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Poor Thomas. Each year on the Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday) we read the account of his doubting that Jesus had been raised from the dead and had appeared to the other disciples while he was absent. As a result, over the years he has come to be known as “doubting Thomas.”
Now I have to admit, I have a grudging respect for Thomas. And as a result, each year I feel compelled to offer a defense of him. I base my defense on three things. 1. I believe the witness of the other disciples wasn’t nearly as strong as it could have been. Think about it for a minute. The disciples had been with Jesus for three years. And yet they couldn’t convince Thomas they had seen the risen Lord. It seems to me that if their witness was a little more compelling, perhaps they could have convinced Thomas. 2. When Jesus first appeared to his disciples we are told that after he had greeted them “He showed them his hands and his side.” Jesus must have known that his disciples would need to see some kind of physical proof before they would believe he had risen from the dead. Thomas was asking for no more than what the other disciples had already been given. 3. When Jesus appeared a week later he invited Thomas to put his finger in the nail wounds and his hand in his side. Thomas, though, didn’t do this. Instead he was the first to give voice to Easter faith: “My Lord and my God.” The other disciples had a whole week to think about their encounter with the risen Lord, but none of them had put it all together in a clear, concise, and dramatic statement of faith.
Given the above, I think Thomas deserves to be “rehabilitated” or at least to lose the nickname: “doubting Thomas.”
Our first reading this Sunday is from the Acts of the Apostles. It speaks of the life of the early Christian community. “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.”
In our second reading this Sunday, from the first Letter of Saint Peter, we are reminded that because of Jesus’ resurrection we have been given “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. Do you think Thomas deserves the nickname: “doubting Thomas”?
2. How would you try to convince someone of Jesus’ resurrection?
3. Is it more difficult for modern day Christians to devote themselves to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to prayer than it was for the early Christians? Why or why not?
A few weeks ago I updated the instructions for my funeral. It definitely was time to do this, as a few of the priests I had suggested as homilists have left ministry to marry. Now please don’t worry or start celebrating, I am not sick and/or dying. Rather, priests of our Archdiocese are asked to plan their funeral so that if we should die suddenly there is clarity about our wishes and intent. It also helps our families who would otherwise be left with the unenviable task of trying to figure out what we would want in regard to our funeral. I think my instructions are fairly simple and when the time comes, I hope they will be honored. I just hope Johan can find the elephants for the procession on short notice.
It is a sobering task to plan one’s funeral. And I did shed a few tears in the process. If the truth be told, however, there was also a certain “rightness” to this task. It was very faith affirming. I say this because it reminded me that while funerals are a celebration of a person’s life, they are also — and from my perspective more importantly — an affirmation of our faith. For our faith calls us to believe that death is not the end; that because of Jesus Christ the promise and gift of eternal life is offered to all believers.
In one of the Prefaces (the prayer that leads into the Holy, Holy, Holy) for the Mass of Christian burial we hear the words: “Indeed for your faithful, Lord, life is changed, not ended, and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven.” I like the idea that at the time of death “life is changed, not ended.” For me this speaks powerfully not just of our belief in eternal life, but in the idea of the “communion of saints” —our belief in our fellowship in Christ, not only among us believers here on earth, but also between us and those who have died marked with the sign of faith. We don’t lose those who have died; rather our relationship with them takes on another dimension as we now share the life of Christ with them in a new way.
Certainly the time of death is a time of sadness and sorrow as we mourn the loss of someone who was a part of our lives. For believers, though, because of our belief in the promise of eternal life, it is also a time of hope and faith. On this great Feast of Easter as we remember and celebrate Christ’s resurrection, we also remember and celebrate his promise of eternal life which he offers to all those who believe in and seek to follow him. For it is the promise of eternal life that gives us comfort and consolation at the time of death, and hope as we continue our lives in faith.
For the Readings for Easter Sunday click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser
As a child, Easter meant only one thing to me ----- the end of Lent and a return to eating candy and other sweets. (Giving up candy was the Lenten activity of “forced” choice in our family.) As I grew older, and especially now as an adult, I have come to appreciate Easter --- not just as the end of Lent --- but as much more. It is the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, his offer of eternal life to believers, and his promise to abide with us always.
