Monthly Archives: March 2016

A Church that Heals?

peter healing

Readings

Peter and the other disciples confidently walk among the needy, bringing them life and healing in the name of the Risen Jesus. “Thus they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them.” (Acts 5, 15) Healing is a sign of the resurrection.

Our readings from The Acts of the Apostles for the next few days are about the cure of a crippled man in the temple. (Acts 3, 1-4, 37)  Peter and John meet the man begging at the temple gate. “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, get up and walk,” Peter says, and the man got up and “went into the temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God.”

Jesus began his ministry in Galilee with dramatic healings like that. Peter’s mother in law was among the first he healed on the momentous day he came to Capernaum. (Mark 1, 29-32) Wonder and excitement quickly spread, people flocked to him, but soon opponents began to question and finally try to stop the Nazorean.

His followers continue his healing mission after his resurrection.  “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean” Peter and the rest move others to believe and join them by signs of healing; they also face the reaction Jesus faced when he healed. They face opposition.

An important witness of God’s presence in the early church, is healing still important in our age which trusts so much in modern medicine and the latest drugs and treatments?  Pope Francis recently called the church a “field hospital.”A reminder that the church must never abandon it’s mission to be a healing church, witnessing to the resurrection of  Jesus, praying for and caring for and sustaining those in need.

The Acts of the Apostles is a template for looking at our church today as well as the church of the past.

 

What Does the Risen Christ Look LIke?

Many of us  learned our faith from catechisms and sermons and pictures on the windows and walls of our churches. Xavier Leon-Dufour begins his classic work (Resurrection and the Message of Easter, New York, 1971) remembering trying to reconcile images he saw on the church windows of his youth with the gospel accounts he studied later. In art Jesus often appears as a revived corpse, his body and clothing brighter than before..

The church window above, based on Matthew’s Gospel, tells the resurrection story, but changes the way the gospels describe it. Similar images appear often, especially in the Easter season. But Jesus risen from the dead is different from Lazarus raised from the tomb. (cf. previous post)

“After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men.” Mt 28,1-5

According to Matthew, an angel descends from heaven, rolls back the stone and strikes fear in the guards at the tomb. Our stained glass window depicts Jesus Christ stepping from the tomb striking fear into the guards. The angel becomes an onlooker wearing green, the color of hope. Jesus looks rather like he did before he died and he would be recognized immediately.

The gospels, however, indicate he was  changed. Mary Magdalene and the others have difficulty recognizing him– he’s changed. The disciples on the way to Emmaus recognize him after he quotes the scriptures and, finally,  breaks bread with them. The disciples at the lakeshore in Galilee are not sure who is he, until they eat with him.

The Risen Lord has entered another realm of existence. He is risen.  He remains with us mysteriously.  He does not blind us with  light, as he did Paul the Apostle. He does not appear in bodily form, as he was before his death. He  comes to us risen, risen indeed. Now, we meet him in the scriptures and the “breaking of the bread.” Also, just as mysteriously, he see him in the least. “When did we see you?”  is the question raised at judgment.

Early Christian art as seen in the  4th century portrayal from catacombs below, recognized the mystery of the Resurrection and used symbolism to represent the Risen Christ. Jesus entered a new existence in his resurrection. It’s hard for artists and for us to depict that existence.

I mentioned Xavier Leon-Dufour earlier. Here’s what he said about the Risen Jesus:

“To speak of the resurrection of Jesus is to affirm that death has been conquered in one man at least: and to say that he lives forever is boldly to locate oneself at the end of time. It is a challenge for the unbeliever to revise his idea of life: for if one man is alive forever after his death, why not should the same be so for all men at the end of time? Why should there not be after death an existence called heaven?”  In that existence “life is changed, not ended.”

 

Resurrection

Following the Risen Christ

“Do not cling to me.” Jesus says to Mary Magdalen in the Easter gospel. His words seem dismissive, but they’re not.

His resurrection was not the same as the resurrection of Lazarus his friend. When Lazarus came from the tomb they took the winding sheets from his body and saw immediately he was the same Lazarus they knew before. No doubt his sisters, Martha and Mary, embraced him and brought him home where he continued his life as before.

Living again, Lazarus did what he always did; he spoke, he ate, he thought as before. On the fateful week Jesus died, he sat at table with him and all recognized him as Lazarus who had died and came from the dark tomb after four days.

