April 30, 2012 - Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Today's Readings

In the reading from Acts, we see something called the sensus fidelium. Although Peter is the leader of the Church, appointed by Jesus Christ, the faithful Christians stand up to him. They stand up to him not because he did something they do not like but because he did something that they knew to be wrong. This is the sensus fidelium, the sense of the faithful people when something is wrong. It is not anyone’s personal opinion, not even a grassroots movement. The sensus fidelium never needs to organize. When all of the lay faithful just know that something is wrong, they ought to be listened to. We have a great example today in this reading.

Peter visited the house of a Gentile because Jesus told him to, but the people did not know that yet. When they see that he has done something which is forbidden by the law, they stand up to him. They do not stand up to him with shouting or violence. What we see here is so different from political conversations today. They tell him their objection, and then give him time to speak.

Peter explains what happened step by step. He is humble. He does not consider himself to be above explaining his actions to the crowd. He understands their objection, but they do not know the half of the story that changes everything. It is very good news: the Gentiles have received the Holy Spirit just like the Jews did. Anyone can become a Christian.

Peter learned the lesson well: he is one who has come to serve and not be served. He knows that he is absolutely in the right, but he still respects the sensus fidelium and explains the workings of the Holy Spirit. We see this still today as the Holy Father does not simply write decrees telling us what we should and should not do. He always writes long explanations that we should read, certainly read before we disagree with his conclusions.

When disagreements remain, they ought to be handled according to the example of the early Christians. Conflict within the Church is not like conflict outside the Church. Humility must be at the center. The crowd must be humble enough to let the leaders speak, and the leaders must be humble enough to explain their decisions to their fellow Christians.

April 29, 2012 - Fourth Sunday of Easter

Today's Readings

This is the time of year for First Communion. Children all over are receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ for the first time. This is because in the Western church we have the tradition that no one can receive the Eucharist until they have reached the age of understanding. It is at this stage that a child can look at what seems to be bread and what seems to be wine and acknowledge the mystery that they are actually the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

This is our tradition in the Western Catholic Church, but in the Eastern Catholic Church, in Eastern Europe and Greece and the Middle East, children receive the Eucharist along with their baptism as babies. In some ways this makes sense because a seven-year-old does not really understand what it means that the bread has changed into the body of Christ. I do not really understand what that means. Not really.

Of course it is possible to say the right things, to learn the theological terminology and to understand certain analyses and ways of considering the Eucharist, but when it comes to understanding the Eucharist I do not have much advantage over newborn baby. This extends to my understanding of God entirely. I do not really know who God is, I cannot see him or comprehend him. For this reason, Jesus gives us images by which we can approach God.

The first image we have today is that of a stone rejected by the builders which became the cornerstone. Of course, we understand the analysis of this analogy. Jesus is the stone rejected by the builders, which is to say the leadership of Jerusalem, but nevertheless he is the cornerstone, the most important. But by analyzing the image we are back to trying to understand, trying to fit the infinite mystery in our finite minds.

When that line was written hundreds of years for Jesus Christ the author did not know what it was talking about but he was inspired nonetheless to write this line, to create this image, which was so perfectly fulfilled in Jesus Christ. I have heard, although I do not know for sure if it is true, that Mount Calvary, the place where Jesus died, was made of stone which when they were building Jerusalem the builders decided was inferior, unable to be used. So this stone which the builders actually rejected has become the cornerstone of our salvation.

In the second reading today St. John gives us an image of God. He says that we are “children of God”. This does not only mean that God is our father but something more. It is lost in English, but this image is referring to children. When I learned Spanish my teacher taught me that it is not possible to call an adults “a child” the way it is in English where we might look at an adult and say here is her child. Bn most languages “a child” refers to a young person. So it is also in Greek. This image teaches us not merely that God is our father but that we are the children of God. Like little children playing, but like his little children.

In the Gospel today, Jesus gives us the image of the good Shepherd. In John's image we are like little children but in this image we are like sheep which is not very complimentary. I have never kept sheep myself but I have seen and heard that they are filthy stupid animals. wandering all over, always needing to be gathered back into the flock. We forget this because we live in modern times but in Jesus time everyone would have known this image of a Shepherd and sheep.

All of these images are powerful images and we do not try to reduce them to ideas but we let them remain images. This is a major difference between the Catholic way of being a Christian and the way that others try to be Christian: Catholics practice religion not only in the minds but also in images, signs, and symbols. Every Mass we take the Eucharist and eat it. We do not receive it in order to understand it but in order to eat it.

For other Christians, faith is often something which happens in the mind, but we believe that faith is more than that. Faith is not a feeling or attitude that we take on ourselves. Faith is a gift from God. Faith is participating in the images and the signs. When we hear images like in Scripture today we believe that they are good images, and we allow those images to change the way that we understand God.

St. John tells us in the second reading today that someday we are going to see God face to face, and that when we do the experience will change us because we will become people who know God, who understand God. Just imagine that every person here, every one of you has the potential to someday be the sorts of person who understands God perfectly.

In the meantime we practice our faith even without understanding, we come receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ believing that it is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ but incapable of understanding how that is possible. We participate in the signs and symbols not only mentally, but physically, bodily. As we receive that true sign, the Eucharist, and the other signs in Scripture today, we believe that God will change us in spite of our limited understanding.

April 28, 2012 - Saturday of the Third Week of Easter

Today's Readings

St. Peter has a central role in our readings today. In the Gospel, we see one of his greatest moments. Though all the other men in the synagogue abandoned Jesus because they could not understand his teaching, the Twelve did not. Why Judas stayed we cannot guess, but Peter’s reasoning shows a great growth in understanding since he asked Jesus to leave him. “Leave me Lord, for I am a sinful man,” seemed humble enough at the time, but today Peter reveals a new and extraordinary humility: “Where shall we go, Lord? You have the words of eternal life.”

In the reading from Acts, we see Peter work not one miracle but two, and not small miracles but truly demonstrations of the power of God. A man paralyzed for 8 years walks again and a dead woman gets up and lives again. Jesus promises that his disciples will work miracles like his and even greater ones than he did. Jesus made the lame walk, so Peter made the lame walk. Jesus brought Lazarus back to this life, so Peter brought Tabitha back to life. The only difference is that when Jesus worked a miracle, he usually just made people angry, but when Peter works these miracles, “all the inhabitants of Lydda and Sharon saw and turned to the Lord.”

Clearly, Peter the fisherman did not work these miracles. It was the Holy Spirit working within him. He could never have worked the miracles if he had not decided to stay with Jesus. He cannot take credit for the miracles, but he does not take credit for staying with Jesus either. Jesus asks the Twelve if they will leave too, and Peter does not say, “Of course we will never leave, we love you.” What if a husband asks his wife, “Will you abandon me?” and she responds, “Where would I go?” How romantic!

It sounds as if he is obligated to stay with Jesus because he has no other options. Yet he still has the same options that he always had. He could go fishing again. He could do anything in the world, but his point is that having seen Jesus, the rest of the world seems drab and boring. What does success mean to him? What do pleasures mean to him? Nothing, in comparison to what is before him. He heard the words of eternal life and his whole life was changed. There was no going back.

April 27, 2012 - Friday of the Third Week of Easter

Today's Readings

We might ask the same question as the Jews today: how can this man give us his flesh to eat? Each day we gather here and eat the flesh of Jesus Christ and drink his blood. How is this possible? This mystery has been with Christians since Jesus told us to do, in memory of him, what he did on the night before he died, when he took bread and said “This is my body” and took the cup and said “this is my blood.”

How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Perhaps he only means this analogously. Perhaps it is a metaphor. Perhaps it is really just bread and wine, and we pretend that it is the flesh and blood of Jesus. Why though? That seems like a very strange thing to do. It may be difficult to understand why we eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus. We may not understand how Jesus can give us his flesh to eat. But it makes more sense than playing pretend.

