Ascension of the Lord, Year A – 17

Ascension of the Lord, Year A – 17

Acts 1:1-11 / Eph 1:17-23 / Matt 28:16-20

Have we ever had that experience of saying goodbye and knowing that we will not meet that person ever again? The only occasion that we can probably think of is when death separates us from our loved ones and we know that we will never see that person again, at least not here on earth.

But other than that, it may be quite difficult to imagine a goodbye that is forever. Yes, it is difficult to imagine a goodbye that is forever. But we can certainly imagine how it feels if we won’t be able to see the other person forever.

That was how the disciples felt on that day when Jesus ascended into heaven, which we are celebrating as a feast today. They already had that traumatic experience of His death on Good Friday when they thought it was all finished.

But Jesus rose from the dead and He continued to be with them for 40 days. And now He is telling them that He is leaving them for good. Though they might be more prepared this time round, still we can understand how they felt about Jesus leaving them for good.

But this phrase “leaving for good” is quite interesting, isn’t it? Obviously, it means leaving forever. So, what good can come out of that?

The final parting words of Jesus are these: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always, yes, to the end of time.”

Those final parting words also come with a promise: Know that I am with you always, yes, to the end of time. So, Jesus is telling us and promising us that He will be with us forever, until the end of time.

Our response can only be this: Yes Lord, I want to be with you forever, till the end of time. Now if that is what we want, then we will do as Jesus told us – make disciples, baptize them, teach them to observe all the commands that He gave.

Our whole life is to be centered on what Jesus wants us to do if we want to be with Him forever. And we will be given what we need as Jesus tell us in the 1st reading: you will receive power from the Holy Spirit.

Through the Holy Spirit, we will be with Jesus, and we will be able to do what Jesus told us to do. So, Jesus ascended into heaven and left the disciples for good. The “good” that He left them with is the Holy Spirit so that He will be with them till the end of time.

That “good” is passed down to us and hence, we must pray to the Holy Spirit in order to receive the power that Jesus wants to give us. Let us go back to the history of our faith.

God the Father inaugurated His presence among us when Abraham responded to Him in faith. The Nativity of Our Lord inaugurated God the Son’s presence among us when God’s self-expression became flesh and was born among us as one of us.

This Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord into heaven inaugurates the time of God the Holy Spirit’s presence among us. Jesus’ ascension into heaven opens the door to the Holy Spirit’s dwelling within those who have been baptized into the Body of Christ.

Our Lord’s Ascension into heaven challenges us to see God in a new way. Christ’s ascension is not an ending, it’s a beginning. On the surface it appears that Christ’s Ascension is a departure, but actually it is not.

Spirit-filled in His resurrection, Christ now comes to us in a new way – in His Holy Spirit. It is a new beginning. Christ in His humanity is now taken to a new status, the highest of all states of being.

Now at the right hand of the Father in the fullness of divinity, Christ comes to us in the power of the Holy Spirit – particularly in His Sacraments. He will always be with us, He will never leave us.

The cycle has now come full circle. God has come to us in Christ; God has given Himself to us in Christ; God is now at work among us again, sweeping us up into Christ’s glorious, resurrected, and Spirit-filled humanity.

Through Him, with Him, and in Him we are now in Christ’s ascended humanity returned back home to our Father. The scope of this panorama is stupendous, awe-inspiring, and really beyond human comprehension or mortal human words.

It is Mystery in the full sense of the word mystery – mystery not in the sense of reading a “Who Done It?” novel, but mystery in the sense that we are gazing into a reality that far exceeds the scope of our ability to depict it or put into words.

To be honest with you, if I were standing in that group of apostles and disciples at Christ’s Ascension I would have been dismayed. I would have been quite intimidated.

I would have thought: “Are we to lose Him again?” Timidity would have engulfed my heart and soul. But Pentecost would follow and my timidity would have been erased.

We have been intimidated – made fearful and timid because of so many things that goes on around the world. Even somethings that goes around you and your family makes you fearful and timid.

It is into this sort of world you and I live in that God sent His only ­begotten Son, not to condemn us but to save us. The post-resurrection message, repeated so often by Christ, is: “Fear not! I am with you. I am with you even to the end of the world.”

The infallible sign of His Presence among us is love. We can love even in a world such as ours. We do, in fact, love in a world such as ours. The power of God’s love is being made manifest among us.

You are making that powerful presence felt in your lives and in the lives of those whom you cherish. You are making the presence of the resurrected and ascended Christ real in the lives of those around you.

