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!
– – –
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.”

QUESTIONS:

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.

QUESTIONS:

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.

QUESTIONS:

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?

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings Feb. 28, 2016

"Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness." -- Psalm 103:8

“Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness.” — Psalm 103:8

 

Feb. 28, Third Sunday of Lent

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15

      Psalm 103:1-4, 6-8, 11

      2) 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12

      Gospel: Luke 13:1-9

 

By Jeff Hensley
Catholic News Service

In the reading from Exodus, God speaks of his intention to come down and rescue his people from the tyranny of the Egyptians, revealing that his mercy is not merely felt, but results in action.

The psalm response, too, speaks repeatedly of the mercy of God toward us, his people. We are to remember that he pardons our sins and redeems our lives from destruction. God is slow to anger and abounding in kindness toward those who fear him, the psalmist tells us.

In the Gospel, Jesus gets to the core of our response to God’s mercy in his reference to the barren fig tree. The owner comes and finds it without fruit for the third year in a row and instructs the gardener to cut it down. No, the gardener contends, “leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.”

Lent is a special time for us to consider how we can respond to God’s generosity by showing mercy and performing acts of charity and justice toward others.

Thinking about my friends who were already showing the mercy of God in their actions, I came up with too many to list. They varied in age, race, gender and social status. Some were collectively engaged in mission work extending from Latin America to Russia, from Africa to Indonesia. Others were kind and good to their neighbors and families — to those close to them.

All shared joy and a sense of purpose and mission in what they did. They knew that their connection to God, their obligation to live out the love of God poured into their hearts was what kept them going.

My lesson for Lent will be to see how I can imitate their acts of goodness in my own life and in my own contacts with others, so that when the gardener checks on me, he might find me fruitful right where I’ve been planted.

QUESTION:

How is God calling you to become more fruitful in mercy and good works?

Notes on peace and justice

Archivist for Dorothy Day papers guilty of trespassing at drone base

Phil Runkel, left, walks with others Aug. 25 toward Volk Air National Guard Base in Wisconsin to voice concern with U.S. drone policy. (Courtesy Voices for Creative Nonviolence)

Phil Runkel, left, walks with others Aug. 25 toward Volk Air National Guard Base in Wisconsin to voice concern with U.S. drone policy. (Courtesy Voices for Creative Nonviolence)

Phil Runkel, archivist for the papers of Dorothy Day at Marquette University’s Raynor Memorial Libraries, is among the most recent people found guilty of a crime for protesting the United States’ use of military drones.

The conviction on a trespassing charge came Feb.19 during a brief trial in Juneau County Circuit Court. Runkel was arrested Aug. 25 at an entrance of Volk Field Air National Guard Base in Camp Douglas, Wisconsin, where he joined a group of Catholic Workers and other activists concerned that the use of drones for extrajudicial killings constitutes a war crime.

Runkel attempted to tell the court during his trial that he entered the air base grounds under the belief that citizens have the legal privilege under international law to act in a nonviolent manner to halt the commission of a war crime. However, District Attorney Mike Solovey objected, saying there was nothing about intent in the law, according to courtroom observers.

Judge Paul Curran upheld the objection, quickly found Runkel guilty and issued a $232 fine.

Runkel was the most recent of the 14 people arrested for trespassing at Volk in August to be found guilty in a trial. The last trial is set for Feb. 25.

Similar nonviolent actions by Catholic Workers and others have been occurring at air bases around the country in an effort to call attention to drone warfare.

 

Lenten fast for climate justice

Catholics around the world again are fasting during Lent for climate justice in response to Pope Francis’ call to care for creation during the month of February.

Coordinated by the Global Catholic Climate Movement, the fast finds people in 57 countries taking a day to fast from food or perhaps even from expending nonrenewable energy and to pray in a special way for the environment.

The climate movement’s website has posted Pope Francis’ video message in which he calls on all people to “take good care of creation — a gift freely given — cultivating and protecting it for future generations.”

