Apr 28, 2019

Touching Mercy

A week has passed since the first disciples found out the news about Jesus having risen from the dead. Some of the disciples had even claimed to others that they had seen him, spoken with the Lord and that he was as real, if not more than he had been while he walked the roads of the Holy Land with them. It was indeed incredible news. But was it believable? For some, yes it was. For others, they first demanded hard evidence.

And as if to make this point through an example, we are told today 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 reality of Christ's, he first had to reach out and touch Christ’s wounds – he had to join his own suffering, his hurt, his pain to Christ’s - not to experience the agony of crucifixion, but the tenderness of reconciliation and peace that the cross of Christ accomplished.

It is no accident that this Sunday we call Divine Mercy Sunday. The image of Divine Mercy, is not a vision, a picture or a painting. It is the resurrected Christ himself, body and soul.  With the assurance that our sins have been forgiven through the wounds of Christ now raised from the dead, an opening, a channel of powerful grace can now flood into our lives with those words of “peace be with you”.

When Christ stood before him, Thomas responded, "My Lord and my God". In those simple words, he was saying "Jesus, I trust in you".

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 divine love and sacrifice for you and me.  Christ's wounds, communicate not the horror of crucifixion, but the beauty of the resurrection - the depths of His love that knows no limit.  

Resurrected from death by crucifixion, does Christ continue to suffer? His only suffering now is when we are afraid of His wounds, afraid to reach out and touch Him.

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. 

Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will en-"courage" us to approach the man who was crucified and to allow ourselves to be filled with wonder and awe that He is resurrected, fully alive and offering us forgiveness from our sins and peace for our lives.

Apr 27, 2019

Nothing Can Stop Him

Vigil of Easter Sunday:

From among our number, tonight will be those who are to be baptized, confirmed in their Faith by the Holy Spirit and nourished by the substance of heaven, Christ's Body and Blood: these words I speak to you.

Tonight does not bring you to a finale or to your journey’s end. We stand at the threshold of a new day. We are about to enter into Sunday, the Lord’s Day. 

Sunday always approaches us through the darkness of the night. The rising sun must battle with and break the line of darkness. It is doing so now and is, hour by hour heading towards us even as we speak. As it does, darkness is fleeing. Our liberty is close at hand. The Lord of Light, Jesus Christ our Savior, has broken through the lines of darkness. He is coming to save the day and we are waiting for Him. Nothing can stop Him.

Through the waters of baptism, you meet Christ but for an instant in a quick flash of darkness, but the light. But do not be afraid. Follow Him out. He will lead you to safety where no shadows can touch you.

In Confirmation, his Spirit, his breath, penetrates into the depths of your being and is sealed forever strengthening you from the inside with the armor of divine protection.  In the Holy Eucharist, you are to be nourished with the very physical substance of heaven, Christ’s Resurrected Body and Blood so that your own will more and more take on the properties of immortality.

If you are ready to take this leap of faith I will ask those who are being baptized to lead the way for us all. And as your name is called out, take your position and come forward towards the Easter Candle – to Christ the Light of the World. (Comp. CCC 385-9)

Home at Easter

It is always a delight to see the church full on Sunday. Not just at Christmas and Easter but anytime we welcome so many visitors and guests. 

Especially welcome to the Sunday Mass if you are far from home, perhaps visiting family in the area or maybe they have brought you here this morning. Or maybe you are on vacation, spring break, or even on business for a few days, and you are continuing to do what you do every Sunday wherever you are, you have sought out where Sunday Mass is offered and you have kept the Catholic family promise, regardless where you find yourself.

But it is also a joy to have so many friends and neighbors who might be here for the first time, or who may be here after a long time away from Church and especially the sacraments.  We went through the local neighborhoods, knocking on doors and leaving cards and information on the doorsteps. (up and down streets!) Maybe you’re here because of a calling card left on your door.  One way or another, welcome home.  It’s a big church. There’s room for everyone. That’s why the word that best describes the Church is “catholic”, an ancient adjective that simply means “universal, belonging to all things”.

