God with Us

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May 26, 2019 – Sixth Sunday of Easter - John 14:23-29

Parents know that one of the greatest fears of young children is that of being “left alone.” But that’s not just true of the young. Fear of being all alone haunts everyone at times. To be without help when we need it, to be forgotten by family and friends, to be all alone in a strange place is not only scary, it can be a cause for great concern. Products are now available especially to the elderly which create a call for help when no one is around. That’s important.

And Jesus knew about this fear and that’s why he assured his followers toward the end of his life that he would never leave them alone. After his resurrection he would return and enter their presence with God’s Holy Spirit. And while we may forget about God’s continuous presence with us and in us, it’s not because God in Christ is gone. Rather, it’s because we forget about God. In that sense, we leave God.

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Neighbor Love

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May 19, 2019 – Fifth Sunday of Easter - John 13:31-35

A Commandment Quiz: How many commandments did God give to us though Moses? This is not hard to answer, especially if you are a movie buff because a movie was made many years back about this. Ten commandments, of course. Now to advance to the next level of our quiz, you must answer the following question: How many commandments did Jesus give us? Hint. The answer is found in today’s gospel. He called it “a new commandment.” And it turns out that it is the hardest commandment of all to follow.

Jesus said that we are to love each other as he loves us. And how much does he love us? To put it in simple (yet very challenging) words, he gave his life for us. He lived in service to us. And not just to some of us, but to all of us. His love was without limit. One way to describe his love was to call it “unconditional.” And it is that same kind of love that Jesus invites us to have for each other.

It is interesting that there is no mention of “loving God” in his commandment. That’s because the way we show our love for God the most is when we love our neighbor. In formulating this commandment, no one can say that Jesus is soft. Or that his demands are minimal. In fact, if you understand the nature of neighbor love through the actions of Jesus, you get a sense of how difficult this is. When encountering need in anyone, he responded with a full and generous heart.

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Divine Love

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May 12, 2019 – Fourth Sunday of Easter - John 10:27-30

To his contemporaries, Jesus appeared as an ordinary man. Historians note that people in those days were a bit shorter than we are now. They suggest he might have been just a shade over five feet tall. Being middle-eastern, he would have had dark hair and skin. Beyond that, there is not much else we can say about his looks. But we can say a lot about his identity. And some of what we can say is found in this Sunday’s very brief gospel. Especially since it ends with Jesus saying that “the Father and I are one.”

When Jesus speaks of his father, he is referring to God. It is important to know that the word he uses to address God is “Abba.” It is a word drawn from family life and as many know, it can be roughly translated as “Dad.” It is an address of familiarity, closeness and, of course, love. Jesus is the first to address God in this unique way. Using that “name” for God would have been shocking to some. It might seem to lack a certain respect or reverence for the divine. Too much familiarity, even casualness.

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Focus on Mission

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May 5, 2019 – Third Sunday of Easter - John 21:1-19

Today’s gospel reading has the disciples of Jesus doing what they did before they met Jesus a while back. Peter was a fisherman and although he (and others) has seen and followed Jesus, including all those events that led to his death, they were acting as if nothing significant had changed. Of course, they experienced the change in Jesus with his resurrection, but for them, it was all back to normal. For Peter, that meant getting back into his fishing boat and heading back on the water. Others joined him.

Apparently, Jesus saw a need for reminding them of their new role and responsibilities in continuing his work in establishing God’s kingdom on earth. Like us at times, the disciples were perhaps unclear about their role. Or afraid to take it on. So, Jesus appeared to them after they were in the middle of a night of fishing where they experienced a common thing among those who fish - nothing! To capture their attention, Jesus gave them some advice and we know the rest of the story. One-hundred and fifty large fish were caught. Then he prepared breakfast for them using some of the fish they had caught.

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Peace Be with You!

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April 28, 2019 – Second Sunday of Easter - John 20:19-31

I love this gospel because it always makes me smile. John’s gospel sets the scene. The disciples of Jesus are in a locked room. No one is allowed entry because, let’s face it, the disciples were afraid. Days before, their leader was arrested, tried and condemned to a terrible death. When political forces go after anyone, after they have taken out the leader, they often turn their attention to those closely associated with him. Historians report that the Romans killed thousands of suspected enemies in their occupied territories. And they also report that Jews were often their target.

So, for good reason the door to that room was firmly locked and the room’s occupants were mighty scared. Then suddenly, Jesus is there with them. There was no fanfare, no warning, and mostly, no expectation that he would suddenly appear. When he appeared and greeted them with the words, “Peace be with you,” I would not be surprised that the fear-level among them went through the ceiling. We have no record of any of those gathered passing out with increased fright, but it would not be surprising if that happened.

