Genius of Sacrament

Amid the general cynicism about ritual and tradition, the suspicion of religion and the stigma attached to practice, embedded in the flow of social change and ubiquitous presence of media and technology,  the celebration of Easter opens a deeper truth.  It is, in many ways, the celebration of humanity in all its imperfections and flaws.  It is the deeper message that the Divine Embrace recognizes exactly who we are and extends embrace anyway.  Unconditional love actually defies description in human terms, but Easter  is so much more than that.

Easter is beyond where we are and yet the promise of the chance to become better, to be more, as unique individuals charting a path of choices and navigating ethics, morals and culture, economic structures and concepts of justice and equality.  Easter is what makes the effort to journey worthwhile.  And the sacraments are the instruments that can, if allowed, provide support and assistance, strength and courage, hope and consolation, along the way.

There is the tenderness of the Eucharist, the very participation in a gift borne of love and presence, preserved and shared through generations and centuries, knitting individuals into a tapestry where the moments of human experience  gain context and individuals gain perspective.  That simple act of receiving a tiny piece of bread, a host, is full of meaning.  Each of us is only one of many; each of us is simply one part of a much greater whole.  Each of us is born and lives, and each of us needs the Bread of Life to survive.  The Eucharist is that gift that says to us, even in a world that explains everything through science, that understanding and perspective matter.  Each of us matters.  And “us” matters.  The bitterness and diatribes of contemporary life confront a compassionate presence in the reality of the Eucharist.

There is Reconciliation, that pause that encourages self-encounter, truthfulness, and fortitude.  There is no magic formula or solutions, but there is the idea of self-awareness, responsibility for decisions and choices, and the need to open the most difficult parts of life to another’s eyes.  The blessing, the absolution, is neither cure nor courtesy: it is the congratulations on coming so far, and the chance to go further, do better, become more.  It is the promise that no one needs to walk that journey alone.  And becoming better or more self-aware as one person enhances the whole.

There is the Sacrament of the Sick, the blending of these in such powerfully vulnerable moments in life, where the vitality of human life is yielding to the ultimate loss. Where the unknown is standing just on the edge of what has been so familiar and the agony of loss is about to be explored.  Where as humans who seek achievement and purpose the thought of no longer existing must be confronted.  Again, it is not about miracles as much as it is about comfort and resolution, courage and confidence…and so the oil, the Sign of the Cross…..the reassurance.

This Lent was not only about the conflicts that characterize political and social debate, of the brokenness of humanity.  This Lent tendered the unique genius of the sacraments, revealed the compassionate presence of God through one another, and affirmed the truth that to be human is to be both needy and gifted, to need others and to need to be a gift to others as well.  This Lent made Catholicism more Home.


Palm Sunday Cross


It nestles below the dashboard, in a niche with a reminder  of Sandy Hook, some stray change, and a cheap medal.  It’s edges are delicate curves and and the color is faded, the texture dried.  But the shape is unmistakable: a cruciform, woven from last year’s Palm, has held its shape and is a tender reminder of choices made.

It is an invitation, too, to remember that we are the heart and hands of Christ, woven into shape by the choices made each day.  In other words, the cross whispers about what matters, what is done and why it is done.  Individuals matter, and what we do and how we do it, matters.  Our choices inevitably impact self and others and sometimes even the broader collective good.  The cross is a reminder of that reality.  That tiny cross, barely visible, speaks of the intricacies of the life journey, the shared continuum of choices, and the multitude of variables in decision-making. Most of all, that cross points out that choices are a critical part of the journey of life.

That journey takes a critical turn as Lent draws to a close.   The annual celebration of Palm Sunday re-opens the story of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem and highlights choices, decisions: Jesus’, the crowds, the Romans.  It bleeds with questions about fair and just, right and suffering, law and reason, ignorance and bullying.   It replicates so many of life’s most painful moments.   It speaks across centuries of the most difficult challenges faced by human beings engulfed in institutions and structures, power and poverty.  And it is marked by the waving and blessing of palm and the linking of palm and purpose.  In the twenty-first century, the palm itself still enjoys the richness of meaning.  And the paradoxes of human life remain: the promise and the possibility, the illusions and the hopes, the disappointments and the resiliences, the attempted and the failures, the successes and the accidents.

Such a tiny cross sitting in a car becomes far more than an ornament; it  has a voice.  And the voice is the invitation to look at choices and the ways to make them, to find the examined options and live a conscious presence where choices consequences and accepting the consequence are part of the experience.  It is about looking with honesty and clarity and being attentive to the at is present in self and in others.  It is about facing despair and finding wisdom.

The voice is a chance to re-consider the multitude of things taken for granted each day, to acknowledge the layers of interdependence that characterize each person’s existence, and the significance of all types of interaction.  The tiny cross, noticed and cradled, whispers of both the vastness of the universe and the mortal limits that frame humanity.

More than a label, more than a fashion statement, the cross speaks of the profound experience of human life.  After all, the very flexibility of the palm at the outset yields to the weaving of a cruciform.  And so it is with the human journey, a process of becoming what others can see, and believing that it matters, and weaving a life experience into what matters.  The cross, and it’s voice, are renewed in a new space, for a new generation.  And still, the humanness of choice and purpose remains…as real as it was when Jesus entered Jerusalem.

Learn to Do Good

Learn to do good.  LEARN to do good.  Learn to DO good. Learn to do GOOD.

