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Catholic Diocese of Lansing, Vol. 49, No. 3
April 1Open or Close
FOCUS: No obstacle can defeat us if we are dedicated to doing God's work.
We all face obstacles. The more passionate we are about accomplishing something, the more obstacles we seem to encounter. This makes sense if you think about it: If you have no goal or destination, nothing can get in your way. But history is full of stories of people who persevered in every type of endeavor because they had a goal, and were able to break through the obstacles to achieve their goal and accomplish great things.
Today, in our readings, we hear about two people who broke through in a similar way. These people succeeded in doing God's work, in sharing his word and helping people find salvation. We refer to Jeremiah and Jesus.
Jeremiah accepted the call of the Lord, and served as a prophet during one of the most difficult times in Israel's history. He could have gone along with the thinking of the time and lived a peaceful life. Instead, he accepted God's challenge and preached repentance, faithfulness to the one true God, and the coming destruction of Jerusalem. People did not want to hear what he said. They ridiculed him, ignored him and even plotted to kill him. He turned to God for protection and to open a way for him – to remove the obstacles in front of him.
A very similar situation arose some 600 years later when Jesus began his public ministry. He stepped on people's toes with his claim that religious leaders were not faithfully representing God's desire for his people. Today's Gospel tells us that officers were sent to arrest Jesus and stop his work. But they could not bring themselves to carry out the arrest. Jesus was so persuasive and authentic, they feared obstructing him.
As we know, the plot to stop him did not go away. Eventually, it appeared that the people standing in Jesus' way won and the forces of evil won out – with Jesus being put to death on a cross. However, this apparent defeat was really a victory, as we know, because Jesus through his death won forgiveness for our sins and defeated the power of sin and evil. And then through his resurrection, Jesus restored our life and through his glorious ascension, opened the way to eternal life in heaven.
We can take a lesson from these readings. When our goal is to do God's work, when our hope is eternal life, no obstacles placed in our way by earthly powers can prevail. God may or may not remove the obstacles, but even if they remain, he will give us the strength and wisdom to overcome them. And if we do not give up, regardless of how it may appear to the rest of the world, we will be successful in accomplishing the work God has called us to do.
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April 2Open or Close
FOCUS: Jesus frees us from the shackles of the past, and works to continually raise us up to a newer and fuller life in his love.
Our readings today go straight to the heart of our Catholic Christian faith. They speak of death, and new life in Christ. In the first reading from the prophet Ezekiel we heard: Thus says the Lord God: O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel.
In the Gospel reading, the stone has been rolled back from the tomb of poor Lazarus. Christ commanded that he be released from all that bound him up, and then set him free.
What does this mean for us, living out our lives as we do in 2017?
It leads us to this question: What guides your approach to life – the defeats of the past or the hope of the future? For thus says the Lord through the prophet Isaiah: Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not. See, I am doing something new! (43:18-19). God wants us to see things afresh – not in our usual ways, but rather in ways that are ever-new.
How can we see things anew in our own lives? How can we look at things with a new perspective? One way to begin is to examine those elements in our lives that drag us down, that make us feel defeated.
Extreme pessimism. Endless comparisons of ourselves to others. Passive resignation to our lot in life – our “fate.” These types of attitudes can dominate our thoughts and prevent us from seeing things the way God wants us to see them.
Easter, which we will celebrate in a couple of weeks, is the religious and theological statement that, for the Christian, there is no ultimate defeat. To be sure, we will suffer temporary setbacks. But defeat? No. Because of Christ's Easter resurrection, we can never be totally defeated. All that is required of us is to believe in God’s promises, and let our faith in him replace our own lack of faith in ourselves.
Jesus offers us hope today. Christ can roll back the imprisoning stones that entomb our hearts. It's time to let go of our doubts and defeatism and go free because God wants us, like poor Lazarus, to be free, happy and joyous. He wants us to walk in the glorious freedom of the sons and daughters of God. This Easter, let God do something new within you. The Resurrection is God’s promise that we can have a new life.
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April 3Open or Close
FOCUS: Christ teaches that mercy triumphs over justice because God’s love saves us, if we merely accept his love.
There is a parallel between the first reading and the Gospel. Both tell of women accused of adultery.
Susannah was a beautiful young woman accused by two older men overcome by lust. They threatened her, trying to force her to sin, and then claimed falsely that she had committed adultery.
The woman in the Gospel was actually caught in the act of adultery. Her guilt is not in question. The question is, instead, what punishment she will receive for her sin.
Two women accused of adultery. God rescues the innocent woman from her accusers by the intervention of a youth, Daniel, who has the wisdom of an adult.
Susannah chooses truth and risks death over deceit and violating her marriage covenant. God rewards her with the testimony of a boy who uses wisdom to overcome the deceit. It is a message any of us can accept: God protects the good. And the two lustful liars receive what they deserve. Their perjury is punished with the sentence that their victim would have received if they had been successful in their false testimony.
But Christ, as he so often does, turns the whole idea of sin and how sin is to be punished upside down. It is not that he accepts sin. At the end of the Gospel, he tells the woman to go and sin no more. But he loves the sinner, and wants sinners to be saved. The story is no longer about God protecting an upright woman from evil and lustful accusers. Rather, Christ shows mercy to sinners – that they might turn from their sins and be saved. Similarly, he will freely and generously offer us forgiveness if we simply ask.
The actions of Jesus in today’s Gospel leave us with some questions to ponder and answer in our own lives. Like Daniel, Jesus proved himself wiser than the accusers of the woman. But, unlike in the first reading, we do not see the accusers being punished.
Jesus poses a question: If this woman is to be stoned to death, then the one who is without sin should cast the first stone. The accusers slowly drift away at this challenge beginning with the eldest – presumably the wisest. Scholars often question whether, when Christ bends over and draws in the dirt, he was listing the sins of the accusers. This would show they did not have the right to accuse the woman. The wise realized this first. Or was Jesus challenging them to acknowledge that he is the one who is without sin, and the only one with the right to judge?
Applying this to ourselves, we must be mindful that none of us are without sin, and we should leave the judgement of others to the one who lived without sin – Jesus. It is also important to bear in mind that as Jesus freely and generously forgave the woman caught in the act of adultery, he offers us forgiveness for our sins no matter how many times we fall short.
April 4Open or Close
FOCUS: Jesus is the foundation of all existence, without which everything would cease to be.
As we continue on our Lenten journey, the Church provides us a selection of readings which focus on the identification of Jesus Christ as the Son of God.
Consider the Israelites in the first reading, as they continue wandering the desert after being freed from the snare of the Egyptians. They begin to doubt God’s plan, asking, Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water?
Perhaps they left Egypt assuming that entering the Promised Land would not require any great suffering or tribulation. This is a temptation which we fall prey to ourselves, is it not? We want to be Easter people, but prefer to skip the Lenten season completely. We want to enjoy the beatitude of heaven, but avoid the wood of the cross.
The Israelites repented for doubting God and attempting to take the path of least resistance. It was only by believing in God’s message and gazing on the bronze serpent mounted on the pole, as God had instructed, that those who were bitten were able to recover.
We, too, have each been bitten, so to speak, by the serpent of sin which can poison our hearts with doubt and pride, and move us to avoid the suffering demanded of us as partakers in Jesus’ passion.
How, then, will we find healing? How will we find salvation? We hear the answer in today’s Gospel, when Jesus explicitly says, For if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.
The salvation we seek comes to those who believe in Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. Jesus’ identification of himself as I AM would have been an unmistakable declaration of his own divinity by first-century Jews. They are the same words used by God the Father who reveals himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14 as, I am who am.
In saying, I AM, Jesus clearly expresses his identity as God, the Supreme Being over all the earth. Jesus is not just one being among all other beings, he is that being upon which all others depend. Jesus is the foundation of all existence, without which everything would cease to be.
In this context, Jesus is emphasizing the importance of believing and knowing. It is not by gazing on a bronze statue that we will find salvation, but by believing in Jesus as the Son of God, and responding in charity for love of him. As we continue on our Lenten journey, may our faith be strengthened so we have the courage to follow Christ in his passion.
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April 5Open or Close
FOCUS: God helps us in times of trial – when doing his will is difficult.
The three young men in today’s first reading have a difficult decision to make. Should they make a mere human the center of their lives, or remain loyal to God by worshipping only him?
These young men choose to make God their highest priority, even though they know this might cause them harm. We see that God sends them help in the form of an angel, who accompanies them during their struggles.
How often do we choose to give something or someone other than God higher priority in our lives? Perhaps we are simply distracted by the pressures of everyday life. Perhaps it isn’t even a conscious decision. But we must be intentional. We must make it a priority to put God first.
When we make God the center of our lives, he liberates us from false ideals and pursuits. We might struggle at times, even with God as our focus. But he never abandons us. He accompanies us in all our joys, sorrows and struggles.
Notice in the Gospel how humble Jesus is. He says, I did not come on my own, but [God the Father] sent me. When we decide to make God the center of our lives, we come to prefer drawing attention to him rather than seeking honor for ourselves.
Jesus also says to us in today’s Gospel, If God were your Father, you would love me. We are blessed to know that God is indeed our Father. When we understand who Jesus is – the only begotten Son of God – we can’t help but love him. The Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts the fire of his love.
Let us make God the center of our lives. Let’s allow ourselves to be nourished and strengthened by the graces of the sacraments, especially holy Communion. Let us feel the comfort of knowing that God is with us no matter what struggles we might have. Let us strive to do our Father’s holy and perfect will at all times, even when it’s hard. God will never abandon us, because he loves us with an everlasting love.
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April 6Open or Close
FOCUS: The gift of faith in Jesus brings immeasurable blessings to our lives.
In today’s Gospel from John, we observe Jesus teaching that he is the Son of God sent by God the Father to bring salvation. He tells his listeners that whoever keeps his word will come to live forever.
This was very difficult for many people of Jesus’ time to accept and believe. They did not try to understand the wisdom of Jesus, and were not open to his words and teachings. Rather, they were filled with contempt.
We, however, are different, as we are blessed with the gift of faith. This gift gives us new life in Christ, and the promise and hope of eternal life in heaven. This gift, which God graciously bestows upon us through the sacrament of baptism, imparts upon us a sacred duty and solemn obligation. This gift calls us to share the good news of salvation and help to build up God’s kingdom on earth.
Abraham, as we heard in the reading from Genesis, is also a person of great faith. He chose to believe. He believed that his barren wife, Sarah, would have a son. He believed that God would keep his promise and make him the father of many nations. Although doubt may have entered Abraham’s mind, he maintained a faithful heart believing that God kept promises, and could do what was impossible for humans.
As we enter the final days of Lent, let’s focus on being grateful for the gift of faith by which our lives are immeasurably blessed. Let’s demonstrate our faith by trying to follow the teachings of Jesus in all areas of our lives. Let’s treat people the way we would want to be treated, and share our faith with others so we are faithful witnesses to the Gospel.
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April 7Open or Close
FOCUS: When we experience resistance because of our faith, we should respond in peace.
The prophet Jeremiah knew full well that his faithfulness to God was putting his life in danger. People all around him were plotting against him. But while his enemies, who were once his friends, used cunning to try to prevail over him, Jeremiah relied on God alone for his vindication: Let me witness the vengeance you take on them, for to you I have entrusted my cause.
Similarly in today’s Gospel reading, when people took up rocks to stone Jesus, he sought no weapon of defense except his words and the good works that his Father in heaven had given him to do. The same would of course be the case in his Passion and death.
The path of peaceful resistance taken by Jeremiah, the other prophets, and Jesus has been imitated through the ages, from Saint Stephen, the first martyr, down to our own day in Blessed Oscar Romero, who was assassinated in El Salvador in 1980 while celebrating Mass.
None of us can expect the kind of fierce persecution that Jeremiah, Jesus and so many martyrs have faced over the centuries. We should pray that this will continue to be the case in all countries, and that the religious liberty of all people of faith will be strengthened.
But if we are true to our faith, we will experience resistance and a subsequent temptation to conform to the prevailing culture. We need to remember and make our own the words that Jesus shared with his disciples on the night before he died, If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first (Jn 15:18).
If, like Jeremiah, Jesus and the martyrs, we stay true to God through the grace that he continually offers us, then we can joyfully stand firm in confidence knowing that the ultimate victory of these holy men and women will be ours, too.
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April 8Open or Close
FOCUS: Throughout our lives, we are invited to respond to Jesus in faith and renew our commitment to discipleship.
Today, the prophet Ezekiel reminds us that even when we fail him, God keeps his promises. During Lent, we rediscover our need for redemption – for salvation. We come in touch with the ways in which we have wandered from the Lord, and the ways we have turned our backs on him time and again.
We rediscover that we are like the people of Israel to whom Ezekiel prophesies. We, too, have our transgressions and our abominations. Yes, these are strong words, but the Divine Physician cannot heal us unless we are convinced of our need.
Consider the Pharisees in today’s Gospel. They cannot doubt the powerful signs being worked by Jesus: the healings, the casting out of demons, and even the raising of the dead, such as Lazarus, which occurred immediately before this Gospel passage. These signs were so powerful that they were bringing many people to place their faith in Jesus. This caused fear and concern on the part of the Pharisees, and others, that if Jesus was left alone, all the people would come to believe in him as the promised Messiah and Savior. This, in turn, would trigger a strong response from the Romans, who would then move to suppress the freedom of the Jewish people to practice their faith.
Whether this concern on the part of the Pharisees was based on a genuine desire to protect and safeguard the Jewish people, or out of a desire to preserve the status quo and their own position in society, it is of little consequence. For many of them ultimately remained hard-hearted to the saving message that Jesus preached, and were unwilling to go into the new and life-giving direction Jesus was trying to lead them.
What about us? Can’t we fall into a similar trap, clinging to what is comfortable and familiar, as opposed to embracing our need for ongoing conversion and spiritual growth? We often resist Jesus, and the differing ways he wants to work in our lives to bring about something new – something that leads us into uncharted territory and brings us graces and blessings we could never have dreamed of or imagined. Given all this, let us do our best to pray daily, and have hearts that are ever-open and receptive to the Holy Spirit, and to the amazing things God wants to accomplish in and through us.
