The Fourth Sunday of Easter [B]

The Fourth Sunday of Easter [B]
Acts 4:8-12  ¾  1 John 3:1-2  ¾  John 10:11-18
April 29, 2012

“See what love the Father has bestowed on us
that we may be called the children of God.”  [1 John 3:1]

This homily is for a Mass celebrated before Prom,
preached to local high school students.

               Most of us, when we’re in high school, want space.  We want a healthy distance between our own selves, and others:  most especially, those “others” called parents.  Are any of your parents going to be at the dance tonight?  If they are, are you going to dance with them?  Are they going to chauffeur you and your date to and from the prom?  Wouldn’t that be great if they did?  Probably not.  We want our space, and some days, the more, the better.
               There are many reasons why we want space between our selves and our parents.  Some of these reasons are positive, and some are negative.  Some are because of a natural need to grow, while others are because of a selfishness rooted in Original Sin.  On the positive side, part of the natural need to grow is the need to make a name for oneself:  not just my last name, but my whole name, the name that makes me an individual.  I’m not just the third of five Seiler children.  I’m not just Jim and Mary’s daughter.  I have a name that is mine alone, and which makes me unique.  That’s what space affords each of us:  the opportunity to be unique.
One particular reason why we might want space between our own selves and our parents is because we don’t feel like we can be our real self around our parents.  Our parents’ expectations sometimes feel like a straightjacket, keeping us from being who we want to be.  When we are around our parents, we make sure to act a certain way, according to all the rules they’ve taught us.  But when we’re around our friends, we act differently:  we act how we want to act.  Our friends are our equals, while our parents are above us.
Am I trying here to criticize parents, or praise friends?  Neither.  We need both, even though it’s easier to appreciate our friends, at least in the short term.  In the long term, we tend to appreciate our parents even more than our friends, not in spite of, but because of the expectations that they challenge us to live up to.  I’m sure some if not most of us have read one of the books of Mark Twain, whose writings are so well liked because he was from the Midwest, and was honest in the way that Midwesterners are.  At the mid-point of his life, Mark Twain said, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he’d learned in seven years.”
The Holy Bible may not seem as humorous as Mark Twain, but it’s infinitely more profound.  Hold up Mark Twain’s words side-by-side with the words of St. John the Apostle from our Second Reading:  “See what love the Father has bestowed on us[, so] that we may be called the children of God.”  St. John, often called the “Beloved Disciple”, clearly means it as a compliment to say that “we may be called the children of God.”  But when we’re on the path that heads to adulthood, it might not seem a compliment to be called a child, even a child of God.  To be called a child, when every goal in life is meant to move us forward towards the freedom, independence, and space that adulthood offers, seems like a step backwards.
But you yourselves are not the only ones who want you to move forward to adulthood.  After Mass today as your family takes photos of you and your date, your mother may shed a tear or two, and if you listen closely, you might hear her say, “My little baby is all grown up.”  But today, of course, is nothing compared to the pride your parents will feel on the day of your graduation (for some of you, just a few weeks from now).  This stretch of your life—in between childhood and adulthood—is full of milestones, and your family, your teachers and administrators, your parish:  all of them take pride in the accomplishments by which you take one step after another closer to adulthood.
Why, then, drag you backwards?  Why would the Church want you to step backwards by being “called the children of God”?  Aren’t God’s expectations even higher and harder to follow than your parents’?  Doesn’t being God’s child mean losing the chance to make your own decisions, and having your life carved out for you with the uniformity of a cookie-cutter?  For example, have you ever met the nuns in Wichita called the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary?  Did you notice how they all dress alike?  They live in the same house, get up at the same time, and eat the same thing for supper every evening.  Isn’t this what it means to be a child of God:  to take orders from someone else instead of leading your own life?  to be like everyone else, instead of being unique?
If you believed, and thought, as the world that surrounds us does, you might believe and think that.  But you are a Christian.  A Christian doesn’t search for the meaning of things in appearances.  The meaning of things lies below the surface.  It’s not in how you dress, or what you eat, that your life will reveal its meaning to you.
When you pray, look at a crucifix.  There, as He sacrifices for you His Body and Blood, what is He wearing?  His clothes were torn from His Body, and sold for money.  What did Jesus have to eat?  They only gave Him vinegar.  But Jesus did not give those things even a moment’s notice, because the meaning of what He was doing, hanging from the Cross, lay below the surface, in His mind and His Heart.  In His Heart and mind, He carried the desire to sacrifice His life for you.
Maybe that sounds lofty.  Maybe that doesn’t seem related to your life.  But if you are the child of God, and to the extent that you live as the child of God, your life will continue to grow in depth and meaning, and you will experience peace and joy.

