Sunday, April 23, 2017

Second Sunday of Easter - Divine Mercy Sunday

In today’s gospel account, the risen Jesus appears to the disciples both on Easter night and a week later.  He breathes on them, just as God breathed life into Adam in Genesis.  Jesus gives the disciples new life through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  And the Spirit is given to them so that they might be instruments of God’s mercy.  Just as they will make him present in the breaking of the bread, so too he shares with them the power to forgive or retain sin.

Easter is a time for deepening our relationship with Jesus.  What better way to do that than being forgiven and healed of our sins.  Too often distance and pain creep into relationships that lack honesty and forgiveness.  Jesus knows that.  The Council of Trent in 1551 taught that it was this gospel moment in John 20 in which the Lord established the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  When we confess our sins to a priest, who takes the place of Jesus, we are healed and reconciled, both to the Lord and to others. 

The encounter between Thomas and Jesus the following week assures us that we need not fear judgment of condemnation when we stand before Jesus.  Instead, as with Thomas, Jesus meets us where we are, as he calls forth from us faith and trust in him. 

When we decide to live for Jesus, we do so as members of his Church, for God’s desire is that we be a community united in Christ.  In the first line of today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Luke writes of the four essential priorities of the first Christians:  “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.” 

Centuries later, these are still the foundations for faithful life as members of the Church.  We ought to know our faith as passed down to us from the apostles and their successors.  We need to be committed to each other as a community, particularly in caring for those who are in need.  We need to have the Eucharist, “the breaking of the bread,” at the heart of our life and worship, and, finally, we need to be people of prayer, both individually and as a community.  

Jesus has to be the center of each of our individual lives and of our community life as his Church.  The Christian life is not to be lived alone.  Instead we commit ourselves to spending time to be with the Lord as a community in prayer and to work together to continue his work.  Jesus calls us to be his witnesses, and by doing that to bring others to him. 

We are blessed.  We have not seen him, but we love him.  And in loving him, we trust him.  And in trusting him, we open ourselves to all that he wants to give us, especially his mercy. 

Therefore, as Peter tells us in today’s second reading, we rejoice, as we move closer to the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls.  

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Easter Sunday - The Resurrection of the Lord

Mary Magdalene and her friends, having seen the angel who told them Jesus was alive and that they would see Jesus, hurry to tell the others.  Although the angel told them not to be afraid, they were both fearful and overjoyed as they ran to find the disciples.

“And behold, Jesus met them on the way and greeted them.   The angel spoke the truth to them and his word is true for us also.  We too will meet Jesus as we continue on our way and he will greet us.  We know from Scripture that he will never leave us.  Through the Church, his promised presence is manifested in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.  But the Risen Christ is with us each moment and will listen whenever we turn our minds and hearts to him.

We know from the stories of the Easter appearances that Jesus always asked his disciples to let go of fear and in its place to know his peace.  Peace was his gift to the apostles at the Last Supper and he reminded them of that peace each time he appeared to them after the Resurrection.  That peace, like his presence, is an Easter gift to us as well, since we too are disciples.

And as Peter preached after Pentecost, Jesus gives us pardon from our sins through his name.  We need not fear judgment or condemnation.  We do not have to be afraid that our weakness will cause the Lord to leave us.  Instead, we put our trust in him and in the power of his name and we are forgiven.

The presence, peace, and pardon of Jesus are given to us as gifts from God as we remember and give thanks for the Pascal Mystery.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

Our gospel story ends this Sunday at the tomb of Jesus.  He has suffered and died and a few faithful followers have quickly placed his body in a new grave as the Sabbath begins and a guard has been posted.

Every other Sunday the gospel tells of Jesus at work: healing, preaching, traveling, eating with sinners, proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven in both word and action.  He is active and alive, filled with the Holy Spirit, doing the Father’s work.  But today we remember that he has died.

In the passion account Jesus patiently and humbly endures all that was done to him: the physical pain, the betrayal, the abandonment, the denial, and the condemnation to death.  He submitted himself to all of it and in doing so emptied himself in every possible way.  And now he has died and been placed in a tomb.

I went to church early this morning so that I could walk through the parish cemetery before Mass.  Each grave is marked with a large wooden cross and is surrounded by colorful, abundant plants and flowers.  I prayed for those who were buried there.  There were all Christians, which means each of them took up their cross and followed after Jesus.  They sought to serve others as Jesus did.  They also suffered and as he did, and finally they each died as Jesus did.   Some, no doubt, lived a virtuous life and had a peaceful death: others struggled often, perhaps even at the end. Some of them died when they were but children; others reached a good old age. But they were all like Jesus and experienced what he did.

Next Sunday we celebrate the awesome reality that death is not the final word for Christians.  Jesus rose from the dead and lives today, and through our baptism and faith in him, we too will share in that resurrection.

But today it seems good to ponder the suffering that we have yet to face in our lives.  Perhaps it will be physical, mental or spiritual pain.  Maybe we will be abandoned by those closest to us or betrayed by a friend.  We have heard again in today’s gospel how Jesus endured his suffering and we pray for the same grace for ourselves for when we need it. 

We also might prayerfully consider our death.  If, during our life, we have imitated the Lord in emptying ourselves and surrendering all to God in trust, then death will simply be one final letting go.  What happens after that is the Good News of next Sunday.  But for now, we remember and realize again that suffering and the cross is the only way to get there.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Fifth Sunday of Lent

Everything in today’s story about Martha and Mary and their brother helps us see more clearly how much Jesus can do for us, his friends of today.  Lazarus and his two sisters were friends of Jesus.  They welcomed him into their home.  They listened to him.  They served him.  They knew that he loved them.  We too are faithful friends to Jesus when we welcome him into our hearts and homes, listen to him in prayer and throughout the day, and serve him when we see him in need.  We too are the ones he loves. 

