The Resurrection of the Lord


The Mass of Easter Sunday
Lectionary: 42

This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible,
not to all the people, but to us,
the witnesses chosen by God in advance,
who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
He commissioned us to preach to the people
and testify that he is the one appointed by God
as judge of the living and the dead.
To him all the prophets bear witness,
that everyone who believes in him
will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”



If you intend to speak of God, you should be a prophet, You should understand that God has sent you to speak in his name; he wants to speak to your family, friends and neighbors through your joy, your peace of mind and your conviction.

When you speak of God in the third person, you should understand that God is present; he hears what you say. He has not removed himself from your conversation. You are speaking for God like Moses and Aaron, a prophet of the Lord.

In today’s first reading we hear Saint Peter announcing to Cornelius and his guests the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Cornelius and his people are gentiles who live in the new, international city of Caesaria. They may have heard rumors about Jesus; some excitement among the native Jews; but during his lifetime they would have had little interest in Jesus of Nazareth. He was just another cause célèbre among the local inhabitants, with their strange god and their strange ways.

Saint Peter has come to Cornelius not on his own initiative. He has seen a very disturbing vision and heard a commanding voice that told him he must accept a gentile’s invitation to speak of Jesus. Now Peter is a simple fisherman who has dealt with gentiles. He has sold fish to them and, perhaps, bought stuff from them. 

But he has never eaten with them. His Jewish religion banned such intercourse. He may have joked with them about their different beliefs, as working men will kid one another; but he has never got down and spoke seriously, heart-to-heart, about matters of faith with these aliens.

Now, however, Peter understands that he must give testimony about Jesus to Cornelius and his guests; and, to his surprise they are ready to hear it. Saint Luke records his astonishment when Peter says “You know that it is unlawful for a Jewish man to associate with, or visit, a Gentile, but God has shown me that I should not call any person profane or unclean. And that is why I came without objection when sent for. May I ask, then, why you summoned me?”

Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this hour, three o’clock in the afternoon, I was at prayer in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling robes stood before me and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your almsgiving remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and summon Simon, who is called Peter. He is a guest in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’" 

So I sent for you immediately, and you were kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to listen to all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”

Saint Peter can hardly believe what he hears. Jesus had prepared him for this moment when he said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” But Peter had not expected this.

And so he opened his mouth, as Saint Luke tells us: Peter proceeded to speak and said, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.  Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”

He recounted for them the events from Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, his healings and good works, his death in Jerusalem and his resurrection.”

When the gentiles of Caesarea heard about the resurrection “the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word of God… 

Then Peter responded, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?” He ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ."

In this reading and the stories of Jesus’ resurrection the Bible teaches us how we should speak of God. He is not an idea that makes sense to us. He is not a theory to explain the evidence. God needs no apology and little introduction.

Rather, we should speak willingly and eagerly of Jesus’ resurrection to everyone who wants to hear it. 

Notice how Cornelius says, "we are all here in the presence of God to listen." When we speak of God, we speak as witnesses and prophets, not philosophers. The Lord is standing right behind us; he is pushing through our every word and gesture to reach the hearts of those who listen to us.

During our baptisms last night, we anointed every new Christian as a prophet. They must speak as God speaks, humbly, quietly, confidently and joyfully. 

We will speak of God to those who want to hear the word. We will share matters of the heart not in dispassionate, objective secular language, as if the mysteries of our faith must be explained to reasonable people. Rather we will sing and dance and shout the Good News as witnesses, as prophets who speak not of God but in God.

The Lord is risen!   He is risen, indeed!


Friday of the Passion of the Lord (Good Friday)

Lectionary: 40


I was ready to respond to those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me.

I said: Here I am! Here I am! To a nation that did not invoke my name.

I have stretched out my hands all day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own designs...

     Isaiah 65



Saint Francis found in a broken down chapel near Assisi a familiar image of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have come to know it as the San Damiano Cross. It depicts Saint John's description of the Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of the Lord. Some scholars believe the disfigured image at the bottom of the cross represents the Last Supper. 

His death and resurrection are both described in the standing image of Jesus. His hands and feet are nailed and bleeding, and yet his posture is relaxed. His arms are outstretched in a comfortable manner of welcome, and his eyes gaze at the viewer without any trace of pain. He is the Lord who freely lays his life down and freely takes it up again. No one can take his life from him. This is the very story we encounter in the Passion of Saint John. 

Last Saturday I discovered, as if for the first time, the above passage from Isaiah 65. I remembered clearly God's frantic call, "Here I am! Here I am!" but I had not noticed the next words, "I have stretched out my hands all day to a rebellious people." Surely the icon writer who painted the San Damiano Cross had this passage in mind. 

Recently I have seen on billboards and bumper stickers the meme, "I love you this much." The accompanying image of Christ Crucified is usually brutal. 

That was not Isaiah's original intention, nor that of the writer of the San Damiano icon. Saint Francis reflected deeply upon Jesus' suffering and death but not with a medieval fascination in horror. That aberration would come later, with the Black Death. After that catastrophe, the European imagination indulged in the grotesque such as we find in the art of Hieronymous Bosch or Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ

Catholics see beauty in the crucifixion of Jesus. We should not be distracted by the gory details. Rather, we see his outstretched arms and we hear his loving call, "Here I am! Here I am!" Hearing his voice we turn away from our rebellious ways and, with Mary Magdalene at the tomb, turn again to him. 

Holy Thursday -- Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper

Lectionary: 39


I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”



Yesterday I reflected on that cardinal doctrine of the gospels, “the fullness of time.” There are several events in Jesus’ life that are introduced with that phrase: his conception, birth, the ministry of John the Baptist, the Last Supper, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

All these things were preordained to occur, as was Judas’ betrayal, which is embedded like a thorn in the flesh of the Gospel. The evangelists and other New Testament writers insist on that.

This evening we reenter that preordained night when Jesus broke bread with his disciples and said "This is my body that is for you." The moment and the memory will never be lost because the Holy Spirit raises up in every generation people who are eager to know the Truth that only God can speak. They join us in prayer at the altar and the One Mass which Jesus celebrated continues into the next millennium.

On this evening we also witness the priest's washing the feet of the congregation. Ours is a carnal religion. We are not enamored of ideas; we understand our doctrines only as mysteries; but we readily embrace the carnality, the very fleshiness of the Body of Christ. We must baptize in the water that flowed from his side; we must eat his flesh and drink his blood. We cannot do virtual demonstrations. 

And so the priest imitates the Savior who washed the feet of his disciples. The Lord could not be satisfied with telling his disciples to love one another. He could not hope they might understand his passion and death as demonstrations of his intense love. He had to show them by a powerful gesture, one both ennobling and humbling. He got down on his knees and he washed their feet, as if he were a common slave. 

They had seen the gesture before, not only as the work of a slave but as a demonstration of intense love. A woman known to be a sinner had washed Jesus' feet. She could find no other way to express her love. Words would not suffice; money could not say it; sex would not be accepted; she bathed his feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. At the time Jesus had remarked to Simon the Pharisee
“Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment. So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. 
And now, during the Last Supper Jesus shows his disciples what they will witness on the morrow. He explains the gesture to them precisely, I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. And then he concludes: If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.

During the past year, we have seen a new revelation "in the fullness of time." Our Pope Francis prefers to take public transportation. He chooses to live in the simplicity of the Vatican guest house. He demonstrates what the Church has intended to say for the past fifty years, that we will serve the poor. We must also recognize the astonishing humility of Pope Benedict XVI who confessed he could not handle the job anymore. The pomp and privilege of the Church's highest office meant nothing to him. They were, in the words of Saint Paul, so much rubbish, that he might gain Christ

Both of these men show us what it means to be Catholic. We must rededicate our lives to the service of the least among us, whether they are the unborn or feeble, the poor or despised, the sick or the imprisoned. Words of piety mean nothing to our contemporaries. It seems they have little effect on God. 


Wednesday of Holy Week

Lectionary: 259




Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The teacher says, “My appointed time draws near; in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.

The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered, and prepared the Passover.




Pope (and soon to be) Saint John Paul II made much of “the fullness of time” in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater. (The Mother of the Redeemer, 1987):


This "fullness" indicates the moment fixed from all eternity when the Father sent his Son "that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (Jn. 3:16). It denotes the blessed moment when the Word that "was with God...became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn. 1:1, 14), and made himself our brother. It marks the moment when the Holy Spirit, who had already infused the fullness of grace into Mary of Nazareth, formed in her virginal womb the human nature of Christ. This "fullness" marks the moment when, with the entrance of the eternal into time, time itself is redeemed, and being filled with the mystery of Christ becomes definitively "salvation time." Finally, this "fullness" designates the hidden beginning of the Church's journey.


Today’s gospel also marks the fullness of time with Jesus’ words, “My appointed time has come.” The event is not Mary’s conception of Jesus but his institution of the Mass: “I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.
Pope (who should be canonized but he’s not dead yet) Benedict XVI, in his three-volume Jesus of Nazareth, offers his scholars' solution to an ancient problem about the Last Supper, “Was it a Passover Meal?” The Synoptic gospels suggest that it was but don’t say so explicitly. Saint John says that Jesus died before Passover, as the paschal lambs were being slaughtered in preparation for the feast.


