Sunday, May 7, 2017

Good Sheperd Sunday

A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” 
 John 10:10

Jesus is a good shepherd.  He is not content to see his sheep barely survive.  He wants us, his sheep, to thrive.  He takes pleasure in energetic, robust sheep, not scrawny, anemic ones.  So the pastures to which he leads us are verdant, lush, and green (Psalm 23), not scorched and brown.  He spreads out a table, a true feast before us, not lunch in a brown bag.  He does not ration our nourishment.  Instead, our cup overflows.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Divine Mercy Sunday 2017

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio

In April of year 2000, Pope John Paul II proclaimed today, the 2nd Sunday of Easter, “Divine Mercy” Sunday. He was inspired by a young nun, Sr. Maria Faustina Kowalska, who lived in Cracow Poland in the 1930’s. Sr. Faustina received extraordinary revelations from Jesus. These revelations were compiled in notebooks – known today as the diary of St. Faustina Kowalska. Pope John Paul II, both in his teaching and personal life, strove to live and teach the message of Divine Mercy – he exhorted us to personally experience God's mercy. Sister Faustina was canonized on April 30th, 2000.

 Today’s Easter story is a story of divine mercy. It is a story of how Jesus interacts with his Church – then and today.

Today’s gospel reading begins on the evening of that first day – Resurrection Day. The disciples have no understanding – they have not yet grasped the significance of what just happened. Jesus their Lord, their friend, has been crucified – he is dead. Maybe they will receive the same fate. They are huddled in fear and terror in an “upper room” with locked doors.  Like those first disciples, we too experience “the upper room”– where we lock our doors – keeping those out who we don’t understand who we don’t like – where we despair at our failures and betrayals; where we fear about what might come next – most especially the fear of death. We all wrestle with doubts and fears - waiting for God to show us what the resurrected life of Christ means for our earthly existence. 

Jesus now comes in his mercy, and though the doors are locked, he stands in the midst of the disciples.  

Jesus, still the embodiment of humanity – he now lives on a new level – a new pitch of existence – the disciples experience the glorified body of Jesus – as was anticipated by the sign given to Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor. Brothers and sisters, this risen Christ has stood in the midst of his followers up and down the ages. 

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Jesus stands with us today. When Father says “The Lord be with you”, we acknowledge the presence of the risen Christ among us. We encounter Him in the community, in the Eucharist, in the word of God, in the stranger, in our woundedness, in the act of forgiving. 

Bearing the message of divine mercy – Jesus entrusts its ministry to the disciples as He says,” “Peace be with you.” Soon we will share the sign of peace. Here Jesus takes the initiative. Let us offer each other a sign of (His) peace. Jesus speaks peace be with us – shalom. The Peace God wants us to have - is the peace that the world cannot give.  Jesus’ peace is beyond the fear of death. His peace is the mercy that endures forever.

When Jesus said this, he showed the disciples his hands - and his side. Here we see the whole drama of Christianity on display. Jesus wounds received during His Passion - are part of the price for our salvation: "By His wounds you were healed" (1 Peter 2:24).
Jesus conquered death - by going through it - to the other side. This is the path of radical love - so different from the mindset of our society. Jesus commands us to a kind of love that is all-embracing and limitless. In her diary, Sister Faustina shares a revelation she received from Jesus, “I demand from you - deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this - or try to excuse or absolve yourself from it.” Jesus calls us to love people whom, we would really rather not – to love those who hate us – those who we would rather leave as faceless and nameless. Christ commands us to give them an incredible love.

As the Father has sent me, so I send you. No one in all of scripture is given a vision experience of God without being sent on mission - no exception.  Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, all….. The Father sends the Son into the world on a mission of love – so he sends you and me. We are commissioned to be bearers of the divine life to the world. The word Mass comes from the Latin word Missa….to be sent. With all the graces we receive at Mass, from hearing the Word of God and most importantly, by partaking of the Eucharist, we will have the strength to “go out” and preach the good news to the world – in a manner of saving love and mercy.

Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

We recall in the Book of Genesis, “God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, - and the man became a living being.” Now the Son of God breathes the spiritual life into his disciples, who are the Church. This breath, in Hebrew, Ruah, is the life breathed out between the Father and Son; Christ gives us a share in the divine life that we lost through sin. To save us from sin, Jesus breathes into the disciples, the Church, and gives the Church the power to forgive sins – an abundant mercy.

Now Thomas was not in the “upper room” with the disciples at the first appearance of the Risen Christ – so – he doubted. When Jesus returns to the upper room - with Thomas there, he tells Thomas to place his finger and hands in his wounds.
Thomas then gives voice to the most impressive confession of faith in the entire Bible - “My Lord and my God.” Thomas became a great beacon of light – from doubter to believer.

