The Fourth Sunday of Easter

Today’s readings

Some days, I think there isn’t much I would do for just five minutes of peace and quiet.

If you’re a parent, maybe you’d amend that to longing for just five seconds of peace and quiet!  We are all probably sadly familiar with the many loud distractions our world puts before us.  And we’ve become conditioned to accepting it, even needing it on some primitive level, I think.  How often do we get out of bed and flip on the radio or television right away, or check our text messages or email before our feet even hit the floor?  Can we even get through a car ride without having the radio going?  Is the television always the background noise in our homes?  I know I’m guilty of those myself.  There’s a whole lot of noise out there and it’s become so that we are very uncomfortable with any kind of quiet.

And the noise doesn’t lead us anywhere good.  The Psalmist talks about walking through death’s dark valley.  I think some of the noise out there resembles that dark valley pretty closely.  There are voices out there tempting us to all sorts of evil places: addictions, selfishness; pursuit of wealth, prestige, or power.  Those same voices call us to turn away from the needy, from family, God and the Church.  Those same voices tell us that we are doing just fine on our own, that we don’t need anyone else to make us whole, that we are good enough to accomplish anything worthwhile all by ourselves.  And those voices are wrong, dead wrong.

Those are the voices of those Jesus mentions in the Gospel who circumvent the gate and come to “steal and slaughter and destroy.”  The frightening thing is, we have become so used to these distracting voices that we have turned away from God, turned away from the Savior we so desperately need, and have been led astray.  That’s the heart of why our pews aren’t filled, why people call themselves “spiritual but not religious”, why the likes of Oprah and Doctor Phil and Joel Osteen have become so popular in this day and age.

So maybe we have to become a little more like sheep.  Now I want to be careful about saying that, because being like sheep has a pretty negative connotation.  To be clear: I don’t mean that in the sense of cultivating blind obedience.  Because, as it turns out, sheep aren’t as dumb as we often think of them.  Here’s the backstory on today’s Gospel image of the sheep, the shepherd, and the sheepfold:  In Jesus’ day, the shepherds would gather several flocks in the same fenced-enclosure. The sheepfold might be constructed in a pasture using brush and sticks; or, it would adjoin a wall of a house and have makeshift walls for the other sides. Owners of small flocks of sheep would have combined them in the secure enclosure at night.  Someone – the gatekeeper – would then guard the flocks. The “gate” would have been a simple entrance, but the gatekeeper might even stretch out across the opening and literally be the “gate.” The shepherds would arrive early in the morning and be admitted by the gatekeeper. They would call out to their sheep and the members of the flock recognize the voice of their own shepherd, and that shepherd would “lead them out.”  The shepherd then walks in front of the flock and they follow. (cf. Jude Sicilliano, OP)

We, like the sheep, have to cultivate the silence and the ability to hear our shepherd’s voice and follow him, being led to green pastures, and not be distracted by all the noise out there.  We are a people in great need of a Savior, of the Good Shepherd.  When we deny that, we’ve already lost any hope of the glory of heaven.  We desperately need the guidance of the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life; the one who leads us to eternity, laying down his own life to keep us out of the eternal clutches of sin and death.  Jesus came into this world and gave himself so that we might “have life and have it more abundantly.”  We just have to stop settling for the noise out there and tune in to our Savior’s voice.

Here’s a way to pray with this in the coming week.  Take five minutes, or even just five seconds if that’s all you can find, and consciously turn off the noise: whether it’s the physical noise of the television or radio, or the internal noise of distractions in your head.  And then reflect on what voices are out there distracting you from hearing  the voice of your Good Shepherd.  Ask the Good Shepherd to help you tune them out so that you can more readily discern his voice and follow the right path.

Saint Athanasius

You surely recognize these beautiful words:

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.

