Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Lamb Who Is The Shepherd

(4th Sunday of Easter, C)

The fourth Sunday of Easter is traditionally called Good Shepherd Sunday. The readings speak to this image of Christ, and we are given a special opportunity to pray for our Holy Father, our bishops, and pastors who continue the ministry of Christ the Shepherd among us. In the same way today is also a special day of prayer for vocations. This emphasis on Christ the Good Shepherd fits into a larger movement in our meditation as we go through the Easter season. At the beginning of the Easter season we simply rejoice in the announcement, in the good news that Christ is risen. As we go through the fifty days of Easter, however, we begin to shift our reflection to how this risen Christ is present to us. This movement culminates on the last day of the Easter season when we celebrate Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit, Who is the abiding Presence of Christ with His Church. Recall the words we heard on Good Friday when St. John’s passion was proclaimed: “bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.” (John 19:30) That’s the basic movement of Easter; the Lord’s Passion becomes the means by which His Spirit is handed over to us, and this is what we call the Resurrection.

Today, right in the middle of Easter, we are given the image of Christ the Good Shepherd; He is present among us as the shepherd of our lives. It’s a very beloved and sweet image; those of you on the left side of the church can look up and see him. But when we come to the readings today, we are given images that are much more challenging and stark than any nice picture of Jesus tending his little sheep. In fact, as we hear in the second reading from the book of Revelation, it is Christ who is the Lamb. The inhabitants of heaven stand before the throne of the Lamb who is also their Shepherd. Christ is both; He is Shepherd and Lamb. In this we see an illustration of the contrast or tension which is the spiritual heart of Christianity: A humble, young girl becomes the bearer of the Word of God to the world. A condemned criminal in the midst of brutal execution; this man is the King of the Universe. A little piece of bread becomes the food of eternal life, having all grace and sweetness within it. The slaughtered Lamb is the Shepherd.

This contrast has everything to do with the nature of our salvation in Christ. In heaven we will look upon and worship the Lamb whom we have followed in this life. It is precisely in his being led to the slaughter of his Passion that he becomes our Shepherd, the one whom we are called to follow. Brothers and sisters, it’s obvious to anyone that our faith in Christ does not shield us from the suffering, pain, and bodily breakdown and death we experience in this life. Our salvation does not consist in being magically relieved of these grieving and sufferings. God’s answer to the misery and death we have brought into this world with our sins is not to magically remove them from our lives, but to meet us in them. On the Cross the Lamb of God draws to himself all of who we are at our most miserable, so that we might, in our sufferings, find Christ crucified united to our pain and leading us through it to the new life of resurrection.

This is why he allows his Body to be broken on the Cross and his Blood poured out, so that we might find a way to step into the openings of his wounds with our own sufferings. On the Cross, Jesus makes our suffering his own, and in the Eucharist he gives his broken Body to us as our food. This is the work of the Good Shepherd, who shows us that the way through suffering to new life is by allowing our hearts to break at the sufferings of others, and pouring out our own lives in compassion. By giving his Life for us, the Lamb of God becomes the Good Shepherd, because he leads us into the way of compassion and offers us the salvation of giving ourselves for each other.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Lord's Breakfast

(3rd Sunday of Easter, C)

You have to love someone to cook breakfast for him. Growing up, my Mom made my Dad’s breakfast every single day. When she got a hip fracture a few years ago, Mom was convalescing for a while, and Dad had to cook his breakfast himself. When Mom got better, she presumed that she would be back cooking, but Dad declined and said that he would keep on doing it for himself. Mom was perplexed; what did this mean? So she spied a little on Dad and realized that when he made his own breakfast, he got twice as much bacon! It can be a tough contest between bacon and love. My pastor when I was a deacon used to make me breakfast every Sunday. Fr. John Gallagher made me breakfast once, on Christmas. Fr. Moe has made me breakfast once so far. So he should know that he has a couple of months to do it again if he wants to get into second place as loving pastor.

Today in the gospel we see the risen Jesus in this tender, loving act of cooking breakfast for his disciples. As we hear this image of Jesus preparing the bread and fish on the beach, we are, of course, reminded me of how Jesus had fed the multitude with the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes. This comparison brings out a larger and important teaching for us during this Easter season: The Risen Christ, from his place in God’s eternity, does the same things that the historical Jesus of Nazareth did in his earthly ministry. What’s more, the Resurrection reveals that these two categories are not entirely distinct, but are continuous with one another. This means, brothers and sisters, that when we hear about the preaching, reconciling, forgiving, and healing of Jesus in the gospels, we are not hearing about the past, but about the present. The gospels were, of course, written from the perspective of the fullness of the revelation of the meaning of Jesus that comes with his resurrection, and so illustrate for us what the Lord is up to in our lives right now. Jesus Christ, risen into the Presence living within each of us who are baptized into his death and resurrection, risen into our faith, and risen into the sacraments handed down to us by apostolic tradition, continues his work of healing, saving, and proclaiming the Kingdom of God among us.

But there is a slight difference between the ministry of the historical Jesus and that of the risen Lord. Jesus in his earthly ministry fed the multitude with the loaves and fishes. In the gospel today he only feeds those who recognize him standing on the beach. So it is with us who live in these last days inaugurated by Jesus’ resurrection. He offers his own Love as our nourishment here at the Sunday Eucharist, but only for those who accept the eyes to recognize him standing on the shore. That’s where our risen Lord Jesus is, brothers and sisters, standing on the shore of the eternity into which we shall all go one day, longing for us to look up from our busyness to recognize him, and preparing for us the meal that will nourish our spirits in this life, and carry us into the world to come. Here, at the Eucharist, the Holy Mass, Jesus is preparing for us the breakfast that is the first meal of our eternal life. That’s love.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Resurrection, Continued

(2 Easter, C)

Brothers and sisters, we arrive at “octave” of Easter, the eighth day of the Easter season. Having first celebrated the good news of Jesus’ resurrection last Sunday, the readings and prayers today invite us to drill a little deeper into the mystery. Who is this risen Jesus? What does He do? Where can He be found?

