Homilies for April 2015

Christ and the Good Thief, by TitianTitian (Tiziano Vecellio) (c. 1566).

Overall Theme for the April Homilies: People’s desire for mystery. It is when we place our lives inside of a mystery that they take on new depths of meaning, purpose, and direction. Let’s show people how the Paschal Mystery of the sacred Triduum gains them access to the mystery that would give their lives meaning, etc., and provide a “why” for this mystery which is so very important to everyone’s life.

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Holy Thursday, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper—April 2, 2015

Purpose: Meaning in Mystery. The simplicity of the first Eucharist. The simplicity of the Mystery.

Readings:Exodus 12: 1-8, 11-14; Ps. 116: 12-13, 15-16, 17-18; I Corinthians 11: 23-26; John 13: 1-15
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/040215-evening-mass.cfm  

Harry Potter, The Hobbit, and Lord of the Rings, Twilight, Star Trek, Star Wars, etc., all of these books and movies provide mystery, and the possibility of sharing in that mysterious world and mysterious story which gives us a sense of participation in them. It’s this sense of participation that excites us, and may even become so strong a sense of participation that it motivates how we live our lives and view reality. It is because of this capacity to capture our imagination, and provide us a sense of participation in a mystery that is greater than the self-perceived insignificance of the reality of our own lives, that these books and movies have had such a huge success. What this really bespeaks is humanity’s thirst to participate in a mystery that elevates our existence beyond the banalities of life.

The problem is our misconception of mystery and the supernatural. In this rationalistic age, we cannot accept as reality that which is beyond our sensible perception. This is what has caused such a vacuum of meaning and purpose in our lives. If all that we are is knowable, and the mysterious and supernatural is merely the sum of some mathematical formula, than our human existence is mechanical and, rightfully, empty of greater meaning and purpose.  On the other hand, if mystery is fantasy, and the supernatural is magic, then all we are doing is duping ourselves by a fiction that leaves us even emptier of meaning and purpose, because it would be based on falsehood and unreality.

The mysterious and supernatural need not be based on our tomfoolery to believe in the empty show of magic and fantasies, rather true mystery is conveyed by the simple, real experience of concrete words, and works full of meaning that communicate a reality beyond their prima facie perception. Furthermore, the supernatural ought not contradict nature, but act with the natural, and express through the natural order of things, the presence of a higher order that provides what is natural a greater depth of meaning and purpose. Thus, the supernatural ordinarily communicates through the simplicity of the natural order, and not through theatrical bombasts and “special effects”.

The noble and yet simple, even humiliating and self-sacrificing, words and actions of Jesus at the Last Supper—the first Eucharist and institution of the priesthood with the washing of the feet—become the sensory events that provide us with the ability to participate in a far greater mystery. The passing on of the priesthood onto the Apostles was through Christ’s humiliating himself in washing their feet in order to show that the priesthood is not a ministry of power, magic, or a fantastic show of supernatural nature altering majesty. But instead, it is through Christ’s humble, self-sacrificing, loving service. The Eucharist is the Son of God, Jesus Christ, sacredly veiled in mystery. It is the person of Jesus, true God and true man, truly present in this Sacrament. Even though it may not be immediately perceived by our senses, our understanding of what true mystery is allows us to see with eyes of faith Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist.

It is in the Eucharist that we see the pinnacle of mystery expressed in our midst. God, who takes the common, natural substances of bread, water, and wine, and through the priest—who is his chosen minister and who speaks in the very person of Christ Jesus himself—communicates the Logos, the very meaning of God, to the bread, water, and wine. This communication or dialogos mediated by the priest between God and the offerings of bread, water, and wine cause the very essence of them to “blush” in the presence of God, and be changed into God himself. After all, in the presence of God, how can one not become like God; and if his essence through the Logos is communicated to the substances offered, how can they not become his true and real presence? This is true mystery; this is the true supernatural.

