April 2013 Homilies

For Sunday Liturgies and Feasts
Homilies for April 2013

Jesus Risen by Carravagio;  Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations by Harry Anderson; They hear his voice.

2nd Sunday of Easter—April 7, 2013
Something Greater Here than Solomon, Jonah…or even Houdini

Purpose:  Jesus’ miracles—especially that of the Resurrection—profoundly and permanently transform reality. After his resurrection, Jesus commissioned the transformed apostles to go and preach the Good News to the ends of the earth. This same risen Lord seeks to transform us as well, first during our earthly pilgrimage by means of the sacraments; then, when that pilgrimage ends, by means of our own rising from the dead.

Readings: Acts 5:12-16; Ps. 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; Rev. 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19 http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040713.cfm

Have you ever seen children enthralled by one of those magicians-for-hire at a birthday party? As a kid, I loved magic, and practiced for hours various tricks contained in the magic kit my parents bought me, before I tested them on family members and friends.  Live performances by such famous illusionists as David Copperfield, Siegfried & Roy, and Penn & Teller thrilled me. Magic seems to effect the miraculous: a woman’s body supposedly cut in two and restored; metal passing through metal as solid chain rings link themselves together; yards of fabric pulled from an empty hat; elephants disappearing from a stage. (Even more impressive, watch David Copperfield make Lady Liberty vanish on You Tube.) While entertaining, we know magicians guard secrets that ultimately “dis-illusion” us: the laws of physics render impossible what seemed to happen right before our very eyes.

Unlike master illusionists, Jesus performed authentic miracles that transformed reality in a profound and permanent manner. In today’s passage from the fourth Gospel, we encounter the risen Christ, whose human nature is truly transformed and radically glorified. The body that now passes through locked doors (and serves up a fish fry, according to John 21!) is the same tortured and crucified body nailed to a cross days earlier. Indeed, Thomas probes with his fingers those very marks of his Passion. “Once I was dead,” Christ announces in St. John’s vision recorded in today’s reading from Revelation, “but now I am alive forever and ever.” Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus performed many miracles, including the resuscitation of several corpses, including those of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5) and Lazarus (John 11). Resurrection, however, is an entirely different reality than resuscitation! The little girl and Lazarus eventually experienced a definitive death, as did everyone Jesus healed. The “life in his name” promised in today’s Gospel, the life for which each human being yearns, is life on a wholly new plane. This new life, nonetheless, remains my life in continuity—the physical life that began at conception, and the spiritual life to which Baptism gives birth.

Three Apostles—Peter, James and John—previously received a glimpse of Jesus’ resurrection on Mount Tabor where, transfigured, Jesus’ face “shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light” (Mt. 17:2). After Jesus rises and bestows the gift of the Holy Spirit, all the Apostles are likewise transformed. The Gospel portrait of these uncomprehending, hesitant men gives way to the description found in the Acts of the Apostles: dynamic, bold preachers who (except for John) suffer a martyr’s death. In today’s Gospel, we witness the transformation of Thomas, who forever gets the bad rap of “doubting” simply for asking to experience what his brothers did a week earlier. His adamant “I will not believe” becomes, in the risen Lord’s presence, “my Lord and my God!” The first reading from Acts manifests the change accomplished in Jesus’ closest companions, through whom “many signs and wonders” now happen: miraculous healings, exorcisms, and religious conversions.

Today’s readings, of course, speak to us about our own radical transformation in Christ. Through the witness of those who knew Jesus before and after His resurrection, who saw Him in visions, who touched his risen body, and who performed miracles in his name, the Lord announces his desire to reconfigure us on multiple levels! He wants to deepen our belief in him as Lord and Savior just as he did with Thomas. He wills to exorcise evil from our hearts and bring healing to our illnesses, especially to the self-inflicted wounds of sin. “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,” Jesus tells the Apostles in our Gospel. On this Divine Mercy Sunday, the Church sings in its responsorial psalm (118) that “{God’s} mercy endures forever,” a mercy that reaches us with special intensity through the sacrament of Reconciliation. This sacrament, and that of the Eucharist, progressively transform us into Christ over the course of our lives. At the end of our earthly pilgrimage, God’s transformative work culminates in our own resurrection from the dead!
Further reading from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: nos. 988-1004.

3rd Sunday of Easter—April 14
God’s Way Is the High Way

Purpose:
Our greatest joy and fulfillment is found in humble, trusting obedience to God’s will. A personal relationship of love with the risen Lord allows us to live and love as he did, sacrificing ourselves for others in selfless charity. Our trusting obedience continues into eternity by means of heavenly worship.

Readings: Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41; Ps. 30: 2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13; Rev. 5:11-14; Jn. 21:1-19
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/041413.cfm

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way!

