• During the fifty days of the Easter season, we celebrate with joy the Resurrection of Jesus. Since Jesus, by His Resurrection, has opened for us the way to a new life, we also celebrate with hope our future resurrection. Saint Paul wrote: Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep…. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Corinthians 15: 20-22).

    We profess in the Nicene Creed that we look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. The resurrection of the dead is closely associated with Christ’s Second Coming. The Church teaches that the resurrection of the dead will precede the Last Judgment. Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his Kingdom will have no end (Nicene Creed).

    This coming Sunday, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, we will hear in the second reading from the book of Revelation Saint John’s vision of a new heaven and a new earth and of a new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God (21:1-5). This new heaven and new earth refers to the mysterious transformation of humanity and the world that will take place at the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of time. The universe will be perfectly re-established in Christ. As Saint Paul teaches: God will bring all things in the heavens and on earth into one under Christ’s headship (Ephesians 1:10).

    We are called to live in hope of the new heaven and the new earth. We do not know when the Second Coming will occur nor do we know the way in which the universe will be transformed. It remains a mystery. Yet, we believe, as the Church teaches, that the form of this world, distorted by sin, is passing away, and we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, in which happiness will fill and surpass all the desires of peace arising in our hearts (Gaudium et spes 39, Second Vatican Council).

    I mention these things since sometimes we might feel overwhelmed by the weakness, miseries, violence, injustices, sufferings, and misfortunes of earthly life and human history. Some may even adopt a fatalistic view, become indifferent, believing that nothing can change and that there is no sense of hoping. This is not the Christian perspective. We believe that God entered the world and human history in His Son who continues to be in our midst.  Through His Church, the Lord continues to establish His kingdom of truth, justice, love, and peace in time and space, the Kingdom that will come in its fullness at the end of time, after the universal judgment.

    Our expectation of the new heaven and the new earth not only gives us hope, it is also a stimulus for our engagement with the world. We must not fall into the extremes of isolation or secularism. The Second Vatican Council emphasized our duty to penetrate and perfect the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity 5). With hope of the new heaven and the new earth, we can walk courageously in this life, cooperating with the Lord in building up His Kingdom through our works of mercy, justice, and love.

    Finally, in his vision of the new heaven and new earth. Saint John saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Revelation 21:2). The new Jerusalem appears as a bride because it symbolizes the Church, the Bride of Christ. This feminine symbol of the Church as Bride has deep meaning. It expresses the Church’s mystery as loved by Christ the Bridegroom who gives His life for His Bride. It also expresses our calling, both men and women, through the Church to be the Bride of Christ, to love Him in return. We are called to bear witness to the love of the Bridegroom in the world. In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus says: As I have loved you, so you also should love one another (John 13:34). This love of Christ and His Bride will shine forth at His Second Coming. May it shine forth even now through our witness, our “I do” to Christ the Bridegroom, our “Amen” to the Father’s love, and our “Yes” to the Holy Spirit’s grace!

    Posted on April 20, 2016, to:

  • Jesus is depicted as the good shepherd in a stained-glass window at Blessed Sacrament Church in Bolton Landing, N.Y. Good Shepherd Sunday, which is observed on the Fourth Sunday of Easter and coincides with the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, is April 17 this year.

    This Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is popularly called “Good Shepherd Sunday” since the Gospel reading is always about Jesus as the Good Shepherd. In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus speaks about giving His sheep eternal life and promises that they shall never perish.

    We see this image of Jesus as shepherd connected to the image of Jesus as the Lamb in the second reading this Sunday from the Book of Revelation.  In his vision of heaven, Saint John writes about a great multitude from every nation, race, people and tongue standing before the throne of God and before the Lamb. He writes that the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

    Jesus is the Lamb and the Shepherd. He is the Victim and the Priest. We are reminded of this at every Mass. He is the Lamb of God who offered Himself in sacrifice for us. He is the Shepherd who leads us, His sheep, to springs of life-giving water.

    Saint John’s vision in chapter 7 of the book of Revelation shows us a great multitude of people worshipping God. They are wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. White is the color of victory and resurrection. That is why we clothe the newly baptized with a white garment. Palm branches are also symbols of victory.

