Sunday, April 23, 2017

Homily – 2nd Sunday of Easter - Divine Mercy

Acts 2:42-47
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

          Isn’t it true?  Don’t we all need to see signs of God’s Divine Mercy to help us with our doubts?  There’s a little Doubting Thomas in all of us.   
          And we usually need hindsight to see these signs and wonders of God’s Divine Mercy. 
          One such sign started to unfold on June 2nd, 1979.  Anyone remember the significance of that date?
           No, it wasn’t the Seattle Supersonics winning a national championship – although that happened the night before.  In fact, it’s probably the reason many of us here in the Northwest don’t remember the events of June 2nd, 1979.
           On June 2, 1979, newly elevated Polish Archbishop Karol Wojtyla returned to his homeland for the first time as Pope John Paul II. 
           As he spoke his homily at Victory Square in Old Town Warsaw, the crowd began a chant that would eventually be heard around the world. The Polish people were living under Soviet oppression and they started to shout, “We want God. We want God. We want God.” 
          That moment and Papal visit uplifted a nation’s spirit and sparked the formation of the Solidarity movement a few months later. The Solidarity movement eventually blossomed into freedom in Poland and later spread throughout the Eastern Block.
          Historians point to that moment as the day the Berlin Wall began to crumble. Soviet Communism would cease to exist a decade later when the Berlin Wall was knocked down, piece by piece, in a joyous celebration of humanity’s triumph over oppression and tyranny.
This is one of those pieces of the Berlin Wall (hold up piece of Berlin Wall). 
          You want a tangible sign of God’s Divine Mercy in our lifetime? It’s this little piece of a great wall that was used to crush human dignity.
         God’s Divine Mercy gives us the strength to stand together against evil and oppression, and overcome even the darkest forces in the world – even our doubts. 
          But sometimes our faith is like gold that needs to be tested by fire. We heard about that in today’s second reading. Only when our faith is tested by fire can the light of the Resurrection shine through in our lives. 
           In Christmas 1981, as a show of solidarity to the people of Poland, many families lit a candle and placed it in the windows of their homes.
          President Reagan had asked all Americans to do this during his annual Christmas address. It was our country’s way of showing spiritual unity with people struggling for freedom in Poland.
          At that same moment, a young Pole named Mirek Sztajno was working toward his PhD in Astrophysics and courting a young nurse who would later become his wife, Anna. The two were both caught up in the Solidarity movement and for the first time felt hope for the future. But their faith would be tested by fire, too.   
          Mirek and Anna’s first child, son Michael, was born just a few weeks after the communist government imposed the “Marshall Law” in Poland in 1982.
          Mirek says it was a very difficult time for the family and something they will never forget.
          They could not buy anything since the shops were completely empty and they urgently needed powdered milk for Michael since Anna could not produce enough. Desperate, they went to a nearby parish to ask for help.
          Without any check or extra questioning the nun who ran the food bank gave the family powdered milk. The milk was found in relief supplies sent by the U.S.
          It was a very difficult moment for Anna and Mirek, but God’s Divine Mercy was a light shining in the darkness.
          For five long years, I had the honor of sitting next to Dcn. Mirek Sztajno during our deacon formation weekends.
          Why do I bring up Poland, Solidarity and my Polish friend Dcn. Mirek?  
          Today we celebrate the solemnity Divine Mercy Sunday, inspired by another Pole Faustina Kowalska, a nun of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy.
          In the 1930s, just before World War Two, Sr. Faustina had visions, visitations and shared conversations with Jesus.  He asked her to create what is now called the Divine Mercy Chaplet and to paint the vision of His Merciful Divinity being poured out from his sacred heart (the picture you see here). 
          Problem was she didn’t know how to paint. It took her three years to find someone who would paint this image under her direction.
          Sr. Faustina wrote in her diary that Jesus told her He wanted the Divine Mercy image to be “solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter; that Sunday is to be the Feast of Mercy.”
          Jesus said to Sister Faustina: "Humanity will never find peace until it turns with trust to Divine Mercy."
          Jesus promised Sr. Faustina if you’ve gone to confession recently and take communion on Divine Mercy Sunday “complete forgiveness of sins” will be your reward. In other words, a soul is granted freedom from the oppression of sin and darkness by the light of Christ’s Divine Mercy. 
          The human spirit doesn’t function well when it’s oppressed.  Just ask the people of Poland who endured over 40 years of Soviet oppression.  
          Sister Faustina died at the age of 33 in October 1938 and is buried in what is now known as the Basilica of Divine Mercy in Krakow, Poland. 
          Pope John Paul II instituted Divine Mercy Sunday as an annual liturgical celebration in the year 2000, and at the same time he canonized St. Faustina.
          I’m sure some of you remember what happened three years ago this weekend? 
          Pope John Paul II was made Saint John Paul the Great by Pope Francis on Divine Mercy Sunday. Interestingly enough, this famous Polish pope and saint died on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005.
          The Polish Pontiff made it his mission to see that those living under tyranny, oppression, and doubt experienced the freedom and peace that can only come from Christ’s Divine Mercy.
          So, if you’re experiencing doubt, you’re in good company this weekend.  
          Jesus calls us all to experience His Divine Mercy, to see it alive in our lives.  And let His Divine Mercy banish all doubt, all fear, all oppression, all darkness, and all guilt from our very souls. 

