A ‘Way’ for modern cross-bearers who share Christ’s cross

This Good Friday, throughout the day and through the evening, Catholics around the world are joining in Way of the Cross processions — the symbolic walk with Jesus from his trial before Pontius Pilate to his crucifixion on Calvary. Walkers reflect on the sufferings Jesus endured leading up to his death.

In Rome, after the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis presides over the Way of the Cross service at Rome’s Colosseum.

In the United States, thousands of Catholics and religious leaders from five parishes in the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, are walking more than a mile tonight carrying crosses and statues through the streets of Bensonhurst — led by Brooklyn Auxiliary Bishop Paul R. Sanchez.

Some processions are organized around contemporary themes. Spearheaded by the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, the “Way of the Cross for Victims of Abortion” is being held throughout the day in dozens of U.S. cities and in Calgary, Alberta. In India, Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical “Laudato Si'” inspired a parish’s Way of the Cross in the Archdiocese of Mumbai.

frfitzgeraldbookcover2“A Contemporary Way of the Cross” is the title of a slim volume by Father William John Fitzgerald that came my way here at CNS. Father Fitzgerald, 83, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska, who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was ordained in 1958 and served as pastor in several rural parishes where he developed team ministry in the 1970s. In the 1980s, he was pastor of what was Omaha’s largest parish, St. James, where he also developed team ministry. But when he was 62, Omaha’s archbishop gave him early retirement — he suffered chemical lung poisoning and had to move to Arizona for his health.

In the intervening years, he told me, “I have thrived.” Among other things, he is active in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Voice of the Poor Committee and he is a prolific author — he has written 14 books. He also has a CD out of his Irish songs.

Father Fitzgerald dedicated “A Contemporary Way of the Cross” to “all those who carry heavy crosses.” “Walk the narrow streets of old Jerusalem today and you will discover plaques along the way that indicated the Stations of the cross. … There are other current roads around the world where modern cross-bearers share (Christ’s) cross — the paths of Africa, the roads to homeless shelters, the streets past foreclosed houses,” the priest writes in his introduction.

“Christ still walks beside his followers as they carry their own heavy crosses,” he says. “It is these modern-day crosses that are brought to mind and to prayer in these contemporary Stations of the Cross. These Stations are meant to be thought and prayer provoking. … (They) can be prayed alone or in community.”

frfitzgeraldbookcoverHis other books include “Seven Secrets of the Celtic Spirit,” and “A Contemporary Celtic Prayer Book.”

He also just recently wrote “The Amazing Love of Dogs and God,” about all the dogs he had as a kid, starting with Joe – pictured on the cover with a 9-year-old William.

“In each book I attempted to infuse it with eco-spirituality,” said Father Fitzgerald, who said he studied creation spirituality at Holy Names University in Oakland, California, in 1986. He noted that his high school English teacher at Jesuit-run Creighton Prep in Omaha “taught me the basics of writing, which I still use today.”

When Good Friday falls on feast of the Annunciation

Nuns carry a cross during a silent march during Good Friday celebrations in Durban, South Africa, March 25. (CNS photo/Rogan Ward, Reuters)

Nuns carry a cross during a silent march during Good Friday celebrations in Durban, South Africa, March 25. (CNS photo/Rogan Ward, Reuters)

By Father John Fields

Today is Good Friday in churches that calculate the date of Easter based upon the Gregorian calendar.

March 25, exactly nine months before Christmas, is also the feast of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary she would have a son. The Knights of Columbus observe the feast of the Annunciation as the “International Day of the Unborn Child,” since this feast liturgically and scripturally demonstrates that life begins at conception.

Because these two important observances will occur on the same day this year, depending on the liturgical tradition, accommodations are made in the date and manner of celebration of the feast of the Annunciation and the Good Friday observances.

