From Fr. JC’s Desk: “Initiation”

During the Easter Season, there are a lot of things in the Church’s liturgy which reminds us of the Sacraments of Initiation:  Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist.  Of course, the Easter Vigil, the most solemn Mass of the year, is the traditional time for initiating persons into the Church.  This year we welcomed Janice, a widow who encountered Christ in the midst of her grief over her husband’s death as she spent time in our Adoration Chapel.  It was there that Christ called her, and she responded.  She is still smiling.

The Easter liturgy itself reminds us of the Sacraments of Initiation, even if we had no one entering the Church at the vigil.  The Vigil begins in darkness, representing the darkness of sin, but then as the Paschal Candle enters the church, the Light of Christ begins to cast out the darkness as from the Christ Candle the other candles are lit.  The tabernacle is still empty, until after we celebrate the Eucharist — Jesus’ gift of His very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity.  The water in the baptismal font is blessed, and we all renew our baptismal promises.  We are sprinkled with Holy Water.  We celebrate the Great Commission, to go out and spread the Good News, when we are dismissed from Mass, with the emphasis of the Alleluias at the end.

It is usually during the Easter Season that parishes celebrate First Holy Communions, as we did just a couple of weeks ago.  This year the preciousness of the Eucharist was especially poignant not only in the excitement of the children as they received Jesus for the first time in the Eucharist, but also in one elderly gentleman — I presume it was the grandfather of one of the children.  He was in a wheelchair, and apparently could not get out of the house very often, but for this special event the family made to extra effort to get him there.  When I went to give him Communion, he wept for joy, saying how much he longed to come to Mass each week.

This past week we had 43 of our young people receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.  Of course, they first received the gift of the Holy Spirit at their Baptism, as the Spirit incorporated them into the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church.  Now, through the further outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation, they are empowered by the Gifts of the Holy Spirit — Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and the Fear of the Lord — to participate in the mission of the Church to make disciples of all the nations.

You may have noticed the order in which I listed the Sacraments of Initiation:  Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist.  You might think I have it wrong, since in the US most of us receive Eucharist before Confirmation.  No, I have it correct; theologically the Eucharist is the fullness of initiation into the Church.  It was an accident that the order has been disrupted for about the past 100 years.  Based on modern, psychological evidence on when children reached the age of reason, Pope Pius X lowered the age for receiving Holy Communion from 12 to 7.  He did not mention Confirmation, presuming that the proper theological order of the sacraments would be maintained, but they weren’t.  Recent popes have encouraged restoring the proper order of the sacraments.  I asked a friend of mine, who is the Bishop of Gaylord, MI, about this as he mentioned that his predecessor had restored the order in that diocese.  He said that the children are confirmed at the same Mass they will also receive their First Holy Communion.

It is not a decision that I could, not necessarily would, make.  It is something only the diocesan bishop can decide, and I think there are serious issues on both sides of the proposal that need to be considered, and I am glad that I don’t have to decide it.  I just have to celebrate the sacraments as the Bishop directs us to, and to encourage all of us to take time during the Easter Season to reflect more deeply on the Mysteries, the Sacraments, that God has blessed us with.

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A Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter (A-2017)

From ancient times, philosophers have summed up the human condition as a quest to answer three fundamental questions: What should I do? What can I know? What can I hope for?

In response to the common-sense comment of doubting Thomas, Jesus Christ gives us the definitive answer to each one of these questions when he tells us that he is the way, the truth, and the life.  Actually, Jesus doesn’t just give the answers; he is the answers.  

“I am the way” can translate into: “What should you do? Follow me! Do what I have done.” 

“I am the truth” means:  “What can you know? You can know everything, if only you know me.  Knowing me, more and more every day, you know the secret behind the workings of the whole universe and the deepest yearnings of the human heart, because I made them both.  I am the eternal Word, the very Wisdom of God.”  

“I am the life” means:  “What can you hope for? In me, through me, you can hope for the fullness of life that you long for in the very depths of your soul.  You can hope for your very own room in my Father’s house, in heaven – I have gone to prepare it for you.  In my Father’s house all sorrows turn to joy, all weakness turns to strength, and life grows more alive as eternity unfolds.”

