Tuesday, April 25, 2017

2nd Sunday of Easter, Cycle A - April 23, 2017

2nd Sunday of Easter
Cycle A
April 23, 2017             8:45 and 11:00am Masses
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore

 

Doubting Thomas?


I have grown to really dislike the expression doubting Thomas.

I and probably at least some of you have heard this expression and maybe even used it.  We might call others a doubting Thomas if they refuse to believe something.

Obviously, this expression is based on the gospel story that we just heard.  Thomas refuses to believe unless he himself sees and touches Jesus. 

But then, Thomas ends up making one of the most beautiful professions of faith in all of Scripture.  He calls Jesus “My Lord and my God.”

Still, our tradition has dubbed him doubting Thomas.  We have kind of looked down upon him and his faith as less than the other disciples.

Seeking Thomas


Well, as I said, I have grown uncomfortable with calling Thomas doubting.

I think it would be much better to refer to him as seeking Thomas.  Thomas isn’t closed to believing in the risen Christ.

In fact, he wants to believe and he is seeking faith or else he would not be with the disciples on that Sunday after the resurrection.  So Thomas stands as a good example for all those who are seeking to understand more about God.

Our Seeking


Today some scholars of religion tell us that many people experience this seeking in their faith.

These scholars tell us that this seeking should really be seen not as a lack of faith, but as a stage or a dimension of faith.  As I see it today, persons of faith might be seeking or questioning in a number of ways.

For example, some who are seeking might question certain sections of the Scripture.  How can the image of a militant and vengeful God in parts of the Old Testament harmonize with the picture of God that Jesus presents?

Or, some who are seeking might question the designation of God only as Father.  After all, isn’t God the source and creator of both genders and doesn’t that tell us something about the identity of God?

Or, some who are seeking might question why the Church prohibits Catholics who are married outside the Church from receiving Communion.  Why are they prohibited from receiving Communion when those who express racial prejudice or insensitivity for the poor are not prohibited?

I have listened to those seeking and have heard these questions.  I bet you have too.

I suggest that it is better not to look upon those are seeking as in some way less or to call them doubting Thomases.  Rather, it is better to see this seeking as a stage or dimension of faith that some of us experience.

Conclusion


I want to conclude with two reflections that are really like two sides of one coin.

First, it is important for any of us who are seeking to stick with a community of faith.  It is valuable to be part of a community or church.

This must be why Jesus intended that his followers identify together as a community.  It must be why he formed what we call the Church. 

Jesus knew that we need this community for our journey of faith.  He intended the Church to support and guide us positively in our journey.

And my second reflection is really the other side of the coin.  We as a Church need to take the approach of Jesus in today’s gospel.

Jesus engages Thomas and he does this right in the community of the disciples.  The result is that Thomas gets satisfaction to his seeking and he believes.

Well, we, as a Church or as Saint Matthew’s Parish, we also need to be engaging.  This means that we need to be welcoming and including and respecting, and not putting down or excluding those who are seeking. 

This is the way that we as Church can provide a safe and nourishing, spiritual space.  It is the best way that we can empower everyone and especially those who are seeking to come to a satisfying faith, much as Jesus does for seeking Thomas. 



Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday, Cycle A - April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday
Cycle A
April 16, 2017


No Proof


We, you and I, I cannot prove that Jesus rose from the dead.

We cannot prove that we ourselves will experience resurrection.  There is no scientific way to prove this.

It’s not like combining two parts of hydrogen and one part of oxygen and coming up with water.  But, I can say this. 

I have experienced the “mystery” – and that’s what it is, “mystery,” something beyond full human comprehension and rationality.  I have experienced the mystery of dying leading to new life.

But…My Experience of Dying and Rising


For example, there have been times when I have offended someone with a curt or insensitive comment.

I can think of occasions when I needed to die to my pride and say, “I’m sorry.  I should never have said that. 

“Please forgive me?”  I have experienced that this dying to myself in these situations has led to new life in a relationship with a friend or a parishioner.

I also look back to the days when I was in elementary school and high school.  My parents had kind of a structure for my brother and me to make sure we would get our homework done.

We didn’t always like this and sometimes would have preferred doing lots of others things.  But this gave us good habits.

There was a certain dying to self in this.  And it led us to become more educated and fuller adults, more alive persons.       

But…Dying and Rising in Nature


I also see this mystery of dying and rising in the world of nature.

A seed goes into the ground.  It seems like a lifeless, dead seed and it actually gets buried in the soil.

We all know what happens.  It comes to life and sprouts and eventually we will see flowers like snapdragons or vegetables life zucchini.

We’re seeing this right now as the bulbs in the ground come back to life and crocuses or daffodils emerge.  Dying in this way leads to new and fuller life.

But…The Experience within Us


And then there is the experience within each of us simply of wanting life.

We want to live.  In fact, we always want better life and more life.

I also believe that our desire for more of anything – for more money or a nicer home or whatever it is – these desires for more are really the desire for more and more life.  I believe that this is an indication of the divine within us.

It is an indication that there is a transcendent God and that there is a life that transcends this life.  It is an indication that there is a life after and beyond death – a resurrected life.

And Jesus Leads Us


The last thing I want to say is that the way of Jesus leads us to life.

Jesus or his way leads us to fuller and fuller life and sparks within us the hope of resurrection.  For example, my experience is that I am most fully alive when I feel compassion for those who are suffering or in need. 

I am most fully alive when I am faithful to my life or vocation commitment, even when that’s hard to do.  I am most fully alive when I am a peacemaker and try to build bridges between people and participate in community with others.

The core of Jesus’ way is that my dying to making myself the center of everything leads me to a fuller and fuller life.  The dying leads to rising.

