Peace and Forgiveness

Pentecost Sunday (June 4, 2017)

Acts 2:1-11

Psalm 104:1,24,29-30,31,34

1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13

John 20:19-23

 

The Understanding Widower

After a long shift at the fire department, Matt Swatzell fell asleep while driving and crashed into another vehicle, taking the life of pregnant mother June Fitzgerald and injuring her 19-month-old daughter. Fitzgerald’s husband, a full-time pastor, asked for the man’s diminished sentence—and began meeting with Swatzell for coffee and conversation. Many years later, the two men remain close. “You forgive as you’ve been forgiven,” Fitzgerald told Today.

Interesting….

 

The Unbelievable Friend

During a night swim with girlfriends, bride-to-be Rachelle Friedman was horsing around and got jokingly pushed into the shallow end of the pool, where her head hit the bottom. She cracked her neck and has not been able to feel anything below it since. Despite the life-changing injury, Friedman went on with her marriage and has said she never harbored resentment toward her friend about the freak accident. “There is no use in being down in the dumps and depressed. It’s not going to get you anywhere,” she told Today in an interview.

Very interesting…

 

The Unexpected Connection

Sandra Walker, a mother of two, lost her husband in a car accident that also caused her to have a life-changing brain injury. At the trial for the accident, in her court statement Walker said she sympathized with the woman who crashed into them—who herself lost a child in the accident—and gave her a hug. “I know she is going through as much pain as I am feeling. I wanted her to know that I forgive her for what she did,” Walker told WSB-TV.

Very, very interesting…

 

The Compassionate Officer

Steven McDonald was a young police officer in 1986 when he was shot by a teenager in New York’s Central Park, an incident that left him paralyzed. “I forgave [the shooter] because I believe the only thing worse than receiving a bullet in my spine would have been to nurture revenge in my heart,” McDonald stated.

Very, very, very interesting…

 

These are four very powerful, real life stories of what can happen when forgiveness and peace are fully realized. And this, my friends, goes to the heart of what Jesus did for us in today’s Gospel from John.

The Risen Jesus offers us two gifts in today’s Gospel. Both of which have the potential to change our lives. Peace and forgiveness.

Jesus stands in the midst of the Apostles and says, “Peace be with you” as he shows them his hands and his side. It’s almost as if Jesus is reminding them that, in spite of the torture He suffered, He still offers peace, not vengeance. He says a second time, “Peace be with you.” The peace Jesus is offering us here is not just the absence of war, but of a complete calmness of mind and body. No more worry. No more stress.

In order to achieve this type of peace, we have to use the second gift Jesus offers us… forgiveness. In the four stories I shared with you, the people who were wronged had a choice. Harbor hate or offer forgiveness. Each one of them chose forgiveness. I couldn’t imagine how much their lives would have been altered if they chose hate and resentment. Those negative things tend to bleed over into other aspects of your life. Before you know it, you’re not only mad at the person who wronged you, but everyone else as well. It leads to unhappiness.

So I ask you… do you want to have peace in your life? Then you need to take a very close look at whom you need to forgive, or whom you possibly need to ask forgiveness from. And yes, as we’ve all heard it said before, forgiveness doesn’t always mean forgetting. If you forgive someone, but they are not healthy to be around, you should stay away from them. But true forgiveness means you are not allowing another person’s words or actions to control you or rule your mind. And that, my brothers and sisters, leads to peace.

Today, on Pentecost, Jesus offers us the gifts of peace and forgiveness before he ascends to heaven. And in His supreme wisdom, He also leaves us the Holy Spirit to guide us and strengthen us on our journey so we are not alone!

So I ask you one more time… do you want to fully experience the peace of Jesus Christ??? Then open your heart, allow yourself to forgive and be forgiven. Find peace in our risen Lord. Find peace through the Holy Spirit. Allow your bodies to fully surrender over to God’s loving mercy and fear no more….

Peace be with you!

 

*The four stories above were found here:

http://www.rd.com/true-stories/inspiring/extreme-forgiveness/

Peace Be With You

Pentecost (May 15, 2016)

Acts 2:1-11

Psalm 104:1,24,29-31,34

Romans 8:8-17

John 20:19-23

Of all the things we know about Jesus… through the Scriptures, through the Apostles… I’ve never heard Him repeat Himself without a reason or speak a word without meaning. So in this very short Gospel passage we hear today, we should have perked up a little when Jesus spoke the exact same phrase two times. It wasn’t by accident! The phrase he speaks is, “Peace be with you.” To which every good Catholic should reply, “And with your spirit!” Now if Jesus has a purpose for everything He says, it would behoove us to discern what that purpose is.