Eventually, he died again, as we all must do.

But when Jesus rose from the dead, he took on a new existence. He did not return to his ordinary life and he cannot die again. He was changed and became the first to enter a new life, a new world. He is “the first fruits” of those who die, scripture says; we are meant to follow him.

He goes before us. “Stop holding on to me,” he tells Mary, “for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go tell my brothers, ‘ I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

He does not dismiss Mary; he invites her to follow him.She does not follow him alone; she remains to tell others he is going forward to his God and their God. We will follow him.

The Easter Season

The Easter season is a seven week period beginning with the Easter vigil and concluding on the feast of Pentecost. In most Catholic parishes, First Communion for Children is a major event, but the season has a larger purpose. All Christians are called to renew their faith in the Risen Christ.

“Blessed are they who have not seen, but believe,” Jesus says in John’s gospel to his Apostle Thomas,  on the 2nd Sunday of Easter. Doesn’t that mean there’s a blessing promised to us?  For the next seven weeks I’ll put up material for the Easter season on this blog.

We don’t see Jesus as his apostles and other eye-witnesses did, but we’re blessed with faith, a way of knowing him through sacraments and signs and, most importantly, through the love we have for one another.  We need to keep our eyes on the witness of his disciples in the scriptures and the prayers of the church. We need to meet the Risen Christ in his sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist.

Our faith, like the disciple Thomas’ faith, needs strengthening, because the world we live in keeps questioning this way of knowing .  Like infants we’re learning about what we don’t yet know, and so many other things are on our mind. The Easter season offers grace to us.

A good way to  pray during the Easter season is to follow the readings each day for the Eucharist.  The Sunday readings for the season are the most important;  the weekday readings are closely related to them. You can find them online at the US Bishops’ site , which also provides the text of The New American Bible, as well as commentary and general background material on the bible. Here’s a list of this week’s readings for Mass for cycle C.

Weekday Readings: Octave of Easter

Monday: Acts 2:14,22-23; Matthew 28,8-15
Tuesday: Acts 2, 36-41; John 20,11-18
Wednesday: Acts 3,1-19; Luke 24, 13-35
Thursday: Acts 3,11-36 Luke 24, 35-48
Friday Acts 4,1-12 John 21,1-14
Saturday Acts 4, 13-21 Mark 16,9-15

The weekday readings at Mass for the next 7 weeks of the Easter season come mainly from the Acts of the Apostles and the gospel of John. You can read the introductions and commentaries to these books in the New American Bible, available  at the US Bishops’ site.

The Acts of the Apostles, the second part of St. Luke’s work, is important reading in the Easter season. It describes how God’s promise of salvation to Israel, accomplished in Jesus, was brought to the Gentile world under the guidance of the Holy Sprit.  Acts describes the beginnings of our church and, just as importantly,  offers insight into how our church develops today.

From its Jewish Christian origins in Jerusalem the church gradually incorporated the gentiles, non-Jews, and steadily spread throughout the Roman world, eventually reaching Rome itself, the capital of the civilized world. The church today is growing globally. Its early growth described in the Acts of the Apostles can help us understand how it will grow  in our time.

The gospel readings for this coming week from all four gospels describe the resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples. They express utter amazement at meeting Jesus risen from the dead. They can raise amazement in us as we read them this season.

 

Easter Sunday

To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio file below:

Many followers of Jesus saw him risen after he came from the tomb, the New Testament writers say, but Mary Magdalene’s witness is especially significant. She was a key witness to his death as well as his resurrection. We remember her testimony on Easter Sunday.

First, she was a witness to the death of Jesus. She was among those who saw him die, the gospels say. She witnessed his last excruciating hours on the cross. She saw the soldier pierce his side with a lance. She was with Mary his mother, standing there looking on. She helped them in the grim ritual of taking his body down from the cross. She was one of the women who brought some ointments and  cloths for his burial. That was a woman’s role then, to bury the dead. She watched them lay him in a tomb, about a stone’s throw from where he was crucified. There would be no doubt in her mind that Jesus was dead.

