Second Sunday of Easter, March 30, 2008 (John 20: 19-31.)

We have seen in our homilies for Holy Week that the sufferings and death of Jesus brought us reconciliation with the Father and salvation. This was a great gift of God possible only through the coming of his Son as Man in this economy of salvation. Along with the reconciliation and salvation came a resurrection also for us. It was also a purpose of Jesus’ death and resurrection to raise the level of human consciousness. No more were we bound to the darkness of sin and evil, but we now had access to the light of new life brought by Jesus’ Word and example.

During the fifth week of Lent, if we remember, we read from chapter 8 of the Gospel of John where Jesus said to his disciples, “You belong to what is below, I belong to what is above. You belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world.” Sin and darkness are below. Joy, happiness and quality life are above. And we pointed out at that time that this is so simple. It is my way versus God’s way. Yet, sometimes it takes us years to discover this, to discover that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, not I.

We see this in today’s Gospel message. Jesus had appeared to his disciples when Thomas was not present. He had showed them the nail marks in his hands, he had shown them that it really was he, that he had truly risen from the dead. They believed what they saw. And then they all told Thomas about this when he returned and he didn’t believe them! But, why should he? They didn’t exactly have a great track record. They had all run away and hid during the Passion of the Lord. It took Thomas a while to believe what they told him. He too had to see Jesus, as he did on a subsequent appearance of the Lord. Jesus then blessed his disciples in the future who would believe without seeing.

I have remarked many times before in these daily homilies that human beings are both/and and not either/or. We are both saints and sinners; both above and below; both doubters and believers. And that’s the way it is. And that’s the way it will be as long as we are here on this earth. But I can and hopefully do make things better. I grow, I make progress. Jesus came and made it possible for us to rise above the normal human level, to truly believe that Jesus is the way, truth and life. Some do, some don’t. Some do but take

longer than others to discover the truth. Let us keep praying that we will receive the strength to believe no matter how long it takes.

Fr. Howard

 


Monday of the Second Week of Easter, March 31, 2008 (The Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord)

The feast of the Annunciation celebrates the revelation to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, by the archangel Gabriel that she would conceive a child to be born the Son of God. Christian Churches celebrate this feast on March 25 which is nine months before the feast of Christmas. This feast is moved if necessary to prevent it from falling on a Sunday or during Holy Week or Easter Week. This year March 25 falls during Easter Week and consequently the feast of the Annunciation has been moved to March 31.

There is a beautiful hymn in Easter Orthodoxy that I came across for the Annunciation:

Today is the beginning of our salvation,
And the revelation of the eternal mystery!
The Son of God became the Son of the Virgin
As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:
Rejoice, O Full of Grace. The Lord is with You.

In Eastern Orthodoxy Mary is referred to as Theotokos, Greek for “God Bearer.” The feast of the Annunciation was first celebrated in AD 525.

The thing that has always impressed me about the story of the Annunciation is the immediate response of Mary to the announcement of the angel that she was being called to be Theotokos, the bearer, the mother of God. What faith and trust she had! My faith and trust in God, sad to say, more often than not is vacillating. I think about something, wonder about it, try and figure it out, maybe even doubt a bit, before saying yes. Mary, on the other hand, immediately consented to what must have sounded like a preposterous idea

at first hearing. I have commented many times that faith to me is letting go with both hands. I find myself more times than not letting go with only one hand and keeping things firmly under my control by hanging on with the other. Lord, increase my faith and trust in accepting right away what you ask me to do.

Fr. Howard

 


                                                                                              Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter, April 1, 2008 (John 3: 7-15) 

Nicodemus first became acquainted with Jesus early in the ministry of the Lord. Today’s Gospel tells of his first meeting with Jesus in chapter 3 of John’s Gospel. Nicodemus is also heard of in John’s Gospel in chapter 19: 39 where he helps Joseph of Arimathea bury Jesus after his death on the cross. He brought a “mixture of myrrh and aloes weighting about one hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices, according to the Jewish burial custom.”

In today’s first meeting of Jesus and Nicodemus , we see that Nicodemus recognized something special in Jesus. “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him.” Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews. He met Jesus and we can see the beginning of a spiritual awakening in him, a change in his personality, his becoming a new person.

The greatest event in Nicodemus’ life, I dare say, was his meeting Jesus. After that, it was all up-hill. How true that is for all of us. We cannot help but be changed if we truly meet Jesus, not in a superficial way but in a deeper, meaningful way. When we get down to the nitty gritty of the whole thing and admit to ourselves the need we have for Jesus in our lives and that he is the way, the truth and the life, not I, then I will change for the better and continue to change for the rest of my life. It happened to me. How about you?

