Easter – 4th Sunday

Any parent with small children, or recalls what it was like to have young children will be familiar with something we call, ‘the head count’ – when our children were much younger, my wife Kathi and I were continually turning and sometimes audibly counting heads to make sure we had all of our five children with us whenever we were on a trip or outing.

This applies as well to those charged with the care in any way of children – teachers, drivers, resource people, day care providers – and it extends beyond that – parents with a group of children going to a birthday party, to a day at a park or a beach; people with the responsibility of delivering a group of people from one place to another; people with tour groups, sports teams, pilgrims;

We turn around and almost on reflex repeatedly take stock of the numbers of those in our care- we count and re-count several times to make sure we have everyone with us who is supposed to be with us – so that no one becomes lost and no one is left behind.  And anyone who has ever experienced the absence of a child – when they lose track of them, even if only for a few moments- experiences that icy terrible dread that we feel right through the depths of our heart when we think, even if only for the briefest of times, that we have lost one of these little ones in our care.

That no one is left behind, abandoned, or forgotten.  This is the message of our Gospel today; the message of the Good Shepherd; this beautiful, often-quoted passage from St. John’s Gospel speaks to each of us of the care, concern and deep love that Jesus has for each of His sheep- for those who hear His voice and respond to Him.

Shepherds in Jesus time on earth were really outcasts; their work kept them outside the towns and villages; they were occupied in a dirty trade, and were prevented from participating in day to day social activities, including worship in the synagogues and temples- but it provided them with an income; yet here we have the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd – choosing to set aside His own comforts, His own life; setting himself apart to be in the company of His sheep; not for pay or compensation – but purely out of love. And because He gives up everything for His sheep, the sheep know and trust and follow Him. And He reunites us with God as we were meant to be from the beginning.

In essence, Our Lord describes Himself continually doing the ‘head count’, not wanting a single sheep he has called to be left behind or lost.          And as much as we know how we can feel that sense of dread when we fear someone in our care has been ‘left behind’, we can only imagine how God, who loves every one of His children – every member of the entire human race since time began – feels the loss of each and every person who chooses not to be reunited with Him.

This deep desire that no one be abandoned or left behind; this is a desire – this is a responsibility that is taken up by every person who seeks to minister to others in the name of Christ; we think of the obvious examples of good shepherds in our own day, and usually we come to think of the Pope; we think of our bishops with their croziers or staffs, shaped sometimes like a shepherd’s crook – leading and guiding us towards a deeper relationship that God calls each of us to. We think of our pastors who lead us on a parish level – we might think of deacons who assist in guiding and teaching in a ministry of service, or those who lead in the many and varied lay ministries within our Church.

This Sunday marks the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.  It is a time to remind us that we should ask God, as St. Therese of Lisieux called Him ‘ The Lord of the Harvest’ ‘ to send more laborers into His harvest.’ It is a time for those who are perhaps considering a vocation to the priesthood, diaconate or religious life, to seriously listen to that voice whispering in their ear.  I would encourage those considering priesthood ; many seminaries have ‘Come and See’ weekends that you are welcome to attend;   for any men who have considered serving God and their community as permanent deacons, attend an information presentation on the diaconate; There are religious communities of men and that are open to having those considering a vocation in the consecrated life visit and experience a bit of the life of their orders, to help discern a calling from Our Lord.

But there is so much to be done in leading and guiding the people of God – every baptized Christian has a role to play in bringing others into this wonderful reunion with God – from those who teach about our faith – to parents, to grandparents, even children – whether we lead others as clergy; as religious; as teachers, in public service, as supervisors in a workplace; as mentors to those less experienced in our trades, wherever and whenever we are in a position of trust and responsibility for others, we are all shepherds and as Catholics we are all responsible for taking up our roles of guiding others , by our word and example, to come to know Christ and enter into a deeper relationship with God.

