Second Sunday of Easter – 2018 – What Are You Terrified Of?

Readings: Acts of the Apostles 4:32-35; Psalm 118; 1 John 5:1-6; John 20:19-31

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Today from the evangelist, John, we hear Jesus say to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” (John 20: 27b) In Luke’s Gospel the evangelist reports, “They were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost.” (Luke 24:37) Oh, how foolish we are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!  (cf. Luke 24:25)

Why were the disciples so terrified? Were they simply afraid of ghosts, or were they afraid of what the resurrection would mean for them if it were really true? Think about it. If Jesus really rose from the dead, and this most amazing thing that Jesus had told them would happen, had come to pass, then they would be compelled to, must believe all that Jesus taught.

Yes, and if the resurrection is true, they must not only believe what Jesus taught, but they must also live by Jesus’ radical teachings. Living as Jesus lived, would mean that they too would die with Jesus and therefore rise with him on the last day. To live as Jesus means that they must forgive others their transgressions, love their enemies, and sell all they have and give it to the poor. Really? Could anyone really live this way? It wouldn’t be practical. The amazing thing is that His disciples did just that, as we hear about today in the Acts of the Apostles. …and how did this work for them? Well, their numbers increased exponentially, there weren’t any needy persons among them, and it looked as though they would conquer the world.

Does this mean they lived happily ever after? No! They did not ‘live happily ever after.’ Not by the standards of the world. Their way of life would either win over those whom they encountered or raise their ire to the point of persecution and for many believers, this was the cause of their martyrdom. But, strangely, it seemed that the blood of the martyrs only served to water the seeds of faith, and their numbers grew. This continued until the end of the third century until the Christian Church was legitimized and cooped by the temporal power of the Roman Empire. Ultimately the Christian religion was made the state religion. This caused the faith to spread even more rapidly throughout the entire Roman Empire but in a way less pure as those first-century believers. The Church became enmeshed in the pursuits of earthly structures and power, religion, and faith became two different things. Following the Dark Ages and the Renaissance came the Age of Enlightenment and the divorce between government, science, and faith. Today government seems to once again be the enemy of faith.

Where does this leave us today as “believers?” Do we believe all that Jesus taught? Will this belief go with us beyond the doors of the church this morning, or will our testimony of faith end with the recitation of the Nicene Creed? Perhaps we too are terrified with the call to live our faith that radically believes in the resurrection and all that it means for our way of life beyond the Church walls. Others have allowed the government to coop our religion for its purposes and some have traded our beliefs in exchange for a promise that government will keep us safe from persecution. Is this what Jesus taught or promised for our future? Hardly, remember that Jesus said, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” (Matthew 5:11-12)

If we are truly concerned with the dwindling numbers in church attendance, the lack of community within, and harshness of society on the outside; perhaps we need to return to the beliefs and way of life found among those 1st Century disciples. But that would be a very radical change for most of us in how we live and where we pledge our allegiance. Jesus also said, “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24) What are we terrified of? And, Whom will we serve?

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13th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Mission

What is your mission in life? Can you express your mission in a succinct and clear way? Many of us have participated in the writing of a mission statement at our place of work, but have any of you gone through this exercise within the context of your faith? A couple of years ago our parish staff and council went through a process of composing a parish mission statement. You can see it on the cover of the bulletin you pick up on the way out of church today. It reads, “We are a Roman Catholic community committed to the mission of Jesus Christ; dedicated to the formation of disciples, who use their gifts to fulfill His mission.”   It is interesting to note that our parish mission is Jesus’ mission. …but what is the mission of Jesus, and have we committed our lives to advance the mission of Jesus?

 

Jesus’ mission is to proclaim the Kingdom of God, which consists of the advent of a commonwealth of love and justice. Jesus proclaims this Kingdom by word and deed, through healing the sick and possessed, the blind and the lame. Jesus now directs his steps toward Jerusalem – the completion of his mission on Earth. Jesus’ mission on earth is finished on the cross. (John19: 30) Our mission begins by picking up this cross and following in His footsteps. We advance Jesus’ mission on earth through loving others and doing justice. Through the corporal works of mercy: Feeding the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, comfort the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead.