    One of the elders worshipping God in this vision explained to Saint John who these people are wearing the white robes and holding palm branches: These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. He is referring to the martyrs and to all faithful Christians who have endured the trials and sufferings of life in union with Jesus. By the grace of Christ, they have fought the good fight and emerged victorious.

    The words about washing their robes and making them white in the blood of the Lamb seem odd. How can clothes be made white by washing them in blood?  Clearly, this is referring to the blood of Christ that cleanses us from the dirt of sin. We wash our robes in the blood of the Lamb by accepting the Gospel, believing in Jesus, and being baptized. We survive the time of great distress by persevering in our faith, repenting often, and living the grace of our Baptism.

    It is good to remember on Good Shepherd Sunday that the Good Shepherd is also the Lamb, the Lamb that was slain, the Lamb-Shepherd that leads us to springs of life-giving water. He leads us to the sources of life, including Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. And we can only enter heaven thanks to the Blood of the Lamb, the Precious Blood of Christ. He washes us in His Blood. This is our hope, the hope of Christ’s Blood!

    Easter is a season of hope and joy. We can live in hope and joy because of the Resurrection of Jesus, because the Lamb that was slain stands on God’s throne in heaven. We live in hope and peaceful joy that we will one day join the multitude of those wearing white robes and holding palm branches and that God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

    When we read the book of Revelation, we are reminded of things in the Catholic liturgy. The Church, especially in her liturgy, is a sign of the heavenly gathering.  Saint John’s vision of heaven is a great liturgy, the center of which is Christ the Lamb, seated on a throne, worshipped by an assembly who sing, offer incense, and pray.  Our liturgy is really an anticipation of the heavenly liturgy.  In fact, at every liturgy, the saints and angels in heaven worship with us.

    At the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass, we sing the Sanctus, the words sung by the heavenly host in Revelation, chapter 4: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts. Saint John sees a throne before which burned seven flaming torches. At every Mass that the bishop celebrates, there are supposed to be seven candles on the altar.  Among the heavenly citizens are angels, martyrs, saints, and a woman clothed with the sun. In our churches, we have images and statues representing the company of the saints and, of course, the Queen of All Saints, the woman clothed with the sun, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Liturgical signs are heavenly signs.

    Whenever we celebrate the sacraments, we are participating in the eternal liturgy.  We receive grace, the water of life that flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb. And often at our liturgies, the congregation, like the assembly in heaven, includes people of various races, languages, and peoples.

    The Eucharist is “an anticipation of the heavenly glory” (CCC 1402) and unites us even now to the Church in heaven (CCC 1419). The Lord is even now in our midst, though His presence is veiled under the forms of bread and wine. After the Our Father, the priest prays that the Lord will grant us peace in our days, keep us safe from distress “as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” At every Mass, we look forward to sharing in Christ’s glory when every tear will be wiped away.  Most importantly, at every Mass, we receive the medicine of immortality, Jesus, the bread of life. We are not worthy to receive Him, but we ask that He only say the word so our soul may be healed. We pray that His Body and Blood will keep us safe for eternal life.

    The Holy Eucharist is the pledge of the glory to come. May the Good Shepherd lead us to the life-giving water and to the glory of heaven! May our robes be washed and made white in His Blood, the Blood of the Lamb!

    Posted on April 13, 2016, to:

  • Paul Writing His Epistles, painting attributed to Valentin de Boulogne, 17th century.

    In the Easter season, the liturgy presents continuous readings from the Acts of the Apostles. It is good every year that we hear about the life of the first Christians and the early Church. It is a vibrant Church. We hear about the courage of the apostles as they evangelized and about their willingness to suffer for the sake of the Gospel. We also learn about their joy, a joy that endured even in the face of persecution.

    The early Church, as we read in Acts, was filled with missionary dynamism. It remains a paradigm for the life and mission of the Church today. The apostles and early disciples of Christ are models for us of how the Risen Lord acts in and through His people today and of how we are called to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

    One of the remarkable things we find in reading about the early Church is that dishonor, persecution and suffering did not deter the first Christians in their mission.  In fact, we read something that is quite astounding. They rejoiced in these sufferings! In the first reading from Acts this coming Sunday, we will hear about the apostles being arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin. They were brought in because they had not obeyed the previous order to stop teaching in the name of Christ. The apostles were ordered again to stop speaking in the name of Jesus. When they left the Sanhedrin, Saint Luke tells us they rejoiced that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.

