Category Archives: Sacred Liturgy & Sacraments

The Lord plants the vineyard

“Throughout the Scriptures the Lord continually likens human souls to vines. He says for instance: ‘My beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hillside’, and again: ‘I planted a vineyard and put a hedge around it’. Clearly it is human souls that he calls his vineyard, and the hedge he has put around them is the security of his commandments and the protection of the angels, for ‘the angels of the Lord will encamp around those who fear him’. Moreover, by establishing in the church apostles in the first place, prophets in the second, and teachers in the third, he has surrounded us as though by a firmly planted palisade. In addition, the Lord has raised our thoughts to heaven by the examples of saints of past ages. He has kept them from sinking to the earth where they would deserve to be trampled on, and he wills that the bonds of love, like the tendrils of a vine, should attach us to our neighbors and make us rest on them, so that always climbing upward like vines growing on trees, we may reach the loftiest heights.”

A reflection from St. Basil for the 27th Sunday through the year
Mt 21:33-43

Christ’s victory in the Cross

Crucifixion Georges RouaultIn the Syriac Christian tradition the Cross of Jesus is known as a bridge that connects us to new life and the promise, the glory of the kingdom. The Lord Himself is the gate that let’s us into our eternal home. The gate is also the saving wood of his cross. This is part of His I AM –the personal mission given to Him by God the Father. Those who live and pray in the Syriac theological tradition (the Syriac Church or the Maronite Church) know that after the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross the Church’s Liturgy counts the Sundays in this manner: “3rd Sunday after the Holy Cross.” It is an acknowledgement of this pivotal feast of the Paschal Mystery. The Church keeps us focussed on the beauty and victory of the Cross of Jesus. What does divine revelation and the teaching of the Fathers reveal to us? The Victorious and Life-giving sacrifice of the Cross “is the sign of all that is good, coming from Christ the Lord: the gospel, the sacraments, new life, his shield of protection, as well as the sign of his final victory.”

The sainted deacon and hymn-writer Saint Ephrem (fourth century) speaks of “the Cross as the new Tree of Life, mystically describes the branches of the Tree of the Cross as the arms of a mother who picks-up her children to nourish them with the fruits – the sacraments – from the bosom of her branches. Christ himself, through his saving cross has become for us this Tree of Life; the Luminous Sign of our victory over death through the life-giving graces of the Father’s nurturing Spirit.”

Questioning God?

The Gospel for the 25th Sunday through the Church Year has us meditating on Matthew 20:1-16. You know the Gospel narrative where the last worker gets the same wage as those who toiled all day; some are angry at the landowner –the analogy is that we are really angry at God’s generosity.  The logic of God is not the logic of man. Too often we say that we want to be like God, to act like Jesus, be as merciful as our Heavenly Father. I don’t doubt this is a true desire of our heart but haven’t really seen sustained examples of putting words into action. I do believe, however, many strive and honestly wrestle with the idea we need and desire God’s uncompromising and generosity and look for ways to employ Divine Revelation: this is the journey of faith: we in process of becoming what we are meant to be by the Blessed Trinity.

A patristic reflection from St. Gregory the Great: “The householder said to them, ‘I wish to give to this last one as I give even to you.’ And since the obtaining of his kingdom comes from his goodwill, he properly adds, ‘Or am I not allowed to do what I wish?’ It is always foolish to question the goodness of God. There might have been reason for loud complaint if he did not give what he owed but not if he gives what he does not owe.”

One of the monks at St Joseph’s Abbey (Spencer, MA) wrote the following of the Gospel:

It is that in the final scene of today’s Gospel when the foreman doles out the pay that we are witness to the extravagant compassion of the landowner, (a cipher for the extravagant mercy of our God.) All the workers, even the last ones who worked for only one measly hour, receive a denarius. Aware of their need and the desperation of their situation; the landowner knows that less than a denarius will be not enough for a man and his family for a day. And he wants them all to go home happy and satisfied. Now that’s not fair; it’s excessive. But if we were part of that last crowd who had worked for only an hour, we’d be overjoyed at the landowner’s outlandish generosity.

