Fr. Alex’s Corner, April 22, 2018
THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY
“I am the Good Shepherd, says the Lord.
I know my sheep and my sheep know me.”
When Jesus said that, His listeners understood. If they had no flocks of their own, they saw them all over. They knew the responsibilities of a good shepherd. Added to that was the use of lambs for religious sacrifice, so they had to be cared for….
Some years ago I was visiting my brother, Jack, who had sheep on his farm. I thought it might be cool to have a picture as a good shepherd (to show off to my parishioners!). So I put on my Franciscan Habit, Jack gave me an authentic shepherd’s staff, and brought me to the flock. “Just keep your mouth shut,” my baby-bro said, “and let me take care of this.” He had the flock surround me while he “talked” to them. He got the cutest little lamb for me to hold gently in my arms. (I’ll tell you, this picture would have made Jesus jealous!) As Jack started snapping the photos, the little lamb started leaking! And I started yelling! And the sheep started running! And the lamb was struggling - and still leaking! We managed to get one good photo, but the rest of the photo-shoot recorded a dusty stampede away from this fake shepherd.
When things calmed down, my brother simply said: “Remember what Jesus said about the sheep knowing the shepherd’s voice? And how they run from the stranger? Had you kept quiet, the sheep would have stayed because they knew my voice.” I tried to defend myself, but I knew he was right. But that little leaky lamb…. It took several washes to get the smell out of my Habit…!
What needs to be said, my friends, is that sheep are not the smartest of creatures. They are cute, but they need to be watched or they will get into a heap of trouble. A good shepherd needs to be on guard. Jesus knows that we are like sheep. We need guidance; we need protection; we need a good shepherd’s care. And He is that Good Shepherd. Most Christians love the picture of Jesus with a little lamb in his arms. (In those pictures the lamb is on his best behavior! No leaking allowed!)
This particular Sunday is a time to ask God to send good shepherds to tend His flock, and to pray for vocations to the priesthood. There is concern these days that we will not have enough priests to take care of the spiritual needs of our people. (This is not limited to our Catholic faith communities. It is a problem in other denominations, too.)
Many of us remember when our seminaries were filled. When I served in our formation programs, we always had fifty to sixty students in the nine-year preparation program just for our province. There were five Franciscan provinces in the U.S. Now, we have four provinces, and not near fifty students for all four provinces. That situation is reflected throughout our country in both diocesan and religious communities. Some say that for every priest we ordain, we have buried four. That, of course, effects how we staff our parishes. One diocese in which we Friars serve now offers ONE priest to serve THREE distinct parishes. People get upset when parishes are closed or merged, but have they considered when the last member of their parish entered a seminary? There is a connection.
So, my friends, on this Good Shepherd Sunday, please offer a prayer for more vocations to the priesthood and Church ministry. This is an issue that affects each of us. AND PLEASE, PRAY FOR YOUR PRIESTS. THEY NEED YOUR SUPPORT AND YOUR HELP, TOO.
May Jesus, our Good Shepherd, grant you His gift of EASTER PEACE.
Because I will be away from the Novitiate Friary for two weeks, THERE WILL BE NO BLOG PUBLISHED NEXT WEEK. Please pray for the Franciscan Friars as we hold our quadrennial Provincial Chapters. God bless…..
Fr. Alex’s Corner, April 15, 2018
THE THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER
“WERE NOT OUR HEARTS BURNING WITHIN US
WHILE HE SPOKE TO US ON THE WAY
AND OPENED THE SCRIPTURES TO US?”
For many of us, Easter is long-past. The lilies don’t last as long as Christmas poinsettias, and so we are on our way to Mother’s Day and the summer. But for 50 days the Church talks about the Resurrection of Christ and how the apostolic community came to believe the unbelievable. Even apart from the theology, the Church is determined to teach what this is all about. It is good for us to listen.
The apostles struggled to believe what happened. Why? Because it was “unbelievable.” How many wakes and funerals have YOU attended where, three days later, the dead one visits family and friends and shows his/her surgical scars? That does NOT happen! One reason WE may believe this about Jesus is that we don’t give it too much thought. But we must…. We must.
Today’s Gospel tells of the two disciples who met Jesus (unaware who it was) on their way home after that awful weekend in Jerusalem. If you don’t remember the story, may I suggest you read it with attention to the details (Luke 24: 13-35). In today’s Reading, they run back to tell the apostles what happened “on the way.”
