Last Sunday, we read how Jesus was asked if only a few people would be saved, and Fr. Neil used that Scripture to remind us that hell is real, and it is a real possibility for everyone. This week we move forward a chapter in the gospel of Luke, and we get a parable on what you might call “dining room etiquette.” Last week, we got reminded that there is a Heaven and a Hell. This week, we get a little bit of instruction from our Lord on how to get to heaven and enjoy eternal life.
From the parable and from the other readings today, we are presented with two approaches to life with others and to following God’s commandments. In the parable from today’s gospel, Jesus gives a lot of practical advice on what to do when you’re invited to a fancy dinner. It’s all very prudent. Rather than going and sitting in the best seat, go sit in the lowest seat and thereby increase your odds of being promoted. It sounds like a very good and humble approach to human status.
In the gospel that we read today from Luke, we are given the scene where the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray, and he gives them the Our Father. This is one of the first prayers we learn as Christians. And we recite it daily and even many times in the course of the day.
The Lord’s Prayer is directed to the Father: Our Father. Praying to the Father should be familiar to all of us who participate in the Mass, for every opening prayer we hear at Mass, indeed most of the prayers in the Missal, is directed to the father, it is prayed through the son, and it is offered in the Holy Spirit. The model of prayer given to us by Jesus is the model the Church uses in its liturgies, and it is a model for us in our private prayer: we should be willing to direct our prayers to our Heavenly Father.
Today is the 13th Sunday in Ordinary time, and this year it is also about the halfway point between the Feast of the Ascension and the Feast of the Assumption. Both of those events involve a body going to Heaven. Today, I would like us to think about the importance of our bodies in God’s plan of creation, redemption, and eternal life.
This morning we read from John’s Revelation how he sees, “the holy city, a New Jerusalem, coming down from heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” John then hears a loud voice coming from the throne that says, “the old order has passed away. Behold, I make all things new.”
Here we are in the middle of May and also right in the thick of wedding season. Brides love to be married during the beautiful days of late spring, and so many of you might have recently been to a wedding or are planning to go to one soon. And we see a fair amount of wedding imagery in this reading from the Book of Revelation. This New Jerusalem is prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
For those of you who have not been at a wedding recently in the age of Pinterest and Instagram, let me share with you how prophetic John’s writing really was. The bride frequently does spend the day getting ready. We were recently at a wedding when the ceremony was scheduled for 6:30 p.m. But the bridal party needed to report somewhere at 9:30 in the morning for a sequence of hair and makeup and dress and various other little episodes, all of which were captured for social media. But what if all of that being prepared as a bride adorned for her husband was not for Instagram and Pinterest, but it really was for her husband?
Today is the Second Sunday of Easter, and it is the end of the Octave of Easter. For the past eight days (last Sunday through today), we have been celebrating Easter Day every day. There are more than forty days of Easter left on the calendar, but the Octave is completed today. Today is also known as Divine Mercy Sunday, thanks to St. John Paul, who suggested we use the Second Sunday of Easter to explore the Divine Mercy.
The message of the Divine Mercy is simple. It is that God loves us – all of us. And, He wants us to recognize that His mercy is greater than our sins, so that we will call upon Him with trust, receive His mercy, and let it flow through us to others. Thus, all will come to share His joy. You’ll notice that the message of Divine Mercy starts with love and then mercy and then trust and then joy. Easter is a time of joy precisely because of the Divine Mercy.
When we talk about mercy, we are also talking about justice. Mercy is justice overwhelmed by love, or overridden by love. Remember that Justice is getting what’s due to you. The job of the justice department in the government is to make sure that the bad guys get punished. We want them to get their due. And mercy is getting a pass on what’s due to you. Mercy is when the judge hears from the state trooper that you were going 85 miles an hour and he lets you off with a warning instead of making you pay a big fine. So you can see that mercy is when you do not get what you’re due, and in that way it triumphs over justice.
