Holy Thursday, Mass of the Lord’s Supper 2018

Holy Thursday, Mass of the Lord’s Supper, March 29, 2018

Fr. Forlano, St. Stanislaus Parish 

A priest is someone who touches the holy every day.  I celebrate Mass at least once and usually twice every day.  I have rounds at the hospital twice a week and usually anoint 6 – 10 people each time I go.   We hear a lot of confessions.  A funeral is a major event in a family’s life, but it is not odd that I could celebrate 3 – 5 funeral Masses or services in one week.  With less frequency, the same thing happens with weddings.  For the couple, it’s probably the most important day in their life together.  For me, in almost 15 years as a priest, I’m sure I’ve witnessed at least 150 weddings or blessings of marriages.  As human beings, even the most sacred or important events can become just part of a routine when they are done repeatedly.  We can take the holy for granted.  When we are around something special day in and day out, we can forget how awesome it is.  Familiarity might not breed contempt, but it could easily lead to looking at these important things in life with indifference or just reducing them simply to a task or a thing that I have to do.  It happens in marriage as well. The newlywed couple is eager to serve his or her spouse.  It is a joy to prepare a meal or even clean the house or paint a room because of the love for the other person, but after a few years (or less), life becomes a routine, the spouse is taken for granted, and all those tasks become burdensome. 

Sometimes the Lord allows something to happen in our lives that reminds us what life is all about.  This happened to me two Sundays ago.  It was a usual Sunday.  I had several Masses.  I had the baptisms after the 11:00 Mass, and after the Spanish Mass, we had a committee meeting with the Hispanic Community – a meeting that lasted about 2 hours.  It was around 5:00 p.m. when I finished that meeting.  There was a message in my box.  A call came in at 12:15 in the afternoon from a family seeking last rites for their mother.  She was in the ICU at the hospital.  I was celebrating the baptism at the time, so the receptionist couldn’t get me the message.  I went right from the baptism to the Spanish Mass and then right into the meeting.  I called the number back and got a voicemail and left a message and my cell number.  I said that I would head over to the hospital, but please call if she has already been seen by another priest.  As I was about to leave the office, my phone rang.  The family still needed a priest.  I was at the hospital in 5 minutes.  The woman was surrounded by her family.  She was in distress and breathing heavily with an oxygen mask.  Her face was red – totally flushed.  We said an act of contrition, I gave her absolution, anointed her, and gave her the apostolic pardon for the remission of all temporal punishments in this life and the life to come.  As I said the prayers, the redness left her face.  I then prayed the prayer of commendation of the dying.  As I was praying the litany of the saints, the nurse indicated to the family that her vitals were dropping.  I skipped to the prayer of commendation.  The nurse took off the breathing mask.  I then led the family in the rosary and in the middle of the decade of the Assumption, the woman breathed her last.  We finished the Rosary, and then I prayed the prayers for the dead.  The daughter said when we concluded, “Father, you got here just in time.”  I said, “No.  I didn’t.  Your mother was waiting for Jesus.”  That was not the first time I’ve experienced a death like that and the almost immediate calm that comes over a person after receiving the prayers and the sacraments, even when the person has been unconscious or unresponsive for several days. 

That visit in the hospital reminded me that being a priest is about bringing Jesus to people.  Bringing his saving grace to people.  It is through the priest that we encounter Jesus today.  Jesus instituted the priesthood and the Eucharist so that everybody, here and now, can experience his saving action, his mercy and love and nearness to us that allows us to live in freedom and pass from death to a newness of life.  When Jesus says at the Last Supper, “Do this in remembrance of me” he does not mean simply calling to mind a memory of a past event, but in the celebration of the Eucharist, the saving presence and action of Jesus, his death on the cross, is re-presented, i.e., made present to us today.  It was very moving to me to see Jesus’ love and care for this woman in her need, and that I was an instrument of Christ’s action – that he used me to communicate his grace.  It is a reminder that the priesthood is not about me, but what Christ is working in the world through me.  He allows me to give something that doesn’t come from myself.  It is a reminder of the continuation of the Incarnation – that God continues to work through his body the church to communicate his life.  Others experience the nearness of God through our weak humanity.  Christ continues to depend on our flesh to communicate his grace and for others to encounter him.  He continues to work through a human encounter. 

We are saved by remembering.  We are saved by the presence of God among us today.  It is for this reason why the Church, which doesn’t ask for much, asks us to come to Mass every eight days.  We need to be in his presence.  We need to be reminded of his saving action.  We need to be fed and sent forth.  But Jesus needs you and me – all of the baptized – he needs our humanity.  This shows his continued humility.  He wanted to be with that woman as she was dying, but he needed me to get my body over to the hospital.  He wants to come to us in the Eucharist, but that won’t happen unless I get myself out of bed in the morning and come over to the church.  But when we are reminded of how God works  – the humble way he works, how he stoops down to us to “wash our feet”, we become eager to participate in this mystery, to go and to see what the Lord will do.  Jesus says to Peter, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.”  We understand when we become willing to wash one another’s feet – to let go of notions of superiority and go where the Lord asks us to go.  We can love one another in this way when we remember how much God loves us. 

Priesthood, Eucharist, and charity – loving as God has loved us – they don’t work apart from each other.  We remember these mysteries today and how God continues to work in our lives.  May we realize what Christ has done for us, now, and forever. 

