Sunday, September 19, 2010

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gekko's Echos

In the 1987 Oliver Stone movie Wall Street, the Darwinian corporate raider Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglass) infamously tells his young protégé Bud (Charlie Sheen) that “Greed is…good.” In the upcoming sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, a reformed Gekko uses his wiles and wealth to try to head off a financial meltdown fueled by the very greed he once perversely promoted as a virtue. Life and what’s really important can look a lot different after a decade in prison for insider trading and other white collar crimes.

Greed, very clearly, is not good. After all, it is still one of the Seven Deadly Sins! Money may never sleep but as Amos and other prophets remind us, neither does God, who unlike money is also eternal. In our first reading, the wealthy and powerful of Israel were depicted as unreformed Gordon Gekkos, so anxious to take care of their business that they almost resented being constrained by the observances of the Sabbath and other festivals.

Their primary aim in life was to make money and to grow or stay rich; and if they had to bend a few rules—diminishing measures, manipulating prices, fixing scales, selling even the refuse of the wheat—well, that was simply the price of success. If they had to hurt a few poor people along the way, then so be it. Some were even willing to sell a pair of sandals to those so desperately poor that they were willing to put up their own lives and freedom as collateral.
Such greed was an abomination to God and his messenger, Amos. So why, in our gospel reading, does Jesus appear to endorse the actions of a rotten steward who changes his master’s invoices to benefit himself? Why does he encourage his disciples to make friends with the use of dishonest wealth? It may seem confusing at first, but the Lord’s intention becomes clearer when we consider his stern warning at the end of this passage: “No servant can serve two masters….You cannot serve both God and mammon (wealth).”
Jesus wasn’t commending the steward for his dishonesty but rather for his creativity and flexibility in response to a situation that challenged his success and even his survival—a situation not unlike that faced by the late first century church to whom Luke first wrote his gospel. Faced with the prospect of being down and out, the wily steward found a way to land on his feet.
We live in an age where the church’s mission of evangelization and in some cases even its survival are challenged by a host of forces. These pressures range from persecution by religious fanatics in places like India and Indonesia, to the relentless forces of secularization in the West, to the self-destructive demons active in the misconduct of some its ministers. Can we find a similar motivating energy, creativity and flexibility to fulfill our calls to serve God, proclaim the Good News, and love our brothers and sisters? Can we change not the timeless content of our message and values but the ways which they are celebrated, taught and applied?
When St. Paul addressed the first century forces that threatened the church from without and within, his response in some cases was prophetic confrontation. But as we witnessed in today’s second reading, in other cases he suggested what might be called prayerful accommodation. It a world filled with turmoil, the most powerful thing that the church could do was to offer “supplications, prayers, petitions and thanksgivings…for everyone.” Prayer changes things; and it does so first and foremost because it changes us.
The great human rights leader and apostle of nonviolence Mahatma Gandhi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” That applies to us as individual disciples and also to us as a church. In a world where Gordon Gekko’s echoes still reverberate, proclaiming not so much in words but in actions greed as good and god as mammon, we have a holy obligation to say “No” and to show our sisters and brothers another and even richer way. +

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Under Construction: 22nd Sunday

There are a number of phrases that strike terror in the hearts of any driver: the dashboard light that says, “Check Engine;” the newspaper headline that says, “Record Gas Prices;” or the plaintive question, “Are we there yet?” asked for fifteenth time…in the past fifteen minutes!

This time of year, however, perhaps the most feared phrase for anyone behind the wheel is printed on an orange sign: “Road Work Ahead.” It is often accompanied by one of those symbols that indicate that there will be fewer lanes in the construction zone. In many cases, there’s not much to worry about. Traffic may slow down a bit, but at least things don’t grind to a halt.

Then there are experiences like the one I had a couple of Sundays ago. I was on I-94 driving from Chicago to Detroit. It was a Sunday evening, and I had been on the road for several days for meetings, Masses, and provincial celebrations. I was really looking forward to getting home. I had been driving almost five hours when I saw that dreaded orange sign—“Road Work Ahead”—accompanied by the lane closure symbols. I switched on the local AM station that features “traffic every ten minutes” to get an update.

By the time I heard the update, however, I had become part of the news—an interstate parking lot in which four lanes of cars and trucks had been reduced to one. What was normally a drive of five minutes took nearly an hour-and-a-half! Fortunately, I had done two very important things only 30 minutes before I hit this traffic jam: I filled up the gas tank and I (ahem) used the bathroom. As we crawled along the highway, it appeared from the worried and pained faces of some of my fellow drivers that they were not so fortunate.

The memory of those faces returned as I read Jesus’ response to the one who asked him how many would be saved: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” Those are not exactly reassuring words! We’ve all seen television footage of concert goers seeking tickets, refugees seeking bread and water, and even Christmas shoppers at Wal-Mart seeking the year’s hot toy pushing, shoving, squeezing and even trampling each other to get through a narrow doorway to get what they want.

The Lord’s admonition, however, was not intended to cause paralyzing fear or panic but rather to spur us to action. He was trying to address a sense of complacency and entitlement that afflicted those who followed him as well as those who opposed him. Many believed that their status as descendants of Abraham guaranteed them the salvation that had been promised to the people of

Israel when the Messiah came. They took comfort in the words of the scriptures that separated them from “the nations,” that is the gentile peoples around them.

In the face of such an attitude, Jesus said, “Not so fast!” It was not enough, he suggested, for them to acknowledge but fail to act on the promise of salvation. They had to live it, that is, to think, speak and work as if they were already living in the reign of God. In addition, they would also need to accept that the invitation to be part of God’s kingdom was not for them alone but was for the whole world.

This wasn’t a totally new teaching. It had been proclaimed centuries before by the prophets like Isaiah. Preaching to a people returning to Jerusalem after the exile to Babylon, Isaiah announced a message of radical inclusion to a nation that had once prided itself on its exclusivity: “I know their works and their thoughts, and I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory.”

Echoing the proclamation of Isaiah, Jesus prophesied: “And people will

come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

So status doesn’t matter. Action in response to the gospel is what counts. The fact that we are Christians, our membership in the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church,” and even our baptism won’t matter if we don’t live the faith we have professed and fulfill the promises made in our baptism.

As we all know, living our faith is often a challenge. It’s tempting to “drive on the shoulder” and avoid the difficult traffic. It’s easy to lose patience or become discouraged when we feel stuck in the spirit, when our growth as followers of Jesus seems stalled, when the Church itself seems to be barely moving forward.

That’s where the discipline we heard about in our second reading comes in. Unfortunately, most people associate discipline with punishment. But the Latin root of the word suggests something far different: discipulus means “student.” The author of Hebrews was trying to encourage a struggling and disheartened church to accept their trials not as punishment but as “teachable moments,” opportunities to grow in the Lord.

Whether it’s physical, emotional or spiritual, pain can be our tutor. It’s a sign that something is wrong and needs to be changed. If you have a hangover, your body is telling you something. If you feel anguish, anger, or sadness around some one you’re supposed to love, that’s telling you something, too.

As the author of Hebrews reminded us, spiritual growth depends on our being teachable. Unfortunately, too many people get lost in their pain and fail to learn its lessons. But we have other options: “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” Fortunately, God is not through with us. We’re still in training. We’re still under construction. +

Sunday, August 1, 2010

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Public Storage or Lasting Legacy?

Manute Bol’s name will never appear on a list of the greatest players in the National Basketball Association. For many people he represented something of an athletic oddity, even a freak. A Sudanese immigrant to the U.S., he stood 7 feet, 7 inches tall and weighed only 225 pounds. His career on the court was rather unremarkable. He played for five teams over his ten years in the NBA, and over that time he averaged fewer points (2.6) than blocked shots (3.3).

If he didn’t exactly grab headlines on the court, Manute Bol didn’t off the court, either, especially in the ways typically and tragically associated with too many professional athletes: drug and/or gun possession; entourages and strip clubs; and multiple children born to multiple women in multiple cities, with no marriage in sight or mind. He wasn’t into “bling” or flings.

Though he made a very good living in the NBA he was virtually broke when he died in June at age 47 from complications of a skin disease. In the final years of his life, he became even more of a side show act when he was hired to be a jockey, a hockey player or even a boxer against William “the Refrigerator” Perry, the massive former defensive lineman for the Chicago Bears.

But it was all for a good cause. It is estimated that Manute Bol, a devout Christian, gave away most of his estimated $6 million fortune to help Sudanese refugees. He once explained his motivation this way: “God guided me to America and gave me a good job. But he also gave me a heart so I would look back.” Because of his heart and ability to look back, Manute Bol left a lasting legacy in the refugees he helped and the hospitals he built. Unlike the rich fool in today’s gospel reading, he tore down his own barns to make larger ones…for others.

