Thursday in the Octave of Easter (March 31st, 2016)

Today’s first scripture, an excerpt from the Book of Acts, continues the dramatic presentation of a miracle- a man who could not walk is healed of his infirmity through the intercession of the Apostles Peter and John.

This miracle happens in a very public setting proximate to the Jerusalem temple and as such causes quite a scene. Peter uses the occasion to preach, and his stirring words will reverberate throughout the city.

The apostle Peter’s sermon presents an article of the Church’s faith that we testify that to each time we proclaim our great creed. This is article of faith is that Christ the Lord is the fulfillment of the scriptures.

To believe that Christ is the fulfillment of the scriptures means that the Old Testament is not just a book of stories or history or poetry, but it is the story of God’s revelation in Christ. God in Christ is revealed slowly and deliberately over time and within the context of a people God has chosen to be bearers of his revelation in the world- a people called Israel.

Peter attempts to help the Israelites who gather around him as a result of the miracle to understand this- what the crowd has witnessed is the power of God in Christ, who is the one that Israel has hoped and longed for, and for whom they have been prepared to receive through God’s covenants with their ancestors, and through the law of Moses and the worship of the great temple.

The lesson for us is in terms of how we appropriate, appreciate and understand the Bible. As I said, the Bible is not for us simply a literary or historical text, but the Bible is a means through which God teaches us about Jesus Christ. The Bible is Christ’s story and understanding his story we come to better know who he is and what he asks us to be and to do.

This is important for us to understand about our faith in Christ. Our faith in Christ is not meant to be a result of our ideas or feelings, but our faith in Christ must always have a reference point in those realities that God has determined to be the ways by which he chooses to reveal the truth about Jesus- in the content of the Apostolic teaching, in the Sacraments and in the Church’s worship, in the great expressions of the Church’s creed, and in the Bible. All these are the ways God chooses to introduce us to the Lord Jesus and to make him known. The encounter with Christ that God gives to us becomes stilted, stunted without them.

The Gospel presents more eyewitness testimony to an encounter with the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

In this particular testimony, Christ the Lord makes it very clear that his resurrection has happened to his real flesh, his real body. The resurrection is not a subjective event, something that happens only in the minds or emotions of Christ’s followers. The resurrection is an objective event, a reality that has happened to the body of the Lord Jesus.

Christ identifies that the purpose of his resurrection is to provoke repentance, God in Christ acts in an extraordinary way so as to turn us away from sin and false gods and towards a life of virtue in loving friendship with the one, true God.

In other words, if we profess in faith that we believe in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus as the Gospels describe, then this means that we have accepted from Christ a new way of life- this way of life is the Church.

Believing that Jesus Christ rose from the dead is not just a matter of assent to a proposition- it means that we have accepted a unique way of life.

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Tuesday in the Octave of Easter (March 29th, 2016)

Yesterday I spoke about how testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus demands a decision from us. If you accept the resurrection testimony as true, then you must also contend that everything that the Lord Jesus said about himself is true- that he truly is God, Lord and King.

If you accept this, then you must also accept that your life belongs to him.

If this is our decision, and our life belongs to him, then Christ will invite us to participate in his divine life in an extraordinary way- by becoming part of his mystical body, the Church. This is what today’s scripture from the Book of Acts is presenting to us today. The Apostle Peter is receiving people into the Church- he is offering them the opportunity to participate in the Church. The decision for Christ must lead into the Church.

Once received into the Church, the Apostle Peter testifies that we will receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the love shared between Christ and his Heavenly Father, and as such, what Peter is offering is that one will receive in the Church the relationship Christ has with his Heavenly Father. This is what the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit effects in our lives. If you receive the Holy Spirit, you are receiving the relationship that Christ has with his Heavenly Father.

Belonging to Christ and the Church is not a matter of signing up for a program or matriculating through an institution, but of living in relationship to God in Christ. It is through Jesus Christ that we receive a relationship with God and it is through the Church that our relationship with Jesus Christ becomes what Christ intends for it to be- a whole way of life.

Christ’s Gospel for today presents more eyewitness testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Christ is alive and he presents himself to his friends and followers.

This is a remarkable and unexpected experience for Christ’s disciples and as such the Gospel testifies that many times Christ’s own followers had a difficult time believing or understanding what was happening. Remember, Christ’s followers had witnessed his death, and now he is alive.

