All posts for the month April, 2021

April 25, 2021 at St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Parish in Naples, FL

Acts 4, 8-12 + Psalm 118 + 1 John 3, 1-2 + John 10, 11-18

2:45pm Saturday St William Church in Naples, FL

As we near the end of this Easter Season, there is no longer time nor any excuse for facing the dark reality that gave us this joyful season. It’s time to think about, reflect upon, and hear about death, which is challenge when these verses are turned into romantic ideas about a sweet and gentle shepherd. This is a shepherd who talks about laying down his life. In plain language. He’s talking about death.

This is something many will go to any extent to avoid. I can’t begin to count or recall how many times in my more than fifty years as a priest I have come to comfort survivors only to realize that they had never thought about death, never accepted the inevitable, and never put together a plan for how to approach this experience. In some ways, I have decided that this is the consequence of some bad thinking about death as though it was an end rather than a beginning or a transition to a different way of living in eternity. As I have aged and get closer to my own death, I occurs to me that giving some thought and actual planning for death is a kind of ultimate act of faith. Emphasis upon the word, Act. There are lots of words of faith. The Creed is an example of lots of words. At Baptisms and Confirmations, and at Easter after each article of the Creed, we say: “I Do.” I think it might be important to ask: “I Do What?” Sometimes it means doing something over and above meaning, “I Do Believe.” If we believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting, it means that we no longer see death as an end, and so, we might prepare for it just like we prepare for a vacation.

In this Gospel today, John proposes for us through the words of Jesus how it is we might prepare for life everlasting. There is clue when Jesus speaks of laying down his life insisting that he does this freely, voluntarily for his sheep. With that, we get one more grand revelation about the very nature of God. For the God Jesus reveals is a God who freely and willingly gives up his only son in order to embrace us all as God’s children. It’s all about renunciation. It’s all about a willingness to let go, to lay down anything and everything for the sake of this divine love.

Too often I have stood over a sick and dying child and heard a parent in desperate love saying they wished to trade places if they could keep that love alive, willing to die for their child. In that moment, through that experience, what Jesus reveals about the Father becomes real. Love is no longer an idea, a wish, or a dream. It takes flesh and becomes something we can understand and believe. It also become something we can do.

It’s all about renunciation, or call it sacrifice, if you wish. It is about the ultimate act of love. What is it we do? We renounce, we lay down, we cease to live for ourselves. It is how we prepare and how we can practice for death, by dying to self.

Our tradition is filled with stories of holy men and women who practiced and prepared for death by renunciation. Francis of Assisi renounced everything and so when it was time to pass over into new life, he could slip through that proverbial eye of a needle. Yet I have found that this model of Francis leaves us to think that it is material things we have laydown or renounce. With that thinking we are in trouble.

There are more things intangible that we lug around this life weightier and more cumbersome than clothes, shoes, jewelry, homes, cars, and all the stuff that fills our garages and storage facilities. Practice for death, preparation for that inevitable moment might be better served by renouncing our racism, our grudges, our prejudices, haughty attitudes and privileges. There is where it can begin, so that without these obstacles to love, we might enter more profoundly in the mystery of God’s love and ready ourselves for that moment when we shall become more like God living eternal life.

All of this is seen and revealed for those who stand in faith before the cross. There is radical frugality and simplicity in the modern world of consumerism and secular materialism. What can there be in all of us except a wave a deep gratitude. That sacrifice or renunciation is the royal path for all of us who want to know this love. It is the way we can recreate ourselves in the image and likeness of God. It cannot be done all at once nor is it a one-time deal; it is a daily decision, motivated by love as a response to Love’s invitation. St Francis new a secret: whatever he laid down willingly, the Father would honor and bless abundantly. During the remaining days of this Easter season, let’s set our hearts to discover that secret as well.

April 18, 2021 at St. William Parish in Naples, FL

Acts 3, 13-15, 17-19 + Psalm 4 + 1 John 2, 1-5 + Luke 24, 35-48

4:30pm Saturday at St William Church in Naples, FL

There are only three more verses to Luke’s Gospel. We’re at the end, but as with most endings, it is really the beginning. What begins now is another revealing story of God’s love and mercy. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have given the world their story. Now it is ours to tell for that is what Jesus has to say in this, his final appearance before the Ascension. The old gospels are a good start. They tell us what to look for, and they give some images with which to work as we respond to what is really more than a request. It really a command.  He doesn’t tell us to go to church. He doesn’t tell us to fast and abstain, and he doesn’t tell us to keep the rules. He opens our minds to the scriptures and tells us to witness to what we have seen. His instruction to those in that upper room was to remain there until they were clothed with power from on high.

