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Saturday, April 12, 2014

And so it begins once again... favorite of year.  Prayer, sacred celebrations with soul-stirring chants and rituals, the dawn of Spring and the excitement of preparing the churches for the festivities make Holy Week the best time of year!  Do not let these days go by lightly but celebrate them passionately with your loved ones.  Live not for yourselves but for Christ who died to set you free. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Seven Last Words

In case you can't listen on the radio  :-)

Reflections on the Seven Last Words of Christ
Father Matthew J. Albright

1. “Father, forgive them, for they not know what they do.”

The compassion of our God is a treasury that knows no limits, an ocean of mercy that cannot be exhausted.  With beautiful analogies, psalm 113 says “…as the heavens tower over the earth, so His mercy towers over those who fear Him.  As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our sins from us.  As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.” 

The final and most profound sermon of Jesus, delivered from the pulpit of the Cross in seven last words, begins with a proclamation of the riches of His mercy.  He looks upon His accusers and executioners, not with anger for their harshness but with compassion for their deep spiritual blindness.  These lawless men have murdered the incarnate Christ.  They know not what they do. 

The merciful gaze of Jesus from the Cross, moved with pity for the wandering souls of His people, falls upon us.  We see Him face to face and He encourages us by the knowledge that He loves us passionately to acknowledge and repent of our sins, and then to turn toward those who have most hurt us to share that same compassion we have received from the Lord.  Consider your sins.  Consider those who have sinned against you.  May the mercy of Jesus descend from the Cross to wash over you. 

2. “Amen, I say to you: today you will be with me in paradise.”

It is the will of God that we surrender ourselves to Him in this life and be united with Him forever in Heaven.  Jesus sees the sincere contrition of the “good thief” who is hanging beside Him on the hill of Calvary.  The man perceives the wickedness of his past sins and the gravity of his impending death and surrenders his life to Jesus, trusting that His kingdom is the place where he will find true peace and joy.  This was a leap of faith at a moment when the man had no other options.  Jesus was his only hope.  Seeing his sincerity, Jesus welcomes the man into paradise.  Because the thief handed everything over to the Lord, he was able to experience the saving power of the Lord’s forgiveness and reconciliation. 

The word “paradise” carries images of the Garden of Eden and returning to the original innocence, unity and love of God’s plan for the first human persons.  However, with the Incarnation of Jesus and the new dimension he brings to our relationship with God, the Heaven for which we long is so much more.  To the restoration of the original harmony of the first humans in “paradise” Jesus adds the blessed opportunity for becoming God’s adopted children.  We will see God face-to-face, as He is, and become like Him.  Jesus came to share in our human nature so that we might come to share in His divine nature.  This is the blessedness to which Jesus invites the thief, and all of us, if we surrender our lives to Him.

3. “Woman, behold your son.  Behold your mother.”

The pain of losing a child to an unjust and horrible death is a feeling we cannot imagine if we have not lived through it ourselves.  On Calvary, Mary sees Jesus, her little boy, torn apart and rejected by the very people He came to save.  As Simeon had foretold, a sword of sorrow pierced Mary’s heart.  Even before Jesus had died, she was in sorrow seeing Him brutally tortured.  Then, Jesus asks her to accept a replacement, her son’s best friend, John, as her caregiver until the end of her earthly life.  There is no replacement for her only child, her first-born son, the pride and joy of her youth, the fruit of her obedience to God.  Mary’s gracious acceptance of the direction Jesus gave to her and to John is a sign of God’s plan still at work.  She accepts John as her son because she always trusts the will of God, even when no human mother could accept another as a replacement for her child.  She says “yes” because this is part of the divine plan.  John took her into his home. 

In John we see ourselves.  Mary is entrusted as “mother” to every one of Jesus’ disciples, who are all beloved in His sight.  As Mary was the vessel through which God took on flesh and entered our world, the surest path for us back to Jesus is through Mary.  Mary, mother of the Lord and mother of the Church, continually intercedes, inspires and guides her loyal subjects here on earth.  Her goal is for all who turn to her to in turn experience union with Jesus.  Invite Mary into your home, into the recesses of your heart and the daily grind of your human experience.  Invite her to walk with you in your journey of faith.  Devote yourself to following her lead.  Ask her to help you say “yes” to God. 

4. “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?”

As a faithful son of a Jewish family, Jesus would have known by heart and prayed the Psalms as a regular part of His upbringing and young adulthood.  These words of doubt and abandonment open psalm 22, which Jesus is praying from His heart, from His memory, as He hangs on the Cross.  The psalms does not remain in the depths of despair but beings the one praying through a journey of self-exploration to end with words of hope and promise.  I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you…For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one…Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.  They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!”

