Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Sunday, December 16, 2012
Sunday, December 2, 2012
Sunday, November 25, 2012
Sunday, November 18, 2012
Saturday, October 27, 2012
Saturday, October 20, 2012
Sunday, October 14, 2012
Saturday, October 6, 2012
Saturday, September 29, 2012
Thursday, September 27, 2012
Sunday, September 16, 2012
24th Sunday OT:
At the heart of our gospel today is the question of identity. The question begins in general terms, even Jesus says: who do people say that I am? The responses of the people are as general as Jesus' own question: some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, others one of the prophets. In other words, some people say you are a great preacher who is traveling around preaching repentance just like John the Baptist. Others are saying even more, you are a prophet like Elijah who was the man of God. These answers are not wrong, Jesus was a preacher who spoke of repentance; he was a prophet who spoke about and for God. But, while these people who said Jesus was John the Baptist or Elijah or a prophet might not have been wrong, they weren't correct. These titles do not get to who Jesus really is.
After this question of generalities, Jesus makes it alarmingly concrete: who do you say that I am? What an uncomfortable question! Imagine that someone walked up to you and asked: who do you say that I am? Even if it was your spouse or your child, it would be a hard question to answer.
Jesus really puts Peter on the spot here. Who am I? Do you know me better than those others who think of me as just another prophet or preacher? Am I more than that? But, Peter doesn't even hesitate: you are the Christ. This answer is vastly different from the previous answers, which were generic and spoke about the things that Jesus did. This new answer gets to the very identity of Jesus: you are not just some preacher, not just another prophet: you are the Christ, the son of God.
So, it seems like there are two camps in the world: those who know about Jesus, and those who know Jesus. The first group sees only the things Jesus said and did: he is some great prophet. The second group knows Jesus, knows his identity: you are the Christ.
How is Peter able to see Jesus and identify who he really is? How does he get into the second group? There is no doubt that Peter heard Jesus preaching, that he thought of him as a prophet, but how did he get past the generalities? Peter knew Jesus. It is just that simple. Peter had a relationship with Christ, he spent time with him, spoke with him, followed him, etc. He got to know Jesus on a personal level. He was able to move beyond generalities because he encountered Jesus in the specifics of his life.
Don't we all want to do the same? Don't we all want to know Jesus? It is not enough to know about Jesus; salvation, holiness, and grace come from knowing Jesus. How do we get from the first group to the second group? Jesus gives us a roadmap: whoever wishes to follow me must deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow after me. The way to know Jesus is to follow him, the way to follow him is to deny ourselves and take up our crosses.
This is, by no means, an easy task. The road of discipleship can be a road of suffering and hardship, but this should not surprise us. We are Christians, we bear the name of Christ. He suffered, and we suffer. He denied himself on the cross, we deny ourselves in our daily lives. But it is in and through our difficulties that we follow Christ, that we become like him, that we get to know him. Here in this holy Eucharist, Christ comes to us and he asks us the same question he asked St. Peter: who do you say that I am? We will only be able to answer this question well if we follow Jesus, if we deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Christ.
Sunday, September 9, 2012
23rd Sunday OT:
Our God will come with vindication for his people. These words of the prophet Isaiah capture the faith of the people of Israel. More than likely these words were written sometime near the time of the exile. It was a difficult time, they were being attacked by Assyria, their nation was crumbling around them. But, they held onto their faith that God would come to save them.
How beautiful for us to read this passage in the light of Christ. The people of Israel believed that God would never leave them, never abandon them. They believed that God would bring them salvation, but who could imagine how God planned, in the fullness of time, to bring about this salvation: God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son so that all those who believe in him might not perish, but might have eternal life. The Good News of salvation is that God indeed comes for his people. He came as one of us; the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This time God wasn't bringing salvation from Assyrians, Egyptians, or Babylonians. This time he came to do battle with the very brokenness of humanity itself. Our Savior came to do battle with sin, with death, with the fallenness that is ours. Jesus came to speak Good News to his people.
