Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 6th, 2018)

The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from the New Testament book Acts of the Apostles.

The Book of Acts continues the story of the Lord Jesus, a story that begins with his revelation in the human body of Christ. Remember: The Lord Jesus is God, the one, true God, who has out of love for humanity, indeed all his creation, accepted for himself a human nature and lived a real, human life. The revelation of God in Christ is called the Incarnation and we hear testimony to the Incarnation in the Gospels- Christ’s followers encountered in him God in our flesh, in a body. God did not make himself known as a nebulous cosmic force or as an idea or as a feeling, but as a living divine person who meets us face to face in a human body.

The Gospels tell us the first part of the story of God’s Incarnation in Christ. Acts of the Apostles tells us the second part of the story- a story of which we are all a part.

This story, the second part, concerns the revelation of God in Christ in a new kind of body- a body called the Church. I know for many Christians the Church is merely an institution, a faith-based corporation, an ethnic identity. But the scriptures never describe the Church in these terms. Instead the Church is mysteriously and really Christ’s body- living and acting in the world. When we get that, then we get the Church, we understand what the Church is supposed to be about.

The Church is supposed to do for the world what Christ did in the revelation of his body, in the revelation of his Incarnation.

Today’s scripture from Acts recalls the testimony of the Apostle Peter and what he tells us is that the Church is meant to be a gathering of all the nations into a relationship with God in Christ. What this means is that Church cannot just be our own private club or limited to our own ethnic identity. Instead, the Church manifests its identity and mission in universality- the meaning of the word “Catholic”.

God in Christ intends for the whole world to know him and share a relationship with him in the Church. The Church is healthy and accomplishing its mission when it intentionally sets out to draw people in. This mission, to go out in order to draw people in is not just the universal mission of the Church, but the local mission of the Church. In other words, what Peter talks about in the Book of Acts today is meant to be happening here.

Your parish is not your social club or a community center. A parish is your mission territory- and its purpose is to be for others an encounter with the living and divine person of Jesus Christ and your mission is to go out into this territory with the invitation that Christ can be known, loved and served here. What are you doing, what are you willing to do, to accomplish this mission?

The second scripture for today is an excerpt from the First Letter of John, and in John’s testimony he tells us that love is foundational to the Christian way of life because God is love. How does he know this? John has himself encountered God in Christ and knows from this encounter who God is and what God wants.

We may have ideas about God or feelings about God, but these ideas and feelings are not in themselves enough to reveal who God is and what God wants. God reveals himself to us, not just in our ideas or feelings (or even primarily in our ideas and feelings) but in Jesus Christ. It is from him that we know who God is and what God wants. Without Christ, we are likely just making things up, relying on opinions driven by our egoism rather than relying on a revelation that comes to us through an act of divine grace. The former is an idol. The latter is the truth that sets us free.

John also speaks in his testimony about love, and our reference point to understand love are not our ideas and feelings, but Christ himself, who shows us what love really and truly is. Love is not merely romantic affection or sentimentality, but an act of will through which we give to others what is really and truly good.

Note that this means that love is not just giving to others what they want or what they deserve, but what is good. This is what God in Christ does for us- he doesn’t just give us what we want to prove his love, and he certainly doesn’t give us what we deserve, but he gives to us what is good and in doing so he “proves” his love for us, and just as importantly, shows us what love really and truly is.

Love in our culture is understood as getting what one wants. It is the feeling of satisfaction that comes when this happens. In regards to all this, Christian love, as revealed in Christ, is a great contrary move and the great temptation is for Christians to abandon their unique way of loving so that we might make ourselves more palatable to the culture. This is a grave mistake. And when Christians do this, true love, real love, will never be revealed.

It is hard to love as Christ did. It is difficult to bear the love of God in Christ into a culture that resists one’s efforts. But this is our mission as Christians. It’s why we are here. And if we don’t do our mission no one else will.

God in Christ gives extraordinary testimony in his Gospel- he calls us his friends. No one is friends with a feeling. No one is friends with an idea. No one is friends with a cosmic force. No one is friends with an institution. You can only be friends with a person and this is what God in Christ is- a living, divine person who offers us a relationship with himself and tells us that he wants to be our friends.

