Joy and Hope: Poetry of the Easter Season

I have spoken to different groups about the use of poetry in prayer.   Poetry seeks an emotional or sensual response rather than an intellectual.  Because it operates more at the level of our affect than our intellect, it can help us attain a heart-felt, affective knowledge of God’s presence and love.

I came across yesterday a site that collected a number of poems for prayer during the Easter season.  here is one of them, The Death of Death by Scott Cairns.

Put fear aside. Now
that He has entered
into death on our behalf,
all who live
no longer die
as men once died.

That ephemeral occasion
has met its utter end.
As seeds cast to the earth, we
will not perish,
but like those seeds
shall rise again—the shroud
of death itself having been
burst to tatters
by love’s immensity.

You can find the whole collection, along with some wonderful suggestions for praying with poetry, here.


Easter Morning Reflection

Allelulia! He is risen!

I write this while still basking in the glow of last night’s Easter Vigil at Our Lady of Lourdes.  The darkness in the church, slowly melting away as we processed in with our candles, lit from the Easter candle (itself lit from the big fire outside the Church).  The exquisitely beautiful chanting of the Exultet.  The readings from the Hebrew Scripture, chronicling our salvation history.  (It was my privilege to proclaim the creation story of Genesis.)  The Gospel account of the empty tomb.  And then a moment of great happiness as the ten people I helped lead through RCIA this year entered into full communion with the Church.  We had four catechumens and ten candidates and their happiness was apparent to everyone.  (I almost cried as I watched them process up first when it came time for distribution of the Eucharist.) It was, all in all, a deeply moving and joyful experience.

As everything in the service reminded us, today we celebrate not merely the anniversary of something that happened to one person a long time ago, but what is means for us.

Today we acknowledge that victory has been won.  That death has been defeated in that, while our physical bodies will die, we will live with our God.

Today, in celebrating Jesus’ resurrection, we also celebrate the promise of our own resurrection.

Now, for each of us, the question is: What difference does that make in our lives?

What Difference Does Easter Make to You?

My friend Bill Nolan, pastoral associate at St. Thomas Apostle in Minneapolis, writes a reflection for his community each week. This past week, he reported that he asked those who would be entering the Church at the Easter Vigil this year to reflect on the question: What difference does Easter make to you this year? How is The Story different for you this time around?

He went on to invite all of us to reflect on the same question. Bill writes:

Churches across the world welcome new members to the faith every Easter. They can easily become – and rightly so – the sacramental focus of the vigil celebration. But precisely because of what they are doing in professing a communal faith and becoming part of a faith community, their actions should be an invitation to us to do more than simply watch it happen. Their profession of faith, their coming to the water, their joining us at the table should also be an invitation to renew our own faith and to ask ourselves the same questions that we ask them.

What difference does Easter make to you this year? How is The Story different for you this time around? What inspires you to embrace your faith so deeply this Easter?

Conversion is not a singular event. It is ongoing. It is repetitive in some ways, yes, in that the liturgical year cycles through the same stories. But if we take our faith seriously, those stories should never be heard exactly the same way twice. The mystery of the Incarnation, God entering human history in our image and likeness, should be entered into more deeply each time we share it. How much more so the mystery of the Resurrection? How great the invitation to ponder more deeply the messages of the empty tomb: light is greater than darkness; love is more powerful than apathy; life is stronger than death.

So…What difference does Easter make to you this year? How is The Story different to you this time around? What inspires you to embrace your faith so deeply this Easter? As you come to the life giving water, as you make your profession of faith, as you come to the table of love…What difference does it make?

We’ve finished participating in our Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter liturgies. We’ve had our big Easter dinner. This might be a good time for you to reflect on Bill’s question. What difference does Easter make to you this year?

Celebrating Resurrection

Today is Easter Sunday, a day of great celebration for all Christians. Today we celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

It is important for us to remember that today is not merely a celebration of the anniversary of something that happened to one person a long time ago. What is central about this day is not merely the historical fact of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but also what His resurrection means about our own death and resurrection.

God had no reason to incarnate, die and rise for God’s own sake. God was already eternal, already not subject to death, already alive forever – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It adds nothing new to or about God’s nature for God to die and rise.

In one sense, the whole point of God becoming human was to make resurrection a reality for us – to carry us along so to speak – such that the resurrection of Christ inherently implies our resurrection. Thus Paul says “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised…if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised.”

Today we celebrate the death of death. We celebrate the promise of our own resurrection.