Fr. Howard

 


Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter, April 2, 2008 (John 3: 16-21)

Today’s Gospel is a continuation of yesterday’s and therefore a continuation of the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus. Jesus is saying some pretty profound things to Nicodemus. No wonder he was so enthralled by Jesus.

“This is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.”

It is a tenet of the natural law, that law which is in everyone’s heart, that we are to do good and avoid evil. Everyone knows this. But it doesn’t take long for them to ask or to wonder, what is good, what is evil? I remember someone telling me a long time ago, I know not where or when, that if I was willing to say what I was saying or do what I was doing in front of my mother, it would be good. If I was unwilling to do this, it would be evil. Not too bad a criterion, is it? Jesus is kind of saying the same thing in today’s Gospel, substituting his name for my mother’s. If we hesitate to do or say what we are doing or saying in front of Jesus, it is wrong. Or before other people, where all can see what I am doing. That is why sin is compared to the darkness. We tend to do it while no one else is watching or can see it. And in so doing, we are not being true to what we really believe either. We are lying to ourselves when we sin. The truth and the light go together. “Whoever lives the truth comes to the light.”

Lord, help me today to be true to you, true to myself, and true to my neighbor. It is the truth that will set me free to be the light of the world.

Fr. Howard


Thursday of the Second Week of Easter, April 3, 2008 (John 3: 31-36)

On one of the weekdays of the Fifth Week of Lent, we read from chapter 8 of John’s Gospel the words of Jesus telling us, “You belong to what is below, I belong to what is above. You belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world. That is why I told you that you will die in your sins.”

In these words Jesus gives us another criterion for what is good and what is evil. How do my actions make me feel?

When I say something really mean or spiteful to another person, how do I truly feel? I might like to think that it made me feel good because I told that so and so how he/she really is, how rotten they are. But truthfully, deep inside, it makes me feel terrible and ashamed of myself and I want to go to that person immediately and apologize for saying such terrible things about them.

Or, on the other hand, how does it make is feel when we visit a really sick friend in the hospital and just sit there quietly for a long time holding their hand and praying for them because they can’t carry on a conversation? We all probably walk away from such an encounter feeling drained but peaceful and satisfied, fulfilled. And we know we did a good thing.

How I truly feel about what I say or do is a powerful indicator, at least for me, of what is good and what is evil. How is this for you as a criterion for what is right and what is wrong?

Fr. Howard

 


Friday of the Second Week of Easter, April 4, 2008 (John 6: 1-15)

Today’s Gospel begins chapter 6 of John’s Gospel. I call this chapter the Eucharistic chapter. A couple of weeks ago we commented that the Gospel of John is based on seven signs or miracles in which John seeks a deeper meaning than the common meaning of the love and power of Jesus sought by the other evangelists for these miracles.

The multiplication of the loaves at the beginning of this 6th chapter is the fourth of these signs. It shows us the love and concern Jesus has for us plus the fact that he himself is the food by which we live, the living bread. In verse 11 we read: “Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining , and also as much of the fish as they wanted.” The reference here to the Sacrament of the Eucharist is evident. Here Jesus fed the crowd’s physical need for food. In the Eucharist, he will feed and nourish our souls.

We have noted before that human beings are both physical and spiritual and both entities must be fed and nourished. No one has to remind us to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday. We are Johnny-on-the-spot for meal times. Why should it be different for the spiritual side of our person? But it is. We have to be reminded not to set this aside for the physical part of life. Unless we nourish the spiritual too we are incomplete and our work and other physical duties suffer too. To be whole is to be holy and to be holy is to pay attention to the spiritual side of our lives. Let us receive Eucharist often. Make it the important event in our lives. Everything else will be the better for it.

Fr. Howard

 


Saturday of the Second Week of Easter, April 5, 2008 (John 6: 16-21)

Jesus in today’s Gospel continues to show his love and concern for us. This is important for us to know. God could just have created us and then left us to shift for ourselves. But he did not abandon us. He is with us always by his own admission. Things are bad enough this way. What if he had just left us on our own?

Today’s Gospel tells of the disciples embarking in one of their boats to cross the sea of Galilee to Capernaum. A storm came up and the waves threatened to capsize the boat and drown them all. Then they saw Jesus walking on the waters and coming near the boat. They began to be afraid but Jesus told them, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” And just then the boat reached the shore safely.

Life is like this for all of us. At one time or another we all get into jams over our heads. We are afraid we are going to perish. But if we call out to the Lord, he will calm the stormy seas of life. We can rest comfortably on the shore in his company. Lord, thank you for your watchful eye. Please continue to care for us and protect us from all harm.

Fr. Howard

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