In these weeks of the Easter season, we have been looking at Jesus Face to Face, in order to get to know him a bit better. Three weeks ago we looked at Jesus’ face and saw mercy. Instead of getting back at his followers for abandoning him in his hour of distress, he recreates them and shows them infinite mercy. Then, with the Emmaus story, we looked into Jesus’ face and saw our playful Saviour, one who is sometimes hidden, yet is always with us. He is with us in moments of loneliness and of fullness. He nourishes us, calling us together as community and feeding us with his very Body and Blood. Last weekend, Deacon Kevin powerfully brought us face to face with Jesus as both Gate and Shepherd. Jesus gets dirty with us, risks his life for us, and protects us, even when we are smelly and lost.

This weekend we come to the clincher: If we come face to face with Jesus, we are coming face to face with God Almighty. That may sound rather normal for us, with almost 2000 years of collective memory that God is Trinity, and that Jesus is God. In Jesus’ day, however, even the thought that a human being—even one as special as Jesus—could actually be God, the Lord of hosts, the all-powerful One, who lives in highest heaven, would have been a huge scandal. God is God, and we are humans. God is not us, and we are not God. But in the man Jesus, the One who was a threat to the religious status quo and to the Roman Empire, we see the Father. We see God. God, the “Rock of Ages” sung about in the old Protestant hymn. The One mentioned as “rock” in 50 verses of the Old Testament is also Jesus, who Peter calls “a living stone” in our Second Reading.

There is a story of a famous rabbi who was dressed rather shabbily, and was on a train going to give a talk in a town in Poland. One man (also on his way to the talk), thinking the rabbi to be a bum, treated him rather rudely. On arriving and meeting the rabbi, he begged forgiveness for the way he treated him on the train. The rabbi responded that he had no power to forgive the gentleman: the forgiveness had to come from a shabbily dressed street person. It seems that our God has chosen to do the same. He comes to us where we least expect him. My hope and prayer is that I may recognize that in all my relations, especially with those on the periphery of society, I come face to face with God.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a funeral on television that didn’t include a recitation of Psalm 23 at one point or another. Most of us can quote at least part of it: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” I don’t know if there is an image more familiar to us than God as shepherd. It sounds so nice, so comforting. Yet, if truth be told, I don’t know if there is anything quite so revolutionary as that image. Instead of the majestic, all-powerful, almighty God, we are given the image of shepherd. Shepherds get dirty with their sheep. They smell. Because sheep need to be pastured daily, shepherds work all the time—even on the Sabbath!! The Jewish people somehow lived with this contradiction, that God is both majestic and humble, both enthroned in glory up in the heavens, and yet dirty and smelly here with us. But when Jesus came along saying that he was the shepherd, well that was going too far. How dare he put himself on par with God! And to top it off, in today’s gospel passage, Jesus says that he is both shepherd and gate. What might that mean? And how do these images help us to get to know Jesus better face to face, as we’ve been saying.

I think that as gate, Jesus is protector. He watches out for our security and safety, protecting us from those who might take advantage of us. And as shepherd, Jesus seeks us out, he knows us, he takes on our scent. Pope Francis, in his first message to priests after becoming pope, urged us to take on the smell of our people. I think we are all called to do that: to get to know one another so well, to know each others’ needs, and to be close enough to one another as to take on their scent. Wouldn’t that be something, if we were to try to live that way today? If, as Christians, we would be known as people who care for one another, who look out for each other? Perhaps, if we started to live like that, we would receive what Jesus came to bring us according to our passage from John’s gospel. As he himself states, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” I pray that we each get to know Jesus face to face, as the one who wants us to have abundant life, and to help others to live that way as well.

A week ago Friday, a few of us from Assumption were privileged to witness Kevin Mannara professing his perpetual vows in the Congregation of Saint Basil. I remembered clearly when I said those very same words, some 32 years ago: “I vow forever chastity, poverty and obedience in the Congregation of Priests of Saint Basil….” The word “forever” seems so powerful, so final. (Maybe that’s why we call them “final vows.”) In the intervening years, I have lived through times where I felt fulfilled, connected with God and others, and other times in which I felt very empty and lonely, isolated from God and others. Often, during those times of loneliness, life seemed purposeless.

I think the disciples in this weekend’s gospel passage may have been experiencing some of the same feelings. They had been followers of Jesus, convinced that he was the one sent by God as Messiah, as the one to redeem Israel. Instead, though, the Romans—working with the religious leaders—had put him to death as a subversive. Their hopes had been dashed. They had to look elsewhere for the Messiah. But now this stranger comes up and walks beside them, and starts telling them about how God works by bringing life out of death, of how God never abandons them. And then, at table—at the breaking of the bread (Luke’s wording for the Eucharist)—they recognize that it had been Jesus with them all along.

