Homily for Wednesday, the Second Week of Easter (April 20th, 2014)

Our first scripture is an excerpt from the New Testament book entitled Acts of the Apostles. The Church proclaims excerpts from this book throughout the season of Easter.

A few days ago I noted that the New Testament Book entitled the Acts of the Apostles is about how the divine life and presence of the Lord Jesus is extended in space and time in the Church. In other words the astounding revelation of Jesus Christ did not end centuries ago, but continues even now in the Church. Once, God in Christ was revealed in the physical body of his Incarnation. Now, God in Christ is revealed in the Body of the Church.

Christ makes his divine life and presence in the Church known in concrete ways. Thus, the book of Acts of the Apostles describes the apostles doing things that Christ did- performing miracles. But as today’s excerpt from Acts makes clear, the apostles are like Christ in another way- they suffer like him. The world that resisted Christ now resists the Church and the apostles experience the pressure of that resistance.

But despite that pressure, they trust that the power of God that triumphed over death in Christ will not abandon them, and so and fortified by a heavenly power greater than any worldly power, they persist in their mission.

Not even the threat of imprisonment or death will stop them in their mission to proclaim the Gospel.

So to it should be for us. And this is difficult for many Christians to hear.

Christ does not promise us an easy life. It is not the purpose of the Church to take the sharp edges of the Gospel and dull them so that the revelation of Christ can be more readily accommodated to cultural trends. Seeking assimilation to culture, rather than proclaiming the time has arrived to its transformation, is a perennial temptation for disciples. This strategy might grant us a measure of safety and success, but it won’t make us holy and the point of discipleship is holiness.

Christ grants us communion with his divine life, and this makes us holy- to be holy means to be “other than”- to be different, to be set apart.

This difference (holiness), that resists the status quos that the world insists be accepted, will inevitably be opposed.

To paraphrase Father Robert Barron: Authentic discipleship speaks the truth and calls evil by its name. There is a legitimate inclusivity to faith in Christ, because our faith seeks to draw the whole world, all people into communion with Christ’s divine life and presence.

However, there is also an uncompromising exclusivity to the Church’s Faith. The Church knows what is opposed to Christ and stands with him against that opposition.

What then do our works manifest? Darkness or light? Evil or good? Self-interest or mercy? Accommodation or Fidelity? Assimilation or holiness?

Christ came to rescue humanity from darkness and invite us into the warmth of his divine light. Condemnation does not come from him, but from our decision to prefer darkness to light, deeds of evil to works of mercy.

His justice ratifies the condemnation we have chosen.

“But whoever lives in truth comes to the Light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”

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Homily for Divine Mercy Sunday

Our first scripture today is from the New Testament book called “The Acts of the Apostles”.  The book of Acts is a companion piece to the Gospel of Luke and whereas the Gospel of Luke presents the astounding revelation that God, the one, true God, accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life.  And the Gospel of Luke is clear, this revelation is not just an idea or feeling, but a person- a living, divine person.  And the name of this revelation, this person, is Jesus the Lord!

Whereas the Gospel of Luke presents this astounding revelation of God in Christ, the book of Acts of the Apostles presents how this revelation of God in Christ continues in the Church.  In other words, the revelation of the Lord Jesus hasn’t just disappeared into the past, into history, but continues even now in the Church. 

You see, the Church is not just an institution or global non for profit corporation- the Church is the extension of the Incarnation of God in Christ in space in time, in history, right here and now.

How this Christ manifested in the Church?

This particular scripture from Acts of the Apostles insists that Christ makes himself present in our worship in the Mass, in the Blessed Sacrament.  He is evident in our willingness to accept the authority of the apostles as teachers of the faith. Christ makes himself known in how we share what we have been given with others, not just in terms of our material possessions, but our faith in Jesus Christ. 

You see, in all these ways, Christ makes himself present.  But also in all these ways faith in Christ is revealed, not just to be an individualistic or ethnic experience, but a whole way of life.

Christian Faith, your Catholic Faith, is a whole way of life.

