5.01.2016 – 6th Sunday of Easter (Year C)

Welcome Back! Find the readings here: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/050116.cfm

Fun fact: This week’s readings are a set-up The Ascension (May 8). Jesus promises the people the Holy Spirit, which he gives them the following week at Pentecost (May 15).

I had a realization this week about the Easter posts thus far. Maybe you’ve noticed the pattern. In Reading 1, we get about 2 verses, then skip 20+ verses, then we hear the rest of the reading. I’m puzzled by this, but there must be a reason. Interestingly, the portion of the reading that is skipped on Sunday is often one of the daily readings from the previous week. One way to get the “in-betweens” of Sunday’s readings is to download the “Laudate” app to your phone. You can, among many other things, download an audio file of the daily readings and just listen. I highly recommend it.

1st Reading: Acts 15: 1-2, 22-29

Here are the basics of what’s going on for this reading for verses 1-29.

  1. Problem: What do we do about circumcision? (verses 1-2)
  2. Council of Jerusalem (verses 3-21)
  3. The Letter from the Council is read (22-29)

First we hear, “Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic law, you cannot be saved.” Then Paul and Barnabas and some of the others go to Jerusalem about this question. In the missing verses (3-21), the Council of Jerusalem takes place – the first Council of the Church. At this meeting, several important matters are discussed. The Church leaders want to know – what do we do about circumcision? For centuries, circumcision was the rite of initiation into the covenant of Abraham. It was a badge of Jewish identity. It entitled them to share in the blessings of the Old Covenant. So they called a council, invited the Holy Spirit, and He guided them to a resolution.

The Councils of the Church – this one and all that came after it – were established to answer questions like this. Peter – the pope – spoke as the head of the Church. He formed, with the help of the Holy Spirit, a doctrinal judgment about the means of salvation: “Jews and Gentiles alike are saved, not by the flint knife of circumcision but by faith in Christ.”  The Council of Jerusalem also forbids the consumption of idol food, which is referred to in the letter we hear when the reading picks up in verses 22-29.

Responsorial Psalm 67
“O God, let all the nations praise you.”

The line I like best that relates to our 1st reading is “May the nations be glad and exult because you rule the peoples in equity; the nations on the earth you shall guide.

2nd Reading: Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23

Chapter 21 of Revelation is only about 50 verses from the end of the entire body of scripture. We’re rarely here, so to read from Revelation brings a sense of excitement. Last week John told about the holy city of Jerusalem coming down out of heaven, and that God would dwell with his people always. This week, John describes that city. He says it “gleams with the splendor of God. It’s radiance was like that of a precious stone, like Jasper, clear as crystal.” These gems, and others like it (e.g. onyx) are mentioned all the way back in Genesis 3 when God describes the Garden of Eden. The same gems with which God created the world will still exist at the end of time and adorn his creation.

We see that there are no more walls, no temple. Walls did not exist in the garden either, not until sin entered. Once the temple was built, the only way to be in the presence of God was to send the high priest, once a year, through wall after wall of the physical temple and into the Holy of Holies, the dwelling place of God. Just look at all the walls, physical and otherwise, that were built because of man’s sin. At the second coming there are no more walls, and no more temple. Jesus is the temple, and he died once and for all. For us. It is a beautiful reading full of light, hope, and heavenly images!

Gospel: John 14: 23-29

Jesus speaks plainly today. John’s gospel is different than the others in that he talks at length about his relationship – and yet his sameness – to the Father. “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him.” Jesus also offers us a peace that only He can give. This is not worldly peace, but eternal peace. We must guard it carefully, preserve it, protect it. This week a priest said we should imagine the words of the sign “Private Property: No Trespassing.” The peace Christ gives is deep, it is of a divine nature. Nothing should be able to rock it, no matter the storm.

Then we get a preview to next week: “I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” This is exactly what we saw transpire in the first reading at the Council of Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit taught Peter the right thing to say, He reminded Peter of all that Jesus had said, and a new doctrine emerged from that Council. The same process happens today, more than 2000 years later, when the Church issues new teachings.

In preparation for His ascension, he tells them plainly “And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens, you may believe.”

Next week we celebrate the Ascension and the week after, Pentecost. Easter officially ends at Pentecost. Since Easter Sunday we’ve been called to be an Easter People. How are we doing? At Pentecost the Church reminds us of the beauty that is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our partner, our Paraclete here on Earth. We’ll soon be called to continue forward after the official end of Easter and march into Ordinary Time renewed, refreshed, and rejuvenated by this beautiful season. Are we ready?