She waited till the Jewish feast was over to come to the tomb. She came early in the morning, not hoping to see him alive, but just to complete his burial. What was done when he died was done hurriedly, the gospels tell us. Like Martha, the sister of Lazarus, Mary Magdalene believed in the resurrection on the last day. It was important for her that the body of Jesus be properly anointed with perfumed oil, because he had been someone most pleasing to God. He would certainly be among those God would raise up on the Last Day.

Mary would not be at the tomb alone. Other women would be with her. The question they had coming to the tomb was: Can we get some help moving the stone away from the entrance to the tomb? It was large. Maybe the guards who were stationed there, maybe some workers, some people passing by. The tomb was not far from the road going into the city.

But Mary saw that the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty, the burial cloths were there, the cloth that covered his head, but his body was not there. (John 20,1-9) She ran to tell Peter, who came with John and found it as she had said.

In our first reading today we hear Peter’s description of what happened next. “This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” (Acts 10, 37)

John’s gospel goes on to tell Mary’s story of her meeting with Jesus in the garden where he was buried. She thought he was the gardener until she heard him speak her name, “Mary.” He was alive. He told her he was going to his Father and her Father, his God and her God. On that dark morning she came to finish burying him. Now he was alive, risen, and the world was changed.

“Tell us, Mary, what did you see on the way?” the church asks her in our liturgy today. “
’I saw the tomb of the now living Christ.
I saw the glory of Christ, now risen.
I saw angels who gave witness;
the cloths, too, which once covered head and limbs.
Christ my hope had indeed arisen.
He will go before his own into Galilee.'”

He is risen from the dead, the witnesses say. He died and he rose again. Believe in him, follow him, they tell us. He lives and promises life to those who follow him. He is God’s Son, believe in him.

 

 

 

Something Strange is Happening

DSC00118
From an ancient homily for Holy Saturday

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

Friday Thoughts: A Day Among The Stones

christ on the cross murillo 1660-70

Murillo, “Christ on the Cross”, (1660-70) (detail)

 

some were stones

others rocks

the difference

i’m not quite sure

though both are heavy

.

so many distinctions

almost all

humanly made

yet not even

a single

grain of sand

is created by man

.

perhaps then

stones are former rocks

those chosen to enforce

worldly power

perhaps they’re earthly kingdoms

established by men

men possessing

such domain

perhaps they’re the ones

reigning down

upon those brought low

upon those dragged

outside the walls

hauled off to a yard

to be stoned

.

yet both

both stone, and rock

seem to get along

as long as they’re simply left alone

call to mind

that famous pile

that most famous pile of stone

the one upon which

we crucified our Rock

.

to some it’s golgotha

to others it’s calvary

to too many

it’s a giant farce

but oh those stones

oh they don’t lie

and all those rocks

they build up the church

o, those stones, o, those rocks

yes, both big and both small

they keep straight

the vertical beam

upon which is nailed

the weight of the cross

.

it’s You of course

Father

who holds it all together

it’s You of course

Father

who provides all the strength

who holds up Jesus

for the world to see

the entire world

as You hold

those wooden beams

that stretch

to the ends of the earth

much like You taught

good saint joseph

that just and upright man

to hold Your child Jesus

.

o good saint joseph

everyone’s patron saint

break your silence

tell us then

tell us of that day

the day your Jesus

was crucified

speak o strong man of stone

you who speak

thru so many silent statues

chiseled to show forth

the birth of our salvation

.

for you saint joseph

are not only

the foster father

but also a stand-in

for the cross

for you are still there

you are still there to be seen

yes, saint joseph

you are at the crucifixion

playing a role

yes, Father God has taken over

but you joseph

are certainly present

for the crucifixion

is still a portrait

of the Holy Family

.

dear joseph

you reside in the wood

the scent of which

fills Jesus’ earthly suffering

it’s the scent of the workshop

the scent that Jesus breathed

His entire youth

especially when asleep

against your heart

good saint joseph

a just man

just home from work

your clothing covered in dust

the dust from the saw

cutting thru raw wood

it’s in this sense

that you joseph are present

in the sights and sounds

of the first domestic church

.

the clanging of hammer against nail

driven thru His hands and feet

Jesus thinks of joseph

the joy of work well done

the importance of finishing well

while all the while

the hard unrelenting

stone below

kisses His mother’s knees

consoling Jesus

reminding Him

and all of us

of the stability

of a truly godly home…

.

What a day among the stones!

.

———

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, pray for us.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit…

———

..

—Howard Hain