When Jesus was invited to arbitrate a dispute between two brothers over their ancestral property, he demurred. Instead he used it as “a teachable moment” in which he used the story of the rich man with the abundant harvest as a cautionary tale to “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”

Those may be especially tough words for us in the U.S. According to the Self-Storage Association, public storage is now a $22 billion a year industry with over 15,000 facilities nationwide. According to the Pew Research Center, the median size of a new single family home in the U.S. grew from 1570 sq. ft. in 1980 to 2237 sq. ft. by 2005—an increase of 42% during a period when our families were getting smaller and the number of public storage facilities grew exponentially. It seems that, in some respects, our lives do consist of possessions!

During that same period one would also be able to trace an increase in the average work week, an increase in private debt as well as budget deficits at various levels of government, and company and bank balance sheets that were increasingly leveraged. It all came to a screeching halt in 2008. We are still recovering.

The ancient sage Qoheleth opened the Book of Ecclesiastes with the sobering cry, “Vanity of vanities…vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” The original Hebrew hebel is much more vivid than “vanity,” for it more literally means “breath” or “vapor.” In his very practical wisdom drawn from experience over many years, he observed some things that are also familiar to us and sometimes seem just as unfair. For example, a person can work hard for many years or something but may only get to enjoy it for a moment or perhaps not at all.

Qoheleth could also see that not just things but work itself can be a form of vanity. This is a particular challenge for those of us whose identities can become too closely intertwined with how much we produce or accomplish, particularly when it all comes at the price of “toil and anxiety of heart” and sleepless nights. In the face of such insomnia, Jesus offers a simple over-the-counter prescription: instead of storing up treasures for ourselves grow “rich in what matters to God.”

In other words, as St. Paul might say, we need to recall that by virtue of our baptism (symbolized in part by putting on the white garment) we “have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator.” This necessarily means that we must also “put to death…immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.” Our idols can take many shapes and forms, some material and others less so. What they all have in common, however, is that they become our gods or what theologian Paul Tillich called our “ultimate concern.”

We can’t live double lives…at least not with integrity. Like the rich man in the gospel we will all have a day of reckoning, if not in this life then certainly in the life to come.

A little over a week ago, Milwaukee was hit with torrential rains that devastated much of the city. In one memorable incident, a Cadillac Escalade and a street light were swallowed up by a sink hole at Oakland and North Ave. The following afternoon I was listening to a talk radio show on which the host invited listeners to call in with their stories from the Great Flood of 2010. One woman who called described how she watched helplessly as her basement filled with water and destroyed much of her family’s property. At the same time, she also gave thanks that no one was hurt and she remembered her husband’s words as they began to clean-up: “It’s just stuff.”

God’s word and the example of a Sudanese basketball player invite us to get our stuff together and to decide whether what we leave behind will be fit only for public storage or will be a lasting legacy for others and a testament to God. +

Sunday, July 11, 2010

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

It was on Easter Sunday 2009 that Brendan Marrocco’s life changed forever. Private Marrocco, a gung-ho 22-year old serving in the U.S. Army, was on patrol in northern Iraq when a roadside bomb exploded under the vehicle he was driving. The blast blew off all of his arms and legs. Some of the shrapnel cut through his carotid artery. By the time he reached the emergency room, he had lost eighty percent of his blood. Few thought that he would make it.

Miraculously, however, Brendan Marrocco managed to survive. He became the first veteran of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to live after losing all four of his limbs in combat. Fifteen months and fourteen surgeries later, he has made a remarkable recovery. His willingness to push himself through therapy to the point of exhaustion and his good humor have won him all kinds of admirers and have helped him to learn how to use four prosthetic devices. He is now considered a prime candidate for a rare double arm transplant.

But as amazing as his dedication and effort have been, Brendan Marrocco would never have made it without the support of dozens and dozens of people - everyone from an army of doctors, nurses and physical therapists to famous athletes. Perhaps the most important of these people is Brendan’s brother, Michael, who left a well-paying job with Citigroup and moved to Washington to be at his brother’s side. In exchange for his presence and assistance, U.S. Army provides him with room and board and $64 a day for his living expenses.

Their mother didn’t think that the more reserved Michael, whom she said wasn’t a caregiver by nature, would be able to handle a job as demanding as helping a quadruple amputee. But he has. When asked why he chose to quit a great career to do a job that others could certainly do, he said simply, “It needed to be done, and I was best prepared to do it.” For his brother Brendan, Michael Marrocco is the Good Samaritan.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus gives us a timeless parable that tells us what it really means to be “neighbor” to one another and gives us a flesh-and-blood definition of love. In the process, he also turns some conventional ideas of what it means to be righteous on their heads.

When challenged by “a scholar of the law” to tell him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus quoted to him two provisions of the law. The first was a portion of the Shema Israel, the first of all of the commandments, from the Book of Deuteronomy (read Deut. 6:4-8). The second came from another part of the Torah, Leviticus 19:18, one of a long list of laws governing the people of Israel in their care for themselves and in their relationships with each other, especially the poor and vulnerable.

Because he wanted test Jesus further and to prove his own (self-) righteousness, the legal scholar asked him to define what it meant to be a neighbor. It was then that Jesus demonstrated that he not only knew what the law was but also understood what the law really meant. At the heart of the covenant between God and his people was the simplest commandment to remember and one of the hardest to follow: love.

In Psalm 19, we are reminded that God’s words are “spirit and life;” and God’s laws are described as perfect, trustworthy, right, clear, pure, true, precious and sweeter than syrup or honey. Aren’t these also various facets of love??

Of course, it is easy to love in the abstract. As Dostoevsky wrote in The Brothers Karamazov, “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” Few things would be harsher or more dreadful than finding the victim of a robbery on the side of the street horribly beaten, stripped naked, and left for dead. But that’s exactly what the three men in the parable found as they traveled on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.

The priest and Levite—two reputed “experts” on the law—“passed by on the opposite side” of the road. Their motivations aren’t explained in this gospel passage. However, some Bible scholars have speculated that perhaps they were trying to avoid risking ritual impurity by touching an apparently dead body. Others have suggested more practical reason: to avoid a possible ambush and being victimized themselves. Whatever may have been going through their minds, and no matter how much it may have made sense from a legal or practical point of view, they chose not to get involved. They decided it was none of their business.

By contrast, the Samaritan—who would have been considered a “half-breed” and unorthodox or even a heretic by the priest and Levite—made it his business to help some one in need; and he did more than call 911! “Moved with compassion,” he rendered first aid to the victim, took him to an inn, helped him some more, and then left him in the care of others with a promise to cover the entire bill. Would Medicare, your insurance company or your HMO do that?

As Moses taught the people of Israel in his final sermon to them, following God’s word and law aren’t too difficult to grasp. “No,” he admonished them, “it is already something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.” God later underscored that message by sending his Son: the living embodiment of his love and as St. Paul describes in our second reading “the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation.”

As followers of Jesus, our first commandment is to love. As the example of Michael Marrocco reminds us, it simply needs to be done; and through the saving grace of the cross and our baptism, we can be the ones best prepared to do it. +

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Homily for 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Inter-dependence Day

Today our country celebrates an important event in our nation’s history: the Continental Congress’ approval of our Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. To some extent, it also celebrates a myth, for no person much less any country, can be completely independent. This is especially true today, when technology enables children here in the USA to learn in the same virtual classrooms as their counterparts in China, South Africa and Brazil and the economic woes of Greece and Portugal cause anxieties on Wall Street.

It was also true in 1776. Our founders recognized this even in their Declaration when they wrote:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government….
We are dependent on each other; and the government we have is more or less the government we choose—or at least the government we tolerate. Our most fundamental rights are gifts from our Creator. The recent BP Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has caused some tensions between Great Britain and its former colony; but our nations’ leaders recognize that we still have a ”special relationship.” We’re still trading partners. The roots of our legal system are thoroughly British. We have been allies in two world wars and today we are fighting together in the Middle East. We are, in truth, far more interdependent than we are independent.

If our independence is something of a myth in our relations with people and nations, it is undeniably so in our relationship with God. In the extreme, it is the definition of hell itself: eternal separation from God. The people of Israel had their own bitter taste of this during their exile to Babylon. As a result of their own idolatry, their desires for earthly power, and their desire for independence from God and his covenant, God allowed them to be overwhelmed by a stronger enemy. Their best and brightest were carried off to a foreign land. Jerusalem was laid waste and the Temple—the place where they believed God would forever dwell as their protector—was destroyed.

As they returned to a place they could barely recognize, God offered a word of comfort. In our First Reading from Isaiah, the prophet uses the image of a mother breastfeeding and comforting her child—the antithesis of independence. We depend on God. As St. Paul once proclaimed to the people of Athens, quoting one of their poets, “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28a).

Having experienced true freedom in Christ, Paul wanted to contrast the boasting/pride that some put in circumcision and their adherence to the Law of Moses with his own reliance on the saving power of Jesus’ death and resurrection. For Paul, the mark of circumcision was an illusory sign of “do-it-yourself salvation,” while his own “marks of Jesus” were a sign of what Christ had done for him through his cross and resurrection and the cost of responding to that grace.

