Tag Archives: Matawan

Following Jesus Christ: Oct 4, 2011

Tonight we look at the resurrection story from the Gospel of Matthew, a mystery at the center of our faith. As St.Paul said, “If Christ is not risen, your faith is in vain.”

The gospels not only proclaim the resurrection of Jesus from the dead but see this central mystery of our faith shaping the way we live and think. Each gospel also presents this mystery to the church of its time. If we look carefully, we can see its relevance for the church of our time too. That’s true particularly of the Gospel of Matthew.

What was the Jewish-Christian church in Palestine or Syria like about 80 AD  when Matthew wrote? The followers of Jesus, mostly Jewish-Christians,  were facing hard times. They were being confronted by a resurgent Judaism led by the Pharisees. At the same time, gentiles were accepting the message of Jesus and seeking baptism.  As it faced a large influx of  strangers and attacks from its own people, this predominantly Jewish- Christian church was to be radically changed.

Recall that the temple and the city of Jerusalem had been completely destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, which caused many Jews led by the Pharisees to flee into Galilee and Syria and there begin to build up Judaism again. They saw the followers of Jesus, numerous in those regions, as a fringe group standing in the way of Jewish restoration, so a confrontation began. Jewish-Christians were being driven out of the synagogues in Galilee and a campaign was begun to discredit the Christian movement. Signs of that confrontation are evident in the chapters of Matthew’s Gospel.

This gospel responds to the situation by reminding Christians then that God’s plan is present even when things are uncertain. The Passion of Jesus is their guidebook. Did not Jesus live faithfully through the awful confusion of his arrest, his brutal treatment and his unfair death?  So, like him, should they face uncertainty and hardship. God brought him to new life; God would bring them to new life too.

The story of the Jewish guards at the tomb, unique to Matthew’s gospel, is an example of the Christian response to a story circulating at that time denying that Jesus rose from the dead, but claiming instead that his body was stolen by his followers.

You can see Matthew’s gospel, and all the gospels for that matter, insisting  that Jesus really died;  he experienced death in all its harsh reality. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he cries out after a long silence on Calvary. He was buried, then he rose again. Pilate and his soldiers become important, credible witnesses to his death and burial.

Jesus also really rose from the dead, Matthew’s gospel insists. Even as he died, the earth quakes, rocks are split and tombs we are opened.  An angel clothed like light sits triumphantly on the stone rolled away from an empty tomb. Death has been conquered.

What’s particularly interesting about Matthew’s resurrection account, however, is that  Jesus appears to his disciples, not in Jerusalem or at the tomb outside the city, but on a mountain in Galilee.  From there, he sends his disciples into the whole world to preach the gospel, baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

It’s true that, as the women run from the tomb to tell the disciples,  Jesus briefly appears and they “took hold of his feet and worshipped him.” (Matthew 28,9) But they’re off quickly to tell his disciples to go to Galilee “and there they will see me.”

A neutral observer on the scene in Galilee and Syria in those days might reasonably judge the followers of Jesus of Nazareth to be in bad straits. They were losing in their confrontation with their Jewish opponents and were being pushed out of their synagogues and their homeland.   In the following centuries, Christianity hardly survives in Galilee, where Jesus began his ministry. After the fall of Jerusalem it becomes a Jewish stronghold.

But that’s not the story Matthew tells. The Risen Jesus appears on a mountain in Galilee urging his followers to a new global mission.  A new step is to be taken to bring about the kingdom of God.

The eleven* disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.

When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.

Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

Go, therefore,* and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,

teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28,16-20)

Matthew doesn’t forget that the Risen Christ emerged from the tomb in Jerusalem, but he sees him bringing new life and direction to his struggling church and his struggling followers in Galilee. The Risen Lord is where his followers are, leading them on. He leads them into the future, uncertain as it is. He commands them to leave Galilee which now, instead of a place where his church seems to be dying, is a place of hope and new beginnings. From a mountain he points to a beautiful unknown.

Jesus is not a simply a figure of the past; the Risen Jesus constantly calls his followers onward and accompanies them to a wider mission. His call is by no means obvious, though. Matthew alludes to the chronic uncertainty of Jesus’ disciples: “When they saw him they worshipped, but they doubted.”

Matthew’s Gospel could have been written for our church today. The Risen Jesus makes our church– to most observers a church in crisis and severe decline–  a place of hope and new beginnings. He gives us “resurrection thinking” – the ability to look into the ruins and see beyond them.

Just as his disciples learned to see not death but resurrection in what happened during Jesus’ last hours , so we need to immerse ourselves in these mysteries to gain eyes that really see.

Sunday Night at Mission

Tonight, we are going to visit three important events in the life of Jesus, which I notice  are pictured in the windows of the church here in St. Clement’s, Matawan.


They are all found in St. Matthew’s Gospel:


  1. The Supper at Bethany
  2. The Last Supper
  3. The Agony of Jesus in the Garden.


Here are pictures of two of the windows.


