Feeling mercy changes everything

powerleveling.us –


Pope Francis has frequently told a story which he says was the source of his vocation and spirituality. When he was a young man of 17, he was heading to the train in Buenos Aires one day for his school’s annual picnic and thinking of proposing to his girlfriend there. But, as he passed by the local church, he decided to stop in to say a prayer. There he met a young, friendly priest and decided to go to confession. Something happened in that confession which Pope Francis describes as an encounter with God who had been waiting for him. In that encounter he experienced unmistakably and powerfully the mercy of God for him and for all people. He knew from that experience that the only meaning his life could have would be to show everyone the mercy of God. In that moment, He felt converted. He felt called and he discovered a special vocation of mercy. He did not go to the train or the picnic that day. He did not propose to his girlfriend. His life and its course was completely changed in that moment. And, he tells us that because of that experience of mercy more than 60 years ago he adopted the motto as archbishop, cardinal, and pope “miserando atque eligendo” which is translated “having been shown mercy and chosen to show mercy.”

Today, as you may know, brings to a conclusion the Jubilee Year of Mercy called for by Pope Francis throughout the world. What an extraordinary experience this year has been, and what a reminder of how much we need more mercy in our lives and in our world. Even though the Year of Mercy is ending, God’s gift of mercy to us and our call to be merciful to others is never ending. It is the very heart of our Christian way of life.

The Pope said last year in one of his Angelus messages devoted to the topic of mercy, “I think we are the people who, on the one hand, want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, at times, like to condemn others. And Jesus has this message for us: mercy. I think — and I say it with humility — that this is the Lord’s most powerful message: mercy.”

Extending mercy begins with realizing that we are first recipients of mercy from God. The Pope said, “It is not easy to entrust oneself to God’s mercy, because it is deep beyond our comprehension. But we must! We might say, ‘Oh, I am a great sinner!’ All the better! Go to Jesus: He likes you to tell him these things! He forgets, He has a very special capacity for forgetting. Brothers and Sisters, God’s face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. That is His mercy. He always has patience with us, He understands us, He waits for us, He does not tire of forgiving us. ‘Great is God’s mercy.’”

The wellspring of God’s mercy for us is deep beyond our imagination. But, God wants us to live by showing that same mercy to others. Mercy is our common call, it is our vocation as followers of Christ. As recipients of mercy from God, we have plenty of mercy to offer to others. So, where do we need to show more mercy in our lives? Who do we encounter on a regular basis that we encounter with judgment who could instead be greeted with mercy? After all, they are no different than us – they are simply people in need of an encounter with a good and loving God that they meet through good, loving and merciful people like you and like me.

Pope Francis said, “In the past few days I have been reading a book that said that ‘feeling mercy changes everything’. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly the mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient. Let us remember the Prophet Isaiah who says that even if our sins were scarlet, God’s love would make them white as snow. This mercy is beautiful.”

Feeling mercy changes everything. When we let God’s mercy change us – like it changed Pope Francis as a young man – and when we show that mercy to others, it will have the power to transform them too; to change them; to move them into a new way of being and interacting. Receiving mercy when they were expecting judgment opens people to new possibilities that include forgiveness and healing; possibilities that include the healing power of God in their lives. And couldn’t our world use more of this mercy, love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness and healing? Especially now?

Pope Francis said just today, “We live at a time in which polarization and exclusion are considered the only way to resolve conflicts. We see how quickly those among us who are a stranger, an immigrant, or a refugee, become a threat, take on the status of an enemy. An enemy because they come from a distant country or have different customs. An enemy because of the color of their skin, their language or their social class. An enemy because they think differently or have a different faith. Little by little, our differences turn into symptoms of hostility, threats and violence. We are not immune from this and we need to take care lest such attitudes find a place in our hearts, because this would be contrary to the richness and universality of the Church. None of this makes us enemies; instead, it is one of our greatest riches. Dear brothers and sisters, Jesus constantly desires to enter the crossroads of our history to proclaim the Gospel of Mercy. Jesus continues to call us and to send us where our people dwell. He continues to invite us to spend our lives sustaining our people in hope, so that they can be signs of reconciliation.”

Let us be grateful today for the gift of this Year of Mercy, but let us also pledge to be more aware of the mercy God extends to us, and our call to be the very presence of God’s mercy in our world. This Year of Mercy has been a special time for the Church; hopefully a time when the merciful witness of believers – of you and me – might grow stronger and more effective. My friends, feeling mercy changes everything. And, offering mercy changes everything. Couldn’t we all use a little more mercy in our lives? Couldn’t we all extend a little more mercy in our lives?

