Apr 23, 2017
The Sunday after Easter we call Divine Mercy Sunday. 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 wounded are 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.
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. Yes, we have concluded a 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". This is the "Age of Mercy".
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.
Apr 16, 2017
This is the Day the Lord has made!
Every Sunday, the first day of the week, has been always dedicated to the Lord. That's why we call it the "Lord's Day". It's not your day. It's not my day. It's the Lord's Day.
It's also the first day of the week, the working week. It's the first day of our heavenly Father's work, and that of His greatest work, rising Jesus Christ from the dead. God has done all the heavy lifting! We gather on Sundays to say "thank you", but also to tap into God's strength that can defeat the powers of darkness, the anger that comes from hatred, the fears that breed intolerance, the injustice that condemns the innocent.
This does not come from people power. It comes from God's grace that alone can move mountains, defeat evil and raise the dead to life. Jesus Christ is living proof! What brings us here on Sunday, whether we realize it our not, is the Holy Spirit speaking through our conscience, our soul's desire to be filled of God's grace, to be be filled with His strength. For we know, that left to our own way of doing things, we will be always tired, never truly at peace or content with ourselves or our the world.
But whether you are here Sunday after Sunday, whether you arrived late or out of breath, have your favorite seat or find yourself hiding behind a pillar, or chasing your kids behind the glass doors in the children’s area, or even listening to the service from the outside speakers in the piazza, regardless where you have come from or where you find yourself in life, here and now, in this holy place, around this altar - the meeting place between heaven and earth, you are home - you can be at rest.
Here, in God's house, in His holy Church there’s room, a safe place for everyone. That’s why the word that best describes the Church is “catholic”, an ancient adjective that simply means “universal, belonging to all”. The Catholic Church was never and is never a denomination. It has and is always a place were saints and sinners sit side by side, a family were we love and care for each other, and even, at times fight and wrestle among ourselves.
That's why, when we are at home, it’s the only place where our lives are real: faith and fear, love and hope, struggles and ideals. It is here that we remember that God knows me by my name. It is here, like an oasis in the desert, where I can finally reflect on my life outside of the noise and craziness of the world. It is where sacred music and graceful movement, where the flickering of beeswax candles and the sweet smell of incense can raise our minds up towards a vision of a new heaven and a new earth.
This is where we find assurance that God listens to our prayers, our worries, our hopes and even our fears. This is where our souls can be fed, not with food for thought, but with food from heaven. Here is where saints and sinners sit on the same bench. And even though any one of us might have a thousand reasons not to be here, it only takes one reason to be here on Sunday.
We know that today marks, in a way, the event accomplished by Jesus Christ, who was killed on the cross and buried in a tomb on Friday, and on the third day, He miraclously and physically rose from the sleep of death. That’s the Resurrection. In fact, it's what we celebrate every Sunday. This is how we begin each working week, with the power of God that raises the dead to life, giving us new purpose in our daily life.
I would like to renew the invitation to keep returning to this sacred place, Sunday after Sunday - to keep this day sacred so that we can begin our working week with the strength that comes from Christ's victory over sin and death itself.
Open up your senses, and allow your sight, your hearing, touch, smell, taste and posture to be purified by something sacred - not of this world. Open up your heart, and allow the gentle Spirit of God to slowly calm your fears and anxieties. Open up your soul, to recognize your deepest longing for God, not for a brief moment – but for all eternity. That is the Sunday invitation to begin every week with.
Build upon this holy hour. Build upon this day. Build upon the Lord's Day, again and again. And because it will become more and more difficult to keep the door of our hearts and souls open the longer we stay away from the One who loves us and offers us a place at his table, for even if you do not receive Holy Communion, keep coming back. Allow God's Church to help build up within you an appetite for a food and a suspense for what is eternal.
I know it is not easy. Sometimes it will take some time to slowly turn a big ship around. But now that you are here and have begun this momentum, continue to come about.
And maybe this is what Easter is all about. Finding something that is predictably eternal when all about us in chaos and and crisis. Finding someone who was dead and defeated it's power and broke its hold - our point of reference to begin every week is not a concept, an idea. It's a person - that's Jesus Christ our Lord. Here in this sacred place is where we hear His Word, meet Him face to face and receive the strength of His grace Sunday after Sunday to get through the week, again and again and again until that one eternal day comes upon us. May we be able to meet it head on, because we got a glimpse of it today, the Lord's Day.
Apr 14, 2017
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.
Apr 9, 2017
From this Sunday to next, we will have journeyed through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Matthew's Gospel account of the Lord's final twenty four hours allows us to reflect on where I find myself within the drama of this one event. If Christ were to look out at those around Him, where would I be? Who would I be like?
There are times when I am like Judas, proud to be associated with all the holy people, but am I living a double life? I am happy to be included in the assembly of the faithful, but I am just "playing" church. Is there a secret life, an after-hours lifestyle that if anyone knew, I would be known as the traitor to Christ?
Sometimes I can mirror the example of all the apostles who, in the Garden of Gethsemane, fell asleep and, in the battle, quietly slipped away into the shadows when I was needed by the Lord to share a burden, to give encouragement, and not to run or change the subject when being held accountable for my faith.
