May 31 - Pentecost
Jesus is crucified, dead and buried. His followers, who have hidden themselves, denied him, betrayed him, who did not present themselves at the foot of the cross, save St. John, have retreated back to the Upper Room. The windows shuttered, the doors locked. They killed our leader, we will surely be next.
Then, they hear that Jesus is back. Imagine what is going through their minds. How did we act during the suffering, the scourging, the crucifixion of the one we came to believe is God; I AM in the flesh? What will be God’s reaction to our behavior? Certainly, he will be upset, he’ll ask us why we let him down. He’ll be disappointed. Now to have God, I AM, disappointed with you, does that mean he’ll punish us? Send us away?
Well Jesus comes to them and his words are not angry or upset. He says peace be with you. Always forgiving, always understanding, always loving. For 40 days, the Jewish number of purification, Jesus presents himself and then ascends back to the Father. But he tells them wait for the gift of which I spoke about. Do not leave the city until that gift arrives.
It’s now 10 days later form Jesus’ ascending to the Father and the Jewish feast of Pentecost occurs; Pentecost, meaning 50 days, is the 50th day after Passover. A celebration calling Jews to the Temple from all over the known world. The great gift arrives. Tongues of fire settle over the heads of those gathered representing the Holy Spirit. The power of the love between the Father and the Son spirating out to empower. They are not afraid. They are emboldened to go out and preach Christ crucified. And even though there are people from different places, with different languages, everyone hears these Galileans in their native tongue.
What is it that divides us most among peoples and cultures? Philosophy, politics, or food? No, it is language. Different languages not understood by others hinders communication, promotes misunderstandings and sharing of ideas. Language is divisive. But language is how we connect and communicate with others; the spoken word. Even in the written word, we sometimes fail to communicate. We can misread a text or email with no vocal inflection, tone or timbre. The spoken word shared unites us.
Our word for sin comes from the German “sunde” meaning sunder; to divide. Wherever there is division, there is sin. Division between communities, spouses, families, cultures create problems. Sin is a division of us from God.
While the gift of the unifying language spoken by those receiving the Spirit on the first Pentecost was a powerful call to unify; one God, one Church. And although this gift of language is no longer prevalent, it does express the fact that we are all united by one God. One God who made us, redeemed us and sustains us. We all share in that Holy Spirit; the love of the Father and the Son.
Since God’s words have affect (let there be light and there was light) also with affect is the power of his love which grants us many fruits and seven gifts. Knowledge, understanding, wisdom, counsel, piety, courage and fear of the Lord. Knowledge to know the truth, understanding to know the difference between the truth and falsehood, wisdom to be able to apply truth, counsel to share the truth with others, piety to pray for help with the truth, courage to profess the truth and fear of the Lord to know that, in awe, we are made by God, we are sinners and we need God.
Even though language can still separate us, the Holy Spirit, that love unites us. Without words, we can love one another. Love, the strongest weapon in the universe can be expressed to everyone by the way we treat one another; food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, patience, endurance, even a simple smile breaks apart mistrust. And the overwhelming power of that love, the Holy Spirit assists us in loving God; loving others. The world can be united. Not with language as on the day of Pentecost, but with love, especially the supernatural love of God; the Holy Spirit.
This weekend, Nativity welcomes our RCIA participants to receive the Spirit through the Sacrament of Confirmation. All of us receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in us at Baptism. At Confirmation, we receive the fullness of the Spirit; fruits and gifts. Everyone receives the same fruits and gifts, but manifestation of these fruits and gifts are seen in different ways as separate members of the family provide different gifts for the benefit of the whole. Sometimes a gift given to us will only surface when we need that gift. Courage when persecuted for example. Fear of the Lord when caught up in serious sin to tell us we need God.
Although we often miss the point, we truly are one people with one God who creates us all. Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created, and You shall renew the face of the earth. Help us to unite together; one people, one God. Help us to Love God, Love Others and Make Disciples; to unite, with the help of the Holy Spirit all of us as members of the Kingdom of God; as Children of God.
Jesus has completed his mission on earth; 40 days, the number of purification. For 40 days after his resurrection, he has bolstered up the faithful with presentations of himself as an affirmation of the truth he has professed; the truth that death has no hold on those who believe. With Christ as our savior, we become fully alive living as God’s children. Death cannot harm us. Eternal life is offered to everyone.
The Apostles are gathered with Jesus and the question asked is, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” His answer, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority.” But in the meantime, you will receive another gift; the power of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit, the power of the love between the Father and the Son coming upon them. And in love and by love they are to proclaim the message of the Kingdom of God, to Baptize and therefore incorporate others into the Church.
Jesus tells them, “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father
about which you have heard me speak…” This is the Holy Spirit. In other words, don’t go out until you are properly equipped to do your work.
The Kingdom of God is with us, but it is our work to spread the word. In many cases, it is our task to re-spread; re-evangelize a lost faith. But don’t go out unprepared. As I mentioned last week, there are several ways we can proclaim the faith. 1; Don’t get emotional or mad. 2; Explain calmly what you can. If you can’t, be honest, say you don’t know, but go and get an answer and bring it back to the questioner. 3; Read up on the topics you are not aware of. 4; Know where to go for information. 4; If you start to argue, stop and change the subject.
The Apostles watch Jesus ascend and they are met with angels. Get to work! That message is for us also. Although he is ascended to the Father, Jesus is still with us; no longer in body, but in his mystical presence.
I want to thank all of you for coming to Mass today. As you can see, we’ve made some adjustments.
