Second Sunday of Easter
Sunday of Divine Mercy
April 16, 2023 – Year A
Readings: Acts 2:42-47 / Ps 118 / 1 Pt 1:3-9 / Jn 20:19-31
by Rev. Dan Kelly, Guest Celebrant
Last Sunday’s gospel describes the first hint of the apostles’ understanding of the Resurrection. The women went to the tomb to anoint the Body and thought that somebody had taken the Body away. Then when Mary Magdalene went there, she asked a person who she thought was the gardener (but was in fact Jesus), who had taken away the Body of Jesus away.
But the other apostles were skeptical. Remember the story of the two disciples who were walking a couple miles distant from Jerusalem to the town of Emmaus, and they were discussing all the things that had happened. Jesus walks along and begins to explain all the scriptures, why this had happened. Those two disciples invite Jesus to have supper with them, because it was the end of the day. But those disciples didn’t know it was Him. It was not until Jesus took the bread and blessed it.
What became of the apostles? All except John, the youngest apostle, were martyred. After the crucifixion, John the apostle took the Blessed Virgin Mary into his home as his mother, as Jesus commended him from the cross. Everywhere around the Mediterranean that John went to preach, she accompanied him, and we believe she died in Ephesus, Turkey.
Two apostles were both named James: James the Less and James the Greater, based on their respective ages. One James missioned himself after the Resurrection to the Roman province of Santiago, Spain, and he preached there and did wonderful work, calling people to the Faith, explaining all about Jesus, and then preaching and celebrating the Eucharist. Eventually, he was martyred by the Romans in Spain. His remains are believed to be there in Santiago today.
The other James became bishop of Jerusalem. He also was martyred.
Thomas figures in our scripture today. He kind of gets a bum rap: Doubting Thomas, as if he did something wrong. Thanks be to God that he had that doubt, because he expresses what we have in our own lives today: the doubts about things in our own life. Are my prayers being heard? Why doesn’t God answer me? Why is my son or daughter not following the example I give? These doubts as to whether we have the attention of God and His coming into our lives.
So thanks be to God that we have Thomas saying, I’m going to want to see this in action. When he realizes and touches the Body of Jesus, he exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” After which, Jesus asks for something to eat, to further confirm that He is not a ghost by eating baked fish or other food. When we have the elevation of the sacred Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, you can also say, “My Lord and my God!”
After the Resurrection of the Lord and His Ascension into heaven, after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the apostles spread out among the Middle Eastern countries. Thomas gathered some others and went to present-day Jordan and into Syria, and began to teach about Jesus Christ, and to bring the Faith to the people in the northwestern part of Syria, where they developed an Eastern form of the Mass.
Thomas then learns about India and people there who yearned for the Faith. So Thomas made the very long trek to the south of India, to the modern state of Kerala. He preached the Gospel there and formed a liturgy for them, too, based on the Syriac liturgy and vestments. These Christians were the Malabar people. To this day, we have Syro-Malabar Catholics, even in the United States, using the liturgy that St. Thomas developed for them.
Thomas apparently went to other areas in the south of India and met people who were not in favor of what he was teaching to the people of Kerala, and he was eventually martyred.
So thanks be to St. Thomas, who helps us in our faith, even in our doubts.KEEP READING
Fifth Sunday of Lent
March 26, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Ex 37:12-14 / Ps 130 / Rom 8:8-11 / Jn 11:1-45
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon
From today’s Psalm we hear, “I trust in the Lord; my soul trusts in His word (Ps 130: 5-6).” It is a good Lenten practice to ask ourselves, Do I trust God? Do I understand what is meant by divine providence? When my future is uncertain or I am experiencing suffering, darkness, death, or discord in my life, do I trust that He hears and answers my prayers? Today’s gospel clearly affirms that in God’s plan, “[S]uffering and death are not meaningless (Martin 200).”
On Hallow’s forty-day Lenten series, Jonathan Roumie shared a story that illustrates how God, in His providence makes good come from suffering. Fr. Walter Ciszek, a Polish-American Jesuit priest who was doing clandestine missionary work in the USSR, was imprisoned in a Soviet Union labor camp for twenty-three years. While in prison, he struggled with the seeming crushing of his dream to spread the faith. Despair came upon him, until he surrendered to God in the midst of his imprisonment, forced labor, and nutritional and spiritual deprivation.
How did Fr. Ciszek’s Catholic faith enable him to move from despair to helping the other prisoners “find God and attain eternal life (Hallow)?” A key insight was that he came to realize that “God is in all things.” He wrote, “To see His will in all things was to accept each circumstance and situation and let oneself be borne along in perfect confidence and trust. No danger could threaten me, no fear could shake me, except the fear of losing sight of Him. The future, hidden as it was, was hidden in His will and therefore acceptable to me no matter what it might bring.” This quote is from his autobiography, “He Leadeth Me,” which he wrote in peace and comfort in America. His autobiography is accomplishing his dream of spreading the faith much more effectively than if he had not suffered as he did.
Now let’s look at the gospel for a message on trust in divine providence. When Jesus receives word from Mary and Martha that Lazarus is ill, does He go and heal him as Mary and Martha expected their intercession to bring about? No. Listen to the oddness in these two verses. “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was ill, He remained for two days in the place where He was (Jn 11:5-6).” Jesus, who is God, loves them and hears their prayer request to heal Lazarus, but does not do it. Why?
Jesus gives us a couple of reasons. After telling the disciples that Lazarus has died, He says, “I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe (Jn 11:15).” At Lazarus’s tomb, He tells His Father that He is praying out loud “that they may believe that you sent me (Jn 11:42).” Jesus delayed so that people would come to believe He was sent by God and has power even over the grave.
Dr. Brant Pitre shares the reflections of three saints on Jesus’ delay. They shine a light on divine providence that Mary and Martha, in the sorrow of the moment, could not see. St. Peter Chrysologus explained it this way: “For Christ, it was more important to conquer death than to cure disease. He showed His friend His love not by healing him but by calling him back from the grave. Instead of a remedy for his illness, He offered him the glory of rising from the dead (Sermon 63:1-2).”
My favorite of the three reflections Pitre shared may be from St. Andrew of Crete. He imagined Jesus at Lazarus’s tomb saying, “Lazarus, Come out!…As a friend, I am calling you; as Lord I am commanding you…Come out! Let the stench of your body prove the resurrection. Let the burial linen be undone so that they can recognize the one who was put in the tomb. Come out!…Come out of the tomb….(And here is the clincher….) Teach them how all creation will be enlivened in a moment, when the trumpet’s voice proclaims the resurrection of the dead (Homily 8).” St. Andrew was alluding to 1 Thessalonians 4:16, which tells of an angel blowing a trumpet when Jesus returns on the last day and the dead being raised at its sound. This spiritual truth is sung at the Easter Vigil in the Exultet, “Let the trumpet of salvation sound aloud the mighty King’s triumph!”