Thomas and those first disciples received a wonderful gift – seeing Jesus – embracing Jesus – touching the wounds of Jesus – in his human persona – one of us. In a few minutes - we will see - and receive - that same Jesus – in a small white consecrated host. And just like those first disciples, we love him – believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.

On every Feast of Divine Mercy - let us echo the words of Thomas "My Lord and My God" and through the intercession of Saint Faustina, let us ask the Lord of Mercy for the grace to become true messengers of Mercy in our own age. Amen.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday Reflection, Thomas Merton

Lent has summoned us to change our hearts, to effect in ourselves the Christian metanoia. But at the same time Lent has reminded us perhaps all too clearly of our own powerlessness to change our lives in any way. Lent in the liturgical year plays the role of the Law, the pedagogue, who convinces us of sin and inflicts upon us the crushing evidence of our own nothingness. Hence it disquiets and sobers us, awakening in us perhaps some sense of that existential “dread” of the creature whose freedom suspends him over an abyss which may be an infinite meaninglessness, an unbounded despair. This is the fruit of that Law which judges our freedom together with its powerlessness to impose full meaning on our lives merely by conforming to a moral code. Is there nothing more than this?

But now the power of Easter has burst upon us with the resurrection of Christ. Now we find in ourselves a strength which is not our own, and which is freely given to us whenever we need it, raising us above the Law, giving us a new law which is hidden in Christ: the law of His merciful love for us. Now we no longer strive to be good because we have to, because it is a duty, but because our joy is to please Him who has given all His love to us! Now our life is full of meaning!

Easter is the hour of our own deliverance— from what? Precisely from Lent and from its hard Law which accuses and judges our infirmity. We are no longer under the Law. We are delivered from the harsh judgment! Here is all the greatness and all the unimaginable splendor of the Easter mystery— here is the “grace” of Easter which we fail to lay hands on because we are afraid to understand its full meaning. To understand Easter and live it, we must renounce our dread of newness and of freedom!

Death exercises a twofold power in our lives: it holds us by sin, and it holds us by the Law. To die to death and live a new life in Christ we must die not only to sin but also to the Law.

Every Christian knows that he must die to sin. But the great truth that St Paul exhausted himself to preach in season and out is a truth that we Christians have barely grasped, a truth that has got away from us, that constantly eludes us and has continued to do so for twenty centuries. We cannot get it into our heads what it means to be no longer slaves of the Law. And the reason is that we do not have the courage to face this truth which contains in itself the crucial challenge of our Christian faith, the great reality that makes Christianity different from every other religion.

In all other religions men seek justification, salvation, escape from “the wheel of birth and death” by ritual acts, or by religious observances, or by ascetic and contemplative techniques. These are means devised by men to enable them to liberate and justify themselves. All the other religions impose upon man rigid and complicated laws, subject him more or less completely to prescribed exterior forms, or to what St Paul calls “elementary notions.”

But Christianity is precisely a liberation from every rigid legal and religious system. This is asserted with such categorical force by St Paul, that we cease to be Christians the moment our religion becomes slavery to “the Law” rather than a free personal adherence by loving faith, to the risen and living Christ; “Do you seek justification by the Law . . . you are fallen from grace . . . In fact, in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor its absence is of any avail. What counts is faith that expresses itself in love” (Gal. 5: 4,6).

. . . This gift, this mercy, this unbounded love of God for us has been lavished upon us as a result of Christ’s victory. To taste this love is to share in His victory. To realize our freedom, to exult in our liberation from death, from sin and from the Law, is to sing the Alleluia which truly glorifies God in this world and in the world to come.

This joy in God, this freedom which raises us in faith and in hope above the bitter struggle that is the lot of man caught between the flesh and the Law, this is the new canticle in which we join with the blessed angels and the saints in praising God.

God who is rich in mercy, was moved by the intense love with which he loved us, and when we were dead by reason of our transgressions, he made us live with the life of Christ . . . Together with Christ Jesus and in him he raised us up and enthroned us in the heavenly realm . . . It is by grace that you have been saved through faith; it is the gift of God, it is not the result of anything you did, so that no one has any grounds for boasting. (Eph. 2: 4– 9)

Let us not then darken the joy of Christ’s victory by remaining in captivity and in darkness, but let us declare His power, by living as free men who have been called by Him out of darkness into his admirable light.