If Jesus only meant what he was saying as a metaphor, he is not very helpful. The people he is talking to wanted to make him a king. They came to him as followers. Jesus does not quench the smoldering wick or break the bruised branch. If this were merely a metaphor, if Jesus were merely trying to teach the crowd that the bread we eat to keep us alive is not as important as the Word of God, he is phrasing all this in what seems to be an unnecessary difficult way.

On the other hand, if the bread we eat is not really bread but, in truth, the body of Jesus Christ, if the wine we drink is not really wine but, in truth, the blood of Jesus Christ, then it makes sense that Jesus would teach as he does today. When he says that “my flesh is true food” he means exactly that. When he says that “my blood is true drink” he is telling a truth to the crowd which is difficult to understand but is the truth nonetheless.

He tells us that “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” We do not understand fully. We do not know how Jesus Christ makes bread become his living flesh and wine become his living blood. That is okay. We eat and drink, knowing what we cannot understand.

April 26, 2012 - Thursday of the Third Week of Easter

Today's Readings

This experience of Philip is the most ideal example of evangelization ever. Let us consider what elements produced it.

First, the man was prepared. He was reading from the prophet Isaiah, who is often prophesying about the coming of Jesus Christ, his suffering, death, and resurrection. When Jesus read from the Scriptures to his own community in order to reveal himself, he chose a reading from Isaiah. So, when we preach the Gospel, any success is not our own. A successful conversion depends upon the preparation of the converted: preparation by others who have gone before us and by God in that moment. As Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him.” God must be working in the heart of anyone who will come to believe in Jesus Christ. We can only be instruments of the love of God.

Second, Philip was prepared. He had to know Jesus Christ himself in order to preach. He also had to know the prophet Isaiah well in order to meaningfully interpret. He had to be listening to the Holy Spirit to hear, “Go and join up with that chariot.” He had to know how to talk in a friendly way, in a way that is attractive. If we want to convert the world, we need to study, especially the Scriptures. We need to pray, especially to listen in prayer. And we need to become attractive. Not Hollywood attractive, but Mother Theresa attractive. We should attract other people because they can see Christ in us. We need to know Jesus Christ, intellectually, spiritually, and personally, before we can effectively introduce him to others.

Preaching the Gospel is rarely as easy as in this story today. If we wait to preach until we are in such an ideal situation, we may never actually get around to it. We should preach when it is easy and when it is hard, but the more we are prepared the easier it will be, and a lot depends on the preparation of the other person. If we succeed, we are only harvesting what has been planted and watered by others. If we seem to fail despite doing well, we may just be planting for another person to harvest. Above all, no matter who plants or harvests, God causes the growth. It is God’s work, but we get to participate, so we should do our best without regard to our own success.

April 24, 2012 - Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter

Today's Readings

Stephen reminds the Jews that prophets are always persecuted. This is true. Being persecuted is an essential part of being a prophet. A prophet who was welcomed easily by the world would not be a prophet at all. A prophet faces resistance because they tell the world what the world does not want to hear. The world resists the prophet for two reasons: first, because they do not want to hear the message and second, because they do not know that he is a true prophet.

Discerning whether a prophet is a true prophet is very difficult. We are told to stay faithful to what was handed down to us. If a prophet comes and tells us something new, how are we supposed to know whether we should resist it and stay faithful or accept the new interpretation? Many voices are pretending to be prophets, telling us to ignore some part of the faith, often a moral teaching. This call for us to abandon what was handed on may even be phrased as if it were a new interpretation from God.

How could the Jews have known that when Stephen said that there was no need anymore for animal sacrifices, he was teaching the teaching of God? Jesus Christ was the final sacrifice; he offers himself forever to the Father. We know this, but the Jews did not. They knew the teaching of Moses, and Stephen was teaching that the sacrifices of Moses were now complete. We should disagree with their decision to kill Stephen, but we can sympathize with their conundrum. If Stephen were lying, they should ignore him, no matter how convincing he seemed.

The Jews in the Gospel suggest a test of Jesus to see whether he really is from God. They ask for a sign. Jesus had already given them many signs, but false prophets often perform false miracles. We know, for Jesus has told us so. Real, solid faith comes from God alone. Nothing will ever convince us if we begin by doubting God. Faith is a gift from God.

All true prophets are send by God. If a person does not know God in prayer and righteousness, they ought not expect to recognize a prophet. There is no need for us to be gullible people; we do not need to trust anyone peddling the latest crackpot theory. If someone is truly a prophet, God will tell us, but for our part, we must be listening.


I was gone for a couple days. Sorry about the lack of updates.

When I started this blog, it was just about having a place to put my homilies. I updated the night before because I used the time for writing the homily as a time to meditate on the Scriptures for the next day and I did not want to be off the liturgical cycle. However, in the past year this blog has grown to be much bigger than I expected. I am glad that so many people find these homilies useful. I have decided that since so many depend on this blog for daily reflection and homily preparation, I need to start posting well ahead of time.

Over the next few days, I am going to push the date of the most recent homily at least a week in the future and then keep it there so that when I am unable to post for awhile it will not affect the current homilies.

Thank you to everyone who has supported this blog with your encouragement, prayers, and subscriptions.

April 23, 2012 - Monday of the Third Week of Easter

Today's Readings

The false witnesses reveal their problem with St. Stephen today. According to them, “This man never stops saying things.” I am sure they wish that he would stop saying things, but he never did. Really, the whole point of the killing him, making him the first martyr for the faith, was to force him to stop saying things.

A preacher is required to say things that people may not enjoy hearing. If I came with my own gospel, I promise you, it would be a pleasant and easy gospel, every part of it, because the words I say are directed equally to me as they are to anyone else, but if I preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I cannot stop saying things that upset people, because Jesus often said things that upset people.

A crowd crosses the Sea of Galilee to find Jesus. Does he welcome them with open arms? No. He informs the crowd that they are only following him for selfish reasons. They were filled with bread and fish, and they would like always to have abundant food that they did not need to work for. They ought to have seen the miracle as a sign of who Jesus is. Once someone understands who Jesus is, they cannot leave him. Like St. Peter who, after this crowd abandons Jesus, and Jesus asks whether he will go too said, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.”

Jesus does not reject the crowd, but he does push back against them until they leave in frustration. By leaving, they prove that he is right. Nothing that Jesus said should have been able to make them upset with him. They were in no position to judge the words of Jesus, but they do judge him and decide against him. They would have preferred that he keep quiet and keep the bread and fish coming, but he insisted on saying things. If he had to keep saying things, he should have said comfortable, easy things, but he said difficult, confusing things instead.

Who are we to judge the Gospel? We cannot agree with Jesus when he says one thing and disagree with him later. The work of God is to believe in the one whom he has sent. Once we do that, the only logical action is to believe everything that Jesus ever said even if we are sure that it cannot be right.

April 19, 2012 - Thursday of the Second Week of Easter

Today's Readings

In the psalm today we repeated: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” This does not surprise us; we are not shocked by this idea, which shows how far we have come. When this psalm was written, the teaching may have been considered controversial, if not in Israel certainly in other parts of the world. In ancient times, the gods did not hear the cries of the poor. The gods spoke to kings and heroes. The gods had very little to do with the poor. When a poor person 4000 years ago cried out, they were certain that no one was listening.

The true God is different. He does not favor kings. He cannot be bought with money or sacrifices. He hears the cry of the poor. The fact that we have finally learned this shows that God has made great progress in teaching the world about himself. We should not presume too much of ourselves, however. We know that the Lord hears the cry of the poor; we believe, in principle, that the Lord hears us when we call upon him, but vestiges of the old ideas remain.

