Easter Monday

Today’s readings

Well, it wasn’t all that long ago that we saw the disciples scatter in fear, was it?  Here they had seen their friend arrested, tortured, and killed, so one could not blame them for running scared.  I’m sure I would have done no different if I had been them.

But in today’s first reading, we see them different.  They have witnessed the resurrection of Jesus, they have seen him alive.  More than that, they have been filled with the gift of the Holy Spirit, that great gift he had promised them all along.  And so now they get it.  Now they realize what he had been saying to them, and now they have courage and fortitude to proclaim the Gospel.

“God raised this Jesus, of this we are all witnesses,” Peter says on their behalf.  They have entered into mystagogia … that time following a great event when those involved look back on what they have experienced, and come to new understandings based on those experiences.  Their mystagogia of the Easter event has given them fresh hope and courage, and has empowered them to proclaim the message.

We didn’t have any baptisms here this Easter Vigil, but many were baptized into the Church and Christ Jesus throughout the world.  They are experiencing mystagogia in these days.  They are looking back on their reception into full communion with us, and reflecting on what they have learned and how they have grown in their faith.  We cradle Catholics also experience mystagogia in these days.  Our baptisms are not as fresh in our minds as are the baptisms of our new brothers and sisters, but we recall with gratitude and profound joy the saving sacrifice that has given us hope of new life.  So we too, like the apostles, are empowered to proclaim the message.

God has raised this Jesus from the dead, and we are witnesses of these things, brothers and sisters in Christ.  Praise God!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

 

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord: Mass During the Day

Today’s readings

Can you remember a time when you had a breakthrough moment, a kind of “aha!” experience?  Maybe it was getting the answer to a math problem, or mastering the technique of a pitch in baseball, or coming up with just the right combination of ingredients cooking a sauce, or getting a particularly delicate plant to grow in your garden, or learning to sing or play a difficult but beautiful piece of music, or getting your second wind in a long distance run.  Whatever it was, you probably remember the time when it just worked and it forever changed the way you did that particular thing.  Those breakthrough moments are the stuff that help us to learn and grow.

The line of the Gospel that I really love, though, is “Do not be afraid!”  Easy for that heavenly messenger to say!  We and the disciples are left standing at that empty tomb totally blown away by all that has happened.  But we believe in a God who is very surprising.  All through the Bible, we can read stories of people trying to come to terms with God, and just when they thought they had him all figured out, he bursts in to their complacency and says, “No, that’s not it, you just don’t get me at all, do you?”

That happens to us too, doesn’t it?  God surprises us all the time. Most often, people note the bad surprises: the death of a loved one, an illness, loss of a job.  But those things are not of God.  God didn’t make those surprises; he allows them in this imperfect world, but they are not his will for us.  What is his will for us is what really surprises us: the grace to deal with a difficult situation with a strength we never knew we had, the help of a friend or loved one at just the right time, words spoken by a stranger or an acquaintance that help us to find the ability to journey on from where we are.  And in our surprise, God says, “Do not be afraid!”

To really get how surprising this day must have been for Jesus’ disciples, we have to back up and see the story up to this point.  Jesus had been doing wonderful, amazing things: healing the sick, raising the dead, speaking words of challenge and hope.  The Jewish leaders of the time became more and more uncomfortable with his message, seeing it as blasphemy and a rejection of everything good and holy.  More and more, their anger raged up, and many times they attempted to arrest him.  Finally, the movement against him rises to a fever pitch.  Judas, who thought he would get rich off this wonder-worker Jesus grows disillusioned to the point that he is willing to hand Jesus over to them.

Jesus’ hour had come: he was put through a farce of a trial, brutally beaten and contemptuously treated.  Finally he is nailed to a cross and suffers hours of agony and abandonment by most of his disciples before he gives us his spirit at last.  All seemed darker than dark.  Jesus is placed in a tomb that was not his own by people who had just been acquaintances.  His friends have fled in fear.  His mother and some women wept at the end of it all.  Things couldn’t have been worse or more hopeless.

But then came the morning.  Some of the women go to anoint his body for its burial, and just when they are wondering who is going to help them roll the stone away so they can get in to the tomb, they come upon the tomb, open and empty.  They had to be utterly amazed – they probably didn’t even know what had actually happened.  But as they stood there, mouths hanging open, thoughts reeling in their minds, the messenger appears: “Do not be amazed!”  Jesus said he would rise, and rise he did, hammering home the point that hopelessness is no obstacle to God’s power, that fear is no match for grace, that death and darkness are nothing compared to God’s great love.  Do not be afraid!

