The Fifth Sunday of Easter [B]

The Fifth Sunday of Easter [B]
Acts 9:26-31  +  1 Jn 3:18-24  +  Jn 15:1-8
April 29, 2018

“Whoever remains in Me and I in him will bear much fruit.”

When a person packs his things and moves off to a new place, he expects to meet a lot of new people, and to see a lot of new things.  But at the same time, it’s important for him to keep in touch with the persons and places he loves.  Through technology, it’s relatively simple to keep in touch in our day and age.

God, however, has a more simple method, a more profound way, and a more abiding means to “keep in touch”:  that is, for love to be shared between Him and His People, and among His People.  We hear about that Way in the Scriptures today.  We reflect on that Way throughout this Easter Season.  The Easter Season culminates in a celebration of this Way, which is the Church.

We do ourselves a disservice if we think of the Easter Season as being only fifty days of celebrating Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead.  We do God a disservice if we think that the Father would raise Jesus from the dead only for Jesus’ sake.  God the Father raised Jesus from the dead for our sake.  The Easter Season is not only about Jesus’ resurrection.  The Easter Season is also about fallen man’s resurrection.

In other words, we need to think of the Easter Season as having two poles, just as Earth does.  The first pole of the Easter Season is its first day, Easter Sunday, on which the Church gives praise for the Resurrection of Jesus.  But the opposite pole of the Easter Season is its last day, Pentecost Sunday, on which the Church is given the gift that Jesus was given on Easter Sunday morn.

In between the first and last days of the Easter Season, the Risen Lord bestows His grace to many persons through the power of the Comforter.  Today’s Gospel passage continues to describe that bestowal of grace.

We hear one of simplest images in the Gospel:  a vine and its branches.  This image is, obviously, an organic one.  It makes sense to gardeners and farmers.  Such an organic relationship, or set of relationships, is at the heart of the relationship between Christ and His disciples.  Or to use the metaphor that St. Paul favored, the image of a vine and its branches describes the relationship between Christ and the members of His Body.

Jesus is teaching us about the nature of the Body of Christ through this agricultural image.  Christ is the vine, or the head of the Body of Christ.  His disciples are the branches, or the members of the Body.  To describe as organic how Christ’s love is shared between Him and His People, and among His People, is not only to say that these are “living” relationships.  These relationships are bound up with each other.  These relationships bind together the two beams of the Cross:  the vertical beam, which symbolizes man’s vocation to love God, and the horizontal beam, symbolizing man’s vocation to love his neighbor.  The two are one in Jesus, whose life you and I share in through the Power of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter
Acts 13:44-52  +  John 14:7-14
April 28, 2018

“The Father who dwells in Me is doing His works.”

At weekday Mass during the middle of the Easter Season, we are hearing Jesus’ words from the Last Supper.  John’s is the loftiest of the four Gospel accounts, but the Last Supper discourses offer the loftiest of the loftiest words spoken by Christ in John.  Much of what He says at the Last Supper concerns the unity of the Holy Trinity, and specifically of the Father and the Son.

“Words” and “works” flow from the relationship of the Father and the Son.  Jesus mentions both “words” and “works” in today’s Gospel passage, but focus here on the “works” He refers to: “The Father who dwells in me is doing His works.”  Jesus says this as the Only-Begotten Son of the Father.  Nonetheless, you and I, as the Father’s adopted children in Christ, may speak these words truthfully inasmuch as we root our lives in Christ.  This in fact is our vocation as Christians.

As a night-time examination of conscience, then, we might ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in answering these questions:  “How many of the words I spoke today were not the Father’s words?  How many of the works that I did today were not the Father’s works?”

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter
Acts 13:26-33  +  John 14:1-6
April 27, 2018

“I am the way and the truth and the life.”