They remain in phrases like “God is too busy to care about such things” or “I am sure God has better things to do than….” Hidden in such phrases is a belief that God is like us. God is not like us. He does not concentrate on one thing at a time. He does not even live in time. He exists all at once. There is no limit in God. He is unlimited in every way. There is no person who is insignificant to him, and there is no part of your life that is insignificant to him. He is deeply involved in every moment of every life. There is no prayer that he does not hear or that he does not care about.

We have come a long way from the time when humans believed that the gods were like kings and queens who lived on top of a high mountain. Still, we must eliminate every last fragment of this idea remaining in our minds even now. God cares about everything. Never be afraid to bother him. Cry out in your poverty. What are you lacking? What do you need? God can provide it. Never doubt that he hears you when you cry out.

April 18, 2012 - Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter

Today's Readings

"And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil." Between darkness and light, it is clear that light is better. People only prefer darkness when they have a secret, when they have something to hide. We all have secrets. There are things about each one of us that the world does not know. The question is whether we would welcome the light that would reveal our works to the world. If our secrets are about things we are not proud of, we would rather have them stay in darkness. If our secrets are about things that we are proud of, we will welcome the light.

For instance, perhaps you have helped someone. Maybe even that person never realized how much work you did to help them. Certainly no one else is aware of how helpful you were. You do not walk around bragging about helping people, but if this was revealed you would not be embarrassed. If, however, you have some secret sin that no one but God knows about, you will not be glad to hear that everything you have done will be revealed to the world.

Real life is more complicated of course. We all have secret sins we are ashamed of. We all have secret ways in which we were good that we would be glad to have revealed. Beyond this, we do not really even know ourselves very well. When all is revealed, we will be just as suprised at how our sins and our good works add up. When the light comes, nothing will be hidden anymore.

St. John says that people preferred darkness. He does not say "some people". We all prefer darkness. None of us have done such good things that we would stand up to the scrutiny of the light. We would not mind if more people knew how good we have been, so long as no one also knew how bad we have been. What we need is humility. When we have real humility we will not fear the light which is truth anymore. What is the truth? We are sinners, but God loves us. Once we have real humility we will not put so much value on hiding our sins and show off our good works. When the light comes it will show how weak we are, but we will not be embarrased. We will not be thinking about ourselves at all.

April 17, 2012 - Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter

Today's Readings

People love utopias. They have a philosophical attraction for us. So many people in human history have thought that they had the idea that would change everything. They have a poetical attraction for us. Places like Camelot, Atlantis, and Shangri-La evoke powerful feelings just by their names.

The vision we have today of the apostolic community of Jerusalem is a utopia. All of the rich give everything they have to take care of the poor. It does not seem that this community lasted very long. Its very existence suggests that the Christians during the first years after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven expected him to return very shortly. This is a very reasonable belief. He rose 3 days after his death. He ascended into heaven 40 days after his resurrection. He said that he would return, so it was only reasonable of those early Christians to believe that he would return shortly. So all of the rich sell their property which they believe they will have no use for anymore.

From our perspective 2000 years later it is somewhat easier to understand that Jesus might come tomorrow, he might come today, and he might come in 10,000 years. We live somewhat more practically. The utopian ideal is only realized in religious communities among those who choose to live poverty. The rest of the Christian world has to deal with money and economy to some extent. Nevertheless, this Christian ideal is not something we should forget or treat as a mistake of the early Church. As Luke puts it, who wrote this decades after the end of that community, “Great grace was on them all.”

It would not be possible nor is it even desirable to return to a time when all Christians lived together and shared their wealth, but that early community provided formation for the newborn Church. The Apostles would go on to travel the world converting communities everywhere and people like Barnabas would accomplish great things after leaving the Jerusalem community. We should not forget that community even though it ended long before we were born. It is still where we came from and it is the one place on Earth, the one moment in history when life was as like it will be on the new Earth that we are waiting for as it will ever be until Jesus comes again.

April 16, 2012 - Monday of the Second Week of Easter

Today's Readings

Nicodemus comes to Jesus secretly, at night. He tells Jesus that he knows that he comes from God. He actually says a little more. He says, “We know that you have come from God.” Who are “we”? From his words, it seems that Nicodemus either came with a contingent or at least representing a contingent. This was an opportunity for Jesus. Nicodemus comes offering the friendship of some of those in high places. He is telling Jesus that he has supporters in high places.

Jesus does not seem to take full advantage of the offer. Instead of discussing possible political strategies with Nicodemus, he answers with an obscure teaching about being born again. Nicodemus is open to the teaching and tries to understand what Jesus means. Clearly Jesus is not saying that we need to be born again as we were born the first time. Being physically born is a process that a person can only go through once. Jesus clarifies that he is not talking about a physical birth. He means that a person must be born again by water and the Holy Spirit.

What exactly does that mean? When a person is born, their life changes entirely. The first 9 months of life are a certain experience, then birth changes everything. The life of a newborn is very different than the life of child about to be born. If we could interview a child about to be born and asked them whether they would like to give up the warmth and comfort of the womb for a harsh, cold world, they might be reluctant, but no adult would want to go back to the way life was before they were born.

So too it is for us and being born again. When we were born physically, our physically life changed. When we are born again of water and the Holy Spirit, our spiritual life changes. There is a difference, however. We had no choice about being born physically, and once we were born, we grew up as a matter of course. It just happened. We may or may not have chosen to be baptized, but growing up spiritually is our choice. If we choose to be spiritual infants, still in diapers, we will remain immature. If we want to become mature Christians, saints, we need to go beyond being born again: we need to grow up again.

Sunday Homily Recorded

My parish records the homilies at the 9:30 Mass, and this past Sunday I gave the homily at the 9:30 Mass. So here is a link if anyone is interested in hearing it.

April 15, 2012 - Divine Mercy Sunday, 2nd Sunday of Easter

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 get 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.

“For the love of God is this: that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.” Every commandment of God is for our good. There is no commandment designed to make life harder. This might be difficult to believe, if we feel the commandments as an imposition, a restriction on our lives, but every commandment of God is just God saying, “I love you. Please stop hurting yourself.” God is not trying to see if we can live up to his expectations; he knows that we cannot. God is trying by any means possible to show us mercy. We only have two options: conquer the world or be conquered by it, victory or defeat. On our own we would be defeated, but by the power and love of God our victory is certain if we will choose to be victorious.

A Bulletin Message - The Holy Spirit

Are you a Holy Spirit Christian, newly born of water and the Holy Spirit? Is there a fire burning inside of you that makes you want to shout out “Praise Jesus!”? I hope so. We Catholics cannot let the Pentecostals have all the fun. The Holy Spirit is not something that some other Christians do; every prayer is “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Let us not be like those whom St. Paul asked “‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you came to believe?’ and they said, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’”

Throughout history, God has spoken to humans in many and varied ways, but in our times, the last days, he sent his Son. When his Son was going to ascend to heaven he promised to send us an advocate: the Holy Spirit, who is God with the Father and the Son. And the Holy Spirit came. He came as fire and wind, a mighty rushing wind that filled the house, and tongues of fire that appeared and rested on each disciple.

Why do we need the Holy Spirit? The Spirit helps us in our weakness. The Holy Spirit bears witness to us about the forgiveness of sins. God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. We do not know how to pray correctly, but the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs that cannot be reduced to words. No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. By the power of the Holy Spirit we will have abundant hope. The Spirit of God has made you, and the breath of the Almighty gives you life. No one understands the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God, for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.

How does the Holy Spirit change us? It is by the Holy Spirit that we are adopted by God, for all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons and daughters of God, and you have received this Spirit of adoption as sons and daughters, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Holy Spirit takes possession of us by dwelling within us. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God; you are not your own.

