2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday)
John ends his gospel with a compliment to each of the believers who have not seen the risen Christ like the disciples did, and yet have come to believe. We are those blessed ones. We have not seen, we have not touched and yet we believe the awesome truth that Christ has died, Christ………. is risen, Christ will come again.”
It's been a week since we celebrated Easter. After these hopes filled and joyful celebrations, most of us are again faced with the realities of life. Maybe those familiar feelings have returned to us…. those feelings of stress, tiredness, frustration, worries about work, and the bearing of burdens. After the death of Jesus, the disciples of Jesus were a discouraged group of disbelievers!
As we heard, there was no joy on that Sabbath for the disciples. They sat in that darkened room hoping for some answers to their shattered lives; trying to gather the courage to go out into the world again. In the midst of their fear, and doubt Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you". And we know the rest of the story.
One of the probing questions that many people ask is “If God really exists, why does God not prove that he exists instead of leaving us here in ambiguity?" But in the end, it’s not so much the proof of God's existence that we really want; it is the experience of God's presence.
Although Thomas was labelled as doubting Thomas, this account of the appearance of Jesus is a story about believing, not doubting. If it tells us anything it tells us that resurrection is not an idea to be grasped or a case to be proved. It is a life to be lived. Every time we live in the power of the resurrection, we engage the world, one another, and our life in a new way.
Once Thomas and the rest experienced the full impact of Easter, their lives weren't the same as before. Jesus’ gift of the Spirit charged the disciples to continue his mission. With that gift, their lives were forever changed; fear yielded to faith, and faith moved them to witness. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles shows how the resurrection experience impacted the community of the first believers. It highlights especially the community life that characterized the first disciples. It says there was not a needy person among them. They lived as Easter people. People of Hope, love and charity.
I have not met the risen Christ as did the apostles on that evening of that first Easter day. I have not, like Thomas, encountered Jesus showing me his hands and his side. My faith in Jesus, risen, has to do with whether I have met the risen Christ in my prayer, in the scriptures, in the sacraments, and in the Church. And I have met the risen Christ in all these places.All this does not mean that I have never struggled with my faith. I had doubts: I have and I still struggle sometimes with reconciling my doubts and beliefs. But Jesus came to me in my prayer. Jesus came to me in the wisdom and truth of his Word in the scriptures. Jesus came to me in the sacraments, especially in Holy Communion. And Jesus came to me in the ministry, and in the people of God.
It’s good to know that Thomas also had doubts.Anyone who seeks to believe should not be surprised by feelings of doubt. But God exists, independent of our feelings.
Whenever we cry out in faith and ask God why he isn't more deeply present to us, God's answer is always the same he gives in Scripture, time and time again: You will find me when you search for me with your whole heart, your whole mind, and your whole soul. Let’s pray that the Spirit open our minds and hearts and lead us from doubt to faith in the Risen Jesus, who is the source of our life and hope.
The Easter candle, is a powerful reminder that the life of Jesus, which people thought had been snuffed out, lives in a new and glorious way. In the Gospel reading from the Easter Vigil, we hear about three women (MM, M and S) going to anoint the body of Jesus. I was drawn to the question the women ask each other on the way to Jesus’ tomb: “Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When the women get there, they get their answer, for the stone has been rolled back, Jesus is not there, and an angel tells them that Jesus has indeed risen from the dead!
All the readings from the Scriptures that we hear at the Easter vigil point to the same answer. For the One who loved the universe into existence; the One who parted the waters of the Red Sea to free His people from slavery; the One who spoke through the prophets; and the One who sent His Son to become one of us in order to save us, is the same One who rolled back the stone!
It’s not just the three women who asked questions. There were a lot of questions that arose in the minds of the disciples after the death of Jesus. For the first followers of Jesus, the sight of his crucifixion initially brought a sudden pause to so much hope and promise in their lives. Thomas doubts; Mary Magdalene is disheartened; the two disciples on the road to Emmaus are deeply disappointed.
But with loving kindness, the risen Jesus offers a word of encouragement to those who doubt, a word of comfort to those who are disheartened and a word of hope to those who are disappointed. And God continues to do the same for us. Sometimes we fail to see that, because we doubt, or we are not that attentive, or we get discouraged by the state of affairs in our world, but Easter is real! And if we can trust in the faithfulness of God and the hope of Easter, we can live and love as we are called to do.
When the children go out for Easter egg hunt, they go because of a promise, a promise that something is there for them to find. Something that they knew they must search for, and that would give them great joy when they find it. Well, that’s what Easter is about as well. It’s about a promise that something, someone, is there, someone, perhaps that we have to search for, but once found that gift brings us great joy.
The stories of Jesus’ first appearances suggest that finding the resurrected Christ requires longing, attentiveness and patience. By staying with our longing, we can encounter the lord. Mary Magdalene was the first to see Jesus because she had a deep and holy longing for him. She stayed present to her desire to be close to the Lord instead of walking away from her unfulfilled hopes. Easter invites us to relive the experience of the first disciples: by opening our hearts and being attentive to Jesus who walks with us. At the Easter vigil last night, we welcomed into our community 5 new members as they received the sacraments of initiation. For the past 8 months, through their prayer and reflection, they have experienced the presence of the lord in their lives.
Through their holy longing and attentiveness, they know that God is with them and that no matter what road they travel from now on, or what they have to face in life, God will always be with them. They are a living proof to all of us that Jesus still lives, still cares, and still walks among his people.
As we celebrate Easter my prayer is that we find in Christ Jesus, our risen Lord, a companion for our journey, and a sure ground for our hope. May we always long for and be attentive to the power and presence of the Risen Lord.
Passion (Palm) Sunday
Celebrating Christ's Passion
This week the church calls us to reflect on the mystery of Jesus Christ and the work he accomplished for us in undergoing his passion and death. We are called to enter into this mystery with our minds and hearts focused on God’s love that is revealed to us in both the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus.
There is a story told of Saint Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionist community. He was trying to figure out what to do with his life when he was in his twenties. As a person of faith, he had a vague sense that God was calling him to something. But he was not sure exactly what that calling was to be.
So, he decided to make a retreat in order to think and pray about the direction his life should take. During his time of retreat, he kept a personal record of his thoughts and feelings. In it, he recounted the ups and downs of his experience- moments when he felt the tremendous consolation of God’s closeness, as well as moments in which he felt rather alone.
He did not receive a precise blueprint for his life during that time of retreat. But he did receive one essential insight. He became convinced that he should remember the passion and death of Jesus throughout his life. He was inspired to keep the memory of the passion of Jesus in his heart and mind. He recorded this insight and he described the passion of Jesus as “the greatest and most overwhelming work of God’s love.”
For saint Paul of the Cross, the memory of Jesus’ passion was not a sad recollection. It was a memory that brought home to him again and again the reality and the power of God’s saving love.
For us, keeping the memory of Jesus’ passion is a living reminder that we are never alone in our sufferings. While our faith does not magically remove the suffering and pain, you and I are assured that Jesus, the crucified Son of God, is in solidarity with us.
You and I are called to trust that God is faithfully present and is at work in our lives especially in our sufferings, bringing peace, hope and life. As we enter holy Week, you and I are called to gaze on the cross of Jesus –in order to strengthen our conviction of God’s love for us and his compassionate solidarity with us.
Through his Passion Jesus left us a road map for our journey toward God; a vivid example of passionate love, generosity, and sacrifice.
I encourage you to take some time this week to reflect on the passion of Jesus. May we never lose the memory of Jesus’ passion, never forget the depths of God’s love for us in Christ. And as we gaze on his cross, may we also look with renewed compassion on those around us who may be suffering.
May we reach out to those who know the reality of the cross in their own lives. Empowered by the love of God, may we offer them the strength and consolation of the crucified and risen Christ.
Fifth Sunday of Lent
In the first part of Today's gospel, we see that some Greeks come to Philip and say that they wish to see Jesus. I wonder which Jesus did the Greeks wish to see? Jesus the miracle worker? Jesus the healer or Jesus the one who would suffer and die for His people? Whether we are new to the faith or a long-time believer we all share in that longing of the Greeks to see Jesus. We long to have a profound God experience in our lives.
The response of Jesus to Philip and Andrew’s request is quite surprising. When they come to Jesus with the request of the Greeks to see Him, Jesus doesn’t simply go present himself. Jesus doesn’t just go and have a chat with them, rather he starts talking about his death. While John has, throughout the Gospel, revealed Jesus as the Good Shepherd, the Bread of Life, the Healer of both body and soul, John now reveals Jesus as the Suffering Savior who will die the scandalous death of crucifixion so that we might have new life in Him.
In his response what Jesus is saying to them and to all of us is that if we really want to “see” Jesus we have to be confronted with the reality of the cross. If we want to see who Jesus really is, then the best place to look is on the cross. It is on the cross that God's glory is most revealed. On the cross we see the depths of God's love. On the cross we see how God has given Himself up for our sake.
Like the grain of wheat, Jesus had to let go of everything, including his own life, in order to bring life to others. But Jesus goes further and says we must have the same way of thinking and living. In other words, to really "see" Jesus is to begin to be united with him in his sacrifice and in his dying to himself.
Every lent, we are invited in a special way to renew our lives, renew our hearts and minds. That renewal happens when we are willing to die, when we let go of those things that make us focus only on ourselves, things we cling to- that deny us the fullness of life God offers us.
The lesson of the cross is a mysterious truth we are called to live out - that life comes from death. Nature itself serves as an example. Everything that dies in the fall returns in the spring bursting with life.
You may have noticed the bean plant Infront of the altar. Every year during lent, our children in the parish participate in bean planting activity as they reflect on today’s gospel. And this year, they were invited once again to participate in this activity and I decided to participate as well. What was once a seed is now a plant. For me it reminds me of two things. That renewal is possible, that there is always opportunity for growth. And second, that renewal can take place when we can let go of things that make us focus only on ourselves.
As we move towards the Holy Week, let us take some time to focus on Jesus. The Jesus who let go of everything for us and who invites us to follow him. In order to walk with Jesus, we need to die to self and open our hearts to the divine Spirit. It’s in letting go and letting God that we find life.