Easter Sunday - 24 APR 2011

Easter—The Resurrection of the Lord
April 24, 2011

When we stand and proclaim what we believe as Christians, one of the first things we say about God is that He is “creator”:  as in, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth”.

We hear of God as a Creator in the first words of Sacred Scripture.  The first reading at the Easter Vigil tells us how God creates: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland….”  In other words, God is able to take nothing, and make something out of it.

This is not the heart of our Christian faith, but it is the beginning:  God is able to take nothing, and make something out of it. 

You and I cannot do that.  Human beings cannot create something out of nothing.  We can create.  One of the most powerful ways that we grow in our Christian Faith is through human works of creation:  human art.  Christian art can be very simple:  when we pray the Stations of the Cross, for example, and hold that little booklet in our hands, the picture on the left-hand side of the page helps us to see, in the simple beauty of its art, what the words on the right-hand side help us to say out loud.

Art is everywhere in our Catholic Faith.  Statues, paintings and pictures, all help us to grow in faith.  We know, too, that there are masterpieces in museums and churches, in states and countries far from where we live our every-day lives, that stun the imagination.  In the whole of our lives, we may only have one chance to see, for example, Michelangelo’s Pieta in St. Peter’s in Rome.  But if we do see it, even once, it has a great impact on our life:  years later, we will still talk about it to others, and try to express how beautiful, how captivating it is.  We may not express this beauty very well, but we are never the same after we see it:  and all because Michelangelo chose to create this human work of art.

The difference, of course, between the way that God creates and the way that humans create, is an infinite difference.  God creates out of nothing.  Humans have to have a “something” in front of them in order to produce a work of art.  The sculptor needs a block of marble, as well as a chisel, as well as a lot of free time to work.  The painter needs brushes, palettes, paints, a canvas, as well as a lot of time.  But God creates out of nothing, in less than a moment, in less than a snap of the fingers.

There’s another difference between God as “THE” Creator, and the ways that we humans approach creation.  This difference is in the approaches we take to “broken creation”.  What do we do when something breaks?  In our modern western culture, especially in the United States, our knee-jerk reaction to something breaking is to throw it away, and buy a new one.  Whether it’s a lamp, a printer, a coffee maker, or even for some, a marriage:  when something breaks, it no longer has value.  There’s no reason to keep it around.

If we do try to fix something, there’s no guarantee that we’ll have much success.  Growing up with two sisters and a brother, I can only remember once (apart from making too much noise in the car), that all four of us got in trouble for the same thing.  The trouble was because of our mother’s favorite lamp:  an Oriental lamp that, one day, got right in the way of someone’s beeline during a game of indoor Tag.  I don’t know which was greater:  our fear of our mother, or our self-delusion that we could put the 500 pieces of porcelain back together.  Maybe because of fear, though, we tried as hard as we could to fit all 500 pieces back into a whole, like Humpty-Dumpty.

Whether it’s a lamp, or a car, or a clock, or a computer, our ability to fix—our ability to “re-create”—something that is broken, is limited.  It depends on our knowledge, our flair, and our experience.

But there are something that we simply cannot fix:  not through our own human powers.  These are the things that become broken because of sin and death.  No matter how much we wish—no matter how much we try—we cannot fix, we cannot put back together what has been torn apart by sin and death.  We try to persuade ourselves otherwise.  But we fail.

By ourselves, we fail.  But with God, we can succeed.  This is the Good News of Jesus’ Resurrection.  We were indeed buried with Jesus through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.

God creates differently than we create.  And God re-creates in a different way, too.  God can do what we cannot.  God can forgive sins, creating grace in the soul of someone who has rejected Him.  God can raise up those who have died, as the Son of God proclaims to us today.  God can create something out of nothing:  He can bring life out of death.

This is not just a promise about the future, based on hope.  This is not just admiring what God the Father did for Jesus 2000 years ago, something to believe with faith.  Through the Eucharist, the Risen Jesus—His glorified Body and Body, soul and divinity—enter into the person who receives Him.  The grace of this Sacrament, if we accept it and allow it to change us—is what gives us the chance to live in newness of life.  This grace is what changes not tomorrow—not yesterday—but today.  This grace is what allows us to love, in our daily life, those whom we find it difficult to love, whether that is someone we keep at a distance, someone very close to us, or even our own self.  This grace is what allows us to love as God has loved us, and to live on in that love even after our death in this world, to enjoy the presence of God and all His saints for eternity.  Amen.

