Bishop Lopes’ Triduum Homilies

20191117_140316 (1)Jackson Perry, (shown  left of Peter Jesserer Smith at our Toronto conference last November) is a member of the Connecticut ordinariate group.

Jackson called my attention to Bishop Lopes’ Triduum homilies and transcribed them to we could publish them here, subject to the bishop’s permission, which we now have.

You can find the liturgies online at the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter’s YouTube channel.   Here they are.  They are wonderful.  Enjoy.

The picture below is from last year’s Easter Vigil at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Walsingham, taken from the Cathedral’s website.   

easterlight

 

Maundy Thursday

What makes this night different from all other nights? That’s the ritual question with which every Passover supper for the last three millennia has begun. From the Passover celebrated today, and the Passover celebrated at Jesus’s own last supper with his disciples. The youngest asks it of the oldest. And so, we imagine in the tradition that it fell to John the Apostle to ask the question of Peter. What makes this night different from all other nights? It’s a retelling, a ritual retelling of the most important event in the entire history of Israel, woven through the entire history of God’s people. This is the night in which God saved and redeem His people and delivered them from slavery in Egypt. It is, therefore, their foundational experience, and it tells them everything they need to know about who God is, about who they are in God, and therefore their relationship with the world. It all comes down to that night, and the experience of the God who led them out from slavery to freedom.

But in leading them out, that relationship God forged on that night had to be formed, and reformed, again and again. How quickly his people forgot. How quickly they went astray. They had to be, in many ways, stripped down and rebuilt by the Lord Himself. When we read the accounts of Exodus over these three sacred days, this is what we come back to, again and again: That being stripped down to the foundations of faith, and allowing the Lord to rebuild our own faith, is essential in order to live the new and eternal relationship with the Father. Because in Exodus, they had to come to rely on God’s power, not their own. They were utterly powerless and forsaken. In the great revelation of God that they would experience on Mount Sinai, they had to come and embrace His law, not their own, His holiness, certainly not their own.

Even in the gifts of of manna from heaven and quail that they asked for and the Lord gave in their time in the desert with Him, even that was a stripping away and a learning. Exodus is filled with such wonderful detail: no matter how long they gathered that bread from Heaven, or collected the quail that descended upon the camp, they only ever wound up with enough for one day: Total, utter reliance on the providence of God, and not their own ingenuity. The strength of God, and not their cunning, when it came to the hostile nations around them. Forty years, they would wander in the desert, not knowing where they were going, and always seemingly reaching dead ends and starting again. This is the spiritual experience of Israel. This is the Passover. This is what makes this night different than all other nights, because God has stripped it all away and laid it bare in order that He might redeem them, by His power and not theirs, in order that they might rely on His providence, and not theirs. And that hard lesson has been enshrined at the heart of Israel’s faith, and it is at the heart of our celebration this Holy Thursday, what makes this night, different than all other nights.

Now, I’ll admit to you freely that I come to this reflection on Passover and the spirituality of Exodus in a new way and with new eyes, because I’ve experienced something of my own hard lessons from God recently. Since February 21st, when I broke my leg rather dramatically, I’ve had to learn everything again. “And why do you say that?” My experience post break and surgery—oh, it’s a stripping. It is a most profound stripping, in the ways that you would imagine, right? Mobility. I cannot walk, and I will not walk for another month. But more than that, things like independence, self-reliance, self-determination, freedom, privacy—All of those things that you and I take for granted every single day. [Snaps] Gone in an instant. That’s hard. But, as I reflect on how hard it is for me, experiencing this for the first time in my life, I can’t help but think of all of those people, all of our fellow parishioners all of our family and friends who experience this every day of their life: the elderly, the homebound, those who suffer from chronic illness. Those who are in constant pain. It becomes a prison, where everything that they once took for granted is taken away. And in that time, that kind of stripping, religious platitudes will not suffice.