Within the Gospel account of St. John, there are two significant exchanges between Jesus and Thomas.  We hear the more famous exchange on the Second Sunday of Easter, where Thomas doubts what his fellow apostles tell him about the Resurrection, only a week later to be confronted by the Risen Jesus Himself.  But today, on a weekday during the middle of Easter, we hear another form of doubt from Thomas.

Thomas expresses doubt in two ways.  First, he expresses doubt about Jesus as a leader.  A good leader makes sure that his followers know their goal.  So when Thomas claims that “we” do not know where Jesus is going, he’s expressing doubt about the goal of Jesus.  Do you ever share this doubt, or lose sight of the goal that Jesus is leading you towards through your vocation?

The second expression of doubt concerns the way to the goal.  Thomas’ words seem to hold some sort of logic:  if he does not know the goal, how can he know the way?  Only a fool sets out on a journey without knowing the goal.  If he doesn’t know the goal, then each and every step is as likely to take him farther away from his goal as it is to take him closer towards it.

However, this second expression of doubt is also a doubt about Jesus as a leader.  If Jesus is a good leader, which of course He is, then why do we have to know the goal?  The leader is the way to stay on track:  staying close to Him ensures progress towards the goal.  Thomas also has to learn from Jesus, though, that Jesus is the Life:  that is, the very goal to which Jesus is leading His disciples.

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter
Acts 13:13-25  +  John 13:16-20
April 26, 2018

“…whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

We might wonder why, throughout the Season of Easter, the Gospel passage at Holy Mass narrates events occurring before the Resurrection of Jesus?  One reason is practical.  Within the four Gospel accounts, the narratives taking place following the Resurrection are relatively few, and somewhat repetitive from one Gospel account to another.

There’s also a theological reason for the Church proclaiming “pre-Resurrection” narratives during the Season of Easter.  This reason is illustrated in the narrative of the disciples on the way to Emmaus.  On that way, Christ runs through all the Scriptures that refer to Him and His suffering, death and Resurrection.  The meaning of the Old Testament, and of Jesus’ life before His Resurrection, are seen in a new light once Christ has risen from the dead.

So it is with today’s Gospel passage, which takes place before the Last Supper, immediately after Jesus’ washing of the apostles’ feet.  In the light of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, this simple act of foot washing takes on greater meaning, as do Jesus’ words here:  “no slave is greater than his master”.  What do we learn about our own place as Jesus’ disciples—servants of His Father—if the Master took up for us, and died upon, the cross that we deserved?

St. Mark the Evangelist

St. Mark, Evangelist
1 Peter 5:5-14  +  Mark 16:15-20
April 25, 2018

But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them….

Saint Mark the Evangelist, like St. Luke, was not an apostle, as were the evangelists Matthew and John.  Yet various prayers and Scriptures in the Sacred Liturgy are taken today from those set aside for the apostles.  Why is this?  Is the Church just too lazy to compose prayers specifically for the evangelists?  Of course not.

The entire New Testament is apostolic in origin.  Out of the 27 books of the New Testament, only two were not composed by apostles:  the Gospel accounts of Mark and Luke.  Yet even these two books are apostolic in origin, for St. Mark was a disciple of St. Peter, and St. Luke of St. Paul.

That St. Mark handed down the Gospel account that he had received from an apostle reminds us of two things.  First, the Church is apostolic in origin, by the design of Jesus.  It’s in unity with our bishops under the guidance of the Pope that we can hear the fullness of the Gospel.  Second, each of us, like St. Mark, lives one’s own vocation to hand on to others the same Good News that’s been handed down through history by the apostles and their successors.

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter
Acts 11:19-26  +  John 10:22-30
April 24, 2018

“The Father and I are one.”

Today’s Gospel passage ends with an odd turn “off course”.  As a whole, the passage seems to be about Jesus dispelling the Jews’ suspense by identifying Himself as the Good Shepherd.  He then describes His relationship with His sheep, and the fact that by following His voice, His sheep have eternal life.  So far, we’re in familiar territory, with Jesus’ metaphors echoing imagery from the Old Testament.