How often I murmur because things aren’t fair. And true enough it’s the constant plea of psalmist and prophet, “Why is it Lord that the way of the wicked prospers? Why is it that you let the sun and rain and all good things come to the just and the unjust?” It’s not fair. But the good news is God’s Kingdom is not about fairness or entitlement, only mercy; never about “confidence” in my own accomplishments or sacrifices.* It’s not ever about rewards but grace- not something earned but a gift freely given in love. My brothers and sisters, God is not fair. He is abundantly, incomprehensibly merciful, way beyond our imagining. He knows we don’t always do enough, don’t always pull our weight or labor long and hard enough, that sometimes I loaf and dawdle and wait too long and make bad decisions. He sees it all, and he is merciful. It doesn’t mean that everything’s always OK, not at all. No, I mess up, and God is merciful. I am unkind, impatient, stingy, and God is merciful and gives me another chance.

Imagine if God were only fair. Imagine if he gave me what I really deserve. I’d be in big trouble. Certainly God looks into our hearts and notices the good we do, but the kingdom is all about his mercy, never payback for a job well done. It is on the contrary completely, utterly, totally gift. Gratuitous, absolutely surprising, way beyond what I am “entitled to.” Simple gratitude is the only response. For what do we have that we have received? No, God is not fair, but all loving, all giving, all forgiving. We’re all latecomers and God is always switching things around. It’s called mercy. And Jesus invites us this morning not to succumb to jealousy, to literally “having a wicked eye” which will not allow us to see clearly as God sees.

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

triumph of the crossToday’s Solemnity of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross: “We Adore You O Christ, and We Bless You, Because by Your Holy Cross, You have Redeemed the world!”

This feast celebrates two historical events: the discovery of the True Cross by Saint Helen, mother of the Emperor Constantine, in AD 320 under the temple of Venus in Jerusalem. The feast is also memorialized in the basilica of the Holy Cross in Rome, a church constructed by Helen. In the USA, the metropolitan cathedral of Boston honors this feast with the name of Holy Cross. It is also the dedication in AD 335 of the basilica and shrine built on Calvary by Emperor Constantine, which mark the site of the Crucifixion.

The greatness of this feast reminds us that the Cross is the instrument, the vehicle of our salvation; touching our lips to the glorious cross of our redemption, we  take up the crosses in our own lives and accept and reverence them as well.  And by God’s grace we are able to carry our cross to the natural conclusion.

Saint Andrew of Crete tells us: “We are celebrating the feast of the cross which drove away darkness and brought in the light… Had there been no cross, Christ could not have been crucified. Had there been no cross, Life Itself could not have been nailed to the tree. And if Life had not been nailed to it, they would be no streams of immortality pouring from Christ’s side, blood and water for the world’s cleansing. The legal bond of our sin would not be canceled, we should not have obtained our freedom, we should not have enjoyed the fruit of the tree of life, and the gates of paradise would not stand open. Had there been no cross, death would not have been trodden underfoot, nor hell despoiled… The cross is called Christ’s glory; it is saluted as his triumph.”



An everlasting inheritance promised

The Mass Collect prayed by the priest states that by God’s grace we are adopted children and by His grace we ask for a share in the gift of freedom and an everlasting inheritance. What is this inheritance? It is the gifts of the hundredfold in this life and living in His holy Presence in the next. The Church begs the Holy Spirit for these gifts for her children as the sacrament of Christ’s Presence on earth, as the mediator between God and humanity. The sacred Liturgy is the method of our conversion and our Christian identity; the prayer of the Liturgy is about giving glory to God.

The Scripture readings for the 23rd Sunday through the Year has us hearing Matthew 18:15-20. Here is a reflection from St. John Chrysostom:

“You will be doing everything for the glory of God if, when you leave this place, you make yourself responsible for saving your brother or sister, not just by accusing and rebuking him or her, but also by advising and encouraging, and by pointing out the harm done by worldly amusements, and the profit and help that come from our instruction. You’ll also be preparing for yourself a double reward, since as well is greatly furthering your own salvation, you will be endeavoring to heal a fellow member of Christ’s body. It is the Church’s pride, it is the Savior’s command, not to be concerned only about our own welfare, but about our neighbor’s also.”

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
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