Love God, Love Others, Make Disciples

Fr. Jerry's Homilies

June 19

Although faith is the requirement to accept the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the explanation of how this happens is given to us by St. Thomas Aquinas:  transubstantiation.  He built upon the teachings of Aristotle with his explanation of substances and accidents. 

Think of how many chairs there are in the world. They are made in different ways: wood, plastic, leather, in many different colors and many different styles.  However, they all have one purpose: there act as chairs. Although though look different, they all share what Aristotle calls the substance of chair, or “chairness”. 

We humans, millions of us, are all unique; no one is like you. Even identical twins are not the same. However, we all share in the substance of being human. The differences we hold are referred to by Aristotle as “accidents”.  I’m accidentally 5’8”, accidentally have blue eyes, male, Caucasian.  We identify each other, each chair by their accidents. Substance and accidents.

Now, there are many different types of bread in the world ranging from white to brown to black, Pita, sandwich, cornbread, etc…  They all share the substance of bread but we can identify which bread is which by their accidents; their color, shape, size, etc…. The bread we use at Mass is accidentally round and tan. Again, the bread of the Mass has the same substance as all bread, but it is also identified by its accident.

St. Thomas explains that the substance of Christ replaces the substance of bread.  When I elevate the bread at the consecration, the substance of Jesus pushes out the substance of bread. But the accidents do not change.  The Eucharist still looks like bread, smells like bread and tastes like bread. The accidents of Jesus do not follow. And that’s a good thing, because if the accidents took over the accidents of the bread, we would have a grown man standing on the altar. We would be nibbling on His toes and fingers and we would be cannibals. Christ would not last long in that case. We do not consume the accidents; we consume the substance of God. When the wine is elevated, the substance of God pushes out the substance of the wine and again, the accidents of Christ do not follow or we would again, have a grown man on the altar; we would be cannibals.  The accidents of the wine remain. It still looks, taste, and smells like wine but we drink the substance of the Blood of Christ.

June 12

If someone asked you what is the central mystery of the Church, what would you say? Perhaps the Eucharist, the source and summit of our lives; or the Resurrection? But although these elements are important, the Catechism has the following to say: “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself.”                 (CCC 234) This is how God reveals Himself to us. And that’s where we start in our RCIA classes: “Who, or What is God?”

The Trinity is the truth of God existing as a Triune God. Three divine Persons in One. It’s easy to say but difficult to explain. In fact, it’s impossible to fully explain.  But even though we can’t explain everything, we can offer attempts to grasp or to comprehend some part of the whole:

FIRST EXPLANATION: In the beginning, before everything else, there was God. God always was, is and will always be. Even His name declares His existence: I AM WHO AM. St. John tells us that the Word was also present in the beginning and that the Word was God. This Word is Jesus, Who is begotten, not made. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God; consubstantial of the Father, that is, both are of the same substance. John goes on so say, “…the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.”                                                                         

In Genesis, we read that there was also present, “a mighty wind” that swept over the waters at the                          time of creation. This “mighty wind”, is the “breath of God” speaking creation, and us, into existence.  When God speaks, things happen. God said, “Let there be light” and there was light. “Let us make humanity in our own image”, and we were made.  The “mighty wind” is the Spirit of God we just celebrated last week at the Pentecost. I AM, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; three Divine Persons in One.

SECOND EXPLANATION: We know that God IS and St. John tells us that God is LOVE.  There are three parts to love.  The one who loves, the one who is loved, the beloved, and the love between the two; the bond connecting the lover and the beloved. God is the Lover. Jesus is the Beloved. The Holy Spirit is the Love between the Two. 

And so, the explanation of the Trinity as a community of Love is reflected.  Whenever we fall in love with someone, there are those three elements.  One is the lover who loves another.  The other becomes the beloved and the bond between the two is their love for each other. The love between two can even manifest itself in an image of the lovers; a child.

If you remove any of the three elements of love, relationships fall apart. Love without an object of its affections is unrequited. God the Father, creator of all things is love itself. Out of His love, all things came to be; all things, visible and invisible.  God loves us so much that He sent His only begotten Son, Jesus, the Beloved, the Word among us to redeem us, to reconcile us to the Father, and to love us. Through Jesus’ work, we are now called “children of God” and “friends, not slaves.” The Son completes His mission of love and returns to the Father but we are not left alone.  The Holy Spirit is sent.  The Holy Spirit, the powerful Bond of Love engulfs us and carries us through our lives and back to the Father Who made us. God the Father, creates us. God the Son, redeems us, and God the Holy Spirit, sustains us.

THIRD EXPLANATION: At room temperature, water is a liquid. At 212 degrees Fahrenheit, water becomes a gas; steam.  At 32 degrees Fahrenheit, water becomes a solid; ice. All three share the same substance, but in uniquely different forms of matter:  liquid, gas, solid. The liquid is not gas. The solid is not liquid. The gas is not solid, yet all three are water.  All share in one substance while being different in nature. God the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, the Spirit is not the Son; yet all three are God. Three distinct and Divine Persons; One God.

It’s trivial to think of Almighty God as a basic element. And the Trinity is more difficult to understand and much more involved than human love relationships. These explanations are just human attempts to explain some part of the reality of the Trinity. The full truth regarding the Trinity will be revealed to us in Heaven where all of our questions will be answered.  