The living Christ presents himself to Mary Magdalene, and once she is able to come to terms with this encounter, she clings to Christ. And then Christ admonishes her, insisting that she should let him go.

What Christ is indicating is that very soon Mary’s encounter with Christ will change, from that of an encounter with the body of his Incarnation to an encounter with the body of Christ in the Church. The power of Christ’s resurrection is still active and working, but the means by which this power is displayed is now in the Church.

The Church is not an incidental add on to the revelation of Jesus Christ, but is integral to what the revelation of Christ is all about. The divine, life giving power of Christ is here right now. Mary Magdalene learned to see and accept the reality of Christ alive in his Church. Have we?

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Wednesday in the Octave of Easter (March 30th, 2016)

In today’s scripture from the Book of Acts, Peter and John manifest the power of Christ by doing what Christ did- in this case, healing a man of an affliction that prevented him from walking.

The man’s disability not only prevented him from walking, but from walking into the holy temple, and once he is healed, he walks into the temple, praising God for the gift he has received from Christ through Peter and John.

The lesson in this text is that the disciples of Christ should act like Christ and though this might mean for some, becoming the means through which Christ will work miracles, it will mean for all us that we act like Christ by loving what he loves and serving what he serves.

Becoming Christ-like is what Christian spirituality is about. Holiness for the Christian is not a matter of appearing pious or fulfilling regulations, but of becoming ever more Christ-like in what we say and in what we do.

There is another aspect of this text that is worthy of our consideration- the Apostles offer healing, healing is received, and this healing enables a person to enter into worship, to enter into the temple.

The healing the Church imparts through her ministers, is not simply a matter of the body, but of the soul. We are all soul-sick and the Church has been given Christ’s healing power for our soul-sickness through the ministry of the forgiveness of our sin. Once forgiven, we are able to participate in worship, enter the Church’s temple, which we experience in the Mass. The worship of the Church is not simply a matter of custom or entertainment, but it is an expression of our relationship with Christ. If we have little or no relationship with Christ, or we have resisted Christ through a willful disregard of his commandments, then our worship will become truncated and frustrating. Thus, the ministry of forgiveness is offered to us so that we might be reconciled to Christ and once reconciled, be made ready for worship.

Rarely or never seeking the healing power of Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the equivalent of never having recourse to a doctor for medical care. Even if we are feeling healthy, we should occasionally visit the physicians who care for our bodies. Our soul needs this kind of attention as well, and if we don’t we might find that we have become seriously soul-sick and spiritually disabled.

The worship of the Church is the heart of the matter in Christ’s Gospel for today.

Again, we have another account of eyewitness testimony to the resurrection of the Lord. Christ presents himself as alive to people who believed him to be dead.

The culmination of this encounter is that Christ presents himself to these people in the Eucharist, it is in the Eucharist that they come to know for certain that it is truly Christ the Lord who has revealed himself to them, and that he is alive, not dead.

Christ is alive, not dead, and our encounter with him may not be to see him now in the body of his Incarnation, but he gives himself to us in the Blessed Sacrament. The Blessed Sacrament is not merely a custom or a symbol, but it is an encounter with the Lord Jesus himself, who makes himself as really and truly present to us as he did to those who were privileged to be witnesses to his resurrection.

The manner in which Christ presents himself to us is different, but it is Christ who makes himself present in the Eucharist and it is the living Christ that we encounter, adore and receive.

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Monday in the Octave of Easter (March 28th, 2016)

Today’s first scripture is an excerpt from the New Testament book entitled Acts of the Apostles. The Book of Acts continues the story of the Lord Jesus, but presents him as living and present in his Church. Remember, the Church is not simply an institution, but it is mystically and mysteriously the Body of Christ- the extension of his Incarnation in space and time.

The excerpt from the Book of Acts we heard today records a speech given by the Apostle Peter. In this speech Peter gives testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus as a real event that has changed Israel and has changed the world.

God has proved in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus that all the claims he made about himself were true, and now not only the Israelites, but all the peoples of the world are faced with a decision- will they accept Christ for who claimed to be- God, Lord and King.

