The Greatest Comeback

Related imageHappy Pentecost!!  Okay, so I was watching this comeback video – the official title was, “The greatest race comeback you will ever see.”  Basically it was a women’s relay race and the camera’s pretty far back so you watch these little figures run.  The woman out in front – you can rightfully predict – she’s not going to win if this video is all about the greatest comeback in history….there’s a woman about ten paces behind her who is really pouring it on and beginning to catch fire, but then out from behind her is another racer who starts kicking it up and who begins to take the two leaders when suddenly as the camera is showing the figures cross the numbers at the finish line you realize there is a woman who comes in at the bottom of the screen who actually crosses first.  It’s only then that I realized there was a big red arrow in the video pointing her out every once in a while.  I went back and played the video again.  This runner was not only out of my radar, but not even the announcers really saw her, because of how far behind the other runners she starts her lap.   It’s a gap of about eleven seconds.  One of the announcers cries out in some kind of Irish accent, “Here she comes from the depths of Hell pumping through.” It was incredible.  As she finishes her body simply goes limp and she falls to face like she’s going to need another comeback.   Image result for grace ping 2016         So, then there was another video that I caught right after that one of another women’s race – this time it was high school cross country on a pretty elite course.  It was completely different, but just as interesting.  You see the woman who got out in front led the entire race and never flinched or faded….but it was a seventh grader named…Grace Ping!  It struck me that these two women could be an image of the Church.  The human element like the “greatest comeback” woman coming from behind (whom I was not able to find a name for – so it could be all of us), never really supposed to win – eeks it out with its last gasp.  Then there is also the divine element, ever youthful, also under the radar – but never tires, effortlessly gliding through the course.

Image result for birthday of church  Today is the birthday of the Church!!  Perhaps one of the misconceptions is to think that God comes down from heaven only to go back up and leave us pretty much alone.  It is easy to think that God dwells in heaven and we dwell on earth.   But this feast is all about heaven and earth coming together.  They’ve come back together nevermore to be divided.  Heaven and earth had been growing further apart in a sense as time went on.  But, Christ came to reconcile the two and last week Jesus went up into heaven, not to simply perch Himself there, but to bring heaven down to earth or pull more and more on earth into a heavenly life.  Think of the Our Father: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  The Book of Revelation speaks of heavenly Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth.  Christ is the embodiment in Himself of what is heavenly (God) dwelling with what is earthly (man) in one Person.

Image result for toddler with smart phoneThink about the original split between heaven and earth.  The first major tear comes when Adam and Eve become convinced that there is only one thing they lack to be like god.  It would be like a toddler thinking that the one thing that separated it from being mature is the ability to hold your smart phone.  No, a baby with a smart phone is still a toddler.  Later, the people who build the tower of Babel seem to have given up on God.  They no longer want to take from Him, but they’ve built this tower to make a name for themselves independent from the name of God.  All they need is their togetherness.  We could spend all day listing groups of people who thought they were better than others, and yet ended up scattered in their pride.  God is a unity, not of pride, but of love.  Finally, the Pharisees claim to want God, but in truth they act like they don’t need Him.  They spend all their energy separating themselves off from sinners thinking it is the way to holiness, and then when Jesus comes along and reveals His divinity while He walks, eats, and heals sinners – allowing them to touch Him – the Pharisees are confounded.  They deny that God could be dwelling with them as this Son-of-Man and believe they can deny His right to live entirely.

Image result for dove            The world still seeks to take authority away from God just like Adam and Eve, and so it needs the Church today to receive a new Pentecost.  If we listen to God, while God is so high above us (greater than an adult is from an infant) – in the Holy Spirit, He makes us His child and wants to send the fullness of His gifts to elevate us to Himself.  There are still people in the world who seek to unite groups of men and women together apart from God to prove their elitism.  There are forces seeking to dominate others and make a name for themselves.  Therefore the world needs the Church to receive a new Pentecost!  Our languages have been confused, but the Church has the capacity to spread the one faith in Jesus Christ and His unifying message of sacrificial love.  There are still people in the world who believe holiness comes by separating themselves off from others.  Perhaps by forming their own new religions or simply dropping out of the faith of their fathers, spreading division.  Therefore the world cries out for the Church to receive a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the conviction that all have sinned, but all can receive the mercy of Jesus if they admit their own sin and humble themselves to ask.    Image result for living water         The world seems like the woman who goes into her kitchen looking around for something to drink – parched with thirst, but the faucet is shut off and there is nothing in the fridge.  She forgets that there is another source of water.  Living Water that years ago she had known.  If we turn to the Holy Spirit – the answer is the spring of living water that is ready to well up from within her should she simply return to the faith in our Father and the love that has sent His Son into our lives.  We are ready for another comeback – perhaps the greatest comeback of all time!  Many have forgotten about the Church.  She has been written off, but she is still running.  Even as she flags, she is moved by divine power.  Let us pray, Come Holy Spirit!

Mother’s Love Can Send Us Flying

Image result for mom in a mallI ran across this story.  A woman writes, “My mother had just finished taking a CPR class at a local college when she and I were in the mall and saw a big crowd gathered around a still body. Mom took off running at a speed I didn’t know she could muster, yelling, “Everyone back! I know CPR!” Just as she threw herself next to the body and was about to begin, a pair of strong hands pulled her to her feet. “Ma’am,” said a police officer beside her, “we are trying to arrest this man.”

