Sunday, April 30, 2017

Third Sunday of Easter (OF)

Why is it that our Lord is not known at first by the disciples on the road to Emmaus? Did they not remember His face, His voice, His walk? How could they see Him and not know it was Jesus speaking to them, guiding them, encouraging them? Because they did not believe in Jesus as He really is. The faith of these two disciples was not in the God-man, but in a revolutionary, one who would restore the kingdom of Israel. They looked for the redemption of Israel from the rule of the Roman Empire, for God to elevate them to being the greatest power. But God did something far greater for them through Jesus, something which God had foretold throughout the centuries before the birth of Christ.
The great tragedy of many Catholics is that they don’t understand who Jesus is. We often try to paint Him as being close to what we are. If we are more liberal-minded, we see Jesus as the great revolutionary working to free the poor and liberate people from stuffy dogmas and doctrine. If we are conservative, we see Jesus as being more concerned with family values or human life or anything that is traditional and beneficial to human growth and prosperity. Yet Jesus cannot be painted into a corner; He is far more different than that.
This is the reason why the two disciples could not see Jesus when He was before them on that road: they were too enraptured in their particular understanding of Him. This is why Jesus almost seems to laugh as He exclaims His wonder that they do not realize who the Christ had to be and what He had to do. We can try to make Jesus be a guerilla fighter or a company man, but He is ultimately the Christ - the one anointed by God to be the Paschal lamb who takes away the sin of the world.
Do we see Jesus as He really is? Or do we keep Him in our nice, simple images that are rather comfortable to us? If Jesus does not challenge us, does not force us to reconsider our views or our ideas, is He really a good founder of a religion? Each Sunday, we gather together to do the same things these two disciples did: we break open the Scriptures to discover Jesus, we listen to the homily so that our hearts may burn as did the disciples’ hearts, and then we break the bread and discover once more Jesus really and truly present among us to be our spiritual food.

Brethren, let us humble ourselves as were the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Let us hear Jesus trying to reveal Himself to us through the sacred actions of the Church: the Scriptures, the preaching, the sacraments, in particular the Eucharist. Let our hearts burn with a desire to know Jesus, to love Him, and to serve Him in everything that we do. As we continue to rejoice in the victory that He won for us in His death and resurrection, let us not remain unaffected by what He did, but let our eyes be opened as were the two disciples so as to see Jesus for who He truly is: the savior of the world. May we receive this tremendous grace, so that we may progress more quickly on our own road, the road to eternal life.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Divine Mercy Sunday

As we bring the Octave of Easter to a close, we reflect on the great joy of the Resurrection which we have celebrated for the past seven days. We rejoice that Jesus is not dead, but that He is risen from the dead, victorious over all our enemies. But are we really joyful? Are we actually participating in that victory now? It’s easy to come and sing “Alleluia!” and rejoice that Jesus is no longer dead. But is he alive in our hearts as well?
Perhaps we know the story associated with why today is called Divine Mercy Sunday. A Polish nun named Maria Faustina recorded her visions of Jesus desiring that the world know His message of mercy, in particular on this day. This message, and the devotions and practices associated with it, spread in large part by the work of Pope St. John Paul II, who learned of this nun’s diary and message and spread it in everything he did. We all remember last year as the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, called by Pope Francis to deepen our understanding of mercy and to receive it. But did anything change?
There seems to be two different mindsets in the modern marginal Catholic. The first is the presumption of mercy, in which it is known with absolute certainty that God has forgiven me, is forgiving me, and will forgive me. But this is not known through the frequent reception of the sacrament of mercy - the confessional. It is presumed that, since God is love, and God loves me, He’ll forgive me out of love. The other mindset is amnesia concerning divine justice. This idea goes something like this: since God is love, and God is merciful, He won’t judge me, He won’t condemn me to Hell. All I need to do is love Him a little, and everything is fine.
Brethren, I do not know where these ideas have come from, but they are both fundamentally misguided and dangerous to your eternal salvation. Perhaps it is from the chaos that has wrecked the Catholic world since the 1970s, not only as concerns the liturgy but catechesis concerning the divine mysteries. Either way, many of you live from false principles that lead to dangerous practices. God is indeed merciful, as the events of Holy Week demonstrate for us. Yet mercy without justice is a free pass to do whatever you want, and that is not what Jesus offers us from the Cross.
Why is it that Jesus endured the heart-wrenching sufferings of His Passion and Death? Why did the Father call Him to do this - to take on our flesh, to suffer, and to die? Why did all of this come to pass? So as to win for us the divine mercy we need to be reconciled to God. However, this is not a mercy that continually forgives while never asking anything from us. God pours out His mercy upon us so that we may be strengthened by Him to live our lives in faith and in justice. We see this in the first Christian community, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. They abandoned their sinful ways and devoted themselves to the virtuous Christian life, being transformed by the mercy of God to be able to live upright and holy lives.
This is the great mercy Jesus shows to Thomas in the Gospel. Thomas is doubtful, wary of the arguments that Jesus has been raised from the dead. But Jesus comes to him on this day and reveals Himself, showing the wounds in His hands and feet, calling Thomas to put his hand in the open wound on His chest, from which poured forth the blood and water by which we receive the new birth, as St. Peter says in the second reading. Jesus comes to Him and offers Himself so that Thomas may not remain in a state of indifference or doubt. Jesus wants us to receive that same mercy, which He offers to us not in His physical presence before us, but in His real presence in the sacraments, especially the confessional and the Eucharist.

