The Feast of the Ascension ~ May 24th, 2020
We’re coming to the conclusion of our Easter season now, even if we don’t see any end to this drasted coronavirus. I’ve enjoyed writing these Easter blogs for you because it’s impacted my own spirituality as I was researching and writing for you.
The Feast of the Ascension of our Lord is part of the Easter mystery. First was the Resurrection six weeks ago on Easter Sunday in which Jesus conquers death for us and reveals that life will never end.
Then there is the Ascension in which Jesus is taken up into heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand (designated, you may remember as “Ascension Thursday,” but to get more people to celebrate it, the feast was transferred in most dioceses to the following Sunday~ May 24th.)
And finally Pentecost in which God pours forth his Spirit upon the church and all humankind on Sunday, May 31st.
All three experiences are intertwined; they reveal different aspects or facets of the same reality. The Scriptures separate them over 50 days to afford us the opportunity to reflect on each aspect of the one Easter mystery.
Now, let us look at today’s feast, the Ascension.
At the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostle (first reading ~ Acts 1:1-11), written by the same author as Luke’s gospel, describes the experience.
Jesus told them not to depart from Jerusalem but to
“ . . . .wait for the promise of the Father of which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
He was, of course, referring to Pentecost.
. . . Then he said,
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you
AND YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES in Jerusalem, and to the ends of the earth.”
What would it have been like to have been there?
As we listen to the last words of Jesus to the men he had chosen to carry on his mission—men he had fondly gathered, camped out with, ate with, slept with, talked and joked with, and formed to carry on his mission. This last meeting with Jesus, Barclay says, did three things:
~ He assured them of his power. (Matthew says they doubted.)
~ He gave them a commission. He sent them out to make all the world his disciples. (It may well be that the instruction to baptize is something that is a development of the actual words of Jesus.) That may be argued about; the salient fact remains that the commission of Jesus is to bring all people to himself.
~ He promised them a presence. It must have been a staggering thing for eleven humble Galilaeans to be sent forth to the conquest of the world. Even as they heard it, their hearts must have failed them. But no sooner than the command was given, than the promise was fulfilled. They were sent out—as we are—on the greatest task of history, but with them there was the greatest presence in the world.
And we remember, they went out to the ends of the earth as they knew it and all were martyred for their faithfulness and zeal except for one.
Then, Acts says, “Jesus was lifted up, a cloud took him from their sight.”
(However, in today’s Gospel from Matthew, the “lifting” is not mentioned, just the commissioning.)
They stood there, awestruck, spellbound .
Then two men dressed in white garments stood beside them and said,
“Men of Galilee, why are standing there looking at the sky?
This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
This feast is about heaven, but also about earth.
Jesus is taken into heaven; that is, he returns to his Father where sits at the Father’s right hand.
And the second reading from Ephesians states that. . . .
God the Father “put all things beneath Christ’s feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.” (Ephesians 1:23)
Thus, there is a cosmic dimension to Christology. The great mystic and theologian Father Teilhard de Chardin talked about “Christogenesis” – the entire universe evolving by the power of Christ’s all-embracing love. When Chardin was far away from bread or wine and could not celebrate Mass, he talked fervently and passionately about the “Mass on the world – that the whole planet was the body of Christ.
So we think about Jesus as Lord of the Universe, and we pray in these days of the pandemic that has left no nation untouched that our Lord and our Blessed Lady would watch over us all. And so the Feast of Ascension is also about earth.
The angels ask the disciples — Why are you standing there looking up in the sky? You and I have work to do!
YOU MUST BE MY WITNESSES in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
A witness is one who experiences with one’s own eyes and ears what has taken place.
A witness is one who has filtered through one’s own senses what their account of the truth is.
I consider myself a witness to the resurrection. I have had enough experiences of risen life, even, it might seem, of mystical experience that I am convinced that Jesus is real, that he lives and reigns, that he empowers us through his Spirit. Throughout my life I have found myself immersed in the mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This is true also, because Jesus has allowed me the ability to share his life with others, and they with me. Many others have deepened and enriched their faith as the Holy Spirit worked through my priesthood.
Brothers and sisters, we have work to do. We are put on notice in the scriptures of today’s feast.
Next Sunday we will attend to the third aspect of the Easter mystery ~ Pentecost ~ the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon all humankind.
During the coming week may we pray that the Holy Spirit would renew each of us individually, the whole Church of God and indeed the whole world.
Christ is Risen!
Now, before you go, here’s a rousing version of the wonderful hymn, Crown Him with many Crowns a. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.
The Sixth Sunday of Easter ~ May 17, 2020
Ordinarily we human beings try to make provisions for those we will leave behind when we die; Jesus, who became fully human and fully immersed in all that we are and do, was no exception.
Some of us are concerned with anticipating and attending to the economic needs of loved ones and, to that end, we pass on to them whatever monetary wealth we’ve accumulated through the years. Sensitive to the emotional well-being of our dear ones, we may leave behind assuring messages, not only a last testament but a note, a letter or even a personal journal or a videotape. Admittedly, none of these efforts, can negate the stark reality of death, but all can, in some small way, diminish its pain.
Before he departed from his disciples in death, Jesus also attempted to ease the burden of those whom he would leave behind, not by providing for their economic, emotional or psychological needs but by seeing to their spiritual well-being. Indeed, Jesus left behind his very self so that his presence would continue to embrace, enable and empower his followers.
Three weeks ago on Easter’s Third Sunday, the risen Jesus as recorded in Luke’s gospel, explained that his abiding presence could be known and experienced in the breaking of the bread of the scriptural word and in the breaking of the bread of the Eucharist. Upon realizing his presence among them, the disciples burned with love and affection in their hearts.