Monday of the Third Week of Easter

Monday of the Third Week of Easter
Acts 6:8-15  —  John 6:22-29

“‘This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.’” [John 6:29]

Today we hear that when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were at the place where Jesus had eaten the bread, they went looking for Jesus.  We see this crowd hungering for something.  In the gospel last Sunday, the crowd hungered for bread, they hungered to fill the absence of food within them.  This Sunday, we see the crowd hungering for Jesus, hungering to fill the absence of food outside them.  They want to learn how never to hunger again, and they want Jesus to teach them.
               In this section of John’s Gospel account, we hear the crowd speak to Jesus four times.  The first three times they ask questions; the fourth time they make a request.  The first question they ask is, Rabbi (meaning, “Teacher”)when did you get here?  The crowd is confused about the origin of Jesus, but Jesus confronts them with the fact that they are only concerning themselves about their physical hunger.  He tells them, as He tells each of us, You should not be working for perishable food, but for food that remains unto life eternal, food which the Son of Man will give you.  Jesus shifts attention from the physical hunger He satisfied through the miracle He offered to them shortly before, to the spiritual hunger He will meet through the Sacrifice of His Body and Blood which He will offer to them later.
               Well, this seems all right to the crowd.  They want in on the deal, so they ask Jesus their second question,What must we do to perform the works of God?  Jesus’ response is brief and to the point:  This is the work of God:  have faith in the One He sent.  In other words, they do not themselves have the means to satisfy this spiritual hunger:  there is no spiritual refrigerator, supermarket, or field for them to go to.  Their spiritual hunger is not only for something to fill the emptiness inside their souls, but also for something to fill the emptiness around them.  For there is nothing around them capable of sustaining them eternally.  There is absolutely nothing they can do for themselves, just as there is absolutely nothing we can do of ourselves beyond putting our faith in the fact that Jesus can satisfy this hunger for us.

Do you center your daily life on the “work of God” as Jesus today describes it?

The Third Sunday of Easter [B]

The Third Sunday of Easter  [B]
Acts 3:13-15,17-19  ―  1 John 2:1-5  ―  Luke 24:35-48            
April 22, 2012

“Thus it is written… that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins,
would be preached in his name to all the nations,
beginning from Jerusalem.”  [Luke 24:46, 47]

