Saturday, July 26, 2014

Heaven on Earth

HOMILY FOR THE 17th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 26, 2014:

A teacher, a tax collector, and a politician wound up together at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter informed them that in order to get into Heaven, they would each have to answer one question. St. Peter addressed the teacher wanting to make it easy and asked, “What was the name of that ship that crashed into the iceberg? They made a big movie about it.” The teacher answered quickly, “That would be the Titanic.” St. Peter let her through the gate. St. Peter then looked at the tax collector, and decided to make the question a little harder: “How many people died on the ship?” As fortune would have it, he was a big fan of the History Channel and answered, “1,228.” “That's right! You may enter,” St. Peter said. And then, turning his gaze to the politician, St. Peter said, “Name them.” 



Have you ever thought about what Heaven is like? Maybe you, like me, had the chance to see the movie Heaven is For Real recently, or perhaps you read the book. It is a purportedly true story that answers just that very question and in the affirmative. Most of us, at one point or another, think about this eternal question. Is there a Heaven and what is it like? And this is the question that Jesus explores in our Gospel today. Jesus also gives us an affirmative answer about Heaven and even some insight about what it is like giving us several images to help explain the Kingdom of Heaven.

Praying with this Gospel reminded me of a very special experience a little more than 10 years ago when I had the opportunity to be at a Wednesday Audience with Saint Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square. At that audience, the Holy Father reflected on the same passage we have before us today. He said to us that the Kingdom of Heaven is not a destination always awaiting us, but an intimate relationship with God that can be experienced – at least partially – here on earth. He said, Heaven “is not an abstraction, nor a physical place amid the clouds, but a living and personal relationship with God.”

The Saint’s comments mirror those that we hear from Jesus today. Heaven is clearly one of Jesus’ favorite topics, particularly in Matthew’s Gospel. In His very first sermon recorded in Matthew, Jesus said simply, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” In the Sermon on the Mount, He declared, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” and “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Over and over again – a total of 51 times in Matthew – Jesus uses this favorite phrase of His: the Kingdom of Heaven. It should also be a favorite of ours as well.

So, what can we know about this Kingdom? Well, Saint John Paul reminded us that it is not “a physical place among the clouds.” And, don’t we all often imagine Heaven in some pretty extraordinary and supernatural ways – streets lined with gold, great and glorious mansions, all the food you can eat and not gain an ounce! We imagine some sort of celestial castle nestled in the clouds, twinkling stars and bright rainbows. Angels everywhere, zooming around God’s throne; the air alive with the sound of magnificent music.

But, Jesus simply compares the Kingdom to very down-to-earth things. No castle, no clouds, no angels, stars or rainbows or music. Rather, Jesus presents us with a farmer sowing seeds, weeds growing in a wheat field, a tiny mustard seed, a piece of yeast and today – a buried treasure, a merchant’s find of a precious pearl and a fishnet thrown into the lake. Now that’s not meant to burst our bubble or lower our expectations, but to remind us that the Kingdom is both heavenly and earthly. Jesus also makes this point when He gave us the Our Father, “Your Kingdom come…on earth as in heaven.”

So, our Gospel begs the question of us today - where is our treasure? And what might our treasure be? Is it in gold or riches, in power or fame? What is Jesus talking about, this buried treasure, this pearl of great price which we are supposed to have found? Where do we find this unique mix of heavenly and earthly reality?

And the answer is right here in this Church. The closest we can ever come to this dual dimension of heaven and earth is the Church and the Sacraments. The Church itself is the sign of our intimate union with God in heaven and with all humanity on earth. The mission of the Church is to proclaim and establish the Kingdom of God among all people. The Second Vatican Council said that the Church “becomes on earth the initial budding forth of that Kingdom of God.”

So, where is your treasure? Do we really consider the Church, and our parish community, to be our buried treasure and our pearl of great price? We are far luckier than the individuals in the Gospel today. They had to first sell all they had and buy the field where the treasure was buried and to buy the pearl. But for us, the Kingdom of Heaven is a free gift from God. Jesus is the one who found and bought the precious pearl and the buried treasure – and He paid for them with the price of His own life on the cross – all FOR US. But far from hiding and hoarding His treasures, He now and forever shares them with us freely. And, every time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, we enjoy a taste of Heaven right here. The dividing lines between Heaven and Earth are erased; God comes downs and makes our gifts holy; we sing with angels and saints, “Holy, holy, holy.”

Our treasure, our precious pearl of membership in the Church as the chosen and beloved People of God is the gift that all the money in the world cannot even begin to buy. Our prize of the Sacraments is nothing less than God’s immense and intense love leading us to our ultimate prize - eternal life.

Saint John Paul said, “When this world has passed away, those who accepted God in their lives and were sincerely open to His love…will enjoy that fullness of communion with God which is the goal of human existence.” And it is possible to get a taste of Heaven on earth through the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist which is such a profound meeting place of Heaven on Earth, such a great foretaste of the happiness and peace and communion which we will one day know perfectly with God in Heaven.

Where is your treasure? “Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven.”

May the Lord give you peace!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Letting weeds become wheat

HOMILY FOR THE 16th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 20, 2014:

Growing up, as a young boy, Sunday nights always had a ritual. You quickly took your Sunday night bath so that you could be in front of the TV in time for Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, followed by The Wonderful World of Disney and Little House on the Prairie. Now, Wild Kingdom in particular was always exciting because inevitably Marlin Perkins would come face-to-face with something ferocious – a lion, a tiger, a bear (oh my?). And it would be exciting.

