Thursday, April 09, 2020

HOPE IN THE AGE OF COVID-19~13


                                               

It is Holy Thursday!

In the Divine Office of Readings on this day, St. Melito of Sardis says: It is He who endured every kind of suffering in all those who foreshadowed Him. In Abel He was slain, in Isaac bound, in Jacob exiled, in Joseph sold, in Moses exposed to die. He was sacrificed in the Passover lamb, persecuted in David, dishonoured in the prophets.

It is He who was made man of the Virgin, He who was hung on the tree; it is He who was buried in the earth, raised from the dead, and taken up to the heights of heaven. He is the mute lamb, the slain lamb, the lamb born of Mary, the fair ewe. He was seized from the flock, dragged off to be slaughtered, sacrificed in the evening, and buried at night. On the tree no bone of His was broken; in the earth His body knew no decay. He is the One who rose from the dead, and who raised man from the depths of the tomb.

This is the day when Jesus, bending down to wash the feet of the Apostles shows us how to truly love and serve one another, to humble ourselves before others as Jesus does.

This is the day when Jesus assures us of His promise: …. behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” [Mt. 28.20], through two tremendous gifts: Himself, Body, Blood, Soul, Divinity in the Most Holy Eucharist and Himself in the gift and mystery of Priesthood, for every ordained priest, from the Apostles to the last man who shall be ordained on earth, is in persona Christi.

The mode of Christ's presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as "the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend."… In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained."… In his Eucharistic presence he remains mysteriously in our midst as the one who loved us and gave himself up for us,… and he remains under signs that express and communicate this love…[1]

St. John Paul wrote a beautiful book on priesthood in which he stresses: The priesthood, in its deepest reality is the priesthood of Christ. It is Christ who offers Himself, His Body and Blood, in sacrifice to God the Father, and by this sacrifice makes righteous in the Father’s eyes all mankind and, indirectly, all creation. The priest, in his daily celebration of the Eucharist, goes to the very heart of this mystery. For this reason the celebration of the Eucharist must be the most important moment of the priest’s day, the center of his life. [2]

“Sweetest Jesus, Body and Blood most Holy, be the delight and pleasure of my soul, my strength and salvation in all temptations, my joy and peace in every trial, my light and guide in every word and deed, and my final protection in death. Amen.” ~ St. Thomas Aquinas

[1] http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM      paras. 1374 & 1380

[2] ON THE FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF MY PRIESTLY ORDINATION GIFT AND MYSTERY; Pope John Paul II; p.75; Doubleday, 1996, © 1996 Libreria Editrice Vaticana {underling mine}



© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph


Tuesday, April 07, 2020

HOPE IN THE AGE OF COVID-19~12


                                                

The north winds were extremely fierce today, belying the radiant sun’s offer of warmth. Fierce winds are part of life here in the northern west. The winds reminded me of when St. John Paul was in this city on his pastoral visit to Canada and, after giving the final blessing started to move from the altar, turned around, came back, his chasuble flapping in the wind, and said in his heavily accented English: “Canada! Is big country and rather windy!”

Went for my daily Holy Rosaries walk and the sound of the wind in the trees reminded me of: We know that all creation is groaning in labour pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For we were saved in this hope. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. In the same way, the Spirit also helps us in our weaknesses; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. Now He who searches hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will. [Rms. 8:22-27]

In a few days all the above will be, we will be, renewed again in Christ in His Holy Resurrection. He became Incarnate, was born precisely to suffer, die, rise, ascend and with the Father to send forth upon us anew at Pentecost the Most Holy Spirit who prays within us, for us.

In a sense through the liturgical seasons we dwell in kairos in a type of mobius strip of the never ending seasons of grace here on earth, grace which flows over and within us as sunlight cascades around and within all creation, within us.

