Saturday, March 31, 2012

Palm Sunday tutorial

The video below will show you how to braid palm leaves like this for Palm Sunday. They can be used on their own or incorporated into a stalk for the clergy. The stalk can be of any number of designs. There is no right way to do it. You'll probably start with a base of a dozen or so palms tied together like a stick. Then you can attach various braided items and palm bows, together with one or more bows of ribbon.

Here is the short instructional video.

Here is another video about weaving your palms into a fish.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Devil in the details: Lent 5

This Lent, our theme is finding the Devil in the details of the Sunday gospels. On the first two Sundays, Satan was mentioned explicitly in the gospel. The next two Sundays, we had to look for him in the shadows. In today’s gospel, the devil is again mentioned explicitly (though you might have missed it).

Jesus refers to the climactic battle against Satan at the cross in the final verses: “Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” According to the voice of the Father, this hour of judgment will be the hour of the Son’s glory — the hour of his victory on the triumph tree.

Back in the beginning of creation, God made the angels to serve him in heaven and he created the earth as a home for mankind, who were made in his image. When some of the angels rebelled, they were cast out of heaven by St. Michael the Archangel and a host of angels. Jesus once said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Lk 10:18).

The devil and his demons were cast out of heaven, and cast onto the earth (see Isaiah 14:12 and Ezekiel 28:17). St. John records in his Revelation: “The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world -- he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him” (Rev 12:9).

The devil immediately went to work tempting humanity to rebel against God — to defile that image of the Creator within us and destroy our likeness to God. The devil reigns over disobedient hearts, and in that sense the world became his dominion (1 John 5:19).

Jesus refers to the devil as “the ruler of this world” three times in John’s gospel. The perfect obedience of Jesus to the very end and to the fullness of his being, (as shown in his crucifixion) brings the dominion of disobedience to an end. Victory over the ruler (or “prince”) of this world was won once for all at the hour when Christ gloriously poured out his life on the Cross.

Jesus said, “Now is the time for the judgment against this world (i.e., the verdict against the sin within it); now is the time for the unlawful ruler of this world
(i.e., this usurper to the throne) to be cast out.”

Now the kingdom of God would be definitively established on earth. Now his royal subjects could be reunited with God through the perfect obedience of Christ in his death and resurrection. Now the King would be lifted up on his throne of love and draw the whole world to himself.

He draws us today to his sacred Altar, where we “proclaim the Lord’s death” as St Paul says, “until he comes again.” There, Jesus offers us tokens of the transformation that can be a reality for all his people. He bids us to partake of the sacred Host, and to drink from the cup of everlasting salvation.

Most people think the word “host” used for the bread consecrated to the flesh of our Lord Christ has something to do with “hospitality,” but it does not. “Host” comes from the Latin word hostia, which is a sacrificial victim.

In the Eucharist, as on the cross, Jesus is both the Priest and the Victim — the one who offers sacrifice to God, and the offering itself. His sacred Body is laid on the corporal on the altar before the Father. His precious Blood, shed for you and for many so that sins may be forgiven, is presented before the Father in a chalice and covered with a pall.

To share with us his life, he has poured himself out unto death. St. Paul said that Christ “has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14).

We should note how our forebears, especially in the early centuries of the Church, saw the cross as a sign of triumph and victory. Take the example of Venantius Fortunatus, a poet and bishop in the sixth century, who composed a hymn Pangue Lingua, sung on Good Friday around the world.

Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle,
Sing the winning of the fray;
Now above the cross, the trophy,
Sound the high triumphal lay:
Tell how Christ, the world’s Redeemer,
As a Victim won the day.

May God grant us grace to both behold and share in the victory of the cross. We will glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life and resurrection, by whom we are saved and made free.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Devil in the details: Lent 4

This Lent, our theme is finding the Devil in the details of the Sunday gospels. On the first two Sundays, it was easy since Satan was mentioned explicitly. Last week, we had to look harder to find the devil in the shadows, working to corrupt and obstruct the worship of God. We’ll also have to look carefully for him again.

Today’s gospel is the story of the miraculous feeding with loaves and fish. But note how it ends: “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”

The congregation became a mob who wanted Jesus to be the kind of Messiah they wanted, not the kind God the Father gave us. They wanted a revolutionary, a worldly king. God the Father wanted a willing servant, a sacrificial Lamb.

The devil has many tools in his arsenal to try to thwart God’s will. The other side of leading and luring one into temptation is pushing one toward sin with flattery and peer pressure.

