Saturday, March 26, 2016

Easter 2016: Alleluia

Easter 2016:
Alleluia, the Lord is Risen.  I love that word: Alleluia.  It is a Hebrew word that means: “Praise the Lord.”  Indeed, we praise the Lord today.  Jesus is risen from the dead.  He died and rose again so that all of us, even if we die, will live forever.  This word, Alleluia, captures the essence of our faith: we praise God because of all he has done for us.
On the night before he died, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.  He stooped down to wash them clean.  He said: do you realize what I have done for you?  As we think about the resurrection of Jesus, these words really strike home.  I think the resurrection is an event that we think is great for Jesus, but he did it for all of us.  There is a beautiful, ancient homily that reflects upon Jesus’ death.  It says that when Jesus died, he went into the realm of the dead to rescue Adam.  This is why Jesus died, so that he could reach all those who were imprisoned by death.  God loved us so much that he sent Jesus to seek all the lost children of Adam.  In his resurrection, he takes all of us with him.  Jesus says, do you realize what I have done for you?  As we proclaim that Jesus has been raised from the dead, we need to take it a step further and see that he rose, so that we might rise.  He lives, so that we might live.
This is a powerful and amazing message.  But, because it is something so central to our faith, it can be easy to take this message for granted.  I sometimes think about those GEICO commercials.  You know the ones?  You can save by switching to GEICO, and the response is: everyone knows that…  Sometimes the resurrection of Christ is like that: Jesus has been raised from the dead: everyone knows that…  But, stop and think about just how amazing this message really is.
We hear in the gospel today that the women went to the tomb to look for a dead man.  But, they didn’t find him.  That alone is pretty amazing.  Usually, dead people stay dead.  There is no doubt that Jesus was dead.  We heard the account of his suffering and death on Good Friday.  He was dead, but he didn’t stay that way.  Listen to the way it’s described in the gospel: the women were puzzling over the missing body, the disciples did not believe the story, Peter ran to the tomb and was amazed at what had happened.  Those first disciples were confused, amazed, surprised, and shocked.  They saw Jesus die.  There was no reason to suspect that he wouldn’t stay dead.  Even though Jesus had told them that he would rise, they were still shocked and amazed.  Jesus has been raised from the dead, everyone might know that now, but they certainly didn’t know that that first Easter Sunday. 
I love the way the gospel puts it.  The women tell the disciples and they don’t believe them because “their story seemed like nonsense.”  The greatest story ever told seemed like nonsense to Peter and the apostles.  Think about that for a second.  It seemed like nonsense.  The story was so amazing, so profound, so unbelievable, that even the apostles simply didn’t believe it early on.  The saving truth of the resurrection of Christ that most of us simply take for granted, was flat out not believed by the greatest saints in the history of the Church.  I think that when we take this story for granted we miss out on some of the power of the message.
Do you realize what I have done for you?  Ponder the mystery of the resurrection with new eyes.  Approach that empty tomb expecting to find a dead body.  Feel that sense of amazement when you see the open and empty tomb.  What could this mean?  How could this happen?  More than any other event in Jesus’ life, the resurrection shows us who Jesus really is.  Jesus Christ is the son of God.  He came here to die and rise so that we might live.  His death overcomes our sins, his death overcomes our suffering, his death overcomes our death.  His rising allows us to rise.  If we let this truth sink in, if we allow ourselves to be amazed, puzzled, shocked, and awed by that empty tomb, the effects can be amazing.
Like I said, this message wasn’t believed by the greatest saints in the history of the Church.  At least, not at first.  But, these apostles and holy women became the greatest saints ever because this story become much more than just a story.  They heard about the resurrection and didn’t believe. But, once they met the risen Christ, it changed everything.  If we want to be great saints, the same should happen for us.  We have heard this amazing story, but have we met the risen one?  Have we encountered Christ in our life in such a way that we truly realize what he has done for us?
What a blessing it is then, that we get to meet Christ right here.  The apostles met Jesus in the upper room after he was raised from the dead.  This is our upper room.  This church is our place to meet Christ.  This is the beautiful garden where we meet the risen Lord.  Right here on the altar, we celebrate the Holy Eucharist.  Right here, we see the risen Jesus.  He appears in a different form, to be sure.  But, it is the same Christ.  The Eucharist is Jesus, risen from the dead.  By meeting him here, he can transform us.

