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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Peter returns to the Cenacle

Seven weeks ago, we entered into the Paschal Triduum with the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper, wherein Christ instituted both the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Holy Orders in the Upper Room, also known as the Cenacle.

On the eve of His Passion, Jesus directed two of the Apostles (Peter presumably being one of them), to go and prepare the Upper Room for the Passover Supper.  In a sense, one could say that Christ was sending his liturgical ministers ahead of him to ready the Cenacle for the first liturgy of the New Covenant.  Peter and his companion follow the prescriptions of the law in their preparations because the Passover Supper is one of Ancient Israel's most sacred liturgical acts.

As the Apostles take their seats, they anticipate that the Passover ritual will be as it had been ever since the time of Moses; however, Jesus, as the new Moses, establishes a new ritual, a new covenant.  Instead of eating the roasted flesh of a pure, spotless lamb, the true Lamb presides over the fulfillment of the Passover meal.  The ritual that the Lord had commanded Ancient Israel to follow is now fully actualized in the actions of His only Begotten Son.  The ancient form is now supplanted by its true fulfillment.  The Lamb, Himself, is offering His own Body and Blood.

During Pope Francis' recent visit to the Holy Land, one can say that Peter, in the person of the Supreme Pontiff, has returned to the place where it all began.  He has returned to offer the same Sacrifice that Christ offered so long ago.  This occasion was certainly not lost on the Holy Father, who, in his homily, noted that:

The Upper Room reminds us, through the Eucharist, of sacrifice. In every Eucharistic celebration Jesus offers himself for us to the Father, so that we too can be united with him, offering to God our lives, our work, our joys and our sorrows… offering everything as a spiritual sacrifice.

While he devoted the bulk of his homily to the fact that the Holy Spirit, rushed into the Upper Room on that first Pentecost Sunday, I believe that the offering of that First Eucharist really drives at the heart of the Church.  Jesus shared one final Eucharist with the 11 before His Ascension.  St. Luke makes that observation in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles when he writes that:

And eating together with them, he commanded them, that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but should wait for the promise of the Father, which you have heard (saith he) by my mouth.

Other than the account of the Last Supper, the only other time that St. Luke records Jesus "eating" with his Apostles is when he begins the supper at Emmaus.  Once he breaks the bread, he disappears from the sight of Cleopas and the other disciple.  With this final "meal", this final Eucharist, Jesus wanted to remind the surviving 11 that this was how he would remain with them until his return.

After the Ascension, when the 11 return to the Upper Room, it would seem to me that St. Peter, himself, would preside over the Eucharist and lead the 11 and the Blessed Virgin Mary in prayer throughout the course of nine days as they awaited for the Paraclete to come.  Nourished by Our Lord, they would be ready to receive the Holy Spirit and boldly go forth and evangelize, as Christ had commanded them to do so.

For me, Pope Francis' celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the very place where it all began was the most significant moment of his trip to the Holy Land.  Peter had returned to the Church's roots.  As Pope Francis said in the beginning of his homily, the Church "preserves the memory of what happened here."  However, she does more than preserve that memory.  At every Mass, she returns to that precise moment.  She returns to the heart of the Paschal Mystery.

According to long-standing tradition, King David is buried beneath the Upper Room.  There is deep significance to this.  In his psalms, David predicted the sufferings of the Messiah, the very sufferings that Jesus anticipated in his Eucharistic Sacrifice on Holy Thursday.  Little did David know that the descendent that the Lord had promised him, sprung from his own loins, would offer himself as a holocaust for our salvation over the very spot were the beloved Old Testament king was buried. Little did David know that directly over his grave would stand His own Lord, who would rule over his kingdom forever.

At every Mass, we return to the Upper Room.  We become just as present at the Eucharistic Sacrifice as the Apostles were.  Pope Francis tells us that "All the saints drew from this source; and hence the great river of the Church’s holiness continues to flow: from the Heart of Christ, from the Eucharist and from the Holy Spirit."

