Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day 2011

Some of the holiest men who ever lived and some of the Church's greatest saints were soldiers.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola who founded the Jesuit order served many years as a soldier in Spain. Even Saint Francis who is best known for his love of nature and animals served for a short time in the army of his native land.

At every Mass, before communion, we repeat the words which a Roman soldier once spoke to Jesus: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed." Jesus said of this soldier that he had never met anyone with such great faith.

Those of us who have been blessed to know soldiers or been soldiers ourselves can understand how they can be such holy men. They are dedicated to serving others. They are willing to set aside their own plans for the future to protect the freedoms of their country. They have a strong sense of duty toward the weak and vulnerable. They come face-to-face with all types of horrors and yet continue to believe that the world is good. But most importantly, like Jesus, they are willing to lay down their lives for their sisters and brothers.

Many of those who have given their lives for our country are just such men and women.

Many families in our country gather under the most tragic of circumstances today. They commemorate young lives that have ended. A conflict on the other side of the globe has touched many of us and robbed us of women and men who had so much to give. They gave their all to serve and protect us. We set aside one day to celebrate their life, to honor their service and to grieve their death.

Many will gather in churches to add an even deeper meaning to this day. They will invoke the name of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. They will recall the day when the soldiers they have lost were baptized and put on the armor of Christ. They will remember that there is a greater purpose to our lives than that which this world can offer. During this life, we are merely passing through. Our real homeland is in heaven. It is there that the meaning of our lives is revealed. It is there that we receive the reward for doing battle with evil. It is there that all suffering will finally cease and every tear will be wiped away. By that hope in the ultimate, all-encompassing and definitive victory of Jesus, we find the courage to face every sort of evil, but especially the great evil called "Death".

Those who have known and loved soldiers have endured a lot. While they were away, they endured the pain of separation. They feared for their loved ones every day and begged God to keep them safe. Now they bear a grief that is beyond words. The family and friends of soldiers have also had to sacrifice for their country. The stories of the families of fallen soldiers are not frequently told. We do not raise monuments to the wives, children, fathers or mothers of our heroes. But it is their courage that made those sacrifices and in turn our freedom possible.

We take a day to remember those whose service to their country has now ended. They are at rest receiving the reward of their labors. We must continue to live and carry their memory with a mixture of grief and pride. It is our faith above all else which gives us the strength and the courage to bear grief. Jesus knew what it was to die young for a cause he believed in - our salvation. He knew what it meant to lay down his life for others. No one has ever done it with as much love and courage as Jesus did. More than anyone else, he knows the suffering which so may in our country are unable to put into words. And he is at their side helping them to shoulder it.

Also by our side is Mary, the mother of Jesus. She witnessed her own son's cruel death at the hands of evil men. She is praying for those who has lost loved ones to war. They can draw comfort from her motherly care.

We will never know during this life why the world is full of so much evil, why there is so much hate, and why there is so much conflict and war. But the death of so many young people, as sad and tragic as it is, reminds us of how much good still is left in this world. It is a world worth fighting and dying for. That men, women and families throughout our country are willing to give of themselves to make the lives of others better is a source of great hope for all of us. We take this day to proclaim that it does not go unnoticed or unappreciated.

So many families in our country have had to deal with tremendous loss. Today we show them that they are not alone. We need to lean on one another at times of conflict and war. And we need to pray even if it means shaking our fists at God and asking "Why?!" And we need to hope. There will come a day when all this bloodshed will be put to an end. Everything will be made right again, and we will be reunited with all those we have lost. It is the promise God made to each of us at our baptism. It is the victory Jesus guaranteed for us by giving his own life on Mount Calvary. And it is to that undying hope which we commend the souls of our fighting men and women until we see them again.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Another Advocate

A successful defense attorney was once asked whether he ever felt guilty for taking on murderers, drug traffickers and thieves as clients. He replied that in our system, everyone has a right to a good legal defense no matter what they are accused of or what they may have done. Furthermore, he hoped that, when it was his time to stand before God, someone would be there to defend him as well.

All of us, especially in difficult times, need someone to stand up for us and to be at our side. We all know how disappointed we feel when we are abandoned by our friends because of something someone may have said about us or something we may have done. We also know how encouraged we feel when someone has the courage to stand by us.

