Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Making It Right

What is wrong with me?

What is wrong with you?

What is wrong with us?

All of us sense that there is something wrong either with ourselves as individuals or with the society as a whole. We feel that something is missing or that we are going in the wrong direction. Even when things are going well we are haunted by the fear that our happiness is only temporary, that it will all be taken away from us. Or, when we have reached the level of success and prosperity we have worked so hard to achieve, we all of a sudden wonder if that's all there is.

No one has a permanent answer or remedy for this unease which every human experiences. Politicians can offer us rules and regulations. Psychologists can encourage us to improve our self-esteem. The television tries to convince us that all we need is the latest fashion or gadget. But we end up in the same place, wondering what that "something more" is that our hearts are longing for.

The Bible has a different perspective on our problem and a certain answer. God's word teaches us that what is wrong with us and with the world is that our relationship with God is broken. Because we have sinned, the God who created us for himself is now a stranger. Our hearts ache for him, yet he is out of our reach. We spend much of our lives seeking a substitute for his love and mercy, but nothing else can take the place of an Almighty and Infinite God. And so we feel lost, unable to experience the fullness of joy and peace which our hearts were created to contain.

The Bible teaches us that what we need is salvation which is the forgiveness of our sins and the restoration of our relationship with God. Salvation is not just something we receive after we die and go to heaven, but a power already at work in our lives to transform our hearts. The Bible also teaches us that there is no other way to achieve that salvation than through Jesus Christ. Peter proclaims this boldly and clearly in today's first reading: "There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved." When we turn to Jesus and welcome him into our lives, the anxiety which burdens our hearts gives way to confidence and joy because in him we find the meaning of our lives and the pathway we are to follow.

How does Jesus go about the transformation of our hearts and our lives?

First of all, Jesus gives us a sense of identity. In him we learn that we are daughters and sons of God. This is the wonderful truth which Saint John proclaims in today's second reading: "See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are." Because of God's great love, we grow in the sense of our personal dignity and worth. We no longer allow people to use us. We no longer accept cheap substitutes for God and his love. Only the real thing is good enough for us. We no longer accept the world's standard of worth and importance. We do not measure our value by how much we make, by how many possessions we have or by what neighborhood we live in. Rather, our sense of worth comes from knowing that we are loved by God, that we are his sons and daughters.

Not only does Jesus give us a sense of identity, he also gives us a sense of direction. There is a reason that Christians are called "followers of Christ." When we have an active, loving relationship with Jesus he becomes our leader. Accepting Jesus into our lives means surrendering ourselves and our future into his hands. Jesus becomes our shepherd. We listen for his voice to direct us. We are no longer trying to do things "our way", but we look to Jesus and his word to guide our choices.

In today's gospel reading, Jesus tells us that he is the Good Shepherd and that we are his sheep. Unlike other shepherds who watch the sheep just to earn a day's pay, Jesus loves the sheep and is willing to give his life for them. He does not run away when the wolf or the thief appears. Rather, he will fight to protect them even if it means losing his life. That is why we are willing to entrust our lives to him. Even when the way he is calling us to follow is difficult. Even when the choices he is asking us to make do not seem to make any sense. At those times we remember the great love he showed us by accepting death on the cross to free us from our sins. We know that he will make everything work out for our good and that he will always protect us come what may.

There are times when we feel lost. There are times when we realize that the choices we have made have only brought us misery and pain. There are times that we just don't know what to do. At those times we must turn to Jesus with confidence and entrust our lives to him. Only by following in the way of love he marks out for us can we hope to achieve any measure of serenity and fulfillment in our lives.

Our Risen Lord and Good Shepherd will once again give himself to us in the form of bread and wine as food for our journey. At every Mass he never fails to offer himself to us just as he did when he offered his life for us on the cross. As we receive the Eucharist today, let us surrender control of our lives to him and ask him to teach us to listen for his voice. Let us ask him for the faith to leave behind the cheap substitutes for love we have been clinging to even though they have only brought us failure and disappointment. Finally, let us ask him to give us the courage to lay down our lives for others so that they too can know the joy of being counted among the sons and daughters of a loving God. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Jesus, the Good Shepherd

Manny was just seven years old when his father first brought him to the rolling fields of Portugal’s Alentejo region to work with him as a shepherd. He remembered walking along the edges of the flock making sure all the sheep were accounted for and that there were no dangers lurking. He remembers the long hours in the hot summer sun and the cold, wet winter evenings. But most of all, he remembers how seriously his father took his job as a shepherd. It was important to him that the sheep be protected and be taken care of. His father loved the sheep. Though to Manny they all looked the same,  his father could tell the sheep apart.

