Sunday, April 28, 2019

Thomas the Apostle & "Twins" (2019-04-28, Easter, 2nd Sunday)

April 28, 2019   [ 2nd Sunday Easter]   
  Acts 5:12-16     Psalm 118  ●  Revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19 ●   + John 20:19-31●

[_01_]  Welcome to Our Lady of Lourdes, friends and families of our 1st Holy Communion young people and you – our young people –for 1st Communion.
          The Gospel today reminds us of the close friendship and connection between Jesus and one particular apostle: Thomas. Jesus takes the time to make a special – 2nd – visit to the apostles just so Thomas & Jesus can see each other in person.
          Yet, Jesus is close to all of his disciples and to all of us, and to all of you.  He comes to us – in person – in Holy Communion.

Thomas is also important because – in the historical language/writing of the Bible – his name or nickname means “twin”, i.e., “twin brother”. Thomas is, as some writers say, our twin brother, because his appearance, his reaction is what many of us might do in the same situation. Thomas is your twin, my twin. You didn't know you had a twin brother!
Jesus is also your brother – to you - each of you in our first Communion Class....
          Your personal friendship to Jesus is so important that his life is a gift for you on the Cross and in Communion.
I’d like to use Thomas being a twin as an… example/analogy.
Among us today are brothers who are very close in age and even 2 brothers who are twins. And yet all of us are called to this same closeness with Jesus.  We are all brothers and sisters today…and in Thomas we have a twin !
[_02_]  The other day, I met, for the first time – 2 brothers who are Boy Scouts and volunteers and they are were building a fence and garden on our property. Some of you may recall meeting them – Jason and Michael -  because they spoke after Sunday Mass a few weeks ago about their construction projects. They are hoping to become Eagle Scouts and they have to build something as part of their goal to become Eagle Scouts.  Their names are Jason and Michael.  They are also twin brothers. They are twins.
          In my conversation with them, I kept mixing them up and calling ‘Jason’ to Michael and ‘Michael’ to Jason. They were not even identical twins and I did this!
          They were nice about this and did not seem to mind.

[_03_]    If you meet someone who has a twin brother a twin sister, you might also do the same, to confuse them one with the other …because they are so close and similar in appearance.

[_04_]    We want you – through your Holy Communion – to be close to Jesus, so that you will always know that God loves you and guides you.
          I bring up the example of “twins” and “twin brothers” because Thomas the Apostle is mentioned in the Gospel this Sunday and Thomas’ name means ’twin’.
          And, one of the things – that Pope Benedict XVI wrote about Thomas  was that he tried very hard – throughout his life – to stay close to Jesus.
          And, who is closer than your twin ? Sometimes, we are even trying to get away from our brothers or sisters or be independent of them…. But twin brothers or twin sisters are different.
          They enjoy being together. The like being together. They even take some pleasure, I daresay, in one being confused with the other.

[*** Pause ***]
          Pope Benedict wrote that Thomas really sees his destiny and his success as tied to that of Jesus.
          And, isn’t this what twin brothers or twin sisters see in each other?
          Even though they fight or argue or disagree…whether they wear the same clothes or different clothes, they share so many things …and especially the same birthday.
          The life of one is the life of the other. The joy of one is the joy of the other. The pain of one is the pain of the other.
          Now, we learn this when we grow up…and certainly marriage and matrimony are examples of this.  When a woman becomes a mother, she comes to understand that her child’s joy is her joy, her child’s pain is her pain. The same for a father. But, these are things we learn in adulthood.
          Twins, I suggest, learn from a very early age..and give us a powerful example of what it means to know another person intimately.
[_05_]    When I was a kid playing baseball, , we used to play against a team on which the star players were twin brothers. Usually, one twin brother was the pitcher, and and the other twin brother was the 1st baseman.
          Now, in baseball – and other sports – what players try to do is to give signals or signs to each other about what is coming next. And, they don’t want the other team “translating” or interpreting what the signal is. So, players will use some code or sign.
          And, these twin brothers did that. One was the pitcher, one was the first baseman.  And, our coach warned us – he said, you better watch out, because these twin brothers have a way of communicating with words or sounds ..and no one else can understand. So, you better be careful if you are taking a lead off of 1st base or trying to steal second.
          The twins knew what other people didn’t know and they could talk to each other in a special way.

