Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter (School/RE Mass)

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel gives us some of the best news I think we can possibly get.  Jesus says he no longer calls us slaves, but instead he calls us his friends.  That’s important for us to know because I think most people believe that God doesn’t really have to care about us, his creatures, that much.  He could just give us commandments and expect us to follow them or else.  He doesn’t really have to teach us anything so that we understand him; he could just expect us to follow his commandments out of fear.  We think about God that way sometimes.

But that’s not what Jesus is about.  We know that God made us so that he could love us and we could love him.  Even when we sinned and could not be his friends any more, he didn’t leave us to die in our sins.  Instead, he sent his Only-Begotten Son, Jesus, to become one of us and to pay the price that we deserved for our sins.  Jesus died on the cross, to pay that price, and he rose from the dead, so that we could be friends with God once again, and so that all those who believe in him and follow his ways can have the opportunity of eternal life with God in his heavenly kingdom.

That’s the Good News!  That’s the Gospel!  Jesus says he doesn’t call us slaves anymore.  That’s because we aren’t slaves to sin anymore, or at least we don’t have to be.  We can instead turn to Jesus and be his friends, if we do what he commands us.  And the commandment he gives us today seems like a very simple one: love one another.

Except that it’s not so simple all the time, is it?  Sometimes loving one another is hard to do.  Loving one another means we have to put others first.  Loving one another isn’t something we get to do only when we want to, but instead we have to do it all the time.  Loving one another means that we follow all the other commandments, because “love one another” is what sums them all up.  “Love one another” means that we remember that each person is created by God who loves them so then we have to love them too.

But we don’t have to worry about how hard it is to love one another.  We have a God who loves us first and loves us best.  Because he loved us and sent his Only-Begotten Son Jesus to show us his love, we have the grace we need to love one another.  We can love one another when it’s hard to do, when they really make us mad sometimes, because God loves us all the time, even when we are hard to love, even when we make others mad and make God sad because of what we do or what we fail to do.

We aren’t slaves anymore.  We have been set free.  But being free doesn’t mean we get to do whatever we want, whenever we want – that’s the same thing as being a slave to sin.  Being free means that we can love others and put others first because God has done exactly that for us – over and over again!

So how will you love someone else today?  How will you love your parents or your siblings while you are doing e-learning today?  How will you love your teachers who might be explaining something very important that maybe you think is boring?  How will you teachers love the students who don’t seem to be getting it?  How will we all love our families today?  How will we put all these people first?  During the quiet parts of today’s Mass, let’s think about that.  Let’s come up with a plan to love someone even when they are hard to love.  Let’s love one another because God loves us first and loves us best!

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Friday of the Third Week of Lent

Today’s readings

“You are not far from the kingdom of God.”  That would be, I think, the most reassuring thing we could hear from our Lord!  To know that you’re on the right track — that your thoughts and heart’s desires are in line with God’s will — that would be a wonderful thing to know.  And today’s Scriptures give us the roadmap for finding that reassurance.

Step one is repentance. The prophet Hosea wrote of Israel’s repentance.  Israel, as a nation, as we well know, had turned away from the God of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They had turned to the false gods of their neighbors and had worshipped idols.  Hosea’s prophecy had been all about calling them back, urging them to return to the Lord who loved his people and yearned for them like a spurned lover.  In today’s first reading, Hosea prophecies the promise that God will accept back his wayward lover and will restore the people of Israel to his own loved possession.

Step two is to hear the voice of God.  “If only my people would hear me,” the Psalmist says, “and Israel walk in my ways, I would feed them with the best of wheat, and with honey from the rock I would fill them.”  God longs to fill his faithful people with everything that they need to sustain life and live their faith.  All we have to do is hear his voice, to follow his commands, and walk in his ways.  This hearing the voice of God requires a steadfast faithfulness that will not be enticed by strange gods or flashy idols.  It’s important to note that we have to do step one first: we can’t hear God’s voice if we’re caught up in our sins.  There is a single-mindedness that is called for here: the faithful are called not to hear God as one voice among many, but to hear God alone.