Jesus came to bring salvation to Israel, to the chosen people, but, he also came as a man to speak to all men and women. We see this truth in our gospel today. Right at the beginning of our reading we hear that Jesus entered the Decapolis. This region was a gentile region. The man in the story today becomes a symbol for all the Gentiles, all the non-Jewish people, in other words all of us. We know that in the Old Testament, God spoke to his people Israel through the prophets. But, non-Jewish people might be considered deaf to the voice of God. So, the deaf person in the gospel could stand for all those who were outside of the people of Israel, deaf to the Word of God. But, Christ opens the ears of the Gentile. When Christ comes among us, he opens our ears to hear the Good News of salvation. After he opens our ears, it becomes imperative that he touches our tongues as well, for after having heard Good News, it is impossible to be silent.
Christ came to preach the Good News to all, to open the ears of all humanity so that we can hear God's Word, he came to loosen our tongues so we could proclaim this Word. By his incarnation, by taking on our common human nature, no one is excluded. Christ came for us all. This is why James found the giving of preferential treatment to a class of people so offensive. Christ came for all of us, rich and poor, Jewish and Gentile, slave and free.
And look at the price that Christ pays to open our ears and touch out tongues. It says in the gospel today that Jesus groaned. Think of another time when Christ is in agony: on the cross. Every time we look at the Cross of Christ we see how much he loves every person on the planet, every human person who has ever lived. Christ came for all, and he gave himself up for all. As Christians, as those who have been touched by Christ, we too should go out to all of humanity. By his death on the Cross Jesus brought salvation for his people.
We were first touched by the power of this sacrifice on the day of our baptism, and we are strengthened and renewed by this sacrifice every time we gather at this altar. And at the end of this mass, and every mass, we are sent on a mission to go and announce the gospel of the Lord. Each week we reenact this gospel passage, Christ touches our ears with his words, he touches our tongues in Holy Communion, then we go out to spread the Good News.
Sunday, September 2, 2012
22nd Sunday of OT:
This is one of those weeks where our readings are speaking to us about morality. Morality is the way we live our lives as disciples of Jesus. James exhorts us in the second reading: be doers of the word and not hearers only. The word of God is living and active. Rather than being something that can be grabbed and possessed, the Word of God grabs and possesses us, it spurs us on to action. We hear the word of God and we want to put it into practice.
Sounds good so far, right? Hear the word of God and put it into practice by living a moral life. But, there can often be a bit of a disconnect between faith and life. We hear about Jesus, we believe in him, we want to be his disciples, we understand that living the moral life is what this means. Then what do we get? It seems like we get a bunch of rules and regulations. We want to follow Jesus, and we get a list of things we are not supposed to do: thou shalt not this, that, and the other thing. Whether it is the 10 commandments, the moral teachings of the gospel, or something from the Catechism, it seems to outline a bunch of stuff we are not allowed to do.
And, maybe it is just me, but doesn't it seem like God looked at the human heart, found all the things we really want to do, then made commandments against it? Don't we love to speak ill of our neighbor: can't do it, that's gossip. Don't we just love to be angry at our enemies: can't do it, we are supposed to love our enemies. Don't we just love to indulge in any kind of pleasurable thing: can't do it, that is lust, or greed, or gluttony. It seems like we are stuck in some cosmic tug of war. On the one hand there is the moral code, and on the other, there are the inclinations of our hearts set in opposition. So, for many of us, life becomes a matter of trying to dodge the sin we might desire in our hearts. It is almost as if sin were potholes in the road: if we can just make it down the street without hitting any of the major potholes we will be ok. But, this is a crazy way to live life. And this is not what morality is supposed to be about. Morality is not a matter of avoiding sin. Rather, it's about living life to the full.
Listen again to the words from Deuteronomy: hear the statutes and decrees (why? So that life will be miserable and you will be prone to fail? No) so that you may live, and may enter and take possession of the land. I find that so beautiful, hear the statutes and decrees so that you may live. God gives us the commandments through Christ and the Church not because he wants us to struggle and fail, but because he wants us to be happy and blessed. We were not made for sin! We were made to be holy, to be with God, to live.
