Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Way, the Truth, and the Life


                                    5th Sunday of Easter
                                    




In these Sundays following Easter we get a glimpse in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles of the very early history of the Church. Today we see that the Church was growing and that disciples were being drawn from both the Jewish and gentile populations. The Hellenists referred to were drawn from the large Greek community living in Palestine.

We also see that from the first the Apostles preached a "social gospel." We know that they shared their goods and possessions and distributed them among the needy converts. In today's reading we see that the duty of providing for the needs of the poor was growing too large for the Apostles to handle themselves. And so, they went to the Christian community and asked them to select "seven reputable men" to take on the role of caring for the poor. Initially, they were to "serve at table," to see that the food was distributed equitably. Our word deacon originally meant to serve at table.

This reading is especially important for all of us. We can broaden the expression, "serve at table," and say simply that the community was being asked to nominate from its ranks those whose role it would be "to serve." As Catholics we often fall into the "they" syndrome. How often do we say, "they ought to do something about it," or "why don't they deal with this or that problem." It's as if we're apart from the Church and always looking for someone else to do the work.

Last year we elected a new pope and don't we literally expect him to work miracles? Won't we expect him to wear himself out with travel and appearances all over the world just as his predecessors did? Sometimes we'll complain that bishops and priests have all the authority and some of us even want a piece of that authority. Yet there is so much work to be done by all of us.

In today's gospel Jesus is also telling us that we have to assume responsibility. In less than two weeks  we will celebrate the feast of the Ascension and in today's reading Jesus is preparing the disciples for the time when He will leave. Actually, today’s reading from the fourteenth chapter of the gospel of St. John takes place at the conclusion of the Last Supper. Jesus has just washed the feet of the Apostles as a sign that they must do the same for those in their care. He has celebrated the feast of Passover with them and instituted the Eucharist. After Judas had left the room on his mission of betrayal, Jesus gives a kind of farewell address to the remaining eleven.

Aware of his imminent Passion, Death, and Resurrection, he tells them that he is going away. “Do not let your hearts be troubled….Where I am going you know the way.” But Thomas protests,

Master, we do not know where you are going; How can we know the way?

This is the place where Jesus utters the famous words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Throughout this discourse Jesus makes it clear that the way to our place in Heaven is himself.

Very often we will hear people today speak of a “personal” relationship with Jesus. But what is a personal relationship with Jesus or how can we achieve it? Perhaps the best method is to focus on the words and deeds of Jesus himself. His words and his deeds are our example. He never cared for himself but cared for others, and eventually gave his life for all of us. Right before the words in our gospel today, Jesus told the Apostles assembled at the Last Supper,

A new commandment I give you, that you love one another: that as I have loved you, you also love one another.

The way to have a personal relationship with Jesus is not to hide ourselves in our room and meditate but to serve those who have been entrusted to our care. Indeed, we cannot have a personal relationship with Jesus if we have failed to mend our own personal affairs. Our religion is not separate from the rest of our lives. I recall a young woman telling me that she spent so much time caring for her teenage daughter that she did not have that much time to devote to prayer and bible study. She did not realize that by devoting herself to the care of her daughter, she was carrying out the Lord’s commandment. She thought of herself as somehow deficient or unworthy but she truly had a personal relationship with the Lord.

In today’s second reading St. Peter talks about the stone that the builder’s rejected that would become the cornerstone of a great edifice. How many of us think of ourselves as unworthy and incapable of doing the Lord’s work, while doing it day after day in our own lives.

In the nineteenth century a humble French priest was regarded as so inept by his superiors that he was assigned one of the poorest and worst parishes in France. His career and achievements were so remarkable that the Church would later canonize him as St. John Vianney, and make him the patron saint of all priests, In Canada over a hundred years ago a humble young man was allowed to become a Holy Cross brother over the objection of some of his superiors. His learning and education was so deficient that he was assigned to be the doorman of the monastery. A few years ago he was canonized as St. Andre Besette, the only member of the Holy Cross order ever to be canonized.

We are not all meant to be mystics or canonized saints but we all have our own vocation--
what Peter calls a royal priesthood. It is the same vocation as those early deacons, a life of service to our neighbor.

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Reading 1.Acts 6: 1-7
Reading II. 1 Peter 2: 4-9
Gospel. John 14: 1-12 (the way, the truth, and the life).

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Good Shepherd


                                     4th Sunday of Easter
                                   

A Mother's Sorrow
as her Son takes his Cross
Stained glass window
Assumption Church
Fairfield CT*



In the Sundays after Easter the readings usually give us testimony or witness to the Resurrection of the Lord. Two Sundays ago we had the touching account of doubting Thomas. Last Sunday, we heard about the appearance of the Risen Lord to the disciples at Emmaus. They recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

In today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter stands up in front of a congregation much like ours and proceeds to discuss the implications of the Resurrection.

"Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ this Jesus whom you crucified." 
One way for us to understand the word of God is to try and put ourselves in the picture whenever we hear the word proclaimed. Although Peter is speaking to the congregation of Jews in front of him, we should consider that he is also speaking to us. At the famous church Council of Trent, held over 400 years ago, the Church fathers refused to blame the Jews for the death of Christ. They said that inasmuch as Christ died for all men's sins, then all of us are responsible for His death. This position was reiterated at the Second Vatican Council.

However, since He died for all of us, He was raised from the dead for all of us. Peter reminds us:

For the promise is made to you and your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.