I was thinking of this recently because I never expected to experience such a ferocious encounter of the wild living here in the concrete jungle, but when grilling some chicken in the small alleyway between the friary and church a week and a half ago, I suddenly found myself dodging a very angry pigeon that was dive-bombing in my direction in a great flurry. Why? Well, I quickly discovered the answer. This was a mother pigeon protecting two eggs next to the air conditioner unit for the Church and I apparently was a threat. So, I gave Mama her space.

I was then away for a week and came back home on Friday and was eager to see if I had any new pigeon chicks in the alleyway. What I saw was the Mom protecting one cute little chick, and the second egg cast outside of the nest. And, that was a really sad sight – to see the Mom protecting one, but having completely cast off another of her children. But, of course, I reminded myself that that was simply the way of nature. That’s the way it sometimes goes. Some make it, some don’t.

We heard in our Gospel today, “His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull the weeds up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest.”

Now, unlike the chicks in my alley, Jesus gives us a different image from nature today – that of wheat and weeds. So, what is He trying to tell us today through this image? To put this image into context, I think our human nature can sometimes be like the pigeon or other animals in the wild – we want to create categories. Often enough the categories are things like us and them; who’s in and who’s out; good and bad; sinner and saint – here in the North End we have our own special categories like Mike’s or Modern’s. We tend towards being exclusionary; to judge who is better and who is worse.

Too often, even after we have come to know God in our hearts, when we have given ourselves totally to Him – we still want to create these categories. We cast aside our own sins, we seek forgiveness and reconciliation, we walk in the light of the Lord. But, something else happens – we now become acutely aware of everyone else’s sin. When we become wheat – to use Jesus’ imagery today – we see all the weeds around us. And that is the problem that Jesus is trying to get at today with this image of wheat and weeds – what we might call the old Holier-Than-Thou Syndrome. We transfer our natural human tendency towards being judgmental and exclusionary into the spiritual realm.

But, Jesus calls us to something different. He calls us not to something merely natural, but through Him, the Son of God, through His gift of the Sacraments – He invites us into the supernatural where we are no longer bound by the flawed constraints of our weak human nature. He tell us today, “Let the weeds and wheat grow together until the harvest.”

Jesus recognized – especially in the Pharisees (a name which means literally “the separated ones” by the way) – that even our holiness can become a temptation to judge others. We all know the type – we’ve all probably been like this at one point or another in our lives – we decide that we can judge spiritually who is in and who is out. Take any of today’s hot-button issues. We might decide it is someone who is divorced or who committed adultery; or someone who had an abortion. It could be someone who is just mean and hateful, someone who is gay or lesbian, someone who has stolen or even committed some other horrible crime. We look at them and we become a self-appointed judge and jury deciding their spiritual fate. But, where is God’s love and mercy in that? Where is God’s opportunity for encounter, relationship, reconciliation and forgiveness and healing in that?

The problem, of course, is that God never asked us to do any of this. Pope Francis said it much more succinctly last year when he said simply, “Who am I to judge?” It was a powerful statement coming from the Holy Father, but it is one that should come from each one of us too. Who are we to judge? There is only one judge; and it is not us – it is God, the true and only judge we will face.

But, who are we to love? Who are we to forgive? Who are we to show compassion? Who are we to reach out to the needy, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, the refugee, the immigrant? We are. Jesus is very explicit about those things. These are our commands. This is what He asks us to do – to love, to be His loving, kind, compassionate and forgiving presence in our world. How are we doing with that?

“Let them grow together,” weeds and wheat together, Jesus tells us. Why? Well, in the Kingdom of God, something amazing can happen. Weeds can become wheat. If Jesus, through His grace and mercy, can transform mere bread and wine into His Body and Blood – as He will do again in front of our very eyes on this altar today – then surely He can also turn weeds into wheat. Perhaps some of us here – maybe many of us here, maybe all of us here – were once weeds ourselves, but through God’s amazing grace, have been transformed into wheat. “Let them grow together,” He says because He is giving us all the time we need to do the same. He wants all the weeds to become the beautiful wheat of His harvest.It might be nature’s way to cast off the ones who don’t look like they are going to make it. But, that is not God’s way and it most certainly should not be our way. Pope Francis said, “Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven." Let’s make his words our words too.

May the Lord give you peace.

Friday, July 4, 2014

We hold these truths to be self-evident...


Happy Independence Day! Sort of. You may know that the Second Continental Congress actually voted to separate from Great Britain on July 2, 1776, but it took a few days to do the paperwork. John Adams was certain that July 2nd would be commemorated as our nation's Day of Independence (since it was the actual day). So certain, he wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3, "The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more." But, the Declaration itself had that "July 4th" date so prominently displayed at the top, that ended up winning the day. Some had also suggested August 2 as our national celebration since that was the day that most of the colonial representatives actually signed the document. Interesting history, but I think we can agree 238 years later, the issue is settled - HAPPY 4th!! Personally, a tradition I follow each year is to read the Declaration of Independence out loud. It is a wonderful experience. The words are powerful and often inspiring. I hope you try it:

IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

John Hancock
New Hampshire:Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton
Massachusetts:John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery
Connecticut:Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott
New York:William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris
New Jersey:Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham ClarkPennsylvania:Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross
Delaware:Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean
Maryland:Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia:George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton
North Carolina:William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn
South Carolina:Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton
Georgia:Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Welcome all into the fold of God's people | Bishop Edgar da Cunha

NOTE: It was announced today that Pope Francis has chosen Bishop Edgar da Cunha, SDV, currently Auxiliary Bishop of the Newark Diocese, to become the new Bishop of Fall River (my home Diocese).  I didn't know much about him, so I've been doing some online research this morning and so far am VERY impressed with our new shepherd.  Of course, I love that he is a fellow religious. And he certainly seems to be a man who shares the same love of the poor and immigrant that is such a hallmark of Pope Francis' pontificate. Here is an example. I found this homily on the USCCB website by Bishop da Cunha. It reminds me of a favorite quote of Pope Francis, "Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven." This homily by Bishop da Cunha was delivered on May 8, 2010:

Bishop Edgar da Cunha, SDV
In our first reading from Acts 16:1-10 Luke tells us that the apostles decided that gentiles need not be circumcised or follow Jewish law and that , as a result, “the churches grew stronger in faith and increased in number.” What better result could we hope for, what else could we want? But what can we do today to make our “Church grow in faith and increase in number”? We need to imitate the action of the apostles and welcome all into the fold of God’s people. 

