[All public liturgies in the State of Ohio are currently suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. This will be one part homily and one part pastoral message to my parishioners.]
One of the blessings of my life as a priest is the opportunity to make annual retreats and over the years I’ve had many different experiences. I’ve had directed retreats where each day is a few sessions of a prepared talk by the retreat master and the rest of the day was solitude and reflection. The past few years I’ve been fond of just taking a week at a private retreat house to isolate myself and focus on prayer and the weightier things I’ve been avoiding thinking about. A few times I even got to do a postinia retreat, a twenty-four hour retreat in a single room with only a loaf of bread and a pitcher of water.
This time right now feels a lot like a retreat. For most of us life has changed and our usual activities have stopped, and that’s the most basic element of a retreat: a time of slowing down and stepping back from regular life. And even if for you life hasn’t slowed at all, you’re a doctor or a nurse trying to hold back the ocean or you’re a parent with a new appreciation for teachers and schools… for all of us life has changed in the past few weeks. With every change in life, and especially in times of retreat, we wrestle with identity. With understanding who we have been and who we are now, examining our actions, our intentions, and our desires. At the start of Lent I preached to you about taking Lent seriously and finding the disconnect between who you are and who you should be. I could not have imagined that we would all be forced to face that disconnect so directly during this time of retreat caused by isolation and disease. But here we are.
There are plenty of examples of people trying to work through the disconnect, trying to determine who they really are. In the Gospel we have the person of Peter, someone we typically think of as a great saint and a humble man whose life was changed by Christ. He adamantly told Jesus he would never deny him, even if it meant his own death. But then he did. And it would be some time before he would see Christ again and receive his peace. In the Gospel we have the person of Judas, someone we typically think of as a great sinner, the betrayer. He adamantly told Jesus at the last supper that he would never betray him. But then he did. And regretting it he flung the money he was bought with away and took his own life. In the Gospel we have the person of the centurion, someone we think of pretty neutrally, a pagan soldier doing his job. He goes from an uncaring bystander to exclaiming that truly Jesus was the Son of God.
But there is one who has no disconnect, one who is truly Himself. In the Gospel we also have Christ. Jesus, the one who knew that betrayal and suffering were coming, the one who experienced public shame and hatred, the one who experienced torture and death… he was the one who was never at odds with who he intended to be. He told his disciples that one would betray him and Peter that he would deny him without hatred. He prayed in the garden that he might not drink the cup but only if it was the Father’s will. He healed the servant’s ear who arrested him, he did not deny who he was in front of the crowd and Pilate. Even that final cry, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”… that was Psalm 22. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me… all who see me mock me… they have pierced my hands and my feet… for my clothing they cast lots… all who sleep in the earth will bow low before God… all who have gone down into the dust will kneel in homage… and I will live for the Lord.”
Jesus is the one who shows us what it means to be faithful to the Father in front of fear and anxiety and even death. His love for us and forgiveness of us is what gives peace to the disconnect that we sometimes find in our own lives as we struggle with who we are and who we should be. His death and resurrection is what takes away the fear of our own death.
More than any other Holy Week, during this time of pandemic and isolation and retreat that we have all been forced into… more than any other time we have an opportunity to understand from the depths of our heart that Christ is the foundation of our life. He can heal our disconnect from who we want to be and he can be the stability in a time of life that we yearn for it. I encourage you this week as we prepare for Triduum, the unique liturgies on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday that are the most important celebrations out of everything that we do as a Church… I encourage you to read Psalm 22. Read it daily if you can. Pray with it. Know that throughout his life Jesus read this psalm and prayed this psalm and thought of it at his very last moments of the Cross. Come to those sacred liturgies later in the week having made every effort to know the mind of Christ.
And now some parish business…
- April 5, 11:00am: Palm Sunday Mass
- April 9, 7:30pm: Mass of the Lord’s Supper
- April 10, 3:00pm: Passion of the Lord
- April 11, 7:30pm: Easter Vigil
Palms will be available this Sunday from 1:00pm to 8:00pm on the tables in the pavilion. Once I’m done streaming mass I will lay out blessed palms on the picnic tables in the pavilion, and strap them down in case of wind. Feel free to come by the rest of the day to take some, but if you are in an at-risk category I encourage you to maybe skip the palms this year and stay home. For all who do come, please maintain the recommended six feet of distance from each other and don’t rummage through the palms to find the best one while touching all of them.
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.