And step three is love.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus famously boils the commandments down to two: love of God and love of neighbor.  Again, there is an underlying single-mindedness: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”  Love of God and neighbor isn’t a third or fourth priority, if we ever get around to it.  Love is prime: love must the first inclination of the heart, the first thought of the mind, and the first action of life.

What does it take for us disciples to be not far from the Kingdom of God? It takes a Lent of repentance, a desire to hear and meditate on God’s Word and his presence in our lives, and then to love like there was nothing else to do in the whole world. I’ve been reflecting on the fact that this is the lentiest Lent I can ever remember, or want to have again! But the fact that we all have to keep social distance and stay home to contain COVID-19 gives us the opportunity to slow down, to quiet ourselves, and to make things right. And our Scriptures today give us a way to do all that.

Thursday after Epiphany

Today’s readings

Today’s Scriptures continue to reveal Christ manifested in the flesh, and the way his manifestation looks today is like love.  We have the great joy of continuing our reading from the first letter of John today, and, as I mentioned on Tuesday, John is always about love.  Today John gives us a discerning test, so that we can see if a person is of God.  The test is whether that person loves his or her brothers and sisters.  Because one cannot claim to love God who is so very much beyond us, if we cannot love the brother or sister who is right in front of us.

That can prove to be a very daunting test to be sure.  Because I don’t think I’m too far out on a limb to say we’re not very often irritated by the God who is beyond us, but are often irritated by the brother or sister who is always right there in our face!  Still, the commandment is clear: “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

Jesus Christ is the personification of God’s love for us.  God came to be among us not in some kind of ethereal nature, but with a human face and a human heart, and a love that overcomes all the flaws of our flesh.  It is that love that sets us free.  In Jesus, all the prophecies of deliverance are fulfilled: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” Jesus says, “because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

And if our own love for our brothers and sisters can transcend our petty day-to-day irritations, or even our deep-seated hurts and resentments, than maybe we can set people free, and even set ourselves free, and make Jesus incarnate in the world yet again.

Tuesday after Epiphany

Today’s readings

During this Epiphany time, we continue to see various Epiphanies of the Lord, that is, we continue to see Christ manifested in different ways.  Today, I think we see our Lord manifested as lover.

If you have time today, go back, and prayerfully read the first reading.  It’s one of my favorite selections from the first letter of Saint John.  This reading tells us quite clearly that you can see the presence of God in those who love one another.  I think we should all memorize the first line of that reading, because it’s key:

Beloved, let us love one another,
because love is of God;
everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.

Any time you’re in the presence of real love, you’re in the presence of God.  “Knows God” here carries special meaning: knowing God in this sense means you have entered into his life and are wrapped up in his presence.  Love is how you know you’re a disciple, how you know you’re on the way to heaven.  

And it’s not something we do on our own; in fact it’s never something we do first: God is always the first lover.  Listen to the last verse of the first reading again:

In this is love:
not that we have loved God, but that he loved us
and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.

God chooses to love us first and love us best.  God shows us how to love, right up there on that ugly Cross.  There is nothing God won’t do for love of us.

So as Jesus comes into his life and ministry, we see him manifested as a lover.  He would sooner turn five puny loaves of bread and a couple of scraggly-looking fish into a sumptuous meal for thousands, than turn them away to fend for themselves.  Love always gives, love never stops until it has given everything, and then love still gives more.  That’s why the Cross is not the end, and the Resurrection is a glorious beginning.

Today, Jesus is manifested as God’s love, freely given if we would freely receive it.  May God’s love change us all today, make us look more like God himself.  Happy Epiphany!

Friday of the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

God never forgets how much he loves us.  If this weren’t so, none of us would be in existence.  God loves us into life and loves us through our life and one day, if we let him, will love us into eternal life.  The people of Israel had to know this better than anyone.  In today’s first reading, Joshua gathers the people for a reminder.  God had called and given them the promise through Abraham.  Throughout the years, he dispelled all their enemies and especially the Egyptians who subjected them to abject slavery.  He also gave them a future and a city to dwell in: land they had not tilled and cities they had not built.  All of this because he loved them.