One of the great de-formations of the Christian Faith in our times is the attempt to reduce the totality of the Faith from a way of life, to merely a collections of ideas, or emotional experiences, or a vague ethnic association.  Worse than these painfully inadequate reductions is the de-formation of the Christian Faith, the Church into a non-for-profit initiative or faith based club.

None of this will do!

The Church is the Body of Christ in the world, the bearer of his divine life and presence.  Once that divine life and presence was revealed in the body of Christ’s human nature.  Now, this divine life and presence is revealed in Body of Christ, which is the Church.  Christ wills to reveal himself to the world through this unique way of life called the Church.

Our mission is to live in such a way that this revelation is not obscured, but allows the divine life and presence of the Lord Jesus to become radiant to the world.  Seeing us, the world should know Jesus Christ.  If in seeing us, the world does not know Christ, then we are standing in the way of his revelation, rather than allowing him to be seen.

Our second scripture is an excerpt from the first letter of the Apostle Peter.

The Apostle Peter reminds us that Jesus Christ has changed who we are and invited us to be the person that God wants us to be.

In other words, to know Christ means much more than just knowing about Christ.  To know Christ means that you have accepted a relationship with him, and this relationship has changed who you are.

This relationship with Christ happens in the Church. 

But also, and the Apostle Peter is clear, coming to know Christ in his Church is not an easy thing.  What we are given is a relationship with God, not an exemption from reality.  The way of life that is the Church places demands on us, but these demands, are necessary so that we might become ever more like Christ.

The invitation to know Christ is always accompanied by an invitation to a mission.  Whatever this mission might be (and it is unique for each of us) it will, if it is true, draw us into a closer communion with the Church, and compel us to make sacrifices and some of these sacrifices will be difficult.

Why sacrifices?  Because the mission of every Christian is love and love, if it is true and good and beautiful, always demands a sacrifice and through sacrifices our love is perfected and redeemed.

We know this truth about love and sacrifice to be God’s own revelation from the cross and we see this truth about love and sacrifice ratified in Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

To be in relationship with Christ is always accompanied by a mission.  The mission Christ gives us is love and love always demands a sacrifice.

Finally, the Gospel of John presents one of the most compelling accounts of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

Most preachers will use the proclamation of today’s Gospel as an occasion to speak about doubt.  Thomas doubts the testimony of his friends that Christ the Lord has risen from the dead. 

Many preachers will use this text as a ratification of doubts, an admission of how hard it is to believe and that somehow this story affirms us in our doubts.

I suppose one can interpret the text in this manner.

But the story of Doubting Thomas is really a story about a comeuppance, about doubts receiving a hard rebuke, and from that rebuke learning that our doubts and skepticism can only take us so far and will usually lead to a narrowing, rather than a broadening of experience.

What is needed, truly needed, is not doubt, but faith- a disposition of trust, and through that trust what opens up for us are possibilities beyond the limitations of our skepticism and fears.

Doubts are easy and that is why we privilege them.  We use doubts to exempt ourselves from the demands of faith, but there is consequence to this- a narrowing of the self and of our possibilities.

And for this reason the Lord extols blessings for those who take the risk and believe and invites those trapped in their doubts, to make an act of faith.

All this concern for doubts pre-occupies us because modern culture privileges doubt in a manner that previous ages privileged dogma, but it is really a secondary concern in terms of the lesson of today’s Gospel.

The primary concern of this Gospel is to tell us about the nature of the Lord’s resurrection, what his disciples experienced.

And the testimony in today’s Gospel is clear- the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is about his body- his real, human body.

God in Christ did not rise from the dead as a symbol or a metaphor.  He did not return to his disciples as an idea or a feeling.  What they met in the risen Lord Jesus was not a ghost.

It was the Lord Jesus himself- flesh and blood, muscle and bone, skin and hair.  They saw him.  They touched him and even, as Thomas did, examined the wounds he had suffered on the cross.

Yes, that body was changed, but it was and is a real body.

And this highlights something of deep importance to us.

We do not profess faith in a myth or legend.  Our faith is in a living divine person, Jesus of Nazareth.  He is God, who has accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life.  He revealed himself in real space, real time, in a real place, in real history.

