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.   

 

Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 11, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 11, 2018

Fr. Forlano, St. Stanislaus Parish 

We hear it all the time – that there is some kind of opposition between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. The God of the Old Testament was a wrathful, vengeful God – smiting the enemies of Israel and punishing the chosen people when they were unfaithful to the Covenant. Jesus, on the other hand, in the New Testament, reveals the face of the Father, a face of tender mercy.  He eats with sinners and welcomes the outcast. He forgives the sinful woman and praises the pagans who exhibit great faith. How do we reconcile what appears to be a God who expresses anger and wrath on one hand with the God who is kind and merciful?  Does God have a split personality? One time he is angry and jealous and at other times he is gentle and infinitely patient? God is love.  God is tender mercy. So these differences we see and judgments that we make about God are really our projections on God – projecting human emotions onto God – our emotions that are fleeting and always changing. But God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. He is love. His love is eternal and unchanging. So what appears as anger to us, or absence to us, or punishment to us, is simply a different expression of God’s love. When things go “badly” for us – when things went badly for God’s people – God in a way is purifying and cleansing his people, loving them in a way that at the time they couldn’t understand. 

In the first reading from the Book of Chronicles, we hear some of the history of a particularly difficult time in the history of Israel. “The princes of Judah, the priests, and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord’s temple.” They were worshiping false gods (the gods of the nations) and even bringing those gods into the temple. And how does the Lord respond? “Early and often did the Lord… send messengers to them, for he had compassion on his people and his dwelling place.” But this love was rejected.   The prophets God sent were mocked. The people ignored the warnings, “until the anger of the Lord against his people was so inflamed that there was no remedy.”  Then the enemies of Israel, the ones they cozied up to, trusting them more than God, turned on them, burnt down the temple, destroyed Jerusalem, and carried off those who weren’t killed into slavery into Babylon. So this is the wrath of God.  How do we understand it? When God respects our freedom and allows us to live with the choices we make, to experience the consequences of our decisions, this is what the scriptures calls the wrath or the anger of God. When we are given the opportunity to learn from our mistakes, to come to the realization ourselves that our choices are not the best, when we learn from experience that our ideas and efforts are not what will bring us happiness, that is what scripture calls the wrath of God.  That God permits us to suffer that way, is that contrary to a loving God?

Perhaps a contemporary example that many of us can relate to would be the example of the elderly person who insists on staying in his or her own home by themselves when they physically can’t take care of themselves anymore. They refuse help. They ignore the warnings from family members and the advice of their doctors. So when the person falls and breaks a hip or worse, were the children and family members who gave the warnings being unloving? Were they being spiteful and wrathful by respecting the decision of the elderly person?  Not at all. God, like those family members, when the person falls, rushes to help, and is waiting for the person to face reality and come to the decision on his own that it is time to move on – to move to a better place. In this light, the “bad things” that happen to us, become expressions of mercy when they wake us up to reality and to our need for God – when they help us re-evaluate our situation and our perspective on things. 

After working for this public relations firm for nearly a year – this was my first real full-time job – in public relations, I began to become burned-out. I was frustrated, becoming increasingly less productive, and unhappy at work. My boss noticed and called me in for a meeting. He asked if I was OK. He asked one of the other associates to help me out a little more. I wasn’t happy, but I thought if I just worked harder and got through this rough patch, things would get better. I didn’t want to quit. I wasn’t a quitter. I always succeeded through hard work. This shouldn’t be any different.  But things didn’t get better. And then one day, the head of the firm called me in and told me this wasn’t working out. He was supportive, but it was time for me to move on. I was devastated. I was fired. I was two years out of college and was fired from a job with a respected firm in the career path I wanted to follow. I’m sure I cried and had no idea what I would do next, but soon after I felt an almost immediate relief – like a big burden was lifted off of my shoulders. I took time to re-evaluate what I wanted to do with my life, began to do some volunteer work, saw a counsellor, read a lot, and prayed a lot.  It was in this time that the seeds of my vocation to the priesthood began to sprout. I look back at that firing as a great mercy, and am thankful for that boss for letting me go. It became an opportunity for me to really ask the question about what was important in my life and what was I looking for. It was a time of purification. God was with me, but I couldn’t see him at the time because my focus was on other things.  I was preferring other things to God, but that event, that “fall” if you will, helped me to see the light, and come to live in the truth. Now I can see as St. Paul says, that God is rich in mercy, loving us even in our transgressions. Our salvation is a grace.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God.” We are not saved from our works –  by working harder, but by his mercy. The Gospel too reminds us that God so loved the world… he did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” He does this by respecting our freedom, respecting what we prefer.  He doesn’t condemn, but we condemn ourselves by preferring the darkness over the light. 

Lent is a time to remember the mercy of God and to become more and more open to his presence – to hear his voice and call to conversion in the events that happen in our lives. God is not angry at us like we get angry at persons and things. He loves us and doesn’t abandon us. What happens is not random or accidental. Let’s look at Jesus exalted – lifted up on the Cross, and be confident that it is from the cross that his mercy flows.