"'Tis [Not Exactly] the First Green of Spring!"

No, it's Shamrock Shakes at McDonalds that claim to be the first green of spring. But for those of you who do not attend daily Mass, this weekend will be the first time most of you will see your presider decked out in green since Valentine's Day, Sunday 14 February 2010. Since then the Church has been engaged in the liturgical seasons of Lent, Triduum and Easter -- coming to the climactic conclusion of Pentecost. On Monday, 24 May, we resumed back into Ordinary Time -- or "Counted Time," for life in Christ is never really 'ordinary' but truly extraordinary!

But Ordinary Time has already been preempted with special important Solemnities such as Trinity Sunday, Body and Blood of Christ, commonly known as 'Corpus Christi Sunday' and today we celebrate the great feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and tomorrow, the Immaculate Heart of Mary. But before I take my summer Ordinary Time green vestment out of the mothballs for the weeks ahead, I'd just like to share with you a quick story of the Mass I celebrated last week for Corpus Christi -- held at the Green Bay Correctional Institution.

I began the homily by telling the guys about a short-film I have on my DVD shelves entitled, "God in the Streets of New York." The Grassroots Films production is quite provocative, showing a Eucharistic procession weaving its way through the busy streets of New York. The procession penetrates the wealthier neighborhoods marked by a promising commerce industry -- contradicted by the procession making its way through poverty stricken communities as well. The response of the onlookers is incredible regardless of the environment! Some of the witnesses are obviously Catholic. They know what a monstrance is and what it's holding. They're familiar with the strong scent of incense and the candles flanking the Blessed Sacrament. In their witness, they bless themselves as they offer their solemn bows. Others are puzzled by the sight. They're not quite sure what the production is all about. They wonder as the faithful wander -- not quite ready to look away. They sense it's something different, something they have not seen before. Could it be a holy pilgrimage?

I then shifted the story to my own experience of what I'll call, "God in the Streets of Chicago." I told the inmates about Father Conrad, Father Tim and me heading to State Street in November of 1996. Like hundreds of others, we were headed to Holy Name Cathedral those days; we ventured out to mourn the death of Chicago's Archbishop Joseph Cardinal Bernardin. We traveled from DePere for the funeral rites that took place over a series of days. While we were gathered for the vigil that would lead into days of visitation, we found ourselves standing in a line with the People of God in extraordinary variety -- the young and the old, the rich and the poor. Some were dressed in pricey furs, others sporting Chicago Bulls-wear. The line would stretch for blocks and blocks.

The scene in the streets of Chicago would continue days later after the Cardinal's Mass of Christian Burial. The funeral procession to the mausoleum where the Cardinal would be buried was not exactly the shortest distance between two points! Rather, the procession would be navigated past places of great significance and memory for the late-archbishop. The scene on those Chicago streets, regardless of the neighborhood, seemed so similar to the Grassroots Films production. For the Catholics watching the scene unfold in Chicago, they would bow ever so reverently; they'd bless themselves as well. For all the onlookers, life stopped for the shopper, the business executive in a hurry, the child, the homeless woman. Everyone took notice as the hearse containing this very good man would drive past -- these witnesses also could not look away. They sensed it was something different, something they have not seen before. It was a holy pilgrimage!

Now it was time for the imagery to hit a little closer to home! While affirming the inmates for their weekly participation in the Thursday morning Sunday Mass, I asked them to imagine what it would be like if Warden Pollard would allow us to bring our holy pilgrimage outside of the private, safe and secure confines of the GBCI chapel to the unrestful and unexpected events that sometimes take place in the residential corridors? What if our celebration would continue after the closing hymn? What if the end of Mass was just the beginning of a new sacred journey? What if we'd process with the Blessed Sacrament into the South Hall Cell Block? ....Who would join me in that holy pursuit? Who'd have my back? Who'd swing the incense? Who'd hold the candles? Who'd lift Christ on high?

And beyond us.... What would the onlookers do? What would they say? Would the other inmates bless themselves? Would they offer a blessing or retaliate with a curse?

At this moment, I totally lost control of the homily, literally! Instantly the guys no longer felt my questions were rhetorical in nature. They began to offer their own answers to my questions as one by one, they continued the homily asserting not only how but why they would join in on the holy pilgrimage -- in honor of the Body and Blood of Christ! It was such a moving experience. The Body of Christ was rising; the Blood of Christ was pulsing!

I must admit, I was a bit taken aback by their responses to my questions. Normally they always look as though they are tracking, thankfully; they often offer smiles or reassuring nods. This response, though, was something completely different. One inmate even added, if anyone has a problem with what we're doing, "I'll-take-that-gold-sunburst-holder-thing-and... ... ... ..." Well, you can fill in the blank yourself! Every now and then there are responses that gives me pause in a few different ways!

Homily aside, here's where the imagery in this blog hits closer to home with you. What do we celebrate as we commemorate the Body and Blood of Christ? Is it about the Blessed Sacrament: the Bread that is broken, the wine that is poured out? Or is it a celebration of ourselves, hoping, praying, believing that we will truly become what we eat? Yes! It's about all of the above.

The Preface for the Eucharistic Prayer reminded the faithful at GBCI last weekend -- and ourselves as well: "As we eat his body which he gave for us, we grow in strength. As we drink his blood which he poured out for us, we are washed clean." Hopefully that is the spirit that empowers the inmates to want the Eucharistic celebration to continue beyond the prison chapel. I pray that is the spirit in their hearts that gives them life to do good as they, "Stand up for their rites!"

"God in the Streets of New York!" "God in the Streets of Chicago!" "God in the South Cell Block." ....God in your homes and in your heart. It's something different, something we don't always see, something from which we just cannot look away. It's a holy pilgrimage! May the journey begin with you!


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