The Third Sunday of Easter [B]

The Third Sunday of Easter [B]
Acts 3:13-15,17-19  +  1 Jn 2:1-5  +  Lk 24:35-48
April 15, 2018

Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.

Jesus declared that His followers are to preach the Good News of the Gospel to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  Jerusalem, of course, was the historical “birthplace” of the Church:  it was there that Jesus celebrated His Last Supper, and there that He died and rose from the dead.  It was in Jerusalem 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.

Those days of waiting for the Holy Spirit to come were days of being withdrawn from the world.  Those days were a winter of sorts.  The apostles prayed intently, in order to prepare a place inside themselves for the Holy Spirit to dwell.  For you, then, “Jerusalem” represents both the historical city where the Church began, and the place in your soul where God plants His grace for the sake of its bearing fruit.

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.”

There are many ways of “preaching”.  We should keep in mind the saying of Saint Francis of Assisi:  “Preach always, and if necessary, use words.”  That is to say, you can preach without opening your mouth.  The Christian’s example is usually more persuasive than his words, since most of us Christians are not gifted speakers.

The greatest example we can offer is forgiveness.  As the Father forgave us through Jesus’ Death on the Cross, so we are called to forgive others.  There are different ways to forgive, but our example of forgiving has to be a Christian example.  There are different ways to forgive.  Anyone with an ounce of humanity forgives others who have hurt him.  The Christian, however, offers forgiveness first, not seeking an apology from others, and not even expecting it at the same time:  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 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 born into the world as sinful members of the human family.  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 that have the power to make present in our own day and age the words of Jesus:  “Peace be with you.”

Saturday of the Second Week of Easter

Saturday of the Second Week of Easter
Acts 6:1-7  +  John 6:16-21
April 14, 2018

“It is I.  Do not be afraid.”

How can the presence of Jesus cause fear in people?  Contrast today’s Gospel passage with the scene of the Annunciation.

Jesus says to the apostles in today’s Gospel passage what the Archangel Gabriel says to Mary:  “Do not be afraid!”  Is it odd that God’s Presence—or even the news of His desire to come and be present—so often causes fear?

Do you yourself feel fear when you sense God’s desire to enter into your “boat”?  Can you welcome Him with the faith and trust of our Blessed Mother?  What other parallels are there between today’s Gospel passage and the Annunciation?

One parallel would be between the physical structure of the boat in today’s Gospel passage and the physical and spiritual dimensions of Mary as a person.  The parallel is not exact.  But a boat (or to use an archaic word, “barque”) is used in Catholic theology as a symbol for the Church, in which dwell the members of the Body of Christ.

Mary, as the Theotokos or “God-bearer”, is the Mother of Christ and therefore the Mother of the Church and all her members.  Continue to pray to our Blessed Mother throughout the remainder of Easter, asking that through her intercession, fear may be replaced by fire in your heart:  the power of the Holy Spirit.

Friday of the Second Week of Easter

Friday of the Second Week of Easter
Acts 5:34-42  +  John 6:1-15
April 13, 2018

…He withdrew again to the mountain alone.

For more than a week, beginning today, our Gospel passage at weekday Mass will come from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel account.  Read this chapter in its entirety each day next week.

In the first fifteen verses of John 6, Jesus shows His fellow Israelites that the Law of Moses is not enough.  The Law of Moses 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?  He withdraws to the mountain alone.  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.

But 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.

Thursday of the Second Week of Easter

Thursday of the Second Week of Easter
Acts 5:27-33  +  John 3:31-36
April 12, 2018

“We must obey God rather than men!”

How does the Church need the Gift of the Holy Spirit today?  To answer that, consider that baptism is not a private experience.  It washes away not only one’s own personal sins, but also the sin of Adam and Eve.  That original sin has been shared by all members of the human race through all generations, except Mary and Jesus.  Just as this washing away of death is both personal and communal, so is the bringing of new life.  The individual finds his salvation through his membership in the Body of Christ, and through participating in her saving mission.