Six weeks ago, on Easter’s second Sunday, the risen Jesus as recorded in the gospel of John breathed upon his own and indicated that from then on they would be inspired and impelled by his abiding presence to bring peace and forgiveness to a needy world.
In today’s gospel, John tells us that the abiding Spirit of Jesus within every believer sets us at odds with the world. It is the Spirit of truth whom the world does not recognize or accept. Nevertheless, and despite all odds, that Spirit has been promised us; that the Spirit will remain with us as Jesus’ living legacy until he returns. Jesus will not leave us orphans!
That Spirit was described by Jesus as another Advocate.
William Barclay, the Presbyterian scripture scholar to whom I frequently refer gives us some insight into the word “Advocate.” . . . . .
Jesus doesn’t leave us to struggle with the daily battle of Christian life alone. He would send us another Helper. The Greek word is parakletos. (When I was a kid, and my mom asked me what I learned that day, I said, “I learned that the Holy Spirit is a parakeet!”) How ’bout that?
Barclay says, the Greek word is really untranslatable. Some English translations render it as Comforter, but upon examining the origin of the word we “catch something of the riches of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.” It really means someone who is called in; but it is the reason why the person is called in which gives the word its distinctive associations. A parakletos might be a person called in to give witness in q law court in someone’s favor.; he might an advocate called in to plead the cause of someone who had some serious charge against them. The paracletos might be someone who’s called to help in time of trouble or need.
Comforter was once a perfectly good word. It originates from the Latin word fortis; which means, brave, (or consider the virtue of fortitude) ,and a comforter was someone who enabled some dispirited creature to be brave. These days, comfort has to do mostly sorrow, and a comforter is someone who sympathizes with us when we are sad. The Holy Spirit substitutes victorious for defeated living.
So what Jesus is saying is: “I am setting before you a hard task and sending you out on a difficult engagement, but I’m sending you someone, the parakletos, who will guide you as to what to do and enable you to do it.
Thus, the Holy Spirit as our advocate is one who represents our interests, like a defense attorney who is sincerely concerned with our well-being. As our Advocates, the Son and the Spirit will support us in all our efforts, strengthen us against every adversary, and sustain us through every trial. It is the Holy Spirit who will assure the permanence and the power of the community’s faith in the risen Jesus. For Jesus solemnly promises that he will not leave us orphans.
Jesus promised his disciples that he would not leave them orphans. We have been chosen! And like an older brother, Jesus is going ahead to prepare a home for us. And an unbelievable gift is about to be given us! What Christ has by nature, we are granted as gift—a share in the divine life – in the interior life of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Their love surrounds, supports us, nourishes us and sustains us. When the Father sees us, hears our prayers, God sees and hears the divine Son. We are not orphans; we are God’s beloved children, and our train is bound for glory. Pentecost is in two weeks.
Jesus, we’re moving to the close of our Easter season now. Pentecost is just two weeks away.
Grant us the grace to receive the gift of your Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide anew.
In this time of crisis we so much need a Helper, and Advocate on so many different levels.
You also said,
“Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him (14:21).”
Help us to observe your commandments, Jesus. They are simple: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Help us get through this crisis by helping each other through it.
And allow us to know you and the Father.
To you and the Father and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate be all honor and glory, now and forever.
And now before you go, here’s a simple song to the Holy Spirit by the Australian young peoples’ group Hillsong. Click here.Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And here’s the link for today’s Mass readings. Click here.
The Fifth Sunday of Easter ~ May 10th, 2020
Many of us are struggling in one way or another ~ most of us financially ~ because of the coronavirus crisis and its lingering effects among us. So we might gladly hear as good news Jesus’ opening line in today’s gospel:
“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.
If there were not,
would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come back again and take you to myself,
so that where I am you also may be.
This passage appears very shortly before the apostles’ life begins to cave in (John 14:1-10).When he speaks of “his Father’s house” he’s talking about heaven, of course, and when he says there are “many dwelling places—or as Barclay calls them, “abiding places,”—Clement of Alexandria thought that there were degrees of glory, rewards and stages in proportion to a man’s achievement in holiness in this life.
Barclay suggests to us that there’s something attractive here. A lot of us think heaven is boring and static! There’s something attractive at the idea of a development which goes on even in the heavenly places.
And if there are many dwelling places in heaven, it may simply mean there’s room for all; an earthly house can become overcrowded especially in these coronavirus days,with short tempers and and all.)
It was Jesus real purpose “to prepare a place for us.” One of the great words that is used to describe Jesus is prodromos (Hebrews 6:20). It’s translated as forerunner. In the Roman army they were the reconnaissance troops that went ahead to blaze the trail.
And then Jesus said: “Where I am, there you will also be.” Here is the great truth put in the simplest way: for the Christian, heaven is where Jesus is!”
Again and again Jesus had told his disciples where he was going, but somehow they never understood. “Yet a little while I am with you, and then I go to him who him that sent me (John 7:33). Even less did they understand that the way he had to take was the Cross.
At this moment the disciples were bewildered men; they followed him, yes, but they didn’t quite get what was going on. But there was one among them who would never say he understood what he did not understand.
You might guess who that one was.
Thomas, of course!
Thomas said, “Master, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?
And Barclay says, that no one should ever be ashamed to express one’s doubts for it is amazingly true that he who seeks to the end will find—and the wonderful thing is that Thomas’ question provoked one of the greatest thinks Jesus ever said:
“I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.”
