May 19, 2019

Homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter, May 26, 2019, Year C

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

(Click here for today’s readings)

God our Father has sent His Son to us not to condemn us but to show us that He loves us. He wants to save us, to save us by being joined into His Son and with His Son to return to Him, our Father in heaven. With that in mind, what is God telling us in His word for us today?

All of us have had to face moments of departure and loss. Was it when we were desperately in love and then the one we loved left us? Was it when we graduated from school and then suffered separation from our dear friends? Was it when a spouse or a child went off to war somewhere? Was it when we had to take a job in a city far away? For those leaving it is a wrenching experience. For those left behind it is equally wrenching, perhaps even more so. The moments and days approaching departure are filled with terrible anxiety. Our hearts are filled with fear and sorrow.

Such a time, experienced by Jesus’ closest friends, is presented to us in today’s gospel account. The scene is set during the Last Supper. Jesus’ words are a part of His last discourse, the thoughts and words He was sharing with them immediately before His passion and impending agony and death. The tragedy was just about to occur and He was giving them His last words of love.

What was going through Jesus’ mind? I imagine He was feeling much like a parent feels when his or her child or children will be left on their own. They will have to fend for themselves. They will have to find protection and security using whatever devices they had learned while they were at home. So, too, while they were with Him, Jesus had protected them. Who would protect them now? Who would guard them, care for them, and provide for them?

The Church gives us this setting as she prepares us for another departure, namely the Ascension of Jesus – His going back to His Father in heaven, the event we will remember in next weekend’s liturgies. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” He tells them. He promises them God’s presence will be given them in a new way. The Holy Spirit will be with them to comfort them, empower them, and inspire them. They will, however, have to see God and experience God in a new way, in a spiritual way, in an inner way. God’s presence will no longer be tangible and visible to them, immediately available to them as a close friend embodied in a human body. The Jesus they had known was about to become Someone new and different for them.

There is no experience in life that is more frightening, sadder and more tragic than the experience of not belonging to anyone. To not belong to anyone is a terrible and terrifying thing for any one of us. We are, after all, made to belong. We are made in the image and likeness of God, the God whose very nature is three Divine Persons totally belonging to each other. To not belong, therefore, strikes at the very ground of our existence… our very reason for being. To be left alone is a fearsome thing. It directly contradicts the way God made us to live.

We are, however, not left alone. God has not left us, nor will He ever leave us. We have His powerful, loving, caring and life-giving presence for us in His Holy Spirit, the One who dwells in His Church. Today’s first reading taken from the Book of Acts gives us a glimpse into where we will find God after Christ’s resurrection and ascension. We find God in belonging, belonging in His Mystical Body the Church.

The urge to belong, the drive for community, grounds all of creation. I say “grounds” because everything is built upon God. We, precisely as persons, mirror God’s very own existence, namely the being of God that is found in the total and infinite union of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We are, divine revelation tells us, made in the image and likeness of God. We are created to live in God’s very own way of living. Our existence and our lives are made for living in community, in communion and love with others.

The Church exists for that purpose. The Church exists not only to bring us into union with God through, with and in Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, but the Church likewise exists to bring us into communion with each other. Holy Communion not only unites us with the risen Christ, it also unites us with each other in Christ’s very own life, the life He gave to share with us, the life in which we are, in Christ, taken back to our Father in heaven.

The Book of Acts, from which today’s first reading was taken, is a book that’s all about that. It is in that communion, in that community or family of faith that we call the Church. It is in our Holy Communion that God comes to us in Christ and we return to the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in His risen Christ.

The very life of the Church as it is expressed in its actions. The RCIA program is all about community. The Church’s concern for family is all about that. Parish life is all about community. Catholic Charities is all about community. Catholic schools are all about community. The urge to belong, the drive for community, is deep within the very nature of the Church, the expression of the Mystical Body of the risen Christ.

The terrible thing about sin is that it isolates us. It tears apart the bonds of communion. It attacks belonging. It sets the individual self and the individual will over and against all others, including God. I cannot imagine a hell worse than having only my self to live with and love without anyone else to live for and to love. Hell, it seems to me, is to live forever in an infinite isolation, cut off from any sort of belonging. Sin is the diabolical opposite of living in communion with others and with God.

Perhaps this helps us realize why the main pastoral effort of the Church is that of forgiveness, to bring God’s healing and loving reconciliation and forgiveness to everyone, no matter how depraved, no matter how steeped in sin they may be. This, after all is said and done, was the chief ministry of Christ Jesus, the ministry of reconciliation. It was His first gift to us immediately after He rose from the dead.