How do we become friends with God in Christ? Keeping his commandments.

The commandments of God are not just arbitrary rules imposed on us to kick us into line, but they are a way of life, a way of life that indicates what our relationship with God actually is. Christ distills his commandments into one profound insight- to love one another as he loves us.

There is nothing sentimental about any of this. Loving another person as Christ loves us means willing what is good for that person, even if that goodness is not deserved, even if that goodness is refused. It is the kind of goodness that is willing to forgive a betrayal and cruelty as terrifying as the cross and is willing to descend into death to recover a soul that has been lost. That’s the kind of love that shows us to be the friends of God in Christ.\

Christian love is something unique. It doesn’t mean just being a good citizen or having a heart of gold. It cannot be accomplished merely by volunteerism and it demands more of us than just supporting our favorite causes. Christian love is about learning to live like and act like God in Christ. Inasmuch as we do this, we are the friends of Jesus Christ.

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Fifth Sunday of Easter (April 29th, 2018)

The Church’s first scripture today is an excerpt from the New Testament Book entitled “Acts of the Apostles”.  The book of Acts is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke and whereas the Gospel of Luke presented the story of the Lord Jesus acting in the world and in the lives of his friends and followers in the body of his Incarnation, the book of Acts presents the Lord Jesus acting in the world and in the lives of his friends and followers in a new kind of body- the body of Christ which is the Church.

You see, the Church is not just a faith-based non-profit corporation or community center or institution.  The Church is both mystically and really the Body of Jesus living and acting in the world.  When we get that understanding of the Church right the profundity of our lives as Christians and the urgency of our mission as disciples becomes really and truly evident and real.

Now, in our scripture from Acts of the Apostles we hear of Saul, a convert to the Faith of the Church, who we learn is not a very popular fellow.  In fact, he is kind of a pariah, viewed with fear as derision by his fellow Christians.  Why is this?  Remember, Saul was a persecutor of the Church.  In fact, his efforts led to acts of violence and murder against Christians and so even in light of his remarkable conversion, folks are understandably angry with him and suspicious of his motives.

A Christian by the name of Barnabas acts as an advocate and friend of Saul and helps him to establish trust and to find his mission in the Church.  Saul will eventually take the name Paul and we know him as St. Paul and his testimony, through his letters, are known to us as holy scripture, reverenced as genuine witness to the faith of the Apostles.

Just as Barnabas guided Paul, so now Paul guides us still, each time we hear his words proclaimed.  In fact, in the great genealogy of the Church’s faith, our own faith can be traced back to that friendship of Barnabas and Paul.

The lesson?  No one comes to the faith alone and no one’s faith can be sustained for very long in isolation.  All of us are Christians because someone at some point brought us to the Lord Jesus and helped us to find our place in the Church.  Who is your Barnabas?  What Barnabas did for Paul should not be understood by us as a task for religious professionals or Church bureaucrats, it is the common and shared mission of all the baptized, of all believers.

The Church grows and flourishes, not simply as a result of annual collections, but because Christians are willing to extend to others the invitation to know Jesus Christ in the Church and to share with them the Church’s unique way of life.

If Christians are unwilling or unable to do this, then no pastoral plan, mission statement or capital campaign can save the Church from decadence and decay.  Always remember, in the beginning there were none of the things that we have come to rely on to grow and support the Church- there were no parishes or dioceses, there was no infrastructure or bureaucracy.  No one understood the Church as an expression of their ethnicity or culture.  Nothing about the Church was taken for granted.  What did the Church have?  Relationships.  Primarily a relationship with Jesus Christ, which expressed itself in their relationships with one another.

Those relationships were not closed, making the Church an exclusive club, but were open to others (open even to a person like Saul, who had hurt them so terribly!).  The Church grew because Christians were willing and in fact saw it as their mission to share the relationship they had with Christ and the Church with others.  That’s what grows the Church.

