Friday, April 20, 2018

Hard To Say "I'm Sorry"

There are few words that are harder to say than “I am sorry.”

When we say, “I am sorry”, we are admitting that we are wrong. We are acknowledging that we have acted inappropriately and hurt others. By saying those words,  we show a side of ourselves that we do not want others to see - a side of ourselves that is weak and fallible. Also, when we admit that we have done wrong, we open ourselves up to judgment and criticism. The person we apologize to can take the opportunity to put us down or start an argument with us over our hurtful actions. It can take a great deal of courage and humility to say the simple sentence, “I am sorry.”

It is harder still to say the words, “Please forgive me” I can tell anyone that I am sorry. I can say it to a stranger whose foot  I accidentally step on in the subway or to a waiter I bump into in a restaurant. However, I can only say, “Please forgive me” to someone I am close to. When I say those more intimate words, I not only admit that I have done wrong but that I have wounded a relationship that is dear to me. Not only do I risk being criticized or judged, I also risk being rejected. I risk having my loved one tell me that he or she does not accept my apology and no longer wants to be my friend. When I say, “Please forgive me”, I risk being told not only that my actions are bad but that I am bad. It not only takes courage and humility to ask, “Will you forgive me?” but also confidence in the other person’s love for me.

During these Sundays of Easter, we have been reading the accounts of Jesus’ appearances to His disciples after His resurrection. In every account, they fail to recognize Him at first. Saint Luke tells us in today’s gospel that they thought they were seeing a ghost. However, what finally convinces them that it is truly Jesus is the nail marks in his hands and feet. In fact, all four gospels report that He retained the wounds of His crucifixion including the one to His side where His heart was pierced. He kept those wounds as a sign of His love for us. They were a badge of honor which He wore proudly to remind us that He died out of love for us. Because of that sign of His love - because He reveals to His disciples that He is truly alive - they can move from fear that they are seeing a ghost to utter joy and amazement that Jesus is still with them.

Jesus died because of His love for sinners. He rose again to offer us forgiveness and new life. We never have to be afraid to say, “I am sorry”, or better still, “Please forgive me” to Jesus. He knows our hearts. There is no side of ourselves that we can hide from Him. He sees our wounds. He sees the scars left behind by our bad choices and by the hurts we have endured. Nonetheless, He loves us anyway. He wants us to know that He is willing to forgive us. Just as He moved the disciples from fear to joy, He can lead us from shame to peace. He can take away our burden and give us freedom. Not only can He forgive us, but He can give us the power to make good choices going forward. That is the power that flows from His glorified wounds.

From those wounds flows the sacrament of Baptism. Most of us first came to Jesus when we were most vulnerable and needy, as babies. By the waters of baptism, we were washed clean and strengthened by the gift of faith and the Holy Spirit. Baptism is the first act of forgiveness that God offers us.

However, even with the gifts of faith and the Holy Spirit, we continue to fall into sin. When that happens, and it does frequently, we have another beautiful sacrament to heal us - The Sacrament of Reconciliation or “Confession”. This sacrament is often called the “Second Baptism”. Whenever we celebrate this sacrament with true sorrow for our sins and a firm purpose to change our lives, our souls are returned to the purity they enjoyed on the day of our baptism. When we hear the words, “Go in peace; your sins have been forgiven,” we can be assured that it is Jesus Himself speaking those words to us. We can embrace the peace the Risen Lord offers us in this beautiful sacrament.

Because of the difficulty we have as human beings in saying “I am sorry” and “Please forgive me”, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the most difficult of the sacraments for us to celebrate. It is not easy for us to get on our knees and admit that we are wrong. It is natural for us to fear that we will be criticized or judged for the bad choices we have made and the sinful attitudes that we have embraced. We are taking a risk that we will be rejected. However, we can approach this beautiful sacrament with confidence. The priest who hears our confession is taking the place of Jesus Himself. The forgiveness He offers also comes from Jesus Himself. We know this because our Risen Lord told His apostles, “Whatever sins you forgive will be forgiven and whatever sins you retain will be retained.”

