Monday, April 28, 2014

A Little Something Extra...Divine Mercy Sunday

Divine Mercy and Doubting Thomas

In the Gospel of Divine Mercy Sunday we hear the story of doubting Thomas. I always feel a little sorry for Thomas that he got stuck with that label, for in the end, his faith triumphs due to God's great mercy.

It was the evening of the first day of the week, and the disciples were huddled behind locked doors. They had been hearing strange stories and seeing strange sights. Jesus' tomb was empty. Peter and John had seen that for themselves. Mary Magdalene had encountered the Lord and came back filled with joy. The two disciples who had struck out toward Emmanus also returned, all excited, with news that they had seen Jesus and recognized Him in the breaking of the bread.

The disciples knew all of this, and they were at least beginning to believe that just maybe it could be true, but they were afraid. The Jews might accuse them of stealing Jesus' body. Then what would happen? They didn't even want to think about it. 

Then, without even opening the locked door, Jesus stood in their midst. He poured out His peace upon them. He showed them His hands and His side. He breathed on them, giving them the Holy Spirit and the power to forgive sins. Their joy was unspeakable. The Lord had truly risen! They had seen Him with their own eyes, and it was the most wonderful sight ever.

Thomas didn't return until after Jesus left. Why was he apart from the others to begin with? Was he out purchasing provisions or scouting out the situation with the Jews? He was certainly courageous enough to do so. When Jesus had set out into hostile territory to raise Lazarus from the dead, Thomas bravely told the others, “Let's go and die with Him!”

When Thomas finally did get back to the disciples, he found them in an uproar. “We have seen the Lord,” they exclaimed. But Thomas didn't believe them. He just couldn't fathom it. Jesus was dead, wasn't He? Sure, there were stories. There were claims. But perhaps everyone was just exhausted and overwrought. Jesus couldn't possible be alive, could He? Thomas solemnly announced, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

Then God's mercy met Thomas right where he was. Jesus didn't leave him in his unbelief. Even though He didn't have to return, a week later, Jesus appeared to the disciples again. This time Thomas was present, and he was shocked and probably a little scared. After all, he had refused to believe that Jesus had risen. But Jesus didn't chastise him. Instead, He called Thomas to Him and invited him to place his fingers in the nailmarks in His hands and his hand into His side. “Do not be unbelieving,” Jesus told Thomas, “but believe.” 

And Thomas believed. Perhaps he dropped to his knees before Jesus as he said, “My Lord and my God!” With these words, Thomas did more than proclaim that Jesus was risen. Thomas proclaimed that Jesus was God. He was the first disciple to do so. God's mercy had entered Thomas' heart and revealed a great truth that the former doubting Thomas didn't hesitate to profess.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Everyday Prayers – The Our Father – Part 4

Let's continue our exploration of the Our Father. As always we'll begin with prayer.

Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

1. We ask God to “forgive us our trespasses.” The Greek verb for “forgive” is aphiēmi, and it literally means “send away” or “let go.” We want God to send away our sins so they no longer negatively affect our relationship with Him. We beg Him to let them go so they no longer stand in the way.

2. The word for “trespasses” comes from the Greek word opheilēma, which refers to a debt, something that is owed legally or justly. What do we owe to God? We owe love, obedience, worship, honor, glory, respect, devotion, attention. The list could go on and on. When we do not pay these debts to God, we sin. We fall deeper and deeper into debt.

4. When we ask God to forgive our trespasses, we are asking Him to eliminate all the debt we have racked up through sin. We are requesting that He send away all those times when we have not loved, obeyed, worshiped, honored, and respected Him and all those times when we have not given Him proper glory, devotion, and attention. We still owe God all these things, but when He forgives us, we can start fresh. We can commit ourselves anew to giving God everything we owe Him.

5. When we pray for forgiveness in the Our Father, we actually place a condition on it. We ask God to forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us. The Greek word for “as” is hōs, and it can mean “just like” or “in the same way.” A few verses later, Jesus explains what the prayer implies: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). Jesus couldn't be any clearer. God will forgive us in the same way that we have forgiven those who have trespassed against us.

6. This truth invites all of us to examine ourselves for unforgiveness. It can lurk in the dark places of our minds and hearts, but we must face it. We must send away the debts of others and let go of everything they owe us and all the times they never paid. Then God will do the same for us.

