Apr 10, 2021

2nd Sunday of Easter: "My Lord and my God"

 

        (The incredulity of Thomas by Benjamin West)

John 20: 19-31

The Word: https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/041121.cfm

Would there be a way we could compress the entire Gospel into one small sound bite?  We’re very familiar with such abbreviated phrases. We see them in marketing for businesses all the time.  Television commercials were famous for them: “Have it your way,” “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” "Just do it!" Such brief lines embed themselves in us and quickly convey the purpose of that product.

Sadly, we also live in a time when news reports are filled with inflammatory and emotionally driven words to describe tragedies, politics and the present health concern we live with: "Global pandemic" "Numbers moving up!" "Stay home!"  “Don’t go here and don’t go there.”

Beautifully, our passage from the Gospel of John this Sunday offers us a wonderful sound bite:  “My Lord and my God.”  The words of Thomas when he encounters and touches the risen Christ summarize not only this Easter season but where the Lord needs to be in our lives as well - he is our “Lord and God” and thereby the center of our faith lives and our life in general. We have come to see Jesus as not just another wise teacher, philosopher, theologian or even Doctor of the Church.  He is the risen and living Lord and God.  He is, as we recently heard at the beautiful Easter Vigil: the “Alpha and the Omega.”  The beginning and end of all things. 

This Sunday and throughout the Easter season, we hear of startling events for the Apostles which forever would change their lives and the lives of all future generations of Christians in the Church.

In our Gospel account this Sunday, the risen Lord unexpectedly appears to the frightened and confused group hiding in fear with doors securely locked.  They hid in fright of what might happen due to their known association with Jesus of Nazareth and find themselves paralyzed as to their next step. 

We see a community gathered in tension and confusion and quite possibly some early division among them as various understandings of what the resurrection means is voiced among them. They will never forget their cowardly abandonment of Jesus three days before and all of them, save John, scattered from him in his greatest need.  What could be more troubling? Yet, in the midst of this, Jesus appears to them, not as a spirit or a hallucination but in his risen, physical body, eternally alive again! His first word to them is Shalom – “Peace be with you.” He knew of their troubled spirits.

We can only imagine the reaction of the disciples and the energy that must have filled that room. John writes: “The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” I would guess that was an understatement. In the process, Jesus addresses their fear and by association, their earlier betrayal not with judgement but with a greeting of comfort and mercy. Jesus grants them what they need.

So, he breathes on them, shares his spirit then commissions them to be ambassadors of himself and the forgiveness of sins.  He sends them as witnesses to go and offer his mercy to all who hear their message of peace.  Jesus bestows on them the breath of life as we recall the breath of God on the lifeless Adam at creation which brought him to life. Yet, one Apostle was missing in this assembly that day.

While we often refer to poor Thomas as doubtful of the veracity of the resurrection his statement upon seeing and touching the risen Lord conveys a Thomas of faith, not doubt. In that way isn’t he certainly a sign of all of us who wonder, ask, maybe even doubt but still desire to know. Thomas did not betray Jesus as Judas had done or deny he knew him as Peter but simply wanted to know for sure in what sounded like an impossible event.

The story is just too fantastic.  Jesus well knew their need for proof. Thomas, I feel, wanted to believe with all his heart but he needed something to hang on, not just words as convincing as they may have sounded. These physical resurrection encounters were essential to confirm their faith. This is the first time in the Gospels, in fact, that Jesus is referred to as God. They had gone from experiencing the Jesus of history and now encounter the risen Jesus of faith.

Somewhat unlike the supernatural experience in that upper room, our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles presents an idyllic picture of the early Christian community.  They were bound tightly in faith. Gathered with the Apostles, there is no fear but the reassurance of the presence of the risen Lord in their midst and they live out that faith as they care for one another; they extend a spirit of mercy so that no one would go without.  They become a model for others

At the core mission of the Church, therefore, is the proclamation of God’s mercy and what better Sunday than this one named, “Divine Mercy Sunday” to proclaim that truth. We see in the Gospel the foundation of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in which we come repentant and leave healed and forgiven of sin. It is the mission of the Church to proclaim and to live out the great commission to preach forgiveness and to live concretely what we preach.

Remember, these Apostles were not old and filled with the wisdom of experience.  They were young men, likely in their late teens or 20's, perhaps 30's at the most, and by nature inquisitive, impulsive, filled with idealism and energy but also skeptical. One source commented that Simon Peter was likely the oldest of the lot but perhaps in his 30’s at most, not this old bearded man we see in artistic renderings. Most of them were fishermen, working long in hard labor. The Gospels relate their physical prowess: they ran, they pulled nets, they climbed mountains, they rowed a boat on stormy seas, they endured in the face of threat, and they walked distances in the hot sun and made their way through crowds. Such things are not for the physically weak or aging. So the Lord imparts to them a powerful indelible experience that transformed them from frightened followers to bold and courageous witnesses. 