Let me refresh your memory as to what happens in John’s Gospel right before the passage we hear today. It’s the Sunday of Jesus’ resurrection. Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter and John just discovered that Jesus’ tomb was empty. Jesus then appeared to Mary Magdalene and told her to tell the other disciples that He would be ascending to the Father very soon. By now, the Jewish authorities knew something wasn’t right. They’ve probably heard stories and rumors that the Disciples have somehow tricked people into thinking Jesus has resurrected by stashing His body somewhere. The Disciples were being hunted down for questioning. They were hiding behind closed doors…. full of hope and anticipation…. full of fear of the unknown… perhaps even afraid that they would be crucified next if found.

So there they were… behind locked doors… running around the room like a bunch of preschoolers on a sugar high… not knowing what was going to happen next. Through all of their fears, through all of the commotion, Jesus then stood in their midst and says, “Peace be with you.”

How many times do we allow our lives to spin out of control due to fear and anxiety? How many times do we lose control of reality simply because we don’t know what it going to happen next? How many times do we try and hide behind locked doors rather than confront our fears? In spite of all of our fears and trials that we may be facing, Jesus reminds us in today’s Gospel that He is the only one who can truly give us peace. We can’t lock Him out. He is ALWAYS in our midst offering us His divine peace.

Our Risen Lord offers us His peace, and then He shares with us the surest way to sustain it. That is where the second, “Peace be with you” phrase comes into play. “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

So the surest was to sustain the peace of Jesus Christ is two fold: 1. Go out and spread the joy of the Gospel, and 2. Offer forgiveness.

How does this sustain peace you ask? Let me ask you this: Do you feel more at peace when you talk about death, destruction, evil, and failure OR when you talk about happiness, joy, love and excitement? The Gospel message is the ultimate love story. If you continually talk about and share this love story to others, you will be more at peace even if the world is falling in around you. You see this love story ends with you being embraced by Jesus Himself in heaven. This world is temporary. Heaven is eternal. I don’t know about you, but that gives me peace.

Now, I know there’s at least one person out there thinking, “Sure, that sounds nice. I can do that. I can spread the Gospel message. But what about that whole ‘forgiveness’ thing you mentioned? Listen, You don’t know ‘so and so’ because I’ll never forgive what they did to me.” Sound familiar to anyone??

Yup, I said the surest way to sustain the peace of Jesus Christ is TWO fold. Spread the joy of the Gospel AND offer forgiveness. Don’t worry… I feel your pain! There have been a few people in my life that I swore I’d never forgive and it ate at me for YEARS. Interestingly, it was in the confessional that a priest pointed out that the only one that this was hurting was myself. So through much prayer, I forgave these people and the weight that was lifted off of my shoulders was unbelievable. The hate in my heart was replaced with peace and joy.

To be clear, me forgiving them doesn’t mean I have to interact with them again. It means that I can move on to bigger and better things rather than reliving past hurts. And that, my brothers and sisters, leads to peace.

Yes, it’s intimidating to spread the Gospel message in a world full of sin.

Yes, it’s hard to offer forgiveness.

But take heart…the Holy Spirit will help us, strengthen us and guide us…if we let Him in.

Let us all continue to strive for true and lasting peace by spreading the Good News of the Gospel and by offering forgiveness to others.

Peace be with you!

Come Holy Spirit

Pentecost Sunday (May 24, 2015)

Acts 2:1-11

Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-31, 34

1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13

John 15:26-27; 16:12-15

When I was a kid, I always loved celebrating holidays like Christmas, Easter, Halloween and my birthday. Admittedly it was because they involved me getting presents and candy which is probably why I never cared much about Groundhog’s Day. The problems was, the closer I got to the actual day, the more excited I got, which made time go even slower. I could see the days getting marked off on the calendar, but it would seem to take forever to get there.

I can sense this happening with the Apostles and Pentecost, which is the Feast we celebrate this weekend. Imagine…the Apostles walked with Jesus during His earthly ministry. They witnessed the miracles and heard the parables first hand. Then they watched him get tortured and crucified. The agony they felt, as their Saviour lay dead in a tomb, must have been unimaginable. However, their grief was turned into absolute joy at His resurrection, which confirmed that Jesus was who He said He was…God’s Son.