But Jesus warned us that there would be thieves and bandits who would try to guide us away from Him, from His love – who would try to lure us away from living out our baptismal call to holiness as children of God – and we see so many examples of that in our own society; voices that place individual comfort and gain ahead of everything else; voices that tell us God is irrelevant- that the Church is out of touch with our lives; voices that tell us that rather than give people the dignity they deserve, they are to be used as a means to an end for profit or pleasure; that caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless are someone else’s problem.

And just like with the head count of children there is a double-edged sword here; I speak for myself, but this is true of all who deeply love God and want to share that love with everyone; Sometimes we have to remind our sisters and brothers – and be reminded ourselves- of teachings and guidance that some of us would rather not hear  – much the same as parents and teachers who have to make some unpopular decisions at times – but when we do this, it is done out of love and charity, following the example of the Good Shepherd, so that none may be lost.

And while there is a tremendous sense of joy when God uses us to draw someone into the faith, or uses us to help someone return to Him or come closer to Him – there is just as tremendous a sense of personal loss each time we witness someone separate themselves or distance themselves from the faith; the departure of so many from the Church – from attendance at Mass – from putting their faith into practice in their daily lives – this really is a tragedy of immense  proportions; it is a huge loss and it is something that we all mourn and we grieve over.

I am quite confident that every person reading this knows at least one Catholic who has not been to Mass in a long time, or no longer receives the Sacraments.  It is in that imitation of our Good Shepherd that each of us is expected to encourage, in charity, these brothers and sisters of ours to ‘come home’; to offer in all sincerity an atmosphere of welcome to them on behalf of Our Lord.  It is up to each of us to give voice to Christ’s invitation to each of them to return to celebrate and worship with us; what kind of a response will we get? We may think, “well, if I ask someone to come back to church, they’ll probably say no”- but they won’t say ‘yes’ if we don’t invite them.

We can all serve as reminders that no matter how many times we may wander away from God’s will; that how many times we become lost, that Our Lord never abandons us; that He is always calling and guiding us, if only we will respond to His Call; to His voice.

The voice of the good shepherd, calling each of us; he takes an interest in each and every one of us on an individual level; it is to each one of us individually that he extends His invitation to follow Him; so that we may “have life, and have it abundantly”; He calls each of us to lead others to Him – to become part of His body – The Church; as Shepherds after His own example.

So again I ask you – no I beg you – for those who feel a calling to follow God, particularly in the consecrated life as sisters or brothers, as priests or deacons – please take the time to prayerfully and seriously consider following the Good Shepherd’s voice… Join in the harvest – help with the ‘head count’ – For those who do not feel that particular calling, please pray for those who serve you and God, and pray for more vocations – that God will give us, His people, true and holy shepherds to lead and guide and protect us, so that none will be left behind; that none will be lost.

cropped-crop2stjoe.jpg

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Advertisements

Easter – Second Sunday (Year B)

“Peace be with you.”

In the Gospel of St. John, these are the first words spoken by Jesus after His resurrection to the apostles, gathered in hiding.  “Peace be with you.”

We read on Easter Sunday how Mary Magdalene comes to the empty tomb, tells the disciples the body of Jesus is gone, and Peter and John run to see the empty tomb as well.  Other than Peter and John running to the tomb, we are not told in the Gospel what the other Apostle’s reactions were; all we are told is that they remained together in hiding, when that same evening – the evening of that first Easter Sunday – Jesus appeared in their midst; in the midst of those who were afraid, who were grieving the loss of their teacher and friend in a brutal and violent death only three days earlier; who were confused; disillusioned, angry, feeling guilty or ashamed at having abandoned him.

But it is in this ‘hiding’ that Jesus appears to his disciples; and in the midst of this wide range of emotions, His first words to them are ‘Peace be with you’ and then He sends them out into the world to be messengers of hope, of peace and of love.

