Sunday, May 14, 2017

Do not let your hearts be troubled...

5th Sunday of Easter Year A 2017:
“I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.”  Jesus leads us to the Father.  He is the only pathway to heaven.  And how blessed we are to have Jesus as our guide.  I know I can say that this can be a crazy and confusing world we live in.  How many of us would be lost, wandering around without hope if it weren’t for Jesus?  He is our guide to heaven.  This is why it is so important for us to listen to Jesus’ voice, for us to know his words and his teachings.  Jesus wants to lead us to heaven if we listen to his voice and follow his commands.
But his commands can certainly be challenging.  Which one is the most difficult?  I’m sure each of us might list a different command: Love your enemy and pray for your persecutor; turn the other cheek; do not look at another with lust; forgive not 7 times but 77 times; love one another as I have loved you.  Yes, Jesus gives us some tough commands, but he gives us these commands to lead us to heaven.
But, in my opinion, one of the toughest commands that he gives is found in today’s gospel: Do not let your hearts be troubled, have faith.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, don’t worry, don’t fear, don’t have doubts, these things do not lead us to heaven.  Faith leads us to heaven, doubt, fear, anger, and anxiety will not lead us there.
But, I’ll freely admit that this is a struggle for me in my own life.  Anxiety, stress, and worry can really be a problem for me, especially in the last couple months.  Unfortunately, it’s been a really tense 2 months here at St. Jude’s.  We’ve had some great things going one: Easter, First Communion, Confirmation, weddings, etc.  All great, all beautiful; but also quite stressful.  But, all these events coincide with our annual budgeting process, which is also quite stressful. 
I don’t know about you, but life just always gets more stressful.  When I was in high school I thought: once I graduate and move out of the house, all my problems will go away.  Then what happened?  I found out that you have to pay bills and if you bounce checks it’s a real problem, etc.  More stress.  Then I went into the seminary.  I thought, going back to school and all my troubles will go away.  Then I found I had to write papers, read tough books, do service, learn how to pray and how to be a priest.  At the time I thought all that stuff was stressful.  Then I got ordained and found out that seminary was a like a vacation.  Now there were masses, funerals, weddings, confessions, appointments.  And that’s before I became a pastor.  Now as a pastor I have all that stuff, plus the stresses of managing a whole parish.
What’s my point?  I’m sure everyone here feels the same way.  Life always seems to get more stressful, more difficult.
Jesus knew this would happen to his disciples too.  That’s why he says: do not let your hearts be troubled.  If you notice trouble in your hearts, resolve to defeat it, overcome it.  Jesus tells us that faith is the key.  By listening to Jesus voice, by following his commands, we will have hearts filled with faith.  No stress, turmoil or problem will bring us down.  Now, this doesn’t mean that we won’t have stressful situations in our life, but they won’t be able to take over. 

As we celebrate this holy Eucharist we ask Jesus to strengthen that precious gift of faith.  We ask him to fill our hearts with his goodness so that we can fulfill his wonderful command: do not let your hearts be troubled.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Good Shepherd

