Easter – 2nd Sunday (Year A)

We are so blessed as a Church, to celebrate so many things this weekend! Pride of place, of course, should go to our celebration of the Mass as we bring to a close the Octave or Eight Days of Easter, with this Divine Mercy Sunday. But as a Church, we celebrate also the canonization of not one, but two popes of happy memory; we celebrate the elevation to this honour of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II. The massive crowds in Rome, estimated at 3 million people are a testament to the joy, the vibrancy and yes, even the relevance of the Church and the communion of saints to huge numbers of people in the 21st century.

It is through their lived example, more than anything else, that these two men are now counted among the Saints in the Canon of the Church. While we may be tempted to think that it was because of their position, or the wide influence of their office, it has more to do with who each man was, grounded in their identities as sons of God and disciples of Jesus. This is the real mark of a saint – not the size of their following, but rather the lengths to which they will go in their own lives in surrendering self to build up the Body of Christ.

One of the things, particularly in our culture, that is most difficult to surrender, is our own ego. Whether it is larger than life or subtle, we all have our own preconceptions, likes and dislikes, biases and fears. In spiritual direction, one of the greatest challenges for anyone is to confront their own ego, and seek ways to diminish it, to surrender it, in growing a more profound and deep relationship with God and, by extension, with others.

For Christians, disciples of Christ, this becomes particularly crucial. We cannot build up Christ’s Body if we cling to our own ways, thoughts, preconceptions, and refuse to be open to the possibility that God works within the confines of our own daily lives, our own circumstances; unless we are open to God moving in the most incredible and strange and even bizarre ways that, at times, can challenge everything we have ever thought about ourselves, others and our place in the world as children of God.

St. Thomas confronts the unimaginable when the disciples on tell him that Jesus has risen from the dead and has appeared to them. He, like the others, has followed Jesus through His public ministry, lived with Him, heard His teaching and watched His miracles – and like the others he ran away and hid when Jesus endured His passion and death.

But it is in this resurrection moment, when the remaining disciples bear witness to the Risen Christ, that Thomas really struggles. That flood of what happened over the course of that first Good Friday crashes into that wave of excited news that the other disciples are sharing with Him, and in that moment, it becomes too much for St. Thomas and he retreats back into himself – into his own terms of reference, of what ‘makes sense’ in his own little world; because to accept what the other disciples are saying means to accept that Jesus is much more than a wise teacher, a healer or a prophet. It means to accept that He is in fact, God Incarnate and with Him, all things are possible. It also means that His disciples are not only called to accept this reality, but to bear witness to it to others.

Thomas would have to weigh in his own mind what this meant – that he would be expected to go out and tell people that this Jesus was Risen from the Dead; so many questions would come into play – how will people react to that message? How will they respond to me? Will they call me a liar, a fanatic, crazy? The temptation to retreat from witnessing to others that message of the first Easter would be incredibly strong, particularly if Thomas was worried about how he would be received. His own ego would scream out against putting himself in that difficult situation.

And so it can be with us. We might say we don’t care what people think of us – if they accept us or not, when we proclaim Christ is risen, when we preach the Gospel; but in all of us, the constant struggle is with our own egos, because at some level we all want to be accepted, part of the ‘crowd’, generally liked. Nothing threatens the ego quite like the demand of the Gospels, particularly the notion of putting God above all else, and loving our neighbours as ourselves, and then being a living witness to the truth of who Jesus really is in our secular world.

Yet in that struggle, we have the calming words of Jesus, recorded for us in this gospel passage from St. John, when he greets those disciples who are amazed, confused and even fearful with the words, “peace be with you”. Those words are not only for the disciples two thousand years ago; they are for us here, now, trying to make sense of our own struggles and trials as we continue our own journeys of faith. Through the intercession of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II, may we all be graced with that peace of Christ in our own hearts, as we all strive to enter more deeply into that profound and deep mystery of love and mercy that God invites us into each day.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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Easter (Vigil – year A)

How could anyone attend and participate  in the liturgy of the Easter Vigil and not be moved? Not sense some excitement? Not feel the warmth and the joy of this great liturgy, when we celebrate that point in human history when Jesus rose from the dead, defeating death and sin and opening the gates of eternal life with God to each and every man, woman and child on the face of the earth. This is the day that all of creation was waiting for; when in the fullness of time, through the power of the Risen Christ we become what we were meant to be from the beginning; reunited with God for all eternity.