               With the typically untypical Kansas weather of the last several months, we’ve already experienced more spring weather than we have in all of some past years.  We always hope for a good spring, not only for our crops, but for ourselves as well.  We ourselves need the rejuvenation of spring weather.  If you were to ask someone, “Just what is it that makes good weather?”, you might be told that “good weather” is when you can spend time outdoors with others.  During a normal winter, we are confined and to some extent isolated from others.  We tend to feel cramped indoors, like we want to stretch.  We might say that the cold months are “withdrawn” while the warm months are “outgoing.”  To use another metaphor, winter is a “season of introversion”, while spring is a “season of extroversion”.
               The seasons of the Church reflect something of this, as well.  On the one hand, Lent is spent inward, as in winter:  a time of hibernation.  We spend Lent reflecting on the state of our souls.  Within, we focus on the battle that we wage there, choosing our vices and our virtues, choosing between the temptations offered by the devil and the grace offered by Almighty God.
This inward battle goes on all during our life, of course, but during the Easter season, when we reflect on the Resurrection, it’s time to move outward—with Jesus from the grave—out into the world.  As Christ moved about during the forty days following His Resurrection, your focus should move outwards, asking where in the world God wants you to make a difference.  Even if you already feel you know the answer, God’s grace always can surprise us.
               During the Season of Easter we reflect on the Risen Jesus appearing to His apostles and disciples.  Of course, one reason that Jesus appeared was to convince the disciples that He had truly risen from the dead.  But more deeply, Jesus during these forty days was preparing the disciples for the next stage of their lives.  Even if you already feel you know all the stages of your life, God’s grace may surprise you.
               At some point after the Resurrection, the disciples likely wondered to themselves, “Jesus rising from the dead is great, but what now?  Do we have to follow suit—be crucified and rise from the dead, and then, with Jesus, start building God’s Kingdom?”  Was Jesus going to set up shop in Jerusalem, and establish a new world order, with the apostles as his cabinet officers?  “What’s next?”
               Jesus’ actual answer probably took a lot of his followers by surprise, and we need to pay attention also, because Jesus’ answer isn’t just an answer for the first century, about how the Church should start building its house.  Jesus is answering this question, “Once we are baptized as Christians, cleansed from our sins, what are we to do?”  In other words, is the forgiveness of our sins the entire point of being Christian?  Or is there something more?  Or to put it another way, “Now that we have journeyed through another Lent, trying to root out the sin and vices in our lives, what do we do with the grace that we received through our prayer and through the sacraments, especially through Confession and the Eucharist?”  “What’s next?”
               If someone had asked Jesus that simple question, “What’s next?”, Jesus would have answered that soon, He was going to ascend above the earth all together, to return to the Right Hand of God the Father.  But, on the other hand, where were the disciples going?  They were going to go from Jerusalem to all the corners of the world.  As Jesus said in last Sunday’s passage from the Holy Gospel, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”  Jesus’ ultimate journey was almost over, but not the apostles’ journey.
               Jesus, through His Death on the Cross, opened the gates of Heaven so that everyone could enter through them.  But does that mean that being a Christian is just about saying “Thank you, Jesus, for opening up Heaven”, and then waiting to be taken from this world to Heaven’s gate?  Nothing in the Scriptures, and nothing in the Church that Jesus established, say anything like this.  From the moment that we become Christians at Baptism, until the time that we die on this earth, our motto should be those words Jesus speaks to us:  “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”
               Jesus has declared that His followers are to preach the Good News of the Gospel to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  Jerusalem was the historical origin of the Church:  it was there that Jesus celebrated His Last Supper, there that He died and rose from the dead.  It was there that the apostles waited during those ten days after Jesus’ Ascension for the Holy Spirit to come down upon them from Heaven, to fill their hearts, minds, and souls.  Those days of waiting for the Holy Spirit to come were days of being “withdrawn” from the world.  Those days were a winter, when the apostles prayed intently to prepare a place inside themselves for the Holy Spirit to dwell.  “Jerusalem”, for us, represents both the historical city where the Church began, and the place in your soul where God plants His grace.
               When Jesus tells us to preach the Gospel to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem, he means for us to preach the Gospel to as many people as we can, beginning with those closest to our souls:  those within our homes, in our classrooms, and in our neighborhoods.  It’s to the people there that Jesus is sending us when he says, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”
               There are many ways of “preaching”.  We should keep in mind the saying of Saint Francis of Assisi:  “Preach always, and use words if necessary.”  In other words, you can preach without opening your mouth.  Our example is usually more persuasive than our words, actually, since most of us are not great speakers.
               The greatest example we can offer is forgiveness.  As the Father forgave us through Jesus’ Death on the Cross, so we forgive others through our example.  There are many ways to forgive, but our example has to be a Christian example.  There are different ways to forgive.  Anyone with an ounce of humanity forgives others who have hurt them.  The Christian, however, offers forgiveness FIRST, not seeking an apology from others, and not even expecting it at the same time:  just as Christ on the Cross not only did not receive an apology from those around Him, but received instead mockery and scorn.
               For us, too, Jesus does not wait to forgive us until we are good and strong enough, to appear before Him and offer an apology.  He offers to cleanse us of our sinfulness when we are yet babies, unable even to speak or realize that we are born into the world as sinful members of the human family.  We in our turn should offer forgiveness from our hearts and through our words and actions before someone who has wronged us even asks for it.  This is the message that alone can bring peace to the world, and make it possible for Jesus’ words to come true:  “Peace be with you.”

Divine Mercy Sunday

Divine Mercy Sunday [B]
Acts 4:32-35  ―  1 John 5:1-6  ―  John 20:19-31
April 15, 2012