This year in the Latin church, the feast of the Annunciation is transferred to the first available day after the Paschal celebration. Therefore, this year, the solemnity of the Annunciation will be observed April 4, the first available day, the Monday after the second Paschal Sunday. Christmas will still be celebrated Dec. 25, although will not be a full nine months after the Feast of the Annunciation.

This icon depicting the Annunciation is from St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in Edmonton, Alberta. (CNS photo/Western Catholic Reporter)

This icon depicting the Annunciation is from St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in Edmonton, Alberta. (CNS photo/Western Catholic Reporter)

The importance of the feast of the Annunciation has such importance in the Byzantine tradition that this feast is always celebrated March 25, even if it falls on Good Friday or Holy Saturday. This tradition dates back to the third century.

This year, since the Annunciation falls on Good Friday, churches of the Byzantine tradition will also celebrate the Divine Liturgy on Good Friday, the only exception to the rule that the Divine Liturgy is not celebrated on Good Friday. Church fathers stress that the importance of Mary’s “yes” to the angel Gabriel is so important that, without it, there would not have been a Good Friday.

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Father Fields is director of communications for the Ukrainian Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Guardian angels and guns: Granddad fought in the Rising

Willie McNeive escorts his daughter, Vivian, into church on her wedding day in 1948, 32 years after he fought in Ireland's Easter Rising. (CNS photo/courtesy Susan Gately)

Willie McNeive escorts his daughter, Vivian, into church on her wedding day in 1948, 32 years after he fought in Ireland’s Easter Rising. (CNS photo/courtesy Susan Gately)

By Susan Gately

DUBLIN (CNS) — I am a child of Ireland’s Easter Rising, the disordered six-day insurrection against British rule in 1916.

My grandfather, Willie McNeive, was imprisoned in Wales following the Rising. His best friend was Joe Stanley, press agent to the Rising leader, Patrick Pearse. When Joe’s sister Jenny, visited him, she met Willie and they fell in love and married.

As a child, I questioned Granddad about the Rising but he was reluctant to talk. Seeing the Northern Troubles develop, he became disgusted that what was so nobly begun had ended in terrorist atrocities in the name of an Irish Republic. Fortunately, in 1978 he committed his 1916 memories to tape.

Initially during the uprising, Granddad was assigned a first-floor window overlooking a quayside. Rifle in hand, he watched a group of British lancers march by.

“We turned our face to the wall, said an act of contrition and waited for the order to shoot.” To their relief, the order did not come.

Next, commandeering “all forms of transport,” they moved material to the General Post Office.

“One of the greatest thrills of my life was when I looked up and saw the tricolour of the Irish Republic flying over the GPO. It brought tears to my eyes,” he recounted.

For six days my grandfather fought at the post office. Toward the end, he was ordered to break open a door, which he did. When he returned to pick up his rifle, it was gone, replaced by a German Mauser.

Outside, the squad was ordered to fix bayonets. With no bayonet or ammunition, Granddad fell out. The others charged around a corner only to be mowed down by British artillery.

“I often wondered who swiped my rifle. In view of the fate of the others, I concluded it was my guardian angel,” he recounted.

My relatives were ready to give their lives for Irish independence in an uprising that had no hope of success, and I am moved by that fact. Others think the Rising was a waste of lives. Ireland would have gotten home rule without the bloodshed, some say. Who knows?

Yet for better or worse, we are where we are today, in some measure, due to the 1,600 men and women who took to the streets to fight for an Irish Republic a hundred years ago.
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Gately is a multimedia correspondent for Catholic News Service.

Happy new year, March 25!

Partygoers wear 2016-themed hats as they wait to ring in the new year at Sydney Harbor Dec. 31. (CNS photo/Jason Reed, Reuters)

Partygoers wear 2016-themed hats as they wait to ring in the new year at Sydney Harbor Dec. 31. (CNS photo/Jason Reed, Reuters)

By Father John Fields

Happy New Year Friday, March 25.

For many centuries because of Christian influence, March 25 was celebrated as New Year’s Day.

