Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. We see this in this week’s Gospel. His disciples taking His words to heart in the Our Father each day gives us a spiritual reminder and uplift of all we are entrusted to do as the followers of Jesus and all we are truly capable of. By praying the Hail Mary we acknowledge Mary’s powerful faith and her love for Jesus and us. In our imperfection but faith fired hope we say: “Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” Like any mother she sees beyond our faults and imperfections to someone she loves with all her heart.
We also hear the voice of Jesus speaking to us through our consciences. At times we ponder what we should say or do. Openness to the Spirit of God enables us to hear the voice of Jesus and say or do what He would say or do. When someone tells us of a good thing that has happened to another person we know, we increase their joy with words of congratulations. When we thank people for what they have done for us, we increase their joy. At times we are told of those who are sick or mourning the loss of a loved one. Those words lead us to visit them and offer them words of comfort and love.
Each day is another opportunity to hear God’s voice in all the ways we use to communicate with one another. The more we listen, the more we respond with our life-giving presence and words. The constant blessing is not only our life-giving words to others, but the chance to speak them from our hearts. Life-giving words are Resurrection words – they lift us both those who hear them and those speak them.
One of the joys of being a priest is baptizing children. Before the ceremony begins, there is a lot of joy and enthusiasm in all who are present. How good it is to see how an innocent child, who is need of constant care and attention, brings such unity and joy. Along with their parents, who among us would not do anything to help these innocent souls to be healthy, happy, and cared for? The birth of a child is a Resurrection experience in that it raises the lives of parents especially to a new level of love. Sleepless nights and concern for any problems are sacrifices readily made for the good of a child. Newborn children along with anyone else we let into the depths of our minds and hearts raise us to a level in our lives that is energizing, encouraging, and inspiring.
Does our presence bring love, life, and mercy to others? When it does that is the power of the Resurrection in our minds and hearts. To bring love, life, and mercy to others means we do far more than avoid evils the Ten Commandments warn us against. Virtue and the love of God are far more than being able to say, “I didn’t kill anyone,” or “I didn’t commit adultery.” Virtue, living in union with the Risen Christ, and being part of His life means I do far more than avoid draining life out of others and myself through my words and actions. It means giving life by my thoughts, words, and actions at all times, in all places. It means far more than avoiding unfaithfulness to God and others; it means always being there, loving with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.
The Resurrection is far more than rising from the dead and evil and its consequences; it means living in Jesus and allowing Him to live in us. Our loved ones live in us and we live in them. Even our loved ones who have died are still very much a part of who we are. We are grateful for them and their love and goodness. As we see in today’s Gospel, the disciples were very much alive in the mind and heart of Jesus. In Jesus they and we are far more than grateful for His love and goodness, we become His love, mercy, and goodness.
When we are born we are embraced by the love, gratitude, and joy of our parents. We are raised to ultimate hope and joy in life when we see how we are embraced by the love, life, and mercy of God in Jesus. When we embrace the pure love, life, and mercy of God we become that very love, life, and mercy.
Today is the eighth day in our celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus. We prepared for our Easter celebration with forty days of Lent, a time to reflect on our life with God and His life with us. How good it is to be invited to rejoice in the wonder of Easter for fifty days. As we see in today’s Gospel, what seemed to end on Good Friday with the death of Jesus on the cross was renewed, re-nourished, and reaffirmed as the Risen Jesus appeared to His disciples who were behind locked doors for fear of being identified as His followers. His words were not words of disappointment or rebuke, but words of reassuring love: “Peace be with you!” He showed them His hands and His side, they saw that He was the one who was crucified. But most wondrously, He made it clear that He still loved them. Now that love would truly transform them and they would begin building up the Church, the Body of Christ in the world. No longer were they fearful, discouraged, or guilt ridden. He expressed not only His love for them, but also His faith in them as: “He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Not only did Jesus forgive them for their lack of courage, for abandoning Him, and denying Him when He underwent His passion, not only did He assure them of His life-giving love, He now breathed His Holy Spirit on them, entrusting and enabling to do what He did. Now they too could bring the peace of God’s mercy to all who would be open to it. Having personally experienced His forgiveness they were now empowered and impelled to extend that life giving power to all who opened their hearts to their need for it.
