Sunday, April 24, 2005

The more things change . . .

Image hosted by
the more they stay the same.

As I turned thirty years of age last Thursday, this picture from twenty or so years ago came to mind. I was a Southern Baptist at the time, so I didn't even know what words like "altar" or "priest" meant. But I did have my make-shift pulpit, blue blazer, and picture bible.

The gift of discernment

Image hosted by
One of the supernatural gifts is discernment. And it looks like it almost may take supernatural powers to discern whether this is a holy water stoup or a toilet bowl. What do you think? Would you dip your fingers in there?

Insert joke here

Image hosted by
I'm sure there's some kind of church lady joke waiting to be told with this picture. I just haven't figured it out yet. Perhaps you can.

How can we know the way?

Homily for John 14:1-14
by The Rev'd Timothy M. Matkin, SSC
Given at S. Alban’s, Arlington, TX, on 24 April 2005

Perhaps you have also had a similar experience. I was driving home from work a few weeks ago and traffic was backed up because it was just about that time of day. Of course, stop and go traffic can be very tedious and boring. When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but an old Honda civic, covered in reading material. Especially in these circumstances, it becomes almost a personal quest, an unwritten social contract. I have to read those bumper stickers.

After a few blocks, I had gotten close enough to slip in behind the car. The first of three came into view for a moment. "I’m not as dumb as you look," said the first one. It sped away as I remained motionless in momentary shock. At the stoplight ahead, I got close enough to read the second. This time I was ready for something sarcastic, with a dash of attitude. Squinting slightly I read, "The future is not what it used to be."

By the time I finished that one, the car sped away at a green light. My turn was coming up soon, and I was faced with the fear that I would not be exposed to one more dose of meaningless drivel. Even though I knew it was risky, I hit the gas and eased up into viewing range. Before I had to slow to make my turn off, I caught a glimpse of the last bumper sticker, which stated in bold type, "You have to understand . . . It’s all about me!" I veered away and headed home, annoyed.

Today’s reading from John gospel is an excerpt from Jesus’ lengthy farewell to his disciples in the Upper Room, before he is betrayed and crucified. Although John doesn’t give the Supper narrative familiar to us from the other gospels, John spends over half his gospel on this farewell message. The cold wind of abandonment has just swept over the disciples. For the first time they begin to sense the coming isolation and grief. Jesus says, "I am only with you for a little longer, and where I am going, you cannot follow. But let not your hearts be troubled, neither be afraid. You trusted in God, now trust also in me."

Most people do not want to hear talk of tragedy and conflict, neither did the disciples in the Upper Room, but at the same time Jesus reassures them that these things need to happen--it is a part of the plan. At the Last Supper Jesus tries to prepare his disciples for his departure, meaning his tragic death, by telling them that he goes to prepare a place for them and will return to take them there. The "place" Jesus refers to is his Father’s "house." Don’t worry, you already know the way to get there.

Thomas is a bit confused at this point--"If we don’t know where you’re going, how can we know the way?" Jesus gives him a little three point sermon that has been a source of consolation to many during trying and confusing circumstances. Jesus said, "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life." That little message to the troubled in heart touches on all the major themes that we find throughout the Gospel of John. "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father, but by me."

Part of our hope as Christians lies in the fact that Jesus Christ is utterly unique. It has been said, there are many religions, but there is only one Gospel. There are many teachers, but there is only one Savior. Jesus Christ has no peer. Among religious leaders down through history, we might say that Jesus stands as an Everest, towering above the foothills.
One of the central ways that Jesus is unique is hinted at in today’s gospel. Unlike other religions of the world, Jesus founded the Christian religion not upon his teachings, but upon himself. Christianity is essentially not based upon the sayings or teachings of Jesus, as important as those are.

For example, Leo-Tse, was the founder of the ancient Chinese religion called Taoism (Tao means "the way" or "the right way"). Leo-Tse stressed that the proper way of living was in to live in harmony with nature, and he developed a wisdom tradition that shaped Chinese culture. Leo-Tse taught his disciples, "This is the way, follow in it." Jesus simply said to his disciples, "I am the way." With full awareness and seriousness, Jesus says, "You have to understand . . . It’s all about me."

