Sunday, April 23, 2017

Faith and Mercy


Faith and Mercy
Homily for April 23, 2017    Sunday of Divine Mercy Sunday / 2nd Sunday Easter - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

Would those of you who are NOT sinners, please stand up?  I’d sit down but there isn’t a chair up here.  Just as I thought.

I don’t think that any of us got up this morning thinking, “I think I’ll go out and sin today – I wonder which one I should pick?”  And those of you who have seen Bishop Robert Barron’s video series on the Seven Deadly Sins  knows there’s plenty to choose from.

But I think we can agree that, even if we’ve been to Confession recently, it doesn’t change the fact that sooner or later, we’ll find ourselves at the wrong end of the spectrum of holiness.  Jesus warned of this, as we heard last week when he told Peter in the garden of Gethsemane just before his arrest:  “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  (Mt 26:41)

It’s not that we don’t want to be good; even those of us who battle addictions or other compulsive behaviors don’t want to sin, per se, but we know it is a daily battle to resist temptations and we will often fail.  St. Paul, the patron of our parish, tells us in his letter to the Romans:  “So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. ... The willingness is ready at hand, but doing the good is not. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me."  (Rom 7:17-20)

So, what are we to do?  If Jesus says that by my nature I’m weak in the face of temptation and Paul tells me that I’m prone to sin even when I don’t want to, then am I doomed?  It seems that every time I fail to overcome the temptations I face, I crawl deeper and deeper into a hole of depression and despair – that sense that nobody loves me, even God.  Especially God.

I hear that cynical little inner voice of Satan say to me: “You’re hopeless.  You’re worthless.  Why bother?  God won’t forgive you this time.”

It’s a lie.


The words and actions of Jesus during the three years of His ministry – His compassion toward those who suffered or were rejected, who thought that they were cursed by God – and His admonition to others to care for the least of their neighbors – show just how much God loved us.  For “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  (John 3:16)

God Loves Us.  All of Us.  Even those of us who fail in our efforts to avoid sin.  God Loves Us.  We celebrated the ultimate proof of that love during Holy Week and Easter, as we were witnesses once again to Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection.

Which brings us to today’s Gospel.  St. John says that the disciples have locked themselves away out of fear of the world and, I’m sure, because they are ashamed of their lack of faith in Jesus.  They’ve heard that he’s alive.  Mary Magdalene told them.  Cleopas and the other traveler who encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus told them. 

It reminds me of the story of what Mary Magdalene said to Peter after the Resurrection:  “I have some good news, and some bad news.  The good news is that Jesus is Alive!  The bad news is – he wants to talk to you.”

Isn’t that how we feel when we’ve done something wrong?  Aren’t we afraid to “face the music”?  We hide and avoid others because, when we meet those we’ve hurt, we have to face our sin; share their pain – the pain which we may have directly or indirectly caused by our own actions or inactions.  We’re afraid because we are human and they are human and we know how we might react when someone hurts us.

But God isn’t like that.  Jesus isn’t like that.  Today we celebrate the Sunday of Divine Mercy, a day to remember that God is Love and God is Infinite Mercy.  By the way, the story of Sr. Faustina and her encounters with Jesus as the source of Divine Mercy is fascinating and I encourage you to explore her story.

For it is through God’s Mercy, promised through Christ’s resurrection, that we can find the strength to start each day in faith, knowing that despite our weaknesses and failings, He is there to forgive us and to give us strength to, as St. Peter said, to suffer through various trials we must endure.  We should not be presumptuous in our expectations; but we should be humbled in knowing that God is there for us. 

And we have been given the ultimate gift of healing for whenever we do fail – the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  For even if we sin seventy times seven times – in other words, almost daily – as long as we strive to follow in faith our Lord Jesus, God will be there to heal us.  He waits for us to overcome our fears and to turn to Him so that He can heal us of the injuries we have caused ourselves. 

Both Peter and Judas showed remorse at what they did to Jesus; Peter’s sin really was no less serious than Judas because Peter SWORE to Jesus that he would always be there for him, and then betrayed him 3 times.  But Judas allowed his fear – his lack of faith – to drive him into despair to the point of suicide. 

Peter, on the other hand, rushed to inspect the empty tomb; although afraid, he waited with his fellow Apostles for Jesus to come to them, and he even jumped out of the boat AGAIN when he heard that it was Jesus on the shore calling to them.

Today’s Gospel ends with Thomas exclaiming, “My Lord and My God!”  Jesus’ reply, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."   All we have to do is to have faith.


  
And just because we acknowledge that we are sinners doesn’t mean that we can’t strive to be saints.  St. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians said, “I have the strength for everything through Him who empowers me.”  God doesn’t ask us to be perfect; only that we be faithful. 

