Tag Archives: Shelter Island

The Resurrection of Jesus

photo copy

We’re concluding our parish mission in Shelter Island, NY, today with some reflections on the Resurrection of Jesus.

People today wonder about life after death. That’s because we want to live. We wonder about ourselves, first of all. Do we live after we die? A couple of books on the subject are popular these days: one by a scientist who claims he’s come back from death, the other is an account of a little boy who supposedly died and went to heaven and come back to life. Both are best sellers.

Our questions about life beyond this one also surface in  popular culture; the media is big into life in space and dark alien forces that invade our ordinary world. Must be life out there, but it looks scary, according to the media.

As Catholics we believe this world is connected to a world beyond. We believe in “the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.” Big beliefs. We believe there are tangible signs of our connection with this world, for example, apparitions of the Blessed Mother at Lourdes and Fatima.

Besides wondering about ourselves, we wonder too about our universe. Will it go on forever?

A couple of years ago I followed Harold Camping on television, who predicted the end of the world was coming on May 21, 2011 at 6 PM. The world was going to explode in fire, he said, destroying everything and everyone except those who read the bible; he didn’t have much hope for the world or most of the people in it.

A lot of people wondered if his crazy calculations were accurate. They weren’t. The world is still here and most of us are too, but at a time when many have lost confidence in our institutions, including our churches, people listened to him.

We  believe in Jesus Christ, who came into our world to teach, heal and offer the promise of eternal life. His death and resurrection answer our questions about death and life beyond this one; he also offers hope for our created world.

“On the third day, he rose from the dead,” we say in our creed. At first, his startled disciples spoke of their experience of Jesus risen from the dead in short statements like that, because his risen presence was unlike anything they had experienced before or knew from the past. They knew he was real, but his new existence was something they could hardly put into words. Their initial confusion is evident in the New Testament.

Jesus did not come from the tomb the same as he was before. He was not like Lazarus who came from the tomb and was easily recognized by all as he rejoined his sisters and went back to his own home in Bethany and took up his daily routine. Lazarus would die again.

Risen from the dead Jesus would not die again. He did not a return to the normal biological life he had before, but entered a new level of being; he experienced an evolutionary change that not only enhanced his humanity but ours too. Death would not affect him. He was changed, yet his love and care for his own in this world remained.

The Resurrection of Jesus, Pope Benedict XVI wrote, is “an historical event that nevertheless bursts open the dimensions of history and transcends it. Perhaps we may draw upon analogical language here, inadequate in many ways, yet still able to open a path towards understanding…we could regard the Resurrection as something akin to a radical ‘evolutionary leap,’ in which a new dimension of life emerges, a new dimension in human existence.”

Pope Benedict’s book, Jesus of Nazareth, is a good source for understanding the mystery of the Risen Jesus.

The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are later statements about the resurrection of Jesus meant for particular churches and situations, so we should read them with their world in mind. Each gospel offers its own unique insight into mysteries of Jesus.

At our mission today we read from Luke’s account of the resurrection of Jesus, which centers on the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Like the other gospels, Luke begins with the women at the tomb on Easter morning, but they don’t find  Jesus at the tomb. The Lord enters the world at large to share his risen life with his disciples and all creation.

In his gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, Luke sees God’s plan of salvation realized in Jesus who brings God’s salvation to all humanity through his church as it goes out from Jerusalem to Rome, then considered the center of the world.

The two disciples on their way to Emmaus represent the church on it’s journey through time,  one of the themes of Luke’s gospel.  As he did with the two disciples, the Risen Lord walks with his church on its mission through the ages.

Not an easy journey. Like the journey of the two disciples, it’s no triumphant march. Disillusionment, questions and gradual enlightenment are part of their journey. If the Risen Lord were not with them, they would continue in  hopelessness. The church ends up hopeless too, if Jesus were not with her.

Like the two disciples we find the Risen Christ slowly in the scriptures and in the breaking of the bread. Like them, he makes our hearts burn within. He is always with us.

The resurrection narrative from Luke is a good corrective to a triumphalist view that sees the church as perfect. It isn’t. It’s also a good corrective to a perfectionistic view of ourselves. We aren’t.

Like the two disciples, we have questions and  disappointments, but the Risen Christ walks with us. He engages  our questions and helps us understand, slowly. He is present in the breaking of the bread, the Holy Eucharist. We don’t see him; the Risen Lord has vanished from our sight, but he’s with us, guiding us to his kingdom.

Jesus also brings all creation into the mystery of the resurrection. “He took flesh and now retains his humanity forever, he who has opened up within God a space for humanity, now calls the whole world into this open space in God, so that in the end God may be all in all and the Son may hand over to the Father the whole world that is gathered together in him. (cf. 1 Cor 15,20-28) (Benedict XVI)

Harold Camping didn’t understand this.

Shelter Island


I’m preaching a parish mission at Our Lady of the Isle in Shelter Island, NY today till Tuesday evening and I’ll be commenting each morning after Mass and in the evening at 7PM on parts of Luke’s gospel, the gospel we’re reading most Sundays this year in church.