But, what about our sinful inclinations: today Christ labels it so well, there is a bunch of junk that can pour out of our hearts: evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, etc. We have inherited original sin, we are prone to fall. But, Christ came to help us. Through grace, we can be healed, maybe not totally in this life. Christ came to set us free, he came to purify our minds and our hearts. Jesus did not come simply to give us a new set of rules and regulations; rather, he came to set us free. He does this especially through the sacraments. When we are baptized, confirmed, when we receive communion, confess our sins, when we are anointed, when you got married, when I got ordained, the grace of God is at work within us, making us more like Christ, healing us down to our hearts.
So the moral life was not given to us to make us miserable. It is a guide to true human fulfillment. While our hearts are set in opposition to the law, Christ came to set us free. We cannot lose hope. Christ came to renew and transform us, Christ came to heal our hearts, so that a life of discipleship is not one of misery, but one of joy. Right here in this Holy Eucharist Christ pours his life out for us, as we receive his body and blood, he can transform us, heal us, set us free so that we can live and be with him in that promised land that awaits us.
Sunday, August 26, 2012
This is a hard teaching, who can accept it. For the last three weeks Jesus has taken great pains to reiterate a central teaching. He is the bread of life, his body is real food, his blood real drink. Unless you eat his body and drink his blood, you have no life within you. This is a hard teaching: how can this man give us his food to eat? We believe and profess that here in the Holy Eucharist these words come true. That Jesus gives us his body and blood as true food and drink and that through this blessed sacrament we have life and light. But this is certainly a hard teaching, who can accept it?
There are many hard teachings in our faith. It can be quite hard sometimes to believe that God is our loving father, when we live in a world broken by sin, violence, hunger, and war. It is not easy to believe that the eternal Word of the Father took flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary. It is also hard to believe that this Jesus who suffered death by crucifixion rose after three days. It is hard to believe that he sent the Spirit into the world. It is hard to believe that the Church is his body on earth, led by the successor of St. Peter. And there are a great many teachings in the moral life that are difficult to believe, many hard teachings, especially those about the gift of human sexuality and human life. Even our second reading gives us a hard teaching: wives be submissive to your husbands, husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church. The mutual submission of spouses to each other is a hard teaching, who can accept it?
I am sure that every one of us has some teaching in mind right now. Each one of us probably has some aspect, some doctrine of the faith that can be especially difficult. How do we react? How do we respond? Do we embrace and accept this teaching, difficult as it might be, or do we reject it? Do we place ourselves as mediators of truth? If it is hard to accept, maybe it is easier just to reject it. Or, what happens when we are backed into a corner because of a hard teaching? Do we look for a way out? How many times has someone challenged you on one of these hard teachings? Maybe somebody has asked you: how can the church really teach that contraception is wrong? What is our response? It is perfectly natural to have difficulties with the hard teachings of the faith. We might struggle with some of these teachings, we might meet others who struggle. But, look at how Jesus responds. He doesn't soften his stance, he doesn't find some nuance, he just looks at Peter and says: will you leave me too?
Why doesn't Jesus back down, why not nuance his teaching so that people wouldn't leave? Why can't the church change her teachings on morality, sexuality, etc. The words of St. Peter are key here: Lord where would we go, you have the words of eternal life. We believe you are the son of God. Jesus cannot back down, the Church cannot nuance the truth, because we do not believe in teachings or statements. Our faith is not based on a book, it is not based on human rationality, our faith is not simply a great idea. Our faith is in Jesus. We cannot have a relationship with teachings, rather we have a relationship with Christ. Once we have that relationship, then the teachings make sense, the teachings hold together. It never means that these hard teachings become easy to believe, it only means that once we have met Christ there is nowhere else to go. If there are hard teachings that we find difficult to accept, if we are challenged by others who find them hard to accept, the answer must be found in looking to Christ. Only in Jesus do these hard teachings make sense. We will have challenges and struggles in our faith but we face them just like St Peter: we turn to Christ and say: Lord where else would we go?
