We Do Believe, Alleluia

Posted on April 19, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, April 19, 2015

April 19

Do we really believe in the Resurrection? Jesus’ resurrection? Our own? During the past three weeks I’ve traveled in India and am currently in Uganda, Africa. In India, our tour group boarded a wooden boat at dusk and shoved out into the Ganges River. It was Tuesday of Holy Week, the evening of the Chrism Mass in my diocese back home. Our group of Americans was quiet as the guide explained the customs surrounding the death of a Hindu. Many of the elderly in India move to Varanasi so that they can be close to the Ganges at their time of death. If they are cremated there, they are guaranteed a happy afterlife.

As we motored up the river, we came to the area of cremation. Ghats (steps) went upward from the river. Fires burned on intermittent platforms. At that moment, five bodies were being burned. The chief mourner, wrapped in white cloth, with head shaved, ignited the sixty pounds of wood beneath and above the body. He had come from the top of the ghat where the eternal fire burned, down to the pyre where his loved one lay. After igniting it, the burning lasted about three hours. A sobering sight.

Three hours. The traditional time that Jesus hung upon the cross. It was Holy Week. My thoughts turned to Good Friday.

Three hours led to three days. In that interim, I moved from India to Uganda, Africa. My travel partner and I arrived at Stella Maris College for Girls after a five-hour ride, mostly on dirt roads churned by spring rains and hardened by the sun. There are over a thousand girls here from ages six to eighteen. On Good Friday, we spent almost five hours with them as they sang and prayed. All one thousand walked the outdoor stations, some barefooted as penance. The road was rough and rocky. This was followed immediately by the liturgical service. Every girl venerated the cross as they sang hymn after hymn from memory. There was no fidgeting or talking among themselves during those five hours. Unbelievable!

That five hours turned into another three hours the next night. The Easter Vigil. A thousand candles caught the light from the new fire atop the Easter candle. ALLELUIA! Sung in full voice with drums and clapping! “HE IS RISEN!” “HE IS RISEN!” The rejoicing was deafening! At the baptisms and confirmation they clapped their support! The faith and joy of these young women and their teachers was tangible! My heart rejoiced and my arms could hardly be restrained from joining their raised arms and voices of joy!

I thought of America, of my experiences of the Easter Vigil … my wondering why we are so restrained. Then I also remembered a number of times hearing fellow Christians say, “When I’m gone, I’m gone. That’s it. There is nothing else.” I thought of the Hindu belief in the afterlife. I also remembered seeing a human body floating in the Ganges and wondering how that person had died and where his or her mourners were and what about his or her afterlife. In these days, in this season, we all ponder life and death and our beliefs in the afterlife.

These are perennial questions of all thinking human beings no matter what age or nation or century. Even in today’s Gospel, St. Luke tells of a resurrected Jesus encouraging the disciples to touch him and to give him something to eat. Commentaries suggest that Luke was greatly aware that his Greek readers were skeptical about Jesus rising from the dead.

Are we skeptical? At the vigil here in Uganda, Father Joseph asked the universal questions, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ … he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day?” A joyous shout rose from a thousand young throats. “WE DO BELIEVE!” And he continued, “Do you look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come?” Again, the joyous shout thundered, “WE DO BELIEVE!”

Today’s Gospel concludes with Jesus affirming his own history of suffering, death, and rising from that death. He then commissions his disciples to go to all nations as witnesses. In my experience, these young African students have witnessed to me their belief in the Resurrection. Can I catch their joy and enthusiasm? Can I bring it home halfway around the world?

In America, it seems that in our youth-oriented culture we don’t want to recognize or think about death. In India it is very present. We Americans tend to keep our public grieving as short as possible, some not even having a funeral. We talk about a person “passing” rather than dying. There’s an obituary and then it’s time to move on. How can we celebrate resurrection when we pass over death? Maybe we need to learn from our brothers and sisters of India about death. Maybe we need to learn from our young sisters in Africa about resurrection. Maybe we need to think about, meditate on, and talk with each other about these taboo subjects.

Do I really believe in the resurrection of Jesus? Do I really believe in my future resurrection? In this springtime of new life, in this Easter season, when we hear the Resurrection stories, we need to contemplate these deep mysteries and, hopefully, shout with full voice, “I BELIEVE, ALLELUIA!”

Pat DeGroot, OblSB

PRAYER

Lord God,
you are attentive to the voice of our pleading.
Let us find in your Son
comfort in our sadness,
certainty in our doubt,
and courage to live through this hour.
Make our faith strong
through Christ out Lord,
Amen.

—Order of Christian Funerals © 1985, ICEL.

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Everyday Stewardship

Posted on April 19, 2015 by - Everyday Stewardship

Have you ever participated in or witnessed activities that were supposed to instruct you on the topic of trust? Some of these activities feature people falling backward with their eyes closed, sometimes even falling off a chair or table. One variation is when the voice of the person asking for trust trails off into the distance. Secretly other people have crept in and are ready to catch the subject when they fall backwards, but they are being asked to trust the voice that they know is no longer near them. It is often not easy for the person who is being asked to trust, especially if they have never done this before.

Trusting in God is not always easy either. Sometimes we are scared to give up our freedom. Other times we are consumed by doubt. After Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared a few times to his disciples. One time when he appeared right after some of them had encountered him on the road to Emmaus, he asked them, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?” Even with him in front of their eyes they had a hard time trusting. They were being asked to trust and believe, but just like those in the trust activities mentioned above, that was easier said than done.