Our lives, if lived well also reflect the Trinitarian God because the Father creates us in love, the Son teaches us to love others, even our enemies and the Holy Spirit empowers us to life lives of fidelity in faith or: Love God, Love others, Make Disciples.

 

June 5

Pentecost comes from the Greek word pentecoste which literally means 50. For the Jews, the 50th day after Passover was the Shavuot; the great Festival of Weeks. 7 is the number of completion. 7 X 7 weeks is 49. The time after the Passover is complete, then there is the festival called Shavuot. It was a festival to offer the first fruits of the land. All Jews were required to return to Jerusalem just as in the case of the Passover (at least those who could realistically make the trip.) The influx of Jews from different lands and languages creates the perfect time for the Apostles to get to work. So, with the help of the Holy Spirt, they go out of hiding and into the world with the message of Christ.

We read that the Spirit descended in wind and fire.  Wind is a great symbol for the Spirit of God.  Just as the love of God surrounds us and encapsulates us, wind is all around us.  Wind is sometimes gentle; sometimes fierce and ferocious. God sometimes speaks softly to us and at other times, He is loud and boisterous. Walking with the wind; with the Spirit is easy; walking against the wind; against the Spirit is difficult. Wind is formed with atmospheric pressure changes. Air rises, leaving an empty space and air rushes in to fill the vacuum.  When we empty ourselves of the clutter which leads us away from God, the Holy Spirit rushes in to fill us with power; the love of God. 

As for the tongues of fire descending at the first Pentecost, we must recall that God delivered His law to Moses on Mt. Sinai in fire. The Old Law was written on the stone tablets by fire. Now with the fulfillment of the Law by Christ, the Law descends in tongues of fire again, to rest on the heads of those gathered in the Upper Room. This time the Law is not on stone, but in our hearts. Just as God declared His holiness on Mt. Sinai, the Spirit is declared holy in Its presentation to humanity’s heart.

Humans utilize heat from the fire to purify the world around us.  Fire burns off unwanted scrub and prepares the prairie for a field of flowers.  Fire burns off the unwanted weeds of the harvest of sugar.  Boiling heat removes bacteria from food and scalding water cleanses our utensils and implements.  Fire purifies.

Fire and wind represent the power of God’s love in our lives.  The power to drive out evil and inspire us towards our singular goal; to work for the Kingdom of God and to one day, produce ourselves in Heaven to rest in the arms of the Father, our Creator; the Son, our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit, our sustainer; to love God, love our neighbors and make disciples.

May 29

The great opera composer, Giacomo Puccini wrote many long lasting classics. Along the way, he had developed a studio of talent whom he trained to become composers in their own right. The last opera Puccini composed is entitled Turandot. But in late years, the master dies without the opera being completed.  His studio of talent finishes the opera in the manner of composition that Puccini expressed in his works.

At its premier, the great director, Arturo Toscanini stops the opera at the notes last written by Puccini before his death.  All the musicians stop and Toscanini turns to the audience and says, “the master has left us.”  Then the opera begins again and the performance continues to its completion.

Jesus has completed His public ministry; just 3 years but look at the lasting effect. His first seminarian class (the Apostles) does have a 99% ordination rate with Judas dropping out.  These, first to be ordained, spread out and now the message of Christ has spread out to the corners of the world. Jesus, has resurrected and been with the new priests and fledgling church for 40 days to purify its beginnings and then ascends to the Father.

Jesus is no longer physically present. The Master has left us and we are His students who must complete the work the Master began.

May 22

The growth of the Church started with one Man, then 12, then thousands.  The Church spread to the Jews, the Gentiles, out from Jerusalem, to Rome and other lands and peoples.

There were many who were scared and frightened by the new Church, they persecuted the messengers. But despite persecution, the Church took hold, grew and expanded; eventually to every corner of the globe. Why was the message of Christ so successful?  The tools of humanity had always been power, domination, violence and intimidation. The biggest bully wins and controls.

Power can be overt as when the Egyptians held Israel in slavery, the Assyrians, Babylonians, and in our memory, the Civil War, World War I, II, Korea Vietnam, Iraq, etc…  By the world’s standards, control is brought about by conflict and aggression; “might makes right.”  But the control is always temporary. The Civil War grows into a great oppression of the South by Robber Barons and Carpet Baggers. WWI grows into WWII.  WWII grows into the Cold War. Korea grows into a tenuous stalemate separation of the country. Rights, benefits and glory belong to the victors; the common people seem to just be in the way.

Jesus proclaims a new way.  A world governed by love.  Love your neighbor, love even your enemy. This flip in philosophy makes everyone important; not just the powerful. Every human should be loved and respected. Every person has the dignity of being made in the image and likeness of God even our enemies. But the most lasting changes are brought about by love, agreement between people, focusing on the dignity of the individual.  King, Gandhi, Mandela, Jesus. 

And here’s the thing that I think makes Christianity most appealing; Jesus is inclusive.  Everyone can jump on board: Today’s reading:  Only circumcised members?  No, all the Gentiles without restriction. When we see someone that’s different? Love them.  Other faiths, Moslem, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, rich, poor homeless, gay……love them. Now, I’m not saying that everyone is right; everyone is good; but that’s not my job.  My job; our job is to love them! We can see the Church in two ways:  Everyone has to be like me to join, just like in the first reading some believed that to follow Jesus, you had to adhere to the Jewish practices or you couldn’t belong, or the second way; all of us are sinners and all of us are seeking the good. His love; his forgiveness.

