Now It Is Your Turn

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May 20, 2018 – Pentecost Sunday - John 20:19-23

It always brings a smile to my face when I read about the appearance of Jesus to his disciples who had locked the door. They were fearful of outsiders. Jesus had been crucified by the authorities. They must have wondered whether they were next.

Suddenly, Jesus was standing there with them inside the locked room! They must have been startled, amazed, a little scared, probably confused and befuddled (such a wonderful word!). Jesus calmly says, “Peace be to you.” They responded, “What?” (I added that.)

Jesus appeared to them because he still had to inform them of a few matters that they might not have grasped before his death. Or, at least not the full implications of what they needed to know. His additional message went something like this.

The work I came to accomplish is not finished. You can think of it as chapter one. You (and those who follow you) are the main characters in chapter two. So, go out to the whole world telling everyone what I have taught you. Tell them about what you experienced with me. Tell them about how much God loves them. Mention the new life I have brought to you: life abundant here and life with God forever. Baptize them into this new life of grace. What I have begun, you are to complete. All of you. Now, get going.

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By Our Side

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May 13, 2018 – Seventh Sunday of Easter - John 17:11-19

Back in the last century, when I was a young lad, I learned in catechism class that there were two spirits that were always at my side. While this was a rather large idea for me to swallow, I did believe it. After all, my teacher was a nun and I believed that all nuns told the truth. Just like we read in today’s gospel reading that Jesus always told the truth.

I was taught that one of those spirits at my side was good (an angel) and the other was bad (a devil). So someone (or something – this was a little unclear for me back then) was drawing me toward doing good acts and someone was pulling me in the other direction. I believed without a doubt that these two forces were part of my life. I still do.

Pope Francis recently wrote about these forces in a document called “Rejoice and Be Glad.” (It’s available on the Vatican website. It’s free and well worth reading. Our pope has a way of expressing complex ideas in clear language and images.) As is his custom, he reminded us to remain joyful in our struggles with good and evil. God remains close to us and God’s help is always available to us.

 

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Unfailing Love

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May 6, 2018 – Sixth Sunday of Easter- John 15:9-17

Quiz: It is insured for over $800,000,000. It is the best known and the most valuable painting in the world. Years ago, I stood in line for over three hours to walk by it as it was on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. I could look at it for all of five seconds. It had been briefly loaned to us from its usual display in the Louvre Museum in Paris where it has been hanging for the last 220 years. Can you name this painting? Of course, you can. The Mona Lisa.

Here’s a second question. What is she, the Mona Lisa, thinking about? What was going on in her mind that so mystifies us? What state of mind was Leonardo da Vinci capturing in this incredible portrait? Many have guessed what it might be, but the debate continues. All agree, however, that she not thinking about what’s for dinner. It’s much deeper than that.

In today’ gospel we have something similar being shown to us. Through his words, we are allowed to see into the mind of Jesus. We are given a peak of what Jesus thought about not only when he said these words at the Last Supper, but also what is on his mind and in his heart every day. Even right now, as he exists, risen and living in our midst.

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Growing in the Vineyard of God

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April 29, 2018 – Fifth Sunday of Easter
John 15:1-8

Jesus was a brilliant communicator. He illustrated his teaching of deep truths using images, symbols and examples that his listeners could understand. Last week, it was sheep and shepherds. The week before the gospel featured broiled fish. This week we find ourselves in a vineyard. His home land was dotted with vineyards. Not like the large commercial vineyards of California and Washington. But much more local. A few vines connected with ordinary homes. They might be called “backyard wineries.” They produced just enough for the family and maybe a few extra containers for neighbors and friends. Still, the vines were precious to those who had them. And they were carefully attended to.

People knew how important it was to care for both vine stock and branches. The substance of the grapes came out of the soil, through the vines and into the branches. Eventually the grapes benefited from this wondrous system of production. All of this needed year-round attention. Nourishing the soil, protecting the vines and pruning the branches could not be overlooked. There was a direct connection between caring for the vines and branches and the wine that would reach the family’s table. This was common knowledge.

When Jesus wanted his listeners to understand and appreciate the vital connection between him and them, what better image to use than the connection between a vine and its branches? No one would say that they didn’t understand his point.

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Learning to Trust God

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April 22, 2018 – Fourth Sunday of Easter
John 10:11-18

There are countless artistic renditions of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. I have one framed in my study. It shows Jesus holding a young lamb next to his face. The image is one of tenderness and love. I think of this lamb, safely held touching Jesus, as just having been found. For a time, it was a lost sheep, a fearful sheep, one that had wandered from the flock. We know how Jesus felt about lost sheep. They were to be retrieved. Even at the risk of losing 99 other sheep. The logic of the gospels can confound us. At times, it can seem almost foolish.