Also, the priest hearing our confession is a sinner himself. Like us, he frequently has to get on his knees, confess his sins and ask for forgiveness. He understands how much courage and humility it takes and so will be gentle with us. He can also offer us encouragement and advice. Just being able to share with another person a side of ourselves that we often hide from others can relieve our shame and give us peace. Furthermore, the grace of forgiveness that comes from this sacrament restores our friendship with Jesus and empowers us to keep His commandments and know fully the joy He died and rose again to give us.

In today’s second reading Saint John assures us:”... if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is expiation for our sins.” ,If you have found it difficult to tell Jesus that you are sorry and ask for His forgiveness, pray for the humility and courage to go to confession. Jesus is waiting for you. He longs to show you His wounds and embrace you with His loving forgiveness. He wants to relieve your burden of shame and set you back on the path of healing and joy. It is as simple as saying, “I am sorry” and “Please forgive me” to the One who loved us enough to die for us.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Recognizing The Risen Lord

The Scriptures tell us that after Jesus rose from the dead, He appeared to His disciples over a period of forty days. However, though they were His intimate friends, they failed to recognize Him. Why was that? It was because Jesus in His glorified body had been so transformed that He was beyond their recognition. Remember that the last time they would have seen Him was on the day that He was crucified. At that time, His body was broken, His flesh torn apart by the beatings He received and His face bloodied and scarred from the crown of thorns. Once risen, however, Jesus’ body could no longer suffer. He could now pass through locked doors and stone walls. He could travel from one place to another in no time. Yet it was still a physical body. As we read in today’s gospel, unlike a ghost, He had flesh and bones. His disciples could touch Him, and He could even eat. He was the same Jesus, only transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit and glorified by God.

In the stories of His appearances to His disciples over those forty days, it is interesting to learn how they came to realize that it was really Him. His first recorded appearance is to Mary Magdalene as she sat weeping at His empty tomb. At first she thinks He is the gardener, but when she hears Him say her name, “Mary”, she immediately knows that it is Him. She recognized Him by His voice reminding us of Jesus’ words, “My sheep hear my voice.”

Later on that Easter morning, Mary Magdalene tells the apostles that Jesus is risen. Peter and John run to the tomb to see for themselves. When John looks in and sees the linens rolled up at the side of the tomb, he immediately believes. Though John had not yet seen Jesus, he believed He was alive because of His love. It was through love that John, who is known as the beloved disciples, believes in and recognizes the Risen Lord.

When He appears to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they also fail to recognize Him. However, when He sits down to eat with them and breaks the bread, their eyes are opened.  They remembered how He had broken bread to feed the five thousand and how, just a few days earlier, He had broken bread at the Last Supper. Just so, when we gather to break bread every Sunday, the Risen Jesus is in our midst.

In today’s gospel, when Jesus appears, how do the disciples come to recognize Him? He shows them His hands and His feet which still bear the nail wounds of His crucifixion. Though the rest of His flesh had been healed, He still bore the scars in his hands and feet which were nailed to the wood of the cross and in His side which was pierced with the soldier’s lance. Those wounds are now the signs of His great love, that He had given His life to save the world. They no longer are a mark of defeat but of victory - victory over sin, suffering and death. As the Prophet Isaiah says, “By His wounds we are healed.”

Our Risen Lord is still in our midst and is still alive and active. Many times, we fail to recognize Him. But by His grace, He reveals Himself to us from time to time. It might be when a passage from the Bible speaks right to our heart and gives us a new insight into His love for us. At those times, like Mary Magdalen, we recognize His voice. It could be when someone out of the blue goes out his or her way to help us. Like John the Beloved Disciple, we recognize the Risen Lord at those times because of love. Many times it is during Mass when we are overwhelmed with the awareness that Jesus is really present in His Body and Blood just as the disciples on the road to Emmaus did. Those are precious times when we feel God’s love holding us close.

However, we can also experience our Risen Lord at negative points in our lives. When we sin and fail to live up to His commands, we can repent and turn back to Him to experience His mercy. At those times, particularly in the Sacrament of Penance, we come to know that His love for us has no limits, that He can love us even when we let Him down. Also, when we are suffering either physically or mentally, we can experience Him standing by our side, holding our hand and carrying us through it all. We remember how He suffered for us and still bears the scars of His execution so that we can find comfort in Him.

