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.

Thursday of the Third Week of Easter

Thursday of the Third Week of Easter
Acts 8:26-40  +  John 6:44-51
April 19, 2018

“…the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

Jesus first declares, “I am the Bread of Life.”  Then He describes Himself as “the bread that comes down from Heaven so that one may eat it and not die.”  Third, Jesus calls Himself “the living bread”.  In all three of these statements, Jesus explains that He is not just nourishment.  Jesus is a bread that offers a life stronger than death.

“Life” is what Jesus is as God, in His divine nature.  “Bread” is what Jesus is for us, in His human nature.  It’s through Jesus’ human nature that He reveals His love for us, and allows us to share in His love.

This Bread, in other words, is for you, but not about you.  Through the Bread of Life you grow in the likeness of the divine person of Jesus Christ.  Through the Bread of Life you participate in divine life.

Then Jesus reveals this awesome Mystery even further.  In the very last phrase of today’s Gospel passage, Jesus stakes the claim that makes or breaks His disciples:  not just that He is bread, and not just that as bread He gives life that’s stronger than death.

Jesus declares:  “the bread that I will give is my Flesh for the life of the world.”  Jesus is not just “bread”.  He is not just “food for the hungry”.  Jesus is not just bread that offers life.  Jesus is not just bread that strengthens you to survive death.  Jesus is the divine Word made Flesh, and His Flesh is the bread that He “will give for the life of the world.”

Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter

Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter
Acts 8:1-8  +  John 6:35-40
April 18, 2018

“…whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

This coming Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is called “Good Shepherd Sunday.”  We hear Jesus call Himself the Good Shepherd, and think about the many different ways that Jesus is our shepherd.  The Holy Eucharist is the nourishment He feeds His sheep.  We continue to hear Jesus preach about this nourishment during the weekdays of this third week of Easter.

But why do you feed animals?  Many of us have pets, and pets don’t do a lot around the house.  You feed pets just so that they stay alive, and not much else, at least practically speaking.  But you and I are not God’s pets.  God feeds us with the spiritual food of Jesus’ Body and Blood because He has a mission for each one of us.  He means for us to be “workhorses”, so to speak, in His field.

God has a different vocation in mind for each one of us, and we won’t be strong enough to do what God wants from us unless we become more like Him.  We become more like God by receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus, which helps us know and do the will of God the Father.  Pray that we will be faithful to God, and use the strength that we receive from the Holy Eucharist not for ourselves, but to do the will of God our Father in Heaven.

Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter

Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter
Acts 7:51—8:1  +  John 6:30-35
April 17, 2018

Now Saul was consenting to his execution.

Each of us needs to ask:  “Has my passive consent to another’s sin ever ‘dis-abled’ God’s Will in the world?”  In the typical artistic portraits of the martyrdom of Saint Stephen, it’s interesting to look for Saint Paul.  Though his passivity stands in stark contrast to the violence with which others are stoning Stephen, his figure in such portraits is still arresting.  Our eyes are drawn to him, perhaps because we can identify with him more than with the cruel murderers.

Often in these portraits, the Most Blessed Trinity appears above in the heavens.  Below on earth is a very different trio of persons, players in an evil act:  the victim, the aggressor, and the enabler.  The evil act involves all three.  As Saint Paul later reflected on his life, he surely pondered his role in the death of the Church’s proto-martyr (that is, the first member of the Church to win the crown of martyrdom).

During this third week of Easter, as the weekday Gospel narratives compel us to reflect on Jesus, who is the Bread of Life, we see our need to allow the Eucharist to enable us to stand fast against the commission of sin in our world.

Monday of the Third Week of Easter

Monday of the Third Week of Easter
Acts 6:8-15  +  John 6:22-29
April 16, 2018

“…believe in the one He sent.”

In today’s Gospel passage from John, we hear the crowd ask Jesus two questions.  The first question they ask is, “Rabbi [meaning, “Teacher”], when did you get here?”  Jesus doesn’t answer their question, but He confronts them with the fact that they are only concerning themselves about their physical hunger.  He shifts attention from the physical hunger that He satisfied shortly before through His miracle, to the spiritual hunger that He will satisfy later through the Sacrifice of His Body and Blood.