As the two disciples walked home they were very despondent, grieved, disappointed, and stunned at what they had witnessed. They put a lot of faith and hope in Jesus, thinking He was the promised Savior of Israel, and it all ended so violently and abruptly. Did they place their trust in a dream – or perhaps even a fraud? When “the Stranger” approached and asked why they were so distressed, they told him. Why didn’t they recognize Jesus? Well, that’s our first important lesson: grief, hurt, and anger often blind us to the goodness around us – and even to God around us. We see all this bad stuff with our very human eyes and understanding.
The Stranger – Jesus – then begins to re-tell the story – the one they know all too well – but from God’s viewpoint. It sounds different. Now they can “see” what this was all about. Honest conversation with God (prayer) can do that. God was using human events to unfold His divine plan.
Later, these two would remark how their “hearts were burning” as The Stranger “opened the Scriptures” to them. No, that wasn’t heartburn. It was the fire of God’s Word and Spirit that burned off and away their fears and frustrations.
That’s what I’d like you to think about today. So many things cause us distress and grief. How often have YOU said that the media only reports the bad stuff? There seems to be little, if any, good news these days. Pain, crime, and violence surround us. It’s true. The media thrives on conflict. It reports the news through the lens of human eyes and understanding.
If we allow Jesus to walk “on the way” with us, He can show us more. Good things are happening in our midst. Look for it. Think about it. Talk about it. Human suffering is no joke. It stinks and it stings.
But when we welcome Jesus, who overcame death, to walk “on the way” with us, He can help us see things differently, through God’s eyes. He will tell us that suffering is real, but so is God’s healing. Sin is real, but so is God’s forgiveness. Things may disturb us, but they needn’t destroy us.
Jesus was painfully nailed to a Cross. That hurt. It killed Him. But we have a God who couldn’t stay dead. NEITHER SHOULD WE!
Unbelievable? Well, so was what happened on that Easter Sunday. It can happen again. It will. Speak to Jesus in prayer about your life and your concerns. He will help you see things differently. Recognize Him in “the breaking of the Bread.” He will bring you the gift of PEACE like He did to the Apostles on that first Easter Sunday. Our world hasn’t been the same since. Neither will yours!
Fr. Alex’s Corner, April 8, 2018
DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY
“JESUS, I TRUST IN YOU!”
“JESUS, I TRUST IN YOU!”
The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) tell the story over and over again: no matter how God’s people have been unfaithful to their Covenant with God, God always remained faithful to His Covenant with His people. That is fundamental to the Scripture message proclaimed by the prophets and proven by God’s miraculous interventions. It is the basis of God’s promise to send a Messiah who will, once and for all, proclaim God’s love for His people. Divine Mercy will triumph.
The Old and New Testaments record how we tend to misunderstand God’s message, and try to create and re-create our own images of God and what He is doing in our midst. That is the real “Original Sin” and the origin of sin: we think we know better than God and we fall flat on our faces! One would think that a frustrated God would forget about us, destroy us once and for all, and turn everything over to the Orangutans (or whoever’s next in line!).
During the world wars of the early 20th Century, when Man’s Inhumanity to Man was most palpable and notable, when millions of people were killed, annihilated, weapons of mass destruction not only invented but used, one would think that God would say: “Enough is enough! I tried!”
Yet, while all that was happening, Jesus Christ was appearing to a nun in an otherwise unknown Polish convent proclaiming, once again, His Divine Mercy. We know it well. Most Catholic churches today show that familiar image of Jesus, red and white rays streaming from His Sacred Heart, His wounds very visible, with the words “Jesus, I Trust in You.” That is how Jesus appeared to St. Mary Faustina Kowalska and asked that this image and message be shared with the world. While world-wide sin was as mortal as mortal could be, God was once again declaring His Covenant of Divine Mercy.
Oh, it was not the first time. On the Cross, Jesus took a “time-out” from his suffering and pain for a conversation with a fellow-condemned criminal who admitted his sins. Jesus promised him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). That’s about as “Divine Mercy” as mercy can be.
And so it continues.
