Today is Palm Sunday, the day we commemorate Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. Not on a stallion draped in gold like the rest of the kings, no, on a donkey in a simple cloth. The beginning of his passion and final week on earth. As we prepare to walk the way of Golgotha with our Lord, and deepen our own spiritual journey and prayer life, here are some of the digital Holy Week events happening here at Saint John Paul II Parish.
Monday through Wednesday, Father Sean will continue to celebrate Daily Mass privately and they will be taped and uploaded to our YouTube channel. On Tuesday, we will also be uploading a new “At Home Religion Lesson” featuring the Trinidum.
Holy Thursday will begin with a 9:00 AM Facebook live of Morning Prayer. Followed by a 3:00 PM livestream of the Holy Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet. Later that evening, Fr. Sean will privately celebrate the Mass and it will be taped and uploaded to YouTube.
Good Friday will start with a 9:00 AM Facebook live of the Stations of the Cross followed by a taped edition of Passion and Tenebrae.
Holy Saturday will begin with a 9:00 AM Facebook live of morning prayer followed by a pre-recorded Easter basket blessing going live at 1:00 PM. The Easter vigil will be celebrated privately by Fr. Sean, taped, and uploaded to our YouTube channel.
Finally, Easter Sunday Mass will be taped and uploaded to our YouTube channel and later that evening we will debut a new series where we answer Catholic questions on Reddit.
We hope you can join us and allow us to help you with your desert experience.
Today begins the celebration of our Lord's Paschal Mystery: his Passion and Resurrection.
One thing to consider as we celebrate "Palm Sunday". One thousand years before Jesus was born, the Israelites were in the bondage of slavery in Egypt. They had been there for 400 years.
God sent Moses, the Deliverer, to free the people from the bondage of slavery. You know the story; God performed the first 9 plagues to convince Pharaoh to free His people, but Pharaoh's heart was hardened. So God initiated the 10th plague, the death of all firstborn, and initiated the Passover of the Lord to protect the Israelites using the blood of a spotless male lamb. The people were to procure their lamb on a very specific day, and tie it up outside their homes for 5 days.
Today is the day that commemorates "Lamb Selection Day" of the Passover week; 5 days before the lamb was to be slaughtered. On this day 2000 years ago, the Jewish people knew that Jesus, the Lamb of God, was approaching the city of Jerusalem. They ran out to greet him, and welcomed him with Palm Branches, a Jewish symbol of freedom equivalent to our stars and stripes! They CHOSE THE LAMB OF GOD ON LAMB SELECTION DAY! They believed that Jesus was to be a military leader who would free them from the tyranny of the Romans. But, as we know, Jesus, the true Deliverer, wanted to free them, and us, from much more than that!
Throughout the coming week we will unfold the Passover story to show how everything Jesus did fulfilled the Passover, and gave us the New Passover; The Mass!
The readings of the day are listed below. Please read today's readings and spend time reflecting on them.
In Christ's Peace....
Matthew 21:1-11 (gospel read before congregation processes with palms)
Isaiah 50:4-7 - Prophecy uttered 500 years before Christ, fulfilled by Jesus during his passion
Psalm 22: Jesus recited this Psalm on the Cross; read the entire Psalm and note that it ends with a hymn of praise!
Philippians 2:6-11: Believed by scholars to be an early Christian Hymn used by Paul; describing how Jesus 'emptied himself' for us
Matthew Chapter 26:14 through Chapter 27:66
One of my daily devotionals reminded me of a very important passage in scripture...a passage that we should all commit to memory:
"Therefore, we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal" 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
I challenge you to memorize and recite this passage, especially the highlighted portion. Let's remember that our lives here on earth are transitory. We know this from birth, and we should prepare throughout our life for our ultimate destiny, which is eternal life with our God in heaven.
When we commit ourselves to living with this necessary eternal perspective, we realize what's truly important in this world. During this time of drastic change in our everyday lives, an eternal perspective is the most necessary thing, even more important than toilet paper! When we spend time with God, and develop that eternal perspective, we will have peace that the world cannot give, even in the midst of struggles.
God is seeking intimate time with you. Are you making time to be quiet and spend time with Him? Our fast and noisy lives have been interrupted. Yes, we find projects to keep ourselves busy. But now, like never before, we have the opportunity to choose ways to spend with God, and allow Him to speak to our hearts. He's waiting for you....
Today's gospel reading from John:11:45-56 begins to set the stage for Holy Week by introducing the message that "The Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem. They looked for Jesus, and said to one another, "Will he come to the feast?"
During this upcoming Holy Week, let's commit ourselves to reading the daily readings and making time to sit in God's presence and listen to Him.
"Be still, and know that I Am God!" (Psalm 46:10)
In Christ's Peace....
Today's Readings; Look Them Up!
Our first reading today looks at the prophet Jeremiah, a faithful prophet of God speaking to the people about God's truth. But they don't want to hear that truth, so they make plans to persecute him and eliminate him. Why do we read about Jeremiah today as we approach Holy Week? The persecution and 'terror' that Jeremiah is experiencing is a foreshadowing of the more extreme terror that Jesus will go through. Jesus suffered that terror, and so much more, as he gave himself over to crucifixion for us.
