Archive for the ‘Easter’ Category

2nd Sunday of Easter

April 14, 2012

Today’s Gospel begins with an unusual scene, if we stop and think about it.  Jesus appears to the disciples but one of them is missing: Saint Thomas was not there.  This scene is unusual in the Gospel, because all the other times that Our Lord appears to the Apostles they are all together.  Why was Saint Thomas missing from this first appearance?  Why did Our Lord not wait for Saint Thomas to be there before He appeared to them?  Certainly Our Lord knew that Saint Thomas was not there.

The doubt and then later faith of Saint Thomas was a gift that was given to us.  Saint Thomas was allowed to doubt to show us that faith was never easy.  Sometimes we might be tempted to think that faith was easy for the Apostles; we might be tempted to think that it was easy for those who saw Our Lord during His lifetime on earth to have faith, but that it is difficult for us now who cannot see Him in a bodily way.  If we are tempted to think that way, we need to realize that Saint Thomas saw Our Lord and followed Him throughout Our Lord’s public ministry; Saint Thomas listened to Our Lord teach and he watched Him perform miracles.  Saint Thomas witnessed Our Lord call Lazarus back from death to life, and Saint Thomas heard Jesus predict that Our Lord, Himself, would die and three days later rise from the tomb.  Saint Thomas had all of these benefits and yet still was unable to believe that Our Lord had risen from the dead: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail-marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”  Faith was not a given, even for those closest to the Lord during His public life.

The doubt of Saint Thomas shows us that faith requires that we have hearts that are open to belief; the transformation of Saint Thomas’ doubt to faith helps us to believe.  Our Lord allowed Saint Thomas to be absent at His first appearance to the Apostles to show us that faith was not automatic for them: they came to believe because they encountered risen Christ.  Our Lord allowed Saint Thomas to touch the nail-marks in His hands and feet and place his hand in Our Lord’s side so that we, too, might come to believe.  Our Faith is based on eyewitnesses: eyewitnesses who saw Jesus after the Resurrection: they saw Him and talked with Him; they touched Him and ate with Him.  Our Lord’s Resurrection was a physical Resurrection: Our Lord rose in the flesh and this encounter between the doubting Thomas and the Risen Lord helps us to know the reality of the Resurrection.

After Saint Thomas professed His faith in Jesus, Our Lord then says something to him that might sound strange, he says: “Have you come to believe because you have seen Me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”  Our Lord is speaking there about us: you and I.  We are not able to see and yet we believe and we are blessed in that belief.  It almost sounds as if we are more blessed than Saint Thomas because we believe without seeing.  How could we be more blessed than Saint Thomas, who was able to see and touch the wounds of the Risen Lord?

Again, we should remind ourselves that faith is never easy.  Just because people saw Jesus as He walked the earth two-thousand years ago was no guarantee that those who saw Him would have faith.  Our Lord looked normal.  He did not have a halo following Him around.  He did things that other people did.  He got thirsty and tired; He ate and he slept.  Those who knew Him from His childhood rejected Him: He performed few miracles in His hometown because people there did not believe in Him; they said things like: “Is this not the son of the carpenter?”  It is true that He performed miracles, but then so did the Old Testament Prophets; and even those who saw the miracles did not necessarily come to believe in Him: when the Pharisees saw the miracles it only made them persecute Our Lord all the more.  Even when Our Lord raised Lazarus from the dead, the Pharisees, instead of coming to believe, only became eager to kill Him and they decided to kill Lazarus too because people were coming to believe in Our Lord because of him.  The Gospel tells us that even the soldiers who were at the tomb were willing to accept a bribe and lie about the Resurrection.

Saint Thomas needed a special grace from Our Lord in order to believe, and we all stand in need of that grace.  That grace is not refused to those who ask for it.  A great prayer to repeat frequently is the prayer uttered by a man in the Gospel: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”

Saint Thomas and the other Apostles did not understand all that Our Lord meant and did; in fact there are many examples in the Gospel where we see the Apostles often misunderstood Our Lord; only after they received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost did they receive the wisdom, courage and power to go out and boldly bear witness to the Resurrection even at great personal risk and eventual martyrdom.  And their preaching transformed the entire world.

We are very blessed to live at a time when we have the benefits of two-thousand years of Church Teaching and Tradition which help us to understand all that Jesus Christ has revealed.  Our Lord promised to send the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles to lead them into all truth; the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit and we have the benefit of two-thousand years of Church Teaching that has been guided by the Holy Spirit.  Thanks to the internet we have easy access to all of that wisdom: we have access to early Christian commentaries on Scripture as well as access to all of the Church’s teachings and explanations of those teachings.  There are many sources of information which can help us to learn about and grow in our Catholic Faith.  May we take advantage of them.  The more we understand our faith, the more easily we believe; the more we believe, the easier we put our faith into practice in our daily lives.  May Our Risen Lord fill our hearts with Faith; may He give us the wisdom and the courage and the power to live our faith with boldness everyday and everywhere.