The question the Pharisees asked Jesus in the Gospel today had nothing to do with love, which is odd because it was a question about marriage.  Or, actually, the converse of marriage: divorce.  They were asking not because they wanted to know about how to love better in their relationships, but rather because they were trying to trick Jesus into some Moses-bashing.  But Jesus has none of that, reminding them of the indissolubility of love.

Many things can be forgotten.  God forgets things all the time – namely, our sins when we confess them.  But love can never be forgotten.  God never forgets how much he loves us because God is love itself, and we dare not forget how much we love him, and because we love him, how much we love one another.  That love may require all kinds of forgetting: forgetting past hurts, forgetting resentments, forgetting what we think we deserve.  

May we all forget what we have to so that love is the only thing we can remember, and may we all go together, one day, to eternal life.

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

Today’s readings

One of the most exciting lines in today’s Liturgy of the Word comes in the second reading: “The One who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’” The book of Revelation is all about the persecution of the early Christians, and it looks forward to the day when God would put all that persecution to an end. People were dying for the faith, being forced to give it up or be cast out of the synagogues. That left them open to the persecution of the Romans who demanded that they take up the worship of their pagan gods or face death. They were a people looking for newness, healing, and re-creation. So it is with great hope, then, that John reports what is heard in his vision: “Behold, I make all things new.”

There is a clamor for newness, I think, in every age and society. We are a people who could use some re-creation even today. Look at the way our own faith is received. The voices of death have such a foothold that they have many faithful Catholics believing that babies can be aborted in favor of personal choice. Sunday family worship takes a further back seat to soccer games, baseball, and other activities, as if worshipping God were just one possible choice for the many ways people could spend the Lord’s day. Rudeness and hurtful language are used in every forum, and we call it entitlement. Prayer is not welcome in almost any public location, for fear that someone might be offended by our religiosity. Concern for the poor and needy, and a longing for peace and justice are bracketed in favor of capital gain. And that is to say nothing of those Christians in the Middle East, especially Syria, who face danger and death for living their faith. We Christians today are persecuted just as surely as the early Christians, whether we pay for it with our lives or not. We Christians today are in need of hearing those great words: “Behold, I make all things new.”

The good news is that as an Easter people, we can already see the newness that is God’s re-creation of our world. We know the story of our salvation: This world was steeped in sin and we are a people who, though created and blessed by our God, time after time and age after age turned away from our God. Every generation turned away in ways more brazen than the last. We are the heirs of that fickle behavior and we can all attest that our sins have led us down those same paths time after time in our own lives. But God, who would be justified in letting us live in the hell we seemed to prefer, could not live without us. So he sent his only Son into our world. He was born as one of us and walked among us, living the same life as ours in all things but sin. He reached out to us and preached the new life of the Gospel. And in the end, he died our death, the death we so richly deserved for our sins. And not letting that death have the last word in our existence, he rose to a new life that lasts forever. He did all that motivated by the only thing that could ever explain away our fickle sinfulness, and that motivation is love.

I give you a new commandment: love one another.

As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.

This is how all will know that you are my disciples,

if you have love for one another.

The love that Jesus is talking about here is not some kind of emotional infatuation that fades as quickly as it grows. It is not a love that says “I will love you if…” Perhaps you have heard it yourself: “I will love you if you remain faithful to me.” “I will love you if you are successful in school.” “I will love you if you meet all my own selfish expectations.” “I will love you if you ignore my imperfections.” “I will love you if you become more perfect.” But the kind of love that says “I will love you if…” is not love at all. If God loved us if… we would be dead in our sins and there would be no reason to gather in this holy place day after day. If God loved us if… we would have nothing to look forward to in the life to come.