    This rejoicing at dishonor seems rather strange. When we are dishonored or shamed because of our faith, we naturally want to defend ourselves or fight back. Who likes to be dishonored? Why would the apostles rejoice at dishonor? It is because by dishonor that they were identified with Jesus, who suffered the greatest dishonor in His Passion and Death. The apostles’ dedication to Jesus was stronger than their desire for human honor or the natural antipathy to shame.  Pain and humiliation, therefore, would not deter them from their mission.

    Reading about the persecution of the early Church, we are reminded that Jesus had taught about persecution as a cause for rejoicing. Clearly, the early Christians took this teaching to heart. In the eighth and last Beatitude, Jesus said: Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Then He added: Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven (Matthew 5: 10-11).

    Experiencing some sort of persecution is a real possibility for Christians today. We think about and pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ in countries where ISIS seeks to destroy them and Christianity. We think of the Christians in Lahore, Pakistan, celebrating Easter Sunday two weeks ago in a park.  They were attacked by terrorists. We are living in a new age of Christian persecution.

    Though we do not face this kind of danger in our country, we might experience insults and dishonor for the sake of the Gospel, for living and proclaiming our Catholic faith, especially those aspects of the face that are not popular. The Lord calls us to rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Rather than react with anger to insults and dishonor, Jesus, the apostles, and the early Christians teach us to respond with love. They teach us also to rejoice.

    The apostles rejoiced in being found worthy to suffer for the sake of Jesus and the spread of His Church. This was the work of God’s grace in them. It was the work of the Holy Spirit in them. They were not able to rejoice in suffering until they had received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Saint Peter tells us that when we suffer insult and humiliation because of our love for Jesus, then the Holy Spirit will be with us in His glory:

    Do not be surprised, beloved, that a trial by fire is occurring in your midst. It is a test for you, but it should not catch you off guard. Rejoice, instead, in the measure that you share Christ’s sufferings. When His glory is revealed, you will rejoice exultantly. Happy are you when you are insulted for the sake of Christ, for then God’s Spirit in its glory has come to rest on you (1 Peter 4:12-14).

    Saint Paul is a great example in this regard. He endured so many trials and sufferings as an apostle. He endured them willingly and joyfully, because He was motivated by a tremendous love for Christ and zeal for the salvation of others. His words to Timothy are also an exhortation to us:

    The Spirit God has given us is no cowardly spirit… With the strength which comes from God, bear your share of the hardship which the Gospel entails… Bear hardship along with me as a good soldier of Christ Jesus
    (2 Timothy 1:7-8; 2:3).

    I think we are only able to rejoice in suffering by the grace of the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of Joy. Joy is one of the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Comforter who comforts us in all our afflictions. It is by the Holy Spirit that we are able to desire to be united with Jesus in His sufferings.

    I don’t think it’s possible to share in Good Friday if we don’t have faith in what happened on Easter Sunday. We can rejoice in sharing Jesus’ suffering because we know we will come to share in His glorification. The apostles and so many saints did not reject the cross of Jesus; they embraced it. They even rejoiced to share in the cross because it united them to Jesus. It was a way to give praise and glory to God and to share in Christ’s sufferings for the salvation of the world. The joy of suffering is always sustained by the virtue of hope. It is the hope we have of sharing in Jesus’ glory and joy that makes our present sorrows bearable. As Saint Paul wrote:

    I consider the sufferings of the present to be as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).

    You can depend on this: If we have died with Him we shall also live with Him; if we hold out to the end, we shall also reign with Him (2 Timothy 2: 11-12).

    Throughout this Easter season, as we continue to read about the life of the apostles and early Christians from the Acts of the Apostles, it is good to meditate on their zeal, their suffering, and their joy. We know it is not easy to walk in Jesus’ footsteps when it is the Way of the Cross. But we walk in faith and with hope in the Resurrection. Suffering can even become a joy when accepted with the love provided us by the Holy Spirit, love for Christ and for others and their salvation.

     

    Posted on April 6, 2016, to:

  • The Risen Christ is depicted in the painting “Resurrection” by 15th-century Italian master Andrea Mantegna. Easter, the chief feast in the liturgical calendars of all Christian churches, commemorates Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Easter is March 27 this year.

