Thursday of the Second Week of Easter

Thursday of the Second Week of Easter
Acts 5:27-33  +  John 3:31-36
April 23, 2020

“We must obey God rather than men!”

Baptism is not a private experience.  It is not simply about “me and Jesus”.  Baptism washes away not only one’s own personal sins, but also the sin of Adam and Eve.  All members of the human race have shared that original sin, with the exceptions of Mary and Jesus.

Likewise, as the baptismal bath washes away death in both personal and communal ways, so baptism also brings about new life in the soul of the baptized in two ways.  The individual Christian, during the course of his earthly days, works out his salvation [see Philippians 2:12] through his membership in the Church:  that is, by sharing in her saving mission.

This Church, the Body of Christ, is the answer to the questions that today’s readings raise.  The evangelist explains that there’s a difference between those who speak of earthly things, and those who speak of God.  Peter himself, the first visible head of the Church, says ultimately the same thing in Acts.  In front of Jewish officials, Peter offers an explanation for why the apostles disobey the officials, declaring:  “We must obey God rather than men!”  Yet, ironically, these Jewish officials were representatives of God!

Most Christians, in fact, represent God in some manner or another.  Parents represent God to their children.  Catechists represent God to their pupils.  Clergy represent God to those entrusted to their care, and not only through the sacraments.  This is as God designed the Church, although of course, this is where difficulties arise within the Church.  Those called to represent God fail through sin or ignorance.

From the day of Pentecost, the Church has not been perfect.  As we prepare ourselves for the celebration of Pentecost, we beg the Holy Spirit for those gifts that will allow each of us to be seen as pure icons of our Crucified and Risen Lord, and to represent God faithfully in thought, word and action.

Easter 2-4

Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter

Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter
Acts 5:17-26  +  John 3:16-21
April 22, 2020

But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.

Today’s Gospel passage tells us neither of Jesus preaching nor of Jesus acting.  Instead, in this passage St. John the Evangelist offers spiritual commentary on the Christian life.  More specifically, the evangelist describes what it means for the Christian’s works to be rooted in Christ, so deeply in fact that it is Christ who acts through the Christian.  To do so, he uses the simple metaphor of light, but in two ways.

On the one hand, to offer a contrast, the evangelist speaks in terms of sinful actions.  He notes that “everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light”.  Clearly, the evangelist is using light as a metaphor for truth.  In common English, when we say that someone fears his actions “coming to light”, we mean that someone fears the truth of his actions becoming known.  Along this line, the evangelist explains that the sinner “does not come toward the light” so that his actions will not become known.  Adam and Eve, after committing the Original Sin, exemplify what the evangelist means here.

On the other hand, the evangelist also refers to the good works done by a Christian:  that is, works done in accord with the will of God the Father, whom St. James in his epistle calls “the Father of lights” [James 1:17].  In the last sentence of today’s Gospel passage, the evangelist notes that “whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”

So how does what the evangelist says about morality shed light on the whole of the spiritual life?  Consider that, to the Romans, Jesus’ crucifixion was punishment for threatening their rule.  To the Jews, Jesus’ crucifixion was ironic justice for a man who claimed to be their Messiah.  But the Beloved Disciple—the only apostle and evangelist to stand at the foot of the Cross—saw infinitely more in the Crucifixion.  He saw light in the darkness of Calvary.  So in turn, each of us needs to see light in the darkness of our sins:  each night when we make an examination of conscience, and in the pew at church before entering the confessional.  That light is Jesus’ Divine Mercy, which poured forth from the side of Jesus on the Cross.

Easter 2-3

Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter

Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter
Acts 4:32-37  +  John 3:7-15
April 21, 2020

The community of believers was of one heart and mind ….

One of the greatest tensions in the spiritual life is between individual concerns and communal needs.  Given our modern secular culture, we tend to the former.

We can be lulled into nurturing our spiritual life as something that’s “just between me and God” or a “me and Jesus relationship”.  A relationship with God certainly lies at the heart of the Christian life, but our lives are not given to us for our sakes alone.

Everything God graciously gives us, including our relationship with Him, is given to us for the sake of others. The graces that God pours into our lives are meant to overflow from our lives into the world through the Church.

The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, the Risen Jesus in the world today.  It is through the Church that we live our spiritual lives:  both in receiving the sacramental graces that build us up, and in giving these graces to others through our vocation.

