Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

There are several ways to understand this feast: It’s the final element of the great 3-part mystery that we call the Paschal Mystery: Jesus’ Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension. Also, it marks the pivotal moment in which Jesus’ followers would themselves have to take the reins in the mission of building the Kingdom. Third, it speaks to the moment that humanity formally entered into heaven. These are objective theological explanations, but for the disciples, perhaps Jesus’ Ascension can simply be understood as a period of waiting.

I say that regarding Jesus’ words at the end of the Gospel we just heard. Jesus gave his disciples a final instruction, reminding them that much lay ahead for them: that they were to go to all nations preaching repentance, bringing about forgiveness of sins. He told them they were to be witnesses to Jesus himself by virtue of their lives. But then he also told them: “….behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

In other words, before they were to go out into the world, and before they were to give their lives over as witnesses, they would first need the Holy Spirit, the promise that Jesus’ Father would send upon them. After all, without the Holy Spirit, these simple Galilean fishermen would be entirely ill-equipped for so great a task. He makes it clear: for now, stay put in Jerusalem and wait.  

You and I have the benefit of hindsight to know that the promised Holy Spirit would be poured upon them ten days later, which we’ll celebrate next weekend. You and I also have the benefit of having heard how it all happened—that Pentecost event. But for those disciples to whom Jesus was speaking, having been given so little detail, they didn’t know what they were waiting for nor when whatever it was would come. And I suspect that if they had dared to ask for clarity, Jesus would have said, ”Don’t bother trying to figure it out. Just stay put and wait….have faith.” So, they stayed and waited. But with so much uncertainty, that waiting must have been mentally, emotionally and spiritually exhausting.

It makes me think of moments when I’ve experienced people vigilantly remaining close to their loved ones as they move closer to death—not knowing if death will come in the next few minutes or days from now…..waiting in that uncertainty.

It makes me think of circumstances in our lives in which things are not in good order—perhaps as we wait in hope for a call from a prospective employer; as we wait in worry for our children who are making unhealthy or even harmful decisions, wondering when they’ll get it together—those moments in life when we’re left wondering when God’s promises to take care of us are going to take effect.          

Waiting is hard and we tend not to be at our best when left to wait. It’s in that uncertainty that we’re more inclined to wain in our trust in God, wondering if He’s even aware of our circumstances; if He’s even real or truly good. Like the Israelites, who waited at the bottom of Mt. Sinai, day after day for Moses and God to appear and lay out a plan for them, to move them toward the great promise. They gave up on waiting, deciding it might be better to just go ahead and make a god, a golden calf (Ex 32). Not so different, in our waiting, we’re tempted to begin seeking alternative solutions to the things we’re hoping for.

So much of the spiritual life requires waiting. Yet, in a culture like ours that regards waiting as a curse or a burden, we’re so preoccupied with what comes next and building our earthly future, that patience and waiting is not something we’re accustomed to. The consequence to this restlessness is that God has little or no time or space to speak to us, to guide us, to make His presence known to us, and to show us how His promises are being fulfilled. Patient waiting and truly being in the present in the moment is something all of us would do well to nurture.

What God is trying to move us toward: In what He’s calling us to leave behind, is to be discovered in that space. In the gradually revealed answer to what’s out of order in our lives is in it too. To soothe our restless hearts and let us know that we are deeply loved. It’s all comes in the patient waiting, letting Him come to us in the present moment. As he said to his disciples, just before he Ascended, I believe Jesus would likewise say to us: Stay put, remain steady, and wait. The promise of my Father will come upon you.

5th Sunday of Easter - First Communion

For all the ways that the Book of Revelation tends to inspire intrigue and is used a blueprint for predicting the end of the world, today’s second reading shows us there’s much more to it—and it’s beautiful. It’s author, John, describes beautiful visions that were given him, and ultimately what we find is that it’s not a book of terror, but instead a book of promise and hope.

At the end of all the turmoil and the fight against good and evil, the dust begins to settle and suddenly, he sees something: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth.….I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven…..I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people….The One who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’”

It says that God comes to us. There is nothing anyone of us have ever done that is the cause of God’s love, His coming to us. I remind us of what the Eucharist is—Jesus’ Body and Blood, his very life—and it’s generously given to us. In this gift, He not only comes to us, but he dwells in us. We become living tabernacles.

