Sunday, April 15, 2018

Ups & Downs

   Third Sunday of Easter   B 

How did you celebrate Easter?  (It’s only been a couple of weeks, so you can’t have forgotten already!)

Believe it or not, I celebrated Easter on a trampoline.  After the Masses, I headed to my sister’s house in Plattsburgh to have Easter dinner with my family.  After dinner, there was the Easter egg hunt.  And after the hunt, the grown ups went inside to visit and my nieces and nephew stayed outside to jump on the trampoline.  Having seen all the fun they were having, I headed out into the backyard.  Everyone else just assumed that I was going to watch…but I already had other plans. After determining that the thing could actually hold me, I climbed in and started jumping.  It wasn’t long before my youngest sister came out to tell me they’d already called 911 and put an ambulance on standby—and, of course, to take a few pictures.  I soon learned that jumping on a trampoline is harder than it looks—at least at my age, anyway.  I also learned that all that bouncing isn’t exactly the best thing to do with a tummy full of Easter dinner.

That’s how you celebrated Easter.  Now, why did you celebrate Easter?

So you believe that Jesus rose from the dead?  Why?  On what evidence?

Don’t worry: your pastor’s not having a crisis of faith!  But that’s a reasonable question, isn’t?  And the world has every right to ask it, because there seems to be plenty of evidence to the contrary…

We want to believe that Jesus, by his death and Resurrection, has triumphed over sin and death—once and for all.  But sin and death still hit us hard.  Easter comes along with the promise of springtime—full of hope and new life.  After the austerities of Lent, we can eat chocolate and dessert again!  But then the jelly beans get stale, the lilies wilt and die, and it starts to snow again…and again and again.  There’s political turmoil in our country and violent unrest in the wider world.  There are our individual or family struggles with illness or finances or conflict.  And there’s even heartbreaking diminishment in the Church—something we’re experiencing right here, right now.  If Jesus is risen, if he’s alive again and working among us still, then shouldn’t every day feel like Easter?  The world we live in doesn’t exactly look like everything’s been changed, and changed for the better.

Life—even for us Christians—can often feel an awful lot like jumping on a trampoline, with so many ups and downs.  But wasn’t the Easter grass supposed to be greener on the other side?  Weren’t the powers of hell defeated?  Where are the signs of victory?  

And so we end up being in much the same state as Jesus found the Eleven: startled, terrified, troubled, with hearts full of questions.

And the risen Jesus says to us precisely what he said to them: “Peace be with you.”

A little context here helps us better understand…

This Sunday’s gospel reading starts at the tail end of another story: that of the Easter walk to Emmaus.  With their Messiah (they think) dead and buried, two downcast disciples meet a stranger on the road: it’s Jesus, but they don’t recognize him.  He gradually sets their battered hearts on fire by the word he speaks, and then opens their eyes in the breaking of the bread.  They’ve run—breathless—the seven miles back to Jerusalem, and have burst into the upper room: “Listen up, everybody!  We need to tell you what Jesus just did for us!”  But before they can finish telling their remarkable tale…Jesus himself walks in.  (It’s what Jesus always does when you speak about him, isn’t it?)

And in our first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear one of the first sermons of the first Pope.  But what was the occasion for this homily?  Peter and John went to the temple to pray, and at the temple gate they met a crippled man, begging.  “We have no money,” they told him, “but what we do have, we give you.  In the name of Jesus Christ, stand up and walk.” And that’s just what the man did. The place goes wild!  This man was well known; he’d been crippled from birth and begging for years.  Now he’s leaping and dancing about!  The cured man is actually still clinging tightly to Peter when he starts to preach to the crowd: “You think that was amazing?  Let me tell you my story about the man who made this all possible…”

In both of these cases, we meet people who are living witnesses of the risen Jesus.  A witness, of course, is someone with personal knowledge of something.  They’re not teaching catechism from a book or making studied theological arguments—although those have their crucial place.  But it all has to start by speaking from their own, first-hand experience: “Let me tell you what Jesus has done for me…”  And through their witness, other people come to know Jesus personally and powerfully, too.

They don’t have evidence that Jesus is risen from the dead; they are the evidence.

People who witness to Jesus and his Resurrection testify to the wholeness, the healing, the fullness of life—in other words, to the true and abiding peace—that he brings them.  This is not a peace found apart from all the dizzying ups and downs life throws our way; it’s a peace found right in the midst of them. And this peace of Christ that they experience, they in turn can pass on to others

I learned on the trampoline—and rather quickly!—that you can’t always be going up-up-up. (Yes, we’re on our way to heaven—God willing—but you don’t need me to tell you that we’re not there yet.) You see, the question isn’t whether or not you will come back down; the question is how you will land.  And that makes all the difference.