Pope Benedict believes Jesus celebrated his last supper ahead of the feast, as if it were the Pasch. Clearly, his arrest and trial could be deferred no longer. The moment had come for the new Christian religion to appear; it would begin with a new Pasch (the Mass) and a new Exodus (His death and resurrection). It would begin with his ordination of the new priesthood which would "do this in memory of me." (Many dioceses in the US celebrated the Chrism Mass last night, in which the priests renew their promises. see below)
When we celebrate the Mass we enter another dimension of time. Guided by the liturgical rules of the Church, this moment has an eternal quality about it. It is neither past nor future; it is always now. As we hear his word, eat his flesh and drink his blood we take part in the first Mass and the last. We are present to every Mass in every language of every time and place. There is only one Mass.

It is the Sacrifice of Calvary made present and immediate to us. Here I am! 


Renewal of Priestly Promises at the Chrism Mass (often celebrated on Tuesday of Holy Week)

Archbishop: Beloved Son, on the anniversary of that day when Christ our Lord conferred his priesthood on his Apostles and on us, are you resolved to renew, in the presence of your Bishop and God's holy people, the promises you once made?

Priests: I am.

Archbishop: Are you resolved to be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to him, denying yourselves and confirming those promises about sacred duties towards Christs's Church which, prompted by love of him, you willing and joyfully pledged on the day of your priestly ordination?

Priests: I am.

Archbishop: Are you resolved to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God in the Holy Eucharist and the other liturgical rites and to discharge faithfully the sacred office, following Christ the Head and Shepherd, not seeking any gain, but moved only by zeal for souls? 

Priests: I am. 

Archbishop: As for you, dearest sons and daughters, pray for your Priests, that the Lord may pour out his gifts abundantly upon them, and keep them faithful as ministers of Christ, the High Priest, so that they may lead you to him, who the source of salvation. 

People: Christ, hear us, Christ, graciously hear us. 

Tuesday of Holy Week



 

“Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.
If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself,
and he will glorify him at once.

 

A man I greatly admired for his wisdom, courage and integrity fell prey to depression. Suffering the same mental illness I was astonished this should happen to him. At that time I was on the road to recovery whereas he had been diagnosed only recently. Wanting to say something encouraging and hopeful to him, I said, “Depression is like grace. You didn’t earn it; you don’t deserve it.”

Sometimes punishment is a blessing. Depression may not be a punishment as in retribution for wrongdoing; but it is punishing, as in hard to bear and extremely discouraging. I have also found it to be a brutal teacher who directs me toward grace. Helpless, I have had to abandon my solitary habits and accept help from others.

Jesus speaks of his cross as glory. How can that be? But it is like grace; he didn’t deserve it. He did not earn it. It was given to him by the Father with infinite love.

His cross was more than physical pain. It was also Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial, the disciples’ flight, the contempt of his enemies, the condemnation of religious authorities, the blood thirst of the mob and the indifference of the Romans. It was the utter abandonment he felt before God. He did not deserve that; he did not bring it upon himself; he did not earn it.

Can a cross be a blessing? Can the worse disaster of my life be a grace; perhaps even a calling? This is, as Saint Paul says of Marriage, a "great mystery."

 

Monday of Holy Week

Lectionary: 257

Thus says God, the LORD,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spreads out the earth with its crops,
Who gives breath to its people
and spirit to those who walk on it….


Saint Francis of Assisi, in tune with the Evangelists, was enormously impressed by the prophetic writings of Isaiah. Overwhelmed by his vision of God in the temple, the ancient Prophet saw the wilderness and the city, the king and his court, the people and their sins in the splendid light of God’s majesty. Nothing in this world could compare with that beauty; but, everywhere he looked he saw “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

In that same light, Francis saw the Condescension of God. The Lord of Glory has come down to Earth and lived in rank poverty among us. The medieval saint never questioned the hierarchical ranking of human beings, nor did he imagine a democratic society where everyone would be equal. A king’s condescending kindness to a peasant would be an amazing demonstration of Christian charity. God’s being born in a stable could not possibly occur to the medieval mind – unless it actually happened. Francis realized it had and made it real to others.

Holy Week is bathed in that light. We see the stygian darkness of Good Friday but the darkness is not dark to God. Quite the contrary, it is brilliantly lit by the gracious generosity of Jesus.

In today’s gospel we hear of the woman who anointed Jesus several days before his death. She had a presentiment of things to come; only Jesus could fully understand what she was doing. The scent of her ointment overwhelmed the room. It was the smell of death to those familiar with Jewish funeral rites. The guests were appalled; and Judas, suffering already with a troubled conscience, uttered the original hypocritical remark, “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?”
(Since I am not a bible scholar I can suppose that thirty pieces of silver might equal three hundred days’ wages. Saint John, the master of irony, surely intended that connection.)


Once again we see the brilliant light of God shining in this very dark place. A humble, grieving woman with her ominous perfume invades a festive Passover gathering. The darkness, in the person of Judas, struggles to overcome her but Jesus will not permit it.
As we approach Maundy Thursday and Good Friday let us keep our eyes fixed on the Light of the World.