But then an important shift occurs.  Jesus speaks about the relationships between Himself, His Father, and His sheep.  The last two sentences of today’s Gospel passage present a challenge.

From speaking about Himself and His Sheep, Jesus moves to speak about Himself and His Father.  “The Father and I are one.”  This is not distraction on Jesus’ part.  This assertion relates to what He has just said about His sheep, and about Himself as the Good  Shepherd.

How is unity one of the most important themes of the Easter Season?  How is the mark of unity—one of the four marks of Christ’s Bride, the Church—a call from Jesus to the love that the Father and the Son have for each other?  How is the Mystical Body of Christ the means by which our human love for our neighbor raises us into the love of the Triune God?

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter
Acts 11:1-18  +  John 10:1-10
April 23, 2018

“I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

When we picture the Good Shepherd, we often imagine him carrying a single stray sheep on His shoulders.  That’s definitely a consoling image for us when we’re preparing for Confession.  But when Jesus as the Good Shepherd takes us upon His shoulders, where does He carry us back to?  When Jesus returns us “home” through the gate that He Himself is, what is this “home”?

The Good Shepherd carries us through the gate back into the midst of the flock.  Jesus returns the stray to its flock so that all one hundred can graze and dwell together.  Here we have an image of the Church.  Being a Christian is never just about “me and Jesus”.  As soon as we try to separate love of God from love of neighbor, we will love neither God nor neighbor as He wants, or as He does.  Within the flock of the Church is where God teaches us to mingle our love of Him with our love of neighbor.

Here we start to see the importance of the gate.  The gate is an entrance into the life of God’s people, not just into divine life:  not just into some abstract nirvana or state of good vibrations, but into the life of God’s flock.  This is a chief focus of the Easter Season.  That’s why our First Reading throughout Easter is from the Acts of the Apostles:  the book of Acts is all about the life of the early Church.  That is to say, Acts teaches us how the first Christians lived a common life as God’s flock, with the Apostles as their earthly shepherds.  God’s flock on earth is His Church, which we live out practically within our parish family, and at home within the domestic church.

The Fourth Sunday of Easter [B]

The Fourth Sunday of Easter [B]
Acts 4:8-12  +  1 Jn 3:1-2  +  Jn 10:11-18
April 22, 2018

“A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Knowing that this Sunday is Good Shepherd Sunday, you’re not likely to be surprised by Jesus’ first words in today’s Gospel passage:  “I am the good shepherd.  A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  In other words, a good shepherd is one who serves others in a radically sacrificial manner.

Having noted that, you might wonder what the Responsorial Psalm is to go with this Gospel passage.  Your thoughts might turn to the 23rd psalm:  “The Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.”  But instead, the refrain for today’s Psalm is from Psalm 118:  “The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.”  What does Psalm 118 have to do with being a good shepherd?  To answer this, we need some perspective.

If you go back to the first words of Jesus from today’s Gospel passage, they say something different from the images conjured by Psalm 23.  The 23rd psalm, after all, is sung by one of the sheep.  The 23rd psalm describes the comforts that come from the care of the Good Shepherd:  green pastures, reposing near restful waters, and so on.  This comfort is much like what a child enjoys under the care of his or her parents.

In the Second Reading, Saint John says that, in fact, “that is what we are”:  children of God.  During the season of Easter, the Church celebrates the joy and glory of Jesus’ Resurrection.  Hopefully, we can celebrate with the joy of little children, giving thanks for the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

However, as soon as we realize that we should be giving thanks, things begin to change.  Giving thanks, of course, is not something that children do easily.  A child has to be taught to give thanks.  As we learn to give thanks, we begin to realize that all the gifts that we enjoy—life itself, our relationships, our material and spiritual goods—ultimately come from someone who did not have to give them to us.  This is most especially true of the gift of Divine Mercy.

