Easter Sunday – 2016

Easter Sunday – 2016

Acts.10:34a, 37-43; Ps 118; Col.3:1-4 or 1Cor.5:6b-8; Jn.20:1-9

Jesus Christ is Risen, Alleluia! Jesus Christ is Risen, Alleluia! No matter what the headline of the Daily News is today, we’ve got bigger news: Jesus Christ is Risen, Alleluia! That’s the headline; here’s the story: In the beginning, God made humans. We sinned. Then God became human.

We killed him. Then God rose from the dead, and he still loves us. No news, domestic or foreign, is more interesting than that. Two-thousand years ago, Peter declared to the Nations the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Today I proclaim that same news to you: Jesus Christ is Risen, Alleluia, and everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name. What an amazing offer: forgiveness of sins through his name! Jesus crossed over to the realms of death and brought back victory through his cross.

And what a victory! What else could we want? What else could we need? Who needs food, who needs water, who needs air to breathe so long as we have got forgiveness of sins?

Two-thousand years ago, those to whom Peter spoke received this news with joy. This was the answer to a question which consumed their lives. Through the centuries the nations throughout the world received this news with joy. Christianity grew from a handful of people to two billion strong.

Has this message lost its power now? Can news which is 2000 years old still be news? This good news is still powerful, and it will remain powerful. It is the only solution to our problems. So long as sin remains in the world, we will need forgiveness of sins. So long as sin has power in each of our souls, we will need forgiveness of sins.

The Greek poet Hesiod, who lived eight centuries before Jesus was born, wrote about this legendary bird phoenix in his poetry. When the bird felt its death was near (every 500 to 1,461 years), it would fly off to Phoenicia, build a nest of aromatic wood and set itself on fire.

When the bird was consumed by the flames, a new phoenix sprang forth from the ashes. Thus, the phoenix symbolizes immortality, Resurrection, and life after death. It sums up the Easter message perfectly. Jesus gave up His life, and from the grave He was raised to life again on the third day.

New life rises from the ashes of death. Today we are celebrating Christ’s victory over the grave, the gift of eternal life for all who believe in Jesus. That is why the phoenix bird, one of the earliest symbols of the Risen Christ, also symbolizes our daily rising to new life.

Every day, like the phoenix, we rise from the ashes of sin and guilt and are refreshed and renewed by our living Lord and Savior with His forgiveness and the assurance that He still loves us and will continue to give us the strength we need.”

Now the question is: Once Jesus had died and descended into hell, would it have been possible for Jesus to accomplish His victory over sin and death by rising straight from hell to Heaven? Why did Jesus spend forty days on earth?

The answer might seem obvious: that is, to convince His followers of His Resurrection. We might think that if Jesus had been raised by the Father straight from death in hell to glory in Heaven, His disciples would not have believed in the Resurrection.

On the other hand, we hear at the end of Gospel passage that “the other disciple also went in… and he saw and believed.” Mary of Magdala had told Peter and John that the Lord’s Body had been taken from the tomb, but when John “the other disciple”—saw the burial cloths there, and then entered the tomb, he “saw and believed.”

Does this mean that John believed in the Resurrection? St. Augustine of Hippo answers “no”, noting that the very next sentence of the Gospel text tells us that Peter and John “did not yet understand the Scripture that [Jesus] had to rise from the dead.”

So what did John see and believe if not the Resurrection of Jesus? Augustine argues that John “saw the supulchre or the tomb empty, and believed what the woman had said, that He had been taken away from the tomb”.

So if even the two greatest apostles—Peter, most invested with authority by Jesus, and John, most beloved by Jesus—saw but did not believe in the Resurrection, what hope would other, lesser disciples have of believing without seeing the Lord Jesus in the Risen Flesh?

As we hear all four evangelists’ accounts of these forty days, we learn that the Risen Jesus fosters belief chiefly in two ways. Jesus explains “the Scriptures” of the Old Testament, and celebrates the Holy Eucharist.