Christ is truly the living water that quenches every thirst.  He is truly the light that scatters every type of darkness.  The quest of every man and woman to satisfy the heart’s deepest needs is the quest to seek his face.  As St. Augustine famously wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.”  And Jesus Christ is God.

St. Francis Borgia discovered this true, unique greatness of Christ at the same time that he discovered how fragile human greatness really is.  St. Francis lived in the 1500s and eventually became the second General of the Jesuit Order.  His spectacular leadership laid the groundwork for that Order’s truly remarkable achievements.

But until he was 40-years-old, he wasn’t overly concerned about Christ and the Church. Instead, he lived the brilliant and dashing life of a Spanish nobleman.  He was cousin to the Emperor and grew up enjoying the privileges of royalty in Spain’s golden age.  He was extremely gifted with intelligence, courage, and all the natural virtues, and was one of the most trusted Imperial courtiers.  He was also a close friend and counselor to the beautiful, wise, and well-beloved Empress Isabel, Europe’s greatest lady, in every sense.  By nature, education, and circumstances, therefore, Francis Borgia had a fantastic future in store.

Then the Empress died, and Francis was asked to escort the body to the city of Grenada, where she was to be buried.  After the long journey, the magistrates of the city opened the coffin to confirm the cadaver’s identity.  But her face appeared so hideous and disfigured that nobody could recognize it.  And the stench of the decaying body was so foul that everyone fled from the chamber.  Francis was in shock: What had become of those sparkling eyes, of her elegance and charm, her wit, the sweetness of her laughter?

For the first time, Francis really understood how fragile and passing this life is.  One day she was Queen of Spain and Holy Roman Empress, revered and envied throughout the world, with unlimited wealth and power at her beck and call; the next day, she was a repulsive, putrefying corpse.  That’s when St. Francis Borgia began to think seriously about what Christ had really meant when he claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life, the conqueror of death and the source of eternal life.

We all believe that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.  If we didn’t believe it, we wouldn’t be here right now.  Yet, today the Church is asking us to look into our hearts and ask the question: how firmly do we believe it?  Is our faith vibrant, strong, and bright, like a sunrise, or is it weak, malnourished, and hanging on in survival mode, like Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree?  The stronger our faith in Christ, the more our lives will be marked by wisdom, courage, purity, peace of heart, and magnanimity – like all the saints.  The weaker our faith, the more we experience discouragement, frustration, boredom, slavery to vice, and anxiety.

We can use three thermometers to take the temperature of our faith.  First, do we spend quality time each day in personal prayer?  Our friendship with Christ cannot be vibrant if we never spend time with him.  Second, do we make frequent use of the sacrament of confession?  All the saints have a keen sense of how their selfish tendencies and sinfulness wounds the heart of Christ, even in little infidelities.  They use this sacrament regularly to heal those wounds.  Third, how deeply do we long to receive Jesus in Holy Communion?  If Communion has become just a routine or an empty ritual, it could be a sign that our faith is withering.

Today, Jesus is inviting us to check up on our faith.  He wants to help us make whatever adjustments are necessary in order to be better Christians – the kind who experience the joy of the risen Christ and aren’t afraid to spread that joy to others.  As we continue with this Mass, let’s accept that invitation.

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A Homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter (A-2017)

How many of you go to bed without making sure the doors of your house are locked?  Why do we bother about locking our doors and cars?  Because we want to be safe, right?  We know that the world can be a dangerous place, and we want to protect ourselves and our families from those would might try to steal what we have, or worse, threaten our lives and well-being.  This is only appropriate, because the world can be a dangerous place.  St. Peter seems to say just as much in today’s first reading when he tells the gathered crowds, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation” (Acts 2:40).

Of course, St. Peter was not talking about protecting our homes and loved ones from criminals of this world.  He was talking about saving ourselves from the corrupt generation that threatens our souls and our eternal life.  So, what do you do to protect your soul from what threatens it?  After all, this world is passing away — we will all die someday and we cannot take our stuff with us.  Heaven and Hell are both real and they are forever.  We need to give even more thought to protecting our souls from what threatens them, than to what only threatens the things of this world.

