Sunday, April 8, 2018

A Community of Believers

A Community of Believers
Homily for April 8, 2018    2nd Sunday Easter - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi    Divine Mercy Sunday

Happy Easter! As we conclude the Octave of Easter and our celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection, for the rest of the Easter Season we shift our focus to living as a community of believers in the Resurrected Christ.

The first reading for Mass almost every day from now until Pentecost will come from the Acts of the Apostles, and will be about the development of the early Church and the continuation of Jesus’ ministry on earth by his disciples.  Today’s first reading focuses on what the first Christian communities looked like and how they acted.

It begins with: “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” Earlier in Acts, chapter 2, we hear the same thing:  “All who believed were together and had all things in common.” Acts chapter 2, verse 44.

 “(H)ad everything in common.”  Sounds a bit unrealistic for us today, doesn’t it.  I’m not expected to share my house or car or my other expensive toys with others, am I?  And I certainly don’t have to sell them and give the proceeds away to those who didn’t work for them or who don’t have the ambition to make it on their own, do I?  After all, I EARNED them, right?

The opening line from today’s first reading brings back memories of my teen years in the late sixties and early seventies – the age of Communism and hippie communes. 

It was a time when the word “communal” didn’t carry a positive connotation, with images of forced labor farms in Russia or drug-crazed drop-outs from society running around in the woods.  Surely that wasn’t what the early Christian communities looked like, did they?

Yes and no.

If we look at true Christian communities today, we see that they have some of the same characteristics as the early Christian communities did back then, as revealed in Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2, starting with verse 42: 

•     “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles – that would be religious study of scripture and of the leaders of the Church, like our bible study programs and other spiritual reading;

•    To the communal life – that would be the loving care of each other through self-sacrifice, constantly thinking of the other person first, like our volunteer efforts and our charitable giving programs;

•    To the breaking of the bread – that would be specifically the Eucharist, not just sharing a meal; and

•    To the prayers – that’s not private prayer but the shared liturgical experience, what we would call “Mass” today, and other Sacramental activities.

So what’s the difference between the early communities and our communities today?  I think that it can be found in the three words that begin verse 42: “They devoted themselves”.  Devotion signifies priority, what is most important. They were Christ-centered, not life-centered (at least, not earthly life.)  And, because they were Christ-centered, wonderful things happened: 
“Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the Apostles” and “Great favor was accorded them all. There was no needy person among them”.

Can we say that today?  Have we eliminated the needy among us?  Are we devoted to our faith in a way that fills us with awe at the mere thought of Jesus?

If not, then one way we can work on that devotion to our faith is through the new initiative that was introduced by our Bishop Burns on Friday called the “Be Golden Campaign."  The campaign is based upon the Golden Rule and focuses on those who are marginalized in our society, especially the immigrant.  The primary goal is to change our mindset, our attitude, to be more Christ-like.

And, to be more Christ-like it demands that we show mercy to those who we have the ability to show mercy, especially if we are to expect mercy in return.  Jesus’ command to us in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 6:

 “Do to others as you would have them do to you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. … But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Lk 6: 31-36)

Be merciful. This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday.  Mercy is not forgiveness; forgiveness can only be extended by the person who was harmed.  Mercy is the ability to prevent or alleviate the suffering of another by someone who has the power to do so, whether it is justified or not.  God extends mercy to us out of His love for us, even when we do not deserve or have not “earned” that mercy; we are called to do the same.  Members of the early Church communities extended mercy to one another when they used their own resources to make sure that “There was no needy person among them”.

God has granted all of us an ability to show mercy to others.  We too are in need of mercy – from others in our lives and especially from God.  It’s what we celebrated last Sunday – the ultimate sign of God’s love and mercy – the Passion of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Today’s Gospel concludes with, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book.  But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in His name.”

Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God? Are you truly devoted to Him?  Does your life reflect that devotion?  If not, then during this Easter Season, you have some work to do. 

Frankly, so do I.

Death and Taxes Revisited

Death and Taxes Revisited
Homily for March 18, 2018    5th Sunday Lent – A (Scrutinies)
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

For the last two weeks our RCIA candidates have listened to passages from St. John’s Gospel known as the Scrutinies – the first was the story of the Woman at the Well and her conversion experience and that of the others of her village through listening to Jesus, the Word of God and the second was the story of the Man Born Blind and how his eyes were opened both figuratively and spiritually.  Today we just heard the 3rd Scrutiny – the Death of Lazarus.

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 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 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.

The story 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 their brother.

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 to his disciples but, as he had cured many people, maybe they thought he’d do the same thing remotely like the centurion’s slave or Jairus’ daughter.  After all, Lazarus lived near Jerusalem and the Jews there wanted to stone him.  Who’d blame him for staying where he was?

And then Lazarus died. 

It can be hard to imagine the pain and grief that Mary and Martha were 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 it could have been the loss of a job; the loss of house and home through a natural disaster or other catastrophic event; or maybe 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 to compensate for our losses; 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 feelings of 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?"
"Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days."

