Passion Sunday – An Opportunity to Share in Jesus’ Passion


Passion (Palm) Sunday is one of the most powerful liturgies the Church offers to the the faithful.  We begin with Jesus’ triumphant arrival in Jerusalem through the East Gate on the foal of a donkey.  This is prophesied by Ezekiel (chapter 43) and Zechariah (Chapter 9).  The Responsorial Psalm asks the question “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”  Saint Paul teaches us that Jesus’ love for humanity and his obedience to the point of death are core to our understanding of who this Jesus is?  Finally there is the powerful passion narrative, this year focused on Mark’s Gospel which tells the story that will unfold during our observance this week prior to Easter.

In this reflection I would like to examine the actions of the woman who anointed Jesus in comparison to the complaints of the disciples.  As a lay ecclesial minister, a husband and a step parent I really am drawn to the Passion narrative and the Responsorial Psalm.  Think about your ministry when I share some of my disappointments below:

  • Have you ever planned what you thought was going to be a wonderful in-service, lesson plan or retreat only to have those who participated respond that it didn’t meet their expectations?
  • Have you planned a wonderful formation event for the parish only to have a small turnout when you were expecting a large crowd?
  • Have you had to explain to the Finance Council or the School Board the reasons the parish should continue to support comprehensive youth ministry when it seems they are more concerned about numbers than trying to grow discipleship in youth?
  • Has a sporting event or competitive dance ever trumped your 1st Eucharist learning stations or the Confirmation Retreat?
  • I can only imagine the disappointment that our pastors experience when people do not show up for Sunday Eucharist or the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
  • Parents who try to raise their children in the faith but have many challenges, especially those whose marriages have been broken and the ex-spouse refuses to cooperate.

It is during these times that I think of the Responsorial Psalm that we sang today, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”  We try so hard to share God’s love by teaching and witnessing to the Catholic faith and yet it seems it is one step forward and two steps back.  “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

But we can’t allow ourselves to stay rooted in this responsorial.  Psalm 22 may begin by questioning where God is in the midst of our suffering but it ends with the psalmist praising God and becoming a witness to the entire community.  This is also where I am reminded annually that the woman who anoints Jesus with expensive oil is remembered throughout history: her compassion for Jesus, her recognizing him as Messiah and her anointing him in advance of his death are honored 2000 years later.  There are lessons for me as a lay ecclesial minister from this woman’s courageous action:

  • Will I be a disciple who continually recognizes Christ’s presence in those I encounter every day?
  • Will I be a disciple who ignores current culture and reaches out to those who are in need: the orphan, the stranger and the widow?
  • Will I be a disciple who looks through the difficulties of participating in Christ’s mission and share the joy found in His Gospel?

Much has changed since Jesus endured his passion out of love for you and me; and yet much hasn’t changed.  May you and I encounter this week the spark that initially lead each of us to give our lives to Christ.  Below are a few wonderful videos that you can share about Passion Sunday from two perspectives: Father Barron gives us a textured scriptural accounting while the Skit Guys provide some humor with a point.

May you and your family have a blessed Holy Week.

Passion Sunday reflection by John Gaffney, Diocesan Director of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Diocese of Des Moines.

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Posted by on March 30, 2015 in Passion Sunday



“Lord, if you had been here, my brother (Lazarus) would not have died.” – 3rd Scrutiny


The 5th Sunday of Lent brings us to the tomb of Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, and the good friend of Jesus.  This Sunday, for all intents and purposes is the last Sunday of Lent.  Next week when we gather we celebrate the beginning of the end, or should I say the beginning of the beginning, as Jesus rides triumphantly into Jerusalem amidst great cries of “Hosanna, Son of David!”

…but for now, our mood is confused.  Jesus is told of the serious illness of his good friend, yet he waits two days before leaving for Bethany.  Jesus tells the disciples that Lazarus has died and they are going to be with Martha and Mary.  Martha and Mary are sure that Jesus could have assisted their brother Lazarus, and yet, Jesus has another plan for us…to know the truth that he has come to bring us new life.  This concept and idea is difficult for us to grasp.  New life!  How?  Through faith in Jesus and the power of his word, we too can and do know the gift of resurrection. [Click here to read the readings intended for use with the Scrutiny today.]

I invite you to reread the passage and put yourself in the position of Mary, Martha, Lazarus, the apostles, as well as those who witness the scene. Having done so, take some time to ponder the prayers below, inserting your name and situation where appropriate.