While the Resurrection is the ultimate proof of his divinity, Jesus didn’t shed his humanity after rising from the dead.  He’s still flesh and bones—still very much human, like you and me.  Jesus still bears the wounds of the Cross in his hands and feet for all to see.  But those wounds have been transfigured.  They are no longer wounds of suffering and shame, wounds of injury inflicted by the cruelty of others or circumstance.  Rather, they have become wounds of love, holy and glorious wounds, wounds that reveal just how close God has come to man in order to restore man to closeness with God—to the communion with God for which we were made.

We all have wounds—from when we haven’t landed well; from when’ve come crashing down hard into reality on the trampoline of life.  Have you invited the risen Jesus into your wounds?  Have you allowed him to transfigure them?  To make them no longer a badge of your shame, but an emblem of his victory?  Are you willing to be a witness to the Lord’s Resurrection, sharing that personal, first-hand knowledge: “Let me tell you what Christ has done for me…”? Are you ready to pass on his peace?

Our world desperately needs such witnesses in the face of all the seeming evidence otherwise.

While it’s oh-so-tempting to try and look like you have it all together—as if that’s what it takes to be a “real” follower of Jesus—that won’t convince anyone for the simple reason that it would be a lie.  Instead, let the very fact that you’re wounded, yet still incredibly alive and well, be evidence of the all-important truth that Jesus of Nazareth, though himself wounded, too, is indeed risen from the grave.

Of this, my friends, we are all witnesses.

* * *
After Holy Communion:
Lord Jesus, in the gospels, after your Resurrection, time and time again you make yourself known to your disciples by joining them at table, doing what you did so often before your death: remaining in their company and breaking the bread. Open our eyes to recognize your presence here among and within us.  Heal our wounds.  Make us your courageous witnesses.  Fill us with your peace.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Trust Me

   Second Sunday of Easter - Divine Mercy   B 

What did Thomas doubt? Most of us would say he doubted the promise of Jesus: he doubted the truth of the Resurrection.  But look a little more closely at the gospel story, and you realize that what Thomas really doubted was the word and good intentions of his brothers.  “You say you saw Jesus?  Well, I don’t believe you!  And I won’t believe you unless I can see him with my own two eyes—no, unless I can touch him with my own two hands.”

You see, if Thomas can’t trust his brothers who are right there in the same room with him, then how could he believe in a risen Jesus whom he does not see?

There’s someone you haven’t seen for the last several weeks, and that’s Fr. Scott.  Many of you, no doubt, have already read his letter in your bulletin.  I assure you that he is OK.  But he’s going to be away for a while—how long we don’t know—in order to give some focused attention to his health.  He’s right where he needs to be right now.  And he appreciates your prayers.  And I can’t repeat often enough: he’s not thinking about leaving the priesthood!

In the meantime, Fr. Justin Thomas will be returning to St. André’s to help on weekends during April and May.  I’m sure you’ll give him a warm welcome back.

Those are the facts. Why are you only hearing them now? For a few reasons.  There was a chance that Fr. Scott was going to be back already.  Holy Week and Easter aren’t exactly the best time to discuss these sorts of matters.  And it takes a while to work out all the details.

Some of you have reached out to me lately, asking about Fr. Scott out of genuine concern for him. That is exactly the right response.  And that’s why, on this Divine Mercy Sunday, we’re putting together a “spiritual bouquet” to send him.  As you leave this Mass, you’ll find tables near the church doors where you’ll receive a small paper heart.  We’re asking you to put more than well wishes on it; we’re asking you to take action.  Maybe, for example, you can commit to saying the Rosary—once, or every day for a week, or once a week until Fr. Scott returns. Or you can offer your Holy Communion for his intentions.  Or you can make a Holy Hour.  Or you can do some work of mercy.  All those hearts from St. André’s will be collected in a big jar and sent to Fr. Scott.  Take some time before the end of Mass to consider what you or your family can do.

While some have been concerned, others—sad to say—have decided to fill the gaps with rumors and accusations.  “Something must be done before Fr. Joe is allowed to drive yet another young priest away!” I’ve got to say: that really, really hurts.  Right now, I’m not only missing a truly devoted and dutiful coworker at a very busy and challenging time, but my heart is aching in the absence of one of my nearest and dearest friends.

There are three things I ask of you as your parish priest:

(1) If you have questions—about anything going on in the parish—please come to me, to the one who’s most likely to have the answers, rather than take them out into the streets. I can’t always share everything, but I’ll tell you what I’m able.  Speculation and rumors are terribly destructive things.  We have feelings, too! Like you, scratch us and we bleed.

