Archive for April, 2020

Believing in the Heart

Sunday, April 26th, 2020

3rd Sunday of Easter

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

Deacon Larry Brockman

So, do you believe in your hearts?  Because that’s what today’s readings are all about.  

Now I am sure that if I ask all of you if you believe in Jesus Christ and the Resurrection; your all going to tell me “yes”.  But let’s take a closer look at today’s Gospel to see about believing in the heart.   

Jesus is walking along with Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus.  Not recognizing him, they tell Jesus about all the mighty deeds and words that Jesus did. Yet even so, they say that Jesus was betrayed, crucified, died, and buried.  Then they proceed to tell him that some of the women went to the tomb that very morning and found it empty. The women were told by an angel that Jesus was not there but was Risen.  Instead of being happy and joyous, they are confused and despondent.   

So, Jesus says to them: “Oh. How foolish you are, slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke.”  Yes, “Slow of heart”.   

These disciples of Jesus presumably had followed him in his ministry.  They had heard all of this before.  Jesus had been very open to his disciples about who he was, what would happen to him, and that it would all unfold according to the scriptures.  They heard it before, they knew it, they kind of believed it too.  Else they wouldn’t have talked about how mighty Jesus’ words and deeds were.  But they didn’t believe it in their hearts.   

So, they believed; but they didn’t believe.  They didn’t believe in their hearts because they were distracted.  They were distracted by the events taking place in the world and the magnitude of the cultural establishment.  Despite everything Jesus had said, they still believed that death was death; because that’s what everyone’s experience was.  And even the testimony of the “women in their group” about what the angel said couldn’t penetrate that.  They didn’t connect the dots because reality was more relevant than Jesus message about the Kingdom.  The Kingdom of God is, after all, beyond worldly reality.   

About 6 weeks ago, I was participating as a Deacon in a Funeral Mass.  Before Mass, a group of us were gathered in the back of the Church while the family assembled in the front.  The deceased was the 104 year old Aunt of a friend of mine, who lost her husband within weeks of when Jane died.  She had told me the lady was her favorite Aunt.   

Well, I remarked to the priest and some of the Parish Staff Members that I wasn’t sure I wanted to live to 104 because with each year, I was less and less nimble; and the list of chronic ailments was growing. 

Then one of the staff members said to me: “Yes but consider the alternative.”  Really, consider the alternative.  This is a perfect example of how someone can believe, and yet not believe in their heart. 

Now if you follow the daily readings, then you know that today’s reading from Acts shows a dramatic change in the Disciples behavior.  In this week’s readings, the Apostles were summoned by the Jewish Leaders twice and told not to preach about “That Name”.  And yet, the 40 days of the post Resurrection Jesus had converted these men.  They didn’t care any more what the Jewish Leaders thought or what they might do to them.  They were fearless; because they were now believing in their hearts in the Resurrection.  Peter’s speech clearly demonstrated that as he calls Jesus’ persecutors, the Jewish Leaders, “lawless men”.  

How can we come to really believe in our hearts like these men did?  After all, we are not first-hand witnesses, but rather, we are called to listen to the Gospel and accept everything on faith some 2000 years later.   

When Jesus accepts Cleopas’ invitation to stay with him and share a meal, he does something truly remarkable.  He repeats his actions from the last Supper by taking bread, blessing it, breaking it, and giving it to the others.  It is then, and only then, that they recognize him.  And instantly, he is gone.    

I remarked last week about “the breaking of bread”.  Here again we hear Cleopas and his companion return to Jerusalem   And describe that Jesus was not made known to them until  “the breaking of bread”.   

Well, we all have this same experience available to us.  That is what Communion is all about.  We can’t see Jesus; we can’t feel Jesus in worldly terms.  But he is really present in the Eucharist, in the breaking of bread; and not only that, His ethereal presence will help us to understand and internalize our faith in our hearts.  This experience is available to us each time we attend Mass.   

Life is God’s most precious gift to each of us as individuals.  The world tells us that eventually we will die, and that is it.  The world acts as if “that is it” when someone dies.  But you know what, as Christians, we should believe in our hearts.  After all, consider the alternative!

Has the reality of the Resurrection Sunk In?

Sunday, April 19th, 2020

Divine Mercy Sunday

Acts 2: 42-47; 1 Pet 1: 3-9; Jn 20: 19-31

Deacon Larry Brockman

Has the reality of the Resurrection sunk in for you?   

