May 30, 2011 - Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter (Memorial Day)

Today's Readings

“The hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God.” Jesus is saying this referring to the persecution of the early Jewish Christians by those Jews who did not become Christian, but this is a problem we are facing again now. Clearly many of the terrorists think that when they are killing people, whether innocent civilians or American soldiers, that they are offering worship to God.

I heard on the radio about a week ago of a recent attack in Afghanistan. A suicide bomber attacked the cafeteria of a hospital. He killed 6 Afghan medical students and injured dozens more. I found this attack to be particularly frustrating in its complete pointlessness and stupidity. As a modern American, I try to understand their point of view, but I fail. This attack was not merely wrong or mistaken, it was evil: it was inspired by Satan.

I do understand that they are not killing us only because we are Christian, that there are complex issues at play, consequences of years of greed, but I have not forgotten how, before September 11th, when they still ruled Afghanistan, they killed Christians in a stadium for preaching the Gospel. I understand that there are Muslims, many Muslims, who have no sympathies for the Taliban cause at all. So, without labeling it, I speak only of the religion of the terrorists, who think that they are worshipping God by killing people.

We see a reflection of the spiritual battle between good and evil. Just as Jesus told us, the spiritual battle will have life and death consequences in the material world. I am not saying that this war or any war is the will of God. I am saying that there are some things worth fighting in this world. Those who fight evil with peaceful means deserve to be commended, but so too do we owe respect to those who fight with necessary force against evil, putting their own lives in danger so that evil is less able to cause suffering.

Today we remember all those who have died while fighting evil. The circumstances of each individual’s death do not matter today. We can blame various political leaders if they deserve it. The soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and guardians were ready to fight and die for the battle against evil. For their own sake it matters only that they acted with honor, obeying their conscience at all times. For our part, we do not stand as anyone’s judge, but honor all those who have died fighting the enemies of our country.

May 29, 2011 - Sixth Sunday of Easter

We sang in the psalm today, “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.” We do cry out with joy. Joy, along with love and faith, is one of the principle marks of a Christian. They will know we are Christians by our love and our faith and our joy. What is this joy? It is above all hope. So St. Paul says that faith, hope, and love are what will remain in the end, but we can freely substitute joy in this group: faith, joy, and love.

If we keep hope and joy together in our minds, we will be clearer about the correct definition of each. Joy is not happiness. It is more like the desire to be happy. When we consider it as the expectation of happiness, we call it hope. When we consider it simply as the desire for happiness, we call it joy. Consider a man in prison. He remembers that there is a better world outside of the prison. Perhaps he hopes to get out someday, but, on a more basic level, even the desire to get out, without definite hope, makes his life in the prison more endurable.

So it is with us Christians. We live in this world, and we are not satisfied. If this world is all there is, why not be nihilistic or hedonistic? Pleasure is not the greatest good in this world, but it is the most immediate good. Why bother building castles in the sky to see them crumble in random tragedies? Anyone who is going to live a life greater than the animals needs some kind of joy. We can tell what a person’s joy is, we can tell what hope is in them, by their actions. What are they willing to give up; in exchange for what? Every person (who is not just floating from pleasure to pleasure doing the minimal amount of work required to achieve the next high) has joy in something.

The joy of some people is the American Dream: marry, have children, buy a nice house. They are willing to deny themselves many things, even suffer, in order to achieve this hope. While they are working too many hours for insufficient pay, it is this joy that energizes them, keeps them going. Other people, especially today, find their joy in science fiction. They have an idea that the world could be a better place, could be, in short, something more like Star Trek, so they work in science or politics to do their small part toward the perfect world they call “the future”. The joy of world peace and perfect technology motivates them to continue getting signatures on petitions or to fight through the drudgery of real scientific work.

We Christians ought not have our joy in anything except the salvation of Jesus Christ. We do many of the same things as other people, but we do them differently because our joy is different. A Christian marries and has children, but their joy, their hope, their reason for existence, is not their spouse or children. It is Jesus Christ. A Christian scientist studies the world and discovers new technologies, and a Christian politician works for world peace and justice, but their joy, their hope, their reason for existence, is not some future ideal world which may never come. It is Jesus Christ.