Jesus manifests the power of His Resurrection in Word and Sacrament, or better yet, in the Word and in the Word made Flesh. But during these forty days, Jesus does not only convince His followers of what had happened on Easter Sunday morn.

Jesus does not merely console them with final chances to be with Him before His Ascension. Jesus during these forty days equips His apostles.

The Easter Season has two poles. Easter is not only about celebrating the truth that Jesus has risen. Easter is also about preparing for Pentecost. Jesus was preparing His Apostles to lead the Church—His Mystical Body—from the day of Pentecost onwards by means of the Word and Sacrament.

The focus of the Easter Season on the life of the Church is why the First Reading during Easter comes not from the Old Testament, as it does throughout the rest of the year, but from the Acts of the Apostles.

You and I need to spend this Easter Season, then, not only giving thanks for the gift of the Risen Jesus. Each of us needs to thank God for the Resurrection by faithfully living one’s vocation and daily stewardship within the life of that Mystical Body who conquered sin and death. Amen.

It is unfortunate that today of all days, on Easter Sunday, we must recall sin and death. Today should be a day of joy, but how can we rejoice at the good news if we do not first know the bad news? Who will rejoice at the headline: “War Ends” unless they knew that there was a war?

If today it is announced that some deadly disease has been cured, we might all express mild gladness, but if we and our family had this disease, the news would cause us to leap for joy. Jesus Christ is Risen, Alleluia! This should cause us to do cartwheels down that aisle.

The Resurrection is not only about something that happens after we die. The Resurrection is taking place right now in our lives. It is the potential for our lives to be different, to be amazing. Perhaps someone will say, “But I haven’t done anything really bad; I’ve never killed anyone.”

Do not set your standards according to how depraved and selfish and evil humanity can get. What about how good we can be? What about John Paul II? What about Mother Theresa? What about St. Francis of Assisi? What about Jesus? How are you doing compared to them?

The Resurrection means that we can be like them. It is the opportunity to be no longer mediocre. The Resurrection is not only for after we die, but it is for then too. Death is the universal human experience. You are all going to die.

You and I and every single person in the world is going to die. We do not like to think about it, I know. We try to forget about death because it is unpleasant and frightening. But it does not have to be like that anymore.

If the Resurrection of Jesus Christ was only about an innocent man recovering from death, we would be happy for him, but if the Resurrection signifies that Jesus Christ went down to Hell and destroyed the power of death, that he has unlocked our prison, that we are free to go, then we can rejoice.

The good news today is not only the good news; it is the best news. The joy of today cannot be ranked with other joys. We can spend forever perfectly happy with God. What could be better?

Say Alleluia with me: Alleluia! Now say it louder! Alleluia! Christ is risen! Alleluia! Rejoice! Alleluia! Sin is overpowered! Alleluia! Death is defeated! Alleluia! God loves us! Alleluia! Heaven is full of people, right now, just like us! Alleluia! We can go to heaven too! Alleluia!

We killed Jesus Christ, but he rose from the dead! Alleluia! And he still loves us! Alleluia! We do not need to hate anymore! Alleluia! We do not need to be afraid anymore! Alleluia! We do not need to try to be rich anymore! Alleluia! Every tear will be wiped away! Alleluia!

All suffering in this world will be joy in the next! Alleluia! The Devil cannot hold on to us! Alleluia! We are weak, but God is strong! Alleluia! We have been pre-accepted into heaven! Alleluia! We just have to go! Alleluia! Let us begin the journey right now! Alleluia!

We are going to be rich! Alleluia! We are going to be strong! Alleluia! We are going to see what we could not see! Alleluia! We are going to meet Jesus! Alleluia! And all the saints in heaven! Alleluia! Praise God! Alleluia! Jesus Christ is risen! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

Advertisements

Easter Vigil – 2016

Easter Vigil – 2016

 

Tonight we began our Easter Vigil with the blessing of the fire, a ritual that happens only once a year actually. The fire was blessed, and from it the Easter Candle was lighted, and it continues to burn in the sanctuary lamps.

