Sunday, March 27, 2016

Faith in the Resurrection

It's an interesting gospel the Church gives us for this Easter Sunday, because here on the day of the Lord's Resurrection, we have a gospel that doesn't actually have Jesus in it. We have an empty tomb, but we have no Jesus (it turns out this is the gospel for every Easter Sunday, I'm just slow to catch up).

John the gospel writer does this deliberately. He wants to show us how different disciples slowly came to a belief in the Resurrection at different speeds. Despite what Jesus had told them repeatedly throughout his ministry, they still didn't get it. They didn't look at this empty tomb and exclaim, "He has risen!", no, they looked at the tomb, examined it closely, and just wondered. The beloved disciple may have gotten it, but Peter and Mary Magdalene, they just wondered.

The gospel gives us some clues and symbols to understand how the disciples were feeling. First off, it tells us that Mary came to the tomb while it was still dark. This darkness symbolizes her own desolation, since she had seen Jesus die on the cross three days prior. Immediately we see that she doesn't get it yet, she thinks the body has been stolen.

But then with Peter and John (beloved disciple=John) having this footrace to the tomb, the gospel writer though it was important enough to give us this race report about John being faster than Peter. Why? Again, this gospel is full of symbolism. Peter represents authority, but John, being called the beloved disciple, represents love. John was faithful through the Passion, he was the one standing next to mother Mary when Jesus said, "Behold your mother." So John's love propels him to the tomb first. But then he pauses. He doesn't enter the tomb. Even though his love propelled him to the tomb first, he yields to Peter's authority. He naturally understood that Peter should investigate first. John follows Peter in, and it says that John "saw and believed." The gospel doesn't tell us that Peter or Mary Magdalene quite believed yet, we'll see that happen in the next couple weeks. But John's exceptional love prepared him to believe when no one else quite could yet.

And the gospel goes to great pains to make us see even in this passage that Jesus has indeed risen, his body hasn't been stolen. By describing the burial cloths, the fact that they were still there and the fact that they seemed to be somewhat organized, tells us that this is not an act of theft, nor is it a resurrection like Lazarus, who came out of the tomb still tied in the burial cloths. Something completely unique happened here.

But again, most of the disciples come to faith in the Resurrection slowly. Over the next couple weeks, we'll see Jesus's initial encounters with his disciples unfold. With our twenty centuries of hindsight and reflection, it's easy for us to see Easter Morning bursting upon the disciples with some sort of magnificence, but the reality is that he rose in secret. No one saw it. And then at the first evidence of the Resurrection, they responded with still more doubt.

What does this say about the disciples? Quite simply, it means that they were human. If you and I stumble upon an empty grave, our first thought would still not be, "He rose from the dead and has destroyed death forever," even though we have seen it happen before. So with the apostles, who have never seen this new Resurrection, we can take hope in the slowness of their faith, because if Jesus could still love them, then he'll probably be patient with us as well.

Over the next couple of Sundays, were going to see Jesus actually meet his apostles and move them into a more solid belief in the Resurrection. Their belief wasn't solid on Easter morning. Nor was it totally solid on the evening of Easter Sunday, when Jesus's first appearances took place. Faith in the Resurrection was a lifelong process. In this empty tomb, this Resurrection, Jesus has offered them a new way of living. He showed them a life that doesn't actually end at the grave, and then he offered that life to them. And he offers that same life to us, a life that doesn't end at the grave, but stretches beyond it. For all of us, this very idea takes some getting used to. We have to consider faith in the Resurrection to be a lifelong process for each of us.

So once we have experienced the mystery and the glory of Easter Sunday, once we've experienced the empty tomb and the Risen Lord, we have to figure out how to let this event make a difference in our lives. And here's the trick for doing that, best I can figure out: we have to keep revisiting Easter Sunday. It is the most sublime and magnificent thing to ever happen to the human race, so we do ourselves a great disservice if tomorrow we act like it never happened.