His ascension into heaven must be seen in that light. In His resurrected and Spirit-filled humanity He has ascended into heaven in order that we, in Him, might return to our Father, the One who made us in the first place to belong to Him forever in love.

May you and I, all together, live in God’s love with each other. We do, after all, belong. That is why Jesus is here for you and for me in His Holy Communion.

May 14, 2019

Feast of Saint Matthias, Apostle & Martyr

The first act of the apostles following the Ascension of Jesus was to find a replacement for Judas. With all the uncertainty they faced, they focused their attention on naming a twelfth apostle. Why was this important? Twelve was a number of significance to the Chosen People: twelve was the number of the twelve tribes of Israel. If the new Israel was to come from the disciples of Jesus, a twelfth apostle was needed. [See video below.]

The apostles cast lots and Matthias was chosen. That is the first and last time we hear about Mathias in Sacred Scripture. Fr. René Butler writes this about Matthias, while reflecting on the inscrutable ways of God:

"And Matthias was never heard from again.

Well, as far as that goes, he was never heard from before, either. This story of his “election” as an Apostle is the only time he is mentioned by name in the whole New Testament. We know, from the criterion established by Peter, that both he and Barsabbas were among the first disciples of Jesus. Replacing Judas was apparently a big deal for the author of the Acts of the Apostles, the evangelist St. Luke. Everything inclines the reader to expect great things of Matthias.

And then, nothing. What happened? Did he fail? Did Peter and the assembled community make a mistake? Did Luke just get distracted, or lose interest in him? There are, of course, various traditions about where he ministered—Jerusalem, or the modern-day country of Georgia, or Ethiopia—and about how he died, either by being stoned to death and beheaded, or dying of old age in his bed. ..."

The Life of St. Matthias

Mathias was one of the first to follow our Savior; and he was an eye-witness of all His divine actions up to the very day of the Ascension. He was one of the seventy-two disciples; but our Lord had not conferred upon him the dignity of an apostle. And yet, he was to have this great glory, for it was of him that David spoke, when he prophesied that another should take the bishopric left vacant by the apostasy of Judas the traitor. In the interval between Jesus' Ascension and the descent of the Holy Ghost, the apostolic college had to complete the mystic number fixed by our Lord Himself, so that there might be the twelve on that solemn day, when the Church, filled with the Holy Ghost, was to manifest herself to the Synagogue. The lot fell on Mathias; he shared with his brother-apostles the persecution in Jerusalem, and, when the time came for the ambassadors of Christ to separate, he set out for the countries allotted to him. Tradition tells us that these were Cappadocia and the provinces bordering on the Caspian Sea.

The virtues, labor, and sufferings of St. Mathias have not been handed down to us: this explains the lack of proper lessons on his life, such as we have for the feasts of the rest of the apostles. Clement of Alexandria records in his writings several sayings of our holy apostle. One of these is so very appropriate to the spirit of the present season, that we consider it a duty to quote it. 'It behooves us to combat the flesh, and make use of it, without pampering it by unlawful gratifications. As to the soul, we must develop her power by faith and knowledge.' How profound is the teaching contained in these few words! Sin has deranged the order which the Creator had established. It gave the outward man such a tendency to grovel in things which degrade him, that the only means left us for the restoration of the image and likeness of God unto which we were created, is the forcible subjection of the body to the spirit. But the spirit itself, that is, the soul, was also impaired by original sin, and her inclinations were made prone to evil; what is to be her protection? Faith and knowledge. Faith humbles her, and then exalts and rewards her; and the reward is knowledge.

Excerpted from The Liturgical Year, Abbot Gueranger O.S.B.

Symbols: Halbert; lance; carpenter's square; sword held by its point; axe; saw; scroll; scimitar and book; stone; battle axe; two stones; long cross; hatchet.

Patron: Alcoholism; carpenters; reformed alcoholics; smallpox; tailors; diocese of Gary; Indiana; diocese of Great Falls-Billings, Montana.

Collect Prayer

O God, who assigned Saint Matthias a place in the college of Apostles, grant us, through his intercession, that, rejoicing at how your love has been allotted to us, we may merit to be numbered among the elect. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

May 13, 2019

Optional Memorial of Our Lady of Fatima | 2019

The Blessed Virgin Mary is venerated under this title following apparitions to three shepherd children, Lúcia, Jacinta and Francisco, in Portugal in 1917. The message of Fatima includes a call to conversion of heart, repentance from sin and a dedication to the Blessed Virgin Mary, especially through her immaculate heart. This optional memorial is new to the United States' liturgical calendar and occurs on May 13.

