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THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD

1-7Both readings today deal with events around the ascension of Jesus. In each passage, Jesus promises his disciples that they will receive power from on high. And in each passage, he tells them that they must stay in the city, they must wait, for the realization of this promise. Their period of waiting is memorialized in the church year. For here we are, on Ascension Day, which commemorates the return of Jesus to his Father. Days must pass until the Day of Pentecost comes, when we commemorate that gift of power from on high. This period is sometimes called Ascension Season. Thus, it appears as a season within a season. It begins the conclusion of the Great Fifty Days of Easter.

For the first disciples, it was a time of remaining in Jerusalem. A time to wait, and a time to pray. It reminds us, who are later disciples of Jesus, of the role of prayer and waiting in our lives.

Our society has little patience with those who decide to wait and pray. Ours is an action-oriented culture, action-oriented to a fault, so that many of us pass much of our time struggling with stress and weariness. Our culture is no friend to prayer, either, except possibly prayer that reinforces the status quo. But all authentic prayer is a response to God, and God has been known to be a change agent.

Moreover, prayer acknowledges our dependence on God, and our culture is, at heart, uncomfortable with an acknowledgment of dependence. Our culture is independence-oriented, independence-oriented to a fault, so that many of us live and die in considerable isolation from one another.

In the face of all this, then, there is something subversive about Ascension Day because this feast is not just a goodbye to Jesus as he makes his way home; it is an invitation to countercultural activities such as waiting and prayer. On this day, our attention might well focus on the triumphant Christ as he, in ways past our understanding, ascends through all the heavens. Our attention might well rivet on how he ascends in his humanity, and that therefore we who are human, we who are his body, ascend together with him. But today I would like us to consider instead those waiting, praying disciples gathered in Jerusalem, anticipating power from on high. What they do is countercultural by our standards. They wait. They pray.

But there is still more about them that makes our dominant culture uncomfortable. They wait, they pray, not simply out of obedience. They wait, they pray, because they desire. They desire that promised power from on high and all that it makes possible. Their desire is good and holy.

Ours is a culture that accepts desire only to trivialize it. Our TV commercials celebrate the glories of dish detergent. Our politicians–many of them–incite our fears and jealousies, rather than help us desire greater justice. Yes, we accept desire only to debase it, to turn its focus from what is finally desirable and authentically glorious toward the trivial and the tragic, things that have no future.

And so, as a society, we lack the ability to understand is the big deal. Because we have trivialized passion, we have weakened our own ability to recognize a desire for the greatest of all, namely God.

The days and seasons of the church calendar represent attitudes that remain important to us all the year round. This is especially true now, during this Ascension Season. Christ returns home to the Father, and the gathered disciples wait and pray and desire. Their desire is for God, for the complete coming of the kingdom, for the power from on high that will make their lives bright torches.

Can we make their brand of waiting and prayer and especially desire the hallmark of our lives? I believe this is possible. Today more than ever, the world needs to hear the Gospel message. Like the early disciples, we are ordinary people, but Jesus has selected us to pass on the faith. God gives us his Spirit and promises that he is with us always. We recognise, celebrate and give thanks for that presence in our regular encounter with the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

 

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Posted by on May 12, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

2-8Abide with Me is a familiar hymn that Henry Francis Lyte penned while battling tuberculosis. A request: for God to abide with us always, and even more so when the “darkness deepens” or “other helpers fail.” But what does it mean for God to abide with us?

The gospel reading from John reminds us of Jesus’ words to his disciples and us that, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide or remain in my love” (John 15:9).

In the gospel, Jesus lays out three benefits of abiding in him. First that the love of God is present in us, and, as a result, we can love like Jesus. Verse 13 spells out what it means to love as Jesus loves: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Taylor Branch in Parting the Waters tells what happened after Dr King’s front porch was bombed while his wife and 10-week-old baby were inside: “King walked out onto the front porch. Holding up his hand for silence, he tried to still the anger by speaking with an exaggerated peacefulness in his voice. Everything was all right, he said. ‘Don’t get panicky. Don’t do anything panicky. Don’t get your weapons. If you have weapons, take them home. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword. Remember that is what Jesus said… We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love.’”

Dr. King is just one example of the love of Jesus being humanly possible; there are others. This tells us that it’s possible for us all, with God’s help.

