Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter
Acts 20:28-38  +  John 17:11-19

“… that they may be one just as We are one.”

Of the four Gospel accounts, John’s is the loftiest and thus is symbolized by an eagle.  In the vocabulary of theology, John has the highest Christology.  One can make the case that the Last Supper discourses—found in John 13-17—make up the loftiest part of John (with the possible exception of the prologue in John 1:1-18).  Within the Last Supper discourses, the seventeenth chapter of John is commonly titled the “High Priestly Prayer” of Jesus, and is the loftiest part of these discourses.  All of this is stated to point out that in this last week of Easter, we are certainly breathing rarified air.

It’s from today’s Gospel passage that St. John Paul II took the title of his twelfth encyclical letter:  Ut unum sint [“That They May Be One”].  It was his only encyclical about ecumenism, and was promulgated in 1995, with St. John Paul already looking toward the Great Jubilee of 2000.  Yet he anticipated the Jubilee somewhat wistfully, because he knew that it would not be celebrated with the followers of Jesus united according to the desire that the Lord expressed in John 17:11.

Ecumenism was a topic close to the heart of Pope John Paul II, who was of Slavic heritage, and who grew up along the cultural border between East and West:  Orthodox and Catholic lands.  He longed both for the unification of the Eastern and Western Churches—in his phrase, the “lungs of the Church”—and for the reconciliation of Protestant ecclesial communities with the Catholic Church.

Slowly and prayerfully re-read today’s Gospel passage.  As you continue your Novena to the Holy Spirit, pray that you will accept the Gift of the Holy Spirit in His fullness, ut unum sint.

Easter 7-3 Ascension

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Zephaniah 3:14-18 [or Romans 12:9-16]  +  Luke 1:39-56

… Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice ….

Catholic art is beautiful because it focuses on persons:  the three Divine Persons, and human persons as well.  In Catholic art that portrays today’s feast—the Visitation of Our Blessed Mother—there are four persons shown to the eye of the viewer.  Of course, two of them have to be shown indirectly because they are unborn children:  St. John the Baptist in the womb of Elizabeth, and Our Lord in the womb of the Blessed Virgin.  Sometimes these two unborn children are portrayed by something akin to halos shining, indicating the grace that dwells within these women through their openness to human and divine life [see the sacred image below].

If we were to order these four persons in order of holiness, we would first place the Lord Jesus, who is not merely a holy human being, but the source of all holiness:  the eternal Son of God.  We would certainly place second the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God:  she who merited to bear our Redeemer.  We would likely place third St. John the Baptist, whom some theologians have taught was without Original Sin.

But reflect today on Saint Elizabeth:  fourth in this line, yet like you and me.  She is a human creature, not a divine Person.  She receives assistance from the Blessed Virgin, as you and I do each day.  She was chosen not for drama, as was her son, but for simplicity of life.  In light of St. Elizabeth’s vocation, what do you and I take today from her example?  “…Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice….”  Ask Jesus in your prayers to open your heart to the Holy Spirit, that you might each day speak of His power, His glory, and His love for all people.

Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter
Acts 19:1-8  +  John 16:29-33

“In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”

This coming Sunday’s celebration of Pentecost is the backdrop for all our weekday readings this week.  Wherever we Christians are, we are united in the Mystical Body of Christ, and together we are praying this week for a greater openness to the Gift who is God the Holy Spirit.

However, we receive God the Holy Spirit not for our own plans and purposes.  He comes to us in order to ‘equip’ us for the vocations that God the Father gives us.  The providential plan of the Father, and the grace of the Spirit, cannot be separated:  both meet in the life of Christ’s Mystical Body, within which we live.

Each of us is called first through Baptism to holiness.  For most Christians, this baptismal vocation—the vocation to live as members of the “priesthood of all believers”—is deepened by a further call from the Father.  The vocation to Holy Matrimony, or to Holy Orders, or to consecrated religious life, gives specific form to one’s baptismal vocation.  Even more specifically, each Christian daily discerns the call of the Father to make small sacrifices with great love, as St. Thérèse of Lisieux teaches us.  So we beg the outpouring of God the Holy Spirit.

Easter 7-1 Ascension

Saturday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Saturday of the Sixth Week of Easter
Acts 18:23-28  +  John 16:23-28

“The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures but I will tell you clearly about the Father.”