As we draw nearer to the week we call Holy, let us be reminded again of the life-giving power that comes to us through the Paschal Mystery in our lives…and so, let us pray:

  • For each of us that life be renewed in us; that we see and know the gift of living and being in and with our God…We Pray to the Lord
  • For those who have fallen asleep in Christ, that they may know the fullness of life with him forever…We Pray to the Lord
  • For those who have lost heart; the discouraged, the marginalized, the hopeless, that they may know a renewed spirit within them through our prayer, support and love of them…We Pray to the Lord
  • For all within us that needs to be buried; sin, hurt, pride, choices that have led us away from our true selves, that when we hear the voice of God, we too may rise and leave behind those things that have kept us bound tightly…We Pray to the Lord

There is a lot in the story of the raising of Lazarus.  Sometimes when we listen to the gospel proclaimed at Mass we miss the fullness of the story.  Perhaps you might enjoy watching this video yourself or you may want to share it with the others in your life.  I have posted it below.  The video tells the story in a different way and perhaps, drives the central message home in a new or renewed way.

Fifth Sunday in Lent reflection by Dr. Cheryl Fournier, Diocesan Director of Adult Faith Formation and Lay Ecclesial Formation

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Posted by on March 23, 2015 in Lent



REJOICE! – Laetare Sunday


The vestment colors this weekend are different. Our presider and deacon, should there be a deacon, will be dressed in some shade of rose. Why? Because this is the Fourth Sunday of Lent, also known as “Rose Sunday “or Laetare Sunday…REJOICE! It takes its name from the introduction to the liturgy this weekend, as we encounter the Introit, that is, the Entrance Antiphon, which echoes the prophet, Isaiah in chapter 66:10-11:  (click the link to listen to it in chanted in Latin)

Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her,
all you who love her;
Rejoice with her in her joy,
all you who mourn over her
So that you may nurse and be satisfied
from her consoling breast;
That you may drink with delight
at her abundant breasts!

 As Laetare Sunday dawns, we find ourselves just past the half-way point in the season of Lent, and this day is intended to encourage us as we continue our Lenten journey. We are reminded that our God wishes to be with us as we continue this journey, and we are to remember with great rejoicing the presence of God in the midst of all that we are and do.

How appropriate that the Gospel reading for this Sunday , which will be proclaimed when we celebrate the Scrutiny with those preparing for the Easter sacraments, reminds us of the man born blind (JN 9:1-41) 

Jesus and the disciples are passing along and encounter a man born blind.
One of them asks whose sin caused the man to be blind; his own sin or the
sin of his parents. Jesus responds by telling them that neither had sinned, but
that the man was born blind in order to let the works of God shine through him.

 I invite you to reread the passage and put yourself in the position of the man born blind, his parents, and the apostles as well as the on-lookers. Having done so, take some time to ponder the prayers below, inserting your name and situation where appropriate.

We rejoice that the Light of the world has come in and through the person of Jesus. We rejoice that blindness of our hearts has been erased. We rejoice that the darkness of sin has been lifted from our eyes.

And so, together, let us pray:

  • That our eyes may be opened to see God’s presence and love active and alive in our lives and in our world;  We Pray to the Lord…
  • We pray for the clarity of vision, to see who we are called to be and what we are called to do; We Pray to the Lord…
  • For the courage and faith to ask God to open our eyes to the poor, suffering, lonely, alienated and forgotten; We Pray to the Lord…
  • That the Lord may remove the blindness from our hearts that we may love others with the love that comes from God;  We pray to the Lord…
  • That we may become in Christ, the light to our world;  We pray to the Lord…

Forth Sunday of Lent reflection by Dr. Cheryl Fournier, Diocesan Director of Adult Faith Formation and Lay Ecclesial Formation

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Posted by on March 16, 2015 in Lent



A Lenten Time of Scrutiny


The third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent call us to step into the experience of continuing conversion with the elect of our parish families (those preparing to celebrate the Easter Sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Holy Eucharist) through the celebration of the SCRUTINIES.

What are the scrutinies?  What is their purpose?  When we think of someone being under “scrutiny” we think they are being watched closely-observed keenly, watching for faults in their behavior or personality.  When we consider scrutinizing someone, we expose the individual to massive questioning, almost interrogation style.

…but that is not what the Church intends.

