The Church takes time out this Sunday to honor the lives of two great saints: Peter and Paul. Their lives and legacies are certainly complex and each of them deserves a closer look as to how and what they can teach us ordinary disciples living in the 21st century.
Let us start with Saint Peter. He has a somewhat lackluster approach to living the life of an Apostle. His relationship with Jesus is sometimes tried. Jesus challenges Peter and in Jesus’s characteristically loving and patient way, Peter occasionally misses the mark. “Peter, do you love me?” Jesus asks Peter this question thrice and in the end, after responding in the affirmative, Peter is sad that Jesus needs to ask him this question three times and is exacerbated and seemingly throws up his hands not knowing what else to say to the Lord. Jesus knew, as Peter pointed out, everything, including that Peter would deny him three times at His greatest hour of need. It is almost as if the two occasions negate one another. Peter struggles with his faith…just as we sometimes struggles with his own faith yet, despite the doubt, darkness and despair, this very first Vicar of Christ, becomes a voice of compassion and love as shortly after the Resurrection of Jesus Peter becomes a voice that spreads the Good News.
And then, of course, there is good ol’ Saint Paul! I was recently with a group of priest friends and for some reason our conversation turned to Pauline sayings. One of my brother priests quipped that he is fond of saying when Paul writes something that seems obsolete or antiquated “that is just Paul being Paul!” Saint Paul is certainly an interesting subject to study. This staunch defender of the ways of the Children of Israel will go to any length to stop the “New Way” from spreading like wild fire. Paul, for his part, was present at the stoning of the proto-martyr Stephen. He persecuted the early Christians and would do anything to stop them from making Jesus’s Name known. It takes a manifestation of God’s power to shake Paul up so that he will stop persecuting the early followers of Jesus. On the road, Paul is thrown off of the animal that he is riding and he hears the voice of Jesus call out to him and inquires why he is persecuting Him. Paul (at this point Saul) questions but is quick to believe. We know the end of the story. The greatest persecutor soon becomes the staunchest defender and goes to great lengths to promote the name of Jesus even to the point of giving up his own life.
We take time to honor these two men today because they teach us that conversion is always a possibility. It is never too late to turn back to God. When we are at the lowest point during our spiritual journey and we think that there is no possibility of turning back, the Lord gently extends His Merciful Hand out to us and asks us to embrace so that He can shower us with His forgiveness. As we remember the lives of Saints Peter and Paul, let us take some time and reflect on how we ourselves are like these two sinners turned saints and ask for their powerful intercession so that we can better imitate their fidelity to Christ.
When Saint Pope Pius X lowered the age of those able to receive Holy Communion, he remarked that as long as they can distinguish the Eucharist from ordinary bread, they should be allowed to receive. One of the great joys a pastor is given is to give the young children in the parish their first Communion. I usually get different types of bread and ask the children what the items can be used for. I take hamburger rolls, hot dog rolls, bagels and sliced bread and ask the children how each can be used. Without fail, the children come up with the usual litany of how the items can be properly used. We put a hamburger in between the hamburger bun; we put a hot dog (or chourico dog in our case) in the hot dog roll; we put peanut butter and jelly or ham and cheese in between the two slices of sliced bread and of course, we lather copious amounts of cream cheese on the bagel. After the children have identified how each can be used, I take a few unconsecrated hosts and hold them up. The children, on queue, always get excited and raise their hands because they want to shout out that the unconsecrated hosts are “JESUS.” Of course, I need to correct them and tell them no that are just ordinary hosts and have not yet been consecrated. After this discourse, I then turn my attention to the parents and thank them for making such a big deal of First Communion. I then issue a challenge: it is wonderful that they are making such a big deal about the very first time that their children are receiving Our Eucharistic Lord and remind them that they are challenged to approach Second Holy Communion and Third Holy Communion and Fourth Holy Communion (ok, you get the picture) with the same zeal and excitement.
As we celebrate the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, we celebrate the fact that the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ actually comes to dwell inside of us. This immense Gift is a powerful remedy to change us; to heal us; to refashion us so that we can better reflect the image of Jesus who dwelt among us and whose Spirit remains in the Church. As we come forward toward and exclaim “AMEN” might we radiate the image of the Divinity that resides in us. May this great gift so satisfy our hungry hearts for the love that the Lord has to give so that, having been so satisfied, we can in turn, feed those in need by our words and deeds.