Oh, we can talk about having to learn humility. Fine. And humility is a tremendous virtue, but the path to humility is most often humiliation. That’s the reality. You can talk about docility and tranquility of spirit as the fruits that can grow out of this kind of experience with God, but those wonderful things are washed, bathed by tears.  And all of the other virtues that one would like to see developed in such a circumstance—generosity, charity, gratitude, magnanimity—well, you realize very quickly that these things do not well-up naturally. These are not perhaps the first thoughts of your heart. But these are things that have to be chosen, that have to be willed, that have to be practiced at day in and day out. Illness, infirmity, and pain are as formative an experience as what Israel experiences in the Passover and the Exodus, and it is just as hard. And everything about the illusions that we tell ourselves, about our own “immortality,” our own power, and our own independence are simply blown away like so much smoke. And we realize that, actually, no, we are in the hand of an almighty and merciful God.

When you’re left to the thoughts of your own heart in illness and in pain, uncluttered, and look at them, almost just with that clear-eyed vision, I propose that you don’t often like what you see there. You realize how quickly you are inclined to sin: judgement, impatience, uncharity, unchastity. You do not exactly see in yourself the reflection of the Sacred Heart of Christ. And then, what grace does is it turns the mirror. And, all of a sudden, you begin to see these things—charity, incredible generosity, patience, magnanimity—not in yourself, but in all of the people who come to your aid and come to your assistance. That’s where you see it. The compassion you see in others spurs you somehow to dig a little bit deeper, to, in a word, be better.  To choose virtue: because you owe it to the people who have given so much for you. That, too, is the experience of Exodus. That is also part of the Passover journey. It resembles a sense of seeing the holiness of God reflected, not in yourself first, but in those around you. And, in desiring that, being attracted to that, we begin to build something of our own personal virtue and holiness.

The truth is, all of us, in this rather difficult and extraordinary Lent, have experienced this time of austerity, of stripping away. We’re celebrating Holy Thursday Mass on the Internet—for the love of heaven! This is not how it’s supposed to be. This is not some extra thing that has been taken away from us. This is exactly the essential thing that has been taken away from us: Jesus’ ultimate gift of Himself in the Holy Eucharist, that which He shares at that pivotal moment, to interpret and to sacramentalize what He would assume in the Cross. That is the key to our entire relationship with God, and that is exactly what has been taken from us, for weeks now. And, as the Prophet says, we do not have one among us who will tell us when it will end. That spiritual stripping away, of not something additional or extra, but something seemingly so central, brings us right back to that experience of asking ourselves: who is God, who am I, and what makes sense of my life?

Because what we miss, what has been stripped, is not just the familiar rhythms of worship: not just the music, not just the hymns, not just the comforting words of Scripture. What has been stripped away is not only the fellowship of our family and friends who gather on Sunday, for Mass and breakfast and adult forum and everything else—that wonderful community of faith that we have built, and that we hold so dear, and sustains us. That’s not the only thing that has been pulled away. What has been stripped away is nothing less than the sacramental Food of our salvation. And we are being invited, now, into the desert, into a peering deeply into the mystery of who God is, and how He reveals Himself to us. We’re being invited into a new understanding of communion, and what communion means, and why it’s important. And yes, of course, we might be tempted to ask God, “Why this, why now?” But really, that’s the wrong question. It’s the dumb question that I’ve asked myself every day for the last six and a half weeks. Why did I break my leg? There is no good answer to that question. Because this is not a matter simply of God’s permissive will. This is a matter of His provident will. There is something in this, now, that the entire Church across the world is experiencing; not just us in the Ordinariate, not just us in our individual parishes.

