Pastor's Blog

The experience of death and resurrection is universal. It occurs in every person and every community. Sometimes the “deaths” we experience are real and actual. More often, though, the “deaths” we experience aren’t actual deaths; rather they are death-like experiences, e.g. the loss of a job; the end of a relationship; the experience of physical limitations; the loss of a sense of security or belonging. In either case, though, they are painful, difficult to bear, and often take time to move through.

Sometimes the deaths we experience just happen. They aren’t our fault. We still need to acknowledge them, though, mourn them, and then begin anew. On the other hand, sometimes the deaths we experience are our fault. We screw up and a mess ensues. In that case, we need to acknowledge our fault, repent, dust ourselves off, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and try to fix what we messed up. 

What happens, though, when we don’t think we have it in us to try to begin anew after a death-like experience? What do we do when we can’t easily fix things or make them better? In these cases, we need to honestly acknowledge our situation, accept the fact that there will be times when there is no good explanation as to why something happened, and move forward in faith. 

How, though, do we move forward in faith after an experience that feels like death? Well, I believe we start with prayer. In and through our prayer we can experience God’s presence and love. In and through our prayer we can discover that we are not alone, that God is with us. And in and through our prayer we can open ourselves to God’s healing and strengthening grace. Now in saying this, we need to be clear that prayer may not change the situation, but it can and does change us. It can help us see things from a different perspective or in a new way. 

Once we have experienced God’s grace then we need to

  1. lament
  2. hang on (coping & hoping)
  3. and continue to believe that a new dawn will come eventually—even when or even though it may not be the dawn we were planning on. 

The Feast of Easter calls us to remember that our God is always offering us new life and hope in the midst of the sadness, sorrows, hurts, disappointments, trials, and pains we experience—the actual deaths, as well as the “little deaths” of this life. This new life enables us to continue when the way seems dark and uncertain. It allows us to live with the loss of our dreams. It gives us the ability to accept our human frailties and weaknesses and those of others. And it helps us to believe that after each death, the dawning of a new and glorious morning will occur. In essence this is the Paschal Mystery—that because of Jesus Christ—out of death comes new life and new hope. This is the message; this is the hope of Easter.

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/041617.cfm 

As a child, Easter meant only one thing:  the end of Lent and a return to eating candy and other sweets.  (Giving up sweets was the Lenten activity of “forced” choice in our family.)   As I grown 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 promise to abide with us always and his offer of eternal life to believers.   

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 senses or 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?    

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040917.cfm 

This Sunday we celebrate Palm Sunday, and the beginning of Holy Week.   Each year on Palm Sunday we read one of the accounts of Jesus’ passion from the synoptic (Matthew, Mark, or Luke) Gospels.  We read John’s account of the Passion on Good Friday.  Since we are in the A cycle of our three year cycle of readings, this Sunday we read Matthew’s account of the Passion.   

While all the Gospel writers tell the story of Jesus’ passion and death, each one does so from their own perspective.  In his passion narrative Matthew includes details about Judas that aren’t included in Mark or Luke.  Specifically, he mentions the exact payment Judas received for betraying Jesus, and Judas’ attempt to return that payment.  Also, in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus refers to Judas as “friend” when Judas approaches to betray him. Additionally, at the Last Supper Matthew includes Jesus’ words that his blood will be shed “for the forgiveness of sins.”  Also, since Matthew was written primarily for a Jewish audience, he includes Jesus’ statement that these events were unfolding so that the “Scriptures be fulfilled.”   His Jewish audience probably would have understood this as a reference to the “servant of the Lord” mentioned in the prophet Isaiah, and the “righteous one” mentioned in the book of Wisdom.  Another variant in Matthew’s passion narrative is that the chief priests and Pharisees ask that a guard be posted at Jesus’ tomb so that Jesus’ followers won’t be able to steal the body and claim that Jesus rose from the dead.  

Perhaps the most significant element that is unique to Matthew, though, occurs when Pilot asked the crowd about the fate of Jesus.  Specifically Matthew adds 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,” and more recently by Pope Benedict XVI in his book:  “Jesus of Nazareth – Part II.”


The important and essential thing about Matthew’s passion narrative is that he saw Jesus’ suffering as the fulfillment of the scriptures and that Jesus was the Messiah promised by God.   

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  It is a part of the “Servant Songs.”  The servant does the will of God, despite any suffering or hardship, and ultimately is vindicated by God.  

Our second reading this Sunday is from the Letter of Paul to the Philippians.  It is a hymn of praise to Christ who “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Because of this, God greatly exalted him………”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion: 

  1. As you read or listen to the passion, what stands out for you?  
  2. In what way does Jesus’ passion challenge you? 
  3. Why is it so hard for us to believe that because of Jesus Christ our sins are forgiven?  Or perhaps the question really is: why is it so hard for us to accept this forgiveness?  

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/092516.cfm

The Story of Lazarus and the rich man in this Sunday’s Gospel is very well known.   Lazarus was a poor man “covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.  Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.”   When he died “he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.”    The rich man likewise died and “from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far-off and Lazarus at this side.   And he cried out ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me.  Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue for I am suffering in torment in these flames.’  Abraham replied ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad, …………Moreover between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to  go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’”   The rich man tried to convince Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers to warn them, but Abraham replied:  “They have Moses and the prophets.  Let them listen to them.”  

I think there are three things this Gospel tells us.   1. It wasn’t that the rich man refused Lazarus’ request for assistance.  Rather, even though he knew Lazarus by name, he didn’t notice Lazarus’ need.   2.  The rich man thought only of himself.  It never occurred to him to share his wealth with those who were less fortunate.  3.  The rich man was in the netherworld, because of the choices he made in this life.  In a similar way our choices in this life determine where we will spend eternal life.  There are no “do overs” or second chances once we have died.  

Our first reading this Sunday shares the theme of the Gospel.  Speaking in God’s name the prophet Amos excoriates those who were indifferent to the needy.  “Woe to the complacent in Zion! …………… Therefore, now they shall be the first to go into exile, and their wanton revelry shall be done away with.”  

We continue to read from the first Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy for our second reading this Sunday.   In the section we read this weekend, Paul encourages Timothy to “Compete well for the faith.”  


Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Have you come to realize after the fact that you failed to notice someone in need?  
  2. Have you ever regretted some of the choices you have made that were selfish or self serving?   
  3. How does one compete well for the faith?

   

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