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March 14, 2016 | Volume 91 Number 10

COLUMNS

Believe as you Pray »

In Light of Faith »

photo: Msgr. Timothy Keeney

believe as you pray

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

At the Procession of the Palms:
Luke 19: 28-40
At the Mass:
Isaiah 50: 4-2
Psalm 22: 8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24
Philippians 2: 6-11
Luke 22: 14 – 23: 56

One of my fears is that at some point in my life I might be so debilitated that I could no longer act.

The life of a priest is one of almost constant action — preparing for and praying the liturgy, meeting with parishioners, and managing staff or parish projects.

I get a great deal of joy in all these activities and everything else that is part of the life of a priest. The reality is that all this could be taken away through illness and I could be rendered utterly passive.

Yet it would be in that passivity that I potentially could be most configured to the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus was active for His entire ministry — from the wedding feast of Cana until the Last Supper.

He is the one who is at the center of all the action in the Gospel. Everything changes beginning with the Garden of Gethsemane through the Garden Tomb.

During the reading of the Passion we hear and live with Jesus what was done to him, but Jesus’ passivity is not passive. Jesus takes all the humiliation, suffering, evil, rejection, and sin of those who carry out his execution into himself.

Then he transforms all of it, all the negativity, all the sin, into a gift of self-surrendering love to the Father.

In a world where hate begets hate and sin begets sin, Jesus’ passion is about ending that cycle.

In the Garden, Jesus is confronted with what will happen to him over the next several hours. How will He die?

Will the rejection and misunderstanding of those He came to love leave bitterness and disappointment in Him? The struggle that leads Him to sweating blood is not fear of what will happen, but the experience of a lover who bears the crushing weight of His true love’s rejection.

Out of this agony Jesus hands himself over to the Father’s will — “… not my will but yours be done.”

This allows Jesus to forgive those who do not know the love they are rejecting from the cross — “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

It allows the one who is powerless to open up the gates of paradise that day to the repentant thief —“… today you will be with me in Paradise.”

His passivity allows Him the one act that allows Him to lay down His life in love — “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit …”

Jesus’ passion challenges each of us to take on the same type of passivity. In conforming ourselves to the pattern of Jesus’ passion we are asked also to absorb the humiliation, rejection and sin of the world, and allow it to be transformed in us into a response of love, forgiveness and mercy.

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in light of faith

The Impact of the Irish

It’s the time of year when beer and water fountains are apt to turn green, shamrocks decorate napkins and front doors and everyone claims to have a wee bit of the Irish in their family tree. Considering how Irish immigrants were discriminated against when they first arrived on U. S. soil, this is quite an accomplishment. However, it was not only the potato famine that brought Irish citizens to American shores in the 19th century. With seminaries in Ireland overflowing with soon to be ordained priests, and a strong Protestant, anti-Catholic climate in the United States, missionaries from Ireland began arriving in record numbers to what was viewed as fertile ground. The majority of priests were sent either to the Bible belt in the Southern United States or to Boston to minister to thousands of Irish immigrants who were settling there.

With the proliferation of Irish priests in Boston, the city soon became almost synonymous with Irish Catholic and as Irish priests were appointed bishops, their role in the community quickly positioned them as power brokers who enjoyed close ties to politicians. It was in this climate that some would argue, the stage was set for the culture of secrecy that allowed bishops to transfer pedophile priests and for prosecutors to look the other way. Given what we now know about the systemic nature of the handling of abusive priests, we can hardly lay culpability for the decision by some to protect the institutional Church at the expense of victims at the feet of the Irish. However, it does serve as a reminder that unless power is balanced with Gospel values it can easily corrupt.

Having lived in the Deep South during the first 20 years of our marriage, I can attest to the fact that the Irish Catholic landscape of the South maintained its missionary spirit. With the Catholic population remaining anywhere from two to eight percent in most areas, the spirit of elitism that plagued the North was a nonstarter in the South. Irish clergy were rarely well received and even today, many foreign born Irish priests are referred to as FBI, either affectionately or pejoratively, depending on a person’s predisposition towards foreign priests. But rather than allowing the small number of Catholics to become an obstacle, parishes pastored by Irish clergy in the South used the situation to their advantage.

While I was working in parish ministry in Georgia, we combined our vacation Bible school with that of a neighboring Christian church and quickly doubled the numbers of participants. Since the Baptist churches held worship services on Wednesday evenings, and city sports leagues worked around their schedule, we moved Catholic religious education classes to Wednesday evenings as well. And regularly scheduled ministerial luncheons for area clergy of all traditions became sacrosanct for most Catholic priests.

Rather than be outdone by the Baptists or Jehovah Witnesses who went door to door, our Irish pastor in Anniston, Alabama organized a cadre of lay volunteers who accompanied him when he knocked on doors, inviting people to a Town Hall Meeting entitled “Everything You Wanted to Know About the Catholic Church but Were Afraid to Ask.” People were gracious and often invited volunteers in for a cup of coffee so it was no surprise the attendance turned out to be greater than we had imagined. Our beloved pastor, who was no youngster, credited his idea to an Irish Bishop he had worked with in the Diocese of Mobile, who would literally stand on a street corner and preach the Gospel.

I write about all of this because as a Church we owe a lot to the Irish. In addition to the practice of individual confession for all Catholics, Irish monks copied Scripture and other important works during the Dark Ages of Western Europe, thus preserving sacred texts for the Western Church. And after the barbarian invasions, it was the Irish who sent priests to catechize and minister to the remnant church.

With good reason, we as a Church can take pride in celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and the role the Irish played in the spread of the faith. Even the Boston Globe can be credited with the role it has played in bringing to light the sexual abuse scandal. Without their diligence, the Church would not be undergoing a much needed purgation and that would be an even greater tragedy. The abuse and cover up is a wound that has been inflicted upon the Church’s most vulnerable members and it was inflicted from within. But before healing can occur, debridement must take place, no matter how painful it may be. With the Movie “Spotlight” being awarded best picture of the year, the hierarchical Church has once again been humbled. But rather than find fault with the decision, let us embrace it in a spirit of humility and reparation, which is only fitting during this Year of Mercy. It is not enough for the Church to grant forgiveness and mercy, it also needs to seek forgiveness and mercy for the pain and scandal it has caused. It is not the first time the human footprint has marred the face of the Church, but each time it rises from the ashes, it becomes a more humble and stronger Church. But then how could it be otherwise? Jesus promised He will be with us until the end of time — and so it shall be.

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