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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Easter Saturday

"It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard." Acts 4:19

When "ordinary" (Act 4:13) people begin to act in ways we don't expect, we look for easy explanations. Perhaps they have been prompted to speak by others, or maybe they have had an experience that will sustain them for a while, but will soon dissipate. That they may have been strengthened by the Holy Spirit is often the last possibility we consider. When we do this we risk ignoring God's work in those from whom we expect nothing, and that is exactly what happened to the Jewish leaders in the Acts of the Apostles.

Full of the Holy Spirit, the disciples of Jesus, despite being warned by the Sanhedrin not to speak about Jesus or claim to speak in his name, cannot be quiet, and because of this expose themselves to danger. In every way the disciples' actions are remarkable. Filled with fear just a few days before the death of Jesus, they are now able to speak and act in ways that demand attention. The Jewish leaders are alarmed and try to silence them, but nothing works.

Easter's promises often do this to us. Convinced finally that God will always be with us, our fear subsides and we find the courage to speak clearly about what God has done in us despite the consequences. The early martyrs, including all the apostles, Thomas Becket, Oscar Romero, Maximilian Kolbe, Edith Stein, Jean Donovan, Maura Clarke and thousands of others bear witness to this reality. When the good news of God's justice and freedom is threatened, especially for "ordinary" people and the poor, we must speak out and accept the consequences.

Today, ask God to free you from the fear that inhibits your ability to speak Good News.

Have you known someone who risked everything to live the gospel?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Easter Friday

Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We also will come with you." Jn 21:3

All the disciples, it seems, try to return to what they know after the death of Jesus. Whether they were discouraged, confused or upset is not clear. Today's gospel tells the story of Peter and his friends "going fishing." Though fishing for sport and relaxation were not really options in the ancient world, Peter's words remind me of times I've gone fishing to clear my mind, relax my spirit and day dream. I often tell people that I go fishing, not catching, not because I never catch a fish, but because sitting quietly on the at the edge of a stream or lake is one of the most relaxing things I can do. There is no evidence that Peter is doing this, but many people return to what they know soon after a difficult or dark time in their lives. We do anything to make life seem normal again, to let go of confusion and ground ourselves.

Whatever the case for Peter and his friends, when Jesus appears to them after they had spent the night catching nothing, he enters their lives again in the most ordinary of ways. He has a charcoal fire going on the shore and asks them to bring some of the fish to him so he can prepare breakfast. Then he gives them bread and fish and they cannot help but recognize him as the same Lord who took a few fish and loaves of bread and fed everyone who was hungry. Even though he has been raised up, he reminds his disciples that his mission is the same and so is theirs. They are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick and visit the imprisoned, but now they will be full of a new power, the realization that he has broken the bonds of death. They need not fear or be confused. Though their ordinary lives will be difficult, they will endure because he is with them. Is it any different for us?

Today, do the ordinary tasks of your life with purpose and hope.

When have you experienced God's presence in the everyday events of your life?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Easter Thursday

"In the same instant you died and were born again; the saving water was both your tomb and your mother." The Jerusalem Catecheses

At the beginning of the 4th century, the church was faced with a huge catechetical task. The Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, and thousands of Romans wanted to be baptized. Whether their motives were pure is beside the point. The church had to catechize adults in large numbers for the first time.

The sermons and instructions of St. Cyril of Jerusalem are a marvelous tool in this regard. Written for adults as a way to help them understand and enter the mystery of faith, they are full of evocative images and metaphors. Today, in the office of readings, Cyril reminds his students not to think of the death to which Baptism calls us as a tomb, but as a womb in which we are being readied for new life in Christ. By dying to that which keeps us from God and God's love by plunging into the waters of baptism, we break through the waters of death into new life in Christ.

As the church enters the 21st century, we have a similar task. How to help Christians make sense of the virtual world of the Internet, Twitter, Facebook and so much more, is the work of contemporary catechesis. While we know that the church espouses enduring values, unless they are articulated in a way that makes sense to the people of this generation, we will lose them to the glitter of the world.

Today, ask yourself what you are doing to understand your faith more deeply.

Who was your best catechist?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Easter Wedesday

"I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you." Acts 3:6

Easter is not just about receiving with joy the promise of eternal life. It is about giving it away. Peter's response to the man crippled from birth is a perfect example of this. Not worried about what he doesn't have, Peter gives what he does have, and this ought to be the model for every believer. Some have the financial ability to help others. Some have time to give. Others can pray, but all of us have to give something.

Several years before my mother died she wanted to talk about her living situation. It was a time similar to today. People were losing their jobs and homes and she was living in a home with two extra small bedrooms. Guilty about having so much while others were suffering, she wanted to know whether I thought she should offer the extra bedrooms to some homeless people. Stunned by her generosity, I also reacted strongly against the proposal. A woman of 80 living alone should not open her home to strangers, but what should she do? More important, what should we do, not just with our surplus, but with our substance.