We URGE you to wear a mask. There are many who are frightened and many who are at an increased risk. The mask may not be for your protection but rather for them. We will not have an offertory or collection at Mass for a while. As you leave church, there are baskets to place your donation if you wish. For our homebound and those hesitant to assist at Mass for right now, we will continue to stream the 11:00 English Mass and the 1:00 Latino Mass every Sunday on our Nativity webpage. For a while, no sign of peace will be offered at Mass. For the reception of the Eucharist, the ushers will dismiss us one row at a time, (but I think we can pretty much do this ourselves). The middle rows come forward for communion, the side rows come forward also leading out from the side closest to the altar. We will not cross rows or go to the rear as we have done before. Communion will be received in the hand. The Precious Blood will not be available. At dismissal, the ushers will dismiss one row at a time. Center rows exit the front doors and side rows exit the terrace doors. Please do not congregate in the church before or after Mass. And, please no food or drink, even for the babies.
I realize this is a no win situation. Some will think we should have done more; others that we should do less. These steps come to me from the Bishop and by my obedience, that’s what I’m doing.
Thank you for your presence and your patience. Also, I want to thank you for your financial support. Our community is the largest on-line contributor in the diocese. All of our bills have been met and we continued helping the Pregnancy Center of Middle TN and the Well to whom we contribute financially on a quarterly basis. Additionally, our payment of $50,000.00 to our debt principle has not been disrupted. If you or anyone in our community is hurting in any way, do not hesitate to contact us. We have the Hearts and Hands group ready to assist from our website or call me at the church. We are one family and family helps family.
Jesus has ascended to the Father, but he is still with us and all of us are empowered by the Spirit to reach out to our neighbor, to teach and help build up the Kingdom of God.
The readings for today have St. Philip going out to the countryside to proclaim Christ Crucified. This was after the martyrdom of St. Stephen has caused an exodus out of the city to seek safety from persecution.
As is often the case, when the Word travels into a new area; a place where Jesus has never been heard of, great works accompany the preaching to bring non-believers on board. Philip is able to drive out demons and cure the cripple.
After the introduction of the Faith and Baptism, the “heavy weights are sent in, Peter and John to pray for the Spirit to be sent. Even today, the Church separates these two events. Baptism and Confirmation are two separate sacraments.
Along with the Spirit comes gifts. We receive many fruits from the Spirit and Seven Gifts: Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Counsel, Fortitude, Piety and Fear of the Lord. Knowledge to know the truth, wisdom to know how to use the truth, counsel to help others find the truth, fortitude to stand against the enemies of our faith, piety to be prayerful and ask God for help and Fear of the Lord to realize he is our Creator, we are sinners and we all need his help.
Are you confirmed? Received the Spirit? Then, you have received those gifts. You contain all of the gifts, but they are manifested in different ways and each one of us has a particularly strong gift. Different gifts, manifested by different people for the sake of the entire community. What is your special gift? Whenever there is a revealing of God to a person in the Old and New Testament, there is an attached mission. What is your mission? What is your vocation? What is your gift? And if you haven’t utilized that gift, it is never too late to start; look at me, a priest at 55.
After the Faith is accepted, we always need to tend to it. Like a garden. Plants uncared for will die.
We consider the U.S. as a place that has been evangelized already, but as we know, there is a move to re-evangelize. To build up and care for the faith, renew our faith, re-educate and bolster up each other.
Now, more than ever, we need this to happen. In the US, we do not have to look very far to see Christianity under attack. Just read a newspaper; watch the news. Worldwide also, Christianity is the most attacked of all faiths. There were more martyrs in the 20th century than all the previous 19 centuries combined.
We use our gifts of the Spirt for the building up of the Kingdom. But how do we do this? Today, we hear, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope…” Christianity is a religion of reason. Faith seeking understanding as St. Anselm said. There is a reason for everything we do in the Catholic Faith.
All of us are called to spread the Kingdom of God at least with the way we live our lives as Christians, but also with words and explanations when necessary.
Today, evangelizing the Faith can be difficult. Defending Catholicism can be difficult. Difficult because of the climate against religion here and abroad, but also difficult in our country in a different way. That problem, in the US is the ultimate desire to be inclusive. Additionally, we are all taught that our faith is personal and we don’t discuss it lest we offend someone. The environment of inclusivity creates many ideas: some correct and some in error. And our attitudes of political correctness impede us from denouncing any ideas held by others. I don’t mean that we don’t listen to everyone or we push people out that don’t see things the way we do, but to place inclusiveness as the utmost function of a society means we have to accept everyone’s ideas as truth. Everyone is right, no one is wrong.
+. I create my own morality regardless of the fact that it is God who creates morality. Thy shall not kill becomes don’t kill unless it benefits me. Abortion becomes a right.
+. Sexual mores run wild. No one corrects, everyone must accept the notion that if no one gets hurt, it must be OK. But we don’t see the personal hurt it does cause.
+. Objective truths are removed to accommodate individual desires and premises.
And again, there is the fact that all of us are taught that faith is a private issue not to be discussed openly, never offend anyone especially when we, as a society seem to always see disagreement as condemnation.
So how do we progress our faith? Again, to progress Christianity, words are OK, but actions are better. Living a good Christian life is the best way to put Christ in the world. But in a particular way, we need to defend the specific Catholic Faith. Even in this inclusive climate, people will confront us. Why do you Catholics do that? Many of us are intimidated by this. Many of us don’t know the answers. It can be frustrating and we show ourselves weak.
Let me suggest a few ways to offer a defense of our Catholic faith in the world: When we are asked questions:
- Ignore emotional responses: no anger/argument/frustration. Keep cool, calm and use gentleness and compassion. Don’t be aggressive.
- Provide the answer calmly if you can. But if you don’t know the answer, be humble and honest. “No, I don’t know why that is.” But don’t leave it there! Tell them you will find out the answer. Educate yourself and them when you revisit the questioner to provide an answer.
- Don’t argue. Arguments are useless. If you start arguing, stop the discussion and change the topic. You may agree to disagree.
