Sunday April 11, 2021
Second Sunday of Easter
Today we peer into the locked room where the disciples huddled in fear. We can relate to this moment in the scriptures since we have lived this past year reimagining our relationships, feeling stripped of intimacy and our everyday life routines. The pandemic has forced us into solitude and to explore what it means to live our faith and our lives in surrender and hope. We have endured job loss, racial tensions, depression among our teens and many people dying alone in hospitals. Today, Jesus stands in the center of our fear as well and offers us peace.
This gospel from John 20: 19-31, invites us to acknowledge our own fear after Jesus’ death. The Resurrection of Jesus unfolds with profound insight in this Easter season. Gradually, we come to terms with what the Resurrection of Christ Jesus means for our own lives. This text reveals to us that fear is useless.
We view the disciples behind locked doors. I can imagine how they felt, struggling to make sense out of the events of those past days. They encountered his suffering and their own grief. Their expectations of following him exploded in their faces. I imagine that room filled with body heat and fear, with few words floating in the tension. Their anguish roused silence and heightened hearing. Every move and sound must have brought fear to a deeper level.
Then a miracle happened. From the blackness of fear, Jesus appears to them. Without a key to the room, or hearing his footprints, he appears before them. Jesus mutters with great assurance the first words of the Resurrection, “Peace be with you.” Those words have echoed down the centuries into our liturgies. I wander if we ever reflect on the way those disciples first heard those words with their heightened hearing and beating hearts. Peace, I am sure, must have seemed impossible.
Jesus reveals himself. He showed them he was the real deal. His redeemed wounds, his scars on his hands and feet, teach them that he is the same person from before but now incredibility different. They are following him into new spiritual territory. He becomes divine; he enters their hearts with profound hope.
Then John’s account of Pentecost happens. Jesus sends them out the door. He breathes on them offering the Holy Spirit. I can’t imagine this moment. There are many missing paragraphs it seems. Their bodies were weak with fear, and then in an instant they were sent into the world with a new vision. This is intense. There is so much to deal with from the disciples’ perspective. Pentecost soars within hours of the Resurrection in the Gospel of John.
Thomas was not in the room at the time. He shows up a week later. Thomas is unable to put all the pieces together. I don’t blame him. Who could have seen this coming? So Jesus returns and Thomas touches Jesus’ redeemed wounds with his own hands. He puts his finger into the nail marks on his hand. He probes the mystery of the wound in his side. I want to feel what Thomas felt. How I wish I could have been with them in this encounter. From the depths of Thomas’ soul, from his gut, he just can’t keep it inside of him, he proclaims, “My Lord and my God!”
This particular gospel from John is proclaimed every year on the Sunday after Easter Day. Thirty-eight years ago, I preached on this text at my First Mass in South Bend, Indiana. In these months of COVID-19, our men who are ordained this year must limit their friends and families, even at their first Masses today.
On this Divine Mercy Sunday, we recognize the sheer gift of God’s utter love, forgiveness and tenderness. Mercy is not earned; this love is gift to help us all heal and to find our ways beyond the locked doors of hopelessness.
This profound encounter between Jesus and Thomas invites us into deep faith.
Every believer touches the mystery of Jesus’ presence in various ways. We grow into touching the wounds of the Body of Christ in our service among people. We touch human suffering every day. We probe the mystery of the wounded and redeemed Body of Christ when we experience human suffering. Love changes us. Love enables us to proclaim on our lips, “My Lord, and my God!”
God give you peace,
This is a 60-Second Sermon published from Liturgical Press, Collegeville MN, for the Second Sunday of Easter, April 11, 2021.
“Healing child abuse is a pro-life issue.”
By: Fr. Ron Raab, CSC
For over a decade of my life, I ministered among people who lived outside or in single-room occupancy hotels. I also ministered among our volunteers and parishioners who kept our daily hospitality center in action. In Portland, Oregon, our parish community gathered folks who had fallen through the cracks of guidelines or benefits from helping organizations. Our hospitality center was the last stop to receive some simple food or monthly clothing. People came to us to benefit from a warm room and companionship for a couple of hours.
There were many brutal truths that emerged from creating a hospitality center in our very simple and small parish community. I am not a social worker. I have no formal training in the startling issues in which I ministered. However, the role of the Church in our neighborhood was simply to build relationships, to offer a kind ear and a hopeful presence. Our ministry on a daily basis was far beyond our professional expertise. However, I approached this ministry simply as a priest and person of faith. This ministry stretched me into becoming a more genuine believer in Jesus.
We learned over the course of years, and working with mental health organizations in our neighborhood, some alarming statics of abuse. In our weekday-morning hospitality center we served about 150 people a day. Many more people came to our doors seeking help in the afternoons. We learned that approximately 85% of the men we served had been sexually abused as children. And even more alarming than that, we learned that approximately 100% of the women we served had been sexually abused as children.
These statics of abuse are not scientific, but came to us from several mental healthcare workers whom we turned to for advice and counsel. The pattern for the truly homeless and mentally ill began in childhood. This is what I find most alarming in our society and in the concrete reality of ministry among the marginalized. Most people think that homeless folks just want to take advantage of society by surviving on our handouts. Many people think the poor are just lazy. I learned something far deeper about many folks who are surviving their days with severe mental illness and who are not mentally capable of keeping a job or an apartment.
Many people were abused sexually and emotionally as very young children. By the age of four or five, many of our people had been abused. The severity of abuse scarred them for life. From such horrific moments in their lives at a very early age, many people turned to alcohol by the time they were eight or nine years old and some even earlier.
Some of the children were taken from their homes early on by the state. Many of the children then faced more abuse living in various foster homes. However, most of the children just ran away from home. In fact, we were told by social workers that only 50% of the parents who had a runaway child ever reported that child missing. They did not report it because they did not care that the child was gone.
I was also told in my years in Portland that many teenagers who run away from home do so because they were either sexually abused or the parents found out that the child was a homosexual. Many families literally threw the gay or lesbian child out of the house, especially in rural areas of the state. These children found their way to larger cities and struggled to get education, healthcare and housing. Some of these children actually survived such ordeals.
Once children face such horror at such a young age, combined with street living, the chances for mental health survival are slim. Surviving outside long term and remaining mentally healthy is nearly impossible. And when all of these things come together from childhood, people become incapable of holding down a job or ever getting well.
Abuse is not the fault of the child. This claim is so important for many of us to hold true. So many people in our society blame the adult who had been abused as a child and whose mind could not heal. The ramifications of abuse are long term and overwhelming for people and for our society.
A child does not ask to be abused. A child has no defense over the power of an adult or the authority of a parent or a person who knows the child well. As a society, we need to stop blaming people for being poor, for suffering from various diseases of the mind and for not being able to keep a job. We also need to stop blaming people for having been emotionally or sexually abused. This is so real in our society; abuse has horrific effects beyond childhood.
Early on in my years in Portland, I wanted to offer a retreat for people who suffered depression. I asked two healthcare professionals to help me with the day of reflection. With the three of us as facilitators, we gathered a dozen people around a large table. We began with prayer and introductions. In the introductions, every single person told us that they had been sexually abused as a child. The effects of abuse were overwhelming. Some of the folks gathered were not homeless. As it turned out, the retreat did not end that afternoon. We met every month for the next three years. We have much work to do with people who experience ongoing effects from the hands of people they loved. Becoming an adult from a childhood of abuse is never easy.
I have been deeply influenced by people’s lives of abuse. Again, I am not trained in the deep effects of family abuse dynamics. I do though, have a heart and an ear. I have listened carefully to people who hold such anguish in their hearts and bodies. There is much I need to learn and even more I need to entrust to God. I hold many stories in my heart from sitting with people who reveal to me the torment of abuse. Many of the stories I can not share here. However, I am also offered hope when the truth is shared. Truth is what we have to build the Church upon.