May the Lord give you peace.


powerleveling.us –

NOTE: This makes some really great points, some similar to my Sunday homily. Worth reading as we head into this new era after today. – FT
By Jana Bennett
In 2012, I suggested a list of five things Catholics should learn from this election season (see it here) – given the weirdness and uniqueness of the current election season, I’m offering my new, revised list:
1.Don’t underestimate the power of evil. This was number five on my 2012 list. It probably should have been #1 then, too, but it’s gotten to a whole new level this year. I cannot quite grasp how people think it’s okay to be mean to each other (“deplorables” and “nasty woman” and pussies and all the rest of it). I want to know how racism disguised as “making sure all the votes are legitimate” isn’t just, well, the intrinsically evil sin of racism.  I can’t think how Fr. Pavone thinks putting a second trimester aborted baby on display during a Eucharist is anything other than evil.
2. Don’t underestimate the power of legitimizing evil by explaining it away. All of the evil things above, and more, have had some version of the following response: “Yes, but if you don’t vote this way, the world will end.” Well, the world will end some day anyway – and no one’s perfect, but we’ve been treating the candidates as though one, or the other, could be perfection incarnate (sure idolatry). The legitimization is a sign to me of the ever-encroaching, small-minded, and apparent ordinariness of evil. We can accept all sorts of evil in the name of not accepting the greater evil that we fear – which is, in fact, our own fear of what might happen. We Catholics have been as guilty as the rest of America in trying to legitimize positions by saying that it’s in service of the greater good, or at least in service of not leading us straight to our doom in the apocalypse.  Come on, people. This isn’t worthy of our time or our faith. God is not so small that God won’t be there regardless of how all of us vote, but we treat God that way. God will be there the Wednesday after the election.
3. Libertarianism is still the new communism – whether we’re speaking of social or economic libertarianism, I think we’re speaking of the basic philosophical mindset that tends to work against the Gospel. Back in 2012, I put it this way:
It is the new great ideological opponent of Christianity, alongside the closely related cousin of moral relativism.  I see trends in both the major parties that suggest a wholesale focus on individual autonomy and freedom of choice from both the government and society in general.  These libertarian impulses take on different foci (abortion, economic policy, etc).  But no matter where the focus begins, the architecture of the argument itself makes it very, very easy to capitulate to all kinds of evils – even coming from “the other side”.   Individual choice and conscience are important – but taken to extreme, a focus on individual choice means that I can always dismiss my neighbors’ concerns because “they made their own choices and have to deal with the consequences”.
4. The vote is NOT everything. I think that we have run into trouble precisely because we speak and act as though our very lives are hanging on the votes. Certainly, the outcome of an election is scary in many ways – and yes, some peoples’ lives, maybe even many peoples’ lives, could be radically changed depending on who is elected. But our Catholic lives of witness are not hanging in the balance here. We have a clear and strong call to witness to Christ, even when it looks like all is lost, even in the face of governments that threaten to oppress. We are called to be the people who welcome the migrants, the hungry, the lost, the ones without health insurance, the nasty women, the unborn babies, the poor, the dead, the ones who have no voices, and so on. There is no shortage of action that we Catholics might take with and for people who need love and community.
5. It is time for some different political action. I think we ought to start a different kind of political party. But more than that, we ought to be political activists at a local level – people who seek change where we live. That’s actually what the document Faithful Citizenship calls for, and what the pope has suggested.
We need to participate for the common good. Sometimes we hear: a good Catholic is not interested in politics. This is not true: good Catholics immerse themselves in politics by offering the best of themselves so that the leader can govern.”
– Pope Francis, 9/16/13 (Cited from the usccb.org website)
Let us reject evil. Let us offer our best selves. Let us seek always to witness to Jesus Christ.

Go climb a tree!

powerleveling.us –


One day, a young turtle slowly began to climb a tree. After great effort, he reached the top, jumped into the air waving his front legs, and promptly fell crashing to the ground with a hard knock. He brushed himself off, climbed the tree again, reached the top, and again hit the ground with a thud. The little turtle persisted again and again while two birds watched with sorrow. Finally, one bird said to the other, ”Honey, I think it’s time to tell our son he’s adopted.”

I don’t know about you, but as a child, I absolutely loved climbing trees. I grew up in Acushnet an our house was on the edge of the woods so there were seemingly endless trees to choose from. Trees had a magnetic quality to them. I couldn’t be near one without resisting the urge to climb it. I loved nothing more than climbing up a tree as high as I could. It seemed like you could just keep going, and, if you got high enough, it almost felt like you could fly. Everything – the whole world – looked so different from high atop a tree. It gave a new perspective to everything. I don’t recall any feelings from my childhood that felt quite as free as climbing a tree. Somewhere along the line though, we hear an anti-tree message. We hear that it is dangerous, that you might hurt yourself, the tree might break, you really shouldn’t be doing it! But the memories of those eternal moments of freedom high atop the branches swaying in the wind lingers.

We heard in our Gospel today, Zacchaeus “ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus.” What can this image teach us today? Zacchaeus was the he chief tax collector in Jericho, and so was one of the richest men in Israel. As chief tax collector, he moved in the highest circles, and he had power — and lots of it. He was also a crook, a collaborator with the Roman enemy, and a target of hatred for his countrymen. He’d always thought of himself as successful. But suddenly, at the height of his career, it dawned on him that his life wasn’t working. There was a void at the core. He was regarded as a public sinner, as a traitor and as someone unclean before God. Although he was financially well to do, he lived of life of loneliness, alienated from his own people and from God. There was no joy, and intuitively he understood that there would be no joy as long as he continued on the same path.

Picture this scene if you can. Here is perhaps one of the most feared men of his community, someone who would be likely surrounded by an entourage, and now he is running like a child and climbing a tree to see who? To see this poor, relatively unknown preacher who was passing through town. And you know what? This new perspective, found high up in a tree, was liberating for Zacchaeus and it changed everything for him.

