Saturday, April 28, 2012

Recognizing the Saving Power of Christ

Peter healing the cripple
Fourth Sunday of EasterActs 4:8-12/1Jn 3:1-2/Jn 10:11-18

The readings following Easter tell the story of the disciples after the resurrection as they build up the community of believers. While we have not yet celebrated Pentecost in the Church, the readings tell of the influence of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles as they venture out of the Upper Room empowered by the Holy Spirit. There is a boldness in their speech. They do not hold back in speaking the truth which Christ proclaimed. Christ alone took our sins upon Him and through His death and resurrection, salvation is offered to all who believe. In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles,  Peter proclaims to the crowd that 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" (Acts 4:12).

Peter makes it clear to those listening: this same Jesus they crucified, this same Jesus they chose to ignore, this same Jesus who continues to work miracles through the Apostles and disciples, this same Jesus also brought about their salvation.

Do you ever wonder how the people of the times must have felt? What was their reaction after hearing the man they stood by and allowed to be crucified rose from the dead? Do you think they felt any remorse? Do you think they wondered about their own salvation after knowing the one foretold of in the Scripture, the Messiah who came to save them, was put to death and they did nothing to stop it? Adding to that, what was their reaction when they saw Jesus' followers filled with an energy, joy, and zeal, working miracles in Jesus' name following their internment in the Upper Room? Do you think they every wondered how they could have 'missed the boat'?

I sometimes think about that as I look at today's world. The words of Scripture are as alive today as they were over 2000 years ago. The same Spirit lives in those who have been baptized today as in those who experienced the first Pentecost. If this is true--why doesn't the world recognize the Savior? Why aren't we all living in harmony, unity, and peace? The answer is fairly obvious, sad to say. It's because we don't 'see' Jesus. We are blinded to His presence, just as so many were back in the times following the resurrection.

Jesus is alive in our midst if we are open to seeing Him. There are miracles if we look for them. There are people of faith all around us living heroic lives, witnesses of Christ's love. Their joy and zeal are contagious and they are magnets for those searching for happiness and truth.

I work in the ministry of evangelization. I hear the stories of people whose lives have been transformed by an overpowering experience of the Holy Spirit and a profound meeting with Jesus Christ. Their joy in indescribable--and when you speak to them, you cannot help but 'catch' it too! When you are in a room full of people of faith--watch out--the energy level soars through the roof and there is nothing that can contain their fervor!

Imagine what our families, Churches, and nation would look like if we all recognized Christ in our midst; if we lived His love; if we forgave as He did, if we lived by His Truth, if we were fully evangelized? These are not imaginings of a dreamer, but realities which can be realized if we place our trust in Jesus, respond to the call of the Holy Spirit, and humbly say our 'yes' to God.

Let us go forth, to love, serve, and proclaim the Lord!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

You Are Witnesses of These Things

Third Sunday of EasterActs 3:13-15, 17-19/1John 2:1-5a/Luke 24:35-48

The readings this week continue to unfold the events following the resurrection of Christ and the building up of the early communities of believers. Luke's Gospel assures us that Jesus who has risen was not solely spirit, but was fully human and divine. He eats, can be touched, and speaks to them clearly of the message He delivered before His death, now proclaimed in a new way. Jesus opens their minds to the Scriptures and reminds them in a profound way that they have been witnesses of all that the Scriptures have laid out.

