Sunday, April 19, 2020

Divine Mercy Sunday: Daring to Speak on Indulgences

Indulgences are the last thing a priest wants to preach about. They were abused in the late Middle Ages, fueled Martin Luther’s rejection of the Catholic Church, and have been misunderstood ever since.

However, mercy is the first thing a priest should want to preach about—especially today, Divine Mercy Sunday.

And while there’s a lot more to be said about Divine Mercy than about indulgences, this year the connection between the two can’t be ignored.

As St. John Paul, who’s been called “the Pope of Mercy” said, “The starting-point for understanding indulgences is the abundance of God's mercy revealed in the Cross of Christ. The crucified Jesus is the great "indulgence" that the Father has offered humanity through the forgiveness of sins and the possibility of living as children (cf. Jn 1: 12-13) in the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal 4: 6; Rom 5: 5; 8: 15-16).”

I was moved to write a homily on the subject partly because a parishioner whom I count as a friend reacted with deep concern to what I’d written in this week’s bulletin about the special indulgence granted to the dying during the pandemic. First off, she was afraid it meant priests would not be administering the sacraments to them.

She said she hoped she was wrong, and she was.  It was partly my fault—for reasons of space, I’d shortened the article and taken out a sentence that made it clear that a Catholic dying in this Archdiocese will always be able to receive the sacraments unless the priest is denied access to a care facility or hospital.

So, let’s be clear: the sacraments will be available to the dying. We priests have no intention of abandoning our flock.

In fact, as of last Saturday, 100 Italian priests have died during the pandemic.

Where does the indulgence come in then? The health authorities have said that priests and other spiritual care providers will be allowed to visit those who are clinically assessed to be at the end of life but it’s possible that the necessary permission may be delayed or even refused in some situations.

It was for those cases—which I hope will not arise—and for the consolation of those who are not yet at the end of life but are fearful that they could die without the sacraments if a priest could not reach them that I wrote about the special indulgence.

And it’s not a bad idea to speak about indulgences today, hard work though it is, since Divine Mercy Sunday is closely tied to the Divine Mercy indulgence granted by St. John Paul II to all of us. Between the pandemic indulgence, which is available not only to the dying but to medical personnel, caregivers and anyone who prays for an end to the pandemic, and the annual Divine Mercy Indulgence, it’s hard to duck the subject today.

So, let me plunge in with the official definition of an indulgence. It’s complicated enough to explain why no priest wants to tackle the subject in a homily, but it still must be our starting point.

The Catechism describes an indulgence as “a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and all of the saints.”

Whew! But after that flood of words, the Catechism tries to help us make some sense of them. It says we need to understand first that sin has a double consequence. First, grave sin deprives us of communion with God and cuts us off from eternal life. Without that life, we face “eternal punishment” for our sin.

Most Catholics get that part of the story. We speak of mortal sins because they’re deadly. They need to be forgiven. For Catholics the only ordinary way to be healed of these deadly wounds is by confessing our sins to a priest. Note that I said the only “ordinary” way. We’ll come back to that in a minute.

But we don’t just need to be forgiven: we need to be purified of sin, even the smaller ones we call venial. That can happen either here on earth, or after death in the state we call Purgatory. This purification frees us from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin.  “Temporal” meaning “within time”—God’s justice and mercy working in time, before the Last Judgement ushers in eternity.

The forgiveness of sin restores our friendship with God and takes away the eternal punishment of sin, but this temporal punishment remains. We can lessen this punishment on earth by patiently bearing our sufferings and by works of penance and charity, but otherwise our account is settled in Purgatory.

However, my friend had a few more things to say. She said this about the special indulgence granted to those who cannot receive the sacraments because of the pandemic: “I do not believe the Church can promise anyone that they will go straight to heaven.”

In response, I said to her and I say to you: Yes, it can. And it does.

Please don’t get me wrong: the Church can’t and doesn’t hand out salvation willy-nilly to anyone in earshot. But she does dispense the mercy of God according to the words the Risen Lord speaks in today’s Gospel: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Even before the Resurrection Jesus says in St. Matthew’s Gospel: “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Now my friend is a good Catholic, so of course there’s something valid in her concern. The Church will never replace the sacred sacraments we celebrate with the dying—Confession, the Anointing of the Sick, and Viaticum—with an indulgence or anything else.

But when the dying can’t receive the sacraments—not because the priest won’t come, but because he’s not allowed to come, or for any other valid reason—the Church steps in as a minister of the mercy of God.