The third reflection was from St. John Chrysostom. He points out that, “Many are offended when they see any who are pleasing to God suffering anything terrible…They do not know that those who are especially dear to God have it as their lot to endure such things as is the case with Lazarus, who is a friend of Christ but was also sick (Homilies on John).”
God knows the big picture. We do not. Mary and Martha did not. While they just wanted their brother healed, Jesus wanted to draw more people to Himself by showing that He has power even over death. Through divine providence, Mary and Martha received a gift much greater than what they asked for.
The saints seem to get this, and so they do not fret over their suffering or impending death. St. Pope John Paul II, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, and the aforementioned St. John Chrysostom come to mind (Pitre). They could live lives of heroic virtue because they trusted that God’s providence would bring about a greater good out of their suffering and death.
In raising Lazarus from the dead, we see Jesus vastly exceed that for which Mary and Martha prayed. This teaches us to trust that God hears our prayers and sees our tears (remember He wept with them). We have been doing extra fasting, abstinence, prayer, and charity for five weeks, but do we trust that God is doing something with our efforts? If you have not noticed any change or transformation in yourself, it may be that like Mary and Martha you are focused on looking for what you asked for instead of looking for what God chose to do. Ask Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, to reveal what the Father has done and is doing in you.
Here is another true story about providence, and this one is from a friend of mine named HV. He was a 16-year-old when his family had to flee their home country of Vietnam. HV remembers suffocating heat worsened by standing shoulder to shoulder on a boat with other refugees. People began to die around him as they had no water for three days. Ultimately, his family arrived in Virginia Beach. HV had no friends, could not speak English, and struggled with American culture.
Growing up, HV’s parents had prayed the rosary regularly with him and his siblings. His father had even taken him to a seminary to apply for the priesthood. (He was turned down.) Nevertheless, the awfulness of his family’s refugee experience led him to decide that God did not exist. Like Fr. Ciszek, though, HV came to see God in all these things.
His family survived the boat trip and were now living, in HV’s words, “in the greatest country on earth.” He ended up marrying, having children and becoming an engineering manager. He and his wife served the youth in their parish, and he served in the Knights of Columbus. And on September 25, 2021, the man who was turned down by that Vietnamese seminary, was ordained with me and is now a permanent deacon. And, by the way, his easy-going manner and sense of humor made him the class favorite and enviably, my family’s favorite as well. His parent’s prayers were heard, and God made a greater good come about for his family from the evil of war than if it had never happened.
My last sharing is from the Litany of Trust by Sr. Faustina Maria Pia of the Sisters of Life in New York. It was prayed in Hallow’s 40 Day Lenten challenge. She wrote that, “The Lord knows that we don’t have what it takes on our own. He comes to us with great love. He sustains us at all times, even when we are not aware of Him.”
Let’s close with part of the Litany so that you can continue to pray your own form of it these last days of Lent. I invite you to respond in your heart after each petition, Jesus, I trust in You. “That You are with me in my suffering…Jesus, I trust in You. That Your plan is better than anything else…Jesus, I trust in You. That You always hear me, and in Your goodness always respond to me…Jesus, I trust in You. That you give me all the strength I need for what is asked…Jesus I trust in You. That you can deliver me from resentment [and] excessive preoccupation with the past…Jesus, I trust in You. That my life is a gift…Jesus, I trust in You. That I am Your beloved one…Jesus, I trust in You.”
Brothers and sisters, make the saints’ trust in divine providence yours and, with God’s grace, move your Lent from doubt to confidence and from struggle to peacefulness. God is in all our experiences and so our future, no matter what it holds, is the best. Amen.
Hallow App. Lent #Pray40 Part 1: Imitation of Christ. Week 5 Tuesday and Wednesday reflections. March 2023.
Peter Kreeft. Food for the Soul – Reflections on the Mass Readings for Cycle A. Word of Fire 2022.
Fr. Mark Toups. Lenten Companion, A Personal Encounter with the Power of the Gospel. Ascension Publishing 2023.
Fr. Francis Martin & William T. Wright IV. Catholic Commentary of Sacred Scripture. The Gospel of John. Baker Academic, 2015.KEEP READING
Third Sunday of Lent
March 12, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Ex 17:3-7 / Ps 95 / Rom 5:1-2, 5-8 / Jn 4:5-42
by Rev. Mr. Barry Welch, Guest Homilist
For a few moments I’d like for you to put yourself in the place of the woman at the well in today’s story. Imagine you’re her and you’re there. It’s dusty and it’s hot, even in the shade. The dust and the wind are hot, and they’re sticking to you because you’re sweaty. You’re a long walk from the village. You’re alone. The jars are heavy even when empty.
I am the woman at the well, and I swim in dirty waters. I exist and I swim in the waters of this world, this culture. It can be a cesspool really. The world doesn’t love me; it doesn’t care about me. Society, the culture, they wish for my power as their own. I’m worth what I produce for it. My dignity is ambiguous, my morality is ambiguous, dependent on what others might see in me or gain from me, so I behave the same. This culture that corrupts me by bombarding me with its messages: consume, it’s your truth, love whomever you’d like, if it feels good do it, the baby is not a person, the old man is a burden. This culture that has shaped me is the same that will condemn me, shun me, ignore me, separate me whenever it seems helpful to it. Governments, business, academics, art, media, these can’t save me. I am the woman at the well, and I swim in dirty waters.
I am the woman at the well, and I am a cast away, rejected, shunned, alone with my sin and my pain. There’s a reason I’m at the well far outside of town, alone with the sun at its peak and the heat. I am a cast away. That’s because no one will be there, no one carries heavy containers of water in the heat of the day; they go in the early morning or the late evening when it’s cool. But me, I go when no one will be there, no one to deride me, no one to judge me, no one to make me feel worse about myself than I already do. No one can help me, no one cares, no one loves me. Do I even deserve love anyway? I just need to exist. I just need to get by. I am the woman at the well and I am a cast away.
I am the woman at the well and I doubt Him. Why talk to me? Why care about me? I am a woman, I am from Samaria, I’m a pagan. You don’t know me; You can’t know me. Everything about me is the antithesis of what someone like You would value. I float in sin. I doubt You can help me. You don’t even have a vessel, a container for the water, and my darkness is deep, too deep for You to reach. How could You sustain me for even a few moments, let alone eternally? No, this doesn’t make sense, this must be some trick. You must want something from me or wish to gain something by this encounter. I am the woman at the well and I doubt Him.
