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.
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.
Jesus Forsaken on the Cross and in Those Who Suffer Today
152 years ago on this very date, an important event in our US history took place about 250 miles from here. Believe it or not, it was a Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865, when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant, General of the Union Army, at the McLean house in Appomattox, Virginia. This surrender ended the bloodiest war ever fought on American soil. State against state, brother against brother, it was a conflict that literally tore the nation apart. Five days later, on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, arguably America’s most revered president, Abraham Lincoln, was shot and mortally wounded. It was Lincoln who wrote the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation that ended slavery in the U.S. forever. On Palm Sunday the war ended: Triumph. On Good Friday, Abraham Lincoln became the first U.S. president to be assassinated: Tragedy. And our nation was not divided into two or more, but remained the United States of America. The process of resurrection began. Welcome to Holy Week. Welcome to the triumph and the tragedy of the six days preceding Easter.
Today’s bittersweet liturgy teaches us that the Lord has not saved us by His triumphal entry or by means of powerful miracles. The Apostle Paul, in the second reading, which is a great hymn to honor Jesus Christ, uses two verbs that are significant: Jesus “emptied” and “humbled” Himself (KENOSIS). These two verbs show the boundlessness of God’s love for us. Jesus emptied Himself: He did not cling to the glory/greatness/power that was His as the Son of God, but became the Son of man in order to be in solidarity with us sinners in all things; yet He was without sin. Even more, He lived among us in “the condition of a servant”; not of a king or a prince, but of a servant. Therefore, He humbled Himself, and the abyss of His humiliation, as Holy Week shows us, seems to be bottomless.
The humiliation of Jesus reaches its utmost in the Passion: the hour of death on the cross arrives, that most painful form of shame reserved for traitors, slaves and the worst kind of criminals. But isolation, mockery and physical pain are not yet the full extent of His deprivation. To be totally in solidarity with us, He also experiences on the Cross the mysterious abandonment of the Father. It is a spiritual pain. In His abandonment, he cries out psalm 22: MY GOD MY GOD WHY HAVE YOU ABANDONED ME? He who was ONE with the Father now feels the same human separation from the source of LOVE that we ourselves are capable of feeling.
God’s way of acting may seem so far removed from our own, that He was annihilated for our sake. By humbling Himself, Jesus invites us to walk on His path.
He had spoken clearly of this to his disciples: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24). Jesus never promised honor and success or greatness. The Gospels make this clear. He had always warned his friends that this was to be his path, and that the final victory would be achieved through the passion and the cross. All this holds true for us too. Let us ask for the grace to follow Jesus faithfully, not in words but in deeds. Let us also ask for the patience to carry our own cross, not to refuse it or set it aside, but rather, in looking to him, to take it up and to carry it daily.
He does not ask us to contemplate him only in pictures or upon the crucifix. No. He is present in our many brothers and sisters who today endure sufferings like his own: they suffer from slave labor and the sex trade, from family tragedies, from physical, sexual or emotional abuse and from diseases, and natural disasters… They suffer from wars and chemical attacks and terrorism, from interests that are armed and ready to strike. Women and men who are cheated, violated in their dignity, discarded… Jesus Forsaken is in them, in each of them, and, with marred features and broken voice, he asks to be looked in the eye, to be acknowledged, to be loved.
Song: There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
like the wideness of the sea;
there’s a kindness in his justice,
which is more than liberty.
For the love of God is broader
than the measure of man’s mind;
We see this wide and great mercy in action in the Gospel we just heard. I see the Lord putting into practice what he Himself taught in the parable of the two sons. He loves and welcomes both the outwardly sinful prodigal son and also the self-righteous angry son. Jesus is love incarnate and He offers that Love to both the woman caught in adultery and those who would condemn her to death.
These scribes and Pharisees are described by the Gospel writer John in his use of verbs of power, control, and dominance. She is “caught, brought and made to stand.” So often a human tendency is to find people in their sin and hold them there. In our Pharisaic tendencies, we can do the same. Put people in boxes. We do not see alternative possibilities. We remember their mistakes.
We always see them through a certain lens. Someone does not live up to our expectations. The guy who drinks too much. Pregnant teen. Certain assumption we make that the person is bad or a loser or weak or a person who cannot live up to their potential.
We have a choice. We can hold them or release them. Holding them causes people to hide.
My first year seminary theology professor John Shea wrote about this hiding with a wonderful quote: “We hide our sins because we know that if they are not hidden, they will be held [against us]. Skeletons are kept in the closet because we know other people will hang them on the porch. Then, the only access to our house will be through the dead bones of our mistakes.” Powerful statement of holding other people in judgement or also ourselves.
I learned a lesson early in my priesthood when I was teaching high schoolers. One of the more honest girls once said to me: Fr. Pete, why do you always give me the “you are a sinner look?” That caused me to do some self-reflection and conversion. In the Gospel, the Scribes and Pharisees stare at the woman. Staring is a tool of self-righteousness. It is intimidation and it is the look that you are dirt, a lowlife. They are keeping this woman in her place and not letting her get out of it. In contrast, Jesus does not stare at woman nor does he stare at them. He shows them that deep inside themselves, there is the truth. And this truth will set them and her free to change. All of them drop their stones and walk away. They are not this woman’s judges but her brothers. They sin and she sins and we all sin.
Jesus shows them the contradiction in their self-image. They do not want to see the truth of their own brokenness. They are just as in need of compassion and forgiveness. What Jesus mirrors to the woman is her deeper and truer self.
