Monday, May 26, 2014

Love is obedience...

          Obedience.  The word itself probably sends chills up and down the spines of red-blooded Americans.  "I'm free!  I don't have to obey anybody!"  Jesus teaches us, however, that true obedience is love: a ready response to one who loves us.  Jesus, the Bible tells us, learned obedience through suffering.  Let us not be afraid to suffer for doing good - that is, for being obedient to God - for the promise of the resurrection awaits us.


Homily: 6th Sunday of Easter – Cycle A
          In the six years that I spent in the seminary, I spent a good number of hours participating in various workshops and presentations focused on formation for living a life of chaste celibacy.  This, so that I would not so much see celibacy as a discipline to be endured, but rather a life-giving choice: a “gift of love”, if you will, that directly connects to and supports my calling to the ministerial priesthood.  This is because it is assumed that the promise not to get married (and, thus, to live a chaste single life) is a very difficult one to keep for a man who, for the rest of his life, will often find himself living alone in a parish rectory; and so the seminary wants to be sure that the men who will be ordained priests are equipped with the tools that they need to live this lifestyle well.
          Fr. Ron Knott was one of only a couple of diocesan priests on the formation staff at the seminary and what he brought to our formation was a treasury of lessons born out of practical experience gained through nearly 40 years of priestly ministry.  He used to love to tell us: “Don’t worry about priesthood.  The first 40 years are the hardest, the rest is smooth sailing.”  But he was the first one to tell us as seminarians: “You know, people think that the hardest promise that a priest makes is the promise of celibacy.  After nearly 40 years of priesthood, I can tell you that the hardest promise isn’t celibacy, but rather obedience.”  He claimed that a higher percentage of conflicts that a priest will experience in his priestly vocation will come out of his promise of obedience to his bishop, rather than his promise of celibacy.
          Part of this, he argues, is that there is a widespread misunderstanding of what obedience means.  The common definition that many of us might give to obedience is “being subservient to the will of another” (or something along that vein).  In this definition, obedience seems negative as it is often associated with one person’s domination over another person.  Slaves and other servants are “obedient” to their masters, just as good children are “obedient” to their parents, grandparents, teachers, etc.
          The word obedience, however, comes from the Latin verb oboedire, which translates literally to mean “to listen towards” something.  Thus, obedience, for it to be true, always involves a relationship between the one who responds and the one who speaks.  This is an affectionate relationship, since one would not “listen towards” someone or something that he or she didn’t think had concern for him or her in return.  Thus, true obedience involves a level of intimacy between the one who responds and the one who speaks.  To put it another way, obedience, if it is true, is really an act of love.
          Jesus, of course, understands this correct definition.  In our Gospel reading today, he says: “If you love me, you will keep [that is, obey] my commandments.”  Here Jesus is directly linking love with obedience.  And as we heard throughout the rest of this passage, Jesus reveals to us that love, expressed through obedience, initiates a cycle of love between the disciple, Jesus, and the Father, in the Holy Spirit, that gives the believer filiation (that is, sonship) with God.  In other words, love, expressed through obedience to Jesus’ commands, initiates the believer into nothing less than the dynamic life of the Holy Trinity.  (I’ll bet you never thought obedience was so powerful, did you?)
