. I can't explain in words, but I was truly moved praying in its presence.
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Jesus, I trust in You!

Hill of the Crosses

This week I have been in Vilnius, Lithuania for the Spring meeting of the English Speaking Conference of the Order of Friars Minor. We've had a very good and fruitful week of meetings, but I wanted to share a little bit of the experience we had on Wednesday.
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The Hill of the Crosses is nothing short of a living monument here in Lithuania. It took us about three hours by bus to get there from the capital city of Vilnius.
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No one is quite sure where this tradition of placing crosses on this hill began. But, the fact of the matter is that it was a tradition that had really taken hold, long before Soviet Communism came to this Christian country.
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One plausible story is that the modern hill developed in its present form with crosses erected to commemorate insurgents killed in the anti-Russian revolt of 1831 which were further augmented by those honoring the fallen in the subsequent revolt of 1863-4. During the 1950s, Lithuanians returning from the Siberian gulags placed crosses to honor those who had died in captivity and in thanks for their own deliverance.
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The Soviets reacted harshly to this expression of both Christianity and nationalism by destroying the crosses and patrolling the site. But, despite their efforts to rid this hill of its crosses, the powerful faith of the people continued to prevail and the hill became a sign of faith as well as a sign of protest against the atheistic communism that was occupying their land. The crosses continued to appear.
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At the end of Soviet occupation in 1991, the hill had 40,000 crosses, a number that has incredibly increased in the intervening years and still grows each day. There could be close to a million (maybe more) crosses on that hill today.
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The crosses range from cheap plastic versions sold by vendors at the site to full-sized traditional carved crosses (one of which was erected by Pope John Paul II himself) is almost as striking at their number. The Francsican Order also erected a beautifully carved cross there a number of years ago under our then-General Minister Giacomo Bini. And, while we were there on Wednesday, the Lithuanian Franciscans erected a large (perhaps 10 foot high) cross in honor of the English Speaking Conference. We held a beautiful prayer service and blessed the cross there.
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Visually, the hill resembles a densely packed forest in many places and will likely continue to expand outward. Seeing the hill from a distance as you approach it is powerful
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At the urging of Pope John Paul II the friars have built a very nice friary at the Hill of the Crosses that serves as their novitiate. One of the most interesting features is the Chapel. It is built to look out onto the Hill of the Crosses and the Chapel itself has no crucifix - the crosses on the hill serve as the crucifix for the Chapel.
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It was an incredibly powerful experience of the deep and abiding faith of these people and the strength of their spirit that would not allow the destruction of their faith in Jesus Christ.
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Pax et bonum!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Permission to doubt

Do you know what the first words are that the Pope hears each day? “Eggs, Benedict?” Someone shared that with me yesterday and it was just too corny to keep to myself.

We heard those familiar words of the Doubting Thomas in our Gospel today, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” I don’t know about you, but when I hear those words, I think, “Thank God we have Thomas!” Through that statement, Thomas gives all of us permission to pause for a moment and deal with our own struggles with this most important – and yet most challenging – part of our belief: that Jesus has risen from the dead.

Why is this so challenging? For a very simple reason – who was the last person you saw raised from the dead? It isn’t an everyday experience for most of us.When it comes to belief, there are some things that are easier than others for us to wrap our minds and our hearts around. Most people believe in God. Most people believe in Jesus who taught us God’s way, who performed miracles, who died on the cross. But when it comes to that empty tomb three days later, many people draw a line there and refuse to cross it. They speak about what is possible and impossible, about what is real and what is not, about what is believable and what is unbelievable. Just look at how many people recently flocked to learn more about the alleged Tomb of Jesus and His family discovered in Jerusalem. Why? People want to believe there is a body in that tomb. The empty tomb makes us uneasy. This isn’t how things normally happen. And our Gospel reminds us today that it is okay to struggle with this – not to end up in disbelief, but to struggle with it – after all, Thomas himself struggled with this and would not believe until he touched the wounds of Christ.

But, Thomas came to believe and so there is hope for anyone else who might struggle with belief. What makes the difference in this struggle though is encountering the Risen Lord – this washes all doubt away. Notice in our passage, Thomas doubts when he is not in the presence of Jesus. This is too much to be believed. But, once in the presence of the risen Lord, Thomas proclaims without hesitation perhaps the greatest statement of faith ever uttered – “My Lord and My God.” By the way, if you have ever wondered what silent prayers I say as I elevate the consecrated Body and Blood of Jesus at Mass it is those words of Thomas, “My Lord and My God.”

Easter proclaims that Jesus is risen from the dead; and the good news for us is that through our own baptism, Jesus has invited us to also participate in His saving death and resurrection. And, if we struggle with this belief, let us be strengthened by being in Jesus’ presence as well. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and He is here today in our midst; present in our hearts, in the words we speak, in the love we share, here even in our questions and our doubts. He is here to share all that He is with anyone who will be open to receive Him. And that is the key – opening our eyes to recognize His presence in our midst.

During Holy Week, I was thinking a lot about my grandmother who died five years ago on Palm Sunday. But, as I was thinking about her passing, I was recalling something that happened two years before she died. She was 83 years old at the time and quite literally near death. It was January and she had been hospitalized and despondent since the previous Thanksgiving. When you would go and see her, she would be thrashing back and forth in her bed, she had to be restrained at her hands and her feet. She didn’t recognize anyone and did not seem conscious. My mother, and her brothers and sisters, were all preparing for her death.

My Mom called me one day and said, “You better come down and anoint Grammy. The doctors say she won’t make the night.” I immediately left to see her in the hospital. I came armed with the oil of the sick, the word of God, and a heavy heart grieving already for my grandmother, for my Mom and for my aunts and uncles. I had only been ordained a priest a few months earlier and this was my first time administering the Sacrament of the Sick. We began to pray the prayers of the Church and I asked everyone to place hands on her and pray that the Holy Spirit come upon her. She was thrashing in her bed, but suddenly a stillness and calm came over her. We read from Scripture. I anointed her with the oil of healing and invited everyone as well to bless her. As suddenly as that – she opened her eyes, looked up at everyone, for the first time in several months – she knew everyone’s name. I leaned in and asked her, “Grammy, do you know who I am?” She smiled and said, “It’s Tommy, my angel.” Within a week, she was out of the hospital and back home and lived for another two years – and they were the best two years of her life. By the way, this event secured the “Favorite Grandchild” title for me in my family forever.