               Let’s say that—two months from now—you go out early on a Saturday morning to the lake.  There’s not a cloud in the sky, and the temperature rises to 99°.  All day long, you wear a shirt without sleeves, nothing on your head, and put on no lotion or sun block.  What are you going to look like by sunset on that fine Saturday evening?
               Probably, the answer depends in part on your ancestry.  If you take after ancestors blessed with a darker complexion, you might not look too different by the end of the day.  But if you take after ancestors with lighter skin, you’d probably, by the end of the day, look as red as the day is long.
               So how do you keep your skin from burning like that?  Obviously, a doctor or nurse, or anyone with a little education will suggest a few simple, practical steps that you need to take first, before spending all day out in the sun.  But what if you’re just too stubborn?  What if those things just seemed like a bother?  Would it be possible, with nothing but your human will power, to keep from getting burned?  Is it possible to clench your teeth, and say to yourself over and over, “I… WILLNOT… get burned?”, and expect not to turn red?
               We know that reality doesn’t work that way.  If we’re standing outside, on a clear day, with nothing covering our skin, it’s a simple truth:  the radiation from the sun is going to hit your skin, and have consequences.  The nature of the sun, and the nature of our skin, dictate this.
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               But what is the nature of grace?  How does grace work?  Is grace like the sun?  Is God’s grace so powerful that there’s no escape from it?
               If you want to think of an example, then you could think of one of the seven sacraments.  You could think of our second graders who are making their First Holy Communion this weekend.  Or think of all those couples in our parish preparing to enter into the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.
               This is one area where there’s an important difference between our Catholic Faith, and many separated Christians.  One of the three key principles of the Protestant Reformation was sola gratia:  “only grace,” as in “Grace alone saves.”  That is to say, human works and the human will play no part in experiencing salvation.  To use a ten-dollar word, grace is—in this false theory—“ineluctable”:  you cannot resist its power.  It is like the sun:  if it “hits” you, it’s going to change you.  But even more powerfully than the sun—in this false theory—if God sends grace your way, there’s no point in trying to hide.  You are powerless to act against God’s will.  You cannot, to use our summer lake metaphor, even use your free will to choose to put on lotion, or a long-sleeve shirt or cap, or go inside.  Your will is powerless against the power of God’s will, His grace.  Your will can neither accept or reject God’s grace, because “grace alone” saves.  Your will is not free:  it is in bondage to sin.  Only God’s will is in play.
               This theory was quickly condemned by the Church during the Catholic Reformation.  It’s easy to see where this theory would lead if you sincerely believed it.  It would lead straight to a strict form of predestination.  In this false theory, God has already decided whether you’re going to be saved or damned, and you have no say in the matter, because grace is everything.  This theory was condemned by the Church because it contradicts the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Today’s Gospel passage teaches about the Sacrament of Confession, and the importance of having respect for the power of human free will.
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               In our Catholic Faith, there is something like a dance between God’s grace, and the Christian’s free will.  In a real dance between two people (a cultured dance), one person leads, and the other person follows the lead.  This doesn’t mean that the second person is passive, doing nothing.  Likewise, the Christian doesn’t do nothing, as if he or she were an empty vessel being filled up with God’s grace.  But in the interplay between God’s grace, and your free will, God is in the lead.  God is allowed to be in charge.  Everything is of God’s initiative.
               We see this in today’s gospel passage.  When this scene starts, the apostles are passive.  They’re cowering in fear, locked up in a room, until Jesus enters the room—even though it was locked—and says to them, “Peace be with you.”  He breathes on them, conferring His breath—His Holy Spirit—and gives the apostles the power to act in His Name:  “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”  This is the same power that the priest has in the confessional.  If a priest withholds absolution, the sins that were confessed are retained:  they are not forgiven.
               Now why would Jesus give such a power to mere human beings?  Why didn’t Jesus, on that Easter Sunday night, just go out into the Temple area, right in the heart of Jerusalem, and shout to everyone, “I’ve risen from the dead to let you know:  if you’re really sorry in your heart, I’ll forgive your sins”?  But that’s not where Jesus went.  That’s not whom He preached to.  And that’s not what He said.
               Jesus, after entering the locked room, breathed on the apostles and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
In the seminary, the Church strictly teaches the men preparing for the priesthood that there is only one reason that a priest should retain someone’s sins, and that is when the penitent is not sorry for his or her sins.  This gets us back again to the Church’s great respect for the power of human free will.  Unlike the person standing at the lake side, with the radiation of the sun bearing down upon him, the person who stands in the light of God’s grace, can use his or her free will to stop that grace from entering his or her soul.  Even though the grace of God is an infinite love, it’s within the power of human free will to stop that grace dead in its tracks.
               God does not desire that anyone go to Hell.  But God does allow people to choose Hell for themselves.  Human beings send themselves to Hell, and God does all in His power to move people off of that path.  But He will not, in the end, force people off that path.  Only in justice, will God condemn a person to Hell, out of respect for human freedom.
               Some people today think this sounds foolish.  After all, we might tell ourselves, no one would ever choose to go to Hell.  No one’s that stupid!  But if we think this, we’re ignoring just how deceptive sin is.  We’re ignoring how easy it is to convince ourselves time and again that—like Adam and Eve in the Garden—what we’ve been told is wrong, can actually be right, and what we’ve been told is harmful, can actually be a healthy way to live.  We’re ignoring how easily we deceive ourselves:  how easily our human free will can turn in upon itself, and become the center of our life.
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               We do have the power, the free will, to reject God’s grace.  That’s why, on the night He rose from the dead, He gave the Sacrament of Reconciliation to the Church.  Here, where we come before God to receive His grace, God wants us to accept freely what He came into this world to give us:  the gift that Jesus makes known in His words on the evening of His Resurrection: “Peace be with you.”