Once we thoroughly believe this, we see that we ought to be acting the same way.  That is to say, our lives on earth ought to be given over less to the enjoying of gifts and more to the giving of sacrificial gifts.  “We are God’s children now; what we shall later be has not yet come to light.”  As Christians, we are all in the process of growing into this truth:  becoming more like God the Father, the giver of all good gifts [see James 1:17].

As a child grows up to resemble his parents, so each Christian is meant to become like God the Father.  This means becoming like that Father who sacrificed His only divine Son for us sinners and for our salvation.  In turn, that divine Son reflects the selflessness of His Father in choosing to become the rejected stone that is the cornerstone of the Church.  This rejection—which we see every time we gaze upon the crucifix—reminds us how we are called to shepherd those entrusted to our own care:  in a radically sacrificial manner that accepts rejection for the good of the Father’s will.

Saturday of the Third Week of Easter

Saturday of the Third Week of Easter
Acts 9:31-42  +  John 6:60-69
April 21, 2018

“To whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

What does it mean to accept the Bread of Life?  For cradle Catholics, it’s not hard to accept the Church’s beliefs about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  But to integrate that belief into our daily life is profoundly hard, no matter how long you’ve been a Catholic.  To receive Holy Communion on Sunday is a very simple action.  But to allow the grace of His Body and Blood to transform you from within, so that Jesus lives in you, leading your life 24/7?  That’s the life of a saint.

Or you could put it this way:  the key is that the Eucharist is divine food.  The difference between it and human food is that human food strengthens the human body according to whatever vitamins and minerals are inside it.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a sinner or a saint:  if you eat an apple, your body will be nourished in just the same way.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a scoundrel or a hero:  if you eat a steak, your body will be nourished in just the same way.  You can use the physical strength from that food to commit good deeds or bad deeds:  virtuous actions or vicious actions.

But divine food is different.  Divine food cannot strengthen you to accomplish whatever you wish.  Divine food only can strengthen you to accomplish what God wills.  Divine food only gives you the strength to accomplish what God wants to accomplish through you.  Divine food is for divine purposes.  Likewise, prayer teaches us what God wants us to do with our lives, not how to get what we’re wanting from God.

Too often in our modern day, we approach God from the perspective of a consumer culture, where God offers us deals:  where His grace is like a cash-back program for participating in the sacraments.  John 6 is about Jesus sub-ordinating His whole Self—Flesh and Blood, soul and divinity—to His Spouse, the Church.  That Church includes you as one of her members.  These passages from the Word of God become Flesh in the Holy Eucharist.  The strength of that Word made Flesh helps us to nurture the spousal, nuptial bond with Christ.  This bond is unbreakable because the one Who has called us to that union with Him is Himself divine.

Friday of the Third Week of Easter

Friday of the Third Week of Easter
Acts 9:1-20  +  John 6:52-59
April 20, 2018

“For my Flesh is true food, and my Blood is true drink.”

Jesus, like any good teacher, responds to the ignorance of those to whom he’s speaking.  The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can he give us his flesh to eat?”  Jesus replies not by saying that “eating his flesh” is just a figure of speech.

Instead, Jesus replies by saying, “if you do not eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no life in you. … For my Flesh is true food and my Blood is true drink.”

Jesus, at this point in the Gospel, does not offer this real bread and drink just yet.  He does not speak in the present tense, saying, “The bread I am giving you is my flesh.”  Instead, He speaks of the future:  “The bread I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.”

Jesus gave His Flesh and Blood for us on the Cross on Good Friday.  But He established the Sacrifice of the Mass on the night before He died.  We know the truth that we must be like Christ to truly live.  But we cannot imitate Christ through sheer will-power.  We must be nourished by God Himself.  Only when He dwells within you can you live your life as He led His:  or more accurately, can He live His life in you.

At the Last Supper, with His apostles, He prepared a banquet for those who would follow Him to the Cross.  We cannot separate the Eucharist and the Cross.  The Eucharist is not for us and our plans.  The Eucharist is to strengthen us for accomplishing God’s holy and providential Will.