The Annunciation of the Lord

Today's readings [display_podcast]

davinciannunciation

Fear keeps us from doing all sorts of things the Lord wants for us. If we would truly let go of our fear and cling to our God, just imagine what he could do in us and through us. Ahaz was King of Israel, a mighty commander, but yet was so afraid of God and what God might do that he refused to ask for a sign. He would prefer to cut himself off from God rather than give himself over to the amazing power of God's presence in his life. Because of that perhaps, he never lived to see the greatness of God's glory.

But that did not disrupt the promise. In the fullness of time, God's messenger came to a young woman named Mary and proposed to accomplish in her life the sign that Ahaz was too afraid to ask for. She too was initially afraid, pondering what sort of greeting this was. She was also confused, not knowing how what the angel proclaimed could possibly take place in her life.

The difference, though, was that she heeded the initial words of the angel that have resounded through Salvation history ever since: "Be not afraid." And, thanks be to God, Mary abandoned her fear and instead sang her fiat, her great "yes" to God's plan for her, and for all of us. "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." These words are reminiscent of what the Psalmist sings today: "Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will."

And we know what happened from there. Mary certainly wasn't confident that any of that could be accomplished through her own efforts, but she absolutely knew that God could do whatever he undertook. Nothing would be impossible for God, and she trusted in that, and because of that, we have the great hope of our salvation. We owe so much to Mary's cooperation with God's plan for our salvation.

And so the promise comes to us. We have the great sign that Ahaz was afraid of but Mary rejoiced in. We too are told that God can accomplish much in our own lives, if we would abandon our fears and cling to the hope of God's presence in our lives. Can we too be the handmaids of the Lord? Are we bold enough to say, "Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will?" All we have to remember is the first thing the angel said to Mary: "Be not afraid."

Easter Friday

Today's readings
[Mass for the school children.]  [display_podcast]

We Catholics have the incredible gift of being able to celebrate Easter for eight days – we call that the Octave of Easter – and so today I can still say to you, “Happy Easter!” We celebrate Easter for eight days because it’s that important to us. This is the time when we remember that Jesus loved us so much that he died for our sins on the cross. But not only that, he rose from the dead and promised that we will one day too, because even death cannot stop God’s love for us. That’s why we celebrate Easter Day for eight days, and the Easter season for fifty whole days! Isn’t that wonderful? We are so blessed to be Catholic!

On this Easter day, we have two wonderful stories in our Scripture readings. In our Gospel, the Apostles are all upset about Jesus’ death and they don’t know what to do about it. They followed him for three whole years and they never thought it would end up with Jesus dying on the cross. So they went back to what they used to do before they met Jesus – they went fishing. Only they didn’t have much luck with it. They go out fishing all night long and catch nothing. Nothing – not even an old tire or a shoe or anything!

But Jesus, now risen from the dead, appears to them on the shore as they’re coming in. He asks them what they caught and they tell him: nothing. At this point they don’t know it’s Jesus, probably because after he rose from the dead, he looked a little different. So he tells them to put the nets out again and for some reason, even though they had to be tired and frustrated, they do it. And who would believe it – they caught so many fish it stretched the nets to the breaking point! Then they realize it’s the Lord, and he feeds them breakfast there on the shore – he feeds them just like he always did.

And this gives them courage to do what they did in the second reading. Here they are healing a crippled man, and teaching the people, just like Jesus used to do. Then when the religious leaders confront them, they stand up to them, witnessing to their faith in Jesus who they knew had risen from the dead.

At the beginning of the Gospel, the Apostles were so sad and confused they didn’t know what to do. They thought they had to go back and do what they used to do before they met Jesus, and to make things worse they turned out to be very bad at it. They can’t even catch one fish until Jesus appears to them. Then they catch all sorts of fish. And I think that huge catch of fish is a symbol for what they were going to do next. Because they now knew that Jesus was risen and still wanted to work in them, they were able to go out and do the same things Jesus did. Just like they caught a huge number of fish on the shore that morning, they were now catching huge numbers of people to follow Jesus. Our first reading says they “caught” about five thousand people to follow the Lord! Isn’t that wonderful?