These words emphasize the divinity of Christ, an essential truth of our faith.  The Liturgy also says: “Through the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”  The Gospels show us time and time again that Jesus came to proclaim his divinity, his oneness with the Father, so as to be the means of salvation.  Almost all of his hearers rejected this message, except for all but one of his disciples, and the centurion who noticed that he was the Son of God as he hung dead on the Cross.

The Arians, led by the priest Arius in the third century, also rejected that message – they did not believe in Jesus’ divinity.  They believed there was a time before Jesus existed, that he was not consubstantial with the Father, but rather was created by the Father.  This position denies the divinity of Christ, which is an unacceptable position for our faith.  If Christ is not divine, he has no power to save us, and we are still dead in our sins.  God forbid! – And he does forbid it!

St. Athanasius was a great champion of the faith against the harmful teachings of Arius.  But it was a hard battle.  He was exiled not once but actually five times during the fight against Arius’s teachings.  His writings are almost all a great defense of the faith and are so sound that Athanasius was named a Doctor of the Church.

We have St. Athanasius to thank for the wonderful words of our Creed.  We often say them, I think, without a whole lot of thought.  But we need to remember when we pray the Creed that each of those words was the result of dedicated work, intensive prayer, and hard fought defense against heresy.  Because of people like St. Athanasius, we may indeed come to share in the divinity of Christ.

Saint Joseph the Worker

In his encyclical, Laborem Exercens, Pope John Paul II said, echoing the sentiments of the Second Vatican Council, “The word of God’s revelation is profoundly marked by the fundamental truth that humankind, created in the image of God, shares by their work in the activity of the Creator and that, within the limits of their own human capabilities, they in a sense continue to develop that activity, and perfect it as they advance further and further in the discovery of the resources and values contained in the whole of creation.” (25)

The Christian idea of work is that through the toil of work, the Christian joins her or himself to the cross of Christ, and through the effects of work, the Christian participates in the creative activity of our Creator God. Today we celebrate the feast day for all Christian workers, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. This feast recalls that Jesus himself was a worker, schooled in the drudgeries and the joys of the vocation of carpentry by his father, St. Joseph, who worked hard, as many do today, to support his family. 

In today’s first reading, Saint Paul, newly Christian, works hard at the task of proclaiming the Gospel. But we also know that, in order not to be a burden to those to whom he was preaching, and thus not to be an obstacle to their faith, he worked at the trade of tentmaking. In other places, St. Paul elevates human labor to a virtue, demanding that those who do not work should not eat, and decrying the inactivity of those who are idle, and busybodies. If work is a share in the activity of the creator and a share in the cross of Christ, woe to those who turn away from it!

Sometimes, it is true, work is far from blessed. There is, of course, a responsibility of the employer to provide a workplace that upholds human dignity. But often work seems less than redemptive. To that, Pope John Paul said, “Sweat and toil, which work necessarily involves in the present condition of the human race, present the Christian and everyone who is called to follow Christ with the possibility of sharing lovingly in the work that Christ came to do. This work of salvation came about through suffering and death on a Cross. By enduring the toil of work in union with Christ crucified for us, humankind in a way collaborates with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity. They show themselves true disciples of Christ by carrying the cross in their turn every day in the activity that they are called upon to perform.” (Laborem Exercens, 27) 

And so we all forge ahead in our daily work, whether that be as a carpenter, a tentmaker, a homemaker, a mother or father, a laborer, a white collar worker, a consecrated religious or ordained person, or whatever it may be. We forge ahead with the joy of bringing all the world to redemption through creation, through the cross and Resurrection of Christ, and through our daily work. 

The Third Sunday of Easter

Today’s readings

How often have you said something that began with “I’ll be happy when…”?  You know, “I’ll be happy when I’m done paying for the kids’ college tuition;” “I’ll be happy when I get that promotion;” “I’ll be happy when I lose that last ten pounds;” “I’ll be happy when I can afford that new car…”  We’ve all done it, we’ve all set our hopes for happiness on some future event or accomplishment.  But then it gets there, or it doesn’t, and we’re not as happy as we’d like to be, so we look for happiness in something else.  Today’s Liturgy of the Word tells us that we’re doing it wrong.  We have to learn that we’re supposed to be happy in the journey.