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4.24.16 – 5th Sunday of Easter (Year C)

Welcome Back! Here are the readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/042416.cfm

The first reading is about 20 verses past last week’s reading. The story that is “skipped” is dramatic and worth exploring.

Setup to Reading 1:

In the skipped verses, Paul and Barnabas keep going to the synagogues of new cities, preaching, experiencing rejection, and speaking out boldy for Christ. They perform miracles. In Lystra, Paul preached, a crippled man heard and believed. Paul “looked intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well” said, “Stand upright on your feet,” and the man walked! Now, the crowds saw this miracle!  But it was a crowd of idol worshipping pagans. They thought that “their gods” brought down Zeus and Hermes in human form. They thought Barnabas was Zeus, and Paul was Hermes! They did not know that God the Father performed this miracle.

When Paul and Barnabas realized this, they tore their garments (a sign of protest and extreme distress) and rushed to the crowd saying, “Men, why are you doing this?! We are also men (not gods!), we are of nature with you (human). We bring you good news that you should turn of these vain things (false gods) to a living God (Jesus Christ)!” Paul and Barnabas do their best to persuade the crowd, but they have not ears to hear nor eyes to see the Truth. The crowds dragged Paul out of the city. They stoned him and presumed him dead. Paul is eventually surrounded by his disciples and goes on to the next city, Derbe, where he made many strong disciples for the Church. That’s where our reading starts today.

1st Reading: Acts 14: 21-27

In previous weeks, we’ve seen the apostles acquire a bizarre feeling of joy as they bear hardship for Christ. Remember when they felt joy after being imprisoned, freed by an angel and then beaten for the gospel? In the story above, there is ample reason to feel discouraged, but they go to the next city anyway. Today they speak this reality out loud: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

The rest of the reading is uplifting. Despite having been labeled “Zeus” and “Hermes,” Paul and Barnabas kept traveling. They begin to see the church grow in number and in faithfulness. They were being witnesses to the ends of the earth. We should pause though, because there is so much reflection available in the reality they speak:

“It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

We, too, must undergo hardships to enter the Kingdom. These words ring as true for us today as they did for the disciples. This is why the Word of God is the Living Word.  It is not old and irrelevant. It is old and new, living and eternally relevant, but never dead.  We undergo hardships  – physical, spiritual, mental, relational – and all are necessary. Hmmm…”Necessary.” Not only can they not be avoided, but they are necessary. To say they are necessary implies that we actually need these hardships. Like Paul and Barnabas, we will be spat upon, dragged around, and stoned. Hopefully not physically, but surely figuratively. But why is it necessary?

Jesus never promised us an easy road to Heaven. When he died on the cross, he opened the gates for us. Heaven’s gates are found at the end of a road that is peppered with hardships. So we must remember that hardships are not a matter of if, but when. We must share in the suffering Christ endured. We do that by undergoing hardships. And God will never let us travel the road alone. We have Him and the Saints and our loved ones to walk it with us.

Responsorial Psalm 145
“I will praise your name forever, my king and my God.”

“Let all your works give you thanks O Lord and let your faithful ones bless you” (like Paul and Barnabas). “Let them discourse of the glory of your kingdom” (see reading 2). Your kingdom is a kingdom for all ages (e.g. not just Jews, but Gentiles too), and your dominion endures through all generations.

2nd Reading: Revelation 21:1-5A

We’re in a beautiful part of Revelation today. It speaks to the new Heaven and the new Earth that await us when Jesus comes again.  See, we’re in the “In-between” right now on Earth. It’s quite an interesting idea to ponder. Christ came as a human (Christmas). He walked the earth, preached, and then died for our sins, completely stomping out and conquering death – once and for all (Easter). And He said He would come again at the end of time. So He gave us this promise, this oath that He did indeed open Heaven for us, He did conquer death and we should take comfort in that reality. But we’re in the in-between for as long as we live (unless He comes again before then). We’re in the in-between of Christ’s first coming (as a human) and Christ’s second coming (at the end of time), when He will raise us up on the last day. When we get our bodies back. But for now, and in this “in-between” we have a very important job to do. We must gather as many souls as we can to the arms of Jesus. We exist to do this job, to be God’s witness to the ends of the Earth.

