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Ascension Sunday

Ascension – Descending and Ascending in Love
Vintage commercial from the 1970’s. It is a classic good commercial because the gimmick and message became a part of our speech. Maybe if you are at least as old as me, you remember.
Woman in front of a screen with images popping up behind her: She says: the traffic. Honking horns. She says: The boss. An image of a man yelling through an old style phone. She says: The baby. There is an image of a child crying. She says: The dog. The screen shows a dog barking, woof. “That does it. Calgon take me away.” she declares. And in a scene reminiscent of the spinning house in the Wizard of Oz movie, she finds herself transferred – lounging in a luxurious bubble bath.
The announcer says: Lose your cares in the luxury of a Calgon bath. Calgon softens the water to leave skin feeling silky smooth as it lifts your spirits. The soft luxurious fragrant world of Calgon. Pamper yourself with a Calgon bath. Lose yourself in luxury.
There is a temptation to believe that the Ascension is Jesus ascending up away out of the problems of this world.
In Acts, Jesus is being taken away, up, up into the heavens leaving the disciples looking up. We realize that the disciples still don’t get it. They have been clueless about his mission. They wanted a messiah to kick out the Romans. They have seen him die, rise and then now, he is leaving again. Their misunderstanding is understandable. They are living in difficult times. There’s a lot of uncertainty. The Romans are still in charge … Israel still does not have autonomy. They want out.
It is a common human desire for all of us, like the Calgon woman. Let’s leave this aging body; financial woes; the pesky neighbors; the challenging high school relationships. We just want to get away.
Throughout Christianity there has been a tendency of escapism. Early Christianity: Gnosticism taught that the world is bad and the body is a prison and Christ showed us the way out of this world.
More recently, Millennial versions of Christianity claim that some will go up and others will be left behind.
For the disciples, it is only after Pentecost when the disciples began to understand what the Ascension is all about.
They began to reflect on the entirety of Jesus’ life. Reflected on Incarnation, ministry, passion, death, resurrection and all of his teachings. It was like a dot to dot puzzle where the last dot takes you back to the beginning to close in the image and now you can see what it is. The last dot of Jesus’ life is the Ascension. This makes the picture of Jesus complete. A God who loved the world, broke into the world and was a part of it in the person of Jesus. He drew to Himself all of those people on the margins. All those who were alienated. He drank our humanity to the depth. In the Creed we say: He descended into hell. Jesus Christ experienced the depths of the greatest human alienation from God, even to death. Hell is as far as you go into the descent. The Ascent began with the resurrection. The cycle is complete with the Ascension because the One from heaven returns to heaven and draws all things to himself.
Ascension is part of the paschal mystery, not an addition to it. Ascension is integral to the Easter Story. In ascending to the right hand of the Father, Jesus brought his full humanity – the totality of all he experienced, lived, and loved on earth – into the fullness of the divine reality. All that we humans experience – our hopes, and fears, what delights us and what terrifies us – is now forever embraced and transformed, through Christ into the divine life of God.
Our faith has very little to do with escape. It really has to do with incorporation which means: To bring into the body. It literally means to … to incorporate all of humanity into the cosmic body of Christ.
This is hard to describe. Paul: we are in Christ and Christ is in us. We have died and we have risen with Christ. We are one body in Christ. In Christ everything continues in being. Christ draws all things to Himself. Not some things, but all things. That is the language of incorporation/transformation. Of union. Union with all things, with all creation because we have union with Christ.
Sometimes people try to achieve union with God. Union has already been achieved. No, our job is to realize the union with Christ that we already have. And with all things.
Far from escaping a nasty world, faithful Christians penetrate this world. We continue the work of incorporation that has been started by Christ.
We do this as Jesus did, by descending, by entering into, not escaping from this wounded world but by reaching out to the marginalized, To those outside the body and we say: you too belong. It is a process of self-emptying.
Our job is descent to where Christ is here among us. Jesus sends his apostles out to all the nations to be witnesses or martyrs as it is in Greek … it is hard work. Be part of the transformation of this world.
We do it by recognizing our own brokenness, our own woundedness. We identify where Christ has come to us in our brokenness and woundedness. He accepts us in our woundedness. Christ never says: Come to me when you get your act together. He is with us here and now. That is how we begin the process of incorporation. We recognize that it has happened to us.
The human truth is that we often long to escape to leave the messy world and to ascend to where God is. Jesus’ way is not to escape the messy world but to enter into it and to transform it with love.