The appearance of our Lady to the children at Fatima is an event of great consequence. Our Lady's warnings are those of a mother spoken out of love for her children. In these visitations, Mary urges humanity to reject sin and to pray unceasingly. Our Lady extolled the power of the daily Rosary for conversion and repentance. She told Lúcia, Jacinta and Francisco that many people go to Hell because they have no one to pray or make sacrifices on their behalf. She then showed the children a glimpse of Hell which Sr. Lúcia describes in her book, Memoirs:
[Mary] opened Her hands once more, as She had done the two previous months. The rays [of light] appeared to penetrate the earth, and we saw, as it were, a vast sea of fire. Plunged in this fire, we saw the demons and the souls [of the damned]. The latter were like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, having human forms. They were floating about in that conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames which issued from within themselves, together with great clouds of smoke. Now they fell back on every side like sparks in huge fires, without weight or equilibrium, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fright (it must have been this sight which caused me to cry out, as people say they heard me). The demons were distinguished [from the souls of the damned] by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals, black and transparent like burning coals. That vision only lasted for a moment, thanks to our good Heavenly Mother, Who at the first apparition had promised to take us to Heaven. Without that, I think that we would have died of terror and fear.
The accounts of the three seers are private revelations, not the infallible Word of God. Nonetheless, their testimony and the Church's ecclesiastical approbation of the apparitions as "worthy of belief" cannot be dismissed. Nearly a century later, the message of Fatima is just as urgent today. Let us heed Mary and avail ourselves of God's mercy.

Our Lady of Fatima

The famous apparitions of the Virgin Mary to the children of Fatima took place during the First World War, in the summer of 1917. The inhabitants of this tiny village in the diocese of Leiria (Portugal) were mostly poor people, many of them small farmers who went out by day to tend their fields and animals. Children traditionally were assigned the task of herding the sheep.

The three children who received the apparitions had been brought up in an atmosphere of genuine piety: Lucia dos Santos (ten years old) and her two younger cousins, Francisco and Jacinta. Together they tended the sheep and, with Lucy in charge, would often pray the Rosary kneeling in the open. In the summer of 1916 an Angel appeared to them several times and taught them a prayer to the Blessed Trinity.

On Sunday, May 13, 1917, toward noon, a flash of lightning drew the attention of the children, and they saw a brilliant figure appearing over the trees of the Cova da Iria. The "Lady" asked them to pray for the conversion of sinners and an end to the war, and to come back every month, on the 13th.

Further apparitions took place on June 13 and July 13. On August 13 the children were prevented by local authorities from going to the Cova da Iria, but they saw the apparition on the 19th. On September 13 the Lady requested recitation of the Rosary for an end to the war. Finally, on October 13, the "Lady" identified herself as "Our Lady of the Rosary" and again called for prayer and penitence.

On that day a celestial phenomenon also took place: the sun seemed to tumble from the sky and crash toward earth. The children had been forewarned of it as early as May 13, the first apparition. The large crowd (estimated at 30,000 by reporters) that had gathered around the children saw the phenomenon and came away astounded.

Official recognition of the "visions" which the children had at the Cova da Iria came on October 13, 1930, when the bishop of Leiria - after long inquiry - authorized the cult of Our Lady of the Rosary at the site. The two younger children had died: Francisco (who saw the apparition but did not hear the words) on April 4, 1919, and his sister Jacinta on February 20, 1920. Sister Lucia died on February 13, 2005, at her Carmelite convent in Coimbra, Portugal, after a long illness.

Excerpted from Dictionary of Mary, Catholic Book Publishing Company.

Collect Prayer

O God, who chose the Mother of your Son to be our Mother also, grant us that, persevering in penance and prayer for the salvation of the world, we may further more effectively each day the reign of Christ. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Prayer to Our Lady of Fatima

O Most Holy Virgin Mary, Queen of the most holy Rosary, you were pleased to appear to the children of Fatima and reveal a glorious message. We implore you, inspire in our hearts a fervent love for the recitation of the Rosary. By meditating on the mysteries of the redemption that are recalled therein may we obtain the graces and virtues that we ask, through the merits of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Redeemer. Amen.

May 12, 2019

Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter, May 19, 2019, Year C

Jesus' farwell discourse

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

(Click here for today’s readings)

There are times when we tell ourselves that nothing’s new, that human nature doesn’t change, and that history simply repeats itself. The Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes tells us:
What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun. [Ecclesiastes 1:9]
Yet we also find ourselves seeking what is new. We greet each other with the question “What’s new?” We watch TV news, read newspapers, pay attention advertisements, and look for new models of things we already have. Advertisements are loaded with words telling us of new products, or “new and improved” products that we can’t live without. The world of computers is filled with new gadgets, new programs, new downloads, and so forth. We seem to be obsessed with what’s new.