Let us pray.

Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Little Something Extra...The Resurrection of the Lord

An Easter Basket for Jesus

Happy Easter!!!

Have you noticed how commercialized Easter is becoming? It seems second only to Christmas in gift-giving, and messages of “Fill those Easter baskets!” and “Buy more candy!” are everywhere. It's easy to get caught up in hoopla. While it's fun to give Easter baskets and enjoy sweet treats, we have to be careful not to forget the true meaning of Easter Sunday. 

In order to focus our attention on our Risen Lord, let's assemble the perfect Easter basket for Jesus. We'll include the following:

1. Attendance at Mass on Easter Sunday – Don't just be present in body; be present in mind and heart with great love for our Risen Lord.

2. A close reading of the Easter Scriptures – Sometimes hearing them at Mass isn't enough. Spend some time outside Mass carefully and attentively listening to God's Word in the Bible. The readings are available at the USCCB website.

3. The glorious mysteries of the Rosary – Meditate especially on Jesus' Resurrection.

4. The Stations of the Cross – This might seem a little strange, praying the Stations of the Cross on Easter Sunday, but to truly appreciate the Resurrection, we must remember what Jesus went through to get to it.

5. A kind deed – It doesn't have to be anything elaborate. Just do something nice for someone.

6. A heartfelt thanksgiving – Take a few minutes to express in your own words what Jesus' death and Resurrection mean to you and to thank Him for all He has done.

These are simple gifts, but we can be sure that if we present them to Jesus with open, loving hearts, He will receive them with gratitude and shower His own gifts back onto us in wonderful ways. 

May the Risen Lord Jesus bless you and give you new life through His death and Resurrection. Amen.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Little Something Extra...Palm Sunday

Jesus' Triumphal Entry

Jesus and His disciples have been traveling to Jerusalem for quite some time now. Jesus knows that His hour is drawing near. Soon it will be time to fulfill His destiny, to do what He came to do, to die on the cross and rise again. 

Until now, He has usually kept quiet about His identity, ordering His disciples not to tell anyone Who He really is (not that they completely understand anyway). He has often tried to downplay His miracles, too, for He doesn't want the people to get the wrong idea about Him. They have been hoping for a certain type of Messiah, one who will defeat the Romans in a grand military victory, free Israel from the oppression of other nations, and make it a ruling power in the world. But this is not what Jesus has come to do. He is not a warrior Messiah. He is not a political ruler. He is not the type of king that the people have been looking for.

Now, however, Jesus is ready to enter into Jerusalem, and finally He claims the role of Messianic King, but He does so in a highly symbolic fashion that speaks of His true nature and His real intention.

Jesus begins by sending two disciples to a neighboring village with some highly specific instructions. They are to find a tethered ass and colt, untie them, and bring them to Him. If anyone asks what they are doing, they are to reply, “The master needs them.” 

Jesus knows exactly how things will play out. Nothing is a surprise to Him, for He is God. He acts deliberately and with great precision. Also, with this order, Jesus is claiming the status of a VIP. The Romans practiced angaria, which means that people of high rank could claim property or labor from people of lower rank. Jesus, of course, as the Creator, has a right to everything and everybody, and here He asserts that right just a little bit although we can be sure that the animals' owner received them back when Jesus was finished.

By claiming an ass and colt, Jesus is also fulfilling a prophecy given in Zechariah 9:9: “See, your king shall come…riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass.” Jesus truly is the king of Israel, but He is coming in humility and peace on a lowly colt rather than majestically on a warhorse. 

The disciples obey Jesus and bring the animals to Him. They throw their cloaks over the beasts in a gesture of reverence and honor for a newly crowned king. Soon a large crowd gathers, and the people lay their cloaks on the road, giving Jesus the Israelite form of the red carpet treatment. They are acknowledging His kingship. 

The members of the crowd also cut palm branches and line the road with them. Perhaps they remember Psalm 118, which describes a victorious entry into Jerusalem, complete with a “festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar” (verse 27). Jesus is indeed going to the altar, not the one in the Temple, but rather the altar of the cross. 

