The Epiphany of the Lord
January 7, 2024 — Year B
Readings: Is 60:1-6 / Ps 72 / Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6 / Mt 2:1-12
by Rev. Dan Kelly, Guest Celebrant
In the first reading that we heard today, we heard Isaiah say “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem. Your light has come.” This is really important to us on this feast of Epiphany. “See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples.” We can also see that too, in the turmoil we find on earth today: the wars, the sadness, the destruction, even in our own country where there is intolerance and all kinds of violence, breaking into stores and wreaking all kinds of havoc. But we find in that first reading, “Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance. Raise your eyes,” Isaiah tells us, “And look about; they all gather and come to you.”
This first reading is a sign of hope for us, and there are other signs of hope that we have. I’m going to remind you of some things that I don’t think the children have ever heard.
When I was a youngster, growing up in a certain town, there was a planetarium. This particular planetarium was in a science museum, called the Franklin Institute, and that was the Fels Planetarium. My mom and dad took all five of us sons (we had no sisters) when I was just a young lad.
The first thing that we saw when we went into the Franklin Institute was a huge ball, hanging from a cable rising five stories high to the dome at the top. That ball was slowly moving back and forth in slow circles. It was a pendulum. There were little pegs all around a circle set up at the bottom of this huge ball, which probably weighed close to a ton. At the bottom of the ball there was a little peg, like a little spike, hanging down, and that ball would swing over and knock down the pegs. It would knock down a peg twenty-four times; every hour it would strike down another one until twenty-four hours had gone by. Early in the morning, workmen had to come out there where all the pegs had been knocked down. They had to stop that ball – Maybe it took four men to grab hold of it and slowly stop it. They would set up new pegs, and then let it go. Thus it marked the hours of the day and the rotation of our earth on its axis. It was a wonderful visual sight to see, and as a child, I was utterly amazed.
Now I’m going to move you on in that same Franklin Institute to another place. There was a huge theater, and this theater was domelike, larger than our church, and it had seating all around it, with a projector. That projector would shine onto the ceiling above, and form sights in the sky. The astronomers and technicians could display anything that they wanted to show. So, you went in there and took your seats, and everyone was chatting, just like we do coming into the church, chatting in the foyer. And then we get into church, and then we’re quiet because we’re meditating. And then the lights start to go dim. The lights in the enormous dome would continue to get dimmer until it got so black you couldn’t see the hand in front of your face. Those experiences were meant to draw attention to something special. One of the announcers would say, “You can’t see your hands. It’s like nothingness.” So, you might wonder what the universe was like.
We were visiting the planetarium in that season between Christmas and the Epiphany. They had decided to put up the sky as it might have appeared when those first pilgrims from other countries – the three Magi – were following a star. They began to explain that, and then you would see the stars appear within this dome, with one star moving very slowly. They would recount the events as described in the Bible, and it brought home to us, not only the enormity of the universe, but also a fact of our own faith that we are living by.
We know who those three pilgrims, those Magi or kings or philosophers were. They might have been studying all kinds of things. They came from other countries; we don’t know where they came from, as the Bible doesn’t tell us that. But sometimes our Nativity scenes may show one from Ethiopia, another from Persia, and another from Arabia. We don’t know all that, but they did not work together until they met on a similar type of pilgrimage. They were all seeing this star moving that they had not seen before. After all, they were astronomers; they were philosophers, and they knew what they were looking for.
Later on (not found in the Bible), names were given to them: Balthazar, Melchior, and Casper. They went to King Herod, who was in charge of that whole area, because they wanted to find out if he knew anything. They had heard that there was a new king to be born, and they were following his star. As we read in Holy Scripture today, they were overjoyed at seeing the star and stopped at the place where the child was. Herod said, “Oh, this is wonderful news. Go and find out where he is and come back and report to me so that I may go and worship him, too.”
King Herod was not a good man; he was a very evil king. He was jealous, he was threatened that there was another child to be born who might be king of all this land. Why are we celebrating the feast of the Epiphany? You might think that, next to Christmas, it couldn’t be too important. Epiphany is like we heard from Isaiah in the first reading today: The light will shine down upon you.
They went and found the child, and it is said they prostrated themselves before the child. Now, if we look at our manger scene, we see the three kings. We see the scene there, but we don’t see them prostrated. We know what “prostration” is. Prostration is when you lie down flat on your stomach, head down, feet down. The only time we see a prostration in our liturgy in the Catholic Church is on Good Friday, when the Passion is being read. The priest comes in, and, if there’s a deacon with him, the deacon will join him. And the priest will prostrate, lay flat down, on Good Friday before the Passion is read, and meditate for a few moments. It’s quite a dramatic, silent scene.
So, we have this story and the image that we have from today. They arrived in Jerusalem, but then were warned in a dream, as we heard in the gospel, not to return to Herod. What did Herod do? You know, after Christmas, we have two feast days, days of martyrs. The first day after Christmas is the martyrdom of Saint Stephen, the first martyr. And then the next is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Because what Herod did was, when the Three Magi didn’t return to him, he ordered his soldiers to go and kill (terrible thought!) every baby boy two years of age or younger. I don’t want to bring horror to you. I want you to know what evil is; what the killing of the innocents is. The Church even helps us to meditate upon that, and we read about that in Scripture. There must have been a wailing throughout that area of mothers and fathers as soldiers went through, taking these baby boys. Why? Because Herod did not want a king to come in his place.
We celebrate that the infant king Jesus survived. God sent the archangel Gabriel to help with this. We have four archangels. You remember three of them: Raphael, Gabriel, Michael, and the fourth one, who didn’t turn out so well: Lucifer. It is Lucifer who was driving the madness of King Herod.
Gabriel is the one who appeared to Mary many months before the birth of her child and said, “You are going to have a child.” Mary is only engaged. She’s planning on her marriage to Joseph. She says, “How can this be, because I don’t yet have a husband?” Joseph was going to quietly divorce her, so that there wouldn’t be any scandal. But then, during his sleep, the angel Gabriel, a very busy archangel, woke up Joseph and said, “Joseph, do not be afraid to take this child into your home to be your wife, because the child is a gift of God, a creation of God, the Holy Spirit.”
