Apr 30, 2016

Sixth Sunday of Easter

If there was one line in the gospel we have just heard and is worth remembering again and again, it is this. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” (John 14:27)

Our Lord have left us a gift. But this gift is not placed on a shelf to be discovered, looked at with admiration or curiosity. Nor is it placed somewhere remote or hidden and then we are asked to search for it -  like a game of hide and seek.  Nor is it something like an online gift registry where Our Lord highlights certain essential items he has chosen for us to make our lives more meaningful and all we have to do is scroll down the list and check off what we are in need of!

Instead, he tells us that he "leaves" us this gift, and then immediately tells us he “gives” it to us. In other words, Christ personally gives us this gift, right into our hands. He leaves it in our safekeeping. He trusts us with its ownership. It has been given!

Of course, his gift is the gift of peace. But let’s be careful. When we think of peace we are often tempted to think of it only in terms of what happens “after” a period of violence, anger or hostility - like the calm “after” the storm. That type of peace is more often a “relief”, a cherished opportunity to catch one’s breath again, an opportunity to begin to restore what was broken or destroyed. Of course, these opportunities must be continually welcomed.  

But Christ clarifies - the origin of his gift of peace does not come from defeating the enemy, or negotiations, compromise or settlements, important as these elements may be in particular circumstances. “Not as the world gives, do I give it to you,” Christ reminds us. In other words, the peace Christ gives belongs to him - it is his, it is a gift  of himself to you and me. This gift comes directly from the heart and soul of God himself!

Particularly during this special jubilee year, we have become very familiar and exposed to the gift of Divine Mercy - the cleansing purity of God’s love channeled through the heart of Christ to each one of us - the joyful experience of freedom through God’s forgiveness of our sins.  With Divine Mercy, let us also be familiar and embrace “Divine Peace”, who is also Christ himself.  

He “leaves” this gift of divine peace to the Church for her to be a constant witness to the world of his Gospel message. He continually “gives” us this divine gift of peace, every time we reject the ugliness of anger, revenge, violence and war, “while” turning to him as the source of true peace and justice on “earth as it is in heaven”.

As Our Lord sought to assure his disciples, he assures us now, “Do not let your hearts be troubled”. Yes, we can easily let ourselves be troubled by the direction we sometimes see the world going. But by allowing “our hearts” to be troubled, (for the heart is where Christ speaks to us), we can easily be caught up in the same wave of self-destruction we seek to avoid, and we no longer become credible witnesses of the Gospel of Christ.

As a pastor of souls, I would therefore suggest, seek out places where you can hear Christ gently speaking to you. Find time to be quiet, away from the noise and pollution of the world (and do not be afraid to switch off the computer and put away the smartphone!) Christ walked along the roads and pathways of this world, he didn’t run around putting out fires or responding to everyone who wanted attention! How can our hearts be troubled if we allow Christ to guide us through the valley of darkness at “his own pace”, allowing us to be attentive to his gentle, unhurried voice?

Finally, Christ assures us through today’s Gospel that the Holy Spirit will remind us of everything he has said. This is accomplished at every Mass, through the words that follow the Lord’s Prayer when we ready ourselves for Holy Communion: We hear again Christ’s words, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you”.  We will then be asked to extend to others, to be instruments, not of our own understanding of peace, but the gift of divine peace that comes from the heart of Christ.

So, do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. Reclaim and accept the gift of peace that is of God’s own making, always finding the time to rejoice and give thanks that our heavenly Father so very much loved the world (even in its sinfulness) that he sent his Son to live among us, walk with us and guide us along the right path.

Apr 23, 2016

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Jn 13:31-33a, 34-35

Stain begone! Keeping your whites white!

This portion of the Gospel we have listened to begins with the departure of Judas from the Upper Room and his descent into the darkness of the street. His mind made up to betray the Lord. Christ remarks “now is the Son of Man glorified”. Is not Christ glorified while he performed the miracles, in his cross, or by his resurrection? Why “now”, with the simple departure of Judas from the Upper Room?