The Christian’s vocation is the hinge between the individualistic and the communal:  each of us is called to be an individual for the sake of others.  We reflect on this aspect of the Mystical Body of Christ throughout the Easter Season as we prepare for the celebration of Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit descends from Heaven to strengthen the Church, and each of us who are her members, to carry out the saving mission of the Church.

Easter 2-2

Monday of the Second Week of Easter

Monday of the Second Week of Easter
Acts 4:23-31  +  John 3:1-8
April 20, 2020

“Do not be amazed that I told you, ‘You must be born from above.’”

Today’s Gospel passage shows Jesus teaching Nicodemus a lesson about the Holy Spirit.  The First Reading shows the members of the early Church living this lesson.

The Holy Spirit animates the soul of the Christian, who lives her or his life within the Body of Christ.  Sometimes the Holy Spirit is metaphorically called the soul of the Body of Christ.  This image helps us recognize how completely we are to live within the Church.  This image also helps us see how the Holy Spirit must be the source of our every thought and act.

When the first Christians received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, they surely never imagined themselves experiencing the conflicts that we read about in the Acts of the Apostles.  The Holy Spirit led them where they may not previously have been willing to go.  In our own lives, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to animate our lives.  When we do, the Holy Spirit will  make the virtue of humility easier to live, since both the conflicts and victories in our lives are His.

Easter 2-1

Divine Mercy Sunday [A]

Divine Mercy Sunday [A]
Acts 2:42-47  +  1 Peter 1:3-9  +  John 20:19-31

Blessed be [He] who in His great mercy gave us a new birth ….

+     +     +

references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church cited for this Sunday by the Vatican’s Homiletic Directory:

CCC 448, 641-646: appearances of the risen Christ
CCC 1084-1089: sanctifying presence of the risen Christ in the liturgy
CCC 2177-2178, 1342: the Sunday Eucharist
CCC 654-655, 1988: our new birth in the Resurrection of Christ
CCC 976-983, 1441-1442: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins”
CCC 949-953, 1329, 1342, 2624, 2790: communion in spiritual goods

+     +     +

On this Sunday’s solemnity of Divine Mercy, the Church calls us to rejoice that the Sacrament of Confession, and the peace that flows from it, are the “first fruits” of Jesus’ Resurrection.  In the Old Testament, the People of God—Israel—gave God the first fruits of their harvests, although they were so precious and needed for life.  But in the New Testament, it’s God who gives to His People—the Church—the first fruits of the Resurrection of His most precious Son.

Many of our separated brethren claim that there’s no need to confess one’s sins to a priest.  Against such a claim stand the words of St. John the Evangelist, who tells us that just a few hours after Jesus’ Resurrection, He showed Himself to His apostles, “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.’” Consider from three perspectives the first fruits that flow from this gift of the Holy Spirit.

First, Confession reflects the nature of the sinner.  Jesus established a sacrament where we are required to confess our sins to another human being—indeed, a fellow sinner—to receive the benefits of the sacrament.  God knows that if He made the default for forgiving sins the direct confession of one’s sins to God, the average sinner would grow spiritually weaker over time.

For example, if you start a confession of your sins directly to God and have trouble remembering them, it’s easy to say, “Well, God knows everything.  I don’t need to remember all my sins.”  That can begin a habit by which the sinner presumes upon God’s goodness, and demands less accountability from oneself.

From the opposite perspective, the priest is not likely to know our sins.  So the burden is on each of us as a penitent to present ourselves honestly to God through a thorough account of our sins to the priest.  But one of the benefits of Confession is that the more honest we are about our sinfulness, the more we appreciate the beauty and abundance of God’s mercy.

Second, Confession reflects the nature of the Church.  The priest in Confession represents not only God, but also the other members of the Body of Christ.  One of the many problems with the idea of just confessing one’s sins directly to God is that our sins offend not only God.

Jesus taught His disciples that God’s commandments boil down to two:  to love God and to love one’s neighbor.  This two-fold command is symbolized by Jesus’ Cross.  The Cross has a vertical beam symbolizing the love meant to flow between me and God.  The horizontal beam symbolizes the love meant to flow between me and my neighbors.  As Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, the priest in Confession represents both God and man:  my God and my neighbors.

Third, Confession reflects the nature of God Himself.  On the evening of His Resurrection, Jesus breathed on the apostles, and said to them:  “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  In Confession the penitent receives this same Holy Spirit, and if we know one thing about the Holy Spirit, it’s that He’s never satisfied to give life when He can give life abundantly.  That is to say that in Confession, God not only forgives sins but gives many other gifts as well.

