2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday), Cycle C (2)

This Sunday, as we conclude the eight-day solemnity of Easter and continue into the liturgical season of Easter, we celebrate the gift of divine mercy. It’s easy to forget sometimes that mercy is not something to which we have a right. The Lord has freely given it to us.

In the First Reading we see the power of healing flowing from Peter and the faith of the people who sought him out. Peter over this last week’s readings has been the first to tell us that the power comes from Jesus, not from him. People in today’s First Reading are just trying to fall under the Peter’s shadow in order to be healed. Peter himself would probably admit that he is a shadow of Our Lord, but the Lord uses him to heal those who seek him, just as those who seek forgiveness and healing through the sacraments draw close to our sacred ministers, knowing that it is Our Lord who heals and forgives through them.

In today’s Second Reading the apostle John has a vision of Our Lord holding the keys “to death and the netherworld.” Our Lord is not identified by name but reveals himself as the “first and the last” to John, who is imprisoned on the isle of Patmos for giving witness to Jesus. His keys represent his authority: specifically, to bind and to loose. If we ask him to liberate us, he will, but we have to ask him. When you see sin as a liberation, not an imprisonment, you see the great gift of mercy. Our Lord’s mercy is the key to liberation from our sins.

Our Lord didn’t have to forgive Thomas for his lack of faith in today’s Gospel, just as Adam and Eve didn’t have to receive mercy after the Fall, a Fall that condemned all their posterity (all of us) to separation from God forever. We didn’t commit the Original Sin, nor was the Lord obliged to forgive it or redeem all of us from its effects. In appearing to the Apostles today Our Lord’s message is one of peace and reconciliation, not condemnation. Our Lord in today’s Gospel empowers his Apostles to be instruments of his mercy.

When a priest or bishop absolves his penitent from his sins, that mercy and power come from Jesus. Instead of remaining in doubt and regret about whether we’ve truly been forgiven Our Lord has given sacraments that in faith we know bring us his forgiveness. Baptism, which we remembered in a special way over these last eight days as we celebrated those who were baptized in the Easter Vigil a little over a week ago, also wipes away sins. All these means of healing and mercy are freely given gifts of Our Lord. We don’t have to receive them, but we’d be fools not to seek them out.

The Risen Lord offers the same gift of lasting peace to us that he offered his first disciples in today’s Gospel. His peace is a gift, and a gift can be accepted or rejected. Are we ready to leave aside the pain and sorrow of sin and really accept his peace? Ask Our Lord for the grace of accepting his peace. You won’t regret it.

Readings: Acts 5:12–16; Psalm 118:2–4, 13–15, 22–24; Revelation 1:9–11a, 12–13, 17–19; John 20:19–31. See also 2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday), Cycle C2nd Sunday of EasterSt. Thomas the Apostle, and Pentecost Sunday.

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Cycle C (2)

With Palm Sunday we begin Holy Week by remembering the Lord’s Passion. The word “Passion,” like the word “love,” is a used and abused term in our day. When we speak of Passion in the case of what Our Lord underwent there’s room for multiple understandings of passion. He shows us passion in all the facets we should live it.

Our Lord put up no struggle and went as a lamb to the slaughter (cf. Isaiah 53:7), the Suffering Servant in today’s First Reading. Passion means suffering. Our Lord suffered greatly for us. In his Passion we see Isaiah’s parable of the Suffering Servant fulfilled. Passion meant having something done to you, and not necessarily something pleasant.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that a passion for others is what drove Our Lord to empty himself by assuming human nature and undergoing the Passion. It was not a passion for honors; he already had them. It was not a passion for gain; as God he already had everything and needed nothing. It was not a passion to excel; he was the Son of God in eternity before he was born of Mary. It was a passion for us and for his Father.

Passion means emotion; in Luke’s account of the Last Supper Our Lord expresses how ardently he desired to be with his disciples before suffering. Passions can be good or bad; he was passionate about his cause. We can only imagine the emotions he was experiencing knowing one of his most trusted friends would betray him. The fear he experienced in Gethsemane of what he was going to undergo. The betrayal and abandonment by his disciples he experienced when things became dangerous, and the torture and ridicule he underwent.

Most importantly, Passion means love. People are encouraged today to be passionate about what they do, and to change what they’re doing if they’re not. We’re expected to love what we do, and we consider people blessed who love what they do. However, the mystery of Christ’s Passion shows us that it is not so much loving what we’re doing as loving those for whom we’re doing it.

