4th Sunday of Easter—Mothers

This weekend’s homily:

On this 4th Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, we hear one of the shortest Gospel passages of the whole reading cycle; just five sentences. But, even though it’s short, it says an awful lot. We call it “Good Shepherd Sunday” because Jesus begins by telling us, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

We HEAR Him. He speaks to us. We recognize His voice, just as the sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd. That’s important. Sometimes we Catholics get a bad rap because we don’t read the Bible as much as some of our Christian brothers and sisters. The thing is, we don’t read it as much as we hear it. Every Sunday when we come to mass, we hear three readings, a Psalm, and parts of scripture that are repeated in every celebration of the Eucharist, for instance, the Lord’s Prayer. Every three years we pretty much hear the whole Bible.

There’s a reason why Father doesn’t just say the opening prayer and then ask us to sit down and read the readings assigned to that day to ourselves. Jesus wants us to HEAR Him. He wants us to listen to the readings, not just to read them. It’s especially true of the Gospel. The Gospel is Jesus speaking to us and He wants us to hear Him. How do we know? Because He just told us. 4-legged sheep follow their shepherd because they recognize his voice!

Over the years I’ve discovered that I almost always get something different from the readings when I hear them read out loud as opposed to just reading them out of the book. The spirit works through the lector, the deacon, or the priest, to give them the gift of inflection. The way the words are said convey a different meaning than the way the words are presented on the page.

Here’s something you may have never thought of. The Gospel readings are in the Sacramentary, along with the other readings. But we proclaim the Gospel from a separate book, the Book of the Gospels. The deacon, or some other minister, carries the Gospel into church as part of the opening procession. We give the Book of the Gospels much more respect than paper and ink alone deserve. We’re bringing Jesus’ words into the church.

Did you ever wonder why we don’t carry it back out? It’s because you hear His words and you carry them out of church, in your minds and hearts. Again, Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.”

As far as we know, Jesus never wrote down anything. God the Father inspired all scripture, but Jesus wasn’t into writing. He was into speaking. “My sheep hear my voice.” He didn’t say anything about His sheep reading His blog, or following Him on Facebook or Twitter. And He handed His teaching authority on to His bishops at Cesarea Philippi when He said, “Whoever hears you, hears me.”

But, here’s our challenge. When Jesus spoke, people listened. There was no television, no radio, and no Internet. His listeners were just that; LISTENERS. Our Gospel readings usually begin, “Jesus said to His disciples….” He didn’t have to say “please turn off your cell phones and other electronic devices.” They hung on every word that He said.

Today, there’s just so much competition for our attention. We’re inundated with constant noise. Even the Son of God has a hard time getting through to us. That’s one reason why we need to come to mass. At least for these few minutes each week, we’re away from outside distractions and free to listen to God’s word. For the other 167 hours per week, not so much. Let’s not waste this valuable time.

We’re living in a time when we’re surrounded by false prophets. We may want to listen, but maybe we’re not sure which voice is actually His.

In matters of faith, there are a lot of people who claim to be speaking for Jesus.  They can’t all be right. How do we decide? For me the answer is simple and I already gave it to you earlier. Jesus told Peter and the Apostles, “Whoever hears you, hears me.” He left us one Church with one teaching authority. Lucky us; it’s the Church we all belong to.

What else does He tell us in this short Gospel. He promises us eternal life. He promises us that we shall never perish. “No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of my Father’s hand.” That’s some serious stuff.

You and I can live forever if we follow Jesus. The only person who can take us out of Jesus’ hands is ourselves. We have to follow Him. We have to listen. We can’t just go off on our own. We all know what happens to a sheep when he leaves the flock. The wolf has a nice dinner. Jesus closes by telling us that He and the Father are one.

In five short sentences Jesus has given us everything we need to know. Listen to Him, follow Him, and we’ll go to heaven. That’s it. It’s so simple. Yet, it’s so difficult.

 

I have to close by mentioning another voice that we all recognize and that we celebrate today (tomorrow) and that’s our mother.  Jesus set the example for us in the relationship he had from the time He chose her to bear Him in her womb until He hung on the cross and gave her to Saint John and to us.  “Son, behold your mother.”

 

On this Mothers Day we honor our mothers, living and dead and thank God for the gift of them in our lives.  Let us also honor Jesus’ mother by praying, “Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the Fruit of thy Womb, Jesus.  Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, Amen.”

 

 

Happy Mothers Day!

 

4th Sunday of Easter

PEACE BE WITH YOU!