Now, for each of us, the question is: What difference does that make in our lives?

Easter Is Not Over, Folks

Catholics (and other Christians too, I suspect) are really good at Lent. We go through Lent abstaining from meat on Fridays, fasting on certain days, giving things up, trying to get to daily Mass more frequently, going to Stations or other prayer services during the week. We don’t necessarily live up to all of our hopes for our Lenten observances (more than one of my friends confessed their inability to keep their resolve to give up Facebook during Lent), but we give it a darn good effort.

Then comes Easter. We attend the Easter Vigil (as I did last night) or go to Sunday morning Easter Mass (as my daughter did) and we have a wonderful gathering of friends and family for the Easter feast. Then, it is easy to go back to things as usual.

But, there is a reason that the Easter season in the Church liturgical calendar goes on for 50 days until Pentecost Sunday. The Resurrection of Christ radically changes everything and it is so important for us to take time to reflect on what Resurrection means for us, individually and as a community, so that we can more fully be a witness to Resurrection in the world.

So don’t put Easter behind you, because it is now Monday and Easter Sunday was yesterday. Instead, carry forth the Resurrection spirit in all you do and are in the world. And to help you do that, you might want to spend some time praying with the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples to help you contemplate what Jesus’ Resurrection means to you.

There are plenty of resources to help you. To list of couple right here: First, the prayer material I distributed on the last day of the Lent Retreat in Daily Living at UST has severals of suggested prayer material for the post-Easter period. You can get a copy of that material here.

Second, Christ the King and St. Thomas Apostle parishes in Minneapolis are sponsoring a four-week program, Reflecting on the Post-Resurrection Appearances, that I will be co-presenting with Bill Nolan of STA. Each week we will focus on the final chapter of one of the Gospels, beginning with Mark this Wednesday. If you are in the area, think about attending one or more sessions. (You can find information at page 5 of the CTK bulletin here.) If not, I’ll be posting podcasts of Bill and my talks here on Creo en Dios!

He Has Been Raised; He is Not Here

Last night I attended the beautiful Easter Vigil in my parish.  There were so many wonderful elements: the lighting of the fire and procession from the fire into the church…the glow of the candles in the hands of the congregation…the Exsultet, sung so beautifully by our pastor and our director of music and liturgy…the readings telling the story of our salvation history…the renewal of the baptism promises and the sprinkling with baptismal water…a powerful and compelling sermon that I will be reflecting on for days…and, of course, the Eucharist.

As we heard in the Gospel reading from Mark, “you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised, he is not here.” It was an evening full of the presence of the risen Christ.

One of the incredibly powerful moments for me every year in the Vigil is the renewal of our baptism promises.  Most of us were baptized as infants and so those promises were first made on our behalf by someone else.  But each year, we are invited to renew those promises in our own name, to reaffirm who we are in relation to our God. 

Michael Himes, in a small book I often recommend to people, The Mystery of Faith, expresses beautifully the meaning of the baptism promises:

What is implied, says Himes, when we are asked whether we believe in God the Father, the maker of heaven and earth is: “do you believe that there is one who made you, someone who gives your life its purpose and meaning?… It is a question of whether or not you accept that your life has purpose but that you are not the one who assigns the purpose.  The question asks whether you can live in a world that is not your world to do with as you choose.”

When we are asked whether we believe in God the son who suffered, died and was raised, the question is whether we believe what we are told in hymn the second chapter of Philippians about Jesus emptying himself and becoming human, that is, “[c]an you believe that what you are, a creature, is so powerful, so important, so wonderful that God has chosen to be a creature along with you?

Finally, when we are asked whether we believe in the Holy Spirit and one holy Catholic church, we are asked whether we believe “that the Spirit of God is present in the world, not first and foremost in you or in me, but first and foremost in us?  That is to ask, do you believe the the Spirit dwells primarily not in individuals but rather in community?” (And Fr. Dale’s homily spoke eloquently about the importance of church to our faith.)

These are the things to which we say “I do believe.” And, in so doing, we acknowledge our relationship to God, the risen Christ and each other.

Easter Blessings to all. 

The Stations of the Resurrection

Although most Catholics are familiar with the Stations of the Cross, a popular Lenten devotion that follows the course of Jesus’ passion and death, fewer are familiar with the Way of the Light, the Stations of the Resurrection.

Inspired by an ancient inscription found on a wall of the San Callisto Catacombs on the Appian Way in Rome, a Salesian priest named Father Sabino helped develop the idea to create a new set of stations in the 1990s. The stations combine the events mentioned in the Saint Callistus inscription with other post-Resurrection events to create 14 stations, thus paralleling the Stations of the Cross.

