During the coronavirus we have been sharing the homilies with you as we know sometimes our sound is difficult to hear on our live streaming videos.
SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER – Year A – May 17, 2020
“You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.” This familiar phrase is part of the “Miranda warning” that police officers give to any person being arrested. It shows our society’s belief that at that moment, no should stand alone. Everyone is entitled to have someone standing at their side, advocating for them.
Today the holy gospel reminds us that Our Lord Jesus wants the same for us. We hear our Lord tell the apostles and us: “I will not leave you orphans. The Father and I will sent the Advocate.” Our Lord is speaking of the Holy Spirit, who would soon descend upon the Church and remain with her until the end of time. The holy gospel was first written in Greek. The Greek word for “advocate” is “paracletos”. This is why the Holy Spirit is sometimes called the “Paraclete” – the One Whom the Father and Jesus have sent to us: to exhort us, encourage us, comfort us, console us, counsel us, to teach us about Jesus, and to help us be witnesses of Jesus in the world.
Today, in the secular world in which we live, many people are under the delusion that they don’t need the Paraclete, the Advocate who has come into our world, and into our souls when we were baptized. Their idea is: “I’m just fine. I’m perfectly free. I don’t need your Holy Spirit.” I think this worldwide pandemic of the coronavirus has revealed to many people the foolishness of thinking that any of us can go through life without God’s help.
In fact, that when people begin to rely on the Holy Spirit, they suddenly realize that they were not as free as they once thought they were. The Bible and the life stories of Christians throughout the centuries are filled with examples of this. We hear in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, how Philip, one of the new deacons we heard about last Sunday, goes to preach among the Samaritans and how they accept his message about Jesus. After centuries of bad feelings between the Jews and the Samaritans, the Christians from a fully Jewish background and these Samaritans, are now brothers and sisters in Christ! We’re not always as free as we think we are, and on our own, we can’t move forward, but if we let in the power of the Holy Spirit, all things are possible. We see how the first disciples of Jesus, who were Jewish, are learning to get over their strong aversion to Samaritans and all the Gentiles who are accepting faith in Christ and being baptized into the Church. The Holy Spirit did this for them, and can do this for us – He can re-define our sense of what is “normal” and “acceptable”.
The Holy Spirit also wants to be our strength when we are called to do difficult things – when being faithful to Jesus means doing what is not easy. The early disciples of Jesus, and many of His disciples throughout the centuries, were willing to travel to far away unfamiliar lands to bring the message of the gospel and new life in Christ to people who sometimes welcomed them and sometimes did not. We may not be called to go to a foreign land, but we all need this gift of strength or fortitude. When we are tempted to doubt the goodness of God or begin to doubt that He has a great plan for us and our loved ones – a plan that goes beyond this world, let us turn to the Holy Spirit and rely on His strength, not our own. Hollywood movies tell us over and over that it is enough to rely on our own strength, but we know better. We have an Advocate, who is stronger than any earthly power.
Along with strength, the Holy Spirit also gives us His spirit of peace. In the earliest days of the Church and throughout the centuries ever since, those who attack and persecute the Church, have seethed with anger and often screamed at yelled at those they were striving to have put to death. But the followers of Jesus have a calm about them that mystifies their persecutors. In 1941, when St. Maximilian Kolbe, one of our Franciscan friars who was sent to the concentration camp at Auswicz, volunteered to take the place of another man condemned to die of starvation with nine other men, instead of the cursing that was usually heard from these death cells, they were heard peacefully singing hymns, and the guards refused to go near that cell.
It is the Holy Spirit who makes Jesus the center of our lives. Following Jesus is not something that is meant to be squeezed into a life already filled with more important things. The Holy Spirit wants to bring us into deeper and deeper conversion. His goal is that Jesus will not be for us just a decorative ornament hung onto to our busy lives. The Holy Spirit wants to re-make us so that Jesus is our main identity.
Lastly one of the primary ways which Jesus has remained with His Church is through the Sacraments. But without the action of the Holy Spirit, no Sacraments would take place. Without the laying on of hands, which is calling down the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, there would be no priests. As a priest, I can say the words and make the right gestures, but without the action of the Holy Spirit, there would be no new life in Christ in baptism, no forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and no real presence of the Body and Blood of Christ coming to us on this altar in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
Let us then believe strongly in the power of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Let us turn to Him for assurance that God loves us, that we belong to Christ and no one can snatch us out of His hands, that He forgives our sins, that knowing our sins and failings, He also sees the deeper desires of our hearts, and never gives up on us. May God give you peace.
HOMILY - FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER – YEAR A
We hear about a lot of trouble today. I’m not talking about what we hear when we turn on the news (although when we do turn on the news, there are plenty of difficulties reported there). When I say we are hearing about a lot of trouble today, I mean, as we hear these readings from Sacred Scripture this morning, we are hearing about some things troubling the twelve apostles and the early community of the Church.
Jesus has just told the apostles that He would be with them “only a little while longer”. Of course they are shaken and anxious. Who wouldn’t be? How can anyone be a disciple of an absent master? But Jesus assures them that He has a plan in place.