(2) Please respect our privacy, just as you rightly expect us to respect yours.  We live a lot of our lives in the public eye, I know, but there are some personal things we want and need to keep personal.  Thanks for understanding that.

(3) Trust us. This is where Thomas comes in—doubting the word and good intentions of his brothers.  Our society’s default position these days is one of accusation and suspicion.  In this, we Christians are supposed to be different from all the rest.  

The Acts of the Apostles tells us that the first believers “had everything in common,” selling their houses and property, entrusting all their wealth to be distributed by the apostles.   Wow! That’s a huge level of commitment, right?  But that passage begins by telling us something even more remarkable: “the community of believers was of one heart and mind.”

The Church is headed for self-destruction if we think and act as if things are a matter of priests versus people.  We’re all on the same team.  Yes, there have been some bad actors among the clergy, and that has understandably weakened people’s confidence in the Church.  But that’s not all priests; it’s not even the majority of us. Really—we’re not such bad guys! I hope you can give us the benefit of the doubt.

Where does Jesus find those ten disciples on that first Easter night?  Locked up together in a room.  Why?  Because they’re afraid.  And what are they scared of?  That they might have to do what Jesus did.  That God might ask them, too, to suffer.  That God might call them to sacrifice.

And how does the risen Jesus greet them?  “Peace be with you.”  The perfect greeting for a room full of terrified grown men!  Then he does something unusual before he repeats those same words again: he shows them the wounds in his hands and side.  

We generally assume that’s to give them proof that it’s really him.  But maybe it’s to reassure them in a far more profound way.

Maybe it’s to say, “See—I’ve suffered.  I’ve made the ultimate sacrifice.  And I’m OK.  And you’ll be OK, too. There’s no need to be afraid. You can do it.  I’ve gone before you, and I’ve got your back. Locked doors cannot stop me. I will be with you always. I will never abandon or forsake you.  Let me breathe new life into your frightened hearts.  Receive the Holy Spirit to be your courage and your strength.  Sure, you’ll be wounded, too.  You will suffer— even sometimes at the hands of one another.  Like me, the Father is calling you to sacrifice.  But you can do things that you thought would hurt way too much.  And you can let go of things you thought you just couldn’t ever do without.  So, trust me.  Be at peace.  It’s by these wounds—not in spite of them—that I’ve won the victory.  Now you go, and conquer the world!”

Every image of the Divine Mercy depicts Jesus at this very moment, inviting us to experience it for ourselves.  And every copy includes at the bottom the deceptively simple prayer that we can’t repeat often enough: “Jesus, I trust in you.”

Let us pray.

Risen Jesus, wounded for love of us, in your infinite mercy, in good times and bad, both when life is serene and when we suffer, increase our trust: increase our trust in you; increase our trust in each other.  Amen.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Where Are You Going?

   Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord   

Last Sunday—Palm Sunday—I was expecting my parents to drive over from Plattsburgh and join us for the 9:30am Mass.  It’s become a little tradition for them to come to Malone for Mass on Palm Sunday, and then we head up for the Sugar on Snow Brunch in Chasm Falls. 

So, I was a little surprised when I didn’t spot them as Mass began.  In fact, we had blessed the palms, had our procession, sung songs and said prayers—and still, no mom and dad.  Now, you have to understand, it would be no surprise at all if they’d arrived late.  I grew up thinking that my family had a special place in the Entrance Procession on Sundays—and not because we kids were all altar servers.  But this was late, even for them.  I just figured that something had come up and plans had changed.

But then, half to three-quarters of the way through the first reading, there they come through the side door: mom, dad, and my 8-year-old niece.  Immediately I thought, “There will be story…”

So after Mass, after greeting so many of you, I got to greet my family.  Which is when 8-year-old Abigail filled me in on the story: “Papa got a ticket!”

It seems that my father was driving at interstate speeds on the Brainardsville Road when he came upon a State Trooper who quickly pulled him over.  The Trooper came to the window and asked, “Where are you going in such a hurry?”  “To church,” answered my dad.  Now, I had learned as a child that there’s no speed limit when you’re on the way to Mass…but the Trooper was obviously raised differently than I, and so Papa got a ticket.

“Where are you going in such a hurry?”  Where are you going?

Have you ever heard of a “bucket list”?  Many folks have them.  It’s a list of things you hope to do before you “kick the bucket”—tasks you hope to accomplish, places you want to see, experiences you want to have.  And just where does such a list presume that you’re going?  Well, to death, of course.  A cheery thought, no?  But that’s how it works.

