Once again, I am afraid I do not know the source of the following story but I was reminded of it by today’s First Reading: One day while walking down the street a highly successful person was tragically hit by a bus and she died. Her soul arrived up in heaven where she was met at the Gates of Heaven by St. Peter himself. “Welcome to Heaven. What we are going to do is let you have a day in hell and a day in Heaven and then you choose where you want to go.” And with that He put the executive in an elevator and it went down to hell. The doors opened and she found herself stepping out onto the putting green of a beautiful golf course. In the distance was the clubhouse and standing in front of her were all her friends—fellow executives that she had worked with and they were all dressed in evening gowns and cheering for her. They ran up and kissed her on both cheeks and they talked about old times. They played an excellent round of golf and at night went to the clubhouse where she enjoyed an excellent steak and lobster dinner. She met the Devil who was actually a really nice guy (kinda cute, as he always is) and she had a great time telling jokes and dancing. She was having such a good time that before she knew it, it was time to leave. Everybody shook her hand and waved goodbye as she got on the elevator. The elevator went way, way up back to Heaven and she spent the next 24 hours there. She lounged around on clouds playing the harp and singing. She had a great time and before she knew it her 24 hours were up and St. Peter came and got her. “So, now you must choose your eternity,” he said. The woman paused for a second then replied, “Well, I never thought I’d say this, I mean, Heaven has been really great and all, but I think I had a better time in hell.” When the doors of the elevator opened she found herself standing in a desolate wasteland covered in garbage and filth. She saw her friends were dressed in rags and were picking up the garbage and putting it in sacks. The Devil came up to her and put his arm around her. “I don’t understand,” stammered the woman, “yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and a clubhouse and we ate lobster and we danced and had a great time. Now all that’s here is a wasteland of garbage and all my friends look miserable.” The Devil looked at her and smiled. ‘Yesterday we were recruiting you, today...you’re staff.” Wisdom is listening to whatever Jesus says, whether or not we can understand it and staying away from the Devil, no matter how attractive the spread he puts on for us might be.
Jesus words to the Pharisees in today’s Gospel made me think of the following little reflection that I had come across some time ago. To the best of my knowledge the author is unknown. “I woke up early today, excited over all I get to do before the clock strikes midnight. I have responsibilities to fulfill today. My job is to choose what kind of day I am going to have. Today I can complain because the weather is rainy or I can be thankful that the grass is getting watered for free. Today I can feel sad that I don’t have more money or I can be glad that my finances encourage me to plan my purchases wisely and guide me away from waste. Today I can grumble about my health or I can rejoice that I am alive. Today I can lament over all that my parents didn’t give me when I was growing up or I can feel grateful that they allowed me to be born. Today I can cry because roses have thorns or I can celebrate that thorns have roses. Today I can mourn my lack of friends or I can excitedly embark upon a quest to discover new relationships. Today I can whine because I have to go to work or I can shout for joy because I have a job to do. I can complain because I have to go to school or eagerly open my mind and fill it with rich new pieces of knowledge. Today I can murmur dejectedly because I have to do housework or I can feel honored because the Lord has provided shelter for my mind, body and soul. Today stretches ahead of me, waiting to be shaped. And here I am, the sculptor who gets to do the shaping. What today will be like is up to me. I get to choose what kind of day I will have!” As I see it the bottom line is this: we will always have the opportunity to complain but we really never have anything to complain about. Why? Because every day of our lives we can receive the bread that Jesus gives us, the bread that gives us eternal life. As long as we continue to choose to complain, it has to mean that we just don’t get it.