Everyone is invited to come this Sunday for the Confirmation Mass. Sixty-six young Catholics will receive the Sacrament of Confirmation and be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Come celebrate this exciting moment for our community, an increase of the Holy Spirit, and whether or not you are able to be there, be aware of this same gift who dwells in you and has the power to change you for the better, who can give you greater joy than anything this world has to offer.

Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! Alleluia! Alleluia!

April 14, 2012 - Saturday in the Octave of Easter

Today's Readings

In the Gospel according to Mark, the apostles often doubt Jesus, who constantly exhorts them to have more faith. In our reading today, we see this theme repeated. The apostles do not believe Mary Magdalene nor the two disciples who saw Jesus in Emmaus. Only when Jesus appears to them personally do they finally believe. Even then, as we know, Thomas was not with them, and he would not believe the testimony of the others.

This reaction seems very natural to us, certainly more natural than the crazy theories of those who claim that the apostles invented the Resurrection. The Resurrection is not something easy to believe in. Having seen the body of Jesus, tortured, dead beyond doubt, it is not easy to believe that he could be alive. Still, Jesus rebukes them for their lack of faith. Should they have been gullible? Should they have just believed whatever unbelievable stories they heard about Jesus rising from the dead?

Sometimes it seems as if that is exactly what faith requires of us. We have to believe without seeing, or even in spite of what we see. The doubt comes along: What if this is all false? Is it possible that billions of people have been tricked into believing a lie? Are we wasting our time with something that does not matter? If the only response that our religion can make to such doubts is an exhortation to have faith, how does that differ from a cult leader who insists that no one question the lies he is telling?

Yet the Church does not say that we should just believe. Jesus did not say that we should just believe. Against our doubts, what is recommended to us is an act of faith. An act of faith is not shutting off our brains. An act of faith is absolutely not trying to believe with our own strength, angrily shouting at anyone who would dare to express doubts. An act of faith is the prayer of the man who asked Jesus to heal his son, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”

God will not force us to believe in him, but we cannot believe the unbelievable without supernatural faith, a gift of God. We must ask. Pray for faith, and pray sincerely, and pray unceasingly, and your Father, who gives good gifts to those who ask, will surely give you the Holy Spirit.

April 13, 2012 - Friday in the Octave of Easter

Today's Readings

Earlier in the Gospels, Jesus warned his disciples that, when they had to defend themselves before judges for being Christians, they should not prepare their statement beforehand. The Holy Spirit would inspire them on the spot, he promised. We see that promise fulfilled today. Peter and John stand before the impressive Sanhedrin and they are filled with the Holy Spirit. Peter speaks eloquently. The speech of this fisherman surely impressed those who thought that he would look like a fool.

In the Gospel, Peter and John go out fishing but they catch nothing. Jesus comes along and recommends the other side of the boat and they catch 153 large fish. We cannot do anything without God's help, not even fishing, which was Peter and John's specialty. We can try of course. We might occasionally succeed accidentally, but there is a world of difference between our own feeble efforts and what could be accomplished if we relied on God.

God knows the best way to do anything. He knows the best time to do it. He knows the best place to do it. If I want to convert the world, I could work my whole life with very little success. Think of the difference between a person guessing at the right answer to a difficult math problem and a person who can actually solve the problem. Imagine who you could convert if you were in the right place at exactly the right time and said the right thing to the right person. It would seem like magic.

Of course there is another side to this: God knows the right person for every job. If we decide which jobs we are going to do ourselves, we will choose wrongly. If God is going to have the right time and place and way, he is also going to have the right person. We are not the right people for every work that God wants accomplished. When we see a miracle done, we should be glad that God was able to use the right person. We should certainly not be jealous that God is doing great work with someone else. God has work that he wants us to accomplish. It may not be the sort of work which is considered important in this world. That does not matter. Let us be faithful servants, doing whatever work the Master Planner gives to us, with his help and guidance.

April 12, 2012 - Thursday in the Octave of Easter

Today's Readings

In the Gospel today, Jesus appeared to his disciples and testified to himself, showing the wounds on his hands and his feet, but the disciples were "incredulous for joy.” “Incredulous for joy.” This was a thing too good to be true! The Lord Jesus is risen from the dead. Why do the disciples disbelieve him? Obviously he is not lying. They see him with their own eyes and hear him with their own ears, but some things just seem too good to be true. Our eyes must be lying; our ears must deceive us.

There is a natural pessimism behind this attitude. We see the world full of suffering, but we cannot see the world full of joy. We live in a world with water falling from the sky, with food growing up from the ground. We live in a fairy tale. Then the first tragedy comes along. We see imperfection in the world, and we are forever cynical. This pessimism tells us that we do not belong in this world. If we belonged to this world, we would see the events happening around us as natural. We would enjoy life when it is good and not be surprised when it is bad. Yet we are surprised, we are astonished by suffering. We expect the world to be perfect even though it manifestly is not. So when the world is only mostly perfect, we consider that it is very, very bad.

The disciples had just suffered such a blow in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. They had started to become optimistic when they saw the work of Jesus Christ, so they fell all the more when he was killed. If something is good, someone will ruin it. Some things are too good to be true. In the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the perfection that we have been expecting our whole lives. We are afraid to believe, because our hopes have been disappointed before. Whenever things seemed to be good, something had to come along to ruin everything. Instead, in Jesus Christ, we find a good that nothing can take away. It is so very good and absolutely true.

The Resurrection is what we have been waiting for since we lost Eden. It is time to leave pessimism behind. This world is disappointing, and every time we begin to put our hope in it, it will disappoint us again, but we have a new hope: Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.

April 11, 2012 - Wednesday in the Octave of Easter

Today's Readings

Fear and lack thereof is the theme today. We see in the first reading Peter and John. These are men without fear. They look very different than they do in the Gospels. Even after the Resurrection, they lacked the kind of confidence they exude today. The difference is the Holy Spirit. They had received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and they were no longer afraid of anything, certainly not death or persecution.

In the Gospel we see a couple of disciples leaving Jerusalem. Night falls, so they decide to stop for the night in Emmaus. Why? 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. They even convince the fellow traveler whom they have been talking to stay with them, since the sun was setting. When they recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread, they get up and go back to Jerusalem. No fear. They do not wait until morning. They go immediately.

“Perfect love casts out all fear.” What is perfect love? “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us.” 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.

This fearlessness is the true mark of Christians, from Peter and John who were 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. Crazy people do that all the time. Terrorists do that all the time. Martyrs are different. Martyrs are witnesses. They are unafraid because they know that they are 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.

April 10, 2012 - Tuesday in the Octave of Easter

Today's Readings

Our interpretation of the Gospel today, and, indeed, of the Resurrection itself, relies on how exactly one sentence was pronounced. If the story had been passed down orally, with a certain way of saying the line passed down along with the line, we would know how to understand this Gospel and we would know more about the Resurrection.

The line in today’s Gospel that causes this difficulty is translated as, “Jesus said to her, ‘Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.’” The literal Greek can also be said to begin with “Do not touch me.” In one way of interpreting the verse, Mary recognized Jesus after he called out her name. She calls him Rabbi and reaches out to embrace his feet and he stops her. He says this line. It is all very theological. There are books written on why Mary could not touch Jesus. If this were all true, we should read those books and understand the resurrected body of Jesus as something so far beyond our own bodies that no one should dare touch it without being invited or that Mary should not try to hold Jesus down to earth when he is going to heaven.

However, there is another interpretation. Jesus calls out her name. She looks up and recognizes him. She calls him “Rabbi” while running to embrace his feet. She reaches him, embraces his feet and does not let go. She thought he was dead. He was dead. Now he is alive. Minutes pass. Jesus looks down at her, laughing gently, and says to her “You can let go now. I am not going anywhere yet. I am not going to rise up to heaven the moment you let go. I am really here. It is really me. This is not a dream. Stop holding on to me, I am not going up to the Father yet.” This interpretation means the opposite of the other. It means that the resurrected Jesus, while completely transfigured, was not living a life so completely outside our understanding. He even makes a joke.

