The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Although I am an ordained deacon of the Catholic Church, the opinions expressed in this blog are my personal opinions. In offering these personal opinions I am not acting as a representative of the Church or any Church organization.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Yesterday the Universe was 6989 years old...maybe

Well, I missed it yesterday. Have to wait another year to celebrate.

Johannes Kepler, the 17th century mathematician and physicist who gave us a bunch of neat equations for figuring out how the planets move, also determined that the universe was created on April 27, 4977 B.C. I'm not real sure how Kepler came up with that particular date, but I suppose it's as good as any other for those who like to celebrate birthdays. It's also a cautionary note for those who think that smart people never make mistakes.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Homily: 4th Sunday of Easter, Year B

Readings: Acts 4:8-12; Ps 118; 1 Jn 3:1-2; Jn 10:11-18

We call today, the 4th Sunday of Easter, “Good Shepherd Sunday.” It’s a day in our liturgical year when we especially celebrate God’s great love for us.

Consider again the passage we just heard from John’s Gospel. In it we hear Jesus clearly revealing who He is and how important we are to him: “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” [Jn 10:11].

Jesus doesn’t abandon us in the face of danger; no, He sacrifices Himself. Here Jesus fulfills the prayer of the 23rd Psalm, the prayer of His ancestor, David:  “The Lord is my shepherd. There is nothing I shall want.” [Ps 23:1]

Yes, Jesus is the Shepherd, and Jesus is Lord. He is the Good Shepherd, the shepherd who goes above and beyond what any other shepherd would do. No sane shepherd would sacrifice his life for his sheep, just as none of us would sacrifice our lives for a pet guinea pig. And yet the difference between a human and a guinea pig is miniscule compared to that between God and man.

Just consider what it means, then, for God to sacrifice His life for us. Yet that’s exactly what He did. This sacrificial act on His part has led some to ask: Is the God of the Christians insane? Is He crazy?

No…Our God is Love. He is a love, not simply beyond our capability, but beyond our understanding. In St. Paul’s words, “He emptied himself” [Phil 2:1] and became one of us to offer His life to save ours. And He did this solely out of love. Do you see the kind of God we have, this Good Shepherd who cares so much for us?

And then, to ensure we get the point of all this,  Jesus turns to us and tells us to love others as he has loved us, to be willing to give our lives for them, even for those the world tells us are beneath us. Our love for God, Jesus tells us, must be mirrored in our love for others.

Remember that wonderful scene [Jn 21] when, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the risen Jesus asks Peter three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Each time Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  To the first yes, Jesus said “Feed my lambs”; to the second, “Tend my sheep”; and to the third, “Feed my sheep.”

Your love for me, Jesus is telling Peter, will be evidenced by how well you tend my sheep, my people, those for whom I sacrificed my life to save.

But Jesus didn’t stop with Peter. He turns to all of us, all of us in the Body of Christ. He doesn’t say, “love me as I have loved you.” No, instead He commands, “love one another as I have loved you” [Jn 13:34]. Like Peter, our love for God will be shown by the love we have for the members of His flock.

As we heard in our first reading, our love for others must be a manifestation of God’s love, and the good that we do must always be done in the name of Jesus Christ. For as Peter proclaimed, “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved" [Acts 4:12]. It’s all Jesus Christ, in Jesus Christ, through Jesus Christ, and only Jesus Christ.

The meaning of this becomes clear in our second reading as St. John tells us, “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are.”

Children of God…all of us: you and me…
…the poor in need of a meal or a place to sleep
…the Alzheimer’s patient in the nursing home
…the Aids patient clinging to life
…the neighbor undergoing radiation and chemo-therapy
…the prisoner locked away in his cell
…the lonely, the depressed
…all of us, children of God, brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.