Beginning last week, we have been taking a five week break from the Gospel of Mark and spending time in the Gospel of John on the teachings of Jesus we call the Bread of Life. Last week we read about the feeding of the 5,000 and what it could mean to us today. Today’s Gospel is a continuation of the loaves and fishes story we began last week. Jesus has fed the crowd and amazed them by His miracles. After that miracle and a day of teaching, Jesus and the apostles went away across the lake to get a little rest and privacy, but the people who had witnessed the miracle went searching for Him and found Him on the other side of the lake. Instead of being angry with them, Jesus continues to teach them. He tells them first that it wasn’t the signs and miracles that attracted them, as much as the fact they were being fed. He says that they should be less interested in filling their bellies with food that quickly disappears, and instead, look for spiritual food which will never leave them. When they ask what they must do to get this spiritual food, Jesus replies that they all must believe in the person God has sent. It is in this context that Jesus is the bread of life. God has sent Jesus with all the spiritual food that a person will need, so that Jesus Himself can be seen to be that food. They then ask him for signs so they that they can believe in Him-even though He had just fed the 5,000! Jesus refers to the manna that God gave the to the Israelites through Moses as a comparison but goes on to say that through Him God is not only giving them bread for their bodies but bread for their souls as well. And this is where I think it might be good for us to pause. We, like those people who chased Jesus across the lake because of His wonderful miracles, have followed Him to Church today. But do we know why? Is it for something that will last or something that will fade away? Actually, Jesus will give us both, but He longs for us to long for that which is eternal.
The hero of today's Gospel is a little Jewish boy. He proved himself not only to be smart enough to pack a lunch but also to be among the rarest of individuals. He was willing, after packing his lunch, to give it away. However, in doing so he once again proved his intelligence because he gave it to Jesus. You might say that he made a very shrewd investment. He went home with 12 baskets of leftovers after the huge crowd had had their fill. Because he gave the little he had, we are talking about this miracle to this day.
Let us not forget of course that it was Jesus who mentions that this exhausted mob must be hungry showing once again that He is interested not only in life after death but also life before death. He looks towards His disciples to be problem solvers and that’s how this little fellow was found. Jesus did not embarrass the little boy and his meager offering. He accepted his gifts with ceremony and gratitude. Can you imagine the look on the boy’s face as Jesus starts to share his food with the crowd, and especially as he saw that his lunch never ran out? Maybe Jesus held him up in His arms for the crowd to see. Somehow or other, I think there are some lessons to be learned here. The next time you are asked for something you feel you cannot give, remember this Jewish boy and think again. Even if your gift is small, know that Christ will receive you and your gift with open arms and do amazing things with it. He will literally use it to feed the world. But if we hoard the little that we have, we just might prevent Christ from performing one more amazing miracle. If we find ourselves worrying about whether we have enough money perhaps we should remember this child, and ask ourselves if maybe our worry is a sign that we need to give more away and see what God might do with it. The psalmist says “a child will lead us,” but I leave you with this question, “Are you smarter than a little Jewish boy?
It seems to me that the readings for this weekend reflect on leadership and the fact that we human beings are very much in need of it. We may not like to admit it, but if we are without leadership we will tend to pretty much flounder around like sheep without a shepherd. We have a great need to come together and to unite around someone who can articulate a unified vision or purpose. The trouble is that not all visions, even though they may be passionately and clearly articulated are good for us. History is filled with examples of people flocking to leaders who are far less than perfect. So the question than becomes what are the qualities that we should look for in a leader. Of course, my answer is going to be that first and foremost we should look to Jesus and the type of leadership that He employed. We don’t have to look too closely before we easily conclude that Jesus is among the greatest leaders of all times, but was very different from Adolf Hitler, who is indeed also an example of a powerful leader. Of course, Jesus is different than Hitler in many ways-perhaps primarily in his example of Christian Leadership. Christian leadership is different than any other kind of leadership. It is not based on power; it is based on invitation. It does not feed off propaganda; it thrives on truth. It does not oppress or place burdens on people; it sets them free and calls them to rest. Christian leadership is based on truth love, freedom, caring and service. The Christian leader puts people first and his willing to sacrifice himself for them. Other leaders do exactly the opposite. And the bottom line, and for me this is what it’s all about, is that Christian leadership is the most effective kind of leadership. Don’t think so? Well then let me ask you two questions. Where is Adolf Hitler? Where is Jesus? The trouble is that Christian leadership is rarely ever practiced. And it is something to which we are all called by virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation. Yes. We are all called to be leaders. Christian leaders. So how about if we try it sometime? Let’s live a life that is based on truth, freedom, service, love and caring, and see what happens.
If you ask me, evangelism today should be just like the evangelism that we hear about in today’s Gospel. First, as followers of Christ, we need to understand that we are sent out. We can't simply sit comfortably in our pews; we are called to go work in the field.