The palms also signify the Feast of Tabernacles, during which the Israelites would wave palm branches and other plants while singing hymns. The Feast of Tabernacles was a harvest festival, but it also looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. The Messiah, of course, has now arrived, and the crowd, probably without fully understanding what they are doing, drop their palms before Him in homage.

As they proceed, the people in crowd call out, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.” Hosanna means “Please save!” or “Save now!” Indeed, Jesus is a Savior greater than than they realize, for He will not merely save Israel from the Romans. He will save the whole world from sin and death and eternal separation from God.

Jesus is also the Son of David. He descends from David's line in His human family, so He has royal blood. He is also the Son of David Who is to come, the Messiah Who will rule forever. The people realize this, but they don't understand the depth of meaning involved when they call out “Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord.” Jesus does indeed come in the name of God, for Jesus is God Himself, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. The Israelites have no idea that they are blessing God when they bless Jesus. 

The whole city is stunned by Jesus' triumphant entry. They wonder Who He is and how He dares to take a place at the center of such a procession. The crowd responds, identifying Jesus as a prophet from Nazareth in Galilee. Little do they know Who He really is. Little do they know that their God has come among them in the flesh. Little do they know that in a few days He will die on the cross. Little do they know that three days after that He will rise from the dead. Little do they know that the world will never be the same. The King has come to His city. Jesus the Messiah has finally arrived.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Everyday Prayers – The Our Father – Part 3

In this post, we'll continue our exploration of the Our Father, focusing on just one key line.

Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

1. In the second sentence, we begin to petition God on behalf of ourselves, starting with Give us this day our daily bread. Before this, we've been focusing on God, His praise, His kingdom, and His will.

2. We ask God to “give us” our daily bread. This is a collective thing. We pray that all people will have what they need, and we stand in solidarity with the “us” of the world.

3. We ask for what we need today. We focus on the present moment rather than worrying about the future. We trust that God will renew His gift every single day.

4. Indeed, everything we receive is a gift from God. If God stopped thinking about us for even an instant, we would simply cease to exist. Everything we have and everything we are comes from Him.

5. What is this daily bread that we ask for? On one level, we are simply asking for everything we need to survive: food, clothing, shelter, etc.

6. On another level, we are asking for more than just the basics, for we need more than physical things. We human beings are body and spirit. We have spiritual needs, too, like faith, hope, and love. We need to learn, to grow, to make good choices, and to become the human beings God wills us to be. We ask for all of these things, too.

7. The word for “daily” in the phrase “daily bread” is unique in the Scriptures and probably in Greek as well. It is epiousios, and it means more than simply “daily.” If you break down the Greek, the word actually means something like “above substance” or “supersubstantial.” It's a strange little word, but its implications are powerful. Please read the following article for further details: Mr. Greenwell offers an excellent explanation.

8. A special word like epiousios certainly suggests a very special type of bread, and we Catholics understand that when we ask God for our daily bread, we are ultimately asking for the Eucharist above all else. That is the best Bread we can ever receive, for the Eucharist is the Bread of Life, really and truly the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. When we receive this Bread, we receive God Himself.

Let us pray.

Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Little Something Extra...Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Jesus Wept

Jesus stood beside Lazarus' tomb. His friend had been dead for four days. Lazarus' grieving sisters, Martha and Mary, took their places beside Him. Jesus saw them weeping, and His heart filled with grief.

And Jesus wept.

Jesus had planned this. Lazarus died for a reason, that the glory of God would be revealed. That's why Jesus had stayed where He was for two days before going to His friends' home. There was a reason.

And Jesus wept.

Jesus knew exactly what He was going to do. He had already decided that He would raise Lazarus from the dead, and He had no doubt that He could do just that. 

And Jesus wept.

Jesus was human as well as divine. He experienced a whole range of human emotions, including sadness and grief, especially when those He loved were heartbroken. His heart broke along with theirs.

And Jesus wept.

Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He doesn't just give those things. He really is the resurrection and the life. But He also feels the sting of death.

And Jesus wept.

Jesus stands beside us in our sorrow. He feels our pain and our grief. He wraps us in His loving arms.

And Jesus wept.

There is no misery, no sadness, no anxiety, no hurt, no fear that Jesus does not understand. He loves us that much.

And Jesus wept.