Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord

Today’s readings

“Do not be amazed!” – I just love that line in the Gospel.  We have to get behind the sentiment of that statement today if we are to really understand what this day is all about.  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 seems to say, “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 think about the bad surprises: the death of a loved one, an illness, loss of a job.  But 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 truly 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 amazed!”

To really get how surprising this day must have been for Jesus’ disciples, we have to recall the story 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 perhaps 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 were utterly amazed – they 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 hopeless situations are 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 amazed!

Even that is not where the wonder of it all stopped.  In their joy, the disciples eventually recollected themselves and were able to 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 they 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 are the Church: we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus as one.  Do not be amazed!

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 grace, 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 prodigal ones who return to God with sorrow for our sins and hope for forgiveness.  We have truly been saved and delivered.  Do not be amazed!

We have also been given the great gift of eternal life.  In his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has broken the prison-bars of death and risen triumphant from the underworld.  Because of that, our 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 amazed!

This morning, we gather to celebrate that our God makes amazing things happen.  Through the cross and resurrection we are saved and delivered so to live the salvation, life and resurrection that God always intended for us to have.  Sin and death have been defeated and no longer hold ultimate power over us.  God is not dead and we courageously proclaim that he is risen!  Do not be amazed!

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter

Today’s readings

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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, the Alpha and the Omega, all time belongs to him, and all the ages, to him be glory and power through every age and for ever.  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 most 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 how this works.  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.  If we don’t get involved and invested, if we don’t love with abandon, we aren’t likely to get hurt.  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.

This wonderful three-day Liturgy that we call the Sacred Paschal Triduum began on Thursday night.  On that night we sang “Lift High the Cross,” which is reminiscent of the proper entrance antiphon that the Church gives us for the Liturgy of these holy days:

We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection,
through whom we are saved and delivered.

Should there be any doubt about the glory of the Cross, these words, which are borrowed from the letter to the Galatians, remind us that there is nothing on earth that is so ponderous that our God can’t redeem it.  There is no darkness that our Lord’s Paschal Mystery can’t brighten.  There is no pain or sadness that our Lord hasn’t taken on himself and defeated, once and for all, on this most holy of all nights.

Tonight we have heard stories of our salvation, God’s saving action in the world throughout all time.  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 re-creation all humanity will experience as they come to know Christ and are filled with the Spirit.  Saint 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 Risen Lord.

We Christians have been spared the necessity and sadness 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 has he 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 with the glory of God’s presence.  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, fasted together, celebrated the sacraments, taken part in our Project Passion Prayer experience, done works of service, 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 Deacon Ryan sang when we entered Church tonight, tells us: “This is the night of which it is written: The night shall be as bright as day, dazzling is the night for me, and full of gladness.  The sanctifying power of this night dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.”  This is a most powerful night!  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 this flame be found still burning by the Morning Star.  The one Morning Star who never sets, Christ your Son, who coming back from death’s domain, has shed his peaceful light on humanity, and lives and reigns forever and ever.  Amen.”

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Tuesday of Holy Week

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel reading contains four of the most chilling words in all of holy Scripture: “And it was night.”  Those narrative words come just after Judas takes the morsel and leaves the gathering.  But the evangelist didn’t include those words to tell us the time of day.  In John’s Gospel, there is an overriding theme of light and darkness.  The light and darkness, of course, refer to the evil of the world that is opposed by the light of Christ.

So John isn’t just telling us what time it is.  When he says, “and it was night,” he is telling us that this was the hour of darkness, the hour when evil would come to its apparent climax.  This is the time when all of the sins of the world have converged upon our Lord and he will take them to the Cross.  The darkness of our sinfulness has made it a very, very dark night indeed.

But we know that this isn’t how the story is going to end.  This hour of darkness will certainly see Jesus die for our sins.  But the climax of evil will be nothing compared to the outpouring of grace and Divine Mercy.  The darkness of evil is always overcome by the light of Christ.  Always.  But for now, it is night, and we can almost feel the ponderous darkness sending a shiver up our spines.