Just as there is no such thing as “do-it-yourself” salvation, there is no “do-it-yourself” discipleship or church. Jesus recognized this himself when he appointed seventy-two more disciples to complement the work of the Twelve. He saw that the potential harvest of those who could be transformed by the proclamation of the gospel was far greater than the number of disciples sharing in his work of preaching, teaching and healing. He was well on his way to Jerusalem, he knew that his time was running out, and he needed to hand on his mission to others who would continue to carry it out—and to do so together.

In an era in which there are over a billion Catholics worldwide and even more people whom the Church could reach with the Good News, we are finally starting to take seriously the need to rely not just on priests, deacons and religious but also lay men and women, young and old, to be ministers who are:

Nourished by a “full, conscious and active participation” in the liturgy (Vatican II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 14).

Trained to claim their baptismal roles as “everyday evangelists.”

Ready to step up with urgency, wishing peace and relying on Providence to supply their needs—a bold act of faith in an era when many churches in places like Saginaw are trying to survive and thrive in a tough economy.

Trusting that the Lord will also give them the power they need to triumph over the serpents of doubt, the scorpions of despair, and the “full force of the enemy,” in whatever form it may take.

In concluding the Declaration of Independence our nation’s founders wrote:

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our fortunes and our sacred Honor.
Even in declaring their independence from a king, they had to acknowledge their dependence on God. May we not forget it, either. +

Sunday, June 27, 2010

11th Week Ordinary Time: Detachment, Doggedness, and Determination

As I began writing this homily in Detroit, our city was preparing to welcome over 10,000 people for the US Social Forum. According to a newspaper report, organizers described the gathering as a “movement building process…the next most important step in our struggle to build a powerful multiracial, multi-sectoral, inter-generational, diverse, inclusive, internationalist movement that transforms this country and changes history.” The more that I reflected on this description, the more uncomfortable I became.

After a few moments, the source of my discomfort seized me: “Isn’t this what the Church is supposed to be?” I asked myself. Perhaps not totally, and certainly not in the same way, but the Church itself is called to be a diverse-and-united (i.e., Catholic) agent of transforming not merely our own nation and society but the entire world. As the Second Vatican Council proclaimed in Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World (40):
Pursuing the saving purpose which is proper to her, the Church does not only communicate divine life to men but in some way casts the reflected light of that life over the entire earth, most of all by its healing and elevating impact on the dignity of the person, by the way in which it strengthens the seams of human society and imbues the everyday activity of men with a deeper meaning and importance. Thus through her individual matters and her whole community, the Church believes she can contribute greatly toward making the family of man and its history more human.
Our scripture readings on this Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time call us to be disciples who, by our own personal witness and growth in holiness as well as our diverse gifts and ministries, fulfill this mission of transformation—not according to any particular secular or political agenda but instead according to the gospel. It is not a mission that we should assume lightly, for it requires detachment, doggedness, and dedication.

In our first reading, we read of Elisha’s radical detachment in response to receiving the call to succeed Elijah in his prophetic ministry. This call was symbolized by Elijah throwing his cloak over Elisha and is the origin of the phrase, “passing the mantle,” which refers to the transfer of power or office from one person to another.

Elisha’s initial response was conditional, asking at least the opportunity to say good-bye to his parents. But Elijah’s rhetorical response—“Go back! Have I done anything to you?”—dared Elisha to make a radical choice for the ministry that had been handed on to him, and he did. He not only left his business behind, he destroyed it! It is harder to turn back when there is nothing left to which one can return.

St. Paul called a young church in Galatia to doggedness in sustaining their commitment to the gospel that he preached and the freedom that they had been given through the grace of God. He found them resubmitting themselves to “the yoke of slavery,” that is the Law of Moses and more specifically circumcision.

For Paul, this was a trap. “Once again,” he wrote to them, “I declare to every man who has himself circumcised that he is bound to observe the entire law. You are separated from Christ, you who are trying to be justified by the law; you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:3-4). Because it was impossible to fulfill all the stipulations of the law, Paul reasoned, anyone who placed themselves under it was simultaneously yoking themselves to a lifetime of futility and a future with no salvation. They could not save themselves. Only God could save them; but paradoxically in that dependence there was true freedom.

This is the freedom that we have all been given through baptism. With this freedom, however, there is also responsibility. Paul warns us, as he warned the Galatians, to “not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh [the Greek, sarx, i.e., our human tendency toward self-indulgence, self-aggrandizement, and selfishness]; rather, serve one another through love.” Love and service are both the means and the manifestations of the holiness to which we are all called as individual believers and as a Church.

It is this loving service that Jesus embodied in his own dedication to the mission that the Father had given him. Today’s gospel passage from Luke 9 follows his first two predictions of his death (vv. 22, 43-45); his explanation of the conditions of discipleship (vv. 23-27); his Transfiguration (vv. 28-36); a manifestation of his power over the forces of evil (vv. 37-43); and his redefinition of greatness (vv. 46-48).

Near the peak of his own power and popularity, Jesus nonetheless “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem,” where his mission would be fulfilled not on a throne but on a cross. He wouldn’t allow himself to be distracted, not even by the slights of some Samaritans, and he prepared his disciples to do the same, refusing their calls for vengeance on their religious and ethnic rivals and calling them to be ready for a life of discomfort and to cut even family ties to follow him, if those proved to be an obstacle.

That is a “hard word” for us to hear, but it is no less real. The life of a disciple of Christ is filled with graces and blessings; but we fool ourselves if we think it will not be without trials. Once we put our hands to the plow, Jesus admonishes us, we had better be ready to heed the words of the old Spiritual and civil rights anthem: “Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on, hold on!” +

Sunday, June 20, 2010

12th Sunday (Father's Day): Losing to Win

I’m not much of a fan of NBA basketball. It seems to involve too much money, too much hype, and to distract too many young people with unfulfilled dreams of superstardom and super wealth. I must admit, however, that I have been following this year’s playoffs a little more closely than in the past.

Part of it the reason is that my hometown team, the Milwaukee Bucks, actually made the playoffs for the first time in years…even though they lost in the first round.  But the bigger part has been witnessing the gritty effort of individual players like the Suns’ Steve Nash or the Lakers’ center Andrew Bynum, who is suffering from a knee injury that will surely require surgery but continues to play. It has been painful just to watch him hobble up and down the court, trying to contribute but obviously hurting and frustrated that he isn’t playing at full strength or effectiveness.

Andrew Bynum played 36 minutes in Game 5 of the series. Some would question why his coach, Phil Jackson, would play a limping player so much or why Bynum would risk even more serious injury by playing. But anyone who has been an athlete, particularly those who have competed for championships, would readily understand.

Such chances do not come often. When they do, no athlete wants to be left wondering “what could have been.” They’re willing to “leave it all on the court,” course, track, or field. They’re also willing to make the more anonymous and often monotonous sacrifices in the gym, practice field, weight room and training room—the months and sometimes years of effort—in order to have that chance. They’re willing to lose in order to win.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus invited his disciples to lose in order to win. After asking them what others had to say about him, he then asked them what they thought. Peter, in turn, proclaimed him as “the Christ,” that is the Messiah. In response, Jesus told them something that shocked and scandalized them: the Christ they wanted and expected wasn’t the Christ he was called to be. Instead, he said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly at the hands of the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.”

This could not have made much sense to the disciples. Not only would the Promised One of Israel not be their warrior-champion against their oppressors, but he would suffer and die at the hands of their religious leaders? Even worse, if they wished to follow him then they would have to take up the cross and be willing to suffer the same fate? It could not be.

The disciples were familiar with crucifixion. According to the ancient historian Josephus, at around the time Jesus was still a child, a Galilean named Judas led a revolt against Roman rule and in particular against the census which underscored the imperial power. The rebellion ended in disaster. After burning down a city where Judas and his fellow revolutionaries tried to storm an armory, the Romans crucified them all. Two thousand crosses lined the roads—an abject lesson to anyone who would dare to challenge the empire.

The cross, then, stood for terror, defeat and shame. Yet in Luke’s gospel Jesus told his disciples that they must be willing to embrace and carry it not just one agonizing time but daily! “For whoever wishes to save his life,” Jesus concluded, “will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” They had to be willing to lose in order to win.

Our crosses come in many shapes, sizes and weights. Some are chosen. I sometimes experience the vows that I have taken as a religious—the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience—as forms of the cross. All of them require that I give up things that are significant, especially in our culture: the opportunities for private property and personal wealth, sex and marriage; and the freedom to do what I want, when I want, how I want and with whomever I want. But I also experience in those same vows a profound sense of wealth, intimacy, peace, happiness and freedom in love and service. I have to lose in order to win.

Of course, religious and priests have no corner on the market of crosses, much less on virtue. Spouses and parents also know the cross. People who are experiencing a life-changing illness know it, too. Anyone trying to ethically maintain a business or professional practice in today’s very challenging economic climate knows the cross. The people living and working in the Gulf Coast must contend with a cross that is sticky, dirty, oily and toxic. Those who saw their loved ones swept away by those flash floods in Arkansas were handed a sudden and almost unbearable cross.

