The Mass as Emmaus

Easter Sunday

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Alleluia! He is Risen! Happy Easter to all of you.

Easter is, without a doubt, the greatest feast on the Church’s calendar, even greater than the feast of the Nativity of the Lord at Christmas, celebrating the incarnation of God into history. The only thing greater than that moment, when the Creator entered into His creation, is when that same Creator God died, was buried, and rose from the dead to open for us the path to redemption. This is what Easter celebrates. God has broken the chains of death and shown us the way to eternal life. He has died for us so that we might rise with Him. Alleluia!

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Everything is Different

Third Sunday of Easter (A)

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Jesus and the disciples on the road to Emmaus
There is a Greek word that is largely unfamiliar to most Christians today but very important to the life of the Church: kerygma. It means “preaching.” Specifically in a Christian context it means preaching the core message of the gospel. 
This is what St. Peter preaches in this Sunday’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Jesus is the Son of God. You condemned Him and killed Him. But God raised Him from the dead. We are witnesses to this. Repent and believe and you, too, will share in eternal life. Persist in your unbelief and you will be lost. It’s the gospel in a nutshell.
It’s a story that is so familiar to Christians that we can take it for granted. We can forget how radical a story it is. It’s a game changer of eternal proportions. Here’s why.
If Jesus Christ truly rose from the dead, then everything is different.
It changes everything. It means that miracles are real. It means that there exists something outside of the natural world, and that “something” has broken through into the natural world. It means that Jesus is not just a good man. It means that Jesus is not just some crazy person with a God complex. It means that He is more than a teacher or a guru. It means that he is genuinely of God, with God, and is God. It means we have to take Jesus seriously.
We have to take Him seriously when He says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”
We have to take Him seriously when He says, “No one can come to the Father except through me.”
We have to take Him seriously when He says, “Love God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
We have to take Him seriously when He says, “This is my body, which will be given up for you,” and “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life within you.”
We have to take Jesus, and the whole idea of God, the Church, heaven and hell seriously. And that makes everything different.
We are at the end of an academic year at WCU. Many of you stand at the cusp of great change. We just had our final fellowship dinner of the semester, at which we honored our graduating seniors. Leaving college means transitioning from one stage in life to another; from life as a student to life in the professional world; from someone living under your parents’ care to an independent adult. I remember when I was a senior in college. It was scary, knowing that I was entering into a new stage in my life without knowing what that would involve. A year after I graduated I was married. A year after that I became a father and bought my first house. Almost nothing in my life was the same as it was a few short years before. I couldn’t have imagined then what my life now would be like.
If graduating from college is a big and scary transition for us, imagine what Jesus’ disciples felt after that first Easter. We get a glimpse in this week’s gospel account of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, a village a few miles outside of Jerusalem. They are distressed and confused. Jesus, whom they believed to be the Messiah, had died on the cross and was buried. They thought it was the end. But now people are saying He has risen from the dead. They have seen Him! Can this be true? What does this mean?
A man joins them. It is Jesus, but they do not recognize Him. He hides His identity from them. Instead He speaks to them of the scriptures and shows how everything in the Old Testament indicates that the Messiah should suffer and die and rise again from the dead. The gospel says that their “hearts were burning” within them as they listened to His words. Then He ate with them. He took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. It is only then that they recognized Christ, “in the breaking of the bread.”
Having encountered the Risen Jesus, the gospel tells us that they “set out at once” to “tell what they had seen.” They preached the kerygma; they shared their good news. Because Jesus is truly Risen! And they knew that makes everything different.
Jesus is Risen. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we encounter Him today in the breaking of the bread, in the Eucharistic feast of the Mass. Have we allowed that fact — the most important fact in the history of mankind — to make a difference in our lives? Jesus is Risen. He is the Christ. He is God. Do we take Him seriously? If not, why not? 
This Easter season, I invite you to return to basics. Return to the kerygmatic core of the Christian faith. Meditate upon the Resurrection of Christ and allow it to change your life. Jesus is Risen. Everything is different.
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O death, where is your sting?


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The following is taken from the homily for Holy Pascha by St. John Chrysostum, early Church Father and Doctor of the Church who lived during the last half of the fourth century. 
Let all Pious men and all lovers of God rejoice in the splendor of this feast; let the wise servants blissfully enter into the joy of their Lord; let those who have borne the burden of Lent now receive their pay, and those who have toiled since the first hour, let them now receive their due reward; let any who came after the third hour be grateful to join in the feast, and those who may have come after the sixth, let them not be afraid of being too late, for the Lord is gracious and He receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him who comes on the eleventh hour as well as to him who has toiled since the first: yes, He has pity on the last and He serves the first; He rewards the one and is generous to the other; he repays the deed and praises the effort.