“The relationship between poverty and the fragility of the planet requires another way of managing the economy and measuring progress, conceiving a new way of living. Because we need a change that unites us all. Free from the slavery of consumerism,” the pope says in the brief video.

The rolling fast reaches a different country each day during Lent. It comes to the U.S. today. (But organizers say anyone can fast on any day or several days.) On Good Friday, all are called to fast for the health of the planet.

 

Italian Pax Christi bishops decry war

The five bishops who are members of Pax Christi Italy have called for action to end war and the violence that has wracked cities around the world, particularly the Middle East.

Citing “Gaudium et Spes,” the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, the final document of the Second Vatican Council, which denounced war and the arms race, the bishops condemned armed violence in a statement released Feb. 18 in Florence

They also called on people of faith to prayer, fasting and acting on behalf of peace.

“(Wars) are only meant to use our arms and to enhance our powers and our supremacy. Therefore we strongly urge the end of all bombings. Instead, we strongly urge the use of politics and diplomacy, perhaps more strenuous but always respectful of human lives. All human beings need assistance not bombs, as Pope Francis has repeatedly said,” the bishops wrote.

The statement also quoted from the joint declaration from the pope and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill following their historic meeting Feb. 12 in Cuba in which the two religious leaders urged the international community to work quickly to end the violence against Christian communities in particular and to begin negotiations to return peace to the affected communities.

Issuing the statement were Bishop Giovanni Ricchiuti of Altamura-Gravina-Acquaviva delle Fonti, president of Pax Christi Italy; and four past presidents including retired Bishop Tomasso Valentinetti of Pescara-Penne, retired Bishop Giovanni Giudici of Pavia; retired Bishop Luigi Bettazzi of Ivrea; and retired Bishop Diego Bona of Saluzzo.

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings Feb. 21, 2016

"Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ." -- Philippians 3:20

“Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” — Philippians 3:20

 

Feb. 21, Second Sunday of Lent

      Cycle C. Readings: 

      1) Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18 

      Psalm 27:1, 7-9, 13-14 

      2) Philippians 3:17-4:1 or Philippians 3:20-4:1 

      Gospel: Luke 9:28b-36

 

By Sharon K. Perkins
Catholic News Service

I have a 2-year-old nephew who currently lives in Shanghai with his parents. He was born in China, but because my brother and his wife are U.S. citizens, their son received the full privileges and benefits of American citizenship even before his first glimpse of the United States; he only needed to obtain the necessary documentation.

When his parents’ residence in China ends, little Mateo, already the proud owner of a U.S. passport, will be welcomed into his “new” homeland and bound by its laws and obligations.

There’s a different kind of citizenship described in today’s readings, and we’re given a preview of it, beginning in Genesis. Abram, a sojourner and a foreigner, is promised more descendants than he can count and the possession of a land that is not his birthright.

Although no documents are signed, there is the solemn enactment of a covenant by which God binds himself to fulfill his promises. Before he even sees the land that God has given to him, Abram becomes its citizen.

In the Gospel, Peter, James and John saw the two great figures of their past, Moses and Elijah, on the mount of the Transfiguration. But Jesus also showed them a glimpse of their future citizenship. It was as if a curtain was pulled back and they were able to see a realm so glorious that they were overwhelmed, captivated, enthralled and frightened all at the same time.

St. Paul reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven” and that “he will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body.” Although we haven’t earned its rights and privileges, our citizenship has already been accomplished by Jesus’ “exodus” in Jerusalem — his suffering and death on a cross.

We are invited to inhabit a promised realm we have yet to see, living under its obligations while we “wait for the Lord with courage.” Like the psalmist, we can assert, “I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living.”

It’s a land we don’t need documentation to enter — only trust that the God who fulfilled his promise to Abram, Moses, Elijah, Peter, James and John will fulfill his promises to you and me.

QUESTIONS:

When have you lived more like an “enemy of the cross of Christ” than a citizen of Christ’s kingdom? What is the greatest obstacle to seeing God’s promises fulfilled in you?

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