The true supernatural, God, does not come to destroy the natural, manifest power, or bestow on an elect some form of mastery of manipulative authority over others. Rather, God is love, and as love itself, he seeks to express his love for us through noble, yet simple, signs which will convey this mystery to us, and invite us to participate in his love, since that is what a mystery affords us the capacity to do. In fact, the love of God is seen most beautifully in the celebration of the Eucharist. Not only is this the moment where the whole Christian community comes together in love to worship God, but God’s ever-abiding presence is renewed within our midst in a real and physical presence in the Eucharist. God so loves his people that through the Eucharist, he remains ever with us, and available to us, we need only receive him, or spend time in adoration in the presence of the Eucharist, to truly be with him.

Mysteries take those tangible words and works of the Christian community—in union with their shepherds, the priests—and invite us to enflame our perceptions beyond the prima facie so we can receive the full sense of what the supernatural is communicating to us through the natural. It is through the words and works of a sinner—a priest—who during the Mass serves as another Christ, that the saving mysteries of the death and resurrection of Jesus are made present to us. What an act of humility that Jesus calls sinners to be his priests. Just like at the washing of the feet, Jesus abases himself and chooses the unworthy to make manifest his greatest works for the sake of the People of God. This mystery reveals the great depth of God’s love for us that he calls all to communion with him, and does so not through the impeccable, but through sinners, so that sinners, too, may discover the hope that even they can be great in the kingdom of God.

It is thus that in our finding participation in these mysteries—most especially the Mysterium Fidei, the Eucharist—that we discover the communication of God’s greatest act of love for us: the mystery of our salvation through participation in the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. It is this mystery that is communicated to us in the noble simplicity of the words and works of the priest, united with the whole People of God, in the Mass.

Do we seek fulfillment for our thirst for meaning, purpose, and something that elevates us from the banalities of human existence? It is in the Eucharist, above all else, that we have the greatest mystery in which to participate.

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Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion—April 3, 2015

Readings: Isaiah 52: 13 – 53: 12; Ps. 31: 2, 6, 12-13, 15-16, 17, 25; Hebrews 4: 14-16, 5: 7-9; John 18: 1 – 19: 42

http://usccb.org/bible/readings/040315.cfm

Purpose: The power of a mystery of suffering and self-sacrifice to give us the fulfillment of love that we seek.

Jesus dies on the cross. The earth does not split in half, the sun does not explode, all sinful people do not get struck down with lightning, and the presence of evil remains. Yes, the Gospels speak of the dead coming out of their graves, the sky darkened, and the veil in the Temple sanctuary is torn in half. Yet, the death of the God-man is far less fantastic than one may expect. Unlike the Titanomachy of Zeus over the Titans, there is no great war, there is no great violence against humanity, or divine show of power. By contrast, the death of Christ Jesus on the cross is marked by relative peace and humility.

The crucifixion and death of Christ has meaning in our lives. Not only does it show us that God loves us—so much so that he died for us—but it is the event that reveals to us God’s mysterious power to be with us at all of the different moments of our lives. We can all readily see God’s presence in the beauty of nature, in the joyous moments with friends and family, at moments of great achievement in our lives, etc. But, God is not only present to us when our lives are filled with light and joy. The passion and death of Christ reveals that Jesus is mysteriously present to us at the dark moments; the moments of fear, sadness, despair, and sin.

Christ’s death on the cross breaks into the very depths of hell, and reveals the light and warmth of his loving presence. Sadly, those in hell refuse, by their own free choice, to accept the presence of Christ. Yet, we, in those moments of trial and suffering, those moments we feel we are living the experience of hell on earth, can choose to embrace his presence. The horror of Christ’s passion and death reveals that there is no suffering, no personal hell, evil, or darkness where Christ Jesus is incapable of being present to us. Furthermore, there is no darkness too dark to be transformed by his light.

The mystery of the Passion of Christ is the mystery of God’s power to transform evil to the good; darkness to light; despair and disbelief to hope and faith; and, hatred to love. When we embrace the mysterious power of the Cross of Christ Jesus in our lives, we embrace its mysterious power to transform our lives. Just like the death of Christ, our transformation is a moment of humility and peace—not bombast—that cuts through the darkness, and provides us with a renewed sense of self-understanding, purpose, and meaning.