Sunday, August 12, 2012
19th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
As human beings we live in a difficult tension. We seem to have one foot on earth and one foot in heaven. As creatures we share many things with the rest of the animals: we have bodies, we eat, we sleep, we have to take care of other bodily, earthly concerns. And yet, we far surpass the rest of creation. We were made with God's image and likeness, we have will and intelligence. We can think, reason, choose, and love. None of which the animals can do. Squirrels cannot write novels, monkeys cannot do calculus, horses cannot play football (except in Budweiser commercials), and dogs do not have the capacity to aspire for heaven.
And to make matters worse, all of us live in the world as it suffers the effects of original sin. Not only do we have bodies and earthy concerns, we live in a state of weakness, we are prone to fall morally, we are subject to sickness and death.
Very often we get sick of this tension. We get sick of being stuck between earthly and spiritual. Sometimes people just give up and decide to forgo the tension and to live just one side or the other. We have probably all met those people who just give up on the spiritual life. God seems too distant or too difficult to find. Their hearts and minds might have a desire for higher things, but the search seems too difficult or too elusive, so they focus on only those things they can see, sense, feel. They probably don't go to church, and might look for meaning in earthly instead of spiritual realities.
The opposite can happen too. Let's call these people the holy rollers, who live as though they are already in heaven, removed from the ordinariness of the real world. At first, this might seem like a good thing, but I am reminded of a story I read in a book. The author was sitting next to a man at Mass. The first thing he noticed was how reverently and devoutly the man was participating at Mass. He seemed to be the holiest person in the whole church. In fact, the author remembers thinking that he started feeling jealous, wishing he were more like this guy. Until the sign of peace. The author reached over to the holy roller and said peace be with you: the man refused to stretch out his hand and responded coldly: I don't believe in that garbage... This guy was living like he was already in heaven and forgot something as simple as loving his neighbor.
We live in the tension: we are bodily creatures, made with an eternal spiritual soul. We should keep this in mind in our life of faith. Here is one reason why Paul was so masterful. today in the second reading we hear St. Paul giving his advice to his people. In the first part of the reading, Paul remembers the down to earth side of things: All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. So Paul meets us in the ordinariness of our lives: put away evil things and be kind and compassionate. But he doesn't stay on just earthly things: be imitators of God, he says next. Paul has a marvelous way to meet us where we are, but it would certainly be a sad thing if we just remained where we are. Rather, we were made for nothing less than communion with God. We certainly have down to earth concerns, but our goal is eternal life in the kingdom of God.
But this model is not unique to Paul. Rather, it comes from Jesus: I am the bread that came down from heaven. But Jesus did not come among us to leave us here: I am the bread of life whoever eats this bread will live forever. Jesus did not forget our down to earth concerns, he came as one like us in all things but sin, but he came to bring back to the Father.
Again the Eucharist is a sacrament that deals well with the tension of human life. It comes to us in a very down to earth way: it comes to us in the form of bread and wine. But we certainly know that it is very much more than that. It is the bread of life, is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The tension of human life can be difficult on us, we might be tempted to give up on the tension, but with the gift of the Eucharist we find the strength we need to walk this difficult journey.
Sunday, August 5, 2012
I'm back from DC. I had a good summer. I learned about the American legal system, the annulment procedure, consecrated life (religious orders), and special issues pertinent to the laity. It was hot, but it was hot here too I think.
I look forward to seeing you soon.
PS: look at the bottom of the blog and you will see a "follow by email" gadget I added, this will email you when I post stuff on the blog.
18th Sunday OT:
2 weeks ago I bought a new GPS navigating system for my car. I'm convinced that these are among the coolest inventions ever. What did we ever do before that mechanical lady inside that box that tells me where to go? It won't be long until our kids will have never heard of maps before…
When I opened the box there was a "quick-start guide" inside. You probably know what I'm talking about, this guide gives the bare essentials that you need in order to operate the machine. You have to plug it into the car, you have to turn it on, you have to hit the button and enter an address, etc. This quick start guide might not answer every question that I could possibly ask, but it gives the minimum you need to get going.
