Sunday, April 28, 2019

Jesus I Trust In You!

DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY – From the Catholic Liturgy for Divine Mercy Sunday, April 28, 2019.  Gospel - John 20:19-31. Theme: Jesus, I Trust in You.

Today, Catholics throughout the world celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. We have so many special feast days during the year but this one is most unique because it was asked for by Jesus Himself, in the 1930’s, during a series of Church-approved visions to a Polish nun whom we now honor as St. Faustina.  Usually, such personal spiritual experiences do not enter into our liturgy but this one, Divine Mercy, was seriously studied and promoted by Pope St. John Paul II himself.

In addition to observing this Sunday as Divine Mercy Sunday, Jesus asked that a special picture be made showing Him as He was when He appeared to St. Faustina. He wanted this image displayed in parish churches as well as in our homes. He called this image a vessel of mercy and promised that many graces and blessings would come to those who honor it and live what it represents.  Since Jesus himself asked that this image be spread and honored, let’s take a closer look at it.

The first interesting fact is that this image is a totally Easter-picture of Jesus, which makes a lot of sense because Divine Mercy is a totally Easter-devotion which is precisely why we celebrate it on this first Sunday after Easter. The shining glory, the posture and the body language of Jesus in this image is that of our Risen Savior as He appeared to the apostles on the first Easter night, as we heard in today’s Gospel. His right hand is raised in blessing and his left hand directs us to his heart. He looks out at us with compassion in his eyes and invites us to believe in Him, just as He asked of Thomas.

Secondly, this image has a very unique feature not found in other pictures of Jesus: from the region of His heart we see two bright rays shining forth…a reddish one and a bluish- white one. These rays of light coming from Jesus’ chest are symbols of the blood and water that gushed forth from His pierced side on Good Friday. These are the signs of the divine life of grace that comes to us through the community of the Church. So, in this image Jesus invites us to live the new life which He gave us in Baptism and to grow more deeply in our relationship with Him through the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist.

Finally, we cannot overlook the words that Our Lord wanted printed on every copy of this image: “Jesus, I trust in You.”  Just as an artist signs his painting, so Jesus called these words His signature. This simple little prayer which we all can easily memorize sums up the entire reason and purpose of this devotion, as well as the whole theme of the Gospels: to enter into and live a deep personal intimate relationship with Jesus and to not allow our sins and weaknesses to interfere with this relationship.

Over and over again Jesus said that no one ever needs to worry or fear when it comes to their relationship with Him. We are simply to trust in His love and realize that He did everything, even to the opening up of his heart on the Cross, out of love for each one of us personally.

He declared that our sins and our past, no matter what they were, are no obstacle to friendship with Him and that it is especially in the Sacrament of Confession that He pours out His mercy and forgiveness upon us.  He said that as long as we have breath within us, we have a right to claim His mercy and no sin, no matter what it might be, is greater than his forgiving love.

So, the bottom line to this devotion, which is also the bottom line of Christianity itself, is our relationship with Jesus. It is all about love and love is rooted in trust. His love is unconditional and therefore we would be so foolish as to have any other attitude towards Jesus other than one of trust, confidence, and serenity.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Came to Believe...

From the Catholic Liturgy for Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019. Gospel: John 20:1-9. Theme: Coming to Believe…

Today's awesome celebration places before us the central truth of Christianity:  the real, historical, physical Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It’s a strange thing, indeed, to believe that a man who was tortured, killed and buried, has risen from the dead to more a powerful, glorious and real life.

It seems to impossible to take it at face value. People die and are buried. They do not then suddenly rise up out of the grave!  As a matter of fact, this claim seems so foolish that people have tried to raise objections to the Resurrection story ever since it first happened. But the evidence of the empty tomb and the eye-witness experience of the disciples is just too strong to ignore.

As we heard in this morning’s Gospel the tomb of Jesus was found empty about 36 hours after he was buried.  And each one of us here today are very much like Mary Magdalen, Peter and John on that first Easter Sunday. We have been told that Jesus is risen, but we have not seen it for ourselves. We have evidence that it could be true, but it seems so unbelievable.  And so, like them we also have to pass through a process of coming to believe…

Perhaps in this process of coming to believe we might be like John who saw the empty tomb and believed right away.  He had no need for further proof or evidence.  He was Jesus’ best friend and the only one of the twelve apostles who stood faithfully by Him, following Jesus to his trial and standing at the foot of His cross with the Blessed Mother on Good Friday. His love and fidelity was rewarded with this gift of faith.

But I think that most of us are more like Peter, who came to believe in a series of steps. He had witnessed all that Jesus had done, he had seen the miracles – the blind given sight, the deaf being able to hear, the paralyzed getting up and walking. But still…this news of Resurrection seemed so impossible. 
He listened to what Mary Magdalen had to say and then he ran – not walked but ran - to the tomb to check out the evidence. He was eager to investigate. Afterwards, he went home and pondered these things. We can be sure He prayed, asking God for the light to understand. He would go on to become the boldest preacher of the Resurrection, the first Pope, and a martyr for the Risen Lord Jesus Christ!

Do we have this eagerness of Peter? His urgency to check it all out and come to believe? Have we followed his example? Do we take up the Gospel and really read it with our hearts as well as our eyes, or do we just listen to the same old story year after year? Do we reflect on the eye-witness experiences the Gospels record, taken from those who personally saw and touched and spoke and ate with the Risen Lord Jesus?  Do we realize that these are historical facts and not simply Christian fairy tales? Are we praying for the light to see and to believe?

Faith in Jesus, in the Resurrection is a gift. It is not something we can make happen, nor is it something we can purchase or earn. We can spend year after year celebrating Easter in our church and in our homes with our family and friends, but still feel unsure, doubtful inside. We have to come to believe and to know that there is One Who is greater than ourselves Who can overcome whatever doubts we have. And then we must take a step forward in trust, turning our lives, our minds, our hearts and our wills over to this One Whom we call the Risen Lord.

And we can be quite sure that He’s here among us right now...ready and willing to touch and transform those who
·       open their minds to the truth about WHO he really is…
·       who open their eyes to the evidence of WHAT he can do…

·       and who open their hearts to the transforming power of His love.

Friday, April 19, 2019

I Thirst

The Catholic Liturgy for Good Friday, April 19, 2019. Gospel: John 18:1-19:42. Theme: I Thirst.

Jesus said, “I thirst.”  The thirst of Jesus on the cross can be heard and responded to in two different ways, depending upon the relationship we have with Him as either Casual Christians or Committed Christians.

It can he heard as a tortured man's cry for water after having been deprived of it for hours while undergoing abuse and torture. This would be the way of hearing that is common to the Casual Christian who feels sorrow for the Lord's suffering but then goes on with his or her life as with any other day.

And then there is the hearing of these words by the Committed Christian. This Christian who hears Jesus thirsting and simply cannot stand by idle.  They want to do something to quench his thirst.

This interpretation is not my own, but comes from someone who spent her entire life seeking to quench the thirst of Jesus: St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

If you go into the chapel of any convent of the Missionaries of Charity Sisters which she started, you will notice that their chapels are very sparse and bare. But there always will be a large crucifix on a wall next to the tabernacle. And under the arms of the cross you will see the words, “I Thirst” in large letters.   Mother Teresa said that those two words mean that Jesus thirsts for our love, for the love of each one of us individually.

Mother Teresa would often tell people to add their first names to those two words in order to experience what Jesus really means by them. “Teresa. I thirst.”  Put your own name there and realize that He thirsts for your love. Not the love of the impersonal large anonymous crowd of humanity for whom he died, but the love of each and every one of us individually, personally, passionately.

And so, I would think that this should make us stop and ask: How can I, living in 2019, quench the thirst of Jesus on the cross? Well...Mother Teresa is only too happy to tell us!

She would first remind us that Jesus is really and truly present among us today in two very personal ways, but ways that require faith to see Him because he is hidden. Two different forms of Presence but only the One Same Jesus.
·       He is present in the Eucharist, the reality of the Blessed Sacrament, hidden under the appearances of bread and wine.
·       And He is present in the persons of the Needy and Poor, hidden under the distressful disguise of a suffering human being.

Mother Teresa taught that we can quench the thirst of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament by receiving Holy Communion mindfully and worthily, with faith and devotion instead of out of mindless habit and routine. Then once he is within us we can tell him of our love and entrust ourselves to his care. We can commune heart to heart, person to person, in a divine romance of the soul.
And then she spoke always of how we can quench the love of Jesus in the Needy Poor by ministering to them in whatever ways we can.  She taught us to expand our understanding of what it means to be “poor”.  That we do not need to go to a Third World country or to the worst parts of town to find Jesus thirsting for our love.  She told us to remember that loneliness, sadness and rejection are all expressions of emotional poverty that everyone can encounter no matter their social class or situation in life. Especially among our families and in our own neighborhoods.

So, I think some very important questions to ask ourselves today is this:

·       Do I hear the cry of Jesus, “I thirst”? How do I respond?
·       Do I really believe that Jesus thirsts for MY love? That he loves me so much he embraced the cross so that I can be with Him for all eternity?
·       Am I Casual Christian or a Committed Christian? Which one do I most truly want to be? 

The Hope of Good Friday and the Promise of Easter Sunday is that it’s never ever too late for us to change and begin quenching the thirst of Jesus whenever and wherever we encounter it.