I remind us that we are body and soul. We get it when it comes to caring for our bodies. But the human soul is too often forgotten about and too often neglected. Grace is food for your soul, and this Eucharist grace—that is God’s very life source—is the nutrition it offers.

Parents, God wants to be part of the lives of your children. I remind you that they were his children before they were yours, and he has asked you to care for them, to make Him known to them. I don’t think for a moment that you want anything but goodness for your children, and to love them. But I remind us: The primary task of a Christian parent is not college for their child. It’s not to create for them the infrastructure that makes for comfort, power, and self-reliance. Instead it’s to make sure they come to really know this Jesus who gives himself to them, to get them to heaven.

If that’s not our goal and what we desire in our hearts, then this moment is a little hollow. But if it’s true that your job is to get them to heaven, how is that plan coming together? What kind of foundation has been laid? The point is not to put anyone on the spot, but instead to ask us to reconsider what we’ve set as priorities, and to adjust as needed. It’s not too late.

Be sure, God wants to come down, to descend upon them and make his dwelling within them through this heavenly food. God, who never stops creating, wants to make something new in them through this intimate encounter in Jesus’ Body and Blood.

4th Sunday of Easter - Annual Catholic Appeal

Today is traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday. Throughout the Bible we find God imaged as a shepherd to His people, but it’s in St. John’s Gospel that Jesus distinctly says, “I Am the Good Shepherd”. It just so happens that Good Shepherd Sunday falls on Mother’s Day this year. I suspect it’s not a stretch, for most of us, to think of all the ways our mothers have been like shepherds for us—I know it’s true for me—guiding us, protecting us, sacrificing herself for us.

But as Catholics, we think of our Church as a mother, and similarly, a shepherd for us. I know the Church is flawed, not always a perfect mother, but that’s certainly her ideal, and the task for which she still strives.

Recently you likely received and saw letters from both Archbishop Sartain and Fr. Todd regarding the upcoming campaign for the Annual Catholic Appeal. We would do well to remind ourselves, what exactly is this and why do we have it? It’s a one-time donation we make each year that helps fund about 60 different ministries in our diocese. In this big, diverse diocese of nearly 180 parishes and 900,000 Catholics, there is much to be done in the name of Jesus, our Good Shepherd.

So, for example, your contribution to our Annual Catholic Appeal helps our youth, by means of funding CYO programs (which by the way, many of our St. Joseph boys and girls take part in this). It helps fund the Office for Youth and Young Adult Evangelization, as well as the Newman Centers on college campuses in our state —so important to reach out to young adults. It helps to support our Catholic schools, making places of prayer for our children, 5 days a week. The Annual Catholic Appeal helps fund our many programs that serve the poor and the vulnerable, particularly Catholic Community Services. And there’s more—a whole lot more.

 To fund these services and ministries, our parish will be assessed $135,000. I’m asking for your help. As you surely recall from past years, what we pull together above that $135K comes back to our parish in the form of a rebate. In years past the rebate paid for the pews you’re sitting in, our bell tower; it paid to renovate our beautiful Blessed Sacrament Chapel. It has given substantial support to our outreach programs.

After discussion with our Pastoral Council and other parish leadership, we came to the decision to use this year’s rebate in the following ways:

  • First, we will give $10,000 of our rebate to outreach, in service to those in need.

  • Second, we plan to build walls to serve as a backdrop for the ambo and the presider’s chair. Depending on how long you’ve been here, you may recall when there was nothing but open space in those locations. While the openness it provided was good, we eventually hung the fabric panels you still see. They provided a place to hang seasonal art, to give color, beauty and focus to the sanctuary, the heart of where we worship. The walls we plan to construct will still provide openness and light to pass through, a place for seasonal art and color. You get some sense of it, looking at the architectural rendering in the back of the church. Our intention is to have these built in the summer.

  • But there’s more: We also plan to set aside a portion to help fund next year’s Parish Mission and Parish Picnic.

  • Finally, any remaining amount will be used to fund maintenance needs for our parish facilities.

For whatever way it serves as a convenience for you, we will now give you the opportunity to fill out a pledge card, which can then be placed in the collection basket. I ask you to pray about possibly contributing the equivalent of $1 per day for the year. If you’re not sure if you can do that or even want to, please spend a little time this week praying about. I’m well aware that there are those among us who are struggling to make ends meet, and so any contribution is helpful, even prayers in lieu of a monetary gift. It all helps.