In our first reading we are told about something that happened in the early Church that was dividing the community of believers. In the daily distribution of food to poor widows, the Jewish widows were being favored over the Gentile, or non-Jewish, widows. The Gentiles, who are called “the Hellenists”, complain to the Twelve Apostles, who then come up with a solution.
Jesus’ answer to the Twelve, and the solution to the unfair distribution of food which was worked out by the Twelve, are also meant to be an example for us to follow as we go through the challenges of life. Certainly, the coronavirus pandemic is no small challenge, so we need to pay close attention to the way the apostles and the early Church faced the challenges of their day.
The first thing Jesus says to the Twelve who are disturbed by the thought of His leaving, is: “Do not be afraid.” If you trust God, you will trust me because “whoever has seen me has seen the Father . . . The Father and I are one.” Jesus is reassuring them: You are used to having me walk with you in one way, but when I ascend to my Father, I will be with you in a new way. I will never leave you. The Holy Spirit will come upon the Church and never leave her. By baptism, I will be living inside of every believer. In the Holy Eucharist, I will be present to you in a sacramental way under the form of bread and wine. So, through eyes of faith, see me living in you. See every person as created in my image and likeness. See me living in all the baptized. See me in the Sacraments. See me in the Church. Jesus is not just reassuring the apostles, He is reassuring us in this time and in every time, that we have not been left orphans. He is as near to us as always. When our lives are disrupted, as they are during this pandemic, it can easily feel like He has left us, but we should not trust our feelings of fear and anxiety, we should trust Him. He is as close to us as ever.
We see what the Church did to deal with the issue of the fair distribution of food to all the widows. This could have become a major point of division, but that was avoided by going to the apostles who recommended the appointment of seven men, the first deacons, to oversee the Church’s work of charity and make sure that this work was carried out more evenly. The apostles pray over these men and lay hands on them, that is: ordain them deacons. Notice two things that the early Church is doing here. They are trusting that the Holy Spirit is alive in the Church and working in the Church. They go to the Church leaders for guidance, and the apostles, the first bishops, call down the Holy Spirit as they confer the Sacrament of Holy Orders on the first deacons. This tells us to trust in the presence of the Holy Spirit: to seek His guidance for ourselves and for all our leaders, both in the Church and for those in civil authority. This obligation to pray for our Church and civil leaders is even greater in a time of difficulty like the present. And we should also notice what the early Church was seeking to accomplish. Everything was done so that there would be greater charity among the believers. So, as long as our motivations are good, we should never hesitate to ask God’s help.
Jesus has not left us alone during these times. The Holy Spirit wants to give us the eyes of faith to see Him with us. We should never hesitate to pray: “ Come Holy Spirit, help us to see and to trust that Jesus is with us always. Come and calm all our fear.”
May God give you peace.
4th Sunday of Easter – Year A - Good Shepherd Sunday
Each year, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is Good Shepherd Sunday. Each year on this Sunday we hear our Lord describe Himself as our Good Shepherd – the Good Shepherd who cares about His sheep, and leads them into His sheepfold. What exactly is this sheepfold that Jesus is talking about? In Our Lord’s time, a sheepfold was a stone enclosure with walls high enough so that the sheep could not jump over them. After a day of grazing in the fields, the sheep were led into the enclosed space which was small enough to keep the sheep snug and warm during the night, and close enough together to prevent predators from being able to snatch any of them away. Jesus is telling us that we are the sheep of His fold. As our shepherd, He invites us to hear His voice and follow Him into the warmth and peace of the sheepfold, where if we remain, we cannot be snatched away from Him. Jesus is not only the Good Shepherd, He is the True Shepherd. Thieves and robbers try to climb over the wall to steal or disrupt the sheep, but the true or authentic shepherd, enters into the sheepfold through the gate. The sheep know Him and recognize His voice. He calls them by name and they follow Him in. The relationship between sheep and shepherd is an intimate one.
In fact, Jesus is not only the Good Shepherd, He is also the gate by which we enter the sheepfold. He is the only gate Who can bring us salvation. The sheepfold is the Church, founded by Christ. Sometimes, strangers will appear and try to mislead the sheep, but the sheep will only recognize the voice of the true shepherd – they will not listen to the voice of falsehood, which promises happiness but does not lead to salvation. Throughout the centuries of the Church, false voices have appeared to lead people out of the Church or to divide it, or even destroy it, and by means of these false shepherds, many have been lost. But through it all, they have never been able to destroy the Church. Christ will not allow this. When He returns in glory at the end of time, Jesus will find His sheep in the Church, still true to His voice and awaiting Him. But notice, neither Jesus nor any voice in the Church, is saying that those who live in the faith, hope, and love of the sheepfold, will be spared the challenges of life we often face in this world. Given the difficult situation in which we find ourselves right now, as we deal with this worldwide pandemic, I barely need to mention that believers are not spared the cross in this world. Someday, when Christ comes again, perfect justice will prevail, and all suffering, separation, and even death itself, will come to an end. But while in this life, we are called to closely follow the shepherd Who endured the cross for our benefit. This means that any difficulty, hardship, or suffering we endure for the sake of someone else – for the benefit of someone else, is a close and intimate way to follow our Good Shepherd, Who laid down His life for His Sheep. Hearing His voice, is not just a matter of using our ears, but of attuning our hearts, and adjusting our behavior as well.
