Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Lord is My Light

                                    7th Sunday of Easter
                                  



Ascension of the Lord
St. Joseph's Basilica
Alameda, CA*


Today, the seventh Sunday of Easter, falls between the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord, which we celebrated last Thursday, and the feast of Pentecost, which we will celebrate next Sunday. For these nine days we, like the first disciples, are in a kind of Limbo. We commemorate these nine days in our “Novenas,” a word taken from the Latin word for nine. Jesus has ascended and now we wait for His Spirit to come at Pentecost.

It is interesting that in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke gives us the immediate aftermath of the Ascension. After witnessing the Ascension, the Apostles walk back the short distance from Mt Olivet (the mountain of Olives) to Jerusalem. There they went to the “upper room” where they were staying. There were eleven of them: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alpheus, Simon the zealot and Judas not the betrayer.

In a few days they will become the Church. Significantly, they are joined by some of the early women followers of Jesus, including his Mother, Mary. In this rare reference to Mary we can see her already as Mater Ecclesia, the Mother of the Church.

Today’s gospel is from the seventeenth chapter of St. John and describes the last words of Jesus before he leaves the Last Supper to undergo his Passion and Resurrection. Jesus is about to complete his mission on earth and his departing words are directed at us as well as the Apostles. His whole mission has been to reveal the Father to us and once that is accomplished, the rest will be up to us. He says to the Father,

And now I will no longer be in the world, But they are in the world, while I am coming to you.

In a way we will be on our own even though Jesus promised to send His Spirit and not leave us like orphans. But still, his work is done but ours is just beginning. We will hear the story of Pentecost next week but for now I would just like to say that there are multitudes today that feel like orphans. This is especially the case with contemporary teenagers and college students.

Depression seems almost like an epidemic among young people today. Suicidal thoughts and behavior are alarmingly prevalent in high schools and colleges. Colleges employ psychotherapists to deal with this very real problem. Catholic schools are not immune. A college professor told me that at a nearby college, the students pride themselves on attending a Jesuit institution, but shrink from identifying it as Catholic. They have cut themselves off from the faith that motivated St. Ignatius and formed the basis of Jesuit spirituality, Now, they only have an empty shell. Now they only have themselves to turn to. Now they are really orphans.

Actually, they turn to behaviors that only make them feel worse. Drunkenness and drug abuse are rampant on college campuses today. The high incidence of sexual abuse is a sign of unfulfilling sexual practices. The resulting shame and guilt cannot be taken away by counselors or therapists. These well meaning professionals can listen and advise but they can’t forgive. Since most of these students have discarded their religion in their early teens, they have nowhere to turn.

As St. Peter said in today’s second reading, if you are going to be insulted and suffer, let it be because of the good you do and not the evil. He writes to the members of the early Church,

But let no one among you be made to suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as an intriguer.

If we are insulted for doing what is right and good, then there will be no shame and we will be able to “rejoice exultantly.” Today’s responsorial Psalm is the famous Psalm 27 and is directed to all of us who might think of ourselves as orphans.

The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom should I fear? The Lord is my life’s refuge; Of whom should I be afraid?...  Hear, O Lord, the sound of my call, Have pity on me, and answer me. Of you my heart speaks; you my glance seeks.


###

Reading 1.Acts 1: 12-14
Reading II. 1 Peter 4: 13-16
Gospel. John 17: 1-11a (the hour has come).

* Image courtesy of Richard DeMarco.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Love One Another

                                    6th Sunday of Easter
                                  





Today, as we celebrate the Sixth Sunday of Easter, we are turning a corner. Instead of looking back to the Resurrection, the readings are looking ahead to the departure of Jesus that we will celebrate this coming week on Ascension Thursday; and the coming of the Holy Spirit in just two weeks on Pentecost Sunday.

The first reading relates the success of Philip in the conversion of many in the land of Samaria. Remember that Jesus had claimed that his disciples would be able to perform the same signs and miracles that he had done if they would preach in his Name. The crowds in Samaria listened and believed Philip because they “heard and saw the signs that he was doing.”

Philip was one of the new deacons who were appointed to assist the Apostles in their work. Philip’s success seemed to confirm the words of Jesus that his word would spread from Judea to Samaria and then to the ends of the world. On hearing the good news the apostles in Jerusalem send Peter and John to investigate, pray, and confirm the new converts in their faith. In the account we witness one of the early instances of the sacrament of Confirmation. Peter and John “laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”

At this time of the year successors of the first Apostles continue to administer the sacrament of Confirmation to young men and women all over the world. Most of the newly confirmed will be in their early teens, that often difficult period of transition between childhood and adulthood. It may be difficult for them to think that anything real has happened at Confirmation. After all, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God and not a creature of flesh and blood. The Spirit is not accessible by our senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste or smell.

How can they and we discover the Spirit in our lives? Maybe the answer can be found in today’s gospel reading. At the Last Supper Jesus said to his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” In the next sentence he says that He will ask the Father to give them an Advocate, the Spirit of truth. In other words, the coming of the Spirit is linked with keeping the commandments.

Most of us are familiar with the Ten Commandments that were given to the Hebrew people at the time of Moses. They included commands like honor thy father and mother; do not kill; do not commit adultery; do not steal; and do not bear false witness. Jesus was certainly aware of these commandments but he insisted that one commandment was above them all. His command was simply to love one another. In another part of John’s gospel Jesus also commanded us to love one another in the same way that He loved us. In other words, He was urging us to seek a selfless and self-giving love.

I don’t think teenagers or anyone else today would object to this command. We all want to love and to be loved. We all need love, and someone to love. However, we all know that it is easy to turn our backs on love. It has always been easy to just think of ourselves, talk about ourselves, and do for ourselves.

Love or charity puts the other commandments in a new light. It has often been said that charity begins at home but it might be better to say that it should begin at home. How often do we fail to honor our father and mother?  How often do we show anger and bitterness toward our brothers and sisters? How often do we take from them what is theirs? How often do we deceive the ones we should love the most?

We like to think that it is natural for us to love but we all need help. Where can we find it?
In today’s gospel Jesus promised that he would not leave us alone.

And I will ask the Father,and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always,the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept,because it neither sees nor knows him.

It is true that the Spirit will often come to us in ways we do not see or understand. It will most often come to us from those we love the most and who often love us the most. Even children eventually come to realize that the commands or rules imposed on them by parents come from love.

In today’s second reading St. Peter advises us to be prepared to defend our faith.

Always be ready to give an explanationTo anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope…

Our reason for hope is that God is Love and that He has commanded us to love one another as He loved us. If some say there is no God, we say that God is love. If some say, we cannot believe in a God who allows such pain and suffering in the world, we say that during his time on earth Jesus worked to heal pain and suffering wherever he found it, and commanded us to follow his example out of love. At his Ascension He told us that the work of love was up to us but that His Spirit would always be there to assist us on the journey of love.


###

Reading 1.Acts 8: 5-8, 14-17
Reading II. 1 Peter 3: 15-18
Gospel. John 14: 15-21 (keep my commandments).

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Way, the Truth, 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 Jewish 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.

Don’t we literally expect the Pope 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 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. Judas has left the room on his mission of betrayal and 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 subsequent 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.

###

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).