Our Gospel chronicles something that happened Easter Sunday night.  Clearly, the reality had not sunk in yet for the Apostles.  For John, Peter, Mary and Mary Magdalene, it had.  They had already seen Jesus.  But the rest of the Apostles were skeptical, doubtful.  It was too good to be true.  So, they were locked away in the upper room afraid.  

 It’s kind of like all of us in today’s world.  Here we are 2000 years later.  People today are a whole lot more knowledgeable about science and how the universe functions.  Nobody else has been raised from the dead in those 2000 years.  All we have to go by is the words of the witnesses of the time.  We must take it all on faith; and that’s hard because it hasn’t happened again and we have learned so much about life.   

Jesus knew that would be the case.  That’s why he stayed around for 40 days after the Resurrection.  He ate and drank and visited with his Apostles over that 40 days; and was seen by 500 or so people.  After he ascended into heaven, and the Holy Spirit came to them, all of those witnesses were thoroughly convinced.  And that convincing began with the story of the doubting Thomas   

When I was visiting Italy, I came across a great painting of the doubting Thomas by Caravaggio..  It really captures the moment and the intensity of the moment.  Now with that scene in mind, just close your eyes and think about this for a moment.  You saw this man Jesus endure incredible torture and suffering;  He was nailed to a cross and died in front of you;  And he was buried in a tomb with a huge stone rolled over it.   

Caravaggio’s Doubting Thomas

But now, he is standing in front of you, radiant and alive.  You know it is him because all of the wounds are visible to you, including the wound from the sword in the side.  Yes, seeing is believing.   

Thomas then confesses, “My Lord and my God”.  And that says it all, doesn’t it?  Only God could do this.  And not only that, God is standing there and telling you about it.    

Now it took a while, probably most of those 40 days, but ultimately both the reality of the Resurrection and the consequences of it sank in.  It is the consequences which ended up causing so much joy.  Life goes on after death!  But only if we believe in Jesus and practice what he taught us. 

Resurrection of the Body!

Sunday, April 12th, 2020

Easter Sunday

Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Col 3: 1-4; Jn 20: 1-9

Deacon Larry Brockman

The Lord is Risen!  But just what does that mean to most of us?  Have you ever really thought about it?   

For the 40 days of Lent we were all asked to reflect on our lives, just like Jesus did when he went into the desert for 40 days.  We needed to appreciate the great gift that God the Father gave us in his only begotten Son- that Jesus Christ, God made man, came and walked amongst us, lived among us, and showed us the way to please God.  He showed us that we must all be willing to accept God’s will, take up our own crosses, whatever they might be; and follow after Jesus in defending the truth and living that life, even if we have to suffer in the process.   And the key to living the life God gave us is to do everything out of love.  The reason we follow Jesus is because he promised us that we would receive a share in his inheritance-  Resurrection and Everlasting Life.  But what does that really mean for us?

Now this morning, we see that even after everything Jesus told his disciples about what would happen to him, including His suffering, death, and resurrection, they just simply still didn’t get it; and here’s the proof:  Mary Magdalene says “They took the Lord and we don’t know what they did with him!”  Even the disciples needed to see the rolled up burial cloths before they believed.    And so gradually, slowly, almost painfully, the Disciples began to see.  If we read further in the Gospel, we would hear accounts of the Risen Jesus walking, talking, eating, and being in their presence.  He tells them that if they believe and follow after him, they too will be resurrected when they die and will live forever in the Kingdom of God.    

So, the reality of the Resurrection settles in with the Disciples.  That reality is expressed well in Peter’s address in our first reading from Acts.  The disciples have now had a complete conversion- they saw, they comprehended, and they believed.  What was the essence of that conversion?  Well, that life in this world is not all there is to life.  They realized that if they followed after Jesus, they would be resurrected in body on the last day.  And they were filled with joy and inspiration when they realized that.   

You know, I think most of us never really ponder the implications of that.  Our bodies will be resurrected with us; and that gives new meaning to what life in the Kingdom of God will be like.  It gives new meaning to what all of our bodily experiences in this life are for; especially in that we all have relationships and special talents.  We naturally assume that life in the next world will be life in the spirit world  because that is our perception of where all our loved ones who have passed away are.  But what about the Resurrection of the Body?   We profess this truth every time we say the Creed- that “We believe in the Resurrection of the body and life everlasting, Amen”. 

Why is that in the Creed?  Because the Apostles saw the Resurrected Jesus in his glorified body.  And based on what he did and said during the 50 days that he spent with them until his Ascension, they came to believe thoroughly in the Resurrection of the Body as well.     

Now St. Paul tells the Colossians that “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above.”  And we are to “Think about what is above, not what is on earth.”  If we do that, he tells us that “When Christ your love appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.”  So, at the Last Judgment, Christ will appear, and so will all of us who believe in our glorified bodies.   

But just what is it that is above that we should seek?  Well, everyone in the Kingdom of God is in harmony with God and with each other.  And that is what we need to seek, those are the things that are above.  Somehow we will all be in harmony with each other; we will exercise our talents for the common good, not just for our own good; and we will all be happy and in the presence of God forever.   

In the last month, all of us have witnessed something that has never occurred in the history of the world before.  Amazingly, just about all of the world governments are cooperating remarkably well to suppress the Corona Virus.  And just as amazingly, most of the people are cooperating as well.  But sadly, all of this is based on secular knowledge and efforts.  Our Bishops, the Pope, and other religious leaders have called us to pray, but we are hampered aren’t we.  We can’t gather in our Churches, and although there have been some efforts, there are no cohesive efforts to bind us together.  Moreover, as our President has remarked, the path back to “normalcy” is completely unknown.   

If ever there was a time when we needed to “seek the things that are above”, it is now.  If ever there was a time when we needed God to shepherd us; it is now.  If ever there was a time we needed to trust in God; it is now.  Look at it this way.  We are close to the Kingdom of God- as Jesus said, it is amongst us.  But we may also be far from it, if we just depend on ourselves.   

I bring this up, because it is important that we focus on two things in this time of need, as people of the Resurrection:  first, we need to embrace the things that are above- to be in harmony with God and his plan for us; and second, we need to realize that no matter how bad things might get in our physical world, this life is not what it’s all about.  That puts the proper perspective on the Virus and its effects on us.  That perspective will help us to avoid panic and selfishness; and to trust in God’s providence.   

You know, the Resurrection signaled a new beginning for mankind.  Before the Resurrection, there was no certainty of everlasting life.  God had revealed it through the prophets; but there was a lot of controversy over it because people wanted “proof”.  Jesus’ Resurrection wiped away all doubt for his witnesses, some 500 of them.  We are the benefactors of those witnesses; their testimony has been passed down to us.   

We are all in for a metamorphosis of sorts in this world as we emerge out of quarantine and lockdowns.  But it is only one of a number of metamorphoses we will experience going forward.  This one right in front of us may be big; it may be relatively small.  But compared to our metamorphosis at death; and the subsequent metamorphosis of the Last Judgement and the Resurrection of the Body; well, it is relatively minor. 

As people of the Resurrection, we know that there is no reason to panic because God loves us and his plan for us ends in the Resurrection of our bodies in the Kingdom of God.  That’s what it’s all about. 

Accepting Our Crosses

Sunday, April 5th, 2020

Palm Sunday

Mt 21: 1-11; Is 50: 4-7; Phil 2: 6-11; Mt 26: 14 – 27: 66

Deacon Larry Brockman

Such a contrast between the two Gospels today.  First, Jesus is welcomed into the city with a procession and a large adoring crowd.  They even lay palm branches before him to clear the way.  These people had heard of his miracles, and many of them had seen the raising of Lazarus.  They were excited to have him in their presence.   

But just a short time later, the events of the second Gospel unfold, and Jesus is reviled by the same crowd.  What happened?  Why the change in attitude?  And why does Jesus, who had displayed such awesome power in his miracles, accept his capture and humiliation without using his power?   

During this Lenten season, I had the honor to lead a Bible Study called: “Jesus’ Passion, the story of Redemptive Suffering”.  It was a five-session study that basically looked at today’s Gospel along with the other three Gospel accounts.  It also used Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ”.  We would watch a portion of the movie before each session on our own as we read the scriptures that applied to those scenes. 

It is amazing how scripturally accurate the movie is.  As any of you know who have watched the movie, it is also painfully graphic.  I must admit that I didn’t look forward to watching it again because it is so graphic.  But I am glad I did because the intense suffering we witnessed, and we just heard about in the Gospel, is a big part of the message that we need to take away today.  And the reality of what happened to Jesus is very, very harsh and horrific.   

The study guide really helped put perspective on the film, because much of the poetic license employed by Mel Gibson in his scenes had cultural and historical basis.  For example, the devices used during the scourging; the way it was done; the number of lashes; etc; were all carefully researched.  Gibson also knew what the Old Testament prophecies were, such as the Isaiah reading today and other Isaiah prophecies; and Psalm 22, today’s responsorial Psalm.  The film is a masterpiece in terms of bringing all of this to reality.  The truth is that the reality was very harsh.   

This is the year for Matthew’s Gospel.  Matthew is big on details and on pointing out how the events in Jesus life were prophesied in the Old Testament.  Just as an example, Jesus was described as the Lamb of God earlier in the Gospel by John the Baptist.  The Jewish sacrificial animal, sometimes referred to as a Scape Goat, could be a lamb or a goat.  It was slain and offered up “outside the gate”.  Jesus was slain “outside the gate” on Mt. Calvary.  This is the kind of attention to detail and fulfilment of prophecy I am talking about.   

Now that brings me to why Jesus was so submissive.  After Jesus went out into the desert to pray and endure the 3 temptations by the devil, he returned energized to do God’s will for him.  He was, above all obedient to the Father.  And God’s will was that he preach the good news of the New Covenant.  The New Covenant is based on Love.  He preached on Love in the “Sermon on the Mount”.  That was called the Beatitudes.  And he gathered a group of Apostles and Disciples to help him with his mission.   Jesus’ entire life was lived from that point on to fulfill God’s will for him.  On three separate occasions, Jesus told his closest disciples exactly what would happen to him.  And he told them that it would happen so that all the scriptures would be fulfilled.  Jesus told his Disciples that the Son of Man would be handed over to evil men; suffer, be lifted on a Cross, and then raised from the dead in three days.   

So, the reason Jesus accepted his humiliation was because it was God’s will that he do so.  It was God’s will that he speak in God’s name, describe the new Covenant, identify Himself as God, and not intervene when the system reacted to all of that and prosecuted him- because he was obedient to the Father.   

But there is something else.  Jesus life, and his Passion in particular, was meant to be an example for all of us.  For thousands of years, God was remote, transcendent if you will, from mankind.  Various cultures and peoples claimed to have heard the voice of God- but there was so much diversity in what they heard. 

So, God sent his only Son and established an intimate relationship with mankind.  He showed us by example how we could be obedient to God’s will, submissive to it; and live it to the end.  Then, he showed us what happens if we believe and follow him.  Because of the Resurrection, we all see what potential we have in a Resurrected body forever.

What turned the crowd against Jesus?  Well, two things come to mind.  First, after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he angered the establishment.  He went to the temple, cast out the money changers, and bucked the teaching of the establishment.  They couldn’t handle that.  And so, the establishment was out to get him.  We can sense that in all the false testimony in today’s second Gospel-  trumped up charges, things taken out of context, exaggerations, and propaganda were all being used against him.   

Second, large groups of people are easily led by this kind of propaganda.  If you tell a story long enough, people will believe it whether it is true or not.  Notice that during Jesus trial, Pilate asked him what He came for.  Jesus told him that he came to testify to the truth.  And it was the truth that the establishment couldn’t handle even in the face of miracles.   

I encourage you to watch the movie.  In it, you will see Jesus embrace the cross, almost with a sense of love and attachment.  Probably because, although in the midst of tremendous pain, he realized that he was almost finished doing His Father’s will to the end.  And he was doing it while loving his enemies at the same time.   

This is what we can take away from the whole incident.  First, life is full of challenges- we all have our crosses to bear.  Each life must accept the suffering that is our cross to bear, and lovingly be obedient to God and do His will for us.  That may mean Fatherhood, Motherhood, Teaching, Preaching, Serving, Creating, and even Entertaining others in some mix.  It may mean a whole lot of other things too.  But we must always be true to our mission.  Our jobs, interests, and other activities need to come second to our real calling by the Lord.  Second, our suffering may seem harsh, but it is nothing to compare to what Jesus suffered.  Thirdly, if we hold firm, then true joy awaits us in the Kingdom of God, where there will be no more suffering of any kind.