As he grew older, Manny saw the contrast between how his father took care of his sheep and how other shepherds treated theirs. Many times he saw other shepherds go out into the field after having spent hours drinking at the bar. He saw them yelling at the sheep and even beating them. Most often, though, the sheep were neglected being left alone in the field while the shepherds went off to chat with their friends at the fence.

His father, however, never yelled at the sheep. His gentle voice was enough to let them know that they had strayed off too far or that it was time to head back in. And he never left the sheep to talk to his friends. If someone from the village would call out to him, he would simply wave at him and go back to his business.

While they were out in the fields one afternoon, Manny asked his father why he took his job so seriously. After all, they were only a bunch of dumb sheep. His father told him that his love and care for the sheep was due to the great devotion he had to Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Whenever he would feel impatient with the sheep or get tired, he would remember Jesus’ words, “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” He would reflect on how much Jesus loves each of us though we so often stray from him. That would give him the strength to do his best to also nourish and protect his own flock.

Manny’s father wanted more for his son than the simple life of a country shepherd, so he made sure that he went off to the university. However, after his graduation, during his years as a businessman and then later as a husband and father, he never forgot the lessons he learned in the fields with his father. He took his inspiration from Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who teaches us that to be successful no matter what our path in life may be, we have to love totally and love freely.

The lessons that Manny learned in the field with his father are also those taught to us today by Jesus in the gospel. He holds himself out to us as the model of a love that is totally and freely given.

First of all, Jesus’ love is total and without limits. It is a love that gives of itself without counting the cost. As He tells us, “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” It is a love that is willing to sacrifice and to put the good of others before ones own. It is a love that is willing to suffer so that others may be comforted and to go without so that others may have what they need.

That type of love does not come naturally to us. So many times before we give we ask ourselves, “What is in it for me?” We limit our love to those who love us back or who can do something for us. If we are to rise above our human limitations and embrace a love that extends even to those who hate us, we need to first have a loving relationship with Jesus, our Good Shepherd. By reflecting on how He loves us even when we disappoint Him and push Him away, we will be given the grace to love others in the same way.

Secondly, Jesus’ love is freely given. In today’s gospel, He says, “No one takes my life from me; I lay it down freely.” Jesus did not grudgingly suffer and die for our sins. He chose to die. At any time, He could have come down from the cross, but He freely hung there so that we could have salvation and eternal life. It was a total act of unselfish love done not out of coercion but out of a free gift of self that He made for the world.

If our love is to be like Jesus’, we must give it freely, without looking for thanks or appreciation. It happens many times in families that one adult child ends up having to take care of the parents. The other children may have already left the home and started families of their own and there is no one else who is able to take care of the aging father or mother. He or she may do it out of a sense of duty to the parent or may worry about what others would say if they did not take care of them. Over the years, resentment can build up. It is a very natural and human response to having to sacrifice one’s life to care for another.

However, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, teaches us another way. Instead of feeling backed into a corner, they can make a choice every day to show the same love to their parents that was shown to them when they were growing up. They can choose to unite their sacrifice to that of Jesus on the cross and receive the grace to give of themselves. By doing so, by giving of themselves freely rather than feeling that they have no other choice, they can begin to feel freedom from the guilt and resentment that so often comes with taking care of aging parents.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, shows us the way to success by making our lives a total and freely given offering of love to others. By reflecting on the great love He showed us, we can begin to imitate it in our own lives. Then we will know true freedom, abundant joy and the blessings of peace.

(image by Marisol Sousa)

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Invocation for the Fundacao Faialense

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the gifts of intellect and reason through which the wonders of creation are opened up for us.

Bless us who gather here tonight to support the work of education and promote leadership in our community.

May our pursuit of education lead us to love truth rather than power;
May it incline us to serve others rather than to exploit them;
And may it not only fill our minds with facts but build our character through virtue.

As we enjoy the fruits of your goodness and the bounty you provide,
may our thoughts never be far from those who go without.

Grant that our work here contribute to a more just and prosperous society for all.

Bless this food.
May it strengthen us to serve you
through Christ our Lord. Amen

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

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.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Best Medicine

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 re-runs 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 effect 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.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Coming To Believe

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.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

My Lord and My God

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.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Easter Mysteries of the Rosary

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)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Holiest Of All Days

Today is the holiest of all days. No other celebration matches it for sheer joy and wonder, for on this day we proclaim that Jesus has risen from the dead! Today we celebrate his victory over sin and death.