But in this modern world, but how do we spread the word of Jesus? Live the Gospel constantly, speak when it’s necessary. Offer answers to questions, or if you don’t know the answer, get the answer to teach others and yourself. But let’s take a different look at living the Gospel out in our lives.

How do you become the most influential person in your class, your school, your place of business? Four words: do the right thing. All of us have or will be placed in a situation where others are doing the wrong thing and you have to make the decision to go along or not.

I encourage you to plant your feet and do the right thing. Primary, High School, college, life; all will bring their tests to you. By not going along with the group, you will talk some flack: “momma’s boy”, “scardy cat”, sissy”.  But soon, very soon, someone from the group who made the wrong decision will circle back to you and ask your opinion about something. Why? Because they know you are right and they want to be right to.

Eventually, everyone will come to your side or leave. You will inherit the air of authority. You will be the one others turn to for advice You will become the most influential person because you are right and stand up for what is right. You will be the start of loving God, others and making disciples for many others.

May 15

Deacon Tim Conley

With a new romance, comes a rush of emotions and all we can think of is being with the one we have a crush on!  This is the release of the “feel good” chemicals, dopamine and norepinephrine.  Yet our feelings can take a deep dive into despair if our love is not reciprocated!  

The movies, country music and rock and roll, present this kind of love as the ultimate experience. The Greeks call it “eros”.  There are 8 Greek words for love, which clarify the various shades of meaning. Phillia love is friendship, where I like you and you like me.  Agape is not just love for family and friends, but also for strangers and people who don’t think like me.  It brings no personal agenda; it’s not looking for a return on its investment.

In our culture, we say: “I love you; I love God and I love ice cream.”. It’s all the same word.  When Jesus says: “Love one another…”, he is saying “agape” one another. Jesus showed us what this looks like as a servant leader who washed the disciples’ feet. He responded kindly to the disciples’ mistakes.  On the cross he said: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”.

People are not stupid!  They can recognize a loving person a mile away. Attempts to argue someone into the faith often have the opposite effect. People are not looking for more information; they are looking to be loved.

What can I do today, to make the people around me feel loved?  Let them know you hear their thoughts and feelings. Respect their boundaries. Instead of criticizing, focus on everything that’s right with them.  Whatever you focus on expands.  Be the 1st to offer an apology, even if you don’t get one back. Introduce yourself to someone at mass you’ve never met and invite them to a meal with you. 

If because we’re holding onto a grudge, we withhold affection, we are in trouble!  John says: “If someone says I love God and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen.” Every time we choose to love, regardless of how we may feel in the moment, we are in good shape.

When we 1st commit to loving, we are out of our comfort zone. But somehow, over time, we find that his yoke has become easy, and his burden has become light. What would the impact be upon my own spiritual life and on the lives of those around me, if I begin today to “agape” them?

Deacon Phil Moore

When Jesus speaks of glorification, he is referring to the glory which He will receive once he is raised up on the cross.  St. John stresses that Christ’s death is the beginning of his victory:  his very crucifixion can be considered the first step in his ascension to his Father.  And at the same time it is glorification of the Father.  Christ, by voluntarily accepting death out of love, as a supreme act of obedience to the will of God, performs the greatest sacrifice man can offer for the glorification of God.  And in turn the Father will glorify His Son.  

            In the verses just before this, Jesus is betrayed by Judas.  Jesus loved Judas until the end.  Even to the point of breaking bread and giving him communion.  “So, after receiving the morsel, he immediately went out; and it was night.”  Remember just a few weeks ago we talked about this statement, “and it was night” - - it did not refer to the time of day, but the evil that entered Judas at that very moment.  Satan had taken him over and he was committed to handing over Christ, the Messiah.  Darkness fell on Judas as if it were night.  When the darkness left, when Judas had gone, it was then that Jesus could say, “Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified.”  

            Jesus knew what his fate would be, crucifixion and death, but he also knew that resurrection and ascension to God would come.  That is the glorification of God and of Jesus.  

            Did the disciples really understand all this?  The Holy Spirit had not yet come to bring them enlightenment.  And then Jesus tells them, “My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.”  They must have been very sad.  This was a lot to tell his closest friends and now He tells them he is leaving.  We have the knowledge of 2,000 years to understand why Jesus had to leave, yet, these poor men that Jesus had selected to carry on his work would be confused.  Why did he have to leave? For the past three years they had followed him, giving up their normal lives, leaving their families and now he tells them he is leaving them.  Sometimes we too, feel like we have been abandoned so we can understand how the disciples felt.  Things happen in our lives to make us feel alone, the death of a parent, a child, a spouse, a friend all of these cause us to feel lonely and without help.  Yet we know that Jesus gave us the assurance that he would come back for us and where he was we would also be.  

            We recently went back to Memphis, a good friend had died and his wife asked me to come back and preside at the burial service.  She waited months to bury him, perhaps it was because of the finality of burial.  That lonely feeling that the one we loved is no longer there to talk to, to receive comfort from.  Yet, during the service I told her, she could still talk with him and we can be assured that through the Communion of Saints, he could hear her.  We know at Mass, during the consecration, the Church is full of our loved ones who have gone before us, all the saints and angels of Heaven are here.  Jesus gives us little personal signs that he is with us.  Even through sadness, we have Jesus to cling to and receive comfort from.

