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St. John Fisher and the Fortnight For Freedom

Today, June 22nd, is the Optional Memorial of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More.  In the Diocese of Rochester (United States), St. John Fisher is the patron saint of our diocese.  That means for our diocese today is a feast day.

St. John Fisher was the Bishop of the Diocese of Rochester in England (Hence, with the same name of the diocese, he was chosen as the patron saint here).  On this date in 1535 he was martyred (St. Thomas More was martyred a few days later on July 6th).  They were both executed by the order of the king for the same reason.

Many are familiar with the story of King Henry VIII and how he was married multiple times but never a male heir to succeed him as king.  When Catherine to whom he had married did not bear a son, Henry VIII asked the Vatican to grant him an annulment but it was denied as having no grounds.  As king, Henry VIII decided to split the church in England from the Vatican and named himself as head of the church so that he could grant his own annulment.

The clergy and king’s court were ordered to sign a statement recognizing the split in the church and the king as head of the church in England.  Saints John Fisher and Thomas More (a layman and right hand man to the king) refused to sign the statement so Henry VIII ordered their execution for disobedience against the king.

So we see how 500 years ago the government was trying to tell the church how to run its affairs.  In our present day we see this in the government ordering religious organizations to provide insurance for contraception, support same sex parent adoptions, and for religious hospitals to perform abortions.

Our country was founded, in large part, by people seeking religious freedom.  Our Declaration of Independence speaks of rights from God and the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights guarantees the freedom of religion.  

Part of the problem with religious freedom and the government laws and regulations I spoke of above is is the compartmentalization of faith.  Many people have no faith.  Others profess to have faith but they see faith as something you do in private as one small part of our lives.  Our Catholic faith teaches us that faith is no just one part of our lives.  Faith is meant to be part of our whole lives.  That means we must live out our faith in all we do.  That includes birth control and marriage.  Our Church does not say that we should force our faith on others but we must live in our own lives.

Recognizing that we must speak up for religious freedom, a couple of years ago, our United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) started what is called the Fortnight for Freedom.  It has never received much media attention and, depending on your parish, it hasn’t gotten a lot of attention in the church either (You can find out more at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/fortnight-for-freedom/index.cfm).

The Fortnight for Freedom begins on June 21st, includes today’s celebration of the Memorial of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, and goes until July 4th, the day our Declaration of Independence was signed based on rights given by God.

May we be inspired by the examples of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More to live with the same courage that enabled them to willingly give their lives rather than reject our faith.  With this courage may we live out our faith publicly and stand up for what we believe in.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Year A – Homily

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a
Psalm 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
John 6:51-58

Moses speaks to the Israelites of how they were “afflicted with hunger” and God fed them “with manna, a food unknown” to them.  We identify the manna as “bread” but it was a type of bread that was previously unknown to the Israelites.  It was an earthly substance.  In their physical hunger, God provided this bread.

Today we are here to celebrate how God feeds our spiritual hunger with another “food unknown” before.  It is the Eucharist, the bread of life.  The Eucharist is offered to us in the form of bread and wine but through the consecration it becomes so much more, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

On Holy Thursday, we celebrate the Institution of the Eucharist but we also celebrate the Washing of the Feet and the Institution of the Priesthood.  Today’s solemnity focuses solely on the Eucharist.

I talked about the Eucharist on Holy Thursday and what it means to us.  I talked again about at the beginning of May as six of our children received their First Communion.  I’ve talked about it on other occasions and I will continue to talk about it.  The Eucharist is that important.  It is the source and summit of who we are as Catholics.

One of the ways we talk about the Eucharist is as a meal.  It is food that feeds our spiritual hunger.  We live in a culture that wants everything now.  This includes our food.  How many fast food restaurants are there?  Many families no longer sit down together to enjoy a meal together.  They are always on the go.

The Eucharist is not meant to be fast food.  We receive the Eucharist in the context of Mass.  The whole Mass takes maybe an hour (we make even shorter in the summer).  We take time to enter into God’s presence with prayers and readings.  We need to reflect on what it means to participate in the Blood of Christ, to participate in the Body of Christ.

As I said before, the Eucharist is the source and summit of who we are.  In recognition of this and realizing people don’t always understand this, you may have read in the Catholic Courier that Bishop Matano has called for a Year of the Eucharist for us to grow in our understanding of the Eucharist.

In the coming year I will speak more often about the Eucharist and the Mass in my homilies.  I will offer some presentations on the Eucharist and the Mass to talk about the Real Presence and to help us understand and appreciate what goes on at Mass.  We will also work towards some times for Adoration with the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.  We will reflect on the Eucharist that empowers us for the ministries we do.

Now, I want to talk about our postures at Mass.  At times we stand, others we kneel, and at times we sit.  The postures we take are not random but are meant to reflect our attitude.

For instance, at the beginning of Mass we stand as the procession comes in to welcome God coming into our presence.  We sit for the readings not just for comfort but so that we might remain still to hear the readings (if we were all standing we might fidget and cause distraction to others).  We stand again for the Gospel as Jesus comes present among us in the Words of the Gospel.

As we enter into the Eucharistic Prayer we kneel as a recognition of the holiness of what is going on.  We stand for the Our Father recognizing that through the sacrifice we celebrate in the Eucharist we have been made worthy to rise.

With this in mind, back in 2003 Bishop Clark decreed that we remain standing after the Lamb of God.  The General Instruction of the Roman Missal clearly stated that this was for the Bishop to decide.  There are theological and historical arguments for both.

If you read Bishop Matano’s Pastoral Letter in the Catholic Courier, you know that he has now decreed that after the Lamb of God we will return to the practice of kneeling until we come forth for Communion.  So we will begin doing that today.  Everything else will remain the same, we will bow just before we receive Communion, receive standing, and then return to our pews and kneel.

Let us pray that this Year of the Eucharist help us deepen our Eucharist of what the Eucharist is for us.

The Most Holy Trinity – Homily

The Most Holy Trinity
Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9
Daniel 3:52-55
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
John 3:16-18

Last week we celebrated Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit and that brought our Easter season to a close.  That means we are now in Ordinary Time but for this Sunday and next we celebrate two feasts that our Church considers important enough as to celebrate on Sunday so that many people experience the meaning of these feasts.

Next week we will celebrate the Body and Blood of Christ and begin the Year of the Eucharist in our diocese but that’s for next week.  Today we celebrate the Most Holy Trinity.

The Trinity is in one sense basic to our faith.  We invoke the Trinity every time we make the Sign of the Cross, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  How much more basic can you get than that?

While the Trinity is basic to our faith, it is also difficult to understand.  That’s why we call it a “mystery”.

What is a mystery?  Probably most times when we hear the word “mystery” it is in the context of solving a crime.  In this sense of mystery, it is a problem to be solved or an answer to be found.

If we look at the mystery of the Trinity as something to solved or answered, we might begin by turning to the Bible, the very Word of God.  However, I will let you know that if you go looking for the word “trinity” in the Bible you will not find this exact word.

Does that mean the Trinity isn’t real?  Absolutely not!  I said you can’t find the exact word “trinity” in the Bible but the concept of trinity is very much there, three persons but one God.

Think of the story of Jesus’ baptism.  As Jesus is baptized, we hear the voice of God our Father say, “This is my beloved Son.”  Then the Holy Spirit comes down upon Jesus at his baptism in the form of a dove.

Looking elsewhere in the Bible, we can read Jesus’ Farewell Discourse in chapters 14-17 of John’s Gospel.  Here Jesus talks about how he and the Father are one.  He talks about how the Holy Spirit will come after him, sent by the Father.  This discourse speaks of the unity of the Trinity.  Such a perfect unity is hard for us to imagine because our human faults make that level of unity a huge challenge for us.

Jesus himself uses a Trinitarian formula when he tells the disciples to go out and baptize all nations in the name of the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

Paul invocates the Trinity in our second reading today, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”  (This is the basis for the greeting I use at the beginning of Mass.)

What about our other readings today?  To be honest, they do not include all three persons of the Trinity.  What they do include is something about God’s identity.

Today’s gospel tells us of God’s love, so great “that he gave his only Son” not to condemn us but to save us.  There is nothing God won’t do to save us.  That is his perfect love for us.

The first reading tells us God’s name.  The text uses the word “LORD” in all capital letters to tell us it is not simply the word “lord” but that is God’s name, God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.”

It is difficult for us to put in human words an adequate description of God and the three persons of the Trinity.  It is a mystery.  The first reading has God coming down upon the mountain “in a cloud.”  Think of the cloud as mysterious and hidden.  Hidden not because God doesn’t want us to see him but hidden in the sense that we can’t fully comprehend God.

