St. Matthias, Apostle

St. Matthias, Apostle
Acts 1:15-17,20-26  +  John 15:9-17
May 14, 2020

So they proposed two, Joseph … and Matthias.

Saint Matthias is mentioned by name only once in the Scriptures, on the occasion of his election to the office of apostle.  By this we see how important this ministry is to the on-going nature of the Church.

It’s fitting that the Church usually celebrates this feast of Saint Matthias during the Season of Easter.  Throughout the first weeks of the Easter season, we hear accounts of Jesus speaking to the apostles.  These words are the Lord’s preparation for His Ascension, and for the Holy Spirit’s descent.  These words are His preparation for the new life of the Church.  His words reveal to us the nature of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ.

Hearing about the election of Matthias to fill the vacancy left by Judas Iscariot, we recognize that God the Holy Spirit works through the acts of the apostles and their successors.  Both the apostles’ human selection of two candidates, and the Holy Spirit’s election of Matthias to the apostolic office, are the means by which this vocation is given to Matthias.  Both divine grace and human works work together in the life of the Church, and in the life of each Christian, to continue the saving work of the Lord Jesus.

St. Matthias

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter
Acts 15:1-6  +  John 15:1-8
May 13, 2020

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.”

Jesus today proclaims a powerful metaphor.  He captures the relationships among the Vinegrower, the Vine, and the branches with their fruit.  This metaphor expresses powerfully the relationship between God the Father and God the Son.  Within this relationship we see our place as members of the Mystical Body of Christ.

John’s account of the Gospel is the most mystical and sublime of the four Gospel accounts.  Therefore it’s also the most difficult to reach into and meditate upon.  Today’s metaphor opens a window into the sacred Teaching of the Beloved Disciple.

Begin with a simple question:  What is God the Father like as a Vinegrower?  This is a very simple, earthly and earthy image.  If you know anyone who is a gardener (or even more specifically, a vintner), you can picture some of the qualities that this image evokes.  The tenderness, patience, perseverance, and dedication that flow from this image teach us about the Love of the Father for His Son, and for us who are members of His Son’s Body.

Easter 5-3

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter
Acts 14:19-28  +  John 14:27-31
May 12, 2020

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”

One of the blessings of the priesthood is ministering to someone laying on his deathbed.  Its certainly true that there’s often grief—sometimes dramatic grief—on the faces of loved ones surrounding the dearly departing.  Yet it’s rare to see someone who is dying cry.

Why would this be?  It’s not likely that the dying person loves those surrounding him less than they love him.  But his focus is different than the focus of those around him.  Their focus in upon him:  or, more specifically, losing him.  His focus, on the other hand, is the mystery of death, and the many questions posed by that mystery:  “Where am I going?”  “What and whom will I see there?”  “What has my life up to now amounted to?”

In the face of all those questions that fill the mind and heart of a dying person, that person usually experiences one of two things:  either anguish, or peace.  No doubt, you can find many different people to give you many different definitions of peace.  But the peace of the Christian who is dying in Christ is one of Our Lord’s greatest gifts.  Of course, we don’t have to wait until our deathbed to experience this peace.

Jesus speaks about this peace today.  Helpfully, Jesus clarifies what this peace is not:  “not as the world gives do I give it to you.”  The peace that the world seeks is fleeting and based on compromise.  The peace of Jesus, on the contrary, does not need to engage in compromise because it consists in what is truly best for each and all.  As such, it is abiding, as we are called to abide in Christ, and as He wishes to abide within each of us.

Do we believe that this sort of peace is truly possible in this world?  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, it is possible to fix our lives on this gift, and to abide in it throughout our lives.  However, to do so takes a lot of cultivation of our souls through works of sacrifice and the virtues.  The goal of all this is formation in the natural and supernatural virtues, that within each of us, God’s grace can take root and flower abundantly.

Easter 5-2 Last Supper

Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter
Acts 14:5-18  +  John 14:21-26
May 11, 2020

“… He will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”

At the Last Supper, Jesus speaks about the role that the Holy Spirit will play in the lives of the disciples after Jesus’ Ascension.  Although Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the “Advocate”—a legal term sometimes translated “Counselor”—it’s in terms of teaching that Jesus here describes the Holy Spirit’s mission.  “The Advocate… will teach you everything”.

The Holy Spirit teaching Jesus’ disciples is important because not only individuals, but mankind itself, learns only gradually.  Indeed, mankind learns only gradually over the course of human history.

Jesus did not reveal all truth.  Why not?  Jesus didn’t choose not to reveal the fullness of truth because of some defect in His teaching ability.  Rather, He chose not to reveal all truth because of the limits of human nature.  Jesus is Himself “Truth”, and since He is God, Jesus is infinite Truth.  Therefore, for a finite creature such as a disciple, the learning process must be both continual and everlasting.

Yet every Christian disciple is also called to be a teacher, sharing in Jesus’ teaching mission.  We learn not merely to learn how to get ourselves to Heaven, but also to teach others the Way.  But among the many truths that we learn through the Power of the Holy Spirit, perhaps the most fundamental is simply to turn the whole of our lives over to God:  that is, the truth that in commending our spirit into the Hands of the Father, our lives grow in goodness and peace.

Easter 5-1 Holy Spirit

The Fifth Sunday of Easter [A]

The Fifth Sunday of Easter [A]
Acts 6:1-7  +  1 Peter 2:4-9  +  John 14:1-12

“… whoever believes in me will do the works I do ….”

