Tuesday, April 29, 2014

3rd Sunday of Easter 2014

Easter is about revelation! On Easter Sunday we revealed that the tomb was found empty. Last week Jesus revealed himself to the Apostles in the upper room, reminding us that “Blessed are those who have not seen, but still believe.” This Third Sunday of Easter, Jesus is revealed through the breaking of the Bread.

The Word for the 3rd Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14, 22-33
Psalm 16:2, 5, 7-11
1 Peter 1:17-21
Luke 24:13-35

In our first reading from Acts of the Apostles we have Peter standing before all of Jerusalem giving witness to who Jesus was and what happened there. Not only is this meant to remind those who witnessed these events, but it provides those of us who were not there (and Luke’s primarily Gentile audience) the understanding that this messiah was in fact killed by his own people, but through that act it was also their greatest king, David, and the many other prophets who followed, who prophesied his coming.  Our Psalm takes up this theme, reminding us that the Lord will show us the right path... that the prophecy was true.

Our second reading, continuing our study of 1st Peter, continues this idea of prophecy, but adds a reminder of how we also need to be humbled by what Christ did for us… that our conduct, especially outside of the community, must be representative of how we want to be seen by the Father.

Our Gospel from Luke is a church favorite… Jesus’ appearance to Cleopas and another disciple as they were traveling to the town of Emmaus. These two disciples, like many others who came to follow Jesus, are now lost and bewildered after having been witness to his passion and death.  They thought they had found their deliverer, only to have their hopes dashed on a cross. Jesus joins these men on the road, although they do not recognize him, and the talk about the events they just experienced. During their journey Jesus reveals to them those prophesies in scripture that foretold of the Messiah. When they reach Emmaus, the men ask Jesus to join them for a meal, during which Jesus says the blessing and breaks bread with them. Through that action, at that moment, they see Jesus for who he is. Once they recognize Jesus, he vanishes from their sight, and having been astonished at what they experienced, rush back to Jerusalem to recount their experience to the Apostles (who themselves have just experienced a visit with the risen Jesus).

It was through the breaking of the bread that Jesus was revealed to those two disciples, and it is in that same breaking of the bread that Jesus is revealed to us today.

Catholic Update
Real Presence in the Eucharist
The Real Presence:  Jesus’ Gift to the Church
Messengers of God’s Mercy:  Saints John XXXIII and John Paul II

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

2nd Sunday of Easter 2014

He is risen, Alleluia, Alleluia!  Easter is not over… it has only just begun!  While some folks might be ready to pack up the Easter decorations, many of us know that the party is just getting started!  Easter is not just one day, but an entire 50 day season!  Having traveled through the 40 days of Lent reflecting on the story of our salvation, the focus of our readings now turn to the story of the birth of our Church.

The Word for the 2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday)
Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

For the Season of Easter, our first reading during Mass, instead of being from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), we read from The Acts of the Apostles.  Why the change?  Because it is in this book we get the sequel to the “Greatest Story Ever Told.”  After Luke completed his Gospel, he soon came to realize that this was not the end of the story, but a beginning… the beginning of the Church.  And like every audience that falls in love with a great book or movie, the early Church wanted more, so Luke gave us the ultimate sequel with the book of The Acts of the Apostles.  In this book we begin where the Gospel ends… Jesus ascends to Heaven, and now the Apostles, hesitant at first, but then having received the Holy Spirit, boldly go out to spread the Gospel and the story of Jesus.  This week, we get a glimpse at what life was like for those first 3,000 who were baptized after Pentecost.  We get a picture of a community that has turned away from selfishness to providing for the needs of others

Our second reading for this Sunday and for the rest of the Easter Season comes from the 1st Letter of Peter.  While the authorship of Peter’s two letters may be open for debate, the revelation expressed is fitting for our Easter Season study.  In this opening greeting this week, Peter is expressing his joy to the communities over their belief and dedication to Christ.  When Peter says, “Although you have not seen him you love him;” is a phrase that touches our own souls at an intimate level.  Peter knew Jesus, and through what he saw and learned came to believe.  I think Peter marveled at the power of the Holy Spirit which inspired others to join with Christ though they, and we, had never met him in the flesh (beyond the Eucharist, of course).

This joy that Peter felt is also echoed in our Gospel from John.  We refer to this as John’s Pentecost story as this is when Jesus sends them the Holy Spirit, but wrapped around this all to brief account is the ever favorite story of Thomas the Apostle.  Thomas was absent from the group when Jesus first appeared in the upper room, so he is skeptical of what they say of that experience.  Thomas wants proof… a need that many of us have when confronted with things we find hard to believe.  Jesus appears again, this time with Thomas in the room, and all his doubts are put to rest, but Jesus also takes this moment to say that “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”  Some might read this as Jesus casting aspersions onto Thomas, but let us remember, Jesus loved Thomas, as he loved all Twelve of the Apostles (yes, Judas too).  Instead he wanted to make this a “catechetical moment” for future generations.  Knowing what difficulty the Apostles would face in the days, months, and years ahead in spreading the Gospel, Jesus wanted to leave them a message of hope and inspiration.  It is this hope and inspiration that carries us in our faith, and reminding us of our own blessings as we continue through this Easter Season.

Catholic Update
Why Catholics Celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday
Messengers of God’s Mercy:  Saints John XXXIII and John Paul II

The Second Sunday of Easter is also knows as Divine Mercy Sunday.  This was instituted by Pope John Paul II in the year 2000 during the canonization of St. Fautina Kowalska.  It is an interesting story that can be read in the Catholic Update listed.  It is also a refreshing reminder that the Church is always changing, always growing.  Not all our celebrations are steeped in traditions that are centuries or millennia old.  In Divine Mercy Sunday we have a celebration that reminds us of God's eternal mercy... something we could all use, especially in these difficult modern times.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Easter Sunday 2014

The Word for Easter Sunday
Acts 10:34a, 37-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23
Colossians 3:1-4, OR 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8
John 20:1-9

If you were a person who only attended Mass on Easter Sunday, your exposure to the whole Story of Salvation would be limited to just these four passages used every Easter Sunday.  If someone were to attend Mass every week, they would find themselves exposed to over 600 different passages from Scripture.  If they were to do this for only one year they would get at least 200 different passages.  My point is, our beloved "Easter Catholics" are only getting a very small part of the story.... yes, a very important part, but it's like eating only one hors d'oeuvre at a banquet... it gives you a foretaste of the great food to come, but could hardly be considered nutritious or filling.

Unpacking the readings for this Sunday, like we do every week in the RCIA, gives me the same problem.  I can't really give you a sense of the importance of these readings without grounding them in the stories that precede them.  This beautiful Gospel from John about how the tomb was found empty means nothing if not for our first reading from Acts of the Apostles, where Peter is explaining to Cornelius (a Roman Centurion) who this Jesus fellow is.  But even that is not enough context to substantiate the wonder that is Easter.  At the very least, you need to allow yourself the opportunity... the retreat... the blessing of all Holy Week has to offer.

The Liturgies of Holy Week, the Sacred Triduum, are like a full three course meal.  The first course, Holy Thursday and the Mass of the Lord's Supper.  with the story of the Passover from Exodus, Paul's story of the institution of the Eucharist, and John's glorious Gospel where Jesus washes the feet of his Apostles.  Our second course, Good Friday, where the prophet Isaiah tells us both the glory and the tragedy that faces God's servant, where Paul extols to the Romans how Jesus was a high priest who also understood weakness, and John's deeply moving story of Jesus' passion and death.  Then comes our main course... the Easter Vigil, where in darkness we re-tell the tail of our becoming a people of God, which by the time we're through with all these readings our Gospel of the Resurrection now has enough context to reveal it's radiance.  Easter Sunday, if you so wish, then becomes a nice aperitif, a delightful pallet cleanser for the amazing stories yet to come during the entire season of Easter.

So for this Easter, don't come just for one hors d'oeuvre on Easter Sunday, but come to the Feast that is Holy Week, and see why we believe when we find the tomb is empty.

Have a blessed Easter!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Palm Sunday 2014

During  our celebration of Palm Sunday there is no other time in the Liturgical Cycle where the readings wreak such havoc on our emotions, where we are taken from a growing state of pure joy to utter despair within the course of just one Mass. For weeks now we’ve been celebrating Jesus’ triumphs… gaining new followers in Samaria with the woman at the well, curing the man born blind, and last week, raising Lazarus from the dead. With joy and revelry the people welcome Jesus into Jerusalem cheering and waving palms, but the dark undercurrents that have been following us all along are now coming to fruition…

The Word for Palm Sunday
Matthew 21:1-11
Isaiah 50:4-7
Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24
Philippians 2:6-11
Matthew 26:14-27:66

We begin our Mass outside in front of the church as we relive the moment of Jesus’ triumphal entry into the City of Jerusalem. With our opening reading from the Gospel of Matthew, we see Jesus has planned for everything as the people cheer in welcome for this great prophet from Galilee. We, like the citizens of Jerusalem, wave our palms in honor of this new deliverer.

Once inside the church, we hear a familiar reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, reminding us that a prophet’s life can be very difficult. More often than not, the people do not favor what the prophet has to say, yet for all the verbal and physical abuse they suffer, they are still compelled to deliver the Lord’s messages. Our Psalm echoes the despair they often feel, be they Isaiah, Paul, Mother Theresa, or Jesus himself.

Our second reading is from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He notes carefully that while Christ Jesus was in the form of God, he never sought equality with God. Rather, as Paul states, “he emptied himself,” to become obedient… to live a life of service to God and others, and from that, become the greatest of us all.  Not only is this meant to remind us how Jesus’ sacrifice is what lead to his greatness, but as one of us, living among us, we too have that same potential.

This takes us to our Gospel, and Matthew’s view of Jesus’ passion and death.  In a way, this Palm Sunday liturgy is a microcosm of what we experience through the liturgies of Holy Week, as we visit again Jesus’ last days through Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Though we may have heard the story before, it is interesting to note that each of the four Gospels give us unique perspectives that speak to their different audiences. As we read through Matthew’s account, remember that he is speaking to a primarily Jewish audience. As such certain details may or may not be included (for instance, no need to explain details of the Passover). Also in that light we find that Matthew has peppered his story with scriptural references for the unfolding events. This is to remind us of what the prophets of old have already told us…reminding us that all this happening now had been foretold, making us witnesses of prophecy being fulfilled.

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion marks the transition from Lent to Triduum, where our reflection on Jesus’ life, passion, and death are intensified.  During Mass we usually read the Passion stories together as a group.  This allows us to put ourselves into the action and better connect with the story by playing the people in the crowd. Yet that crowd which sang “hosanna” at Jesus entering Jerusalem is the same one we hear yelling out “crucify him!” at his most desperate hour. We’re never comfortable playing the part of the crowd. Like Peter, we like to say we would never betray our Lord like that. Yet we are more like Peter than we want to think. Every time we deny Christ and his teachings, we are like Peter.  Every time we sin, we are like Peter.  Flawed, scared, human. The point is not to feel guilty, but to recognize our transgressions for what they are and move on. To seek forgiveness, to find reconciliation. To give meaning to Jesus’ passion and death by move past it into the light of the resurrection!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

5th Sunday of Lent 2014

We are now deep into our Lenten observance as we approach enter the 5th week of Lent. During this cycle the readings, typically used for the RCIA, are meant to reveal to us that Jesus is the Christ, the chosen one to reconcile us to the Father. Two weeks ago we focused on having faith in God and the symbolism of water. Last week we focused on redemption and the symbols of anointing and light.  This week – the final week before Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion – our focus is on restoration, vividly depicted through the resurrection of Lazarus, while giving us a foretaste of what is to come…

The Word for the 5th Sunday of Lent
Ezekiel 37:12-14
Psalm 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
Romans 8:8-11
John 11:1-45

We open with a reading from the prophet Ezekiel.  While not often read during the Liturgical cycle, Ezekiel is considered one of the major prophets, and his message is as unique as his calling.  Ezekiel, having been born into the priestly class, received his call to prophecy 10 years into the Babylonian Exile.  This makes him the first Israelite prophet to receive his call outside of Israel, and is often referred to as the “Father of Judaism” because as both a priest and a prophet, his writings had a major influence on the post-exilic practice of the faith.  Today’s passage from Ezekiel comes from his “Vision of the Dry Bones.”  Through this vision we see hope for the restoration of Jerusalem.  While this reading would seem to deal with the doctrine of resurrection, especially as heard through our Christian ears, that is not the focus of the reading, but rather a literary device used to show the hope of the restoration of Israel… a sentiment echoed by our Psalm as we sing “with the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.”

Our second reading comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  As learned two weeks ago, this letter is unique in that it’s focus is on introducing Jesus and the Gospel to a large, mixed community for the first time.  In this week’s passage, Paul explains that we are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, and by having the Spirit within us, we become more than flesh.  We are, people of the resurrection… an Easter People.

Finally in our Gospel, unique to John, we hear the story of the raising of Lazarus.  As with our Gospels for the past two weeks, John goes to great lengths to give us the initial setup… by explaining who Lazarus and his family are, how important they are to Jesus, and how fearful the Apostles are at going near the city (noting that this story follows just before the Passover celebration and the Gospel’s final discourses before the Passion).  In cinematic terms, John is using “the slow reveal.”  As with everything in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ actions are deliberate… waiting before going to see Lazarus, the responses of both Mary and Martha, Jesus’ not going into the house or the tomb.  All these elements are meant to show Jesus’ power (through God) over death, and that this evidence should be irrefutable.

Saint of the Day:

Walking with the Saints:
Women Who Knew Jesus