What Is Love?

6th Sunday of Easter

Acts 10:25-26,34-35,44-48

Psalm 98:1-4

1 John 4:7-10

John 15:9-17

When preparing to preach at Mass, in my experience, it is very easy to just skim over the 1st and 2nd readings and even the Responsorial Psalm in order to see what the Gospel message is for the week. Very often the Gospel passages proclaimed at Mass have the “meat” of Jesus’ teachings that can really change our lives when we apply them and live them out. Today’s Gospel from John is no different. It’s message is clear and to the point. Jesus tells us, “Love one another as I love you.”

But in order to better understand this “love” that Jesus is talking about, we really need to go back to the 2nd reading today from the first Letter of Saint John. It would be a shame if we just skimmed over it because I believe it is one of the most beautiful passages in the New Testament. It reads almost like a love poem. It is only 4 lines long, but profoundly powerful. So allow me to read it to you again:

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:7-10).

 So next time you tell someone that you “love” him or her… I want you to think of this passage. Because all you ever wanted to or needed to know about love, is explained in these 4 verses. Therefore, you really have to understand this passage so that you are sure that you actually mean what you say when using the word “love.”

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.” Love comes from one source… God. It’s not a man made emotion. It originates from God who is love. Therefore if you truly have love inside of you, then you have God inside of you as well. Even an atheist, one who doesn’t believe in God, in some way, knows God simply by loving others.

“Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” Therefore if God is love, it would make sense that someone who has absolutely no love for anyone can NOT possibly know God. I would take this even farther and say that love and hate can’t reside in the same person at the same time because of how opposite they are. You can’t on one hand tell your child, a friend or your soul mate that you “love” them but on the other hand hold a grudge or hate against someone else. One expresses the presence of God. The other expresses the absence of God. The two don’t mesh.

“In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.” Here, God reveals to us what is love. God didn’t reveal love through His speech, but through His actions. God decided to show us what love looked like by sending us His Son. To live for us. To die for us. To save us. I personally couldn’t imagine standing by watching one of my children suffer a horrendous death. Even if it was for the greater good, I don’t think I would have it in me to keep going. But that’s exactly what God did. He allowed His Son to suffer out of love for us.

“In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” Love is not in the receiving, it is in the giving. Love wasn’t “created” by us out of thanksgiving towards God… Love was “born” from God when He extended it to us through His Son. This sacrifice is the height… the pinnacle of true Love.

So now you are all experts on “love,” right?? Understanding love is the easy part. But it takes a lifetime to properly put it into motion and probably won’t be perfected until you reach heaven. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try while we’re down here living in the world.

So here’s my challenge to all of you…your homework for the week. Be more aware of the level of love you are expressing towards others in your daily lives.

Meaning… if you have high levels of negativity, anger, gossip, holding tighter to those grudges, eye rolls, having to argue everything, cursing or sin in general… your love is out of balance. It means you are distancing yourself from God instead of walking towards Him.

When these things creep up, because it will happen from time to time, you need techniques to counteract them. Simply recognizing this when it’s happening is a great first step. Then try some deep breathing, meditation, prayer, read some Scripture or take a walk. Just putting a smile on your face will do wonders. And here’s the big one…go to confession. This sacrament can give you more grace and love then you’ll probably ever truly realize. It’s that important… so no more excuses! Go!!

The only way to return to love is to return to God. So when your love is low, turn to God. For He is the source of all Love. The source of all Joy.

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Be A Good Shepherd

4th Sunday of Easter (April 22, 2018)

Acts 4:8-12

Psalm 118

1 John 3:1-2

John 10:11-18

We’re all supposed to imitate Jesus, right? When preparing for this homily, I read the first line of the Gospel, stopped and then just laughed to myself. It reads, “Jesus said: ‘I am the good shepherd.’” Why does this make me laugh? If we’re supposed to be like Jesus, then we’re supposed to also be good shepherds. In picturing me as a shepherd, for some reason, I thought of what happens right after the final song at Mass. And I mean right after the priest has walked down the aisle and the dismissal song has ended. At that point, I usually gather up my things, tell my family to head for the van and then off we go… after genuflecting of course! Within a few minutes, I’ve said my goodbyes, given Fr. Al a hug at the door, walked outside and just start to feel the sunshine on my face when I realize… I’m all alone.