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This Jubilee Year of Mercy is a perfect time to recommit oneself to the corporal works of mercy and our parish offers many excellent opportunities to engage in these Kingdom building efforts. To name just a few: the Sophia Sewers make cards to benefit the children at the OLPH Orphanage, in Jérémie, Haiti; our Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers, bring comfort to the sick and imprisoned; the Good Samaritans provide food for the hungry; and our funeral ministry assists with burying the dead. Are you ready to commit your life to advance the mission of Jesus? Perhaps you can begin by reflecting on what is important in your life and what you desire most.

 

Several years ago I participated in a retreat and ritual that consisted of just this – reflecting on what is important in my life and what I desire most. I realized what I wanted most was peace and joy and what was most important to me was, justice and love. The culmination of this retreat and ritual was to compose ones own personal mission statement. My mission statement is this: I will experience the peace and Joy I seek in this world when I walk with humility in mindfulness, act for justice with compassion, and love with tenderness through understanding. Keep in mind that ones mission statement is more the vision for the future and the path to that future, than a present reality.

 

If you wish to recommit yourself to the mission of Jesus in this year of mercy I believe that it would be helpful is to first reflect on what is important in your life and what you seek most. Then write your own personal mission statement that unifies your own hopes and dreams with the mission of Jesus – this may take considerable time and reflection. It may mean rewriting and refining your mission statement over time. You will know when it is right – you will find peace and consolation when you are living in mission. Conversely you will sense discord when you are out of mission. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it.

 

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 2016

The Pharisees we have read about in the scriptures and the Pharisee Jesus encounters in Luke’s Gospel exhibit much of what is troubling in religiosity today. One wonders what the dinner host (Pharisee) expected from Jesus. He must have heard the scuttlebutt about how Jesus associated with tax collectors, pagans, and whores. Did he think that because he invited Jesus into his home, that he would “behave himself?” The “sinful woman” at least understood and trusted that Jesus would extend the same compassion and understanding to her as he had extended to Levi the tax collector or the pagan Centurion’s slave. Jesus is understood and is very attractive to those who are the least and the littlest in society. The “wise” and the “strong” would misunderstand Jesus to the end – …they still misunderstand Jesus today. What they don’t understand is that faith is not a success story – it is a love story.

womanLike Pharisees, many people’s religion is about winning the love of God by mastering the rules. Sadly, if we believe that we need to win God’s love – then what we seek wouldn’t be love at all, rather it would be a reward in an elaborate reward/punishment system. This kind of belief system is more an exclusive club where membership is based on meeting all the requirements, than on building the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom is a commonwealth of love and justice, where we cooperate with God to build on Earth what is already present in heaven. The Kingdom of God on Earth is brought about by a change of heart that motivates right action in response to the radical love of God. The radical love of God is the love that God expresses to each one us before we do anything right or good.

The woman in today’s Gospel did not have to win Jesus’ love and forgiveness by bathing his feet and anointing his head. She knew that he loved everyone, including sinners and outsiders like her. In response to this love she couldn’t wait to show her gratitude. The respect and dignity she showed Jesus was her natural response to the love and dignity he had already shown to her. Jesus loved her first.

The Pharisee, in his own estimation, had met all the requirements of his belief system, he had access to the Temple, and therefore he was already a secure insider. Perhaps this Pharisee was curious about Jesus, and maybe he thought a dinner invitation would win Jesus over to his camp. However, he did not understand the message of love and forgiveness that Jesus was offering, and he certainly did not think he needed either.

Mature religion knows there is nothing we need to do for God – God is complete – our actions add nothing to God. If we understand that God loves us first, always, and forever, and that all we have comes from God for our benefit, then our natural response will be the selfless love only a humble sinner can give. Our natural response to God’s love is to love in return: We will love our neighbor who we see, as a way to loving God whom we have not seen. (cf. 1John 4:20 & Matthew 25:40) Our love response is what builds the Kingdom here on Earth. The Earth is a battlefield, and as Pope Francis describes, the Church is a field hospital in this spiritual war: “a Church that goes forth toward those who are ‘wounded,’ who are in need of an attentive ear, understanding, forgiveness, and love.”