Jesus Christ has been risen from the dead, and he gives us his very body and blood here in the Holy Eucharist: everyone knows that…  But, today, on this Easter day, let’s not take this message for granted.  Rather, we renew our amazement, our wonder, our shock and awe at this profound message.  Reflecting on the resurrection of Jesus, we shout with our hearts: praise God, alleluia forever.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday

Good Friday 2016:
We just listened to the story of love, the story of mercy.  We just heard how far God will go because of his love for us.  The Father sent his Son to save us; that love led Christ to the Cross.  Especially during this Year of Mercy, the cross proclaims a powerful message of mercy.  This is how much Christ wants to save us.  He couldn’t give any more.  He gave his life, he gave everything.  If we ever question the power of God’s mercy, if we ever question the depth of God’s mercy, we have to look no farther than the cross and we get our answer.  How far is Jesus willing to go to save, heal, and forgive us?  He is willing to go all the way, even into the grave.
Last night, at the Mass of the Last Supper, we heard the words of Christ: do you realize what I have done for you?  This simple and direct question is pointed at each one of us.  Do we realize all that Christ has done for us?  Asking ourselves this question in prayer can be a wonderful spiritual exercise, because recognizing the hand of God in our lives, empowers us to live as disciples of Christ.  This whole year we have been celebrating 25 years of Stewardship here at St. Jude’s.  The first principle of stewardship is to recall that everything we are and everything we have are gifts from God.  Indeed, we have much for which to give thanks.  Do you realize what I have done for you, Christ says to us.

Today, especially, we remember Christ’s passion and death.  I’m sure it is impossible to realize fully the power of the cross.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died to save me and you.  Let this solemn day be a time to reflect on this powerful mystery.  Allow the saving power of the cross to affect your life.  One of my favorite actions of the year is our Good Friday veneration of the cross.  In a few moments, our beautiful crucifix will be brought forward, and all of us will have a chance to adore and venerate this precious cross.  As you come forward, I invite you to ponder the words of Christ.  Do you realize what I have done for you?  Answer that question by saying: yes Lord, I realize you gave your life for me, and I worship and adore you and your holy Cross.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday Year C 2016:
We just heard the gripping account of the Lord’s passion.  I am particularly drawn to Luke’s passion.  Only in his gospel do we hear Jesus’ words of mercy from the cross: Father, forgive them.  Only in Luke’s gospel do we hear the dialogue with the good thief on the cross: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.  Luke’s gospel reminds us of a very important truth: the cross of Christ shows the love, mercy, and compassion of our Savior.  Jesus died on the cross so that we might live.
This message of mercy is the absolute core of our Christian faith: Jesus is God, he died so that we might live.  This message gives our lives direction and focus.  This message gives us hope.  Even though we might suffer, even though we might die, we will live forever because of the death of Christ. 

But, I was thinking about our last spiritual work of mercy.  Today we think about instructing the ignorant.  I know that ignorant is almost like an insult.  We might call people ignorant as a way to demean them.  But, ignorant is a term that simply means a person who “doesn’t know.”  So, I know absolutely nothing about nuclear physics or rocket propulsion.  I don’t mind in the least if you call me ignorant about those things.  Ignorant is not a bad word, it just means we don’t know.  But, what about the message of Christ?  This message of mercy is the greatest message in the history of the world.  This one fact is the most important thing to know.  We are gathered here today because of this fact.  We are not ignorant to this important truth.  But, there are many in our world who simply do not know Jesus.  They don’t know the Church.  They don’t know the sacraments.  We all learned this message because someone took the time to instruct the ignorant.  And I’m certainly glad they did.  We have just heard the most important story in the world.  Now, it is up to us to be sure that others hear this Good News.  Holy Week is a great time to share the truths of our faith with others.  Maybe there is someone at work, maybe someone at school, someone you know: can you instruct the ignorant?  Can you share the Good News with them?  Invitation bags are prepared at the doors of Church.  Maybe they would be a good way for you to share the message of Christ.  He said to the Good Thief: today you will be with me in paradise.  He wants to tell that same message to others through you as well.  

