Saturday, April 21, 2018

4th Sunday of Easter - Good Shepherd Sunday

Each year on the 4th Sunday of Easter, the gospel reminds us that Jesus is our Good Shepherd and we are His sheep.  Without a good shepherd, sheep cannot live a good life and often will have a very short life.  The reason for that is the shepherd makes sure that his sheep have food and drink and are kept safe from wolves that will destroy them.  Without a shepherd to follow, sheep get lost and find themselves all alone or, even worse, fall off mountain cliffs and die.

Without Jesus, we will not have eternal life.  Without Jesus, we will not have the Eucharist, our spiritual food and drink.  Without Jesus, we can easily get lost and wander into unsafe, dangerous places.  For sheep to live well, they have to follow the shepherd and stay close to him.  The same is true for Jesus and us. 

In order to follow Jesus faithfully, we have to live a moral life, to follow the commandments, to do our best to avoid sin, to imitate Jesus in our daily life.  That means we have to serve others, forgive those who have hurt us, trust God to care for us, and the Holy Spirit to lead us.

To follow Jesus faithfully, also means we need to be part of a community that prays together to give praise and worship to God.  At the Last Supper, as Jesus gave His disciples His Body and Blood, He told them, “Do this in memory of me.”  Ever since the beginning of the Church, Christians meet on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, for the Eucharist, which is why we are here right now.  Sunday Mass is the best prayer and the highlight of the week for our spiritual lives. Our relationship with Jesus, and with each other, is centered on Sunday Mass where we share again in the sacrifice Jesus offered on the cross for us.

To follow Jesus faithfully also requires us to take time each day to pray.  Perhaps it can only be for a few minutes, but we have to stay close to Jesus by speaking to Him, reading God’s word, and listening for the Lord to speak to us.

In the first reading, Peter preaches that salvation is in the name of Jesus, a reminder that our relationship with the Lord has to be important to us.  In the second reading, John tells us that the Father loves us and we are God’s children and when we see God, we will be like God.  Again, that means we have to stay close to God each day.

All of this reminds us that we need to put time into our relationship with Jesus, the Good Shepherd.  As His flock, we need to stay together, to follow Him faithfully and to stay united to Him each day, but especially on Sunday at Mass.  There is no better place we could be right now than right here. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Yap Catholic High School Student Retreat Day - Friday of the 3rd Week of Easter

There has been a lot of practicing for the upcoming musical showcase on the sophomore veranda and Tionna has been singing a song that reminds me of how God feels about every one of us. 

Here are some of the lyrics:
When I see your face 
There's not a thing that I would change 
'Cause you're amazing 
Just the way you are

That’s my first point today:
God looks on us and says, “You’re amazing” and God loves us just the way we are, with our faults and failings, our mistakes, our doubts, our fears.  God loves us just the way we are.  I know I say it often, but if we knew how much God loves us, we would be amazed, and even though God hasn’t demanded it or asked us in order to have Him love us, we would want to change. 

Feeling and knowing God’s love would make us want to be the best person we could be.  Perhaps you have already had the experience of being in love.  If you have, you know what I’m talking about.  Everything, including ourselves, looks better to us when we’re in love.  We smile more.  We’re nice to everyone.  We can’t wait to see him or her again.  Love changes us, and it’s always for the better.  God’s love, once we have experienced it, changes us and makes us better.  And, unlike the love of others, God’s love will never end. 

Here’s my second point:
We are not perfect, but we can be better than we are.  There are parts of our life that need to change and we can trust Jesus to show us what that is and to help us to do better.

The third point is:
We need to trust Jesus and realize that He will use other people in our lives to help us change and become better people.

In today’s reading, Jesus, the Risen Christ, has decided He has to do something about Saul, who will later be known as St. Paul, the first great missionary and preacher of Christianity.  Saul was going around capturing Christians and having them tortured and even put to death. 

Here’s something you might not know: Saul thought he was doing the right thing.  He thought God would be pleased with what he was doing.  He thought he was protecting the Jewish faith.  He was wrong, and Jesus Christ Himself, is going to set it up so that Saul will find out how he needs to change. 

You heard what Jesus did, if you were listening to the reading.  Jesus flashed some light that knocked Saul to the ground.  Bam! Then He said to Saul, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.” 

Notice that Jesus did not say, “Saul, what the … are you thinking of?  Are you crazy?  You ought to know better!  You’re acting like a worthless piece of…” Jesus did not say that.  Jesus would not talk to anyone that way because He loves everyone.  He simply tells Saul, “You’re persecuting me and I’m going to tell you what to do.”  We too need to be open to having Jesus correct us and help us in whatever way He chooses.

