Apr 23, 2022

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.

Rise Up

 Easter Sunday 

Much has happened in these past few weeks and even during these past days. As a Church we have come together, again and again to proclaim the events of the life, the death and now the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Since Ash Wednesday, and Sunday after Sunday we have been approaching, in a way, the city of Jerusalem. Last Sunday, Palm Sunday, we, so to speak, arrived at its walls with Christ, and entered through its mighty gates. Within it, we recalled how, on Holy Thursday night, Christ initiated the model of how his love would be kept fresh within the Church, the Holy Eucharist and Priesthood. On Good Friday, we studied the dimensions of the cross, reminding us of the length, breadth, height and depths of Christ’s love which showed itself to the whole world in the manner he died. Now, on Easter Sunday, indeed, every Sunday we acknowledge that the man, who was killed on a Friday, rose from the dead on a Sunday and did so by his own hidden power as God. For every Christian, his death and resurrection, both together, (for there is no Easter Sunday without Good Friday) this is at the epicenter of our Faith. (Comp. CCC 126 – 131)

Nearly two thousand years ago, a crowd of witnesses to his death on the Cross and his burial in a nearby tomb, discovered it was now lying empty. So incredible was the mere thought of a resurrection from the death, even the women presumed that his grave was desecrated and his body stolen. But in a few hours into that first day of the week, Sunday, what followed would change the whole course of human history and salvation. 

Even though all but a few of his frightened disciples had abandoned Jesus in his last hours when we was arrested and killed, they were now talking about his Resurrection from the dead; Christ standing physically before them even with the wounds from the nails in his hands and feet. They could not have invented such a story, for such an event was impossible to them, unthinkable. It was clearly a Resurrection from the Dead, not resuscitation back to life. In fact, the Risen Christ scolded them for their lack of faith, if not their limited imagination. After all, before his death, they witnessed his many miracles, even rising others from the dead. 

On that first Good Friday, God experienced death in the most cruel and barbaric manner possible. On that first Easter Sunday, he sends death into its rightful place forever – to Hell. So, Easter Sunday doesn’t just see us celebrating the historical event of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from death. His Resurrection has cosmic dimensions, sending a mighty wave throughout the whole universe in every direction, even beyond the dimensions of our own human experiences. Only through the gift of faith can a disciple reach out into this new form of life and living, becoming one with Christ so completely, that nothing can interfere or get in the way, even our own death. This is why the Sunday Mass are so crucial. 

It is my prayer that, as disciples, having been granted that gift of faith in the Resurrection of Christ that we many never let go of his hand only to fall into darkness. May every Sunday see our grip on our faith becoming stronger and stronger, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Apr 15, 2022

Dare to Look Up

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. Unless we are the actual victim, instead of being traumatized, we are more often worked up emotionally. 

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 displaying 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 sacrificed 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 deeply. 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 literally pull us out. His precious blood has 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.”

Dare to look up.

Apr 12, 2022

Outside the City Gates

With this day, we mark the beginning of the road that Jesus took to his death. Having listened to the longer than usual Gospel reminding us of all the events of that week 2000 years ago leading up to his crucifixion, we don’t press a pause button and leave Christ hanging on the cross. 

Today we know and see the big picture, how it unraveled and what happened after his death by crucifixion. But back then, only Christ alone could anticipate his victory, undistracted by a cheering crowd that would quickly change into an angry mob. He allowed events to unravel knowing full well there were consequences.  

Even though our Lord’s path leads to his death, his goal is to defeat death. That’s why today’s liturgy of the Church has all the hallmarks of Christ’s victory. He came among us as a shepherd-warrior to do war with the devil and he won the battle decisively. This is the reason that today is festive, with palm branches and processions. It’s not because we are caught up in the short-lived excitement of the crowds of that first Holy Week. As Christians know now that every Sunday is the beginning of a Holy Week, a day to rejoice in the Resurrection, even as we carry the cross of Christ and feel its weight and we bear on the body of our souls the scars and the wounds of the good fight. 

We will take these blessed palm branches home. While they are freshly cut, they can remind us of the joy and divine gift of life. But as the palm branch dries out and withers, it will remind us of how still delicate and fragile our life is. What can bring it back to life again? Only Christ can show us how to accept pain, suffering or even the acceptance of death. He alone can lift us when we fall, comfort us when we are betrayed, restore us back to a life worth living for when we are tempted to give up. Embracing the gift of our own cross is the ultimate statement of trust in the triumph of Christ.  

During this Holy Week, let us be resolved to stay close to him in constant prayer and companionship, sharing the battlefield with him, confident that he will lead us to victory over sin and death.

Apr 2, 2022

Caught and Released

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Some of the earliest handwritten Scriptures skipped over the passage (John 8:1-11) we have just listened to. 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 seriously. But 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 God’s mercy and kindness we encounter, not His anger. Only when we find the courage to confess our sins to Christ, can we 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 actually allow Him to detach the sin from us. Too often, our muscle memory encourages us to keep returning to the scene of the crime.

When we think that God is simply “an angry old man”, we often provide excuses to keep Him distant. Doing so allows our sins to become chiseled into rock, into a hardened heart - there to remain and remind us of our hypocrisy or secret imprisonment. We then easily become angry and old. But 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. That frees us to be likewise gentle and kind as God is. 

Never be afraid of confessing one’s own sins to God, particularly through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and 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 or 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 -  a place where 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.” (Joel 2:12-13)

Stain Removal

How do you keep your whites white? This portion of the Gospel we have listened to begins with the departure of Judas from the Upper Room and...