Saturday, March 12, 2016

I do not condemn you, go and sin no more

5th Sunday of Lent Year C:
            In today’s gospel we hear the story of the woman caught in adultery.  This is a helpful and insightful gospel.  But, unfortunately, it really only applies to people who are sinners.  So if you are not a sinner you can stop paying attention for the next couple of minutes.  Now, for the rest of us, we are all included here.  All of us who are sinners should see ourselves in this passage.  Whether our sins are like that of the woman, or that of the Pharisees and scribes, this story is talking about us.  I think that if we reflect on this passage we will gain a terrific insight into God's mercy, especially the sacrament of reconciliation.
At the heart of this story is Jesus.  He is put in a terrible position.  The scribes and Pharisees are trying to trap him.  According to the law this woman should be put to death for her sins.  If Jesus simply overlooks the woman's sin he would give the impression that sin does not matter and that we should overlook the commandments. But, stoning this woman contradicts his message of mercy: God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son so that all those who believe in him might have eternal life.  Jesus came to lift us out of sin, not to smite us on account of sin.  His solution to the problem is very simple and beautiful.  He reminds the scribes and Pharisees that none of us are free from sin, if we remember that we are all in need of God's mercy, we will be more merciful to others.  But, then he tells the woman, go and sin no more.  Jesus tells us that we all need God’s mercy, and we need to move away from sin.
            When I meditate on this passage I think about the sacrament of Confession because it really covers all sinners.  Sometimes we are like that woman.  Maybe there is someone out there who is struggling with grave sin.  If so, we have absolutely nothing to fear.  God is all love, all the time.  Christ did not come to condemn, but to heal.  The woman in the story must have seen that compassion written on his face, or else she would have reacted quite differently.  Of course confession makes us nervous, don't you think the woman caught in adultery was nervous?  But, we have nothing to fear.  Jesus came not to condemn, but to heal.  This is what the condemning men in the story did not understand at first.  More than likely, this is what we fail to understand as well.  It is easy to pick up those rocks and hurl them at others who may be sinners, or have offended us personally.  But, how can we judge others when we acknowledge our own sinfulness.  The central message of this story is that mercy is for everyone; confession is for everyone, when we go to confession Jesus speaks to us: I do not condemn you, go and sin no more.
Today’s spiritual work of mercy is bearing wrongs patiently.  This gospel shows us a great way to bear wrongs.  First, Jesus did not react harshly to the Pharisees, nor to the woman in adultery.  He was put in a terrible position, but he remained calm.  Also, his core message really helps us to be more patient: the person without sin is the only one who has the right to judge and condemn.  Since none of us are without sin, none of us have the right to condemn or criticize.  It is certainly the case that we all get wronged in our lives.  We all have times when the sins of another person directly affect us.  These moments can be terribly painful and frustrating.  Our default position is probably to become angry or frustrated.  But, the next time you are wronged, say a simple prayer with the words of Christ: let the one with no sin be the first to throw a stone.  By humbly acknowledging that more than likely we have been the cause of a wrong inflicted on others might help us to respond more generously.  I know that when I mess up, I’m hoping that the people I offend respond to me with generosity and patience.  Therefore, it’s a good habit for us to attempt to do the same.  You can practice this when you are driving.  How many of us have been frustrated and angry when behind the wheel?  We get inconvenienced by the actions of other drivers.  But, I’m sure, if we are honest, that there must have been many times that our actions have been the source of someone else’s frustration.  “Let the one who is the perfect driver be the first to honk the horn.”  Knowing I’m not perfect helps to become more patient with the imperfections of others. 

