Archive for May, 2011

What Does Salvation Really Mean?

Sunday, May 8th, 2011


3rd Sunday of Easter

Acts 2: 14, 22-33; 1 Peter 1: 17-21; Lk 24: 13-35

Dc. Larry Brockman

Just what is our salvation all about, have you ever really thought about that?    For the Jews in ancient time, who eagerly awaited their Messiah, salvation meant restoration of the glory days of Israel, the days of King David and King Solomon.  They were looking for a worldly Messiah.  Jesus didn’t fit that bill at all.  In fact, Jesus suffered one of the most humiliating and desecrating deaths that a Jew could suffer- death by hanging on a tree.  Jewish scriptures could easily be cited that implied a person who suffered such a death could not be from God.  And so, most of the Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah- and with righteous conviction, they rejected Jesus based on their own scriptures.  So, what is so amazing is that Christianity established any roots at all in such a difficult environment- a Jewish people whose scriptures and culture rejected Jesus as an outcast living in a secular Roman state whose only recognized God was Caesar and multiple mythical imperfect gods.  There simply must have been something to Christianity, there must have been something that really happened, something that was so significant that it transformed those who became exposed to Jesus with such tremendous conviction that they were willing to endure anything for their Faith.  I believe that the Easter event, which we continue to celebrate this week and for several more weeks, is it- that is, it is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.   

And just what is so special about Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ; and just what was so transforming about his message and the Easter event?   I think it was a realization of something very, very profound.  It was a glimpse of the certainty of something, the certainty of something that otherwise seemed so unreal, unintuitive, and even impossible-  the fulfillment of the Covenant promising salvation and everlasting life.  Yes, everlasting life was proven a certainty by the Resurrection!   

Now the Jews of Jesus time were split on the resurrection and after life.  Some, like the Pharisees, believed in an after life; others- the Sadducees, did not.  These competing groups would argue about it; but they didn’t know what it was like.  They hadn’t experienced a resurrected person.  All they could do was speculate.  But that all changed on the first Easter Sunday and for 40 or so days afterward because hundreds of people, people like you and I, actually saw the resurrected Jesus.  And that was a transforming event because it did two things.  First, it opened their eyes to the fact that this was the real promise to the Jews of a Messiah and Salvation all along.  That is why Peter quotes King David this morning- Peter proves that David’s words in scripture are not about an earthly salvation and the restoration of an earthly kingdom, but rather, they are about a new life in the everlasting Kingdom of God.  Peter openly argues that the words of David simply cannot be about restoration of David’s Kingdom, as the Jews had always interpreted them.  Why- because the earthly Messiah, like all other human beings, will suffer corruption?  The Holy One, the True Messiah, according to David, will not suffer corruption.  Jesus resurrected body validated the incorruptible after life.  And this eye opening realization would revolutionize the way the other Old Testament Scriptures were read as well.  That is a major point in today’s Gospel- we hear how Jesus personally interpreted all the scriptures in the Jewish Old Testament that talked about himself as the Messiah.  Indeed, this realization of the fulfillment of the Covenant was a cause of great joy, because it made the entire tradition of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Moses and David and Solomon instantly relevant.  Not only that, Jesus resurrection meant that the covenant had just been fulfilled in their own times- they were seeing it.  It was real, and it felt real.   

But that wasn’t all.  In addition, Jesus was the living proof of the reality of everlasting life.  Jesus proved he was alive; that he was not a ghost; and that he could eat and drink.  Despite his mortal wounds and entombment for 3 days, he was very much alive and in a transformed, incorruptible state.  There were hundreds of witnesses to all of that.  But more than that, Jesus promised repeatedly in his resurrection appearances that those who repented of their old way of life, believed in Him, and followed His teaching, would share in the everlasting life that He, Jesus, was living.   

So, these two realities, the fulfillment of the Old Testament Covenant and the Living Resurrected Christ, made the Resurrection the transforming event it was to those who saw and heard it at the time.  They were forever changed, because they believed; they were convinced; it was so real to them; that no matter what would happen to them in this world, they were guaranteed, through Faith, everlasting life.   