There are three books that have been published recently —  Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World by Archbishop Charles Chaput, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher, and Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture by Anthony Esolen  —  which seems to have taken up St. Peter’s call for us to save ourselves from a corrupt generation.  I have not had a chance to read any of these books, only reviews, so I cannot give a complete summary, but basically they feel that the world has become very un-Christian and they fear that we are on the brink of a new Dark Age.  They think that the best thing for devout Catholics to do is to form intentional communities where they can support each other in holding fast to the Faith.  There is some disagreement as to whether these intentional Catholic communities should develop a “bunker” mentality and withdraw from the world, or whether they should continue to “live in the world” while supporting each other in “not being of the world.”  After all, our true home is heaven.

Personally, I think a “bunker” mentality is contrary to the spirit of evangelization which Jesus commanded us to take up, to make disciples of all the nations.  There is no denying, however, that we cannot do it on our own.  That we need to support each other as we journey as disciples following Jesus, and witnessing to the world His Good News.

This mission begins in our own families.  St. Peter recalls that the promise of Jesus is made to “you and your children….” (Acts 2:39).  Clearly, it is the job of the family, especially the responsibility of parents to pass on the faith to their children.

While parents need to teach their children their prayers, the primary way that parents hand on the faith is through their example.  Children should see their parents praying everyday, they should see that mom and dad place a priority on their relationship with Jesus.  In having conversations around the dinner table — and yes, you should be having dinner together — as you discuss your day, family members should help each other see the extraordinary presence of Jesus in the ordinary events of their lives.

We do need to avoid over-simplifying the Faith.  There was an aunt who gave her nephew a St. Benedict medal to wear.  She correctly told him that it was a “living prayer” for his protection.  However, she was incorrect is saying that if he was wearing it when he died, he would go to heaven.  The boy’s mother and father, politely corrected what the boy’s aunt told him.  They told him that there are no guarantees, no free tickets to heaven.  They told him that it is in following Jesus and being committed to His Church that we find our way.  That discipleship is a lifelong process, and at times it is a struggle, but that we are aided by the sacramental life of the Church to live a life worthy of God’s will for us.  Just as Jesus was perfectly obedient to His Heavenly Father, the parents told their son that obedience is the most important virtue for a disciple of Jesus.

Jesus created us, so He knows how we ought to live in order to have “life more abundantly.”  This is why, for Christians, obedience has always been understood as a virtue, not a bad word.

In today’s democratic and individualistic society, obedience is viewed with suspicion as if anyone who obeys an authority is acting like a robot.  But the Christian virtue of obedience isn’t mindless and irrational.  It’s the obedience of an elite athlete to an expert coach.  It’s the obedience of a docile student to a wise teacher.  It’s the obedience of a sick patient to an experienced and good doctor.  It’s the obedience of a healthy child to his loving parents.
The Christian obeys Christ by obeying the commandments of the Bible, the teachings of His Church, and the voice of conscience whenever it is clear and well-informed.  The Christian also obeys just laws and legitimate authority in society.  This makes Christians excellent citizens, and valuable members of any community.

Since Christ doesn’t want us to be blind robots, we should make an effort to understand the teachings of His Church, so that we can follow them with our whole heart and mind.  There are times when we will not understand completely, times when a particular valley looks to us as if it has some luscious grass.  But if our Good Shepherd, through the teachings of His Church, has warned us that enemies lurk there, we will obey, trusting in His goodness, wisdom, and love.

Today, as we receive Jesus again in Holy Communion, let’s renew our commitment to follow and obey the Lord, our Shepherd.  If we do, as today’s Psalm reminded us, “there is nothing we shall want.”

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From Fr. JC’s Desk: “The Disciple’s Journal”

Last week I wrote about how we are restructuring the Religious Education program.  The goal to emphasize that we are forming disciples — which is what Jesus commands us to do.