Peter just isn’t going to let up on the elders and leaders of the people. Remember these guys would just as soon kill Peter as look at him. And eventually they do. But in our reading today from the “Acts of the Apostles he reminds them again that they crucified Jesus the Nazorean and that He has been raised from the dead. Peter is going to pay for his sharp tongue eventually, but not just yet.

 

He reminds them that the stone they rejected has become the Cornerstone. There is no salvation through anyone else.

 

Jesus begins today’s Gospel by saying, “I am the Good Shepherd”. Often in the Old Testament Israel had been referred to as sheep. One day God would send them a shepherd. Well, here he is and we celebrate Him on Good Shepherd Sunday. Interestingly, today is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. We are desperately in need of modern-day shepherds.

 

Jesus says that He’s the Good Shepherd. What makes Him better than the average shepherd? Well, He tells us. “A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” Are you kidding me?  We would expect a “good” shepherd to do everything in his power to protect his flock. But, when push comes to shove, when the wolf is threatening the shepherd himself, would we be surprised to see the shepherd run for his life. Isn’t a human life more valuable than a sheep’s life?   But we know that Jesus isn’t talking about four-legged sheep. He’s talking about two-legged sheep; you and me.

 

But, again, Jesus is God. Whoever heard of a God giving up his life for his creatures. That’s just outrageous! But, it’s what He did. He gave up His life for you and me. He was the “good” shepherd.

 

What else makes Jesus the Good Shepherd. He tells us again. “I know mine and mine know me.” Sheep, the four-legged variety, recognize their shepherd’s voice. When it’s time for them to follow him home he calls out to them and they know which shepherd to follow. Likewise, if a sheep is in trouble, his shepherd will recognize his cry, which is distinctive from other sheep. Sheep’s voices actually sound very human.

 

Our God, even though He created the entire universe, isn’t some far-off diety. He’s close enough that He can hear and recognize our voices. That’s how He hears us pray. He knows our voice and we know His.

 

In a few minutes, we’ll all pray, both as a community and as individuals. At the same time Christians all over the world will be praying. And, He’ll hear all of us. Jesus isn’t A Good Shepherd, He’s THE Good Shepherd. He hears us and we hear Him.

3rd Sunday of Easter

PEACE BE WITH YOU!

These are the first words Jesus speaks to the Apostles both in today’s Gospel and in last week’s. Remember, last week he appeared to them in the locked room. That was when Thomas wasn’t with the others. A week later he came back, and again He greeted them “Peace be with you.” Now today He comes back as they were talking to the two disciples who had met Jesus on the road to Emmaus` and what are his first words?  “Peace be with you.”

peace be with you

See, here’s the thing. Jesus was dead. They saw Him die. He was as dead as Monty Python’s parrot.  Now, here He is again “in the flesh”. That had to be a frightening thing to experience. He knew that so He started his conversation with them by offering them “Peace”.

 

In today’s Gospel Luke writes that they were “startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost.” So Jesus said to them, “Hey. Do you have anything to eat?” “They gave Him a piece of baked fish and He ate it in front of them.” He did that to prove that He wasn’t a ghost.  If a ghost had eaten the fish it would have just fallen on the floor.

 

A little sidebar here, if you read the entire Gospel of Luke you’ll see that Jesus was always eating. The book is full of dinners that Jesus attended with various people. Luke loved to write about these events. So it’s no surprise that even after Jesus has died and been risen from the dead that Luke would introduce some food.   Luke’s Jesus would have loved Saint Louis fish fries during Lent. But, I digress.

 

Jesus tells the Apostles that everything written about Him in the law of Moses and in the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.

 

Now, if we look back at the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, also written by Luke, Peter says to the people, “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus.” Remember, in Jesus times there were lots of gods running around. There were Roman gods, and Greek gods, and Egyptian gods. But Peter tells the people that Jesus didn’t come from any of those phony-baloney gods, He came from The God. Capital T, capital G. The God of our fathers.

 

But, he doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say “You denied the holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.” Then here’s the real zinger,  “The author of life you put to death.” Ouch!

 

But John, in his letter, our second reading, gives us hope. He tells us not to sin, but if we do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ. He is expiation for our sins.” How can we be sure of this? Keep Jesus’ commandments. And His commandments are very simple. Love Him and love our neighbors. That’s it. It’s amazing how many people can’t get that right.

 

PEACE BE WITH YOU.

 

Whatever happened to Easter finery?

As a yout’, I worked for a national department store in the “Boys’ Department’.  I’m not sure in this day of political correctness that’s the proper name for it, but what else do you call a department where you sell boys’ clothes?  Anyway, that’s what we called it in the late 60s when there were only two genders.