He died in a real body and rose from the dead in a real body.

This is the Jesus in whom the Church professes faith.  This is the Jesus in whom we place our trust.

For those who trust the Lord Jesus, he reveals himself as a gift of God’s mercy.

This means that while we are all sinners, all of us have in some way, some more serious than others, frustrated or refused God’s purpose and plan for our lives, and we know in Christ that we are given the incredible opportunity of another chance.

The cross is the great lesson in this regard.  What did we deserve for doing that?  How can anyone argue, given the gravity of the offense of torturing and killing God in Christ, that we deserve anything but retribution and wrath?

Our sins might seem much smaller but that capacity to crucify Christ resides in us all, manifesting itself in all that we have done and failed to do.

Will God forgive us?  Does God want to forgive us?

The resurrection of the Lord Jesus gives us the answer.  And the answer is yes.

The same mercy that Christ imparted to his disciples is given to us in the Church through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

In this Sacrament, God in Christ wills to forgive us.  He wills to give us a another chance.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is not some spiritual option, but a necessity.  It is the ordinary means through which God in Christ wants us to receive the gift of his mercy.

But is this a gift that we want?  Are we willing to trust?  Are we willing to make an act of faith and believe…

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Homily for Friday in Octave of Easter

“There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”

Astounding words from the Apostle Peter.  Audacious.  He is not trading in platitudes or mincing his words.  What words!  What implications!

Peter’s testimony is about who the Lord Jesus is and his identity goes well beyond that of a prophet, indeed far beyond how the Israelites of his time understood the identity of the Messiah.

Peter’s describes God- this is who the Lord Jesus is and that is what is so astounding and audacious about the Apostolic Faith- Christ the Lord is God, who has accepted a human nature and lived a real human life.  In this way he has offered humanity communion with his divine life and invited us to know him as one knows a friend.

Further, God in Christ saves.  I know that this is popularly understood as meaning that Jesus Christ can get you into heaven.  This is true, but the heaven that Jesus Christ offers us is not just a realm beyond space and time, but an opportunity to participate, even now, in his divine life.  This is what heaven is- to participate in the divine life.  This is what it means to say that Jesus Christ “saves us”.

This happens in the Sacraments of the Church.  The Sacraments are not just cultural customs or rites of passage.  The Sacraments are an invitation, even right now, to participate in God’s own life.

To know Christ is to know God, who alone can save us.  God in Christ gives us the way by which he wills to be known in the Church and through the Sacraments of the Church invites us to share in his own life.

Being saved, knowing for ourselves the reality of heaven, begins for us right now through the Sacraments of the Church.

Those who heard Peter’s words were able to tease out the implications of what he said and were greatly distressed.  They knew that what Peter was speaking about was that the world had been changed and could never be the same.

Remember this when if you come forward to receive the divine life of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.  How astounding it is!  How audacious it is!  And remember, this Sacrament is not given to you simply to provide quiet comfort and easy consolation, but as a revelation to you that having received it, you asking that God change your life, and accepting from that moment on, nothing in your life should ever be the same!

Our Gospel yesterday and today places emphasis on the physicality of Christ’s glorified Body.  The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is not a metaphor or symbol.  It is not experienced as an idea or a feeling.

The resurrection of the Lord Jesus happens in his real body, to real flesh, real bone, real muscle, real skin, real hair, real blood.  And as the Gospel describes, this real body is a body that eats.

The resurrection of the Lord Jesus, like his Incarnation, happens in real space and time.  God accepts a real, human body as his own.  Our faith in Christ is not in a myth or in legends, but in a real, living, divine person who accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life.  Astounding. Yes.  Audacious. Yes.

If this is your faith, then consider coming forward to receive his divine life, offered to you, in this Holy Sacrament of his Body and his Blood.

  

Wednesday in the Octave of Easter

The Church’s celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus continues.  For eight days following Easter Sunday the Church asks the faithful to maintain an attitude of attentiveness and festivity.  What God has revealed in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead is absolutely extraordinary.  The power of God in Christ is greater than the greatest of all worldly powers- greater than the power of death!

