Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter Vigil

Easter Vigil:
Tonight is the night!  The best night of the whole year.  The night we remember Jesus and his rising from the dead.  Tonight is the night that makes everything new.  Tonight changes everything.
Over the last couple of days we celebrated Jesus’ Last Supper, we celebrated his death.  But by themselves these events are not entirely ground breaking.  People have eaten Paschal dinners before, people had died on the cross before.  But, never has anyone risen from the dead like this.  In fact, it is because of Jesus’ rising that his death and last supper take on a new significance.  This is not simply a matter of resuscitation, this is not simply a medical advance.  This is an entirely new event in the course of human history.  This Jesus who died, is dead no longer.  As a result, it is not simply enough to say that Jesus WAS alive; now, and forever, Jesus IS alive.
When Jesus rises from the dead he takes all of us with him.  One of the things I like about this Easter Vigil are the extended readings that we hear.  It gives us a yearly chance to relive the whole sweep of salvation history.  We recognize that God made us, but because of the Original Sin, death enters the world.  Yet, God never abandons us; rather, he guides and shepherds his people throughout all of history, culminating Tonight.  Everything in the history of the world has been leading up to this night, and everything since this night is seen in a new and amazing light.  For Jesus has broken the bonds of death.  No wonder the message of tonight’s gospel is “do not be afraid.”
No wonder this night is not like any other.  For it is this night that gives the human race new hope.  It is this night that the human race receives the gift of new life.  No longer are we imprisoned by death and destruction; now, all those who believe in Christ will live just like he does. 
What could possible give us fear?  If Christ has destroyed death, there is nothing left to give us fear.  Christ has destroyed sin, he has destroyed evil, he has destroyed death.  And even if we end up facing these things in this life, we know that they no longer have the last word.  Evil doesn’t win!  That is the story of the cross.  That even though we live in a broken world, that brokenness is not the last word.  The last word is that one spoken from Christ: do not be afraid. 
What a great joy it is for us to gather here tonight and renew our faith in the resurrection.  We get a chance to hear Christ say to each one of us: do not be afraid.  What gives you fear or anxiety?  What causes you trouble or concern?  I want us all to call to mind some concern we face, something that gives us anxiety, causes fear.  Now, take that thing and stack it up against the amazing wonder of the Resurrection and how does it look now?  Pretty small I imagine…  Why do we let the trials and troubles of this world cause us fear?  Jesus is alive!  Death has no power over us, and Jesus can come to our aid in difficult times.  Our faith and the power of the sacraments help us in difficult times.
Tonight many of our community will be receiving these sacraments for the first time.  Hear the words of Jesus: do not be afraid.  These sacraments are the doorway to new life.  They are Christ’s gift to us.  They give us the power to overcome fear or anxiety; they give us the power to live lives of holiness, to grow closer to Christ.

My friends, Jesus is alive, what could possible cause us to be afraid in the light of such an awesome truth?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday

Good Friday 2014
We continue through our three days of remembering all that Christ has done for us.  Last night he stooped down to wash away our sinfulness, he fed us with the Holy Eucharist, and he handed on his ministry to the first priests.  Today he shows us exactly how far he is willing to go for each one of us.  It is not too much to say that there is nothing more that Christ could possible give us.   
He hands over his body.  The pain and anguish of Christ on this Good Friday is hard to ignore.  Last night he suffered the pain of betrayal at the hand of one of his chosen followers.  Then he quickly suffers the pain of abandonment by the rest of his chosen followers.  This morning he suffers the pain of being mocked, the pain of being misunderstood, the pain of being unjustly condemned.  His physical pains are well known as well, there is the crown of thorns, the scourging at the pillar, the carrying of the cross, the falls on the way.  Also on the way to the cross, he suffers the pain of seeing his mother in anguish.  His hands and feet are pierced.  He is left to die on the cross.  Crucifixion is a particularly nasty death as the cross kills by a slow and painful asphyxiation as a person’s lungs fill with fluid.  Even after his death, Christ’s heart is pierced with a lance, and blood and water flow out. 
I would venture to say that any suffering that a human being could possibly experience in this life was experienced by Christ.  Think about any pain you have ever suffered, whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual.  Christ suffers it today.  The great lesson that we learn today is that we do not have a Savior who is unable to relate to us in our suffering and pain.  No matter what we face in this life, and there are often times of pain and difficulty, was experienced by Christ.  In the crucifixion, Christ gives us the key to understanding how to be strong in the face of pain and suffering.  He says simply: I thirst.
Remember back a few weeks ago, we heard how Jesus thirsted for the faith of the woman by the well.  Jesus’ great thirst is really a thirsting for love.  He longs for each one of us.  He loves us and wants nothing more than to draw us to himself.  It was his thirst that brought him to this earth, and it was this thirst that brought him to the cross.  It was this thirst that provides for him the motivation to take each step, it gives him his reason and purpose for undergoing his passion and death.  

