The Word in Peace, Divine Mercy Sunday: It is in community that we see to believe

Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21)

As I mentioned in a recent post on the CTA 20/30 blog, Good Pope John XXIII is a special saint to me. As I was a lapsed Catholic adrift in a spiritual Nowhere Land, the Italian pope with a big belly and an even bigger heart taught me the much of the good that is to be found in our faith tradition. So it was something of a no-brainer for me to decide to visit the newly rededicated St. John XXIII (until today Blessed Pope John XXIII) parish in South Fort Myers to join the celebratory mass.

Both this parish and its patron saint embody that crucial component of Christian conduct: a sense of community. St. John welcomed the world with open arms, reaching out to Jews, Orthodox Christians, Protestants, even those “godless” communists. He was not posturing; the pope’s actions showed that he really saw the people of the world as his brothers and sisters.

St. John XXIII parish does much to live up to this commission. There is a dynamic pastor, numerous ministries and, most importantly, an enthusiastic congregation.

It is in fellowship with others that we as Christians have the chance to live out our faith. The First Reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, tells us that the Church first establishes itself and performs its “many wonders and signs” (2:43) through communal living, sharing possessions, caring for the sick and needy of the community, and joining each other at the table (vv. 44-46).

Thomas the apostle provides us with an example of belief emerging from community in the Gospel reading. When he was away from the other disciples, Thomas is, as most of us would be, skeptical when he learned of the resurrection (John 20:25). But notice that Jesus does not go out to find Thomas to validate himself. He waits until Thomas returns, giving the apostle the opportunity to see and believe among other believes. It is at that moment that he makes that great confession of Christ’s divinity, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28)

As the Second Reading tells us, we believe even though we have not seen Jesus (1 Peter 1:8). But that does not happen on its own. We must see the image of God in every person that we encounter if we are to truly live in union with God. And we can’t do that by staying home every day. Even hermits communicate the Good News with others from time to time.

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The Word in Peace, Easter Sunday: The Resurrection Continues

Vigil: Genesis 1:1 – 2:2; Psalm 104:1-2, 5-6, 10, 12-14, 24, 25; Psalm 33:4-7, 12-13, 20, 22; Genesis 22:1-18; Psalm 16:5, 8-11; Exodus 14:15 – 15:1; Exodus 15:1-6, 17-18; Isaiah 54:5-14; Psalm 30:2, 4-6, 11-13; Isaiah 55:1-11; Isaiah 12:2-6; Baruch 3:9-15, 32 – 4:4; Psalm 19:8-11; Ezekiel 36:16-28; Psalm 42:3, 5, 43:3-4; Psalm 51:12-15, 18-19; Romans 6:3-11; Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Matthew 28:1-10
Sunday: Acts 10:34, 37-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Colossians 3:1-4; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; John 20:1-9

“All you who are thirsty,
come to the water!” – Isaiah 55:1

He is risen! And I am late.

Truth be told, I had a packed weekend that included three egg hunts, a birthday party and a day trip across the state to see the family, so I think I can get a dispensation for writing my Easter reflection on the following Wednesday.

Besides, Easter is supposed to be a 50-day long celebration, and that has taken on a particular meaning for me. It was around Easter of last year that my wife told me that she wanted to part ways. As I wrote in the aftermath of that, it was the joy of the resurrection that was sustaining me.

A year later, I believe that I am through the worst of it. I still have my house, my kids (albeit for less time) and my faith. My pastor even asked me to be part of the leadership team for a new divorce support group.

So I am happy to say that the Resurrection remains a focal point for me. I feel the Spirit when the lights turn on at the vigil mass as we sing “Alleluia!” for the first time in a month and a half. I move forward without knowing what lies ahead, but with the knowledge that the Jesus who defeated death itself will carry me through whatever comes my way.

The Word in Peace, Good Friday: Take Comfort in Discomforts

Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Luke 23:46; Psalm 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-17, 25; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42

“Yet it was our pain that he bore,
our sufferings he endured.” – Isaiah 53:4

I woke up groggy and congested, starting a cloudy day alone.

It’s Good Friday.

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The Word in Peace, Holy Thursday: Christian Trifecta!

Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14; Psalm 116:12-13, 15-18; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15

“Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him.” – John 13:12-16

You know what I love about the Holy Thursday mass readings? This is the only time that all three readings describe three unique events that are central to our Catholic faith.

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“Dirty little secret”: Our Johannine church

P03-24-14_15.53We are in late Lent. The weekday Gospel readings are now all John, all the time.

And why not? We are bearing down on Holy Week, and John’s Jesus lives in a “Wanted” poster. They’re always trying to kill him, but can’t quite grab him; they seek to arrest him, but the hour hasn’t arrived. And so on. The liturgical point is that the hour will come.

I have a confession. I don’t much like John’s Jesus.

He has beautiful moments: “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25). Or: “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you” (15:12). Or: “I am the vine, you are the branches” (15:5). Or: “I pray…so that they may all be one” (17:20-21).

Or this one above all: “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?’ She thought it was the gardener and said to him, ‘Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’” (20:15-16).

But overall, John’s Jesus can be…well…tedious and arrogant. He expounds on his oneness with God. He demands that everybody and their grandma acknowledge it. He is disappointingly prone to context-free utterances about his exalted mission. At face value, he seems the type to stride into some random diner in some random part of town, shouting “Do you not know that I am he?!” when you just want to eat your pie and pay your bill. No wonder everybody had enough. Continue reading

The Word in Peace, Fifth Sunday of Lent: The sinful path towards resurrection

Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalm 130:1-8; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45

I am the resurrection and the life:
whoever believes in me,
though he should die, will come to life;
and whoever is alive and believes in me
will never die.” – John 11:25-26

I am writing this in a state of sin.

Sin is death. I might not get struck by a lightning bolt for it; that would be an easy way out. No, sin has the twisted purpose of destroying me from within. Sin makes me crave more sin, creating a vicious cycle of dependence and despair. My lusts, my cravings, my greedy acquisitions, my self-centered acts, they create no sense of fulfillment. Instead, there is emptiness. And I seek to fill that emptiness with more of the stuff that emptied me in the first place.

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The Word in Peace, Fourth Sunday of Lent: Seeing makes me blind

1 Samuel 16:1, 6-7, 10-13; Psalm 23:1-6; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

“I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” – John 9:39

One of my go-to movies when I need a tear-jerker is A Family Thing, a 1996 tale in which Robert Duvall plays Earl Pilcher, an Arkansas good ole’ boy whose mother pens a deathbed confessional letter telling him that she is not his real mother. What’s more, Earl learns that biological mother, Willa Mae, who died giving birth to him, was black, and he also has a black half-brother in Chicago. Earl reluctantly travels to meet that brother, Ray Murdock, played by James Earl Jones. Embittered by the loss of his mother so many years before, on top of being a black man who had escaped from the segregated South, Ray is not too thrilled about the news, nor is he willing to have a relationship with Earl.

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Aunt T.

Irma P. Hall provides the prophetic voice in this film as Aunt T., a feisty old blind woman who is the sister of Earl and Ray’s mother. As Ray and his son Virgil want nothing more than to send Earl back to Arkansas, Aunt T. pointedly insists that both men accept Earl into the family, skin color be damned. Before her climactic recollection of Earl’s birth, Aunt T. takes on racism with a simple yet memorable line:

“I don’t know how he look, I can’t see him like you can, and I don’t need to. I don’t have the blessing of being able to separate people by looking at them any more.”

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