That, for me, is a true portrait of Jesus: He is the one who accompanies us in every situation, who can even be playful and hide himself at times. He is the one who brings life out of every situation possible, and teaches us that God can transform whatever we are suffering into a source of life. He is there with us, even when the situation seems hopeless, when all has been lost. That is the Jesus the gospels portray.

I invite you to continue coming face to face with Jesus over these next couple of weeks, as we try to look a bit more closely at the person the gospels teach us about. One good way of doing so would be to sit down with one of the gospel accounts—either Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John—and read it through, from beginning to end. Each evangelist paints a slightly different picture of our Messiah, the One who rose from the dead. Each one helps us to get to know Jesus face-to-face, in a slightly different way. Won’t you join me during this Easter season in getting to know him a bit better?

I’ve been active in Facebook for several years now. I’ve reconnected with old friends, and made new ones. Some of my Facebook “friends” are people I’ve never met “face to face,” and yet I feel like I know them well. I’ve made friends in the peace activist community, others in twelve-step recovery, and other areas of common interest. Yet, if truth be told, I only know one aspect of them. I know what they post online; I know their political views. Not all that long ago I was visiting in person with friends I met online, and I realized how little we have in common outside of our one field of interest. I thought I knew this couple well, and found that in reality, I don’t. When I relate to someone face to face, it’s different than just through a computer or an app on my phone.

I think that’s one of the drawbacks to my relationship with Jesus. Often times I think we know him, based on something I’ve been taught, or heard, or read. For the next few weeks, we’re going to look at Jesus in the gospels in a series called “Face to Face,” and, hopefully, get to know him at least a little bit better than we do now.

As I was growing up I was taught how I had to be good, in order to make Jesus happy and not be punished by him. Jesus remembered all of my sins. Even with forgiveness, I was not totally clean. (Those my age and older will remember the milk bottle, dark with sin, and then kind of grey once absolved—never completely white again.) Yet today’s gospel passage teaches us something different. Think about it for a moment: Jesus’ friends left him when he was on trial and then crucified. Thomas would not believe that he had risen from the dead. So, Jesus pointed that out to them when he saw them again, right? Not hardly. His first words are “Peace be with you.” Then he breathes on them, and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit….” His disciples would have thought back to the creation story in Genesis, when God breathed on the man he had formed, and brought him to life. Now Jesus, instead of recriminating them for their faults, recreates them and sends them out to be his witnesses. No wonder we can celebrate this Sunday as Divine Mercy Sunday. When we meet Jesus Face to Face, it is his mercy that we encounter.

Happy Easter! Bonne fête de Pâques! Maligayang pasko ng Pagkabuhay! Buona Pasqua! ¡Felices Pascuas de la Resurrección! Wesołych Świąt Wielkanocnych! !فصح سعيد

No matter what the language, as Church we arrive yet again at the celebration of our raison d’être: Christ’s resurrection from the dead. For the early Christians, this act of faith meant everything. It affected their lives, the way they thought, the way they treated others. It is still so hard for me to grasp. The resurrection was God’s affirmation of everything that Jesus of Nazareth said and did. The religious authorities and the Romans thought they could end the movement that had been growing up around Jesus by killing him. Instead, the resurrection caused the number of followers to grow. It was God’s statement that death is not the final word. God is a God of life.

Many of us, myself included, did some kind of penance during Lent, by giving up something we like, or adding a spiritual practice. So, for us, Easter becomes a conscious time of abundance, a time of celebration rather than sacrifice, of indulgence instead of austerity. When I was a child, it was a time when we got new clothes. Even today, children today hunt for eggs on Easter. We celebrate. We eat chocolate.

For many others, Christian or not, Easter is just another day. Life goes on just like it did before. Nothing is different. And for perhaps the majority of people on the earth, whether Christian or not, nothing really can change. If you live near the starvation level, you usually have neither the option of giving something up during Lent, nor of adding something to celebrate Easter. For the Christians of Syria, of Iraq, of Yemen, and so many other places torn by war and terrorism, there is only the struggle to stay alive. Christians in Egypt right now are mourning those killed by bombings on Palm Sunday. Yet somehow, some way, Easter says that God is in control, and that life wins out over death. I invite you to let life affect you—and to remember in prayer those for whom life and celebration is a luxury.