In contrast to the attitude of the apostles was the way African slaves were treated. Tens of thousands of them were captured and sold for labor in the New World from the 16th to the 19th Century. Before they were hauled into the ships, they were required to go through a ritual where they were stripped naked and had to go around the “Tree of Forgetfulness.” Men went around it nine times and women and children seven times. After that they went through the “Gate of No Return”. This ritual was meant to have them forget who they were, their background, their traditions, customs, religion, and all they were. It was like reformatting your hard drive. Huge efforts were made to cut them off from their past, but they failed. The “Tree of Forgetfulness” did not work. They could take the slaves out of Africa but they could never take Africa out of the slaves.

We can take people out of their land, their home, their country, but we cannot take these vital memories and roots out of them. So, we might as well embrace them with their uniqueness, their differences, their language, their culture, and tradition. That is the way the Church is going to “grow stronger in faith and increase in number.” 

We know that uniformity is not possible and it shouldn’t even be desired. So, our effort is not for uniformity but for unity. We all remember the song from Carry Landry: “There is a time for building bridges and that time is NOW. Take our hearts, Lord, take our minds, take our hands and make them ONE.” We know how difficult this task is, but we must never stop praying for it and working on it.

We know we can catch more flies with one drop of honey than with a barrel of vinegar. Unfortunately when some of the people knock on the doors of our churches they are given vinegar. We want to serve them honey.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

"The love of Jesus must suffice!" | Pope Francis | Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul

SOLEMNITY OF STS. PETER AND PAUL, June 29, 2014 | Homily of Pope Francis:

On this Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, the principal patrons of Rome, we welcome with joy and gratitude the Delegation sent by the Ecumenical Patriarch, our venerable and beloved brother Bartholomaios, and led by Metropolitan Ioannis. Let us ask the Lord that this visit too may strengthen our fraternal bonds as we journey toward that full communion between the two sister Churches which we so greatly desire.

“Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod” (Acts 12:11). When Peter began his ministry to the Christian community of Jerusalem, great fear was still in the air because of Herod’s persecution of members of the Church. There had been the killing of James, and then the imprisonment of Peter himself, in order to placate the people. While Peter was imprisoned and in chains, he heard the voice of the angel telling him, “Get up quickly… dress yourself and put on your sandals… Put on your mantle and follow me!” (Acts 12:7-8). The chains fell from him and the door of the prison opened before him. Peter realized that the Lord had “rescued him from the hand of Herod”; he realized that the Lord had freed him from fear and from chains. Yes, the Lord liberates us from every fear and from all that enslaves us, so that we can be truly free. Today’s liturgical celebration expresses this truth well in the refrain of the Responsorial Psalm: “The Lord has freed me from all my fears”.

The problem for us, then, is fear and looking for refuge in our pastoral responsibilities.

I wonder, dear brother bishops, are we afraid? What are we afraid of? And if we are afraid, what forms of refuge do we seek, in our pastoral life, to find security? Do we look for support from those who wield worldly power? Or do we let ourselves be deceived by the pride which seeks gratification and recognition, thinking that these will offer us security? Dear brother Bishops, where do we find our security?

The witness of the Apostle Peter reminds us that our true refuge is trust in God. Trust in God banishes all fear and sets us free from every form of slavery and all worldly temptation. Today the Bishop of Rome and other bishops, particularly the metropolitans who have received the pallium, feel challenged by the example of Saint Peter to assess to what extent each of us puts his trust in the Lord.

Peter recovered this trust when Jesus said to him three times: “Feed my sheep” (Jn 21: 15,16,17). Peter thrice confessed his love for Jesus, thus making up for his threefold denial of Christ during the passion. Peter still regrets the disappointment which he caused the Lord on the night of his betrayal. Now that the Lord asks him: “Do you love me?”, Peter does not trust himself and his own strength, but instead entrusts himself to Jesus and his mercy: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” (Jn 21:17). Precisely at this moment fear, insecurity and cowardice dissipate.

Peter experienced how God’s fidelity is always greater than our acts of infidelity, stronger than our denials. He realizes that the God’s fidelity dispels our fears and exceeds every human reckoning. Today Jesus also asks us: “Do you love me?”. He does so because he knows our fears and our struggles. Peter shows us the way: we need to trust in the Lord, who “knows everything” that is in us, not counting on our capacity to be faithful, but on his unshakable fidelity. Jesus never abandons us, for he cannot deny himself (cf. 2 Tim 2:13). He is faithful. The fidelity which God constantly shows to us pastors, far in excess of our merits, is the source of our confidence and our peace. The Lord’s fidelity to us keeps kindled within us the desire to serve him and to serve our sisters and brothers in charity.