What the Church doesn’t offer is cheap grace. That’s what the twentieth-century German Lutheran martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer called grace that’s showered down “without asking questions or fixing limits.”

“Cheap grace,” he wrote, is “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”

While we can guess what a Lutheran pastor might have thought about indulgences, we can say that when an indulgence is understood properly, it is not cheap grace.  Abundant, indulgent, generous—yes. But cheap? No.

Because even the pandemic indulgence requires the dying person to be “properly disposed.” And those words pack a lot of meaning. Understanding them, along with what the Church has always taught about the need for confession, will put to rest any fear that the Church is going too far in promising a dying person what Jesus promised the Good Thief: “today you will be with me in Paradise.”

For anyone to gain a full or plenary indulgence they must be properly disposed. They must be truly sorry for their sins and—here’s the big challenge—free of all attachment to sin, even venial sin. And “properly disposed” includes a desire to confess one’s sins to a priest if that were possible.

In the words of St. JohnPaul, “indulgences, far from being a sort of ‘discount’ on the duty of conversion,” help us towards it. We see that conversion is required from the fact that the spiritual condition for receiving a plenary indulgence is the exclusion “of all attachment to sin, even venial sin.”

Do you remember that I promised we’d get back to what I said about sacramental confession being the only ordinary way to receive forgiveness for our grave sins? Although I applied the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel to the Church in a general way, we believe with Catholic faith that “the Lord instituted the sacrament of penance at that particular moment.” (See Council of Trent, Session 14, Chapter 1).

But the Church also teaches that the person who out of love for God is deeply sorry for sin, eager for a new life, and truly desires the sacrament of penance though unable to receive it at the time, may be “reconciled with God before this sacrament is actually received” (Chapter 4).

In this sense, then, my devout friend may be reassured that the Church can promise heaven to those who truly desire it and are duly disposed to receive the mercy of Christ. Even those who are unable to make a sacramental confession or receive the anointing of the sick.

This has been a long homily about a subject of great importance to some but perhaps of little interest to others. Fair enough.

But the heart of our celebration today matters to every one of us. The Marian Fathers’ Divine Mercy website puts it like this:

“The message of the Divine Mercy is simple. It is that God loves us – all of us. And He wants us to recognize that His mercy is greater than our sins, so that we will call upon Him with trust, receive His mercy, and let it flow through us to others. Thus, all will come to share His joy.”

And since my homily’s been so complicated, I will close with “the ABCs of Divine Mercy” from the same website:

A - Ask for His Mercy. God wants us to approach Him in prayer constantly, repenting of our sins and asking Him to pour His mercy out upon us and upon the whole world.

B - Be merciful. God wants us to receive His mercy and let it flow through us to others. He wants us to extend love and forgiveness to others just as He does to us.

C - Completely trust in Jesus. God wants us to know that the graces of His mercy are dependent upon our trust. The more we trust in Jesus, the more we will receive.

After Mass we recited the Chaplet of Divine Mercy with those who wished to gain the Divine Mercy indulgence today.

The icon above hangs outside our confessionals at Christ the Redeemer. It was written by the retired art teacher at our parish school, Steve Knight.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Easter's Not Kids' Stuff

Happy Easter! Happy, homebound, holy Easter to each and every one of you who are filling the pews of our virtual congregation this morning.

Someone asked me what I’ve missed most during these unusual celebrations. I answered rather obviously, “people.” As soon as I come through the door of the church, I notice the absence of lectors and servers and extraordinary ministers, and there are no welcome ministers greeting me and others as I come into the church.

Another thing that’s missing is children. I’m thinking we should record some of the noisy ones and play it back during the homily!

As you know if you’ve been to Sunday Mass at Christ the Redeemer, we have a special liturgy of the word for children.  After the opening prayer, we invite the youngsters to come up for a short prayer, and then they leave for a kid-friendly time with dedicated adult catechists who share with them the message of the readings.

I really miss those few moments before the children traipse out following whichever brave little leader takes the book of readings and holds it over his or her head. Some of the things they say would bring the house down if the congregation could hear.

My favourite was the little guy who gave me a little wave as he headed out. “Good-bye, Jesus,” he said.

That was at least more flattering than the young girl in my last parish who asked her mother in a loud voice, “why are they calling Father Greg ‘Mount Seymour’?”