It is only once we see the power of the mystery of Christ’s death to express God’s love for us, that we, too, can understand the power of our own sacrifices, sufferings, and self-offerings. This is what brings us to spiritual maturity, and where we leave behind the ways of spiritual adolescence, expecting only the happy and positive. It is now that taught by the mystery of Christ’s death, we see that our life takes on new depths of meaning and purpose, and is capable of attaining to true love: love that is tempered by experience, tested by trial, purified by forgiveness, illumined by wisdom, and fortified by perseverance.

It is this mystery of the Cross and our union with it that is so necessary in the world today. And, it will be made known to the world by our first being open to experience the transformative power of the cross in our own lives.

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Holy Saturday at the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter—April 4, 2015

Purpose: Our lives, specifically our hearts, at times can seem to be as empty as the tomb, but it is in that emptiness that we become open to letting the mystery of Christ come into our hearts.

Readings: Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 2; Genesis 22: 1-18; Exodus 14: 15 – 15:1; Isaiah 54: 5-14; Isaiah 55: 1-11; Baruch 3: 9-15, 32c, 4: 4; Ezekiel 36: 16-17a, 18-28; Romans 6: 3-11; Mark 16: 1-7
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/040415.cfm

Have we lost the consciousness of God’s presence? Growing up, if something good or bad happened in life, God was evoked. “O Thank God!” “O my God, how horrible!” Nowadays, the response to good or bad is an expletive. I believe that this is a loss of consciousness of God’s presence in our lives, but not a loss that cannot be restored.

Our hearts, when lacking the consciousness of God, are filled with other distractions. Ephphetha! (“Be Open!”) We must be opened, and allow our hearts to become like the empty tomb. Not empty of love, not empty of mystery and meaning, but empty because the reality of death is no longer present. Rather, Christ Jesus is risen in our hearts as much as he is risen from the now empty tomb. The hollowed sarcophagus, which was once a place of death, is now transformed to the very symbol of everlasting life. When we empty-out our hearts from distractions through a purifying kenosis, we become re-born into a new life in Christ. The re-birth in Christ Jesus, first transformed by our union with him in his death on the Cross, renews, in the very depths of our person, our dignity.

The paradox of the empty tomb that is so truly fulfilling to our thirst for love, meaning, and purpose in life, is ours when we participate in the Paschal Mystery made ever-present to us in the Easter Sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist at Mass. These Sacraments unite us to the events of the Cross and Resurrection, and provide us with a real participation in them. Thus, they offer us the transformative power of the Cross, and the regenerative nobility of the empty tomb. Christ is Risen! He is Risen, Indeed! Alleluia!

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Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord—April 5, 2015

Readings: Acts 10: 34a, 37-43; Ps. 118: 1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Colossians 3: 1-4; John 20: 1-9
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/040515.cfm 

Purpose: The direction one’s life takes living the mystery of the resurrection.

Happy Easter! Christ Jesus is Risen! This means that life takes on a new horizon. Have you ever thought of yourself as immortal? Have you ever considered that you have a “forever” to live life? The resurrection from the dead of Jesus casts a new light on our human existence. No longer are we bound by finite ends. Our life has an all new endless and brilliant horizon, and we come to share in this new resurrected and glorious horizon gifted us by Christ Jesus through our Baptism.

In Baptism, we are born into the resurrected life of Jesus Christ, a life that knows no end, nor boundaries. Death has no more hold on us. Yes, we still die, but that is not the end of our life. For not only will our souls live on past our death, but our bodies and souls will be re-united and resurrect from our graves unto the glory that we see already in Jesus, the firstborn of the dead. With this faith, we come to find that the urgencies and anxieties that death can put upon our desires for our life come to fade into nothingness as we now see that we have a “forever” to experience—all for which we could ever yearn.