Second, abiding in Jesus and loving like Jesus creates joy. We become joyful and joy is present when Jesus abides with us and when we abide in Jesus’ love. Jesus said, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:10-11).

In life, sometimes joy is hard to find: when disappointments and setbacks are the order of the day and God seems far or prayers seem unanswered. It is difficult to keep one’s joy when there is no hope, or the walls seem to be caving in all around us. The strength we need for this life is found in the essential joy that God provides if we abide in him and in his love.

Thirdly, abiding in Jesus means that we are anointed to bear fruit that will last. Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name” (John 15:16).

The proof is in the fruit we produce A good tree does not bear bad fruit. Jesus is serious about his disciples bearing fruit. Good fruit. Fruit that will last.

We have been called by Jesus, who lives in us, to bear fruit. The message of this Sunday’s readings points to the reason why the mission of the Church must reach out to the world around us with respect and compassion and, with love. Of course, our identity as Catholics remains essential–we must know who we are and draw strength from our rich Catholic heritage: our Eucharist and sacraments, our spirituality, the example of our saints, the wisdom of the Church’s teaching.

But at the core of that identity is the call to give witness to a God who loves the people “of every nation” and who embraces our world and creation itself. When Jesus abides in us, we can’t help but exude his love and ways and share them. We can’t help but be joyful in all things. And the fruit we bear is good and pleasing in God’s sight. Abiding with Jesus is exemplifying the love that God and Jesus share with each other and that we as a community are called to enact. Like Lyte, if we acknowledge our state and beseech Jesus to abide with us, teaching us to love like him, we can joyfully sing out in confidence:

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

 

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

_Graduating_ from Catechesis class in Cairui (1)Today’s reading from the Gospel of John is part of Jesus’ discourse at the Last Supper. Jesus speaks about his relationship to his disciples. In his metaphor of the vine and the branches, Jesus is referencing the Hebrew Scriptures. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Israel is the vineyard, and Yahweh himself tends the vineyard. One of the primary themes of John’s Gospel is to show Jesus to be the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel.

We can easily mishear the invitation in today’s gospel passage yet another demand on our time. We can make the mistake of assuming that what often works well in one aspect of our lives, works equally well in our spiritual lives: in this case, the motto of every controlling and rushed person – which is all of us at one time or another – “If I don’t do it, it won’t get done.” But listen to Jesus today, “I AM the true vine, and my Father is the vine-dresser.” And Jesus goes on to tell us very clearly who is doing the work, and it is not you or me, my friends. “He removes every branch in me that does not bear fruit.”

This image of the people of God as “God’s vineyard” is a very old one, going back to the Jewish psalms, as well as other places in the Old Testament. Listen to part of Psalm 80: “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.” Again, notice that it is God who is doing all the planting here, not us. And think of all the other I AM statements found in the Gospel of John: “I AM the light of the world,” “I AM the gate,” “I AM the resurrection and the life.”

All these I AM statements in the Gospel of John point to the reality of God’s availability. It is ironic that Christianity has the reputation of being another-worldly religion, focused almost exclusively on how to get into heaven. Maybe you have seen the bumpers stickers declaring, “Jesus is coming, look busy!” It may sound surprising, but this kind of theology of a “distant god” is what most of us are comfortable with, because it ultimately pushes God to the sidelines and we can remain in control. We are very good at being busy and taking responsibility, and we rather prefer this to being on the receiving end of change. But as Jesus says in today’s reading, “Live in me as I live in you.”
In today’s gospel, Jesus addresses us twice with the phrase “I AM the vine.” There is a promise here. “I AM the vine, and you are the branches.” Jesus is asking each of us to simply be with him. It’s OK to relax a bit and stop worrying about hiding those parts of ourselves that we don’t want others, and surely not God, to see. We can abide with God, instead of busying ourselves to keep God at a distance.

God is doing more in our lives than any of us are aware. God in Jesus is simply inviting each of us to take the time to notice. Jesus is very clear when he says: “I AM the vine, you are the branches.”

Jesus is also telling us we have the potential to bear fruit, and challenging us to step up to the task, willing to shed ourselves of all that refuses to hear the word and live it.

It’s a good challenge to those of us who are committed and involved in our faith. We can sometimes allow ourselves to become complacent with the fruit we are bearing. But if we open ourselves up to really hearing the word of Christ anew each day, then we must always be willing to be pruned: to learn a little more, to risk a little more, to love a little more in order to bear better fruit.

