All posts for the month April, 2022

24 April 2022 at Saint William Catholic Church in Naples, FL

Acts of the Apostles 5, 12-16 + Psalm 118 + Revelation 1,9-11, 12-13, 17-19 + John 20, 19-31

The disciples encountered a transformed, divine Being, not a resuscitated corpse. They recognized their friend and teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, but he was now their Lord in glory. That is what this Gospel reveals to us about those gathered in that room. They are not fact checking the story of those women who went to the empty tomb. There is a life-changing experience going on here. Doubt and Fear are giving way to Faith and Hope. How that happens is what John is describing in these verses.

For Thomas, faith did not come easily. Yet because of his relationship with those other disciples and because of their relationship with Jesus, he could move deeply into the mystery only believers can understand. He wanted to “see” with human eyes, and when he did, his mind and heart saw the glory of God moving him to proclaim what had been so hard to see before the crucifixion and death. Suddenly, at that moment, Thomas realized that the effects of evil, horrible as they were, were not the greatest power, because love and forgiveness are.

For Jesus, the mission was not quite complete. There was more to do than conquer death. He had to draw them from doubt and fear to faith and hope. The one Thomas wanted to touch ended up touching Thomas with that divine love and mercy he had spoken of again and again. Jesus could now finish his work. He breathed on them, and with that act, they came to life recreated and restored. It is, once again, the very moment of creation when God breaths forth life. Now they are truly friends with God just as God intended. 

The Word of God, the Son of God stands before them and says: “Shalom”. It is a word that has no English equivalent. It describes wholeness. For the ancient ones, it described the mending of a net. It has to do with putting together what is broken. When Jesus spoke, that word is was not a wish, but an announcement that he was there in their midst, and their relationship with him was not broken by death. This peace is not something we can produce for ourselves. It is something given and proclaimed by God in Christ. It is a wholeness. It is unity. 

Peace with God comes first. Without it, there can be no peace among us. For believers, it is the total restoration of the relationship broken by sin. It comes with forgiveness, and that power of forgiveness is released through that breath. Forgiveness of sin is the primary work of God’s Spirit. We who have received the Spirit have found Peace with God and carry on his mission of forgiveness which was the driving force in Jesus Christ. It was his mission, forgiveness. This is what brings people into union with God and one another. It generates the peace that Jesus proclaimed.

This then is the purpose of life for believers, forgiveness. In that act of forgiveness, we experience the mercy of God and share that Divine Mercy with all who live in brokenness, loneliness, and misery. Thomas helps us to understand today that faith is a living relationship with Jesus. Life in Christ is not a program to master or perfect, but an endless mystery that will guide us through this life into an eternity of discovery and joy.

17 April 2022 at Saint Peter the Apostle and Saint Agnes Churches in Naples, FL

Acts of the Apostles 10, 34-43 + Psalm 118 + 1 Corinthians 5, 6-80 + John 20, 1-0

There was one of those reality TV shows that I watched once or twice before deciding it was far too sad to be entertaining. It may still be on air, but not because I’ve supported the sponsors. It’s called “Hoarders”. As you may know, the show profiles individuals whose obsessive fear of loss causes a compulsive accumulation of unneeded things. I’ve known a couple of people who suffered from that obsession, and it was truly sad. One of the saddest consequences is how it drives people away, family members, neighbors, and old friends leaving the victim alone and fearful. What is clear about those who suffer from what is obviously an issue of mental health is that the compulsion began with a catastrophic loss, the death of a spouse or some childhood trauma. Memories of some tragic loss drives them to cling to anything that might protect them from another loss. Their only relief is overcoming their fear.

The fear of loss is all around us everywhere. The fear of loss sells security systems and employs security guards. The fear of loss tells us to lock our cars and buy that ever increasingly expensive insurance. That fear of loss leads us to pay nearly as much for a storage unit somewhere as people pay in rent. The fear that we might no longer look young fills medical schools with plastic surgeons, and the fear of dying finds many unprepared, unable, and unwilling to even talk about it, leaving those with faith enough to look forward to what is to come seem really odd.

We don’t have to be a hoarder to feel the chill of death’s shadow because we know deep down that everything we love and rely on will pass away. Fear of the unknown, fear of death, even fear of change can numb our emotions, cloud our vision and make us grasp at things that will rot and wear out. That fear makes us do crazy things and make bad decisions. 

God’s answer to this is what draws us all together on this day and in this place. This day, at the very heart of our faith tradition, reveals God’s plan to transform our doubts, worries, and fears into hope and joy. We are here celebrating Easter not because something wonderful happened for Jesus. We celebrate because what happened for him is given to us: life forever with God and one another. The Resurrection of Christ shows us that we no longer have to live with fears that too often keep us apart leaving us filled with confusion, doubt and frantic efforts to hang on to stuff that will rust and decay. God’s plan in Jesus is far bigger than our puny imaginations. We can face an empty tomb and see something no one else might see.  

John’s Gospel is oddly specific about a detail whose meaning we might not ever have thought about before. It is the condition of those burial cloths. For John they are evidence that death has been defeated. Someone who moved or stole that body would have kept it wrapped up. The sight and smell of a body would have caused disgust, and an unsecured corpse would have been a clumsy burden. Realizing this, the two apostles took the discarded winding-sheet and veil s symbols of the resurrection. The man who bore them needed them no longer. They saw and believed, even though they did not understand how it could have possibly been true.