Why do I share this with you today? Because, the message is simple, there are signs of resurrection all around us – if our eyes are opened to see them. These signs may not always be as dramatic as what happened with my grandmother, maybe they are the simple answer to prayer, the sense that a loved one who has passed is present to us, or that a saint has heard our prayer, or that simple feeling deep within of God’s abiding presence with us. Not to mention the sign of resurrection that appears on this altar every time we celebrate Mass. My brothers and sisters, Jesus will rise from the dead on this altar today – He will rise from dead bread and dead wine into His true, living and abiding presence in our midst. Do you see it? “Do not be unbelieving, but believe!”

So, today, let us thank God we have Thomas! I’m sure there are many of us who can relate to him. I for one, am well named. I often have a need to see the nail marks and touch them before I can come to belief. But, our Lord knew this in advance, and He still chose Thomas to be one of His disciples – and perhaps even more wondrously, He knew the same about us in advance, and He still chose each one of us.Let us pray for the grace to be like Thomas, to experience our Risen Lord in the midst of the community, to proclaim the great statement of faith with him, “My Lord and my God!”

May God give you peace!!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Scholars debunk "Tomb of Jesus"

It was just a matter of time. The very same scholars whose statements were misquoted and twisted to infer that the tomb containing the remains of Jesus, his "wife" Mary Magdalene and their "child" Judas have now come forward to publicly deny the claims made by documentary filmakers about this tomb. The story below comes from Catholic News Agency:
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Several prominent scholars, who were featured in interviews in the controversial documentary Lost Tomb of Jesus, have now revised their statements, reported The Jerusalem Post.
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The film argues that 10 ancient ossuaries discovered in southeastern residential Jerusalem neighborhood of Talpiot in 1980 contained the bones of Jesus and his family. The filmmakers attempted to explain some of the inscriptions on the ossuaries by suggesting that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and that the couple had a son, named Judah. The most astounding revision is that of University of Toronto statistician Andrey Feuerverger, who provided statements that supported the central point of the film.
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Feuerverger stated in the film that the odds are 600 to one in favor of the tomb being the family burial cave of Jesus of Nazareth. He now says these figures referred to the probability of a cluster of such names appearing together. According to The Jerusalem Post, this conclusion has now been changed on the Discovery Channel website to read: "It is unlikely that an equally surprising cluster of names would have arisen by chance under purely random sampling."
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The scholars' revised statements are recorded in the 16-page paper titled "Cracks in the Foundation: How the Lost Tomb of Jesus story is losing its scholarly support". It was compiled by epigrapher Stephen Pfann of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem. The paper was released two months after the documentary, made by Oscar-winning director James Cameron and Emmy-winning Canadian filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, was broadcast on the Discovery Channel at the beginning of Lent.
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Israeli archeologists did say, at the time that the documentary was released, that the similarity of the names found inscribed on the ossuaries in the cave to the members of Jesus's family was coincidental, since many of those names were commonplace in the first century CE. Shimon Gibson, who was on the team that excavated the tomb and also appeared in the film, is quoted in Pfann's report as saying that much more evidence is needed before the tomb can be considered the family tomb of Jesus.
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"Personally, I'm skeptical that this is the tomb of Jesus and I made this point very clear to the filmmakers," Gibson is quoted as saying. In the film, renowned epigrapher Frank Moore Cross, professor emeritus of Hebrew and oriental languages at Harvard University, is shown reading one of the ossuaries and stating that he has "no real doubt" that it reads "Jesus son of Joseph."
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But Cross told Pfann in e-mail that he was skeptical about the film's claims because of the ubiquity of Biblical names in that period in Jerusalem. "It has been reckoned that 25 percent of feminine names in this period were Maria/Miriam, etc. - that is, variants of 'Mary.' So the cited statistics are unpersuasive," Cross is quoted as saying.
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Pfann's paper also includes statements from DNA scientist Dr. Carney Matheson, who supervised the DNA tests carried out for the film from the supposed Jesus and Mary Magdalene ossuaries. In the documentary, Matheson said: "These two individuals, if they were unrelated, would most likely be husband and wife." He later said: "The only conclusions we made were that these two sets were not maternally related. To me, it sounds like absolutely nothing."
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Francois Bovon is a specialist in ancient apocryphal text who said in the film that the ossuary inscription "Mariamne" is the same woman known as Mary Magdalene. Pfann says Bovon later issued a disclaimer stating he did not believe that "Mariamne" stood for Mary Magdalene at all.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Proclaiming Christ Risen from the Dead!

Fr. Mike and I had the great opportunity to be in Fenway Park for the home opener on Tuesday afternoon. After the game, we went to visit with Fr. Mike's Dad, John. John's brother, Neil, has been in the hospital after suffering a massive stroke last week (so please keep him in your prayers), and John had spent the afternoon sitting with and praying with his brother. When we met up with John, he was sharing with Fr. Mike and I story after story about his little brother, and in particular, how strong Neil's faith is and how bold Neil is in proclaiming that faith to others.

In one particular story, John shared about a time when he had breakfast plans with his brother one morning. John arrived at the restaurant only to see Neil on the corner talking to another man. John waited and at the end of the conversation, the two hugged and Neil came over to meet up with his brother. John asked him, "Who was that?" Neil responded, "I have no idea." You see Neil arrived early and went over to the man and asked him how he was doing. The man shared some challenges in his life and Neil asked him directly, "Do you believe in Jesus?" By the end of that brief conversation, that man had accepted Jesus into his life as his personal Lord and Savior, right there on that street corner.