” It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit.” It is one thing to hear the word and let it soak in. It is another to be pruned by that word and to choose to live up to the expectation it places upon us.

That is what abiding in the power of the Word is all about, not placing impediments in God’s way by trying to do for ourselves what God wants to do for us: reshape our hearts, bodies and minds to receive the forgiveness being offered.

Hopefully, now, you can hear Jesus’ words as the beautiful invitation it truly is: “Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.”

 

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

_Graduating_ from Catechesis class in Cairui (1)The fourth Sunday of Easter is also called Good Shepherd Sunday. In each of the three lectionary cycles, our Gospel is taken from the 10th chapter of the Gospel of John. Jesus, living in the first century, talking to people who know livestock and agriculture in their hearts and bones, tells his disciples, his friends, us, that he is the Good Shepherd.

This chapter of John’s Gospel follows Jesus’ healing of the man born blind and the rejection of this miracle by the Jewish leaders who question Jesus’ authority to heal. Jesus responds to this challenge by calling himself the Good Shepherd. He is criticizing the leadership of the Pharisees and the other Jewish leaders. The Pharisees and other Jewish leaders are so angry that they attempt to stone and arrest Jesus (see John 10:31,39). This controversy with the religious leaders continues until Jesus’ death.

Our text today is the second half of Jesus’ describing himself as the Good Shepherd. Today, Jesus makes the distinction between himself, the Good Shepherd, and the hired hand. “The Good Shepherd,” Jesus says, “is willing to die, to give up their own life to save the sheep.” He contrasts this with the hired hand, someone whose work is seasonal but who isn’t invested in the sheep or the property. “The hired hand,” Jesus says, “says, I’m outta here!’ when the wolf comes.” The hired hand’s work is probably temporary anyway, depending on the season and need. Why would they stick around when a wolf comes?

Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” This second half of Jesus’ Good Shepherd Jesus is telling his disciples then and now that this is how he cares for us. He’s not a leader who is around just long enough to get paid. He’s not there to just do the easy work. Jesus the Good Shepherd has come to offer salvation: salvation through love, self-giving, tenderness, and vulnerability.

Before the plot, his trial, his execution, or his resurrection, Jesus tells the disciples that he lays his life down for his sheep. He protects them from the wolves. He brings them life. He tells his disciples, too, that there are other sheep to which he must attend, others who follow him, but that aren’t a part of the fold they know, the fold of which they are part.
Jesus is giving his disciples an Easter message before he’s even been crucified. “I lay down my life to take it up again… I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.” Jesus the Good Shepherd doesn’t run from the wolves, he gets in the muck with the sheep and loves us. We started learning about that when God became human and let Godself be bound to our earthly, fleshy limitations.

He holds us close to his chest or lets us lean on him when we need to be held and touched, and he faces the greatest enemy we have: death. He does by his own will, not because he’s compelled to. He does it from his desire, not to satisfy a blood necessity. He does it on his own, not to appease the Creator’s wrath. “For this reason, the Father loves me,” Jesus says, “because I lay down my life to take it up again.”

Jesus the Good Shepherd isn’t a Precious Moments painting or collectible, however sweet that may feel or seem. Love — love enough to lay down one’s life and take it back up again — isn’t only sweet and it isn’t only a moment. It’s earthy and dirty. It’s dangerous and deadly. But this is Jesus the resurrected Christ. The Good Shepherd who knows his own, whose own know him, who lays down his life for them — even when the hired hand won’t.

Jesus the Good Shepherd is tender, affectionate, and vulnerable. As he tends to us in Bread and Wine, getting back into the physical, touchable reality of humanity he joins us to his life, his life that he laid down and took back up. Jesus the Good Shepherd knows us as his own, and we know him.

 

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER

1-1On the third Sunday of Easter, we continue to hear Gospel accounts of Jesus’ appearances to his disciples following his Resurrection. Today’s reading, taken from the Gospel of Luke, follows immediately after the report of Jesus’ appearance to his disciples on the road to Emmaus. This is the event being recounted by the disciples in the opening verse of today’s Gospel.

Consistently in the reports of Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances, Jesus greets his disciples with the words, “Peace be with you.” This is appropriate for the disciples have witnessed the death of someone they loved, and they now fear for their own lives as well. Peace is what they need more than anything else. Jesus often connects this greeting of peace with another gift—forgiveness. In today’s Gospel, this connection is made in the final verses.