Acts of the Apostles is an interesting study of the early Church as it rose from the cultures of the times. It is also amazing to me how the writings reflect similar realities of today regarding the proclamation of the Gospel message. Peter says to the people:
  • God glorified Jesus, yet you handed Him over to be crucified
  • Pilate tried to release Him, but you denied the Holy One
  • Jesus was the author of life, yet you put Him to death
Not much has changed! We are a people of contradictions, aren't we? We want happiness, joy, and peace, and yet we deny the very path that will help us to obtain it all, thus settling for unhappiness, discontentment, and conflict. Let's consider Peter's words if he were to speak to us today:
  • Jesus established a path of righteousness and Truth, but we deny He is the Way, trying to devise our own path to heaven through a myriad of spiritualities and New Age experiences
  • Jesus established His Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, and yet we ignore Her authority
  • Jesus is the author of life, yet we as a culture have no problem deciding who can live or die, whether through abortion, euthanasia, or violence
In the letters of John the beloved disciple emphasizes a disciple is called to live a life which is a living Gospel and example to all of Christ alive in the world. Those who live lives of great love and faith in God do not need to stand on street corners and preach--their genuine and faith-filled actions teach far beyondwords. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta is an example of this. Her simple life, inspired and led by the love for and of Christ was an example to all. There was never a doubt as to who or what motivated her--she was a living Gospel for all the world to read.

There are people in all of our lives who inspire us to live as disciples of Jesus. There is much talk in today's Church about evangelization. My Dad and I were talking about this the other day. "How did I evangelize?" he asked. "I haven't taken theology classes and I certainly don't preach to my neighbors." My answer to him was simple--it wasn't in the long speeches and intentional lessons of Scripture, but in the simple ways of being a loving father. I know he is a man of prayer--he prays every day and his example has left an imprint on me. I know he is a man of moral standards and discipline--his expectations for me taught me this. I know he trusts in a loving God who is compassionate--his caring for my terminally ill Mother showed me this. He knows Christ died for him and rose--his confidence that my Mother is in glory with the angels and saints sustains us. His rosary is always in his pocket and the Church is the cornerstone of his life. In my life he is the example of unwaivering faith, lived by example and when necessary, words that ring true with a confidence in His Savior that is unshakeable.

As we draw toward Pentecost, let us thank those that have stood as examples for us and also pray for those who do not know the Lord. May we be holy examples, leading all to the loving arms of Jesus Christ. Amen!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Have you come to believe because you have seen Me?

St. Faustina
Divine Mercy Sunday
Acts 4:32-35/1John 5:1-6/John 20:19-31

On this Divine Mercy Sunday, I have to admit something right off the bat--it took me years to finally crack open St. Faustina's Diary and read it, despite the fact that it had set on my bookshelf for longer than I care to admit, wrapped in cellophane and untouched. My reasoning was this: What could St. Faustina have to offer me that hard-core spiritual books like Kempis' Imitation of Christ didn't? After all, Faustina Kowalska lived a sheltered life in Poland, was not a great scholar and intellect like Edith Stein, or a great social reformer like Dorothy Day. Faustina didn't lead a renewal or start a movement, in fact, many of the sisters who lived with her thought her a bit daft, speaking to Jesus and all! Mercy, after all, is overrated, isn't it? It's soft, warm, and fuzzy. In today's world and Church, we need education and adherence to divine Doctrine and Teaching to get society back on track!

If you haven't given up on me yet, here comes the clincher. A few years ago I went to confession and confessed, for the umpteenth number of times, that I had been impatient with another. The priest, whom I knew well, looked at me, smiled, absolved me from my sins and gave a penance. Afterwards, I went to Mass where he was the celebrant. His sermon stopped me cold.

"You know," he started, "I hear confessions a lot and the number one sin is that people are impatient." I wasn't sure where this was going, but I admit I was feeling a bit uncomfortable! He continued, "It's not that they are impatient--they are merciless!!!" I gasped. I looked around to see if anyone else was sweating. Merciless? Me? He continued to link impatience with the pattern of judging people and when folks didn't measure up to our high standards, one's ability to write them off.

Ouch! But you know what--he was right! How many times have we played judge and jury to another--whether a sibling, parent, or other relative, co-worker, neighbor, or random stranger? How many times have we assumed things about another and made a decision, without taking into consideration all of the circumstances or the fact that they are human and in their humanity, they, like us, make mistakes? In short, we play God--judging and condemning others based on our standards of what should be, rather than letting God make the call.