Jesus promises the apostles in today's gospel that He will never abandon them. He promises that, even though they will not see Him, He will still be active among them. How does He plan to do that? Jesus tells the disciples that He will send them "another Advocate". An advocate is someone who stands up for you, who pleads your case, who defends you against a prosecutor who has brought up charges against you. Jesus is the first advocate. He is our first defender. By offering His body on the cross, He took away the charge against us,
serving the sentence in our place. Jesus is continuing to advocate for us in heaven. He is continuing to pray for us before the Father until the day we are finally with Him in glory.

The "other Advocate" which Jesus promises to send is the Holy Spirit. Whereas Jesus pleads our case before the Father, the Holy Spirit pleads our case against the world. As Jesus explains it, the world is the people, the structures and the institutions which are organized to frustrate the work of God and the spread of the gospel. This world cannot accept the Father. We only have to pick up the paper or watch the TV for five minutes to know how true this is. Christians are accused of being hypocrites, as lacking compassion or as being backwards. Movies and books portray believers as judgmental and joyless. The art world strives to offend Christians by blaspheming Jesus in sculptures and paintings. This world is trying to discourage us in our life of faith. It is trying to convince us that it is better to live for our own pleasure than to live for the gospel. It is constantly trying to deceive us and lure us away from what life is really about - knowing, loving and serving God. The Holy Spirit is our advocate before this hostile world. The world has judged us according to its values, but the Holy Spirit which is alive in our hearts stands with us and helps us to live joyfully and faithfully in a world which is pitted against us. We can face this challenge with confidence because Scripture assures us that "greater is He Who is in us, than he who is in the world."

Some translations of today's gospel passage use the word "paraclete" instead of "advocate". "Paraclete" is really a word made up by translators who were trying to capture the fullness of what Jesus was meaning to say. The word "paraclete" does not appear anywhere else in English, except when referring to the Holy Spirit. The Greek word which we translate here as "advocate" also means "defender", "encourager", "guide" or even "teacher".

Another word which might capture for us a little bit of what Jesus meant when He called the Holy Spirit "Paraclete" is the word "coach". A good coach has a game plan drawn up for her players. She puts her players through drills to build up their stamina and strengthen their skills. A good coach instills resiliency in her players when they fail and inspires them to do whatever it takes to win. Just so, the Holy Spirit living in our hearts coaches us on how to live the gospel message with joy.

We are not alone. If we love God and obey His commandments, then we can be assured that the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts. This Holy Spirit strengthens us to live a life faithful to God's Word. This Holy Spirit encourages us when we face difficulties or fail. This Holy Spirit guides our choices so that we make progress in the life of faith. This Holy Spirit makes Jesus alive and active among us. This Holy Spirit stands by our side when the world looks down on us, despises us or ridicules us. At the same time, this Holy Spirit fills our hearts with love for the world so that we can bring the truth of God's love to it by our words and actions.

We will all certainly stand before the judgment seat of God. But, if we have loved God in this life and have obeyed His commandments, then we can be assured that we will have two powerful advocates at our side - Jesus and His Holy Spirit.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

More Mysteries of the Rosary

For a deeper look into the personality and mission of Jesus, consider contemplating these mysteries the next time you pray the Rosary:

1) Jesus curses the fig tree (Matt. 21; Mark 11)
2) Jesus sends the demons into the pigs (Mark 5: 1-20)
3) Jesus calls the Canaanite woman a dog (Matt. 15: 21-28)
4) Jesus pronounces “woe” on the scribes and Pharisees (Matt.23)
5) Jesus casts the money changers out of the Temple (John 2: 12-24; Matt 21: 12-17)

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Place for You

One evening, while a woman was preparing supper, her 19 year old daughter complained of a headache and went to her room to lie down. When her mother went to the bedroom to tell her daughter that supper was ready, the girl was having a seizure. The mother immediately called 911, and the ambulance came to rush the daughter to the hospital. The young woman was pronounced dead upon her arrival at the emergency room.

The mother was devastated. For years, she kept her daughter's room exactly the way it was when she died. She left all her clothes hanging in the closet and the posters hanging on the wall. She even refused to change the sheets on the bed. Many nights, her husband would come home from work to find the mother with her face down on the bed crying. That bedroom was all she had left of her beloved daughter.