The Disciple’s Journal (which I am creating) is meant to be a tool in following Jesus.  The New Testament is basically journals of some of the first and closest disciples of Jesus (OK, they were written through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so they have a Divine authorship too).  They are the writings of what those first disciples learned from Jesus and from following Him.  The New Testament is what Jesus taught, how the Disciples reacted to His teaching, and then how they tried to put His teaching into practice in their lives so that they could have life more abundantly.

The Church tells us that parents are the first teachers of the Faith to their children.  Not only should parents be teaching their children their first prayers (how to make the Sign of the Cross, the Our Father, and Hail Mary), but parents should also be witnessing to their children the importance of their own relationship with Jesus.  Children should see their parents praying, talking with Jesus and listening to Him.  Through such a witness, children come have their own encounter with Jesus; learning that He loves them, and that He wants them to be happy — truly and eternally happy.

The most profound way that we encounter Christ Jesus is at the Sunday Mass.  The Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Catholic Faith.  So all Religious Education, which is really the formation of disciples, needs to center itself on the Eucharistic Celebration.

For each week of the year, there are four pages in the journal.  The first page focuses on the Sunday Mass.  There are three prompts for the “disciple on the Way” to write.  

  • “Know” — Basically this is where you write a summary of the main teaching from the readings.  What was the main point in what Jesus said or did?
  • “Wonder” — What was your reaction to what Jesus said and did?  Did it raise some questions for you that maybe you would like to learn more about?  These would be good things to share with your family and/or in class.
  • “Act” — How can you apply what Jesus did or said to your own life this week.  Did Jesus heal someone after they showed faith in Him?  Is there a sick person you can call or visit?  How can you show greater faith in Jesus’ promise to give us a more abundant life now, and eternal life later?

The next page is the “Living As Disciples Through the Week” page.  First there is a section for the student to write how has God blessed them that week with the intention of becoming more aware of Jesus’ presence in their lives and how He is always offering us grace/gifts.  The second part of the “Living As Disciples Through the Week” page is “What am I going to pray for at Mass next Sunday?”  We are all called to bring the needs of our lives and the world to God.  

The last two pages for the week, is basically the notebook for Religious Education.  We will be using the Faith and Life series, being made available online through My Catholic Faith Delivered.  These pages are organized around the same Know – Wonder – Act format as used for the Sunday Mass readings.  As the student watches each lesson online, they write their notes in the Know section, any questions and reactions they have to what was in the lesson in the Wonder section, and finally how they think they can apply the lesson to their lives that week in the Act section.

Finally, we have published on the parish website, on the Religious Education page (http://www.resurrection2.org/religious-education) a brief survey that asks about the best days and times for religious education, and whether we should group the children in a primary and middle school format, or keep the “Angels” and “Saints” format of two sessions, each with classes for K-8.  A few of you have already completed the survey; thank you.  I ask the other parents to also go online and complete the survey.

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From Fr. JC’s Desk:  “Future of Religious Education”

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
(Matthew 28:19-20)

Jesus does not command us to go out and make theologians of all the nations. Rather, Jesus tells us to make disciples. So what is a disciple, and how are they made?
To put it as simply as possible, a disciple is one who follows. As Christians, we are followers of Jesus Christ. While the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament records the teachings of Jesus, Jesus did not write a book of things to do in order to be saved. He commanded the those who wished to be His disciples to do just one thing, “deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34).  

One of the charges that Bishop O’Connell gave me when he made me pastor, was to look at the religious education program, which I have done over the past two years. I think we can do better.

    We will be initiating a new Religious Education program in the fall. We will be using the Faith and Life series from Ignatius Press, which has been rated one of the best curriculums in the country. Since research indicates that nearly 80% of children prefer to use the computer for education, the Faith and Life series will be presented through “My Catholic Faith Delivered,” an online program, and we will be using a “flipped classroom” approach.

    In a traditional classroom, during class a lecture is given on the subject material, and homework is given to practice and emphasize that material. In a “flipped classroom,” the lecture/content is given through online videos, readings and activities, and then in the classroom discussions and activities which practice and deepen the material are done. We have already been using “My Catholic Faith Delivered” for the Faith and Life series for about 10 students, and they and their parents have only good things to say about it.

