Getting us ready.

Rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly

Jesus’ dialog for the long road continues today. Over the past two weeks we listened in on Jesus’ talk with His disciples. He meant to prepare them, and deep down He knew He was. It would all eventually become evident to them – Who Jesus is, what laid ahead.

The dialog approaches its conclusion with a prayer to the Father, a prayer for us, and again we listen in just as the disciples were listening in. He prays: the words You gave to me I have given to them, and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from You, and they have believed that You sent me. I pray for them.

The road starts with Jesus’ word, a word that conveys sacramental effect in us. We only need listen to what we have been given, accept it, and understand that the One who provided that word was sent by the Father and is God. We have God’s word and if we believe on Him we are obligated to know Him and live out all He said and did.

The road ahead continues in doing what the disciples did. They returned from the ascension and took up prayer. They prayed as one and in the One who taught them how to pray. They lived and prayed as He prayed they would. They prayed in expectancy, for the working of God’s awesome plan; worked through our witness and in accord with the promptings and action of the Holy Spirit.

The road goes on in our work. It is amazing, isn’t it – St. Peter would tell us to Rejoice to the extent that [we] share in the sufferings of Christ. These words tend to trip off the tongues of the saints – and there is a reason. They experienced Jesus. Deep down they all encountered Him. Peter and the apostles, the disciples who walked with Jesus and saw it all, understood the promise. They saw the resurrection, the new man, the promise of heaven’s open door. Paul found it on the road to Damascus, right in the middle of his sin, hate, and anger Jesus broke through. The mystics and contemplatives found Him in prayer. Francis heard Jesus voice and set to work. The martyrs knew where they were headed. They counted suffering nothing because they knew where the road led.

We have been prepared for the work so that when his glory is revealed [we]may rejoice exultantly. We have Jesus’ word, the Spirit’s gifts, the model of the Acts Church, and the charge to carry on as His witnesses. Ready? Yes, ready Lord!

“And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Today we celebrate the fortieth day after the resurrection, the Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord. As you just saw, the symbols of the resurrection, the statue of the resurrected Christ, the victorious cross of our High priest, and the Pascal Candle have been removed from the altar. This symbolizes what the apostles factually encountered, they could no longer see Jesus in human form.

Of course, we see Jesus, in the sacrament of the altar. We see Him in each other and in all people who are formed in God’s image. Jesus remains with us, body, blood, soul and divinity under the appearances of bread and wine, and in His word, and in the forgiveness of sin.

Today, let us remember that Jesus’ leaving was actually a charging. He charged us with seven unique things. Let’s review those:

The first charge He left is: working His UNFINISHED TASK.

Jesus said in John 19:30, “…it is finished…” He was saying that the atonement for sin was finished. We might suspect from that that we can lay back. The job is done, nothing more to see, say, or do. But, it is not that simple, for Jesus is charging us with a to-do.

In Luke 19:10 we read “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” As long as there is one person who has not heard the message, the task is not finished. He left that task to be finished by us. All must hear, all must be given the opportunity to say yes. All must be given the chance to be satisfied, with nothing in their being crying out – “unfinished.” We are charged with making Him known.

The second charge He left is: have faith in a MESSAGE THAT CANNOT BE CHALLENGED.

In Acts 1:3 we read that Jesus showed himself alive … by many infallible proofs, being seen and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God”

Of course people have been challenging His message, His proofs, His witnesses since before His passion and death, much less after His resurrection and Ascension. Being challenged is not the problem. It is our willingness to let the challenge break our trust.

We cannot let challenges get to us. We are charged to believe by faith and by the testimony of His witnesses and to act on that.

The third charge He left us is: living in UNQUESTIONABLE LOVE.

No one can question the love exhibited by the Son of God. He gave His life that you and I might live forever, freed from the punishment due for our sins. He left His home in heaven and came to a world of sinners who rejected Him and nailed Him on a cross and then He even forgave those who killed Him. That is unquestionable love. 

In John 15:13 we read: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. St. Paul would go on to explain in Romans 5:7-8: For rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. His charge is to live His example of love. His very way of loving is to be our way of loving.

The fourth charge Jesus left us is: reliance on His UNMISTAKABLE PLAN.

“…and you shall be witnesses…to the uttermost part of the earth.”

A witness is sworn to tell the truth of what they saw or experienced. Sometimes we get the plan wrong. It is an unmistakable plan. We are to be witnesses–not super salespeople, attempting to persuade the person with our ability. But by letting Christ in us work. Let us let Him use us with our neighbors, co-workers, friends, our city, state, nation and in the world. Let us follow the call within us. When we hear our conscience say – I should say something, let us do it. Trust His plan will work.

The fifth charge Jesus left us is: giving UNSHAKABLE TESTIMONY.

In Acts 1:10 we hear of the apostles looking “steadfastly toward heaven.”

We must do the same. To be steadfast means to be resolute, firm, and unwavering in our testimony. Will we get challenged at times, maybe be laughed at, thought of as silly? Certainly!. It really isn’t that bad if we remain humble enough to allow God to shine through those challenges. St. Peter says: “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened. But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” God is in control, let us be steadfast in realizing that and give witness to our hope by our solid testimony.

The sixth charge Jesus left us is: reliance on the power of an UNSTOPPABLE FORCE.

In ten days we celebrate Pentecost, the coming of the unstoppable Spirit. A Spirit of power, wisdom, strength, and understanding. If we believe, if we have been endued with that power, we, like the apostles and disciples must be bold in our proclamation. Nothing and no one should stop us from  “Going into all the world.” We are a family with unstoppable force. When we wake up and realize that we are an unstoppable force and we then engage willingly in going out on the limb a little farther, then we will begin to see that the power of His unstoppable force in us. We will produce the same fruit the apostles, disciples, and saints have produced.

The seventh charge He left us is: reliance on His UNFAILING PROMISE.

2,000 years ago Jesus stood on a mountain overlooking Jerusalem and said to His disciples: Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions … I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also.

The angel told the apostles: Men of Galilee, why stand here gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall come in like manner.”

We know the battle gets tough, but do not be discouraged, one day soon that trumpet is going to blow. That is an unfailing promise. I am looking for Him to come now, today, Maranatha Lord Jesus, but I also know there is much more for us to do. Until He comes, we are those charged to do His work!

Getting us ready.

“I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live.”

Last week we studied Jesus’ dialog with his disciples. He was preparing them for the long and difficult road to Jerusalem and the cross. That dialog continues today. Jesus was setting expectations for what would occur. He would go to Jerusalem, be hailed, then persecuted and killed. He would rise. And then, what’s next?

What’s next is Jesus’ description of the next two weeks of celebration. He would Ascend. This Thursday (no, it is not on a Sunday), Jesus would ascend to the Father to take up His throne in heaven. Ten days later the great gift of the Holy Spirit would descend, the Church would be born, and Jesus’ salvation, Jesus the way, truth, and life would be preached to the ends of the earth.

We often think of the world as some random series of occurrences, a daily happenstance of events. Hey, maybe today my ship will come in?

Jesus shows us how untrue that is. He has a plan, a roadmap for us. As faithful Christians we know that the randomness of sin around us is not the way things are meant to be.

Jesus laid it out simply for the disciples even though they didn’t get it at the time. As Jesus says: “On that day you will realize.” Ten days after He ascended, after ten days of prayer, they did realize, and they stepped up and followed the plan. In following the plan, they submitted to the Father and overcame randomness. In following the plan, they brought many to know, love, and serve the Lord. In following the plan, the Holy Spirit’s promptings were brought to fruition in lives one with Jesus.

Our reading from Acts is just one small example of a faithful person following the roadmap. The Deacon Philip preaches to Samaria and people come to the Lord. Centuries before, David sings of the great things God does for His faithful. This is something we need to focus on and sing in our times: Say to God, “How tremendous are your deeds!”

In saying “I will not leave you orphans” Jesus is guaranteeing that He will not leave us alone. There are two ways of looking at this, and both are great. Jesus’ ascension was not the end because He would send the Holy Spirit to be with us and guide us. In that He was saying too, I will be on you, pushing you to follow the roadmap. Be on board.

One way.

“Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father.”

Last week we studied Jesus, the gate-man. The one way to enter is through Him. We enter through and by Him so that we might have life eternal. Recall that entering through Him gives us abundant life. We call ourselves Christians and we live like we got heaven for indeed we do.

This theme carries through to today’s gospel. Jesus holds a dialog with his disciples. He was preparing them for the long and difficult road to Jerusalem and the cross. In doing so He means to give them assurance. Of course, the disciples being very literal missed the literal meaning of Who Jesus is. So, He explains it in even plainer language.

Those same questions plague our minds these days. I don’t know the way! I don’t know how to go! Jesus answers succinctly – “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He truly is our One way of going. His words and example are our truth. He holds the key to real life. We put ourselves into Him, take Him into us knowing real life is in Him.

Ok, but… we can hear ourselves saying. But what about my life now, here, today? What about my worries, fears, and stuff? If we were to lose it all, if we were to be left like Lot, sick, sitting on a dung hill, with people around us trying to figure out what’s wrong with us, we would still possess the greatest gift of all, the One way to the Father. See, neither our stuff, worries and cares, nor anyone else’s promises will get us to heaven. If we have Jesus, we have the Father and eternal life.

Today we honor great figures and witnesses of faith. There is a reason.

Our moms taught us about Jesus because they got it. They cared more about our everlasting life than daily worries or stuff. They wanted us to know Jesus, to know the way, truth, and life. Their gift was not just our existence, but rather the fullness of life in and through Jesus. They wanted us to see the Father, so they helped us know Jesus. Bp. Joseph Padewski knew this, from his mother and from his Holy Mother the Church. He laid down his life under torture, refusing to reject Jesus. No secret at all. He had it all. He hung on to Jesus, the way, truth, and life and came to everlasting life. Our moms, Bp. Padewski, lived knowing they had it all in Jesus. Let us as well.

Realization.

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Let’s start again this week from music. Would we happen to know how many songs talk about ‘hearts on fire,’ ‘hearts aflame?’ There are at least twelve. Probably a lot more.

Songwriters like the image of hearts on fire because it evokes a passion and desire so necessary to them in drawing pictures of love and even loss. Bryan Adams ‘Hearts On Fire’ is from his album ‘Into The Fire.’ Those titles, cobbled together, speak to what the disciples on the road to Emmaus were experiencing. They went from hearts burning within them to hearts on fire for the gospel, for bringing people to the knowledge of Jesus. Their hearts would not let them stop as long as there were souls in need of salvation.

In their journey with Jesus the disciples felt their hearts being enkindled by the words of scripture, and in fact by Jesus’ very presence. They were experiencing God with us, Emmanuel, Jesus in their midst. They felt. within themselves, an urge for more.

Hearts on fire is a motivator to action and to living the gospel way. We, like those disciples, are called by the fire within us to go out into the fire, to bring Jesus word and way to souls in need of salvation. 

St. Paul traveled about, proclaiming the gospel message, often to people who wanted nothing to do with it. He could not, nor would he, stop. We might ask ourselves why he did it. After government officials, Jews in the diaspora, followers of empty stone rejected him over and over, after they tried to stone him, after numerous arrests and ninety-nine plus percent of people rejecting his message – why still try? Because the fire would not let him stop, not even rest. It needs to be the same for us.

In this time of crisis, we feel the fire deeply. If we long for normality, if we long for something in particular, how much greater our longing should be for, our fire be, for the salvation of souls.

The debate over faith of the heart or the brain has gone on for ages. Is faith felt or intellectualized? The reality is that Jesus speaks to each of us in the way that best ignites the fire, the passion, the drive to be His witnesses to all who are without hope, whose hearts and minds also cry out to be lit aflame by the Lord. Now is the time to self-listen, to recognize our hearts already aflame with the Lord, His gospel, and to help others realize their faith and hope are in God.

Doubt, anger, hunger.

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

The Grand Ole Opry hosted a Bluegrass night last night. Dailey & Vincent sang By The Mark.

When I cross over
I will shout and sing
I will know my Savior
By the mark where the nails have been

By the mark where the nails have been
By the sign upon his precious skin
I will know my savior when I come to him
By the mark where the nails have been

A man of riches
May claim a crown of jewels
But the king of heaven
Can be told from the prince of fools

By the mark where the nails have been…

Indeed, we are, in these days very closely in touch with St. Thomas. Consider what he had been through. Everything he had heard and seen at the hands of Jesus followed by betrayal, suffering and death. He was filled, as we are in these days, with doubt, anger, and hunger.

Maybe Thomas hungered for how it was. I believe we do. We haven’t been separated from the way things were long enough to really evaluate the implications of our choices. In fact, recent protests focused on reopening and going back is a sinful desire for old ways. No lessons have been learned there. Thomas rather learned a very important lesson. He would not believe unless he could go back. Jesus charged him instead with going forward, to act on faith and to have confidence. Thomas, move forward.

Maybe Thomas was angry. His apple cart was upset, his cheese had been moved. He had to re-evaluate and adjust, but that can make us upset, uncomfortable, and sometimes even angry. If you read some social media messages the anger is palpable and deeply immature. Is that where Thomas stayed? No, of course, but he could have. He could have stayed angry, lived in the past. Instead, encountering Jesus in a new way he came to new life. He moved from angry and hungering disciple to Apostle, bearer of the Good News. Thomas, move forward.

Thomas doubted. How could it change, how could it get better? He learned it was not by going back or by being angry. Thomas learned, as we must, it is by the mark and living in the promise of Jesus, by living Jesus’ way, and by knowing our life is not here, but in Jesus’ holy name.

Seek! Encounter!

Brothers and sisters: If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.

Early in the morning Mary’s heart would not let her sleep. Her heart broken in the experience of witnessing her beloved Lord and Master’s cruel death called out to her – Go, be with Him. Still dark, she ventured out. Wending her way through the city in the early morning, avoiding the Roman soldiers, Temple guards, and other ne’er-do-wells she headed out to the tomb. On her way there she would look up and see the hill on which He was crucified, the crosses still standing in the dawn’s rising sun. Arriving in the garden near the hill she found the stone removed. Shocked she runs off to tell the apostles. St. Matthew tells us that she saw the angel descend to roll away the stone. He told her to run to the apostles. On the way to the apostles, she encounters Jesus.

We have been called into our own monasteries, our convents, our Sketes. We have been, in a way, in this time of confinement and separation, been called apart from the world and are being asked to encounter Jesus. In the silence of this time, let us anew seek what is above, where Christ is seated at God’s right hand. Let us think, ponder, reflect, and lift ourselves up with a focus on what is above. Lifting ourselves to Jesus, let us find hope and more than that – assurance in our encounter with Him.

In facing our current fears, we are closely aligned with how the apostles and Mary felt that morning. Their hearts were broken, and their bodies worn out from grief. And Jesus broke through! He said, I am going before you to Galilee where you will encounter me once again.

Early each morning let us too venture out, out of the things that confine our hope, that break our hearts, that keep our eyes pointed low and down. Let us go to be with our Lord and Master, to sit with Him in prayer. Let us look up to the hill where the cross stands and encounter in it the tree of salvation and freedom. Let us see the tomb empty, knowing that He has risen, knowing that we too are inheritors of that glorious resurrection.

St. Paul calls the people of Colossae and us to a key truth. If we have encountered Christ’s resurrection let us keep our eyes, hearts, thoughts, and spirits focused on Him. The joy of this day is ours forever and nothing can take it from us. It is ours!

These are extraordinary times we are living through. Our Parish and our entire Church, no less than any other institution, is adapting to these new realities in ways we have informed you of in recent calls, in social media, and via our website.

We remain committed to carrying out the worship and devotions of God’s Holy Church and to continue to plead for our people, and the whole world, before the altar of Jesus. We remind all to remain home and to join us in worship online, if you are able, or privately through prayer, scripture reading, and the joining of our hearts together as God’s holy people, a nation of priests pleading before the throne of God together.

Holy Week and the celebration of the Solemnity of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ are the true central point of our liturgical year. In this time, we are called in a special way to walk with Jesus from His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, to the Last Supper, through His passion, death, and entombment, to His glorious resurrection.

We have received direction from our bishops related to certain adjustments to the rubrics (the way we do things) for Holy Week and Easter. These adjustments will allow you to participate more fully while at home. We are to be mindful of the fact that the celebrations of the Passion of our Lord and His triumph over death in the Resurrection are not canceled but rather they must be celebrated by each of us separately in our homes, joined in prayer while the celebrations occur within our parish churches.

We have posted our schedule for Holy Week and the celebration of the Solemnity of the Resurrection of our Lord below.

  • April 5: Palm Sunday. Holy Mass with Blessing of Palms broadcast at 9:30am. Palms will be stored at church and you may pick them up once the current crisis is over.
  • April 9: Maundy Thursday. Holy Mass with Reposition and Stripping of the Altars broadcast at 7pm.
  • April 10: Good Friday broadcasts. Reflection on the Seven Last Words at 12pm. Liturgy of the Presanctified and Opening of the Tomb at 3pm. Bitter Lamentations, 7pm.
  • April 11: Holy Saturday, Liturgy of New Fire, Renewal of Baptismal Promises, broadcast at 4pm.
  • April 12: Solemnity of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ (Easter). Proclamation of the Resurrection and Holy Mass broadcast at 9:30am.

Please know that this message is so difficult for me, as your pastor, to write. It represents a painful separation from you that I feel very deeply, and that I offer up to Jesus.  I could not be missing you, my family, more.  For now, we cannot safely join in the worship of our great God and in the celebration of the suffering, death and resurrection from the dead of his Son our Lord Jesus Christ.  But rest assured family of God, brothers and sisters all, one day soon – we will.

Fr. Jim

Be a
light.

Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed saying: “Holy Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.

Growing up, I had a lot of friends who were mechanically inclined. They could craft and fix things. They could make engines run better – and louder – which we all loved.

I, for my part, did not get any of those skills. My friends, being generous, asked me try a couple of times, but they soon realized I was better at dropping and breaking than fixing.

That said, they did give me a job. I got to hold the shop lamp or the flashlight.

To a young person who wanted to be cool, it was a bit of a letdown, but it did teach me several important lessons.

The foremost lesson was the importance of properly focused light. No job can get done, and mistakes happen, without light.

Think of the things we heard in the readings and gospel today. Stephen, the deacon, is being murdered by those who rejected Jesus. In the face of persecution and sure death he held out his light. He firmly declared the Divinity of Jesus, reaffirmed his faith in Jesus, and forgave those who stoned him. Certainly, this is a light for Christians to this very day. Like Stephen, we must commit to being light even in the greatest darkness.

John, exiled to Patmos, hears the testimony of Jesus Who is returning. He brings recompense according to our deeds, i.e., the amount of light we shine. We must wash our robes in His blood, be buried with Him, suffer with Him so that we may enter the city through its gates. That means we must commit to being steady lights in all situations.

Jesus prays for His disciples – and for those who would come to believe through their being His light in the world. They were to teach, preach, evangelize, baptize, and bring people to the Table of the Lord – not for numbers, or attendees, or any other reason than to know the light of true and everlasting love – love defined by God. So we are to go out as light.

Whether we are handy or not, we are called to hold up that light for nothing will happen without our being His light.

Our
Visitor.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

I remember many cars pulling up to the curb in front of the house where I grew up. 

After my dad died, my aunt and grandmother, Busia, moved in to help my mom out. They came out of family love, to help this relatively young widow raise two children. Because we were not your typical nuclear family, but rather a multigenerational family, an extended family, we had many visitors.

Most of the visitors came to pay their respects to my grandmother. She had ten children, seven of which survived into adulthood. So they, and their families, came to see Busia. My uncles, who lived out-of-state, would make days long road trips with their large families who we expectantly waited for at our front window. Large families with lots of kids camped out on our Livingroom floor. The weekly visits from nearby family. All because of love. Sure, it brought work, but mostly great joy and closeness. We wouldn’t have wanted it any differently.

If we love God, if we are following His Son, if we are keeping His word then God is always expected. He comes to remain with us. His car has pulled up. God is not going to just pop-in. His staying is going to take work on our part, but would we want it any other way.

There is a mutuality to Jesus’ instruction. Our action – to love Him and keep His word. His action – to dwell, i.e., to stay. He abides, remains and continues with us. An even deeper meaning of dwell is that He and we will remain in a given state of existence.

And, Jesus doesn’t come alone, but with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Spirit comes to instruct, remind, and prompt us, and to bring us peace in unexpected ways.

If God has pulled up to our curb, if He’s come to dwell with us – He is there because we chose to love Him, listen to Him, and follow Him. He’s come out of love to see to our need. He’s come to lift us. He’s brought the Holy Spirit along as a great and precious gift so that this state of existence endures.

God is our Visitor. He comes to dwell. Would we want it any other way? Invite Him in.