Sunday, April 11, 2021

The ABCs of Mercy


Homily for the Octave of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, Aril 11, 2021. Gospel of St. John 20:19-31. Theme: The ABCs of Mercy 

In our Catholic Faith, many prayers and devotions have come to us through the spiritual experiences of the saints. But few, very few, ever reach the highest level of actually entering into our liturgy and being promoted by a pope. However, on May 5, 2000, Pope St. John Paul II declared that the Second Sunday of Easter was to be forever celebrated as “Divine Mercy Sunday”, which was requested by Jesus through the spiritual experiences of St. Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun and mystic of the 20th century. 

Our Lord had chosen her to help reawaken in his Church a new awareness of and appreciation for his mercy, because so many had forgotten about the tenderness of God’s love. Jesus told her that he was saddened over the fact that so many people found it difficult to draw near to him because of the way in which he was being presented by the ministers of his Church. You see, much of the preaching and teaching of the time made people think that because of human weaknesses and sinfulness they were unworthy of an intimate relationship with Christ. 

But Jesus told St. Faustina that the opposite is actually true. He said that the greater a sinner a person is, the greater is that person’s right to claim his mercy. He said that he is drawn to wounded and struggling hearts the way iron shavings are attracted to a magnet. He said that he longs to have a deep and meaningful relationship with every person who desires it. How very different and hopeful that all sounded when compared to what people were usually hearing at church! 

To help us remember and celebrate his love for us, Jesus asked that Mercy Sunday be observed as the closing day of the great Easter feast. He also requested that a special image of himself be painted and blessed, with copies of it hung in churches and homes so that we could remember his mercy every day. In this image, Jesus gazes at us with a look of deep compassion. One hand is raised in blessing us while the other touches his chest. From the region of his heart two rays shine forth - a pale one and a red one - symbolizing the two Sacraments that establish us in an intimate relationship with him: Baptism and Eucharist. His posture is shown as if he is walking towards us, symbolizing that he wants to come to us spiritually though this image of Divine Mercy. Christ said that every artist signs his picture, and so he wanted the words, “Jesus, I trust in you” to be inscribed on every copy of this image as his personal signature. 

And along with this image, he also gave us two new short and simple forms of prayer that he hopes we will pray every day. The first is called the “Chaplet of Mercy”. When praying it, we invoke the Passion of Jesus repeatedly, asking God the Father to have mercy upon us and upon the whole world. Christ promised that through this chaplet he would grant whatever we ask so long it is according to his plan for us. And he said that this chaplet should be prayed especially for the dying because it would open their hearts to ask for his mercy as they prepare to leave this world. The second form of prayer is called the “Hour of Mercy”, which is 3PM, the time at which he died upon the cross. He asked that every day we pause, even if just for a moment, to recall how he loved us to the end and to praise his mercy in doing so. There are no specific words for this because it is meant to be a personal prayer arising from our hearts. 

Jesus gave us the devotion to Divine Mercy to help us live and act as people of mercy. He wants us to know that we can confidently call upon Him with trust, receive his mercy for ourselves, and then let it flow through us to others. This is how we make Mercy Sunday something meaningful and effective in our lives and not allow this gift from Christ to remain just something that we celebrate once a year. The message and mission of mercy to which he calls each one of us is literally as simple and easy for us to remember as A, B and C. 

A — Ask for His mercy. In his Gospel, Jesus says, "Ask and you will receive". And so, with great confidence we ask for His Mercy upon ourselves, our family and friends, upon our nation and the whole world! We can do this so easily by praying the Chaplet of Mercy and the Hour of Mercy daily. Even when prayed thoughtfully, the chaplet only take about 5 minutes. 

B — Be merciful to others. Jesus wants to remember and live the Scriptures that say, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy,” and, “If you forgive the sins of others, then God will forgive you yours.” So, you see, we ourselves set the bar as to how much we want God to have mercy on us and to forgive us by how much we do the same for others! Jesus said to St. Faustina: “There are three ways to show mercy: the first — by your actions, the second — by your words, and the third — by your prayers.” So, it’s within the grasp of all of us to be merciful to everyone in one way or another. And finally, 

C — Completely trust in Jesus. This is the heart of the message of Divine Mercy, just as it is the very heart of the Gospel. This is why the Image of Divine Mercy bears the words, "Jesus, I trust in You." What this means is that no matter who we are, no matter what choices we may have made, we can always turn to Christ for pardon and peace. We must never lose sight of the truth that Jesus is concerned for, interested in, and walking with each one of us, and that nothing whatsoever can lessen his love for us. This should encourage us to always trust in Jesus no matter what happens in our lives. 