In these Holy days, we see the darkness that our Savior had to endure for our salvation. But may we also find courage in his triumph over this fearful night and burst forth with him to the brilliant glory of resurrection morning.

All Souls Remembrance Mass

The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.

Each year, the Church gives us the grace of remembering, and praying for, all of our loved ones who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith, and all the dead whose faith is known to God alone.  The Church is great in wisdom in giving us this feast every year.  Because even though on this day, we might shed a few tears, still we will have the grace of remembering the ones who have given us life, given us wisdom, those who have been Christ to us, those who have made God’s love tangibly present in our lives.

Perhaps the deepest mystery of the human experience lies in the reality of life and death.  Everyone has, or will, experience the death of loved ones, sometimes after a long life, sometimes far too soon, always with feelings of sadness, regret, pain, grief and perhaps even anger or confusion.

That’s how grief works.  It might seem sometimes like it would have been better to live without love, but we know deep down that that’s not true.  Sadness and even death are temporary; love is eternal.  As the Church’s vigil for the deceased tells us, “all the ties of friendship and affection which knit us as one throughout our lives do not unravel with death.”  We know that death only separates us for a short time, and even though there is that hole in our heart, the sadness that we feel is way better than never having loved at all, never having had our loved ones in our lives at all.

I want to pause here and speak a little about the reality of grief.  Because, if there is one thing that we as a society do extremely poorly these days, it’s grieving.  We rush through it and hope it’s all done before we have a chance to feel any kind of pain.  That’s part and parcel of how things work in our world; we have a pill for every malady and a quick remedy for every pain, plagued with a whole host of horrifying side effects.  And what’s important to know is that this is not how the Church teaches us to grieve.  One of the most important reasons that we have All Souls Day each year is to give us the experience of remembering and grieving and healing.  If you truly love, you will truly grieve, and not turn away from it.

The Church’s Catechism (989) teaches us: “We firmly believe, and hence we hope that, just as Christ is truly risen from the dead and lives for ever, so after death the righteous will live for ever with the risen Christ and he will raise them up on the last day.”  And so we Christians never grieve as if we have no hope.  The Church’s Liturgy echoes this hope in the third Eucharistic Prayer: “There we hope to enjoy for ever the fullness of your glory, when you will wipe away every tear from our eyes.  For seeing you, our God, as you are, we shall be like you for all the ages and praise you without end, through Christ our Lord, through whom you bestow on the world all that is good.”  One of the Prefaces to the Eucharistic Prayers for the Dead makes it very clear that this hope touches our experience of grieving: “In him the hope of blessed resurrection has dawned, that those saddened by the certainty of dying might be consoled by the promise of immortality to come (Preface I for the Dead).”

And so I have some tips on grieving that I hope you will find helpful:

  1. Don’t rush into the funeral. It’s hard to make all those difficult decisions at a moment’s notice.  It’s great if you’ve talked about your wishes with your family, because it makes things easier.  But if that hasn’t happened, the family would do well to take its time and avail itself of the resources of the funeral director and the church staff so that a funeral that adequately honors the deceased and comforts the living can be prepared.
  2. Parents: please talk to your children about your funeral. Yes, that’s going to be a hard conversation.  But these days, too many young people are so disconnected from the Church and so averse to any kind of unhappiness, that they really don’t know how to grieve.  You have to help them with that.
  3. Let other people help you. Even if you can do all the preparations, you don’t have to.  Let the Church and others help you and minister to you in your time of grief.  As a priest, I presided at my father’s funeral, but one of the priests who knew him preached the homily.  I found that was very helpful to me in my own grieving.  On that day, I was a son grieving the death of his father; it would have been hard to be the preacher too.
  4. Have a wake. A lot of people try to short-cut this one because they think it will be too painful.  It will hurt a little, yes, but the comfort of others expressing their love for the deceased and for you will do so much to heal you in the time to come.
  5. Don’t be afraid to shed tears. Anyone who has ever seen me preach at some funerals of people I’ve known especially well has seen me get choked up.  Or they have seen me shed a tear when I’ve talked about my father or my grandparents in a homily.  Tears heal us, and it’s good for other people, especially your children, to see you cry.  They need to know that pain and sorrow are part of life so that they don’t feel like they’ve gone nuts when it happens to them.  You aren’t doing anyone any favors by not allowing them to see you grieve.
  6. Understand that grief doesn’t “go away.” Feelings soften with time, yes, but you will grieve your loved ones for many years to come, perhaps your whole life long.  I still grieve for my grandparents who have been gone from my life for many, many years now.  Sometimes those waves of grief will come up all of a sudden, without warning, kind of out of the blue.  And that’s okay.  Remember grief is a sign that we have loved, and loving is the most important thing we will ever do.

