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.

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.