So what is the Divine Mercy? It is the triumph of God’s love over the consequences of the Fall in the Garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve turned their back on God, they could no longer stay in the Garden. And everyone born after them is separated from God and therefore headed ultimately towards the place of eternal separation from God. After the Fall, what we are due is Gehenna.
But God’s love for us is so great that he would not abandon us. Instead of sending everyone directly to Gehenna when they died, he sent them to Sheol. This is the realm of the dead but not the realm of everlasting punishment. This is the realm that Jesus goes to on Holy Saturday to preach the good news. In his love for us, God sent the Old Testament heroes to Sheol instead of Gehenna because Jesus – whose name means God Saves – was coming to save us on the cross at Calvary. That is the Divine Mercy.
God’s love for us is so great that he would not abandon us when we committed the ultimate betrayal at the Fall in the Garden. Humanity spurned its creator for a sneaky, slippery liar. We were made by Love itself, and we were made for love, but we chose the deceiver. The Divine Mercy is that our heavenly father kept wooing us back to union with him. He never gave up on us no matter how many times we gave up on him. And finally he sent his son to save us.
God’s love for us is so great that he will not abandon us. When it became clear that we could not obey him by our own strength, he sent his son to die on the cross for our sins. That is the ultimate Divine Mercy. That divine mercy is why we have our Easter Joy.
The Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Easter is always the same: it’s always the story of the doubting Thomas. Thomas is also a story of Divine Mercy. Thomas is unwilling to accept the testimony of the other disciples. He needs data. In this respect St. Thomas is a thoroughly modern man, the kind of person who asks you what the temperature is, listens to your answer, and then goes and looks at the thermometer himself. Our God loves us so much that he will not abandon those who insist on seeing it for themselves. He gives us the time we need to feel his presence. He let Thomas touch his hands and his side a week after Easter Sunday, but he did add, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Another example of the Divine Mercy. And in a way, the story of the doubting Thomas – and his dramatic reaction when he does believe – reinforces the testimony of those who did not doubt. Our God loves us so much he gave us not just one but many witnesses of the Resurrection, so that we would know that it’s true and that Mercy has triumphed over Justice.
Thomas is not the only Apostle who experienced the Divine Mercy. Peter’s transformation after forty days with the risen Lord is a Divine Mercy – helping the one who denied him three times become the Vicar of Christ. St. Paul, the one who hunted believers, received the Divine Mercy on the road to Damascus, and he became the Apostle to the Gentiles.
These are all Divine, but they are only possible because of the ultimate Divine Mercy – God became Man to live among us and offer himself as a sacrifice for our sins and to rise from the dead to show us that sin and death no longer need to have dominion over us. We have to believe, which Thomas struggled with. The faith is a struggle sometimes. All who harbor some doubts should ask Thomas to pray for them. He knows what they are going through since he went through it himself.
God loves us so much that he sent his Son to save us. We are redeemed. The debt has been paid off. We have a new chance at real life. Real life is the Life in Christ. An Easter People is a people free from the worries of the world. That is a Divine Mercy – to be unruffled by the things that worry the world.
God loves us so much he sent his Son to answer the question everyone eventually asks, “What is the point of this life I’m living?” The Divine Mercy is that we understand we do not have to go to Gehenna. We have a choice. This life is given to us so we can choose God or Gehenna.
God loves us so much he gives us his grace through the Sacraments. In a few minutes we will begin the Liturgy of the Eucharist. After we recall his sacrifice on the Cross through the priest’s Eucharistic Prayer, by his Divine Mercy we receive him – all of him – at Holy Communion.
God loves us so much he gives us absolution through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He is that traffic judge who does not hold us accountable for our transgressions. His Mercy triumphs over Justice in the confessional. And we are freed once again to live the Life of Christ.
Christian joy comes from the knowledge that God’s mercy is greater than our sins, and that we can trust in Him, for his love is so great he gave us the Divine Mercy of his Son’s sacrifice to save us. Accept the Divine Mercy, and be filled with Easter Joy.
