The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary - 31 MAY 2011

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Luke 1:39-56
May 31, 2011

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice....

Catholic art is beautiful because it focuses on persons:  the three Divine Persons, and human persons as well.  In Catholic art portraying today’s feast—the Visitation of Our Blessed Mother—there are four persons shown to the eye of the viewer.  Of course, two of them have to be shown indirectly, because two of them are unborn children:  St. John the Baptizer in the womb of Elizabeth, and Our Lord in the womb of the Blessed Virgin.  Sometimes these two unborn children are portrayed by something akin to halos shining, indicating the grace that dwells within these women through their openness to human life, and divine life.

If we were to order these four persons in order of holiness, we would first place the Lord Jesus, who is not merely a holy human being, but the source of all holiness:  the eternal Son of God.  Secondly we would certainly place the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God:  she who merited to bear our Redeemer.  Thirdly we would likely place St. John the Baptizer, whom some customs have claimed was without Original Sin.  This belief is a pious custom, and not a teaching of Sacred Tradition.  Nonetheless, this belief has been meditated upon fruitfully throughout the centuries, because it points to the uniqueness of the vocation of the Baptizer:  he who is called “the voice”, first chosen by God to announce the advent of the Word.

But reflect today on Saint Elizabeth:  fourth in this line, yet like you and me.  She is a human creature, not a divine Person.  She receives assistance from the Blessed Virgin, as you and I do each day.  She was chosen not for drama, as was her son, but for simplicity of life.  In light of St. Elizabeth’s vocation, what do you and I take today from her example?

Jesus calls us to holiness.  Every disciple of Jesus grows in holiness through the Power of the Holy Spirit.  We are called, regardless of which particular vocation God calls us to live out, to be witnesses to His Power.  ...Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice....  As we draw closer to the Solemnity of Pentecost, ask Jesus in your prayers to open your heart to the Holy Spirit, to speak of His power, and His glory, and His love for all people.

The Sixth Sunday of Easter [A] - 29 MAY 2011

The Sixth Sunday of Easter [A]
Acts 8:5-8,14-17  +  1 Peter 3:15-18  +  John 14:15-21
May 29, 2011

“On that day you will realize that I am in my Father
and you are in me and I in you.

Families—when one of their own goes to a far-away place—can shorten the distance between them by learning about that place.  Learning about the local customs, the people of that land and its geography helps shorten the distance.  This is true of families with loved ones in the military. This will be the case for those who go off to college soon.  Colleges and universities host orientation days for parents:  to let parents see the places where their sons and daughters are going to be spending all their time (at least, the ones on-campus).

When my sister was finishing her time in college, she told her family that she was going to marry a man from Egypt.  Not only that, but she explained that she and her husband were going to be married in Cairo, and live the first two years of their married life there.

As you can image, our parents were not thrilled to hear this news.  It’s not that they had any hesitation about their future son-in-law:  they had met him, and knew that he was a fine, upstanding young man.  But it was difficult for our parents to make peace with the idea that their first-born would be living in such a strange land.  It didn’t help matters that this was the same time—back in the mid-1980s—when we heard a lot in the news about Muammar Qadaffi causing chaos in Libya, the country immediately to the west of Egypt.  Those who remember that time know the contempt that Qadaffi expressed openly for the United States and all Americans.

In the face of this, our parents decided to learn about their daughter’s new home.  Our father, who loves history, became something of an expert on the history of Egypt.  He learned that, even though today Egypt is controlled by Muslims, the religion of Islam didn’t begin until the 7th century.  For the 600 plus years before that, Egypt was greatly influenced by the Coptic Christians, who today are called the Coptic Orthodox Church:  one of the oldest branches of Christianity.  This is the Church in which their future son-in-law was a deacon.

In learning about all this, my parents learned more about their Catholic Faith.  They also learned that the Coptic Christians in Egypt have lived under Muslim oppression for over 1500 years and are used to protecting their own.  This brought our parents great peace of mind, and shortened that distance between Goddard, Kansas and Cairo, Egypt.
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As the weeks of the Easter Season are drawing to a close, we are hearing more and more in our scripture readings about the Holy Spirit.  We hear less and less about Jesus Christ.  Or so it seems

In the forty days between his Resurrection and his Ascension to Heaven, Jesus is─so to speak─weaning his disciples.  He’s helping them realize that he’s not going to be with them in the same way anymore.  He will be with them: he’ll be with them always.   But he will not be with them physically:  He will not be there at their side to point the way, to talk to face-to-face.