Because of the festivities surrounding Christmas in our culture,  we can sometimes mistake it as the most important of Church feasts. Though Jesus' birth is an important event, it was only the beginning of the saving work of God had planned for us in his Son. Even Christmas does not outshine the brilliance of Easter, because it was to rise from the dead that Christ was born. 

Even the events we have celebrated over the past week - Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday - are only steps along the way to this great day of rejoicing. 

Today, we remember how the disciples, devastated by the cruel suffering their master underwent and fearing for their own safety, discovered that the tomb in which he had been lain was now empty. At first, they were confused. Had someone stolen the body? Who could have taken it? Then the angel appeared to declare to them that Jesus was now alive. He was not to be found among the tombs of the dead, but he now walked among them. In fact, after passing through death, he was now even more alive than they were and would appear to them so changed in appearance that they would barely recognize him. 

Why is this day so much more important than all the other feasts we celebrate? Among every event of human history, why does it have such a prominent place? Because it is the fulfillment of the purpose for which we were created. 

Each of us was created with an insatiable desire for God. We live our lives with a sense that there is something more than what the world can offer us. Sometimes we try to satisfy ourselves with food, alcohol or empty entertainment thinking they can quiet the hunger of our spirit. But they inevitably leave us feeling even emptier than before. Even noble pursuits such as friendship, education, the fine arts and athletics give us only temporary fulfillment. We wake up the next day with the feeling that there must be something more. That "something more" is God himself. 

And so we measure the value and purpose of our lives not in dollars, not in trophies and not in possessions, but in faith, hope and love. Outside of the love and knowledge of God, nothing has meaning.

At the same time, we have pushed God away. Since the first day of creation, we have settled for cheap substitutes of the glory he has prepared for us. And so we have been subjected to the power of sin and death. The deepest desire of our hearts - everlasting life with God - was taken away from us. But the Father promised that he would send a Messiah to save us - someone who would deliver us from death and restore our relationship to God.

That someone is Jesus. By dying on the cross, he took upon himself the punishment we deserved for our sins. By rising from the dead, he offered us the hope of everlasting life. Now we no longer need to live lives of frustration chasing temporary and fleeting pleasures. Now we can welcome the desire of our hearts - Christ, who is risen from the dead. And we no longer need to live in the fear of death, because God holds out for us the hope of everlasting life through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

That gift of faith is already ours in baptism. Baptism seals our heart with the gift of the Holy Spirit and floods our soul with the new resurrected life of Jesus. If that hope seems far away, all we need do is ask Jesus to reawaken within us the power of our baptism. If our hearts feel like an empty tomb, all we need do is ask Jesus to fill them with his life and joy. The God who suffered a shameful death to save us will not deny us the joy of his victory if we ask him with sincerity and faith.

Baptism is the gateway to this everlasting life and joy that Jesus' won for us through his cross and resurrection. And so, on this holiest of days,  we now turn to the waters of the baptismal font. Some of us were baptized as babies and others as adults. But we all need to be reminded of the promises we made that day - to reject sin and to believe in Jesus. Embraced by the wonder and glory of this day, let us renew our baptismal vows with deep meaning and ask God to bring to perfection in our lives the power of Jesus' resurrection from the dead.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Joy!

“I’m too young to die.”

That is the thought that ran through Margaret’s head when she found out that, at age 35, she had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. She thought of her three young daughters, all under the age of nine, who needed their Mommy. And she thought of her husband and all the plans they had made for their life together. It would be a long, hard fight, but it was one she knew she had to make.

The years of treatment that followed were not easy. She endured surgeries and chemotherapy. Just when they thought they had gotten all the cancer cells, another tumor would appear. There were many times that she lost hope and wondered if it was all worth it. For strength, she turned to her faith, praying the rosary, reading the Bible and offering her sufferings up to God. Visits from her pastor and get well cards from her daughters’ religious education classes reminded her that she had not been forgotten by her parish.

Finally, after three years, she was cancer free. As her hair grew back in and her strength returned, she felt like a new woman. She returned to her parish for Mass for the first time since her treatments began. It was Easter Sunday. She could not contain her emotions as she sang, “Christ our Lord is risen today! Alleluia!”. More than any other time in her life, she felt that Jesus was real, that He was really alive, that He had really risen from the dead. Though she had always believed it, this time she knew it and felt it with all her heart. Jesus was really alive and living in her. She realized that she had been given a second chance at living fully the life that God had intended for her.