It is the same divine power, manifested in the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, that is given to us in the Sacraments of the Church, a power through which God acts to draw us through the experience of death to a new and transformed life.

Where Christ has gone, we will follow.  What Christ has become in his Resurrection, so one day we will become.  This is the cause of our joy and the reason for our celebration.

Today’s reading from the New Testament book entitled “Acts of the Apostles” describes the apostles doing the very things Christ did.  In other words, his mission is continued in their mission.  What Christ did, is what his Church is supposed to do.

The Church is not just an institution or club- it is the extension of the Incarnation of God in space and time.  It is for this reason that the scriptures describe the Church as the Body of Christ, and this description is not just metaphorical or symbolic, it is meant literally.

Each of the Baptized is meant to be an “alter Christus” or “another Christ” and all the sacraments of the Church and the works of mercy are occasions for us to become ever more like Christ.  And this raises an important question:  Do we truly know that Lord Jesus? 

If we do not, we will not be able to act like him.  And if we do not know Christ, and do not act like him, we are frustrating his will and purposes for what the Church is supposed to be and do.

Knowing Christ demands much more of us than simply matriculating through faith-based infrastructure.  Nor can we say we know Jesus because we have a vague association with the Church because of the accidents of ethnicity or culture.  After all, we are not disciples simply because we know about Jesus- we are supposed to know him as one knows a friend.

The Gospel presents concretely what it is to know Jesus.  It means that we have entered into personal relationship with him, been introduced to him in the Scriptures and received his life in the Sacraments of the Church, particularly in the “breaking of the bread” (which is a reference to the Eucharist or the Blessed Sacrament).

This happens to us through the Mass.  The Mass is an invitation to a personal relationship with Christ, who we come to know in the proclamation of the Scriptures and through the Blessed Sacrament.  This is the privileged way of knowing Jesus and entering into relationship with him.

And so today’s Gospel is not just an account of how eyewitnesses described an encounter with the risen Lord Jesus (it is that but also so much more!) but how the Lord Jesus makes himself known in the Mass- in the Scriptures and the “breaking of the bread”.

As such, attempts to make the Mass into something else frustrate its true purpose.  The Mass is not about the community celebrating its values or an occasion for the priest to draw attention to himself.  Both diminish the true purpose of the Mass and engender what Pope Francis calls “self reference”.  The true reference point for the Mass is not supposed to be ourselves, but the Lord Jesus.

The Mass is meant to be the occasion through which we come to know Christ so that we might become like him.

 

Wednesday of Holy Week (April 16th, 2014)

This past Sunday, faithful Christians listened to the proclamation of the Passion Narrative from the Gospel of Matthew.  Remember, the Passion Narratives of the Gospels are testimony to the event of the torture and execution of the Lord Jesus.  This testimony, gathered from eyewitnesses to the event, is presented in the form of a story.

It is the Church’s faith that the story or narrative presented in the Gospels about the Lord Jesus’ terrifying death is true and presents the essential details concerning what happened.

But why did this happen?  The mystery of this is revealed in reference to the Old Testament scriptures, particularly the prophets, and in this regard, particularly Isaiah, who speaks of the revelation of God in what he understood as a “suffering servant”.

This “suffering servant” would accomplish the transformation of Israel and the world through his suffering.  This is how God would act to reveal his divine life and presence to the world.  This is how God would act to invite Israel and the world to receive the gift of communion with his divine life.

We Christians believe that Christ is this suffering servant foreseen by the prophets, but even more than this, God surprises Israel and the world by becoming himself the suffering servant.

This is what we see in the cross and it is the reason we reverence the cross.  The cross does not simply display a man who suffered a terrible injustice, but it is the revelation of God, who accepted a human nature, lived a real, human life, and suffered and died.

This is why for us Christians the cross is the pivotal event of all of history- because it is on the cross that God in Christ suffers and dies, and in doing so, changes suffering and death forever.

The meaning of this transformation of suffering and death is revealed to us in Christ’s resurrection.

