Sixth Sunday of Easter

If I were to ask you what a sacrament is, those of you who were educated with the Baltimore Catechism could probably rattle off, “A sacrament is an outward sign, instituted by Christ, to give grace.” The sacraments were instituted by Christ. We didn’t make them up ourselves; they are as old as the Church itself. When we read the New Testament, we can see proof of that fact. We hear in the first reading that Peter and John went to the fledgling Christian community in Samaria. We are told that the Holy Spirit “had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” So Peter and John “laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” That is, they gave them the Sacrament of Confirmation.

I think a lot of Catholics don’t properly understand the Sacrament of Confirmation. Many people believe that because most of us were baptized as infants, Confirmation is about us choosing to be Catholic. Except I would hope that we chose to be Catholic when we made our First Confession and First Communion. I would hope that we choose to be Catholic every day. Choosing to follow Christ isn’t a one-time thing but a choice we make every minute of every day. In addition, if Confirmation was about choosing to be Catholic, then there wouldn’t be any reason to confirm people who are baptized as adults. For example, why did Peter and John confirm the people in the first reading if Confirmation is just about choosing to be Christians?

I think part of the problem is the name of the sacrament. We hear “Confirmation” and we think, “This is me confirming my faith in Jesus.” But the sacraments aren’t my work; they’re God’s work. This isn’t about me confirming my faith in God, but God confirming me. If you look up the word “confirm” in the dictionary, one of the definitions is, “to make firm or firmer: to strengthen.” That is what the Sacrament of Confirmation is about, God strengthening us, making us firmer in the faith.

And it is God strengthening us for a purpose. Think of Pentecost. After Christ ascended into heaven, the Apostles were afraid. They locked themselves in a room. Then, at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon them, and gave them the courage to go preach. That is what Confirmation is about. In Confirmation, God gives us the strength to be His witnesses. Listen to what St. Peter says in our second reading: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.” That’s our call, at all times to be able and willing to give testimony to Christ. But that is difficult. Often, when faced with an opportunity to give witness to Christ, we are like the Apostles after the Ascension. We are afraid and nervous; we shrink back in fear. Rather than being bold in preaching the Good News, we hide it away, like the disciples locked in the upper room. If we are going to always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks us for a reason for our hope, we need help. We need God’s grace to strengthen us so that we can overcome our insecurity and fear.

And God gives us that grace in Confirmation. God not only gives us grace, but He gives us Himself; He gives us the Holy Spirit. As Christ says in the Gospel today, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth.” That Advocate is the Holy Spirit. He is with us always to fill us with the truth as well as with the courage to bear witness to the truth. That is what God gives us at Confirmation. He strengthens us so that we can be His witnesses.

So if that’s the case, that God has given us the strength to be His witnesses, why are we still afraid at times to do it? Why do we still shrink back in fear and hesitation? Because God’s grace isn’t going to overpower us. God always respects our free will. So while He has given us the strength we need to be bold witnesses to Him, we have to use that grace. When my parents got married, someone gave them a silver tea set. It is an intrinsically very nice and valuable gift. But it has sat in a box in their basement for 40 years, never used. Too often, God’s grace is like that silver tea set. It is something valuable, but we put it on a shelf rather than use it. Likewise, for many of us, the grace of our Confirmation has been sitting on a shelf. If maybe that’s the case for you, I encourage you, ask God to help you use the grace that He has given you. Ask the Holy Spirit to fan into flame the grace of your Confirmation, so that you may be bold witnesses to Christ.

Now, I should add one caveat. Often, when we think of being bold in proclaiming Christ, we can think that means what I call bull-in-a-china-shop evangelizations. I’ve met plenty of people who are very fervent and genuine in their faith and their desire to share the faith, but the way they do it is more likely to push people away rather than draw them in. Listen again to St. Peter in our second reading, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.” Confirmation not only gives us the grace to be bold in our witness to Christ, but to also do so with gentleness and reverence. We should be bold in love, courageous in gentleness. That is what it means to truly be witnesses to Christ.

