Friday of the Second Week of Easter

Friday of the Second Week of Easter
Acts 5:34-42  +  John 6:1-15
April 16, 2021

… He withdrew again to the mountain alone.

The Season of Easter sometimes is called “the season of the Church”.  The reason for this is that Easter culminates in the feast of Pentecost, which is considered metaphorically to the “birthday” of the Church.  The whole of the Easter Season, then, prepares us for Pentecost by focusing on several aspects of the Church’s life and mission.

For more than a week, beginning today, our Gospel passage at weekday Mass will come from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel account.  If you have time, you might, for meditation, read this chapter of John 6 in its entirety each day next week.  This chapter can help us profoundly to understand the life and mission of that Church of which we are individual members.  Each weekday passage from John 6 can help us appreciate in a unique way the beauty of Jesus, who is the Bread of Life.

In the first fifteen verses of John 6, Jesus shows His fellow Israelites that the Law of Moses is not enough.  The Law cannot fulfill the human person and cannot offer eternal life.  The people in the crowd who witness this new miracle of Jesus multiplying the loaves are attracted all the more to Jesus.  They recognize Jesus as the Prophet, one even greater than Moses.  They believe that He can be their king in this world.

But what does Jesus instantly do?  Immediately, He does something counter-intuitive.  He withdraws to the mountain alone.  Why did He withdraw from God’s people?  He withdrew from them for the same reason that He often withdraws His presence from the soul of a Christian:  that is, to purify the disciple’s desires.

Consider that Moses in the desert responded to the grumbling of the Israelites by drawing manna from Heaven.  But this did not stop their grumbling.  Throughout the forty years of Israel’s wandering through the desert, Moses had constantly to meet the needs of the Israelites as they continued to grumble.  It was as if Moses was the only one who could truly keep sight of their true goal, the Promised Land:  a land overflowing with milk and honey, where there would be no more hunger, and where they would be truly filled.

Yet even after the Israelites reached this Promised Land, they grew over the centuries to believe that their life there was the best God had to offer.  They did not realize that their covenant with God was about to be fulfilled by a new and everlasting covenant.  They did not realize that the Word of God, present in the Scriptures, had become flesh and was standing in their midst, offering to lead them towards eternal life.  What they did not realize, they could not desire.

Easter 2-5

The Third Sunday of Easter [B]

The Third Sunday of Easter [B]
Acts 3:13-15,17-19  +  1 John 2:1-5  +  Luke 24:35-48
April 18, 2021

… Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread.

At some point after the Resurrection, the disciples might have wondered, “Jesus rising from the dead is great, but what now?  Do we have to follow suit, and then is Jesus going to start building the Kingdom on earth with all of His Risen Disciples?”  Was Jesus going to set up shop in Jerusalem, and establish a new world order with the apostles as his cabinet officers?  “What’s next?”

If someone had asked Jesus “What’s next?”, Jesus would have answered that soon, He was going to ascend above the earth, to return to the Right Hand of God the Father.  But, on the other hand, where were the disciples going?  They were going to go from Jerusalem to all the corners of the world.  As Jesus said in last Sunday’s passage from the Holy Gospel, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”  Jesus’ earthly journey was almost over, but not the apostles’ journey.

Jesus, through His Death on the Cross, opened the gates of Heaven so that everyone could enter through them.  But does that mean that being a Christian is just about saying “Thank you, Jesus, for opening up Heaven”, and then waiting to be taken from this world to Heaven’s gate?  Nothing in the Scriptures, and nothing in the Church that Jesus established, says anything like this.  From the moment that we become Christians at Baptism, until the time that we die on this earth, our motto should be those words Jesus spoke:  “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”  Consider these words of Jesus in the light of another statement of His.

I doubt that many of us have even been anywhere near the Middle East.  So is there any personal meaning for us in the words of Jesus, when He says that His followers are to preach the Good News of the Gospel “to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem”?

Jerusalem was the historical origin of the Church:  it was there that Jesus celebrated His Last Supper, there that He died and rose from the dead.  It was there 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.  “Jerusalem” represents for us both the historical city where the Church began and the place in the soul where God plants His grace.

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.”  But what are we sent to do?

Of course, there are many ways of “preaching”.  We should keep in mind the saying attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:  “Preach always, and use words if necessary.”  In other words, you can preach without opening your mouth.  In fact, our example is usually more persuasive than our words, since most of us are not great speakers.