Myself, I like the second interpretation better. I think the other Gospels support it too. There is some danger in interpreting the words of Jesus as if he were too high and mighty to be touched. He came down to earth to be touched. And he who invited Thomas to stick his finger in the nail holes, would have welcomed the love shown by Mary Magdalene’s embrace.

April 9, 2012 - Monday in the Octave of Easter

Today's Readings

In the Gospel today we see again the plotting of the chief priests, which we saw a lot of in the days leading up to Good Friday. Here, however, when the plotting is contrasted to the joy of the Resurrection, it becomes almost comedic, like generals moving plastic figures in a war room after they have been definitively defeated. By their plots they demonstrate that they have no regard whatsoever for the truth, but they cannot cover up the Resurrection. Jesus is the Resurrection. He appears to the women and to the Apostles. He continues appearing for 40 days, and then he appears later to St. Paul.

Of course the chief priests' story is so unlikely for many, many reasons, not the least of which is that it accuses the disciples of stealing the body and pretending to believe in the Resurrection despite the tomb being guarded by two Roman guards, and the end result was that many of them were willing to be killed and persecuted for the belief in the Resurrection. Also, how would the guards know that the disciples had come and stolen the body if they were sleeping so soundly that they did not even hear a large stone rolled away from a tomb?

Nevertheless, people believed the story. Some people are willing to believe anything rather than the truth. If someone chooses not to believe in the Resurrection, there are all sorts of theories that they can come up with. Today it is even easier. Two-thousand years after the fact people can pretend that the history is murky when it is not or that the sources are not reliable when they are. Belief so rarely relies on evidence in this life. People choose to believe what they choose to believe without evidence or in spite of the evidence, then they act as if we Christians are the ones who take something on faith.

All the witnesses, all the evidence says that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Standing against that is nothing except the fact that we have never seen a dead person rise. You and I have to decide what we will believe, but if we decide to believe in the Resurrection, at least all the evidence is on our side.

Triduum Message

This was a message for the parish bulletin:

What a delightful opportunity it is to go on a retreat! We fight the battle every day: at work, at home, with ourselves; how essential it is to retreat periodically. No one can keep fighting continuously. We retreat to the loving embrace of our God and Father, and he gives us energy and will to fight again. A retreat is different from a vacation because the object is not merely a break from the usual course of things but to return to the one who loves us, whose love is the reason we continue to fight the good fight.

A retreat can involve going away to a quiet place, a place apart from the causes of stress, but even without the ability or need to change our location, a retreat is about changing our mindset. If a person climbs to the top of mountain, they may find God there, but he was just as present at the bottom of the mountain. A retreat means simply deciding to live life differently for a little while; how differently depends on the situation of each person. A retreat is about living, for just a little time, in a way that has the power to transform the rest of the time.

Holy Week is the most important week of the Church year. Holy Week begins with Palm or Passion Sunday, where we remember the triumphant entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem and his passion and death, and ends with the Easter Triduum, the three days of remembrance. These three days are the yearly retreat of every Christian.

The Easter Triduum, though three days long, is one act of remembering the central mystery of salvation history. On Holy Thursday evening, we recall how Jesus, on the night before he died, ate supper with his disciples, how he washed their feet, how he gave us his Body to eat and Blood to drink in the form of bread and wine, and how he prayed all night. On Good Friday, we remember how Jesus was betrayed and arrested, and we make the journey recorded in the Stations of the Cross with Jesus, our beloved Savior, and stand at the foot of the Cross with Mary. On Holy Saturday, we begin, seemingly without hope, with Jesus in the tomb, but after the sun has set, we light the Easter fire and celebrate the Easter Vigil: the Resurrection of Jesus that is the proof of our future resurrection. It is most fitting that this night, the greatest of all nights, is the occasion to welcome new Christians into our community and reunite with Christians who desire to join visibly with the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Then on Easter Sunday morning, we rise up in joy because our Savior has risen from the dead.

These three days, this Triduum, become an opportunity to be immersed in the Mysteries we proclaim. Though we go home between the parts of the one liturgy, though some may have to return to their work each day and all deal with everyday concerns and the preparations for Easter, we are anchored in this act of remembrance that we keep returning to. By participating in the Triduum, we are conforming ourselves to the actions of our Savior: we die with Christ and rise with him.

By means of the Triduum, we step out of the present moment with all its worries and anxieties, and return to a moment of history, 2000 years ago, that is the central moment of history. Then, by means of remembering, we bring the truth of that moment into our present lives, where it transforms the events we are experiencing in the present moment.

You are invited to the communal celebration of the Triduum here and whether you are able to join us for some or all of the Triduum services, I encourage everyone to participate in the Triduum as much as they are able. Let these three days, that will soon be here, be in your homes and workplaces a time for silence and prayer and remembering and then the shout and celebration of Easter joy.

April 8, 2012 - Easter Sunday: Solemnity of the Resurrection of The Lord

Today's Readings

Jesus Christ is Risen, Alleluia! Jesus Christ is Risen, Alleluia! No matter what the headline of the Daily News is today, we’ve got bigger news: Jesus Christ is Risen, Alleluia! That’s the headline; here’s the story: In the beginning, God made humans. We sinned. Then God became human. We killed him. Then God rose from the dead, and he still loves us. No news, domestic or foreign, is more interesting than that. Two-thousand years ago, Peter declared to the Nations the Good News of Jesus Christ. Today I proclaim that same news to you: Jesus Christ is Risen, Alleluia, and everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.

What an amazing offer: forgiveness of sins through his name! Jesus crossed over to the realms of death and brought back victory through his cross. And what a victory! What else could we want? What else could we need? Who needs food, who needs water, who needs air to breathe so long as we have got forgiveness of sins?

Two-thousand years ago, those to whom Peter spoke received this news with joy. This was the answer to a question which consumed their lives. Through the centuries the nations throughout the world received this news with joy. Christianity grew from a handful of people to two billion strong. Has this message lost its power now? Can news which is 2000 years old still be news? Last night, a large crowd of people came forward and were baptized for the forgiveness of sins: tens of thousands in our country, untold numbers throughout the world, ____ right here in ____. The call of the good news still has power in their lives. Last night this crowd died with Christ in baptism and was raised with Christ in grace. How wonderful to see these new Christians pass through the waters of baptism to new life.

This good news is still powerful, and it will remain powerful. It is the only solution to our problems. So long as sin remains in the world, we will need forgiveness of sins. So long as sin has power in each of our souls, we will need forgiveness of sins.

It is unfortunate that today of all days, on Easter Sunday, we must recall sin and death. Today should be a day of joy, but how can we rejoice at the good news if we do not first know the bad news? Who will rejoice at the headline: “War Ends” unless they knew that there was a war? If tonight it is announced that some deadly disease has been cured, we might all express mild gladness, but if we and our family had this disease, the news would cause us to leap for joy. Jesus Christ is Risen, Alleluia! This should cause us to do cartwheels down that aisle.

The Resurrection is not only about something that happens after we die. The Resurrection is taking place right now in our lives. It is the potential for our lives to be different, to be amazing. Perhaps someone will say, “But I haven’t done anything really bad; I’ve never killed anyone.” Do not set your standards according to how depraved and selfish and evil humanity can get. What about how good we can be? What about John Paul II? What about Mother Theresa? What about St. Francis of Assisi? What about Jesus? How are you doing compared to them? The Resurrection means that we can be like them. It is the opportunity to be no longer mediocre.