    What is the connection between Easter, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, and mercy? The revelation of God’s mercy and love is found on every page of Sacred Scripture. That revelation reaches its climax in the Paschal Mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. We recognize the suffering and death of Jesus as truly the deepest sign of how much God loves us. We see the merciful heart of God in the pierced heart of His Son.  But what about the Resurrection?

    The Resurrection of Jesus reveals to us the triumph of divine mercy. Saint John Paul II wrote the following: “The fact that Christ was raised the third day constitutes the final sign of the messianic mission, a sign that perfects the entire revelation of merciful love in a world that is subject to evil. At the same time it constitutes the sign that foretells ‘a new heaven and a new earth’, when God ‘will wipe away every tear from their eyes, there will be no more death, or mourning, no crying, nor pain, for the former things have passed away’ (Revelation 21:4).”

    The Father shows mercy to us in the Resurrection of His Son since we are given the promise of a share in His Resurrection.  The Resurrection can be considered an act of mercy because it is an act of love. It shows us that the love of God is more powerful than death, just as the crucifixion shows that the love of God is more powerful than sin. The death and resurrection of Jesus gives us access to eternal life in heaven.

    It is significant that in the Risen Lord’s first appearance to the apostles on the first Easter night, He gave them the authority to forgive sins in His name. He breathed the Holy Spirit on them and said: “Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven. Whose sins you hold bound, they are held bound.” Jesus gave the apostles and their successors the power to forgive sins — the greatest mercy!  We will hear this Gospel on the Second Sunday of Easter, appropriately called Divine Mercy Sunday. Through His death and resurrection, God’s love and mercy triumphed over sin and death. Thankfully, that love and mercy is communicated to us in the sacraments, including the great sacrament of mercy instituted that first Easter night.

    Easter is a feast of hope. It reminds us that our sins and failings and regrets do not have the last word. There is always the possibility of a new beginning, thanks to God’s mercy. Sin does not have the last word.  Death does not have the last word. Love and mercy have the last word. What is broken can be repaired. Christ always can restore our hope, if we only let Him. If we believe in God’s love, we must believe in His mercy. As Saint John Paul II once said: “mercy is love’s second name.”

    It is good to remember that the Risen Body of Jesus still bears the five wounds of His crucifixion. Why did God not just take them away? I think it is because God wants us to remember the depths of His mercy. The wounds remain as healing mercy for us.

    The whole Paschal Mystery is a mystery of mercy, including the Resurrection. Just as we solemnly celebrate Christmas for eight days (the Octave of Christmas) so we also solemnly celebrate Easter for eight days (the Octave of Easter).  I will be celebrating many Confirmation Masses during the Easter Octave. It is a special time to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon so many of our young people.

    I pray you all have a very happy and blessed Easter Sunday and Octave of Easter in this Jubilee Year of Mercy. In the Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 118) on Easter Sunday, we will sing of God’s mercy as we pray:

    Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for His mercy endures forever.

    Let the house of Israel say, His mercy endures forever.    

    Posted on March 23, 2016, to:

  • A crucifix is silhouetted against a stained-glass window at the chapel inside Elmira Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in Elmira, N.Y. Good Friday, commemorates the passion and death of Jesus.

    Throughout this Jubilee Year of Mercy, we are contemplating the mercy of God and our call to be merciful like the Father. Many have been studying the stories of God’s merciful actions in the Old Testament and praying the psalms of mercy. Many have been reading and meditating upon the merciful actions of Jesus, the face of the Father’s mercy, as well as His parables of mercy. This week, Holy Week, we arrive at the liturgical commemoration of the supreme manifestation of divine mercy. I encourage everyone to enter into Holy Week with particular devotion during this Jubilee Year of Mercy.

    During Holy Week, we remember and we celebrate the greatest manifestation of God’s mercy, God the Father’s gift of His Son on the cross for our redemption. Jesus shared His Father’s love for us and embraced His Father’s will to save us when He suffered through the agony in the garden and the agony of the cross. This is God’s mercy, God’s love to the end. It wasn’t an abstraction. It was something totally concrete. There were whips and thorns and nails and the rough wood of a cross.

