In the Gospel today we have another instance where Jesus appeared after His resurrection and the men who had lived with Him for three years didn’t recognize Him.  It seems almost impossible that these guys, the ones who knew Him best of all, would see Him and not know who He is.  But it’s there in black and white, recorded by Saint John.

What does this tell us?  Obviously our bodies will be greatly changed after our own resurrection.  We don’t know what God has in store for us but it must be beyond our wildest imaginations.

We all know places that seem heavenly.  For some people that might be the sea shore, or maybe the mountains.  I’d cast my vote for the Emerald Isle.  The islands in the Caribbean aren’t bad either.  But we’re limited by our own earthly experience.  Heaven must be so wonderful, so amazing, that everything we know pales by comparison.

Everything about Jesus amazes us.  He worked miracles.  He healed the sick.  He walked on water.  But I can’t help thinking that when we leave this life we’re going to be in awe of what we see.  There’s no point in us trying to imagine it.  We just don’t have anything in our experience to prepare us.

We know that Jesus was transfigured when He went up on the mountain.  We also know that when He was resurrected He didn’t appear as He had in this life.  The disciples on the way to Ameaus didn’t recognize Him.  His own Apostles didn’t recognize Him.  And you know what?  I believe you and I have seen Him many times and didn’t recognize Him either.  How do I know?  He told us so.  He’s there in the sick and the poor and those in prison.

So when we see someone less fortunate than us, maybe we should think twice before we pass them by.  We have a lot of brothers and sisters who are in trouble right now.  So many are out of work.  So many are homeless, especially after last week’s storms.  They all need our help and we just don’t know which one might be Jesus.

Thursday of the Octave of Easter

Just this past Saturday I wrote about the “Good Friday Miracle”, devastating storms including four tornadoes that tore through the Saint Louis area doing horrific property damage but not taking a single life.  Last night our brothers and sisters in the southern United States weren’t so lucky.  A series of tornadoes, more than 100 total swept through Alabama and Georgia doing major damage and taking more than 100 lives.  More than 1 million people in northern Alabama are without electricity with the outages predicted to last four to five days.

I took particular interest in these storms because one of my sons, his wife, and my granddaughter live in Huntsville, right in the path of the storms.  Patrick called me around 6:00 to tell me that they had no way of knowing what was happening because they had no power.  I spent the next several hours watching streaming video from one of the Huntsville television stations and reporting back to him by cell phone.  Unfortunately, those circuits were jammed making it hard to get through.  My penultimate call was to tell him that a tornado was headed toward them and that they should take cover in the bathroom.  (They don’t have basements in Alabama.)

When I saw that the storm had passed them, I tried for a long time before I could get through to them.  Thanks be to God they were alright.  But it seemed like an eternity before I could get through and find out that everything was OK with them.

Now, by the light of day, I’m wondering why God spares some people and not others.  We know that everything happens for a reason but that’s small consolation to those who lost loved ones in the storm.  Of course we know that those who died in a state of grace are now in a much better place.  Thankfully we don’t know who goes where when they die, but those who are left believe, as we say with sure and certain hope, that the ones they lost are destined to spend eternity with God.  If we could know for sure that Uncle Cletus wasn’t among those bound for heaven, we most likely couldn’t go on.

But God is a merciful God and we hope that those who died are destined for heaven, even if they must spend some time in purgatory.  Face it, God’s mercy is the only thing that’s going to get many of us there.  So today, we pray for those who have died that God will have mercy on their souls.  And we pray for those who suffered damage to their homes and property that God will give them the grace and the determination to rebuild.

Why storms hit certain areas, particularly tornadoes which seem to jump around without rhyme or reason, destroying one home while leaving it neighbors untouched, we just don’t know.  What we do know is that technology provides us with very good warning systems.  Sadly, some of us just don’t pay attention to them much like we don’t pay attention to the warnings that Jesus gave us to prepare for the end of our time on earth.

Wednesday of the Octave of Easter

This post is more of a rant than a reflection, but once in a while I just have to get something off my chest.  Things should be back to normal tomorrow.

As you probably know, the Saint Louis area was hit by a series of violent storms on Good Friday, including four tornados.  I wrote about this earlier this week and referred to the storms as a “Good Friday miracle.”  In spite of the destruction left in the wake of these storms, and it was considerable, no one was killed or even seriously injured.  By comparison, a small town in Arkansas was similarly devastated yesterday and there were at least four deaths.