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Our Blessed Mother who appeared at Fatima 100 years ago

Recently at a meeting of diocesan priests, we were speaking about a common mission. We spoke about making all of our parishes a school of formation for saints. Consider yourself a future saint.
Sometimes, in the same week because of the cycle of daily Mass and Sunday Mass readings, we hear the same reading. Believe it or not, this same Gospel was the reading for Mass on Friday. I asked the 6th grade from St. Mary’s School what they thought Jesus meant: in my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places and I am going to prepare a place for you.
A student responded that Jesus is talking about heaven. I agree. He who is the way the truth and the life and died on the cross and rose to new life told the disciples before He died that He was showing them the way to follow. Jesus gives us the promise to each and every one of us that after we die, we will rise and enjoy the gift of heaven. What a great message and promise of hope. That was over 2000 years ago.
Just one hundred years ago today/yesterday, May 13, 1917, the world received the message of hope again, not from Jesus Christ but directly from His Mother Mary. I share with you this story because it is Mother’s Day weekend and May is Mary’s month. She is the Mother of us all AND also because we are St. Mary’s church and have a connection to Fatima in different ways. On our grounds in the grotto is a depiction of the vision of Our Lady of Fatima 3 children 7, 9 and10 years old had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God while they were tending sheep. Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia.
Before the Blessed Mother appeared to the three children, an Angel of peace appeared in spring of 1916. Playing and praying. Do not be afraid. I am the angel of peace.
1. Bring God to the center of your spiritual life in order to be able to adore him.
2. Believe deeply that the hearts of Jesus and Mary always listen to our prayers even if they do not always answer. Trust that they pay attention to us.
3. The angel also showed particularly to Francisco the importance of living the Eucharistic life.
But around midday on May 13, a lady dressed in white, shining brighter than the sun, giving out rays of clear and intense light, appeared to Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco. The children were so near that they were in the light that encircled her, or which she radiated, perhaps 4-5 feet away.
Messengers from heaven often begin with an exhortation as she did: Please don’t be afraid of me, I’m not going to harm you.
Lucia responded for all three, as she would throughout the apparitions.
“Where are you from?”
I come from heaven.
And Lucia asked if they would go to heaven and if people she knew by name were in heaven. The lady answered truthfully, indicating that some were in heaven and some were in purgatory.
Mary asked if the children would offer themselves to God, and bear all the sufferings He sends in atonement for all the sins that offend Him and for the conversion of sinners.
They agreed that they certainly would. She indicated that they would indeed suffer but the grace of God will be with them and will strengthen them.
She also asked them to Say the Rosary every day, to bring peace to the world and an end to the war.
Every month on the 13th day for the following 6 months, she appeared to them as promised. They went through lots of trials because people did not believe them. Wouldn’t you be skeptical and demand proof?
When she appeared on July 13, she shared a secret in 3 parts which are now all revealed. She showed them hell, war, and the suffering of church. It is to save souls from hell that God wants to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If you do what I tell you, many souls will be saved, and there will be peace.
All these things are present in our lives: salvation – our choice for God or not the suffering of good and evil in the world with war; and suffering of the church. We are responsible. We are called to pray for the Church and for the conversion of sinners.
On the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, May 13, 1981, Pope John Paul II was shot in St. Peter’s Square. He attributed his strong devotion to Mary as protecting him from death. He consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary shortly thereafter. Later he would visit Fatima and place the bullet that was meant to take his life into the crown of Our Blessed Mother’s statue.
So here is another connection to Our Lady of Fatima for us. St. John Paul II established our Diocese of Knoxville on September 8, 1988, the feast of the birthday of Mary. Our current bishop, Richard Stika named Mary and St. John Paul II as patrons of our diocese.
So it is with great devotion on Mother’s Day weekend on this 100th anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady of Fatima that I highlight this story.
Also today, Pope Francis canonized or declared the brother and sister Francisco and Jacinta to be saints. They who were around the ages of our first communicants led holy lives. Sadly these children died just two years after the apparitions from a flu outbreak in 1919. Jacinta and Francisco said that they would devote their lives to God and offer their sufferings for souls. If they can do it, so can we.
The message of Fatima is still very important for us today. In the midst of great concern and uncertainty about the future, what does Fatima ask of us? Perseverance in the consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, shown daily by the recitation of the Rosary. And what if, despite our prayers, wars continue as they most certainly do? Even though immediate results may not be evident, let us persevere in prayer. Prayer is never useless. Sooner or later, it will bear fruit. And also,
Do not be afraid because we are in the loving embrace of our blessed Mother.