If there is one sentence I want you to take home with you today it is this: Everything and everyone you love is being redeemed. Those whom you love are being redeemed not just by your love, but by Christ’s love within you that reaches them.

Jesus Christ, risen from the dead and ascended into heaven is at work through you, with you, and in you. He has not left us orphans – He is here. Because of His ascension, He is here!

And when the Holy Spirit comes we will be enabled to throw off our timidity. We, filled with Christ’s gift of courage, will be able to go out in public and boldly live in the face of whatever challenges life and the people in it throw at us.

For Christ Jesus, now at the right hand of our Father, is at work in us bringing order out of chaos, meaning out of absurdity, good out of evil, and life out of death.

Jesus ascended to the Father and at the same time we are now being sent to follow the way that He has gone. It is therefore a feast where we are called upon to recognize our Christian responsibility, our calling, our vocation.

It is a celebration where we are called upon to recognize Christ as the ‘driving force’ of our everyday lives. He is giving us the task to continue His mission of love to the world.

This mission He came to fulfill with His own words and deeds, hopefully with his inspiration, will be done by us through our own words and deeds. This is the mission we still need to accomplish. Amen.

 

6th Sunday of Easter, Year A – 17

6th Sunday of Easter, Year A – 17

Acts 8:5-8, 14-17/ 1 Peter 3:15-18/ John 14:15-21

There is this story of a couple with a young son and they were looking around for a place to rent. Finally, they came upon a place that was owned by an elderly man, and they really liked the place.

So, when the couple inquired about the rent, the old gentleman said, “I would gladly let you have this place, but I don’t rent it out to couples with children.” glancing at the young boy as he said this.

Of course, the couple was disappointed with this, so they turned to leave. After walking a couple of steps, the young boy turned and went back to the house and knocked on the door.

The elderly gentleman opened the door and saw the young boy and said, “Oh, it’s you. What do you want?” The young boy said, “I want to rent this place!”

The elderly gentleman said, “But I don’t rent it out to couples with children.” And the boy replied, “I don’t have children. I only have parents. So, how much is the rent?”

Not surprising actually, because nowadays the young children can think so fast and they are able to give a reply to whatever we say to them. We may have to admit that the young are better educated than us and they certainly know more than us.

But being better educated is not just about thinking fast and having something to say about everything. The 2nd reading spells out the purpose of a Christian education and formation.

It says this: Reverence the Lord in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you for the reason for the hope that you have.

It continues by saying: But give it with courtesy and respect and with a clear conscience so that those who slander you when you are living a good life in Christ may be proved wrong in the accusations that they bring.

In the gospel, Jesus tells us that He will give us an Advocate (a Helper/Defender) to be with us forever. And this Advocate is the Spirit of Truth, who will help us to love Jesus and keep His commandments.

And this Spirit of Truth, this Advocate is indeed helping us to understand our faith and defend it. Jesus is saying goodbye to his disciples. He sees them sad and upset, because soon they won’t have him with them – and who can fill that void?

Until now he has been the one who took care of them, defended them from the Scribes and Pharisees, sustained their weak and faltering faith, described for them the truth of God, and initiated them into God’s great family project for humanity.

Jesus speaks to them passionately about the Spirit. He doesn’t want to leave them orphans. He himself will ask the Father not to abandon them, to give them ‘another Advocate’ that will ‘always be with them.’ Jesus calls this advocate ‘the Spirit of truth.’

What is hidden behind these words of Jesus? This “Spirit of truth” mustn’t be confused with a doctrine. This truth won’t be sought in theologians’ books or in the hierarchy’s documents. It’s something much more profound.

Jesus says that this Spirit “lives in us and is within us”. This Spirit is encouragement, power, light, love… that reaches us from God’s ultimate mystery. We must welcome this Spirit with a simple and trusting heart.

This “Spirit of truth” doesn’t change us into “owners” of the truth. It doesn’t come so that we impose our faith on others, or control their orthodoxy. It comes so that we aren’t left as orphans of Jesus, and invites us to be open to Jesus’ truth: listening, welcoming and living his Gospel.

Nor does this “Spirit of truth” make us “keepers” of the truth, but witnesses. Our task isn’t to argue with, oppose or overthrow adversaries, but to live the truth of the Gospel and “love Jesus, keeping his commands”.

This ‘Spirit of truth’ is within each one of us, defending us from all that can separate us from Jesus. It invites us to open ourselves with simplicity to the mystery of a God who is the Friend of life. Whoever seeks this God with honesty and truth isn’t far off from God.