Christ is unique in the way that he build his whole religion upon himself. Consider for a moment the creeds of the Church. The Apostles’ Creed is a summary of all the essential beliefs of the Christian faith by those offering themselves for baptism. The Nicene Creed is a defense of the core teachings of Christianity, reaffirmed at each Sunday Mass. What do the creeds say about the teachings of Jesus? Absolutely nothing. All the teachings of Christ are passed over in total silence. "Conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried." They pass directly from the day of his birth to the day of his death.

It is Christ’s reminder to us through his Church, I have not come to teach you a way; "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life." You can follow the way of Taoism without knowing much about Leo-Tse. However, you cannot be a Christian without knowing about Christ, or perhaps more accurately, knowing Christ himself.

Jesus is the only person that we have record of every being crucified, not because of something that he had done, but rather because of who he was. Before Jesus was crucified, Pilate asked Christ, "What is truth?" Little did he know, there it was--Incarnate Truth standing before him. In the prologue of his gospel, John describes Jesus filled with truth. "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth" (Jn 1:14).

Truth is perhaps a more rare and precious commodity than gold. We are so often confused and misguided and overcome by deception. But there is one thing in this life that is unmistakable fact: in Jesus, we find the truth about who we are and who God is. In Jesus, we see that God is love, that he first loved us, and that God so loved the world that he gave his Son.

Jesus is the one rock of certainty and security in our uncertain and insecure lives. That certainty becomes clear for the disciples after the resurrection, when we see the truth of Jesus’ words to Martha of Bethany validated: "I am the resurrection and the life." There is no life apart from Jesus, and in Jesus, we find life in all its fullness.

In this Easter season we especially commemorate and celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ is now alive--even more alive than you and I. And he is now reigning with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is active interceding for us at this very moment. He stands as our great high priest at the Altar in the sanctuary of heaven, always pleading the sacrifice of his own self on our behalf. The founder of every religion in the world is dead and buried, but only Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Because of that fact, by virtue of being joined to Jesus himself, we have forgiveness of sins and supernatural newness of life.

Jesus followed his little three point sermon with one of his boldest statements, "No one comes to the Father except through me." If anyone else had said it, we would dismiss them as a liar or lunatic. But we find comfort in his words because they are true. The Father is present in Jesus. The one who sees Jesus has seen the Father; the one who hears Jesus has heard the Father’s words; to know Jesus is to know the Father. To abide with Jesus, is to dwell in the Father’s house.

S. Peter says those who believe in him are stones built into a spiritual temple. Christ is the cornerstone, and his temple rests on a sure foundation. But for those who do not believe in him, Jesus is a stumbling stone. Perhaps that is a good thing. Maybe you’ve stumbled over Christ for the first time or in a new way today.

If you feel like you lack assurance and security in your life, you can find it in Jesus himself--the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is your safe hiding place. He is your secure resting place. If you feel lost, turn to Jesus and follow him. He is the Way. If you face uncertainty and fear in your life, look upon Jesus, and see; he is the Truth that God is love and that God loves you. If your life feels lifeless and empty, cling to Jesus, the source of Life in all its fullness.

Let us pray.
Everliving God, whose will it is that all should come to you through your Son Jesus Christ: Inspire our witness to him, that all may know the power of his forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

We have a pope!

Image hosted by
Josef Cardinal Ratzinger of Germany was elected by the College of Cardinals today to be the new Bishop of Rome. He has chosen the name Benedict XVI.

Ratzinger was a liberal theological advisor at the Second Vatican Council whose later experience as a bishop grounded him more in the Church's rich tradition, and moved him toward the center. He is a profound thinker who brings great gifts to the petrine ministry. He is a man of great faith who has also expressed concern for the reform and renewal of the liturgical life. It is interesting in light of my last post that he chose the olivetan name of a peacemaking predecessor, Pope Benedict XV.

As Pope Benedict XVI, his traditonal titles are: "His Holiness the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ, Successor to S. Peter, Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff (Pontifex Maximus), Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Primate of Italy, Patriarch of the West, Soverign of the Vatican City State, Pastor of Pastors (Pastor Pastorum), and Servant of the Servants of God (Servus Servorum Dei)." As a curious sidenote, there are other titles that have fallen out of use. According to Charles Noonan, one such title is "Rector of the World."