In our second reading, St. Peter summarizes all this so beautifully, telling us: “Beloved, if you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, then this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving an example to follow. He handed Himself over so that we might be freed from sin, for by sin we had all gone astray like sheep, but now you have
St. Peter does not describe a perfect world for those in the sheepfold of the Church, but He does describe those in the Church of being deeply united to Christ by living as He did, carrying the cross as He did, and dying with Him, so that we might rise with Him. Nor does St. Paul say that every sacrifice that we make in imitation and in union with Christ has to be heroic in an earth-shattering way. Just setting aside our own concerns for a bit, in order to listen to another person, even those we live with, and to hear their pain and struggle is a pleasing sacrifice to Our Lord. Another way of saying all this is: we are called not only to hear and recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd, but we are to imitate Him as well. This means that we are also meant to be good shepherds – good shepherds of the souls which God has placed in our lives and which He continues to have cross our paths in all the many ways we meet people in our lives. As good shepherds, let us also call others by name, listen to their needs, and lead them to a place of peace – to the Heart of Christ Who is our only lasting peace. May Christ our Shepherd make us all good shepherds and give us His peace.
3rd Sunday of Easter – Year A
April 26, 2020
(…the road to Emmaus…the Precious Blood/Holy Hounds of Christ)
Joyce’s mother suddenly became ill and she was experiencing severe pain. She was admitted to the hospital, however no distinct cause could quickly be found to explain her condition, and she appeared to continue to decline. Soon after she had a stroke, and Joyce and her family were devastated as they could only sit and wait hoping the doctors would provide answers. Unsure of the outcome, the only consolation that the doctors could provide was to say that they were doing everything that they could.
Later that afternoon as they continued to wait still without definite answers; they noticed a man and a woman walking down the hall toward them. Living in a small town they knew most everyone, but they hadn’t seen this couple before. As the two approached, they asked if they could all pray together, and so they did. After the prayer, the couple offered Joyce and her family a sign of God’s peace, and then they turned and walked away.
Still unsure of who they were, yet thankful for their support, Joyce watched them leave, and as they reached the end of the hall, they seemed to vanish. Later that evening Joyce’s mother died, yet none of them could deny the overwhelming peace they felt from the presence of that mysterious couple. Many times since her mother’s death Joyce and her family have talked about being visited by those, “two angels”. They believe that God sends his messengers to minister to us when we need them the most. And although we may not always recognize them, by faith, we know that they are there.
In today’s gospel, we hear about the two disciples on their way to Emmaus. They too are looking for answers, bewildered over what happened to Jesus. Their whole world feels like it is upside down, unfamiliar and devastated. What they had gotten used to, how they thought things would always be, seemed no longer possible, and they just didn’t know what to do.
Yet along the way Jesus was in their midst, walking with them at their side, but being overcome by fear, grief and uncertainty, they did not recognize his presence with them.
Does their plight sound familiar? Do we also have our share of uncertainty, confusion, and fear, along our own life’s journey?
As we continue to deal with the current conditions in our world like the corona virus and the many other significant events in our lives, where is Jesus for us?
Whether you’ve been called to “Stay at home” to help prevent the spread of the virus, or you’ve been called to work on the front lines, providing healthcare, emergency response, or any other critical service, what role does our Lord play in your daily life? (Thank you-Hero’s)
We hear talk about the “new normal”, about the way things have changed, and how some things will never be the same again. When I think about this, I ask myself, what does this, or should this, really mean?
On one hand, it seems to encourage a spirit of fear, a feeling that things will be more difficult in the future; that the world will be filled with uncertainty; and that we won’t be able to live in the peace that we have come to know. Yet is true peace ever found in the things of this world?
What I propose is “faith based new normal”, that presents an opportunity for a change of heart that in turn brings about a transformation of the soul.
Now I am not saying that the pandemic is a good thing, or that God has brought it upon us to punish us, or to force us to be more faithful followers. But let us remember the words of St. Paul, “…in all things God works for the good of those who love him…”
So how do we allow God to transform our souls in the midst of our turmoil? We must choose to give our hearts over to him in prayer and thanksgiving. Having just celebrated the Paschal Mystery, recalling the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ; I think that, is a perfect place to start.
Recently I felt inspired to watch Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of Christ”, and I found myself captivated by Jesus’ Precious Blood. Now you might say, we’re already past that part, Easter Sunday is over, Jesus has already Risen! And you would be right, however, even though Easter Sunday has passed, and the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the Cross took place many years ago, at each and every Mass, we gather to share in that same sacrifice of love.
Whether we come together in person, or in spirit, as we have here today, we join collectively as a faith community, as people who live in communion, as the communion of saints, to celebrate what the Lord has done for us.