You see… my wife is still in her pew talking with her friends. Laura is running around giving out hugs to everyone she can find. Oliver is still picking up papers that dropped out of his Sunday school folder while trying to put on his jacket. Jacob has taken off outside like a bolt of lightning with his buddy (cough… Luke Coleman). And Owen and Zach are somewhere in the foyer talking with their high school friends about “teenage stuff.” So apparently I’m not a very good shepherd because I can’t even get 7 people from our church pew to our van in under 20 minutes.

After reading the rest of the Gospel passage, I then realized that herding your family from church in an orderly fashion might not necessarily be what Jesus is meaning when he talks to us about the “good shepherd.” So in order to better understand what we are to learn from this Gospel passage from John, let us first look to Ezekiel 34 in the Old Testament. It reads:

1 And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD to the shepherds: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? 3 You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered. 6 My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and on every high hill; yes, My flock was scattered over the whole face of the earth, and no one was seeking or searching for them.”

In this passage from Ezekiel, God is upset with many of the leaders of the church. They were being very selfish by putting their needs above the people. This led many of God’s people to have a weak faith or to completely leave the faith behind. Reading this in light of today’s Gospel passage, we can now see that Jesus didn’t just randomly refer to himself as the “Good Shepherd” because it sounded good. No, he’s letting the people know that He is not like the shepherds they have read about in Ezekiel. He is not going to lead them astray or cause them to scatter. He is going to feed them with the Bread of Life and ultimately… He’s going to lay down His life for them.

Now remember… we’re supposed to be imitators of Christ which means that we are supposed to also be Good Shepherds. How does that look in our day-to-day lives? Very simply… we put the needs of others above our own. Instead of holding grudges… we hold out a helping hand. We turn the other cheek and help each other heal and move on. We spread the Gospel rather than gossip. We put a smile on our face and go out into the world and actually act like we are Christians.

You see… a good shepherd doesn’t motivate the flock by herding them. A good shepherd leads the flock by example. People want someone to inspire them… To motivate and encourage them to be better. They don’t need more negativity. The world throws plenty of that at us on a daily basis already.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He laid down His life for us, the flock, so that we can have a chance to spend eternity with His Father in heaven. We too can help out the flock by taking His lead. By helping others. By putting the needs of others above our own.

Be a Good Shepherd. Inspire someone. Put yourself out there and enjoy the life that God envisioned specifically for you.

Stop wondering around aimlessly like a lost sheep. Follow Christ. Our Good Shepherd.

Heaven and Fairy Tales

5th Sunday of Lent (March 18, 2018) Year A

Ezekiel 37:12-14

Psalm 130:1-8

Romans 8:8-11

John 11:1-45

Death can be a very scary thing to talk about. But first, let me clarify. As Christians, there are two types of death we often refer to. The first is dying to sin and being reborn in Christ. This is what happens in the sacrament of Baptism. It’s exciting to know that there are several among us at St. Andrew’s that will be born again in the waters of Baptism at the Easter Vigil this year. They will be further strengthened in their new Christian life that same night when they also receive the sacrament of Confirmation AND receive our Lord in the Eucharist for the first time ever. This is the fun type of death that we can talk about all day long and get those warm and fuzzy feelings because the people who “die to sin” are still with us afterwards.

The second type of death… well…let’s just say… there are not so many warm and fuzzy feelings. I’m obviously referring to the type of death where we lose a loved one, have a funeral and then mourn for days, weeks, even years after their passing.

But the question I’m posing today for your consideration is… WHY? Why do we get so excited to see someone die to sin and be born again into God’s family through Baptism… but so sad when a faithful Christian dies to this world and is granted eternal life with God?