Advertisements

6th Sunday of Easter

May 31, 2011

Jesus said to His disciples (and He says to us): “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments . . . and whoever loves Me will be loved by My Father and I will love Him and reveal Myself to him.”  We were made to know God: not to just know things about God but to know Him.  God created us to love Him and we cannot love someone that we do not know.  How do we come to know God?  In order for us to Know God, He has to reveal Himself to us.  God is pure, infinite Spirit.  He is so far above us that we cannot know anything about Him, other than the fact that He exists, unless He reveals Himself to us.  We come to know God through His own Self-revelation and of course the fullness of that Self-revelation has come to us through Jesus Christ.  In Christ God has become man so that we can come to know God: and not just know about God but really to be relationship with God.

Jesus has revealed God to us: He has shown us the Way to the Father.  Jesus taught us that God is love: He showed us, on the Cross, how much God loves us and He calls us to imitate that love.  We are called to love God in a radical way: with all of our minds, with all of our hearts, with all of our strength.  God is asking you to give Him everything.  And He is not asking you to do something for Him, which He has not already done for you.  God already gave Himself to you completely: Jesus gives us everything that He IS and all that He has each and every time we receive Him truly present in the Eucharist.

He has given us every good thing and even given Himself to us completely and He asks us to return that gift of love by a total gift of ourselves to Him.  God desires us to give ourselves to Him without holding anything back.  It is impossible to love God like that without His assistance.  Without the Holy Spirit moving in our hearts, in our souls, we cannot love God the way that He calls us to love Him.  Our nature is too weak; our fallen nature is too inclined towards self-love and pride.  The Holy Spirit, Who is the love of the Father and the Son, Who is the very Spirit of love must help us if we are to love as we are called to love.  Through our Baptism, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.  The Holy Spirit fills our hearts with His gifts and He bears fruit in our souls by His very presence.  That being said, we need to do all that we can to cooperate with the Holy Spirit.  Our hearts have to be open and willing; we have to allow God to work on us.  God will reveal Himself to us, but we have to open our hearts to receive that revelation.  We need to seek God: our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.  We need to ask for and accept the graces that the Holy Spirit wants to give to us.

How do we open ourselves to the gifts God wants to give us?  In today’s Gospel, Jesus says that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments.  We need to root sin out of our hearts in order to have hearts that are capable of receiving God’s Self-revelation.  God gave us a free will and He will not take it away from us.  We have to choose to follow God and that is a choice that we have to make again and again, each and every day.  God will not force His friendship upon us: we have to want it: we have to seek it.  If we are attached to sin, God will respect our free will and leave us to our sins.

Some of us here this afternoon may be thinking to ourselves: “then I will not be able to have that intimate friendship with God, because I have had this or that sinful habit for a long time; I can’t break free from it.”  The only sin that is inevitable is the sin that I am not willing to fight against.  Breaking free from sinful habits is hard.  It takes a lot of effort, we need the help of God’s grace; breaking habits takes time and it is not easy.  But God calls us to live in the freedom of His sons and daughters.  He wants us to reject sin and follow Him with all of our hearts.  We have to beg God for the grace to break free from a sinful habit.  We have to use the means that He has given to us: frequent the Sacrament of Confession, receive the Eucharist often, spend time in prayer and offer small sacrifices to obtain freedom from sin.  We can fight against a sinful habit by trying to cultivate the opposite virtue.  Mostly importantly, we should never give up trying to rid ourselves of sin.  Let us not settle for mediocrity.

God wants us to choose Him above everything else.  Sometimes the temptation can be to give God our prayer time, and maybe even offer our work up to Him, but then to keep the rest for ourselves.  We need to offer ourselves to God completely.  Give back to Him the part of your heart that you struggle with.  Give Him your fears, anxieties, and hardships.  Give God your leisure, your joy and your relaxation.  All time belongs to Christ.  Jesus wants to reign in every part of your heart, in every part of your life.  That doesn’t mean that we can’t have leisure time, or enjoy time with our friends and family: it means that we offer even that part of our lives to Him.  God made us to be in relationships with other people.  He created us to love and to work and to rest.  We can and should offer to God our recreation as well as our work; our friendships as well as our struggles.  God should be in the center of everything.  That doesn’t mean that we only talk about God when we visit family or friends.  It means that when I go to visit my family and friends I offer that time to God.  That might mean that my recreation and my conversations need to look differently than they do now, but we should keep in mind the fact that sin never makes us truly happy.

We also need to keep in mind the fact that God is always with us.  We come to Church to encounter our God in a way that is closer and more intimate than anywhere else in the world.  We are never so close to God as we are right after we have just received Him in Holy Communion.  But God is always with us.  He knows our thoughts.  He is our constant companion.  We tend to forget that God is always with us, but it would help us greatly if we learned to be more aware of His presence with us throughout our day.  That awareness of His presence will grow if we stop pushing Him away by our sins.  If we truly seek God, He will make Himself known to us.  The more that we come to know Him the more we will come to love Him and thirst for Him Who thirsts for us.

Fourth Sunday of Easter

May 25, 2011

Today is known as Good Shepherd Sunday: because the Gospel for the fourth week of Easter is always taken from a passage of the Gospels where Our Lord explains that He is the Good Shepherd and that we are the sheep of His flock.  The image of a Shepherd is a very suitable image for Our Lord in many ways.  A shepherd is always with his flock; a shepherd defends his flock and guides his flock.  The shepherd cares for the sheep and seeks out the lost.  Our Lord came among us as a man to do many of the things that a shepherd does: He came to seek the lost, He came to heal the sick (both physically and spiritually), He came to rescue us from the power of sin and death and He came to show us the way to the Father.  Furthermore, He said that He would never abandon us, but that He would be with us always, just like a shepherd is always with the sheep.

The shepherd is also a good analogy from another angle: from the view of the sheep.  Sheep follow the shepherd, they need the shepherd to protect them and guide them for they are defenseless animals, and sheep tend to be rather foolish.  We are the sheep of Our Lord’s flock.  We are called to follow Him wherever He leads us; we are completely dependent upon Our Good Shepherd’s divine assistance: for apart from Him, we can do nothing.  We need Jesus to feed us with Himself I the Eucharist, to guide us and protect us from day to day.  We ought to call on His help whenever we are in need.  Another similarity to sheep is that we also tend to be rather foolish at times.  We know that prayer brings us peace and joy and we know that sin makes us miserable, yet how often do we find ourselves forgetting to seek God’s help and falling into sin?  We know sin doesn’t make us happy and yet we keep straying from the path that we know will lead us closer to God.  Thankfully, Our Lord never abandons us to our own devices, but patiently seeks us out each and every time we wander off.  We have a free will which is capable of choosing God or turning away from God in sin, but as often as we stray, Our Lord calls us back and He never wearies of welcoming us back into the fold whenever we turn away from sin again and renew our commitment to follow Him.

In another Gospel passage, Our Lord tells us that His sheep hear and know His voice and that is how His sheep know to follow Him.  How do we hear the voice of Our Good Shepherd today?  We hear our Shepherd’s voice in all the little inspirations that come to us throughout the day.  Whenever we hear the whisperings of our conscience we can know that Our Good Shepherd is calling us.  That is true of the times that my conscience tells me that I ought to not do something as well as when my conscience tells me that I ought to do something.  Sometimes we have a sense that we should help someone that we see needs help, or that we should visit someone we know is lonely, or call and talk to someone we haven’t spoken to for a long time.  We ought to listen to those little inspirations.  The Catechism tells us that in our conscience we can hear the voice of God.

Another way that we hear the voice of Our Good Shepherd is through the Sacred Scriptures and through the Teachings of the Catholic Church.  Jesus gave the Apostles the authority to teach in His name: He said to the Apostles: “He who hears you, hears Me.”  Jesus promised that the Church would be led into all Truth through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  It was the Church that assembled the New Testament of the Bible and proclaimed that those Books were truly inspired by the Holy Spirit.  We know that the Church cannot teach error in the areas of faith or morals, so if we ever find that we disagree with the Church about some matter, we can be certain that it is we and not the Church that is wrong.  Jesus Christ promised that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church.  If we disagree with the Church, we need to pray and also study to learn why the Church teaches what She teaches.

Our conscience is a sure guide to what we ought to do or not do, but our conscience must be properly formed.  We have an obligation to form our consciences: in other words, we must always seek the Truth: and Scripture tells us that the Church is the pillar and foundation of Truth in the world.  (1 Tim 3:15)  By forming our consciences in accord with what the Church teaches, we will find true freedom and peace of heart.

Our Good Shepherd has not abandoned us.  He guides us and He remains always with us.  He remains with us and feeds us with Himself in the Holy Eucharist; He guides us through our consciences and in a particular way through the Church.  Let us thank God for these many gifts that He has given to us: Lord Jesus Christ, we thank You for coming to seek out the lost; we thank You for laying down Your life to save us and for remaining with us always in the Most Blessed Sacrament.  We are grateful Lord, that You continue to guide us through the ministry of the Church.  We pray, on this Good Shepherd Sunday, for the shepherds of the Church.  May they guide the Church faithfully and receive the reward of their labors.  Raise up more shepherds for Your flock, Lord: give the men that You are calling to the priesthood the courage to answer the call and the perseverance to follow where you lead.  Help each one of us here to hear Your voice and to follow You ever more faithfully.  Amen.

Third Sunday of Easter

May 25, 2011

“He was made known to them in the breaking of bread.”  The road to Emmaus is a beautiful narrative and in it many of the early Saints saw a picture of the Mass.  As Jesus and the two disciples walk along the road, Jesus interpreted for them what referred to Him in all the Scriptures.  Then, once they arrived at the house, they recognize Him in the breaking of the bread.  So, too, at Mass we hear the Word of God proclaimed to us (and, hopefully, the homily helps explain the Scriptures to us); then we recognize Our Lord in the breaking of the Bread at the altar.

Our Lord truly comes among us at the Eucharist.  At the words of Consecration, Our Lord is made truly present on our altar and He comes to dwell within our souls when we receive Him in Holy Communion.  Our Lord gives Himself to us as Food.  He feeds us with Himself so that He might fill our hearts with His grace and transform our hearts.  When the disciples on the road to Emmaus recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread, they were transformed by that encounter.  Prior to meeting Jesus in the breaking of the bread, they were walking along the road looking downcast.  They had heard the news that Jesus had risen from the dead, but they were walking away from the place that it took place.  They had not yet encountered Our Lord and they lacked faith.  Once they encountered Jesus, their hearts burned within them.  They set out at once: they couldn’t wait to share the news that Jesus has risen indeed and they encountered Him.

The Eucharist is not an empty ritual.  In the Eucharist we encounter Our Lord and God in a way unlike any other way.  When we receive Our Lord in Holy Communion we are closer to God than we are anywhere else in the world.  Only in Heaven will we be closer to Our Lord than we are right after we receive Him in the Most Blessed Sacrament.  Through Holy Communion Our Lord gives us Himself and He is the Author of all grace.  When we receive Our Lord, He also gives us the graces that we need to follow Him and love Him: of course we have to have hearts that are open to receive all the graces that He wants to give to us; we must receive Our Lord in Holy Communion with reverence and with love.  We have to have hearts that are open; we have to allow Jesus to work in our hearts.  Our Lord does not force His way into our hearts; we have to let Him in and welcome Him.  We have to rid our hearts of sin in order to prepare a fitting place for Him to dwell.

Making our hearts ready to receive the King of kings is not an easy task.  We have a weak, fallen human nature which is inclined towards sin.  Left to our own devices, the task would be impossible.  Yet Our Lord knows that our hearts are weak reeds blowing in the wind and He did not leave us without assistance.  There are many things which are meant to help us as we endeavor to open our hearts to God.  Our Lord gave us the Sacrament of Confession so that we might receive pardon for sin and clean our souls.  The Lord has given us the Church which guides us and offers us many helps as we journey towards Our Lord.  The Lord gave us His own Mother to be our Mother.  She is a most powerful intercessor for us with Our Lord.

This month of May is a month in which we Catholics, in a particular way, honor the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Mary is not only a person who lived two-thousand years ago: she is not just someone that we remember.  She is someone who is alive in Heaven.  She is reigning, right now, at the right hand of Her Son; yet we can talk to her, we can have a relationship with her; we can get to know her.  Our previous Holy Father, now Blessed Pope John Paul II, is a witness to the possibility of that relationship.  He lost his earthly mother when he was very young and yet he knew that he had a heavenly Mother who was also Queen of the Angels.  He had a great devotion to Mary.  He knew that Mary constantly intercedes for us.  She is a Mother ready at every moment to help us.  She is your Mother: she wants you to go to her and ask her for your needs.  She wants to help us; yet many graces are un-received because we fail to ask for them.

Mary’s ultimate goal, of course, is to draw you and me ever closer to Her Son, Jesus Christ.  One of the things that we can and ought to ask her for is the grace to overcome our sins.  We can also ask her to help us receive Her Son in Holy Communion with greater love and devotion.  Our Blessed Mother is a most sure way to greater union with Our Lord.  Let us invoke her powerful intercession during this month dedicated to her honor and as we thank and honor all of our mothers on this Mother’s Day, let us not forget to honor and thank our spiritual Mother: the Mother of Our Lord and our Mother.  O Mary our Queen and our Mother, help us to overcome our sins, obtain for us the graces that we need, and draw us ever closer to your divine Son.  Our Lady of Good Counsel, pray for us.  Amen.

Low Sunday

May 25, 2011

Our Lord rebuked Saint Thomas for his unbelief and offered Thomas proof of His bodily Resurrection by allowing him to place his hand into His sacred wounds.  This conversion from incredulity to faith in Saint Thomas is recorded, as is everything in the Gospel (Saint John tells us), that we might believe and through our belief come to have life.  The life that Saint John is talking about is not merely biological life: we received that from our parents and one day that life will come to an end.  Each and every one of us here will one day, sooner or later, experience physical death: it cannot be avoided.  The life which is the result of belief that Saint John alludes to is much more than physical life: Saint John is referring to the supernatural life that Our Lord offers to us: and this is life that will never end.  In what does this faith consist?  How do we receive this supernatural life that Our Lord offers to us?

We first received a share in that supernatural life on the day that we were baptized.  At our Baptism we received the Holy Spirit into our souls for the first time.  When we were baptized we became temples of the Holy Spirit and we began to share in God’s own divine life.  As the Holy Spirit took up His abode within our souls, His very presence brought that divine life to our souls as well as certain gifts.  The presence of the Holy Spirit within us continues to bear fruit in our souls.  Faith is a gift that the Holy Spirit freely bestows upon us.  It is one of the theological virtues.  Theological virtues are so called because they have God as their object, they are known only through His revealing them, and God infuses them.  Faith is a gift that we have freely received.  Do not think that it is an accident that you are a Catholic.  It was not you that chose God; it was not even because your parents raised you in the Catholic Faith that you are a Catholic.  God has called you and you have responded.  You are not here in this Church today by accident.  God has called and you have responded: even if your response is not at the conscious level.  God has called you and He continues to call you to an ever-deeper relationship with Him: He has given us the gift of faith and we are called to deepen our faith and through our faith we will receive abundant life.

Faith is a free gift from God and yet we are also responsible for our faith.  We have to cooperate with and diligently care for the gift that God has entrusted to us.  Our faith is something which we must guard and cultivate within ourselves.  I first use the word “guard” because we live in a culture that is, in many ways, hostile towards our faith.  Whenever we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation we make a promise in the Act of Contrition not only to avoid sin but also to avoid occasions of sin.  There is much in our culture, in particular in the media, which is an occasion of sin and we need to avoid those things.  We need to be careful about what television programs or movies we allow ourselves to watch, we must be prudent about which websites we allow ourselves to surf, we ought to be judicious about what types of books we read; we need to pay attention to the lyrics of the songs that we listen to and if those lyrics are offensive to our faith, we need to steer clear of those songs.  We ought to bear in mind the fact that our late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, who will be beatified this weekend in Rome, coined the phrase “culture of death” to refer to the culture in which we live.  And that death which our culture breeds is not only the physical death that comes in the forms of war, abortion and contraception; it is also the spiritual death that comes from sin.

Besides being careful to guard our faith against the constant attacks in the culture, we also need to cultivate it: we need to do something to help our faith to grow.  For plants to thrive it is not enough to pull out the weeds around them: the plants also have to be watered and fertilized.  Besides merely avoiding sin and its occasions, we also need to nourish our faith.  We help our faith to grow in two ways: by continuing to learn about our faith and by putting our faith into practice.  We are not asked to have a blind faith.  God gave us an intellect as well as a soul.  Faith and reason are meant to work together.  It is permissible to ask questions about our faith and search for answers.  The more that we understand what God has revealed to us through the Scriptures and through the Teachings of the Church, the more it helps us to believe.  The more deeply we believe, the easier it becomes to put our faith into practice in our daily lives.

The Epistles of Saint James teaches that faith without works is dead.  It is not enough to say that we believe: we have to practice our faith.  Living our faith means receiving Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament with faith and devotion.  Living our faith means coming to Confession regularly and taking time to pray everyday.  Yet our faith is not only a matter of what I do at Church or while at prayer.  Living out our faith also means allowing the Sacraments and prayer to transform my life.  As Christians, we are to be followers of Jesus Christ.  Jesus said that we show our love for Him by following His commandments, and His commandments are only two: love God above everything else and love your neighbor as yourself.  Those two commandments are impossible for us to follow without God’s help: we need His grace, we need His divine assistance to love the way that He calls us to love.  Let us ask Him to increase our faith that we may follow Him more fully:

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of faith and we ask You to increase our faith.  Help us to guard and cultivate this great gift that You have freely given to us.  Give us the graces that we need to root sin out of our hearts.  Grant us the strength and the courage to put our faith into practice each and every day.  May we do all that we do for Your greater glory.  Amen.

Easter

May 25, 2011

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.”  After our forty-day journey through the desert of Lent, we arrive today at the glorious season of Easter.  Throughout Lent we meditated upon Our Lord’s Passion and now we turn our attention to Our Lord’s victory over sin and death.  Today we celebrate that day that Our Lord rose from the tomb.  We do not forget what Our Lord did for us: there could be no Easter without Good Friday: there could be no Resurrection without the Cross; but death does not have the final word.  We believe that Our Lord really, truly, physically rose from dead and that by His death and Resurrection He destroyed the power of sin and death: Our Lord conquered the devil and opened for us the Gates of Heaven.  Our Lord’s Resurrection is the new exodus that frees us from slavery to sin and allows us to live in the freedom of the sons and daughters of God.

Saint Paul teaches us that through our Baptism, we are baptized into the death and Resurrection of Our Lord, which means that we are able to participate, even now, in His victory over sin and death.  We do not have to be slaves to sin: through our cooperation with God’s grace we can overcome our sins.  Throughout Lent we practiced self-discipline in order to root sin out of our hearts and grow in virtue and become more Christ-like.  Through our Lenten observances we prepare our hearts to celebrate with joy this most Solemn day of the year.

What does it mean to celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection with joy?  The culture in which we live has a tendency to confuse joy with pleasure.  Pleasure is a passing experience and it can be morally good or it can be morally bad.  Joy is much deeper than a passing sensate experience.  True joy comes from knowing God and doing His will.  Sometimes when we think of celebrating Easter the temptation can be to think of gorging ourselves on whatever it is that we gave up for Lent.  It is true that we relax our Lenten discipline once Easter has arrived, but hopefully our Lenten practices have had an effect on our hearts.  The purpose of giving things up for Lent is not simply to deny ourselves things.  Giving things up for Lent is aimed at transforming our hearts and making us more like Christ.  There is a story of a young boy who said that he had given up fighting with his brother for Lent, but that he couldn’t wait for Easter so that he could really give it to him.  The boy in the story clearly missed the point of Lent.  Lent should help us to break sinful habits so that we can be freed from sin and experience the freedom that Christ won for us.

Our Lord’s victory over sin and death is a victory that Our Lord won for us.  He became a man like us in all things precisely so that He could die and rise to save us from our sins.  At Easter, we celebrate that victory.  Through our Baptism we already share in His victory.  The way that we celebrate that victory is by conforming our hearts to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  In just a moment we will all renew our baptismal promises.  In the renewal of our baptismal promises we renew our promises to reject Satan, and we refuse to be mastered by sin.  We will profess our faith in God and in all that the Church Teaches.  Let us be attentive to these promises that we make.  These are solemn promises that we are all making to God.  Let us do all that we can to be faithful to these promises: for in fulfilling them, we will find that true joy that we all seek.

May Our Risen Lord be the source of our joy this day: may we all be mindful that we also hope to one day rise with Him and enter into His eternal life, His perfect joy and His resplendent glory for all eternity.

Lord Jesus Christ, help us to experience the joy of Your Resurrection this day.  Give us the graces we need, Lord, to be faithful to the promises that we made at our Baptism and that we renew today.  Help us to seek You above all things; draw us ever closer to Yourself until we share in the glory of Your Resurrection forever.  Amen.

Fifth Sunday of Easter

May 4, 2010

Today is a very special day: today we have one among us who will make their first Holy Communion today.  Today for the first time, Jenna, will receive Jesus into her soul.  Holy Communion is a very special grace because in Holy Communion we receive God into our hearts.  God loves us so much that He wants to be with us always.  Love desires union.  When we love someone, we want to spend time with that person.  God loves each one of us so much that He wants to be with us all the time.  Of course God is present everywhere, He is never absent from us; unfortunately, we are not always present to Him.  God wants us to be aware of His presence and He wants us to think of Him often and love Him.  He wants us to spend time with Him in prayer.

When we receive Holy Communion, we are joined with Jesus in a very special way.  After we receive Him in Holy Communion, we should spend time in prayer with Him and thank Him for giving Himself to us.  After we have received Holy Communion it is good to tell Jesus whatever is on our heart.  It is good to talk to Jesus while He is in your soul.  We are never so close to God in this world as when we have just received Him in Holy Communion.

When we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, He gives many gifts to our hearts.  When we receive the Eucharist grace is poured into our souls.  Grace is the very life of God.  When we say that God gives us grace, we mean that He shares His divine life with us.  When God gives us grace, He shares with us us His life, His love, His strength, and His joy.  We need to be open to receive all the gifts that God wants to give to us in Holy Communion.  The more open our hearts are to receive His graces, the more graces we will receive.  The best way to open our hearts is to make sure that there isn’t any sin in our hearts.  Sin clutters up our hearts and we need to clear sin out of our lives in order to make room for God.

It is also good to pay attention to what we are doing when we receive Holy Communion.  We should try to always be aware of what we are doing when we receive Holy Communion.  It is good to receive Communion with all the attention and devotion that we can.  That means that we should try to focus our attention on God as we come forward for Communion.  We should be aware that it is Almighty God Who is giving Himself to us in Communion.  We should also keep in mind that God gives us Himself for a reason: He loves us and He wants to be with us and He wants to make us more like Himself.  God is love and through giving Himself to us in the Eucharist, He wants to make us more loving.  Through the Holy Communion, God wants to give us all the spiritual help and strength that we need to follow Jesus.

In the Gospel today, we heard that Jesus gave His disciples a new commandment: “Love one another.”  We are all called to faithfully follow Jesus and we are all called to love others.  And how does Jesus call us to love others?  Jesus calls us to love others as He has loved them.  That is a pretty high standard which we are called to imitate.  Jesus always put other people first.  Jesus said that He came not to be served, but to serve.  Jesus laid down His life for those He loved.

In order to live the love that we are called to, we need the Sacraments.  The Sacraments are powerful ways that God gives His divine grace, His life, to our souls.  By ourselves Jesus says that we can do nothing, but with God’s help we can do everything.  Through the Eucharist, as I mentioned, God shares His life with us; He communicates Himself to our souls and more closely unites us with Himself.  If we regularly receive the Eucharist, with hearts that are open to all that God wants to do in our souls, we will grow in love.  Even if we don’t feel any different after receiving Holy Communion, we know that God is working on our hearts to make them more like the Heart of His Son.

Another Sacrament that is very important for us is the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  We need the Sacrament of Reconciliation for all the times that we fail to love others as Jesus calls us to love them.  If we receive those two Sacraments, Communion and Reconciliation, regularly with hearts that are open to all that God wants to give to us, then God will fill our hearts with His love and we will become channels of His grace and His love for others.

May God bless you, Jenna, as you receive Him today for the first time in Holy Communion.  May Jesus draw you and all of us ever closer to Himself every time that we receive Him in Holy Communion.  May God fill our hearts with His love and make us more like His Son.  Amen.

Fourth Sunday of Easter

April 26, 2010

There are two points that I would like to reflect on from today’s Gospel: the first point is about God, the second point is about you and me.  Let’s start with the point about God: Jesus says that He and the Father are One.  This is Our Lord’s most clear and direct statement that He, Himself is God.  The line that follows in Saint John’s Gospel, says that the Jews who heard Jesus say this took up stones with which to kill Him.  They understood what He was saying and they wanted to stone Him to death for it.  Jesus made a clear claim to be God.  If it were not true, that claim would be blasphemy, and according to Jewish law blasphemy was punishable by death.  We know that Jesus Christ IS God.  He claimed to be God and He proved that claim by the many signs and miracles that He performed.

We profess this Truth every Sunday in the Creed.  Every week we reaffirm our belief that Jesus Christ is the Eternal Son of God: “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, one in being with the Father.”  Jesus and the Father are one and yet they are not the same Person.  The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father and yet the Father and the Son are both one God: totally and perfectly one.  The same is true of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit is not the Father or the Son, but nonetheless He is really and true one God with the Father and with the Son.  This reality can be difficult to grasp; it is a mystery that we will contemplate for all eternity.  God has revealed Himself to us as a Trinity, and we accept His revelation in humility, realizing that we will contemplate God for all eternity and never fully comprehend Him because He is Infinite, and we are limited creatures.

God has revealed Himself as Three Persons in one God because He wants us to know Him as He is.  Knowing that God is a Trinity also reveals something to us about ourselves because we are made in God’s image and likeness.  The Truth that God is Three Persons in one God reveals to us that God is love.  If God were only one person, He could not be love; He could only be a lover: because love is a relationship between persons.  There has to be more than one person in order for there to be love.  If God were only one Person, He could only love Himself: He could only have selfish love.  But we know that God existed from all eternity as Three Persons: from all eternity the Trinity exists as a community of love.  From all eternity the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father.  From all eternity the Holy Spirit proceeds from them both as the love of the Father and the Son for each other.  The Truth that “God is love” depends on the Truth that “God is a Trinity.”

Because our God exists as a community of love, and we are made in His image and likeness, we know that love is the highest meaning of life.  Through Jesus Christ, these eternal realities connect with our lives.  This leads us to the second point that we take from today’s Gospel: Jesus says that His sheep hear His voice and follow Him.  Jesus is not just referring to the Apostles and the disciples who saw Him and ate with Him.  He is referring to all of us.  We are His sheep and He we are still called to listen to His voice and follow Him.  How do we hear His voice?

We hear the voice of the Lord in several ways.  The Scriptures are the inspired Word of God.  Through Scripture, God speaks to us.  Father John often says that Scripture is God’s love letter to each one of us.  That is why it is important for us to study and pray with Scripture, so that we can come to understand what God is trying to say to us through it.

We also hear God’s voice in prayer.  Not that we hear a physical voice.  But God speaks to us in the silence of our hearts.  If we spend time in prayer and quiet ourselves before Him, He will speak to us.  Prayer is meant to be a conversation with God and conversations have two elements: we have to talk and we have to listen.

God also speaks to us through our conscience.  The Catechism calls the conscience that most secret core of every person.  Our conscience is a sanctuary where God’s voice echoes in our depths.  (cf. CCC 1776)  Our conscience prompts us to do good and avoid evil.  Through the conscience, God calls us to repent from sins that we have committed and bring them to confession.

Finally, we hear God’s voice through the Church.  The Holy Spirit guides the Church into all Truth.  Jesus entrusted the Sacraments to the Church and through them He continues to be present to us.   Through our Baptism, we became sons and daughters of God.  At our Baptism, our bodies became Temples of the Holy Spirit.  In the Holy Eucharist, Jesus shares His life and His divine grace with you.  In the Sacrament of Confession, the Lord restores our souls to life when we have fallen into sin.  Through the Sacraments, we encounter the Lord in a most profound way.  The Sacraments give us the strength that we need to follow Christ more faithfully.  Let us be attentive to the various ways that Our Lord is trying to speak to us and let us make use of all the many ways that the Lord offers us His grace and strength to follow Him.  Lord Jesus, help us to hear Your voice and to follow You.  Amen.

April 25th

April 26, 2010

Today’s Gospel reminds us that Jesus, Himself, is the Good Shepherd and that we, His sheep, hear His voice and follow Him.  How do we hear His voice?  We hear the voice of Jesus through the Sacred Scriptures, through Tradition (that which has been handed down to us from the Apostles) and through the Church.

Jesus Christ handpicked twelve Apostles who closely accompanied Him throughout His public ministry.  Those Twelve were eyewitnesses of His bodily Resurrection and they were commissioned by Him to take His message to the ends of the earth.  Jesus gave the Apostles, and their successors, the authority to teach in His name.  Jesus said to the Apostles: “He who hears you, hears Me.”  (cf. Luke 10:16)

The Apostles were given the Holy Spirit to guide them into all Truth.  (cf. John 16:13)  The Holy Spirit guides the Church and protects it from teaching error.  Because we know that the Holy Spirit guides the Church we can have confidence that the Church will never lead us into error when it teaches on faith or morals.  Through the Apostles and their successors we hear the voice of Christ.  The Church carries on the mission of Christ and teaches in His name.