Fourth Sunday of Easter Year A 2017:
Every year on the 4th Sunday of Easter we hear about Jesus, who is the Good Shepherd.  So you will often here this called Good Shepherd Sunday.  St. Peter in the Second Reading talks about us returning to the Shepherd and Guardian of our Souls.  Jesus tells us that he is the good shepherd and he came so that they might have life and have it abundantly.  Indeed, the words of the Psalm say it so well: the Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want. 
The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is one of our most beloved images of Jesus.  You see statues of Jesus with a sheep on his shoulders, pictures and paintings.  This is often the image we use when explaining Jesus’ love for us when we speak to children.  In fact, the earliest depiction of Jesus in Christian art comes from the 3rd Century.  This depiction of Jesus was found in one of the ancient catacombs.  In that image, Jesus is not on the cross, he is not teaching, he is the good shepherd.
But, I wanted to reflect just a little bit on what this means.  How can we speak about God?  How can we know about him?
If we stop and think about it, God is way beyond our comprehension.  God is eternal, all powerful, infinite.  God is 3 persons but one divine substance.  God is transcendent, our little human minds simply aren’t capable of comprehending God in his entirety.  So, anything and everything we say about God will be incomplete.  We say God is loving, God is merciful, God is patient, God is kind.  All these attributes are true, but they don’t sum up the essence of God. 
There is actually quite a difficult problem here.  Human language is quite limited.  Since it is a product of limited human beings, language can only take us so far.  In fact, people in history have tried to argue that since language cannot capture the essence of God, that it would actually be better not to say anything about God, since by speaking about God we will always fall short. 
But, the Church rejects this extreme position, because we follow the example of Christ in the gospel today.  While we acknowledge that human language cannot grasp the essence of God, it says in the gospel that Jesus spoke to them using figures of speech. 
Jesus says: I am the sheep gate.  Now, obviously, he is not literally a gate.  Gates don’t look like human beings.  So, it’s quite obvious that Jesus is using an image to try to explain a transcendent reality.  In this case, the image of the sheep gate is trying to explain a great mystery.  The image of the gate is an image for the communion between God and humanity.  We know that this communion was lost with the original sin.  Jesus is the new gate, open that leads to heaven.  These are tremendous mysteries that we can never fully grasp, but by reflecting on these images, our minds and hearts can be filled with God’s truth, even if we cannot know it fully.
What is your favorite image?  I’m assigning homework this week.  Take some time this week to reflect on your favorite image.  Maybe it’s the good shepherd.  Just pray psalm 23 slowly and fill in all the blanks: he leads me to green pastures, what does that mean for me in my life?  Maybe it’s the gate: Lord lead me into paradise.  Maybe it’s the image of faith being an anchor that gives us stability in difficult times.  Maybe it’s the image of the Church being the great boat that keeps us safe on our journey to the distant shore.  Maybe it’s the rock in the desert that once struck gushed forth life giving water.

There are so many images in scripture that elevate our hearts and minds to the mysteries of God.  On this Good Shepherd Sunday, we let our imaginations soar.  Jesus spoke using those figures of speech, not to confuse us.  But, to inspire us.  May our reflection upon Christ the Good Shepherd make us aware of his love and care for us, the sheep of his flock.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Happy Easter

Easter Sunday Homily 2017:
I hope you will all excuse me if I mess up anything this morning.  You see I was up pretty late last night.  Last night we celebrated our Easter Vigil, which if you have never been is a pretty amazing event.  We start with a huge bonfire.  Then we blessed this beautiful candle.  We heard many scripture readings, blessed the Easter water.  We baptized people, we confirmed people.  It’s an amazing event.
But, the reason I’m tired is because it started at 9:00 and I didn’t get home till after midnight.  Why shouldn’t we start that thing a little bit earlier?  Well, the laws of the church state that the entire Vigil must take place at night.  This is why we start at 9:00, so that it takes place after sunset and after the twilight.  The whole vigil takes place at night.  And that got me thinking about the importance of the night at Easter.  I mean think about it.  Yesterday when it was light it was Holy Saturday.  Jesus was in the tomb.  There was sadness in the air.  Now, here we are in the morning.  It’s light again and we are filled with joy.  So what exactly happened last night?  And why does the vigil which celebrates the resurrection take place at night?
First off, we don’t know the precise minute when Jesus was raised from the dead.  We just know that people were there Saturday, then Sunday morning the tomb was empty.  So we know it took place sometime in the night.  But, I think there is a deeper more symbolic reason. 
What does the night symbolize?  Darkness, emptiness, quiet.  There’s something unsettling about the night, something off putting about the dark.  How many parents out there have had to convince your children: there’s nothing to be afraid of in the dark?  Yet, even as adults, we have had scary moments at night I’m sure…  I remember driving home late from an ND football game.  I was the only one awake in the car, it was after midnight.  I was so scared I’d fall asleep and wreck the car (I didn’t obviously).  One time I was on vacation with a friend and we had this idea of going into the ocean after dark.  Seemed like a good idea.  But, we both got so spooked after like 5 seconds that we practically ran out of the water.  And don’t get me started on nightmares.  Just the other day I woke up in a cold sweat because I dreamed that I accidentally fell asleep in my house and slept through someone’s wedding.  People don’t usually appreciate it when you sleep through their wedding.  The night can be scary.  It’s dangerous too.  Nothing good happens after 2:00 AM…
And yet, our Vigil takes place entirely at night.  Amazing.  Christ has the power to transform sin into holiness, death into life, even darkness into light.  This is why we start our vigil outside by the Easter fire.  That bonfire is a whole lot of fun, but it is also a proclamation into the night: you don’t have power over us.  You might be dark and scary, but Christ has conquered over you.  I won’t be afraid of the darkness, because I have the light of Christ.
Did you notice the message of Jesus when he rose from the dead?  He says, do not be afraid.  First, the angel says: do not be afraid.  Then Jesus himself: do not be afraid.  I think that this message works on many levels.  First, the practical: do not be afraid about this empty tomb.  Nothing has gone wrong.  In fact, something amazing has gone right.  Jesus, the one who died, has been raised again.  Death seemed to win, but Christ is victorious.  So do not be afraid.  But, this message of Jesus seems to be a much deeper message: do not be afraid at all.  I am here.  I am alive.  Do not let the darkness bother you, I am here.  Do not be afraid of dying, all who believe in me will live.  Don’t live a life of fear, I am with you always.  Do not be afraid.
I can certainly say that this message hits home for me.  I’m always afraid.  I’m afraid I’m not good enough.  I’m afraid that I’m a sinner.  I’m afraid that I will stumble, fail, fall.  Jesus knows this.  No wonder Jesus says to me, you, and everyone: do not be afraid. 
We know that Jesus came to deliver us from evil.  We know that this means the forgiveness of our sins as well as the gift of eternal life.  But, even more, Jesus came to deliver us from all evil.  This includes fear, pain, anxiety, depression, addiction, you name it.  My message for all of you tonight is to widen your vision for the power of the resurrection.
I think that when we think about Easter and the resurrection we know that this means that Christ destroyed death, which is amazing and true.  But, Jesus is the light that came to banish all darkness.  So, what’s the next level?  The resurrection should change your life here and now, not just simply on the day when we die.  Jesus wants to destroy all the darkness in your life, not just at some point in the distant future. 
Thursday night we heard that Peter tried to stop Jesus from washing his feet.  He felt inadequate.  Yesterday we heard why he was inadequate when he denied Jesus three times.  But, even after all that, Jesus tells the disciples this message: don’t be afraid.  Jesus knows our weaknesses.  He knows our sinfulness.  He knows our darkness.  Yet, he died and was raised to deliver us from all the power of the enemy, all the power of the darkness.
So, this morning we all declare that we are not afraid of the dark.  This candle proclaims that Christ is alive.  This candle is a symbol that darkness doesn’t get to win.  Let this light shine in your hearts, in your minds, and in your lives.  Jesus wants to get rid of all your darkness.  Don’t hold back, don’t close up, open wide the doors of your hearts and your lives.  Jesus died to enter into the darkness.  And now he rises to bring his light into the lives of all who believe in him. 