Jesus used the word “new” many, many times in His discourses and teachings, all the time trying to get us to see the new creation, the new man, and the new covenant His Father is bringing about. The gospel account we just heard was the beginning of Jesus’ final discourse at the Last Supper, a discourse filled with promise, hope and a vision of the future. The second reading is taken from the Book of Revelation. It’s interesting to note that Mel Gibson, in his movie The Passion of the Christ, put the words “Behold, I make all things new” into the mouth of Christ as He suffered during His passion under the weight of His cross.

What is this new thing God invites us to see?

The glitz, glamour, and spectacles this world offers us hold our attention. Being thus captured we tend to sell ourselves short. It takes artists, poets, and great writers to give us deeper vision and enable us to see deeper things, as well as to see ourselves on a deeper level.

What we need to see now is that God is ushering in a new creation. He is sculpting us and fashioning us as His new sons and daughters. We need to stand back and look at the big picture. We need to see the way things were between God and us before Christ and the way things are now after Christ. Because of Christ Jesus we are in a new status in our relationship with God.

There is an icon that’s a favorite among Christians belonging to the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Byzantine Catholic Churches. It depicts Christ descending into the world of the dead and going all the way back to Adam and Eve to pull them out of their graves. The truth being presented to us is that God in Christ reaches all the way back to our human beginnings and allows all of those who have gone before to experience His risen Christ’s saving presence. The picture is profound – the message is beautiful. God in Christ presents Himself to everyone, even to those who died before Christ’s appearance to us on earth.

As for us… well, we need to see that we live in the time that is “already but not yet.” In His Anointed One, in His Christ, God has ushered in His kingdom here on earth. It is a kingdom that has been established and is now in the process of unfolding among us. Our status with God has been fundamentally and radically changed. Christ has given us His salvation. What we do with it remains to be seen. We live in God’s time, the time that is already but not yet. What is yet to be, and what can be for us individually, is revealed in the Book of Revelation… a book of hope, of promise, and of glory. Whether that hope, promise, and glory will be ours individually and personally depends upon our response to what God has done and is doing now for us.

The Sacrament of Baptism initiates us into that cosmic reality, as do the other Sacraments of Initiation, namely Confirmation and Holy Eucharist. As a matter of fact, all of the Seven Sacraments are but differing aspect of the One Sacrament, namely Christ among us.

I want to emphasize that I have been speaking of what God “is doing.” The phrase is in the present tense active. It is not in the past tense. We’re not talking just about what God “has done”. We’re talking about what God “is doing” and will “yet do”. The last discourse of Jesus during the Last Supper is likewise in that setting – He gives us words of hope, promise, and glory… realities that are present and at the same time realities that are, depending upon our responses, in our futures.

The former hopelessness of our condition, our state of alienation from God, has been eradicated by Christ. At a radically fundamental level Christ has saved us. But we must ever hold in our hearts and minds that He is yet saving us, depending upon how we respond to what He is offering.

All of this points to the essential spiritual condition into which we much place ourselves. We must develop “eyes to see and hears to hear.” We cannot be passive about that, thinking that God will give it all to us anyway, even if we don’t respond to Him. There’s nothing passive about being a follower of Christ. No! We must actively listen; we must actively respond; we must put into action in our daily lives the gifts that God has given us and is giving us in His Christ.

I was struck by the fact that Mel Gibson also put the words of the “One sitting on the throne” in heaven, the one known as “the Alpha and Omega”, the beginning and the end, into the mouth of Jesus as He suffering during His passion. What a tremendous insight it was for Mr. Gibson to do that. What artistry! I hope you noticed it too and were just as moved as I was by what was presented to us.

Life, however, is not a movie. We are considering here something that is spiritually and theologically at the profoundest levels of our self-understanding, in our understanding of our new status with God because of Christ. Truly, Christ has died for our sins. Truly He has justified us. Truly He is sanctifying us. Whether or not we will be ultimately saved and spend eternity in the New Jerusalem depends on us. God has done everything for us; He has given everything to us. The frightful question remains: “How will we respond?” Will we, with Peter, seek and accept the hope, the promise, and the glory that Jesus Christ offers us all? Or will we sink into this world’s despair? Do you think there’s nothing new in our world? Will we settle for only the glitz and glitter of this world, its thirty pieces of silver, and thereby sell our souls for nothing more?

The answer to these questions, along with our salvation, depends on us. God offers… we respond.

May 11, 2019

Mother's Day | 2019 | A Prayer for Mothers

May 12, 2019

Motherhood is a special embodiment of God's unfailing compassion and enduring love. May all mothers everywhere recognize their divine calling as models of love and selflessness within their families and the world. Mary our mother, pray for us.