Jesus said on one occasion: “Everyone who is of the truth, listens to my voice”. That’s both a deep truth and a challenging invitation. This ‘Spirit of truth’ invites us to live in the truth of Jesus in the midst of a society where all too often “Alternative Facts” masquerade as the truth.

How often nowadays are lies justified as strategy, exploitation is called business, irresponsibility is called tolerance, injustice is called status quo, arbitrariness is called freedom, lack of respect is called sincerity….

The fundamental message of Jesus’ moral teaching is that we are obligated to love God and our neighbor. We cannot love one without the other. It is impossible to compartmentalize God and people such that they remain unconnected.

Our dealings with others have implications for our friendship with God. This is how, in practice, we connect love and rules. If we love God, we will keep his commandments. If we love our neighbor, we will not treat him/her unjustly.

Nowadays, many people dismiss moral imperatives as being irrelevant to modern life. They are often viewed negatively because they are judged to be imposing limitations on our freedom. However, that is not so.

Fidelity to Jesus’ commandments enables us to live freely in the presence of God who cares for us. Contrary to popular opinion, the purpose of Jesus’ moral demands is to enable us to appreciate the freedom of living according to God’s will.

It is not to make our lives miserable. Faithfulness to his commandments is the benchmark of our love for him and, in fact, for ourselves and our neighbor. The teaching of Jesus offers us clear instructions to enable us to be faithful to God’s will.

It summarizes what is required in order to live a wholesome life that reflects God’s truth and beauty. Its purpose is to rid our lives of selfishness and self-centeredness so that we can learn to put God and other people first, and ourselves last.

When our consciences are formed by Jesus’ teaching, we know the difference between right and wrong. Living according to his teaching ensures genuine happiness in this life and eternal happiness in heaven.

May the Spirit of truth defend and guard us against evil and falsehood.

May the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, empower us to give a prayerful and firm response with our faith so that others will be able to see the reason for the hope that we have.

And let us love the Lord and keep His commandments, and teach others to do the same. That’s what a good education is all about. Amen.

5th Sunday of Easter, Year A – 17

5th Sunday of Easter, Year A – 17

Acts 6:1-7/ 1 Peter 2:4-9/ John 14:1-12

Today we thank our mothers, pray for them and honor them by celebrating Mother’s Day and by offering our mothers on the altar of God. Today is Mother’s Day.

Today is one of the most beautiful days of the year. Let us consider for a moment the thoughts of two great men about the role their mothers played in their lives.

George Washington once said, “My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual, and physical education I received from her.”

Abraham Lincoln spoke similar words when he said, “All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel Mother.” Unfortunately, many people in our society would not agree with these great men who had great mothers.

I wish every one of the Mothers, a very Happy Mother’s Day and God bless you all.

It is not that often that we hear the topic of hell being preached. Yes, we would like to hear some fire-and-brimstone preaching but listening to preaching about hell is not that exciting. Anyway, more or less we know what hell is like.

From what Jesus said, it is a place where “the worms never die and the fire never goes out.” (Mk.9:48) That would give us an idea of what hell is like. But others may have other descriptions of hell.

I think it is Enough of hell. We are supposed to know more about heaven. So, what is heaven like? Going by what we see from religious art, heaven seems to be like a place of light, many angels stand on what look like clouds, and people with halos.

At least, that is the picture we get from cartoons. But what did Jesus say that heaven is like? From today’s gospel, He has this to say: There are many rooms in my Father’s house. So, the picture that we get is that heaven is a place that has many, many rooms.

And from what Jesus said, it seems that each of us has a special room prepared for us. That is quite a nice thought, especially for those of us who don’t have a place to call our own here on earth.

We will certainly look forward to going to heaven and there we can finally rest in this special room of ours, and it will be forever and ever. That is what Jesus promised us and He even urged us to trust in God and trust in Him.

Yes, we have to trust in Jesus and His promise to us, because we can so easily lose grip of that promise. And Jesus warns us about that when He said: Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trouble is a dangerous word, and it becomes more dangerous when it creeps into our hearts.

In the 1st reading, we heard how trouble crept into the early Church community. At the time when the disciples were increasing, the Hellenists (the Greek-speaking disciples) made a complaint against the Hebrews, because in the daily distribution, their own widows were being overlooked.

There was unfairness, and there was unhappiness over it. Complaints were made and trouble was brewing. Relationships were strained and the community was in danger of breaking up.

The promises of Jesus seemed to have been forgotten and faded off because of this trouble. But we must realize that this trouble was self-created. And the Apostles realized that and they had recourse to prayer to find a way out of this trouble.

