Monday, April 8, 2013

Notes and reflections for a homily on the Sunday within the Easter Octave

Following the Mass yesterday at Holy Hill, I was asked to share the text for my homily based on the appearance of risen Christ to St. Thomas.  A bit was said impromptu but I'm posting what I had prepared before me... and I've provided something of a "more finished" end...

What do our Scriptures tell us today on this “Mercy” Sunday?

         1) St. John the Evangelist tells us in today’s Gospel: “Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’”  Twice in the passage He does so.  The Risen Christ has the power to enter the places of the heart which we keep locked up, out of fear.  His love is not deterred by our stubborn lack of faith.  He actively seeks us out to reveal to us His power and His love.
         2) It is in spite of our stubbornness of heart that the Risen Jesus reveals His power.  “Love conquers all fear,” St. John’s First Letter tells us (1 John 4:18).  Jesus only invites us to look at His wounds and to touch them in faith.  As He says to Thomas, so He says to us: SEE MY WOUNDS … look upon my RISEN BODY and see what GOD desires for you to BECOME.  Forget your betrayals and infidelities.  LOOK at ME.
Jesus reveals to Thomas and to us the beauty and the truth of our humanity.  That even our many WOUNDS can become life-giving … an opportunity for compassion, a door to let God into our lives again.  Do not be unbelieving but belief.  Because as St John tells us, our faith in Christ is our means of conquering (1 John 5:4).
3) Jesus can still be touched today.  St. John of the Cross tells us that faith touches God (see Spiritual Canticle, 12.4).  For this reason, Jesus says: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”  Brothers and sisters, our FAITH permits us to personally encounter God and to touch the glorious wounds of Christ.  Faith brings us HEALING.  Those who refuse to believe outright are crippled by arrogance, unable to acknowledge whatever their minds cannot grasp.  This is a GREAT misery—to allow our tiny minds to be the measure of reality.  …Christian faith is NOT some “feel-good” optimism or mere positive thinking; but rather, faith embraces the truth that reality in God is NOT bound by or restricted to the limits of our paltry understanding.
4) In Jesus, God enters the locked upper room of our heart and reveals His power to save us.  Mercy brings LIFE and LOVE where there was NONE.  Christ desires to enter the dark recesses of our hearts and to carry there the light of His love—He wants to free us from fear, from sin, from death.  For this reason He accepted the Cross.
Blessed John Paul II, a man well-acquainted with suffering, having lost all the members of his family to death by the time he was only 20 years old, a man who worked in labor camps at the time of Nazi occupation, and a man who was nearly murdered by an assassin while blessing the multitudes at St. Peter’s… this man wrote:  “The cross is like a touch of eternal love upon the most painful wounds of man’s earthly existence” (Dives in misericordia, 8).  The cross—in our petty sufferings, our impatience, our inconveniences, our misunderstandings—this cross is the path that, with Jesus, leads us to Resurrection and a peace that knows no limits…
         5) Let us trustingly examine our hearts before the Risen Christ who enters the locked Upper Room of our heart and desires to give us His peace there.  His is not a peace conditional upon our merits and righteousness.  It is HIS peace, bestowed at His pleasure, to reveal to us the indomitable mercy that comes to us from the Father.  A love that triumphs over death in any of its particular manifestations during this passing life.  Jesus is like that owner of the vineyard, hiring workers throughout the day and paying them as HE wishes, who asks: “Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?  Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matt 20:15).  His “plenty” stems from His inexhaustible life, shared with His eternal Father, and now broken open to be poured out, through the Holy Spirit… upon whomever He pleases.  May God grant we might be truly surrendered to the unfathomable gift of this Life.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

An Easter Homily at Holy Hill

The Lord is risen!  He is truly risen!  Alleluia!

     Brothers and sisters, there is NO love like the love of God in Jesus Christ.  God is PASSIONATE for the man and the woman He created—He is passionate for each and every one of you and me.

He is passionate enough to accept being truly immersed in OUR suffering, and even to surrender the power of death… so to enter into our pain and our loneliness and our fear.  In His Son, Jesus Christ, God scours the very depths of HELL to look for us and to take us upon His broad shoulders and to bring us home to Himself.

  It was YOUR flesh and blood and MY flesh and blood that God took to Himself in Jesus, so to reveal to us A LOVE STRONGER THAN DEATH.  Our humanity now has “a place within God” because Christ rose to new life with OUR humanity (cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, p. 274).  This is the meaning of our Easter celebration.  After the horror of the crucifixion, and the abandonment and the shame, God FREELY reveals His gift of RESURRECTION.  Jesus told His disciples, “I am going away and I will return to you.  I do not leave you orphans.”  Brothers and sisters, though at times we may think God is silent HE NEVER abandons us.  When we think He does not remember us in our suffering, it is especially then that God is most active preparing an eternal dwelling for us.