When we put our joy in Jesus Christ, we act differently. We are not willing to study any medical advance without asking whether it is ethical. We are not willing, for instance, to use the bodies of murdered children in scientific experiments, regardless of whether people claim that embryonic stem cells will be the most magical medicine ever. We Christians act differently. We are not willing to use birth control, sterilizations, abortions, in vitro fertilizations, or other immoral techniques to achieve what we imagine is the perfect family. We Christians act differently.

They will know we are Christians by our joy. In the first reading today, Philip converts the Samaritans. Just to clarify, Samaritan is a nationality, like Italian, so there are good Samaritans but there are also bad Samaritans. Some people think that Samaritan means a good person because of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Actually, part of the point of the parable is that the people Jesus was speaking to did not expect that a Samaritan would be good. The relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans back then was a lot like the relationship now between the Jews and the Palestinians today.

So, when Philip the Deacon preaches the Gospel to the Samaritans and baptizes them, and then the Apostles Peter and John come and confirm them, we should expect that there would be problems. Most of the Christians are Jewish. There had not been all-out war between the Jews and the Samaritans for years, but there was always fighting going on. When the Jewish Christians accept these new Christians with open arms, something strange is happening, something which demands an explanation. These people were enemies. The only explanation is that they now share the same joy in Jesus Christ, and political differences do not matter anymore.

In the second reading, St. Peter tells us that our joy should be so evident that anyone who accuses us will look foolish. If we are going to suffer for Jesus Christ, it is important that people know why we are suffering. When persecutions come, if there is a good reason to put us in jail, people will not wonder. If there is a good reason to execute us, people will not wonder. If there is a good reason to take our property, people will not wonder. The only way we are going to make people wonder is if these things happen to us and the only explanation possible is that the world hates Jesus Christ.

In the Gospel, Jesus says that if we love him, we will keep his commandments. Commandments are inconveniences. They often tell us to do something we do not want to do or vice-versa. The only way we are going to keep his commandments in this world, with influences pulling us in every direction, is if our joy pulls us toward Jesus Christ. Joy is desire. Our desire for Jesus should pulls us toward him, overruling whatever tries to keep us away.  

With our hope and joy firmly placed in Jesus Christ, we can love our enemies, we can be so good that our persecutors will have no reason to make us suffer except our love for Jesus Christ, and we can keep the commandments of Jesus Christ. In short, if our joy is in Jesus Christ, our lives will be so different from the rest of the world that we will stand out like blackberries in whipped cream, making people wonder about the difference. Is your life, the way you are living it right now, making people wonder?  

May 22, 2011 - Fifth Sunday of Easter

The first reading is particularly meaningful to us deacons because it relates to the foundation of our ministry. The apostles realize that they need assistants, servants, to help them with the enormous task in front of them. When Jesus walked on earth, he had the twelve apostles to assist him, so now when the apostles are in charge, they need servants too. So they choose seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and Wisdom. These men were called servants, which in the Greek language is “Diaconos.”

These deacons were not ordinary servants, as is clear from the reading. The Apostles prayed and laid hand on them. This is a sign of handing over some of the power and authority that they received from Jesus. So it is now today that we repeat this same process. Our bishop is a successor of the Apostles, but he cannot serve our entire diocese alone, so, like the apostles, he has laid hands on certain men who have been chosen, sharing the power and authority that he received when he became a bishop. So it was four years ago that the bishop laid his hands on my head, and I became a deacon, a servant.

A deacon serves the people of God in many ways. We can look back to the Acts of the Apostles to see how a deacon should serve. First of all, he should be a reputable man. If a deacon sins, it is his own sin, but it reflects badly on the Church. A deacon then must avoid sin on account of his own reputation and on account of the Church’s reputation. More than merely avoiding scandal, a deacon should represent the Church he serves well. He must be filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom. He must be an example to the whole community of what each member of the community should be.