Today, of course, we have no special liturgy of the word for children. And, I have to tell you, we have no homily for children. This would be a good time for the younger folk to take a little break, so long as they don’t need careful watching, since my thoughts today are entirely aimed at adults.

There are no Easter bunnies or Easter eggs on my mind this year; we’re not going to reflect on the Gospel According to Purdys. If ever there were a time for an adult Easter, this is it.

I am at the mercy of technology this morning, but I want to show you a video clip to help us understand that the Easter happened to change our lives, not to give us a beautiful Spring holiday. The anxiety and even fear of these uncertain times can open our hearts to a message we may not have truly heard before.

Please watch this short film with me now…

You see what I mean? That’s not a message for children. It’s for grownups who understand what darkness looks like, and are ready to believe that God has overpowered whatever is broken in their lives.

How many of us have used the phrase, “if it ain’t broke, don't fix it?” It means leave something alone; don’t try to correct, fix, or improve what’s working well enough. Sensible enough.

But disastrous for our spiritual life. God did not become man, die on a cross, and rise from the dead so that we could muddle along in our brokenness, stumble around in our woundedness, and live what the American philosopher Henry David Thoreau called “lives of quiet desperation.”

The full force of Easter to change our lives rang out last night in the words of the of the Easter Proclamation, the Exsultet. Its sanctifying power “dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen… joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord” and sets Christian believers apart from the gloom of sin.
If words less poetic but even more succinct, one of the Vigil prayers asks God “may the whole world know and see that what was cast down is raised up, what had become old is made new, and all things are restored to integrity through Christ.”

Dear friends, that’s the difference Easter makes. That’s the point of the Falling Plates video. What was cast down? Us. Humanity. Broken by sin. What had become old? The human spirit, tired by daily toil unredeemed by hope. What is restored to wholeness through Christ? Each of us willing to accept the grace of this holy day—willing to live in the power of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

The video dramatizes what Jesus accomplished in his passion and death, and continues to share freely with us.

Yet the passage of time and the power of Purdy’s [for non-local readers, Purdy's is our big local chocaltier!] may well have dulled our faith in the real meaning of Easter… until now, when so many of us are starting to wonder whether we have it in us to be our own Redeemer, after all. Our unexamined Christian beliefs are no longer a backdrop but moving to center stage in our anxious lives.

Christian faith has the answer to the questions we are asking at this time of the pandemic. Adults answers to relieve adult fears.

In just a few moments I will invite you to strengthen or even restore your faith by the renewal of your baptismal promises. There is nothing ‘virtual’ about this moment in our celebration. When it comes to making a personal commitment before God, there is no spiritual difference—none at all—between standing in church or standing in your family room.
Your “I do” to these promises can set you on a new path if you’ve wandered off. And if you’d like support and guidance in walking on that path, the discipleship path, join us for an online faith study. The Discovery small groups aim to distill and unpack the core message of Easter; you can find the details in this week’s bulletin which is available on our website,

It’s been an unusual Easter, but the pandemic did not stop the work of restoration and healing that the restoration of the broken plates symbolized so well. When he saw the Falling Plates video, Father Jeff made a comment I will remember until next Easter: “If those were Catholic plates, when they came back together they’d land on a dinner table, where we could gather for a meal.”

Next year, ransomed, healed and restored, we will again be gathered around this altar to celebrate Jesus, risen from the dead.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Easter Vigil - Plan B Worked!

We had our first technical glitches at the Easter Vigil tonight--we couldn't access our YouTube feed and scrambled for 40 minutes to  switch to Facebook Live. 

When we finally were able to start, I began by quoting the words of the Queen's historical Easter address broadcast earlier in the day, which was not only a lovely reminder that the monarch is a devout Christian but that she is certainly familiar with the Easter Vigil:

“As darkness falls on the Saturday before Easter Day, many Christians would normally light candles together.

“In church, one light would pass to another, spreading slowly and then more rapidly as more candles are lit,” Queen Elizabeth said in her first-ever Easter message.

“It’s a way of showing how the good news of Christ’s resurrection has been passed on from the first Easter by every generation until now.

“This year, Easter will be different for many of us, but by keeping apart we keep others safe.

“But Easter isn’t cancelled; indeed, we need Easter as much as ever,” the Queen proclaimed.

“The discovery of the risen Christ on the first Easter Day gave his followers new hope and fresh purpose, and we can all take heart from this. We know that coronavirus will not overcome us.

