Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Sorry to be out of the loop the last week. I was actually in Columbus, OH. I was there to visit my Alma Mater, the Pontifical College Josephinum. I would like to thank my diocesan brothers who invited me to take them all out for dinner, which I was glad to do. Further, I was there to concelebrate the Mass of Ordination for Matthew and Terrance Coonan. These brothers were ordained as Deacons for our Diocese of Fort Wayne South Bend. I count it a pure grace to have been there. What a beautiful ceremony. I especially enjoyed the beautiful Waczek memorial Pipe organ played by the masterful John Hammond. This organ was installed 2 years ago almost to the day. I remember the installation well because it was completed and played for the first time during my own deaconate ordination 2 years ago. I had forgotten just how great an instrument it really is.
Please pray for these two new deacons. They will be assigned to some parish this summer where they will begin their ordained ministry. Deacons can baptize, preside at funerals or weddings, read the gospel, give homilies, preach, and especially work with the poor. Anyone who encounters these two newly ordained deacons will see all of these being put into practice.
On a personal note, I have to say I was so happy to have been there for their ordination. In many ways I got to see these two young men "grow up" into the deacons they are and the priests they will become. I was in the seminary the whole time they were. I still remember the first time I met Matt Coonan (I think my head is still spinning). Matt is a rare individual, I don't think I have met a more driven person. The first time I met Tink he still had shoulder length hair and was going to school. It has truly been a joy to see them as they have embraced seminary formation. I just wish they were somewhat athletic. (That is a joke, they run circles around me).
God bless Matt and Tink: ad multos annos.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Today's readings tell us something interesting about power, about authority. In our world there are many different models for power. There is the military model. In the military model, power is attained by brute strength. The nation with the most powerful weaponry and the best army will be the nation with power. People respond to this power out of fear, knowing that there could be repercussions if the authority is not obeyed. But, this model is fatally flawed because it is dependent upon strength, not goodness or justice. The military model is much like settling disputes in the Runyon household, the one who yells loudest is correct, not necessarily the one with the best argument.
Next, there is the democratic model. In this model, power is given to some at the will of the majority. This is the model we follow here in America. We vote for certain leaders and they get the power to make laws and to defend laws. People respond to this kind of power out of duty and respect to the political process. If we don't agree with the people in charge, we can vote for others the next time it comes around. Again, this model is fatally flawed since it is not based upon truth, but upon the will of the majority. Democracy might be better than dictatorship, which is based on the will of an individual. But, democracy is still based on the whims of the majority. In the democratic model, who stands up for the weak, those without voices, I'm thinking in particular of the unborn, who speaks for them?
Another model prevalent in our world today is the terrorist model. This model preys on our insecurities. This model tries to wrest power from the strong and from the majority by playing on human fear. By endangering our way of life, the terrorist seeks power at the cost of human dignity, at the cost of reason, at all costs. The terrorist will even destroy themselves to further the cause of fear.
What a contrast Jesus provides us with! We hear in the second reading that all glory, honor, and power belong by right to the lamb who was slain. Jesus Christ deserves all power and authority in heaven and on earth, and he is the lamb who was slain. He did not take power by brute strength, he did not win power by election or popular vote, he did not die as an attack on others. Rather his sacrificial death, his death on behalf of others gained for him all power and glory. All people shall obey him. Jesus undoes all of our models of power. Instead of strength, he dies on the cross. Instead of swaying the popular vote, the crowd turned against him. Instead of attacking others, he allows himself to be attacked, to die. Yet, through this suffering, through this death, he overcomes sin and death. After his resurrection he ascends to the heights of heaven where he is seated upon his throne. The power of Christ, the king of the universe is born out of suffering, out of service: he came not to be served but to serve.
In the gospel we hear Christ handing over authority to Peter: feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep. For the Christian, power and authority must correspond to Christ's authority. Peter was not given authority to be served, but he was called to serve. The same is true for all of us, as parents, as teachers, as priest, leaders of all kinds, whatever authority we have, we should exercise this authority as Christ, by sacrificing ourselves so that others might live.
Where did Peter get the inspiration to exercise authority this way? Where do we get that inspiration: notice that before Christ tells Peter to feed his sheep, each time he asks him: do you love me? It is our relationship with Christ that is the foundation of all that we do. To love Christ is the first most important thing. Loving Christ will allow us to answer like the apostles: I must obey God, not the whim of human authority. And when we find ourselves in authority, our love of God should motivate us to lead by living lives of service.
When we come to this Eucharist Christ again reaches out to us, as he did to the apostles saying: have something to eat. Receive the Lord's body and blood, draw closer to Christ. Fall so deeply in love with Christ that like St. Peter you will feed his sheep, fall so deeply in love with Christ that like the apostles you must obey God, fall deeply in love with the lamb who was slain, to whom all power, honor, and glory belong.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
John Paul II named this Sunday (the Sunday within the Octave of Easter) Divine Mercy Sunday. When I think of God's mercy it makes me think of 3 essential points, all of which intersect with the Gospel for today (the story of "doubting" Thomas.
1: Mercy is a free gift. Mercy is given never earned. Jesus appears to the Apostles and says: peace be with you. He then shows them the price of his mercy, his hands and his side. Jesus Christ was sent as God's mercy upon sinful humanity. In his death and resurrection he forever destroys sin and death. This mercy is given, not earned. This is why Jesus gives peace to the apostles. It is his gift for us, the gift that he won for us with his blood. We cannot earn mercy, we have to receive it. This should make us thankful!