This is a high calling, and surely many deacons have fallen short. We look to some of the great deacons in the history of the Church for an example of how a sinful man can fulfill this high calling. First of all, we consider Stephen, the first deacon named of these first seven deacons. We see how he was unafraid to preach the Gospel, even when it meant that his death. He was the first martyr. As he was being killed, he forgave those who were throwing stones at him. We see the second deacon named here, Philip, who was a great preacher. He is seen throughout the Acts of the Apostles, following the guidance of the Holy Spirit. There are other deacons who have done remarkable things, like Ephrem and Lawrence and Francis. 

The continuing importance of deacons in our present day is clear. We have only to consider the problem that occasioned the original foundation. There was a charity program in the early Christian community, where widows were provided food each day. Some of the Christians were natives of Jerusalem and spoke Aramaic. Other Christians were immigrants and spoke Greek. The immigrants were complaining that their widows were not receiving the food that they should have gotten. The job of the deacons was to make sure that justice was being done.

Today, in our own churches in America, we experience the same problem as the early Christians did. Even though we are all Christians, we are still divided between those who are immigrants and those who are natives, we are still divided above all because of language. The solution of the early Christians can still be a solution today. If we look at the names of the first seven deacons, we see that they were probably chosen from the immigrants who were complaining about injustice.

We need more deacons today, both Deacons, in terms of the ministry, and servants in general. If you see injustice in the Church, the first question must be, “What am I doing to correct it myself?” If some Christians are not being served as they should be, have you considered becoming their servant? It is easy to complain that other people are not doing something correctly, but who will listen if you are not doing anything at all? The best way each of us can reform the Church is to be reformed ourselves, by the Holy Spirit, and then be part of the Church.     

When St. Francis wanted to reform the Church, he did not go to conferences or protest in the streets. He became a deacon and began serving the poor in the way that he knew they should be served. This kind of work is not as satisfying in the short term. It might be more fun to march in the streets, but it is more practical if you yourself become the change you want to see in the world. When the poor or immigrants are ignored by the government, take care of them. Sometimes we need to march in the street, sometimes there is an unjust law that has got to be changed, but we should not be fooled into believing that the best work is done by changing the government.

What we need to learn to do is waste our lives serving others. You and I have been given a certain number of years on this earth. We do not know how many we have left, but we know that it will probably not be as many as we expect. We stand, holding our lives in our own hands, each year like a coin. What will we spend these coins on?  How will we spend our lives? We can hold onto them so tightly; we can spend our lives trying to be as happy as possible with the things of this world, or we can spend our lives serving others; we can waste our lives serving others. If this earth were our entire life, it would be foolish to waste it, but if heaven exists, if we have riches of infinite years ahead of us, we can afford to waste these hundred or so years.   

Earth is earth and not heaven. It cannot satisfy our desires. Our desire for happiness is so strong, because our happiness someday will be equal to our desire. It is possible to be happy here on earth, so long as our lives are oriented completely toward heaven. Every one of us is a rich person. Each of us has a treasure in heaven that makes whatever we hold onto here on earth seem like Monopoly money. If we remember this, we will not be afraid to spend these coins, to spend our lives, doing nothing more than serving others.

May 19, 2011 - Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Today's Readings

Much of the Gospel according to John contains long speeches by Jesus full of sayings that are difficult to understand. It is very possible to read a section of the Gospel like the one we have today and just hear it as a jumble of words. We have to stop and consider what each word means, what each sentence means. There is practical wisdom here; we should not pass it by.

Consider only one sentence from the reading today: “If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.” Part of the problem is the translation. The literal translation of Jesus’ words as John wrote them down is: “If you know this, you would be happy if you do it.”

What is “this” that we might know? Does “it” and “this” refer to the same antecedent? The original grammar of the sentence implies that it does, but the context does not. Jesus has just told the disciples that no slave is greater than their master. Then he says, “If you know this, you would be happy if you do it.” Our inclination is to believe that “this” is the preceding idea, but that is an analysis of a situation, not an action, not something we can do.