The reason we celebrate Easter so much and for so long is because it is at Easter that we find out that Jesus is never ever ever going to leave us alone! He may have died on the cross, but God wasn’t going to let a little thing like death stop us from knowing him and his love for us. God still works in our world. He wants us to do the things the Apostles did. He wants us to take care of the sick and to teach other people about him. And even if those things sound like they might be pretty scary to do, we can do them with courage because Jesus is still working in us and around us and through us.

This is such an exciting time for our faith that people in the early church, whenever they would see a brother or sister in Christ, they would say to them, “The Lord is risen!” and the person would say back to them “He is risen indeed!” and then they would both say “Alleluia!” So let’s try that…

The Lord is risen!

He is risen indeed!

Alleluia!

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!!!

Easter Tuesday

Today’s readings

In these Easter days, we so much want to hold on to Jesus. We have journeyed through Lent with him, perhaps coming to terms with our failings or our brokenness, reaching toward growth in our spiritual life. And maybe we have been successful, and maybe not. Whatever our experience of Lent, we have seen him suffer and die for us in Holy Week, and now arrive at the Easter of Resurrection and we don’t want to let the experience go. Just like Mary Magdalene, we are in tears longing for our Lord.

But just as Jesus told her she could not hold on to him, so he says that to us. We are called to go from this holy place and be witnesses so that what happened in our first reading from acts can happen in our own corner of the world. We are the people now who must witness to our faith, call people to repentance, and bring them to baptism. The three thousand people who were added to the church on that one day should be a drop in the bucket compared to what God’s holy people can do, energized by their Easter faith and confirmed in their baptism.

We must now be the ones to live our faith in our workplaces, homes, schools, and communities. We must be the face of Jesus to those who are longing for compassion. The tiniest little kindness can be a way of turning someone to faith if we are consistent about doing that in our lives. As the Psalmist says today, “the earth is full of the goodness of the LORD.” All we have to do is spread that goodness around, point to it, and make sure others feel welcome to receive it.

Easter Sunday

Today’s readings

Easter1.jpg There’s certainly a flurry of activity in today’s readings, isn’t there? Especially in the Gospel, we see Mary Magdalene run from the empty tomb to get the Apostles. And then Peter and the “disciple whom Jesus loved” ran to the tomb. This flurry of activity centers around a crisis in their faith, a time of confusion that will ultimately lead to stronger faith.

So Mary comes to the tomb, early in the morning, while it is still dark. In St. John’s Gospel, the idea of light or dark always means something more than whether or not you can see outside without a flashlight. Often he is talking about light and darkness in terms of good and evil. That’s the way it was when we heard of Judas in Friday’s Passion reading: when he went out to do what he had to do, the Gospel says “and it was night.” That wasn’t just to record the time of day, it meant that we had come to the hour of darkness. But here when Mary comes to the tomb, I think the darkness refers to something else. Here, I think it means that the disciples were still in the dark about what was happening and what was going to happen.

Obviously, their confusion gives that away. Jesus had tried to tell them what was going to happen, but to be fair, what was going to happen was so far outside their realm of experience, that really, how could they have understood this before it ever happened? All they know is what Mary told them: the tomb is empty and she has no idea of where they have taken the Lord. And after all that had just happened with his arrest, farce of a trial, and execution, their heads had to be spinning. How could they ever know this was all part of God’s plan?

And even us – we who know that this was part of God’s plan – could we explain what was going on? Could we give a step-by-step picture of what happened when, and why? I know I couldn’t. But, like you, I take it on faith that, after Jesus died, the Father raised him up in glory. It’s a leap of faith that I delight in, because it is that leap of faith that gives me hope and promises me a future. How could we ever get through our lives without the grace of that hope? How could we ever endure the bad news that appears on our TV screens, in newspapers, and even closer to home, in our own lives – how could we endure that kind of news without the hope of the Resurrection?

And so, even though there is this flurry of kind of confused activity among the Apostles this Easter morning, at least this day finds them running toward something, rather than running away as they had the night of the Passover meal. They are running toward their Lord – or at least where they had seen him last, hoping for something better, and beginning with the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” coming to understand at last. It’s not night anymore for them. The day is dawning, the hope of the Resurrection is becoming apparent, the promise of new life is on the horizon.