“As dark as death can be – particularly for those suffering with grief – light and life are greater,” Her Majesty said, concluding with words that all of us pray tonight: “May the living flame of the Easter hope be a steady guide as we face the future.”

Father Jeff's homily was beautifully poetic, and amply rewarded the patience of those who stayed with us as we got "Plan B" on the air. For those who weren't with us, here is his full text:

After dinner last night, I went for a walk around the neighbourhood, as I try to do most evenings.  The weather had been perfect all day, much like today.  Spring was blooming in abundance all around me.  It took my breath away to behold beyond the shimmering peace of English Bay the pristinely clear mountain peaks of Vancouver Island silhouetted against the pink sunset sky. 
It was sheer beauty.  I saw three other people during my walk, at a distance.  I didn’t see any traffic, but I heard a car now and then, in the distance too.  Beautiful it was, but it was also eerie.  This peaceful silence, I wondered, is this what the sound of death is like?
On my way back home, I passed a house from which were coming the sounds of happiness to fill the silence: the sounds of many human voices chatting and laughing (I trust they all live under the same roof!), the sound of music, the sound of silverware touching china, the sound of glasses cheerfully clinking.  It was a happy party.  Listening from the silence of my sidewalk, I so wanted to be there with them!
In this time of the pandemic, when the to and fro of our daily life, when the hail and well met of our connections and associations, when the noise and music of familiar sounds and voices are all hushed and stopped, we may sometimes feel surrounded as if by the ever enclosing walls of a dark and silent tomb.  We may sometimes feel like this is a death of sorts.

Stripped away of all its worldliness, the bare world – pandemic or not – is a place that inexorably brings us to death and the tomb.  We already know that.  We have always known it.  But, especially in this time of infection and disease, it is a stark truth that stares us squarely in the face.
This virus is compelling us to assume our social responsibility and Christian duty toward each other.  It demands that we each play our part, not only for its defeat but also out of our basic commitments to each other.  But are you like me, are you also hoping for a saviour to rescue us from this mess?
During my walk last night, my swirling thoughts came to focus on the notion that our current experience of the pandemic is in its way emblematic of general human experience in all times.  We who build towers that reach into the sky are also the ones brought low by this virus.  Humanity that soars to such glorious heights is, at the end of life, always leveled by death and the tomb.
The Word of God enlightens us and directs us to take collective responsibility for the blunt reality of death in which we all share.  Because we let our human weakness, even against our better judgement, fall prey to temptation and sin, we are bound, each of us, to suffer the consequences and to walk the way to dusty death.  We desperately need a saviour to rescue us from this mess, to rescue us from sin and death.
We do have a Saviour.  The world has a Saviour.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, a human being like us.  He crushes and destroys the power of sin and death tonight.  Alleluia!  He rises from the tomb tonight.  Alleluia!  And because he has done it, because a human being has done it, we too shall do it, we also shall rise from the dead on the last day.
I’ll go for a walk after dinner again tomorrow.  And there in the quiet neighbourhoods amidst the gently nodding Spring blossoms, if I do, and even if I don’t, hear the sounds of laughter and revelry from a family party filling the silence of the streets, I shall nevertheless give thanks and rejoice with the Psalmist that our Saviour has thrown the doors wide open for all of us to join in that celestial party at the heavenly banquet, there where we all so long to be.  
Because of this holy and solemn night, because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we shall be the rejoicing crowd entering into the house of God, amid cries of gladness and thanksgiving, the throng wild with joy!
May God who has blessed us with this beautiful promise of eternal life, continue to bless us now and always!
(Rev. Jefferson Thompson, CSB)

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Holy Thursday 2020

“You don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone.” For weeks now I’ve been humming those words from a 70s hit by the Canadian singer Joni Mitchell, and several parishioners my age told me they were doing the same.

Joni Mitchell’s song is a lament for what’s been lost – she sings “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” But that’s not where the story ends for us, deprived for a time of the joy of gathering for Mass and the blessing of receiving Jesus in Holy Communion. Not even close.

Because, of course, the Eucharist isn’t gone. Here and now the sacrifice of Christ is still being celebrated for the salvation of the world. Its life-giving effect is not limited by physical distance or absence. And even our current circumstances are guaranteed to come to an end.

However, it’s still true: sometimes we don’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone. By thinking about what we have lost, even for a time, we discover truths we have missed, maybe for all our lives.