Sin, likewise, loses its tempting appeal. Sins’ allure makes us believe that it can fulfill our every need in the here and now, and that there will be no greater opportunity to be so fulfilled in the future. The resurrection of Christ Jesus shows us the folly of this allure, unraveling its false logic. The resurrection shows us the opportunity for an endless future of glory and fulfillment, and that the present is not the only opportunity we will ever have to satiate our desires. For there is truly a great and majestic glory that awaits all who persevere in Christ Jesus, and with faith, put their hope in a future filled with all the love one could ever desire.

The resurrection gives us our freedom to decide our life’s direction, unencumbered by the insidious snares of the devil. The death of Christ—just like the death of all those who came before us who fought so that we may have freedom—bestows a great and ineffable dignity on our liberty to make choices in regards the direction of our life. It begs the question: “What do we use our freedom for that was purchased at such a great price?” Furthermore, the resurrection of Christ shows us a great light to guide us in our choices. It shows us a glimmer of the glory that awaits when we use our freedom to embrace, not the fading allurements of the present, but an endless glory of resplendent beauty in the future.

The glory of Easter is a future glory. It calls us to wait for fulfillment, to use our freedom to choose the greatest good—a good that lies not in any temptation before our eyes at present, but for a beauty that can only be attained through holy patience. Easter freedom is a freedom for a better tomorrow. It is, therefore, as an Easter people—by virtue of our Baptism, and nourished in the sacred food of the Eucharist—that we journey and live, not for today, but for the beauty that awaits!

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Divine Mercy Sunday—April 12, 2015

Purpose:  Being healed and overcoming spiritual death through The Divine Mercy of Christ.

Readings: Acts 4: 32-35; Ps. 118: 2-4, 13-25, 22-24; I John 5: 1-6; John 20: 19-31
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/041215.cfm 

In the year 2000, on the 30th of April, Pope John Paul II extended to the whole Church that this Sunday, the Octave of Easter—also called Low Sunday or White Sunday, because the newly baptized and confirmed would come to this Mass dressed in their new clothes, white robes—would now be referred to as the Feast of Divine Mercy. This is significant because the image of Divine Mercy portrays Christ’s white light of healing for those who were wounded by sin, just as the waters of Baptism and the Oil of Chrism have healed and brought to new life those received into the Church at the Easter Vigil.

Five years after Pope John Paul II extended this special feast to be celebrated by the whole Church in honor of God’s healing mercy through his Cross and Resurrection, the Pope died. On Divine Mercy Sunday, six years later, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, beatified Pope John Paul II. Now, St. Faustina’s devotion to Divine Mercy is known the world over. This Sunday marks the first Divine Mercy Sunday for the now Pope Saint who championed it’s cause.

Pope St. John Paul II taught us all a great deal about God’s mercy. In his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, he wrote:

Through the Incarnation God gave human life the dimension that he intended man to have from his first beginning; he has granted that dimension definitively—in the way that is peculiar to him alone, in keeping with his eternal love and mercy, with the full freedom of God—and he has granted it also with the bounty that enables us, in considering the original sin and the whole history of the sins of humanity, and in considering the errors of the human intellect, will and heart, to repeat with amazement the words of the Sacred Liturgy: ‘O happy fault … which gained us so great a Redeemer!’” (John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, 1)

At the Easter Vigil during the Exultet, we heard those words sung, “O happy fault…which gained us so great a Redeemer!” Because of our sins, we have all suffered and caused the suffering of others.

Original sin turned love in on itself, and through our selfishness we have failed to show our love for God and neighbor. When we fail to love God above all others, and our neighbors as ourselves, we wound ourselves and others through sin. St. Thomas recognized the resurrected Christ by his wounds: the power of the resurrected Christ for healing our humanity. As Christ was wounded and able to overcome both death and the wounds he incurred, so can we by Christ’s mercy and love. The power of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection transforms our past, present, and future so that we may learn to love properly, and that our wounds, and the wounds we have inflicted upon others, may also be healed and gloriously transformed by God’s mercy.