Through her grieving process, today's gospel reading came to be a great source of comfort for this woman. Just as she kept a room for her daughter in her home, Jesus had a place prepared for her daughter in heaven. To know that Jesus was now taking care of her daughter - that Jesus had made a home for her - gave her a sense of peace and calm that helped her come to terms with the tragedy of her daughter's death.

Today's gospel reading is part of the narrative of the Last Supper in the gospel of John. The apostles are jittery. They know something is up. They are getting the sense that Jesus is in danger and that they are in danger. They really have no idea how violently Jesus will be treated later that night and into the next day. Jesus senses their anxiety and seeks to calm their fears. He assures them that, though they will be separated for a while, he will prepare a place for them in His Father's house. They will have their faith tested. They will suffer. Most of them will eventually be killed for being followers of Jesus. But, Jesus Himself will come to bring them to His Father's house. Jesus will always have a place for them.

Many of us know what it is like to have an empty room in our homes or an empty place in our hearts for a loved one who is no longer in our lives. It may be a parent, a spouse or a child we have lost to death. It may be an ex-husband or ex-wife who has abandoned us. It may be an adult child who, for whatever reason, wants nothing to do with us. It may be a brother or sister or friend we haven't spoken to in years. We keep a light burning in our hearts or a room ready in our homes, in hopes that they will return.

Imagine, now, that Jesus has the same place prepared for each one of us. Imagine that Jesus has a light burning in hopes that we will return to Him. Jesus is counting on our spending eternity with Him in His Father's house. Can we even begin to imagine how great God's love is for us that He waits for us with the same passion of a mother who grieves for her daughter, or a lover who prays that his beloved will come back to him?

Jesus has a place prepared for each of us in heaven. But, Jesus has also prepared a place for us in this church, in this parish. This is the place where we encounter God. This is the place where we hear God speak. This is the place where Jesus surrenders His Body and Blood for our nourishment. This is the place - as Saint Peter explains in the second reading -where we are built up like living stones into an edifice of spirit offering spiritual sacrifices. It is here that we face Jesus - the Way, the Truth and the Life.

All of us are gathered here for different reasons. Some of us are here because we really believe that being here makes a difference in our lives, whether we can explain it or not. Some of us are here out of a sense of duty. Some of us are here because we just got the feeling that we should go to church today. Some of us don't know why we are here. But, whether we feel it or not, whether we can explain it or not, each one of us belongs here. Each one of us is meant to be here. Jesus means us to be here. Jesus has prepared this place for us. Jesus has prepared these readings for us. Jesus has prepared this message for us. Jesus has arranged all this so that we would meet Him here today. None of us is here by accident or by coincidence. Jesus has prepared this worship event so that He could bump into us and so that He could find some way of getting Himself into our lives.

Now, we have a decision to make. Do we have room in our hearts for Jesus? Do we have a place prepared in our lives to welcome Him? Do we have a light burning in our hearts waiting for the day that Jesus will visit us? Will today be the day that we stop resisting Jesus' call? Will today be the day that we accept into our hearts Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Come, Lord Jesus!

Well, the world didn’t end yesterday.

You know what I say - “Too bad.” You heard me right - “Too bad.”

As a Christian, I want Jesus to come in glory. Our prayer of expectation is “Come, Lord Jesus.” The last book of the Bible, the book of Revelations, ends with these words: “I am coming soon. Come, Lord Jesus!”

For a believer, the end of the world is the coming of the Kingdom of God in its fullness. It is the end of sin and death, the end of bloodshed and oppression, the end of poverty and want.

The scary part is that it is also the coming of Judgement. If we are not ready, then I suppose there is cause for fear. All of us will be caught off guard by Christ’s coming. It will take place at a date and time and in a way that we cannot know or even begin to imagine. But if we have been vigilant as he warned us to be and faithful to his commandments, we should be found worthy to take part in the supper of the Lamb.

In this Sunday’s gospel, Jesus offers some comforting words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled....I am going to prepare a place for you. And then I will come and take you with me.”

In my job, I have the opportunity to inspect some impressive, multi-million dollar homes. Many of them offer panoramic ocean views, are arrayed with granite counter tops, brushed nickle fixtures and stainless steel appliances. They offer luxurious amenities such as whirlpool tubs, expansive mahogany decking, inground pools and marble fireplaces. But none of those homes is as impressive or as glorious as the place Jesus is preparing for me in heaven. So, of course, I am anxious to get there!