Good Friday

Good Friday - The Passion of the Lord
Isaiah 52:13—53:12  +  Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9  +  John 18:1-19,42

               Every year this Holy Week is celebrated as the central time of the Christian year.  We set aside time from our normal routines to journey with Our Lord Jesus:  with Him on Palm Sunday as He triumphally enters into Jerusalem; with Him on Holy Thursday as He celebrates His Last Supper; and again with Him today as He suffers and dies for us, so that we might have the chance to live with Him in Heaven.  Each of these days holds a special place in our hearts.
               This is only natural, since when you love someone, certain days become anniversaries, days that are remembered each year.  Whether it’s the day that two spouses exchange vows with each other, the day a child is born into the world, or even the day on which a loved one leaves this earth, submitting to the power of death, certain days become ingrained in our minds as “holy days.”
               Likewise, just as we have times which we celebrate each year, either together as a Church or individually within our families or with another person, there are also certain places which we consider as having special significance to us.  Whether it’s a locale where two persons meet, a church where a person is baptized or confirmed or married, or even a spot where a favorite vacation was spent, certain places become remembered in our hearts as “sacred spaces.”
We began this week by entering with Jesus into the holy city of Jerusalem.  For the Jews of Jesus’ day, Jerusalem was both like Washington, D.C. and the Vatican are for us:  Jerusalem was the center of the nation of Israel, and the center of their Jewish religion.   Jesus’ entrance into the city was a sort of national and religious homecoming:  all sorts of Jews waved palm branches in front of Jesus as He entered into Jerusalem, because they believed He would be a Messiah who would free them from every sort of problem in their lives.
But as the week wore off, most of these people deserted Jesus. When Jesus cleansed the Temple and then said that he would raise the Temple in three days after it was destroyed, many began to doubt why they had ever put faith in Jesus.
By the time of the Last Supper, the apostles were some of the few people left who had kept the faith.  And so, on that Holy Thursday, Jesus gathered those apostles with in an upper room within the walls of Jerusalem, in order to share with them the Passover meal, through which He gave them the Holy Eucharist, the sacrament by which His Body and Blood might always remain with them.  And yet, even among those twelve apostles there was one who betrayed him, who left the Last Supper in order to arrange Jesus’ arrest.
And so, as today’s gospel passage begins, the Last Supper has just ended, and we see Jesus going with the remaining disciples to the Garden of Gethsemani, a place which was familiar to Judas… because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.  This garden was very likely where Jesus had taught much to his disciples, a peaceful spot where Jesus formed the apostles into men after his own Sacred Heart.  As God had formed the first humans, Adam and Eve, in a garden called Eden, here in Gethsemani the Son of God formed the men who would be his apostles.  And yet, just as the first parents betrayed in Eden the free will God had given them, here in Gethsemani one of those apostles betrayed by a kiss the teachings Jesus had given them.
But what is most striking about the scene in Gethsemani is not the betrayal of Judas, but the wandering of the other apostles.  Only two continued to follow Jesus after his arrest, Peter and John, who the Scriptures call the disciple whom Jesus loved.  They follow Jesus, bound and carried away from the soldiers, at a distance:  their faith is wavering.  And we know that before the night is over, Peter denies his Lord and Savior three times.
               It is only John, the Beloved Disciple, who continues to journey with Jesus.  It is John who is beneath the cross with our Blessed Mother Mary.  We can be sure that even at the Cross, John, the youngest of the apostles, perhaps in his early twenties at this time, did not understand the death of his Master.  He wept for his Lord but could not fully understand what was taking place there on Calvary.
We know that of the apostles, only one did not become a martyr, and that apostle was Saint John.  It was he who had been faithful to the Lord’s Cross, who had shared Our Lord’s death not at the end of his life, but near the beginning.  And throughout the rest of his life as an apostle he prayed deeply about this great gift, this great sacrifice that Christ made.  Throughout the rest of St. John’s life, as he continued to serve others, his mind turned back, year after year, to that Good Friday and the hill of Calvary, where the love and the glory of God were most clearly revealed.
And through the Eucharist which Christ had given John the power to celebrate for the sake of others, Saint John was able to enter into that scene once again, to return to that day which is today, and to that hill of Calvary.
There is no offering of the sacrifice of the Mass on Good Friday, and yet still we are able to share in the fruits of that sacrifice.  As we enter into Holy Communion with Our Lord, let us turn our minds again to the sacrifice of Calvary, and the love in Christ’s Sacred Heart which allowed Him to offer it for our salvation.

