Sunday, April 23, 2017

Are You Saved?

Divine Mercy Sunday April 23, 2017
Fr. Albert
St. Peter Catholic Church, New Iberia

Are you saved? What a question! So, short and direct… perhaps a bit… existential. Maybe you’ve been asked this before, maybe not. When you hear those three words, it might suggest some kind of ultimate reality. To answer the question presupposes so many things, it’s actually pretty surprising that people answer it all.  “Are you saved?” Is there something I need to be saved from? Why do I need to be saved from it? What does it take to be saved? What does being saved mean for me now? What does it mean for the person asking me this question? What does being “saved” mean for me in the future?

If we really listen to the question and think honestly about what it means to answer it, we are faced with a profound reality. And yet, is it even a fair question? Compare it to other short questions: “Are you alive?” is a question about your current condition; “are you human” is a question about identity – about what you are; “are you sure” is a question about your opinion; “are you willing” is a question about your decision-making and freedom; “are you sad” is a question about your feelings. Which category does “are you saved” fit into? Is it an identity? A condition? An opinion? An attitude? A feeling? A little bit of each?

Take a look at the examples of salvation in Scripture. The 11 Apostles; are they saved? Were ten of them saved at the first appearance and Thomas got saved later? St. Paul’s letter tells us a little about salvation. He addresses the trials we will face, but there is also this: “you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” So, do we get saved when we feel that joy? Or when we are tested?

Then there is the community of believers in the Acts of the Apostles. Notice especially that last sentence; it gives us a real shot at answering this question, “Are you saved?” “And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” I asked you “are you saved,” but this passage doesn’t mention people who are saved, only people who were being saved. The grammar there isn’t just a little difference. We’re talking about the difference between ongoing and complete, between a verb and an adjective. Try it with another idea: “you are dead” compared to “you were dying.”

Actually, that helps us understand Paul’s complicated last sentence. “You rejoice… as you attain the goal.” In other words, you rejoice while you attain salvation. The rejoicing is not a one-time thing… it is ongoing. And when does it happen? During, while, at the same time… the salvation of your souls is a process that takes place over time and, thanks be to God, we can rejoice during that process.
And what is that process? What does it mean to be in the process of being saved? The first reading gives us the summary of it: devotion to the Apostles’ teaching, to community life, to the breaking of the bread, and to the prayers. So, it is not just prayer, it is not just being among other Christians, and not just showing up for Mass, for the breaking of the bread. It also includes devotion to the teaching of the Apostles. Why is that significant? Because of what Jesus Christ tells them in the upper room “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

The Father sent Jesus Christ to die and rise to save us from sins. So, is Jesus sending the apostles to die and rise to save us from sin? Not exactly. There is only one sacrifice for sin, Jesus on the Cross. What does Jesus mean by sending the Apostles in the same way the Father sent him? He means for them to bring his one saving sacrifice to all others. As the Divine Mercy Chaplet puts it “Eternal Father, I offer you the body and blood, soul and divinity of your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.”

God the Father sent Jesus Christ to offer himself – body, blood, soul, and divinity – in atonement for our sins. Jesus sends the Apostles to make that same offering throughout time. The sacrifice of the cross happened once, but we can reach through time to share in that offering. Not re-crucifying Jesus, not merely remembering, but uniting ourselves, participating in that one, eternal sacrifice. That is why the breaking of the bread, the sacrifice of the mass, is specifically named in Acts. At Mass, the priest or bishop, successors to the Apostles, do what Jesus did – they offer his body, blood, soul and divinity to the father in atonement for sins.

That is why the Divine Mercy Chaplet is so powerful. It participates in that divine mission in a small way. But that’s not all. Because of that sacrifice, Jesus forgives sins. Today is called Divine Mercy Sunday because we always read this Gospel passage where Jesus gives the Apostles that same power: the power to forgive sins. Jesus atoned for all sins on the Cross, but we must embrace that atonement and forgiveness. Because our salvation is an ongoing process, we need to return to that infinite source of mercy over and over again. Jesus chose to give us the gift of being able access that fountain of mercy in a very human way.

Instead of assuming mercy, which is dangerous; instead of guessing we are forgiven, which can be frightening; we can know that we are forgiven by going to the Apostles, by going to the men that God himself gave the power of forgiveness. When a priest says, “I absolve you,” there is no reason to doubt. What a gift!

So how do you answer that first question, “Are you saved?” In truth, only those in heaven can answer that question with an unequivocal “yes.” But, here on earth, as those devoted to Apostle’s teaching, devoted to community life, to the Eucharist, and to Prayer… as Catholics we can say with living hope “I am being saved.” That hope is answered and strengthened every time we are absolved. If we persevere in belief, if we persevere in repenting of our sins, then we “rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as we attain the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls.”