We are not strangers…for children of the same loving Father cannot be strangers. Brothers and sisters of our Lord, Jesus Christ, cannot be strangers. And so Jesus calls us not simply to love others, but to recognize Him in them, to realize that what we do for and to each other, we do to Him: “I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ [Mt 25:40] Yes, we will be judged on our response to this calling as children of God, on this Christian vocation of ours.

Pope Benedict wrote, “As a community, the Church must practice love…The Church cannot neglect the service of charity any more than she can neglect the Sacraments and the Word.” At every level, then — and that includes the parish, the diocese, and throughout the world — the Church must practice love. This is how the Church shows who she really is.

Some years ago on a business trip I attended Mass at the local Catholic Church. (I've forgotten where it was.) Not far from the main entrance to the church I came across a statue of a hooded man begging. Like the hand of the beggar reaching out to Peter in our first reading, the statue’s hand is stretched out toward those who walk by. But if you look closely, you’ll notice that in the middle of that hand is a hole, a nail hole.

Yes, it’s a statue of Jesus, the risen Jesus who still bears the wounds of His love, the Jesus who in humbling Himself became like a slave, like a beggar. For the parishioners and all those who enter that church this statue is a constant reminder to look beyond appearances and see Jesus in all who reach out to them. And for you and me it’s a reminder that Christ has His hand stretched out to us right now.

Catching Up With the World

It's been a while since I've posted anything on the blog. My only excuse is the busyness of life and, paradoxically, the need to step away occasionally from that very busyness. I have tried to force some holes into my schedule, to liberate myself from the unimportant but loud demands that I create or allow others to force on me. Quite simply, I need some daily leisure time just to think and relax and savor this wonderful gift of life. After all, being is good!

Part of this effort includes taking a different approach to the blog. Once this blog becomes a burden, it will have defeated it's very purpose, the celebration of life. If writing a few words and sharing some thoughts with others helps me to appreciate and deepen my understanding of our being, well then, I'll post those thoughts. But I will try to resist the tendency to feel obligated to make regular posts. I will simply post them as they come.

Today, for instance, I am saddened by the recent death of Charles Colson. Known by most for his role in the Watergate scandal as one of President Nixon's "hatchet men", a role which sent him to prison, Chuck Colson's later life of repentance and service to the "least" of God's children has been largely ignored by the mainstream media.

After his release from prison Colson could have accepted any number of high-paying positions, but chose instead to found Prison Fellowship, a ministry devoted to serving the men and women locked away in our dysfunctional "corrections" systems. An Evangelical Christian, Colson was often at odds with many of the Christian right because of his rejection of political power as a means to reform the nation's moral order. Colson considered political power illusory and relied instead on the gospel mandate calling on each Christian to see Jesus Christ in others. He personified the challenge of Hebrews 13:3 -- "Be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment, and of the ill-treated as of yourselves, for you also are in the body." Colson had indeed shared their imprisonment and was ever mindful of that fact.

In 1994 Colson, along with Fr. Richard John Newhaus and others, also formed Evangelicals and Catholics Together, an ecumenical organization of those who accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. While those involved don't ignore their differences, they focus primarily on that which unites them. Here's an excerpt from their foundational document:

"As Evangelicals and Catholics, we pray that our unity in the love of Christ will become ever more evident as a sign to the world of God’s reconciling power. Our communal and ecclesial separations are deep and long standing. We acknowledge that we do not know the schedule nor do we know the way to the greater visible unity for which we hope. We do know that existing patterns of distrustful polemic and conflict are not the way. We do know that God who has brought us into communion with himself through Christ intends that we also be in communion with one another. We do know that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14) and as we are drawn closer to him-walking in that way, obeying that truth, living that life-we are drawn closer to one another."

As you might imagine, Colson's active involvement in this organization brought him into conflict with many fundamentalist Christians who apparently believe the Catholic Church is the whore of Babylon and the pope is little more than an antichrist. But these criticisms didn't seem to bother him as he went about his ministry of helping others in Jesus' name.