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April 9Open or Close
FOCUS: There is no escaping the way of the cross.
How quickly things can change, and how fickle people can become! We begin our worship today with the joyous arrival of Jesus in the holy city of Jerusalem on the back of a colt with palm branches waving and the crowd chanting words forever enshrined in our Eucharistic celebrations: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
We end our readings from Scripture today with Jesus having been betrayed and tortured, denied, mocked and crucified. Some folks are uncomfortable with the fact that we hang large crosses with the lifeless body of our Savior on them in our churches, and have smaller versions in our homes. They tell us they feel as if we are trying to crucify Jesus all over again, as if we don’t know about or believe in the resurrection.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Our reality is that we are in unquestioned awe of our God, and the lengths to which our Creator was willing to go to prove his love for every last person who ever has, or ever will, walk the face of the earth. From the greatest saint, Mary, the mother of Jesus, to the greatest sinner, salvation is ours for the taking.
We fully believe in the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ. We fully understand his life did not end on the cross. We live the paschal mystery each day of our lives, fully embracing the passion, the death and the resurrection of Jesus. In fact, that is why we come here. We come to intentionally relive, in no uncertain terms, this mystery every time we celebrate Eucharist with one another. We also understand there is no resurrection without first embracing the cross of salvation.
When difficulties emerge in our lives, we need only look toward the nearest crucifix. For in that glance we realize we are never alone in our adversity. Jesus is ever present to us, proving every day his undying love for us.
That is the message we have to share with our fractured world – Jesus is the way, the truth and the life for all. If all of us who profess to follow Christ crucified live our faith with joy, and live our lives pleasing unto the Lord, the world in which we live could be healed of much of its pain and suffering.
The cross can and will lead to the empty tomb, but it is not the end. Our lives must proclaim that we trust the promise that Jesus’ way is the way that leads to everlasting life.
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April 10Open or Close
FOCUS: Jesus won our salvation through his perfect sacrifice of love on the cross.
On this Monday of Holy Week, we hear from the prophet Isaiah in the first reading. This prophecy announces a servant with whom God is well-pleased, bringing justice to the nations. It foretells of a servant, filled with God’s spirit, who will teach and establish peace – not by shouting or harshness, but by healing and goodness. God the Creator sends him as a light to the world, as a covenant with the people to bring salvation. He sends him to raise people up, give sight to the blind, release prisoners and bring life to those who live in darkness.
In today’s Gospel, we listen to the story of a dinner at Bethany. We see the prophecy of Isaiah being fulfilled in our hearing. Martha is serving dinner; Lazarus, who Jesus raised from the dead, is there; and so is Judas Iscariot. Mary begins anointing the feet of Jesus. She uses a very expensive perfumed oil to anoint the feet of Jesus and then dries his feet using her hair. The beautiful fragrance fills the occasion.
Then we hear Judas castigating Mary for using expensive oil, saying that the oil should have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus defends and upholds Mary by telling Judas to leave Mary alone and by instructing that the oil be kept for his own burial. In and through these words, Jesus was also foretelling the day of his own burial.
Mary is a good example for us of humble servanthood. She loved Jesus, and was trying to make him comfortable in his last days. As we enter into this Holy Week, let’s try to learn from the example of Mary and become servants for one another. On Holy Thursday, we will learn again from Jesus what it means to be a servant to others when he washes the feet of his disciples.
Let’s ask ourselves some questions as we think about being servant to one another. Are we like Mary in serving Jesus? Do we follow in the footsteps and example of Christ in proclaiming justice and goodness to the world? Do we seek to help and aid those who are oppressed and persecuted? Are we striving to be light in a world often filled with darkness?
These are not easy questions. But if we have any reservations about their importance or urgency, let us fix our gaze once again on Jesus, the perfect fulfillment of God’s servant. Let’s ask God for the grace to be willing to take risks and give more fully of ourselves to one another.
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April 11Open or Close
FOCUS: Let us keep in rhythm to the beat of Christ’s heart as he leads us to Calvary.
Many scholars believe that the beloved disciple in today’s Gospel is meant to be any one of Christ’s disciples. Some scholars also understand this title to include all who follow Jesus. This means that the beloved disciple could be you or me. Let’s take a moment to imagine ourselves as the beloved disciple in this scene.
We are at the Passover meal with Jesus and our other friends. We are reclining at table, as was the custom at this time. As the beloved disciple, we lay with our back to Jesus. He is reclining behind us. All we need to do to hear Jesus speak is to lean back into him and lay our head upon his chest. This is exactly what the beloved disciple does when Peter nods at him after hearing Jesus mention that one of their band would betray him. The beloved disciple leans back upon Christ’s chest.
Throughout Lent, we have been fasting, giving alms and praying. We have been traveling with Jesus to Jerusalem. Now it is Holy Week and as Christ’s beloved disciples, we are invited to walk with him through the events by which we are saved and redeemed – namely Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. It is time to lay our head on Christ’s chest and listen to his heart.
What will we be listening for in Christ’s heartbeat? Will we hear the beat of our own heart in sync with his? Benedictine Fr. Guerric DeBona wrote in Give us This Day, June 27, 2016, that “God’s heart is always beating for our conversion.” Is that what we hear? Do we hear the telltale signs that we have been transformed this Lenten season, through our prayer and sacrifices, into a new creation?
It is important to take the time to really listen to Christ’s heartbeat. The sound of it will allow us to follow the pace of his steps to Golgotha, and endure our time with him at the foot of the cross. By listening to him, we will be able to hear that Mary is our mother and we are to care for her – and she for us. Spending time listening to Christ’s heartbeat will help us recognize Christ more easily as we encounter him in situations, and through those whom we meet daily. Yes, this week, lay your head back and rest on Christ’s chest and listen – listen to his heart beating for you.
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April 12Open or Close
FOCUS: Humbly recognizing that we are sinners continually in need of God’s love and forgiveness helps us grow in holiness.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples to prepare the Passover meal for him, and then reclines with them at table. Jesus then begins to prepare them for what will happen to him, revealing that one of them will betray him.
As we would expect, this is very distressing to the Twelve joining him for this last meal, and we hear their reaction, which is probably not unlike our own would have been. Who, me? Surely it is not I? I am not the one, am I Lord? Even Judas, the guilty one, joins in the chorus of questioning.
We learn that the action – the betrayal – is a fulfillment of what has already been written. It will bring woe to the one who acts. But notice, it is not a sentence pronounced by Jesus, but more of a warning of the consequence of such a betrayal. Justice will be the necessary response owed the one who turns away from Christ. In the forewarning of Christ, we can see a true act of love. Even in the words of Jesus, in response to Judas’ questioning if it will be him, Jesus says, You have said so. In this, we understand that Judas’ undoing is entirely his own, if he continues to act.
We have certainly heard this sort of exchange before in the Gospels. Remember the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke’s Gospel? The rich man in torment begs for Abraham to warn his brothers. Abraham says, If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead (16:31). As the event unfolds in today’s Gospel, it is clear that Judas is not listening.
The question for us today is: Are we listening? Will we walk with Jesus to the cross? Will we enter into the paschal mystery of our Lord? Will we resist the temptations that come our way? As Christians, we will try, knowing that God’s mercy and love are always present to us in the struggle, but unlike Judas, we are hopeful we will not deny our sinfulness but give our sins over to Christ to heal and forgive. It seems that even Judas was allowed to remain at the table and share in the Lord’s Supper, but he was still unwilling to turn away from sin after having done so. From these forty days of Lent, we are hopeful that we have learned the path to follow, and we may truly be raised up to a newer and fuller life in Christ at Easter.
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April 13Open or Close
FOCUS: The institution of the Eucharist is inextricably linked to caring for our sisters and brothers, as modeled by the Lord on the night he was handed over.
Our feet are some of the most taken-for-granted parts of our body. They bear our weight and take us wherever we choose to go, yet we are more concerned with how we cover them than the feet themselves. But interestingly enough, washing the feet of another person is one of the more intimate acts we can undertake. This may be one of the reasons some people commented when Pope Francis washed the feet of a wide array of people on his first Holy Thursday.
God and humans have at certain points in the history of our faith washed each other’s feet. When the Lord appeared to Abraham by Mamre with his messengers, the first thing our father in faith did was request water to be brought so he could bathe the feet of his visitors (Gen. 18). Again, a few thousand years later, the Lord, on the night he was handed over, washed the feet of his disciples, even those of Judas the Iscariot, whom he knew was about to betray him.
Saint Paul, who was not present when Jesus taught that all who followed him should also do what he had just done, understood that intimately caring for one another was inextricably linked to the Lord’s Supper. His Letter to the Corinthians contains the earliest written account of the institution of the Eucharist, which he shared with that faith community immediately after admonishing them harshly for ignoring the needs of the less fortunate during the Lord’s Supper itself. The well-heeled among them who had leisure time were eating and drinking so that by the time those wearing sandals worn out from endless work had arrived, nothing was left. By creating divisions, they were showing contempt for the Eucharistic meal.
Tonight’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper calls us to give thanks to Jesus for instituting the Eucharist. By doing this, Jesus ensured he would always be present to the Church until the end of time. Jesus nourishes us with the very gift of himself so we may grow in our faith and love for him. The second reading from Corinthians reminds us that receiving the Eucharist is meant to bring us to live in greater love and unity with God and one another.
Let’s wash the feet of the Lord, as did Abraham, by tending to our sisters and brothers with great intimacy. We must remember that the Eucharist itself can have no true meaning if it is not connected in a real way to tying a towel around our waists and actively caring for even those society tries hardest to cover up. We must always realize what our Lord has done for us and so do that for others, even those by whom we may feel betrayed. We must love as we have been loved. Let us do this in remembrance of him.
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April 14Open or Close
FOCUS: Some call the cross folly, we choose to glory in it.
“In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.” As I look around the church today, several folks instinctively just made the sign of the cross. To paraphrase Saint Paul, ‘Some see the cross as great folly or a stumbling block; we, however, glory in it!’
Every time the consecrated or blessed oils of the Church are used sacramentally, we are anointed in the form of a cross. We begin almost every liturgy with the sign of the cross. We cross our foreheads, lips and hearts before the Gospel is proclaimed. The priest makes the sign of the cross over the bread and wine as God is called upon to miraculously change them into the body and blood of Jesus. Before sending us out each weekend to proclaim the Good News, we are blessed with the sign of the cross.
It is in our Catholic DNA.
We hang crosses in our homes; we bless ourselves before meals and when we say our daily prayers. Some parents have the custom of blessing each of their children whenever they leave the house by making the sign of the cross on their forehead. Even after they have become adults – whenever they visit, they never leave without that very special and holy moment of blessing.
We absolutely do not see the cross as folly, rather we glory in the cross every day of our lives. We praise God for such unconditional and unrivaled love that would allow for his Only Begotten Son to die, so that we might live.
Make no mistake, the passion of Christ just proclaimed from John’s Gospel is a most gruesome and horrifying event. The scourging and crowning with thorns was real. The nails were real. Being spit upon and jeered at was real. Jesus’ suffocating death was real. Being laid in the arms of his grieving mother was real. Being locked in a stone cold tomb was real.
When sin entered the world through our rebellious stupidity, God’s divine plan for us was disrupted and death became a reality. God could have left us alone – shattered, broken and evicted from paradise. But to do so would be to betray the truth of who God is. For as we hear in the first Letter of John, God is love (1 John 4:8).
Out of love, Jesus endured all he endured so that paradise to the fallen would be restored. It will always be our choice whether to accept or reject salvation. As for me, I try every day to set my own stupidity aside and accept the Lord’s loving embrace of forgiveness. And whenever I become a little weak-kneed in my faith, I look for the nearest cross and recall God’s unconditional and unwavering love for me, his prodigal son. Let’s all try to recognize the love and accept the grace that will allow us to do the same.
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Aprl 15Open or Close
FOCUS: Our belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ challenges and inspires us to live as people of promise and joy.
My dear friends, we gather here on this holiest of nights to keep vigil. We gather to unfold once again the greatest love story ever told. We gather to tell the story of our salvation in Jesus Christ.
It is a story that dates back to the beginning of the human race. It is a story about God’s promise to never abandon his children. It is a story of grit and determination; of bondage and freedom; of sin and forgiveness.
From the ancient stories of creation to the incredible sacrifice by a father being asked to offer up his son; from seas parting and prophets hoping, to the Apostle Paul preaching and Jesus coming forth from that cold, dark tomb of death – we gather to give witness to God’s unconditional and never-ending love for us.
As the messenger of God tells the women at the tomb, so has been God’s message down through the ages: Do not be afraid. Through our pain and sacrifices, through our hopes and dreams, God has been ever present and always at our side, seeing us through to joy and triumph.
It is on this holy night we profess with a profoundness of heart our creed with the newest members of our faith family, who profess this creed among us for the very first time. It is on this holy night where we lay down our fears, heartaches and sufferings at the entrance of the empty tomb and run with great joy to tell all who will listen that Jesus is not dead; that God’s promise to us is real; and sin has been swallowed up in the victory of the resurrection of the Lord.
It is on this holy night we are called to remember that we never walk alone. Just as Jesus met the women rushing back to the Apostles, so does Jesus meet us along the way of our journey home and keep us company.
Our challenge as we go forth from here remains the same – it never changes. Our challenge is to live as people of promise and joy, and not as people with cold, stone tombs for hearts.
This is not an easy task. But we have Abraham, the prophets and all of our ancestors in faith at our side cheering us on to victory. Above all else, we are yoked to the risen Christ. Oh, we may become a little weak-kneed from time to time, but with the risen Lord resting upon our hearts, we need never be afraid.
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April 16Open or Close
FOCUS: The resurrection of Jesus is not some past event in history, but the very heart of our Christian faith.
Saint John places Mary Magdalene at the center of his Resurrection Gospel today. Alone, she sets out early on that first day to complete the burial rites for her slain friend. What must have gone through her head as she hurried to the tomb, determined to complete her task before the world awoke? John does not want us to miss the rich symbolism of this early hour, for it is a time when Mary is still in the embrace of the darkness of unbelief.