And now, just before His ascension, Jesus makes the promise that He will be sending the Holy Spirit to strengthen and guide the Apostles in all truth. And just like that, Jesus ascends and the wait for the Spirit begins. The problem is, unlike the holidays I mentioned earlier, the Apostles didn’t know when the Spirit would be coming. So they waited and they waited and they waited some more. With each passing day, I could imagine they would grow a little more anxious. Possibly even start to doubt their faith. And with each day without the promised Holy Spirit, it may even have felt like time was standing still.

There have been times in my life when I’ve had this same feeling, especially when my plans don’t seem to be going as I think they should. I have felt at times a sense of abandonment from God and, in those times, it felt like time stood still. I have since learned to combat these feelings by listening to good Christian music. It keeps my heart and mind focused on my faith in God and not my faith in the “world.” One of the songs I’ve been listening to a lot lately is from a newer group called I Am They. Their song titled, “Amen” has been a source of strength for me this past month. The opening verse goes like this:

“I have no words to say. Don’t know what I should pray. God I need you. Oh Lord, my faith is tired. And tears fill up my eyes. But I will trust you. Whatever comes my way, you have taught me to say…Amen, let Your kingdom come. Amen, let Your will be done. And through the rise and fall, You’re God above it all. Amen.”

How many times has your faith been pushed to the edge? Have you ever felt abandoned and alone? Imagine a parent who loses their child in a car crash, a wife hearing of her husband’s terminal cancer diagnosis or someone having to file bankruptcy on a family business because after years of blood, sweat and tears they just couldn’t make the ends meet anymore. I could go on and on with examples but the point here is that we all have experienced times in our lives when we have felt like God was a distant figure.

Life is chalked full of ups and downs. In those down times, it’s so easy to feel abandoned and allow your faith to grow weak. If you stay there, your life will be empty and without joy. But if you constantly strive to be open to God’s Love and His Spirit, even in those dark times, good things can happen. Like me listening to that song, we all need to cling onto those little things that will help keep us open to the Spirit and our minds focused on God.

That’s what happened to the Apostles in the upper room on Pentecost. They were scared and alone. But they clung onto Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit was coming. And when it did come, the entire world shook! Scripture tells us the Spirit descended like a strong wind that definitely got everyone’s attention. The Holy Spirit then empowered the disciples to begin their mission, which was to boldly proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world. They were no longer frightened. Peter himself went out of the upper room immediately to address the crowd and apparently gave one heck of a sermon because, according to Scripture, 3000 people were baptized after hearing the Good News on Pentecost.

The Apostles were so strengthened in their faith that, with the exception of St. John, they were all eventually killed for that faith. Where they were once hiding and afraid, now they live on as martyrs in heaven.

The same Holy Spirit that descended on and strengthened the Apostles at Pentecost is the same Holy Spirit that is guiding you right now. And here’s the thing, if you are fully open to Him, He WILL strengthen you and lead you like no other one can. He WILL give you the gifts you need to keep moving forward, so that you can spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world just like the Apostles did.

And when things don’t seem to be going as planned, rather than distancing yourself from God, pause for a moment, and ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen your faith and keep you focused on God.

No matter what you are going through in life…if you don’t know what to pray, if your faith is tired, if tears fill up your eyes…trust in God…trust in His Son…trust that the Holy Spirit WILL guide you to the truth…Be afraid no more! With strength and confidence from the Holy Spirit, let us all be a little bolder as we proclaim Jesus Christ to the world!

**Below is the song from I Am They that I referenced in my homily. The ENTIRE album is awesome and I highly recommend you getting it!

Happy Birthday

Pentecost (June 8, 2014)

Acts 2:1-11

Psalm 104

1 Cor 12:3b-7,12-13

John 20:19-23

I love birthday parties. To be clear, I love attending birthday parties that I don’t have to plan. I get to hang out with friends, eat good food, play games and over indulge in cake. cakeAnd as a bonus, my wife Angie doesn’t like cake icing so she scraps it off and gives it to me. That is the secret to our successful 15-year marriage! A newer trend that I’ve noticed is where the party guests get a gift bag before they leave. So not only do we get cake, but now even the party guests get a gift! And I’ve seen some of the extravagant gift bags you parents have given out at parties my kids have attended. They are pretty impressive. I only wish I was a kid so I could get one too!