Second, we need to be humble. The disciples took nothing with them: no bread, no bags and no money. We need to leave our baggage behind and simply invite people to the banquet. Third, we need to understand that evangelism is all about invitation, and not at all about coercion. Jesus says, "If people don't accept you, shake the dust off your feet and leave." He didn't say to stand and argue with them. He didn't say to condemn them to hell. He told them to spread the Gospel, sow the seed, and let God do the rest. Finally, we are to evangelize with compassion. We are not threaten people with an eternity in hell, or look for reasons why they are bad people and back it up with selected biblical verses. It is wrong bash people over the heads with the scriptures and hope for conversion through osmosis. Rather, we are to kindly meet people where they are. We are to use only words that heal and never words that hurt. Still, even if we follow all these pointers, our efforts will fall short if we don’t fully understand who we are and what we are about when we set out to evangelize. Why do we come to church? Why do we call ourselves Catholic? Why do we believe that our faith is better than any other? Yes, we need to be evangelists; but we need to understand why we are here in the first place. That doesn't mean we have all the answers, but it does mean that we have better answers than, "Because I've always gone to church etc." We need to know what draws us, what excites us, what comforts us. And when we know that, and when we truly live the faith in which we profess belief, then and only then, will we be ready to invite others to join us.
Opinion polls tell us that the public’s view of Congress in the United States is at an all-time low. The division between the parties has led to gridlock on legislation and affected the way most citizens view the work of government. Even the often benighted car salesman gets a much better performance review in public polling, racking up double-digit approval rating over the collective view of members of Congress. Yet for the most part constituents re-elect their own Representatives and Senators again and again. This is a situation that many commentators attribute to the redistricting process that has made many districts “safe” for incumbents by configuring the boundaries in such a way that only the most like-minded residents are constituents for a seat held by one party of the other.
There was no Gallup poll in Galilee in Jesus’ time. But Mark’s Gospel this weekend gives us a pretty clear indication of what his fellow townsfolk thought of him. Instead of a hero’s welcome as “the kid that made good” he is treated as “the kid who has gotten too big for his britches”. The townspeople’s lack of faith actually impacted the ability of Jesus to be the mighty prophet in His native place. Mark writes: “He was not able to perform any mighty deed there.”
The Gospel story is not about the importance of good poll numbers . Politicians are concerned about that-at least if they want to get re-elected. Rather, the story is about the dynamic of faith in our relationship with God. We often “want” a lot of things from God, most notably answers to our prayers. But we need to “give” to the Lord, and for us that means a response to God’s invitation to believe. We must acknowledge our utter dependence upon God, placing all our trust in Him. We will then recognize the actions of God that take place each day for the mighty deeds that they are: God at work in our hearts!
So here we are on the 10th Sunday of Ordinary time, in the third chapter of Mark, very much at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry- and He had already gotten Himself into trouble. Why? Because, He healed a paralyzed man, as proof that He could forgive sins. Because He justified the fact that His disciples shucked grain and ate it on the Sabbath, by saying that He was Lord of the Sabbath and then had the audacity to heal a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath to prove his point. Finally, He was healing and driving out demons right and left and now, in the midst of the wild throngs He called his 12 apostles.
Really, He was causing quite a stir. At this point nobody knew what was going to happen, but they certainly pretty much had a sense that they wanted to see it unfold. No matter where He went, it seems like everyone found Him very quickly. As we begin our Gospel story today, Jesus has returned home but the crowds quickly emerged once again. This time, Saint Mark tells that there were so many people around Him, the crowd was packed so tightly that they couldn’t even eat because they could not so much as move their arms. Now that, folks, is crowded! The scribes got themselves into a futile debate with Jesus, claiming that He was possessed by demons and then we get to the heart of the matter. His own family emerges on the scene and this gives Jesus the opportunity to take advantage of a teaching moment. He makes the point that when it comes to determining relationship with Him, it is not status, but action that matters; it is not whether or not someone is related to Him by blood; it is whether or not we do His will. Now especially at this point in the story no one knows how any thing is going to turn out, but then again we never know that, do we? What we do know is that our relationship with Him, amidst all the turmoil of life, is governed by what we do, not who we are.