As we approach the celebration of Pentecost in two weeks, let us ask God to strengthen us in the grace of our Confirmation. Let us ask the Spirit of truth to renew His gifts in us, so that we may always be ready to proclaim the Good News of our hope in Christ.

Fifth Sunday of Easter

It is amazing to think how much has changed since the time of the Apostles. The world is a very different place. And yet, in spite of so much change, some things are also very much the same. In our first reading, we see the Christian community at its beginnings. We have the Apostles surrounded by a group of the faithful in Jerusalem. You could call it the first parish. And despite how different the times were, in many ways, it looks like our parish. It was a growing parish, just like we are. In addition to teaching the Gospel, this first parish is engaged in charitable works. We do the same thing. And, as we see highlighted in our first reading, sometimes those first Christians didn’t get along. There were cliques, and this led to jealousy and accusations of favoritism. Some people felt that the Apostles weren’t doing their job right leading this first parish and started complaining.

And, just like in that first parish, sometimes things today in the Church and in our parish don’t run as smoothly as they should. Now, I know that with a homily like this there can be a tendency to try to figure out who Father is talking about, as if the whole homily is a veiled reference to a particular person or event. So let me say at the outset that it isn’t. This isn’t about any particular event happening here at St. Patrick, but just the normal reality that sometimes, in parishes, things happen that make people upset. It happens for a lot of reasons. Sometimes problems arise just because people have different personalities and different ways of doing things, and those don’t always mesh.  In addition, we are all sinners. We say as much at the start of every Mass. We make mistakes, we do things wrong, and sometimes we do not behave the way we should as followers of Christ. We see some of that in the first reading. In that first parish, there was favoritism going on. When people in the Church don’t act as followers of Christ should, this can naturally cause frustration and anger.

The question is, what do we do when these disagreements and frustrations in the Church arise? The temptation is to just walk away. Someone in the Church does something that hurts us or makes us angry, so we just give up on the Church. We may know people who did that. I have heard plenty of stories of people who left the Church because someone somewhere did something that upset them. Sometimes they have very legitimate grievances, but walking away isn’t the solution. The Church is a hospital for sinners. That is good news, because it means that there is a place for me here, even though I am a sinner. But it is also a challenge, because it means sometimes these other people in the Church, even people in positions of authority, are going to sin. If I want a Church where everyone is perfect, where nobody sins or does anything that hurts me, then I’m in trouble, because that Church doesn’t exist. If I am going to be part of the Church, then I have to accept that I am part of a body of sinners, and sinners sin.

The Hellenists in the first reading give us the example of what to do when there is a problem in the Church. They have a legitimate complaint, so they bring that complaint to the Apostles, and they work to fix the problem. They didn’t leave. They didn’t just sit there and grumble to themselves. They didn’t go around gossiping about how the Apostles were playing favorites. They worked to solve the problem. And the same thing is necessary when we encounter problems in the Church. When something happens that causes us to think, “This is wrong. This is not the way that the Body of Christ is supposed to act,” then our call as members of that Body is to work at fixing the problem. And we don’t fix the Body of Christ by amputation.

Of course, fixing the problem often means that I need to be willing to talk to the person responsible. So many hurts grow and fester because people refuse to sit down and talk about it. That is true in life in general and in the parish. I’ve had times as a priest where something I said hurt someone, but I don’t find out about it until months later from a friend of a friend. Like the people in the first parish, when someone does something wrong in the Church, whether someone in charge or a fellow parishioner, we need to willing to talk about it charitably and humbly.

Sometimes, it is the other person who needs growth and conversion, but sometimes it is me. The problem is not always what the other person did, but my own wounded ego or desire to be the one in charge. When we speak of addressing the problems in the Church, we are not just talking about fixing something out there, but also about my own continual conversion of heart. As St. Peter says in our second reading, we are all living stones being built into the spiritual house of the Church. But in order for all those stones to fit together properly, they have to be shaped. Rough parts have to be smoothed out, jagged edges have to be chipped away. If I want to help fix the problems that arise in the Church, then I need to start by letting God continue to chip away at my rough edges so that I can more effectively be a spiritual stone in this great building.

