Saturday, March 29, 2008

My Lord and My God

(2nd Sunday of Easter, A)

Thomas wasn’t with the others when they first saw the Risen Lord. As John tells us, he didn’t believe it right away. He wanted to see for himself. Thomas wants to make sure that whatever experience the disciples were having, this was the same Jesus who they knew in his historical life. That’s why he wants to see and touch Jesus’ wounds, to make sure that this Risen Lord is the same guy. But even though—thanks to many artists—we often imagine Thomas touching the Lord’s wounds, the evangelist never says that he did. In fact, as soon as Thomas sees the Lord, right away he utters the greatest and most perfect of confessions, “My Lord and my God!” At that moment, all of his conditions and caveats evaporate in a moment of perfect vision and faith.

Nevertheless, Thomas’s concerns are matters for us too. For we too need to come to grips with the challenging and amazing truth that the Jesus whose teachings and miracles we proclaim in the Gospels each Sunday, this Jesus is the same Lord who is present to us now.

This is the good news of the Resurrection, that Jesus Christ, the Word of God made man, who walked the earth with his dusty feet, is just as present to us now as we was to his first disciples who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles gives us a picture of how the Risen Lord is present to us: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.”

Prayer is the primary way the Resurrected Lord is present to us. When we pray it seems to us that it is something we are doing, and that it is we who are praying to God. But this is a kind of optical illusion of the spiritual eyes. Prayer happens not when we do something, but when we simply consent to the Holy Spirit praying within us. The Holy Spirit, who after all is the abiding presence of Jesus in the Church, prays within us, catching us up into the loving and dynamic inner life of the Trinity of God. Prayer is nothing more than that, but what more could we want?

The Breaking of Bread is also one of the preeminent ways that the Risen Jesus abides with us. Just as his human body was broken on the Cross and given for the life of the world, so the bread of this Eucharist is broken for our spiritual nourishment. St. Francis of Assisi marveled at the humility and gentleness of a God who was willed to be present to us “under the little form of bread.” He called it God’s “sublime humility” and “humble sublimity.”

These blessings are free to all. If only we are willing to see the Risen Lord among us in our prayer and in the Breaking of Bread, we will realize that we too have been raised up with Christ and have received a “new birth to a living hope” as St. Peter says in the second reading today. And just like it happened to St. Thomas, with this realization our heart will blurt out, “My Lord and my God!”

We too see the Risen Lord, and if we consent to it, this experience of faith will give us such strength that we will actually burn with the desire to transform our world into the life of perfect generosity and communal sharing we heard about in the Acts of the Apostles.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Untie Him, and Let Him Go

(5th Sunday of Lent, A)

On this last Sunday before we arrive at Holy Week, it makes sense that we should hear about this great sign that concludes Jesus’ public ministry in the gospel of John. The raising of Lazarus shows us Jesus’ victory over death, that he himself is the “resurrection and the life,” and that eternal life is ours in Christ.

Let’s do a little thought experiment. I’d like us to think back to, say, two weeks before we were born. I know, we can’t really remember, but just imagine it. There, at the very beginning of our life, our whole world is our mother’s little womb. It’s dark and it’s small, but it’s complete as far as we were concerned then, and has everything we need. Now let’s say, by some magical process, we were able to receive a letter while we were still in the womb. And let’s say we did receive a letter from our big brother or sister.

So we read the letter. Our older sibling writes: You are not going to believe what’s on the way for you. You’re going to go through some rough hours. This is what you call “being born.” But—and I know this is going to sound crazy—soon you will find yourself in a world infinitely bigger than the one you know now. You’re going to see things, and meet all kinds of people, you’re going to go places, see light and colors, and you’re going to stand up and walk and even run.

So we’re sitting there in the womb, reading this letter and saying to ourselves, “go places and see colorful things?” “Run and jump? I don’t even know what these things are.” Back before we born we couldn’t have known how grand and diverse and beautiful this world we now live in was going to be. So maybe we would have believed the letter or not, but it turned out to be true. We were born, and gradually found ourselves in an infinitely larger reality.

Now the point of all this is that our situation here and now is much the same. At our own death, when we conclude this stage of our lives, we are born into eternity, into a world even larger and more beautiful than this one. And like my little experiment about getting a letter before we were born, we have received a message, a letter from the life that comes after this one. This message, this letter from beyond, is the Word of God himself, Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the revelation, in this world of time and space, of the eternal Source of all that is that we call “God.” Jesus Christ is the goodness, gentleness, eternity and beauty of the world to come made visible for us in this world. He is the message sent to us to encourage us to believe in the goodness of our destiny. But just like we couldn’t have imagined the extent of this world before we were born, we can’t now really understand what the new life of heaven and eternal life will be like. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t believe it.