Prayer for Mothers

Loving God, as a mother gives life and nourishment to her children, so you watch over your Church. Bless these women abundantly, that they may be strengthened as Christian mothers. Let the example of their faith and love shine forth. Grant that we, their sons and daughters, may honor them always with a spirit of due admiration and profound respect. This we pray through Christ our Lord. Amen.

A blessed Mother's Day to all mothers!

May 5, 2019

Homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter, May 12, 2019, Year C

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

(Click here for today’s readings)

There are any number of words and phrases that we use so often that we no longer pay attention to their content. Take the Lord’s Prayer for instance. What do we really mean when we address God as our Father? Who do we include in our; who do we exclude from our?

Today we just heard a phrase that we heard so many times: “Christ is the Good Shepherd who cares for his flock.” But what kind of a flock is it? Evidently it is made up of different kinds of sheep. There is a unity in God’s flock but there is diversity also, otherwise why would the Good Shepherd be going out looking for other sheep that Jesus indicates to be “not of this flock”?

We value unity while at the same we value diversity. It’s a nice ideal but it is a difficult reality to attain. We have only to look at the problem of unity and diversity as we find it both in our own country and in our Church. “Who’s in and who’s out?” is the big issue in America as well as in the Catholic Church. Who is an American, and who isn’t? Who’s a real Catholic and who isn’t?

We all uphold and value our unity as Americans. As we drive along our highways we see any number of billboards proclaiming “United We Stand.” Nevertheless we’re having problems with fighting the war in Afghanistan, dealing with undocumented aliens, prosecuting terrorists amongst us, taxes, government spending, as well as dealing with fellow citizens whom we regard to be “un-American.” By whose standards do we judge someone to be “un-American?” Who are the traitors among us; by what standards do we judge them to be traitors, and who decides that they are? What must be proven in order to strip people of American citizenship and then deport them?

Diversity is a hot-button item being argued and debated in our body politic. What we mean by the term “diversity” and what it entails in terms of our institutional policies and activities is far from clear. And what about the institution of marriage? Is it a concept that is univocal or does marriage encompass any type of loving partnership involving some degree of commitment?

The underlying problem in all these questions of “who’s in and who’s out” is this: too much diversity can destroy unity and integrity, while at the same time too much unity and impose a stifling and paralyzing uniformity. Balancing the two can be difficult. Unless a delicate balance is maintained the body will be torn asunder.

Similar difficult questions abound in the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” Who’s in and who’s out? Who is a Catholic and who is not? By whose standards do we judge someone to be a genuine Catholic and who decides that someone is not?

Yes, there is one flock and one shepherd, but down through the centuries that “one flock” has certainly been composed of a whole lot of diverse Christians with diverse understandings of who Jesus Christ really is and what He requires of us in terms of our behaviors and our activities.

We all know that the Catholic Church is not a democracy. But a sheepfold is not a democracy either. The sheep don’t take votes and conduct opinion polls in order to determine in what direction they should move. The flock is guided and cared for by a shepherd. Evidently that was the will and purpose of Jesus when He appointed Peter and the Apostles to guide and care for His flock, the Church.

Anyone who has studied Church history with any depth knows full well that there is nothing at all simplistic about this descriptive model of the Church. First of all, some of the shepherds have not been at all good. Secondly, the sheep are not blind and stupid — they are possessed of intelligence and the Holy Spirit has been (and is!) at work in them.

This sets up a dialectic between the members of the Church – those who are ordained into Holy Orders and those who are not. The dialogue throughout history has been anything but serene. Violence has erupted. Tearings apart have resulted. The ideal given us by Jesus has been, at times, set aside.

In our recent history, back in the early 1960’s the Church convened all of its bishops from around the world in the Second Vatican Council. A major portion of that Council’s work was devoted to the nature of the Church and the roles of the laity and clergy. An updated understanding was badly needed and the bishops of the world responded to the task that confronted them. Their response was well done, so much so that even today we’re still struggling to keep the vision of Vatican Council II before our eyes while making it become real and operative in our Church. We would all do well if we read again the Documents of Vatican II, especially those dealing with the nature of the Church, the Church in the modern world, and the role of the laity.

It’s not news that we have liberals and conservatives. We have them in both the Church and in our American body politic. The fact what we have both liberals and conservatives ought not be threatening to us. One has only to study history and the origins of the Church to realize that the dialectic, with the resulting tension, has brought us good in many instances.