Keep in mind the second reading, from the Book of Revelation (John 21: 1-5) when we hear that John “saw a new heaven and a new earth.” Now that the traitor Judas had left the sacred company of the other apostles and had departed that sacred space where the Church would gather to celebrate the sacrament of Christ’s priesthood, now it is finally possible to “taste” the glory that awaits the whole world on the great day of Judgment. On that day when all enemies of God will be cast away, the glory of the Lord will shine without distraction.

Even liturgically we spell this out. When we gather together in this sacred place where heaven and earth are renewed, do we not first confess our sins – sending “Judas” out into the darkness, so we can celebrate this sacrament of love in all its glory and without distraction?

Notice what we do before baptism.  We first reject sin, then embrace our faith, and then one is baptized. Keeping our baptismal garment clean is a lifetime event!

How do we do this? Christ gives us a “new commandment” to love one another. Is that new? Is that not an old commandment?  It is a new commandment because Christ tells us to “love one another as I have loved you”. It is new because Christ tells us to imitate his love, which is not a natural love. It is supernatural. It is sacrificial. It is a love that endures through good times and bad. It is a love that gives life, sometimes painfully – but always beautifully. That’s the Cross and resurrection.

Let us ask our blessed Mother Mary, to encourage us to love as Christ did. But not only this. To bear the name of Christian is to be mistaken for Christ, by the way we choose to live, by the decisions we make.  May the cleansing power of the Sacrament of Confession and the strength of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ keep the flame of our Christian charity burning brightly through the grace of compassion we have for the world and the salvations of souls.

(Note - Here it will be helpful to study and reflect on the virtue of charity, modeled perfectly in Christ. Para 1822 - 1829 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is particulary helpful.)

Apr 16, 2016

Good Shepherd Sunday

John 10: 27-30

The image of Christ the Good Shepherd is truly endearing. In a certain sense it provides a level of comfort, protection and belonging. These are noble sentiments and this enduring picture of Christ can evoke on the surface much of these associations.

Yet, on a deeper level, when we listen to, reflect and meditate on Our Lord’s words in this portion of Scripture, there is a deeper level of understanding His identification of Himself, not as any shepherd, but as “the” Good Shepherd. When you hire someone to do the job of looking after a flock they are paid to do good. Yet with Jesus, “His goodness is His own nature and not some added extra gift.” (St. Gregory the Great).

Whereas an ordinary overseer of a flock would get to know the sheep by careful observation, the Good Shepherd knows His flock – Our Lord knows us inside out, He knows what we are made of, what our fears are, our hopes and deepest desires, our dreams. It is this intimate unity, the oneness with Jesus, which helps us understand the term “communion”.

It is this “communion” which the Church enjoys with the Good Shepherd. But many wolfs ceaselessly try to tear apart the flock or scare the unsuspecting sheep into a certain direction where a hidden trap is waiting, even dividing the family, and often, in our own society, trying, as wolves would do in the wild, to force mothers from their lambs, be they born or even in the womb. Wolves too, go after the sick and and elderly. Wolves in sheep's clothing can easily sing Catholic songs, sell Catholic merchandise and appear as angels of light!

A good shepherd knows this. This is why the shepherd's staff is not only to pull back one of the sheep, but like the young David, the shepherd might have a slingshot in his back pocket. He would use this, of course against the wolf, but also to clip the heel of wayward lamb!

If we are to be role models to others, whether we are pastors, teachers, parents or even grandparents, it is not enough to do the good. We have to be goodness itself. Goodness, by its own nature unmasks the wolf in sheep’s clothing, and secures the family through every hardship and danger.

Jesus tells us that He will lay down his life for His sheep. Our Lord does not compare himself to a hero, battling a wolf to the death. What would happen to the remaining flock, their defender having been slain?