The Holy Spirit makes Jesus Christ present in the Church in a new way.  Almost the whole second half of the Eucharistic Prayer—beginning after the consecration—is about the Church.  The priest prays one petition after another on behalf of the Church.  In one of these petitions, the priest prays:

“Grant that we, who are nourished by [Jesus’] Body and Blood, may be filled with His Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ.”

This is why we all come together on the Lord’s Day:  not only to united with Jesus through Holy Communion, but also to be united more strongly with each other… in Christ.  We all come together here to be filled with Jesus’ Holy Spirit, and to become one body in Christ.  Coming together through the Mass is the greatest way that God has of uniting all of us into one body:  the Body of the Church.

The Holy Spirit is the power that binds all of us together.  I don’t come here to church just to be strengthened in my relationship with Jesus.  It’s not just about Jesus and me.  The Holy Spirit, like the ligaments that hold parts of our physical bodies together, holds us to each other and binds us together, to make us one body in Christ.  Even when we are separated from our loved ones by great distances, or even death itself, the Holy Spirit sustains our relationships.  The Body of Christ cannot be diminished or destroyed by distance or death, because Jesus has conquered both.

The Holy Spirit helps us love others, even when it is difficult to do so.  Everyone around us is an important part of our spiritual life, whether we want them to be or not.  Some persons are an important part of our spiritual life because we don’t want them to be so.  Everyone plays a part in our journey on the Way of Christ Jesus.  Sometimes that Way is narrow.  Sometimes it demands reconciliation.  The Holy Spirit is not interested in “cheap love”.  The Holy Spirit leads us in our lives into the sort of love that led Jesus to Calvary, to embrace the Cross.
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As you consider how today’s Scriptures guide your spiritual life, follow the example of my parents.  Learn more about the place where your loved one is going:  “your loved one” in this case being our Lord Jesus.  He will soon be leaving us for Heaven.

So how can you learn more about Heaven?  You can’t look at MapQuest, but you can look at Christ, who called Himself “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”.  Heaven, of course, is not a physical place:  there’s no north and south, or east and west.  If we want to imagine Heaven as a place, then the place we should picture is God the Father’s Heart.  Metaphorically speaking, the Father’s Heart is divine Love itself.  In other words, to learn more about Heaven, we need to learn more about divine Love.

Jesus leaves this earth to allow us to share more fully in divine Love.  God the Holy Spirit descends upon the earth to allow us to share more fully in divine Love.  The Holy Spirit forms us into the Mystical Body of Christ, to allow us to share more fully in divine Love.  The Church invites us to the Supper of the Lamb—the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass—to allow us to share more fully in divine Love, and dwell there forever.

The Fifth Sunday of Easter [A] - 22 MAY 2011

The Fifth Sunday of Easter [A]
Acts 6:1-7    1 Peter 2:4-9    John 14:1-12
May 22, 2011

“Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”

There are very few times in the Gospel when the apostle Thomas speaks.  When he does, he doesn’t end up shining like a star.  The most famous conversation between Jesus and Thomas was when Thomas rejected his fellow apostles’ testimony about the Resurrection:  Thomas demanded to see the proof of the marks of the nails and spear.  The next most famous conversation is in today’s Gospel passage:  Thomas demands to see where he’s headed as he travels with Jesus.

We might think it strange for Thomas to worry.  After all, the gospels describe Jesus’ travels during His three years of ministry:  He never left the Holy Land, which is smaller than the State of New Jersey (or to put it in local terms, the Holy Land is less than six times the size of Butler County).  It’s not a large area that Jesus travelled.  How could Thomas get lost?  Of course, when we hear this gospel passage in context, we realize that it’s not describing a physical journey, but a spiritual one.  Regarding this spiritual journey, Thomas asks his question of Jesus.

But to be fair, we ought to recognize Thomas as being like the average man:  when he travels, he wants to know where he’s going.  But unlike most men, at least Thomas is willing to ask for directions!  “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”  You know, the man of today has a great advantage over a man living only 20 years ago:  today a man can install a GPS device in his vehicle, and never have to ask anyone for directions!  He can turn the volume on the GPS way down, and pretend he’s navigating all on his own!