          Well, OK, Father, if obedience is love, then why is it so hard?  Well, perhaps it’s because we haven’t correctly understood love, either.  The love that we speak of here is so much more than affection (that is, good feelings for another person).  Rather, the love we are talking about here is the willing of the good (that is, happiness) for another: even if there is no reward (and, perhaps, even suffering) for yourself.  Obedience, therefore, often involves self-sacrifice.  (Just ask any of our military veterans here if obedience to their superiors ever involved self-sacrifice… this is why we honor our fallen veterans with a special holiday this weekend.)  This component of self-sacrifice is why we often view it as being slave-like.  We think, “I have to give up what I want in order for that other person to get what he or she wants.”  But didn’t Jesus say “No one has greater love than this; to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”?  Obedience, therefore, willfully given, is really an act of love; and most especially when it involves some sacrifice of one’s self.
          My brothers and sisters, obedience is easy when it begins with the relationship.  A turning point for me in my understanding of obedience came when I was preparing to be ordained a deacon (which happens a year before being ordained a priest).  I was on retreat and had been given a copy of the ordination rite so as to meditate on what it was that I was about to do.  Included in the rite is an instruction to the candidates for ordination that the bishop may give in place of the homily.  In this instruction, the first words that the bishop says are: “My sons…”  I knew right then and there that my promise of obedience to him (and to his successors) was not a promise of servitude, but a promise of sonship.  And just as a son will obey his father because he loves him and he knows that his father would never ask something of him that wasn’t ultimately for his own good, I knew I could promise to obey my bishop, because he looks on me as his son.
          Our Holy Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom we honor this month, knew this quite well, also.  When the angel Gabriel came to her with the message that she would bear God’s Son, she made herself obedient to him: not as a slave who fears retribution, but as a daughter who trusted completely in God the Father’s love for her.  Even though it would be revealed to her that her “yes” to be the Mother of God would involve great suffering for her, she never failed to obey what God asked of her through loving and following her Son.  For this she has been glorified in heaven and for us she has become a model of true obedience.
          My brothers and sisters, the reason that we went through six weeks of Lent (anyone here remember Lent?... I know, it was sooo long ago!); the reason that we went through six weeks of Lent was to restore our relationship with God the Father in Christ Jesus, and thus our obedience to him.  And the reason that we are going through seven weeks of Easter is bolster our hope in him: the hope that in our baptism and by our obedience to him we have been initiated into this cycle of love, which is the Holy Trinity, and thus can live our lives as if the promise we wait for—that is, the full coming of God’s Kingdom—has already been fulfilled.  Therefore, let us live this mystery by being obedient to Jesus’ commandments to love God and one another and by always being ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks for a reason for our hope (even when that means that we may suffer for doing good); because the promise of new life in the Spirit—the resurrected Body and Blood of Jesus—is here with us at this altar.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – May 25th, 2014