That is the great saying to us, but it would be still greater to the Jew who heard it for the first time.
The Jews talked a great deal about the ways of God. “You shall walk in the ways which the Lord your God has commanded you Dt. 5:32,33). “Teach me your way, O Lord. (Psalm27: 11).
So what did Jesus mean when he said he was “the Way”?
Jesus doesn’t tell us about the Way; He is the Way. He will take us where we need to go!
Jesus said, “I am the Truth.”
How many people have told us they have told us the truth—car sales persons, politicians, insurance brokers, realtors, bankers, journalist, husbands, wives, children and doctors who have lied to us instead.
But Jesus is the Truth. Moral truth cannot be conveyed solely in words; it must be conveyed by example. It finds its realization in him.
Jesus said, “I am the Life.”
The writer of Proverbs said, “The commandment is the lamp, and the teaching a light; and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life” (Proverbs 6:23). “You show me the path of life. (Psalm16: 11).
There is only one way to put all this: “No one, said Jesus, comes to the Father except through me. He alone is the way to God. In him we see what God is like, and he alone can lead us to God’s presence with fear and without shame
.And so, once again, dear sisters and brothers, I call you, I invite you to an intimacy with Jesus who is our Way, our Truth and our Life.
Last week we reflected on Jesus in his image as the Good Shepherd, walking the road ahead of us, protecting us from harm as the Sheep-gate. If you feel afraid or hesitant to draw close to him, don’t be. Sometimes people who’ve been hurt by love are even afraid of God too. That’s understandable. Just don’t be afraid! There is nothing to be afraid of. Put your big toe in. The water’s warm. You’re in for the biggest surprise of your life!
Gentle Jesus, I thank you for guiding me along the way of my life,
I thank you for leading me on my life-long search for You, my Truth;
may I finally be united to you, my Life!
But most of all, I beg of you, to be with all of those who are struggling this day in any way because of this terrible disease ~ those who are sick, those who take care of them, those who worried about their jobs and finances, those in leadership positions to help guide us through this.
And finally, bless all of our mothers, grandmothers and mothers-to-be on this Mothers’ day.
May Our Blessed Lady watch over us all! Amen!
And now before you go, here’s the song ” I am the way and the truth and the life.Click Here.
And here are this Sunday’s Mass readings if you’d like to reflect on them.Click here.
William Barclay The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of John – Volume 2 Revised Edition / Westminster Press – Philadelphia – 1975/ pp. 154-9.
The Fourth Sunday of Easter ~ May 3rd, 2020
Good Shepherd Sunday
Have you ever thought about how shepherds handle their sheep? In many places even today they follow their shepherd, who walks in front of them. They’re not goaded like cattle. Cowboys herd cattle from behind, pushing them forward. Not so with sheep.
Muse a bit about Jesus as the Good Shepherd – Jesus walking ahead of us along the way. He shows us the way. He’s been there ahead of us. In Mark 10:32, we are told that the disciples were going up to Jerusalem “and Jesus was leading the way.” And of course, along the way, he was teaching and forming them. And that’s how it can be with you and me!
Apparently, it is the voice of the shepherd that controls the sheep. “My sheep hear my voice,”says Jesus. The sheep pick out the voice of their one only shepherd from that of others. They only follow the one whose voice they recognize.
In another place in the text, Jesus distinguishes between true and false shepherds. The false ones are hired hands that won’t go out of their way to help the sheep. The good shepherd is the one dedicated to his sheep and his care.
The concept of the Messiah as the Good Shepherd appeared frequently in the Old Testament, notably in the prophet Ezekiel. All of Chapter 34 is dedicated to the good shepherd. Ezekiel warns of the peril of following false shepherds who lead their flocks astray. He admonishes to seek the good shepherd: “The Lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal. . . . Thus shall they know that I the Lord, am their God, and they are my people.”
And, of course David was the Shepherd King of Israel, having written our beloved Psalm 23 ~ “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”
The words of Ezekiel were as familiar to the Jews in the time of Jesus as they can be to us in this difficult time of the coronavirus: the lost, the injured, the sick and those who are struggling to care for them. The Jews, too, recognized the difference between a good shepherd and a hireling, who was more interested in his pay than the welfare of the flock. (And isn’t that the same in our time, with politicians who don’t seem to care.)
While we love the image of the Good Shepherd, most of us lack firsthand acquaintance with either a shepherd or with sheep. But picture this as shown to us by Professor Barclay. . .
The life of a shepherd in Palestine was very hard. He was never off duty. The sheep were bound to wander, and had to be constantly watched. On the narrow plateau the ground dipped sharply down to the craggy deserts and the sheep were liable to stray away and get lost. The shepherd’s task was not only constant but dangerous, for he not only had to guard the flock but to protect them from wild animals and thieves and robbers. He was out there with them in all kinds of weather, day and night.
As Barclay writes, quoting Sir George Adam Smith, who travelled in Palestine, “On some high moor, at night hyenas howl, when you meet him, sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, leaning on his staff, and looking over his scattered sheep, everyone of them on his heart, you understand why the shepherd of Judaea sprang to the front in his people’s history; why the Jews gave his name to their king, and made him the symbol of Providence; why Christ took him as the type of self-sacrifice.” Constant vigilance, fearless, courage, patient love for his flock, were the necessary characteristics of the shepherd.
And so listen for the Voice of your Shepherd. What greater blessing could there be than this: The shepherd knows your voice and you know his. We will have instantaneous, constant communication as we seek to become one with this Good Shepherd. The closer, the more intimate that relationship, the better we will comprehend the words of our Shepherd: “No one can take them out of my hand.”