And in our rejoicing, I invite you to celebrate with Kevin Mannara and all the Basilians. On Friday of Easter week, in Toronto, Kevin will profess his final vows in the Congregation, and then be ordained as a deacon on Saturday. When he returns among us later in the month, he will be Deacon Kevin! We pray that God fill him and all those he will serve with blessings of new life.

Although we focus on a person and an event—Jesus of Nazareth, and his birth, life, death, and resurrection—that happened once in history, almost two thousand years ago, our celebration of that is cyclical. Each year our Church relives the story, with the same intensity. We prepare for Jesus’ birth, then we celebrate it. We start considering his ministry. Then, for the past almost six weeks, we’ve been preparing for this week: Holy Week. Each year we focus on the great tragedy, the almost inconceivable truth that humans executed God as a threat to religion and to World Empire. And then we celebrate the fact that death could not hold Jesus down, that God’s last word is not death, but life: Jesus rises from the dead.

We have this whole week, though, to consider the first part. What is it that could make people want to kill the Prince of Peace, the Messiah, the One who preached God’s kingdom and healed the sick? Why is it that the Church gives us an entire week each year to focus on Jesus’ passion and death? I think the answer lies in the fact that we, too, can easily do the same as the people of Jerusalem did that fateful Friday around the year AD 33. I can hail Jesus as my Saviour and Lord. I can say that I believe, and that I am a faithful member of the Church, founded by Jesus, carried down to us through almost two millennia. And at the same time, I can easily forget what Jesus taught. I can become attached to my comforts. I don’t want anyone to upset my life. Why are those refugees pouring into “my” country? Why are there so many changes? This used to be a Christian nation. Everything was closed on Sunday. Now look at it. It’s all about convenience. And why do they keep harping on climate change? Things are alright. I kind of like not having to shovel as much snow. There’s no real problem. Government is threatening my way of life. It might not have been perfect before, but it was good. We were Christians, and lived by Christian values.

Each and every time I think that way (and it is far more often than I would care to admit), I am buying into the same mindset as the people of Jerusalem that fateful week so long ago. I don’t want anything to threaten my way of life. And yet the world changes. The first Christians were a small minority, whose values often clashed with society. They cared for one another. They pooled their resources so that nobody went without, and they did not have many comforts. That’s not exactly the way I live today; how about you? Might this Holy Week be a good time to examine our priorities?

I’ve mentioned before that various personality tests I’ve taken over the years have pretty much shown the same thing: I tend to be scattered, disorganized, running late, and work on deadlines. Each one of these tests/surveys, though, always comes with a list of things recommended for my type, practices that help me improve in efficiency, and counteract some of the negative traits that come naturally to me. Those suggestions are based on years of research and study. In other words, they work. When people follow the suggestions, they tend to feel more fulfilled, have less frustration, and more time for leisure and creativity—as well as getting more done. So, do you think I’ve followed all the suggestions I’ve gotten over the years? The short answer is “no.” Instead, I plod along, make false starts, and in the end, nothing changes.

That’s why our series called “Catholic Atheist” is hitting me between the eyes. Over the past weeks we’ve been looking at how our own lives might not be lived according to what we say we believe, what we think we believe. And this weekend it gets really hard. I have to ask myself if I really believe that God can change me. I don’t mean changing my personality or my sexuality or anything like that. Instead, I’m thinking about whether I think I’m destined to permanently procrastinate, or be disorganized, or whatever, because “that’s the way I am.” In today’s gospel, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. He changes Lazarus’ state of being. He even delays his trip to Bethany so that he can show God’s power.

If Jesus can do that with Lazarus, what can he do with me? Might Jesus just be able to help me stay on track and become more disciplined in my life? Might he give me the strength to actually do some of the things suggested to make me more productive and fulfilled? I’m beginning to think it’s a type of atheism, in one sense, to say he can’t. So, I’m making a commitment, to live more according to what I think God wants for me in my life. I invite you to ask me about how things are going in that regard, so that I can stay accountable. How about you? Will you let God work in your life?

During the season of Lent we’ve been looking at the ways that we don’t always live out what we say we believe. Last week Deacon Paul explained how this series on “Catholic Atheists” is meant to perhaps shock us a little with the title, but really to ask us to look at ourselves, and how well we actually measure up to living out our faith in God. We’ve looked at how much we trust in God’s love for us, how much we pray, and then how much we actually trust God. This weekend it gets even more difficult: We’re looking at how well we actually get to know Jesus, how well we recognize him.