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Followers of the Way

          Once again this week Jesus is reminding us that we can't just watch him from afar and then imitate him and hope to get to heaven.  No, the only way to find our true happiness-that is, salvation-is through him.  "I am the way..." he said.  Thus, we can't just imitate him, we must be him if we hope to arrive at the place where he is... eternal bliss.  Get close to Jesus and let him mentor you in him-that is, the Way-and you'll find the happiness God longs to give you.


Homily: 5th Sunday of Easter – Cycle A
          If you’ve gotten to know me at all one of the things that you’ll come to know about me is that I tend to be rather nostalgic.  In other words, I have a lot of romanticized feelings about things from the past that always give my remembrances of them kind of a soft, warm glow.  Many of these things are things from my childhood.  For example, the movie “The Karate Kid”.  I watched it not too long ago for the first time in probably 15 or more years.  And even though I could sit through the movie and criticize it for its hyper-romanticized portrayal of teenage life, I still felt really good about it after having watched it.  Part of this, of course, is that the film is a pop icon from my childhood and I want to feel good about the things that meant something to me when I was a kid.  Another part, however, is the very real and human situation that it portrayed.
          In the film, Daniel, a teenager from New Jersey moves with his divorced mother to California to “start over”.  And he finds himself alone, seemingly without any guidance to help him overcome the difficulties of making this transition.  When he runs into trouble with a “gang” of karate students (who use their skill for violence against him), he finds rescue in the form of an elderly Japanese man, Mr. Miyagi, who not only trains him in Karate, but also becomes his mentor and guide through this difficult moment in his life.  It is this latter part of this plot that I believe gives this film its enduring appeal for me.
          I think that all of us long for someone who will choose to care for us and guide us as we encounter the challenges of life so as to live well and pursue excellence—that is, happiness—in our lives.  Hopefully, most of us had parents who did this for us.  If not, then perhaps we had grandparents or other family members, or perhaps a neighbor or teacher in school that did this for us.  If not, then we probably, even today, feel that lack in our lives (even if we’ve gone forward to overcome most of life’s challenges, anyway).
          This is an enduring fact of human nature, and so it should be no surprise to find that Jesus’ disciples found the same thing from him.  In our Gospel reading today, we are reading from Jesus’ last discourse with his disciples before his crucifixion and death.  Here he is giving his disciples encouragement to go forward and to maintain faith even through the horrific events that were about to unfold for him.  He instructs them that, even though he is going away for a time, he will never be far away from them.  “You have faith in God, have faith [that is, trust] also in me” he tells them; and “whoever believes in me will do the works that I do and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.”  Having guided and mentored them through his years of ministry, Jesus is now seeking to empower them to go forward after him to do what he, as one person here on earth, could not do: that is, spread this Gospel of salvation throughout the whole world.
          At the time, the disciples had difficulty understanding what Jesus was telling them.  Witness Thomas asking, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” and Philip: “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”  Nonetheless, after receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the disciples came to understand his words deeply.  Thus, we hear Saint Peter in the second reading exhorting us to be one with Jesus, “a living stone… chosen and precious in the sight of God… that has become the cornerstone”, by becoming living stones ourselves, offering spiritual sacrifices to God so as to be built up into a spiritual house, that is, the Church, on the cornerstone that is Christ.  The disciples came to know the way (in fact, that’s exactly what they called those who followed them: “followers of The Way”) as the Spirit helped them to realize that, in Jesus, they had seen the Father.
          In order to get to this point, however, they first had to develop an intimate relationship with Jesus.  Just as last week we heard Jesus say, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved”, so this week we hear him say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Again, we are reminded that we do not find salvation on our own, but that we need Jesus in order to know the Father, which is salvation.  And since Jesus is the way, then we cannot know the way unless we know Jesus.  We, of course, have already begun to know him through our initiation into his Body, the Church.  Nevertheless, Jesus desires a much deeper relationship with us than just an acquaintance.  He wants to mentor us—like Miyagi mentored Daniel—so that we can not only overcome the obstacles of this world, but also achieve excellence, that is, our happiness, in this world, in preparation for the happiness that awaits us in the next.
          And so we come to him here to worship him in the Liturgy (i.e. communally) to acknowledge our common bond with him and with each other; and this is the primary way that we commune with Jesus (and through him the Father and the Spirit).  But we also seek him in other ways, too.  We spend time in prayer: perhaps in Eucharistic Adoration here in the church or perhaps at home or in another place where we can find quiet within ourselves to speak to him from our hearts.  We read the Gospels—DAILY!  How else will we know Jesus, the Way, unless we grow in knowledge of the way he lived and taught when he walked among us as one of us?  And of course we strive to follow his example in our lives by loving our neighbor, forgiving those who hurt us, and seeking always to serve those in need among us.  Each of these things are ways in which we grow to know and love Jesus and so conform our lives to his and deepen our intimacy with him.
          My brothers and sisters, this intimacy with Jesus isn’t something hard to obtain: because it is something that Jesus already wants for us.  It is something, however, that we have to want, too.  There’s nothing to be afraid of, however.  Because whatever sacrifices we have to make in order to choose this gift is worth it when compared to the inestimable worth of the ultimate victory of happiness that Jesus has already won for us in his death and resurrection.  Let us, then, let Jesus be close to us to guide us and show us the way (which is himself).  For when we do, we, too, will know the glory of his victory: the victory that we participate in sacramentally here at this altar.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – May 17th & 18th, 2014

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Cada oveja necesita un pastor