So too bad the world didn’t end yesterday. But it will end soon. As crazy as all this talk of the end of the world has been, it has reminded me to keep vigilant and to look forward in joyful expectation for Christ’s return in glory.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

What's the Frequency?

I spent the summer of 1990 working in a parish in London. That year, they had just installed a new high tech, wireless sound system that worked on radio waves.

The system debuted on a Saturday night, during the evening Mass. During the first reading, it started to crackle. Then, during the second reading, static was breaking through. During the gospel, we could hear a bit of talking and some music as one hears when scanning between radio stations. Then, just before offertory, a Judas Priest song began blaring over the sound system. (Of course, it couldn’t have been the Carpenters or Bread, it had to be Judas Priest).

The system had to be turned off for the rest of the weekend. When the technician returned on Monday, he said there was a problem with the frequency it was tuned to. A little fine tuning and the system was back on line.

Radio, television and satellite waves are always coursing through the air. We are unaware of them unless we have a radio or TV to pick up the signal. Even then it has to be tuned to just the right frequency for the sound to come through.

God is also trying to communicate to us. Most of the time we are oblivious to it. We are too tuned in to what we are doing or what we wish we could be doing to listen to Him. But He is trying to reach us in whatever way we can. It takes a little tuning in to be able to hear Him.

Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice.” The sheep are those who recognize His voice when He calls and are ready to say “Yes” to whatever He commands. Because they are not so absorbed in their own concerns, they are tuned in to the One who leads them in the paths of everlasting life.

How do we get tuned in? By prayer, reading Scripture, receiving the Sacraments and serving the needs of others. With practice and grace, God’s message will come in loud and clear.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

First Communion Homily

I am so happy for you.

Everyone here today is happy to be a part of such a special day.

You are going to receive Jesus for the first time.

It is natural for you to feel excited and maybe even a little nervous. You are about to welcome into your heart the greatest man who ever lived, Jesus.

How does Jesus come to meet you today? In the form of bread.

All of us have bread in sandwiches and sometimes with butter and jelly. But the bread you will be receiving today is much different. It is not soft and fluffy like the bread we eat everyday. This bread is special. When the priest prays over this bread, it changes into the body of Jesus.

So when you look at this special bread, you are looking at Jesus. When you hold this bread, you are holding Jesus. And when you receive this bread, you are receiving Jesus. The bread does not look any different or taste any different but it becomes different through the power of God.

Today is an important day because Jesus will be coming to make his home within you. For the first time, he will be moving into your heart.

Nobody wants to live in a dirty house, right? Don’t we all want the houses the people we love live in to be clean and neat? Because Jesus is moving into our hearts, we must keep them clean and pure for him. How do we do that? By not sinning. By obeying our parents. By not hurting other children. And by praying every day.

All of you are wearing beautiful white gowns and suits. I’m sure your parents put a lot of work into finding special clothes for you to wear today. Now, when you got dressed this morning, what was the first thing your parents said to you? “Don’t get dirty!” Wouldn’t you feel sad if you came to Mass today with dirt on your beautiful suit or dress? Well, just as you want your clothes to be clean for this special day, so every time you come to Mass to receive Jesus you should want your heart to be clean.

Today is a special day, but it is not the first time you are receiving a sacrament. What two other sacraments have you already received? Baptism and Penance. Both of those sacraments make us clean so that we can receive Jesus. Just as we give our clothes to our mothers and fathers to clean them for us when we get them dirty, so we can go to the sacrament of Penance every time we hurt God by sinning. Then we can make sure that our heart will be a clean and beautiful place for him.

Now, after you receive your first communion, how long will Jesus stay inside you? Do you think he will leave you when Mass is over? Do you think he will leave you when you walk out of the church? No. Jesus will stay inside you. And Jesus will remain inside the other children who are receiving communion with you and all of us who are also receiving him today.

It is important for you to think about that during the day. Jesus is inside you. Jesus is with you all the time wherever you go. You can trust Jesus to help you when you are afraid or when you are hurt. He will never leave you.

Also, Jesus is inside everyone around you. When you are nice to your brothers and sisters, you are being nice to Jesus. When you pick up someone who has fallen down or make someone who is crying feel better, you are helping Jesus.