The Catechism lists all the graces that God gives in Confession.  Yet perhaps most important among them is “an increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle” [CCC 1496].  This gift is why we ought to make a sacramental confession at least once every few months, even if we don’t have any mortal sins to confess, but only venial sins.

After all, what is one of hardest parts of “the Christian battle” if not forgiving those who have hurt you?  The divine forgiveness that we receive through Confession strengthens us to offer human forgiveness more easily to those who have wronged us.

Some people think Confession is only about the washing away of the sins of one’s past.  But Confession is also about God equipping us for the days ahead.  Confession prepares us so that when we leave the confessional we might serve Him as bearers of mercy, so that we might love God and neighbor as God Himself loves.

Easter 2-0

Saturday within the Octave of Easter

Saturday within the Octave of Easter
Acts 4:13-21  +  Mark 16:9-15
April 18, 2020

I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me.

Throughout the Blessed Virgin Mary’s life, humility marked her approach to her Lord.  Humility is not a virtue that one can ever spiritually outgrow.  Whatever graces God gives us, they are given for the unfolding of His plan, which often remains to us a mystery.  Even as we apply these graces in our lives, we must do so with humility, as day by day, another aspect of the mystery of our vocation is shown to us.

Even at the foot of the Cross, Mary prayed in humility.  It was with humility that she rejoiced at the sight of her Son risen from the dead.  Seeing Jesus on that first Easter Sunday, she would not have known exactly how He was preparing His disciples—through the power of the Holy Spirit—to form a Church.  Nor would she have known exactly how Jesus’ words to her from the Cross—“Woman, behold your son”—were about to flower with new meaning, when she became the Mother of the Church on the day of Pentecost.

If you do not already know it by heart, take the opportunity to learn the prayer Regina Caeli, the traditional Marian prayer of Easter:

V.  Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia. / R. For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia.

V.  Has risen, as he said, alleluia. / R. Pray for us to God, alleluia.

V.  Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia. / R. For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.

Let us pray. O God, who gave joy to the world through the resurrection of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, grant we beseech Thee, that through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, His Mother, we may obtain the joys of everlasting life. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Easter 1-6

Friday within the Octave of Easter

Friday within the Octave of Easter
Acts 4:1-12  +  John 21:1-14
April 17, 2020

He revealed Himself in this way.

What does St. John the Evangelist mean when he reports to us that the disciples “dared” not ask Jesus “Who are you?”  After all, the Beloved Disciple had told Peter that this was the Lord.  Today’s Gospel passage suggests some unresolved ambiguity.  While the miracle of catching 153 fish convinced the disciples who He was, there was still some reason for them to ask His identity.  His miracle convinced them, but His appearance did not.

So the Risen Jesus, in His glorified Body, was the same person, yet somehow different.  He had the same two natures—human and divine—yet He was somehow different.  The Resurrection narratives demonstrate some of the ways in which Jesus was different after His rising from the dead:  most famously—as we will hear this coming Sunday—the Risen Lord had a physical body that could pass through solid matter.

The point here is that in His Risen Body, Jesus looks different to His disciples.  He looks different enough to cause some confusion in their minds:  at least enough confusion for them to be tempted to “dare” ask Him “Who are you?”  For ourselves, regarding both our meditation and our speaking to the Lord in prayer, we should ask:  do we expect the Lord to appear to us in some certain way?  How might God want to surprise us in making Himself known to us, and in showing us His love?

Easter 1-5

Thursday within the Octave of Easter

Thursday within the Octave of Easter
Acts 3:11-26  +  Luke 24:35-48
April 16, 2020

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.

It is only in “the breaking of the bread” that the disciples come to know Jesus, and it is only in this that they become more than disciples.  Only in the Eucharist do we share in the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, and become members of Christ’s Body.  This is the goal of our lives as Christians:  not merely to learn about Jesus, but to enter into His life and saving mission.

On the day of the Resurrection, Jesus is preparing the apostles for the day of His Ascension.  After He leaves the earth, it will be up to them to act in His name.  First, they must preach penance for the remission of sins, and then suffer inevitably for standing up for what is true.

In all of this, the waves of impact from the news of the Resurrection continue to spread throughout the world that God created, bringing peace to His people on earth and glory to God in the highest.  Throughout history and throughout our own lives, it is our calling to continue to be faithful witness to the news of the Resurrection.  Yet only Christ’s Holy Spirit can sustain us in offering ourselves for such witness.  So for this calling we pray during the Easter season for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in abundance.

Easter 1-4