But a very interesting part of the reading shows us that, in the midst of the persecution, Jeremiah says this, "But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion; my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph. Sing to the Lord! Praise the Lord! For he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!"
Jeremiah shows us that, even in the midst of trials, we should still Praise God!
Even in the midst of this trying time in our lives, we should still be Praising our God. We can trust our God, no matter what! If we live in trust, and not in fear, others will notice, and we will strengthen their trust too.
So sing songs of Praise to God today. Lift up your heart, and your voice, praising the God who has already won the victory over sin and death. and try not to fear....because our God is Sovereign over all uncertainty.
In Christ's Peace.....
Today's Readings: Look Them Up!
First Reading: Genesis 17:3-9
Gospel: John 8:51-59
In today's Old Testament reading, God has made a covenant with Abram. Covenants are different from contracts. Contracts reflect an exchange of goods or services. Covenants make families! So in making a covenant with Abram, God and Abram became family. God's part in the covenant was 1) to give Abram and his descendants the gift of the land of Canaan, which became Israel, 2) to give Abram many descendants, 3) and to bless all nations of the world through Abram and his descendants. The covenant promise of Abram and his descendants was to keep the covenant with God and never worship any other god.
Notice that while making the covenant with Abram, God changed Abram's name to Abraham. The name Abram means 'father'. The name Abraham means 'father of a multitude'. By having a family relationship with God, God changed Abraham's name, and God changed Abraham's essence. Abraham was now part of God's family.
Covenants in the Old Testament were a foreshadowing of Sacraments. Just like a Covenant made people part of God's family and changed their essence, Sacraments do the same. Each Sacrament that we receive brings us closer into relationship with God, and makes us even more a part of His family. At Confirmation, we chose a name that reflects our 'essence'. What is your Confirmation name? How did you choose it?
Here's something to do..... look up the Saint who's name you chose at Confirmation, and reflect on who that holy person is and what their essence is.
May God strengthen your essence today, and may you constantly be aware of God's presence in your life.
In Christ's Peace...
Today's Readings; Look them Up!
Daniel 3:14-20, 91-92, 95
Today's Psalm Response: Daniel 3:52-56
Today's Gospel: John 8:31-42
Today's Old Testament reading from the Hebrw Scriptures, is from the Book of Daniel. This book contains stories about the trials and triumphs of the wise Daniel and his 3 companions who were young Jewish men in captivity in Babylon following the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.
Because the young men refused to worship the king's idol, the king ordered that they be thrown into the red hot furnace. They responded to this death sentence by telling the king that they were certain their God was capable of saving them from death, but even if He didn't, they would still trust their God and serve only Him. They were willing to perish rather than turn their backs on God.
As the story unfolds, the king sees that God came to preserve their lives in the firey furnace, and the king praises the God of these 3 young men, recognizing that they trusted in the face of extreme danger.
This is a great lesson for all of us! When we exhibit trust in our God, others notice. When they see our trust, that trust becomes contagious, and they want what we have.
How are you exhibiting trust during these uncertain times? Who is witnessing that trust?
In Christ's Peace....
While preparing for Mass on any given weekend, I can be found whistling “Jerusalem my destiny” or complaining to our music ministry how we don’t play it enough. After countless hours listening to it on repeat it finally really hit me during this pandemic. The chorus of the song says “Though I cannot see the end for me, I cannot turn away. We have set our hearts for the way; this journey is our destiny. Let no one walk alone. The journey makes us one.”
In John 14:3, Jesus says “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” I love this line, it gives me a lot of hope for living. Jesus, our Lord has prepared a place for us and he will take us there. This place, also known as the new Jerusalem, is all of our destiny. We don’t know when Jesus will come back for us and when this will end but I cannot turn away, it’s a light at the end of the tunnel that we work to reach. Through the sacraments, prayer, and works of mercy, we open our hearts to allow Jesus in so he prepares them for this journey.
We are all here to fulfill our destiny of returning home to the father. To be in our place prepared for us. Just as this Sunday we will celebrate Jesus entering Jerusalem, the last leg of his journey to fulfill his destiny, so do we prepare our hearts to continue on our journey to our Jerusalem.
The uncertainty of these times and our health can deter us from our destiny and this journey, even if we don’t know it. The author of Revelation leaves us with this account “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Revelation 21:2)
Keep the faith, love endlessly, remember this desert experience, this journey is bringing us closer as brothers and sisters and we need to lift each other up if we fall off the path.
Today's Readings: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 102; John 8:21-30
Today's Old Testament Reading from the Hebrew Scriptures recounts another episode about the Israelites in the desert during their time of wandering and learning to trust God. In this episode, the people grumble against God and against Moses. They complained, "Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!"
Wait a minute! Hadn't God freed these people from the bondage of slavery in Egypt? Hadn't God created miracles to overpower all of the gods of Egypt; turning the Nile River to blood, making the sun god, Ra, go dark for 3 days, killing all the animals that belonged to the Egyptians which represented other gods, and eventually killing the first-born of all the Egyptians, including the son of the most powerful Egyptian god, Pharaoh? How could these same people grumble and complain to God after all that? And what about that food that God provided in the desert - Manna- supernatural bread from heaven! We would never complain like these people.....right??
Ever since Jesus came and gave us the Mass, the Supernatural Bread From Heaven has returned, and is present and available to us in the form of the Eucharist at every Mass. Have we ever complained about what God asks of us? Have we ever complained about attending Mass? Have we ever taken the Eucharist for granted??
During these times when we are not able to attend Mass and receive the Eucharist, we might be missing it, and recognizing how important it is in new ways. Even others who may not attend and receive often may be wishing they could gather with their Catholic family to worship together and receive the Eucharist.
Perhaps God will use this time to help us gain a deeper appreciation for the Eucharist....
Let's pray about it.....
In Christ's Peace!
Today's Readings: Daniel 13 ; Psalm 23; John 8:1-11 (Look Them Up!)
Today's Old Testament Reading and Gospel Reading tell similar stories. They are both easy reads, so please look them up.
Daniel chapter 13 tells a story about a good and virtuous woman, Susanna, who was married to Joakim. Two men, elders of the city, lusted for her. God's sacred word says that "they suppressed their consciences and would not allow their eyes to look to heaven...".
Has there ever been a time in our own lives when we knew that an action, or an attitude, was wrong, so we avoided looking at God so we wouldn't feel convicted?
These men trapped her alone in her husband's garden one day in order to take advantage of her. She cried out against them, and when help arrived, the two men testified that they caught her committing adultery in the garden with a young man who got away. Since both of the men testified against her, she was sentenced to death, which was the required punishment for adultery. "Through tears Susanna looked up to heaven, for she trusted in the Lord wholeheartedly." Susanna cried aloud: "O eternal God, you know what is hidden and are aware of all things before they come to be. You know that they have testified falsely against me." "The Lord heard her prayer, and God stirred up the holy spirit of a young boy named Daniel."
Stirred by the holy spirit, Daniel used an intelligent method to thwart the plot of the two evil men, and Susanna's life, and integrity were spared. I hope you'll open your bible and read the entire story.
This is a wonderful example of someone who trusted her life to God in the midst of evil.
In the midst of what seemed to be an impossible situation, Susanna gave everything over to God, and God defended her.
Right now, our world, and our lives seem to be handed over to an impossible situation with a virus that can't be seen, and has changed our lives. Let's use this time as an opportunity to do what Susanna did.... give Everything over to God. God is in control, not us.
Our gospel reading today is a familiar story about a woman who was caught in the act of adultery, and brought to Jesus by a group of men who wanted to test him. You know the story! Jesus challenges the men who are condemning her "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." A little at a time they all walked away! Jesus did not condemn this woman, and Jesus doesn't condemn us! He loves us into repentance and right actions.
What does Jesus expect of this woman.... and of us? "Go, and from now on do not sin any more."
Fourteen days ago volunteers, including a number of St JP2 parishioners and I, completed a weekend retreat with about 42 incarcerated men at Collins correctional prison. Collins Christian Ministry (CCM) is a ecumenical prison ministry where we meet with the inmates and have a long weekend retreat of fellowship, learning, and growing closer to God through Piety, Study, and Action. After the weekend a number of the volunteers spend a couple hours each Friday to reinforce what the participants learned during the weekend and how they are incorporating it into their lives as they continue their faith journey. The volunteers are richly blessed as they witness God's healing first hand and they usually get much more out of it than they put into it.
The volunteers were supported by many prayers and an additional 14 incarcerated stewards who had participated in past CCM retreats and wanted to share their journey towards Christ with the new participants.
The volunteers have been planning for months and entered the prison Thursday late afternoon until early Sunday evening, only leaving to get a few hours of sleep each night.
When we went in Thursday night the world was normal, Sunday night we emerged to a whole different world.
The lock-down of New York State had begun. The seclusion and confinement those inside the prison suffer everyday had begun outside the prison. We all have now been given a little taste of what those incarcerated feel -- the lack of toilet paper which we would have laughed off a few weeks ago has become reality. Keeping distance from others in the prison to stay safe, had materialized on the outside where we keep our distance from others to stay safe. And many of us are confined alone and cannot visit or be visited by the ones we love. yes, we are getting a small taste of what our brothers and sisters who are in the prison system deal with for months, years, decades, and maybe for a lifetime.
But just as we can find Christ in our freedoms, we can find Christ in lack of Freedom. we can find God's creative hand in the many small gifts He provides us everyday.
It's only been 14 days, but in those few days I've seen the last of our snow piles melt away, and it seems each day a new wildflower or perennial planted long ago begins to bloom.
I feel God's hand in those who have reached out to me or accepted calls or emails from me as I reach out. I see Jesus' love and presence in the passing stranger who smiles and says hi - even from across the self imposed chasm that currently separates us. And I see Jesus in the strangers at BJ's who shared one of their two packs of toilet paper with us... yep it's the little things that keep us connected and there encounter Christ.
Rejoice in hope, persevere in trial, pray always.
Pelagius commentary on Romans: "Bear everything for the sake of the joy of the hope to come."