For Christians the cross is not an option. Paul reminded the Galatians that regardless of race, ethnicity, social condition or gender “are all one in Christ Jesus” by virtue of our baptism. Jesus similarly reminded his disciples that while he would definitively carry the cross for the salvation of the world, anyone who wished to walk in that salvation must also walk the way of the cross.

We must be willing to lose in order to win. It is as true in life and in eternity as it is in the NBA Finals. +

Sunday, June 13, 2010

11th Week Ordinary Time: Gone Astray, Sent Away, Coming Home

On a winter afternoon in 2005 Diana Ortiz heard the words she never thought she’d never hear: “You’re going home.” Her fellow inmates had gathered outside the room where she was meeting with her parole advisor. When the door opened and she stepped into the hallway with a smile on her face, there were cheers, tears and hugs all around.

It had been a long journey: twenty-two years, over half of her life spent in prison. As an 18 year-old drug addict with a 36 year-old boyfriend, Diana Ortiz had posed as a prostitute in a botched armed robbery that left an off-duty police officer dead. Frightened and with no prior criminal record, she turned herself in to the authorities. She was eventually convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 17 years to life in prison.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Solemnity of Body and Blood of Christ, June 6, 2010

First Lady Michelle Obama recently announced that several of the largest food companies in the USA have committed to removing 1.5 trillion calories from their products by 2015, particularly those that are marketed to children and teens. Mrs. Obama, who worked for the University of Chicago Hospitals prior to her husband’s election in 2008, has made improving the health and fitness of our children one of her primary causes.

It’s not a moment too soon. It is estimated that one third of our nation’s kids are overweight or obese. The seriousness of this was brought home to me a couple of years ago when the leaders of a high school told me that some of their students were already suffering from high blood pressure and diabetes.

As we gather for church this morning, over one billion people in the world are undernourished; but nearly 1.5 billion are either overweight or obese.

Americans spend over $52 billion per year on weight loss products and programs. At the same time, our country provides only $2.6 billion in global food aid—one-twentieth of what we spend fighting “the battle of the bulge” at home.

Last week, on Trinity Sunday, we recalled that it is part of God’s nature to be in relationship and how God wants to be in relationship with us. Today we celebrate the great gift of the Eucharist, Christ’s Body and Blood, our communion with God and with each other. In doing so we are also called to wrestle with the fact that we are too often overfed and too often also undernourished.

This is as true the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of our lives as it is in the physical. Through the internet and other technologies, we have unprecedented access to information; but many lack the skills to sort through it all. Through cable TV we now have hundreds of stations available to us; but too often there is little worth watching.

Through the modern medicine and pharmacology, we can take one drug to get us up, another to bring us down, and still another to keep us “on the beam.” But none of them can really make us happy or bring us peace. Many people now claim to be “spiritual” rather than “religious” but find it a lot easier to tell you what they don’t believe than what they do.

In the midst of these intellectual, emotional, spiritual and even physical “food deserts” Christ share with us a simple meal of bread and wine and invites us to do what he did: take, thank, bless, break, and share.

Take—In our gospel reading, Jesus’ disciples wanted him to send the crowds away to “the surrounding villages and farms to find lodging and provisions” after he had been teaching them all day. St. Luke doesn’t go into detail about what motivated the disciples. They knew that they didn’t have much, and perhaps they wanted to avoid the embarrassment of admitting it. Maybe they didn’t think that feeding the crowds was their responsibility; or perhaps they were just tired and wanted a break.

Whatever the case, Jesus didn’t let them off the hook. To their amazement and dismay, he told his disciples “Give them some food themselves.” With five loaves and two fish for a crowd of thousands, it seemed like a grim joke. But they brought what they had to Jesus.

Thank—“Looking up to heaven,” Jesus “said the blessing” over what they had. Recalling the ancient act of Melchizedek, the king of Salem (the name means “complete or perfect peace” in Hebrew) who offered bread and wine in thanksgiving and blessing after Abram defeated a number of Canaanite kings in his effort to rescue his nephew Lot, Jesus gave thanks. He did it not only for what God his Father had done in providing the loaves and fishes but also for what God was going to do in feeding the multitude.

Break—Jesus broke the fish and bread and “gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.” This was also an act of faith: Jesus handed over what had formerly belonged to him and his disciples. As St. Paul recalled in our second reading, Jesus deepened the meaning of this gesture even more when on the eve of his suffering and death he broke bread and shared a cup saying, “This is my body that is for you….This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”

Share—In celebrating that final Passover with his disciples, he invited them to follow his example, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Just as the disciples gathered up twelve baskets of leftovers after the miracle of the loaves and fishes, we are called to gather up the overabundant graces we receive in the Eucharist and to share them with others.

This is a primary essence of our celebration: the communion that we celebrate with God and with each other cannot be confined to the time of our liturgy or the walls of the place where we gather. St. Paul’s remembrance of the Last Supper—one that is older than any in the gospels—was motivated by his frustration at witnessing the disconnection between what the church in Corinth was celebrating liturgically and how they were actually treating each other.

They couldn’t celebrate unity and be divided. They couldn’t celebrate God’s justice and treat each other unjustly. They couldn’t give thanks if, as they gathered, some were stuffed and drunk while others were left hungry and thirsty.

(For your Bible homework this week, spend some time reading and reflecting on 1 Corinthians 11:17-24. You’ll get a better sense of Paul’s aggravation!)

As we take, thank, bless, break and share all of the blessings that God has given us; and as we bring ourselves and our gifts before the Lord in the faith that he can do “far more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20), may not only be fed but also nourished and strengthened to serve and feed others as Jesus did. +

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Trinity Sunday: "Got Your GPS?"

As a frequent traveler, I spend a fair amount of time in rental cars. In the old days (i.e., until a few years ago) the counter attendants would often ask if I needed a map. Today they are very likely to offer a different option: a GPS device. GPS, of course, stands for Global Positioning Satellite.

It’s a pretty amazing technology. If you are “directionally challenged,” have trouble reading maps, or don’t trust the “turn by turn” instructions provided by some online services, then GPS is for you….

…or maybe not. Like any technology, from cell phones to the ABS (Antilock Brake System) on your car, GPS devices aren’t perfect. They can’t overcome user error or unforeseen environmental conditions.

In order for the GPS to work in a rental car, you must at least know: (1) where you are; and (2) where you’re going. If you put in the wrong information, you will go in the wrong direction; and if you don’t follow directions, you will often end up in the wrong place.

In the biblical readings designated for today’s Mass, the Church asks us whether we have our GPS: God’s Purpose and Spirit. This demands that we know and have three things:

• Where We’re At (Self-Awareness)

• Where We’re Going (Self-Determination)

• How We’re Going to Get There (Self-Discipline)

To know God’s purpose for us and to allow God’s Spirit to work through us, we need to know who God is dealing with—our strengths, our weaknesses, who we are, and whose we are. In our first reading from Proverbs 8, we see a glimmer of divine self-awareness as “the wisdom of God” describes her primordial relationship with God: “I was beside him as his craftsman, and I was his delight day by day” (v. 30). Wisdom is the first of God’s works and has been with God since the dawn of creation.

Wisdom is described here as female. Indeed, the major biblical languages all speak of wisdom in the feminine, as Sophia(Greek) and Hokmah (Hebrew). Even the Latin word for wisdom, Sapientia, is feminine. Because we are so familiar with male images and terms for God (Father, Son, King, Lord, etc.) we can forget that God both encompasses all genders and is beyond gender.

Through the grace of revelation, we can come to know God; but we also realize that God’s ways are also beyond our understanding. As the psalmist so poignantly reflected (Ps. 8:4-5):
When I behold your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars which you set in place—
what is man that you should be mindful of him,
or the son of man that you should care for him?
Today our liturgical calendar calls us to reflect on the Most Holy Trinity—the mystery of God revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In our gospel reading from John 16, Jesus explicitly notes each person of the Trinity and he also notes something that is especially important for us to remember: that God’s very nature is to be in relationship and that the Trinity is a communion of persons.

We can easily lose that basic understanding when we consider the references to the Trinity in the more formal and dogmatic language of the Church. It may be hard to wrap our minds around what we mean when we say in what is popularly known as the Nicene Creed that Jesus is “eternally begotten of the Father” or that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.”

We should, of course, know the Creed and its significance in the life of our Church. However, we cannot lose the fact that not only is it in God’s nature to be in relationship but even more importantly, God wants to be in relationship with us! We call the state of ultimate fulfillment of that relationship heaven or eternal life. God also wants that relationship to be rooted in freedom and self-determination.