Even that is not where the wonder of it all stopped.  The disciples have now had their breakthrough moment and so, in their joy, they eventually recollect themselves and go out and tell people what had happened.  Christ, crucified, overcame death to rise to new life.   In the light of the resurrection, they came to understand what Jesus had always preached and also received the grace of the Spirit so that they could preach it to others. Their preaching shaped the Church, guiding it through the centuries to our own day.  Today we gather not just to remember an amazing event that happened two thousand years ago, but rather to experience the joy of that resurrection with those women at the tomb, with the disciples who heard about it from them, with all the people from every time and place, on earth and in heaven, all of us who have had the Gospel preached to us.  We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus as one.  Do not be afraid!

And the marvel continues: the death and resurrection of Christ has had an effect on this cold and dark and sinful world.  Through that wonderful saving action, the finality of our death has been obliterated, the vicious cycle of our sins has been erased.  We have been freed from it all through the power of grace, freely given if we will freely accept it, lavished out on all of us wandering ones who return to God with sorrow for our sins and hope for forgiveness.  We have truly been saved and made free.  Do not be afraid!

We have also been given the great gift of eternal life.  In his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has broken the chains of death and risen triumphant from the grave.  Because of that, our own graves will never be our final resting place, pain and sorrow and death will be temporary, and we who believe and follow our risen Lord have hope of life that lasts forever.  Just as Christ’s own time on the cross and in the grave was brief, so our own pain, death, and burial will be as nothing compared to the ages of new life we have yet to receive.  We have hope in these days because Christ who is our hope has overcome the obstacles to our living.  Do not be afraid!

Back on the evening of Holy Thursday, when the Church gathered to commemorate the giving of the Eucharist, the entrance antiphon told us what was to come:

We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
for he is our salvation, our life and our resurrection;
through him we are saved and made free.

And this morning, we gather to celebrate that that is truly what has happened.  On this feast of our salvation, we celebrate our great breakthrough moment.  Through the cross and resurrection we are saved and made free to live the salvation, life and resurrection that God always intended for us to have.  We should glory in the cross!   Do not be afraid!

 

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord: The Easter Vigil

Tonight’s readings

We English-speakers have just one word for time, but other languages have more; those languages recognize the different kinds of time.  Most notably for us because it is reflected in the New Testament, the Greek language has two kinds of time: chronos and kairos.  Chronos is the kind of time you can measure.  It’s a day or a week or even the timeline of a project at work.  Kairos on the other hand can be thought of as quality time: a summer afternoon spent with your family, a visit to a sick loved one, or a chance encounter with an old friend.  This kind of time is mostly unmeasurable, and in some sense kairos is always “now.”

It’s important to keep these kinds of time in mind because the world sometimes sees time in a rather cynical way.   But that’s not how our God sees time.  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.  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.  That’s what we gather to celebrate on this holy night.

But as we have walked through Lent, and especially through this Holy Week, there may even be 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 we know that’s not right.  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.

There is a cynical view of our world that 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.  The prophet Isaiah calls us to seek the Lord while he may be found, not spending our lives on things that fail to satisfy, but investing in our relationship with God that gives us everything.  The prophet Ezekiel foretells the recreation all humanity will experience as they come to know Christ and are filled with the Spirit.  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 forever, 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 recall these three Sacraments of Initiation and recommit ourselves to the promises of our baptism.  Also, for the first time since Thursday, we have the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist together, drawing strength from the food our God provides.

These days of Lent have been a sanctifying journey for all of us, as we have walked the Stations of the Cross together, attended our parish mission, celebrated the sacraments, spent time before the Eucharist, gathered as a community for a fish fry or pizza fest or a soup and bread supper, 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 mankind, [the Son of God] who lives and reigns forever and ever.  Amen.”

 

 

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion

Today’s readings

Isaiah’s lament catches us up in the emotion of Good Friday.  The suffering servant’s appearance is so marred, stricken and infirm that we cannot bear to look at him.  Because if we really looked hard enough, we know, in our heart of hearts, that the marring, the strickenness, the infirmity are all ours.  This is a dark hour.  It seems like all is lost.  And we too will have dark hours of our own.  That’s one of the few guarantees that this fleeting life gives to us.  We will have to bear our own cross of suffering: the illness or death of loved ones, the loss of a job, the splintering of a family, or even the shame of addictive sin.

It is our brokenness that we see in the suffering servant, our sinfulness on the son of man.  And this suffering one is embodied by our God, Jesus Christ our Savior, who carries all of that nastiness to the cross, and hangs there before us, bleeding and dying and crying out in agony.  That’s our sin, our death, our punishment – and he bore it all for us.  Who could believe it?