My guess is that many of us have found ourselves at one time or another in our lives facing very difficult circumstances, obstacles or challenges. Maybe you are in the midst of one of those chapters in your lives right now. Maybe you’ve felt like, or you feel right now that there is no way you can ever see yourself coming through whatever it is you were or are facing. Maybe during those times you have had people say something to you, something that you know was meant to be a word of consolation, but those words did not do much consoling. Maybe you have heard those words from close friends, family members or even from priests or religious, and maybe you’ve even said those words to others yourselves because you did not know what else to say. The words that I am talking about are certainly well intentioned, but they ring hollow, and they probably accomplish more for the one speaking them than they do for the one hearing them. What are those words? “God does not give you anything that you can’t handle.” A lot of us have heard those words, haven’t we? Probably a lot of us have spoken those words as well. I know that I have spoken them, as a priest to people who were in need of consolation but not for many years now. Why? Because my life experience has taught me that they are simply not true, or at least they are not completely accurate. I have learned over and over again that God does indeed present me with challenges, with situations, with problems etc. etc. that I cannot handle by myself. He does so all the time. And why does He do this? Well, I cannot say that I have the absolute answer to this question, but I will offer two of my best thoughts. First, let’s honestly look at things in our lives that we have handled completely by ourselves. How did they turn out? Did they turn out the way we wanted them to? More importantly, did they turn out the way God wanted them to? Secondly, and I think this an even better explanation, God wants to be our strength. He wants us to come to Him always and especially in times of great pain, distress and confusion, because He knows that’s what’s best for us. To make those words true we need to say something like this: God does indeed give us challenges that we cannot handle by ourselves, but we are never by ourselves. He is always there, ready to walk with us side by side, hand in hand to share our pain and burdens with us and even to provide us with Himself as nourishment along the way. That’s what we celebrate today, on this solemnity of Corpus Christi; that Jesus is always there for us, as close to us and essential to us as food and drink. “Take and eat, this is my body; take and drink, this is my blood which will be shed for many.” He does indeed give us challenges that we cannot handle alone, but we are never alone.
The practical lesson of the doctrine of the Trinity is that since we are made in the image and likeness of God, the more we understand God the more we understand ourselves. Therefore, the question for us to ask today is: What does the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity tell us about the kind of God we worship and what does this say about the kind of people we should be? On this, I have two points to share with you. (1) God does not exist as a solitary individual but in a community of love and sharing. God is not a loner. This means that a Christian in search of Godliness (Matthew 5:48) must shun every tendency to isolationism. The ideal Christian spirituality is not that of flight from the world like that of certain Buddhist monastic traditions where the quest for holiness means permanent withdrawal away from contact and involvement with people and society. (2) True love requires three partners. You remember the old saying “Two is company, three is a crowd.” The Trinity shows us that three is community, three is love at its best; three is not a crowd. Taking an example from the human condition we see that when a man A is in love with a woman B they seal the loving by producing a baby C. Father, mother and child -- love when it is perfected becomes a trinity. We are made in God’s image and likeness. Just as God is God only in a Trinitarian relationship, so we can be fully human only in a relationship of three partners. The self needs to be in a horizontal relationship with others and a vertical relationship with God. In that way our life becomes Trinitarian like that of God. Then we discover that the so-called “I-and-I” principle of unbridled individualism which is acceptable in modern society leaves much to be desired. The doctrine of the Blessed Trinity challenges us to adopt rather an I-and-God-and-neighbor principle. I am a Christian insofar as I live in a relationship of love with God and other people. May the grace of the Holy Trinity help us to banish all traces of self-centeredness in our lives and to live in love of God and neighbor.
I know that I have said this many times before, but this is truly one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.” And this time I can prove it; this is the verse that I chose to have printed on my ordination holy card 27 years ago. You might say that this verse is my “John 3:16.” Why this verse, you might ask, out of all the others? Well I suppose it is because, at least to me, this verse expresses very clearly the desire that is so much in Jesus’ heart-that His joy might indeed be our joy. Isn’t that a wonderful concept? He wants His joy to be our joy and he wants our joy to be complete. That is what he so desires for us; it is why He says everything He says; it is why He does everything He does; it is why He died on the cross-so that we might be full of joy. At the time of my ordination I felt that these words expressed what needs to be at the heart of the mission and ministry of the priest-to express Jesus’ desire that all people might be full of true joy and to be agents of spreading the joy of Jesus to everyone. To this day, I try, albeit very imperfectly, to use these words as a guide to all my thoughts, all my words, and all my actions. The priest is called to strive to be a bridge which allows people to have access to Jesus. To me, that’s what these words are all about. Of course, however, these words are not just meant for priests. They are meant for all of us. They teach us that Jesus’ primary purpose is to help us experience His joy. That is what it is all about- not sin, not suffering not death, but joy-His joy. But not only does He want His joy to be ours, He needs us to spread His joy to everyone. And the way that we do that is to live as if we believe it. If we believe that Jesus wants His joy to be ours, and live as such, then indeed we will spread His joy to others and our joy will be complete.
