I often hear people say they feel they do not belong. They feel isolated from family because of family disputes or conflicts or not feeling affirmed. They feel they are not part of the Church because of their past decisions. They feel the weight of other people’s disappointments and the fears others carry about family life. Feeling apart from loved ones is a very common experience. Feeling separated from God is healed in these Easter days of celebration, if we allow the grace of the gospels to take root in our fear.
John 15:1-8 reveals to us the words of Jesus, “Remain in me, as I remain in you.” Jesus says to us that he is the vine, and we are the branches. In other words, we belong in him and through him and because of him. The Easter season is a renewal of our baptism. The real meaning of Lent is to open our hearts so that Jesus’ love can continue to show us that we belong. In the waters of baptism, we take our place. This gospel shows us that we are united to Christ Jesus in his passion, death and resurrection.
Sometimes we may think that our sin cuts the branches of our belonging to Christ. We may think that our actions separate us from God, since we are left so alone. Jesus invites us to remain in him, so that we can bear much fruit. This fruit flows from Christ into our world. We are to imitate the foundation of our lives, that is, we are to live in compassion, forgiveness, and unity in our world. Christ’s life is manifest totally within every believer. We do not live with scarcity in Christ, but in absolute abundance of mercy, and hope for all people.
Jesus says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want, and it will be done for you.” This is an incredible invitation. For all we know we don’t always get what we are looking for in the world. However, if we remain centered and in love with Christ Jesus, we can find our true desires, our fundamental longings in him. There will be no room for our feelings of not belonging if we remain centered in Christ. He alone will show us how to love and how to live in our world.
The Easter season invites us into communion with Christ. Our hunger for life is ultimately a longing for faith, hope, and charity in Christ Jesus. I pray that the Easter season brings you joy and not despair, hope and not discouragement, love and not isolation. I also invite you to sit with all the reasons you may feel you do not belong, either to your family or in the community of faith. I pray that you may be healed of such division, because you are loved by God no matter where you have been in life or the consequences of your life decisions. God is always here to welcome, to forgive and to offer us peace.
The joy of Easter is not about candy and pastel bunnies. The joy of Easter is rooted in the cross of Christ Jesus that gives us life over death, hope over despair, peace well beyond the violence we claim in our hearts. Easter is the root system of faith, offering us a place of belonging and peace.
We all desire to be chased by God. We desire love beyond the scope of our experience, and the joy of heaven even in our sorrowful ways. We desire him even when we want to flee from his presence, even when we think he does not satisfy us. We desire the Shepherd we call Good.
Jesus Christ has been converted toward us, even in our stubbornness. He is already keen to our wayward ways and obstinate hearts. He longs for us. He desires me. He tends us whom he already holds in his arms. Imagine such a gift.
On this Good Shepherd Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, the Shepherd comes alive within our hearts. He is no longer a distant metaphor or an ancient image. He is the God who has come into the world to heal us, to forgive us, and to collect us into this loving circle. Grace is where I am, in his reach this day. Jesus Christ is the Shepherd we call Good.
Art Show Invitation: Fr. Ron would like to continue the conversation and healing of abuse by featuring his artwork from “The Stations of the Cross in Atonement for Abuse and the Healing of All” by Liturgical Press as an exhibit at Cottonwood Center for the Arts, 427 E. Colorado Ave., May 7 — May 29. The opening will be Friday, May 7 from 5-8 pm. There will be a Special Reception in honor of Sacred Heart Parishioners on Sunday, May 23 from 2- 4 pm featuring John Kyler, the editor of the new Liturgical Press Stations of the Cross. Mr. Kyler will join Fr. Ron who will lead a discussion on the book and the creation of the art. The exhibit is free. All are welcome
In John 10: 11-18, we listen to Jesus say, “I am the good shepherd.” On the Fourth Sundays of Easter in every liturgical cycle, the images of Jesus as Shepherd or Gatekeeper are proclaimed in the Mass. This weekend is so often used as a time to speak about our vocations of priesthood and service in the Easter Season. Jesus, a guide, reveals to us our longing to remain in his love, in the hope that our lives will secure the Kingdom while we are still on earth.
