“I Lay It Down on My Own”

“I Lay It Down on My Own”

4th Sunday of Easter (B); April 29, 2012

Acts 4:8-12; Ps 118; 1 Jn 3:1-2; Jn 10:11-18

Deacon Jim McFadden; Divine Savior C.C. & Folsom Prison

 

            Two lovers look at one another and say without any reservation: “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.  I will love you and honor you all the days of my life” (Rite of Marriage (Roman Catholic), #25).

A father holds his newborn daughter and from some vastness within him says, “I would die for you.”

(for the prison) A friend holds the hand of a terminally ill “cellie”

and says, “Don’t worry; I’m not going away.”

When we first hear the phrase “unconditional love,” it seems a beyond-reach ideal—something that can only be attained in heaven.  But actually we all have moments of unconditional love.  In these moments we open ourselves unreservedly to another and commit ourselves totally to the others’ well-being.  Like Jesus in John’s gospel, we often reach for “laying down our life” language to express what, at this moment, seems so clear and undeniable to us.  Unconditional love means everything and is forever.  We know it’s possible because Jesus has done it for us and, as the Body of Christ, the Church, we are simultaneously called to do the same.

Let’s look at this passage closely: 17 “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.  I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.  This command I have received from my Father.”

        Unconditional love necessarily entails laying down one’s life for the other.  It’s important that we get this right because this passage touches on the meaning of redemption.    Sadly, there are some people who believe that Jesus paid the price to earn the Father’s love. Some people believe that Jesus paid the price to convince his Father that we were worth loving, which tells us that the Father does not love us very much and ends up making the Father a ogre, who demands blood money before he’s going to love his children.

Jesus is not proving himself to the Father; he’s not convincing his Father that we’re lovable; he’s not paying some kind of blood money, where the Father sees it and says, “O.K., I’m convinced; I’ll allow these people into heaven.” That could never be, because the Father is perfect Love, which does not break or cause pain but rather heals and transforms the other.

When Jesus died on the Cross, he is revealing to us that the Cross is somehow already in the heart of the Father. The Father is the unconditional Lover and Jesus is the beloved Son who is receiving the Father’s love.  The Son is becoming for the world Who the Father eternally has been.  The Son is becoming in space and time who the Father is.  That’s why Jesus is also known as Immanuel: God is with us.      Sisters and brothers, love is simply redemptive, healing us at our very core; self-giving is redemptive and Jesus is God’s self-giving in the world.  As John would say in 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son for our salvation.”  When we enter into this unconditioned loving energy through Christ, uniquely present in the Eucharist,  we’re becoming liberated, redeemed, and freed.   Jesus lays down his life of his own free will because he has seen the Father do the same for him for all eternity.  No other life than self-giving is real, true—it is being who the Father is.

So, it is with us.  The understanding of who we are as the beloved children of God, who are the People of God, the Church, challenges us to keep our visionary commitment to “love all the days of my life” and “till death do us part.”  We continue to gaze on our children, grandchildren, and friends and reaffirm that just as Jesus has done for me, I will do for you: I lay my life down for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Back to Basics!

Back to Basics!

3rd Sunday of Easter (B); 4-22-12

Acts 3:13-15,17-19; Ps 42; 1 Jn 2:1-5; Lk 24:35-48

Deacon Jim McFadden; Divine Savior Catholic Church

 

            “Back to Basics” is a familiar refrain in all walks of life.   We hear it in education that our kids have got to be skilled in ‘reading, writing, and arithmetic…and  today, we’d probably add ‘technology.’  We hear it in budgets, whether it be familial or national: “we have to live within our means.”  “Back to Basics” also applies to religion.  Catholicism includes the Scripture, creeds, Tradition and moral precepts, and the Sacraments.  From where do all these come?  Why are they so important?  The readings for the 3rd Sunday of Easter help us to answer those questions.

The excerpt from Peter’s sermon in Acts 3 contains most of the essential elements of our Christian faith, which is known as the kerygma.  These are that Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel’s scriptures, ,the decisive significance of his death, the miracle of his resurrection which affirms his divinity, the need for hearers to repent, the possibility of the forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and hope for the second coming of Christ.  It’s all there; Peter has given the Church the essential components of our faith Tradition.

Our ancient creeds, which go back to the apostolic era and the Council of Nicea, are more theologically precise and developed versions of Peter’s sermon.  Taken together, they frame our Faith.

The most basic moral application of the creeds is contained in today’s passage from 1 John 2:  Avoid sin and keep the commandments.   God is the great “I Am”, the fullness of Being; when we participate in God’s Being through virtuous action, we are in right relationship with God, others, ourselves, and Creation. In contrast,  sin moves us away from God and, therefore into non-Being, which is what Hell is.  As St. Catherine of Siena once said, “The road to heaven is heaven; the road to hell is hell.”    That’s why we’ve got to avoid evil.