We Christians profess that Christ is God, Lord and King, but many of us pay lip service to these claims, rather than applying what we are saying about Christ to our own lives. If we say Christ is God, that means we don’t worship other gods (like wealth, pleasure, power and honors) and that we serve him, not our own ego-driven needs, and that we accept that he is in charge of our lives. Bottom line- this all means that our lives are not about us, but him, and are about fulfilling the demand of love in what we say and what we do.

In his Gospel for today we hear an eyewitness account of Christ’s resurrection. Certain women who witnessed his death and burial encountered the Lord Jesus alive. It seems that the guards placed at Christ’s tomb were coerced and bribed so as not to reveal details about what they themselves saw, and a plot is contrived which accuses the disciples of Jesus of stealing his body.

In both scriptures, Peter’s testimony and the testimony of the Gospel, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is presented as an event that really and truly happened and is about the physical body of the Lord Jesus.

The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is not presented in the Gospel as one would present a myth, but as a fact of history- and this is why it is so strange and unnerving.

The resurrection should continue to disturb us, upset us, for it manifests that what the Lord Jesus said about himself is true and and as such, we must make a decision- will we believe in him or not? Will we follow him or not? Will we serve him or not?

We can’t evade or equivocate when confronted with the testimony to the resurrection. We have to make a decision.

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The Resurrection of the Lord-Easter Sunday (March 27th, 2016)

Christianity is about a body.

Yes, a body, a particular body- the body of a man, who was known to his kin as Jesus, and who revealed himself to humanity as Christ the Lord.

That body of Jesus is what matters most, for it is the means that God uses to make himself known and to show us what he wants from us and what he wants to do for us.

I know, so many of us Christians have been hoodwinked into thinking that Christian faith is about ideas or feelings that we associate with Jesus or about the institutions we build in his name, but ideas, feelings, and institutions come and go and God didn’t privilege any of these things when he wanted to reveal himself to us. Instead, what God did was to show himself to us in a body and through this body, God met humanity face to face.

This is what is unique about the Christian faith- God’s body- the body of Jesus. The great revelation of Christian faith is that God, the one, true God, accepted as his own a human nature and lived a real human life. This meant, of course, God accepted a body- a human body as his own. Most people who believe in God don’t think this is possible or proper, and it is our belief as Christians that God makes this possible and proper that differentiates our the Christian faith from other ways of believing about God. We believe that God has in Christ a body- a human body, the body of a man. This body was a real body and because God in Christ has a body, it means that he lived for a time in this world, in a particular place and among particular people. We are not talking about a myth here, but a fact of history.

The technical term that Christians will use to describe God in Christ’s body is the Incarnation, which literally means that God becomes flesh- skin and bones, hair and nails, muscles and blood. “Carne” is the root word for incarnation, and that word means “meat” (carnivorous means a meat-eater or if you order “carne asada” at a Mexican restaurant the server will bring you a steak- you will be served meat. And so, the incarnation is strange and off putting- God becomes meat, he becomes flesh (and if that wasn’t strange and off putting enough, he even makes that flesh, that meat, his body, our food).

The Church proclaims the Incarnation throughout the year, and one of the days this strange off putting fact about God is highlighted, is what most people know as Christmas day- the day when the world saw God’s body for the first time. Because God wanted to reveal himself in a body, he accepted the conditions through which human bodies come into this world- he gestated in a womb and was born as a baby.

Now, most of us find the Christmas celebration of God’s body as appealing because who doesn’t like babies? And God becoming a baby makes him not only irresistible but maybe somewhat controllable, a playmate.

Flash forward from Christmas to now- Easter Sunday- another day when the Church proclaims the Incarnation, reminding us again that God has a body. Unlike Christmas, the Easter body of Jesus is much harder for folks to take- the baby has grown up into a big, strong, hairy man, and not only this, but Easter presents a body that has for a time been dead and buried and is now alive. If God becoming a baby was strange and off-putting, God being dead and coming back to life in a body is even more strange and off putting. But that’s what God does in his body.

And strange and off putting as it is, it is what Christianity is all about.

That body. His body. Christ’s Body. God’s body.

That’s what it’s all about.

It’s easier perhaps to believe God is just an idea or a feeling or as is popular these days, to believe God is some kind of cosmic force. Easier perhaps, but that’s not what Christianity is about and it’s not what the Church believes about God and it’s not what God reveals about himself in Jesus Christ.