And so, what is it that God is revealing in this desert experience, when even the essentials are taken away from us? We are with Israel in the desert. We are wandering about and not knowing where we’re going. We are going, literally, from day to day, being beset, not by the howling winds, but by the 24-hour news cycle, when everything is coronavirus all day. And we’re asking ourselves, “who is God?” and “where is God?” This is communion! There’s something being built, there’s something being established here that will be—that will be lasting, that will be different, when we finally come out of it. Because we do know that this is not going to go on for 40 years—thank God. Just as I will eventually walk again—thank God. But before we go back to normalcy too quickly and forget all of it, and put it all behind us as quickly as possible, we would do well to be attentive to the formation that the Lord is giving us in this desert, because a formation it is.

You know, when I listen to the doctors and the nurses and the physical therapists and all of those who have been so involved in my care, they say words ‘over you’, like, you know, they say them in front of you to others, so really around you. And sometimes, you’re meant not to hear it exactly, but you do. I hear the phrase, “well, you know, when he learns to walk again.” And, of course, as I watch now the muscles in my legs start to wither away and atrophy, I realize that, yeah, okay: When this thing comes off, and there is weight and there is movement, it’s not going to be one of these things that you pop the boot off and go skipping home merrily. I will have to, literally, learn to walk again.  And that is the image of where the entire Church is right now. Spiritually, theologically, we have been set back, and we will have to learn to walk again with the Lord.

Because there is a road ahead of us. We might not see it clearly now, but we do know this, because we know the God of Exodus, and we know the God of the Passover: that God walks with His people. And it is in the walking with His people, that He reveals Himself to them, that He teaches them who He is. They don’t have to invent Him. He shows them who they are—they don’t have to invent it. That revelation is always that step forward with Him, in Him, so that we come to that better sense of communion. That, my friends, is what makes this night different from all others.

 

Good Friday

I freely admit that silence may indeed be the best response to the reading of the Passion. And yet, we engage this meditation together precisely so that we do not see the story that we have just heard as some sort of distant memory, an exercise of religious nostalgia, but rather as the drama of human salvation—the pivotal moment in not only the history of our species, but of our personal histories as well. This is what it means to be saved, and, in order to enter into that saving act of our Lord, we enter together into this meditation on the Passion.

He was blindfolded by wicked men. He submitted to the plait of thorns. His side was torn open by a lance. He was nailed to rough-hewn wood. The violence of the narrative, though hauntingly  beautiful in chants, the violence is astounding when you listen to the detail. But the violence isn’t the only thing that comes forward, is it? There’s Pilate’s inability to grasp the truth, even though truth itself was standing in front of him. And as the Lord gave Himself up to the mocking and the scourging, to the cross to the gall, to all of the bitter humiliation, the other thing that comes forward is His serenity. He seems to be the only person in the entire narrative of the Passion that isn’t taken off-guard by what is befalling Him.

And yet more: Scripture records not only His serenity, but it records also His prayer. And that’s where I think we start today, the prayer of Jesus in the Passion. According to St. John, He prays from beginning to end that those who are visiting this violence upon Him be forgiven. It’s not enough just to pray for their forgiveness in some sort of generic sense—the Lord goes a step further. He actually makes excuses for those who are doing this to Him: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Those words did not come from Pilate or from the guards or from the chief priests and scribes. It came from the mouth of the Incarnate Word Himself: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

We can unpack that prayer almost mystically, as it has been done in the history of the Church. “Father, forgive them, because they have been taken in by the lies of others. They do not know what they’re doing. They nail Me to the cross because they do not see My glory. In assuming the frailty of human flesh, I have hidden your face from them, so they do not know what they are doing. They’re torn by grief. They have suffered in unimaginable poverty and humiliation and hardship at the hands of a Roman occupation—and so they think I’m going to completely overturn that governmental order and visit that violence upon them again. They do not know what they are doing.” The prayer for forgiveness is a prayer where He continues to make excuses for us.