[_06_]   It’s good to have a twin because that person understands you in a way that no one else does.
          The twin has been with you your whole life, knows your pain, your joy, your sorrow, knows who you are.

[_07_]   On this, your 1st Holy Communion Day, dear young people, I want you to remember that Jesus is also your brother, your friend, your companion and that he shares your joy, your sorrows.
          And, that Jesus has been with you from the beginning of your life and he will be with you until the end of your life and he even meets us when we die.
          So, it’s good to have a twin brother or twin sister, but it’s even more important to have Jesus as our brother, as our Savior, teacher..
[_08_]   And, in our prayer, quiet time, Jesus can speak to us and relate to us in a way no one else can.
          Who are those who help us in our difficulties, in our struggles? Those who know us the best. It does not mean that they tell us what we want to hear, but what we need to hear.
          One of the great things about having a twin or having a best friend or having a spouse or a child is that we trust that we are KNOWN and LOVED simply for who we are.  “To know you is to love you.” That is the old saying.
          A true friend or companion is someone who loves us and knows us not for what we do or produce but that we are.
          You – boys and girls – were loved and known by your parents even before you were born.
          God loves you because you are. And, if you need forgiveness, God welcomes you not because you have the perfect apology or statement of contrition but simply because you are and because you say that you are sorry.
          God loves us as we are.

[_09_]   Jesus comes to help us when we are confused and to love us even if someone else does not love us or rejects us, simply because we are.
          Jesus comes to us in Communion simply because we are.
          And, while we are not all the same – we are not all identical twins or mirror-images of each other – we are equal and need in of God’s love and forgiveness. And, we are never alone in our communion with Jesus our Savior.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Comeback / Rebuilding (2019-04-21, Easter)

April 21, 2019   [ Easter Sunday 2019]   

Easter Vigil Readings:  ● Genesis 1:1-2:2 ● Genesis 22:1-18 ●
●  Exodus 14:15-5:1 ● EPISTLE: Romans 6:3-11  ● + Luke 24:1-12●

Title:        Rebuilding

[_01_]    ►” Saturday, August 11, 2018” ►  That Saturday, we had very severe thunderstorms, tropical rain. You may recall Caldwell had 5 inches of rain that afternoon. A Little Falls car dealership lost many vehicles which were carried away by the flood water.
            Here in our Lourdes neighborhood, the water rose quickly on the very aptly named Mississippi Avenue – to your right
            And, only the doors of the church basement and well-built structure kept the water back. We even got water on the basement floor.  And, several of you sprang into action to check doors, un-clog drains, address the water …and … to calm me down. Thank you!
 [_02_]    At the time, it was hard to imagine how we would clean up, respond, and bounce back and we needed the church basement (Connor Hall) for an important family social event.  We needed a comeback…
            Coincidentally, it was for Liam Cunningham, our Eagle Scout who had who rebuilt 275 feet of fence on our property, to honor him for this infrastructure “comeback”  … but would our infrastructure come back in time ?
            We did get it cleaned up in time.           I personally believe that so much fresh water had flowed into our “Temple” (cf. Book of Ezekiel, ch. ___) that the church basement appeared in better shape after the flood than before.
            There was so much water.
[_02_]   Easter & the Easter Vigil are times to remember the celebration of water and the baptismal water in our lives.
And, also to renew our baptismal promises.
          What does baptism, or ‘to baptize’ mean?  St. Paul wrote about this to in ‘Romans’:
          “Brothers and sisters, are you unaware that all of us who were baptized baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.  We were indeed buried with him through death so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (cf. Romans 6:3 --__)
          So, baptism is about death and new life.  About a comeback. 
About the renewal of our promises, continually.  Father Ronald Knox writes – in this very simple example – that we do not re-baptize – or baptize more than once – just because it is about the forgiveness of sins.
For example…let’s say your mom tells you to wash your don’t say … oh, I washed them last week or or I used hand sanitizer in the car.  Rather, you wash them, repeatedly. Your mother knows!
          So, baptism happens only once but we renew our baptismal vows or promises.
[*** Pause ***]
[_03_]   And, renewal is good. Comeback stories are good. We love comeback come-from-behind victories.
The University of Virginia men’s basketball team lost in 1st round of their playoffs/tournament last year despite being heavily favored to win the whole tournament.
It was the most embarrassing lost in the history of the tournament. Then, this year, they “came back” and won the whole tournament in 2019 to be national champions.
Serena Williams, she is a perpetual comeback story, trouncing teenagers and players 15 or more years younger on the tennis court.
And, who could forget Tiger Woods of last Sunday, golf, the Masters?
Everyone loves a comeback story.
In our baptismal promises, we are making a comeback, spiritually …
          But, we are not always doing so publicly for all to see…
          For example…
► 1-on-1 in confession, we renew and come back to love God and love our neighbor according to the Commandments.
► in turning away from selfishness and self-centeredness, we reject Satan and all his works and all his empty promises. That’s a baptismal promise. A comeback.
► speaking and listening to God in quiet prayer – rather than all the competing voices around us, we renew our belief in the Holy Spirit. A comeback.
► walking into church, blessing ourselves with holy water, that’;s a comeback. we say…Lord, I am trying to live my life in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, according to your will, though it is sometimes difficult.