Come you all: enter into the joy of your Lord. You the first and you the last, receive alike your reward; you rich and you poor, dance together; you sober and you weaklings, celebrate the day; you who have kept the fast and you who have not, rejoice today. The table is richly loaded: enjoy its royal banquet. The calf is a fatted one: let no one go away hungry. All of you enjoy the banquet of faith; all of you receive the riches of his goodness.

Let no one grieve over his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed; let no one weep over his sins, for pardon has shone from the grave; let no one fear death, for the death of our Savior has set us free: He has destroyed it by enduring it, He has despoiled Hades by going down into its kingdom, He has angered it by allowing it to taste of his flesh.

When Isaiah foresaw all this, he cried out: “O Hades, you have been angered by encourntering Him in the nether world.” Hades is angered because frustrated, it is angered because it has been mocked, it is angered because it has been destroyed, it is angered because it has been reduced to naught, it is angered because it is now captive. It seized a body, and lo! it discovered God; it seized earth, and, behold! it encountered heaven; it seized the visible, and was overcome by the invisible.

O death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? Christ is risen and life is freed, Christ is risen and the tomb is emptied of the dead: for Christ, being risen from the dead, has become the Leader and Reviver of those who had fallen asleep. To Him be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.

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Gospel For Today: Easter Sunday

HAPPY EASTER!  A reminder that there will be no Mass on campus this evening.  Masses at St. Mary’s are at 9:00 and 11:00 AM today.  Masses will resume on campus this coming Sunday at 4:00pm.  We hope you have a wonderful Easter holiday and safe travels back to campus.


Rejoice!  Today the Easter Alleluias ring!  Christ is Risen!  As in our baptism we are joined to Christ’s death and resurrection, we have been joined with Christ in death through our Lenten penance and now rise with Him in Easter joy.  Today our family celebrates the baptism of our son, Jasper, born into this world three weeks ago and born again today in Christ.  We rejoice with all who have been baptized in Christ this Easter, or in the past.  I present to you today the following excerpt from St. Augustine on the end of our Lenten fast and the Easter Alleluia.  Please join me today in praising the Lord!

Our thoughts in this present life should turn on the praise of God, because it is in praising God that we shall rejoice for ever in the life to come; and no one can be ready for the next life unless he trains himself for it now. So we praise God during our earthly life, and at the same time we make our petitions to him. Our praise is expressed with joy, our petitions with yearning. We have been promised something we do not yet possess, and because the promise was made by one who keeps his word, we trust him and are glad; but insofar as possession is delayed, we can only long and yearn for it. It is good for us to persevere in longing until we receive what was promised, and yearning is over; then praise alone will remain.

Because there are these two periods of time – the one that now is, beset with the trials and troubles of this life, and the other yet to come, a life of everlasting serenity and joy – we are given two liturgical seasons, one before Easter and the other after. The season before Easter signifies the troubles in which we live here and now, while the time after Easter which we are celebrating at present signifies the happiness that will be ours in the future. What we commemorate before Easter is what we experience in this life; what we celebrate after Easter points to something we do not yet possess. This is why we keep the first season with fasting and prayer; but now the fast is over and we devote the present season to praise. Such is the meaning of the Alleluia we sing.

Both these periods are represented and demonstrated for us in Christ our head. The Lord’s passion depicts for us our present life of trial – shows how we must suffer and be afflicted and finally die. The Lord’s resurrection and glorification show us the life that will be given to us in the future.

Now therefore, brethren, we urge you to praise God. That is what we are all telling each other when we say Alleluia. You say to your neighbor, “Praise the Lord!” and he says the same to you. We are all urging one another to praise the Lord, and all thereby doing what each of us urges the other to do. But see that your praise comes from your whole being; in other words, see that you praise God not with your lips and voices alone, but with your minds, your lives and all your actions.

We are praising God now, assembled as we are here in church; but when we go on our various ways again, it seems as if we cease to praise God. But provided we do not cease to live a good life, we shall always be praising God. You cease to praise God only when you swerve from justice and from what is pleasing to God. If you never turn aside from the good life, your tongue may be silent but your actions will cry aloud, and God will perceive your intentions; for as our ears hear each other’s voices, so do God’s ears hear our thoughts.

