How He Loves Us

Several years ago, I was sent as a seminarian intern at St. Patrick Parish, in Parnell.  Upon my arrival, the pastor said to me, what are you most nervous about as you begin your internship?  I answered, “Funerals.” “Why,” he asked.  “Because death is hard, I don’t know what to say.” 

Well, in my first two weeks, there were 8 funerals: three the first and five the second.  So, after that second week, we sit down for dinner and he just looked at me with this tired look and says, “hey man, you nervous about anything else? You’re the grim reaper man!”

But Death is difficult isn’t it?  I came across this quote from Andy Rooney.  Now full disclosure, I do not know Andy Rooney.  I only learned of him as I prepared for this homily.  So, for those like me, this is who he was: Andy Rooney was known for his role on 60 minutes where he would spend a few minutes sharing an essay about something that wasn’t right in the world, or just something that he had been thinking about a lot lately.  I think what people enjoyed in him was that he was both cranky and snarky.  Eventually, he finally retired.  And in one of his last essays, he said: “I have love my life.  I loved being a writer.  But now, every day I think about death ten or more times a day.  I do not look forward to death.  I had a good life.  We have got to figure out this death thing” (paraphrased – not verbatim quote). After some investigating, I discovered that Andy Rooney was also an atheist.  He did not believe in God, and he certainly didn’t believe in heaven.  Now it makes sense.  Death made him anxious.  Death was for him the end.  There was nothing more.  So it shouldn’t surprise us to hear him say, “We have got to figure out this death thing.”

All of us here have asked our own questions.  Some of us ask it when we lose a parent or grandparent, and we wonder why we had to lose someone we loved?  But the question about death becomes even more difficult when we consider young people who tragically die.  Or, when a young married couple loses a baby.  Death makes us all uncomfortable.  It makes us all sad.  It makes us all worried.

And here we are in our Gospel, a story about death.  Its strange what happens.  People come and tell Jesus that his friend Lazarus is sick.  And Jesus responds: Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Jesus just said, Lazarus is dead and he is glad that he wasn’t there.  Then later, upon his arrival, Jesus learns of the death, and he we learn that he wept. Not only that, his friends Mary and Martha, are not happy with him.  Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died. We can hear in these statements the underlying questions:  why did Lazarus have to die?  Why lord didn’t you care enough to come here quickly so that we wouldn’t die, Lord don’t you care? Lord, this is your fault!

Jesus responds to Mary and Martha and says, your brother will rise, whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. This is why Jesus delayed.  Jesus wanted to show his power over death.  So, to convince them that he had the power to defeat death, he says to Lazarus, rise and come out!

For the moment, it is clear that Jesus loved this man.  The scriptures even say it: see how he loved him.  But Jesus didn’t just raise Lazarus because Jesus loved him.  He raised him because of Friendship.  This, my friends, is the crucial point.  Jesus has a loving intimate friendship with Lazarus.  One where Christ knows and loves Lazarus, and Lazarus knows and loves Jesus.  It is not just Christ’s love for him, it’s the mutual love for each other. Jesus raised him because they were friends.

And this leads to the great question for us this weekend.  Soon we will, before Easter arrives, we will remember Jesus’ death.  And, I would bet, that just like Mary and Martha, just like Andy Rooney, just like any one of us asks when we lose a loved one, we will ask, but “why did they have to die?”  Why did Christ have to die?

Friends, Lazarus died so that Jesus could raise him from the dead.  Jesus died, so that he could rise from the dead.  Jesus was willing to die and rise because he loves us, so that we too can die with the hope that we will rise! Brothers and sisters, we are Jesus’ friends, and he offers us the answer to death, hope in the resurrection.  Why? – Because he loves us!

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen

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Look up at the Cross and be Healed

He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him.” ~ John 3:2

If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.” ~ John 9:33

Look at that cross… What do you see? Some of us look at Jesus on the cross and immediately feel a sense of unworthiness. “Lord I’ll never be worthy of such a sacrifice.” Some of us look at the cross and see the suffering and estrangement that exists among our families and friends. And some of us look up at the cross and see the pain and suffering in the world and wonder, “Lord, when will this suffering be overcome.” But Jesus says in our Gospel, Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up. What does this mean?

To answer this question, Jesus reminds Nicodemus of an Old Testament experience of the Jews.  They were in the desert.  They began to whine, complain, and even curse God.  They even wished to go back into slavery rather than to be in the desert. Unfortunately, in their misery, poisonous snakes attacked their community.  Many were bitten and many died.  And yet, God heard their cries for help.  He instructed Moses to put a snake on a pole and lift it up. Anyone who would look at that snake on the pole would be healed.  And so it happened.  But it wasn’t just a miracle, God was teaching them a lesson.  That snake represented their sin.  It represented that they had turned away from God, and even cursed him.  In order for someone to look at that pole, they needed to acknowledge what had put them in this situation in the first place: their sin and infidelity to God.  We cannot stop there.  The pole also represented something else. It represented God’s unconditional love for them.  As if God was saying to them:  “though you departed from my ways, though you lost trust in me, though you even cursed me, I have not stopped loving you.  Look and be healed.”

Friends of Jesus, look at the cross again and now what do you see? This weekend we are meant to see both our sins and God’s unconditional love for us.  Our sins, our tendency to turn away from God, our lack of love for God, are all reasons why Jesus was crucified and raised on a pole, on a tree.  And yet, it is in this very image that we too are reminded that God loves us unconditionally.  But we are reminded of something more. Jesus, the one lifted up on the cross, is a sign of God’s love and desire to bring healing. Just as the seprent in the desert was a sign of God’s never failing love and healing for the Israelite people. This is not just a mere man that has died – This is Jesus, the son of God. Christ’s suffering is not meaningless – it proves God’s love for us. It proves God’s love for you and me.

When we look at the cross, it should have two effects.  1) we feel contrition for the role we played in Jesus’ death, and 2) we rejoice, because this is the sign of the Father’s love and the healing that Christ offers us. 

For those who believe that they will never be worth God’s love – the sacrifice of Christ offers you healing and says, “God loves you more.”

For those who believe that there will never be reconciliation in their family’s – the cross of Jesus says, look here at me on the cross, yes there can!

For those who believe that divisions in our country are too strong and we will never be united, Jesus says, I stretched out my arms on the cross to bring us together.

Already but not yet.  This weekend, we celebrate Laetare Sunday.  The Church asks us to rejoice because the cross of Jesus Christ is opening act of our salvation! Jesus points us to his cross, but we must never forget that cross is not the final act.  It leads and points to the resurrection.  For now, we celebrate and rejoice because Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is the sign of God’s unconditional and healing love.  And we look forward with joyful anticipation, celebrating the final act of our salvation, the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday.  Now friends, look and see the Christ, the sign that God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that who ever believes in him will never die but have eternal life.

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen

A Purified Temple

The woman at the well – Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain;* but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”

Jesus said to her, Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.

This is the weekend.  This was the sunday in Lent that everything changed.  I’ll never forget it. It was the third sunday of lent.  On Friday, we had learned that Masses would be canceled for two weeks.  Of course we know, that two weeks turned into two and half months.  And yet, here we are, a whole year later.  It’s the third sunday of lent, and we are still not open 100%.  I think all of us here, have come to learn how important Church is. 

That word Church is has several meaning doesn’t it?  When I say Church, I could be talking about a building.  This place.  When I say a church it could be a description of who we are; all of us gathered together are the Church – As Christ’s mystical body.  Or, when I say Church i could be talking about the place that God dwells.  The Church is the place where God is present, and where we encounter him. 

This third definition is important for us in our readings this weekend. For ancient Judaism, the temple was the place where heaven and earth met. It was the house of God.  The purpose of the temple was supposed to be the place where people came to pray and encounter God. And this is why Jesus is angry, because the temple had ceased being a place of encounter and instead a marketplace. 

The question to ask ourselves this weekend is this: where is the temple today? Where is the place where people come to pray and encounter God? There are three options to this, the place of the temple today could be our hearts, it could be the community, or it could be this building?  And certainly, we know after this last year, that the temple, the place of prayer and encounter with God, cannot be limited to just this building, since for a couple of months, we weren’t even allowed to gather here.  But at the same time, the place of the temple cannot exclude the Church since this is where we experience God’s love through the sacraments. Of course, our hearts are the place where we encounter God through prayer.  I hope in asking the question the place of the temple has become obvious.  The temple is located in our hearts, its located in our community as we gather together, and its the place of the Church building itself. The place of the temple is always all three.

And this is evident in scripture: What is the modern-day temple?  Saint Paul answer this question for us, I urge you, brothers and sisters, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship (Romans 12:1).  Or again, he asks, Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit…? (1 Cor 6:19). We also know from Jesus that where two or three are gathered there he is in the midst of us.  Finally, we know from scripture that Church is place of the sacramental presence of Christ: take this all of you eat of it.

So the temple is our heart, our community and our church.  In our Gospel we have an angry Jesus.  He is upset that the temple is no longer a place of prayer and encountering God.  Here is a good question to ask ourselves this week…. “What would Jesus do, if he came into my temple of my heart right now?”  The challenge then is to allow our consciences to be stirred up.  The challenge is to let Jesus come into our hearts with a whip made of cords, to turn over the areas of our lives that need conversion. The challenge then is to allow ourselves to ask, is Christ present in my community.  Do my friends, family and I invite God into our gatherings.  Do we pray together to God and to we pray for one another? Finally, as a result of a Covid, maybe the purification of the temple is important for us to remember that when it is safe enough to be 100% capacity, that we remember collectively how important it is to come and gather together here in this place to worship and encounter God.  So each of us is a temple of God.  Here is the great wisdom of our church.  We are asked to meditate and pray on this Gospel during the season of Lent.  A season that we are intentionally trying to turn back to God, and purify our hearts – to purify our temples.  With a purified temple we are can more fully engage God and encounter him in this sacred space.   

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Image Credit: “Find Shepherd”