[*** PAUSE ***]

[_06_]     ►” Monday, April 15, 2019” ► 
This was the day after Tiger won the Masters. Monday.
Will there be a comeback achievement? Another? Paris?
A few days ago, it was certainly more than a thunderstorm and several inches of rain that affected the church of Our Lady, Notre Dame, Notre Dame Cathedral, ile de la cite, on an island in the River Seine, Paris. Monday.
          What were you and I watching, feeling to this heat, smoke, not to mention high volume and pressure of water?
          One journalist (E.J. Dickson Rolling Stone) wrote that the fact that the building did not collapse – a concern in the hours immediately following the blaze - serves as a powerful testimony to the skill of the medieval builders who – 850 years ago, circa 1200 – who had neither cameras nor computers nor calculators nor communication devices, except handwriting and the spoken word. They did not even have clocks, digital or analog.
          “It’s worth remembering why [the Paris church community] went to the trouble of building [Notre Dame] this way.  They built it so it would endure, last. The vaulted ceilings and & flying buttresses was not only for aesthetic [visually artistic] reasons – but it was also for fire proofing. And, they were surely worried about fire in 1200, 1300, all they had were buckets of water as their extinguishers.”
          They built to survive a fire.
          Jesus dies for us so that will survive a fire also.
          Survive the fire of persecution… and many difficulties, so that we will survive the fire of feeling unloved, rejected …
          Not only the fires of hell and Purgatory..but that we will survive the fires of today, to know that we are loved and worth dying for.
          And – like the builders in 1200 of the church, the firefighters on Monday had only 1 chance. You only get 1 chance to fight a fire.
          And, those firefighters were being celebrated today in another cathedral in Paris.
[_07_]      The artwork of Notre Dame can be reproduced..human life cannot.
          For this reason, hundreds of firefighters rushed into Notre Dame.
          They rushed in to get people out… and just like the firefighters on 9/11 rushed in to get people out. And,they saved tens of thousands of people in New York in 2001.
          Jesus laid down his life for our sins not only so that we might not fear death but that we might touch a little bit of death and yet rise to new life.
          And, to live a mature complete Christian life, we are called to forgive others. This can be a burden, a cross.
          We are called to die to ourselves. For to forgive another person, we imitate Christ and while none is the savior of the world, we participate in his saving mission and we give life by forgiveness.
          To do this, we may have to die to our own agendas die to ourselves.
          Jesus shows us that you
are worth dying for, I am worth dying for.
          Jesus shows us we are worth dying for, to give us new life, given to us originally in baptism.
          This is the life we re-claim when we confess our sins, the life we re-claim when we forgive another’s faults.
In this comeback, we don’t build a new structure but we build from the inside out, similar to Notre Dame Cathedral will be rebuilt from the inside out.
Jesus is the way and truth to our new life. His resurrection reminds us that he is the stone rejected by the builders and has become the cornerstone. This the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Let Go. (Good Friday 2019-04-19)

