The Ascension of the Lord

We, who have lost a loved one, know that their “spirit” often lives on long after their death. Certain situations will trigger our memory of them. Recalling what they said or did, we are inspired to live up to the legacy they have left us. In this way their presence continues through our words and actions.

We might well imagine the disciples overwhelming sense of grief and absence when Jesus ascended into heaven. As time will tell, Jesus’ absence will really mark the beginning of a new kind of presence. We, his followers, are commissioned to preach that suffering and death lead to new life and that forgiveness will be granted to all who seek forgiveness. His ascension is our commission because we are now His presence on earth.

His very absence calls us to be and do as Jesus. To put another’s needs above our own desires; to seek amends when forgiving another or letting go of grudges. And we don’t do this on our own, we are gifted with the very power of the Holy Spirit. Having experienced God’s saving action, we can be that saving action for others.

Adapted from Renew International, Prayer Time Cycle A

Neither Do I Condemn You


Some people like to be center stage. They are natural born entertainers who feed off and thrive on audience responses. Other people, like me, avoid this kind of attention focused on themselves. Might we surmise that the woman in our Gospel today was hardly happy about being center stage?

Her life hung in the balance. How would Jesus respond to the challenge of the scribes and Pharisees? Hardly the way anyone anticipated!

The scribes and Pharisees wished to make this woman an example of her as a grave sinner deserving of death. Ironically, Jesus makes an example of them as sinners and they turned away from him and went away! Once they were faced with their own sinfulness and the futility of their test, they chose not to remain with the One who would grant them forgiveness and mercy, reconciliation and new life. The woman, however, remained with Jesus.  And for this choice, she received forgiveness, mercy, new life. [Living Liturgy 2010]

The center of this gospel is not the woman or her sin- it is  Jesus. He is the one who draws people to himself, teaches, challenges others about the truth of their lives, forgives, commands not to sin again. This is the same Jesus we encounter during Lent. This is the same Jesus who offers us forgiveness and new life.

Jesus did not imprison people by their past actions, but called them to the truth of who they were and the goodness within them.  He freed people from the death of their own sinful actions and offered to those who would remain with him new life.

The deepest truth about ourselves  lies not so much in recognizing our sinfulness as it lies in deepening our relationship with Christ. The closer we become to Christ, the more we recognize our own sinfulness and repent of our ways. Then we hear Christ say to us,” Neither do I condemn you.”

Adapted from Renew International

Musical Reflection

See The Salvation of God

forgiveSaved by the bell! The firefighter saved the baby from sure death. The relief pitcher saved the game. We hear the word “save” frequently in our everyday chatter, and know immediately what it means: to be rescued from a bad situation, from danger, from an unwanted outcome. This Sunday’s gospel doesn’t have the word “save,” but instead “salvation.” What does it mean to “see the salvation of God” that Isaiah the prophet foretold? Here the meaning of “save” is not quite so straightforward. Much more is promised than being rescued. In fact, what the gospel is about is not so much being saved from as being saved by and for.
Let’s be honest: it’s not just the busyness of Christmas preparations now in full December fury that distract us from our ongoing work of repentance and forgiveness. Every day of the year we tend to be distracted by mountains of work, paths of indecision, valleys of doubt and fear. Like John the Baptist, we are to hear “the word of God” that comes to us, that challenges us to embrace a more Godlike way of living, that not only promises salvation, but shows us the path to it.
Changing our lives to live more faithfully Gospel values is not easy. Nor do we ever get to a point in our daily living when we have arrived at the mountaintop and no longer need to act on God’s word, change our minds about what is most important to us, open ourselves to God’s forgiveness of our wrongdoing and learn how we in turn forgive others. This is the path to salvation. Not an easy one. But a rewarding one.