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Christmas vs. Easter: Which is your favorite?

Easter Sunday April 16, 2017
Fr. Albert
St. Peter Catholic Church, New Iberia

Christmas or Easter? Which is your favorite? I think most people generally prefer Christmas. Decorations, all kinds of great foods and desserts, and, of course, presents! Plus, Christmas is all about family and the Baby Jesus, and who doesn’t love the baby Jesus? And, really, that’s great. Christmas is about the Incarnation, about God becoming man. Now every human being has a new dignity, a new value, a new hope because God became one of us.

Imagine – it’s impossible, but still, imagine – that we found a way to transplant human consciousness into the bodies of animals. All of a sudden, we’d start being much more careful about how we treat animals. All of them would be valuable as potential life savers and we’d need to be careful that we never harmed an animal body with a human mind. It’s an odd analogy, but really, God became man so now human beings are much more than they were. That’s one of the reasons that Christmas is such a big deal.

And yet, as important and beautiful as Christmas is, as sentimental and consoling – Easter goes far beyond it. Of course, the two are connected and cannot really be separated, but Christmas is a beginning, Easter is the goal. At Christmas, all human beings and all human activities gained a new value. God lived as one of us. He shared our work, our joys, hopes, sorrows, and pains. He brought divinity into our world. But, with Easter, Jesus Christ brought us into divinity. At Christmas, God became Man. At Easter, men become like God.

When Jesus Christ rose from the dead, he did not rise in an invisible and spiritual way. No, the women found his tomb open and his burial cloths empty. His body was gone because he it came back to life. But not to ordinary life; no, to a new and supernatural life. Never to die again, able to pass through locked doors, shining with a new light – this glorified body of Jesus Christ is an amazing reality, but it is also a promise. You too will rise with your body transformed and raised up. That’s why I said it would be impossible for us to transfer into animal bodies – because we are human beings: soul and body. We were created that way, we live that way, and, at the end of time, we will stay that way forever… for better or for worse…

So, the resurrection of Jesus allows us to be glorified. Here’s the best part: that glorification, that transformation of Easter doesn’t just happen after we’re dead. No, it begins now. Yes, our bodies are going to let us down and ultimately fail because they are earthly bodies. But even while our earthly bodies fade we can begin to taste the life of glory. That life of glory includes a sense of purpose and meaning, a real and lasting peace, and experiencing what it means to be loved at the deepest level of your being. No amount of pleasure… power… or money can compare to those things. And that is not even considering the fact that all of those things will fade, but the glory of heaven, the glory of becoming like God, will never fade. But we have to cooperate with that transformation.

Don’t just take it from me. Look at your missalette again, at the second reading, the second option. 1 Corinthians. That is a letter from St. Paul, a man far wiser, holier, and happier than anyone I know. He says “Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough?” Wait, Paul, why are we talking about yeast? “So that you may become a fresh batch of dough.” Why would I want to be a fresh batch of dough? “For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.” And what does that mean?

Paul is using a metaphor here. When Jesus showed up, everyone in the world was like moldy old bread, infested with parasites and doomed to be discarded forever. But Christ became the Paschal lamb. “Paschal,” like the Paschal candle. In every other language, when we say “Easter,” they say Pasch or Pascha or Pesach. It means “Passover.” When a Paschal Lamb is sacrificed, we “pass over” from death to life. When that Paschal lamb is Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, we don’t just “pass over” we are re-created.

So, if we were infested, moldy bread before, Christ’s sacrifice made us new. When we were baptized, when we embraced the death of the Paschal Lamb, Jesus Christ, we were recreated. We have become a fresh batch of dough. But here’s the catch… it’s not really a catch, Jesus is pretty up front about it. Being made new, becoming a new batch of dough, a new human being doesn’t mean we never have to worry about anything again. If we are not careful, that new batch of dough can end up just like we were before, infested and rotten.

That is why Paul warns us that a little yeast leavens the whole batch. At the moment of Baptism, at the moment you finish a confession, you are a pure batch. But each sin adds a little… or a lot of yeast. That yeast spreads and begins to corrupt our souls all over again. The reason that is a problem is not that God is looking to catch you and punish you, but that the corruption prevents us from accepting his gift. He rose from the dead to show us the way through death and into eternal glory, but we have to follow him. Corruption and sin lead us away, blind us, and make us think that God and heaven are boring!