Unity is not uniformity. Diversity, per se, is not destructive divisiveness. Indeed, our Church in its infancy struggled with the issue of whether or not Gentiles could be members of Christ’s flock as well as observant Jews. Down through the centuries our Church has struggled with inclusiveness, all the while attempting to be in the world while remaining not of the world. The task has been remarkable. The result points to the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit.

Centuries ago someone gave us a maxim that still applies today. We are not sure who first spoke it but it tells us: “In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.” It’s a lovely principle but it becomes demanding when we together attempt to agree on what things are necessary.

In that struggle and in all of our efforts, let us always remember the last of the three points: “… in all things, charity.” As always, love is the bond of unity.

April 30, 2019

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, May 5, 2019, Year C

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

(Click here for today’s readings)

Christ’s resurrection from the dead immediately caused controversy brought on by those who sought to suppress that event. That controversy continues even in our time some 2000 years later. There are those in our own times who for their own various reasons want to discredit the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The leaders of ISIS torture and put to death Christians who, like the Apostles, are witnesses to the resurrected Christ. Just the apostles told the members of the Sanhedrin, Christians in the Middle East are by their lives saying: “we are witnesses of these things.” Christ’s resurrection from the dead just won’t go away.

The immediate reaction of the Jewish religious authorities is presented to us in the first reading of today’s Mass where it is reported:
When the captain and the court officers had brought the apostles in and made them stand before the Sanhedrin, the high priest questioned them, “We gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop teaching in that name? Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and want to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles said in reply, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our ancestors raised Jesus, though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins. We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.
In our own country these days we know of those who strive to keep the Christian message out of public sight and hidden away as mere private opinion.

The words “We are witnesses of all this” apply to you and me just as much as they applied to the disciples of Jesus. We, too, are His disciples. What Jesus said and did with them He says and does with us. All of Christ’s disciples stand together in the same place as Christians who witness to the risen Christ. A witness re-presents events, transactions, words and ideas, making them present again and that is what our lives should be all about. What, then, does your life represent?

When you wear your high school or college letter jacket around town you are representing your school and all that your school stands for. When folks see you act they are being presented with what your letter jacket stands for and what you say your school stands for. All that you do reflects not just on you, it reflects on your school and your family. You, each one of you here, can be more than your self. You can stand for and represent something than just you. When people think of you their minds can see a greater reality to which you give witness. Your life can testify to things that make us all better, that call us to ideals. Or your life can bring degrading things to the minds of others, things that devalue and cheapen what it means to be a human being and what it means to be a person who is known as a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. Perhaps we may feel unworthy or in adequate or otherwise not up to the task. Certainly St. Peter did. But our feelings ought not to get in the way. We have today’s gospel account to reassure us. Jesus will feed us the Bread of Life, the food to give us strength and courage. Holy Communion fills us with the power of God.

Just as the apostles who were going about their daily work of fishing, we likewise will be going about in our daily work while living our daily lives without entering into arguments and debates with others over religious beliefs. That is the arena in which we find ourselves. Debates are useless. Few of them are ever won. We all realize that especially in the light of those awful debates we are enduring during this year’s presidential election cycle. I will be so happy when they are over! Christian witnessing is more than just winning arguments or debates.

The most effective way of witnessing is found in the way we quietly live our lives. It is found in the values we hold and live by. Just being here for Mass and observing our holy days is witnessing. People notice what we say and what we do. They really notice what we don’t say and what we don’t do. You may think that isn’t very significant but it is. Just think of those people who have most influenced you. You probably don’t remember too much of what they said but you certainly remember their characters and who they were as persons. That is what effective witnessing is all about.

The way you treat others and how you speak about them is witnessing. The way you relate to others is witnessing. What you have to say about cultural values is witnessing. St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians had these words of advice for us:
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians: 9)
If you are diligent in guarding what is continually on your mind your actions will follow accordingly. That is why keeping our minds from being filled with junk and keeping up with frequent prayer is so important.

Being a witness to what Jesus Christ said and did isn’t that difficult after all. Having received the Bread of Life we can enter our days with the risen Christ abiding within us to strengthen and guide us along our various ways.

April 27, 2019

Divine Mercy Sunday | 2019

April 28, 2019

Saint Faustina received visions of our Lord, in which, Jesus instructed her to tell the world of His infinite Love and Mercy. She recorded these visions in her diary; later published under the title Divine Mercy in My Soul: The Diary of St. Faustina. Here, St. Faustina writes of Jesus’ desire to establish a solemn feast dedicated to spreading the Divine Mercy of Christ to all humanity:

"On one occasion, I heard these words: 'My daughter, tell the whole world about My inconceivable mercy. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day, the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day, all the divine floodgates through which graces flow are opened.'"