And sometimes, problems arise in the Church not because someone did something wrong, not because I still need ongoing conversion, but just because people are different. Personalities clash. People have different opinions about the best way to do things. And it isn’t a case that one of them is necessarily right or wrong; they are just different. But if we aren’t careful, those differences can lead to conflicts. All-out-wars have started in parishes because one person wanted red flowers and someone else wanted white flowers. Our Lord says in the Gospel today that in His Father’s house, there are many dwelling places. There is room enough for all of us in the Church. But that means that we are going to have to accept the differences that people bring. This can be tough because we are passionate about serving God; we are passionate about advancing the mission of the Church. That passion is a good thing. We should be passionate about spreading the Gospel and building up the Kingdom of God. But whenever you get a lot of passionate people in the same place, there’s bound to be disagreements. I am passionate about advancing the mission of the Church, and I think that my ideas for how to do so are the best. But other people feel the same way about their ideas. And so we have to be willing to compromise and to accept in humility that things won’t always go the way I think they should.

From the very earliest days of the Church until today, disagreements, arguments, and problems have arisen in the Church. They happen for a variety of reasons. They can be a source of hurt and division. Or they can be a source of growth and strength. The disagreement that we heard about in the first reading became a source of growth in the Church, leading to the creation of the first deacons. Every deacon in the history of the Church and all of their ministry was made possible because when something went wrong in that first parish, those who were hurt by it were willing to work to find a solution. If the Hellenists had just walked away in their hurt, there would never have been reconciliation, there would never have been growth, and there would be no deacons. But they didn’t leave. In the midst of their grievance, they remembered that they were all working towards the same goal, and so they were able to find a solution. And the Church grew as a result. When we encounter problems in the Church, it is important to remember that we too are all on the same team. We are all sinful members of the Body of Christ, trying to serve the Lord but not always doing it perfectly. When we encounter problems and disagreements in the Church, may we always allow God to use it as a means of growth and not division.

Fourth Sunday of Easter

I want you to take a moment now to think back on the people in your life that have helped to teach you the faith, to teach you about Christ. For many of us, our parents were our first teachers in the faith. Maybe your grandparents or an aunt or uncle helped hand on the faith to you. Perhaps there are teachers, priests, or religious sisters and brothers who helped teach you and form you in faith. There may be friends who have played a part in your journey to Christ. If you are married, I hope that your spouse has in some way helped you grow closer to God. Who are those people in your life who have helped you to know and follow Christ?

The point is, none of us came to the faith on our own. In all of our lives, there are people who have introduced us to and encouraged us in the faith. We didn’t do this on our own. The only reason I have the gift of faith is because other people introduced me to the faith, and still others helped nurture and strengthen my faith along the way. We see something similar in our first reading today as St. Peter preaches to the crowds. He teaches them about Christ, and we are told that they were “cut to the heart.” They are moved, they want to follow Christ, but they don’t know how, so they ask St. Peter. And he tells them to repent and be baptized. And three thousand people were baptized.

Here’s the important thing to notice about this reading though: God didn’t bring these people to the faith by Himself. He didn’t appear to them in a vision. Jesus didn’t personally call them. God’s grace reached these people through St. Peter. Without St. Peter, it is possible that these people would never have received the faith. The same is true in our lives as well. God did not appear to us and give us the faith. We weren’t called by Jesus personally. Rather, those people that I mentioned at the start of the homily, they are the reason we have the faith. They are the ones who led us here, just as St. Peter led that crowd to faith in Christ.

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, but if you pay attention in the Gospel today, Christ doesn’t say He is the Good Shepherd. He’ll say that elsewhere in the Gospels, but in today’s reading, He says, “I am the gate for the sheep.” He is the thing that the shepherds are leading their sheep to. So if Christ is not the shepherd than who is? We are. All of us are called to be shepherds. We are all called to help lead others to Christ, just as people helped lead us to Christ, and just as St. Peter led that crowd to Christ. We may not be the cause of three thousand people being baptized like St. Peter was, but all of us can help lead others to Christ. It starts in our own families. If you are married, you are called to help be a shepherd for your spouse, your children and grandchildren. I’ve also seen many cases where children serve as shepherds for their parents, helping to bring their parents to a closer relationship with Christ. We can be shepherds for our friends, helping them to know and grow in relationship with Christ.