The rituals and devotions of Holy Week are meant to take us ever deeper into the mysterious revelation that God in Christ suffers and dies.  These mysteries culminate in the celebration of Easter, which is not for us merely a celebration of springtime, but the solemn remembrance that God in Christ became for us the “suffering servant”.

Both yesterday and today, Christ’s Gospel presents the tragic figure of Judas.

Judas fascinates many.  His betrayal compels us to consider our own refusals of Christ.  It is likely that our refusals are not as dramatic as that of Judas, but lurking within us all is a dark “no”.  The “no” we offer to God is always a betrayal and it is in our “no” to Christ that we inhabit the same dark reality as Judas.

We have only hours before the Church’s solemn celebration of Christ’s Paschal Mystery begins.  In these mysteries, we will be compelled again to a decision, the same decision faced by Judas- are we for Christ or against him?  Will we gather with Christ into the Church or will we scatter?

Will we scurry off like Judas into the darkness of our refusals of Christ or place our lives in loving service to Christ, who in his suffering, death and resurrection, reveals himself to be the Light of the World.

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Homily for Palm Sunday (April 13th, 2014)

For many weeks now my preaching has emphasized two astounding revelations- that Jesus of Nazareth is the one, true God and that he is the world’s one, true king.

These revelations are off-putting and unsettling.  Why?  Because if you accept them, and I mean really accept them, your life has to change.

No longer can you settle for a faith that is merely musings about your experiences of the “divine”.  Nor can you think of the Church as merely some kind of club that is meant to serve your faith-based needs or promote your favorite causes.  If accepted, your life cannot simply be about you, and the frame of reference with which you understand God, yourself, and world- and to be even more specific- the frame of reference with which you have come to understand things like religion, politics, and economics cannot simply be whatever preferences you might favor.

And further, your faith cannot simply be faith in yourself, your emotions, or your opinions- your faith is in him, in the Lord Jesus.  If you accept the Lord Jesus as God and King, he measures you, your don’t measure him.

In other words, if you accept the Lord Jesus as God and King you are accepting a life that cuts against the grain of many, if not all, of our culture’s assumptions about God, and about everything else.  To accept Christ the Lord as God and King is by necessity to decide for a different way of life, a way of life that will by necessity be a sign of contradiction to world in general and this culture in particular.

It is likely that this is the reason that most who hear the testimony of the Apostolic Faith that insists that the Lord Jesus is God and King either ignore it or refuse to believe it.  Most will attempt to bracket the revelation by making the Lord Jesus into something easily domesticated and under our control- like a wise spiritual teacher or great man of history.  We ignore his person with an appeal to his teachings and in doing so, make his person and teachings into someone and something that they are not.

We think that this gets us off the hook in terms of the reality of who the Lord Jesus presents himself to be.  But it just strangles our soul with the very things, the false gods, the dark powers, that the Lord Jesus, God and King, has come into our lives to deliver us from.  The bracketing of the truth about Christ the Lord’s revelation, the refusal of the decision for Christ the Lord, who is God and King, makes us idolaters- because if he isn’t our God and our King, the space in our lives that has been created for Jesus Christ, God and King, will be filled up with someone and something else.

And that someone or something else will entice us like Judas’ thirty pieces of silver and end up doing to our souls what that rope did to Judas’ neck!

Passion Sunday or Palm Sunday is perhaps the most startling presentation of the revelation of the Lord Jesus as God and King.

The Scriptures and solemn worship for today are not meant to be a theatrical presentation.  We aren’t here for the sake of learning history or for faith-based entertainment.  Today is about a startling revelation that compels us to make a decision.

What the Church intends is that we contend with the kind of God we worship and the kind of king that we serve- and how unlike the Lord Jesus, God and King, is from the many gods and kings of this world.

In this regard, the revelation is really quite simple- the Lord Jesus, God and King, will give his divine life for you, and will do so, even if you don’t deserve that kind of gesture and can do nothing to earn it.  That’s the kind of God and King the Lord Jesus is- the kind who will give up his life for you.  In fact his passion to give his life for you is so intense, that it takes the form of the cross. 