No, God does not love us if… God loves us period. As we know, God is love. God is love itself, love in all its perfection. Love cannot be experienced in a vacuum, so God created us to love him and for him to love us. We are the creation of God’s love and God cannot not love us! The kind of love Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel can only be summed up by the cross and resurrection. Jesus takes our sinfulness and brokenness upon himself, and stretches out his arms to die the death we deserve for our unfaithfulness. It wasn’t nails that held him to that cross, it was love, and we are totally undeserving of it. Even greater then, is the gift of the Resurrection in which we see that, because of love, death and sin have lost their sting. They no longer have the last word in our existence, because our God who is love itself has recreated the world in love.

And with this great act of sacrifice that restores us to grace, Jesus also gives those who would be his disciples a commandment: Love one another. Which sounds like an easy enough thing to do. But the second line of that commandment gives us pause and reminds us that our love can’t just be a nice feeling. He says to us: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” And we know how he has loved us, don’t we? Whenever we forget, all we have to do is look at the nearest crucifix. Our love must be sacrificial. Our love must be unconditional. Our love cannot be “I will love you if…” but instead, “I love you period.” Our love must be a love that re-creates the world in the image of God’s own love.

And so it is with great joy that we welcome our two candidates for full communion with the Catholic Church.  Jessica and Erin have experienced God’s love in a way that wants to be fulfilled in the promise of eternal life that we have through the Church.  In love, we joyfully welcome them today and eagerly look forward to the day when they can celebrate fully at the Altar.

We live in a world that is broken and dark and evil at times. But our God has not abandoned us. Taking our death upon himself, he has risen triumphant over it. In spite of our unfaithfulness, he has re-created us all in his love. So now we disciples must continue his work of re-creation and love the world into a new existence.

“Behold, I make all things new.”

The Third Sunday of Easter: Do You Love Me More Than These?

Today’s readings

What Satan wants is a community of disciples so mired in their sins, that they do nothing to foster the Kingdom of God and live the Gospel. Bookmark that thought, because I’ll come back to it in a bit.

I love today’s Gospel because it features one of my favorite characters, Saint Peter. Saint Peter has been inspirational to me because, despite being called to do great things for God, he does a lot of messing up and often has to pick himself up and start all over again. Today’s Gospel reading has him trying to figure things out. He’s very recently been through the arrest and execution of his Lord and friend, only to find out that he is risen, and has appeared to various disciples, including Peter himself. I think today’s story has him trying to make sense of it all and figure out where to go from here. But he’s trying to figure it out in the midst of having fallen again, since he denied even knowing the Lord three times on the night of Holy Thursday.

So, in an effort to figure things out, he goes back to what he knows best, which is to say he goes fishing. And he takes some of the others with him. And, as is very typical of Peter’s fishing expeditions recorded in the Gospels, he catches nothing even though he’s been hard at it all night long. It’s not until the Lord is with them again and redirects their efforts, that they eventually pull in an incredibly large catch of fish. Jesus then invites them to dine with him, using one of my favorite commands in all of Sacred Scripture, “Come, have breakfast.”

Then we have this very interesting, and in some ways tense, conversation between Jesus and Peter. Jesus takes him off to the side after breakfast, and just as he redirected Peter’s efforts while they were fishing earlier, now he redirects Peter’s efforts in his life. There are a couple of points of background that we need to keep in mind. First, just as Peter three times denied his Lord on the night of Holy Thursday, so now Jesus gives him three opportunities to profess his love and get it right.

Second, the Greek language has a few different words that we translate “love.” Two of them are in play in this conversation. The first is agapeo, which is the highest form of love. It’s a love that always wills the best for the other person, a love that is self-sacrificing and enduring. It’s the love that God has for us. The other kind of love that is used here is phileo, a bit lower form of love that is something like a strong affection for someone else. Where agapeo is an act of the will, phileo is more of a feeling. Many scholars don’t see this as an appreciable difference and say John in his Gospel just uses two different words to mean the same thing. But I think John is careful with language, and the two uses mean something, as we will see.