Passion Sunday - 17 APR 2011

Passion Sunday
Isaiah 50:4-7  ¾  Philippians 2:6-11  ¾  Matthew 26:14—27:66
April 17, 2011

In the year 30 A.D., Jesus found His Name being shouted loudly.  Today, in the year 2011 A.D., we join in the shouting.  The question, though, is what we shout along with His name:  are we crying “Hosanna to Jesus!”, or “Crucify Jesus!”?

This question ¾ this two-edged sword ¾ is why this day has two names:  Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday.  Most of us tend to prefer the name Palm Sunday, but in the second Gospel of today’s Mass, we participate in His Passion.  We participate in the sufferings of Jesus, just as we do every day.  Each of you, as a Christian, is a member of Christ’s Body.  So in all that you do, you either bring glory to Christ’s Body, or you crucify it.  In every decision of right or wrong, we either proclaim or shout, just as those two groups 2000 years ago.

On the one side of the sword, there is the crowd that laid their cloaks before Jesus on the path leading into Jerusalem.  The other side of the sword ¾ which pierced Jesus’ own side ¾ is the crowd mocking Jesus as he carried the Cross to Calvary.  At the top of Calvary were the soldiers who placed a military cloak upon Jesus, mocking the claim that He was the King of the Jews.

The sharpest cut that this two-edged sword makes is the fact that these two crowds were ¾ for the most part ¾ made up of the same people.  In the year 30, it was largely the same people on Sunday shouting “Hosanna to Jesus!” who five days later were shouting “Crucify Him!”  In the year 2011, things are not much different.  Most of us want to consider ourselves as part of the crowd waving palm branches in joy.  But in all honesty we know that we the ones standing along the Way of the Cross.  We watch Jesus as He carries the Cross:  sometimes we mock Him, and perhaps even take pleasure as He falls three times. 

If our reaction is to such a suggestion is to say, “I would never do those things to Jesus,” we might ask how many people we struggle to get along with in life, and how often we mock the opinions of others, or take pleasure in the failures of others.  And then Jesus says to us, “Whenever you do this to the least of my brothers or sisters, you do so to me.”

What are we doing to help Our Lord as He walks towards Calvary?  Our first instinct may be to take the Cross away from Jesus’ arms.  But we know, even in the darkness of our sins, that He must carry the Cross.  If you asked Jesus to put the Cross down, He would not do so.  This is where you see His love for you.  Only by Jesus accepting your cross as His own can you ever have the chance here below in peace, and in Heaven forever.  Jesus knows that only by hanging upon the Cross to the point of expiration ¾ giving up every last breath of His spirit ¾ can you have the chance for the Holy Spirit to dwell in your own soul.

This world that we live in here below is full of shouting of all types.  On the one hand, there are people crying for our attention, telling us what a great deal that have for us.  Then there are those who shout that they’ve found something that makes life easier  ¾ something that makes sense of this world.  And of course, there are also shouts of condemnation against others.  But as Jesus carries His Cross, He listens to none of the shouting around Him.  He does not listen to those who cry “Hosanna!”  He does not listen to those who cry “Crucify Him!”  In front of the crowds who surround Him, he does not refute, he does not debate, he does not defend Himself.  He simply does what His Father sent Him to do.  He continues his journey to the Cross in silence.

During this week, set aside time for silence.  In silence, look into your conscience and prepare yourself for confession.  In silence, read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection.  In silence, Christ invites us to join Him on His journey  He invites us to abandon that two-edged sword.

The Fifth Sunday of Lent [A] - 10 APR 2011

The Fifth Sunday of Lent [A]
Ezekiel 37:12-14  ¾  Romans 8:8-11  ¾  John 11:1-45
April 10, 2011

Today’s gospel presents a great miracle, but unfortunately, even a miracle cannot create faith inside a person.  Faith is a choice we make.  A person has to choose to believe in a miracle:  or rather, a person has to choose to believe in the one who worked the miracle.  These last two weeks of Lent are called “Passiontide”, and as we walk the Way of the Cross, Jesus invites us to believe in Him:  to believe that He is saving us even as He falls three times on the way to Calvary, and as He expires on the Cross and gives up His Spirit.
X   X   X
All the time we hear predictions about what the future holds in store for mankind.  We hear especially about advances in medicine that are going to be made in the near future.  Certainly we can look back at the past hundred years and marvel at the cures and vaccinations that have been discovered and which have saved countless lives.  Some might even want to call these discoveries “modern miracles.”