What a great lesson our Lord teaches us.  What is our thirst?  In the heart of every human person there is a thirst for God.  He made us, we belong to him, we will only be happy when we are in communion with him.  Jesus himself is the living water that can satisfy our thirst.  So, whenever we suffer in this life, it reminds us of the thirst we have for something more.  We thirst for a life without pain, a life without suffering, a life in communion with God.  And by recognizing this thirst in the midst of our sufferings, it becomes a pathway to faith. 

Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday:
I have given you a model to follow, as I have done for you, you also should do.  Tonight we enter into the Sacred Triduum, the yearly entrance into the great paschal mystery.  This is the Passover of the Lord Jesus, where the blood of the Lamb frees us from the bondage of sin and death.  We begin here at this Last Supper with Jesus.  This is the supper he greatly desired to celebrate with his friends.  He celebrates the Jewish feast of Passover, but he makes it his own, giving it a new meaning and significance.
We hear in the first reading about the institution of the Passover supper.  The Israelites were to celebrate this supper annually to remember all that God had done for them, especially when he rescued them from slavery in Egypt.
Our Passover supper tonight is much the same.  We gather to celebrate this supper annually to remember the great things that Christ has done for us.  Really this whole Triduum is an extended period of remembrance.  Each day we remember something specific.  Tonight we remember Christ’s Last Supper.  Tomorrow we remember his passion and death.  Saturday we remember his rising from the dead. 
But, in each case we do not simply remember as though it were some distant event.  This is not like remembering the declaration of independence every July 4th.  Rather, when we gather during these holy days to remember, we get to enter into the very mysteries we celebrate.  Tonight as we gather to remember the Lord’s last supper, he is here in our midst.  The deeper we reflect on these saving mysteries, and the more we are open to Christ who speaks to us, the more we are able to see his example. 
Tonight we remember three key events that took place at the Last Supper, Christ washing the feet of his disciples, the gift of the Eucharist, and the institution of the Priesthood.  Each of these events teaches us something important.  The better we remember these events, the better we can follow Christ’s example.
You call me master and teacher, and rightly so because I am.  But, if I have washed your feet you must wash each other’s feet.  There is nothing pretty about washing feet.  Remember that in the days of Jesus neither shoes nor cars had been invented.  So, a person’s feet tended to be quite dirty.  This is why it was pretty standard custom for a wealthy homeowner to have one of his servants by the door in order to wash his guests’ feet.  It would have been crazy for the master of the house to be doing this kind of work.  We even see that Peter had an almost violent reaction to such humility: Master, you will never wash my feet.  What love, what humility.  That Christ would stoop to wash the feet of his disciples.  The showing of humility is amazing.  But, even more, the Church has seen this act of washing feet as being a symbol for baptism.  The Lord stoops down to wash us clean, to forgive us, to show us his mercy.  As people who have experienced this love, this humility, this forgiveness, Christ calls us to go and do likewise.  We are called to bend down to pick up our neighbor, we are called to spread his love and mercy.
At this same Last Supper, Christ also gives us the gift of the Holy Eucharist.  If you thought bending down and washing feet was humble, how much more so is the gift of the Eucharist?  Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of the Father, and he gives us his body and blood as an eternal memorial.  But, he does so in a humble and lowly way.  Simple bread and wine become his very body and blood.  At this Mass and at every Mass, he takes lowly elements and transforms them for us.  There are no earthquakes, no lightning flashes.  Rather, the Eucharist is simple and humble, and handed over to people like us.  What a lesson the Eucharist teaches us.  Every Mass is like attending a 3-credit course in humility, simplicity, and service.  Who are we to scoff at our neighbor, or fail to give of ourselves, when our Savior tireless pours himself out to us in the Holy Eucharist.
Finally, tonight we remember the first ordination class.  When Jesus says “do this in memory of me,” he hands over his priestly ministry into the hands of the Apostles.  Another lesson in humility.  Christ did not choose the highest classes or the smartest people.  Christ chose lowly fishermen, common men, who were weak and sinful.  In fact, tonight the apostles show their weakness in an important way, because when Jesus is arrested they all flee.  They were weak and humble men.  And yet, it was precisely these men that Christ called as the first priests.
I can tell you from personal experience that not much has changed.  He continues to call weak sinners to be his priests.  Talk about amazing humility.  In order to carry on his important priestly ministry, he chooses ordinary common men.  Christ doesn’t choose supermen to be priests.  He chooses ordinary, lowly men.  But there is one catch.  Notice the order the apostles receive these signs.
First, the Apostles have their feet washed.  The first step on the road to priesthood is experiencing the mercy of Christ.  I can say this is very true in my own life.  What drew me to the priesthood was the amazing mercy and forgiveness that God gives in the sacrament of confession.  I thought: what an amazing gift, how blessed I would be if I could give that gift to others. 
Next, the Apostles were fed by Christ by the Eucharist.  I can say with certainty that every priestly vocation is born in front of Christ in the Eucharist.  Here in the Holy Eucharist every priest finds his mission: to give everything in humble service.   In many ways, the Eucharist IS the vocation to priesthood because the Eucharist gives the priesthood its meaning and direction.  To be a priest means to be a person who loves the Eucharist. 
Every priestly vocation needs these two things as prerequisites: an experience of the mercy of Christ and a love for the Holy Eucharist.
Tonight I’m asking for you to pray for your priests.  Not just Fr. Bob, Fr. Paul, and myself, but all priests everywhere.  That we might continue to experience God’s mercy, be strengthened by the Holy Eucharist, and be inspired to share these gifts with others.  But, I would also ask you to pray that more young men will experience God’s mercy and fall in love with the Eucharist.  Men like that will be inspired to go and do likewise.