These dark and stressful days when doubt or stress assails it is good to remember the beginning with the Infant Jesus: The smile of the Infant holds the secret of everlasting life……As the All-powerful became visibly vulnerable, He marked our inmost hearts with the truth that the “Most High” is most near. In becoming powerless, He embraced the powerlessness that lies at the heart of all pain. It seemed to hold no promise, to be absolutely nothing at all. Then He touched it with infant hands, with pierced hands, with dead hands, with risen hands, and that very nothing became the seed of unconquerable life. [1]



[1] CIRCLING THE SUN MEDITATIONS ON CHRIST IN LITURGY AND TIME, Robert D. Pelton, pp.25 & 27; The Pastoral Press, Washington D.C., 1986

© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph








Monday, April 06, 2020

HOPE IN THE AGE OF COVID-19~11


                                            



Suffering is nothing by itself. But suffering shared with the passion of Christ is a wonderful gift, the most beautiful gift, a token of love. ~ St. Mother Teresa

This Holy Week we all share in totally unexpected global suffering.

We’d all like to be rid of it, physically, emotionally, spiritually.

Jesus willingly, in His own suffering, this week of His Passion and Death has, does, will, take it upon Himself: See, I am creating new heavens and a new earth; The former things shall not be remembered nor come to mind. [Is.65:17]

This is also a good week to remember the words of Pope Francis who deeply understands what every human being is suffering: “When evening had come” (Mk 4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.  [1]

At dusk weeping comes for the night; but at dawn there is rejoicing……..You changed my mourning into dancing; You took off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness. [Ps.30:6&12]

At the moment it does feel like dawn is a long way off, that the ‘sackcloth’ of this pandemic and its attendant isolation and stress is only getting heavier.

Each step of the Via Dolorossa how heavier the Cross undoubtedly became for Jesus as He struggled to walk after loss of blood in the garden, being tortured, lack of sleep, the heat of the day, the stress of it all, and how far distant must the top of the Golgotha hill seemed.

Each heavy step we take through this new normal, if we look down, we will see the Sacred Blood imprint of His own footsteps.

He has been this way already for us, He is leading us, and also walking with us. While we carry the cross of these days with Him, He also carries us.

While we should be as Simon of Cyrene for one another, He is Simon of Cyrene for us.

Why should we have no fear? Because man has been redeemed by God……….In the Redemption we find the most profound basis for the words “Be not afraid!”: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son” [cf.Jn.3:16]. This Son is always present in the history of humanity. The Redeemer pervades all of human history…..It is the light that “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”[cf.Jn.1:5]. The power of Christ’s Cross and Resurrection is greater than any evil which man could or should fear. [2]



[1] https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2020-03/urbi-et-orbi-pope-coronavirus-prayer-blessing.html

[2] CROSSING THE THRESHOLD OF HOPE, by His Holiness John Paul II; p. 219; Alfred A. Knopf, Canada, 1994 [underling added]

© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph


Sunday, April 05, 2020

HOPE IN THE AGE OF COVID-19~10


                                              

Passion/Palm Sunday, the first day of the holiest, most hope filled week of the year!

This year truly, as St. Peter reminds us about the wonder of our redemption, we have through Baptism: ……. been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His footsteps……..He himself bore our sins in His body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. [1Pt.2: 21 & 24]

Dearest, let us walk with faith into Holy Week, in which Jesus suffers, dies and rises. The people and families that won’t be able to take part in the liturgical celebration are invited to recollect themselves in prayer at home, helped also by the technological means. Let us embrace the sick spiritually, their families and all those that care for them with such abnegation; let us pray for the dead in the light of paschal faith. Each one is present in our heart, in our remembrance and in our prayer. From Mary, we learn interior silence, the gaze of the heart, loving faith to follow Jesus on the way of the Cross, which leads to the glory of the Resurrection. She walks with us and sustains our hope. [1]

Pilgriming through this new normal Pope Emeritus Benedict reminds us about Palm Sunday in the early Church, applicable still today: Just as the Lord entered the Holy City that day on a donkey, so too the Church saw Him coming again and again in the humble form of bread and wine…….As pilgrims, we go up to Him; as a pilgrim He comes to us and takes us up with Him in His “ascent” to the Cross and Resurrection, to the definitive Jerusalem that is already growing in the midst of this world in the communion that unites us with His body. [2]