To fully share in the Eucharistic celebration means we too must lay down our lives of our own free will, just as Jesus laid down his life freely for us, joining with him in the greatest prayer of all, the celebration of the Mass. And through our genuine participation and our acceptance of his sacrifice; we are redeemed by his Blood. Jesus stands before our Heavenly Father, presenting his most Precious Blood, to make atonement for our sins.
St. John Chrysostom said, “The shedding of Christ’s blood on the Cross is renewed in the Mass. Once for all Christ shed his blood in a visible and painful manner, but at this we could not be present. The shedding of his blood is repeated now in an invisible manner. His blood flows mystically upon the altar; the blood contained in the chalice is drawn from his sacred side. In the Holy Mass the Blood of Christ is not merely poured out for us, but poured out upon us…the souls of the faithful are sprinkled with it.”
St. Paul says, “This sprinkling takes place whenever Mass is celebrated; our bodies are not sprinkled, but our souls.”
So just as God commanded Moses to sprinkle the Jews with the blood of animals who were sacrificed, and just as we are sprinkled with holy water, so too Christ spiritually sprinkles our souls with His blood, at every Mass.
And for all of you attending in spirit today, Fr. Max Walz writes in his book, “The Glories of the Precious Blood”, “Even when we cannot attend Mass in person, the Precious Blood of Jesus flows at every moment in spiritual communion by faith and ardent desire, providing the merits of Christ’s sacrifice, more and more to our souls.”
In addition to The Divine Mercy Chaplet which our Lord provided to us through St. Faustina as a reminder of His endless compassion and mercy, He also has given us with The Chaplet of The Holy Wounds which he revealed to Sister Mary Martha Chambon (Sham bone). He asked that this chaplet be prayed in atonement for sins and for the souls in purgatory.
Through this devotion Jesus promised that, “Each time you offer to My Father the merits of My Divine Wounds, you gain an immense fortune…. The way of my wounds is an easy and simple way of going to heaven… I will grant all that is asked of me through devotion to My Holy Wounds There will be no death for the soul that expires in My Wounds, They give… true life…(they)will cover all your faults…in them, you will…find…new life.
You must offer the merits of the Holy Wounds for the persons who die… One day, these souls for whom you shall have obtained a holy death, by your prayers, will turn towards you and thank you. Look at my Wounds, offer them for the souls in Purgatory…behold the great remedy for these souls…At each word you pronounce of the Chaplet of My Holy Wounds, I let a drop of My Blood fall on the soul of a sinner…”
Pope Francis also directs us to the wounds of Christ when he tells us, “Look. Look at the wounds. Enter into the wounds. By those wounds we were healed. Do you feel…life just isn’t going the right way…Look there…When one is feeling lost or frightened or in pain, he said, look at a crucifix and recognize how Jesus annihilated himself to defeat evil and death.”
The Feast of the Holy Wounds has traditionally been observed on the third Friday after Easter, which actually is this coming Friday, so this is a perfect time to begin this very special devotion. You can find The Chaplet online, and it is also posted on our parish website.
So as we consider our own individual plight during this extraordinary time, how would we describe our lives?
Are we living in fear and insecurity, like to the men on the road to Emmaus? Or like Joyce and her family, are we looking for answers in the things of this world because we struggle to see the presence of God in our difficulties?
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we don’t have all the answers at this time, however, we surely must not allow fear or uncertainty to rule over our lives.
God readily reminds us in his own way that he remains with us in all things. Some have experienced a supernatural vision, others an angelic encounter; but for most of us, with the eyes of our hearts being wide open, we will find him as he reveals himself to us in the daily activities of our lives.
So no matter what the circumstances are, or what the challenges may be, remain firm in your faith and get down on your knees, and give praise and thanksgiving to the God who set you free.
If we do so, we will continue to know his presence in all our experiences, and the peace of Christ will reign in our hearts, in and through all things.
May our Blessed Mother hold you close, lend you her heart, and help you find your peace, in the Holy Wounds and the Precious Blood, of her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Divine Mercy Sunday – April 19, 2020
We are always in need of God’s mercy. No matter what phase of human history we live in, we children of God, have been in need, are in need, and will always be in need of God’s mercy. And for those who have been slow to realize this, or just blind to that fact, this time of the coronavirus pandemic has certainly brought it home to us in a powerful way: that we and our whole world are in tremendous need of God’s mercy. Our present situation reveals the foolishness of any notion that our world and our individual societies can exist or carry on in peace and security without God’s direct help. The worldwide disruption caused by this microscopic virus has dispelled this foolish notion for everyone, except maybe the most blind and the most obstinate – God help them.
So that is the first step: to realize our need for God’s great mercy. The second step is to want it and to ask for it. And because God is so incredibly generous, He will not refuse His mercy to anyone who seeks it. This step includes our willingness to turn away from everything in our lives which offends God, and to extend our mercy to all others, especially those who have sinned against us personally.