The crowd wants in on the deal, so they ask Jesus their second question, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”  Jesus’ response is brief.  The work of God is to have faith in the One He sent.  In other words, they do not themselves have the means to satisfy this hunger:  there is no spiritual refrigerator, supermarket, or field for them to go to.  Their spiritual hunger is not only for something to fill the emptiness inside their souls, but also for something to fill the emptiness around them.  For there is nothing around them in the world that is capable of sustaining them eternally.

The Third Sunday of Easter [B]

The Third Sunday of Easter [B]
Acts 3:13-15,17-19  +  1 Jn 2:1-5  +  Lk 24:35-48
April 15, 2018

Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.

Jesus declared that His followers are to preach the Good News of the Gospel to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  Jerusalem, of course, was the historical “birthplace” of the Church:  it was there that Jesus celebrated His Last Supper, and there that He died and rose from the dead.  It was in Jerusalem that the apostles waited during those ten days after Jesus’ Ascension for the Holy Spirit to come down upon them from Heaven, to fill their hearts, minds, and souls.

Those days of waiting for the Holy Spirit to come were days of being withdrawn from the world.  Those days were a winter of sorts.  The apostles prayed intently, in order to prepare a place inside themselves for the Holy Spirit to dwell.  For you, then, “Jerusalem” represents both the historical city where the Church began, and the place in your soul where God plants His grace for the sake of its bearing fruit.

When Jesus tells us to preach the Gospel to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem, he means for us to preach the Gospel to as many people as we can, beginning with those closest to our souls:  those within our homes, in our classrooms, and in our neighborhoods.  It’s to the people there that Jesus is sending us when he says, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”

There are many ways of “preaching”.  We should keep in mind the saying of Saint Francis of Assisi:  “Preach always, and if necessary, use words.”  That is to say, you can preach without opening your mouth.  The Christian’s example is usually more persuasive than his words, since most of us Christians are not gifted speakers.

The greatest example we can offer is forgiveness.  As the Father forgave us through Jesus’ Death on the Cross, so we are called to forgive others.  There are different ways to forgive, but our example of forgiving has to be a Christian example.  There are different ways to forgive.  Anyone with an ounce of humanity forgives others who have hurt him.  The Christian, however, offers forgiveness first, not seeking an apology from others, and not even expecting it at the same time:  just as Christ on the Cross not only did not receive an apology from those around Him, but received instead mockery and scorn.

For us, too, Jesus does not wait to forgive us until we are good enough to appear before Him and offer an apology.  He offers to cleanse us of our sinfulness when we are yet babies, unable even to speak or realize that we are born into the world as sinful members of the human family.  We in our turn should offer forgiveness from our hearts and through our words and actions before someone who has wronged us even asks for it.  This is the message that alone can bring peace to the world, and that have the power to make present in our own day and age the words of Jesus:  “Peace be with you.”

Saturday of the Second Week of Easter

Saturday of the Second Week of Easter
Acts 6:1-7  +  John 6:16-21
April 14, 2018

“It is I.  Do not be afraid.”

How can the presence of Jesus cause fear in people?  Contrast today’s Gospel passage with the scene of the Annunciation.

Jesus says to the apostles in today’s Gospel passage what the Archangel Gabriel says to Mary:  “Do not be afraid!”  Is it odd that God’s Presence—or even the news of His desire to come and be present—so often causes fear?

Do you yourself feel fear when you sense God’s desire to enter into your “boat”?  Can you welcome Him with the faith and trust of our Blessed Mother?  What other parallels are there between today’s Gospel passage and the Annunciation?

One parallel would be between the physical structure of the boat in today’s Gospel passage and the physical and spiritual dimensions of Mary as a person.  The parallel is not exact.  But a boat (or to use an archaic word, “barque”) is used in Catholic theology as a symbol for the Church, in which dwell the members of the Body of Christ.

Mary, as the Theotokos or “God-bearer”, is the Mother of Christ and therefore the Mother of the Church and all her members.  Continue to pray to our Blessed Mother throughout the remainder of Easter, asking that through her intercession, fear may be replaced by fire in your heart:  the power of the Holy Spirit.