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Friday, April 25, 2014

Where's Tom? A reflection for Mercy Sunday

Thomas touching the wounds of Christ            
        The Gospel text for the Second Sunday of Easter (John 20:19-31) is rich with  meaning. I wonder though if the question has ever been raised as to why Thomas doubted.  Was he simply week, or is there another explanation ? I believe that
Sunday's First Reading (Acts 2:42-47)  though not related at all to the story of Thomas, provides an answer to that question.  That text tells us that the community was one in celebrating the breaking of the bread and in sharing all things in common.  Community life is a key element of Christianity.  I believe that Thomas doubted simply because he was apart from the community.  He wasn't there to witness the wonderful action of Jesus who broke through walls to be present to disciples gathered in fear.  Who wouldn't be skeptical when told that story?

   Let's take a look at what happens.  They are huddled out of fear of the Jews.  (Just an aside--the word Jews in John's Gospel may never be construed as a basis for antisemitism because it does not refer to all Jews, but rather the leaders or temple authorities.  After all Jesus and the disciples were Jews themselves.)   Jesus breaks through the walls of fear as I mentioned above.  He then sets in  motion what I call the great tsunami of mercy and compassion.  Those disciples may not have been filled with joy right away.  Why?  Because they had all bailed out on him on Holy Thursday evening.  But what does Jesus do?  Does He chastise them?  No.  He breathes on them and sends the Spirit upon them giving them the power to forgive sins in His name.  By this very action he is telling them that they are forgiven.  He is showing mercy to them but telling them to share that mercy with others.  This is why I use the image of the tsunami.  The tsunami is not just a big wave like we might see off the coast of California or Hawaii.  It is also a long wave, pushing water along for miles.  That is why it is so destructive.  Jesus' tsunami of mercy is not destructive.  it is a life-giving wave that lifts up and renews everything in its path.

    Thomas had missed out on this.  He's incredulous when he hears about it, but he returns a week later and he too is not chastised but invited to touch the wounds which are the source of this great gift of mercy.

    What then are we to learn from this.  I think that there are several lessons.

   1.  It is difficult to maintain faith when we are cut off from the community, the Church because it is in and through that community that mercy, love compassion and grace are dispensed.  Don't get me wrong. I'm not denying that God can and does act on the lives of individuals outside of that community, but rather that when we are isolated we are so often blinded to God's presence.  In the community which touch the wounds of Christ when we encounter the suffering of our brothers and sisters and when we then see how the Lord forgives sin and heals suffering.

   2.  In our Catholic tradition the conferral of the power to forgive sin is the basis for our belief that this ministry is exercised in  a special way by priests in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I pray that we can continue to renew the use of this Sacrament and the manner in which it is celebrated.  In my own experience as both a priest and penitent this Sacrament, when used properly is a great way to encounter the merciful and compassionate Christ.

  3.  Let us never forget that the great tsunami of mercy is passed on not only through the sacramental dispensing of mercy but also when you and I become more merciful people, not only forgiving those who have wronged us but also being more merciful towards those with differences, towards those we disagree with, etc.  This is a point that Pope Francis models so well for us.  He is not changing Church teaching on various matters but telling us that mercy, rather than harshness, is the best way to draw other to Christ.

   4.  The million dollar question then is, "Are we conduits of mercy who let the love and compassion of Christ flow through us?  Or, are we constantly building sea walls that stop the flow?  We know that we can't stop it, but if we try it will flow around us and leave us behind.

     Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy.



Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Holy Week--A Week of Memory

     
A number of years ago, at one of the rare times in which Holy Week and Passover did not come together, I had the privilege of being invited to share one of the nights of Passover in  Jewish home.  To say the least it was quite an honor for me and they likewise were delighted to have a Catholic priest at their table.  One of the key moments of the night comes when the youngest child asks the oldest family member, in the case the grandfather, "Why is this night different from any other night?"  I was told that often the answer is read from a script, but with this family the grandfather gave an impassioned and heartfelt rendition of the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt and into freedom. He then explained that this is a time to remember that great event, not to remember in the sense of looking back, but to remember in the sense of allowing the freedom given to his people by God back then to come alive in their hearts today. He said that the Passover was not just an event that took place thousands of years ago, but one that continually takes place today.

       I went home after that wonderful evening and pondered the meaning of what I had just experienced in terms of our Christian Passover, the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus, our Passover from death to life.  Jesus, of course, was celebrating the Seder, Passover, with his disciples on Holy Thursday evening.  On that special night He gave new meaning to Passover and gave us the gift of the Eucharist.  "Do this in memory of Me.", he said after offering the bread and wine as His Body and Blood.  Memory.  He did not mean to think back to the Last Supper and recall what He did, as many Christians unfortunately see this event, rather he meant that what He did on that night and the Redemption He gained for us on the next few days should come alive in us every time we celebrate the Eucharist.  That is the fuller meaning of our belief in the Real Presence.  Not only is Jesus truly present, we are also drawn into the whole reality of His saving death and resurrection.  It comes alive in us again.

   As we go into Holy Week I would suggest that the entire week is a time of remembrance, not just of recollection, but of allowing those great saving events of love and forgiveness to some alive anew in us today.  Part of that special remembering is the discipline of allowing each movement from Palm Sunday to Easter to come alive.  Such remembrance is a challenge.  It means not only to we allow ourselves to experience the faith and love of those who stayed with Jesus at the foot of the cross, but also to admit that there is a bit of Peter's denial and Judas' betrayal in all of us.  Only in that way can we experience the love that Jesus showed when He washed the disciples feet and appeared to them after He rose from the dead.

   A Blessed Holy Week to everyone and may the joy of the Paschal Mystery come alive in your hearts.