Jesus says he is not only the shepherd, but he is the sheepgate. The sheep go in and out of the pasture and are safe.
When the sheep came into the enclosure, the shepherd would lie down at the entrance, thus, literally becoming the Gate, or the Door!
Jesus is the Gate to the spiritual world. Because he claims us as his own, we are safe.
There’s another meaning here, too, I think. A lot of people experiment with other matters in the spiritual world that are not so safe. Like hallucinogenic drugs or seances and tarot cards or fortune-telling, or calling on the spirits. These are not protected and can be very dangerous.
William Barclay has this to add about this passage. . . .
~ Jesus promised eternal life. If someone became a member of his flock, all the littleness of life would be gone and they would know the splendor and magnificence of the life with God.
~ He promised a life that would know no end. Death would not be the end but the beginning; they would know the glory of the indestructible life.
~ He promised a life that was secure. Nothing could snatch them from his hand. Not that it would save them from sorrow or suffering. Even in a world crashing to disaster they would know the serenity of God.
Jesus says it was the Father who gave the sheep to him. And thus Jesus received his confidence from the Father. He was secure, not in his own power, but in God’s. And the Gospel passage ends with the words, “The Father and I are one,” which calls to mind his intense prayer at the end of the Last Supper, according to John, “Holy Father, keep them in your name which you have given me that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11)
But let’s look at another side of this. The Good Shepherd seems to be doing all the giving, all the caring, all the protecting. The sheep just receive.
Now isn’t that the relationship we strive for with our God? We have received everything from God; should we not give all in return? Our love, too, should be unconditional, our loyalty without compromise, our thoughts, words and deeds in accord with the will of God.
And then ask yourself this question: Am I not, in turn, a good shepherd?
If you have children or others under your care, ask yourself: Do I shepherd well those who are under my care? Do I shepherd by leading? Or by goading? How can I adapt my leadership style to Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
Then, and only then, will we be able to say, “I know my Shepherd, and my Shepherd knows me.”
Christ is Risen!
Now, before you go, here’s a version of our beloved Psalm 23, “Shepherd Me, O God,” that has the flavor of Jesuit spirituality as well. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.
William Barclay / the Daily Study Bible Series – revised edition / the Gospel of John: Volume 2 / The Westminster Press Philadelphia – 1975 / pp. 55-60.
THE THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER ~ April 26, 2020
Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to take a walk with Jesus down a country road? Think about it.
That’s what I want you to do with me right now in your imagination. Let’s go back as the two disciples walk with Jesus and walk along with them.
I will reflect on the story, the fruit of my own imagination; but you need to engage your own.
(Please note: When I use the actual words from Scripture, they appear in red type; the narrative appears in regular type and when I offer comments about the story, these appear in italics.)
“That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus.”
They were sad and downcast, as they were discussing the events in Jerusalem over the previous three days.
Think about how all of Jesus’ disciples must have felt during the interim between Good Friday afternoon and when they were able to fully grasp that Jesus had risen. They were terrified the Jewish authorities would hunt them down next. As we face this coronavirus crisis, most of us are distraught and fearful too. Or reflect on a time in your past when you were sad or despondent.
Then Jesus invited himself along and they began to converse with him as they walked.
They do not recognize him, and began telling Jesus about Jesus. “. . . a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him.”
(Why don’t they recognize him? Are they just ruminating over depressing events?) What do you think?
They told him, “We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel.”
(Feel the depth of their disappointment and anguish ~ and fear; they must have been heartsick. What kept them from a sense of hope?)
“They knew that women in their company had gone to the tomb early that morning and found the tomb empty, but had seen a “vision of angels who announced that he was alive.” But they didn’t get it, did they?
Then Jesus interjected, “Oh how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.”
( What change was taking place in them?) Was it that they felt the warmth of his love?
When they reached their village, they pressed him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.”
(How do you think the disciples were feeling at this point? Had a change or transformation occurred in them?) ( I remember a conversation I had with someone on a train when I was a seminarian and he invited me to his home and I felt his love. I never saw him again; but I still pray for him.)
“So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was at table. . .”
. . .Now they could see him directly, not alongside of them, but across from them. . .
“. . .He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and THEY RECOGNIZED HIM, but he vanished from their sight.
A veil had covered their eyes, but now their eyes were opened and they recognized him—in the breaking of bread.”
And then they returned to the Eleven in the Upper Room and “recounted what had taken place along the way and how [Jesus] was made known to them in the breaking of bread.”
There was victory in their hearts! The point here is that they had to share their experience! They had to “evangelize!”
Now for a couple of observations ~ especially for those of you who are Catholics or who appreciate the Holy Eucharist . . . .
Love of the holy Eucharist: Down through the centuries the church has recognized the Lord—has recognized itself—in the breaking of bread. This prompts a deep and abiding love for participating in the holy Eucharist.
(What kinds of varied feelings do you have when you celebrate the Eucharist? What could deepen your love of the gathering, listening, sharing, singing that is the holy Eucharist?
(Eucharist is a verb and a noun!) What kind of thoughts and feelings do you have during these past weeks when you’ve been deprived of receiving of the Holy Eucharist because of the coronavirus?
And then this: The disciples realized “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”
The two disciples came very, very close to Jesus in their conversation on the way. It was an intimate moment they would always remember.
I can remember a good number of holy (that is, open and honest) conversations with friends that changed my life and have given me the nourishment to grow and move on.
(Who are the people in your life who nourish and encourage you in conversation?)
Whom do you so nourish?
And here’s a bit of a commentary . . . .