And may this morning find us running too. Running toward our God in new and deeper ways. Running back to the Church if this has been the first visit you’ve made in a long while. Running back to families if you have been estranged. Running to others to witness to our faith both in word and in acts of service. We Christians have to be that flurry of activity in the world that helps the hope of the Resurrection to dawn on a world groaning in darkness. It’s not night anymore. The stone has been rolled away. This is the day the Lord has made!

The Easter Vigil

Today’s readings

EasterVigil

Next Sunday, I will have the wonderful privilege of baptizing my brand-new niece Katie. This past Thursday, I anointed a parishioner who is very close to death. On Monday, I will preside at the funeral of my mother’s aunt who was over 90 years old. This past year has been a roller coaster of emotions for me, rejoicing here in ministry at St. Raphael’s and burying my own beloved father. I thought about all of these things this week as I prepared for this Holy Vigil. It is always so amazing for me to see Christ’s presence in all the stages of life, from birth to death, in good times and in bad.

Did you hear what we prayed at the very beginning of tonight’s vigil? Listen again: “Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega, all time belongs to him, and all ages, to him be glory and power through every age forever. Amen.” And these are important, even brave words for us to offer on this most holy night. Because it is certainly the position of our world that time is to be endured, that it is fleeting, and that it ultimately meaningless. But tonight’s vigil proclaims that all time is holy, sanctified by our God who has walked with us through our yesterdays, remains with us today, and forges on with us toward our tomorrows. There is not a single moment of our life, not a single moment of our history that is not holy because every moment has been, is now, and always will be imbued with the presence of our God who is holiness itself.

As we have walked through Lent, and especially through this Holy Week, there is even a temptation, I think, to come to think that the world, and especially human history, was a creative experiment that went horribly wrong, that God sent his Son to clean up the mess only to have him killed for it, and then in a last move of desperation raised him up out of the grave. But that’s not what we’ve gathered to celebrate tonight. Salvation was not some kind of dumb luck or happy accident. The salvation of the world had been part of God’s creative plan all along. Humanity, given the grace of free will had, and has, certainly gone astray. But God did not create us simply to follow our own devices and end up in hell. He created us for himself, and so sent his Son Jesus to walk our walk, to die our death, and to rise up over it all in the everlasting promise of eternal life. That’s what we celebrate on this most holy of all nights.

Our world would have us believe that everything is futile and that the only possible way to endure this world is to cultivate a kind of cynical apathy that divorces us from our God, our loved ones, our communities and our world. We are conditioned to believe that time, and life itself, is meaningless, that there is nothing worth living for, and certainly nothing worth dying for. But tonight’s vigil debunks all of that. Tonight we are assured by our God that our present is no less redeemable than was our past, nor is it any less filled with promise than is our future.

Tonight we have heard stories of our salvation. Each of our readings has been a stop in the history of God’s love for us. God’s plan for salvation, and his sanctification of time, began back at the beginning of it all. Each of the days was hallowed with precious creation, and all of it was created and pronounced good. Then Abraham’s faithfulness and righteousness earned us a future as bright as a zillion twinkling stars. Later, as Moses and the Israelites stood trapped by the waters of the red sea, God’s providence made a way for them and cut off their pursuers, making the future safe for those God calls his own. Keeping all of that in mind, the prophet Baruch sings of the wisdom that God makes known to us, extolling the greatness of God who leads his people in understanding and splendor. St. Paul rejoices in the baptism that has washed away the stains of sin as we have died and risen with Christ, and has brought us into a new life that leads ultimately to God’s kingdom. And finally, our Gospel tonight tells us not to be afraid, to go forth into the Galilee of our future and expect to see the Lord.

We Christians have been spared the necessity of a cynical view of the world and its people. Our gift has been and always is the promise that Jesus Christ is with us always, even until the end of the world. And so, just as God sanctified all of time through his interventions of salvation, so too he has sanctified our lives through the interventions of Sacrament. We are a sacramental people, purified and reborn in baptism, fed and strengthened in the Eucharist, and in Confirmation, set on fire to burn brightly and light up our world. Tonight we celebrate these three Sacraments of Initiation, all of us recalling and renewing our baptism, Kelli being Confirmed in the faith, and all of us strengthened with the Eucharist, Kelli for the very first time tonight.