Over the years, on the radio or at a dance, I have occasionally heard Frank Sinatra belting out Paul Anka’s song, “My Way.” The first time I listened closely to the lyrics, I realized that the song could be interpreted in a way antithetical to today’s Mass readings, and the entire Gospel. I don’t want to put too much weight on what is, after all, just a pop song, but the last stanza in particular suggests that a person is only truly himself through a certain willfulness or self-assertion. Masculinity or personhood involves saying “the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels,” as if kneeling (literally or figuratively) were somehow dehumanizing. “My way or the highway” appears central to authentic self-realization.

In today’s first reading from Acts, we discover the same Apostles who last Sunday cowered fearfully in the locked upper room. Now, transformed into bold witnesses of Christ, Peter says in their name: “We must obey God rather than men.” Their fear of mistreatment has vanished; indeed, they rejoice at being able to suffer for and with Jesus! At first glance, the Apostles and the protagonist of “My Way” resemble each other: “the record shows I took the blows and did it my way!” The Apostles did not kneel to the Sanhedrin’s order to stop teaching, and most of them will suffer the “blow” of martyrdom. Yet, where Anka’s lyrics manifest an adolescent rebelliousness, the Apostles demonstrate a profound humility, submitting to the Lord who called, converted, and sent them. They obey, not their passions or pet projects, but rather God’s will. It’s not “my way” but “God’s ways” that matter.

It is difficult for our fallen minds and hearts to accept the reality that authentic freedom is the choice to submit to the will of “Another.” Anyone who raises or teaches teens—and we were all adolescents once—knows that young people frequently hurt themselves, and others, because they operate with a mistaken notion of freedom, a concept increasingly prevalent in the broader culture. In the spirit of Anka’s “My Way,” the young easily define freedom as the ability to resist authority, especially that of parents and the Church. “Let me do what I want, when I want, how I want.” They confuse license with genuine freedom.

Husbands and wives know, at least ideally, that marriage involves freely laying down their own wills for the sake of the beloved, and of their children, but they do so willingly because this obedience deepens love and brings joy. “Your wish is my command” is not odious for lovers who naturally long to surrender to the beloved’s will. If the love is met with an equal, reciprocal love, then the submission is mutual and harmonious, as it is perfectly among the relations of the Blessed Trinity.

Today’s Gospel illustrates this same humble obedience and trust in the Lord. John tells us that Peter, Thomas, and the others did not recognize the risen Jesus on the shore, yet perhaps, they intuit his presence at a deeper level. Why else would they obey a stranger’s instructions,and simply drop their nets on the other side of the boat, in essentially the same waters that yielded nothing all night long? Their trust is rewarded with a haul so large they must drag the net ashore. After breakfast, Jesus and Peter walk off by themselves where Jesus makes Peter confess his love three times, “undoing,” as it were, Simon’s earlier triple denial in the courtyard. Yet, a verbal profession of love is insufficient. The Lord challenges Peter to prove his love in action by feeding his lambs and tending his sheep. Peter obeys Jesus, and in doing so, discovers his most authentic self. St. Ignatius Loyola, in his Spiritual Exercises, famously writes that “love ought to manifest itself more by deeds than by words” {230}. The saintly Fr. Zossima, from Dostoyevsky’s classic The Brothers Karamazov, says at one point in the novel that “love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” Christian love goes beyond dreamy, romantic feelings, and mere words, to acts of charity in imitation of Christ. By their lives and deaths, Peter and the other Apostles will show, in action, their love for the Lord.

Finally, the humble, loving obedience that characterizes our discipleship on earth finds its culmination in post-mortem heavenly worship! Today’s reading from Revelation offers a glimpse of that heavenly liturgy in which our earthly worship participates. Angels, and all earthly creatures, adore the Lamb on the throne in great love, joy, and humility, symbolized by the elders’ prostration. This is our destiny, the reason for our existence.

Throughout his entire life, Jesus humbly submitted to his Father’s will, supremely so, in his Passion. Peter and the other Apostles humbly obeyed God rather than human beings. Pope Francis humbly obeyed God’s will as revealed in his brother cardinals’ choice, and the simple humility of Peter’s new successor is moving hearts and causing great rejoicing in the Church and even beyond. In what way is Christ Jesus calling me to greater trust and obedience in my own path of discipleship? How is the Lord challenging me to demonstrate my love for him in humble, selfless acts which fulfill my purpose, and truly set me free?
Further reading from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: nos. 539; 908; 1733; 1740.

4th Sunday of Easter—April 21
Recognizing Jesus’ Voice
Purpose: Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is our guide and protector from all forms of temptation and evil. He calls to us continuously, seeking us when we stray. But, have we learned to recognize his voice?