Third Sunday of Easter

Directionally Challenged

Is anyone here directionally challenged? You could not find your way out of a paper bag? Maybe your life is going in the wrong direction.
Let us use this idea of going in the wrong direction as the foundation for this wonderful Easter story of the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Emmaus? Has anyone who has gone to the Holy Land ever visited this town named in the Bible? I doubt it because scholarship has not determined where it is. One school of thought is that Emmaus was the place of a Roman garrison- a symbol of power, military might and political esteem. After all the Romans had the power to put Jesus to death. In any case, the disciples are going from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They are going away from the city of Jerusalem where Jesus the Christ showed His power in a way that is very different than worldly power. Jerusalem is city of the cross.. path of suffering love.
Very emphatically we can say that the two disciples are going in the wrong direction. These two disciples really represent ALL of us who are followers or learners at the feet of Jesus the Teacher and Master. We very much prefer to go in the direction of security AND all that this word encompasses: physical security/defense systems; financial security; political and even religious security with its possible manifestation of an attitude of superiority and arrogance. All of us, myself included, tend to walk the wrong way and seek security and power from the world rather than security in God. Think about your own life and examples of how you do this.
This journey takes place on the first day of the week, the day when God began the work of the Creation of the world. It is the day when Jesus the Christ begins the work of the re-Creation of the world. And even as we walk the wrong way, Jesus comes to us. Jesus drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. It is not easy to recognize God when you are walking the wrong way. This can apply to our Moral life… if you are caught up in yourself and focus on what you want, you won’t understand.
They stop and ask a Him a question in response to His query about what they are talking about as they walk. Isn’t that ironic… the only person who does not know? He’s THE only person who does know what he is about.
They know data. The facts are absolutely correct about Jesus the Nazarene. They don’t get pattern to make the data coherent.
I just returned from a trip to Washington, DC with St. Mary’s School 8th grade class. One of the places that we visited was the National Holocaust Museum. Very powerful. The teacher emphasized that it is not just about killing more than 6 million Jews and other undesirables. The Nazis relied on the vast majority of “bystanders” as the museum names them. These are good people who saw the atrocities that were going on and they did nothing. Some were Christians who failed to live the sacrifice of love for any brother or sister in need. There is a pattern that any good teacher would want us to see in history and in humanity. There were also the righteous ones who did sacrifice their security and lives in order to help. These were at the end of the museum.
How many of us can rattle off the facts about Jesus, but fail to not only to know the pattern, but LIVE the pattern. The way of Jesus is the path of suffering love.
That’s why he says “O, how foolish you are. How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke.”
Jesus states the Pattern – “was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory? Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted what is in what we call the Old Testament that referred to Him.
In DC, at the Basilica of National Shrine of Immaculate Conception, there are beautiful rosary windows in the apse. (15 – the number of mysteries when the church was built). The windows above are the mysteries of the rosary; below are windows of Old Testament stories connected to the particular mystery. The key to the Old Testament is the pattern of Jesus’ own life. The pattern of self-sacrificing love is in the entire WORD of GOD. Were not our hearts burning as he opened the Scriptures for us? As He opened the Scriptures, their hearts begin to burn. Bible becomes alive once you know how to read it.
We conclude with a Sacramental presentation of the pattern. He took Bread, said the blessing and broke it. The Eucharist is suffering love of Jesús. And then, their Eyes were opened.
Yesterday, we celebrated First Holy Communion with 62 of our young people. Please stand. They received this sacramental gift for the first time. We have a responsibility to teach them to grow in their understanding that this is the Real Presence of Jesus, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. They have a long way to go before they “get it.” How far do we have to go or do we get it?
Can we like the saints recognize His presence in our sufferings? Can we actually choose His path of sacrificial love not out of some heroic self-aggrandizing act, or God forbid some morbid sadistic notion, but in imitation of God, of Jesus who sacrificed His life out of Love for all humanity?
When their eyes were opened, these two disciples “got it.” They returned to Jerusalem. They went in the right direction. They chose the path of self sacrificing love.
This story on the road to Emmaus is our Mass. We encounter Christ in the breaking open of the Scriptures in the liturgy of the Word AND also in the breaking of the bread – the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.
He sends us forth – to go to Jerusalem… to follow Him in the path of self-sacrificing love.