Parents, wouldn't it be nice if kids came with these quick start guides? Helpful little guides that tell you how to operate these little ones. But, of course, babies don't come with quick start guides. If they did, what would it say? Congratulations on your purchase of a new human being. This man or woman will provide decades of entertainment, worry, grief, and satisfaction. To begin, please ensure that the person is able to breathe. Avoid extreme temperatures. Be sure to give water and food at regular intervals: note: growing teenage football players require much more food… The human person responds well to love and affection… This would be a good start. These are our basic human needs: air, water, food, love.
Today in the gospel we hear about these basic human needs: we hear about thirst, we hear about hunger. Whoever comes to me will never hunger, whoever believes in me will never thirst. In other words, Jesus is reminding us of another basic human need. Jesus is pointing out to us that there is a deeper hunger, a deeper thirst. Jesus Christ is the word through whom was made the universe. If anyone is in position to write that quick-start guide on the human person it is he. We all know and recognize that we hunger and thirst for food and water, but are we always conscious of that hunger and thirst for God present in the heart of every human person. Do we recognize our need for Christ? Do we think of our relationship with him as being more important than food or water?
Paul tells us how to do this in the second reading. He says, the truth is in Jesus. We find in him the answer to the question that is at the heart of our existence: we were made for communion with God. Next, we grow in that communion by putting away the old self, putting away our former lives, turning away from sin and all that ugliness and darkness. Renew the spirit of your minds: turn to Jesus, ask him for his presence in your lives. Renewing our minds is nothing other than inviting God to live within us, to guide our thoughts, feelings, and actions. So we can put on the new self who was created in righteousness and holiness. We might not have that quick start guide, but if we did, righteousness and holiness would probably be listed as the ultimate goal for every human person. We were made with this goal in mind: to love and serve God so that we could be with God forever, to be righteous and holy. And just like we cannot live without food and water, we cannot live without Christ in our lives.
I am the bread of life, Jesus says. We turn now to the Holy Eucharist, the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus poured out for us. Right here from this altar we will receive the bread of life. Together we can all make the words of St. Paul our prayer: Lord as I receive you in the Holy Eucharist help me to put away my former life of sin, renew my mind, help me to put on the new self so that I might serve your forever in righteousness and holiness…
Saturday, May 26, 2012
Have a great summer everyone! As you probably remember, I am in the process of studying to become a Canon Lawyer for the diocese. So Tuesday I will leave for Washington, D.C. to study at the Catholic University of America. I hope you all have a blessed summer and I will see you when I get back. If I get the chance I'll put some stuff on the blog about my studies in D.C.
As a priest there are many interesting things I get to do, saying Mass, hearing confessions, visiting Marian, coaching the golf team, etc. But, one of my favorites is teaching at St. Matt's school. Every Thursday at 8:00 I get to teach the 7th grade. One of the things I do is to help them prepare for confirmation. I really enjoy this work of preparing people for confirmation because every year I get the chance to reflect on my own confirmation, which is a sacrament that we probably don't spend much time thinking about.
But maybe today, Pentecost, is a good day for all of us to reflect a bit upon the great gift of the Holy Spirit that we received at our own confirmation. If you think about it, the sacrament of confirmation is for us the event of Pentecost in our own lives. Those of us who are confirmed already have received the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit. While the Holy Spirit may not have come upon us in the form of tongues of fire, without question, the Spirit certainly came upon us.
And just as an aside, if there are any adults here who for whatever reason were not confirmed, you might be interested to know that every year there is an adult confirmation here at the Cathedral, I would greatly recommend that you contact the rectory about being confirmed next year if you haven't received this important sacrament. And confirmation is an important sacrament, it is Pentecost in the life of every believer since the time of Jesus. So, if we reflect a bit on the event of Pentecost we will gain an insight into the gift of the Holy Spirit we received at confirmation.
First, notice the state of the Apostles at the time before the coming of the Holy Spirit. In the gospel we hear that they were locked in the upper room out of fear. In this part of John's gospel, Mary Magdalene had already told the disciples that Jesus was alive, but they hadn't seen him for themselves. I don't know about you, but this gives me comfort: it is ok to have some fears, doubts, and anxieties about the faith, it happened to the Apostles! What is it that takes away fear? Jesus says: Receive the Holy Spirit. My friends, we received the same Holy Spirit on the day of our confirmation. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives that will confirm our faith, make it strong, give us the courage to believe in Christ. The first movement of the Spirit is to take away our fears and to firm up our faith. But, the Holy Spirit is not simply inward looking, the Spirit looks to take us out into the world.