For the elect, the scrutinies, rooted in the Cycle A readings, are to be moments of strengthening.  The scrutinies focus on the needs of the elect and are offered in the style of prayers of petition.  At times, the prayers may be very personal, reflecting the journey of individuals in specific ways, while at other times, the needs are named in a more general fashion.  The elect stand before us at the Sunday Celebration and present themselves asking for greater clarity and needing the witness of the assembly to carry them forward in their journeys.  Thus, the whole community surrounds them and prays with and for them (and for ourselves) that thirst be satisfied (week three; John 4:5-52), vision be restored (week four; John 9:1-41) and life be renewed (week five; John 11:1-45).

Beginning this week and continuing in the fourth and fifth weeks of Lent, a simple Scrutiny will be offered here for all of us to pray.  May we together, with our elect, come to greater readiness for the mysteries of Holy Week and the celebration of Resurrection on Easter.

Scrutiny One: John 4:5-52 The Woman at the Well

Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob and asks her for a drink.  The disciples have gone into town for supplies. Jesus and the woman engage in conversation about living water, which leads also to some discussion of the woman’s life and all she has experienced. That conversation leads to her confession of belief in Jesus.                                                                                         

[I invite you to reread the passage and put yourself in the position of the woman, then, take some time to ponder the prayers below, inserting your name and situation where appropriate.]

  • We pray for all who thirst for the presence of God in their lives.  May they come to know the God’s presence in all they are and do.  We pray to the Lord.
  • For those whose lives seem cracked and void of life flowing within them, may they know the refreshing touch of God.  We pray to the Lord.
  • We pray for those whose faith is stagnant; may the community surround them with the witness of living faith that bubbles up from deep within.  We pray to the Lord.
  • For all who are judged by how they look, what they wear, where they live, how they speak, where they have come from; may they experience acceptance, support, encouragement and care from a community that is willing to be like Jesus, and meet them where they are.  We pray to the Lord.
  • That we, who have been called by God and baptized into his Son, may continue to long with our whole hearts for the living water that brings eternal life, we pray to the Lord.

Third Sunday of Lent reflection by Dr. Cheryl Fournier, Diocesan Director of Adult Faith Formation and Lay Ecclesial Formation in the Department of Evangelization and Catechesis

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Posted by on March 9, 2015 in Lent



The Transfiguration – Our Contact with the Person of God


The Second Sunday of Lent gospel causes you and me to focus on a powerful epiphany of the true nature of Jesus: he is true man and true God.  The Transfiguration is attractive to those of us who are actively ministering in our parish communities because of the presence of Peter, James and John.  Just as Jesus called these three apostles to participate in His ministry, he has called each of us to participate in His ministry whether it is as a religious education director/coordinator, youth ministry director/coordinator, adult formation team member, catechist or parent.  In what ways do you and I allow Jesus to take us up the mountain for a mystical encounter with Him; to see His glory and to hear His Father’s voice?  If it has been awhile, perhaps Lent 2015 is the time?

When I first started moving from a volunteer form of lay ministry into a more formal and professional form of ministry, I encountered a prophet who reminded me that God is more interested in me and my growth in holiness than He is in my ministry (thanks to John Roberto.)  What?  Initially I rebelled against this idea because it seemed to contradict the entire reason for me being professionally formed into lay ministry.  However, over the years, this insight has rooted me first as a disciple and second as a professional lay ecclesial minister.  When I start thinking about “my ministry” and “my pastoral challenges” and “how well I did in this workshop or retreat” I realize that I need to let Jesus take me up the mountain and have a Transfiguration moment.  I lost perspective and that is so easy for any of us because we have a passion for our faith and passing it onto others.

The transfiguration allows each of us a brief glimpse of God’s glory before we must return to the pathway towards Calvary.  As a disciple of Christ you and I are also on this same path.  We can’t stay on the mountain no matter how much we desire it.  Peter is an image of us.  He wants to build tents to anchor this experience as the rule and not the exception.  When we have a Transfiguration experience we too want it to last.  But this brief encounter with God’s glory is the same for you and me as it was with Peter, James and John.  With that said though, it doesn’t mean we don’t plan these mystical encounters routinely into our lives.  In fact, one negative way in which our ministry moves from Jesus centered to self centered is when we abandon a daily commitment to encountering Christ because we are too busy directing all the facets of “our” program.

How do you and I stay rooted:

  • commit to daily prayer
  • commit to Eucharistic devotion (Mass, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament)
  • commit to participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation
  • commit to taking a 3 minute break with Jesus when stress levels increase
  • commit to annually making a retreat whether it is in your parish, diocese or at a retreat center.

Below is one of my favorite hymns about the Transfiguration.  It is from Bob Hurd and Anawim.  Many blessings to you as we continue this Lenten journey together.

Second Sunday in Lent Reflection by John Gaffney, Diocesan Director of Evangelization and Catechesis.