At the Mass of the Easter Vigil and at the Masses on Easter morning we always read one of the accounts of the finding of the empty tomb. In this regard, it is important to note that while all four Gospels, tell the story of the finding of the empty tomb and recount various resurrection appearances of Jesus, there are no accounts of the actual resurrection in any of the Gospels. The reason for this is that the resurrection is a Divine event. It is not something that can be taken in by our human consciousness. It is something believers experience only at the time of death when we come to know fully the promise and gift of eternal life.
The readings listed above are for the Mass on Easter Sunday morning. The first reading is a part of a speech by Peter. It is a brief synopsis of Jesus’ ministry and his ultimate death and resurrection. Peter reminds the people that: “He (Jesus) commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.” The second reading reminds us that: “When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.” Finally, the Gospel contains the account of the finding of the empty tomb by Mary of Magdala. We are told that: “she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and told them………...” They in turn ran to tomb and found it empty just as Mary had said.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. What helps you to believe in or hinders your belief in the resurrection?
2. Where do you see evidence of Christ’s resurrection in the world --- in your community --- in your life?
3. Why do some people have difficulty believing in the resurrection and the promise of eternal life?
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Each year on Palm (Passion) Sunday we read one of the accounts of Jesus’ passion and death. Since we are in year A of our three year cycle of readings, this year we read Matthew’s account of the Passion.
While each of the evangelists tells the story of Christ’s passion, each one does it from their own perspective. For example, Matthew saw and portrayed Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. Further, in Matthew’s account, Jesus’ disciples didn’t come across very well. Not only did they fall asleep during Jesus’ agony in the garden, but they also deserted him. And Peter’s denial of Christ was accompanied by cursing and swearing. Another element unique to Matthew is a more detailed account of Judas’ betrayal and his tragic end. Finally, in Matthew’s account, the Chief priests and Pharisees requested that Pilot help them make sure Jesus’ disciples do not steal Jesus’ body and then later claim that he had been raised from the dead.
Perhaps the most important element that is unique to Matthew, though, occurs when Pilot asked the crowd about the fate of Jesus. Specifically Matthew added the verse that Jesus’ blood “should be upon us and on our children” (Mt. 27.25). Unfortunately, through the centuries this verse --- and others --- have been used to suggest that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. This idea was definitively rejected by the Second Vatican Council in its document: “Nostra Aetate,”
Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It is part of the third of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant Songs. In the last four verses of the passage we read this Sunday remind us of the Servant’s trust in God’s ultimate vindication. Certainly this was Jesus’ stance during his passion and death “The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.”
Our second reading this weekend is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians. It is a hymn of praise to Jesus Christ, who “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with god something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself………”
Questions for reflection and/discussion:
1. As you reflect on Jesus’ passion, what part stands out for you?
2 Are you challenged in any way by Jesus’ passion?
3. Jesus was able to trust in God the Father, even in his suffering and death. What helps you to trust in God?
Click on the link below or copy and past it into your browser for this Sunday’s readings:
We often read the story of the raising of Lazarus at funerals. The reason for this is that Jesus’ words in this Gospel: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” contain the promise and hope of eternal life. These words remind us that this present life is not the end. Because of Jesus Christ, because of his life, death and resurrection, those who believe in and seek to follow him will come to share in the life he has won for us.
Where there are several things in this Gospel that are worth commenting on, from my perspective two things in particular deserve comment. The first, is Martha’s reaction to Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would never have died.” I believe, these words are --- at least initially --- a very human reaction when something bad happens. We wonder where God was and why the bad thing happened. When we move beyond this initial reaction, though, we are able to reaffirm our belief that God is with us even, and perhaps especially, in the difficulties and trials we encounter in this life. The second thing in this Gospel that deserves comment is a clarification that the raising of Lazarus from the dead is a resuscitation, not a resurrection. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ we are given the promise of a new and eternal life, not just a return to this life.
In our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel. In the section we read this Sunday God assured the people that, despite the destruction of the Temple, God had not abandoned God’s covenant with them and ultimately would restore them: “Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people!”
Our second reading this Sunday is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans. In the passage we read this Sunday, Paul reminds us that “If the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. Why does belief in eternal life come so easily for some people and not at all for others?
2. How would you explain eternal life to someone who didn’t believe in it?
3. How do you know when the “Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead” dwells in you?
There is an old axiom in our church that you shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. While these words are often used when activities and plans were not as successful as one had hoped, I think they can also be applied to our lives as Christians. All too often I think we use perfection as our model for the Christian life, and when we fail to live up to that standard we feel bad about ourselves and may give up trying to do better and be better.