The entire account of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday is shot through with the prayer for forgiveness. But that’s not entirely surprising, is it? The entire Gospel is shot through with the prayer for forgiveness, with teaching about forgiveness. So much so that, when the disciples ask the Lord, “how should we pray to the Father?” He enshrines that very petition for forgiveness, right in the center of what he teaches them: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” How often you and I pass over those words of the Our Father and that petition for forgiveness. God, who is all good and all merciful, will forgive us freely. We put condition on God. “Forgive us as we forgive.” It is a powerful prayer. It is a Christian prayer. It’s the prayer that can only come as fruit of the Passion.

And if we simply stopped there on Good Friday, that might be enough. It would be enough to contemplate just how much the forgiveness of our sins stands at the center of not only what Christ taught, but in the very gift of Himself on the cross. But, of course, we shouldn’t stop there. You see, it’s a double-sided coin. If the prayer for our forgiveness is at the center of the drama of the Passion, well, that can only mean one thing: that our sin is at the center of the drama of the Passion. We have to be honest about our need for the forgiveness Christ so perfectly pays for.

We have this idea, I think, generically, that sin is bad. We like to gloss over just how bad it is. We have this sense that it leads us to this or that bad action, this or that bad fruit in a relationship. But it’s easy to miss just how pernicious, how truly deadly sin is. Personal sin, the sin that you and I commit, always seems accompanied by that nasty thought, that wicked temptation that is not really that deadly. It’s not really that bad. There’s that wonderful line: “The most successful lie that Satan ever told was to convince people that he doesn’t really exist.” It’s not really that bad.

When we sin against another person, we generally know that we’ve done it. Oh, sure, we may minimize it: “It wasn’t really that bad. It was just a little harmless bit of gossip. It was just a little judge-y or catty comment. It really didn’t hurt that other person so bad.” And in that minimization, especially when our sin against another person comes out of a place of exhaustion or loneliness or hurt or a myriad of other emotions we experience, it’s easy just to kind of set it aside. But if we’re honest in our quiet moments, we generally know that we’ve done it—when we sin against another person.

When we sin with another person—Ah, now you see, that’s a little more hard to discern, because that kind of sinning— well, let’s be honest. It’s exhilarating. It’s pleasurable. And that’s the kind of sinning, sinning with another person, that we also can rationalize. Not by minimizing it, so much as making it appear its opposite: “Oh, this is really good for our relationship. This is going to help us learn intimacy and trust and transparency.” No, actually, it isn’t. It’s sin, and sin wounds and sin hurts and sin demeans and sin destroys, every time, no matter if we say A is B and B is A. It still wounds. There’s a thing that comes out in the Liturgy of the Easter Vigil, tomorrow night. The Church’s preferred title for Satan is “The Father of Lies.”  He must be a really good liar if he can sow into our hearts that rather pernicious thought, that we can wound and endanger not only our own immortal soul, but someone else’s…and call it “love.” Sinning with another person—that’s harder to discern.

And then there’s the sinning that we all do by ourselves, the sinning that we do in the quiet of our own hearts and minds. We go on thinking that “we’re not really hurting anyone,” because we’re not necessarily doing anything, we’re not necessarily saying anything, but if we keep thinking that, then Satan has his day. Because it glosses over the communal nature of sin, that every sin has consequences and, perhaps, especially the ones that we keep bottled up inside. You see, we believe—you will find this eloquently described in the Catechism—we believe that all of human suffering, all the suffering that the world endures, is the consequence of sin.

That is where evil in the world comes from. God didn’t make it, so it has to come from somewhere. Evil arises out of sin. And so, when I choose to participate in sin, even the private ones, I participate in the very evil that afflicts the world and, what’s more, I add to it because I deprive the world of the exercise of my virtue and the witness of my personal holiness. See, it’s not just what you do, it’s what you deprive the world of: virtue and holiness. All of these things, sinning against someone, sinning with someone, sinning by yourself, this is what swirls and animates the drama of the Passion.

And so, on Good Friday, in this liturgy, what do we do? We take the cross and we solemnly unveil it. We have to look at the cross of Christ clearly and to acknowledge that, “I did that. My sin caused that.” And as painful as this clear-eyed look can be, as humiliating as it is to see the consequence of our sin—that, by the way, is what the Final Judgment looks like, to see the consequence of our sin revealed–the cross of Christ and the prayer of Christ in His Passion give us some comfort, because it reveals something.  Not just our sin, but his sovereignty, and God’s love. That was the extent He was willing to go out of love for you and me.

And so, when it comes to forgiving, Christ goes first. He always goes first. That’s the message of the cross. He does it, not because we deserve it, not because we have merited it, but because He is all good. Because He is Love incarnate. Christ’s forgiveness outstrips our meager definitions of what is good and what is just and what is fair.  Because God became Man, and we nailed Him to a tree. And He still loves us. There’s a new standard of love, that is revealed in the cross, a new standard of forgiveness, that is supposed to mark Christ’s disciples, you and me. When we look at Jesus crucified, that is what forgiveness is supposed to look like.

And yes, dear friends, if we take forgiveness seriously, that is also sometimes what it is going to feel like. True forgiveness is not looking at the other person and trying to see the good in them. True forgiveness begins by looking at yourself, by looking at your own sinfulness, your own unattractiveness, your own weakness, your own brokenness, and knowing that Christ loves you and has forgiven you so, you know what, forgiving that other person isn’t so hard after all. That’s what forgiveness is, because Christ gave us everything.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” This on Good Friday must become, in a certain sense, our response. We, all of us today, have the opportunity to pray before the crucifix. Not in the way we would like to on Good Friday, as we are still prevented from worshipping together. But, as we pray before the crucifix today, have in your heart those from whom you need to ask forgiveness. Carry in your heart those whom you still have to forgive. We are bringing them to the cross. Present them before the mystery of God’s love revealed, and leave them there. Walk away a forgiven person. Walk away with the healing that only Christ’s love can bring. Pray for them, pray for yourself, and pray with confidence. Because the cross is not just God’s judgement upon the world, it is the revelation of His love, and the ultimate sign of how we are forgiven.

Holy Saturday

 

We find ourselves, once again, at the Church’s most solemn Vigil, the mother of all Vigils, where we welcome and watch for the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. His resurrection from the dead is so new and an event so unparalleled in the history of the preceding world, that there’s no one word, no one phrase, no one image that could possibly encapsulate it. In fact, it was part of the Church’s tradition for the first millennium that images of the Resurrection were forbidden—because what could possibly capture this singular event?

This Easter Vigil takes up four movements, four facets, if you will, of the gemstone of contemplation, and applies it to the Resurrection of the Lord.  First is the service of fire and light, where we recognize Him as the light that shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.  Then we have the great sweep of the scriptural readings, as we recount seven lessons from the Old Testament and one epistle to lead us deeper and deeper into the mystery. Then there is the Baptismal Liturgy, where we bless water, we renew our baptismal promises: And it is on this night that the Church, for centuries, has welcomed her newest members. And then, of course, the Eucharist, that Easter communion with our Lord who has risen from the dead, as He draws us into his own body and offers us to His own Father.

Usually, in the celebration of the Easter Vigil, it is the sacraments of initiation, Baptism and Confirmation, that seem to get the most attention, because our joy is overwhelmingly with these newest members to the life of the Church. This year, when our celebrations across the Church are again pared back, when they are veiled and have to be transmitted, because we cannot gather together, it gives us an opportunity to consider some of those other facets of the Easter Vigil. We all know the great sweep of those readings which we have heard, the narration of our Salvation History, the narration of the history of God with the human race. Seven readings from the Old Testament, and one Epistle, that build one on top of the other and are unique in their ability to communicate the mirabilia Dei, the great works of God, for us men and for our salvation.