One of my most vivid childhood memories was when I was just about nine years old.  My grandfather on my mother’s side, who had retired just a few months earlier, was diagnosed with cancer.  There wasn’t so much that could be done about cancer in those days, so he wasn’t expected to live long.  And so one night, as the oldest of the children, Mom and Dad came to my room to talk to me about Grandpa.  That was the night I learned about life and death, sadness and grief, love and pain.  We cried a bunch, hugged a lot, and talked about how we were going to miss him.

I went to the wake and funeral with my family, because that’s what we did when a loved one died.  My parents could have shielded me from that experience in many ways, as so many parents do, but they chose not to, and I’m glad they made that decision.  Death and grief aren’t things we actively seek, but we can’t be afraid to meet them head on, girded with faith, and confident of the hope we have in Christ Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, I can’t say this strongly enough: if we don’t learn to grieve, as early as possible, we will never ever truly love.  We won’t want to invest ourselves in love because we won’t want to ever feel pain.  Jesus so deeply invested himself in love that he suffered the pain of the cross for us, so as to open for us the way to resurrection.  We have to be willing to suffer loss in order to gain anything truly glorious.

Even if the memories aren’t the best, and even if we struggle with the pain of past hurts mixed with the sorrow of grief, there is grace in grieving and remembering.  Maybe this day can be an occasion of healing, even if it’s just a little bit.  Maybe our tears, mixed with the saving Blood of Christ, can wash and purify our wounded hearts and sorrowful souls.  And certainly our prayers are heard by our God who gives us healing and brings our loved ones closer to him, purifying them of any stain of sin gathered along the journey of life.

That pain that perhaps we feel won’t all go away today.  We are left with tears and loneliness, and that empty place at the table, and that hole in our heart.  But sadness and pain absolutely do not last forever, because death and sin have been ultimately defeated by the Blood of Christ.  We can hope in the day that our hearts will be healed, and we will be reunited with our loved ones forever, with all of our hurts healed and relationships purified, in the kingdom that knows no end.

Eternal rest grant unto all of our departed loved ones, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.  May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls)

One of my most vivid childhood memories was when I was just about nine years old.  My grandfather on my mother’s side, who had retired just a few months earlier, was diagnosed with cancer.  There wasn’t so much that could be done about cancer in those days, so he wasn’t expected to live long.  And so one night, as the oldest of the children, Mom and Dad came to my room to talk to me about Grandpa.  That was the night I learned about life and death, sadness and grief, love and pain.  We cried a bunch, hugged a lot, and talked about how we were going to miss Grandpa.

I went to the wake and funeral with my family, because that’s what we did when a loved one died.  My parents could have shielded me from that experience in many ways, but they chose not to, and I’m glad they made that decision.  Death and grief aren’t things we actively seek, but we can’t be afraid to meet them head on, girded with faith, and confident of the hope we have in Christ Jesus.