I don’t believe that is a good way to operate. What I would suggest instead is that we use “growth,” not “perfection,” as the model for our lives as Christians. By this I mean that we need to ask ourselves on a regular basis: “Am I growing in my spiritual life? Am I a better person today than I was a year ago, or five years ago or ten years ago?” I think these are the key questions for anyone who takes their spiritual life seriously. If we can see growth occurring in our spiritual lives, we know we are on the right track.
Now this does not mean that our spiritual lives are always on the ascendancy. Rather I would guess that for most of us our spiritual lives look a little bit like the stock market. There are ups and downs, but there is also a “trend line” that marks continual improvement. It is easy to become somewhat discouraged when we are experiencing a down period in our spiritual lives. This feeling is worsened, I believe, when we use “perfection” as the model for the Christian life. When we use “growth” as the model, though, while occasionally we can still become discouraged, we also know that as there have been, so there will continue to be peaks in our spiritual life—times when our prayer is good and we feel close to God.
It would be great if there were never any lulls or lows in our spiritual life. Over the years, though, in talking with a variety of people, I have come to realize that the lulls and lows are part of everyone’s spiritual life. (There may be some exceptions to this, but I suspect there aren’t many. Even the great saints had some low spots on their spiritual journey.) If we can accept the lulls and lows as simply part of the spiritual journey, I believe we will be less apt to give up trying to do better and be better, and more apt to hang in there and keep trying.
Continuing to grow in our spiritual lives isn’t always easy and at times can be frustrating. The challenge is to take the long view and see where growth has taken place and continues to take place in our spiritual lives. Certainly there may be ups and downs, but I’m willing to bet that for all of us there is a “trend line” that reminds us that the effort is well worth it.
Click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser for this Sunday’s readings
Why do bad things happen to good people? The Christian answer to this question is: we don’t know. For the people of Jesus’ time, however, there was a direct correlation between sin and bad things happening. If something bad happened to you, it was a result of your sin, or the sin of your parents or ancestors. We see this clearly in the actions of the Pharisees in our Gospel today. We are told that after Jesus had cured a blind man he was brought to the Pharisees, who asked him: “What do you have to say about him, (Jesus) since he opened your eyes? He said, ‘He is a prophet.’ They answered and said to him, ‘You were born totally in sin, and you are trying to teach us?’ Then they threw him out.”
Clearly the Pharisees reaction to the cure of the blind man was not what we would have expected. They were not amazed or even curious about his cure. Instead they criticized Jesus for not keeping the Sabbath and simply dismissed what the man, who had been cured of his blindness, had to say. The actions and attitude of the Pharisees should cause us to wonder who was really blind in this Gospel.
In our first reading this Sunday, from the first Book of Samuel, the Lord sent Samuel to anoint the new King of Israel from among the sons of Jesse. The Lord rejects seven of Jesse’s sons, telling Samuel: “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart.” Finally Dave was brought to Samuel, and the Lord said to Samuel: “There --- anoint him, for this is the one.”
Our second reading this weekend is taken from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians. In the section we read this Sunday, Paul exhorts us to “Live as children of the light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. When I was learning to drive, my instructor drilled into us the idea that before changing lanes, you always needed to check your blind spot. It is easy to check your blind spot when driving. You just look over your shoulder. How do you check for spiritual blind spots?
2. In our first reading Jesse was judging by “appearances.” The Lord, however, was able to see into the heart. When have you misjudged someone by their appearance?
3. What does it mean to you to live as a child of the light?
Click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser for the readings for this Sunday.
Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well is very familiar. Jesus is passing through Samaria and stops at Jacob’s well. A woman came to draw water and Jesus asked her: “Give me a drink.” She is surprised by his request both because she was a woman and a Samaritan. As they continue their conversation Jesus told her that she should be asking him to give her “living water.” She responded by asking Jesus “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus then asked her to call her husband and come back. She told him she had no husband. And Jesus amazed her by telling her she had had five husbands and was currently living with a man who wasn’t her husband. She responded by telling Jesus: “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.” Eventually Jesus told the woman that he was the Messiah. She in turn went back to town and told everyone about Jesus. As a result we are told that “Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him……….and they invited him to stay with them.” After this, many came to believe in him and they said to the woman: “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”
In this story, while the Samaritan woman initially brought others to Jesus, they came to believe in him by spending time with him and listening to him. In a similar way, while others initially told us about Jesus, at some point we had to make our own decision to follow him.