    This means that when you register your children for Religious Education we will create a database with your email address and send it to “My Catholic Faith Delivered” so that they can create an account for you (don’t worry, they send the bill to the parish). We will give you information on how to sign-in, and once there your children will be able to start taking their class online. They will be assigned to a classroom, with a teacher/catechist, whom we are going to also call “Discipleship Mentors,” and each week they will meet for activities and discussions with the other members of their class. Obviously they will need to have completed the online class first.

    This means that children will start attending Religious Education EVERY week come the Fall. We will be putting together a survey to help us determine when will be a good time for classes — which will now be 75 minutes instead of 2 hours — to meet. We will need two meeting times to accommodate all our students. We can continue to offer a time on Sundays, say from 11:15 AM until 12:30 PM, but we are also looking at an evening or two during the week.  

    Another issue which I would appreciate some feedback on is how to group the students. Currently we have two groups of K-8th grades; our “Angels” and “Saints.” Another possibility would be a modified “elementary” (say K-4th grades) and “middle” (5th-8th grades), which would allow the same grade classrooms to work together on some activities, such as the Advent Concert and Lenten Living Stations.

    Next week I will describe another component of our new Religious Education Program, the “Disciple’s Journal.” I realize that all this is a big change, but we are doing this to more effectively pass on the Good News of Jesus Christ to the next generation, so that they can be His disciples.

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A Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Easter (A-2017)

“Jesus himself drew near and walked with them” (Luke 25:15). This verse really struck me as I prayed over the Gospel for this weekend. Actually it struck me the week after Easter, when I was on retreat and this Gospel account of the disciples walking on the way to Emmaus was read during one of the daily Masses. “Jesus himself drew near and walked with them.”How many times in our lives does Jesus draw near to us and walk with us? Often we think about Jesus drawing near to us when we are facing a crisis. In fact, those are the times when we are most likely to call to Jesus and ask Him to draw near to us. Maybe it is when we have forgotten to study and the teacher is handing out the test. Maybe when we are facing a particularly difficult task at work, we quietly pray “Jesus come and help me.” Perhaps there is trouble in the family or some other relationship and we cry out, “Jesus draw near.” I know that 14 years ago when the doctor told me I had cancer, I begged the Lord to come near and help me.

However, Jesus also draws near to us during the good times in our lives. Obviously, as we have some of our children receiving First Holy Communion and Confirmation in the next few weeks, Jesus is drawing near to them in very special ways. When we get engaged to be married, Jesus draws near and says to us, “Invite me into your marriage and I will teach you how to love as you should.” Or maybe we have just had a baby; Jesus draws near saying, “I will show you the way to everlasting life.”

Jesus draws near to us in good times as well as in difficult times. In fact, He is always walking with us as we journey through life. Life really is a journey for each of us, a pilgrimage, and if we truly see life this way we will expect what pilgrims expect: joys and adventures, yes, but also hardship, danger, and suffering. But if we expect somehow to achieve perfect happiness with no hardships here and now – then we open the door to constant disappointment, frustration, and deep sadness.

Jesus promises that we never have to be alone during our pilgrimage, our journey through life. Some people will come and go in our lives, but He will always be willing to walk with us. But we need to want Jesus to walk with us, and that means noticing when Jesus draws near.

Notice the very next line in today’s Gospel reading, after it says that Jesus drew near to the two disciples who were walking on the road to Emmaus, “but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16). Why didn’t they recognize Jesus? Maybe they were too sad because they had seen Him crucified. Maybe they we too afraid, thinking that the Romans would come after them, as followers of Jesus, next. Maybe they were too wrapped up thinking about what they were going to do next.

When Jesus draws near to us — whether it is in a difficult time or a good time — what keeps us from recognizing Him? Again, it might be fear or sadness, but it might also be because we are having too much of what seems to be a good time. Jesus might be drawing near to us to say, “hey, you need to spend more time talking with me” or “you are off the path of eternal life, let me show you a yet more perfect way,” but we don’t notice Him because we want to do things our own way, do it when we want to do and how we want to do it. We become self-centered, and only looking at immediate gratification. We loss sight of Jesus and the journey He wants us to take with Him, the one that lead us to perfect happiness forever. The journey, the pilgrimage that Jesus wants us to take has a purpose; it has a mission.

