We Wait

IMG_3387It’s Holy Saturday.

We wait.

We are in the upper room, afraid, unable to move. Stunned into inertia at the horror of what has happened.

God is dead.

And yet, somehow God is alive.

The love that we behold in the cross beckons us beyond the horror, beyond our impotence to act, beyond all that we have seen into a place of hope.

Where w see a love so great that its power reaches beyond the grave, beyond the shadow of death.

Into new life.

It is not a revived life, rather it is resurrection–a life changed by the power of love to create something more powerful than we can imagine.

We are reminded of the transfiguration and the bleached white image of Jesus, a foretaste of what we now can see.

That foretaste is reality–He is risen! Alleluia!

But there’s more, much more.

For this reality is now again a foretaste. It will one day be our reality when we will be shining like the sun in a newness of life. We will become united with Christ in this resurrection one day, just as we are united in Baptism presently.

It is our mystery of faith. By dying he destroys our death, and rising he restores our life.

For now we wait for Christ to come in glory. We wait for the stone to roll away and for new life to begin for Jesus and for all of us.

But we are too afraid, too shamed by our sins to believe that it could all be true for us. That we could be “good enough” to share in the divinity of Christ.

Tonight let us pray to the Holy Spirit that we might be able to believe. That we might see beyond cross and tomb, not merely for Christ but for ourselves.

The message of Easter is one we’ve been hinting at for the past three days: God finds all of us very worthy.

We are worthy enough to have our feet washed–despite the fact that we sometimes run away from God.

We are worthy enough to die for, stark naked on a cross–even when we are all to quick to crucify others and ourselves.

We are worthy enough to be given a new life in Christ–despite our fear, despite our lack of faith at times.

Jesus reminds us that we are more than enough.

And if we are more than enough to die for, then we are more than enough to live our lives for one another. If we are more than enough then our hearts can stretch much farther than we think they can. If we are more than enough then we are more powerful already than we can ever imagine we might be.

We are already more powerful than death.

Because Christ has made it so.

And that is more than enough indeed. Alleluia!

Who Rolls Back the Stone for You?

When the women started their journey to anoint the body of Jesus, their main concern was a simple one: “Who will roll back the stone to the tomb for us?”

Every few days my wife asks me to open a jar. I tease her and say that the only reason that she’s kept me around for 10 years is because if she got rid of me she’d never be able to eat peanut butter again!

But just as I lovingly open that jar for my wife, God lovingly has rolled the heavy stone away already, for the women…

And for us.

We need not strain ourselves in finding the Risen Jesus. He will find us and there is no stone in our path.

Unless we are the ones who have put the stone back ourselves.

Because as easy as God often makes it for us to believe–we find it difficult. A man named Jesus, risen from the dead, “What a load of malarkey” is what some would say–perhaps even some of you who may have been dragged here this evening by a significant other or family members.

But God welcomes all of us anyway, with outstretched arms today and every day. The arms that hung on the cross now reach out to each one of us in resurrected glory. Those arms didn’t roll away the stone, rather the love that God gives us can’t be contained by the tomb. Christ’s resurrection goes beyond anything we could dream of—it goes beyond logic and science, into a newness of life–a gift that we don’t always grasp or understand.

A friend once asked me “What’s the big deal about Jesus being raised from the dead? Didn’t he already show us this trick with Lazurus?”

I replied, “Lazarus was resuscitated! Jesus was resurrected! There’s a big difference.”

Our pastor, Fr. Jack Ledwon, also pointed this out in his Easter message. There’s a newness of life to Jesus where Lazarus came back to that “same old, same old” situation.

And so it is for us after our lenten journey. What has changed for us after Easter? What has been not renewed, but resurrected? What is new for us? How are we different and shouldn’t we be different each day anyway because despite our lenten reminder to change we have need to be because He is Risen, defeating death and giving us eternal life. Death no longer controls us, or keeps us in fear because we know that He is alive!

More importantly, who helps us know that the stone has already been rolled away? Who gives us hope in our world that eases our pain, provides us with comfort or welcome or gives us faith that this world is not such a precarious place?

As the Easter dawn comes, we might find it a bit easier to believe in all the Christ has done for us, but we might look to those people in our lives who clearly have been Christ for us. They show us, that even though tragedy befalls this world, God can make all things new. God redeems our suffering, just as God redeemed death by capital punishment on a cross.