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Posted by on March 2, 2015 in Lent



What is Driving You and Me into the desert for Forty Days


Lent has begun and the gospel this week reminds us that the journey we set out on last Wednesday, is one that Jesus himself experienced.  Of course he wasn’t just giving up sweets, a fancy coffee drink or soda pop, or even time watching TV or playing video games.  Jesus was entering the desert to combat Satan as he wrestled with his own temptations.  What are the temptations you and I need to wrestle with this Lent?

Are we living a bit too comfortably?  Living in a culture such as ours that honors and adores materialism and individualism you and I need to consider what we are doing to feed our heart so that we see the pain and struggle of our sisters and brothers as our pain and struggle too.  What can we give of our time and treasure in a small way to honor those we encounter who are struggling and less fortunate than we are?  CRS Rice Bowl or Project H20 is a great start, giving up a creature comfort and giving the money that would have been spent on it to help others, but what about your coworkers, your classmates, those homeless you encounter on the streets or pass by in your car, the women and men who protect our communities, or those who have dedicated their lives to living simply and serving others?  What can we do for them from our comfort?

Are our actions motivated by fame and fortune?  Even those who dedicate their lives to helping others can fall into the trap of seeking approval from the ones we are serving.  It is human nature.  We want those we work with to find value in the service or program that is offered.  This is very healthy and good.  However, do you and I take it personally when people choose something other than the program we have designed for them?  Do we help parents become the best leaders of the domestic church that they can be realizing the limitations some have, or do we hold court on who is worthy of God’s mercy?  Do we allow others to fully participate in offering their time, talent and treasure in the programs we administer?

How do we handle the gift of power?  Most people in their lives can immediately point to a leader who has exercised power in ways that have built up the community they are called to lead.  We call these women and men servant leaders.  Sadly we have also experienced those who have used power in ways to build themselves up and to take away from the treasures found in the community they lead.  Am I going to combat these tendencies so that I listen more, love more and extend God’s mercy more?

The desert is a dangerous place because we have to spend time with ourselves.  We have to examine our hearts to really see the people we have become; honestly but not over scrupulously.  Then we need to exercise virtue in our lives: prudence, temperance, justice, courage, faith, hope and charity.  Lent is the Church’s great gift to us to focus on a total renewal of our hearts.  We can’t do it alone.  We need God and we need each other: we also need time to cultivate new habits.  Thank God and the Church for these holy forty days.

“Your ways O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.”  (Psalm 25:10)

1st Sunday in Lent reflection by John Gaffney, Diocesan Director of Evangelization and Catechesis

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Posted by on February 23, 2015 in Lent



“If You Wish, You Can Make Me Clean”


Many of the readings that lead up to beginning of Lent this week on February 18 has to do with healing.  In today’s readings Leviticus and Mark specifically focus on the need for us to recognize that healing is vital for growth in faith.  Paul focuses on the spiritual causes of many diseases by allowing sin to grow in our hearts rather than to focus on being imitators of Christ.

This week Dr. Tom Neal reminded those who participated in the CLADD Retreat that we as lay ecclesial leaders in our parish communities have an equal opportunity with the clergy of falling into institutional sin in our ministry.  As we move into Lent, let us consider the 15 ailments of the Vatican Curia in our own parish setting and pray that we may be imitators of Christ as we root out our failings and pursue God’s mercy.  These ailments were articulated by Pope Francis to the Vatican Curia on the even of Christmas.  The English translation is from the Vatican’s news office.  Please know of our continued prayers for each of you as we enter the holy season of Lent.