Later on, a child is born, and then Herod is letting out the order to kill all these baby boys less than two years of age. The angel Gabriel comes to Joseph again, the father of that family – foster father – and says, “Quick, take the baby and his mother and go to Egypt, a distant country. Go to Egypt and stay there until I tell you to come back.”
We know approximately when Joseph, Mary and the child Jesus left Egypt and returned on this long, long trek back to Nazareth. They had left Nazareth, gone to Bethlehem so that Joseph could register and pay his tax, and that’s where the baby was born. Then they went further away from Nazareth and Bethlehem to Egypt. Do you know when they came back? It was seven years. How do we know that? A lot of research was done many years ago, and it was seven years simply because that’s when the threat was gone: Herod died.
We know, unfortunately, that Herod’s death is not the end of the evil that happens, but it’s the starting of a new life. Joseph, Mary and their young son now about seven years of age, started their long trek all the way back from Egypt, trekking back through Bethlehem, passing by Jerusalem, and the other sixty-five or seventy miles more to get up to Nazareth, to live out their lives, where Jesus would learn by going to synagogue.
When I was young, my father and mother took us to that planetarium. Later on, I became interested in joining the Boy Scouts, but there was no scouting in the parish where I lived in the city. My good friend, says, “You could come and join the Sea Scouts.” Well, I knew very well there were Sea Scouts around. They were not as plentiful as the Boy Scouts. But after all, at that time my brother was in the Navy, my father had been in the Navy in the First World War, and so, I said, “Yeah, that’s a good idea!” I went up there and, on the Delaware River, there were about thirteen – we called them “ships,” and they were the bunkhouses for each group of boys who were in the Sea Scouts. We learned all kinds of things nautical. Once a month Rabbi came and gave us wonderful readings from the Scriptures, from the Bible, and gave us animated talks that young boys would really need growing up: how to behave, how to have fun, how to be good sons to your parents and good brothers to your brothers and sisters.
So, those were some experiences that I had growing up, and it all started with a memory of a father and mother who wanted to take their children to this particular museum, years ago when I was still a little pup, amazed at the pendulum, and amazed at the sky shown in that theater on a feast of the Epiphany.KEEP READING
The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)
December 25, 2023 — Year B
Readings: Is 52:7-10 / Ps 98 / Heb 1:1-6 / Jn 1:1-18
by Rev. Jay Biber, Guest Celebrant
I love John’s gospel this morning. Of course, I love Luke’s gospel at the night Masses. Luke’s gospel, which goes into all the detail about the manger, then the trip of Mary and Joseph, and no room at the inn. All of those specifics of going for enrollment in the Roman census. All the details, very specific details.
John’s gospel was the product of what would seem to be a later reflection, a later gospel. John, of course, was the one apostle who did not pour out his blood for the faith. The other eleven all gave themselves as martyrs, except John. John was the youngest apostle at the time of Christ and would live to be the oldest. The writings attributed to John in the New Testament come from a period of more mature reflection, just like we can look back on our lives. When you look back, you understand it with a different eye. You can look at it differently, because enough life has happened to you.
John talks about the Incarnation in these famous words of “Et verbum caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis.” The Word, the second Person of the Trinity, co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. When God speaks, it’s that Word that goes out and takes on flesh, caro. Et habitavit in nobis – and lived among us. It’s that first great mystery that God has chosen, and it’s so great a mystery. God has chosen to take on flesh while still being God at the same time.
And not only that, but He has depended on the “yes” of Mary to do it. She wasn’t forced. She wasn’t a robot. She chose to take Him within her womb. We see human dignity in God’s taking on flesh. That must mean something really enormous about our flesh, about the human dignity of it. It’s from the beginning, willed by God.
And then, dwelt among us. But the way He does it: in all humility, coming through the womb, so the womb itself becomes a place of great mystery, the touch of the divine in it, capable of bearing divinity. Mary bore divinity, because Christ was who He was: He was the Word. He was the second Person. He is the Word.
Why? Because our flesh had lost its brilliance through the original sin of self-sufficiency: “We can do it on our own. We’re not meant to need anybody.” Oh yes, it’s disobedience, but I suspect it was that spirit of self-sufficiency that preceded the actual disobedience. “I don’t have to have a God; I can be one. Oh that sounds good: I can be one.”
One of the customs of the Church, to emphasize the Incarnation, is to bow during the Creed, when we say “and He became Man.” We’re meant to physically bring the body into worship. But today we genuflect at those words.
In the fifth century the Church began making a proclamation at Christmas, maybe because they said, this is so great, this is so unimaginable, when you really think of it. It was sung last night. It announces the Incarnation. “When God in the beginning created heaven and earth,” it goes back. “Century upon century had passed.” “In the twenty-first century since Abraham, our father in faith,” so we’re beginning with the Old Testament. “The thirteenth century since the people of Israel were led by Moses in the Exodus.” “Around the thousandth year since David was anointed king,” so we’re squarely in the tradition of Israel here. “In the sixty-fifth week of the prophecy of Daniel.”
It’s locating this moment, and of course that’s how we measure time. That’s our calendar. Christ enters – God enters – history. Not some sort of crystal, new age thing, but tangible, physical, material.
But then it leaves the Old Testament. “In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad.” Obviously that has nothing to do with Israel. It’s got to do with Athens, the great capital of the Greek empire, before Rome. And so now it’s situated in the secular world. This gives meaning to the secular world as well as the specifically religious. It touches everything. This is when the Incarnation happened: in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad.
And then, let’s take it to the next empire: to Rome. “In the year seven hundred and fifty-two since the foundation of the city of Rome.” And then more; you see the portal narrows. “In the forty-second year of the reign of that particular Roman emperor, Caesar Octavian Augustus, the whole world being at peace.” The stage is set now.
“Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by His most loving presence, was conceived by the Holy Spirit.” That’s what we call the Annunciation, on March 25, really our first celebration of the Incarnation, because Christ was who He was in Mary’s womb, just like you were, from the first moment of your conception. You were who you were. “And was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah and was made man.”
We often look to redemption as the passion of Christ, but this is the first of the two great pillars of our redemption: the Incarnation, because He takes flesh, because God’s plan has always been that we would be spirit and matter, spirit and flesh. That’s how we’re saved. Not in spite of that, but in that structure.
