Thursday, April 28, 2011
In January of this year, Pope Benedict XVI announced that the late Pope John Paul II would be beatified on May 1st in Rome. John Paul died in April of 2005, after serving 26 years as the head of the Church on earth. He will now be called “Blessed John Paul.”
Beatification is an official Church recognition of a person's entry into Heaven. What does it take to be beatified? Normally, five years must have passed since the death of the candidate, although for John Paul, this waiting period was waived by Pope Benedict. Next, witnesses are called to testify about the candidate’s life of virtue, and documentation is given to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. An evaluation by theologians, cardinals, and bishops takes place, and a positive appraisal is presented to the Holy Father.
For beatification, a miracle credited to the intercession of the deceased person is necessary. The miracle must be verified through canonical investigation. This is where things stand in the case of John Paul II. For canonization – actually being named a saint – another miracle is required. The reasoning behind this requirement is that miracles prove that the saint is indeed in Heaven and capable of interceding for those who request help in prayer.
Most of the miracles in sainthood causes are healings. The miracle approved for Pope John Paul concerns a 49-year-old French nun who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Parkinson’s disease in 2001. After her order prayed to John Paul for help, Sister Marie-Simone was cured and able to resume her work as a maternity nurse.
The date for the beatification ceremony, May 1st, the Sunday after Easter, has been observed since 2000 as “Divine Mercy Sunday” by the Catholic Church. The Divine Mercy feast is associated with a 20th century Polish nun, St. Faustina Kowalska, to whom John Paul had a strong personal devotion. Her diary entries focused on God’s mercy and the call to practice mercy in our lives, something the previous pope strongly believed in and practiced. One of the most profound moments in the late pope’s life was his1983 meeting with his would-be assassin and the forgiveness he offered.
It is important to remember that when the Church beatifies or canonizes a person, it is not a declaration that that person was perfect in earthly life, or that their views or ideology reflected those of God! Rather, we honor the Church’s saints and blesseds because we see in them (and try to imitate) a holy response to God’s offer of grace.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Friday, April 15, 2011
Our 3-Minute Catechesis is taking a holiday this week and next (Palm Sunday & Easter). In lieu of the catechism we're reprinting an essay which looks at the crucifixion of Christ through the eyes of Barabbas. A blessed Palm Sunday to each of you.
"Hello, my name is Yoshua. Oh, I’m sorry, some of you are Greek speakers, you would probably know me better as Jesus. No, not that Jesus. I’m Yoshua Bar-Abbas, Jesus, son of the father.
"I was born and raised here in Judea and it’s been hard to watch what’s happening to our country under Roman rule. They extort taxes from us just to pay the soldiers who are here to keep us under control. And here we are, at the Passover, and what have they done? They’ve increased the guard to “protect” us. They’ve increased the guard to protect their interests! Even Pontius Pilate has come into the city from his palace at the sea to watch over us. Our “friends,” the Romans. Hah!
"I’ve waited all my life for the words of the prophets to come true. Scripture and the prophets all point to our time, now, for the Messiah to come. But where is he? A few years ago I followed the Baptizer, John. He preached that the kingdom of God was at hand and repentance. But, now he’s dead.
"The Messiah is supposed to come and raise up a mighty army and defeat our enemies. We’ll drive out all those who would hope to put us into slavery or to death.
"But where’s the Messiah that Scripture tells us about? I don’t know, but John made me believe that it’s time. I felt that I couldn’t wait any longer for him to make his move. Maybe God wants us to take matters into our own hands. And what better time could there be than during Passover, when the city swells to four times its normal size? That’s why I did what I did. Yesterday, I sneaked up behind a centurion and took his short-sword from its scabbard. Before he could react I made a quick thrust and he lay dead at my feet.
"I called others to join me. “There’s tens of thousands of us and only a few thousand of them. We can overthrow them.” But, no one joined me and I was quickly captured. And I thought that I’d end up being a martyr, and maybe that was God’s plan for me. But even that didn’t happen.
"This morning I was yanked out of my cell, and instead of being taken to Golgotha, I was brought before Pilate, himself. And to my surprise, I wasn’t the only Jesus there.
"The Nazarean, the prophet was there and Pilate was asking the crowd which one of us they wanted released; the son of the father, or the king of the Jews. What chance did I have of being picked against the prophet? Surely the crowd would rather have him freed. But from the back of the crowd came a few voices that shouted, “Bar Abbas, and they got louder, “BAR ABBAS” and more joined in, “BAR ABBAS” until it seemed that everyone was calling my name.
"The next thing I know, I’m being thrown into the street in front of the Praetorium. I started to move away, not waiting for someone to change their mind, thinking myself lucky. But, I couldn’t make myself leave.
"Soon, they brought out the Nazarean, dragging the beam that he was to be crucified on. They had beaten him, and he was bloody and weak. It was all he could do to drag the great beam of wood.
"I still couldn’t leave. I was compelled to follow, puzzled by the humility of this just man. I watched as he slowly made his way out of the city gate near the palace to the place of the skull. They stripped him of his clothes and nailed him to the beam. Then they raised the beam, and I saw his anguish as his weight pulled at the nails. It was only after some people came to take his body away that I stopped to consider all that had happened.
"I can’t believe what they’ve done! This man was innocent! I was guilty, not him! How could they have crucified him and let me live? I’m the criminal. He died for my sins. He died so that I might live!"
© 1998 Mark Bussemeier
Friday, April 8, 2011
Next Sunday, Christians throughout the world celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, the week before His death and resurrection. The biblical account of Palm Sunday can be found in each of the four gospels, but it is in the gospel of John that we find the reference specifically to palm branches.
Carrying palms or other branches in procession goes back to the Old Testament, where it was not only practiced but commanded by God. After the fall harvest, when the people gathered for the Feast of Tabernacles, God said in the book of Leviticus “On the first day, you shall gather foliage from majestic trees, branches of palms and boughs of myrtles and of valley poplars, and then for a week you shall make merry before the Lord, your God.” In the second book of Maccabees, the Jews celebrate Hanukkah in the same way.
The New Testament book of Revelation has John describing a vision in Heaven, where “a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation…stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.”
An ancient practice in Christianity involves gathering leftover palms, drying them, and then burning them. The burning is conducted carefully, using special equipment, so that the ashes remain and do not fly up and blow away. After being burned and cooled, the ashes are used on Ash Wednesday. The palms, which symbolize triumph, and the ashes, which symbolize death and penitence, form a great symbolic connection between suffering and victory.
So what are we supposed to do with the blessed palms we receive? It is considered disrespectful to tear or shred the palms and leave the “strings” in the pews or on the floor; it is also very messy! Most of us will take our palms, some having folded them into crosses, and reverently place them in our homes. Our faith reminds us that the palms do not possess any power or virtue of their own, but they do serve as a reminder of the kingship of Jesus in our lives. An Italian and French custom is to break off a piece of the palm and burn it during fierce storms or natural disasters, while praying to St. Barbara, the patron saint of storms.
Few churches have the necessary equipment and resources to burn the palms properly: this includes Risen Savior. For that reason, you are asked not to bring your palms back to the parish; rather, you should dispose of them by carefully and respectfully burying them in the ground.
Friday, April 1, 2011
During Lent, many people choose to wear crosses, crucifixes, or holy medals. These often serve as physical reminders of what one has promised to do or what one has given up as the Church prepares for the Passion and Death of Jesus. The cross is an important symbol to Christians throughout the world, but there are other symbols of Jesus as well. In fact, before the 5th century, Christians avoided use of the cross due to the disgrace associated with crucifixion, a heinous form of death. Instead, Jesus was primarily represented as a lamb. How did Jesus get to be associated with a lamb? There are many references in the New Testament, including thirty in the book of Revelation alone, but in order to understand the connection, we must look to the Old Testament story of Moses in Egypt.
The Jewish feast of Passover reminds us of how God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt by killing the firstborn Egyptians and “passing over” the homes of the Israelites. This was the last of ten plagues God used to convince the pharaoh to release His chosen people. To protect the firstborn sons of their families, the Israelites were told to sacrifice an unblemished lamb and smear the blood on the doorposts of their houses. This was a signal to the angel of death to “pass over” and spare the firstborn of God’s people. For Christians, Jesus is both the sacrificed firstborn Son as well as the unblemished or sinless lamb who gives His blood and His life to save His people from the slavery of sin and death.
In the 5th century we start seeing the use of the crucifix, a cross with a corpus or body. Images of the crucifix in the Middle Ages tended to depict Jesus with his eyes open and no trace of suffering to reflect the Resurrection. By the 13th century, Christ’s body was often depicted as twisted and bleeding to emphasize his humanity, and by this time the crucifix became established as an altar centerpiece in most churches. During the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the crucifix was banned as a form of idolatry. Today, the crucifix is primarily used in Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox Churches.
While an empty cross can represent Jesus’ resurrection, Catholics understand the importance of remembering the suffering and death that took place on the cross before the resurrection. Both the crucifix and the lamb help us to remember the suffering that God endured for us and for our salvation.