John is back in the throne room and he is getting a glimpse of what happens when Christ comes again. Thankfully, he took good notes! Because what a beautiful reality he sets before us: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth; the first heaven and the first earth had passed away and the sea [represents chaos and destruction, death] was no more” (the world has ended).He goes on, “ I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem…prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice say, ‘Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people.”

 This is what we are made for: The heavenly Jerusalem. At the second coming, God will deliver on His promise to unite His people to Him. That’s a promise He made back in Genesis when He first fashioned us in His image and then made His covenant with Abraham. We rarely get a glimpse of what happens after Christ comes again, but today’s reading invites us to see the beauty that is before us. So yes we must endure hardships for God (1st reading), but look at the glorious banquet that awaits us after the “in-between.”

Gospel: John 13: 31-33A, 34-35

Today we are back in the Upper Room at the beginning of the passion. Jesus foretells the suffering he is about to endure at the hands of the Jewish leadership. He leaves them with a new commandment: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples. If you have love for one another.”

We skip verse 33B. That’s too bad. In that verse Jesus says to the disciples at the table, “Where I am going you cannot come.” He means that they cannot come with him to the Cross, that they cannot come to die and be raised. But I mention this because our second reading is about how we most certainly CAN come with Him into Heaven! We CAN share the glory of Heaven with Him in scripture:

In sum, if we want to share in the glory of Heaven (see reading 2), we must recognize the hardships we will bear for his sake (see Reading 1), and we must obey his command to love one another (gospel). Every morning, while we exist in this “in-between”, we are invited to wake up and sing psalm 145 in our hearts to ourselves and to God, and from our lips to those we meet in our words and actions: “I will praise your name forever, my king and my God.”

4.17.06 – 4th Sunday of Easter (Year C)

Welcome back! Find this week’s readings here.

Fun Fact:  The fourth Sunday of Easter (today) is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. It is also the World Day of Prayer for vocations. Let’s look for this theme throughout today’s readings.

1st Reading: Acts 13:14, 43-52

In Acts 1:8 Paul gives us a nice, neat outline for the book of Acts. Jesus tell the apostles, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses 1) in Jerusalem (Acts chapters 2-8), 2) in Judea and Samaria (Acts chapters 8-12), and 3) to the ends of the Earth (Acts 13-28)” [emphasis and chapter additions mine]. Imagine a photo of water after a stone has been thrown in it and now the rings surround the area. Same idea here. We are in Acts chapter 13. Based on the outline above, that means we’ll hear about the apostles be witnesses “to the ends of the Earth.”

The first 2 verses tell us Paul and Barnabas are in the synagogue in Antioch. Barnabas is Paul’s missionary companion – they went out “two by two” for accountability and to avoid teaching falsely.  Then we jump ahead almost 30 verses, which is unfortunate because it’s important stuff. In the omitted verses, Paul gets up and delivers a beautiful homily that amounts to a summary of salvation history. Just grab a bible and read it, or google the verses. You’ll be glad you did. Paul recounts all the great work God has done for his people, from Egypt straight through the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. He stirs the hearts of his audience so fervently that they beg Paul to return again the next week and give another homily. They are being converted by Paul’s words, like a “mini-Pentecost.”

Now we’re back in the verses that pick up in today’s reading, verses 43 and following. It is important to note that when Luke says “the Jews” (“When ‘the Jews’ saw the crowds, they became jealous”), he is speaking of the Jewish leaders, not the Jewish people who loved hearing Paul speak. The Jewish leaders are “jealous” because they know they were supposed to spread God’s word, but failed. Throughout the entire Old Testament, the Jewish people were given a mission by God, but they essentially failed. These Jewish leaders represent Israel. So Paul basically says to the leaders, “So here’s the deal. You were supposed to do this job but you didn’t. So I’m doing it now, and I’m going to bring not only the Jews to Christ, but also the Gentiles. I’m going to the ends of the earth and I’ll bring anyone and everyone to Christ that I can.” This fits the theme of Acts chapters 13-28: “Be my witnesses to the ends of the Earth.”

Responsorial Psalm: 100
“We are his people, the sheep of his flock.”