In our gospel reading, Jesus described his relationship with the Father and the Spirit that would glorify him and guide his disciples “to all truth.” We cannot forget that he did so at the Last Supper, as he was freely choosing to give his life for us. As he earlier told his disciples as the Good Shepherd (John 10:17-18):
This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay in down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.
Here Jesus also reveals something else that often gets lost in our sometimes exaggerated American notions of independence: we can be free and obedient at the same time! In fact, by fulfilling God’s purpose and being obedient to the Holy Spirit, we are as free as we can be because we are not locked into a battle of wills with God or risking eternal alienation from God—a battle we cannot win and a loss that is horrible to contemplate.

Our journey of obedience is rooted in self-discipline and nourished by hope. In our second reading from Romans 5, St. Paul instructs us that hope is produced by affliction, endurance and proven character. We’ve all got troubles and trials. Sometimes we think that God is testing us; but it’s not God, it is life that tests us.

We can endure the affliction; we can pass the test; and we can complete the journey…if we have our GPS. May we fulfill God’s purpose and allow God to direct our lives—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. +

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pentacost: Making Bricks and Sharing Gifts

I recently heard a news story about a reporter’s journey along the Grand Trunk Road, the colonial-era highway that connects Pakistan and India, stretching from Peshawar to Calcutta. The reporter was interviewing young Pakistanis to get a sense of their hopes and dreams. For many, sadly, their future prospects appeared bleak.

Pakistan is a poor country. The median age of its people is under 21 and only about half of the adult population is literate. Many people struggle to get by on the equivalent of a dollar or two a day. The nation is torn by political, ethnic, and religious conflicts and faces increasing threats from various forms of terrorism. Its conflict with India, which goes back to the partition and founding of the nations in 1948, is made even more volatile because both sides have the capacity to manufacture and use nuclear weapons.

Pakistan is not a place where hope comes easily. I was therefore surprised and humbled when I heard the radio reporter interview a young man who is one of an estimated three million who make bricks for a living. It’s hot, dirty, back-breaking and dangerous work. The man, who is 18 years old, said that he earned the equivalent of about $120 per month. He recalled that he had been making bricks since the age of eight, and he added that could not foresee doing anything different for the remainder of his life.

Yet this young man was content and hopeful. He and his fellow laborers, he said, were not merely making bricks. Instead they were building a nation: school by school, mosque by mosque, and house by house. It was their gift to their neighbors and the generations to come.

As we celebrate Pentecost, it is good to ask ourselves: How much more vital and life-giving might our Church and world be if more of us had that same appreciation of our own gifts? Perhaps the problem is that when we consider the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we too often begin with ourselves. That’s when pride, envy, fear, and a lot of other negative things can get in the way.

Pride can cause us to look on our gifts selfishly or to delude ourselves into thinking that they are manifestations of our personal greatness rather than the greatness and grace of God. Envy can cause us to constantly compare ourselves with others, to engage in a spirit of competition rather than cooperation in our ministries, and even to undermine the good that others do and ultimately our community. Fear can cause us to deny, minimize or hide our gifts.

Our scripture readings, by contrast, ask us to consider a different starting point for our reflection on our gifts and ministries. Instead of starting with ourselves, they tell us to start with God and the purpose of our gifts. The psalmist put it very succinctly when he wrote: “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.” The Spirit comes from God and has a mission of renewal.

How did the disciples move from being a largely uneducated group of Galileans cowering behind locked doors to boldly proclaiming “the mighty acts of God” in a variety of languages in the middle of a Jerusalem packed with pilgrims to observe the Jewish feast of Pentecost? They were simply open to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit that Christ had promised to give them, as we heard last week in our celebration of the Ascension (Acts 1:1-11, Luke 24:46-53).

This may seem obvious but it’s not. When our focus is on ourselves, gifts are very often things that we think we want to get rather than things we receive from the goodness of others, including God. This is an unfortunate byproduct of our consumer culture. Very often our gift-giving is really another form of shopping. People ask us, “What would you like for your [pick one: birthday, Christmas, wedding, graduation?” We tell them; and they get it for us.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit work differently. In our gospel reading, it is Jesus who confers the Spirit on his disciples by breathing on them, recalling the work of his Father in creation:

The LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground
and blew into his nostrils the breath of life,
and so man became a living being [soul] (Gen 2:7).

God is in control, not us. We can’t choose our gifts. We can only choose to recognize or deny them, to use them or sit on them, and to use them for godly purposes or selfish purposes. St. Paul eloquently underscores this in our second reading, where he also reveals the “catholic” nature of these gifts, universality reflected both in their diversity and in their fundamental unity (1 Cor 12:4-6):


Diversity                                                        Unity

“different kinds of spiritual gifts”                           “the same Spirit”
“different forms of service”                                     “the same Lord”

“different workings”                                               “the same God” 

Paul also adds two other important characteristics of the gifts of the Spirit: (1) that God produces all of the workings of the spirit “in everyone;” and (2) “to each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit” (1 Cor 12:7). Some are given the gifts to build things. Through the generosity of the Holy Spirit through our rebirth in Baptism, our anointing in Confirmation and our nourishment in the Eucharist, we—each and all of us—have been given the gifts needed to build and be the body of Christ in our world…brick by brick. +

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Homily for Rev. Daniel Anholzer, OFM Cap

(Originally given on May 17, 2010 at St. Joseph Parish  Saginaw, MI)

Dan Anholzer grew up in a part of Wisconsin’s Fox Valley that was very diverse. On one side of the river there were the Little Chute Dutch; and on the other side of the river were the Kimberly Dutch, including the Anholzers. Henry Ford once said that the buyers of his Model T automobile could have any color they wanted…as long as it was Black. In Kimberly and Little Chute, you could find an almost infinite variety of people…as long as they were Dutch.

But as any resident of these two towns would tell you, the people in Kimberly and in Little Chute were different. While they shared a common ethnicity, one town was clearly better than the other. Of course, determining which one was better depended on which side of the Washington St. Bridge you were standing when you asked someone that question!

Two groups of people, very similar yet seemingly worlds apart…and separated by a bridge. Growing up in Kimberly, young Daniel Elmer Anholzer was expected not to question that reality. That’s just the way it was. But I’m not sure that he ever completely accepted it, because he spent much of the rest of his life building bridges, crossing them, and encouraging others to do the same.

As a student at St. Lawrence Seminary, this young man of Dutch stock and from a small town in Central Wisconsin met an African American classmate from Detroit. Dan and Andy Daniels crossed a bridge that, at the time, seemed as wide as Lake Michigan; but they became friends for life: entering the Capuchin novitiate together, and making their religious profession together.

In fact, it was while they were in Rome on a pilgrimage celebrating the 25th anniversary of their first profession that Andy died very suddenly at the age of 44. It was May 13, 1995. Fifteen years later, on the very anniversary of his brother Andy’s death, Dan died very suddenly, too. God, with perhaps a little help from Andy, had prepared a spot for him in the house of many dwelling places…and Dan crossed the bridge that we all must cross one day: from this life to life eternal.

Though Dan held some prominent roles in his life—most notably as Pastor here at St. Joe’s for a total of about twenty years and as our Provincial Minister for six, he didn’t seek the spotlight. In fact, he preferred to be in the background.

After he made his perpetual vows as a friar and then graduated from St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee, Dan did something that was rather unusual in the late 70’s. Though he had a Master of Divinity degree, the one required for ordination to the priesthood, Dan decided that God had called him to serve the Province and the Church as a lay friar.

With that intent, he went down to Nicaragua. It was during the time of the revolution, a time when villages, the church and even the friars were often split into different camps. It was a painful and often a violent time. Yet Dan continued his work of building bridges between people and within communities.

The people of God in Nicaragua recognized Dan’s gifts and it was they that called him to reconsider his earlier decision and to discern that perhaps God had really called him to serve the Church as a priest. Dan listened, and all of us here today are very glad and have been blessed because he did.

Divisions between people pained and even frustrated Dan. He worked hard to bring them together. He knew that, while folks may dwell in different parts of the Father’s house, they all needed to learn to live together under the same roof. Here at St. Joe’s, he was committed to keeping this Saginaw’s “Rainbow Parish,” a place where diversity was—and is—a sign of strength. Dan recognized that when we allow the light of Christ to shine through the waters of our common baptism, we are blessed with a beautiful spectrum of people and gifts, but one bow.

Over the past several years, particularly with the campaign and election of President Obama, our nation has become familiar with that phrase, Si, se puede! or “Yes, we can!” For Dan, however, that phrase was much more than a slogan, so much so that he personalized it: Si, yo puedo! “Yes, I can.”

In 2002, when the General Minister of the Capuchin Order appointed Dan to be our Provincial Minister, he said, Si, yo puedo! “Yes I can.” He did so knowing that it meant that he would have to leave his beloved St. Joe’s.

When he was asked to serve as President of the North American Pacific Capuchin Conference at a time when it was faced with the delicate task of supporting a common conference novitiate, Dan said, Si, yo puedo. “Yes I can.”

When that same novitiate threatened to break apart over differences in formation philosophies and provincial cultures, Dan held it together almost by the force of his own will. When others wanted to walk away from the project and say, “It’s not worth it, we can’t do this,” Dan said, Si, se puede! “Yes we can.”