Whether you are here Sunday after Sunday, whether you arrive late or out of breath, have your favorite seat or find yourself hiding behind a pillar, nor chasing your kids behind the glass doors in the children’s area, regardless where you have come from or where you find yourself in life, here and now you, in this place, around this altar, you are home.

And when we are at home, it’s the only place where our lives are real.  It is here that we remember that God knows you by name. It is here 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 towards the heavens.  This is where we are assured 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 come home.

I am not going to preach at length on what the day of Easter truly means.  If you are even a nominal Christian, you know, at least intellectually, that today marks, in a way, the anniversary of Jesus Christ, who was killed on the cross and buried in a tomb on Friday, on the third day, He rose again. That’s the resurrection.

I would, instead of preaching on the resurrection of Christ, prefer to offer you an invitation, particularly if you have been away from Church and the sacraments for a while and simply need an excuse, not to come home (because you are home right now) but, stay home.

I’m not going to ask you to sign up, or hand you a free tee shirt or promise you success and riches. Instead, just keep coming back.  Find in here, a place that is not like what it is like out there!  Why the Catholic ritual of prayer works so well, is that we have been doing it for two thousand years. Open up your senses, and allow your sight, your hearing, touch, smell, taste, and posture to be purified by the sacred. Open up your heart, and allow gentle Spirit of God to slowly calm your fears and anxieties.  Open up your soul, to recognize your deepest longing for God, not in a brief moment – but for all eternity.  That is the invitation.

But here is my appeal, especially to those who have been away from the Church and the Sacraments, for whatever reason. Build upon this moment. Build upon this day. Build upon this Sunday Mass and return again next week. 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.  Even if you do not receive Holy Communion, keep coming back. 

Begin to build up, slowly by slowly, the strength that it takes to get to heaven, or even just the courage to talk to God, heart to heart. I know it is not easy.  Maybe it will take some time to slowly turn the 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 life again, when we thought all was dead. 

Apr 20, 2019

One Cross Amid Many

Good Friday :

...It happens all the time. People get arrested. We are used to the sight, whether we see it be as we drive by minding our own business, or watching it on tv or the internet, even from the perspective of someone recording it with their phone or playing back footage from law enforcement. We are used to it. It doesn’t shock us.

Individuals get executed. We are used to reading about it, following the appeals process, the back and forth legal arguments about drugs used to administer lethal injections, photographs of the convicted on death row.  And when it’s over, for many of the curious, their life goes on as usual.

During the time of Jesus, arrests and executions were part of daily life. Although oftentimes cruel, it was nothing particularly unusual for someone who lived in the Holy Land two thousand years ago. A daily walk in and out of the city, along the roads, guilty or innocent, you would pass by dead and half dead bodies hung on crosses. They littered the landscape with billboards displayed what offense they committed. Back then, you would have probably learned to keep your eyes down and move on.

The same was true regarding the slaughtering of animals at the temple and the smearing of blood on the altar. Jewish pilgrims continually arrived in great numbers at the temple of Jerusalem. Some brought their own livestock to be slaughtered and sacrifices as the price of sins committed. Others bought an animal in the temple market. Even when Christ had disrupted the buying and selling of the sacrificial animals a few days before, it wouldn’t take long until they got back to business as usual again. The point he was making, was quickly forgotten.

There was even, to all appearances, nothing unusual about Christ’s crucifixion and public execution. Every week leading up to Good Friday and every week thereafter, someone was being nailed to a cross and crucified. Mangled bodies, blood-drenched crosses, hanging corpses. Unfortunately, that was the usual sight people were so used to. If you had seen one, you saw them all.

Our familiarity with the cross, even the figure of the crucified Christ, is today something that we are very much used to. It is displayed on buildings both outside and inside. We represent Christ’s crucifixion visually in art, fashion its image into fabrics and jewelry and adorn our holy places with it. We are used to seeing it.

Historically, there is nothing unusual about a man being arrested, tortured, and crucified to death, be he innocent or guilty. We are used to that by now. What is unusual and unique is that this innocent and sinless man secretly planned his whole life towards the hour of his death by crucifixion by being slaughtered on the cross. Why?