How many of you have seen the movie, Schindler’s List? It is the true story of Oskar Schindler, a rather selfish businessman in Germany during the Second World War. Schindler just wanted to be a success and to make a lot of money. When the Nazis started to round up all the Jews to put them in concentration camps, they allowed businessmen to “rent” some of these prisoners to be slave laborers. It was a way for the Nazis to make money to pay for the war, and businessmen like Oskar Schindler got very cheap labor whom he could make work long hours without caring about their physical welfare. The Nazis made money, Schindler and other businessmen like him made money, it seemed like a win-win right? Well, OK, it wasn’t so great for the Jewish prisoners who were being treated as slaves.

Through the movie, Schindler starts to see beyond his greed and selfishness. He had been blinded to Jesus drawing near, but he finally came to hear Jesus whispering to him. Schindler stopped looking at the Jewish prisoners as slaves or just “cogs in the machine,” and instead saw them as children of God, just like him. First he improves the way that he treats the workers he has; feeding them a decent meal, providing them some medical care. Then he uses the profits from his business to “buy” even more workers from the Nazis, in order to save as many Jews as possible.

At the end of the movie, as the war ends, Schindler is standing with the people he has saved. He looks around at their faces and then he starts to break down. He holds up his watch and says that if he had sold that he could have saved another five people. He does the same with his cuff links. Then he starts to list all the ways he could have saved more people if he had been just less lazy and less self-centered just a little bit sooner. He had discovered his mission, but he regretted that he hadn’t discovered it sooner.

Jesus is drawing near to each of us. He wants to walk with us, and He wants us to follow Him. Walking by His side is not complicated. It means three things. It means an ongoing effort to grow in our prayer and sacramental life. It means an ongoing effort to understand and follow Church teaching, both about faith and about moral issues. And it means an ongoing effort to be like Christ in our own lives – in the excellence of our work, the dependability of our character, and the self-sacrificing faithfulness of our relationships.

    As Jesus draws near to us at this Mass, especially when we receive Him in Holy Communion, let us pray not to allow our selfishness to prevent us from recognizing Him. Let us thank Him for gift of His friendship, and let’s promise that we will never again try to walk through life alone.

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A Homily for Easter (A-2017)

Three days ago, on the evening of Good Friday, apparent failure loomed large. Not only was the Lord dead and buried, but the Apostles were holed up in a locked room, fearing for their lives. Where were all the miracles now? What did the Master’s beautiful words mean now? It seemed like God had abandoned their cause, exposed it for a naïve dream.

But now Easter Sunday has dawned – and with it, the irreversible victory of the Resurrection. The tomb is empty. The stone is overturned. The shadow of the cross is dispelled by the bright morning light of a new creation. Christ’s apparent failure has blossomed into victory, just like the seed that disappears under the ground only to rise up again in fresh, new growth.

That is the basic pattern of Christian life, for the Church, for Christian communities, for individuals: apparent failures blossoming into victories; Good Fridays turning into Easter Sundays. As we follow Christ, He leads us up to the hill of Calvary, where we die to ourselves in the painful surrender to God’s will – our own Good Fridays. That death, however, gives God’s grace room to work in our lives so that we sprout new shoots of wisdom, virtue, and happiness – our own Easter Sundays.

Christian life is an infinite number of variations on this one theme, revealed to us by God in Christ: Good Friday – Easter Sunday; Good Friday – Easter Sunday; Good Friday – Easter Sunday.

Now we know exactly what’s coming. When we expect one without the other, it means we have not learned the fundamental lesson of the gospel. When, on the other hand, we accept and adapt to that rhythm of Christian life, we finally begin to speed forward along the road to wisdom, holiness, and lasting fulfillment.

Did you ever wonder why fairy tales are so popular and memorable? Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, Pinocchio. We all know them, remember them, and love them. Why?

Maybe they resonate with us so much because they are true. Yes, fairy tales are true. They are not true in their details – magic charms, castles, talking animals, and all of that.