Homilía: 4º Domingo de la Pascua - Ciclo A
          En enero de 2012, tuve la feliz oportunidad de pasar más de dos semanas en Roma con mis compañeros del seminario. Fue un viaje pequeño de "estudiar en el extranjero", como estudiamos una mezcla de arte, historia de la iglesia, historia del mundo, y teología a través de las visitas que hicimos a través de Roma y sus alrededores. Al final del viaje, todos mis compañeros y yo íbamos a hacer nuestro "retiro canónica": que es un retiro requerido por la Ley Canónica antes de ser ordenados al sacerdocio. Mientras que todos mis compañeros regresaron a los Estados Unidos para hacer esto, me decidí a quedarme en Italia para hacer el mío (yo ya estaba allí, así que ¿por qué no, verdad?).
          Me decidí a hacer mi retiro en un monasterio benedictino en Norcia, Italia. Norcia es el lugar de nacimiento San Benedicto y el monasterio se había restablecido allí en el año 2000 por un monje de la Archiabadía San Meinrad aquí en Indiana. Norcia es una antigua ciudad situada entre las montañas de Perugia aproximadamente una hora y media al noreste de Roma. La vieja ciudad está todavía rodeada por la pared que servía para protegerla de los invasores en tiempos pasados. Ahora, por supuesto, los habitantes del pueblo se han extendido alrededor de la ciudad vieja. Sin embargo, todavía mantiene todo del encanto de este tipo de ciudad.
          Todos los días me tomo el tiempo para dar un paseo rodean la aldea. Esto fue, en parte, porque tenía tiempo para hacerlo y porque me gusta ver la "foto" de vida de la aldea que se obtiene al hacer este tipo de paseos. En mi camino de regreso de uno de estos paseos, me encontré con un rebaño de ovejas conducidas por una de las calles de la aldea. Habiendo crecido en lo que, en esencia, es un suburbio de Chicago, yo estaba un poco sorprendido de ver un rebaño de animales que son conducidos por las calles de la ciudad. Conseguí lo más cercano que me atreví a fin de verlos pasar.
          Mientras lo hacía, una o dos de las ovejas habría una pausa por un segundo para echar un vistazo a mí. Pero tan pronto como lo hicieron, oí al pastor gritaba algo y las ovejas de inmediato se volvieron hacia el rebaño y siguieron su camino. Se me ocurrió que reconocieron la voz de su pastor. Esto, por supuesto, se quedó conmigo durante el resto de mi retiro. Quiero decir, yo estaba haciendo un retiro de preparación de ser ordenado un sacerdote de Jesucristo, es decir, un pastor según el corazón de Jesús, así que no atribuírselo a la "coincidencia" de que me encontré con el pastor y su rebaño ese día.
          Ya sea que el pastor estaba guiando al rebaño a los pastos o los lleva de vuelta a su redil, yo no lo sabía. Lo que estaba claro para mí, sin embargo, fue que las ovejas necesitan un pastor para llegar a donde se dirigían. Si iban a pastar, entonces ellos necesitan a alguien para cuidarles para que no se metan en problemas. Si iban a casa, ellos necesitan a alguien para abrir la puerta para ellos. Creo que si tomamos un momento para pensar en esto, nos daríamos cuenta de que nosotros también necesitamos un pastor.