Here is an excerpt from one of his books, The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood:

"The local community realizes itself as the Church in the religious assembly, that is, above all in the celebration of the Eucharist. Consequently, Christian brotherhood demands concretely the brotherhood of the individual parish community. This brotherhood has its source and center in the celebration of the eucharistic mysteries. In fact, in the classical theology of the Church, the Eucharist has been seen not so much as the soul's meeting with Christ, but rather as the concorporatio cum Christo--as the Christians' becoming one in the one body of the Lord" (p. 68).

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Who is the Gloria Olivae?

Image hosted by
According to the prophecies of St. Malachy (Archbishop of Armagh, Ireland from 1132 to 1138), the next pope is described by the motto Gloria Olivae ("The Glory of the Olive"). Malachy's prophecies indicate some noticeable trait of all future popes from Celestine II (elected in 1130) until the end of the world.

The prevailing view today is that they are elaborate forgeries, probably perpretrated by a school of Jesuits in the 1600s. This suspicion is based on the relation of the mottos to the various popes until that period, and the need to find oblique references (such as the motto of the Pope's home diocese) to make a particular motto fit a particular pope. Still, the prophecies get minor attention at every conclave. Apparently, in 1958, before the conclave that would elect Pope John XXIII, Cardinal Spellman of New York hired a boat, filled it with sheep and sailed up and down the Tiber River, to show that he was Pastor et Nautor ("Shepherd and Mariner"), the motto attibuted to the next Pope in the Malachy's prophecies.

In 1139 Malachy went to Rome to give an account of the affairs of his diocese to the pope, Innocent II, who promised him two palliums for the metropolitan Sees of Armagh and Cashel. While at Rome, he received (according to the Abbé Cucherat) the strange vision of the future wherein was unfolded before his mind the long list of illustrious pontiffs who were to rule the Church until the end of time. The same author tells us that St. Malachy gave his manuscript to Pope Innocent II to console him in the midst of his tribulations, and that the document remained unknown in the Roman Archives until its discovery in 1590.

The Benedictines (Olivetans) traditionally held that Gloria Olivae would come from their order. The problem with that idea is there is currently only one Benedictine cardinal, the inelligible 93-year-old Augustine Cardinal Mayer. Another idea is that Malachy could be describing this pope as a great peacemaker.

How many popes does Malachy describe after Gloria Olivae? Only one. "In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church there will reign Peter the Roman, who will feed his flock amid many tribulations, after which the seven-hilled city will be destroyed and the dreadful Judge will judge the people. The End."

Another dark horse?

Image hosted by
This is the man who caught everyone by surprise back in 1978. Are we in store for another dark horse candidate? As they say in Rome, "He who goes into the conclave a papabili, comes out a cardinal."

For all generations

Image hosted by
This is one of my favorite pictures of John Paul II, embracing the youth of the Church.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Finding Peace

Image hosted by
I've been a fan of Dietrich von Hildebrand for a number of years now. Sophia Institute Press took excerpts from his book Transformation in Christ and published it as a charming little paperback called Making Christ's Peace a Part of Your Life. I share these two quotes:

"The true actual peace of the soul depends, finally, on that superactual, habitual, constant attention to God, that sustained conciousness of having our roots in God, which allows our interior world to be penetrated by a ray of his infinite peace. This coveys to us a foretaste of ultimate harmony and protects us against inward distaste and unrest" (p. 95).

"It is the Holy Spirit--'rest for the weary, refreshment for the pining, solace in the midst of woe'--who imparts to the soul an imperturbable poise and a serene calm, the character of recollectedness, the soaring lightness of a full inner freedom. He, whom the Church calls 'light of the heart, sweet guest of the soul,' fills us with that supernatural light which takes away the poison of enmity, dispels the gloom of depression, and dissolves the spasm of agitation" (pp. 102-3).