Seasons of Celebration, Thomas Merton

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday 2017

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran theologian who died at the hands of Hitler in 1945, understood discipleship. He understood how following Jesus can lead to being persecuted, even being put to death by hanging. Yet, knowing all this, he never stopped following and challenging others to follow. He said,” When Christ calls a person, Christ bids him come and die.” When we reflect upon the disciples of Jesus, those most intimately acquainted with our Lord, the overwhelming majority of the twelve died as martyrs because of their allegiance and faith to Christ. The day of Bonhoeffer’s hanging, a witness captured his actions and wrote: “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer… kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

 As we move through the season of Lent, this last week of Jesus’ life will stand out as being important.  Today, Palm Sunday, we hear great cries of, “Hosanna.”!, by Holy Thursday the mood will shift to great sadness - as Jesus marches up Golgotha to face death.

Discipleship is costly. It calls for great sacrifice and commitment. The season of Lent challenges us to follow Jesus. We may be called to follow Him even in death. Amen.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Third Sunday of Lent 2017

Today we hear the encounter of Jesus with the woman at the well. It is a “conversion” story, of the woman’s - and ours. “Christian conversion” comes in many forms, at different times of life. We will break down the "conversion" gospel into three steps: “First to Christ, then to the church, and then back to the world.”

First to Christ: A woman comes to draw water from the well.  Women typically had the daily chore of drawing water from wells – usually going out in the evening. This woman is out at noon – it’s hot. And she is alone. The woman is a Samaritan. Being so – she is despised by the Jews –and – as we soon find out, she is a sinner. This is probably the reason she is alone – she is an outcast. She signifies every Christian sinner - coming to the well “every” day, but never satisfied. A thirst never quenched. Like this woman, we too are seekers – seeking satisfaction from the temporal world.  St. John Paul II said,” “It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise.”

Jesus says to the woman, “Give me a drink.” The woman knows she shouldn’t be speaking to a man – and especially this man, for he is a Jew. Jewish men, especially rabbis, did not speak to women in public – particularly a Samaritan woman.
Still, she does not walk away – she embraces Jesus in “conversation.”

Conversation with God is “prayer.” “How can you, a Jew, ask me, for a drink?” The CCC says,” Christ comes to meet every human being. It is he who first seeks us - and asks us for a drink. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God's thirst with ours. God thirsts - that we may thirst for him.” This is the “Primacy of grace”, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” He calls us first - and we respond.

To the Church: Jesus answers the woman, “If you knew the gift of God - and who is saying to you, “give me a drink”, He would give you “living water.” She is baffled, what is this living water? Our Pope Emeritus Benedict said that this “living” water “is clearly the Sacrament of Baptism, the gateway to life in the Spirit – a sharing in the divine nature through grace. It is the Church.

 The Samaritan woman is looking for water – to quench her physical thirst. Jesus is about to quench her spiritual thirst. Jesus says,” Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst.”

Jesus begins to reveal to this woman who He truly is- and what He has to offer. He understands all about her - and what is in her heart. He recognizes an opening and begins to prompt her to respond to His call. Can we see in our own lives encounters with the Lord? Like this woman, there are certainly times when we are emotionally, spiritually, and physically wasted. Times we feel alone and estranged from those around us. Are we open to hear his loving voice?

Before this “living water” can flow into one’s life, we must recognize those things that get between us and God - our daily sufferings and trials, our responsibilities, our secular distractions. Place them in perspective. We must particularly be aware of our sins – address them by partaking in the Sacrament of Penance. These things keep us from the only One who can satisfy all our needs. We need to rid ourselves of these things - and let God “break in.”

The encounter continues. Jesus lets the woman know - that He knows…all about her. “Go call your husband and come back.” The woman responds that she does not have one. Jesus confronts her – you are right – you have had five husbands – and this one is not your husband.”

Jesus, in his mentioning the woman’s situation, reveals the seriousness of it. In his divine mercy, He offers her healing and forgiveness - through the grace of living water - so that she may be sanctified - and never thirst again.  Jesus reveals that He is “the Living Water” that will be for us a “spring of water welling up to eternal life”.

Back to the World: On realizing this, she cannot wait to go and spread the good news. She leaves behind her water jar – the jar filled with what can never satisfy. She goes into the town and begins to spread the good news. “Come see a man who told me everything I have done.” She is now evangelizing. Through this Samaritan woman’s experience, others would hear Christ’s invitation - and come to know Jesus by their own experience.

As a Samaritan - and as a woman with many husbands - as an outcast, she had every reason in the world - to ignore Jesus and remain as she was.  But she didn’t. She opened herself up to God’s will, in Christ.

Jesus knows that we are seekers – and sinners. He knows our triumphs - and our failures.  He knows our sins. He wants to purify us - and give us every good thing, to draw us closer to Himself. But Jesus will never force us, he only invites us.

If today you we hear his voice, harden not our hearts

let Him lead us home to the living water.