When some people invited Dan to abandon his lifelong commitment to the Green Bay Packers and root for the Lions, Bears or Vikings, Dan said….Algunas cosa son imposibles. “Some things are impossible.”

There were some bridges even Dan was unwilling to cross. But looking at most, he said, “Yes, I/we can.”

Five days ago Dan’s earthly dwelling, his body, suddenly collapsed. While he tried to take care of himself, as a heart attack survivor he also understood his own vulnerability and mortality. The possibility of death was never too far away.

But our brother Daniel was more interested in life and living than in death. He loved good food; he loved good scotch; but most importantly, he loved people. He trusted that his name was written on the palms of God’s hands. He walked by faith and not by sight, and he followed Jesus: the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Today we feel grief over his death. May we also be grateful for his life. +

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Stay and Wait: Ascention of the Lord

I’m not very good at waiting.

Like most Americans who came of age with the advent of the microwave oven and personal computer, I’ve become accustomed to getting stuff done within a finite amount of time.

Doing my morning workout? 45 minutes (including stretching).
Shave head and face and shower? 10 minutes.
Pour and eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast? 5 minutes.

You can imagine, then, the frustration that I and over 250 fellow Detroit-bound passengers felt at the airport in Amsterdam last Sunday as it was announced that our flight was going to be delayed for hours. The cause, of course, was the roving ash cloud from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland, along with its collicky little brother. It’s bad enough to be held up by something you can’t control, but it’s even worse when it’s also something you can’t pronounce!

I had to count my blessings, however. The delay and subsequent longer route added less than three hours to our arrival time in Detroit; and unlike many others I didn’t have to worry about a missed connecting flight. Still, the experience reminded me of the importance of learning not only how to wait but how to wait well, to not just “grin and bear it” but to even find grace in waiting.

In our gospel reading from Luke 24 on this Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord (celebrated on the 7th Sunday of Easter in all but a handful of dioceses in the U.S.), Jesus addresses his disciples before finally leaving them physically:

“And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you;
but stay in the city
until you are clothed with power from on high” (v. 49b).
“Volume II” of St. Luke’s work, the Acts of the Apostles, picks up where his gospel left off, at the same Ascension event:
While meeting with them,
he [Jesus] enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem,
but to wait for “the promise of the Father
about which you have heard me speak;
for John baptize with water,
but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (1:4-5).

Stay. Wait. Those are tough words for most of us to hear, and they must have been even tougher for the disciples, who seen the risen Lord and received his commission and promise:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
throughout Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

In a recent reflection shared a gathering of the leaders of women’s religious orders in Rome, Religious Sister of the Cenacle Judette Galares used the example of a later follower of Christ, Lydia (see Acts 16:13-15, 40), to invite them to immerse themselves more fully in the process of conversion to which all of us need to submit if we would be more effective disciples and witnesses of the Lord.

Sr. Judette described five phases in that process:

(1) an experience of spiritual darkness, confusion, emptiness or thirst;
(2) an awakening to God’s word and action in our lives;
(3) an inspired response to that awakening;
(4) a period of rest and reflection; and
(5) integration of what we have experienced.

She then highlighted the critical need to heed the call to stay and wait in contemplation:

The period of silence and withdrawal has provided the time to make sense of
what has happened, to integrate the change of attitude, perspective and
belief into one’s history and life, and to form a synthesis of all the parts of
the mystical and prophetic experience of conversion.

That’s what the apostles needed. In a matter of weeks, they had experienced the trauma, dashed hopes and loss of Jesus’ crucifixion and death; the confusion, disbelief, amazement and joy of his resurrection; and the challenge, glory and power of his ascension. They needed time to make sense of it all and to weave what they had seen and heard into the mission that he had given them. Pentecost and the Holy Spirit would come, but they could not be rushed.

In his beautiful prayer for the church in Ephesus, St. Paul asked that God would bless them with “a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge him,” along with enlightenment, hope, and “the riches of glory in his inheritence among the holy ones.” Such gifts do not normally come to us at once. They are the byproducts of living and loving, succeeding and failing, action…and rest.

The Eucharist itself mirrors this process. Just as it is sometimes called a “dress rehearsal for the kingdom,” it is also a dress rehearsal for life outside the walls of the church. Words and actions, songs and prayers—the “bricks” of the liturgy—are held together by the mortar of silence and rest. Page through a missalette some time in the coming week and notice how many times the assembly is called to silence: before the priest’s prayers; between the readings in the Liturgy of the Word; after communion; and elsewhere.

When the seed of God’s word is planted, we need time to make it grow. When the gift of Christ’s body and blood are given to us, we need time to digest their significance.

Today we enter the last week of the Easter season. As we prepare for Pentecost, may we celebrate the many ways in which the promised gift of the Holy Spirit is still moving in God’s people—in word, in deed…and in waiting. +

Sunday, May 9, 2010

6th Sunday of Easter - Mother's Day

Winston Churchill once said, “I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.” I think the same could be said of the Church.

The Second Vatican Council reminded us of the wonderful image of the Church as pilgrim, a community of believers on a journey of faith (see Lumen Gentium 48-50). As part of that journey, we are also ecclesia semper reformanda, a Church always in need of reform. But being a very human institution, we find that idea a lot easier to endorse in the abstract than in practice.

It also helps to explain why the Church, especially those who lead us within a hierarchical system of authority, seems so slow to respond to the various crises that afflict the body of Christ. It is easy for many to point fingers at the Vatican or our bishops. The reality, however, is that almost all of us resist change—especially we have a stake in the status quo or “skin in the game.” Very often, we resist it so strongly that we almost have to be forced to change.

But just as history has demonstrated an often strong resistance to reform within the Church, it also reveals a remarkable capacity for change in response to the signs of the times and the needs of the people. Today’s scripture readings give us reason to trust in Jesus’ words to his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” They give us a promise, a vision, and a practical incarnation of that promise and vision in the life of the early Christian community.

The promise comes from Jesus. The passage that we read from John 14 is part of what is called the Last Supper Discourse of Jesus, an extended reflection and prayer for his disciples and all who would come after them. Here Jesus assured his disciples that he would not abandon them but would remain with them through two gifts: (1) a peace which the world could not give; and (2) the Holy Spirit to teach them and remind them of all that he had taught them.

The vision comes from John in our second reading from Revelation 21; and it is of a new heaven, a new earth, and a new Jerusalem in which the light would come God, the fullness of wisdom and love. It was this vision that helped sustain an early Church brought to the brink of collapse from persecution, including the brutal attack by Titus and the Roman army that destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem—the visible sign of God’s presence with his people—in 70 CE.

We see the practical incarnation of Jesus’ loving promise and the hopeful vision of disciples like John in our first reading. The Church c. 50 CE found itself facing controversy and division over a fundamental issue: the prerequisites for membership and salvation. The question could be boiled down to this: Must one first embrace the Law of Moses before he or she could embrace the Way of Christ and also be embraced by the Church?

What could have torn the Church apart at a formative and fragile state of its development did not do so. That it didn’t was a testimony not only to the decision that was reached but even more the seven-step process the produced it, which we can find in Acts 15, a portion of which we heard today.

(1) Identification (vv. 1-2a, 5)—An issue—who belonged in the Church and how —needed to be resolved.

(2) Convocation (vv. 2b-4, 6)—“Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others” went up to Jerusalem “to the apostles and elders” (the forerunners to our present-day pope, bishops and priests) for what has become known as the Council of Jerusalem. This spirit of meeting over important issues has continued to this day in ecumenical councils, special synods, and other structures in the life of the Church. In areas as challenging as varied as sexual abuse, ensuring access to the sacraments, and the roles of women, what would happen if the Church gathered and heard from all of those impacted in some way…and at the same time?

(3) Consultation—The apostles and elders in Jerusalem didn’t just hand down an edict but instead listened to what those gathered had to say.

(4) Discussion (vv. 7-12)—The leaders of the Church heard from a variety of voices, including Peter, Paul and Barnabas. There were different voices at the table, even dissenting views, yet all got a hearing.

(5) Discernment (vv.12-13)—It is mentioned twice that the assembly was silent while listening. How easy is it for us to merely pretend we’re listening at a meeting when in fact we’re thinking about our own responses and debating points? This can happen in the Church as easily as it happens in Congress!

(6) Decision (vv. 14-21)—Once he had heard from everyone James, acknowledged as the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, announced a decision that was in fact a compromise.

(7) Communication (vv. 22-31)—This section, which covers the bulk of today’s first reading, not only notes the message that was delivered but how it was delivered: in person, by those who helped make the decision and who had been empowered to carry it out. The result was that when the message was read, the community not only received it but also “rejoiced over its encouragement.” They were strengthened in faith.