The third step, might actually come before the second step. It is a deep appreciation and thankfulness for God’s gift of mercy – a gift we don’t deserve. Because it is a gift that we could never earn for ourselves, God sent His only Son to win it for us. An appropriate appreciation for God’s mercy will lead us to deeper love of God and a greater fervor to do His will and to extend His love and mercy to others.
A big part of our thankfulness will come from a deeper appreciation of the incredible depth and wideness of God’s mercy. People all over the world just concluded the novena, the nine days of praying the Divine Mercy chaplet which began on Good Friday. Of course, we can make this nine day novena at any time of the year. In the 1930’s, when Jesus asked the Polish nun, St. Faustina, to tell the world about the abundance of His mercy which He wishes to bestow upon the world, He told her the nine intentions we should place before Him as we make the novena of the Divine Mercy chaplet. A quick look at these nine intentions reveals the depth, and the broad width of God’s mercy.
On the first day of the novena, Jesus asks that we bring to Him in prayer the whole world - especially sinners. Notice how our Lord wants to extend His mercy, not just to people in the Church, but to every person. And not just to good people either; Our Lord asks that we raise up to Him in a special way all sinners – those in most need of His mercy. On the first day of the novena we are asked to pray: “Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon all mankind, especially poor sinners, who are all enfolded in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus.” Every poor sinner is already enfolded in Jesus’ merciful heart. God asks that we help them by our prayers – by our acts of mercy.
On the second and third days of the novena, our Lord does ask us to pray specifically for His Church: for priests and religious one day, and the next day for all devout and faithful souls.
On the fourth and fifth days of the novena, Our Lord once again asks that we pray for those outside the Church: more specifically, He asks that we pray for those who do not believe in God, those who do not yet know Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world, and those who have left His Church. We are asked to pray these words for all atheists and those Who not recognize Christ: “Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon the souls of those who do not yet believe, but who are enclosed in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. Draw them to the light of the Gospel - These souls do not know what great happiness it is to love You.”
The sixth day once again reveals God’s universal love of all His sons and daughters as we are asked to bring to Him in prayer all the meek and humble souls on the earth and the souls of little children. Jesus revealed to St. Faustina that these souls are our heavenly Father’s favorites and all of heaven takes delight in them.
On the seventh day of the novena, we are asked to pray for those who venerate and glorify Jesus’ mercy. Our Lord so values those who promote this devotion and give witness to the greatness of His mercy, that He sets aside a day of the novena for them, asking us to pray: “As they have placed their hope and trust in You O God, grant that during their life here on earth, and at the hour of death, Jesus Himself will defend them.”
On the eighth day of the novena, we move out of this world, praying for all the souls in purgatory, whose only way to heaven is for us to immerse them in God’s mercy by our prayers and by the Masses we have offered for them.
On the last day of the novena, we are asked to pray for all souls which have become lukewarm. These are people who have not out-rightly denied God but whose lives do not reflect God’s life and love. We are asked to pray that they go from being like dead corpses to people who are once again on fire with the ardor of God’s love.
In conclusion, I want to highlight a few words from some of the prayers which St. Faustina revealed to us which are often used to accompany the Divine Mercy Chaplet. I am struck by how much they appear to have been composed for this difficult time in which we are now living:
“ O Greatly Merciful God, today all mankind calls out to You from the abyss of its misery, to Your compassion. Do not reject the prayer of this earth’s exiles! Look kindly upon us and anticipate us with Your grace. We ask this in spite of our wretchedness, for Jesus is our hope. Increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments, we might not become despondent, but with great confidence, submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy Itself. Amen.”
May God grant you His peace and His generous mercy.
Some people have asked me exactly what God is trying to tell us by this pandemic. As I said in my homily last Sunday, unless God has assigned someone to be a prophet to His people, none of us can say exactly what He is telling us by all this. But, like most of you, I certainly think God is trying to get our attention, and I would say that only the most “thick-headed” people are not seeing that.
I am able to say what we should all be taking away from this difficult experience: we should be forming a new or firmer resolve to follow God’s will in all things, and to never again take anything God gives us for granted, even His smallest and most commonplace gifts.
A couple of people have even asked me if I think all this is the beginning of the end of the world. To that question I can give a definite answer: No. This is not the end of the world nor the beginning of that. Why am I so certain? Because the end of the world will take place when Christ comes again in power, majesty, and glory. The world will not end by means of a pandemic, a war, or any other natural or man-made disaster. Why am I so certain? Because no matter how sinful the human race becomes, God will not let sin or catastrophe be the last word in human history. In His rising from the dead, Jesus has conquered sin and death. His rising from the dead and His coming again, are the final word of our existence in this world as we now know it. Jesus’ victory over everything is complete – something accomplished once and for always. That is what we are celebrating today on this, and every Easter.
The Book of Revelation, formerly called the “Apocalypse”, was written by the youngest of the apostles, St. John, in his old age. When he is writing this last book of the Bible, the pagan Romans are waging a harsh and violent persecution the Church of God. Christians are being arrested, fed to the lions, or burned as torches to light the city streets. I mean, it couldn’t have been worse for these first Christians. And in the middle of this time of calamity, St. John tells us he is swooped up into heaven and finds himself present at the victory feast of the Lamb – the victory feast of the risen Jesus that everyone in heaven was celebrating, and is still celebrating. And St. John understands why he has been given this special privilege to be allowed to be present at this heavenly celebration.