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Jesus Lives!

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April 21, 2019 – Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord - John 20:1-9

Two things are worth noting in today’s wonderful Easter gospel.

Number one: The first person to visit the scene of the Resurrection was a woman, Mary of Magdala. Much has been said about this in recent years as we read the deeper messages of the gospels through the sensitivities of women. A woman was the first witness to the Resurrection. Feminine biblical scholars also note that one of the first disciples to bring the good news of Christ to others was the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well. I will let you draw your own conclusions from these biblical facts.

Number two: We are given full details of what Peter and the other disciple (most likely the evangelist John) found at the empty tomb, namely the burial clothes that wrapped the body of Jesus, plus a head covering. The detail is so complete that there is mention that the discarded burial wraps were in separate piles. These details might be thought of as “clues” to what happened. Jesus was truly buried in that stone-covered cave, but he was no longer there. He has risen from the dead! The second phase of the mission of Jesus had begun.

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Follow the Way of the Cross

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April 14, 2019 – Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord - Luke 22:14-23:1-49

The gospels were gradually written based on oral traditions and memories of those who were witnesses to the life and death of Jesus. They recalled his words and deeds. Those who study how the gospels were written agree that the account of the passion and death of Jesus was probably the first part of the gospel to be put into writing.

That’s because the death and resurrection of Jesus are the central moments of the life of Jesus. In recalling these events, we are reminded that death is not the final moment of the life of Jesus and our lives. Rather, death is our entrance into eternal life with God. It is a gift from God. We were created not just to live and die, but to live again. That is God’s plan. Each year, as we celebrate Holy Week, we are reminded of this amazing truth.

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Compassionate Father

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March 31, 2019 – Fourth Sunday of Lent - Luke 15:1-3,11-32

Today’s gospel is easily recalled because it describes a family scene that many will recognize. Maybe some will connect this story directly to their own lives or with the life of a family that they personally know. All one has to do is mention the first lines of this story: “There was a father who had two sons,” and most will know what follows. This remarkable story that Jesus created is known by two titles: “The Prodigal Son” or “The Forgiving Father.” Today we will focus on the father and his attitude about his family, especially his sons. Most see the father in the story as being a “stand-in” for God.

As the story goes, his younger son was a bit of a scoundrel. He took his inheritance even before his father died. He overlooked the possibility that his father might need that money for his old age. But the son didn’t care. He was quite self-centered. After pocketing his dad’s money, he left home and wasted every cent on selfish spending. Not surprisingly, he eventually ran out of money and was in desperate straits. The only option he felt he had was to sneak back home, get a job from his father and work as a hired hand. No one would have blamed the father if he agreed to this new arrangement.

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Bloom Where You're Planted

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March 24, 2019 – Third Sunday of Lent - Luke 13:1-9

For centuries fig trees were highly valued in the Near East. Their broad branches provided much-needed shade in hot weather and their fruit was highly prized. When ripe, figs had high sugar content, so they offered a rich source of energy for daily life. They could even be baked into bread and preserved for a long time. Wine could also be produced from ripened figs. Everyone in the time of Jesus would pay close attention when he mentioned fig trees. People knew of their importance for survival.

He pointed to the fig tree as an example of something that was intended for the many uses just mentioned. But he added that if a fig tree did not deliver, it was to be cut down. A fruitless fig tree had little value, although some people might have thought that “next year” it would be better. Jesus recommended more decisive action. All of God’s creation has a purpose, he taught, and if anything fails its purpose, immediate action had to be taken.

Jesus used the fig tree as an example of us. We were not created by God to just sit around and do nothing. God has expectations for each one of us.

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Recognizing God

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March 17, 2019 – Second Sunday of Lent - Luke 9:28-36

I live in the shadow of two mountain ranges. So, when the gospel describes an event happening on a mountain top, I can easily picture it in my mind. I also recall earlier biblical mountain-top moments, like when Moses was given the Ten Commandment. You can expect something special to happen when on a mountain-top. Perhaps it’s closer to heaven.

We have heard about the Transfiguration of Jesus many times. It is described to us at least once a year during the Mass readings and it is a common event that has been captured by Christian artists over the centuries. It’s a rather remarkable event, unlike any other in the life of Jesus. Some scholars suggest that it happened in the presence of the closest of the disciples of Jesus because they would be tested later during his passion and death. We might recall that Peter himself, who witnessed the transfiguration, still failed Jesus in those last days.

One feature of the story that I think important is the desire on the part of the disciples who were there to “freeze-frame” the event. It was so wonderful that they wanted it to continue. They desired to create a lasting memorial of the event, like a church or a shrine or some kind of permanent expression of what they experienced.

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