Today is often referred to as “Good Shepherd Sunday,” and thus the response echoes that theme.  The author of the psalm is not identified, though many scholars think David wrote it (David was also a shepherd. He was called out of the field by Samuel and soon anointed King). The psalm is joyful. It helps us recall that God is worthy of our highest praise and adoration. When a man’s heart has been filled with God’s grace, his countenance and lips should reflect it. The whole earth (all of its inhabitants) is called to praise the Lord.

2nd Reading: Revelation 7:9, 14B-17

We’re in Revelation again, as we will be for many weeks. John is in another vision. He’s seeing a great multitude of souls which cannot be numbered and they are” from every nation.” This reflects God’s grand plan, which is that He may have called the Jewish people first, but once Jesus died and rose again, He gave “The Great Commission.” The Great Commission is given to the apostles, but also to us. Jesus said, “Go therefore, and make disciples of ALL men. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I will be with you until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).” That is definitely in the top 5 of my favorite lines in scripture. So the term “from every nation” tells us that at the end – in the Heavenly throne room – we will see people of all walks of life, not just the Jewish people God originally chose.  These souls are wearing white robes because they’ve been cleansed – forgiven, absolved, perfected – by the blood of the Lamb.

There is a shepherding term too, “the one who sits on the throne will shelter them.” They will not hunger nor thirst. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. We are his people. The sheep of his flock.

Gospel: John 10:27-30

One of the shortest gospels we’ll read, today’s spans only 3 verses. It reads:

“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.

One of the reasons John’s gospel is different from the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke is that he talks at length about Jesus’ relationship to the Father. Jesus says in many different ways that He and the Father are one. This affirms our belief in God and Jesus as 2 of the 3 persons of the trinity, and also the teaching that Jesus is 100% divine and 100% human (a hotly contested issue in the early Church, eventually resolved at the Council of Nicea).

This gospel begs for our personal reflection. If we are God’s sheep, we should know His voice. We know that we are God’s sheep, so do we hear his voice? Do we know it? Recognize it? This is a never ending process, and a beautiful one indeed.   When we are lost and cannot hear or see the way, we need to simply ask: “God, I cannot see or hear the way. Please help me hear you more clearly.” Sometimes I’ll add, “God, you know I’m not very good at this sometimes, so please! Make it really clear what you want me to do!” And more often than not, He does.

We can listen to God…but only if we are quiet. We can hear Him…but only when we are not talking. So we must make our requests known to God and be still. Be very still. It may be a while until clarity comes. Be patient. He is doing important work in us while we wait. That is hard to do, but it is often during this “waiting time” that we bear the most fruit spiritually. Remember that God’s time is rarely ours. No matter what difficulties we bear in life, they are always opportunities for us to grow closer to Him. Because that’s our only aim in life: To know, love, and serve God in this life so we can be happy with Him in the next.

Today, let us give thanks to God for the shepherds in our parish families who guide us every week, year after year. Our bishops, priests, deacons and seminarians. Let us pray for the young men around the world who are discerning, who are trying to hear. How serious it is to know whether God is calling them to the priesthood. They need our support and prayers.

4.10.16 -3rd Sunday of Easter (Year C)

Welcome back! This week’s readings are here.

Fun Fact: The term “Apocolypse”, often used when referring to the book of Revelation, means “unveiling” in Greek. It is the ultimate language between bride and groom. So in this case, Revelation could be considered the “ultimate message” between the bride (The Church is “the bride of Christ”) and her groom (Jesus). “Revelation ‘removes the veil’ from God’s plan for the future, drawing back the curtain that hides Christ’s glory, kingship, and control over history from the naked eye” (CCC 50).”

1st Reading: Acts 5:27-32, 40-41

We’re in Acts again this week, the “Part II” to Luke’s gospel. The apostles have been performing acts of healing in the name of Jesus. They are then imprisoned for teaching in his name. Just like an angel will free Peter from prison in Acts 12, an angel frees all the Apostles from their imprisonment in Acts 5. In this reading, the Apostles have just been freed from prison by the angel. But they are found and brought before the Sanhedrin, the high court of Judaism.

The high priest tells them not to preach anymore. He accuses them of trying to “bring this man’s [Jesus] blood upon us” (e.g. blame them for Jesus’ death).  The apostles then defend their position and speak the Truth: “We must obey God rather than men.” Importantly, their defense of Jesus is in contradiction to what happened on Good Friday, when they abandoned him – especially Peter. Now, Peter is making his way back to the Lord with his actions.