Without the Resurrection and the renewing power of God’s mercy and forgiveness, everyday is another time to try to escape the memory and guilt caused by past infidelities, betrayals, selfishness, anger, gossip, and apathy. Without the Resurrection and the renewing power of God’s mercy and forgiveness we expend time and energy trying to carry guilt and self disappointment that only weigh us down more and more. Our fifty day celebration of Easter, every celebration of Mass, every humble confession of sins in the Sacrament of Penance, all raise us beyond the devastating and energy draining power of sin, both our personal sins and failings and the sins and failings we see in our world every day.
Pure, unconditional love, love that is Christ-like and Christ-centered is at the core of what we need to share each day with our family, friends, and all those we encounter. Each time we love from our hearts as Jesus did and His commissioned disciples did after His Resurrection, the life-giving power of Easter is present. These fifty days of our Easter celebration communicate a message that is sorely needed in our world today. Will our world ever be free of such violence? The Resurrection is the beginning of the way to overcome all evils. Even more the power of the Resurrection encourages and enables us to rise always to be life givers in our thoughts, words, and actions. The Holy Spirit breathed onto the Apostles in today’s Gospel has been breathed into us in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. As we learned from our early years, a Sacrament is a visible sign of God’s grace. Filled with the goodness, wisdom, love, and mercy of the Holy Spirit, we become what fill us. Happy Easter!!!
At the beginning of Lent, I was switching between radio stations and hit the song “Love Without End, Amen” by Aaron Gale Barker…made popular by the country singer George Strait. If you haven’t heard it recently, do a search and find it. Baker (and Strait) gets the Season we now have and will celebrate (and he has a great melody stream too).
Love is the most powerful force in the world and in our lives. In spite of the violence, injustice and pain we inflict upon each other as human beings and in spite of the devastating power of weapons we have developed to protect and defend ourselves, no power other than love will bring peace and unity. Once Jesus was arrested, He was no longer the one doing things for other people, people were doing things to Him. The Scripture passages that recount His Passion do not focus so much on the physical brutality He experienced with the scourging at the pillar, the crowning with thorns, or the extremely painful act of crucifixion. The Scriptures speak about the betrayal, denial, abandonment, and injustice. Through it all Jesus remains silent and passive. There are no words of rebuke, no threats from His mouth, no expressions of disappointment, and no words that would in any way say He was giving up on us. Jesus suffered in silence, but the love in His heart was not extinguished, compromised, or denied. As we saw on Good Friday, His words on the cross expressed only love: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” “This day you will be with me in paradise.” “Son, there is your mother, mother, there is your son.” Jesus not only died for us and our sins, He rose to give us a share in the new life of Easter.
The older we get, the harder it is to trust and the easier it is to become skeptical and cynical. Yet none of us wants to be this way. Something inside us wants to trust, to hope, to believe in the goodness of things, to again feel that trustful enthusiasm we once had as children, when we were innocent (and innocent means “unwounded”), and we could still take another’s hand in trust. No one wants to be outside the circle of trust. The Resurrection makes real this desire we all have in the depths of our hearts.
When Jesus rose, He told his disciples to go back to Galilee. Galilee was a geographical place, but even more it was the place where His disciples first came to believe in Him. Jesus was calling them back to their initial innocence, joy, and trust in His love for them. To return to the idealisms that first drew themselves to Jesus. The Resurrection was far more than the body of Jesus coming back from the dead. It was the final, emphatic proclamation and reality of the powerful depth of His love. It was that love that renewed His first followers as they laid the foundation of Church, the Body of Christ in the world. We are now the living members of the Body of Christ in the world today. Easter is our time to be renewed by the powerful hope that love is more powerful than evil. Hope is more powerful than apathy or despair, and faith is more powerful than distrust. As you come to Church this Easter Sunday, welcome to Galilee! Welcome home, where once again we are told by God…I love you! May that love permeate our minds and hearts in all we do each day! There is no greater love and it is God’s gift to us – without end … Amen.