The spiritual momentum of the Sacred Triduum and the Easter Season moves us through the Passion and Death, the Resurrection, and the Ascension of the Lord Jesus to the Solemnity of Pentecost.  In the Church’s celebration of Pentecost, we meditate not only on the divine origin and the divine mission of the Church.

We meditate finally upon the divine end of the Church:  that is, her ultimate goal.  This goal is eternal life with and in God the Father.  On this Saturday of the Easter Season, reflect on the relationship between the Blessed Virgin Mary and God the Father.  Think of how, from the time of the Annunciation, throughout the earthly life of her Son Jesus, to the end of her own earthly life, Mary had a unique relationship with God the Father.  God the Father and the human creature, Mary of Nazareth, shared in common their Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  How often Mary must have turned to God the Father in prayer for support, comfort, and guidance!

Though you and I are not privileged with the unique vocation of our Blessed Mother, we are called by God the Father into His divine Life.  In these last days of the Easter Season, pray directly to God the Father.  Thank Him for His Son, Jesus.  Ask Him to comfort you in the face of trial, and for an increase in the virtues of humility and patience.  Ask Him to mold your faith, your heart and your mind in the likeness of His perfect work of creation:  the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Famous Paintings In The Renaissance Famous Renaissance Paintings: 10 Of The Best Pieces Of Art Ever Made

Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter
Acts 18:9-18  +  John 16:20-23

“But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.”

Jesus uses the imagery of pregnancy to describe suffering in relation to joy, inasmuch as both pertain to Jesus’ Resurrection and the sending—by Him and His Father—of the Gift of the Holy Spirit.  While it’s a truism of our culture that any goal worth achieving demands hardship, the image of pregnancy is yet more pregnant with meaning.  The image of pregnancy connotes new life:  a life independent of—yet owing its existence to—the one who begot it.

How do we relate this to the Resurrection and Pentecost?  What is the new life that is begotten?  It is the life of the Church.  If you ask most people in the world—Christians and non-Christians alike—what the greatest Christian feast day is, they would likely reply “Christmas”.  That’s the correct answer if one asks the question in terms of money and energy spent preparing for and celebrating the day.  But liturgically, Easter Sunday is far more important than Christmas Day, a truth we can sum up with the saying that “The reason Jesus was born into this world was to die to this world.”

However, just as the meaning of Christmas points forward to Easter Sunday, so Easter Sunday points forward to Pentecost.  Pentecost is not more significant liturgically than Easter Sunday, but nonetheless Easter prepares us for Pentecost:  for the ‘birth’ of the Church, the Bride of Christ and the Mystical Body of Christ.

Easter 6-5 Pentecost

The Seventh Sunday of Easter [C]

PLEASE NOTE:  In some dioceses, on the Seventh Sunday of Easter the Ascension is celebrated.  For the reflection for the Ascension, click HERE.

The Seventh Sunday of Easter [C]
Acts 7:55-60  +  Revelation 22:12-14,16-17,20  +  John 17:20-26

“… so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you ….”

Today’s Gospel Reading is set at the Last Supper.  In His “High Priestly Prayer” in John 17, Jesus prays to God the Father about matters that are central to the life of a disciple and the life of the Church.  One of these matters is unity:  man’s unity with God, and the unity of human persons with each other.

The greatest threat to unity with God and our neighbors is sin.  Our sins pierce our souls as they pierced the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Because of this, our souls can become like sieves, unable to contain the grace of the Holy Spirit’s Presence and His seven gifts.  So our Christian life poses to us the struggle of allowing our souls to be re-created.  Here we need to reflect upon what it means for us to be “born again”.  This means first being washed clean of sin in Baptism, and from there on out it means being renewed in our relationship with God through the Sacrament of Confession.

Some people claim that believing in the Sacrament of Confession cheapens the meaning of our Christian faith.  They claim that being able to go to Confession over and over again encourages people to sin.  Of course, this makes about as much sense as saying that being able to take a shower every day encourages people to get dirty and stink.  God gave us the Sacrament of Confession because he knows that without Him, we can do nothing.  But with Him, we can do anything He asks.