This perspective colors everything, if you think about it.  We get good grades, so we can get into college, so we can get a good job, so we can make enough money, so can retire at an age when we can enjoy it, so we can travel and buy that place in Florida for our golden years….before we die.  We hurry along the roads of life as if it’s all going to come to a complete stop—as if the grave is our final destination.

Easter tells us to turn the car right around.  Death is not the end!

We Americans have a particular tendency to be heading the wrong direction—riding off into the sunset.  “Go west, young man!”  But we weren’t made to rush headlong into the lengthening shadows.  Our Easter faith instead looks to the east, to the dawn, to a new start.

As we recounted at the great Easter Vigil, God has been leading us in this direction all along—from the very beginning: from darkness to light; from barrenness to fruitfulness; from the slavery of sin to the freedom of the Promised Land; from the infidelity of exile to redemption and a clean heart.  We’ve certainly seen this movement over these last three holy days as we’ve walked with Jesus from the upper room to the garden to the cross into the tomb…and now back out of it again.

Consider the Easter gospel we’ve just heard.  It’s important to note the time when Mary Magdalene goes to Jesus’ tomb: at the very break of day.  And what does she go there expecting to find?  Why, his dead body, of course.  Which is why the empty tomb is so perplexing to her—and later to Peter and the beloved disciple, too.  Our working presumption has always been that death is the end toward which we are heading.  But the Resurrection of Jesus has changed that—and that changes absolutely everything!

Among the things it changes is how we Christians think of cemeteries.  Visit an old cemetery, and notice that—more often than not—the headstones are facing toward the east.  That’s so that, when the great day of our resurrection dawns, all we’ll have to do is sit up and our faces will be turned toward the rising sun.  The grave is not your final resting place; it’s just where you wait for what comes next.

We Christians can approach the whole of life from this perspective because—as St. Paul reminds us—we have already died.  In the waters of Baptism, our old, sinful self was drowned and we were buried with Jesus so that we might then rise with him.   We are not headed for death; we are headed for heaven! 

And heading in that direction needs to guide every single thing we think, do, and say.  Because we have been raised with Christ, we need to constantly seek after the things that are above—not the things of earth.  Through Baptism, we have been reborn to a new life, hidden with Christ in God.

Lots of people have made a big deal that, this year, Ash Wednesday fell on Valentine’s Day and now Easter Sunday coincides with April Fools Day.  (This hasn’t happened since 1956, and won’t happen again until 2029—just long enough for us all to forget that we’ve ever seen this before.)  But this fun little fluke of the calendar also holds some deep meaning for us. 

Are you willing to look foolish and head in the opposite direction from most of the rest of the world?  Are you willing to live in such a way that other people stop you on the side of the road of life and ask, “Where are you going?”  That’s what Easter demands.

And such a dramatic and complete turnaround can only be a matter of the heart.  We’re compelled first by the incredible love we see flowing from the very heart of God: the love with which the Son of God became man, accepted death, and rose again on the third day.  And we’re moved by the desire found deep within our own hearts: the longing for true communion with the Lord, the very thing for which we were created—an intimate relationship that starts now, and is meant to last forever.

So…where are you going?

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Real Characters

   Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord   B 

The drama of Christ’s Passion is populated with many characters, some of whom play obviously pivotal roles and whose names are familiar: Judas and Pilate and Barabbas; Simon the Cyrenian, Mary Magdalene, and Joseph of Arimathea.  Today, I’d like to focus our attention on two seemingly minor characters who might appear to play little more than a supporting role.

The first is the nameless woman who anoints Jesus in Bethany.  All four gospels record some version of this scene, but only Mark makes it an integral part of his Passion narrative. 

Bethany is what you might call one of the “suburbs” of Jerusalem, and a place very familiar to Jesus as the home of his dear friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus lived there.  Jesus is at a dinner party in another house when this woman breaks open her jar of rare perfume, and then a heated dispute breaks out.  It seems that the rabbis of the time debated which was the greater act of mercy: to give alms to the poor or to bury the dead.  It’s worth noting that rabbis who favored burying the dead were ones who believed in a coming resurrection.

Mark tells us that this fragrant ointment—spikenard important from far distant India—was worth about 300 denarius: 300 of the silver coins which were a common laborer’s daily wage.  Assuming that a person did not work on the Sabbath, we’re talking about a full year’s salary here—say, $25,000 to $30,000 in today’s terms.  That’s some mighty expensive cologne!  And suddenly we’re tempted to side with those who decry the waste.  Couldn’t all that money have been better spent?

A question remains: how would a woman in that time and culture have had that sort of money at her disposal?  We can’t, of course, know for sure, but here’s an educated guess: that it was her dowry—the money that her parents had been setting aside since the day she was born to accompany her into marriage as she started a new family.  And if that were indeed true, this nameless woman poured out more than aromatic oil that day.  She poured out her future.  She poured out her hopes and dreams.  She completely wed herself to Jesus and his mission.  She was all in.