During this Holy Week and Easter Season, I have often said that the key message of the Easter Season is that “love lives.” Of course I am referring to the fact that Jesus, who is the perfect personification of the love of God the Father, rose from the dead on Easter Sunday and lives eternally. But Jesus is not only the embodiment of love. He is the embodiment of love in action. Jesus is love in action. He is perpetually acting in a loving way. He loves everyone exactly as they are, whether, it is the woman caught in adultery, the rich young man, Nicodemus, the man born blind, the ten lepers, etc. He accepts everyone, He accepts, us exactly as He finds us. But He does not stop there; love does not stop there. He loves us as we are but then He calls us forth just as He called Lazarus forth from the tomb. He forgave the adulterous woman but then commanded her to sin no more. He looked at the rich young man with love but then challenged him to give his wealth to the poor. Love is accepting; but because love is love it is not satisfied with leaving us stagnant. Jesus loves us where we are and because He does He calls us, He challenges us to change, not to remain the same. Jesus calls to “Remain in His love,” and we cannot do this if we remain the same, we have to move, we have to grow and change if we are going to follow Him. That is what the image of the vine and the branches is all about. He is the vine, we are the branches. Our challenge is to remain with Him, to stay connected with Him so that we might bear much fruit. This means that we have to change, that we have to be pruned so that we might become more like Him. If we do not change and grow with Him we will wither away. Love lives. Love accepts. Love challenges.
I bet you have seen a shepherd recently. I believe that we all see shepherds each and every day – but do we recognize them. Before we answer the question we need to answer the specific question - what is a shepherd?
There are many biblical references about shepherds starting with the birth of Jesus and in today’s gospel proclamation we read the reference to Christ the Good Shepherd. Did Christ really tend sheep? Isn't that our envisionment of a shepherd or specifically their ‘job’? We often have the mental picture of a shepherd but really what is the duty/work/service profile of the shepherd. The definition of shepherd found in my research is: - a person who tends sheep, a pastor or a German shepherd.
With this definition in mind we can certainly see how the reference to Christ as the Good Shepherd is fitting. Often we refer to our pastors or clergy as shepherds so that works as well. I would suggest that we as individuals each have a role both as shepherd and as recipient of the shepherds care. Look around you for the most evident example of ‘shepherd’. Parents, fathers and mothers alike, certainly have the role of a shepherd. Just as the shepherd tends the flock with diligence love, compassion, to the extent of risking all for the sake of one in the herd so do parents shepherd their family regardless of malady, illness, in good times and in not so good times, with little sleep, the list goes on – you get it, all for the child or children. Even later in our life we the children are called upon to shepherd our parents in their twilight years.
Many times in our life we find ourselves challenged by our surroundings and evil, on the edge of a very crash. We need only look to the Good Shepherd with confidence of His love, encouragement, wisdom, perspective, strength, patience and grace. Just as the child looks to the parent we can look to and rely on Christ fully there for each and all of us. There is no question of commitment – look at that crucifix and know. It’s a most appropriate time of the calendar year to reflect on our own call to shepherd and likewise to those who shepherd us –our mothers and fathers who we recognize in May and June each year.