            After announcing that he is leaving them, Christ summarizes his commandments in one; he gives them a new commandment, “Love one another, as I have loved you.”  Love of neighbor was already a command in the Old Testament, (Lev 19:18) and Jesus ratified this when he specified that it was the second precept of the whole Law and similar to the first:  Love God with all your heart and soul and mind.  But here, Jesus gives the precept of brotherly love new meaning and content by saying, “even as I have loved you.”   This new commandment goes beyond the Old Testament, the love which Jesus preaches is much more demanding and includes returning good for evil, because Christian love is measured not by man’s heart but by the heart of Christ, who gives up his life on the cross to redeem us.  Here lies the novelty of Jesus’ teaching, and our Lord can rightly say that it is his commandment, the principal clause of his last will and testament.  Love of neighbor cannot be separated from love of God.   This was reinforced by St. Matthew (25:40) when Jesus said, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”  In assuming human nature, he has united to himself all humanity.  He has made charity the distinguishing mark of his disciples, in the words, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  

            After twenty centuries, it is still a new commandment, for many people it is not a normal practice and the commandment is still ignored.  If we took all the laws that govern the country and threw them away and replaced them with this one law, there would be not more war, no more violence, no more hunger, no more abortion.  This would all be replaced by pure love.  

            Let us each do our part to truly love our neighbor, so that when someone sees us, they will know we are a disciple of Christ and can be called “A Christian.” 

May 8

My father was a Chief Warrant officer for the Army National Guard. He served in this capacity for 40 years.  

There are 6 of us children, 4 boys, 2 girls.  The girls came much later in life; they were adopted.  But growing up as a child, there were 4 of us boys. Dad’s role over his family was dealt out in the same manner that he served in the military.  Authoritative but fair. Concerned but just.

Whenever any of us boys ventured outside the rules, the voice of my father would corral us back into obedience.  

Dad never said a lot.  But with just a clearing of the throat or one verbal command, you knew what you were supposed to do.

His voice guided us.  His voice cared for us and corrected us and his voice also showed concern and support. His voice decided many things for us. His yes meant yes and his no meant no.  One particular thing he decided for us was our hair. Burred haircuts presented all of my brothers and me as children of a military family.

Dad knew us and we knew him.  

When he became ill, when he was hospitalized, even though there were trained healthcare professionals all around him; skilled nurses and doctors, they didn’t know exactly what my father liked.  What news channels to watch, what brand of cigarettes he smoked (when he could sneak one), or even that he liked coffee, hot, black and all day and night long.

Today, Jesus comes to us as the Good Shepherd. The Shepherd cares for the sheep. He protects them. Feeds them. A shepherd even decides on the haircut for the sheep.  Close cropped and neat. The shepherd knows his sheep and his sheep know him.

In the time of Jesus, a shepherd was a common site. People could relate to the image of a caring, yet firm caretaker of sheep. One who protects and guides; one who is in charge of the sheep’s lives.

In today’s world, it may be easier for us to see Jesus as the “Good Caregiver”.  The one who knows all about us; our desires, how we like things, our concerns and wishes.  A really good caregiver knows their patient and the patient knows their caregiver.

We are told that when you mix a lot of sheep together, they can identify the voice of each particular shepherd when they are called.  The sheep listen, obey and will follow their shepherd.

I can still hear my father calling my name in paternal correction. I knew that if I did what my father told me to do, obeyed and followed, I couldn’t go wrong.

The Good Shepherd continues to call each one of us by our name.  His voice speaks to us through the scriptures, the lives of the saints, liturgy and prayer. The Good Shepherd knows each one of us in an intimate and personal way.  That’s comforting. Out of all the millions of people in the world, Jesus knows me.

If we listen, obey and follow, we can’t go wrong. A good shepherd will put himself between his flock and danger.  Jesus, the Good Shepherd has laid down his life to offer us a remedy for sin and to destroy our greatest enemy; death.  In dying, He destroyed our death and rising, He restored our life.

May 1

Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee's sons, and two others of his disciples; 7 in all.  7 is the number of completeness. Creation took six days and on the seventh, everything is finished and God rests. Peter, who speaks for the group says, “let’s go fishing”.  How many go fishing? Seven.  The seven, in their completeness represents everyone; everyone is called to go “fishing”. That is the task of the Church and of all of us; to go fishing for souls to come into the completeness of salvation offered to each one of us. 

Now, the 7 got into the “boat”.  Any time you see the Apostles in a boat, the scene refers to the Church.  All of them are “in the boat”.  The part of the church where you sit is called the Nave, (Lt. navis), boat.  All of us are “in the boat” of the Church.  When we get out of the “boat” we drown, sink, and suffer from not being present. Present for each other and for Christ.

They fish all night and catch nothing.  Night time is the dark. We are all in the dark until Christ, the Light of the world enters in.  Judas betrays Jesus, and it is night.  Nicodemus meets with Jesus in the dark to relate his ignorance of heavenly things as Jesus explains them to him. When we are away from the Light of the World, Jesus, we are in the dark.  When we “fish for souls” in the dark, away for Jesus, we will be unsuccessful. 

Jesus appears on the shore.  It is dawn, the sun is coming up. The Light of the World is present.  “Children, have you caught anything?” No, not in the dark, not without Jesus. Cast your nets to the right side.  And they catch so many fish it’s difficult to haul them in. With our work focused on Jesus, we “fish” on the right side, in the right way, and we will be successful.