It is a mystery but God gives us the gift of faith.  We can’t solve the mystery of the Trinity.  We don’t have too.  God gives us the gift to believe.

Pentecost Homily

Pentecost
Acts 2:1-11
Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34
1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13
John 20:19-23

Our Easter Season draws to a close today with our celebration of Pentecost but we should never think of Pentecost as simply an end to Easter.  Pentecost is an “event” in our church.  It is often referred to as the “birth of the church.”

Why call it the birth of the Church?  It is the day that the disciples first received the Holy Spirit that empowered and invigorated them to them to go out and proclaim the good news.

The first time the Holy Spirit descended upon disciples was marked with vivid imagery.  The Holy Spirit arrived as a “strong driving wind.”  The use of the word “strong” symbolizes the awesome power of God.  The “wind” reminds of how God “breathed” life into Adam (Genesis 2:7).  God gives us life and the Holy Spirit brings us eternal life.

Continuing with the symbolism, the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples as “tongues of fire.”  Fire is used as image of God’s divine presence such as in the story of the burning bush (Exodus chapter 3) and the column of fire that led the Israelites out of Egypt into the desert (Exodus 13:21-22).

I’ll add here that sometimes that we use the expression “they’re on fire” as a way of saying a person is filled with excitement and passion.  That’s what happens to the disciples when they receive the Holy Spirit.  They become “on fire” to proclaim the gospel.

The symbolism of the tongues is also important to us.  Language can be a barrier to people coming together.  The Holy Spirit transcends that by enabling each person is able to hear the disciples speak in their own language at Pentecost.  Our faith is not just for the Israelites or those of white European descent.  The gospel is for all whether it be Hispanics and Latinos, Africans, Asian, South Americans, or the whites. God’s love and mercy transcends language, geography, and ethnicity.  God’s love and mercy is for each and every person.

In our psalm response today, we sing, “Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.”  The Holy Spirit renewed the disciples with a new and powerful mission.  In our baptism we receive the Holy Spirit and we are sealed with it in Confirmation.  The Holy Spirit gives us gifts to empower us to proclaim Jesus to the world.

Now, as Paul writes to the Corinthians, the Holy Spirit gives us “different kinds of spiritual gifts” for “difference forms of services.”  Paul speaks of how the body is one but has many parts.

In Baptism we become part of the Body of Christ.  Through the Holy Spirit we are united as one but we are not all the same and are not all called to do the same function.  Our hands do a different role than our feet.  Our eyes do a different role than our ears but using them all together we accomplish far more than any one part of the body can do on its own.

You might remember a couple of weeks ago when I talked about how we have different roles at Mass that people help with.  We have altar servers and musicians, readers and Extraordinary Ministries of Holy Communion just to name some.  As we go out into the world, we need to work together.

This can be a challenge for us.  We can be afraid of what lies ahead of us.  In that fear we turn to the Holy Spirit for the gift of “courage.”

When Jesus appeared to the disciples in the locked room, they were afraid and he said to them “Peace be with you.”  When we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit bears fruits in us.   One of those fruits is peace.  Having the Holy Spirit helps us to see what is truly important and to trust in God.  This brings us peace.

This change is the Holy Spirit giving us real life.  This change is the Holy Spirit renewing us of us.  The renewal comes not just at Baptism or Confirmation.  The Holy Spirit can renew us each time we seek God’s forgiveness and gives us the mercy to start anew.

NASCAR Driver Johnny Sauter and Faith

Last night I was watching the NASCAR truck race.  Johnny Sauter won the race and in victory lane on national TV said it was great to win in the month of June, the month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and he thanked the Virgin Mary.  There was no grandstanding.  I searched his name on the Internet and found that he is known to have a devout faith.  He said what he did because he really believed it.  As we celebrate Pentecost this weekend, may we embrace the gifts of the Holy Spirit and have the courage to publicly profess our faith.

Here is a link that should show you the video on the interview (after an ad.)

http://www.foxsports.com/nascar/video

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

The Visitation and Life

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The gospel reading (Luke 1:39-56) for today tells the story of Mary going to visit Elizabeth.  In this story there are four living people taking part in the story (Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband is also mentioned by name).

The first of the four is, of course, Mary.  Mary has just experienced the Annunciation where the angel Gabriel has told her that she has been chosen to be the mother of Jesus, our Lord.  Mary accepts the gift of life in her womb.  She rejoices at this life.  The angel Gabriel also tells her that Elizabeth, her relative, is pregnant.  Mary goes to Elizabeth so that they can share their joy.

Elizabeth is the second of the four we will discuss.  She has never had children and is now beyond the years for child-bearing.  She could have thought why now?  Today some medical people would say the pregnancy is too risky because of her age.  She could have said herself that she was to0 old to raise a child but her response is to embrace the gift of life in her womb (see Luke 1:25).

The third person we will talk about is John the Baptist.  He is inside his mother’s womb.  When the angel Gabriel told Mary that Elizabeth was pregnant, he said, “this is the sixth month for her who was called barren.” (Luke 1;36b)  Sixth month… that means 24 weeks.  In medical terms of today, that means John would be considered viable.  He would look like a human being with a head, body, arms, and legs with all the body parts there.  I take today’s reading as proof that he also had a soul at that point.  Why?  Inside his mother’s womb, he could not see Mary and certainly could not “see” in Mary’s womb yet he reacts to Jesus’ divine presence as he leaped in Elizabeth’s womb.  How could he have reacted to Jesus’ divinity if he (John) did not himself have a soul to perceive the divinity.

That brings us to Jesus, the fourth living person in this story.  At this point, he would have just been conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb.  He would not have been considered “viable” by today’s medical standards but he was very much alive.  Both Elizabeth and John react to Jesus’ presence in Mary’s womb.  Elizabeth refers to Mary as the “mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:43) so she is aware, “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:41) that Jesus is present,  John the Baptist reacted by leaping in her womb.  Clearly Jesus is present in his divinity.  Does that not mean that he, in his humanity, has a soul at that point?  So the soul is present upon conception and we are alive.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Why it is Important That We Reached Our CMA Goal

This weekend I had the pleasure of announcing at Mass that, for the first time in long as anyone remembers, our parish reached our Catholic Ministries Appeal (CMA) goal.  You can read the letter Bishop Matano wrote to our parish upon reaching our goal on our parish website.

It was my pleasure to announce this as good news for our parish for a few reasons.

First, I’ll be honest one reason is that it saves our parish money.  The goal is a mandated goal, meaning that if we don’t make our goal, the parish pays the difference out of our general budget.  Last year we paid just over $14,000.  So the fact that we made our goal saves our parish a lot of money.

Secondly, the CMA makes up over 50% of the entire revenue for our diocese each year.  We are not an isolated parish.  Rather we are part of a diocese and a world wide church.  We are called to share in the mission of our diocese.  The funds raised by the CMA help fund ministries like Catholic Charities and campus ministry.  It also enables the diocese to provide IT support on our computers and administrative support on all the regulations we need to follow.

This much I have said before (Catholic Ministries Appeal (CMA).  Now, for what I want to say today.  I was my pleasure to announce this weekend that we met our goal because it means you listened to what I said throughout the year, you cared, and you responded.

I put a lot of work into the CMA from the posterboards in church to my homily last Fall to the information on our parish website and the bulletin articles but my efforts would have been for nothing if our parishioners had not responded so generously.  Even before my arrival as pastor here our parish had increased our CMA contributions from $30,097 in the 2011-2012 year to $36,971 in the 2015-2016 year.  This year we had 30 more households contribute than last year.  Many households who had already been contributing in recent years increased their giving.  So, we raised $8,804 more than last year.  This, together with the fact that the diocese lowered our goal by $5,834 made it possible for us to met our goal.

To show that every contribution matters, I want to include that two weeks ago, we were still $1,712 short of our goal.  I made one last plea for contributions at Mass and you listened.  A $1,700 donation was received leaving us just $12 shy of our goal.  Then came a $25 contribution that put us over the top (as well as a $12 contribution).  EVERY contribution matters.  The bigger contribution got us close but we never would have made our goal without all the little contributions.

To those who contributed and to those praying for a successful appeal, THANK YOU.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

7th Sunday of Easter, Year A – Homily

7th Sunday of Easter, Year A
Acts 1:12-14
Psalm 27:1, 4, 7-8 (13)
1 Peter 4:13-16
John 17:1-11a

On Thursday we celebrated Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven.  This marked an important moment as the disciples saw him ascend on the cloud so that they (and us!) might all know Jesus has returned to his place in Heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father.

Now, it is almost time for the Apostles and disciples to take the gospel message to all the world.  I say “almost” because Jesus told them to wait for “the promise of the Father.”  This is, of course, a reference to the Holy Spirit that they will receive at Pentecost and that we have received in our Baptism and were sealed with at Confirmation.

