Friday, April 8, 2016

HOMILY Third Sunday of Easter (Year C) (2016)

Two months ago now, I shared in my homily that our mission as Catholics is two-fold: 1) to be in relationship with God (now and eternally); and 2) to share with others the great joy, peace, and freedom of being in relationship with God and to then invite them into this relationship. When I preached last month, I then expanded on what it means to be IN relationship with God by explaining how we might experience God in relationship (in the Sacraments, in the liturgy, whenever two or more are gathered in his name, in nature and all things created by God, in Sacred Scripture, and certainly in prayer); and also by explaining who we are in relationship with (This is our Creed: the statement of what we believe, really in WHOM we believe: Father, Son and Holy Spirit); and then by explaining what is happening in this relationship with God (It is God who is taking the initiative: creating us, drawing us into relationship, and giving us the tools and the help to be in relationship with Him combined with his great love and mercy for us and towards us – and then it is our response to God – our surrender, our trust, our faith, our love - that brings us into full relationship with him, which allows us to experience the joy, peace, and freedom of being IN relationship). Today’s readings present then (for me at least) the real challenge of being IN relationship with God. It is not so much the mystery that I struggle with or even the pain or suffering or loss that we might experience despite being in relationship with God. It is really the ebbs and flows of our faith journey. How we can be so excited one moment and then lost and confused the next. How we can be so overwhelmed by his love and mercy and then in the next breath reject or forget this same love and mercy. I want to be on fire for God all the time like the Apostles in today’s First Reading. I want to be confident and certain and fearless and zealous. I want this in my job, in my marriage and other relationships, and I want this also in my faith life. I want to be like the Apostles who spoke with such authority and confidence, even willing to take great risk without hesitation. I want to be able to surrender completely to God, to trust him unconditionally, to never doubt; I want to be always so focused on God and others, rather than on my own wants and needs. But too often, however, I am (we are) more like the Apostles in today’s Gospel. Before saying more about this, I want to emphasize the most important point of today’s Gospel, today’s readings, arguably the entire Bible: The Lord Has Risen! The passage I just read was likely a later addition to the Gospel intended to leave no doubt or question that Jesus Christ, crucified and died, rose from the dead. The risen Jesus was more than mire vision or dream, not a ghost or spirit, but a real person. The tomb was empty, the burial cloths remained; it was Jesus who was fully present – flesh and blood; physically present to walk, eat and drink with, to be touched and have conversations with. It was the risen Jesus who was seen and encountered by the Apostles and thousands of others and of whom not only the Gospels were written, but other non-Christian authors wrote about. Jesus conquered death by his resurrection. Our God is a God of life – not death. Jesus’ resurrection is not only a sign of his great power – his divine power - but also that life has meaning, significance, value and dignity – all life AND especially a life lived fully in relationship with God! The Resurrection is not only a real event in history, it is a source of hope and joy for us. And, it was the encounter with the Risen Lord, combined with the gift of the Holy Spirit and the events and experiences that followed, that convicted the Apostles to act as they did in today’s First Reading. So now back today’s Gospel… Like most things, our life is not going to always be an extreme high (even if our society wants us to believe that!). More than likely, it is going to be lots of highs and lows, with hopefully most of our life somewhere in a healthy middle. This is especially true in our faith life. So I can appreciate the fact that the Apostles are found fishing in today’s Gospel – they return to what is familiar. We do this all the time – we go to what or where we find comfort and security in times of confusion or even chaos. We have our comfort foods or clothes or spaces, right? So, arguably at the/a low point for the Apostles, the returned to what is safe and familiar to them. And it is also not surprising that the Apostles did not immediately recognize Jesus. I read somewhere that it was because Jesus was wearing some type of hat on the beach (sun tan from a warm, three day vacation) – no, I am just kidding, that is not true. What is true is that we will easy miss or not recognize someone who we barely or remotely know. We will recognize our spouse, our parent or child – whom we love - if they speak to us or stand near us – right? So, it is no surprise that the disciple “who loved” Jesus, as we just read, was the one to recognize Jesus first. How often do we miss Jesus standing right in front of us, speaking directly to us?! It is Jesus who wants nothing more than for us to be in this love relationship with God – even to the point of suffering and dying so that we might be restored in relationship! And this is what is so wonderful about the fact that Jesus tests Peter as he did today’s Gospel. It is in part an opportunity for Jesus to show the unconditional and limitless love and mercy of God for us (despite rejection and even denial by those whom Jesus loved) – and equally an opportunity for Peter to show that his previously weak and failed love (denying Christ three times) is now strong and focused, and that as humans we can come back from sin. Each of us face this dual reality everyday: God’s unconditional and limitless love and mercy AND the opportunity to demonstrate by our words and actions our strong and focused loved for God. So what keeps us from such a love? What causes us to retreat to what is familiar and safe? What causes us to fail in recognizing too often the greatest love in our life? I would say it is fear. Fear of embarrassment, rejection, pain, loss, being alone, of failing, of death. But, my friends, we have no reason to fear! Remember: Jesus rose from the dead. He defeated embarrassment, rejection, pain, loss, alienation, failure, and yes, even death. These things no longer matter, they no longer have a hold on us, they have no control over us! This is the joy, freedom, peace, the life that awaits us when we are IN relationship with God. So, go and share this Good News with others.