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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March 30th, Fourth Sunday of Lent
It is hard to imagine that anyone who would be fortunate enough to be able to visit Florence, Italy would go there and not enter that wonderful building where Michelangelo’s statue of David is enthroned. Enthroned is the right word! It stands magnificently in the rear of the building and although there are other objects of art within those walls, Michelangelo’s magnificent statue generates awe and wonder to all who behold it. Michelangelo more or less idealizes David in perfect human form.
There is nothing wrong with that because the first reading of today’s Scripture from the Book of Samuel describes David as handsome to behold and making a splendid appearance. It is God’s plan that this young shepherd boy, called in by the Prophet Samuel, be anointed as the king of God’s people. This would produce a little tension. Saul was firmly in control of the Israelites.
Then begins the story of David and it is a wonderfully human story filled with courage, action, heroism, great accomplishments and tragically destructive sinfulness. Here we are late in Lent and I think it is important that we see David, not as a dim figure in our historic past, but something of a shadow that hovers over each one of us. The Church has always taught that human nature is essentially good but weak, and during Lent we celebrate our goodness but must do it in the context of an awareness of that weakness. Yes, we fulfill our basic responsibilities to our family, to our community but we are all rough around the edges. We are brittle, hypersensitive, short-sighted and sometimes very selfish. Lent calls us to look at those weaknesses, to attempt to smooth over the rough edges and march forward with a calm confidence that we are about to join in the Resurrection.
Onward to Easter.
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The other day I wrote about the question as to whether or not sadness and joy can co-exist. The answer is that they certainly do. Sadness is an emotional response or reaction to one or more of life’s difficulties and usually when those problems are solved, sadness evaporates. But joy is a permanent relationship. I am of course referring to Christian joy.
Several weeks ago, Father James Martin S.J., editor of America magazine, wrote an excellent article on the subject. It is particularly important for understanding Christian joy.
“First let me distinguish joy from happiness. Unlike happiness, joy is not simply a fleeting fleeing or an evanescent emotion. It is a permanent result of one’s connection to God. While the more secular definition of joy may be simply an intense form of happiness, religious joy is always about a relationship. Joy has an object and that object is God. The ultimate response to the Good News is joy, one that is lasting and endures even in the midst of difficulties.”
And who does not have difficulties? We all have problems. We all face crises at one time or another, we all get tired and occasionally at least discouraged. The Gospels clearly tell us that Jesus experienced overwhelming sorrow. When he learned of the death of his friend he broke down and cried. Jesus experienced the full range of human emotions and so we must assume that Jesus laughed. The Gospel of Luke, speaking of the Garden experience, used the word agonia and says that Jesus’ tears fell on the ground as in drops of blood.
For successful living, adults require a wonderful blend of faith, courage and strength. We should not attempt to avoid every possible problem. Sometimes it is easier to address them face on rather than wishing that they would go away.
Back to Lent! This is a time to evaluate our efforts to develop in these necessary virtues. We need to deepen our awareness of our faith in the presence of Jesus, and we certainly need courage and strength to move forward. Good Friday is coming but beyond that is the Resurrection. Let us go forward.
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If you grow up in the Catholic Church or attend a Catholic school, you learn a lot about the apostles. There were 12 of them but several stand our more clearly than the others. First of all, there is Peter, James and John. They had the privilege of spending a little extra time with Jesus during His public life. Everybody knows about Judas and how he ended up. Finally, among the standouts I think is Thomas. One of the reasons we all know about him is because his name has for 2,000 years been a cliché being a synonym for someone who did not have faith or confidence. He is a Doubting Thomas.
The story is delightful. It again reflects the humanity of the apostles. On the night of the Resurrection, Jesus appears before the apostles and shows them the wounds as a result of his crucifixion. The apostles see Jesus and believe in Him, but THOMAS WAS NOT THERE. When he returns later and is informed of the appearance of Jesus he says very simply, “I don’t believe it. Unless I can see and touch His wounds, I will not believe it.” Later on when Jesus appears again Thomas falls on his knees and says, “My Lord and my God.” At that point Jesus says something to you and to me. “Blessed are they who have not seen and who have believed.”
When we place faith in our Lord Jesus Christ what we are really doing is investing ourselves in the message of faith and hope that comes from the Christian community.
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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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