I never met Chuck Colson, although years ago I owned a car -- a huge Ford station wagon -- that had once belonged to his mother. How's that for a connection?

We will miss him, a man who devoted his life to Jesus Christ and the Kingdom.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Homily: 2nd Sunday of Easter, Year B

Readings: Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 118; 1 John 5:1-6; John 20:19-31

St. Paul wrote that between the Resurrection and the Ascension more than 500 disciples saw the risen Jesus [1 Cor 15:6]. These weren’t ghostly apparitions. He sat with them, talked with them, walked with them, touched them, ate with them, even cooked a meal for them. He came to them in the flesh. His body, glorified and not subject to earthbound limitations, is still the flesh that grew from Mary, the flesh that died on the cross, the flesh that bears the marks of His passion.

What a compliment to our humanity: the Son of God wanted the flesh He took from us to be His forever. I think we sometimes forget that. We forget that right now, today, the risen Jesus is truly alive, just as we are. His body might be glorified, but it’s still a body of flesh and blood. And just as His flesh rose from the dead and was glorified, filled with God’s life, so shall yours and mine. Jesus is the Good News in the flesh!

In today’s Gospel we learn something about Jesus, about Thomas, but also about ourselves. Do you ever doubt? Ever question your faith? Well, if you do, you’re in good company. You’re right there with the Apostles and most of the saints.

When I was a boy, my parents gave me a wonderful book on the lives of the saints, but I was surprised to read of the doubts and crises of faith experienced by many of these holy men and women. You see, at the age of 10, I still had a childlike faith. Such questions as the existence of a loving God, the Incarnation, the divinity of Jesus, His death and resurrection, eternal life, heaven and hell – well, these weren’t questions for me. They were facts, and like the words of the “Act of Faith” the good Dominican Sisters taught me, I firmly believed them.

And I still firmly believe them, but this doesn’t mean there haven’t been doubts and crises along the way. Faith is a gift, and doubt is a normal, very human reaction to it.

As Christians we actually believe that God, who created the universe, really cares about us, that God is a God of love, a love so great it’s impossible to fully comprehend it. The Good News of Jesus Christ – His death and resurrection, our redemption and forgiveness, the promise of eternal life – is so good, so remarkable, that sometimes it seems almost too good to be true. And because it’s such good news, we often doubt.

Thomas, too, struggled with this. Poor Thomas. Because of this one incident, he’ll always be known as doubting Thomas. And yet, he wasn’t alone in this. When Mary Magdalene and the other women told the apostles what they had seen and heard at the empty tomb, the men thought “their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them” [Lk 24:11].
But many of the apostles doubted even after seeing Jesus. Indeed, there’s one very telling verse in Scripture. It’s at the very end of Matthew’s Gospel and describes the risen Jesus’ last moments with the apostles before he ascends to the Father.

Matthew tells us that the now-11 apostles went to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. And then we read, “When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted” [Mt 28:17]. Yes, they still doubted, even after weeks of encounters with the risen Christ. Yes, it would seem Thomas gets a bum rap, since the other Apostles had reacted no differently.

We don’t know why Thomas wasn’t present when Jesus first appeared in the upper room…but it really doesn’t matter. For whatever reason, he wasn’t there. Earlier, before his absence, this little group was in hiding, filled with doubts and fears. But when Thomas returned…well, you can imagine how excited they must have been. “We have seen the Lord” [Jn 20:25], they tell him.

Poor Thomas. We know what he said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” [Jn 20:25]. But what was he really thinking?

On Friday Diane and I went to Mt. Dora for lunch and afterwards browsed in a few of the shops. In one I noticed a small sign that read: “Jesus loves you, but I’m His favorite.”

Maybe this is what Thomas heard in the enthusiasm of the other apostles: “Yes, Thomas, Jesus loves you too, but we’re His favorites.” A bit jealous? Maybe a little fearful? Was he thinking, “If Jesus did come, why did He come when I wasn’t here? What could this mean?”

