Monthly Archives: May 2011

There’s Gonna Be a Great Day

6th Sunday of Easter

Last weekend in the New York area we were waiting for the end of the world. That’s what the signs in the buses and on billboards predicted. It was a message from Harold Camping, president of Family Radio, who calculated from clues he deciphered in the Bible that  May 21st was the day of judgment and later in October the world would finally come to an end.

Of course, it didn’t happen.

I must confess to being a long time viewer of Harold on his television program Open Forum, which comes on after the Evening News. Monday after the fateful day, I watched him respond to reporters asking for an explanation. The poor reporters didn’t have a chance. Harold has been dealing with questioners like them for years. They didn’t rattle him at all.

A spiritual earthquake occurred, Harold said. He hasn’t given up. The world’s going to end in October, just as he said.  He’s sure of it. I’m not.

I think my interest in Harold comes from his interest in the future when, according to traditional Christian belief,  Jesus “will come to judge the living and the dead.”

For Harold the last judgment is going to be like a scene from The Terminator and other grim science fiction movies that hold the popular imagination today.  The last days are dark days when God gets even with the human race for its sinfulness and unbelief. The world falls apart in scenes of horrible cosmic death and destruction. Not many will be saved.

We are living in tough times and some people think our world isn’t going to make it. That’s why they listen to people like Harold.

What we need to do is listen to the Easter message of Jesus. It’s so different. Listen to him speaking in the gospel today to his disciples who fear they will be abandoned and  wonder about their future. Their world was shaken too.

“I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”  “He will lead us to God,” St. Peter says. ( I Peter 3,18)  He gives us the Spirit of truth who will guide us from within. Jesus Christ is our Savior, a saving God.

Our first reading today describes a church experiencing a mysterious, unpredictable growth. From Jerusalem the gospel takes root in neighboring Samaria, an unlikely place to welcome it. From there it reaches to the ends of the Roman world. We believe that the mystery of the Resurrection of Jesus set in motion a great surge of grace.  God reaches out to creation, not to destroy it, but to bring it the blessing of life.

When we say Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead,  we’re not predicting death and rejection. God blesses all time with love. We don’t have to worry about the day or the hour for this to happen. God offers us signs that he is still with us and will stay with us all days. The Eucharist is one of them.

God is with us “now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.”

In Christ

What does that mean when we say we are “in Jesus Christ,”  when we pray “through Jesus Christ,” when we say we are “the body of Christ?”  Here’s Blessed Isaac of Stella from today’s Office of Readings:

“What Jesus, the Son of God, is by generation, his members are by adoption, according to the text: As children you have received the Spirit of adoption, enabling you to cry, Abba, Father.

“Through his Spirit, Jesus gave us the power to become children of God, so that all those he has chosen might be taught by the firstborn among many brothers and sisters to say: Our Father, who are in heaven. Again he says elsewhere: I ascend to my Father and to your Father.

“By the Spirit, from the womb of the Virgin, was born our head, the Son of Man; and by the same Spirit, in the waters of baptism, we are reborn as his body and as children of God. And just as he was born without any sin, so we are reborn in the forgiveness of all our sins. As on the cross he bore the sum total of the whole body’s sins in his own physical body, so he gave his members the grace of rebirth in order that no sin might be imputed to his mystical body. It is written: Blessed is the one to whom the Lord imputes no guilt for sin.

“The ‘blessed one’ of this text is undoubtedly Christ. Insofar as God is his head, Christ forgives sins. Insofar as the head of the body is one, there is no sin to forgive; and insofar as the body that belongs to this head consists of many members, there is sin indeed, but it is forgiven and no guilt is imputed.

“ In himself he is just: it is he who justifies himself. He alone is both Saviour and saved. In his own body on the cross he bore what he had washed from his body by the waters of baptism. Bringing salvation through wood and through water, he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world which he took upon himself. Himself a priest, he offers himself as sacrifice to God, and he himself is God. Thus, through his own self, the Son is reconciled to himself as God, as well as to the Father and to the Holy Spirit.”

Harold Camping’s Church

I watched Harold Camping respond to reporters yesterday after the earthquakes and the rapture never came on May 21st. The poor reporters didn’t have a chance. Harold has been answering questioners like them for years. At the end of the interview he thanked them for being so gracious. They didn’t rattle him at all.