I can’t even begin to count the times that I have been absolutely, positively sure that I am correct about something, only to find out later that I am completely “off base.” My reaction when I learn the truth can range from relief to embarrassment to indignation, depending on the situation. I can think that a friend has betrayed me, when in reality they are looking out for my best interests. Conversely, I have been fooled into thinking that someone was really helping, when they actually were taking advantage of me. I’ve judged so many people, in so many ways, and so many times I’ve been wrong. One of the best gifts I’ve been given was when I entered recovery several years back. I finally learned that I’m not always in the right… that I have lots to learn from others. Mostly, I have learned to try to withhold judgement, to give others the benefit of the doubt before I start making assumptions about their motives.

Jesus is very clear towards the end of this weekend’s gospel passage: If you were blind, you would have no sin. But now that you say, “We see,” your sin remains.’” The problem is that the Pharisees think they know who Jesus is. In reality, they don’t. It is the man who was blind who is open enough to learn, who asks, “‘And who is he, sir?’”

Lent is a great opportunity to get to know Jesus better. What is he like? What does he want us to do? Where might we recognize him in our lives today? Maybe this is a good opportunity to spend some time with him and find out!

As I’ve mentioned, during Lent we’re talking about “Catholic atheism”—ways in which the living out of our lives does not necessarily reflect our faith. This weekend we’re addressing worry. Fr. Jim is fond of joking that worry is such a sensible thing. He says that it is so effective that it stops 99 percent of the things he worries about from ever happening. I wish that were so! Instead, I think it saps energy from what I could be doing to counteract the outcomes we worry might happen. The Israelites were really good at worrying at times. In this weekend’s first reading, they first worry that they won’t have enough to eat, and then whether they will be able to drink. They just don’t quite believe that God, who led them out of Egypt, will then see to it that they have what they need.

I wish I could tell you that I never worry, that I have full confidence that God will give me whatever it is that I need. Instead, I find myself taking Fr. Jim’s “advice” far more often than I care to admit. Sometimes, though, I make progress. Just last weekend my sister and brother-in-law came for a visit. I’ve been so happy having them here these past few days, and I’ve given them a whirlwind tour of some of the highlights of the area. We went to Toronto on Sunday, and then on to Niagara Falls on Monday. On the drive back I could have been all worried about driving in the snow—which was heavy at times—and ending up in the ditch like a few vehicles we saw, or I could invest that same energy into driving carefully. In a sense, it’s a matter of doing what I can with what I have… and leaving the rest to God. Instead of worrying about money, I can make wise decisions with what I have today. Instead of worrying about failing at something, I can invest emotional energy into performing well. And it seems that, like Fr. Jim says, 99% of those things I could worry about never come to pass—except that sometimes I’m convinced that those issues are resolved well because I’ve invested energy into working towards a positive outcome.

If you accepted my challenge last week, you chose a time for prayer. If you followed through on it, you may have just found that you didn’t worry as much as you sometimes do. You just instinctively know that God will take care of you… and you may find that your actions come just a bit closer to matching your faith!

Without a doubt, the most frequent request I get is to pray. “Father, please pray for me.” “Father, will you pray for my grandmother?” It is a legitimate request; often I assure people that they are in my prayer even without them asking me. In a sense, praying is part of my “job description” as a priest. It’s also part of your “job description,” as a Christian.

During Lent we’re looking at a concept that we’re calling “Catholic Atheist”. Even though that may sound quite strange, there are so many ways in which we Catholics, myself included, don’t always live according to what we say, what we even think we believe. And one of those areas in my own life—and in the lives of many Catholics I know well—is in how I pray. I say I believe (and in my heart, I think I do believe) that I love God dearly. I say I believe that God loves me incredibly, and wants the best for me. And yet, there are so many times that the pressures of parish administration, or this or that duty, take priority over prayer time. I’m lucky. My daily routine includes public prayer, so some prayer happens regardless. Fr. Jim, Kevin, and I gather for Morning Prayer. I have Mass most every day. I have to spend time praying over the readings to create a homily. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for some of you. There are so many demands: work, the kids, household chores… The list goes on and on. So setting aside time for prayer becomes nearly impossible. I also know that there are many of you reading this who do set aside time for prayer each day; for some of you, it is a significant amount of time. To you, congratulations and thank you. You are an inspiration to me and to many. In a sense, you can stop reading now; I’m directing the message this week to those of us who don’t live up to our ideal of prayer.

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus, with Peter and John, are at prayer when Jesus is transfigured before their eyes. In a sense, Jesus’ interior reality becomes visible externally. Peter and John are reminded that it’s not just any old guy they’ve decided to follow. The voice from heaven asks them to recognize Jesus as God’s Son, and to listen to him. One way to do that is in prayer. So, for those of you who do not pray regularly, I challenge you: today, find a spot and decide on a time where you will pray tomorrow. And then, do it! You’ll be glad you did.