What tremendous love the Lord shows us tonight: he stoops down to wash away our lowliness, he gives himself to us in the Holy Eucharist, and he continues his work among us through the hands of priests.  Truly this night, this Holy Night, is a night for us to be thankful.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Jesus brings healing

4th Sunday of Lent Year A 2014:
First, let me just say happy Laudate Sunday to you all.  You may notice that I’m wearing the pink vestments today (call them Rose if that makes you feel better).  We do that because of today’s entrance antiphon that starts: Rejoice Jerusalem.  This pink vestment is a sign that we are already halfway through Lent.  Easter is only 3 weeks away.  So, the pink vestment gives us hope in the midst of our Lenten penances, but also reminds us that we have 3 good weeks left to prepare ourselves to celebrate the feast of Easter.
Today in the gospel we hear of the encounter of Jesus with the man who was born blind.  Right away I find something very interesting about this story.  Notice the first thing the disciples ask Jesus “who sinned?”  Seems like a strange question.  Clearly the disciples recognize that this man’s condition is one of profound difficulty.  This man bears an affliction, for he is deprived of sight.  Because of this, he would have experienced much suffering in his life.  But, the disciples assume that someone must have sinned, someone needs to be blamed for this man’s condition.
How does Jesus respond?  Neither him nor his parents are responsible for his condition.  He was not born blind because of someone’s sin.  Many times when people are going through a tough situation, they will say to me, “I think God is punishing me.”  It’s the same attitude in the gospel, bad things happen because God punishes sin.  But, I don’t think God works that way.  I think it is true that we are often judgmental and vindictive, but I don’t think God works that way.  God does not cause evil.  Why was this man born blind?  Why do we suffer?  Why do bad things continue to happen to good people?  We still want answers to these questions.  When faced with the problem of suffering, sadness, grief, mourning, blindness, and death, we want to know why this happens.  Who sinned, who’s to blame?
No one in particular is to be blamed.  We live in a broken world.  The man born blind reminds us of this fact.  We inherit a certain brokenness, a blindness.  We go through suffering and pain.  But, this is not the end of the story.  Our Father in heaven looked with mercy on us, and sent his Son Jesus to take away our blindness, to heal our brokenness.  He came to give us sight.  The story of the gospel is really our story, because when we were baptized Jesus opened our eyes.  He invited us to understand that while we might live in a broken world, he came to bring us healing.  Even though we might suffer and die, Jesus came to give us strength and to lead us to everlasting life.
But, this doesn’t happen all at once.  Notice that the man born blind was healed by Jesus, but when asked at first, he says that Jesus is a prophet.  Yet by the end of the story, he calls Jesus Lord and worships him.  Even though he was enlightened by faith, he continued to grow in his faith by his worship of Jesus.