He is given the mission by Jesus to come back to earth and to write down everything he has seen. By doing that, he is reassuring the people of God, that no matter how bad things are down here, the victory over all the sadness and darkness we see around us, has already been won. Christ and the angels and saints are right now celebrating His complete victory over every evil and over death. And St. John wants us to know that every time we are at Mass, we too are present at that victory feast.
And there’s more: Christ calls us to be present at that same heavenly feast. And the even better news is that God doesn’t just want us to be eternal observers of this heavenly feast – we are meant to be not just people watching a celebration, but to be celebrating with Jesus, because Jesus want His victory to be our victory. Our risen Lord wants His victory to take place in us – a victory which we win here in this world: a victory over sin, a victory over fear, a victory over hopelessness, and finally, a victory over death, when we rise with Him.
Even in the midst of crisis, Jesus assures us that His victory is already accomplished. The powers of evil, may rail against this victory, assailing us, trying to get us to lose faith and confidence in Jesus’ victory but by being strongly united to Jesus, we remain people of faith, hope and love.
The Book of Revelation makes it clear that as long as human history continues in this world, there will be occasions of war, famine, and sickness. We will see loved ones die, and we ourselves will die, but through it all, we must not be like the people who do not have hope. It is our faith in Jesus and his victory which gives us this hope. Unlike the non-believers, we believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus has changed the meaning of life for us in this world because He has changed the final destiny of every man, woman, and child who belongs to Him.
Non-believers may think we are foolish or naïve to believe in Jesus’ victory. Christians have been accused of that since the Church was born 2,000 years ago. And sometimes these non-believers don’t only want to laugh or shake their heads at us, but actually strive to eliminate us, because they are afraid others will begin to put their trust in Jesus rather than in their vision of what they think the world should be. Of course, try as they will, the Church, the Body of Christ, will endure until the end of time. Those who love Christ, will welcome His return. For those who hate Him and have worked against Him and His Church, that will be a day of great dread.
For us, there is only one vision – it is why God created the world and sent His Son to redeem it: that we may know His love, live in His love, and extend His love to others, so that all of us may be united with Him now and with Him forever in the eternal home which Christ has won for us and prepared for us.
I would like to end with a quote from St. Padre Pio:
“Be firm in your faith! Stay in the ship in which Christ has placed you. And let the storm and the hurricane come. Through all things say: “Praised be Jesus Christ!” What is there to fear? Let the world turn upside down. Even if everything around us be darkness, smoke, and noise, God is with us.” Amen.
The Lord is risen, Alleluia! He is truly risen, Alleluia!
Usually on Good Friday, here at St. Anthony Church, just before the liturgy begins, we have prayed together the Stations of the Cross. But this year, with so many things being different, for my homily, I’m going to present fourteen Stations of the Cross relating to the current worldwide emergency. As we face this pandemic, let us make it a journey with Christ as He carries His cross.
The First Station – Jesus is condemned to death
Jesus Who is innocent, is condemned for the guilty. He is the unblemished Lamb condemned for us who are not without blemish. No person may truthfully say: “I am without sin.” But we also know that those who are afflicted with this virus all over the world, are not suffering because they are bigger sinners than anyone else. This virus has no sense of morality – it doesn’t seek out the bad and spare the good. So we are in this together – all of us. Let us then, who belong to Christ, make sure that we are all in this together with Christ – walking this difficult path close to Him, turning to Him as our source of peace, relying on His strength and the power of His love so that our hearts may be turned to help those in need..
The Second Station – Jesus takes up His cross
When Jesus took the cross upon His back, He did it for the salvation of every man, woman, and child who would ever live. As we are now carrying the cross put on us by this pandemic, we clearly see how fragile we are. The virus is a great equalizer. It equally affects rich and poor, the powerful and those without power, every race, every nationality, people of every creed and every political party. Since to be Catholic means to be “universal”, that is we believe that the Church and God’s gift of salvation are meant for everyone, may these days and later, may the memory of this difficult time, always remind us to see everyone as belonging to one human family – all sons and daughters of our one Father in heaven.
The Third Station – Jesus falls the first time
In his terribly weakened state, our Lord falls under the burden of the cross. Perhaps our first fall during this crisis, has been the social distancing it has imposed on us. We are denied basic human contact with others and even the normal closeness with those we love. People in hospitals for whatever reason and people in other care facilities are isolated and not allowed to have visitors. Let us pray for them and their loved ones as we unite this loss, this sadness, to Jesus who knows our present sorrow.
The Fourth Station – Jesus meets His afflicted mother
Face to face with our Blessed Lady, Jesus sees that His mother is sharing deeply in His suffering. He is comforted by her presence, but also grieved to see that His suffering is the cause of hers. In this station we raise up to Jesus all mothers, fathers, family members, friends, and co-workers who are enduring the pain of seeing a loved one suffer because of this illness.
