May 1, 2011 - Divine Mercy Sunday

Today's Readings

We have been celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ for the past week. Today we celebrate one particular aspect of the Resurrection: Divine Mercy. We see divine mercy at work in the appearances of Jesus. First the angel announced his Resurrection, but no one believed. Then he himself appeared to Mary Magdalene. She believed, but no one believed her. Then he appeared to Cleopas and another disciple, perhaps his wife, in Emmaus. Then he appeared to Peter. Then he appeared to a group including nine other apostles.

Only Thomas was left out now. With all these people testifying to the Resurrection, surely he will believe. No. He claims that he will not believe until he puts his fingers in the holes made by the nails and his hand into the side opened by the spear. He does not want to believe in a ghost or a con man. He thinks everyone else might have been fooled, and he is not willing to be fooled along with them.

As a side note, there is someone else left out, someone whom Jesus never appeared to: his mother, Mary. When Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe”, he meant her above all. She receives every blessing in Scripture, and this is no exception. She first saw Jesus again after she was taken into heaven, decades later, but she believed in the Resurrection before anyone else. She did not even go to the tomb on Easter morning. She knew that no one was there.

It says in the Gospel that one week passed before Jesus appeared again. That must have been an uncomfortable week. Thomas was still sad, still mourning the death of Jesus; everyone else was celebrating the Resurrection and wondering. Perhaps Thomas thought that everyone was playing some elaborate (and not particularly funny) practical joke. Everyone must have seemed crazy. Thomas could not leave in case Jesus appeared again, but it must have been very hard to stay when everyone around him was celebrating what he thought was a mass delusion.

God is merciful. Not only does Jesus appear to Thomas, but he tells him to put his finger in his hands and his hand in his side. Whatever it takes, Jesus is willing to do, but Thomas was wrong. He did not need to touch Jesus to prove to himself the reality of the Resurrection. As soon as he sees Jesus, he falls down and says, “My Lord and my God.” Nevertheless, Jesus was willing to undergo any humiliation Thomas needed.

This is mercy. Our God is not aloof. He does not stand far off and tell us to make the arduous journey to him. He comes right down to us. He stands inches away and asks us to take one step. We have to make the journey, but he will be with us every step of the way. He will not put up with us living in sin, but he will do everything he can to help us out.

Mercy does not take away justice. What is right is right. Consider the case of a child with a filthy room. A good mother will not allow him to live in filth. He must clean the room. This is justice. It would not be merciful for her to let him live in filth. It would not be merciful to clean the room for him. He must clean his own room; it is only just. But once justice is satisfied, mercy comes in. As soon as the child begins cleaning, his mother comes and helps.

God will not let sinners into heaven. He will not let unbelievers into heaven. It would not be just. If heaven was full of sinners and unbelievers, it would be a lot like earth, which is not exactly perfect. If heaven is going to be perfect, all the people in heaven have to be perfect. It would not be merciful if God made an exception and let someone bad into heaven; it would ruin heaven. Instead, he does everything in his power to make us good.

Jesus tells the apostles, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” He gives this immense power to them for one reason: because we need forgiveness. They do not receive this power to increase their importance. They passed this power on to their successors and assistants, the bishops and priests. Even today, every priest in the world can forgive sins. How amazing! Life would have been terrible if we had been saved but there were no forgiveness. Only small children would go to heaven. We would lose our salvation as quickly as Adam and Eve.

God has made it so easy to have our sins forgiven. We do not need to climb Mt. Everest or slay a dragon. We only have to go to one of the half a million priests in the world and confess our sins. Maybe you would prefer killing a dragon. Satan wants us to be afraid of Confession. Jesus has made it so easy, but Satan tries to scare us away. We do not need to climb Mt. Everest, but we have to climb over our pride, which might be harder. Only we can get in our own way.

But when we do get in our own way, Jesus will help us find our way again. If Thomas does not believe, Jesus will appear on Thomas’s terms. If we commit sins, Jesus gives his priests the ability to forgive sins. Who knows what secrets are contained within the mercy of God! We cannot imagine what he might have done for those who do not believe in him. We cannot imagine what how far he has gone to forgive an unrepentant sinner. Who knows what has been accomplished in the last second of life!