Today is the fourth Sunday in Lent which is frequently known by the Latin word that opens the entrance antiphon. And that word is laetare. Laetare means rejoice. And as we enter the church on this fourth Sunday in Lent we are met with the command to rejoice.
And on this Rejoice Sunday we are given the parable of the Prodigal Son. This is one of the best-known parables of the Gospels, and it has been covered many times over by better preachers than me. So if you heard it all before, my deepest apologies.
But what strikes me on reading the scriptures for today is how the reading from Saint Paul’s letter ties in with the parable to show us that the life of Grace replaces the life of the Mosaic law, as the Old Covenant is fulfilled in the New Covenant, the New Covenant which will be sealed by Jesus Christ’s passion and death and resurrection.
This is the last Sunday before we start the season of Lent. Ash Wednesday is this Wednesday. If we have not already been thinking about them, we need to think about the Lenten disciplines of prayer, almsgiving, and fasting that we will begin in a few days.
The scripture for today directs our minds to the deeper meaning of those Lenten disciplines. Lent is about much more than not eating goodies, and adding the Stations of the Cross to our Fridays, and putting spare change away for the poor. These are all good things, but they are not ends in themselves. Lent has an end, and Lent has a purpose. The readings today give us clues to that end and to that purpose.
Anyone familiar with the Church calendar knows that Lent ends with the Easter Vigil Mass on the night of Holy Saturday. In one way, that is the end of Lent. The end in time, so to speak. But what about the end as in the reason we do what we do during Lent? What is the end purpose and spiritual end of Lent?
The reading from Sirach today offers an answer: “tribulation is the test of the just.” Sirach is full of wisdom, and he expresses his thoughts in simple language, as he says, “As the test of what the potter molds is in the furnace, so in tribulation is the test of the just.” If you remember the art class project to make a clay bowl, the teacher always warned us to knead the clay thoroughly because air bubbles might mean the bowl would explode when it was heated in the kiln. Heating in the kiln proves the bowl is ready for use. Heating in the kiln is how the bowl can become fully formed for its purpose.
Well, we are the clay and God is the potter, and he gives us chances to be tested under tribulation. We know he loves us, for we can think back in our lives to the times when he met us where we were. We were lonely and he sent an angel of friendship. We were in need, and he sent an angel of generosity. We were tied up in lives of habitual self-destruction, and he sent an angel of strength to pull us up and set us on our feet again.
God loves us enough to meet us where we are, and he loves us even more, for he does not want us to stay there. After rescuing us, He invites us to walk with him on the journey of our lives, so that we can meet him where he is at the end of the journey.
And Lent is a time to practice those things that will prepare us to meet him at the end of our lives. Sirach uses the image of sifting today: “When a sieve is shaken, the husks appear; so do one’s faults when one speaks.” The journey of our lives involves a lot of being shaken in our sifter so that the earthly attachments can fall out and the devotion to God can remain. Hear again Sirach’s words: “in tribulation is the test of the just.”
We want to be counted among the just when Jesus comes in judgment, so we should really try to welcome tribulation because it is the test of the just. We are the clay in the kiln, waiting for the day when we can be taken out of the oven and put where we were made to be. But we are not actually clay, are we? We are human persons, endowed with intellect and will. We choose to try to be numbered among the just, and we seek understanding on how to achieve our goal.
That’s where the Lenten disciplines come in.
Fasting is not an end in itself; it is the means to an end. In our secular world, fasting is a form of dieting. In the Christian world, fasting is a form of prayer through self-denial. We give up something we may rightfully have so that we can be more conformed to Christ. Christ gave up everything for us, and his self-sacrifice is our model and how God made us to be.
Prayer is pretty straightforward, but it is not an end in itself; it is the means to a closer relationship with God. God made us to be in close relationship with Him. St. Paul, in one of his letters, told us to “pray without ceasing.” Most of us do not meet that standard, but that is the end God made us for. And Lent gives us a set time in the year to add to our prayer lives and get a little bit more conformed to Christ.
Almsgiving is also not an end in itself; the intention of the giver is very important. All our talents were given to us by God, and he gives his gifts freely and joyfully. Lenten almsgiving is a chance to practice liberality in our giving of money. I know a couple of guys who have always gripped their money tightly. We are pretty sure that when they both grabbed the same penny and pulled, they invented copper wire. All of us are tempted into gripping our money too tightly. Lent is a time to loosen our grip on money and grow in generosity so that we are more like the eternally generous God who made us.
Lent is six weeks long, with 40 days of fasting. It’s almost a perfect tithe of a year. Maintaining these disciplines will stretch us, and there will be days in Lent when we might regret giving up coffee or ice cream or whatever else we gave up. At those points, let us be reminded by the words of St. Paul in today’s epistle.
Lent is a season of prayer. Lent is a season of preparation for the gift Jesus came at Christmas to give us: the gift of redemption on the Cross on Good Friday and the joy of the resurrection on Easter Sunday. Our Lenten labors are the work of the Lord, and we do not labor in vain when we do them.
The purpose of our lives is to know, to love, and to serve God, so we can be with him in the next life. He continually comes down to our level and helps us in our struggles. Lent is a time to focus on being ready to meet him on his level. God’s level is Heaven, where there is no money and no eating. So in Lent we work to lessen our attachments to earthly things through almsgiving and fasting. In Heaven, there is constant prayer to the Lamb upon his throne, so in Lent we work to become more comfortable with more prayer.
We are about to receive our Lord at Holy Communion, and we will receive innumerable graces in the sacrament. Let’s use Lent as a time of grace to conform ourselves more closely to Christ through self-sacrifice and prayer.
Our reading from Nehemiah today is the story of the day when the Israelites have been allowed to return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. Ezra the priest brings out the books of the law and reads from them. The Books of the Law told the Israelites how they should live if they wanted to be faithful to the God who gave them life. We read in the story today that “all the people listened attentively to the book of the law.” And, after the reading, “all the people, their hands raised high, answered, ‘Amen! amen!’”
Yesterday we celebrated the Incarnation. It is also the Nativity of the Lord. It is a solemn celebration of the mystical reality that God became man, that God, who is the author of all creation, sent himself, his only son in human flesh, to live with us and share our earthly experience. And he came in human flesh finally to redeem us by his sacrifice on the cross at Calvary. So the celebration of Christmas is a celebration of our Heavenly Father’s love for his children.
Today we celebrate the gift of the Holy Family. Our God loves us so much that he gave us a model on how to live in the state of life that is common to all of us. All of us are somebody’s son or daughter, and so all of us are part of a family.
We all start as a member of a family, though some of us choose another state of life, such as the priesthood or religious life. And some of us lost the family state of life when we became an orphan or a widow or some other disruption in the traditional family arrangement.
In the Holy Family, we have a model for holiness in family life, even if our family has not always reflected that. In Jesus, and Mary, and Joseph, we have examples of what to strive for – as children of parents, as parents of children, and as spouses. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, give us models – sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly – of what sonship or motherhood or fatherhood should look like, and we reflect on that today.
Incola ego sum, et apud te peregrinus. “Oh God, I am a stranger, and with you a wanderer.” This verse is from the end of Psalm 39, which was not our Psalm today, but it is an excellent way to begin the season of Advent.
Advent is about the coming of Christ. As we have been reading in the Scriptures for the past few weeks, he will come at the end of time in justice, when he will separate the sheep from the goats. He will gather unto himself those who love him, and those who do not love him he will cast into Gehenna. So Advent is a season to prepare ourselves for that moment at the end of time when Jesus comes in judgment.
Advent is also a season that prepares us for the coming of Christ in human form at Christmas. He came in mercy as a baby to share our human experience. Like us in every way except sin, he came as the Son of Man to take upon himself all our sins and redeem us. He, who is without sin, gave up his life so that we might die to sin.