- Avoid emails and texting since intention and emotion can be misleading in written dialogue.
- Prepare yourself by reading up on topics you are not clear about. Really, there are only a few items people don’t understand about Catholicism: Mary, praying to Saints, Statues, True Presence, the Pope and his authority.
- Know where to go for help. Defending the faith is called apologetics, not apologizing but explaining. Find sights on the internet which can be trusted. Ask your priest or deacon. Contact a Catholic School.
- We often assume someone’s faith position. Not all non-Catholics belief in the same things. Don’t reduce the person to a single faith orientation. See where the person is; they may be Moslem but not believe what you think all Moslems believe. Same for Protestant denominations and our Jewish brothers and sisters.
- Use the power of stories/ narrative. Not bullet points of the catechism. Work in the story of your own life. “I used to not believe (a particular item) but because of (a particular event) I came to the understanding of “transubstantiation”, pro-life. Papal authority, etc….
We begin to prepare for the celebration of Pentecost in two weeks. Jesus was the first Advocate and when he returns to the Father, he promises another Paracletus, meaning a lawyer who pleads for us, encourages and advocates on our behalf. The Spirit is offered to everyone who has accepted Christ and been baptized into the Family of God as a member of the Church.
What is your special gift and how do you use it to build up Kingdom of God? How do you use it to defend Catholicism?
Unfortunately, during last week’s Mass, the sound went off as the homily started. It was all centered on St. Peter’s speech in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. The reading was part of his great speech on the first Pentecost. The Holy Spirit empowers the Apostles to leave the confines of the locked Upper Room and begin to proclaim the message of Christ crucified. Peter’s claim is that this Jesus, which we killed was truly the Messiah and he is also Yahweh. Jesus is God, he is I AM WHO AM. A speech so moving that 3000 were converted that day.
In accepting the message of Christ being God and we killed him (which refers to all of us who are sinners for whom he died), we owe him our very existence. Everything comes from him and all of us are sinners who need his help. His work on the cross allows the gates of Heaven to be reopened after the Fall of Adam and Eve. Everyone has the possibility of entering Heaven. Belief in this requires all of us to center our lives on Christ; our work, play, education, finances ……everything. You know, this Heaven is our ultimate goal. Our entire lives are lived in relationship to getting to our final destiny of Heaven. Heaven is where we are meant to be. We live in this world as sort of resident aliens. We find out that this world can only offer us transitory joy while Heaven, being with God for all eternity is the joy that never fades. Heaven is the fullness of our mission, our lives, and our true resting place after a hard work.
But what is Heaven?
In earlier periods of Christianity, the world was seen as a true valley of tears and pain. The planet earth as a transition were we simply endured until we died to go on to the next stage. Vatican II offers us a new view of the world. A planet that we are entrusted with to care for, improve and tend as a gift from God. A place to make better for the next generation. This is a good thing. We are stewards of the gift given to us as we prepare for the next world. Earth is the beautiful anti-chamber, the vestibule or waiting room for Heaven. And since this world offers us so much beauty, we could only imagine what lay before us in Heaven.
But is there any information about what Heaven is truly like? First, there are the generalized views of Paradise.
We say Heaven is a place where we rest. “Eternal rest grant unto them o Lord”. We all know that this world is a place of toil. We have to work, we suffer, we endure cold, heat, storms, hardships. Heaven is a place of rest.
Heaven is a place of light. “…and let perpetual light shine upon them.” Jesus tells us many times that evil dwells in the dark. The dark hides our sins; our miss-deeds. For centuries, night time was a time when nothing could be done. You didn’t travel or work without the help of electrical lighting. Fire torches and candles helped a little perhaps, but the light was vague and dim. In Heaven there is no darkness. The Lamb is the light of the City of God.
Then, we hear that in Heaven we will behold the Beatific Vision. We will see God. All the beauty we can imagine is presented to us. God, himself, the perfection of good, truth, being and beauty will be revealed to us.
So we will see beauty, have rest and no darkness.
I enjoy looking at beautiful things. Great works of art. Majestic vistas of mountains and the sea; flowers in a well maintained garden. Even listening to great music. But in human terms, I eventually get bored at looking at one thing. Looking on the Beatific vision of God, in my earthly view seems limiting.
Rest? Think of a vacation that never ends. Sort of like the social isolation we’re experiencing now. Rest is good, but it must be to help me be ready to do the next thing on my list.
No darkness? Night for us brings a deeper rest to prepare for the next test, the next action.
My earthly notions of Heaven sort of fall short in my limited human condition.
All of this foreseen rest, beauty and light all seem to be an individual item. Sure, I can rest alone, rejoice in beauty alone and live my life in the light, but I want to immediately share all this with others; not so much just by myself.
Is Heaven more?
In the Gospel today, Jesus gives us a truly human vision of Heaven. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”
Think of a grand household. Perhaps even Downton Abbey. In order for it to function, there needs to be others working. Gardeners, artists, cooks, entertainment. A bustling, busy complex of people engaged in community. Here is the notion that in Heaven, I will not be a floating individual existing in some type of disconnect. No, I can relate to this in a human fashion. A home. Relationships. Community. Giving and taking of Love.
This is a very Catholic notion which we perceive in the Holy Trinity. Each Person unique yet the same with different attributes or work assigned to them: God the creator, Jesus redeems, the Holy Spirit sustains. A community working together in peace, with purpose and in love. So in our earthly presence and in our heavenly presence there is a unity of diversity. The many living as one. Common goals, in relationship, and all in love.
Now go a little farther in the scriptures. Revelation tells us about a city in Heaven, the Heavenly Jerusalem. Jerusalem means the city of peace. How about a Heavenly city of peace? For an earthly city to function, everyone participates, gives, supports albeit there is sin. In a Heavenly city, they do so in peace. In love absent of sin. A city implies architecture, art, museums, sports, food, a variety of cultures of people from different places.