The Stations of the Resurrection emphasize the hopeful aspect of the Christian story and (just as the Stations of the Cross help deepen our Lenten experience) can serve to deepen our appreciation of this Easter season.

Here are the fourteen. My suggestion would be to take one each day, perhaps reflecting on the scriptural passage associated with the event, a number of which I include below. You can also find version of these stations on line and in the Magnificat for this month, which include prayer and suggested meditations.

1. Jesus Rises from the Dead

2. The Disciples Find the Empty Tomb (Luke 24:12)

3. Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18)

4. Jesus Walks with the Dsiciples to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-26)

5. Jesus Reveals Himself in the Breaking of the Bread (Luke 24:27-32)

6. Jesus Appears to His Discipes (John 20:19-20)

7. Jesus Confers on His Disciples the Power to Forgive Sins (John 20:23)

8. Jesus Confirms Thomas in Faith (John 20:24-29)

9. Jesus Appears to His Disciples on the Shore of Lake Galilee (John 21:1-14)

10. Jesus Confers Primacy on Peter (John 21:15-19)

11. Jesus Entrusts His Disciples with a Universal Mission (Matthew 28:16-20)

12. Jesus Ascends into Heaven (Acts 1:6-12)

13. Mary and the Disciples Await the Coming of the Spirit (Acts 1:13-14)

14. Jesus Sends the Spirit Promised by the Father to his Disciples (Acts 2:1-3)

Jesus Christ is Risen Today

May the blessings of the Resurrected Christ be with you all!

Today is Easter Sunday, the most importnat religious celebration in the life of Christians. Today we celebrate the culmination of the mystery that begins with the incarnation of Jesus – the event that assures us of eternal life with God.

Jesus was born and lived among us. He preached the Good News until his death. And then, when all hope was seemingly gone, he rose. As we proclaimed at the Easter Vigil service last evening, “This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chain of death and rose triumphant from the grave.”

What we really celebrate today is what Jesus’ resurrection means for us. After all, Jesus didn’t need to rise for his own sake – he was already God.

What the resurrection is mostly importantly about is what is says for us. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “[f]aith in the resurrection of Jesus says that there is a future for every human being; the cry for unending life which is part of the person is indeed answered.”

Wishing you and your families a blessed and joy-filled Easter.

Post-Resurrection Appearances

All this week, our Gospels recount appearances by Jesus to his friends following his resurrection. Today we hear of Jesus’ encounter with the two who were on the way to Emmaus, tomorrow we’ll hear about Jesus appearing in the upper room and Friday he will reveal himself on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias.

When praying with the Resurrection during the Fourth Week of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius has us pray with another post-resurrection appearance, one that has no scriptural basis. The first apparition we pray with is Jesus’ appearance to his mother.

St. Ignatius writes in his book on the Exercises:

He appeared to the Virgin Mary. Though this is not mentioned explicitly in the Scripture it must be considered as stated when Scripture says that He appeared to many others. For Scripture supposes that we have understanding, as it is written, “Are you also without understanding?”

Or, as I paraphrased it to the participants in the Lent Retreat in Daily Living I offered, Ignatius says: Let’s be real, here. Who do you think Jesus would appear to in one of his first appearances? Of course he went to see his mother. It is impossible to imagine otherwise.

It is a good prayer exericise you may want to try sometime this week in between praying with the post-resurrection appearances described in the Gospels. Ignatius invites us to imagine Jesus coming to Mary…to stay and hear what they say and what they do. Let them share with you what they experienced together. Eperience Jesus consoling his mother. And be with them in their joy.

Easter Monday Reflections

Yesterday we celebrated the Resurrection of the Lord, but the Easter season continues. Here are some questions for reflection, that I found stashed in one of my journals. My suggestion is that you take some prayer time today sitting with one or more of these.

What difference does the Resurrection make for my life?

What would my view of life be, if Jesus had not risen? Of what that is now important to me would I have been deprived if Jesus had not risen?

For what am I grateful because of the Resurrection?

As my posts yesterday and today reflect, I think is it essential that think hard about what the truths of our faith mean to us individually. Our faith has to be more than simply a set of propositions that we affirm and feast days that we celebrate with pomp and circumstances (followed by large meals). That means that we need to spend time, not simply singing Alleluia that Jesus has risen, but considering what His rising means to us and to how we live our lives.