I think that Jesus has compassion on her accusers too. In my own human way of observing this scene, I could easily turn on them and judge them right back for being judgmental and self-righteous and prideful. Jesus challenged them, and he did it out of love. Jesus gives people the space to be who they are. Jesus invites all to conversion.
When the woman and Jesus are alone, Jesus recognizes her error, but he does not condemn her. He sets her free to walk away and be new. We do not know if she changes, but we hope she does not persist in this sin.
The story teaches us not to hold onto past mistakes but to future possibilities. God does something new. He moves us out of dead space.
Tonight, we have a choice to let our sins go and abandon ourselves to God’s love and mercy or not. We have a chance to change even if it does not seem that we are changing. Even a little bit of progress and perseverance is a good thing.
The sacrament of reconciliation is an encounter with the same Jesus who set the sinful woman free and who looks on you in love and wants to set you too free from hiding in your sin. He wants to give you a new start.
Around the world today parishes are conducting Scrutinies for those who are not baptized. We call them catechumens, or correctly now the “elect” since Bishop Stika elected them for the Easter sacraments after we the parishioners of St. Mary’s sent them to him three Sundays ago. The elect or only those to be baptized take part in the scrutinies. Those who are converting to Catholicism and have already been baptized do not take part in these scrutinies. The term “scrutiny” makes it sound as if we are giving an exam to see if they are ready or worthy to join us. But, it is not us who scrutinize them, it is they who scrutinize themselves. They are asking themselves, “Am I ready?” Our response is to support them through our prayer. Actually during Lent, all of us need to look at our lives and the obstacles to faith and turn to the great power of Jesus.
The story of the Samaritan woman at the well begins the 3-week cycle of scrutinies. It is a story of how to believe in Jesus even when there are lots of reasons not to believe in Him. He engages her in a dialog and He challenges her to believe in Himself as the Messiah as she confronts her own beliefs and past sins. They talk about the differences between Jews and Samaritan; between well water and living water; about her past and Jesus’ insights into her life.
In this scene, Jesus is already at the well, before she arrives. This is what we call the Primacy of Grace. It is not you who have chosen me, but I who have chosen you. Bible not about us seeking God. It is about God fervently seeking us.
When we surrender to God who is always looking for us, we are in the right place. How do I allow myself to be found by God who is already looking for me? It is like a helicopter trying to land. The helicopter represents God’s grace or presence. Spiritual life is not jumping up to the helicopter, but merely clearing the ground so that the helicopter can land. Those parishioners who have gone on the CRHP retreat cleared the space of time and activity to allow that grace to come to you. Those young people who went on pilgrimage to Alabama last week did the same. This woman at the well certainly opened herself up to speak to Jesus and was not afraid to answer Him who offered to give her life-giving water. This is the first step – responding to Jesus and the grace He offers. It is accepting the gift of life-giving water.
Before water can flow into one’s life, we must remove some obstacles so that water can flow into us. How beautifully Jesus addresses the moral issues of the woman. She is a pariah, coming to well at high noon and all alone. This is significant because usually the women would go together to the well to draw water in the morning when it is not so hot. She had five husbands and is in an illicit relationship. She knows or experiences that she has done wrong and suffers the consequences of her behavior in the community of Sychar. No telling what the individual stories of the past five husbands includes. But, Jesus did not start with moral correction. He offers grace first. Many make mistakes by starting with judgement and condemnation of immoral behavior of others.
Jesus’ conversation with this Samaritan woman was scandalous. He was a Jewish rabbi. It was taboo to speak to Samaritans and women. Jesus is acting like the Father in the story of the Prodigal Son. He actively goes out to an undeserving soul to offer mercy and grace.
However, it is also very important to see clearly that Jesus is not indifferent to moral correction. Jesus is very direct in telling her that He knows that she has had five husbands and the one she has now, she is not married to. Sexual morality is a serious matter. Spiritual life does not really get off the ground if moral issues are not addressed. Is there something in me that is blocking the flow of grace? In her case, it is the disordered relationships
Being that it is Lent and knowing that thousands of men and women are going through the first of three Scrutinies today, we too should consider a serious appraisal of self. How? The Church provides us with a perfect way to examine our lives—the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The word reconciliation translated loosely means “eyelash to eyelash.” In the Sacrament, we sit at another type of well and look at Jesus “eyelash to eyelash.” This is our occasion for a serious self-appraisal.
What must be dealt with in our lives before waters flow? As with her, so with many of us. She was looking for love in all the wrong places. We try to satisfy the longing for God with something that is less than God. It will make us frustrated. For the woman, it was sexual pleasure with her 5 failed marriages and an illicit relationship. For others, we seek wealth, power, approval, or positions of greatness. All these good things fade away, wear off, run out. They do not satisfy our infinite thirst. What is the One reality that never runs out? Answer – the divine life which is what Jesus offers to the woman at the well. God is infinite so He never runs out. That is the well that you drink from.
While we witness converts joyously studying their new faith, how much have we studied about God through the years? The well does not run out of water. How have we deepened and nurtured our faith? Jesus says plainly that if we are to grow in God’s eyes, we must drink of the Living Water—that we must build a relationship with Him. How have we done this?
Jesus spent a lifetime breaking down walls. How many barriers have we created? How many grudges do we hold? How many hurts have we let fester? How is our practice of Christian morality?
Too many of us are afraid to look in a mirror to see ourselves as we really are, especially if that mirror is in the form of the eyes of Christ. For too many, this fear keeps us away from the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Today, our Church’s catechumens will seriously look at themselves as they prepare for the waters of Baptism. Dare we do anything less?