Pope St. John Paul II further taught that the mercy that transforms our wounds is Christ himself:

Above all, love is greater than sin, than weakness, than the “futility of creation,” it is stronger than death; it is a love always ready to raise up and forgive, always ready to go to meet the prodigal son, always looking for “the revealing of the sons of God,” who are called to “the glory that is to be revealed.” This revelation of love is also described as mercy; and in man’s history this revelation of love and mercy has taken a form and a name: that of Jesus Christ. (John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis , 9)

Jesus is the Divine Physician who has come into our lives to offer us his healing balm, the balm of the Cross and the Resurrection, the balm of his mercy through which our humanity is transformed and made glorious, a new creation.

Transformed by God’s mercy, we live our life more abundantly, and give witness to the great power of Christ in our lives. This is our salt, this is the light we are meant to share with the whole world. As we have received the peace of Christ, we must go forth to all nations and proclaim that peace to them, because all people deserve the opportunity to know and be healed by the love and mercy of Christ that has benefited our lives.

Aided by the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, let us envelop all humanity in the love and mercy of Christ by proclaiming him to the entire world. What can you do? First, pray! Pray for God’s healing in your own life, and in the life of those you love. But even more so, pray for those people you don’t like. Secondly, be healed and converted to Christ yourself. Thirdly, filled with his love, and in thanksgiving for all the great miracles Christ has worked in your life, share that joy with others. Fourthly, never hold back anything from Christ, and trust in his Divine Providence for your salvation. Lastly, with faith and hope secured in Christ, know that your witness will truly help others to come to Christ. Your faith and hope in Christ, and your love of him, is not meant to be private. Share the mercy of God with others, and the mercy you have received will only be magnified. Let your life be one of the many signs worked by Christ “that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.”

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Third Sunday of Easter—April 19, 2015

Purpose: At every Eucharist, as at Emmaus, Christ is there to accompany us on our journey home.

Readings: Acts 3: 13-15, 17-19; Ps. 4: 2, 4, 7-8, 9; I John 2: 1-5a; Luke 24: 35-48
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/041915.cfm

The Emmaus event gives us great insight into the faith of the early Christian community regarding the resurrection of Christ Jesus. No one was physically present to witness the very moment of the resurrection. But, this event is not questioned by the early Christians. The early Christians had a solid faith in the resurrection of Jesus, not only because of the Apostles telling their experience of the empty tomb, or the many apparitions that followed, but because of the power of signs, most especially the sacramental sign of the Eucharist, to communicate the reality of the resurrection.

It is at Emmaus that we see the Eucharist—the “breaking of the bread” as it was called in the early Church—become the sign, par excellence, to communicate the resurrection of Jesus. For, even though Jesus walked the long road to Emmaus with the disciples, and even though their hearts burned within them as Jesus preached and taught them about the recent events that occurred in Jerusalem, it was only at the “breaking of the bread” (in the celebrating of the Eucharist) that their eyes were opened to faith, and they recognized Jesus’ presence.

As it was for these early disciples in the Christian community, it is for us today. The celebration of the Mass gives us the opportunity to walk alongside Jesus, and have him instruct us, that our hearts may burn within us, during the proclamation and preaching of the Word of God. Yet, it is not until we experience the Eucharist, and allowing it to affect what it signifies—the real and true crucified and resurrected presence of Jesus—that we are capable of seeing Jesus and, thus, understanding all that he instructs us during the Liturgy of the Word.

The Eucharist is the sign of God’s actual presence with us. It is a mystery. It is the sign that conveys the mysteries of our salvation, and God’s love for us. It is also the sign that mysteriously works within us, the faith that affects our senses, so that we see in the Eucharist a meaning and reality that goes beyond our prima facie perception. Therefore, we are elevated to the realm of the beautiful and transcendent glory of the Resurrected One. This encounter changes our lives and strengthens our resolve by giving the faith we heard proclaimed and preached—which burned in our hearts—credibility. Now we follow Christ with conviction because the Eucharist shows us his presence alongside us for the journey.

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Fourth Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday)—April 26, 2015

Purpose: The Good Shepherd seeks out and carries back, those that are lost; and as the “sacrificial lamb” died for us sinners so we could be saved.