These days of Lent have been a sanctifying journey for our sister Kelli who joins us in faith tonight, but it has been no less sanctifying for all of us, as we have celebrated the Stations of the Cross together, gathered for fish fries, attended our parish mission, spent time before the Eucharist in our Forty Hours Devotion, and so much more. Christ has definitely sanctified this Lenten time for all of us, and has now brought us to the fullness of this hour, when he rises over sin and death to bring us all to the promise of life eternal.

And it is this very night that cleanses our world from all the stains of sin and death and lights up the darkness. The Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation that I sang when we entered Church tonight tells us: “Of this night, Scripture says, ‘The night will be clear as day: it will become my light, my joy.’ The power of this holy night dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy; it casts out hatred, brings us peace, and humbles earthly pride.” What a gift this night is, not just to us gathered here in this church, not just to all the Catholics gathered together throughout the world on this holy night, but to all people in every time and place. Our world needs the light and our time needs the presence of Christ, and our history needs salvation. Blessed be God who never leaves his people without the great hope of his abiding presence!

And so, having come through this hour to be sanctified in this vigil, we will shortly be sent forth to help sanctify our own time and place. Brightened by this beautiful vigil, we now become a flame to light up our darkened world. That is our ministry in the world. That is our call as believers. That is our vocation as disciples. “May the Morning Star, which never sets, find this flame still burning: Christ, that Morning Star, who came back from the dead, and shed his peaceful light on all humankind, [the Son of God] who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.”

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion

Today’s readings

goodfridayToday is a hard day for us Christians because this is the day that highlights our weaknesses and underscores our brokenness. In today’s readings, we hear about the Suffering Servant, the one who was despised and rejected, who bore our infirmities, who went silently to his death. The writer of our second reading speaks of our great High Priest who has known our weakness and who obediently suffered everything that we do, including our own death. And our Passion reading reminds us how humiliating and gruesome that death really was. Today we remember the death of Jesus Christ, perhaps the darkest hour on the face of the earth.

And it’s a dark hour that a lot of people can relate to. Many have known the hopelessness of a land scarred by war or terrorism, communities marred by crime and neglect, families damaged by poverty. Still more can remember the emotional turmoil caused by the illness or death of a loved one, or the uncertainty of losing a job or changing a career, or the constant upheaval of a marriage or family in crisis. Even closer to home, so many of us suffer the loneliness of unconfessed sin, or the constant battle of addiction. From time to time, all of us have an hour, or hours, of darkness. We all suffer the pain which afflicted our Great High Priest, the Suffering Servant.

There are very few guarantees in this world, but one of them is that we will know at some point the gut-wrenching agony of physical, emotional, or spiritual pain. And often we may know all of them all at once. That is why even though this is a hard day for us Christians to celebrate, it is a necessary one. On this day, we remember that our High Priest did not ignore our pain, nor was he ever embarrassed by it. Instead, he embraced the same pain that we suffer, enduring it all the way to the Cross. On this day, Christ unites himself perfectly with our human nature, and sanctifies it entirely, blessing it as part of God’s plan for salvation.

We are a people who eagerly yearn for the Resurrection. And that is as it should be. We must certainly hope for the great salvation that is ours, and the light and peace of God’s Kingdom. But today we remember that that salvation was bought at a very dear price, the price of the death of our Savior, our great High Priest. Today we look back on all of our sufferings of the past or the present, we even look ahead to those that may yet be. And as we sit here in God’s presence we know that we are never ever alone in those dark hours, that Christ has united himself to us in his suffering and death. May we too unite ourselves to him in our own suffering, and walk confidently through it with him, pass the gates of salvation and enter into God’s heavenly kingdom.

Wednesday of Holy Week

Today's readings

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"The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him…" The gospels tell us in many places that Jesus willingly laid down his life. This was the mission the Father gave him, and this was the mission he had taken up on this earth. In these final days of Holy Week, Jesus lives up to the mission he has freely taken up. Isaiah says of him: "And I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; My face I did not shield from buffets and spitting." There would have been precious little grace had it happened any other way. "For your sake I bear insult," the Psalmist says, "and shame covers my face." In what way are we being called to willingly take up our cross today?