St. John recognizes Jesus. “It is the Lord”! Peter puts on clothes and jumps into the water.  Peter, who denied Jesus three times represents us, the sinners.  In his fishing, Peter was naked but to approach the Lord, he puts on clothes.  Remember the first man, Adam.  Naked before God.  Unashamed to be in God’s presence because he was sinless; without guilt.  Adam, covers himself before God to hide his shame; his sin.

The other apostles come ashore and Jesus gathers them all around a fire. Remember Peter stood around a fire as he denied Jesus.  Peter denied Jesus three times around a fire and now Jesus asks him if he loves Him three times. Three denials; three confirmations of love. I’m sure Peter’s heart was on fire with the presence of Jesus, as Peter’s cowardice of denial is wiped away.

“Give me some of your fish.”  They eat and are fed by Jesus. The Eucharist feeds us to strengthen us to fish. To do the work of the Church.  Our end is to be happy with Jesus in the Heavenly banquet which John describes in the Book of Revelation. By eating the a forbidden meal, we fell into sin, by eating Christ, we are saved. St. John describes Heaven as a great banquet, the banquet of the Bridegroom, Jesus and His Bride, the Church.

How do we know we are successful fishers of people?  It has been said that I, as a priest, will not be successful until I replace myself; until I fish for, and catch someone to be a priest after me.  Apply that to your mission.  We will be successful when we replace ourselves with another fish; another Christian brought into the “boat” of salvation.

Again, the seven in the “boat” represents all of humanity; all of us are called to fish.  The Apostles catch 153 fish. There are several conjectures of exactly what the number of 153 species means. One notion is that at the time, there were thought to be 153 species of fish. Every fish is represented; every person is called to the Kingdom.  Another notion is that if you count up the number of individuals upon whom Jesus bestowed a miracle, there were 153 incidents. (The group miracles of the feeding of thousands not being included.)  But the reality that the net was not broken tells us that there is room for everyone in the Church.

To be successful in our fishing, we need to fish in the light of Christ, not the dark. Peter and the others were only successful when they followed the command of the Lord to fish with Him as their focus, in the light and on the right side of the boat. Get in the boat and stay there to be fed for our work of fishing for people.

April 24

Deacon Phil

         “The other disciples said to him, ‘we have seen the Lord.’  But [Thomas] said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’”  

         Before we say, how could Thomas say that?  Let us think about times when someone told us about something important, and the words that came out of our mouth were unless I see it, I don’t believe it.  This gives us something to think about.  Are we too quick to judge; standing on our own righteous platform?  Maybe we do this because we want to take the focus off ourselves and place it on someone else or maybe we just don’t want to believe what we cannot see.  

         Poor Thomas was not present when Jesus appeared to the other disciples after the resurrection.  We really don’t know where he was but the important thing is he was not there.  Thomas the Apostle now referred to as “Doubting Thomas,” was one of the twelve main disciples of Jesus.  And he could just not believe that Jesus was there unless he could see him and touch him.  

         Jesus then appeared and offered to let him do just that.  Upon seeing Jesus in the flesh with his own eyes, Thomas proclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus responded with one of the most powerful and prophetic statements about faith in all of Scripture: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Let that sink in, blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.  That is us, all of us!  

         Because of Thomas’s statement, he would be forever marked as “doubting Thomas”, even today, if there is something we don’t believe, we become a “doubting Thomas”.  

     There is not much we know about the Apostle Thomas, he’s not a major Bible character, he’s only mentioned eight times in the entire New Testament, and four of those times are just lists of the twelve apostles.  

         Yet this moment in history and this Gospel of mercy and repentance that was proclaimed today, is so important that Saint Pope John Paul II declared it Divine Mercy Sunday, the first Sunday after Easter.  Why would he do this?  

         It all started in a little town outside of Cracow, Poland.  A young girl, Helen Kowalska, the third of ten children who from the age of seven desired to become a saint and devote herself to God.  With only three years of education, she left school to work to help provide for her family.   After twenty-one years of prayer and sacrifice, in 1926 she entered the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy.  She received her habit and was given the name of Sister Maria Faustina.  In February of 1934 she had a vision of the Lord, who tells her to paint an image of Him as the Merciful Savior.  He gave her strict instructions on how the image was to be depicted.  It would show the fullness of God's love for us and His forgiveness.  

         Sister Faustina ran to opposition from her confessor.  When she told him of the conversations with the Lord and what he was asking her to do, her confessor told her she must be talking about the image of God in her soul.  Does this sound familiar?  We just heard of someone else who had doubts.  Sister Faustina continued to go about her duties in the convent, she was a cook, gardener, and doorkeeper.  Not glamorous jobs, yet performed out of love of God.  

         Finally, in 1934 work on the image began.  Jesus’ right hand raised to give a blessing, his left hand touching his heart, and two rays of light coming from his heart.  The pale one stands for water which makes souls righteous and the red ray stands for the blood which is the life of souls.  The two rays represent the sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation which purify the soul and give all the graces of the Holy Spirit.  

         This Sunday, the Feast of Divine Mercy has a very deep and theological significance. The Paschal Mystery (the dying and rising of Jesus) and the mystery of The Divine Mercy.  Jesus told Sister Faustina, “I desire this feast of Mercy to be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially poor sinners.  I am giving them the last hope of salvation, that is, recourse to My Mercy.”  Can you hear the hope and love in this statement?  Jesus wants us in Heaven with Him. 