In a way, I believe this is the question Jesus is asking us through today’s Gospel from John. It’s a long passage so I won’t read it again to you. But basically, Lazarus has died and everyone is in mourning. Many of the people blame Jesus for not being around to save him from death. You see… they believe Jesus is the Son of God, but they still don’t yet understand the resurrection since Jesus hasn’t been crucified yet. But Jesus knows. He fully knows what’s to come and has been preaching to His followers that they will have new life in God in this life AND the next.

But still, the people blame Him while they mourn the death of Lazarus. One of my favorite parts of this passage is where Jesus shows us His human side. We read two times that Jesus is “perturbed.” Yes, even Jesus got upset and irritated at people! He is perturbed because people’s faith in His teaching on heaven and the afterlife is very weak. Rather than celebrating Lazarus’ new life with God, they mourned his death and blamed Jesus for not saving him. I can see Jesus’ eyes roll, hand on his forehead, as he gets perturbed and says, “Fine, I’ll give you one more sign but then that’s it! You really need to start believing in what I’m telling you!” Then he turns to the tomb and cries out, “Lazarus, come out!” And he did.

Now, I acknowledge that we mourn over someone’s death because we won’t see them anymore. I get that. It stings greatly. Trust me, I know. But I think we struggle with death and mourn so intensely after losing a loved one because, deep down, our faith might be a little weak when it comes to heaven.

I can see someone get baptized. I can see someone receive the Lord’s Supper. I can see someone get confirmed. But I can’t “see” what happens to someone’s soul after they die.

Death is that one moment where our faith is put to the ultimate test. We are told that we will stand before God right after our bodily death. So death is the moment that we as Christians realize if this whole “Jesus, Church, Bible” thing is true or just a nice sounding fairy tale. And I think that scares us. I know I’ve struggled with this concept for a long time. I would like to think I’m a faithful Christian who tries my best to follow Christian teachings. But I still wonder if at the moment of my death, I’ll be confident in my faith or “hold my breath” (so to speak) as I wait to see what REALLY happens after I die.

I had a very real, very concrete experience that happened to me recently that has strengthened my faith regarding heaven that I wanted to share. We Catholics pray for the “repose of the soul” of someone after his or her death. It’s a very common practice that dates back to the early Church. It’s based on the teaching that people sometimes need to go to purgatory after death, before entering heaven. Purgatory being a final purification stop on the way to heaven. Think of it as a car wash. When we pray for the repose of the soul of someone, we’re asking God to speed up the process, if possible, so they can enjoy life in heaven sooner. After my mom’s death in October 2017, I’ve been praying for the repose of her soul often.

Well… I was at Mass at the Christ the King Cathedral in Lexington this past February. Angie and I were there assisting with the next class of future Deacons. I had just received communion and returned to my pew to kneel in prayer. With eyes closed and hands folded, I prayer, “Lord, I offer up this Eucharist for the repose of the soul of my mother, Joan Wentz.” And then I froze for a few moments. After that feeling passed, I picked up the hymnal and started to sing the communion hymn… but only got 3 or 4 words out and then I froze up again. Still on my knees, I put the hymnal down and closed my eyes again. I couldn’t move… I couldn’t speak. It was at that moment that I felt my mother’s arms around me. It’s as if she was kneeling to my left, giving me a side hug with her head on my shoulder. It was very real and I just kneeled there… enjoying the hug… as I cried silently. A few minutes later, she was gone. I’m not sure if that’s the moment she left purgatory and entered heaven or if God just knew I needed a hug from my mom that day.

I’ve reflected back on that incident a lot since it happened. I have even kneeled down at Mass after communion and tried to “re-create” the incident to see if it was just in my mind. But I’ve had no luck. I truly feel that God allowed my mom to visit me that day for a brief moment. Since then, I’ve had a better sense of peace that my mom is with God in heaven. I decided to tell all of you about it today because, honestly, I think we all could use a little encouragement when it comes to death and the afterlife. Many of us have lost loved ones this past year.

