Friday, April 20, 2018
Wednesday, April 18, 2018
Monday, April 16, 2018
Thursday, April 12, 2018
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
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
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.
Thursday, April 5, 2018
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.