Margaret now shares her story with anyone who will listen. She wants others to know how much they are loved by God and that we can overcome any obstacle through the power of the Risen Lord. She is convinced that God saved her life for a reason, and she is determined to take every opportunity to spread the good news of His unfailing love and the new life that is ours through Jesus’ resurrection.

Sisters and brothers, Jesus is really alive. He is in our midst as we gather to celebrate His resurrection. He is not just a figure from the past, but a  person who is living in you and in me through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is a person we can encounter, whom we can know and with whom we can have a relationship of love.

Life can be difficult. We often feel alone or abandoned.  But through it all we have a God who gave His only Son to die for us. Even more wonderfully, He raised Him from the dead to give us the promise of everlasting life. Whatever challenges we may face in life, God is greater than them all. And, if we trust in Him, He will see us through them all. When we have finally persevered through it all, we can experience Jesus truly alive in us as Margaret did after she endured her cancer treatments and as Mary Magdalene and the apostles did after experiencing the horror of Jesus’ death.

When we have good news, we cannot keep it to ourselves. We have to tell others so that they can share our joy. That is what Mary Magdalene did when she found the empty tomb. She ran off to share it with Peter and John so that they could see for themselves. That is what Peter does in today’s first reading. He tells all the people gathered in Jerusalem the good news that Jesus is alive and that by believing in Him they can have the forgiveness of their sins. And that is what we must do. We who experience a Jesus who is really alive - alive in His word, alive in the Sacraments and alive in His Church - must share the good news with others so that they can see for themselves and share our joy.

In the past, we have not emphasized enough the need to evangelize our communities. Often, we have thought that it was a task only for our priests, deacons and sisters. But we are living in a different world. People do not come to church as frequently as they did in the past. Many are losing any connection to a parish or even to a faith tradition. More than ever, we need to bring the faith out into the world, beyond the walls and boundaries of our parish church. We need to bring it out into our families, our schools and our places of work. It is something that each one of us,  no matter what our abilities, is called by God to do.

We would not walk past someone who was starving without giving him something to eat. Yet we live, work and socialize with people who are starving for hope and hungry to know that there is a meaning to their lives. They are counting on us to share our faith with them, to tell them the good news that Jesus is alive and active in our midst.

It can sound scary. But it is really as simple as sharing with others how God has worked in our lives. We do not have to preach to others or act as if we have it all figured out. It is just a matter of letting others know what Jesus has done for us and that He can do it for them too.

We know that Jesus is alive. We have heard Him speak to us in the Scriptures proclaimed to us every Sunday. We have seen Him in the eyes of our brothers and sisters in faith. And we have received Him in the Holy Eucharist which is His risen Body and Blood. That experience of Jesus truly alive makes our hearts well up with a joy that we cannot contain, a joy that must be shared with others until all the world knows and believes that Jesus Christ is Lord!

(image by Marisol Sousa)

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Our Place In The Story

We are all part of a story.

It is a story that stretches back to the very beginning of the world when God created everything out of nothing. From the mud of the earth, He formed the first man and woman, our ancestors, and breathed life into them. They and their children disobeyed God and lost friendship with Him. Yet He never gave up on the people He created, offering them time and time again the opportunity to be reconciled to Him.

Finally, He sent His only Son to reveal to us the depth of His fatherly love and to take upon Himself the suffering we deserved for our sins. All this week we have remembered how, though He came to show love, He was treated with cruelty and contempt. It looked as though it might be all over when on Good Friday He was put to death. But we know the rest of the story. It is the reason we have gathered here tonight. God raised Jesus from the dead. The apostles bear witness to it. Martyrs shed their blood to spread the word. And generations of believers have committed themselves to living as He lived and to telling the next generation the story of our salvation.

The point of the story is this - there is nothing and no one greater than God. Though sin separated us from Him, God is greater than sin. Though death takes every living being, God is greater than death. Though suffering can fall upon us at any time, God is greater than suffering. Through Jesus, our Heavenly Father conquers all the powers of evil and darkness. The victory is certainly not yet complete. But it is playing itself out in our lives and in our world.

We became a part of that story at our baptism when, as Saint Paul tells us - “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father,we too might live in newness of life.” It is now time for us to live out the story of Jesus’ victory by rejecting sin and evil in all its forms. It is now time for us to live the new life of the resurrection by performing good deeds, feeding the hungry, giving comfort to the suffering and praying for sinners. Finally, we must never fail to tell the story to our children, our family members, our friends and whomever God may place in our lives so that they can know the blessed hope that guides our life.

