Saturday, April 28, 2018

"You only love God as much as the person you love least."










HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 29, 2018:

Consider this quote, “You only love God as much as the person you love least.” This is a quote by Dorothy Day, the holy woman who was the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, who lived a life dedicated to reaching out to those whom society had cast off. “You only love God as much as the person you love least.” Let that one sink in a little bit as we focus in on our readings today.

As much as Easter is, of course, about Jesus and His resurrection, this season also focuses our attention on another central figure, St. Paul and the life-changing effect of his encounter with the Resurrected Christ. We hear a lot about Paul in the Acts of the Apostles which have such a prominent place in our Easter readings, and of course, we always hear a lot from him, as his letters to the various churches he established are read most Sundays throughout the year.

I think that the church gives us Paul during the Easter season as a point of connection between these great events and our own life. In other words, we are Paul. We relate to him in his struggles, in his doubt, even in his disbelief. And, if we can relate to him in those moments, then we can perhaps also relate to him in his conversion; we can relate to him in his zeal to grow in faith, and to share that faith with anyone he encountered. Our life of faith, after all, is not about a life of perfect belief from womb to tomb. God knows that we often struggle with our faith; struggle even with our practice; struggle to maintain God’s place in our life. We are in need of constant resurrection, newness, constant change, constant return. And Paul reminds us that this is okay. That no matter how far away we sometimes feel from God, we can always return. There is no place that is too far from God for us.

In today’s passage from Acts, St. Paul was still a fresh convert to the faith and newly arrived from Damascus. I hope your ears perked up like mine did at the beginning of the passage: “they were all afraid of him.” Isn’t that stunning? The early Christians knew who this guy was and what he did– he was a persecutor, he was a Christian-hunter. Among the Christians in Jerusalem Paul wasn’t very popular. Nobody trusted him. They even feared for their lives just because he was there. In fact, at the beginning of the chapter we have today, it says that Paul was “still breathing murderous threats against the disciples.” This was one mean guy.

That brings me back to Dorothy Day, “You only love God as much as the person you love least.” This very mean Paul is not who usually comes to mind when we think of the great saint. So, what happened? Well, of course, he had a direct encounter with the Risen Jesus, so stunning that we’re told that Paul fell to the ground in that moment. But, it wasn’t just that moment that changed everything. There was also one person in the community of believers who saw something more in him. That person was Barnabas. Barnabas believed in Paul’s conversion – and believed in him. Today’s reading says Barnabas “took charge” of Paul. Biblical scholars think it was more than that. One commentator suggested that there would not even be a Paul if there wasn’t first a Barnabas – someone who after that tremendous moment of conversion became a mentor and guide, a friend and confidant; but also a figure who must have had great courage, and patience, and perseverance. Barnabas was someone who personified Christian love. “You only love God as much as the person you love least.”

Years later, when Paul wrote his famous passage to the Corinthians about love – how it bears all things, hopes all things, and never fails – I believe, he was really talking about this. Not something romantic or flowery. But something that is a gift of self, that demands sacrifice and faith. That is unafraid and steadfast. That is willing to risk. Willing, even, to see beyond someone’s past; even a horrible and violent past like Paul’s. In other words: a love willing to “believe all things” – even to believe that a lowly tentmaker from Tarsus, a man who was a sinner, a persecutor, even a Christian-hunter, might have the potential to be a saint. “You only love God as much as the person you love least.”

Let me share one more detail with you about our good Barnabas. Barnabas is not the name he was born with. His given name was Joseph. But just as Simon became Peter, and Saul became Paul, he, too, was given a new name to symbolize his new life in Christ. He was given the name Barnabas, a name which translated means, “Son of Encouragement.” Encouragement is what he gave to the growing community of Christians – and it surely describes what he offered to Saul who through this encouragement grew into the Saint Paul we have come to revere.

To offer encouragement means to support and uplift. It is taking time to give of self – to give a hand to hold, a shoulder for support, an ear to listen, a voice to calm all doubts and erase all fears. It is to love like Christ loves. To see beyond sin into holiness. This is the effect of resurrection. It will raise us not only on the last day, but it can raise us on this day too, it can raise us every day – right out of whatever weighs us down.

“You only love God as much as the person you love least.” Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, loved a man that “they were all afraid of”, a man who “breathed murderous threats against them” and he loved and encouraged him into holiness and a saintly life.

My friends, let us pray today that we too might be Daughters and Sons of Encouragement – for each other, for those we struggle with, for those who seem to need that love and encouragement more than anyone else. “You only love God as much as the person you love least.” Let the person we love least be the person we love most and then we will be loving the way that God loves, and we will be encouraging as Barnabas encouraged, we too will be Daughters and Sons of Encouragement making our way to Heaven, and bringing everyone else along with us.

