Sunday, April 19, 2015

Hungering for eternal life

HOMILY FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 19, 2015:

Some of you might remember the wonderful comedy with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep that came out back in the 1990s called Defending Your Life. In the story, Albert Brook’s character Daniel has died, but before he goes to heaven, in a sort of purgatory called Judgment City, he has to literally defend his life before God’s representatives. Each day he goes to a room, much like a courtroom, where they show scenes from his life – the good, the bad and the ugly – and he has to defend his decisions in each of those moments. A successful defense means entry into Heaven. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is an interaction between Daniel and Julia, who one night go to a restaurant in Purgatory. In Purgatory, they serve only the best food; you can eat as much of it as you want; and you don’t gain any weight! So, as the camera pans the restaurant you see people devouring heaping platters of lobsters, steaks, pasta and desserts! Purgatory doesn’t sound so bad, now, does it?! Makes you hungry just thinking about it.

Easter is of course a time of year when we focus on the afterlife. We celebrate the incredible event of the resurrection and we immerse ourselves in these remarkable post-resurrection accounts in Scripture. We have the holy women who are the first to discover the empty tomb, disciples racing to see if it could all be true. We have the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus. As he speaks to the disciples on the road to Emmaus and that wonderful statement, “Were not our hearts burning within us as He spoke to us?” And how they came to recognize Him in the breaking of the bread. He appears again to Peter and others at the sea of Tiberius as they are fishing. They make a miraculous catch at His command and he sits down with them and prepares a breakfast. As we heard last Sunday, He appeared again to the disciples who were locked in the upper room in fear. Thomas puts his finger in the wounds in Jesus and proclaims, “My Lord and my God.”

And of course, we have the passage before us today. As Jesus appears once again. And, Jesus asks a very important question of those gathered there. Maybe you heard it. He said, “Have you anything to eat?” Now, I don’t know if you are picking up on the theme here, but after He has risen from the dead, Jesus seems to keep asking this same question, “Got anything to eat?” Road to Emmaus – they sit down and eat. Sea of Tiberius – He makes them breakfast. In the room where they are gathered today, Jesus is hungry again and we’re told that they gave Him a piece of baked fish and He enjoyed it. We can only come to one deep, theological conclusion – rising from the dead makes you really hungry! I guess Defending Your Life was right! What Jesus wouldn’t give for a Country Buffet!

Of course, that’s not the point of these details. But, they are there for an equally important reason. These stories don’t want only to recall the encounters that Jesus had with His disciples after His resurrection, but they want us to know something key – the man they encounter is real. The resurrected Christ is a flesh and blood, breathing and yes eating human being. This is not a ghost or a spirit. This is why we profess in the Creed each week that we believe in the resurrection OF THE BODY. Ghosts don’t eat baked fish. Spirits don’t get hungry. Humans do and that’s what Jesus is after the resurrection just as he was before. 

And this isn’t meant to be an interesting, yet unimportant, detail for us to pick up. Instead, we are reminded first that through the grace of our own baptism, we too are welcomed into a life that is eternal with God. That we too will be resurrected, body and soul, one day. We will not be ghosts; we will not be angels; we will not be spirits in the life that is to come – we will continue to be human beings who need to eat and sleep, live and breathe, but perfected or glorified through a life of grace in God’s Kingdom where sin and death are no more.

There is a tremendous intimacy that Jesus invites us into through resurrection. In a simple way, it is all about the body. Not only the Body of Christ raised from the dead 2,000 years ago. But, the Body and Blood of Christ present in our midst at each and every Mass; taken into our own bodies to mingle with us, unite with us, as we receive Holy Communion each week. As St. Augustine said, in the Eucharist “we become what we receive.” The resurrected Body of Christ becomes part of us and we are transformed, day-by-day, bit-by-bit, Eucharist-by-Eucharist into resurrection; into eternity. Easter is not only His; Easter is ours too!

Archbishop Tom Murphy was the much beloved Archbishop of Seattle through the late 1980s and most of the 1990s. He was a true shepherd who loved his flock and was always very present to the people. He had a particularly close relationship with the teens at one of his Catholic high schools where he essentially acted as their chaplain. Despite his busy schedule, he was always available whenever the sacraments needed to be celebrated for the students. They were his kids and he was their Archbishop.

In 1996, he was diagnosed with an acute form of leukemia. For the last year of his life, he underwent chemotherapy and other treatments trying to fight the cancer and these left him in need of regular blood transfusions to keep up his strength. His kids saw this as their opportunity to reach out to this holy man who had done so much for them and so they organized blood drives so that their Archbishop would have the blood needed for his transfusions.

At his last Mass with the teens he said to them, “Since I was a little boy, I have always loved the Mass and in particular loved the Eucharist. As a young boy, I would serve at daily Mass and was always in awe of what took place on the altar. But, I don’t know that I ever fully understood it until now. Today, as I stand here, I’ve got your blood in me and I’m standing here alive today because of your blood in me. Now I get it.” He died six days later as surely received his heavenly reward.

My brothers and sisters, this is what Easter is all about. Do we get it? It is not only about one resurrected body 2,000 years ago. It is about that same resurrected body appearing on our altar each day with an invitation: Take Me into yourselves. Let Me be united with you in the most intimate way possible. Feel my body and blood coursing through your veins giving you life; eternal life.

My friends, at each Eucharist, we have got the Body and Blood of Jesus coursing through our veins and uniting with our cells. Each time we gather here, we are becoming more and more what we receive; more and more the Body of Christ together. We stand here alive today because the Body and Blood of Christ poured out for us; runs through our veins.

Let us live in the resurrection Christ promised us at our Baptism and affirms in us at each and every Mass. We believe the resurrection of the Body and life everlasting. Amen.



May God give you peace.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Doubting Thomas no more!

HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 12, 2015:

Today, of course, we celebrate the Second Sunday of Easter, it is also Divine Mercy Sunday. This is one of my favorite Sundays because of the Gospel that we are presented with and the story of the apostle Thomas. For obvious reasons, I have always had a great affinity for Thomas and have also always found that he gets the short end of the stick when it comes to the way we usually perceive him. As we know, you mention this apostle and the first association that most people make is: Doubting Thomas. But, as we all just heard in the proclamation, doubting is not where Thomas ends up, but believing. His great profession of faith, “My Lord and my God” is what we should remember.

As someone also named Thomas, I’m always on the alert to try and rehabilitate this apostles’ image as the perpetual doubter. And this week, I came across one of the most interesting commentaries on this Gospel I have ever read and it certainly contributes to this goal.

The usual take on today’s Gospel goes something like this – Jesus appeared to the disciples, except Thomas who wasn’t there. Jesus gives them the gift of peace; He breathes the Holy Spirit on them and gives them a mission to go forth and forgive sins. Everyone believed, except poor Thomas who, of course, gets labeled the doubter. The message from too many preachers will be: Don’t be like poor, poor Thomas, instead have some faith like the rest of the apostles.

And, this is where Russell Saltzman gives the story a new spin. In his commentary he writes, Notice that “[the other apostles] didn’t go anywhere, did they? They stayed put. They didn’t venture an inch. They didn’t undo a single sin anywhere. They remained together and they were still there when Thomas finally shows.”

Read Russell Saltzman's full commentary: Correcting St. John

Saltzman goes on to say that if Thomas did indeed doubt, perhaps he didn’t doubt Jesus, but he doubted his fellow apostles. After all, if Jesus appeared as they said, if He gave them peace as they said, if He breathed the Holy Spirit as they said, and if He gave them a mission as they said, then why were they still locked up afraid in that upper room? “If you’ve been sent, what are you still doing here?” is Thomas’ dilemma. From Thomas perspective, an encounter with the Risen Jesus should have produced some fruit on the part of his fellow apostles, instead, he finds them right where he left them – afraid in the Upper Room.

Fast forward a week later, when Thomas is present, he receives the same gifts from Jesus and Tradition tells us that Thomas was the first of the disciples to leave Jerusalem. Once he was sent, he didn’t hang around. From his encounter with the Risen Lord, Thomas made a huge leap of faith to the full divinity of Christ that the others didn’t and was able to proclaim: “My Lord and my God.” And with that he traveled, further and faster than all the rest, all the way to the tip of India. This is not the behavior of a doubter.

This is all a simple way of saying – especially on this Second Sunday of Easter – that Easter, the Resurrection, our faith should also make a difference in our lives; a difference that shows. Our encounter with the Risen Jesus should move us too and not leave us right where He found us. My friends, our God appears to us here again today. He speaks His word, He offers His Son, He gives us a mission. We, just like the apostles, are being sent – will we go anywhere? Will it make a difference in the way we are living our lives?

Pope Francis spoke powerfully about this moment not long after his election as Pope, and how this encounter is meant to send us our in mission. The Pope said, “The path to our encounter with Jesus are his wounds. There is no other. Jesus tells us [as He told Thomas] that the path to encountering Him is to find His wounds. We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy, giving to the body of your wounded brother, because he is hungry, because he is thirsty, because he is naked, because it is humiliated, because he is a slave, because he's in jail, because he is in the hospital. Those are the wounds of Jesus today. And Jesus asks us to take a leap of faith, towards Him, but through these His wounds. We need to touch the wounds of Jesus, we must caress the wounds of Jesus, we need to bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness, we have to kiss the wounds of Jesus, and this literally. Just think of what happened to St. Francis, when he embraced the leper? The same thing that happened to Thomas: his life changed."

My friends, today it is we who are in the Upper Room. It is we to whom Jesus offers peace and the gifts of His Spirit. It is we who are once again sent. Let us proclaim with Thomas, My Lord and my God!

Happy Easter and may the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Welcome Home | Easter Homily

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE RESURRECTION OF THE LORD, April 5, 2015:
Three men died and found themselves at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter told them they could enter only if they could answer one question, “What is Easter?” The first man replied, “That's easy, it's the holiday in November when everybody gets together, eats turkey, and is thankful.” “Wrong,” said St. Peter, and turned to the second man. He replied, “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 shook his head and looked to the third man, “What is Easter?” He said, “Easter is the Christian holiday coinciding with the Jewish feast of Passover when Jesus and His disciples were eating the Last Supper, but He was deceived and turned over to the Romans by one of His disciples. The Romans crucified Him and made Him wear a crown of thorns. He was hung on a cross and buried in a cave which was sealed off by a large boulder.” St. Peter said, “Very good. Anything else?” The man said, “Oh, right, 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.”

Well, let’s see if we can come to a bit of a clearer answer to the question what is Easter today. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.” That is a passage from a book that I read a few years ago called Home by Marilyn Robinson. It is the sequel to her successful book Gilead. I’m currently reading the third in this series Lila, and this particular passage has been sticking with me all through Lent this year. Home is a sort-of prodigal son story as it tells of Jack, the black-sheep of his family, who returns home after many years to reconcile with his father and come to terms with the mistakes he’s made in life. But, I can’t help but think this particular passage is good answer to our question about Easter. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.”

Yes, of course, Easter is our annual commemoration of the event that changed the world, and changed our lives – Jesus, the Son of God, does the seemingly impossible – He conquers death itself. O Death, where is your victory? And through our Baptism, He welcomes us into the same life eternal with Him. This is almost more than the mind can handle.

But, I think Easter is more than that for us, as well. It also plays a role in our own annual journey of faith. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful.” My friends, we may have found ourselves at some point feeling any of these things – weary or bitter or bewildered; maybe other things – overwhelmed, tired, angry, or sad, even far from God. But, our faithful God has welcomed us home once again. He wants to renew us in His love and in His grace; to wake us up, to reanimate our faith, to resurrect in us our spiritual life; to be the people He created us to be.

As our former Pope St. John Paul II, reminded us so well, “We are the Easter people and ‘alleluia’ is our song.” And what he meant was that Easter isn’t just today, but it is a way of life. You see, resurrection changes everything. You can’t go from death to life without being changed. And so, if our Lent was a time to give things up, perhaps our Easter should be a time to take things up. Things like finding more time with family and friends. Things like joyfully remembering our own baptism – when we died with Christ so that we might live with Him forever. Things like engaging in surprise acts of generosity and kindness and goodness; becoming the embodiment of Christ’s new life that fills our world. Our Easter candle should not be just a light in our Church, but a bright light for all to see. If people noticed our ashes and our fasting during Lent; they should also notice our joy and happiness in the reality of the resurrection throughout Easter. We should embrace Easter so fully that those around us might ask, “What is this all about? What has changed with you?”

God is always faithful. He lets us wander so we might know what it means to come home. So whether you were already near, or perhaps you were far away, Jesus says today, Happy Easter and welcome home. Welcome home to the renewed, refreshed and resurrected relationship He offers you here today.

And, as an Easter people, go and share God’s goodness to those in need; speak love to a world bruised by violence and consumed with anger; show reconciliation to people whose lives are broken; offer hope to those who ache under hardship or failure. Be the Easter people who cry out “alleluia” to the world around us. We are the Easter people and ‘alleluia’ is our song!

Happy Easter and may the Lord give you peace.