Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Happy Easter

Easter Sunday Homily 2017:
I hope you will all excuse me if I mess up anything this morning.  You see I was up pretty late last night.  Last night we celebrated our Easter Vigil, which if you have never been is a pretty amazing event.  We start with a huge bonfire.  Then we blessed this beautiful candle.  We heard many scripture readings, blessed the Easter water.  We baptized people, we confirmed people.  It’s an amazing event.
But, the reason I’m tired is because it started at 9:00 and I didn’t get home till after midnight.  Why shouldn’t we start that thing a little bit earlier?  Well, the laws of the church state that the entire Vigil must take place at night.  This is why we start at 9:00, so that it takes place after sunset and after the twilight.  The whole vigil takes place at night.  And that got me thinking about the importance of the night at Easter.  I mean think about it.  Yesterday when it was light it was Holy Saturday.  Jesus was in the tomb.  There was sadness in the air.  Now, here we are in the morning.  It’s light again and we are filled with joy.  So what exactly happened last night?  And why does the vigil which celebrates the resurrection take place at night?
First off, we don’t know the precise minute when Jesus was raised from the dead.  We just know that people were there Saturday, then Sunday morning the tomb was empty.  So we know it took place sometime in the night.  But, I think there is a deeper more symbolic reason. 
What does the night symbolize?  Darkness, emptiness, quiet.  There’s something unsettling about the night, something off putting about the dark.  How many parents out there have had to convince your children: there’s nothing to be afraid of in the dark?  Yet, even as adults, we have had scary moments at night I’m sure…  I remember driving home late from an ND football game.  I was the only one awake in the car, it was after midnight.  I was so scared I’d fall asleep and wreck the car (I didn’t obviously).  One time I was on vacation with a friend and we had this idea of going into the ocean after dark.  Seemed like a good idea.  But, we both got so spooked after like 5 seconds that we practically ran out of the water.  And don’t get me started on nightmares.  Just the other day I woke up in a cold sweat because I dreamed that I accidentally fell asleep in my house and slept through someone’s wedding.  People don’t usually appreciate it when you sleep through their wedding.  The night can be scary.  It’s dangerous too.  Nothing good happens after 2:00 AM…
And yet, our Vigil takes place entirely at night.  Amazing.  Christ has the power to transform sin into holiness, death into life, even darkness into light.  This is why we start our vigil outside by the Easter fire.  That bonfire is a whole lot of fun, but it is also a proclamation into the night: you don’t have power over us.  You might be dark and scary, but Christ has conquered over you.  I won’t be afraid of the darkness, because I have the light of Christ.
Did you notice the message of Jesus when he rose from the dead?  He says, do not be afraid.  First, the angel says: do not be afraid.  Then Jesus himself: do not be afraid.  I think that this message works on many levels.  First, the practical: do not be afraid about this empty tomb.  Nothing has gone wrong.  In fact, something amazing has gone right.  Jesus, the one who died, has been raised again.  Death seemed to win, but Christ is victorious.  So do not be afraid.  But, this message of Jesus seems to be a much deeper message: do not be afraid at all.  I am here.  I am alive.  Do not let the darkness bother you, I am here.  Do not be afraid of dying, all who believe in me will live.  Don’t live a life of fear, I am with you always.  Do not be afraid.
I can certainly say that this message hits home for me.  I’m always afraid.  I’m afraid I’m not good enough.  I’m afraid that I’m a sinner.  I’m afraid that I will stumble, fail, fall.  Jesus knows this.  No wonder Jesus says to me, you, and everyone: do not be afraid. 
We know that Jesus came to deliver us from evil.  We know that this means the forgiveness of our sins as well as the gift of eternal life.  But, even more, Jesus came to deliver us from all evil.  This includes fear, pain, anxiety, depression, addiction, you name it.  My message for all of you tonight is to widen your vision for the power of the resurrection.
I think that when we think about Easter and the resurrection we know that this means that Christ destroyed death, which is amazing and true.  But, Jesus is the light that came to banish all darkness.  So, what’s the next level?  The resurrection should change your life here and now, not just simply on the day when we die.  Jesus wants to destroy all the darkness in your life, not just at some point in the distant future. 
Thursday night we heard that Peter tried to stop Jesus from washing his feet.  He felt inadequate.  Yesterday we heard why he was inadequate when he denied Jesus three times.  But, even after all that, Jesus tells the disciples this message: don’t be afraid.  Jesus knows our weaknesses.  He knows our sinfulness.  He knows our darkness.  Yet, he died and was raised to deliver us from all the power of the enemy, all the power of the darkness.
So, this morning we all declare that we are not afraid of the dark.  This candle proclaims that Christ is alive.  This candle is a symbol that darkness doesn’t get to win.  Let this light shine in your hearts, in your minds, and in your lives.  Jesus wants to get rid of all your darkness.  Don’t hold back, don’t close up, open wide the doors of your hearts and your lives.  Jesus died to enter into the darkness.  And now he rises to bring his light into the lives of all who believe in him. 