We can easily say, "Because He loved us". But many have and are willing to die for the love of someone. No doubt, during Christ time, many were crucified because they put their family, their nation, their loved ones first before their own lives and were willing to pay the price. We might say that He was doing the will of His Father. And of course, He does. But Christ’s death on the cross was not a lesson for us in obedience, come what may. In fact, the Romans used the cross to teach obedience.

So why is Christ’s cross and His death so different from everyone else’s, so unique in all of history? A clue takes us to what he did a few days back with his arrival into Jerusalem and what he did in the temple that sealed his fate on the cross. He forcefully drove out the money changes and the animals being sold for slaughter. He was telling us in more words than one, “All these ritualistic sin-offerings - this is over. You don’t need to sacrifice these animals any more to be cleansed from sin. I am your sacrifice. I am all you need to take away your sins. I am the sacrificial lamb. I, not these dumb beasts, these burnt offerings, I must be slaughtered in sacrifice because I alone, through my body and blood, can cleanse deep all the sins of the whole world."

For you and me to be cleansed of our sins, it is not simply enough that Christ freely went to His death on the Cross as the eternal Passover lamb. We get that right in our sacred images and spiritual reflections. But in order to be cleansed of our sins, we have to literally be cleansed, and cleansed deep. That is why Christ’s death was so horrific. To disentangle us from the messiness of our sins, God had to plunge Himself into the sewage of fallen humanity  and quite literary pull us out. His precious blood as to mix with the filth of our sin in order to wash it away. If we don’t allow him, we are passive onlookers, observing from a distance without getting our hands dirty. That's now how salvation works. It's messy for you and for Christ.

How does this happen? “Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life within you”. Our engagement with the sacrifice of Christ and the cleansing of our sins takes place at this altar every Sunday, the day of hope.

When we approach the Cross of Christ we might say in our hearts “You died to take away my sins. I am sorry you had to, but I am grateful you did. I do not want to prolong your agony as you fight to save me. Rescue me. With your help, I will sin no more.”

Apr 18, 2019

Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity


-We call it “The Last Supper”.  We recall Christ’s words, “This is my Body. This is my Blood. Do this in memory of me”. But that’s only from our perspective.

We can picture Our Lord and the twelve apostles gathered around the table with Him in the middle. But we can also delete pictures and replace them with others.

We can read and meditate on the dialogue that took place. But we can also note the page number, close the book and get back to it at a later date.

We can repeat the scene from memory by acting it out on stage, painting it on a canvas, ritualizing it through sacred actions. And when we are finished, we can drop the curtain, pack away the canvas and hang up the vestments, for there may be other things on our to-do list before the day is out.

Instead, I invite you to enter, if you can, into the mind, body, and soul of Christ Himself, to enter into His perspective, into His body, into His very soul. What does He see as He looks into the eyes of those gathered around Him? How does He reach out to those who are before Him? What is stirring within His heart and soul anticipating that shortly He will be arrested, tortured and be nailed up on a makeshift scaffold, publicly exposed to the world and to slowly, painfully die?

Often, we clergy will exhort and encourage the people to actively engage, to participate with all our effort and strength in the liturgy, in the ritual of prayer, praise, and worship. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper, indeed every Mass, turns the table around.  It is Christ who initiates an engagement with those around Him whether you be attentive or not. It is Christ who participates with us as He reaches out and extends His Body and Blood towards us whether we are saints or sinners. It is Christ who washes your feet and telling you to follow in His footsteps whether we are ready or not.

And even though, in that upper room, from the perspective of His disciples who at that time were clueless, who could not fathom what He was doing with the bread and wine or why He was washing their feet, from Christ’s perspective, He was loving them to death - loving us to death.  How?

Christ’s Mind and Heart participates in ours - minds so easily distracted, hearts so quick to change.

Christ’s Body and Blood participates in our own - weakened by time, scared by abuse, ravaged by pain, sickness, and disease.

Christ’s Soul and Divinity enters into our own, created in God’s image and likeness - our soul and our divinity often compromised by fear and damaged by sin.

Christ participates in our mind, in our heart, in our body, in our soul and divinity, not through the bread and wine of our own making and effort that simply passes through us. Christ participates in us, engages us, here and now, with the very substance of His death defeating Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

Stop thinking of the limitations of your mind. Allow Christ’s to participate in yours to open up every possibility of goodness beyond imagination. Stop allowing your heart to react with every impulse. Allow Christ’s heart to participate in yours, moving you to love with purity and sacrifice.  Stop being careless with your actions. Allow Christ’s Body and Blood to participate in yours, allowing you to become immortal, a new creation. Stop confining your prayer time to bits and pieces here and there. Allow Christ’s Soul and Divinity to participate in yours, so that you might stand among the angels and saints of heaven and see God face to face in glory.

Could this be real? Might this be only spiritual poetry, inspirational words, symbolic images? It is real. Christ makes it real through His priesthood - that’s how He participates with you and me - through His priesthood, the sacrificial offering of His perfect self for us imperfect men and women. At every Mass Christ’s priesthood, His one, eternal sacrifice is offered in time to everyone gathered at this altar.

Pray particularly that more young men may become sacramentally configured to Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity that they become for our sake, priests after the manner of the Good Shepherd who came, not to be served, but to serve and to participate in the continuous journey of humanity from slavery to freedom, through Christ our Lord. Allow Christ’s priesthood of His Body and Blood to participate in every fiber of your being, not only for this hour but every day, both now and forever. Amen.

Apr 14, 2019

Palm Sunday

The next seven days will take us to the great celebration of Easter Sunday. In this timeline, today Christ rides triumphantly into the city of Jerusalem with the crowds to greet him.

Thursday, we find the Lord with his closest disciples in the Upper Room, secure within the City of David celebrating the final Passover.

On Friday he will allow himself to be arrested, dragged out of the city to the “place of the skull” and there publicly crucified to death. Once dead, within hours, he is buried in a nearby tomb, still outside of the city. The mighty gates of Jerusalem will then be closed as darkness approaches and covers the city.

On Palm Sunday we begin our journey seeking safe passage, standing before the Gates of Jerusalem with Christ. We call out for them to be opened for the King of Glory to enter.

In seven days time, Easter Sunday, we will once again recall Christ standing before closed doors - the gates of death. We do not call out for them to be opened, for we do not have the strength. Instead the King of Glory, Christ himself, in his resurrection from the dead, throws these mighty gates off their hinges so that we all might enter a new and heavenly Jerusalem.

As we direct our lives towards and get closer to our salvation, let us go forth in peace, praising Jesus our Messiah, as did the crowds who welcomed him to Jerusalem.

Apr 6, 2019

Mercy Face 2 Face

5th Sunday of Lent: John 8:1-11
. .
Some of the earliest hand-written copies of the Fourth Gospel avoided copying the passage we have just listened 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 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 think that God is ultimately angry 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.

But then some may say, and I have heard it many times, "I don't need to confess my sins to anyone because I confess my sins directly to God in my heart and say sorry." I have often found that this usually comes from a person who seldom says sorry to anyone except to save face, rather than their soul! 

Instead, a humble person is not afraid to examine thoroughly their own actions, not in their own light, but in the light of God's commandments, and actually be moved to say sorry, admit to their wrong and, most importantly, to publically extend a hand as a way to restore friendship. It's not enough to convince yourself you are sorry and are resolved to mend your life. To show God that we can be trusted with better judgment in the future, Christ has given us the Sacrament of Confession. Not only are we given the assurance of forgiveness, but also the grace to amend our lives so that we do not fall back into our sinful muscle-memory behaviors.

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, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart; for I am gracious and merciful.”

Gardening Kingdom

  We often hear this phrase, “The Kingdom of God ''.  We even pray, “Thy Kingdom Come”.  This “Kingdom” was the hallmark of Our Lord...