The gods and kings of the world, won’t do that.  They take life.  Sure they will make it seem like you are getting something in return for our idolatry, but that’s the lie they tell you so that they can get what they want from you.

Let’s face it: our lives are filled with gods and kings.  These gods and kings lurk in our culture and in our desires.  They manifest themselves in our desire for wealth, pleasure, power and honors and they play upon our fears.  Our service to these gods and kings shows itself in all our agendas and causes that are driven by self-interest.  We will often put a mask on these agendas and causes that looks like the Lord Jesus and appeal to his teachings to justify our idolatry, but those masks and appeals won’t save and redeem.  They take life, they don’t give life.

Christian Faith, the Faith of the Church, is about a decision for Christ the Lord.  It means that we accept the Lord Jesus as the one, true God and King and we live differently as a result.

It is that stark.  And it is that simple.

Look at the cross and see the revelation- God’s revelation! Christ the Lord is your God and King.

See that revelation compels you to ask and answer this question:

Is he your God and King or is someone or something else?

Now is the moment of decision.  

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Friday of the Fifth Week in Lent (April 11th, 2014)

The prophet Jeremiah spoke the Lord’s word of truth to an Israel that had nothing but resistance to the truth.  Idolatry had hardened the Israelite’s hearts against the Lord and now the false gods that Israel serve have betrayed them into the hands of their enemies.

The city of Jerusalem, the holy city, ruled by David’s successor who claimed to be the Lord’s anointed and where the great temple, the dwelling place of the Most High was located, was literally surrounded by the armies of Babylon.  Jeremiah proclaimed that to Israel that there was no way out.  The only chance they had would be to repent and hope that God would rescue a humbled people from the terrors to come. 

The Israelites would not listen to Jeremiah.  In fact their hearts were so hard, that in the desperation of their sins they would turn against the prophet Jeremiah and kill him.

The Church has long understood the prophet Jeremiah as a foreshadowing of Christ.  Jeremiah speaks the Lord’s word of truth, and his testimony is met with resistance and refusal.  Christ is the truth itself, and when he comes into the world, the world meets him with resistance and refusal.

The Gospel of John testifies to this when in its opening prologue we are reminded that, “.” 

We should not think that the refusal of Christ is merely an event of the past, something someone else did long ago.  The refusal of Christ lurks in each of us.  How many times have we met Christ’s summons to mission with a “no”.  How many times have we simply refused to see Christ’s presence in our neighbor or serve his suffering body in the bodies of the poor?  How many times has the call to prayer, to communion with Christ been met with unwillingness.  In all these ways in more, we refuse Christ- he comes to us and we tell him that we do not know him. 

The cross of the Lord displays where our refusals of Christ ultimately lead.  The dark powers that created the cross are within us all and they gather strength from all our refusals of God.  The stupidity, resentment, cruelty, and violence that create the cross are latent in all our refusals of Christ. 

Christ testifies to his divine identity in his Gospel. 

It is the Apostolic Faith, the Faith of the Church, that the Lord Jesus is God.  We do not believe that Christ’s divine identity is simply a symbolic way indicating his importance.  Nor do we believe that Christ’s divine identity was invented by the Church. 

We do believe that Christ reveals himself as God and the purpose of the Gospels and the Church’s worship is to demonstrate how this revelation was presented through Christ to Israel and to the world.

The sheer wonder of this revelation will be evident in the mysteries of Holy Week, through which we will come to appreciate and understand that God, in Christ, descends himself into death, demonstrating his power over death, but also, his willingness to share with us all the experiences of life that we ourselves experience.

God in Christ accepts a human nature, lives a real, human life, unites himself to us, not just in some things, or only in pleasant things, but in all the events and circumstances of life.  This is also the reason, why the Church, who is the servant of Christ, must go too into all the experiences of life, into what Pope Francis calls the “existential peripheries.”   

The Church doesn’t exist simply to provide us with faith-based services, but to expend her life in gifts of charity and mercy for the world.

Where Christ goes, so the Church must follow. 

 

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