What a joy and a privilege it would be to share an evening meal with Jesus as the two disciples did after the memorable walk to Emmaus! How blessed it would be to listen and learn as Jesus began with Moses and all the prophets to interpret every passage of scripture that referred to him. What a gift to watch him take the bread, bless it, break it, share it. What a joy to feel our hearts burning within and our eyes open wide to recognize him in the breaking of the bread.
As we look back over the gospels, particularly that of the Lucan evangelist, we are reminded that Jesus afforded his contemporaries many such nourishing, enlightening and transforming experiences within the context of shared meals. Indeed, throughout the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, meal sharing was a profoundly important event, one that sealed friendships, affirmed marital and family relationships, solidified political alliances and confirmed and celebrated one’s faith and worship (as in the Passover meal.)
Israel’s wisdom literature is lavish in its banquet imagery. Recall Wisdom’s invitation as recorded in Proverbs: “Wisdom has built herself a house…she has prepared her table…Come eat of my bread, drink of the wine I have prepared for you.”
Gradually the Israelite community who came before us in the faith began to envision the experience of salvation in terms of a great banquet prepared by God for all of humankind.
Also realized and clearly in evidence at those meals of old was the universal and welcoming love of God for all, especially sinners.
Jesus’ contemporaries would have shunned sitting down at someone’s dining room table with sinners; these they regarded as off the playing field of salvation. Jesus deliberately associated with outcasts, however, welcoming them and agreeing to be welcomed by them. Indeed, he made it quite clear that some of these outcasts would come into the kingdom before the established religious leaders. Recall Jesus’ willingness to be a guest in the homes of Levi and Zacchaeus, both of whom were hated tax collectors. These would never have been welcomed into a respectable Jewish home. Yet it was to these very people to whom Jesus extended the privilege and blessings of table fellowship. It would be like Jesus going to the home of a homosexual or Muslim couple today and eating and drinking with their friends..
Then recall that when Jesus hosted the multitudes and fed the 5000 in the deserted place, he did not first determine who was worthy of his food or his presence. He fed them all, first with the nourishment of his teaching and then with bread and fish. Given the enormity of the number who ate to their satisfaction, surely there were some in the crowd who fell short of the law’s standard, who sinned against their neighbors, who were remiss in some aspect of their lives. Nevertheless, without hesitation or discrimination, Jesus welcomed and fed them all.
Now we come to this wonderful story of the breaking of the bread, this my favorite and beloved resurrection appearance of Jesus. As in most of the resurrection appearances, the risen Jesus was not immediately recognized by his own. Recognition came gradually and only with the insights afforded by faith. Though Jesus had been transformed by his resurrection and was not initially recognized, he was, nevertheless, the same Jesus who had walked with them, talked with them, and shared their lives while he was among them before he was crucified. He was the same Jesus who took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to feed the multitudes.
He was the same Jesus who allowed himself to be taken and broken on the cross and who gave his life so that sinners may be blessed with forgiveness, freedom from sin, salvation.
I am a priest 51 years now. I never grow tired of the holy Eucharist. I always come back to celebrate after a couple of days if I am absent from it.
In fact, I am certain that I could not live happily without the Eucharist. Maybe I couldn’t live at all without the Eucharist – at least sanely.
Appreciate this great and wonderful experience, dear friends, that Jesus shares with us in his person even now, two thousand years after the Last (or the First) Supper.
One last question for you: when you finally get to walk into church again and walk up to the communion table and receive the Holy Eucharist again, how do you think you will feel?
What a beautiful experience it is to share in the breaking of the bread – whether there is a glorious celebration with trumpets and gorgeous music or with just one other person present.
Yes appreciate this great and wonderful gift.
May we never take it for granted.
We praise you and thank you for sharing with us
in every place and for all time
the gift of your sacred body and blood.
May we always cherish such a wonderful gift
and never take it for granted.
To You be all glory and honor
with the Father and the Spirit,
now and forever. Amen. Alleluia!
And now to complete your experience for today, here’s the song “You raise me up.” Click here. Be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers.
And here all of today’s Mass readings. Click here.
The Second Sunday of Easter ~ April 19th, 2020~ “Peace be with You!”
Here we are continuing to celebrate the fifty days of the Easter Season as most of us are still locked down similar to the way the apostles were on that first Easter. See if you can learn from their experience today as we try to cope with this ongoing coronavirus that’s invading and infecting all our lives.
The Apostles were very disturbed after the crucifixion. Their life with Jesus ~ their hopes and dreams for the future ~ seemed to be totally shattered. They were afraid that the leaders would come for them and crucify them as well. How have your hopes and dreams been averted in the past month?
These issues were so strong in them that they could not believe the message that the Women brought them that Jesus had been raised. They were not at peace.
They were distressed and fearful, huddled together in the Upper Room behind locked doors. They were depressed and distraught that the One they had come to love had been murdered. They were afraid that the religious leaders would come after them as well.
William Barclay, the Scripture scholar says that “they met in something like terror.” They knew the envenomed bitterness of the Jewish leaders who had plotted his execution and feared they would be next.
They really needed some peace. So the first thing Jesus says when he appears to them is “Peace be with you.”
Thus, peace is an Easter gift. It’s a gift that we can claim and pray for too.
I’m not talking about peace between Israelis and Palestinians or Republicans and Democrats. It means more than “May you be saved from times of trouble or conflict.” It means much more than that. It means, “May God give you every good thing.”
Jesus said when he appeared to them in the locked room, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you.”