Since March 25 was calculated as the date of the crucifixion of Jesus, there was a belief that one died on the same day that one was conceived.  If Jesus died on March 25 — the 14th of the Jewish month of Nissan, then he was also conceived on the 14th of Nissan — March 25. Therefore, March 25 was not only the date of his crucifixion, but also became the date of his Incarnation, hence the feast of the Annunciation March 25. And since in God there is perfection, a full nine months after March 25 would be December 25, which became the date of the nativity of Christ.

But March 25 also had other significance.  Many believed it was also the date of Adam’s creation and fall; some traditions maintain it was also the fall of Lucifer; the fleeing of Moses and the Israelites from Egypt through the Red Sea; and the immolation of Isaac.  These beliefs are found in the early martyrologies and writings of the early fathers of the church.

March 25 was also celebrated for centuries as New Year’s Day on the civil calendar because of Christian influence in society.  In England, the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25 continued to be New Year’s Day until the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1752.  Until 1751, March 25 was also celebrated as New Year’s Day in the American colonies, since they were under British rule.  Even the town of Pisa, in Tuscany, Italy, continues to hold a New Year’s celebration on March 25 every year, including this year, a custom dating back to 1749.

So have a Happy New Year March 25!
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Father Fields is director of communications for the Ukrainian Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Fireworks explode over the Sydney Harbor Bridge and Opera House during a show to celebrate the New Year Jan. 1, 2014. (CNS photo/Jason Reed, Reuters)

Fireworks explode over the Sydney Harbor Bridge and Opera House during a show to celebrate the New Year Jan. 1, 2014. (CNS photo/Jason Reed, Reuters)

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, March 20, 2016

"And yet behold, the hand of the one who is to betray me is with me on the table." -- Luke 22:21

“And yet behold, the hand of the one who is to betray me is with me on the table.” — Luke 22:21


March 20, Palm Sunday

      Cycle C. Readings:

      At the procession with palms: Luke 19:28-40

      1) Isaiah 50:4-7

      Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24

      2) Philippians 2:6-11

      Gospel: Luke 22:14-23:56 or Luke 23:1-49


By Sharon K. Perkins
Catholic News Service

There’s an acronym often used to describe Catholics who come to Mass only seldom: PACE (or sometimes CAPE) Catholics. The letters stand for “Palms-Ashes-Christmas-Easter” (or “Christmas-Ashes-Palms-Easter”), referring to the four occasions when they usually choose to attend, for whatever motive.

Since the readings for Palm Sunday are unusually lengthy and the Mass is 20-30 minutes longer than normal due to the beginning procession, I can only imagine that for many of these occasional attendees, the big draw must be the take-home of blessed palms.

Setting aside my indulgence in a bit of self-righteous sarcasm, I find that it’s extremely easy to congratulate myself for not being a PACE/CAPE Catholic, just as it’s quite easy to place myself outside the narrative of Christ’s passion. After all, I’ve heard the story many times before, I wasn’t there when it happened and I’m familiar with the eventual outcome.

So I listen to the readings and reassure myself that Jesus’ suffering is at an end and that I can count myself among the religiously observant few.

Unfortunately, I’m not the first to succumb to this sanctimonious way of thinking, nor will I be the last, I suspect. No sooner had Jesus instituted the sacrifice of his body and blood and predicted his betrayal than the apostles not only absolved themselves of any responsibility, but they argued among themselves about “which of them should be regarded as the greatest.”

“What blind arrogance!” we say smugly, and proceed to the eucharistic table as if we aren’t culpable of any wrongdoing ourselves.

But note whom Jesus identifies as his betrayer: the one whose hand “is with me on the table.” It could have been anyone. And, if I’m truly honest, that “one” is me, especially when I compare myself favorably with others while remaining blind to my own sin. In doing this, I not only approach the Lord’s table unworthily, but I desecrate it without a second thought.