Why did God do it this way? He could have made it so nice and clean, so nice and tidy. He could have made it so we couldn’t sin, and so our sin wouldn’t affect others. But He didn’t make it that way. I prefer to think that that’s because of our greatness, because of that potential greatness that’s there, if we turn everything over to Him. If we make that real surrender, then life begins to pop.
Think of the details of Mary’s life. First of all, the Annunciation. You’re going to have a baby, from the Holy Spirit. And there’s Mary’s first yes, followed by a series of yesses all the way through, at each moment. A series of yesses, none of which she would have scripted, none of which situations she would have scripted herself, I don’t think. But she keeps saying yes, she keeps saying I trust, let it be done to me according to your word.
Part of me says I wish I could really celebrate Christmas, but there are so many distractions, so many things that get into my head and mess with my head, whether it’s stuff in the Church right now, stuff in the world, in our culture, and on and on and on. If only I weren’t so distracted by these things, if I weren’t giving them rent-free space in my head, then I could really focus on the beauty of God.
Well, think of Mary. Talk about distractions! Everything. Are they talking a little bit and whispering in town? And then the census is announced, and Joseph, the father of the family, would historically go and sign up like he’s supposed to within the Roman empire. But Mary goes with him. She didn’t have to go. You wouldn’t expect the mother and the children to go for those things. She went.
And then, it comes time to give birth, no room at the inn. She still says yes, and she gives birth in the manger. If anybody’s ever had an Italian grandmother, trying to make you eat, she’ll say “Mangia, mangia.” That’s our word manger. Manger is the French, same spelling, meaning to eat.
So He who will provide – think of the mystery — in His body, that Body and Blood of Christ that many of us will receive later this morning, He who will feed the world and strengthen the world until it comes time for God’s project to finally wind up in the final judgment. He who feeds the world is born in the place where the animals feed, the trough. And Mary continues to say yes.
So don’t ever expect your Christmas day or your Christmas season to be without distractions. For some reason God has chosen the Incarnation as His way, and that’s messy. Birth, children, that’s messy. But somehow, for those eyes of faith that can look into that reality, there is a divine beauty as well. And so, through the grace of God, I’ll expect distractions every Christmas.
There’ll always be something wrong, easy to find, but if I can keep my eyes on Mary and her Son who lived among us, then those distractions can be very, very significantly reduced. Then we can, in all situations, come to this great feast thankful and hopeful.KEEP READING
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 29, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Ex 22:20-26 / Ps 18 / 1 Thes 1:5c-10 / Mt 22:34-40
by Rev. Jay Biber, Guest Celebrant
We have this great commandment to love from Jesus. At first it seems that there’s two commandments here, but in reality, there are three. The second one has two parts. The first says to love the Lord with your whole heart and soul, and the second says to love your neighbor as yourself. So, there’s the commandment to love the neighbor but also a commandment to love yourself.
These three commandments are very much interdependent with one another. They’re like a tripod. A tripod has three legs; if you remove one of the legs then the other two fall. That’s the way it is with these commandments; they are interdependent. They’re all intertwined with one another.
Think about the commandment for loving yourself, having a healthy self-love: Why shouldn’t you? God created you in love, and you were conceived in love. A healthy self-love is very important, because if you don’t have a healthy self-love, and you’re looking down on yourself, how can you really have a good relationship with other people? If you don’t love others, you can’t very well love God. Saint John, in his first letter, asks, how can say you love the God you can’t see if you don’t love the neighbor you can see? And of course, if we don’t love others, we probably have a dim image of ourselves without the proper image of love of God.
Those are very important and of course, the love of God is all encompassing. In the love of God there is a commandment to love God and all of God’s creation and all of God’s people. That’s important, because if we don’t have that overarching love of God, then our love of ourselves and our neighbors is too exclusive. It’s not broad enough if we don’t have that love of God.
Seeing God reflected in all of creation, in all people, leaving none of them out, and realizing also that the love is not always easy. It’s not always easy to love your neighbor – some of them aren’t very lovable, let’s be honest. Of course, there are things to get in the way, like grudges that last for generations. Yes, it’s not always easy to love our neighbors, but it is our call to do that. The overarching love of all creation calls us to love everyone and everybody – we don’t leave anyone or any groups of people out.
For love to be love it has to be active. When there’s no activity, there is no love, and so our love has to be very active and involved. If we don’t take time to treasure love ourselves, then everything’s going to falter. Loving others meets an active love, going out of our way to love them.
Who’s the neighbor? The neighbor is anyone God puts in your path. That’s the neighbor, whether it’s your immediate family, your extended family, your workplace, your neighborhood, your church, people you meet in the street, anyone God puts in your path is your neighbor. The thing is that God makes the choice – we don’t always have a choice about who our neighbor is. We probably wish we did, but that’s whoever God manages to put in our path. Sometimes that can be very difficult if you’ve got other agendas going and this person steps into your life and is demanding your attention right now, it’s not always easy. But it’s a call to love your neighbor as yourself, whoever that neighbor may be.
Then this is really big today – loving God and all of God’s creation and all of God’s people. We cannot exclude any groups of people, and there’s too much of that in the world today, and too much of that in our history. We’ve excluded the Blacks and the Native Americans. In the love of all creation, we’re not doing too good a job of loving all creation. We are destroying creation, and this is important as to whether or not we’re going to live, and not just for us but for the generations that come after us.
Loving God and all people and all creation – the Church is really calling us to this. Eight years ago, Pope Francis put out an encyclical on the environment, calling us to honesty and calling us to respect the environment as God’s precious creation. And in the last couple months he added an addendum to that where he’s bringing the process even further along. I’d like to say this is important; this is whether or not we’re going to survive.
Love God with your whole heart and soul, and see God reflected in all people and in all creation. That’s a pretty serious obligation. One thing that I thought of being connected with this was an American Indian way of ending a prayer. We say “amen,” but many of them say “all my relations.” That doesn’t mean all their relatives; it means a relationship with all people and all creation – all my relations. And the significance of that is that if you’re not in all creation, there’s something dishonest about your prayer. That’s pretty profound; that you can’t pray worthily unless you’re a in a relationship with all people and all creation. All my relations – could we honestly say that at the end of a prayer instead of amen?
Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 7, 2023 – Year A
Readings: Acts 6:1-7 / Ps 33 / 1 Pt 2:4-9 / Jn 14:1-12
by Rev. Dan Kelly, Guest Celebrant
“Amen, amen, I say to you.” Why do we hear this repetitiveness? It’s kind of Jewish prose, if you will. A way of speaking, a way of writing even.
As a youngster, attending Holy Mass when it was celebrated in Latin. Maybe I was only in fourth grade or so. I was captivated by some of the repetitions that I would hear. When the priest would read the gospel, it would be read in Latin, and then it would be read in English. And the priest would say, “Amen, amen, dico vobis.” So when I came home from Mass, I would say to Dad, “Amen, amen, dico vobis.” It was such a familiar thing to me, I actually knew what I was saying, because he gave it to us in English too. But that sort of rhythm was something that captivated me. It was also part of the Hebrew heritage of the repetitiveness, for calling attention: “Amen, amen I say to you.”
The other thing I want to call your attention to is the fact that we have in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles the naming and the calling of the first deacons. They chose seven men filled with the Holy Spirit. The first deacons: Stephen, filled with faith and the Holy Spirit, Philip, Prochorus, Timon, Parmenas, Nicanor, Nicholas of Antioch, a convert. They presented these men to the apostles.
We’re anticipating, coming in just a few weeks, the Feast of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit. And I’m wondering when’s the first time that I ever thought seriously about the Holy Spirit. It was when I was to receive the sacrament of Confirmation. You’re going to receive the Holy Spirit when the bishop comes in. He’ll be wearing that tall hat called a mitre, and he will walk down the aisle and then he will face you. You will come forward, and he will anoint you and put hands on your head and confirm you in the Faith. And you will be Soldiers of Christ. It meant you had the courage and the strength to defend your faith in Jesus Christ.
Now what about those men selected to be deacons? What is this role of deacon about? They don’t collect any salary. What they do is serve in their parishes. There you have a little summary of the diaconate, much of which you may have already known.
I’m going to turn now to the gospel. It’s the Last Supper, and the apostle John is remembering all this. Jesus is talking to the apostles, if you remember. They ask Him, “Where are You going?” And He has to explain. Jesus knows that He’s about to die. He also knows that He will be spending the night in agony in the garden. So He’s trying to explain to His apostles at the Last Supper how they must have strength and must have courage.
Soon we will have the feast of Pentecost in which the Holy Spirit comes down upon the apostles. Not only the apostles, but others too, including the Blessed Virgin Mary. But He knows that they need to have strength. He will be arrested. And the next day He will be on trial. They’re going to see some terrible things happening to their leader, and they’ll remember His healings, His raising of the dead, Lazarus and others, and His driving the devil out and of those who were possessed by the devil.
On that night, He also gives His commandment to love one another. As Jesus washed the feet of His apostles what did Peter say? Oh, you’re not going to wash my feet. And Jesus answered, Peter, if you don’t let me wash your feet how can you enter into the Kingdom with me then? What else did Peter say? Wash my head. Wash me all over, if that’s what it takes.
So why did Jesus wash the apostles’ feet? Because the washing of feet was done in a household by the lowest slave. And Jesus Himself takes that role of a lowest servant in a household and puts on an apron and washes the feet of His disciples. By doing so, He reminds them that that’s what they need to be doing.
The path to death does not end with death. And that is what we can recall too. Whenever illness, great illness affects us or loved ones in this life we have this great confidence and hope in life eternal. God bless us all in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.KEEP READING
Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 30, 2023 – Year A
Readings: Acts 2:14a, 36-41 / Ps 23 / 1 Pt 2:20b-25 / Jn 10:1-10
by Rev. Jay Biber, Guest Celebrant
The theme of the Good Shepherd often refers to the shepherds of the Church, and there have been some times of suffering they’ve had in that regard. But I’ve gotten a pretty good sense over the years that Catholics (and I don’t think it’s just Catholics, either) want a shepherd’s voice. They want a voice they can trust.
To me, the most important shepherds are parents. There are those who would like to take children and put them in the care of the state. We’re beginning to see that more and more clearly. But in our experience – and I speak for two or three thousand years of experience — in every corner of the world, and every conceivable government, Mom, Dad, and the kids is the way to go. That’s the core of a society; the state cannot replace that. Whatever the state or the empire offers in our vision needs to be a partnership with Mom and Dad, and part of the challenge is restoring Mom and Dad. It is not giving up on marriage but redoubling our prayer and our efforts.
This is the central mystery of how we socialize one another, how we become human. I see a lot of kids today – I know you see them in school – they’re not evil but they are feral. There’s a feral quality to them. They’re supposed to be socializing, but they haven’t been given the benefit of learning how to socialize.
I used to spend a lot of time in prisons. The parishioners said about the prisoners, “They’re all trying to con you.” They said, “But they need to be rehabbed.” And I said, “No, they need to be habbed, because they were never habbed to start with.” So, for us, the way that takes place is the shepherding; the shepherding of the mother and father.
Think of that voice – that voice of God. I know many people were praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet before 8:00 Mass this morning. They were praying the Rosary at Resurrection in Smith Mountain Lake yesterday afternoon. We had a devotion at Lexington to the Eucharistic Miracles, and that devotion to Christ in the Eucharist. How many have heard in those moments of still and quiet, not the focus on each Hail Mary, but letting the beads slip through the fingers, creating a spirit of tranquility, a spirit of quiet order, a spirit where life is restored and recentered, and that, I suspect, is that voice, the voice of the shepherd that the sheep hear?
It’s helpful to begin with the assumption that all of us are sheep and shepherd. Because I’m the sheep, too. I’m the one who gets lost and is stubborn and doesn’t want to hear it. And so, I’m that, too. It’s helpful to not think of yourself as one or the other. We’re all both.
When a baby’s been around Mom since the beginning, it knows that voice. Think of it, kids, and I think Mothers can probably tell you. Sometimes Dad, too, but I think Mom has a special place here for many.