There’s a parallel between the sending out of the Church by Jesus and his being sent by the Father. John’s Gospel makes clear that the relationship between Jesus and God shows Jesus’ perfect obedience and perfect love. Jesus could be God’s messenger only because he rendered to God that perfect obedience and perfect love. It follows that the Church is fit to be a messenger and an instrument of Christ only when it perfectly loves him and perfectly obeys him. The Church must never be out to propagate man-made policies. The Church fails whenever it tries to solve some problems in its own wisdom and strength and leaves out of account the guidance of Christ.
“And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit . . . .”
Barclay suggests that when John spoke in this way, he was thinking back to the story of the creation of humankind. “And the Lord God formed man out of dust from the soil and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)
And we can compare this to the story of the valley of the dry bones in Ezekiel when he heard God say to the wind, “ Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain that they may live.”
The coming of the Holy Spirit is like the awakening of life from the dead.
. . . . Until Jesus appeared to them. They no longer had to rely on faith, which was lacking for all of them, not just Thomas. They had to experience the Risen One for themselves.
Then enter Thomas. He is not at peace. He says that unless he puts his finger in the nail-marks and his hand into his side, he will not believe.”
Thomas is honest.
Thomas needed to be convinced. He absolutely refused to say that he understood what he did not understand or to say he believed what he did not believe. There was an uncompromising honesty about him.
But when he was sure, he went all the way, My Lord and My God,” he proclaimed!
At this point, Thomas is overwhelmed. A week earlier he had said he would not believe. The truth of it all came home to him: so different from other men, he is the same one they used to be together with, who was put to death a short time ago. And Thomas surrendered. “You are my Lord and my God!” Thomas believed.
But then Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
These words are really extraordinary, according to Bread and Wine author Romano Guardini. Thomas believed because he had been allowed to “see.,” to see the hands and the side and to touch the blessed wounds, yet he was not blessed.
Blessed indeed are those whose who have yet learned to believe!” Those who ask for no miracles, demand nothing out of the ordinary, but find God’s message in every day life. Those who require no compelling proofs, but remain in a certain ultimate suspense, so that faith may never cease to require daring.
And those are called blessed who make the effort to remain open-hearted. Who seek to cleanse their hearts of all self-righteousness, obstinacy, presumption, and inclination to “know better-than-others.”. Who are quick to listen, and are humble and free-spirited. Who are able to find God’s message in the gospel of he day, or even from the sermons of preachers with no message in particular, or in phrases from the Law they’ve heard a thousand times, phrases with no charismatic power about them, or in the happenings of every day life that always end up the same way: work and rest, anxiety—and then again some kind of success, some joy, and an encounter, and a sorrow.
Blessed are those who can see the Lord in all those things!
~ Romano Guardini / Bread and Wine “Believing is Seeing” pp.. 119- 123,
There’s a message for us in what Father Guardini says here for all of us as we ” stay in place” bored perhaps, day-in- day-out, not knowing when our lives will return to normal, or if there will be a “normal.” A message of patience and love.
As for me, I consider myself a Witness to the Resurrection. I KNOW my Redeemer lives. I KNOW his love for me in the present moment. He is as close to me as my very own heartbeat. Not that I’m always aware of him. No, I am a sinful man who has made many mistakes in the fifty -one years of my priesthood. But I know that I love him and I know at the bottom of my heart that Jesus loves me. And, with all my heart and soul, I want you, my dear readers, to know in the bottom of your own hearts the deep, deep love and affection that Jesus has for YOU, too!
I praise and thank God and his Son Jesus Christ our Lord for the gift the peace he has given me.
AND MAY THE PEACE OF THE LORD BE WITH YOU AS WELL!
Divine Mercy Sunday is celebrated on the Sunday after Easter. It is originally based on the Devotion to the Divine Mercy that Saint Faustina Kowalska reported as part of her encounter with Jesus, and is associated with special promises from Jesus and indulgences issued by the Church. Jesus associated with this devotion. A simple prayer associated with this devotion is “Jesus, I trust in you.” A simple act of abandonment is enough to overcome the barriers of darkness and sorrow and desperation. The rays of God’s divine mercy will restore hope hope to those who feel overwhelmed by any burden, especially the burden of sin.
And now, here is a powerful song to pull all of this together ~ , Click here.
Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen, and there’s another song just behind it.
And here are the Mass readings, if you’d care to reflect on them. Click here.
William Barclay The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of John – Volume 2 Revised Edition / Westminster Press – Philadelphia – 1975/ pp. 272-4.
Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord
April 12th, 2020
Christ is Risen, Alleluia, Alleluia!
How do we celebrate Easter against the background of this ongoing coronavirus crisis? It’s upended all of our lives and it surely could well upset our Easter Sunday celebration. For one, it preclude any kind of family dinners. Picnics are out. Walks in the park? Depends on your city. Play outside? Again depends. But it doesn’t have to ruin our spiritual enjoyment of the day. I want to try to help. You can also probably live-stream Easter Sunday Mass. (I’ll provide some resources for that on my email that accompanies this blog or you can google it yourself in your area.
As I did yesterday, I’m going to share another article from my favorite Lent / Easter spiritual reading book, this time from the Easter section. It’s one by Philip Yancey and it will lead into the them I want to set for all of us for this Easter Sunday and that is one of Gratitude. As we’ve had to step back and (most of us anyway) have had time on our hands, let’s use that time for good. For prayer and reflection. To think about the good things we do have and not the things we don’t. I hope you enjoy this article as much as I did. It really affected me deeply and as I share this with you today, it could possibly bring about powerful change among us. At least that is my hope and prayer.