Of course, one meeting and one letter didn’t resolve this whole matter (see, e.g., Paul’s reflections in Galatians 2), but they did provide a foundation for the early Christian community to move forward together. It’s a good lesson to learn, along with the dictum attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.” +

Sunday, May 2, 2010

5th Sunday of Easter

The great author Franz Kafka (d. 1924), a Czech Jew who wrote German language classics like The Trial, was walking down the street one day and came upon a little girl who was crying because she had lost her doll. Moved by her tears, he told her that he had only recently seen the doll. He added that although the doll had gone away she promised to write the little girl and stay in touch.

Over the next several weeks, the girl received a number of letters in which the doll described in wonderful detail all the adventures and experiences she was having around the world. The girl didn’t know, of course, that it was Kafka who was really writing the letters. There was something else that she didn’t know: he did so even while tuberculosis was steadily consuming his body and his energy. He continued to write the letters until the TB finally took his life.

Love spoken is sweet; but love in action is even more powerful.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus gives his disciples “a new commandment: love one another.” Then he adds an important qualifier: “As I have loved you, so you also should love on another.” Finally, he goes even further by stating that the thing that will most identify them as his disciples is not obeying the rules, remembering the right prayers, tithing, fasting, or even a willingness to be a martyr (though all of these are important) but rather very simply: love.

It is a love revealed in the most humble as well as the most dramatic gestures. Recall that Jesus spoke these words to his disciples during the Last Supper and on the eve of his passion and death, when he would show the greatest love in laying down his life for his friends (John 15:13). It is also important to remember that he spoke these words not long after he revealed his love to his disciples in another way: by washing their feet (John 13:1-20).

L-O-V-E can be written in small letters as well as big ones.

We see another example of love writ large in our second reading, where John witnessed “a new heavens and a new earth” rising from the distress and destruction of what had been. Writing to a church beset by a series of periodic but savage persecutions by an earthly kingdom and emperors who demanded that others worship them as gods, he gave them a hopeful vision of a world in which God would dwell with humanity and end “the old order” suffering and pain. The reign of God—the reign of love—would replace the reign of Caesar.

We are, of course, waiting for that day to come to its fulfillment. In the meantime there are many ways in which we can cooperate with God’s grace in making the reign of love more real. In the wake of Christ’s passion, death, resurrection and ascension, the early church came to appreciate the power and value of the more ordinary but very necessary gestures of love.

Our first reading recounts the building up of the local church through seemingly routine but nonetheless important actions by the disciples: (1) evangelization and encouragement; (2) following up and ensuring continuity through the discernment and appointment of elders or presbyters; and (3) accountability and witness for the ministry.

Having just finished proclaiming the gospel in Derbe and making a new group of believers, Paul and Barnabas then returned to places that they had already been—Lystra, Iconium and Antioch—where “[t]hey strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith….” Evangelizing and helping people to develop a relationship with Christ and join the church are great; but it is also important to follow up and check in.
One of the high points of life in many parishes is to see a group of adults, teens and older children receive the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist). In other parishes, it is when dozens of teens are confirmed by a local bishop and complete their Christian initiation. Unfortunately, studies have also shown that a significant number of these initiates drop out of parish life or church within a year after receiving their sacraments.

The most common cause has little to do with boredom, conflict or even scandal. Too often it is simply a matter of inattention and neglect. As Paul and Barnabas demonstrated so well in Acts 14 and as we know from our own experiences of marriage, family life and even business, relationships need nurturing in order to last. Similarly, the period of Mystagogia (Greek for “education in the mysteries”) is critical to helping those who have just received the sacraments to deepen and solidify their understanding and practice of our faith. It can easily get lost in post-Easter fatigue, First Communion preparations, etc.

Just as we need to encourage and solidify our faith individually, we also need to do so communally. Noticing the rapid growth of the church and realizing that they could not be everywhere at the same time, Paul and Barnabas “appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith.” The Greek word for elder is presbyteros, i.e., presbyter. Through centuries of development, this ministry of presbyter eventually evolved into what we in the Roman Catholic tradition now know as the priesthood.
This is the Year of the Priest in the Church. In many places, it is a year of special celebrations to honor and reflect on this vocation, witness and ministry. But given the horrible news that we have lately seen about the misconduct of (some) priests and bishops, perhaps the greatest gift that we can give is that of Paul and Barnabas: to pray for our priests and commend them to the Lord.
At the same time, Paul and Barnabas also demonstrated the importance of accountability. Upon arriving at Antioch, “they called the church together and reported what God had done with them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” We hear a lot these days about accountability in terms of oversight, reporting, arrests, resignations and removals from office. Perhaps it would also be good to also hear more about what God has done with us and all the doors that he, in his grace, has opened for us and for others. +

Sunday, April 25, 2010

4th Sunday of Easter

Shall we circle the wagons or hit the road?

This is a question that the Church has had to ask itself from the earliest stages of its development in the wake of Christ’s death and resurrection. On the one hand, the disciples could not ignore the commission that Jesus had given them to preach, teach, heal and baptize (see Mt 28:16-20, Mk 16:1-20, Luke 24:36-53, John 20:18-23, and Acts 1:1-9). On the other, they had to contend with many who rejected the gospel and the ministry that Jesus gave them. For such people, what the disciples had to share was anything but Good News.

Persecution, controversy and misunderstanding have been with Church from the beginning, right along with the Holy Spirit. The days immediately following the resurrection found the disciples huddled in fear behind locked doors (John 20:19, 26). In the wake of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to the disciples gathered in Jerusalem, some were ready to dismiss their powerful testimonies and speaking in tongues as little more than drunken blathering (Acts 2:1-13).

Then things got serious.

Stephen was stoned to death for his prophetic stand for Christ, and a wave and persecutions and arrests followed—many led by a man named Saul (see Acts 6:8-8:4). Soon after, this same Saul encountered the Lord on the road to Damascus and was radically transformed by the experience (Acts 9:1-19). The nascent Church’s greatest foe became its greatest missionary; and many of his former compatriots then wanted to kill him (Acts 9:20-23). Our first reading today features Paul and Barnabas bringing the gospel to the synagogue in Syrian Antioch and getting a decidedly mixed reception.

This fragile but growing community that was so troubled from the outside was also bedeviled by a host of internal problems, including: dishonesty and hypocrisy (Acts 5:1-11); complaints of discrimination (Acts 6:1); attempts to do commerce in spiritual gifts (Acts 8:9-24); disputes over orthodoxy and membership ( see Acts 14-15); and a host of sexual and relational sins and dysfunctions (1 Corinthians 5:1-9 and Romans 1:18-27).

That helps to put the Church’s current struggles, controversies, persecutions, and sins into greater perspective, doesn’t it?

Of course, that doesn’t absolve us of dealing with those problems. In this age of the internet and 24/7 global communications, news (especially bad news, it seems) travels fast and can stick around a long time. In recent months, we have all seen more than our share of bad news about the Church. Ironically and tragically, most of it has been generated by those who were ordained to serve, lead, and proclaim the Good News.

Today’s scripture readings, however, give us reason to hope, even in this season of troubles.

Our second reading from the Book of Revelation was written during a time of a widespread and vicious campaign against the Church. It was instigated during the reign of Domitian (c. 81-96 CE) and had the full force of the Roman Empire behind it. Inspired by a vision from the Lord, John wrote to a community under siege by forces bent on destroying it. His primary message could be distilled as, “Hold on, hold out, a change is gonna come!”

He could not promise them comfort and rewards in this life. That was a difficult promise to make when people were being rounded up, tortured, and killed all around them. Instead, John offered them a joyful, peaceful, and consoling vision of life in eternity: if they remained faithful with the holy ones on earth, they would one day join the communion of saints in heaven.

It’s a beautiful vision; but it’s not enough. The Lord also calls us to also make real here on earth the love, goodness, and peace of his kingdom. He wants us to make real our prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Here on earth, a Church that is so easily frightened, distracted, divided and willful has been promised and given a Shepherd: Jesus Christ. True, we have pastors (the Latin word for shepherds)—priests, bishops, the Pope and other ministers—but all of us, no matter who we are, must ultimately heed the voice of Jesus…and his voice alone; and the only way that we can heed his voice is if we learn to recognize it. We do that by developing an intimacy and familiarity with the Lord through prayer, meditation, contemplation, action and reflection, especially on his word.

Prayer—We offer prayers of thanksgiving, petition and even lament, both individually and communally, acknowledging our need for the Lord and his grace. Prayer is also at the heart of our liturgical life.
Meditation—We still our bodies and the “inner ears” of our hearts and minds and develop a spirit of attentiveness to the Lord.
Contemplation—We rest in the Lord and wait for the Spirit to move us.
Action—We respond to that Spirit and fulfill our vocations.
Reflection—We “check in” with the Lord and each other, to make sure that we are truly responding to his voice and not others’.

If we are true to the Lord’s voice, we will soon realize that “circling the
wagons” and living as a Church under siege is not really an option—not if we would follow the one who opened his arms on the cross for us. +

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Low Easter Sunday (Divine Mercy), Year C

We’ve all heard the expression that “seeing is believing.” Very often it is uttered as a manifestation of distrust, particularly after broken promises and dashed expectations. One spouse cheats on another and promises to be faithful. The cuckolded spouse says, “Seeing is believing.” The leader of one particular party encourages the support of a particular piece of legislation by claiming that it will actually lower the government’s deficit. The leader of the rival party responds, “Seeing is believing.” In today’s gospel reading, the disciples who witnessed the risen Lord proclaimed to Thomas that the one crucified was now alive. His response was, “Well, seeing is believing.”