The Fifth Station – Simon helps Jesus carry His cross
The soldiers realize that Jesus does not have the strength to continue without aid under the heavy weight He is carrying, so Simon is ordered to help Him. We ask God to protect and richly bless all those dedicated medical personnel who are helping those afflicted with this virus. We ask that they be protected and strengthened in their work of mercy. We pray for our leaders, that they be given the wisdom to guide us at this time; for people working in the many roles which enable society to keep functioning. May they also know God’s protection and strength.
The Sixth Station – Veronica cleanses the face of Jesus with her veil
In the midst of His suffering our Lord is offered this loving act of comfort by Veronica. We pray for all our spiritual leaders who continue to offer us the comfort of the hope we have in God’s love and mercy. May God grant Francis, our pope, and David Malloy, our bishop, the wisdom and strength to lead and offer hope in this time of affliction.
The Seventh Station – Jesus falls the second time
Jesus’ journey and suffering are not over. He falls again. In our present situation one issue compounds into another, including economic difficulty. We pray for those who have lost their means of income and are finding it difficult to keep going. In this time of struggle may they turn to the Lord with greater faith.
The Eighth Station – Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
A group of women weep and mourn for Jesus. Our Lord told us: “Blessed are those who mourn, for one day you shall rejoice.” We pray for all those who mourn the loss of a loved one due to this illness. We pray also for the family and friends of all those who have died of various causes during this time of quarantine and have not been able to observe their passing with a visitation or a funeral Mass. From our parish we prayerfully remember Florence Jurasek, Josephine Scibona, and Alicia Neubauer whose public Masses of Christian Burial have had to be delayed. May God grant them eternal rest, and grant peace to their loved ones at this difficult time, made more difficult by our present circumstances.
The Ninth Station – Jesus falls the third time
The last fall - most likely the hardest for our Lord to endure. Perhaps our third fall in this struggle is being denied the spiritual consolation of attending Mass in our own churches and receiving the great gift of the Eucharist, especially at this time when we feel a great need for our Lord’s presence, strength and comfort. As I said in my homily yesterday, hopefully this will mean that we will never again take for granted in any way the Sacraments which Christ has given to His Body, His people, the Church.
The Tenth Station – Jesus is stripped of his garments
Before stripping Jesus of His life, they attempt to strip him of His dignity. In this pandemic, we have been stripped of our daily routine, which adds to our loss of peace. We pray for those suffering deep anxiety during this trial and ask that we may all be held up to face this great challenge with the calm that comes from trusting that God is ultimately in charge of everything.
The Eleventh Station – Jesus is nailed to the cross
We cannot imagine the pain our Lord endured as He was nailed to the cross. Those who are suffering this present illness tell us of their fever, aches, and exhaustion. We pray that the Lord heal them and help them on their bed of pain, and that their sufferings be joined to the perfect sacrifice of our Lord as an offering of redemptive suffering for our world and those in greatest need.
The Twelfth Station – Jesus dies on the cross
Our Lord makes the ultimate sacrifice for us – going all the way to His death. We pray for all those throughout the world who have died, or will die, from this illness. For us they are not just a statistic, but a person created by God, loved by God, and redeemed by Him. May they all know and accept this gift of salvation. May God grant them eternal rest and let His perpetual light shine upon them in the eternal home Jesus has won for us.
The Thirteenth Station – Jesus is taken down from the cross and placed in the arms of His mother
Who isn’t moved by the image of the body of her Son placed in the arms of our Blessed Lady? For centuries artists have been inspired to carve or paint the image of the pieta. Today this thirteenth station moves us to run to our heavenly mother’s arms as our refuge in this time of distress.
The Fourteenth Station – The body of Jesus is placed in the tomb
Joseph of Aramathea will always be remembered as the one who provided Jesus with a burial place. In this last station we ask our Lord to protect and sustain those who are charged with the handling and the burial of the dead. May we, the living, always be obedient to His divine will: carrying out our duties faithfully and offering those in need, generous acts of love from our hearts. May the obedience and the love of Christ fill our hearts and be manifested in these difficult times in a way that is pleasing to Jesus, Who did not seek what is easy or convenient, but Who always fulfilled His Father’s will and was eager to win our salvation.
May God give you peace.
Today we are experiencing one of the spiritual effects of this coronavirus pandemic. Here we are on this Holy Thursday recalling and celebrating the events of the Last Supper, when Jesus gave us the great gift of the Holy Eucharist – the gift of Himself: His living, risen, divine and human Self, and this year, as you attend this Mass by means of electronic media, I am unable to give you this gift – a gift that is given to us upon this altar for the explicit purpose that you might receive Him.
Every priest understands this – that what comes upon the altar in our hands, through our words and actions: the words and actions of Jesus at the Last Supper, is all done so that YOU can receive Him. But on this Holy Thursday, for the first time in our memory, we are unable to give you this gift - you are unable to receive it.