Third Sunday of Easter

emmausWhy think about sins and forgiveness during Easter time? What a bummer! Easter is a joyful time to celebrate new Life! It is thus surprising that repentance and forgiveness (acts we much more readily associate with Lent) figure so prominently in all three readings assigned to this Third Sunday of Easter. The readings suggest to us that we, unlike the disciples to whom Jesus appeared after the resurrection, cannot look at, touch, see with our own eyes this Jesus who was dead and now is risen to new Life. Yet Jesus gives us another, just as concrete, means to come to belief in the new Life of resurrection. Repentance and forgiveness are themselves encounters with the risen Jesus, an invitation to deeper belief, and an experience of our own coming to a share in Jesus’ risen Life.

Jesus opened the minds of the disciples to grasp two things written in the Scriptures: that he “would suffer and rise from the dead,” and that “repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations.” Our repentance—conversion of life—turns us to the God who forgives and who fills us with the new Life of the resurrection. Ultimately, this risen Life within us empowers a way of living that witnesses to God’s forgiveness of our sinfulness.

Our belief in the resurrection cannot be passive. Our belief in the risen Jesus is made visible when we “preach in his name” the kind of repentance leading to the new life of forgiveness. We encounter Jesus today when we repent of our sins and forgive others. Jesus “was made known” in the breaking of the bread and in repentance and forgiveness. Why is forgiveness so central to embracing Jesus’ risen Life? Being forgiven by God for our offenses means that the weakened or de¬stroyed relationship caused by sin is strengthened or restored. We become strong once again in the Life that God offers us. Forgiving others who have hurt us means that we are not controlled bytheir hurtful actions, a control that can lead to resentment, anger, hate. Forgiving another might not erase the hurt, but it does free us to live with compassion and joy. These are virtues of risen Life. This is risen Life: “You are forgiven.” This is our witness to the resurrection: “I forgive you.”

The resurrection claims us as witnesses not only to God’s forgiveness of us, but also to our forgiveness of one another. Repentance—conversion of life—opens new opportunities to touch and see the risen Jesus. Repentance opens us to God’s gift of forgiveness. Repentance opens us to the new Life of resurrec¬tion Jesus offers. Ultimately, the resurrection is a pledge of new Life for us and makes visible God’s forgiveness of our sinfulness. Forgiveness is part of the reality of risen Life; it is the effect of death and resurrection.

Repentance and forgiveness do not belong simply to Lent—there, that’s over for another year. Instead, they are very much a part of the Easter mystery. Forgiveness is the virtue that enables us not to allow past hurts to determine our decisions and actions in the here and now. Forgiveness opens up the space for creating together with the one forgiven a new future where we can “fall peacefully asleep” (responsorial psalm). Giving and receiving forgiveness is a resurrection activity. Walking and acting like a forgiven and forgiving people is how we make known the risen Jesus.

