03 April 2024

Lame in one leg during the middle of the week

Octave of Easter (W)

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

A healthy-looking beggar approaches Brian and his mom in the market, asking for a talent. His says in a sing-song voice, “Alms for an ex-leper.” Brian responds, “Did you say an ex-leper?” The beggar then tells him that this guy named Jesus cured him. Just touched his head w/o even a “by your leave” and cured him, ruining his livelihood as a beggar. Brian says that maybe he should find Jesus and ask to be made a leper again. The ex-leper says no to that but wonders if perhaps he should ask Jesus to make him lame in one leg during the middle of the week. Something beggable but not leprosy! I don't know for a fact that this scene from Monty Python's The Life of Brian is based on our story from Acts this morning, but it certainly brings it to mind. It also raises an interesting question: do we really want to be cured? I mean, sure, we probably would want to be cured of leprosy or cancer or some other deadly disease, but do we want to be free from sin? Do we want to be freed from our slavery to disobedience? There's something comfortable and securely familiar in our sins. Something predictable, something routine. And having that comfortable routine disrupted by a cure can be scary.

The disciples left behind in Jerusalem must be feeling some discomfort. Jesus is dead. And – for all they know – his body has been stolen. The Romans and the Jewish authorities may be searching for his followers to give them the Good Friday Treatment. Rather than falling back on their Master's teachings and bringing to mind his promises of being with them always, they begin to scatter in fear. Cleopas and another disciple are on their way to Emmaus. Despondent, verging on despair, they ponder on the traumatic events of the past few days. What if Jesus hadn't found them? What if he wasn't there to call them foolish and slow of heart? What if he didn't break open the Word and share bread with them? What if, instead, they continued on their way to Emmaus, found lodging, and kept on discussing what went wrong in Jerusalem? IOW, what if, in their despair, they forgot everything Jesus taught them, everything he prophesied, everything he did to heal, clean, and enlighten those who approached him? They might have ended up wondering if it would've been better to have never met the Christ. Meeting him and following him has brought them nothing but trouble.

But that's what meeting him and following him does. It brings trouble. It brings discomfort and disrupts predictable, comfortable routines. Especially those comfortable routines that keep us chained up in sin and death. Confessors here can tell you that there's nothing more predictable and boring than sin. And an eternal death is not the sort of excitement we want! So, do you want to be freed from your sins? Do you long for an adventure in growing in holiness? If you feel a chasm of nothingness opening under you, a life w/o purpose or direction, a life wasted in pointless petty acts of boring disobedience, then receive the cure Christ is offering you and be free. You wouldn't mourn the loss of a cancerous tumor, so why grieve over a victory against your rebellious heart and mind? Why go back to being a leper when you can be clean?

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31 March 2024

We are the free children of the Most High!

Easter Sunday 2024

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

You know what has happened all across Judea. All across Texas and the United States and the North American continent. You know what has happened all across Europe, Asia, Africa, Central and South America. All across the world's oceans. All across our tiny solar system; our galaxy, and all the galaxies created by the Word from the beginning. The Son of God, who became the Son of Man by the BVM, was crucified in Judea, buried in a borrowed tomb, descended into hell to preach his Good News, and then – as he promised – rose from that tomb, leaving it empty for his anxious disciples to discover so that they might believe. We know what happened in Judea. But do we know what it all means? Do we know and understand the effect of this astonishing historical event? The wound of Adam's disobedience in the Garden has been healed by the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. We are no longer slaves to sin and death. We are no longer the children of darkness. When he rose from death in the tomb, he took us – all of us – with him. We are now the free children of the Most High, sons and daughters, heirs to His kingdom, and missionary-witnesses of the Good News.

Imagine the terrible grief of the disciples. Their teacher and friend is brutally tortured – publicly – and then executed on a Roman cross. Left to die a lingering death, suffocating in his own blood, he cries out in despair. A lance ends his life. A wannabe disciple pulls some strings to get possession of his body and buries him a rocky tomb. Everything he taught them is dead. Everything he wanted to accomplish is dead. The preaching, the teaching, all the healings and exorcisms, all the arguing with the scribes and Pharisees – all dead. The whole of his ministry is ended on that cross. His disciples are in hiding. Scared out of their minds that they will be rounded up, tortured, and executed like he was. Mary of Magdala, risking everything, goes to the tomb and finds it empty. One more cruel wound. The Romans or the Jewish priests or both have violated his tomb, removed his body, and hidden it. Or destroyed it. Leaving his followers with nothing of him but their memories. Do they know what has happened? Not yet. When John and Peter see the burial cloths, they know. He has risen from death just as Scripture said he would. Just as he himself said he would. Imagine their terrible joy at discovering that their teacher and friend still lived.

That terrible joy may be difficult for us – 2,000 years later – for us to feel with any urgency. We're used to the idea that Christ died and rose from his tomb. We've lived with this truth our whole lives. We know that over the centuries many have tried to explain the resurrection in psychological terms, or dismiss it through scientific investigation, or diminish its cultural importance by tying it to ancient pagan fertility myths. Some have tried to absorb our central mystery into political revolutions or religious novelties. Some have even tried to disrupt our terrible joy by co-opting Easter Sunday into their trendy secular campaigns. Just this last Friday – Good Friday – the WH officially declared today – Easter Sunday – “Transgender Visibility Day.” This bit of political theater tells us just how important, how fundamental today is to our faith. The world is desperate to distract its denizens from the glory of our freedom in the Risen Christ! Next year it might be a cry for Christian Nationalism, or another gesture toward the failed Sexual Revolution. What we – as missionary-witnesses – must bring into crystal-clear focus is our freedom to be bearers of the Word and living tabernacles of the living God. Let the world play its political games. We have real work to do.

You know what has happened. You and I are now the free children of the Most High, sons and daughters, heirs to His kingdom, and missionary-witnesses of the Good News. When Christ rose from his tomb – very much alive and well – he gathered us up with him and took us – from all eternity – into the presence of the Father, our true and only home. There we are citizens of heaven. Here – while we still live – we serve as ambassadors, as legates charged with being in word and deed Christs among those who do not yet know Christ. Our first duty as ambassadors is to ensure that everyone we meet sees in us and hears from us the freely offered mercy of the Father to sinners. From us must freely flow the power of forgiveness through charity. Never condemning the sinner but always naming the sin. From us must freely flow the power of hope in faith. Never succumbing to despair, never mistrusting God's promises, and never failing to reach for and grasp our divine end. And from us must freely flow the power of a humble witness, a truly child-like belief in the Father's enduring love of His children, a love anyone at anytime may receive and turn their lives around to enjoy the hard-won freedom of the empty tomb.

We know what has happened today. Our chains have been struck. We owe nothing to this world but the Gospel of Christ Jesus! So, remember who are – the free children of the Most High, sons and daughters, heirs to His kingdom, and missionary-witnesses of the Good News.

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