Just a few days earlier, when Jesus decided to return to Judea and ultimately to Jerusalem even though so many were plotting against Him, it was Thomas who, full of bravado, had said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” [Jn 11:16]. Of course, the reality had been quite different. Thomas, like the others, had abandoned Jesus. Was Thomas thinking of this?

Whatever his thoughts, it would be another week before he would see the risen Jesus for himself. It must have been a rough week. The others, their spirits rejuvenated by their encounter with Jesus, were probably telling him, “Don’t worry, Thomas. He’ll be back. You’ll see.” And Thomas, not knowing what to believe, no doubt found himself contending with both serious doubts and wondrous possibilities. But when Jesus appears the second time, Thomas moves instantly from doubt to genuine faith.

You might say, “So what. He had his proof didn’t he?” Well, yes, he did, but proof only in the resurrection of Jesus. Thomas didn’t exclaim, “My risen Lord,” when he saw Jesus. No, Thomas’ faith takes him well beyond that and he says, “My Lord and my God” [Jn 20:28].

Jesus had been called many things -- Lord, master, rabbi, teacher, prophet, Son of Man, Son of God – but only Thomas, Thomas moved by the Holy Spirit, makes this ultimate declaration of faith in Jesus Christ. This is the Spirit’s gift to Thomas and Thomas’ gift to us. And this is why John includes this incident: so we come to believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. This grace to believe, a grace never forced on us – like Thomas, we can accept or reject it with complete freedom.

How does this touch us today, we who have not seen and yet believe? You and I haven’t seen the risen Christ, but he is present with us. Jesus is here today in His Holy Word. He’s here today where two or three are gathered in His Name.  And in a most unique and special way, He’s here in the Eucharist, just as real as He was in the upper room.

The trouble is, we can’t see Him the way Thomas did. And this can test our faith. And there are times in all of our lives – fearful, terrifying, lonely times – when we especially feel His absence. When Jesus seems to have brushed the dust of our lives off His feet. Little wonder He calls us blessed. We don’t see, we suffer, and yet we still believe. We can still drop to our knees and utter with Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”

But is our faith enough? Jesus tells us our love for others will be a visible sign that He’s among us – that this is how the world will recognize Him. If the world, then, doesn’t recognize Christ, it must be because the world doesn’t see Him in the lives of those who claim to believe in Him.

It would seem we have our work cut out for us. Fortunately, it’s a work Jesus shares. And that’s where our hope must always rest, not in ourselves, but in Jesus Christ  – in Him who died for us, who rose for us, who lives for us, and who promised to be with us forever.

Because we believe in the Jesus Christ we have never seen, we may, with the help of God’s grace, learn to love and serve the Jesus we see each day. And do you know what? He’s sitting right beside you.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Homily: Wednesday of Easter Week

Readings: Acts 3:1-10; Ps 105; Luke 24:13-35

The road to Emmaus is the road to conversion, the road from doubt and confusion to true discipleship. One moment the disciples are running away, and the next they become heralds and witnesses of the risen Christ.

At the start they seem to have lost all hope, and without hope their faith is shattered. They see only themselves and their own humanity. Despite all they had heard and seen while they were with Jesus, despite everything, when they came face to face with death, their faith evaporated. “They were downcast…” Luke tells us. “…we were hoping that He would be the one to redeem Israel…” Where were they headed? Away from Jerusalem, away from Jesus, away from the Church – back to their earlier, faithless lives.

Notice the first step in their conversion is taken, not by them, but by Jesus. In His zeal for souls, Jesus approaches the disciples who have lost hope and the meaning in their lives. He understands their sorrow; He sees into their hearts and communicates to them the life He carries within Himself. “I am the way, the truth, and life…” Jesus had told them not long ago. He is the life, the life of grace, a gift that begins to have its effect. Moved by that grace, in their sorrow, they turn to Jesus and listen.