Now, I, nor anyone else can tell you the exactness of Heaven. But with many houses in the Father’s house, it will be a community. We will be together. God’s people together in peace.
St. Bernard tells us that Heaven will be a “constant exploration into God”. No passivity. No boredom. Rather a constant action of happiness. A constant action of love. A perpetual engagement of activity. Jesus is going to prepare a household for me and for you. Our goal? Don’t mess this up and refuse ourselves the benefit of this great future promise. And how do we do this? Love God, Love Others. Make Disciples.
The first reading today, from the Acts of the Apostles, is from St. Peter’s famous speech on the first Pentecost. The Holy Spirit empowered the Apostles to go outside and proclaim Christ Crucified.
His message? “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
To those listening, he is saying, people, if you happened to miss it, here is what has just happened: This Jesus is the Messiah, not was, but is the Messiah. He has come to free us from sin. He has opened up to us the gates of Heaven. We were all locked out but now Heaven, Paradise is opened for everyone! Jesus is the Christ. Latin: Christo. Hebrew:Mashiach or Messiah. He is the Anointed One. The one we had waited for. The one the prophets told us about. The one who was to fight for us. But he fought in a different way. Not with the weapons of destruction, but the weapons of Heaven: peace, justice, forgiveness.
Then Peter calls Jesus Lord. The Jews had such great respect for the name of God, they would not speak it. Yahweh, or I AM WHO AM, is not spoken aloud. The Jews used many other names for God, Elohim, Adonai, El Konna, but never Yahweh out loud. For the Jews and the Roman world, Lord was the title of the ultimate leader, the person in charge. God, for the Jews, Caesar for the Romans. Remember the Jews calling to Pilate, “we have no King but Caesar!” Peter is telling that it’s not Caesar. Jesus is (again not was) but is the Lord. Jesus is I AM WHO AM. Jesus is Yahweh.
Then Peter tells his audience, “you missed it!” You even put him to death! From our view, this “you” who killed Jesus is everyone. The Jews, the Romans, you and me. This is the great evangelical cry. Jesus is God and we are all sinners, we all need his help.
The power with which Peter spoke that day convinced 3000 people to become Christians.
Well, I know about Jesus, I know I’m a sinner. You know about Jesus. You know you are a sinner. But I don’t see 3000 people coming up and following instantly any more. Why?
It’s the lack of power that keeps us from proclaiming like Peter and living our lives out as the Apostles did. We’ve lost the excitement. We have lost the power.
Peter’s message is not inclusive. Jesus is God. We owe him everything. Period. And if we believe this, that means our lives are centered around Christ. Our families, our work, our play, our expenses, our retirement decisions, our education…. every aspect of our lives must be centered on Christ.
Here in the United States. I don’t see this. Now in some places, the Church is on fire. Alive. Spirit filled, but not here so much. Peter’s proclamation equaled 3000 conversions. I’d be happy if one person listened to me and decided to follow Christ.
What is different? What is being lost? What am I missing? I believe in what Peter said.
The issue may be perhaps, that we live in a society which must include everyone and every idea. Now, I don’t mean we push people away, we do not listen and we don’t help each other. We should love everyone and demonstrate the dignity of every human.
We are taught that our faith is personal. You believe what you want; I believe what I want. Again, respect should be granted to everyone, dignity, acceptance of the person but not incorrect beliefs. We often accept the wrong so as not to upset the believer which means, many times, that false becomes true.
Here are some examples:
My morality is based on my opinion, therefore whatever I do is not wrong. The reality is that God is the author of morality. Thy shall not kill becomes thy shall not kill unless it benefits me. Abortion becomes a right.
Sexual mores fall apart. If it feels good, it must be good for me. No one is getting hurt when, in fact, it is a hurt we just don’t see.
Suicide becomes a reasonable out. Euthanasia, discarding the mentally handicapped, throw away notions of the poor and those living on the fringes of society, racism, eugenics, and the removal of objective truths to placate our personal whims and desires. Everyone is right. No one is wrong. Or, I’m OK, you’re OK. And again, here is that lesson we Westerners have learned: faith is my personal issue. I must not offend anyone else.
If everything is right, there is no wrong. Sin is watered down. Truth is watered down. The message of St. Peter that Jesus is God, we are sinners, God made us, we owe God everything is weakened. The truth can be uncomfortable, but a brick wall is a brick wall.
3000 people will not come along with a weak message which has lost its power and authority.
On earth, Jesus was a revolutionary. The world is the domain of Satan. The Kingdom of God is more powerful than evil. Goodness overwhelms. Peace wins out, ultimately. The things of his world cannot bring us happiness, only the things of Heaven.
Now, I believe we can regain the strength of the evangelical mission of Christ. We must be revolutionary people. Yes, to God. No to sin. Put Christ at the center of everything we do, every part of our lives. We can still love the individual but not allow the errors to take hold. Or, love the sinner, hate the sin.
3000 were added that day, not because the Apostles watered down and adapted Christ’s message to fit the world, but because the promise outside of the world is stronger!
Love God, Love Others, Make Disciples. Not by giving in to wrong but standing up for what is right. We must reflect the most important thing that has ever happened to any of us, to all of society, to the world. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection opened up the gates of Heaven to us, sins can be forgiven and all of us are now offered eternal life. Not just a span of 70 or 80 years, for those who are strong, but forever; eternity available to everyone.