John looked at me with tears hovering just behind his eyelids and said, "Now that is courage."

And that is what true courage looks like. I've been thinking about that story as we make our way through these Easter Scriptures at Mass this week. We have image after image of changed disciples of Jesus suddenly boldly proclaiming Christ to anyone who will listen. Remember, just a few weeks ago we had image after image of these same disciples not understanding what Jesus was teaching them; or running and way and locking themselves into the Upper Room out of fear.

Now, as we heard from Acts yesterday: "Peter said, 'I have neither silver nor gold,but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.'" And, he heals the crippled man.

What changed everything? An encounter with the Risen Lord. As Jesus is changed and transformed and glorified, we too are changed by being in His presence. It is no different than the disciples on the road to Emmaus. After their encounter with the Risen Lord they say, "Were not our hearts burning within us as he spoke to us on the road?"

And so it should be with us. We have encountered the Risen Lord! Jesus is risen from the dead as He promised! And He is calling all of us to the same boldness of life in Him.

Now this doesn't mean we have to go out and heal every crippled person we come across or tackle every man standing on a corner to ask if he has accepted Jesus into his life. It could mean those things, but just as each of us is unique, we will be called in unique ways. We are all called though to live lives that give witness to the fact that the Lord has indeed risen as He promised; and He rises again at every Mass out of simple bread and wine to be alive and active in our midst once again.

Now that's courage!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

From Holy Day to holiday!

What more could anyone ask for? An incredibly powerful Holy Week; a packed Church for every Easter Sunday Mass - and, then the Home Opener of the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park two days later!

Fr. Mike and I were lucky enough to be among the Fenway Faithful yesterday as the Red Sox took on the Seattle Mariners for the home opener at our beloved park. As someone who appreciates ritual done well; after the Sacred Liturgy, the BoSox perhaps do it best!

Yesterday's pre-game rituals were just what anyone would expect. There was a moving tribute to the 1967 Impossible Dream Team - the team that got the modern fandom to where it is today, bringing the team back to the World Series after a long drought. Robert Goulet (who I never knew was a Lawrence, MA native) sang "The Impossible Dream" from "The Man of LaMancha." Harry Connick Jr. sang "America the Beautiful." And the remaining members of the 1967 team came onto the field to assume their former positions in 1967 uniforms. They collectively through out the first ceremonial pitch to receiving current Red Sox players. All I can say is that Yaz looks great. We should put him back on the roster!

The beloved Johnny Pesky entered the field to a standing ovation - and he gently wiped a tear from his eye after the response from the fans.

And, in a sign of where things are headed - it was all about the Japanese invasion! Dice-K also received a standing "O" and he wasn't even pitching. And, speaking of pitching, Josh Beckett was nothing short of dominant. This is going to be a powerful season for the 26-year-old and for the team.

And, of course, some good Fenway cuisine - a nice philly cheese steak from El Tiante's!

So, let it begin again. Let us go all the way! See you in the World Series! So, really, what more could you ask for? Well, a 14-3 win didn't hurt!

Play ball!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Sanctity of Marriage - Vote Now!

I'm enjoying a day off with my family in New Bedford following the busy, but beautifully grace-filled nature, of Holy Week. Last night we were watching television when a commercial came on the t.v. for a new reality television show, "The Real Wedding Crashers."

They list this show on their website as a "funny marriage prank series." Their tag line: "Nothing is safe: not the cake, not the dress, not even the ceremony!" At that point, I wanted to (and should have) dropped to my knees and prayed a rosary.

You know, we often hear the debates and read in the newspapers about the issue of gay marriage as an attack on the sanctity of marriage, and that is a worthwhile debate to have. We really do need to sit down and prayerfully figure out what all of this means especially in a context of faith and what the best way to respond to it is.

But, what I really wonder is - can this sometimes become a distraction? When you add up, just the things in the media: "The Real Wedding Crashers," "Whose wedding is it anyway?", "Who wants to marry a millionaire?" These, and all of the other shows like them are having the greatest impact on the sanctity of marriage possible.

I look at the young couples who come to the Church today to be married sacramentally. Gone are the days where they would lie to the priest and give fake separate addresses for where they live. Now, in one regard you might say, well it's good they are not lying any more. And that's true. But, they aren't lying anymore because they don't even have an awareness anymore that there is any value to virginity, to chastity, to waiting, to anticipating; they aren't even aware that the Church, and our faith, are opposed to these things.

Instead they boldly and proudly tell us that they are living together. Why? "Because we want the strongest marriage possible Father, so we figured we should practice first." I sometimes wait thinking, and even hoping, that I'm on a hidden camera show. But, no matter how long I wait the punch line never comes. They are serious.

The media encourages this. Worse still, parents encourage this. I hear parents say, "This is great. I wish I did the same when I was their age." Or, "Father, I can't tell my children what to do. I don't want to upset them." And true, you can't tell your adult children what to do - but, what about long before that? What kind of messages happened at home. Were things like abstinence, virginity, being pure and chaste, encouraged and held up as lofty ideas. Or did we say, "Pass the popcorn," during the latest episode of "The Real World" waiting to see which anonymous roommate is sleeping with the other, and will the third find out?

The bottom line - sanctity starts at home. The bottom line, we are not slaves to the messages of the media; to the messages of the culture; to the messages of our friends and family. We should be living in the freedom of the Children of God. Surely, Christ didn't die on the cross for us to say, "Does it really matter."

Teach these messages at home. Live them in our lives. Turn off the television; especially when the shows support messages that are really teaching our children - and us - to reject the Grace of the Truth; the Truth of our Faith.

It really does matter.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Renewing our faith with Thomas: "My Lord and My God!"