You see, it all begins with Jesus, the Eternal Word of God. Why should it surprise us that Jesus turns to the Word of God, to Scripture? After all, Scripture has only one ultimate purpose, to lead us to Jesus Christ. How does Luke put it? “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them what referred to Him in all the Scriptures.” And the result? “Were not our hearts burning within us while He spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”

That’s when conversion begins, when you hear your story in Scripture.

Too many Christians stop there. They read the Bible and believe, but unlike the two disciples, they don’t take the next logical step on their journey of faith. It’s one thing to believe in Jesus, but it’s far more drastic to invite Him into your life, to invite Him to stay with you, to let Him lead you on that journey.

And so, late on that first Easter Sunday, Jesus responds to the disciples’ invitation and celebrates the second Mass. It’s in the Eucharist – the “breaking of the bread” – that the disciples recognize Him. Their faith is deepened by Scripture, but it is made firm, cemented. by the Eucharist.

Filled with the joy that only such faith can bring, what do they do? The only thing they can do: they go to the very heart of the Church; they go to the Apostles and report what they had witnessed. “Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” With their conversion, they are called to make Christ present among men. But they do so within the Church, the Church established by Jesus Himself.

What a marvelous story this is. Our Lord never forces Himself on us. He wants us to turn to Him freely, once we begin to grasp the depth of His Love. Like the disciples, we want to hold onto Him. We want to beg Him, `Stay with us, Lord. Our souls are shrouded in darkness and You alone are the light.  Only You can satisfy this longing that consumes us.'  And Jesus stays. He stays because He loves. He loves you so passionately He will chase after you relentlessly…until the very last moment of your life.

Conversion, then, begins with Jesus on the road. Our faith is deepened by God’s Holy Word. Our eyes are opened by the gift of grace in the sacraments, and our conversion continues to completion only in the Church, where again we encounter Jesus through those same sacraments. Yes, conversion, like every good thing, begins and ends with Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega, He who loves beyond all comprehension.

Let Him love you.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Kennedy Commencment Brouhaha

Victoria & Ted Kennedy
Okay, I'll admit that, even though I spent a good hunk of my adult life in Massachusetts, I've never been a fan of the Kennedys. And I've certainly never voted for one. Ted Kennedy in particular always seemed to disappoint me. In 1971 he wrote, “Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized - the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old.” But then, as liberal Massachusetts voters increasingly embraced the opposite position, the Senator did a complete about face and became the darling of the "pro-choice" crowd and the radical feminists.

Senator Kennedy's personal conflict with established Church teaching wasn't restricted to abortion, but also included such issues as homosexual marriage and contraception. Scandalously, as he flaunted his hostility to the magisterial teachings of the Catholic Church, he publicly claimed to be a believing, practicing Catholic. How many did he lead astray? As one woman complained to me after a Mass at which I had preached a pro-life homily, "I agree with Senator Kennedy. The girls should have a choice." How nice that she takes her moral direction from a politician rather than the Church.

I mention this because of the dis-inviting of Senator Kennedy's widow, Victoria, who had been scheduled to deliver the commencement address at Anna Maria College, a small Catholic college in Paxton, Massachusetts. It seems that after the college invited her to speak and receive an honorary degree, the local bishop, Bishop Robert J. McManus of Worcester, urged the college not to honor Mrs. Kennedy, telling the college administration that she was not a good choice because of her public support for both abortion and homosexual marriage.

According to a diocesan spokesman, “Bishop McManus feels that, consistent with what the U.S. bishops have been saying since 2004 as a group, Catholic institutions should be honoring Catholics who are taking at least public positions that are consistent with the teachings of the Church.”

Three cheers for Bishop McManus, who is merely, but courageously, reiterating the U. S. Bishops' 2004 statement that Catholic institutions “should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles” since such honors would obviously “suggest support for their actions.” Mrs. Kennedy would certainly fall into this category since she has written op-ed pieces in defense of the right to an abortion and has also spoken publicly in support of homosexual marriage.