I am the woman at the well and I accept Him. Wait, He does know me. He really, truly, knows me. He knows my heart, hardened and despairing as it is. I’ve never met Him, and yet He softly identifies everything about my darkness. He dips deeply into my well of shame and loathing and somehow accepts it, accepts me. He accepts who I am. His grace is bigger than my past, much bigger. He’s met me in the dark and barren places of my heart where I am and offered me His love without requiring anything. And yet, I feel I want to return to Him somehow. I want to acknowledge this immense gift. I welcome His gift. It’s what I’ve unknowingly been seeking. He has risen me to pure living water. I’m unsinkable. I live. I am the woman at the well and I accept Him.
I am the woman at the well and I know Him. I’m not even going to haul the water back or the containers. I’m lighter than air now. I’m restored. My burdens lifted. My guilt and shame washed away. I’m floating. But what about the others? They don’t know, they can’t know. They swim in dirty waters. They are castaways. They doubt love. If they knew Him, they might be light. I must share. I must let them know, because even me, and all my darkness and brokenness and doubt, even me He loves and wants to save. You’ve got to meet Him. There’s nothing greater, nothing more important, nothing more beautiful. He is the living water, salvation, the Christ. I am the woman at the well and I want you to know Him.KEEP READING
Second Sunday of Lent
March 5, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Gn 12:1-4a / Ps 33 / 2 Tm 1:8b-10 / Mt 17:1-9
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Our gospel today talks about the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ on Mount Tabor, or Mount Hebron. Since the fifth century, every August 6 is the Feast of the Transfiguration, and the Second Sunday of Lent each year is also called Transfiguration Sunday.
Because the gospel talks about this great event in the life of Jesus Christ, and His three disciples, Peter, James, and John, were witnesses to it, we can say the main purpose of Christ’s Transfiguration was to prepare the apostles for the events of Holy Week, when Jesus Christ sacrificed, died, and was nailed on the cross because of His great love for each one of us. In other words, He prepared them for His upcoming suffering.
On the mountain, Peter, James and John saw that there was more to Jesus than met the eye. During the Transfiguration, they get a glimpse of the future glory of Jesus’ resurrection.
And like them, we, too, get glimpses of the presence of God in our lives. We get glimpses of God in the love we receive from other people. We get glimpses of God when badly needed help suddenly comes to us from out of nowhere. We get glimpses of God when we look back over our lives, and what we couldn’t understand in the past makes sense now. We see glimpses of God in the beauty of a fine day, a nice beach, a beautiful sunrise or sunset. We see glimpses of God when a passage from the Bible or a homily strikes a chord in our hearts. We get a glimpse of God when we spend time in prayer and experience the loving presence of God in our lives. We get more than just a glimpse of God when we receive the body of Jesus in Holy Communion. The Transfiguration, coming early in Lent, encourages us to continue our Lenten penances, because it reminds us of the glory of Jesus risen from the dead.
When Jesus and the disciples came down the mountain, Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about the Transfiguration until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. Of course, they didn’t know what He meant. Unknown to them was that the glory of Jesus’ Transfiguration was preparing them to accept the scandal of the cross. They would understand this only afterwards when looking back.
Brothers and Sisters, the good times take us through the bad times. So, when our cross is heavy, or we are tempted to despair about the meaning of life, let us look beyond the pain of the present moment and remember those times when we got glimpses of God, those times when God sent us His consolation. Let us look beyond the pain of life and see the presence of God in our world and the offer of life that God wants to make to each of us. Let us look beyond the illusion of happiness that this life offers to the real happiness that God offers us. Let us look beyond this world to eternal life with God.
In our first reading, we heard Abram being called by God to leave his present place and go to a new country. He was seventy-five when called to leave his old country but had to wait another twenty-five years for the promised son, Isaac, to be born, so that the promise of future descendants could be fulfilled. That was a long wait. It was a long time for him to be continually looking beyond the present to the promise of God. With faith, we can see what we cannot see with our eyes.
On the mountain, Peter, James and John looked beyond the appearance of Jesus and saw His future risen glory. Let us look beyond and see that God is really with us. God has not left us on our own. God is with us.
The Transfiguration of Jesus in our gospel was not just about Jesus. It was a vision of the glorious future to which we are all called. We encounter problems and negativities, and we get hurt going through life. Then we have the choice either to say negative things, or we can choose to remember who we really are: brothers and sisters of Jesus, sons and daughters of God since Baptism, and that the glory of the Transfigured Jesus awaits each of us.
We can choose to think in negative ways, or to remember the encouragement we receive in sacred scripture. In his first letter, John writes, “We are already children of God, but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed. All we know is that, when it is revealed, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He really is. We shall be like Him.”
The glory of the Transfigured Jesus is awaiting each of us, thanks to our Baptism. So then for one who believes, there is no room for negative thinking. We will be tempted to think negatively because of the events that occur to us, but let us not forget our dignity, no matter what happens, and no matter what others think of us or say to us.
The second reading today also gives us an insight into what God has destined for us. It says, “He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to His own design, and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began.…” God’s grace was granted to us before the beginning of time. Imagine: Since the beginning of time, God had you in His plan and had His grace planned for you. Since the beginning of time, God planned to transform us through His son, Jesus.
The disciples who experienced Jesus’ Transfiguration had to come down the mountain and return to normality, but they remembered the Transfiguration. Like them, we live in normality, but we believe, and know, that God has destined great things for us. We say the Transfiguration prepared the disciples for the scandal of the cross. Celebrating Jesus’ Transfiguration early in Lent reminds us of what comes after the cross, because it reminds us of the glory of Jesus risen from the dead. In our worst moments of pain, may we not think negatively, but remember the encouragement we receive in sacred scripture, and that God has destined the glory of the Transfiguration for each of us in the next life.KEEP READING
First Sunday of Lent
February 26, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7 / Ps 51 / Rom 5:12-19 / Mt 4:1-11
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon
Lent can present us with seemingly impossible odds of success. Be transformed in holiness in forty days despite being surrounded by temptation, working or going to school or both, raising kids, fighting chronic illness or pain, being distant from God or lukewarm in our faith, and struggling with any number of vices or addictions. One might say that entering into Lent is like setting sail on a perilous voyage.
For this metaphor, the story of the intrepid British explorer, Ernest Shackleton, comes to mind. His famous voyage to Antarctica took place from 1915 to 1916. He and his crew were faced with nearly impossible odds of survival. His ship, the Endurance, was made of wood. The ice trapped it and then broke and sank it, leaving the crew in lifeboats. No one else knew they were in trouble, for they had no radio nor phone back then.
Death could snatch their lives in any number of ways including freezing, starving, or drowning. They ended up making their way to a tiny island off Antarctica. Shackleton and five others left the crew there to go get help. They sailed by the stars over eight hundred miles in an open lifeboat, to try to get to a remote, South Georgia whaling island. If they missed it, they would run out of supplies and die, as would their crew back in Antarctica. Each day their routines kept them alive and brought a little hope, but as the days dragged on, doubt crept back. And not just of surviving, but of being heroes and transformed men. We will finish their story later, but for now let’s apply their plight to our 2023 Lent.
There was a recruiting poster for Shackleton’s voyage that read more like something to run from than to sign up for. “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.” Imagine if we had a recruiting poster for Lent. What would be on it?
It could read something like this, “Men and women wanted for a spiritual journey. No wages, facing your weaknesses, confessing your sins, long hours of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Returning unchanged…doubtful. Increased peace and holiness in event of success. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Maybe it is not as ominous as the Shackleton poster, but it is not exactly a picnic either.
And yet, just as Shackleton’s poster filled his ship with crew members, so too does Jesus’ Lenten invitation seem to fill Catholic churches on Ash Wednesdays. God made us to desire and seek out challenges that will transform us into a better person, so off we set sail on our Lenten voyage with an ashen cross on our foreheads.
Mondays through Saturdays during a good Lent can be rough at times. Knowing that where we are is not the best place we can be, no matter how good we may think it is, we go about our daily Lenten routine religiously. We pray extra with the daily Lenten readings on the USCCB website and with our Catholic apps like Hallow, iBreviary, and Laudate. We fast daily by practicing the virtue of temperance…no snacking between meals, less phone time, less gaming, less TV, less coffee… And we increase our acts of love using the grace from God’s word and the extra prayer and by making good use of the time freed up by abstaining from or minimizing non-essential things.
If you really go for it, if you really try to allow God to form you more into the person He created you to be, the person that will feel whole and at peace, then you will come to each Sunday needing healing and hope like Shackleton’s crew left behind on the island. Lenten Sundays are like repair and restocking islands along our Lenten voyage. Why? Because there is a good chance you will have a wounded ego, having stumbled in your Lenten promises. Good! Catholic author and scholar Mark Searle wrote, “Lenten penance may be more effective if we fail in our resolutions than if we succeed, for its purpose is not to confirm us in our virtue but to bring home to us our radical need for salvation (Ordo 68).”
In today’s gospel reading, we see Jesus, without using His divine power, overcome the same temptations with which Satan conquered Adam and Eve. Jesus uses God’s word and His faith in it. We can, too. The Church has set us up with the right scriptures. Read the daily readings daily. They prepare you to more fully receive the grace of the Sunday readings.
Here is what I am talking about. Next Sunday, the Second Sunday of Lent, possibly having stumbled, we will be encouraged by getting a sneak peek at the glory we are striving for in Lent, as we gaze upon Jesus’ glory in the Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John. On the third Sunday, when our water rations are running low, we stop at a water well and listen in on the conversation between the lonely Samaritan woman and Jesus. Her encounter with Him restores her relationships in town, heals her interior wounds, and gives her life new purpose. The fourth Sunday, when we are losing our way in the dark and rough seas, we witness Jesus open the eyes of the man “blind from birth (Jn 9:1).” By the fifth Sunday, we are really wearing down and think we cannot go on. We start to lose hope of changing until we behold Jesus calling Lazarus to come out of his tomb, from death to new life.
These stories are like when Shackleton, dying of thirst and cold on his eight-hundred-mile lifeboat voyage, saw kelp and sea birds and realized that, though he could not see it, land and help were not far away. The sixth Sunday we see palm branches and know our journey is nearing its end; it is Palm Sunday, and the Resurrection is only a week away.
The daily readings the first few weeks of Lent are meant to remind us that we are sinners that need a savior. Mark Searle points out that in the second half of Lent the readings shift from a focus on our weakness to the power of Christ to heal and to renew our lives.
What is your destination this Lent? What is the conversion Jesus is calling you to this year? What ominous, threatening invitation was on your recruiting poster on Ash Wednesday?
In today’s first reading, Eve looked at that forbidden fruit and saw that it was “pleasing to the eyes and desirable (Gn 3:6).” What forbidden fruit have you given in to? Maybe Jesus is calling you to research the Church’s teaching on a moral issue with which you disagree or have given up on such as divorce, fidelity in marriage, pornography, abortion, capital punishment, gay marriage, gender dysphoria, or schools teaching kids worldly morality? These are tough issues confronting all of us. Learn why the Church stands opposed to the world on these issues. She is our mother, and she has the wisdom of two thousand years of battling against sin under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
King David tried the forbidden fruit. Despite being his nation’s leader and above the law, when he committed the sins of adultery and murder, his life took a turn for the worse. David realized his sin because a friend pointed it out to him. His subsequent confession and recognition of God’s mercy is today’s Psalm 51.
A good daily Lenten routine would be to pray David’s words and make them your own, “My sin is before me always…Against you only have I sinned…A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.” Jesus answers that prayer through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, confession, and Holy Communion. In baptism and confirmation, He gave us a new heart and a steadfast spirit; His heart and His spirit. In confession and Holy Communion, He renews them within us.
What happened to Shackleton’s crew, left stranded on that tiny island off Antarctica? For their daily routine, to keep them from the despair of the seemingly impossible odds and to make sure they were ready when the time for rescue came, they broke camp every day and packed to be ready to board the rescue ship. However, days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. And 105 days later, when they were thinking the daily routine was a waste of time, their captain appeared on a rescue ship and called out, “Are you all well?” And the crew called back, “All safe, all well!” Not a single crew member died.
While struggling to survive and to avoid falling into despair, the crew was not aware of all their captain was going through to save them. They were not aware of what he would endure and overcome out of loyalty to them. He sailed across eight hundred miles of freezing ocean in an open boat. Climbed a frozen mountain despite suffering from frost bite, skin ravaged by constantly wet clothing, and a tongue swollen from a lack of fresh water. He climbed down a freezing waterfall and crawled across cracking ice on a frozen lake. And astoundingly, did not stop to rest when he found shelter, food, and water, but set sail the very next day to go get his crew. He had to make four attempts to get to them, turned back by ice and other obstacles three times. On the fourth try he returned and saved them.
You know where I am going with this. Shackleton was just a man and he saved his whole crew against seemingly impossible odds. Jesus is God, infinitely powerful. He is our captain. How much more so can He help us overcome our weaknesses this Lent?
Here is how you succeed. Imitate Shackleton’s crew. Keep your daily routine and when you fail, start it again the very next day. Have a crewmate or accountability partner and touch base daily. Use the daily readings and prayer to remind you what Jesus is doing while you struggle through Lent. He did not abandon us. He literally suffered, died, and went to hell and back for us. Our captain is with us every day as we pray, fast, and love. And when we fail even in sometimes shameful ways, He is shoulder to shoulder with us. He knows what temptation is like. He knows what feeling God-forsaken and lost is like.
He does not just show us the way to personal transformation. He IS the way. He IS our north star. The crucifix is our Lenten voyage compass, always pointing to heaven through our voluntary and involuntary suffering. Cajun priest, author, and spiritual director Fr. Mark Toups sums up Lent well and I am paraphrasing here. He wrote, “Remember that Lent is not about you. It is about Jesus. He is the one who wants this Lent to be transformational for you. Lent is not about what you are doing. It is about what God is doing with what you are doing for Lent. It is not so much about checking off a list of things you achieved during Lent, but about those things helping set you up for a life-changing, personal encounter with Jesus Christ like Peter, James, and John at the Transfiguration, the Samaritan woman at the well, and Lazarus in his tomb (13).”
This coming Easter Vigil when our Captain calls out, “Are you all well?” May we all be able to respond, “We are safe and well, my Lord.” Amen.
Diocese of Richmond. Ordo – Order of Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours and Celebration of the Eucharist 2023. Paulist Press 2022.
Peter Kreeft. Food for the Soul – Reflections on the Mass Readings for Cycle A. Word of Fire 2022.
Fr. Mark Toups. Lenten Companion, A Personal Encounter with the Power of the Gospel. Ascension Publishing 2023.KEEP READING
The Epiphany of the Lord
January 8, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Is 60:1-6 / Ps 72 / Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6 / Mt 2:1-12
by Rev. Mr. Barry Welch, Guest Homilist
At 8:22 PM on November 23, 1949, a bright light appeared in the Blue Ridge. It flickered on and off for a few seconds, just before lighting up for good. There were two hundred twenty-five mayors from all the surrounding areas who traveled from afar to watch and witness this spectacle, along with many locals and media. Originally meant to be just a seasonal Christmas decoration, it has become a symbol of the region and one of the most recognized icons in Virginia, as well as one of the most photographed. I’m talking about the Roanoke star. It attracts visitors from all over to walk beneath its paths and to relax while enjoying the incredible view.
My family moved back to the area in 1994. I have to confess that even though this star is so attractive and draws so many visitors from all over, I had not gone up to see the Roanoke star until 2015, some twenty-one years later. What drew me there then was a high school graduation party we had for our oldest son. We thought it would be a great place for our out-of-town guests to come and get an iconic view of what it is like here. They were coming from New Jersey, New York, Richmond, and numerous other places.
It’s funny how we tend to take things for granted, like the incredible gifts available to enjoy right in our own backyards, like the Roanoke star, the Peaks of Otter, and from where I grew up, the mighty New River, Smith Mountain Lake, D-Day Memorial, Appomattox Courthouse and many others. Very often, it takes out-of-town guests, outsiders, to illuminate this beauty and joy. Outsiders, coming from afar, like the Magi in the Epiphany story we’re celebrating today, help us recognize the gifts around us every day.
We can become a little like the chief priests and scribes in the gospel today, because they had this beautiful thing occurring, but they had become complacent. They had become bland and comfortable in their situation there in Jerusalem with their own things to do, their own busy-ness. Herod probably didn’t care a whole lot about the Jewish religion and prophecies, but those around him were steeped in Hebrew scriptures, especially of the prophets, and Herod had access to that. They all would have known the prophecy of the coming Messiah. They knew that Bethlehem was to be the location of this future ruler. They knew of the glory and joy about to come in this future leader, a savior, the Messiah.
This knowledge, however, wasn’t urgent or important. The scribes knew about Jesus, but they did not seek Him. It took out-of-town visitors, out-of-town guests talking about a rising star, to illuminate for them this new beauty and joy to be given to the world. These Magi, astrologers, wise men gazing at the stars, looking at their charts, sought Jesus without really knowing, like the scribes did, who He was. The scribes missed Him entirely. They took Him for granted, even eventually becoming critical and working against the Messiah.
We, too, can become complacent and comfortable, even to the point of ignoring and criticizing lots of great things in our lives. When guests come around, however, we see things anew. That’s human nature. It happens to all of us. We become complacent and self-satisfied, missing what is important, even when it’s right in front of our eyes.
This happens with our faith life, in our church, with our faith, our doctrines, and in our own parish. Sometimes it takes outsiders coming in, guests coming to visit, or people interested in RCIA, to bring out the noble and humble welcoming parish that we want to be.
We notice, then, that sometimes we don’t see what is important. We can get to where we argue, complain, or just go about our busy-ness, forgetting Who is here, Who has come and why. When a visitor comes asking questions, seeking illumination, then our light begins to stutter and flicker. Then our love of Christ, His Church, and this parish begin glowing and we begin to brag about her, like we do of our children. We forget about our dislikes and disagreements. In a parish that could be disagreements about decorations, music, homilies, etc. Instead, we beam with the honor of serving such a wonderful and loving king as our Jesus is and we are happy to share our love of Him and His Church, and our parish. We forget about her human flaws, and we see more clearly her mission.
No matter where you are, visiting anywhere in the world, your parish is home, where the important thing, the reason the Church exists, the reason we are all here, comes. We are here for an encounter with Him, our Lord and Savior, the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Every time we are at Mass and participate in the Eucharist and any of the sacraments, we have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. That encounter is attractive, effective, beautiful, and joyful every single time. We want to cherish it, savor it, and make it last.
The Epiphany story gives us a subtle clue of what life is like once you have this encounter with Jesus, once you truly let yourself go and let sink in the significance of that encounter. It becomes your own Epiphany. Afterwards, nothing is the same. You find that your journey has been altered. The journey of the Magi was altered as well. After their encounter with the baby Jesus, they departed for their country in a completely different way. Life was different. Their trajectory, your trajectory, is different. Everything is different. Your new path is illuminated now by Jesus. You are carrying with you a light to shine upon others. (“Shine upon” is an ancient meaning of the word, epiphany.). You are carrying a light to shine upon others. You are the epiphany.KEEP READING
The Octave Day of Christmas
Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God
January 1, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Nm 6:22-27 / Ps 67 / Gal 4:4-7 / Lk 2:16-21
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
During the Christmas season, the image of the Most Holy Virgin Mary with her child comes readily to mind. We see this image in all Nativity things, right in front of us, and in many other places, on many Christmas cards or postcards that we receive from our families or friends. It should also be in our hearts.
We have come together here today as a family of God on this first day of the New Year. We celebrate the maternity of Mary, the event around which this feast is celebrated. As we start the New Year, we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, thus reminding us of our other mother: of course, Mother Mary.
When a child is in danger, it will instinctively call out, “Mom” or “Mama.” That’s because the essence of being a mother is care, love, help, support, and concern for her children. As a Jewish proverb puts it succinctly, “God cannot be everywhere, so he created mothers.”
As we commemorate this solemn feast, the Church has for us these brief reminders. In the year 431 AD, the Council of Ephesus, an ecumenical council of bishops of the Catholic Church, settled whether Mary was to be called “Mother of Christ” – Christotokos, implying Jesus is merely human, or “Mother of God” – Theotokos. The Council decided on the title Theotokos, Mother of God, for Mary. The Council said that Mary is rightfully the Mother of God, therefore affirming the divinity of Christ.
In the Bible, the very first person to refer to Mary as the Mother of God is her own cousin, Elizabeth, who said in a loud voice, “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” There is nothing wrong with invoking Mary with the title “Mother of God.”
So what do we mean when we invoke Mary as the Mother of God? When we say Mary is the Mother of God, we do not mean that from all eternity, our God took His Godship from Mary, or that Mary is the source of the Godship of Jesus. As the Catholic Church teaches us, Jesus Christ was eternally begotten by God, Light from Light, True God from True God, eternally begotten by the Father. It means that Mary did not give Jesus Christ His Godship; Mary only gave birth to the humanity of Jesus Christ.
However, right from the moment of conception, the baby in the womb of Mary was truly God and truly man at the same time. Therefore, the baby born from the womb of Mary is God and man. Mary gave birth to God and man. When we say Mary is the Mother of God, it does not mean that she gave Godship to Jesus; it only means that Jesus was God right from her womb.
Saint Thomas added to this by asking, “Do mothers beget bodies or persons?” As one priest asked, “Do our mothers merely give birth to our bodies, or to ourselves as persons?” As people, of course. Thus, Mary conceived in her womb the Son of God, not just His human nature, but His divine nature as well.
If we look at the attitude of the mother, it is very beautiful. At the start, when she still bears the child in her womb, she must take care of herself, in order that the child is not in danger. She can’t sleep at night, because she watches the child sleep. As the child goes to school, she’s the one preparing the provisions.
But on the other hand, the womb of the mother becomes a battlefield or war zone, the worst enemy of the unborn, defenseless child. The enemies of the unborn child are many: abortion, artificial birth control, cigarette smoking, drinking hard liquor, and many more. That is why the child, while still in the womb of the mother, experiences rejection, insecurity, human rights violations, and lack of love from the parents. This is not so of Mary, who follows God’s will to be the mother of Jesus, even though she is in danger of being punished through stoning.
There was a teacher who had just given her primary grade class a lesson on magnets. In the follow-up test, one question read My name starts with M, has six letters and I pick up things. What am I? She was surprised to find half of the class answered the question with the word mother. Of course, the answer was supposed to be magnet.
People especially need their mothers in times of need, of uncertainty, or insecurity. We need our mothers to pick us up. Perhaps even more so for those of us who are already old, not necessarily physically, but emotionally and spiritually.
So as we begin another year, with all the uncertainties that it may bring us, the Church is telling us that we need our Blessed Mother Mary. May we all be like Mary with our total trust and faith in the Lord.
Let us not put our hopes in someone or something that may only give us false and ephemeral hope in the end. Instead, we place our entire lives in the loving and caring presence of our God who is always there for us. He is Emmanuel, “God with us.” With Mary, we pray that the Lord will bless us this new year, and all the days of our lives.KEEP READING
The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
November 20, 2022 — Year C
Readings: 2 Sm 5:1-3 / Ps 122 / Col 1:12-20 / Lk 23:35-43
by Rev. Mr. Barry Welch, Guest Homilist
Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. Why is this Feast Day of Christ the King placed at the end of the liturgical season? Today we finish with the Liturgical Year C, reading from the Gospel of Luke. We begin Year A next Sunday with the first Sunday of Advent and will switch to the Gospel of Matthew. Why Christ the King today?
Some background thoughts on the reasons for and need for this Feast:
Godless, atheistic nations and states rising in power, threatening their neighbors. God and Jesus forced out of the public forum and leadership, forced out of politics. Society and culture diminishing God. It’s not safe in some places to talk about Jesus. He’s kept in a small box at church or in your living room.
I’m not talking about society and the world today. I’m talking about 1925. In 1925, Pope Pius XI was looking out over the world in a post-World War I environment, and these are the evils that he saw. He, along with the Church, decided to create a Feast, a Feast to remind the faithful and the world where true power resides, where to place our allegiance and devotion. As we’re ending this cycle, this Liturgical Year, we’re punctuating this ending and transition time with this Feast of Christ the King.
But why not Christ the Risen or Christ Ascended or Christ the Shepherd? Christ the King is what the Church chose. It makes the point Pope Pius wanted to precisely make. Jesus is Christ the King, and He supersedes all worldly views of power and influence.
But He doesn’t look like a king. Imagine this scene from the gospels. There are people gathered around. Rulers were there, as were soldiers. Jesus was hanging there on the cross with criminals. The inscription above His head was, “This is the King of the Jews.” Almost all of these people were deriding Him, poking fun at Him. They were taunting Him with, “If you are the Christ, if you are the Chosen One, if you are the King of the Jews.” These three taunts mirror the three temptations that the devil gave to Jesus in the desert. (“If you are the Son of God, save yourself by turning these stones into bread, etc.”).
Remember also that the people of the Roman government of that day thought their methods were good, noble, kind, advanced, progressive, and fair. Jesus didn’t look like a king. He was a criminal, actually a slave. At that time, if you were not a Roman citizen and you did something against the state, you became a slave. He had no rights. Convicted slaves, for a crime that warranted it, were subject to the painful and humiliating death by crucifixion. (On the other hand, Roman citizens like the Apostle Paul were given a more humane sentence of beheading.)
Jesus was there on the cross as a slave with the criminals. He was poor, beaten, humiliated, crushed. He did not look like a king. He did not act like a king either.
We know that God is all-powerful. We know that Jesus is God. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians that we heard today, he describes Jesus: “He is…the firstborn of all creation. For in Him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.”
Do you think He was scared to death of Pilate? Do you think He worried at all about what the emperor of that day might do? He is all powerful. Everything that exists, exists because of Him. He could care less about the emperor, or the governor, or the president, or the czar, as these are merely a speck of dust in time.
Jesus had and has infinite power. He could have annihilated everything in existence in the flick of a second while He was there on that cross. He could have called a host of angels to save Him and everyone that was hanging there. But He chose not to exercise that power. We think that kings portray force, power, superiority, dominance, and violence. But Jesus didn’t choose to lord power over us.
Even His closest disciple, Peter, did not comprehend what was going to happen. Jesus told His disciples that He was going to go to Jerusalem, going to suffer and die, going to rise again. Peter pulled Him aside and started to rebuke Him, saying that he would allow no such thing to happen. Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking as humans do, not as God does.”
Jesus did not choose power, but rather mercy. He allowed Himself to become powerless, to become a slave. He allowed Himself to become the sacrificial lamb. Why? To atone for our sins and to save all of us. His mercy is unbounded. The good thief, the one who recognized what was happening, only asked to be remembered: “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” In His unbounded mercy, Jesus granted that thief eternal paradise with Him right then. His mercy is far beyond anything that we could comprehend.
Jesus did not act like any other ruler or king. But He’s the king I choose to follow: a king that loved me so much that He gave up everything. He suffered for me. He took all those insults and humiliation for me. He died, just for me and for you. That is my king and yours. Live that. Be His living example in a fallen world. Our society, our governments, think they are good, noble, kind, advanced, progressive, and fair, just like the Roman empire did. They are far from it, and they need our help.
Go in peace, glorifying God by your life. Serve our King in this world. Our baptism demands it. Jesus won’t be kept in a box, or here at church, or just in our living room. As if He could be. He can’t be contained.
This is the end of the Liturgical Year. I am here on Pope Pius’s behalf, to give an annual reminder that Jesus Christ is King. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end.KEEP READING
Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 13, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Mal 3:19-20a / Ps 98 / 2 Thes 3:7-12 / Lk 21:5-19
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Thomas Alva Edison, the great inventor, used to say, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” He conducted about eighteen thousand experiments before he perfected what we now call “the ordinary light bulb.” He became great through untiring work and utmost endurance.
For some of us nowadays, we are inclined to reverse Edison’s slogan by our longing for instant things. Thus, instead of ninety-nine percent perspiration and one percent inspiration, we would rather reverse that and have one percent perspiration and ninety-nine percent inspiration.
Yet Jesus, in today’s gospel, exhorts us, “By your perseverance you will gain your lives.” This statement highlights two important things. First, the need to endure. Secondly, the salvation of the soul. The first, to endure, is absolutely necessary in order to have the second, salvation of the soul.
Why is it absolutely necessary to persevere in order to be saved? Perseverance is an active rather than a passive virtue for us Christians. Perseverance is built up against temptation to sin and apathy through a life of regular prayer, such as the rosary, our devotions to saints, meditation upon scripture, Sunday liturgy and recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours, and the graces given in Baptism and strengthened by the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation.
Today’s readings teach us the importance of perseverance. In the first reading we heard of the necessity to persevere in righteousness, because evildoers will be wiped off the face of the earth. But those who receive the Most High, the Lord shall raise them, sanctify them, and carry them to a safe place where no harm shall ever come to them. The safe place is heaven, where the Lord rules forever.
In the second reading, we heard of the necessity to persevere in our imitation of the saints. We heard St. Paul’s harsh words for those who fall short of imitating the saints. He told them that, if they were unwilling to work, they should not eat.
Why were some unwilling to work? Some of the faithful believed that Jesus was about to return at any time to establish His kingdom. As such, why work? This is wrong because, according to St. Paul, living in idleness, they occupied their time with small talk, rumors, hearsay, slander, with all of these things leading to disharmony and division. So every Christian, when he’s able to, must support himself and his brothers and sisters and not live off the income or wealth of others.
St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians gives us three characteristics of saints. First, they are human beings like us; they are made in the image and likeness of God. They have body and soul; they are made of flesh and blood. They need things all other human beings need. Second, like you and me, they are also tempted. They can be tempted to do evil and be indifferent in their commitment to God. Third, which makes them different from us, the saints cling to God at all times. The saints rely on the power of God and not their own power.
In the gospel reading, we heard of the necessity to persevere in our living faith. We heard Jesus’ discourse around 30 A.D. on the fall of Jerusalem. While Jesus was speaking of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, which occurred in 70 A.D., those who were present were associating this event with the arrival of the kingdom of God on earth, since the temple was associated with God’s presence. So if the temple were to be destroyed, it would mean the end of the world. Forty years later, those who were still living around 70 A.D. saw the completion of Jesus’ prophecy.
Our gospel today reminds us that, while waiting for the great moment to come, which is the end of times where God will reign as Lord, we must adjust to a long period of waiting. We must persevere in our living faith by taking our crosses and carrying them as Jesus did, so that we too may arrive into our eternal glory. As St. Paul said, we must not be idle, waiting for things that will not come to pass in the present time. We must move on with our lives and be fruitful in the work of the Holy Spirit, while awaiting the final return of Christ that will precede Judgment Day and the resurrection of the bodies.
The question is, are we ready to suffer and to shed our blood, if necessary, for our faith? Christianity is a religion of martyrdom. Jesus willingly shed His blood for our sake, and He calls us to be martyrs. The word martyr in Greek means “witness.” The Book of Revelation says that Jesus was the faithful witness who freed us from our sins by His blood.
Tertullian, the second century lawyer who converted when he saw Christians singing as they went out to die, exclaimed, “The blood of the martyrs is seed. Their blood is the seed of new Christians, the seed of the Church.” Why is this the case? The martyrs witness the joy and truth and freedom of the Gospel by their life, their testimony, and by their blood.
Brothers and sisters, some of us may not have very heavy crosses to bear. Our lives have been pretty good, filled with blessings from the Lord. But we have some brothers and sisters who do have very heavy crosses to bear. We must pray for them, so they will persevere until the end, that they not be counted among those who have renounced their faith and their salvation in Jesus Christ.
We will be well prepared, too, if we try every day to live our Christian life well and full; if we do our best to build that part of the kingdom which God expects from us in the here and now, a kingdom of peace and justice; if we daily water the seed of love that Jesus has already planted; if we pass onto others the light of faith that He has already lit; if we act as yeast that Jesus has already put in the dough, in order to ferment the world with the Gospel values; and if we serve the world as its salt, which He called us to be, to preserve the world from every corruption. All this means that we cannot sit down, doing nothing, just waiting for the end time. It means that we need to keep ourselves always busy in order to hasten the coming of God’s kingdom.
So, brothers and sisters, as we go home today, let us persevere in our living faith until the end of times, through righteousness and the imitation of the saints. Let us also pray for one another, that we all endure until the end, so we will gain our lives.
May Jesus Christ be praised.KEEP READING
Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 6, 2022 — Year C
Readings: 2 Mc 7:1-2, 9-14 / Ps 17 / 2 Thes 2:16-3:5 / Lk 20:27-38
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon
Many years ago, in a different parish, I gathered with a handful of adults to talk about the creed. That was the first time I learned that some people mistakenly think the “resurrection of the body” that we profess at the end of the Apostle’s creed is Jesus’. In fact, we are professing that our bodies will be raised on the last day.
Bishop Barron was reflecting on this miracle in his book, To Light a Fire on the Earth, and he referenced C.S. Lewis. C.S. Lewis dedicated a book to miracles, and in it he argued that of all the world’s great religions, only Christianity depended on miracles for its authenticity. He wrote, “The mind that asks for a non-miraculous Christianity is a mind in the process of relapsing from Christianity into mere religion (Barron 138).” Preeminent among all those miracles was Jesus’ resurrection. The resurrection of our bodies is at the heart of today’s readings.
In today’s gospel Jesus is countering the Sadducees’ disbelief in this. The Sadducees try to show that this belief is comical by asking which of the widow’s seven husbands is her husband in the afterlife (Lk 20:33). Jesus, by the Sadducees’ admission, gave a solid answer. First, He points out that after our resurrection, things will be different. We will no longer need to marry or to be married. In Moses’ time, a brother was to marry his dead brother’s wife to ensure she had children, and his brother’s name would carry on. But in heaven, there is no need for having children and therefore no need for marriage (Gadenz 340). Second, Jesus quotes from the book of Exodus, because it is one of the five books the Sadducees consider inspired by God. (He meets them where they are and then tries to build a bridge from there to the fullness of the truth.) He points out that Moses called God the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and says, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive (Lk 20: 37-38).”
Some things don’t change, and four hundred years later St. Augustine wrote, “On no point does the Christian faith encounter more opposition than on the resurrection of the body (CCC 996).” And as for today, many believe they will live on spiritually, but regarding our mortal bodies coming back to life too, maybe not so much. Jehovah’s Witnesses are one such example. However, bodily resurrection is a core teaching of our faith, and we need to believe it and be able to share it with non-believers.
Let’s start with God’s word “which is useful for teaching (2 Tim 3:16).” In the first reading from 2nd Maccabees, a mother and her seven sons refuse to violate God’s law even when threatened with death, not even after watching how painfully the others died before the executioner got around to them. Why did they endure such suffering? The second brother said this, “The King of the world will raise us up to live again forever,” and the third brother added that he hoped to receive his hands again from God (2 Mac 7: 9, 11).” Clearly, they believed that this life is fleeting, but there will be another and it is eternal, with their body, and without any suffering (Rev 21:4).
Peter Kreeft, in his personal reflection on today’s readings, points out that in the second reading, St. Paul articulates how the eight martyrs in Maccabees could find the courage and strength to do what they did (Kreeft 632). Paul wrote, “May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through His grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word (2 Thes 2:16).” It was in “good hope and through [God’s] grace” that the seven brothers and their mother were able to stay faithful to the end. Sounds good, but what is the “good hope” Paul mentions that we receive through grace?
The “good hope” is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit (CCC 1817).” In other words, we hope in the resurrection from the dead, of which Christ was the first (1 Cor 15:12-14). And here is the good news. “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you (Rom 8:11).”
Some of you may be wondering then, what happens immediately after death? Here is what the Church teaches. “In death, [which is] the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body. God, in His almighty power, will definitively grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus’ resurrection (CCC 997).”
Sacred scripture and sacred tradition speak so often of our bodily resurrection that, if we are not careful, we nod in agreement but fail to stop and, like Mary, ponder it in our heart (Lk 2:19). Obviously, the author of 2nd Maccabees pondered it, and six hundred years before Jesus was born, the prophet Ezekiel did. His words on the resurrection are prayed in the Liturgy of the Hours, “You shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and make you come up out of them, my people! I will put my spirit in you that you may come to life… (Ez 37: 13-14).” God placed His Spirit in us at baptism. Thus, the hope of our bodily resurrection is solemnly symbolized by the white pall we place on the casket, reminding us of a loved one placing a white garment on our body when we were baptized.
A friend and Holy Name of Mary parishioner named John, experienced in a powerful way this past week this connection between baptism, death, and resurrection. Ten minutes after receiving Holy Communion, John felt a pain in his chest which then traveled up to his shoulder and down his arm. His arm went limp, and his hand clenched involuntarily. They took him to the ER. A nurse walked in and said, “They call me Princess and I’m here to get you started on your way.” This was very unsettling to John because he is fond of calling himself “Prince John” in light of becoming a brother of our most high king through baptism. John said he had this discomforting awareness during all this that his soul was up there and his body down here. Our priests anointed him and prayed for him. The tests were all negative and John walked out of the hospital feeling greatly moved by all this. He said, “I cannot stop thinking about it.” In other words, John was pondering it in his heart. God has called him to a deeper awareness of the mystery of the resurrection and through John’s story all of us too.
Here are a few closing thoughts. Our bodies are sacred. They are not disposable shells for our immortal soul. This is very evident at a Mass of Christian burial. We reverence the deceased’s body, either in a casket or an urn, by praying at their side, and if in a casket, kissing their forehead. Once the casket is closed, we place a radiant white pall over it, sprinkling holy water upon the urn or casket, moving the casket or urn to the foot of the altar and placing the paschal candle near them just as it was at their baptism. We incense the casket or urn in the sign of the cross, tenderly placing our hand upon the casket, or putting our hand on our heart while looking at the urn, as we come forward for Holy Communion.
From birth to death our bodies smile, laugh, cry, sing, hug, kiss, learn, sin, love, forgive, bring new life into the world, and are anointed with oil and blessed. It stands to reason that all this beauty and wonder of our body, that God took on in Jesus, would be just as immortal as the soul that animates it. For, as Jesus said, “I am the life and the resurrection…In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. (Jn 11:25; 14:2-3).” Amen.
Citations for Further Study