         Sister Faustina died October 5th 1938 at the age of 33. She was canonized by Saint Pope John Paul II April 30th 2000.   To this simple, uneducated, but courageous woman religious, who trusted Him without limit, Our Lord Jesus consigned the great mission to proclaim His message of mercy directed to the whole world: “Today”, He told her, “I am sending you with My mercy to the people of the whole world.  I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to My Merciful Heart” Diary, 1588

     We fulfill this message by honoring the image of the Merciful Lord and reciting the Divine Mercy Chaplet.  Do not let this opportunity go by.  Today at three o’clock we celebrate [celebrated] this Feast and receive(d) the graces promised by Jesus.  Let us carry in our heart every day the words that are depicted below the image, “Jesus I Trust In You.” 

 

Deacon Tim

Have you ever had the baffling experience of watching yourself choose something that you know was displeasing to God and it wasn’t the 1st time?  The conviction the Holy Spirit brings to our conscience to bring us back to God is a mercy!  Contrary to what our culture says, guilt that moves us to confess our sin to God is not a bad thing.  Carrying shame, however, is something different. Guilt says: “I’ve done bad.”.  Shame says: “I am bad”.

In the book of Revelations, the devil is described as the “accuser of the brethren, who day and night accuses us before God.”. He makes a career out of telling Christians they are not worthy of God’s love and never will be, and that’s a lie.  John says: “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”, and “If we confess our sin, he is faith and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Mercy is everything!  That’s why today, we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday.

In the 1930’s, Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun, (canonized in the year 2000 by Pope John Paul II), had an encounter with Jesus in which He revealed to her the depths of His mercy. Her diary details our Lord’s request for her to create an image of Jesus radiating one pale and one red ray. The pale ray represents the water that washes away our sins. The red ray represents the blood of Jesus, the life of the soul.  We will shortly have the opportunity to honor this image and do three reasonable things: ask his mercy for us, be merciful to others and trust completely in Jesus.

The sacrament of reconciliation is a great sign of God’s mercy. If you say:  “I confess my sins directly to God and I don’t need to confess my sins to a man!”, what do you do with the words of Jesus to his disciples in our gospel: ”Whoever’s sins you forgive, they are forgiven.  Whoever’s sins you retain, they are retained.”?

The Catholic church did not dream up the Sacrament of Confession.  It's’ not some kind of power trip on the part of the priesthood. It’s something Jesus came up with 2022 years ago! If you think otherwise, perhaps your argument is with Jesus and not the church.  

Some may ask: “If this is so, why don’t other churches have confession?”. Sometimes the thing that makes us Catholics different is the fact that we never changed.  Someone might say: “Yes, but you don’t know what I have done!  How can God forgive me?  I’ve done some bad things!”. Jesus came to bring “bad things” to the cross. In confession, bad things lose their grip. All things become new.  You’re never too old. It’s never too late.

Today, let us listen and take in the words that Jesus spoke to St Faustina: 

 Do not argue with Me about your wretchedness. You will give me pleasure if you hand over to me all your troubles and griefs. I shall heap upon you the treasures of My grace.”

April 16

Death held many views in the minds of the Jewish people of Jesus’ day.  Some believed that there was nothing after death. You lived. You died…. and that was all there was.  Some Jews saw death as a passing from this world to a place of shadows called Sheol. You existed after death, but not as full and complete as when you were alive on earth. There were also those who believed that for righteous people; for good people, there would be a resurrection of the dead at the end of times.  We see hints of this in the Book of Daniel. The Sadducees and the Pharisees argued about this very issue. The Sadducees denying …and the Pharisees accepting a resurrection after death. Others, influenced by the Greeks, saw death as a releasing of the spirit from the cage of the body. The spirit lived on while the body turned to dust. Some believed in a sort of reincarnation. Remember when Jesus asked, ““Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, some say Elijah or some other prophet.

When Mary Magdalen arrived at the tomb to anoint the dead body of Jesus, she finds the stone entrance rolled back and the doorway open. There is no body. No Jesus. Mary Magdalen runs to tell Peter and John.  "They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don't know where they put him." Peter and John run to the tomb.  If I had just buried someone that I loved and found an empty tomb just days after the burial, I too, would run to get an answer, to find out what had happened.  What would you think? Someone has taken the body! Grave robbers?

John and Peter arrive. They enter the tomb for a closer inspection.  They want to find out what has happened. The cloth for the head of Jesus is separate from the other cloths.  And the head cloth is neatly rolled up. Grave robbers?   Wouldn’t grave robbers just take the body?  Why take the time to unravel the burial cloths?

But we’re told that they had, “not yet understood the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” But we know the rest of the story.  That’s why we’re here today. Jesus Christ was dead and now He is alive. The resurrection is that great, “I told you so” moment.”  

 Over the years, there are those who have tried to denounce the resurrection.  They say it’s just another in a long line of myths. A myth like the Egyptian’s Osiris, and the Greek’s Dionysius who portray a resurrected life after death.  But these ARE myths. Myths are never set in history. They are not set in some distinct time or place. They begin “once upon a time” or even “in a galaxy, far, far away. “The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection happened in a specific time and a specific place.  Jesus was crucified at the hands of Pontius Pilate; a real, historical person. The real and tangible places of Judea and Jerusalem are noted in the account of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. St. Thomas said, “[when] I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, [then I will believe].”  And the physical Jesus presented Himself for Thomas to see the real nail marks and the real tear in His side.