The Resurrection is not only for after we die, but it is for then too. Death is the universal human experience. You are all going to die. You and I and every single person in the world is going to die. We do not like to think about it, I know. We try to forget about death because it is unpleasant and frightening. But it does not have to be like that anymore.

If the Resurrection of Jesus Christ was only about an innocent man recovering from death, we would be happy for him, but if the Resurrection signifies that Jesus Christ went down to Hell and destroyed the power of death, that he has unlocked our prison, that we are free to go, then we can rejoice. The good news today is not only the good news, it is the best news. The joy of today cannot be ranked with other joys. We can spend forever perfectly happy with God. What could be better?

Say Alleluia with me: Alleluia! Now say it louder! Alleluia! Christ is risen! Alleluia! Rejoice! Alleluia! Sin is overpowered! Alleluia! Death is defeated! Alleluia! God loves us! Alleluia! Heaven is full of people, right now, just like us! Alleluia! We can go to heaven too! Alleluia! We killed Jesus Christ, but he rose from the dead! Alleluia! And he still loves us! Alleluia! We do not need to hate anymore! Alleluia! We do not need to be afraid anymore! Alleluia! We do not need to try to be rich anymore! Alleluia! Every tear will be wiped away! Alleluia! All suffering in this world will be joy in the next! Alleluia! The Devil cannot hold on to us! Alleluia! We are weak, but God is strong! Alleluia! We have been pre-accepted into heaven! Alleluia! We just have to go! Alleluia! Let us begin the journey right now! Alleluia! We are going to be rich! Alleluia! We are going to be strong! Alleluia! We are going to see what we could not see! Alleluia! We are going to meet Jesus! Alleluia! And all the saints in heaven! Alleluia! Praise God! Alleluia! Jesus Christ is risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!

April 5, 2012 - The Resurrection of the Lord, Easter Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter

Today's Readings

Tonight I bring you a message of great joy, the message of Alleluia. Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, the Crucified is risen. Indeed, he is risen. Alleluia. He was and is and always will be God, the Son of God, consubstantial with the Father. In the fullness of time, he descended to earth and took the form of a man, becoming fully human and like us in all things but sin.

He was wounded for our offenses, scourged for our iniquities, crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. He descended to the place where our first parents and all humanity were held prisoner because of sin. He broke down the gates. He was able to die because he was human, but, because he was God, he was able, on his own authority, to call forth all sleeping humanity to enter into his joy.

We wait here in vigil with Mary of Magdala and Mary the mother of James. We wait here in vigil with all the angels of heaven who saw what was done to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, on the cross, and are waiting in anticipation of what God will do next. We wait here in vigil. And we feel the earth quake. And we see the flash like lightning. And we hear the stone rolled away.

And then the message. Be not afraid. You are looking for Jesus, but you are looking in the wrong place. Why do you seek the living among the dead? You are at a tomb, the abode of the dead, but the one you seek is alive. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Did you not listen to his words? Did not believe that he would be raised?

Do not call this incredible. Do not say that this is unbelievable. You are seeking him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. What is more credible than that the Truth Himself spoke truly? What is more believable than that He Who is Life is alive?

Doubt no longer. Come and see the place where he lay. Come and look, but do not linger. Be amazed but not immobile. First come to where he is not, but then go quickly and tell his disciples. Tell his disciples nothing less than the truth. Tell his disciples that he has been raised from the dead. Go quickly and tell his disciples, because he has been raised from the dead and is fully alive, not like a weak man healing from injury nor like a sluggish sleeper rolling out of bed. He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee.

Hurry, let us catch up to him. He has gone before us and is waiting for us. This is no time to pause among the dead; this is no time to stop and smell roses. This is the acceptable time. Today is the day of salvation.

Let us join that long line which marches in procession behind Christ. Let us join Abraham, our father in faith, who by faith was able to march with his son up the mountain, who had such faith in God’s promise that through Isaac he would have many offspring that he feared not to raise the knife against his son whom he loved, believing that God was able even to raise him from the dead.

Let us join Moses and all the Israelites who marched even through the midst of the waters which were like a wall to their left and to their right. Fearsome waters which drowned Pharaoh and all his soldiers. Waters which are a symbol of our baptism, when, chased by the enemy we went through the water and the enemy was drowned.

Let us join Isaiah and Jeremiah and Baruch and Ezekiel and all the prophets who feared not even to march into their towns and proclaim that the Lord was unhappy, that the Lord would punish. Prophets who spoke even when thrown to the bottom of a cistern. Prophets who spoke even until death at the hands of those whom they were trying to save.

Let us join with Mary the Mother of God, with Peter, who denied Jesus but returned, and Paul, who persecuted Christians but eventually spared himself no suffering in the name of the Gospel, with Mary Magdalene the apostle to the apostles, who proclaimed the good news to those who would evangelize the world, and with all the saints who throughout the ages have formed a glorious procession marching toward their Lord.

Let us join with them and not delay. Let nothing of this earth prevent us from giving our whole hearts to the kingdom and reign of our Lord and God. He has been patient and has waited even until now for our whole heart, for our whole life, for our very selves and nothing less.

He has been patient, but his patience will not last forever. It cannot. We are living in the last age of the world. Death has been conquered. There is nothing left except that the invisible should be made visible. We are waiting but for one thing. We are waiting for Christ to appear.

Here we gather at this vigil, the greatest of all vigils, the vigil from which other vigils take their name. We are waiting figuratively with Mary Magdalene and Mary the Mother of James for the Resurrection. We wait only figuratively because the Resurrection has already occurred.

However, we also wait in reality for Jesus to come again. Some night will be the world’s last night. And we wait tonight both as a symbol and in reality. We wait as a symbol of how we hope to be waiting on that night: vigilant, with lamps lit. We wait because tonight may very well be the world’s last night.

We hold vigil tonight in imitation of how we will live in heaven. The whole church is gathered together tonight throughout the world. Waiting for God to come and make a new heaven and new earth. And if tonight is not the world’s last night, if we wake tomorrow to sunrise and not angels trumpeting, we will continue our lives which are themselves a vigil.

The life of a Christian in this world is a life of expectation. The life of a Christian in this world is a life of hope. The life of a Christian in this world is a life preparing for the next world. We have a trip ahead of us. We have spent Lent packing. We opened our luggage, that is, we opened our hearts and looked inside, taking out those things which would never make it past the TSA screeners, taking out also what is merely useless junk taking up space, dead weight slowing us down, and putting in all and only the items which are necessary for this journey: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance, Faith, Hope, and Love. We have packed this bag and stand tonight here waiting for the flight to arrive.

However, do not be mistaken. The waiting of this life is not really like waiting for an airplane, simply sitting. Nor is it like the waiting of an expectant father (at least as portrayed in old television shows), pacing back and forth across a room. This waiting is the very active waiting of a woman in labor. This waiting is the waiting of a runner in a marathon who is waiting for the finish line.

So today we remember and rejoice that Christ has died and rose from the dead. Today we remember and rejoice that we have died with him in baptism and we shall also live with him. Today we and recommit to die to sin and live for Christ in every moment until we reach the finish line, until the mystery of our faith is perfectly accomplished: Dying you destroyed our Death, Rising you restored our Life, Lord Jesus Come in Glory!

April 5, 2012 - Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion

Today's Readings

“But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”

We have just listened to a description of a man being wounded. Jesus Christ is God, and so the wounds we have heard about are the wounds of God himself. This required the miracle of the Incarnation. God has created the entire universe and he can create anything he wills. Yet there is something he could not do. He could not suffer. He could not be harmed. We have advanced in technology until we have created weapons capable of destroying all life on earth, but we are no nearer to being able to hurt God than the first people on earth. We have created missiles which can shoot across the earth and into space, but there is no missile capable of reaching to heaven. We have bombs powerful enough to level every building in the largest city in the world, but there is no bomb powerful enough to cause God to suffer.