His answer to their main question was that everything occurred spiritually. There was a spiritual earthquake. He hasn’t given up.  The world’s going to end in October. He’s sure of it.

Harold claims to know all this from his calculations from the bible. He’s also dead against the Christian churches–all of them–which he says are inhabited by Satan. All you need are the bible and Harold for going through this world and  getting into the next.

In one way, Harold is a perfect example of why we need churches. He’s also an example of why private interpretation of the bible is rejected by the Catholic Church. Once you say that every individual has the primary role in interpreting the bible, you are on the way to creating as many churches as there are people like Harold.

The other danger Harold illustrates is that he make the bible he holds on his lap the sole authority for everything spiritual. Yes, it’s God’s word. But where did that  book come from, you want to ask him? It didn’t appear mysteriously from heaven. It was a book that came from believers. Parts of it were “memoirs of the apostles,” parts of it were “writings of the prophets,” letters from Paul and others. It’s a library of different experiences and expressions.

You need a living church to help you interpret it and give you balance. You need a living church to express and develop its wisdom. You need more than Harold.

An Upward Movement

Well, the world didn’t end yesterday. But a lot of  Catholics went to confesssion, just in case, I hear. The media is searching for Harold Camping but haven’t found him yet.

Instead of Harold’s gloomy, scary message, Jesus promises in the scriptures read at Mass today that he is the way, the truth and the life and that he has a home for us beyond this one. Good news for all.

In today’s Office of Readings there’s a wonderful sermon of St. Maximus of Turin proclaiming that all creation rises through the Resurrection of Jesus; “each element raising itself to something higher.” An antidote to the individualistic interpretation of the mystery of the redemption we hear so often.

“Christ is risen! He has burst open the gates of hell and let the dead go free; he has renewed the earth through the members of his Church now born again in baptism, and has made it blossom afresh with people brought back to life. His Holy Spirit has unlocked the doors of heaven, which stand wide open to receive those who rise up from the earth. Because of Christ’s resurrection the thief ascends to paradise, the bodies of the blessed enter the holy city, and the dead are restored to the company of the living. There is an upward movement in the whole of creation, each element raising itself to something higher. We see hell restoring its victims to the upper regions, earth sending its buried dead to heaven, and heaven presenting the new arrivals to the Lord. In one and the same movement, our Saviour’s passion raises human beings from the depths, lifts them up from the earth, and sets them in the heights.”

That’s a message poor Harold didn’t understand.

Harold Camping’s Judgment Day

Harold Camping is predicting judgment day today around 6 PM. Signs are up in the buses and on billboards in our area.

I watch his program every once in awhile because he’s an unlikely prophet. He’s an old man with a face like shoe leather and a gravely slow voice who always thanks those who call in to his program “for sharing.” But really there’s not much sharing. It’s mostly Harold shuffling through the bible he has on his lap and droning out his commentaries on bible verses. His big news is the end of the world coming today.

He’s dead against the Christian churches of any denomination. Satan’s got into the churches, he says. He’s arrived at today’s judgment day by an absurd set of calculations. But unfortunately he’s got an big audience out there who have lost confidence in institutions like churches and governments and are afraid.

Harold preys on their fears. He announces a God who only will save a few. Get ready, Harold says. He’s coming today in earthquakes. And while you’re getting ready, send some money in to Family Radio so that they can announce the news to the world.

It would be laughable, if you did not listen to the callers on Harold’s show. Last night a couple were asking about their three year old baby. “Will our baby be saved?” Their baby can’t speak yet for herself and can’t pray so they have her close by as they read their bible and pray fearfully for salvation. But how can they help their baby be saved?

“Let not your hearts be troubled,” Jesus said in our readings at Mass yesterday. “In my  Father’s house there are many mansions.”

Harold’s God isn’t mine.

Our Union with Jesus Christ

We should not forget our union with Jesus Christ, Pope St. Clement tells us in his Letter to  the Corinthians. Though we celebrate our independence, our uniqueness, our power to choose, as we do particularly today, these are not isolated from the gift of communion.  Jesus does not take these away these gifts or suppress them; he redeems them and gives them new power.  He calls us to communion.

We are made for communion, Clement says. The various parts of our body unite to bring us life; soldiers in an army come together for common causes. Above all, Christ becomes our eyes, our face, our hearts, our understanding. Yet, instead of becoming the sole focus of our lives, Jesus directs us to the service of our neighbor:

“In Christ Jesus let our whole body be preserved intact. Let every one of us be subject to his neighbour, according to the special gift bestowed upon him.”

A beautiful letter from today’s Office of Readings:

“My dear friends, this is the way in which we find our Saviour Jesus Christ, the High Priest of all our offerings, the defender and helper of our infirmity.

“By him we look up to the heights of heaven. In his face, exalted and without blemish, we see ourselves reflected. By him the eyes of our hearts are opened. By him our foolish and darkened understanding blossoms up anew towards his marvellous light. By him the Lord has willed that we should taste of immortal knowledge. He is the radiant light of God’s glory. He is now as far above the angels as the title which he has inherited is higher than their own name.

“Let us then, men and brethren, with all energy act the part of soldiers, in accordance with his holy commandments.

“Think of the soldiers who serve under our generals, and with what order, obedience, and submissiveness they perform the things which are commanded them. Not all are prefects, nor commanders of a thousand, nor of a hundred, nor of fifty, nor the like, but each one in his own rank performs the things commanded by the king and the generals. The great cannot subsist without the small, nor the small without the great. There is a kind of mixture in all things, and thence arises mutual advantage.

“ Let us take our body for an example. The head is nothing without the feet, and the feet are nothing without the head. The very smallest members of our body are necessary and useful to the whole body. All work harmoniously together and they are under one common rule for the preservation of the whole body.

“In Christ Jesus let our whole body be preserved intact. Let every one of us be subject to his neighbour, according to the special gift bestowed upon him.

“Let the strong not despise the weak, and let the weak show respect to the strong. Let the rich man provide for the wants of the poor; and let the poor man bless God, because he has given him one by whom his need may be supplied. Let the wise man display his wisdom, not by mere words, but through good deeds. Let the humble not bear testimony to himself, but leave witness to be borne to him by another. Let him that is pure in the flesh not grow proud of it, and boast, knowing that it was another who bestowed on him the gift of continence.

“ Let us consider, then, brethren, of what matter we were made. Let us consider how we came into this world, as it were out of a sepulchre, and from utter darkness: who and what manner of beings we were. He who made us and fashioned us, having prepared his bountiful gifts for us before we were born, introduced us into his world.

‘ Since, therefore, we receive all these things from him, we ought for everything to give him thanks; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen”

Celebrating in Bayonne

Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Bayonne, NJ celebrated its 150th anniversary Saturday evening, May 14, with Mass presided over by Archbishop Peter Gerety, the retired archbishop of Newark. About 30 priests, 4  like myself raised in the parish, concelebrated the Mass. Msgr. Frank Seymour, the diocesan archivist–also from the parish– preached the homily.

A number of former parishioners came back to celebrate at the Mass and at the dinner that followed in the school hall, along with the present parishioners.  Most Reverend Joseph Younan, Bishop of Our Lady of Deliverance Syriac Catholic Diocese came to the anniversary. Like so many immigrant groups before, the Syrian Catholics from places like Iraq in the Middle East have found a home in Bayonne. Now they have their cathedral at St. Joseph Church, which formerly belonged to the Slovak community.

The bishop and the wonderful choir from St. Dominic’s Academy that sang latin polyphony at the Mass says that  Bayonne is still a city for immigrants.

Memories flooded into my mind. I arrived early to walk through the church where I grew up and where so many important moments of my life took place. The church I remember so well still bears the stamp of its Irish origins. I counted three statues and windows of St. Patrick and the familiar scenes in the windows of the life of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, bright and fresh as when they were put there.

Baptisms, weddings, funerals, anniversaries took place here. I celebrated my first Mass here; afterwards at the parish meal Msgr. William F. Lawlor, our pastor, fell over and died of a heart attack as he offered some remarks. That event made headlines in The Bayonne Times the next day.

I sat at the banquet after Mass with some of the “living stones” of St. Marys, which we used to call the parish years ago.  One has been a member of the parish council for decades. The others lived there for most of their lives, although now they have moved away. Watching them easily connect with each other , trading stories, reliving memories, singing and dancing with delight, makes you appreciate the deep delight and faith that kept this place alive for 150 years.

I have a treasured picture from 1914 of my mother’s graduation from St. Mary’s School.

She’s  clutching her diploma. Many of these kids were just off the boat or their fathers and mothers were. But they set their worlds on fire.

My mother said her class loved getting together in later years. One of them Msgr. Leo Martin became the popular pastor of St. Marys, his home  parish. Another, whose name I forget, became head of the New York Stock Exchange. (He always footed the bill for the celebration, my mother said).

The “living stones” loved the celebration Saturday evening. I loved being with them.

The Resurrection Stories

The resurrection narratives in the gospels speak to the churches for which they are written which explains partially why they differ one from the other.

Matthew’s Gospel

Matthew’s resurrection account, for example, obviously speaks to a Jewish Christian church confronted by a resurgent Judaism under Pharisaic leadership. The story of the Jewish guards at the tomb, an important part of Matthew’s resurrection narrative, was surely part of an attack on the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. His messianic origins, his parents and the leaders he had chosen to follow him were also being questioned.

Matthew insists that Jesus really died, he tasted death in all its harsh reality. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he cries out after a long silence on Calvary. He was buried, then he rose again.

An earthquake announces his resurrection and an angel clothed like lightening sits triumphantly on the stone rolled away from an empty tomb. Death has been conquered. Jesus appears to his disciples, however, not here at the tomb, but on a mountain in Galilee, according to Matthew’s gospel.  From there, he sends his disciples into the whole world to preach the gospel, baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The Christians of Galilee about 90 AD, when Matthew’s gospel was written, were struggling with Pharisaic Judaism for dominance in that part of Palestine; they may well have been losing the battle. In the centuries that followed, there is evidence that Christianity hardly survived in the land where Jesus began his ministry.

According to Matthew, the Risen Christ comes to urge his followers to a global mission. He does not dwell in the past;he is present where his followers are, leading them on.  At his command they are to leave Galilee which, instead of a place where the Christian movement ends, becomes a place of hope and new beginnings. Matthew doesn’t forget that the Risen Christ emerged from the tomb in Jerusalem, but he is intent on presenting him bringing new life and direction to his struggling church. Jesus constantly calls it to a wider mission.

Luke’s Gospel

The focus of the resurrection narrative of Luke is the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Like Matthew, Luke begins with the women at the tomb, but he also directs us beyond the tomb to a road where two downcast disciples sunk in disappointment are abandoning their hopes for God’s kingdom. He appears gradually to the two disciples. Slow to understand and to recognize Jesus, they see him finally in the breaking of the bread. They remember afterwards his words on the road.

Luke’s account of the Risen Jesus with the two disciples who have lost hope and are trying to find their way is a key to understanding the journey of the church the evangelist outlines in his gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles. It will be a journey from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, Rome. But it is not a triumphant journey; it’s the road taken by the two disciples. Luke’s narrative is a wonderful corrective to a triumphalist view of the church and a perfectionist view of our personal journey of faith.

John’s Gospel

The Gospel of John, with its lengthy series of resurrection stories, begins in Jerusalem with Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene as she goes to the tomb in the darkness of Sunday morning and finds it empty. In John’s church the eye-witnesses to what Jesus said and did are long gone. John  emphasizes the incredulity of the original eye-witnesses. Mary, first of all , is convinced that the body of Jesus has been stolen. She and Peter are not at all ready to believe. Like the Emmaus disciples who do not see him at first, Mary does not recognize the mysterious stranger.She thinks he is a gardener and only recognizes him after he calls her name. The Emmaus disciples find him “in the breaking of the bread,” Mary recognizes him as he speaks her name.

Their stories remind us that the eucharist and the word of God help us recognize the Risen Lord. “My sheep hear my voice, Jesus says.

Mark’s gospel describes Mary in his resurrection account as the one from whom Jesus cast out seven devils and that’s the way John’s gospel presents her. She is not a romantic interest as some modern sensationalists would like her to be. She is a symbol of every individual whom the Risen Lord comes to save; she represents the weakest of humanity that Jesus will bring to the Father.

As he rises from death Jesus has been changed, John’s gospel indicates. The lack of recognition of him by his disciples tells us that. Yet he is the same. “Life is changed, not ended,” we say in our prayers. He has a mission beyond this world to prepare a place for us. So Mary is not to cling to him. He will come again to take her and all of us to himself.

Like Mary Magdalen, who represents the weakness of us all.  Thomas the apostle, on the other hand,  represents institutional doubt, the doubt of the church and all humanity before the mystery of the resurrection. Thomas is not unique.

The locked doors of the Upper Room are more than a defense against the Jewish leaders. The Risen Jesus must come to his church with his gift of peace and forgiveness to renew it in its mission.  He comes to be present and to show us the wounds in his hands and his side, which remain in his risen body. When we see them in him and in also others, we will recognize him.

In John’s gospel Jerusalem is where Jesus meets his followers first. He meets them as individuals, like Mary. He meets them together as they gather on the first day of the week and on the Lord’s Day. He meets them in sacraments and signs. He empowers them with the Holy Spirit, the Creator Spirit.

After recalling his appearances in Jerusalem, John recalls the appearances of Jesus in Galilee, continuing the tradition of the two places where the early church saw the Risen One appear.

The gospel accounts of the resurrection offer a wonderful picture of how the Risen Christ comes to us as individuals, as a church and as the world.

Sing a New Song

Here’s St. Augustine’s comments on a psalm:

“Sing to the Lord a new song; his praise is in the assembly of the saints. We are urged to sing a new song to the Lord, as new people who have learned a new song. A song is a thing of joy; more profoundly, it is a thing of love. Anyone, therefore, who has learned to love the new life has learned to sing a new song, and the new song reminds us of our new life. The new person, the new song, the new covenant, all belong to the one kingdom of God, and so the new people will sing a new song and will belong to the new covenant.

“There is not one who does not love something, but the question is, what to love. The psalms do not tell us not to love, but to choose the object of our love. But how can we choose unless we are first chosen? We cannot love unless someone has loved us first. Listen to the apostle John: We love him, because he first loved us. The source of our love for God can only be found in the fact that God loved us first. He has given us himself as the object of our love, and he has also given us its source. What this source is you may learn more clearly from the apostle Paul who tells us: The love of God has been poured into our hearts. This love is not something we generate ourselves; it comes to us through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

“Since we have such an assurance, then, let us love God with the love he has given us. As John tells us more fully: God is love, and whoever dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him. It is not enough to say: Love is from God. Which of us would dare to pronounce the words of Scripture: God is love? He alone could say it who knew what it was to have God dwelling within him. God offers us a short route to the possession of himself. He cries out: Love me and you will have me for you would be unable to love me if you did not possess me already.”

Philip and James

We celebrate a feast of the apostles each month because they’re the foundation stones of our church. “Every family wants to find out how it began. We go back to the apostles because they were at the beginning of our church,” the early Christian writer Tertullian says. Today we have two together, Philip and James.

We celebrate the two together because their relics were placed side by side in the Church of the Twelve Apostles in Rome, which was built in the 6th century. Philip was called by Jesus to follow him the day after he called Andrew and Peter, St. John’s gospel says. James, who is also called James the Less to distinguish him from James, the brother of John, was a cousin of Jesus who later became head of the church in Jerusalem and was martyred there in the year 62.

“Don’t forget where you come from!” That’s a good thing for us to remember and that’s why the church remembers those who first heard and believed, and then went out to tell the whole world about Jesus risen from the dead. They handed the faith on to us and we now have their message and their task.

We’re meant to tag our names onto the list St. Paul sent to the church at Corinth long ago.

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received:
that Christ died for our sins ?in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he was buried;?that
he was raised on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
After that, he appeared to more
than five hundred brothers and sisters at once,
most of whom are still living,
though some have fallen asleep.
After that he appeared to James,
then to all the Apostles.
Last of all, as to one born abnormally,
he appeared to me.