Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord  
Acts 10:34,37-43  +  Col 3:1-4  +  Jn 20:1-9
April 1, 2018

So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.

Easter is not just the single day of Easter Sunday, but a season of seven weeks plus one more day.  The Church celebrates Easter for fifty days so as to be able to ponder thoroughly the mysteries of this holiest season of the Church’s year.  There are three mysteries of our Faith that the Church celebrates during Easter.  They are the first three Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary.  Today, consider just the first and third.

The first mystery is the proper focus of today:  the Resurrection.  This mystery is presented by today’s Gospel passage, where the young apostle John serves as a model of how to ponder.

St. John, who was apostle and evangelist, accomplished all he did because he was the Beloved Disciple.  As an apostle and an evangelist, he was like a zealous Martha.  But first he was a faithful Mary.  The Beloved Disciple who at the Last Supper took the stance that Mary did at the meal in her home, sitting, listening at the feet of the Word made Flesh.

In many churches, we see above the high altar the youngest of the apostles—St. John—at one side of the Cross, and our Blessed Mother on the other.  This is the scene of the Crucifixion that the Church celebrated just days ago.

But on the third day, John ran with Peter to the tomb.  Along with Saint Peter and the beloved disciple, Saint John, we also see the wrappings lying on the ground.  John saw and believed.  With no sign of Jesus and without a word from Jesus, John saw and believed simply because the tomb was empty.  It is ironic that on the greatest feast of the Christian year, Christ doesn’t even appear in the Gospel passage, nor speak a word.  We see only His empty tomb, and hear only silence.

St. John teaches us to pray during these fifty days of Easter for a great gift.  God has a gift ready for us, the Gift of the Holy Spirit.  That is why we hear every day of Easter from the Acts of the Apostles:  the book that describes the Church at work through the Power of the Holy Spirit.  The descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is the culminating mystery of Easter.  We don’t simply celebrate it on the last day of Easter as an afterthought:  it is the mystery that Jesus leads us towards through His Resurrection.

polyptych-of-st-peter-resurrection-1500

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday
Hebrews 4:1-13
March 31, 2018

It is we who have believed who enter into that rest, just as God said….

No Mass may be celebrated today until darkness has fallen.  Then the Vigil of the Lord’s Resurrection may begin.  Throughout most of this day, the Church meditates upon the death that God suffered for us, and upon His descent into the underworld.  The Church celebrates the Sacred Liturgy during the early part of today through the Liturgy of the Hours.  Consider the New Testament passage that the Church proclaims today in the Office of Readings, from Chapter 4 of the Letter to the Hebrews.

If there’s one word that sums up this passage, it would be “rest”; one phrase, “It is we who have believed who enter into that rest”.  What is this rest that we enter through belief?

There are two Old Testament contexts for this passage from Hebrews.  The first is the creation account from Genesis, at the end of which we hear that “God rested from all His work on the seventh day”.  This passage is mentioned by the author of Hebrews only briefly, though.  He moves beyond it to the Exodus.

The second Old Testament context is Psalm 95, in which the Psalmist sings of the Exodus retrospectively.  He looks back at the wilderness of the Exodus and contrasts it with the land of milk and honey which Joshua led Israel into so that there they might find rest.  The author of Hebrews points out, though, that this rest is only a foreshadowing of the rest of which he speaks.

Consider, then, the liturgical context for this “rest” that Christians have entered into by believing.  As today is Holy Saturday, the death of Jesus is plainly the immediate liturgical context.  As His Body rests in its tomb, we keep vigil.  But this rest of Jesus is also a foreshadowing.

So what type of rest do all these contexts point towards?

We would have good reason to answer, “The rest of the Risen Christ”, but we would have to offer this answer with a reservation.  Although in meditating on the death of the God-man we await the victory of His Resurrection, the Risen Lord remains on earth for only forty days.  He ascends to Heaven so that from there He and the Father might send the Gift of the Holy Spirit.

The Power of the Holy Spirit impels us to carry out the work of the Church:  the work of the new creation.  Doing so we draw others into the life of the “good things” of the Church:  not milk and honey, but water, blood and the spirit.  All of this on earth prepares us for our final rest, which the Father calls us into through the door of death:  a life of rest in the bosom of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Good Friday

Good Friday
Isa 52:13—53:12  +  Heb 4:14-16;5:7-9  +  Jn 18:1—19:42
March 30, 2018

We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; but the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all.

What is most striking about the scene in Gethsemani is not the betrayal of Judas, but the wandering of the other apostles.  Only two continued to follow Jesus after his arrest, Peter and John.  They follow Jesus, bound and carried away by the soldiers, at a distance:  their faith is wavering.  We know that before the night is over, Peter denies his Lord and Savior three times.

It is only John, the Beloved Disciple, who continues to journey with Jesus.  It is John who is beneath the cross with our Blessed Mother Mary.  We can be sure that even at the Cross, John, the youngest of the apostles, perhaps in his early twenties at this time, did not fully understand the death of his Master.  He wept for his Lord but could not fully understand what was taking place there on Calvary.

We know that of the apostles, only one did not become a martyr, and that apostle was Saint John.  It was he who had been faithful to the Lord’s Cross, who had shared Our Lord’s death not at the end of his life, but near the beginning.  Throughout the rest of his life as an apostle he prayed deeply about this great gift, this great sacrifice that Christ made.  Throughout the rest of St. John’s life, as he continued to serve others, his mind turned back, year after year, to that Good Friday and the hill of Calvary, where the love and the glory of God were brilliantly revealed.

Through the Eucharist which Christ, at the Last Supper, had given St. John the power to celebrate, John was able to enter into that scene once again, to return to that day which is today, and to that hill of Calvary.

There is no offering of the sacrifice of the Mass on Good Friday.  Yet still we are able to share in the fruits of that sacrifice.  As we enter into Holy Communion with Our Lord, let us turn our minds again to the sacrifice of Calvary, and the love in Christ’s Sacred Heart which allowed Him to offer it for our salvation.

Holy Thursday—Mass of the Lord’s Supper

Holy Thursday—Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Ex 12:1-8,11-14  +  1 Cor 11:23-26  +  Jn 13:1-15
March 29, 2018

Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that His Hour had come to pass from this world to the Father.

You might be tempted to think that Jesus, knowing that in just a few hours He was going to be nailed to a cross, would have had more important things on his mind than a meal.  If someone came up to you, and told you that you were going to be killed in less than 24 hours, would you sit down for a meal?  Many people would skip eating all together:  after all, if you really knew that you were going to die in less than 24 hours, why feed your body?  Wouldn’t there be more important things to put first?

But if you would answer “yes, I’d sit down for a meal,” then ask yourself, “Would you sit down for a banquet?”  Would you spend about three out of your remaining 24 hours at a banquet?  That’s what Jesus did.  Of course, to use the word “banquet” is still selling short what Jesus did at the Last Supper.  The Last Supper was a meal.  It was a banquet.

The Passover Meal was the ritual meal by which the Jews declared that the sacrifice of their ancestors had been worth it.  If they had to choose for themselves, they would do it all over again.  They would make that choice because freedom from slavery is worth the price that had to be paid, for God had something greater in mind for His Chosen People than slavery.

Some Jews, like Judas Iscariot, thought that that “something greater” was a powerful kingdom on earth.  But Jesus came into this world for something that goes beyond any earthly hopes, plans or desires.

Jesus came into this world to destroy the power of sin and death.  Jesus came into this world to offer freedom from sin, not from Pharaoh.  Jesus came into this world to open up again the gates of Heaven, not the Red Sea.  This is the freedom that Jesus won by dying on the Cross.  But tonight, Jesus institutes the Eucharist.  He establishes the Holy Eucharist in the form of a sacred meal.  In reality, it is a sacrament that allows us to share in the power of the Cross, and makes us present at Calvary.

This Sacrament of the Eucharist is the foretaste of all of the goodness that God has prepared for us.  Jesus gave us this Sacrament on the night before He died as a way of sharing in His promise to deliver us from every form of slavery.  He wills to free us through the Eucharist from every one of our sins, and to lead us from this world into something that is greater and that lasts forever.

Wednesday of Holy Week

Wednesday of Holy Week
Isaiah 50:4-9  +  Matthew 26:14-25
March 28, 2018

“…woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.”

For those of us who have been baptized, Christ is a gift that has been given to us.  The meaning of our lives as Christians can be measured, then, by the way in which we use that gift.  When we consider again the words of Our Lord— “…woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed”—we recognize that we too have betrayed the Son of Man.  How often have we betrayed our baptismal promises:  those promises we are preparing ourselves to renew at Easter?

But if we consider the word at the root of this phrase, we realize even more so how by our very nature we are bound to hand over Christ:  not by betrayal, but by a “handing over” nonetheless.  The Latin verb from which we derive the phrase “hand over”—tradere—is the same verb from which we derive the word “tradition”, the source of transmitting the Catholic faith to all peoples through all ages.

How longingly Christ wants to be “handed over”!  How lovingly Christ “hands over” to us on the altar of the Cross His Body and Blood, soul and divinity.  Woe to us if—in receiving Christ—we do not hand him over.  To whom ought we hand him over?  Not to priests who will sacrifice Him to death, but to those who search for meaning in this world.  Woe to us if we do not hand over to others the Truth that only in the Cross is meaning to be found.

Tuesday of Holy Week

Tuesday of Holy Week
Isaiah 49:1-6  +  John 13:21-33,36-38
March 27, 2018

“Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”

Today we hear the infamous promise of Saint Peter:  “Why can I not follow you now?  I will lay down my life for you!”  Our Lord knows that Peter is too weak to keep this promise.  “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”  Yet Jesus does not disown Peter.  Within this encounter of human frailty and divine compassion, we see the Lord’s love for each of us reflected.

Despite the weakness of so many of His followers, Jesus does not abandon His intention to accomplish His Father’s Will.  Jesus is abandoned, but He will not abandon His Father’s Will.  Jesus still is willing to carry the Cross, for you in the same way as for His Blessed Mother, Saint Peter, and even for Judas Iscariot.

Perhaps the most striking action in today’s Gospel is Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Our Lord.  Jesus knows Judas better than Judas knows himself.  Jesus knew that it would be by Judas’ betrayal that He would be offered the Cross.  But Jesus also knew that after his betrayal, Judas would refuse to turn back to the Lord for forgiveness, contrary to the desire of Jesus’ compassionate Sacred Heart.

Certainly Judas’ betrayal was more serious than Peter’s.  Nonetheless, Judas could have turned back to Jesus afterwards, and would have found in Jesus a merciful Redeemer.  When Jesus said, “…later on you shall come after me,” these words could have applied to Judas as to any of the other apostles.  It was Judas’ own choice to hang himself which prevented him from following after Our Lord.  Pray that in our sins, each of us will always turn to our loving Redeemer.

Monday of Holy Week

Monday of Holy Week
Isaiah 42:1-7  +  John 12:1-11
March 26, 2018

And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too, because many of the Jews were turning away and believing in Jesus because of him.

Having entered into Jerusalem with Jesus, we recall the testimony about Jesus in Bethany, where Lazarus stands as a sign that arouses the wrath of the Jews.  Lazarus probably laughed at the idea of being threatened by the Jews:  he had already experienced death, and had been raised by Jesus.  How could the Jews threaten him?  They have no power over him.  We, too, must be willing to testify to the power of Our Lord over us.  We must not fear those who threaten us in this world, for they have no power over us.  They have power only over things that God has already called us to forsake.

At the beginning of this Holy Week, we see many people working against Jesus.  In the end, His death was not an accident.  But for every person who worked to nail Jesus to the Cross, there was a choice made, or many choices.  We remember that on the Cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  Every one of us who is a sinner has the chance to accept this prayer.  We have the chance to realize that even on the Cross, Jesus is our Good Shepherd, who wants to offer us His divine mercy and forgiveness.

Palm Sunday [B]

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord [B]
Isa 50:4-7  +  Phil 2:6-11  +  Mk 14:1—15:47
March 25, 2018

Then they crucified Him and divided His garments by casting lots for them….

Today’s feast has two names, reflecting the unusual fact that two Gospel passages are proclaimed at today’s Mass.  From the Gospel passage proclaimed at the start of Mass comes the name “Palm Sunday”.  This name reflects the seeming glory shown Jesus as He rode into the royal city of Jerusalem.  Jesus seemed to be a king.  He seemed to enter the city to bring liberation.  The palm branches were waved with confidence, with cries of “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

But from the long Gospel passage proclaimed after the Second Reading comes the name “Passion Sunday” for today’s feast.  This long passage reveals the descent from “Hosanna!” to “Crucify him!”  This long passage reveals the fickleness of sinful man, and the long-suffering patience of the God-man.

As a wise retired priest of our diocese often points out, the word “patience” comes from the Latin verb “patior”, meaning “to suffer”.  St. Thomas Aquinas speaks to Jesus’ patience throughout this long Gospel passage.  “The passion of Christ”, St. Thomas notes, “completely suffices to fashion our lives.”

“If you seek patience, you will find no better example than the Cross,” St. Thomas continues.  “Great patience occurs in two ways:  either when one patiently suffers much, or when one suffers things which one is able to avoid and yet does not”.

Of course, it’s not fashionable today to bear with suffering patiently, much less seek meaning in it.  Only grace can make us strong enough to embrace the Cross for what it is.  Only grace can strengthen us to bear our own crosses with patience:  to suffer in order to find liberation from the power of sin and death over us.

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Ezekiel 37:21-28  +  John 11:45-56
March 24, 2018

…he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation….

In today’s Gospel passage, the chief priests and Pharisees express their worry about how Jesus might hurt their standing.  They say, “‘What are we going to do?  This man is performing many signs.’”

Their chief complaint about Jesus is that He’s able to perform signs that threaten them.  The ironic point is that in this, the chief priests and Pharisees are like most of the crowds who watch and listen to Jesus.  The crowds, in large measure, follow Jesus because of the signs He performs.

Both His enemies and His followers see Jesus’ signs in relation to themselves.  His enemies see His signs as leading to their losing power.  His followers see His signs as leading to their gaining food and healing.

Yet neither group considers what the signs are pointing to.  For this reason, it’s easy to see why, atop Calvary on Good Friday, His followers are not to be found, and His enemies jeer that His signs have come to an end.  “‘Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe’” [Mark 15:31-32].  Here is a further irony:  both friend and foe fail to see the power of the Sign of the Cross.  The Cross bears the power to bring strength to His enemies in the form of forgiveness, and nourishment and healing of soul to those who will follow Him in taking up their own crosses.

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Jeremiah 20:10-13  +  John 10:31-42
March 23, 2018

“You, a man, are making yourself God.”

It was the humble, ordinary citizens with little to lose who by simple faith and “common sense” accepted Jesus.  John the Baptist’s witness, coupled with Christ’s many signs and wonders, convinced them of the truth of Jesus’ claims.

Humility is the single most important attribute in opening human hearts and minds to God.  We receive from God to the degree that we relinquish our very selves.

It is ironic that the Pharisees’ argument against Jesus is the following:  “You, a man, are making yourself God.”  This lies at the root of the charges that will lead Jesus to His Passion and Death.  It is not, of course, Jesus who “made” Himself God:  rather, from eternity, God the Son was begotten by the Father.  This same Father gave Jesus His mission in this world.  In rejecting both who Jesus is, and His mission, the Pharisees reject God the Father as well.

Adding to the irony of the Pharisees’ charge is that human sin—whose power God the Son came into this world to destroy—is based precisely on what they charge Jesus with doing:  making oneself into a god.  From Adam and Eve to your own sins, every human sinner makes himself an arbiter of truth, and of the meaning of life.  Instead, God calls each of us to turn humbly to the Father each day.