As she approaches the tomb, she sees the rolled-away stone, not as good news, but proof that someone has broken in and stolen the body of Jesus. Before the dawn of Resurrection faith, her response is to run away from the place of Christ’s victory and hide with the others. Here, perhaps, she symbolizes every human being who has lost something precious in life through death, or a broken relationship, or an unfulfilled dream, and finds it hard to glory in the hope of the Resurrection.
In the end, Mary does what we would all do – she seeks the help of others. Returning to the tomb, she brings with her Peter, whose own journey stumbles between blindness of denial and the light of faith, and John, the beloved disciple. Yet they, too, are still blind to what has occurred.
As the drama unfolds, John arrives first, but waits for Peter before entering the tomb. As they behold the burial cloths, what they see is no longer mere physical perception – instead it is a moment of faith! While in the darkened tomb, John’s faith in the Resurrection is still not complete, but he recalls the words of Jesus and understands that his body has not been stolen, but that Jesus himself has snatched life from the very jaws of death.
Over the Triduum, we have traveled a great way and today we stand at the empty tomb, not in the blindness of unbelief, but in the light of faith. The Christ we celebrate today is not only the Christ of the cross, but the risen Christ. To have remained on Calvary would have been to run away from the life-giving power of the Resurrection and the reconciliation that it offers to all. For the Resurrection is the victory of love and self-giving over the blindness of hatred and sin. Even the once insurmountable obstacle of death is no more; its power is smashed in the Father’s action of raising Jesus from the dead.
As we gather around the Easter candle, we do so in the renewed faith that we can once again face all that life can throw at us. Having commemorated the paschal mystery, today we proclaim to the world our belief that Christ is the Lord of the living. He walks with us, renewing us with his grace so that we can confidently live life and celebrate the hope of eternal life in the here and now.
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April 17Open or Close
FOCUS: The Good News is too good to keep to ourselves.
In the first reading today, Peter, surrounded by the disciples right after they had received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, addresses a large crowd of faithful Jews from many nations. They had just heard the disciples’ testimonies spoken in their own languages and are understandably amazed, asking how it is possible.
Peter clarifies to his Jewish audience what this outpouring of the Holy Spirit means in terms of Jewish tradition. He then continues to teach how Jesus is the Son of God and long-promised Messiah and Savior of the world who, according to the set plan of God, was put to death on a cross to win forgiveness of sin. He was then raised by God from the dead to restore humankind to life, and ascended into heaven where he now sits at the right hand of God the Father. The reading concludes with Peter proclaiming that he and the other disciples gathered with him were witnesses to all of these things.
In today’s Gospel, we find Mary Magdalene and the other Mary on their way away from the empty tomb, just after the resurrection, when they encounter Jesus. He tells them, do not be afraid, and sends the women to tell the disciples to go to Galilee where they will see him.
Now Peter and the two women highlighted in today’s Gospel shared the same common experience. They encountered the risen Lord after he had been put to death on the cross. This encounter changed everything for them as they came to realize that Jesus, in and through being raised from the dead, restored humankind to life, meaning that all those who put their faith and trust in Jesus were given the promise and hope of eternal life in heaven. This was indeed good news that all humanity longed to hear, because death no longer had the final word. Light and life had the final word. This was good news that Peter and the women couldn’t keep to themselves; it had to be shared because Jesus’ resurrection changed everything.
Through our baptism we, too, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and are called to share the Good News. As we grow in faith, we come to discover that the joy we know because of God’s saving power is too good to keep to ourselves.
But how do we share this joyous Good News? We don’t have to witness with frothy emotion or eloquent speeches. Peter and the women we hear about today simply shared their own personal experiences about what they heard and saw and how Jesus changed their lives. We need only follow their example and share how Christ’s resurrection makes a difference in our own lives. And we can trust that the Holy Spirit will provide us the right words for sharing the joy we know because we believe in our risen Lord.
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April 18Open or Close
FOCUS: The faithful witness of our lives is essential in helping others grow in faith and know the joy we have found in Jesus.
Today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles is a continuation of what we have heard in previous days. Saint Peter is boldly preaching the Gospel to a large crowd on the day of Pentecost, having just received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The end result of his courageous preaching, as we heard, was that approximately three thousand among that gathered crowd came to believe in Jesus and be baptized. This reading reminds us of the truth that for others to come to place their faith and trust in Jesus, they must have someone who is willing to share the Gospel with them.
This same truth is emphasized in today’s Gospel reading. As we heard, Mary Magdalene was confused, taken aback, and grief-stricken as she stood outside the empty tomb of Jesus, weeping. This grief and confusion wouldn’t last, as Mary was soon greeted by the risen Lord Jesus. He revealed himself to Mary, and then commissioned her to go and share the news that he had risen with the rest of his disciples. Her willingness to go and share the Good News strengthened the other disciples, who were trying to make sense of all they had seen and experienced. Their minds and hearts would soon be put at rest and changed when the risen Lord would appear to them later that same day.
The gift of faith we have is precisely that – a gift. It is a gift from God which was planted in our hearts through the sacrament of baptism. This gift was nurtured and strengthened within most of us as a result of the love and care of many over the years. People such as our parents and grandparents who shared their faith and understanding of what it means to live as a follower of Christ. People such as catechists and teachers who patiently worked with us over the years to help us grow in our faith and love for Jesus. Had others not been willing to take the time and effort to share their faith, pray for us and teach us, the flame of faith that was kindled in our hearts at baptism might have been quickly put out.
As recipients of this precious gift of faith, we are charged with the sacred duty and responsibility of taking the time and effort to nurture that same gift in our families, and in the lives of those we love. We are also charged with sharing the Gospel message with others by the witness and example of our lives.
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April 19Open or Close
FOCUS: During Mass, we are nourished by Jesus in word and sacrament so we may give a faithful witness to the Gospel.
Today’s Gospel reading is one of the best known and loved Resurrection stories found in the four Gospels. The story is appealing because it shows Jesus coming to his friends in the two ways he has always come: through word and sacrament. After Jesus’ disappearance, his two friends recall that their hearts had been burning within us while he spoke to us ... and opened the Scriptures to us. More than once, the Gospels record that he spoke with authority, and not like other religious teachers (Matt. 7:29).
Jesus is still speaking with authority today, and our hearts, too, can burn within us, as we ponder his word. For that to happen, however, we must spend time alone with the Lord, in silence. The sixteenth-century Spanish Carmelite, Saint John of the Cross, once said “The Father spoke one Word, which is his Son, and this word he speaks always in eternal silence; and in silence it must be heard by the soul.”
Though the two friends of Jesus in today’s Gospel feel their hearts burning within them as they listen to the Lord’s words, they recognize him only in the breaking of the bread – the first post-Easter celebration of Mass.
Jesus’ swift disappearance at Emmaus shows also that Jesus did not come to these friends of his so they could luxuriate in a great spiritual experience. He came to empower them to carry the good news of his resurrection to others. Every encounter with God in Scripture is for the sake of others.
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April 20Open or Close
FOCUS: The Holy Spirit will give us the courage to proclaim the Resurrection.
Our Gospel today has Jesus addressing the doubts and questions still troubling the disciples about his death and supposed resurrection. Their first reaction when Jesus appears is that they are seeing a ghost. This idea is still more believable for them than to believe that Jesus is risen!
Jesus appears to them to give them proof – through having them touch his wounds and eating with them – that he is indeed alive. He then reminds them of all that he had told them, as well as Scripture that had prophesied about him. Finally, Jesus announces that they will be the witnesses to tell the world that it is he that fulfilled these prophesies about his death and resurrection.
Moving forward in time to the scene described in Acts today, Peter now stands before the community of the Jews. Having cured a crippled man, he is bold and confident proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection, having no trace of the fear or doubt that he exhibited at previous times in his life. Peter has been gifted with fortitude by the power of the Holy Spirit, which frees him to act and to speak as a witness to the Resurrection.
As Christians, we can become doubtful and fearful just as Peter and the other disciples were at different times and occasions. But we believe that the Holy Spirit will give us the fortitude, or moral courage, to act and speak in proclaiming the Resurrection, as with the disciples. When we feel doubt or fear preventing us from sharing what we believe about Jesus, we can find reassurance and courage in the words of Jesus in Scripture and the support of his community, still guided by the Holy Spirit.
Most of all, we can find a renewed sense of strength and commitment to our belief in Jesus and his resurrection, when we remember and open ourselves to Jesus’ total gift of himself in the Eucharist, as we will shortly. When we confidently respond, “Amen” upon receiving his body and blood, our “Amen” says we believe in God’s love for us, Jesus’ life for us and the Holy Spirit’s power in us. Let us now turn to him confidently, knowing his Spirit will help us overcome any fear or doubts that keep us from being his witnesses.
April 21Open or Close
FOCUS: As he renewed his call to the disciples after the resurrection, Jesus continues to call us today.
Imagine being one of the disciples, sitting in a little fishing boat, drifting on the sea, your nets dragging empty, and nothing to show for a long night of work. Suddenly, an unfamiliar figure directs you to throw your nets over the right side of the boat. You heed his advice and fill your nets with fish. You now recognize the stranger as Jesus. In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls to his disciples just as he did when he began his ministry (Matt. 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20 and Luke 5:1-11). He again calls the disciples to be fishers of men, and through today's Gospel reading from John, he also calls us.
In 1995, well-known Catholic composer David Haas penned, “We Are Called,” a tune that echoes the mission of Christ we are called to fulfill with the lyrics, “We are called to act with justice, we are called to love tenderly. We are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God.” Saint Peter and his fellow Apostles lived with Jesus, they saw the risen Christ, they ate and drank with him, they loved him and they were willing to lay down their lives for his kingdom. In today’s Gospel, they heeded his call once more, and were once more filled with his presence: Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them and in a like manner the fish.
Similarly, every time we gather for Mass, we come forward to receive holy Communion, by which we are nourished and strengthened by Jesus himself so that we might have the grace and strength needed to share his love. Then, at the end of Mass, we are called to go out and share Christ’s love with others by treating everyone with respect, kindness and compassion. We know from the stories of early Christians that this journey was not an easy one for them. Our journey will not be without its challenges, either.
In today’s reading from Acts, Peter and John are preaching about the death and resurrection of Jesus, and encouraging people to repent. They are taken before the Sanhedrin and questioned. When asked under whose authority they are preaching, Peter tells them it is in the name of Jesus, the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.
The message from both readings today underscores our own responsibilities in answering the call of Jesus to live as his faithful disciples. We must hear and act because, as Peter tells the Sanhedrin, There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.
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April 22Open or Close
FOCUS: Proclaim the Gospel!
Less than a week ago, we celebrated the greatest of all Sundays – Easter. Our Christian faith flows from our belief in Christ’s resurrection. This incredible event fulfills the prophecies of the Old Testament, and brings us joy in the hope of glorified life, triumphant over death. As believers, how can we not speak of this to others?
Today’s Gospel causes us to reflect on our belief in Christ’s resurrection, and to share this Good News. The disciples, those who were closest to Jesus, did not initially believe that he had conquered death. After all, it defied human reason! But once they believed, the disciples could not be stopped from living out our Lord’s instructions that told them: Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Like the disciples, once we believe, we are obligated to share our gift of faith with others.
In our first reading, members of the Sanhedrin were amazed at the boldness of Peter and John – uneducated, ordinary men. They performed remarkable signs, causing the people to praise God. The leaders ordered the men to no longer speak or teach in the name of Jesus. Peter and John responded by saying that it would be impossible for them to not speak about what they have seen and heard. They dedicated their lives to proclaiming the Gospel – to evangelization.
As disciples of Christ, we evangelize when we live our faith and share it with those around us. The sacraments of baptism, reconciliation and the Eucharist unite, reconcile and strengthen our relationship with Christ. We imitate him when we show mercy and charity to others, offering our sacrifice of self in the name of love.
While evangelization is not new to us as Christians, the developing concept of the New Evangelization we hear about so often today challenges us to be bold and embrace our vocation as modern believers – to bring the Good News to people in all situations. Wherever people are, the Church must be present. It is not enough for us to practice our faith in seclusion; we need to invite others to Christ – nonbelievers as well as believers who have fallen away from the faith.
Christ entrusts us with the mission of proclaiming the Gospel; we must embrace this great responsibility. Perhaps the Holy Spirit guides you to share a faith-inspired social media post or invite a friend to Mass. Or maybe you are given the opportunity to reveal your own belief in Jesus during an intimate conversation. These gestures require no extraordinary training or education – simply openness and the desire to share our greatest gift with others.
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April 23Open or Close
FOCUS: Jesus raises us above our human frailties and, through his mercy, brings us into communion with the Father.
Happy Easter! It is true that Easter Sunday was last week, but the season of Easter continues for seven weeks, until Pentecost. Throughout those weeks, we are encouraged to bask in the glow of the resurrection – to rejoice in the mystery of Christ's life, death and resurrection that brought our salvation. Since 2000, the Church has combined the Easter celebration with the acknowledgment of the mercy of God that restored our right relationship with him and allowed us entry into everlasting life. Thus, we have the Sunday after Easter celebrated throughout the Church as Divine Mercy Sunday.
Today's readings fit this theme. Both the first and second readings tell how people lived peaceful and blessed lives as they rejoiced in the Lord. In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear how the early Christians lived together – worshiping, sharing meals and living in community. There appears to be a spiritual shield protecting them from the rest of the world. Under this shield, God adds to their numbers and strengthens their faith. This shield is God's mercy.
The First Letter of Peter also speaks of the blessings the early Christians experienced. Peter names the source of this grace when he says, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is God's mercy that Peter celebrates and acknowledges as the source of our salvation.
The Gospel shows this mercy in action. Jesus appears to the disciples for the first time after his resurrection. He wishes them peace, and assures them he has truly died and been raised from the dead. He has fulfilled his promise to them, and his presence among them solidifies all the teachings he had given them as they did the Father's work together. Then, through his own breath, Jesus passes on to the Apostles the Holy Spirit, granting them – mere mortals – the ability to forgive sins. In this way, he commissions them to take an active role in imparting divine mercy on those they serve in God's name.