Brethren, do not remain obstinate in presumption or forgetfulness! God’s mercy is meant to transform us from lives of quiet desperation to lives of holiness and communion with God and with each other. Jesus wants to pour out His mercy upon the world so that we may indeed receive His peace, that same peace He offers the disciples each time He appears to them after the Resurrection. Receive His mercy, and become what the holy child of God you are meant to be. Do not merely rejoice at the Resurrection, but be transformed by this mystery so as to live your lives having faith not in your own abilities or actions, but in the mercy of God won for you in Christ Jesus. Do as Saint Peter tells you with whatever remains of your life: attain the goal of your faith - the salvation of your souls.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday

As the dust settles, as the light rises, as the people awake, this morning is different than any other morning. Normally when we wake up, we rise from sleep, from a state that does not persist. We are not meant to be asleep forever. But there is one who rises this morning who is not supposed to rise, not supposed to be awake at this hour. For death is supposed to be a persistent state, one that does not end, in fact, one that is the end for us all. Yet He is risen, and He will not enter that state ever again.
The prophet Isaiah proclaimed that one would come along who would become the suffering servant of the Lord, one who would “cast death down headlong for ever” (Is 25:8). Saint Paul would proclaim a few decades after this day, “O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55). For indeed, on this day Death is cast down, humbled in the face of the One who once died but now will die no more. Death has no claim over Him, but He has one claim over Death: victory.
He whom John the Baptist called the Lamb of God has been immolated upon the altar of the Cross. He whom Pilate cursed at when he mockingly asked, “What is truth?”, now stands outside the sepulcher as the complete Truth revealed by God. He whom the priests shamed as being incapable of saving Himself now towers over every enemy of God and man as the one who has saved all. He is the Paschal victim, the innocent lamb whose blood reconciles sinners to the Father, as that beautiful sequence proclaimed.
What more is there to say on this Easter day? Jesus Christ is risen, risen from death, from the bowels of Sheol, from Hell itself as we say in the Apostles’ Creed. He stands over Satan, over sin, and over death as the Victor. The bonds of slavery are broken; we are set free so that we may enter into the eternal Promised Land of God. Yet this victory, while already accomplished in Christ, is not yet completed in us.
Jesus Christ has brought about a new creation, but the former is still around us. And like bad yeast which corrupts the loaf, we too can be corrupted by this world of sin and death, returning to our former ways, losing that Promised Land forever. We are all free creatures; the eternal choice stands before us: Jesus and life, or sin and death. The struggle is real, but the victory is also real.

Rejoice, brethren, for this day is the day which the Lord has made! Rejoice, because Christ our light rises in the east! Let us turn and greet Him with the sacrifice of praise, turned together towards the risen Son. Cast off the shackles of sin and be free in Christ Jesus the Lord. Become the new dough that rises in this hungry world, the bread of sincerity and truth. Proclaim by your lives that you feast on the Paschal Lamb, that you are sustained by the meat of the Eucharist, and become what you receive. Be glad, brethren, for Jesus has won the victory. Let us follow Him so as to receive the reward of that victory, the fruits of his labor and ours: the eternal victory feast of Heaven.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Easter Vigil

On this most holy night, I offer only a few brief words. We began our Lent in darkness - literal darkness, if you remember the storm and the power outage. We began tonight’s Mass in darkness. How great can that darkness seem! It seems that we will never overcome that darkness, whatever it is that obscures our souls, makes it impossible to overcome. But on this night, as the world seemingly grows darker, more united to the darkness, light comes once more.
Easter is the feast of the new creation, in which the old order is cast out and the new is illuminated. Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, rises from the dead and pierces the darkness of this night with the light of the Resurrection. The Exsultet emphasizes this when it quotes the Psalms to declare that, “The night shall be as bright as day, dazzling is the night for me, and full of gladness.” Indeed, this night radiates not only in the light of the Resurrection, but in the joy that should fill every Christian heart tonight, because the Lord is not dead - He lives!

Let us rejoice in this holy night, that Christ Jesus shines victorious over sin, over Satan, over death. Let us rejoice, also, with our newest members, who will die with Jesus in His passion and rise with Him on this night no longer members of this old creation, but incorporated into the new creation, which will find its completion not in this life, but in the life to come. Jesus is risen! Indeed, He is risen!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday

Why do we not celebrate Mass on Good Friday? If the Mass is the re-presentation of all that happens today, why do we not offer the Mass? Today there is no Mass because there is no need for the sign that points to the reality: we kneel before that very reality today. On this day, we are more really present at the Cross than we are during the Mass. We behold the wood of the Cross upon which hung the salvation of the world because it is happening today. This day is the day appointed by God from all of time to offer the one perfect sacrifice for redemption from sin.
Behold that wood upon which hung your Savior! Behold that bloody tree upon which He hangs because of your sins, because of my sins! Behold the Lamb of God bruised, derided, cursed, defiled, the Lamb who sheds every ounce of His blood so as to take away the sins of the world! All of this because you and I, because we rebel against God, because we choose anything and everything other than God. Because of this, as the prophet Isaiah says, “the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all,” and “the Lord was pleased to crush him in infirmity.”
Let us weep this day over the dead body of our Savior. Let us join the sorrowful Mother in weeping that her son has been killed, that she carries with her the sorrow unlike any other sorrow. Let us cast down our faces in shame that each one of us has caused this, each one of us has made this day necessary. But hear carefully the words Isaiah speaks at the end of his prophecy about the suffering servant: “Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many.” Let us remain hopeful that Jesus the suffering servant may justify us by His passion and death.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Holy Thursday

What do we normally eat at a feast? While our customs may vary depending on our families and our cultures, we normally have meat at the feast. Meat has always been a standard feature of a feast, while the absence of meat gives the meal a rather penitential or impoverished characteristic. How can we celebrate Thanksgiving if we don’t have the turkey? Could it really be the Fourth of July without a hamburger or hot dog? Can we really enjoy the Super Bowl without chicken wings? Meat has been throughout human history and culture a symbol of feasting and rejoicing, in particular the Jewish feast of Passover, where the lamb is sacrificed and feasted upon by all at table.
Yet Jesus transforms this Passover meal on this night. He uses the great Jewish feast of freedom and salvation to establish a different feast, though still signifying freedom and salvation. Jesus uses the Passover as the type that foreshadows the complete sign of feasting and rejoicing. Jesus transitions the Passover from being the salvation feast of a small nation and people into the sacrifice of praise offered by the entire world. He does all of this in the institution of the most holy Eucharist.
The Passover meal heralds the ultimate feast of faith for Christ and His Church. Everything that the Passover represents for the Jews corresponds to a reality which we shall encounter over the next few days. But the central image of Passover is the paschal lamb, the animal sacrificed by the Jewish priest then completely consumed by everyone in the household. The lamb provides the meat for the feast, a feast that originally began as a meal eaten in haste, in preparation for leaving Egypt.
But if the Passover is the type or symbol of the Eucharist, then where is our meat for our feast? What shall we eat in our new Passover meal, which supersedes the old? We feast on the new paschal lamb, sacrificed upon the altar of the Cross. This is the mysterious reality at the heart of the institution of the Eucharist on this night. If the Mass is the feast of faith, then there must be meat for that feast, and Jesus offers us the purest meat possible: His own body, offered as the sacrifice so that we might pass over from death unto life.
This is why the Eucharist is called the source and summit of the Christian life: everything that we believe and do flows from this. We have bishops and priests so that they may re-offer this sacrifice and feed us once more this most savory meat. We receive the sacraments of initiation so that we may approach the table and partake of this feast. We go to confession so that we may be worthy once more to receive this meat. It is the sun that illumines our day; without it, our souls would grow dark and cold.
Yet how much do we appreciate this gift? How much do we really treasure this morsel from Heaven? What is our attitude towards this feast of faith? Do we treasure it with reverence and sacredness or do we treat it as another chore to check off the list? The Eucharist is not a snack to reward a child for a good deed; it is the food by which we are sustained in this hungry world. But it cannot nourish us if we remain indifferent to it, if we treat it as something less than what it is.
As we plunge into the mysteries of faith over these next three days, I implore you to spend some time in serious consideration of your faith. Does any of this really matter to you? Is all of this really the feast of faith, the center of our universe, or is it another chore that we check off the list? Is the Eucharist really the means of communion, of union with Christ, or is it just something that I pop into my mouth and then go off as if nothing happened? God desires so much more from us; will we give it to Him? I encourage you to spend some time tonight in adoration, in quiet time before the Lord who prays in the garden that He may do the will of His Father: to die for our sins. May we appreciate more fully this sacrifice so that we may be truly nourished at this feast of faith.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

5th Sunday of Lent - Death and Life

What do we fear most about life? What is it that we dread most about our mortal nature? There is one thing common to all people of all ages that we dread and fear: death. We fear death, that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns. We hate death because we fear it, because we want to avoid it as much as possible. Our generation continues the quest for immortality, seeking the fountain of youth not in some mythical land far away, but in a pill or in a computer. We will do anything rather than die.
But death comes for us all. We cannot avoid it, we cannot pretend it will never happen. Yet there is more than one way to die. Certainly, our physical bodies can die. However, we can also die spiritually. How does this happen? It is the same as our physical death: we lose life. But how can we lose our spiritual life? We lose it when we remain enveloped in sin. We lose it when we are consumed by sin. We lose it when we choose sin over God. Our spiritual death is never just a death, but is always a suicide, for we choose that death for ourselves. Yet God desires not the death of the sinner, but that he live.
We hear about the greatest of Jesus’ miracles in the Gospel today, when He raises His friend Lazarus from death, and not just any death: Lazarus had been dead in the tomb for four days, a sign taken by the Jews to mean that one was completely and totally dead. Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life, by His power and authority restores Lazarus to life. It is probably the greatest sign that Jesus offers up to this point in the Gospels. But it also has great meaning for us: it demonstrates that God is the Lord of life, and that He can restore life whenever He wills.
We hear in the psalm today that with the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption. God desires life for all of us, as we see in the vision of Ezekiel in the first reading. For indeed, who can truly stand in innocence before the Lord? As the Psalmist puts it, “If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, Lord, who can stand?” None of us are totally innocent before God: all have sinned, both as individuals and as the human race. Yet God desires not death, but life. Knowing our weakness, knowing our infirmity, God desires to revive humanity by redeeming it from the bonds of sin and Satan, and this work will be accomplished so very soon in the passion and death of Christ our Lord.
Yet this redemption is not a ticket easily purchased, nor is it merely a free gift. God does offer us redemption and salvation, but it comes at a cost: our death to sin. Saint Paul recognizes this as he writes to the Romans in the second reading. Salvation is not something that is merely bought with a few words: it is something that costs us our life in sin. Saint Paul is not rejecting the physical world in saying this, but the truth that we are not meant to live for this world, to live for the flesh. We are meant to be animated by the Spirit of God to live for Christ. We cannot have the Spirit if we remain dead in sin. We cannot be lead by the Spirit if we cling to sin. We cannot live in the Spirit if we reject that same Spirit.
The raising of Lazarus from the dead serves as a sign that Jesus can raise any soul to life, even a soul that has been steeped in sin, wallowing in sin for decades. The history of the Church is filled with scandalous sinners who converted and became great saints: egotists, sex addicts, murderers, heretics, drunkards, even worshippers of Satan. Yet their eyes were opened to the error of their ways by the grace of God, they repented of their sins, and lived their lives with the same confession we hear on the lips of Martha: that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the one coming into the world to save it. And we can do the same as them, if we believe as Martha and Mary did, that this same Jesus who weeps over death desires us to live and to live fully.
As we enter the last two weeks of Lent, we are plunged more deeply into the mysteries of these days. We are preparing for all that Jesus did and suffered from this day until Easter Sunday. Let us not merely listen to these actions and events, but let us be moved by them. Let our hearts be filled with contrition for our sins and a true desire to repent of them. Let us seek the mercy that can only be found in the confessional, for God desires us to have a sure sign of our pardon. Brethren, do not let your hearts remain dead to sin, but let them be alive in Christ Jesus, in His Holy Spirit. As Jesus raised Lazarus from death, so too will God raise our souls from the death of sin, but only if we respond to His grace and seek His mercy. Let us indeed seek His mercy, so that we may have the fullness of redemption in the life to come.