So how do we revisit Easter Sunday? How do we revisit the empty tomb and the Risen Lord? We revisit and stay connected to these events first and foremost by staying connected to his Church. At the very least, this means going to mass not just on Easter Sunday, but also on the Sunday after that, and then the Sunday after that, all the way until the next Easter Sunday. If we do that, great! What next? The Resurrection is a radical event, and it requires a radical response. None of us are ever done in our growth in the Christian life. There's never a point where we can say our faith is, "good enough." Jesus is always calling us to new and deeper things. So where is Jesus inviting you, personally, to live more truly in his Resurrection? Is he calling you back to confession? (yes!) Is he calling you to pick up a Bible and learn about him and make your faith personal (yes!) Is he calling you to serve in the Church in some capacity or to serve his beloved poor? (yes!)

Do not leave here today without seriously confronting this question: How do I need to grow in my faith of the Resurrection? If Jesus really rose from the dead, then he really is God and I can't hold anything back from him. Growth in faith is a lifelong process, so it's always good to have before your eyes the specific thing you're trying to grow in. So ask Jesus today at this Mass how he wants you to grow and change. Ask him, and then with the grace from this Easter Sunday, make that change to grow closer to our Risen Lord.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday

In any other year, March 25th would be the feast of the Annunciation. Nine months before Christmas, we celebrate the archangel Gabriel appearing to Mary and Mary saying yes to God's great invitation. This year, the feast of the Annunciation has been the first available day after the Easter octave, so it'll be celebrated on April 4th. This is a rare convergence of these dates: although it happened as recently as 2005, it won't happen again until 2157. The rare convergence of these dates can be a fruitful time to meditate on the beginning and end of Christ's life, and on Mary's role in it.

At the beginning, Mary gives us Jesus when she says, "Let it be done unto me according to your word," and at the end, Jesus gives us Mary when he says, "Behold your mother." Twice we see Mary say yes to something she cannot understand: yes to the Incarnation, and yes to his death. Twice we see Jesus humble himself, first by becoming man, and then again by giving up that manhood and undergoing death. When these two dates converged back in 1608, the poet John Donne wrote a poem in which he said, "Death and conception in mankind is one:/Or ‘twas in Him the same humility."

This should help to illustrate for us that everything Christ did was about humbling himself. In becoming a man, he humbled himself. In undergoing death, he humbled himself. The whole Paschal Mystery is about Christ humbling himself in order to experience our lowly and miserable condition, in order to be exalted on Easter and take us with him.

The humility of the Passion is expressed in many ways through the silence of Good Friday. The silence of this day has always been very powerful for me. We started this service in silence. This is a prayer service, not a mass: during this time when we wait with Christ at the tomb, the normal exultation of the Church ceases, and we wait in silence. We will depart in silence, and hopefully we've found some way to make this day special through silence.

The day is silent because the sinful world couldn't endure the just man. Throughout Jesus's trial with Pilate and Caiaphas, the silence of Jesus, although it leads to his death, is really more convicting of the loud, sinful world that condemned him. Jesus, the perfectly just one, sat silent in the face of the unjust accusations. "Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth." The philosopher Plato, who lived 400 years before Jesus did, once wrote about how the world would treat a perfectly just man if ever they met one. He said, "The just man will have to endure the lash, the rack, the chains, the branding iron in the eyes; and then, having endured every extremity of suffering, he will be crucified." Plato said this 400 years before Christ, because he recognized what would necessarily be the human fate of a truly just person.

But what Plato could not possibly see was the Resurrection. The silence and suffering of Jesus the just one leads to the grave, but then it leads to the Resurrection. Wait in silence with him. The Resurrection will come, but for now, just wait. Wait with Mary. Wait at the tomb. Soon a new and glorious day will dawn, but for now, we wait, we trust, in silence.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

St. Joseph

Today is the Feast Day of St. Joseph the Awesome (not an official title...yet). HERE'S my short homily for today's feast.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

See, I Am Doing Something New

This set of readings was my first homily three years ago. Huzzah! (I didn't actually say the word "huzzah" in a homily. That's for the internet congregation only). These are excellent readings for the end of Lent. Because at this point, hopefully, we've confronted our own sin and our own weakness, and now God says, "It's time to move on, I'm doing something new."