The answer to that last question is simple to say, but not so simple to understand and accept. For the risen Lord is right here. He is the eternal life living in each of us who are baptized into his death and resurrection. When each of us descended into the water on the day of our baptism, we went down into his death. When we came up again, we rose in the resurrection of Christ. We became newborn parts of the risen, human body of Christ. When we receive Holy Communion here at Sunday Mass, we receive Him whom we are, and the eternal life within us in nourished and fortified. When the minister of Holy Communion says to us, “The Body of Christ,” he is addressing us by name, calling us by our deepest identity.

If the presence of Christ risen from the dead lives and breathes in our humanity through our baptism and Holy Communion, then our ordinary behavior will resemble the historical, human life of Jesus. Simply put, we will do what Jesus did. This is what we hear in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles today. Peter and the apostles were at the Temple curing a great number of people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits. The healing ministry of Jesus not only continues in them, but is multiplied in them. This is the mission for which we are sent by the risen Lord in the gospel today, when he breathes the Spirit on the disciples. In his resurrection, Jesus hands over his mission to us, that we, in our lives, might continue and multiply his work of healing, reconciliation, and proclamation of the Kingdom of God to the world. This is what it means for us to be the Body of Christ we become at each Sunday Eucharist; in the simplest terms, we are to be Jesus for one another and the world. The mission of Jesus is risen into our faith and action; this is the fruit of resurrection.

Now, this sounds great, but maybe it’s all a little abstract. How do we get started on our vocation as the risen Body of Christ, the healing presence of Jesus in the world? How do we come to experience it, to really believe it? For this we have our dear friend Thomas in the gospel today. He comes to that perfect confession of faith, “My Lord and my God!” after he puts he puts his fingers and hand into the wounds of Jesus Christ. If we want to truly know the risen Lord, brothers and sisters, we must do the same thing. First, we must put our hands into Christ’s wounds by bringing our own hurts and betreyals, griefs and injuries into our prayer. Jesus has united these personal sufferings of ours to his own suffering on the Cross, and by embracing them we find Him. He has made our wounds His own. By offering our own pain, and allowing Jesus to unite it to His Passion, we come to know ourselves as people whom God is dying to save.

Through this kind of prayer, we get to know ourselves as people saved by our incorporation into the Body of Christ. We are then empowered to go out and get our hands dirty and blessed by putting them into the suffering of others, into the lives of all of the poor, sick, and lonely of our neighborhoods and our world. When we encounter the suffering Christ in others, we too will know the great confession of faith welling up from within: “My Lord and my God!” We will become the Presence of the risen Lord for each other, members of the risen Body of Christ.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

This Is The Night

(Easter Vigil, C)

“This is the night.” That’s the refrain and the slogan of our joy at this Vigil. “This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave.” This is the night. Notice that we are in the present tense, and in this little bit of grammar, we see the good news for us, for the world, and especially for you, dear Elect and candidates.

When we think of the Resurrection of the Lord, of the fifty days of Easter we are about to celebrate with greater joy than ever, we are not recalling to ourselves some bit of history, some event from the past. The Resurrection, because it is a matter of God's eternity is not yesterday or tomorrow, but always right now. This is the night. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the invasion of eternity Itself, of eternity Himself into our lives and our world of space and time. For Jesus Christ, though he could die in the humanity he borrowed from us through our Most Blessed Mother, could not be held by death in his identity as the eternal Son of God. So, after resting in death through this greatest of Sabbaths, the Risen Lord bursts forth once again, destroying from the inside the bodily corruption and death we have brought into this world with our sins.

In Jesus Christ we have a marriage of heaven and earth, a fertile union of our humanity with God. The power of this union comes to be with us tonight. Through the Resurrection, which is the indestructibility and infinite creativity of God’s own Eternity, we are blessed and re-created. This is because for us Jesus Christ is risen into the faith of the sacraments handed down to us by apostolic Tradition. That is why, in the sacraments we celebrate at this Vigil, this is the night of the Resurrection. Does this surprise us to say that Jesus Christ is risen into the sacraments? If we were to offer Mass tomorrow night we would hear the beautiful passage from St. Luke in which the risen Jesus offers the Eucharist for his disciples: “He was made known to them in the breaking of bread.” By our Communion with Jesus Christ, his Risen and Eternal Life comes to make a home in our humble humanity.

This is the night. In these sacraments of initiation, we are witnesses to the Resurrection just as much as the women at the tomb on that first Easter morning. In the gospel we heard of the three women who were the first witnesses to the Empty Tomb: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James. Tonight those three women are Veronica, Sujeiry, and Nicole. It is you who draw near to the mystery of the Empty Tomb, and who are about to meet the transforming power of the Resurrection in your baptism. That is why you, Elect of God, are our greatest joy tonight; you are the women who stand in the tradition of the women at the tomb and who will become for us the first newborn witnesses of the Resurrection. This is the night.

In the sacramental initiation you receive tonight, the eternal and indestructible Life and Creativity of God come to make a home in you. It will grow as God’s own Blessed Delight through the rest of your pilgrimage in this world, and bear its greatest fruit in the eternal life of which you are now heirs. You candidates who will complete your initiation with the sacrament of Confirmation share in the same joy, as do we who renew tonight the promises of our own baptism.

Let us rejoice with these women who have traveled to the tomb to be transformed by their witness to the Resurrection. May the eternal life showered upon us in the Resurrection well up in every heart to God the Father’s everlasting delight. This is the night.