The Church’s second scripture for today is an excerpt from the First letter of John and in this text we hear testimony to the relationship of love to the commandments of God- in other words, love is not primarily or simply an emotion or a feeling, but an act of your will to do what is good, to do what God wants you to do.

What God wants us to do is to keep his commandments, and in this way, the First Letter of John insists, we learn what it truly is to love.

The relationship between love and the commandments of God is contrary to much of what our culture presents as love- love is understood primarily as an emotion or an intuition to follow one’s heart, which means to do what is emotionally satisfying.  The commandments of God are many times presented as a foil to this quest, inhibiting, rather than facilitating love.

But the sense and sensibility of the Scriptures, insists that true love is found in the commandments of God and that love is not an emotion, but an act of our will in which we seek to do what God asks us to do.  What God asks us to do is not left shrouded in mystery, but it is expressed in his commandments and his commandments are not abstract, but concrete, not theoretical, but practical.  Not difficult to understand, but at times hard to do.

If you want a thick description of what this looks like concretely, look into what are called the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, for in these you can discern the kind of love that emerges when we seek a way of life ordered and directed by the commandments of God.

And there is the lesson: true love, real love, happens only in relation to the commandments of God.

Finally, in his Gospel, the Lord Jesus testifies that his relationship with us is like that of a vine to branches.  In other words, he is the source of the nourishment that enables us to flourish and grow.  The fruit of our vines are works of holiness, virtue and love, from which our testimony to Christ becomes credible and from this testimony, the Church thrives and expands.

Our lives as Christians are not self-sustained or self-directed.  Being a Christian is not an act of self-expression.  Instead, to be a Christian is to live in relationship with Jesus Christ and this relationship is integral and necessary to who we are and to our unique way of life.

Our relationship with Jesus Christ is not merely a matter or ideas or emotions, but of being connected in concrete, tangible ways with Christ.  This is what the Sacraments are for us.  This is what the Mass is all about.  This is what service to the needs of our neighbors and to the poor is all about.  Sacraments are not just cultural expressions, but expressions of Christ’s relationship to us.  The Mass is not just an expression of the community’s values, but an expression of Christ’s relationship with us.  The opportunity to love and serve our neighbors or the poor is not just good citizenship or volunteerism, but a way of loving and serving Christ.

When the Sacraments become only expressions of culture, the Mass merely community self-expression and service merely volunteerism, then we have become like branches detached from the vine, and the faith, indeed the Church, will wither away and die.

Being a Christian is being in relationship with Jesus Christ and being in relationship with Jesus Christ is being in relationship with his Church.

This, friends, expresses the “golden thread” that is tying our scriptures for today together.  Indeed, it is the “golden thread” that connects all Christians together.

We are not as Christians in relationship to an ideal or a culture or an obligation, but to a living divine person, who for the sake of his love for us, accepted a human nature like our own, and lived a real, human life.  This living divine person has given himself the name Jesus and makes his presence known to us through his Church.

All this means that we are not exiles in this world, nor are we alone.  God is not an indifferent cosmic force, but a living person who seeks to meet us face to face and in Jesus Christ calls us his friends.  He is with us in this world, even now, and our relationship with him gives our lives meaning and purpose.  In the Sacraments of the Church we encounter him, and that encounter changes us, makes us different.  Death does not sever our relationship with him, but has in fact, been transformed by Christ as the means to take us to him.

A relationship with Jesus Christ is what being a Christian is about and if we don’t think it is, if we don’t live like it is, then we are missing the point.

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Friday of the Second Week of Easter (April 28th, 2017)

Our first scripture, an excerpt from the New Testament Book of Acts, describes the Church in crisis- facing a persecution that threatens its young life.

An unexpected advocate emerges who intervenes on behalf of the persecuted Christians, insisting that the Church’s opponents stand down and let the Christians alone. Time will tell if this new movement survives, and as the Church is beleaguered and weak, it poses no real threat. And besides, if the Church is, as the adherents of this new Faith testify, a work of God, no merely human power will be able to stop it.

This advice seems to be accepted and the persecutors relent, at least for a time.