However, even as they hear Jesus’ greeting of peace, the disciples are startled and terrified. They are uncertain about what to make of the figure before them and, quite understandably, they mistake Jesus for a ghost.

Jesus does two things to help the disciples overcome fear and unbelief. He shows them His hands and His feet, saying, “It is I Myself!”, and tells them to touch His body saying, “A ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have!” Jesus shows His hands and feet because on them is the sign of the nails (cf. Jn 20:25-27). The Risen Christ is Jesus of Nazareth, the same one who was nailed to the Cross and not a phantasm Christ as the disciples imagined when they saw Him. He orders them to touch His body, because the Resurrection is the Resurrection of the whole person, body and soul. The Resurrection has nothing to do with the theory of the immortality of the soul, which the Greeks taught.

As further proof of his identity and of his resurrected body, Jesus eats with his disciples. One of the greatest difficulties of the first Christians was that of accepting the Crucified as the promised Messiah, because the Law taught that a crucified person was a “person cursed by God” (Deut 21:22-23). For this reason, it was important to know that Scripture had already announced that “Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that in His name, conversion and forgiveness of sins would be preached to all peoples.” Jesus shows them what had already been written in the Law of Moses, in the prophets and in the psalms. Jesus risen from the dead, alive in their midst, becomes the key to opening to them the total significance of Sacred Scripture.

Jesus now uncovers for them the significance of what was written about him in the Scriptures. In this last order is enclosed the whole mission of the Christian communities: to be witnesses to the Resurrection, in such a way that the love of God which accepts us and forgives us will be manifested, and which wants us to live in community as sons and daughters, brothers and sisters with one another. As Jesus commissions his disciples to be witnesses to what Scriptures foretold, our celebration of the Eucharist commissions us. Like the disciples, we are sent to announce the good news of Jesus’ forgiveness of sins.

We live in the real world. So, did Jesus. We have real problems and real struggles. Jesus meets us in the midst of them. We come to church or read the bible, and we don’t just hear some nice story. We experience the reality of God working throughout our history, in the times and places of old as well as in the times and places we know, and we encounter the love of God in Christ in our reality.

A mere story can’t change our lives. But knowing our history, our present, and our future can. That’s our reality. And our reality is that Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.

 

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER

_Graduating_ from Catechesis class in Cairui (1)Today, the Second Sunday of Easter is traditionally known as Low Sunday. Low Sunday—that’s a tremendously unflattering nickname for us as the Church. Last week we presented the triumph of the church year. We announced to the world the Good News of Jesus Christ: Jesus died and rose again to new life for love of us. And the result is that the next Sunday things return to normal. Was it something we said?

Our Gospel combines two scenes: Jesus’ appearance to his disciples after his Resurrection and Jesus’ dialogue with Thomas, the disciple who doubted. In both scenes it is Sunday night. The doors are bolted tight, yet Jesus mysteriously comes. He greets them with an expression, “Peace be with you,” He shows them signs of His real bodily presence. And on both nights the disciples respond by joyfully receiving Jesus as their “Lord.”

Thomas, along with Peter, is the most human of the disciples, and this story is rich with interesting questions. The first thing that we notice is that Thomas misses out on Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples. It’s Sunday night, and they have been locked in the Upper Room, afraid for their lives since Friday night. But not Thomas. Thomas does eventually show up with the rest of the disciples, and they tell him, “We have seen the Lord.”

Jesus is dead, and Thomas knows that denying that won’t help anyone. It’s never brought back any of the family and friends he’s lost over the years, and it won’t bring back Jesus. Thomas has had only his own stubbornness to keep him going. Stubbornness and maybe a tiny spark of hope. Is it possible that a small part of him wondered if this story his friends were telling him might possibly be true? He reveals himself a bit in his answer to their claim that they have seen the Lord. He says, “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.”

He doesn’t say, “You people are crazy, I’m leaving.” He sets up a hypothetical condition under which he will believe in the Resurrection. He’s laying out the challenge to Jesus. He’s saying, “Come and show me, Jesus, come and prove it to me..” And Jesus does not disappoint him.