The fire is also a symbol of the divine presence of Christ who is the Light of the world. We also receive that light at our baptism when we were given a lighted candle to symbolize that we are enlightened by the light of Christ and that we are to live as children of the light.

But here is where, if we reflected deeper, there seems to be a contradiction and an opposition of symbols. We were baptized with water and then we are enlightened by fire. Water and fire don’t go together. Water extinguishes fire, but fire can also boil water and can eventually evaporate the water.

But in the divine mystery, water and fire take on a combined spiritual purpose in our lives. Water permeates into stone structures and hence no matter how sturdy a building may be, there will eventually be a leaking problem somewhere.

And in the confrontation between a stream of water and a rock, the stream of water always wins, not through strength but through persistence. Later we will renew our baptismal promises – we will renounce sin and evil and the devil, and we will also profess our belief in God.

And then we will be sprinkled with holy water. The spiritual significance is that God will shower His love upon us until His love permeates into our hearts until we turn into fountains of living water that will in turn flow to others.

But just as education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of the fire of wisdom, the cleansing water of God’s love makes us shine with the light of Christ. The Easter celebration of the Resurrection of Christ also reminds us spiritual powers of fire and water.

Fire gives light and it also radiates warmth. The fire of God’s love is in us so that as children of the light, we radiate the warmth of God’s love to others, and that’s just by being who we truly are – the children of the light.

Being baptized with water, we also take on the spiritual meaning of water, in that clean water is essential for life and so we must be life-giving to others. Also water is considered as the universal solvent, and so we pour out our lives for others so that we can help them to solve their problems in life.

We will bless the water later and it will be used to bless our homes, our workplace, bless our children, and also bless ourselves so that God’s love will continue to permeate into our hearts and into our lives.

Now the question is: Once Jesus had died and descended into hell, would it have been possible for Jesus to accomplish His victory over sin and death by rising straight from hell to Heaven? Why did Jesus spend forty days on earth?

 

The answer might seem obvious: that is, to convince His followers of His Resurrection. We might think that if Jesus had been raised by the Father straight from death in hell to glory in Heaven, His disciples would not have believed in the Resurrection.

On the other hand, we hear at the end of this morning’s Gospel passage that “the other disciple also went in… and he saw and believed.” Mary of Magdala had told Peter and John that the Lord’s Body had been taken from the tomb, but when John “the other disciple”—saw the burial cloths there, and then entered the tomb, he “saw and believed.”

Does this mean that John believed in the Resurrection? St. Augustine of Hippo answers “no”, noting that the very next sentence of the Gospel text tells us that Peter and John “did not yet understand the Scripture that [Jesus] had to rise from the dead.”

So what did John see and believe if not the Resurrection of Jesus? Augustine argues that John “saw the supulchre or the tomb empty, and believed what the woman had said, that He had been taken away from the tomb”.

So if even the two greatest apostles—Peter, most invested with authority by Jesus, and John, most beloved by Jesus—saw but did not believe in the Resurrection, what hope would other, lesser disciples have of believing without seeing the Lord Jesus in the Risen Flesh?

As we hear all four evangelists’ accounts of these forty days, we learn that the Risen Jesus fosters belief chiefly in two ways. Jesus explains “the Scriptures” of the Old Testament, and celebrates the Holy Eucharist.

Jesus manifests the power of His Resurrection in Word and Sacrament, or better yet, in the Word and in the Word made Flesh. But during these forty days, Jesus does not only convince His followers of what had happened on Easter Sunday morn.

Jesus does not merely console them with final chances to be with Him before His Ascension. Jesus during these forty days equips His apostles.

The Easter Season has two poles. Easter is not only about celebrating the truth that Jesus has risen. Easter is also about preparing for Pentecost. Jesus was preparing His Apostles to lead the Church—His Mystical Body—from the day of Pentecost onwards by means of the Word and Sacrament.

The focus of the Easter Season on the life of the Church is why the First Reading during Easter comes not from the Old Testament, as it does throughout the rest of the year, but from the Acts of the Apostles.

