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.

Easter Monday

Spanish

Readings here

Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection to assure them, first of all, that he was alive. They knew he was dead. How could anyone live through what happened to him ? They needed to know he was alive.

“God raised him on the third day,” Peter says at Pentecost, “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) In simple, concrete ways, eating and drinking with them, Jesus showed he was alive. He had to overcome their tendency in the face of death to disbelieve.

Matthew’s gospel, read today, speaks of  stories after Jesus’ death that his body was stolen from the tomb. An expression of disbelief. Peter in his Pentecost discourse points to David’s tomb in Jerusalem where the great king was buried. His body was there.  The tomb of Jesus was empty. (Acts 2,29) Where is he?

Besides assuring them he was alive, the Risen Jesus assured his disciples the prophets spoke of his resurrection. In Luke’s story of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus Jesus tells them that Moses and the prophets spoke of him. He must have given similar indications to his other disciples too. In their preaching his disciples never omit the witness of the scriptures to the resurrection of Jesus.

The Risen Jesus also had to challenge the stubborn dreams and ambitions in his disciples, according the the Acts of the Apostles: “When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. 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, 6-8)

Holding their  short-sighted political ambitions and hopes for personal gain, his disciples ask Jesus if he will bring about an earthly kingdom. His kingdom is not of this world, he tells them, but they are go to “the ends of the earth” as his witnesses and bearers of his promise.

What graces can we, his disciples now, look for from the Risen Christ? Faith in Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. Faith in the scriptures that speak of him. Faith in the Bread he shares with us.  Faith in the Holy Spirit whom he sends as our Guide. Faith to go where he leads us, with those who believe in him, towards a future beyond what we see, where his promises of risen life are revealed.

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.

 

This is the Day

Spanish

Most people think  Easter is over  after today, but it isn’t. I was thinking of this at church this morning, wondering how many will be back next week. You can’t grasp the meaning of Easter in a day. Jesus’ first disciples didn’t. We celebrate Easter for 50 days, from the Easter vigil till the feast of Pentecost. Over and over we say: “This is the day the Lord has made.”

The reason we celebrate the long day of Easter is because the resurrection of Jesus is hard to understand.  Jesus spent 40 days with his apostles helping them understand; we’re also  “slow to understand.”

Cardinal Newman spoke of this Day when God did his greatest work:

“Let us rejoice in the Day that He has made… the Day of His Power. This is Easter Day. Let us say this again and again to ourselves with fear and great joy. As children say to themselves, ‘This is the spring,’ or ‘This is the sea,’ trying to grasp the thought, and not let it go; as travellers in a foreign land say, ‘This is that great city,’ or ‘This is that famous building,’ knowing it has a long history through centuries, and vexed with themselves that they know so little about it; so let us say, This is the Day of Days, the Royal Day, the Lord’s Day.

“This is the Day on which Christ arose from the dead; the Day which brought us salvation. It is a Day which has made us greater than we know. It is our Day of rest, the true Sabbath. Christ entered into His rest, and so do we. It brings us, in figure, through the grave and gate of death to our season of refreshment in Abraham’s bosom. We have had enough of weariness, and dreariness, and listlessness…

“May we grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, season after season, year after year, till He takes to Himself, first one, then another, in the order He thinks fit, to be separated from each other for a little while, to be united together for ever, in the kingdom of His Father and our Father, His God and our God.”
John Henry Newman, “Difficulty of Realizing Sacred Privileges,”

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.