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Monthly Archives: April 2016

SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

 

 JOHN 14:23-29 1-1
KEY VERSE: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (v.27).

Today’s Liturgy gives us a profound meditation on the nature and meaning of the Church.

The Church is One, as we see in the First Reading: “the Apostles and presbyters in agreement with the whole Church.”

The Church is Holy, taught and guided by the Spirit that Jesus promises the Apostles in the Gospel. The Church is Catholic, or universal, making known God’s ways of salvation to all peoples, ruling all in equity, as we sing in today’s Psalm.

And the Church, as John sees in the Second Reading, is Apostolic – founded on the twelve Apostles of the Lamb.

Last week we heard Jesus say, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” So says the Lord to the Church. What does this love mean, what does it look like?

To discover this, we have to look to Jesus. And when we do that, the first thing we see is that it has nothing to do with how we feel inside; it’s about how we choose to act; it’s about what we do. So, we know that, in part, love looks like turning one cheek when the other has been hurt; it looks like going two kilometres when one is unfairly asked; it looks like offering prayers in response to insults.

We know that it looks like a father welcoming home a son who was lost; like paying a full day’s wage to a worker who showed up an hour before quitting time—and it looks like rejoicing in each of these. It looks like losing your life in the hope of finding it; and it looks like obedience to a God who will tell us neither the specifics of our task nor the consequences of our faithfulness.

It looks like all of that, and much, much more. But really, finally, and at its clearest, it looks like this. It looks like a cross—it looks like the cross. This is what we Christians really mean when we talk about love. And if we ever mean anything else, then we most certainly mean something less—and we are unfaithful to our Lord, and we mock his commandment. This cross is what it means for God to love us; this is what it means for us to love one another. You won’t find this on bumper stickers, in cheap novels, or in plain brown envelopes. But it can be found.

That’s really the central thing I have to say about love. We must constantly be reminded of this, lest we reduce our faith to another cheap route to self-delusion or to empty self-gratification.

So, to find out what John means when he says that God is love, or to discover what it looks like to love one another as Jesus has loved us, we do not look deep within ourselves, we do not look around us, or at our families, or at our society or at the natural world. Instead, we look to the Lord, and to his life—to all of his life. There we will find, in all its depth and simplicity, what we Christians really mean when we talk about love. And there we will find life.

Jesus said to his disciples in the Gospel of John 14:23-29,

I have said these things to you while still with you; but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you.
Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.

The truth that Jesus relayed to the disciples is the same truth that should provide comfort for me and you. This gospel says to me that we don’t have to go through life in pain, scared, or with the expectation of being defeated. We should instead remain close to God, find peace in knowing that God is always with us, and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us through in the Church. This should fill us with confidence, free us to worship with exultation, inspire us to rededicate our lives to His Name – to love Jesus in our keeping of His Word, to rejoice that He and the Father in the Spirit have made their dwelling with us. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know Who holds the future.

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Posted by on April 30, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

1-11

JOHN 13:31-33a, 34-35
KEY VERSE: “I give you a new commandment: love one another” (v.34)

“If you expect to graduate from this high school, you need to study, to work hard, and to apply yourselves.” If a principal were to say that to the entire student body during an assembly at the start of a new school year, the words would have little impact. The students would hear them as just something a principal was supposed to say. But if that principal were to call a small group of seniors down to her office at the end of August and say the exact same thing, the words would make a definite impression. Those students would realize that their graduation from high school was no sure thing. They would know they were being specifically warned to buckle down and hit the books.

How we hear words depends upon who says them, to whom they are addressed, and when they are spoken.

In this Sunday’s Gospel (John 13: 31-33a, 34-35), Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”

We can hear those words of Jesus as a general command addressed to all people. But Jesus announces his “new commandment” not to everyone but to a select group of people at a very significant moment.

Here we are in the midst of the Easter Season and our Gospel takes us back in time. Today, we are taken on an excursion to the eve of Jesus’ passion and death. He has just washed the feet of his disciples and told them to do as he has done. Jesus’ final words, his final wishes, are given in the form of a commandment. “My children, I give you a new commandment: love one another.” What’s so new about that? It certainly wasn’t the first time he talked about love in the context of a commandment. When pressed about the greatest commandment, he had responded with loving God, neighbour and self. But this time, he’s very clear – “new commandment—love one another.”