On the road to Emmaus

Image hosted by
Homily for Luke 24:13-35
by The Rev'd Timothy M. Matkin, SSC
Given at S. Alban’s, Arlington, TX, on 10 April 2005

It seems like a lot of interesting things happen on road trips . It was the same road that they had walked many times before. But this it would be different--much different. Josephus tells us it was a four or five mile road from Jerusalem back to Emmaus. Luke tells us that one of the pilgrims was Cleopas, tradition later names the other as his son Simeon.

Cleopas and his son were in Jerusalem for the festivals and now they were on the slow walk back to their home. There were believers in Jesus—they were, but perhaps not as sure now. It had seemed so promising when Jesus entered Jerusalem. They cheered with the crowds and hailed him as king. Jesus had walked with them for three years, and it seemed like the glorious part of the journey was just beginning, but it had all too quickly turned to tragedy, and now it was time for them to walk alone.

They believed Jesus was a prophet, and with many others, they hoped he might be the one to reestablish the kingdom of Israel, dominated for so long by the Roman Empire. Maybe he was the one to restore Israel to its greatness. But Jesus had been rejected by key leaders of the nation--shouted down, buried in false accusations, arrested, mistreated, and finally brutally executed on a cross outside the city walls. Earlier in day a few of the women said they found his tomb empty. They said they saw angels who told them Jesus was alive. Perhaps something miraculous has happened. Perhaps someone stole his body--one more insult for his dejected followers.

On the way to Emmaus, they experienced sadness, disappointment and hopelessness. The two disciples still grieved the loss of their friend and leader, Jesus. Even with the women’s testimony, it was hard to be hopeful after the agony and shame of the cross. Perhaps now it was simply time to get back to life as usual. So two disheartened disciples headed down the old road to Emmaus. The road never seemed so long.

Yet, they didn’t stay in Emmaus; they went back to Jerusalem. The two pilgrims felt it was urgent. There was no time to waste. They were determined to tell others what they had experienced. Going back to Jerusalem, they were filled with joy and hope. The road never seemed so short.

What happened on the road to Emmaus? Clearly, whatever it was, it had changed their lives forever. As they were walking toward Emmaus, an apparent stranger comes along side and joins them. As the three walk together, they are talking about the events in Jerusalem. The stranger seems unaware of recent goings on. Very odd for another pilgrim coming from the city.

An interesting thing Luke tells us is that "they were kept from recognizing him." Perhaps they were too dejected to be open to Jesus being alive, perhaps they were spiritually blinded to the new reality of the resurrected Lord. They had been unprepared to witness his death, they were certainly unprepared to witness his resurrection. We too are often blinded by our expectations.

Cleopas asks , "Are you the only pilgrim in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have been going on?" The stranger begs the question, "What things?" Cleopas tells him all about what has happened to Jesus. The stranger can tell there are walking home dejected. The stranger gently chides them. He says, "No you’ve got it all wrong. Nothing has been lost here, everything has been gained. It was part of God’s will all along that the Christ should suffer and die, and then after his Sabbath rest, be raised from the dead."

Luke tells us he conducted an informal bible study as they walked and talked. "Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them all the things about himself in the scriptures" (Lk 24:27). As they got to Emmaus, the stranger started to continue on. They said, "No, please don’t go. Stay with us. Evening is at hand. The day is past. Please stay with us. Maybe we can talk some more."

So the stranger went into their home to stay the night. He ate dinner with them--and Luke uses the same language we find at two other miracles: multiplying the loves and fishes, and the Last Supper. When the stranger was at table with them, he took bread, and blessed and broke it, and gave it to his disciples.

The written Word had prepared their hearts to see the Word made flesh. Their hope had returned and their spiritual blindness was gone. Perhaps it was when the stranger reached out to give them bread, that for the first time they noticed the wounds in his hands--the stranger was Jesus--and when they looked up, he was gone. The two pilgrims turned to each other and said, "It was the Lord! Did you feel it too? Didn’t your heart burn within you as did mine when he was speaking to us along the road?"

I find it interesting how the Sacred Heart of Jesus--the symbol of his love--is always depicted as burning with fire and crowned with thorns. Jesus gave these two disheartened people "burning hearts." Burning hearts are hearts ablaze with the good news of the gospel. They energize people to witness to the hope of Jesus’ resurrection. Burning hearts pump new life into people--life to share with others.