[1] https://zenit.org/articles/popes-palm-sunday-angelus-let-us-walk-with-faith-into-holy-week-full-text/

[2] JESUS of Nazareth; HOLY WEEK: from the entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection; Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI; pp. 10, 11; Ignatius Press, 2011


© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph






Saturday, April 04, 2020

HOPE IN THE AGE OF COVID-19~9


                                                

It does seem Holy Lent, in some ways, has passed very quickly this year. Perhaps because the new normal, in particular with parish churches closed, has disrupted things externally. Nothing, of course, can disrupt the actuality of the Lenten season of grace.

While I took time from writing, to focus on prayer for the human family and my own mental health, and for this I am grateful to the Holy Spirit and Our Lady, the stress eased.

In my earlier years I could spent extensive periods of time in a hermitage deep in the bush. Now however given I am in mid-seventies; under obedience I am an urban hermit. I do understand the paradox of being a hermit in a city. Prior to this new normal only leaving the hermitage for the necessary such as daily walks, or taking the bus, for groceries, medical appointments. Then I was among people, walking, traveling. Often someone needed to be listened to. No need then to deliberately keep, it is after all an act of charity, distance from anyone.

So, once by the grace of God I faced this new normal – the isolation, the keeping charitable distance when out walking, family can only visit via phone or internet, the stress is what it is. All is grace. My family, bless them, protect me given I am by age in the most vulnerable group. When they go for their groceries, if I need any, they get mine.

This isolation it is an aspect of the cross – no one has ever been as isolated as Jesus on the Cross – to be embraced as prayer for an end to the very existence of this silent mass-murderer, the virus, and pray for the millions of our brothers and sisters likewise stressed.

While taking the break I continued to pray for, to follow, Pope Francis. His words for us during this time are of hope and encouragement. [1]

This evening I have the chance to enter your homes in a different way than usual. If you allow me, I would like to have a conversation with you for a few moments, in this time of difficulty and of suffering. I can imagine you in your families, living an unusual life to avoid contagion. I am thinking of the liveliness of children and young people, who cannot go out, attend school, live their lives. I have in my heart all the families, especially those who have a loved one who is sick or who have unfortunately experienced mourning due to the coronavirus or other causes. These days I often think about people who are alone, and for whom it is more difficult to face these moments. Above all, I think of the elderly, who are very dear to me. [2]

Pope Francis also in the past week has encouraged us to turn to St. Mother Teresa – who often like many saints said: I know God won't give me anything I can't handle. – and St. John Paul II: I am happy to be with you this morning at the Martyrs’ Shrine in Huronia. My pastoral visit to Canada would be incomplete without meeting the sick and elderly who are so close to my heart. When I think of you, I am reminded of the words, of the Lord spoken through the prophet Isaiah: "You are precious in my eyes, because you are honoured and I love you" (Is. 43, 4). Indeed you are precious in the eyes of the Lord and in the eyes of the Pope. You hold a place of honour in the Church for, in a particular way, you share in the mystery of the Cross of Christ, the Cross which in faith we know to be the Tree of Everlasting Life. Suffering and sickness, and death itself, are part of the mystery of life. But while they remain a mystery, they need not be without meaning. In Christ and through his Passion and Resurrection, all creation has been redeemed, including all human experience. In fact, in his Passion Christ used suffering and death to express in the fullest way his obedient love for the Father. And now, in union with Christ our sufferings can become an act of love for the Father, a loving act of surrender to the providence of God. [3]

This evening with the Divine Office of Vespers we cross the threshold into Holy Week.