Jesus makes it clear that this new commandment is meant specifically for his disciples for they are the ones who have personally experienced his love.

He sought them out, cared for them, taught them, showed them patience and understanding, forgave them, revealed himself to them, gave them a share in his ministry, allowed them into his heart, and brought them into a relationship with his Father.

In turn, that is how they are to treat one another. By doing so “all will know that you are my disciples.”

This Sunday as the Gospel is proclaimed Jesus will again speak those words he first spoke to his disciples at the Last Supper. But he will speak them to us as we gather in our parish churches for Mass. We are the ones who faithfully come Sunday after Sunday. We are ones who have experienced his love, mercy, and presence in our lives. We are his disciples today.

And what we have experienced is what our fellow disciples–our fellow Christians, our fellow parishioners–must experience from us. We are to be caring, compassionate, understanding, forgiving, charitable, merciful, and concerned about the physical and spiritual welfare of those Christians whose opinions we share and those whose views and attitudes clash with our own, those we think of as upright and those whose moral compass seems skewed, those whose faith we admire and those whose faith we question, those we would like as friends and those who test our patience.

This Sunday, Jesus, our “principal,” calls us before him and says directly to us, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples.”

When Jesus gave his last will and testament, he gave it as a commandment. He didn’t say, “This is my suggestion; here is an idea that you may want to consider; here’s something to think about.” No, he said, “here is my new commandment.” So, what’s new about it? Jesus will be dead in less than 24 hours and he proclaims, “Love one another as I have loved you.” There’s the remarkable difference—loving like he loves; as he will love; as he loved.

How do we measure up? Can we ever hope to love like that? Today, when we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, perhaps we can tell him that we accept his bequest; that we promise to try and love better; that we will go back to those we have failed to love; that we will heal what has been hurt and broken; that we will let go of anger and hate, and that we will strive to love as he loves.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

1-7

JOHN 10:27-30 
KEY VERSE: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (v 27).

You do not have to look at statistics or study research papers to know that the number of people attending Sunday Mass has significantly declined over the past 50 years and the number of people who have distanced themselves from their Catholic Church has increased.

We know that from the empty pews at Mass and the closing of parishes, from the decrease in weddings and baptisms and from the teenagers who regard Confirmation as graduation from church, and from our relatives and friends who have taken a “sabbatical” from their Catholic Faith.

Many reasons have been given to explain this exodus from the Church. For example, the increasing secularism and materialism of our society, the media’s hostility to religion, the sex abuse scandal, homilies and liturgies that seem disconnected from life, poor experiences with religious authorities, and the list could go on. But perhaps there is another reason. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, offers a warning against the passive form of faith that we see at times: “Maybe the greatest threat to the church is not heresy, not dissent, not secularism, not even moral relativism, but this sanitized, feel-good, boutique, therapeutic spirituality that makes no demands, calls for no sacrifice, asks for no conversion, entails no battle against sin, but only soothes and affirms.”

By our preaching, our teaching, and our speaking about God we may have conveyed the idea that being part of Church, attending Sunday Mass, receiving the Sacraments, trying to live the Gospel are not necessary for salvation and for eternal life.

If that is only what people hear, then they can easily conclude that what a person does or does not do is of little consequence. We are like children on a sports team where win or lose, good player or bad, cooperative or not, at the end of the season, the coach gives everyone a trophy!

While that may be how many people see things that is certainly not the impression given in this Sunday’s Readings.

In our First Reading (Acts 13:14, 43-52), Paul and Barnabas speak of the consequences that await those who reject the word they preach. “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first, but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.”

In our Second Reading (Revelation 7:9, 14b-17), John has a vision where he learns that those in glory are the ones who have remained faithful to God despite persecution, “who have survived the time of great distress.”

In the Gospel (John 10:27-30) Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life.” Those who are blessed with eternal life are those who hear and obey the words of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and make them the guide for their lives.

Those readings indicate that gaining eternal life is not automatic, but rather is something given to those who strive to faithfully follow the word of God announced by Jesus.