          En nuestra lectura del Evangelio de hoy, Jesús nos da dos alegorías (que son historias en las que los personajes y los acontecimientos ilustran y explican una idea más grande y más abstracta). Estas alegorías tienen el propósito de ayudarnos a entender más claramente lo que Jesús quiere decir cuando dice: "Yo soy el Buen Pastor". En la primera, vemos a Jesús como el pastor que guía el rebaño a la seguridad de su redil. El cuidador de la puerta (que es una imagen de Dios Padre en este caso) se abre la puerta (que es una imagen de la puerta del cielo) para el pastor, porque reconoce el que se le ha confiado el cuidado de sus ovejas. En la segunda alegoría, Jesús describe a sí mismo como la puerta, es decir, el medio a través del cual las ovejas entran a la seguridad de su redil (que es el cielo) y por el que se mantienen fuera los ladrones y bandidos. En ambos, la lección que debemos aprender es que necesitamos a Jesús si queremos llegar al cielo.
          Pedro, por supuesto, lo entendió. En el día de Pentecostés, cuando dio su discurso apasionado a los Judíos reunidos para la fiesta, él predicó que los que se sentía condenado por haber consentido en el asesinato de Jesús se arrepientan de su pecado y ser bautizado en el nombre de Jesucristo, ya que era sólo a través de él que iban a recibir el perdón de sus pecados. Más adelante, él también enseñó que la manera en que sus discípulos permanezcan cerca de Jesús (como ovejas permanecen cerca de su pastor) es asemejarse a él en todos los sentidos. Así, Pedro puede decir que "soportar con paciencia los sufrimientos que les vienen a ustedes por hacer el bien, es cosa agradable a los ojos de Dios… y que también Cristo sufrió por ustedes y les dejó así un ejemplo para que sigan sus huellas", como ovejas que seguir el huellas de su pastor.
          María, a quien honramos de manera especial este mes, también lo sabía. Sin pecado desde el momento de su concepción, ella nunca pensó que era por algún mérito propio. Por el contrario, desde el momento de su fiat, su "sí" al ángel, ella sabía (por instinto, si no explícitamente) que era la misericordia de Dios, mereció misteriosamente para ella por su hijo, Jesús, incluso antes de su nacimiento, que tuvo ganado esta gracia para ella. Por lo tanto, ella era y permanece como la primera y más perfecta discípula de su Hijo, por quien ahora disfruta plenamente la gloria del cielo.
          Mis hermanos y hermanas, si Pedro, la roca sobre la cual Jesús edificaría su Iglesia, y María, la Inmaculada, ambos sabían que necesitaban a Jesús para encontrar la salvación y gloria eterna, entonces debemos ser cierto que lo necesitamos, también! Cualquier otro intento de entrar en el redil de las ovejas sin él nos llevará etiquetado como ladrones y bandidos y dará lugar a nuestra expulsión inmediata y permanente de la misma. Sólo el pastor nos puede llevar y sólo a través de la puerta podemos entrar.
          Por lo tanto, vamos a seguirlo conformando nuestra vida a él, que sufrió por hacer el bien. Y creamos en él, en cuyo nombre hemos sido bautizados, porque nos ayudará a alejarnos de este mundo corrompido, y para girar hacia la incorruptibilidad de la gloria del cielo, donde María y todos los santos y los ángeles esperan para darnos la bienvenida; y donde Jesús nos llevará a cabo en los verdes pastos de la salvación eterna.