The Church has known persecution in every age of its life. Hatred from the outside oppresses the Church while wickedness from the inside subverts her mission- and yet the Church mysteriously endures. Why? Not because of merely human ingenuity or accident. But, instead, the Church endures because the Church is not merely an institution, a construct of our own making, but instead is mystically Christ’s Body, the continuation of his Incarnation in space and in time. The Church is Christ’s life and presence enduring in history. Like his earthly body, the Church is afflicted and suffers, but this affliction and suffering cannot overpower the divine power of God that the Church, as the mystical body of Christ, bears into the world. And because the divine power of Christ resides in the Church, affliction and suffering can become redemptive.

The early Christians knew and believed this. Do we?

Today’s Gospel is a brief selection from the Gospel of John, testimony to the divine power of Christ to work miracles. What does Christ do? He multiplies mere fragments of bread and fish so as, to satisfy the hunger of a vast crowd.

Christ does what only God can do, and in doing what God can do, he gestures towards the mystery of his identity- that he is God.

But today’s mysterious revelation in the Gospel does not just signal to us Christ’s divine identity, but also presents a type or foreshadowing of the mystery of the Eucharist.

How so? The Eucharist is a marvelous intervention of God in our lives, bearing into our lives a power that effects a surprising change- mere fragments of food and drink become Christ’s Body and Blood, imbued with his divine power to reconcile us to God and draw us into an extraordinary relationship with him.

The Eucharist is no more just a symbol or metaphor than it is merely bread and wine. The Eucharist we receive is Christ’s life and presence, given to us as food and drink, given to us, to satisfy the hunger of our souls for communion with God, but also given to us, so that partaking of his life, our life might become like his.

May we who partake of this holy mystery of Christ’s Body and Blood, appreciate what Christ is giving to us, and permit ourselves to become like the One that we receive.

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Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 1st, 2016)

Our first scripture is an excerpt from the New Testament book entitled Acts of the Apostles. Remember, the Church presents select passages from the Acts of the Apostles at Sunday and daily Masses throughout the season of Easter. Whereas the Gospels present the one, true God, who reveals himself in the human body of the Lord Jesus, the Book of Acts presents the revelation of the God in Christ in a new and surprising kind of body- a body called the Church.

Today’s excerpt from the Book of Acts presents the early Church as beset by a conflict. The earliest disciples are struggling to understand the criteria by which one knows a person to be a Christian. Was it criteria established by worldly custom and culture or something deeper or more significant? Is the Church meant to impose on all Christians the dictates the of the Law of Moses, for it was that Law that established the criteria by which people could be identified as Israelites, and, if the Church is the new Israel, might those criteria also apply to Christians?

If the Church imposed the Law of Moses, then all male Christians would have to undergo circumcision and all Christians would have to observe the details of the Law, particularly in regards to which foods were acceptable to eat and which foods were not.

Why was circumcision important for Israelites? Because it literally marked one’s identity as an Israelite in a man’s flesh and indicated that being an Israelite was linked to the very act of procreation- one became an Israelite by being a physical descendent of an Israelite.

The Laws regarding foods were important as they pertained to a reality basic and essential to life and human association. Meals are often in our culture solitary affairs, but in the ancient world, meals were familial, cultural, and public acts. Through the associations of whom one ate with and what kinds of foods you ate with others, you demonstrated who you are. This perspective gives further insight into the popular maxim- “you are what you eat” and extends it further to say “you are whom you eat with”.

The Apostles understood that God in Christ has reconstituted Israel, changed and transformed it, and in doing so opened up Israel to those who were not born as Israelites and did not share their basic customs, like the dietary requirements of the Law of Moses. One could become as Israelite without as a pre-condition, that one would have to have been raised from birth within Israelite culture.

Identity, therefore, would be established, not by circumcision, but by Baptism, and the essential dietary requirement would not be what foods and with whom one ate dinner with, but the sacred meal of the Eucharist.

This makes sense to us because it is the reality we have always known, but it was a reality that was absolutely new to the earliest disciples.