No wonder we sing alleluia.  This work means: praise be to God.  That is the song in our hearts tonight: praise be to God.  Jesus is risen.  Do not be afraid.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Good Friday

Good Friday:
Last night we entered into the Last Supper of Jesus.  He washed our feet, he gave us his presence in the Eucharist, and his lasting ministry through the Priesthood.  Last night we also reflected on St. Peter.  He tried to stop Jesus from washing his feet.  He may have even had good motives: he didn’t feel worthy of having Jesus stoop down.  We might not feel worthy of his love either.  But, if we don’t let him love us, we will stop from receiving the most amazing gifts ever.
Today we are at the foot of the cross.  We hear about Jesus and his saving sacrifice.  Jesus hands over his life for us.  Again, we can look at St. Peter as an example for us.  You know, when St. Peter said last night that he wasn’t worthy, he may have been on to something.  Even though at the Last Supper Peter professed that he would never deny Jesus, we hear today that he did deny Jesus 3 times.  What do we learn?  Peter is weak.  He means well, but he fails.  Sound familiar?
Many of us have been going to confession recently.  Lent is a great time to experience God’s mercy.  But, I often feel like Peter.  I mean well, I profess I won’t fall, then I do…  But, you know what, the point is to keep getting up. 
Jesus knew Peter would fall.  He even predicted it at the last supper. And what does Jesus do today?  He still hands over his life.  Jesus knows we are not perfect.  Jesus knows we are sinners.  He loves us anyway.  He forgives us anyway.  Look at today: he dies because he loves us.
I hope everyone gets a chance to let this sink in.  Jesus dies today.  He really dies, he completely empties himself.  Even his blood and water flow out for us when his heart is pierced.  He really dies. 
This hasn’t always been easy to accept.  There have been people since the early days of the church who have found this hard to accept.  People have said: no, Jesus just appeared to die.  Or, no, Jesus just appeared to be fully human.  But, Jesus really died.  His whole life was handed over out of love for each of us, even though we are sinners.

Let that sink in today.  This is a lot of love.  Let this love fill you and give you hope.