Tonight it will be on the Journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, which Luke begins in Chapter 9 and continues to the 19th chapter, when Jesus reaches the Holy City.  “When the days for him to be taken up were fulfilled (Jesus) resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9,51-19,28) In preceding chapters, Luke recalled Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. (Luke 4,13-9, 50)

Luke isn’t concerned with a neat catalogue of miles traveled or places reached in describing Jesus’ journey. This is the time he gathers and instructs disciples, who accompany him on the way to Jerusalem and, after his ascension into heaven, bring his message to the ends of the world. Not only the twelve go with him, but “great crowds” follow him besides “a further seventy-two.” (Luke 14,25; 10,1-14); Luke doesn’t forget that women are among them. (Luke 23,49)

Jesus meets opposition throughout his journey. His own town of Nazareth opposed him as he began his Galilean ministry. Now the Samaritans turn back his messengers at the start of this journey. (Luke 9,53-56) Opposition continues as he goes on his way.  The Pharisees ensconced in their synagogues pour their criticism on him. (Luke 11, 37-43)  Others are too preoccupied with riches or too caught in their own interests to pay him any attention. (Luke 12,16-21)

Some of his new disciples surprise us, like Zacchaeus the chief publican of Jericho, who welcomes Jesus into his house on his journey. (Luke 19,1-10) The poor, like the blind man outside Jericho, are also likely to follow him up the road. (Luke 18,35-43) Luke describes a merciful Jesus on this journey, who searches for the lost sheep and welcomes the prodigal son. (Luke 15,1-32)

Sure to follow Jesus into the kingdom of heaven are the childlike, who don’t cling to power and rank.  Luke sees Jesus praising the childlike both in his Galilean ministry (Luke 9,46-48) and on his journey to Jerusalem. (Luke 10, 21;  18.15-17)  It’s also a common theme in the gospels of Matthew and Mark who have Jesus pointing to his disciples the example of the child. (Matthew 18.1-5; Mark 9,35-37)

It’s essential that a disciple of Jesus be childlike. (Luke 18,15-17) Is childlikeness the secret of Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector from Jericho, the little man who climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus passing by?

St. Leo the Great, an early pope, said that becoming like a child does not mean becoming a child physically. We can’t go back. But the childlike can go forward to the kingdom of God, because they’re small enough to pass through the narrow gate.

Becoming a child means to be free from crippling anxieties, to be forgetful of injuries, to be sociable, and look in wonder at all things.

Tomorrow I’m going to comment on the Passion narrative from Luke’s Gospel. On the journey to God, Jesus must pass through death. His disciples will accompany him.

Tuesday evening, I’ll talk on the Resurrection narrative from Luke.

Shelter Island Thoughts


I spent this past week on vacation with two other members of my community on Shelter Island at a retreat house for youth that we’ve recently closed and now are in the process of selling. It’s a place of memories for us, a summer paradise for swimming and sports and a vibrant place where thousands of young people over the years found spiritual nourishment in programs for the young.

Now, like so many other good places devoted to spiritual purposes throughout the county, it’s closing. You have to feel a sense of failure and disappointment. What’s happening, we ask?

Finances and personnel are the reasons we point to, but these don’t answer the question adequately. Our society has lost its interest in God. Not everybody, to be sure, but for many the search for God has fallen down the list of their priorities. As I write, I’m watching an instructor teaching children how to play tennis in this place where young people were once taught to pray.

Religious people like ourselves, supposedly the guardians and promoters of religion, wonder if we are to blame. On EWTN the other night, Fr. Benedict Groeschel seemed to think so; he criticized religious communities for their “worldliness” and there’s some truth in his criticism, but it’s not the complete answer by any means.

I’m reading Pope Benedict’s book “ Jesus of Nazarth” these days and there are two sections in it I find particularly helpful. The first, is his section on the Kingdom of God, and as I read it this place came to mind.

The Kingdom of God is a complex concept; the first disciples of Jesus were not sure what it was. They had  kingdoms of their own in mind that they thought might fit the bill. But Jesus said his kingdom was not like theirs. If it were, his followers would have risen up to stop his enemies putting him to death, but his kingdom was not of this world.

Our kingdoms tend to be like those of Jesus’ first disciples. They may be treasured, holy,  wonderful places in themselves, but they’re kingdoms of the world. Our temptation, like the last temptation of Jesus in the desert, is to hold on to them as if they were the Kingdom of God. But God lets them pass away so that we may search again. Is that what God is doing now?

“Thy Kingdom come,” we say in our prayer, not “My Kingdom come.”

The second section of the pope’s book I found helpful was his thoughts on “Resurrection Thinking,” (my phrase, not his). After the resurrection the disciples of Jesus did a lot of thinking about what had happened before. “When he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.” (John 2,22) Over and over the gospels tell us his disciples remembered something he said or did, sometimes they were terrible things like the events of his passion and death, but now they saw them in a new light.

They didn’t even delete their own sinfulness and lack of faith from the remembered story.

“The Resurrection,” the pope says, “teaches us a new way of seeing.” (p.232) We can look into ruins and see another life rise in them. “Behold, I make all things new.”

What will be the new life we see rising from here? The pope says “all” the disciples were involved in this “Resurrection Thinking.” It takes place through prayerfulness.  A guide, the Spirit of Truth, is there to point our way to the future.

What’s involved today here at Shelter Island, and in so many other places like it, is more than waiting for a buyer.