Sunday, April 15, 2018

Keep on Seeking, Jesus Says

Luke 11:9-10
The word of God highlights how Peter proclaimed everywhere he went the good news: God raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus Christ lives. And because He lives, we live. He is the author of life. Peter concluded: “repent,” refocus your lives upon God.

In the passage from the Book of the Acts, the spontaneous but impulsive Peter stands out. Who was Peter? It appears he had a good fishing business. He probably was uneducated but street-smart, married, and left the business to become a disciple of Jesus. Yet Peter denied he was a disciple three times, then begged forgiveness, and persevered in discipleship with Jesus, until he was martyred. Peter, for me, is a model of persistence, seeking and finding God despite one’s stumbles.

We seek God in prayer, and especially in the Mass. We should also seek God's wisdom in the bible, seek his Spirit in trying to do right, seek his presence in our daily activities. 

Yes, the bible highlights what God wants us to know about himself, his relationship with the universe, his purpose for us. At the heart of the bible is the Christian belief that Jesus, the God-man, entered into our history so that we could be in relationship with God forever. Jesus Christ is our way into the future, our truth who exemplifies our truest self, and our life in and through and with whom we breathe and live. We open the bible to hear from God about the baffling questions of life.

Seek God's Spirit persistently. Jesus encourages us to pray. He explains the importance of persistence in our relationship with God. Keep on asking...keep on seeking...keep on knocking... For everyone who asks receives; and they who seek find; and to those who keep knocking, the door shall be opened. That’s what Luke Chapter 11, verses 9 onward is all about. Yes, we may have doubts. We may wonder, if I ask will I receive? Remember, Jesus emphasizes, “How much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Luke 11:13) Obviously, we should seek the right things. The point is never give up seeking God, his kingdom, his grace, his Spirit.

Finally, seek God's presence enthusiastically in our daily activities.

How we relate to others is tremendously important and the subject of seven of the ten commandments. However, our relationship with God is even more important. Out of this relationship our love for others flows authentically: our relationships in our family and with others. Seek God daily, as the disciples did, and God’s life—awesome divine life--will transform us into new creatures in the way we love and serve one another.

Even though we may stumble or fall, if we seek God, he will lift us up, as he lifted up Peter, so that we can discover and enjoy our true treasure: God and the things of God.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Thomas the Doubter or Questioner

The Doubting Thomas
In the Gospel of John, the Risen Christ bestows upon the disciples, through the power and energy of the Spirit, gifts of wisdom, love, courage, peace, and forgiveness: gifts that we too possess and gifts that contribute to the well-being of all people.

The skeptical Thomas wasn’t there that day. Thomas is portrayed as the quintessential doubter. Lo and behold, a week later, Jesus appears again. And then, Thomas makes that awesome declaration of faith: “My Lord and my God.”

To be human is to question. Christianity proposes that we were born to be in relationship with God. Otherwise, we will experience a hunger, a feeling that something is missing in our lives. St. Augustine, in his classic autobiography Confessions, captured this hunger eloquently:
“Our hearts are restless until they can find rest in you, O God.”

Centuries later, Leo Tolstoy wrote a book titled A Confession. Even with a loving wife and thirteen children, still one question haunted him: “Is there any meaning in my life which will not be annihilated by the inevitability of my death?” Tolstoy discovered that the simple farm people of Russia found the answer through their lively Christian faith—their relationship with God. No human relationship will satisfy us completely, because we were created to live in a relationship with God. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

We cry out for healing and mercy, which we celebrate today: divine mercy. Jesus Christ, through the mystery of his dying and rising, has freed us from death and nothingness so that we can be in relationship with God forever. Christianity challenges us to live an authentic life, to be true to ourselves.

Many indicators point to God. The universe, e.g., presupposes an orderer, just as a watch presupposes a watchmaker. There are also indicators that there’s no God, e.g., evil. But faith is a calculated risk. Blaise Pascal’s wager captures that risk. He was a 17th century mathematician, inventor, philosopher. Pascal’s wager goes like this:
One does not know empirically whether God exists.
Not believing in God is bad for one’s eternal soul if God indeed does exist.
Believing in God is of no consequence if God does not exist.
Therefore, it is a safer bet to believe in God.

Jesus lives, and because he lives, you and I live: in relationship with God forever.  Someday this bodily existence of ours, like that of Jesus crucified and risen, will be transformed, into a new kind of spiritual embodiment. What precisely this will be we don't know. That is why we hear at every funeral Mass the words, “For those who believe, life is not taken away, life is merely changed.” Let us pray that the gift of faith will empower us, like Thomas, to exclaim every day, “My Lord and my God.”

We continue to celebrate the Easter miracle: Jesus Christ lives, and because he lives, we live. Have you ever witnessed a Easter miracle?  I have.  An alcoholic resurrected to sobriety;  an estrangement between parent and child bridged; a terrible wrong forgiven.  Think today about how you can create an Easter miracle for someone else.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

A New Dawn, A Fresh Start

The Resurrection of Christ by Rubens
Happy Easter! Jesus Christ lives! Because He lives, we live. That is the Easter message. God's world is ours forever.

Easter symbolizes life.   A popular symbol is the Easter egg.  Just as the chick breaks out of the egg at birth, so too we believe that, in the mystery of our death, we will break out of our earthly "skin" into a new indescribable heavenly life. And why do we believe this? Because Jesus, once crucified and dead, is alive. The living Christ already anticipates what we will become.

But until Jesus Christ comes again in glory at the end-time to make all things new, we are called, by virtue of our baptismal promises, to continue the ministry of Jesus, to be his missionary disciples today as the apostles were in the first century.

Easter is about the dawn, a new day for each one of us. Every morning, we have another chance. Perhaps when we went to bed we carried “baggage”: bad things said and done, good things unsaid and not done. In the morning, all is opportunity. Who doesn’t want to be more loving, more generous, more compassionate, more helpful? Who wouldn't want the courage to act upon our convictions as opposed to our fears.

Let this be the day to begin again, to repair the broken, to rediscover God's extraordinary grace transforming ordinary lives into the likeness of God.

In the word of God, Peter proclaims the good news, and speaks about all that God has done for us through Jesus. Jesus was baptized by John, anointed with the Spirit, and went about working signs and wonders, proclaiming that the kingdom of God was beginning to burst into our lives. Jesus indeed shows us a God of mercy and forgiveness. And that’s why Pope Francis emphasizes that the Church is a field hospital, here to heal wounds.

 Paul in his letter to the Christian community in Colossae, modern Turkey, challenges us to seek God in our everyday lives so that we might be with Him in glory at the end time.

In the Gospel according to John, we hear the story of the resurrection. Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb to find it empty; she summons Peter and John. The disciples discover that Jesus is not among the dead. He is Risen; He is alive. He passed through the mystery of death into a new, heavenly reality. This heavenly reality is ours as well. That is the Easter message!

Born in the flesh, we are reborn in the Spirit. In the rite of baptism, the Spirit of God is poured out upon us. As we grow in faith, in confirmation, our forehead is blessed with oil—and God pours out more fully the gifts of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

In the Eucharist, the living Christ truly presences himself to us sacramentally and mystically and becomes one with us in communion so we can continue his ministry. If we should stumble on our journey, Christ lifts us up in the rite of penance where we celebrate God’s mercy.

Yes, the sacraments are signs of God’s care for us as we journey to our heavenly dwelling place. Yes, Easter is about a new dawn, a new day, a fresh start.Christ is risen. And because He lives, we live.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

A Holy Week

Dali's Sacrament of the Last Supper
Palm Sunday begins the chief week of the Liturgical Year. We focus in particular upon the Paschal mystery, the journey of Jesus from this earthly life through the mystery of death into a transformative heavenly life.

The word “paschal” derives from the Hebrew “pesach” or “passing” of the angel of death over the homes of Hebrews in ancient Egypt. In a larger sense, Passover refers to their exodus or liberation from their oppressors. Jewish communities re-experience this liberation in the annual Seder service which begins March 31 this year.

On Palm Sunday, we reflect upon a paradox: the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, and the Gospel proclamation of the passion and death of Jesus. In this paradox, even in the tragedy of Good Friday there is the triumph of Easter: Jesus crucified, risen and alive.

The word of God from Isaiah is about a “servant” who suffers for us. Paul’s letter to the Philippians quotes an early Christian hymn about God who became one of us, obedient even to death on the cross. And because of this, God greatly exalted him. And the Gospel according to Mark proclaims the passion and death of Jesus.

This coming Thursday, we commemorate the Lord’s Supper: the washing of feet (a symbol of service); and a meal in which Jesus gives himself to us in the signs of bread and wine (a symbol of our oneness with God and each other).

On Good Friday we meditate upon the passion and death of Jesus.

At the Easter vigil Saturday evening, we reflect upon the passage of Jesus from this earthly life through death into a transformative heavenly life. The resurrection of Jesus is a pledge of our own future, from death and nothingness into a glorious heavenly life. The vigil includes fire/candlelight as a symbol of Jesus as the light who illuminates the darkness. It also includes the proclamation of the story of our salvation in Scriptures; the renewal of our baptismal promises; and the Eucharist.

Easter proclaims that Jesus is risen; alive among us. I urge all of you to participate in these services as much as you can.

Let me conclude with reference to a ship that ran aground in 1875. Among the 157 passengers who perished were five German Franciscan nuns who stayed below deck because there wasn’t enough room on deck. They were immortalized in “The Wreck of the Deutschland” by Jesuit Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, making a parallel to the sufferings of Jesus for the sake of the many. The poem reads in part:
As the water rose around them, the nuns clasped hands and were heard saying, “O Christus, O Christus, komm schnell” or “O Christ, O Christ, come quickly!” Hopkins concludes with this line referring to Christ: “Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us …”

The word “easter” is a nautical term. It means steering toward the east, into the light. Jesus Christ is the light. Yes, "let Christ easter in us" so that he may empower us to reflect his virtues in our daily lives, e.g., compassion, peacemaking, fairness, truth, courage and forgiveness.