The concept of the Holy Trinity is one of the most complex theological realities that theologians have contemplated and debated over the two thousand year history of the Church’s existence. The relationships enjoyed Father to Son; Son to Father; Father to Spirit; Spirit to Son; Son to Spirit – are not just confusing but require such in depth study and reflection that these few lines will not even begin to venture into that very tricky territory but there is a concept that I would like to touch upon and it is extremely Trinitarian in nature. The concept that I would like to discuss is that of relationships. The Community at Corinth needed direction and correction because they major rifts in their relationships. Saint Paul, trying to keep everyone on the straight and narrow, writes to this struggling community and reminds them of how they should be living. Paul writes, “Brothers and sisters, rejoice. Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. (2 Cor 13: 11-12a) These words helped to bring unity to the community living in Corinth. What about our own community? Our homes? Our work places? Our neighborhoods? Are we living in peace with one another? In other words, are we living a Trinitarian existence? The relationships enjoyed by the One God manifested in three Persons is perfect and pure because it is based solely on love. The Love that is shared by Father, Son and Holy Spirit bring unity and stability to the life that is theirs. Each of us lives in the life of the Trinity as we were baptized into their life on the day of our baptism whereby we participate in their life and so participate in the love that they enjoy enabling us to bring the love into those relationships that are in need of divine love – that is, the relationships that need mending. During Mass, before we receive Communion, we exchange the kiss of peace with those around us. Perhaps as we so easily do so here we can find the strength that we receive from living in the Divine life to share that same peace with those we meet each and everyday – especially those we try to avoid.
When then Bishop Sean O’Malley, asked me to study for the priesthood in Rome, I was humbled but scared like you wouldn’t believe for various reasons but for one in particular. Yes, I was scared that I would not be able to return to these shores for two whole years; yes, I was scared that I would not be seeing my family with any regularity; yes, I was scared that I would be leaving behind all of my friends but the real source of my fear was knowing that I would be living in a foreign country where I did not speak the language. I also was overwhelmed that I would be studying theology/for the priesthood in Italian. (As an aside, this might explain any major theological snafus I might be guilty of having made!) For some odd reason, the prospect of not speaking the language was something that brought such intense fear and made me extremely uneasy. I had studied Italian the summer prior to my departure at Brown University and although it was an intense course, I was fear-filled. When I first arrived in Rome, the seminary sent all of the first year seminarians to a local language school where we studied at various levels. By the end of yet another course, I was still scared with the academic year quickly approaching. On the first day, despite my poor Italian, I found that I shared many things in common with my classmates from around the world. My fears were quickly dispelled as I realized that all of us were at the Gregorian University with the same purpose: to study for the priesthood. It was a bond that quickly united all of us – despite apparent language barriers that were ever so slowly put aside as the years passed and as I improved my Italian. Some of those relationships exist to this day!
As we hear recounted in the Acts of the Apostles this great day we call Pentecost, the community of believers, despite language barriers, clearly understand each other. The Holy Spirit unites them and makes them one: a united Body of Christ ready to be the fiercest of Missionaries the world has ever seen or known.
The same can be said of every parish community. Sometimes, there are apparent differences that might first seem like a stumbling block but when we are willing to focus on what unites us and not on what separates us, we are a stronger community and we continue the work of building up God’s Kingdom here and Dartmouth in the 21st century. So my friends, we pray: Come, Holy Spirit, come!
Oftentimes, when we encounter the figure of Saint Peter in the Gospel he sometimes can come across as clueless. Seriously. He asks the Lord silly questions sometimes and of course, we know that he even denied Him thrice. The irony of the figure of Peter is that despite all of his antics, he is a fierce defender of Christ both during Jesus’s life and ministry and in a most profound way after the Resurrection. I guess Jesus forgives his lapse of judgment since when He first greets his disciples he does not scold them but rather gives them the gift of peace. As we celebrate the 6th Sunday of Easter, we read from the writings of Saint Peter. This one time defector has become a staunch defender of everything that Christ stands for both during his earthly ministry and by what he accomplished by His Passion, Death and Glorious Resurrection. Peter, who once lost hope as evidenced by his denial of knowing Jesus and then by running away, is singing a much happier tune. Peter writes, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear.” (1 PT 3:15-16) For the Christian, hope is sometimes the only thing we have but Peter reminds us that we must cling tightly to this hope sharing it with those who have no hope. When our co-workers, family members and friends come to us looking for purpose and a reason for finding joy in life do we heed the words of Saint Peter and share with the hopeless our reason for hope? Sometimes we might find it too laborious to do that preferring to take the easy way out and dismissing the needs of others. Christians are hope seekers and hope fulfillers. Perhaps at some point during this coming week we will encounter someone who needs to be lifted up. May we be the conduit through which the Lord allows His Grace to flow.
One of the most heartening things about the Gospel is that Jesus always, always seeks to reassure and comfort those who turn to Him. This Fifth Sunday of Easter, we hear proclaimed the words of Jesus in John’s Gospel that certainly reassure and bring comfort. Oftentimes, I use this section of John’s Gospel at funerals because it concretely gives us hope in God’s Kingdom. Jesus, at first, does what he does best. He reminds his disciples that they have no reason to worry. “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.’” (Jn 14:1) Sometimes our hearts and minds to tend to worry and our troubled but that is why we must always turn to the Resurrected one who restores a sense of hope and purpose in the lives of his disciples. The second thing that Jesus does is that he instills in us the hope of God’s Kingdom. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way.” (Jn 14: 2-4) The reality is that we do await God’s Kingdom. In this translation, Jesus says that he is going to prepare a place for us. In the translation that we used for years, the “place” was described as a mansion, lending a sense of greater opulence to what God’s Kingdom is like. Jesus seeks to reassure his disciples that He will always be there for them, for us. Life can sometimes throw us curve ball after curve ball but Jesus gives us reassurance as we quietly endure the agony of the cross. As we continue our journey through Easter, the crosses in our lives are still present but a sense of hope and peace come with the Resurrection. My friends, to quote Jesus, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” He is always present walking with us through the trials and tribulations of life. What a reason to find true and lasting peace!