Of course, in this particular passage we encounter St. Thomas, who happens to be absent on that first Easter evening – and we are not told why: who knows where Thomas was when the rest were in hiding; but by omitting that detail, St. John is telling us that it really isn’t important why Thomas wasn’t there, it is important to know that he simply was not present.  When the disciples later tell him that they have seen Jesus, St. Thomas expresses his doubts, and forever earns himself the nickname,’ Doubting Thomas’.

And this is where, I think, Thomas gets a bad, even an unfair reputation:  Thomas didn’t say, “I don’t believe what Jesus said about dying and rising again’.  Thomas says to the apostles, ‘I don’t believe what you are telling me – I need some proof’.  He’s using his rational, God-given ability to reason and wants some assurance to back up this story; he’s going through grief, just as the rest of the Apostles; Thomas then makes the famous demand about needing to see and to touch the wounds from the crucifixion.

Most of us focus on this description of Thomas, and we tend to class him as inept, confused, or weak.  We forget that earlier in the same Gospel of St. John, in the story of Jesus going to Bethany to heal Lazarus, all of the apostles tried to talk Jesus out of going there because the people had earlier tried to stone him.  It is only Thomas, who encourages the other apostles to go where Jesus is going ‘let us go and die with Him’ Thomas is quoted as saying.  So Thomas isn’t some weak-minded coward; he is loyal to Jesus;

And when Jesus reappears the following week, and shows Thomas his wounds, Thomas makes a declaration that no other Apostle makes in all the Gospels up to that point;  he calls Jesus ‘My Lord and My God”  – no one else has called Jesus ‘My God’ before that.

Thomas would eventually proclaim the Gospel; traditions tell us he took the Gospel all the way to the west coast of India, before being martyred there; dying as a witness to his faith in Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t condemn Thomas (or any of the other apostles for that matter) for doubting or questioning.  He holds up rather, those who have not seen and yet believe in Him.

This sounds much like a new beatitude (blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are the poor, blessed are the pure of heart); this is a message for all who will hear and receive the Gospel that Jesus has died and has risen and has opened the way to salvation for all people.  This is a message for all generations from the time of Christ, to our time, and for generations yet to come.  It is a message of encouragement; it is an exhortation to not give up hope or trust in God that all will ultimately be well.

We are the ones Jesus is speaking to and about, when He says ‘blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe”. That’s why this chapter of St. John’s Gospel ends with ‘these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and through believing you may have life in His name.”

The Church – the Body of Christ – has survived for two thousand years, and has seen endured and lived through some tremendous times of peace, hope and joy; she has also experienced periods of great darkness, doubt, scandal and sorrow.

But in all of these times Jesus Himself has been present in His Church, and has always reminded us through His Sacred Word, His Sacraments and His faithful ministers that He is always with us.

And He continues to speak His words of comfort and encouragement to us and continually says, ‘Peace be with you’.

Saint_Thomas_Apostle

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Easter Vigil – Year B

How could anyone attend and participate in this 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”!

There are wondrous moments in life where we have all felt a tremendous sense of joy; and yet, each of these is only a small taste of what God holds out for each of us.

Joy is irrepressible; it can’t be contained.  It’s not like pleasure in an activity, or satisfaction at accomplishing something; when we experience joy, we can’t hide it – we feel compelled or drawn to let it out; to share it with everyone and anyone we come in contact with. Joy is contagious; it can even conquer fear.

Tonight we mark the most incredible cause of joy in the entire history of the human race – the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.  We celebrate and join with the members of the Church around the world, with the angels and the saints in heaven, in rejoicing at the Truth of God.

From the start of our 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.

Sometimes we think the people of the past, who weren’t as technologically advanced as we are, were somehow unintelligent.

In our more recent history, I don’t think any of us would consider those who grew up without the internet to be of lesser intelligence than those who have known the ‘web’ for the better part of their lives.  And long before iphones and blackberries, before television and radio, people knew and understood the realities of life and relationship; sometimes I think far better than our culture does today.