The Jewish High Priest Caiaphas accuses Jesus of blasphemy. Maybe that's what I also do, when I would rather have Jesus simply model for me how to "do" good things and "be" a nice person, instead of allowing myself to actually pray to Him, listen to His words and take advice from Him. Sometimes I might think that I know better than God - because I live in the real world! And God doesn't?
Then there's the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. How many times do I try “to pass the buck” so that I can return to my own little kingdom, hide away in my home, only be concerned about my own family, or bury myself in work.
Our Lord was mocked, ridiculed and cursed by Roman soldiers, military personel, law enforcers. What is my own language like? How do I allow the company I keep to put words into my mouth? Can I be crude and vulgar in my workplace or on the road, but when I show up at church, use the same mouth and tongue to say holy words and beautiful prayers? The soldiers did the same to Christ - the breath used to curse and swear, the same breath that praises and pray - it was mockery.
Then I can sometimes be like Simon of Cyrene who had to help Christ carry the Cross - sometimes annoyed that I'm guilted into or forced to help because I think that I am the master of my own time and duties - I decide my schedule and who I will help.
When Christ was killed the earth shock, the Sun eclipsed and dead bodies shuddered in their graves. But I just went home in muted silence, unmoved to the cries of nature herself as she is wounded by our selfishness, greed and pillaging.
And then there are the women who stood by the cross of Christ to the bitter end. How often have I presumed and allowed the work of Christian faith and prayers to always fall upon the shoulders of mothers, grandmothers and children? Where are the men of faith?
Instead, there was only one man and one woman on the hill of Calvary worthy of our imitation - they were not chosen from among religious leaders, nor numbered from the apostles, the military warriors, or the crowd of wellwishers or spectators.
Now is a sacred time to look beyond the crowd and imitate Christ, how He lived and how He died. Now is a sacred time to look through the crowd for Mary, His mother, how she prayed, how she never took her eyes off her Son.
May God have mercy on me if my eyes have wandered, my mouth misspoken, my feet ran away or my heart has become hardened. May God have mercy on us all if we have imitated anyone else other than Jesus and Mary on Calvary.
Apr 2, 2017
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”.
If seems like the ultimate guilt trip. Was Christ responsible for the death of Lazarus? We know, intellectually the answer. But when someone is stricken with grief, shock, disappointment and even anger, we have often heard people say things like, “If there is a God, why does he allow suffering. Why did God allow such and such a person to die? Where is God when you need him most?” The greater one’s love for someone, the greater is one’s suffering when they suffer.
This indeed reveals the vulnerability of the heart. Here we are all vulnerable – when we are confronted with suffering and pain. So back to that question, “where is God when you need him?” Why is He sometimes silent when there are tragedies?
Consider reflecting on just a few lines from the Gospel we have just heard. Hearing that his friend Lazarus had died, we read –
He became perturbed and deeply troubled and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.” And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.”
Where was God? God was standing at the grave weeping. God suffered the pain of grief.
If you think of God as sitting on a cloud in heaven, far removed from our world – think again. Our God weeps. This is not only one little incident for His close and dear friend Lazarus. He weeps also you and for me, when we die. And I’m not talking about a funeral.
And we can die many times, even before our time. When we fall into despair, we die. When we are suffer sickness, fall into anger, confusion, addictive behaviors, selfishness – something in us dies. When we sin and turn our back on God and others and think only of ourselves, become arrogant, entrenched – life within us is cut short. We can die a thousand deaths before our time. And with every death God’s heart is crushed with pain and sorrow for you and me. That’s where God is, weeping over a casket I have made and locked myself within.
God is intimately, in the midst of our often-messy lives. God is with us, not necessarily trying to answer all our intellectual questions, important as they are. First and foremost, Christ joins His heart to yours, to mine. Christ experiences the depth of our soul, our longings, our anguish, our hopes, joys and fears. He is often with us without words as intimate friends do not often need to speak. It is often enough to be assured that one is there to share the burden of the other.
Here’s a thought I think is worth reflecting upon. Lazarus was dead for four days. Christ wants to roll back the stone from the tomb. Martha says no, because logically there will be a stench. Christ orders it to be moved. Here’s the question? When it was rolled back, was there the smell of death that was expected? No. The love of Christ for his friends will ensure that even though we die a thousand deaths, the lingering stench of death will not claim us if we remain in his friendship.
Here’s the final picture. After Christ’s prayer Lazarus is called forth from the tomb, he is still shrouded with his feet and hand still bound. St. Augustine provides us with a powerful image here of the journey to full repentance and conversion. Christ calls us, caught in the death of sin, to come forth from the hiding place of darkness and show ourselves. And as we step out into his light we do so aware of what still binds our hands and feet. Christ calls out to the Church to untie the sinner so that freed from the entanglement of sin and despair, the sinner might live again a new life.
Is this not the Sacrament of Confession and the absolution of sins, whereby the repentant sinner who dares respond to the command of Christ is assured of a new beginning, a new awakening? Many came to believe in Jesus because he raised the dead Lazarus to life. Let us pray likewise, that we will never be obstacles to the salvation of others, but witnesses who, with our lives, point towards the kingdom of God, were freed from the corruption of sin and death, we shall reflect God’s glory with every creature through Christ our Lord. Amen.
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