No wonder we sing alleluia.  This work means: praise be to God.  That is the song in our hearts tonight: praise be to God.  Jesus is risen.  Do not be afraid.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Good Friday

Good Friday:
Last night we entered into the Last Supper of Jesus.  He washed our feet, he gave us his presence in the Eucharist, and his lasting ministry through the Priesthood.  Last night we also reflected on St. Peter.  He tried to stop Jesus from washing his feet.  He may have even had good motives: he didn’t feel worthy of having Jesus stoop down.  We might not feel worthy of his love either.  But, if we don’t let him love us, we will stop from receiving the most amazing gifts ever.
Today we are at the foot of the cross.  We hear about Jesus and his saving sacrifice.  Jesus hands over his life for us.  Again, we can look at St. Peter as an example for us.  You know, when St. Peter said last night that he wasn’t worthy, he may have been on to something.  Even though at the Last Supper Peter professed that he would never deny Jesus, we hear today that he did deny Jesus 3 times.  What do we learn?  Peter is weak.  He means well, but he fails.  Sound familiar?
Many of us have been going to confession recently.  Lent is a great time to experience God’s mercy.  But, I often feel like Peter.  I mean well, I profess I won’t fall, then I do…  But, you know what, the point is to keep getting up. 
Jesus knew Peter would fall.  He even predicted it at the last supper. And what does Jesus do today?  He still hands over his life.  Jesus knows we are not perfect.  Jesus knows we are sinners.  He loves us anyway.  He forgives us anyway.  Look at today: he dies because he loves us.
I hope everyone gets a chance to let this sink in.  Jesus dies today.  He really dies, he completely empties himself.  Even his blood and water flow out for us when his heart is pierced.  He really dies. 
This hasn’t always been easy to accept.  There have been people since the early days of the church who have found this hard to accept.  People have said: no, Jesus just appeared to die.  Or, no, Jesus just appeared to be fully human.  But, Jesus really died.  His whole life was handed over out of love for each of us, even though we are sinners.

Let that sink in today.  This is a lot of love.  Let this love fill you and give you hope. 