We may be like Martha or Mary: some of us outgoing and busy all the time, others more laid back and willing to wait for the right moment.  Jesus understands us and does not expect the same from all of us.  Like Martha and Mary, who sent a short message to Jesus about their sick brother, we too would best keep our prayers simple and not presume to tell the Lord what he should do. 

Again, like the sisters, we need to trust Jesus in times of grief and struggle.  The temptation is to be angry or hurt, resentful and frustrated.  Instead, we need to believe that the Lord is very much with us.  He shares our pain, even when he knows that pain and hurt will not be the final word.  He wept at the tomb of Lazarus moments before he raised him from the dead.  We may not see such an immediate, joyful end to the pain in our lives as Martha and Mary did, but we can trust that God’s love will be work in some mysterious way.

In the gospel of John, eternal life begins when one believes in Jesus and his word.  Eternal life began for us when the Holy Spirit was poured into our hearts at baptism.  We are alive in Jesus already, filled with his love, one with him here and now. 

But we also share in his passion and cross.  The victory has been won, but we need to take up our cross and follow him in order to share in the life of the resurrection in the world to come.

Are we willing, midst the pain and death that often surrounds us, to put our trust in Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life?  Will we ask him to stir up in us the eternal life that dwells in our hearts?  Will we ask to be set us free from all that binds us, so that we may follow him along the way of the cross?  Martha and Mary did, as did Lazarus once he was restored to life.  We need to do the same.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Fourth Sunday of Lent

Jewish tradition at the time of Jesus held that God used his spit to mix with the dust of the earth in order to create Adam.  Knowing that gives added meaning to the gospel story of the man born blind, as Jesus uses spit and dirt to cover the man’s eyes and then has him wash in the waters of Siloam.  Jesus is making him into a new creation with spit and dirt and then sends him to be cleansed with water, similar to the waters of baptism.

When our Lenten journey is over in a few short weeks, we will renew our baptismal promises and be sprinkled with the waters of baptism.  This Easter Sunday ritual reminds us that baptism is only the beginning of our life in Christ and needs to be lived out one day at a time, one year at a time. 

Looking again at today’s gospel story, we are like the man born blind, for it takes us time to grow in the realization of who Jesus is, what he can do for us, and what our response ought to be – namely, making him Lord of our lives and desiring to grow more deeply in love and trust of him.  This is possible when we see life through the eyes of faith.

In the first reading, the Lord gives Samuel a reassuring word that while we see only appearances, God sees into the heart.  It is important then that we too look into our hearts on a regular basis to see what is there, for we are swayed and influenced by what dwells in our hearts.  For most of us, it is a combination of light and darkness.

Paul’s words to the Ephesians in the second reading remind us that we need to seek out all that is light and shun what is dark.  Our heart can be a battleground at times, but Jesus, the Light of the World, is more powerful than the evil one who seeks to draw us into the darkness of selfishness and self-pity.  We need to trust the Lord, for God knows our hearts, and the Lord will give us the grace we need to make them a more suitable dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. 

We rejoice this Laetare Sunday that we have been re-created in the waters of baptism.  We trust Jesus never to refuse our requests to see him more clearly.  And we know that when we most need him, he will find us, as he did the man born blind, and we will see the way forward yet again.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Third Sunday of Lent

When we take the time to speak to Jesus, he will do wonderful things for us, as he did for the woman at the well.  Jesus began by asking the woman to help him by giving him some water, but he ended up giving her more than she could have imagined.  Jesus never judged or condemned her, but she certainly became aware that Jesus knew all about her.  His conversation with her, their give and take, her willingness to learn from him, all of that changed her forever.  She becomes an evangelist as she rushes away to tell others in the town about her meeting the messiah.

Jesus desires to speak to us.  He has something for us to do.  He knows us and loves us, despite our thinking that we are undeserving of his love, attention, and time.  Jesus has something most precious to give to us, namely a relationship with him that will fill our hearts.  St. Augustine said it best centuries ago, “"You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you."

Lent is a time to grow in our knowledge, love, and service of the Lord Jesus.  St. Paul reminds us in the second reading that God has poured the Holy Spirit into our hearts.  The Spirit’s one desire is to lead us more deeply into the mystery of the love of God, incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ.  This will happen when we take time to pray and listen for God’s word to us.

And yet, how often we are like the people of Israel in the desert in the first reading.  We let fear find a place in our hearts.  We grumble and we lose hope. We don’t trust God to provide for us. 

Lent is a time to trust God no matter what we are up against.  We must hold fast to hope, knowing, as St Paul said, that hope does not disappoint.

The woman at the well was filled with faith, hope, and love after speaking to and listening to Jesus.  Her life was changed.  She opened her heart to Jesus and he gave her a new life.  Now he waits to do the same for us.  Remember the psalmist’s prayer, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart.”  Instead, as the beloved disciples that we are, we rest close to the heart of Jesus and open our own hearts to receive all that he will give us.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The 2nd Sunday of Lent

The Transfiguration opened the eyes of Peter, James, and John.  They were given a glimpse of what was to come after Jesus had fulfilled his Father's will.  Suffering and death would not be the final word. Faithfulness to the Father would lead to new and eternal life, beyond description.

It was both glorious and frightening.  Jesus was speaking with Moses and Elijah.  The voice of God called Jesus His son.  God told them to listen to Jesus.

Overwhelmed, they fell to the ground.  Then Jesus touched them and told them to rise.  He encouraged them not to be afraid. Opening their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus.

We fall at times and can't see the way forward.  It is then Jesus touches us also and helps us stand.  And God is pleased with us, for rather than giving into fear, we, His beloved, continue on with Jesus, His son.