Now think back to what happens next in the story.  At the same time Saul is on the ground on the road to Damascus, in that same city, the Lord speaks to a Christian named Ananias.  He tells him where to go and that he needs to pray over Saul who is now blind.  But Ananias had heard all about Saul, so he says to the Lord, “Lord, wait a second, I know about this guy.  He is hurting people in Jerusalem, your holy ones, and now he is having others thrown into prison. Ahhh, I'm not sure….”

But the Lord says to Ananias, “Just go. I plan to have Saul preach about me to the Gentiles and I will show him that he is going to suffer for my name.” So Ananias goes and everything is just the way the Lord told him it would be.  He prays over Saul.  He even calls Saul his brother. And Saul is immediately healed and then baptized and starts to get better. 

We all need to be like Ananias.  How you ask?  Let me tell you.  Ananias prayed and he listened for what God had to say to him.  And then he did it.  He didn’t judge Saul.  In fact, he forgave Saul, and called him “my brother.” 

We need to pray, even for just a few minutes every day because then God will speak quietly to us telling us what He would like us to do.  And then, like Ananias, we do it.  We don’t judge people; instead we think of them as your brothers or sisters, and in doing so, we help others as Ananias helped Saul.

So remember this:

- God thinks we’re amazing and He loves us, just the way we are.

- Knowing God’s love will make us want us to change, to become a better person.

- Jesus will show us how to do that and will send others to us who can help us.  He will send us to others to help them as well. 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Third Sunday of Easter

I know only one word in American Sign Language, but to me, it’s the best word.  It’s Jesus.  To sign Jesus, you take the middle finger of one hand and place in in the middle of the other hand’s palm and then do it again, switching hands.  It’s a beautiful sign, and we are called to look at it in today’s gospel.

After appearing to the disciples and frightening them in doing so, Jesus tells them, “Look at My hands and My feet.” He wasn’t trying to shame them or make them feel bad.  Rather, His hands and feet, bearing the holes made by the nails at the crucifixion, are powerful reminders of the love that He has for them and for us.  Even in His glorified risen Body, Jesus still bears the marks that speak of the price He paid for us to save us from sin and death.

It is most important to remember that Jesus died for our sins, as evidenced by the fact that it is mentioned in each of today’s Scripture readings.  In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Peter preaches to the people that witnessed the miracle he performed for the lame man and tells them that Jesus was the Christ who suffered for them.  In return, they need to be converted to have their sins wiped away.

St. John, as an old man, writes in the second reading and tells us not to commit sin, but he reassures us that if we do, we have an Advocate, one who will take our side, who has offered Himself as an expiation for the sins of the world. 

And Jesus opens the minds of the disciples to the Scriptures to understand that He had to suffer and rise again so that sins might be forgiven.  Now they are to be witnesses to that and are sent out to preach repentance so that all might know of the forgiveness of sins that Jesus offers.

The joyful season of Easter is all about new life and living eternally, but at the heart of the mystery of the Resurrection is the mercy that is offered to us.  We are all sinners, every one of us.  And we need to repent and trust in God’s mercy each and every time we sin.  Jesus will never refuse us, no matter how often we have to ask. 

We believe in Jesus and have received the promise of eternal life in Baptism.  The Holy Spirit dwells within us.  Jesus offers His Body and Blood to us in the Eucharist.  We are strengthened in the Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation. We receive pardon from our sins and grace to do better in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 

But we still need to do our part.  We need to have a close relationship with Jesus and rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, allowing the Spirit to work within us to make us holy.  As St. John wrote in today’s second reading, we need to keep the Lord’s commandments and keep His word so that the love of God will be perfected within us.  We need to work at this each and every day of our lives, until we see the hands and feet of Jesus when we meet Him at the end of our life.

No matter how difficult or busy our lives get, we need to take time to pray, to look at the hands and feet of Jesus, and to hear Him offer us “Peace.”   We need to read God’s word.  We need to keep His commandments.  We need to serve and love others.  And we need to seek God’s mercy and grace.  Trusting in the Lord, we will live with Him forever.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion

St. Mark mentions different individuals in his account of the passion, all of whom invite us to ponder what we might learn from them.  Certainly one of the most touching is the woman who anointed Jesus with perfumed oil in Simon’s house in Bethany.  As Jesus said at the time, she is still remembered for what she did for Jesus.  Simon of Cyrene is another who is remembered for his carrying the cross for Jesus.

One individual, among the many others, has intrigued me ever since I first listened to the passion being read in church over 50 years ago.  His identity is a mystery, although one theory among others is very appealing.  This is the young man who runs away naked from Gethsemane.  Some Scripture scholars believe that the young man is John Mark, St. Mark himself.  It is known that John Mark’s mother was the one who offered Jesus and His disciples a place to celebrate the Passover.  The theory is that once everyone had departed, Mark went to sleep, but was awakened when the Roman soldiers led by Judas came looking for Jesus.  When they didn’t find Jesus there, they moved on since Judas would have known where they went.  Mark decided to follow them without getting dressed, which would explain the one piece of linen cloth that he left behind when he ran from Gethsemane.

When the soldiers arrested Jesus, everything must have been threatening and dangerous, causing everyone to flee.  The soldiers tried to grab the others as they were rushing away, and the young man was so desperate to escape that he runs off naked as a soldier grabs at him.  When life becomes difficult or dangerous, don’t we want to run, feeling naked and vulnerable?  Instead of staying still and trusting that God is with us, we run away or hide within ourselves.  But if the young man was St. Mark, we know that he later became a part of the Christian community, and filled with the Holy Spirit, became a missionary and evangelist.  Even in the middle of the passion, the naked young man reminds that there is always a second chance with Jesus, no matter what we’ve done in the past.

At the end of today’s gospel, Mark tells us that there were many women who were with Jesus through His Passion.  They had followed Him in Galilee and ministered to Him.  Some we know; others were known only to each other and to Jesus. Their courage, faithfulness, and perseverance are beautiful, especially in contrast to the men who fled in fear.  Don’t we know some of their sisters today who are as faithful and fearless as they were? Seeing their example, we might ask God for the grace to be like them as we seek to be faithful to Jesus in our lives.

We now begin the week we call holy, as we recall again the Last Supper, the Passion and Death, and the Resurrection.  Much of it is mystery; all of it is love.  Trusting in that love, we watch Jesus and learn from Him, hoping to be given a share in His glory.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

5th Sunday in Lent

God promises in the first reading from Jeremiah that with the New Covenant he will make with the house of Israel and the house of Judah he will forgive evildoing and will remember their sin no more.  Once our evildoing is forgiven, God does not remember our sins.  Our God is that good to us.  We hear each time we are at Mass that the Blood of Jesus is the New and Eternal Covenant.  Jesus gave up His Body and His Blood so that we would be forgiven and our sins would be forgotten.

All of us sin.  We sin often.  We sometimes sin seriously.  So this is Good News to know that we can be forgiven and all can be forgotten, but first we need to admit that we have sinned and then ask for forgiveness.  That is not always easy to do and to confess our sins to a priest in order to receive absolution can be very humbling.  But we all have to do that.  And when we do, God forgives and forgets and fills us with grace.

Once we are forgiven, we begin again to be obedient.  The second reading from the letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus, even though He was the Son of God, learned to be obedient through what He suffered.  His suffering shows us how to be faithful to God and how much God loves us.  Suffering makes us more like Jesus.  When we die to ourselves, God can work more powerfully through us.  We look to the needs of others and in doing do, become more like Jesus.

In today’s gospel, some Greeks went to Philip and said, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” They had heard about Jesus and they wanted to see Him.  In St. John’s gospel, to see means to believe, and to believe in Jesus brings eternal life.  Do we have a desire each day to see Jesus, to believe in Him, to have eternal life with him?  Too often, we take the Lord for granted and forget we need to see Him and believe in Him for eternal life.  

In response to the Greeks’ request, Philip went to Andrew, and then Andrew and Philip went to Jesus.  The two apostles did what they could to make sure the Greeks saw Jesus.  When is the last time, we helped others to see Jesus, as Andrew and Philip did? There may be people in our lives who won’t come to know Jesus without our help.  Jesus needs us and relies on us to bring others to Him.

Jesus teaches in today’s gospel that if we want to live, we have to die.  If we want to preserve our life for eternity, we have to hate our life here.  And if we want to serve Him, we have to follow Him, and that will entail suffering.  His hour is coming and with a certain urgency Jesus wants all to know what they need to do.

In today’s gospel, God the Father speaks with thunder and assures Jesus that He has glorified His name and will do it again.  Jesus explains that this is the time for judgment and for defeating the ruler of this world, the devil.  And when He is lifted up from the earth on the Cross, He will draw everyone to Himself. 

In these last 10 days of Lent before the Triduum begins, we make our way to the Cross to remember again that we are forgiven and we are loved, and we are called to live and to die as Jesus did.