The image of the Cross is proof that God cares. Today the image is coated with gold and worn around the necks of beautiful girls, a symbol of how far we can stray from contemplating the reality of the True Cross and what it ought to mean for us.
In this time of the coronavirus crisis in which all of us are shaken, anxious and fearful perhaps of what our future holds and that of our country that’s a perfect image for us to think about this Easter Sunday.
Love was compressed for all history in that lonely, bleeding Jesus. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16).
What practical effect does Christ identification with us have on people who actually suffer? A dramatic example of this effect of this truth was seen in the ministry of Dr. Paul Brand while he was working among leprosy patients in Vellore, India. Dr. Brand was one of the few, together with his staff that would draw close to and touch a person with Hansen’s disease—the townspeople quarantined them.
He slipped in late to a patients’ gathering sitting on a mat at the edge of the open courtyard. The patients insisted on a few words from him and he reluctantly agreed. Gazing around, his eyes were drawn to their hands, dozens of them, in the familiar “leprosy claw hand,” some with no fingers. Some sat on their hands; others hid them from view.
“I am a hand surgeon,” he told them, waiting for a translation into Tamil or Hindi, so when I meet people “I can’t help looking at people’s hands. I can tell your past, for instance by the position of the calluses and the condition of the nails. I can tell a lot about your character. I love hands.” The patients were rapt with attention.
“How I would have loved to have had a chance to meet Christ and study his hands! ” He began with infancy when his hands were small, helpless, grasping. Then as a boy clumsily holding a brush or a stylus, trying to form letters of the alphabet. Then the hands of a carpenter—rough, gnarled, with broken finger nails and bruises working with a saw and hammer.
Then there were the hands of Christ the physician, the healer. Compassion and sensitivity seemed to radiate from them, so much so that when he touched people they could feel something of the divine spirit coming through. Christ touched the blind, the diseased, the needy.
Then there was the crucified hands. Dr. Brand said”it hurts me to think about a nail being driving through the center of my hand because I know what goes on there, the tremendous complex of nerves and blood vessels and muscles. It’s impossible to drive a spike through its center without crippling it. The thought of those healing hands being crippled reminds me of what Christ was prepared to endure. In that act he identified himself with all the deformed and crippled human beings in the world. Not only was he able to endure poverty with the poor, weariness with the tired, but clawed hands with the crippled.”
The effect on the listening patients—all social outcasts—was electrifying.
Dr. Brand continued. “Then there were his resurrected hands. One of the things I find most astounding is that, though we think that the future of life is something perfected, when Christ appeared to his disciples, he said, ‘Come look at my hands,” and he invited Thomas to put his finger in the print of the nail.”
“Why did he want to keep the wounds of his humanity? Wasn’t it because he wanted to carry back with him an external reminder of the suffering of those on earth? He carried the marks of suffering (and there there on every crucifix to look at) so he could continue to understand the needs of those suffering. He wanted to be forever one with us.”
And then . . . . and then hands were lifted high all over the courtyard, palm to palm in the Indian gesture of respect, namaste. The hands were same stumps, the same missing fingers and crooked arches. Yet no one tried to hide them. God’s own response to suffering made theirs easier.
It should make yours easier too.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matt 11:29-30)
As many of you, my readers are aware. I have suffered from a social disorder for many years too but it’s more hidden, but it did cause me a great deal of suffering. They call it manic-depressive disorder or bipolar disorder. And it has caused me to be estranged because of behavior that I was not fully in control of at the time with friends in the past. That has caused me a great deal of pain, let alone the embarrassment. I truly regret those incidents and hope someday I can be reconciled with some of those friends. I miss them!
But most of all, this leads me to a profound sense of gratitude. On Tuesday of Holy Week, I had the opportunity to go to confession to a special priest. We practiced “social distancing” outside under a gazebo and he let me talk for 45 minutes. And for my penance, he asked me to think of five things I am grateful for and I’m going to ask you, my readers to do the same, this Easter Sunday if you are moved by the grace of Mr. Yancey’s writing and my own contribution. Here’s my list: ( I came up with seven.)
* My Friendship with Jesus
* The gift of my priesthood over fifty-one years
* My home
* The friends who’ve nourished and sustained me
* My gifts and talents for writing especially
* My little dog Shoney
* My candy apple red Mustang (how ’bout dat?)
On this very peculiar Easter Sunday, I really am filled with gratitude for life and love ~ Your love ~ and the love of so many.
Please, Lord be with those who are suffering this day from the virus or in any other way. Those who courageously care for them.
Be with all those who are disabled in some way. My friends George and Pat who dedicates their lives to assist them. And so many others. Just thank you, thank, you, thank you!
JESUS IS RISEN!
Before you go, here’s the Australian young people’s group Hillsong singing “Worthy is the Lamb” with a stadium full of young people singing with them! Click Here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and be sure to enter full screen.
Now here are today’s Mass readings if you’d like to reflect on them Click here.
From Where is God when it Hurts?
Grand Rapids MI Zondervan Publishing House C. 1977 by the Zondervan Corp.
Bread and Wine / Plough Publishing House / Walder NY 2003
Good Friday April 10th, 2020
Like a sapling he grew in front of us,
Like a root in arid ground…
a thing despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering ….
And yet ours were the sufferings he bore,
ours the sorrows he carried.
But we thought of him as someone punished,
struck by God, and brought low.
Yet he was pierced through for our faults,
crushed for our sins.
On him lies a punishment that brings in peace
and through his wound we were healed
–excerpts from Isaiah 53.