Our first reading this weekend, from the Book of Exodus, is the story of Israelites grumbling in the desert because they are thirsty. In response to their grumbling, the Lord had Moses strike a rock with is staff and water flowed from it. We are told that “The place was called Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled there and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord in our midst or not?’”
Our second reading this weekend is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans. In the section we read this weekend we are reminded that “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. Who first told you about Jesus Christ?
2. When did you make the decision to believe in and follow Jesus?
3. When have you wondered if God was in our midst or not?
The American writer, Flannery O’Connor, once said: “Every morning between 9 and 12 I go to my room and sit before a piece of paper. Many times I just sit for three hours with no ideas coming to me. But I know one thing: If an idea does come between 9 and 12, I am there ready for it.“ I think those words are a great description of prayer — or at least my prayer. I say this, because I have come to believe that one of the things that can help our prayer the most is setting aside a regular time and place for prayer so as to make ourselves available to God.
Many years ago when I was first ordained, I would pray Morning Prayer before Mass, but then would set aside time additional time for prayer in the late afternoon. This routine had served me well in the seminary when my schedule was very predictable. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that life in the parish doesn’t always follow a routine. After a few years I realized that my afternoon prayer time had become rushed and hurried, and on some days was given over to what I thought were more pressing matters.
When I talked about this with my spiritual director, he suggested I try to spend more time in prayer in the morning. I pleaded that I wasn’t a morning person, but he pressed the issue and suggested I at least try it. And so at his strong urging, I began to set my alarm clock a half hour earlier. I eventually began to set it for forty-five minutes earlier, and the past few years I’ve taken to getting up an hour earlier. I spend this “extra” time in prayer.
Now in mentioning the above, I need to be clear. I am still not a morning person. I hate it when my alarm goes off in the morning. And while I am embarrassed to admit it, there are times when I shave a few minutes off the hour because I have pushed the snooze button one too many times. And to be completely honest, I have to admit that occasionally during that hour I will doze off. There are other times, though, when I feel God’s presence and experience God’s grace. These times are not under my control. They simply occur. I have come to believe, though, that at least part of the reason they occur at all is that I have made myself available to God.
Flannery O’Connor became a great writer because she regularly made time available for ideas to come to her. I believe if we regularly make time available for prayer, we will know God’s presence and experience God’s grace. Certainly this is not going to happen each and every time we go to prayer, but the chances are greatly increased that it will occur, if we regularly make ourselves to God.
The challenge for all of us is to regularly set aside a time for prayer, so those times can occur. If we can make ourselves available to God in prayer on a regular basis, I am convinced that God will indeed come and make God’s dwelling with us — maybe not every time we pray, but certainly often enough that we’ll keep coming back for more.
Please click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser for this Sunday’s readings:
Each year on the Second Sunday of Lent we read one of the accounts of the Transfiguration of Christ. Since we are in year A of our three year cycle of readings, this year we read Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration.
While some of the particulars may vary in the different accounts of the Transfiguration, the major details are the same. 1. The Transfiguration took place 6 or 8 days after Jesus’ first prediction of his passion; 2. Jesus took Peter, James and John up a “high mountain;” 3. He was transfigured before their eyes; 4. Moses and Elijah (representing the law and the prophets) appeared with Jesus; 5. Peter wanted to stay; and finally 6. A voice from the cloud identified Jesus as “my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
We don’t know exactly what happened at the Transfiguration or how it happened. What we do know, though, is important. The Transfiguration was a glimpse of the glory of God revealed in and through Jesus Christ. It was a moment of grace that enabled the disciples to continue to persevere and to trust when they encountered difficulties and trials.
Our first reading this weekend is from the book of Genesis. It is God’s promise to Abraham our father in faith. “I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”
Our second reading this weekend is from the second Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy. The opening sentence reminds us that we are to: “Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.”
Questions for reflection/discussion:
1. I believe we all have “transfiguring” moments in our lives --- times of great grace, comfort and peace. These moments are fleeting, and while not as intense as the experience of the disciples at Jesus’ Transfiguration, they are no less real. When have you had a “transfiguring” moment in your life?
2. These “transfiguring" moments can help us “bear our share of hardship.” Has this been true for you?
3. God told Abraham He would bless him. When have you felt God’s blessings in your life?