Our Lord's will was indeed done. At St. Faustina's canonization Mass, her fellow countryman Saint John Paul II noted her witness as the Apostle of Divine Mercy:

"Divine Mercy reaches human beings through the heart of Christ crucified:  'My daughter, say that I am love and mercy personified', Jesus will ask Sr Faustina (Diary, p. 374). Christ pours out this mercy on humanity though the sending of the Spirit who, in the Trinity, is the Person-Love. And is not mercy love's 'second name' (cf. Dives in misericordia, n. 7), understood in its deepest and most tender aspect, in its ability to take upon itself the burden of any need and, especially, in its immense capacity for forgiveness? ... [M]y joy is truly great in presenting the life and witness of Sr. Faustina Kowalska to the whole Church as a gift of God"

Prayer of Gratitude for Divine Mercy

God of everlasting mercy, who in the very recurrence of the paschal feast kindle the faith of the people you have made your own, increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed, that all may grasp and rightly understand in what font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose Blood they have been redeemed. We pray through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Click for information about the Divine Mercy Sunday plenary indulgence.

April 25, 2019

Thomas Assures Us of Christ’s Resurrection Beyond Doubt

(This Sunday's Gospel, for the second Sunday of Easter, is the story of Thomas' profession of faith upon encountering the risen Lord in the Upper Room.) 

Saint Thomas, the Apostle who at first did not believe, has become for the Church one of the first and most compelling witnesses to the Resurrection of Christ. His initial skepticism mirrors that of many. May his profession of faith upon touching Our Savior's wounds, "My Lord and my God!", redound through the ages to convince and confirm others that Christ's Incarnation, ministry, and victory over sin and death are empirically and existentially real. Jesus' reply to Thomas, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me?" Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed," is less a condemnation of Thomas and more a confirmation of the demands of faith.

Among the Apostles, Thomas does not stand out. His knowledge of Jewish scripture and well-formed conscience enabled him to recognize Christ as the Messiah foretold by the Prophets and to follow him as soon as he was called. When Christ traveled the road to Jerusalem to offer himself as a sacrifice for many, Thomas said to the other disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him" (John 11:16). Of Thomas, Pope St. Gregory the Great wrote this reflection:

"Thomas' unbelief has benefited our faith more than the belief of the other disciples; it is because he attained faith through physical touch that we are confirmed in the faith beyond all doubt. Indeed, the Lord permitted the apostle to doubt after the resurrection; but He did not abandon him in doubt. By his doubt and by his touching the sacred wounds the apostle became a witness to the truth of the resurrection. Thomas touched and cried out: My Lord and my God! And Jesus said to him: Because you have seen Me, Thomas, you have believed.

Now if Thomas saw and touched the Savior, why did Jesus say: Because you have seen Me, Thomas, you have believed? Because he saw something other than what he believed. For no mortal man can see divinity. Thomas saw the Man Christ and acknowledged His divinity with the words: My Lord and my God. Faith therefore followed upon seeing."

On the day of Pentecost, Thomas was with the other Apostles when the Holy Spirit descended in tongues of fire. Thomas would bring the Good News to the Medes, Parthians (Iran) and to India. According to tradition, he was stabbed with a spear in India during one of his missionary trips to establish the Church in the sub-continent, after converting numerous tribes to Christianity. Grant, almighty God, that we may follow the example of the blessed Apostle Thomas, so that we may always be sustained by his intercession and, believing, may have life in the name of Jesus Christ your Son, whom Thomas acknowledged as the Lord.

April 24, 2019

Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Easter | Divine Mercy Sunday | April 28, 2019, Year C

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

(Click here for today’s readings)

There’s a lot of skepticism in our world these days. We are skeptical about the war in Iraq: Is it a war against radical Islamic fundamentalism or is it a war between Arab and Western cultures? Is our political process for the election of our presidents fundamentally flawed? Just what is the role of our nation’s Supreme Court and our Constitution? Has globalization doomed the future of American jobs? Will what we have known to be marriage be radically morphed into a variety of mere civil unions?

This skepticism is more than simple doubting or questioning. Skepticism cuts into reality itself. As he conducted his trial of Jesus Christ, Pontius Pilate asked, “Truth? What is truth?” That was not the question of a person who is genuinely looking for an answer. That was the question of a skeptic. Questioners are less radical. One asks a question because one has faith that there is an answer. A question is a quest for truth; a genuine questioner has faith that there is an answer. Doubting is somewhat stronger. A doubter is an agnostic. Skepticism, however, borders on cynicism. A skeptic has set faith and hope aside, believing in nothing. There is nothing positive in the skeptic’s position. For him there are no certainties.

