Homilies by Fr. Greg Kimm, PastorMore recent Homilies can be found on The SJC Flyer Weblog.
Easter, 11-12 April 2009
Many people throughout the world believe in reincarnation, the idea that when people die, they are reborn. While some think that people can be reborn as any kind of creature--a flea, a frog, one of those fluffy bunnies that we see on Easter cards and decorations--others say that people just come back as somebody else. For those who might want to gain some knowledge about a past life, there are even professionals who can help them get in touch with those lost memories of when they were perhaps a Civil War soldier or an immigrant seamstress at the turn of the last century.
As Christians, we do not believe in reincarnation, but we do believe in resurrection. The resurrection we celebrate today--the resurrection of Jesus Christ--makes it possible for us be reborn, and we don't have to die to do it. By the transformative power of Jesus' resurrection--first available to us in baptism but offered to us throughout our lives--each one of us can become somebody else. We don't have to be people who are bitter over past offenses, who are judgmental of those they consider wrong, who are selfishly focused on their own comfort, wealth, or position. Instead, we can become people who are willing to forgive, who are understanding and accepting of those who are different, who are attentive to others' needs. We don't have to be people who have no interest in religion, who sit back and let others take care of their parish, who doubt the love that God has for them. Instead, we can become people who value their faith, who take an active role in building up their parish community, who see the signs of God's love that are all around them.
As Jesus rose to live a new life, we can rise to live a new life. If we choose to use it, the power of Jesus' resurrection can make each one of us somebody else: the person God intends for you and me to be.
In a very famous case, in 1633 Italian astronomer Galileo was condemned by Church authorities for teaching the idea that the earth revolved around the sun. While this view of the solar system was accepted in official Catholic circles long before the 20th century, it was only in 1992--350 years after Galileo's death--that Pope John Paul II publicly expressed regret over the condemnation and "the errors of the theologians of the time."
Sometimes we can be very sure of something and still be wrong. Just ask the apostle Thomas, who was so convinced that Jesus was not alive, contrary to the reports of the other apostles, that only the act of touching Jesus' wounds would convince him otherwise.
What are the things about which we could be wrong even though we're very sure we're not? Is that person over there really as terrible a human being as I think he is? Is there really no hope that my family members will change their attitudes or the way they live their lives? Do all people of a certain color or place of origin really exhibit the kinds of behavior that we've heard others say they do?
Only God knows the truth about everything. Since you and I are surely not God, it would probably be good for us to acknowledge our human limitation and be more careful about declaring what is or isn't so. Maybe Thomas's real problem was not his doubt but his close-mindedness, his stubborn refusal to accept a different idea. Maybe it's time we were more doubtful about some of the things we believe to be true.
see John 20: 19-31[Top]
Sometimes at the conclusion of a murder trial, the court gives the family members of the victim the opportunity to address directly the person responsible for their loved one's death. It is understandable that these family members will usually lash out in anger towards the killer.
This is why it is somewhat surprising in our first reading that Peter does not seem to express any anger when he addresses those responsible for the death of Jesus, his master and friend. Instead, Peter preaches the good news, offering the possibility of salvation. "Repent and be converted," he says to the people, "that your sins may be wiped away."
Why was Peter so gentle in his approach to those "who denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released"? I think the answer can be found at least in part in our gospel reading, where Jesus appears to the disciples after the resurrection. We would expect Jesus to be angry; after all, these are the same disciples who had deserted him just a few days earlier. However, Jesus' first words to these unfaithful friends of his are "Peace be with you." And instead of chastising them or punishing them, he opens their minds to the Scriptures.
The memory of the risen Lord's mercy to him and to the other disciples surely stayed in Peter's heart and moved him to show mercy to those who "put to death" the "author of life." When people sin against us, we should remember the mercy God shows to us in spite of our selfishness and greed, our lack of patience and charity, our hatred and cruelty. We should remember that mercy--that constant and undeserved mercy--and let that memory move us to show that same mercy to others.
see Acts 3:13-15; Luke 24:35-48[Top]
Here's a question for you: How many of you would go into a movie theater in your bare feet? My guess is, not many. Think of those poor people who have to clean up a theater after the movie is over; they must have one of the worst jobs in the world.