That's where Divine Mercy comes in. God is love. Love is unconditional. If we are to be the image and likeness of God, then we must hone our ability to love to be pure, like His. The blood and water that gushed forth from the side of Christ crucified is the bath that washes over all of us--and is also the font that we are called to be in the world today.

In the Gospel we hear the story of Doubting Thomas. Poor guy--stuck for all eternity known as the one who did not believe until he could place his fingers in the nail marks in the Lord's hands and the wound in the side of Christ. We live in a world of doubters today. People who would like to believe, but are searching for Jesus. How will they 'touch' Christ? Through encounters with His disciples; through our actions of love and mercy. The question is--are they able to 'see' Him in us?

Acts of the Apostles gives us a glimpse of what the early Christian communities were like. "The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common" (Acts 4:32). St. John goes on further in his letter to say that, "Everyone who loves the Father loves also the one begotten by Him. In this way we know we love God and obey His commandments. For the love of God is this, that we keep His commandments" (1John 5:2-3)

The communities of believers imitated Christ's love for God and others without thought of personal gain. Mercy and forgiveness was genuine. There was no room in the community for parochialism or selfishness. They so emulated Christ that people were attracted to them, despite threats of persecution. Imagine if our communities of faith, our parishes, our Church, acted as one heart and mind!

We are all sinners. None of us are perfect. St. Faustina, as the conduit of Jesus, reminds us of this in her Diary. In one of the most beautiful passages in the diary, Jesus tells her:

My daughter, look into the abyss of My mercy and give praise and glory to this mercy of Mine. Do it in this way: Gather all sinners from the entire world and immerse them in the abyss of My mercy. I want to give Myself to souls; I yearn for souls, My daughter. On the day of My feast, the Feast of Mercy, you will go through the whole world and bring fainting souls to the spring of My mercy. I shall heal and strengthen them (The Diary, #206).

Who are the fainting souls that we know? Those struggling with their faith? Those searching for love? Those are going down paths that lead away from the Lord? Instead of judging, instead of becoming impatient with them and writing them off, look into the loving eyes of Christ and into His Most Sacred Heart and ask for the strength to lift up that fainting soul so they too may drink from the font that gives life and love. Let every beat of our heart be in sync with His so that our arms may be the arms of compassion and our words be the words of love and forgiveness. Amen!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Let us celebrate the Feast!

From the Bridge of Angels, Rome
St. Paul's words to the Corinthians (1Cor 5:6b-8) echo in Churches throughout the world. Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

The words of the sequence read at the Easter liturgy is glorious:

Christians, to the Paschal Victim
Offer your thankful praises!
A Lamb the sheep redeems;
Christ, who only is sinless,
Reconcile sinners to the Father.
Death and life have contended in that combat stupendous:
The Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal.
Speak, Mary, declaring
What you saw, wayfaring.
"The tomb of Christ, who is living,
The glory of Jesus' resurrection;
Bright angels attesting,
The shroud and napkin resting.
Yes, Christ my hope is arisen;
To Galilee he goes before you."
Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining.
Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!
Amen. Alleluia.
(Victimae paschali laudes)

Death and life had contended in that combat stupendous: The Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal!

We live in a culture that avoids suffering at all costs--whether it be the denial of aging (look at the sales of Viagara, cosmetic surgery, hair dye, Botox, etc.), avoidance of aching hearts (look at the sales of anti-depressants and the increase in addictive behavior through drugs and alcohol), the inability to face difficult relationships (the divorce rate is staggering) and life issues (assisted suicide and abortion). When life hands us lemons--we don't make lemonade--we search for an anesthetic that numbs, helping us avoid the reality of what life has handed us!

Jesus saves us from this sad existence of constant stress and denial. If we place our hope and trust in Him, nothing can deter us from our goal--which is Heaven! Eternal happiness, eternal love--with all who have lived before us and all who are to come. What glory! Death has no chains on us--Christ has triumphed!