In another part of the New Testament we read that the wisdom of the world is not to be equated with the wisdom of God. God’s ways can appear foolish to certain mind-sets. The greatest act of worldly foolishness was Jesus dying on the cross. People who witnessed this act couldn’t believe their eyes.

 

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Fed by Jesus

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April 15, 2018 – Third Sunday of Easter
Luke 24:35-48

Throughout the gospel we are given many examples of Jesus taking care of others. He cured their illnesses. He drove evil spirits from them. He gave sight to their blindness. He spoke words of God so that they would understand the deep truth of their lives. He even died for them. As later theologians would put it, “He was a man for others.”

In this Sunday’s gospel we come across a delightful example of Jesus asking for and receiving something from others. Specifically, it was from the two disciples with whom he “broke bread” at Emmaus. Luke states that they are back in Jerusalem with the other disciples.

Suddenly Jesus, the Risen One, was also among them. As proof that it was really him in their midst, he told them to look at his wounded hands and feet. He was not a ghost or a spirit. And after they realized it really was him, out of the blue he asked them,” Do you have anything to eat?” He noticed that they had recently baked some fish. Perhaps he could smell the smoke. Perhaps Jesus thought that good smoked fish is always delicious.

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God is Close to Us

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April 8, 2018 – Second Sunday of Easter
John 20:19-31

Behind locked doors, interesting things can happen. As they did to the disciples of Jesus after his Resurrection. There were two visits by the Risen Christ to them while they were still in Jerusalem. The first one had its own interesting dynamics. Without any warning, with the doors locked, Jesus was suddenly standing there in their midst. While his disciples were probably scared to death, Jesus greets them with a wish for them to be at peace. You can imagine that they were anything but peaceful at that moment.

Once all had settled down, Jesus got down to business. He was charging them with a mission. A mission that would include their being ambassadors for God. They would bring God’s merciful forgiveness to those needing that gift.

 

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Reclaiming Easter

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April 1, 2018 – Easter Sunday – Resurrection of the Lord

John 20:1-9 The celebration of Easter has some of the same problems as does Christmas. It’s been taken over by non-Christian concerns. Easter outfits, Easter baskets, Easter lilies, and a great event on the White House lawn, Easter egg rolling. In the Northern Hemisphere, Easter usually occurs with the arrival of springtime. Life survives the winter. Some Christian substance there, but not as deep as the Christian belief in the Resurrection!

So, what might we reflect on this Easter? First, of course, the event of Jesus rising from the dead. He did not wake up from sleep. He did not simply continue the life he once led. He was not resuscitated. According to St. Paul, Jesus attained a new condition and began a New Creation. The risen Christ left the condition of a death bound humanity to one of new life, a life that was available to all, a life of deep love, and a life that would never end. 

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Palm Sunday People

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A gospel meditation for the home
March 25, 2018 –Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord
Mark 14:1-15:47

On this Sunday we hear the longest Sunday gospel of the year. It recounts the passion and death of Jesus Christ. Scholars suggest that this might be the first recorded part of the life of Jesus. They call Mark’s Gospel “a passion narrative with an introduction.” Much of Mark’s gospel is written to give an accurate account of the life and death of Jesus. The underlying theme is that what many expected when God came to save his people was inaccurate. God would not come as a great king restoring political power to the Jews. God would not come on a cloud with lightning bolts and other demonstrations of power to destroy God’s enemies. No, God came as one who appeared quite ordinary. He was a human like all others. Except as we read today, he was also the Son of God.

Most will be familiar with the various elements of the story. We hear about the Passover meal, the agony in the garden, the betrayal by Judas, the humiliation he suffered at the hands of the religious leaders, the strange encounter with Pilate, the humiliation and mockery he endured at the hands of soldiers, the cowardly response of Peter (supposedly, the Rock), the crucifixion itself, his death and his burial in a rock cave.

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To Love Like Jesus

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A gospel meditation for the home
March 18, 2018 – Fifth Sunday of Lent - John 12:20-33

To want to personally suffer is called masochism. To inflict suffering on others is called sadism. Both approaches to suffering are humanly harmful and are not sanctioned by God or God’s people, the church. But after reading today’s gospel it might seem that Jesus seems to be in favor of suffering. He speaks in positive terms about his own suffering and death.

I believe that there is good suffering and suffering that is harmful. The suffering endured by Jesus was the result of the evil in humans. We must be honest that some people did not like what Jesus said and did. His teachings on loving one’s enemies, generously giving to the poor and needy, not taking advantage of one’s position in society or religion and other teachings that called for giving rather than getting, were not what some wanted.

In fact, they were the opposite of what was hoped for. His own disciples were often left wondering. Does he really mean what he said? Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was assassinated in 1980 because he opposed the government, which overlooked the poor in favor of the rich. He suffered and died too because he spoke like Jesus.

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