So yes, don’t be afraid to mourn for those that have passed away. But as we approach Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday… really pay attention and allow all of your senses to be flooded with LOVE. Because it is with LOVE that Jesus offered His body to us on Holy Thursday. It is with LOVE that he died for us on Good Friday. It is with LOVE that He overcame death and opened the gates of heaven for all of us on Easter Sunday. And if you can see with open eyes what Jesus did for us on those Holy Days… then you will absolutely realize just how much He loves YOU. And that love WILL continue into the next life because it is NOT just a fairy tale.

Don’t Bury Your Talents

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 19, 2017) Year A

Proverbs 31:10-13,19-20,30-31

Psalm 128:1-2,3,4-5(1a)

1 Thessalonians 5:1-6

Matthew 25:14-30

I don’t know about you, but does it seem like our community has felt the sting of death a lot over the past month or two? My mom, (parishioner) Daniel Gagnon’s brother and his father, (our church secretary) Melanie White’s father, (from our community) Jerry Broderick and just last week we received the shocking news of Leon Mayo’s sudden death. To be blunt, I’m almost afraid to answer my phone anymore for fear of hearing who died next.

Our recent encounters with death really puts into perspective just how precious and short life is on earth. That is why it is so incredibly important to listen, and I mean REALLY listen to what today’s readings are trying to motivate us to do with our lives.

Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians urges them to get ready for the coming of the Lord. Now, I’m sure St. Paul here is speaking of the 2nd coming of Christ, when He will come down from Heaven… but it can also very well refer to when we will see Christ face to face immediately after our own death.

And when will that be? Well that’s a very good question. The answer is simple. We have no idea!

I love the analogy St. Paul uses about labor pains in his letter to drive home this point. Ask a pregnant woman when she’s going to start having contractions. You’ll probably get a funny look from her because she really doesn’t know exactly when it will happen. But it will happen… that’s unavoidable. And praise God that I’m a man, because when that first real contraction hit my wife with our first born, and she felt that pain… things got serious, real quick… there was no turning back… there was no escape… that baby was coming out.

So to with death. 99% of us won’t know when we are going to die. This is why St. Paul tells us to stay alert and sober. We need to be ready for when Christ returns or when we die and will stand before God on our judgment day. But when you pair St. Paul’s letter we just heard with today’s Gospel from Matthew, merely standing around alert and sober is just the bare minimum. We need to do more, which is where the parable we hear from Jesus today is so vitally important.

To put it simply, the parable tells us a man is going away on a trip. He calls his three servants and entrusts them with all of his money. Since they are his servants, the man knows what each of them is capable of doing with that money. He probably even has more confidence in them then they do of themselves. The man goes away but eventually comes back. Two of the servants used their abilities to increase the man’s money. The third man, out of fear, didn’t do a darn thing with the money entrusted to him. He instead buried the money, which infuriated the man… so much so that he had the third servant thrown outside into the darkness.

Now, interestingly enough, the money in this parable is referred to as “talents.” A “talent” in Jesus’ day, was a monetary unit of high value. When I read this parable, I couldn’t help but exchange the monetary definition of talent with a different definition of the word talent, which is: a natural aptitude or skill.

Now… using this definition for the word “talent,” a natural aptitude or skill, let’s look once again at this parable.

God created you. He entrusted each and every one of you with a special talent to use for His glory. He already knows what you are capable of and has more confidence in you than you do. He is your biggest fan. He is your biggest ally. But, out of love, He’s not going to force you to do a single thing that you don’t want to do. That’s called free will. However, even though He can’t control you, He is watching over all of you. He’s gazing on you through the eyes of a loving parent. He wants you to discover the talents he entrusted to you when He created you. He wants to watch your life unfold before His eyes as you discover and reveal your love for Him through your actions. He knows that some of you can handle more, so He’s given you more talents. He knows that some of you can only handle a little, so He’s given you fewer talents. But know this… He loves each of you and wants you to use those talents so that you will be able to live life to the fullest.