April 19, 2019  [ Good Friday]   

•  Isaiah 52:13-53:12 • Psalm 31 • Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9 • + John 18:1-19:42

 [_01_]    On my first full day – a Sunday – that I was a priest, I was at church for my first Mass of Thanksgiving.
          It was May 28, 2006.
          I share this episode as an example of “being let go”. Someone let me go.  My father “let me go.”
          After the mass-in-church, a friend came up to congratulate me and also offer his heartfelt advice that when I speak to people – i.e., from the microphone like now at church – or just in general – I should not “talk at people” …i.e., I should not talk down to people, I should allow people to interrupt me, to respond. It was good advice on first day. I often think about it and wonder if I am actually following this advice.
          Now, at the very moment of this 1st-day-as-a-priest conversation and advice, my own father was standing nearby and overheard the whole thing. My father thought this
advice – on my very first day – as a priest was a little over the top, a little much.  So, my father intervened and said… “OK, that’s enough …give him a break… in other words, take it easy…”
          So, I was rescued – I was “let go” by my father, in this case. I was not a child; I was an adult when this happened. Nevertheless, my father thought it was important to “let me go.”
 [_02_]   There are countless ways in which parents intervene for their children, whether the child is in middle school or in middle age.
          It’s nice to be “let go.”

[*** Pause ***]
[_03_]    “Let them go.” “Let these men go.”
          Jesus was arrested at the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he died.
          Jesus was not alone; he was with his disciples.
          Nevertheless, he wanted his disciples to be released, to be let go. Let them go. They were also “recently ordained as his priests and companions”.
          Jesus wanted them – at this point – to be let go. Its urgency is similar to Moses before the Exodus speaking to Pharaoh in Egypt, “let my people go”.
          Its urgency is similar that of a parent advocating for her child, or a friend trying to help someone out of a difficulty. Let him go. Let her go.

[_04_]     Jesus let his disciples go – wanted his disciples – released precisely because he was substituting himself for their sins, for their punishment. In the law, it would have been double jeopardy to punish the disciples as well.
          So, Jesus takes the fall for our faults.

[_05_]     Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote that Good Friday is a day full of sorrow, of the sorrowful mysteries of our faith. But B16 is also reflecting on Good Friday as a gift of being let go.
          Consider that when we fully acknowledge a gift or a favor that someone does for us, we are often tireless in our pursuit of the appropriate thank-you or expression of gratitude. The gift is an awakening. 
          B16 goes on to say that          
If Good Friday is a day full of sorrow, it is therefore at the same time a particularly propitious day to reawaken our faith, to consolidate our hope and courage so that each one of us may carry our cross with humility, trust and abandonment in God, certain of his support and his victory. The liturgy of this day sings: O Crux, ave, spes unica Hail, O Cross, our only hope!” (Benedict XVI, General Audience, 2009 April 8)

[_06_]     Yes, the disciples – Peter, James, John and the rest – are “let go” when Jesus is arrested.
          We were also let go – forgiven – when Jesus was arrested, put to death and crucified.
          The gift, then, is not a call to rest but to respond, by the way in which we endeavor to recognize that we are sinners in need of God’s grace and mercy, that we are called to be charitable to others.
          And, also it is a reminder to us about how we are to face difficulties, challenges … when we would rather be let go.
          Can we – rather than seeking an escape for ourselves – try to let someone else go …to forgive another person…

[_07_]   It is a proof of our love for others that we give charitably (which is often recognized) but also that we endure wrongs patiently (which is often not recognized and often more difficult).
          Often, it is not noticed that we are enduring a wrong, enduring a fault. No publicity is bad publicity. Alert the media.
          Jesus is captured, a captive, convicted.    But he is also contending…
And doing so, he is letting us go, so that we may as individual persons – in our relationship to him, take up our cross and follow him.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Transferable. (2019-04-14, Palm Sunday)

 April 14, 2019  [ Palm Sunday]      
Procession Gospel: Luke 19:28-40
 •  Isaiah 50:4-7 • Psalm 22 • Philippians 2:6-11 • + Luke 22:14-23:56