No death, no pain, no existential dread. No threats of World War, no corrupt and incompetent politicians, no lunatic terrorists! That’s just a tiny bit of what heaven and glorification offers… and we think it’s boring! Or Unimportant! But here we are now, celebrating… reliving the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ is Risen, he is truly risen and he wants us to rise with him. So yes, we celebrate Christmas and we celebrate Easter and both give us hope and remind us what life is really about.

But Easter isn’t quite like Christmas. Christmas remembers Jesus’ birth and it celebrates the incarnation, but Easter…. Easter makes present the resurrection. Especially today, we mystically come into contact with the victory of Christ. We do it in prayer, and we do it especially in the Eucharist. That is because Jesus didn’t just rise from the dead to tell us that we have something to look forward to. He did it to transform us now. If we want eternal life in the future… if we want a life worth living right now, then we must hear what the Angel tells the women at the tomb. We must go to Galilee to see Jesus. We have accepted our Baptism and we are about to renew our Baptismal promises. We have become a new batch of dough, a new creation.

But beware the yeast of sin, the yeast of distraction, the yeast of pride. Rejoice today and really celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. But every single Sunday is a miniature Easter. If you want to avoid that corruption and embrace the gift God has given us, then don’t let today be just another annual event. No, stay with it, live it daily, celebrate it weekly, and remember it always.

“Celebrate the feast… with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” No matter our sins and faults, if we approach with sincerity, God will forgive and guide us. And the Truth is this: the world will offer you pleasure, power, and money but you were made for so much more. You, each and every one of you is meant for greatness, for eternal glory and perfect happiness. All you have to do is follow him… so, what are you waiting for?

Friday, April 14, 2017

Why Did You Kill Him?

Good Friday                                                                                       April 14, 2017
Fr. Albert
St. Peter Catholic Church, New Iberia

Why did Jesus die? Ambushed in a garden, dragged before the authorities in the middle of the night, wrongly imprisoned until morning, and handed over to Pilate to be judged, scourged, and brutally, publicly executed. Why did we do it?

Was Jesus crucified because he taught us to love our neighbor? Or because he healed the sick, cast out demons, and answered the prayers of those who came to him? Did we crucify him because he was kind and gentle, because he liked to spend time with the poor and the outcast? Is anyone ever killed because they are too nice? Too friendly? Too affirming of others? Perhaps, but that is not the reason that we have just crucified Jesus Christ. No, but we can thank Pontius Pilate for uncovering the reason. He was unwilling to kill the man in front of him just because he was asked to, so he pushes back.

When Pilate resists the Chief priests, when he questions their judgment, the Jews give him their reason: “He ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.” There are a hundred roads that lead to this point, but it is only when we reach it that Jesus has to die. Miracles on the sabbath, claiming to forgive sins, altering the hierarchy of God’s chosen people – all of these things offend the Jews and the Sanhedrin, but they are nothing if they do not flow from and lead back to that central point “he made himself the Son of God.”

Yes, Jesus died for our sins, to ransom us from death and give us eternal life. But, he was killed… we killed him because he said he is the Son of God; we refused to accept that. Our entire salvation is echoes in the question Pilate asks Jesus: “Quid est Veritas?” “What is Truth?” If Jesus claims to be God, but it is not true, then he ought to die. If Jesus is in fact God, then we must embrace his every word no matter how unpopular. Obey his every command, no matter how difficult. Follow his every step, no matter where it leads. If we do not, nothing else will matter.

Jesus is not killed because he was loving; He is killed because he speaks the Truth; He reveals the truth without concern for whether it will be accepted. In reality, this is genuine love, but no one knowingly accused Jesus of loving too much. They accused him because they did not like what he taught. So, they challenged it. “The High priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his doctrine.” There it is, most hated of all words: doctrine. Doctrine, teaching, and dogma may be dirty words, but it is Jesus’ fidelity to his doctrine that got him killed… and saved us from damnation. But, the High Priest challenged Jesus about his doctrine and his disciples. Doctrine is good, it is necessary, but it is not everything. The Church’s doctrines are infallible and totally necessary, but they do nothing if they are merely written on a page.

None of the Pharisees would have cared about Jesus’ doctrines if no one else listened. No, what catches their conniving interest are the disciples, that people actually lived what Jesus taught. Jesus himself taught the Truth and lived the Love that Truth made possible. His disciples, in imperfect and inconsistent ways, strove to live what he taught, all of it: from feeding the hungry to eating his flesh as true food. That fidelity, those disciples… began to change everything. What killed Jesus – what saved the world – was that the Truth came down from heaven and became incarnate. Incarnate in Jesus Christ, God and Man, but also in every heart and mind that accepts and lives Jesus’ teaching – that is supposed to be you and me. What saved the world once and for all – what still saves the world now – is obedience to the Truth, obedience even to the point of death, death on a cross.