Our Opening Proclamation, the Exsultet, repeatedly calls all of creation to Exult-Rejoice-‘let this building shake with joy”!

From the start of the Liturgy, with the blessing of the new fire; the lighting of the Paschal candle; the spreading of the light into the darkened church building; the incense, the music, the readings, the decorations; everything speaks of the joy in spreading this message that Christ is Risen; that everything that God spoke through the Scriptures, through the prophets; everything in the Gospels is true.

God has kept and continues to keep His promises; not only to the children of Israel, but to all people in all times! We are blessed to be able to acknowledge that and proclaim with the first disciples, “He is risen!”

That message of joy is made visible to us when we are also blessed to witness those entering into the Church at the Easter Vigil, becoming full members of our faith! All we need do is watch them, to see their faces as they receive the Eucharist for the first time, to know that the truth and joy we have, perhaps, held too closely or taken for granted, is irrepressible – it cannot be denied. With or without our participation, God’s will is done, and the Gospel will be spread.

How wonderful for us, that we are invited to participate in all this and more! God is truly very good indeed.

May the joy and blessings of Easter remain in our hearts and our homes always!

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Good Friday (Year A)

Why are we here? What is our purpose?

It always amazes me how in different ages and generations and cultures, we have asked these questions and relied on popular culture to define the answers for us. Our current culture seems to believe we are here to get more, to take more and to have more regardless of how we get it.

In years gone by, some of us learned about our faith and our relationship with God through the Catechism. In the old Baltimore catechism which some of us are familiar with, the question of ‘Why are we here?” was answered; “we are here to know God, to love God and to serve God in this life so as to be with Him in the next.”

This wasn’t some discovery that the Church came up with in the 1930’s or 40’s or 50’s as an answer that would change depending upon what current popular thought suggested.

This was not just an ‘opinion’ thought up by those who drafted the catechism.

This is a truth revealed by God. During his lifetime on earth, Jesus spoke of it often.

We have this truth highlighted in the Gospel account of Saint John of the Passion of our Lord.

During his trial before Pontius Pilate, while he is being questioned by the governor, Jesus responds to Pilate’s questions about His kingship, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

And Pilate responds with the famous, almost sarcastic, “What is truth?”

After having suffered through the temptation to follow his own will rather than God’s in the garden of Gethsemane; after having been betrayed by one of his closest followers, one of the 12 chosen; after having been abandoned by all of his friends and disciples; and even knowing the agony and suffering that is immediately before Him, Jesus is quite clear and unwavering. His purpose in coming into the world, in being born is to testify- to give example and evidence- to the truth; this truth is not some relative thing that depends on an individual’s point of view; this truth is not something that comes and goes with fashion or trends.

This ‘truth’ is the revelation by God of the reality of His existence in the person of Jesus. God is truth – God is love – and Jesus, being the Son of God, is God – earlier in this same Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples during the last supper ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’.

He uses the name of God “ I am” in explaining the absolute reality of who He is. He is God – He is THE truth – He IS love – He IS life – and those who belong to the Truth- to God – listen to His voice.

And because from the time of our separation from God – the fall of our first parents – we trapped ourselves into an existence of death and suffering – because the only way to restore our union with God was to restore the broken covenant with God – because it had to be a human that repaired that human ‘breach’ of the covenant – God comes to us in the person/the humanity of Jesus and fulfils that part of the covenant- the sacrifice which reunites us to God.

Only God could do it -and only in the person of Jesus; that is THE truth…..the truth of the depth of God’s love for us …that he would sacrifice His only Son….the truth of our own immortality and unity with our Creator… this is a truth that can never change with the times or trends.

But there could be no Resurrection without the crucifixion- and so it is for us as well; we all have our share of sorrows and joys, disappointments and triumphs, sufferings and strengths; but we can unite our sufferings with Our Lord’s; because we enter into the death and resurrection of our Saviour through Baptism, becoming adopted children of God.

And as the daughters and sons of God – as the adopted sisters and brothers of Jesus, why are we here?

We are also here to testify to the truth – to give example and evidence of the reality and love of God by our own lives- and like Jesus we are called to put this truth above all else – above ourselves. By opening ourselves to the grace of God through His Word and the Sacraments we come to know God; we come to love God; and we are strengthened to serve God in this life; and thanks totally to the sacrifice of Jesus by his death; we are able to live with God in the next life because the truth of the Resurrection has been handed onto us by Christ Himself.

Participating in the Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion and Death we have the opportunity to venerate the cross – to express our love, gratitude and appreciation for the agony that Jesus suffered on our behalf; by touching or kissing the cross, or making some other sign of reverence.

It is a perfect time to affirm in our own hearts that we belong to the crucified Christ as much as we belong to the resurrected Christ; that we belong to the truth and listen to His voice, no matter what it may cost us during our lives…that we believe He is God and we wish to know, to love and to serve Him in this life, so as to be with Him in the next.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Holy Thursday (Year A)

Sharing a meal is a gesture of closeness, and in itself carries a certain vulnerability among people – whether they be family or friends. Often we feel comfortable enough in saying things or sharing feelings or ideas that we wouldn’t speak in another more public setting. There is a certain intimacy in this eating together. Tonight we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, when we begin the Easter Triduum, the ‘three great days.” At the heart of this entire celebration is the understanding that it is all about God’s faithfulness to His promises; of His constant invitation to humanity to enter in a close relationship; into a deep intimacy with God. Why not, then, use the setting of an intimate gathering of family or close friends to relate this message.

We are reminded of the first Passover meal recorded in our first reading from the book of Exodus; the ‘last supper’ the children of Israel would eat before God, using Moses, led them out of slavery in Egypt. As great a miracle as this was, accompanied by all sorts of signs and wonders, pillars of fire and the parting of the sea, it was really a living prophecy of a greater miracle yet to come centuries later; when God through the person of Jesus, would lead all of His children out of slavery to sin and death, into eternal freedom as adopted sons and daughters.

The Passover meal becomes a powerful symbol of the relationship of God with the children of Israel; this last supper in slavery is an invitation to a relationship of total dependence on God – of complete intimate trust.

It is quite fitting, then, that the fulfillment of the covenant; of God dwelling among His people in the person of Jesus, should reach its completion in history during a commemoration of the Passover. And yet, even within the ‘Last Supper’ of Jesus with his disciples, while the events themselves are straightforward enough, we can reflect on each word, each movement and draw deeper insight and understanding.

It is only in St. John’s Gospel which we read tonight, that the washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus is recorded. It’s important to note that in middle Eastern culture – then as now – feet are probably the most ‘undignified’ part of the body. In fact, it is considered very rude to sit in such a way as to show the soles of your feet to your host when sitting in their company; that’s why often when we see news photos of a deposed dictator or leader in the middle East, people are often striking the portraits of these leaders with the soles of their shoes – it is a display of contempt.

So we get a bit of an insight as to how ‘shocking’ or ‘out of the ordinary’ this movement of Jesus is: we see that He is inviting the disciples into an object lesson – that the one who would be his disciple must serve – and not from some great or lofty place – but placing themselves in the most lowly of positions. Jesus the teacher or master, removes his outer garments, his robes – his sign of authority and Lordship if you will – wraps a towel around himself and picks up a basin of water to wash his disciples’ feet; here the host of the Passover meal, is placing himself in the very undignified position of the lowest of household servants or slaves – doing a job that even most household servants would consider ‘beneath their dignity’; here, the Son of God lowers himself to lead back to God the very creatures who fell from grace through their own disobedience; here, the Lord of Glory will shed his divinity, and in his humanity sacrifice Himself, allowing His creatures to brutally torture and kill Him, in order to restore humanity to its original relationship with God.

As Jesus is moving from disciple to disciple, washing their feet, Peter expresses his discomfort with the actions of Jesus – ‘you shall never wash my feet’- Peter has professed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God; as the Messiah – and while we’re not given Peter’s interior motives for his resistance to having his feet washed by Jesus, we can draw perhaps a couple of possibilities for our own reflection;

He sees Jesus’ actions as socially improper and certain to lead to misunderstanding – He is, after all , their Lord, and for Him to strike such an undignified pose is disturbing enough, but it could leave Peter – and the others- wondering where is He going with this? It could be that Peter is uncomfortable watching his Lord humiliating himself in front of the other disciples.

It could also be that Peter is uncomfortable with the intimacy and vulnerability that he is being invited into at this moment by Jesus.