Readings: Acts 4: 8-12; Ps. 118: 1, 8-9, 22-23, 26,28,29; I John 3: 1-2; John 10: 11-18
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/042615.cfm

In the early twentieth century, and until the present time, the excavations at Dura-Europos (an ancient ruin of an early Syrian city with a synagogue and very early Christian shrine) have revealed great insights into the Christian faith as it was understood in its earliest communities. In the Baptistery of Dura-Europos, there are two frescoes above the altar and baptismal pool. The first is an image of the Good Shepherd, with a lamb over his shoulders, standing next to Adam and Eve. The second image is that of the empty tomb with a woman next to it. I propose that the early Christian art at Dura-Europos provides us great insight into today’s celebration of Good Shepherd Sunday.

In the early Church, the image of the Good Shepherd, as also expressed by St. Irenaeus of Lyon, was communicative of the reality of the incarnation. The Good Shepherd leaves the ninety-nine to go after the one errant sheep. Humanity is sinful, as shown by the figures of Adam and Eve, but God becomes man to shepherd us back to communion with him. The image of the lamb placed upon the Good Shepherd’s shoulders is two-fold: not only does it signify the pastoral care of carrying-back the one that went astray, but it signifies how the Good Shepherd will bring back those who went astray since a lamb was the sacrificial offering for sin. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, leaves the ninety-nine in Heaven, and goes to earth to save humanity, who through original sin have fallen from grace. But through Christ’s sacrifice upon the Cross, the lost ones will be reconciled.

Understanding, now, the Good Shepherd as he would have been understood in the early Church, we can see that this image being placed next to an image of the empty tomb allows us to know that the whole story is one of glory and life: the Good Shepherd, after offering himself as a sin sacrifice, rises from the dead and transforms our human existence. The Good Shepherd has already come for us, has already reconciled us, and has already risen unto new and everlasting life. He is showing us the way back to him: we only have to follow him.

Following the Good Shepherd begins with our Baptism, as is clearly signified in this work of art chosen for the Baptistery at Dura-Europos. From our Baptism, we are to continue to the Altar of the Lord, continuously receiving from the Good Shepherd the sacred food for our journey. Lastly, it is not so much that we walk with the Good Shepherd, but allow him to carry us upon his shoulders. Thus, discipleship is abandonment. It is the surrendering of ourselves into Christ’s hands to be carried and cared-for by him. He will carry us back to our God. He will bring us to the future glory that awaits us all who choose to be carried by him. How wonderful to have such a good Shepherd to care for us!

About Father Philip-Michael F. Tangorra, STL

Fr. Philip-Michael Tangorra is a priest of the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey. He was the co-founder and president of “Hands of Mary for Haiti,” an Association of the Christian Faithful aimed at helping, both materially and spiritually, the people of Notre Dame du Perpetuel Secours parish in Fragneau-Ville, Haiti, following the devastating earthquake there in 2010. He served as the parochial vicar for the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Morristown, New Jersey, where he also served on the Board of Directors for the Neighborhood House in Morristown. He recently rebuilt and created an award-winning Catholic Campus Ministry at William Paterson University, serving as its chaplain. He has also served as the Assistant Coordinator for Evangelization for the Diocese of Paterson. He is the author of Holiness and Living the Sacramental Life, a part of the "Living Faith Series" published by Emmaus Road. In “Holiness and Living…” Fr. Philip-Michael lays out the mystical and invisible realities that are present during the celebration of the sacraments, and explains how they can lead us to living ever more in-tune with God. He has a Licentiate in Dogmatic Theology from the Angelicum in Rome, and is currently studying Canon Law at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Comments

  1. Praise the Lord Fr. Philip and thank you for uploading good homilies. God bless you.

  2. Cindy Flanagan says:

    Thank you , Fr.Philip Michael, for posting your homilies. In moving to Gmail exclusively through Chrome, I discovered that you were in my circle and found the link on your page to this website. To my delight you have all of these wonderful sermons posted!! What I have missed most since you were assigned away from Assumption is your reverent and moving homilies. To discover this site and know that I can continue to be inspired by your perspective is my Easter blessing. May God continue to bless you.