Unfortunately, as Christ talks about in today’s Gospel, in addition to shepherds, there are also thieves and robbers. There are those who lead people away from Christ rather than to Him. Sometimes we are the thieves and robbers, leading people away from Christ. Now, I am guessing that none of us do that directly. We aren’t out there telling people to abandon their faith. But we can lead people away from Christ in other ways. If we encourage people in sin, whether by our words or our actions, we are leading them away from Christ. We can also lead people away by bad example. When people know that we are Catholic, but then our words and actions don’t reflect the love of Christ, it can lead them away. They will be tempted to think, “What’s so special about being Catholic? This person is Catholic, but they don’t behave any differently than I do. Those Catholics are really all just a bunch of hypocrites.” I know for myself there are unfortunately times where my bad example has led people away from Christ rather than towards Him. It is important for all of us to examine our lives to see if there are situations where we are acting more as a thief and a robber, drawing people away from Christ and making it harder for them to follow Him, rather than as a shepherd leading them to Christ.

All of us are called to be shepherds, helping others to know and follow Christ, but there are those people who are called to do so in a special way. In addition to being Good Shepherd Sunday, today is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. There are those people whom God has called to be shepherds by serving as priests or as consecrated religious. Today in a particular way the Church asks us to pray for them, as well as to pray for those people whom God is calling to the priesthood or religious life. Here’s the thing: it isn’t enough just to pray for vocations. We don’t just materialize out of thin air. I didn’t just drop out of the sky. I am a human being. I grew up in a family in a parish here in St. Charles County. I was able to hear and answer God’s call because people helped me to do that. I think sometimes, when people pray for vocations, what they really think is, “God, please send more priests, but not my son, not my grandson. God, please send more religious sisters, but not my daughter, not my granddaughter.” That doesn’t cut it folks. There won’t be more priests and more religious unless we actively encourage young people, especially those in our own families, to be open to the possibility that God is calling them.

And we need more priests and religious. Looking at the current statistics, in just ten years there will be fifty fewer priests in the Archdiocese of St. Louis than there are now because there aren’t enough priests being ordained to replace those who are retiring and dying. And this isn’t because the Archdiocese is turning guys away, there simply aren’t enough people entering the seminary. The number of religious sisters continues to decline, again because there aren’t enough young women joining religious life to replace those who are dying. We need to pray for vocations, absolutely. But we also have to actively work to help young men and women be open to God’s call. We have to be shepherds for them, so that they can become shepherds for the Church.

While priests and religious serve as shepherds in a special way, it is important to remember that all of us are called to be shepherds, leading people to Christ. We can’t just push that responsibility off onto the clergy. Christ says in the Gospel that He “came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” All of us are called to do our part to help others know that abundant life that He offers to each of us.

Easter Sunday

On Good Friday, Jesus looked like a failure. He hung there, dead on a cross; His disciples had abandoned Him in fear. Where are all the miracles now? Of what use were all the beautiful words He had spoken to the crowds? As he was buried in the tomb, Jesus appeared to be just one more nice guy who finished last, one more naïve dreamer who found Himself chewed up and spit out by the harsh realities of the world.

And then something incredible happened. He rose. The tomb is empty. Death has been conquered, life is victorious. Jesus, who had once appeared broken and defeated, is now triumphant. From the beginning of the world, the one constant was death. All things were under the power of death. Now, that power has been defeated. The powers of death and darkness and sin are defeated by life and light and grace. That is what we celebrate today. It is the very foundation of our faith, that Christ has truly risen from the dead, and death and sin are defeated.