          Then and only then will His words “Peace be with you” ring true in our hearts.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Homily – Holy Thursday 2017 – Pilate’s Wife

Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
1 Corinthians 11:23- 26
John 13-1-15

(Indulge me if you would. Please close your eyes and daydream with me for a moment…)
Think back to the ancient world. 
Think back to Jesus Christ’s final night on earth. 
Think back to the model He was setting for us all in this simple act of service found on Holy Thursday, the washing of the feet. This simple act still echoes two-thousand years later. 
At the time of Jesus, nobility was to be served. They lived in grand palaces and had minions to take care of their every whim and need.
Then along comes Jesus, a homeless man who spends his entire ministry serving the needs of others instead of being served himself.
It was a model of behavior that afflicted the comfortable and comforted the afflicted.
This model was a threat to Jewish nobility. This model was a threat to Rome. This model is still a threat to some people of affluence and power today. (You can now open your eyes.)   
Now at the exact time Jesus was teaching his disciples about the sacredness of servant leadership, the wife of Pontius Pilate was having a troublesome, fitful sleep.  She was being haunted in a dream by Jesus.
Historians say her name was Claudia Procula. Greek scholar and early Christian theologian Origen was the first to mention that Claudia may have converted to Christianity.  In fact, in the Eastern Orthodox Church and Ethiopian Orthodox Church, she is known as St. Claudia.
We heard about her in last weekend’s Passion narrative found only in Matthew’s Gospel.
Remember this passage,
While he was still seated on the bench, his wife sent him a message, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man. I suffered much in a dream (last night) because of him.”
Some may have a vivid image of Claudia from the movie The Passion of the Christ.  In it she is seen pleading with her husband Pontius Pilate to leave this innocent, holy man alone. When she realizes her failure to prevent Christ’s crucifixion, we see her, in an act of service, tearfully giving the mother of Jesus towels to clean up the blood of her Son's scourging and consoling her and Mary Magdalene. 
I read an interesting perspective on Claudia by Catholic philosopher Dr. Taylor Marshall who runs the New Saint Thomas Institute.
            In an examination of the tradition of Pontius Pilate’s wife, he found something remarkable, something astounding.
           He said “there is a ‘tradition’ that Pontius Pilate’s wife Claudia Procula had a dream of billions of people chanting ‘sub Pontio Pilato’ over and over and over.”
            Anyone remember their Latin? 
What’s the meaning of the word “sub?” 
(That’s right.) The word means “under” – thus in her dream she was hearing billions of people chanting “under Pontius Pilate.”
             Now think about that for a moment. 
How many Catholics exist on the planet today?   Estimates now place the number at almost 1.3 billion.  There are another 300 million Orthodox Christians in the world today.  Add to that all the Catholics and Orthodox Christians who have come before us.  Billions!
            Billions of people chanting “under Pontius Pilate.”
            Starting to see what Dr. Marshall is seeing?  Or better yet hear what Dr. Marshall is hearing?
            In both the Nicene Creed and Apostles Creed there is the same line:  “under Pontius Pilate.” 
Dr. Marshall contends “What (Claudia) was hearing (in her dream) was the billions of Christians who recite ‘He was crucified (or suffered) under Pontius Pilate’” in the two Creeds chanted each week by Catholics and Orthodox Christians around the world. 
Dr. Marshall thinks, “Most women would be honored to know that their husband’s name would be on the lips of billions over a period of 20 centuries. But in the case of this Prefect of Judaea, it is the notorious reputation of being the … cause of Christ’s crucifixion” that haunted her sleep and eventually may have converted her to living a Christian life.
As Dr. Marshall reminds us “Pontius Pilate’s name is in the Creeds because it anchors the life of Christ into human history, specifically Roman history.”
So what does all of this have to do with Holy Thursday?
Good question.

As we heard in the first reading from Exodus, the Passover lamb was slaughtered so its blood could be spread over the doorposts of believers so they might be saved and live. 
As we know Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. His body and His blood are what save us and bring us new life. The Eucharist is what keeps our faith alive today. 
Our Eucharistic feast was instituted on this very night 19-hundred-84 years ago.
St. Paul reminds us,
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”
As we know, when we take Christ we are called to become Christ, serving the needs of others instead of serving ourselves, loving others as much as we love ourselves, just as Jesus commanded at the Last Supper.