Easter Octave - Thursday

Thursday in the Octave of Easter
Acts 3:11-26  ¾  Luke 24:35-48

               Imagine a huge stone thrown into a large lake:  as the stone sinks, so its impact moves outward, creating larger and larger circles of waves.  As we celebrate the Octave of Easter, we see Jesus’ Resurrection impacting the lives of more and more people, and in more and more profound ways.  Easter Monday we saw the faithless chief priests and elders respond to the news of the Resurrection by covering their tracks with lies.  Easter Tuesday, we heard of Mary Magdalen, a faithful follower of Jesus.  She responded to Our Risen Lord when He called her by her name.  She responded to Jesus by crying out, “Teacher!”  Yet in Jesus God calls us to recognize someone who is more than only a teacher.
               Yesterday and today we hear of the two disciples who had been on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, moving on, away from the site of the Resurrection.  The word disciple means “one who learns”, and we heard these disciples at first trying to make sense of what had been happening over the past three days.  Only when Jesus appears to them and begins relating all the Scriptures to them do they begin to understand what has happened.  But still, they do not recognize Jesus.
               It is only in the breaking of the bread that the disciples come to know Jesus, and it is only in the breaking of the bread that they become more than disciples.  Only in the Eucharist do we share in the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, and become members of Christ’s Body.  This is the goal of our lives as Christians:  not merely to learn about Jesus, but to become one with Him, and in Him. 
               On the day of the Resurrection, Jesus is preparing the apostles for the day of His Ascension.  After He leaves the earth, it will be up to them to act in His name:  first, to preach penance for the remission of sins, and then inevitably to suffer for standing up for what is true.  In all of this, the waves of impact from the news of the Resurrection continue to spread throughout the world, even after the Ascension:  bringing peace to people on earth, and glory to God in Heaven, throughout the Church’s history, until the end of the age.  Throughout your own life it is your calling to be a faithful witness to the Resurrection.  Only Christ’s Holy Spirit will sustain you¾confirm you¾in offering ourselves for such witness, and so for this calling the whole Church prays during this Easter season for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in abundance.

Easter Octave - Wednesday

Wednesday in the Octave of Easter
Acts 3:1-10  ¾  Luke 24:13-35

“With that their eyes were opened and they recognized Him,
but He vanished from their sight.” (Luke 24:31)

               “The Church draws her life from the Eucharist.”  These are the first words of Blessed John Paul the Great’s final encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia.  Because Easter is a celebration of the love that God lavishes upon the Church through His Risen Son, Easter is a fitting time to focus our attention on the Most Blessed Sacrament.  This, in turn, is why Saint Mark Parish celebrates First Holy Communion on Divine Mercy Sunday:  to stress that the Risen Lord gives us the strength of His Body and Blood, soul and divinity, in order to make us His “agents” in the work of divine mercy.
               Today’s Gospel passage proclaims the Risen Jesus appearing to His disciples in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  So reflect now on the following words of Blessed John Paul the Great from his encyclical on the Holy Eucharist:

…  Ever since Pentecost, when the Church, the People of the New Covenant, began her pilgrim journey towards her heavenly homeland, the Divine Sacrament has continued to mark the passing of her days, filling them with confident hope.
               The Second Vatican Council rightly proclaimed that the Eucharistic sacrifice is “the source and summit of the Christian life.”[1]  “For the most holy Eucharist contains the Church’s entire spiritual wealth: Christ himself, our passover and living bread.  Through his own flesh, now made living and life-giving by the Holy Spirit, he offers life to men”.[2]  Consequently the gaze of the Church is constantly turned to her Lord, present in the Sacrament of the Altar, in which she discovers the full manifestation of his boundless love.
Allow me, dear brothers and sisters, to share with deep emotion, as a means of accompanying and strengthening your faith, my own testimony of faith in the Most Holy Eucharist.  …  Here is the Church’s treasure, the heart of the world, the pledge of the fulfillment for which each man and woman, even unconsciously, yearns.  A great and transcendent mystery, indeed, and one that taxes our mind’s ability to pass beyond appearances.  Here our senses fail us … yet faith alone, rooted in the word of Christ handed down to us by the Apostles, is sufficient for us.  Allow me, like Peter at the end of the Eucharistic discourse in John’s Gospel, to say once more to Christ, in the name of the whole Church and in the name of each of you: “Lord to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

[1] Lumen gentium 11.
[2] Presbyterorum Ordinis, 5.

Easter Octave - Tuesday

Tuesday in the Octave of Easter
Acts 2:36-41  —  John 20:11-18

“ ‘Let the whole house of Israel know for certain
that God has made both Lord and Christ,
this Jesus whom you crucified.’ ” (Acts 2:36)

The Church is God’s means for reconciling mankind to Himself.  Christians experience both justification and sanctification through the Church.  Today’s First Reading emphasizes this through the setting of St. Peter’s words.
               The setting of today’s First Reading is the day of Pentecost.  This day occurred fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead, and ten days after He ascended into Heaven.  What’s more, St. Peter is preaching this sermon shortly after the Descent of the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room.  This sermon is the first sermon in the history of the Church, and consists of the first words spoken by the first pope to those God wants to reconcile to Himself.
               This setting, in which the Holy Spirit speaks through the man whom Jesus chose to be the “Rock” of His Church, emphasizes that the Church would not exist without the Holy Spirit.  Any good works accomplished by her members, and any graces communicated by her, are so through the Power of the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes the Holy Spirit is considered as the “soul” of the Church.  The Holy Spirit animates each and every member of the Body of Christ, from the Pope to the lowliest priest; from parents to children.  This brings to our attention the need to pray to the Holy Spirit.  If you don’t regularly, pray each day of Easter to the Holy Spirit, asking Him to dispose you more readily to God’s holy Will.
               But the Holy Spirit is not only an engine driving a Christian’s life.  The Holy Spirit also works in the Church by binding her members together.  God works in the lives of men, women and children through other children, women and men.  The members of Christ’s Body are bound to each other, carrying out Christ’s work of reconciliation.  As we prepare for Divine Mercy Sunday, ask the Holy Spirit, the Consoler, to help you to be an agent of reconciliation for others.

Easter Octave - Monday

Monday in the Octave of Easter
Acts 2:14,22-23 — Matthew 28:8-15

“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 2:33)

The first eight days of the Easter Season form an octave, whose solemnity culminates in the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday, when the Gospel of Jesus instituting the Sacrament of Reconciliation is proclaimed.  The entire history of salvation—from Adam and Eve, to the Final Judgment—is about God reconciling mankind to Himself.

Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the New Testament knows that the New Testament does not conclude with the narratives about Easter Sunday morning.  This fact is so obvious that we might take its significance for granted.  The devil's advocate might ask, "Isn't the Resurrection the end of the story?  Isn't the moral of the Gospel that life is stronger than death?  that Jesus always triumphs over pain and suffering?"

On the contrary, the Season of Easter, and even more so the Octave of Easter, reveals that the Gospel has more depth than those clich├ęs suggest.  The telling of the Rising of Jesus is not the end of the Gospel.  In a sense, it's only the beginning.  Jesus' Resurrection makes the salvation of mankind possible.  Jesus opens the Gates of Heaven through His Resurrection, but He doesn't make mankind walk through those gates.

If everything from the Garden of Eden to the Resurrection is about God's initiative—God making human salvation possible—then everything following the Resurrection is about mankind making good on God's offer.  The key to mankind making good on God's offer of salvation is the Church.

The Church is the meaning of Easter.  The Church is God's means for reconciling mankind to Himself.  The Church is the family through which each of us meets Jesus, and grows in His divine life.  On the other hand, the Church is not just a set or collection of all those persons who happen to believe in Jesus.  Throughout the course of the Easter Season, the Church herself will reveal—through her Sacred Liturgy—the meaning of, and depth of grace within, the life of the Church.