My friends, I believe that this is why we are here. This is our upper room. It is here that we must be clothed with power from on high for one reason. To become witness to all we have seen and heard. We keep coming back not because we have failed to receive that power, but because we may have grown weary with the witnessing. We come back to remember when we may have forgotten. We come back to be refreshed by one another, to encourage one another, and to be renewed by the Spirit of joy and peace that we bring here sometimes and find here to share.

Day in and day out we get battered about by all sorts of things that can test our faith and challenge our hope. Bad news is all around. Friends get sick and some die. Relationships collapse. Jobs are lost. Lies are told. Dreams vanish. Where shall we go but back here to our upper room. Here we open our minds once again to the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. Here again we come to understand the scriptures. Here once more, we celebrate the Christ/Messiah who suffered, died, and rose from the dead. Here we proclaim the forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations.

All of those things that test our faith and challenge our hope are still around. They are still out there. The death and resurrection of Jesus did nothing to change all of that. It’s all still there, but what can be changed if we continue to gather in this upper room is how we look at and live with all of that. People without faith or people who have nowhere to go, who have no upper room, quickly become cynical, negative, and defeated. But we who assemble here again and again even when we don’t want to slowly, year by year become a people of hope. We are a people who never need say: “We had hoped” with all the sadness and disappointment those apostles felt on their way out of Jerusalem. I’ve always thought that their problem was that they were going the wrong way. They were headed out of Jerusalem away from that place where they had experienced such a tragic challenge to their dreams. We can’t run from any of the tragedies of life, but we can fall back on what we have learned from the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. Most of all, we can fall back on what we have learned from this Rabbi who is still with us, who has known every tragic disappointment this world could throw at him.

His risen living presence stirs our deepest hopes, restores our fondest dreams, and binds us up again when we have been broken, pulled apart, and abandoned. The hope with which we live our lives is the witness this Gospel needs. The Joy that should stir in us every time we gather together is the witness he asks for. Our readiness to forgive, and our readiness to ask for it bears witness to the truth of what we have found in the risen Christ.

The resurrection is the central core of our faith. It is our only reason to hope, and the more deeply we lose ourselves in this story and in this promise, the more we will have to share and the more our lives will themselves be witness enough to awaken those who are defeated and lost. The resurrection is no story of a victory over death or a promise of eternal life. It is a summons to live as a community led by the Spirit, practicing forgiveness and resistance to evil. It takes shape in the bond of our friendship that reaches across everything that can divide us, ideologies, racism, and the great economic divides between wealth and poverty. Christ has risen. With that, everything changes. With the power of that truth, the petty things with which we are so often so busy fade away. Death becomes little more than a stage of life not in any way a boundary or an end. The resurrection leaves us with so many more important things to think about and plan for.

Sunday of Divine Mercy

April 11, 2021 at St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Parish in Naples, FL

Acts 4, 32-35 + Psalm 118 + 1 John 5, 1-6 + John 20, 19-31

11:00am Sunday at St. William Church in Naples, FL

An excerpt from St. Faustina’s Diary says it well: “Help me, O Lord, that my eyes may be merciful, so that I may never suspect or judge from appearances, but look for what is beautiful in my neighbors’ soul and come to their rescue.”

Our Church has declared this day to be the Sunday of Divine Mercy, and with memories of Easter still fresh in our minds, we pick up the Gospel of John almost where we left off last week to reflect upon what God is doing among us and to express our gratitude for the gift of God’s Mercy. There is a risk with this celebration that can lead us away from whole purpose of Mercy Sunday. That risk is simply that some might think this is a day to pray for God’s mercy. I don’t think so. There is no need to pray asking to God be something other than what God already is. In spite of the fact that we often begin our sacred liturgy by crying out: “Lord, Have Mercy”, we are not begging. That’s not what why we say those words. We are proclaiming that a merciful God has already had mercy up on. It is an acclamation about the reason for our assembly: to give thanks for the mercy of God that got us through another week. We cannot say those words out of habit or just memory because that’s just what we do. We must worship intelligently, alert and mindful of who we are and what we are called to become.

The purpose and point of Divine Mercy Sunday then is to inspire or remind us that we who have been so mercifully gifted by faith and God’s forgiveness must become mercy itself just as Jesus was the very incarnation of the Father’s mercy. I am praying today for you to be merciful to me in spite of all my faults and failings. God already has been. I believe that. I am also praying that I will be mercy to everyone I meet no matter how I feel or what’s going on.