+     +     +

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

CCC 2746-2751: Christ’s prayer at the Last Supper
CCC 661, 1025-1026, 2795: Christ opens for us the way to heaven
CCC 151, 1698, 2614, 2466: believing in Jesus
CCC 1569-1571: the order of deacons
CCC 782, 803, 1141, 1174, 1269, 1322: “a chosen race, a royal priesthood”

+     +     +

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”  When Jesus speaks these words at the Last Supper, two disciples speak out.  Maybe you can relate to each of them in turn.

The first is the Apostle Thomas, often called “Doubting Thomas”.  This unflattering name is usually connected to Thomas doubting his fellow apostles when they tell him that they’ve seen the Risen Lord [John 20:24-25].

Yet this Sunday we hear Thomas express doubt, not about his fellow apostles, but about his Lord.  He does this in two ways.  First, he doubts Jesus when he complains that “we do not know where you are going”.  He’s expressing doubt about Jesus as a leader, for Jesus does not seem to be sharing knowledge about what their goal is.

Second, he expresses doubt about the means by which to reach the goal.  “How can we know the way?”  You have to admit that this objection bears a certain logic:  if you do not know where you’re headed, how can you know how to get there?  If you’ve read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, you remember the nonsensical exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat.  Alice asks the Cat, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”  “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.  “I don’t much care where—” said Alice.  “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.  [Alice added as an explanation:] “—so long as I get somewhere”.  “Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

Many people in our culture feel like a hamster on a wheel.  Earthly goals after many decades don’t seem to produce the accomplishment they had hoped for, and the goal of Heaven on earth never seems to materialize.  So, the doubter asks, what is the connection between earth and Heaven?  As far as reaching the goal of Heaven, is our time on earth just simple waiting, hoping we don’t commit the mortal sin that will close the doors of Heaven against us?  This is a very negative view of the spiritual life:  that following Jesus is defined by what we don’t do.

We need to put ourselves in the shoes of the apostle Philip.  Philip makes a simple request:  “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”  But if Philip thought that he was being humble in asking this, Jesus has other ideas.  “Have I been with you for so long… and you still do not know me, Philip? … How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?”  You can almost imagine Philip wide-eyed at Jesus’ response, thinking that he’d asked for very little.

Jesus expands on what He means by explaining that His own words and works are not, in fact, done on His own.  The Father and the Son are one.  They are one to such perfection that their words and works are one.  This is a profound point, but it’s not Jesus’ final point—or even His strongest point—in today’s Gospel passage.

“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.”  The Easter Season is not only about Jesus rising from the dead.  The Easter Season is also about Jesus rising to the Right Hand of the Father.  The sacred event of Jesus’ Ascension is what makes it possible for those ‘greater works’ to be worked by Jesus’ followers.  Whether it’s the work of one’s vocation to Holy Matrimony or consecrated life or Holy Orders, or whether it’s dedication in old age to an intense life of prayer and the acceptance of suffering, each and every Christian finds strength for the journey in the person of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the only Way that leads to the embrace of God the Father.

Coronation of Mary

A blessed Mother’s Day to Our Blessed Mother and to all our moms!

Easter 5-0A seven deacons

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter

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

“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?”

Easter 4-6

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter
Acts 13:26-33  +  John 14:1-6
May 8, 2020

“I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Within the Gospel account of St. John, there are two conversations between Jesus and Thomas.  The more famous exchange we hear on the Second Sunday of Easter, where Thomas doubts what his fellow apostles tell him about the Resurrection.  A week later he’s 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 Jesus.

The second expression of doubt concerns the way towards the goal.  Thomas’ words hold a certain logic:  it would seem foolish to set out on a journey without knowing the goal.  If the pilgrim doesn’t know his 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 we trust Jesus to lead us, 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.  We pray with St. John Henry Newman:  “Lead Thou me on! / Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see / The distant scene; one step enough for me”.

Easter 4-5

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter
Acts 13:13-25  +  John 13:16-20 
May 7, 2020

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

Why are there days during Eastertide when the Gospel Reading 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.  Also, they are 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 clear 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.  It 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.  So 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?

Easter 4-4

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter
Acts 12:24—13:5  +  John 12:44-50
May 6, 2020

“I came into the world as light ….”

When we recite the Creed on Sundays and solemnities, we profess that God the Son is “eternally begotten of the Father.”  This statement is a profession of the divinity of Jesus Christ, which relates to Jesus’ assertion in yesterday’s Gospel passage that “The Father and I are one.”

Meditate on this truth that the Father and the Son are one in light of another phrase from the Creed:  that is, that the Son is “Light from Light” .  How is God light?  This is a metaphor, of course, but a very pregnant one.  Jesus proclaims in today’s Gospel passage, “I came into the world as light….”  He is talking, of course, about His mission in this world having the same effect as light.

Jesus’ earthly mission is continued through time by His Mystical Body, the Church.  Within the Church, your vocation bears—in some way—a share in the meaning of this metaphor:  “that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness.”  We might reflect on today’s Gospel in conjunction with Jesus’ words during the Sermon on the Mount:  “You are the light of the world.”  Our mission as the light of the world leads others, and ourselves, into the light of the Beatific Vision.

Easter 4-3