Finally, we hear the story of Thomas. This gives us a concrete example of divine mercy. Thomas could not believe in the Resurrection unless he saw evidence. Jesus accepts this weakness of faith, and accommodates Thomas' unbelief. This loving acceptance is an integral part of divine mercy. Thomas represents us and our various weaknesses. As he did with Thomas, Jesus strengthens us when we have doubts, and raises each of us above our human frailties and, through his mercy, brings us into communion with the Father.
What love this is – what mercy he showers on us! As we contemplate the wonder of such mercy, let us show our gratitude by living as Jesus taught us, loving one another and showing mercy to those we encounter each day.
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April 24Open or Close
FOCUS: Through baptism, we were given new life in Christ by water and the Holy Spirit, and called to help build up the kingdom of God.
A beginning is impressed in our minds. We remember the beginning of a marriage, a job or a new home. Above all, there is nothing as memorable as a day of birth when a new life comes into the world. At birth, everything is new.
The Easter season is a time to recall the newness of life that came upon us on the day of baptism. Only birth can describe the newness of life in Christ that comes through baptism in water and the Holy Spirit. Jesus called Nicodemus to understand that this is the only way one could be born from above, which is a prerequisite to entering the kingdom of God. A person had to begin anew – be born again. This comes about when a person is baptized, whereby through water and the Holy Spirit they are cleansed of the stain of original sin and become new creations in Christ.
The catechism beautifully describes this new life that comes on the day of baptism when one becomes part of the Church, the “People of God.” United to the People of God, we belong to God in a unique way through our faith in Christ, who is its head. We have a status: “dignity and freedom of the sons of God.” We have a law: “to love as Christ loves us.” We have a mission: “to be salt of the earth and light of the world.” We have a destiny: the “Kingdom of God.” Born again, we begin to live a new existence as a child of God in the Church (CCC 782).
We hear about this new life in action in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles. We hear how Peter and John were persecuted by the chief priests and elders for preaching the Gospel message. We hear how the Church, the People of God, responded in prayers of praise to God, who fulfilled the passages of Scripture through Jesus. They were all strengthened by the Holy Spirit to continue to boldly live out their new life in the Lord.
These Easter readings recall for us the significance of our own baptism in that we were born again. Many of us do not remember the day of our rebirth through baptism. This does not negate the significant reality of change that took place that day. The Easter season and readings can become the catalysts by which we more deeply understand who we are, and what we are to do, with the new life we have been given in Christ.
Easter proclaims the newness of life, our newness of life in the Lord. Take courage and know that the Spirit is as alive in us today as it was in the early Church.
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April 25Open or Close
FOCUS: Share the Good News of Jesus Christ in a world that longs to hear it.
Each of the four Gospel accounts gives a unique portrait of Jesus – his life, his mission, his teaching. Among the four Gospels, Mark's account is distinct in many ways. Saint Mark was not one of the Apostles, but he was Peter’s close companion. It is the shortest account, and is thought to have been written the earliest. Since Mark the Evangelist was a close associate of Peter, he likely wrote his Gospel in Rome where Peter was based. Mark wrote it in Greek. It was likely written for Gentile readers in general, and for the Christians at Rome in particular.
Mark, like the Greek evangelist Luke, was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the Gospel account even though he wasn't one of the Twelve Apostles. Saint Augustine, in his Sermons on the Liturgical Seasons, explains: "For the Holy Spirit willed to choose for the writing of the Gospel two [Mark and Luke] who were not even from those who made up the Twelve, so that it might not be thought that the grace of evangelization had come only to the Apostles and that in them the fountain of grace had dried up.”
Evangelization is all about what Jesus has done for us, and how he has blessed our lives. We can give witness to that Good News by the way we live our lives, by our values and what we stand for. Pope Francis is a shining example of that witnessing – constantly revealing the love of God in his life, and calling us to do likewise.
Essentially, evangelization is sharing good news in a world filled with bad news. We are saturated with bad news. Our hearts long for good news about who we are and what God had in mind for us when he created us. Too often, God is seen in a negative light, particularly by secularists and atheists. Our calling is to witness to the goodness of God along with his care and concern for us. The life and teachings of Jesus Christ are all about that.
Allow me to challenge you by suggesting that you read the Gospel of Mark straight through in one sitting. It won’t take you very long. It’s the shortest of the four Gospels, and can be read in about an hour. When you finish, you will have a very good picture of Jesus.
This will equip you to be a good bearer of Good News, an evangelist who is special to God. You and Saint Mark will share the same task. You will be blessed.
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April 26Open or Close
FOCUS: If we are open to it, the Holy Spirit continually raises us up to a fuller life in Christ.
What was it that drove and enabled the Apostles, as we heard about in today’s first reading, to continue their mission of spreading the Good News of Jesus, knowing they would be arrested? The answer can be found in today’s Gospel.
In the second part of the Gospel, we heard: The light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light. Now if we pause a moment and consider the world in which we live, we can see this statement remains true today. Many people prefer to remain in the darkness, and refuse to allow the light and love of Christ to penetrate their hearts and transform their lives. We sin and turn away from Christ’s saving and transforming love when we compromise our faith, or when we water down some aspect of Church teaching in order to make things easier.
Let’s think back to the first question posed. What motivated the Apostles to spread the news of Jesus, under the risk of being arrested? We can probably list quite a few reasons, but ultimately it was the fact that they had experienced Christ’s saving and transforming love, and were continually being raised up to a newer and fuller life in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, once we know and experience Christ’s saving love and allow ourselves to be open to the Holy Spirit, it is hard to turn away.
Not only is it hard to turn away, but the more we open ourselves to Christ’s love and to the Holy Spirit, we will find our faith growing stronger each day so that our works may be clearly seen as done in God, as John wrote in the last verse of today’s Gospel.
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April 27Open or Close
FOCUS: The Holy Spirit enables us to see beyond our present circumstances and to act on what we know is truth.
Short-sightedness, self-will and pride can keep us from the peace God wants to give us. We often feel like our current problems are going to last forever. We’re tempted to give up when reaching a solution takes longer than we hoped, or when unexpected obstacles pop up. We feel weighed down by burdens when we think the answers and outcomes are all up to us. No wonder we end up feeling overwhelmed.
In today’s reading from Acts, we see another way. When the Apostles’ preaching and miracles began attracting numerous followers, the Jewish religious leaders, seemingly out of jealousy, tried to stop them. After being imprisoned by the Jewish authorities, the Apostles were led out of prison miraculously – but not for their own benefit and safety. God’s messenger told them to go right back to the Temple and continue preaching. They obeyed.
Again, the religious authorities challenged the Apostles for defying their order not to preach in Jesus’ name. Peter then proceeded to testify about Jesus’ death and resurrection to the Jewish leaders themselves, who became enraged. These authorities had the power to imprison the Apostles and hand them over to the Romans to be executed for blasphemy. What gave Peter and the others the courage to stand up to them in obedience to God? They were empowered by the Holy Spirit. Prior to receiving the Holy Spirit, you recall, the Apostles huddled together in fear in the Upper Room. That all changed at Pentecost, when they received the Holy Spirit.
Our Catholic faith tells us the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord. With wisdom and understanding, the Apostles were able to see past their immediate situation and take the long view. With fortitude and with awe and respect for God’s power, they were able to persevere. In spite of opposition, they were able to hold to God’s plan for them.
As today’s Gospel tells us, God is generous with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Through baptism, God generously pours out his Spirit on us, too. And through the sacrament of confirmation we are sealed and strengthened in the Holy Spirit so that these gifts may be more fully manifest and present in our lives. What gifts of the Holy Spirit do you and I need today? Maybe wisdom, to enable us to see beyond our immediate circumstances. Maybe fortitude, to keep us putting one foot in front of the other until God leads us through whatever challenge we’re facing. Maybe a little awe – a reminder that there is a God, and we’re not him.
Take a moment to consider what gift of the Holy Spirit you most need in your circumstances today. Then take another moment to ask God to increase the Holy Spirit within you.
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April 28Open or Close
FOCUS: Use your God-given gifts for the benefit of others, no matter how insignificant they may seem.
Have you ever thought to yourself, “I’m not really that good at anything in particular, what would I have to offer God?” One of the great challenges we have today is recognizing the gifts we have been given by God, and the proper use of those gifts. If we, in false humility, do not acknowledge our talents, then it becomes more difficult for God to bless them and use them for others. Any gift we have that is particular to us is given to benefit ourselves and others. We need to acknowledge what we are good at and use it as God intends.
Let’s say, after some reflection, you discover that the best thing about you is that you listen well. That is a gift! Maybe you enjoy digging around in the dirt and garden. That is a gift! Maybe you have a natural talent for writing. Again, a gift! The question becomes, how can you know the best use of your gift, once you recognize it? We may best begin, when we recognize a gift, by thanking God for it. Prayer is the next step. Asking God how he wants to use it, and then quietly listening. Our awareness of his purpose for our gift may not – probably will not – happen instantaneously, but can very well take many hours of prayer over a long period of time.
That can be the difficult part – the listening and waiting part. When we do have a sense of how to use our gift, then we can move forward in confidence that we are following God’s will and trying to participate in it. Referring to today’s Gospel and the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, it is helpful to reflect on the two-fold nature of that miracle. The offering – significantly small – of the people, and the ability of God to use it. Our gift, which we come to recognize in prayer, is like that little offering of bread and fish. It may not seem like enough, but God can make sure it is plenty.
There is a saying that God does not call the equipped, but he equips the called. In other words, we do not come to him fully prepared, possessing all that is needed. Rather, we offer what we have, and, because we are open to the power of God, anticipate it will be adequate for his purpose. Let us praise God for the gifts he has given us, and trust that in offering them for his glory, we participate in sharing his goodness.
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April 29Open or Close
FOCUS: Our faith in Jesus and commitment to sharing his message can give us the courage to speak up for truth and justice.
The story of Jesus walking on water can become too familiar to us. As we hear the opening sentences about the disciples embarking in a boat to cross the sea, we begin thinking ahead. Oh, yes. This is the one about Peter walking on the water toward Jesus.
But it isn’t. Today we hear John’s version of this event, and it is different than Matthew’s telling of this encounter with Jesus. Yes, it is dark and the wind is blowing. The sea is stormy and the disciples had rowed a long way off the shore. But there is no mention of Peter, and Jesus doesn’t get into the boat.
The details don’t really matter. The essential message is consistent in all three of the Gospels that include this event. When Jesus sees how frightened and confused his disciples are, he assures them, It is I. Do not be afraid.
Confidence in the message of Jesus gave the Hellenists in the first reading the courage to speak up when they felt they weren’t being treated fairly. The Twelve Apostles were firmly committed to their role in proclaiming the Gospel, but responded to the needs the new converts expressed. They appointed and ordained Stephen and six other men as deacons to assist them in ministering to those within the growing and diverse Church. By listening to those with the courage to speak up, they were able to calm the seas of the early Church. And the Church continued to grow.
Faith in Jesus also inspired Saint Catherine of Siena, who the Church celebrates today, to dedicate her life to Jesus, despite resistance from her family. She served Christ in the poor and sick before answering the call to help calm the storms buffeting the Church in the fourteenth century. Not yet thirty, and at a time when women had little or no power, Catherine wrote hundreds of letters to government and Church leaders, calling them to find peaceful resolution to their differences. Inspired by her deep faith and love for her Lord and his Church, she boldly confronted and challenged Church leaders to make peace and restore unity.
Saint Catherine and the early Christians are models for us today. Like them, let our trust in Jesus give us the courage to stand up for truth and justice, and help to build up the kingdom of God here on earth. For this is what we are called to do as disciples of Jesus.
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April 30Open or Close
FOCUS: Let us strive to recognize Jesus in the people and events of our everyday lives.
Take a look around the church and see the other people with whom you are worshiping – we as Jesus’ followers come in a variety of ages and experiences, races and languages. If you look below the surface, you might find even greater differences – such as various depths of understanding of Jesus, and varying abilities to see Jesus in their daily lives. Today’s readings give us a variety of ways to understand Jesus – the resurrected Lord.
In our readings today, we hear of what could be seen as competing images of Jesus: both the long-awaited Messiah, ready to take the throne of David, and as the unblemished lamb who shed his blood for our sake. In Acts, Peter says that Jesus was delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God to suffer crucifixion and a horrible death to win our salvation – then to rise from the dead to restore our life, and ascend into heaven where he now sits at the right hand of the Father.
Turning to the Gospel, we see a compassionate and loving Jesus, walking with two of his despondent disciples as they describe their state of mind and the events of the past days. Jesus accepts them where they are, and helps them to understand that he is the fulfillment of the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures. Then Jesus fully revealed himself through the breaking of the bread.
Jesus’ great love for the two disciples shines forth in his patience and understanding. Jesus brings them around in the way that they need to be taught – with a lengthy explanation of Scripture and a reminder of his actions during the Last Supper. Most importantly, Jesus shows a willingness to walk with the disciples, to let them tell their own story, and to teach them at their level, in the way that they will best understand.
Let us take some time today to ponder Christ’s passion, death and resurrection by which we are saved and redeemed, and given the promise and hope of eternal life. Let’s focus on appreciating more fully God’s gift of salvation, and try to live more fully in the power of the Resurrection so we can give a more faithful witness to the Gospel. Let’s also do our best to imitate the actions of Jesus in today’s Gospel by being willing to walk along with people we encounter in our daily lives – especially making an effort to listen to their stories with patience and gentleness. We just might be able to help them better understand what Jesus means in their lives.
At the same time, let us walk with open hearts and minds, knowing that for us, the people we encounter might be Jesus, walking with us to give us hope and to lead us on our way.
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May 1Open or Close
FOCUS: Faith isn’t always easy, but if we follow our calling with passion and courage, the reward will be great.