And those listening to Peter asked, “What are we to do, my brothers?” Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; …. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call……. Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”
Yes, over the centuries, there have been many great advances for humanity, but all of it is nothing compared to the fact that God creates everything, we owe God everything, and God provides for us a life to be shared with him for eternity. What would be the greatest news to be heard right now, at this instance? That Covid19 is gone; return to church, return to work. All of us would rush to share the news. Facebook would be covered. Phones, texts and emails blasted out with great, unbounded joy. But there is a greater message that we need to remember; a message to overtake us all: my sins can be forgiven and I can live forever.
In the Gospel of Luke, the movements of the characters are important. The overarching direction for the entire Gospel is always towards Jerusalem; towards the great salvific work of Christ. In today’s Gospel passage, the two disciples are moving away from Jerusalem towards the small village of Emmaus. This demonstrates to us, that we will never catch the meaning of the Christ and his work on earth if we are moving away from the truth; the Gospels, the Church, the Word.
But even though the two disciples are walking away, Jesus shows up. Our Lord and Savior is always coming to get us. Even when we are on the incorrect path, Christ is there with us. He is always searching for us, even if we move away from him, he is there to help us.
The two don’t recognize the Savior. How many times do we enter into struggles in our lives and don’t recognize God? Where is he? Why isn’t he helping me through all this suffering, hurt and pain? When in actuality, he is always right beside us. Our God is not a God who demands that we crawl to him; he crawls after us. The Gospel, the New Testament and Old Testament is not about us finding God but rather letting him find us.
Although the two are walking away, they are still talking about the events which have just occurred. Perhaps they are trying to understand, to connect what has happened in the last few days.
Then there is this moment of great irony. Jesus asks them to tell him what has happened, what the talk is all about from Jerusalem when he, above everyone else, knows, understands and comprehends exactly what has occurred.
He was a great prophet, they tell him. We had hoped that he was the one to lead us, the promised one, the Messiah. Then, there is the buzz about Jesus coming back from the dead. “Some women from our group, however, have astounded us:they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; … they [reported that they] had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive.”
These disciples have all the right information but they just don’t “get it”. Just like so many of us, when we hear a joke or a story and all of the information is provided for us, we just don’t get it. They have not yet connected the pattern of the story, the incidents don’t make sense to them as if the details don’t stand together as a single story just as we all do sometimes, when the information is repeated to us, we don’t see the patterns needed to make a connection to what is being said to us.
So, Jesus tells them the story again. But this time, he fills in the back story. He starts with Genesis, he traces all of the scriptures, the prophets, the information that pertains to the Messiah. How he would arrive, what he would do, how he was to suffer and die and how he would raise from the dead.
The village of Emmaus shows up and Jesus appears to be going on. The two plead with him to stay with them. Night is coming. Eat dinner with us. Why? Why not just let this unidentified person go on his way? Because the disciples are intrigued. They want to hear more from this unidentified traveler. The information, the stories he told them rested with them. Their hearts were burning. Tell us more.
Then, as he did on the night before he died and as we do at every Mass, Jesus takes, blesses, breaks and gives the bread. The bread that is now his body. Their eyes are opened. They see. They connect their loose ends of information. Now, they “get it”.
Think of your relationship with Christ.
As a child, we learn about the faith. Baptism, Mass, even Confirmation. Some of us “get it”, but many of us just don’t. We go on through life. We learn more, we listen, we see how the world works. More of us “get it”, the relationship with Christ we so desperately need. Marriage, family, more living. More of us “get it”. Still others, not so much. Some of us have to hear the stories over and over. Live through the sufferings of life, the sufferings of others until, finally, we “get it”.
We all seem to have more time on our hands now. If you haven’t “gotten it”, rethink, re-listen, look for the patterns of the story of Christ and how he is always with us, looking for us, walking with us even when we don’t recognize him or don’t “get it”.
The Eucharist is a great way to recall, re-hear the message, the sacrifice and the message of Christ. Bread is taken, blessed, broken and given so that we may recognize him in that breaking of the bread which has now become Christ himself, given to us as Manna from Heaven.
Finally, as we “get it”, our eyes are opened and even though we may be travelling in the wrong direction, away from Christ, we turn around to deliver the pearl of faith we have attained to someone else, if not by our words, by our actions as we live as Christ teaches us. The disciples from Emmaus, turned immediately, even though it was night; a very difficult time to travel with no electric lights, to share their story, their faith.
Even when we do not recognize him, Christ is with us. Even when we go the wrong way, he walks with us; crawling after us. Searching; looking for us.
April 19 - Divine Mercy Sunday
During his 3 years of Jesus’ public life, he has said all that needed to said; the completeness of revelation is wrapped up in his message to the world; to us. On earth, he gathered many disciples and a close following of 12 Apostles; an inner circle. One, Judas betrays Jesus, so now we’re down to 11.
Of those 11, Peter, their leader denies Christ three times and through the suffering of his crucifixion, 10 of them run away and hide. Only St. John stays. Only 1.
The Romans were very good at killing. There is no doubt that Jesus is really dead. In his humanity, he ceases to physically exist. However, his divinity, which cannot suffer, continues just as our physical bodies will leave us and our souls, made in the image and likeness of the Father will continue.
The Apostles, and others, have secreted themselves back to the Upper Room with locked doors certain that the authorities were coming after them. They were the closest of Christ’s followers. They killed the leader, surely they will want to eliminate his followers.
But perhaps, even more frightening is the fact that Jesus is back. He is alive; resurrected. Peter and John saw the empty tomb; Mary Magdalene saw him.
Aware of the fact that Jesus is the Son of God, and the fact that all, save John, ran and hid. What will he do to them? Will he punish them for their desertion? Will he let John live and kill us? What will he do to Peter for his denial?
Then, on the evening of the first day, Sunday for us, the light begins to diminish. Shadows take over the light of the day. The fear and trepidation are thick.
Amid all of this, Jesus appears. The doors were locked but he just walks right through! Everyone is holding their breath to see what he will do.