They are true in their meaning. They are stories of a battle in which good overpowers evil after a long struggle. This is the deepest truth of human history and of every human life – the truth of Christ, of his cross and the resurrection.

The fantastic details of fairy tales magnify this basic truth: The heroes are weak, like lambs being led to the slaughter, and the villains are horrible, powerful, and violent. The heroes are crushed and oppressed by the villains, like Christ on the cross, but in the end they return to freedom and life, like Christ in his resurrection.

Isn’t it funny how different that pattern is from the pattern of the other stories that constantly bombard our imaginations: the stories told by advertising? Advertisers promise power over suffering, not power through suffering; they promise perpetual Easter Sundays without any Good Fridays. But, as we are reminded today, that is not the way things are.

The real world, in fact, is much more like the fairy tales – maybe that’s why they resonate with us so deeply. In the real world, we are each called to follow Christ through the cross of self-sacrificing love to the irreversible joy of the resurrection, over and over again. Until we adjust our advertising-influenced expectations to fit this pattern, we will always be frustrated in life, because we will be out of touch with the deepest reality of human existence.

Today we should relish this joy of Easter, thanking God for letting us share in this victory, for giving us this hope. But let’s not stop there. Let’s not just enjoy Easter, let’s let it change our lives.

Christ’s resurrection is not just a nice idea; it is the power of eternal life at work in us. Why not do something for the eight weeks of the Easter season to plug into that power? Almost every one of us made an effort to live Lent in a special way. Most likely we gave something up for Lent. That was a practical way to give the special graces that God sends during Lent some room to work in our souls.

So, if we gave something up as a way to help us live the penitential season of Lent, why not take something up as a way to help us live the joyful season of Easter? In the Second Reading, St Paul encouraged us to “think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” Why don’t we make an Easter resolution that will help us do that, that will help us keep in mind the eternal life in Christ that is waiting for us if we stay faithful to him?

It could be something simple: like inviting a friend or family member who has forgotten about Christ’s victory to come to Mass on Sundays and then inviting them over for brunch or lunch. Maybe we could watch a classic movie together as a family each Sunday between now and Pentecost – a joyful, uplifting movie. We could have a special outing or get-together with friends on Fridays, or take some time each evening to re-read some of your favorite books, the ones that stir up joy in your soul.

If we ask the Holy Spirit to give us some ideas, He won’t be stingy. He just needs us to decide to let Easter make a difference in our lives, to let it change the pattern of our lives, the way it should. Our souls need that as much as they needed the time of penance and contrition that we lived during Lent. The Church is a wise mother in giving us six weeks of Lent and eight weeks of Easter. Today, as we receive the risen Lord in the Eucharist, let’s promise him that we will find a way to benefit from that wisdom.

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From Fr. JC’s Desk: “Easter is a Time of Joy”

We were created for joy. You never hear someone say, “You know, this whole joy thing is not for me. I wish I had a little bit more misery in my life.”

We are created for joy, but we come to realize that it’s not something we can just buy at the local Wal-Mart. Think about the most joyful moments of your life. Isn’t it true that they were a surprise?

Consider the surprise of discovering the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene had been there at the foot of the Cross. She had seen Jesus die. So Mary Magdalene was not expecting an empty tomb. So when she sees the empty tomb she doesn’t know what to make of it. So she runs and tells Peter and John.

They both run to the tomb. Apparently John had been more faithful to his Insanity workouts than Peter, and he beat him to the tomb. He looks in, and then he waits for Peter.

Peter was appointed the first Pope and so John wanted to let him go in first. Peter enters the tomb, and then John goes in. What they saw surprised them. Or better said, what they didn’t see surprised them. The body of Jesus was gone. The burial clothing was there, but the body was gone. Imagine their surprise. What has happened here? And then the gospel says that John saw and believed. He believed that Jesus had risen from the dead! The surprise must have overwhelmed him. But as he began to believe, he was filled with joy.

Joy is the best response to Easter. Who could have ever imagined that death could be conquered? That’s what Easter means. Your death and my death is not the end. Just as Jesus rose from the dead we will rise from the dead. Body and soul, we will live forever.