But as amazing as the TomTom is, the Apostle Tom had an even better guidance system:  Jesus.  But what kind of guidance does Jesus give?  Jesus gives to this disciple—just as He gives to you and me—the guidance he needs to hear (not the guidance he wants to hear). 

It’s interesting to wonder what Thomas thought about Jesus’ guidance:  I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you know me, then you will also know my Father.”  If Thomas had been hoping for MapQuest directions, he was disappointed.  Jesus doesn’t give Thomas much detail.  He gives instead a vague promise.  But it’s a promise that points out the basics of what it means to be a disciple.

To be a disciple means, first and foremost, to be a follower.  In our culture, the word “follower” has something of a negative ring.  We don’t encourage our children to be followers, but want them rather to be leaders.  The word “follower” suggests dependence.  The word “follower” suggests neediness.  Both dependence and neediness fly in the face of what we as Americans strive for.  We’re taught to put ourselves in the driver’s seat.  But Thomas’ struggle to follow Jesus can teach you and me something.  Thomas is not only not in the driver’s seat.  Thomas is not even riding shotgun as navigator.  The spiritual life demands something far more radical:  the word “follower” is perhaps too generous a term.

Saint Paul, in one of his letters, put it this way:  “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me…” (Galatians 2:19-20).  When he wrote this letter, Saint Paul had not been physically crucified, any more than Thomas was on a physical journey.  Paul had been spiritually crucified, and the Presence of Christ dwelt in him.

Thomas’ very life demands the Presence of Jesus.  The saints who are considered masters of the spiritual life call this the “Indwelling Presence”.  This demand is true in the life of every disciple.  The Indwelling Presence of Jesus in the human soul guides the disciple from within.  It’s through the Indwelling Presence that we can know the Way.

But a common mistake in thinking about the spiritual life is to think that being a Christian is simply about “me and Jesus”.  This is wrongheaded for at least two reasons.  One reason is that the spiritual life—which is the heart, or the motor of being a Christian—is not about “me and Jesus”.  Instead, it’s about “me in Jesus” and “Jesus in me”.  This is what St. Paul is driving at when he declares, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me…”  This is one of the spiritual truths that Jesus is driving home when He proclaims, I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

But this Indwelling Presence has to be nurtured by the Christian.  Nurturing the Indwelling Presence requires two things:  (1) human sacrifice; and (2) divine grace.  Hopefully those words—“human sacrifice”—caught your attention.  They should.  Human sacrifice is as essential to the Christian life as it is serious.  But what type of human sacrifice must the Christian offer up to God?  Not, of course, the type of human sacrifice offered by the ancient Aztecs.  Nor is the Christian called to imitate Abraham, who raised his knife to sacrifice his only-begotten son.

The Christian imitates the only-begotten Son of God.  The Christian imitates Jesus, who offers human sacrifice not on a stone altar, nor on a wooden pyre, but on the altar of the Cross.  Pagan sacrifice, and even Jewish sacrifice, are sacrifices of an “other”, whether a faceless victim plucked from a crowd, or the precious gift of one’s own offspring.  Christian sacrifice is the sacrifice of one’s own human life.

Jesus does not always tell us where we are going, but He always shows us the Way.  That’s what He’s doing when we gaze at a statue or picture of the Sacred Heart.  He’s showing us the Way.  The Way is to sacrifice one’s self, each and every day of one’s life on earth.  The Christian does this not simply in imitation of Jesus, but rather through Him, with Him, and in Him.  If we only try to imitate Jesus, we soon find ourselves exhausted.  We don’t have the strength to live on this earth as Jesus did.  But Jesus does, and if He dwells in us, then He is the source, the motor, of our daily sacrifices.
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It’s with all this in mind—and also in his heart—that Saint Peter proclaims the Good News of our Second Reading.  In this passage, Peter—whose very name means “the Rock”—calls the beloved followers of Jesus to see what it means to be a member of the Church.  While, on the other hand, St. Paul describes the Church with the image of the human body—with its head and individual members—Peter here describes the Church with the image of a spiritual house, built out of living stones.  It’s with this image that Peter describes the call of Christian to offer sacrifices in their lives:  to be, in other words, members of a priesthood.

