Second Sunday of Easter
My Dear Sisters and Brothers,
This Sunday, as we finish the Octave (eight days) solemnity of Easter and continue into the Easter season, we celebrate the gift of divine mercy. It’s easy to forget that mercy is not something to which we have a right. T he Lord has freely given it to us.
First of all, I want to summarize all the readings for this weekend.
In the first reading, we see the power of healing flowing from Peter and the faith of the people who sought him out. People are trying to fall under Peter’s shadow to be healed and The Risen Lord uses Peter to heal those who seek Him, just as those who seek forgiveness and healing through the sacraments draw close to our sacred ministers, knowing that it is Our Lord who heals and forgives through them.
In the second reading, the apostle John has a vision of Our Lord holding “the keys of Death and of Hades.” We need to keep in mind that his keys represent his authority: specifically, to bind and to lose. If we ask him to liberate us, he will, but we have to ask him. When you see sin as liberation, not imprisonment, you see the great gift of mercy. Therefore, our Lord’s mercy is the key to liberation from our sins.
And in the Gospel, we hear a story that when appearing to the disciples the Risen Lord gives them peace and reconciliation, not condemnation. The Risen Lord empowers his disciples to be instruments of his mercy. We should be aware that when a priest or bishop absolves his penitent from his/her sins, that mercy and power come from Jesus. All these means of healing and mercy are freely given gifts of Our Lord. Therefore we should come to receive them often. We would be fools not to seek them out.
Today is also Divine Mercy Sunday. Some of us may wonder “why is today Divine Mercy Sunday?” And here is a very short story of it. 22 years ago, on April 30, 2000, Pope St. John Paul II canonized a Polish nun, Saint Mary Faustina Kowalska, who had received the amazing revelations of the Divine from Christ.
During that ceremony, Pope St. John Paul II fulfilled one of the requests that Christ had made through those revelations: that the entire Church reserve the Second Sunday of the Easter Season to honour and commemorate God's infinite mercy. Where do we see this mercy revealed in today's readings?
We see it in the reaction Christ shows to those men, his chosen Apostles, who had abandoned him just two nights before. They had abandoned Jesus in his most difficult hour, but Jesus wasn't going to abandon them. He passes through the locked doors, passes through their fears, regret, and guilt, and appears to them. He brings them his peace. And he reaffirms his confidence in them by reaffirming their mission: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you".
We also see God's mercy in the Risen Lord's reaction to the men who had crucified him. He doesn’t crush them in revenge. Instead, he sends out his Apostles to tell them, and the whole sinful world, the world that had crucified its God, that they can be redeemed, that God has not condemned them: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you".
And then, just to make sure that the Church is fully armed to communicate this message, Jesus gives the ultimate revelation of God's mercy - he delegates to his Apostles his divine power to forgive sins: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
This is the explicit institution of the sacrament of confession, the sacrament in which the limitless ocean of God's mercy overwhelms the puny ocean of our misery.
My dear sisters and brothers, that was the ultimate revelation of the Divine Mercy. We celebrate the Divine Mercy, we acknowledge the Divine Mercy in us and we are asked to be the disciples of Divine Mercy in our lives.
Have a wonderful weekend and be happy in God’s mercy to you all. Peace be with you.
Fourth Sunday of Lent
My Dear Sisters and Brothers,
There are many lessons in the Gospel for this weekend. It is a parable, and it is important for us to recognize that the father in this story represents God, the older son represents the Pharisee, and the young one represents sinners.
The parable is primarily about the younger son who abandons his father and squanders his life in extreme self-indulgence and sensuality. He wants to enjoy his freedom according to his own will. He often thinks that his father condemns his freedom, not allowing him to do whatever he wants. He believes that he does not have enough freedom and this always bothers him.
The younger son had looked for joy in all the wrong places because he got tired of living under his father’s rule. He became self-centered, but that left him unfulfilled. Think about this as it is exactly what happens to us when we go looking for happiness in sin, in disobedience to God's will.
The older son also lost sight of his father's goodness. He let the routine of life embitter his heart. He forgot that his father was actually giving him everything. For all of us, sometimes, we do the same thing: on the outside we seem to be good Catholics, but on the inside we are angry and critical, because we're just going through the motions. We have let the fire go out of our friendship with Christ.
In the Gospel Jesus is giving us a portrait of God, who always takes the first step to bring us back into his friendship, no matter how far we may have strayed. This is also the story of the merciful father, because in a fallen world, mercy is God's main expression of love. That is the kind of joy in which the Gospel invites us to reflect and renew today.
Because God is all-knowing and loving, he knows us and loves us through and through as he pays attention to us. Just as the father does in this story, who does whatever he can for his two sons, God is always paying attention to us. He cannot stop thinking about each one of us.
Routine in our relationship with God is the obstacle to our experiencing Christian joy. Christian joy is precisely the thing that our heart hungers, because that is what it was made for - to be known and loved by God, through and through.
When we turn our attention to God, we see him paying attention to us, knowing and loving us, and that fills us with a joy that doesn't wear out.
Most of us don't always feel that joy. We have faith, and we believe God loves us. So why don't we experience Christian joy more deeply, more constantly? It is because we are falling into a routine in our relationship with God.
Today God’s message invites each one of us to renew our Christian joy. In order to do that you are called to refresh your friendship with Christ, because that is the source of Christian joy.
We also ask for forgiveness, and renew our commitment to be more faithful in the future. Since Christ's love for us is personal and total, even our small acts of unfaithfulness sadden him.
Whenever we ignore the teaching of his Church, whenever we ignore the voice of conscience, whenever we fail to forgive, whenever we fail to love our neighbour as our-self, we sadden our Christ, who only wants the best for us. We put distance between him and us. That distance prevents our experience of Christian joy.
My dear sisters and brothers, God always loves us, and pays attention to us. Keep this in mind, and live this in the light of Christian joy.
Again we will continue to pray for the end of war in Ukraine. Enjoy warm weather and have a nice week. May God bless you all.
First Sunday of Lent
My Dear Sisters and Brothers,
This weekend we celebrate the First Sunday of Lent. Now we will accompany Jesus in his fight with the devil and his encounter with God, as we are on a 40-day journey of praying, fasting and giving alms.
First of all, we should be aware that what Jesus passed on, in all his three temptations, was no playacting. It was real, it was true. The temptations of Jesus are the temptations of us all: to live for material things alone, to seek one’s own glory rather than God’s glory, and to abandon the worship of God for the worship of worldly power and fame. But we also should remember that God is with us in all our struggles, helping us to overcome them. I invite you to reflect on Jesus’ lessons through his temptations in the wilderness.
The first temptation was to turn stones into bread. The word “bread” can mean material things in general. This was the temptation to give people what they want rather than to give them what they need. We see the comfort or seeking in this one. Jesus has been fasting for 40 days. He’s probably a little bit hungry and the devil tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread, putting his comfort ahead of the Father’s will. Food is good, but it will not fill our hearts.
The second temptation was to set up a political kingdom to resort to power rather than to love. People are always tempted to replace love by power. It is easier to control others than to love them, easier to dominate people than to become their servant. We see pride in this one. The devil takes Jesus to a mountaintop and shows him the whole world, saying I’ll give you all of this, if you bow down and worship me. Success is good, but it won’t fill our hearts.
And the third temptation was doing something amazing in order to elicit faith.
We see vanity in this one. The devil suggested that Jesus throw himself off of the temple, because the angels will save him. The respect of others is good, but it won’t fill our hearts.
All three temptations come down to the same thing in the end: to put material things and his own glory first and spiritual things and God second, if at all.
Temptation is truly present with us. From morning until the end of day, we are challenged, faced with it. Remember in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to say: “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”
Jesus shows us how to respond to the temptations. He does this by proposing three ways to put something else before God. And what’s Jesus’ response to all this? I know these things can make me happy but I will choose my Father’s will above everything else. He shows us how to put God first.
Now I would give you some suggestions of practical ways to experience the peace that comes from putting God first. Lent is 40 days long, the same amount of time that Jesus fasted and prayed in the desert. What about trying one of these time-tested ways over the next 40 days?
Mass: Coming to Mass is the ultimate way to put God first in our lives. Through the celebration we receive Christ in the Eucharist, and give public witness to our faith. Therefore, in addition to Sunday Mass, consider coming to daily Mass a couple times during the week this Lent. Why not?
Visiting Christ in the Eucharist: Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mt 11.28) He cares about us so much that he is always here waiting for us. He wants to spend time with us. He puts us first. Can we spend half an hour each week with Jesus in the Eucharist? Why not? It will change our lives.
Daily Prayer: We come to know God in prayer. Perhaps you could dedicate 15 minutes a day in silent prayer. You could use the Bible or a prayer book. Prayer is not complicated. You can pray anywhere; what’s important is that you stick with it every day.
Fasting: Can you say: I could restrict my internet use and dedicate that time to be with my family or to reach out to someone who is lonely. I could look to build others up in my speech instead of tearing them down.