2: We have a desire to experience mercy. Thomas was not there when Jesus showed the apostles the marks mercy left upon him. He was not there to see mercy, to experience mercy: I will not believe unless I see, Thomas says. I will not believe in God's mercy unless I experience it. Now mercy is never earned, it is given, but in that it is freely given, we long to experience it. We want to come to mercy. We want to see Jesus. Now we may not get to see Jesus the way that Thomas did, but we do get to experience the same mercy. We get to experience the same Jesus when he gives us his blessing of peace. When we go to confession, when we receive God's mercy in that amazing sacrament, it is analogous to seeing Jesus' wounds, to placing our hand in his wounded side. When we experience the love and mercy of Christ in this sacrament, we behold the mercy of Christ our savior: Blessed indeed are those who have not seen and believe, for they receive the same mercy.
3: this mercy seeks to be shared. When we receive God's gift of mercy, when we experience it in our daily lives, we must become merciful. The best thanks we can give to God for his mercy to us is to be merciful to those around us. Mercy must be passed on. Having experienced God's gift of mercy we must share that mercy, that gift with our family and friends.
Jesus we trust in you.
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Today we celebrate the feast of Easter. We recall that day when Jesus Christ rose from the dead. By his rising from the dead, Christ destroys sin and death forever. He liberates us from our captivity. He gives to each of us the promise of everlasting life. In the resurrection we see the great victory of Christ our hero, Christ God and Man.
But, how do we know that the resurrection really happened? We are a people who love scientific evidence. We love test tubes and tape measures. For us to believe in something it has to be verifiable, empirical. For us to believe in something we want to see it, to touch it. Let's look at the resurrection. We have plenty of evidence of Jesus' death. That is verifiable. Even outside of the gospel, there are historical accounts that testify to the death of Jesus. We know that he was killed by the Romans around 2000 years ago outside the city of Jerusalem. There can really be no doubting this. The fact that Jesus died is just as certain to our minds as the death of Abraham Lincoln or the sinking of the Titanic. It is a historical truth. What empirical evidence do we have for the Resurrection? All we really have is the empty tomb. We know that Jesus was laid in this tomb, but now there is nothing there. We would love to have the same empirical evidence, but we don't. All we have is an empty tomb, a negative proof: Jesus should be there, but he isn't.
This is the beginning of our understanding of the resurrection. Jesus died and he should be found among the dead, but he is not. This is the place where we begin our prayer and reflection: Oh Christ who died on the cross, where are you? Where have you gone?
So science and empirical evidence do not take us very far in our search for the resurrection. At best, it can only give us a negative proof: we should see Jesus, but we see nothing instead. This is not sufficient, of course, it is only a start. The same was true for the apostles. Let's look at the case of the apostles. These were the followers of Jesus. These were the ones who said they would go to die with Jesus. But, when the moment came, one betrayed Jesus, all abandoned Jesus, and his closest apostle, Peter, denied him three times. The apostles were terrified after Jesus' death. We find them in the gospel accounts huddled together without direction or focus, like sheep without a shepherd. Yet, when the women go to attend to the body of the Lord they find that he is not there. This doesn't solve their problems, however. It is only when Jesus appears to them, only when Jesus gives them his peace, do they have their fears removed. Only when they see the Lord do they believe. And once they receive the Holy Spirit, this huddled, frightened group, the ones who abandoned Christ in his time of need, gladly marches forth from the upper room to meet their deaths. Once they have seen the Lord, they fear nothing. Each of them would gladly die, rather than deny their faith.
In the lives of the apostles we see the greatest proof for the resurrection. Almost overnight, the apostles go from scared abandoners to faithful prophets and witnesses. Something must have happened! This conversion did not take place simply by seeing the empty tomb. Rather, they saw the Lord. They were not just sitting around thinking pious thoughts, or planning a way to bring Christ's teachings to the world. Rather, they saw the Lord.
Their witness, which is captured for us in the sacred Scriptures and handed down from generation to generation in the Tradition of the Church is the bedrock foundation for our own belief. We would all like to have empirical evidence of the resurrection: we would all wish to see Jesus in the same way the apostles did. But, for most of us we see Jesus in another way. We see him in the Scriptures, we see him in our prayer, we see him in those around us, and most importantly we see him in the sacraments.
When we come here to this altar, when we celebrate this holy Eucharist we see the Risen Christ. Now it is true that we see him in another mode, we don't see him exactly as Mary Magdalene saw him in the garden, but it is no less real, no less true. Jesus Christ, the one risen from the dead, comes to us each and every time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist. It is this experience of Christ that fills us with joy, that fills us with faith. But it also comes with a demand. When the apostles experienced the risen Christ, they went out and changed the whole world. They became witnesses to the resurrection by the way they lived their lives. Their faithful witness became the greatest proof for the resurrection. Having experienced Christ in our own lives, especially here at this altar, when we go out the doors of this Church, what kind of witness do we give?
Saturday, April 3, 2010
One thing that I notice about modern Christianity is that we spend most of our time (just think about the 34 weeks of ordinary time) thinking and reflecting upon the teachings of Christ. This is very important. But, did you ever stop to think about the radical nature of Christianity? Without Christ lying in the tomb, there would be no recollection of his teachings. Without Christ, lying in the tomb, yet rising from the dead, Jesus would have been an obscure figure in ancient wisdom literature. But when Christ, after lying in the tomb, gets up and shows that he is unlike anything we have ever, or will ever, see, everything changes... forever!
I think we often pacify or pasteurize the great mystery of the incarnation. We make Jesus a little too common (he is fully human after all) when we forget about his divine majesty, seemingly set aside on the cross and buried in the tomb, but put on full display in the brilliance of Sunday Morning.
Spend some time today, on this Holy Saturday, with Christ. Kneel at his tomb, be with him now so as to remain in him forever.