And if the early Church could be afflicted with troubles, so too can be the present Church. And if the disciples could let trouble creep in and make them complain against each other, we too can end up complaining.

But we must realize what the trouble is with us. We must realize what the problem is with us. Essentially, the problem with us is that we create our own troubles.

When our hearts are troubled, we resort to complaining and we lose hold of the promises of Jesus. There is a story of a man who got tired of his wife and wanted a divorce.

However, he was afraid that his young 5-year-old daughter would be traumatized by it, so he told his daughter: Mummy is getting old and not pretty anymore. So, let daddy get a new and pretty mummy for you, ok?

The little girl thought for a while and then she replied: No, I don’t want. Grandma is very old, but you didn’t go and get a new grandma. The little girl was happy with what she had, whereas her daddy was asking for trouble with what he was unhappy about.

People may wish that their marriage is made in heaven. But thunder and lightning also happens in heaven. Similarly, Jesus said that we are made for heaven. But it doesn’t mean that there will be no thunder or lightning or other troubles in our lives.

But even with the thunder and lightning and troubles, let us stay close to Jesus. He is the Way, we must follow Him; He is the Truth, we must believe in Him. And in His heart, He has a special place for each of us.

To stay in His heart and remain there, that is what heaven is all about. That is what our life is all about. Thomas asked, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”

Thomas had three qualities in his relationship with the Master: 1. Acceptance: He said, let us go and die with him: Thomas accepted the challenge to die with the Master. 2. Dialogue: “Thomas entered in a dialogue with the Master asking the question the way he is going.

  1. Commitment: “Thomas said after experiencing the Risen Lord, “My Lord and My God”.

Jesus’ words bring great comfort to the disciples who were saddened by the revelation that he is going back to his father. They fear at the thought of losing him. He reminded him that the ultimate destination is Father’s house.

Jesus will not abandon his disciples. But will do whatever they ask in his name. Jesus urges his disciples to believe in him and to do the work that he does. The disciples of the Early Church carried out his work and fulfilled his mission.

They were filled with Holy Spirit and were committed to serving others and giving witnessing to Jesus. He, who sees me, sees the Father. These words prove clearly Christ’s consubstantiality, or unity of nature, with the father.

So, we need to accept Jesus as the Way, Truth and the Life. We accept Jesus as the Way by walking the narrow way of loving, humble and sacrificial service.

We accept Jesus the Truth by learning and practicing what he taught as given in the Bible and in the teachings of the Church. We share the Divine life of God by making use of the means Jesus established in his Church. Amen.

4th Sunday of Easter Year A – 17

4th Sunday of Easter Year A – 17

Acts 2:14, 36-41/ 1 Peter 2:20-25/ John 10:1-10

This world is full of sights and sounds. For us who could see and hear, we would use our discretion to see what we want to see and to hear what we want to hear. That is called selective seeing and selective hearing.

But for those who are blind and deaf, they don’t have this option for selection. Simply because they can’t see and they can’t hear. Between blindness and deafness, it is difficult to say which is more inconvenient.

Maybe the chances of overcoming the difficulties of deafness are higher because of the availability of good hearing aids. There is this story of an elderly gentleman who had serious hearing problems for a number of years.

Finally, he went to a doctor who fitted him with a set of hearing aids that allowed him to hear quite well. After about two months, he went back to the doctor for a follow-up and the doctor said, “Your hearing is good. Your family must be pleased that you can hear again.”

The elderly gentleman replied, “Oh I haven’t told my family yet. I just sit around and listen to the conversations. And there is something else that they don’t know. And that is I have changed my will three times already.”

This reminds us of the basic principle in life: Be careful what you say, because you don’t know who is listening. Maybe because we think that others are a bit deaf and that they are not listening to us.

Well, another elderly man was wondering if his wife had a hearing problem. So, one day he stood a short distance behind her as she was sitting on the sofa, and he said, “Can you hear me?” There seemed to be no response from her.

He moved closer and said, “Can you hear me?” Still there seemed to be no response. Finally, he moved right behind her and said, “Can you hear me?” And she replied, “For the third time, Yes!”

It goes to show that some have ears that can hear, some have ears that can’t hear, and then some have ears that hear only what they want to hear. In the gospel, Jesus told the famous parable of the Good Shepherd.

The good shepherd calls out to his sheep, and he calls them one by one, and the sheep hears his voice, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.

But Jesus also said that the sheep never follow a stranger but run away from him because they do not recognize the voice of strangers. So, what is the difference between the voice of the shepherd and the voice of the stranger?