And just when it seems like there is nothing left to give, when it seems like all hope is lost, when it seems like death has the upper hand, the soldier thrusts his lance into the side of Christ, and he pours forth the life blood and water that plants the seeds of the Church into the barren ground of the earth, guaranteeing the presence of the Lord in the world until the end of time.  Christ our God gives everything he has for us, takes away all that divides us, and performs the saving sacrifice that makes salvation possible for all people.  Our God gives up everything – everything – for love of us.

We know that the suffering and death of Jesus is not the end of the story.  In the day ahead, we will keep vigil for the Resurrection of the Lord which shatters the hold that sin and death have on us.  We are a people who eagerly yearn for the Resurrection.  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.  We see all those sufferings in our suffering servant on the cross.  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 one great day into God’s heavenly kingdom.

 

Monday of Holy Week

Today’s readings

I don’t know about you, but Holy Week usually finds me a little raw, emotionally.  And looking at today’s Gospel reading, I guess I’m not alone.  All the characters in that reading from John are experiencing a heightened sense of some emotion:  The chief priests, the religious leaders of the Jews, were experiencing bitter jealousy.  They hated that Jesus called them to task and they hated that so many were following him.  They had even come to hate Lazarus because he had convinced many to follow Jesus after Jesus raised him from the dead.

Judas was beginning to experience fear and despair.  Seeing how much Jesus was hated, I think Judas began to think he had hitched himself to the wrong wagon.  He knew the chief priests were plotting to kill Jesus and so I think he began to greatly fear that he and the others could be next.  He was right about that, but that’s a reading for another day.

And then we have Mary – this Mary who sat at the feet of Jesus one time while Martha served dinner, this Mary who couldn’t even come out of the house when Jesus came to see Lazarus, this Mary who now perhaps is understanding who Jesus was and why he cam – this Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with costly perfumed oil, a foreshadowing of the Chrism that will be consecrated tonight at the cathedral.  Her emotion is sorrow, knowing that her Lord will soon give up his life.

Where does Holy Week find us these days?  What emotions do we feel?  What does the Passion of our Lord stir up in us?

 

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Today’s readings

This is it.  With today’s Liturgy, we enter solemnly into Holy Week, in which unfold the great mysteries of our faith.  Right up front, we see two very dramatic moments in the life of Christ, moments that, quite honestly, seem so very opposed to one another.  As we begin, we travel with Jesus to Jerusalem.  This has been his destiny, and he enters the holy city not unaware of what is to unfold.  So he enters the city with great pomp and ceremony, with people laying their cloaks on the road, riding in on a beast of burden.  The people cry out in “hosannas,” their hope for the messianic fulfillment of the promises of God at fever pitch.

 

But it doesn’t take long for the story to take an ugly turn.  Just five chapters into Matthew later, the people have had quite enough of Jesus, thank you very much, and can’t yell for him to be crucified loudly enough.  Their messianic hope had indeed come, but they missed its significance.  Their hope had dawned, but it didn’t look the way they thought it would, so they rejected it.  Maybe they felt a little like the Psalmist today, crying out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

 

What happens next is almost too horrible to see, almost too horrific to call to mind.  Jesus, after being beaten nearly to death and carrying the heavy burden of the cross through the streets of the city, is nailed to that cross and dies there, humiliated and beaten.  And we can’t look at it, can we?  How awful.  How painful.  We live in an age where there is a pill for every minor pain and a treatment for every discomfort.  And so something like the Cross is almost too much.

 

But the Cross is an in-your-face reminder that pain is part and parcel of our life of salvation.  Jesus did not come to take away our pain, he came to redeem it.  Not only that, he came to take it on himself.  Far from being embarrassed by our sin and pain, Jesus took it to the cross, redeeming our brokenness, and leaving us an everlasting promise that there is no pain too great for our God to bear and there is no way we can ever fall so far that our God can’t reach us.  Jesus took our every hurt, our every pain, our every sin, our every shame, our every resentment, our every emptiness, and left them all there at the foot of the Cross.  No wonder the Cross is so hard for us to look at.