He looks at everyone and says, Shalom; peace. Not, “I told you so”, not “I’m disappointed”, not “I’m angry” or “I’m mad” but “Peace”.
That’s his message. That’s his power. Peace conquers. Love overcomes hate. The tyrants of the world are helpless against the love of God.
He shows all of them exactly what he is. He is God and God is love. And, he is merciful.
In the responsorial psalm today, psalm 118, we hear,” his mercy endures forever.” Let the house of Israel say, “His mercy endures forever.” Let the house of Aaron say, “His mercy endures forever.” Let those who fear the LORD say, “His mercy endures forever.”
God is simple, that means he is one. There is no division in him. Since God is love; everything is from that one simple item. His mercy, his forgiveness, his justice, his forbearance, his patience, everything is love.
Think of a prism. One, simple white lite is broken into many colors. But the colors are still part of the one, simple white light.
Love is not what God does. Love is not what God has. Love is what God is. He cannot deny himself of what he is. He loves us all. No matter what. Nothing can make him stop loving us.
We tend to see different attributes as standing alone. Justice is different than love. But for God, it is all the same. But in that perfect love and mercy, we can never say that he will overlook everything; that there is no Hell; everyone goes to Heaven. He is the perfection of every virtue. Yes, he loves perfectly but his justice is perfect also. We can always assume his love, but not his forgiveness. Forgiveness is something we are required to ask for.
Yet, his mercy endures forever. God will always love us. But for us humans, his primary expression of his love for us is in his mercy; his willingness to forgive. Just as there is nothing that can make God not love us, there is nothing that God will not forgive. We need only to ask.
That forgiveness, that mercy is exhibited in a special way today, the Second Sunday of Easter we call Divine Mercy Sunday.
In 1905 at the beginning of the 20th century, Helena Kowalska was born. Later, she would become Sr. Maria Faustyna Kowalska of the Blessed Sacrament. In a convent not far from the quarry which employed the young Karol Wojtyla, the future St. Pope John Paul II, Sr. Faustyna was given a vision of Christ. Most notably, the Sacred Heart of Christ with two beams of light emanating; one blue, the other red. The blue beam signified the waters of Baptism while the red signified the Blood of the Eucharist.
St. John Paul, elevated Sr. Faustyna to saint and promoted a devotion to the image displayed to her and the message delivered to her by the Savior. The image of Divine Mercy and the message of Christ’s forgiveness and his love for us.
St. John Paul noted that this daughter of Poland, St. Faustyna died on the eve of the desolation of his own native country, when one year later the Nazis overran and conquered territories for their own advantage. He also noted that the 20thcentury, with its two world wars, the rise of Communism in Russia and China, Vietnam, the threat of nuclear destruction, genocide in Russia, Africa, Europe, and Southeast Asia was the deadliest century of all time. Surely, Jesus was offering his mercy to his children during this most bloody time and painful time in all of history.
Jesus appears in the Upper Room and establishes the Sacrament of Reconciliation when he said, ““Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them…”.
This is our opportunity to participate in the great mercy of God. To be forgiven of every sin and to be reconciled to Christ, his Church and each other.
Peace be with you. Not revenge. Not anger. No exhibition of force whatsoever by our Savior in terms of our earthly understandings. Just, the power of God in his love which overcomes all hurts.
Through all we encounter, in this world due to our own sins, miss-steps, misunderstandings, disease, sufferings and pain, we have the motto of the Divine Mercy to assist us in enduring what we have done, what we have failed to do and whatever may befall us.
Jesus, I trust in You!
April 12 - Easter Sunday
In the Acts of the Apostles, our first reading for today, we are hearing Peter talk to the household of Cornelius. Peter says, “You know what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power”. Peter is referring to a personality of the day. Everyone knew about John. Peter is also mentioning places that everyone knew. The speech is in Caesarea, but everyone knew where Judea and Galilee where located.
What if I were to say something like, before Wallace Wilkinson was governor, (in KY), I knew his partner, in Glasgow, KY. I provided the music for a dinner to introduce Gov. Wilkinson as a candidate at Barren River State Resort park. I was at a meeting of educators to whom he spoke in Ashland, KY.
Does that seem as though I were about to tell you a legend or a myth. NO. Real person, real places and real times. Far from something like, “once upon a time” or “in a galaxy far away.” That’s how a legend or fairy tale starts.
No, Peter is using real places, real people, real times. To tell a real and true story. Then Peter goes on and says, “This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” A real story, real people, real events.
Peter is not utilizing mythical language.
Today, Easter is not a myth or legend but a true story.
In fact, when you read the New Testament, every word, from Mathew to the Revelation, is a message that grabs and holds onto you.
Again, St. Peter says “[we] who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. “Then every one of the Apostles, went out to preach the message of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In fact, every one of them, less John, died because of this message. No one dies for a myth. No one dies spreading the message of Star Wars or the legend of the Headless Horseman.
Go to Rome. Go to the Basilica of St. Peter. Yes, it’s the offices of the administrator of the Pope, the offices of the CEO. But above all of that, it is the world’s most noticeable tomb. The Peter, who was sent out, on fire to proclaim Christ even in the face of death.
We are not talking about a nice little incident to make us feel good about ourselves either. The proclamation was about Christ the Lord. Who was the Lord at that time? Caesar. Caesar was being replaced. One reason Rome could not put up with this new religion.
St. Paul, who met Jesus in that wonderful encounter of being knocked off his horse. Paul, this is Jesus talking to you. St. Paul, who proclaimed Jesus the Lord; not Caesar the Lord. St. Paul knew that Jesus was the Lord over Caesar, because Caesar had Jesus killed and Jesus arose over the powers that sent him to his death. Caesar; death could not hold Jesus.
There are 3 important facts to learn from Easter.