            Remember, Jesus did not come to condemn, to accuse us, or to discourage us. Jesus came to inspire us, to lift us up, to heal us. In the sacrament of Confession we see the compassionate face of Christ; he forgives us, heals us, and then sends us away with a challenging but inspiring message to go and sin no more.  As we enter into the last two weeks of Lent, it is a wonderful time for us to make use of the sacrament of confession. We will have many extra hours of confessions in the next couple of weeks, and our parish penance service is this Thursday at 7:00.  I'm sure that most of you are already planning to go to confession. But, maybe somebody here is nervous or afraid.  Maybe someone thinks they have done something so bad that they cannot be forgiven, think of today's story and trust in the compassion of Christ. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Laetare Sunday

4th Sunday of Lent Year C 2016:
            This weekend marks Laetare Sunday.  Laetare is a word that means rejoice.  So, we put on the rose colored vestments and we rejoice even during the season of Lent.  This Sunday is a sort of like halfway point of Lent.  Reminding us that even while we are carrying out works of penance, it should be motivate by love and leading us to joy.  So, how’s it going?  How are you doing with your Lenten promises?  I’m doing well on some, not so well on others.  Maybe you are the same.  But, with this Laetare Sunday I’m ready to begin again as we march toward Easter. 
            Our readings are also filled with joy.  One thing I like to do when I’m reading the scriptures is to put myself into the story.  Our gospel is one of the best stories in the whole Bible as far as I’m concerned.  I try to imagine my reaction if I’m one of the characters.  If I’m that prodigal son, what would it be like to travel home, not knowing what the outcome would be?  What would it be like to feel my father’s embrace after so long, to receive forgiveness, to celebrate in my family home after a long absence?  What a profound experience of joy that would be. 
            And yet, the story of that son is not simply something for us to imagine.  Rather, this story is very much a part of our lives.  No matter who we are, or what we have done, there is mercy for us.  No matter how we have offended our loving Father, no matter how far we have drifted from him, he is out there waiting for us, watching for us to return.
            One of the real graces of this season for me as a priest is to hear confessions.  It's a remarkable blessing to be able to be God’s instrument of healing and forgiveness.  You see, every time we go to confession, this parable comes alive.  Every time we approach the Father of Mercies in that saving sacrament, we confess our sins, and the Father embraces us, lifts us up, and fills us with joy.  One of the real concrete truths of existence is that our sins do not make us happy.  They bring us sorrow.  Look at the son: he wasn’t even eating pig slop, he was wishing that he could be allowed to eat pig slop.  This is where his sins took him.  How many of us could say the same?  Yet, God’s mercy takes away our pain, it takes away our sorrow, it allows us to rejoice because our God is good.  No wonder Pope Francis called for a year of Mercy.  He said, “contemplating God’s mercy is the wellspring of joy, peace, and serenity because God’s mercy instils the hope of being eternally loved.”  How about you?  Have you felt that love?  Have you known that mercy?  Has the mercy of God changed your sorrow into joy?  If not, return to your Father, kneel down before him and acknowledge your sins, and let him forgive you during this season of Lent.
            Our spiritual work of mercy to contemplate for this week is to comfort the sorrowful.  In my life, I see so many people in pain.  I see so many people who are mourning a loved one, filled with anxiety in their lives, people who find life to be sorrowful indeed.  It can be a profound spiritual blessing to bring comfort to those in need.  But, it can be quite a challenge.  It can be quite intimidating to approach someone in pain, to try to bring strength to someone who is struggling.  In the face of someone’s pain and sorrow, we might feel inadequate.  But, just remember that God is the source of all love, he is the source of all strength, he is the source of all comfort.  God, our loving Father, is waiting to embrace those in pain, just like he did in the gospel.  However, he wants us to be his arms.  Your loving presence, your word of comfort allows the Father to reach out with his love and compassion when someone is in pain.  Think back in your life when someone was there for you, when you experienced God’s love and mercy because of another person.  I know I’ve experienced that.  In fact, one of the main reasons I felt called to be a priest was because of the sacrament of confession.  I found that going to confession was a remarkable experience of the love and mercy of God.  I appreciated confession so much, that I felt inspired to want to be able to bring that mercy to others. 

            God the Father is still out there waiting with his love and mercy.  If you feel you need that in your life right now, get up and go to the Father.  And, if you know someone who needs it, don’t be afraid to reach out with God’s love and mercy.