But it is exactly this vulnerability and intimacy that we are all invited into by Jesus Himself. In the Holy Eucharist He gives Himself to us, to be taken and eaten and so to become one with us. Jesus entering into our personal reality and we entering into His reality – This is not some ‘metaphor’ or a symbolic gesture; this is the meaning in what our Catholic faith has always taught and believed; that Jesus is really and truly present in Holy Communion; this is what was meant in the words recorded in the gospels of Sts. Matthew, Mark and Luke and summarized in the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians,” This is my body that is for you.” And it is in this Passover meal, the ‘last supper’ that this most Holy Sacrament is instituted by Christ himself, for all time. It is also in this meal that Jesus institutes the Sacramental Priesthood, and we see how intimately connected these sacraments are – the Holy Eucharist to the Priesthood; both mark a total surrender of self to God for the good of all people. It is in this sacrament that the priest, configured to Christ the High Priest, by joining into the eternal sacrifice of Christ, offers that sacrifice of Himself for all people for all time. (that is what is meant by the priest acting ‘in persona Christi” – in the person of Christ, as Christ the High Priest. The deacon, of course, being configured to Christ the Servant, as reflected in this gospel passage of the washing of the feet.)

Being open to that intimacy requires each of us to become vulnerable – and becoming vulnerable is very contrary to our human nature. But Jesus gives yet another example of vulnerability. In a few hours, he is vulnerable to receiving the ultimate gesture of love from a close friend – a kiss – but it is in receiving this gesture of intimacy that He will be betrayed. Yet he does not turn aside from this openness. And He invites us into this vulnerability. It is in that vulnerability; that humility – that Jesus walks with us. To be his true disciples, we must imitate the Master; and while it does not necessarily mean we have to wander around looking for peoples’ feet to wash, it does mean opening ourselves to a life of service to God and to others; it means a shift in attitude from a sense of superiority to a sense of solidarity; rather than thinking of reaching down to help others up, it is a matter of lowering our “selves” to journey upward together with our brothers and sisters; the poor, the sick, the marginalized – it means admitting our own weaknesses and vulnerabilities and sharing in the sorrows and sufferings and the struggles of all those around us. Sometimes it even means allowing others to serve us, as well as for us to serve them. It means doing all of this for the love of a God who holds nothing back in His love for us.

It means that if we would truly be Jesus’ followers; then to open our hearts in humble service to others is not really something that is a burden; it’s an honour in which we are invited to imitate Our Lord and Master and so live intimately with our God.

adoration

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Palm Sunday (Year A)

I was reflecting recently on a situation where someone had fallen behind in making payments involving something that they were in serious need of. The response from the supplier was to threaten to take away what was needed, and they excused themselves with the comment, ‘this isn’t anything personal. It’s just business.’

As we mark the beginning of Holy Week, the most solemn time of year in our Church calendar, we are confronted with what appear to be completely polar opposites in reaction to the presence of Jesus. At the beginning of Mass we read from St. Matthew about Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, in the midst of the adoring crowds. We follow that up with the same writer’s account of Jesus’ Passion and Death; it shows how fickle people are – a complete and total reversal in public opinion (with a vengeance) in only a matter of days. The people are quite happy when they think the Messiah has come to bring about His Kingdom; but when they learn that much is expected of them in opening their hearts and participating in the building of that same Kingdom, that public adoration quickly degenerates into rejection and animosity.

While we often consider the tremendous sacrifice and meekness of Jesus, accepting both the good and the bad extremes in less than a week, ultimate surrendering all to the Father in atonement for the fallen human race, I think we frequently neglect to see how the actions of people in the gospels are reflected in our own day and in our own lives as followers of Jesus. Perhaps we deliberately avoid reflecting in that way because we don’t like what we might see in our own lives and actions, if we are brutally honest with ourselves.

For example, we may look at the treatment of Jesus by the Roman soldiers during his Passion, and say, ‘how could they be so unkind and cruel?’ or ‘how could they have been so detached while they inflicted such pain on his most holy body?’

But if we put ourselves into their place and time, for the Roman soldiers, this wasn’t ‘something personal’ – it was ‘just business’; it was a matter of routine – this is how foreign enemies of the Empire were dealt with; ‘no big deal’ if you will. They were desensitized to the suffering of those who were obstacles to what their orders were. They didn’t have to be concerned with how their prisoners ‘felt’ or ‘ thought’ because it really didn’t concern them.

This is one example, where we are invited to reflect on the parallel between the treatment of Christ in first century Palestine, and the treatment of His Body in our own time; there are numerous examples throughout the world, where Christ’s Body, the Church, is subjected to cruelty and oppression by secular authorities as a matter of ‘routine business’.