Finally, we can recognize Jesus still alive in the poor and needy all around us. Our Risen Lord identifies with them in a special way as He says in the gospel of Matthew, “Whatever you do for the least among you, you do for me.” When we feed the hungry, visit the sick, comfort the afflicted and pray for others, we experience our Risen Lord in a new way. As we know, Jesus has not yet put an end to poverty, suffering or death. But He has promised to be by the side of those who suffer and He has promised that we can come to know Him when we come to their aid. That is why He still bears the wounds of His crucifixion because He is still alive in those who continue to bear His cross.

Throughout this week, in light of today’s readings, it would be good for us to reflect on three questions: How do I experience the Risen Jesus present in my life? How do I come to recognize Him? How do I witness to others my experience of the Risen Lord? He wants to show Himself to you and to me, particularly through the Eucharist we are about to share. Let us pray for the grace to truly see Him and to be changed just as He was changed until we too come to His Heavenly Kingdom when we will be able to touch His wounded hands, feet and side ourselves.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Body And Soul

A man learned that he had cancer. As you can imagine, he was afraid and distraught. Before starting his treatment, he decided that he would take his mind off his sickness by renting a hotel room and watching reruns of the Three Stooges. Since he was a kid, he had always enjoyed watching Moe poke Curly in the eyes or pull a fistful of hair from Larry's head. As it turned out, all the laughter somehow triggered his immune system to fight the cancerous tumor. By his next check-up, the doctors were unable to find a trace of cancer in his body.

While this is not a common occurrence, it does point to a truth that scientists are coming to realize more and more. Our emotional and spiritual health has an effect on the health of our bodies. Stress, frustration, anger and resentment eat away not only at our spirits but at our bodies increasing our blood pressure and shortening our lives. At the same time, happiness, optimism and laughter boosts our immune systems and helps us to live longer. God created us with both a body and a soul. Though they are distinct, they both affect each other. What is good for the body is also good for the soul. And what is good for the soul is also good for the body.

Today's second reading from the First Letter of John gives us some further insight into the truth of the unity of our bodies and souls. Like today, the early Christian community had to deal with a lot of bizarre philosophies that threatened the preaching of the gospel. One such idea was that the body was evil and only the soul was good. Because the body was evil, it did not matter what you did with it. You could get drunk, cheat on your husband or wife, even commit suicide. None of it was sinful because it did not affect your soul. As long as you knew and loved God, your body was yours to do with as you pleased.

Saint John immediately debunks this idea by clearly stating: "Those who say, 'I know him,' but do not keep his commandments are liars, and the truth is not in them." Any action which goes against God's word and commandment is a sin whether it is a sin of the body such as lust or drunkenness or a sin of the soul such as pride or anger. Both our bodies and our souls are good in God's eyes and destined for eternal life with him in heaven. So we must glorify God with our bodies. We must keep our bodies pure just as we seek to keep our souls pure.  
Another proof of the goodness of our bodies is the fact that the Son of God took on a human body in the womb of Mary. If the body was evil, Jesus would never have taken on our flesh. It would have been incompatible with his absolute holiness and goodness. By becoming fully human, Jesus proves to us that our bodies are good and meant to give praise to God.

Today's gospel reading from the Gospel of Luke makes it plain that Jesus, now risen from the dead, still has a body. It is not a mortal body as we now have, but a resurrected one. We know that there has been some change in Jesus because the disciples have difficulty recognizing him. Unlike our bodies, Jesus' resurrected body is not limited by time and space. He can appear out of nowhere, even when the doors are locked.

At the same time, it is a real body. It is made of flesh and bones as he tells them, "Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have." Furthermore, his body still bears the wounds from the crucifixion on his hands, feet and side. Though the disciples have difficulty recognizing him, they can tell that it must be Jesus because of the wounds. And, finally, Jesus was still able to eat as he demonstrated to them by consuming a piece of fish in their presence. After the resurrection, Jesus still has a body, but it is a glorified body. 