Tonight, as we recall the institution of the Eucharist, we are challenged to go to the very heart of the mystery that we may have taken for granted.

Just from a practical point, I can speak for a little longer than I would normally dare, since the beautiful rite of the washing of feet and the solemn procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the Altar of Repose must be omitted. So let us replace what we’ve lost by reflecting together on the wonders of that first Last Supper which are again present at this altar tonight.

There’s so much to think about on Holy Thursday that I don’t often begin with the story of the Jewish Passover that we heard in our first reading. Yet it gives us not only the context of the meal our Lord was celebrating with his disciples, but also reminds us that the Eucharist, like the Exodus, delivers us from our oppressors.

The account of the Passover that we have just heard emphasizes the protection that the blood of the Passover lamb provides to the homes of the Israelites. How can we not, amid the current pandemic, fail to ask that the Blood of Christ, whom St. Paul calls “our Passover Lamb” (see 1 Corinthians 5:7) offer protection to our homes? We do not mark our doorways with his blood but rather allow it to purify our hearts and minds.

One of the things that I envy my Jewish friends is their ability to make their homes their ‘churches’. Although you will hear about the importance of synagogues to the Jewish people, all a Jewish family really needs to express their faith in its fullness is a dinner table. Even their most solemn celebrations, including the Seder (the Passover meal), can be held at home. It’s hard not to think of this tonight.

My friend Father Raymond de Souza has pointed me to a wonderful verse in St. Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus says to someone, “I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples” (see Matthew 26:18). Tonight, Jesus says those words to each and every one of you! He will keep the Passover at your house, with you, with your fellow disciples in our parish. I think that’s just a wonderful thought, even though, obviously, things are not normal.

Still, I think Jesus means what he says in those words. Will you let him keep the Passover at your house? Will we make our homes Upper Rooms, cenacles, where he can be truly present this evening – not in the sacrament itself, but as he promised when he said “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20).

After the Old Testament drama of the Passover, our second reading from St. Paul seems rather tame. But it’s worth unpacking. He brings us the earliest written account of the Eucharist, slightly older than those in the Gospels. Paul is telling us that the Lord intended us to continue celebrating his sacrificial meal, “just as the Passover of the Jews was celebrated regularly to recall the great saving events” of their deliverance from the Egyptians (George T. Montague, First Corinthians, pg. 196).

Catholic Christians have gathered to celebrate Mass since the time of Jesus and will continue until the end of the world, because that is precisely what the Lord planned. Just as the Jewish people have faithfully obeyed the commandment God gave to Moses and Aaron, so has the Church faithfully obeyed Christ’s command “Do this in remembrance of me”.

Numerous Catholics, especially young ones, have stopped going to Mass in recent decades. I admit that I don’t know why. But one reason surely is that we have not adequately conveyed how magnificent it is to be part of the unbroken chain of faithfulness to which Jesus invites each baptized person.

When I was young, going to Mass each week was known as the Sunday obligation. And to tell the truth, I understood it more as a rule than anything else. Yet tonight, the One who gave himself up on the cross offers us a covenant – the new and final covenant in his Blood. He tells us that every time we receive his Body and Blood we proclaim his death.

If we understood that, even in an imperfect way, the most popular reason for staying at home on Sunday – Mass is boring – would sound weak, to say the least.

I don’t want this homily to be boring, and even in the comfort of your homes you can only listen for so long! So let me briefly speak of the Gospel, which of course is St. John’s famous account of the washing of the feet.

As you know, it’s all St. John writes to describe the Last Supper. He says nothing about bread and wine, or the words of Jesus. Surely that means we must take very seriously what his Gospel says about the connection between the Eucharist and our service of others.

In the coming weeks, I hope we will have Deacon Richard Conlin assisting us at Mass, unless the Archbishop has other plans for him. It’s important to have a deacon at the altar whenever possible, because deacons were the ministers of charity in the early Church. The fellow who was coordinating help for the poor stood right beside the priest as a living reminder of the unbreakable bond between the Eucharist and our love for others, especially those most in need.

In the coming weeks and months, our parish family will need to live out ever more fully this connection between worship and service. We are already a generous Christian community: we have sponsored three refugee families, we visit prisons, comfort the sick, and feed the hungry. But there will be new demands, new needs, in the face of physical and financial hardship arising from the pandemic.  

It’s too early to say what these needs will be. But we know they are coming, and we know that our faith invites us to follow the example of Christ, to do to others as he has done to us, whatever the cost.