You and I need to spend this Easter Season, then, not only giving thanks for the gift of the Risen Jesus. Each of us needs to thank God for the Resurrection by faithfully living one’s vocation and daily stewardship within the life of that Mystical Body who conquered sin and death.

Say Alleluia with me: Alleluia! Now say it louder! Alleluia! Christ is risen! Alleluia! Rejoice! Alleluia! Sin is overpowered! Alleluia! Death is defeated! Alleluia! God loves us! Alleluia! Heaven is full of people, right now, just like us! Alleluia! We can go to heaven too! Alleluia!

We killed Jesus Christ, but he rose from the dead! Alleluia! And he still loves us! Alleluia! We do not need to hate anymore! Alleluia! We do not need to be afraid anymore! Alleluia! We do not need to try to be rich anymore! Alleluia! Every tear will be wiped away! Alleluia!

All suffering in this world will be joy in the next! Alleluia! The Devil cannot hold on to us! Alleluia! We are weak, but God is strong! Alleluia! We have been pre-accepted into heaven! Alleluia! We just have to go! Alleluia! Let us begin the journey right now! Alleluia!

We are going to be rich! Alleluia! We are going to be strong! Alleluia! We are going to see what we could not see! Alleluia! We are going to meet Jesus! Alleluia! And all the saints in heaven! Alleluia! Praise God! Alleluia! Jesus Christ is risen! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

Good Friday – 2016

Good Friday – 2016

“We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; but the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all.”

In today’s liturgy we re-live and experience the suffering and death of Jesus who brought us salvation. We followed Jesus on the way of the cross and witnessed the tragic moments of his life. We realized how Jesus identified himself with all human experiences including suffering and death.

But what is most striking about the scene in Gethsemani is not the betrayal of Judas, but the wandering of the other apostles. Only two continued to follow Jesus after his arrest, Peter and John, who the Scriptures call the disciple whom Jesus loved.

They follow Jesus, bound and carried away from the soldiers, at a distance: their faith is wavering. And we know that before the night is over, Peter denies his Lord and Savior three times.

It is only John, the Beloved Disciple, who continues to journey with Jesus. It is John who is beneath the cross with our Blessed Mother Mary. We can be sure that even at the Cross, John, the youngest of the apostles, perhaps in his early twenties at this time, did not understand the death of his Master.

He wept for his Lord but could not fully understand what was taking place there on Calvary. We know that of the apostles, only one did not become a martyr, and that apostle was Saint John. It was he who had been faithful to the Lord’s Cross, who had shared Our Lord’s death not at the end of his life, but near the beginning.

And throughout the rest of his life as an apostle he prayed deeply about this great gift, this great sacrifice that Christ made. Throughout the rest of St. John’s life, as he continued to serve others, his mind turned back, year after year, to that Good Friday and the hill of Calvary, where the love and the glory of God were most clearly revealed.

And through the Eucharist which Christ had given John the power to celebrate for the sake of others, Saint John was able to enter into that scene once again, to return to that day which is today, and to that hill of Calvary.

There is no offering of the sacrifice of the Mass on Good Friday, and yet still we are able to share in the fruits of that sacrifice. As we enter into Holy Communion with Our Lord, let us turn our minds again to the sacrifice of Calvary, and the love in Christ’s Sacred Heart which allowed Him to offer it for our salvation.

It may perhaps sound strange that the day on which Jesus suffered crucifixion is commemorated as “Good Friday”. If it is a “good” day, it must be also a “beautiful” day, because goodness and beauty go hand in hand.

In some languages other than English “Good Friday” is known as “Sorrowful Friday,” emphasizing the tragic aspect of the day. How can a tragic and sorrowful day be at the same time a good and beautiful day? It can be explained only by showing the paradoxical nature of this particular day.

A paradox has two contrasting faces. It is one and same reality with two different experiences. Both these experiences are true and they cannot be separated from each other like the two sides of a coin.