And yet, notice how the Gospel for this morning ends. Peter and John, two of the Apostles are standing at the empty tomb, and it says “they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” Not exactly how we expect the reading for Easter Sunday to end. Here they are at the empty tomb, seeing it with their own eyes, and yet they do not understand. They see that the body of Christ is no longer there, but they do not yet understand what that means. They do not understand that they are witnesses to the greatest truth in history. They do not understand that all of reality has changed, that the chains of sin and death have been destroyed. They still believe that death is the final word. They are still living their old lives; they do not yet realize that Christ has made all things new.

I think we can often be like these two disciples standing at the empty tomb, seeing yet not understanding. We claim to believe in the Resurrection, we profess Sunday after Sunday in the Creed that Christ is risen from the dead, but we do not understand the importance of that belief. We do not yet understand how the Resurrection changes everything. We still live our old lives, lives under the power of sin and darkness and death. That is the way of the world. The world teaches that the goal of life is to try to squeeze as much fleeting happiness as I can out of life, because in the end death is victorious. And how often we can be tempted to live like that, as though the passing joys that the world offers are the only things that make life worth living. When we do that, we are like the disciples, not yet understanding the truth of the Resurrection. We are living according to the rules of death and sin.

Easter tells us that there is a joy that lasts forever, an eternal life that far surpasses whatever short-lived delights and accomplishments I can find in this world. That is the truth of our faith. And if we truly understand that and believe that, then our lives should be different. As Christians, as people of the Resurrection, our lives should be fundamentally different from the life that the world proposes. The way we live, the things we pursue, the ways that we seek joy and meaning in our lives, should shine with the light of Christ. The Resurrection should not be something that we just celebrate once a year on Easter or just profess at Mass every Sunday, but should be something that fills our entire lives. People should know by the way that we live that we are living for something other than this world. This is what St. Paul means in our second reading when he says, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” Our very way of thinking as Christians, the way that we view the world and reality, should have its foundation in the truth that we celebrate today.

But all too often, that isn’t the case. We come to Mass on Easter, we sing Alleluia and profess our belief that Jesus is truly risen from the dead, and then as soon as Mass ends, we go back to living just like everyone else. We go back to living for this world and being guided by its rules. I get it. Even as a priest there is that temptation to want to judge my life by the world’s standards and not by the light of the Risen Lord. We are so surrounded by the way the world thinks that it just seems like common sense to us. In a same way, it was common sense to the disciples that dead people don’t come back to life. And yet, there was a deeper truth there, a truth so profound that it shattered the rules of the world and its so-called common sense. The disciples would eventually understand this, and their lives would be radically different. Once they truly understood the meaning of the Resurrection, their lives were never the same. We hear in our first reading of Peter, who once stood at the empty tomb and did not understand, now preaching to the crowds the Good News of the Risen Lord. Once the disciples understood the Resurrection, they were never the same, and people knew by the very way that they lived and spoke that they were guided by something other than the ways of the world. And it should be the same for us as well.

As we gather here this Easter morning in the joy of the Resurrection, let us not be like the disciples on that first Easter morning who saw but didn’t understand. Let us ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of understanding, so that we can truly see how the truth of the Resurrection changes everything. Let us also ask God to show us where in our lives we have still been guided by the wisdom of the world, rather than by His truth, so that we may truly be changed by this awe-filled mystery. May the Resurrection of Christ be something that we celebrate not just once a year, but with our very lives.

Easter Vigil

For me, one of the most moving parts of the Easter Vigil is at the very beginning. As we enter the church, it is completely dark, except for one little flame, the Easter Candle. In the midst of the darkness of night, one little light seeks to shatter the darkness. Then, as we enter the church, that one little light begins to multiply and spread. And as more and more flames are lit, the light grows. The darkness is slowly driven back by the light of the candles. It is a beautiful moment.

That symbol, of light shining into the darkness, is an apt symbol of the history of God’s work of salvation. We heard in our readings tonight some of that great history. We heard how God revealed Himself to Abraham and made a covenant with him. We heard how God led the Israelites from slavery in Egypt into freedom. And we heard of God’s greatest act in history, the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. In all of these, God shines His light into the darkness – the darkness of fear, the darkness of doubt, the darkness of sin, the darkness of death. That is what we celebrate tonight.