So, if we remember only one thing today, let it be that God’s Mercy is Infinite – that there is no sin too great that God will not forgive, if we will only ask Him in faith.  And whenever we are overcome by fears, doubts, or lack of faith, let us echo the prayer taught to us by Sr. Faustina:

Jesus, I Trust in You.






Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Uncertainty of Death

The Uncertainty of Death
Homily for April 2, 2017    5th Sunday Lent - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

There’s an old saying that there are only two things in life that are certain: death and taxes.  And while, if you’re poor enough or clever enough, you might be able to avoid paying some taxes, it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re rich or poor, you’re going to die someday.  And sadly, the ones we love will eventually die too.

But while death and the pain caused by it are inevitable, with faith we can find strength to continue on with our life.  And today’s Gospel gives us some pointers on the reality of our future, if we trust in God.

It begins simply enough.  Mary and Martha send word to Jesus that his good friend, their brother Lazarus, is seriously ill.   They know about Jesus; more importantly, they KNOW him and WHO he is – the Son of God.  So they reach out to him to intercede on behalf of Lazarus.

Don’t we do the same thing whenever a family member or one of our dear friends is sick and in need of healing?  Reach out to our prayer groups and prayer warriors and ask them to storm heaven to intercede for us? 

But instead of going immediately to see Lazarus, Jesus stays on the other side of the Jordan.  His statement that Lazarus wasn’t going to die, that there was a purpose to his illness, may have seemed a little strange but, as he had cured many people, maybe they thought he’d do the same thing remotely. After all, Lazarus lived near Jerusalem and the Jews there wanted to stone him.  Who’d blame him for staying where he was?

But Lazarus died. 

It can be hard to imagine the pain and grief that Mary and Martha was going through unless you have experienced that kind of loss yourself – and most of us have.  Not just death of a loved one, although that is the ultimate loss, but the loss of a job; the loss of house and home through a natural disaster or other catastrophic event; a break-up in our relationship with another.  We pray and pray and may even experience a glimmer of hope:  interviews for a better job; insurance payments or help from friends and family; the discovery of a miraculous cure or the word that the cancer is in remission. And then the other shoe drops.

Mary and Martha probably felt that glimmer of hope as they sent word to Jesus, hoping that he would get there in time to heal Lazarus.  And when he didn’t; when their brother died and still Jesus didn’t show up right away, their grief must have been tremendous – along with frustration, despair and maybe even anger. 

We see that in the responses from Mary, Martha and their friends:

"Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died."
"Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?"

Their sobbing reflects the intensity of their grief and mourning.

And Jesus wept.

Why did Jesus cry?  After all, Jesus knew that Lazarus wasn’t going to remain in the tomb.  He knew that, despite being buried for 4 days, Lazarus was going to rise and be with his family and friends, and that there would be great joy and celebration.  So why did Jesus weep?

Empathy.  Empathy is more than just witnessing another person's pain or joy; it is the ability to understand and SHARE their feelings, especially the feelings of sorrow and pain.  Jesus FELT their grief; their pain was real and no amount of knowledge that “everything will be all right” can take that pain away from them. It was more than Jesus “knowing” that they were in pain; he FELT a pain that was so intense it made people cry.  And so He Wept.

In his book, “A Grief Observed”, well-known author C.S. Lewis records his personal observations on how he dealt with the many issues associated with the sudden death of his wife to cancer: his grief, including the pain; the depression; the awkwardness of dealing with well-meaning friends who didn’t always know the right words to say; the loneliness; the anger he had towards God; and how he ultimately returned to his faith.  I recommend the book to anyone who has experienced a sudden loss of a loved one or to those who know someone who has.

Now, if all that this Gospel was about was Jesus performing a miraculous cure for Mary and Martha because Lazarus was a friend, then it would be a wonderful story but it wouldn’t tell us much about God the Father or Jesus his Son.  After all, Lazarus eventually died again and that time wasn’t raised from the dead.  So what is Jesus telling us?

1.    God loves us and understands our pain in loss.
2.    Grief is natural and expected.
3.    There’s a purpose to our life – and death – which we may never fully understand.
4.    Even in death, there’s hope for those of faith.
5.    Jesus is calling us to come to him, even if we’re bound up in sin.
6.    No matter how tightly our sins bind us, they are not enough to keep God from freeing us. 
7.    Death is not the end of life – merely a prelude to something better.

As we approach Easter, we will witness Jesus’ Passion and Death next Sunday and throughout Holy Week.  As we reflect on what we hear and see, let us remember that all of the scriptures which we heard today are meant to remind us of God’s love for us and His promise that death isn’t an end for us.

There will be the dawn of an Easter morning for each of us.