The arc of readings we heard tonight is no mere casual collection or a compendium of past remembrances. Nor is it intended to impart merely some sort of knowledge or understanding or information about God. The history of our salvation passes, if you will, before our eyes, before the eyes of the Church. From Creation to Redemption, from Exodus to Mount Sinai, and to the truth from the Old to the New Testament. And on this night, the great work of God reveals fulfillment, that what has been promised of old in signs and figures has been brought about in Christ, not only for humanity in some general sense, but in our own personal histories as well.

The Church takes these seven Old Testament texts every year, in order to refine her vision, a vision that was crafted over centuries of God’s direct relationship and revelation to this people, so that, together, reflecting on these, we can see what God has been about in order to see better what God is about. And we can trace the dying and rising of Christ in our own bodies. In our own bodies, because Christ is risen from the dead. He is alive. In Him, there is only now the present tense, and His word, which He speaks, pierces more surely than a double-edged sword. The readings, then, bring us into direct contact with Him, and with the promise of eternal life that is at the heart of the Resurrection, and the power that He has, singularly, to save us not only from our sins, but even from death itself.

If you knew no other texts in the Bible heard only these seven readings and this one Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, it would lead you straight into the heart of the Gospel. This is the compendium of all the Scriptures which we have heard tonight. It is the story of God’s promises, now fulfilled in His Son. And so, there is a certain solemnity in the way that the Church preserves and proclaims these readings, especially on this most sacred night. Tonight at the Cathedral, we follow the ancient tradition that the readings themselves were sung in this wonderful rhythm of the Vigil. A chanted reading, a sung response, a spoken prayer asking for some promise prefigured in that reading to be fulfilled. This is not just to give some formality, this is not to just drag it out a little bit longer, since, well, “we have to do something special on Easter Vigil.” But it responds better to the Church’s intuition that these readings must engage the whole person, not just our minds. This is an exercise of the Church’s own poetic manner, a liturgical life that engages the mind and the heart and the soil, so that heart and soul might be fed on the banquet of God’s word.

When we hear a phrase sung, we hear it differently. A chant resounds. Its very voice lingers, if you will, in the echo, particularly in an empty church. And, from ancient times, it was not enough just to read a text, but to proclaim them aloud, even to sing them, to let the word itself play in rhythm and in pitch.  As St. Augustine would say, it plays to the ear of the heart. All of this is because Christian faith, the biblical faith that we profess, is incarnational. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory of the only begotten Son of the Father. We know Him, we recognize Him, and tonight, once again, we hear His voice. In assuming the lowliness of our mortality, Christ exults it to the heavens. In a regal body, He confronts death itself. Through real, tangible things, grace is transmitted to us. The waters of Baptism do really wash away sin and impart the light of God. Bread and wine are really transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of the risen Lord. And ours is also a real participation in His body, the Church. So that, through our real faith, our imperfect hope, and our ever-striving love, the Gospel, the Word, is proclaimed in season and out to new generations, to people who have never heard it, to people who heard it and have forgotten it.

And his loving salvation, that plan for our flourishing and happiness is extended to every generation, through every time, and into every place. Tonight, we keep vigil at the tomb, and welcome the light of the Resurrection which dispels the darkness. He who is risen is a person, not a proposition. And so, we will keep vigil, we wait for a person, to be embraced by Him, so as to embrace Him. To be loved by Him, so as to love Him. To be called by Him, so as to respond. And to be saved by Him because, without Him, sin and death reign. The Resurrection is simply too big, too wonderful, and too new to encapsulate one word, one phrase, one image, one gesture. But, with the poetic memory of the Church, tonight set free, we can trace His rising to our communal and our personal history. This is how He speaks to us. This is how He has always spoken to us. This is how He reveals Himself and calls us into a relationship. So embrace the risen Lord. Trace your finger into the wounds from the Passion. Doubt no longer, but believe. For He who has died for our offenses lives. He is risen, as He said.

 

1 thought on “Bishop Lopes’ Triduum Homilies

  1. Pingback: DIVINE MERCY SVNDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

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