  1. The sickness of considering oneself ‘immortal’, ‘immune’ or ‘indispensable’, neglecting the necessary and habitual controls. A Curia that is not self-critical, that does not stay up-to-date, that does not seek to better itself, is an ailing body. … It is the sickness of the rich fool who thinks he will live for all eternity, and of those who transform themselves into masters and believe themselves superior to others, rather than at their service”.
  2. ‘Martha-ism’, or excessive industriousness; the sickness of those who immerse themselves in work, inevitably neglecting ‘the better part’ of sitting at Jesus’ feet. Therefore, Jesus required his disciples to rest a little, as neglecting the necessary rest leads to stress and agitation. Rest, once one who has brought his or her mission to a close, is a necessary duty and must be taken seriously: in spending a little time with relatives and respecting the holidays as a time for spiritual and physical replenishment, it is necessary to learn the teaching of Ecclesiastes, that ‘there is a time for everything’.”
  3. The sickness of mental and spiritual hardening: that of those who, along the way, lose their inner serenity, vivacity and boldness and conceal themselves behind paper, becoming working machines rather than men of God. … It is dangerous to lose the human sensibility necessary to be able to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice! It is the sickness of those who lose those sentiments that were present in Jesus Christ”.
  4. The ailment of excessive planning and functionalism: this is when the apostle plans everything in detail and believes that, by perfect planning things effectively progress, thus becoming a sort of accountant. … One falls prey to this sickness because it is easier and more convenient to settle into static and unchanging positions. Indeed, the Church shows herself to be faithful to the Holy Spirit to the extent that she does not seek to regulate or domesticate it. The Spirit is freshness, imagination and innovation”
  5. Sickness of poor coordination develops when the communion between members is lost, and the body loses its harmonious functionality and its temperance, becoming an orchestra of cacophony because the members do not collaborate and do not work with a spirit of communion or as a team.”
  6. Spiritual Alzheimer’s disease, or rather forgetfulness of the history of Salvation, of the personal history with the Lord, of the ‘first love’: this is a progressive decline of spiritual faculties, that over a period of time causes serious handicaps, making one incapable of carrying out certain activities autonomously, living in a state of absolute dependence on one’s own often imaginary views. We see this is those who have lost their recollection of their encounter with the Lord … in those who build walls around themselves and who increasingly transform into slaves to the idols they have sculpted with their own hands”.
  7. The ailment of rivalry and vainglory: when appearances, the colour of one’s robes, insignia and honours become the most important aim in life. … It is the disorder that leads us to become false men and women, living a false ‘mysticism’ and a false ‘quietism’.”
  8. Existential schizophrenia: the sickness of those who live a double life, fruit of the hypocrisy typical of the mediocre and the progressive spiritual emptiness that cannot be filled by degrees or academic honours. This ailment particularly afflicts those who, abandoning pastoral service, limit themselves to bureaucratic matters, thus losing contact with reality and with real people. They create a parallel world of their own, where they set aside everything they teach with severity to others and live a hidden, often dissolute life.”
  9. Chatter, grumbling and gossip: this is a serious illness that begins simply, often just in the form of having a chat, and takes people over, turning them into sowers of discord, like Satan, and in many cases cold-blooded murderers of the reputations of their colleagues and brethren. It is the sickness of the cowardly who, not having the courage to speak directly to the people involved, instead speak behind their backs”.
  10. The sickness of deifying leaders is typical of those who court their superiors, with the hope of receiving their benevolence. They are victims of careerism and opportunism, honouring people rather than God. They are people who experience service thinking only of what they might obtain and not of what they should give. They are mean, unhappy and inspired only by their fatal selfishness.”
  11. The disease of indifference towards others arises when each person thinks only of himself, and loses the sincerity and warmth of personal relationships. When the most expert does not put his knowledge to the service of less expert colleagues; when out of jealousy … one experiences joy in seeing another person instead of lifting him up or encouraging him.”
  12. The illness of the funereal face: or rather, that of the gruff and the grim, those who believe that in order to be serious it is necessary to paint their faces with melancholy and severity, and to treat others – especially those they consider inferior – with rigidity, hardness and arrogance. In reality, theatrical severity and sterile pessimism are often symptoms of fear and insecurity.”
  13. The disease of accumulation: when the apostle seeks to fill an existential emptiness of the heart by accumulating material goods, not out of necessity but simply to feel secure. … Accumulation only burdens and inexorably slows down our progress.”
  14. The ailment of closed circles: when belonging to a group becomes stronger than belonging to the Body and, in some situations, to Christ Himself. This sickness too may start from good intentions but, as time passes, enslaves members and becomes a ‘cancer’ that threatens the harmony of the Body and causes a great deal of harm – scandals – especially to our littlest brothers.”
  15. The “disease of worldly profit and exhibitionism: when the apostle transforms his service into power, and his power into goods to obtain worldly profits or more power. This is the disease of those who seek insatiably to multiply their power and are therefore capable of slandering, defaming and discrediting others, even in newspapers and magazines, naturally in order to brag and to show they are more capable than others.”

Pope Francis uses the image of the Church as a field hospital ready to pour out God’s mercy for healing.  Let us join Pope Francis and the entire Church this Lent to heal the problems found in our parish communities and be ready to rise to new life this Easter being better at being true imitators of Christ.

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time reflection by John Gaffney, Diocesan Director of Evangelization & Catechesis.

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Posted by on February 16, 2015 in Healing, Mercy




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