For Peter, in the person of Pope Francis, it was the moment of returning, rediscovering and rejoicing. May it be the same for all of us at every Mass.

The Elevation of Woman

On May 31st,  the Church celebrated the Memorial of the visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her kinswoman Elizabeth.  

This feast is rich in meaning.  It reminds us that Mary is the true Ark of the Covenant, as her journey from Nazareth calls to mind the journey of the Ark from the northern part of Israel to the land of Judah.  Tiny St. John the Baptist leaps for joy, much as David did, when the true Presence of God stood before him.  

St. John Paul II would use this feast to release an annual letter to women.  I think that Benedict XVI maintained the practice; however, I do not know if Pope Francis has continued it.  Nonetheless, it has been Francis' actions that have borne solid witness to the authentic role of women in the Church.

Much has been written about the ongoing, almost soap opera-like saga of the members of the Leadership Council of Women Religious (LCWR).  Their words and actions seem to me to be in imitation of the first Eve, seeking to snatch power and engaging in a prideful claim that they know more than the Magisterium.  Gerhard Cardinal Muller rightly corrected them, even apologizing for his use of strong language.  When the members of the LCWR were seeking support from Pope Francis, they found none.  He had confirmed the warnings and admonishments that Muller had given them.

While I do admit to struggling with Pope Francis' definition of humility, I do think that he is on to something, especially where it concerns the LCWR and women, in general.  Christ founded the Church, His Bride.  Just as a bride submits to her husband, so, too, does the Church, the Bride, submit to her Divine Spouse, Christ.  This submission is not something evil or masochist; it is a submission done in love.  Christ submitted Himself to us and we nailed Him to the cross by our sinful actions.  Nonetheless, He bathed the Church with His own blood and cleansed her wounds. Our actions, as evil as they are, do not diminish His love for us; however, they run the risk of diminishing our love for Him.

The LCWR is no different than the women who advocate priestly ordination for themselves.  They fail to recognize the unique and holy position that Christ and the Church have for them.  They cannot get past the pride of the first Eve and they wind up rejecting the holiness and humility of the New Eve.  When the Blessed Virgin Mary prays the Magnificat, she is not praising herself.  From the very beginning, Mary acknowledged her role as the "handmaid of the Lord" and renders her Fiat to God.  She who holds the highest honor that God could ever bestow upon a woman, being both His Mother and His first disciple, receives her divine Motherhood with the greatest of humility, awe and reverence.

Jesus also bestowed an honor to another woman, St. Mary Magdalene, by permitting her to be the Apostle to the Apostles.  He entrusts her to impart the glorious news of His resurrection to St. Peter and the surviving 11 Apostles.  As the messenger, she does not overshadow the message, but, passes it on in humble obedience to the Lord.  The holy and faithful women who have shed their blood for Christ and His Church did not make the ultimate sacrifice of martyrdom to bring about glory for themselves, nor did they seek after something that was not theirs.  St. Agnes told her suitor that she was betrothed to Christ.  She and her sister martyrs chose to unite themselves to Christ, preferring Him to any other earthly power or enticement.

The Feast of the Visitation reminds us where our priorities should be, whether we are male or female.  It means that Christ comes first in our lives.  It means that we are all called to be Christ-bearers to the world.  It means that, like the tiny St. John the Baptist, we are to be joyful messengers.  We do not snatch and claw at divinity and demand things of Christ and of the Church that are not ours; rather, like the Virgin Mary and like St. Elizabeth, we receive with humble joy the greatest gift that God has for us, Himself.

It is sad that many of the LCWR members have chosen to move "beyond the Church and beyond Jesus".  It is just as disheartening that those women who demand ordination cannot see the dignity and beauty of their station as daughters of the Church.  May they, through the intercession of the Blessed Mother, St. Elizabeth, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Agnes and all holy women, learn to accept the beauty that exists as a woman in the Church.