Leiva-Merikakis reminds us, through His death, passion and Holy Resurrection: …Jesus does not merely gather up in Himself all strands of human and divine authority and power. Even as He does so, He also gathers up in Himself all levels of human misery and suffering, so that the plight of man and all his anguish now come to reside in the Heart of Jesus, which is to say, the Heart of God. [4]

Jesus Himself is our hope and we our His beloved:  Seeing that we have a great high Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, to receive mercy and to find grace for help in time of need. [Heb. 4: 14-16]



[1] https://zenit.org/articles/look-pray-to-st-teresa-of-calcutta-full-text-of-pope-francis-morning-homily/

[2] https://zenit.org/articles/pope-francis-sends-a-video-message-for-holy-week/

[3] http://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/speeches/1984/september/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_19840915_malati-anziani.html

[4] FIRE OF MERCY HEART OF THE WORLD, Vol. III, p. 354; Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis; Ignatius Press 2012

© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph








Tuesday, March 31, 2020

HOPE IN THE AGE OF COVID-19~8


                                              

Hope, the dictionary tells us, is the expectant desire of something being granted, a type of fulfillment of desire. What that means is by an act of will, imagination, we conceive of a particular gift, promotion, relationship we desire and we ‘hope’ for it.

Sometimes people express the idea of ‘hope against hope’, which actually is a lack of trust, primarily in the caring love of God or of another.

In these essays ‘hope’ refers to the theological virtue, itself a gift of the Holy Spirit and not something we self-generate by an act of the will.

One winter when I was a teenager working deep in the bush felling and cutting up trees for the pulp mill, I wandered some distance from the rest of the crew, we worked spread out, so as to avoid dropping trees on each other. This time however I had moved off further than normal and the light snow which had been falling all day suddenly became a blizzard. Blizzard or not being alone deep in the bush anyone can become disoriented and if panic sets in mostly you end up walking in a circle, which is extremely dangerous. If the weather is sunny and warm, as in summer for example, best to stay put and wait to be rescued.

In the midst of a blizzard and its attendant windchill, and given I was familiar with the bush, best was to carefully find my way out to the logging road, some 200 metres away and there I knew I would encounter the rest of the crew.

Giving into the human act of will type of hope it would have evaporated before I walked a few metres, panic would have set in, I would have been lost. The key to calmness and carefully finding my way was to ask Jesus to have my Guardian Angel help me to keep calm and find my way.

Suddenly weeks ago, we were going about our daily lives when the blizzard of the new normal struck. Our hope lies in trust, trust that God who loves us hears our plea for help, trust that if we follow the path laid out for us by government and health authorities eventually this storm will pass. True we will experience moments, perhaps even hours, when panic or discouragement gnaws at us.

That is when we should pray all the more, reach out to loved ones by phone or via the internet, burn off the anxiety and dark thinking by some form of exercise, such as going for a walk, being bathed in sunlight, breathing fresh air and in all that the sweetness of hope will be renewed within us, trust will be invigorated, we will be strengthened to continue the journey: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in His great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith, to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time. In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ. [1Pt.1:3-7]

Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful."….The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men's activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity. [1]

An example of that charity, which is love for one another flowing from hope is this city providing buses, with air barriers to protect the drivers, and bus drivers who drive the special route around the inner city to pick-up the homeless throughout the day and take them to a huge city building, used for things like trade shows but empty these days, where cots have been arranged, tables and chairs, nurses are available so that when the homeless arrive they are screened and any with the virus has a special area of shelter and food, a place to sleep so when in the evening the buses return the non-infected to the various shelters the first group are also in a warm and safe place. Snacks are provided, needed medications are provided and a financial institution is helping with the costs.

The volunteer drivers, nurses and others are assuring the homeless they too can experience hope and love.

St. Paul urges us all to: Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. [Rm.12.12]



[1] https://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P66.HTM

Afterthought: I am going to take a two day break from these posts to rest, re-group, being of the age where isolation is mandatory will try go for longer walks, keeping charitable distancing, should the fierce winter winds of spring, slow down and the windchill gives way to say a balmy minus 5 [23 degrees] rather than the chilly minus 19 [2 degrees below zero] of today!



© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph


Monday, March 30, 2020

HOPE IN THE AGE OF COVID-19~7


                                                   



While like most people adhering to self-isolation as a senior, charitable distancing as a human being, when going for a walk, not all people are being so observant which begs the question how utterly selfish and frankly dumb are they? Further having had to go for a few groceries, the malls in this city are now locked down, the only doors open are from the outside directly into the supermarket or drug store, anyway I noticed stacks of toilet paper behind the service counter with a security guard on duty. The supermarket is trying to stop hoarding of toilet paper. Why people have gone nuts over toilet paper boggles the mind!