The antecedent of “it” must be the washing of feet. If we fill in the antecedents then we get: “If you know that no slave is greater than their master, you would be happy if you wash one another’s feet.” If we take foot washing to be an analogy for all service, and we consider that we are the slave and Jesus is the master, we can further interpret the sentence as: “If I know that I am not greater than Jesus, I will be happy if I serve others”, which logically leads to the contrapositive, “If I am not happy when I serve others, I do not know that I am not greater than Jesus.”

This all sounds complex, but who said that understanding the Word of God must be easy? I show the complexity because I do not want anyone to think that I am just making things up when I say that Jesus is giving us some incredibly practical advice today, specifically, if serving others does not always make you happy, then consider this: do you know that you are not greater than Jesus? Do not just say, “Of course I know that.” Consider it.  Do you know, with every fiber of your being, that you are not more important than God? When you know this, you will be happy to serve others. 

May 15, 2011 - Fourth Sunday of Easter

Today, the fourth Sunday of Easter is commonly called Good Shepherd Sunday, since every year on this day, the readings are about shepherds. This analogy of sheep and shepherds can be somewhat difficult since, unlike the first to hear the message, shepherds are not so common around here. We are often left with cartoon images of sheep and sayings about sheep.

A sheep is not a very complementary name to be called in our culture. It has certain connotations about mindlessly following the crowd. If someone suggests that you are a sheep they are saying that you are not making your own path in life, but obeying the demands of culture or religion.

Now, I have never worked with sheep. It is in fact not very often that I have seen a sheep. However, this popular image of sheep as mindlessly following the crowd seems to me to be incorrect. Most of the parables in scripture about sheep are concerned with the wandering sheep. The sheep who goes off into the wilderness. As Isaiah said, “We, like sheep, have gone astray.”

It seems then that the scriptural image of sheep is the exact opposite of the popular cultural image of sheep. The do not mindlessly follow the crowd, but, rather, are constantly wandering off into danger. I do not know if sheep have changed so radically in the past 2000 years or if the saying is merely the result of our complete unfamiliarity with sheep.

The job of a shepherd is, or at least was 2000 years ago, primarily to keep the sheep, who do not want to stay in the flock, together. There is a certain mixture of carefully nudging and actually picking up and carrying that seems to be required.

Then John tells us that “although Jesus used this figure of speech, the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them.” At this point we might be sitting very smug. We know what the metaphor is all about. We know that we are the sheep and Jesus is the shepherd; we follow Jesus because we recognize his voice. Those Pharisees seem kind of stupid if they cannot get that.

Then Jesus explains the metaphor, and we are put in our place. He says, “I am the the gate for the sheep.” This is unexpected, because we might think that he is the shepherd. In fact, in other places he says, “I am the good shepherd.” However, here he is the gate. Who are the shepherds then? We knows this, since Shepherd is an important title in the Church. The language of the Church, of course, is Latin. The Latin word for shepherd is “pastor”. Pastor.

Every individual parish has a pastor, a shepherd. The pastor here is ________. He is, to use English, the shepherd of ____________. The associate pastor, the assistant shepherd, is ___________. Pastor is a title reserved to priests. Every pastor is priest or bishop, although not every priest is necessarily a pastor or associate pastor. Our pastors are men, like any of us, with faults, but Jesus has chosen them to be the shepherds of his sheep.

We see, in the readings today, how Jesus uses ordinary men to be shepherds. The first reading describes how Peter shepherded the people. He proclaimed to them that they had gone astray and when they asked what they should do he told them how to get back on the right path. In the second reading, a letter written by Peter to the whole Church many years later, he continues shepherding the people, instructing them on the right path and proclaiming the truth of the Gospel.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells us how a man becomes a shepherd. He is not like a thief and robber who climbs over the fence on his own initiative: a shepherd enters through the gate, opened for him by the gatekeeper. Remember, Jesus says that he is the gate. No individual person can simply declare themself to be a pastor on their own authority. They must enter through Jesus. They must be approved. The gatekeeper, which is to say the bishop, chooses who can enter through the gate, and only those who have entered through the gate are true shepherds. Everyone else, if they pretend to be shepherds, are just thieves.