In this season of Easter, we are asked to contemplate the Shepherd who alone can lay down his life in death in order to take it up again. In short, this is death and resurrection. A shepherd may get killed for defending the vulnerable. But the Good Shepherd willingly sacrifices His life in order to destroy the greatest predator of humanity – death itself. The Resurrection of Jesus from death gives us the assurance of the ultimate victory of humanity, but that is if we should, of course, wish to share in it.

The upcoming month of May is traditionally dedicated to our Blessed Mother Mary. One of Mary’s titles is “Our Lady of Trust” by which she shows us our proper attitude towards her Son, the Good Shepherd. We remember how the angel greeted her when he announced that she would become pregnant and give birth, “Do not be afraid”.

Mary points us to her Son the Good Shepherd, who in turn tells us “Do not be afraid”. Let us pray that, even in the midst of a world of conflict and division, we can still hear the voice of the Good Shepherd guiding us closer to His heart, which is goodness itself, protecting us under his loving and careful gaze.

Apr 9, 2016

Third Sunday of Easter

John 21:1-14 

On the last week of May in 1940, nine months into the beginning of World War Two, and a year and a half before the United States joined the Allied Forces against Hitler’s invading armies, one of the greatest rescues in military history took place on the shores of France at the beachhead of Dunkirk.  400,000 British and French troops were trapped and pinned down by the advancing German armies. The coast of England was only 50 miles across the sea.

But because of the shallow waters, the large British warships could not reach the men safely to rescue them. The hundreds of thousands stranded on the breaches came under continual fire and bombardment from the enemy forces all around them.  Only some who were brave and strong enough to battle the raging sea made it out to the distant Allied ships. Likewise, many who attempted, drowned or gave in to hypothermia and perished.

A desperate call went out to every shipbuilder and boat owner around the English coast. Messages were sent to secret contacts up the coast in Belgium and Holland to get every vessel they could find and sail to Dunkirk to help rescue the nearly half a million men who were fighting for their lives. 

During the course of ten days, under constant fire, over 700 small vessels - made up of fishing boats, private yachts, coastal lifeboats - came to the rescue and helped evacuate 338,000 stranded men, bringing them out to the Allied Command ships waiting in the deeper waters to receive them.

Consider how this event, historical and epic as it is, applies to us here and now and our experience of being members of the Church.  When we look at the big picture, we can easily compare the Church to a large and mighty ship, navigating her course through time and history amid the raging sea around her, often under fire by hostile forces. Within her, she carries men, women and children of every culture, from every land and every race - the young and the old, clergy and parishioners, the married couples, the single, the young and the children. There is room on board for everyone, for the future of humanity depends on their safety.

Maybe, it is no accident that much attention has been given, during these past days, to the pope’s recent exhortation on the challenges of marriage and family life. It underscores that we are not simply one, huge family, only united in our common faith and understanding of the life of grace. We are also a flotilla of little boats, an armada of ships of different sizes and circumstances, taking on the challenges and casualties of the world.  In the Gospel, it took Peter with all his strength to haul in all the fish himself and secure it at the feet of Our Lord. And maybe, this is what Peter has done again - through Pope Francis - to spread out before the feet of Christ the many different circumstances and challenges of every married couple and their family life.

As he also did in the Gospel, Christ stands again on the shoreline, directing us, asking us to recuse and to help secure the salvation of every member of our common family. Our little unarmed boats in the great ocean, often feeling the stresses and anxieties of life on every side, need the Church’s protection. For within these little boats, the tired and the wounded, the brave and the weak, the stranger and our brothers and sisters are to be brought home

Let us pray for the openness to hear the voice of Christ, and the courage to come to the rescue to help bring on board and welcome with gladness those who fear they have been abandoned and forgotten. There is room for everyone who needs safe passage home, there is also a medic on board and a quiet place for healing, so that when you have regained your strength, there's a place at the table waiting for you in the company of the family of saints.

Responsorial Psalm 30

“I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.”

I will extol you, O LORD, for you drew me clear
and did not let my enemies rejoice over me.
O LORD, you brought me up from the netherworld;
you preserved me from among those going down into the pit.