Jesus takes our place, accepts our sins, along with the guilt and punishment we incur, and receives the chastisement that we deserve.  He even experiences the feeling of abandonment we sometimes feel when God seems far away, as if He is not answering our prayers and is not interested in us.  In His humanity, He cries out, as we so often do, “why is this happening, why has God abandoned me to this suffering?” 

Still, in His divinity, Jesus hangs on to the end of the psalm, the end of the story of God’s plan for Him, consummating the loving union between God and His people out of His great love for us.  In Christ is our hope, for He agonized in His death so that He might soon again rise to glory.  When you begin to feel abandoned and to doubt and question even God’s love, hang on strong with the power of Jesus and remember that He is always with you, He never despises you and future generations will continue to praise His goodness. 

5. “I am thirsty.”

Psalm 69 is one of the Old Testament texts in which we can see a prefiguring of Christ.  It reads “Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none.  They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.”  As Jesus cries out, expresses His thirsting, He is given sour wine, or vinegar, to drink. 

In fulfilling the words of the Old Testament, Jesus reveals two dimensions of “thirsting” that He is experiencing.  In His humanity, the pain of scourging and crucifixion, of falling while being drug through the streets under the weight of the Cross, of the nails and the labored breathing – all this has made His throat dry and parched.  He longs for a drink of cold water. 

Underneath the human thirst of Jesus is His supernatural thirst for the faith and love of His beloved people.  He cries out for companions on the journey and finds none.  When Jesus encounters the woman at the well, He asks for a drink but has no bucket.  He is thirsting for the woman’s soul – for her to open herself up to Him so He can give her the living water of His love that will cleanse her, free her and make her a fountain of grace for others.  

That thirsting of the Lord for the holiness of His people reaches its climax on Calvary.  As the High Priest ascends the Altar of the Cross to offer the perfect sacrifice of Himself, the Victim provided by the Father, He thirsts with agony for the souls of mankind to be united to Him in total trust and unending love.  Nearly everyone has abandoned Him.  The thirst of Jesus is unquenched until we surrender ourselves to Him.  Jesus wants you, your love, your total gift of self.

6. “It is finished.”

It is a cry of relief and a cry of victory.  The Lord has conquered sin and death.  Jesus told Pilate “For this I was born and for this I came into the world: to testify to the truth.”  Jesus emptied Himself of equality with God in order to take on the likeness of human flesh, as Saint Paul says in Philippians.  He further humbles Himself in accepting death on the Cross.  Jesus is the suffering servant whose life and death testify to the truth of God’s passionate love for His people and to the truth of what it means to be a disciple of Christ: loving others as Christ loved us. 

This mission of the Lord, which bought the power of God’s love into our world and took mankind’s relationship with God to a profoundly deeper level, reaches its fulfillment on the Cross.  As priest and victim, Jesus offers Himself on the Altar of the Cross.  He pours out His blood, mingled with water, giving birth to the sacramental life of the Church from His pierced Sacred Heart.  God’s power is perfected in suffering.  The mission of uniting Himself to humanity in order to open the path for our union with God is fulfilled in this epic act of self-emptying.

Gazing upon Christ hung on the Cross, we see what Jesus means by loving others as He loves us.  We are destined by Baptism to lay down our lives for others in acts of self-sacrifice until our life of discipleship is consummated in union with God in eternal life. 

7. “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

At the final moment of His passion, Jesus hands everything over to the Father who sent Him into the world to accomplish the work of our salvation.  This is the culmination of the mysteries of the Lord’s life – a return of all His love and His whole self to the Father of all creation.

In the end, this is the fundamental attitude of the Christian discipleship – surrender to the Father’s will.  In the morning offering, we offer all the joys, works and sufferings of the day to God.  In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray “Thy will be done.”  In the Magnificat at evening prayer, we pray “My soul magnifies the Lord” and recall the words of Mary “Let is be done to me according to your word.”  In night prayer, the Church prays “In to your hands, I commend my spirit.” 

Each day is a new opportunity for us to abandon our own wills and seek to do the will of God, whose plan for our lives is the true path to happiness and salvation.  Each morning we have a fresh beginning in which commend our wills into the Father’s hands.  Each night, we go to sleep commending our souls to Him.  As disciples of Jesus, our whole lives are a gift from God, a gift we return to Him with thanksgiving and praise.  In these final words of the human life of Jesus, he abandons Himself to the Father.  The rest of Holy Saturday leads to the triumph of Easter Sunday.  Trust in the Lord, live for Him, and see what victories tomorrow brings! 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Seven Last Words of Christ - Reflections by Father Albright

Listen during Holy Week on Living Bread Radio AM 1060 WILB Canton and 89.5 WILB Boardman/Youngstown.
Catholic Radio.  The Truth for NE Ohio.
Congratulations WILB on 10 years of broadcasting!