Certainly, it is more than just the tone or the familiarity. Because the voice of the shepherd speaks the truth with love, it is the voice that cares, it is the voice that has compassion. In the 1st reading, when Peter stood up with the Eleven, he addressed the crowd in a loud voice.

He said, “The whole house of Israel can be certain that God has made this Jesus who you crucified both Lord and Christ.” That wasn’t very impressive nor eloquent. In fact, it was rather blunt. But when the people heard it, they were cut to the heart.

What the people heard was more than the voice of Peter. They heard the voice of the Good Shepherd, they heard the voice of truth, the voice of love, the voice of salvation.

We surely are fortunate to belong to the sheepfold of Christ—His Church. We surely are blessed to have the Son of God as our Shepherd, who came among us in order to lead us to heaven. Do we fully appreciate our privileged position?

Do we always live up to our heavenly vocation? We know His voice, we know what He asks of us, but do we always listen to that voice, do we always do what He asks of us?

There are many among us today who foolishly think they need no shepherd. They think they know all the facts of life while they are in total ignorance of the most basic fact of all, namely, the very purpose of life.

Not that the thought of it does not arise disturbingly before their minds time and time again. But they try to smother that thought and ease their consciences by immersing themselves deeper and deeper in the affairs and the passing pleasures of this temporary life.

Alas for them, a day of reckoning lies ahead, a day that is much nearer than they would like to believe. What will be their fate when they meet Christ the Judge, whom they had refused to follow and acknowledge during their days on earth?

This is a misfortune that could happen to any one of us, unless we think often of our purpose and our end in life. We have a few short years, but short though they be, we can earn for ourselves an eternity of happiness during this life.

Let the straying sheep boast of their false freedom and of the passing joys they may get in this life—this freedom and these joys are mixed with much sorrow, and will end very soon.

We know that if we follow the shepherd of our souls, we are on the way to the true life, the perfect life, the unending life which will have no admixture of sorrow, regret or pain. Where Christ is, there perfect happiness is, and there with God’s grace we hope and trust to be.

Yes, the voice of the Good Shepherd can be heard everywhere, from mothers, from teachers, from young poor students. It is a voice that speaks of truth and of love, a voice that cares and has compassion, a voice that gives life and life to the full.

Let us listen to this voice, and may the voice of the Good Shepherd fill our hearts, so that we too will be the voice of the Good Shepherd for others.

3rd Sunday of Easter, Year A – 17

3rd Sunday of Easter, Year A – 17

Acts 2: 14, 22-23/ 1 Peter 1:17-21/ Luke 24: 13-35

On her first train trip, a little girl was put into an upper berth by her mother. The mother then assured her that Jesus would watch over her during the night. As the lights were switched off the girl became alarmed and called out softly: “Mom, are you there?” “Yes dear,” her mother replied.

A little later the child called in a louder voice: “Daddy, are you also there?” “Yes”, was the reply. After this had been repeated several times, one of the passengers lost patience and shouted: “We’re all here.

Your father, your mother, your brothers and sisters and cousins, your uncles and aunts – all are here. Now go to sleep!” There was silence for a while. Then, in a hushed voice the child asked:  “Mom, was that risen Jesus traveling with us?”

If by now we have not heard of this word “Internet”, it may mean that we are seriously and critically out of touch. Even if we don’t use the Internet, we know more or less what it is.

And for some people, the first level on the hierarchy of needs is no longer food- clothing-shelter, it has become Wi-Fi-Internet-mobile phone (with data plan). But lately, the Internet has encountered some serious problems.

The latest one was a problem with a popular browser and the danger was that personal information like passwords could be stolen. Then, a few of years back, a malicious bug called “Heartbleed” was discovered.

It steals passwords and accounts and it could lead to identity thefts. So, for Internet users, passwords are important and it is a good practice to change passwords after a while.

But passwords can be quite irritating especially when we forget the latest password that we had used to log in. A father was teaching his young daughter how to create an email account. When it came to the password, he asked her to think of one with a minimum of 8 characters.

She thought for a while and then gleefully cried, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs!” On the other hand, the older generation would also have their own challenges when it comes to passwords.

One grandmother was telling another grandmother that it was so difficult to remember passwords and she always got it wrong or mixed up. The other grandmother said: Oh, I only have one password for everything and that is “incorrect”.

Because whenever the computer ask me for the password, I will just type something and then the computer will say: The password is incorrect, and so I will just type “incorrect” and I will get through. (smart grandmother :))

Yes, forgetting the password can be very troublesome and inconvenient and distressing. In some instances, we may have to abandon the whole thing altogether, just because we don’t have that much needed password.