Apr 2, 2016

Divine Mercy Sunday

It is no accident that this Sunday we call Divine Mercy Sunday. The actual picture of Divine Mercy is Christ himself. But this is not the simple theme for today's Sunday. And even though it has added value during this Year of Mercy, Our Lord has always, is always and will always be merciful to us to approach him. Merciful love is at the "heart" of the nature of God's "personality".

Today's Gospel simply re-enforces this truth about God. Even after we betrayed our Lord and savior by our cowardly faults and sins, and in our guilt find ourselves, like the apostles, locked up in a dark room of our choice, he takes the initiative and enters into our prison wanting to release us.

We can get so used to darkness. God’s mercy, his love is a tender light, for he never wants to scare us. He finds us often tired and vulnerable, hurting and even closed up inside ourselves.  Even though we do not see him. He sees us, looks at us. And if only we could see how he gazes at us - not with pity. No. Something much deeper and heartfelt - Christ gazes upon us with a deep, deep tenderness.  The gentle light he bathes us in is an embrace of peace.  “Peace be with you”, “Do not be afraid”.

Having won his victory over the devil, over death, over sin, Christ enters into the place where his disciples have gathered - many of them are afraid and tired. There is probably embarrassment that they had abandoned him to the cross, that they ran away and hid.  This is the same Christ who never received mercy when he needed it most.  But now he returns, not to scold or to teach his disciples a lesson. Christ does not break down the door and shine a flashlight into our faces. No. He enters without disturbance.  His presence communicates gentleness, mercy - the tenderness of God’s love even to the most hardened criminal or to the most shamefaced sinner.   

And as if to make this point through an example, we are told about Thomas, who was called “the doubter”. It seems that he was determined to keep the door of his heart securely closed. Even the talk of Christ’s resurrection could not unhinge him. It took Christ himself to do so. But before Thomas could experience the full effects of the resurrection of his Lord, he first had to reach out and touch the Lord’s wounds – he had to join his suffering, his hurt, his pain to Christ’s - not to experience the agony of crucifixion, but the tenderness of reconciliation and peace.

All of us must do likewise. If we don’t, then we are only forensic scientists looking at Christ's wounds and taking notes.  No. Christ’s wounds are the tell-tale signs of a love and sacrifice for you and me.  Christ's wounds, communicate not the horror of crucifixion, but beauty of the resurrection - the depths of his love that knows no limit.  Christ is no martyr for love.  In fact, he has defeated death itself and risen from the grave. He stands before you and me assuring us that we are sacred to him, precious in his sight. His only suffering now, is that we do not, at times, realize how wonderfully loved we are, even when we lock ourselves away in our own darkness.

Thomas was beckoned to reach out and join his own ugly wounds to the beautiful wounds of Christ. And maybe that’s why an image of divine love we often see is a heart radiating fire - It takes courage to put one's hand into a divine fire, but it takes faith to do so knowing that you will not be burnt. Courage and faith.  Christ beckons us to have faith and be courageous.

For this reason, the image the Church has adopted of Christ’s Divine Mercy shows a light that, while coming from the sacred open side of Christ, it also allows us to be drawn, beckoned by that same light into its very source. Here we can grasp the secret of divine mercy, the understanding that in Christ’s light, our own woundedness is not erased from our bodies, but purified, healed, given a new meaning. No more fighting, shouting - no more anger - peace at last - Christ has fought all our battles, and won.

Mar 27, 2016

Easter Sunday of the Lord's Resurrection

Some time ago in my travels, I got a phone call late at night. It was from a hospital, the maternity wing. A baby had just been born. Although a healthy little child, when the umbilical cord was being cut, there was a complication. The blood would not clot, the bleeding would not not stop. The little baby began fighting for his life. Doctors and nurses immediately began every procedure in the medical book, the instincts of their training in saving lives took over. For the boy's family it was the ordeal of their own Good Friday.