    The crucifixion, which was the most horrible torture, witnesses to us the depth of God’s merciful love. He gave His totally innocent and beloved Son over to death out of love for us. The cross of Jesus is a radical revelation of God’s mercy, of the love that Saint John Paul II once said “goes against what constitutes the very root of evil in the history of man: against sin and death.” This merciful love conquers the deepest sources of evil. It is victorious. It is triumphant in the Resurrection.

    This week, we will liturgically commemorate this great mystery, the Paschal mystery, the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the greatest revelation of God’s merciful love, the love that redeems us, the love that conquers sin and death because it is more powerful than sin and death.

    We are the recipients of the graces that flow from the Paschal Mystery: the gift of new life, reconciliation with God, redemption, liberation from sin, and the promise of the resurrection, all fruits of Christ’s sacrifice. We see these graces revealed when the soldier pierced the side of Jesus on the cross. From His Sacred Heart flowed blood and water. On the surface, this flow of blood and water showed that Jesus was truly dead. But there’s a profound spiritual reality here. The blood and water signify that Jesus’ death is the source of spiritual life for all who are in darkness and dead in sin.

    In the Old Testament, Ezekiel, Joel, and Zechariah prophesied that the life-giving waters of mercy and regeneration would flow from God’s temple on the day of salvation. Well, Jesus had spoken of His body as God’s new temple. Water flowed from His pierced side, from the temple of His body on the cross. These waters of mercy, regeneration, and new life in the Spirit flow in the sacrament of Baptism. At the Easter Vigil, so many catechumens in our diocese and throughout the world will be born again of water and the Spirit. Let us pray for these brothers and sisters as they receive the new life of Christ and are incorporated into His Body, the Church.

    Blood also poured forth from the pierced side of Jesus. The blood of Jesus, poured out for us from His heart, is offered to us sacramentally in the Eucharist. By eating His body and drinking His blood, we grow in communion with Jesus and share now already in His eternal, resurrected life. At the Easter Vigil, the newly baptized and those who will enter into full communion in the Catholic Church will share for us for the first time at the table of the Lord. With joy, we welcome them to the Eucharistic banquet, the sacrament that makes us one body in Christ.

    The Church was born from the pierced heart of Jesus. The Second Vatican Council taught: “For it was from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth the ‘wondrous sacrament of the whole Church’” (SC 5). “As Eve was formed from the sleeping Adam’s side, so the Church was born from the pierced heart of Christ hanging dead on the cross” (CCC 766). We were born as a people, as Christ’s Church, from the heart of Christ pierced on the cross. There would be no Church without the divine mercy.

    All the sacraments of the Church are gifts of God’s mercy. I mentioned the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist represented in the water and blood that flowed from Jesus’ side. All the sacraments are gifts from the Sacred Heart of Jesus. They commemorate and renew the Paschal Mystery of Jesus. All the sacraments are a source of life for the Church. We should work hard in every parish to bring people to the sacraments, to share with others these great gifts of God’s merciful love.

    We naturally think of the sacrament of Penance as a sacrament of mercy. It is a beautiful gift given to us by Jesus the first Easter night. Pope Francis says that “among the sacraments, certainly reconciliation renders present with particular efficacy the merciful face of God.” He says: “Let us never forget, both as penitents and confessors: there is no sin that God cannot forgive. None! Only that which is withheld from divine mercy cannot be forgiven, just as one who withdraws from the sun can be neither illuminated nor warmed” (March 12, 2015). I encourage all who have not yet been to confession during Lent to go during Holy Week.

    I encourage everyone to participate in the beautiful liturgies of Holy Week. The liturgies of the Sacred Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday) are rich in meaning as we remember the sacred events of our Lord’s Last Supper, His passion and death, and His resurrection. Participation in these liturgies is a great opportunity to ponder the Paschal Mystery and to experience anew God’s mercy. The Church’s liturgies help us to encounter the mercy of God which transforms our lives and makes us holy.

    During this Holy Week in the Jubilee Year of Mercy, let us beseech the Lord to bestow His mercy upon us, the mercy that moved Him to carry the cross for us and to pour out His blood for the forgiveness of our sins. In the words of the Divine Mercy chaplet, we pray: For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

    Posted on March 16, 2016, to: