Saturday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time (May 28th, 2016)

Today’s first scripture is an excerpt from the New Testament letter of Saint Jude and in this text the apostle evokes mercy: “Keep yourself in the love of God and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ” and “On those who waver, have mercy”…

Mercy has been the great theme of Pope Francis’ pontificate and we are in fact in the Jubilee Year of Mercy- a time of heightened prayer and penance, a time of pilgrimage. What is mercy?

Mercy is how God’s love is experienced by a sinner- in other words, it is not God’s will that a sinner be lost, but saved. God sees value where the world (or the sinner) sees little or no value at all. That God’s response to the sinner is mercy is his means of rescue, a lure for a sinner who has resisted all other overtures.

Sin means to resist the will and purposes of God and this resistance traps a person in misery. God in Christ reveals that what the sinner in their misery encounters in God is his mercy.

God’s mercy is not an affirmation of who we are, but a rescue from a destructive status quo. Mercy offers us another chance, a privileged opportunity, a new way of life, but as such, it is always insists that we change.

Concretely, God’s mercy happens for us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but the Church is itself an agent of God’s mercy, not only in the confessional, but also in the world. All the members of the Church are sinners who have been saved, recipients of a divine mercy that none of us deserve or could ever earn. The mercy we have received grows in proportion to our willingness to share it with others.

The world is so often brutally insistent that apologies be offered for every slight real or imagined, but at the same time, mercy is in short supply and is given only begrudgingly at great cost. This should not be so with the Church, where integral to our unique way of life is to seek forgiveness and to offer forgiveness to others.

The letter of Jude insists that mercy is the gift that Christians should offer to those who need it the most- given to them, not because they deserve it, or because they will return the favor, but because we know ourselves to be sinners who are recipients of the mercy of God in Christ.

The Gospel of Mark recounts how Christ is challenged by people who doubt he has the authority to do what he has done or say what he has said.

Throughout the Gospels, Christ is presented as speaking and acting in the person of God, and this is unnerving to those who support him and those who oppose him. Christ is indicating in his words and actions that he is God, and this revelation is the great mystery of the Gospels revealed. Christ is God, the one true God, who has accepted a human nature and lived a real human life.

The acceptance of Christ for who he reveals himself to be reorients our whole life. If you accept Christ is God, then your life belongs to him, and you belong to him, not just in some things, but also in all things- his authority is total and complete. It is for this reason that many will seek to make Christ less than who he reveals himself to be, or refuse to accept him at all…

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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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