Notice how Jesus responds. He does not stand around to hear the flattery and praise of adoring fans. He does not stay among them to be pushed into doing the wrong thing. Jesus retreats to the mountain —- to that place where he had so often found strength and comfort in solitude and prayer. Let us not listen to those who would stroke our ego and set us up for sin or who would force us into doing wrong.

Perhaps it was some of the same people in the crowd, calling him to be king, who would later call for his execution at the Praetorium. And how ironic that Jesus would end up taking the place of Barabbas (who actually had attempted a revolt) and was ultimately crucified between two of Barabbas’ disciples rather than Jesus' own disciples (whom the Lord had previously urged to take up their crosses and follow).

It happened the way it happened because Jesus ran from peer pressure and embraced the will of God the Father for us and for our salvation. Let us also flee from the diabolical pressure to reject God’s will.

The Devil in the details: Lent 3

This Lent, our theme is finding the Devil in the details of the Sunday gospels. In the first week, the devil appeared as Jesus’ tempter in the wilderness, who is hell-bent on destroying as much goodness as possible. Last week, we heard Jesus describe the apostle Peter as “Satan” because he was literally doing the devil’s work in trying to obstruct Jesus’ way to the cross (and thus to our salvation). We too can do the devil’s work when we interfere in God’s plans.

So where is Satan in our reading today—John’s account of Jesus cleansing the Temple. True, he’s not mentioned explicitly in this passage, but if we look closely, we’ll find the devil lurking in the shadows.

When I was growing up, my grandmother used to tell me that of all places, the devil is most active in church, because that’s where he’s threatened the most and where he stands the most to lose. You can be sure that whatever Jesus is up to, it is in direct contrast to Satan. Here, Jesus is driving the animals out of Solomon’s portico and overturning the tables of the money changers in the Temple. When his disciples looked back on this, they remembered the psalm: “Zeal for thy house will consume me.”

Why was Jesus so upset in the first place? An entire business had grown up around the Jewish sacrificial system. You were to bring an unblemished animal to the Temple for sacrifice. When your animal was inspected, they usually found a blemish.

“But don’t worry, you can trade yours in for this other unblemished one for a price.” So you trade in your animal and you pull out your money to pay the fee. “Oh, I’m sorry, you can’t use Roman coins here. They have an image of Caesar on them, who claims to be a god. That means your coins are idols, and of course no idols are allowed here. But don’t worry, you can trade in your Roman coins for some Temple coins, for a price.”

And thus, the Israelites coming to worship at the Temple, according to the Torah, were being defrauded for doing so (and not once, but twice over). The devil loves corruption, so this was very pleasing to him, of course. But if there’s one thing he really hates, it’s the worship of God.

Jesus, on the other hand, loves worship. His whole life was an act of worship. Jesus was zealous for the Temple, and for the worship of God. He could not stand by and let this corruption go on.

How do you feel about worship? You may not hate it the way the devil does, but if zeal for God’s house doesn’t fill your heart, the devil is having his way. Satan hates worship and tries to foster anything that would corrupt worship, or distract us from worship, or make us fight over worship, and thereby reduce the glory and adoration that we give to God.

In a book on the liturgy he wrote before becoming Pope Benedict, Josef Ratzinger noted, “I am convinced that the crisis in the Church we are experiencing is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy.” Our liturgy has been disintegrated and watered down over the past decades.

One principle of liturgics is Lex orandi, lex credendi “Law of prayer, Law of belief.” Which is to say, what we pray shapes what we believe, and what we believe shapes the way we pray. Change your prayers, and your beliefs will adapt accordingly.

We’ve seen all kinds of liturgical abuses and corruptions—like avoidance of the masculine pronoun for God and Jesus, avoidance of words like Lord, kingdom, and any mention of sin. So now we have a whole generation to whom the idea of the incarnation and the lordship of Christ (who is also our Savior from sin) is totally foreign.

The devil loves wars over worship because it distracts us from glorifying God. Congregations are split and divided about music —- traditional chants, old fashioned hymns, modern choruses, contemporary Christian hits, etc. The devil loves anything that will divide us and distract us from our task of giving worship to God.

In C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, the demon Screwtape advises his underling Wormwood, “I warned you before that if your patient can’t be kept out of the Church, he ought at least to be violently attached to some party within it.”

Corrupt, obscure, distract, divide and conquer, anything you can do to stop the worship of God —- that’s the devil’s plan. God’s plan is different -— “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; let the whole earth stand in awe of him” (Psalm 96:9).

When Jesus cleanses the Temple, they remember Psalm 69:9, which was taken as a mark of the Messiah -— “Zeal for thy house has consumed me.” Should this not also be a characteristic of the Christ-like disciple?

