26 April 2014

STILL BEHIND LOCKED DOORS?!

II SUNDAY OF EASTER
acts 2:42-47; 1 peter 1:3-9; john 20:19-31

after a lecture on mental health, karl menninger—the famous psychiatrist—answered questions from the audience.  one person asked: «what would you advise a person to do if he/she felt a nervous breakdown coming on?»
duh! the obvious answer: see a psychiatrist.
menninger caught everyone off guard with his response:  «lock up your house, go across the railway tracks, find someone in need, and do something to help that person.»

brilliant advice! it applies to all sorts of breakdowns: when you have problems of your own, get out of yourself.
that’s what the risen JESUS advises and commissions his disciples to do when he finds them—«on the evening of that first day of the week»—behind locked doors «for fear of the jews»: he send them out … with the SPIRIT to proclaim GOD’s love and forgiveness
a week later, he finds them still behind locked doors (little wonder, then, that thomas refused to believe that JESUS was risen). they were—in pope francis’ idiom—the first «christian bats»! 

they eventually do go out of the locked room. what’s the result? they have to «suffer through various trials» (second reading) but there is also fellowship—sharing of material resources and spiritual moments—and growth (first reading).

a natural reaction when we are afraid: lock doors; focus inward. sometimes the «unnatural» works better!
our locked doors do not stop JESUS; he comes to us in our fear, doubts, confusion… with his peace and with his SPIRIT. further, he keeps showing up week after week in the word, in the bread and the wine. and he keeps sending us out of our locked rooms into a world that needs his gifts of life and peace.

what are the fears that keep me behind locked doors? what makes me a christian bat?
may i live in the awareness that JESUS is always with me. may i get out, help those in need, and proclaim GOD’s love and forgiveness.

19 April 2014

BECAUSE JESUS LIVES…

EASTER SUNDAY
readings for the easter vigil
genesis 1:1—2:2; genesis 22:1-18; exodus 14:15—15:1; isaiah 54:5-14; isaiah 55:1-11; baruch 3:9-15, 32—4:4; ezekiel 36:16-28; romans 6:3-11; matthew 28:1-10

readings for mass during the day
acts 10:34a, 37-43; colossians 3:1-4 or 1 cor 5:6b-8; john 20:1-9


the new pastor—fresh out of seminary and still wet behind the ears as a minister—was visiting joe, an elderly and extremely ill parishioner. 
after talking about everything else, the pastor finally asked: «joe, doesn’t it bother you? aren’t you frightened?» 
joe smiled and said: «padre, i know i’m not going to make it, but i’m not afraid. you see… i’ve taken a peek at the end of the book.»
«what do you mean?» the minister asked.
joe replied: «ten years ago, i had my first heart attack. i remember the medical team thinking i was dead. i remember also the tremendous feeling of being surrounded by GOD’s love. the doctors revived me. and ever since that day i have been unafraid to die. i’ve been there; i’ve seen the future and it doesn’t frighten me. i know that one day soon i am going to sleep and i believe that when i awaken, i will be surrounded by GOD’s love» (cf. robert l. allen, «his finest days»).

joe took a peek at the end of the book. and this made him unafraid to die. we have read the beginning, the end and through «the book». we have celebrated the LORD’s resurrection. this gives us reason to live… unafraid. 
this is the message of the first easter and this is our faith: the tomb is empty. CHRIST is risen; he is alive. and because of this, we too, shall live!
the resurrection gives meaning to our christian life. recall peter’s address to the crowd on pentecost; he emphasizes that GOD raised JESUS to life. recall how the apostles made sense of all that JESUS said and did—during his public ministry—in the light of the resurrection. recall paul’s words: «if CHRIST has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain» (1 corinthians 15:14).

JESUS is risen. he lives. and that’s the reason my life is worth living and i can face the future.

12 April 2014

AND THE CHEERING STOPPED…

PALM SUNDAY
matthew 21:1-11; isaiah 50:4-7; philippians 2:6-11; matthew 26:14-27:66

after world war i, usa president woodrow wilson was an international hero. on his first visit to france after the war, cheering crowds greeted him. it was the same in england and italy. children in a vienna hospital saw him as their saviour! 
after a year… at home, wilson ran into opposition in the senate; his league of nations was not ratified. his party was defeated in the next election. in europe, political leaders were more concerned with their own agenda than with lasting peace. as long as he «spoke» peace, woodrow wilson was heralded as the new messiah. when he called for change that would lead to peace, the cheering stopped. wilson became a broken man and a failure.


it’s a sad but not unfamiliar story. JESUS faced something similar during his journey to jerusalem!
as long as JESUS fed the hungry and healed the sick, he was popular. as long as the people saw him as their political messiah, they cheered him and gave him a royal welcome. 
when JESUS emphasised that he was a king of love-peace, and not a conquering military hero, when he showed that he would rule through humbling obedience, when he broke social and religious barriers, when he became a threat to the religious authority and political standing of some people, when he loved all people unconditionally and challenged people to do the same, when he called people to change… the cheering stopped. and turned to jeering. on the cross, JESUS became (literally) a broken man and a human failure. 

one who makes people feel good is popular. but when one tries to translate ideals into reality, when one wants to change «feel good» to «do good», when one challenges people to amend their attitudes and action… popularity changes to unpopularity.
will i be the popular guy who makes people feel good or am i ready to be the unpopular guy who challenges people to be good? what will i do if/when the cheering stops?

i need to remember: the JESUS «story» does not end on the cross; there is the empty tomb. it does not end on friday; it begins a new chapter on sunday.

05 April 2014

LIFE-GIVER

V SUNDAY OF LENT
ezekiel 37:12-14; romans 8:8-11; john 11:1-45

in may 1988, when we moved to jamnagar, the town had been facing a drought for three years. the trees were charred; everything in nature had a black or dark brown hue. two days after our arrival, it rained. and the trees began to sprout new leaves. it was an amazing sight: black with specks of green! what seemed dead soon had life.

today’s readings are a vivid description of how GOD transforms what is lifeless and a powerful reminder that he constantly does so. 

ezekiel tells the exiles—dead in heart and spirit—that GOD will open their graves, raise them, and put his life-giving spirit in them. it’s a message of hope: this maybe your «friday»; your sunday will come!
paul writes to the romans that GOD’s spirit gives life to our mortal bodies.
JESUS tells martha that he is the resurrection and the life. he, then, raises the dead lazarus to life. the story tells us what kind of a GOD we have: our GOD
- does not intervene every time to remove pain/suffering and death;
- is with us in the midst of our suffering;
- gives us life.

GOD gives individuals and communities new life. am i ready to receive this new life? can i give that life to others who are without hope and life… by empathetically being with them??