Easter Sunday - 8 April 2012

The Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ
April 8, 2012

               As we celebrate this day with great joy, our minds easily turn to the young in our midst.  Much like our other great Christian feast of the year—Christmas—this day is about new life.
               As Christians, we believe that life always demands sacrifice.  This is key to the Christian life:  what we celebrate sacramentally, and what we live in our daily moral and spiritual life.  Life is always borne from sacrifice.  While the world around us professes to believe that life is followed only by death, we Christians believe that it’s the other way around:  that death is followed by life.
               In the deepest sense, that’s what this most holy feast of Easter is about:  that the Passion and Death of Jesus do not have the final word.  It is Christ Jesus, risen from the dead, who has the final word, and his word to us today is “Alleluia!”
               “Alleluia!” meaning, “Praise the Lord our God!”  It is our God, the God who created Adam and Eve in the garden; the God who kept the arm of Abraham from sacrificing his son Isaac; the God who led the Israelites from the slavery of the Egyptians, from the barrenness of the Sinai desert, and from their own sinfulness, who today raised Jesus from the dead.  This is the Good News.
               The Gospel of the Resurrection from John paints a beautiful picture for us.  We see with Saint Peter and the beloved disciple the wrappings lying on the ground.  John saw and believed.  With no sign of Jesus, without a word from Jesus, John saw and believed simply because the tomb is empty.  This gospel passage is one of the few in which we not only do not hear Jesus speak, but in which we do not even see Jesus.  Today we celebrate the greatest feast of the Christian year, and Christ doesn’t even appear in the Gospel.  All we see is an empty tomb.
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               Throughout the Sundays and weekdays of Easter which we celebrate for fifty days, we hear passages from the letters of and the gospel account of Saint John, that same apostle who alone among the apostles stood beneath the Cross, and who on this Easter morning saw an empty tomb and believed.
               Saint John was the youngest of the apostles, and he was also the only one of the apostles who was not martyred.  He lived until the close of the very first Christian century, and it was in his last years, as an old man, that John wrote his letters and his gospel account.  And the good news that John preached came from his remembering these two scenes as no other apostles did:  he saw his Savior hanging on the Cross, and he saw the empty tomb and believed.
               Throughout this Easter season, this is what we celebrate:  an empty tomb.  We know of course, that Jesus did appear to his disciples on many different occasions after His Resurrection.  For forty days he appeared to the apostles and other disciples, removing any doubt from their minds that He did have the final word—that death had no power over him.
               But it is John who was called the disciple whom Jesus loved.  And this love was based on a faith that did not need to see Jesus Risen in the flesh.  This great love is the love that John is teaching us to pray for during this Easter season.  For forty days we will see Our Lord in His Risen Flesh, showing us in the flesh that God can and does bring about life through death, through the sacrifices that we make each day.  But it is the sacrifice that Our Risen Lord himself gave us, the Eucharist, the Sacrifice of His Body and Blood, that Jesus teaches us must be at the center of our spiritual life as Catholics.
               After forty days of Easter, we will celebrate the feast of Our Lord’s Ascension.  Jesus will ascend from our midst, to return to God the Father in Heaven.  We will then wait.  We will wait for ten more days, awaiting another promise.  Our Lord promises to send God the Holy Spirit, the love of the Father and the Son for each other, down to earth to offer us a deep share in Christ’s life.
               Jesus is preparing us during these fifty days of Easter to receive the Holy Spirit, to prepare a place in our hearts for the Spirit to work, to confirm all of our Lenten acts of self-denial and penance, so that, as Jesus bodily leaves the earth, we will become the members of His Body, the Church.
               We first live out our own individual vocations by coming to this celebration of the Eucharist each Sunday and Holy Day to share in Christ’s Sacrifice, to give thanks for it, and to receive the Body of Christ so that, as members of the Body of Christ, others will see Christ in us and through our daily sacrifices.
               This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.

Good Friday - 6 April 2012

Good Friday  ¾ The Passion of the Lord
Isaiah 52:13—53:12  ―  Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9  ―  John 18:1-19,42
April 6, 2012

               Holy Week is the center of the Christian year.  We Christians set aside time from our normal routines to journey with 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.  Each of these days holds a special significance 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, the day a child is born, or even the day on which a loved one leaves this earth, submitting to death, certain days of the year become ingrained in our mind:  charged with significance.
               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 ingrained in our mind:  charged with significance.
We began this week by entering with Jesus into the holy city of Jerusalem.  Many, many 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 problems in their lives.
But as the week wore on, 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.  Here emerges a key element of the Passion of the Christ that’s often overlooked.  The physical pain and suffering is obvious, but not so obvious is the anguish of being deserted by almost everyone He loved.  Just as Lent began in a desert, here today Lent ends in a desert, as Jesus dwells on the Cross alone, deserted.
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 Him in an upper room, 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 Gethsemane, 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 Gethsemane 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 Gethsemane one of those apostles betrayed his Master.
But we witness in Gethsemane not only 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 beneath the cross with our Blessed Mother Mary.  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 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, Saint John was able to enter into that mystery 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, we turn our minds again to the sacrifice of Calvary, and the love in Christ’s Sacred Heart which allowed Him to offer Himself, in order to show us the way to Heaven.

Holy Thursday - 5 April 2012

Holy Thursday — The Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14  ¾  1 Corinthians 11:23-26  ¾  John 13:1-15
April 5, 2012

“His Hour had come to pass from this world to the Father.” (John 13:1)

               Jesus knew.  Jesus knew all things.  He was God!  Jesus was both fully human and fully divine, and through His divinity, He knew all things, including the hour and the manner of His death.  He had always known the hour and manner of His death, and had been conscious of them throughout His earthly life.
               Just imagine if you knew:  if you knew the exact day, hour, and manner of your death, what would your reaction be?  To begin with, you might ask yourself a straightforward question:  “Can I change my fate?”  For example, if you learned that you were going to die on July 12, 2012 in Royals Stadium by a foul ball hitting you on the head, surely you’d avoid going to the game.  But what if you knew the date, but not all the details, so that it would be practically impossible to avoid that death?  Say that your death was going to be from a heart attack, or from an earthquake swallowing you up:  what would you do then?
               You might decide to resign yourself to your death.  You accept that you will die on July 12, 2012. What do you do next?  On the one hand, you would be free regarding how to live your remaining days.  Some might quit their job and head to Vegas.  Some might quit their job and go to the Anthony Family Shelter and the Lord’s Diner to spend each day in service.  Some might visit relatives.  But all are likely to make the most of their remaining days, however they might define that.
               But in addition to living your remaining days, you might also use your time preparing for death.  Even if you didn’t believe in an afterlife, you would want to have your legal affairs in order, make funeral arrangements, say “good bye” to those you love, and perhaps make amends with those you’ve been estranged from, for whatever reason.
               All this reflection forces us to realize that death is a lot of work.  It’s very demanding to be conscious of, and to shape one’s life, in light of death.  It’s easier to live without worrying about something that may or may not happen tomorrow, and very likely won’t happen for years to come.
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               Tonight, at His Last Supper before His death, Jesus acts very deliberately.  He acts out of love.  Through His divinity, Jesus knew all things, including the hour and the manner of His death.  He had always known these truths, from His youngest days.
               Jesus, unlike you and I who are sinners, never turned a blind eye to the truth.  He never turned away from facing uncomfortable facts.  He didn’t repress, deny, or put off dealing with His death.  Jesus knew not only the day, hour and minute of His death.  He also knew the precise location of His death.  He knew exactly which of the Jewish guards would arrest Him in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He knew exactly which soldiers would place the Crown of Thorns on His Sacred Head, and which of them would drive the spikes through His hands and feet.  Jesus could have avoided all of them.  He could have fled for the sea, and sailed for peaceful lands.  But He chose to embrace His Cross.
               Tonight, Jesus celebrates His Last Supper before death as a Passover meal with His Apostles.  This isn’t just His last supper in the way that a prisoner is permitted a final meal in the penitentiary before being executed.  Jesus, at His Last Supper, took the annual Jewish celebration of the Passover meal, and transformed the Passover meal into the Sacrament of the Eucharist, so that those twelve men present might “hand on” Jesus to the next generation of Jesus’ followers.  Tonight, in our annual commemoration of the Last Supper, we give thanks for this Gift that Jesus bequeathed to us just hours before His death.  This is what He chose to do in His final hours:  He chose not to live for Himself, but to “hand over” Himself to His Apostles through the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
               To a considerable extent, the rituals of the annual Passover meal correspond to the parts of Holy Mass.  Sacred Scripture is proclaimed, and a meal of bread and wine is prepared.  But at the Christian altar, the priest celebrates the unique change that Jesus made by transforming the annual Passover meal into the “daily bread” of the Eucharist.  “He took bread in His holy and venerable hands, / and with eyes raised to Heaven / to … God, His almighty Father, / giving … thanks, He said the blessing, / broke the bread / and gave it to His disciples, saying: / ‘Take this, all of you, and eat of it, / for this is my Body, / which will be given up for you.’”
               Jesus knew, even if His Apostles did not, that His Body would be given up for them in a mere matter of hours.  The Sacrament of the Eucharist makes the Sacrifice that Jesus made on the Cross present, in our midst, so that consuming it, Jesus’ life and death will consume us.  To receive the Body and Blood of Jesus worthily is to accept from God the strength that it takes to live out our vocation faithfully.  There is no way that a human being can follow Christ in any vocation, without the strength of Christ’s life inside her or him:  to illumine, to fortify, and to humble us to see our Master in those we serve.

The parish I serve

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