There is a story of a young man who left home to do his thing. His “thing” got him into trouble, a fatal illness, loneliness and despair. He wondered if he could return home. He called his Dad, told him the story, and Dad said, “Son, come home.” The young man wondered if that could happen, and he called again, telling his Father that he will return, but he understands if they don’t want him in the house. He’d give them a “heads up” when he got close, and asked that they place a light, or candle, in the front window to indicate that, yes, he was welcome. “If there is no light, I’ll understand and just move on.” He hitchhiked home and told the truck driver who picked him up his story and about the light-in-the-window sign. The driver offered to drive him home. When they got to the street, the anxious young man closed his eyes and told the driver, “just tell me if a light is there. If not, let’s just keep going.” The driver slowed down when he got to the house. “Is there a light, “the young man asked. “I think you should open your eyes and see for yourself.” He did. What he saw was a house with a light in every single window, the whole house framed in lights as was the tree on the front lawn. Message clear?
My friends, that’s how our Father-God welcomes us, sinners though we may be. He sent His Son to be Light in our darkness. Don’t walk in the dark. Come to the Lord with your hurts, your pains, yes, even your sins. Put your trust in Jesus. He loves you more than you can imagine. And share the story of God’s love and mercy with the world that so desperately needs to hear the message.
“JESUS, I TRUST IN YOU!”
Fr. Alex’s Corner, April 1, 2018
CHRIST IS RISEN, ALLELUIA!
HE IS TRULY RISEN, ALLELUIA!
Oh, what a wonderful Feast it is! Easter was the only “feast” celebrated in the early Church. Every single Sunday of the year was an Easter celebration, even as Jewish converts began to move their “Holy Day,” or, “the Lord’s Day” from the Sabbath (Saturday) to the Day of Jesus’ Resurrection.
Christian communities developed their own unique Easter traditions. My first pastoral assignment had many recent Polish immigrants, so we did ALL the Polish Easter things. For some, the “Easter moment” is the early morning Easter Sunday procession. A Polish priest did the honors, but I would open the church about 5 a.m., and prepare things. The tradition was to go to the grave shrine where a statue of the dead Christ rests in a tomb, proclaim the Resurrection Gospel, cover the statue with a white cloth (like He is not here anymore!), sing the first Alleluia’s, and begin a triumphal procession. Everyone processes around the church three times, singing. Children carry lilies. It is TRIUMPHAL! It is awesome! It is EASTER!
When the Holy Saturday evening Vigil became the Easter moment, it stole the thunder from the morning celebration. We always removed the dead Jesus statue from the tomb after the Easter Vigil.
And that’s the setting for my Easter morning story. I opened the church and sat there quietly watching people come in. Three women, exquisitely dressed, bejeweled, and coiffed, walked to the tomb, expecting to see and mourn the dead Jesus. When they got to the tomb and found it empty, they were horrified. “Juz go zabrali,” (“Already they moved Him,”) they cried. The “they” being us renegade priests….. I sat quietly because if they recognized me, the tomb might not remain empty! They were very disappointed and upset, and high-heels clicking, they stormed out of the church.
I thought it was funny (with due respect), because that is exactly the Gospel story: three women go to Jesus’ tomb early Sunday morning, find it empty, and so begin all the rumors and frantic events of that first Easter Sunday.
I know it wasn’t very nice, but I related the story to the other priests, and each of us used that story to begin our homilies on that Easter Sunday. We may have dramatized a bit, and by Tuesday one of the ladies called, not very happy that their Easter morning drama was the talk of the town.
But, my friends, that was the story! Even though Jesus had so often predicted his death - and rising - no one really expected it to happen. How do you come to believe the unbelievable!
Liturgically, our celebration of Easter will continue for fifty days, time for many reflections on what the Resurrection of Christ really means for Him – AND FOR US! Today, let us enter the company of the Gospel characters on that first Easter day.
The women reckoned that someone had taken away the body of Jesus. They wanted to know who, where, and why. Some saw “angels” who said He had risen. Mary Magdalen thought He was the gardener. Peter and John ran to the tomb upon the reports from the women. The soldier-guards had to report and answer for – WHAT?!? And, Mary, the Mother of Jesus…. A long time ago she was assured that “Nothing is impossible for God.” Might that include “the UNBELIEVABLE?”
Jesus visits and tells everyone to calm down. “PEACE be with you!”
My friends, on this Easter Sunday, come to Jesus. Touch the Cross and give Him your hurts, your angers and fears, and, yes, even your sins. Let them die with Him. But on this Easter day, rise with Jesus to a new and PEACE-filled life. Can He do that? Can Jesus do the UNBELIEVABLE?
HE JUST DID! He does it all the time.
On behalf of all our Franciscans, HAPPY EASTER.
May Jesus fill you with Easter PEACE! ALLELUIA!