Ironically, skeptics and doubters make daily acts of faith. When they board an airplane, for instance, they’re making acts of faith in the pilots of that plane, in the engineers who designed it, and in all others who have manufactured and maintained that airplane. So also they make acts of faith in their friends and in those they love. For in order to say “I love you” and really mean it, one must believe in the beloved. Love and belief are two sides of the same coin. I can declare “I love you” because I believe in you, and I can say “I believe you” because in a certain way I love you. Acts of faith fill our daily lives… they are the stuff of our friendships and our loves. Yes, skeptics and doubters make daily acts of faith.

And they are reasonable acts of faith. Faith is ultimately based on credible evidence. Faith is an act of reason. I believe someone because I have seen that it is reasonable to believe in them on the basis of what they have said and done. That is no less so when it comes to the eyewitnesses who have told us about Jesus. Their testimony is reasonable and credible. With them I believe in Christ Jesus… and that is a reasonable thing to do.

Around us are some who seek to deny that Jesus Christ ever existed. For them, He is a myth. Others live as if Jesus Christ doesn’t matter. They ignore Him. They are joined by some who profess to be Christians but who nevertheless live their lives as if Jesus really doesn’t matter. Still others actively seek to discredit Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular.

It is in this context that we are confronted with today’s gospel account. Once again meet Thomas the Doubter — the apostle from Missouri, so to speak; the “show me” state.

Presumably you who hear this homily are not skeptics. I doubt very much that any genuine skeptics would be coming here to Mass! But I suspect that many of you, like me, are questioners – those who are on a quest, a pilgrimage, seeking the Temple of the Truth. To be honest, some of you may be doubters. I know that I have had my doubting times, wondering if it’s all true, wondering if the reports of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the other writings found in the New Testament are reliable and trustworthy.

Who among us has not wondered whether or not God hears our prayers? Who among us has not had moments when we wondered where God is for us? Who among us has not felt the weight of Jesus’ words as He hung dying on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Thank goodness we encounter Thomas the apostle every year at this time. Thank goodness the Church repeatedly sends him to us so that with him we can ponder, quest, and find Jesus of Nazareth who, in His resurrection, has become for us Christ the Lord. Thank goodness it was Thomas who cried out: “My Lord and my God.” Note that those words were not previously spoken by any of the other apostles. Those words fell from the lips of Thomas the moment he lost his doubts and met the reality of Jesus risen and standing before him.

“What happened?” we ask. Don’t we ask that question whenever we’ve been absent from an event in which others were present? It’s a perfectly legitimate question – even a proper question. What transpired in our absence is something we want brought to us.

Problems arise when we delve into what was seen. What was seen? How was it seen? From what perspective was it seen? Through what filters was it seen? All of these are problematic; all of these are in play when we, in our quest for reality, penetrate through what was seen into the reality underneath what was seen.

“We have seen the Lord”, said the other apostles to Thomas. What, we need to ask, did they see? How did they see?

The answers are not simple. Evidently, however, they employed the word “see” at a deeper level than simply reporting what they saw with their physical eyes. Evidently they saw Christ, encountered Christ, and engaged Him in relationships that were at the spiritual level. Evidently they saw Him with their inner vision as well as with their ocular vision. Eventually, at Pentecost, they and Thomas as well would be brought to live in Christ’s living Presence, inspired by His Holy Spirit, the Spirit who raised Him from the dead. That same Spirit would raise them up into new lives… lives that would change them and our world forever.

What happened on Easter Sunday morning and thereafter? We could take doubters to the tomb and they would find it to be empty. But what would that prove? Nothing — except that the tomb was empty. They would not see and encounter the risen Christ.

What do non-Christian historians tell us about Jesus of Nazareth? Nothing much beyond the fact that He was from Nazareth, that He was a descendent of David, and that He was crucified in Jerusalem. Historians cannot, however, bring us to encounter the risen Christ.

The answer to the question “What happened?” is found in the lives of all who, down through the centuries, have encountered Christ as He has come to us in others who share our humanity.

What was “seen” is not as significant as what is known to be ultimately true. The reality of Christ resurrected from the dead is found in the lives of those who, touched by the Holy Spirit, have encountered Christ in His presence to them, in His power given to them, and in His love shared with them. Because of them I know what happened after Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Because of them I know that the tomb is empty and that Jesus Christ is out and about working elsewhere.

What a blessing it is that Thomas was among the Twelve. What a blessing it is that the gift of the Twelve has, down through the centuries, eventually come to us. What a gift it is that God’s Holy Spirit has been manifestly at work throughout our Church’s history. What a gift it is that the faith of the Church is a gift we can receive and rely upon today, tomorrow, and throughout the days of our lives.

Christ is truly risen. Alleluia!