Maybe the first time after you were born that Mom and Dad went out on a date – finally got out a little bit – but as far as you were concerned, you couldn’t put it into words as we often can’t. You couldn’t put it into words, but your world as you knew it was coming to an end. Total disorder; total chaos; now what? Where do I go from here? Then, maybe the babysitter had some nice sweets and cooing, and some music. But at some point, that began to wear off, and your cry started to rise. It may well have been that only when you heard your mother’s voice again did the world begin to be a friendly place again, a place where you could count on a certain order, where you could count on a certain tranquility, because you knew you were in a safe place. There was a place you were protected.
The image of Christ as the Good Shepherd has a second element. Did you hear that part of the gospel that said, “I am the gate for the sheep”? Well, you say, how could you be the shepherd and the gate? How can you be both?
I learned about a sheepfold, as they called it in those days. Imagine a stone wall in the shape of a circle, with one entrance. They would put thorns and bristles and shrubs and bushes on top of the wall, so that basically no predator could jump over and attack the flock. Where did the shepherd sleep? Right in the doorway – the one entrance. So, I suppose the way we would put it, the shepherd’s making a statement. “If you’re coming in here, you’re coming in over my dead body.”
When I sort-of retired, I wanted to go to a campus town. Many of you know I live in Lexington with Washington & Lee and VMI. Part of my reason was that I’d seen a lot of kids in college begin to lose faith. And I began to ask myself the question, “What’s going on here?” It seems to happen sort of quietly, drip by drip by drip. And all of a sudden, what was there isn’t there anymore. So, what’s going on here? What’s wrong with this picture?
Part of me said, I don’t want them to lose the gift that’s most precious. This gift is most precious of all: the work of Christ, and how it touches us; our vision of the human person; our vision of who we were from the moment of our conception, and our great human dignity from the moment of our conception and all through life. I don’t want them losing that. So, I was focusing on college. I want to give them the words so they know how to recognize when something’s wrong with the picture, and they know what words to use. They know what to say.
Of course, as Covid came on, many of us have had sort of a rude awakening: That it isn’t just college kids. It drips on down, in multiple respects, and it’s fair enough if there are those who think the state does a better job than parents. They have a right to think that. I don’t have an obligation to believe it: I think it’s dead wrong. It’s incumbent upon us to be that protector, to be that voice of the shepherd, to learn the words ourselves. It can’t just be a feeling. We have to learn the words and say, “This is why it’s wrong.” So my kids can go to school and, when they hear things, they have a response.
Looking back, I feel that we haven’t protected them, largely out of ignorance, maybe some laziness. Because to learn the words of the Faith, to learn the depth of it, takes work. To develop that vocabulary, to be able to challenge the vocabulary that they get, that takes work.
But it’s a protection, I believe, worth offering. Ours is the greatest story. We need not fear other stories, but we have to take the time to study them, and then to respond to them and to say, “No, we’ve got something better.”
As we contemplate – Moms and Dads, and certainly priests and religious –It’s a tough place to begin for most of you, I think, maybe saying to yourself, “I wouldn’t know where to begin putting the words to this thing; I’m clueless.” Well, I say some of the same words. But you know something? I think clueless is the best place to start. Because God – we need Him. Because now it’s not just a pleasant thing on a Sunday – now we need Him.
And then we offer ourselves and just say, “Do with me what You want and, just, Lord, one thing: Don’t let me get in Your way. Don’t let me get in Your way. I give You permission to do what you want with me. And to sit and see how You, like in every generation, have set things right.”KEEP READING
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
The Resurrection of the Lord
April 9, 2023 – Year A
Readings: Acts 10:34a, 37-43 / Ps 118 / Col 3:1-4 / Jn 20:1-9
by Rev. Jay Biber, Guest Celebrant
Today’s gospel has a great theme, in this season that introduces death to life, light to darkness, good and evil. It goes back to the two great dimensions of what God gives us, and I think I’d like to leave you with the same homework assignment that I left with the folks at the Easter Vigil last night.
These two dimensions of God that we focus on, that come front and center when we celebrate the sacrament of Baptism, are the dimension of God as creator and God as redeemer. We call these the Two Orders – the order of creation and the order of redemption.
At the Vigil Mass, we begin a long series of readings beginning with the creation account from the very first pages of the Book of Genesis. God creates the world, the sky on Day One, the seas and the waters on Day Two, the earth on Day Three, and on Days Four, Five, and Six what fills the sky, the birds and the flying things, what fills the waters, the fish and the sea monsters, and what fills the earth – all that creeps and crawls and all the animals, and at the crown of creation, the human person. That is the six days of creation.
And of course, the seventh day is what we do today. That’s why the commitment is so important to us, because it keeps a rhythm of time that we have a foreshadowing of the eternal Sabbath, remembering that in a sense every Sunday is Easter. We have a foreshadowing of the eternal Sabbath with God – the day without work, they day you pray and play, the day to renew relationships, the day for a foretaste of Heaven.
So God has ordered that for us when we speak of the order of creation. Everyone does not realize that there is an order, a nature of things. We can explore and learn; it’s not like we are cast adrift and have to find our own meaning for everything. There’s a meaning already there.
I learned it as a kid growing up in post-war America. Like many kids, we were not that far removed from the immigrant experience, as all my grandparents were immigrants. You get roughed up a little bit as an immigrant. I remember those stories, especially when you add Catholic into that. But I also remember very early on being given that sense of where I fit in, because the first question in the Catechism class every year was, “Who made you?” And the answer that you had memorized and had drilled into your head was “God made me.” Well, that’s not a bad start.
Think of how many people today haven’t been baptized, haven’t been given that greatest gift, “God made me,” that I’m not a meaningless cipher. I’m not just happening to be there and not knowing if there’s any reason for this. We say that you can tell your friends, “I don’t always act like it and I don’t always think right and part of me rebels against God, and part of me wants God, but He created me in His image and likeness.”
That’s true of all my brothers and sisters, and that’s true of the people I like and the people I don’t like. He created us in His image and likeness, so that the closest you’ll come to God today is the next human being you’ll look at.
And so, there’s an order of creation. That’s what allowed the Church to be the first ones in the West to explore science, because of the belief that God has created an ordered universe and invites us to study that. Therefore, all that does is reveal more of Him. Many of the great Church leaders going back into history have been great scientists – the founder of genetics, the founder of the Big Bang Theory (a priest from Belgium.) There’s an order to things, and the human person has a place. Now, how marvelous is that?
