Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fifth Sunday of Easter Year C

We live in a multitasking world with multiplex theaters, multi-cultural food courts, multiple desk tops on our computer screens, picture in picture on our TVs, news being proclaimed with more news coming across at the same time in the endless scroll beneath the image.

In the first reading each week of the Easter season, we hear from the first generation of the Church in the story of the post-Easter apostles. They are learning what it means to be Church. They are learning what impact the gospel they proclaim will have on the world and times they live in. They are learning the first hard lessons about trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit, still a new gift they don’t fully understand. They are confronted with the difficult task of surrendering their assumptions, prejudices, and behaviors in the face of something quite new. They are faced with what God is doing in the world.

At the same time in the gospel story each week, we are hearing from the time when Jesus was still with his disciples, both before and just after the resurrection. This “flashback” to the time of Jesus relates to the experience of the early Church quite deliberately. They are living out the truth of the advice and example Jesus gave them.

Finally, we have that middle reading, the one most easily forgotten. It comes from the Book of Revelation. If the time of the post-resurrection Church can be considered the present age—it is after all the generation we still inhabit—and the generation of Jesus is the past we hold in sacred memory, then the scenes recorded by the visionary John are of a different time and place altogether. Is it the future he sees? Often the events of Revelation are relegated to the future as an end-time scenario. What John is actually seeing is happening in the realm of God right now. The Holy Now of God is always and everywhere taking shape.

We are called to participate in this Holy Now of God. We do not just remember it as a past event and we do not just hope for it as a future event. We are called to embrace it, the Holy Now of God, in the present moment. This Holy Now comes when we join our will to the holy will of God.

It comes to us in this holy Eucharist that we are about to share. The same holy Eucharist that our innocent children recently received for the first time. This same Eucharist Pope Benedict called in his Letter Sacramentum Caritas - The Sacrament of Love. In that apostolic letter, Benedict did not limit his reflection on pieties—how to hold your hands, how to sing, how to decorate—no, he made a strong statement about being and remaining a Eucharistic people. Benedict was clear that Eucharist emboldens us to be people of charity. Eucharist forms us to be people of solidarity. Eucharist is an active agent in our lives – a dynamic agent not merely a stagnated object for us to observe, but an object of adoration. Why? Because, in that act of adoration we are compelled to act. We are compelled to act with justice and compassion, empathy, and sympathy. We are compelled to act with love.

Each of us must choose to obey the commandment to love one another. When I do, I claim participation in the Holy Now of God. When I come in love and act from love I am a participant. If you obey this commandment you can see and appreciate the Holy Now of God.

To live according to the commandment of love also means to sacrifice. For to love is to sacrifice one’s self for another, as Pope Benedict reminded us in his first Encylical Deus Caritas Est. We have to let God make all things new—starting with ourselves. To love as God loves is the most difficult yet the most profound activity in our lives. How do we go about it?

There is a story about a man who had a huge boulder in his front yard. He grew weary of this big, unattractive stone in the center of his lawn. He decided to take advantage of it and turn it into an object of art. He went to work on it with hammer and chisel, and chipped away at the huge boulder until it became a beautiful stone elephant. When he was finished it was gorgeous. It was breath-taking.

A neighbor asked, "How did you ever carve such a marvelous likeness of an elephant?"

The man answered, "I just chipped away everything that didn't look like an elephant!"

If you have anything in your life right now that doesn't look like love, then, with the help of God, chip it away! If you have anything in your life that doesn't look like compassion, mercy, or empathy, then, with the help of God, chip it away! If you have hatred, prejudice, vengeance, or envy in your heart, for God's sake, for the sake of others, and for your sake, get rid of it! Let God chip everything out of your life that doesn't look like love.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fourth Sunday of Easter Year C

Numbers. Our lives are filled with numbers. Each year we file our income taxes. Now that's an exercise in numbers to end all numbers games. Pages upon pages of numbers: earned numbers, spent numbers, invested numbers, and saved numbers. When it is finally prepared, we send it off to the Internal Revenue Service with our Social Security number on it. And the IRS takes all those numbers and puts them into a computer, along with the numbers of thousands and thousands of other people. And to them, we become a number.

The government knows us by our tax number. The state knows us by our driver's license number. The bank knows us by our account number. When we retire, we'll be remembered by our Social Security number. And it goes on and on. In fact, sometimes I wonder if anybody knows us at all without a number!

And that's why this morning's Gospel reading is so significant, because it tells us that God knows us. He knows us intimately, in fact, better than we know ourselves. That's important to remember. In spite of the fact that the image of sheep and shepherd is foreign to our experience, the words of
the Gospel this morning hearken for us a truth that our human hearts long to hear. The Old Testament writer put it even more clearly when he wrote, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want." Jesus says it this morning, "My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me, and I give them eternal life."

The call of our Lord is "hidden" in a whole chorus of worldly voices which beckon us. Other would-be shepherds seek to tempt us away from the Good Shepherd, the joy of his forgiveness, and the security of his love. When we are weak and confused we may fall victim to the enticements of other gods.

I am reminded of an American tourist who was traveling in the
Middle East. He came upon several shepherds whose flocks had intermingled while drinking water from a brook. After an exchange of greetings, one of the shepherds turned toward the sheep and called out, "Manah. Manah. Manah." (Manah means, "follow me" in Arabic.) Immediately his sheep separated themselves from the rest and followed him.

Then one of the two remaining shepherds called out, "Manah. Manah." and his sheep left the common flock to follow him. The traveler then said to the
third shepherd, "I would like to try that. Let me put on your cloak and
turban and see if I can get the rest of the sheep to follow me."