 

I know there are many among us now who are carrying pain with them each day. Maybe it’s unconfessed sin, or maybe it’s a broken relationship.  Maybe it’s the sadness of the illness or death of a loved one.  Maybe it’s the splintering of a family. Maybe it’s a hurt that goes back to childhood, or a frightening diagnosis about an illness.  Maybe it’s difficulty with a job or career, or trouble in a marriage.  Maybe it’s a loneliness that can’t seem to be shaken.  For all of us who are hurting in any way, all we have to do is look at the Cross and realize that there is nothing our God won’t do for us.  No, it’s not pretty, and God may not take away our pain right away, but he will never ever leave us alone in it.  In fact, he helps us bear it, and ultimately, he will raise us up out of it.  As we enter this Holy Week, we are reminded gently that the cross, while significant, is not the end of the story.  Yes, we have to suffer our own Good Fridays; but we confidently remember that we also get an Easter Sunday.  And that is what gives us all the confidence to take up our cross and journey on.

 

These are not ordinary days – they are not for business as usual.  I invite you all to enter into these Holy Days with passion, with prayerfulness and in faith.  Gather with us on Holy Thursday at 7:00pm to celebrate the giving of the Eucharist and the Priesthood, and the call to service that comes from our baptism.  On Good Friday at 3:00 in the afternoon, we will have the opportunity once again to reflect on the Passion, to venerate the cross that won our salvation, and to receive the Eucharist, which is our strength.  Finally, at 8:00 on Holy Saturday night, we will gather outside on the piazza to keep vigil for the resurrection we have been promised.  We will hear stories of our salvation, we will celebrate our baptism rejoicing in the victory of Christ over sin and death.  No Catholic should ever miss the celebrations of these Holy Days, for these days truly sustain our daily living and give us the grace to take up our little crosses day by day.

 

Lenten Penance Service

Today’s readings: Romans 5:12, 17-19; Matthew 26:20-25

In Jesus Christ, we have absolutely everything that we need for the forgiveness of sins, except one thing.  In Jesus Christ, we have our God who became man.  We have in Christ the Saving Sacrifice, his life poured out on us to take away the penalty of our sins and nullify the sting of our death.  Not only that, but Jesus Christ strengthens us with the gift of his Holy Spirit, who enlivens in us the desire to be close to our God and to put our sins behind us.  That Holy Spirit gives us the grace not just to know and confess our sins, but also the grace to avoid the sin ahead of us.  In Christ, the way to forgiveness is open.  We have all we need – except one thing.

 

And that one thing is the thing that must come from within us, namely, repentance.   Because once we repent of our sins, turn away from them, and confess them, we can then accept God’s grace and mercy, and become a new people, marked by faith, hope and love.  But repentance is a choice that’s up to us; it’s a habit we have to develop, because it’s not a habit that we see demonstrated much in our world.  Our world would rather take mistakes and put a positive “spin” on them so everyone saves face.  But that’s not repentance.  Our world would rather find someone else to blame for the problems we encounter, so that we can be righteously indignant and accept our own status as victims.  But that’s not repentance.  Our world would rather encounter an issue by throwing at it money, human resources, military intervention, lawsuits or legislation.  But that’s not repentance.

 

Our Gospel tonight shows us what happens when we forget repentance and penance and the grace of reconciliation.  Despair over our own sins blinds us to the mercy of God that has been staring us right in the face, walking with us all along the way.  In our own desperate and fumbling attempts to make all that is wrong in us right, we make ourselves miserable, we give up on what is good, and we betray our Lord, again.  But we can’t be like Judas, trying to save face – “Surely it is not I, Lord?”  We have to learn the rich virtue of repentance, we have to become people of repentance.

 

But where and to whom do we look to become that people?  World leaders are no help at all, and even if the media were to see an example of repentance, I’m not sure they’d give it much play.  So that’s no help.  Perhaps in these Lenten days, the Liturgy of the Word can be our teacher.  We might look at the wayward son’s interaction with the Prodigal Father, or perhaps the woman at the well who left her jug behind to live the new life.  We might look at the woman caught in adultery or even at the “good thief” crucified with Jesus.  All of these got the idea and turned from their sin toward their God and received life in return.  This is the habit of repentance that we have been called to develop in ourselves.

 

The only thing our God wants to do is to forgive sinners.  Not just once, not twice, not even seventy-seven times, but rather as many times as we fall – so long as we repent and turn back to him, the source of grace and the font of salvation.

 

And that’s why we’re here tonight.  God is aching to pour out on us the grace of his forgiveness and to bring us to his peace beyond all of our understanding, and we have chosen to come and receive it.  We have chosen to be a people marked by faith, hope and love.  We long to develop that habit of repentance which allows us to receive the new life God has always wanted for us.  The only thing God wants to do is to forgive sinners.  So let us now as a community of faith examine our conscience and repent of our sins.