What does this mean for us? It means that, thanks to Jesus' death and resurrection, we too will have a resurrected, glorified body. It is true that when we die our soul continues to live while our body is buried in the ground. Our soul goes either to heaven, purgatory or hell as we await the final judgment at the end of the world. At that time, when God's victory over sin and evil is finally and definitively established, we will be reunited with our bodies at the resurrection of the dead. This new body will not grow old or experience pain. It will live forever to praise the God of goodness who saved us through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

It also means that it is a good and holy thing to take care of our physical selves. A healthy diet, exercise and rest will benefit our souls as well as our bodies. When we are worn out or under stress, we can find it difficult to focus and to meditate. If we over-eat or drink to excess, it will be difficult for us to slow our minds down enough to pray. And when we indulge in sexual sins such as pornography or sex outside of marriage, shame builds up within us which causes us to shrink from the embrace of our loving God. Any sin we commit makes it impossible to the live with the abundance of joy and peace that God has planned for us. If we are still under the grip of any of these sins, we can go to God with confidence and seek his forgiveness by bringing our bodies to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. God is merciful, and he wants us to experience both in our bodies and in our souls the gift of everlasting life.

Jesus is risen! He is alive so that we might have life, both our bodies and our souls. He is here among us as he opens our minds to the Scriptures. He will share a meal with us as he did with the apostles. The meal is his very self - the Eucharist - which is the body, soul and divinity of Jesus. With a renewed spirit and a sanctified body, let us continue to give him praise through a holy life as we look forward to our own resurrection.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The God Of Mercy

If you had to explain who God is to someone who had never heard of Him before, what would you say? What words would you use to describe Him?

Would you say that He is all-powerful? Would you say that, although we cannot see Him, He is everywhere? Would you explain that He has no beginning and no end? Or would you point out how He created the world out of nothing?

All those would be good ways to start talking about God. However, those ideas would not fully capture who the God of Jesus Christ is. To explain God fully, we would have to start by saying that, above all else, He is merciful.

The word, “mercy”, describes love’s response to suffering. We can say that God is merciful because He identifies with those who suffer. He reaches out to those who are hurting, particularly sinners.

When we sin, God’s first thought is not about how much we have offended Him by breaking His commandments. He is not thinking, “How dare they sin against me.” Rather, His first instinct is to feel sorry for us because sin is harmful and separates us from His love. Because of His mercy, God’s first response is not how He is going to punish us but how He is going to save us.

We see God’s merciful love throughout the Bible. When Adam and Eve disobey Him, He promises to send a savior who will defeat the serpent who deceived them. When the devastating flood recedes, He promises Noah that He will not destroy the earth again. When He sees His people suffering under Pharaoh, He sends Moses to bring them to the Promised Land.

Jesus is the shining example of His merciful love. God sent His only Son to show us how far He was willing to go to free us from our sinfulness. By Jesus’ death and resurrection we find not only the forgiveness of our sins but the promise of eternal life. He extends this offer to each of us no matter how many sinful choices we have made in our lives. God is a merciful Father who always welcomes us back.

Today’s reading from the gospel of Saint John illustrates this beautifully. We see the disciples closed up in the upper room in Jerusalem. They are isolated by their fear of the authorities. They are also isolated by doubt, especially the doubt of Thomas who refuses to believe that Jesus is risen unless he can see Him with his own eyes. How does Jesus react to their fear and doubt? Does He keep His distance from them until they get their act together? Does He punish them? No. Instead He reaches out to them. Though the doors are locked because of doubt and fear, He reveals Himself to them -  and to Thomas in particular -  and invites them to believe. So great is Jesus’ mercy that He never fails to seek out the lost, the confused, the suffering and the sinner.

The merciful heart of Jesus should give us great confidence. We will always fall short of the demands of the gospel. In one way or another we will fail to love others as we should. However, no matter how many times we fall, we can always turn to Jesus for forgiveness. He never tires of seeking us out when we are lost and extending His hand in friendship to us. All we have to do is forget our pride and ask for the forgiveness we so desperately need.

Once we have received God’s mercy, it is then up to us to show mercy to others. If God has forgiven us, we must then forgive those who have hurt us. If God has so generously blessed us with material goods, we must then share them with others.

We see this in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. The first believers were so moved by God’s love that they shared it freely with one another. They prayed together and shared their money, food and homes with each other. Recognizing that all they had comes from God, they were willing to give it away with the confidence that God in his mercy would continue to provide for them.

That is God’s dream for this parish community, that we receive His mercy and share it with others. He wants us to be so generous with what we have that there is no needy person among us. Then it will be clear how Jesus’ death and resurrection are making a difference in our world. Then God’s mercy will pour itself out from this altar and reach out to our larger community, extending the blessings of our Heavenly Father’s love.

On the first Sunday after Easter, we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. This beautiful feast is in response to a request which Jesus Himself made to Saint Faustina, a young Polish nun to whom He appeared in the early twentieth century. He desired that, on this day, we reflect on His infinite mercy and run to Him in our weakness and need.

In her diary, she records these words of Jesus:                                                        

My daughter, tell the whole world about My inconceivable mercy. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the Fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. … Let no soul fear to draw near to Me. (Diary, no. 699)

On this day, Jesus stretches out His arms to us. He begs us to return to Him to experience His tender forgiveness and to be forever changed by Him. Once we do, we can then extend the same mercy to others. Let us take advantage of the offer God makes to us this day so that we will know Him intimately as the Father of Mercy.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Touching Jesus In The Eucharist

We all know someone like Frank.

Frank was the kind of person who loved to get into arguments with people. If you told him something was blue, he would argue with you that it was really red. If you told him that two plus two is four, he would tell you that it really equals three. Frank would just not accept  that anything was true or that he did not already have all the answers.

No one suffered more from Frank’s argumentativeness than his co-worker Ted. Ted was a devout Catholic and was not ashamed to let people know. Frank took every opportunity to let Ted know that he disagreed with just about everything the Church teaches. Because Ted was knowledgeable about his faith, he was able to answer most of Frank’s questions and objections. However, one day he lost patience with him and said, “Just admit it. You have so many doubts because you want an excuse for not believing in anything.”

For the first time, Frank had no answer. Ted’s words had touched a nerve in him, and he was left speechless. Looking into himself, he realized that Ted was right. He really did not believe in anything. And that realization left him feeling empty inside and afraid.

Not knowing where to begin to find some kind of faith, Frank bought a Bible and read the story of Doubting Thomas, one of the figures of the New Testament he could most sympathize with. Like Thomas, Frank wanted to see for himself, to know for certain. However, unlike Thomas, he was not able to see Jesus face to face, to touch Him or to put his finger in His wounds. He decided that he would have to do what seemed to be the next best thing. So for the first time in over twenty years, Frank decided to go to Mass.

When he walked into church, he was surprised by how much he felt at home, as if he belonged there and had never left. The young woman sitting next to him helped him find the songs and readings in the missalette. He was able to remember most of the responses, though he could not remember when to stand, sit and kneel. While the deacon preached, he tried to put aside his argumentative nature so that he could really listen to everything he was saying.

But the most moving part of the Mass for him was during the Eucharistic prayer. When the priest held up the host and said, “This is my body which will be given up for you”,  he heard the woman sitting next to him whisper, “My Lord and My God.” Those were the same words that Thomas had spoken when the Risen Jesus appeared to him! It all began to make sense. It was at Mass and, in particular, when receiving communion, that he could see for himself the Risen Lord. Through the gift of the Eucharist, he could touch Jesus’ Body and Blood just as Thomas had done. With that insight from the Holy Spirit,  Frank went from doubting to believing. He had seen for himself that Jesus is real, and his life would never be the same.

Jesus tells us that each one of us is blessed because we believe without seeing. We have not seen Jesus with our physical eyes, but with the eyes of faith. We know that He is real not because we have touched Him but because He has touched us. That gift of faith given to us in our baptism and nourished through God’s word and the sacraments sustains us during our earthly life until we can see our Risen Lord face to face in the Kingdom of Heaven.

It is important for us to reflect from time to time on how precious this gift of faith is. Many people, like Frank, experience profound doubts and carry burdensome questions about the meaning of their lives and the purpose of their suffering without knowing where to find answers. Many people feel utterly alone with the crushing anxiety and overwhelming despair they experience without knowing where to find comfort. Though our faith certainly does not take away our suffering or answer all our questions for us, it does give us a place to go where we can begin to find some understanding and some sense of meaning. It gives us hope that, though we do not have everything figured out, God is in control and our destiny is in His loving hands.

Saint Thomas teaches us what we should do when we experience doubt, temptation and confusion. We should go to Jesus. He is always there for us. He is always by our side. He wants us to know Him and to live an abundantly blessed life. Through His Church, He has provided us with many means of drawing close to Him and receiving grace upon grace including the forgiveness of our sins. Going straight to Jesus, most especially by participating in Mass, will make our burden lighter and our way smoother.

Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Divine Mercy. We remember that Jesus has His arms wide open waiting to receive anyone who comes to Him. As He told Saint Faustina, “The greater the sinner, the more right He has to my forgiveness and mercy.” If we have been holding back because of fear and doubt, now is the time to put it all in Jesus’ hands and run to Him so that we can receive faith and hope. He will never turn us away.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Asking Questions....Looking For Answers

Over the past few years, more and more books have come out promoting atheism, that is, the belief that God does not exist. For us who have an active faith life, it can seem impossible that anyone could possibly deny God's existence. However, the numbers of those who are unwilling or unable to believe in God are growing in size and influence.
Atheists are a small part of the overall population. Most people are searchers. They are not sure what or who to believe. They see the problems facing our world and wonder why a good God could allow so much injustice and suffering. At the same time, they see the beauty of nature and the basic goodness in people and can't help but believe that a good God must be responsible for it all. Their heart tells them that there must be something more to this world than what their eyes can see and what science can explain. They are ready to embrace the truth. They just are not sure where to find it.

That is where we come in. God has called each of us here for a reason. He has given us an active faith and a relationship with him so that we can reach out to those who are searching with the good news of Jesus' resurrection.

Today's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes the first community of believers. They are really the first parish founded by the apostles. As Saint Luke describes it, it is a community marked by deep love for one another. They shared everything they had so that none of them went hungry or homeless. Though the community of believers was experiencing rapid growth, no one was lost in the crowd or left out. All shared a sense of belonging and friendship because of their common faith in the Risen Lord.

In today's world, people long for community and to belong. Many of us live far from our extended families and childhood friends. Our work schedules and the technologies that surround us increasingly isolate us. We do not want to be another face in the crowd. We want to belong. We want to be missed when we don't show up. We want to be known and loved. This lonely world so often makes it difficult for people to believe and trust in a good God. 

If we, as disciples of Christ, are going to effectively spread the good news of his resurrection, then we must be a people marked by love as were the first community of believers. As a parish united by faith, we are called to welcome each other, to take care of each other and to testify to one another about the power of God at work in our lives. Most people come to know and believe in God by meeting someone who is filled with God's love. God wants to make this parish a family where people encounter his love and become convinced that he is real because of the goodness of our lives.

Up to this point we have been discussing those who are searching for God who do not come to Mass. But what about those here today who are themselves searching? What about us when we have doubts and question our faith? For those of us who continue to question and even doubt, we have a great friend in Saint Thomas. As the gospel tells us, Thomas was not present the first time that Jesus appeared to the disciples. When the disciples told him that the Lord was alive, he refused to believe. Thomas could have left the other disciples to head back to his hometown to resume the life he had before Jesus called him. Believing that Jesus was dead, he could have abandoned his faith altogether. But despite his doubts, Thomas continued to stay with the other apostles. And because he decided to stay rather than to leave, he was able to see the Risen Lord for himself. 

Thomas has much to teach us. There are times when we doubt and question our faith. At those times we are tempted to stop going to Mass or to leave the Church altogether. We might say to ourselves, "What's the use? I'm not being fed, and my prayers are not being answered."  But we need to keep showing up to the Eucharist just as Thomas kept showing up at the upper room. It might not be today, it might not be next week, but when Jesus is ready, he is going to reveal himself to us as he revealed himself to Thomas. We are going to hear the word which will answer the questions we have. In a time of quiet, something we have been struggling with will all of a sudden make sense. If we are going to find the answers we are searching for, then it will be here, in this place, among God's people and at the altar where bread and wine will become for us the Body and Blood of Christ.  

Asking questions and looking for answers are part of what it means to be human. God created us to be individuals who seek meaning and truth. While he put the questions in our hearts, he also provided an answer in his Son. Whatever it is we may seek - love, truth, meaning, purpose - it can all be found in Christ. And Christ can be found here. As it turns out, he is seeking us. No matter how tightly we may have closed the doors of our minds and hearts out of fear and doubt, he will reveal himself to us and offer us his gift of peace. Then we will know why we have been created and what our purpose on this earth is - to live with him forever in heaven

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Praying With Fire

Imagine what life was like for human beings before we discovered fire.

The nights would have been long and terrifying. Not being able to see, our ancestors would have huddled in caves to protect themselves from predators that might have attacked them. Every sound would petrify them with fear. With no light to guide their steps, they would have nowhere to run if danger were to strike. All they could do was hide in hopes of holding off the terrors of the night until the morning.

However, once the first human beings learned to control fire, their world changed. They no longer had to hide in their caves once the sun went down. Instead, they could gather around the fire which not only gave them light but kept predators away. Whereas before, they had to pass the evenings alone and in hiding, they could now emerge from their caves and spend time with the other members of their family and tribe. In fact, many anthropologists believe that it was around such fires that human beings began to develop language. The discovery of fire also revolutionized how our ancestors ate. Whereas before their diet was mostly limited to nuts,  berries and raw meat, they could now cook their food making them easier to digest.

With the discovery of fire, the first human beings no longer needed to pass the night in fear and isolation. They could emerge from their caves, because the light from the fire dispelled the hidden dangers of the night. Around the fire, they could nurture the friendship and love of their neighbors by sharing meals together and telling stories. Fire, with its intense light and warmth, made it possible for human beings to come together and build civilizations.

On this holy night, we celebrate another fire which brought us out of the darkness of fear and ignorance and into the light of faith and new life. Tonight, we celebrate the fire of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. As human beings have done for millennia, we gather at night around the light of a flame that is sparked not by flint but by faith. It is the light that shines forth from Jesus Christ and His victory over death.

Without faith in the Resurrection, life is like a cold, dark night full of danger. Our only hope is to hide and defend ourselves as best we can. In so doing, our days are marked by anxiety, fear and despair.

However, once we embrace faith in Jesus and His victory over death, we become new people. We begin to see clearly that we are loved by our Heavenly Father and that there is purpose to our life. Our fears are dispelled once we come to rely on the goodness of God who promises to provide for all our needs and to be by our side no matter what dangers we have to face. New hope dawns in our heart as we come to find true fulfillment and lasting happiness by following the light of God’s word. Like the first human beings who were drawn out of  their dark caves, we are drawn out of our isolation and loneliness into the warm community of the Church. We find the love that all of us are searching for by loving God and our neighbor.
If you are still living in darkness, isolated from others, imprisoned by fear and chilled to the bone by all the hurts you have suffered, today is the day to emerge from your tomb and embrace the light and warmth that come from the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. A good first step would be simply to say to God, “Lord, I have tried everything else and looked everywhere else. I am now ready to try you.” In a few minutes we will be renewing our baptismal promises. Respond with conviction and faith, saying the words from your heart. Then trust that God will do the rest and begin to work wonders in your life.

All of us have been entrusted with the light of faith and must strive to keep it burning brightly. However, that flame can never just be kept to ourselves. It is meant to be shared. Just as we light each other’s candles from the flame of the Easter candle, we are to share our faith with our neighbors. So many people we run into daily are dying inside. They are imprisoned in caves of fear and loneliness, yearning for a better way of life but not knowing where to find it. We have to witness to them the joy, hope and new life we have discovered through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Imagine how much light and warmth we could bring into the world if each of us were to share with just one other person the joy of God’s love. It would revolutionize human society more profoundly than the discovery of fire.

At the beginning of tonight’s liturgy, we lit a fire and processed with the Easter candle into this church. Little by little, the light of the candle spread from person to person until this whole building was flooded with light. That is precisely our mission as believers in Jesus and His Resurrection. We are to flood our dark world with light by sharing the good news and build a civilization of love around faith in the victory of Jesus Christ over sin and death.