The Word of God had burned away the dejection and sadness in the disciples’ hearts, leaving them enflamed with hopefulness and joy. Their grief and confusion into exploded into excitement to share their experience with the other disciples in Jerusalem. In Jeremiah 20:9, the prophet, speaking about the Word that the Lord has given him to proclaim, says, "There is in my heart, as it were, a burning fire shut up in my bones. I am weary from holding it in, and I cannot any longer."

Have you had that moment in your life before? When you have had a close encounter with a stranger along the way--the stranger is Christ himself, who opens your mind to understand the written Word of God and to behold the incarnate Word--has the good news, the gospel, burned within your heart like it did for these two disciples? Has it burned so intensely, you say with Jeremiah, "I am weary from holding it in, and I cannot any longer"? The knowledge gained along the road ignites into hope at the supper.

Perhaps more clearly than with any other gospel narrative, we can see that this is a story about us. We are the disciples, walking along the road through life, our hearts dampened by fear and doubt and grief. Jesus walks along with us, unrecognized at the time. In the beginning, he is a stranger. But he is there to guide, to give understanding, and to reveal God’s will. He inflames our hearts with the love of God, a love that cannot help but be shared with others.

At the meal, the two disciples discovered that Jesus really is alive; death has no power over the Lord of life. They discovered that the Lord Jesus was still there to walk with them, only now he would not be leading from without, Jesus would lead them from within. Without hesitation, the two ran back to Jerusalem to tell the others that they too had experienced the risen Christ. When the opportunity arises, never hesitate to share the good news. Share with others how you have experienced him for yourself. Tell them how the love of God burns in your heart.

Tell them how you were once sad and lonely along the road, but Jesus transformed your life and turned you around. And invite them to some experience Jesus here for themselves. Invite them to come hear the Word read and preached. Invite them to know Jesus as he is revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread.

May that kind of love and excitement burn within our parish family. May we race back to Jerusalem like those disciples and share the good news. May we be a people ignited by the hope that comes from the presence of Christ among us.

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus, stay with us; when evening is at hand and the day is past, be our companion in the way. Kindle our hearts and awaken hope, that we may know thee as thou art revealed in Scripture and the breaking of Bread. Grant this for the sake of thy love. Amen

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Grass is greener

I have a theological dilemma taking shape in my front yard. I am keenly aware that S. Paul says we should not boast about ourselves or anything that belongs to us. But I also know that S. Paul has never seen my lawn . . . except, perhaps . . . from above.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

A Papacy Remembered

After many years of faithful ministry, Pope John Paul II has crossed "the threshold of hope." May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

He will leave behind many words and deeds worth remembering. I often use the following quote from his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope:

"At the end of the second millenium, we need, perhaps more than ever, the words of the Risen Christ: 'Be not afraid!' . . . [Our] conscience needs to grow in the certainty that Someone exists who holds in His hands the destiny of this passing world; Someone who holds the keys to death and the netherworld; Someone who is the Alpha and the Omega of human history—be it the individual or collective history. And this Someone is Love—Love that became man, Love crucified and risen, Love unceasingly present among men. It is Eucharistic Love. It is the infinite source of communion. He alone can give the ultimate assurance when He says ‘Be not afraid!’"

Please join us on Sunday, April 10th at 9:15 am, when I will present a special Adult Forum in the Parish Hall at S. Alban's on the Papacy. We will look at the history of that institution and the legacy of this particular pope. We'll also examine the hot and cold history between the papacy and the Ecclesia Anglicana.

"O God, our heavenly Father, who didst raise up thy faithful servant Karol Wojtyla to be a bishop and pastor in thy Church and to feed thy flock: Give abundantly to all pastors the gifts of thy Holy Spirit, that they may minister in thy household as true servants of Christ and stewards of thy divine mysteries; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen." [Book of Common Prayer, p. 197]

Sermon for Low Sunday

Homily on Doubt and Faith
by The Rev'd Timothy M. Matkin, SSC
Given at S. Alban's Church, Arlington, TX on 3 April 2005

Something extraordinary has happened. Of all people on earth, we as Anglicans, as Catholics, as Christians, as people of faith, should appreciate the vital significance of Jesus of Nazareth. We know that his life, and death, and resurrection has a crucial meaning for us here and now.