The Supper of the Lord by Rosario on Grooveshark

A Voice Cries Out

Christmas is a time for cluttering. For most of us, our calendars are already filled, and yet we find more things pushing themselves upon us. Be honest, most us know that our lives, our homes, our schedules, our world is already over stuffed and here we bring out more stuff. When we begin to decorate, boxes are pulled out from the attic, the basement, a closet or maybe from all these places. As we begin to unpack the decorations, they bring out with them so many memories. But in order to find a place to put them, we have to rearrange some of the things that are already out in our homes during the year. Most of our homes already have things filling the shelves, the tabletops, and the cabinets, and here comes more.
The world doesn’t stop for Christmas. Many will still have to work or keep appointments or do those things that keep our lives running. But now we must find more time for friends and family. We add to an already hectic world more things we must do.
Then there is shopping. The economic times we live in make this even a greater challenge, as we desire to please those we are giving gifts to with the budget we have to spend. This means more time and more effort.
We don’t know how much the wise men paid for their gifts, much less, if they found them on sale. We really don’t know how much time or effort was invested by the shepherds, but we know that both the wise men and the shepherds all came for one reason: to worship and adore the one who came at Christmas. They were not distracted by clutter in their lives. Out of all the stars that filled the sky, the wise men stayed focused on one. The sheep had for a moment to be set aside to go to Bethlehem and see what the angels told of.
John the Baptist, who speaks out in our Gospel this day, was one of the most colorful characters in all of history. He went out into the wilderness, away from the city, away from the crowds, to attract a great crowd. He seemed almost determined to fail. Despite all these things we would call poor marketing, Luke tells us that people from all over the region were flocking to hear his message.
There will be new power and hope that comes from God’s presence in our lives and in our world. In these days leading up to Christmas may we see beyond the clutter of living to the hope that was born so many years ago in Bethlehem. We, too, can find the way home. The call is for us to find the way to God to be in our days and our hearts.
Look at your calendar for the days between now and Christmas. Where have you set aside time for prayer, for some quiet time? A major part of uncluttering is making sure there is time for God to touch our lives and shape our days. Maybe a friend or loved one needs you more than the gift you will spend hours trying to find. Maybe more important than perfection in our decorations is a smile on our face as we spend time with those dear to us. Preparing a way means to be willing to ask some tough questions and make some hard decisions.
To prepare the way of the Lord means to make choices. We must decide what we are to focus our lives and days on. We must decide what we will keep.
The challenge is for us to surrender to God’s control, to prepare the way of the Lord. The challenge is to get our lives in such order, that our hearts will be open to the way of the Lord. Once we have settled the issue of who is first in our lives, we do not have to deal with the clutter of divided loyalties. The one who was born at Bethlehem will be the Lord of our lives if we are willing to let God prepare the way.
The Gospel also calls for us to make the crooked places straight. We are told to make the rough ways smooth. In our lives, this may mean for us to forgive those who have hurt you, to refuse to allow what has happened to you to control your life. We need to make sure there is enough time for those that we care about.
The call for us is to find a way for God to be in our days and our hearts. Those who went to the wilderness were challenged to turn and go in a new direction in their lives, leaving behind much of what they had believed and looking for a new way.
Few people are kept from Christ by some great, overpowering evil. Most fail to see or hear because they are preoccupied with good things, busy at work, acquiring wealth, enjoying entertainment, being comfortable, but not seeking the best. We are challenged to unclutter our lives to find the Christ who is there with us, in us, and calling for us to come and follow.

Receive the Holy Spirit

Some of us can remember a time when locking doors was simply not something people did. neighborhoods were communities that looked out for each other. Strangers coming into the midst were noted. But beyond this there was a trust and companionship that marked the atmosphere and locking doors seemed unnecessary. Today our neighborhoods tend to be marked by fear. Fear has become a way of life for some of us. But fear is nothing new.  In today’s gospel, we find the disciples in a locked room because they were afraid. Fear marks a serious breakdown in relationships.  Forgiveness marks a serious attempt to rebuild relationships. It is no surprise, then, that Jesus bestows on this fearful group the gift of peace, the Holy Spirit, then sends them out on a mission of forgiveness.

Twice Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” Peace is indicative of the presence of the Spirit in those whose lives are characterized by forgiveness. Peace is the way we witness to healed relationships within us and the larger community.

This forgiveness is about building right relationships, about allowing the peace of Christ to replace fears that stifle our conbecting to one another. The risen Christ breathes into us the Spirit-this capacity to firgive-and sends us into the world to unleash this Spirit.

Every day is a Pentecost.

Make Straight Our Path to the Lord

As a math teacher, I would counsel my students with the statement -“the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” Yet there have been times when my life has taken me in very circuitous ways! Sometimes I have gone out of my way to avoid another person; other times I have taken a roundabout way home to enjoy Mill Creek Park.

Our Gospel today, despite our sometimes roundabout ways, gives us a clear instruction- make straight our path to the Lord. Our Gospel also makes clear the means to make that path straight: repentance and forgiveness.

Sometimes we don’t understand or are unaware of the importance of repentance and forgiveness in our relationships with one another. Repentance for the forgiveness of sins is an essential requirement for us to see the salvation of God. What is at stake in our making a straight path to the Lord is our salvation.

To be honest, it’s not the busy-ness of Christmas preparations that distract me from my ongoing work of repentance and forgiveness.  Each day of the year I tend to be distracted by work, paths of indecision, valleys of doubts and fears.  Today might be a  good day to reflect on God’s forgiveness and mercy and how God gives sure direction in my life.

Part of the work of Advent is smoothing our relationships with each other so we can see the nearness of God in each other.