Now, let’s not forget one of the best parts of having a birthday party…the presents for the birthday boy or girl! When I was really young, I wanted a GI Joe aircraft carrier named the “USS Flagg” for my birthday. It was 7 and ½ feet long! It practically needs it’s own room in the house.

GI Joe

And if you get that behemoth of a toy, you of course need to get at least two GI Joe fighter jets, two or three helicopters and all the GI Joe soldiers to man the ship. But how boring would it be to just have the good guys? I also would need GI Joe’s archenemy, Cobra and all of the enemy boats that go with them. That way I could have a big battle. I’m sad to say, at a price tag of $100 in 1985, I never got that aircraft carrier as a birthday present. I did, however, have a friend who got one. I think I still may be a little jealous that he had gotten a gift that I always wanted but never did.

But enough about my psychologically damaging childhood let downs…let’s get back to talking about birthday parties. Today we are celebrating a very special birthday. It’s the birthday of the Church itself. We refer to this as Pentecost. The word Pentecost in Greek simply means “fiftieth” because it’s celebrated 50 days after Easter. Pentecost marks the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles after Jesus ascended to heaven ten days earlier. St. John Paul II said, “we can speak of this event as the birth of the Church, as we speak of a person’s birth at the moment when he comes forth from his mother’s womb and ‘is manifested’ to the world.” Today marks the Church being manifested to the world in a visible way.

Pentecost

I can think of no better way to celebrate Pentecost than by having a little birthday party right here, right now and every one of you are invited (hear me out Father). We are already surrounded by good friends. We already have an exquisite banquet planned to take place at this altar very soon. We already have songs planned. We even have games ready…there’s “Stand, Sit, Kneel” (Catholic calisthenics) plus one I like to call “What’s the Response?” In case you don’t know this one, let’s give it a try:

         “the Lord be with you…”

                                             “…and with your spirit.”

See, wasn’t that fun!

with your spirit meme

Plus, remember those gifts bags I talked about earlier? We’ve even got those too! There are seven gifts in the gift bag that the Holy Spirit has prepared for each of you for attending the party: wisdom, understanding, right judgment, courage, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. Who wouldn’t benefit from these gifts? These are better than getting a candy bar and bouncy ball right? Possibly even better than a GI Joe aircraft carrier?

Now…the best part. The presents! What present did you bring to the party today? Seriously, what did you bring? Ok, I know some of you probably didn’t know about the party so I’ll let you off the hook for now. But I want you to seriously consider what present you are willing to give to the Church. If you’re needing an idea, here are a few suggestions: prayers – pray for Christ’s Church worldwide and for us here at St. Andrew’s. Eucharistic adoration – spend one hour each Wednesday in our chapel adoring our Eucharistic Lord. Join a committee – statistically, the same 7%-10% of people volunteer to do everything. Money – who doesn’t like getting a little cash on their birthday? Just like everyone else, the church has bills that need to be paid. Visit the homebound – some of our members can’t make it to church on Sundays so let’s go to them. Become a catechist – we need good Catholics that are willing to teach the faith to our younger generation. Regardless of the present you decide to give to the Church, as long as it’s from the heart and given out of love, the Church will be happy to receive it.

So we’ve covered the party for the most part. I personally think it’s going to be a great time and I’m glad you’re here with me to partake in the festival. But I can’t help notice one more thing. I’ve noticed that there are some empty seats out there in the pews.

empty-pews

Look around…are there some people that we perhaps forgot to invite? If we’ve got this heavenly party planned, why in the world would we not want to let others share in the fun? When was the last time you invited someone to Church? I know…there’s that scary “E” word that sends a cold shiver down the spines of Catholics everywhere. Evangelization. But isn’t that how our Church started? The Holy Spirit came down upon the Apostles and gave them the strength, faith and courage to go out and build Christ’s Church. The Apostles sent out invitations to the party…probably even hand delivered them…and now there are an estimated 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide. And it all started with a few inspired people on fire for their faith. Why can’t we do the same?

Today we get to welcome two new people to the party. Carla and Dustin were extended an invitation by the Holy Spirit and praise God they accepted it. The same Holy Spirit that breathed new life into them at baptism will now strengthen them at confirmation so they can go out and proclaim the truths of the faith to others.

So again, on behalf of the Holy Church, thank you for coming to the party today. I hope that you keep coming back on a regular basis and next time, don’t be afraid to bring a friend.