But, unfortunately, some of you are too scared. For whatever reason, you’ve buried your talents. You, brothers and sisters, are not living to your full potential. You are missing out on the grace and love of God that he freely offers you each and every day. And if you continue to bury the talents entrusted to you by God, you and those around you will NOT experience the true love that God so desperately wants you to feel.

Don’t be imprisoned by doubt, lack of self-confidence or fear. As St. John Paul II famously said the day he was elected Pope, “Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ.”

The recent deaths felt by our local community remind us that life is short and unpredictable. Today’s readings remind us to prepare ourselves and to use our God-given talents for the glory of God daily so that we will be ready when our judgment day comes… whenever that may be.

So don’t put off tomorrow what you can do today.

Live in fear no more!

Go out, TODAY, and spread the love of God by using your talents to build up the Kingdom of God here on earth until the day God calls you home.

CrossFit and Jesus

Transfiguration of the Lord (August 6, 2017)

Daniel 7:9-10,13-14

Psalm 97:1-2,5-6,9-12

2 Peter 1:16-19

Matthew 17:1-9

I love CrossFit. For those unfamiliar with this term, CrossFit is a form of exercise that involves high-intensity interval training. To put it simply, it’s a combination of lifting weights and doing cardio exercise that makes you drip a lot of sweat in a short period of time. I love it because it challenges me to do things I never thought I could do. After completing the workouts, I feel emotionally and physically stronger…which makes me go back for more punishment, soreness and bruises the next day.

About two weeks ago, we were doing what is called a squat clean ladder at CrossFit. Picture a barbell on the ground with weights on each side. A squat clean is when you lift the barbell off the ground, shrug your shoulders up and then quickly squat down to catch the bar on your chest/clavicle area. Then you simply rise up to complete the lift.

When you’re doing a squat clean ladder, you increase the weight after each lift. Prior to doing that workout, the most I’ve ever squat cleaned was 185 lbs. This ladder involved lifting 125 lbs 9x, 145 lbs 7x, 165 lbs 5x, 185 lbs 3x and then finishing with lifting 205 lbs 1x. I was nervous and a little bit afraid. I weigh 184 lbs. How in the world can I lift the bar 24x and still have enough energy to lift 205 lbs at the end, which is 20 lbs more than I’ve ever lifted before??

Well, after about 12 minutes, I managed to successfully make it to the 205 lb lift. I stood there, starring at the bar, sweating, wondering how I could possibly do this. So I bent over, lifted the bar and then quickly dropped it. It was heavy and I was exhausted. In frustration, I bent over again, lifted the bar, got it to my chest and then dropped it a second time.

Upset and disappointed, I walked over to get a drink of water, to gather my thoughts and stall for time. I even contemplated quitting as I started thinking of all the other things that I couldn’t do or that have gone wrong in my life over the past few years… all of my fears and failures, for some reason, were right in front of my face… laughing at me.

I then glanced over at the 205 lbs lying on the ground. At that moment, it dawned on me, that all of my fears and failures in the past may have knocked me down… may have punched me right in the gut… but they didn’t keep me down. They don’t define who I am today.

As I was slowly started walking over to the bar one more time… I shifted my thinking to the things that I’m grateful for, the positive things God has put in my life… my wife, my kids, my faith, my health, my friends…. And with that in mind… I again stood in front of the bar… bent over… lifted it up… shrugged my shoulders… squatted down and caught it on my chest just right… and then I let out the loudest scream as I raised up… no longer afraid.

In today’s Gospel from Matthew, Jesus tells His disciples to “Rise, and do not be afraid.” Peter, James and John just witnessed the transfiguration of our Lord. They weren’t 100% sure what was going on. They had fear and doubt…so much fear that it knocked them to the ground. You see…on their own, they couldn’t stand up.

And guess what? On our own, we can’t stand up either. And all too often, we lay in fear as we focus on our failures. We forget that failing at something does NOT make you a failure. We need to focus instead on our strengths. And you know what??? Jesus is our biggest strength. He is our biggest ally. He was sent to earth to show us how to live for heaven…. Not to waste our lives by living in fear and doubt.