Each of us will have to die. Even Lazarus who received this great work of God raising him from the dead, he’s not with us now. Presumably he died again, and for good. And so it is with each of us. Our time will come. Jesus Christ saves us from death, but not from dying. Recall what Jesus says about Lazarus’s sickness: “This illness is not to end in death.” And it is the same with us. Whatever hurts us in this life, from the natural decline of our bodies, to the misfortunes of life, to our depression and anxiety and all the misery we insist upon for ourselves with our sins, these illnesses will not end in death. We will die, yes, but death is not our end.

For Jesus boldly says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” And his resurrection becomes our own resurrection as soon as become members of his body—by our burial with him in our Baptism, and by our weekly initiation into the Body of Christ in Holy Communion. In fact, this Eucharist fulfills the promise God made through the prophet Ezekiel: “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them.” Our Communion with Christ associates our humanity with his, and makes our own lives part of his rising from the dead.

And this is true freedom. The world we look forward to in the eternity of God himself will heal every hurt with its overwhelming and gentle kindness. And notice: this sets us free from ever fear. For nothing and nobody can really hurt us anymore when we are set free from death. And that’s how God sets us free in this life, free to be happy, healthy, and without worry. That’s God’s hope and desire, to give the command for each of us, as Jesus did for Lazarus, “untie him, and let him go.” Let’s let God untie us from whatever is binding us, and let’s be free.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Light of the World

(4th Sunday of Lent, A)

At the climax of our gospel today the Lord proclaims, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” This judgment is not something off in an unknown future. It is the judgment that is present every time Jesus appears: when he appears in our hearts as an invitation to patience, service, or prayer, and especially when he comes among us as the bread and wine of this Eucharist. Wherever the Lord is, there is his judgment.

The word in the original Greek that we translate “judgment” is krima, meaning the delivery of a judgment, like a sentence imposed by a judge. It’s closely related to the word krisis, from which we derive the English word crisis. Whenever Jesus is present there is a crisis that is also a judgment. Like any crisis, the decisions we make in the midst of the crisis will determine that path we take for the future.

And that decision is to accept, to consent, to believe in Jesus Christ as the revelation of God, or not. That’s what we saw happening in Jesus’ final conversation with the man who had regained his sight. Jesus asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” And he worshiped him, and said, “I do believe Lord.”

This is what it really means to gain our sight, to learn to see clearly: to come to believe, to see that Jesus is Lord, that he is “the Light of the world.” To see Jesus as the Light, and to see and interpret things by this Light of the world is to have true vision.

This judgment, this crisis happens every time we gather here for the Eucharist. We take ordinary bread and wine and by the calling down of the Holy Spirit, the great Eucharistic Prayer of thanksgiving, and by the Lord’s own words at the Last Supper, this bread and wine becomes for us the Body and Blood of Christ. But do the bread and wine look or smell or taste any different after we have consecrated them? No, not to the bodily senses at least. And that’s just the moment of the crisis and judgment. We can accept from God the spiritual sight to see that this bread and wine is now the Body of Christ broken for us on the Cross and the Blood of Christ poured out in the ratification of the new and eternal covenant, or we can harden our hearts and remain blind to this new vision.

The Lord says he came into the world so that the blind might see, and those who see might become blind. That’s the great reversal of this judgment. If we admit that we need God’s help to really see Jesus as the Light of the Word, then he will help us to gain our spiritual sight. If we think we know it all, that we can see everything clearly, then God will leave us in our spiritual blindness. And that makes the spiritual division between the seeing and the blind, and that’s the judgment of God on the world.

So let us pray for our sight, for the vision to see and believe that Jesus Christ is the Light of the world. Then, as Paul tells us today, we will be able to live as children of the Light, as those who see and understand the world in the true light who is Jesus himself.

Our world doesn’t understand itself, and it is led into all kinds of violence and misery because it follows lesser lights: the intellectual lights of science and reason, the emotional lights of desiring riches and security. But when we accept from God the sight to see and believe that Jesus is the Light of the world, we will be able to understand ourselves and our world in the glorious Light of the Risen Lord.