Well here we are at Good Friday once again and life seems so surreal for all of us in the midst of this Coronavirus crisis. For our Jewish neighbors Passover began Wednesday night at sundown without the possibility for most of them to celebrate according to law and custom by family gatherings. It must be really hard for them. And the same thing will hit a lot of us Christians two days from now on Easter Sunday when most of us cannot gather with family either!
However, it is possible for us to have a good Good Friday and that’s the point of this blog. I selected some material that really helped me when I read it. It’s an article from my favorite Lent / Easter spiritual reading companion that now has a broken spine like an old man called Bread and Wine, It’s an article entitled Naked Pride by the Rev. John Stott, a distinguished Anglican priest and theologian. So, as we wait this crisis out, let’s put our fears and anxieties aside and open ourselves for some deeper prayer and learning this most sacred of days, would you so? Here we go . .
The essence of sin is human beings substituting themselves for God while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for us all. Humans claim prerogatives that belong to God alone while God accepts penalties that God should not have to endure—only humans.
As you and I gaze upon the cross this Good Friday— either one in your home or the one at the end of your rosary or just the one printed in this blog if you have no other—we can gain a clear view both of God and ourselves. Instead of inflicting on us the judgment we deserved, God in Christ endured that sentence in our place. Hell is the only alternative. This is the “scandal”; i.e. the stumbling block of the cross.
For our proud hearts rebel against it. We cannot bear to acknowledge either the seriousness of our sin or our utter indebtedness to the cross. Surely there must be something we can do to make amends? If not, we give the impression we’d rather suffer our own punishment rather than of seeing God through Christ bear it in our place.
Our author tells the story of a play by George Bernard Shaw entitled Major Barbara (1905) about an incident at the alleged West Ham shelter in which Bill Walker, “a rough customer” arrives one cold January morning drunk. He gets himself into trouble there and seizes a girl by the hair and strikes her, cutting her lip. He’s mocked by the other residents because he didn’t have the courage to take on the “bloke” that he’s jealous about. Bill’s conscience and pride nag him until he can no longer bear the insult. He decides, in a kinda cockney accent, to spit in the guy’s eye, or if not, “git me aown fice beshed.”
But his opponent refuses to cooperate, so Bill returns shamefaced. He comes back to the group and lies, telling everybody, he spit in his eye to which one of the girls calls out, ‘Glory Allelloolier!”
The girl who was injured tells Bill that she’s sorry and he didn’t really hurt her, which makes him angrier still. “Aw down’t want to be forgiven by you or by anybody. Wot I did Aw’ll pay for.
He tries another ruse. He offers to pay a fine that one of his mates just incurred and produces a sovereign.
“Eahs the manney. Take it; and let’s ev no more o your forgivin and pryin and your Mijor jawrin me. Let wot Aw dan be dan and pid for; and let there be and end of it. This bloomin forgivin and neggin and jawrin mike a menn thet sore that iz lawf’s a burden to im. Aw won’t ev it. Aw tell yer. Avve offered to py. Aw can do more. Tike it or leave it. There it is.”—and he throws the sovereign down.
And so, our author sums up . . .
The proud human heart is thus revealed. We insist on paying for what we’ve done. We cannot stand the humiliation of acknowledging our bankruptcy and allowing somebody else to pay for us. The notion that that somebody else should be God himself is just too much to take for some people. We would rather perish than repent, rather lose ourselves than humble ourselves.
Rev. Stott, an Anglican priest, and renowned theologian, states that only the gospel demands such a self-humbling on our part. No other religion or philosophy deals with the problem of guilt apart from the intervention of God, and therefore, they come to a “cheap” conclusion. In them, you and I would be spared the final humiliation of knowing that the Mediator has borne the punishment instead of us! We would not have to be stripped absolutely naked.
But . . . but we cannot escape the embarrassment of standing absolutely naked before God.
Think about that for a moment. You and I will have to take off our shoes and socks. Our shirts and pants or our dresses.
Our undershirts or our bra.
Our skivvies. And stand absolutely naked with your private parts and all.
Rev. Stott continues: It’s no use trying to cover up like Adam and Eve in the garden. Our attempts at self-justification are as ineffectual as their fig-leaves. We have to acknowledge our nakedness and gaze on the Lord wearing our filthy rags instead of us.
And then . . . and then allow him to clothe us with his own righteousness and light.
Nobody has ever put it better than Augustus Toplady in his immortal hymn Rock of Ages . . . .
Nothing in my hand I bring
Simply to your Cross I cling
Naked, come to for dress
Helpless, look to you for grace
Fool, I to the fountain fly
Wash, Savior, or I die.
And now here’s my prayer . . . .
Dear God, We give you thanks for sending your Son to us.
He has lived among us ~ become one with us ~ borne our griefs.
He became obedient unto death to bear our sins and pay our debts.
Yet we were ungrateful and turned our backs to goodness and love.
Forgive us, Lord for the hardness of our hearts.
Turn us back to you to accept you love and forgiveness.
And please, Lord, guide us through this terrible plague!
Be especially with those who are sick
and those who courageously care for them.
And let us once again share in the joy of your Risen Life!
We ask this as we ask all things through Jesus Christ our Lord!
And now, before you go, here’s the hymn from Bach’s Passion “O Sacred Head Sore Wounded” ~ Click here
Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And here are the readings from today’s service of the Word, including the Passion story according to St. John. Click here.
John Stott Naked Pride In Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter Plough Publishing co. pp. 217-221. From “The Cross of Christ” by John R. W. Stott Copyright 1986 John R.W. Stott. Interunivarsity Press P. O. Box 1400 Downers Grove, IL 60515