The Sacred Tradition of the Church distinguishes two forms that Christian priesthood takes.  The first is the priesthood of all the faithful:  this is the priesthood conferred at the moment of a person’s baptism.  The second is the ordained priesthood:  this is the priesthood conferred through the Sacrament of Holy Orders.  The priesthood of all the faithful is the priesthood that we exercise all the time, in every setting of our lives, with everyone we meet.  The grace of all the sacraments that we receive strengthens the Presence of Christ dwelling within us, to further our lives of self-sacrifice.

During the week ahead, look back—at the end of each day—at the hours that you spent living on this earth.  Look back on the sacrifices you made.  Even if, at the moment that you made a particular sacrifice, you were not conscious of Christ within you, be mindful at that evening hour that was not only present within you, but also worked through you.  Christ chose you to be His instrument, to further His work, and to make the love of His Father for all of us more deeply felt.

The Fourth Sunday of Easter [A] - 15 MAY 2011

The Fourth Sunday of Easter [A]
Acts 2:14,36-41  ─  1 Peter 2:20-25  ─  John 10:1-10
May 15, 2011

“I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

January 14, 2000.  If you’ve been in my office, you may have noticed a photograph taken that day.  It’s one of the most important days of my life, because as the photo shows, that’s the day I met Blessed John Paul II in a private audience in his library.  I have another photo from the same day, taken in his private chapel, which seats about thirty people.  This second photo was taken there before Mass, which I had the opportunity to concelebrate with the Pope.

I was ten years old when John Paul II was elected pope.  When he died, I was 37 years old, and had been a priest almost ten years.  To say that Blessed John Paul II has been an “influence” on my life would be a gross understatement.  His life has been one of the greatest blessings of my life.

The past few months, I’ve been reading a book about Pope John Paul II that was published in 2005.  The author was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who today of course is known as Pope Benedict.  During the 24 years that Cardinal Ratzinger served Pope John Paul in Rome, he witnessed firsthand the life that Pope John Paul led.  It was an amazing life.  Pope John Paul’s accomplishments were as numerous as they were diverse.  On the world stage, he lit the fuse that non-violently brought down Communism in Eastern Europe.  On the stage of the universal Church, he celebrated the Jubilee Year 2000.

But in his book, Cardinal Ratzinger talks not so much about these grand accomplishments, as he talks about the simple holiness of this man whom today we call Blessed John Paul II.  All that John Paul accomplished flowed from a human heart that he kept open to divine grace.  It’s not a coincidence that throughout his entire papacy, and even more especially during the Jubilee Year, he preached about how a Christian is meant to grow abundantly in holiness.  The images that Jesus uses in the Gospel today—on this “Good Shepherd Sunday”—speak to this.

“I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”  Jesus came into this world so that you might have life… and have it more abundantly.  How does Jesus, the Good Shepherd, give you this abundant life?  How does this Shepherd feed His flock?  How does He guide His flock through the gate that leads into safe pastures?  Pope Benedict, the successor to Blessed John Paul, began preaching about this very topic less than two weeks ago.

If you’ve ever travelled to Rome, you know that almost every Wednesday, the Pope holds an audience in St. Peter’s Square.  He greets pilgrims from around the world who have traveled to the Vatican, and he teaches all of them for ten to fifteen minutes.  These sermons, from Wednesday to Wednesday, are continuous in the topics they cover.  Eventually they make up a series of sermons that are later published.  The length of these series can vary.  Blessed John Paul II preached his most famous series—on the Theology of the Body—over a period of four years.

Pope Benedict’s series of Wednesday sermons have been much shorter, usually lasting several months at a time.  He began a new series of sermons on May fourth.  The topic… is prayer.  If you are someone who browses online, you can read the English translation of his sermons (given, of course, in Italian) just a few days after he preaches them.

As we reflect today, on this “Good Shepherd Sunday”, about Jesus as our Good Shepherd, I want to offer you just one idea from Pope Benedict’s sermon on May fourth.  As an introduction to his whole series on prayer, Pope Benedict reminds us how the Good Shepherd feeds His flock.

How does the Good Shepherd feed His flock?  The short answer is:  the Good Shepherd feeds His flock by means of the Word of God.  But that answer merely begs other questions:  “the Good Shepherd speak the Word of God?”  What form does the Word of God take?