But as we hear about what the future holds, we hear tell of even greater “miracles”.  We hear about cures for diseases that people have said would never be cured.  One article even quoted a doctor as saying that sometime in this century, people could expect to live to be two hundred years old.
I have to actually wonder how many people would want to be two hundred years old.  That is, there comes a point in time where most people realize that death is a natural part of life.  Death ends our life on earth, but only so that we can live our lives somewhere else (WHERE is up to us).

After all, if death is not something that is natural, what sort of miracle did Jesus work in today’s Gospel?  In other words, is Lazarus still walking around the Middle East today?  Can you go and visit him?  Obviously, Lazarus died a second time, at some point after Jesus raised him from the dead.

And so, does the fact that Lazarus died a second time mean that Jesus’ miracle was a failure?  What was the point of Jesus’ miracle?  Was he trying to “save” Lazarus from death?  No.  This miracle is a sign:  it points beyond itself.  Lazarus, raised from the dead, points our attention to Jesus.  This miracle is a sign that reveals to us that Jesus is more powerful than death, and that if we believe in Him, He can guide us through death.

Out of all those medicines that are going to be invented during the next hundred years, should we expect one of them to be the cure for death?  Is it possible to imagine a vaccination that one can take to keep from dying?  Jesus teaches us in the Gospel that there is only one “cure” for death, and that’s faith.  If we don’t have faith in Jesus, death is fatal.
X   X   X
So much of our lives is spent searching for something to put our faith in, something in which we can rest:  something in which we can find comfort.  Often, these things are substitutes for God.  We find faith too difficult a gift to accept, or to give to others.  Instead, we search in vain for “something else”, “something more”.  And whether a person searches for that “something else” through some thing such as drugs or alcohol, through a bad relationship, with gangs or through adultery, that “something else” drives one into the grave, into death here on earth, into a living hell.

It’s probably not difficult for each of us, when we take time to reflect on our lives, to identify things which we spend so much time and effort searching for, and working towards, and yet which are so unnecessary, and which, in fact, bring harm to our lives.

Today’s gospel passage invites us to identify ourselves with Lazarus, a dead man.  Not an exciting role:  he says nothing, and does nothing but walk out of his tomb, covered with burial cloths.  The past two weeks’ gospel passages portrayed two other persons—the Samaritan woman, and the man born blind—meeting Jesus, and being healed by Him.  But the problem of Lazarus is death, and Lazarus is not just healed, but brought from death to life.

Yet there’s also another difference between—on the one hand, the stories of the Samaritan woman and the man born blind—and, on the other hand, Lazarus.  While the Samaritan woman and the man born blind are healed and then bring others to believe in Jesus, in today’s gospel, it is not the person who is cured who brings others to put their faith in Jesus.  It is the sisters of Lazarus whose actions eventually lead others to put their faith in Christ.

If it weren’t for the steps that Martha and Mary took, Lazarus most likely would never have been raised from the dead.  It’s not that Jesus wouldn’t have known of Lazarus’ death, and wouldn’t have wanted to raise Lazarus from the dead.  But in the Gospel passage, we notice a curious hesitancy on the part of Jesus, as if he’s waiting for the right time to work this miracle.

In His time, and through the intercession of Martha and Mary, Jesus teaches us a lesson in faith.  He doesn’t teach us that death and suffering will never touch us.  Rather, he teaches us that death does not have the last word.  The miracle that Jesus worked in raising Lazarus from the dead was not so much for Lazarus himself:  after all, what did he gain from it but a few more years of life in this valley of tears?  Is that really preferable to Heaven?  So then, the miracle that Jesus worked was done for the sake of those who witnessed this miracle:  who realized that Jesus is the Lord of life and death, and that if we place our faith in Jesus, the suffering we experience in this world will itself die, ending along with our lives on earth, while we ourselves—through faith in Jesus—will rise with Him to eternal life.

Laetare Sunday [A] - 3 APR 2011

Fourth Sunday of Lent  [A]  ¾  Laetare Sunday
1 Samuel 16:1,6-7,10-13  ¾  Ephesians 5:8-14  ¾  John 9:1-41
April 3, 2011

There once was a pastor who was so miserly that it was said that if he died, and saw a light at the end of the tunnel, he would switch it off.  Jesus IS the light of the world.  Are we turning that light off, because of other concerns?

There are many ways of putting other concerns ahead of our spiritual life.  Like the miserly pastor, we may put our financial concerns ahead of spiritual ones.  But more often, as fallen human beings we tend to put two other concerns—two other desires—even ahead of money.  Those two… are comfort, and control.  If not by the words we speak to God in our prayers, then in our daily choices, we tell God that we might be willing to make certain changes in our spiritual lives, but only IF they don’t inconvenience us too much:  don’t cause us to become uncomfortable, or at a loss.

But being a follower of Jesus means following someone who bore a Cross which, at three different times, was too much for Him to bear alone.  When we pray the Stations of the Cross, we see that our Christian faith is about bearing our crosses in life for the sake of others.  If Jesus, in His humanity, needed help to carry His Cross, how can we possibly imagine that we can carry ours alone?

We are dependent on others.  We are completely dependent upon God, and we are at least partly dependent upon others to help us as we walk this earth.  That’s what the gospel narratives—the gospel stories from John in these three middle weeks of Lent—make clear.

During these middle Sundays of Lent, we hear the stories of the Samaritan woman at the well, the man born blind, and the death of Lazarus.  In each of these Gospel passages, we hear how intermediaries—“middlemen”—play a very important role in drawing people towards Jesus.  People such as the Samaritan woman in last week’s gospel passage, the blind man in today’s passage, and Mary the sister of Lazarus in next week’s gospel passage, bring people to Jesus:  just as we are to do for others.  That’s why as we hear these passages, each of us as a Christian should try to identify with these three characters:  the Samaritan woman, the blind man, and—next Sunday—Mary, the sister of Lazarus.

In today’s gospel, the man born blind is one of us:  he is us.  His physical blindness represents another type of blindness as well:  sin.  When you make sin a part of your life, it blinds you to the Truth.  And as children of Adam and Eve, each of us was conceived into a human family in which sin is—so to speak—a congenital defect in our fallen human nature.  There’s just no way around this tendency to sin, as far as our own human powers are concerned.

There’s nothing we can do humanly to remove sin itself.  When Jesus approaches the blind man, Jesus does not ask the blind person if he wants to be cured, and the blind man does not request that Jesus cure him.  Jesus simply walks right up to the blind person, and heals him with a gift that the blind man has neither earned nor requested.

This gift, though, is not really the point of today’s gospel.  If you go back and look again at this gospel, you see that Jesus doesn’t actually appear in most of it.  He appears briefly at the beginning, and briefly at the end.  The point of this gospel story is really what happens in between, as the man born blind confronts others.  John is trying to get us to think about whether our faith relates to the lives of others.  Or is being a Christian just about “me and Jesus”?

Look at how the people in the Gospel respond to this miracle.  People are curious:  they want to know more about this man who could cure blindness.  Some of these curious people begin to place their faith in Jesus because of the miracle.  Some of these curious people, though, are Pharisees.  The Pharisees, like the Samaritan woman, have hearts darkened and hardened by sin, but unlike the Samaritan woman, the Pharisees refuse to open their hearts to see what God’s grace can accomplish.

When God works a miracle in the midst of the Pharisees, their response is to condemn the miracle-worker.  Through the course of the gospel passage, we see the man born blind become more courageous, though:  even he begins to confront the blindness of the Pharisees.

God works miracles in our lives, but we have to see that we are blessed by Him.  We have to be willing to give witness to God’s grace in our lives.  This doesn’t necessarily mean proclaiming it from the rooftops, but it does mean believing the lie that our Faith has no place in public, and that we should hide it inside of us where no one can see it.

If we are rejected because we give witness to the light of Christ, we may at times be left alone with no one other than our Lord.  But if we could be with only one person in this world, He’s the one we need, because He fills us with His Holy Spirit, in order to lead us to His Father.  Jesus is the Light of the world, the one who will guide us through every form of darkness that we face in this world.

The parish I serve

<b>The parish I serve</b>
St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Colwich, Kansas (Diocese of Wichita)