We have been enlightened by faith through our baptism.  But, we also grow in our faith by our worship.  Here at the Mass we have a chance to worship Jesus, to receive the Holy Eucharist, to grow in our faith.  Like the man born blind in the gospel today, we all experience the brokenness of this fallen world in one way or another.  But, enlightened by faith that comes through baptism and strengthened by our worship of Christ in this Holy Sacrament we can find in Jesus the one who can take away our blindness, the one who can bring us healing and peace.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Transfiguration

2nd Sunday of Lent Year A:
Every year on the second Sunday of Lent, the Church gives us the Transfiguration as our gospel passage.  It is an interesting passage to get for Lent.  We know that Lent is a time of purification, self-denial, and sacrifice.  Yet, this gospel is all about the glory of Christ revealed to his disciples.  Why a passage on the transfiguration, when a passage on Jesus’ suffering seems more appropriate.
I think it is so easy to focus on Christ in this passage, that we miss out on the role this event had on the lives of the disciples.  Notice how the event begins, Jesus takes them up a mountain.  Also, notice how the event ends, Jesus takes them back down a mountain.  The event itself is spectacular: the disciples get to see Jesus Christ, the Son of God in all his glory.  They get to see the prophets.  They even get to hear the voice of God the Father speaking from heaven, convincing them that Jesus really is God’s Son.  What an unbelievable and exciting event, it must have changed their lives forever.  But, what do we find?  They returned down the mountain, in the same ordinary way they got up there.
Also, you would think that if the disciples had seen Jesus transfigured on the mountain, they never would have forgotten something so amazing.  Yet, we know what happens a little while later on the night when Jesus is arrested.  No one stays with Jesus.  No one defends him.  No one says to the guards, you might as well kill me.  I won’t let you take Jesus, I know who he is.  I have seen him transfigured, I have heard the voice of God saying he is his only begotten son.  Instead, they all flee.
I have been thinking about this passage a lot.  In some ways it doesn’t make a lot of sense.  It is an amazing and wonderful event.  But, why didn’t it change their lives forever?  In some ways this event seems a bit like an episode of the Simpsons.  Have you ever noticed that in every episode crazy and funny things always happen.  Yet, the very next episode begins and nothing is ever different.  Bart stays a little boy, Homer never seems to learn anything.  It is as if the previous episodes hadn’t happened.  Why do the disciples act as though the transfiguration didn’t stay with them?
I think it is as simple as the fact that they forgot about it.  No matter how amazing this event must have seemed when they were experiencing it, it didn’t leave a lasting impression on their lives.  Rather than letting this be a formative experience that helps them in their life of discipleship they seem to forget about it.  And since they forget about it, it doesn’t have a lasting effect in their lives.
Are we all that much different?  Speaking from my own experience, I have had many wonderful experiences in my life that were similar to the transfiguration.  No, I never saw the heavens opened up quite like in the gospel.  But, I have had profound moments of prayer.  I have had moving experience, like the day I was ordained a priest.  I have had experiences of love and joy with my family and friends.  In many ways, God reveals himself to us in these great experiences.  But, how often do we remember them?  Do we let these amazing experiences affect who we are?  Or when we are done with these great experiences, do we live our life just the same as always?
Now, when God gives us these amazing events, we might want to put up our tents and stay there like Peter suggests.  We know we cannot do that, we have to continue to live our daily lives.  But, the key is that when God touches our lives, he does so in order that we might be able to rely on that experience in difficult times. 

No wonder, then, that we come here to Mass every week, or even every day.  I think of the Mass as an example of the Transfiguration that happens all the time.  Every time we go to Mass Jesus leads us up the mountain.  Every time we go to Mass, Jesus is right here before us.  We hear to voices of Moses, Elijah, or the other prophets in the Scriptures.  We hear the voice of God, in the gospel.  We even hear the Father pointing to Jesus when the priest says: Behold the Lamb of God.  Then when Mass is done, we walk back down the mountain and back to our regular lives.  But, hopefully we are different.  Unlike the Simpsons who never seem to change, hopefully our faithful participation at Mass has a lasting effect in our lives so that when we face difficulties we might be able to say and do the right thing.