Fourth Sunday of Easter: Good Shepherd

How often we allow the “thieves and bandits” through the gateways of our homes and ourselves. Advertising which makes us feel inferior, broadcasting filled with violence and greed, people who demean us, even the messages we send ourselves: “you’re not good enough, bright enough, smart enough, etc.” It’s as if we allow a dump truck full of garbage to unload in the living room.

In contrast, Jesus offers himself as a guide who brings us into green pastures filled with abundant life. Can we hear this deeply good shepherd calling our name, or are we too buried in busy-ness and distraction? Jesus never coerces or forces himself. Instead we are drawn to him as to a friend who’s fun and sympathetic, someone we want to be near.

Sometimes we’re confused about what we need most. How consoling to have One who knows better than we do what we need. One of the loveliest responses to this gospel comes from Sofia Cavalletti’s book The Religious Potential of the child (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1992). There she describes a three-year old suffering from leukemia. The little girl’s one consolation during painful treatments was that the shepherd called her by name and she knew his voice. To appreciate her insight, remember someone beloved calling your name, in tones warm with affirmation. Now magnify that sound, so it drowns out all the destructive influences and negative voices. Jesus is pleased with you, delights in you, protects you. That is what we celebrate today.

Third Sunday of Easter

Today’s gospel defies all the self-help books about achieving inner peace. Peace is a gift, according to Luke. Furthermore, it comes unexpectedly, during confusion, mourning, fear and anxiety. The disciples find it too good to be true.

 

To alert them to reality, Jesus asks for something to eat. He reminds us of adolescents who are always hungry, or long-awaited guests whom we welcome with a special meal. This touchstone in human nature apparently convinces the skeptical. Wisely, Jesus starts with bodily needs, then “opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” (24: 45)

 

How ironic that he tells the poor, uncertain, wavering crew: “You are witnesses of these things” (48). They are hardly the finest spokespersons, but then, neither are we. We have the same mixture of doubt and certainty, anxiety and joy that they had. Jesus always seems to choose the most unlikely prospects.As Desmond Tutu says, Our God is an expert at dealing with chaos, with brokenness, with all the worst that we can imagine.”

 

But to all, he extends the same invitation: “touch me and see.” Only by coming dangerously close to this wounded Lord will we too know transformation of our wounds—and resurrection.

Second Sunday of Easter: The Important Role of Doubt

Despite the fact that it has been celebrated for centuries, the quality of mercy remains an abstraction. Today, Jesus gives mercy a human face and touch.

Before we criticize Thomas too much, we should ask what we might do in a similar situation. Would we also be skeptical if our friends told us that someone had returned from death? Wouldn’t we want to see for ourselves? Thomas may simply voice the questions most disciples harbor secretly.

The first disciples, caught in fear and confusion, are hardly the finest spokespersons for the gospel. But then, neither are we. We have the same mixture of doubt and certainty, anxiety and joy that they had.

Jesus responds to us as he did to Thomas—without harsh judgment. He understands our needs for concrete reassurance. After all, God created us with five senses to help us learn. And if Thomas—stubbornly insistent on tangible proof—can believe, maybe there’s hope for us all.

To us as to him, Jesus extends the same merciful invitation: “touch me and see.” Only by coming dangerously close to this wounded Lord will we know transformation of our wounds—and resurrection. Doubt isn’t evil: it’s the entryway to hope.

Where we might have expected glory and trumpets the first Sunday after Easter, instead we get typical, honest, human groping towards truth. A splendid reunion between Jesus and his friends? Not quite. But maybe something better: Jesus’ mercy, meeting them where they (and we) are stumbling, extending his hand in genuine understanding and compassion.

Easter: Invitation to Joy

Today’s feast gives us reasons for joy, even if we think things look grim. Despite persuasive evidence of tragedy or sorrow, Easter fulfills promises so daring, we yearn to believe them. Light conquers darkness, death is not final, we will live eternally and meet our deceased loved ones again.