Even the TV news people commented on the miraculous sparing of life in the storms here, which prompted someone to write a letter to the editor of the local paper.  The writer was quite upset that TV news and weather people would resort to “mysticism” in their coverage.  Aparantly this person took offense at even the suggestion that God somehow had a hand in all this.  Furthermore, this writer felt the commentators should have taken the opportunity, while people’s homes were being blown away, to invoke “global warming” as the cause for the storms.

Sunday morning thousands of Catholics and other Christians gathered to celebrate Easter Sunday.  I’m sure every one of them prayed for the victims quick recovery and gave thanks for the sparing of lives.  Unfortunately none of them took the time to write a letter to the editor.

It’s just one more example of how the minority is trying to dictate to the majority.  Because of the complacency, or maybe even apathy of Christians, they’re getting away with it.  Sometimes I wonder just what it’s going to take for us to say “enough!”  Christianity is being attacked on every front.  We stand by as Easter vacation becomes “spring break”, Merry Christmas becomes “happy holidays”, and the Ten Commandments are first removed from the courthouse, then ridiculed by a vocal minority who don’t share our beliefs.

Through the millennia, thousands of our ancestors have lost their lives in defense of the faith.  In the 21st century, most of us can’t be bothered to even stand up for our faith and our God.  We’re in the middle of the first week of the Easter season.  Just three days ago we celebrated Christ’s victory of evil and death itself.  We renewed our baptismal promises.  Were they just empty words?  Is our Easter celebration just lip service?  Or do we believe what we profess to believe?

If the latter is the case, when are we going to stop looking the other way as our religious freedoms are taken away?  I ask the question not knowing the answer.  But I do know this:  Nothing’s going to change until you and I do something.  If we depend on others to carry the water, we’re going to be very sorry.  Right now there’s a small hole in the dam, but the opening’s going to get bigger and bigger until it’s too late for us to keep from being drowned.

While this may be a societal problem, it’s going to become a personal problem for all of us sooner or later.  Now’s the time to take a stand.  Do it now before it’s too late.

Easter’s Over….NOT!

Today is Monday in the Octave of Easter.  For Catholic Christians, Easter Sunday is the beginning, not the end.  Like the season of Christmas which begins on December 24, the season of Easter begins on the first Sunday following the first full moon following the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere, the day we call Easter Sunday.  The Easter season ends with Pentecost, which this year is on June 12.

While we may eat all the candy and put away all the bunnies and plastic eggs and while the stores may be selling Easter goodies for half price, for us Easter will continue well into summer.  In fact, Easter Sunday, 2011 fell just one day shy of the latest date it can possibly be.  Next year it will fall on April 8.

If you want to be technical about it, we celebrate Jesus’ amazing resurrection every time we go to mass.  But for now, let’s focus on the season of Easter.  Even secular society has an Easter tradition, as much as some people rail against it.  Our elected employees in Washington are currently enjoying their “Easter recess”.  Stock markets are closed on Good Friday.  Public schools give kids some time off for Easter, usually Good Friday and what we used to call “Good Monday”.  Of course for me and my semi-heathen friends, it was “good” because we didn’t have to go to school.  Even most retailers are closed, or have limited hours, on Easter Sunday.  Our atheist brothers and sisters must abstain from grocery shopping on that day, whether they like it or not.  (I wonder if they realize that we pray for them on Good Friday?)

The thing is, the date chosen to commemorate our Savior’s resurrection isn’t set in stone.  Our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters use a different calendar, so our Easter’s don’t always coincide, thought this year they did.  Time is strictly a human concept.  God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit aren’t restricted by clocks and calendars.  1,000 years is a moment to God and a moment is 1,000 years.  We celebrate Easter, both the day and the season, in the spring.  Resurrection equals new life and spring equals new life.  Easter would be just as meaningful if it were celebrated in August, but I think spring is a much better fit.

So, let’s not forget that the next weeks aren’t just about baseball, and graduations, and spring vacations.  Our churches will remain in their Easter trim until June 12.  Priests and deacons will wear white vestments and we’ll sing Easter songs.  All these things are to remind us that Jesus died and rose so that you and I might have eternal life.  It’s not just a one day thing.

PS.  Readership of my little dog and pony show jumped dramatically during Holy Week.  If you’re a new reader (or even if you’re a long-time follower) I want to welcome you and thank you for visiting.  It’s good to know that I’m putting something on the web that’s worth a bit of your valuable time.  The Holy Spirit (the real author of most posts) and I thank you.