I still miss Grandpa to this very day.  He had a wonderfully silly sense of humor that never failed to make me laugh, he made a homemade ravioli that blew away anything I’ve ever eaten since, he came from Italy, learned our language and made a beautiful life for his family, and the stories of that have been an inspiration to me every day.  The same is true of all of my grandparents, all who have gone on to the Kingdom, all of whom I miss and all of whom were a great example for me.

I miss Grandma Mulcahy when I’m planting flowers in my Mom’s garden, because she did that better than anyone, and while she did, we would talk about Ireland and I would hear about life in the “Old Country.”  I miss Grandma Mastrodonato – Mom’s Mom – when I’m out in a public setting and see people doing crazy things or wearing something odd, because she always enjoyed people watching and listening to others.  I missed Dad’s Dad a lot in my job previous to seminary, because he built the monstrous printing press that was, at the time, printing a job for my customer.

And I miss Dad.  When I’m having a rough day, I just want to sit down and talk, knowing he’d listen and understand, and support me in whatever way I needed.  I missed him especially a couple of months ago when I celebrated the funeral of his best friend, one of the pillars of our neighborhood.  Together, they were two of the best, most giving men I ever knew.

And there are aunts and uncles who have gone on to the Lord, too.  All of these characters have been inspirational to me in some way, and I find that the grieving, while it may dissipate a bit, never seems to completely go away.  I don’t think it’s supposed to.  Because when we have loved much, the passing away of one we have loved leaves a hole in our life that shouldn’t go away.  That doesn’t mean that our life comes to an end: we move on, as move on we must, but always with a sense of loss, hopefully tempered with fondness for the relationship we had, hopeful of a reunion in heaven one day.

“The souls of the just are in the hand of God.”  So says the author of the book of Wisdom.  That is our prayer for our loved ones, for all the faithful departed.  Because, if we are convinced of that grace, we know they are alright, and have hope that we will be alright too.  And our Liturgy gives us words to hope on as well.  In a few moments, I will sing the words that have comforted me so many times in my sorrow: “Indeed, for your faithful, Lord, life is changed, not ended, and when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven.”  That is the promise derived from Jesus’ words in the Gospel: “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live…”

On this feast of the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, I have chosen to reflect on our experience of grief, and I’ve done that because it’s an experience we all have, on some level, at some time in our lives.  I want you to know how very natural grief is, and how very blessed an experience it is.

Death is always a time of great sadness, but our Liturgy teaches us that we who believe in the Lord Jesus must never grieve as if we have no hope.  Our hope is always in Christ, the one who knows our grief and pain, and is with us in every moment of our lives, most especially when we are in pain.  The Church teaches us that if we believe in God and do his will, we can be reunited with all of our loved ones forever one day.  For the believer, the hopelessness of death is always overcome by the great hope of God’s grace.

And so we know that death only separates us from those we love for a short time, and that death never has the last word because Christ has triumphed over death.  The beginning and end of everything is Christ, and Christ is with us in our first moments, and also in our last.  He is with us in our pain and with us in our joy.  He helps us to remember our loved ones with love that continues beyond our death and beyond the grave.  Grief and loss and pain are temporary things for us.  Love is eternal, love never ends, love can never be destroyed by death, love leads us all to the great glory of the resurrection and eternal light in that kingdom where Christ has conquered everything, even death itself.

Eternal rest grant unto all of our loved ones, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.  May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

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.

Easter Tuesday

Today’s Readings

Letting go of things is harder than we can sometimes even admit.  I think that’s what was going on with Mary Magdalene.  And we are just like her: we want to hold on to things and people as they are, because what is familiar is so very comfortable to us.  I think sometimes that’s true regardless of whether the familiar is positive or negative.  So many times we hold on to whatever we have and refuse to let them go because it’s as if we’re afraid we’ll be giving away some piece of ourselves.  So then what happens is that we hang on to images of ourselves or other people in our life that are outdated, and stifle any room for growth.  We hang on to resentments or past hurts and never give any chance for healing.  We hang on to unhealthy relationships and never give ourselves a chance to break the cycle of pain they bring.  We hang on to bad work situations and miss following our true calling.