The early Church was comprised mostly of cultural Israelites, men who had been circumcised and men and women who had been raised from birth in the particular culture of the Israelites. These Israelite disciples of the Lord Jesus, many of whom who had likely known the Lord Jesus personally, found this identity question to be vexing- hard to understand and difficult to believe. The Apostles had to help the early Church understand that the criteria for understanding Christian identity were Christ the Lord’s criteria- not culture or custom, no matter how ancient or revered.

For Christ the Lord, one’s identity as a Christian “happens” through Baptism, through a profession in faith and Christ and willingness to serve him… Identity as a Christian “happens” through our participation in the Eucharist. Sacraments are essentials to Christian identity, not customs. The Christian makes an act of faith in Christ, not an act of faith in culture.

The lesson here is that while culture and custom are significant and helpful, and that while both can work to advance the mission of the Church, neither custom or culture has the power to make us Christians.

Christ makes Christians. A Christian is chosen by Christ and the sign of Christ’s election is Baptism. No one becomes a Christian simply because of a historical association of one’s ethnicity or family or nation with the Church. As I said, it is Christ who makes Christians, not custom or culture.

The second scripture for today is an excerpt from the Book of Revelation. We have been privileged to hear select passages from the Book of Revelation throughout the Easter season. The Book of Revelation is the last book of the Bible and it is certainly one of the strangest and most controversial.

I have been presenting these excerpts from the Book of Revelation to you as providing a view of both worldly and heavenly realities from the perspective of God. We are seeing things as God sees things, and this is why what the author of the Book of Revelation describes seems so fantastic and incredible. How things look from our perspective is extremely narrow. God sees so much more than what we can see.

Last week we heard from the Book of Revelation about how God in Christ understands his relationship with the Church- likening it to the relationship of a bridegroom and bride, of husband and wife. This week, God’s perspective shifts and we see another vision of the Church- in this vision the Church is likened to a city.

What are the characteristics of a city? Cities are about relationships, teeming with different people and interests. Cities are full of politics, culture, art, architecture,religion, economics and law. Cities are full of ingenuity, creativity, and all sorts of activities. All these characteristics of cities are also divinely ordained characteristics of the Church.

You see, the Church is not an escape from all those elements through which humanity expresses itself, all those elements that constitute human experience, but instead, the Church is the elevation, the sanctification of all what makes us human.

The vision of the Church as city means that the Church cannot simply be a private club, theological debating society, or spiritual discussion group. Nor can the interests of the Church be limited to only the parochial or the diocesan.

The Church is public, not private and the reality of the Church is divinely ordained to impact all human endeavors and relationships. The Church is, from God in Christ’s perspective, a city, and when we try to reduce God’s vision of the Church and seek to accommodate God’s perspective to our own narrowness, then the Church falters and fails.

Finally, the Gospel for today…

Christ the Lord testifies that his disciples will receive the Holy Spirit.

What is the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit is the love that is shared between the Father and the Son, and by love, what is meant is the relationship of the Father and the Son.

So what Christ testifies that his disciples will receive is his own relationship with his Heavenly Father. Christ intends, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to make us the children of God!

The lesson? Your dignity as a person does not come from the worldly attainments of wealth, pleasure, power and honor. Your dignity as a person does not come from citizenship, political affiliation, race or ethnicity. Your dignity as a human person does not come from the law.

Your dignity as a person comes from the Holy Spirit- that relationship that makes you God’s son or daughter.

Also, Christ testifies that his disciples will have peace. What does he mean by this?

The peace that Christ gives is confidence in his power to overcome sin, death and the devil.

Sin, death and the devil have power over us inasmuch as we fear all three. This fear can paralyze us and tempt us to believe they are more powerful than God. Christ the Lord reveals in his resurrection that God is more powerful that sin, death and the devil, and they only power they have over us is the power we surrender to them.

Christ is God. God proves to us in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus that his power infinitely exceeds that of sin, death and the devil and he promises that those who follow him, he will make available a gift of an uncanny and overwhelming peace, a confidence that comes from the act of faith that sin can be forgiven, death can be overcome and the devil can be defeated.