As I walked my dog this morning, I turned down a familiar street and saw that his favorite tree had bloomed with bright white flowers on it. The same tree had not sprouted its flowers yesterday. I’m not one to believe in miracles in these kinds of ways, but it was beautiful to behold. Perhaps I had just missed the early buds on the trees this past week or failed to notice the tree yesterday? Or perhaps God called me to it today to realize and remember the new and resurrected life of Christ that exists for me every day–when trees bloom or when the leaves die.

Or perhaps it is a dog that continues to point me to the beauty that Christ gives us each and every day if we can just bother to awaken to it.

Life is meaningful when we take notice of it. What can we notice today? Husbands might see their beautiful wives with new eyes, appreciating all they do for their families. Wives might be grateful for the love and support of their husband or the love shown to them by children. Choirs sing a bit more sweetly when we notice their gifts, food tastes wonderful when we realize how gifted we are by those who provide for us. Our education, our jobs, our love for each other…all of it…it needs to change us when we notice it and that gives us the opportunity to change the world. It gives us an opportunity to notice not how blessed we are by God, because what of those who don’t have as much? No, it gives us an opportunity to bless others with what we have–being the arms that doesn’t roll away the stone for others, but rather becomes just a finger that points to the fact that the stone is already gone–so that others might be able to notice the beauty that is already all around them.

The stone has already been rolled back, so there is no need for us to do the heavy lifting, but rather we can rest easy in knowing that Jesus has done most of the work for us.

All we have to do is notice and believe.

A Confirming Slap

Deacon Greg talks about a recent confirmation where he expected the Bishop to slap the confirmands on the cheek as they did “back in the day.”

Read a snip:

Generations of Catholics came into the church that way, with a dab of oil and a sting of flesh. At the time, the Sisters of St. Joseph—no slouches in the slapping department, by the way—taught us that the touch of episcopal palm to young cheek was a harbinger of things to come. “It is a sign,” they intoned, “of the sufferings we must endure as Christians.” In other words: get used to it. There’s more where that came from.
For an 11- or 12-year-old, it sounded ominous. And it made us look at our vocations as young Catholics with seriousness and a certain amount of dread. How long until we had to face the lions?

Flash forward forty years. Earlier this month, I was serving as deacon at our parish confirmation in Queens. The bishop anointed each of the kids as they came forward and then—I braced for the slap, waited for it—he extended a palm . . . and shook their hands. And he smiled as he did it.
He shook their hands?!

He could have been selling them a used car.

Ok, that last part made me chuckle.

But a confirmation slap does not.

Truth be told, one never was supposed to receive a slap at confirmation but rather touching someone’s cheek is a sign of endearment. It’s a way to say to someone “You are dear to me.” I can see a Father doing this to his beloved daughter or a son to his aging mother. At the Easter Vigil, our pastor, Father Jack, does exactly that to each confirmand.

And now I do this to our students.

At the closing mass on campus each year we invite our graduating seniors and graduate students up to the front of the church and we send them forth for the final time. We’ve ritualized this by asking all the campus ministers to come forward and lay hands on them. After I do so, I touch each one of their cheeks in this endearing way.

The guys, I must say, I do give a little harder tap on the cheek. And they love it. Zach, one of my favorites invited me to a pre-graduation dinner at his family’s home and he ritualized the evening with his own pre-written grace where he thanked everyone for supporting him through college. When he got to me he said this:

“Thanks for that closing ritual at mass. I cried and got slapped in the face and I loved every second of it.”

Playful might be the word I’m describing. A kind of double tap. But what happens isn’t the kind of slap that’s painful or leaves one feeling ashen.

But it does leave a mark.

Not on their face but on their hearts.

Imagine your bishop holding your cheek in the palm of his hand. Saying “I love you, God loves you. Now go and do likewise.”

That’s the kind of slap we need. One that makes us awaken to the fact that we are beloved by God, not one that makes us fearful and afraid.

I will concede the good Deacon the following point:

We need more than a handshake from our Bishop.

Meeting Jesus in Misery – Update

It was the worst news we could imagine. We never expected it to happen. We thought everything was just sailing along smoothly, in fact life had been better than it ever had been.

Until now…

This week had been a good one for me. I wrote an op-ed for the Buffalo News that got rave reviews. I was elected co-conveneer of the UB Campus Ministry Association. One of my favorite students had been chosen to be a Catholic Volunteer in Buffalo. National Public Radio interviewed me for a story on their website. And I had not one, but two promising book deals on the horizon.