At the same time, if you hurt someone, you are hurting Jesus. If you call someone names, you are calling Jesus a name. None of us wants to do that, right? So we must ask Jesus to help us be good to others so that we never hurt him.

Why does Jesus want to be inside of you? Because he loves you. It is that simple. We want to be with the people we love, with our family and friends. Just so, Jesus wants to be with us because we love him. And we should show him how much we love him by coming to Mass as often as we can to receive him and be with him. During your life you will have different friends, different teachers and different neighbors. Many things will change in your life as you get older. But you can never lose Jesus. He will always be your friend and he will always be with you now matter how old you get, no matter where you go, no matter what you do.

Never forget this beautiful day. Never forget how special it feels to welcome Jesus into your heart. Keep your heart a place that Jesus can be happy to live in. And come as often as you can to receive this precious gift of the Body of Christ.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Oh Jesus, Gentle Shepherd!

When we think of sheep, we tend to think of cute, fluffy four-legged creatures. But sheep are very difficult to take care of. First of all, they are very dumb. They walk around with no idea where they are. It is not uncommon for a sheep to walk right off a cliff because it is not paying attention to where it is going. Also, sheep are slow. The shepherd has to be very patient because the sheep are in no rush to move for him. And, because they are so slow, the shepherd has to keep a sharp eye out. If a wolf were to show up, the sheep would be unable to run away. And, sheep have no fangs or claws to protect themselves. Without the shepherd, the sheep are completely helpless.

Sheep may be dumb, but they are not so dumb that they don't recognize the voice of their shepherd. They know right away when an impostor has taken his place. They get anxious and jittery. They start to scatter when someone other than their trusted shepherd has hopped over the fence to take advantage of them.

Jesus loved the image of the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep to describe His relationship with the people He came to redeem. That's because there are three things a shepherd does that Jesus also does for His people. Those three things are leading the sheep, protecting the sheep and feeding the sheep.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, leads His sheep. As Jesus says in the gospel, the Good Shepherd goes ahead of His sheep. The Good Shepherd charts the way forward for them. Just so, Jesus has shown us the path we must walk. We often talk about how Jesus reveals God to us. But Jesus, being fully human, also teaches us what it means to be truly human. No one, no matter what he or she may have accomplished, has ever lived a life more fully human than Jesus has. So, in Jesus we come to understand that living a meaningful life and living a fully human life means following our Good Shepherd.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, also protects His sheep. He knows how helpless we are without Him. He knows how easily we fall to temptation and how easily we can lose hope. He also knows how many people out there are looking to take advantage of His weak, helpless sheep. Jesus looks with love on us in our helplessness and, if we decide to follow Him, pledges to protect us from everything and everyone who can imperil our souls.

Finally, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, feeds His sheep. He brings them to lush pasture land where they can feast and fill their bellies in peace. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, knows many rich pastures. He feeds us with the banquet of His Word which emboldens our hearts and calms our fears. And He feeds us with His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, giving His very life to us and a taste of the deep intimacy He wishes to share with us. Once we have enjoyed the rich pastures of our shepherd, why would we ever want to return to the barren wastelands of selfishness?

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, leads us, protects us and feeds us. We are familiar with another gospel in which Jesus separates sheep from goats. He says to the sheep, "Come, inherit the kingdom prepared for you." When they ask, "When did we see you hungry and feed you? When did we see you thirsty, and give you drink?, Jesus replies, "Whenever you did it for the least among you, you did it for me." Today, as we reflect on Jesus' word, we might ask: "When did we see you leading us? When did we see you protecting us? When did we see you feeding us?" Jesus, two thousand years after His resurrection, leads us, protects us and feeds us through His Church. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus continues to shepherd His people, the Church. The gift of the Holy Spirit leads us to the Truth we need for our salvation. The Holy Spirit guarantees that the Church will lead us faithfully in the knowledge of God. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus also protects His people. Through the Church, we receive all the graces we need to keep us safe from sin and its corrosive effect in our souls and in our community. Finally, through the Holy Spirit, Jesus continues to feed the Church with His Word and with the sacraments, especially the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

Whenever we talk about the Church, we are not just talking about bishops, priests, deacons and nuns. The Church is much bigger than that. When we say "Church", we mean all the people who have been baptized and believe in Jesus. We are talking about students, parents, single persons, young people, old people and babies. Jesus works through each one of us to lead, protect and feed each other. None of us can follow Jesus by ourselves, anymore than a sheep can protect itself or find food on its own. Whether we are aware of it or not, Jesus works through us whenever we reach out to help another person. And it is Jesus we are serving whenever we reach out to those in need. The gift of the Holy Spirit is working in each of us to make Jesus real and active in the world.