Become Easter for others. Focus, like Peter, on what you do have, and give it away. Kindness costs nothing but means everything. Listening takes time, but lasts a lifetime. Compassion towards those who seem ungrateful is difficult, but is demanded by the gospel.

Today, think of your gifts and share them.

Has anyone ever stunned you with their kindness when you expected nothing?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Easter Tuesday

Jesus said to Mary, "Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father." Jn 20:17

It is natural for us to cling to what we know, especially when we are comfortable and secure. Parents know this in a particular way when they send a child to school for the first time. Not only is it difficult for them to let go, often their children also struggle to learn how to care for themselves in a new environment. Change, though necessary, involves risk, and without change, we will not meet new people or engage new situations.

Our bodies teach us this in dramatic ways. The cells lining our intestine replace themselves once a week, and even the long lasting cells of our pancreas replace themselves every year. If these cells do not replace themselves properly and adequately, we get sick. The same is true for our spirits.

Mary Magdalene was grieving, crying outside the tomb of Jesus. When the man she thought was a gardener called her by name, she knew it was the Lord, and naturally believed that everything would soon return to normal. Jesus was alive and with them and would continue to instruct them about God's love and their responsibilities, especially to the poor. But Jesus is clear with Mary, and with us. Don't cling to me. Don't cling to what you know well just because you are comfortable. Trust me and even more powerful things will be done in you and among us.

This is another of Easter's challenges. The more we understand how God wants to work in us, the more we will be anxious to follow him and change. Will Rogers said it succinctly, "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."

Today, ask God for the courage to let go of the comfortable in order to know him more intimately.

What are your positive experiences of change?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Monday

"Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed." Mt 28:8

An older translation of Matthew 28:8 told us that the two Mary's were "half overjoyed, half fearful,"  as they hurried away from the tomb. Like young people newly admitted to a prestigious college, the two women are full of hope and foreboding at the same time. Their dreams have been fulfilled and now they have to live them.

In fact, this is the challenge every Christian faces when the reality of the Resurrection dawns upon us. Even though there is no reason to be afraid, we tremble. Working harder at being a Christian is not the answer, because we cannot earn salvation. It is a pure gift. Asking to be more grateful each day for God's eternal love is the only appropriate response to the Resurrection, and for most of us it is easier to give than receive.

The purity and unconditional nature of God's gift to us in Jesus' resurrection is too much to absorb. We stand naked before God in our failure and sin, and God loves us more than ever. It is only when we turn away from God in shame that we lose sight of God's love. While God stands before us with open arms and heart inviting us to an eternal embrace, we lower our eyes in the self absorbed fear that our sin is bigger than God's love, and in the process, deny God's healing power.

Today, ask God to remove your fear so you can linger in gratitude.

Have you ever known anyone who took time to be grateful every day?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter

"They did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead." Jn 20:9

There is no more important feast in the church calendar than Easter. Today we celebrate the breaking down, the shattering of every barrier between us and God. At the beginning of his journey, Jesus was baptized and heard God's confirmation of his mission. In the middle of Lent Jesus shows himself to his apostles as the new Elijah and the new Moses. Startled, Peter, James and John hear the same voice Jesus heard at his baptism, but this time it is addressed to them. "This is my beloved son. Listen to him," and they do. Though it is difficult and often confusing, the memory of God's voice sustains them and they are able to continue to follow Jesus.

Now at Easter, there is no voice, but there is another Epiphany. The tomb is empty. Even death cannot withstand  the power of God, and although the disciples do not fully understand what has happened, they do have some hope. Perhaps the Lord has risen. Perhaps he will return to them in a form they remember. Perhaps he will go before them to prepare a place for them. They cannot be sure of any of this, but because the tomb is empty, it is all possible, and that is enough.No one can fully understand or appreciate the mystery of the Resurrection. It is beyond our ability to articulate, and our only response is a hopeful silence as we wait for the Lord to tell us more.

The Easter mystery happens every day when we pay attention to life as it unfolds. There are no words to express the gratitude we feel for life, for friends, for the church that walks with us on pilgrimage, and while the institution often loses its way and struggles to hold onto forms and places that no longer move people towards God, we should have no fear. This is life, and it is alright. Although it is often painful and confusing, it is life in God and holds the promise of life forever. This is God's Easter promise, and we will now celebrate for fifty days the mystery of God's unfathomable love. Despite our faults and fears, God cannot stop loving us and wanting to be with us.

Today, listen to the earth, enjoy its rhythm, celebrate its gifts.

Who has helped you appreciate life in the middle of death?