We encounter this woman at the beginning of the Passion; the second character is one we meet near the end: the Roman centurion.  What was a centurion?  He was an official in the Roman army appointed to lead about 100 other men.  He had generally proven himself in battle and risen up through the ranks, hardened by many campaigns.  How had this centurion been “rewarded” for his dutiful service?  By being assigned—likely far from home—to a backwater province in constant rebellion, and there to preside over the execution of criminals.

How many crucifixions had he supervised in order to verify that the condemned were actually dead?  We know that Jesus wasn’t the only one who received a capital sentence that Friday.  How many messiahs had this centurion already seen die on a cross?  There were many promising to lead their people to freedom in this occupied territory.  They sought liberation through violent revolt against their oppressors; here was one who had instead preached, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

After so many crucifixions, with so many reasons to be cynical, what could there possibly have been about this man that, when he breathed his last, would cause a pagan centurion to profess, “Truly this man was the Son of God”?

The woman at Bethany provides us with a powerful lesson about how we ought to approach the beginning of this Holy Week: that our walk with Jesus during his final days and hours ought not be done begrudgingly, but with great generosity; that our motivation, to be true, can only be the deepest love—and love, of course, seeks not to do just the minimum required, but instead aims to give as much as possible to one’s beloved, to give one’s whole self.

And the Roman centurion helps us to recognize the one we will face at the end of this long Way of the Cross.  What did he see that was so different about Jesus at his death?  That his last breath wasn’t taken from him by force; it was something freely given.  Jesus was not so much executed by the authorities, as offering himself willingly in sacrifice.  This man was no helpless victim of brutality; in fact, this man was in perfect control…of everything!

What the centurion saw was the fulfillment of words Isaiah had put on the promised Messiah’s lips more than 500 years before: I gave my back to those who beat me.  I yielded by cheeks to those who spit and plucked my beard.  I did not rebel, did not turn back, from the difficult mission entrusted to me, knowing that—in the end—I would not be put to shame.  He could sing right along with St. Paul: Jesus did not cling to any divine prerogatives, but took on our full human likeness, took the form of a slave, humbled himself, emptied himself—poured out completely like that jar of ointment—even to the point dying on a cross.

During his Passion, a crown of thorns rested on our Savior’s head…but we were what was on his mind—not some generic mass of humanity, mind you, but you and I as the unique individuals his Father created.  Jesus endured all this suffering out of pure love for you.  Which means there’s no avoiding it: you, too, are a character in this drama.  What role will you play?  The Lord doesn’t need any more to swell the noisy crowd that waves palm branches and exclaims, “Hosanna!” today, but waves fists and shouts, “Crucify him!” only a few days afterward.  Jesus has already had plenty of disciples deny him or desert him or simply watch him from off at a safe distance.  As Jesus goes from the upper room to Gethsemane then to Golgotha then into the tomb—and three days later, back out again—what role will you play?

My friends, may God give us the grace this Holy Week to respond to the One who freely gives all for us by willingly being all in for him.

* * *
After Holy Communion:
Lord Jesus Christ, Crucified Savior, we believe that you are present here with us, present here within us, in the Blessed Sacrament of your Passion, Death, and Resurrection.  Strengthen us by it to walk with you—this week and always—on the way of your Cross.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Get Real

   Fifth Sunday of Lent   B 
I have to be honest: sometimes I struggle to follow exactly what’s going on in St. John's Gospel.  Today’s passage is a perfect example.

We’re told that some Greeks want to see Jesus.  They approach Philip, who goes to Andrew—two disciples from Galilee: a region where most folks were bilingual.  They serve as translators and bring this simple request to Jesus.  And how does Jesus respond?  “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it will yield much fruit.”

That leaves me wanting to say, “Gee, thanks for the folksy lesson in agriculture, Jesus, but do you or don’t you have a minute to visit with these Greek guys?!?”

So what’s actually going on here?

So often, we want to see Jesus.  We’re struggling, hurting, questioning, grieving.  We’re looking for answers, for purpose, for meaning in life.  “I need you, Jesus!  Where are you, Jesus?”

And our desire to see Jesus usually comes with a pretty clear expectation of just how we want to see him.  Because I have a definite picture of how I think life should go, I also have a definite picture of who Jesus ought to be and what he ought to do.  When things are bad, I want him to come and fix ’em—quick!  When things are good…well, just leave well enough alone, won’t you, Jesus?  Which means that when I want to see Jesus, it’s generally not the real Jesus I’m after, but my own image of who Jesus should be.