And finally, no one has ever died for a myth.  There are no martyrs of Osiris. No martyrs for Thor. No martyrs for Dionysius. No one dies for a myth. Yet we know that so many Christians died for the true, historical truth in a risen God.Eye-witnesses attest to Jesus’ life. Eye-witnesses attest to Jesus’ death. And eye-witnesses attest to Jesus’ resurrection.  And the resurrected Jesus doesn’t fit any of the notions the Jews had about death.  When we hear the account of the resurrection of Christ, we hear none of the notions people held about death.  We hear something completely new and different. The first eye-witnesses maintained that the very same Jesus that they had seen put to death was alive and in their presence. This didn’t happen much later on, at the end of time, but rather, only three days after Jesus’ death. They didn’t give an account whereby Jesus was with God the Father in some vague manner. The resurrected Jesus was not a spirit separated from the body.  He was not reincarnated into another, different person. They were able to touch, see and hear the same person they had seen die earlier. The resurrection of Jesus was something new. A new beginning. Our belief in Christ brings us into a new life. Do I recognize the gift? Do I recognize the privilege?  The life we have is a gift from God. What we do with our lives is our gift to God.

 

April 10

Today we hear again the story of Jesus’ crucifixion; His passion and His suffering. If we get uncomfortable standing for the reading of the Passion story, think how it must have been to be nailed to a cross for 3 hours with a crown of thorns on your head. Passion means “suffering”. Com-passion, “suffering with”.

Although, not mentioned in today’s Gospel, passage, we know that in His profound suffering, Jesus cries out, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” At first you might think Jesus is giving up.  It sounds like He doesn’t understand why is abandoned to die, but Jesus is making a profound statement.

Jesus’ words are the beginning of the 22nd psalm, the psalm for Mass today.  “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” And every educated Jew in His presence would know and call to mind that in the 22nd psalm, the crucifixion is foretold, and now Jesus is reminding everyone that He is fulfilling the prophecy.

Listen to these words from the 22nd psalm written over 5oo years before the Passion we read today as it states what will happen; what did happen to the Messiah: “To you they cried out and they escaped; in you they trusted and were not disappointed” “All who see me scoff at me; they mock me with parted lips, they wag their heads:” “Like water my life drains away; all my bones are disjointed.” “They have pierced my hands and my feet; I can count all my bones.” “They divide my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots.” Jesus, on the cross, with His Passion and in His humanity, only had the strength to say the first line of the psalm, but the indication it presented was one of Jesus’ great “I told you so” moments.

This week coming up is Holy Week. Where the Church retells the suffering, death and resurrection of our Savior.  I encourage you to be a part of these beautiful celebrations. From Thursday to Easter, the celebration is called the Triduum; Three Days. The Triduum is one long celebration; there is no dismissal or ending to the services until Easter.

Holy Thursday Mass recalls Jesus’ washing the feet of the Apostles; His great example of Mission, He came to serve, not to be served.  At the end of Mass, we transfer the Holy Eucharist to an altar of reserve.  The tabernacle in the church will be empty awaiting the resurrection of Christ. The Tabernacle lamp will be extinguished.  The church will become a building like any other waiting for the presence of God to return. We the institution of the Eucharist as a lasting sign of the covenant Jesus made between Himself and us. Additionally, we see the installation of the priesthood conferred to His Apostles.

Good Friday again recalls the suffering and passion of Christ which we heard today and we adore the cross as a means of our salvation. We fast on Good Friday to unite ourselves to the sufferings of Christ; that’s why we don’t eat meat on Fridays. He gave His flesh for the life of the world, and so we refrain from eating flesh. Every Friday of the year is a day of penance to unite ourselves to Jesus on the cross. Even though we may not give up meat, the Church asks us to do some type of penance on every Friday of the year. If we can, we are asked to continue our Good Friday fast through Holy Saturday to unite ourselves and remind ourselves of the work Jesus does for us. We call it Good Friday because of the benefits we reap from the sufferings of Christ.

Holy Saturday is a somber time of waiting as we recall Jesus’ time away from us. However, at the Easter Vigil on Saturday night, we celebrate and recall all of salvation history, from creation to Jesus’ triumph over death, of dark to light.

Holy Week and its beautiful celebrations invites each of us to participate in recalling and celebrating the work Jesus did to save us all from sin

 

April 3

St Augustine has a very unique homily on the Gospel of the woman caught in adultery. His puzzlement lay in the fact that adultery is such a great sin, why did Jesus let her off so easily?

Adultery is indeed, one of the big sins; one of the Ten commandments.  Think of the damage this sin causes: it insults the sacrament of marriage, it destroys the relationship between husband and wife. Everyone involved gets hurt: husband, wife, the other partner and even the children.  So much pain and heartache is caused at the cost of this sin.  But Jesus simply says, “go and sin no more.”  Isn’t that a little too easy? Some early Christians were even scandalized at the reaction of Jesus. The penalty due the sin is not applied.

From Augustine we get a much deeper insight. Jesus’ answer really upholds the law at the same time He demonstrates the fulfillment of the Law as applied with mercy.