–from St. Augustine of Hippo’s discourses on the Psalms

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

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Gospel For Today – 2nd Sunday of Easter (A)

NOTE:  As today is Divine Mercy Sunday, we will be beginning at 4:00pm with a Divine Mercy Service to be immediately followed by Mass.  The Divine Mercy Service will include the chaplet of Divine Mercy, readings from St. Faustina’s Diary, and Eucharistic Adoration.  


Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.

As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, 
and whose sins you retain are retained.” 

With these words, Jesus grants the Church the authority to carry out her most urgent and fundamental mission in the world, which is to reconcile sinners to the Father.  On the evening of His Resurrection, Jesus appears to the Apostles and tells them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”   So if we want to know why Christ sent the Apostles (and why God sent us the Church) we must know why God the Father sent His Son into the world.

The scriptures are abundantly clear on this point. From the beginning of the incarnation narrative, the angel who announced the coming of Christ to Joseph said, “and you shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins” (Mt 1:21).  Jesus in His own words said, “I have come to call sinners” (Mt 9:13) and, “For the Son of Man came to save what was lost” (Mt 28:11).   In so many of Christ’s parables, including the story of the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, and the Good Shepherd, our Lord describes His mission to call sinners to repentance and to grant forgiveness.  And on many occasions we see Christ granting that very forgiveness to individuals including Mary Magdalene, Zacchaeus, the thief crucified next to our Lord, and the Samaritan woman at the well.  
Very plainly, when Jesus heals the lame man who had been lowered through the roof, He says He did so, “so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mt 9:2-8). This was Christ’s chief mission, without a doubt.  It was the purpose of all that He suffered through on Good Friday, and here on the eve of the Resurrection we find Christ passing that divine authority on to the Apostles.
In our gospel, we read, “When He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'”    We must remember that it was the breath of God that gave life to Adam in the beginning (Gen 2:7).  The word spirit itself derives from the Latin word for breath.  This also anticipates the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, 50 days later (Acts 2:1-4).  In fact, Christ expressly says, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” while breathing on them. 
The purpose of Christ transmitting the Holy Spirit to them at this moment was to empower them – to grant them the divine authority – to fulfill their mission.  And what was that mission?  “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”  Christ says quite plainly that the mission of the Apostles, and by extension the Apostolic Church, is to forgive sins.  He has granted them God’s authority to do so.  He has instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or what we commonly call Confession.
How do we know this authority continues on in today’s bishops and priests?  We know this because Christ intended that the mission of His Church would continue until the end of time.  If the Apostles did not have the ability to transfer that authority to others, then Christ’s mission of forgiveness would have ended with that first generation of Christians, and extended only to those with personal contact with the Apostles themselves.  Forgiveness of sin would have come to an end with the death of St. John.  The forgiveness of sin must continue to be available to us for as long as there is sin in the world, which will be until the end of time.  And so the Church’s divinely instituted mission continues on.
But why confess out loud to a priest?  Can’t the Church just universally grant forgiveness without us having to go through the act of confessing?  Note that Christ grants the Apostles the authority both to forgive and to retain sins.  How are they supposed to know when to grant and when to withhold forgiveness?  They have to know what it is they are forgiving, the disposition of the sinner, his or her resolutions for the future, their willingness to make amends for any harm done by their sins, and so forth.  All of this requires that the penitent sinner actually confess those sins, and his or her repentance, to the minister of the Church.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a great mercy of God.  Through it the sinner is brought into renewed friendship with God.  Your sins are forgiven.  You receive sanctifying grace.  The everlasting punishment due because of your sins is remitted and God’s grace will strengthen you to help you avoid future sin.  Plus, you get the chance to receive spiritual advice and instruction – all freely given!  
Christ will come at the end of days as the Just Judge.  But when He came to us in the Incarnation it was as the Divine Physician; it was as the Good Shepherd searching for His lost sheep.  The prescription for our ailment is repentance and forgiveness.  The Shepherd’s voice is a voice of mercy.  The greatest tragedy in our lives would be to not take advantage of Christ’s abundant mercy. 
The Divine Mercy devotion is based on the writings of an uneducated Polish nun, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, who kept a diary of some 600 pages in the 1930s.  In one passage of her diary, she has Jesus saying, “He who refuses to pass through the door of My mercy must pass through the door of My justice” (Diary 1146).  
The door of Christ’s mercy is the door of the Confessional.  The key to unlocking that door is our own repentance.  The only cost of entry is to trust in His mercy and love.  

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

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