 Title:       Transferable /  Palm Sunday

[_01_]   ”Today you will be with me in paradise.” With these words, Jesus transfers this permission – “come on in …” – and invitation to the thief on the cross.
          It is sometimes hard to do this transfer. I’d like to give you an example.
Several years ago, I happened to be on the same airplane and flight as a friend – really the friend of a friend. On this particular flight, my friend had been “bumped up” / “upgraded” given the great convenience of being able to fly first-class, the front of the plane.
          He also told me, that he had exactly had 1 first class upgrade and, officially and technically, it was for him (his frequent flyer miles) … so he went up to first class while his wife and the rest of his family sat in economy class, in the “cheap seats” or not so expensive seats.
          I’m sure none of you would do that.
          Some things are not “transferable” …or not easily transferable. The airline always wants I.D. before they let you take your seat.
[_02_]   Is my experience or my emotion or feeling, transferable to you, to another person?
          I ask this because of the sacrifice and suffering and pain which Jesus our Savior shares our pain, shares our guilt.
Our sins were “transferred” to his account, to his profile. He knew no sin was made sin for us. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
          It’s similar to the way in which a mother/father will feel/endure pain (or experience joy) that belongs originally to a child, or spouses feel or endure pain (joy) to each other or for each other. But there are limits to the charity and consolation we can extend to each other, person to person.
[_03_]   In the Passion & Palm Sunday Gospel, we see Jesus willing to love us to the end – to show us our precious value and worth in God’s eyes. He forgives 7 x 70.
          Our trouble, our pain, our guilty is transferable to Christ on the Cross who steps in and substitutes for our sins.
          What the Lord wants us to know – moreover – is that our life – even with pain, anxiety, illness, physical illness, mental illness – has value. Our lives are often not a paradise. And, isn’t this what we want to teach our children (young people) that… even if a young person has distress, anxiety, suffering – that his or her life has value … so much so that God Himself – Jesus as human & divine – is willing to suffer and die for our sins.
          In this way, we teach them that life is to be preserved, saved.
Sometimes, we see contrary examples of this. One contrary example …
[_04_]        Yesterday, the state of New Jersey passed a legislative measure – a law – to permit the legalization of physician-assisted suicide for the gravely ill.
Yes, I there are restrictions in the law. I understand that. But our our lives are gift that we cannot measure statistically or control scientifically. And, we are called to teach our children that every life has value.
Moreover, is there not a danger this law – and the law “teaches” – that we could be telling young people – and young people have pitch-perfect ears for hypocrisy or pretenes – that their lives are to be preserved, protected, saved at all costs despite distress, anxiety, illness…. But that another person’s life can be ended due to illness, distress, anxiety.
Jesus has mercy on us, in this life and in the next life. He loves us so much that he dies for our sins.
[_06_]     Mother Teresa put it more piously, “what you can do, I cannot do. And, what I can do, you cannot do, but together we can do something beautiful for God.”
          Your life is valuable because you can love, you can pray, you can act in a way that no one else has ever done before, or will do so again. You can correct me in a way no one else can and can correct me in a fault that I may not see myself. We need each other.
          Jesus needs our sacrifices, even our pain so that we can unite our pain to his. In this way, we untie ourselves and unit ourselves to Christ. We cannot transfer our pain to others, but we can give this up to God, over to God.
          Jesus, I pray we recognize the value of our lives, connected to yours and that your gain may be ours, our pain may be yours.   Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.  [_fin_]     

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Future of Forgiveness (2019-04-07, Lent-05)

April 7, 2019   [ 05 LENT]   

  Isaiah 43:16-21 • Psalm 126 • Philippians 3:8-14 • + John 8:1-11

Title:    Forgiveness is about the future. Forgiveness means we are going back to the future. 