Once a man enters through the gate, he has to be a good shepherd. A shepherd is not a hired hand. The shepherd claims the sheep as his very own. He does not come simply to make a living. He will not abandon the sheep if the job becomes too difficult or too dangerous. He cares for the sheep. He certainly does not use the sheep for his own affirmation or personal pride or gain or deny the sheep the food which is the Word of God. This was the accusation leveled against the shepherds of Israel in the Old Testament. It is an accusation which, unfortunately, we are not entirely unfamiliar with. For as many good pastors as there are, there are also pastors who do not care for the sheep but rather care for themselves.

The readings today are also instructive for us sheep. They tell us how to recognize a good shepherd. First of all, we should only accept those who entered through the gate, those whom our bishop has appointed as shepherd. Second, the sheep hear the voice of the true shepherd and follow him. It cannot be of course that we, the sheep, will recognize the voice of every shepherd. Indeed, it is not the tones of the voice that we recognize, but the words spoken. We recognize the true Gospel which comes from the true shepherd. If anyone, even a legitimate pastor, ever comes to us and preaches to us a different Gospel, we should not follow them.

This does not mean that we should judgmental and critical of every word the pastor speaks, never letting him teach us something new about Jesus. But we sheep do have an important role we should use sparingly: if we ever do not recognize the voice of our pastor, if we hear things contrary to what we know Jesus said, we ought to dig in our heels and refuse to be led off a cliff.

When we see a pastor, we ought to see two men. One, like us, is really just a sheep with his own faults and his own sins. The other, unlike us, stands in the place of Jesus Christ, the good shepherd. We should never let these two be conflated. We ought never begin to think that our pastor is just a man, with opinions like anyone else, nor should we think that he is perfect and that everything he does must be right. Faithful Catholics in the past 100 years have made both mistakes to their own great harm. If we see our pastor sin, we should not be surprised, since we too sin. He is a man, a sinner like us, called to a ministry higher than that of the angels, so he deserves more respect and obedience from us than we would give to an angel.

May 11, 2011 - Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter

Today's Readings

The words of Jesus today contain many mysteries. Each line alone would suffice for hours of contemplation. For instance, Jesus tells us that he did not come to do his own will but the will of the one who sent him. What does it mean for Jesus to do the Father’s will rather than his own? It is first necessary to consider that Jesus has two wills: he has his human will which comes from his human nature, and he has a divine will which comes from his divine nature. He is one person with two natures, therefore he is one person with two wills.

At first thought, we might believe that Jesus is saying that he obeys the Father when his human will disagrees with the Father’s divine will. We saw this in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus, in his human will, did not want to suffer and die but still chose to do the Father’s will. This is the easier interpretation of Jesus’ words today. We understand this because we too are human, and we know the conflict between our will and what is right. Jesus is like us, but he always chose to do what is right.

What about the divine will of Jesus though? The divine will of the Son of God is in perfect union with the will of the Father. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three persons, but they are perfectly united as one God. The Son does not want something that the Father does not want. The Holy Spirit does not have his own plans. Yet Jesus still speaks of sending the Holy Spirit. He also, in another place, says that the Father will send the Holy Spirit. He often tells us, as he does today, that he was sent by the Father. To be sent somewhere by someone implies obedience to the will of another: being sent means being sent by someone and being sent by someone means obeying.

So even within the Trinity, a mystery that our minds cannot penetrate, there is obedience. Obedience is central to God and therefore to the universe. The Son would rather be sent than go on his own, even though he would have gone on his own anyway. We should learn from Jesus to obey not only when we disagree but also when we agree. Obedience is not a necessary evil. Happiness is found living every minute under obedience.    

