The purpose of the Church is to reach out and draw all of its members to communion with God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Church does this by presenting age after age the message of Jesus and also joins us with Jesus through our sacramental life. In carrying out this mission, it tries to convey to the entire world a message based on truth and love, a message that has tremendous implications for justice and fairness. These virtues are affected by the economic system present at any given moment.
For most of the last 2,000 years virtually the entire world’s economy was based on agriculture. That changed with the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century bringing tremendous change to human life, including a vast increase in wealth and prosperity. But not everyone shared equally in these new developments. In the late 19th century, Pope Leo XIII saw that the Industrial Revolution and its later developments were inflicting tremendous pain and suffering on the poor workers in the urban centers of Europe and North America. He wrote his famous encyclical, Rerum Novarum which laid out a structure of responsibilities reminding employers of their responsibilities to be fair and just with their workers, and that those workers had the right to organize in order to defend their economic interests. In those days, that economy was mostly one of shops and small plants where workers and employers were often in face to face situations.
By the 1930’s, the world of the small plant by an individual or family gave way as nationwide industries developed and thus Pope Pius XI wrote the encyclical Quadragesimo Anno which built on the work of Leo XIII and dealt now with problems related to nation-wide economies.
After World War II with the decolonization of the people of Africa, the possibility of a one world economy expanded tremendously and as a result in 1963 that magnificent pope John XXIII wrote a document that had tremendous impact in the Church and on the world entitled Pacem in Terris, Peace on Earth. It dealt with this new worldwide economy many years before any of us were routinely referring to the reality of an integrated world economy. The document came out in 1963 and made a powerful impression on Church leaders all over world. Fifty years have passed since the encyclicals issued and in the next couple of days I will give you my opinion of the affect that it has had in this painful and agonizing half century.
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We are still very much in the Easter season and the joy of the Resurrection should carry us through towards the approaching Feast of Pentecost. To keep our liturgical spirits high, the Church has put some really great days in front of us. The first I would like to mention is the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena. Her feast was celebrated on April 29th but I failed to mention it. The Diocese of Austin has one of its largest parishes named in honor of St. Catherine and it is a great parish. I am sure she is very proud of it.
In her lifetime, Catherine was revered for extraordinary holiness and touched countless lives of those who came in contact with her. She was also extremely intelligent with great knowledge of Dominican theology and, of course, one of the great influences in her life was Thomas Aquinas. He just preceded her by just a few decades. One interesting thing about Catherine is that she got deeply involved in Church politics but at that time it was hard to separate ecclesiastical conflicts from political conflicts. It was a difficult period of conflict and one of the popes had moved the organizational structure of the Vatican to Avignon in southeastern France. Catherine influenced Pope Gregory XI to move the Curia back to Rome in 1376 but tragically the great schism would appear and the confusion about who was the true pope would set the Church back for many years.
If you want to read an interesting life, get a biography of St. Catherine of Siena. She was a very holy Dominican Sister, an excellent theologian, a superb writer and deeply involved in the activities of the hectic world of her period. I hope that those faithful of St. Catherine of Siena Parish are given instructions from time to time about the greatness and uniqueness of their patron saint.
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April 7th, Second Sunday of Easter
Who could not like spring? Every season of the year has its advantages but I think that most of us recognize that summer has too much heat, in the fall the leaves do just that, and wintertime can be bitterly cold, but, oh, dear spring! The temperature is perfect. We see little explosions of life in every direction. School children know that vacation is not too far away.
Of course, for Christians it gets even better because we will be continuing to celebrate the great feast of the Resurrection for several more weeks. In his resurrection, Jesus, our Lord, overcomes death. An explosion of fresh greenery all around us is a reminder of that and down the road will be our own triumph over death because of our faith in Jesus Christ. Oh, happy, happy season.
Let’s try hard to hold on to the exuberant joy that naturally comes with this time in the year. If you are short on money in early April, you may still be short on money on the first of June but don’t be depressed by it. If you are trying to delay seeing the dentist, make the appointment, get it behind you and thank God that we have such great medical resources. Let’s be happy with our family and friends, let’s be happy with nature, let’s be happy with the Church and let’s even be happy ourselves.
Happy Easter continues on.
I guess I got carried away. The scripture texts for today are extraordinarily meaningful but the power of spring overcame me!
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Painting by Leonardo da Vinci
Everyone knows that the Feasts of the Nativity and the Resurrection are the two biggest days in the liturgical year but you know I feel very strongly that Holy Thursday ranks right there with both of them.
On Holy Thursday we look back to that awesome night when Jesus gathered with his beloved apostles and celebrated the ancient Jewish rite of Passover, and at the same time instituted the new rite that would be the Holy Mass where bread and wine mystically become the Real Presence of Jesus of Nazareth. And the apostles received both the directive and the power to celebrate the Eucharist to be the vehicle through which Jesus continues to be in and with his Church.
So on this very special day we celebrate both the sacraments of the Eucharist and Holy Orders. Of course, the evening reminds us also of things that reflect the wide range of human actions. We see Judas the traitor holding the purse but looking for a way to get a way from the table. We also see the Divine carpenter from a dusty village kneeling before his friends and washing their feet. In today’s world, this awesome symbol loses some of its punch. We move around in automobiles and if we do walk a short distance, it is on sidewalks and paved streets. In Jesus’ time, people walked on dusty roads in sandals or barefooted. The washing of feet was a much needed sacred symbol of hospitality and love.
Each of us needs to find ways to symbolically provide patience, service and love to those with whom we are sharing life.
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One of the things that I really love about Roman Catholic traditions is the way that we have divided the entire year into phases or chapters that center around Jesus of Nazareth. Part of the year prepares for his coming. That is Advent. Part of the year marks the time when Christ was present among us. That is from Christmas Day until fifty days after the Resurrection. The third chapter and the longest begins with Pentecost and continues until Advent begins again. It is really a wonderful system where throughout the year we are constantly reminded of the need to have our lives centered on Jesus of Nazareth, to know him better, to love him profoundly and to motivate ourselves to walk in his footsteps.
I love Pentecost because on this day the spotlight swings away from the life of Jesus of Nazareth and shines squarely on us. Jesus came to be our savior, to be our redeemer and he accomplished that, but He wanted to have the human family involved in its own salvation. He wanted us to be partners with him in preaching the good word of God’s love for the human family.
Regretfully, sometimes we don’t get as much out of the Scripture readings as we should when we are at Sunday Mass. I would suggest that you take three or four minutes and open up your bible to Acts of Apostles 2:1-11. The story related there is short but awesomely dramatic. It provides a jump start for this little band of battered, confused men who now have the responsibility of carrying forward the work of Jesus and, believe me, they do well. Next week we will see that Peter gave one of the most successful homilies in the history of the Church. Following the reception of the Holy Spirit, Peter and the apostles go out into the streets of Jerusalem and Peter preaches to the crowds and the text says that, “There were added that day three thousand souls.” That would certainly have been the shortest RCIA in Church history.
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April 22nd, Third Sunday of Easter
Today, the Church continues the thrilling celebration of the reality of the Resurrection. The Gospel narrative is from St. Luke’s and it rapidly joins the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and the confusion and stumbling of his first followers. The story describes two of Jesus’ disciples, not the apostles, who were walking towards the small town of Emmaus just outside of Jerusalem. There is a mysterious stranger with them and he begins to ask questions about their concern and nervousness. They seem to be astounded that he has not heard about the execution of Jesus of Nazareth. The stranger then calms them down and explains what has happened and why and reveals that it is Jesus himself. I love the next sentence. “They were incredulous for sheer joy and wonder…” And then Jesus said, “Have you anything to eat?” Even in the immediate aftermath of the Resurrection, we see Jesus realistic and very earthly in a heavenly way.
After the meal (was it the first Mass?), they fully realized who was with them and Jesus disappears. The disciples then said to each other, “Did our hearts not burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us.” Do we not think this way after communion at Sunday Mass? Being conscious of Christ’s presence within us and within the whole community gathered around the altar our hearts should burn and we should share today in the joy of that day 2,000 years ago.
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Second Sunday of Easter, April 15th
The awe and joy of the Resurrection continues on this, the second Sunday of Easter. John’s Gospel presents several delightful developments flowing out of this center of the Christian faith, namely Jesus of Nazareth’s triumph over sin and death. I refer to our Lord’s infinite patience, forgiveness and his challenge to our faith.
The first scene is the apostles hiding behind locked doors who are suddenly face to face with the Lord. If you look between the lines, you see that this scene not only describes the commissioning of the apostles with power, but certainly reflects his infinite patience and forgiveness. After three years of teaching them, after his constant presence among them, after his steady manifestation of infinite power, their faith dissolved. They had broken and run at the first sight of danger. Add Peter’s denial and the situation is even more disappointing. But what words does Jesus express as he appears among them? PEACE BE WITH YOU! The apostles were blessed that Jesus was Jewish and not Irish. Otherwise, he might have been much harsher.
The next component of this brief drama is poor Thomas. We don’t know his last name but he has gone down in history as Doubting Thomas.
Then you and I work into the story because after Thomas expresses faith Jesus says, “You became a believer because you saw me. Blessed are they who have not seen and have believed.” We don’t walk in Thomas’ footsteps. We walk in those of Jesus of Nazareth.
Onward to Pentecost Sunday.
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Third Sunday of Easter
We are moving forward into the joyful Easter season. First we celebrated the Resurrection itself, then we turned our attention to the infinite forgiveness that is always available to us. In today’s Gospel, we begin for the first time to see the beginnings of a functioning Church. The story is the magnificent excerpt from Luke’s Gospel in which on the first Easter Sunday afternoon two of Jesus’ disciples, not apostles, were leaving Jerusalem and headed towards the village of Emmaus. Naturally, they were talking about the recent events regarding the tragedy of Jesus’ suffering and death.
These two men had heard about the empty tomb but they had not as yet gotten their minds around the reality of the Resurrection. Luke describes this delightful scene where Jesus places himself in a catechetical position instructing these two men as to prophecies of the Old Testament and how they were now being fulfilled. When they reached the village of Emmaus the guys prevailed on Jesus to stop and stay with them. They settled down in the little café in the inn and Jesus takes bread, prays over it and when he does that the men recognize him. At that point, he disappears. Racing back into town, they tell others that they have seen the Lord and then this wonderful sentence – “How they had come to know him in the breaking of the bread.”
That is the joy of Sunday Mass! We come to know him in the breaking of the bread.
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Second Sunday of Easter, May 1st
We are now in the Easter season and the reality of the Resurrection will dominate the Scriptures over the next few weeks. Today’s Gospel, from the 20th chapter of John, is really one of the most dramatic scenes in the entire New Testament, in my opinion, coming only behind the actual descriptions of the death and resurrection of our Divine Lord.
Try to visualize it. The apostles are confused and frightened. Their leader has been executed. They retreat to the room where they had celebrated the Passover. A group of confused leaders if ever there was one. Then, suddenly, Jesus came and stood before them! The text says that at the sight of the Lord the disciples rejoiced but I think that they should even have been more frightened! They had now walked with Jesus of Nazareth for almost three years, had seen him manifest awesome power and teach a wonderful doctrine of God’s love for the human family and of our need to love each other. But without exception, they all failed him. What is he going to say? How angry will he be?
These words are addressed to these frightened apostles but they are also addressed to you and me after we have stumbled and fallen. PEACE BE WITH YOU. When I am talking about this in homilies, I often translate it into what I think would be modern English. “Take it easy, take it easy.” They failed and ran away when their support was needed but he has forgiven them.
This is a beautiful scene and we need to take it to heart. He will go on to talk about the apostles forgiving sins of others in his name but we can talk about that later this week. So many times I end these little chapters with “onward through the fog” but today the fog is lifted. The brightness of the Resurrection points the direction for all of us to enter into eternal life with God.
Peace be with you.
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Everyone loves Easter! Spring has arrived, the flowers are blooming, the grass is green, the heat of summer has not fallen upon us yet, people put on their best clothes and greet each other with exuberance – “Happy Easter, happy Easter, happy Easter.” There is nothing wrong with any of that. In fact, it is all very delightful but it is not the reality of what Easter, the Feast of the Resurrection, is all about.
Spiritually, each one of us needs to transport ourselves back to that hillside outside Jerusalem, stand silently before that open tomb, a tomb now empty, and ask ourselves if we really do believe in the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead!
This is the heart of the Christian message. This is the ultimate test as to whether or not we are really followers of Jesus. In the following 2,000, countless numbers have died because they answered “yes” to that question. They believed in the Resurrection, were committed to Jesus and they would allow nothing to turn them away from that faith and commitment. Happily, most of us are not asked to die for our faith but it would be perfectly valid to ask ourselves would we be willing to do so?
Let us thank God for his infinite love for us. Let us walk into the future with confidence knowing that we are a redeemed people. Let us continue to celebrate the great feast of the Resurrection.
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