Today’s scripture readings, however, invite us to turn that expression of skepticism on its head and to also recognize that believing is seeing! That is, if we are able to view our world and experiences through the eyes of faith, we may be able to see something entirely different than most people allow themselves to see.

John found himself exiled to the Greek island of Patmos, a late first century CE Roman penal colony during what most scripture scholars say was the reign of the emperor Domitian. His physical eyes may only have been able to behold a place of isolation and punishment for his refusal to offer sacrifices to the Roman gods and the emperor himself.

But because he came to the island with the eyes of faith—a faith that he wanted to instill and nurture in the early church—he was able to behold a vision that began with a vision of the risen Christ, assuring him, “Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, the one who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever.”

That vision, which John was commanded to write down, became the basis for the Book of Revelation—one of the most read (and least understood) books of the Bible—which helped to encourage and sustain the early church through some very trying times. Ultimately, not even the force of an empire could destroy it.

When the apostles were reported first to have cured people, they were typically greeted with doubt, fear and persecution. The passage from Acts 5 in today’s first reading followed several other dramatic ones in which Peter and James cured a crippled beggar in the name of Jesus (3:1-10), which led them to be persecuted by the elders and scribes (4:1-22). Meanwhile, the love, trust and unity of the nascent church in Jerusalem (4:32-37) buoyed their faith.

Yet while “none of the others” (that is, the disciples beyond the apostles) “dared to join” the apostles as they boldly continued their ministry of teaching and healing, “the people esteemed them.” Further, news of the healings drew people not only from Jerusalem but also from the surrounding towns and villages. These people had not seen what the apostles had done, they had only heard about it. But they believed…or at least they wanted to believe; and their faith was rewarded.

We can imagine that Thomas wanted to believe, too. After all, he was one of the twelve whom Jesus himself had chosen. But he couldn’t bring himself to it without seeing first. Perhaps the trauma of the Lord’s passion and death was too overwhelming. After investing so much of himself and his faith in following Jesus and hoping that he was the Messiah, it must have been a crushing and demoralizing blow to have it all seemingly end in the pain and humiliation of the cross.

It would not be surprising if Thomas felt not only a sense of deep personal loss and disappointment but even disillusionment and betrayal. Whatever his feelings, he wasn’t willing to trust anything but his own eyes.

What he failed to remember, however, is that our human sight is limited. We can’t see everything, everywhere, all the time. In fact, sometimes our eyes can deceive us. This is particularly true when our vision is clouded or narrowed by things like loss, confusion, or prejudice. We choose what we will see in the mistaken belief that it will somehow insulate us from the pain of seeing more. Sometimes it can…for a while.

But life has a way of crowding itself into our field of vision. Like Jesus, people and things step in front of us even when we have locked the doors, and we are forced to put our hands into the nail prints and lanced sides that we have tried so hard to avoid.

Lord Jesus, in your mercy deepen our faith! In a world where “seeing is believing,” open our eyes to also understand that “believing is seeing.” +

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Sunday, Year C

A man was running late for a meeting. In his rush to get across the street he failed to look both ways, was hit by a truck and died.

His soul traveled up toward heaven and he was met by St. Peter at the pearly gates. “Welcome to heaven!” Peter said. He glanced down at his intake computer and a look of concern came over his face. “Hmmm,” he said.

"Is there a problem, St. Peter?” the man asked.

“Just a little one…I hope,” Peter answered. “What kind of work did you do?”

“I am….I was a United States Senator!” the man said with pride.

“Oh, no wonder,” Peter said. “We don’t get a lot of your kind here…at least on the direct flight. The ones who make it usually have a bit of a layover.”

“I always liked the direct flights anyway,” the senator replied. “Why not just let me in?”

“Sorry, sir,” Peter said firmly. “We have our orders from higher up. You’ll have to spend one day in hell and another in heaven and then make up your mind about where you’d like to spend eternity.”

“Really,” the man contested, “I’ve made up my mind. Heaven is just fine with me.”

“I’m very sorry, Senator,” Peter insisted, “but we have our rules.”

With that, St. Peter escorted the man to an elevator that went down, floor after floor, past the P (Purgatory) floor, to the ground floor, parking garage, basement, sub-basement, sub-sub-basement, and finally to Level H: hell.

The doors opened, and to his shock the man came upon a scene of laughter and luxury! He saw many people he recognized there. They greeted him, handed him a drink, and invited him for a round of golf, which was followed by a dinner featuring steak, lobster and gallons of champagne. A dance followed, during which he met a gorgeous woman. He thought he remembered her from the movies. His time in Hell just seemed to fly.

St. Peter, however, soon reappeared in the scene. “Time’s up,” he said. “Now you have to spend a day in heaven.” With that, they got on the elevator and returned to paradise.

Heaven was nice, too—good food and a nice gym, plus a lot of praying, singing and uplifting conversation. But it was pretty quiet, perhaps even a little dull.

After a day, St. Peter returned and asked the man, “Well, Senator, you’ve had a taste of both heaven and hell. Which will it be? Where would you like to spend eternity?”

The Senator scratched his head. “Well,” he said, “I never thought I’d say it, but I really prefer hell.” St. Peter asked if he was sure, and the man insisted that he was.

So they got back in the elevator and down they went, floor after floor, until they again reached Level H. The doors opened, the man stepped out, and the doors closed behind him.

The Senator looked up and froze. He was on top of a landfill, with flames of methane gas shooting out from pipes. His friends were dressed in rags and picking up garbage as it fell from the sky. The devil approached. “Welcome to hell!” he laughed as he put an arm around the man.

“I don’t understand,” the Senator stammered, “I was here a day ago and people were laughing, playing golf and dancing, eating steak and lobster, and drinking champagne. Today it’s a garbage-filled wasteland and my friends look miserable. What happened?”

“Oh that,” the devil said as he chuckled, shook his head, and waved his hand dismissively. “Yesterday we were campaigning. Today was your election.”

Easter is, understandably, a day of great joy. After forty days of Lent and its penitential practices and after the solemnity of Good Friday and our remembrance of the great suffering that our Lord endured on the cross, we recall the great miracle of his resurrection from the dead and we welcome the gift of everlasting life that he won for us.

But our scripture readings also remind us that even Easter, like life itself, isn’t just sweetness and light, nor is it a past event only. It’s a hard lesson to absorb. After all, who of us wouldn’t rather focus on bunnies, jelly beans, and chocolate cream-filled eggs? It’s estimated that Americans this year will spend over $13 billion to celebrate Easter—most of it on candy, food, and new clothes. We all like a good party.

Our gospel reading points out, however, that the women who came to the tomb on the first Easter weren’t exactly in a partying mood. They had come with spices to anoint Jesus’ body and complete the preparations for his burial. Instead they found the stone covering his tomb rolled away and were confronted by “two men in dazzling garments.” Luke’s gospel noted that they were terrified, bowing their faces to the ground.

After being reminded of Jesus’ own testimony about his death and resurrection, these women became the first of his disciples to proclaim the good news that he was indeed alive again, just as he had promised. They ran from the tomb and told the apostles, whom our tradition teaches were the predecessors of our bishops and priests. Unfortunately, the two Mary’s and their companions didn’t get a very good reception: Luke notes that the apostles dismissed their story as “nonsense.” The lone exception was Peter, who ran to the tomb and left the scene “amazed” at what he saw.
Fear, skepticism, and amazement seem like a long way from marshmallow Peeps and Easter vacations. But they remind us that the resurrection of Christ and the new life we have because of it have consequences, no less the cross. One of them is to live with courage and hope, even when it’s difficult. With all the bad news about the Church that has lately been in the newspapers, TV, radio and the internet, we can sometimes feel like those women and the other disciples on that first Easter morning: fearful, confused, not especially confident of our leaders, and not entirely sure of what will happen next. But they worked through it; and two thousand years later so can we.

Another consequence of the resurrection is going beyond our comfort zones for the sake of the gospel, just as Peter did when he encountered the faith of Cornelius and his household—all gentiles. Take time this week and read all of Acts 10 and you will see that he had to work through the limitations of his own background and experiences to share the gospel and embrace those who were different than him as brothers and sisters in Christ. But he worked through it; and two thousand years later so can we.
In our second reading from 1 Corinthians 5, St. Paul urged the church in Corinth—a church struggling with many controversies and divisions—to be renewed, just like a fresh batch of dough at Passover. It was hard, but they worked through it…and two thousand years later so can we.
Two thousand years ago a group of trembling women stood before a tomb and were asked, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”(Luke 24:5) Two thousand years later, we are asked the same question and face the same choice—the same election.

Happy Easter! +