There are so many who have no idea where they fit in, thinking they are on this big map, but there’s no X saying, “You are here.” If you come across folks in those moments, you can begin to say, “You know, I may have something for you.” We believe that we are created for a purpose. It takes a lifetime to find it out and not everything goes right, but there’s a deep joy. That’s the order of creation.
Then of course, we have the order of redemption. Because what you know about yourself, and what you know about every other person who was ever conceived, is that somehow there’s a flaw in there. There’s something that’s begging to be redressed or redeemed, to be purchased back by God. There’s a distance that’s crept in between us and God; we are not living in the human nature for which we were originally designed. We are living in the human condition, after that separation from God came in which we all inherit. We know that about ourselves.
One thing I like about that is that when I know I’m not perfect, I don’t have to kill myself. It’s true of all of us; we all suffer. But we finally discover a beautiful thing, that God did not wait for me to be perfect to love me.
That’s something you may be able to pass onto someone who may be suffering. Put it in your own words; illustrate it with your own story. Get familiar with using these words because this is exactly what happened after the Resurrection. They were pretty clueless; they didn’t understand, but they began to put those words together and gradually took those words to the ends of the earth.
Now, as we are often surrounded by folks who haven’t been baptized, we have an opportunity to speak of the order of redemption. The older folks will remember saving your Green Stamps, putting them in the book, and then redeeming them for a spoon or a Corning Ware dish. This is more sophisticated, but redeem still means “bought back.”
If you’re wondering about your self-esteem, or if you’re wondering if you have any worth or not, or if you’re worth working on, you can say, “I have been redeemed by the precious blood of the Savior.” We are not designed in the blueprint to be able to make it on our own. I like to think He’s designed us with limits so we will need others, and that we will need Him, because that’s the way we’re meant to be.
So this season, I think we have a good story to tell, with all our imperfections and all the ways we miss a mark here and there, to say you know, that order of creation, to meet my maker, to thank Him for the order with which He made things, to thank Him for making me and the order of redemption, to thank Him for putting me back on the right track and offering through the Church the whole toolbox of what it takes to bring me to His feet, to bring me before His face.
I’d like to think that once we begin again as they did in that early century, once we begin to speak those words confidently and humbly again, the first century happens again and then people will say, “You know, I want some of what you have. I like the way you live. Let me explore this life of which you speak.”KEEP READING
Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion
April 7, 2023 – Year A
Readings: Is 52:13-53:12 / Ps 31 / Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9 / Jn 18:1-19:42
by Rev. Jay Biber, Guest Celebrant
There is a dimension to our faith that allows us to see and experience things in a way that’s deeper and contrary to the initial impression. For instance, the very name that we have for this day is Good Friday. How can that be? How can that be, this greatest chaos, the unimaginable? The unimaginable is not that God rose from the dead, the unimaginable part is God in Christ died. He really did, that’s the unimaginable. How could this happen? This absolute chaos, and we call it good.
The letter to the Hebrews was written late enough in the first and second generations of Christians, for them to have had some time to reflect as a community, to absorb this trauma, and to reflect on it and then begin to develop a vision.
In the reading we just heard, “Son though He was.” When we are called son or daughter in baptism, it means you’re an inheritor, you’re in the will. I guess we would say everyone is conceived a child of God from that moment on. This familial relationship, this being a son, this being an inheritor of God, comes with baptism. God willing, it doesn’t end there, but begins a long journey, a great adventure of life.
Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered and when He was made perfect. But wasn’t He perfect the whole time? In His mission and role as the Son of the Father, the first begotten of the Father, the mission becomes perfected in the obedience to the Father’s plan. The Father says this is what has to be done.
These people I love are yelling at me right now, are shouting insults at me right now, are denying they know me right now. To bring these people whom I’ve loved from the beginning, to bring these people back up on the rails, back on track: This is the perfection. John even uses the word glory.
When I hear the word glory, I assume he must be talking about the Resurrection or maybe the Ascension. That’s the glory. But no, when John writes about glory – “I will draw all people to me” — that’s not at the Ascension, that’s on the cross, the perfection of obedience. When He was made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.
How unusual is this faith? We can’t really wish anyone a “Happy Good Friday.” Yet this is the day the work gets done. It’s a work that gets done not only so that we can benefit from it, so that we can take the fruits of it and be nourished and grow up in it and become an adult in it and become mature in it and go through a whole life with it as the mysteries continuously unfold and more will be revealed, always more will be revealed.
It’s not just so that we can benefit from it. The strange part is the work gets done so we can do it. We become perfected by that openness, by that obedience to the will of God. Accomplish in me, Lord, what You will. Accomplish in me, Lord, what You will, and let me get out of the way so You’re free to do what needs to be done.
What is so good about this day is of course we see disaster; we see the emptiness of it. Did you notice in the liturgy that there was no singing when we came in today? There was no singing because of the day. You realize something different is going on right now, and it is. But it’s a great gift.
I believe that if you can imagine it, you just say, Lord, I haven’t got this figured out now, and I’ll never get it completely figured out. But somehow, I’m looking at You and Your suffering. I’m thinking of the scourges, I’m thinking of the crown of thorns, I’m thinking of Peter’s denial, I’m thinking of the apostles running away. No illusions, but in that is Your glory. and when my heart becomes shaped over the years along Your lines, maybe I’ll be able to do something like that. because I will have morphed through Your grace into You.
I was talking to a parent up in Lexington a couple of days ago, and one of the kids is having a hard time and just feels that it’s impossible to be good enough for God. It’s funny how conscience works. I suspect parents can identify with this. With one child something happens, and it goes right by. With the other one, the same word is said, and it sinks in deep, and it alters things.
Similarly, I’ve seen over the years people who have a particularly keen conscience. We use the word scrupulosity when it really goes to the far end and becomes a serious problem. But some have a greater conscience than others and have a deeper sense that whatever their sin is, it is so serious and irredeemable that not even God can touch it.
This is what happened to Judas, as we hear in Matthew’s gospel. He felt that somehow his sin was greater than God’s grace could ever be. His sin was greater than the divine mercy could ever be, and so, he acted accordingly in his hopelessness.