And that’s why Jesus’ response isn’t really so far out in left field.

For us, Palm Sunday is still a week away.  But in the Gospel of John, the scene we hear about today comes right after Jesus’ not-so-subtle entry into Jerusalem.  Passover is coming, so a whole lot of pilgrims are in the holy city.  And in light of Jesus’ rather splashy entrance, the packed town is abuzz.  In fact, in the verse immediately previous to our passage, the Pharisees are saying to one another, “Look, the whole world has gone after him!”

Which brings us back to those Greeks.

It’s important to note that they’re Greeks—that is, they’re Gentiles; they’re not Jews.  Jesus’ circle of influence is now expanding beyond his own people.  And Jesus is concerned that the Greeks, like the Jews, will get the wrong idea about him.  You see, many Jews were looking for a Messiah who would save them from oppression by overthrowing the Romans—restoring their nation’s former glory.  The Greeks?  Perhaps they got swept up in the frenzy of the crowd and wanted to get close to this “rock star” preacher so they can ride on his coattails when he really takes off.

But Jesus knows that the only way to truly understand him and his mission has yet to be revealed—although that hour is coming very soon.  What will be the sign of Jesus’ great triumph, that he’s fulfilled the purpose for which he’s come?  How will we see the Son of Man glorified?  It won’t be when we see him carried along by adoring throngs waving green palms of victory.  We won’t see riding high on a white stallion at the head of a mighty army or ascending to a golden throne.  No—it will be when he’s lifted up—bruised and bloody—on the Cross.

That’s not exactly the Jesus they were looking for…but that’s the real Jesus.

The real Jesus is one who acts in perfect obedience to the Father.  He doesn’t ask to be saved from his ordained place in God’s plan, however mysterious or painful it might be.  Of course he sends up tears and loud cries, yet he trusts the Father—and trusts him completely.  Obedience is what the Father desires—from Jesus and from all of his children—which is why obedience glorifies the Father’s name.  And when Jesus glorifies his Father by willingly being lifted up on the Cross, the Father in turn glorifies his Son by lifting him up from his grave in the earth to take his place in heaven at God’s right hand.  The grain of wheat has fallen and died, and therefore produces its abundant fruit.

Can you and I do likewise? Can we accept our place in God’s plan, rather than mope about because God won’t enact our plans?  Are we willing to meet the Lord in our suffering, rather than just hold out for him to swoop in and rescue us from it?  Can we trust that God really does love us and care for us, and really does know what’s best for us, even when the road is long and winding, or isn’t leading exactly where we wished to go?

Which is all to say: are we ready to see and follow the real Jesus?

It is at the altar, in the Most Holy Eucharist, that we meet the real Jesus again and again: the one who accepted that the new and eternal covenant could only be sealed by the shedding of his Blood. 

The Eucharistic Prayer—the heart of every Mass—ends with the priest chanting a doxology: “Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever.”  And all respond, “Amen!”  As those words are sung, priest and deacon lift up the Body and Blood of Christ under the humble yet fitting appearance of wheat and grape.  Notice that the two are separate from each other…and we all know what happens when your blood gets separated from your body.  When we are kneeling before the altar, we are kneeling at Calvary.  But it’s in this willingness to obey, this willingness to utterly trust the Father, even unto death, that Jesus gives him highest glory and honor.

We, my friends, are called to do the same.

Let Jesus draw you to himself, draw you to the real Jesus, draw you to the Cross—so that he may then lift you up in his Resurrection.  To this invitation of the Lord, may our entire lives be a resounding and continual: Amen!

* * *
After Holy Communion:
Lord Jesus, in the Sacrament of your Body and Blood, you have planted yourself like a grain of wheat in the soil of our hearts.  In these privileged moments after Holy Communion, when you are so very close to us, help us to see you—to see the real you—so that we may serve you and follow you and bear much good fruit.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Family on the Farm

Most folks have some notion that farming is a tough way of life, but all too few have a clear idea about just how tough dairy farming is right now.  If you like cheese, drink milk, or occasionally enjoy some ice cream (although you might not be enjoying that until after Easter), then you really ought to take the hour to watch this important program (broadcast just last night)--and not just because my brother is on the panel and my father takes the mic, too.  Even if dairy isn't part of your diet, it is a major part of our North Country way of life and at the heart of the story of so many of our families.

Watch the forum.  Spread the word.  Join the conversation.


Sunday, March 11, 2018

A Chronicle of Love

I made the following announcement at the beginning of all the Masses this Sunday:

I have some news to share with you this morning.