Jesus knows all of this; he knows who his betrayer is, he knows that Peter will deny him three times and he knows every single instance of my own desertion. Yet he still comes to you and to me “as the one who serves.”


What are some small or large ways that you have been disloyal to Jesus? What must you do to be more vigilant in your faithfulness to Christ?

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, March 13, 2016

"Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, 'Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?'" -- John 8:10

“Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?'” — John 8:10


March 13, Fifth Sunday of Lent

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Isaiah 43:16-21

      Psalm 126:1-6

      2) Philippians 3:8-14

      Gospel: John 8:1-11


By Jeff Hensley
Catholic News Service

All of the Scriptures this weekend point to the future, a future filled with good things that proclaim the goodness of the Lord and his forgiveness. The Gospel tells us the story of the woman caught in adultery and Jesus’ words to her, so appropriate in this Year of Mercy: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

I’m always reminded of a woman I encountered in the back of a church many years ago. I’d see her frequently in the darkened, empty church, kneeling in prayer, her head on her hands, a look of deep sorrow on her face.

For whatever reason, I spoke with her one day, and she alluded to something she had done that she said she could never be forgiven for. She didn’t say what it was, so I’ve never known, but she’s remained in the back of my mind across the intervening decades.

I remember gently trying to encourage her to accept God’s forgiveness and her insistence that she was beyond God’s grace.

She had a glow about her, a sense of holiness that I’ve seen in people I consider to be very holy. As much time as she spent in prayer, she had, no doubt, become quite familiar with what if feels like to be in God’s presence.

So what do we tell people when they fail to believe God can forgive them? How do we tell them to ask, to reach out to the hand extended in blessing? I still don’t know. I only know that those of us who know the depths of our own sinfulness must keep pointing the way, must keep telling those who have fallen that God himself will help them stand again.


Have you experienced deep feelings of unworthiness that make you doubt God’s ability to forgive you? How can you overcome these feelings to experience the unmerited favor of God, which is grace?

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings March 6, 2016

"Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you." -- Luke 15:21

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” — Luke 15:21


March 6, Fourth Sunday of Lent

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Joshua 5:9a, 10-12

      Psalm 34:2-7

      2) 2 Corinthians 5:17-21

      Gospel: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32


By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

This week’s Gospel story of the prodigal son has always captivated me with its image of God the Father waiting with open arms, constantly ready to take his wayward child back into his loving embrace. There are so many facets to this parable’s message: the father’s unconditional love and mercy; the prodigal recognizing his sin and the joy of reconciliation; the sibling’s loyalty and how his resentment caused separation.

But who would think it has anything to do with climate change?

Well, think of “squander” and “a life of dissipation,” — or simply “prodigal,” which means wastefully extravagant — as the Scripture describes the son’s behavior.

Think of the father lovingly bestowing on his son all the resources he needed to maintain the good life he’d had under his parent’s care. Think of the son using up his inheritance that would have allowed him to ensure that same life for subsequent generations of his family.

When I read Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, “Laudato Si'” (“On Care for Our Common Home”), I got only as far as Paragraph 2 before I thought of the prodigal son.

The document reminds us that God has generously provided for all the needs of humanity through his gift of the natural world. Many of us, especially in the wealthiest countries, have wantonly, selfishly spent God’s gift of creation with increasingly wasteful consumption and depletion of its resources.

Does the parable of the prodigal son apply here? Is it a sin when I waste water or fail to speak up when my own electricity provider is destroying the habitat of endangered species? Of course it is.

In “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis quotes Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians: “For human beings … to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth … to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air and its life — these are sins.”

Through his emphatic reiteration of Catholic social teaching in “Laudato Si’,” our pope calls us to turn away from these sins and return to God’s loving embrace where we can care for his gift of creation as he desires for the common good and generations to come.


How have your personal lifestyle and habits contributed to damaging the earth’s ecology? This Lent, what can you do to reconcile and deepen your relationship with God’s creation?


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