And so he had to become human in order to suffer. He needed a body like ours, made of fragile flesh in order to feel the pain inflicted on him by men. He needed to have blood beneath a weak wall of skin in order that he might bleed for our sins. God has nothing to do with weakness, so he became weak like us.

We know that Jesus died for our sins, but he also suffered for them. We know that he redeemed us on the Cross, but Isaiah tells us that “he was wounded for our transgressions.” We know that he died in our place, but Isaiah tells us that “he was crushed for our iniquities.” Do the images of our suffering Lord, so cruelly scourged seem barbaric? Do his wounds offend our sensibilities? Then why have we caused them?

“No,” we say, “I did not whip him, that was the work of those cruel Roman soldiers.” But the soldiers were merely carrying out the orders of those who called for the scourging. Every cast of the whip was done on command. “But I did not command that he be scourged. That was Pontius Pilate, the Governor of Judea.” However, Pilate only had the power given him from above. Jesus could only be scourged if he allowed himself to be scourged. Why would Jesus have allowed himself to suffer in this way? At your command and mine. Every sin we have committed is such a command. Every time we considered whether we would follow God’s law or our own desires, and chose to sin, we insisted that God suffer for us. We know the consequences of our sins. We have read that “He was wounded for our transgressions.” We have heard it said that “he was crushed for our iniquities.” Yet still we transgress the law. Yet still we are filled with iniquity. Still we command the soldiers to scourge our Lord.

Consider the great power we have over God that we might command him. Do not be deceived: the source of this power is not to be found by looking at your own abilities. The source of this power is not contained within the strength of humans. We can only command God by the power of his love. We command God to be scourged as a toddler commands his mother to save him from a fire. We command God to be wounded as a wife commands her husband to care for her when she is deathly ill. We command God to suffer for us because he loves us.

How great is this love which came down from heaven and bore the weight of the cross. How great is this love that does not cry out as the beloved kicks and screams and does whatever he can to hurt his only hope. How great is this love! How great is his love and how small is ours. He has no reason loves us, but he does. We have every reason to love him, but we do not. We choose again and again to sin. Perhaps we doubt that there can be any hope for us. Yet there is indeed hope for us: “By his stripes we are healed.”

There is then a healing. This is not merely a band-aid on our wounds. This is not an amputation that destroys what has been injured. This is not concealer to cover a scar that remains. This is healing. God made us, and we injured ourselves by our sin. And he heals us. “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied.” God is no minimalist. He will not be satisfied with anything less than our final and complete healing. “By his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous.” We will be accounted righteous. We sinners will be accounted righteous! How can this be? God knows all things. He is truth. We would not be accounted righteous unless we actually were righteous. And how shall we become righteous? “By his stripes we are healed.”

The fact that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” is indisputable. Truthfully, our human nature, which was given to us at creation spotless and without fault, was wounded grievously at the fall of Adam. Yet by his stripes we are healed. And truthfully, God had so loved the world that he gave his only Son, but we do not love God enough to turn our lives over to that only Son, who was so cruelly tortured for our sins.

So, when we look upon our Lord, and we contemplate how wounded his body was after the scourging, and how tired he was as he carried the Cross, and how every wound was constantly renewed by the continuous punishments he endured, when we look upon this body so torn by whips, we ought to be stunned by guilt and amazed by Love. We are guilty because we caused someone who loved us so much to endure so much because we have sinned so much. We know we are loved because only love allows a person to suffer torments by the hand of their beloved whom the torments shall save. We know we are doubly guilty because the tortures were both for us and by us. We know we are infinitely loved, because our lover was infinitely debased for our sake.

How should we react to the sight of our Lord so injured? No amount of sorrow would be equal to the occasion. Even if we were not guilty, this is the suffering of our Creator. It ought to be, to us, like the suffering of a parent. But we are guilty, doubly guilty. How can we look upon our Savior thus injured and not die of grief except that we have so little capacity to act according to strict justice. If we knew that we were to suffer the same punishment next Friday, we would spend the entire week in a state of fright and deep sorrow. Yet we are guilty of so many sins and would deserve such a punishment.

How should we react to the sight of our Lord so injured? No amount of joy can be equal to the occasion. Here we see the stripes by which we shall be healed. Here we see the only power in the world that could save us from our sins. Here we see such a proof of unconditional love so great that no power on earth can ever destroy it, not even our own disdain and hatred.

Truly this is a sign of contradiction! In the suffering Christ we see that the world is both worse and better than it ought to be. The more we are willing to acknowledge our sins, the more sorrow we have for their gravity and number, the greater will our joy be. When the realization that I, even I, am loved by God is no mere pious claim but an accusation of how greatly I have spurned the one who has loved me even unto suffering, even unto death, then I can experience the true joy of knowing that my salvation is secure so long as I will have it. Since my sins are healed by his wounds and his wounds are created by my sins, there will never be a shortage of wounds to heal my sins. As a Christian this is my greatest sorrow and my greatest joy. He was wounded for our transgressions and by his wounds we are healed.

April 5, 2012 - Holy Thursday, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper

Today's Readings

Tonight we recall how, on the night before his death, our Lord chose to eat a meal with his disciples. It was not an ordinary meal. It probably would have looked ordinary to the uninitiated: bread and wine, yet we know that the bread was his body and the wine was his blood. We know this because he said so, and he is the truth, and he cannot lie. “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you.”

In the ancient law, the father of each family had to provide a lamb. This lamb was killed, and it became a sacrifice which prevented the angel of death from striking within that house. Under the new law, our Father in heaven has provided a lamb, the Lamb of God. If a family was not big enough for one lamb, two families came together and shared a lamb. The Lamb of God is sufficient for the whole world. This Lamb became a sacrifice which takes away the sins of the world. Because this Lamb still lives, even though he died, we will never need another. We are marked by the blood of this lamb, so death can pass over us. There is no reason to fear death so long as we have participated in this sacrifice. By this sacrifice we join in the death of Jesus Christ, so we have a sure hope of joining in his Resurrection.

Jesus is the Lamb of God, but this sacrifice was different than the sacrifice of the lambs. Soon after the meal, the disciples saw Jesus give his body and blood for the whole world. The lambs were eaten after they were killed, but Jesus was not constrained by time. Even before the sacrifice, he was able to present his body and blood. The body and blood that he presented to them is clearly the body and blood that he offered the next day; it is clearly the body and blood that rose from the dead on Easter. It is his Body and Blood. This bread and this cup are a participation in the death of Christ, “for as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”

Jesus is the Lamb of God, but this sacrifice was different than the sacrifice of the lambs. The Israelites ate the body of the lamb, but they did not drink the blood. God had said that the blood of an animal is the life of that animal, so he forbid them from drinking blood. The life of an animal belonged to God, so the blood was poured out on the altar. In this sacrifice, we drink the blood because the life of Christ was poured out for us. The lifeblood of Christ belongs to us, since he has given it to us. Some of the lambs’ blood was used to mark the doorway as a symbol that the angel of death should pass over that house. So now we drink the blood of the Lamb of God so that this blood will mark our souls.

“A person should examine themself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup, for anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on themself.” What we receive is not ordinary food. It is a real symbol, which is to say that it actually is what it symbolizes. It symbolizes the Body of Jesus Christ, so it actually is the Body of Jesus Christ. It symbolizes the Blood of Jesus Christ, so it actually is the Blood of Jesus Christ. By eating and drinking this Body and Blood, we symbolize our participation in the death of Jesus Christ, so we actually participate in his death.

Let no one be deceived and believe that it is your own thoughts or your own faith which makes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood. It is only the words of Jesus: “This is my Body.” “This is the cup of my Blood.”, spoken by one who has the authority to say the words, an authority that comes from the Apostles to whom Jesus said: “Do this in memory of me.” So let us examine ourselves and not eat and drink judgment on ourselves. We must receive the Body and Blood with faith, not because our faith makes it so, but because it is so and we should only receive if we believe.