Image result for ascensionHappy Feast of the Ascension!  And Happy Mother’s Day!!  The woman in this story had to step aside.  She failed to realize the situation with this man on the floor.  He had gone down and now was going to jail.  During this story of the Ascension of Jesus, Mary, His Mother is in quite a different situation.  She knows exactly what’s going on.  No, He is not dangerously close to death or leaving us behind and going to jail….rather Christ has come back from the dead and is now taking our humanity with Him up into heaven.

Let’s not hem and haw….today’s feast of the Ascension is about Jesus flying.  He flies up into the air.  Presumably He flies out beyond the atmosphere into space.  He flies to heaven…to His Father.  And let’s make no mistake about it: He wants us to follow Him.

Image result for ascensionSo, if Jesus wants us to follow Him we are going to need to fly.  Or we need to be lifted into the air by God.  In the spiritual life, it’s kind of the same thing.

The whole thing goes back to the very nature of sacrifice.  When the Jews used to sacrifice animals there was a process.  First they would pick a good one – not one that they wouldn’t want for themselves.  It should be without blemish.  (Think of Jesus here – He was spotless and perfect).  Then they would kill it.  (Think of the Cross).  Then, they would render at least part of it as unusable to them by burning it in fire.  In several instances, the fire actually miraculously comes forth from God.  When Moses ordains Aaron to serve as a priest, they make a sacrifice to God where flames come forth from the Lord to consume the oblation.  Solomon finishes the temple and offers a sacrifice where fire came down from heaven and consumed the offering.  Elijah prepares an entire bull that has been slaughtered, but the fire comes from heaven. Image result for elijah bull fire If a sacrifice is particularly momentous and meaningful, God indicates that He has accepted the offering by personally consuming the meat.  God steps in to take certain offerings to Himself.  Christ had died, Christ had risen, and now Christ by ascending, shows that this sacrifice of His Body on the Cross is completed.  Because, while Jesus is not consumed by flames, He is taken up in a glorious consummation to His earthly life.  The Father is pleased with the offering of Jesus and His humanity – which is our humanity.

Jesus really wants this spiritual fire, this offering of His to spread.  He Himself describes how He came to cast fire upon the earth and He desires that it be kindled now.  And St. Paul describes that at the end of time, at the trumpet of God, the dead will rise up into the air and everyone who is living will be caught up with them to meet the Lord.

Image result for sacred heartOur souls taking flight have a great spiritual challenge: attachments.  Think about a hot-air balloon.  They fly because the air in the balloon is lighter than the surrounding air.  This air is superheated – by fire – and so it becomes less dense.  The molecules are not weighed down, but spread out and the balloon becomes so buoyant that it can lift a great amount of weight (as long as it is not tied to the ground).  In our souls we feed the fire of love by letting the  spirit engulf us and burn up what we don’t need – our ego, our sinfulness, our possessiveness of our past good deeds – you know the things that we’ve done for God in the past.  Love is not about resting on past deeds – we start over with the heart of King David and say, “Now we begin to love God.”Image result for hot air balloon diagram

Our souls have incredible strength in their will.  Whatever we latch onto with our wills we can bind ourselves to for as long as we have this desire.  Our mission in the spiritual life is to let God’s will be our will.  We don’t want to hold onto anything that is not Him.  That doesn’t mean we don’t have any possessions, but they do not possess us.

Image result for mary pregnantMotherhood is so helpful to us in this regard.  Women give up and sacrifice so much in the natural course of being a mom.  There is no more personal connection than a mother to her infant with whom she even shares her body.  And from that love that is conceived she then gives an incredible amount of time and nurturing to the child as it grows.  All the while however, the growing freedom of the child leads to a greater and greater giving away or detachment from the child – but the love continues to expand.  The bond of love is similar to the balloon that yields as the air expands and yet carries the soul upwards.  We can learn from our mothers this powerful lesson.  Every woman is called to be a spiritual mother in conceiving Our Lord and allowing her love for Him to expand and envelop all else that is good in the world.  But in fact Jesus says anyone who does the will of His Father in heaven is His brother and sister and Mother.  Loving God’s will even more than our own will enables our love to be perfected.  That story of the woman who races down the mall to help a stranger not caring what others thought is more proof that perfect love casts out fear.  We thank God for all mothers today and all of our brothers and sisters as we are all one body charged with the same task of loving our way home.