We celebrate that God saw mankind surrounded by the darkness of sin and death. And so, in an act of supreme condescension, He became man, suffered, and died for our salvation. But that is not the end of the story. If it were, death would still have the final say. And so, on that Easter morning, as the sun was just beginning to rise, while the world was still shrouded in night, God rose from the dead and destroyed once and for all the powers of sin and death. He destroyed all that held us captive in order to bring us freedom.

But we do not gather here tonight simply to recount what God has done in the past. The grace of Easter is not just a historical reality. The grace and the light of the risen Lord shines through all of time. We celebrate tonight not just what God has done, but what He is doing. We see that especially in the lives of our catechumens and candidates, who tonight will receive God’s grace in the sacraments of initiation. In a particular way, they will share in the grace of the resurrection on this Holy Night. The Resurrection is not just something that happened 2,000 years ago. As St. Paul says in our reading today, “If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.” The Resurrection is not just a thing that has happened, but something that is happening, something that god is doing in all of our lives.

God wants to renew in all of us the grace of His resurrection, the grace which we received at baptism. Because all of us still struggles with the forces of sin and darkness in our lives. Like the Israelites, we find ourselves in slavery. That is why we gather at night, because we are a people surrounded by darkness, crying out for the Divine Light. We cry out for that flame that will pierce the night and shatter the darkness in our lives.

That is what Easter is about. Not just how God conquered death in the past, but how He is doing it right here and now in our own lives. Easter is about bringing those things in our lives that are dead and dark and enslaved and allow the glory of the resurrection to transform them into life and light and freedom. That is what God wants to do. That is what He does every day.

But all too often, we miss it. We miss the grace of the resurrection which God offers us. I think we often miss it because we expect God’s grace to be big and booming and earth-shattering. Sometimes it is. In the Gospel today, we hear of earthquakes and an angel that appears like lightening. Sometimes God’s grace works like that in our lives. But other times it doesn’t.

We heard tonight of God parting the Red Sea. We picture God parting the Red Sea like Hollywood shows it, where Moses strikes the sea and the waters go rushing to the side and tearing open while an orchestral soundtrack swells in the background. But how do the Scriptures describe it? “Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD swept the sea with a strong east wind throughout the night and so turned it into dry land.” It was a steady wind that slowly parted the waters. God freed His people, but He did it in a gentle and quiet a way.

Or look to His greatest act, the Resurrection. Yes, when the women got to the tomb, there was an earthquake and an angel and the whole deal, but by that point, Christ had already risen. The tomb was already empty. The actual Resurrection itself was not accompanied with fanfare and spectacle. No one saw it at all. God’s greatest work in all of history happened in the middle of the night, surrounded in silence and darkness. Likewise, in our lives, God works in quiet but powerful ways. But we have to be open to it.

In this most holy of nights, let us bring to the Lord all of those places that we are still in darkness. Let us bring to Him all of the places where we are still dead, still in slavery and sin. Let us ask Him to shine in those dark corners of our lives with the brilliant light of the Resurrection.

Holy Thursday

Imagine for a minute Christ washing the feet of the disciples. In the time of Christ, it was considered good hospitality for a host to provide a basin of water for guests to wash their own feet when they arrived. If the host had a slave, he might command the slave to wash the guests’ feet. But the host would not do it himself. But Christ gets up from dinner, lays aside His outer garment, ties a towel around His waist, and begins to wash their feet. The Messiah, the Son of God, the Word Made Flesh, performs the task of the lowliest slave. At the Incarnation, God the Son laid aside His Divine Glory and took on our human nature; now He lays aside His outer garment and ties on a towel, taking the position of a slave. The God who at creation gathered the waters of the sea in a basin so that the dry land could appear now pours water in a basin so that He can humbly serve. The God who formed man out of the dust of the earth now washes the dust off of the feet of His disciples.

Imagine as He comes to Judas. At this point, Judas has already arranged to betray Jesus to the chief priests. The thirty pieces of silver that they paid him are in his money bag as he reclines at table. Before supper is over, Judas will leave to meet the guards whom he will lead to Gethsemane, where he will betray Our Lord with a kiss. Jesus knows all that is to come. He knows what is in Judas’ heart. And yet, as He comes to Judas, He kneels down in front of him, and with His own hands washes the feet of His betrayer.