The blessed palms we will take home today ask us to think about how we welcome Jesus into our lives, and, even more…they point to how welcome we are into Jesus’ life. After all this time of preparation of Lent, we begin the Mass this week declaring Him King of our life and our all. But, we know the rest of the story don’t we?
We know that the welcome of Palm Sunday changes dramatically five days later into betrayal, denial, rejection, injustice and condemnation to a painful death on a cross. But not even that lack of welcome stopped Jesus from inviting us into His life with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Although Facebook and other tools on the Internet certainly lead many people to post…publicly…thoughts that are much too personal for all involved) we do not readily reveal our thoughts, words, motives and desires to anyone who comes along. No…the inner part of our hearts hold those people and things we most treasure. It is so clear that we are in the heart of God. We are so special and loved by Him that the words spoken to Jeremiah the Prophet apply to all of us: “The word of the Lord came to me: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you. ‘Ah, Lord God!’ I said, ’I do not know how to speak. I am too young!’ But the Lord answered me, Do not say, ’I am too young.’ To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you—oracle of the Lord.” (Jeremiah 1:4-8) Right after the water was poured over our heads when we were baptized, the priest or deacon anointed our foreheads with Sacred Chrism and prayed, “As Christ was anointed priest, prophet and king, so may you live always as a member of His Body, sharing everlasting life.” Our everlasting, eternal life, eternal relationship with God began the moment we were baptized. And…yes, we are all priests, prophets, and princes and princesses in the Kingdom of God.
Anyone who prays is engaged in priestly activity, because prayer is speaking to God on our own behalf or on behalf of others. In Baptism we become a child of God, a member of God’s family, and consequently, a brother or sister of Jesus. Jesus is the great High Priest, the One Who offered His very life on the cross for love of us and love for the Father and His will. Our blessing is that Jesus has made us God’s children in the intimacy of His life with the Father and Holy Spirit. One of the powerful ways to recognize our priestly character is to pray as Jesus did: “Our Father, who art in heaven…….” Those are the very words He Himself has given us to help us speak to the Father from the heart just as He did in these (and countless other) words of prayer. We are all prophets. That does not mean we go around calling people to repentance, but that by the very way we live our lives everyday, we proclaim the goodness, love, mercy and compassion of God as His children to all He entrusts to our care. We are also princes and princesses. That does not mean we have crowns or sit on thrones. Our kingly role is seen in Jesus Christ our King (and eldest Brother). Our power is His power, the power and privilege to love, forgive and humbly serve no matter what.
Palm Sunday is a reminder to us that every Sunday…well everyday…is Palm Sunday. In other words, everyday is a day to give thanks for the welcome God has given us to be part of His life and to welcome God in all we say, do and think each day. How powerful and life giving it is to be welcomed by God and to welcome Him into our daily lives. How blessed we are to be the blessing of His welcome to one another. Happy Palm Sunday! Happy Everyday!
You have noticed that throughout Lent, I have been reciting the Sorrowful Mysteries when we pray the Rosary after (before) Mass. One of the points that comes to mind when I pray the Sorrowful Mysteries is that beginning with the Agony in the Garden through the Crucifixion and Death of Jesus things go from bad to worse to the worst. In his love for the Father and for us, Jesus prayed in the garden that the Father’s will be done. The agony quickly changes from mental anguish to injustice and physical suffering. The Scourging at the Pillar is followed by the mockery of the soldiers who cruelly Crown Him with Thorns. Then Jesus has the cross placed on His shoulders, a piece of wood that will torment Him to His last physical breath. Finally injustice and evil have their day as He dies on the cross.