Mercy, is a quality of the Divine. The Greek word for Mercy means to get into another’s skin. As we sometimes put it in English, it means to walk in the shoes of another. That is what God did through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. God got into our skin, seeing things through our eyes, feeling them with our heart, knowing them through our experience. That is the only way mercy can work. We become the merciful when we begin to see, feel and experience what another sees, feels and experiences. When we do, mercy is easy. This day is about our mercy because God is mercy.

When Jesus was suddenly in that room as we heard today, it knocked the breath out of those disciples. All they knew was that the body of Jesus was not where they left it. They were fractured and frightened. In spite of what Mary Magdala had said, they did not believe her so deep was their doubt and their disrespect for the testimony of a woman. 

Having gathered there in fear and sadness, it is almost impossible to image how they felt and what their Joy was really like. I guess it would be what we might experience if someone we loved deeply suddenly was with us talking to us again after we had buried them. John tells us that Jesus breathed on them. It was a moment that brought them back to life just as God had once breathed on all that was created.

And then comes his final request, forgive. That is the finest gift of love, forgiveness. It is the most essential and necessary expression of love, the ability, the desire, and the readiness to forgive. That is what Jesus was doing in that room, he forgave them for leaving him, for denying him, for not listening to him, and for wanting to do things their own way. Forgiveness is the ultimate expression mercy. In a family and in a society, it can inspire and encourage radical change. It is the only way to Peace. It is the only way we can finally live as God intended, in peace. 

April 4, 2021 at St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Parish in Naples, FL

Acts 10, 34, 37-43 + Psalm 118 + Colossians 3, 1-4 + John 20, 1-9

8:00am Easter Sunday at St Peter the Apostle in Naples, FL

There was an empty tomb, that’s for sure, and nobody seems to have denied it. For some there was no Christ to be found, yet for those whose testimony we hear today and, in the weeks, to come, there seems to be no doubt that he has risen from the dead. The change that came over those witnesses is unmistakable. After fifty days, at Pentecost, what came over them is nothing less than astounding. They had come to realize that while he had departed from them he had returned to them in their hearts. He left, but he is here and because of it, we are here. The power of the resurrection is not something to be experienced when we close our eyes in death or when Christ comes again. It is now.

The birth of God’s Son in time and in human flesh and blood shows us that we have within us because of our blessed human nature God’s loving presence. The Incarnation, the coming of God’s Son into human life is a powerful gift that can allow us to see God in all creation and in every other human being. God is one with God’s people is the mystery and the message of Jesus Christ. This is not something we earn or deserve. It is a gift of love from the source of love, and the gift transforms us into what we were meant to be, God’s dwelling place.

With the resurrection, we are drawn deeper into this wonder of God’s friendship. The very living glorified presence of Christ shows us that we too are much more than we sometimes think and show to others. There is about us depth and purpose that goes far beyond what we have, where we live, and what we look like. The resurrection touches the very core of who we are. The resurrection touches our very identity and our purpose for living from day to day as breath by breath we are transformed into Christ. We can’t stop it or resist it and remain in existence. It is what we were created to be and called into life to become.

The divinity of Christ in human nature brings us the corrective that we need to lift us above selfishness and sin. It turns us away from ourselves and awakens us to the divine spark, the divine life, the divine breath that is within us.  What we can celebrate today is that living presence of Christ pointing us to what we need in order to live in the Kingdom of God. Christ is not sitting somewhere up in heaven like some observer or some judge measuring what we say and what we do. When we proclaim that Christ has risen, we are proclaiming that he lives within us. By that faith, we can see, we can think and we can act as Christ, but it is not automatic. We must make a choice to act on the power within us.

What a real celebration of Easter demands is that we have begun to claim our identity as men and women chosen by God. Embracing that truth changes everything, and then everything we do has depth and greater meaning. God’s perfect love lifts us up and transforms us into what we really are not who we want to be or think we need to be.

Let this Easter celebration that draws you into this space and into this company give us all a fresh new way to think about Christ and God’s love for us. May it give us a new way to think about who we are and why so that we may come to realize how important it is to preserve or restore our relationship with God and all God’s children. This is the real cause for Joy today, and it is an even greater cause for us to work all the more tirelessly for the sake of the Gospel working to rid this world of injustice, making sure that everyone has a home and deserves defending at all costs because of the dignity and sanctity of every single human life. It is all because we believe that Christ is risen, and we find him and see him now in all creation and all of God’s people. This is ultimately what we mean when we say Christ is Risen, Alleluia.

Happy Easter, my friends. Like everyone else, I’m looking for Christ, and all I can find and see is you, and the more we come to realize who we are, that will be good enough for now and I won’t need to look into an empty tomb or any further than you living here with me.