Remember that God didn’t wait until you’re perfect to love you. That’s what we learned today. God didn’t wait for you to be perfect to love you. Yes, Good Friday is very good, because, as St. Paul says, nothing can keep us from the love of God.KEEP READING
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 26, 2022 – Year C
Readings: 1 Kgs 19:16b, 19-21 / Ps 16 / Gal 5:1, 13-18 / Lk 9:51-62
by Rev. Jay Biber, Guest Celebrant
This was a week like no other, with the big elephant in the little living room: major cultural shifts. And to many of us, what came down from the courts is not necessarily friendly.
There were three decisions that came down from the high court. The first one was about the second amendment. The second sort of gets blocked out, about faith in education. It was a case brought from the state of Maine, in which the county agreed to pay for public or private schools, as long as there was no religion involved. Parents challenged the decision that no religion could be involved. The court’s ruling stated that as long as a full education was offered, public funding could be used regardless. So, we’ve all learned that it’s very important for Catholic parents to keep a close eye on education.
The third one on Friday has to do with the whole culture of life. I think of all of your prayers that have been going up for these forty-nine years since January of 1973, for an end to abortion and to respect the dignity of every human being from moment of conception to moment of natural death. That’s the first right, after which all other rights follow.
The Supreme Court decision does not mean an end to abortion. It was more of a judicial thing that says we took a case forty-nine years ago that was not settled law. In fact, it overturned state law for most of the states in the country and almost guaranteed an ongoing controversy. And so it returns to the states, for those of us who consciously wish to establish that culture of life in which every life is welcomed.
When I visit the nursing home and see the person whom I once knew in the prime of life, ranting and incontinent – no, you’re not a vegetable! You’re never a vegetable; you’re a human all the way to the end of your natural life. We don’t interfere with that. And you are human from the moment of your conception.
So, it’s up to us going forward, because in Virginia nothing has changed between Thursday and Saturday. To work for that right to life is still what lies before us. It has just been brought back to the state level now. The feeling was that the judiciary had been too activist – they had taken too active a role in what should have been up to the people at the polls to decide, not the unelected judge, so it wasn’t a constitutional issue.
I have the sense that you are probably getting hammered by those who know you are Catholic, because not everybody out there is friendly to what we stand for. Like in the early Church, in some ways we stand alone. I hope to give you a couple of things that you can say, because I don’t want to see you unequipped or defenseless. I want to see you with some words that you can believe in.
Long ago, as early Christians, we separated ourselves, often at the cost of life and limb, from the Roman Empire, and it was remarked upon by commentators and historians, that all these Christians don’t want to abort their children and they don’t expose their children.
What was common under the Roman Empire was that children who weren’t wanted were put out where the animals were, or in the forest, or on the roof overnight. Of course, many of them didn’t survive. That was called exposing, and if they survived, the family would often take them back. Christians didn’t do that.
And I suspect that it was because we were taken from all walks of society, and we recognized that since Christ came for all, and since all were made in the image and likeness of God, and that since Christ had taken on flesh, that means that I have to treat their lives with enormous respect.
I always love first confessions. You know when the kids come in, and some of them have very keen consciences, and some not so much. But I always remind them that God loves you and that you are not here by accident. You’re not some cosmic waste; you’re here for a reason (although they may not know it yet), but you’re not here by accident. And so, it opens us up early on, hopefully. From the beginning we stood apart, regardless of how the empire went, and regardless of how the empire goes now.
This is in the future and I don’t have a crystal ball for you. Whatever happens, we’ll stay the same. Now we think it’s a great way to live. It is profoundly liberal, because it says there’s room for you. We don’t know how we’re going to put that extra plate at the table, but there’s room for you. That’s the best of the word “liberal” – an openness to the unexpected, an openness to what God’s doing that I may not be completely in touch with.
So, not only do I go back to the beginnings of things, I go back to when my own life began, which wasn’t the day that I appeared to the world in August of 1947. I’m guessing it was around Thanksgiving time the year before when my life first began inside my mom. She didn’t know I was there. Dad didn’t know; I guess God was the only one who knew. But what I know now that I didn’t know then is that even at that point, I was a person. I had a right to life. I was a human being. And now we know scientifically that I even had my own DNA. My mother was the one who carried me, but I wasn’t her, I wasn’t a part of her in that sense. I was dependent on her, but I was not her; I was somebody different. And that’s what we keep saying – the baby is somebody different, and the baby deserves that protection. We speak of the baby because maybe our first experience of faith was to think of a baby, because babies are voiceless.
A number of different numbers come to mind as I reflect back. The number 49. The number 43. The number 95. Forty-nine years ago, when I had just quit the seminary, I had been in for ten years – high school, college in Rhode Island, where I am from, and then over to Belgium for my graduate work for three years. Times were sort of wild in 1972; it was a crazy, crazy time. I said to myself that I had too many reservations, so I left the seminary, stayed in Europe after being in Belgium for three years where it was always cloudy and gray. I needed to clear out the cobwebs, so I hitchhiked down to the south of Spain and worked there for six months, got some sun, and then hitchhiked up to Switzerland where I waited on tables in the Alps and was a ski bum for six months before coming back to the states.
It was during that time that the Roe ruling came down. Of course, it was not on my radar, so I knew nothing about it. I only heard about it later on, and life has a way of coming full circle. After a business career I was drawn back to the priesthood, and I moved from Boston down to Virginia and was ordained here. There I became involved in the Pro-Life movement, because once I began to think about it, I said, “This can’t be.”
And on a day like today, I think of those in parishes throughout the world who are praying. I think of all those Marches for Life rarely covered by the news media and the longest peaceful protest in history. All those people who said, “This ain’t right.” In a culture that doesn’t have an attention span of 49 seconds, this is 49 years and that March for Life becomes like a great family reunion every year. It’s sort of like Woodstock without the dope – it’s the same average age as Woodstock was. There’s a sense of ‘we need to be here.’ And of course, now that is reversed and sent back. I think of all the people who have gone before us during those forty-nine years and those whose prayers, in this respect, have been answered.
Think of the number 43. There was no long history, no constitutional right to abortion. It was a very activist decision because the laws of 43 states were changed by this, overnight. And that was hard to swallow. So, this time around, the court says it is not constitutional – it must be taken back to the people.
I think of the number 95, for it was 95 years ago, not far from here in Amherst and Charlottesville – that the Supreme Court case was Buck v. Bell, dealing with involuntary sterilization of imbeciles, feebleminded, and people who were ‘less.’ It was the eugenics movement. It eventually got exported to the Third Reich. The eugenics movement – some lives are worth more than others – who would breed and who wouldn’t. And that Supreme Court, perhaps the most illustrious of all time, came down to permit it.
All the way up to the 60s, thousands were victims of involuntary sterilization, and that Supreme Court consisted of luminaries. Former President Taft was on it, and perhaps the most well-known of all Supreme Court justices, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Louis Brandeis. This is a list of the greats, and they came out 8 to 1 in favor of eugenics. Now it had to get overturned and was overturned in the 1940s, when we saw what it wrought. But the one dissenter, which sort of struck me, was the one Catholic justice. He was raised not in the lap of luxury, not with a silver spoon, but in a log cabin in Minnesota with ten other kids in the family. Somehow, he knew.
I’ve been thinking about this for a long time and I feel very inadequate. The first time around we didn’t have the words; we didn’t know what to say. Perhaps when you get confronted, maybe we can begin to get the words now. What I always ask is if a baby is a baby is a baby, and I was who I was before my mom knew I was there. Science tells me that. I wasn’t part of Mom in that sense. I was who I was. The other thing I say is when you look at much of this back and forth is that nobody talks about Baby. And I simply say, “Who speaks for Baby?” You’d expect Mom to be the one to speak for Baby, but if not, we will. Keep Baby at the center of the conversation.
Listening to today’s gospel, I would say put this on my tombstone. Where he says to Jesus, I will follow you wherever you go. And Jesus says, “Foxes have dens and the birds of the air have their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest His head.” That to me, is the great romance of the priesthood, or trying to follow Christ, I think for all of us. To eventually let go of all the little props and little securities that I need, and to turn myself over completely to Him. Where the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head, there is no security but Him.
This is a chance for us to move forth, to say no, we think a culture of life is a great thing, and yes, we may have to revise the whole sexual revolution. We may have to revisit that and say that it was not such a great idea. Look at a lot of the results. Now we may have to go back and do a lot of work, but the battle is always Christ’s, and so may we be graced with all the fruits of the spirit in going forth.KEEP READING
Second Sunday of Easter
Sunday of Divine Mercy
April 24, 2022 – Year C
Readings: Acts 5:12-16 / Ps 118 / Rev 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19 / Jn 20:19-31
by Rev. Louis Benoit, Guest Celebrant
In the gospel for today, I think we need to be in touch with the apostles in that closed-off room on this first Easter Sunday night. The gospel tells us they were afraid; they were in there because of fear of the Jews. Jesus had just been crucified, and they were His followers. The Jewish people could be after them for the same reason.
Besides fear, there was probably a great deal of confusion. Jesus had been crucified. What were they going to do? Where were they going to go? They’d heard news about the empty tomb, but they hadn’t seen Jesus or anything like that. They were probably very confused.
They probably had a certain amount of guilt, too. In Jesus’ hour of suffering, they slept through it, and when He was taken away, they ran away. So there was probably a certain amount of guilt.
Fear. Confusion. Guilt. They were huddled in that closed room with the locked doors. In the midst of that, Jesus ends up standing among them. The first thing He says is, “Peace be with you.” And He repeats it.
What is peace? Peace is when creation is ordered as God would have it. The tranquility of order; that’s peace. Those people He was standing among were in serious need of peace.
Then He tells them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Jesus was sent, then He preached the Gospel of peace, justice, and love, against the reign of sin, evil, and death. And with His death and resurrection, it is now the responsibility of His followers to continue His mission. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
He doesn’t send them forth alone. He says to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” That’s another aspect of resurrection existence: The Spirit that animated Jesus in His lifetime, through His death and resurrection, is now passed on to His followers. And so they don’t go off alone to do the work of Jesus. The very Spirit of Jesus is with them as they continue that work.
But before He says, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” the gospel says He breathed on them. That’s a symbol that could be easily missed. To understand that symbol, you have to go all the way back to the beginning: the Book of Genesis and creation. When God creates the human, He makes the human out of the mud of the earth. But the human only becomes human when God breathes God’s life into the human. And what that is a symbol of in Genesis is that the human is of the earth and of God. That’s how all human beings are: We’re of the earth and we’re of God.
The fact that Jesus breathes on His apostles is saying He’s breathing new life into them. They are a new creation in Christ Jesus. That’s the meaning of Jesus’ breathing on them.
He does that before He says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Thus they are commissioned to continue the work of Jesus.
The Bible is the living word of God for us today. So that’s not just written about the apostles on the first Easter; it’s written about us. Jesus says to us, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Those are words to us today. And “Receive the Holy Spirit.” We have received the Spirit of Jesus in Baptism and Confirmation. That Spirit is constantly being renewed in Eucharist. And so this gospel is not just about the apostles; it’s about us and what our responsibilities are.
It’s also significant that we have the doubting Thomas in the gospel. Thomas who doubts: He’s not there when Jesus comes. They say, “We have seen the Lord.” And he says, “I’m not going to believe until I touch Him, until I feel the wounds in His hands and touch the wound in His side. I’m not going to believe.” A week later, Thomas is there, and Jesus comes. Thomas sees Jesus’ wounds, and he touched the wounds, and he makes the comment, “My Lord and my God.”
A lot of scripture scholars say that this Easter appearance to the apostles was the conclusion of the Gospel of John; the appearance by Jesus at the Sea of Tiberius was a later addition to the gospel. And so Thomas’ professing, “My Lord and my God,” is the apostles’ coming to full faith. Thomas is speaking, but it’s in the name of all the apostles, proclaiming the risen Jesus: “My Lord and my God.” It’s a culmination of their faith. It’s the final profession of their faith in the presence of the risen Jesus: “My Lord and my God.”
Of course, as we are called to continue the ministry of Jesus, we are called (“As the Father has sent me, so I send you”), with the grace of the Spirit we have received, to give the spirit of Jesus to others, and we can say like Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”KEEP READING