And then there was Thursday…when the phone rang.

“Hello my sister!” I said, happy to hear her voice. “How are you?”

Her response was blunt, “I’m full of colon cancer.”

The world stopped right there. I was on the road to what I thought was a wonderful summer, a wonderful end to the semester. And now…well, I didn’t know what to think.

This was not unlike our disciples today who also had high hopes for Jesus–the one they expected to redeem Israel. And then….

Crucifixion. Death. Entombment. And then crazy women told them that he was alive. It seemed like a cruel joke when they returned to the tomb and found it empty but didn’t find Jesus.

That 7 mile walk, must’ve been quite disconcerting. What were they to do? They had given up their very lives for this Jesus and now he was dead. All was lost and the worst possible news had indeed happened.

We all end up on the road to Emmaus, at one point or another. It’s a road that none of us want to be on. It’s scary. It’s unfamiliar. It’s an unexpected experience. It’s a road that nobody ever wants to walk on alone.

And these two disciples were no different knowing that they needed one another for support in these most dire of times. And then luck struck. A stranger who comes and offers them more companionship. Sometimes isn’t it just great to get an unbiased opinion of things? And this guy turns things upside down and gives them hope, renews their faith so that they just might believe one last time that perhaps death and suffering may not be the final word.

We don’t know what is going to happen to my sister. For our graduates tonight, you don’t know what awaits you either as you leave. But we do know two things:

The first is that no matter how many good things happen to you, the occasional bad one will come your way and it will stop you in your tracks. None of us escape suffering.

But the second one is the good news of the gospel…whenever we are on that scary road to Emmaus, when all seems lost, Jesus comes and will meet each one of us on that road. And quite often, we’ll all be too tied up with our our fear, or hate, or stubbornness, or pain that we will just miss him altogether. We’ll need a reminder. And so we come here and break the bread and have our eyes opened and are called into belief one more time, supported in belief by a faith community.

Eventually on that road, we all come in for a rest stop. We are able to come to a place where all are welcome, indeed where there are no strangers. Where each of us meets that Jesus in disguise–in one another–and we are never the same again. It is there where we realize that he is alive again…and has been with us always even in the most troublesome times of our lives. It is when we come around this table that we remind ourselves that suffering, or poverty, or losing a job, or failure….

Or even Cancer will not have the final word.

No, God always offers us something else. Something better. God offers us Himself. And it is more than enough.

May we always be able to see that. And may our prayers for one another keep that sure and certain hope alive and burning in our hearts….

No matter what hand life deals us.

UPDATE for those interested: My sister received some preliminary good news yesterday. It seems as if no “fast moving cancer” is in her system. We’ll know more about the stage of colon cancer and prognosis once blood work comes back in 5-8 days. I think my big sister is about to kick cancer’s ass. Thanks for the prayers.

God Finds a Way

At the Easter Vigil tonight, the 2nd reading is one of the most dramatic of all the scriptures. Abraham is asked to sacrifice his only son by God.

It sounds horrible and ridiculous. Why would God ask for a human sacrifice? Some scholars believe that because human sacrifice was common during that time, that this is God’s prohibition of that sacrifice from this day forward.

Still, why would God test Abraham in this way anyhow? We forget that God’s promise to Abraham of a son, namely Isaac, was a promise that a great nation would come from him. That Abraham descendants will be great indeed.

Abraham had to be scratching his head…how can I kill Isaac and still have descendants? I’m an old man who is lucky enough to even have this son!

But it is Abraham’s faith in God that turns the story into a deep and touching drama. God will find a way to keep his promise. God must have a reason to ask this of me and I will trust that his ways, though mysterious, are the ways that I must follow.

Truly that’s the faith that we are called to, each time tragedy befalls us as well. Can we believe that God can make a way out of no way?

Perhaps no time is more suited to call this to mind than it is tonight. When death seemingly has had the final word, are we still hopeful that the light can break the darkness? When the savior we look for has been killed by hanging from a cross, can we hope beyond hope that something else is surely coming our way?

When God is killed, can we trust that death cannot hold God in its dastardly clutches?

God always finds a way to provide us with what we need, what can and does sustain us. This Easter we believe that light always shatters the darkness. If that’s true and if Jesus really has overcome death than we need not be afraid of anything. We never have to fear death, for resurrection is always just another breath away.

Come Risen Jesus, break the chains of death and provide for us a way to renew our belief that somehow God always finds a way.

He is Risen. Alleluia.