The Gospels and New Testament Scriptures record all of this for our benefit, and our Church, through the Church Calendar each year, commemorates and relives this wonderful Easter event.   We who are living some 2000 years later are privileged to the same promise.  It should be just as transforming for us.  But is it? 

Now one of the things that people often discuss these days is the afterlife.  Does it exist, and if so, what is it like.  People share “God incidents” in which they may have experienced the presence of God when they are in the Adoration Chapel, or dreams or visions of their relatives who are deceased; or little things that happen that are signs in answer to prayers of intercession; and some folks have near death experiences, and have lived to tell about wonderful glimpses of an afterlife.  Other folks haven’t experienced any of that, and some people might even be skeptical of those who do.  It’s like most of us want to believe in the Resurrection and the promise of life after death, but deep down, we still long for proof. 

But actually, we don’t really need any of these experiences or any new proof to convince us of our salvation.  We have the Easter story- and that is why we spend 40 days each year celebrating Easter.  It comes down to a very simple thing in the end.  Recall the end of today’s Gospel story on Thomas.  Jesus tells Thomas:  “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed”.  Yes, blessed are we who just believe even though we have not seen.    

Recognizing the “Higher Authority”

Thursday, May 5th, 2011


Thursday of the 2nd Week of Easter

Acts 5: 27–33; John 3: 31-36

Dc. Larry Brockman

A higher authority- the Apostles told the authorities that they owed their obedience to a higher authority.  This, it seems to me is a really difficult teaching for us.  Not so much on the surface of the matter but because in today’s society, our American system teaches all of us to question authority, and to do what we feel is right, letting our conscience be the guide.  So, as a people, we have been trained to pick and choose which rules we will follow, and which rules the “higher authority” of our conscience overrides.  The trouble is that the “Higher Authority” we are talking about this morning is God, not the spirit of independence and self-determination that seems to be the hallmark of American Society.  There is a difference, a profound difference, between the two.   

As Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel, what comes from above, from God, is trustworthy.  And whoever listens to that merits life. In today’s world, a very secular and pluralistic society, we find ourselves confronted with lots of tough issues- right to life; fertility issues; the efficacy of our tax laws; health care; the economic implications of runaway spending; and freedom of speech to name a few.  There are laws that cover each of these areas to be sure.  And there are interpretations of these laws by secular experts.  But, as believing Catholics living in the 21st century,  How should we vote?  For what should we lobby?  And when and how should we make our voices known?     

Our biggest problem is knowing what God has said, because there are so many issues to deal with.  That’s why we have a Church Teaching authority.  As Catholics, we need to educate ourselves on what God’s word and what God’s position is on these issues.  It is not easy- but it is part of our responsibility as Catholics.  I participated in Why Catholic this past Lent.  It is a good start- because it uses the Catechism as a basis.  But it was not very well attended.  For those who are not otherwise involved, I urge you to think very seriously about joining one of these groups next time.  We all need to listen to God.  The ultimate Higher Authority. 

Showing Mercy

Sunday, May 1st, 2011


Second Sunday of Easter

Divine Mercy Sunday

Acts 2: 42-47; 1 Peter 1: 3-9; John 20: 19-31

Dc. Larry Brockman


Mercy.  Mercy can be difficult for us.  Sometimes we get so caught up in our own suffering that the last thing on our minds is being merciful to others.  I have had some considerable discomfort over the last month  as I have undergone treatment for kidney stones.  I found myself focused on that suffering, and less concerned about others.  But, as I pondered on it during Holy Week, I realized that when that happened, when I became preoccupied with my own pains, then that is the best time for me to think about God’s goodness to me. 

First, Jesus clearly suffered and died a horrible death through no fault of his own.  And, any suffering I experience pales by comparison to what Jesus endured for me.  Second, while I may be suffering at some point in time, God has given me many gifts as well- Family, friends, a good home, and many, many other blessings, not the least of which is my Faith in Jesus and the promise of eternal life that comes from the Resurrection.  Indeed, when you keep in mind God’s immense gifts to us, then we are able to bear with the hardships of life – because we have the right perspective. 

This is what St Peter means when he says that we rejoice in God’s mercy   “Although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials.”   Those trials are not outside the scope of God’s wisdom – he allows them for a reason. This is true even of seemingly petty, everyday trials. Such things, in fact, have made sinners into saints.

Consider, for example, a monk, named Dositheus. He was a sixth century monk whose job in the monastery was to care for the sick members of the community.  The sick monks were just as ornery in their sufferings as normal people, preoccupied with their suffering.  Probably just as ornery as I was the last couple of weeks!  This orneriness grated on Dositheus.  When this happened, Dositheus would lose his patience and speak harshly to his brother monks.   Then, filled with remorse, he would run to his room, throw himself on the floor, weep bitter tears, and beg for God’s mercy. His genuine contrition allowed divine grace to work within him.  And so, over time, and with God’s help, Dositheus eventually overcame his ill-temper   and became so kind, patient, and cheerful that he filled even the sick and suffering monks with his contagious joy.  Dositheus learned to be truly merciful, and was canonized a saint for it[1].  

If we think often about God’s immense goodness and mercy to us, we, too, will be able to rejoice even amidst our trials, because we will know that they are, somehow, part of his plan for our lives.   They are part of the goodness God gives to us- they are part of God’s mercy.  They are a teaching kind of mercy.  You know, this kind of mercy is revealed in today’s Readings.  First of all, consider the Gospel reading.  The Apostles had been especially selected by Jesus.  Yet they abandoned Jesus after the Last Supper.  They fell asleep while He prayed at Gethsemane; they scattered when He was arrested, leaving Him behind; and at the beginning of today’s Gospel, they had gathered in a locked room- confused, afraid of the authorities, conflicted by what some of them had heard about- the Resurrection.  Indeed, in every sense of the word they were depressed and out of sorts and focused on their own pain.  And yet, what did Jesus do when He appeared to the Apostles?   Although they had abandoned Jesus in his most difficult hour, Jesus wasn’t going to abandon them.   Instead, he passes through the locked doors, passes through their fears, regret, and guilt, and appears to them.  Jesus sought them out and brings them his peace.   And he reaffirms his confidence in them by reaffirming their mission:   As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  We also see God’s mercy in Christ’s reaction to the men who had crucified him.    Did he come back and crush them in revenge?  No.  Instead, he sends out his Apostles to tell them – and to tell the whole sinful world,  the world that had crucified its God –  that they can be redeemed, that God has not condemned them:   And then, just to make sure that the Church is fully armed to communicate this message, Jesus gives the ultimate revelation of God’s mercy –  He delegates to his Apostles his divine power to forgive sins:   “Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”    Through the institution of the sacrament of Confession, we all receive the limitless mercy of God,  A gift which overwhelms any misery we may experience in our lives  Because we merit everlasting life and joy by our reconciliation with God.   It was the ultimate revelation of Divine Mercy. This is how God has treated us.  Not because we deserved it, but because his goodness is so great and so overflowing that he wanted to give us the greatest gift he could think of: a share in his own divine life,  a real membership in the heavenly kingdom, forever.

Today, as we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, our hearts should be full of simple, childlike gratitude.  The Eucharist is Christ’s pledge to us of the glory to come.  Today, when we receive this pledge in Holy Communion,  Let’s thank God for his mercy and his generosity, from the bottom of our hearts.  But let’s not just thank him with words.  Because if our King and God has treated us with such overwhelming goodness, giving us much more than we deserve, then we should strive to do the same for those around us. 

There are three simple ways we can do this, three ways we can act on God’s grace and make ourselves bearers of God’s mercy.  First, we can forgive people who offend, insult, or harm us, even when we think they don’t deserve to be forgiven – just as Christ does every time we come to confession.  Second, we can give others a gift, an opportunity, or a kindness, even when we think they have done nothing to deserve one – just as Christ will do for us today with Holy Communion.  Third, we can patiently bear with the imperfections and irritations we see in those around us- just as Christ does with each one of us every single moment of every single day.  The more we become like Christ in his mercy, through the power of his grace, the more we will experience the “indescribable and glorious joy” that he died to win for us in his Divine Mercy.

[1] Aapted from Saintly Solutions, by Fr Joseph Esper (Sophia Institute Press, 2001.]