It’s always confusing, then, to hear people talk about the Sacrament of Confession as an easy way out of sinning.  After all, what are the alternatives?  If God didn’t truly establish the Sacrament of Reconciliation, there are only three basic alternatives.  The first is that there’s no such thing as sin.  The second is that there is sin, but that as long as we have at some point accepted Christ as our personal Savior, our sins don’t matter because we are already saved.  The third is that there is sin, and when a Christian sins he or she needs to turn to God for forgiveness, but that nonetheless this forgiveness can be obtained simply by praying directly to God.  When you put these three alternatives up against the Catholic’s need to confess mortal sins through the Sacrament of Confession, it hardly makes sense to say that Catholics have an easy way out.

Even if we put reason and logic aside, however, we can also look at our relationship with God from a more personal perspective.  If you reflect upon the most intimate relationships that you have in your life—whether with a spouse, parents, children, or friends—you can ask yourself in what manner you seek to be reconciled with those persons when you have offended them in a serious way.

We might consider several alternatives.  First, we could pretend that we had never harmed the other:  that we have no need to ask forgiveness.  At times perhaps we do act this way, but we know it’s not honest.

Second, we could admit that we had harmed the other, but then claim that as long as we had professed our love for the other at some point in the past, that they will automatically forgive us without our asking.  At times perhaps we do act this way, but we know that it’s presumptuous.

Third, we could admit that we had harmed the other, and know that we need to ask for forgiveness, but then seek this forgiveness in roundabout ways:  for example, through flowers, a card, or some act of kindness for the other.  These are all good things, and can lead up to forgiveness, but until a person breaks down, gets on his knees, and opens his mouth and speaks out his sorrow and need of forgiveness, he cannot, even from a merely human point of view, receive the full joy of being forgiven and being able to go on to have an even stronger relationship with his loved one.

That is what this Easter season is all about:  accepting the full measure of the forgiveness that Christ offers us through His death and Resurrection.  Everything we do as Christians is for others, and the manner in which we do things as Christians says something about how we will respond to others in our lives.  The Holy Spirit, especially through the Sacrament of Confession, makes it possible to experience a unity with God and neighbor that cannot be achieved through our human efforts alone.

The Ascension of the Lord [C]

PLEASE NOTE:  In some dioceses, the Ascension is celebrated on the Thursday that is the fortieth day of Eastertide instead of being celebrated on the Seventh Sunday of Easter.  This year’s reflection for the Seventh Sunday of Easter is found HERE.

The Ascension of the Lord [C]
Acts 1:1-11  +  Ephesians 1:17-23  +  Luke 24:46-53

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses ….”

The Church reflects upon the Glorious Mystery of the Ascension through her Sacred Liturgy.  She does this first through the Scriptures, prayers and antiphons of today’s Mass.  These include the Preface that the priest chants or recites right before the Sanctus.  There are two prefaces for the Ascension.  In the first, the priest professes our belief—that is to say, the belief of the entire Communion of Saints—that “the Lord Jesus, the King of glory, / conqueror of sin and death, / ascended today to the highest heavens” “not to distance Himself from our lowly state / but that we, His members, might be confident of following / where He, our Head and Founder, has gone before.”

That preface makes it clear to us that the Church’s celebration of Jesus’ Ascension is about the virtue of hope.  It’s about you and me and every other member of the Church on earth living the virtue of hope in our daily lives:  at home, at work, and among our family and friends.

Hoping for Heaven is challenging because for most of us, Heaven is still a long ways down the road.  After all, on the practical level, for most of you, your “tomorrow” is going to look pretty much like your “today”.  Regarding your hopes for “tomorrow”, you likely hope for sunny skies and 72°.  You likely hope for your investments to show at least a modest gain, or your boss to give you a raise, or your grown child to call to see how you’re doing, or your husband to take you by the hand, look into your eyes and say, “I love you.  Thank you for being such a wonderful mother to our children.”  All of these are perfectly natural things to hope for.

But we tend not to hope for Heaven tomorrow.  That is to say, unless you are in the last years of life upon this green earth, there are probably a whole lot of tomorrows left to you between “today” and the end of your road.  So practically, we put our hope in things that lay closer to hand.  As a result, Heaven becomes not so much an object of hope, as a vague and fuzzy ideal far, far off on the horizon.

But our Blessed Mother Mary can help us to hope more realistically.  We have honored her throughout the month of May because she, more than any other disciple of Jesus, can show us and help us to place our hope each day in her Son:  her Son Jesus, who is the Way of true hope for your daily life.