[_01_]  Recently, as part of my daily routine, I turned on my computer. It is remarkable to me that my computer-laptop seems to be so forgiving, so generous – you might say – in allowing me to keep (retain) thousands and thousands of of email messages.
          I logged in and saw that I had 3,600-plus emails in my inbox. Fortunately, I had read most of them!
          But, I had become lax and somewhat indifferent toward their existence, feeling that they represented an important historical record of my life, that should never be deleted or removed.
          Nevertheless, I started carefully to delete the older messages, to discard and place them in the electronic recycling bin.
          Then, somehow, I deleted inadvertently all the new and recent messages as well.
          So, I was left with no messages.
          Afterwards, I wondered if I should have done that. Should I have really let go all of that history?
          It seems that AOL and Verizon and my H-P laptop were quite content to let me – all along -- keep as many messages as I wanted -- 3,000, 5,000 – or more – email messages.

[_02_]    And, it seems that God as our heavenly father and Lord is going to allow us to hold on to all of our history, even all of our faults and failings and sins for as long as we want to do so.
          What I am suggesting is not a perfect analogy or parallel…but I am suggesting that the sacramental confession of our sins to the priest -- with the related actions of
CONFESSION – stating what we did wrong.
CONTRITION – stating that we are sorry for what we did ..
PENANCE – interior reflection afterwards and some amendment or prayer or generous service
ABSOLUTION – words of mercy that take away these sins.
          I’m suggesting that this confession –sacramental confession –is similar to starting over with ZERO messages.
[_03_]    It does not mean that the messages were never there or that that the sins never happened.
          But that we are striving to let go of our attachment to them.
          It is true that God will let us keep our sins on our hard drives and on our hearts for as long as we wish.
          But, it is freeing and liberating to remove them – to have them taken away as far as the east is from the west (Psalm _) – & to remove our connection to them.
[_04_]        Why should we delete old email messages?
            One healthy reason to delete old emails or clean up our file folders is that – contrary to what the Cloud-storage people will tell you or what we would like to think – all that history and all those messages really do not prepare us to meet the future.
            I may believe that I can search – electronically – for an email from 3 years ago, but that presumes that I know what it is.
            Maybe I should just move on. And, my laptop computer will be more efficient anyway (so will I).
            A healthy reason for us to go to confession is not simply to clean up the past or to get a good spiritual credit score, but rather to recognize that we – like God – are trying to focus on the future, on what’s coming next.
[_05_]    And, we do focus on the future. I think we do it. I think you do it. Because – have you not – have we not – forgiven someone and forgiven someone gladly who said to you – made the following statement after their offense or transgression:
          The statement: “I’ll never let it happen again.”
          Sometimes, a child says this, but grown-up’s say it also. I have said it.
          Even though – when you hear those words, you think, “you know the person might trespass again.”
          But, you (& I) can rejoice in their intention, their hope for the future. You can delete the message.
          You & I can delete the old message of the offense.
[_06_]     Forgiveness is about moving toward the future.
          An attitude of forgiveness …
          Is not an attitude of FORGIVNEESS the sign of a healthy relationship?
          Is not an attitude of FORGIVENESS  a sign that we can talk openly about what is troubling us?
          Is not an attitude of FORGIVENESS one that can help us to combat loneliness, anxiety? That is, by seeking forgiveness or being repentant, I recognize explicitly that I need the love of God and neighbor to survive, that I am not alone.
[_07_]     So, why go to confession.  Or, perhaps– why NOT go to confession?
          I’d like to touch on 1 objection here about going to confession…
          One reason that we do not feel inclined – or not to go to confession - is a feeling of resignation is that we say …”regarding a sin or series of sins, I know that I said it would not happen again, but it may very well happen again.”
          St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests, shared this message to those of us – and all of us may feel this way at some point –feel discouraged – or we do not feel encouraged.
We fear going to confession because we fear falling into the same sin …or we fear that confession is not for real because… past performance does not guarantee future results.
          Jesus does not ask for a guarantee – Jesus is making the guarantee of his mercy, that his mercy, that his mercy can change the heart of the woman brought to him in the Gospel and that his mercy can change the hearts of her accusers.  He is willing to die for our sins, to prove that his mercy endures forever.  (life-changing and eternal)
St. John Vianney shared that God loves us so much that he is willing to forget both the past and the future in which we may sin again…
            Confession is not only about what we can remember to do – or we can remember to say - but also what we can forget, what we can delete, and put in God’s hands – to go back to the future, so that we may, by endeavor by effort, to go and sin no more.