If you were to walk downtown in any city of America, and take an informal poll asking passers-by, “What is the Word of God?”, most would probably tell you that the Word of God is the Bible:  that is, Sacred Scripture.  And of course that’s true.  But Sacred Scripture is not the only form that the Word of God takes.  God also speaks His Word, and Jesus the Good Shepherd feeds His flock, through Sacred Tradition and the Sacred Liturgy.  Yet sadly, millions of Christians throughout the world do not believe that God speaks His divine Word through Sacred Tradition or the Sacred Liturgy, but only through Sacred Scripture.

On the other hand, while we as Catholics can only regret that our Protestant brothers and sisters do not recognize the Shepherd’s voice in His Sacred Tradition and in His Sacred Liturgy, we can begin to converse with them through our shared love for God’s Word in His Sacred Scriptures.  From there, if our love for God and for them is sincere, we will—as much by our example as by our words—lead them to hear the Good Shepherd also in His Sacred Tradition and in His Sacred Liturgy.

And so, we have two very good reasons to immerse ourselves as Catholics in listening to Sacred Scripture.  The first reason is because we believe that Scripture is one of the ways in which our Good Shepherd calls us to Him:  to listen to Him in our prayer with Him.  The second reason is because Scripture is our “common bond” with our Protestant brothers and sisters.

As His flock, we always begin by listening to our Good Shepherd in His Sacred Scripture.  His Scriptures lead us into the sacred mysteries of His Sacred Tradition and His Sacred Liturgy.  Through them all, God is calling you to recognize why the Good Shepherd has given His life for you:  so that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.

The Third Sunday of Easter [A] - 8 MAY 2011

The Third Sunday of Easter [A]
Acts 2:14, 22-33  —  1 Peter 1:17-21  —  Luke 24:13-35
May 8, 2011

Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way
and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread.”

Behind the scenes, there’s a lot going on right now in the English-speaking world to prepare for the new translation of the Mass that we will begin to use in about six months.  Several musicians from our parish attended a workshop this weekend to learn how the new translation will change the sung parts of the Mass.  Late this summer or fall our own parish will host sessions where parishioners can come and learn more about the Mass in general, and the new translations in particular.

None of these changes will do any good unless they help Catholics see Jesus more clearly in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  The purpose of the Mass is to help us hear Jesus, see Jesus, and receive Jesus.  The first main part of Holy Mass is the Liturgy of the Word:  we’re at the tail end of the Liturgy of the Word right now.  The Liturgy of the Word focuses on Sacred Scripture.  Through the Word of God in the Bible, we hear God speaking to us.  Through the course of the four Scripture readings of Sunday Mass, we ascend to the Gospel reading (the four gospels being the most important part of the Bible).  We stand for the Gospel because of this fact, which means that the proclaiming of the Gospel is the highpoint of the Liturgy of the Word.  The Word of God reaches our ears through the preaching and miracles of Jesus Himself.

But then, in the second main part of Holy Mass, something miraculous takes place.  The Word of God… is made Flesh.  The Word of God that we hear in Scripture, becomes the Word made Flesh in the Eucharist.  We adore Him as He’s raised up for us to see at the Consecration.  And then, if it weren’t enough that we are invited to see the miracle of bread and wine being transformed into Jesus’ Body and Blood, we are actually called to His Supper, to receive His Body and Blood, soul and divinity, into our hearts, into our minds, and into our souls.

This two-fold Mystery—of God’s Word, and God’s Word made Flesh—is what St. Luke is proclaiming to us in today’s Gospel passage.  The two disciples—who symbolize you and me—are on the way to Emmaus, and are caught unawares by this man with whom they speak.  At first they don’t recognize him, but as they hear him, their hearts burn with passion for God through Sacred Scripture.  It’s only after a long journey that they recognize Jesus in what St. Luke the Evangelist calls “the breaking of bread”:  a phrase Luke uses throughout his other book of the Bible—Acts of the Apostles—to refer to the Eucharist.

Divine Mercy Sunday - 1 MAY 2011

Divine Mercy Sunday [A]
Acts 2:42-47  ¾  1 Peter 1:3-9  ¾  John 20:19-31
May 1, 2011

Like oil and water, certain things just don’t go together.  As the Book of Ecclesiastes tells us, there is a time for everything:  a time to be born, and a time to die (Eccl 3:2).  On the one hand, Sunday is the day each week for celebrating the Lord’s Resurrection from the dead.  On the other hand, Monday is the day each week when we feel like we need to rise from the dead.  But more importantly, Monday is the day we start the new week, with all the cares of our worldly life.