You may not love the cross, but you take up your cross daily for those you love. Jesus loves us through the Cross and undergoes the Passion to teach us what passion truly is. Holy Week has begun. In imitation of Christ in these days, contemplate not what you love or don’t love, but whom you are loving through what you do. As we follow Our Lord, step by step, blow by blow, to Calvary, ask him to show you for whom he is suffering: you.

Passion is not just about feeling good or feeling strongly about something. This week we’ll remember the most Passionate moments of Our Lord’s life, and those moments should spur us to a similar Passion. Live this week with the emotion, love, and willingness to sacrifice for others that Our Lord has taught us.

Readings: Isaiah 50:4–7; Psalm 22:8–9, 17–20, 23–24; Philippians 2:6–11; Luke 22:14–23:56. See also Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Cycle C and Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (Cycle B).

5th Sunday of Lent, Cycle C (2)

We’re two weeks away from Easter Sunday, and, as Paul describes in today’s Second Reading, we must forget what lies behind and strain toward what lies ahead. Our Lord wants to create something new in us during these last days of the Lenten season, and requires leaving some things behind.

In today’s First Reading we’re reminded by Isaiah that the past of slavery to sin and distress in the desert is being left behind to pave the way for something new. He starts by recalling the escape through the Red Sea that meant liberation for the Israelites, “the people whom I formed for myself,” and destruction for the Egyptians, “a powerful army.” As the story of Exodus would later reveal, the Israelites still thought of returning to Egypt often, tired of hardship in the desert. They were willing to sacrifice their new-won freedom just to avoid discomfort.

The Lord today encourages them and tells them the desert itself is being transformed. This is something new, created by Our Lord. Even in the desert signs of hope begin to appear. Lent is like a hard journey through a desert, but the desert also represents our earthly life, plagued by difficulties, temptations, and trials. Our life here and now has been transformed into something new by Our Lord’s victory over sin and death. We just have to leave sin behind and strain toward what he offers us.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul describes well what how should consider anything in our lives, past, present, or future, that don’t lead us to Christ: refuse. Even the great St. Paul in his earthly life didn’t see his work of answering Christ’s call as done. He knew Christ was calling him to something greater, but he had not yet attained it. Paul “strained” toward what lay ahead; that meant he put his whole self into it.

In Lent we strain as well, striving to go above and beyond our normal spiritual life so that we draw closer to Christ and truly grow spiritually. We don’t just strain because pushing ourselves any harder is beyond our abilities; we also strain because of the weight of what we cannot leave behind: our old life of sin and selfishness. That’s why Paul doesn’t mince words when he labels those things as “refuse.” We must leave them behind and forget them so that we can move forward.

In today’s Gospel we’re reminded in the story of the woman caught in adultery that the opportunity to strain ahead and let Our Lord created something new in our lives is also thanks to his mercy. The Lord helps us know what we truly must leave behind, even at times when we don’t see it. The scribes and Pharisees are looking for a trial, and they have the criminal who was caught in flagrante delicto and the Law on their side. The adulteress knows that too, which is why she is silent. She knew her fate was now out of her hands.

The Law prescribed that a just man to pronounce sentence on her. When they invited the just man, Jesus, the man without sin, to come forward and throw the first stone, they found themselves on trial too. They’d only come to trap Jesus in the situation, to put him on trial. They weren’t really seeking justice. They came to him as if they considered him a just man, but their actions showed they were sinners just like the woman they were condemning. They wanted a rubber stamp or a political scapegoat, not justice, and so Our Lord revealed to them that they were the most unjust of men, and they skulked off, one by one, until only the adulteress remained, alone before the only just person who could pronounce a verdict.

We stand alone with God. The other voices, one by one, leave and attend to their own consciences, knowing that they can only judge themselves so much before the case comes to the Divine Judge. In the end we too will stand speechless and hopeful for mercy, just like the adulteress. Ashamed and silent, sorry for what we have done, we must stand before Jesus and answer for it in the light of day.

Each “jury” member that had been united around condemning another walked off alone. No one wanted to face up to Jesus for what they had done; they changed their vote with their feet. The adulteress was ready to accept her judgment. Jesus confirmed the jury’s revised verdict: since they had un-decided to condemn her, he would not condemn her either, but he also told her the truth about herself, just like he always does in each of our hearts: “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

What are you having a hard time leaving behind? Today’s readings remind just that Lent is not just a time for easing off on things we normally do, but a time for leaving things behind that prevent our spiritual growth. Your Lenten resolutions, if properly chosen, help you to see the things you must leave behind to strain toward a deeper friendship with Christ. It may take a long time to leave something behind, but with Our Lord’s help, you will.

Readings: Isaiah 43:16–21; Psalm 126:1–6; Philippians 3:8–14; John 8:1–11. See also 5th Sunday of Lent, Cycle C.