I thought about those days over the past weekend.  In my department store days, we were slammed the last weekend before Easter and Easter weekend itself.  Every mother wanted to get her male offspring a suit and tie to wear for Easter.  These weren’t wealthy people.  But tradition said that her ten husky had to be properly dressed for Easter Sunday.  Either a two-piece or even a three-piece suit with a new dress shirt and a clip-on tie were absolutely required.  It was a madhouse.

The Easter dressing expedition seemed to be a mother-son affair.  There weren’t a lot of dads around.  The Girls’ Department was on another floor but I assume bedlam reigned there too.  It was a ritual of spring and nobody was immune.  The only people more hassled than the workers in the Boys’ Department were the poor alteration ladies.  Of course, every suit had to be altered in one way or another.  There were no perfect ten huskies.

I got to reminiscing about those days last weekend.  Don’t get me wrong.  Lots of families come to mass on Easter dressed to the nines.  It is the day Jesus was raised from the dead and certainly calls for our best outfits.  But there are some people who just can’t be bothered.  I don’t think it has to do with money.  Some of the blue jeans I saw in church cost more than a pair of dress pants.  The hockey jersey costs just as much as a sports coat.  I think it’s just a sign of the respect we have for one another (and for God).  And as much as I hate to say it, I think it’s more prevalent among Catholics.

There is another side to this argument:  “Would Jesus turn someone away because they weren’t properly dressed?”  No, I don’t believe He would, but that’s not the point.  It’s about respect:  respect for our fellow Catholics, respect for God’s house, and respect for God Himself.

I wonder, if the Holy Father was coming to your parish and you were one of the lucky ones invited to meet him, wouldn’t you dress up?  I think you would.  Well, guess what, Jesus is the Pope’s boss and he’s in every Catholic church every Sunday in the Blessed Sacrament.  Are tank tops and tattered jeans really proper apparel?

While we’re on the subject of disrespectful behavior in church, I offer for your consideration, without comment, this article from the Catholic Herald.

If you don’t want to read the article, watching the following video should be enough.

 

Happy Easter! Let Not Your Hearts be Troubled

Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many mansions. If not, I would have told you: because I go to prepare a place for you. And if I shall go, and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will take you to myself; that where I am, you also may be. And whither I go you know, and the way you know.  Thomas saith to him: Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith to him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me.  John 14

On Holy Thursday Father Z wrote an excellent post on the controversy concerning the Holy  Father’s comments on the existence of hell.  I would say that if there is no hell, we should probably stay home today or tomorrow.  There is a hell.  Jesus said so.  And Jesus can’t lie.  It’s as simple as that.  What’s the point of all this Easter “stuff” if there’s no hell.  Because, since Jesus told us about heaven and hell, then they both must exist.  If not, then Jesus is a liar and all the Catholics who only come to church on Easter and Christmas might as well just go straight to the buffet.  Us, too.

No, there is a hell and I, for one, don’t want to go there.  If an atheist, communist, newspaper reporter wants to twist the Pope’s words, then you and I must be smart enough to dig deeper and find out for ourselves what the Holy Father really said.  Father Z’s post is a good place to start.

I hope you and yours have the happiest and holiest Easter ever.

risen

Good Friday

[Originally posted March 29, 2013]

Good Friday is a day of fast and abstinence in preparation for Jesus’ glorious resurrection. We’re all encouraged to attend services today, but it’s not a Holy Day of Obligation. You don’t have to come to church today. You can’t eat meat and you can’t eat between meals, but you don’t have to come to church. I think that’s a little bit odd. On the day that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice to save you and me from our sins, I think we should be here. Obviously, so do you.

On the other hand, the fact that this isn’t a day when we’re obliged to come to church, says something about those of us who do come, and those who don’t. One of my wife’s pet peeves is people who don’t send thank you notes. It seems like that simple, common courtesy has fallen by the way side. It’s just good manners to thank someone who’s done something for you. If it’s bad form not to thank someone who has given you a toaster, how much worse is it to not thank someone who’s died for your sins.

Our church will be full tomorrow night for the Easter Vigil. Doesn’t it make sense that it should be full today too? Even in this politically correct, what’s in it for me, don’t mix religion and politics, world, a lot of people get today off. Good luck trying to find a politician in Washington DC today. They’ve all gone home for the Easter break. You’d think that more people, not having to work or go to school today, might take an hour to drop by and say, “Hey, Jesus! Thank you for suffering terrible torture, being beaten and ridiculed, and for dying the painful death on the cross for me.”

I could have told you ahead of time who would be in church today. I can also tell you a lot of people who aren’t. But you and I are here. We love Jesus and we’re thankful that a loving God would send His only begotten Son to die so that we might live.

Today is a solemn celebration. We mourn Jesus’ death. We see Him lying in the tomb and we realize that if it wasn’t for our sins, He wouldn’t be there. We’re sad and we’re sorry for what we’ve done. We also have the advantage of history telling us what’s about to happen. Tomorrow the tomb will be empty because He’s risen from the dead. Where today’s service is solemn, tomorrow’s will be joyful. There will be candles and bells and incense and we’ll rejoice that He’s overcome death. We will celebrate His resurrection because it’s the precursor to our own resurrection!

In a few minutes, we’ll quietly leave church anxious to return tomorrow or Sunday for the great celebration.

Thank you, Jesus, for saving us from ourselves.

5th Sunday of Easter–Mothers’ Day

My intention today was to talk about the first reading and I’ll get to it in a minute. But today’s Gospel is so rich that I had to dive into it a little bit first. This is part of what you might call Jesus’ farewell address. This is Jesus talking to his disciples on what we now call Holy Thursday. The discourse actually takes up several chapters of John’s Gospel. Today’s reading is just about half of Chapter 14.

 

He begins by saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God, have faith also in me.” This could easily be part of our daily prayers. If we have faith in Jesus, how can our hearts be troubled? We know He’s there for us no matter what. What could possibly trouble us? But we’re human. We worry. As we read on in the New Testament we see that the very people Jesus is speaking to here were often troubled.

 

This Gospel is often part of the funeral liturgy because it’s when Jesus promises to go ahead of us and prepare a place for us. Then He makes an outrageous claim. “No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” This kind of talk is what got Him crucified! He’s saying that He and God are one and the same, blasphemy if it isn’t true.

 

Remember, this is new! It’s unprecedented! He’s saying that He is God. You and I know it to be true, but for the handful of people who heard Him say it, and really didn’t understand it, it must have been quite a shock. It’s going to be a while before they GET it. Remember Thomas? He doesn’t believe it and he’s one of Jesus’ closest friends.

 

But here’s the real kicker, after He claims that He is God, He tells the disciples that “whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and do greater ones than these.” Wait! What? Jesus has healed the sick, given sight to the blind, turned water into wine, walked on water, and even raised Lazurus from the dead. Now He says they (and we) will do even greater things? That’s hard to believe.

 

But it’s true. Jesus never traveled very far. The biggest crowd He ever spoke to were the 5,000 on the mountain. Look at our technology today. Look at men like Bishop Robert Barron and Cardinal Dolan. They’ve been heard and seen by millions. When Pope Francis speaks, his words are heard around the world. A crippled nun in Alabama started a world-wide media network. Even a humble deacon can post something on the Internet that’s seen by hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of people.

 

You and I may not be able to raise the dead, but we can carry Jesus’ message to many, many people. Remember that there are billions of Christians in the world today, but it all started with that small group of people in that upper room.

 

I said I was going to talk about the first reading today. It’s from the sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles and it tells us about the first deacons. The Apostles were running ragged trying to do everything themselves. Even with the Holy Spirit there just weren’t enough hours in the day. In particular, the Greek Christians were complaining. They thought the Jewish Apostles weren’t paying enough attention to the Greek widows.

 

So, they called everyone together and said, “Here’s what we’re going to do. You go find seven wise, reputable men who are filled with the spirit. We’ll anoint them and have them feed the poor widows, and maybe do some other stuff.” And that’s what they did.

 

They chose Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch to be the first deacons. Notice that they were all Greek. It’s not a coincidence that Stephen, the guy they chose first, was also the first martyr of the new Church. They told us when we were in formation that Stephen was doing fine until he started to talk. Then they stoned him to death. So, we’d better be careful. Fifteen years later, I understand what they were talking about.

 

Today deacons do things that the Apostles never dreamed of like running churches, ministering to prisoners and hospital patients and travelers at the airport. There’s even one of us in Saint Louis who has a truck stop ministry. There is much work to be done in God’s kingdom on earth and many different callings, not just clerical, but lay as well.

 

And, finally, one of the greatest callings of all is the one we celebrate this weekend. The following quote is from Hungarian Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty who died in 1975:

“The most important person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral——a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body.

 

“The Angels have not been blessed with a such a grace. They cannot share in God’s Creative miracle to bring new Saints to Heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creatures. God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation.”

 

“What on God’s good earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother?”

Happy Mothers’ Day.