 As a seminarian, I benefited directly from your past generosity: all so that I might be here with you all, to serve in the name of Jesus the Good Shepherd. And if I live long enough to become a retired priest, I’ll again benefit directly from your generosity. For it all, I am most grateful and privileged. For all the ways you’ve made it possible, through contributions to the Annual Catholic Appeal, through prayers, and everything else—for it all, I am truly grateful.

2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy)

We’re a week removed from Holy Week, from all that went wrong: the abandonment of Jesus’ friends, his arrest, suffering and death. Today’s Gospel follows up that mess, as Jesus suddenly appears to his friends, where they were gathered like frightened bunnies. Instead of anger or laying on the guilt, he simply says, “Peace be with you….Receive the Holy Spirit”. This is the very definition of mercy: receiving something good, even when it’s not deserved.

It’s a curious thing that Jesus shows them his wounds, and that he bears them at all. These are not exactly the wounds, as we contemplated them on Good Friday, wounds that were born of our sins. As Jesus was Resurrected, so his wounds were also transformed. St. Gertrude the Great (D. 1302) once describe her vision of Jesus and how he extended his hand to her, revealing his wounds like radiant jewels—mercy.

It’s no accident that Pope John Paul II—back in the year 2000—established this as Divine Mercy Sunday. But part of this goes back to Poland, where he was born and raised. He knew the story and the writings of Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun and mystic who lived during his lifetime. Her writings describe that when she was 25 years old, one Sunday night she was in her cell alone and saw Jesus before her for the first of what would be many occasions. His right hand was raised in blessing and his left was touching his garment, just above his heart. Red and white rays emanated from his heart, which were to symbolize the blood and water that poured out of him from the cross. As he had shown her this image of himself, he wanted the world to know of God’s mercy, to change hearts, to change the world, and so he directed her to have someone paint this image.

Though not without difficulties, she did as instructed. She had the image made, describing what she saw to the artist as best she could. When she saw his finished painting Faustina cried, because it wasn’t close to being as beautiful as she seen in real life. But Jesus later consoled her, "Not in the beauty of the color, nor of the brush is the greatness of this image, but in My grace." Faustina also wrote a diary of all that Jesus revealed in that image about God’s mercy: our need for it, our need to trust in it, and our need to be merciful to others. To be clear, it’s not that nobody ever knew of God’s mercy before Jesus spoke to Faustina, but clearly Jesus wanted us to experience it in a new way.

Moved by all this as a young man, Pope John Paul II wanted the world to truly know what God’s mercy means for us. In 1980 he wrote his second encyclical, Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy). He echoed what so many theologians before him had proposed: that mercy is the greatest attribute of our infinite and perfect God, and that we are proof of it. He said that the Church is authentic in her mission when she proclaims God’s mercy, when she brings people close to the sources of His mercy.

And as he says in Dives in Misericordia,Therefore, the Church professes and proclaims conversion. Conversion to God always consists in discovering His mercy, that is, in discovering that love which is patient and kind as only the Creator and Father can be” (DM, 13). That’s the primary reason there is a Christian Church in any part of the world and it’s the primary reason for St. Joseph parish in Issaquah—to help us receive and live in God’s Divine mercy.

The Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation are two of the most powerful ways of receiving and living in that mercy, but we can partake in either without actually receiving it. How? As John Paul II said, the only thing that can keep us from God’s mercy is our unwillingness to give ourselves over to it, to allow it to change us. We must have a true intention and desire to be affected and changed. And we must always recognize it as a gift greater than we deserve.

Some of us are trapped in the realities of past sins. Some of us are trapped in patterns of sin that we can’t leave behind. As he did with the disciples, Jesus would want to come to us with his transformed wounds, to heal ours. Let him. But some of us are too preoccupied to even bear in mind our sins and how we need God’s mercy. Our very ignorance is the barrier that keeps us from being lifted up in his mercy.

But we exist also to make it known to those around us. How? For sure, by proclaiming it, but also by modeling it. As I have heard it said, part of the benefit of receiving God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is so that we can learn to be more merciful ourselves. So as a disciple of Jesus, do the people around—strangers, people in traffic, your siblings, your coworkers, your exasperating family members—do they see God’s mercy in you? Do they get better than they deserve, or do you tend to merely mirror the behavior of those around you? We all want things to be better—for our families, for our world. It begins with us. As Jesus told us, “Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

And as this same Lord told Faustina,”Humankind will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of My Mercy.” For the sake of His sorrowful Passion….have mercy on us and on the whole world.