In light of the present day, an age filled with indifference towards God and religion, deeply secular, scientific and technical with rampant individualism, what better time to proclaim the deeper truth of God’s call to conversion.  Although our society, at least in the western world, seems to be replacing God and religion with politics and freedom, deep in the soul of each person is still that hunger for connection and for a joy and satisfaction that can be found only through a relationship with our Lord and God.

We need to hope and pray intensely for a sign of God’s mercy on us all.  The power of faith, the Holy Eucharist and the sacramental life of the Church, which by its nature forms powerful human connections in the Body of Christ, is the only lasting satisfaction for there we come to know risen life and the hope of eternity for all. The risen Jesus gave to his Apostles the power to forgive sin in his name, to form a community of believers in the Spirit, and to courageously preach this good news to all the world - such is the mission of the Church and one we carry not just in words but in the integrity of our lives. 

The Gospel passage ends on a high note that should give us all hope: ". . . to help you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, so that through this faith you may have life in his name."  

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God of everlasting mercy,

who in the very recurrence of the paschal feast

kindle the faith of the people

you have made your own,

increase the grace you have bestowed,

that all may grasp and rightly understand

in what font they have been washed,

by whose Spirit they have been reborn,

by whose Blood they have been redeemed.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 

who lives and reigns with you

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

God for ever and ever. 

(Collect for Mass)

 

Apr 3, 2021

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord

 


"Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining. 

Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!

Amen. Alleluia!"

(Easter sequence)


John 20: 1-9

The Word: https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/040421.cfm


O God, who on this day, 

through your Only Begotten Son, 

have conquered death and unlocked

for us the path to eternity, 

grant, we pray, that we who keep 

the solemnity of the Lord's Resurrection

may, through the renewal brought

by your Spirit, rise up in the light of life.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, 

who lives and reigns with you

in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 

God for ever and ever.


(Collect of Mass)

Mar 27, 2021

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion and Holy Week

 

(Photo Courtesy - Thinkstock)

Mark 14: 1 - 15:47

"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"

The Word: https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/032821.cfm

Friends, the holiest week of the Church year begins for us this weekend with the celebration of Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord.  There we move quickly through joyful adulation as Jesus enters Jerusalem as a peaceful king to the acclaim of the adoring crowds.  They proclaim him "Hosanna - the King."  While that may sound appropriate, and indeed it is, we can only imagine how the leaders of the Jewish people who were already plotting a way to capture and kill him might interpret this as the final threat to their authority and a direct challenge to the tight grip of the Roman authorities. “There is no king but Caesar” from the Roman perspective and anyone who dared to appear a rival must be eliminated! Of course Jesus was aware of their dark intent.

 Not only does Jesus rightly claim to be the ‘light of the world” but also claims to be “one with the Father in heaven” and that comparison portrays Jesus as a great threat to the stability of the Jewish order but also appears a direct confrontation with their authoritative position.  The crowds amass around Jesus and the appearance of a potential revolution against the Romans and the Jewish leaders may be on the horizon.  Or so it is thought.  This is enough!  Something must be done to destroy this leader of the uprising. Basically then, we see that Jesus was crucified more for political than for religious reasons since, as we hear in the reading of the Passion both this Sunday and on Good Friday, it is only the Romans who had the authority to enforce the death penalty and they were experts at enforcing it!  Still, the narrow mindedness of the Pharisees, the alleged guardians of Jewish purity, never understood Jesus' intent and saw him as a danger. They plotted with Caiaphas the High Priest who was himself in league with the Roman authorities. 

Our Sunday liturgy begins this continuous unbroken story with the blessing of the palms and the reading of the Passion, this year from St. Mark the Evangelist. Our mood of joy changes to one of shock and sorrow.  In John we see Jesus goes to the Temple to symbolically cleanse the Temple from corruption and idolatry, to destroy the old order and to proclaim a new “temple” in his risen body – the Church. Shortly before, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead so the fever pitch around him was very high as were the hostile forces. How much time elapsed between the praise of the crowds with branches and Jesus' arrest seems very short, likely only a few days at the most beginning with the betrayal by one of his inner circle, Judas Iscariot, who handed Jesus over to his suspicious enemies.  

The rest of our week on Holy Thursday and Good Friday moves to the establishment of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper and that of the Priesthood.  Here, knowing that his time was short on the earth, Jesus gives us himself in the meal of remembrance, our Mass, and appoints his Apostles and successors with authority to lead the community as they proclaim the good news of forgiving salvation for all and make his presence true among the people who are formed into the new Temple, the Church, with Christ as its Head.

Good Friday, of course, is a somber day of reflection on the death of Jesus.  Yet, as Christians far removed from the original event, we well know that sunrise and great rejoicing is just on the horizon as Jesus' tortuous death is replaced by his glorious resurrection from the dead and his promise of forgiveness, mercy, love and eternal life to all who would follow his Way.  Through Jesus' death and resurrection humanity is reconciled with God and our celebration of the Holy Mass each time makes this event present to us.