But just as important, we need to reflect on our own lives to see where we too have inflicted harm on the body of Christ – the Church – our brothers and sisters – as a matter of thoughtless or deliberate words, whether through neglect or direct action. It does us no good to simply read the Passion and reflect on it as a historical event, saying ‘poor Lord , how you suffered,’ if we are not willing to honestly contemplate where this event continues to be played out in our own world and in our own lives; if we aren’t willing to see how and where Jesus suffers each and every day, in great ways and small, in those we directly and indirectly encounter.

This most sacred time of year, Holy Week, is an opportunity for each of us to more deeply enter into reflection on the mystery of salvation history and recognize that God did not enter into our humanity solely to reconcile ‘me’ only to Himself. God entered into our humanity in the person of Jesus to reconcile all people to Himself, and in that action, we as members of Christ’s Body are invited and expected to be directly involved in drawing others to God, rather than ignoring them or driving them away.

The gentleness, meekness and surrender to God’s will that Jesus illustrates for each of us, should be the hallmark of our own lives and relationships each and every day; to reach out in love and to help build God’s Kingdom should be our ‘routine’.

Our willingness to follow Jesus’ example of complete self-giving should be , for us, our ‘business’; indeed it should be ‘something personal.’

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Lent – fifth Sunday (Year A)

We profess each time we gather for Mass, during the Creed, ‘I believe!’

I believe in God, the Creator of all things

I believe in Jesus Christ His only Son, who suffered, died , was buried – and rose again; that He is seated at the right hand of God and shall judge the living, and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting…

We publicly state we believe, and yet;

And yet, how often do we trust God? How often do we profess our faith, and yet find ourselves questioning and doubting often at the times we call on our faith the most?

How often have we asked someone to do something, and then went afterwards to check to see if they actually did what we asked of them? Often times, parents succumb to this when they ask a child to do a particular chore (like cleaning their room!), but just as often this can creep into our work lives, our social lives – around our homes or our schools.

Whether because of an experience that resulted in disappointment for us, or something that wasn’t quite up to our expectations, we can allow that experience to colour our trust of others.

This becomes especially true in our spiritual lives, when we speak the words of trust and faith; but when we ask God for something and it doesn’t turn out exactly as we hoped, expected, or even specified, we feel cheated or disappointed, as if God turned a deaf ear to us. This attitude borders on presumption, as if we have the ‘master plan’ and know how and when God should respond to our requests or demands; as if God is somehow a cosmic vending machine whose sole purpose is to satisfy our personal preferences.

Martha speaks words of trust when she goes out to meet Him at Bethany; “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

These are words almost of reproach –she might just as well have said, ‘why weren’t you here sooner when we called for you?’

However, Martha softens that up by immediately adding, “but even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him”.

She says she trusts Jesus because of his closeness to God; but then she adds another, even deeper statement of faith when Jesus challenges her belief in him, stating that He is the resurrection and the life;

‘Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world’.

Those are pretty strong words of conviction, of faith and public trust.

But look at what happens as soon as Jesus moves to raise Lazarus from the dead; He tells them remove the stone from the tomb, and immediately Martha forgets all her words of trust and conviction and tries to stop Jesus;

“Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”

It’s almost as if she is saying, ‘Lord you don’t know what you’re doing!’

It seems Martha is not ready for Jesus to act; she is not prepared for what may come about; and she is definitely not ready to be disappointed after placing her trust in Jesus.

And yet Jesus displays His compassion, His authority, and His power when he commands Lazarus to come out of the tomb. He is moved out of compassion for His friends to perform this great sign; He shows His authority, as the Messiah in this miracle; He shows His power, as the author of life, bringing life back to the lifeless.

And despite this great act, the people are again divided. Some believe in Jesus, while others still refuse. Those who believe do so because they have been present and have witnessed to the movement and power of God in their midst. Those who refuse do so, because they are more concerned with how this will affect their lives, position and power, than whether or not God is present to them.

As Christians we are called to witness to the presence of the living God in our world; we are called to act in the name of Jesus, bringing compassion and life wherever we happen to be; and we are called to trust that what God has promised us through Jesus, He will indeed deliver.

Rather than specifying terms and conditions we need to trust that God will answer prayer in ways that are in our best interests – not as individuals, or people of privilege or position – but as a people specifically called as His own, to be reunited with Him for all eternity. At those times when we find it most difficult, most trying, most discouraging; those are especially the times when we have to echo the words of Martha, “Yes Lord, I believe,” – and really, really mean them.

And then, we have to let the Lord do what He knows is best for us.

Giotto's raising of Lazarus

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!