If we have this unfortunate experience before, then we might understand how the two disciples felt as they made their way to Emmaus from Jerusalem. They had pinned their hopes on Jesus. Then everything crumbled when Jesus was crucified. Then they heard He was alive.

With all this happening, their frustration was that they couldn’t understand what was going on. It was like they were locked out of the system and they didn’t have the password to get in. So they gave up, frustration turned into disappointment and hence they walked away from it all.

From Jerusalem to Emmaus was only seven miles, but walking with disappointment and frustration only makes the journey seem longer and more difficult. Then Jesus came along and walked by their side, but as the gospel tells us, something prevented them from recognizing Him.

Again, it seems like they don’t have that password to recognize Him. Well, they did talk with Jesus, telling Him their disappointments and frustrations, and what they got in return was a ticking-off (You foolish men!) and a lesson on Scripture.

Still, they did not quite get it until when they were at table and Jesus broke bread and then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him. Finally, they got it and understood. It was like at the breaking of bread that Jesus gave them the password to get into the system.

So now, what is this so-called “password” that Jesus gave to them? The breaking of bread is what we do at Mass. We listen to the Scriptures and we break bread for communion. The Mass is also called the Eucharist. Eucharist means “thanksgiving”.

And that is precisely the password that we need to have in order to understand what is happening in our lives and to see Jesus in our midst. Because with thanksgiving in our hearts, we will find hope in disappointment, we will find consolation in our frustration, we will find strength in our faith journey.

So, as we come for Mass, we need to have that one thing that is necessary, that so-called password, and that is “thanksgiving”. We come to give thanks to God for His blessings during the week, and we go forth with even greater thanksgiving because we have received the greatest blessing from God, and that is Jesus the Risen Lord.

Yes, all we need is thanksgiving and we will understand, we will see and our hearts will be set on fire.

During Child Abuse Prevention weekend, we are reminded of the call to be instruments of justice, working for the common good of all, which includes the protection of children. As Jesus entrusts to Peter the care of the flock, we are reminded that this responsibility belongs to everyone as a matter of charity and justice.

Child Abuse Prevention weekend or Blue Sunday should lead to heightened awareness of the need to be vigilant about providing a safe environment for all within the Church and for our communities.                 That’s why Jesus said, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” (Matt.18:10)

A mother told her little daughter: If a stranger comes up to you and say that your mom or dad has asked him to fetch you, you must ask him for the password.

Because whenever I leave you on your own, I will give you a password, so that you will know it is from me. Jesus has also given us a password so that we can see Him and recognize Him in the circumstances of our lives. That password is “thanksgiving”.

With thanksgiving and with a thankful heart, we will see, we will understand and with hearts on fire, we will proclaim that Jesus is the Risen Lord. Amen.

2nd Sunday of Easter, Year – A – 17

2nd Sunday of Easter, Year – A – 17

Acts.2:42-47; 1Pet.1:3-9; Jn.20:19-31

Today is the second Sunday of Easter. It is and also, the Divine Mercy Sunday. On this special Sunday, the Church continues to relish in the joy the risen Christ. We are called to celebrate the risen Christ the first fruit of all those who have fallen asleep, the hope of Christians, and the Cause of Our Joy.

Today’s first reading recounts the new zeal, the new love, and the new spirit of the early Christian community. A people who used to be afraid of the Jews and persecution, now have been transformed to a courageous people. They are now proud of themselves and their new heritage.

This heritage is their sharing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is the cause of their joy, love, unity and strength. This is what the resurrection of Christ did for us also. It restored our confidence as the people of God.

It lifts us from the dust, and places us exactly where we belong. In short, it reinstates us. In the second reading, Peter draws our attention to the mercy of God towards us. In his mercy, God has given us a new birth by allowing us to share in the resurrection of Christ:

“So that we have a sure hope, and the promise of an inheritance that can never be destroyed.” So, what we celebrate this season is also God’s wonderful mercy.

Surely, our salvation is guaranteed through the resurrection of Christ. However, the necessary tool for taking this salvation according to Peter, is our Faith. “Through your faith, God’s power will guard you, until the salvation which has been prepared for you is revealed at the end of time.

So, only faith can guarantee our salvation in the resurrected Christ. In today’s gospel, Christ presented himself to his disciples. During this very important visit, He dispelled their fears and doubts. He restored their peace, and commissioned them as ministers of the sacrament of reconciliation.