So the conversation begins, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” That’s literally a loaded question, so let’s look at it. First of all, Jesus calls Peter “Simon, son of John.” But Jesus is the one who changed his name from Simon to Peter. So this seems to be a bit of a rebuke: Okay, Peter, if you’re just going to revert to your former self and pretend you haven’t known me the last three years, then I’ll just use your old name. I’m sure Peter didn’t miss the inference. Then at the end, “do you love me more than these?” Scholars have a lot of opinions on what “these” are: Do you love me more than you love these other guys? Do you love me more than these other guys love me? Do you love me more than this fishing equipment, the tools of your former life? It doesn’t matter what he meant by “these,” the effect is the same: Peter is called to a higher love, which is evidenced in the word Jesus uses for love, which is agapeo. Peter responds, acknowledging Jesus’ omniscience, “Lord you know that I love you.” But he uses phileo, perhaps acknowledging that he is not capable of the agapeo kind of love. And he’s probably right about that, since sin does diminish our capacity to love. He receives the response “Feed my lambs,” of which I’ll say more later.

The conversation continues in the same manner, using the same forms of the word “love” in both the question and the response, and ending with the injunction, “Tend my sheep.” But the third question is interesting. Jesus asks the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” But this time Jesus uses the word phileo, as much as to say, “Okay, Peter, do you even have affection for me?” And Peter seems to get the inference, because he responds emotionally: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” And he’s right: Jesus does know. But Jesus needed Peter to know it too. Jesus, in his Divine Mercy, has healed Peter, forgiven his sins, and helped him to remember his mission, redirecting his efforts to “Feed my sheep.”

Because if Jesus hadn’t done this, Satan would have won. He would have had that community of disciples so mired in their sins, that they do nothing to foster the Kingdom of God and live the Gospel. And then we wouldn’t be here today, would we?

And let’s be clear about this. We, like Peter, all have a mission to accomplish. We all have some part of the Kingdom to build, or extend, or proclaim. We may not be the rock on which Jesus will build his Church, but we are indeed part of it. And we are all affected by our sins. We have all denied our Lord in one way or another by what we have done and what we have failed to do. And so the Lord in his mercy says to us today, “Patrick, do you love me?” “Susan do you love me?” And we respond with whatever love we’re capable of. In that moment, Jesus redirects our life’s efforts too, so that we can do what we’re called to do. We, who have been purified by our Lenten penance, are now called to live the life of the Resurrection, in which all God’s lambs are cared for, and all his sheep tended.

Jesus puts the question to us today: “Do you love me more than these?”

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord

Today’s readings

I often tell the children in our school that if there’s just one thing they ought to know about God, one thing they ever learn about God, and that is that God loves them more than anything, that would be enough.  It’s the thing that I hope they remember me saying, because that’s the message I feel called to proclaim.  God’s love is the most important thing we have in this life, the most precious gift we will ever receive.

It is true gift, because there’s nothing, not one thing, that we can do to earn it.  Filthy in sin as we are, we certainly don’t do it. And entitled as we can sometimes be, there is no way we can ever say that we have a right to it.  But we get it anyway.  God freely pours out his love on us sinners, not because we are good, but because he is.

God loves us first and loves us best, and it’s a love that will totally consume us, totally transform us, if we let it.  It’s a love that can break our stony hearts and transform our sadness into real joy. It’s a love that can change us from people of darkness to real live people of light and joy.  It’s a love that obliterates the power of sin and death to control our eternity, and opens up to us the glory of heaven.

And even if we live our lives passing from one thing to the next and barely noticing anything going on around us, we have to pause and appreciate God’s love on this most holy morning.  This is the morning that confounded Mary of Magdala; it’s the morning that got Peter and John out of their funk and sent them running.  It’s the morning that John finally starts to get what Jesus was getting at all this time.  He saw and believed.

He saw that his Lord was not there, that death could not hold him.  He saw that the grave was no longer the finality of existence.  He saw that Love – real Love – is in charge of our futures.  He saw that there is real hope available to us hopeless ones.