What Mary needed to hear from Jesus in today’s Gospel was that she had to stop hanging on to things as they were, and to allow God’s promise to be fully revealed.  The time for mourning was over, it was now time to rejoice and begin spreading the word that the Gospel was coming to its fruition.  She had to begin that by going and spreading the word to the other disciples.

We too, have to stop grieving our past hurts and resentments and outdated notions of the world, ourselves and our relationships so that God’s promise can be fully revealed in us.  The message of Easter joy means that we must begin that by spreading the news that Jesus is doing something new in us and in our world, and make sure that everyone knows about it. We can do that by examining our lives every day and reflecting on what God is doing in us and how we are responding to it.  This is the kind of daily reflection that will help us to let go of what is unhelpful and grasp firmly to that which will lead us to Christ.

As we continue to live lives of conversion like this, we too can proclaim with Mary Magdalene on this Easter day, and every day, “We have seen the Lord!”

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord

Today’s readings

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!

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night

Today’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, the Alpha and the Omega, all time belongs to him, and all the ages, to him be glory and power through every age and for ever.  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 most 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 how this works.  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, God’s saving action in the world throughout all time.  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, fasted together, celebrated the sacraments, reflected on living the Eucharist, gathered food for the food pantry, 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: “This is the night of which it is written: The night shall be as bright as day, dazzling is the night for me, and full of gladness.  The sanctifying power of this night dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.”  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 this flame be found still burning by the Morning Star.  The one Morning Star who never sets, Christ your Son, who coming back from death’s domain, has shed his peaceful light on humanity, and lives and reigns forever and ever.  Amen.”

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

The Fifth Sunday of Lent

Today’s readings

“Lord, by now there will be a stench.”

That’s one of my favorite lines in scripture.  It begs the question I want you to pray about this week, which is, “What in your life really stinks?”  Because we have to have that stench washed away in order to really live.

If you know my preaching, you’re not going to be at all surprised about this, but I have to tell you honestly, our Gospel reading isn’t about Lazarus.  Yes, he got raised from the dead, so good for him, but he isn’t the center of action in the story.  In fact, he’s dead for most of the reading, so he doesn’t play a major part.   Our Gospel today is about Jesus, who through baptism and grace is the remedy for all that stinks in our life.

So Jesus hears that his friend Lazarus is ill.  He knows that Lazarus will die, and he knows that he will raise Lazarus up, so very much like the rest of John’s Gospel, Jesus is in full control.  He delays going to see Lazarus because it will give him the opportunity that will increase faith in the other players in the story.  So when he arrives, Lazarus has been dead four days.  That’s an important detail because it tells us that Lazarus is really, really dead.  The Jews believed that the soul of a person hung around for about three days, but after that, well, he or she was gone forever.  So if Jesus had raised Lazarus on the second day, no big deal.  If on the third day, that would have been a foreshadowing of himself.  But on the fourth day, he raises up someone who is really, really dead: someone just like us.

So just like the man who was born blind last week, we are born dead, in a way.  I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but stay with me.  We are born dead in our sins, and there is nothing we can do to raise ourselves up out of it except for the grace of God.  So the movement in our Gospel today is from life that is so mired in sin that it stinks, to life that is so free of death that burial bands and tombs cannot contain it.

During Lent, we have been journeying with our catechumens, who are now called the Elect, as they prepare to be baptized, confirmed, and receive first Holy Communion at the Easter Vigil.  Much like them, there are three groups of catechumens in today’s Gospel.  The first group is Mary and Martha, those friends of Jesus that are part of John’s Gospel a few times.  Here, the rubber meets the road in their faith.  Here, like so many of us, they have something tragic happen in their lives, and now they have to grapple with whether their faith helps them with that or not.  Mary is so troubled that she doesn’t even go out to meet the Lord until her sister tells her a white lie that Jesus was asking for her.  Both she and Martha, when they first see Jesus, complain that he should have come sooner so that he could have saved Lazarus.  But Martha has a little faith.  She says very importantly that “Even now, I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”  That’s the beginning profession of faith.  She knows that Jesus has power over life and death.  So then they have a little catechetical dialogue about life and death and eternity, and at the end of it, Martha professes that Jesus is the Son of God who was coming into the world.  The sisters move from their grief, to faith in Jesus, even before he accomplishes the miracle.