Zeal is fervent love, total commitment to the worship of God. In Hebrew, "zealous" is actually the same word also translated as "jealous." We heard the Ten Commandments today in our first reading. When God commanded us not to worship other gods (idols), it was explained that our God is a jealous God.

His zeal, his fervent love is for our worship. We should be zealous for God as he is zealous for us. May God ignite in us the zeal of love that burned in the heart of Jesus as he bore his passion.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

The Devil in the details: Lent 2

This Lent, I will be preaching on the theme of finding the Devil in the details of the Sunday gospel readings.

Last week, we heard about how the devil fell from heaven and is a defeated foe, but like a wounded animal, still dangerous. He knows he’s doomed, so all he can do is make as big a mess as possible for us and for God on his way to hell.

The devil’s chief weapon against us is temptation; he even tested Jesus in the wilderness during his forty days of fasting and prayer. St Padre Pio once said, “Remember, the Devil has only one door with which to enter into our soul: our will. There are no secret or hidden doors. No sin is a true sin if we have not willfully consented.”

St Peter reminded us that the devil is always prowling about, looking for opportunity. We must therefore, be sober and be vigilant to resist him.

There once was a couple trying to make it on a very tight budget. The wife came home to her husband after a day of shopping. She had spent way too much on a fancy evening dress. As she showed it too him, she said, “I know I spent too much on this dress, but I tried it on and it just looked so tempting in the mirror.”

The husband said, “Well why didn’t you just say, ‘Get behind me, Satan’?”

She said, “I did! . . . But then the Devil told me how great it looked from the back.”

In today’s gospel, we pick up just after Peter has confessed that Jesus is the Christ. Another evangelist, St Matthew, informs us that it was on this occasion that Jesus blessed him for that statement of faith with a new name (Peter/Rock) and with the gift of authority—the keys of binding and loosing.

Now Jesus starts talking about what lay ahead—suffering and death on a cross, and Peter would have none of it. He rebukes Jesus and Jesus rebukes him. So we have gone from Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ to Jesus’ confession of Peter as Satan in just four verses.

Peter pulls Jesus aside and argues with him . . . “Suffering? Death? I just told you that you’re the Messiah, and you agreed! But that’s not what the Messiah is like.”

It was on old temptation of the devil resurfacing on the lips of Jesus' own apostle--the one he had just called the rock of his Church. The devil hates the cross, because it sealed his fate and God’s victory. A triumphant worldly king of a Messiah is no real threat to the Devil.

But Jesus saw right through it. He knew his path led to the cross at Jerusalem. “Get out of my way, Satan! You are not on the side of God, but of men.” The Amplified Bible reads: “For you do not have a mind intent on promoting what God wills, but what pleases men.”

After this, Jesus called all the disciples together and explained to them that being a disciple means following his lead, not blocking his path. “If anyone would come after me,” Jesus said, “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

How often have you and I gotten in the way of God? How often have we opposed his work, just by speaking our minds? By sharing words of doubt or criticism or even despair?

We can be Satan in a particular circumstance—we can sin, we can being doing the Devil’s work (just like Peter did in that instant), merely by what we say to someone else at a critical moment in their life. It can tempt them or it can bless them.

In formulating her moral theology over the centuries, the Church has found nine ways of being a participant in the sins of another: by counsel, by command, by consent, by provocation, by praise or flattery, by concealment, by partaking, by silence, and by defense of the sin.

To illustrate, (and since it’s that time of year) let’s take the example of cheating on your income taxes.

1. By counsel. “Don’t you know how to avoid an audit? Stop by and I’ll show you.”

2. By command. “You have to do this because we are all in it together.”

3. By consent. “The government does immoral things. We should pay full price.

4. By provocation. “I double dog dare you to do it. Come on, you chicken”

5. By praise or flattery. “Good for you for sticking it to them. Serves ‘em right!”

6. By concealment. “It didn’t see anything. I wouldn’t know anything about it.”

7. By partaking. “Listen, our Treasurer can give us all receipts for huge deductions.”

8. By silence. “It will be our little secret. I won’t tell if you won’t tell.”

9. By defense of the sin committed. “Well everybody’s doing it. They just write it off.”

The Devil loves to get in the way when it comes to doing the right thing, and these are nine ways we become Satan, nine ways we participate in the sin of the Devil. Don’t follow him; don’t let yourself do the Devil’s work. We are called to follow Jesus, to walk the way of a disciple. It’s our duty to avoid sin and foster goodness—both in ourselves and in others.