As you are well aware, for more than 2 years we have been engaged in a planning process—one that’s taking place all across our Diocese.  It has been a difficult task.

I come today to tell you that Bishop LaValley has approved the plan we proposed to him.  Most significantly, that means that St. John Bosco Church will become an oratory—remaining a place of prayer, but where Sunday Mass is no longer celebrated—and St. Joseph’s Church will close permanently.

This is not easy news to have to share.  This is a very sad loss—not only for those of you who are attached to these two particular church buildings, but for all the Catholics of Malone—your priests included.  We were not ordained in hopes of spending our priesthood realigning parishes and closing churches.

Bishop LaValley will be coming to Malone on Sunday, April 22, to celebrate the last Sunday Mass at St. John Bosco.  He will be returning the evening of Tuesday, May 1—the feast of St. Joseph the Worker—to celebrate the last Mass at St. Joseph’s.

All of our registered parishioners will receive a mailing in the next several days, including a letter from our Bishop and details about his visits.  Copies of these will also be made available in our churches.

The Church wears rose-colored vestments this Fourth Sunday of Lent as a sign of her joy on reaching the midway point to Easter.  The first words of the Mass, as we just sang in our Entrance Antiphon, boldly proclaim: Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all you who love her.  Be joyful, all you who were in mourning…

In light of this announcement, those words can seem a cruel irony.  But I think that they actually hold an important message for us at this crossroads.

It can be awfully tempting at a time like this to focus only on what’s being lost.  That, of course, would be to miss the bigger picture.  The whole point of having a plan is to set our sights on the future.  Committing ourselves to working toward a brighter tomorrow, as did those who built our churches years agothat is the very best way to honor the rich legacy of our past.

As we especially remember at this time of year: with the Lord, there is no death without the joyful promise of resurrection.

In recent days, the comforting words of a familiar hymn have kept ringing in my ears: O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home.

The Lord remains ever faithful—no matter what.  May he increase our faith that he is very near to us, now and always.

   Fourth Sunday of Lent   B 

John 3:16.  Anyone who’s watched an NFL game knows that scripture citation.  Now, you may not know what it says, but you know the chapter and verse.  It’s likely the most commonly quoted line in the entire Bible, and it’s at the heart of the passage we’ve just heard: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.  John 3:16 has rightly been called “the gospel in a nutshell.”

But have you ever seen anyone holding up a sign that says 2 Chronicles 36?  Of course not!  We rarely hear from that book; in fact, it only shows up twice among the many readings in our Lectionary: on one weekday every two years, and one Sunday every three years.

Chronicles is the very last book in the Jewish Bible.  What we read today are its very last verses.  And I’m going to guess that the anonymous author of Chronicles must have failed creative writing class, because the original ending of his book is absolutely horrible!

We’re told that God’s people—from the nobles and priests on down—had “added infidelity to infidelity,” picking up all the wicked ways of the peoples who lived around them.  Now, God had chosen them to be a light in the world: to be different from all the rest; to lead other nations to him.  Instead, they kept showing how much they preferred what they could do with their neighbors in the darkness—how much they wanted to be just like everybody else.

So how does God respond?  Out of his deep compassion he patiently kept sending his people messengers—the prophets.  “Early and often,” we’re told, did the Lord reach out, giving them plenty of time to change their hearts and to change their ways.  But they mocked his messengers, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets.

Having exhausted all other options, God allows the people’s faithlessness to reach its logical conclusion.  The nations that Israel should have been converting now turn on it.  The Babylonians brutally attack Jerusalem.  They burn down the temple, tear down the city walls, kill many, and carry off those who remain as captives into exile.

The result will be more than a brief “time out.”  Interestingly, we’re told that the land must retrieve “its lost sabbaths.”  One of the people’s most grievous sins was failing to keep holy the Lord’s Day.  Because they didn’t heed the Lord’s command concerning the seventh day, now the Promised Land would enjoy a sabbath rest in their absence for seventy long years.

God’s people must have been asking themselves: Where is the Lord?  How could he let this happen?  It’s the Lord’s own temple that’s been destroyed!  It’s the Lord’s own land that’s been left in ruins!  It’s the Lord’s own people that have been killed and captured!

This Sunday’s psalm is their lament in captivity: By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept.  We hung our harps up in the trees for we were unable to sing.  What they’re expressing here, it seems to me, is more than understandable grief.   It’s a stubborn refusal to experience joy.  They have been so focused on the glories of their past that they can’t see how God is working among them right now, or where he might be leading them in the future.

That, my friends, is the original ending of Chronicles—and thus the ending of the entire Jewish Bible.  The end of the book appears to be the end of the whole story.  It’s certainly not, “And they all lived happily ever after.”