You can worship ideas and feelings and cosmic forces, but none of that is the one, true God- the one, true God is the God who has a body- the God who reveals himself in Jesus Christ.

God became flesh in a body. The body of Jesus is his revelation. He suffered in a body. He died in a body and he rose from the dead in a body. And when we see him, which we believe we all one day will, we will see him in his body.

Now, the Gospels go out of their way to make this point over and over again, and the point is made with particular intensity in all the Gospel accounts of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

In all the eyewitness testimony to Christ’s resurrection in the Gospel, the point is made that the resurrection happens to the body of Jesus and that Jesus presents himself to his disciples as a real, flesh and blood, living body. And thus, this is what Easter Sunday celebrates- that Jesus Christ was once dead, but now he is alive and he demonstrated to his disciples in an encounter with his body- with his flesh.

Some might prefer a different kind of resurrection. Something symbolic or metaphorical, something that happens in abstractions rather than in flesh and blood, but none of that is what the Gospels describe as Christ’s resurrection. Christ’s resurrection from the dead is about a real, body that was once dead and is now alive.

Now, some of you, who have been patient enough to listen to me, might be thinking- all very interesting, but what does it have to do with me?

I’ll briefly explain.

God did not accept a body because he was interested in the experience. God did not come into this world as a tourist on vacation. God accepted a body as a means of revealing to us a truth about himself, yes, but also a truth about ourselves.

The truth about ourselves that God reveals is that our bodies matter, after all our bodies mattered enough for God to accept a human body as his own. It is because of God in Christ’s body that the bodies of other people matter to us- especially when they are hungry or cold or homeless or imprisoned or bereaved or ignorant, or disabled or lonely or weak or unloved or ugly or sick or despairing or dead. Those bodies in those conditions matter to us because God in Christ revealed, in his own body, how important real human bodies are to him.

I will leave you with this. One of the great errors or terrors of our time is that folks professing to be Christians don’t actually believe what God in Christ wants his disciples to believe. Some Christians find certain doctrines or dogmas hard to take or difficult to believe and so they either ignore those beliefs or try to change them. One example of this is trying to make the Christians faith about ideas and feelings, and ideas and feelings that we are comfortable with, rather than contending with the facts about what God in Christ actually reveals.

Case in point- Christianity is about Christ’s body- not ideas about Jesus or feelings about him, but the dense, unyielding fact that God in Christ took our flesh and revealed himself as God with a body. Christian faith is about his body, Christ’s body, and because of his body its about real, human bodies- not programs we create, or institutions we maintain, or the ideas we prefer or the feelings that we choose. It’s about Christ’s body- real flesh and blood, muscle and bone. A body that lived and suffered and died and because it is God’s body, rose from the dead, and is alive even today.

It is his body that matters…

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Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (March 20th, 2016)

Holy Week begins with Passion or Palm Sunday. At this great liturgy the Church throughout the world proclaims the account of Christ’s suffering and death as detailed in the Gospels.

Listening to the proclamation of this account takes patience and some measure of courage, patience, because it describes people and events far removed from our own time and circumstances. Courage, because listening places us in the midst of that time and circumstances- we must take our place within the story and coming face to face with the terrible refusal of Christ that we hear about, we must reckon with our own refusals of Christ.

Indeed, we Christians return again and again to the Gospel accounts of Christ’s suffering and death, not because of historical interest, but to come to terms with our own refusals of Christ in what we have done and what we have failed to do.

Surely our refusals of Christ are not as dramatic as what is described in the Gospel for today and the consequences are so much less severe, but nevertheless our own refusals of Christ come from the same dark place of the soul from which the circumstances the cross originates.

We cannot hurt or harm Christ with our refusals, but we can hurt what Christ loves and inasmuch as we do this, the sorrow that Christ felt on the cross endures in this world.

If all the account of Christ’s suffering and death offered us was a reckoning with our refusals of Christ, our own refusals to love, then the story would be unbearable. But the story does not culminate with our refusal, but with the surprising grace- despite the cross, God in Christ does not refuse us. In fact, contrary to refusing us, Christ is willing to forgive us.

The forgiveness of God in Christ that is revealed on the cross should always surprise us. His gesture was one of undeserved compassion.