After the Spirit comes upon the Apostles they go out and proclaim the Good News. The gift of the Holy Spirit is so powerful that it cannot stay bottled up inside one person. When we receive the gift of the Spirit, when the Holy Spirit dwells within us, it drives us to share this gift with others. Notice it says that those who received the gift of the Holy Spirit were able to speak in tongues. You might ask: why doesn't that happen anymore? It does: the Church can speak in all the tongues and languages of the earth because there are those who have received the Holy Spirit in all countries, everywhere across the world. You too are called to speak in tongues, because there are people in the world who will only listen to you, maybe not simply by what you say, but also by what you do. There are people out there who are starving for Christ and will find him through you. Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, because without the Holy Spirit there would be no Church, and there would be no mass. It is the Spirit that brings us together today, it is the Spirit that breathed into the authors of the Sacred Scripture we read together at Mass, it is by the Power of the Holy Spirit that bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, it is the Spirit that fills us here at Holy Mass, but it is also the Spirit that accompanies us when we leave this Mass. Just like those first disciples, when we leave this Holy Mass we are empowered by God to carry forth the Good News to the entire world.
Saturday, May 5, 2012
5th Sunday of Easter 2012:
Our seminarian Matt received a care package the other day from a school in the diocese. Inside this package there were some handmade cards from the school children. One of these cards had a line dividing the front in two. On one half of the card there was a beautiful grape vine that was lush and green with leaves and large clusters of grapes. The other side was not so good, it was drawn with a gray marker, there was no green, no leaves, and no grapes. There was a caption on both sides. On the left side it said: with God and prayerJ. The right side says without God and following the devilL. What wisdom from this little kid!
Did you ever stop to think about the Christian message? In the popular presentation of the faith emphasis is always placed on difficult truths of the faith, and there are many: Christianity is a life of sacrifice, suffering, and difficulty at times. We would never deny this! Christianity is a life of imitation of Jesus, who sacrificed himself for the good of the world. Christians therefore must deny themselves, take up the cross and follow after Christ. If anyone tries to sell another kind of Christianity, beware! There can be no Christianity without the Cross. But if we simply acknowledge the difficulties of Christianity we might forget why we carry these crosses in the first place. Jesus says today in the gospel: whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. This is the simple truth of Christianity: without Christ we can do nothing, without him there is no joy, no hope, no blessedness. Without Christ we are dead branches, there is no fruit without Christ. But with him there is joy, love, peace, communion. Sure, Christianity includes sacrifice, self-denial, suffering, and the cross. But, as St. Paul said, we must consider these things as nothing when we behold the glory that awaits. Truly, following God means life and fruitfulness, not following God and being with the devil means death and barrenness.
St. John tells us what this looks like in the 2nd reading: Children let us love not in word and speech, but in deed and truth. Wow, that really tells it like it is: if we want to be at peace, if we want to have joy and fruitfulness, if we want a life of Christian happiness, the path is one of love, not simply in what we say, but in how we live.
Now this might be a bit daunting: this gets us back to that cross: if it were easy to love in deed and in truth we wouldn't need this command would we? But, it can be difficult to love, to lay our lives down for others, to sacrifice and to overcome temptation. We know our sins make us miserable, we know that following God makes us healthy and happy; but, how do we overcome those sins?
Think again about the vine analogy. Jesus is the vine we are the branches. When we stay connected with Jesus his life flows through us, and when his life flows through us so does his strength and goodness. When the love of Christ flows through us we become loving, when the goodness of Christ flows through us we become good and holy. If we are not attached to Christ we wither and die, but attached to him we grow and thrive. This happens for me no more powerfully than in this Holy Eucharist. When we receive Communion the life of Christ flows into us. We are no more fully united to Jesus than here at this altar. Here we are in the presence of Christ, we are in the presence of the vine and we find in him life, goodness, truth, strength, and joy. Christianity includes sacrifice, suffering, and self-denial, but there is no other way to peace, joy, life, and fruitfulness. Indeed there are only 2 choices: being with God, which gives us life and joy; not following God and being with the devil which causes us pain, sadness, barrenness and leads to emptiness and death. When considered in this way, there is only one choice: whoever remains in me and I in you will bear much fruit, because without me, Jesus says, you can do nothing.