As we prepare to receive Christ in Holy Communion this morning, let’s recall the experience of the Apostle Thomas whom we encountered in the today’s Gospel. Like him, let’s reach out our hands to touch the Risen Lord and praise his great mercy in coming to us. Let’s make with him an act of deep personal faith and say, “Jesus, I believe. Jesus, I trust in you!”

Monday, April 5, 2021

Case for Easter Book Study: Week One


Case for Easter Book Study: Week One

So, here we are starting off on our journey to a deeper understanding of the evidence that supports our personal faith in the Resurrection!  

The first audio is more of an an introduction to the book and the topic. I share an overview of what have come to be called "objections" to the Resurrection. During this coming week please be sure to read the Introduction and Chapter 1: The Medical Evidence: Was Jesus' Death a Sham and His Resurrection a Hoax?"

Remembering that this is a faith study, be sure to offer a prayer before reading, asking the light of the Holy Spirit to guide you and  the Risen Lord Jesus to reveal to you the power and truth of his Resurrection! 

Sunday, April 4, 2021

The Good News of Resurrection!


Homily for Easter, Gospel: John 20:1-9. Theme: The Good News of Resurrection!

Our Easter 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 up to more a powerful, glorious and real life. But this is precisely the unique Good News of Christianity: that Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and Savior of all people, has risen from the dead and by doing so, has banished the fear and finality of death for those who follow and trust in Him. 

There have been many religious figures the world, but the Resurrection sharply distinguishes Jesus from all the others. No one else claimed to be what Jesus said he was. No one else claimed to be more powerful than death itself. The Buddha was cremated and interred in Kushinagar, India. The Old Testament tells us that the grave of Moses is near Mount Nebo, in Jordan. Confucius is buried in the Shandong province of China. Muhammed is buried in Medina, Saudi Arabia. But where is the body of Jesus of Nazareth? 

As we heard in the Gospel, the tomb of Jesus was found empty. According to the eye witness experience of over 500 people during the 40 days after that first Easter Sunday, he was alive…risen…glorious…immortal. They saw him, touched him, spoke to him and ate with him. If their experiences are true…then it means that Jesus was indeed who He said He was: God actually come among us in the flesh as one of us. And it means that Easter is a total game-changer in human history and for each human life. 

However, it takes more than just hearing to truly enter into what the Resurrection means. There were a lot of people in Jerusalem for the Passover on that momentous Easter morning. Many were still asleep when the Resurrection happened. Others would hear about it later on, as the day and the week wore on. And for most, it was just crazy gossip in the marketplace and never effected their lives. But for others, this news of Resurrection would change them from the inside out and they would never be the same. And you know, this variable reaction to the news of Resurrection is still happening today. 

There are those who hear the Good News yet it remains nothing more than a story to be told and retold every Easter. It never really touches their lives. And there are others who hear the news of the empty tomb, who ponder the experience of the holy women, and who receive into their hearts the words of the angel that “He is not here. He has been raised.” They experience a hope beyond hope that leaps up from deep within them and often can barely explain how it is that they came to believe and are changed! 

Why such a different response to hearing the very same message? Because faith in Jesus and in his Resurrection, is a supernatural gift. It is not something we can make happen, nor is it something we can purchase or earn. Faith is not something that we can inherit simply by having been raised in a believing family. It’s a gift that is offered by God to everyone without exception, but it can only be activated and become meaningful to us by an individual’s personal response of trust in Jesus. 

And once this happens, the Risen Lord opens our minds to the truth about who he is and he sets us free from the inside out. We begin to really see that there is a much bigger picture to the reality of our existence than only what we experience here on planet Earth. We profess faith in eternal life after death, knowing that it is not just a ‘maybe” or a “hope so”. That it’s not just fantasy nor wishful thinking. We are convinced of it because of what happened in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago and still continues to happen today! 

Through our personal relationship with the Risen Lord, we are not only freed from death’s dark domain, but also from its companion which is paralyzing fear, a fear we have sadly seen way too much of in these days of the coronavirus. We who trust in Jesus refuse to give such fear a significant place in our lives, causing us to live and act as if we were still under the powers of darkness and death. Those who live in such fear act as if death still has the last word and so they become silent in the face of it, not knowing what to say, as if they are still its victims, its captives. 

But we who are Christian are not silent in the face of fear and death. We know what to say in the face of fear! We know what to say in the face of death! We profess that Christ’s love casts out all fear! And so, we speak out and we even sing aloud: Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! Death has been conquered once for all! Alleluia!

Friday, April 2, 2021

"I Thirst."


Homily for Good Friday, April 2, 2021. Gospel: John 18:1-19:42. Theme: I Thirst 

Jesus said, “I thirst.” This cry from Jesus on the cross can be heard and responded to in two different ways, depending upon the relationship we have with Him: as either a Casual Christian or a Committed Christian. 

For the Casual Christian, this cry can he heard simply as a line from a story about a crucified man's plea for water after being deprived of it for hours while undergoing abuse and torture. The Casual Christian might feel some pang of sorrow for a moment over the Lord's suffering, but then he or she goes on with his or her life as with any other day. 

Or, it can be heard very differently by the Committed Christian. This is someone who hears that Jesus is thirsting and cannot simply stand by idle and do nothing. Their heart is deeply touched, moved to pity, as they stand spiritually at the foot of the cross. The Committed Christian wants to do something, must do something, has to do something, to quench the Lord’s 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 any residences of the Missionaries of Charity which she started, you’ll notice that their chapels are very sparse and bare. But there’s always a large crucifix on a wall. And under the arms of the cross you’ll see the words, “I Thirst” in very large letters. 

Mother Teresa said that those two words, “I thirst”, mean that Jesus thirsts for our love, for the love of each one of us individually, personally. She would often tell people to make this plea of Jesus more real and meaningful by putting their first name in front of those two words, such as, “Teresa. I thirst.” In doing so, she advised, we can better experience what Jesus really means by them and that he is reaching out to each one of us. Put your own name there, she would say, and then realize that He thirsts for your love. 

Both Mother Teresa, and St. John in today’s Gospel, are trying to convey to us that you and I are not just faces lost in a crowd of a billion people to Jesus. He died for each one of us personally and would have undergone his entire Passion just for each one of us personally, even if we were the only ones in the world who stood in need of salvation. And so, he thirsts for 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 today quench the thirst of Jesus on the cross? Well...Mother Teresa had an explanation for this as well! She first of all reminded us that Jesus is truly risen and really present among us today in two very real ways, but they are ways that require faith to see Him because he is hidden. First, he is present in the Eucharist, the reality of the Blessed Sacrament, hidden under the appearances of bread and wine. And second, He is present in the persons of the poor and the needy, hidden under the distressful disguise of suffering human beings. She used to call these “two different ways but the One Same Jesus”. 

Mother Teresa taught that we can quench the thirst of Jesus in the Eucharist by receiving Holy Communion mindfully and worthily, with faith and devotion instead of out of robotic habit and routine. Then, once he is within us we can commune heart to heart, person to person, in a divine romance of the soul. We can tell him of our love; offer him our thanks for all he has done and still does for us; and speak with him about the deepest questions, struggles and desires of our hearts. 

And then she spoke of how we can quench the thirst 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”, of what it means to “suffer”. We do not need to go to a Third World country or to the worst parts of town to find this presence of the Thirsting Jesus. She told us to remember that loneliness, sadness, ridicule and rejection are all expressions of emotional poverty and human suffering that everyone can encounter in daily life. We can respond to Jesus thirsting right where we are, among those with whom we live, work and socialize and quench his thirst by our patience, our mercy and our compassion. 

So, we might want to ask ourselves on this Good Friday afternoon: Do I hear Jesus thirsting deeply for my love? Do I respond to the distressing voice of Jesus crying out, “I thirst” in those around me? Do I want to live as a Casual Christian or as a Committed Christian? In other words, how can I best respond to the thirst of Jesus and show him, by my life and my actions, that I thirst for him, too?