Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 5th
Joy and happiness of the Easter season continues with the Church’s liturgy and each Sunday that joy is reflected in the three scriptural excerpts that are placed before us. If we mediate on this reality, we should have a great sense of unity with our fellow Christians because these texts are being read simultaneously all over the world. Not only are we united East and West but we are dramatically united in terms of today and yesterday. I am referring to the fact that each week we get a scene from Acts of Apostles and if we look carefully at the texts, we will see something that is very important and something that is very much with us today.
And on this Sunday we view from 2,000 years later a dramatic and important new insight that the apostles gain after being guided by the Holy Spirit. Up until this point, every member of this tiny community of faith has been Jewish and comes straight out of the rich Jewish tradition. In today’s reading, we see the leaders of the Church realizing that faith in Jesus Christ is for all people. Peter is the leader in grasping this all important reality. When he meets Cornelius, a Roman military officer, he instructs him in the message of Jesus and while that was happening the Holy Spirit descended upon all those who were listening.
They were all GENTILES and Peter asks and implicitly answers an awesome question. What can stop these people who have received the Holy Spirit from being baptized with water? And so they were. A new missionary thrust of the Church was underway.
Share on Facebook
Mary Magdalene was the first to see that the body of Jesus had been removed from the tomb and runs back to where the apostles had been hiding for most of the last three days and tells them that the body of Jesus has been taken. Then follows an absolutely delightful scene. Two men, one possibly in early middle age, the other quite young, race together towards the tomb. For some reason, when John was writing this Gospel he felt that this was an important footnote. They run side by side for a while but John gets there first. He does not go in! He steps back and defers to late arriving Peter. Is that just a cute writing touch or does he defer to Peter because of his age, because he already senses that in some way Peter is already the leader of the apostles? When Peter goes in John himself enters and sees the burial cloths on the floor and then comes that astounding sentence. “He saw and believed.”
In this holy season of Easter, each one of us has to ask ourselves about that empty tomb. We were not there. Two thousand years have passed and the question is as pressing today as it was then. Do we believe? Do we believe that the body of Jesus, his terribly wounded body, was brought back to life by the power of Almighty God? Sometimes our holy faith seems quite complicated. We have seven of this and twelve of those and forty something else, but strip them all away and there is really only one question that confronts each one of us. Do you believe that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead?
When a person is confronting the depth of their faith, it is good to think about exactly how that faith is anchored, how it is centered and what is the cause of its depth and strength. The answer to those questions is both simple and profound. The cause of our faith is the Christian community, the Church. We believe because billions before us have believed. It is the Church which binds us to the mystery of Jesus and the historical reality of his presence among us.
Share on Facebook
March 17th, Fifth Sunday of Lent
I just opened my lectionary and I can see very clearly that tomorrow is the fifth Sunday of Lent. I am also joyfully aware that March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day. This is a sad reality that surfaces every seven years because the Sundays of Lent are so important in the liturgical calendar that they block out the lesser feast days themselves. My comments come from the Mass of this Sunday rather than those of the Votive Mass of St. Patrick. I am sure that God will forgive me.
It is not a problem because the Gospel excerpt used for this Sunday is simply marvelous. It is clear, dramatic and our Lord drives a point home with tremendous power. You know it well but let’s take a quick look at it again.
It shows our Lord’s teaching in the courtyard of the temple and, as usual, there is a large crowd. Suddenly, there is excitement and people begin to jostle. We see then a number of strong men pushing and shoving a single woman through the crowd until they get in front of Jesus. They denounced her and ask for his view on whether or not she should be stoned to death because she had been caught in an adulterous act. Adultery requires two people! Where is the man? Try to visualize this dramatic scene. There is a lot of yelling going on and a crowd of men are demanding that Jesus agree to Mosaic law that a woman like this should be killed. They have already humiliated her tremendously and now they are pushing for her death.
Our Lord drops to his knees and then begins drawing in the sand. When they kept demanding a response, he really threw back one of the great stories of the Gospels. “Let the man among you who has no sin be the first to cast a stone at her.” Jesus then returned to his crouched position and waited to see what would happen. The crowd slinked away leaving no one there but Jesus and this poor abused woman. When the woman told Jesus that no one had accepted his challenge, that no one had condemned her, he merely said, “Nor do I condemn you. You may go but from here sin no more.”
From a Christian perspective, that is one of the greatest statements ever made. He knew that the woman had made mistakes but he was informing her that God instantly forgives true sorrow. She was being given another chance to live a better life.
As Lent approaches, be conscious that Jesus was speaking not only to the Jewish woman but to you and me as well. Let us remember that as we move towards Holy Week.
Share on Facebook
Do you want to hear something startling? Go back to yesterday’s readings and look at that excerpt from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.
“If any is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old order has passed away. Now all is new. All of this has been done by God.”
There you have it. We can read many books of theology and Christian asceticism, examine ourselves, constantly check ourselves against the teachings of Jesus but you have it all there in three sentences. Since the resurrection, the relationship between the human family and Almighty God has changed. Human weakness, human frailty still abound. People still stumble and fall but it is not the dreary situation prior to the resurrection. Now our world is filled with faith, hope and charity – faith which gives a true and profound understanding of reality of our relationship with God, hope which gives us a positive optimism about our ultimate union with God and charity which guides us in our dealings with each as we journey towards God.
Paul is not just talking into the wind. It is not that he says those wonderful sentences but seems disconnected from reality. Corinth was a sinful city. The Church in Corinth was a sinful Church and in the midst of that sinfulness and failure, we have Paul’s optimism boiling over.
As we move towards the end of Lent and endeavor to improve ourselves spiritually, it should not be seen as a heavy chore or difficult burden. When we realize that we are actually making progress, we should be thrilled that we are really forming, admittedly in a very limited sense, ourselves in the model of Jesus of Nazareth. Making progress in this area should be a source of joy and enthusiasm and not dreariness.
Share on Facebook
March 3rd, Third Sunday of Lent
All three of today’s scripture texts touch on the idea of suffering, human suffering, a subject that nearly everyone knows a great deal about because life on this planet is difficult. Every one of us has our faults and our weaknesses and, of course, God who created us knows all about them. Despite our weaknesses and sinfulness, we always have to remind ourselves that God still loves us. He loves us despite those weaknesses. Or maybe he loves us because of them?
One of the purposes of the holy season of Lent is to cause us to meditate on our failures and faults and to use our intelligence, our will, our faith, our determination to improve our life and, in so improving it, to deepen and strengthen our relationship with God.
We are almost in the middle of Lent. Let’s endeavor to ask ourselves honestly are we taking it seriously? Am I making any progress? Are our good intentions disappearing with the ashes that marked us at the beginning of Lent?
During this holy season, our minds should be on two tracks. One is efforts at our own spiritual renewal and the other in joyful appreciation of the beauty of spring. This beautiful weather is a symbolic reminder of the brightness and joy that comes from our awareness of God’s love for us.
Share on Facebook
Catholics in the United States have historically been woefully lax in their study of God’s word. Things have been much improved since the Second Vatican Council but we still have a long way to go. At least most Catholics are familiar with the Parables and the message that they contain, and the more dramatic scenes from our Lord’s life as presented in the Gospel. One such a scene is the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. You know it well. A great throng to hear the words of Jesus, no food markets conveniently nearby and the apostles are aware that hunger is setting in. We know the rest but let’s take a look at a modern twist with the same basic idea of Jesus, or at least the followers of Jesus, feeding the poor.
One of the most socially involved parishes in the Diocese of Austin is St. John Neumann. In 1998, a group of parishioners were clearly conscious of the amount of hunger and the material need there was within this rather prosperous Texas city. In September of that year, a small committee of five persons made 75 sack lunches and went through the town distributing at points where they saw people who were unemployed or homeless. In 1999, seeing the great need, a truck along the lines of those used by neighborhood lunch wagons was purchased and the miracle took off.
At the present time, Mobile Loaves and Fishes have established 16 catering trucks located in five cities and four states, every one serving with magnificent compassion and love. Going out into the streets every night, Mobile Loaves and Fishes serves food, basic clothing, hygiene products, friendship, a smile and a handshake to their brothers and sisters living on or near the streets. This is yet another example of how much good can be generated when two or three people get together with faith, vision and energy. Can you join the great work of St. John Neumann? The contact information for Mobile Loaves and Fishes is 903 S. Capital of Texas, Austin, Texas 78746, (512) 328-7299.
May God continue to bless Mobile Loaves and Fishes and may their trucks continue to increase and roll.
Share on Facebook
February 17th, First Sunday of Lent
Today is the first Sunday of Lent.
Did you make it to your parish on Ash Wednesday? Even if you did not, you might want to give some thought to the symbolism of that special day. We all know that we are called to do good, we are called to a better life. We also know all too well our own weaknesses and Ash Wednesday was supposed to lead us to recommit ourselves to greater efforts on our spiritual journey. Now comes today’s Gospel and what is its message?
Now brace for temptation
We all experience temptation. We think that we might want to do this or that thing which is actually evil and against God’s directions on how we should live. Temptation presents us with the danger of failing to utilize effectively as possible the gifts that we have been given. Temptation itself is not a sin but it does present us with a moral risk. It provides us with an opportunity to practice doing better. Today, the first Sunday of Lent is a good opportunity to start. We don’t have to climb to the mountaintops in order to improve ourselves. Abundant opportunities are all around us. Is there anybody in the workplace that you really dislike? Is that person’s obnoxious qualities offensive? Have you ever tried to find out exactly why that person was so difficult? If we knew the answer, we might be much more willing to reach out to that person and maybe our reaching out would end up being a gift from God that helps draw that person back to a better life. When we try to pray for somebody for whom we are not particularly fond we are really helping that person, but much more importantly we are helping ourselves as well.
Each of us should review our conscience and ask ourselves if we are making enough efforts to making this a better world.
Share on Facebook
February 3rd, Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Thanks be to God for the Lectionary. I have been a Catholic priest for approximately 57 years and if you allowed for a couple of weeks of vacation or times on Sundays when I was not preaching, I probably averaged Sunday sermons 40 times a year. That is roughly 2,200 times to stand in a pulpit and try to present the message of Jesus Christ to a congregation. That is a lot of preaching but it is really not difficult at all. The Church’s wonderful system of a liturgical year, rotating seasons on a three year cycle with three texts for every Mass, gives us more than ample material. On occasions over the years I have had clergy complain that they didn’t know what to preach about on a particular Sunday or at a particular place. To me that is a mystery.
Today is a perfect example. We have two marvelous concepts placed before us by the Church in its liturgy. The first is St. Paul’s magnificent letter from I Corinthians about the nature of love and that while all virtues are good, love surpasses them all.
The Gospel except is from that dramatic scene in the 4th chapter of Luke where Jesus says to the congregation in his hometown synagogue after reading an Isaiah text announcing the coming of the Messiah, “Today the scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” There you have it! The first statement by our Lord himself that he is the Messiah. Jesus’ listeners took him very seriously and so accused him of claiming to be divine and then attempted to kill him. Read those two texts together. Everything to be said about love in human relations and about the mystery of the incarnation that God so loved the human family that he came among us and assumed a human nature.
There is always plenty to think about, talk about and pray about when it comes to our faith!
Share on Facebook
January 27th, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Last week’s Gospel was very down to earth with Jesus performing his first miracle by enabling a wedding celebration to continue. Today, I want to comment on the second reading from I Corinthians where
St. Paul raises a profound issue that is very important for our own individual spirituality and for the Church as a whole. St. Paul is responding to conflicts that exist in the new Church that he had established in Corinth and urging its members to see beyond their immediate needs and see the mystery of Christ present within them and among them.
Paul uses the example of the human body pointing out that it is a complex entity but also a unified reality and he stresses that every aspect of the body is held together by the same unity. The hand may not be an eye and the ear may not be an arm, but they are all united by the same life and reality. He then goes on to say to the people in the Corinthian Church that they are in different places in the Church, they have different roles, different responsibilities, but they are one Church and the oneness is formed by the awesome mystery of the Body of Christ who is within them and has brought them together. From several hundred miles away on the other side of the Mediterranean, Paul writes, “You then are the Body of Christ. Every one of you is a member of it.”
If we could really grasp this reality in the lives that we live in our parishes, conflict that so often manifests itself in the parish life would be virtually eliminated but it is not easy. The Corinthians were constantly overreacting with each other. We can do better if we try and are guided by God’s grace. We are one body…Christ’s Body!
Share on Facebook
January 20th, Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
I don’t think that there is any doubt that today’s Gospel except from the second chapter of St. John is one of most people’s favorite scenes from the New Testament. It is very concrete. It is very earthy. It describes a scene with which we are all familiar and it inserts both Jesus and his mother into that scene in a very dramatic and pleasurable context. There was a wedding in Cana way up north in Galilee. It must have been quite an affair. The text begins by stating that the mother of Jesus was there and then adds that Jesus and his disciples had likewise been invited to the happy celebration. Well, if you add 14 people at the last minute, it must have been quite a crowd. To me that also seems to be indicated by the fact that for a long period of time the wine had run out causing Mary to say to her son, “They have no more wine.” You know the story. Jesus’ first move is to act unconcerned. Mary gives directions later, “Do whatever he tells you” and that, of course, is to fill good sized vats with water. In an outcome that would have made any Irishman happy, the water is not only changed into wine but the very best wine!
This story is told endlessly as a way of documenting the influence that Mary has over her son. Maybe we have made a little too much of it but it is certainly a wonderful story and it shows a very human Jesus. He is with friends, he is at a wedding, they have been celebrating for a long period of time and he takes action to eliminate embarrassment – all very human traits – and ones that we should think of when we are praying to our Lord. While we worship Jesus as divine, we must, at the same time, be conscious of the fact that this was a real human nature through which he was dealing with us, a nature that enables him to be one with us and enables us to more easily identify with him.
Care for any more wine?
Share on Facebook