This Christ whom we have seen rise we will see again.  He descends to us in the Mass and we will see with fresh eyes in the breaking of bread, and in His sacrifice we see our way upward to our Father in union with our Mother.  Image result for mary immaculate heart

Faith in the Recipe

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There’s a folk story from Old Europe that has been popularized in the United States through different children’s books.  The story has been immortalized by the two words “stone soup.” Now, I’ve come across different versions, but the general thread is that a poor traveler is making his way through a village looking for food, but he can’t get anybody to give him anything.  “If this town doesn’t really have any food they are in greater need than I.”  He goes to the middle of the town and calls out that he is a master chef, but needs only to borrow a big pot to make his famous stone soup that he is happy to share.  Someone comes out with a large black pot and says, “I love soup.  Here you can use this.”  “Excellent.” So the traveler fills it with water and starts a fire beneath the pot right there in the town square.  He throws in a shiny stone.  After a little while, he tastes the soup and declares, “Not bad, but it would be better with a carrot.” Now, another man who was walking by and curious as to the brew, exclaimed, “I’ve got some carrots” and he went off and brought them.  Another few moments later after adding the carrots, the traveler tastes it again and reported, “Better, but maybe if there was a potato or two.”  By this time there were a few villagers who had come out of their houses to observe the new chef.  “I’ve got some potatoes,” declared an old woman.  And the smell got more and more enticing as they added these.  This went on as more and more ingredients were added to the pot until the recipe was perfectly brought to its potential and each of those who offered some item or another got back a rich bowl greater by far that what they had contributed.  The traveler ate his soup, took his stone out and washed it, and putting it into his pocket went onto the next town.

This is an interesting story from the perspective as a Christian.  The idea of this man who had been turned away from these homes all the while having this stone in his pocket which is central to the “stone soup” recipe reminds me of Christ.  Psalm 118 says Psalm 118-22 The Stone Which The Builders Rejected.jpgHe is the stone that has been rejected, and yet becomes the cornerstone.  Christ does call us to bring what little we have and contribute it.  Now in the story, each contributor makes a little bit of a gamble – the soup might have turned out rotten somehow…but yet in contributing beyond what seems automatically beneficial to them, they get much more in return.

Widening our perspective is part of our readings today.  The Christian life not only builds on the Jewish faith, but it widens out in its view of the world to include all men, that is, all people are called to be one kingdom.  Peter realizes in that first reading that the Holy Spirit has come upon these Gentiles.  This is a huge revelation and Peter has to not only see, but now preach as he does here, to a bigger bride.  And just like that pot of soup, the richness of the Church – what she can share with others – grows as more souls are added.  If you think about it, it only makes sense that God who has made creation to reflect Himself will be better reflected if this bride is composed not only of the Jewish people, but of all mankind. Image result for soup in pot

The term Catholic actually means universal which means that it is rightfully composed of people from everywhere.  One challenge to a more expansive or a catholic view of the Church is that while the people are called from all over, for them to actually become united, we have to all worship the same God and abide by the same commandment of Jesus Christ to love one another.  And to love one another can’t be simply according to our own self-interest, but according to something outside of ourselves – or rather according to someone.  This Someone is the Holy Spirit.  In short, our love story has to get bigger, but we have to remain small.  We have to remain in Christ.  We cannot only hold our love for our family and for our friends – we even have to love our enemies – but we cannot love them by succumbing to their principles.  Perhaps even easier to forget is that we have to love, truly love the ‘nice people’ who we get along with alright in the world, but do not have Christ.  Loving them means that we pray that they will be in full communion with us – we pray that they will embrace the fullness of our faith.  We do not want to only have the kind of “live and let live” mentality, for if we forget that these nice people who don’t seem to need Christ are yet still called to Him – we run the risk of adapting to their own thinking – that if they really don’t need Him, then maybe we don’t really need Him either.   Image result for god calling you

Just think of you own life.  Perhaps there was a time in your life when you didn’t see the need for God.  Perhaps you didn’t see the need to love very many people, certainly not to love everybody.  Well, what happened?  Did you sort of just turn it around on your own and then once you were good – then God called you to be His son or daughter?  Or did God give you a moment of grace where you realized you needed Him and that’s when your life started to make sense again?  Jesus reminds us in the Gospel that it is the second option: it was not we who chose God, but that He chose us.  We weren’t good and so God chose us to be His.  Rather He picked us, He called us – and we have become good insofar as we have responded to His call.  He wants us to take and love others – to choose them as our brothers and sisters at least in our prayer – instead of waiting for them to be good so that then we might love them.  We should be willing to allow the stone of Christ to be thrown into the cauldron of our hearts – empty of any contribution from anyone else.  We should have faith to admit these others into our vision of the world, into the recipe that God is cooking up in our lives to bless us in unforeseen ways.

This parish was built because people from different families came together and helped construct a house for God.  It is through the grace of God and the cooperation of these families through the generations that it has been made not only a house of God, but it can be yet a gate of heaven.

Love that Grows Somewhere

Image result for pot hibiscusAlright, I am pretty sure I won’t be talking about plants next week, and I know that it was only a little bit ago that I was talking about mistakenly killing my poinsettias, but Christ Himself describes Himself as a vine today….and maybe I need a little redemption from the poinsettias story.  Anyway, once I brought a plant back from the dead.  Alright, maybe it was more like I brought a plant back from the jaws of doom.  Anyway, I was living in an apartment building and went to the laundry room with my quarters to do some laundry and found this hibiscus plant in the middle of this little room without any windows – abandoned….waterless….near exhaustion….and cranky.  I gave it some water and after the next day when I checked in and no one had still yet claimed him, I took it back to my apartment and it did surprisingly well.  I gave it the name Sebastian for the saint who virtually came back from the dead.

Well, just as there are living plants and dying plants, there seem to be good plants and evil plants.  Jesus, as a vine would obviously be in the good category (if He we were really a plant).  But throughout Scripture there are plenty of instance of the vine.  Psalm 80 describes how God brought Israel as a vine out of Egypt and planted it.  It was supposed to spread and fill the land, but it often would turn away from God and He would let it struggle.  Jesus describes the parable of the vineyard owner who sends out laborers into his vineyard.  He also describes the Pharisees as the wicked tenants who kill the prophets and even the Son of another vineyard owner.  But sometimes the vines themselves are the problem.  In the Book of Judges, there is a parable where the trees Image result for buckthornwant a king.  They asked the olive tree to be king – but it didn’t want to lose its oil…they asked the fig tree, but it didn’t want to lose its sweetness….they asked the vine, but it didn’t want to give up its wine….and so then they asked the buckthorn – and it said “sure.”  Now, the buckthorn is a bramble.  It produces nothing.  You know I was reading a little on the Buckthorn and one variety was brought from Europe to Minnesota in the mid-1800’s to be used as a hedge.  Apparently today it is illegal to import, sell, or transport buckthorn in the state of Minnesota – because it is good for nothing.  It is also highly invasive.  It has no natural predators.  Buckthorn vines sucks up and wastes nutrients and moisture and it blocks out the light for anything beneath it.  God certainly has an intended habitat for the buckthorn, but if there is anybody actually in prison for illegally transporting Buckthorn – they can tell you: it’s not Minnesota.

But consider that old Buckthorn for a second.  Why was it so eager to agree to ruling over the trees?  Well, all of the other trees were doing something and expending their energy.  The Buckthorn not producing anything itself has the energy not only to rule, but to dominate – to lord it over and to squeeze the life out of the other plants.  Probably we have all been guilty a little of this behavior or at least have known someone else dominating us.  For our relationships to be healthy they need to bear the fruits that come from thinking of the other.

So, it’s obvious why Christ chose not the buckthorn, but why chose He the grapevine?  He went and prayed and it is said even slept beneath the olive trees and He sought to eat from fig trees.  Yes, but their fruits are so obviously practical – even utilitarian.  The ancient world survived off of their fruits.  They were used.  The grape is different.  While wine was (and still is) used for other purposes…primarily it is used for celebrating.  It is not so necessary as the olive or the fig.  It is so easy for us to be workaholics.  We produce to produce.  Think if you spent your weekend (or even your vacation) entirely on folding laundry.  That might be productive – but it would not uplift our spirits.  Why?  Because it would not break us out of the cycle of production and remind us that we are meant for something greater.  We were made for love.  But, even our relationships even run the danger of being treated as a means to an end.  This person makes me look good.  That person makes me feel good.  Even God can be sought after to serve our purposes rather than for His own sake.  The divine wine that Christ seeks to generate with us is to be used to cheer God and man in a mutual time of rejoicing in each other and in our communion for its own sake.    Image result for workaholic

Finally, one further reason why the olive tree or the fig tree would seem to be deficient in depicting Christ is that they are not deficient enough.  They both stand up on their own.  On the other hand, the grapevine in many instances must be tied to a post.  It wastes no energy in supporting itself, but has given everything of its life to its branches which quickly spread out and droop down under the weight of its clusters.  Christ is the true vine who shares everything with us His true brothers and sisters.  The grapevine cannot seem to overcome gravity on its own and counts on being lifted up by man for the sake of that vintner.  Just so, Christ only overcomes gravity because He is lifted up by man for the sake of us, those very drinkers of His Vintage.     Related image

God, help us to serve You, to love You, and to be joined to You with every fiber of being, and let us bear Your fruits that we might share in the produce of our union: the love that is the cause of perpetual rejoicing for the sake of love itself.

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The Power to Descend

Oh, the better part of 500 years ago, Edmund Campion was born in England.  The Church of England had begun a few years before and a severe persecution of Catholics had broken out.  Edmund was brilliant and having friends in the court of Queen Elizabeth, Edmund who was a notable speaker was offered to be made deacon in the Church of England.  Instead, as a young man he fled to France and joined the Jesuits.   He was ordained a Roman Catholic priest after several years and after sneaking back into London, Campion is famous for having escaped capture several times by donning various disguises.  He gathered many converts and strengthened the faith of the Catholics who had to hide their faith.  Finally, a spy tracked him down and he was paraded through the streets bound hand and foot.  Queen Elizabeth herself offered to pardon him if he would only forsake his service to the pope.  Campion was tortured severely on the rack for the crime of being a priest and sentenced to being hung, drawn and quartered.  On the way to the scaffold, he saluted a statue of Our Lady as best as he could and when mocked before the crowd, he offered a prayer for Elizabeth whom he called “your queen and my queen.”  The blood of Edmund Campion and so many English martyrs continues to reap a harvest of conversions.

Campion could have had freedom in another country or he could have given up his faith and had worldly success in England, but he chose to humble himself and serve.  I was thinking of that because I came across a quote from a one of the world’s shortest sermons.  Apparently there was some preacher who believes he can sum up the whole Bible in four words: “I’m God, You’re Not.”

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There is a lot of truth in those four words.  This is actually very close to the message that St. Michael brings to Satan and all of the fallen angels, when he proclaims the message of his name: Who is like God?  Satan cannot contend with God…he can’t even contend with Michael and the good angels.  So, the devil loses – and so does anybody who tries to make themselves equal to God.  But, this is not the only thing Christ came to reveal to us, for we celebrate today that He is the True Shepherd – the Good Shepherd.  You could say, ahh, but see — we’re just sheep.  He’s the shepherd.  Again, we seem to be highlighting that He’s not one of us….yes, but His message is not to tell the sheep “I’m great, and you’re puny.”  He is instead willing to give His life for these sheep rather than run away.

Still we have this problem.  He’s God and we have this longing to be in communion with Image result for descending on escalatorHim, but He’s God and we’re not.  We could say sadly in reply: we’re mortal and you’re not.  God in very many ways is like an engineer.  There is a problem with the system and He chooses to try and find a solution within the system itself.  He knows that we can’t just ascend to Him, so He descends to us.  But that’s just the Annunciation and Christmas.  He sees this ability to descend as a great power.  Jesus even describes this today as a power to give up His life.  Jesus not only descends and humbles Himself to live among us.  He even descends and humbles Himself before death.  It’s as if He says to death, “This time, take a load off.  I’ll come to you.”  And He dies the most ignominious of deaths.  He goes from being the Shepherd to the sacrificial lamb.Image result for paschal lamb

Have you ever noticed that we use this imagery of the Good Shepherd at almost every funeral?  That is no accident.  “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil.”  Strange as it sounds, Christ has made this power to willingly die ours as well.  We can’t just choose our own time to physically die.  But what does the world say?  Live for yourself.   Your body is a temple for you.  We can die to that – we can die to sin – to living for ourselves.  In the waters of baptism.  Our souls are joined to His soul, our bodies are joined to Body and His death.  Through Baptism we enter into His sheepfold (His Church on earth) and in the other sacraments we can return there and be nourished.  But there’s one more place to go.

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We are all still going through the valley of death, but Christ says He has another power: the power to take His life up again.  This is the glory that He has lowered Himself to share with us.  God has made Himself a shepherd and then even a lamb and even a slain lamb that we might know that He is God, but that we can be like Him in His death that we might be like Him in Eternal life.

 

Thinking Spiritually is Thinking Postively

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In our flesh we are fallen and scattered with all of humanity.  We are all tempted towards weakness….towards a self-centered perspective….towards a slowness to believe.  On the other hand, we have many other ancestors in and through our baptism, who are ancestors in spirit.  They call to us along with God in their intercession to live our lives as their kin.

Our fallen nature tells us to look back with fear to those who have gone before us who are yet disconnected from us in our mortality….and to look forward to our future in fear of being disconnected from all whom we currently know and love, as those who have departed already are physically cut off.  This seems to be the kind of fear that motivated the persecutors of St. Stephen.  They had a fear that Christianity would divide them yet further even in this life – and they opposed God in order to hold onto what they had.

When we choose to receive God’s will with trust, we allow God to give us His Son.   In fact, we allow ourselves in receiving Christ, to become His sons and daughters.  Yet, to trust in God requires us to desire things in the right way….

In our Gospel, the Jews in John 6 had a desire for the bread from heaven, just as the woman at the well desired the living water.  But like her, their initial desire was not altogether spiritual.  The Church Fathers explain how we can desire the bread from heaven in a way that would only yield more earthly life.  The hope that we could live a natural life forever like Methuselah, for example.  In other words, we could misunderstand the promise of our faith and seek spiritual goods for earthly purposes….heavenly bread for earthly results.

Jesus explains that He will give Himself….to be received in a manner that widens our faith and strengthens our ability to give thanks for the spiritual gift that He is.  There is not necessarily any elimination or even diminishment of suffering or even physical death.  However, the Eucharist confers the blessed life of grace, glory, and the perfect state of incorruption…the incorruptible spirit ready to receive even our bodies back that we all might be united in His eternal life that He gives to those who are ready to receive.

The Joy of Passing Over

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As a kid every once in a while I would find my dad’s old box of trinkets from what seemed like a bygone era.  Among the various treasures were a couple of old rosaries.  Both were black, but one of them looked sturdier while the other had a crucifix that you could open up – and inside was supposedly some dirt from the Catacombs.  I was thinking about the catacombs, because of a story I heard recently about the early Christians under persecution from the Roman authorities going to the catacombs.  Now the catacombs were these underground cemeteries built by the Romans.  Christians would often gather in them at the burial place of a martyr to celebrate Mass out of sight of their persecutors.  Now it happened, that as one group of Christians was heading to the tombs, they were seen by the Roman soldiers who let them slip down to the catacombs without stopping them until they were all together and in the middle of a Mass.  Then the soldiers encircled the group and arrested them.  They asked them directly: “We know you saw us and yet you kept going and came here.  Why did you keep going?”  The response was just as direct: “We can’t live without Christ.”

We can’t live without Christ.  Their hearts were living and beating with the rhythm of the Mass.  They had passed over into spiritual considerations.  Earthly fears and calculations were no longer driving them or restricting them.  This is why the early Church spread like fire.  When you are not concerned about keeping your light and heat for yourself you have enough to spare for someone else and in fact you don’t even have to consciously try to ignite another person, because the flame of Christ’s love catches hold of them.  Interestingly enough, this is the third week of Easter….and we have another set of readings where alongside the light of the resurrection – sin and the need for repentance are a major theme.  Why?  Well, perhaps because sin keeps us from spreading that fire.  Sin creates a kind of wall around us that keeps out the light and keeps us from trusting God.  Another reason might be this: what can we tackle today?  While we can’t imitate Jesus rising from the dead today unless we die today, we can pass over the boundaries of our sin if we repent today.

While passing over and out of sin might even be harder than passing over death and involve repeated attempts, Jesus’ resurrection is the ultimate demonstration of passing over both death and sin.  While Jesus had no sin, His death was the expiation for our sins.  And while sin is spiritual and rising from the dead is something more physical, His resurrection enables us to see His power over both.

Think about it.  Jesus didn’t have to appear to His disciples at all.  He sent the angels to the tomb to tell Mary Magdalene and the other Mary that He was risen.  He could have just kept sending angels until they really got it – that He was risen.  Certainly, His own Bodily Presence confirms this news more quickly.  But today’s account goes deeper.   Them being able to actually see Jesus, risen from the dead – or having passed over the grave – and yet there standing before them in the flesh reveals to the apostles and to us what we can dare to hope for ourselves.  Yes, Jesus has passed beyond death, but He’s still recognizable as human – we can hope to do the same thing.  The fish that He eats is an interesting touch.  He’s heavenly, but He can eat our earthly food.  We are earthly, but we can eat His heavenly food.  There can be a two-way sharing.  Communion is possible.

This is where Passover and the Eucharist seem to coincide.  We don’t have to wait to live in a heavenly way.  Those early Christians didn’t wait.  They lived for the Eucharist.  Meaning they lived to pass over from worldly concerns and fears and calculations into a love of all that is Holy.  Consider Adam and Eve again.  Once they began to desire the forbidden fruit, they were no longer in paradise.  They were focused on what they didn’t have and on how they could attain it.  They couldn’t tolerate the idea that there was something off limits to them.  They couldn’t keep one commandment.  But as our second reading expresses the way to be sure that we know God is to keep His commandments.  When we turn from sin and allow the boundaries of the Commandments to rise up in significance….to even love them – then we have a home for God in our lives (for if our actions and our desires our in conformity with the Commandments…then they are in conformity with love…..and are therefore our actions and our desires are big enough to house God Himself for they have shaped us into another Christ, and we pass over from this world’s concerns to a perspective of true peace.  If we repent from our sins, then we will have a home in God’s house.  We will find the joy that only comes when we cannot live without Christ.

Have Faith in Mercy

Image result for apollo 13Happy Easter!  Today is the Feast of Divine Mercy!!  What does that mean?  How do we celebrate a feast to mercy?  Part of us might think that just reminds us of our need for mercy of our own failure.  I’ve seen the Apollo 13 module.  You know the one from that Tom Hanks movie where they weren’t able to land on the moon and they thought they were all going to either slingshot past the earth into the far reaches of space or burn up in a fiery ball or lose all their oxygen and suffocate…all of these problems, but they kept working things and people all over the world prayed for them and they landed plop in the water and everybody lived.  It was an incredible success rescued from the jaws of total failure.  But some at NASA only saw the project as a failure and so after the astronauts got out of it, the capsule ended up in bad shape.  Forgotten about and ignored, it found its way to a space museum in Kansas who took it apart and cleaned its 80,000 pieces and reassembled it.  They saw the value in a mission that while it failed to make the moon, people still didn’t give up…and this moon failure resulted in an earth success story as it brought the value of life hanging so preciously from the stars into the hearts of millions.  A failure in the design of man does not necessitate a failure in the design of God.

Enter perhaps the hardiest apostle: Thomas.  Thomas is a thinker.  He’s Jesus’ man, but he comes to his own determination on how to follow Christ.  Think back to when Jesus was heading towards Jerusalem for the last time to cure Lazarus.  The disciples know that His enemies are trying to catch Christ.  Thomas is the one who says boldly, “let us also go to die with Him.” Perhaps Thomas felt that he knew where Jesus was at the time and as long as he was with Jesus – he was ready to go and die with him.  He loved Christ that much.  He’s got a plan – he’s got a leader – he’s ready to move.  Ahh, but then later at the Last Supper, Jesus speaks much about going ahead of them to die on His own.  He talks of His Father’s house with many rooms and how He will come to take us to Himself that we may be there with Him.  Christ says to the Apostles and to us: “You know the way where I am going.”  At this point, Thomas’ plan about dying with the Lord seems to have slipped away.  He wants some concrete reassurances and Thomas utters for himself and for many of us, “Lord, we do not know where You are going; how can we know the way?”  Thomas is looking to have the whole plan laid out before him and to have something solid to grasp with his reason.  Jesus does not break it all down.  He simply answers by saying, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” and reveals that He Himself is the plan and the destination.  Have faith in Me even when your reason cannot make sense out it.  Even when it all looks like a failure.

To his credit, after Jesus dies on Good Friday, while the rest of the apostles are hiding in the upper room, Thomas does not feel the need to constantly hide.  Maybe he’s more inquisitive and wants to have a look around…but perhaps he is a failed apostle and the other apostles remind him of his own failure.  Not only does his reason not connect him with any hopeful ideas about Jesus, but by the time the other apostles tell him that they have seen the risen Christ, his faith is not there either.  Not in Jesus and not in them.  He wants hands-on proof.  I need to put my hands into those wounds.  He’s not going to simply believe.  He needs the physical wounds of Jesus’ restored Body right there before him so that he can plant the roots of his new faith in those bloody wounds.

Thomas’ demand sounds outrageous, but think about it: all of the other guys got to see His wounds.  In Luke’s version, Jesus even says to them, “Look at my hands and feet.  It is I myself!  Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”  Thomas is only asking for the same opportunity that they got to restore their faith.  If what we can desire, what we can hope for is able to be carried aloft on the two wings of faith and reason – and both of these are both shot…what’s the problem?  The problem is not that he wants to see Jesus, it’s rather that he demands to see Christ and jam his fingers into the wounds, as if he Thomas was not among the wretches that Jesus died to save.  If Jesus were to suddenly show Himself it would now not seem to be a gift to Thomas, but God bowing to his order.  Just think of the kind of things Jesus could have said to Thomas: Here, Thomas, are my wounds as if you’ve earned them yourself.  Rather you’ve made the wound in my heart deeper by your coldness to me.

But, thanks be to Christ that He met Thomas with mercy, correcting him – but only to call him to something greater.  You know the other apostles didn’t believe Mary Magdalene.  They were doubters too.  Thomas could have been the first one to believe on the words of another regular human person.  He could have bet his life on the faith of his friends.  You see, reason is fine but it can only take us to the limits of the human mind.  Life after death is too high.  God wants to believe in His love, in a love that has no limitations.  Thomas fails to see this, but even in his failure…when the mystery is too high for the wing of reason to understand it and get anywhere, and the other wing – that of faith has been fried out by sin of whatever kind, we can still fall into the mercy of God – the God who catches Thomas.

Today’s feast of Divine Mercy is a little strange, for it is flows from the sacrament of confession.  But it is not focused on our failure, but on how we can fly with faith and reason over vast oceans of time and solitude knowing that His mercy can catch us.  And we have the same opportunity that Thomas missed: we can have faith in Jesus and that He conquered our sin on the Cross…by believing in His lowly servant: a priest.  If you can believe in a priest being given the power to forgive in a unique way, than you will have new faith in His Church, the one that He died to found.  And you will also get the profound assurance to hear firsthand (like Thomas) that your sins are forgiven.

When we examine our lives and go to reconciliation, a great thing happens.  We say to Christ: Jesus, here are my wounds.  These are the places that I’ve damaged my relationship with you and with others.  Christ is not going to demand to see them, but we have shown them freely and that faith in another person – that belief that Jesus has the power to live in another enables us to believe, to really believe that He can live again in us.  Even our failures can give Christ a new chance to show us His mercy if you can believe me.

 

Fools and Hostages of Mercy

2 Corinthians 2:14: “But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.”Image result for roman triumph

Happy Easter Vigil!!  An interesting finish after a strange Lent.  Recall that we celebrated Ash Wednesday on Valentine’s Day!  Lovers were reminded all day long of the shortness of earthly life.  A little dark….but now we come to Easter and celebrate it on April Fool’s Day.  To many, that’s perfect, Christianity seems ridiculous to them anyhow…those Christians will believe anything.

We weren’t always ready to believe.  Notice that line towards the end of the Gospel: “Go and tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee.’”  Now, most of us have seen an action movie or two where at the end of the movie, the bad guy takes a hostage.  But he doesn’t just take any hostage – he grabs either the girlfriend of the hero or even Image result for two-face hostageone of his kids and holds them fast and then the hero is split – do I go for the bad guy or surrender my gun? It’s the most obvious April Fool’s joke in the book: we know that the good guy giving up the gun for the girl/kid always leads to the bad guy breaking his promise and trying to kill the hostage anyway.

This comes to my mind, because Peter was supposed to be a spiritual son of Jesus.  But when he is in the court of the high priest, he is afraid of being taken prisoner – he is terrified that he might be associated with Jesus – and we all know he denies Jesus three times.  In other words, because Peter casts his identity as a disciple away from himself… it looks like Jesus has no spiritual son.  It appears His mission to build a kingdom of priests is a failure.  No one who has passed the test and learned to give himself in love.  Jesus is not faced with the option to sacrifice himself for the world along with even one other son who has gotten His message – that the Kingdom is not here.  No, Jesus is faced with the most challenging task: to give his life for a world where His chosen man has denied he even knows who Christ is and the rest are scattered. Image result for peter in the court of the high priest             Why does the Angel single out Peter today, “Go and tell His disciples and Peter”?  It isn’t any compliment.  It’s because Peter is no longer a disciple.  The Church Fathers say that if Peter had not been mentioned by name, he would not have dared to come back at all.  He was called by name so that he might not despair.

For the Bible says a fool is he who says in his heart that there is no God above (Ps 14).  If Peter had denied the God above that would be bad enough.  But, Christ came down from above so that those who deny there is a God in heaven could find Him on earth.  Peter had walked with Jesus – on water – this God from heaven who had washed his feet.  But before we label him a fool, recall that Jesus says that whoever would say to their brother, “You fool!” is liable to the fire of Hell.  To say that Christ came to save sinners is to say that He came to save fools.  We have been both.Image result for peter on water

He saves fools with the help of fools.  Jesus transforms the Passover and reveals that it all points toward His Body, the Body that we are to take and eat, the Body that had given up for us on the Cross.  But as Christians we say that we have died with Him that we together might be His Body.  Christ sends us out as He was sent out.  He essentially says, “Go, You are my Body” so that fools may still find Christ on earth and know there is a God in heaven.

Today there are more people than ever who deny God.  The Body of Christ that they need is us: people who have been transformed by faith in the Resurrection.  Peter was fearful before Jesus died that the Pharisees might get him and then he was fearful that Jesus might come back with a vengeance.  He discovers that God’s not dead, but Peter also learned that God’s not angry.  He has a chance to confess his love and he takes it.  There are so many longing to hear this same message.  His Last Supper is the antidote to death.  His Cross is the antidote to sin.  His Resurrection is the antidote to fear.  Perfect love casts out fear.   Image result for peter on water

You are my body.  Jesus sends us out and even down into the trenches even to fools.  Yes, they need the Body of Christ – they need you.  Many for various reasons are not yet ready for the Eucharist, but they need the Eucharist that is you – to be broken up for them in charity and mercy.  Valentine’s Day is a wonderful day to remember the shortness of this life, for if we are faithful lovers of Christ our love will carry us beyond death.  Just think of Mary Magdalen – whom Christ sends to Peter.  She can bring a message of mercy.  She had had the strength to be at the cross only after having had seven demons cast from her soul.  She had been fractured in so many ways, but she was held together by love.  She is a model for us.  We have been split apart and pitted against various other parts of Christ’s members so many times, and yet we are called to the Resurrection, this Resurrection out of self-concern, out of death, even out of fear.  Jesus has a love for us that others would deem foolish, that He’s a fool in love.  There is a God above that showed it by not only coming down to the earth, but going under the earth to reveal we need not fear if we are fools for Christ, this Body will rise Again.

 

What’s So Good About It?

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Why do we call Good Friday good?  And why do people kiss the cross?  What is “good” about either one of them?

If last night when Jesus celebrated His Last Supper with His apostles was His new version of the Passover – then this event today is His new version of the Exodus.

Image result for mosesIn the Old Exodus, Moses took the people of Israel out of their slavery to Egypt and they went off seeking the Promised Land for forty years in the desert.

In the New Exodus, Jesus gives His life so that the people of Israel can leave behind their slavery to sin and enter into the new Promised Land of His Kingdom.

In the Old Testament there are these back and forth interviews between Pharaoh and Moses.  Moses comes and tells him to let them go and Pharaoh keeps hardening his heart.

Image result for pilateIn the New Testament there are these back and forth interviews between Jesus and Pilate and Pilate and the Jews.  Pilate keeps asking the Jewish leaders and the crowd they instigated to let Jesus go and they say “No, crucify Him.”

Image result for final plagueIn the Old Exodus, the Egyptians connect their dead firstborn sons with their enslavement of Israel.  In the New Exodus, we are all called as the sinners that we are to connect this dead Son of Man with our own sins.  We put Him on the Cross – the very King of the Land we want to live in).

Image result for army massIn the Old Exodus, the Egyptians let the Israelites go at first…..and then they raced after them and fought to enslave them again and died.  In the New Exodus, we must fight sin to be free and certainly do all that we can from going back, lest we risk spiritual enslavement permanently – which is worse than death.

Related imageWhen Pilate was interrogating Jesus, He starts with “Are you the king of the Jews?”  Notice how Jesus responds.  He asks him, “Do you say this yourself or have you heard this from others?”  In other words, distinguish in yourself how you are being led by the nose.  Determine what you believe from what people who want to be your masters are telling you.  And Jesus explains: “My kingdom is not here.  You don’t see my army, that is you don’t see my power and where my strength comes from because I am not here to wield physical strength.  That would crush everyone.  I am the Truth.  My kingdom is a kingdom of truth.  Sin is built on lies and half-truths that do not reveal the evil intentions of man.  I am leading people on an Exodus from lies and sin and ultimately death.  I am leading people into the life of truth and you will know it by my love.

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Why is it called Good Friday?  Listen to the crowd: “We have a law that says He has to die, for He is making Himself equal to God.”  That’s a half-truth.  They have a law, but He is not making Himself equal to anything.  The truth is that He is God and has made Himself equal to man.  He has not come down to steal, but to give.  We sin and ratify their putting Him on the Cross when we choose anything else and give it the focus only due to Jesus.  Yet we have all done it.  The Crucifixion of Jesus is the worst thing that humanity has ever done, will ever do, will ever continue to do as long as it continues sinning.

We call this day Good Friday, because Jesus took all of this on Himself willingly and died for us anyway to show us His truth and how to become truly free through giving yourself to the Father.  In the Ancient battle of Good vs. Evil – Jesus definitively loves through it all and defeats evil on the Cross.  We call it Good Friday because Good wins.  We kiss the cross because it is the revealing that the Kingdom of Truth is the Kingdom of Love.

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