Divine Office Morning Prayer for Lent. Repeated.  Simple words, dramatic demands.  Each worth thinking about, and the whole worth living.  The phrase itself worthy of consideration, food for reflection.

The impetus lies not with other, but with self.  Words that neither blame not excuse: these are profoundly words of invitation to individuals.  Lent is the chance to acknowledge that uniqueness of self, to seize the moment and to become better than who and how we are.  Those words dare difference every day.

Lent, too, demands a relentless review of self, an acknowledgment of weakness and of the need to improve.  It means entertaining a humility that enables individuals to see self as others do, to differentiate between veneers and motivations, intentions and behaviors, purpose and meaning.  Humility is the acknowledgment that there is always more; it is the openness to discover, and it is the empowerment of choice.  Learning in its most meaningful sense is opening the door to change.

Change is more than a disposition, more than an attitude.  Change is about movement, about actually doing something.  It is about behavior, choices, actions.  It is about time, how it is used and shared.  It is about difference, about movement from one place to another, remooring and adapting.  Change is visible, experiential and risky.  It means investing in life itself.

Determining the good requires discernment, having the ability to choose wisely.  “Good” after all is not always what is preferred, or what is comfortable.  “Good” sometimes requires sacrifice, challenging norms, defying convention, putting other in front of self.  “Good” is about far more than self-gratification or self-aggrandizement; “good” is about the individual and the collective.  It is the last word in the phrase, and it might be the most important one to remember.

Learn to do good: it is what Lent is all about.






Laetare Sunday

Utility trucks lumber over every road; crews in hoodies and hard hats are churning through the debris and fallen trees.  And life somehow goes on in quick catches of breath: new babies and Alzheimer’s, uncoupled lovers and new families, laughter and fears.  Fragility and vulnerability somehow incredibly visible.  It was the storm, of course, and now New England glows with the calm aftermath,  realigning the reality of what is just past.

And so it is with Laetare Sunday: fourth week of Lent, rose-colored vestments, and a homily about the mysteries of married love, of wanting so much for the other person to be happy.  This is a day, a pause, to welcome that which actually is before us, that which is real and so often  unacknowledged.  Fragility finds strength in love; vulnerability knows wholeness in love.  And this day, this moment, is fashioned to linger there, with the idea that life’s vagaries, tragedies, successes and very mundaneness are completely transcended by the unimaginable depth of love manifested in Christianity.

It  is lived out by the pattern of Jesus’ life, by the suffering and the sacrifice, the betrayals and the pain, by the promise that love endures past all that.  His figure, his movement through the Gospels mirrors the human journey in pained expression.  His figure, bending to trace letters in the sand to save an adulteress, his figure reminds us not of revenge or retribution or even justice.  He is about finding the planks in our own eyes, about truly seeing one another, and knowing in the depths of soul, the imperfections of self.  He is about balancing living and promise with the richness of mercy and compassion.  He is about seeing self as clearly as we claim to see other.  He is about making room for one another realistically and about allowing for the choice to “shake the dust” from feet and move on.  He does not mock or destroy: he challenges and invites, dares and inspires.  And on this Sunday, there is that quiet pause to remember the more.

In these long weeks of Lent, Laetare Sunday is an interruption of sorts.  It is the reminder that there is an unfathomable depth and breadth to the love of God, something far beyond what is seen or even imagined, and yet it is always there, somehow present even when it cannot be seen.   It is the subtle reality so easy to overlook.  And when the storms arrive, somehow, it is all that is visible.  It is home.


Great and small

There are so many moments to experience the very vastness of the universe and, conversely, the very tiny parts our individual lives represent within that.   Before the roar of an ocean or beneath a midnight sky,  the finite nature of a single life stands in stark contrast.  Therein lies the paradox of existence: the hugeness of personal  experience, bonding and growth, family and friendship,  the intimacy of quiet and the power of purpose rests within the context of millenuims that house billions  of equally unique lives.

The tentative and tender shoots of a springtime crocus redefine human meaning; somehow, those brave and confident greens mirror both the magnitude and the miracle of an individual life.  Rooted in the earth, revealed over time, they mature in beauty and diminish far too soon.   In the same way, each life cycle shares that pattern and is woven into the larger image.

Lent is the reminder that within the universe each life has momentum and meaning, and yet each is part of the stream of centuries.   Each gains meaning from the other; ultimately, each is dependent on the other in the same way the earth provides a home for the crocus. Lent is that time of year when the impact of one upon the other and the importance of personal responsibility are acknowledged,  and the reality of a greater collective good demands attention as well as action.

That paradox of being great and small all at once is entirely human: it invites acknowledgment and challenges both ambition and humility.  It calls forth more than expected, demands more than can be suspected, accepts the challenge of every choice.  Lent enables individuals to find the fullness of life and to trust the mysteries that unfold within the mundane and the ridiculous.  But it also invites the attentive to explore the terrain of smallness,  the significance of each deep breath and its release.

Lent is the place where the rigors of emotional life are explored and behaviors are understood as choices.  What is hard to understand can be examined; what is fair and what is just can be considered, and individual  decisions can be juxtaposed with the the needs of the whole however that is defined.  Most importantly, Lent is the reassurance that there is always company on the journey even when that seems impossible.  There is always the timelessness of the ocean, the steadiness of the sky, and the promise of the crocus.