The shepherd smiled knowingly as the traveler wrapped himself in the cloak, put the turban on his head and called out, "Manah. Manah." The sheep did not respond to the stranger's voice. Not one of them moved toward him. Will the sheep ever follow someone other than you?" The traveler asked.

"Oh yes," the shepherd replied, "sometimes a sheep gets sick, and then it will follow anyone."

We have seen it, haven't we? People, young and old, who are "sick." Battered by the storms of life and distracted by voices urging them to go this way and that, they have lost their bearings and they don't know where they are or where they are going. That can be more than a little frightening; it leads to despair, to hopelessness. And when someone is "sick" they will follow anyone who will promise a moment of happiness, a brief feeling of peace or forgetfulness, a sense that they are someone.

But the call of Jesus the Good Shepherd is, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." There is no better way, no greater truth, and no happier life. Our Lord reaches out to us in love that we might follow him.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Easter 2 Year C

Once again we have closed another Lent. Once again we have celebrated the Sacred Triduum with intense liturgical fervor. We have sung of Jesus’ victory over death. We have welcomed the newly baptized into our midst. We have noted the crowds who are drawn to the church in record numbers for the Easter Sunday. We have consumed the sweetness of the chocolate bunnies. We have savored the flowering of the earth. We have invoked the many alleluias of the Easter Season.

Easter is time filled as well as a time of fulfillment. It is because these phenomena that the Wisdom of the Church asks us to keep our focus on the resurrection stories over the next seven weeks. It is because of the fullness and the power of the Easter event that Mother Church invites us each Sunday trough Pentecost to listen and to be nurtured by the stories of the early church.

It is in the next seven week that we are asked to assimilate the gospel stories of Jesus’ apparitions and to own for ourselves the transformational stories of those who peopled the early church.

As Catholic Christians Easter is not just an event celebrated, it was, is and will always be a process. A process entered into. It is a process that entails a comparison of our personal experience with the experience of others. Others who have come to the conclusion that Jesus is not just another teacher, prophet, or guru. Rather, that through his resurrection Jesus proves that he is the Messiah, the long awaited one, the alpha and the Omega. He is the one whose death and resurrection marks the central act of history.

As Catholic Christians we recognize that history began with our being in harmony with God and that through our human decisions, our human choices, that harmony was disrupted. As Catholic Christians we recognize our role and celebrate the fact that God through his Son Jesus has enabled us to live once again in harmony with God.

As Catholic Christians we are also asked to give witness to our harmony with God, but living out a life of harmony with others. The story of the resurrection of Jesus is personalized when we allow ourselves to die, when we allow suffering to be transcended.

As Catholics we are asked to let bitterness drop, resentments diminish. We are asked to act out of compassion and not compulsion. The Easter story of Jesus intersects with our stories when we allow the words of the risen Lord, “Peace be with you” to fall from our lips.

The Easter story continues in our lives when we are absorbed with forgiveness rather than revenge. The Easter story is ours when we choose to heal rather than riot.

Easter invites us to repent. That repentance is oftentimes slow. It is oftentimes takes a lifetime, none the less it is what we are called to do. Repent and believe that t Jesus is with us on our journey back to God. His journey begins where we are. In that journey we are accepted as we are with the expectation that we will allow ourselves to be changed until one day we look to Jesus and say, “My lord and my God.”

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Easter Year C

Two centuries ago the Catholic priest Erasmus said that, “The creation of the world was a work of power.”

In our power driven world how easy it would be to confine our ideas about God to just his powerful acts. After all, we are attracted to power, we create power, and we envy power. The most powerful men and women of the world are often the subject of the media. In fact even Jesus was voted once be one of the most powerful men in the world’s history.

We have given homage to the power of God often. We sing songs such as “Our God is an Awesome God,” alluding to the power that he has in creating us and the world around us.

We pray for God’s powerful intervention to hear our prayers of intercession. “Almighty and all powerful God hear our prayers.” We teach that God has three attributes. He is omniscient, all knowing; he is omnipresent, every where; he is omnipotent, all powerful. Yes the power of God is great and greatly to be praised.

Yet two centuries ago, Erasmus also said that, “The redemption of the world is an act of mercy.”

That is without a doubt the most under appreciated, misunderstood, and least accepted attribute of God. For some strange reason we have difficulty accepting the mercy of God. We tend to link mercy with weakness, indecisiveness, a lack of power.

That is strange to me because from a biblical point of view the emet and hesed “the love and mercy of God” is by far the most talked about attribute of God. “We say that God so loved the world that he gave his only son.” We understand that passage easily in the light of the Christmas story. In reality that passage speaks more about and is better understood in the light of the Easter candle. This candle that stands newly lit amongst us today. The Christ who died was buried and is risen is the Christ whose light illuminates our journey.

It is by his mercy that we are able to walk through this life and enter into the next one.

The principle character in today’s gospel is Mary of Magdala. The Magdala, who probably throughout her life heard over and over of how the powerful God was going to punish her for her faults. The Magdala who in her own time and down through the centuries was labeled as mad woman, prostitute, and sinner. The Magdala who finally in the presence of Jesus heard and experienced the mercy of God who by word and deed accepted her and embraced her.

The Easter story is hers to tell. What she says is simply, don’t surrender to power, don’t give in to doubt, and do not be afraid of anxiety. In the resurrection of Jesus she was reminded and she reminds us that Jesus died for justice, that Jesus rose for compassion, that Jesus walks for reconciliation.

No matter how hard we try, no matter how hard any one else tries to squelch, squash or subjugate you, the empty tomb is the powerful sign of God’s mercy and love.

“Lord I am not worthy but only say the word and I will be healed.” This morning there is before you either misery or mercy. Choose mercy, for our God is a merciful one. That alone should give us reason to rejoice.