What is keeping you from trusting in God? To live a stewardship way of life, trust in God is necessary. There are times when we will begin to question if we can persevere or if this way of living is even valid and worthwhile. That is only human. But through the church, sacred Scripture, and the sacraments, our hearts and minds will be opened to the real crucified and risen Lord. And then, if he asks, we will be able to trust and fall back into his loving arms.

Proof of the Resurrection

Posted on April 8, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, April 12, 2015

2nd Sunday of Easter or Sunday of Divine Mercy

April 12

Saint Thomas might just be one of the figures in the New Testament who is the easiest for us to relate to. Like him, we have all had our doubts. We’ve wondered how we can know for sure that God exists. We’ve asked ourselves how, with all the Christian denominations, we can feel secure about the one we’ve chosen. We may have even doubted the bodily resurrection of Jesus, as Saint Thomas did. No matter how pious, we have all entertained doubts at some point in our faith journey.

As well as being the easiest apostle to relate to, Saint Thomas might also be the most envied. After all, Jesus gives him the proof he asks for: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” How many of us in our fears and doubts have called up to heaven asking for a sign? Few of us, I imagine, received one so clear and unmistakable as Saint Thomas and the rest of the apostles did one full week after the first Easter.

In the Gospels, Jesus is constantly being asked to give a sign. When he casts out the money changers from the Temple, he is asked to give a sign of his authority to do so. The crowds that jeered him at his crucifixion taunted him to prove that he was the Messiah by coming down from the cross. Hearing these accounts we may wonder why Jesus did not do more to convince the people of his day of his power and divinity, especially at the Crucifixion. In honest moments, we may also ask God why he doesn’t do more in our day to make his existence known.

Jesus understood human nature very well. He knew that signs and wonders only work for those who already have faith. As Stuart Chase’s quote puts it, “For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who do not believe, no proof is possible.” We see this reality play out numerous times in Jesus’ ministry. When he casts out a demon, the religious leaders say his powers come from Satan. When he heals the blind man, the religious leaders condemn him as a sinner for performing a miracle on the Sabbath. When he appears to his disciples after rising from the dead, they think they are seeing a gardener, a ghost, or a stranger. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that, even at the Ascension, there were disciples who still doubted. Unless we are already disposed to believe, we will make any excuse to deny whatever proofs might appear to us, whether they be miracles or appearances of our risen Lord.

Faith works differently from empirical sciences. In biology or physics, we gather the proofs and then the theory is believed. With faith, we believe and then the proofs present themselves to us. Only with the sight that faith gives can the evidence be understood for what it is.

In Christian iconography, Saint Thomas is often pictured holding a spear. Tradition tells us that he traveled to India to spread the Gospel and was martyred by having his skin peeled off. The one who doubted found enough conviction to lay his life down when it mattered most.

Last week, gunmen killed 148 students at a Kenyan university. Many victims, when asked whether they were Christian, answered “yes” even though they must have known it would mean their death. Like all of us, they had questions about their faith. They doubted and wondered whether God existed. However, when it mattered most, they put their doubts aside and answered from the heart. They were not provided with any more proof than we have been. Yet they believed enough to make the ultimate sacrifice in witness to their faith.

Hopefully, we can do the same when we are called upon to defend our faith or even to step out of our comfort zone to help another human being in need. When we do so, we provide the most powerful proof that the risen Lord is alive and in our midst.

Douglas Sousa, STL

PRAYER

Almighty and ever-living God,
who strengthened your apostle Thomas with sure and certain faith in your Son’s resurrection:
Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God,
that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight;
through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
—Prayer to St. Thomas the Apostle. Source: http://www.stthomas.webhero.com/.

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A New Eden

Posted on April 1, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, April 5, 2015, Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord

April 5

Lately, it has seemed as if the world is spinning out of control.

Planes plummet from the sky. Buildings crumble. Wars rage. Peace seems, at best, elusive.

Into the midst of this, though, comes Easter. All expectations are defied. We are reminded again and again that the astonishing reality of the Resurrection holds forth the promise of life—bewildering, triumphant, unstoppable life. Churches burst with flowers. Choirs sing “Alleluia.” Families gather to feast. As if on cue, the weather begins to warm. The earth shifts, and new growth begins, and the days lengthen, and everything seems suddenly renewed.

The One who was dead is alive. And we live with him.

It is fitting that the Gospel this Sunday unfolds in a garden—a place of life, not death, and, not insignificantly, an echo of the garden where man’s journey went off track in Eden. Easter gives us a new Eden, a new beginning, a new opportunity to make what went wrong right.

“This is the day the Lord has made,” the responsorial psalm sings, “let us rejoice and be glad!”

At this moment, who could resist an invitation like that?

As we marvel at what God can do, and watch the world being reborn during this sacred season, we find joy and reassurance in the middle of a world so often clouded by disaster and doubt. The Resurrection gives us reason to hope. He is risen. And he raises us with him.

To which we can only respond with a word that has been too long absent from our lips:

“Alleluia.”

Dcn. Greg Kandra

PRAYER

O God, who on this day,
through your Only Begotten Son,
have conquered death
and unlocked for us the path to eternity,
grant, we pray, that we who keep
the solemnity of the Lord’s Resurrection
may, through the renewal brought by your Spirit,
rise up in the light of life.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
—Collect for Easter Sunday from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 2010, ICEL. All rights reserved.

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