The Friday which is crucial to our salvation has two faces: one looking backward and the other looking forward. One looks at the suffering and humiliation of death and the other looks at the joy and glorification of resurrection.

Both these aspects together constitute the Pascal Mystery. In order to understand this mystery in its full depth, height and breadth the Church celebrates it in three days of the Pascal “Triduum”. The Pascal mystery is unfolded as a “passage” from death to resurrection, beginning in the evening of the Holy Thursday and ending in the evening of the Easter Sunday.

On “Good Friday” we are the crucial moment of our Pascal experience, at the peak of an awareness, where death and life meet and part at the same moment. It is like the midnight which marks, on the one hand, the end of the night and, on the other, the beginning of the dawn.

It is at this moment that the fullest meaning of the cross of Jesus Christ is revealed. In the cross we find salvation, life and hope. The French have a proverb: Friday is always the best or the worst day of the week. Which it is to be depends, I suppose, on what’s in store for you at the weekend.  It is Easter Sunday that makes Good Friday good. It is the end that gives meaning to a story.

The fruit of the cross is eternal life. Let this Good Friday imprint in our hearts the sign of the cross which may always remind us of the challenges of our life in following Jesus Christ faithfully. Amen.

 

 

Holy Thursday – 16

Holy Thursday – 16

Exo.12:1-2, 1-8, 11-14/ 1Cor.11:23-26/ Jn.13:1-15

 

“Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father.”

You might think that Jesus, knowing that in just a few hours he would be nailed to a cross, would have had more important things on his mind than a meal. If someone came up to you, and told you that you were going to be killed in less than 24 hours, would you sit down for a meal?

Many people would skip eating all together: after all, if you really knew that you were going to die in less than 24 hours, why feed your body? Wouldn’t there be more important things to put first?

But if you would answer “yes, I’d sit down for a meal,” then ask yourself, “Would you sit down for a banquet?” Would you spend about three out of your remaining 24 hours at a banquet? That’s what Jesus did.

Of course, to use the word “banquet” is still selling short what Jesus did at the Last Supper. The Last Supper was a meal. It was a banquet. The Passover Meal was the ritual meal of the Jews saying that the sacrifice of their ancestors had been worth it.

And that if they had to choose for themselves, they would do it all over again: that freedom from slavery is worth the price that had to be paid, because God had something greater in mind for His Chosen People than slavery.

Some Jews, like Judas Iscariot, thought that “something greater” was a powerful Kingdom on earth. But Jesus came into this world for something that goes beyond any earthly hopes, plans, or desires.

Jesus came into this world to destroy the power of sin and death. Jesus came into this world to offer freedom from sin, not from Pharaoh. Jesus came into this world to open up again the gates of Heaven, not the Red Sea.

This is the freedom that Jesus won by dying on the Cross. But tonight, Jesus institutes the Eucharist, as a sacred meal—a sacrament—that lets us share in the power of the Cross, that makes us present at Calvary.

This Sacrament of the Eucharist is the foretaste of all of the goodness that God has prepared for us. Jesus gave us this Sacrament on the night before He died as a way of sharing in His promise to deliver us from every form of slavery, from every one of our sins, and to lead us from this world into something that is greater and that lasts forever.

Today we begin the Holy Triduum with the commemoration of the Lord’s Supper, which was actually the Institution of the Holy Eucharist. Today is called Holy Thursday. Some of us may remember that it is also called Maundy Thursday.

That word “Maundy” is derived from the Latin word “mandatum” which means mandate. It refers to the new commandment of love that Jesus gave to His apostles at the Last Supper. Jesus also instituted the Holy Eucharist and He commanded His apostles to do likewise when He said: Do this in memory of me.

Yet the strange thing is that the gospel we have just heard did not mention anything about Jesus consecrating bread and wine into His body and blood.  Instead there is this intriguing account of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples.

The account began by saying that Jesus had always loved those who were His, and now He showed how perfect His love was. He got up, took a towel, poured water into a basin and then washed His disciples’ feet.

So, how would washing His disciples’ feet show how great His love was? Well, for one, let us remember that it was not just the Master washing His disciples’ feet. It was God washing man’s feet! It was literally an out-of-this-world act of humility.

Yes, it was certainly out of this world. Yet it was as downright as an act that was out of the will. In other words, Jesus was willing to wash His disciples’ feet. He was willing and that’s what make it loving.

Similarly, He was willing to give us His body and blood, and that’s what makes the Eucharist so loving. In the simple humble act of washing the feet, Jesus showed us what the Eucharist is all about and what our service should be like.

Indeed, Jesus has always loved us and He showed us how deep His love is and how willingly He loved us, even to accepting death on the cross. So later, let us spend the rest of the evening with Jesus at the Altar of Repose.

Let us stay with Jesus in His agony in the garden. Let us recall the words of Jesus: Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let Your will be done, not mine. Jesus willingly washed His disciples’ feet. Jesus willingly gave us His body and blood.

We only need to understand this – in order to do it lovingly, we must first do it willingly. In short, we must be willing to love. Jesus gave us the example and the mandate. Let us humbly and willingly do it.

So today we celebrate three anniversaries: 1) the anniversary of the first Holy Mass, 2) the anniversary of the institution of ministerial priesthood, in order to perpetuate the Holy Mass, to convey God’s forgiveness to repentant sinners and to preach the good news of salvation.

And 3) the anniversary of the promulgation of Jesus’ new commandment of love: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn.13:34).

So today Christ Jesus invites us to become Christ-bearers and Christ-conveyers: “Go forth, the Mass is ended,” really means, “Go in peace to love and serve one another.’’ We are to carry Jesus to our homes and places of work, conveying to others around us the love, mercy, forgiveness and spirit of humble service of Christ Whom we carry with us. Amen.

 

 

 

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion – 16

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion – 16

Is.50:4-7, Phili.2:6-11, Lk.22:14 – 23:56

The Church celebrates today as both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday.  It is on Palm Sunday that we enter Holy Week and welcome Jesus into our lives, asking him to allow us a share in his suffering, death and Resurrection.

This is also the time we remember and relive the events which brought about our redemption and salvation.  That is why the Holy Week liturgy presents us with the actual events of the dying and rising of Jesus.

In the old liturgy, before Vatican II, the reading of the Passion was greeted with total silence. There was no homily. Even the concluding acclamation: “This is the gospel of the Lord” was omitted. On a day like this, I sometimes feel that the most eloquent response to the word of God we have proclaimed is silence.

Even the best of homilies could be a distraction from the deep meditation in which many of us find ourselves at the end of the story of the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. But then also, a homily might be useful to direct and focus our meditation in the right direction.

Otherwise we might be like little Johnny who was failing all his exams in the public school until his parents decided to send him to a Catholic school. At the end of the year Johnny came out on top of the class.

When his parents asked him what made him change so dramatically Johnny replied, “You see, the moment I walked into that new school and saw that guy hanging on the cross, I knew that the people here were dead serious; so I decided not to take any chances.”

The crucifix might have helped Johnny to improve his scores but it is easy to see that Johnny has misread the crucifix. The man on the cross is not there to scare little boys but to show them how much he loves them.

He is not there to show them what would happen to them if they misbehaved; he is there to show them that he has already paid the penalty for their sins. He is not dying on the cross for what he has done but for what you and I have done; because he loves us. He died for us.

“He died for us:” Many of us have heard this phrase so many times that it now carries with it neither the shock of someone dying on account of what we have done nor the good news of our being delivered from death. For us to hear this message again today as for the first time, the story of a man who literally died for the misdeeds of his brother might help.

Two brothers lived together in the same apartment. The elder brother was an honest, hard-working and God-fearing man and the younger a dishonest, gun-toting, substance-abusing rogue.

Many a night the younger man would come back into the apartment late, drunk and with a lot of cash and the elder brother would spend hours pleading with him to mend his ways and live a decent life. But the young man would have none of it.

One night the junior brother runs into the house with a smoking gun and blood-stained clothes. “I killed a man,” he announced. In a few minutes the house was surrounded by police and the two brothers knew there was no escape. “I did not mean to kill him,” stammered the young brother, “I don’t want to die.” By now the police were knocking at the door.

The senior brother had an idea. He exchanged his clothes with the blood-stained clothes of his killer brother. The police arrested him, tried him and condemned him to death for murder. He was killed and his junior brother lived. He died for his brother.

Can we see that this story of crime and death is basically a story of love? Similarly, the story of the suffering and death of Jesus which we heard in the Passion is basically a story of love – God’s love for us. How should we respond to it?

Well, how would you expect the junior brother to respond to the death of the senior brother? We would expect him to respond with GRATITUDE. Gratitude to his generous brother should make him turn a new life and never go back to a life of crime.

He would be a most ungrateful person if he should continue living the sort of life that made his brother die. Gratitude should make him keep the memory of his brother alive.

No day should pass that he should not remember his brother who died for him. Finally, if the dead brother has got a wife and children we should expect the saved brother, out of gratitude, to love and care for them.

What God expects from us today is gratitude – gratitude strong enough to make us hate sin of every shade and color; strong enough to make us translate our love of God into love of all of God’s people.

There is a Jewish saying, “Heaven rejoices over a repentant sinner and sheds tears over a non-repentant, hardhearted one.”   Let us get ready to imitate the prodigal son, return to God, our loving Father through the Sacrament of Reconciliation during this last week of Lent, and participate fully in the joy of Christ’s Resurrection. Amen.

5th Sunday of Lent Year C – 16

5th Sunday of Lent Year C – 16

Is.43:16-21, Phil.3:8-14, Jn.8:1-11

There are three people in today’s Gospel passage: The woman; the group called “scribes and Pharisees”, and Jesus.

During the feasts of the Tents, one of the joyous and important feasts of the Jews, an unfortunate incident took place: a woman was caught in adultery. According to the Law of Moses (Lev.20:10) such a woman should be stoned to death.

The Jewish leaders used this occasion to trap Jesus. They knew: if Jesus allowed her to be stoned to death according to the law, he could not be called the merciful teacher. If he forgave her he would be accused of infringing the Law. In both cases Jesus could be trapped: so they pressed for an answer to the question: “What do you say?” (Jn.8:6)

Now let us just turn our attention to the woman: What was going through her mind?  She was being dragged to the Lord.  She had to have been terrified.  Certainly these men were going to kill her.  The woman was caught in adultery.

Women have been killed for far less.  Even in our modern times, women are treated throughout the world as chattel, their lives completely dependent on the will of their fathers, brothers or husbands.  Horrible things continue to happen to women in the name of religion.

Another travesty was about to take place, when the woman was brought before the Lord.  She certainly expected to die.  She must have been panic struck as they threw her before the Lord.

She also must have been ashamed.  People were laughing at her.  They treated her like dirt.  Perhaps she herself thought she was dirt.  If they didn’t kill her, what type of life would she have left?  Who would marry her?  Who would give her a place to stay?  Who would have mercy on her?  She might as well die.

The better-than-thous of her society, shouted that she had to die.  The Law of Moses demanded it.  What would this Jesus say about that?  They were certain that they had him.  His hands were tied.  This, the Kindest Man to ever live, would have to oppose the Law or agree that she should die.

And through the clamor, she looked up, and saw the Lord looking at her.  Compassion for her flowed through him. Nobody cared about her before.  The man or men, who used her sexually, didn’t care that she was going to die.  The leaders of her people didn’t care about her.  Her own family probably disowned her.  But Jesus cared.

Jesus came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. He does condemn adultery (Mt.5:27). Sin is sin and injustice is injustice. But ultimately what is important is: “Sin No More”.

On the other hand, Jesus teaches that we should keep ourselves aloof from all self-righteousness. Often we condemn others and forget thereby that we also need first of all to be righteous.

Just imagine the way Jesus is dealing with her. All are there but then there was the silence.  He sat down and began writing on the ground.  Again there was silence.  The silence must have been overpowering.  Finally, he spoke.  “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

And the sheer dynamism of his voice, the kindness and compassion of his voice, forced her accusers to return to the holes from which they had climbed out. And the group melts away one by one.

“There is no one to accuse you”, asked Jesus.  Then, “nor shall I.  But go and sin no more.”She left, not just with her life, but with a new dignity.  She had been forgiven.  She now could embrace a new life.

You know what St. Augustine said, “In the end of the story only two remained: “miseria” and “misericordia” – misery and mercy. The woman represents “miseria” – human misery. Jesus embodies “misericordia” – he is the mercy of God.

The story exposes a basic message of the Christ: the divine mercy is greater than law. If Jesus the one without sin could forgive sinners, how much more should we sinners forgive each other?

What is demanded here is a radical change of heart. God’s forgiveness presupposes also our readiness to forgive, as we pray: “Forgive us as we forgive those who sin against us.”

Story: The Duke Wellington was about to pronounce the death sentence on a confirmed deserter. Deeply moved, the great General said, “I am extremely sorry to pass this severe sentence, but we have tried everything, and all the discipline and penalties have failed to improve this man who is otherwise a brave and good soldier.”

Then he gave the man’s comrades an opportunity to speak of him. ‘Please, your Excellency,’ said one of the men, ‘there is one thing you have never tried. Forgive him.’ The General forgave him and it worked; the soldier never again deserted and ever after showed his gratitude to the Iron Duke.

Yes, to err is human, to forgive is divine. What can we learn from this story during this Lent?

First, we are responsible for our own sins. We all have our pasts and particularly those moments which are regrettable. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Secondly, we can make corrections in our lives. How beautiful it is that God, rich in mercy, can wash us clean and make us whole. Jesus will give us a new day. In today’s story, Jesus sees a potential saint in a miserable sinner. God transforms our lives.

Thirdly, God is telling us that He is interested in our future than in our past. In our first reading the Lord says, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.”

God has already dealt with your past. Go, and sin no more is not a statement of judgment, but one of encouragement. Jesus’ main interest was on her present and future.

How beautiful it is that our Lord is much more interested in our recovery than in our missteps. The new covenant we find in Christ is all about renewal.

If you want to run a successful race you must keep your eyes forward, toward the goal to be reached, and not backwards on the road already crossed. Chances are good that if you run with your eyes looking backwards you are going to run into a tree!

St. Paul says in our second reading, “Forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead. Press on toward the goal.”

Jesus does not condemn the woman for her conduct, but challenges her to begin life afresh. This is the challenge Jesus puts to us each Lent:

Begin life afresh and let others begin life afresh after they have hurt us. Let us reflect that we are all sinners, we are in need of mercy, and we need to make fresh starts.

Let us pray today for the conversion of sinners, beginning with ourselves. The time is right for the harvest. This is the time of year, the last weeks of Lent, when many people will be reconsidering their lives, thinking that they can be better, infinitely better than they have been.

Let us pray for the conversion of sinners, starting with ourselves, and extending our prayers to all who are full of guilt, full of shame, afraid to change, and wondering is there any hope of forgiveness for them.

I would like to conclude with an exorcism prayer that we can use: the Breastplate of St. Patrick. March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day. I am making his prayer available to you – the Breastplate – St. Patrick’s armor against Satan. In the prayer he asks for “God’s shield to protect him…from the snares of demons, from temptations and vices.” Then he says:

Christ with me, Christ before me…     Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,

Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of

everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

We are in a spiritual war. It sometimes seems like a losing battle, but did you notice that Isaiah speaks today about a “powerful army.” That army is Jesus with his host of angels and saints. As we will experience dramatically in Holy Week, in Jesus’ death and resurrection, we receive power – the Breastplate, the armor we need for spiritual combat.

Take up the Breastplate, put on the armor of Christ – for your own salvation and for the sake of your children and grandchildren. Amen.