So the Apostles once again gather in the upper room.  Earlier in our Easter season, we heard how the disciples gathered in the room with the doors locked for “fear of the Jews.”  At that time they couldn’t understand what had happened.  Jesus, the one they thought to be the Messiah was crucified and the tomb was empty.

Since that time Jesus spent forty days with them teaching them about his Crucifixion and Resurrection fulfilled what had been foretold.  They rejoiced to have this time with Jesus.

Now Jesus has “left them” but unlike with the Crucifixion and the tomb being found empty, this time they know exactly where Jesus has gone because they saw him ascend.

I wonder how they felt as they once again gathered in the upper room.  We are told that they “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer.”  I wonder what they were saying in their prayers.

Perhaps they prayed that they might experience Jesus’ daily presence among them.

Perhaps they prayed to know what to do next.  Remember Jesus is our light.  As our light he helps us to see the world as he sees it.

Perhaps they still had some fear, fear of what was to come.  Jesus had told them that they would suffer.  Did they fear the suffering?

We can all fear suffering.  Society teaches us to avoid suffering.  Suffering is seen as bad yet we hear Peter write, “Rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ.”

Rejoice?  The very definition of “suffering” would seem to indicate that suffering is something to avoid.  How can we possibly rejoice in suffering?

Peter does not say that all sufferings are good.  He speaks of the suffering that comes as the result of murder, theft, or evil as not good.  No, the suffering Peter speaks of is when we are “made to suffer as a Christian.

For instance, one of the reasons we don’t talk about our faith outside church much is because we are afraid of what people might say to us.  Will they ridicule us?  So what if they do?  It is their loss, not ours.  So, instead of becoming silent, we should ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of courage so we can proclaim Christ to the world.

Now, I want to shift to our ‘response’ to the sufferings we face in our worldly lives.  Our response can say much about our faith.

For instance, say one is facing a terrible illness and gives up on God because God doesn’t give them a miracle that says something about their faith.  On the other hand, if, when we are ill, we turn to our faith to ask Jesus to walk with us through the illness then we are glorifying God.

If, in the midst of our sufferings in the land of the living, we look past that to see eternal life, we “hallow” God’s name, trusting he is with us.

When I say, “We look past that to see eternal life,” I don’t simply mean eternal life as we will know it after death.  We just heard Jesus’ words he prayed to the Father, “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.

We do know God and we know Jesus.  We know Jesus to be the one who embraced suffering in his Passion.  He didn’t want to suffer.  He prayed in the garden that if it was the Father’s will, this cup of suffering might pass from him, but he knew that it was the Father’s will and that his suffering had a purpose, our salvation.

Does our suffering relate to our salvation?  Absolutely.  If we run from our faith in our suffering, then we close ourselves off from salvation but if we turn to God in our sufferings, we open ourselves to the glory of salvation.

This isn’t easy.  I will admit there are days when I pray all my problems would just go away but then I try to leave it in God’s hands as my light and my salvation.

Why Do We Celebrate the Ascension ‘Today’?

I’ve titled this article “Why Do We Celebrate the Ascension ‘Today’? but even the title needs a short explanation.  I put “today” in single quote marks because not everyone is celebrating the Ascension today.  Some dioceses move it to the following Sunday.  I’ll explain why it falls on today later in the article.  In the northeast, we celebrate the Ascension today and that is the perspective I write from.

The Ascension is a holy day of obligation.  One might ask why?  What makes it so important?  Why celebrate it at all, let alone on Sunday or especially Thursday?

We can turn to today’s first reading (Acts 1:1-11) for the answer.  The first line begins “In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up.”  The writer of the Acts of the Apostles is Luke, the same Luke that wrote the Gospel of Luke.  It is this gospel that he refers to as “the first book” as he begins the book of The Acts of the Apostles.

We can take a further step back in time to see Old Testament as everything that happened up to the time just before Jesus’ birth.  Then, the gospels tell everything that happened while Jesus walked on Earth including right after his resurrection.  It is important to note that the Gospels do not end at the Crucifixion or Resurrection.  They end just as Jesus returns to his place in Heaven where he sits at the right hand of the Father.  This is the Ascension.