This Church, the Body of Christ, is the answer to the questions raised in today’s readings.  In the Gospel passage, we hear that there’s a difference between the type of person who speaks of earthly things, and the type of person who speaks 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 the apostles disobeying the officials:  “We must obey God rather than men!”  But these officials were supposed to be the representatives of God!

As is true of the person of Jesus Christ, who is true God and true man, it’s easy to become confused about the nature of the Church.  Who, as a member of the Church, speaks merely as a human, and who speaks for God?  Those who are looked upon as representatives of the Church know how easily their offenses can be taken as the offenses of the Church.  Certainly if this confusion is sometimes a mistake, it is also at times correct.

The Church can give offense through her sinful members.  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 us to be seen as pure icons of our Crucified and Risen Lord.

St. Stanislaus

St. Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr
Acts 5:17-26  +  John 3:16-21
April 11, 2018

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

What is the meaning of a single act done by a Christian?  This might seem so simple a question as to be dismissed, but it’s really at the heart of living as a Christian.  A short yet true answer might be that the “Christian act” is “done in God”:  that is, within the Mystical Body of Christ.  In fact, it is done by Christ through the Christian.

Acts of the Apostles offers many examples for us to ponder.  This book also illustrates the natural consequences of “doing works in God”:  misunderstanding, persecution, and eventually liberation.  This book presents Saint Paul above the other apostles as an example of these dynamics.  Although his martyrdom in Rome is not recounted in Acts, Paul’s willingness to embrace martyrdom is his ultimate example of “living the truth”.

Read today’s First Reading as an illustration of your own vocation.  Recognize in the apostles’ imprisonment the dangers posed to you by living your vocation authentically.  Recognize in their being freed the consolations that you will receive in this world, even short of the reward of Heaven.

Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter

Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter
Acts 4:32-37  +  John 3:7-15
April 10, 2018

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.

The Annunciation of the Lord

The Annunciation of the Lord
Isa 7:10-14;8:10  +  Heb 10:4-10  +  Lk 1:26-38
April 9, 2018

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.”

Nine months before the Church celebrates the Nativity of the Lord, she celebrates His conception within the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  We should not be distracted by the fact that this solemnity of the Annunciation falls each year during either Lent or Easter.  Rather, we ought to reflect on the relationship between today’s feast and the holy seasons of Lent and Easter.

How is the Lord Jesus’ conception related to His Death and Resurrection?  Are they no more than ends of a spectrum?  In fact, both are about new life.  They draw out, and celebrate, the unity of the person of Jesus Christ.  They celebrate the unity of His humanity and divinity in His divine Person.

Yet consider also a related parallel:  the relationship between the Annunciation and the Day of Pentecost.  Both the Annunciation and Pentecost are about new life.

Both the Annunciation and Pentecost are feasts which reflect on the act of accepting the Holy Spirit in humble submission to the will of God the Father.  Mary is the proto-type of the Church:  she is our mother and the Mother of the Church.  She, who after questioning says “Fiat”, accepts the Holy Spirit and bears the Body of Christ within her own body.  She is the model for us who will pray repeatedly throughout the Easter Season:  “Come Holy Ghost, Creator blest, and in our hearts take up thy rest.”

Divine Mercy Sunday [B]

Divine Mercy Sunday [B]
Acts 4:32-35  +  1 Jn 5:1-6  +  Jn 20:19-31
April 8, 2018

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

As today’s Gospel passage 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.”

Consider a very simple question:  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!” to everyone they met?

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

The Season of Easter—which began last Sunday and lasts for seven weeks—is a season which 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.”

A simple description of the life of the Christian is given in today’s Second Reading from the First Letter of Saint John“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.”

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.

Saturday within the Octave of Easter

Saturday within the Octave of Easter
Acts 4:13-21  +  Mark 16:9-15
April 7, 2018

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.

Friday within the Octave of Easter

Friday within the Octave of Easter
Acts 4:1-12  +  John 21:1-14
April 6, 2018

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?