The reading skips some important verses today. In the missing verses Gamaliel speaks. Gamaliel was Paul’s teacher/mentor. He was very well-known around the world for his intense knowledge of the law. When he spoke, people listened. Gamaliel tells the Sanhedrin to watch out; false prophets are prowling. Whenever false prophets were found out, they were killed and their followings fell. (This is because they were not true prophets.) He tells the Sanhedrin, “So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men [the apostles] and let them alone; for if it is the plan or this undertaking is of men it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” Well no one wanted to be found opposing God, that was a strong suggestion to make.

The Sanhedrin take Gamaliel’s advice. They beat the apostles physically, but then they are freed. Though beaten, they leave with a curious feeling of rejoicing, for they have suffered dishonor for the name of Jesus. This is what they should have done on Good Friday, but better late than never.  They have been restored spiritually and are prepared for the tasks to come. We must remember that suffering for Christ is difficult, but it can – if we recognize its purpose – bring us a deep inner joy. 

Responsorial Psalm 30
“I will praise you Lord, for you have rescued me.”

This can be read in response to the first reading, where the apostles were truly rescued from the hands of their enemies (“you drew me near and did not let my enemies rejoice over me…you preserved me from among those going down into the pit.”)

2nd Reading: Revelation 5:11-14

We’re in Revelation again, as we will be for many weeks. This book is written by John, who is experiencing Heaven and its glory. Several times throughout the book, John is carried up to the throne room of Heaven. He is able to experience Heaven first-hand so that he might write it down. So that we might read it. So that we might be stirred to believe. So that we might follow Christ so we too can live there eternally.

Today John is in the throne room. “I looked and I heard around the throne …the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” Every creature everywhere says “To him who sits upon the throne …be blessing and honor and glory for ever and ever! The four living creatures are angels that appear as animals.

The following comes from the Ignatius Study bible: They symbolize the glory of God expressed in creation, and scholars have connected them to the four gospel writers: Divine Authority (Lion/Mark), Strength (Ox/Luke), Intelligence (Man/Matthew), and Swiftness (Eagle/John). Matthew is the man whose Gospel begins with Jesus’ genealogy. Mark is the roaring lion who begins with the voice crying out in the wilderness. Luke is the sacrificial ox whose gospel begins in the temple. John is the soaring eagle whose Gospel begins with the highest mystery of of Jesus’ divinity.  St. Bede noted that the living creatures also symbolize the Church. Her courage seen in the lion, her sacrificial service is in the ox, the humility is in the man and her sublimity in the flying eagle (p. 499).

The prayers/songs being sung by the innumerable angels that John sees are the same actions we hear the priest say during the Eucharistic prayers. These probably sound familiar:

  • Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might. Heaven and Earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.
  • Source of life and goodness, you have created all things to fill your creatures with every blessing and lead all men to the joyful vision of your life. Countless hosts of angels stand before you to do your will. United with them, and in the name of every creature under heaven, we too praise your glory.
  • Almighty God, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in heaven. Then as we receive from this altar the sacred body and blood of your son, let us be filled with every heavenly grace and blessing.

These are such powerful words and images. They are prayers the priests says as he asks the angels to bring the sacrifice of bread and wine up to heaven so that God might bless it, change it into Christ’s body, blood, soul and divinity, so that we might receive it. Amazing.

Gospel: John 21:1-19

This is the gospel where Peter goes fishing with the disciples. They hadn’t caught anything all night. Jesus performs a miracle (the overflowing fish catch), and Peter recognizes Jesus. He “tucked in his garment” or “put on his clothes” and fled to Jesus on the shore. We saw in the first reading from Acts, that the apostles righted their wrong from Good Friday by defending Jesus in front of the Sanhedrin. Well Peter does the exact same thing here. Instead of running away from the truth that he did in fact know Jesus (on Good Friday), Peter practically leaps out of the boat and swims to shore once he sees that it is Jesus. The entire reading screams “reconciliation.”

According to some scholars, there is significance to the line where Peter “puts on his clothes.” This could represent Peter’s ordination – where he is “clothed and readied” for the call to the papacy as first pope. Jesus is sitting by a charcoal fire where there are bread and fish, both of the foods Jesus multiplied for the 5,000. The charcoal fire is significant too, as Peter originally denied Christ near a charcoal fire on Good Friday. This experience is filled with so many meanings and perspectives. But it is all about coming back to Christ. Whereas Judas did not fully return but hung himself instead, Peter returns and begs for mercy. Christ answers his prodigal son Peter, and invites him into a role that will lay the foundation for His Church. He tells Peter simply to “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my lambs. “ Peter denied Jesus three times. Jesus asks Peter to reaffirm his love for him three times, even though He already knows it. It is for Peter’s benefit, not Jesus’.