So the next time someone or something knocks you down… picture Jesus right behind you, whispering into your ear… “Rise, and do not be afraid.”

I’m Thirsty

3rd Sunday of Lent (March 19, 2017)

Exodus 17:3-7

Psalm 95:1-2,6-7,8-9

Romans 5:1-2,5-8

John 4:5-42

Any guesses as to how long a human can live without water? Depending on the environment, 3 to 7 days. After that, you’ll die of dehydration.

Any guesses as to how long a human can live without food? Again, depending on the environment, roughly 3 weeks (but that’s assuming you are still hydrated).

So one could argue that drinking water is even more critical than eating food.

Why? Because 60% of the adult human body is water. Every living cell depends on it. Water lubricates our joints, it regulates body temperature through sweating and respiration and it helps to flush waste out of the body. Water is so important that if dehydration levels cause more then a loss of 10% of your body weight, it’s considered a medical emergency and can lead to death if not reversed.

Why do I bring this up on the 3rd Sunday of Lent? Well… on the 1st Sunday of Lent, we were lead out into the desert to be tempted. On the 2nd Sunday of Lent, we climbed a mountain to be changed, transfigured actually. And now, on the 3rd Sunday of Lent, Jesus is telling us that after all that hiking in the desert and mountain climbing, we’re thirsty and in need of a drink of water.

But not just any water mind you! You see… regular water will quench your thirst, but only temporarily. As I said just a moment ago, at the bear minimum, you need to drink water at least every 3 days. But I know if I don’t drink a glass of water every few hours, my throat becomes dry and I even start to feel tired. Therefore we are always looking… always searching for the next glass of water to drink.

Now thankfully, most of us are fortunate enough to live in an area where finding clean drinking water is not a problem. Not so for the Hebrews in the reading we hear today from Exodus. Moses is leading a very thirsty group of people out of Egypt. The Hebrews complained and complained about being thirsty, so much, that eventually God provided water through Moses. God quenched their thirst.

Water is also not so abundant in the town of Sychar in Samaria that we hear about in today’s Gospel from John. The people of this town all get their water from a common well. As you can imagine, one would probably have to go to the well several times each day. They can’t simply turn on a faucet in their kitchen. Therefore, this well is vital to the survival of the people in the town. If something were to happen to it, the people would have to move away or die of dehydration.

It is at this well in Sychar where Jesus and a Samaritan woman have a brief, but very theologically deep conversation. Jesus says to the woman, “Everyone who drinks from this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Here Jesus is acknowledging what we have already discussed… we get thirsty, we drink, our thirst is quenched for a time, repeat. But Jesus then makes the bold statement that there is a new, living water that will forever quench our thirst permanently. No more going back to the well. No more searching for our next drink.

On hearing this, the Samaritan woman replies, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” This is a fair and honest statement that I think most of us would ask if we were in her shoes at that moment. Who wouldn’t want to be fully satisfied? To not have to search anymore? Sounds like a good deal to me!

In Scripture, John 6 is often referred to as the “bread of life discourse.” So I guess John 4, today’s Gospel, can be referred to as the “water of life discourse.” Jesus is the living water that will quench all of our desires. We need to fully immerse ourselves in this water. If we fully and completely let Jesus Christ, the Living Water, into our lives, into every cell in our bodies, He’ll quench your thirst for all of eternity in Heaven.

And by the way, what’s the opposite of Heaven? Hell. Eternal fire. No water in sight. Eternal thirsting. NOT a pretty picture!

So you have a choice. You can drink from the Living Water and be satisfied… or risk eternal thirst by only drinking from “regular”, “worldly” water.

As we continue our journey through Lent, keep your eyes focused on Jesus Christ. He is the only one who can fully satisfy you. He is our Bread of Life, He is our Living Water, He is our eternal salvation.

So drink deeply from the Living Water and never thirst again!

Why Are You A Christian?