In the first reading from Acts, we are drawn into the life of Saint Stephen, a deacon in the first century who became the first martyr of the Church. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, he is preaching and teaching the Gospel, and working great wonders and signs among the people. He is opposed by those who accuse him of being an enemy of the Law of Moses, and is brought before the Sanhedrin. Saint Stephen ends up paying the ultimate price for his unwavering faith in Jesus.
Stephen faced his trial and martyrdom without fear. He was called to witness to Jesus, and he did so with strength and grace, aided by the Holy Spirit. Today the Church celebrates another person of great faith: Saint Joseph. In celebrating Saint Joseph the Worker today, we recognize Joseph’s responsiveness to God’s messages and his life of diligent labor. Both men accepted their challenges with faith and courage.
IIn 1955, Pope Pius XII established the Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker to be celebrated on May 1, which is International Workers’ Day in Communist countries. One of the main tenets of Communism is that work is for the state and belongs to the state. The Church believes otherwise. The Church sees work as giving dignity to the worker in fulfilling the commandment God gave to Adam and Eve as they were expelled from the Garden of Eden following their fall. God commanded them to till the earth and care for the wild beasts and animals.
Pope Pius XII was making the point that work is from God and is for God, a point that Saint John Paul II so forcefully made during his pontificate. His close affiliation with the Polish workers in the Solidarity movement led to the downfall of Communism not only in Poland, but in other Eastern European countries as well. Workers and their work belong to their God-given dignity, not to the government.
The Church regards Saint Joseph as the patron of the Universal Church, who watches over the Church as carefully as he watched over Jesus, to protect her and guide her as well. We know that Joseph responded to God's promptings and took Mary and Jesus into Egypt in order to protect them from the wrath of Herod.
One thing we should keep in mind is how sensitive Joseph was to God's messages that came to him – both in angels and in his dreams – and how responsive he was. Similarly, Saint Stephen responded to the promptings of the Spirit, and he became filled with grace and power to preach and teach the Gospel. Let’s try to be more attentive to those whisperings and messages of God that are within us, too, throughout the course of our busy days.
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May 2Open or Close
FOCUS: Sometimes the truth is right in front of us, but we don’t recognize it.
It is probably safe to say that we have all had an experience like this: we walk into a bookstore, make our way to the right section of the store, and fail to find the book we are looking for. And then a bookseller comes along to help, and pulls the book off the shelf for us: it was right in front of us the whole time.
Bookstores were not around in Jesus’ time, obviously, and the message found in Scripture today is not to be taken as lightly as when we might experience the situation just mentioned. But the essence of the message is the same: signs of God’s presence and interaction in our lives are right there in front of us – if only we pay attention.
Saint Stephen tried to tell the people this truth, but they were infuriated at the idea that they might not be seeing things correctly, or might not be open to the truth. This same reality is evident in today’s Gospel as well.
The crowd surrounding Jesus asked for a sign, completely oblivious to the fact that he himself was the sign of the life-giving presence and sustenance of God. And when he tried to explain that the Bread of Life was not the manna they sought but the belief in him and his power to redeem the world, the crowd failed to understand.
We, today, have much in common with the people represented in these passages. Like the crowd that Stephen addressed, we are sometimes stiff necked and in opposition to the Spirit, because – quite honestly – it can be difficult to separate the life-giving news from that which leads us away from God.
And, like the crowd that surrounded Jesus, we will be pointed to, and offered the opportunity to partake of, the Bread of Life – and we may not always fully comprehend what that means for our day-to-day life.
The point is this: God’s presence and interaction in our lives is unceasing, and unending. Our imperfect humanity means that sometimes we don’t see that truth, even though it is right in front of us. This is where a gentle nudge – either through God’s handiwork, the work of the Spirit, a good friend or sacramental grace – can serve as our metaphorical bookseller who finds that book on the shelf that has been right before our eyes the whole time. And then the gift of the way, the truth and the life become more readily apparent to us once again.
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May 3Open or Close
FOCUS: Hold fast to the word you have received.
In the first Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, Paul reminds his listeners of the Gospel he preached to them. It is good for all of us to hear this summary of the Good News, and reflect on our own belief in all that Jesus did for us. It is important to note that Paul tells his listeners they are saved if they hold fast to the word. He finishes this sentence with the phrase, unless you believed in vain. I wonder if any of us, at times, might be guilty of believing in vain and not holding fast to the word preached to us.
What does it mean to us to believe that Christ died for our sins? What does it mean to us that he was buried and was raised on the third day? That he appeared to Peter and others? If we truly believe what we have been told – what we have heard proclaimed – our lives will be profoundly impacted. We will see people and the world around us differently. Our hearts, open to the word, will respond in new and varied ways. As our eyes are opened to the truth, we will burst forth with desire to share the Gospel with others.
We cannot stop at the death of Jesus. We must move into the tomb and come forth believing in the Resurrection. If there was no Resurrection, we could not celebrate the good news of salvation that we share as baptized Christians. To believe and hold fast to what has been preached to us reshapes our lives. We love more. We forgive more. We trust God with our lives. Our belief in the paschal mystery changes everything.
Of course, there is much to be done right here, right now, where we stand. If you are wondering what you are called to do, it might be helpful to reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. I would encourage you to look them up and respond in some way to these merciful acts of love that we are each called to frame our life around. Maybe you are called to feed the hungry, or counsel the doubtful or comfort the afflicted. The important thing is that we ask God to guide us. In his Letter to the Corinthians, Paul acknowledged that he is who he is because of the grace of God. That is true for us today as well.
In what way is your belief in the good news of salvation guiding you today?
May 4Open or Close
FOCUS: God wants to nourish us with his word, if only we’ll listen and respond.
Jesus, the living bread from heaven and the eternal word of God, nourishes us with the Eucharist and works to draw us closer to himself by speaking directly to us in and through sacred Scripture.
We see an example of this in today’s reading from Acts. Philip was instructed by an angel, a messenger from God, to head down a certain road. There’s no indication the angel told Philip why. When Philip obeyed, he received further instructions. Prompted by the Holy Spirit, Philip approached a certain chariot, where an Ethiopian court official was reading from the prophet Isaiah.
Their encounter gave Philip the opportunity to share the Good News with someone hungering to know the truth that brings salvation. Because Philip responded to the Spirit’s promptings, the official placed his faith in Jesus and was baptized, so that he might receive the gift of salvation. No doubt Philip felt enriched, too. There’s peace and joy in being God’s instrument to others.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah, saying that God’s children will all be taught by God (Is 54:13). That doesn’t mean we don’t need instruction or help on our spiritual journeys. We all have a direct connection to God through prayer and through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. What does it mean to be taught by God? Although God often speaks to us through other people or something we read, he also speaks through that still, small voice within us. Philip heard the angel’s instructions because he was listening.
Jesus said that we’d all be taught by God. He didn’t say we’d all listen. When our lives are jam-packed with tight schedules or too many distractions, we may not hear what God is trying to teach us. If we’re too set on our own agendas, we may not be open enough to respond to those holy nudges. We may think we have more important things to do than follow what the Creator of the Universe has in mind for us.
We need to take time to be still so we can hear and be attuned to God, who speaks to us in the silence of our hearts. It’s okay to start small. Just five or ten minutes a day – we can even set a timer if we have to. If we get quiet enough, who knows what we’ll hear in the silence? Maybe we’ll hear how much God loves us. Maybe we’ll hear him prompting us to offer some loving gesture to someone else. It’s certainly worth a try, because we sure won’t hear anything if we don’t at least make an effort.
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May 5Open or Close
FOCUS: God has a plan and purpose for each of our lives.
God’s choice in leaders, prophets and kings has always been mysterious. Moses had a speech impediment, but was called to negotiate with Pharaoh to free the Israelites. David was the baby of his family, but was chosen to be a war hero and king. Jeremiah believed he was too young to be a prophet. Peter was impulsive, Thomas doubted, and today, we meet Saul, who was in the business of killing Christians. As the proverb says, “God writes straight with crooked lines.”
When Jesus appears to Saul, he does not ask “Why are you persecuting Christians?” Instead, Jesus unites himself to the suffering of his people and asks, Why are you persecuting me? This first encounter with Jesus lays out Saint Paul’s understanding of Christ’s relationship to his Church. We are the body of Christ. Later, Saint Paul will teach eloquently about what it means for us to be members of Christ’s body. But in this first encounter, he learns that to persecute Christians is to persecute Jesus himself.
In John’s Gospel, we hear the end of a complex teaching called the bread of life discourse. Earlier in this chapter, the people experience the miracle of the multiplication of loaves where five thousand were fed. They don’t understand that Jesus comes to offer something more than brief physical nourishment – that he comes to offer eternal life.
Jesus explains that he is the bread that has come down from heaven, and that in him, they will find eternal life. His flesh and his blood will be sacrificed for the redemption of the world. Jesus uses such graphic words, as he often did throughout his life and ministry, to emphasize the importance of something. Here, Jesus is not only teaching about the great price he would pay to win salvation, but also the importance of what happens at each and every Mass during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Jesus is explaining that through the words spoken by the priest, the prayers of the people and the power of the Holy Spirit, the humble gifts of bread and wine placed upon the altar are truly and really changed into the body and blood of Christ. Therefore, every time we come forward to receive holy Communion, we are nourished and strengthened by Jesus himself so that he may draw us more closely to himself, and so we may have the grace and strength to go, live, be and share what we have received.
Aware of our personal sinfulness and sense of awe at the mysteries of our faith, we may not feel worthy to be God’s chosen instruments. Yet like Saint Paul, we are given the gift of guidance from more mature Christians and the Holy Spirit so we may continue to grow in faith and holiness of life. We are also given the graces of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, so we can be strengthened to live in a more Christ-like way – being his instruments of love and service to others.
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May 6Open or Close
FOCUS: Jesus speaks the words of eternal life.
Do you also want to leave? Jesus posed this question to his disciples in today’s Gospel. We, too, must answer it as followers of Christ today.
Our Gospel follows the bread of life discourse in John’s Gospel in which Jesus tells his followers that he is the true bread from heaven (6:32), and that whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life (6:54). It is no wonder that his disciples had a hard time accepting this teaching. Following it would have made them unclean, since it went against the laws of Moses that the Jewish people obeyed their entire lives. Indeed, it sounds like cannibalism!
Jesus knows the human heart. He knew these teachings were difficult, and that some disciples would abandon him. He also knew that there would be greater mysteries to accept later. If his disciples didn’t believe he was from God, or what he was saying about the body and blood of Christ, how would they believe in the mysteries of the resurrection and ascension?
The disciples who profess that Jesus is the Holy One of God, and recognize that he speaks the words of eternal life, are the loyal followers who decide to stay. Even though his teachings are difficult to accept, they remain with him because they can’t fathom any other alternative. These are the words of God!
While it’s tempting to focus on those who chose to stay, we should also consider why some disciples decided to leave. It gives us insight into why some people struggle with their faith today. Maybe these disciples didn’t recognize Jesus’ true identity as the Messiah. They followed him because they thought he was a good teacher, but decided to turn away when he became too radical for them. Or perhaps they accepted his identity, but didn’t want to change their lives in the ways his teachings demanded.
In our first reading, we catch a glimpse of what is possible when we follow Christ’s teachings. The Church is at peace, and Peter performs miracles (the healing of Aeneas and restoring Tabitha back to life) in Jesus’ name. This is a vision for Christianity.
Through holy Communion, we remain in Jesus and he remains in us (6:56). Let the Eucharist strengthen our faith in his word and our will to follow his teachings. Through prayer, we, like Peter, open ourselves to the changes Jesus seeks in our lives. Prayer won’t alter God’s plan, but it will open us to his transforming grace. When we are open to God’s saving grace, we are changed little by little to give a more faithful witness to the Gospel each day in a world that often feels hostile to our faith and values.
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May 7Open or Close
FOCUS: In a world of competing voices, listening to Christ takes prayerful effort, patient endurance and courageous discipleship.
John’s Gospel has very few parables when compared to the others. But what it does have is a series of I AM statements by Jesus that function almost in the same manner. Where a parable uses an image, like the mustard seed, to teach about the kingdom of God, these I AM statements reveal to us Jesus’ truest identity by echoing back to the time when God first revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush as a relational God.
Here we have one of those I AM statements: I am the gate. Having restored the blind man to full spiritual and physical health in the previous chapter, Jesus teaches the crowd, including the Pharisees, about the true meaning of faith, and compares the true shepherd with the false one. Unlike the true shepherd whose voice the sheep recognize and follow, the false shepherd, no better than a thief, remains a stranger to them for he lacks any real concern for their well-being.
These are bold words, as Jesus admonishes the Pharisees for their lack of faith. They have become like thieves – misrepresenting the truth of faith and misleading the Lord’s flock. Later, Jesus will describe himself as the Good Shepherd, but for now he is content to describe himself as the gate or entry into the sheepfold. As the only gate, Jesus is proclaiming himself as the only means of salvation for the world: Whoever enters through me will be saved. Unlike the false shepherd who brings destruction and death, Jesus promises abundant life.
It is this abundant life in Christ which we hear about in the other readings. But let us remember that life here is not merely earthly existence, but life in its fullest meaning: human, emotional, relational and spiritual. Peter after Pentecost is full of the Spirit, and proclaims Christ as the source of this life before a crowd containing many people who only a short time before had called for Jesus’ death.
Cut to the heart, they respond not with excuses but genuine remorse and repentance. What are we to do?, they ask. This is a good question for us this Easter season: what must our response be to Christ’s resurrection: apathy and indifference, or repentance and renewal? Clearly, we are called to ongoing repentance and renewal. Even we who have been baptized and are seasoned Christians share this call. In the ups and downs of life, we are tested in endurance and faith, and yet it is only to the faithful follower that the gift of eternal life is granted.
In our contemporary society, the call of Christ can easily be crowded out by many other voices. How easily we can be enticed away by the must-have shouts of the world, the constant ring of cell phones, or the many inner voices that call us to various addictions and self-serving life decisions. This Easter, let us re-commit ourselves to listen more closely to Christ, and to see in him the one and only gate to an abundant life.
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May 8Open or Close
FOCUS: We, too, are called to be good shepherds.
The imagery of the good shepherd that Jesus uses in today’s Gospel account is vivid. You see, at the time of Jesus, shepherds built circular stones and herded their sheep into them for the night. These pens were necessary to protect the sheep from the wolves that wanted to devour them.
There was a small portal which the shepherd used to bring the sheep in and out of the pen. At night, the shepherd would sleep at the portal’s entrance – his body stretched across the opening. If a wolf tried to enter the sheep pen, it would be over the shepherd’s body.
When Jesus identified himself as the shepherd of our souls, he was no doubt thinking of what it means to be a good shepherd, and what would happen to his own body which he would give up for the sake of the souls his Father in heaven put under his protection.
Being a good shepherd was not an image Jesus applied only to himself. Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus lays it as a charge on Peter, when he says:
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." He then said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." [Jesus] said to him, "Feed my sheep” (21:15-17).
We are connected to Peter through the Church, and share in his ministry and in the ministry of the Apostles. Throughout the centuries this ministry reaches us through the bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter, and through the bishops who are the successors of the Apostles. We, too, are called to be good shepherds, caring for those around us with the love of Christ.
As you go through your day today, give some thought to who cares for your soul. Who in your life wants to care for and protect your soul? Priests and religious aren’t the only ones. Members of your parish staff are working for the care and feeding of your soul as well. Pray for those who love and care for you. They, too, are good shepherds for you.
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May 9Open or Close
FOCUS: As Christians, we must not be afraid to proclaim the Gospel courageously.
Today’s Gospel tells of our Lord being present in Jerusalem when the feast of the Dedication was taking place. While Jesus was walking about in the Temple area near the Portico of Solomon, a crowd gathered around to question him.
The crowd said, If you are the Christ, tell us plainly. Our Lord then responded to the crowd’s questions by stating: The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me. But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they shall never perish … 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.
This wasn’t the answer the crowd was looking for. For in and through these words, Jesus clearly proclaimed himself to not only be the promised Messiah, but also to be the Son of God. This identifying himself as the Son of God only served to antagonize the crowd, who sought to stone him to death for blasphemy; they rejected him and ran him out of Jerusalem.
Like Jesus, our proclamation of the Gospel is frequently met with hostility. For many in the world are comfortable if we proclaim Jesus to be a kind man or an excellent leader. But, like the crowd, many become uncomfortable when Christ is proclaimed to be God. Out of fear of persecution or rejection, we may stay silent regarding Christ. However, this hostility to the Gospel is not a new thing, and our first reading today reminds us of the fruit of proclaiming Christ’s word despite persecution.
The reading from the Acts of the Apostles takes place shortly after the stoning of Saint Stephen – the first martyr. Christians fled following the stoning, but did not cease to proclaim the Good News. They dispersed throughout Asia Minor, proclaiming the Gospel to the Jews and Gentiles alike. The author of the sacred text indicates that their preaching did not fall upon deaf ears; many thousands of souls came to baptism because of their fearless preaching.
What would have happened if the Christians stayed silent after Stephen’s martyrdom? What if they kept silent out of fear of reprisal? Perhaps the Gospel would never have reached our ears today. Who may not hear the Gospel if we stay silent this day? Let us pray for the courage to resist fear that we might boldly proclaim the Good News.
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May 10Open or Close
FOCUS: Accepting the word of God, we accept its messenger, Jesus, and our Father who sends his word.
There is a bond that exists between a messenger and the one who sends the message. This bond is extended to the one who receives the message and then becomes its messenger to others. They are all united in a common goal: to bring the message to fulfillment.
God sent messengers into the world when he sent the prophets. But in the fullness of time God sent us his son, Jesus, who is the word made flesh. Jesus brought us the good news of salvation. He not only proclaimed the Good News but through his life, death and Resurrection brought it to fulfillment. Fulfilling the promises of God to bring salvation, Jesus is the message of Good News that goes out to the world.
There is a unity between the Father who sends the message, Jesus the messenger and the message that cannot be separated or broken. Jesus proclaims this intimate bond in our Gospel reading today. Accepting Jesus and his message is accepting the one who sends them – the Father. Rejecting Jesus and his message is rejecting the one who sends them – the Father. It is not possible to accept or reject one without the other. Total acceptance leads to salvation. Rejection leads to condemnation.
To accept the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ imposes a mission upon its recipient. Embracing the message makes one its messenger. We see this in the lives of the Apostles in our first reading. We hear about the preachers and teachers of the early Church. We hear how Barnabas and Saul were sent as messengers to proclaim the word of God. People accepted their message and then became messengers themselves of the Good News. Thus, through the Holy Spirit, the message of salvation through Jesus extends throughout the world.
It is important to recognize our place in this mission of the Church. We are recipients of the message of God which comes through Jesus. Our acceptance of this message gives us our mission to be messengers of the Gospel. We can speak and live with confidence knowing that we are not alone, for when we are united with the Gospel message we are united with Jesus and the Father. We don’t have to worry whether our message is accepted or rejected. We just have to be responsible messengers who fulfill our mission to proclaim the Good News.
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May 11Open or Close
FOCUS: Go out to all the world and spread the Good News of Jesus, risen from the dead.
Everyone welcomes good news. Be it the birth of a healthy baby, a child’s first Communion, an anniversary or a team win. Good news nurtures our spirit. It lifts our hearts and gives us hope. It can even pull us out of the doldrums. On the other hand, we tend to shy away from bad news when we can. But most of the time, that isn’t possible. So who do we turn to for strength to carry on, and for hope in the midst of trying times? As Christians, we turn to Jesus who walks with us always, who offers us healing and salvation, helps us shoulder our burdens, and gives us the strength and guidance we need to overcome life’s trials and tribulations.
Today’s reading from the Gospel of John draws us into a deeper understanding of who Jesus is. Having just washed the feet of his disciples, Jesus speaks to them about himself. In giving insight into who he is, he compares the slave to the master, and the messenger to the sender. Jesus reveals himself as the humble servant who came not to be served, but to serve. Did the disciples understand what Jesus was saying? Do we understand? Jesus said, If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it. In other words, he is saying that if they understand what he is doing, they are to go and do the same.
This is what Jesus asked of those disciples who first followed him, and he asks this of us as well. During these Easter days, we share in the joy of Easter by seeking to open ourselves more fully to the risen Lord so he can continue to raise us up to a newer and fuller life in him. But we cannot stop there. Jesus asks us to love not only in words, but in deeds.
We are empowered each time we receive the Eucharist to go forth and share the Good News that Jesus is our Savior, the one sent by the Father who has claimed us as his own. We are filled with hope and grace, and the sure knowledge that Christ redeemed us and won for us the gift of eternal life. Let’s go forth, as Saint Paul does in today’s reading, and spread this Good News with others.
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May 12Open or Close
FOCUS: We can trust in Jesus to show us the way.
Travelers today have so many options for finding their way during a trip – from old-fashioned compasses and maps to GPS systems. But for those of us who are traveling the pathway of life to our final destination in heaven, we can rely on only one person to show us the way: Jesus. Jesus assures his disciples, and us, that we can place our full confidence in him as the way, the truth and the life.
Saint Paul, in his preaching in the first reading, reminds us of why we can put our trust in Jesus: Jesus is the Son of God, cruelly and unjustly put to death by jealous religious leaders – but raised from the dead by God the Father. As we are also reminded, Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises from ancient times – he is the Messiah. All of this is strong confirmation that Jesus has absolute authority and can be trusted to show us the way – in fact, to be the way that leads to life.
But in this busy world of ours, where we are bombarded with so many messages each day, how do we know we are following the true message of Jesus in our daily lives? After all, the earliest disciples were confused at times, and they heard Jesus’ words with their own ears. While we don’t have that advantage, we can stay close to Jesus by attending Mass regularly, being nourished and strengthened by the graces of the sacraments, and by reading and reflecting upon sacred Scripture. It is also important to listen to the voice of Jesus who speaks in the silence of our hearts by praying daily.
If we do these basic things, we not only stay close to Jesus, but continue to grow in our faith and love for him and keep our feet firmly planted on the path of salvation.
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May 13Open or Close
FOCUS: Jesus reveals the depths of God’s love for us.
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. These are words we hear from Jesus in today's Gospel. They are words that summarize much of the mission of Jesus. He came to save us, but he also came to reveal to us the Father’s love and plan of salvation. Jesus did this first and foremost by humble obedience to the will of his Father, and out of love for us by emptying himself and becoming one of us. Jesus did this by being born not in some grand palace, but in a manger in Bethlehem. Jesus did this by leading his life in perfect obedience to his Father’s will – by preaching and teaching about the kingdom of God, by working miracles that showed forth God’s love and care for us, and by offering his life on the cross to win our salvation.
Now to gain deeper insight into how Jesus revealed the Father’s love for us, let us turn to today’s Gospel, which is set in the midst of the Last Supper. Jesus would not be with his disciples much longer. It makes sense that he would want to leave them with some fundamental teachings which they could look back on after his death, Resurrection and Ascension, and begin to understand in a new light, at a deeper level.
So, the lesson continued. Jesus did his best to help the disciples understand the intimate relationship between him and his Father. That he was in the Father and that the Father was in him. And that whatever his disciples asked in his name would be granted by the Father.
What does this mean for us? Does this mean that every prayer is answered exactly how we think it should be answered? Most likely not. Many things are asked for with varying results. Sickness is not always cured, lottery tickets are not won, jobs are not saved, and so on. Because we trust in Jesus, though, we believe that our prayers are answered in spite of what we see, in ways we may not understand, for our greatest good.
For Jesus, who revealed to us the love of the Father, now sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven, continually interceding on our behalf so that what we most truly need will be provided for, and so we may continue to grow in holiness. When we pray in Jesus’ name for the grace and strength to share the Gospel with others and help build up the kingdom of God, we are doing what he asked of us. As Jesus says at the end of this Gospel passage: If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.
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May 14Open or Close
FOCUS: God comes to us through his son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
Is religion all about how we get to God or all about how God comes to us? Catholics believe God reaches us through Jesus Christ who gives us the way to God, the truth that comes from God, and life with God.
Christ, then, is the key. He is not just another religious figure in human history. He is central in answering the question “How do we get to God?” But he is central in a way we do not often recognize.
Today’s Gospel account puts us in the proper setting. In it, we find Jesus at the Last Supper giving final thoughts to his Apostles just before he is about to suffer and die. He is saying goodbye to them and they are confused and upset. In the passage just before today’s Gospel, Peter asks, Master, where are you going? (13:36) and Jesus replies, Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places … I am going to prepare a place for you.
Thomas pipes up with, How can we know the way? Jesus’ reply is, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.
That’s the big clue, and it tells us that we’re asking the wrong question when we ask, “How do we get to God? How do we find God?” The truth is that God finds us! In Christ, he is among us, searching for us, calling us to himself.
God has come looking for us in his son, Jesus Christ. It’s not we who figure out how to get to God. God is already here.
Back in the Book of Genesis, in the eleventh chapter, we learn of the tower of Babel. Do you remember the story? It was all about a tower we humans tried to build in order to reach heaven. God knocked it down. He knocked it down because it was of our making, fitting our specifications. It was built on human arrogance, and that is exactly the reverse of reality. The reality is that God comes to us, we do not get to God. We do not pridefully achieve heaven; all we can do is humbly receive it.
To receive Christ is to receive the Father. To receive Christ one must be moved by his Spirit. But do we know exactly who has received him or precisely how they have received him? Jesus says, In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places, which means there’s room for anyone. God decides who abides there; we don’t.
So it’s not a question of how we get to heaven. It’s a question, rather, of how we receive and accept God’s presence in us.
Now let us go to him in his sacraments. Where he now lives, there are many dwelling places, plenty of room for us all, in all of our diversities. The question, “How do we get to God?” has been answered. The only unanswered question is, “Will we accept him and then share his love with others?”
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May 15Open or Close
FOCUS: The Holy Spirit is sent to teach us and remind us of all that Jesus said and did.
As most of you know, the Easter season is a fifty-day period which ends with Pentecost, when Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to the Church. Our Lord refers to the Holy Spirit in our Gospel today when he calls him the Advocate who will teach and remind us of everything that he taught.
The Greek word used here is parakletos, which means “advocate” or “counselor.” This word is used five times in John’s writings, and in common language, is used as a legal term for an attorney who defends the cause of the accused in the courtroom. In Jesus’ usage, we should understand the Holy Spirit to be the person called to our side, to offer strength and support. Since we are all in need of heavenly assistance, the Holy Spirit truly is a paraclete, who stands by our side in Jesus’ absence.
But the Holy Spirit acts as much more than a defense lawyer. As Jesus says in today’s Gospel, the Holy Spirit will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you. Everything that Jesus revealed is contained in what theologians call the deposit of faith. If Jesus saw fit to offer the message of salvation to the Apostles, he would also see fit to guarantee that this message would be preserved and protected throughout history. Jesus accomplishes this by sending the Holy Spirit to protect that deposit of faith as it has been handed down by the Apostles. This is our guarantee that the faith which the Church professes in 2017 is the same faith first taught by the Apostles.
Let us give thanks for the gift of the Holy Spirit today, who ensures that the sacred deposit of faith ─ the truths of salvation ─ are preserved and protected. This same Holy Spirit, who represents the continued presence of Jesus on earth today, guides us in the way of all truth if we are open and responsive to its promptings.
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May 16Open or Close
FOCUS: Jesus Christ gives us a peace which the world cannot give.
The head of even the most seasoned traveler has to spin when considering the cities Saint Paul visited today in Acts – some of them twice – and this was just the end of his first of three missionary journeys. And then there was the part where he was stoned, dragged out of the city and left for dead. It doesn’t sound like Paul benefited from the peace Jesus gave his disciples during the Last Supper.
But what exactly is peace? The first definition given in the dictionary is “a state of tranquility or quiet.” Between the frenzied travel and the near-death stoning, it doesn’t sound like Paul had much of that. But the second definition of peace is “freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions.” Paul completely understood that hardships are an integral part of a true journey of faith. He returned to the cities wherein his preaching was fruitful in helping to bring many to place their faith and trust in Jesus, including ones in which he had not been welcomed.
Paul strengthened the new disciples he had helped lead to Jesus with the peace of knowing that the path to the kingdom of God, while difficult, was truly found in the footsteps of Jesus. But as persuasive as we know Paul was, he did not do this alone. Not only was Barnabas with him in his tour of the Asia Minor cities, but some of the disciples themselves gathered around Paul after he had been left for dead, giving him the strength to get up and re-enter the city.
And that leads us to the third definition of peace, “harmony in personal relations.” Paul and Barnabas and the disciples accompanying them were in harmony with each other. They worked together, they prayed together, they persevered together. They made known, by their peaceful relationship, the glorious splendor of the kingdom of God.
The peace Jesus gave his disciples – the peace he gives us – is not peace as defined by the world, but a peace of the mind and heart subject only to the power of God. A peace that works to free us from oppressive thoughts of fear, because fear is the opposite of love. A peace in which we have the harmony of a loving relationship with our God, and with our brothers and sisters in Christ who walk with us on our journey of faith.
This peace might involve some travel out of our comfort zones, and we may get beat up here and there, but like Paul and Barnabas we will have much to report about what God has done with us. Peace be with us all.
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May 17Open or Close
FOCUS: Jesus, the true vine, is always working to draw us closer to himself so we may bear good fruit for God and be with him in heaven.
In the Gospel, Jesus speaks of himself as being the true vine. There are many branches on the vine. Some of them are bearing much fruit. Others may not be producing anything. Every single branch will be pruned so that it will produce more fruit. In other words, Christ is saying that he is the source of all life. And when we are separated from him, we cannot bear good fruit for God.
The good news is that when we turn our backs on Jesus, intentionally or unintentionally, and veer off the path to life, he never gives up on us. He continually strives to work by the power of the Holy Spirit to draw us back to himself and so we can get our lives back on track. Jesus also works through the sacrament of penance to forgive our sins so we might be more fully reconciled to God.
Jesus works in a host of different ways so we may continue to grow in our love for him and bear good fruit for God. Every time we read and reflect on sacred Scripture, Jesus speaks to us so we can grow in our understanding of what it means to live as one of his followers and come to have a greater awareness of the things in our life that need to be changed so we may serve him more wholeheartedly. By praying to the Holy Spirit each day and being attentive to the Spirit’s promptings, we receive the gifts, guidance and strength we need to meet the challenges of each new day as it unfolds.
So as we go forth this day, let’s try to remember that we need to pray and be open to the many different ways Jesus is working to draw us closer to himself. The more we pray, the more we are open, and the more we will grow in our love for him and lead lives which bear good fruit for God.
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May 18Open or Close
FOCUS: The love of God in Jesus radiates from the first celebration of the Eucharist into the present day.
As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Could there be a greater consolation during our earthly journey? The greatest desire of the human heart ─ the desire for love ─ is fulfilled in the love Jesus has for us. How great is that love? It is as great, vast and deep as the love of God himself.
To more fully appreciate God’s great love for us, we need only place ourselves within today’s Gospel reading. Imagine being one of the Apostles and hearing the words of farewell and final instruction spoken by Jesus. Powerful words were spoken during the Last Supper. Next imagine hearing those words spoken out loud to you, as Jesus looks you in the eye.
Based upon such reflection, it is evident that a very similar type of drama is played out before us when we gather here for the Eucharist. We gather to encounter again the greatest love the world has ever known: the love of Jesus Christ ─ God become man ─ for us, for you, for me.
But how do we know that this love is extended to us and not only to the Apostles in the Upper Room, or only to the Jews gathered in Jerusalem at the time of the Last Supper? How do we know that this great love is not stuck in the past, spoken by Jesus and then gone as quickly as it came? The Acts of the Apostles gives us the answer.
Those same Apostles who heard Jesus’ words in the Upper Room preached his love far and wide, indeed, to the ends of the earth as we hear at the very beginning of the Book of Acts (1:8). In today’s reading from Acts, we hear how the Apostles gathered in the Church’s first council to determine whether the Gentiles needed to be circumcised. In that discussion, Peter reminds us of the Gospel’s reach – how the Holy Spirit has come upon the Gentiles, and how God has worked signs and wonders among them.
After Pentecost, the good news of salvation ─ of God’s saving and healing love made manifest in Christ ─ was preached and radiated out to all the world from Jerusalem by the power of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus foretold. It radiated to the ends of the earth, and it continues to radiate through the ages and up through our own day. The love of God in Christ Jesus is so powerful that it reaches us now, in this place, in the celebration of the Eucharist, just as it reached the Apostles some two thousand years ago when Jesus instituted the Eucharist during the Last Supper.
As we enter into this celebration of the Eucharist, let us respond in generosity to the love we have received. Let us remain in this love; let us follow wherever this love leads, so that we may one day be judged worthy of entering into eternal life in heaven.
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May 19Open or Close
FOCUS: Our love for one another is a testimony to our commitment to living as a disciple of Jesus.
We heard in yesterday’s first reading about the Church in the first generation after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension deciding a question crucial for the Church’s future: how much of the Jewish law must be required of non-Jews seeking Christian baptism?
At this gathering, which we now recognize and refer to as the first Church council ─ the Council of Jerusalem ─ it was decided to erect as few barriers as possible for new followers of Jesus. This meant that all members of the Church in every day and age are to share the good news of salvation by example with all people they encounter. In other words, God’s gift of salvation is offered to all people without exception who place their faith in Jesus, are baptized and lead their lives according to his teachings.
Today’s first reading, in the same chapter of Acts, tells of the council’s decision being communicated to the Church at Antioch. When the letter from Jerusalem was read out in Antioch, we heard the people were delighted with what it contained.
In the same way that the early Church members were delighted to hear that the Church’s mission is to preach and share the Good News with everyone, without exception, we are inspired by Jesus’ words today that we are no longer slaves or servants, but friends. Nothing is hidden if we follow his commandments.
Jesus’ twice-repeated command in today’s Gospel, to love one another, is especially important in this connection. Too often, we create unnecessary divisions amongst ourselves ─ divisions that have no place in the great family of God which we call the Catholic Church. We are all brothers and sisters; all equally daughters and sons of our heavenly Father.
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May 20Open or Close
FOCUS: The Holy Spirit gives us strength to persevere in our mission of being Christ’s presence in the world.
In our Gospel, Jesus speaks clearly to the reason his persecutors hate him: They do not know the one who sent me. His words prepare his disciples, as well as us, for the rejection we may face as his followers (CCC #530).
Although the world is much different today, and most of us are not facing persecution because of our faith in the same sense as Jesus’ followers, it is not always easy to live a Christian life. Jesus’ message can sometimes feel counter-cultural in our world today. For example, we are called to love one another as Jesus loves us, and to respect the sanctity of all life. Jesus challenges us to be his voice in the world today. We may be met with criticism or scorn. But we can take heart because, as the Gospel teaches; we are chosen out of the world and God has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit to fortify us. God will use all means to manifest his love for us by guiding us to his perfect plan for our life.
In our first reading, consider the passion of the disciple Paul for preaching the good news of salvation. He allows no danger or change of plans to frustrate or prevent him from carrying out his mission. Consider also that he was once known as Saul, a persecutor of Jesus and of the disciples, one who was trying to destroy the church (Acts 8:3). It is God who set the plan for the conversion of Saul, as a chosen instrument, to carry out his work (Acts 9:15). It is the very same God who expresses his love for us, pouring out the graces we need to change our hearts and minds, so that we may not only believe in his love, but want to return that love.
Scripture reveals who God is and shows us that God loves, knows and cares about everything in our life. Let us choose to spend some time to purposefully get to know him, and ask the Lord to help us be open to the Holy Spirit, to grow in our awareness of his great love for us, and to be assured of his guidance in our lives so we are fortified for our task of discipleship.
May 21Open or Close
FOCUS: Hope is a gift that flows from God and breaks through life’s challenges.
One of the concerns raised in the first Letter of Peter to the Christian communities is that of suffering. Encouraging its readers to stay committed to living the Christian life even in the midst of trial, the passage today from the third chapter gives the charge to Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope. The second part of this verse is also important: Do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear.
Why do we focus on the second part of this verse today? Because it speaks to the heart of evangelization. To be an evangelizer is to be a disciple who shares the faith with others. It does not mean being pushy and forcing faith upon people you know or briefly encounter. As we just heard, we need to be ready to explain why we have hope, and second, we must to do it gently, or with respect for the other person. This, then, assumes that we have hope and that our expression of it is carried out properly.
Are you a person of hope? As Christians, in what do we hope? To be able to answer that question is the heart of evangelization. The reason for our hope is Jesus Christ! It gives us hope when we believe in his promise of eternal life. It gives us hope when we trust in God’s love and mercy. We have hope because we are witnesses to all that God has done for us. The second part of the equation is our ability to express this hope in a way that respects the dignity of the person with whom we are talking.
One way we can share our faith with others is by living in hope. Even on our darkest days, when things seem all but lost, even in deep grief or sadness, we can dare to hope. Hope is not something we create, but it comes from God. It is not of human origin, but divine. That is one reason why it continues to exist even when we suffer tragedies. Hope is what has enabled martyrs over the centuries to endure their trials. The witness of hope in the midst of life’s challenges can be a powerful message.
When we come together like we are doing today, to listen to God’s word and to celebrate the Eucharist, we are renewed in hope, we are refreshed in spirit and we are able to give thanks to the One from whom our reason to hope flows. Let us pray that each of us, as we go out today, is able to celebrate the hope within, which is a gift received, and share it with those with whom we come in contact, so that our reason for hope is attractive and draws others to Christ.
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May 22Open or Close
FOCUS: When we experience resistance because of our faith, we should respond in peace.
From the day of Christ’s resurrection when Mary Magdalene first shared the good news of his victory over death with the Apostles to the present, God has advanced his kingdom in this world through the witness of many holy women, two of whom we focus on today.
Today’s first reading bears witness to this important reality in recalling how Lydia, a merchant in Thyatira in Greece, became a believer through the preaching of Saint Paul. She then went on to help him and his companions as they began to bring the Gospel into what is now Europe for the first time.
We also celebrate the feast of Saint Rita of Cascia today. She lived in late medieval Italy and is a tremendous example of Gospel values ─ living patiently with a difficult husband for eighteen years and later working to convince her sons not to take vengeance when their father was murdered, and praying they would not do so. Her sons died of natural causes and did not take revenge on their father’s murderers, which Saint Rita considered a blessing.
Rita later became an Augustinian nun and worked to foster peace in the divided Italy of her day. She is popularly known as a patron saint of impossible causes because of the way she remained faithful to God in so many difficult situations.
It is this kind of faith that Jesus in today’s Gospel exhorts his Apostles to have, telling them that they will be severely persecuted because of their faith in him. He shares this difficult message at the same time he tells them that the Holy Spirit will help them to remain faithful and to be good witnesses to the Gospel.
So many saints have shown the truth of Jesus’ words and teaching throughout Church history. Saint Paul, in his missionary journeys, experienced countless hardships, yet the Holy Spirit provided him with the grace and strength to remain faithful and to become one of the greatest evangelists the Church has ever known.
The same Holy Spirit gave strength to Saint Rita when she carried the cross of a difficult marriage, the violent death of her husband and the challenging work of convincing her sons to remain at peace and not take revenge. Yet because of the grace, guidance and strength that she received from the Holy Spirit, she remained faithful to Christ and the truths of the Gospel in the turbulent times of late medieval Italy.
The challenges we face in our daily life might not be as difficult as those faced by Saint Paul and Saint Rita. But God will surely be as pleased with us as he was with those saints if we rely upon the Holy Spirit to provide the grace and strength we need to remain faithful to him.
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May 23Open or Close
FOCUS: Let us rejoice and place the needs of others ahead of our own, that others may come to believe.
In our reading from Acts, we have the story of the jailing of Paul and Silas. They were imprisoned for sharing the Gospel. While in chains, they worshiped God. Do we worship God in the midst of those trials and tribulations that bind us?
Their worship of God while in chains is a sign of the great faith and trust they had in God in all circumstances. Do we trust God in all circumstances? According to Philippians, we are all called to rejoice in the Lord always (4:4). In the midst of Paul and Silas’ imprisonment, God intervenes to save them. And then because of their concern for the well-being of the guard, the guard comes to believe. What follows the passage in Philippians 4 that says rejoice in the Lord always, are these words: Your kindness should be known to all (5). And so it is in Acts. Because of the kindness and concern of Paul and Silas, the guard came to believe and be baptized, along with his whole family: Then he and all his family were baptized at once. He brought them up into his house and provided a meal and with his household rejoiced at having come to faith in God.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus assures his disciples that when he leaves them he will send them an Advocate – the Holy Spirit – who will assist them in showing and proving wrong those who refuse to believe in Jesus as the way to salvation.
And so we see in our reading in Acts the work of the Holy Spirit. But pay close attention. When the Holy Spirit acts, it is our response that either will serve to condemn us or bring us to God’s saving grace.
Those who imprisoned Paul and Silas do not come to believe, so they remain in condemnation. The guard comes to believe, and he and his household believe and are baptized.
How do we receive God’s grace? Do we receive God’s grace in the same way as this guard? Even more, do we receive it as Paul and Silas did? Do we rejoice in all circumstances that others may come to believe? Do we worry more about ourselves or do we focus on the well-being of others?
This day, let us join Paul and Silas. Let us be always open to the work of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, in our hearts and minds. Let us rejoice and place the needs of others ahead of our own. We do this so that we may know the joy of the Lord, and that others may come to believe.
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May 24Open or Close
FOCUS: The Holy Spirit guides us to the truth so we may live as more faithful disciples of Jesus.
In this latter part of the Easter season, we hear Jesus preparing his disciples for the day he will depart from them and ascend into heaven to take his seat at the right hand of the Father. Jesus knows his disciples need extra words of encouragement and instruction in order to go out into the world to preach the Gospel message.