When you pray the Rosary on Tuesdays and Fridays, imagine the Crucifixion from Mary’s point of view.  When Jesus was hanging on the Cross, He spoke to few persons, but Mary was one of them.  “Woman, behold your son”, Jesus said, nodding his crowned head towards St. John, the Beloved Disciple [John 19:26].  After Jesus’ Ascension, Mary gathered with the Apostles in the Upper Room where Jesus had given the Eucharist at the Last Supper.  But why was Mary there?  Why was Mary still on this earth?  Wasn’t her vocation over?  Wasn’t she just—so to speak—treading water until her Assumption?  Of course not.

In Mary’s earthly life, she lived for others, not for herself.  She lived with the hope that St. Paul wrote about to the Christians in Philippi.  We can imagine Mary pondering the Mystery of her Son, and saying in her heart, “I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, (for) that is far better.  Yet that I remain (in) the flesh is more necessary for your benefit” [Philippians 1:23-24].  When St. Paul wrote those words, “your benefit” meant the benefit of the Philippians.  But we might ask:  for Mary, for whose benefit would she have meant these words?

Mary is the Mother of the entire Church.  Mary is your own mother, also, since you are one member of her Son’s Mystical Body.  She is “our life, our sweetness, and our hope”, because she gathers with us as she did with the Apostles after her Son’s Ascension.  During these days leading up to Pentecost, we pray for the power of the Holy Spirit in order to give faithful witness to Jesus in this world.

Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter

PLEASE NOTE:  In some dioceses, on Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter the Ascension of the Lord is celebrated.

Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter
Acts 18:1-8  +  John 16:16-20

“… you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.”

Just as the earth has two poles, so the Season of Easter has two poles:  the Resurrection and Pentecost.  Both are solemnities of great joy for Christians.  Yet each is preceded by an event of loss, of “grieving” even.  The Resurrection is preceded by the Death of the Lord, and Pentecost is preceded by the Ascension of the same Lord.  But to use the word “preceded” here is a bit lacking.  The Death and Ascension of the Lord are the “events”—the sacred “mysteries”—that make the Resurrection and Pentecost possible.

Jesus refers to both sets of mysteries—the Death and Resurrection, and the Ascension and Pentecost—by His words in today’s Gospel passage:  “you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.”  Today’s Gospel passage is from the sixteenth chapter of John:  part of Jesus’ Last Supper discourse.  In the short-term, then, He is speaking about His Death and Resurrection.  Yet in His divinity, Jesus also knew of His impending Ascension as well as the Descent of the Holy Spirit, so He is also speaking here about His Ascension and Pentecost.

Much of the world today celebrates the Ascension of the Lord.  Some dioceses will transfer the Ascension to this coming Sunday, and celebrate today as a weekday of Easter.  In either case, begin a novena today:  nine days of prayer, longing for the Holy Spirit to come into your life more powerfully, and to help you live more fully your vocation within the Mystical Body of Christ.


Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter
Acts 17:15,22—18:1  +  John 16:12-15

“… when He comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth.”

St. John Henry Newman, the nineteenth century convert to the Church from Anglicanism, is renowned for many theological works.  One of the more famous is about the process of the “development of doctrine”.  Newman had from boyhood been a keen student of history, and later in life he said that “to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant”.

To make an analogy:  as fundamentalist Christians say that God created the universe, Earth, and mankind immediately (that is, within six days), so the same fundamentalists often say that God created the doctrines of the Church immediately.  If a phrase is not found in the Bible—they insist—it cannot be admitted into mind of a Christian.  Therefore, dogmas such as the “Immaculate Conception” and “papal infallibility” are clearly not Christian—they insist—because the apostles who composed the Bible never used these phrases, or spoke about these topics.

However, if beliefs cannot be accepted by Christians if they are not mentioned in the Bible, then these same people cannot profess a belief in the “Trinity”, since this word never appears in the Bible.  “But,” these fundamentalists might argue, “the belief in the Trinity is in the Bible.  It’s the word “Trinity” that came later, in order to dispel false interpretations of the Bible….”  Yet such a defense supports Cardinal Newman’s teaching, which itself is simply an unpacking of Jesus’ words today:  “when He comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth.”

Easter 6-3 Holy Spirit