Indeed, “there is cause for rejoicing here” (1 Peter 1:6) So much good news, in fact, may seem overwhelming. Since we have limited capacity to absorb all this, the church wisely presents it in narrative form. We hear the story of ordinary human beings like ourselves. Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter and the beloved disciple have all been through a grueling ordeal, watching the torture and murder of their beloved leader, Jesus. They had seen their high hopes perish and his vibrant life extinguished. People who are depressed rarely have much energy—daily chores like getting out of bed or taking a shower become formidable obstacles.

For that reason, it’s interesting that the verb repeated twice is “run.” Mary runs to tell Peter, and the two men run to the tomb. This sudden burst of energy may be a tribute to the power of hope. Perhaps at first they simply wonder who has taken the Lord from the tomb. It is a measure of their devotion to Jesus that they overcome a natural apathy and race to discover what has happened.

Sixth Sunday of Lent

Anyone who lives long enough questions. Why do the wicked prosper? Why do the young die? Why does potential wither while evil thrives? The genius of today’s gospel is that Jesus doesn’t try to answer the questions. He enters into them.

 

Mark’s passion begins with the exquisite scene of Jesus’ anointing. The bean-counters hate it: how will they justify the expense or fit it on their spreadsheets? But Jesus answers: hold onto kindness and beauty, which help us through the worst.

 

As does a meal with friends. Jesus’ concern in his final hours isn’t with imminent, brutal suffering but with a final gesture of friendship. He reaches out to them–and to us–with the nurture of bread, the spirit of wine and the praise of song. During his whole ordeal, there is no word of recrimination, though it would be understandable. He responds to insulting betrayal by pouring out love.

 

To the logical, it makes no sense. But to the believer, the powerless triumph. Those who seem defeated ultimately win. The questions aren’t answered, but they are blessed by the presence of One who lives through them.

 

John Kane Review of Kathy Coffey’s new book: When the Saints Came Marching In

Editor’s note: Kathy Coffey’s latest book, When the Saints Came Marching In: Exploring the Frontiers of Grace in America was recently published.  Below is a review of the book by John F. Kane, Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies at Regis University.

When the Saints Come Marching In

“Kathy Coffey has given us a book of American Saints for the era of Pope Francis. Where her title metaphor focuses on the American penchant for exploring frontiers, the book’s saints—some canonized, others simply recognized—made me also think of Francis’ metaphor of going out to the streets of our world.  The saints Coffey covers, in brief readable chapters, are all ‘gutsy realits’—a memorable phrase used to describe Sr. Dorothy Stang. And all wonderfully human, warts and all. I learned about saints I’d never known, and learned more about others I thougth I knew. In the end the book made me think of all the saints among us in this country—so much good news to counter all the bad news that fills our headlines and our heads.”

Visit the Liturgical Press Website to preview the book and to find out more info about how to order it.

Fifth Sunday of Lent

 

What happens in today’s gospel is not unusual. It continues today. Two moms became friends and discovered that their oldest sons both skied. The next, natural step was taking the boys skiing together. The two became friends, and one’s name was—truly—Andrew. He began to meet the other boy’s friends, and became part of a group from another high school, not easy in adolescent society.

 

During college, the boys skied, kayaked and mountain biked together. Later, they attended each other’s weddings. When Andrew died suddenly of a staph infection, the friends flew from around the country for his funeral. Each then planted a pine seedling and a packet of wildflowers, signs of hope to honor him.

 

They probably didn’t say it as they scattered seed, but once again, a grain fell to the ground and died, bearing much fruit. The boys couldn’t ski without remembering Andrew; they consciously tried to bring his fierce delight to all their days.

 

The ripple effect worked for Jesus; Greeks drawn to him approached him through his friends. He saw his coming passion through the metaphor of seed. How could the company of friends, now including us, NOT try to act like him?