Holy Wednesday

“Morning after morning he wakens my ear to hear as disciples do.”

-Manuel Aliaga

I serve as a Lector in my parish, which has a large immigrant population.  A couple of days ago—Palm Sunday—at the Spanish noon Mass, I was charged with proclaiming the first reading, from the book of Isaiah (50:4-9)—which this year is also Holy Wednesday’s first reading.

“The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue,
that I might know how to answer the weary,
a word that will waken them.”

As I was reading before the assembly, a thought flashed across my mind, thinking of all of those unfamiliar faces who, this Sunday, were packing even the lobby area in our church.  Many of them were perhaps weary, coming to Mass for the first time in months, even years, caught by exhausting workweeks and difficult family situations, possibly carrying on their backs an ever-growing ancient thirst, an old hunger, which they could barely call by name anymore.

Perhaps they came inspired by sleepy memories from their childhoods long ago and far away, going to Mass with their siblings, all in their Sunday best, holding their palms, being sprinkled with holy water, singing the songs, visiting Grandma and their cousins after church.

Many of these unfamiliar faces might be hoping, wholeheartedly, to find this Holy Week at least some spiritual rest and nourishment in this beautifully blessed parochial oasis. Many possibly come moved by the desire to fulfill their annual obligation, and then continue their arduous journey, knowing that they were well fed and taken care of. How can we help them never forget that the living waters that flow at the center of our parish community are available to them every week, every day?

I kept proclaiming the first reading, and another instant thought came to me, this time about my ministry as a Lector:

“Morning after morning he wakens my ear to hear as disciples do;
the Lord GOD opened my ear;
I did not refuse, did not turn away.”

My ear was indeed being awakened.  I was hearing, with the rest of the community, “as disciples do”.  I was reading and I was listening to the proclamation of the book of Isaiah—who speaks about the Suffering Servant—together with my suffering brothers and sisters, familiar and unfamiliar.  I was there with the weary, the thirsty, and the hungry, as one more among them, aware of my own need for sustenance. And we were all being fed by the reading’s beautiful images.

Just like my brothers and sisters in the pews, I also bring with me ancient memories about many Palm Sundays, Good Fridays, Easter celebrations, with family and friends.  They build and sustain my identity as a Catholic Christian. As a father and as a minister, I now help my children, and the many other children participating in our parish life, build up their own memories.

As I continued reading, the text referred more explicitly to the Suffering Servant:

“I have not rebelled,
have not turned back.
I gave my back to those who beat me,

my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
My face I did not shield
from buffets and spitting.”

Our Lord knows what it means to be weary, hungry and thirsty, like all of us do. Perhaps during his Passion He had flashbacks of his childhood, Mary and Joseph, going to the Temple, hearing stories about their time away in Egypt, his neighborhood friends, his teen years.  Perhaps he contemplated how it all led Him to the fulfillment of His mission. He followed our steps so that we may follow His. He became one of us so that we become one with Him. He traveled the road before us, and we—as His disciples—are to listen to His voice, wake up, arise, and follow Him.

Ah, but the Word that awakens us is a double-edged sword that cuts deep into our hearts.  There is no listening, no rising and following him, without letting his Word uncover everything that leads us away from His ways.  There is no discipleship without our saying Yes! to His call to root out, with hope and the aid of His grace, anything that might lead each of us away from His love.

“He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me is the one who will betray me,” declares Jesus in today’s Gospel.  Before sharing table, let us prepare ourselves for His mercy. Let us listen, repent, and abandon our evil ways. Let us be prepared to share table with Him.

Manuel Aliaga teaches History of Latino Catholics in the Church for Saint Joseph’s College Online Theology program.

Faster … Better… and Mainer

Have You Considered Summer Session for Theology at SJCME?

Summer Session allows you to accelerate your degree (i.e., faster), and enjoy a great learning environment (yes, it’s better), all while spending a small part of your summer, maybe even with your family, on Sebago Lake (which is, well, just plain Mainer!). Summer Session at SJCME is better, faster, and Mainer.

The reasons that any of us might pursue a Theology degree are as varied as there are people interested! For me, a Theology degree was a logical deeper dive complement to the intensive Theology Program that I already participated in as part of my diocese’ formation as a candidate for the permanent diaconate. SJCME’s Master’s in Theology gave me just a bit more (of an already good thing).

Likewise, the reasons we each have for enrolling specifically at Saint Joseph’s College of Maine for an M.A. in Theology may be every bit as equally varied. We are different people, with different desires, plans, constraints, and vocations in life; that’s the beauty of something so flexible. But, I think that there is one awesome aspect that may be all too often overlooked. It’s overlooked by many who consider Saint Joseph’s when looking from the outside and even by some of us already enrolled.

SJCME offers the “best of both worlds” with excellent online courses for sure. But, did you know that there is also the option to take courses on-campus on Sebago Lake in Maine during the summer as well?

The on-campus Summer Session can be used as an option to accelerate your degree. It can also be an excuse for a mini-family vacation in Maine! And it most certainly will enrich your study experience, with friendships and memories to last a lifetime. For me, the summer experience did all three! I completed my own degree more quickly and economically thanks to the Summer Theology Program. I enjoyed all the benefits of the same excellent online instructors that Saint Joseph’s offers, plus the intimacy of direct classroom discussion, as well as downtime together with fellow students over reading, following Mass, or while breakin’ a lobsta ta-getha!

The courses offered are six weeks in length with five weeks online and one week on-campus. The scheduling allows both graduate and undergraduate students to take courses, with several different courses offered. You can attend either one week or both weeks. It is entirely possible to accelerate your Theology degree by taking up to four courses with the hybrid Summer Session offerings.

So, that’s the “What?”, as far as attending Summer Session – wicked good though it is. But how about the “Why?” The benefits for me fell into four very large buckets: Classroom, Campus, Classmates, plus Coffee & Cold Beer!

The classroom setting allows a chance for deeper discussion and sometimes even productive disagreement over key theological concepts. The direct live discussion was always great.

The campus is simply beautiful! It’s peaceful and scenic, with an opportunity to attend daily Mass, walk along forest trails, skip stones on Sebago Lake, or sit for hours in an Adirondack chair.

The coffee is free all day at the Café and available hot or cold. I’m just saying! 😊 And in the evenings, there are social events to eat, or kayak, or simply enjoy a cold beer with new soon-to-be lifelong friends. (N.B.: while the rocks on the stone wall out by the fire pit do NOT make a good bottle opener, the strike plate in a door jamb does!)

Finally, the last (and best) reason to attend Summer Session, is nowhere near the least. It’s each of you – all of us – the Classmates! I have met men and women that I now consider friends. No matter how great the interaction online, you just can’t get there in one course. But on campus, you can. I did.

So, check your calendars, pack the car, or grab a flight. Come to SJCME Summer Session July 8-12, July 15-19, or both!

Steven Sarnecki is near completion of his M.A. in Advanced Diaconal Studies and, God willing, will be ordained a permanent deacon for the Archdiocese of Baltimore this Spring. He will also be on campus for the first week of Summer Session and would love to break a lobsta ta-getha!