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord

More News of Great Joy

For behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.
What?!?!?! Wrong holiday. Father Pete you stayed up too late last night at the Easter Vigil and you are confusing Midnight Mass on Christmas with Easter. Maybe, I am just checking to see if YOU are paying attention.
But really the message of divine joy is one and the same MYSTERY in the person of Jesus Christ, proclaimed by angels, born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jesus preached, healed, prayed and loved to the extreme by suffering and dying by crucifixion.
And today we hear an angel of God say to the women, instead of to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold, I have told you.” And on hearing this news, the women went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples.
Today I bring you tidings of great joy! For those with eyes of faith, God’s news is always good and we hear that joyful theme throughout the readings we have heard. It was so wonderful and filled with JOY and HOPE that it cannot be contained. An encounter with Jesus Christ Crucified and Risen from the dead impelled Peter to go and share this great news everywhere he went. The writer of the second reading, St. Paul too had met the Risen Lord who told him not to persecute believers. It was so profound that he not only stopped persecuting Christians, but became one of the most ardent proclaimers of the message ever. He traveled extensively in his preaching and nothing could take away from his joy.
On Easter we dare to proclaim the goodness of God in a world that is filled with terror, that responds with violence, with people who are fearful for many different reasons. Behold, LOOK, PAY ATTENTION. GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR … PHONE and LOOK UP to the God who wants to fill you with love and joy! BECAUSE Jesus, true God and true man, was born into our human condition. He knows what we experience. He knows that we suffer. He knows that we fear death. And in His resurrection, LIFE, JOY and LOVE always triumph.
This feast is especially for you who have felt dejection, far from God, doubt, physical, mental, or spiritual suffering or any worry. The Risen wants you to trust in Him and He always gives hope! Do not be afraid.
I will end with this little story.
A Catholic school teacher had just finished telling her third graders about how Jesus was crucified and placed in a tomb with a great stone sealing the opening. Then, wanting to share the excitement of the Resurrection, she asked: “And what do you think were Jesus’ first words when He came bursting out of that tomb alive?” A hand shot up into the air from the rear of the classroom. Attached to it was the arm of a little girl. Leaping out of her chair she shouted out excitedly “I know, I know!” “Good” said the teacher, “Tell us, what were the first words of Jesus on coming out of the tomb?” And extending her arms high into the air she said: “TA-DA!”
Children have a way of bringing joy to our hearts. The Risen Christ is always He who brings eternal joy, unending hope and the promise of eternal life.