It suffices to note that it was not easy for Thomas to believe that Christ has risen. As we witness to the risen Christ, we shall certainly encounter those (some Thomas) who will doubt our testimony. Let us not be bothered by their unbelief and stubbornness.

This is because, God himself will convince them through the power of the Holy Spirit. All we need is, to simply to pass on the message and leave Christ the risen Lord to convince them.

So, like the disciples of Christ, let us continue to announce the good news to the whole world that Jesus Christ our Lord has truly risen from the dead.

As we celebrate divine mercy Sunday today, we are reminded that God extended his mercy to us by allowing his son pay the ransom for our sins. Christ accomplished this through his paschal mystery.

Finally, we too, must extend this mercy to others. Hence, we are called to be apostles of mercy. So, as we spread the good news of Christ’s resurrection, we must give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is because, in his mercy and generosity endures forever.

Our Church leads us now into what we might call “The time of the handing over of the Spirit.” To examine the significance of that time let’s return to God’s first breathing forth His Holy Spirit, that life-giving creative act of God that we find in the first verses in the Bible, in the Book of Genesis.

There we find God’s Spirit “brooding over the waters” bringing light out of darkness, order out of chaos, and life to all of God’s creatures. Creation was brought about by God’s Holy Spirit. In the fullness of time, Christ Jesus was conceived in the womb of the Virgin “by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River the Holy Spirit, like a dove, descended upon Jesus signifying that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the Anointed One, the One anointed by God’s Holy Spirit.

At the beginning of His public ministry Jesus was led out into the desert by the Spirit, there to be tempted by and to defeat the Devil. When He died on the Cross, St. John tells us that Christ handed over His Spirit. Each one of us is now destined to be a temple of God’s Holy Spirit.

It can be fairly said that the reason why Jesus was born among us and the reason why He died on the Cross was to give us God’s Holy Spirit, God’s holy presence, a presence that was lost when Adam and Eve separated themselves from God in the Garden of Eden.

In going to His apostles immediately after He rose from the dead, Christ Jesus was restoring God’s presence to us once again, God’s personal, life-giving, and loving presence –God’s special presence given to us now as His forgiven prodigal children.

What was lost in the Garden of Eden is now restored in the Garden of the Resurrection. What are the elements within that presence; what is the nature of that presence? Well, certainly it is not a passive presence. On the contrary it is a dynamic, creating, moving, and energizing presence.

Above all it is a sanctifying presence – we are made whole again, made whole with God. We are once again made holy, holier even than Adam and Eve… holier because, through Christ, God’s Holy Spirit is not simply present next to us or around us but lives now within us.

The time of the handing over of the Spirit culminates in Pentecost. Dying on the Cross, Jesus “handed over His Spirit,” St. John tells us. The first act of Jesus after He rose from the dead was to give His Spirit to His apostles.

At Pentecost, they were confirmed in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit so they might put their fears behind them and go out into the world, into our world, and share God’s recreating, life-giving, reconciling, forgiving, and healing Holy Spirit with you and with me.

It is sometimes said that one religion is as good as another, that it doesn’t matter what religion one belongs to. I think it does matter. It really matters because I don’t find what Jesus did for us — giving us the power of forgiveness — present in any other religion.

The handing over of the Spirit is for the forgiveness of our sins, it restores us to God’s life again. It is found uniquely in our wonderful Sacrament of Reconciliation. That matters… that really matters. In what other religion can you find that?

One final note. Since God has been so infinitely generous in giving us this gift, a gift that comes to us through the terrible suffering and death of His Christ, ought not we be generous in sharing our forgiveness with those around us who have sinned against us?

If we feel we don’t have the strength and power within us to do so we should remember that God has given us the strength and power to forgive. For the gift, we have been given is not ours to keep, it is a gift God has given to us in order that we might share it with others.

We have the power of the Holy Spirit within us to do so. May we offer the world around us the hope and the joy that, because of Jesus Christ, is found in the power to forgive. It is one of the greatest and most necessary gifts we have to share with all those in our world around us. Amen.

Easter Homily – 17

Easter Homily – 17

Acts.10:34a, 37-43, Col.3:1-4, Mt 28:1-10

I wish everyone a Very Happy Easter. May the risen lord bless you today, as well as all those in your family whether they are near to you or far away.

A new candidate was being baptized at the river near the church. The minister said to the candidate, “Now before I baptize you, I want to know if you believe in God the father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” “Yes, I do,” said the candidate, and the minister pushed him under the water.