The second group of catechumens is the Apostles.  God bless them, they’re still trying to make sense of Jesus.  We can’t be too hard on them, because they’re a lot like many of us who are trying to be men and women of faith, but don’t really have all the facts right now.  “Let us also go to die with him,” Thomas says.  And they will, of course: they have to go through the cross before they see and understand Jesus fully.  We too will have to take up our own crosses before we can understand the salvation that Christ has won for us.

The third group of catechumens is the Jews.  A bunch of them are weeping with Mary, and they go with her to see Jesus.  Along the way, they complain that if he could heal the man born blind like he did in last week’s Gospel, why couldn’t he have healed Lazarus?  But seeing the miracle, they come to believe, in the very last verse of this long reading.  They are a lot like those of us who are skeptical for a long time, but see something wonderful materialize in the life of another and finally decide there’s something to this Jesus that’s worth believing in.

Key to all of these catechumens is that, in order to move to belief, they had to have some kind of stench in their lives washed away.  For Martha and Mary, they had to see past their grief.  For the Apostles, they had to get over themselves and realize that Jesus was in charge.  For the Jews, they had to get past their skepticism and let him perform miracles among them.  For all of us, on the journey of faith, some kind of stench has to be washed away, in order to come to full faith in Jesus.  And that stench is, of course, sin.  The way it gets washed away is in baptism.

So if you take away anything from today’s Liturgy, let it be this: this reading is really all about baptism, brothers and sisters in Christ.  Is it a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and resurrection?  Well maybe a little.  But it is more about baptism.  Because baptism is a kind of death.  As Saint Paul says in our second reading today, baptism is the kind of death that gives life to our mortal bodies.  It’s hard for us to imagine that kind of thing when the baptisms we’ve seen are just a mere pouring of water over a baby’s head.  But baptism in the early church was full submerging in water while the formula was pronounced, after which they came up out of the water gasping for air.  Believe me, they got the connection of baptism with death and resurrection!

Baptism is what washes away the stench in our lives.  It does that with original sin, and if we live our baptism by participating in the sacraments, it does that with the sins of our daily life.  The sacrament of Penance is an extension in a way of the sacrament of Baptism, in which the sins of our lives are completely washed away, leaving us made new and alive in ways we couldn’t imagine.

So today, Jesus sees us dead in the flesh, stinking of our sins.  But he calls us forth in baptism, rolling away the stone of sin that keeps us from relationship with him, releasing us from the burial-bands that bind us, and calling us to new life.

So maybe in these closing days of Lent, we still have to respond to our Lord’s call to live.  Maybe you haven’t yet been to confession before Easter.  We have confessions all day on Tuesday, and you can come to any of the penance services we have.  We have school confessions at 10:45, and will be hearing confessions until around noon.  Then we have religious education family confessions at 4:45, and a parish penance serve at 7pm.  Come to any of them that fit your schedule.  If you miss that, we will have confessions after the 11:30 Mass next Sunday until all are heard.  And finally, we will have confessions a week from Tuesday, during Holy Week, at 3:00 until all are heard.  We invite you to come and have the stone rolled away and to be untied from your burial cloths.  Wherever you find yourself at this point of Lent, I urge you, don’t let Easter pass with you all bound up and sealed in the grave.  Lent ends just before Evening Prayer on Holy Thursday.  That gives us around ten and a half days to take up our Lenten resolutions anew, or even make new ones, so that we can receive new life in Christ.  Don’t spend these days in the grave.  Come out, be untied, and be let go.