May we all know the mercy of God our Father. Even when we have denied Him repeatedly, He will always take us back. Just look at the heavenly banquet He prepares for us each week!  May we rejoice in this great gift of Him, and never feel we need more. We are always enough in His eyes. Sure, we have work to do to fill those nail holes and prepare ourselves for Heaven, but to God, we are precious creatures and He will always welcome us home.

4.3.16 – 2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy)

Happy Easter! For this weekend’s readings, click here.

Fun Fact:
After 40 days of Lent, we now get to celebrate 50 days of Easter! That’s right, Easter will not end for another 43 days, so continue to wish each other a Happy Easter. Easter officially ends on Pentecost, which is May 15th.

Bonus Fun Fact:
Because we are in the Easter season, we take a break from the Old Testament, in a sense, from the Old Covenant. When Jesus died on the cross, He ushered in the New Covenant. The Church marks this by always readings from the New Testament during Easter. In Year C, we’ll read mostly from Acts, Revelation, and John’s gospel.

First Reading ACTS 5:12-16

The book of Acts is written by Luke. It is literally “Part II” of Luke’s writing, his gospel being Part I. The Greek word for “acts” is “praxis”, which means “Acts of.” “Praxis” was a literary genre, and in such writing, the story was usually about a great figure who built a great city.  So when Acts was written, one of the other writings in circulation was called, “the Acts of Caesar Augustus,” indeed about a figure who built a great city.  So while it is the case that this book is the actions of the apostles, Luke is also trying to resonate with his audience. Luke shares with us a story about another great figure who will build a great city. That could be Jesus building Heaven and/or the Apostles building the Church. A great rhetorical move on his part.

What Luke does thematically is quite interesting. In his gospel, he writes about certain acts Jesus performs that demonstrate his divine kingship – that He is the Messiah. In Acts, Luke writes about the acts of the apostles, and these actions largely mirror the actions of Jesus. So if you make a list from left to right of the stories Luke tells in Acts of the Apostles, and lay them over a similar list of the stories Luke told about Jesus, there would be a lot of matching stories. And that’s what we have here. In this reading, Luke is sharing the miracles that the apostles are now able to perform, since they have been sent forth by Christ himself.

“Solomon’s Portico” is a covered walkway in the temple, and this is where the apostles were. In the name of Jesus, the apostles displayed extraordinary power over demons, death, and disease. This was especially true of Peter, the leader of the apostles and the first pope. We see here that the seeds of the new Church are sprouting, and people are beginning to believe in the miracles God allows through His apostles, which is why a large number of people in the towns begin to bring their sick to be healed, even if it is “at least by his [Peter’s] shadow.”

Psalm 118:
Give thanks to the Lord, His love is everlasting

Key notes here are the repeated phrases concerning mercy, as today is Divine Mercy Sunday. Also the well-known verse, “the stone which the builder rejected (Jesus) has become the cornerstone (the Risen One, the Messiah, the King of Kings.)

Revelation 1: 9-13, 17-19

Here we are at the beginning of the book of Revelation, written by John, the beloved disciple. He is on the island of Patmos, where he’s been imprisoned for his belief in Christ and his desire to spread the faith. He enters into a beautiful, heavenly vision, and his notes become the book of Revelation. He took good notes (“Write on a scroll what you see”).

Of note is the line, “I was caught up in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” The Lord’s Day by then, had switched from Saturday to Sunday. To say that he was caught up in the Spirit, scholars believe, is to say that John was engaged in prayer and worship – likely saying mass – when his vision began. Now that is amazing and striking to think about. He was in the middle of mass, and he was carried off into Heaven. In a sense, this happens to us every Sunday. If you’ve ever read Scott Hahn’s book, “The Lamb’s Supper,” you’ve heard the beautiful connection between the book of Revelation and its close ties to the Mass itself. We get the mass – the liturgy – from the book of Revelation. John’s heavenly visions directly inform our mass. As Hahn says, when we go to mass, we go to Heaven on Earth.