Mission: St. Clement’s Parish, Matawan-Aberdeen, NJ

We know from the gospels that Jesus used examples from his time to speak to the people of his day. Today’s readings tell us that.  Since Jesus lived most of his life in Galilee in northern Palestine, and most of the people he preached to were farmers who made their living on the land or fishermen fishing the sea, Jesus talked to people about fishing and their farms and vineyards and planting seeds.

So how would he speak to us now?  Would he Google the place?

I’m here for your parish mission for the next three days. Tonight, tomorrow night and Tuesday night at 7:30 PM.  I googled “Matawan” for information about your town, or borough, to use the right word, and Wikipedia said there are about 9,000 people here in Matawan. in a space of 2.3 square miles. The median age about 36.

In a New York Times article last year entitled 2 Lakes, the Shore and a Train to the City  the writer said that Matawan was a good place to live, to bring up kids,  close to the train, close to the shore, close to the water. The statistics say you’re more prosperous here than other parts of the country, but the 2000 census did say that 5.5 of your population were below the poverty line. I’d guess that might be greater these days.

Now, I don’t think that Jesus, if he came here to talk to you, would go on a lot about statistics. The gospels say he urged people to be grateful to God for what they had.  Don’t forget God who gave you everything; God should be at the center of your life.

Be like your Father in heaven, aim high. Live a grateful life and love the way God loves.

The gospel also says that Jesus was not someone who was always calling people out. He saw the heartbreak, the sorrow, the sickness, the pain that’s present in everyone, no matter where they live. He saw sinners. Sinners are those who get life wrong. He spent a lot of time with them. He’s God’s face for us to see.

For the next few evenings I’ll be using the Gospel of Matthew to follow Jesus Christ through the last days of his life and his appearances as Risen from the dead. These are the most important parts of the gospel.  We’ll  follow him as disciples, which means we’ll learn from him, our teacher and Lord, how to live today from the way he lived yesterday.  I’ll go slowly through the scriptures step by step, so if you come to these evening sessions might be good to bring a bible along.

I hope this mission helps us to appreciate Jesus Christ and give us a greater appreciation for the scriptures that speak of him. In our church today, the scriptures have become our catechism and our prayerbook.

But you know as well as I that many don’t read the scriptures much or understand them too.

An article in a recent issue of the Jesuit magazine, America, (http://www.americamagazine.org/content/current-issue.cfm?issueid=786) discussed the way American Catholics read the scriptures. Actually, they don’t read them much or know much about the writings we call the Word of God, the author, Brian B. Pinter, says. Also, Catholics who do read the scriptures, may read them literally, like fundamentalists. But the Pontifical Bible Commission in 1993, Pinter points out, warned that  “Fundamentalism actually invites people to a kind of intellectual suicide.”

Last summer the pope urged Catholics to take up and read the scriptures. It wasn’t a pious wish, he was dead serious. The scriptures are the Word of God that nourish our faith and help us know God’s will.

A couple of weeks ago was catechetical Sunday, when parishes began their religious education programs for the year. Most of these programs are for our young people.  But you know religious education involves more than young people. All of us are called to grow in our faith and live what we believe.

Unfortunately, adults may think that faith is something you learn as a child in school or in a religious education program and you never have to learn about it again.

The Catholic writer Frank Sheed once said the problem with adult Catholics is that they don’t keep engaged in the faith they learned as children. He used the example of our eyes. We have two eyes. Let’s say one of them is the eye of faith; the other is the eye of experience.

As children, in religious education we may  see the world with two eyes; but as adults we may see the world only with the eye of experience. And so we lose the focus that faith gives, another dimension. We won’t see right. Faith helps us to see.

“You are all learners,” Jesus said. It’s not just children who learn, all of us learn. We are lifelong learners. Lifelong believers, engaged believers, struggling believers, even till the end.

So, I invite you to our mission this week as lifelong learners. Some of you may not be able to make it, but let me make a deal with you. How about doing a little online learning? I have a blog on the web called “Victor’s Place.” I’ll put up some material from our mission every day, starting with this homily. If you can’t get here yourself, or have a neighbor who wont darken the church door, or have a daughter in California who’s not going to church, take a look at “Victor’s Place.”

You saw me bring up a cross at the beginning of Mass and put it next to the pulpit. That was to remind me and to remind you that Someone Else is here speaking during these days of mission. The Lord is with us. He wants to speak to us here in this place where 9,000 people live, a place of  “2 Lakes, near the Shore and a trainride to the City.”

The mission services, a short catechesis, a longer reflection on the scriptures, hymns, prayers and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament will be about 1 hour. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday Nights at 7:30.

I’ll be celebrating the morning Masses on Monday and Tuesday at 8 AM  and preaching a short homily. Afterwards I’ll be available for confessions.

Fr. Victor Hoagland, CP


mission poster 2