Listen to what the Psalmist says today: “You will show me the path to life, abounding joy in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.”  Abounding joy happens along the path to life, at God’s right hand, who accompanies us on the journey.  I’ve been thinking a lot about journeys lately.  Obviously, my journey is taking me a bit southwest of here in June, and so that is always in the back of my consciousness, with its mix of sadness and fear and excitement and expectation – that’s one journey.  I’ve also been on WeightWatchers since January, and they are always talking about the journey to being healthy, and all of the steps it takes to get there.  So journeying has been really up front and foremost in my mind these days.

Well, today’s Gospel finds two of Jesus’ disciples on a journey Jerusalem, where a lot of crazy stuff just went down, to Emmaus.  Along the way, they are discussing what had been going on, and we can just imagine how their minds had to be reeling!  For those of us who know the story, it’s pretty incredible.  But for them it had to have been mind blowing.  They were never expecting anything like this.  But here they were, walking along, discussing how Jesus’ death and resurrection had changed everything in just a few short days.

And into that experience, as they journeyed along the road, Jesus appears.  They don’t get that it’s Jesus, though, probably because his body looked different, more radiant, after the resurrection.  So along the way, he explains how all the scriptures foretold all that had happened to their friend, who happened to be talking to them right then.  But they still don’t get it.  So after they stop for the evening and invite him to dinner, they finally recognize him in the breaking of the bread.  All of this, I think, is very interesting to us who are on the journey to be with the Lord and delight at his right hand forever.

Because we’re all on a journey, brothers and sisters.  We are never at home in this world, as nice as it is.  We’re supposed to be in heaven, where there will be happiness forever.  But we can still seek reasonable happiness here on earth, and I believe we will find it if we just rejoice a little in the journey.  But to really enjoy the journey, we have to enter into it with our whole hearts and souls.  We can’t be wandering off the path and looking for happiness in all those things I mentioned at the beginning of my homily.  We have to focus on the journey from here to heaven if we ever really want to be happy in this life.

So how do we do that?  Well, I think our Gospel story gives us some clues.  The first thing is to keep moving on the journey.  If God has called you to do something, go somewhere, try something, change something, then do that thing!  When we stop going because we think we’re not good enough, or that someone else would be more worthy, or whatever excuse we have, then we’re selling God short.  Because the truth is we are not good enough, all by ourselves.  We’re not the most worthy.  But, and this is very important to know, brothers and sisters, God can call whoever he wants to do whatever he wants done.  It’s not about you or me or who’s doing it.  God is in charge, always and forever, and he will always give you what you need to do what he’s called you to do.  So keep going.

The second clue is we don’t go it alone.  There were two disciples going to Emmaus, and into their journey, our Lord asserted himself.  He did promise that elsewhere in the Gospel: “Where two or three are gathered, there am I among you.”  Other people on the journey give us accountability.  They help to keep us on the right path.  And frankly, it’s more pleasant to journey with others.

The third clue is that we have to open ourselves up to the scriptures.  The scriptures aren’t just stories written for people thousands of years ago.  They are inspired by the Holy Spirit and intended as much for us as they were for our ancestors in faith.  You will be surprised how much the scriptures speak to you when you open them up on a regular basis.  Just a few verses a day is a great way to start, and it can really enliven your prayer.  The scriptures enlivened that journey with the disciples and made their hearts burn within them.  That can happen for us too, and it should.

The final clue comes in the breaking of the bread.  That one seems pretty obvious, but it was a real eye opener for those two disciples.  In the breaking of the bread, they saw the Lord.  We can too, every time we receive the Holy Eucharist.  Just as those disciples came to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread, so it can be for us.  Filled with the grace of Holy Communion, maybe we can recognize our Lord with fresh eyes and truly see him in our brothers and sisters.  Maybe we will see our Lord in the faces of the needy when we come to serve them.  Maybe you will see him in the faces of your children as you teach them and correct them and love them into the kingdom of God.  Maybe you will see him in the face of a coworker or friend who is going through a difficult time.  As we love those people the Lord puts in our paths, maybe we can see our Lord among us in a new way.

You’ve probably heard, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”  For us Catholics that’s half right.  Because yes, it is about the destination.  We certainly want to get to the ultimate happiness of heaven.  But it needs to be about the journey too.  Because it’s on the journey that we grow in our faith, and see our Lord walking with us.  The journey might be long and difficult, but it’s always blessed by our Lord if we choose to look for our happiness along the way.

Saint Mark, Evangelist

Today’s readings

We aren’t completely sure who St. Mark was.  He might have been the first bishop of Alexandria, Egypt.  Some scholars say he might have been the one described in chapter 14 of Mark’s Gospel, at the arrest of Jesus: “Now a young man followed him wearing nothing but a linen cloth about his body. They seized him, but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked.”  But others question whether he ever saw Jesus in person at all.  We know that he was a companion of Peter and Paul in the missionary journeys, and that he was the first to write about Jesus’ life.  It is estimated that the Gospel of Mark was written around 60 or 70 AD, after the death of both Peter and Paul.  As you might expect since this was the first Gospel written, it is used as a source for both Matthew and Luke’s Gospels.

Whoever Mark really was, I think the key idea for this feast today is that he was one who willingly embodied the command of Jesus that we have in today’s Gospel reading: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”  His missionary work, and his work as the Evangelist testify to his passion for the Gospel and his efforts to see that the whole world came to believe in Jesus.

What we celebrate on his feast day, though, is that the work of that command is far from complete.  There is so much of the world that has yet to hear of Jesus.  Some of them are in far off lands, others are in our workplaces, schools, and communities.  Because of that, it is imperative that we all continue the work of Mark and the other Evangelists.  We are the ones who have to testify to the Gospel in word and in deed, witnessing to what we believe in everything that we say and do.  Our life’s work is not complete until we are sure that those who know us also know the Lord in and through us.

“The favors of the LORD I will sing forever;” the Psalmist says today, “through all generations my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness.”  May we, like St. Mark, sing of the Lord’s goodness in every moment of our lives.

Monday of the Second Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Today, after having completed the Easter Octave yesterday, we begin the second phase of our Easter celebration.  Now we begin the preparation for the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the first Apostles, and later to each Christian believer.

We have in our Gospel today the emergence of the interesting figure of Nicodemus.  He was a Jew, and one of the Pharisees.  But he found Jesus and his message compelling, so a few times in John’s Gospel we get to hear from Nicodemus.  Even though the rest of the Pharisees flat out rejected Jesus, Nicodemus knew that he couldn’t reject him so quickly.  There was something to this Jesus, and he wanted to get to the bottom of it.   We don’t know if he never fully, publicly accepted Jesus, but he definitely took many steps on the way.

Today Nicodemus and Jesus speak about being born again, born of the Spirit.  This for us is a process of accepting the Gospel in faith, and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit and then living as a people reborn.  Although we can point to our Confirmation day, and even the day of our Baptism as days when we received the Holy Spirit, the process of accepting the Gospel in faith and living as a people reborn in the Spirit is one that takes the better part of all of our lives.  What we celebrate with joy today is that we are on that journey.  Because of the Resurrection of Our Lord and his gift of the Holy Spirit, we can now live according to the Spirit’s direction in our lives, confident that that Holy Spirit will give us the gifts and courage to do what we are called to do.  The Apostles did that in today’s first reading, and now we must do the same.

The Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday)

Today’s readings

I often wonder what brings people to Mass on the Second Sunday of Easter.  We had crowds of people here last Sunday, as you know, but things this Sunday are, perhaps a bit unfortunately, back to normal.  The Easter duty is done, and most people go back to their normal Sunday routines, whatever they may be.  But many of us still gather for worship this morning.  What is it that brings us here today?

Maybe our motives are grand ones.  We can’t get enough of the Word of God and his Real Presence in the Eucharist – I hope that’s the case!  Or maybe we need to be together with the community in order for our faith to make sense and our life to be on track.  Maybe we know that our presence in the worshipping community isn’t just about us, but rather about all of us being together, that there would be no community without all of us present.  Maybe you came to one of my Masses last Sunday and were struck with awe at the inspiring words I preached!

But maybe our motives aren’t quite so lofty.  Maybe, at some level, we’re here because of fear.  Fear that our lives aren’t going the way we’d like them to.  Fear that family problems are not getting resolved.  Fear that our jobs are unfulfilling or our relationships are in disarray.  Fear that our lives are empty spiritually, and we don’t know where to find our Lord.  Fear that missing Mass will lead us to hell.  Fear that if we don’t get out we’ll be lonely.  I think if we’re honest, there’s a little fear in all of us, and at some level, that fear leads us here.

And if you find that’s the case for you, you have ten patron saints locked up in that room.  They too had a great deal of fear.  Fear that they too might be led to the cross by the same people who took Jesus there.  There was certainly some reality to that fear, and I think we can all understand it.  But I also think it’s significant to realize that the Eleven, all of whom lived closely with Jesus for three years, were not yet able to overcome their fears and pursue the mission of Jesus.  Instead, they gather in a locked room, mourning their friend, confused about the empty tomb and stories of his appearances, and fearful for their own lives.  We whose lives are filled with fear at times definitely have the Apostles as our kindred spirits.

The truth is that, like the Apostles, it doesn’t matter what has gathered us here.  The important thing is that at least we are here.  At least in our fear we did not hide away and refuse to be brought into the light.  Because there are many who have left us, aren’t there?  Many have had enough of church scandals and have decided to take their spiritual business elsewhere.  Many have been hurt in all kinds of ways and have not found immediate healing in the Church.  Many have been influenced by the allurements of the world and the false comforts of pop psychology and have given up on a religion that makes demands of them.  Many have left us, but at least we are here, at least we have gathered, albeit in fear, albeit locked up in our own little rooms, but definitely in the path of our Lord who longs to be among us in our fear and to say, “Peace be with you.”

The peace that Jesus imparts is not just the absence of war or conflict in our lives.  It is instead a real peace, a peace from the inside of us out.  A peace that affects our body, mind and spirit.  A peace that brings us into communion with one another and most especially with God for whom we were created and redeemed.  The peace that the Ten had upon seeing their Risen Lord, the peace that Thomas had just one week later, is the same peace that our Risen Lord offers to all of us fearful disciples who gather together as a refuge against the storms and uncertainties of our own lives.  That peace is a peace that invites us to reach out like Thomas did and touch our Lord as we receive his very Body and Blood in all his Divine Mercy.

That peace is not some passive greeting that rests upon us and goes no further.  Whenever we are gifted with any blessing, it is never intended only for us.  We who have been gifted and healed and transformed by the peace of our Risen Lord are called just like the Eleven to continue to write the story of Jesus so that others may see and believe.  We now become the peace of Christ to reach out to a world that appears to be hopelessly un-peaceful.  We must extend that peace by reaching out to touch those who are sick, or poor, or lonely, or despairing, or doubtful, or fearful, or grieving, or fallen away.  Our own presence in and among our loved ones and in and among the world must be a presence that is rooted in the Risen Lord and steeped in his peace.  We must be the ones who help a doubting world to no longer be unbelieving but believe.

We have come here today for all kinds of reasons.  We may have come here in doubt and fear, but as we approach the Eucharist and receive the very Body and Blood of our Lord who invites us to reach out and touch him in all his brokenness and woundedness, as we go forth to glorify the Lord this day, may we leave not in doubt and fear but instead in belief and peace.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Peace be with you.