In a world so confused about what life is about and how to live, we hear the voice of our shepherd, Jesus, leading us, protecting us and feeding us. We do not scatter or stray because we have found peace and meaning in the fold of the Church. Soon we will leave this place where we have been fed to help Jesus seek out and save those who are lost and to lead them back to the Shepherd of their souls - Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who lays down His life for His sheep so that we can have life and have it in fullness.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mysteries of the Resurrection

Traditionally, there are three groupings of mysteries for praying the Rosary: the Joyous Mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries and the Glorious Mysteries. In his Apostolic Letter, The Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope John Paul II added the Luminous Mysteries. And, recently, I discovered mysteries surrounding the life of Saint Joseph. The Rosary can help us to ponder any mysteries of Christian revelation, not just those which are widely known and practiced. Therefore, to add some life and variety to my own prayer, I have developed a set of mysteries based on Jesus’ appearances after the Resurrection. Hopefully you will find them as helpful in deepening your own sense of awe and wonder at Christ’s victory over death as I have.

1) The appearance to Mary Magdalen (Jn. 20: 11-18)
2) The appearance to the disciples (Jn 20: 19-23 & Lk.24: 36-49)
3) The appearance to Thomas (Jn.20: 24-29)
4) The appearance on the road to Emmaus (Lk.24: 13-35)
5) The appearance at the Sea of Galilee (Jn. 21: 1-23)

(image by Yuri Kuznetsov)

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Steep Price

A gourmet chef in England has created the world’s most expensive sandwich.

It is a double-decker made of cheddar cheese blended with white truffles. Joining the planks of cheese between three slices of premium sour dough bread are quail eggs, fresh figs and 100 year old balsamic vinaigrette topped off with a sprinkling of edible gold dust.

The price tag - a whopping $220!

Now imagine that one day you just happened to be paying a visit to that restaurant with a couple hundred dollars to spend. Curious to find out just what a $220 cheese sandwich tastes like, you decide to order it. As the plate comes out, the whole restaurant quiets to a hush. A crowd gathers to witness your reaction to the expensive dish.

You take the sandwich into your hands, sink your teeth into it and draw the first bite into your mouth expecting an explosion of flavor and savory delights.

Instead, you find the sandwich bland and flat.

Disappointed, you call the waiter over.

“What is wrong?” he asks. “Is the bread stale? Was the cheese moldy? Was there a fly in the vinaigrette?”

You reply that there is nothing wrong with the sandwich at all. It just does not taste as good as a $220 sandwich should. You explain that if you are going to spend all that money on a sandwich, it should be phenomenal, not just okay. And no doubt everyone in the restaurant will agree with you.

In last Sunday’s second reading, Saint Peter told us: “Realize that you were delivered from the futile way of life your fathers handed on to you, not by any diminishable sum of silver and gold but by Christ’s blood beyond all price: the blood of a spotless, unblemished lamb....” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

Jesus paid a steep price to buy us back from the bondage of sin. He gave His very life. Since He purchased us at such a high price, He expects us to be good. It is not enough for us to be nice. It is not enough for us to not hurt anyone. We must be genuinely good, holy as He is holy and perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.

We would have strong words for the chef who dared to serve us a $220 sandwich which was anything less than spectacular. Jesus likewise has strong words for any of His followers redeemed by His blood who fail to catch on fire with His love: “I know your deeds, that you are neither hot nor cold....So, because you are lukewarm....I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelations 3: 15-16).