  So then, it is not ONLY Christ’s victory we celebrate today, but the promise of OUR VICTORY in Jesus.  Following the homily, we will renew our baptismal promises and be sprinkled with the newly-blessed Easter water, that symbolizes the waters poured upon us in Baptism.  On the day of your Baptism, God made an eternal covenant with you.  On that day, through the action of the priest in the company of the whole Church, God etched into your very being the very name of His Son and planted in you the seed of eternal life.  We bear this SEED.

  ETERNAL LIFE is not a perpetual “continuation” of the life we experience now.  It is a life of abundant love and joy, a life that has NO fear or self-concern.  It is the life we LONG for in the depths of our hearts—to know a LOVE that has no end or conditions.

  It is our Christian belief that the gift of RISEN life begins here on earth.  Brothers and sisters, understand! We are not celebrating an event of the past, or an event to come in the future.  It is a reality NOW in this moment….  We who are baptized into Christ’s death are baptized into His resurrection.  But the disciples running to the tomb in today’s Gospel show us HOW we are to receive this gift of new life.  We are told Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved ran to the tomb, the other disciple who arrived first, BENT DOWN and LOOKED into the empty tomb, saw the burial cloths, entered the tomb and BELIEVED.  We are called to BEND DOWN in faith, to make ourselves small as it were—to put aside our selfishness, our pride, our resentment of others—and to believe—to humble ourselves before the mystery of Jesus Christ risen from the dead.  Many do not come to know Jesus as Lord, even many baptized Catholics, because they refuse to run to the tomb, to humble themselves and to believe.  They insist on holding on to the hurt and anger that is so familiar, rather than to embrace the freeing love of Christ Jesus that makes us new.

     We Catholic Christians believe that the Risen Jesus touches our lives and transforms us EVERY TIME we receive the Sacraments—when we come to Holy Communion, when we receive the Sacrament of Penance—we encounter the living Jesus.  How many do not come to Sunday Mass because they think there is nothing to be gained there!  And yet EVERY time we receive the Eucharist, we receive the RISEN LIFE of Jesus Christ into our own body and soul!  We can go pray by ourselves, go get exercise, commune with nature and even stand on our heads, BUT nothing we do can give us that RISEN LIFE that we receive in the EUCHARIST.  God wants us to receive His Risen Life…  Imagine the person you love most and how you would so desire to give what is most intimate to them … imagine then, this person you love casually dismissing this most intimate gift of yourself.  How much MORE Christ wishes to give us the gift of His Risen Life in the Eucharist.

    Today, let us all “run to the empty tomb” moved by love and let us bend down and humble ourselves so to receive through faith the gift of Christ’s Risen Life.  Jesus Christ is our Savior, now and forever!

     Let me finish with the words spoken last night by Pope Francis in Rome:
“Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life!  If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward.  He will receive you with open arms.  If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed.  If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do" (Easter Vigil Homily, Vatican Radio).

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Remembering God in a world that forgets

On this Thanksgiving Day, we remember the countless blessings of Almighty God. Simply our grateful remembrance of God is transformative and inclines us to become more and more vessels of Divine Charity, other "humanities" (as Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity would say) wherein Christ can live His Paschal Mystery.

From the Soliloquies of St. Teresa of Jesus: “My soul grew greatly distressed, my God, while considering the glory You've prepared for those who persevere in doing Your will, the number of trials and sufferings by which Your Son gained it, and how much in its greatness love [which at such a cost taught us to love] deserves our gratitude. How is it possible, Lord, that all this love is forgotten and that mortals are so forgetful of You when they offend You? O my Redeemer, and how completely forgetful of themselves they are! What great goodness is Yours, that You then remember us, and that though we have fallen through the mortal wound we inflicted on You, You return to us, forgetful of this, to lend a hand and awaken us from so incurable a madness, that we might seek and beg salvation of you! Blessed be such a Lord; blessed be such great mercy; and praised forever such tender compassion!” (3.1).

Let us always remember ... and give thanks.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The lineage of holiness...

St. Teresa of Jesus, foundress and reformer
I am in Brighton, MA for a gathering of the Plenary Provincial Council, which is a consultative body composed of the provincial, his council, the superiors of all our monasteries, and elected delegates from the various communities.

Today, for the Feast of All Carmelite Saints, Fr. Santulino Ekada, OCD, the prior of our monastery/student house in Nairobi, Kenya, preached on the responsibilities incumbent upon us friars who are "descendants" of the saints of Carmel.  He spoke strikingly of the African mindset of lineage.  It is of primary importance in the African culture to maintain the bloodline, to pass on the heritage of father to son, and to assure the continuity and growth of the clan or the tribe.  Still more, Fr. Santulino told us that one who breaks the lineage is considered accursed. And so, those religious and priests, who do not have biological children for the growth of the tribe, are also regarded accursed.

Analogously, it is the Discalced Carmelite community existing TODAY that bears aloft the call to holiness in Carmel.  As St. Teresa wrote, "...if those of us who are alive now have not fallen away from what they did in the past, and those who come after us do the same, the building will always stand firm. What use is it to me for the saints of the past to have been what they were, if I come along after them and behave so badly that I leave the building in ruins because of my bad habits?" "Any of you who sees your Order falling away in any respect must try to be the kind of stone the building can be rebuilt with—the Lord will help to rebuild it" (Foundations, 4.6,7).

Carmel is not a history to be learned, nor simply a spirituality to be studied, but a life to be lived.  May the Lord keep us faithful one day at a time that we may be counted one day among the saints!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Notes for Sunday within the Easter Octave

Notes on a Divine Mercy Sunday Homily
Today is a glorious day in the Church—it is the final day of the Easter Octave, the great celebration of the Resurrection, it is the feast of Divine Mercy…
Our Gospel today is SO rich.  It speaks to the depth of the human heart.
Poor Thomas… He wasn’t present in the upper Room when Jesus first appeared to the other apostles.  And he lived for a whole week with the others, feeling so alone in his disbelief.  “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”  No doubt he LONGED TO BE FREED from this prison he built; no doubt he wanted to share in the JOY he saw in the others…  Then Jesus appears a second time.
What does this powerful Gospel tell us today, on this Mercy Sunday?
        1) St. John the Evangelist tells us: “Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’”   The Risen Christ has the power to enter the places of the heart which we keep locked up, out of fear.  His love is not deterred by our stubborn lack of faith.  He actively seeks us out to reveal to us His power and His love.
2) It is in spite of our stubbornness of heart that the Risen Jesus reveals His power.  Love conquers all fear, St. John’s First Letter tells us.  Jesus only invites us to look at His wounds and to touch them in faith.  As He says to Thomas, so He says to us: SEE MY WOUNDS … look upon my RISEN BODY and see what GOD desires for you to BECOME. Forget your betrayals and infidelities.  LOOK at ME.
         Jesus reveals to Thomas and to us the beauty and the truth of our humanity.  That even our many WOUNDS can become lifegiving … an opportunity for compassion, a door to let God into our lives again.  Do not be unbelieving but belief.  Because as St John tells us, our faith in Christ is our means of conquering.
        3) Jesus can still be touched today.  St. John of the Cross tells us that faith touches God (i.e., "Faith, ... gives and communicates God himself to us" [Spiritual Canticle, 12.4]. For this reason, Jesus says: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Brothers and sisters, our FAITH permits us to personally encounter God and to touch the glorious wounds of Christ.  Faith brings us HEALING.
        Those who refuse to believe outright are crippled by arrogance, unable to acknowledge whatever their minds cannot grasp.  This is a GREAT poverty—to allow our tiny minds to be the measure of reality. Imagine a great athlete who has enormous physical ability but he believes he is paralyzed and cannot move.  …It is not that our Christian faith is some kind Peter Pan optimism; but rather, faith acknowledges that reality in God is NOT bound by the limits of our understanding.
         4) In Jesus, God enters the locked upper room of our heart and reveals His power to save us.  Mercy brings LIFE and LOVE where there was NONE.  Christ desires to enter the dark recesses of our hearts and to carry there the light of His love—He wants to free us from fear, from sin, from death.  For this reason He accepted the Cross. In Blessed JP II’s encyclical, Dives in misericordia (Rich in Mercy), he writes: “The cross is like a touch of eternal love upon the most painful wounds of man's earthly existence.”
         Today, we celebrate God’s infinite Mercy revealed in Jesus Christ—may we not turn to this Mercy only for FEAR of God’s condemnation, but rather in order to return LOVE for LOVE.  Let us turn to God is CONFIDENCE and LOVE and permit Him to live in our hearts.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