Easter Vigil

News of Great Joy

For behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.
What?!?!?! Wrong holiday. Father Pete you are too tired and it is late and you are confusing Midnight Mass on Christmas with the Easter Vigil. Maybe, I am just checking to see if YOU are awake and paying attention.
But really the message of divine joy is one and the same MYSTERY in the person of Jesus Christ, proclaimed by angels, born of the Virgin Mary. Jesus preached, healed, prayed and loved to the extreme by suffering and dying by crucifixion.
And tonight we hear an angel of God say to the women, instead of to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold, I have told you.” And on hearing this news, the women went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples.
Today I bring you tidings of great joy! For those with eyes of faith, God’s news is always good and we hear that joyful theme throughout the readings we have heard tonight.
From Genesis: God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.
Good news. This earth is God’s beautiful creation; we are glad to live in it and care for it.
God put Abraham to the test. And in his testing, his faith was proven strong and solid. I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.” That is great news for us who are put to the test with faith challenges of our own.
Isaiah 54 -Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, my love shall never leave you nor my covenant of peace be shaken. Great and joyful news from the prophet Isaiah about our God who will NEVER EVER leave us.
Isaiah 55 – For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts. That is good news of God’s Plan that seems at times hard to understand. We trust in God whose ways and thoughts are not the ways of human beings.
Baruch- before whom the stars at their posts shine and rejoice; when he calls them, they answer, “Here we are!” shining with joy for their Maker. The stars shine with joy??!!?? YES, indeed. All of Creation speaks of the grandeur and love and goodness of God.
Tonight is a night when we dare to proclaim the goodness of God in a world that is filled with terror, that responds with violence, in a country that seems to be on the brink of another war, with people who are fearful for many different reasons. Behold, LOOK, PAY ATTENTION. GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR … PHONE and LOOK UP to the God who wants to fill you with love and joy! BECAUSE Jesus, true God and true man, was born into our human condition. He knows what we experience. He knows that we suffer. He knows that we fear death. And in His resurrection, LIFE, JOY and LOVE always triumph.
Those who receive any of the seven sacraments, are impregnated with Jesus and like the women at the tomb go forth overjoyed and announce this GOOD NEWS to others.
Esta noche, escuchamos buenas noticias que anunció el ángel a las mujeres al sepulcro de Jesús. Y después, Jesús mismo salió al encuentro de la tumba y las saludó. Entonces les dijo Jesús: “No tengan miedo”. Jesús «los llevaba a la alegría: la alegría de la resurrección, la alegría de su presencia en medio de ellas».
Celebramos la resurrección del Señor Jesucristo en medio de la noche. En la oscuridad, es común tener miedo porque no podemos ver alrededor de nosotros y pensamos que algo malo está esperándonos más allá. Pero Jesus es Emmanuel – Dios Con Nosotros como hemos escuchado en la celebración de su Natividad. Dios Con Nosotros tiene un significado más profundo en la resurrección del Señor. Por medio de los sacramentos especialmente, Jesus, la verdadera presencia y poder de Dios está siempre con nosotros. No debemos tener miedo de ninguna cosa en este mundo, aunque existen la violencia, el terrorismo, la inquietud de muchas cosas.
Un cristiano debe preguntarse: «Pero, ¿tú hablas con Jesús? ¿Le dices: Jesús, creo que estás vivo, que has resucitado, que estás cerca de mí, que no me abandonas?». Este es el «diálogo con Jesús», propio de la vida cristiana, animado por la certeza de que «Jesús está siempre con nosotros, está siempre con nuestros problemas, con nuestras dificultades y con nuestras obras buenas». Jesus resucitó. ALELUIA. ALELUIA.

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