Archive for April, 2009|Monthly archive page

THE THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER

 

Acts 3:13-15, 17-19

1 John 2:1-5a

Luke 24:35-48

I have always thought it strange that Catholics have the reputation for being overly guilt laden.  Certainly to have a sense of guilt, one must have a sense of sin, that there is such a thing as acting contrary to the way God would have one act.  While it seems today that there is ample evidence of the lack of that sense, of the attempt to live a lifestyle that says anything goes, there is also ample evidence that many have a desire for meaning and purpose in their lives, for an ethic that ennobles, for a reason to hope.

It is healthy to have a consciousness of sin, past or present, in one’s life.  There is nothing unhealthy about admitting to having done something wrong, regretting the action, and wishing to atone.  In this fifty-day feast of Easter, we exult because we believe that Christ has triumphed over sin, suffering and death.  We believe that Christ has atoned for our sins and bestowed upon us forgiveness.  During this long Easter Day Festival, we rejoice with those among us who have passed through the waters of baptism where they, too, died to sin and have risen to be identified with Jesus and begin to walk with him on the Way.  They, like we have been fourteen days on this Easter journey so far this year.  That is long enough for some of the perhaps naïve enthusiasm we felt in the light of the Easter Candle in the Vigil Night when they stood wet and reborn on the other side of the font and we glowed in the renewal of our Baptismal promises and we all thought we were through with sin forever.

Fourteen days later there may be evidence that we have not yet achieved the perfection longed for.  The newly baptized with their promises fresh in their minds may have been stunned that some of the old and former ways still exercise some hold over them.  We, on the other hand, with years of experience to draw from, may not be quite as shocked that some of our moral weaknesses still persist.   Sure there may be evidence of growth but there is evidence of sin, too.  Should we then succumb to guilt the way our ancestors in the faith are reputed to have done?  I don’t think so, not if we take in the Liturgy of the Word proclaimed on this Third Sunday of Easter.  Each of the readings speaks to us of sin and, yes, our guilt for sin.  But they rush on to put before us the reality of our Advocate who through his dying and rising offered himself in satisfaction for our sins and the sins of all of humankind.  Remember that bumper sticker that had some popularity several years ago?  Christians aren’t different; they’re just forgiven!  Maybe that is a bit simplistic.  But it is the truth.

In the first reading, Peter accosts the crowd of Jews gathered in the temple area.  They have witnessed a miracle at Peter’s hands and wonder about his powers.  But Peter is quick to give the credit where the credit is due.  It is in the name of Jesus that the miracle happened.  This opens the door for Peter to place Jesus in Jewish history, in line with God’s promise that began with Abraham, continued through Isaac and Jacob and now results in Jesus’ glorification as the Holy and Righteous One, the same one the audience denied and handed over to be crucified.  Is he laying a guilt-trip on the Jews?  Not if you listen carefully.  What was done by them was done out of ignorance.  What is possible now is the acceptance of Christ as the fulfillment of what was foretold in the scriptures as the Messiah who would suffer and so change radically the image of Messiah that they had cherished and longed for.  And with that acceptance your sins may be wiped away.  They are not left to wallow in guilt but are invited to conversion, forgiveness and new hope.

The Second reading from John’s First Letter places us all under that umbrella as sinners once forgiven but who may know what it means to relapse into sinning again.  Notice that John does not pummel us.  Rather he accepts the fact of human weakness and rushes on to remind us that we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one.  He is expiation for our sins and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.  At the same time, John does not tell us to sin with abandon.  If we believe, if we profess to know Jesus and have him in our lives, then we will strive after the perfection that Jesus is, knowing that God’s grace through Jesus will bring us to the perfection that God has in mind for us.  It’s God’s work.  It is Jesus who accomplishes it.  It is grace that empowers.

Today’s gospel begins with the conclusion of the Emmaus story and the two disciples who recognized Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread returning to Jerusalem and to the other disciples to recount what had happened on the Road.  Our own experience is recapped in their story.  Remember when they said that their hearts burned as the Risen One explained the Scriptures to them?  Someone brought us to Jesus by telling us about him and our hearts burned in the recognition.  Then we come to know Jesus in the Scriptures and in the celebration of the Sacraments, in Baptism and Eucharist.  And we see him, come face to face with him through his presence in the Assembly, those with whom we gather in Eucharist.  That’s a whole other area we can discuss sometime, how Jesus is present in a threefold way when we gather to celebrate Mass: in the Word, in the Bread and Wine, and in the Assembly.

Savor the words the Risen Christ speaks to us at the conclusion of today’s gospel: Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.  You and I are witnesses of these things.    We are witnesses because we know what it means to sin, what it means to repent, and what it means to be forgiven.  And we are growing in our understanding of what it means to be on the Way with the Risen One.  With all that in mind, do you see now why every Eucharist we celebrate concludes the same way – with our being sent to witness?  If we believe than we must translate what we celebrate into action and thereby make it possible for others to recognize Christ, to experience his mercy and forgiveness through his love manifested in our acts of charity.

So, you see why it doesn’t make much sense that we Catholics have the reputation for walking under the cloud of perpetual guilt?  What makes much more sense would be our growing reputation for welcoming all and inviting all to know the forgiveness that is ours in Jesus and the hope that is ours and all who come to him to live with him forever.

Sincerely,

Didymus

 

THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER

 

 

Acts 4:32-35

1 John 5:1-6

John 20:19-31

It is important to notice the title for this Sunday.  The Second Sunday of Easter.  The day is not called the second Sunday after Easter.  The importance is for us to remember that Easter is a fifty-day celebration.  That’s huge.  Why?  Because it is in light of the Resurrection that our faith rests.  We are an Easter people.  Alleluia is our song.  We are caught up in the mystery and transformed by its power.

 Ponder the readings.  Let the words wash over you.  Dare to be challenged by the readings and if you do they will renew you.  Wash is the operative word if you recall that one of the two great Easter Sacraments is Baptism – the other being Eucharist.  It is impossible to exaggerate the wonder of the Baptism event.  Take the wonder and place yourself in the middle of it.  In Baptism you were begotten by God, seized by God, called by name, and claimed as God’s beloved – just the way Jesus is.  You came out of the waters of Baptism born again, began a new life identified with Christ and were called to live in the love of God all the days of your life.  And the love is reciprocal.  Baptism draws us into the community of love that is God.

Where is the challenge?  Why not just wallow in the luxury of loving God and being loved by God in Christ?  The challenge is to live that love in the community made up of the children of God.  John tells us in the second reading that it is in keeping the commandments that love is made manifest.  Jesus said it in John’s Gospel.  A new commandment I give you.  Love one another as I have loved you.  Love is the law.  John says keeping this commandment will not be a burden.  Why?  Because love makes all burdens light.  Because, our faith conquers the world.  Are you sure?  How do we know that?  It has to do with living by a different set of values.  Remember that poster for Boys’ Town?  One lad carries another piggyback.  And the words over their heads?  He ain’t heavy.  He’s my brother.

Hear the description of the early Christian community in the first reading from Acts.  While it may be an idealized description, the realization is what life in the Resurrection makes possible.  No longer is life about achieving power and wealth, about being number one at everyone else’s expense.  No longer can one look at the impoverished and see those being punished by God for their sins – or the sins of their parents.  No longer can one lord it over another.  Believers, the Baptized are brothers and sisters in the Lord who love as the Lord loves.  Being of one heart and mind demands that we pour ourselves out in love the way Jesus does.  It is as simple as that.  As simple and all demanding as that.

Think for a moment how that conviction would impact the waging of war.  How would it impact imposing capital punishment?  What dictates would that make on our reverence for human life from its inception to its natural conclusion?  How could one live that love and be a racist or sexist or an imperialist of any sort?  Does not that conviction demand that we work for justice for all God’s people and for peace?  What are the implications of being a community of believers of one heart and mind?  The Baptized are called to live those implications.

Thomas, called Didymus (twin), stands in for all those who struggle with faith and long for proof.  He is called doubting Thomas.  But I think doubt doesn’t quite describe him.  Thomas is an Apostle, called by Jesus to follow him.  He had listened to Jesus and loved him and had been sent by Jesus to announce to others what he himself had heard.  As a lover the Crucifixion of the one he loved devastated him.  While he heard the others rhapsodize about their encounter with the Risen One on that first Easter during Thomas’ absence, for Thomas what he heard was too good to be true.  What Thomas confesses to the others is that he cannot live by faith.  Unless he sees he will not believe.  Seeing is not believing.  There is no faith in heaven when one lives in the face-to-face vision of God.  I do not believe you are when we stand side by side and watch the sunset.

Thomas has the encounter he longed for.  He is invited by the Risen One to touch the wounds and put his hand into the wound if that is what it will take for him to believe.  The gospel doesn’t say whether or not Thomas touched the body.  But what is recorded is the great testament of faith, the great leap of faith that went beyond what his eyes could see and his hands could touch.  Jesus, the Christ, the Risen One is my Lord and my God.

If there is anything of Didymus in us, we may have the same longing.  I believe the Didymus experience can still happen to empower belief.  How?  When we experience that love that only God and grace can make possible.  It is said that it is love that has drawn believers in every age.  See how these Christians love one another! The primary moment of that loving is in the gathering of the assembly around the Table, in the action of Eucharist, in the blessing and breaking of the Bread, in the blessing and sharing of the Cup.  Every Eucharist concludes with the sending:  Go in peace to love and serve the Lord and one another.  If we live the Eucharist in the market place those who are touched will marvel at how these Christians love one another.  And in that wonder they will experience the Risen One whose love they share, whose love empowers them to believe and have life in his name.

Sincerely,

Didymus

 

EASTER SUNDAY

 

Acts 10:34a, 37-43
Colossians 3:1-4
Luke 24:13-35 (Afternoon Gospel)


 

It never fails.  The magic, or better, the mystery, the wonder of Easter amazes.  For us in the Northern Hemisphere, Easter is a springtime feast.  Easter coincides with the return of life to things barren through winter.  Skies clear and warmth returns to places so dark and cold not that many weeks ago.  Trees burst forth with green leaves and brilliant flowers.  It is as though the earth shrugs off winter’s death and life returns.

Easter is about that cycle.  If we are to get the celebration it is important for us to understand that what we do is not a looking back to an event fixed in time and place.  The celebrations of the Holy Week Triduum and Easter are not the stuff of Passion Plays re-enacting what Jesus suffered so long ago.  Take your lead from what Jesus said in the course of the Last Supper after inviting those present to eat the bread that is his body and drink from the cup that is his blood; the tense is present.  This is my Body.  This is my Blood.  Do this in my memory.  The word memory means more than the mental act of remembering.  As Jesus uses the word, it means to make everything present.  Do this and I am with you, is what he is saying.

Easter, like all Jesus’ actions, is timeless.  There is one dying and rising and we are caught up in that on-going action.  Our lived experience determines the intensity of Easter’s impact.  If we know nothing of dying, if we have so dulled our senses or have ignored the plight of so many around us, Easter will mean little more than an excuse to buy new clothes and have a big dinner.  But if you know the dying, if you have stood on the brink of despair, if someone you know and love has died, if you have paid attention to the world’s woes and wars, suffering can seem indomitable and death the final victor.  Then you are in the space to celebrate the event that destroys the hold all those terrors have over you.

Why is it that on Easter Sunday churches everywhere fill to over-flowing.  The usual attendees arrive to find their places in the pews taken by interlopers.  I don’t think that it is appropriate to joke about Easter Catholics.  The fact of the matter is some of those might be clinging to faith by their fingernails and have come hoping against hope.  They are like those first ones at the tomb who had witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion and seen the last drops of blood and water flow from his side.  When the Word began to be heard, they ran to the tomb, saw the stone rolled away, peered inside and believed.  The practice continues to this day.

Easter is a time for remembering.  We are seized by Easter, by Christ Jesus in his rising.  That is why Baptism is the moment celebrated and renewed during the fifty-day feast that is Easter.  What happens when we are baptized?  St. Paul reminds us.  The language is stark.  For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.  When you were plunged into the waters, you died.  You witness a death every time you witness another enter that font.  But it never ends there.  The baptized come through the waters and rise out of them on the other side and on their way to the Table.  The skies open.  The earth quakes.  Thunder claps.  God speaks and claims the beloved as new life begins, the life that is hidden with God and will never end.  Dying.  Rising.

My favorite telling of the Easter event is Luke’s narrative of the two on the road to Emmaus.  Having witnessed the crucifixion they have been engulfed by despair so intense that they cannot accept the news of those in their company who are announcing that He is alive.  The two are going home to try to pick up the pieces of their lives and find a way to go on.  The Stranger comes into their company and asks them what they have been talking about.  They marvel that the Stranger doesn’t seem to know about the Jesus event and their hopes that were dashed with his death.  That is when the Stranger invites them to remember the story, to remember the Scriptures, and to place the event in that context.  Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?  That one sentence changes the meaning of suffering forever.  No longer is suffering a punishment for sin, it is a means to glory.  Death is not forever.  Life is for those who do what Jesus does.

The Emmaus narrative does not end here.  The Stranger and the travelers come to a fork in the road that could end their walk together, but they press him to stay with them.  As the sun sets they sit at table as the Stranger took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.  In that sacramental moment they recognized him as he vanished from their sight.  He was made known to them in the breaking of bread.  This is how he abides.  This is how he is known, in the action of Eucharist.

What you bring to Easter will determine what you experience.  If you bring brokenness, if you bring fear, if you bring consciousness of sin and the need for reconciliation and forgiveness, if you bring longing, you will know what it means to look into emptiness.  If you remember, you will find hope.

Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?  Didn’t we recognize him in the Breaking of the Bread?  If the answer to the questions is yes, then you will experience a renewal of faith and the need to go out and tell others what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to (you) in the breaking of bread.

Sincerely,

Didymus