But with the Lord there’s always more to the story.  As the Hebrew Bible slowly took shape, editors added two more verses to the end of Chronicles—the very same two verses we find at the beginning of the Book of Ezra.  They tell us that Cyrus, king of Persia, issues a decree: all the people of Israel are now free to return home.  Even more, Cyrus commissions them to rebuild the temple, and he will (we’re told elsewhere) go so far as to provide the resources to do it.

It would be easy enough when considering this story—along with its parallels both throughout history and in our very own lives—and think that it’s evidence that God can and does fall in and out of love with his us…just as we do with one another, and just as we do with him.  How else do you explain their destruction and exile?  How else do you explain our own suffering and loss?

But that would be to miss the point entirely!

God does not abandon his people—never has, never will—despite how things sometimes feel.  The Lord remains faithful, even when we do not.  That’s because love isn’t something God does; love is who God is.  God is love—eternal love, unchanging love.

As Jesus reminds Nicodemus, God’s purpose is not to condemn the world, but to save it.  When God’s anger is inflamed, it’s not out of thirst for vengeance, nor is it aimed at destruction.  Rather, it’s God’s passion to set things right again.  Believe it or not, it’s just another expression of God’s merciful love.  Sometimes, things reach a point when only drastic measures will work—when only radical surgery will bring about true healing; when something old must be torn down in order for something new to be built up; when something must first die before it can rise again.  As the old proverb says, “The darkest hour is just before the dawn.”  Divine purification is most generally a painful process, but it’s an absolutely essential one.

Israel’s restoration after exile comes about in a way no one ever saw coming.  They’re returned to their homeland by a foreign—pagan—king: a worshipper of other gods; the conqueror of their conquerors.  Cyrus’ motives were likely mixed, at best—but God can make use even of these.  The Lord’s will will be done.

Jesus calls to mind another unexpected turn in his people’s history.  (You might say that such twists are one of God’s specialties.)  The Israelites are wandering forty years in the desert, and all along the way they grumble against God and against Moses.  They doubt the Lord’s good intentions toward them.  In light of this breach of confidence, this breaking of faith, poisonous snakes are sent among the people and, as a result, many of them die.

The people recognize their sin, and the Lord hears their cries.  He directs Moses to make a serpent out of bronze and mount it on a pole.  The Lord promises that any of those who have been bitten have only to look upon the bronze serpent to be healed.  You can imagine their reaction:  Really?  Another snake?  You want me to look what’s killing me in the eye?

But as God so often does, the thing that seems to us a harsh chastisement turns out to be the very thing that saves us.  And it’s precisely thus that you and I must face the Cross.  God constantly keeps before our eyes a vivid reminder of what sin really does.  Jesus will endure what our sins deserve—and, in so doing, save us from them.  In Jesus, God descends into our human suffering—as low as he could go—in order to lift us up from it.

Our parish finds itself in a moment of real sadness and loss.  In times like these, it’s easy enough to ask, “Where is God?”  However suffering comes to us—and come to us it does—we must trust that the same God who has brought us to it will also, always, see us through it.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.  No—God doesn’t condemn us.  But we do condemn ourselves if we won’t allow God’s love—in its most mysterious disguise—to work in our hurt and in our sorrow.

If The Malone Telegram’s “Today in History” column is to be believed, we have a most remarkable coincidence this weekend.  For it was precisely on March 10, 515 years before Christ, that the new temple in Jerusalem was completed after Israel’s exile.

You see, the sad end of Chronicles was not the end of the story, because God is always faithful.  The Lord’s love knows no end.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Well Known

So, I haven't posted a song on here in a VERY long time...but I just came across this one (through a rather long, strange chain of connections), and it is SO beautiful (both the music and the video) that I can't stop listing to it and just need to share...

"Know Me Well," by Roo Panes (2012)

Well you know me with that ancient gaze 
Stripping down with yesterday's eyes 
You know me as I was you see me as I will be 
And I still had a lot of growing 
When you took me and you shaped me with those hands 
You know me better than myself 
Make me better than I am 

Oh, you know me well 
Know me well 
Know me well 

When I think about my past 
I see our love too many years before you came 
In my hopes and my dreams 
With the wax and the moon wanes 
And you saw what I could be 
Please teach me how to be what I was meant to be 
See without you I was nothing 
But with you can be anything 

Oh, you know me well 
Know me well 
Know me well 

What can I fear 
When I know that I walk by your side 
You're the fortress 
Within which I got nothing to hide 
None can take me 
I'm the tower the world cannot fell 
'Cos I'm stronger 
When I know that you know me well 
Know me well 
Know me well 

Oh, you know me well 
Know me well 
Know me well