When I arrived on the scene, I was quickly escorted to the Intensive Care Unit for premature and newborns. All around where incubators attached to machines and monitoring devices. Around some of them I noticed mothers and fathers, sitting patiently, waiting and watching. Every so often, I would see a little foot appear from inside a baby’s insulated cradle, or a little hand raised up just enough to touch the see-through window of their little “womb with a view”. It was all very quiet.

However, at the other side of the room, I saw doctors and nurses in medical gowns huddled together in a circle over one small particular table. Above it was a surgical light that shone down upon it brightly. I couldn't see what they were doing, but surmised that this was the newborn baby I was called upon to baptize. But then something happened.

As I watched, the once animated medical team then stopped everything they were doing. They stood back. Some of them took off their masks and untied their gowns, and wiped their brow and shook their heads in disappointment and sadness.  The doctor, I presumed, then looked at his watch and glanced over to the large clock behind him on the wall and took note of the time. Like the eclipse of the sun, the large light that shone so brightly above the little child was switched off. And it was dark.

One by one, they left. The nurse who had called me came over. She didn’t need to say anything. She apologized for having me wait so long, but suggested that maybe I might accompany the team to visit the family to give them the news that her child had died. I told her that I was to baptize the little boy and that I regretted I was too late. But then thought. Out of comfort to the mother, I would at least do what she had asked, even though my training had taught me that sacraments are for the living, not for the dead.

The nurse and I approached the table. Upon it was the body of the child, his head covered with a little knitted cap, a plastic breathing tube was taped around his little mouth, his perfectly formed body was as white as marble, motionless, beautiful in a way, like a porcelain figurine. I asked the nurse for some water. She gave me a syringe already filled. Not knowing the baby’s name, I bent down and while releasing three drops of water that trickled over his brow, I whispered into his ear, “Little child, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.  I stood up and said a secret prayer to his guardian angel to take his little soul to heaven.

But then something happened. As I looked down at his tiny white body, I thought I saw his chest move a little. Instinctively, I dismissed it, thinking that the longer you stare at something the mind can play subtle tricks. But then, I looked again. The little chest expanded out, then in. Maybe this what happens shortly after death when the body begins to “settle”. But then again, the little chest was indeed moving, in then out. I turned to the nurse. Her eyes also saw. She saw, and believed what I was hoping to be true. The baby’s heart, all by itself began to beat again. The child had returned to the land of the living!

Suffice to say, after that moment there was pandemonium, excitement. The doctors and nurses came flooding in, the huge surgical light was again thrown on again. As I quietly and gently moved away, I watched and prayed from the sidelines as machines were rolled into place, more doctors and nurses streamed in with vials of blood and surgical instruments. Hidden in the corner, I prayed my rosary for the little boy. “You can do it, fight for your life, fight to live another day!”

After a good hour, my rosary beads worn away, I think I prayed every Mystery, - Joyful, Sorrowful, Luminous and Glorious, the baby was breathing on a respirator, color had returned to his little body and his heart appeared once again to be beating strong.  I told the nurse that it was now time to visit the mother and father to announce to them that their son was indeed alive - that he had, in a way, risen from the dead. This was Good News indeed. (What of that little child? Well, that's probably another sermon for another Sunday!)

But let's put this in perspective. Two thousand years ago, no one actually witnessed in real time, the resurrection of Christ from the Dead, except the angels of heaven. It was such a unique event, beyond our comprehension. It was not a medical wonder or a mind game of his first disciples. Jesus Christ was dead and buried. But his resurrection was unlike anything that ever happened, and always will be for as long as we live. His resurrection brought to perfection a new order of life, beyond our imagination - a life we long and hope for, even after death. Although no mortal eye could see Christ rising from the dead, every day, if we are patient and know how to look through the eyes of faith, the eyes of a believer, we will indeed catch little glimpses, hints of it, that give us hope. 