Suffering does not have the last word. Death does not have the last word. The love of God, given to us in Jesus Christ has the last word.

This is why the psalm for Easter Sunday shouts out: “This is the day the Lord has made, let us REJOICE and be glad!” On Easter, we also are surprised by the presence of the Risen Jesus. And we too are filled with Joy.

When we realize the gift of Easter, joy is the best response.

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A Homily for Good Friday (A-2017)

The Gospel narrative that we have just proclaimed strikes us as anything but “good.” Yet the Church throughout the entire world celebrates Good Friday every year. Calling the day when Jesus was crucified as good seems to be the supreme paradox, but our notion of good is not that of the world. The sadness we feel at the torture and death of Our Lord is a godly sadness. The aspect comes from the fact that because of Jesus’ complete surrender, we are able to enter a new garden where the devil loses and Jesus becomes the new Adam. Because of this day, the old way is finished, and salvation has entered history. St. John’s account shows the garden tomb as a place of rebirth and resurrection and, as the Father looked at the initial creation and said “It is good,” so too does He look at this day and say it is good.

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A Homily for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper (A-2017)

Being a Christian means more than just being nice. It means centering our whole lives, every last detail, on a person: Jesus Christ. Other great religious leaders of history pointed to their teaching. They said, “follow my teaching”. Jesus pointed to himself. He said, “Follow me.”

When Jesus stood up from the supper table, wrapped that towel around his waist, and started washing the disciples’ feet, it was shocking for two reasons.

First, because of the nature of the task. In ancient Palestine, washing other people’s feet was a job reserved for slaves. By lowering himself to the level of a slave, Jesus is making it forever clear to his Apostles, the first leaders of the Church, that the way of Christ is a way of self-giving, not self-indulgence. Jesus never sought to get, but only to give. His followers are to do the same. That in itself goes far beyond simply being nice.

But secondly, he was disrupting the sacred ritual of the most hallowed ceremony in Jewish tradition: the Passover Seder, the ceremony that God himself had commanded Moses to institute to commemorate the Israelites’ miraculous escape from Egypt. God himself had established the rules of that ceremony, and Jesus was deviating from them, adding to them, just as he did when he established the Eucharist. Clearly, Jesus sees himself as more than just another teacher or prophet, on the same level as Moses. Only God himself can alter God’s commands.

And so, when the foot-washing is over and Jesus says to his Apostles, “You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ ” his claim is clear. Yes, he is a great teacher, but he is also the Lord.
We are Christians, not just because we accept a creed, not just because we are nice, but because we have accepted a person, and made our relationship with that person the most important thing in our lives.

The Eucharist is one of many proofs that being a Christian means much more than just being nice. In the Eucharist Jesus Christ gives himself completely and unreservedly to each one of us. He comes into our lives! And when we receive him, we commit our lives to him. This is the heart of Christianity: a person-to-person encounter, inside the Church, with our God.

The Eucharist is the perfect summary of this dynamic, intimate relationship. It is where Christ comes to us to renew his invitation, and where we receive him, renewing our loyalty. The best way to keep Christ at the center of our lives is to keep the Eucharist at the center of our lives. We are Christians, and that means that we build our lives around Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. And so nothing else should take precedence, nothing else should be more important to us.

It is not difficult to make the Eucharist the center of our lives. It doesn’t mean spending all of our time here in Church, though God does call some people to dedicate their lives in such a way. But for most of us, it means simple things, like receiving Communion regularly and worthily, going to confession beforehand if necessary. It means trying to get to Mass more than just on Sundays. It means including Mass and Holy Communion in birthday and anniversary celebrations and other special occasions. It means carving a few minutes out of our busy schedules to come and sit with the Lord, to drop by the Tabernacle, where Jesus is always waiting for us, praying for us, and keeping the gifts of his grace ready for us.

As we receive the Lord now in Holy Communion, let’s thank him for all he has done for us, and let’s renew our commitment to do more than just be nice, to be true followers of Jesus Christ, to keep him in the very center of our lives.

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