But as soon as Jesus arrives, as soon as he bids them peace, he calls Thomas to him and says, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

Even in his resurrected body, Jesus’ wounds remain. Jesus is resurrected to new life, but he’s still himself. And he helps Thomas recognize him through his wounds. That is a lesson for us. Our wounds are not erased as though they had never existed. They are still present but no longer cause us pain.

Today is the Day of the Resurrection for Thomas. It is the day when Thomas sees the wounds on Jesus’ body, the same physical person that he knew and loved and now recognizes as both wounded and whole, alive and breathing.

Thomas was a week late to the Resurrection, but he made it all the same. There is still time for you to come back to life. Reach out to touch the wounded, living Jesus and feel him touch your wounded, living soul.

Today, there are many people like Thomas. They hear the message of the Gospel that proclaims that Jesus is alive and risen, that he is Saviour and Lord, but they look for proof. Like Thomas, they want to see for themselves. They don’t want to be taken in by “fake news.”

We are the ones who must provide the proof they are seeking. We do that by how we live as members of the Church, by how we live as members of the Body of Christ. Those Christians were the proof of the Resurrection. We might say they were the “nail marks” and “side” of Christ that people could see and so come to believe in the Risen Lord.

If people today are sceptical about the Resurrection of Jesus, it may be our fault. We may not be giving them the proof they need.

 

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

Easter Day

1-21This morning as the women walk to the garden, they wonder, “Who will roll the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” Our Gospel reading tells us that the women then looked up. The original Greek text  for this can also mean the women looked again or perhaps do a double take, and realize that the stone has been rolled away.

In Mark’s Gospel, faith gives us the ability to see the world as God sees it. When we look with the eyes of the world, we see the obstacles and problems. The stone blocks our path and it is too large for us to even budge. We look with the eyes of faith and a different picture comes into focus. God has already removed the obstacles that we could not remove by our own power.

This is seen most clearly in this story. The three women are blocked by an obstacle, which they stood no chance of removing on their own. They ask one another, “Who will roll away the stone?” Yet, when they look again through the eyes of faith, they see that the stone has already been rolled away. The stone that blocks their way is already long gone when they do the Easter double take and see the world as God sees it.

What are the stones that need to be rolled away in your life? Is the obstacle one of relationships that can’t be made right? Or is your path blocked by an addiction to alcohol, drugs, or some other destructive cycle from which you don’t have the power to break free? All of us can find our way blocked by obstacles too big to budge. The story of Easter tells us that God offers the ultimate leverage to remove the obstacles.

If you rely on your own might, your own abilities, your own wisdom, the stone in your way will be more than you can face. Period. But, when you have the courage to admit you don’t have the power to remove the obstacle, you can turn the problem over to God. Then with the eyes of faith, you may come in time to see that the insurmountable obstacle has been rolled away.

Yet, that is not the end of the Gospel reading. The women enter the tomb to find an angel, with the news that Jesus has been raised from the dead and has gone ahead of his disciples to Galilee. It would be wonderful to report that the women were immediately filled with joy. Instead, we are told that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome were seized by alarm

The Gospel begins with Jesus in Galilee challenging people to come and follow him; at the close of the story, Jesus has once more gone ahead into Galilee holding out the offer of discipleship to any who will come and follow him.

What about you? Would you have the courage to leave the empty tomb and go back to Galilee to take up the task of being Jesus’ disciple now that you know the way of discipleship led to the cross and the grave? Even with the triumph of Easter, we can fearfully retreat now that we know the cost of discipleship.

The Gospel offers a dual challenge this Easter. The first is to look at the very real obstacles in your life with the eyes of faith. The things that you are powerless to change are not obstacles to God, if you have the faith to push ahead.

But the second challenge of the Gospel comes when you push ahead. Just as the women found the stone rolled away only to be struck dumb with terror and awe at the news of Jesus’ resurrection, we too can stop seeing the world as God sees it. The second challenge then is the harder one. Once you have seen that God can remove the obstacles blocking your way, then you must follow where Jesus leads.

The three women that morning did break free from fear. We know that they were all active in the earliest Christian church. They found the courage to follow Jesus even after they had learned the cost they might have to one day pay for their faith in him.

Jesus will remove the obstacles from your path if you will stop trying to remove them by your own might. Then he will give you the grace to continue the journey. The path is open to each of us. Jesus is still out there beckoning, “Follow me” to those who listen. We only need respond by faith and say yes to the invitation.

 

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2018 in Uncategorized