Conclusion


So, yes, I cannot scientifically prove that Jesus rose and that we will experience resurrection.


But my life experience tells me that this is so.  And my living with trust in Jesus, with faith, confirms this for me and gives me hope.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Passion (Palm) Sunday, Cycle A - April 9, 2017

Passion (Palm) Sunday
Cycle A
April 9, 2017
            8:00 am at Saint Mary, Pylesville
11:00 am at Saint Matthew, Baltimore
 

Passion According to Matthew

As you know, there are four gospels.

And each of the gospel writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – each of them tells the story of the Passion, the account of Jesus’ suffering and death.  Each of them tells this in a slightly different way, including different details or highlighting different themes.

This morning we heard the account of the Passion according to Matthew.  I want to comment on just two features that convey some of Matthew’s unique insight.

God’s Love

First, Matthew is the only gospel writer who informs us about the suicide of Judas.

Why does he mention this?  Judas comes to realize that he has betrayed a good and holy man.

But tragically, Judas does not realize that Jesus is so good that he still loves him and will forgive and accept him.  Judas fails to see this.

So implicitly, by recalling this, Matthew wants us to be clear that nothing we do is too bad to be forgiven by God.  God’s love is unconditional and there is nothing about us as persons or about our behavior that is beyond God’s love and forgiveness.

One conclusion I make is that we as a Church must live out this love of God in our ministry.  This means that everyone needs to be welcome here – regardless of who they are or how they think or what they have done.

It must be this way if we as a Church are to be like Jesus.  So, if this understanding would assist someone you know and who feels uncomfortable coming here, please tell them that God loves them and welcomes them.
 
God in Everyone

The second feature in Matthew’s account of the Passion that I want to note is the tearing of the curtain in the temple.

The passage says that at the moment Jesus dies, “the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom.”  What does this mean?

This curtain separates what is called the Holies of Holies – the area of the temple where God is seen as dwelling – it separates this from the rest of the temple.  So the tearing of the curtain is a sign that this separation of God from us no longer exists. 

It means that with Jesus’ death and eventual resurrection, God is with and within each of us.  And so, we are to see God in all persons, whether they are Catholic or not, whether they are Christian or not, whether they are believers or not. 

Pope Francis has given us some really good examples of this, as when he gave an interview to a journalist who is a non-believer and showed complete respect for him.  So we come here to church, the building that proclaims the presence of God and that gives us the Eucharistic presence of Jesus.


And this is to awaken us to God’s presence in everyone.  They are some of the positive messages that Matthew is trying to convey to us today in his account of the Passion of Jesus.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

5th Sunday of Lent, Cycle A - April 2, 2017

5th Sunday of Lent
Cycle A
April 1-2, 2017            9:30am and 11:15am

Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville


Resurrection on the Last Day

There is one sentence in this gospel story that I have never before highlighted in any way.

It is a significant sentence, but easy to overlook.  The context is that Martha says to Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Jesus replies: “Your brother will rise.”  And Martha responds with the sentence that is significant but easy to miss.

She says: “I know he will rise in the resurrection, on the last day.”  Some Jews, in the centuries right before the birth of Christ, had come to believe in a resurrection.

They believed that this would happen on the last day, at the end of time.  They believed that the Messiah would come and all who had died would be raised back to life.  

So Martha says: “I know Lazarus will rise in the resurrection, on the last day.”  Martha’s statement is significant because it sets up Jesus for declaring something dramatically new.   

“I Am the Resurrection”

Jesus says: “I am the resurrection and life.”

Notice: Jesus says: “I am” – not I will be “the resurrection.”  This means that resurrection is a present reality, and not only something in the future. 

Jesus’ statement means that we can live resurrected life right now through a relationship with him.  This is why he says: “Whoever believe in me, even if they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

By the way, the word “believe” is used eight times in this story.  So there is a message here.

Jesus invites us to believe in him and then to live out of this relationship.  If we do that, we will be living in resurrected life right now. 

This happens for us in the same way that it does for Lazarus.  Jesus calls us and empowers us to come out of the tombs we are in right now, just as he calls Lazarus to come out. 

In coming out of these tombs, we live Jesus’ life – resurrected life in the present time.  I want to share two examples of what this means – there are others and I am sure you can think of them.

The Tomb of Grief

Sometimes we can be in the tomb of grief.  From my experience, I know that our personal losses, especially the death of a loved one, can be very difficult.

It takes time to emerge from grief and feel as if we are alive again.  It takes time to find our spark, our joy, our hope and our energy again.

Jesus calls and helps us to come out of this tomb.  I think that the sacrament of the Eucharist is especially powerful here.

The Eucharist is a visible way for Jesus to be present to us especially in our loss and loneliness.  It draws us, little by little, out of the tomb of grief and back into the current of life that God must still want us to live.

The Tomb of Self-Absorption

Another example: in our culture, there can also be the tomb of self-absorption.  Some insightful authors say that self-absorption, even narcissism is fairly prevalent in our culture.

This means that we can get into thinking only about myself and my appearance and my concerns.  This self-absorption can become so dominant that it becomes narcissistic, that we cannot even enter into the world or viewpoint or feelings of others and don’t consider the effect of our actions on others.

Jesus calls and helps us to come out of this tomb.  He moves us to a life of relationship with others, with those whom we personally know and with those in the larger community.

Jesus moves us to find life and fulfillment in this connectedness.  He moves us little by little to come out of the tomb of self-absorption, even narcissism, and come to the awareness that our true happiness is connected with the well-being of all others.

So, “Do You Believe?”

So, the real issue today is: do we believe that Jesus is “the resurrection and the life” right now?


If we do, then he can raise us and call us out of the tombs we are in right now.