More than ever, today’s world needs to hear our story. It is a world that is plunged in darkness and in need of the light that only Christ can bring. We must tell our story to those who are lost and wandering aimlessly. They need to know that there is a purpose to their existence, that God created them for a reason, and that they can find that purpose in Jesus Christ.  There are so many of our brothers and sisters who are suffering alone with no one to visit our comfort them. They need to be reached with the message that Jesus stands by the side of all those who suffer, and that, if they offer their pain to Him, He can transform it into a source of blessing. Finally, there are so many in our world who think that they are in charge of their own lives and are not accountable to anyone for the choices they make. They need to hear that one day they will stand before the throne of God to give an account of their life. They also need to know that there is forgiveness in the blood of Jesus and strength in the Holy Spirit to overcome any sin.

We are part of a story, a story that is as long as the world itself. It is a story filled with failure and triumph, sin and grace, doubt and faith. However, we know how it ends. Our Risen Lord will come again in glory to judge the living and dead and to establish His Father’s Kingdom forever. If by His grace we have been faithful to the vows of our baptism we can rest assured that He will welcome us to live with Him forever. Let us, then, light our candles and renew those baptismal vows with deeper purpose and conviction so that Jesus victory may show itself more clearly in our lives.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Who Is To Blame?

Who is to blame for the bloody spectacle of Jesus’ death on the cross?

Was it the religious authorities and crowds who demanded His death? Was it Pontius Pilate and the Roman authorities who were willing to condemn a clearly innocent man? Was it the disciples who betrayed, denied and abandoned Him?

The fact is that we are all to blame for Jesus’ death. On the cross, He took upon Himself the punishment for sins that we deserved. The prophet Isaiah foretold this as we heard in today’s first reading: “Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured.” Later on in the reading, Isaiah also tells us, “he was smitten for the sins of his people.” Anyone who has ever sinned - and that means all of us - can look up at the cross and say, “He died because of me.”

At the same time, we must always keep in mind that Jesus died not to condemn us but to save us. He came so that we might have the forgiveness of sin and life in abundance. So the cross that we venerate today should not give us shame but hope. Jesus has paid the price for our salvation. When we have sinned, we can be assured of forgiveness through the blood that He shed on the cross. When we are tempted, we can be assured of strength to overcome it by the power of the cross. And whatever difficulties or challenges we may face in life, we can endure them by reflecting on Jesus’ own suffering. The cross only brings condemnation on those who refuse to accept God’s offer of forgiveness and who prefer power  and wealth over His holy will. But for us who are willing to leave sin behind, the cross is God’s promise of healing, salvation and everlasting life.

All of us here today have sinned in one way or another. And all of us, depending on how serious it was,  have felt different levels of sorrow for our sins. We sometimes feel remorse for our actions because of the consequences. We could have seen how our sins hurt us or hurt someone else and we regret the suffering we have caused. We can also feel remorse because we fear God’s just punishment. We realize that sin harms our soul to such an extent that we could lose the eternal life of heaven. That fear can make us sorry for our sins. But there is an even more perfect contrition that we can experience. We can feel sorry for our sins because we love God so much that we never want to hurt Him. We realize that He sent His Son to suffer in our place and that, by our sins, we have shown Him ingratitude and indifference. That level of sorrow which we have traditionally called “perfect contrition” is a great grace because it moves the heart of God in a way that the other levels of sorrow do not. It also is a sign of real change taking place in our hearts making us more and more like Jesus who was obedient to His Heavenly Father not out of fear but out of love as our second reading tells us.

How can we receive the grace of perfect contrition for our sins. One important way is to spend time praying before the crucifix. As we look up at Jesus hanging on the cross, we realize in a profound way how much suffering He endured for us. We come to understand just how ugly our sins must be if God would go to such great lengths to expiate them. And our heart grows in the desire to return the save love back to God by offering our own suffering up to Him and by serving Him in our brothers and sisters who are themselves weighed down with suffering. As we contemplate the love that God showed us in the cross, our fear, guilt and shame melt away and love floods our soul like the spring sun melting the snows of winter.

If we want to know what real love is, we need only look at the cross. It is the ultimate act of love which any human being has shown to another. There is nothing romantic about it, but it has real power to change us and the world. By reflecting on the cross daily, that love can begin to take possession of us, to shape our personality and guide our actions. In that love, we can know freedom and peace.