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.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Homily: Easter Monday

Readings: Acts 2:14, 22-33; Ps 16; Mt 28:8-15


Isn't it interesting that throughout most of the liturgical year, our first reading at Mass comes from the Old Testament, except during the Easter Season? At this very special time of the year, our first reading is taken from the Acts of the Apostles.

The Church does this for a very good reason. Acts really begins with Pentecost, that special day when the Church, promised and formed by Jesus, is born. The story of Acts is the story of the Church, the story of the Apostles who begin the task of going out throughout the world to fulfill the great commission given them by the Risen Jesus:

"Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age" [Mt 28:10-20].
Make disciples, baptize, teach - all begun through the preaching of the first disciples. Before the Gospel, the Good News, was written down, it was preached. And it's in the Acts of the Apostles, during this season of Easter, that we encounter that early Gospel preached by Peter and Paul. Listen again as Peter begins to spread the Good News among the Jewish pilgrims on that first Pentecost:
"God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses. Exalted at the right hand of God, he poured forth the promise of the Holy Spirit that he received from the Father, as you both see and hear" [Acts 2:32-33].

Notice that at the very core of that preaching is the Trinity -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- the foundation of our Christian faith.

Yes, "God raised this Jesus..."

In today's Gospel passage the two Marys went to the tomb, not to see a Risen Jesus, but to anoint His body. They knew He had died. They had heard Him take His last breath. They had seen the soldier's lance pierce His side. They had grieved with His Mother as she cradled her Son's lifeless body in her arms. And they had seen that body placed hurriedly in the tomb.

Oh, yes, they knew He had died. In their overwhelming grief, a grief of emptiness, tinged with an underlying fear, they made their way to the tomb of a dead man.

They, like all the disciples, hadn't understood Jesus when He spoke of His Resurrection. Faced with the finality of death, their faith and their hope had all but disappeared. All that was left was their love. And it's this love for Jesus that carried them along the path to the tomb that first Easter morning.

But the sight of the empty tomb filled their hearts with a jumble of emotions: confusion, astonishment, fear.

And then they encountered their Risen Lord. The One they sought, the One Who was crucified, the One Who had died before their very eyes, is risen. And in the shock of this sudden revelation, they understood that death had not had the last word, but that the Word had overcome death. Faith and hope exploded in their hearts, for they realized that they too would be united with Him in the Resurrection.

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

Matthew tells us the women left the tomb "fearful yet overjoyed" [Mt 28:8]. Fear and joy -- a rare combination of emotions that I suspect exist only in the presence of God.

Oh, yes, they were fearful, for they had just witnessed God's awesome power, and for the first time truly understood Who Jesus is. He is the Messiah. He is the Redeemer. He is the Chosen One. He is the Son of God. It's this same understanding, and all it brings with it, that made them so joyful. He is risen! And so too have all of His promises, that suddenly made such perfect sense.

Yes, they were 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 had turned to optimism, despair had turned to hope, and that tiny kernel of faith, almost lost during the dark hours after the crucifixion, had blossomed into a sure knowledge of redemption.

Perhaps Mary Magdalene understood this best. Mary -- she who had been dead in the slavery of her sin; she who had been sealed in a tomb of her own making -- had been given new life through the healing power of God's love and forgiveness. And Jesus knew that she, who had experienced this power in her own resurrection from the deadness of sin, would believe.

Who better to break the news -- the Good News -- to a sinful world; for Mary Magdalene was what every woman and every man is called to be. She was the sinner who became the saint. She was living proof of the power of God's redeeming love. She was the "witness" that Peter described as he preached in the streets of Jerusalem. She was the fruit of Christ's Resurrection.

Today, as we receive the gift of Our Lord's Body and Blood in the Eucharist, it is the Risen Jesus we encounter, the very source of our faith and hope.  Lift our hearts and minds in thanksgiving and celebrate Christ's victory over death and sin, a victory that resounded throughout the universe, and continues to do so today.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Homily: Monday of Holy Week

Readings: Is 42:1-7; Ps 27; Jn 12:1-11

Mark Helprin is perhaps my favorite modern novelist, a writer whose stories not only plumb the depths of the human condition, but also soar to the heights of the divine image within humanity.

Page from the Daianu
This week I happened to read one of his essays in which Helprin, a Jew, mentions a song that is a part of the Passover service. The song, called "Daianu," means "sufficient" or "it was enough for us." In the song God is thanked for His gifts, but as the song progresses, each verse eliminates these gifts until only the gift of life itself is left. At the end we're confronted only by the existence of God; and this is enough. Yes, God's existence is sufficient for us.

Helprin states that, "If one thinks that way, one can pass any test." Amen.

As I read those words the other evening my thoughts turned to today's Gospel passage, an incident in which we encounter two very different people, two very different attitudes about God, about Jesus Christ, about life itself. These two - Mary of Bethany and Judas - offer us a remarkable contrast.

The timing, of course, is crucial, for it takes place six days before the Passover, six days before Jesus sacrifices His life for us on the Cross at Calvary, six days before His lifeless body is placed in the tomb.

And so Mary, in the house of her brother, Lazarus, kneels before her Savior and pours expensive perfumed unguent all over the feet of Jesus, filling the house with its fragrance. She then dries His feet with her hair - all done, as Jesus reminds us, in anticipation of His burial.

Mary says nothing, but in her actions we can hear the words of today's Psalm:

"The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear?" [Ps 27:1]
For Mary, just the presence of her Savior is sufficient, and it calls her to worship Him fearlessly and lavishly. Yes, His presence is more than enough for Mary.

Indeed, this is the only anointing Jesus' body will receive; for a week later, on that Resurrection morning, the women who carry their oils to His tomb will find it empty.

But the Gospel passage doesn't stop there, does it? Another is present: Judas Iscariot. He confronts and criticizes Mary for her extravagance. Like all materialists, Judas is spiritually blind, and in a fit of sheer hypocrisy, asks aloud:
"Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days' wages and given to the poor?" [Jn 12:5]
This, John tells us, comes from a man who would have stolen the funds for his own use. Is it any surprise that Judas will trade the life of Jesus for a handful of silver coins?

Jesus responds to Judas by defending Mary.
For Jesus, Mary's action is nothing less than a sign of her great love for Him. But then He adds:

"You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me" [Jn 12:8].

This is no derisive comment by Jesus. He's not telling us to ignore the poor. On the contrary, He simply reminds us that only those who with a deep love for God can extend that love to the poor and to all those in need. 

Sadly, Judas does not understand this. Indeed, he is already forming his plan, and through his treachery will bring about Jesus' death. Mary anoints Jesus for His burial, a burial that will be brought about by the betrayal of the apostle. The betrayal is deliberate. We don't really know his motives, but it was still a cold and calculated act.

Later John tells us that Satan entered into Judas when he rejected Jesus. That's what Satan does, brothers and sisters, but only if we let him. He twists love and turns it into hate. He turns holiness into pride, discipline into cruelty, affection into complacency, trust into despair.

And, believe me, Satan is active in our world today, a world filled with threats that lead so many to fear, and from fear to despair. But fear is nothing but the absence of faith.

If you and I, like the Jew at Passover, or like Mary at the feet of Jesus, if we can express our thankfulness for God's gift of life, for the simple fact of His loving, forgiving existence, then "we can pass any test."

Oh, yes, brothers and sisters, we are all sinners. We all betray the Lord. But what kind of betrayers, what kind of sinners are we? Are we like Mary who turns to her merciful Lord in abundant love or are we like Judas who can only despair, only hate himself and the One who loves him?

Mark Helprin, "Falling into Eternity", First Things, March 2017; p.23