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 19, 2016

St. Joseph, Husband of Mary

To the man whose words were never recorded in the Scriptures, the Church honors today with a great solemnity, so important his life and example are for us all.

St. Joseph’s privilege was to be the husband of the Virgin Mary – truly a match made in heaven. As her husband he became the head of the family. Indeed, as a wife, Mary was subject to him. But her natural submission to him as her husband protected her – he protected her honor, her life when her pregnancy.

Although he was foster-father to Jesus, let us never underestimate his fatherhood. St. Joseph had the same rights of a father over a son as any father of his day enjoyed and exercised. Not by the will of nature, but by grace Joseph was the father of Jesus, a fatherhood delegated to him by God. And as Jesus considers us his brothers and sisters, St. Joseph also becomes a father figure for us - our guardian and our protector.

He was responsible to provide food and safety from the sweat of his own brow to the young boy who would grow up to provide miraculous food to all freely. St. Joseph guided the boy Jesus in his relationships with the world, protected him at home and gave him the hands on experience of the job site. To imagine the young boy Jesus running into the open arms of St. Joseph, calling him “father”. Is it any wonder today is the anniversary of many priest’s ordinations (my own included), for when the priest receives Holy Communion, like St. Joseph with the vocation of being a Father, Jesus will also rush into my hands for me to embrace.

St. Joseph provides for us all a true example of faith in the midst of conflicts, doubts and contradictions.  To accept the truth of Mary’s child, to accept that the God of the universe should be born in destitute circumstances, that accepted the exile of Egypt not knowing for how long. This was a man who could count twenty three kings of Israel as his ancestors, a man of noble blood who was now content to be a commoner, mending broken tables and ploughs for a living – a humble man without ambition or an agenda but to simply be faithful to God’s commands often against the odds.

His humility was his power. He knew when to bow out and take a back seat for when the young Jesus who grew up calling him father, looked to the heavens and called out to God as Father on that unforgettable day in the temple, we never hear of him again. But from his hiding place of heaven, peeking through the great cloud of witnesses, beside angels and saints, he looks towards the Blessed Lady he took as his wife, and with her, looks upon the face of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the world.

Mar 12, 2016

Fifth Sunday of Lent

John 8:1-11

An interesting point is that some of the earliest hand-written copies of the Fourth Gospel avoided copying the passage we have just listen to. St. Augustine, writing in the fourth century, suggested that some copyists preferred to delete this incident because they feared that Jesus came across too forgiving and merciful. Those reading it, they may have thought, might be encouraged not to take morality too serious. After all, they might argue, Jesus is always there, ready and waiting to forgive. It is important to point out that as we read this portion of the Holy Scriptures, Jesus reminded the adulterer to go and sin no more. He clearly condemns the sin but he also shows mercy and is kind and gentle to the sinner.

When we are caught in our sin, be it, like the Prodigal Son from last Sunday's Gospel, or like the woman in today's, it is natural, not only to be embarrassed by a sin, but also fearful of God. But when we personally meet Christ, in particular through the sacrament of confession, it is mercy and kindness we encounter, not anger. Only when we find the courage to confess our sins to Christ, we can be surprised by the gentle, tender mercy of God even if we find ourselves like the adulterer in this Gospel dragged before the Lord by "do-gooders". When Christ looks at us, unlike the world or those around us, He alone in his gentle love and tender mercy can separate the sin from the sinner. But He can only do this if we allow Him to detach the sin from us.

When we thing that God is ultimately angry and and unmoving, we allow our sins to become chiseled into rock, a hardened heart - there to remain and remind us of our public hypocrisy or secret imprisonment. When we approach the gentle and kindly God, Christ writes our sins, real as they are, in the sand, to be easily removed, wiped clean, blown away and forever forgotten by Him.

Never be afraid of Confession, the Sacrament of continuing conversion. Rather fear more if you have allowed yourself to become hardened, stubborn, addicted or reckless, avoiding time to reflect on the health of your soul. 

Do not be afraid of the kindness of God’s mercy and love. Rather, fear more if you allow yourself to be distracted away from your friendship with Christ and detached an aloof from the family of His Holy Church. 

Never be afraid of allowing God’s Holy Sacraments and Mysteries to reach deep into your heart. Rather, fear more spreading yourself too thin when obligations to family, business, school, sports or work, slowly erases all memory of and thanksgiving to the Giver of all gifts.

Where do we start? Friends do not look for secret places, afraid of prying eyes.  Instead they find quiet places where they can hear the other’s voice -  that they will find a listening ear and a compassionate heart. 

Away from the crowd, the noise, the flatscreen and the webpage that often block out the light- regardless of what weighs you down or causes you pain or injury, do not be afraid to find a quiet place and time, a rendezvous place to meet the Lord - to lift your head and see His face and find it full of kindness, to look into His eyes and find them deep and beautiful, to hear His voice gently spoken - words that reach the depth of the soul. “Even now, say the Lord, return to me with your whole heart; for I am gracious and merciful.” 

Mar 5, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Luke 15: 11-24

In the distant past commentators on this parable tried to speculate about who the younger son and the older son where. Different scenarios where proposed. The older son could have represented the chosen people -the younger son, the Gentiles. However, the more we reflect on this parable we will come to recognize that Jesus is speaking to us directly, to you and to me.

The younger son we can identify with. It is when we think that the grass is always greener on the other side -- that in order to experience life we have to get away from it all, to enjoy the world. The younger son represents times in our lives when we have been reckless, impulsive with our sights set on unrealistic expectations and without reflection or appreciation for the blessings, gifts and even the securities that we already have, we have often taken for granted.

We can also identify with the older son. He is the one who is loyal, dependable and who carries out his duty. At first glance these seem to be commendable qualities. But then we discover that there is no love or affection in him for his younger brother. He shows himself to be resentful and angry. Even his relationship with his father seems lacking in warmth or affection.

As reckless as the younger son is by leaving the security of his home and family, he still remembers the love of his father. In getting ready to return he makes an examination of conscience which is born, not from a feeling of guilt, but by “coming to his senses”. Finally he can see his life and his relationships as they truly are. In this light he truly knows what he is lacking and in his moment of isolation and darkness, he is resolved to return home and work on his relationship with his father which he has in the past taken so much for granted.

Of course, this is a parable about you and me and our relationship with God, our heavenly Father. It tells our story of all the times we have been foolish and turned our back on the God who loves us. It demonstrates that we have so often sought the things of this world as a type of food to nourish our soul instead of the things of heaven. And even from the perspective of the older brother, we must reflect on how often we have hid behind the walls of duty and self-righteousness as a way to excuse arrogance, anger and pride.

Whether we identify with the younger son or the older son or both, what unites us is our common Father. Remarkably he welcomes back to one who wasted the gifts he was given. He also pleads for reconciliation between the siblings. But most importantly this loving father gives both his children the opportunity to join in a feast, a banquet in which the fattened calf, which represents Christ himself, has been sacrificed as the true food which alone can provide the people of God the true source of reconciliation and family unity.

We are not told if the two brothers ever reconciled, embraced and celebrated together the banquet meal prepared for them by their father. How the story will ultimately conclude could depend on each one of us.

Halfway through this holy season of Lent, there is still enough time and to reflect on the direction of our lives, how we can easily drift away from God and the eternal securities he offers us. This season of Lent still provides us opportunities, even now, to conquer our pride allowing us to confess our sins, and be reconciled with our heavenly Father so that we can truly partake of this Holy Banquet in thanksgiving and rejoicing.

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