We must not question God’s justice or imagine that he would be unjust. God is never going to let anything slide. He will not ignore the smallest fault in our souls. God’s justice is perfect, but so is his mercy. We should not imagine any limit to the mercy of God. If we love someone, God loves them more. If we wish someone could go to heaven, God wants it more.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The whole world was in trouble. If we look around nowadays and worry about where things are headed, it is nothing like 2100 years ago. Life was hopeless. There was no solution. Then God, in his mercy, did what no one expected, what no one had dreamed of, and thereby changed the direction of the world forever. Mercy has done amazing things, and mercy will yet do more.

April 17, 2011 - Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Today's Readings

We begin Holy Week today. During Holy Week we remember the last week before Jesus’ death. Holy Week is the prototype of all the weeks of the year. Thursday is always a good day for Eucharistic Adoration, since it was on Holy Thursday at the Last Supper that Jesus instituted the Eucharist. Every Friday of the year is a day of abstinence from meat. In addition to this small sacrifice, each Friday in general ought to be devoted to a more serious attitude, since Good Friday was the day that Jesus died for our sins. Every Saturday is devoted to the Blessed Mother and to silence, since it was on Holy Saturday that Jesus’ body lay in the tomb silently, and it was on Holy Saturday that our Blessed Mother was at home, mourning for her son, believing that he would rise. Every Sunday is a day of rejoicing, since on Easter Sunday Jesus rose from the dead. For this reason, we all come to Church every Sunday in hopes that we too will rise.

Why do we today then, on a Sunday, read out the Passion of Jesus Christ? It seems out of place, since Jesus did not die on Palm Sunday and it seems inappropriate, since Sunday is supposed to be a day of rejoicing. Partly, the reason is just practical: not everyone can be here on Good Friday and the Gospel next Sunday, on Easter, will not make much sense without the Gospel today. Jesus cannot rise without having first died. This is not the whole reason though.

It is indeed fitting to read the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ today. We must realize that the triumphant arrival of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem was one with his death on the Cross. On Palm Sunday, Jesus climbed up Mount Zion; in his passion, he climbed Mount Calvary. On Palm Sunday, Jesus was carried into Jerusalem; in his passion, he walked carrying his cross. On Palm Sunday, a crowd lined the streets to praise our Lord; a crowd lined the way of the cross too. On Palm Sunday, the crowd took off their cloaks and laid them on the road to honor Jesus; before the cross, Jesus was stripped of his cloak. On Palm Sunday, everyone praised Jesus, calling out “Hosanna!” In his passion, Jesus was insulted, mocked, and laughed at.

Palm Sunday is the key to understanding the Passion, and the Passion is the key to understanding Palm Sunday. We stand with palms in our hands because we want to worship God and give him the honor that is his due. We also stand as sinners. We are the reason that Jesus died on the cross. We praise God and ask forgiveness. On the one hand, we imagine that we are already up in heaven praising Jesus. On the other hand, we allow the demons to pull us down to Hell. Are we part of the crowd praising Jesus or are we part of the crowd demanding that he be crucified? Both. Let us not imagine that we are so good that we would never have gone along with his death. Every time we commit sin, we stand with the crowd yelling, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Indeed, his blood is on us, and that blood saves us.

April 11, 2011 - Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Today's Readings

The two stories today are similar because they are both fascinating stories. They are similar because both cases deal with the problem of a woman caught in adultery. They are dissimilar though because Susanna is innocent and the woman in the Gospel is guilty. They are dissimilar because, while Daniel was able to save the life of an innocent woman, Jesus saved the life of a guilty one.