These images of Jesus within the Easter Season reveal to us that Jesus leads us with tenderness. He invites, not shuns. He gathers, not separates. He loves, not detests. He encourages, not divides. He harmonizes, not condemns. These images of shepherd are foreign to many of us. We certainly are not dumb animals. These ancient images try to get at an action of Jesus to gather his people into unity and harmony. We belong to him. He desires us.
So often this image eludes us. We may dismiss this image as pietistic and old fashioned. However, for me this yearly Fourth Sunday of Easter, reveals the tenderness of God, the hope that we shall one day be one in Him. If we listen careful to the Shepherd, we will first understand that we are welcome within his life. In Easter, we celebrate the redemption of people. Yes, we belong in his presence.
The shepherd lays down his life for the flock. Being a shepherd is hard work, it is not the cozy, fluffy image of a clean sheep on the shoulders of Jesus perfectly clean. Caring for the sheep is dirty, difficult exertion. He cares for us which is no easy task either. He claims us as we are, he runs to carry us away from harm and hopelessness. We do not earn such care, for he offers us this warmth without cost. We can get into some pretty sticky and difficult situations. He frees us to love him.
The image of Jesus as Shepherd also calls us out of the church walls and into the world to help people in need. During this pandemic we see the death of many people who were unable to hold the hands of family members they love. People are experiencing food insecurity during this time of job loss and isolation. The church is more than just a place for private devotion, it is a center from which we all learn to reach to people who need the basics of life, those who need healing and attention from us all. Jesus, the Shepherd models for us tenderness and care, not just in the sanctuary, but in the thickets of everyday life.
When we examine the images of Jesus revealed in the Easter Season, we learn that Jesus is kind, merciful and protective. These images form us as we celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord. These images and actions of Jesus help us learn to live in our world differently, with hope and promise for all people.
1 John 3;1-2: Beloved, see what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
In Luke 24: 13-35, we walk with two of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. We overhear the frustrations and uncertainty about their experiences of the past few days after burying the Master. They cannot believe what has happened. Jesus, the one whom they followed, went to his death and now they hear that he has been raised from the dead. However, Jesus meets with them and their eyes are not yet ready to recognize him.
They retell all the events to the one who they think is a stranger. Then Jesus begins to tell his tale of salvation history. He stays with them, breaking bread and opening up the scriptures. The eyes of the followers were opened and their hearts burned with love. He was present again to them in the breaking of the bread and in the stories of love.
We continue the Easter event on this road to Emmaus in every Mass. The scriptures are broken open to us in our hearing. In every Mass, the Real Presence of Christ is revealed to us in the proclamation of the gospel. The scriptures are fire and love; they are alive and vibrant. The Holy Spirit is embedded in every word. These words of the gospels are not just a text proclaimed by the priest just for kicks. This is not the phone book or an advertising brochure in our inbox.
These are the words from God. These are the words handed down to us from centuries ago imbedded with love, with hope, and healing for all God’s people. These words are not a quick text, not a few words on Instagram. These words are not a knee-jerk reaction within community but come from the storytellers of the past to bring life to everyone. These words rouse hope. These words from the mouth of God fill our pain with healing, our ambiguities with direction, our anxiety with quiet hope. These words bring with them the presence of Jesus who is our way of life, our trust on the perilous journey we call life.
Jesus is revealed to us in the Breaking of the Bread at Mass. This action of the Eucharist is his Real Presence. Our eyes can be just as covered with sleep, inattention, pride, and self-preoccupation as the eyes of the disciples. What reveals our relationship with Jesus Christ within the Eucharist is love. God’s love desires our souls.
Yet, we have to show up to such a relationship. We have to be willing to give our selves over to God’s love. We are called to fall in love with God. Showing up is not just an obligation; it becomes a way to be in love. This love is revealed in how we accept people, how we welcome the lost and forgotten, how we expand our hospitality to people who are different from our selves. Showing up to God is not just a journey to heaven. We are challenged to become a people who believe we are loved by God so to then go out into the world to love other people. The Eucharist is not a ticket of insurance for salvation. The Eucharist becomes a way of life, a way of loving in our families, in our world. Our eyes need to focus on such a love. Our lives need to become what it is we celebrate at Mass, love made flesh.
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!”
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.