Just before leaving Portland to come to Colorado Springs, a colleague asked me what I had learned in my years working among God’s beloved poor. This is what I told him. “We need to stop abusing our children.” After over a decade, this is still my conclusion about poverty in our country. So much of it stems from our children facing the abuse and uncertainty in childhood. The core of much of our poverty on the streets and beyond is that people are struggling to survive abuse. The effects of abuse arise in our relationships, our ability to hold down a job and much is passed down to our children and loved ones. I pray to break the cycle of abuse that is a true epidemic in our society.
Working to fight against child abuse is a pro-life issue that means a great deal to me. Our Church is not only anti-abortion, but we also face the consequences of how our children live in the world, and the opportunities each child has to thrive. Our human life in God has abundant dignity, and when that dignity is ignored, shredded, and feared, we all must step in to heal our children’s place in the world. When these children become adults, we may all view our common failure when we judge them for not having a job or being contributors to society. We simply must stop abusing our children.
I have spent many years in the depths of people’s despair. However, I am forever grateful to the story tellers and the seekers of hope. Our reliance on God is critical to viewing the dignity of those born in abuse. We all can see with new eyes and act with genuine hope.
April 4, 2021
Dear Believers in the Christ,
Welcome to Easter! This glorious feast is the birthplace of faith. From the Resurrection of Christ Jesus, we sustain hope in our world. From this unbelievable outcome over death, we have built a Church. I welcome you on this Easter morning to Sacred Heart Church, Holy Rosary in Cascade and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Manitou Springs. I pray that your spiritual journeys will be renewed in Christ this day.
We proclaim John 20:1-9 on Easter morning. I love this gospel. Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb unsure about what just had happened to Jesus. Her inner turmoil kept her awake. She must have come to the tomb feeling empty. She was exhausted. Her inner loss and grief filled the night. I wonder how she found her way, stumbling on the path as the dawn cracked the sky.
Mary Magdalene was first to discover the empty tomb. History has not given her enough credit for this find, this spiritual encounter. She is called, “The Disciple to the Disciples”, for this very discovery and then telling the men. I can imagine she wiped the weariness from her eyes and still could not imagine such a finding. She panics. The emptiness filled her imagination about who took Jesus from the tomb. She needed another set of eyes to comprehend such an event.
Mary’s news to John and Peter caused alarm. They ran to verify the words of Mary. John arrived first to the place where Jesus was buried. John saw the cloths but could not bring himself to enter the tomb. His grief must have been overwhelming. Peter entered the tomb. He overcame his fear of what the tomb would reveal.
The tomb revealed the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head. Had someone moved the body, that cloth would still surround the head of Christ. Instead, it was rolled up, tucked in the corner of the tomb. It seems that Peter was still not making all of the connections. John saw the cloth and he believed. Something clicked in the heart of John. He knew Jesus had risen. He knew that through all of the turmoil, something new was happening.
Today, we are grateful for the lives of Mary Magdalene, Peter and John, for their willingness to enter the tomb. Their courage speaks to us today. Their inner turmoil gave way to centuries of hope for many people. Today, we celebrate genuine life, that fear does not win. Today, we journey to the tombs that we have built from our own fear, discouragement and hopelessness. Jesus overwhelms the darkness with his light. Love has the last word.
We build our lives on Jesus’ resurrection. This is the core of our faith. We celebrate the resurrection at each Mass no matter the liturgical season. This is the story we share at every Eucharist. I realize that so many areas of our human lives have yet to experience hope. Every day we are surrounded by grief at the death of a loved one. We lose hope as we face the dark issues of Church including sex crimes and infidelity. We find only discouragement when we do not live up to our potential or when we discover others have not lived up to their commitments. Life is really tough. Easter does not gloss over heartbreak. Easter invites us realize we share the crosses of life. As we encounter myriads of deaths, God is with us. In Easter, we know within our hearts that love prevails.
Our link to Easter is our second birth in baptism. We are born again in Jesus’ resurrection. God is among us. Hope is alive. Love pierces even our darkest pain. Our commitment to one another in baptism is the way in which we live out this Easter morning message of love and hope. The white garment tucked away in the corner of the tomb is essentially the white garment given to us when we were baptized. We are clothed in glory, given a share in the miracle of the empty tomb.
“This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad.”
God give you peace,