Easter Miracle–The Power of God

This isn’t the message I’d planned to post for Easter.  As I’ve learned more times than I can count, if you want to hear God laugh, show him your long-range plan.  Last night, a massive storm system blasted its way through the Saint Louis area.  The system included at least two tornados.

Here’s what we do know, the alleged tornados leveled dozens, maybe even hundreds, of homes and businesses.  Lambert International Airport sustained major damage and is closed until further notice.  One local Catholic church had it’s steeple blown off during Good Friday services.  As someone has said, future generations will speak of the Good Friday tornado of 2011.

Others, myself included, are calling it the Good Friday Miracle of 2011.  Why?  Despite the millions of dollars of damage not a single person died or even sustained a serious injury.  One half of all the windows at the airport were blown out, and if you’ve never been to our airport, that’s a lot of glass blowing around yet only a handful of people sustained minor injuries.

An American Airlines plane sitting on the tarmac was impaled by a piece of sheet metal.  The metal penetrated the skin of the plane’s tail.  If it had hit ten feet to the left, someone would have been seriously hurt, maybe killed.

Cars were picked up, spun around, and flipped over, yet their occupants survived with, at worst, minor cuts and bruises.

It’s as if God was saying, “On the day when you killed my Son, I spared your life.  I AM God.  I AM stronger than the strongest forces of nature.  Trust in me.”

And how has the community responded?  As I write this, emergency management officials are telling us to stay home.  Too many people are showing up to help.  At this stage in the recovery there are major jobs to be done.  Power must be restored.  Roads must be reopened.  Damaged homes must be repaired, at least temporarily, as the meteorologists are predicting rain, and possibly more storms, for the next several days.  Well-meaning volunteers are actually getting in the way.  We’re being told that there will be plenty of work in the days ahead.  Right now, all they need is our money.

I would add that they also need our prayers.  We need to pray for the victims’ recovery and also to thank God that the only damage is to things that can be repaired or replaced.

Tonight and tomorrow we celebrate the greatest miracle of all; the day when Jesus Christ overcame death and saved us all.  You’d think that would be all the miracle we need.  But human creatures have short memories.  One of our favorite questions is “What have you done for me lately?”  We celebrate Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Season of Easter, to remind ourselves of what God and His Son did for us.  I think that sometimes God looks at us and says, “I think it’s time to remind them again.”

Yesterday we prayed for non-Christians and nonbelievers in the Good Friday petitions.  It seems like God answered our prayers by giving them a graphic demonstration of His power to save.

Have a joyous and blessed Easter!

Good Friday

Yesterday morning, I was at the Cathedral Basilica for the annual Chrism mass.  Two things happen at this mass, (actually three things) first and foremost is the mass itself.  Second, the Archbishop blesses all the holy oils that will be used in the archdiocese for the coming year.  Third, all of the priests renew their commitments to priestly service.  As you might imagine, there are a lot of priests and deacons in attendance.

Seating at the Cathedral is priests in front, deacons in the back, which is as it should be.  The only problem with the setup is that during the Consecration of the Eucharist, the priests stand while the deacons kneel.  I was in the first row of deacons just behind the last row of priests.  That meant that all I could see in front of me were a lot of chasubles and a lot of bald heads.  Above the bald heads, I did have a very good view of the Crucifix hanging above the altar.

As I usually do at events like this I looked at Christ hanging from the cross and asked Him how I ended up there, kneeling before the altar, surrounded by holy men.  How could a sinner like me be dressed in an alb and dalmatic, sitting among bishops, priests, and deacons, pretending to be one of them.  There was an Archbishop, two auxiliary bishops, and dozens of priests, some of whom I know, many that I don’t.  There were former pastors of mine.  There were men who taught me when I was in formation.  There were men who have retired after decades of service to the Church.  There were Monsignors, and deans, and deacons who I know live saintly lives. There was a big contingent of seminarians and men of religious orders.   Then there was me.  What could God have been thinking?

Then a funny thing happened.  He answered me!  Not in a booming voice, but more like a whisper from within.  First, He said to me, “Do you really know what’s in other men’s hearts?  How do you know that these men sitting in front of you, and behind you, and on either side of you aren’t even bigger sinners than you are?

“Could it be that they have the same doubts and fears that you do?  You’re an eejit for thinking that you can judge anyone, good or bad.  (Eejit is Irish for idiot.  I’ve always suspected that Jesus was really Irish.)”