Keeping the Commandments keeps us on track. The commandments that John is referring to are probably not the 613 laws of the Holiness Code contained in the Book of Leviticus or even the Ten Commandments.  As we read John’s Gospel and letters carefully, we will find that Jesus’ commandments are simpler and more challenging:  We are to believe in Jesus who is the revealer of the triune God:  JESUS IS YAHWEH MADE FLESH!   Therefore, we embrace his Great Commandment:  to love God with our whole heart and soul, and our neighbor as our self.   As St. Augustine would say a few centuries later, “Love God and do what you will.”

The commandments are always balanced by the reminder that Christ’s death on the cross was an efficacious sacrificial offering for our sins and the sins of the world.  Since there is nothing we could do to atone for our rebellion against God, the Son of God in his humanity offers himself completely to his Father, thus  effectively overcoming our sin and putting us in right relationship with God.

The Eucharist is the sacrament of ongoing Christian life and is so basic to keeping us in right relationship with God..  As the conciliar Fathers of Vatican II said, the Mass is the “summit and fount of our (faith) life.”  It is the summit because there can no greater act of worship than the Sacrifice of the Mass.  It is the fount because it inexhaustibly replenishes us with the Trinitarian love and forms us into what we are meant to be: the Body of Christ.  The passage from Luke’s gospel links the Eucharist to the Last Supper, which means that we are participating in the same sacrificial offering that occurred on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.

Sisters and brothers, the basics of our Faith tradition are rooted in the Scriptures.  I encourage you to allow God to speak to you on a daily basis  by following the  daily readings contained in the Lectionary.  Absorb the Word of God, chew on it, and let it transform your heart and soul.  One of the challenges of the Easter season is to gain greater clarity of what we believe, to find ways to put our beliefs into practice, and to deepen our faith and love of God through communion with the Risen Christ in the Eucharist.

Amen.

The Risen Christ is Still the Wounded Jesus

The Risen Christ is Still the Wounded Jesus

2nd Sunday of Easter (B); April 15, 2012

Acts 4:32-35; Ps 118; 1 Jn 5:1-6; Jn 20:19-31

Deacon Jim McFadden; Folsom Prison

 

        The seven weeks between Easter Sunday and Pentecost constitutes the Easter season.  While lest well known than Advent or Lent—people will give you strange looks when you say “Happy Easter” post-Easter Sunday—the Easter season is important because it gives us the time to absorb the significance and the experience of Jesus’ resurrection.  And, by doing so,  we reflect on the difference the Easter event makes in our own lives.

The first thing we have to deal with is that there is a difference between the pre-Easter and post-Easter presence of Jesus. Even though the doors were locked, “Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19).  The Resurrected Christ does not enter through doors, as people with physical bodies do. This strongly suggests that the disciples have a spiritual realization of Jesus.  They come to know the Risen Christ not through the eyes of physical seeing (what St. Bonaventure would call the ‘Eye of the Body’) or through the eye of rational thought (“Eye of the Mind’), but we can “see” him through the “Eye of the Soul’—that is, through Faith.   So, the relationship we have with the Risen Christ is not bound by space and time.  He is present to everyone and everything at any given moment.

The second problematic concern is that the Risen Christ is still the Wounded Jesus: “When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.  The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord” (v. 20).  Why is the Risen Lord still wounded?  He’s gone through his Passion and Death; why the wounds?   What we have to deal with is that the glorified Christ puts his Resurrection and woundedness together.  Jesus is glorified—he is at-one with His Father, yet, he is still wounded.  Somehow his very woundedness is his glory.

The early Church Fathers of the Church had a sense of this when they had this image of Jesus as standing eternally in the heavens with the palms of his hands opened before the face of the Father.  It became a symbol of what glory meant.  It’s a symbol for  humanity, who go into  eternity still in our wounded, broken state.  It’s this mystery the Medievals were working with when they saw imperfect men and women die.  So, they came to the insight of ‘purgatory’ to solve the problem for themselves.

We see this image in the Risen Christ, who brings his woundedness, his humanity before the Father and that itself is his glory.

Why?  Jesus could trust that his Father would love him in his woundedness and precisely because of his woundedness.  We, also, are one day going to come before the Lord, not in any sense unblemished or perfect, but in our wounded humanity.   Our final great act of trust is to believe, to hope, and to finally know that He can love us anyway—even in our imperfections and woundedness.  We will hopefully have the courage to hold our wounded humanity before his face and to let him love it because it is only his love that makes us whole, believable to ourselves.

My brothers, it’s not fire that will burn away our imperfection, but it is the gaze of God, the perfect gaze of the Father.  Let the Father love you in and through his Son Jesus.  Let his love burn away your sinfulness and woundness.  When the Father gazes upon you through the wounds of his Son,  all he sees is his beloved son.  Let him love you.

Amen.