I'm also going to guess that most of us would not intentionally leave spilled drinks, half-eaten food, and other assorted trash lying on the floors of our own homes. We all know there's a big difference between the way we treat something that belongs to us and the way we treat something that doesn't belong to us. We're more careless with things that aren't ours, whether it's the floor of a movie theater, the walls of a public restroom, or the pages of a school textbook. That's one of the points Jesus is trying to make in our gospel when he compares the good shepherd to the hired man, who "works for pay and has no concern for the sheep."
Sadly, I think many Catholics lack a strong sense that the parish belongs to them; they may be members of the community but they are not owners. Consequently, they lack as well that deep concern for the well-being of their parish that their faith really demands. Certainly the way many of us were trained to "hear mass," "receive the sacraments," and let the priests make all the decisions did not encourage a different attitude. But Easter teaches us that it is possible to be unshackled from the past and to live a new life.
The fact of the matter is that the parish does belong to each one of us, which means that each one of us is also responsible for its health, growth, and prosperity. Each one of us is entrusted by God with the sacred duty of making sure that Christ's healing ministry and the proclamation of the good news continue in this little corner of the world. It is up to each one of us to see that little kids can learn about God, that the sick and homebound have visitors, that the church is always beautiful enough to inspire worship, and yes, that the lights stay on and the bills get paid.
There is a difference between the way we treat something that belongs to us and the way we treat something that doesn't belong to us. I hope, then, that we will see ourselves as owners of this parish and not merely members.
see John 10: 11-18 [Top]
An occupational hazard of being a priest is that every once in a while, a family member or friend will contact me with some religious question. Sometimes the question is not even from the family member or friend but is instead one that he or she is asking on behalf of somebody else. I have fielded questions about everything from withholding medical treatment from a dying person to whether or not it is permissible to eat meat on a Friday in Lent. So I guess there are times when it's helpful to have a connection to a priest.
The right connections are often helpful in life. Think about how important they can be in finding a job or finding a mate, in getting into school or getting through red tape. How many people have succeeded because they had the right connections? How many people have failed because didn't have the right connections?
Jesus says in our gospel, "I am the vine, you are the branches." In Jesus we all have the right connection. It is that connection to Jesus that can help us to live as his disciples, bearing much fruit. It is that connection to Jesus that can help us to forgive enemies, defend the weak, feed the hungry, welcome strangers, put the interests of others before our own, and work to build up the parish community. In short, it is our connection to Jesus that can help us to follow the instruction in our second reading: "let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth."
While embarrassment or pride may make us reluctant to use our connections in life, there is no reason to fear going to Jesus. He happily offers to all of us the strength and the grace we need to bear fruit in the world. They are ours for the asking.
see John 15: 1-8; John 3: 18-24 [Top]
One of the great and yet wholly undesirable transitions in life comes when total strangers start calling us "sir" and "ma'am." That's when we know we're getting old. But I wonder, then, what point in life we've reached when we actually expect total strangers to call us "sir" and "ma'am."
Let's face it: we all like recognition from others, even if it's just for having lived more years than somebody else. We might say we don't care about recognition but I doubt we would be pleased if our names got left off a list of donors or are not mentioned at the end of some event that we helped to make possible. We hang up our diplomas and display our awards. We want people to address us as "Doctor" or "Father." We hope to get promotions or pay raises. We're proud when--for the right reasons--our faces appear in the newspaper or on the TV news.
The scriptures tell us that at Jesus' ascension, having fulfilled the will of his Father, the Lord took his seat at God's right hand. Yes, Jesus finally received the recognition he deserved. But it's important for us to understand that Jesus received that recognition precisely because he was willing to go unrecognized, to become nobody, nothing, "for us and for our salvation." From his throne in heaven, Jesus continues to teach us by example that the path to true glory is in humbling ourselves, making ourselves small, not in seeking human recognition but in seeking only to do our Father's will.
see Ephesians 1: 17-23; Mark 16: 15-20 [Top]