We are coming to the Lenten Season and look forward to the Easter Season. You, like me, may be looking forward to this change. After all, we know how the story of Jesus’ passion, suffering and death is going to end…His resurrection…His ascension into heaven! Yet, we still wait for Easter to arrive…still observing our Lenten disciplines. Many of the world don’t get it…why go through it…let’s skip Lent and just have Easter. (After all, didn’t Jesus die once…and for all?) The world, as usual, misses the point of this season. Lent not only prepares us for Easter…it also prepares us for life itself. We, in the 21st century, are like Jesus in the garden too…knowing our end to this life is an ultimate reality. Why go through it? Because the Father looks to how we will respond…Thy will be done or my will be done? And, just as we meditate on our sorrowful mysteries of life…we (in faith) know how our story is going to end. Though Jesus…we look forward to our own resurrection and ascension into heaven…we only have to get though our pilgrim life journey.
As we can meditate on these realities with hope and inspiration…because…we know the crucifixion and all the evil and injustice that surrounded it was defeated by what we reflect on in the Glorious Mysteries: the Resurrection, Ascension, Descent of the Holy Spirit, Assumption of Mary and Crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth. By our faithful and trust in the Father, we look forward to our Eldest Brother to crown us the princes and princesses of the Heaven and Earth.
“How can you, a sinner from birth, preach to us, we who are teachers of the law?” Most likely, all of us who are even minimally educated in the catechism of the Catholic Church, find these words of the Pharisees to the man born blind rather disturbing. If you, like me, find yourself “rooting” for the blind man and wishing to slap the Pharisees upside the head…then thank the person who taught you your catechism. I say this because if it was not for our belief in the Catholic dogma of original sin, all of us would most likely have this Pharisaical reaction to human suffering.
But let me be clear, almost every Catholic (as well as most Christians) knows a little catechism about original sin, but very few get beyond the basic idea that original sin was the sin that Adam and Eve committed long ago in the Garden of Eden. True enough…that is a good start. However, if that is all we can say about this belief we fall prey to all sorts of troublesome thinking. And when we have troublesome thinking it leads to troublesome attitudes and when we have some troublesome attitudes we do some troublesome things and we form troublesome habits. We can even end up declaring a suffering innocent person a wicked sinner who has only himself to blame for his misery.
The Pharisees in today’s gospel are talking just like the “friends” of Job in the Old Testament. Recall how Job while suffering so much was continually badgered by his companions to confess his guilt and repent in order to recover his health and well being. But Job can’t think of any sins so he can’t repent. (If you haven’t read the book of Job lately, Lent is a great time to do so. If you don’t have the time read the whole 42 chapters, read at least the first three and the last three chapters. The middle part is all the badgering stuff.) At the heart of the problem is an ignorance that in many ways is very understandable. But it is very problematic. They do not take the story of creation and the Fall seriously. We know suffering is very much connected to the fact that evil has been done. Just as light is understood in relationship to darkness, we know evil needs to be punished and good merits rewards. These guys figure, “this man is suffering, therefore he is being punished”. They falsely conclude, “Since I am doing well, I am being blessed.” (This actually is a common attitude found in many modern spiritualities). And, let’s admit it…“faith alone without works” has produced an odd dependence on being good to receive God’s blessings. They say: “Be good, be blessed, be bad and God won’t bless you.” This can creep into almost all of our hearts.
There is a subtle but dangerous example of this ignorance in the political realm. Those who are “progressive” are almost incapable of seeing suffering as an inescapable universal part of life. They are always assigning blame and always ready to enact new laws, which place huge burdens on others. They themselves do nothing to help carry the load. Their quest for the painless life is filled with assigning blame here and there. Extracting crushing fines upon nations for the past sins of slavery is as wrongheaded as our “friends” in the story of Job. Or when a worker’s union sues it’s “host” company into bankruptcy, they may feel good about placing the blame for suffering at the feet of someone, but they only end up increasing the quota of suffering. God allows the “curse” of Adam because it can (when we understand the redemptive characteristic of suffering) lead us to life everlasting.