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Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter(May 2nd, 2016)

Today’s excerpt from the Book of Acts presents St. Paul in the midst of his missionary adventures. He is making his way westward, into Greece, a trajectory that will eventually ensure that the Gospel is proclaimed throughout the whole world!

While on his mission a woman named Lydia accepts Paul’s invitation to know Christ in his Church, and as she is a wealthy woman of considerable means, she invites Paul to stay with her. Paul accepts Lydia’s hospitality.

Lydia’s gratitude to Paul expresses itself in generosity. Paul has given her something greater than anything that her personal fortune could ever buy- a relationship with Christ in his Church.

How thankful are we for the faith that we have received, for the Sacraments of the Church, for the apostolic teaching, for our unique, Christian way of life? Remember, our faith is always a gift, we did not, could not earn it or purchase it, nor do we deserve what Christ gives to us. How do we show ourselves to be people of gratitude, a people of generosity?

Do we give only out of self-interest or for the sake of personal gain? Or are we willing to give to others in imitation of Christ, who gave gifts to those whom he knew could not or would not ever be able to return the favor?

Christ in his Gospel testifies that his disciples will know persecution. The worldly will hear in the Gospel what they do not want to hear. The wicked knowing that they cannot harm Christ, will seek to harm those whom Christ loves. Christians will always be a sign of contradiction in a world that privileges and favors wealth, pleasure, power and honors.

Thus, being a disciple of the Lord Jesus is not for the faint of heart. It demands courage and conviction. It makes us different, even strange and off putting- more human, rather than less. And in a world that is so often inhumane, more human can be taken as an affront.

To be a Christian is not an easy way, but it is the way that God wants. It always leads to him, even if the way to him takes us through the cross.

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Fifth Sunday of Easter (April 24th, 2016)

The four Gospels testify to the marvelous and mysterious revelation that God has accepted a human nature and lived a real human life. Each of the four Gospels provides a unique vantage point, a perspective that imparts to us a vision of the revelation of God in Christ- God, who has, as I just stated, accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life.

What this means is that God, the one, true God presented himself to the world in a body, a human body- the human body of Jesus of Nazareth.

Through this human body of Jesus, God revealed the truth about himself, but also revealed the reason why he created us. He further revealed a way of life through which we could show ourselves to be his friends. All this is what the testimony of the Gospels is about, but most importantly, the four Gospels are about who the Lord Jesus really and truly is- not just a prophet or teacher or activist or politician, but God.

Once you “get” this, that Jesus is God, you “get” what the Gospels are all about. The Gospels are testimony, distilled into stories, from people whose lives were changed because they encountered in Christ, not just a great man, but the one, true and living God! That was the experience that surprised them, shocked them and changed their lives.

The four Gospels present testimony to the revelation of God in Christ as he presents himself in his human body. The New Testament book that serves as a follow up book of the four Gospels, called “Acts of the Apostles” presents testimony to the revelation of God in Christ in a new kind of body, the body of Christ called the Church.

The Church presents select excerpts from the book called “Acts of the Apostles” throughout the season of Easter at Sunday and daily Mass, and each of these readings from the book of Acts is intended to help us to understand how the Church is a marvelous and mysterious encounter with Jesus Christ.

Throughout the Book of Acts, God in Christ intervenes in extraordinary ways to bring people into the Church and also, he begins to act through the Church to continue his mission. The Book of Acts presents the Church as saying and doing the kinds of things that the Lord Jesus said and did.

The point is this: God in Christ has not disappeared, but he remains really present and available to the world in the Church. If the revelation of God in a human body was a surprise, the continued revelation of God in Christ in the Church is also a great surprise.

It remains a surprise to many Christians, as the Church has become, not the marvelous and mysterious Body of the Lord Jesus living and acting in the world, but merely an institution or ethnic identity or social club. Now there is nothing inherently wrong with these kinds of things, but when this is all that the Church becomes, we are getting the Church wrong and missing the point.

The Book of Acts insists that the Church is, marvelously, mysteriously, Christ’s Body- the continuation of the revelation of God, and as such, the Church is a route of access to God and the means by which God offers the world a relationship with himself, and it is through this relationship with Christ in the Church that we become God’s friends.