Therefore, since we have been purchased at such a high price - the blood of Jesus Himself - let s live up to our dignity as adopted sons and daughters of God. Let us show forth genuine oodness and saintly holiness in all our words and actions. Let us be worthy of the God who calls us and who redeemed us through the blood of His Son.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Road to Hope

This article originally appeared in Connect magazine

Over the past few years, we have had a sense that things are not well. Since 2001, we have witnessed wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention numerous other small conflicts throughout the world. Our economy has suffered as jobs have been lost and homes have been foreclosed on at a record pace. We are deadlocked over important moral and political issues such as abortion and stem cell research with no common ground to help us discuss these issues civilly. We are living with a sense that things are going in the wrong direction, and we are deeply divided over how to set things right. We do not know where to find hope.

Today's readings announce boldly that hope has its center and meaning in God. In the first reading, Peter on the day of Pentecost proclaims to the people of Jerusalem who witnessed Jesus' death on the cross, that his death was not a humiliating defeat. Rather it was the culmination of God's plan of salvation for all people. Jesus laid down His life willingly out of love for us. But even death could not silence Jesus, for He rose from the dead and continues to live among us giving us the hope of everlasting life. Because Jesus lives, we have hope that we also will live with Him forever through faith. That is our first source of real hope. Death, the greatest enemy we face, has already been vanquished.

Peter continues to speak about hope to us in the second reading. Jesus died to deliver us from a futile way of life. That futile way of life was our sinfulness which trapped us in an existence centered only on this material world. The only thing that was real to us was what we could see and feel. It was a life of false hopes and false promises. When our political leaders and economic policy failed us, we did not know where else to turn. Our baptismal faith has taught us that it is God alone, the just judge, who can forgive our sins and render justice for the poor. Our hope, then, finds its center in this just and merciful God who has acted powerfully in history in the person of Jesus Christ. Our second source of hope, then, is that human sinfulness which has created so much misery in history has been overcome.

Finally, the gospel reading presents us with two people who had lost hope. Faced with Jesus' death on the cross and the dismay over Jesus' empty tomb, they decide to leave the community of faith in Jerusalem and head in another direction. As they walk along, they are so caught up in their confusion and despair that they cannot recognize Jesus. Nonetheless their heart burns as He restores their hope by showing how Scripture taught that his death was necessary for the forgiveness of sins and to complete God's plan of salvation. Once they recognize Him, they return to the community of faith in Jerusalem and find their hopes confirmed. Jesus is truly risen! Our third source of hope, then, is that Jesus is still walking among us calming our fears, confirming our faith and anchoring our hope.

We are a people who desperately need to have our hope restored. If we are looking for economic policy to make everything well or political leaders to give us a perfect social order, then we will be sorely disappointed. Only God can both promise and deliver the hope our hearts are burning to receive - the forgiveness of sins, justice, peace and eternal life. On earth, we can only have it in a partial way. There will always be threats to our peace and security. There will always be those seeking to pervert justice for their own ends. Only God can establish true justice and lasting peace in a permanent way.

Does this mean that we throw up our hands and give up? By no means! That is the way people with no hope act. Those without faith generally do not see the point in trying to make the world a good place and decide just to live for themselves and their own pleasures. Or they may try to help but get disillusioned because they cannot see their efforts making any difference. But those who believe in God and have their hope centered in Him live differently. We know that we will be judged by God based on our actions. We see God's face in those who suffer. We know that the poor are our brothers and sisters and refuse to abandon them in their need. However we are not deluded into thinking that any person, any government or any policy can turn our world into a perfect paradise. And so, knowing that we will not achieve a perfect world, we do not give up even when we experience setbacks and disappointments. We press on knowing that God's perfect justice and perfect peace are awaiting us. Though there is only so much we can do - only so much difference we can make - we know that our sincere efforts are rewarded by God and so have eternal value. We strive to make real in our world the mercy and justice revealed in the Savior who walks along the way with us.

We gather each Sunday as people who know very well the fears, misgivings and disappointments of today's world. But, more importantly, we know the hope which our faith in God holds out to us. We feel God's word burning in our hearts. Moreover we see Jesus in the breaking of the bread as we celebrate and share the gift of His Body and Blood. When the songs of praise have ended and we leave our place of worship, we must go into that world and witness to the hope we have found in God. That hope gathers into one community those who are scattered by fear. It gives new strength to those who have been disillusioned by life's injustices. It gives new meaning to those who have been disappointed by the limited effectiveness of governments and politicians. It calls all of us to recognize Jesus, the world's only hope for perfect justice and lasting peace.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Where our Treausre is

Last weekend, we celebrated a glorious event, the beatification of Pope John Paul II. An estimated two million pilgrims jammed the square at Saint Peter’s Basilica spilling down the Via della Conciliazione and into the side streets alongside the Vatican. Many millions of others followed the Mass on television. It was a proud moment for all those whose lives were touched by the late Pontiff’s ministry.