Let's look at the first reading: "Remember not the things of the past, I'm doing something new." And he even mentions good things from the past: how he led Israel through the sea, destroyed the armies of Egypt before them, but he says forget it all. I'm doing something new. A way in the desert. Rivers in wastelands. Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it.

Now we start looking ahead, we don't look to the things of the past. It occurs to me that this gospel reading is really about looking ahead. So we have this woman caught in the middle of a very serious sin, with a very serious punishment attached to it. But the Pharisees, they don't care about her, they don't really even care about the punishment, all they care about is trapping Jesus. Because Jewish law said that if two people were caught committing adultery, both of them were to be put to death by stoning, but the man is nowhere to be found here, so clearly the authorities aren't interested in justice according the law. This woman is just a pawn that they're using to try to trap Jesus.

But Jesus refuses to play their game. Side note, scholars have never known what to make of Jesus writing in the dirt. Some suggest Old Testament references, others suggest he's ignoring the Pharisees. But no one really knows. For me, this points to the reality of the story. If Jesus was a myth, if someone was just making up the story to try to create a cult, then details like this don't help. You can imagine someone asking the apostles, "Yeah, but why did Jesus write in the dirt," and they have no profound answer. All they have is, "I dunno. He just did." Details like this that you can't explain don't help the story, and so the only reason they would be here was if it actually happened.

But back to this woman. This woman was in fact caught in a very serious sin. The line that she "was caught in the very act of committing adultery" leaves no question as to her guilt. And in her obvious guilt, she needed help, not condemnation. This woman is the same as each of us. Each of us have been this guilty of awful sins, and when that happens, we know that we need forgiveness, not condemnation.

And that's what Jesus offers her. He encourages her to look ahead, not to the past. But this last line is crucial. "Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more." The famous line, "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her" is not the end of the story. If that were the end, we could all just go on sinning and no one could say anything about it because hey, you're a sinner too. But Jesus doesn't leave it there. Jesus suggests a new path, a new way in the desert of her life. "Go, and from now on do not sin anymore." It's like he's thinking of the line from the first reading, "Remember not the events of the past. See, I am doing something new." He wants this woman to experience something new, something completely different from her old sin.

And he wants us to experience something new as well. At the beginning of the homily I mentioned that we've confronted our own sin and weakness this Lent, and I use those two words to point to two different realities that Jesus wants to make new. Sin refers to the things I do wrong that keep me from God, but not all of our difficulties in the Christian life are limited to just sin. Many of us deal with weaknesses, you could also call them imperfections, that aren't sinful but they still get in the way. Things like depression and anxiety, while very real problems, are not sinful. And yet they can keep us from God. Even these things that are not sins, Jesus wants to take them and make something new out of them. He doesn't want to just leave you in your sin or your brokenness. No, he wants to take all this mess and do something new with it.

And what he wants to do with it is pattern it after his own life. That's what he did with St. Paul. Paul had great zeal for God's law, but it was misdirected in his zeal so that his zeal, his enthusiasm was actually leading him away from God, so God basically said to Paul, "See, I am doing something new here." And now, Paul's life has been so transformed that he can consider the loss of his old life as so much rubbish. Rubbish is a very clean euphemism for dung. That's what his old life is in comparison with what new things God has done. Jesus patterned Paul's life on himself. Paul is sharing in Christ's suffering by being conformed to his death, if somehow he may attain the resurrection from the dead. Everything we suffer in our own lives is a share in Christ's suffering, and every victory in our life is a share in Christ's resurrection. Through the regular rise and fall of our own lives, we share in the death and resurrection of Christ. This is the new thing that Jesus has done in the world. He has conformed our lives to be like his, because he lived a life like ours.

So next week is Palm Sunday, and then we rapidly approach the pinnacle event of human history, the death and resurrection of God. Conform your life to his. See in every suffering of yours a share in his death, and in every victory of yours a share in his resurrection. By patterning your life after Jesus's, he will make something new spring forth.