3rd Thursday of Lent

Play ball!

I don’t know about where you live, but here in Saint Louis we celebrate our own holiday–Opening Day.  It seems like this civic celebration normally happens the first week of April, but this year it falls on the last day of March.  I guess it’s like Easter.  It doesn’t come on a specific day of the calendar, but this year it seems early.  On the other hand, given the weather we’ve had this winter in the Midwest, it can’t come soon enough.

Don’t get me wrong.  This “official” start of summer is no respecter of the weather man.  It has been known to snow here on the “boys of summer”.  But today is a rite of passage for most of us and spring and summer can’t be too far behind.

During the course of the year, we have no shortage of harbingers, days that mean that something is about to happen.  For most of us Memorial Day means the beginning of summer and Labor Day means the end, even though the calendar says otherwise.  The thing is, we all need hope.  Without it, we wouldn’t even bother to get up in the morning.  Saint Paul tells us that of faith, hope, and love, the greatest is love.  And, it’s hard to argue the point.

But, hope springs eternal.  Hope keeps us going.  And some of us may even hope for love.

Of course, the greatest sign, the greatest promise of hope is Easter, when Jesus defeated death and made eternal life possible for you and me.  As we enter the second half of Lent, I hope that you find encouragement and hope in whatever penitence you’ve chosen for this special season.  I promise I will continue to pray for you and I hope you will pray for me.

Saint John Chrysostom

Today we remember Saint John Christostom.  Saint John lived in the late 300s and early 400s, around the time of Saint Patrick.  You may not be familiar with him, but he and I have a running conversation.  He’s the patron Saint of preachers, and I speak to him often, especially when I’m getting ready to speak to you.

Saint Joh was quite the speaker.  In fact, the word Christostom means Golden Mouth.  Today I thought today I’d let him speak directly to you.  This is from one of his homilies.  His words are just as appropriate today as they were in the 4th Century.

The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us, but we do not fear drowning, for we stand firmly on a rock.  Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock.  Let the waves rise they cannot sink the boat of Jesus.  What are we to fear?  Death?  Life to me means Christ, and death is gain.  Exile?  The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord.  Confiscation of our goods?  We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take nothing from it.  I have only contempt for the world’s threats.  I find its blessings laughable.  I have no fear of poverty, no desire for wealth.  I am not afraid of death nor do I long to live, except for your good.  I concentrate therefore on the present situation, and I urge you, my friends, to have confidence.

Do you not hear the Lord saying, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst”?  Will he be absent, then, when so many people united in love are gathered together?  I have his promise:  I am surely not going to rely on my own strength!  I have what he  has written; that is my staff, my security, my peaceful harbor.  Let the world be in upheaval.  I hold to his promise and read his message; that is my protecting wall and garrison.  What message?  “Know that I am with you always, until the end of the world!”

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! “