Holy Thursday

Holy Triduum 2017:
Tonight marks the beginning of the most important time in our year.  This holy night begins 3 amazing days for the Catholic Church.  And it’s important to be sure we have the right idea about history.
For many people, history is simply the retelling of an old event.  I think about this fact every year on December 7.  On that date we hear about the attack on Pearl Harbor, about the loss of life, and how December 7 is a day that will live in infamy.  This is what it means for most people to think about history.  We remember what happened on that day.  We even vow to continue to learn lessons from the past.  But, it’s very clear that Pearl Harbor was an attack that happened many years ago.
The Triduum is not history in this sense at all.  For Catholics, the Triduum is an event that always lives in the present tense.  Every year when we mark the events of the triduum, they are not old, they are not history; rather, it’s like they are happening right now.  Now, I’m not saying that these events happen each year.  Jesus doesn’t die anew every time.  Rather, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, the events of the Triduum are happening right now, and we are privileged to be there.  It’s almost like we get to open a window in time, and we are present with the Lord during these three eventful days.
Tonight we draw near to Christ.  He stoops down to wash our feet.  He feeds us with his Body and Blood.  He gives us the gift of the Holy Priesthood to carry on his ministry in his name.  But, I cannot stress enough, we are there.  That’s why we celebrate the Mass tonight.  That’s why I will wash the feet of people here this evening.  This is why we will worship the Holy Eucharist at the end of this Mass.  Because tonight we don’t remember Jesus, or simply talk about him.  Tonight we experience Jesus, and we talk TO him.
Tomorrow, we will stand at the foot of the cross and take in his saving sacrifice.  Saturday night we will gather in the dark, when all hope seems lost, and we will see the light of Christ burst forth into the night.  These are not simply past events.  We will live them and experience them.  So open your hearts to the Lord.
But, this is not so easy as it sounds.  Opening our hearts to the Lord and receiving his love can be quite a challenge.  We may not feel worthy of Christ’s love.  We may not realize how much we need Christ’s love.  We might not even know Jesus well enough to tell if we need his love and mercy in our lives.  What might be blocking you from receiving his love?
Look at St. Peter in the gospel tonight, he wasn’t ready to be served by Jesus.  Now, on the face of it this looks like piety: no, no Jesus: you are too good and holy to do something so lowly as wash my feet.  Maybe Peter would have even said further: I should be washing your feet, I should be serving you.  And, that’s really true if you stop to think about it.  We should all be ready to worship Christ, to love and serve him.  But, Jesus’ answer is pretty astounding: If I don’t wash your feet you have no inheritance with me.  Don’t you find that fascinating?  Peter says you should be the one to wash my feet; Jesus replies, this is the only way you will have eternal life.  Why is that?
My friends, perhaps Peter had great intentions there.  Maybe he wanted to be moved by Love for Christ, maybe he would have said: I will serve you Lord.  But, as always, Jesus knows better.  The only way for Peter to really understand what it means to serve, to love, is for him to experience Christ’s love, and his humble service.  I think it’s the old adage: you can’t give what you don’t have.  Peter is motivated to give love and service, but Jesus tells him: you will have nothing to give if you do not first receive from me.
This is the idea that I’m taking away from tonight’s mass.  It’s not always easy to open our hearts and to receive from Jesus, but it’s the only way that we can be filled with love.  I’m sure all of us here would say: I want to love Christ, I want to serve him.  Listen to Jesus say to each one of us: unless I wash you, you have no inheritance.  Unless you let me love you, you will have no love within you.
Tonight on this Holy Thursday, Christ loves us in three ways: service, the priesthood, and the Holy Eucharist.  Each of these are great gifts given to us by Christ who loves us till the end.
First, service.  Jesus bends down to wash the feet of his disciples.  When have we experienced the love and care of God or others.  We can all look to our baptism.  Jesus washed us clean there.  Pray for Alexis and Timujin who will be baptized Saturday night.  But, maybe you’ve had other experiences where someone loved and served you because of their kindness.  If we are going to serve others, we need to recognize all the service we have received.
Second, the priesthood.  Here is one that is pretty humbling for me, I can tell you.  I’m always wondering: who am I to be chosen for the priesthood.  Believe me, I’m not perfect, not even close.  I’ve got tons of weird hang-ups and quirks, I’m a sinner, constantly in need of God’s mercy.  And yet, just like he chose those 12 apostles so long ago, Jesus chose me for the priesthood.  This doesn’t really say very much about me, but it says an awful lot about Jesus.  Jesus loved us so much, that he wanted his lasting presence to be felt in the church.  He didn’t want us to be left without guides and shepherds.  So, he chose humble and simple men and asked them to lead and guide his people.  This ministry of service has been handed down from generation to generation by the power of the sacrament of Holy Orders.  Thinking about what the priesthood really means, I could be tempted to say something like Peter: you can’t give me this amazing spiritual gift, Lord.  But Jesus says: if you don’t receive this gift, my people will go without the sacraments, without the forgiveness of their sins, without the guidance they need in their lives.  So, I continue to open my own heart to the gift of the priesthood. 
But, let me make a special request.  Please keep praying for us priests.  I’m always constantly aware of my inadequacies.  We need your prayers and support.  And pray for more priests.  If you want to keep receiving the gifts of the sacraments, pray for more priests.
Finally, the eucharist.  Jesus shows us how much he loves us by handing over his body and blood to us.  He shows us that he loves us till the end of time.  But, again, like Peter, we might be tempted to say: I’m not worthy to receive something so precious.  Let Jesus love you, let Jesus feed you, let Jesus literally fill you up with his love.  Tonight we celebrate the eucharist, and we will worship the Eucharist following the mass.  There is no better proof to us of the Lord’s lasting love than the gift of the Holy Eucharist.  Don’t be afraid to open your heart to this precious gift.

So, tonight is all about the love of Jesus.  This is not just some event in the past.  No, it’s happening now.  He loves us by serving us, by giving us the priesthood, by giving us the Eucharist.  However, it can be really easy to be St. Peter.  We can block receiving God’s love if we think we are not worthy, not ready, or not in need.  But, let the response of Jesus ring out in your hearts: if you don’t let me love you, you will have no inheritance with me.  Therefore, as we begin this Holy Triduum, with St Peter as our model, we open our hearts to the Love that Christ wants to give us this evening.