What greater moment and gift could their possibly be?  So, let's enter this dramatic week with joy and anticipation and our sacred liturgies this week with participation.  If you've never been to Holy Week services, make this the year you will begin - with your families as well.  Most thankful of all is that we are now able to participate in person more fully than last year when the pandemic began.  While we still have a way to go, there is reason for optimism and hope on the horizon.

If you've never been to the great Easter Vigil service on Saturday evening, come this year.  There we hear the Old Testament stories of salvation, give birth to new members in Baptism and Confirmation, and rejoice together in the resurrection of the Lord as we feast on his presence in the Eucharist.

Give thanks for our generous and merciful God!

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Almighty ever-living God,

who as an example of humility for the human race to follow

caused our Savior to take flesh and submit to the Cross,

graciously grant that we may heed his lesson of patient suffering

and so merit a short in his Resurrection.

Who lives and reigns with you

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God for ever and ever.

 (Collect of Mass)

Mar 20, 2021

5th Sunday of Lent: "A law upon our hearts"


"I will place my law within them"

 The Word: https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/032121-YearB.cfm

We are a country of laws.  We speak about a land of “law and order.”  There are laws about everything, they govern our lives, direct our actions, and are intended to maintain the boundaries in which citizens behave which hopefully creates a land of peace and harmony.

We speak of the natural law - the forces that guide our bodies and the universe around us.  It keeps planets apart from each other in orbits, the law of gravity keeps everything fixed on earth lest we go flying off into space and crashing into one another.  We have laws that guide our traffic, our tax system, our use of land, our homes, etc.  Without certain established directions and boundaries we simply become governed by nothing other than our base instincts.

In the Church we have Canon Law which governs our lives as Catholics.  It helps us to understand the deeper meaning of God’s superior Law and how we can live out what he asks of us. Church laws govern the sacraments, our parishes, the formation of priests, the governing of a Diocese by the Bishop, etc.  Yet the final goal and purpose is the salvation of souls. Although our social conditions today make us more concerned about how effectively our laws are being managed our readings today speak about another source from where law has come. A law or relationship; a covenant between us and God.

This final Sunday of Lent before Holy Week begins next Sunday finds the voice of Jeremiah the prophet speaking of God’s desire to “Make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” Then in a divine longing for relationship with us, God speaks through Jeremiah: “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God and they will be my people.”

What do you see in these words?  I imagine a kind of sculptor at work on a piece of marble.  He chisels away an indelible image of beauty.  He breathes upon the work and forms it according to his personal imagining.  Certainly, the name of the Renaissance inspired genius Michelangelo comes to mind, his famed statue of David, carved from one piece of marble and that of the Pieta, depicting the crucified body of Jesus in the arms of his mother.  They remain forever beautiful and marked by the sculptor with his touch of genius. Although made of stone, they appear to be alive.  Such it is with the law of God on our hearts that Jeremiah speaks of in our first reading.

The law of the “new covenant” is not a restriction or a punishment.  God in this passage desires an intense relationship with humanity.  He has tried to reach out to us over and over again from the external but now he enters our hearts and imbeds his genius on us. He wants to reform a people and build a deeper bond of communion with them.  Yet, human hearts are not made of stone so our Creator desires to live in the hearts of all.

However, how idealistic this sounds.  Jeremiah’s words imply that God will implant an innate understanding of God. The Jews have returned from exile in Babylon with a new understand and a renewed faith. That law is living and they will know that God is God for them and they are particularly chosen for him. It is about a law of love and relationship between God and humanity. In other words, God wishes to redeem humanity.

In the Gospel passage from John we hear from Jesus what the sign of this redemption will be: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” The cross of Christ, that grain of wheat which dies to produce much fruit as we hear today, is the sign of the covenant God has made with humanity.  This is the “hour” which Jesus speaks of in the Gospel; when he will be “glorified.” That in death there is life and resurrection; there is hope and promise.  In giving one’s life away we produce the fruits of virtue and holiness: unselfishness, compassion, humility, true sacrificial love.

So, at the Last Supper he was about to finally set things right for there he took the bread and wine, established the Holy Eucharist in the new covenant of “my blood.” He has given himself to us in the new and final for all time sign of his love in and through his Church as he poured out his life for us on the cross. The Holy Eucharist is Christ in our midst intimately connected with us and there he calls us to “lawful” thankfulness.

The sacred law, and all that Christ has done for us, is to keep our hearts open and receptive to God. To embrace the sign, the cross, as an integral part of our Christian lives as we too die and rise with Christ through the grace of our Baptism and the measure by which we live our faith. If we follow our own "law," always by our own ego centered lives, we're on our own.  If we follow in his Way, a life focused on God as the center, we will bear much and more effective fruit. 

As we approach Holy Week, this is what we recall and is the whole meaning of that week and our lives in a world today that has seemingly detached itself from God.  We see the results of an ego-driven society and our gift is to aid in putting things back on track.  

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By your help, we beseech you, Lord our God,

may we walk eagerly in that same charity

with which, our of love for the world, 

your Son handed himself over to death.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, 

who lives and reigns with you

in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 

God for ever and ever.

(Collect of Mass)