Their sobbing reflects 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’s pain or joy; it is the ability to understand and SHARE the feelings of another, especially their 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 He Wept.

In his book, “A Grief Observed”, well-known author C.S. Lewis records his own 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 his ultimate return to 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 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: Ezekial with God’s promise that the people will be raised from the grave of their exile and returned to the promised land; St. Paul’s letter to the Romans that “the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to our mortal bodies”; and this story of Lazarus, are meant to remind us of God’s love for us and His promise that death isn’t an end for us.   Despite whatever deaths or losses we will experience in or lives, there’s going to be an Easter morning for us too.

The Journey’s End Revisited

The Journey’s End Revisited
Homily for March 18, 2018    Fifth Sunday of Lent - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Have you ever gone somewhere that took a long time to get there?  Maybe it seemed like a long time, but with travel today it doesn’t usually take too long to get somewhere – a few hours by plane, maybe a couple of days by car.  Not like in the days of Columbus, where it took two months to cross the Atlantic for the first time.  Even Lent is only 40 days.

But maybe you went on a vacation, or maybe you had to make an important business trip. If it was somewhere you wanted to go and you had the time, you probably did a lot of planning beforehand - what to take, what NOT to take, how you were going to get there, where to stay once you arrived, what to say and do while you were there.  The planning and preparation may have taken longer than the trip itself.

Or maybe you had to make a trip on short notice. Maybe it was to see someone who was seriously ill or because someone had died.  It’s hard to plan for that kind of trip, and you know there will be many unknowns once you arrive.

And as you approached your destination, you probably experienced a change in your emotions.  If you were traveling for pleasure, you might have experienced an increase in the sense of anticipation or excitement – maybe even impatience? How many of us who have traveled with children have had to deal with “Are We There Yet?”

For a business trip you might have reviewed what all you needed to do and what you wanted to accomplish once you arrived. You might even feel a little anxious or uncertain, especially if the purpose of the trip was important to your business.

And if the trip was to deal with a serious problem or a death in your family, you might have even had a feeling of dread, or the desire to be anywhere else but there.

In today's Gospel we see that Jesus and his disciples are coming to the end of a long journey. They are approaching the end of three years of Jesus' ministry, and during this journey He has tried to prepare his followers for what was coming next - His Hour, as He calls it. And it would not be what they expected.

In a way, today's Gospel sort of jumps the gun for us, as this passage actually comes AFTER Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem for Passover, which we will hear next week for Palm Sunday, the start of the Passion of Our Lord. The journey is over; the action is about to begin.  Jesus’ Hour has Come.

Now, throughout the past few Sundays, we’ve heard Jesus say that His Hour has NOT yet come.  We’ve heard it when the authorities have repeatedly tried to arrest him or stone him.  We’ve heard him tell his disciples how they must work in the light – his light – while there was still time, for darkness was coming.

Now, he talks about how His Hour has come, and how it troubles him. He KNOWS what is about to happen to him and what he will face. But although it troubles him, he knows that what he faces is the will of his Father and that it will bring glory to God. It is why he came.  Through his death, he will bring eternal life back to us.

We, too, have been on the journey with Jesus for the last 32 days or so of Lent. We started our journey on that 1st Sunday of Lent with Jesus in the desert facing the temptations of the devil; then journeyed with him as he revealed himself to us as The Son of God through his lessons and miraculous signs; and finally as we witnessed the conflict between him and the Jewish authorities develop. Has it felt like a long time?

Do you feel any different now as we approach the end? You should. Throughout this time we should have been mentally preparing ourselves (well, hopefully) for the most sacred time of our Liturgical Year - Holy Week and the Passion of Our Lord. Of course we already know the outcome - Easter and the Resurrection of our Lord - but because of that we might forget about the importance of this portion of the journey. WE ARE NOT THERE YET.

And for some of you, your journey to Calvary is more than a religious exercise.  You may be feeling the rejection of those closest to you.  You may be persecuted or abandoned; you or someone near to you may be suffering from illness or economic distress.  You may want to scream out the same thing that Jesus will from the cross, “God, why have you abandoned me?”

We may struggle to understand why we suffer the things we do, but as painful as they may be, God doesn't abandon us. And while we may not know how to deal with them, we can use them to give glory to God. For, after our own journey is complete, we too will experience our own resurrection and a share in Jesus' victory over death.

So, as we continue forward to our own Jerusalem, let us remember that Jesus suffered as one of us and that his Resurrection at Easter is a promise to us, too.  Renew your efforts during this last week of Lent.  Listen closely next Sunday as the Passion is proclaimed.  Participate in the various Holy Week liturgies that follow it – if you can, go to the Chrism Mass on Tuesday; come experience the Lord’s Supper and the Washing of Feet on Holy Thursday; come venerate the Cross on Good Friday.  Fast and abstain when you can, and ponder the sacrifice that Jesus willingly took upon himself for us.  And when Easter morning comes, embrace the victory of Jesus over death and the Cross.  For at the end of our own journey, that victory is for us too.