In the reading, we see John’s inaugural vision of the book of Revelation. The number 7 signifies completion in the bible. God created the world in 7 days. Throughout the book of Revelation we see a lot of “7s” – here, 7 lampstands. (The lampstands are the 7 churches about which John will write starting in Revelation chapter 2). John sees “one like the son of man” (sound familiar? Think back to Daniel 7:13). Jesus is described in both human and divine terms. Then Jesus tells him not to be afraid (in the bible, this usually means something big is coming for the person encountering Jesus, in this case John). For Jesus to have the keys of “death and of the netherworld” means that Jesus is the ultimate judge. He has power over life and death, not Pilate, not Caesar, not any man.

Lastly, we get an outline of the book. At the end of the reading, Jesus tells John to “write down, therefore, what you have seen (Christ’s death and resurrection), and what is happening (this vision), and what will happen afterwards (what Jesus is about to tell John about His Second Coming).”

Gospel
John 20:19-31

This is the well-known reading on “doubting Thomas.” Poor St. Thomas. He gets quite a bad rap sometimes I think. We shake our fingers at him for having doubted, and yet we doubt so often ourselves.

First, Jesus offers the disciples peace in this reading. He doesn’t suggest it, or say here take peace if you want it, take it if you promise to pass it on to others, he simply says “Peace be with you.”It is a gift He is giving them. I see this as his way of telling us that with closeness to Christ, in relationship with Him, comes certain peace. We will always know peace when we are nearer to Him.

Then we see Thomas put his finger into Jesus’s side so that he might believe. Jesus has been raised from the dead, and yet he still bears the wounds. He bears wounds from his crucifixion, the wounds we created. I find this fascinating, and worthy of time in prayer. The Church teaches that when we die, we go through a cleansing/purifying process in purgatory. This is a “pit-stop” on the way to Heaven. A priest explained it like this: A 2 x 4 piece of wood is your soul. It starts out clean and unblemished. With each sin, we drive a nail through it. When we are absolved in confession, those nails are removed! The sins are forgiven. But the hole remains. Because nothing imperfect can enter into Heaven, we must be fully healed of the holes too, and that happens in purgatory. Once the nail holes are filled in and perfected, off to Heaven we go.

So why does Jesus keep his holes? He’s the son of God, so why didn’t He heal them and close them up? I think it was so that He could show the apostles, of course, that it was indeed Him…but it also serves as a reminder that we put the holes there. We drove the nails in. Our sins put Jesus on the cross, and He embraced death without opening His mouth so that our holes can one day be fully healed. These holes are just one more way we see our Shepherd lay down His life for us. Let us remember to thank God on this Divine Mercy Sunday, for the unconditional love and forgiveness he offers us.  And let us thank Him for sending to us the apostles and priests who stand in for Him here on earth, so that we can keep trying. Keep working. Keep taking the nails out, even though his holes remain.

May God bless your week!

 

3.26.16 Easter Sunday

Tonight our family will attend the Vigil Mass. This mass is part 3 of the Triduum, which is 1 liturgy that lasts 3 days. Holy Thursday was part 1: The Last Supper, the start of His Passion. Good Friday was part 2: His death. The Vigil is part 3: The Resurrection. The Saturday night Easter Vigil is beautiful. It has 4 parts.

1. The Service of Light. Then the story of salvation history will be sketched for us over the course of 9 readings. We begin in darkness, the light-less existence that was before God created the world. We also experience the darkness that fell over the Earth when Christ died, and the darkness we experienced while He is in the tomb.  “At the dawn of creation, God commanded: “Let there be light.” We all slowly light candles, lighting each others’ – the priests from a central bonfire, then everyone in attendance from the back of the church to the front until the whole space is lit.

2. Liturgy of the Word. We read 9 readings; 7 reading are proclaimed in the church with no lights on (all Old Testament) and 2 NT readings are proclaimed with lights on (1 reading from Romans, and then the gospel). We hear the big stories tonight. The first three alone are hugely pivotal. Creation, Abraham’s obedience to God as he nearly sacrifices Isaac, and the Exodus. Then we hear 2 readings from Isaiah, and one from Baruch. These tell of the people’s disobedience and God’s promise to restore them eventually. Ezekiel closes out the OT by telling us God’s point of view when his people continually turn away, and how he will still not forsake them, but turn their stony hearts into hearts of flesh. At the transition, all the lights go on at once, lively music starts. We hear from St. Paul and then the gospel, when the women discover that Jesus has indeed risen. He’s risen from the dead. Alleluia!