Jesus doesn’t say the woman should NOT be stoned. Right off the bat, this would show that He was not going to hold to the Law and anger the scribes and Pharisees. However, Jesus had no intention of saying “let her be stoned” because He came to save sinners, to reconcile and to relieve our transgressions. Jesus’ response contains truth, justice and clemency in its full measure.

So, is Jesus giving His approval to immorality? No. However, Jesus does tell her to, “go and sin no more”.  Jesus does pass sentence in the fact that the actions of the woman are evil and against the commandments. So much that he says, don’t do this again. The woman was wrong. Jesus is condemning the sin, but not the person.  If Jesus were showing an approval of the immoral actions, He would be saying, “neither do I condemn you, go on and do as you please.  I give you the certainty that I will overlook all your sins; all your transgressions.”  But Jesus doesn’t overlook the sin. The sin is condemned while he offers the woman the ability to turn away, repent and follow the commandments. In today’s world, sometimes we see this as a sin of presumption; the fact that I can do whatever I want, then go to confession and it will be forgiven. This is not an indication that we are truly sorry for our sins.  However, Jesus is saying that she has no fear of her past. The past is over, now go and don’t repeat sin.  But, in order to gain for yourself eternal life, from this moment on, sin no more.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation offers us all the same mercy; the past is gone; the past is over. By the forgiveness of our sins, we attempt to sin no more; to fight against evil. The future is to keep trying. Trying our best to conform ourselves to God and thus to attain the eternal happiness with the Father in Heaven.

As we approach the season of Easter, pray for the strength to “go and sin no more”.

 

March 27

Jesus had a sort of “magnetic” power. Most especially recognized by those away from God. But a magnet has two sides; it attracts and repels. “The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain…” Here are the two sides: the sinner and the self-righteously religious. Two responses to God’s love. In the parable of the Prodigal Son these two sides are represented by two sons.

The younger son approaches his father. ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.” A slap in the face. Inheritance, if any, comes to us after death. “Father, I wish you would die; give me what you have for me now. Many of us, myself included, often want what God has to give…. right now. We want existence, life, good health and success; our inheritance right now. And we pay no attention to the God, Whose existence, (I am Who I AM) is pure giving. Love is willing the good of the other. God will’s our good perfectly.

Ignoring the insult of his son, the father divides what he has. Division separates us from God, our Father, and each other. God freely gives His love; but He never forces or imposes Himself contrary to our free will. It is through our own free will, that we reject or accept. Our free will places us in separation, division from God and each other.

Then, the younger son “set[s] off to a distant country.” The Greek here is Cora Macra: “the great emptiness”. When I remove myself from God, that’s where I put myself: in “the great emptiness.”  In this Cora Macra, the son “squander[s] his inheritance on a life of dissipation”.  Is there anyone here who has experienced spending your college tuition on beer or spent hard earned money on having a “good time?”

And then, without money, “a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. Here is the basic reality of our life with God; if we squander the gifts we receive from God, that is, we disconnect the gifts we have…. from God… we dry up. Without the Eucharist, without a right relationship with God, famine strikes us, we don’t receive our spiritual food.

“So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.” What an insult for a Jew; to tend “unclean” animals. “And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed….” The son had become a “pig”, willing to eat the food a pig desires. Finally, like so many of us after our youth, he come to our senses. We come to our senses. We try to warn our children; to protect them from the bad decisions we made in our youth.  But they have free will.  “Coming to his senses [the young man] thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger?” When we return to God afterwards… we are fed. From rich to poor, everyone comes to Christ and is fed. We reconnect to God and “come to our senses.”  “I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned… against you.”

And, “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.” The Gospels are not so much about us finding God as they are about God finding us. The Father is looking for us and runs to meet us. Even though we walk away from God, He is always there, with us within our reach.

The son’s apology is interrupted. Welcome back. Welcome home. We tell God we are sorry because we realize the enormity of our faults, but all through the Gospels, Jesus never requires, “I’m sorry”. He forgives. That’s what God’s existence is, God exists “FOR…. GIVING”.

In a rather sanctimonious manner, the other son says, “Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders….” What do I get? He was constantly getting everything the father offers. In the presence of God, the Father, we are constantly receiving His gifts…. that’s what you “get”.  Have you ever heard someone say, or have you said it yourself……I don’t get anything out of Mass! Really?  We “get” so much, perhaps Mass is a time to “give”.

And when someone comes back to us, back to family, we don’t hold their past against them. God doesn’t hold our past against us. “…celebrate and rejoice, … your brother was dead and has come to life again…”

 God never “needles us”. God never nags us.  God invites us; we, in our free will decide. Is someone away from your family? Away from our family? Don’t preach to them, or get mad, or argue.  Love them, pray for them and welcome them as they are, where they are. Leave your door open and a place at the table. We constantly receive the gifts of our God, Who exists “FOR…. GIVING”. We don’t make these gifts our personal property, but give these gifts away to others. In discipleship we offer our gifts to others. Our joy is found in giving. God gives Himself to us, we give ourselves to others, and we receive even more. The son who went away, in coming home receives the Father’s love. The son who stayed had received the same love.

But the prodigal son comes into the house;’ or as we say, “back to the Church.”  But now the other son removes himself from the father, from the “house”. He will not go in.  His pride removes him from the Church due to his pride.

God never holds our past against us and we have until our last breath to come into the house, back to God. So, who really is the prodigal son? The one who sinned but then came back? Or, the son that let his pride remove himself from the father?