The dream was a wake-up call for Claudia.  A wake-up call that all human privilege, prestige and honor are false constructs in the eyes of God.
That Jesus’ own example of privilege, prestige and honor turns the ancient world’s thoughts of nobility on their head. 
A true leader serves his people first. A true leader sacrifices for others (even his own life). A true leader washes the feet of others.

Peter had a hard time with this concept of servant leadership. As the kids would say today, he’s not getting what Jesus is “putting down.”
Jesus understood how hard it is for some of us to wrap our heads around the idea.
What I am doing, you do not understand now,
but you will understand later."
Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet."
Jesus answered him, 
"Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me."
As we read in Matthew’s Gospel:
“The Son of Man did not come to  be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
This powerful act of service and self-sacrifice are at the epicenter of the Gospel message. They served as a wake-up call for the pampered and privileged Claudia.   

Jesus hopes they serve as a wake-up call for all of us as well.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Homily–5th Sunday of Lent–“Fear of the Lord”

Matthew 21:1-11
Isaiah 50:4-7
Philippians 2:62
Matthew 26:14-27:66
What emotion do we fear the most?  
What one human emotion terrifies most people?
According to the research of Dr. Brenè Brown of Ted-X fame the most feared emotion in today’s culture is grief.  We fear grief more than anything else.

          Fear of grief isn’t just the grief we experience over the death of a loved one or friend, it’s also the grief we experience over the death of a part of ourselves that may be holding us back spiritually.

Dr. Brown says the fear of grief is the reason why forgiveness of others is so hard. 
When we live into the truth of Jesus, we come to understand that in order for forgiveness to happen something has to die.
Our pride has to die. Our self-righteousness has to die. Our anger with others has to die. Our expectations of a loved one or a friend have to die.  Our pain has to die. 

What’s that old saying, “Not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” 

Human transformation comes from looking our grief directly in the eye and becoming transformed by it.  But as we know from personal experience, dealing with grief is no easy task. 
In today’s long Gospel reading of the death of Christ, we see two ways of dealing with grief.  One way is to run away. The other way is to face the grief head on.
Notice how Mary Magdalene and the other Marys (and we know from other Gospels this includes the Virgin Mary), notice how these Marys follow Jesus to the foot of the cross, experiencing every grief-stricken moment?  The Apostle John was also there.
The only fear these disciples have is fear of the Lord, one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.  
Fear of the Lord is what the Prophet Isaiah called the “Lord’s delight.”
“Fear of the Lord” refers to a sense of awe, respect, and submission to God. Our actions in this life become holy because of it. 
These Marys and John don’t fear grief (or run away from it), they bravely accept the grief of this life-shattering moment. Perhaps they were heeding Jesus’ lesson of patient suffering. Perhaps they believed in Jesus’ promise of something better to come. Perhaps they hoped death would not end the story.
Pope St. Gregory the Great reminds us of what Proverbs says about fear of the Lord -- that it is the beginning of knowledge. 
“Through the fear of the Lord, we rise to piety, from piety then to knowledge, from knowledge we derive (fortitude), from (fortitude) counsel, with counsel we move toward understanding, and with (understanding) toward wisdom and thus, by the sevenfold grace of the (Holy) Spirit, there opens to us at the end of the ascent the entrance to the life of Heaven” 
But all these gifts would not come to us without the mercy of God at play in our lives. 
Author and Seattle homeless street chaplain Reverend Craig Rennebohm wrote these powerful words about the healing gift of God’s mercy:
“Mercy is a primary gift of the spirit. Mercy nurtures reconciliation and renewal in our lives. Mercy touches the hurt in our lives. Mercy reaches out and embraces our feelings of shame and embarrassment. Mercy acknowledges our grief and our guilt. Mercy tempers judgment with wisdom and understanding. Mercy expresses the love of God, gentle beyond all measure and yet of such strength that nothing can separate us or negate our lives and worth. Mercy flows from the compassion of God. God’s heart is touched by our struggles, more deeply than we can imagine. God feels our every pain, suffers with us, and holds our lives as treasured. In God’s care our souls have eternal value.”   
So as we enter Holy Week, may we face the death of Jesus by looking at it square in the eye. May we feel the grief of that moment.
May we embrace the reality of “Fear of the Lord” in our own lives and grow in our expectation of what beautiful, wondrous things are to come.  May we grow in piety, knowledge, fortitude, counsel, understanding, wisdom and fear of the Lord. May these gifts of the Holy Spirit transform our lives as we approach the suffering and anguish of Holy Thursday, the pain and shame of the crucifixion on Good Friday and the joy and glory of Christ’s resurrection this Easter.
And may the mercy of God transform us and bring us new life.