Dado en la parroquia de Todos los Santos: Logansport, IN - 11 de mayo, 2014

Every sheep needs a shepherd

Homily: 4th Sunday of Easter – Cycle A
          In January of 2012, I had the happy opportunity to spend about two and a half weeks in Rome with my classmates from the seminary.  It was a mini-“study abroad” trip as we studied a mixture of art, church history, world history, and theology through the visits we made throughout Rome and the surrounding areas.  At the end of the trip, all of my classmates and I were going to make our “canonical retreat”: which is a retreat required by Canon Law before being ordained to the priesthood.  While all of my classmates returned back to the United States to do this, I decided to stay in Italy to make mine (I mean, I was already there, so why not, right?)
          I decided to make my retreat at a Benedictine monastery in Norcia, Italy.  Norcia is the birthplace of Saint Benedict and this monastery had been re-established there in the year 2000 by a monk from Saint Meinrad Archabbey right here in Indiana.  Norcia is an ancient ancient town nestled among the Perugian Mountains about an hour and a half northeast of Rome.  The old city is still surrounded by the wall that served to protect it from invaders in times past.  Now, of course, the village’s inhabitants have spread out around the old city.  Nonetheless, it still holds all of its “old city” charm.
          Everyday I’d take time to go for a hike in the surrounding village.  This was, in part, because I had time to do it and I enjoy seeing the “snapshot” of village life that you get by making such walks.  But it was also because the monastery guest rooms had heat only for about two hours each day—one in the morning and the other in the evening—and I needed to get my blood pumping so that I wouldn’t freeze to death!
          On my way back from one of these afternoon walks, I encountered a flock of sheep being led down one of the side streets of the village.  Having grown up in what, essentially, is a suburb of Chicago, I was a little surprised to see a flock of animals being led through the streets of town.  I got about as close as I dared so as to watch them pass.  As I did, one or two of the sheep would pause for a second to take a look at me.  But as soon as they did, I heard the shepherd yell something (perhaps it was Italian, perhaps it was just nonsense), and the sheep immediately turned back to the flock and continued on their way.  It struck me that they knew the voice of their shepherd.  This, of course, stayed with me throughout the rest of my retreat.  I mean, I was making a retreat in preparation of being ordained a priest of Jesus Christ—that is, a shepherd after the heart of Jesus—so I didn’t chalk it up to “coincidence” that I encountered the shepherd and his flock that day.
          Whether the shepherd was leading the flock out to pasture or leading them back to their pen, I don’t know.  What was clear to me, however, was that the sheep needed a shepherd to get them where they were going.  If they were going out to pasture, then they would need someone to watch over them so they wouldn’t get in trouble.  If they were going home, they would need someone to open the gate for them.  I think that if we take just a moment to think about this, we would realize that we, too, need a shepherd.
          In our Gospel reading today, Jesus gives us two allegories (which are stories in which the characters and events illustrate and explain a greater, more abstract idea).  These allegories are meant to help us understand more clearly what Jesus means when he says “I am the Good Shepherd”.  In the first, we see Jesus as the shepherd who leads the flock to the safety of their home.  The gatekeeper (which is an image of God the Father in this case) opens the gate (which is an image of the gate of heaven) for the shepherd, because he recognizes the one who has been entrusted with the care of his sheep.  In the second allegory, Jesus describes himself as the gate, that is, the means through which the sheep enter the safety of their home (which is heaven) and by which thieves and robbers are kept out.  In both, the lesson that we are to learn is that we need Jesus if we want to get to heaven.
          Peter, of course, understood this.  On the day of Pentecost, when he gave his impassioned speech to the Jews gathered for the feast, he preached that those who felt convicted because of having consented to Jesus’ murder should repent—that is, “turn around”—from their sin and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, for it was only though him that they would receive forgiveness of their sins.  Later, he also taught that the way that his disciples remain close to Jesus (like sheep remain close to their shepherd) is to conform themselves to him in every way.  Thus Peter can say that “if you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace from God… because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps”, like sheep follow the footsteps of their shepherd.
          Mary, whom we honor in a special way this month, also knew this.  Sinless from the moment of her conception, she never thought that it was because of any merit of her own.  Rather, from the moment of her fiat, her “yes” to the angel, she knew (instinctually, if not explicitly) that it was God’s mercy, mysteriously merited for her by her son, Jesus, even before he was born, that had won this grace for her.  Thus, she was and remains the first and most perfect disciple of her Son, through whom she now fully enjoys the glory of heaven.
          My brothers and sisters, if Peter, the rock on which Jesus would build his Church, and Mary, the Immaculate One, both knew that they needed Jesus to find salvation and everlasting glory, then it must be true that we need him, too!  Any other attempt to enter the sheepfold without him will get us labeled as thieves and robbers and will result in our immediate and permanent expulsion from it.  Only the shepherd can get us in and only through the gate can we enter. 
          Therefore, let us follow him, our Good Shepherd, by conforming our lives to him, who suffered for doing good.  And let us believe in him, in whose name we have been baptized, for he will help us to turn away from this corrupt generation and turn towards the incorruptibility of the glory of heaven, where Mary and all of the saints and angels wait to welcome us; and where Jesus will lead us out into the green pastures of eternal salvation.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – May 10th & 11th, 2014

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Seeing the forest and the trees

          Another great weekend!  First Holy Communions here at All Saints, a baptism during Mass on Sunday and our Kermes Spring Carnival made for lots of blessings and fun (and food)!  The Easter Season is rolling right by, however, so it will be important for us to keep focused on seeking Jesus during this time.  May God bless you with "eyes to see"!