The college's administration, in rescinding its invitation, seemed less concerned about Mrs. Kennedy's rejection of Church teaching than about the bad publicity that might arise if it ignored their bishop's request. They were worried that any "conflict with the bishop" might "create negative publicity and a difficult situation” for the college, as well as for Mrs. Kennedy. In their statement, the college said, “As a small, Catholic college that relies heavily on the good will of its relationship with the Bishop and the larger Catholic community, its options are limited...While the (Board of Trustees) believes that this is the necessary decision, it will continue to advocate for increased opportunities to practice its Catholic values of hospitality, compassion, reconciliation, respect for all people and understanding."

And so another Catholic college loses its way...I suppose I should be pleased that did what they did, and actually listened to their bishop.

If you'd like to read  the Washington Post's remarkably one-sided coverage of this story, click here.

Pray for our bishops, for our Catholic educational institutions, and for our Catholic politicians, that they will always place God's will first.

Homily: Easter Sunday, Year B

Readings: Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Ps 118; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-9

Today we come face-to-face with the Risen Christ, the very source of our faith and hope, for the Resurrection is the fuel for that Christian optimism that keeps us going even during the darkest moments of our lives.

When we consider again our Gospel passage from John, we note that the Resurrection is revealed first to Mary Magdalene. Why is Mary going to the tomb? Because Jesus died on the very eve of the Sabbath, prohibiting her from anointing His body immediately after His death. And so she returns at dawn on Sunday prepared to do her duty to the Master, the One she loved.

Like the Apostles, and like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Mary didn’t expect the Resurrection. Jesus, in Whom his disciples had all placed their hopes, had not only died, but died the ignominious death of a common criminal.

And yet, in a display of courage sorely lacking among the Apostles, it was the women who had been there, at the very foot of the Cross, joined only by the young John. Yes, Mary Magdalene knew He had died. She had heard Him take His last breath. She had seen the soldier's lance pierce His heart. She had grieved with our Blessed Mother as she cradled her Son's lifeless body in her arms. And she had seen that body placed hurriedly in the tomb.

Oh, yes, Mary Magdalene knew Jesus had died. And in her overwhelming grief, the grief of emptiness, a grief tinged with an underlying fear, she made her way that Sunday morning to the tomb of a dead man.

She wasn’t thinking of resurrection as she walked along the path. Indeed, none of Jesus’ disciples understood Him when He spoke of His Resurrection, and Mary was no different. Faced with the finality of death, her faith and her hope had all but disappeared. All that is left is her love. It is this love for Jesus that carries her along the path to the tomb on that morning we celebrate today.

But when she arrives, she finds that the huge stone no longer blocks the entrance. It has been rolled away. She confronts an empty tomb.

Both Mark and Matthew tell us that Mary was accompanied in that predawn darkness by other disciples, all of them women. None of them know what to make of it, but their hearts are bursting with a jumble of emotions: confusion, astonishment, fear.

Then, in the tomb, a young man appears and tells them not to be amazed, for the One they seek, the One Who was crucified, the One Who had died before their very eyes, is risen. In the shock of this sudden revelation, they realize that death has not had the last word, but that the Word has overcome death. Faith and hope explode into their hearts. Like St. Paul in today’s second reading, the meaning of this glorious event becomes crystal clear. They too will be united with Him in the Resurrection.

And just as suddenly, all of His teachings, every word He uttered, takes on new meaning. Now they know what He meant by the Kingdom of God, for it is in their very midst, catapulted into the here and now by the Resurrection.

Matthew, describing this same event, tells us that the women left the tomb "fearful yet overjoyed."  Fear and joy -- a rare combination of emotions that I suspect exists only in the presence of God.

Oh, yes, they were fearful, for they had just witnessed God's awesome power. For the first time they truly understand Who Jesus is. He is the Messiah. He is the Redeemer. He is the Chosen One. He is the Son of God.

But this same understanding, and all that it brings with it, also makes them joyful. He is risen! And so too have all of His promises, that suddenly make such perfect sense. Indeed, they are overjoyed.

Overjoyed that their trust in Jesus had not been misplaced.

Overjoyed that they, like all of us, are the object of God's overwhelming love.

Overjoyed because pessimism has turned to optimism, despair has turned to hope -- and that tiny kernel of faith, almost lost during the dark hours after the crucifixion, has blossomed into a sure knowledge of redemption.

Perhaps Mary Magdalene understood this best. In Mark’s Gospel we read that Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene. This had always puzzled me. Why had our Risen Lord appeared first to Mary? But then one day my eldest daughter explained it to me.

Mary Magdalene, she explained, had once been dead in the slavery of her sin, sealed in a tomb of her own making. And she had been given new life through the healing power of God's love and forgiveness. Jesus knew that she, who had experienced this power in her own spiritual resurrection, would believe. Mary, who had been enslaved by sin, had been set free by God’s forgiving love. Who better to break the news, the Good News, to a sinful world?

Mary Magdalene is living proof of the power of God's redeeming love. She is the fruit of Christ's Resurrection. And she is just like each one of us. She is what every woman and every man is called to be. Mary is the sinner who became a saint.

You see, brothers and sisters, our God is not a God for just some. He is the God for every one of us. He is with us through it all, just as He was with Christ through it all: Life…Death… Resurrection.

And so today, as we kneel in adoration before Our Lord in the Eucharist, let us lift our hearts and minds in thanksgiving and celebrate Christ's victory over death and sin, a victory that resounds throughout the universe.

St. John Chrysostom, the great preacher, said it best:

Poor death, where is your sting?
Poor hell, where is your triumph?
Christ steps out of the tomb and you are reduced to nothing.
Christ rises and the angels are wild with delight.
Christ rises and the graves are emptied of the dead.
Oh, yes, for He broke from the tomb like a flower, a beautiful fruit: the first fruit of those already gone.
All glory and power be His, through every age…forever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Homily: Wednesday of Holy Week

Readings Is 50:4-9a; Ps 69; Mt 26:14-25
Have you ever been betrayed? Betrayal’s a horrible, destructive thing, isn’t it? It hits at the very core of our humanity, and jeopardizes those essential relationships based on trust and love.
And yet look how Jesus handled betrayal. Even though He was fully aware of Judas’ plans, He invited His betrayer to recline and dine with Him. And He questions Judas as if He were trying to force him to admit what he planned. Would this lead Judas to confront his sin and be repelled by its inherent evil? We simply don’t know. And neither do we know why Judas betrayed Jesus. Was it greed, impatience, disillusionment, even hatred? We don’t know for certain. But whatever the reason, it all boiled down to Judas being unable to accept Jesus as He is.
Notice how Judas responded to Jesus. He called Him, “Rabbi,” while the apostles, each in turn, called Jesus, “Lord.” What a difference! Sin is so much easier when we distort and limit our understanding of who Jesus is. This is our great temptation as Christians: to create a Jesus in our own image.
It’s easy to do. Just look in the mirror and say, “Hi, Jesus!” And then, whatever I do or say, well…that’s not me. That’s Jesus talking, that’s God talking. It sure makes things easier when we need only look to ourselves for all the answers.
In Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, one of the brothers, Ivan, is visited by Satan who persuades him that with the death of God “everything is permitted.” The devil isn’t suggesting here that the world will slide into the chaos of anarchy – not at all – for the world can be very “civilized” while still believing in nothing.
No Satan means that once we eliminate God from our lives, from our society, from our civilization, then nothing is absolute, nothing is always wrong. Once we remove God from the picture, we fall prey to what Pope Benedict calls “the dictatorship of relativism” under which the clear distinctions between what is morally right and wrong dissolve into a kind of amoral putty that we can form into whatever shape we like.
Yes, once we believe that God is no longer in charge…well, someone has to take control. And that’s when men try to usurp God’s responsibilities for defining the moral order. Once we do that, we need only reshape the putty, forming acceptable reasons to do and to believe absolutely anything.
This, I suspect, was Judas’ sin. He wanted Jesus to change; he wanted God, the unchangeable One, to reshape Himself to become just like Judas. But, of course, Jesus isn’t about to change, for His entire mission is the fulfillment of the Father’s will, the Father’s plan.
Like Satan, Judas saw Jesus’ ministry as a failure, and decided that he would have to take charge. But poor Judas, and those among us today who are like him, have it all backwards; for it’s not God who must change; it’s we who must let ourselves be changed by Him.
As we enter this holiest time of our liturgical year, let’s make that our prayer, to allow ourselves to be changed by God’s love, by the Good News of His Son’s redemptive act. For when we abandon ourselves to God’s holy will, He will send His Spirit to lead us and guide us, to deliver us from evil, the evil of betrayal that we call sin.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Homily: Passion (Palm) Sunday