In our Lenten journey, the theme of refreshing waters came up time and again. The goal of our pilgrimage was to walk with Jesus through the dry wilderness of our hearts; to look at the barrenness in our lives and turn to Jesus, the wellspring of eternal life and grace and goodness—to thirst for that living water that is Christ himself. In Holy Week we watched and waited with our Lord in his final days of life. And in the end he chose the Father’s will—to go where we could not follow. It looked very bleak for the disciples that Friday, but the tough times didn’t last.

In the Act of the Apostles we read that S. Peter, standing with the other apostles, proclaims the resurrection of Jesus Christ in a magnificent sermon to the Jewish people (Acts 2:22-32). He goes further than that. Listen to what Peter says: "God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it." What an amazing thought—that it was possible for Jesus to die, but not possible for him to stay dead.

S. Paul adds in that Easter hymn of the early church we call the Pascha Nostrum: "Christ being raised from the dead can never die again; death has no more power over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once; but in that he lives, he lives unto God" (Rom 6:9-10). It was impossible that the Author of Life could fail to triumph over death. Death was the gloom that hung over man’s head since the beginning, when it was said of the forbidden fruit: "The day you eat of if, you shall die" (Gen 2:17).

We often hear it said that Jesus died to save us, but that sentiment can only be true if he also rose from the dead to save us. The mystery of the Incarnation is that in the union of God and man in Christ Jesus a marvelous and miraculous exchange has taken place. He died in sharing in our human life and rose that we might share in his divine life. Christ takes away our sting of death and replaces it with the joy of eternal life.

There are many events of history that are interesting to study, but many have little relevance on our lives. For example, did Alexander the Great, after the last of his military campaigns actaully stop and weep because there were no more worlds to conquer? We don’t know for sure, but it really doesn’t matter. Did George Washington actually chop down that famous cherry tree? We don’t really know, but it really doesn’t matter. But did Jesus Christ, body and soul, rise from the dead and walk out of his own grave? With confidence, let us say yes, we do know and it does matter.

S. Paul stresses this point greatly in his epistle to the Corinthians. Some of them were saying there is no resurrection of the dead. Paul points out, "If Christ is not raised, your faith is futile; and are you are still trapped in your sins. And we are found to be lying about God, because we testified that he did raise Christ . . . Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ are perished." Think of it; it staggers the mind. All of our loved ones are perished, lost, gone forever, if Jesus Christ is not risen from the dead.

"If in this life only we have hope in Christ," Paul adds, "we are of all men most to be pitied. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of those who sleep in death" (1 Cor 15:12-20). The apostle points out that Jesus’ resurrection is the promise and preview of our own.

Our guilt from sin, our loved ones, and our own lives in this world and the next all hinge on the resurrection of our Lord. But we can rest assured; our faith is not in not in vain. It stands on a sure foundation. We are no longer trapped in our sins, without hope. Those who have fallen asleep in Christ have not perished. The power of the resurrection is the power of ultimate transformation.

It is the power that transforms death into life. It transforms sin into holiness and moral purity. It transforms doubt into belief and belief into faith and faith into hope. And hope does not disappoint because of the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5).

There are some very interesting details in our Gospel reading. Did you notice them? We are told that last Sunday evening, disciples were in hiding in a secret place with all the doors locked shut—perhaps in the Upper Room where they had shared the Last Supper. Is your life running into closed doors? Does every turn seem to be an obstacle that looks impossible to overcome? Has you’re door to hope been closed by disappointment? No disappointment could match that of the disciples who fled from Jesus at the crucifixion. Their hopes had been dashed to pieces.

The disciples were hiding in fear behind closed doors. And yet, all of the sudden, Jesus stands in the midst of them. They feared it might be a ghost, but he shows them his wounds and greets them saying, "Peace be with you." He was a real solid human being, but not the same as before. After the resurrection, those old bodily limitations no longer seem to apply. Closed doors where the disciples were gathered are now open pathways. He shows his anguished followers a man that has also suffered. But now his wounds are marks of identity, not of pain.