On that first Easter Sunday, almost all the apostles and many other disciples were blessed with the vision of witnessing the Resurrection.  For these Christians, every day was now Sunday.

But that one apostle had not been there on that Easter Sunday.  Thomas had not witnessed the Resurrection. For Thomas, this past week following Easter Sunday was a week of Mondays.  Actually, Thomas is no different than the other disciples:  when Mary Magdalen and Peter had first seen the empty tomb, they did not rejoice.  Not until they saw the Resur­rected Christ did they believe.  Thomas’ reaction to the evidence of the Resurrection was the same, then; he simply had longer to wait before being blessed with the sight of the Resurrected Lord.

On this second Sunday of the Easter season, we recognize the role of the great saint, Thomas the Apostle.  The account of his faith, from Saint John’s gospel account, inspires us who obviously have never had the chance to meet Christ in the flesh.

As Christian living thousands of years after the fact, it’s easy to profess faith in Christ’s Resurrection.  We Christians, may, given the society we live in, be scoffed at for professing Christ’s belief in the dignity of human life, but what we face today is nothing compared to the persecution faced by the apostles and those that followed after them.  It was these people that Saint Peter addressed in the second reading:

You may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials; but this is so that your faith, which is more precious than the passing splendor of fire-tried gold, may by its genuineness lead to praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ appears.

This is a passage which perhaps we have to think about for a minute:  our faith is “more precious than the passing splendor of fire-tried gold.”  When gold is purified by fire—as long as someone doesn’t deliberately change it—that gold remains pure forever- until the end of time!  As long a time as this is, Saint Peter calls this “passing” splendor; our faith, when we accept what the Resurrection means, is MORE precious than such gold.  Our faith will keep us pure until the end of time and beyond, beyond this world all together, to Heaven.

Like the ten apostles who saw the Risen Christ immediately after the Resurrection, our faith may still buoy high, one week after our celebration of the great High Feast of Easter.  The newly baptized and newly received Catholics, of our parish, and throughout the world, still have fresh in their minds the experiences of that Easter Vigil which proclaimed that the light of the Risen Christ shines in our hearts.

We are all like the Christian community described in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.  We hear of so many good things happening in this reading.  But this reading is from the second chapter of Acts, a book with 28 chapters.  The Church, like any group or institution or individual, undergoes growing pains.  Throughout the book of the Acts of the Apostles, conflict arises both within and from outside the Church.

The passage from our first reading sounds as if it could describe a newly married couple:  “they shared all things in common, dividing everything on the basis of each one’s need.  With joyful and sincere hearts they ate together, praising God, and winning the approval of all people.”  The Christian Church is still flying high with that same sort of joy which filled the hearts of Mary Magdalen, Peter, and the other disciples after witnessing the truth of the Resurrection.

But in time the feeling of newness wears off.  The appearance of the Resurrection cannot last forever.  Difficulties arise.  Thomas was an ordinary sort of person, much like ourselves.  Thomas knew what it was like to have a week full of Mondays.

What an example Thomas gives us then.  Once he was gifted with the sight of the Resurrection, Mondays were no longer the same for Thomas.  We know that Saint Thomas experienced sufferings and difficulties the same as the other apostles—he, like all the apostles except Saint John, was martyred preaching the faith.  Perhaps it’s no coincidence, though, that of all the apostles, Saint Thomas journeyed the farthest throughout the world in preaching the Gospel, dying for the faith in India.

Throughout those later years of Thomas’ witness to the Resurrection, his faith was strengthened by those days of doubt, that week of Mondays.  Though each of us knows the feeling of joy, we also know that faith has to lead us through days on which we feel no joy.  Through receiving Christ’s Body and Blood, and through the intercession of Saint Thomas, may our faith in the Resurrection of Christ be strengthened, that we will be willing to live by faith, even when we cannot see the presence of the Lord in our lives.

Divine Mercy Sunday - Prom Mass - 30 APR 2011

Divine Mercy Sunday [A]    Prom Mass
Acts 2:42-47    1 Peter 1:3-9    John 20:19-31
May 1, 2011

We don’t think very highly of the Apostle Thomas.  We call him “Doubting Thomas” because he said, “Unless I see…I will not believe.”  It’s really never a good idea to define yourself by unbelief:  it leads to a lonely life.

But since we’re Christians, we know that God can take even a bad situation and make something good come from it.  The early saints of the Church claimed that “Doubting Thomas” did us more good by doubting than the other Apostles did by having faith.  How can this be?  How can anything bad—such as doubting God—ever be a source of good?

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In the former Soviet Republic of Georgia is the deepest cave known to exist on our planet.  The discovery of the Krubera cave is not well known, even though it ranks up there with scaling Mount Everest.  The Krubera cave is 1.2 miles deep:  that’s more than the length of 21 football fields.  If you were to fall that far, when you reached the bottom, you’d be moving at 435 miles per hour!  Of course, the safer route is to maneuver slowly down into the earth through narrow passages, waterfalls, and avalanches, while enduring the psychological effects of darkness and hypothermia.  But in August of 2004, a team from the Ukraine shined their lights on the very bottom of this ‘supercave’.

The depth, danger, and darkness of this ‘supercave’ can help you picture the place in your soul where you struggle to believe in God.  Every fallen human being has such a place.  The only difference among fallen human beings is how honest they are about its presence inside them.  The emptiness and darkness we experience has many sources.  It can be caused by our own sin or the sin of others.  It can be caused by suffering we have experienced, or the longing we feel for something more in life.  It can be caused by our dissatisfaction with the pleasures that last only for a day (or an evening) and then are gone.  Sin, suffering, and sadness cause us to ask questions like, “Where is God?”… “How can there be a God?”… “If God is there, why does He allow this?”

I have no doubt you will still be up tonight when the Pope John Paul II is declared blessed—making him one only one more step from sainthood.  Pope Benedict will celebrate this ceremony in St. Peter’s Square at 8:30 am Rome Time.  (That’s 1:30am here.)  The soon-to-be Blessed Pope John Paul II loved young people with his whole heart.  He had a keen understanding of the difficulties that come from having so many choices before you in life.  He knew that in your soul dwell questions about meaning:  “What does life mean?”  “What does suffering mean?”  “What is the meaning of true success in life?”

Amidst all these questions and doubt, which truly bring moral, intellectual, and spiritual darkness into our lives, the Risen Christ appears.  Jesus, risen from the dead, descends down into the depths of the darkness dwelling inside us.  So it was with “Doubting Thomas”.

So Thomas had doubt and disbelief in his soul.  His faith had been shaken by the arrest, torture, and crucifixion of Jesus just days earlier.  Thomas refused to believe Jesus was back from the dead unless he were to see and experience the evidence for himself.  But then, something amazing happens:  God gives Thomas exactly what he asked for.  God gives exactly what is needed in order to believe.

·         On the evening of the Resurrection Thomas had demanded:  “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails…”, and a week later Jesus tells him: “…see my hands.…”
·         Thomas had demanded: “Unless I… place my finger in the mark of the nails…”, and Jesus tells him:  “Put your finger here….”
·         Thomas had demanded:  “Unless I… place my hand in his side…”, and Jesus tells him:  “…put out your hand, and place it in my side….”

Just as the explorers of Krubera cave went all the way down to the bottom of the darkness there, Christ goes all the way down into the darkness of Thomas’ doubt.  The depth of Christ’s compassion calls out to Thomas, who had hidden himself, and cannot even see himself, in the darkness of his disbelief.   But Jesus does not love you less than Thomas, and He will not fail to bring into your life what He brought to Thomas’.

But there is a third event in today’s Gospel that parallels your life:  that is, a response to God.  When you look at Thomas’ response, you can consider what your response will be.  Thomas is an example for us:  both of doubt and faith, hearing and response.

When we open our hearts and receive the awesome gift of Jesus both in His Word in Sacred Scripture, and in the Word made Flesh in the Eucharist, we are changed.  The Word of God strengthens us to act differently:  to stop sinning and disbelieving, and to love actively in our lives.

In a few moments you will witness the miracle of bread and wine transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus.  Pray with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”  Accept the Gift that He gives you, and be willing to respond with the gift of your own life.

The parish I serve

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