The love of Jesus must suffice for Peter. He must no longer yield to the temptation to curiosity, jealousy, as when, seeing John nearby, he asks Jesus: “Lord, what about this man?” (Jn 21:21). But Jesus, in the face of these temptations, says to him in reply: “What is it to you? Follow me” (Jn 21:22). This experience of Peter is a message for us too, dear brother archbishops. Today the Lord repeats to me, to you, and to all pastors: Follow me! Waste no time in questioning or in useless chattering; do not dwell on secondary things, but look to what is essential and follow me. Follow me without regard for the difficulties. Follow me in preaching the Gospel. Follow me by the witness of a life shaped by the grace you received in baptism and holy orders. Follow me by speaking of me to those with whom you live, day after day, in your work, your conversations and among your friends. Follow me by proclaiming the Gospel to all, especially to the least among us, so that no one will fail to hear the word of life which sets us free from every fear and enables us to trust in the faithfulness of God. Follow me!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Living the Trinity

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY, June 15, 2014:

(This is a homily that I have delivered in the past on Trinity Sunday)

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity – the mystery of God as three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in one God. It is perhaps one of the most challenging mysteries of the faith to understand from an intellectual perspective. How can three things be one? St. Patrick famously tried to explain this using the image of the shamrock – three leaves, yet one shamrock. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about the Trinity, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the mystery of God in Himself…The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to people.” Does that clear things up for you? Probably not. And yet, I think we can come to a better understanding of the Trinity in our lives.

We all remember what we did at the beginning of Mass today. It is the same thing we do at the beginning of every Mass. We did this and please join me. + In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. It is a familiar gesture that we do often more as a reflex than a conscious movement. But it is a gesture that points to today’s feast. When we are conscious of what we are doing in that act, it is a simple act of faith in the complexity of God who is revealed to us in the mystery of the Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit.

I say “revealed to us” because we wouldn’t have a clue about the Trinity if Jesus didn’t tell us about it. Jesus talked about His Father in Heaven, He talked about Himself as the Son of God, He talked about going back to Heaven and sending to us the Holy Spirit. This is what the Catechism means when it says, “The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way by which the one true God…reveals himself to people.” This is how God reveals Himself - precisely as Trinity; as three Persons in one God. Although the Trinity is a mystery revealed by God, it doesn’t mean it is mystifying; rather it is a mystery that God wants us to be drawn deeply into.

So, let’s think about the sign of the cross and how it can draw us deeply into this mystery. First we touch our forehead and say, “In the Name of the Father…” When I hear those words, I think of the beauty of the trees, and flowers and plant life coming into bloom this time of year; I recall beautiful red sunsets at the beach as the setting sun shimmers on the water; the grandeur of the mountains; the feel of the warm breeze in Spring; I think of all the beautiful children who received First Communion last month; the giggling and crying babies baptized; and the pride and happiness on the faces of their parents. I think of all these things because God the Father is the Creator of a beautiful world – something we should always be aware of and should always cause us to marvel at His nature! That finger on my forehead is a reminder not only of a Creator but of God so totally in love with us that He sent His only Son to draw us back into His embrace. This same Father we speak of as “Our Father who art in Heaven.”

Next we move to our chest, to the place where our heart resides and say, “and of the Son.” Here I think of the love the Son of God showed us when He multiplied the loaves for the hungry, when He reached across the social and racial barriers of His time to the Samaritans, when He made room at His table for outcasts and sinners, when He chased the scavengers away from woman caught in adultery hungry for her blood, when He gave the ultimate and agonizing proof of His love for us on the cross. “No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.”

And then we move to our shoulders and say, “and of the Holy Spirit.” We recall the Holy Spirit who gives so widely of Himself that it takes the full span of our shoulders to remind us of that – left to right, from one side of the world to the other. And I think of God’s desire to be close to all of us; to be your friend and my friend, to be in your heart and my heart; to be in Boston, in Los Angeles, in Afghanistan, in Jerusalem, Rome, Tokyo and every corner of this world – all at the same time. I think of the Holy Spirit as a power in my life – the power in my life – as a great force for goodness and holiness, as one to turn to when decisions are to be made, as one who consoles me through difficult moments in my life. With the Holy Spirit around, no one is ever alone. God in His Holy Spirit is always with us. What we span in blessing, the Holy Spirit strengthens in life so that we may better shoulder our burdens and responsibilities.

And so, we come to the end of the blessing – the joining of hands and the concluding, “Amen.” And we remind ourselves that the word “amen” means “so be it;” it is itself an expression of assent, in itself an act of faith in all that has gone before. And so with my “amen” I renew my faith. I believe in you Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

My brothers and sisters, may all the signs of the cross we ever make be nothing less than a proclamation of our belief in a God who has revealed Himself to us as Trinity; as Father, Son and Spirit. May it signal our grateful acceptance of God’s love and our willingness to share that love with others. May the hands we join in faith be generous in giving and eager in helping others. May the shared life and love of the Trinity be reflected in our lives too. This is the lived, real meaning of the Most Holy Trinity in our lives.

And may God bless us all in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Pope to Priests: How is your love today, the love of Jesus? Is it like first love?

(Vatican Radio) Priests must be pastors first, scholars second, and they should never forget Christ, their "first love".  This was Pope Francis’ message to all men consecrated to God in the priesthood, at Friday morning Mass in Casa Santa Marta.
"How is your first love?". That is, are they still as in love with you as the first day? Are they happy with you or so they ignore you?These are universal questions which we should all ask ourselves regularly, says Pope Francis.And not just couples, but priests, bishops too, in front of Jesus.  Because He asks us just as he one day asked Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me?".
The Pope began his homily reflecting on the this dialogue in the Gospel where Christ asks the first of the Apostles three times if he loves Him more than others: "This is the question I ask myself, my brother bishops and priests: how is your love today, the love of Jesus? Is it like first love? Am I as in love today as on the first day? Or does work and worries lead me to look at other things, and forget love a little? There are arguments in marriage. That's normal. When there is no love, there are no arguments: it breaks. Do I argue, with the Lord? This is a sign of love. This question that Jesus asks of Peter brings him to first love. Never forget your first love.Never".
In addition to this first aspect, says Pope Francis, there are three others to be considered in relation to a priest’s dialogue with Jesus. First of all – before study, before wanting to become "a scholar of of philosophy or theology or patrology – [a priest must be ] a "shepherd", as Jesus urged Peter: "Feed my sheep". The rest, says the Pope, comes "after":
"Feed. With theology, philosophy, with patrology, with what you study, but feed. Be the shepherd. For the Lord has called us to this. And the bishop's hands on our head is to be shepherds. This is a second question, is not it? The first is: 'How is your first love?'. This, the second: 'Am I a shepherd, or an employee of this NGO that is called the Church?'. There is a difference. Am I a shepherd? A  question that I have to ask myself, that bishops need to ask, even priests: all of us. Feed. Lead. Go forward".
Pope Francis continued,  there is no "glory" or "majesty” for the pastor consecrated to Jesus: "No, brother. You will end up in the most common, even humiliating circumstances: in bed, having to be fed, dressed ... useless, sick ... ". It is our destiny is "to end up like Him": Love that dies "as the seed of wheat, that will bear fruit. But I will not see it".
Finally, the fourth aspect, the "strongest word", with which Jesus concludes his conversation with Peter, "Follow me!".
"If we have lost the way or do not know how to respond to love, we do not know how to respond to being pastors, we do not know how to respond or we do not have the certainty that the Lord will not abandon us even in the worst moments of life, in sickness. He says, 'Follow me'. This is our certainty. In the footsteps of Jesus. On that path. 'Follow me”.
Pope Francis concludes, may the Lord give all of us priests and bishops "the grace to always find or remember our first love, to be pastors, not to be ashamed of ending up humiliated on a bed or even losing our faculties. And that He always give us the grace to follow Jesus, in the footsteps of Jesus: the grace to follow Him".

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Why Tea Party Catholicism Is a No Go | TIME Magazine

Pope Francis and the Catholic Church increasingly have little patience with libertarian economic thought: this will clearly pose a problem to some lawmakers in Washington.

Is Tea Party Catholicism dead as a legitimate political stance within the Catholic Church? That’s what Pope Francis’s close Honduran cardinal-advisor Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga is arguing.
During his keynote address at a June 3rd forum hosted by The Catholic University of America’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, Rodriguez—defending Pope Francis’s economic teachings—derided the current economic system for being built on what he called the “new idol of libertarianism.” “The libertarianism de-regulation of the markets and financial market is much to the disadvantage of the poor,” he said. “This economy kills.”
Rodriguez and Cupich’s words are especially provocative within the United States, where the marriage between economic libertarianism and religious values have been hotly debated in recent times. Just last year, the Acton Institute’s Samuel Gregg published Tea Party Catholic: The Catholic Case for Limited Government, a Free Economy, and Human Flourishing. Drawing heavily on the writings of the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll, the controversial book argued that the faith’s social tradition has a deep respect for libertarian governing values. It was roundly rejected by Catholic progressives in the United States, most notably the National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters.Rodriguez’s blunt assessment of today’s economic system was echoed by American Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Washington. Speaking directly to “Catholics and believers in our country who are challenged by the pope’s words about income distribution, protection of worker’s rights, and the role of governments in regulating the economy both nationally and internationally,” Cupich reminded them that Francis’s teaching was not his alone, but was “tethered to a rich tradition.” In particular, Cupich referenced Benedict XVI’s 2009 groundbreaking social justice encyclical Caritas in Veritate.
At time goes on, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Francis and the Church have little patience with libertarian economic thought. This will clearly pose a problem to lawmakers in Washington.
Catholic politician Paul Ryan first comes to mind. The Wisconsin Congressman had at one time been an ardent follower of Ayn Rand, the stalwart Libertarian author and activist. Ryan claimed to disavow her in 2012 because her philosophy was rooted in atheism. That didn’t seem to affect his politics though.
For four consecutive years the chairman of the House Budget Committee has proposed budgets that have been criticized by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as morally deficient. Ryan’s budget cuts crucial programs that serve the poorest and most marginalized people in our nation, while providing unnecessary tax breaks for the wealthiest of Americans.
Paul Ryan pushed back in April 2012, arguing in a speech at Georgetown University that his budget and governing philosophy was rooted in Catholic teaching. Ryan came under criticism from a large number of Catholic academics for misrepresenting Catholic teaching in explaining his budgetary policies. The criticism peaked that summer, when Catholic women religious from across the nation under the leadership of Sister Simone Campbell toured the country to protest the Ryan budget. Since the “Nuns on the Bus” tour in 2012 and the election of Pope Francis in 2013, Ryan has increasingly struggled to argue that his budget is acceptable under Catholic social teaching.
Now is a great opportunity for the potential 2016 presidential candidate to pivot. In an essay last December, BuzzFeed’s McKay Robbins argued that Paul Ryan experienced a political conversionafter the election of Pope Francis. The first half of 2014 suggests that such claims are either exaggerated or premature.
Fortunately it isn’t too late for the 44-year-old lawmaker to change course. But there is only one tenable way forward. It’s time for Paul Ryan to follow the Catholic Church and reject the carnival dance of the Tea Party. When the mask falls and the truth appears, we will see that this is a movement that twists reality and hurts the poor and suffering.
Let’s hope the words of Pope Francis will ring in his ears: “I would like to make an appeal to those in possession of greater resources, to public authorities and to all people of good will who are working for social justice: never tire of working for a more just world, marked by greater solidarity.”
Christopher Hale is a senior fellow at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He helped lead national Catholic outreach for President Obama’s re-election campaign. You can follow him on Twitter @chrisjollyhale.

The Audacity of Pope: The ‘Francis Doctrine’ puts the Vatican back on the world stage | RNS

(RNS) When Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meet at the Vatican next Sunday (June 8), it will be another sign of how Pope Francis has returned the Vatican to the global stage to a degree not seen since the 1980s, when John Paul II’s shuttle pilgrimages helped end the Cold War.

The upcoming Israeli-Palestinian prayer summit is drawing particular attention because it comes as traditional diplomatic efforts in the region have once again stalled. It also follows on the heels of Francis’ three-day pilgrimage through the Holy Land, where he spoke forcefully on behalf of peace, and often matched his words with bold actions.

That approach raised both hopes and the Vatican’s profile, and it’s the formula Francis has used since he was elected in March last year: repeatedly calling for reconciliation in global hot zones like South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Ukraine and Latin America, and dispatching emissaries or launching initiatives when he can.

Francis has been especially engaged in the intractable Syria conflict, organizing a fast and a public prayer vigil in St. Peter’s Square last year and insisting that the Holy See be present at peace talks in Switzerland this year.

‘A new age of political audacity’
“Francis is not resigned to a passive vision of world affairs,” Marco Impagliazzo, president of the Rome-based Community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic organization active in conflict resolution and peace brokering, said last summer. “We must prepare for a new age of political audacity for the Holy See.”

Yet this Argentine pope — who intentionally took the name of Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of peace — is also wading into a geopolitical arena that is in many respects much more complicated than the binary, East-West rivalry that confronted John Paul.

Moreover, while the end of the Cold War greatly reduced the existential threat of nuclear annihilation, today’s world is marked by regular spasms of bloodshed that are less likely to find a dramatic resolution akin to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Back then, the stakes were clear, as were the major players — and the way forward.

Now, however, the world is dominated by “the simultaneous increasing integration and increasing fragmentation,” the Rev. Bryan Hehir, a professor of religion and public life at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, said in a talk marking Francis’ first year as pope.

“Increasing integration is what globalization is about,” Hehir told representatives of FADICA, a network of Catholic philanthropies. “Increasing fragmentation is what Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda and Syria are about, and so you’ve got to deal with both.”

Dealing with two such complex and contradictory dynamics is a daunting prospect — and one for Francis that is complicated by the legacy of John Paul’s success in the Cold War.
The end of Soviet communism was almost miraculous in its suddenness, and it left the impression that a charismatic pope could change (or at least shape) the course of human events. In addition, those events capped a decade of the Catholic Church playing a crucial role in ousting longtime dictators in the Philippines and Haiti, and serving as a powerful voice for ending apartheid in South Africa and promoting human rights across Latin America.

Yet the “new world order” heralded by the end of the Cold War instead became a new world disorder, and marked the start of a new era of ethnic hatred, national rivalries, and growing societal strife between the haves and have nots.

The Berlin Wall crumbled, yes. But now other barriers have gone up.

A case in point was a memorable scene during Francis’ visit to Bethlehem, when he stopped the papal motorcade and stepped out to bow his head before the 26-foot high security wall separating Palestinians from Israel. It was a telling moment that recalled the Mass on behalf of immigrants that U.S. bishops celebrated in April at the 30-foot wall in Arizona along the U.S.-Mexico border.

That liturgy was itself inspired by a Mass that Francis celebrated early in his pontificate on an altar made from a refugee boat on the island of Lampedusa off the Italian coast, where untold numbers of Africans have drowned in desperate efforts to flee poverty and danger.

It’s a world of heart-wrenching suffering, and also frustratingly difficult to navigate. Leaders from President Obama to Russia’s Vladimir Putin often seem like helpless actors controlled by events rather than directing them.

Francis may also risk that fate, and his faith-first approach to diplomacy has already prompted some sharp criticism.
‘The culture of encounter’
“A sort of slacktivism writ large,” as the Washington Post’s Max Fisher wrote in a tough critiqueof Francis’ foreign policy. Fisher’s rip came in January after seagulls attacked two white doves the pope released to symbolize a desire for peace in Ukraine — “the perfect metaphor for Pope Francis’s first year,” Fisher said of the doves’ fate.

Writing in Time magazine in March, Robert Christian, a doctoral candidate in politics at Catholic University of America, called Francis’ idealistic peace initiative in Syria “an abject failure” that worsened the violence. After the pope’s Holy Land trip in May, Daniel Petri, a colleague of Christian’s, also blasted the pope’s Syria plans and he cast doubts on the upcoming Peres-Abbas meeting.

Still, much as John Paul’s love of great ideas and grand gestures worked in an era of global ideological combat, Francis’ focus on personal diplomacy may be the best approach for an era of personalized conflict.

As Hehir noted, while John Paul grew up in Poland under the foreign oppression of Soviet rule, Francis lived through the military repression of Argentina’s “dirty war” during the 1970s, when Catholics turned on each other and the church itself was complicit in human rights violations — not the liberating force it was in other regions.

Francis’ experience of poverty and structural inequality in his homeland also influenced his view that economic injustice is at the heart of the world’s conflicts. It’s the lens he used to explain his ideas on peacemaking in his major document from last year, “The Joy of the Gospel.” To promote peace in this context, Francis said last December, diplomacy should “promote the culture of encounter.”

That personal style was front and center during the Middle East trip, as Francis issued his invitation to Abbas and Peres on the spur of the moment, a spontaneous gesture like the stop at the security wall. While some questioned the usefulness of the impromptu gestures, they were also hailed as welcome novelties by outlets like the BBC and The New York Times, and byCatholic media as well.

Reviewing the Holy Land trip on his return, the pope himself may have done the best job of formulating a “Francis Doctrine” for the 21st century, telling an audience in St. Peter’s Square that peace is not mass-produced but is instead “handcrafted” every day by individuals.

The question, of course, is whether such tactical, “artisanal” peacemaking can replace the high-stakes chess match approach of superpower strategizing that governed the world for so many years — or, more important, whether it can succeed where those old ways are failing.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Massachusetts Catholic Bishops united in support of gun legislation

NOTE: Thank you to the Bishops of Massachusetts for standing united in support of this gun legislation. - FT

STATEMENT OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF THE COMMONWEALTH ON PROPOSED FIREARM LEGISLATION
 
“The Roman Catholic Bishops of the Commonwealth are in support of adjustments to existing firearm laws.  Any law that would address the role that violence, some mental illnesses, and substance abuse play in many tragedies involving firearms would be a welcomed advance in this area of the law and would be a great benefit to our society.
 
It appears that the legislation introduced Tuesday is measured and reasonable; it does not infringe upon the rights of sportsmen and others who possess firearms for legal and legitimate purposes. It would help to prevent tragedies such as those in Newtown, Connecticut or more recently in Isla Vista, California.  No community is immune to the possibility of a devastating tragedy.  Whatever its final form, it is abundantly clear that legislation aimed toward the reduction of preventable deaths is necessary.” 
 
His Eminence Seán P. Cardinal O’Malley, OFM, Cap.
Archbishop of Boston
 
Most Rev. Timothy A. McDonnell
Bishop of Springfield
 
Most Rev. Robert J. McManus
Bishop of Worcester
 
Most Rev. George W. Coleman

Bishop of Fall River

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Do not let your hearts be troubled

HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 18, 2014:
Five-year old Johnny was in the kitchen when his mother asked him to go to the basement and get a can of tomato sauce. This made Johnny very nervous. “It’s dark in there and I’m scared,” he replied. His mother calmly said to him, “Don’t worry. It’s all right, Johnny. Jesus will be there with you.” And so, Johnny walked hesitantly to the door and opened it slowly. Then, peeping into the darkness he yelled, “Jesus, if you’re in there, would you please hand me a can of tomato sauce?”

We heard in our Gospel, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” These may be among the most comforting words that we hear in all of the Gospels. After all, we can often feel like Johnny – a little bit afraid of being alone without Jesus. This is the anxiety that the disciples experience in our Gospel as the time draws near for Jesus to leave them. They are afraid to face the world alone. With Jesus, they felt they could do all things. Without Him, they’re afraid to be alone and abandoned. But today, we hear Jesus offer these comforting words to convince the disciples that there is no need to be afraid, even when He is not there with them.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Why can we be confident in this statement of Jesus? How can we simply put aside our fears? Jesus tells us – the answer is faith. “You have faith in God, have faith also in me.” Or in other words, everything else I told you and showed you; all that you have experienced – let that lead you to trust. Remember the water-to-wine; remember the multiplication of the loaves, not just for a few, but for thousands-upon-thousands; remember the blind man and the crippled man and the countless others who were healed; remember Lazarus who was dead and came back to life – remember Me, Jesus, I was dead and now live and walk among you. “You have faith in God, have faith also in me.” Trust. Have faith. And, if you believe in Me; then believe also in one another because I am there with you – in you – too.

It might be easier to believe in God – especially a God of miracles. But, the challenge is to believe in the ordinary, flesh-and-blood human beings who are all around us. The challenge is to believe that God didn’t come to merely live among us for 33 brief years more than 2,000 years ago, never to be heard from again. He came to be present forever. Present in prayer – so powerfully through Word and Sacrament; but present also in you and in me.

We can often be filled with fear. When we can’t get a job, or can’t pay the bills, we can feel afraid. When our relationships are fractured and even broken, we can feel alone. When we’ve hurt someone else or been hurt by others, we can feel abandoned and even rejected. There are so many difficult and challenging moments in our lives today that can fill us with anxiety and make us feel alone and afraid.

But, the disciples remind us of something so simple today: they see God in Jesus. As long as He is around, they are not afraid. But, at first, they do not appear see God in each other. They set Jesus apart. They put Him on a different level from themselves. But, Jesus reminds them that just as God works through Him, God will work through them. He says, “Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do and, will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.”

Today, we can feel like Philip and our prayer is, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Show us that God is with us. Show us that God is alive and actively involved in events in our lives today. Show us that we are not alone. To this Jesus says to us, too, “How can you say, 'Show us the Father?'” when He is so constantly present all around us, if we open our eyes to see Him; if we open our hearts and lives to be His presence. We can believe in miracles because we see them. And the challenge for each of us is to become the miracle that others might see; to become the miraculous presence of God in someone’s life today.

Today, it might be Jesus who says to us, “You, show Me the Father and I will be satisfied.” And so, we gather today, as we do each week, to be built up – as the disciples were so long ago – on the presence of God in our midst. He fills us with His grace through His Word proclaimed and through the miraculous presence of His Son in the Blessed Sacrament. And then, He asks each and every one of us to leave this church and become that Presence of God to the world around us. We are not alone. God is right here with us – in our joys, in our pains, in our defeats and in our triumphs – and He is calling each of us to remind the world around us that there is nothing to fear because God’s loving presence is in us for all the world to see. Will you be the presence of God to the world today?