Here is a Vatican translation of Pope Benedict XVI's Easter message delivered at midday before he imparted his blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city of Rome and the world):
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Dear brothers and sisters throughout the world, Men and women of good will! Christ is risen! Peace to you!
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Today we celebrate the great mystery, the foundation of Christian faith and hope: Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified One, has risen from the dead on the third day according to the Scriptures. We listen today with renewed emotion to the announcement proclaimed by the angels on the dawn of the first day after the Sabbath, to Mary of Magdala and to the women at the sepulcher: "Why do you search among the dead for one who is alive? He is not here, he is risen!" (Luke 24:5-6).
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It is not difficult to imagine the feelings of these women at that moment: feelings of sadness and dismay at the death of their Lord, feelings of disbelief and amazement before a fact too astonishing to be true. But the tomb was open and empty: the body was no longer there. Peter and John, having been informed of this by the women, ran to the sepulcher and found that they were right. The faith of the Apostles in Jesus, the expected Messiah, had been submitted to a severe trial by the scandal of the cross. At his arrest, his condemnation and death, they were dispersed. Now they are together again, perplexed and bewildered. But the Risen One himself comes in response to their thirst for greater certainty.
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This encounter was not a dream or an illusion or a subjective imagination; it was a real experience, even if unexpected, and all the more striking for that reason. "Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, 'peace be with you!'" (John 20:19). At these words their faith, which was almost spent within them, was re-kindled.
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The Apostles told Thomas who had been absent from that first extraordinary encounter: Yes, the Lord has fulfilled all that he foretold; he is truly risen and we have seen and touched him! Thomas however remained doubtful and perplexed. When Jesus came for a second time, eight days later in the Upper Room, he said to him: "put your finger here and see my hands; and put out your hand and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing!" The Apostle's response is a moving profession of faith: "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:27-28). "My Lord and my God!" We too renew that profession of faith of Thomas.
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I have chosen these words for my Easter greetings this year, because humanity today expects from Christians a renewed witness to the resurrection of Christ; it needs to encounter him and to know him as true God and true man. If we can recognize in this Apostle the doubts and uncertainties of so many Christians today, the fears and disappointments of many of our contemporaries, with him we can also rediscover with renewed conviction, faith in Christ dead and risen for us.
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This faith, handed down through the centuries by the successors of the Apostles, continues on because the Risen Lord dies no more. He lives in the Church and guides it firmly towards the fulfillment of his eternal design of salvation. We may all be tempted by the disbelief of Thomas. Suffering, evil, injustice, death, especially when it strikes the innocent such as children who are victims of war and terrorism, of sickness and hunger, does not all of this put our faith to the test?
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Paradoxically the disbelief of Thomas is most valuable to us in these cases because it helps to purify all false concepts of God and leads us to discover his true face: the face of a God who, in Christ, has taken upon himself the wounds of injured humanity. Thomas has received from the Lord, and has in turn transmitted to the Church, the gift of a faith put to the test by the passion and death of Jesus and confirmed by meeting him risen. His faith was almost dead but was born again thanks to his touching the wounds of Christ, those wounds that the Risen One did not hide but showed, and continues to point out to us in the trials and sufferings of every human being.
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"By his wounds you have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24). This is the message Peter addressed to the early converts. Those wounds that, in the beginning were an obstacle for Thomas's faith, being a sign of Jesus' apparent failure, those same wounds have become in his encounter with the Risen One, signs of a victorious love. These wounds that Christ has received for love of us help us to understand who God is and to repeat: "My Lord and my God!" Only a God who loves us to the extent of taking upon himself our wounds and our pain, especially innocent suffering, is worthy of faith. How many wounds, how much suffering there is in the world! Natural calamities and human tragedies that cause innumerable victims and enormous material destruction are not lacking.
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My thoughts go to recent events in Madagascar, in the Solomon Islands, in Latin America and in other regions of the world. I am thinking of the scourge of hunger, of incurable diseases, of terrorism and kidnapping of people, of the thousand faces of violence which some people attempt to justify in the name of religion, of contempt for life, of the violation of human rights and the exploitation of persons.
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I look with apprehension at the conditions prevailing in several regions of Africa. In Darfur and in the neighboring countries there is a catastrophic, and sadly to say underestimated, humanitarian situation. In Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo the violence and looting of the past weeks raises fears for the future of the Congolese democratic process and the reconstruction of the country. In Somalia the renewed fighting has driven away the prospect of peace and worsened a regional crisis, especially with regard to the displacement of populations and the traffic of arms. Zimbabwe is in the grip of a grievous crisis and for this reason the bishops of that country in a recent document indicated prayer and a shared commitment for the common good as the only way forward. Likewise the population of East Timor stands in need of reconciliation and peace as it prepares to hold important elections. .
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Elsewhere too, peace is sorely needed: in Sri Lanka only a negotiated solution can put an end to the conflict that causes so much bloodshed; Afghanistan is marked by growing unrest and instability; In the Middle East, besides some signs of hope in the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian authority, nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees. In Lebanon the paralysis of the country's political institutions threatens the role that the country is called to play in the Middle East and puts its future seriously in jeopardy.
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Finally, I cannot forget the difficulties faced daily by the Christian communities and the exodus of Christians from that blessed land which is the cradle of our faith. I affectionately renew to these populations the expression of my spiritual closeness. Dear brothers and sisters, through the wounds of the Risen Christ we can see the evils which afflict humanity with the eyes of hope.
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In fact, by his rising the Lord has not taken away suffering and evil from the world but has vanquished them at their roots by the superabundance of his grace. He has countered the arrogance of evil with the supremacy of his love. He has left us the love that does not fear death, as the way to peace and joy. "Even as I have loved you -- he said to his disciples before his death -- so you must also love one another" (cf. John 13:34).
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Brothers and sisters in faith, who are listening to me from every part of the world! Christ is risen and he is alive among us. It is he who is the hope of a better future.
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As we say with Thomas: "My Lord and my God!", may we hear again in our hearts the beautiful yet demanding words of the Lord: "If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him" (John 12:26).
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United to him and ready to offer our lives for our brothers (cf. 1 John 3:16), let us become apostles of peace, messengers of a joy that does not fear pain - the joy of the Resurrection. May Mary, Mother of the Risen Christ, obtain for us this Easter gift.
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Happy Easter to you all. May the grace and joy of the Risen Christ be with you all.
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(From www.zenit.org)