Come out from sin to mercy, from death to life in Christ! Homily Fifth Sunday of Lent 2014 Year A


Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Charity - personal and "institutional" / Bulletin Column April 6, 2014

Dear Brethren in Christ,


Recently, a question was raised about the work of Catholic Charities in the Church and our support of it through the Bishop’s Appeal.  The specific objection was to the “institutionalization of charity.”  It was argued that we Christians are called to personally volunteer ourselves to directly help those in need, seeing in them the face of Christ, and not to give money to an agency to do the works of charity for us.  Scripture calls us to love like Christ.  To give to an agency like Catholic Charities, in this line of thought, is an abdication of our Christian responsibility which will not merit us anything from God.  I hope and expect that all of us do our best to meet the needs of people who cross our path.  But there is more to the work of charity in the Church. 


The parable of the Good Samaritan is the story of a traveler coming personally to the aid of a bleeding, beaten and abandoned man on the side of the road.  His first instinct is to love as Jesus loves, without counting the cost.  Yet, when his time, talent and treasure are exhausted and the man still needs more help, the Samaritan entrusts him to the care of an innkeeper.  At the inn, the man is nursed back to health by others, whom the Samaritan pays to care for him.  He even promises to give more in his return trip. He is called “good” both for his charity and for his creative insight in recognizing who could better help the man in the long term. 


So it is with the charitable work of the Church.  There is no doubt that there are many people whose needs outweigh our individual ability to help – sometimes financial, medical and psychological needs that we ourselves cannot meet.  In January alone, over 600 people came to Ashtabula County Catholic Charities for emergency assistance.  As the Church established by Christ and as His family of disciples, we are obliged to help those in need.  Sometimes, this means giving our coins to those with the skills and resources that can help improve another’s life.  You entrust me as your pastor with the donations given to the Vincentian Fund and I help people who come to the rectory with food, gas, utilities, clothes and occasionally rent.  When I encounter a person whose needs outweigh the ability of the parish to support them, I refer them to Catholic Charities.  As a pastor and board member, I trust that they will find the help they truly need there. 


Similarly, we trust the bishop to use wisely the funds given to the Bishop’s Appeal and we trust the good people who work at Catholic Charities, “the Bishop’s administrative arm for charity,” as it is described in diocesan policy.  Catholic Charities is a ministry of the bishop and not a government agency.  When a person receives assistance from Catholic Charities, they also meet with a case worker, who helps them plan a strategy for making better life choices.  It’s about more than a hand out.  The Church helps people to be strong and healthy men and women.  Without the “institutionalized” charitable works of the Church – orphanages, hospitals, clinics, shelters, agencies, etc. – the poor would be left without someone to help them in a way that recognizes their dignity along with offering assistance. 


Thank you for your support of the Bishop’s Appeal, the primary finding source of Catholic Charities in our diocese.  Love is the core of our discipleship – both in heartfelt sharing of our blessings and in obedience to the precept of the Church to financially support the work of the Church – she who is the hands and feet of Jesus to those most in need. 


God bless you!


Fr. Matthew

Saturday, March 29, 2014

To Jesus through Mary

Just finished renewal of consecration to Mary with Fr Michael Gaitley s 33 DAYS TO MORNING GLORY. Highly recommend it for deepening your intimate relationship with Mary and Jesus. Pray for success of consecration for priests. Pray the Lord guides my writing and editing.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Deadly sins

In the readings from yesterday and today we hear about the destructive effects of deadly sins: greed envy jealousy anger sloth. The brothers of Joseph are envious because he is the child of their fathers old age and their father loves him in a special way. They forget the blessings they received from God and from their father in their own childhood and as grown men they are jealous of their little brother. Their jealousy grows so strong that they hate him and they are willing to kill him and they sell him into slavery. They hate him so much they will not even greet him. The vineyard workers in yesterday's gospel are lazy and do not want to provide the fruit for their master and they are greedy and they want all the produce for themselves. The Pharisees in today's reading are angry and jealous because Jesus spends time with the tax collectors and sinners. The older brother in today's Gospel is angry and jealous because his father is kind to his sinful little brother when he comes home having wasted his inheritance. It all of these cases hardened hearts prevent these individuals from seeing and appreciating the blessings of God in their lives and in the lives of others. Their anger envy jealousy and greed harden their hearts and turn them away from God and others and inward to themselves. When in our families our schools our workplaces and our parishes we allow deadly sins to corrupt we are hardened in our hearts and we are separated from God. These deadly sins become wounds in our souls that the Evil One uses to further destroy us. In this Lenten season we need to purify our hearts of these deadly sins by looking outward two others needs and upward with gratitude for all God has given us. We need to stop comparing and being angry at what others have that we do not because when we do that we show tremendous ingratitude for the goodness of God and the lack of appreciation for His divine providence.

Father Albright on the radio in April

Listen to Wineskins Sunday mornings on AM 570 WKBN Youngstown OH. Father Albright will be offering reflections for the Sundays of April.