So, the Ascension is a pivotal point in our history.  The Acts of the Apostles begin the story of everything that happened after the Ascension but the first eleven verses focus on the Ascension itself.  Jesus did not simply disappear.  He “ascended” with his disciples watching so that they (and we) would know where he went.  They saw him ascend as the “cloud took him from their sight.”  It is important to know that Jesus returned to where he came from.

So back to the question why today?  Why celebrate this day on a Thursday when it is easier for people to get to church on Sunday?  The answer is found in Acts 1:3 when it sets the stage for Jesus’ Ascension, “He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during FORTY DAYS.”  It makes it clear that Jesus ascended forty days after he first appeared on Easter morning.  Forty days was no a random time interval.  Jesus spent forty days in the desert after his baptism and was tempted by the devil.  It rained for forty days and nights in the great flood (Genesis chapters 6-9).

Today is forty days from Easter and so today we celebrate the Ascension.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

6th Sunday of Easter, Year A – Homily

6th Sunday of Easter, Year A
Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
Psalm 66:1-3, 4-5, 607, 16, 20
1 Peter 3:15-18
John 14:15-21

The Samaritan people were despised by the Jews but Samaria is where Philip to proclaimed Christ to the people in today’s reading.  Philip was not one of the Twelve Apostles but he shared (just like all of us) in the mission to proclaim Christ to the world.

The Samaritan crowds “paid attention” to Philip and “saw the signs” he did, driving out unclean spirits and curing people.  Because of what Philip said and did many people there “accepted the Word of God.

We are not able to do miracles but we can still proclaim Christ to others.  Our psalm today says repeatedly today to “sing praise.”  As first hearing, we think of the “singing” as referring to our music.  Our music ministry is important for us in offering praise to God.  Our music ministry is led by Tim as our music director and organist.  Our cantors and choirs play a very important part in our music ministry.  If you have the gift of musical ability I encourage you to consider being part of our parish music ministry.

We are not all given the gift of musical ability but we can all join in signing our hymns and Mass parts but singing praise is more than music.  Our psalm says to “shout joyfully to God” and “let all the earth cry out to God with joy.”

Even if we can’t sing we can still speak of the tremendous deeds of the Lord.  Everyone doesn’t have to be a great preacher.  Peter tells us to “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”

I’ve spoken before about how some people feel they don’t know what to say.  They feel that if they are even to mention Jesus to others, then they need to be able to answer any question the other person might ask.  They know they can’t answer every question so they don’t say anything.

To this I say two things.  First, then do something more to learn about your faith.  You’ve just admitted you don’t know enough.  You can do something about that!  Learn!

Secondly, the most important thing we can do is to provide a reason for our hope.  Even if your faith isn’t as strong as you would like, the fact that you are here right now says that you have some faith.  Why?

As I’ve said on previous Sundays, sometimes we might be here just out of a sense of obligation.  Even if you are coming out of obligation, it means something to you.  Ask yourself why the obligation is important to you.  Is there something about your answer that you can share with others?

Sometimes the thing that keeps us coming back is the stories that we read in the Bible of how God rescued his people in distress.  Such stories give us hope that God will rescue us.  So we keep coming back.  Then you should share these stories with other people.

Maybe you have had an experience in your life where God’s presence and help was evident to you.  It may be a healing from sickness.  It might be a sense of peace and comfort that the Lord has given you in a time of loss where the promise of eternal life gives you hope.

Such experiences can involve a feeling of being loved.  What does it mean to be love God?

Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  This might be troubling to us.  If another human being begins a conversation by saying, “if you love me….” We might immediately wonder what they are going to ask for.  If they ask us to do something we know to be wrong, then our response to them might be, “if you loved me, you won’t ask me to do that.”

With this in mind, Jesus tells us to keep his commandments but he doesn’t know this to benefit himself.  Jesus has nothing to gain for himself by us keeping his commandments.  We are the ones who benefit from keeping Jesus’ commandments.  ALL of God’s commandments are good for us.

When we keep his commandments and see the good it brings us, we can know that Jesus loves us.  We need to see with our hearts, not our human eyes.

For instance, if we look at Jesus on the Cross only with human eyes, we see a man whose life was destroyed by his enemies.  When we look at Jesus on the Cross with the eyes of faith, we see not a man defeated but Christ who loves us so much that he gives up his life for us.

Our opening prayer asks “that we may celebrate with heartfelt devotion these days of joy.”  We are still celebrating Easter as our “days of joy.”  May we know with heartfelt devotion what these days mean for us.  This is the reason for our hope.  Jesus died and rose that we might know eternal life.