Palm Sunday of the Lord, March 25, 2018

Palm Sunday of the Lord, March 25, 2018

Fr. Forlano, St. Stanislaus Parish 

When we meditate on the Passion, we see Jesus surrounded by sin and the effects of sin.  We become more aware of the evil in the world, and consequently our own evil – how we have contributed to the weight of the cross.  On display are greed, deception, jealousy, anxiety, confusion, distress, pride, laziness, sloth, weariness in the face of the suffering of others, fear, violence, hard-heartedness, cowardice, vengeance, lies, false accusations, mockery, envy, cursing, torture, and abuse – encompassing all the sins of all of humanity and the suffering they generate.  We can relate to both the sinner and the innocent victim, the one who suffers.  We’ve been both at different times in our life.  But what Jesus shows us by carrying the cross is how to respond to the Cross and how the cross becomes a gift if we embrace it.  The cross is not punishment from God the Father.  The cross is not something imposed on him by an angry God out to crush the sinner.  Jesus doesn’t go to the Cross to show the Father how much he loves him – to impress the Father with how much suffering he can take on.  He takes up the cross because the cross is his path to the Father, and to be with the Father is a joy.  The cross brings him to the Father.  It is because of the love of the Father, the love Jesus knows the Father has for him, that he does this.  It is for the joy of what awaits him that he picks up the cross.  It is better to know the love of God and to die than not to know that love at all.  Everything, including his life, can be taken away from him, but Jesus is free because of the love of the Father.  With the Father, Jesus lacks nothing.  Jesus took up the cross not to show us his strength, but to show us that the path to God is to embrace our weakness – which moves us to cry out to God, to seek God, to be in touch with our need for God.  In Mark’s account of the Passion, Jesus says very few words, but when he faces the cross, he doesn’t fight back or defend himself; when he is troubled and distressed, he turns to the Father, he prays to the Father.  “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you.  Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.”  His prayer is filled with affection for the Father.  “Abba” is the Aramaic word for “Daddy.”  His prayer expresses an openness to God, a readiness to receive what the Father desires for him, even when from a human standpoint, it makes no sense or is repulsive.  And on the Cross itself, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  This is not a cry of despair, but he is praying Psalm 22.  It is a Psalm of praise to God that expresses hope in the victory, speaks of eternal life and God’s power to deliver when prayed all the way through. 

          We enter into the relationship with Christ through the awareness we have of our sin.  Pope Francis described it this way: “The privileged place of the encounter with Christ is the caress of his mercy on my sin.”  If we are not aware of our sin and our need for mercy, we will not know the Lord, because we will not seek him and his mercy. 

          I had this experience this past week.  Priests in this time of year hear a lot of confessions, but it is often hard for a priest to get to confession.  I really wanted to go to confession to prepare for Holy Week, but things got in the way.  The snow storm cancelled several penance services – an easy place to meet other priests.  I was planning to go to the Shrine in Doylestown at around 11:00 a.m on Thursday, because they offer confessions before the daily 11:30 Mass, but then an unexpected walk-in appointment came in to the office.   I was not free until 2:00 p.m. to head up to the Shrine.  I went to the Monastery and rang the door bell.  I waited, but there was no answer.  I rang the bell again, but there was no answer.  About ten priests live there, but nobody was home. 

          I went over to the Shrine office, but the receptionist was busy.  I went to the gift shop and asked the lady behind the counter, “Do you know where I can find a priest.”  “Which priest are you looking for?”, she asked.  “It doesn’t matter.  Any priest will do.  I just want to go to confession.”   She said, “If you speak English,   you should really see Fr. Ed.”  “That is really OK.  The Polish priests understand enough English to hear my confession.  Any priest will do.”  She makes a phone call, and there is no answer.  “Let me try his cell phone.”  “What is your name, Father?”, she asks me.  She leaves a message.  And then she gets a call back in a few minutes.  “Hello.  There’s a Fr. Forlano here who wants to go to confession.”  (So much for the anonymity of the sacrament.)  “Fr. Ed will be here shortly.”  I go out into the hall and wait on a bench.  In a few minutes this older man comes in the door, looks at me and says, “You want to go to confession?”  “Yes, Father.” 

          He takes me to the cemetery office, tells the person working at the desk to go home early, and then we sit down.  I make my confession.  Instead of just giving me absolution right away and sending me off,  he asked about my struggles.  He listened to me.  He was very compassionate.  He told me that he had been a pastor for 27 years in a parish before his order sent him to be the director of the Shrine.  “I’m 78 years old, have had three heart attacks, and I have to run this place.”  He knew what I was going through and gave me some advice and words of encouragement.  He said, “I know how hard it is sometimes for a priest to get to confession.  If you ever need to go or get stuck, give me a call.”  He gave me his cell number.  I was looking for a ritual, and instead I found a friend – a Father that embraced me.  It was an encounter with the mercy of God.  It was just what I needed but so much more than I expected.

          The crosses in our lives bring us in touch with our need.  In our weakness, and sin, we are most open and most aware of our need for God.  The cross is not a punishment but a path that leads us to entrust ourselves to the Father.  This is the path of the resurrection.  Jesus enters triumphantly into Jerusalem riding on a colt of an ass.  He enters humbly.  Humility is the path to victory.  Let us embrace the cross with humility, become aware of our need of God, and discover the path to new life and the resurrection, and the embrace that the Father has for us.