When you are invited to dinner, consider carefully before you eat because you must provide the same sort of meal yourself in return. When we sit down to this sacrificial meal, we ought to consider carefully what is set before us, since we must provide the same kind of meal ourselves. When we eat the Body of Christ, we become willing to give up our own bodies. When we drink the Blood of Christ, we become willing to shed our own blood. When we eat this body and drink this blood, we proclaim his death until he comes in glory. This is not a verbal proclamation but proclamation of action. Truly, we proclaim his death when we eat the body and drink the blood which he gave up for us through his death, but this should not be the limit of our proclamation; it should be the beginning and the end, the source and the summit.

We are what we eat. If we eat the proclamation of the death of Christ, we must become the proclamation of the death of Christ. At the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and told them, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” The washing of feet is a symbol. Everything that Jesus did for us, we are called to do for our brothers. Did he serve us? Then we should serve others. Did he love us? Then we should love others. Did he forgive us? Then we should forgive others. Did he die for us? Then we should die for others. Did he give us his body and blood? Then we should give our bodies and our blood for others.

We are what we eat. If we eat the Body of Christ, we become the Body of Christ. Someone here is the hand of Christ. Someone here is the feet of Christ. Someone here is the heart of Christ, beating with love. Together we are the Body of Christ, with Jesus Christ as our head. If we eat this body and drink this blood, anything we do, Christ does, since we are part of the Body of Christ. If we eat this body and drink this blood, we must act in a manner worthy of our call. If we eat this body and then sin, we have brought sin upon the Body of Christ. If we drink this blood and then hate someone, we have brought hatred into the Blood of Christ. No longer is any sin a small sin. No longer is any sin a private failing. If we have chosen to be part of the Body of Christ, we must also choose to be perfect. When we fall short of perfection, we must confess our sins and be forgiven.

Our Lord Jesus Christ borrowed from us humanity and took it to himself. Tonight he gives it back to us. If we participate in his humanity, entirely, we will be saved. His humanity is a life preserver thrown from heaven to us who are drowning. We must cling to it. There is nothing here on earth that can save us; we cannot save ourselves. We are saved not by imitation but by participation. If you try to be like Christ, you will fail. We must participate in his Body, by eating his Body and drinking his Blood. Then we will participate in the life of Christ, a life of service and self-giving. Then we can participate in the death of Christ, a perfect sacrifice. And only then can we participate in the Resurrection of Christ.

April 4, 2012 - Wednesday of Holy Week

Today's Readings

Today is traditionally called “Spy Wednesday” from when the word “spy” meant something like “traitor”. We remember today the actions of Judas Iscariot, the friend of Jesus who betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver. We know that Judas was greedy. He used to steal the money that was set aside for the poor. However it was that he justified the betrayal in his own mind, the first words out of his mouth today are "What are you willing to give me?"

Jesus makes it clear that he knows about the betrayal. All the disciples profess that it could not be them who betrays him. Then it is Judas's turn. He says, "Surely it is not I, Rabbi." Jesus responds with his great wisdom, “So you said.” Judas was free to make a decision. When he said that he was not the betrayer, he had the power to not be the betrayer. Even at that late stage, nothing forced him to betray Jesus. He could have confessed everything right there. He could have begged forgiveness. He would have been forgiven. Jesus told him the consequences of betrayal: "The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born." This is not a threat but a true assessment of the situation that Judas had chosen. How did he hear these words and then still go out and betray Jesus? Even if he had no scruples about betraying an innocent man for money, he ought to have feared for himself.

We can learn an important lesson from Judas in the Gospel today. It is never too late to do what is right. No matter how deeply we have woven ourselves into sin, we can always begin doing what is right. Even if it means that we will be considered disgraced in our community, even if it means that we will lose all our money, our freedom, even our life, it is never too late to do what is right. This is a lie that Satan tells. The mountain between us and the right road seems insurmountable, but all we have to do is turn around. If we confess our sins and face the consequences, the worst that could happen is at least better than Hell.

April 3, 2012 - Tuesday of Holy Week

Today's Readings

From the prophet Isaiah today comes a prophecy about Jesus Christ. In this prophecy we are told that the savior of Israel will be the savior of the world. We are told that what will first seem like failure will turn out to be complete success. We are told that the savior will find his strength in God and will be glorified in his sight. We are also told that the savior was formed as God’s servant in his mother’s womb.

As we near the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, when he was scourged and killed upon a cross, we, as a culture, should remember that this same Jesus was once a child, a fetus, an embryo, a zygote. In our culture no one is forced to undergo suffering such as the unborn undergo. We do not kill criminals so lightly as we kill small children, nor do we use such cruel methods.

If it is not enough for us to be opposed to killing small children because, as fellow humans, we were once just like them, let us remember also that Jesus too was once just like them. God became a man. In so doing he granted dignity to all humans which can never be taken away. The work of a carpenter will always be particularly dignified because Jesus did that work. The homeless deserve our particular interest and care, since our Lord was homeless. We cannot ignore the poor, since our Savior chose to be poor. The Holy Land is holy because God lived there, walking the streets of Jerusalem and the roads of Galilee.

Just so, as we are devoted to Jesus in every stage of his life, we should not ignore the first nine months. We have devotions in the Church to Jesus on the Cross, to Jesus as a man, to the child Jesus, to the infant Jesus. We should not ignore devotion to the unborn Jesus, to Jesus, formed as God’s servant in the womb. Where better could we direct our prayers against the slaughter of millions of unborn children, formed just as Jesus was and killed just as Jesus was? Who could be more sympathetic to their suffering?

Jesus, formed as God’s servant in the womb, you who are life itself, you who were greeted by John the Baptist before either of you were born, protect all the unborn from the evil intentions of those who would harm them. Grant an end to the massacre which is happening even now. We ask this in your name. Amen.

April 2, 2012 - Monday of Holy Week

Today's Readings

Some people are always trying to suggest that Judas was not so bad. Maybe he only betrayed Jesus in order to push him to get started saving Israel. They point to the fact that, when Jesus was condemned to death, Judas regretted what he had done. Of course, this just makes him more prideful than pure evil, to think that Jesus needed to be pushed along by Judas. We hear today that Judas was indeed greedy. Whether he had intended for Jesus’ arrest to be the beginning of something greater or not, Judas was the kind of person who stole money from the poor. Judas was greedy. The thirty pieces of silver were all the temptation he needed.

What we hear about the chief priests is truly horrible. Sometimes it is suggested of them as well that they only arrested Jesus in order to encourage him to act more like the Messiah. Others say that they were only fulfilling the law. No matter how people try to justify their actions toward Jesus, the suggestion at the end of the Gospel today that they were planning on killing Lazarus shows that they were bad men. They were willing to kill a man because he was living proof of the power of Jesus Christ. They wanted to hide the works of Jesus Christ. How corrupt does a person have to be, to be willing to kill someone to hide the fact that he had risen from the dead?

Perhaps Judas just began by “borrowing” a little money from the money bag. Perhaps he began to take a small percentage of each donation as a “fee” for handling. I would expect that he had all sorts of ways of justifying what he did, but he eventually became the sort of person who reprimands others for not making donations to the poor (which he intends to steal) and who would sell his friend for 30 pieces of silver. Perhaps the chief priests began with legitimate doubts about whether Jesus was the Christ. Perhaps they even made up lies about him to “help” the uneducated people see that he was not. I expect that they could justify lying and hiding the truth, but today they are willing to kill a man for no better reason than that he used to be dead. We learn today that Judas and the chief priests were scoundrels. Nothing can justify the crimes they are accused of today.