Homily: 3rd Sunday of Easter – Cycle A
          I recently came across this story that’s been floating around on the internet for a couple of years now.  It’s a good story and, although there are multiple versions of it out there, the core of the story remains pretty much the same; thus I feel pretty confident that at least the core of the story is true and so I’d thought I share it with you.
          As the story goes, a couple of ladies were having dinner in a restaurant in Dublin, Ireland when the manager approaches their table and asks them if they would mind moving because Bono was coming to eat and the table at which they were sitting was his favorite table in the restaurant.  Now Bono is the lead singer of a band named U2 which is very famous throughout the world.  They are from Ireland, though, so the band is a “household name” in Dublin.  Thus, far from being put off, the ladies were happy to change tables for the famous rock star.
          After Bono arrived and sat down to dinner with a friend, he sent a couple of drinks over to the ladies as a “thank you” for letting him have his favorite spot.  The ladies, not wanting to miss the chance to meet one of Ireland’s most famous people, finally got the nerve to walk up and ask if they could have autographs and get a picture with him.  Bono agreed and his dining companion agreed to take the photos for them.
          The ladies, of course, were so excited that they could barely eat and so Bono and his friend finished dinner and left well before they did.  When the ladies were finally ready to leave the waiter informed them that their bill had been paid.  “Wow, what a night!” they said.  “Not only did we get to meet Bono and have our picture taken with him, but he paid for our meal, too!”  Quickly, however, the waiter corrected them and said, “Oh, it wasn’t Bono who paid your bill, it was Bruce Springsteen, who ate with him, who did.”
          I like this story because it is a classic example of not being able to see “the forest for the trees.”  These ladies were so focused on Bono, and their excitement in meeting him, that they failed to recognize the equally famous Bruce Springsteen sitting there with him.  We’ve all had experiences, I’m sure, in which we get so emotionally “wrapped-up” in one thing that we fail to see the bigger picture and thus miss something important that we might not have been looking for.
          Just look at the disciples on the road to Emmaus in our Gospel reading today.  It was Easter Sunday and they were walking away from Jerusalem; dejected because they felt like everything that Jesus had promised to be had been destroyed.  They were so caught up in the distress of these thoughts that when Jesus himself comes and walks with them they don’t even recognize him!  Granted, this was Resurrected Jesus, whose glorified body certainly looked different than before (I mean, Mary Magdalene also failed to recognize Jesus immediately in the garden of the tomb, right?), but after multiple hours on the road together, you would think that they might have noticed those gaping holes in his hands, right?
          Anyway, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt that they were so caught up in trying to make sense of everything that happened in Jerusalem that weekend that they couldn’t “see the forest—that is, Jesus—for the trees”.  Thus, it wasn’t until evening, after offering this “stranger” hospitality in their home, that these two disciples came to recognize who it was that had been with them along the way.  And how meaningful it is that it was in the “breaking of the bread” that they recognized him…  We must definitely see a connection to the Eucharist here.
          But we must also be careful, my brothers and sisters, that we don’t fall into a trap ourselves as we listen to this narrative from the Gospel.  Yes, we must be careful that we don’t find ourselves only “half-listening” to this narrative—that is, listening with dull hearts because we feel like we already know the story so well—because when we do we risk falling into the trap of missing the forest for the trees.  How many of you have ever stopped to think about this story and then said to yourself, “you know, this sounds a lot like the Mass”?  If you haven’t, then you haven’t yet seen the forest…
          When we take a step back and look not only at the details of what is happening in the story but at the overall picture of the story itself we see that there are movements in the story that look a lot like what became the model of Christian worship that we celebrate today.  First, there’s a recounting of Scripture and the interpretation of it.  Jesus meets the disciples on the way and recounts the Scriptures to them and interprets for them how the events of his life have fulfilled all of what the Scriptures foretold.  Thus, in the Mass we gather and hear the Scriptures recounted for us and then the priest or deacon interprets them for us so that they will illumine our daily lives.
          Then there’s the sharing of the Eucharistic meal.  After spending the day on the road with Jesus as he interpreted the Scriptures for them, the disciples invite Jesus to stay with them and share a meal, in which he reveals himself fully to them in the blessing and breaking of the bread.  And so, from here, we too will gather around this Eucharistic meal in which Jesus himself becomes present to us in the flesh.  In other words, we will see him once again in the breaking of this bread.
          My brothers and sisters, during this Easter Season we are being invited to “look again” at what has become familiar to us in a way that helps us to see more deeply the mystery into which we have been initiated.  And so, even as we baptize little Jackson today, we should all be thinking about the great mystery of our own baptisms and the new life that lives within us and that we will soon share with another person through these waters of rebirth.  For when we do, we won’t fail to see Jesus right here in front of us and we’ll be inspired—by the same Spirit that inspired the Apostles—to go forth and proclaim his presence to all the world.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – May 4th, 2014