Unfortunately, much of the attention was drawn away from the event by the wedding of Prince William the Friday before and the killing of Osama bin Laden on Sunday night.

It reminded me of how Mother Theresa and Princess Diana both died within days of each other. Rather than give the media an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the life of such a great woman, attention was focused on the tragic and mysterious circumstances surrounding Princess Diana’s death. I also remember being shocked that coverage tended to highlight the late Princess’ charitable endeavors while coverage of Mother Theresa’s death often focused on criticism that she gave India a bad name by drawing attention to its poverty or that she accepted money from the Haitian dictator, Baby Doc Duvalier.

I have to wonder whether these events so often coincide to reveal to us where our hearts lie. If we are caught up with the allurements of this world and its values, our attention will be drawn to the royal wedding and bin Laden’s assassination. If our hearts, rather, are set on the Kingdom to come, we will celebrate the Divine Mercy of God which radiated so beautifully through the life and ministry of Blessed Pope John Paul II.

It is not that the Church is being shown up by these other coinciding events, but that are hearts are being shown up for what they are and where they lie.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mercy Conquers Fear and Doubt

As we make our way through life, we come to expect let-downs and disappointments. Because of so many unfulfilled promises and unmet expectations, we grow cynical of anything that can seem too good to be true. Our hearts cake themselves in callouses to protect us from future disillusionment. And so, we come to demand proof and assurances before committing ourselves to anything.

Such is the case with Thomas and the other apostles in today's gospel. They had set all their hope in Jesus. They had left their jobs and families to follow Him. And it all came to a horrifying and humiliating end with the crucifixion. Now they were reduced to hiding behind a locked door for fear that the authorities would do to them what they had done to Jesus.

While they were cowering in fear, Jesus appears to them. John tells us that He shows Himself to them "despite the locked doors". John is not just referring here to the heavy wooden doors of their hiding place. He is talking about the closed doors of their hearts. Jesus breaks through the door of their fear. Jesus doesn't wait until they calm down or get perspective on the situation before appearing to them with the good news that He is alive.

Just as Jesus is not shut out by the closed doors of the apostles' fear, neither is He shut out by the closed door of Thomas' doubt. Instead, taking up His challenge, Jesus appears to Thomas so that he can put his doubt aside. The nail marks on his hands, feet and side dispel any doubt that this is truly the Risen Jesus standing before him.

All of us, no matter how deep our faith, come before God with a more or less closed heart. Our heart might be closed to Jesus' message out of fear that God will take from us more than we're willing to give. Or, we might fear that we'll be made fun of if we live His message in a total and radical way. Our hearts may also be hardened by doubt. With so many different religions and so many different opinions, we might wonder, who's to say which is the right way?

No matter where we are in our faith - no matter how closed our hearts may seem - Jesus can break through and reveal Himself. If you can only go so far, Jesus can meet you there. If you can only believe so much, Jesus can take your hand and lead you a little further along. There is no doubt, no fear, no weakness that Jesus through the power of His resurrection and the power of His Holy Spirit cannot surmount.

Thomas is an example for us here. He is famous for his doubt - but his story doesn't end there. After his experience of the Risen Jesus, tradition tells us that he went on to preach the gospel in India. He is often pictured with a spear, because while in India preaching the good news, he was run through with a spear and killed. Doubting Thomas was martyred for his witness to the good news of Jesus' resurrection. Jesus broke through the closed door of Thomas' doubt and filled him with the faith which enabled him to eventually give his life for Jesus.

We have heard the story of Jesus' resurrection and will now celebrate the meal of His Body and Blood. If we really take seriously what we are receiving, each of us will approach this tremendous mystery with some fear and some doubt. Nonetheless, whatever our level of faith or doubt, trust or fear, the same Jesus gives Himself to each of us. Let us open the doors of our hearts to Jesus and embrace the gift of His peace and the gift of His Holy Spirit. When our lives change because of it - when our fear and doubt are dispelled - then we will know what it means that Jesus is still alive.