The word "call" should remind us of today’s gospel about the Good Shepherd. “The sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” What does it mean to hear the voice of the Lord? Most of us are never going to experience a mystical one-on-one calling. Maybe we should rather focus on what Jesus actually said and did as recorded in our Scriptures. Where is our shepherd leading us?

We know that he was a healer of both body and soul and he continually urged us to follow his example. He told us to love one another and our neighbor as ourselves. In a famous chapter in the Gospel of St. Matthew, he told us that whenever we fed the hungry, or clothed the naked, or visited the sick, we were doing it for Him.

Today is often called Good Shepherd Sunday but in a way Jesus asked us to follow his example and not just be sheep but shepherds to the little flock entrusted to our own care. Today is also Mother’s Day and there can be no better example of good shepherds in our midst than our own mothers. When we were young, we knew this instinctively. We followed our mother’s advice and guidance and went to them for shelter and protection. Little did we realize how much they suffered and bore so that we might live and prosper.

In today’s second reading Peter again speaks of those who have been called to follow the example of Christ. The words especially apply to all mothers.

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.

All over the world today mothers are suffering for their children both young and old. We don’t often think of women as shepherds but the words that Peter spoke of Jesus could apply to most mothers. When they are insulted, they return no insult. When they suffer, they do not threaten. They patiently bear their children’s faults and imperfections in the hope that they might find happiness. And when their children go astray, they pray for them, search for them, and hope for their safe return.



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* Assumption church window image by Melissa. Click on image to enlarge.

Reading 1.Acts 2: 14a, 36-41
Reading II. 1 Peter 2: 20b-25
Gospel. John 10: 1-10 (good shepherd.)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Road to Emmaus


                                    3rd Sunday of Easter
                                 

Caravaggio: Supper at Emmaus
(click on image to enlarge)

 In the Sundays after Easter the readings usually give us testimony or witness to the Resurrection of the Lord. Last Sunday, for example, we had the touching account of doubting Thomas. Remember our Lord's words to Thomas, "do not be unbelieving, but believe." These words were addressed not only to Thomas but to all of us. Today's readings are also addressed to us.

The scriptures are the Word of God. As such they are addressed to every generation not just to those living 2000 years ago. So when as in today's first reading Peter stands up in front of a congregation much like ours, we should consider that he is speaking to us. When he says, "You who are Jews,"... "You who are Israelites, hear these words," he means us.

In his oration Peter  gives witness to the life, death and Resurrection of the Lord.

Peter says about Jesus,

            This man...you killed, using lawless men to crucify Him.

At the famous church Council of Trent, held over 400 years ago, the Church fathers refused to blame the Jews for the death of Christ. They said that inasmuch as Christ died for all men's sins, then all of us are responsible for His death. This position was reiterated at the Second Vatican Council.

Nevertheless, He died for all of us and He was raised from the dead for all of us. Peter then quotes the great Jewish King David as foretelling the resurrection of Jesus. Now Peter was no scripture scholar or learned rabbi. Perhaps he got this reference to David from the disciples who met the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

Some of us must remember that old series of movies with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope--with titles like "The Road to Morocco" and "The Road to Zanzibar." In each movie the two traveled usually by accident to some exotic locale where there comic adventures took place. Well, the road to Emmaus is a journey to the most exotic of all locations and it is a journey that all of us must take.

Today's gospel account is so familiar that sometimes it is easy to overlook what is really going on. As two of the disciples were walking along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, Jesus falls in with them but St. Luke tells us that "their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him."  They take him for a stranger. When He asks them what they had been discussing, they tell Him of the events since the Crucifixion and how some of the women had seen an angel who gave them the incredible news that Jesus was alive. The news astonished them and they found it difficult to believe.

The stranger scolds them,

            Oh, how foolish you are!
            How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke.

Scholars tell us that what follows is like a Mass or liturgy. Jesus reminds them of the scriptures which has referred to the Messiah beginning with Moses and continuing down through the prophets. As they approach Emmaus, the disciples ask the stranger to stay with them. He accepts and they sit down to share a meal. He then offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving or eucharist in the same way that He does at every Mass.

            he took bread, said the blessing,
            broke it, and gave it to them.

Finally, in the breaking of the bread they recognized Him. At every Mass we hear the Scriptures read. They tell us not only of the predictions of a Messiah, but of the actual words and deeds of the Messiah. Then after the readings we join Him at the altar table and He comes to us or we come to Him in the breaking of the bread.

In today's second reading St. Peter again speaks and reminds us of our journey. He says,

            conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning...

Peter uses a strange expression here. He says that we were "ransomed." Today we think of ransom as a payment made to free someone from kidnappers. In the ancient world slavery was much more common than it is today. Prisoners taken in battle or piracy were sold into slavery. Only if family or friends could raise enough money could the captive be bought back out of slavery. Obviously, if someone came up with the ransom to free you, you would be eternally grateful to that person. Moreover, once freed you would never want to return to slavery.

Isn't it obvious from reading the newspapers or watching TV that so many of us are enslaved to one harmful addiction or another. Has Easter made any real difference in our conduct or relationships? Now we are halfway through the Easter season. In the weeks to come we can discover the road to happiness. Our journey to Emmaus can begin today. We have heard the Scriptures. Now in a few minutes we will have the opportunity to recognize Him in the breaking of the bread.

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Reading 1. 2: 14, 22-33
Reading II. 1 Peter 1: 17-21
Gospel. Luke 24: 13-35 (road to Emmaus.)