He came up sputtering and gasping. Then the minister asked, “Do you believe in all that the church believes?” “Yes, I do, he replied, and the minister pushed him under the water and a second time, holding him a bit longer than before. When he came up, he was choking and spitting out water.

“Now,” said the minister, “I want you to tell this assembly in your own words what you believe.” The candidate looked at the minister for a moment and replied, “I believe you are trying to drown me!”

Where to begin? There are so many readings to choose from, a real embarrassment of riches. A preacher can almost “pick a text, any text,” and just start talking. There are, however, certain phrases that jump out at me this year. Let’s see where they lead.

In Romans, Paul declares emphatically: “Death no longer has power over Jesus.” A famous poet has expressed it even more powerfully and absolutely: “Death shall have no dominion.”

That is what the women in the Gospel story found out. There they were, on their way to pay their final respects by completing the anointing of Jesus’ corpse. And then, out of the blue, an angel says, “He is not here… he has been raised!”

The message is the same as in St. Paul: death no longer has power over Jesus. So, following the angel’s instruction, the women hurry off to tell the other disciples, and then, out of the blue, “Jesus met them on their way!”

Now they saw for themselves that what the angel said was true. Jesus had really shattered the bonds of death.

In Ezekiel, the issue is another kind of death, namely, exile. Here God seems more concerned about his own reputation: “Not for your sakes do I act, house of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name.”

In other words, God wonders what people will think of him when they realize, “These are the people of the Lord, yet they had to leave their land.” They might wonder what kind of God this “Lord” is, to let his own people languish in exile.

But God also has a plan to preserve his reputation in the future: “I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you.” Worship of alien gods will no longer be a temptation, exile will no longer be a threat.” He will shatter the bonds of sin, and his reputation will be safe!

The Lord had earned his reputation in Genesis and especially in Exodus. After the crossing of the Red Sea, Moses and all the people sang: “I will sing to the Lord, for he is gloriously triumphant.”

But some 700 years later, Isaiah (long before Ezekiel), witnessed the damage being done to God’s reputation by his people. He foresaw a time of punishment, but he foresaw also a time of reconciliation.

And here we find the blessed, heart-easing words, “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great tenderness I will take you back…, with enduring love I take pity on you.” Tenderness, not punishment, will be the last word. Enduring love, not exile, will be the bottom line.

Which takes us back to Romans: Death no longer has power over Jesus. And so it no longer has power over us. This is true first in the literal sense, for St. Paul writes, “If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.”

And it is no less true in the figurative sense. Nothing that we think of as a kind of death has power any longer. Not the loss of loved ones. Not the loss of friendships. Not the loss of our most precious possessions. Not even the loss of health. Death shall have no dominion!

Death’s reputation is forever ruined. In one of his “Holy Sonnets” the poet John Donne mocks death with these words:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;…

One short sleep past, we wake eternally

And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

It’s all so wonderful. Where to begin?

And where does it end? (Hint: It doesn’t.)

We cannot live Easter without entering into the mystery. It is not something intellectual, something we only know or read about. It is more, much more!

“To enter into the mystery” means the ability to wonder, to contemplate; the ability to listen to the silence and to hear the tiny whisper amid great silence by which God speaks to us (1Kgs.19:12).

To enter into the mystery demands that we not be afraid of reality: that we not be locked into ourselves, that we not flee from what we fail to understand, that we not close our eyes to problems or deny them, that we not dismiss our questions.

To enter into the mystery means going beyond our own comfort zone, beyond the laziness and indifference which hold us back, and going out in search of truth, beauty and love. It is seeking a deeper meaning, an answer, and not an easy one, to the questions which challenge our faith, our fidelity and our very existence.

To enter into the mystery, we need humility, the lowliness to abase ourselves, to come down from the pedestal of our “I” which is so proud, of our presumption; the humility not to take ourselves so seriously, recognizing who we really are: creatures with strengths and weaknesses, sinners in need of forgiveness.

To enter into the mystery, we need the lowliness that is powerlessness, the renunciation of our idols. in a word, we need to adore. Without adoration, we cannot enter into the mystery.

The women who were Jesus’s disciples teach us all of this. They kept watch that night, together with Mary. And she, the Virgin Mother, helped them not to lose faith and hope. As a result, they did not remain prisoners of fear and sadness, but at the first light of dawn they went out carrying their ointments, their hearts anointed with love. They went forth and found the tomb open. And they went in.

They had kept watch, they went forth and they entered into the Mystery. May we learn from them to keep watch with God and with Mary our Mother, so that we too may enter into the Mystery which leads from death to life. Amen.