 Sacred Scripture teaches the human family what the experience of the ages confirms: that while human progress is a great advantage to man, it brings with it a strong temptation. For when the order of values is jumbled and bad is mixed with the good, individuals and groups pay heed solely to their own interests, and not to those of others. Thus, it happens that the world ceases to be a place of true brotherhood. [1]

When our sense of things is that everything in our lives is going well and nothing in particular exceeds the normal challenges of daily life, being aware of, kind to and sharing with others tends not to be too much of a challenge. When it seems as if everything is going wrong, is out of control, we are fearful of loss of love, food, shelter etc., such as many experience in this new normal, bending towards ourselves can become obsessive.

For the homeless, and others for whom the streets are the place where through drug dealing or prostitution, at the lowest, most dangerous level of eking out a living, there rarely are any good days. Most of us never see among such of our brothers and sisters the kind and selfless gestures of one to another.

Today’s Holy Gospel is from John 8:1-11, the story of Jesus’ compassion and admonition, for the woman caught in adultery.

The men who brought her, with such hardhearted contempt, to Jesus, are prime examples of how bending towards ourselves morphs into obsessive disdain for others, blinds us to seeing others as one like ourselves, that is persons, children of God, our brothers and sisters.

Over fifty years ago a homeless woman who sold herself daily for drug money, yet had not lost her awareness of others in need, quite literally saved my life and paid the ultimate price, by the very man she had saved me from, thus as my true sister, showing that great love of which Jesus says there is none greater: John 15:13.

I was working in a soup kitchen in those days and, given many of the homeless have serious mental health and addiction issues, it was critical if we saw any disturbance starting we staff move in quickly to prevent things getting out of control.

One day a very big man started pounding on a much smaller man and we separated them, one staffer tending to the victim, three of us getting the brute out of the building. The woman at the heart of this story had watched all this happen, her eyes filled with fear.

At dusk it was my duty to circle the building making sure all doors were secured and keeping an eye for any homeless brother or sister laying on the sidewalk or in the alley needing attention. As I came to the last door, which was at the end of an alley, closed by a wall just past the last door, I heard the sound of breaking glass and almost simultaneously was grabbed, and the broken bottle was pushed towards my throat.

It was the brute.

Suddenly I heard a familiar female voice yelling, “Hey, whatcha doing fool?” The man hesitated, turned towards the woman who began using her skills to distract him. She motioned to me to run, which I did, looking over my shoulder to see she was keeping him occupied.

There being no cell phones in those days I had to let myself back into the building to phone the police, as I was concerned for her safety. They came quickly but she and the man were already gone. Next morning the police informed me they had found her body and the man, known to them, had been arrested for her murder.

Have you taken note that health care providers, first responders, grocery store and pharmacy clerks are still at their posts, as are the men and women of our armed forces. That at night the lights are still on, we have fuel for cars, to heat homes, truckers are keeping the supply chains working, farmers providing food, countless other men and women are also in truth putting themselves at risk of contracting COVID-19 and getting sick, quite possibly dying? 

Are we going to be that selfish, have such disdain for them and all our brothers and sisters to ignore the ‘stay at home’ pleas of health authorities? Can we be really that bent towards ourselves?

In the film version of Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD, one of the scenes which has always stayed with me is when the character Atticus Finch is leaving the courtroom and as he walks people stand and one of his children asks of an elderly black man, they are in the court balcony: “Why is everyone standing?” “Because your father is passing by.”

When this brute of a pandemic has been taken down and we can resume ordinary life, albeit much changed, even now should we be able to walk for fresh air, keeping charitable distance, where our homeless brothers and sisters are and we see them as we or they walk by, we should pause, stand for a moment: “Because it is the Lord Jesus passing by.”

[1] from paras. 37: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html

© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph