Friday of the Second Week of Easter

In today’s first reading (Acts 5:34-42), Gamaliel says to the Sanhedrin, “Fellow children of Israel, be careful what you are about to do to these men.”  “I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go.  For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself.  But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.”

His words have special meaning to us today as we read the “news” reports of the so-called “sins” of the Catholic Church. Let’s be clear.  The Church doesn’t sin.  It’s incapable of sinning.  Jesus told us that.  The sins that are being charged against the Church are sins of men.  Period.

Outside influences, and sadly some influences inside the Church, are attempting to discredit it.  I heard an interview on the radio yesterday, on the national news, with a man who says he was abused by a priest in 1959!  1959?  That’s fifty-one years ago!  How is that news?

It’s not.  But neither is it news that more than 40,000 priests in the United States are doing good works, saving souls, and just going about their daily business as Jesus taught them to do.  Good men doing good work doesn’t sell newspapers.

But, as Gamaliel told the Sanhedran, if this endeavor, this activity, comes from God, it will never be destroyed.  Or as Jesus said, even the gates of hell won’t prevail against it.  I think after more than 2,000 years, it’s a pretty safe bet that the Church will be around long after its critics, at least this group of critics, are long gone.

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The Holy Spirit and Riding Against the Wind

In the Gospel today, Jesus compares the Holy Spirit to the wind.

The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes;so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Of course, in Jesus’ time people didn’t know where the wind came from or where it went.  They couldn’t see it, or smell it (except, maybe the shepherds).  But they could feel it.  Even with our modern understanding of meteorology, it’s still a good comparison.

As someone who enjoys bicycling, I have a great appreciation for the wind.  I appreciate it when it’s behind me, and I’m not so crazy about it when I’m pedaling into it.  It makes a big difference!

The funny thing is, like the Holy Spirit, the breeze helps me along even though I can’t feel it.  Riding at 15 mph with a 10 mph tail wind, there is no sensation of the wind at all.  Likewise, when the Spirit is with us, we may not be aware of His presence, either.

But when we ride against the wind, or when we go against the Spirit, we’re definitely aware of the resistance.

2nd Sunday of Easter

During the Easter season our first readings come from the Acts of the Apostles and not from the Old Testament like they do the rest of the year.  That means that what we’re reading first actually happened after the Gospel.  The second reading comes from the Book of Revelation, which is the last book in the New Testament. To be perfectly clear, the first reading is actually second.  The second reading is actually third.  And the Gospel, the third reading, is really first.

In the Gospel, Jesus comes to the disciples after the resurrection.  They’re locked up in a room, “for fear of the Jews”.  This is a very important event for our faith because Jesus breathes on them and says “Receive the Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” He also tells them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

One of the issues our protestant brothers and sisters have with us Catholics is the sacrament of confession.  “I don’t need to confess my sins to a man.  I can go directly to God.”  That argument would make perfect sense if Jesus hadn’t spoken the words in today’s Gospel.  But He did speak them.  He didn’t stutter.  He didn’t beat around the bush.  There’s no question of what He said or what He meant.  He gave the twelve the power to forgive or to retain sins.  By extension, and by Apostolic succession, He gave that same power to every bishop and priest.

There’s obviously a difference of opinion when it comes to how often we should confess our sins.  Some folks visit the confessional every week, some every month, some a few times a year.  Most people think once a year is the minimum but I know Catholics who haven’t been to confession in years.  The point is, there is no “official” position of the Church on how often you should receive the sacrament.

You go to confession when you’re in a state of grave sin.  How often is that?  It’s up to you to decide.  But given the seriousness of the consequences if you die in a state of sin, then I would think that “How often can I go to confession?”  is a better question than “How often do I have to go?”  One thing is for sure, it’s impossible to go too often, but it’s easy to not go often enough.

In the first reading, Luke tells us that the apostles have done many signs and wonders.  He says, “The people esteemed” them.  “Great numbers” were joining the new Church.  Peter and the others were curing the sick.  In fact, people were bringing the sick out into the street hoping that Peter’s shadow might fall on them.  The Apostles were first century rock stars!

Of course most rock stars have a limited shelf life.  When we were in Cleveland a few years ago, we visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  They have a whole wing dedicated to “one hit wonders”, singers and bands who had one big hit and were never heard of again.  But even the big stars flame out sooner or later.

If we look at the second reading from the Book of Revelation, which is actually last, John is in prison.  He’s been sent to the Island of Patmos because he “proclaimed God’s word and gave testimony to Jesus.”  The former rock star is now a prisoner.  We know that other Apostles suffered similar fates.  How quickly we forget.

Obviously the Church compresses events so we can study Jesus’ life in just 52 Sundays, but look at what’s happened in just two weeks.  On Palm Sunday Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem..The people threw palm branches in his path and hailed Him as the Messiah.  Four days later, one of His own Apostles turned Him over to the chief priests and the scribes.  The same people who had cheered Him just four days ago were now screaming for His head.  “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!” The very next day He was crucified and died.

Last Sunday, Easter Sunday, He rose from the dead.  He had defeated Satan and saved us all.  Now, a week later, the Church is growing in leaps and bounds while one of His own Apostles doubts that He’s really risen from the dead.  And John is thrown in prison.

This is a lot for us to absorb in such a short span of time.   It’s no wonder people get confused.  That’s why I cringe when people tell me they don’t need to go to Church.  How can we possibly understand Jesus’ message if we don’t hear it over and over and over again?  This whole salvation thing could be a lot simpler, but that’s not the way God wants it to be.  For one thing, we have free will.  If everything were laid out for us, all nice and simple, we’d have no choice.  If Jesus had said, “I want you to go to confession once a month”, we’d have to do it if we want to enjoy eternal life in paradise.  But He didn’t say that.  He left it up to us.

Jesus didn’t say “Go to mass every Sunday.”  Again, if He’d said that, we’d really have no choice.  He instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper and said “Do this in memory of me.” He didn’t say to do it every day, or every Sunday.  Like Nike, He just said “Do it.”  In John’s Gospel He said, “You are my friends if you do what I tell you.” Wouldn’t it be so much easier if He’d left us better instructions?  “Love God.”  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  “Do this in memory of me.” Good stuff, but way too vague.

Here’s the thing.  We can’t buy our way into heaven.  We can’t earn it.  The price is too high.  Lucky for us, the price has already been paid.  Jesus paid for us with His life.   It’s up to us to decide how we want to show our thanks.

When a friend does something for us, we want to reciprocate, to show our thanks.  God, through His Son, has given us everything.  What are we going to do to repay His generosity?  Do we go to mass on Easter and Christmas and go to confession once a year?  Or do we go to mass every Sunday and go to confession when we need to, even if it’s every day?   Do we do the least for Him that we can get away with, or do we do the most for Him that we can?

Easter Sunday

THIS IS THE DAY THE LORD HAS MADE!  LET US REJOICE AND BE GLAD IN IT!

I know some of you are visiting here today.  Some of you are home from college or home from out of town to celebrate the holiday with your family.  If so, welcome home.

Some of you may be visiting as a guest of a parishioner; maybe it’s your first time here.  We welcome you too, and hope to see you again.

Of course most of you are regular parishioners and you’re wondering, “Didn’t he just preach last weekend?” or” We’re never going to get out of here in time to make our brunch reservation.” …………… Be not afraid……I promise to get you out of here by noon.

Then there are some of you who are here today because it’s one of the two “BIG” church days, the other one being Christmas. I know some of you are here because someone asked me before mass why we never use any flowers in church but poinsettias and lilies…….  We want to especially welcome you and hope that maybe we can persuade you to come back a little more often.

Even though we all may have different reasons for being in THIS church, there’s one thing that brings us to A church.  It’s this day called “Easter.”  What is Easter?  It’s a day for great rejoicing!  THIS IS THE DAY THE LORD HAS MADE!  LET US REJOICE AND BE GLAD IN IT! Say it with me, THIS IS THE DAY THE LORD HAS MADE!  LET US REJOICE AND BE GLAD IN IT!

So, what is Easter?  Here’s a little story I told at this very mass five years ago.   If you’re a visitor, chances are you haven’t heard it before.  If you’re a regular parishioner, this will be a memory test.  If you remember the story, it’s a sign that you’ve been paying attention and that you have a good memory.  If you don’t remember it, don’t feel bad.  I didn’t remember it either until I was looking over some old homilies.

One day, during Lent, a first grade PSR teacher was teaching the kids about Easter. She asked if they knew what Easter was. A little girl in the front row raised her hand. (Little girls in the first row always raise their hands). When the teacher called on her she said, “Easter is the day when we all dress up in costumes. We go to the neighbors’ houses and they give us candy.”

The teacher said, “No, Susy, that’s Halloween. Does anyone else know what Easter is?”

Another little girl raised her hand. “Easter is when we all go down to the riverfront and there’s lots of food, and rides, and music, and when it gets dark we sit on the steps in front of the arch and they have pretty fireworks.”

“No, Mary. That’s the Fourth of July.” Does anyone else know.”

Little Johnny sat in the back row. He was a sweet little boy, but he liked to fool around in class and didn’t always pay attention. He wasn’t very successful when it came to answering questions. But, he was waving his hand frantically. He was almost jumping up and down. The teacher wasn’t sure whether he knew the answer to the question or if he had to go to the bathroom. Reluctantly, she called on Johnny.

“Teacher, Easter is when Jesus dies and they put Him in the tomb and on the third day he comes out of the tomb.” The teacher was in shock. Johnny was actually paying attention. He knew the answer.  He should have stopped while he was ahead, but he went on, “ and if He sees His shadow, we have six more weeks of winter.”

It’s funny because it’s about a little boy, someone we can all identify with.  But little Johnny isn’t alone.  Look at today’s Gospel.  Mary Magdala was the first at the tomb.  She saw Jesus was gone and thought that someone had stolen His body.  She went to get Peter, the Rock on whom Jesus would build His Church, and John, the Apostle that Jesus loved.  Peter went in and, being Peter, he didn’t get it. Remember that just two days earlier Peter had denied he even knew Jesus.   But John saw and believed.

How many modern adults really don’t know what Easter is?  Like Christmas, it’s become a day about “stuff”:  New clothes, candy, toys, and food.  Don’t forget the food. If you were to play a word association game with a hundred random people and asked them to say the first word that popped into their heads when you said the word “Easter”, how many would answer “ham” or “lamb” or “brunch” and how many would say “Jesus” or “resurrection”?  How many would say “bunny” or “eggs”?  I don’t know and maybe I don’t want to know.  I’m afraid I’d be disappointed at the results.

Bishop (Robert) Hermann points out in this weekend’s Saint Louis Review” that once the disciples understood what had happened, that Christ had risen from the dead, “they could not spread the good news fast enough.  They became witnesses to the Resurrection to everybody who would listen.  They wanted to share the good news that the Master who had spent three years teaching them is now back!  The nightmare of the crucifixion was erased.  The good news of the Resurrection overwhelmed them with hope!”

The bishop paints a great word picture.  Remember, the Apostles had been in hiding.  They were afraid that, as followers of Jesus, they were doomed to crucifixion too.  They didn’t understand what was happening.  Jesus was gone.  One of their number had committed suicide.  But when they saw what had really happened, you couldn’t shut them up!  They had no fear of death because Jesus had defeated death.  They had the hope of eternal life.  In fact, they would all die, some of them violently, because they were preaching the Gospel of Christ.  But it didn’t matter because they knew now where they were going, and there were lots more believers to take their place.

Here we are, in this little church in Jefferson Barracks,MO, 6,471 miles from Jerusalem, on a beautiful spring morning, more than 2,000 years later.  In spite of all that distance, and all that time, we share the same hope of eternal life.  Just like that first Easter morning, there are people today who either don’t understand, or don’t believe what happened that day, or don’t understand what it means to each and every one of us.  But we do.  Or I hope we do.  By dying on that cross and then rising from that tomb, Jesus gave us the ultimate gift, the gift of hope.  Not some phony-baloney small-h hope promised by some political candidate, but real, true Capital-H Hope for eternal life.  Bishop Hermann said that the Apostles were “overwhelmed” with hope.  “Overwhelmed” is a great word.  We know what “over” means.  Whelmed comes from Olde English and means to cover up.  Overwhelmed means covered up completely; submerged; or overpowered.  The Apostles were “covered up” with hope.

Like the bumper sticker says, “Stuff happens.”  OK, that’s not exactly what the bumper sticker says, but you get my drift.  Stuff does happen.  Great stuff and stuff that’s not so great.  Sometimes really terrible stuff happens.  No matter what happens in this life, we’re assured of eternal bliss when God calls us home.  In the mean time, Jesus is there for us, helping us endure.  Whether we get sick, or lose our jobs, or lose all our physical possessions, we have hope.  No matter how many things go wrong in this life, nothing compares to being beaten, then having our hands and feet nailed to a cross, then being left to hang there in the dessert sun for three hours waiting to die, especially when you’ve done nothing to deserve it.  Whatever bad things happen to us, we can always know that it’s nothing compared to what Jesus did for us.

Maybe we’re not “overwhelmed with hope.”  Maybe we’re overwhelmed with something else like money worries, or sickness, or any number of things that can “cover us up”.  But that’s our fault, not God’s.  He hasn’t changed.  History hasn’t changed.  Jesus’ resurrection means just as much to you and me as it did to Peter, Mary, John, and all the others.  The hope that overwhelmed them is there for us, too.  The more space Jesus takes up in our lives, the less space there is for anything else.

That’s why we’re gathered here today, and every Sunday, to give thanks and praise to God’s only son who did and still does so much for us. Say it with me again, “THIS IS THE DAY THE LORD HAS MADE!  LET US REJOICE AND BE GLAD IN IT! “

Priorities

Which comes first?  Saving souls or selling fish?