Readings: Acts 13:14, 43-52; Ps. 100:1-2, 3, 5; Rev. 7:9, 14b-17; Jn. 10: 27-30
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/042113.cfm

In 1992, long before Cardinal Timothy Dolan was even a bishop, he was on a study tour of the Holy Land. One day while hiking, the group encountered two shepherds enjoying conversation and a smoke whose grazing flocks had become completely mixed together. Through their guide, the group asked how hundreds of sheep would sort themselves out and follow the correct shepherd. Eager to impress these tourists, the men stood at a distance from one another, yelled something incomprehensible, and began walking in opposite directions. Immediately, the sheep fell in line behind the proper herdsman! That’s not all: the two men then exchanged clothing and once again stood apart and shouted. So familiar were the shepherds’ voices to the sheep that these cute (but dumb) animals, ignoring the disguised outward appearance, again followed their respective herdsman!

“My sheep hear my voice,” says Jesus in today’s Gospel reading, “I know them, and they follow me” (Jn. 10:27). A few verses earlier, Jesus states that the sheep follow the shepherd “because they recognize his voice,” whereas “they do not recognize the voice of strangers” (10:4-5). The focus of today’s liturgy is hard to miss: in addition to the Gospel, the collect (opening prayer), responsorial psalm (100), second reading from Revelation 7, communion antiphon, and Prayer after Communion all speak to us of the Good Shepherd.

Several years ago, I saw the movie, “Sweetgrass,” a 100-minute documentary totally devoid of narration and soundtrack. It tells the story of the last group of Norwegian-American sheepherders who, for several months, drive about 3000 sheep through Montana’s Beartooth Mountains to reach summer pasture. (“Sweetgrass” is the name of one of the counties where the film was shot.) The scenery is breath-taking but it’s rugged and rough country. These modern-day cowboys struggle to protect their flock, not always successfully, from the elements, as well as from hungry wolves and bears. Even with their guidance and protection, some sheep don’t make it, but without these shepherds all the sheep would have been toast. They would have scattered and died.

As the Divine Shepherd, Jesus is not only good, he’s perfect. The communion antiphon declares that he “laid down his life for his sheep and willingly died for his flock.” Those Montana sheepherders were devoted men, but some predators managed to snatch a few sheep from the herd. In contrast, Jesus gives his sheep “eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand” nor out of the Father’s hand (Jn. 10:28-29). Human shepherds have all they can do to guide and protect a flock of hundreds, or a few thousand; in John’s vision from today’s second reading, the Lamb shepherds “a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people and tongue,” leading them “to springs of life-giving water” (Rev. 7:9, 17).

Some Catholics I know chafe at being called “sheep” because it implies stupidity and blind obedience. Every metaphor limps and, in any case, this critique misses the metaphor’s truth. We often do, in fact, act “like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk. 6:34), lost and wandering, vulnerable to attack by many destructive voices and forces, human and demonic. In this fallen world, all of us are subject to fears and failures, to disappointments and confusion, to wounds, both physical and emotional, the reality of sin and death. We want to hide our weakness and “sheep-ness” behind a façade of perfection and coolness, bravado and ego; but, in reality, we are often confused, afraid, and threatened. We were created for love, goodness, truth and beauty for which we have a God-sized hunger in our hearts. But, we wander away from the Good Shepherd, lured by other voices we think will satisfy us, and make us happy, but, in the end, leave us empty and sad. Human beings imbibe, inhale, ingest, or inject substances; they buy and consume relentlessly, building up a large collection of technological or other toys. They seek sexual pleasure for its own sake, at the expense of authentic intimacy and love. They stop at nothing for fame and fortune. Ponder your own experience. How else do we try to meet our deepest hungers for happiness, peace, love, and meaning? If these substances, or behaviors, are not godly, how are we left feeling after the initial rush or pleasure is over?

Rejoice that we have a Good Shepherd, who is always willing to seek the one stray—something Montana sheepherders, as good-hearted as they are, would never dream of doing—rather than simply “counting his losses,” and remaining with the 99.
Further reading from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: no. 1465.

5th Sunday of Easter—April 28
Understanding the new commandment: love one another.
Purpose: “Love” is much more than mere emotion or eros. Christian love is agape or charity, a decision to selflessly sacrifice oneself out of love like Jesus did on the Cross. Such charity is a challenge in our fallen condition but is made possible by God’s grace, and leads to the most complete fulfillment in the kingdom of God.