“To him all the prophets bear witness,
that everyone who believes in him
will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”

That quote, from Saint Peter’s testimony in the Acts of the Apostles, today’s first reading, is the Easter faith to which we are all called.  We have to stop living like this is all there is. We have to stop loving our sins more than we love God.  We have to live like a people who have been loved into existence, and loved into redemption.

That means we have to put aside our disastrous sense of entitlement. We have to learn to receive love so deep that it calls us to change.  And we have to love in the same way too, so that others will see that and believe.

We’ll never find real love by burying ourselves in work or careers.  We’ll do nothing but damage our life if we seek to find it in substance abuse.  We’ll never find love by clinging to past hurts and resentments.  We are only going to find love in one place, or more precisely in one person, namely, Jesus Christ. We must let everything else – everything else – go.

Today, Jesus Christ broke the prison-bars of death, and rose triumphant from the underworld.  What good would life have been to us, if Christ had not come as our Redeemer?  Because of this saving event, we can be assured that our own graves will never be our final resting places, that pain and sorrow and death will be temporary, and that 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 is our hope, and he has overcome the obstacles to our living.  

The good news today is that we can find real love today and every day of our lives, by coming to this sacred place. It is here that we hear the Word proclaimed, here that we partake of the very Body and Blood of our Lord. An occasional experience of this mystery simply will not do – we cannot partake of it on Easter Sunday only.  No; we must nurture our faith by encountering our Risen Lord every day, certainly every Sunday, of our lives, by hearing that Word, and receiving his Body and Blood.  Anything less than that is seeking the living one among the dead.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

Today’s readings

Palm Sunday is, quite honestly, a feast with a bit of a split personality. We start out on a seemingly triumphant note.  Jesus enters Jerusalem, the Holy City, and the center of the Jewish religion; the city he has been journeying toward throughout the gospel narrative, and he enters it to the adulation of throngs.  Cloaks are thrown down in the street, the people wave palms and chant “Hosanna.”  This is it, isn’t it?  It seems like Jesus’ message has finally been accepted, at least by the crowds who have long been yearning for a messiah, an anointed one, to deliver them from foreign oppression.

Only that wasn’t the kind of salvation Jesus came to offer.  Instead, he preached forgiveness and mercy and real justice and healed people from the inside out.  He called people to repentance, to change their lives, to hear the gospel and to live it every day.  He denounced hypocrisy, and demanded that those who would call themselves religious reach out in love to the poor and those on the margins.  It wasn’t a welcome message; it wasn’t the message they thought the messiah would bring.

And that’s what brings us to the one hundred and eighty degree turn we experience in today’s second gospel reading, the reading of our Lord’s Passion and death.  Enough of this, they say; the religious leaders must be right: he must be a demon, or at least a troublemaker.  Better that we put up with the likes of Barabbas.  As for this one, well, crucify him.

Who are we going to blame for this?  Whose fault is it that they crucified my Lord? Is it the Jews, as many centuries of anti-Semitism would assert?  Was it the Romans, those foreign occupiers who sought only the advancement of their empire?  Was it the fickle crowds, content enough to marvel at Jesus when he fed the thousands, but abandoning him once his message made demands of them?  Was it Peter, who couldn’t even keep his promise of standing by his friend for a few hours?  Was it the rest of the apostles, who scattered lest they be tacked up on a cross next to Jesus?  Was it Judas, who gave in to despair thinking he had it all wrong?  Was it the cowardly Herod and Pilate who were both manipulating the event in order to maintain their pathetic fiefdoms?  Who was it who put Jesus on that cross?

And the answer, as we well know, is that it’s none of those. Because it’s my sins that led Jesus along the Way of the Cross.  It’s my sins that betrayed him; it’s my sins that have kept me from friendship with God.  Those sins could have kept me from friendship with God forever, but God’s love would not have that be that way.  And so he willingly gave his life that I might have life.  And you.

He gave himself for us.

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: