Saturday, April 25, 2009

Reality--A Reflection for the 3rd Sunday of Easter

If there is one word that sums up today’s reading, it is reality. Now reality is something we tend to avoid at all costs. It can be hard and narrow. Jesus said that the gate that leads to destruction is wide and the road broad; many enter
through it, but the road that leads to salvation is narrow and the gate small; few shall find it. That is reality.

In the first reading, Peter is preaching after healing a lame man. He boldly reminds the people that they had “denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses.” (Acts 3:14-15) This is something God had announced beforehand through the prophets, that Christ would suffer.

The people listening to Peter probably thought that Jesus was just another troublemaker like they has seen before. Perhaps they thought he was a prophet. But the certainly didn’t believe he was their Messiah. The Messiah was supposed to deliver then from the Romans, not be crucified at their hands. Yet, God had said that the Christ, the Messiah, would suffer. What God says is reality. And this Reality suffered before being raised from the dead. Peter and the others were eyewitnesses to this. That was their reality.

In the second reading, Saint John writes about the necessity of keeping God’s commandments. “The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments. Those who say, ‘I know him,’ but do not keep his commandments are liars, and the truth is not on them.” To call people liars sounds harsh. But Saint John is trying to get us to deal with reality. Many claim to believe in God. How do we know that we know God? John’s answer is that we know we know if we keep God’s commandments; then we are keeping with reality.

Today’s gospel is about the reality of the resurrection. When Christ appears to them, in their surprise they think they are seeing a ghost! To allay their fears, he invites them to look closely at him, even to touch him. John says, “He showed them his hands and his feet.” He is inviting them to see the wounds of his crucifixion. The resurrected body of Jesus, though glorified, is real. It can be clearly seen, even touched. He even eats a piece of fish on front of them. You don’t get much more real than eating!

Jesus reminds them of the reality of the Scriptures, that everything written about him must be fulfilled; that he would suffer and rise from the dead and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached in his name to all nations.

This is the reality we are living in today. The Church is still carrying out this mission, preaching the Gospel to the world. If we wish to live in reality, we must bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our family, friends and neighbors. Like Peter and John, we do that by living a life grounded in the reality of the Gospel and by our eyewitness testimony to what Christ is doing in our lives. We are simply to tell them about Christ and his Church and to trust the Holy Spirit to open their hearts. As he worked through the disciples, he will work through us as we live in the reality of the Gospel.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Canticle for Earth Day

Today is Earth Day.

Saint Francis of Assisi and Blessed Kateri Tekawitha are patrons of the environment(-alists) and ecology (-ists).

Saint Francis is well-known for his love of nature, a love that came out of his love for Jesus Christ. St.Francis' "Canticle" starts with praise of God and blesses the Lord for his creation. He refers to creation as his brothers and sisters because the share a common Father. Concern for creation properly comes out of love for the Creator.

A contemporary St. Francis was Rich Mullins. Several of his songs, like "The Color Green" share a sensibility with St. Francis' "Canticle." Rich Mullins started Kid Brothers of St. Frank ,to help train other men in the Christian faith and outreach. Mullins was killed in a car accident in 1997. His family continues this legacy.

I imagine Rich, St. Francis and Blessed Kateri praying that our love for the Earth will flow from our love for Jesus Christ.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Believing Thomas--A Reflection for the 2nd Sunday of Easter

Poor Thomas. One moment of doubt and he is labeled for life--"Doubting Thomas". Jesus appears to the disciples one night and Thomas is not there. Maybe he was visiting his twin? When the others tell him that "We have seen the Lord", Thomas gives his so-called doubting reply, "Unless I see the marks of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." In other words, for this Thomas wants proof, empirical evidence. He is a materialist; like so many of us, he wants proof before he will believe.

Thomas' refusal to believe without this proof is strange for a man who has spent the last three years with Jesus. He has seen the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the dead raised to life again. He has heard Jesus' teaching. What more proof could he want? But then this is a big claim by is friends--Jesus has appeared to then!

It's one thing to believe that Jesus is someone. To some he is the Messiah, to others he is a moral teacher, to some he is a revolutionary, to others he is another spiritual master. Some even believe he is God.

Yet, it in not enough to believe things about Jesus. As St. James says, even the demons believe and tremble. We must believe in Jesus. It is not enough to give intellectual or even faith assent to him. We must trust Jesus; that is the lesson of this Divine Mercy Sunday's motto, "Jesus, I trust in you." We must put our faith, our trust, in Jesus as a divine person, son of God and son of man, not in facts about him, but in him.

That kind of faith is transformative. As St. John says in today's 2nd reading, "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God..." God is our Father now. He puts his nature, his life into us by his Holy Spirit--that is divine mercy! Transformed by this love and mercy into his children, we can build the kind of community we see in the first reading from the book of Acts. St. Like tells us that "no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common."

But what of Thomas? Did his doubt exclude him from this community of faith? Again, we see God's divine mercy. Jesus appears again and this time Thomas is there. Jesus invites Thomas to "put you finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe." Jesus challenges Thomas with his own words at his own point of doubt. Thomas' distrust was really in the other disciples' testimony that they had seen the Lord. Perhaps he was more upset at being left out than anything else.

I wonder if it's too much to say that Jesus appeared again to the disciples for Thomas' sake; to offer Thomas a chance to show his faith to them all after his public doubting. After all, Jesus would soon offer Peter the chance to redeem his three-fold denial of him. This is divine mercy.

Thomas' response to Jesus is one many of us echo each time we receive our Lord in the Eucharist, "My Lord and my God." That is the response of faith in Jesus. But then Jesus reaches even beyond Thomas to each one of us when he says, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed." We are those who have not seen Jesus as Thomas did, but have believed. We, too, say "My Lord and my God."

Strengthened in his faith by his Lord and his God, Thomas becomes one of whom Acts says, "With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus..." This witness and power of faith eventually brought St. Thomas to preach the Gospel in India. He founded the Church there around AD 52 and was martyred around AD 72. When travelers arrived in India, they found the Church, through St. Thomas, had gone there before them. The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is the largest of the Catholic Churches in India. It traces its origins to St. Thomas. It is in full communion with Rome.

Doubting Thomas? Not after receiving God's Divine Mercy in Jesus. Not after he said, "My Lord and my God." We repeat his words as we receive Jesus in the Eucharist. As Jesus said, "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Two Cathedrals

(No,this is not a West Wing post.)

Yesterday NYC saw the installation Mass for Archbishop Timothy Dolan at St. Patrick's. Today is the home opener for the new Yankee Stadium. Both were joyous occasions for New Yorkers everywhere. Both had charismatic personalities. Both had beautiful liturgies (really, the Yankees do beautiful liturgies, they just don't call them that, but it's a religious experience for many!). I am sure there were some people who attended both events.

Archbishop Dolan hit a home run at his installation. He was warm, funny, joyous, fatherly and priestly. Hopefully the Yankees will do as well.

Almost a year ago, Pope Benedict XVI said Mass at the old Yankee stadium; a cathedral of baseball. (See, I told you the Yankees do beautiful liturgies!). Maybe he'll be back to say Mass at the new stadium. It's a certainty that there will be a papal Mass at the new stadium eventually. Maybe Pope Dolan?

Update: Shortly after posting this, Archbishop Dolan was a guest on the Yankees Radio Network broadcast with John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman. Abp. Dolan could always go into sports broadcasting if the Archbishop gig doesn't work out...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Dolan Mania at Installation

I am watching in preliminaries to the installation Mass of Timothy Dolan as Archbishop of New York. He has been standing outiside St. Patrick's Cathedral greeting people as they process in. As he greets them, he is saying repeatedly, "Thanks for coming!", "I need you" and "Pray for me." He is smiling the whole time, joking and laughing.

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad! Psalm 118:24

Archbishop Dolan is living these words today.

Pray for him.