It is that belief that transformed them and allowed them to move forward even though they did not understand, and forward we go, all of us who believe. We have nothing to lose, those of us who believe. We lose nothing when we love enemies, bless our persecutors, forgive our transgressors, and beg other for forgiveness when we must. Because there is nothing to fear, we can be generous and welcoming to all. When that truth seizes us through faith, we shall suddenly realize that something wonderful is happening to us, and God’s plan is for this to happen again leading us to “go around doing good” just like Jesus did because he still lives through and within us all. 

This is not something we have to intellectually understand, but it is something we must believe if there is to be any hope in our hearts and any hope of this world in God has chosen to be revealed. And so, what more is there to say except: “This is the Day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad. Why? Not because something wonderful happened for Jesus, but because what happened for him is given to us.

10 April 2022 at Saint Peter the Apostle and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL

Isaiah 50, 4-7 + Psalm 22 + Philippians 2, 6-11 + Luke 22,14 – 23,56

In much of Luke’s Gospel, Jerusalem is not so much a place as it is the destiny of all God’s children. It is why Jesus was so intent on going there in spite of all the threats and danger the journey posed for him. His entry into Jerusalem which we commemorate today is the culmination of his life’s work. It is the fulfillment and the end, and he knew that as he rode into town. He knew he was riding to his death, and that only through death would he ever make it home to the Father. 

In Luke’s typical dramatic style, this last week of life for Jesus is set in several “acts” the first of which is this procession which began way back in Chapter 9 when just after the Transfiguration, Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem”. Now with carefully chosen words Luke tells us that Jesus was “ascending” to Jerusalem. He arrives on a borrowed ride. It is a pauper’s throne, and the people are singing what the Angels sang at his birth. Don’t miss that clever Lukan detail.

Every one of the evangelists tell us that the crucifixion was not a disaster that struck down Jesus, but a carefully chosen destiny. Jesus did not die a victim of plotting adversaries. He sacrifices himself in obedience for the sake of all who have been disobedient. He dies fulfilling the will of his Father for the sake of those who did not follow the will of the Father from the very beginning. The disobedience and refusal of Adam and Eve is now set right.

Again, as with every important moment in the life of Jesus, he goes to pray. Before his Baptism, before his Transfiguration, and once again in the garden he prays. This time instead of a voice from the heavens, an angel comforts him. In Luke, angels appear frequently. But this time, God is silent. There is no voice, no cloud, no sound at all. It is as if God would give his son some space. It is as though he needs time to accept the will of the Father he has so often spoken of. Christ could have escaped, but then there would be no escape for us.

While we listen to the Passion being proclaimed today and on Friday, we must not stand and listen nor just wait to speak our lines. We must learn from the last and best lesson we are given by this Rabbi from Nazareth. We can learn from him how to face, accept, and embrace what some might think of as disasters and tragedies. We can learn how to suffer, how to be betrayed, attacked, misunderstood, and even abandoned. We can grow to understand that this is how love is expressed, how hope is seized, and how eternal life is secured. When God seems silent and darkness is about to overcome us, we can learn from Jesus Christ that the Father’s love for us never fails, and no matter what tragedy or disaster may come, there will be an Easter for every one of us who remember the words he spoke: Do This in Memory of Me.

3 April 2022 at St. William Church in Naples, FL

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

This cleverly told story that comes to us from John’s Gospel is loaded with fascinating details to spark our imaginations. At the same time, it is lacking in some details that can also raise some questions in our minds. When it comes to these missing details, we have to wonder how they caught her, and where was the other culprit? If you know the Law of Moses they are quoting, you also know that their quotation is not accurate since the Law of Moses also imposes a penalty on the man. Do these self-appointed enforcers not know the law they seem so ready to enforce?

What we really have here is gang of bullies and an unnamed woman saved by Jesus from a crowd who were out to get him! What we also have here is Jesus confronting the death penalty, and a lot of people don’t like to hear that or even think about it much less learn what Jesus has to say and does about it. What we really have here is meeting of misery and mercy.

In every age people have been fascinated by that detail telling us that Jesus bent down and wrote in the sand. More time has been waisted guessing what he wrote producing nothing more than one silly idea after another. If what was written was really important, John would have told us. What we do know is that Jesus used his finger which every one of those standing there and those who first received John’s Gospel would have remembered is exactly the way God writes on the tablets of Law given to Moses: “with his finger” says Exodus 31, 18. It is also an opportunity to remember that the Law was not given to condemn but as a guide to a godly way of life. 

There is here a delicate balance between the Justice of Jesus in not condoning the sin and his mercy in forgiving the sinner. So, perhaps the writing in the sand is not nearly as important as the posture. John tells us that Jesus bent down. Instead of standing high and mighty, instead of standing over her in judgement, he bent down to her level, and my imagination is that they met eye to eye, and he looked into her soul and again, misery met mercy.

What John seems to be revealing here with this story is not just something about God, but something about us, and how far we often stray from the image in which we were made. Jesus is confronted here by a group of bullies, zealots who have taken upon themselves the indignant enforcing of the law. What Jesus confronts is their zeal for the words of the law that blinds them to the intent of the law. We live in a world of bullies and zealots these days that is rarely tolerates or expects mercy while shouting for justice which in most hands looks more like revenge. 

As this Lenten season moves us toward Holy Week, we are somewhat prepared by this scene for another mob who will be shouting for death. The Jesus sent to us by God has come not to condemn, but to heal and forgive. He comes with empty hands ready to reach down and lift us up surely with the hope that we shall do the same to one another. We can’t do that when our fists are closed around stones of revenge and self-claimed righteousness. Before this Lent comes to an end, we have to drop those stones and embrace our own misery ready to meet mercy.