How clever Daniel was we can see, because a mastic tree and an oak tree are pretty different, as different as a pine is from an oak. The cleverness of Jesus requires a little more background. The Romans did not allow the Jews to stone anyone caught in adultery, but the Mosaic Law said that that was the right thing to do. So the Pharisees are making Jesus choose between being faithful to the Law and demanding the woman be stoned and obeying the Roman law. If Jesus had been for stoning the woman, the Pharisees would have denounced him to Pilate. There would not have been all the hand-wringing that we saw at the actual trial; Pilate would have quickly ordered the death of anyone who went around stoning people. If Jesus had been against stoning the woman, the Pharisees would have been able to say, “See, even you break God’s Law when it is convenient to do so.” Jesus answer is so clever because he tells the Pharisees to stone the woman, but if they reported it to Pilate he would have laughed at them for being outwitted.

Yet, unlike the “render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar”, we should not be satisfied with this cleverness. The Law of Moses said that every member of the community had to participate in stoning. Even if we agree with Jesus we might want to ask him whether this means that the Old Testament is wrong sometimes. No. It was not wrong; it was only insufficient. Jesus is God. He will never take away the smallest part of the Law, but when the appropriate time comes, he will add a new law. We see Jesus writing down the 11th commandment today. We see him writing it into the very earth as he did with the first 10 commandments. “The first stone shall be cast by the one without sin.” Without taking away any law, and merely adding one slight adaptation to the law, Jesus changed the right interpretation of the Law forever.

April 10, 2011 - Fifth Sunday of Lent

Today's Readings

The Gospel today is like a news story. There are so many little details that are mentioned. If the whole Gospel were like this, it would be hundreds of pages long. As St. John says at the end, if everything that Jesus did was written down, there would not be enough books in the world to contain it all. We can be thankful for the details that we are given today though.

We do not know Lazarus all that well, but we do know Mary and Martha from at least three other stories. Mary washed Jesus feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. She was also the woman who broke open a jar of perfume worth $15,000 and poured it all out on to Jesus. Martha was the one who was so busy with serving Jesus when he came to visit that she asked Jesus to tell Mary to get up and help her. It is also possible that Mary is Mary Magdalene, in which case we know other stories as well.

So going into this story we know that Mary was a serious sinner, probably a prostitute or mistress to a Roman politician from the way that the Pharisees acted. But she had repented. She loved Jesus and would do anything for him. She loved to sit at his feet and listen to him teach. Martha also loved Jesus. She showed it by serving him when he came to visit.

Lazarus, their brother, is ill. They send a message to Jesus, “Master, the one you love is ill.” Of course, Jesus loves everyone. What a wise prayer this is. When we are praying for someone, it is good to remember that, no matter how much we love them, God loves them more. When we pray for someone we should say to God, “Lord, the one you love needs something.”

Jesus loves Mary and Martha and Lazarus, and he stays for two days in the place where he was. The disciples seem to think that Jesus was afraid to go to heal Lazarus because he lived so close to Jerusalem and the Jews, the people who lived in Jerusalem, were trying to kill him. We know that Jesus was not afraid. No one could hurt him unless he allowed it. We also know that Jesus could have healed Lazarus from where he was. One word and the healing would have started. Instead, Jesus lets Lazarus die. He loved him, and he let him die. When God lets someone we love die, he is letting someone he loves die. We do not understand. We can only trust that God knows what he is doing; he knows how to run the universe better than we do.

When Jesus arrives in Bethany, Martha comes out to meet him and Mary stays home. Was this because Mary was mad at Jesus? It could be. She heard Jesus was coming, but it was too late, Lazarus had died. Here Martha shows that even when she was busy getting dinner on the table, she was listening to Jesus. She shows that she understands Jesus better than Mary. Even though both sisters say “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”, only Martha says, “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”

The next words are kind of humorous. Jesus tells Martha, “Your brother will rise.” It sounds like the sort of thing people say at funerals all the time. When we see someone who is mourning, we do not know what to say. We are helpless to help, so we have certain catchphrases: “I’m sorry for your loss.” “He was a good man” “Well, he is in heaven now.” Martha seems to think that Jesus is just saying something polite, so she accepts his condolences: “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus reminds her, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Here Jesus is saying one of those things that proves he was not just a nice teacher. “I am the resurrection and the life” is not something someone slips casually into conversation.