During the Easter season, we are blessed to hear readings from the Acts of the Apostles, especially the actions of the Apostles Peter and Paul. Early in the Easter season, we heard about Peter and how he spread the faith and worked miracles in the name of Jesus. We have heard about the conversion of Paul and how he has become a great spokesman for the Lord. He has been arrested a number of times, and yet continues to preach the Gospel without fear. It is only through the Holy Spirit that all this could have happened.
Today, we hear about Paul traveling to the city of Athens, where he discovers an altar dedicated to an unknown God. Paul discusses the God they had previously worshipped in ignorance. He especially gets their attention when he makes reference to Jesus rising from the dead. Although this is a difficult concept for most of them to grasp, some tell Paul they wish to hear more about this later.
Yesterday’s Gospel reading comes from the same chapter in John. In it, Jesus tells his disciples that he will be going away to his heavenly kingdom very soon. This is why today’s passage starts with the words, I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. Jesus does tell them the Spirit will come to them to guide them to all truth. They will receive the faith, knowledge, wisdom and understanding they need to preach and proclaim the Gospel.
Likewise, we need the Holy Spirit in our lives so we can live according to the teachings of Jesus. Some days, it feels it is becoming more and more difficult for Christians to live out their faith in the public square. Around the world, we see Christians being persecuted for this same faith. Like the martyrs of old, we need the Holy Spirit to help us persevere in the face of hardship. May we always be open and receptive to the Holy Spirit in our lives and live according to the teachings given to us by Jesus Christ.
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April 25Open or Close
FOCUS: Jesus knows what we need to hold fast to our faith in him and so live in joy.
A little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while later and you will see me. These words first spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper must have really hit home to the disciples after the crushing despair of the crucifixion, the overwhelming joy of the resurrection and the comforting peace of the Easter appearances. And, of course, in a few days we will celebrate the Ascension of the Lord, where once again, Jesus is taken from the disciples’ sight and they are left to wonder if they will ever see him again. Is it any wonder they were more than a bit confused?
But Jesus knew what they needed to hear – that despite all the mystery of his comings and goings, they will be filled with joy because they continue to believe that he is the Christ. And Jesus knew what Paul needed, Paul – who never even saw the physical Jesus with his own eyes. Not only did Christ bring about Saul’s conversion ─ transforming Saul, the persecutor of Christians, to Paul, an Apostle and champion for the Gospel ─ but Jesus also provided what was needed to sustain and strengthen Paul amidst his travels and work preaching and teaching the Gospel far and wide.
And Jesus knows what we need, amidst our own confusion and despair ─ in all of our many worries.
We are blessed in that Jesus provides for us, too. He guides and strengthens us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, on every step of our life’s journey. Jesus speaks to us in daily prayer and through sacred Scripture so we may have a clear understanding of what is essential to leading lives of faithful discipleship. He also gives us the graces of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, to draw us closer to himself.
As we near the end of the Easter season, let us, like Paul, hold fast to our faith that Jesus is the Christ, no matter how much the trials of everyday life try to remove that from our vision. Let us, like the disciples, listen to the words of comfort from Jesus – that faith in him will always bring us joy. Most of all, let’s avail ourselves of what God knows we need more than anything ─ God’s very self in word and sacrament ─ so we will never lose sight that he is all we most truly need, and are to love above all things.
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April 26Open or Close
FOCUS: In Jesus, we find joy and fulfillment.
In the Gospel from John, Jesus consoles his followers who are anxious about him leaving. He explains that while they will encounter pain and suffering in his absence, they will rejoice at seeing him again. He compares the experience to childbirth – intense pain followed by intense love. He leaves his followers with a powerful tool – a new dimension of prayer. He says, Whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.
As followers of Christ living in 2017, we, too, can find comfort and strength in Jesus’ words. He doesn’t tell us life will be easy, but he does promise that we will experience joy that transcends any temporary pain and suffering we encounter. In the meantime, we need to pray. Through the Holy Spirit, our prayer becomes a “communion of love with the Father, not only through Christ but also in him” (CCC 2615). Prayer places us in the Lord’s presence, and it’s in the Lord’s presence that we will find joy.
In our reading from Acts, Paul has a vision. The Lord tells him not to be afraid and to keep speaking. He promises to be with him. Paul sets out to fulfill this mission. He suffers a temporary setback when brought before the tribunal, then resumes preaching after his release.
Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Philip Neri. The Lord had a special plan and purpose for his life, too. At the age of eighteen, Philip set out for Rome with no money in order to begin intense religious study and dedicate himself to God and his Church.
During the 1500s, the church faced indifference and a preference for luxury. Where Paul’s call and mission was evangelization, Philip’s call and mission was re-evangelization. Philip used his gifts to engage followers in dialogue (sometimes even humorously), then lead them to action – usually prayer or performing an act of mercy. He founded the Oratory, a community of believers committed to discussion, prayer and action. Oratorian vocations still exist today.
As with Paul and Saint Philip Neri, the Lord has a unique call, plan and mission for our lives. As you prepare to encounter Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, think about the mission our Lord has given to you. Thank him for the gifts and talents he gives you to fulfill this purpose. As Jesus promises, and the lives of Saint Paul and Saint Philip reveal, anything is possible in Christ’s name.
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May 27Open or Close
FOCUS: Whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.
Today’s Gospel continues on with Jesus’ words of farewell and final instruction to the Apostles as recounted within the Gospel of John: The Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have come to believe that I came from God.
Saint Augustine wrote, “His object in loving us was to enable us to love one another.” Love is something that must be given to us from without. And the first one to bestow his love on us was our heavenly Father and Creator. It is important to know that the love Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel reading is not primarily a matter of feelings. It is an attitude of concern. Feelings come and go, influenced by the weather, the state of our mental and physical health, our changing moods.
None of those things matter for God. God cannot change. He is always the same. From the moment of our conception in our mother’s womb, God wanted the very best for us. God loves us, Augustine writes, “so that we may be brothers of his only Son . . . His object in loving us was to enable us to love each other. By loving us himself, our mighty head has linked us all together as members of his own body, bound to one another by the tender bond of love” (Office of Readings, Thursday of the Fourth week of Easter).
The love God has for us, his creatures, enables us to approach him with confidence. We hear Jesus’ words today: Whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you . . . ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.
How sad that so many of Jesus’ disciples show little evidence of joy. To have it, you must cultivate thanksgiving. Let no day pass without thanking your heavenly Father for all the blessings he showers upon you. How do you do that? One way is to tell the Lord every day, not just once, but repeatedly as you go through the day: “Lord, you’re so good to me; and I’m so grateful.” Do that, and you will discover one of life’s simple but great truths: Thankful people are happy people and joyful people – no exceptions!
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May 28Open or Close
FOCUS: Jesus has sent us the Holy Spirit, as he promised, to ease our doubt and strengthen our faith.
In the prayer attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, we ask God to grant that where there is doubt, we may sow faith. But the two are not mutually exclusive. They tend to co-exist in us because we are, after all, only human. We can’t eliminate doubt from our minds completely, nor can we always live in complete faith.
It is comforting in a way, then, to hear that the disciples continued to doubt, even after the risen Christ appeared to them many times, broke bread with them and spoke to them. Even at the moment of his ascension, when Jesus commissions them to go into the world and make disciples of all nations, we are told that they worshiped, but they doubted. They witness the exaltation of Christ in all his glory, returning to sit at the right hand of the Father, and still they harbored doubts.
We may be tempted to think that it was easier for the disciples to believe, because they lived with Jesus and saw him face to face, even after the resurrection. But the Gospel reading today reminds us that even they had difficulty maintaining a strong faith in Christ. The key, however, is that even though they doubted, they continued to worship. We can’t wait for our minds to be completely satisfied before committing ourselves to Christ. After all, isn’t that what faith is: Giving ourselves to something, or someone, despite our doubts? If we were absolutely certain, we wouldn’t need faith.
In a way, we are more fortunate than the disciples. As he promised at the ascension, Christ is with us continually in the Church, which is his body. He promised to send us the Holy Spirit, a Spirit of wisdom and revelation as we heard in the second reading, to guide and strengthen us in our faith. We have each other to lean on and to share our faith – and even our doubts. Most important, we have the sacraments. What a gift it is to have the opportunity to receive the Body of Christ daily to nourish and sustain us. He truly is with us, until the end of time.
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May 29Open or Close
FOCUS: As Christians, we can stand firm in the face of trials because we know God will sustain us.
Today’s readings have a common thread – understanding what it means to be a Christian. In the passage from Acts, Luke recounts Paul’s journey to Ephesus. Paul arrives in this port city dedicated to the goddess Artemis, and meets twelve disciples baptized by John, with a baptism of repentance. After some discussion, Paul lays hands on them and baptizes them in the name of Jesus.
The passage tells us the disciples were filled with the Spirit, and began to speak in tongues and prophesy. Paul then enters the synagogue and for three months debates boldly with persuasive arguments about the Kingdom of God. Clearly, Paul not only understands what it means to be a Christian, but wants to tell the world.
Today’s reading from the Gospel of John is part of a four-chapter discourse that precedes Jesus’ arrest in Chapter eighteen. It is referred to as the farewell discourse because Jesus speaks words of farewell and final instruction to prepare his disciples for his impending passion and death. The short passage of today’s reading reveals that the disciples now understand who Jesus is, and that he comes from God. It also indicates that even when the disciples are on their own, and faced with difficulties as they preach the Good News of Jesus Christ, they will find peace in Jesus for he has overcome the world.
Taken together, Paul’s actions and example in the first reading and Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel can strengthen us in our own faith journey, reminding us that even when we are faced with trials and tribulations in our daily lives, God will sustain us, not abandon us. As Jesus says, In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.
We are reminded through the words of Jesus and the preaching of Paul that we can stand firm in the face of difficulties because we have fortitude, one of the gifts from the Holy Spirit we received at our confirmation. Fortitude is a virtue which “strengthens the resolve to resist temptation and overcome obstacles in the moral life” (CCC 1808). Like Paul, we are called to walk by faith – to trust God to give us all we need to live a just and moral life.
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May 30Open or Close
FOCUS: We give glory to God by sharing the Gospel with others and helping to build up God’s kingdom on earth.
Today’s Gospel places us at one of the most pivotal moments in Jesus’ life – his transition from earthly ministry to the Passion. After celebrating the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus raises his eyes to heaven and prays. These words, known in Christian tradition as the “priestly prayer,” embrace “the whole economy” of creation and salvation as well as [Jesus’] death and Resurrection (CCC 2746).
While Jesus often prayed during his ministry, this passage is unique because it reveals what he says. Jesus starts by addressing the Father, similar to how he begins the “Our Father” when he teaches the disciples how to pray. He asks the Father to glorify him, not because he is seeking personal fame, but because he knows this will glorify God.
Then Jesus intercedes for his disciples – those who believe and keep the Lord’s word. He makes a distinction between those the Lord has given him and the world. He doesn’t pray for the world, but asks that his followers may remain in his name so they may be one, just as Jesus and the Father are one.
We might not think it unusual that Jesus prays at this time of his life. What makes this prayer extraordinary, however, is that Jesus’ words become “inseparable from his sacrifice,” as it says in our catechism (2747). They reveal how we are to approach God – humble and obedient to his plan – and unite his followers by establishing the Church.
Now that Jesus is no longer physically present in the world the way he was during his earthly life and ministry, we must glorify God by accomplishing his work. Jesus’ prayer isn’t restricted to those present at the Last Supper; it transcends time to include all who belong to the Lord – past, present and future. Jesus prays for us!
During his farewell speech, Paul shares that he suffered many trials, yet never shrunk from speaking the truth. His work glorified God, and helped bear witness to the Gospel of God’s grace. While we may not have been given the same work as Paul, we discover what we must do to glorify God in our own way.
Reflecting on this prayer, Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI reminds us that we, too, can ask God to help us “enter more fully into the plan that he has for each one of us ... that we may love others more … and always be able to open our prayer to the dimensions of the world, not closing it in to the request for help for our own problems, but remembering our neighbor before the Lord and learning the beauty of interceding for others” (Gen. Aud., Jan. 25, 2012).
This is how we unite ourselves to Christ’s priestly mission.
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May 31Open or Close
FOCUS: The Lord is in your midst.
Mary visiting Elizabeth – it is a scene rich with anticipation, hope and rejoicing.
Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cries out that Mary is blessed among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. She marvels that the mother of my Lord should come to me. She entertains Mary for three months. Can you imagine their continued conversations?
Elizabeth’s unborn baby leaps for joy – inaugurating the Gospel from his mother’s womb. This child, John the Baptist, will become the precursor of Christ, will offer a baptism of repentance, and will announce that Christ is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29).
And, of course, there is Mary, the young girl from Nazareth who has been chosen to be the mother of God. As a daughter of Zion and a child of the new covenant, she stands at the center of salvation history. Fully faithful and obedient to God’s will, she has conceived, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Son of God. Yet her words to Elizabeth are not about herself. Instead, she notes that all generations will call her blessed because the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his Name.
In her great canticle of praise, the Magnificat, she elaborates on all the great things which God has done: shown mercy to those who fear him, shown strength in victory, cast down the mighty, lifted up the lowly, filled the hungry with good things, come to the help of the Israelites, remembered his promise of mercy, and fulfilled the promise he made to Abraham and his descendants.
But what of the other person in the scene? Was he not the cause and source of all this hope and rejoicing? Christ, the savior of the world, the incarnate Son of God was present! This was not only about Mary visiting Elizabeth, this was about God visiting his people. Here, in this scene, we witness the effects of such divine presence – a people who profusely give thanks to God for fulfilling his promise of salvation.
Now, more than two thousand years later, God is still in our midst. He is present in his word, in his sacraments, in his priests and whenever the Church prays and sings. He is present in our homes, our schools and in our places of work. He is present in the most expensive penthouse and in the slums of the world’s poorest villages. He is present in our happiest moments and our darkest hours. Are we too caught up in other things to notice?
But when we do, when we are silent and humble enough to recognize his presence, the only words we can utter will be words of thanks and praise. That is what our worship is all about.
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