And so the disciples who had just left Jerusalem, who were returning home to Emmaus, who were about to try to figure out the next direction their lives would take after the death of Jesus, suddenly found themselves back in Jerusalem speaking to the 11 Apostles about the amazing experience they had just had. As they were walking along, they encountered someone they thought was a stranger, someone with whom they were so enamored that they begged him to stay with them for their evening meal. Finally, when He broke bread at their table, they realized that He was no stranger at all but that He was Jesus risen from the dead! But as soon as they recognized Him, He vanished from their midst. At this point they could think of nothing else but to quickly get back to Jerusalem and tell the Apostles. That is how it’s like when we have had a true experience of Jesus, isn’t it? All we can think of is to tell other people. And while they were recounting their story to the 11 Jesus appeared in their midst. He (Jesus) did His best to put everything He ever said or did in perspective for them and then left them with these beautiful words: “You are witnesses of these things.” Those are great words, wonderful words, aren’t they? But then again, on second thought are they not much more than just that? Do you think that Jesus would come back from the dead and visit His disciples simply to say nice things to them, or whisper sweet nothings in their ears? I think not! I can almost hear my mother exclaiming, “Not for nothin’!” Folks, the more I think about it, the more I cannot help but think that those words are not merely a nice statement of the obvious-they are a command. Jesus did not suffer and die and rise for us just so we could live “happily ever after” (besides that’s very boring anyway) or bask eternally in the knowledge that we are witnesses. He did so, so that He would have witnesses to spread His good news. Being a witness is not something that we are; it’s something that we do-it is a tremendous responsibility. We are witnesses of Him. So just don’t sit or stand there, go out and proclaim through your words and deeds that Jesus Christ is risen.
So here we are, celebrating the Second Sunday of Easter, the Sunday within the octave of Easter, the Sunday also known as “Mercy Sunday,” and as per usual, we hear the story of “Doubting Thomas” and we know how that story goes. The Apostles were locked in the Upper Room for fear of the Jews, the Romans and whatever else might be “out there.” But I don’t think that’s all they were afraid of. I think they were also afraid of what was inside as well. I think they were afraid of what was in their hearts, of the future, of who they were, and how they would go on, even if it what was currently “out there” was no longer out there. Remember, each one of them, with the exception of John, had betrayed Jesus, they failed to stand beside Him in His hour of need. I am pretty sure that a lot of soul searching was going on. I am pretty sure that, yes, they were scared, but I bet they also, were pretty remorseful, pretty sorry, pretty regretful, pretty down on themselves. And so the doors were locked. Do we ever do that? Do we ever lock the doors of our hearts, of our souls, perhaps because partially we are afraid of what’s “out there,” but maybe even more so because of the regret that’s already in our hearts to the point where we just can’t take any more? I am pretty sure that we do, I am pretty sure that many of us have done this, that many of us are doing it right now, and that many of us will do it again. But that’s where the lesson of this Second, Sunday of Easter, this “Doubting Thomas” Sunday, this Mercy Sunday comes in. Although the doors were locked we are told that Jesus came and stood in their midst. That’s what He did for the disciples, and that’s what He does for us. Imagine, their amazement, but also imagine their shame and their fear because of their guilt? But what does He bring? “Peace be with you,” He says to them. He brings mercy and forgiveness and gives them a mission- to forgive the sins of all. That’s what He brings to us, and to our locked hearts. Peace. Mercy. Forgiveness. New Purpose. Amazingly and Unbelievably… Are your doors locked? That might be able to keep the bad guys out there, but take heart, they won’t be able to keep Jesus out, not if you long for Him.
Maybe I am a little bit behind, but even as we are celebrating Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus I still find myself reflecting on the story of the raising of Lazarus, which we heard two weeks ago. I kind of can’t get passed the fact, and I know it is probably a small detail, that Jesus commanded that the stone that was blocking Lazarus’ tomb to be rolled away before He raised him from the dead. I also find it amazing that His command is a very real and clear foreshadowing of the stone that was soon to be rolled away from Jesus’ own tomb. I am kind of stuck on this idea of stones being rolled away from tombs. Stones that are rolled away so that life, new life, freed life, resurrected life can come forth. And you know what else, we know, at least in the case of Lazarus’ stone, it wasn’t Jesus who rolled it away. I wonder who rolled away His stone-but I will wager that it was not Him. I think that Jesus’ life and ministry make it quite clear that the ones who roll away the stones are not Him but us. As a matter of fact, Jesus never performs a miracle, without demanding that those involved do something. It might be filling jugs with water, it might be the selling of possessions, it might be handing over five loaves and two fish, but it is very true that miracles are performed only when we humans do something that— Jesus acts. We might say that only when we do what we can-when we do the possible, that Jesus does the impossible. We roll away the stones, we pour the water, we anoint with oil, we make and offer bread and wine and Jesus confers the sacraments. And He won’t, if we don’t. So as we celebrate Jesus’ rising from the tomb let’s reflect for a moment on who it might have been that rolled that stone away and be very grateful that it was. But further we need to look around our own lives, our own hearts, our own souls and see how much like Lazarus we have become. I bet if we look around a little bit it won’t take too long for us to see the stones that are blocking paths to life for us or others in our lives. Maybe we see so much damage that has already been done that it is just impossible to repair. That’s just how humanity was when Jesus came to earth-it was in an impossible situation. But He went around challenging people to do what they could in support of Him and then He did what He could. That’s what Easter is about. The lesson of Easter is that Jesus is commanding us to do what is possible so that He might do the impossible. If we don’t, He won’t. If we do, He will.
Believe it or not, it is Palm Sunday, 2018! We are about, once again to enter into holiest of all weeks of the year, as we begin by commemorating the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and His Passion. Next Sunday of course, we will celebrate His Resurrection. But what about all the days in between remember it is “Holy Week;” it is made up of seven days, not just one or two. Our invitation and challenge is to make sure that we do not miss it, that we accept the invitation and challenge of Jesus to walk with Him from the time of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, through His sorrowful passion to His joyful Resurrection. I firmly believe that here at Saint Aloysius Parish you will have ample opportunity to do just that. Of course, we will begin by participating in today’s celebration of the Mass of Palm Sunday. Note that we are invited to leave from Mass in silence as a sign of the fact that we are beginning the most solemn journey with Jesus through the holiest of weeks. Perhaps you would consider participating in the Communion Service on Monday at 8:30AM, and/or Mass on Tuesday and Wednesday at 8:30AM, so that you might continue walking with Jesus as He moves closer and closer to the Upper Room and Gethsemane. I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity on both Monday [3/26] and Wednesday [3/28] evenings at 6:30 PM to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Please note that this is your last chance to receive the sacrament before Easter. Then on Tuesday evening [3/27] at 6:30PM in the school gymnasium our parish school children will present the “Living Stations.” They have been working so hard and they have done a fantastic job; you will not want miss it! Then, on Holy Thursday we will celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at 7:00 PM. Join us as we present the newly blessed sacramental oils, celebrate once again with Jesus the Last Supper, the First Mass, the institution of the Eucharist and of the Priesthood. At the end of Mass the altar will be stripped, statues, etc. will be covered in black and we will process the Blessed Sacrament down Hanover Street and back into the Gathering Center to the Altar of Repose which will be where the Sacred Heart statue now stands. As the Triduum continues we will commemorate Christ’s passion and death with the celebration of 8:30AM Morning Prayer on Good Friday. Adoration will continue throughout the day until our Celebration of the Lord’s Passion at 3:00 PM. This is an absolutely moving service which includes the most powerful ritual of the Veneration of the Cross. On Holy Saturday morning, we will pray Morning Prayer at 8:30AM once again in the barren church. Immediately following morning prayer, you may bring your Easter food to church to be blessed. Then we wait with heartfelt expectation for the blessing of the Easter Fire at 7:26PM on the evening of Holy Saturday as we begin the Easter Vigil and celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. As you can see, this is indeed the holiest of weeks. Do not miss it!
In our Gospel passage for today, the 5th Sunday of Lent, the last Sunday before Palm Sunday (can you believe it?), we hear a story that is presented only by John. It is the story of some Greek Jews who were in Jerusalem for the Passover who expressed their desire to see Jesus to Phillip. Now by this point, folks, we should know that we are in for some kind of very special teaching. We are coming up against the mystery of the Passion and Jesus now has the opportunity to speak to these, probably very well educated, visitors from Greece, who are always interested in wisdom and learning. So, what is he going to serve them and us? Well, here is some of what He says: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.” That certainly is a mouthful, is it not? Some of the most profound teachings that Jesus ever gave us were first served up to these Greek visitors. Jesus is saying nothing less than, that He is about to be glorified-on the cross; that if we want to live our lives to the fullest, we must first lay them down; that if we endure all kind of suffering in this life for Him, we will enjoy eternal life with Him; and that the Father will honor whoever serves Him. I know how I feel as I try to fully comprehend all that Jesus is saying in these few lines even though I have heard them so many times before; can you imagine how His Greek guests must have reacted upon hearing it for the first time? I wonder if Jesus advised them to allow themselves a little extra time to digest what He had just served them. Actually, that’s still some pretty good for us today. We are, after all, only a week away from Palm Sunday.
Written by Deacon George Harmansky
Light is light, Dark is dark. Once upon a time that was spoken to me and quite frankly I sure had no clue exactly what that meant. As I grew in years and thankful some wise-ness I began to see the wisdom of the comment. First in a physical sense and later spiritually. As a child, as many do, I had this (yes) fear of the dark. Who is afraid of the dark? I mean - pitch dark - that you can’t see your hand in front of your very eyes. There is something about the dark that elicits fear, apprehension, uneasiness. It just creeps you out. Now that being said, in life we typically associate dark(ness) with evil. Often the ‘bad guy’ in the movies is portrayed as this sinister, evil individual dressed in black apparel and accessories. Even bats, which many of us so fear and speak about with disgust, thrive in the darkness of our world – go figure they like the dark. As human beings we work, feel, act differently, better in the light with sunshine as compared to that in the night-in the dark. In the midst of a storm on the ocean the ship’s captain seeks the saving rays of the lighthouse to safely guide it through the stormy waters of travel.
In my law enforcement days, the dark of the night always seemed to cast a different appearance on events that in daylight were otherwise approached with less scrutiny and apprehension. Early on with the application of crime prevention which advocated proactive in lieu of reactive delivery of law enforcement services I was introduced to ‘target hardening’. This hardening included the application of light which was and still is an effective tool in the crime prevention arsenal. Simply applied the bad guys are less likely to operate in the well illuminated environments – more likely to hang and lurk in the dark and darkened areas to stalk and commit their criminal offenses. Darkness provides cover, hiding and obscuring the perpetrator while the effects of light on the same situation is very obvious – things visible, seen, detected, observed etc.
In the Gospel today again, as we’ve read before, we see Christ as the Light. In Him we find the way – the alternative to dark/darkness. Christ came as our sonshine bringing light to mankind affording us the opportunity to move from the darkness of evil in our lives to that of our Creator’s light. We are offered a way in Christ as our saving ray – our lighthouse - to guide us through the stormy evil filled waters of life. Just as the perpetrator seeks the dark we seek Christ the light to pull us from the dark to eternal life with the Father. Evil is attractive, the darkness of evil plays to our pleasure(s) keeping us from the light in which we see evil for what it is. Christ our lighthouse stands out solid and strong casting the ray of guidance, hope, safety and security to we the travelers in the ocean of life.
Well, here we are; we have already arrived at the third Sunday of Lent. Today we will be talking about the grace of God, which He has given to us without cost. Not only is His grace completely free, it is always more than enough for us. What the world offers us is never free, God’s grace is always free. God’s grace leads us to victory; the more of the world always leads us away from Him. Grace can be defined as God’s presence in the world and in our lives but it is more than that; He is not only present in our lives, as St. Paul says, He is “for us,” He favors us, at all times no matter what we do or don’t do, no matter what we say or don’t say; but His grace is more than that. God’s grace is powerful. God is not only always with us, not only is He for us, not only does He favor us, His grace is powerful. St. Paul says, “If God is for us, who can be against?” There is no adversary that we will ever have that can ever stand against the power of God’s grace. God’s grace is victorious. Always. And it is a completely totally free gift. Today we hear of another totally free gift of God; the gift of his Ten Commandments; His Ten Commandments. To truly understand the Ten Commandments we need to look at them from the standpoint of His grace. They are free, they are for us, they are not burdensome, they are powerful and they lead us to victory. They are given to us in the same way that a Father gives parameters and guidelines to His children. They are given out of an abundant love. They are not a set of conditions. They are not a scoreboard. They are not arbitrary. They are not burdensome. They do not condemn. They are a path to life. They are keys to God’s abundant grace which is the more that we have been looking for. Everything God gives to us, He gives to us from His love, which is all He is. He gives the commandments to the Israelites after He rescued them from slavery as a means of showing them how to live in freedom. As we make ourselves more and more receptive to the grace of God, He bestows more and more gifts upon us. That’s how we should see the commandments. They are, like the grace of God, for us, and they are a pathway to His grace, which is always more, so much much more than enough for us.