An Easter Homily at Holy Hill 2012

The oldest known version of the Gospel of Mark ends simply with the women finding an EMPTY TOMB.  In this oldest form, there is no appearance of the Risen Jesus.  Only the empty tomb.  Mark has told the whole of the story of the life and death of Jesus—his baptism, his ministry, his words, his miraculous works, his betrayal, his arrest and trial, his passion and crucifixion and death—and finally, … he leads us with the women into an empty tomb.  We are told by a young man clothed in white: “He has risen; He is not here; LOOK, here is the place where they laid Him.
         But these are the women who witnessed His torture and execution with their own eyes.  These are the women who accompanied His broken and bloodied Body to the borrowed tomb—to this final dark, dank place of death.  We were there ourselves on Good Friday!
         The earliest redaction of Mark’s Gospel simply ends with this sentence:  “Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”  But clearly this is NOT the end.  It is NOT what the women expect to find on this early Sunday morning … they are seized with trembling, not simply because the body of the Lord is missing … but rather, the words and teachings of Jesus begin to race through their minds:  “Destroy this temple,” He said, “and on the third day I will raise it up.”  …Only now (as they see the empty tomb) do they begin to suspect WHO Jesus is.  And they are both terrified and enthralled as they come to believe.  The goodness of God defies their wildest imaginations.  Because, with this discovery of the empty tomb, these women come to believe in their hearts—“Everything this man said and did was absolutely TRUE.”  And NOW He, who loved us, had even conquered DEATH!

         Pope Paul VI wrote in his exhortation On Christian Joy: “The resurrection of Jesus is the seal placed by the Father on the value of His Son's sacrifice: it is the proof of the Father's fidelity (37).  The promise of God is TRUE.  The eternal Father raises the Son to new life, a life that never ends.  And Jesus, the Son, now glorified makes it His first priority to return to us; “I will not leave you orphans!” He said.  His glorious, risen Body is now the sign of the promise to us.
         Brothers and sisters, do we understand that this is OUR story (we who were baptized into Christ Jesus).  We, too, look into the tomb, the dark tomb hewn out of rock … and perhaps we expect to find in that place of death our countless infidelities before God, our history of casual betrayals, an immeasurable debt of sin for which we cannot atone (we know it well)… and YET, we are told by the young man in white sitting in the tomb, these are GONE (see where they had laid!), these are GONE because He is RISEN and He goes ahead to meet you.  GO, tell the others, and go to meet Him.
         Let me mention something here that NEEDS to be heard again and again in our times.  In the Gospels, including the extended ending we heard in Mark’s Gospel today, angels (and eventually Jesus Himself) tells those who find the empty tomb or who see Him risen: “GO AND TELL THE OTHERS!”  Just as Jesus had called twelve apostles and a multitude of disciples to share His mission, just as gave Himself in the Eucharist on Holy Thursday and COMMANDED the Twelve to “DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME,” NOW these chosen disciples are COMMANDED to witness to the Resurrection… What do I mean to say?  IT is that JESUS CHRIST gives HIS LIFE and SPIRIT to His CHURCH and MAKES HIS CHURCH one with Himself.  …The cover of last week’s Newsweek magazine had an image of Jesus in contemporary clothing with the striking title: “Forget the Church, Follow Jesus.”  Quite an exploitative cover for Easter… No doubt it again harkens to the scandals that have plagued the Church in recent years, BUT ironically it fails to understand that Jesus Himself is responsible for the Church—He chose certain disciples to share His authority to baptize, to teach, and to cast out demons.  Jesus chose St. Peter to be the ROCK for His Church, against which even HELL would NOT prevail.  Jesus gave to the Church the authority to absolve and to bind the sins of men and women.  And finally it was Jesus who commanded and enabled His apostles to make the gift of His life and death present in the Eucharistic banquet.  Jesus chose sinners to be His disciples—but He guarantees His salvation by the Sacraments they celebrate and by their remembrance on Sunday of His death and resurrection.  And finally, Jesus identifies Himself with the community of His Church, with the members of His Church.  It is the privileged commission of the Church, her bishops, priests and deacons, and her baptized faithful to always proclaim year-in and year-out WHO JESUS IS.  As Cardinal Dolan has said many times in recent months, there is NO Christ without the Church, because He continues to LIVE and to FORGIVE through His Church.  If you or a family member or a friend has been away from Mass and Confessions for a long time, tell them not EVEN the failings of priests and believers should justify the refusal of God’s sacraments!  The throne of mercy is always waiting for us through the gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the promise of ETERNAL LIFE is found in the Sunday Eucharist (Jesus says: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and will raise him up on the last day.”)
         Brothers and sisters, JESUS CHRIST LIVES FOR US … and now WISHES only one thing of the Father, as he said on Holy Thursday night: “Father, I pray that where I am they also may be, so that they may see the glory which You have given Me, because You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”
         In a moment we will renew our baptismal vows as members of Christ’s Church. . . . At our baptism, you and I received the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Risen CHRIST.  What does that mean???  It means we possess the SEED of RESURRECTION within our hearts … because Jesus now lives forever, sharing our humanity, …our lives and our acts of love bear ETERNAL consequence.  GOD’S LIFE NOW LIVES WITHIN US.
         Brothers and sisters, do we wish to heed the voice of God?  Let us then leave the TOMB and all that is within it … and let us go with faith and joy to meet our risen Lord at the altar and in our hearts.  Christ is risen!  He is truly RISEN!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

“When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”

From a homily given at Holy Hill on the 5th Sunday of Lent.

This season of Lent is something of a school that educates and prepares our hearts to celebrate the great mysteries of our salvation—the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus, Son of God and our Savior.  Each Sunday of Lent is another LESSON that tells us something of WHO Jesus is and WHY He came into the world.  Let me just offer a recap.  The first Sunday of Lent Jesus is led into the desert to be tempted by the devil, to experience his human weakness in solidarity with us, and to glorify His Father by suffering in His weakness.  The second Sunday of Lent Jesus is revealed during the Transfiguration as the Beloved Son of God the Father and the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.  Peter, James and John and we ourselves are told: “LISTEN TO HIM.”  The third Sunday of Lent Jesus cleanses the Temple and reveals Himself to be the NEW Temple and the means of offering true worship to God.  Last Sunday, we had the beautiful passage in the Gospel of John where Jesus tells Nicodemus: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up so that everyone who believes in Him might have eternal life.”

And so we come to this fifth Sunday—the Sunday before his triumphant entry into Jerusalem where he’ll be crucified.  Some Greeks want to “see Jesus”—they are not Jews but Gentiles—foreigners drawn to see Jesus… and it is THIS moment when Jesus declares that His “Hour” has come.  In John’s Gospel, the “Hour” is both the time of Christ’s Passion AND His exaltation.  Jesus tells us explicitly HOW He will be glorified and how He will glorify the Father… It is through His death on the CROSS.

Jesus tells us, “The Son of Man did NOT come to be served, but TO SERVE.”  To give His life for the MANY.  Why?  Is it because SOMEONE has to PAY?  Well, it is true that Jesus alone restores TRUE justice where our sins have offended GOD.  …But let us remember that it is not blood and suffering that God requires for the salvation of the world, BUT rather A HEART THAT LOVES OBEDIENTLY, even unto death.

“Son though He was, Jesus learned obedience from what He suffered.”  The Son of God lived a human life, united with us, and offered to God a heart that LOVED until death.  “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  And so Jesus says to all of us today, “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”  Jesus comes to understand that His life is the grain of wheat that will die to produce much fruit.

We, too, must give of ourselves—more than likely NOT to be literally crucified—but maybe it is to be patient with those who greatly annoy us, maybe it is to still desire good to those who have mistreated us, maybe it is to LIVE TODAY for God even if we have FAILED to live for Him for the past week.  Jesus says: “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.”  If you were baptized into Christ Jesus, then YOU TOO are a SEED that must die to itself so that FRUIT may be produced and GOD glorified.

Brothers and sisters, in today’s Gospel Jesus gives us a THEOLOGY for Good Friday—it is that He, the Son of God made flesh, will give His life for us to glorify His Father and to REVEAL the greatest love the world has ever known.  And what is the FRUIT of this love: LISTEN.  “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”  That is, WHEN JESUS REVEALS the FULLNESS of GOD on the CROSS, every HUMAN HEART will awaken and be drawn to this LOVE.

This is the meaning of our first reading from Jeremiah: God is making a new covenant... In the former covenant God has to show us to be our Master, but in the NEW and ETERNAL covenant, God “places His law within us and writes it upon our hearts.”  The Lord says about His CROSS: “All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.”

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who climbs the wood of the cross in order to call all His scattered SHEEP to Himself and to lead them to the Father.

WHAT must we do in reply?

Let us LOOK at the CROSS and consider the love of Christ for us.  As our shepherd, Jesus asks for the obedience of our hearts.  Jesus never asks anything of us that He has not ALREADY DONE Himself.  He calls us from the CROSS to give of our lives in LOVE.  And if we love as He has loved, we will come to understand from experience that death is NOT the end—beyond the CROSS the Savior leads us to the Resurrection.