It might happen when we witness a medical wonder, or the joy of new life being born, or the radiant smile of someone receiving love after being abandoned and forgotten for so long. Even an act of charity and caring outreach to someone whom every other passerby ignores or leaves forgotten, brings someone back from the dead and gives life and hope, even if it's just to live for one more day.  It only has eternal meaning, if we believe that the one who was crucified on Friday, died and was buried, rose to life on the third day and who lives, not in our memories, but before us in the Sacrament of his glorious Body and Blood. And for those who have been baptized into his body the Church, and washed clean of their sins, we receive here and from this altar the anecdote of eternal life, the medicine of immortality.

May the waters of our baptism stay always fresh, and may this Easter Sunday, and on every first day of the week, may we taste again and again, the life giving power of the resurrection the dead and life everlasting.

Mar 25, 2016

Good Friday

Senses of the Sacred

There is, in the tradition of meditations on the Passion of Christ, reflections on his seven last words- Our Lord’s sacred utterances from the Cross. Each of his statements are worthy of reflection and meditation. Many spiritual writers and theologians throughout the ages had done so. 

1 Luke 23:34: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.
2 Luke 23:43: Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.
3 John 19:26–27: Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.
4 Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34 My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
5 John 19:28: I thirst.
6 John 19:30: It is finished. (From the Greek "Tetelestai" which is also translated "It is consummated.")
7 Luke 23:46: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.

While I would encourage you to meditate on his seven words, so that we do not approach Christ’s horrific crucifixion solely from a sanitized, or solely intellectual or purely spiritual point of view, I suggest we might also meditate briefly on his seven last senses

What did Christ experience during those three hours on the cross? Too much! It suffices to give a one simple mediation on each of his seven senses.

1 What did he feel? Pain, of course! That’s the sense of touch- when a hand comes in contact with fire, its natural reaction is to pull back. The hammered nails that went through his hands and feet were like molten lead poured on them, burning through them constantly. The instinct is to pull back, to pull away. But he can’t. It is continuous for three hours.
2 What did he smell? Cavalry was a place of continuous executions.  The smell of rotten flesh, urine and feces. In the air, smoke carried with it the smoldering stench from a nearby valley where countless carcasses, leftovers from the thousands of animals sacrificed everyday in the Temple of Jerusalem.
3 What did he hear? He heard insults from the crowd. He heard screams from the thieves crucified beside him. He heard mockery from the Jewish priests and laughter from the Roman soldiers.
4 What did he see? He saw the blue skies and the distant hills. He saw birds in the air flying gracefully and people coming and going about their daily business.  He saw his mother below, her own eyes filled with tears and sorrow.
5 What did he taste? He tasted the saltiness of his sweat as it dripped down his face. He tasted the gentle warmth of his own blood that streaked down from his forehead pierced open by thorns. He tasted on his lips the bitter sourness of wine when he was pressed to drink it, but would not.

The sense of touching, smell, of hearing, of sight and of taste. But there are two other senses, we know of, but yet do not fully understand.  

6. In the medical field one is called the “vestibular sense” - how the mind tries to adjust if you are up or down - if you are have been plunged deep into the ocean at midnight or engulfed by snow in an avalanche, which way is up so that you can fight to get to the surface? How did Christ sense the world from the dizzy, vertigo height of the cross? His body stretched out, he is frozen out of a world swirling around him, caught unnaturally, suspended in a place between heaven and earth - it does not make sense - the mind can not understand.

And the seventh sense? 

7. The medical journal calls it “Proprioception". Sometimes an amputee would feel his leg that was not there, or feel someone’s gentle breath against the palm of his hand that he did not have.

Maybe, this was the most sacred of his senses, intensified by sacrificial offering of himself. Amid the torture, the fire of pain, the shouting crowds, the stench of death and the sight of friends and enemies, our Lord could sense his sacred mission.  Even from the cross he reached out his hands to heal us, to embrace us in his arms with a love so tender. From the cross, he walks alongside you and me, helping us when we fall, steadying us when we become weak. From the cross he listens to our confessions, he breathes upon us the sweet aroma of his Spirit, looking into our hearts with the eyes of mercy and kindness that assures us that all is good, all will be good and all is good. He has saved us from our sins.