One of the reasons we must remain united as a parish is so that our worship can strengthen us to meet not only our own challenges, but those of our brothers and sisters too– both within and outside the parish community.

These live-streamed Masses, which after Easter will continue every Sunday, along with the other spiritual and social contacts made possible through video, are not optional extras: they gather us in faith, hope, and charity around the altar of the Lord so that we will be strengthened to share his love, especially with those most in need.

Although the tune will probably continue to go through my head, it’s not true that we don’t know what we’ve got ’til it’s gone. But this is certainly a time to think about what the Lord has given us in the saving sacrament we celebrate tonight.

To alter Joni Mitchell's lyric, he has paved our way to Paradise.

Live Links for Liturgies

Just a reminder that we're going to be live streaming the liturgies of the Triduum from the parish. Tonight, we go live at 7 p.m., and tomorrow, Good Friday, at 3 p.m. 

The Easter Vigil at 8 p.m. and Mass on Sunday is at 10 a.m. 

The link to our YouTube page is

If you can't watch live, the liturgies will be posted later.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Palm Sunday LIVE

This Palm Sunday morning, at 10 a.m. local time, we will attempt (in faith!) our first Mass live streamed to YouTube.  If God blesses us with success, you can watch it live or see it posted afterwards. The link is      My homily is below.

Some years back, I was talking to Father Jeremy Driscoll at Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon. He's a very wise monk who has given me sound spiritual advice over many years.

I honestly don't remember what my problem was, but I told him about some struggle or other that was making me unhappy at the time. After he heard me out, he said "Thank the Lord for giving you a share in His suffering."

He paused only slightly before adding, "And thank Him for making it such a small share."

Father Jeremy, who is now the abbot of Mount Angel, wasn't teasing me. He was stating a fact
both about whatever was troubling me, and about any human suffering. Whatever any of us suffers cannot be compared to the Passion of Jesus, which we have just heard St. Matthew recount.

Every year some members of our parish family are suffering in Holy Week; my own father died on Palm Sunday in 2011. But this year all of us have been given some share in the suffering of Jesus, an opportunity to reflect on what it means for us right now.

This Holy Week, of course, some parishioners face enormous suffering. Some are unable to be with their loved ones due to restrictions in hospitals and care facilities. Others are unemployed and uncertain about how to meet the needs of their families.

There are those in the parish who can't get all the medical care they need because of concern about exposure to the coronavirus.

And, as always, in a family the size of our parish community, there are those dealing with serious or terminal illnesses that are not related to the present crisis. 

All of them are in our hearts and prayers at Mass this morning.

But those in the greatest pain don't usually need a homily to help them join their sufferings to the Passion of the Lord. One fine parishioner already texted me to affirm her faith that her suffering, when joined with Christ's, helps to redeem the world.

Today's homily is for the rest of us
we who need to be reminded that by any standard our current suffering is only a very small share in the suffering of Christ.

We need to spend time with Jesus in each moment of his journey to the cross to understand that he is with us in each moment of this present crisis, in whatever way it affects us.

If we've been disappointed in the support of our loved ones, we should ponder Christ's betrayal by Judas, his denial by Peter, then his abandonment by James and John as they slept during his hour of need.

If what we're suffering is fear, then think about Jesus, "grieved and agitated," in the Garden of Olives. He is both God and man, fully able to feel the deepest human emotions, including sorrow and distress.

Most years, the physical sufferings of Jesus make the greatest impression on us. But in this year of COVID, we are riveted by the sight of our Lord and Saviour trembling with fear of what is to come, praying that it pass him by.

We might ask what possible help it is to see Jesus worse off than we are. The answer comes in the mystery of God's presence in our ordeal, which brings us the help we need to face our fears.

IIn his encyclical on hope, Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict says "Man is worth so much to God that he himself became man in order to suffer with man in an utterly real way--in flesh and blood--as is revealed to us in the account of Jesus’ passion."

What does that mean? The Pope emeritus explains that "in all human suffering we are joined by one who experiences and carries that suffering with us."

The "consolation of God's compassionate love" is present in all our suffering, he says, "and so the star of hope rises."

This is the leap of faith to which we're called this Sunday, this Palm Sunday in the time of COVID-19: to allow the star of hope to rise, not dimmed but made bright by the suffering of Christ, which proves his love can be trusted, since it knows no bounds.