In this story we see how Jesus is both human and divine. Only God could say something like, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Only God could raise Lazarus from the dead. On the other hand, Jesus weeps. We do not know why Jesus weeps. Did he simply feel the sadness of death even though he knew that Lazarus would soon be walking around again? Perhaps he was just participating in sympathy with Martha and Mary. He wept because he saw them weeping and, even though he knew that they would soon be overjoyed, he wept with them.

Perhaps it was because of Mary’s anger toward him. She did not come right away and, when she did come, she did not demonstrate the faith of her sister. He wept because she who had been so completely converted felt betrayed by him. Mary had probably spent the last four days thinking of all the people Jesus healed, and he could not even come and heal her brother. When she saw him weeping, surely any anger she had went away.

Jesus goes to the tomb and orders the stone to be rolled away. Here we see that Martha still did not expect him to do anything for Lazarus. She seems to think that Jesus merely wants to see the body: “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” This image of her being concerned about practical things fits so well with the other story we have about her serving Jesus. Yet this practical side makes her faith so much more astonishing. She did not just say what she said because she thought that Jesus would raise her brother from the dead. This seems to not have even entered her mind. Her faith is completely present even in great sorrow.

While Jesus stands before the tomb, he prefaces his words to Lazarus with a prayer. We do not often get to hear Jesus pray, but his words here help explain that. When Jesus tells the lame man to get up and walk or heals the blind man or cures the mute man, a world of prayer lies behind the statement. Here he makes explicit what is always implicit: Jesus did not perform his healings by any power except the power of God. He lived a life totally in union with the Father and the Holy Spirit. St. Paul also raised someone from the dead. Many people have been raised from the dead since Lazarus’s time.

Raising someone from the dead is not just something that Jesus could do because he was God. It is something that God can do whenever he wants, and he will do it through us. There are dead people out there whom God wants us to raise. I mean this literally and figuratively, the physically dead and the spiritually dead. If we knew the will of God and knew that he hears us when we pray, we could raise the dead just like Jesus.

April 4, 2011 - Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Today's Readings

Jesus leaves Samaria for Galilee, “for Jesus himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his native place.” From this line alone, we would almost think that Samaria was Jesus’ native place, but it was not. Galilee was his native place. Jesus goes today to seek a place where he was “without honor.”

The Samaritans had come to believe because of the testimony of the woman at the well and because of what they themselves saw. Indeed, Jesus’ ministry to the Samaritans goes perfectly. He comes, preaches a little bit, converts a sinner, and the whole town came to believe in him over the course of two days. Jesus says elsewhere that if he had gone to any of the pagan cities, the results would have been the same. Samaritans and Pagans heard Jesus and honored him.

Nevertheless, Jesus returns to his native place and his own people so that he will not be honored. Jesus did not come to earth in order to be honored or to be successful in human terms, but to suffer and to die. If Jesus had gone away to Athens or Rome, he would have been greatly honored; he would have been very successful. Instead, he chose to stay with his own people, who would reject him.

When he returns to Galilee, we see a familiar image: a parent persistent in prayer. The royal official sought out Jesus and asked him to come heal his son, who was about to die. Jesus’ response is very harsh. The official simply asks again, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” We do not know if there was something wrong with how he asked the first time, since he is not quoted. He seems to have asked the same way twice.

He does fulfill Jesus words though: it is not until he sees the sign that he converts. Jesus worked no miracles in Samaria, that we are told of, except the miracle of telling a woman about her 5½ husbands, yet the town converted. In Galilee, the people will not believe unless they see signs and wonders. It is not that Jesus did not want to heal the child (he came to give sight to the blind, make the lame walk, and the mute speak), but the honor ought to come first. We should believe in Jesus and, then, expect great things, not insist he do great things if he expects us to believe in him.   

April 3, 2011 - Fourth Sunday of Lent

Today's Readings

Today is Laetare Sunday, which means “Rejoice Sunday”. Today is the first day of the fourth week of Lent. So, three weeks done is 21 days, and there are 19 days left until the Easter Triduum. We are halfway through! I hope these days of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving have been fruitful. Do not stop or slow down. When a runner reaches the halfway point of a race, they rejoice, but they keep running. So we too should rejoice but keep running this race.