The exchange of peace is a very personal kind of sharing. And in sharing his peace, Jesus beacons the disciples to share in his work. "As the Father has sent me," he says, "so now I send you." Their mission will be accomplished through this power of the resurrection. He breathes on them to symbolize a giving of his own essence, the breath of life that conquered death, and says "Receive the Holy Spirit," and gives them authority to forgive sins.

Notice that it is only after the resurrection that this power of absolving sins is given. Since sacramental absolution is a sacrament of renewed life, it is accomplished through God’s transforming resurrection power. Therefore, after rising from the dead, Jesus gave to the ministers of the Church authority to act in his name in healing sinful souls to share with them his new life.

One disciple, Thomas, was not there when these events occurred. The others came to him to share the news that the Lord is risen. But he only had their testimony to rely upon, and he feared this news might only be the result of wishful thinking. Thomas was in the position that we often find ourselves in, at least at some point in our life.

In one sense, we could say that Thomas was somewhat open-minded about the story. After all, he did seem to say that he wants to believe them, and would, if he could only have been there to see it for himself. Yet, we could also say that Thomas was a bit too skeptical and non-committal. Unless he could see it for himself, and touch those wounds with his own hands, he would not believe it, whatever they told him. We see in Thomas, not so much a lack of belief as a lack of willingness to trust. And this is where so many souls hang in the balance. Many are lost in the chasm between doubt and faith.

A real key to faith is that element of trustworthiness. Coming to faith involves the assumption of truthfulness based upon the integrity of the source of information. Thomas’ hopes had been dashed—it was hard even to find his closest friends trustworthy at this moment in his life. Now there is a certain amount of skepticism that is healthy. Without it, we would have no curiosity. It is our drive to understand and prove things that leads us to discovery and new knowledge. But skepticism can also keep hope and faith at arm’s length, as it did for Thomas.

The eighth day after Easter Sunday—today—the disciples are again gathered in the house with the doors shut. This time Thomas is with them. But he is still trapped in that gulf between doubt and trust. If you are trapped between doubt and trust, pray that another witness may come to offer you testimony. That’s what happened to Thomas. This time the Lord himself came to offer testimony of his own resurrection. Jesus appears again, saying, "Peace be with you." Immediately Jesus goes to Thomas, who must have been overwhelmed. He asks Thomas to touch his wounds for himself, and have faith in God.

It is the power of Jesus’ resurrection that transforms Thomas. It transforms his doubt to faith, and Thomas responds in words brimming over with confidence and love, "My Lord, and my God." Jesus tells him, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe." We ought to note here that Jesus does not say that Thomas is cursed for having seen it for himself. But Jesus does say the blessings are wondrous for those who trust in the Lord.

How often we think to ourselves, If I had been there I could really know. Or, If I could look ahead and see heaven, I could really know. And we miss the blessings of God that are available to us right now in knowing the Lord by faith. Faith is what brings hope through the closed doors of doubt. We can never know this joy until we begin to love Jesus Christ. Divine comfort can elude us until we start to love Jesus Christ. A certain hope begins when we decide to love Jesus Christ.

What is the great blessing for those who cannot see, and yet believe? S. Peter wrote in today’s epistle, "Without having seen him you love him, though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls" (1 Pet 1:8-9).

In the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

The unanswered question

I was greatly saddened by the death of Terri Schiavo last week and the suffering and grief of [part of] her family in the matter. In the whole story, there is a big unanswered question I just can't figure out: How is this legal?

Many of the commentary about the case centered on the issue of "What are Terri's wishes?" Suppose for a moment that she had expressly stated in a living will prior to her condition that she wished to be starved and dehidrated to death exactly as has happened. Why whould that make it possible, from a legal standpoint? Suicide is not legal. Homicide requested by the victim is not legal. "She was asking for it" has never been a legal defense I am aware of.

If any of you are in the know about this legal issue, please leave a post addressing the unanswered question.

Easter Bunnies

There are Easter Bunnies at the Matkin House!

The two curious and playful bonded rabbits pictured above are named Ruby (left) and Tobi (right). They enjoy carrots, lettuce, and apples, and absolutely obsess over alfalfa. We're lucky they're around the house all year long because they really are a joy.