A lot of people have said to me, “Father after things quiet down, I don’t think things will go back to being exactly as they were before – I think life will be different.” And I think I know what they mean. Maybe we’ll live more simply. Maybe we’ll live with more gratitude in our hearts for everything - for special moments and for the common everyday things. That wouldn’t be a bad thing. I hope we let only good come out of this. Maybe even how we come to Mass and approach the Eucharist will be different. What I mean is: even though you are being denied the opportunity to receive the Eucharist today, as well as tomorrow, and at our Easter Vigil Mass, and at our up-coming weekend and daily Masses – I hope that the “something good” which comes out of this disappointment, this sadness, is that we will never again take for granted the great gift of the Eucharist in any way.
To appreciate the Eucharist as we should, we need to be aware that receiving the Eucharist is a two-way encounter – a communion of two hearts: our heart and Jesus’ heart. Our Lord desires this union with us more than we know – He wants to be joined to us more than we want to be joined to Him. Many of the great saints down through the centuries have told us that it hurts Jesus when we receive Him coldly, when we receive Him more out of habit or routine than out of love.
Imagine if you went out to dinner with someone you love, but all through the meal, your loved one, never spoke one word to you – never even once paid any attention your presence. You’d be tempted, as I would, to say, “Hey, look at me! I’m a real living person here with you.” Yet sometimes Jesus is made to feel this very way. Jesus has also complained to some of the saints that there are people who receive communion, and act as though they are receiving a “thing”, not a real living person.
Let us hope that we will never again take for granted in any way this sacred meal of the Eucharist - the memorial of Jesus showing us the greatest possible love – the meal which recalls that He was willing to go to His death so that we could be united with Him forever.
The Eucharist is the closest way we can be with Jesus in this world. He gave us the Eucharist out of His great desire to be united with us as we journey through life. And He doesn’t just want to be with us through the good days - Jesus is not a fair weather friend. He wants to be with us, to accompany us, to guide and strengthen us through the hard times as well. Jesus wants to be close to us during this tragic pandemic. If He is allowing that there be this time when we are kept from receiving Him in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, then may it only increase our desire to be once again united to Him in this special way.
Let us continue to pray that the need for the quarantine will end and that we can soon receive the Eucharist once again. But let us also pray that our longing, our gratitude, and our appreciation for this holy gift will be greatly increased and never diminished.
May God give you peace.
Passion (Palm) Sunday
Since this terrible Coronavirus pandemic began, a number of people have said to me, “Father, it seems that God is trying to tell us something.” Even though none of us can say with certitude: “This is exactly what God has in mind right now.”, it’s certainly not far-fetched to say that God wants us to learn something from this tragedy. The truth is, every experience in life, whether a positive or a negative experience, should have this impact on our lives: that we are led closer to God and learning our limitations, we come to depend on Him more. And this deeper union with God will lead us to greater love of others. We’re going to be needing that.
When we are facing something of this magnitude, something as difficult as a worldwide epidemic, we also remember that in the holy gospel, our Lord does tell us to “read the signs of the times”. And the signs of the times right now seem to be calling us to a new perspective – a new perspective on life– to seek God’s will in everything and to not take any of God’s gifts for granted – all those things, which before now, we may have hardly noticed, or may not have appreciated as much as we could have, because we were so busy worrying about what is not important.
On top of that, this pandemic has been spreading in our country during Lent, the season when we give special focus to deeper conversion in our lives. And on this “Passion Sunday”, the Sunday before Easter, we enter more deeply into the mystery of how Jesus, the all-powerful eternal Son of God, took on a true human nature, making Himself vulnerable so that He could win for us our salvation. He knows what it’s like to be as vulnerable as we are. I think right now, we are all feeling pretty vulnerable. This virus has disrupted so many of the simple and ordinary things in our lives – perhaps our work, even just seeing and being near each other. So, when we hear the account of the Passion today, as we do every year on this Sunday, perhaps Jesus’ vulnerability strikes a deeper chord in our hearts: the cruelty and pain He endured: in His arrest, His scourging, the crowning with thorns, the nails driven through His hands and feet, the spear thrust through His side, His dying a very painful death on a rough wooden cross.
And we should not forget Our Lord’s agony before all this happened- because He knew what He was facing. This too is made more poignant for us this year because those who oversee the medical care in our country tell us that these next two weeks are going to be the most difficult yet – that the number of those afflicted will go higher. Yet, and I want to emphasize this, this does not in any way mean that we should lessen our prayers like people with no hope. No matter what bad news we may hearing, God has not stopped hearing our prayers. He never has; He never will stop hearing our prayers. In fact, in times of tragedy, our heartfelt prayers touch His heart deeply. Even if this pandemic will play itself out as we are being told it will, our prayers can mitigate, or lessen, its harmful effects. The power of prayer is not diminished – it is as powerful as ever. The worst thing we could do is lose faith and give up.
In the great ordeal of His Passion and death, Our Lord Jesus suffered physical pain, emotional pain, and spiritual pain, but He never gave up being a faithful and loving Son to His Father in heaven. Even in the face of death He trusted in His Father’s love. Let us follow His example – the greatest example ever given to us – the example of the Son of God Him-self. May God give you peace.