Hearing about the betrayal Christ suffered. The cruelty he endured and the terrifying manner in which he died, one cannot but be overcome by the injustice of it all. What the Gospel describes as happening to Christ is inexcusable. What should God render to a humanity that proved itself capable of something as horrible as the cross? What should God do to creatures capable of something like the cross? What would we demand from someone who did to someone we loved what was done to Christ?

Whatever it was that was deserved, God’s response confounds that expectation, and instead of giving us what we deserve, God in Christ offered to us what we truly and really need- his forgiveness.

God in Christ’s forgiveness is the great surprise of the Gospel of Christ’s suffering and death. It is the meaning of what Christians refer to as “amazing grace”.

It takes courage to accept this amazing grace as the gift that it is- for accepting it means to imitate it in our own lives. God forgives us but what do we offer to one another? God loves us, but are will willing to love in the manner that God loves?

Can we forgive as God in Christ forgives? Can we offer to one another the amazing grace that we have ourselves been offered?

Do we have such patience? Do we have such courage?

Can we love what Christ loves and forgive as Christ forgives?

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Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent (March 17th, 2016)

Today’s first scripture from the Old Testament Book of Genesis presents the covenant that the Lord God creates with Abraham, the founding father of all Israelites.

A covenant signifies a relationship, much like the vows of a husband and wife in the Sacrament of Marriage signifies the relationship of the spouses.

With his covenant with Abraham God sets in motion a plan that will culminate in the revelation of Christ. God chooses Abraham, and in his decision for Abraham, he gives the great patriarch a mission for his life. But the mission of Abraham will extend beyond his own life and into the lives of his many descendants. Through Abraham’s descendants, God in Christ will be born into this world and God will reveal himself in the most extraordinary of ways- God will make himself a descendent of Abraham!

The great “mystery” of our faith, that which makes us Christians and gives the Church her identity and mission, is not ethnic identity or establishing and maintaining institutions, or causes and programs. The great mystery of our faith is the revelation of God in Christ- God accepts a human nature and lives a real, human life. God in Christ is a living, divine person, who, offers us a relationship, as he did with Abraham so long ago. It is only from the vantage point of this relationship that we can appreciate and understand what the mission of the Church is all about. When this point of reference is lost, the Church fragments, falters and fades away.

Christ testifies to his divine identity in his Gospel.

He makes the startling claim that “before Abraham was, I AM”. In ascribing to him the term “I AM” he is evoking the name of God revealed to Moses during the prophet’s encounter with the Lord in the mysterious revelation of the burning bush. Remember, that in that encounter, Moses begged God to share his name, and God responded that he is “I AM”.

Today’s Gospel is preparing us for the mysteries revealed during Holy Week. How so? By clarifying the reason that the Lord Jesus would be arrested, tortured and killed. The motivations to do such terrible things to him was provoked because of what he claimed about himself- Christ claimed that he is God, and not only did he make this claim, but through his actions gave credence that his claim was true.

As such, as we come to appreciate and understand what we will see and hear during Holy Week, the Church asks us to remember that what is happening is about God, what God is doing, and what humanity does to him.

Christ is not merely a great man of historical importance or a renowned prophet or a spiritual guru “par excellence”. Christ is God, God who has, as I said previously, accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life.

(Today is also the day that the Church recalls the mighty deeds of Saint Patrick, the great evangelist of Ireland. Though for many, Saint Patrick has been reduced to a vague cultural symbol and civic celebrations in his honor have little to do specifically with who Saint Patrick is and what he accomplished. However, the real Saint Patrick was a man who gave his life in service to Jesus Christ, and was willing to suffer and make whatever sacrifices were necessary so that he could share his own relationship with Jesus Christ with others. His efforts were what Christ used to establish the Church in Ireland, and from that Church, create a civilization. What St. Patrick accomplished is testimony to what the Church means by evangelization and the Church celebrates St. Patrick, and holds him up as a model for us, not simply because of his associations with Ireland, but because he a heroic example of what it means to be a Christian. The mission of evangelization, a mission for which St. Patrick dedicated his whole life, is not over or accomplished. Each generation is called by Christ to do what St. Patrick did in our own time and circumstances. On this day when the Church remembers St. Patrick, let us remind ourselves that it is not enough for us Christians to simply remember the saints, but it is our mission to become like the saints we remember.)

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