Sunday, April 8, 2007

"This is the joy of Easter: We Are Free"

Below is the text of Pope Benedict XVI's Homily at last night's Easter Vigil:
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Dear Brothers and Sisters!
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From ancient times the liturgy of Easter day has begun with the words: Resurrexi et adhuc tecum sum – I arose, and am still with you; you have set your hand upon me. The liturgy sees these as the first words spoken by the Son to the Father after his resurrection, after his return from the night of death into the world of the living. The hand of the Father upheld him even on that night, and thus he could rise again.
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These words are taken from Psalm 138, where originally they had a different meaning. That Psalm is a song of wonder at God’s omnipotence and omnipresence, a hymn of trust in the God who never allows us to fall from his hands. And his hands are good hands. The Psalmist imagines himself journeying to the farthest reaches of the cosmos – and what happens to him? "If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Let only darkness cover me’…, even the darkness is not dark to you…; for darkness is as light with you" (Ps 138[139]:8-12).
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On Easter day the Church tells us that Jesus Christ made that journey to the ends of the universe for our sake. In the Letter to the Ephesians we read that he descended to the depths of the earth, and that the one who descended is also the one who has risen far above the heavens, that he might fill all things (cf. 4:9ff.). The vision of the Psalm thus became reality. In the impenetrable gloom of death Christ came like light – the night became as bright as day and the darkness became as light. And so the Church can rightly consider these words of thanksgiving and trust as words spoken by the Risen Lord to his Father: "Yes, I have journeyed to the uttermost depths of the earth, to the abyss of death, and brought them light; now I have risen and I am upheld for ever by your hands." But these words of the Risen Christ to the Father have also become words which the Lord speaks to us: "I arose and now I am still with you," he says to each of us. My hand upholds you. Wherever you may fall, you will always fall into my hands. I am present even at the door of death. Where no one can accompany you further, and where you can bring nothing, even there I am waiting for you, and for you I will change darkness into light.
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These words of the Psalm, read as a dialogue between the Risen Christ and ourselves, also explain what takes place at Baptism. Baptism is more than a bath, a purification. It is more than becoming part of a community. It is a new birth. A new beginning in life. The passage of the Letter to the Romans which we have just read says, in words filled with mystery, that in Baptism we have been "grafted" onto Christ by likeness to his death. In Baptism we give ourselves over to Christ – he takes us unto himself, so that we no longer live for ourselves, but through him, with him and in him; so that we live with him and thus for others. In Baptism we surrender ourselves, we place our lives in his hands, and so we can say with Saint Paul, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." If we offer ourselves in this way, if we accept, as it were, the death of our very selves, this means that the frontier between death and life is no longer absolute. On either side of death we are with Christ and so, from that moment forward, death is no longer a real boundary. Paul tells us this very clearly in his Letter to the Philippians: "For me to live is Christ. To be with him (by dying) is gain. Yet if I remain in this life, I can still labour fruitfully. And so I am hard pressed between these two things. To depart – by being executed – and to be with Christ; that is far better. But to remain in this life is more necessary on your account" (cf. 1:21ff.). On both sides of the frontier of death, Paul is with Christ – there is no longer a real difference. Yes, it is true: "Behind and before you besiege me, your hand ever laid upon me" (Ps 138 [139]: 5). To the Romans Paul wrote: "No one … lives to himself and no one dies to himself… Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s" (Rom 14:7ff.).
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Dear candidates for Baptism, this is what is new about Baptism: our life now belongs to Christ, and no longer to ourselves. As a result we are never alone, even in death, but are always with the One who lives for ever. In Baptism, in the company of Christ, we have already made that cosmic journey to the very abyss of death. At his side and, indeed, drawn up in his love, we are freed from fear. He enfolds us and carries us wherever we may go – he who is Life itself.
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Let us return once more to the night of Holy Saturday. In the Creed we say about Christ’s journey that he "descended into hell." What happened then? Since we have no knowledge of the world of death, we can only imagine his triumph over death with the help of images which remain very inadequate. Yet, inadequate as they are, they can help us to understand something of the mystery. The liturgy applies to Jesus’ descent into the night of death the words of Psalm 23[24]: "Lift up your heads, O gates; be lifted up, O ancient doors!" The gates of death are closed, no one can return from there. There is no key for those iron doors. But Christ has the key. His Cross opens wide the gates of death, the stern doors. They are barred no longer. His Cross, his radical love, is the key that opens them. The love of the One who, though God, became man in order to die – this love has the power to open those doors. This love is stronger than death. The Easter icons of the Oriental Church show how Christ enters the world of the dead. He is clothed with light, for God is light. "The night is bright as the day, the darkness is as light" (cf. Ps 138[139]12). Entering the world of the dead, Jesus bears the stigmata, the signs of his passion: his wounds, his suffering, have become power: they are love that conquers death. He meets Adam and all the men and women waiting in the night of death. As we look at them, we can hear an echo of the prayer of Jonah: "Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice" (Jn 2:2). In the incarnation, the Son of God became one with human beings – with Adam. But only at this moment, when he accomplishes the supreme act of love by descending into the night of death, does he bring the journey of the incarnation to its completion. By his death he now clasps the hand of Adam, of every man and woman who awaits him, and brings them to the light.
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But we may ask: what is the meaning of all this imagery? What was truly new in what happened on account of Christ? The human soul was created immortal – what exactly did Christ bring that was new? The soul is indeed immortal, because man in a unique way remains in God’s memory and love, even after his fall. But his own powers are insufficient to lift him up to God. We lack the wings needed to carry us to those heights. And yet, nothing else can satisfy man eternally, except being with God. An eternity without this union with God would be a punishment. Man cannot attain those heights on his own, yet he yearns for them. "Out of the depths I cry to you…" Only the Risen Christ can bring us to complete union with God, to the place where our own powers are unable to bring us. Truly Christ puts the lost sheep upon his shoulders and carries it home. Clinging to his Body we have life, and in communion with his Body we reach the very heart of God. Only thus is death conquered, we are set free and our life is hope.
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This is the joy of the Easter Vigil: we are free. In the resurrection of Jesus, love has been shown to be stronger than death, stronger than evil. Love made Christ descend, and love is also the power by which he ascends. The power by which he brings us with him. In union with his love, borne aloft on the wings of love, as persons of love, let us descend with him into the world’s darkness, knowing that in this way we will also rise up with him. On this night, then, let us pray: Lord, show us that love is stronger than hatred, that love is stronger than death. Descend into the darkness and the abyss of our modern age, and take by the hand those who await you. Bring them to the light! In my own dark nights, be with me to bring me forth! Help me, help all of us, to descend with you into the darkness of all those people who are still waiting for you, who out of the depths cry unto you! Help us to bring them your light! Help us to say the "yes" of love, the love that makes us descend with you and, in so doing, also to rise with you.
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Amen!
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Do you believe this?