The Church was promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to lead it into all Truth, yet we know that gift was entrusted to weak vessels.  The shepherds of the Church are sinners, just as are all the members of the Church.  We know that the Church is holy and at the same time it is constantly striving to become holy.  The Church is the spotless bride of Christ and the Church is full of sinners who stand in need of forgiveness.

There have always been scandals and failures in the Church, there have always been attacks on the Church from within and from without.  We must not allow ourselves to become discouraged by the human element of our Church.  We know that we can trust the teachings of the Church on faith and morals because we know that the Holy Spirit will not allow the Church to lead us into error.  Jesus Christ promised that the gates of hell would never prevail against the Church.  (cf. Matthew 16:18)  The Church is the pillar and foundation of truth in the world.  (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15)

Let us pray for our Church and her shepherds during these days.  May the Lord bless and strengthen our Holy Father and the bishops united with him.  May they have the wisdom and the courage that they need as they continue to guide the Church.

God bless,

Father White

Third Sunday of Easter

April 19, 2010

The central character in today’s Gospel, after that of Jesus Himself, is Saint Peter: the first Pope of our Church.  Jesus Christ built His Church upon the foundation of Saint Peter and the Apostles: that is what we mean when we say in the Creed that we believe in One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.  Our Church is Apostolic because it is founded upon the Rock of Saint Peter, whose name literally means “rock,” as well as upon the other Apostles and their successors the bishops.

The reason that the apostolic origin of our Church is important is because it is through the Apostles and their successors that we are linked through the centuries back to Jesus Christ.  The Apostles closely accompanied Jesus throughout His earthly ministry and they were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ bodily resurrection.  They met with Jesus after He rose from the dead and they talked with Him; they touched the nail marks in His hands and in His side.  Jesus Christ entrusted them with the Good News, He commissioned them to take His message to the ends of the earth.  Jesus sent the Apostles to baptize and teach all nations.

Furthermore, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would guide the Apostles into all Truth.  Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church.  He gave the Apostles the authority to teach in His name.  Because of Apostolic Succession, we know that the teachings of Jesus Christ have been faithfully handed down from Apostles through their successors, the bishops, down to our very day.  Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit, Who is God, would be with the Church and guide it.  Because of Apostolic Succession, we can have great trust and confidence that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit and therefore will not lead us into error.  The Holy Spirit guides the Church when she teaches on faith and morals; if that were not true, we would have no way to know the Truth.

The Church was given the gift of the Holy Spirit in order that it could teach us and lead us into the fullness of Truth.  Of course, we know that gift was entrusted to weak vessels.  All the leaders of the Church are sinners, just like you and I, just like the Apostles.  Remember: Jesus built His Church upon the Apostles and one of the Twelve Apostles is the one who handed Him over to be killed.  Saint Peter, the Rock, denied Jesus three times.  The Gospel tells us that in the Garden of Gethsemane all of the Apostles, those upon whom the Church was to be built, “forsook Him and fled.” (cf. Matthew 26:56)  Isn’t it a scandal that those who would lead the Church abandoned Jesus?  Yes.  And yet we must remember that we all abandon Jesus whenever we sin.  When we sin, we choose some thing over our God, Whom we are to love above all things.

Throughout the history of the Church there have been scandals and failures; and yet the Church has never taught error.  On the one hand the Church is the spotless Bride of Christ which leads us into deeper union with our God; on the other hand, the Church is made up of weak sinners who betray their Lord.  We know that both of these things are true of the Church and yet are not a contradiction: they are a paradox, but not contradictory.  The Church is called to be holy; in Heaven it is already perfectly holy.  We, members of the Church on earth, are to strive for that holiness.

The all-too-human side of the Church can at times cause us to become discouraged; and yet we should never lose hope.  It can be difficult to experience the betrayals and attacks upon the Church from within and from without.  Yet we know that Our Lord has already won the victory.  Jesus Christ promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church and therefore we can have great hope.

Those same Apostles, who abandoned their Lord and ran for their lives when Jesus was arrested on Holy Thursday, were completely transformed at Pentecost.  Once they had received the Holy Spirit, they went out boldly preaching the Good News that Jesus Christ had truly arisen from the dead.  Those same Apostles, who deserted their Teacher in the Garden of Gethsemane; were later beaten, tortured and killed for the message that they proclaimed after the Holy Spirit had strengthened them.

Let us not become discouraged or despondent but let us all remember to pray for the shepherds of the Church and especially for our Holy Father: “Almighty and Everlasting God, have mercy upon Your servant Pope Benedict, our Supreme Pontiff, and upon all bishops, priests and deacons.  Direct them, according to Your loving kindness, in the way of eternal salvation, that with Your help they may ever desire that which is pleasing to You and accomplish it with all their strength.  Amen.”