Saturday, April 21, 2012
3rd Sunday of Easter 2012:
We continue to celebrate the resurrection of our Savior. The resurrection is vital to our faith, vital to Christianity. It should be vital to each of us personally. Because in the person of Christ raised from the dead we see our hope for eternal life, we see the source of our joy, and the inspiration for following the commandments. If Jesus has not been raised from the dead, then our faith is in vain, St. Paul said so long ago. But, our faith is not in vain, Jesus is raised from the dead. St. Peter says it so well today in our first reading: the author of life was put to death, but God raised him from the dead, of this we are witnesses.
These 50 days of Easter is a time to reflect on the resurrection, a gift to us from the Church as a way to bolster our faith. Perhaps when we reflect on this good news we are bit like those first disciples? Jesus makes his presence known to them and what is their reaction: they are startled and terrified! Jesus says: Peace be with you, and the response is terror. I can almost hear Jesus: gee thanks you guys, I rise from the dead and it terrifies you? Yes, and for several reasons. First, the resurrection is hard to believe, usually when people die, they stay dead. To see Jesus walking and talking would be terrifying because this is not what usually happens. Also, they might be afraid because their record is shaky: they had just betrayed and abandoned Jesus. Third, they might have been terrified because of the implications of Jesus resurrection: if Jesus is raised from the dead, then he is truly who he said he was, and if he is truly who he said he was then they had to listen to him, they had to be like him, they had to lay their lives down the way that he laid his down for them. No wonder the disciples were terrified. But, what takes away their fear? They had an experience of the risen Jesus, they saw him face to face, they touched his body, they saw that the resurrection was not just some spiritual ideal, not just an idea about Jesus; rather, the resurrection was a plain and simple fact: Jesus is truly risen from the dead.
We might be filled with those same terrors when we reflect on the resurrection this Easter season. The resurrection is hard to believe: do we really believe that this man, Jesus, died, was buried, but rose on the third day. Can we believe this, do we believe this? These questions might fill us with doubt, terror.
We might be ashamed of all our sins and weaknesses. When we think about the risen Christ, his holiness and purity, if we think that Jesus is with us at all times, we might be afraid and ashamed: who am I to be in the presence of Christ.
We too might be afraid of the implications, if Jesus is truly raised, if he really is who he said he was, if he is not just some ancient character in an old book, but if he is truly raised doesn't that change everything. Wouldn't we have to change our lives if Jesus is really and truly raised from the dead? Maybe there is something we are holding on to that we don't want to let go of, maybe we would rather not be Christ's disciples… But, if, like those early disciples, we have an experience of the risen Jesus our fears and anxieties will disappear, we will gladly follow Jesus because we will see in him the truth of our existence.
Just like those first disciples we draw near to Christ in his body and blood. Right here on this altar we see Jesus, maybe not in the same form as those apostles, but no less Christ. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, because it is Jesus. No wonder the priest says before communion: the peace of the Lord be with you always. Reflecting on the resurrection may fill us with some doubts and terrors, but if we follow God's commands and draw close to Christ in the holy Eucharist we will see Jesus, we will know him, and he will fill us with his peace.
Sunday, April 8, 2012
Today is the most important day of the year, because today we remember the most important day in the history of the world. Today we remember the most important event in human history. 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.
The resurrection is the most important event in human history, but it should also be the most important event in our lives as individuals, because the resurrection is the center of our faith and our source of meaning. Everything that the Catholic Church teaches is held together by the resurrection. We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, this is shown most clearly when he rises from the dead. In the resurrection of Christ we see the promise of eternal life for each of us, because if Jesus is raised from the dead then we believe that he will raise us as well. All the doctrines of the Church become easy to believe if we first believe in the resurrection.