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God, have faith also in me.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Called to be a sign of the impossible







HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE RESURRECTION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, April 20, 2014:

Three men died and found themselves at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter greeted them and said they could only enter if they could answer one simple question, “What is Easter?” The first man replies, “That's easy, it's the holiday in November when everybody gets together, eats turkey, and is thankful.” “Wrong,” replies St. Peter, and moves to the second man, “What is Easter?” He replies, “I know. Easter is the holiday in December when we put up a nice tree, exchange presents, and celebrate the birth of Jesus.” St. Peter just shakes his head at the second man, looks at the third man and asks, “What is Easter?” The third man smiles and looks St. Pete in the eye. “Easter is the Christian holiday that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover. Jesus and His disciples were eating at the Last Supper and He was later deceived and turned over to the Roman authorities by one of His disciples. The Romans took Him to be crucified, they made Him wear a crown of thorns, and He was hung on a cross. He was buried in a nearby cave which was sealed off by a large boulder,” the man paused before finishing, “And every year the boulder is moved aside so that Jesus can come out, and if He sees his shadow there will be six more weeks of winter.” So close!

My friends, as we gather on this beautiful Easter Sunday morning, St. Peter’s question is a good one for us to ponder as well, “What is Easter?” We know the easy answer, which is good news for us in case St. Peter asks, that Easter celebrates Jesus resurrection from the dead. But, if we dive a little deeper into that reality, we realize that our belief in the resurrection of the dead is something that really sets us apart in the world, something that really makes us unique.

Today isn’t just another day. We gather today on this holiest of holy days because we are a people who believe in something that should be impossible. We gather today to commemorate that a man was raised from the dead. If we stop and think about that, this isn’t something that we see happen every day; people aren’t just rising from the dead all around us. And yet, this is the very heart of what we believe as followers of Jesus. We believe as we say each and every Sunday, “in the resurrection of the dead,” and not just in any dead – we believe in the resurrection of Jesus and we believe that we, too, will rise; that we too, will live forever, live for eternity. We believe in the impossibility that death has no hold on us either. As the spiritual writer Scott Hahn has written, “On Good Friday, death died more than Jesus.” Or in the words of First Corinthians, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, is your sting?”

But this belief in the seemingly impossible is not something that we simply commemorate on Easter; it isn’t something that merely brings us comfort when our time on earth is done. Easter, resurrection, is meant to mark us; define us each and every day. We are meant to bring something of this resurrection into every moment of our lives.

I had the incredible fortune two weeks ago to be at a day of reflection about the first year of Pope Francis given by Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras. If you don’t know his name right away, he might stand out for a few reasons. A year ago in the conclave that elected Pope Francis, Cardinal Rodríguez was also reported to be among those considered papabili or likely candidates; and more recently, Pope Francis has turned to the Cardinal as his right hand man as he brings about reform in the Church. Cardinal Rodríguez was named the Chairman of Pope Francis Group of Eight Cardinals who are advising him on reform.

During his presentation, Cardinal Rodríguez told a wonderful story. It was about a Lutheran pastor who approached him a few months ago and said, “Your Eminence, I want to thank you for all of the many excellent encyclicals of Pope Francis.” The Cardinal, a bit surprised, responded to the man, “Thank you, but I have to ask, what encyclicals? The Holy Father hasn’t written any yet.” And the man responded, “No, not in words, but thank you for the encyclicals of the Pope’s gestures.”

The Encyclicals of the Pope’s Gestures. What a powerful and accurate statement of this year with our Holy Father. No, he hasn’t written thousands of words in papal encyclicals, but as the saying goes a picture is worth a thousand words. Think of the images of the Pope over the last year – of him embracing the boy with cerebral palsy last Easter, the man with the disfiguring skin condition, washing the feet of prisoners on Holy Thursday last year and the sick and elderly this year, his smile, his joy, his compassion. Each one of these moments is more powerful than an encyclical because the Pope has shown us not by what he says, but more powerfully by what he does what it looks like when someone follows Christ with their whole heart and life. Each gesture of Pope Francis is an encyclical or a homily on the love of our neighbor, on compassion, friendship, tenderness, on care for the sick, the homeless, the immigrant, the outcast, on good humor and joy.

And look at what an effect the Pope has had on the church and on the world. A year ago, many would have said that was something impossible for a Pope to do in this day and age. My brothers and sisters, we gather here today, on this Easter Sunday, because we are a people who believe in what the world calls impossible – we believe that a man was raised from the dead; we believe that Jesus is Risen; we believe that we too will be raised.

We are a people who are called to be a sign of the impossible to the world and to make that sign a constant part of our lives. This Easter Sunday is a reminder to us that we, too, are called to write encyclicals; we too are called to preach homilies – but not in our words, instead through our lives.

To a world that chooses vengeance, we are called to offer gestures of compassion and forgiveness; to a world that seeks only power, money and prestige, we are called to offer gestures of humility and kindness; to a world that selfishly cares only for itself; we are called to offer gestures of love and concern; of openness and acceptance of others. Change often feels impossible, but we are reminded today that we are the people of the impossible and so let us write our own encyclicals, offer our own homilies. Let us fill the world with our gestures of peace and care and joy – especially in the situations, times and places where those gestures are least expected. And these gestures have the power to change us and to change our world.

I’ll end with the words of Pope Francis last night at the Easter Vigil in Rome. He said, Let us “return to that blazing light with which God’s grace touched us at the start of the journey. From that flame we can light a fire for today and every day, and bring heat and light to our brothers and sisters. That flame ignites a humble joy, a joy which sorrow and distress cannot dismay, a good, gentle joy.”

So, what is Easter? Easter is our change to embrace the impossible and make all things new.

Happy Easter and may God give you peace.