Readings: Acts 14:21-27; Ps. 145:8-9, 10-11, 12-13; Rev. 21:1-5a; Jn. 13:31-33a, 34-35
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/042813.cfm

Is there any word more misunderstood and abused in our culture than “love”? What does it truly mean to say to another person “I love you”? Many of our contemporaries subscribe to a Hollywood version of love as something romantic and “dreamy.” In this perspective, love is primarily a warm emotion, a feeling of affection. Love is synonymous with infatuation. Love is eros, erotic attraction. This is the operative understanding of “love,” not only in many Hollywood movies or Harlequin romances, but also in the arguments in support of same-sex “marriage.” Lest there be any doubt, let me be clear that there’s nothing inherently evil about falling in love! Infatuation is a normal human experience and can be quite delightful (yet maddening as well). Eros, however, is not mature love, and if not purified by charity or agape, romantic love, or eros, can blind us to what is right and good. Just pick up People magazine to see the wasteland of relationships in the entertainment world, or have a candid conversation with college students reeling from the effects of the “hook-up” culture. Mere emotion never provides a solid foundation for anything profound and lasting such as a career, a life of prayer, or a marriage. To invoke an image taken from Pope Francis’ homily in the Sistine chapel the day after his election, to expect emotional attraction to bear the weight of true love is like expecting a child’s sandcastle to weather centuries of incoming tides.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us “a new commandment: love one another” (Jn. 13:34a). As if anticipating the confusion and risk inherent in such a vague formulation, in his next breath, Jesus says something more precise: “As I have loved you, so you should love one another” (13:34b). Jesus reiterates this clarification in Jn. 15:12: “Love one another as I love you.” Then, in the very next verse, Jesus makes his meaning crystal clear: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” To love other persons as Jesus loves us is to lay ourselves down for others in acts of self-sacrificial love. If we want to know what “love one another” entails, gaze upon a crucifix. Because words are cheap and emotions unstable, Jesus requires loving deeds even toward those I may strongly dislike with my emotions! If love were merely an emotional reality, how in the world could we love enemies?

In his very first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love), pope-emeritus Benedict XVI writes that eros must be purified and elevated by agape, by Christian charity. The love commanded by Jesus is best expressed by this virtue of charity. True love, authentic Christian charity, is a decision, an act of the will. We can choose to love people who disgust us or despise us just as we can treat uncharitably people to whom we are strongly attached emotionally. Love is the choice and commitment to will the good of each and every person in each and every situation. Only genuine charity—desiring the good of the other and always treating him or her as a second self—brings the deep happiness for which we are made. Self-sacrificing love sometimes assumes heroic proportions, as when soldiers, police officers, or firefighters give their lives to protect and save others. Such charity can involve major sacrifices, like when a person donates a kidney to a sick sibling, or spends years caring for a spouse with Alzheimer’s. But laying down our lives in imitation of Christ is most often a matter of small, daily sacrifices: rising at 3:00 AM to comfort a child awakened by a nightmare, or coughing fit; turning off March Madness because a friend needs my ear, or a work deadline must be met; silently blessing the “jerk” who cut me off in traffic, or remaining patient when, having switched lanes on the interstate, my previous lane (naturally) accelerates while mine slows, yet again proving Murphy’s Law immutable.

In our fallen state, Christ-like love is difficult—otherwise, Jesus wouldn’t need to command it! In the words of Dostoyevsky’s Fr. Zossima, which I quoted two Sundays ago, “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” Paul and Barnabas put it this way in today’s reading from Acts: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Loving like Jesus is indeed hard sometimes, but it is also our greatest joy and fulfillment. It is only possible to the extent that I allow Jesus to love in and through me, rather than relying on my own meager efforts where I am only looking to Jesus as an external model of behavior, while generating independently of him. Today’s responsorial psalm (145), assures us that struggling to enter God’s kingdom is worth the hardship because of “the glorious splendor” of that kingdom, “a kingdom for all ages” that “endures through all generations.”
Further reading from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: no. 1822-1829

 


 

 

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avatar About Fr. Rob Kroll, S.J.

Fr. Rob Kroll was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the third of four children of Richard and Mary Jane Kroll. He eventually received a B.S. degree from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service in 1987, and entered the Society of Jesus. In 1989, he spent one year in the Jesuit Humanities Program at Creighton University in Omaha, then three years of philosophy and theology studies at Centre Sèvres, the Jesuit school in Paris. He performed full-time ministry Marquette High School, his alma mater, for three years before finishing a M.Div. degree in 1999 at Weston Jesuit in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was ordained a priest, spending another five years at Marquette High as a teacher and coach. He completed Jesuit formation (tertianship) in Sydney, Australia in 2005, pronouncing final vows in 2006. He was a pastor on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation from 2005-07, He was associate director at Demontreville retreat house from August 2007 to August 2010. In May 2012, he obtained a Master’s in clinical psychology from the Institute for the Psychological Sciences, a Catholic graduate school located in Arlington, Virginia. Since July 2012, he has been the local superior at Creighton Prep in Omaha, Nebraska.

Comments

  1. avatar Albert Baxley says:

    Many thanks for these excellent homilies and especially for the references to particular paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. That is a very great help to me and, I believe, to many other readers and students who want to understand the Catholic Church more fully.

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