Many who first heard Jesus’ claims to be one with God demanded evidence, signs that would demonstrate the truth of what he said. They wanted proof. Jesus gave them an answer when declared, “My sheep hear my voice … and they follow me.”

Hear. Follow.

First, we must “hear” Jesus. What better way to do that than by reading and absorbing his teachings in the scriptures especially in the Gospels and in the letters of Paul.

And then we must take up the most difficult task of all: We must follow. Not just worship. Not just praise. We must undertake the hard work of doing, of following.

Following Jesus means: to believe what Jesus believed, to love what Jesus loved, to defend the dignity of the human person as Jesus defended it; to be with the powerless and vulnerable as Jesus was; to be free to do good as Jesus did; to trust the Father as Jesus trusted Him, and to face life and death with the great message of Easter: Hope! Mercy and compassion.

When we listen deeply through meditating on God’s Word, then we will be motivated and strengthened to follow. The key goal of Catholicism, and Christianity in general, is evangelization.

How we live as followers of Christ, as members of his Church, does make a difference, an eternal difference.

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER

1-7

John’s Gospel ends with four appearances that the resurrected Jesus makes to different groups of disciples: four scenes of Christ revealed alive, four assurances that death could never contain the life that Jesus lived and lives. First, on Easter Day, we heard how Mary encountered Jesus in the garden outside the tomb, and mistook him for the gardener, before God’s light flooded in and she saw him revealed as her teacher. Last Sunday, we heard of two encounters with Jesus: late on Easter Day, Jesus appears to the disciples in the house where they had been staying — only Thomas is missing and does not believe. So Jesus returns again the following week, and this time Thomas is there, and sees with his own eyes, and confesses his belief. And Jesus says to Thomas, “Have you believed me because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

But then life goes on, and many ordinary days follow. So it is with the fourth and final appearance that John records, in chapter 21. Some time has passed — John doesn’t say how much. But the disciples have left Jerusalem and returned to their home in Galilee, back to the safety of the countryside and away from those terrible forces that Jesus confronted in the city: the chief priests and Pharisees in the temple, and of course the Roman governor and his soldiers. Jesus’ loyal followers are home, but you get the sense that they don’t quite know what to do with themselves or what to make of those strange appearances that happened just after Jesus’ death.

Peter decides to go fishing, and several of the others decide to go out on the boat with him. They don’t have any luck, but the next morning, as they are coming back to shore, they find a man standing there who tells them to cast the net again, to the right side of the boat this time. At first, the disciples do not recognize him; he is just another stranger.

Eventually though, they come to the realization that this stranger is Christ. They break bread with him as he preaches and shares some wisdom with them. What always sticks with me is how the disciples initially did not recognize Jesus. Furthermore, this is not the only instance of the disciples failing to recognize Christ after his resurrection. It happens time and time again. After having resurrected, Jesus appears to his disciples and it usually takes them some time to catch on to the fact that it is him. Reflecting on this leads me to think how perhaps, like the disciples, we too often fail to see Jesus even when he is standing right in front of us. Jesus tends to have a way of sneaking into our lives and revealing himself through the most unexpected people.

After they finish breakfast. Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” And Peter answers him, “Well Lord, of course, you know I love you.” But Jesus doesn’t seem satisfied with this answer, so he asks Peter again, and Peter again gives the same answer. In fact, this exchange happens three times.

Now why would Jesus ask Peter this question three times? It turns out, in the original Greek, Jesus and Peter are using completely different words for love. What Jesus actually asks Peter is: do you agape me? And Peter answers: yes Lord, you know that I philia you.

Agape and philia. Jesus wants agape: the kind of love that is life-transforming, wholly consuming, that means commitment beyond feelings. The self-giving love that sacrifices its own needs for the good of others. The kind of love that God has for us, in other words. This is the love Jesus showed us on the cross, and Jesus is asking for this kind of love in return.

But all Peter can offer is philia: I have affection for you, Lord. I like you, well enough. That’s what philia is — more like, than love.

We shouldn’t be too hard on Peter though. Perhaps he was just trying to be honest about the kind of love he was capable of giving Jesus in return. Peter saw Jesus’ brutal execution with his own eyes, so he is well aware of what can result from too much agape love. Letting go of yourself for the good of the other is not an easy calling.