May the Lord give you peace.

Inspired by a homily from The Deacon's Bench.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Listen to Jesus!








HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 22, 2018:

Jesus was at the Pearly Gates one day and decided to give St. Peter a break from the hard work of sorting those who would enter Heaven from those who wouldn’t. He opened the Book of Life and after he had sorted a few people, looked up to see an old man before Him who looked familiar. “And you are…” Jesus asked. The man responded, “I’m a carpenter. And, I was told that my son was in there. I’d like to see him. You’d recognize him, he’s got nail marks in his hands and in his feet.” Jesus was stunned, He leaned forward, looked at the old man, smiled and said, “Dad?” The man’s eyes widened and he looked at Jesus and said, “Pinocchio?”

“I am the Good Shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” As we hear these words about the good shepherd in our Gospel today, the church also invites us to celebrate World Day of Prayer for Vocations. It is a perfect fit as Jesus gives us this powerful image of Himself as the Good Shepherd. To fully understand the image, we need to know a little bit about shepherds and what they do. In Jesus’ time, there were two kinds of shepherds. First, there was the hired hand for whom keeping the sheep was just a job. He moved from flock to flock depending on the conditions of service and he would not risk his life for them in a dangerous situation. Then there is the shepherd-owner of the flock who grows up with the flock and stays with the same sheep all his life. He knows each and every sheep in the flock individually. He calls each one by name and knows everything about each of his sheep. He knows which ones are strong, which are weak; which ones might stray from the flock and would keep an eye on them. When in danger, he would risk his life to defend his sheep.

Jesus tells us that this is the kind of shepherd He is. He knows each one of us individually. He knows the cares and concerns of our lives. He knows our needs. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows what we can be. And this is the heart of vocation. Discovering our best identity – who we are called to be in God’s sight – is what a vocation is all about. God, of course, continually calls each one of us to something special in His kingdom. Our challenge is to create an environment that allows us to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, so that they can follow where He leads. The Good Shepherd is calling all of us to something special and He might even be calling someone here today to become a priest, deacon or religious.

The question of vocation is all about our identity. God very simply calls us to be who we are created to be. The question is who are we in God’s sight? St. Francis of Assisi would remind the friars, “You are what You are before God. That and nothing more.” And nothing less. The Good Shepherd helps us to see ourselves through the eyes of faith – as God’s sons and daughters. It is only when we know our true identity before God, that we discover our vocation.

If this identity has been nurtured, and if we open our heart to the Good Shepherd, it is here at the Holy Mass that we begin to see this identity emerge. Receiving the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus, tells us something about ourselves. When we enter into that personal relationship with Jesus that we can only have in the Eucharist, Jesus helps us to discover who He calls us to be. In fact, we are never more clearly ourselves than we are right here; gathered around the Table of the Lord for the Eucharist. If you want to know what Jesus asks of you; if you want to know what Jesus wants you to do – meet Jesus here in the Eucharist and he will reveal it to you.

I’ve told my own vocation story many times before. But, it all boils down to this. As a teen, I had the merest spark of faith. I did not yet know the Lord. In my early 20s I felt drawn for the first time in my life to the Eucharist. When I began going to Mass, I started to have powerful experiences. The Mass was speaking to me in ways it never had before. I felt the presence of Jesus that I had never felt before. I remember receiving the Eucharist at one of these Masses and in a spiritual sense this was my first Communion because it was the first time that I truly believed in my heart that this was Jesus. And when I met Him personally, for the first time, in that Eucharist, He began to show me who He wanted me to be. It was through meeting Jesus in the Eucharist that I discovered my vocation, my calling, my place in God’s Kingdom. And you can too.

To discover that identity requires two things of us. First, can you hear His voice? Can you hear the voice of the Good Shepherd who calls you? And secondly, do we pray for and encourage those around us to discover that call; especially those who might be called to service in the Church? I don’t know if I would be a priest today if it weren’t for the support I received from crucial people in my life as I explored this call – the Dominican sisters who taught me and encouraged a vocation, my aunt Maureen who is a Sister of Mercy and who showed me the joy that can be found in religious life, Fr. Marc Hession who was my first mentor and led me toward a life of priestly service, and most importantly my mother and father, who gave witness to me of what it means to live a Christian life.

We have all been led here by a Good Shepherd who knows His sheep and wants the best for them. We will meet Him in a profound and special way in the Eucharist and discover who we are in God’s sight and what God has planned for us in His Kingdom. Let us pray that more young men and women will have the courage to pursue the vocation that God is calling them to; that they will follow the Good Shepherd. And let us be the people who encourage them to do so.

“I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Hungry for Jesus!











HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 15, 2018:

One of my favorite movies is a little known comedy from the 1990s with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep called Defending Your Life. In the story, 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. Every 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. But, my favorite scenes in the movie is an interaction between Daniel and Julia, who one night go to a restaurant in Purgatory. And 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.

I was thinking of that film because as we make our way through the post-resurrection stories of Jesus, there is a repeating theme you might have noticed. Jesus seems awfully hungry. When He encounters the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they stop to have a meal. This is when they exclaim, “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. Jesus then appears to Peter and others at the sea of Tiberius as they are fishing. Here, after a miraculous catch of fish, He sits down with them and prepares a breakfast.

And of course, we have the passage before us today. As Jesus appears once again, and asks the now-familiar question, “Have you anything to eat?” 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!

Now, of course, that’s not the point of these details. But, this focus on eating is there for an important reason. These stories don’t want to merely recall the encounters that Jesus had with His disciples after His resurrection, but they want us to know something important – that the man they encounter is real. The resurrected Jesus is a flesh and blood, breathing and eating human being – just like you and me. What the disciples encounter after the resurrection is not a ghost or a spirit; it’s not a mirage or even an angel. Just like before the resurrection, Jesus is a full human being. This is why we profess in the Creed that we believe in the resurrection of the body. Ghosts don’t eat baked fish. Angels don’t enjoy bread and wine. Spirits don’t get hungry. Humans do and that’s what Jesus is after the resurrection just as He was before.

This isn’t meant to be just an interesting detail for us to pick up. Instead, we are reminded that through 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 afterlife – we will continue to be human beings who need to eat and sleep, live and breathe, but somehow perfected or glorified through a life of grace in God’s Kingdom where sin and death are no more.

Jesus invites us into a tremendous intimacy through resurrection, and it is all about the body – not only the Body of Jesus raised from the dead , but, also the Body and Blood of Christ present in our midst at every Mass; the Body and Blood of Jesus that we take into our own bodies to mingle with us, unite with us, as we receive Holy Communion. 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.

Archbishop Tom Murphy was the beloved Archbishop of Seattle in the late 1980s and 1990s. He was a shepherd who loved his flock and was always very present to the people. He had a very 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 leukemia. For the last year of his life, he underwent treatments to fight the cancer which left him in need of regular blood transfusions. His kids saw their opportunity to help this holy man who had done so much for them and 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 boy, I have always loved the Mass and in particular the Eucharist. 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 alive today because of your blood. Now I understand the Eucharist.”

My brothers and sisters, this is what Easter is all about. If we keep encountering a Jesus who each week seems to be hungry, it is a reminder to us that we too should be hungry – hungry or the things of Heaven; hungry for the Body and Blood that do not merely nourish us for today, but fulfill all our hungers for eternity. Jesus every day appears on our altar with an invitation: Receive my Body and Blood. 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; giving you eternal life.

My friends, today and at each Eucharist, Jesus wants to be one with us; He wants communion with us through the Blessed Sacrament. Each time we gather, we are becoming more and more what we receive; more and more the Body of Christ together. We are 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 in the resurrection of the Body – Jesus’ body and ours – and we believe in life everlasting. Amen.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

This is our faith! "My Lord and my God!"











HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER (Divine Mercy Sunday), April 8, 2018:

I recently came across a powerful story on one of my favorite blogs by Deacon Greg Kandra. Last year, on Palm Sunday, the world was shocked as the Coptic Catholic churches in Egypt were attacked. It was another of those moments of violence and terror that have become a too-regular part of our lives over the last few decades. But in the midst of that tragedy, there was also a great witness of faith.

Following the attacks, a reporter interviewed the widow of Naseem Faheem. Naseem was a security guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria. On that Palm Sunday morning, he encountered a man behaving suspiciously. Naseem stopped him outside the church to question him and seconds later, that man detonated a bomb, blowing himself up and killing Naseem. Naseem, a man of faith, saved dozens of lives just by doing his job, and he was hailed as a hero and a martyr.

Days later, his widow was asked in a TV interview for her thoughts about what had happened to her husband. She answered in a way no one expected. She said, “I’m not angry at the one who did this.” And addressing her husband’s killer she said, “Believe me, we forgive you. You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of. May God forgive you, and we also forgive you.”

The camera then turned to a stunned anchorman, Amr Adeeb, one of the most popular TV personalities in Egypt, and, a Muslim. Deeply moved, he struggled to find the words. Finally, he said, “The Christians of Egypt are made of steel. How great is this forgiveness! This is their faith!”

This is their faith. And my friends, this is our faith. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Our Gospel today calls us to reflect in the midst of our Easter joy on what it means for us to be a people of faith; a people who believe in the saving power of Jesus.

Our Gospel today presents us with the story of the most well-known doubter in the Bible – 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 this perception as the Doubting Thomas. But, as we just heard in the proclamation, doubting is not where Thomas ends up, but believing. He makes perhaps the greatest profession of faith in Scripture, “My Lord and my God.” But, as you can guess, I don’t think that “doubting” is a fair assessment of Thomas’ faith.

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.

However, Bible commentator Russell Saltzman gives the story a new spin. He wrote, 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.”

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 apostle to leave Jerusalem. 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. It made a difference in the life of Naseem Faheem and his family. It made a difference in the life of Thomas. And so, 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 about this encounter between Jesus and Thomas not long after his election, 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; by giving to the body of your wounded brother or sister because they are hungry, because they are thirsty, because they are naked, humiliated, or a slave; because they are in jail, or in a hospital. These 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 kiss and bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness. And we must do 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 act in faith like Naseem, with out question. Let us proclaim with Thomas, My Lord and my God, and then bring Jesus to our world.

Happy Easter and may the Lord give you peace.

"Were you there?" Mary Magdalene, the most faithful disciple







"When he had risen, early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene." (Mark 16.9)

It is interesting to note that the two times Jesus birth is announced to humanity, that incredible message is delivered to women named Mary. In the Annunciation as it is revealed that the Word will become Flesh, the message is of course delivered by the angel to Mary, the Blessed Mother. And today as Jesus rebirth through the wonder of Resurrection is announced to humanity, it is another Mary - this time Mary of Magdala - who is the first to receive this news.

First, a word on Mary Magdalene. It is important to correct a fake news story that has lingered in the church for hundreds, if not more than a thousand years. Mary of Magdalene is not the woman caught in adultery. For too long, there has been a combination of several stories of the women of the Gospel into this Mary. But, there is really no evidence for this. In fact, not only is Mary Magdalene not a prostitute, she was likely a very well placed woman in her culture which was notable for a time when women did not have much of a place aside from the men they were attached to. We know this even by her name. She is not Mary, the wife of so-and-so, or the daughter of that man, or the sister of another. She has a name all her own, Mary of Magdala, a sign that she was an influential woman in the city of Magdala. Talk about a lingering case of "fake news!"

(Great story on this can be found here: Who framed Mary Magdalene?)

Mary Magdalene holds the second place in the New Testament for the presence of women. She is mentioned 12 times, second only to the Blessed Mother. But even all of this is not the reason why Mary had the singular privilege of being the first to see the Risen Christ. She receives this honor for a very simple reason - Mary was there.

By this, I don't mean that she had the luck of the draw to be in the right place at the right time; rather Mary was there through it all. I think of the hymn Were You There? that we sung throughout Lent and so prominently during Holy Week. This could be Mary Magdalene's hymn. Were you there when Jesus preached to the crows? Mary was there. Were you there when he cured the sick and even raised the dead? Mary was there. Were you there when he was arrested and scourged at the pillar? Mary was there. Were you there when he walked the path to Calvary carrying the weight of the cross and the weight of our sins? Mary was there. Were you there as Jesus died for us, was taken down from the Cross, and laid in a tomb? Mary was there. Were you there when they rolled the stone away and Jesus exited risen from the dead as He promised? Mary was there.

Mary Magdalene in fact shows herself to be the most faithful of all the disciples. She never wavered, she never doubted, she never ran. Mary was there. Even as the other disciples denied, ran, or hid in fear, Mary remained faithful to the Lord whom she loved.

And so it is no wonder that Jesus would reward that fidelity by appearing first to the woman who was there for Him through it all. For all of her faithfulness throughout His public life, Mary of Magdala saw the Risen Lord before the world.

May we be inspired by her faithfulness and know that if we too remain close to Jesus, we will also be given the grace of seeing Him. St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us!

May the Lord give you peace!

- FT

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Set your course on Christ!









HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE RESURRECTION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST (Easter), April 1, 2018:

Three people died and found themselves at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter greeted them and said they could enter if they could answer one question, “What is Easter?” The first one replied, “That's easy, it's the holiday in November when everyone eats turkey, and is thankful.” “Sorry,” said St. Peter, and moved on to the second, “What is Easter?” They replied, “Easter is the holiday in December when we put up a nice tree, exchange presents, and celebrate the birth of Jesus.” St. Peter just shook his head and looked to the third person, “What is Easter?” The third one smiled and said, “Easter is the Christian holy day that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover. Jesus was turned over to Roman authorities who took Him to be crucified. He was hung on a cross, buried in a nearby cave which was sealed by a large stone,” the man paused before finishing, “Oh, and every year the stone is moved aside so that Jesus can come out, and if He sees his shadow there’s 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. That’s a deeply powerful theological reality, one that we all hope to share in when our lives come to an end. We want to be raised too. We want to live with Jesus in Heaven forever too. But, what does Easter mean for us today, here, hopefully long before we’re called home?

You see, today isn’t just another day. We gather today because we are a people who believe in something that should be impossible. We commemorate that a man was raised from the dead. We say it so often that it seems normal, but it isn’t. It shouldn’t be possible. People don’t rise from the dead all around us. Yes every Sunday we profess this belief, “in the resurrection of the dead.” We believe in the impossibility that death has no hold on us. So what does Easter mean for us today?

Let me tell you a story. Empress Zita of Bourbon was the last Empress of the Astro-Hungarian Empire. She died in 1989 and was the last royal of an age that we usually associate with many centuries ago. Her funeral in 1989 was full of pomp, circumstance and ancient rituals. The most interesting moment came when the funeral procession led to the Franciscan church where she would be buried in the Imperial Crypt. Eight thousand mourners filed out of St. Stephen’s Cathedral and fell in line behind the catafalque drawn by six black stallions.

Two hours later, when the procession reached the entrance of the Church, the pallbearers and friars played out an ancient ritual. A friar opened a small window in the church door and asked, “Who wishes to enter?” The pallbearer answered, “Zita, Queen of Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia. Queen of Jerusalem. Grand Duchess of Tuscany and Cracow.” The friar responded, “We know of no one by that name,” and closed the window. A second knock and the friar again asks, “Who wishes to enter?” The response, “Zita, Empress and Royal Apostolic Majesty of Austria, and Apostolic Queen of Hungary.” Again, the friar responded, “I do not know this person.” Finally, a third knock. “Who wishes to enter here?” and the answer from the pallbearers, “Zita of Hapsburg, a poor sinner.” With this answer, the doors of the church opened to receive the queen.

So, what does Easter mean for us today? It means that the resurrection transforms us and raises us to something new. It completely changes our relationship with God, our relationships with each other, our relationship with the world – bringing to each of them new life and conquering even what has seemed impossible. It means that in the end the only thing that matters is allowing ourselves to be transformed and becoming that transformation in the world. Empress Zita had all that the world could offer – fame, power, wealth. None of that granted her entry into eternity. Only faith in Jesus, a recognition that in the end we are all the same – simple sinners in need of God’s redeeming grace; a recognition of our need for God, and following God’s ways could do that.

The resurrection of Jesus reminds us to once again set our course on Christ, to live lives that give witness to resurrection by what we say and more importantly by what we do. We make the resurrection present today when we love when it is difficult to love, when we welcome those who live on the margins of our society with love and compassion, when we go the extra mile and show the unexpected kindness.

To a world that chooses vengeance, we are called to offer compassion and forgiveness; to a world that seeks only power, money and prestige, we are called to offer humility and kindness; to a world that selfishly cares only for itself; we are called to show great love and concern for everyone. Change often feels impossible – sometimes as impossible as rising from the dead – but we are reminded today that we are the people of the impossible and so let us change the world by our peace and care, our compassion and joy – especially in the situations, times and places where they are least expected.

There’s a wonderful line at the end of the movie Chocolat. In the final scene on Easter Sunday, the young priest says in his homily, "We can’t go around measuring our goodness by what we don’t do, by what we deny ourselves, what we resist and who we exclude. We’ve got to measure our goodness by what we embrace, what we create and whom we include." This is what Easter means for us today.

Ultimately, belief in the resurrection asks us to believe that, despite a strong experience to the contrary, reality is gracious; that light triumphs over darkness, love conquers self-interest, justice banishes oppression, peace calms chaos, fulfilment quenches every hunger in our lives. Faith in the resurrection is the trust that, in the end, everything is good and will work as God intended.

Happy Easter and may the Lord give you peace.

Giving it all away

HOMILY FOR THE 32nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 11, 2018: A man died suddenly and found himself in front of St. Peter. “Welcome. I j...