He went on, “Besides, haven’t you read the Bible?  Don’t you realize what failures the first Apostles were?  Judas sold me out for thirty pieces of silver.  Peter denied he knew me three times.  The other ten ran off and left me when I needed them the most.  The only ones who stood by me were the women.  You don’t have to be perfect to serve Me.

“You’re a deacon.  Your job is to serve the Archbishop and his flock whatever way he asks you to.  You wear a Roman collar.  You stand next to the priest on the altar.  Part of your job is to remind the faithful that we all serve one another.  If I only called perfect men to be clergy, think how frustrating that would be for everyone else.  They’d think they didn’t have a prayer (prayer, get it?  Jesus does have a sense of humor.)

“I want you and all my clergy to let people see that you’re a sinner, just like them.  Judas didn’t have to turn Me over to the Jews, but somebody had to to fulfill words of the prophets.  I knew He’d do it, even before I chose him to be an apostle.

“Peter didn’t have to deny me three times, but He did, just as I knew he would.  I knew the others would run away.  But I chose them anyway, just like I chose you, sinner that you are.”

So, today we mark the day when He died a painful death on the cross for you and for me.  If we were sinless He wouldn’t have had to do that.  But we aren’t and He did.  In effect He told us that He’d like us to live a sinless life, but He knew that we couldn’t.  So, He let Himself be crucified so that we might be forgiven.  As painful as that was for Him, He knew it would be even more painful to sit back and watch us destroy ourselves.

Without Good Friday, that’s exactly what we’d do.

30 Pieces of Silver

30 pieces of silver; that’s what they thought Jesus was worth.  It’s the price that the Jewish leaders paid Judas to betray our Savior.  Silver is worth about $45.00 an ounce as of today, so if the pieces used to buy Jesus were about an ounce each, then Judas got a whopping $1,350.00 for turning Jesus in.  Seems like a bargain to me, especially when Judas gave the silver back when he realized what he’d done.

That raises a question.  I wonder what Judas thought they were going to do to Jesus?  Surely he didn’t think they were going to throw him a party?  Or maybe ask Him to join their little club?  Jesus had been telling the twelve that bad things were coming, did Judas not listen?  I guess we’ll never know.

But, back to the 30 pieces of silver.  It seems like small change to betray the son of God.  But, at what price do we betray Jesus today?  Will we give Him up in exchange for a night of drinking and hitting on the neighbors’ wives?  Will we give Him up for a couple of hours looking at a porn movie?  Maybe we give Him up for a few office supplies?  Or, maybe we give Him up for the pleasure of talking about our friends behind their backs?  Maybe Judas’ $1,350.00 wasn’t such a cheap price after all.

I know people who give Jesus up so they can sleep in on Sunday morning.  I also know people who give up Jesus so they can play golf on Sunday.  Maybe a good parking spot for the Cardinal’s game is enough to tempt some people to pass by church on their way downtown.

Today is Holy Thursday, the day we remember the Lord’s Last Supper and Judas’ betrayal.  Many of us will go to mass (some of us will go three times, but that’s another story) but most of us won’t.  It’s Thursday night.  Some folks are willing to trade an hour with Jesus for an hour of CSI.  That’s too bad.

Living in a very secular world, where devout Christians are looked on with scorn by many of our brothers and sisters, we need to be reminded once in a while of what Jesus did for us.  The holy trifecta of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday is just the place for us.  An annual reminder of what actually happened twenty centuries ago doesn’t hurt.  In fact it’s good for us.  Yes, I know these liturgies can get a little long some times.  So what!  Three or four hours, once a year is a small price to pay.  Trust me.  You’ll get more than thirty pieces of silver worth of peace and blessings in return.

The End of Lent

Not that Lent is like a final exam or anything, but today is the last full day of Lent.  We’ve had thirty-nine days to prepare for the Triduum and Easter itself.  How’d that work out for you?  Are you a better you than you were on Ash Wednesday?  Have you been successful in your penance(s)?  Of course, the answer is between you and God.  Nobody else needs to know.

In fact, if the goal is eternal salvation, then even we don’t know how successful we are.  It’s one of the beauties of our Catholic faith.  We never know for sure if we’re going to heaven or not which should motivate us to keep trying to improve ourselves every single day, not just for the forty days of Lent.

Many of our protestant brothers and sisters believe that once they come forward at the “altar call”, once they’ve been “born again”, that they’re saved.  “Once saved, always saved” they say.  This can have one of two different results.  The “saved” person can think that they have a free pass, that they’re “in” no matter what they do in this life.  Or, they can believe that they have a responsibility to act as a saved person would act, following the Ten Commandments to the letter.