The people of first century Palestine, in Jesus day, were not stupid people.  They knew the realities of human existence; of struggles and success, of conflict and peace, of work and rest, and of life and death.  Their practical experience and knowledge taught them that people don’t die and then just come back.

But following that first Easter, that is exactly what the disciples of Jesus were proclaiming.  Jesus had died and had risen!  It was the message that spread throughout the known world, and people believed; many to the point of giving their very lives in defense of the Gospel.  It was the message that through Christ, sin and death were defeated, and the promise of eternal life, being reunited with God as we were all meant to be, was given to all who believed.

Those who heard and accepted the Gospel message did so because of the witness of believers; because of the ‘light of Christ’ which was shining from them and the faith they were granted by God through the working of the Holy Spirit.

It’s interesting to note that while each of the four Gospels contains different insights into the teaching and works and actions of Jesus during his lifetime on earth, there are only a couple of episodes that are recorded in all four;  they all record the passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus- and they all record how St. Mary Magdalene was the first witness to the Truth of the Resurrection;  and even though she first met this truth with fear, that fear would give way to joy;  she in turn would be the one to take this joyful news and share it with the Apostles;  despite all of the turmoil and sorrow and horror that all of Jesus friends and followers and family experienced in the several days leading up to this, here was the message of indescribable joy that simply could not be contained.

He is Risen!

The authorities in Jerusalem could not defeat God’s plan; the power of the Roman Empire could not defeat God’s plan; today, a world and society that seems bent on self-absorption and self-destruction cannot defeat God’s plan.  Even death itself could not defeat God’s plan.  The light of Christ remains.  The Church remains.

In some way, at some time, each of us has been called by God to return to Him; directly or indirectly – perhaps by angels as the message of Christ’s resurrection is told to St. Mary Magdalene; perhaps through others’ words and actions, as St. Mary Magdalene was instructed to tell the news of the resurrection to the other disciples; perhaps by a whisper from God Himself in the very depths of our hearts, whether we recognized it at the time or not.

But God has called each of us into this victory, this relationship of eternal life with him and when we really take the time to consider that, how could we not be filled with joy?  How could we not want to share that with others through our own witness to the goodness of God in our lives or the promise of eternity with God because of Christ’s rising from the dead? How could we not want to share in the sacramental life of the Church?

The story of salvation history is not just the story of the Jewish people…it’s the story of all people…it is the story of the Church…it is the story of each one of us gathered at Mass; nowhere is that more clearly represented than in RCIA candidates; God has called each of them into relationship with Him, and they have responded.  They have journeyed for months, learning about and deepening their understanding of the faith of the Roman Catholic Church, and have consciously made a decision to say ‘yes’ to accept the gift of relationship that God holds out; committing to receiving that gift from God; becoming adopted children of God; becoming sisters of God’s only Son, Jesus Christ; entering into the family of all of us gathered here.  And they in turn will receive the ‘light of Christ’ through their entry into the Church, and by their own witness, will bring that light to others, sharing the Gospel – their joy – with others.

It has not been easy all the time, and the periods of study and reflection, of gatherings and dismissals has presented its own challenges for each of our candidates; but here again is a sign as a reminder for each of us; during our continuing journey in faith, each of us faces challenges and struggles; but God continually calls us and gives us the help we need to rise above those challenges and open our hearts to this great gift of Himself – His life- that He so desires to give continually to each of us.

That’s love; it’s a love which gives us hope; that is a hope that fills us with joy.

There is always time to consider the trials and tragedies and difficulties of our life on earth.  There is always time to reflect on the inhumane acts perpetrated in various parts of the world by the strong over the weak. There is always time to consider the struggles the Church faces in the world; but this is not the time to reflect on those.  This is a time to celebrate; this is a time for great happiness and gratitude and joy.

This is the Day that the Lord has made; Let us Rejoice and be glad!

sunriseset

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Good Friday (Year A)

The Passion from the Gospel according to St. John is the same in years A, B, and C…

Thoughts from Theophilus

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…

View original post 799 more words