The greatest work we can carry out as Christians is to forgive.  As the Father forgave us through Jesus’ Death on the Cross, so we forgive others through our example.  The Christian offers forgiveness first without demanding an apology beforehand, and not even expecting the apology at the same time as forgiveness is given:  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 and strong 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 conceived in this world as sinners.  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 make it possible for Jesus’ words to come true:  Peace be with you.”

Thursday of the Second Week of Easter

Thursday of the Second Week of Easter
Acts 5:27-33  +  John 3:31-36
April 15, 2021

“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 14, 2021

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 13, 2021

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 12, 2021

“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

Saturday in the Octave of Easter

Saturday in the Octave of Easter
Acts 4:13-21  +  Mark 16:9-15
April 10, 2021

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 in the Octave of Easter

Friday in the Octave of Easter
Acts 4:1-12  +  John 21:1-14
April 9, 2021

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

Divine Mercy Sunday [B]

Divine Mercy Sunday [B]
Acts 4:32-35  +  1 John 5:1-6  +  John 20:19-31
April 11, 2021

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

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click HERE to hear Scott Hahn’s reflection for this Sunday (2:59)

click HERE to watch Jeff Cavins’ reflection for this Sunday (4:39)

click HERE to read the homily of Monsignor Charles Pope for this Sunday

click HERE to watch the homily of Archbishop Charles Chaput for this Sunday (20:49)

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click HERE to read Pope Francis’ 2017 Regina Cæli address for this Sunday

click HERE to read Pope Benedict’s 2008 Regina Cæli address for this Sunday

click HERE to read St. John Paul II’s 2002 Regina Cæli address for this Sunday

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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

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As today’s Gospel Reading begins, three things have taken place.  Both Peter and John have seen the empty tomb, John has believed in the Resurrection, and Mary Magdalene, to whom Jesus had appeared, has told the apostles of His appearance.  Yet despite all this, “the disciples had locked the doors of the place where they were for fear of the Jews.”

But why were the disciples afraid of the Jews?  Why weren’t they out on the streets, preaching boldly the Good News of the Resurrection, shouting “Alleluia!”?

The story of St. Thomas’ unbelief in today’s Gospel Reading seems to condemn him.  But this passage in fact condemns all of the apostles:  either for not believing in, or not proclaiming their belief in the Risen Jesus.

The Season of Easter—which began last Sunday and lasts for seven weeks—lets us reflect on the Resurrection.  At the same time, we need to ask ourselves what our lives should look like because we believe in the Risen Jesus.

A simple description of the Church in her infancy is given in the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles“The community of believers were of one heart and one mind”:  that is, they possessed the heart and mind of Christ.  “With power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great respect was paid to them all.”

Of course, today’s First Reading is set after the day of Pentecost:  that is, after the Holy Spirit had descended upon the Apostles, gifting them with the graces needed for their work.  The power and the presence of the Holy Spirit is the difference between the First Reading and the disciples at the start of the Gospel Reading.

A simple description of the life of the Christian is given in today’s Second Reading:  “The love of God consists in this:  that we keep his commandments. … It is the Spirit who testifies to this and the Spirit is truth.”  This Holy Spirit is the One who makes it possible to keep the Commandments.  All of the Commandments are commands to love.  God commands us to love our God and our neighbor.  But the events of today’s Gospel Reading give these two great commands focus by considering how God and man forgive.

The great English author G. K. Chesterton once wrote about the false forgiveness that man often offers:  “it seems to me that you only pardon the sins that you don’t really think sinful.  You only forgive criminals when they commit what you don’t regard as crimes, but rather as conventions.  So you tolerate a conventional duel, just as you tolerate a conventional divorce.  You forgive because there isn’t anything to be forgiven.”  By contrast, Chesterton in another work described Christian forgiveness:  “Charity means pardoning the unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all.”

The world has problems, and each of us who lives in the world has problems.  There is a lot in our lives to distract us, to tempt us to think that the sin and evil around us and within us is nothing of importance.  But the Holy Spirit whom we wait for during these fifty days of Easter leads us to face our own difficulties and the difficulties of the world squarely, looking them in the eye through the light of Christ.

When Christ appeared to the apostles, what did He say to convince them who He was?  Did He work a miracle?  No.  He showed them the wounds in His side, hands, and feet:  the battle scars from His fight with death.

Christ, the victor over death, shows us the evidence of His Divine Mercy.  He invites us to share in the strength of His Body and Blood, and invites us to share fully in the life of His Holy Spirit.  Yet these invitations serve a larger purpose.  God wills that each of us might courageously proclaim the Good News about the Risen Jesus.  But our proclamation must begin with our extending Jesus’ Divine Mercy to our debtors as willingly as we have accepted Divine Mercy for our own debts.