Easter Sunday of the Lord's Resurrection:
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There is a story of a Muslim in Africa who became a Christian and some of his friends asked him, “Why have you done such a thing?” He answered, “Well, its like this: Suppose you were going down the road and suddenly the road forked in two directions. You didn’t know which way to go; and there at the fork were two men – one dead, and one alive – which one would you ask to show you the way?”
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This Easter message that we gather to celebrate today; this message of God’s great triumph over sin and death in Jesus is one that our world needs to hear more today than perhaps ever before. We look around our world and we see war, terrorism, death, disease, increasing poverty, division, separation, faithlessness and we wonder how can this ever change? The answer to that question lies in what we celebrate this Easter morning.
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We celebrate today Jesus resurrection from the dead. God has done the impossible. When all was thought lost. When all we could see was the man we thought was our Savior and Our Lord, dead on the cross, it looked like the end. And then, God did was seemed impossible. Where there was nothing but death, He brought life. Jesus was raised from the dead, as He said and He brought to us all eternal life.
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There is something very interesting happening in our Gospel today. We hear different things about the Resurrection. First, Mary of Magdala shows up at the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, but He is not there. She ran to Simon Peter and then he and another of the disciples went to the tomb. They were confused and did not know what to make of the fact that Jesus wasn’t there. Our Gospel tells us that, “they did not yet understand…that He had to rise from the dead.”
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But, what is interesting is that on this day of celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, we don’t actually ever hear about what happened to Jesus at the moment of the resurrection. Instead, we hear about the followers of Jesus and how they experienced His resurrection. And not just today, as we go through the Easter season our readings will be focused on the life of the early church as it came to understand and experience what this would all mean. Paul instructs his followers that joined to Christ, they must now live in a new way. They must purge themselves from their former way of living. They were on the very threshold of newness. A new life opened up before them and they were invited to step in.
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And so are we today. We gather today on the very precipice of newness of life. Our Scriptures try today to draw us in. The Scriptures ask us: Do you believe this? Do you believe that Jesus is risen from the dead! And believing, what will you do? What effect will that have on your life? Just like the man in our story, we find ourselves at a fork in the road – one way offers us death, the other way, newness of life – which will you choose? God can conquer all of the sin, war, violence, terror, hatred, poverty, hunger in our world – if we choose Him. If we choose His Way.
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We are so often like the early followers. We all know the Easter story well, but we don’t always grasp its full meaning in our lives. Like them, we often continue to live burdened with our dashed hopes and with our misunderstandings of God’s mysterious power. Like them, we come to the tomb expecting to find death, but instead we find signs of a new life that we cannot even begin to comprehend. Like them, we don’t realize that our lives have been broken open and are now filled with the resurrected presence of Jesus. We are called today to recognize that the tomb is really empty because Jesus has in fact risen! Death has been swallowed up by life!
For the Christian, death is not the end of the story. There is one more chapter and it is the most important chapter. It’s the chapter entitled, “What’s next.” Jesus is risen. He is vindicated. His enemies are shamed and confused. He is the Lord who will prevail over all humankind. For us this is good news.
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It is good news to know that Truth is immortal. We can suppress Truth, accuse it of being a lie, condemn it, torture it, kill it, bury it in the grave but on the third day Truth will rise again. Remember this and do not give up on Truth even when everybody seems to give up on it. Do not give up on Truth; do not give up on Justice. Do not give up on doing what is right. The Truth will always be true. Justice will always be just. Right will always be right even when the world around us would have it otherwise. We must believe in the sun even when it is not shining, knowing that it will shine again.
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It is the end of the story that counts. That is why the church asks us today to rejoice and be glad. Even when we are going through very difficult times; even when the enemy seems to be winning the battle in our lives. Today, Christ has won. And we know that in Christ we win with Him. Do you believe this? Then, which way will you choose?
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Alleluia! And, may God give you peace!

Saturday, April 7, 2007

He loved us anyway

This is a grace-saturated week! How can it be that we celebrate Holy Week after Holy Week for more than 2,000 years and each and every year it is new? God never stops providing the grace. We just have to be open to it.

Yesterday, on the Town Green we had our annual New Milford Faith Walk - as the Christian churches in town come together to remember the last moments of Jesus' life and death. As a side note, I have never experienced a more collegial and communal group of clergy than I have in New Milford. It is a joy and honor to minister with my fellow clergy in this town.

I think for everyone, though, one reflection stood out among the rest. Rev. Matthew Yukon, pastor of Northville Baptist Church, offered the reflection at the station commemorating Peter's thrice denial of Jesus after He was arrested by the soldiers.

Pastor Matt explained that this passage is a lesson for Christians who in their lives commit acts of betrayal, yet are forgiven and loved by a God willing to send his only son to die for humanity's sins. Matt allowed himself to be incredibly vulnerable with the 100 or so people gathered and shared a moving story of how, as a young boy, his notoriously bad temper got the better of him. One day, after a bad bout with his temper, he left a very cruel, angry note under his mother's pillow. It was a note that she discovered a while later; at which point she gathered her children and demanded to know who had written it. Matt shared that he, at the time, strongly denied that it was him - perhaps three times?

It was an experience that has stayed with him, heavy on his heart, since that time in his youth. But, on a recent visit with his mother, the two were talking over coffee and out of no where he blurted out his confession from all those years ago. "I wrote that note," he told his mother. She laughed and said to him, "Of course you wrote the note. Who else could have written it?"

Mom knew the whole time. Matt said, "I felt profound relief. My mom knew all of what I was capable of, and she loved me anyway."

Pastor Matt reminded everyone that God always calls His followers to confess the truths of their lives and the sins of their lives to Him. Just as Jesus knew even in advance that Peter would deny Him, Jesus also knows our hearts, yet he has a "love so great to hold onto you even when you lose that grip."

Jesus knows, even in advance when we will deny and even betray Him.
And, He loves us anyway.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Will you let me wash your feet?

"Jesus answered him, 'Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.'"
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There are so many powerful images throughout the Sacred Triduum, but I think that this image of Jesus humbly approaching the disciples to wash their feet is one of the ones that speaks most loudly.
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Enter into the reality of that - here is Jesus, who is God Himself - telling us, His disciples that even He, who is God, comes to serve one another and that as He does, we too should do. How often do we approach this great event as historic or quaint or something for Jesus, but not for me? Perhaps too often.
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Jesus asks us as He asks Peter and the disciples, "Will you let me wash your feet?" It is a powerful question coming from our Lord. Perhaps we are often more comfortable being in the role of service, and that is a worthy thing. Yes, we are called to do as Jesus does, to go out and reach out to those who are most in need in our midst; to approach everyone not as a master, but truly as one who serves. But, on this day, it is our Lord who says to us, "Will you let me wash your feet?"
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If we let Jesus wash our feet, He will renew us; He will cleanse us; He will deal with us so very tenderly. He will lift any burdens off of us and gently, so gently, touch our feet and wash them. It is a renewing experience and the only way to be truly strengthened and re-energized for the mission He calls us to.
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But, we can be like Peter too. You know, there are really two Peters in this passage. The first one is a Peter who refuses to allow his Master to serve him. "Lord, you will NEVER wash my feet." Jesus makes it plain for him, "If you do not let me wash your feet, you can have no share in my inheritance." This brings out the second Peter - "Then Lord, not just my feet, but my hands and head as well."
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And, our Lord says to each of us, "Will you let me wash your feet?" What will we say? Will we react as Peter first reacts - in a way that ultimately keeps us separated from all that our Lord promises us? Or will we react with the enthusiasm he comes to and invite, beg, encourage the Lord to refresh and renew us in this washing?
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"Will you let me wash your feet?" Yes, Lord, humbly, I will let you wash me.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Top Priority: The Eucharist

The Church’s Top Priority

Two Popes and the major bodies of the Vatican have unmistakably set the church’s top priority for the Church in our time. It’s the Eucharist.

BY The Editors (NCR)
April 1-7, 2007 Issue

Two Popes and the major bodies of the Vatican have unmistakably set the church’s top priority for the Church in our time. It’s the Eucharist.
That includes the proper preparation for Mass (especially confession), the proper celebration of Mass (including the translations for Mass) and the proper attitude toward the Eucharist outside of Mass (including adoration).

Each year since the Jubilee Year 2000 (which Pope John Paul II called “profoundly Eucharistic”) has seen a major document come from the Vatican on the Eucharist. In fact, the Eucharistic documents have been the only significant ones of the new millennium.

• 2001 Pope John Paul II’s Novo Millennio Ineunte (At the Beginning of the New Millennium) called promoting Sunday Mass the Church’s top priority. Liturgiam Authenticam (Authentic Liturgy) by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments sought to correct “errors and omissions” in the Mass.

• 2002 Bishops around the world promulgated the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal.

• 2003 Pope John Paul II gave the Church his final encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, which is best translated On the Eucharist and Its Relationship to the Church.

• 2004 Pope John Paul II kicked off a Year of the Eucharist with the apostolic letter Mane Nobiscum Domine (Stay With Us Lord). The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments’ Redemptionis Sacramentum (The Sacrament of Redemption) was subtitled “On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist.”

• 2005 The General Assembly of the Bishops kicked off the Synod on the Eucharist with an Instrumentum Laboris on the Eucharist. Pope Benedict canonized five new saints known for promoting the Eucharist.

• 2006 Pope Benedict spent the year completing the work of the Synod. Meanwhile, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, sent a directive to liturgical translation officials regarding the consecration prayer of Mass. U.S. bishops received a letter from liturgy point-man Cardinal Francis Arinze on the translation of the missal.

• 2007 The most significant of all this teaching regarding the Eucharist: Sacramentum Caritatis (The Sacrament of Charity), Pope Benedict’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation.

Why such an emphasis on the Eucharist?

If we were to set our own list of priorities for the Church, many of us might put something else in the top place. We would focus on the abuse scandals, perhaps, or the bigger scandal in the Church — Catholics’ involvement in the ultimate child abuse of abortion. The Pope could have targeted divorce, poverty, consumerism, pornography, catechesis, or affordable and dependable Catholic education.

Why spend so much energy asking the bishops to make certain that the Mass is said the right way in their dioceses?

Because the Eucharist is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. It isn’t a mere symbol of Christ; it is Christ himself among us. The Eucharist must be guarded when it is endangered, defended when it is disrespected and promoted when it is ignored.

And, clearly, at the highest levels, our shepherds see that the Eucharist has not been treated properly.

The Church moves slowly, but the Church does move.

The Holy Father is speaking as loudly and urgently as he can about the Eucharist.

The bishops have already begun the task of implementing the extraordinary requests they have been receiving from the Vatican again and again, year after year.

These requests have been consistent in their content and insistent in their tone.
A renewal of the Mass and esteem for the Eucharist can transform the Church — which is to say that Christ can transform the Church, but we have to let him.
Only Christ in the Eucharist can sharpen Catholic consciences, lead more of us to practice the lay apostolate, feed our life of prayer, and form the basis of a true Catholic community.

These are the prerequisites for building the Kingdom of Christ in the world.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Santo Subito!

Today marks two years since Pope John Paul the Great returned to his Father's House. Today, the first phase of the Cause for his Beatification and Canonization was completed as the Diocesan portion of the investigation was concluded. Pope Benedict held a special Memorial Mass in St. Peter's Square today and said, "In the communion of saints, it seems we can hear the living voice of our beloved John Paul II, who from the house of his father, we are sure, continues to accompany the Church."
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One of the most touching stories to be shared is the testamony of Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, a 46-year-old religious of the Little Sisters of Catholic Motherhood, who attributes her healing from Parkinson's disease to the intercession of Pope John Paul II. The translation of the following text comes from the postulator of the cause for the Pontiff's beatification. I share it with you now and hope you find it as moving as I did:
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I was diagnosed in June 2001. The disease struck the left side of my body, causing very serious difficulties for me, given that I was left-handed. After three years, the initial stage of the illness that was slowly progressive, the symptoms began to get worse: an increase in tremors, rigidity, pain, sleeplessness.
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Starting on April 2, 2005, I began to worsen from week to week. I was wasting away, day by day. I was no longer able to write (being left-handed, as I said), or, if I tried to, what I wrote was barely legible. I was no longer able to drive a car, except for very short distances, because my left leg sometimes got blocked, even for long periods, and rigidity made driving difficult. In addition, to do my work in the hospital, I always needed more time. I was totally exhausted.
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After the diagnosis it was difficult for me to follow John Paul II on television. However, I felt very close to him in prayer and I knew that he could understand what I was living through. I admired his strength and courage and they stimulated me to not give up and to love this suffering. Only love would give meaning to all of this. It was a daily struggle, but my only wish was to live it in faith and to adhere with love to the Father's will.
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It was Easter 2005, and I wanted to see our Holy Father on television because I knew, deep within me, that it would be the last time I would be able to do so. All morning long I prepared myself for that "encounter" (he reminded me of what I would be in three years). It was hard for me, being so young. However, an unexpected occurrence at work did not allow me to see him.
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The evening of April 2, 2005, the entire community had gathered to participate in the prayer vigil in St. Peter's Square, live on French television from the diocese of Paris (KTO). At the announcement of John Paul's death, my entire world fell apart. I had lost the only friend who could understand me and give me strength to go forward. In those days I felt a great emptiness, but I also had the certainty of his living presence.
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On May 13, feast of Our Lady of Fatima, Pope Benedict XVI officially announced the special dispensation for the start of the cause of beatification and canonization of the Servant of God, John Paul II. Starting on May 14, my fellow sisters from all the French and African communities started asking John Paul II to intercede for my healing. They prayed incessantly, tirelessly, right up to the news of my healing.
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I was on vacation at the time. On May 26, having ended a period of rest, I returned to the community, totally exhausted because of my disease. "If you believe, you will see the glory of God": this was the verse from the Gospel of St. John that, since May 14, had kept me company.
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But on June 1, I could not take it any longer! I had to struggle just to stay on my feet and walk. On June 2, in the afternoon, I went to find my superior to ask her to release me from my work. She asked me to try to resist awhile longer, until the return from Lourdes in August, and added: "John Paul II has not yet said his final word." He was surely present at that encounter that took place in such peace and serenity. Then, my superior held out a pen and asked me to write "John Paul II." It was 5 p.m. With difficulty I wrote "John Paul II." As I looked at the illegible writing, I remained some time in silence. And the day passed as it usually did.
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At 9 p.m., after evening prayer, I left my office to go to my room. I felt the need to take a pen and write, as if someone had ordered me, "Take your pen and write." It was 9:30/9:45 p.m. And my handwriting was perfectly legible! Astonishing! I lay on my bed, amazed. Exactly two months has passed since John Paul II returned to the house of the Father.
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I awoke at 4:30, amazed at having been able to sleep. I suddenly got out of bed: My body was no longer painful, there was no rigidity and inside, I was no longer the same. Then, an inner call and a strong desire to go and pray before the Blessed Sacrament. I went into the oratory and stayed in adoration. I felt a profound sense of peace and well-being; an experience that was too great, a mystery, difficult to explain with words.
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Still in front of the Blessed Sacrament, I mediated on the Mysteries of Light composed by John Paul II. At 6 in the morning, I left to join my fellow sisters in the chapel for a moment of prayer followed by the Eucharistic celebration. I had to walk about 50 meters and at that moment I became aware that, as I was walking, my left arm was swinging by my side. It was no longer immobile. I also felt a lightness and a physical agility that I had not experienced for quite some time. During the Eucharistic celebration, I was filled with joy and peace.
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It was June 3, feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. As we left Mass, I was sure that I was healed. My hand no longer trembled. I went again to write and at noon I suddenly stopped taking my medicine. On June 7, as scheduled, I went to see the neurologist who had been caring for me for four years. He, too, was very surprised as he noted the sudden disappearance of all the symptoms of the disease, notwithstanding the interruption of treatment for five days prior to the visit.
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A day later, our superior general asked all of our communities to give thanks. Every community then began a novena to John Paul II. It has now been 10 months since any kind of treatment has been given. I have resumed working normally, I have no difficulty in writing and I even drive the car for long distances. I feel as if I have been reborn: It is a new life because it is not like before.
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Today I can say that the friend who left our earth is now closer to my heart. He made grow within me the desire for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and love for the Eucharist, which have a place of priority in my daily life. What the Lord has allowed me to live through the intercession of John Paul II is a great mystery, difficult to explain in words but nothing is impossible for God.
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And it is indeed true: "If you believe, you will see the glory of God."