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 6, 2016)

2 Maccabees 7:1-2,9-14

Psalm 17:1,5-6,8,15

2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5

Luke 20:27-38

I attended a youth retreat this past summer and heard a talk from a Fathers of Mercy priest here in Kentucky. If you’ve ever seen a priest wearing a black cassock and a HUGE crucifix on their chest, (picture a crucifix you normally see on someone’s wall at home!) there’s a good chance he is a Fathers of Mercy priest. He said he often gets asked why they wear such a large crucifix around their neck? His answer was simple, “If you’re going to wear one… go BIG!”

During his talk, he posed a question to the crowd, which has stuck with me. He asked, “Why are you a Christian?” People raised their hands and gave answers like: Jesus, serving others, Eucharist, etc. He said those are all good things, but they are not the best answer. Then he said, “There’s only one reason that you can give that ultimately answers the question, ‘why are you a Christian?’ What is it?” And I’m sitting there thinking to myself, “This is so easy, I’m a Catholic Deacon for crying out loud. The answer is obviously…. It’s ummmm, uhhh… well I have no idea where he’s going with this!” So I just sat there… in awkward silence avoiding making eye contact with him as I waited for an explanation.

He went on to say that there’s one event in the life of Jesus Christ that had such a powerful effect on His followers and other witnesses that it altered the course of history. One event that caused devout Jews to leave their strong traditions and follow a new way. One event that was so incredible that Christians willingly died for their newly found faith. One event that is the answer to why we are here today, over 2,000 years after Christ’s death, worshiping together in this Church. So what in the world is that event and ultimately the answer to the priest’s persistent question, “Why are you a Christian?” Answer = the Resurrection.

Why? Because without the resurrection… Jesus Christ is a liar and a fraud. Without the resurrection… Jesus Christ is just an ordinary man. Without the resurrection… Christianity would have been just another fad religion that would have died out with the death of it’s leader. You see… the resurrection is a core belief that gives Christians the courage to go out and spread the Good News!

Seriously, think about it. Imagine you’re an Apostle following Jesus. You hear Him over and over speak of how he was going to conquer death, rise again and go to His Father in heaven. You’re nodding your head as you’re listening but in the back of your mind… it also sounds a little like crazy talk. You then watch Jesus die a horrible, torturous death on the cross. You then wait. Pretend that was the end of the story. Suddenly a Roman solider puts a sword to your throat and asks you if you were a follower of Jesus. “Who me? Sorry you must be mistaken. I’m just going to walk away now and live my life in peace with my head still attached to my body. Good bye!”

BUT… if Jesus did in fact rise from the dead and NOW that Roman solider asks you if you are a follow of Christ… I’d be like, “String me up, cut off my head, I’m not denying Christ, I’m ready for heaven!!” And that’s what happened. The Apostles, with the exception of John, were all martyred because they witnessed the resurrection and could not deny it.

You see… we hear in today’s Gospel that God is not God of the dead, but of the living. The resurrection proved this and started a ripple effect in history that continues to this day through the Holy Spirit and His Church. This should be a cause of great joy for us. Why? Because Jesus didn’t lie about the resurrection. So why would He have lied about anything else He taught? And in case your New Testament studies are a little rusty, here’s the gist of His teaching: God’s Son came down to earth in the form of a baby; Jesus taught by word and example a new way to live; He died a horrible death to pay a debt we couldn’t fulfill; He conquered death and rose to His Father in heaven; and here’s the VERY good news – His death has opened heaven to all who believe in Him.

The resurrection gives us new life. It is one of the greatest gifts God has given us. We can’t be wasting this gift by living a life of sin. We need to ask God to give us the grace and perseverance to live for Him… one day at a time. And when we fall, the resurrection should give us the strength to get back up and take the next step forward… back on God’s path.

Remember, through the resurrection, Jesus proved He was who He said He was. If we are to call ourselves Christians, we too should be able to prove who we say we are through our words and our actions.

May the resurrection of Christ give us the strength to live out our faith each and every day!