Jesus looked up at Zacchaeus in the tree, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” He hurried down the tree with a big smile on his face and the crowd made way for him as he lead Jesus to his house. Take note that at dinner Jesus did not preach to Zacchaeus that he must repent or he would go to hell. Jesus did not issue an edict of Zacchaeus’ sins that he must correct before Jesus would speak to him. Instead, Jesus showed him an non-judgmental and unconditional mercy, love and acceptance that spoke more eloquently to his heart than the best sermon ever could. The effect? Zacchaeus stood up and said, “Half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” By giving half of his wealth to the poor and using the other half to repay fourfold all those he had defrauded, Zacchaeus’ wealth would be all but gone. But he had realized one of the great truths of life – all of the money in the world can’t buy you happiness; all the power in the world can’t give you the meaning that comes from a life with Christ.

Zacchaeus learned what many people learn once they take the time to stop, climb a tree and see things differently – the world wants to sell us a way of life that is ultimately empty – only Jesus can bring things that are truly meaningful into our lives. How many of us have our priorities in the wrong order? How many of us spend our days accumulating wealth, working endlessly to have a better job, a bigger position, one that offers more wealth, more power, more prestige. Only to discover at the end of the day that it is empty, that it does not bring any greater level of happiness or peace at all – in fact, it may be the very thing robbing us of quality relationships with family, friends and ultimately God. The successful author, Jack Higgens, was asked what he would like to have known as a boy. His answer: “That when you get to the top, there’s nothing there.”

Jesus challenges us today to have the courage of Zacchaeus and climb that tree and see things differently, to gain a new perspective, a Christ perspective. And he promises us that if we do that, we too will be liberated and made free from all that ties us down, that binds our lives and relationships, that keep us from the happiness He promises.

There are figurative trees in front of us all the time, just waiting for a climb. There are the chances to gain a new perspective in our faith life with God, but how often we walk past because we fear that we might get hurt, that we might not be strong enough, that it might be dangerous? Every time we seek out the Sacrament of Reconciliation; every time we come to the Table of the Lord for the Eucharist – these are tree climbing moments. God offers us the chance to see things differently; to see them as He sees them; to make a change that will bring true happiness. We only have to embrace it; to climb; to be free.

If we take the time to climb the tree that leads to a deeper faith, we just might find a greater freedom than we have ever known in life. The tree gave Zacchaeus the ability to see Jesus instead of the world that he knew; the world that clouded his sight. If we have the courage to take our lives of faith to this new perspective we too will hear Jesus say to us, “Today salvation has come to this house for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” So, my friends, go climb a tree!

May the Lord give you peace!

Handle with prayer

powerleveling.us –


A CCD teacher was struggling to open a combination lock on the supply cabinet for her class. She had been told the combination, but just couldn’t remember it. Finally she asked the pastor for help. He began to turn the dial, but after the first two numbers, paused and stared blankly for a moment. Finally he took a deep breath and looked serenely up to heaven as his lips moved silently. He looked back at the lock, and confidently turned the final number, and opened the lock. The teacher was amazed and said, “Father, I’m in awe of the power of your prayer.” she said. “It’s really nothing,” he answered. “The combination is written on the ceiling.”

I think if most of us were honest, we would admit to an uncertain relationship with prayer. We struggle with wondering when and how and how much to pray. We wonder if our prayer works. We bring the greatest frustrations and challenges and hopes of our lives to prayer – our broken relationships, our desire for change, our struggle with sin, our hopes for a new job or a new relationship – we bring so much, and how often do we find ourselves wondering, “Is anyone up there? Is there anyone listening? Why doesn’t God answer my prayer?”

And to these questions our readings today give us examples to inspire us in our life of prayer. The reading from Exodus gives us a curious image of Moses. As we heard, “As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight.” What a great image of trust and perseverance in prayer. Israel went into battle trusting Moses’ power given him by God. Moses prayed literally with the weight of his arms outstretched which held the weight of the people’s expectation upon them. God showed He works through people who work with Him; so don’t be weary. If we trust in God, God will help us triumph.

We also heard in today’s Gospel, “Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” Again, the story of the bad judge and the persistent widow is a story about our need for prayer and God’s faithfulness to us. On the surface, this seems to be a rather simple parable about how we should be tireless in our prayer. But, this is not an encouragement to try and wear God down with our prayers. Prayer, or persistence in asking, is more than just multiplying our words to God in order to wear God out.

Jesus reminds us that a life of prayer is not occasional; instead it is constant. That it is not one way, simply asking God for things; but it is conversational. We can’t engage in drive-through prayer, simply popping in on the Lord when we need something, and taking off again when we get it. No, a life of prayer is a relationship with God that never gives up. Waiting, hoping, watching, and longing, are all parts of this loving conversation with God. We’re called to be constantly engaged in the conversation of prayer; faithfully bringing our needs, our joys, our lives to God – sometimes grumbling and questioning, sometimes praising and thanking, but always persisting in the relationship. Prayer is a way of life; a conversation of life.

It reminds me of an experience in my own life that taught me about perseverance in prayer. My parents were married in 1965; my Mother a lifelong Catholic and my Dad never baptized. Dad becoming a Catholic was something my Mom always prayed for, and when I was old enough to understand, I began to pray for too. Especially once I entered religious life, I thought Dad would become a Catholic. In fact, I began to pray at Mass every day, “Dear God, I ask that you place within my Dad a desire for Baptism.” Beautiful prayer, but, still nothing happened. As I got close to my ordination to the priesthood, I thought, a little Irish guilt might work. I said to my Dad, “You know Dad, nothing would be more special to me than to be able to offer you Holy Communion at my first Mass.” Still nothing. And still we prayed. I even had my emergency plan for Dad. Should he get sick and it looked like he might not make it, I was going to baptize him whether he wanted it or not; and let God sort things out later!

But, then, just before Dad’s 70th birthday, he called me on the phone and said just two words to me, “I’m ready;” and I knew exactly what he meant. And, in the greatest honor of my priesthood, I welcomed my own father into the faith baptizing him and giving him his First Holy Communion. And in the midst of that, I could hear the words of Jesus, “Pray always without becoming weary.” I realize that everything happened the way it should with my Dad – not in my time or according to my plan – but in God’s time and according to God’s plan; which is always perfect. My Dad was always in conversation with God, and sought baptism when he was ready, and that’s what I was called to as well. That’s the challenge of trusting in prayer.

“Jesus told his disciples about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” Instead of falling into doubt or question in our prayer; instead of chastising God for not answering our prayers in our way or our time; instead of giving up on our prayer because of uncertainty or length of time; God calls us once again to be faithful and tireless in our life of prayer with Him. Like Moses, we hold up our hands in prayer, confident that God will bring us victory if only we will trust in His will; His Word; His ways; His plan; and in His time.

Pope Francis said, “In the face of so many wounds that hurt us and could lead to a hardness of heart, we are called to dive into the sea of prayer, which is the sea of the boundless love God, in order to experience his tenderness.”

Let me end with this reflection on prayer: I pray because I am a Christian; and to do what a Christian must do, I need help. I pray because there is confusion in my life; and to do what is right, I need light. I pray because I must make decisions; but the choice is not always clear, so I need guidance. I pray because I have doubts; and to keep growing in my faith, I need help. I pray because so much in my life is a gift, so I need to give thanks. I pray because Jesus prayed; and if He considered it important, so should I.

My friends, let us be renewed as we dive once again into the sea of prayer.

May the Lord give you peace.

Accruing our heritage | Transitus of St. Francis

powerleveling.us – TRANSITUS OF ST. FRANCIS, October 3, 2016 | Monastery of the Holy Land, Washington, DC:

“I’m not Francis of Assisi and I do not have his strength and his holiness.” Now, I know that you know that I’m not Francis of Assisi, but I’m actually quoting another Francis, our Holy Father Pope Francis, who said these words not long after his amazing election to the Chair of Peter. So, he is not Francis of Assisi, but as we have seen in these three years of his papacy, Pope Francis certainly knows the heart of our great saint, who we gather to commemorate tonight – as Franciscans and as those who love and follow Francis and Clare. We gather here as so many others also gather around the world tonight. We gather once again to celebrate this Transitus, this passing, of St. Francis from the earthly to the heavenly realms.

I mention Pope Francis because as we gather to celebrate our great founder once again, we have to acknowledge a renewed Franciscan spirit in our world precisely because of this new Francis who has shaken up the Church, shaken up the world, and hopefully shaken up all of us who so faithfully follow Francis and Clare. Our General Minister Michael Perry has acknowledged the same. He said, “It’s clear that Pope Francis has ushered in a new Franciscan moment in the Church. We now have a Jesuit Pope with a Franciscan heart calling us back to ourselves. And, if we don’t embrace this Franciscan moment, then we might as well all go home.”

So, what does this moment call forth from us; especially those of us in brown, and those of us who follow this Franciscan way? What does it mean for us to have a Pope named Francis anyway? What’s in a name, after all, as Shakespeare so famously questioned? Well, you’ve probably heard the story before, but this is a good night to remember why our Pope chose that name. He said, “Some people wanted to know why [I] wished to be called Francis. Some thought of Francis Xavier, Francis De Sales, and also Francis of Assisi. I will tell you the story. During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo and Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend [and a Franciscan]! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the Pope had been elected. And at that moment, he gave me a hug and a kiss, and leaned in and said: ‘Don’t forget the poor!’ And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then, I thought of all the wars [in the world]. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation. He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and is for the poor!”

So, again I ask, what’s in a name? I once heard someone say that, “A name accrues its heritage.” When you name something, eventually it takes on the characteristics of that name. Well, my friends – it is not only the Pope who bears that name Francis – you and I bear it too. So, what’s in this name that he bears, that we bear? I think it is the hope of our Holy Father Pope Francis to embody the same spirit of renewal and reform that embodied the great Saint of the Poor who we remember tonight.

We know that we live in a time through which the Church has endured many scandals; scandals brought on by its own members. These scandals are reminiscent of the similar ones that marked the times of St. Francis. The 13th Century in which he lived was rocked by sin and immorality all around – both inside and outside of the Church. And yet, today, we don’t remember that time for its scandals, we remember it for the great period of holiness that it gave birth to. We remember the luminary saints who were born in response – St. Francis and St. Clare; St. Bonaventure and St. Anthony; St. Agnes and Bl. John Duns Scotus; and so many, many more. And so much of it began with Francis.

How? Well, he heard those words of Christ from the cross, “Rebuild my Church.” And he rebuilt it by following the Gospel – more through his actions than through his words. “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary use words,” is a theme often attributed to him. He rebuilt the Church by loving the poor; by joyfully giving all of himself. He rebuilt the Church by loving the Church, by loving its members, by loving its clergy, by loving its sacraments – and loving them all into holiness. He rebuilt the Church by holding back nothing of himself for himself and by giving of himself completely in service to Christ and His Church and the world.

A name accrues its heritage. So, the Pope may not be Francis of Assisi, but we clearly have a new spirit of Francis in our midst. The list of things he has done gets longer each day. He refused the Papal throne on the first day; he refuses the lavish trappings of the Papacy and dresses more simply. His first action as Pope was not to stand like an emperor before the world, but instead as the whole world looked on to listen so attentively to his first words, the Vicar of Christ on Earth; this new Pope bowed down before the world and asked us for our prayers; asked us for our blessing. He rode on the bus and not the limousine, paid his hotel bill and picked up his own bags. He washed the feet of prisoners, women and non-Christians. He has amazed and surprised us at every turn. He smiles, he laughs, he jokes, he hugs, he kisses and he cries and his homilies are that of a pastor who loves his flock.

And his hope for us? Well, he knows that we bear the name Francis too. His hope is that we will do the same. St. Francis changed the Church and changed the world with one simple proposition – that the Gospel is meant to be lived; that the Gospel can be lived. “The Rule and life of the Friars Minor is to observe the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” Eight hundred years later, this new Francis, our Holy Father Pope Francis, wants to propose it to us again – and if we follow where he wants to lead us – not in word, but in action – we will again change the Church and change the world – if we first again change our hearts.

In an interview with America magazine, Pope Francis said, “Religious men and women are prophets. In the church, the religious are called to be prophets in particular by demonstrating how Jesus lived on this earth, and to proclaim how the kingdom of God will be in its perfection. A religious must never give up this prophecy. Being prophets may sometimes imply making waves. I do not know how to put it…. Prophecy makes noise, uproar, some say ‘a mess.’ But in reality, the charism of religious people is like yeast: prophecy announces the spirit of the Gospel.”

My friends, I am not Francis of Assisi and neither are you, but we do all bear his name. On this night, let us be renewed in our calling, renewed in the name and spirit of Francis. Let us accrue the heritage of the name we bear. Let us burst forth into the world as the prophets that this name we bear calls us to – making some noise as we announce the Good News of love and joy and compassion and healing and faith and hope that God wants all of His people to hear.

May St. Francis bless us and bless our Pope and may the Lord give you peace.

Let us begin again.

God is ever faithful!


March 27, 2016:

Three men died and found themselves at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter told them they could enter only if they could answer one question, “What is Easter?” The first man replied, “That’s easy, it’s the holiday in November when everybody gets together, eats turkey, and is thankful.” “Wrong,” said St. Peter, and turned to the second man. He replied, “I know. Easter is the holiday in December when we put up a nice tree, exchange presents, and celebrate the birth of Jesus.” St. Peter shook his head and looked to the third man, “What is Easter?” He said, “Easter is the Christian holiday coinciding with the Jewish feast of Passover when Jesus and His disciples were eating the Last Supper, but He was deceived and turned over to the Romans by one of His disciples. The Romans crucified Him and made Him wear a crown of thorns. He was hung on a cross and buried in a cave which was sealed off by a large boulder.” St. Peter said, “Very good. Anything else?” The man said, “Oh, right, and every year the boulder is moved aside so that Jesus can come out, and if He sees his shadow there will be six more weeks of winter.”

Well, let’s see if we can come to a bit of a clearer answer to the question what is Easter today. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.” That is a passage from a book that I read a few years ago called Home by Marilyn Robinson. It is the sequel to her successful book Gilead. I’m currently reading the third in this series Lila, and this particular passage has been sticking with me all through Lent this year. Home is a sort-of prodigal son story as it tells of Jack, the black-sheep of his family, who returns home after many years to reconcile with his father and come to terms with the mistakes he’s made in life. But, I can’t help but think this particular passage is good answer to our question what is Easter? “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.”

Yes, of course, Easter is our annual commemoration of the event that changed the world, and changed our lives – Jesus, the Son of God, does the seemingly impossible – He conquers death itself. O Death, where is your victory? And through our Baptism, He welcomes us into the same life eternal with Him. This is almost more than the mind can handle.

But, I think Easter is more than that for us, as well. It also plays a role in our own annual journey of faith. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful.” My friends, we may have found ourselves at some point feeling any of these things – weary or bitter or bewildered; maybe other things – overwhelmed, tired, angry, anxious, afraid, or sad, even far from God. But, our faithful God has welcomed us home once again. He wants to renew us in His love and in His grace; to wake us up, to reanimate our faith, to resurrect in us our spiritual life; to be the people He created us to be.

As our Saint Pope John Paul II, reminded us so well, “We are the Easter people and ‘alleluia’ is our song.” And what he meant was that Easter isn’t just today, but it is a way of life. You see, resurrection changes everything. You can’t go from death to life without being changed. And so, if our Lent was a time to give things up, perhaps our Easter should be a time to take things up. Things like finding more time with family and friends. Things like joyfully remembering our own baptism – when we died with Christ so that we might live with Him forever. Things like engaging in surprise acts of generosity and kindness and goodness; becoming the embodiment of Christ’s new life that fills our world. Our Easter candle should not be just a light in our Church, but a bright light for all to see. If people noticed our ashes and our fasting during Lent; they should also notice our joy and happiness in the reality of the resurrection throughout Easter. We should embrace Easter so fully that those around us might ask, “What is this all about? What has changed with you?”

God is always faithful. He lets us wander so we might know what it means to come home. So whether you were already near, or perhaps you were far away, Jesus says today, Happy Easter and welcome home. Welcome home to the renewed, refreshed and resurrected relationship He offers you here today.

And, as an Easter people, go and share God’s goodness to those in need; speak love to a world bruised by violence and consumed with anger; show reconciliation to people whose lives are broken; offer hope to those who ache under hardship or failure. Be the Easter people who cry out “alleluia” to the world around us. We are the Easter people and ‘alleluia’ is our song!

Happy Easter and may the Lord give you peace.

Do you love me?

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There is probably no greater question ever asked than “Do you love me?” It is a question that is full of anxiety, full of hope; it is tinged with vulnerability and speaks of our hopes and dreams. We hear this poignant question echo out from the Gospel today not once, but three times. “Do you love me?” Why does Jesus ask Simon Peter this question and why three times?

Certainly the three questions are a counter balance to the three times that Peter denies Jesus on the night of His Passion. But, there is much more going on in this passage. Simon is not merely overcoming a denial, but Jesus is both reconciling him and drawing him more deeply into the mystery of His love. If you didn’t pick up on all of that, part of the reason is some of the detail lost when translated from Greek to English.

In English, when Jesus asks “Do you love me?” and Peter responds, “Yes, I love you,” it all sounds the same, an even a bit redundant. But in Greek we find that Peter is not exactly responding to the question Jesus is asking him. In Greek there are many words that can be translated into “love” in English. There is eros, which refers to sexual or erotic love. There is philia, meaning pragmatic love, like the admiration and devotion we have for a worthy person or thing, such as love for a hero, love of parents, and love of art. Finally there is agape. This is the height of love. Agape is self-sacrificing, completely unconditional love, even for a person who may not deserve it and when there is nothing tangible to be gained. The clearest example of the self-sacrificing and unconditional love we call agape is found in the love that Jesus has for us, which made him give up his life for us on the Cross.

In our passage today, Jesus asks Peter, “Agapas me?” meaning “Do you love me in the complete and sacrificing way that I love you?” Peter knows that he has failed in this standard. He knows that he disowned Jesus in order to save his life. So, Peter does not answer in kind to Jesus. He answers, “Philo se” meaning, “Yes, Lord, you know how much I deeply admire you and how devoted I am to you.” This seemingly simple exchange is really a confession. Peter is saying to Jesus, “Yes, I love and admire you, but I have failed in loving You the way You love me.” So Jesus asks him a second time, “Agapas me?” and again Peter replies that he has philia love for him. Finally, Jesus asks, “Philas me? Do you have philial love for me?” And Peter answers “Yes, I have philia for you.” Jesus meets Peter where he is. He accepts what Peter can do understanding that this is a start.

We see in Peter we a wise, and humble man who doesn’t claim more than he can deliver. Peter’s confession here can be likened to that of the father of the possessed boy who confessed to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” What Peter is saying is “I love you, Lord; help my lack of love. Help me to love more, to love the way you love; help me have to completely giving love that you have.”

Today’s Gospel is so well-timed that it can’t be a coincidence. Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Exhortation on Friday called, “The Joy of Love.” It is long and fruitful exploration of love and family, but at the heart of it, I think the Holy Father is giving us a message similar to what we see in this Gospel exchange. That the ideal of love is powerful and godlike, but Jesus meets us where we are and encourages us forward. The Pope writes, for example, “Few human joys are as deep and thrilling as those experienced by two people who love one another and have achieved something as the result of a great, shared effort.” [#130]

We often profess our love for God; our love for Jesus. But, Peter challenges us today to realize that professing our love is only half of the story. The other half is the recognition that our love cannot reach its height and be a most powerful force in our lives, unless we invite and allow God to fill up in us what we lack. The Pope writes, “If we accept that God’s love is unconditional, that the Father’s love cannot be bought or sold, then we will become capable of showing boundless love and forgiving others even if they have wronged us.”

Today, we are invited to join St. Peter in his confession: “I love you, Lord; help my lack of love. Help me to love more, to love completely.”

Jesus tells Peter how to fill up that lack of love. “Feed my lambs…tend my sheep…feed my sheep.” Caring for others; expanding our own circle of love especially to those who need it most will help us love as Jesus loves. The more we do the things that Jesus does – without counting the cost – the more we will love like Jesus loves. We can learn to love more.

Jesus asks us today, “Do you love me?” What will our response be?

May the Lord give you peace.

Anticipating sainthood

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There is such a beautiful symmetry in our celebration today of the Ascension of Jesus. As we gather in this Church tonight, it has been 40 days since we gathered to celebrate the Easter Resurrection of Jesus from the dead – 40 days. Think about that for a moment. We know that God does great things in 40s. The world was renewed through the 40 days of the flood. God’s Chosen People were prepared to enter the promised land after 40 years in the desert. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert before beginning His public ministry. We just spent 40 days of Lent preparing for Easter and now today, 40 days later, we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus. As a side note, is it just me or do the 40 days of Lent feel so much longer than the 40 days from Easter to Ascension?

Jesus appeared to His disciples for 40 days after rising from the dead. Forty days of teaching them, 40 days of being with them, and now He has returned to be seated at the right hand of His Father. And because Jesus likes to spoil us there is still more to come; 10 more days of the Easter season; 10 more days to sit and pray with the wonder of Resurrection; 10 days to ready ourselves to celebrate the arrival of Christ’s promised gift of the Holy Spirit at the Feast of Pentecost which will then bring our Easter season to a close.

First a word on ascension. In the Church year, we celebrate two feasts that sound similar – the Ascension of the Lord, and in August the Assumption of Mary, when she returned bodily to Heaven. So, what’s the difference between Ascension and Assumption? Well, it all comes down to who does the heavy lifting. Since Jesus is God, He does not need to be taken up – or assumed – into Heaven. He has the power to do this on His own, so under His own power, He simply ascends to Heaven. Mary of course, is not God, and does not have that power. Someone else must bring her to Heaven and so God assumes her body and soul into Heaven. The same activity, but a different active party. But, in a way, they both point to the same reality – that we are all destined for Heaven; that Heaven is our truest home; that when we are saved, when we are free from sin, when we achieve the Kingdom that God has prepared, we will all be re-united in Heaven.

There is a story about the famous Trappist monk and spiritual writer Thomas Merton. After his conversion to Catholicism, a friend of his asked a simple question, “Now that you are a Catholic, what do you want to be?” A bit confused, Merton said simply, “I guess I want to be a good Catholic.” His friend said, “What you should say is that you want to be a saint!” Merton said incredulously, “How do you expect me to become a saint?!” His friend responded, “By wanting to. All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”

My friends, we don’t gather here tonight to simply remember and commemorate Jesus journey to the Father. We gather tonight in anticipation of our own sainthood. In one of his last statements before retirement, Pope Emeritus Benedict reminded us of just this. He said, “You were made for greatness!” And Pope Francis has also picked up the theme, saying, “Do not be content to live a mediocre Christian life: walk with determination along the path of holiness.” If we believe all that we have heard these last 40 plus days – the trial, death and resurrection of Jesus – if we believe that He did those things for us then we must also believe that as He returned to the Father in Heaven, we will too. And if we believe that we will return to Heaven; then we believe that God desires to make us saints because that is all that a saint is – someone who’s worthy of eternal life in Heaven. Let us desire to be saints!

Jesus shows us what is possible if we live in His love, live in His ways. He gives us a command, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” It is as simple as that. Our mission is to bear witness to the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every creature. We’re called to remember that commission; we’re called to be renewed in that mission today. We’re called to evaluate our lives in the light of that mission. After all, that is the only criteria for a successful life that matters. It doesn’t matter how much money we make or things we accrue. God’s only question will be how have you loved? How have you lived the Gospel, preached the Gospel in word and in deed; have you desired to be a saint? Let us walk with determination on the path of holiness so that where He has gone, we too may follow.

May the Lord give you peace.

Let the Word go forth!

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“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” That, of course, is a line from one of the most quoted speeches of the 20th century – the inaugural address of President John F. Kennedy in 1961. It is an incredible speech; and was one that alerted the world that change was in the air; a generational shift. Kennedy stated boldly, “Let the word go forth… that the torch had been passed to a new generation.” Today, on this Pentecost Sunday, those five words could also sum up the meaning of today’s great feast: Let the Word go forth. In the dramatic events of that first Pentecost, when the bewildered and excited disciples poured into the streets of Jerusalem, they had one purpose in mind: to let the Word go forth. And it did. The Word went forth from Jerusalem to Judea, and on to Corinth and Ephesus and Rome and Africa and Spain and even, eventually, in succeeding centuries, right here to America.

What began with a few frightened people in a darkened room in Jerusalem has spilled out and touched every corner of the earth. The word has gone forth in every language and is felt and understood in the hearts of billions-upon-billions of people. And it all began on this day we celebrate, Pentecost, often called the birthday of the Church.

Birthday is an appropriate image for Pentecost – especially when we look at it in the bigger Scriptural picture. The word “Pentecost”, means 50th and was for the Jewish people a celebration that took place 50 days after the Passover. For them, this was a day to celebrate the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. There, what were different tribes of Israel entered into a covenant with God and with one another and became the People of God. Pentecost for the Jews celebrated the birth of this new people. We know that the Holy Spirit gives birth to God’s presence in amazing ways. It is through a different kind of Pentecost – when the Holy Spirit descended on Mary – that Jesus was born into our world. And it is through this Pentecost – the Holy Spirit descending upon Mary and the disciples – that the Body of Christ is once again born into the world; as the Church. And we, too, are part of that miracle, called to continue to bring forth the same Body of Christ into our world today.

It is said that the Church doesn’t have a mission, but that the Mission has a Church. Jesus didn’t come to give us an institution or an organization. Instead, Jesus gave us a task to accomplish. The institution of the Church came about not to serve itself, but to serve that mission; to help organize that work of God.

So what is that work? Jesus tells us Himself, “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you;” or in the words of JFK, to “let the word go forth.” The mission that the Father gave to the Son is the very same mission that the Son gives to all of us who follow Him. So just as the Son came as the full Revelation of God to us, His people, we are to continue that Revelation, we are to continue to spread the Good News of God’s love and care for us. Just as Jesus came to show us how to live, we are called to be the example of Christian love to our brothers and sisters. Just as Jesus was rooted in Scripture and its life-giving Words for us, we are called to do the same. Just as Jesus reached out to the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned – we are called to reach out to those in most need in our world today. In short, we are called to be that presence of Christ, the Body of Christ, in the world today. The Holy Spirit descended upon Mary and God was born in our world; the Holy Spirit descended upon the gathered disciples and the Church was born. Today, the Holy Spirit descends upon the bread and wine on our altar, and the Presence of Christ will be born in them; and, today, the Holy Spirit will come upon each of us in this Holy Mass and will be born within us; that we might give birth to that Presence in our world.

The Ascension of Jesus to Heaven that we celebrated last week can leave us with a false impression that God is no longer on the scene. The gift of the Holy Spirit is a strong reminder to us that God is still right here, in our midst; that God is still truly present to us. We have not been abandoned by our God, rather, He still dwells among us; He dwells in us. The presence of the Holy Spirit in us makes good the promise of Jesus, “Know that I am with you always until the end of the world.”

And so as the Holy Spirit of God once again descends upon us in this Mass; on the Church in this Pentecost – let the word go forth that we will be the people who love and praise our God; let the word go forth that we will be members of His Church going from this place to be His presence of love and joy and peace; that we will go forth sharing His kindness and goodness and gentleness. That we will go forth to be the gentle and compassionate presence of God in our world.

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful. Enkindle in us the fire of Your love.” And let the Word go forth.

May the Lord give you peace.

Living in Hope | Pope Francis

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Vatican Basilica
Holy Saturday, 26 March 2016
“Peter ran to the tomb” (Lk 24:12). What thoughts crossed Peter’s mind and stirred his heart as he ran to the tomb? The Gospel tells us that the eleven, including Peter, had not believed the testimony of the women, their Easter proclamation. Quite the contrary, “these words seemed to them an idle tale” (v. 11). Thus there was doubt in Peter’s heart, together with many other worries: sadness at the death of the beloved Master and disillusionment for having denied him three times during his Passion.

There is, however, something which signals a change in him: after listening to the women and refusing to believe them, “Peter rose” (v. 12). He did not remain sedentary, in thought; he did not stay at home as the others did. He did not succumb to the somber atmosphere of those days, nor was he overwhelmed by his doubts. He was not consumed by remorse, fear or the continuous gossip that leads nowhere. He was looking for Jesus, not himself. He preferred the path of encounter and trust. And so, he got up, just as he was, and ran towards the tomb from where he would return “amazed” (v. 12). This marked the beginning of Peter’s resurrection, the resurrection of his heart. Without giving in to sadness or darkness, he made room for hope: he allowed the light of God to enter into his heart, without smothering it.

The women too, who had gone out early in the morning to perform a work of mercy, taking the perfumed ointments to the tomb, had the same experience. They were “frightened and bowed their faces”, and yet they were deeply affected by the words of the angel: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (v. 5).

We, like Peter and the women, cannot discover life by being sad, bereft of hope. Let us not stay imprisoned within ourselves, but let us break open our sealed tombs to the Lord – each of us knows what they are – so that he may enter and grant us life. Let us give him the stones of our rancour and the boulders of our past, those heavy burdens of our weaknesses and falls. Christ wants to come and take us by the hand to bring us out of our anguish. This is the first stone to be moved aside this night: the lack of hope which imprisons us within ourselves. May the Lord free us from this trap, from being Christians without hope, who live as if the Lord were not risen, as if our problems were the centre of our lives.

We see and will continue to see problems both within and without. They will always be there. But tonight it is important to shed the light of the Risen Lord upon our problems, and in a certain sense, to “evangelize” them. To evangelize our problems. Let us not allow darkness and fear to distract us and control us; we must cry out to them: the Lord “is not here, but has risen!” (v. 6). He is our greatest joy; he is always at our side and will never let us down.

This is the foundation of our hope, which is not mere optimism, nor a psychological attitude or desire to be courageous. Christian hope is a gift that God gives us if we come out of ourselves and open our hearts to him. This hope does not disappoint us because the Holy Spirit has been poured into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5). The Paraclete does not make everything look appealing. He does not remove evil with a magic wand. But he pours into us the vitality of life, which is not the absence of problems, but the certainty of being loved and always forgiven by Christ, who for us has conquered sin, conquered death and conquered fear. Today is the celebration of our hope, the celebration of this truth: nothing and no one will ever be able to separate us from his love (cf.Rom 8:39).

The Lord is alive and wants to be sought among the living. After having found him, each person is sent out by him to announce the Easter message, to awaken and resurrect hope in hearts burdened by sadness, in those who struggle to find meaning in life. There is so necessary today. However, we must not proclaim ourselves. Rather, as joyful servants of hope, we must announce the Risen One by our lives and by our love; otherwise we will be only an international organization full of followers and good rules, yet incapable of offering the hope for which the world longs.

How can we strengthen our hope? The liturgy of this night offers some guidance. It teaches us to remember the works of God. The readings describe God’s faithfulness, the history of his love towards us. The living word of God is able to involve us in this history of love, nourishing our hope and renewing our joy. The Gospel also reminds us of this: in order to kindle hope in the hearts of the women, the angel tells them: “Remember what [Jesus] told you” (v. 6). Remember the words of Jesus, remember all that he has done in our lives. Let us not forget his words and his works, otherwise we will lose hope and become “hopeless” Christians. Let us instead remember the Lord, his goodness and his life-giving words which have touched us. Let us remember them and make them ours, to be sentinels of the morning who know how to help others see the signs of the Risen Lord.

Dear brothers and sisters, Christ is risen! And we have the possibility of opening our hearts and receiving his gift of hope. Let us open our hearts to hope and go forth. May the memory of his works and his words be the bright star which directs our steps in the ways of faith towards that Easter that will have no end.