May 8, 2011 - Third Sunday of Easter

Today's Readings

Easter was two weeks ago now, but we will continue celebrating the Resurrection for the next 5 weeks, until Pentecost. The story of the two disciples who were leaving Jerusalem is an image for us of our Easter journey. The two had heard about Jesus, but they had not seen him. They had been told that he is risen from the dead but doubt remains in their minds. They would like to believe, but it seems too good to be true.

Now the stranger has joined them. They do not know it, but Jesus is walking with them, just like Jesus is present with us now, although we do not see him. They hear the words of the Scriptures, and they are taught how the prophecies relate to Jesus Christ. How wonderful it would be if we could have Jesus preach to us now. He is the author of the ancient prophecies and the fulfillment of them. He is wisdom and truth itself. Instead, we only have me, yet if the Holy Spirit fills me with the gifts of wisdom and understanding, I too will be able to preach the Word of God effectively.

They reach Emmaus and plan to stop for the night. They are unaware that they are walking with the Light of the World. Why would sunset prevent them from continuing on their way? Darkness is no longer an impediment. Yet they still stop and beg Jesus to stop with them, even though he would have gone on further. So too we stop along the way. Our lives ought to be a continuous journey toward heaven. We ought to be making progress in holiness every minute of our lives, but we often stop. We stop because we are tired and we do not realize that Jesus is the true rest. We stop because we cannot see the way any longer and we do not realize that Jesus is the way.

If we stop and take our rest, we should urge Jesus to stay with us and he will. This is to say that we should not imagine that Jesus is with us only when we are here, journeying to heaven. He is also with us when we rest. He is on the couch next to you as you watch TV. He is sitting next to me in the theater when I see a film. Do not watch anything that Jesus would not want to watch. If we insist that we need rest and entertainment, we should at least not undo all of our progress.

The disciples sit down to eat with Jesus. He takes bread, says the blessing, breaks it, and gives it to them. Suddenly they see Jesus. How fitting that Jesus would be revealed in the breaking of bread, as he is today at Mass. The disciples wonder that they did not know it was Jesus before. They exclaim, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” They realize that they should have known Jesus by the effect he had on them. Though they could not see him with their eyes, they should have seen him with their hearts. So too we do not see Jesus with our eyes today. We see bread and wine. But our hearts should know that it is him.

Immediately they leave Emmaus for Jerusalem. When evening was near, they decided to stop for the night in Emmaus. They were afraid of highway robbery. It was not safe to be walking outside after dark, particularly not in an age without flashlights or streetlights. When they recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread, they get up and go back to Jerusalem. They are no longer afraid. They do not wait until morning. They just go.

"Perfect love casts out all fear." "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." When we know that we are loved, we are not afraid anymore. This lack of fear is different from drunkenness or stupidity; in such cases a person is too blind to see the danger. The kind of fearlessness we Christians experience is very different. We see the danger but we are not afraid because our God is greater than the danger.

This fearlessness is the true mark of Christians, from Peter who was not afraid of preaching about a man who had been executed, to St. Agnes, a twelve-year-old girl who was not afraid to die for her commitment to Jesus Christ, to countless other martyrs and saints who have suffered for the faith. To be willing to die for what you believe in is not impressive. All kinds of people die for what they believe in: some are good; some are bad; some are just crazy. Martyrs are different. Martyrs are witnesses. They are not afraid, for they have been loved. There is an enormous difference between a person who dies out of stupidity or hatred or insanity and a martyr who dies joyfully because of a love that is greater than any suffering, who dies because no earthly suffering can take away the joy that God gives.

Our response to the Easter journey we are making at Mass today should be as fearless as the response of the two disciples who ran from Emmaus to Jerusalem in the middle of the night. Perhaps it would be easier to be fearless if Jesus would reveal himself to us as he did to those two disciples. Yet Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe.” Someday we will see him face to face, but today Jesus continues to remain hidden from us.

Meanwhile, we are on a journey. If we want to see Jesus with the eyes of our hearts, we have to keep moving forward. We have to cast aside the toys we are accustomed to play with in this life. We have to conduct ourselves with reverence during our time on this journey. The price has been paid to free us from our sins. This price was not paid with something useless like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. We should not whine like toddlers at the prospect of losing our amusements. The time has come to take life seriously, to seriously rejoice in Jesus Christ and his Resurrection and to forget all the cheap substitutes we have been using in place of real joy.

May 7, 2011 - Saturday of the Second Week of Easter

Today's Readings

Jesus says in the gospel today “It is I. Do not be afraid.” This is a logical translation of the text, but it is not the most literal translation. Jesus actually says, “I am. Do not be afraid.” Jesus says this phrase, “I am”, 24 times in the Gospel according to John alone. It is an important phrase. Sometimes he is telling us something about himself. He says, “I am the bread of life.” “I am the light of the world.” “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” From these sentences we learn who Jesus is.

In other sentences, like the one today, he just says, “I am” without any predicate. When he says this, he is echoing what he said to Moses from the burning bush, “I am who am.” This was considered by the Jews to be the name of God. By it, God is saying that his existence is the central fact about him. This sentence flips our perspective on the universe upside down. We think that our existence is the central fact of the universe. Then we contemplate whether God exists. In reality, our existence could have gone either way, the earth, the sun, the moon, the planets, all the stars, the universe itself, were all possibilities at one point. God was never a possibility. He is the rock-solid foundation on which existence rests. Wondering whether God exists is like wondering whether water is wet. Certainty of his existence only seems elusive to us with our inferior intellect. Just because we have trouble being certain of the fact does not mean that it is not the most certain fact ever.

When Jesus today sees the apostles, they are afraid. He reminds them of this most important fact: “I am.” Jesus exists. We do not need to be afraid. We ought to walk through this world with an unshakable confidence. Jesus is. A haunted house at a carnival can seem scary with the lights off, but when they are turned on, there is nothing to be frightened of. This world might seem scary, but when the light of the world has entered into it, we should open our eyes and laugh at our fears. In this world we will have troubles, but do not be afraid: Jesus exists and he has conquered the world.    

May 6, 2011 - Friday of the Second Week of Easter

Today's Readings

Osama Bin Laden is not like St. Peter. We see in the Acts of the Apostles today the difference between St. Peter and Osama Bin Laden. St. Peter is a martyr; Bin Laden is not. People often say that a martyr is someone who dies for what they believe in, but a martyr is so much more. All kinds of people die for what they believe in: some are good; some are bad; some are just crazy. If Peter and the apostles had merely suffered and died for what they believed in, they would be unimportant additions to a numerous group, but we see in the apostles something different: joy.

The apostles were flogged. Their response is not weeping or anger. They do not respond with self-righteous pride. Their response is joy: “rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.” A martyr is not a merely stubborn person. A martyr is not someone who can put up with a lot of pain. There are such people in the world, but we do not believe whatever stubborn people happen to believe. We might be impressed by such a person. We might admire such a person. We might even name a day after such a person or make a movie about them, but we will not believe. We want to believe in the truth. Martyrdom is meaningless if it does not reveal the truth. The miracle of martyrdom is not found in a person who willingly dies but in how such a person dies.  It was not that the apostles suffered but how they suffered that revealed the truth. They suffered rejoicing.

Only one fact could explain their joy: a power beyond human capacity. It was clear to all who saw the suffering of the apostles that their joy was supernatural. The martyrs suffered and died with forgiveness on their lips rather than revenge. They could suffer in this way, suffering even the cruelest punishments, because they could see heaven clearly. We all would like to go to heaven. As we repeated in the psalm today: “One thing I seek: to dwell in the house of the Lord.” When we see how a martyr dies we know only one thing for certain. I want to die like them. I am going to die someday, and I would like to die with the certain hope in the Resurrection that the martyrs were witnesses of.