Amazing that we are already marking the Third Sunday of Easter! How come Lent didn’t pass this quickly?? In any event, I am glad that I will be able to reflect on the Gospel this week in my column as this weekend, in lieu of the homily, the Catholic Charities message from our Bishop will be used at Mass.
The road to Emmaus: we should all be on it. It is a road that leads to clarity and fulfillment and hope and joy. As we know the two unnamed disciples are at first sad. They look down at the ground and they question the unrecognizable Jesus how he could be the only visitor to Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about the things that had happened to Jesus. I have oftentimes mused in prayer what made Jesus’s appearance so different. Was it because his resurrected body had changed so much? Had God put proverbial blinders on their eyes so that they were prevented from seeing him? I guess that it really does not make that much of a difference but we are on the same road and sometimes our eyes are prevented from seeing Jesus as we walk along life. At times, we can be prevented from seeing him when we begin to focus on ourselves and our own problems and our own issues. We can become oblivious to the needs of those in our community, our home, our work place and in point of fact anywhere we might find ourselves. The two disciples who encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus focus on their own grief – the grief of losing a friend – and when Jesus appears to help them understand what has happened, they cannot bear witness to him because they are not focused on the joy of the Resurrection. I always think that it is humorous that stores begin putting Easter decorations and Easter candy and cards on display weeks and indeed months before Easter and then, the day after the day of Resurrection (the second day of the Octave of Easter – which is just like Easter Sunday) the stores that have put those items on display proudly display that everything is 50% off. In point of fact, by the end of Easter week things were already 75% off the original price. How easy it is to not recognize Jesus on the road to Emmaus or on whichever road we might find ourselves on. We can become blind and our true reason for rejoicing can be muted. As we continue to bear witness to the empty tomb, may our Alleluias resound all the louder that he has truly risen just as he said. Happy Easter!
Happy Easter! The jelly beans might be a little stale; the sugar on the Peeps might be hard and all of the stores have been touting that “ALL EASTER CANDY IS 50% OFF” but our Easter celebration is as palpable as it was on Easter Sunday. We must continue to sing the Lord’s praises and sing Alleluia! We journeyed through Lent for 40 days (sometimes it felt much longer that!) and know we bask in His Glory for the next 50 days! Our Psalm Response this Second Sunday of Easter sums up in just a few brief words what this time of Easter should be for us a time of happiness and joy.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his love is everlasting
He is indeed GOOD as the sacrifice of Jesus has brought us everlasting life but the example of Jesus teaches disciples a valuable life lesson: He loves us so much that He gave His very own life so that we can live and we are asked to simply to follow His example by laying down our life for our friends. Sometimes we might be forced to deny ourselves certain things for the good of another. That follows the example of Jesus. When we make ourselves second and think of the needs of another first, we follow the example of Jesus. Just because we have shed the penitential season of Lent we are still called to give of ourselves so that His Kingdom will continue to be built up here in Dartmouth. Amen! Alleluia! He is Risen just as He said!
Our Jewish sisters and brothers marked the beginning of Passover this past Monday at sundown. When families gathered around the table, the leader, traditionally the father of the household, would take the Haggadah, i.e., the Jewish text which sets forth the order of a Passover Seder, and begins by asking a question: What makes this night different from all other nights? It is different because the Lord brought the People of Israel out of Egypt.
Tonight, Catholic parishes around the world will gather and the homilist could easily begin with the same question: what makes this night different from all other nights? It is different because Jesus gives us an example to follow. As he humbles himself and washes the feet of his 12 Apostles, he instructs them that they must follow his example of humility. It might not seem like much but by the very fact that Jesus kneels in front of his closest friends, most who declare their fidelity and soon will either deny him, like Saint Peter, or run away so that they can be safe from harm. To serve and to be a servant to those in need is the example that Jesus taught us to follow. As we are nourished this night by the Eucharist may we be strengthened in our resolve to follow our Savior so that we might experience the joys of the Resurrection.
And so it begins! The week we call Holy is finally here. The palms and red color of Palm Sunday adorn the church in South Dartmouth as we ready ourselves to greet the larger than normal crowds as they come seeking to claim their palms as a reminder of Jesus’s solemn entrance into Jerusalem. Many Christians place palms or olive branches in their homes, usually next to the cross or crucifix, as a reminder of the Passion of Christ. As we keep this enter into the mystery that is this Holy Week, perhaps each of us can take some time to put aside some time for reflection and prayer. I invite you to join us here at St Mary’s in South Dartmouth for any or all of the Holy Week and Triduum celebrations. Come, let us adore Him who set us free.