And, second, if we believe in the resurrection of Christ this event will lend new meaning to our lives. It is a certain fact that we experience much pain and suffering in this life. We experience physical and emotional pain, we experience sickness, we experience grief, sadness, loneliness, and worst of all we experience death. However, in the heart of each human person there is a subtle rebellion against these experiences. Somewhere deep down we fight against pain, sadness, loneliness, and death. Deep within the human person is an unsettling feeling that this isn't right: we are not supposed to suffer, we are not supposed to die. If we believe that human existence is nothing more than pure chance, then our existence is quite absurd. If death is simply a part of life, then our dissatisfaction with suffering and death simply leads to a kind of meaninglessness, because our lives are empty. This is the sad state of affairs for those who do not believe in Christ. But, for those of us who do believe in the resurrection, we see everything differently don't we? When Jesus rises from the dead, he changes everything. No longer does suffering, pain, hardship, and death have the last word. These things had plenty to say on Good Friday, when Christ suffered and died. But, he silenced them forever by rising today. So when we suffer, when we grieve, when we are lonely, or in pain we look to that empty tomb and see in the resurrection of Christ an end to pain, suffering, and death.
But, the resurrection of Jesus cannot remain simply an historical event, because a merely historical event will not give us meaning and direction. Rather, our faith in the resurrection must come from an experience with the risen Christ. Look at St. Peter for example. Just 3 days ago he denied our Lord 3 times, but today we read about him preaching the truth to thousands: what changed? He experienced Christ risen from the dead. What about us? Can we see Jesus? The empty tomb is Good News. The empty tomb means that Jesus is no longer bound by time and space. The empty tomb means that Jesus is available and present to all believers. We might not see Jesus the way St. Peter saw him, but we can indeed meet Jesus in our lives because he is no longer in that tomb, he is risen.
We see this most clearly 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 those early disciples did, 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 the risen Christ that fills us with joy, that fills us with Easter faith. Christ is truly risen: alleluia, alleluia.
Sunday, April 1, 2012
Sunday, March 25, 2012
5th Sunday of Lent 2012:
Today we hear of the raising of Lazarus. We see the fulfillment of the prophecy of Ezekiel: Jesus is opening the graves of the dead and calling Lazarus to come out. This reading is one of the more popular readings for funeral masses. Whenever I die, this is the reading I want read at the funeral. This story has an amazing way of capturing the human experience with death. We can all sympathize with the sisters: Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died. This captures well the pain and anguish that we go through when we encounter the death of someone we love: God why did you let this happen? But, Martha follows it with a wonderful statement of faith: I know my brother will rise on the last day. This is a perfect summary of our faith in Christ. We know that Christ has power over death. We know that through his own death and resurrection, Christ has set us free. We know that all those who believe in him will never die. This is our faith. So while we might question why God would allow suffering and death, our faith fills us with hope, not only for our deceased loved ones, but for ourselves as well. And who cannot help but be moved by hearing about our Savior weeping with the family. I find this to be a powerful consolation in difficult times. Christ is right there with us. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but he is not distant or aloof. Rather, Christ is right beside us in good times and in bad times.
So for all these reasons, this gospel makes a wonderful reading at funerals. But, today we read this in a different context. Today we will celebrate the 3rd rite of scrutiny for our elect. I find it interesting that the Church has given us this reading for those about to be baptized. First, it is important to see in Jesus the one who has power over death. All of the catechumen should see in Jesus our savior, the one who can give us eternal life. Surely, this is an important reason as to why they are coming to baptism. But, I want us to think a bit about Lazarus. We see that Lazarus dies, is called out by Jesus, and then lives again. I cannot help but see this as a symbol for baptism. Even since the time of St. Paul, baptism is seen as a little death. If we have died with Christ, we shall live with Christ. Just as Lazarus was buried in the tomb, our catechumens will be buried in the tomb of baptism. Then, when they are washed free of their sins, Christ will call them forward from the tomb. He will order the burial clothes of their old way of life removed, and Jesus will set these catechumens free to live a new kind of life.
Of course, those of us who are baptized already should see ourselves as having died to our former way of life. We have been freed by our Savior. We are dead to sin, and alive in Christ.