3. Liturgy of Baptism. We welcome new members into the Church. Some are being baptized and confirmed, some were baptized but never confirmed. They are baptized with water and receive holy oil on their foreheads. They choose a saint’s name who is their patron saint, which is announced to us as they are confirmed. I always enjoy hearing the names each person chose as their saint.

4. Liturgy of the Eucharist. This is familiar, the same as at a Sunday mass. After Jesus was in the tomb yesterday and no consecrations were performed across the globe, we are now able to partake in this great mystery again, and with even greater joy.

This piece of the gospel spoke to me:

The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James;
the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles,
but their story seemed like nonsense
and they did not believe them.
But Peter got up and ran to the tomb,
bent down, and saw the burial cloths alone;
then he went home amazed at what had happened.

The women came with the news, but their story “seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them.” This is a sad reality, and it stirs the heart to consider how many do not know or do not choose to receive God’s love. Let us be witnesses this Easter.

And then Peter sees his chance. After denying Jesus three times at the cross and weeping bitterly, He can do nothing but run to the tomb. Think how he must have taken flight! Think of what his facial expression must have been at the moment the sound of the news reached his ears. He did not even think to respond to these women, question them, or ask how Jesus was or what he looked like. He just. Ran.  He ran, he saw, he believed, and “was amazed at what had happened.”

May we all feel the amazement of Peter this Easter season, and for the next 50 days, may we go forth as authentic Easter people.

Alleluia He is Risen.
Happy, Happy Easter! 

 

03.24.16 Holy Thursday

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper: Holy Thursday

The Triduum begins tonight, a three day procession through Jesus passion (begins at Holy Thursday), death (Good Friday), and resurrection (Easter Sunday). A few notes from the hymnal are helpful in understanding the significance of this mass and how it differs from others. Two sacraments are instituted tonight: The Eucharist and Holy Orders (the Priesthood). Therefore, it is a special night for priests all over the world as they recall their ordinations and their vows.

The tabernacle should be empty; a sufficient amount of bread will be consecrated tonight for communion tonight and tomorrow. Tomorrow, Good Friday, is the only day of the year that priests do not consecrate bread and wine. However, we are still able to receive our Lord tomorrow, but it will be with the bread and wine that is consecrated tonight.  Interestingly, whereas God told Moses and the Israelites not to save up the manna for the next day in the Old Covenant, today is an example where, in the New Covenant, we are allowed to “save the manna” for tomorrow and celebrate the gift of our Lord every day.

The 1st reading is from Exodus, and it is the reading of the Passover. This is such a formative event in the Old Testament, and it is the precursor to the Eucharist, which is why it is read tonight. Jesus is the Passover Lamb. The Israelites were saved – were “passed over” – by the sacrificial blood of the lamb. We are saved by the sacrificial blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God. Further, this reading explains why we consume Jesus in the flesh.  “That same night they shall eat its roasted flesh with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.” They were commanded to eat the flesh of the sacrificial lamb. This was the essence and climax of this feast. We too are commanded to eat the flesh of the sacrificial Lamb, Jesus. This is the essence and climax of our feast, the Mass.

Psalm 116: “Our blessing cup is a communion with the Blood of Christ.”

The 2nd reading is quite straight-forward. The Corinthians had a lot of questions for Paul, and he answers them in his 1st letter. In this chapter he re-emphasizes the critical nature of liturgical practices, specifically the Eucharist. He reminds them of its connection to the Last Supper, which is why we hear it tonight.

Gospel: Tonight of course, is the Gospel of the washing of the feet. Jesus is the servant, not the served. Again he turns the situation upside down. He is an example to us. We must serve others. We must be His hands and feet. He couldn’t say it more clearly: “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” Most churches re-create the washing of the feet after the homily, although it is not required.

A beautiful part of tonight’s mass is the Transfer of the Most Blessed Sacrament, when the Eucharist is incensed (with “holy smoke”). The Eucharist – the very presence of God – is then carried around the church  and brought to a place of repose. The congregation is invited to pray with Jesus “in the Garden” as He awaits the first trial at night. Let us accept this invitation to stay awake with our Lord, to watch with Him, to love and glorify Him before the dawn comes.