Friday, April 17, 2015

Easter 2 Friday

Barley bread and little fish were a typical "workingman’s lunch" in Jesus’ day; they were a first century "po’ boy san’wich," if you will. Its mention into today’s gospel in a sign that the crowds who followed Jesus into the dangerous wilderness were poor, in addition to being hungry.

Parallels with the Eucharist are also in today’s gospel. It’s Passover time, as it was for the first Eucharist. The crowd’s reclining on the grass anticipates the disciples reclining at table in the Upper Room. Jesus’ taking loaves, giving thanks, and passing them on are the same as his actions at the Last Supper. And the gathering of fragments into baskets, according to ancient interpretation, implies the unity that the Eucharist signifies for the Church.

What the combination of inferences to the hungry poor and the Eucharist seems to be saying to us is this: We who feed on Jesus in the Eucharist are in turn to seek out and feed Jesus in the faces of the poor. Jesus commands us, just as he instructed his disciples: "You give them something to eat.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Easter 2 Tuesday

St. Teresa of Avila speculated that God sometimes laughs at our plans. By saying this, St. Theresa didn’t mean that we shouldn’t make plans. To a certain extent we need to plan in order to establish goals and priorities for our lives. Instead, she was referring to our tendency to make our plans without any reference to God and his will for us.

Sometimes we make plans and then hope- or expect- that God will endorse them after the fact. At other times, we simply forget about God altogether. And then, if our plans fall through, we feel cheated, and become frustrated, discouraged, and angry.

In today’s gospel, Jesus reminds us that we have been born again of the Holy Spirit. Like the wind, we can’t see where the Spirit has come from or where it goes. Because the Spirit’s movements and actions are unpredictable, the Spirit may have plans for us that we cannot foresee, and which may be very different from those we ourselves have made.

This doesn’t mean that we’re called to a life without preparations or plans. But it does mean that we’re called to a faithful life, open to the guidance of the Spirit, who leads us to build up God’s kingdom, in ways which may come as a complete surprise.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Easter 2 Monday

When she was seven, my daughter drew a picture of Jesus. He was hanging on the cross- while holding out an Easter egg. I think her picture is a wonderful symbol of what we celebrate during the Easter season: that through the death of Jesus on the cross and his rising again to new life, Jesus offers us new life as well- a life symbolized by the egg.

In conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus in today’s gospel speaks of how we receive this new life: by being born again through water and the Spirit, in the sacrament of baptism.

One Easter Sunday, I said "Happy Anniversary" to a parishioner who had been baptized the year before. On reflection, however, it might have been more appropriate to have wished her "happy birthday," because it was on Easter that she was born again. Today, and all fifty days of the Easter season, are days on which we can all celebrate our birthdays, and give thanks and praise to God for his gift of new birth.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Easter Friday

The fish is a Christian symbol that has become popular in recent years. However, the fish is a very ancient symbol. It arose from the fact that, in the Greek spoken in Jesus’ day, the first letters of the words “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior” spell “ICHTHUS,” which is Greek for “fish.”

That the fish was an ancient symbol for Jesus can help us understand today’s gospel, in which risen Jesus, by the Sea of Tiberias, took fish and some bread, gave them to his disciples, and invited them to eat. These details intentionally remind us of an earlier time when Jesus, again by the Sea of Tiberias, fed a vast crowd by multiplying a small handful of loaves and fishes.

After feeding them, Jesus taught the crowd that it is necessary to receive his body and blood in the Eucharist. Jesus’ meal of bread and fish in today’s gospel also speaks of the Eucharist. In a subtle way, we learn that the risen Jesus- symbolized by a fish and the bread- feeds us with himself at every Eucharist. He invites us, just as he invited his disciples, “Come, and eat your meal.”

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Easter Thursday

“Peace be with you” are words we share at Mass. However, this is not just a specifically Catholic form of greeting, and it’s more than a simple expression of best wishes. Instead, this peace is a real gift- a gift that only Jesus can give. In today’s gospel, Jesus gave this peace to his friends when he appeared to them on Easter. Jesus extends this same peace to us at Mass, and invites us to share it with each other.

When Jesus offered his peace to his friends, the wounds of his Passion- the marks of the nails in his hands and feet- were plainly visible for all to see. We know, therefore, that a life touched by his peace is not necessarily free from conflict and pain.

Instead, we might best understand this peace as the peace of heart, and the peace of mind, that comes with the assurance that Jesus is always present with us. It’s the peace of knowing that in the midst of life’s ups and downs, the risen Lord is always at our side- offering us consolation, guidance, and challenge; instilling gratitude, joy, and wisdom; filling us with faith, hope, and charity; calling us to conversion and forgiveness; and strengthening us to carry our cross. With this peace comes an assurance that the Lord will always provide, that his love will never fail, and that the risen life he promises us, will never come to an end.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Easter Tuesday

A beautiful love story lies at the heart of today’s Easter gospel. In a subtle way, the evangelist has portrayed Mary Magdalene as the woman lover in the Old Testament’s Song of Songs.

This lover searches for her beloved in the night, just as Mary Magdalene went to the tomb before the sun had risen. The lover asks the city watchmen if they had seen her beloved, just as Mary Magdalene laments to the angels keeping watch that she doesn’t know where Jesus is to be found. As it was in a secret garden that the lover would meet her beloved, so Mary Magdalene first mistook Jesus for a gardener. And finally, when the lover finally discovered her beloved she took hold of him and refused to let go, just as Mary Magdalene clung to Jesus, after he revealed himself to her.

Mary Magdalene’s deep love for Jesus gave her the courage to overcome the doubts and fears that seemed to paralyze the disciples after the crucifixion. As a reward for her courageous love, Jesus appeared to her first and appointed her the messenger to tell the others the good news of the resurrection. Because of this, she has been honored throughout history as the “Apostle to the Apostles.”

Mary Magdalene’s courageous love is an inspiration and example for us, because so often we need courage in order to be a follower of Jesus. For instance:

• We need courage to trust God, when we can’t see the road ahead of us;

• We need courage to confess our sins when our shame would hold us back;

• We need courage to witness to our faith in the face of injustice and ridicule;

• We need courage to love others when we risk being rejected by them;

• We need courage to forgive, when we’re afraid of appearing weak;

• And we need courage to grow in holiness, when we fear the change that growth requires.

Mary Magdalene serves to remind us that perfect love casts out fear, because we love a Lord whose love for us conquered not only fear, but even death itself.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Easter Monday

Ever hear of a "Come to Jesus" meeting? That’s how some refer to summons from a superior when they know they’re in trouble. It’s something to be dreaded.

Perhaps the disciples felt dread when the two Marys told them that the risen Jesus would meet them in Galilee. After all, most of them had abandoned him in his hour of need. One had denied him. And it wasn’t they who came to his tomb on Easter morning. It was the women. In light of all this, maybe they feared some sort of punishment from Jesus- a tongue-lashing, a dressing-down, or worse.

We too can dread coming before Jesus when we feel guilty about something. We imagine that he’ll shame us or even reject us. But that’s not the case at all, and today’s gospel gives us a hint of what to expect. In speaking to the two Marys, he calls his disciples "brothers." He makes no threats. They’re family, he loves them, and he very much wants to see them.

We’re Jesus’ family too. He loves us, and he wants to see is. He will call us to a "Come to Jesus" meeting! Not to make us shake in fear! But so we can share his resurrection joy.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Easter Sunday

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” We’re all familiar with that expression, and it’s generally good advice. But of course things do break, and that presents us with a choice: We can either throw the broken thing away, or we can fix it.

When making our decision, we usually ask ourselves: “Is it worth fixing?” We have to do a “cost-benefit” analysis. If it’s not worth fixing, we toss it. But if it is, usually the best we can hope for is that after it’s fixed, it will be pretty much like it used to be. But that’s often not possible. Usually, when we fix something, we have to accept that it’s never going to be quite the same. It’s going to be a little bit weaker; a little less attractive; a little less valuable.

Think about a car that’s been in an accident. We call the insurance company, and a claims adjustor looks it over. He or she will either declare it “totaled”- a complete loss not worth fixing. Or, the decision will be made to repair it. But after the work’s done, the car’s value will be less. Anyone who would buy it would see that accident on the Carfax report, and lower their best offer by hundreds or thousands.

Be it a car or whatever, we never expect that something that’s been fixed is going to better than it was before it was broken. Yet that is exactly what has happened for us, thanks to what God has done in the death and resurrection of his Son- what we are celebrating on this Easter morning.

Our Easter celebration actually began last night, at the Easter Vigil. In darkness broken only by the dim glow of the newly-lit Easter Candle, a beautiful and ancient hymn called theExsultet was sung. This hymn includes one rather curious line which exclaims: “O happy fault! O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!”

It’s not typical for us to use the word “happy” in reference to sin, because there’s nothing happy about it. Sin hurts: It hurts us, it hurts others, and it strains, and sometimes even breaks, our relationship with God. There’s was especially nothing happy about Adam’s original sin. It led to the fall. It led to death. Original innocence was lost. Human nature was broken.

What’s “happy” about Adam’s sin was not the unhappy event itself, but what God did in response to it. He saw that his children, created in his image and likeness, were broken. And in his love for us, he didn’t throw us away. We’re much too precious to him. Instead, God decided to “fix” us; or to use the language of our faith, he decided to “save” us.

That, in and of itself, should be enough to make us overflow with joy and gratitude on this day; it’s more than enough justification for all the Easter “Alleluias” we shout and sing. But what’s even more remarkable, it that when God acted to fix us, he made it possible for us to be even better than before we were broken in the first place.

The Bible’s stories of creation speak of Adam and Eve as sharing a wonderful friendship with God. They enjoyed harmony with Him, with each other, and indeed with all of creation. Theologically speaking, this was a state of “original holiness and justice.” Sometimes we refer to it as “paradise.”

Sin, of course, ruined all this. It made us a broken people; it soured our friendship with God. But Jesus’ death and resurrection fixed it. It makes possible the forgiveness of our sins and offers the hope of eternal life. Traditional Christian language refers to this as the “Atonement.” If we break this word into thirds, we get “At-One-Ment.” Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, it’s possible for us to be “one” with God.

But what does it mean to be “one” with God? It does mean that the brokenness caused by sin has been fixed, to be sure. But being “one” with God means more than that. It means that you and I can be like God. What we were created for is great indeed; what we have been saved for is even better. According to the Catechism, our first ancestors were created “in a state that would be surpassed only by the glory of the new creation in Christ.” And that glory is that we can share God’s very nature; through the sacraments, especially Baptism and Eucharist, we participate in God’s own life and love, and hope to share it perfectly for all eternity. God in Christ assumed our humanity so we could share his divinity. Or as St. Irenaeus wrote some eighteen centuries ago, “The Son of God became man so that we might become God.” We have been fixed all right; but now we can hope to be far better than we ever were before.

Sound like a fluffy, pious dream? Think of relationships you’ve been in or known of that have been broken somehow, perhaps because of a hurt or misunderstanding, or through a crisis or a betrayal. For some people, such challenges might be a “deal-breaker.” But in others, they can actually lead to an improved, more intimate relationship. The “elephant in the room” finally gets discussed and resolved; sorrow is expressed and forgiveness is shared; shattered trust is rebuilt and strengthened. There’s pain and heartbreak, to be sure. But it’s followed by relief, healing, and hope. It’s almost like the relationship had to die so it could rise up to a new, better life.

The new, better life Jesus won for us is what we celebrate today. Think of it with every new flower or blossom you see; be reminded of it with every egg and fuzzy yellow chick; taste it when you receive the Body and Blood of Christ on your lips. And let the thought of it fill your heart with joy, this day, and always.