Another reason to rejoice today is because we see the work God is doing in our lives. If we have truly committed ourselves this Lent to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we should be starting to see the fruit of our labors, that the free gift of grace is able to do more. These forty days provide an opportunity for God, and he is always going to take advantage of an opportunity to save us. We are trying to listen to him. We are trying to love ourselves less and our neighbors more. We are trying to be perfect, and he, who wants us to be perfect, is using this effort to effect real change in our souls.

As we see this change, we rejoice. As we see the progress we have made toward God, we also see how much further we could go, if we would go. For every foot we actually progress, we see another mile of possibility, and we rejoice both in the progress and the possibility. A person who is very far from being a Saint thinks that they are rather close. As they take steps forward, perfection always seems further away. This is not because the progress was unreal, but because their vision has improved.

The Saints are always intimately aware of their imperfection. It seems humorous to us when someone like St. Paul or St. Francis laments their sinfulness. We think that it is a show of humility, like the great people of this world who say “Aww, it was nothing” so that you can tell them that it was really something. Not at all! It is a question of vision. If we could see ourselves as the Saints see themselves, it would be unbearable.

It is like someone who cleans a window and only then realizes how dirty the whole room is. It is like someone who walks outside after working all day in a room with fluorescent lights and only then realizes how dark the room was in comparison to the sun. It is like someone who, while doing their taxes, corrects one mistake and only then realizes that they have done the rest of the form wrong. It is like someone who cleans up a small spill on a grey couch and only then realizes that the couch is actually white.  It is like someone who turns off the television, seeking silence, and only then realizes that the radio is on.

“Everything exposed by the light becomes visible.” We have dark places in our souls, but, once we let the light of Christ in, those places become visible.  This light in our souls “produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.” If we want the light of Christ to shine on us, we should “try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” Then, we should not do what is not pleasing to the Lord; we should “not take part in the fruitless works of darkness.”

In the second reading, St. Paul is using an analogy which is accurate from a physics standpoint. He is saying that we can learn something about God if we consider how light works. When we see something, we actually are seeing light, “for everything that is visible is light.” Light is the only thing we can see. Light comes from the sun, hits something, and bounces into our eye. White things are good at reflecting light. Black things do not reflect light. If something were absolutely black, it would not reflect any light at all. We would not be able to see it.

So if something is visible, it is because the light that comes from the sun is reflected back. If something is spiritually visible, the light that comes from God is reflected back. If we look at something perfectly white on a sunny day, we see the sun, since the rays of sunlight which come from the sun are being perfectly reflected into the world. So too, if we look at a soul that is perfectly visible, we see God, since the rays of grace which come from God are being perfectly reflected back into the world. Imagine if every soul here were absolutely pure white. The love would be blinding.

That is a strange phrase, when we say that a light is blinding. We mean that our eyes are too weak for the light. When we are in darkness, the light hurts our eyes. As we move into the light, our eyes adjust. All of us have been born blind because of original sin. The light that comes from God, which is truth, hurts our eyes. We turn away from it. The question becomes whether we will slowly open our eyes to the truth, accept the pain, and let our whole worldview adjust, or keep our eyes shut and covered, afraid of the light.

Surely the man born blind, when Jesus gave him vision, blinked and squinted as he saw light for the first time. Jesus healed him, but he chose to see. He opened his eyes. As the Gospel progresses, we see him opening his eyes spiritually also, until “he said, ‘I do believe, Lord,’ and he worshiped Jesus.” The Pharisees, meanwhile, refused to see. They refused to adjust their vision to the truth of Jesus Christ, so they stood with their eyes closed and covered.

Jesus says, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” It seems strange to us that there would be a judgment against those who see. Jesus clarifies that the problem is when the Pharisees say that they see. They think their vision is perfect. They think that they can see everything. They say, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?”, but we are blind. We do not yet have the vision God intends for us. We should not think that everything we see is everything there is. As the light of Christ makes our soul more visible, we will see more and more, until we are pure light.