- This true story, not a myth proclaims that we have nothing to fear if Christ is the lord of our lives. Not even our greatest enemy; death. Christ brings life and life to the fullest. Earthly death will not stop us from living on.
- This life is a free gift to everyone, not just some, everyone can have this life of Christ. Jesus came into the lives of sinners, entered into death, and went down into Hell to retrieve the good souls waiting for the gates of Heaven to reopen. Jesus went as far away from the Father as possible to include everyone into his plan of salvation.
- Christ is more powerful than any dictator or evil ruler of the world. Tyrants, who may perhaps control our earthly lives, have no power over our conscious acceptance of an immortal life to be lived with Christ.
The true resurrection of Christ from the dead, in space and in time shows us that he is more powerful than anything in the earth. He has power over everything even over life and death. Easter, especially now, in the face of this great pandemic we all share in, brings to us the fact that nothing stands between us and Christ; no sword, no death, no disease…. nothing. Christ, who conquers everything with peace, negates everything on earth which has been set up, maintained or removed by the power of hate, force, intimidation and pain.
Have we let the earth shattering news of Christ become anemic, a quiet whisper among people? The power of Christ’s life, suffering and death is still earth shattering. It’s powerful. We need to re-emphasize, re-evangelize and hold up this story and truth in the way we live, act, talk and love.
It is our job to continue to evangelize this revolution of Christ in the world where peace and love overcome every time. We must evangelize ourselves, our families our neighbors, our world.
We cannot just say, this message is for me; its personal, others don’t need to know or hear about Jesus. We are compelled to bring the message out into the open. The message that Jesus offers us all life eternal. Death has no bearing on us. Love overwhelms hate.
April 5 - Palm Sunday
When a priest is ordained, they usually prepare a prayer card to be distributed. A picture on one side, a prayer on the other. On the back of one newly ordained priest, the back of the card simply read: The Lord has need of it.
On Palm Sunday, there is a Gospel proclaimed before the procession into church. Due to our cancellation of public Mass, that Gospel is not read today. It is the story of Christ sending forth his disciples to retrieve a donkey for his entrance into Jerusalem form St. Matthew, 21: 1-11.
This would be like someone today coming up to our automobile and taking it. Jesus says,” … if anyone should say anything to you, reply, ‘The master has need of them.’”
That first Mass for a new priest can be a real boost to the ego. Friends, family, brother priests, all celebrating the fact that you’ve finally made it. You have accomplished your goal.
In signifying his humility, this priest simply says, “The Master has need of it”. No personal pronoun, just “it”. Jesus doesn’t ask for a beautiful horse. He asks for a humble donkey. This priest was saying that his priesthood would be spent in humility, doing would the Lord required of him; whatever the Lord had need of.
There are three sacraments known as character sacraments. They leave an indelible mark on our souls; Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders. The Greek word standing behind our English word character means to brand. To mark like cattle are branded to announce ownership. We are branded to be God’s own. We are made for God. And again, everything we have is from God; our existence and every other gift we have.
We tend to look at our gifts as tools to be used to help us.
Are you intelligent? Great. My intelligence will help me to get into a good school, college a good career and a financially secure position. But, “the Master has need of it.” That gift of intelligence is meant to be used for others. Am I utilizing my intelligence to help others, to relieve suffering, to end hunger or educate others about Christ?
Do you have the gift of a great personality? My great personality helps me to have friends, make contacts and be happy. But, “the Master has need of it.” Am I utilizing my personality to attract others to the Faith, to the Church, to Christ?
Whatever the gift. Are we utilizing it for the others or just for our own personal needs? Not that acquiring security, money, comfort for yourself is bad. But if the Master as need of it, can I utilize it for him?
The Master has need of me. The Master has need of you.
Whenever you begin training; for dance, a musical instrument, a sport, you always begin with the basics. Dancers always start with the basics in the bar exercises. Musicians with scales and arpeggios. In every sport, the season kicks off with the basic elements of the game.
As we begin this season of Lent, the Church takes us back to the basics. We go back to the beginning. God creates man out of the clay of the earth and then breaths his life into him. Even though we’ve all heard this story many times before, we need to hear the story again; the basics.
Everything we have comes from the God of love. Existence, being, breath, life…. all; everything a gift, given to us. We belong to the Love that created us. Our lives come to us, received from another source. We must live for God because we come from God. Our lives are not our own.
Is this a bad thing? the Bible tells us over and over that this is good news. We belong to a living God that wants us to be alive with his life. When we begin to resist that life with God, that’s when we get into trouble.
Created to be loved, filled with God’s own being, Adam and Eve are then placed in a garden where they are given practically full reign. Eat of all the trees; all the fruits, any of the delights provided, take of them. Only one tree is away from us. The full reign in Eden represents all of Christian humanism; art, music, architecture, politics, play, sports, entertainment; the things that make life wonderful. God wants us to have all of this.
Then the Serpent appears. Notice, the snake is a creature of God. The serpent is not in competition with God; not on an even keel with the Creator. God’s creature is allowed to be in the Garden.
The Serpent says that God is keeping the Tree of Good and Evil from you. You won’t die if you eat, but rather be like God; God who decides good and evil. God is your rival; He does not want you to be as he is, but less than himself.
Is God really being mean by keeping that one Tree from us? Is it a plant to deceive us; entice us to do wrong? No. God is trying to protect us. The Tree of Good and Evil is what he wants to keep from us. Like an abandoned cave with a danger sign.
Morality is determined, not from our observations and practices but by God. God decides the good and the bad.
Sadness enters into our individual gardens when we decide good and bad; morality on our own. God’s morality? Don’t kill. We decide: don’t kill unless we have a good reason; it is OK if it is good for me while forgetting the other. Don’t commit adultery? Well, as long a nobody gets hurt, it surely must be OK.