A remarkable and beautiful thing happens at the end of this exchange though: the first two times Jesus asks the question, he says, “Do you agape me?” And Peter answers, “Lord, I philia you.” But the third time Jesus asks, he changes the question and uses philia instead of agape, the same word for love that Peter had been using all along.

The point is that Jesus loves us enough to meet us where we are. If all we can offer is philia, then Jesus will meet us there, and keep walking with us. Jesus knows that the agape love with which God holds together the universe is more than enough to go around: it can make up for our deficiencies in love. And as we walk with Jesus and our hearts grow more open, God’s love will come pouring in, until we are so full that it begins to flow through us and out into the world. This is the abundant life that Jesus wants for us: In the end, it all boils down to taking to heart Jesus’ simple, but challenging command. The very last words of this week’s Gospel: “Follow me.”

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

SOLEMNITY OF THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER (DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY)

1-7

JOHN 20:19-31 
KEY VERSE: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (v 29).

Every material has a breaking point. A point at which it can no longer take the stress placed upon it. That stress will cause the material to bend, to stretch, to deform, and eventually to break. Engineers even have a term used to describe the ability of a material to withstand stretching before it breaks or fails. That term is tensile strength. The greater the tensile strength the stronger the material.

Steel has a very high tensile strength. That strength has allowed us to use steel to construct ever larger and taller structures. But steel and all other materials have a defined tensile strength. They all have a breaking point.

What is true for steel, is also true for human relationships. We might say they have a certain tensile strength. Most relationships have a point where the people involved in them cannot stretch themselves any further and those relationships break apart.

That can happen in a marriage, it can happen in a friendship, it can happen in a business partnership. In those cases, relationships break.

This Sunday’s Gospel (John 20:19-31) is about the strength of the Lord’s relationship with us.

We really don’t know enough about Thomas to assess his character, let alone to accuse him of being a habitual doubter. He’s Jewish. He’s a twin but we don’t know who his twin was. He’s devoted enough to Jesus to at least contemplate dying for him. He doesn’t want to be separated from his Lord. He wants to know where Jesus is going and how to get to him. And for all that, Thomas isn’t there for Jesus when he is arrested, tried, and put to death. He runs away.

After the crucifixion, as he hides in the city, he must be a bundle of fear, grief and guilt. There are few human emotions so devastating. To then discover that his friends, equally guilty, equally grieving, had been visited by Jesus and given authority to heal the very emotions with which he suffered was more than he could absorb or manage. Filled with shame he blurts out: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Thomas won’t believe it for himself. He certainly won’t believe it from the mouths of his friends, who have been empowered to restore relationships: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas still hangs around, even though he is convinced that nothing can ever get better for him, that he deserves nothing better. The next week Jesus appears again, says Shalom, and immediately invites Thomas to touch his wounds. Like a dam bursting, Thomas’s fear, grief, shame, and hopelessness floods out and he collapses in adoration. “My Lord and my God”.

The writer of John’s Gospel, concludes the story by telling us why he selected this one from among all the incidents he could have recounted. He writes: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

In one way or another we all stumble into life moments when we are seized by fear, remorse, grief, and loss. Our lack of belief that things can get better isn’t atheism or agnosticism, but rather a deeply personal conviction that we are the exception, the one left out. We may even believe that the Christian community is empowered reconcile, restore and forgive and that priests and bishops are chosen agents of reconciliation. There’s a much-neglected sacrament of reconciliation. Yet we still exclude ourselves as if clinging to remorse rather than the life we deserve.

I wonder whether John points us deeper in that direction, that “Way, Truth and Life”? Is there significance in the gap of a week between encounters, one that the first Christians would have grasped? Is this a seven-day gap between Lord’s Days? As we do, the Early Christians offered the Shalom, the Peace, during which Jesus comes among us and invites us to explore his wounds. As we touch him, he enters us and, by faith, we let loose everything that has obscured his presence. He offers new life when we couldn’t believe one possible, and we drop to our knees and murmur: “My Lord and my God”.

Thomas and the others saw “many other signs” after Jesus was raised from the dead. They saw and they believed. They have been given His life, which continues in the Church’s Word and sacraments, so that we who have not seen might inherit His blessings, and “have life in His name.”

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2016 in Uncategorized