On Palm Sunday we read the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ from Mark's Gospel, and began our celebration of Holy Week during which we will witness once again the Passion, Death and Resurrection, the ultimate sign of God's love for us, His people. My relatively brief Palm Sunday homily follows:


Readings: Jn 12:12-16; Is 50:4-7; Ps 22; Phil 2:6-11; Mk 14:1-15:47

What can one say after listening to the Passion narrative? What we’ve heard is clear, precise, even dramatic in its impact – almost too much to take in at once.

And so over this Holy Week we’ll consider and celebrate, part by part, day by day, the Last Supper, the arrest, the death and the burial of Jesus, and his glorious Resurrection from the dead.

But today we encounter the unsettling contrast between our two Gospel readings.

As Christians we welcome Christ. We hold our palm branches, and shout, "Hosanna!" 2000 years ago they welcomed Him too. But did they know him? Who did they think He was? Another David? Another Moses? Would He make Israel great again?

Yes, they welcomed Him…until they saw that He was someone other than the Messiah they sought. They saw, instead, a man who’d be summarily executed like a slave or petty criminal, a man of no consequence. And so the disillusionment, the resentment, the anger set in. Oh, yes, they wanted a savior, their kind of savior.

But are you and I much different? We too pick up palm branches of welcome, but like the people of Jerusalem, we expect God to meet our terms and conditions. So often we demand that God rearrange the world and its people to conform to our plans, our timetables, our politics, to remove any burdens we may be asked to carry. And if our terms and conditions aren’t met…well, we too can put down the palms and reach for the cross -- not to shoulder it ourselves, but to force it once again on Jesus. Yes, we too want to create a Savior in our image.

Jesus didn't suffer and die on the cross for this. He did it out of love, love for each one of us – not a generic but an individual love.

Look at the hands of the crucified and glorified Jesus. Do you know what you’ll see? You’ll see your name written on His palms, right next to the nail holes of crucifixion.

As Jesus died on the cross, He pictured your face. Your name was on His lips. He died for you, knowing everything about you. He died because of your sins and consciously for love of you.

When we finally come to accept that we are loved individually with a perfect, infinite, and divine love – a crucified love – our lives must change. We must throw our palms and ourselves at Jesus’ feet in worship.

Only then, when we finally realize the depth of this love, can we undergo the conversion, the change of heart, that Jesus seeks in each of us.

"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" Every time we participate in the Eucharist, we repeat these same words. We call Him, and He comes. Jesus comes into His Church under the miraculous appearance of a little bread and wine, and so prepares us for his ultimate coming in unequalled glory!

Never forget this! Honoring Him as the King of Glory, you and I can let Him rule our hearts and minds, our lives and our homes.

Living in His love, we too must live, suffer, and die for Him who is Love, “so that at Jesus’ name every knee must bend in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father: JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!”