This is the tragedy which the Book of Genesis is all about. The ultimate moment when it is realized that we could have it all but we mess up and blow it by moving away from the great promises of God.
The basics of life? We live for God because we are from God. Genesis tells us that when they ate of the fruit, their eyes were opened. Opened to the tragedy brought into their lives by their own, personal free will. God becomes a rival. Man becomes a rival to woman and vice versa. Nature is now, an enemy. When their relationship with God is broken, everything else breaks apart. Eden is closed for them, not because God is vindictive, but because God, who is the perfection of every virtue, is perfect in love and here, perfect in justice. God does not put us in Hell, we place ourselves there. There is a natural consequence when we grasp at good and evil on our personal determination. There is a consequence from the Fall setting a momentum away from God; away from the divine life breathed into us.
In the Gospel today, Jesus is in the desert. We see that as he confronts Satan, as he confronts the Serpent, he sets a new direction; a new momentum for us.
Adam and Eve faced the “Three Fold Temptation”. Temptation of the eyes (the fruit looked good so they wanted it), the temptation of the flesh (Surely the food will taste good, even if it is bad for us) and the temptation of power (they believed they would become gods if they took the fruit).
Jesus faces the “Three Fold Temptation”, which we can translate to the temptations of riches, pleasure, and power.
Jesus, look at all these beautiful, bright shiny kingdoms that I can give you, if you bow down and worship Satan. Translation: Riches determine good and evil.
Jesus, I know you are hungry. Command these rocks to turn into bread. If you are the Son of God, feed yourself. Translation: Make food, drink, pleasure the determining factor of good and evil for yourself.
Jesus, if you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. Angels will lift you up. Translation: Power and glory determine good and evil.
Adam and Eve give in: Jesus resists to show us the proper way to participate in the divine life of God.
How do we overcome these three temptations in our lives?
By giving alms we overcome our attachment to things; to riches.
By fasting, we overcome the temptations of the flesh.
By prayer, we overcome pride and bring humility into our lives.
These are the basics: we must live for God because we are from God.
February 26 - Ash Wednesday
Lent: 40 days, 40 for the Jews, a number of purifications. It comes from the 4 primitive elements of the world: earth, wind, fire and water becoming overcome by the Divine Law of the 10 Commandments. 10 X4 = 40. The Flood purified the world with 40 days of rain, Jesus’ 40 days in the dessert to ready himself for his mission on earth.
We mark the beginning of Lent by placing ashes on our foreheads in the shape of a cross. Why? Jesus tells us that whenever you fast, anoint your head, wash your face and don’t let people know you are fasting? Is this a contradiction to scripture? Are we being hypocrites?
Let’s look at the 1st century Jews’ context of ashes. For the OT period, ashes held a consistent theme. In Gen. God says to Adam, “you are dust and to dust you shall return”. This is a symbol of mortality. After the Fall, we are subject to death and we return to our source of dust. As Job is before the Lord he says, “therefore, I despise myself, I repent in dust and ashes. Ashes reflect our mortality and penance from sin. Daniel is praying and interceding for his people, he does penance for his people’s sins; “…with fasting, sackcloth and ashes”.
Ancient Jews when entering into an intense period of supplication/penance would don sackcloth which was uncomfortable, fast, and place ashes as a sign of mortality and penance.1 Maccabees tells us that ashes were placed particularly on the head and that they “fasted that day, put on sackcloth, [and placed] ashes on their head. Queen Esther is married to the pagan king who is going to kill all of the Jews. She enters into prayer and supplication for her people. No perfume. She replaces her fine garments, removes her jewelry and put on ashes and dung. She prayed to the Lord for her people. Thankfully, we do not adhere to Esther’s radical penance; Ash Wednesday has a much better appeal than “Dung Wednesday”!
At the time of Jesus, every 1st century Jew would realize the symbols of ashes as mortality, penance and interceding for others. Even Jesus tells us in Matthew’s Gospel, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes.”
Here today, we have the Ash Wednesday readings, the same readings for every Ash Wednesday. The O.T. reading from Joel 2:12-18 tells us to return to [God] with fasting, weeping, mourning. Rend your hearts, not your garments, be slow to anger. Blow the trumpet, gather the children [let]bridegroom/bride leave their chambers. Announcing a public penance and fast. This is a PUBLIC DAY OF FASTING; EVERYON IN A COOPERATE PENANCE.
We use our bodies to help us focus on God. Fasting is a powerful way to get your mind off of pleasing your body (food and drink) and get your mind on God. If you’re not used to fasting, you’ll quickly hear, “feed me; give me something to drink.” And if you know why you’re fasting, then all day long you are thinking of what you are focused on: Lent. Spiritual alertness. A reminder to unite soul and body to prepare for intense prayer. There a constant reminder of what is happening:
So, by marking our foreheads with ashes, we are reminding the entire community that Ash Wednesday is a day to unite and show that we are all in this together.
However, Lent, itself is a season of secret prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as Jesus tells us to be aware of public piety. Clean your face, anoint your head.
Jesus tells us how to work out our penance. With alms, prayer and fasting. For the individual, when paying alms, sound no trumpet; give alms in secret. For prayer, don’t look for man’s reward, God rewards us in secret. For fasting, not for man’s approval, God will reward in secret.
And Jesus says, not IF you give alms. He says WHEN you give alms. Jesus expects us to be REGULAR ALMS GIVERS. When you pray. Not IF you pray. Jesus expects regular prayer. When you fast. Not IF you fast. Jesus expects disciples to fast regularly.
St. Paul tells us today that “Now is the acceptable time [for]… salvation.” Don’t wait to repent. Away from the sacraments? Now is the time. Confession? Now is the time.
40 days to repent, repair, re-engage.