But for us, we’re never quite sure.  We live in “sure and certain hope.”  We’re pretty sure we’re going to heaven, provided we frequently receive the sacraments, especially the sacrament of reconciliation.  If we die in a state of grace, we may spend some time in purgatory, being cleansed of our sins, but our ultimate destination is heaven.  There’s just enough uncertainty there to keep us on the straight and narrow.

For centuries theologians have debated the fate of Judas.  Is he in heaven or is he in hell?  We can’t be sure.  After all, he played a role in salvation history that had to be played.  He really didn’t have much choice in the matter.  Then, as Jesus hung on the cross, didn’t he ask His Father to “forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Wouldn’t Judas be one of “them”?

For that matter, if you accept my premise on Palm Sunday that you and I are more responsible for Jesus’ death than Judas, or the Jewish leaders, or the Romans, then aren’t you and I part of that “them” that Jesus forgave?  If that’s the case, then don’t we have a “get out of jail free” card?  Are we forgiven because we know not what we do?

Jesus told us time and time again what we must do to get into heaven.  But, He knows us better than we know ourselves and He knows that we won’t always do the right thing.  So we continue to do our best, at least most of us do.  If you’re reading this, then you’re probably someone who does.

As we put another Lent behind us, I pray that you may have a blessed Easter season and that you’ve developed some good habits over the last few weeks that will stay with you long after the Easter candy’s all gone.

Where was Jesus on “Holy Tuesday”

It’s Holy Week, the week that concludes with Jesus’ death and glorious resurrection.  Sunday was Palm Sunday, the day that He arrived  triumphant in Jerusalem.  We seem to overlook that fact in the mass, focusing instead on his capture and death in the narrative of the Passion.  But, for Jesus and His disciples, this week started off well, but it went down hill very quickly.

On Thursday we’ll commemorate His Last Supper, and His washing of the disciples feet.  Of course on Good Friday, we commemorate His death.  But what happened on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday?  How did Jesus spend these three days?

He knew His death was near.  It’s doubtful that He played golf or went fishing.  We can be fairly sure that He was deep in prayer during these three days, but we don’t have the details.  Maybe it’s because we’re supposed to decide for ourselves how to spend these days.  If Jesus had spent 72 straight hours in the temple, then we might think that’s what we’re supposed to do.  I think it’s another case where the scriptures leave out the details so you and I can decide for ourselves what we’re expected to do.

So, as we go through these last two days before Holy Thursday, maybe you and I should spend some quiet time asking God what He wants us to do.  After all, we each have our own personal relationship with the Savior, it could be that these three days are our days, to be spent in our own personal kind of preparation.

Have a blessed day!

Monday of Holy Week

Yesterday we began the final week or preparation for Easter, the feast of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead.  We Catholics read the familiar Passion, Jesus’ journey to Calvary and His death on the cross.  I wonder, sometimes, if most Catholics see Holy Week as a big deal.  I just heard my wife talking to her sister on the phone.  They were discussing some paperwork that needed to be taken care of and I heard my lovely bride say that it would have to wait until next week.  There just isn’t time for such trivia during Holy Week.  And she’s right.  At least for us.

My three assignments, pastoral care minister at a hospital, part-time deacon at my home parish, and director of a parish in the city, along with my wife’s music ministry do make the next seven days kind of crazy for us.  As ministers, not only do we have to attend an abundance of services, but we also take some responsibility for the quality of those services.  I will be leaving shortly to go to my downtown church to oversee the construction of the Easter display.  It promises to be spectacular, and I’m excited to see how it turns out, since this is my first Easter at my new parish.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you.  In fact, I welcome the challenges of the upcoming week and wish that others could be as focused on the liturgy as we are.  It’s a blessing to be reminded so often of what Jesus did for us.  In fact, I feel like others are missing out on a great blessing, especially those nominal Catholics who don’t even bother to attend any of this week’s special liturgies.

I know some folks avoid these services, especially the Easter Vigil, like the plague.  I mean, who can be expected to spend that much time IN CHURCH?

I fear that I’m preaching to the choir here, but if you know someone who doesn’t seem to “get it” when it comes to Easter and the events preceding it, maybe you can gently coax them into attending with you.  I used to be one of those people, even falling into the Christmas and Easter only club for several years.  Now I can’t wait for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.

There are any number of reasons to be Catholic, and many more reasons why it’s good to be a fully-participating member of the Church.  This week is one of the biggest.

See you in church?