Saturday, April 21, 2012

Do we see Jesus?

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

Christ is Risen: Alleluia, Alleluia

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

Palm Sunday 2012

            I was once at a priest’s funeral in Boston.  The preacher was one of the spiritual directors of the seminary.  He began his homily with a phrase that he repeated several times during the homily: we are a resurrection people, and alleluia is our song. 
How right he was!  The resurrection is what makes us Christian.  Without the resurrection there would be no Christianity, there would be no Mass today, there would be no eternal life, no good news, no gospel to preach.  Even Saint Paul said that if Christ was not raised from the dead, then our faith is in vain.  Indeed we are a resurrection people, and alleluia is our song.  But, as you know, every year during Lent we forego the alleluia.  Right about now, I’m ready to sing that again.  I miss this song.  Why do we go without this during the season of Lent?  I think it is the same reason that we spend today reading the passion of Christ.  In fact, this whole week, Holy Week, is a week-long reflection on the passion and death of Christ.  Why not go straight to the resurrection?  Because Jesus didn’t go straight to the resurrection.
Indeed we are a resurrection people, but we will only understand what that means in light of the crucifixion of Christ.  We will only understand the depth of Christ’s love by reflecting upon the depths of his suffering.  And when we reflect upon the cross we see this simple truth: the resurrection can only take place because of the suffering of Christ.  And if it was true for Jesus, it will be true for us Christians who bear his name: we too will participate in the resurrection of Christ if we patiently suffer our daily burdens as Christ did.
Before we celebrate the resurrection of Christ we must ponder his suffering and death, and when we do so it gives new meaning to our own suffering, which leads to eternal life.  Indeed we are a resurrection people, alleluia is our song; but before we can celebrate the resurrection of Christ, we must ponder the mystery of Christ crucified.