Stay focused on Jesus; keep him as number one in your life. The more you are focused on yourself, the more you are prone to sin and to unhappiness. The more you are focused on the Lord, the more your path will stay clear of sin and the more happy and humble you will become.

Being a disciple means following his lead, not blocking his path. “If anyone would come after me,” Jesus said, “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

The Devil in the details: Lent 1

This Lent, I will be preaching on the theme of finding the Devil in the details of the Sunday gospel readings. Jesus called him the “Father of lies” (John 8:44) and St John the Divine called him the “Deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9). Our goal will be to become familiar the with ways of “Old Scratch” so that we might be less likely to fall into his traps in the future.

Interestingly, just a few days after I decided to preach on the devil, presidential candidate Rick Santorum was taking heat for talking about the devil a few years ago in a speech to Catholic students at Ave Maria University.

He said, “The Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country—the United States of America. If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age?”

Santorum was right about that. The devil has his sights on any force for good—our nation, the Church, the family, children, your soul—all are under attack. This Lent, let us arm ourselves for the spiritual battle.

The late Pope John Paul II said that “Spiritual combat . . . is a secret and interior art, an invisible struggle in which [we] engage every day against temptations.” (Of course, there’s no struggle if you offer no resistance.)

There is an ongoing battle, a clash of good and evil, and you are the ultimate prize—precious human lives, human souls, creatures God made in his own image.

Just who and what is the devil? The Bible tells us that he is a fallen angel—a being created to serve God, but who chose instead to rebel. He began as Lucifer (“the shining one”), but through pride he became known as Satan (“the Adversary” or “Enemy”).

He enticed about a third of the angels to join him. At the judgment of God, St Michael the Archangel led the host of angels to expel Lucifer and his demons from heaven. Jesus once said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:17).

The Prophet Isaiah wrote, “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the dawn! . . . Didn’t you say to yourself: ‘I will be as high as heaven; I will be more exalted than the stars of God; I will be the supreme leader in the privileged places; I will be higher than the skies; I will be the same as the Most High God’? But you shall be brought down to hell, to the bottomless pit. And all who see you will despise you” (Isaiah 14:12-16).

The devil is a defeated foe, but (like a wounded animal) he is still dangerous. Like the Nazis retreating into the heart of Germany, or the Iraqis retreating from Kuwait, the Prince of Darkness has enacted a “scorched earth policy.” Those armies devastated the land and cities they had once occupied their retreat. They could not win, so did their best to ruin the spoils of the victors.

The Devil seeks to destroy everything that is good, everything which glorifies God. He knows his ultimate destiny; he knows hell was created for him. He just wants to destroy as many lives and take as many with him as he can.

St. Peter tells us in his first letter, “Be sober, be vigilant. Your adversary the Devil prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brethren throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9). This Lent, we will talk about how to resist him, firm in our faith.

Even our Lord himself suffered the assaults of the devil in his ministry. Today’s gospel tells us about the high point of his baptism, and the low point of his desert ordeal—all in the span of two verses.

The other evangelists tell us that the desert was for Jesus a time of spiritual struggle. We know that he was tempted in the wilderness. At his baptism, a voice had proclaimed, “Thou art my beloved Son.”

“Are you really the Son of God?” the Devil whispered. “Is the cross really necessary?” Jesus confronted evil whenever this truth was revealed.

I’ve always found it odd that there are some Christians who do not believe that there is actually a devil. Such a view is unbiblical, of course, but there is a greater problem that arises. If there is no devil, how is Jesus tempted? God tempts no one, as were are told by St James. Jesus is alone; is he tempting himself? Then he would not really be God, nor would he be “my beloved Son,” which is precicely the doubt that Satan was trying to instill.

St Theodore of Mopsuestia points out that Jesus defeated the devil’s temptations, not as God (i.e., by just saying it and it being so), but through his humanity. This was to teach us by example “that it is not through miracles, but by long-suffering and patient endurance that we must prevail over the Devil . . .”

The Devil hates the crucifixion, because that sealed his fate and God’s victory. You see, there is a power that overcomes death, hell, and the grave. That power comes from Jesus Christ—living in you by the Holy Spirit. There is something in your life stronger than temptation and sin. It is the grace of God, poured out in the shed blood of Jesus.

The Devil’s great fear is that after filling the world with sin (and filling your life with sin), God would find a way to take it all away, to undo all the Devil’s work. The Devil was right to be afraid!

We’ll learn more about the Devil’s ways this Lent. Meanwhile, “Be sober, be vigilant!”