There is a lot to think about and pray about in what I have just said about God, Christ and the Church. It all may seem hard to understand or difficult to believe, but what I have just said is significant as we live at the time when people, even Christians, are struggling to understand why the Church is necessary or important.

Often times, in our own struggles to make sense of the Church, we reinforce the reduction of the Church to an institution or ethnic identity or a social club. We do this, not out of malice, but because these things are accessible and easy ways for us to understand. But the fact of the matter is that those categories are not what the Church really and truly is or meant to be.

The Church really and truly is an encounter with Jesus Christ, living, present, and active in our lives and in the world. This is why the Church is important and why the Church is necessary.

That’s the lesson that all these scripture readings from Acts of the Apostles are all about.  If the revelation of Christ in the Church seems blocked for us or obscured, maybe this is because we have grown accustomed to thinking about the Church as if it is just an institution, or ethnic identity or social club, and because he are paying so much attention to these things, that we are missing revelation of God in Christ and the relationship that he offers to us in the Church.

The second scripture for Mass today is an excerpt from the New Testament Book of Revelation- one of the strangest, and most often mis-understood books in the Bible.

The Book of Revelation presents what human history looks like from the vantage point of God, and since God sees the deepest meaning and purpose of our lives and experience that we often cannot or refuse to see, what is described in the Book of Revelation seems strange, if not unintelligible to us.

Today’s scripture from the Book of Revelation presents what the Church looks like from God’s perspective, how God sees and understands the Church, and how God sees and understands the Church is not as an institution, ethnic identity or social club, but as his bride, as his spouse, as his wife.

The lesson here is that God understands the Church as a relationship, a relationship with us that is best likened to the love that is shared by a husband and wife.

That’s how God in Christ understands his own relationship with the Church. It might be helpful if we used God’s understanding as the means by which we come to understand our own relationship with the Church.

Finally, Christ, in his Gospel proclaims the primacy of love in terms of his relationship with us, and our relationships with one another.

Love is a nebulous term in our culture, and it has come to mean affirming a person as they are or as giving a person what they desire.

Christ does not intend any of this when he speaks of love. What Christ means by love is willing the good of another person. Love is willing the good for another person. It is not just affirming a person as they are, but willing for that person what is good. It is not just giving a person what they desire, but giving them what is good.

The greatest good we could offer anyone is to make our life a sacrifice on their behalf. This is true love- to make of your life a sacrifice for someone else.

This is what Christ does for us. And this is what Christ asks us to do for one another.

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Second Sunday of Easter (April 3rd, 2016)

 

Our first scripture for today’s Mass is an excerpt from the New Testament book entitled “Acts of the Apostles”.

The Book of Acts compliments and continues the Gospel of Luke and its purpose is to give testimony to the lasting effects of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. In other words, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is an event with real world consequences- it changes people’s lives and it changes the world.

The transformative power of the resurrection continues to gain momentum in history, the evidence for this is the Church.

The Book of Acts understands that the Church is much more than an institution or social club. Instead, the Church is the power of Christ’s resurrection unleashed into the world. The Church is meant to imbue the world with the divine life and presence of the Lord Jesus.

Today’s excerpt from the Book of Acts is making precisely this point. Note how the apostles are described as doing the kinds of wonderful things that Christ did. In other words, the Church continues the mission of Christ in the world. What he did, his disciples must do. Acting in Jesus’ name means acting like Jesus.

This biblical vision of the Church challenges a status quo that sadly prevails for many Christians, for whom the experience of the Church is merely that of an institution that is expected to provide faith based services. In this construal of the Church, being a Christian is reduced to being a passive recipient of services provided by employees of a religious non for profit corporation. No divine life is necessary for this kind of pseudo Church nor is there to be found the power of Christ’s resurrection.

 

Rather than being the Church, what I have just described to you is really an anti-church. The true Church is the one where disciples of the Lord Jesus are willing to take the great risks that come when you seek to continue the mission of the Lord Jesus- when you seek to accomplish in the immediacy of your own circumstances the very things that Christ the Lord accomplished.

Our second scripture for today’s Mass is an excerpt from the New Testament Book of Revelation.

The Book of Revelation is a mysterious book, made all the more mysterious by its content, which seems at first glance to describe troubling events that lead to the destruction of the planet.

The strange content of the Book of Revelation has led many folks to believe that the Book of Revelation is like a code that once cracked provides God’s agenda for the end of the world.

This isn’t what the Book of Revelation is meant to accomplish.

The Book of Revelation presents all of human history from the vantage point of heaven. In other words, all the strange symbolism of the Book of Revelation is meant to communicate what our world looks like from God’s perspective.

From our perspective it looks like the world is going to hell in a hand basket. That’s how things look to us. From God’s perspective something else is happening- Christ is acting to bring all of creation into a relationship with God. There is a lot of resistance to him, even at times violent resistance, but in the end, the Lord Jesus overcomes all this resistance. In the end, Jesus wins.

The Book of Revelation testifies that the most powerful force that so often opposes Christ is the power of death. Consider how threats of death are often used as a means of terror and control by worldly powers. Think about the inevitability and inescapability of death.

 

But then, the Book of Revelation insists, consider the power of God in Christ, a power that endured death and came back to life. Christ who conquered death in his resurrection proved himself to be more powerful than what seems to be the most powerful force in the world. It is because of Christ’s power over death that his disciples believe that his ultimate victory is assured.

Our Christian faith professes that Christ really and truly died and that he is now really and truly alive. The resurrection of Christ is not for us a metaphor or a symbol, or a feeling or idea, but a real, historical event, an event that changes history, an event that gives us hope that despite the awful mess that the world is often in. God in Christ has the power to set things right and that despite the fear-filled shadow of death into which we must walk, he is a light that is cast into the dark. The power of Christ is revealed in his resurrection.

Finally, in a magnificent account of the apostles’ experience of Christ’s resurrection, Christ demonstrates a willingness to impart a forgiveness that is as undeserved as it is unexpected.

Many preachers will highlight the doubts of the apostle, Thomas in this particular account of Christ’s resurrection, and Thomas’ doubts are an important aspect of this dramatic Gospel. Thomas’ doubts are an occasion that Christ uses to demonstrate the fact of his resurrection, that he is not a phantom or figment of imagination, but a real, living body.

However, let us remember the broader context, the context that the apostles come face to face with the Lord Jesus whom they had abandoned and betrayed, a friend they had left to languish alone in terrifying suffering and death.

Now the Lord Jesus had returned, and the natural response to his return would not have simply been bewilderment, but fear- had Christ returned for revenge? Surely they deserved to be recipients of his anger. If not for vengeance sake, had he returned to shame them, to vilify them for their cowardice?

Not for revenge or to vilify did Christ rise from the dead, but to forgive and to confirm his disciples in their mission. Having been forgiven so much, the apostles are to bear into the world the forgiveness of God in Christ that they have received. What they have received from God in Christ, they are to give to others.

What the apostles of the Lord Jesus receive from the Lord Jesus is mercy, an undeserved and unexpected grace. They couldn’t restore themselves in relationship with Christ, and in his mercy, Christ does for the apostles what they could not accomplish themselves.

As it was with the apostles, so it is with all of us.

Today, the second Sunday after Easter, the Church designates to be “Divine Mercy” Sunday. Today’s Gospel is meant to illuminate the meaning of what God’s mercy, his divine mercy, is about.

The mercy of God is how sinners experience the love of God. The mercy of God does not ignore our sin or affirm us as we are, but it is an experience of God’s willingness to forgive us and to give to us, not what we deserve, but what we need the most- another chance.

We can experience God’s mercy for ourselves in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and this should be an ordinary practice of our lives as disciples. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation we can experience for ourselves what the apostles experienced in the Gospel- Christ’s forgiveness- his mercy.

Mercy is fundamental to the Church’s way of life, for no disciple of the Lord Jesus is ever anyone except a sinner who has experienced God’s mercy- a disciple is always a person (a sinner) who is the recipient of an undeserved saving grace.

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