When my Mother was dying of ovarian cancer, she asked if I thought Christ suffered as much. We talked about how the Lord was with her in her suffering--He understood her pain because He endured it on the Cross for her and for all. His saving action takes all of our pain and sanctifies it, freeing us.  Through our faith in Christ, when we enter through the portal of death, we have the hope of everlasting life. Free of pain, free of suffering, to live in eternal glory with the One who Saved us.

The Eucharist is our reminder of the day. Each time the priest calls down the Power of the Holy Spirit, we are joined with all those who have gone on before us in faith. We are also joined with all those who gather in this world in faith. It is as if time collapses and we are one in communion with the Lord. We receive a glimpse of Eternal Love. That unity is ours to take to the world, drawing all to Christ. This is our mission.

This is a glorious time of year. The earth is bursting forth with the same message: The Lord came to give us life! Let us proclaim the joy of this good news!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Do this in remembrance of Me

The Church in Corinth

As we enter into the Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, culminating in the Great Vigil, we as a Church are called to reflect not only on Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection, but our own journey of faith. The Paschal Mystery is our story of conversion—purgation of our sinfulness, accepting God as our Father, turning our lives over to Him, abandoning old ways, and, in recognition of the One who Saves, a rising to new life in Christ, guided by the love which flows between Father and Son—the Holy Spirit. We do all of this within a community of believers—the Church—who calls us to account and walks with us on the Way.

I had the privilege of going on a pilgrimage in the Footsteps of St. Paul. Amazed at the fortitude and courage of the Apostle, I couldn’t help but think, “What would Paul say of today’s world?”

Standing in the rubble of Ephesus, now seated in Turkey, which is over 98% Muslim, I wondered, “Who are the voices proclaiming His Word today?" Not a single Christian church operates in Turkey, although there were a couple hundred-house churches, according to our guide. Has the Spirit died? No--there is hope, for we stood clinging to our Bibles as witnesses of that hope. The same Spirit that was enkindled in St. Paul burns in us today.

The great Evangelist entered into communities where Christ was not known and told of His Love and Mercy, won through the Victory of the Cross. Roman and Greek citizens, believers in polytheism, were intrigued by Paul’s zeal and great witness of this Person of Jesus Christ, on whose life the Evangelist’s centered. While not always warmly received (in fact, he was often beaten, imprisoned, and run out of town), nothing could deter Paul from His Mission!

In Corinth we stood at the ruins of the first Church, where the priest read the words of Jesus as recounted in 1Corinthians. We hear this same reading today, on the day we remember the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. The Scripture is far from a recalling of a historical event, however, as we also celebrate the Eucharist as one with Christ and His Church (Triumphant, Suffering, and Pilgrim), receiving Him Body, Mind, Soul, and Divinity, just as the Apostles did who gathered around the Table in the Upper Room.

St. Augustine, in reflecting on the Last Supper and Jesus’ crucifixion, writes:

"Christ held Himself in His hands when He gave His Body to His disciples saying: 'This is My Body.' No one partakes of this Flesh before he has adored it."


"Recognize in this bread what hung on the cross, and in this chalice what flowed from His side... whatever was in many and varied ways announced beforehand in the sacrifices of the Old Testament pertains to this one sacrifice which is revealed in the New Testament."

Powerful, isn't it?

As we gather as a people of faith in this holiest time in our Church, let us ask ourselves how we adore the Lord not only in the Eucharist, but also in all those who receive Him. This propels us to ask,  how are we love to others? How do we receive Christ’s love in return? That is the glory of Easter—not only the Victory over the grave in the gift of Eternal Life, but the recognition that Christ lives in each and every one who receives Him and desires to dwell in all who have been made in the image and likeness of God. This mission was born on the Cross, enflamed at Pentecost with the reception of the Holy Spirit, and given to us, is renewed each day with our ‘yes’ to be disciples of the One who loves us so! Let the flame of the Holy Spirit burn brightly within us as we courageously go forth, following in the footsteps of St. Paul!