Just take a moment to sit with that image. On the very night that Judas would betray Him, Jesus washed his feet. What amazing love! What profound humility! Our Lord shows His love not just to His friends, not just to those who deserve it or who earn it, not just to the good people, but even to the one sold Him to His executioners. It is as though the Lord is reaching out to Judas by this intense act of love, trying to soften his heart. Unfortunately, Judas is already so blinded by his pride, his selfish ambition, and his greed that he is unmoved by the Lord’s tender and humble compassion. Just imagine that moment. As Christ kneels before his betrayer to wash his feet, what is in His eyes as He looks up at Judas? What is in His heart as He looks into the eyes of the one whom He had called to be an apostle, but has now become a traitor?

Often, we can be tempted to think that God only loves us when we are good. We can be tempted to think that we have to earn His love. We can think that our sins push God away from us, that He loves us less or cares for us less when we sin. But as we contemplate Christ washing the feet of Judas, we see that isn’t true. God’s loving care for us isn’t diminished by our sinfulness. No matter what we do, no matter how we betray God by our sinfulness, His love for us isn’t lessened. He still seeks to reach us with His love and His compassion.

As Jesus finished washing the disciples’ feet, He told them, “as I have done for you, you should also do.” He gives the same command to each of us. How often do we base our love and care for other people by whether or not we feel they have deserved it? If someone is good to me, I am loving and kind to them. But if someone does something that we feel wronged us in some way, do we show them the love of Christ, or do we seek revenge? To the person who cut me off in traffic, to the coworker who is always inconsiderate, to the family member who has hurt me, do I show the love of Christ, or do I respond in malice? If Christ can lower Himself to wash the feet of Judas, who am I to refuse love to someone because of what they have done to me?

Of course, washing the disciples’ feet was not the end of the evening. The Lord went on to do something even greater. As we hear in our second reading, that same evening He “took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’” Christ not only washed His disciples’ feet, but He then gave them His very Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

And this is how Our Lord comes to us, not as a servant to wash our feet, but in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, Christ pours Himself out in love for us, giving us His very self to sustain us and strengthen us. The Lord doesn’t come just to wash dirt from our bodies but to fill our souls with His very self.

When Jesus washed the feet of Judas, Judas remained unmoved. He did not repent of his actions nor did he turn away from the wickedness he had planned. His heart was hardened, and so Our Lord’s love and care had no effect on him. When we receive the Lord in the Eucharist, are we like Judas? Do we receive Him without care or concern? Do we remain unmoved and hard of heart? After receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, do we try even harder to avoid sin, or are we unaffected? Unfortunately, I think all too often that may be the case. Like Judas, the Lord comes to us, but all too often we do not let Him in, we do not het His grace penetrate our souls. When Mass ends we go about our lives exactly the same, without any change that should come from encountering God’s great love for us.

Let us strive to not by like Judas. Tonight, in this Mass, when the Lord comes to you in the Eucharist, don’t remain unmoved. Allow the Lord to touch your heart. See the profound humility of the King of Kings lowering Himself to come to you and to me under the appearance of simply bread and wine. Allow this Eucharist to change you. May Christ’s service of us here at this Mass inspire us to serve others as He did.

Palm Sunday

I remember as a little kid, I always disliked the part of the Palm Sunday Gospel where we say the words of the crowd, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” I didn’t like calling for the crucifixion of Jesus. Sometimes, I would just refuse to say it.

And yet, as I have grown up, I have realized that it is my sins that call out “Crucify him,” even more than the crowd. By my sins, that I commit so willingly, I turn my back on Jesus and condemn Him to die. If only I were as opposed to sinning as that little boy was to saying “Crucify him.” If only my sins troubled me as much as those words.

As we recall the death of our Lord, let us meditate on His immense love that He showed on that Cross. And let us resolve to always love Him, by our words, our actions, and our lives.