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Revelation

Ἡ Καινὴ Διαθήκη

Josephus
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Who was Josephus?
Maps, Graphics
Highlights
Translation

THE JEWISH WAR
War, Volume 1
War, Volume 2
War, Volume 3
War, Volume 4
War, Volume 5
War, Volume 6
War, Volume 7

THE ANTIQUITIES
Ant. Jud., Bk 1
Ant. Jud., Bk 2
Ant. Jud., Bk 3
Ant. Jud., Bk 4
Ant. Jud., Bk 5
Ant. Jud., Bk 6
Ant. Jud., Bk 7
Ant. Jud., Bk 8
Ant. Jud., Bk 9
Ant. Jud., Bk 10
Ant. Jud., Bk 11
Ant. Jud., Bk 12
Ant. Jud., Bk 13
Ant. Jud., Bk 14
Ant. Jud., Bk 15
Ant. Jud., Bk 16
Ant. Jud., Bk 17
Ant. Jud., Bk 18
Ant. Jud., Bk 19
Ant. Jud., Bk 20

OTHER WRITINGS
Apion, Bk 1
Apion, Bk 2
Autobiog.


Apocrypha
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Introduction

Gospel of--
-- Nicodemus
-- Peter
-- Ps-Matthew
-- James (Protevangelium)
-- Thomas (Infancy)
-- Thomas (Gnostic)
-- Joseph of Arimathea
-- Joseph_Carpenter
Pilate's Letter
Pilate's End

Apocalypse of --
-- Ezra
-- Moses
-- Paul
-- Pseudo-John
-- Moses
-- Enoch

Various
Clementine Homilies
Clementine Letters
Clementine Recognitions
Dormition of Mary
Book of Jubilees
Life of Adam and Eve
Odes of Solomon
Pistis Sophia
Secrets of Enoch
Tests_12_Patriarchs
Veronica's Veil
Vision of Paul
Vision of Shadrach

Acts of
Andrew
Andrew & Matthias
Andrew & Peter
Barnabas
Bartholomew
John
Matthew
Paul & Perpetua
Paul & Thecla
Peter & Paul
Andrew and Peter
Barnabas
Philip
Pilate
Thaddaeus
Thomas in India

Daily Word 2018

SEASONS of:
Advent
Christmastide
Lent
Eastertide

SUNDAYS, Year A
Sundays, 1-34, Year A
SUNDAYS, Year B
Sundays, 1-34, Year B
SUNDAYS, Year C
Sundays, 1-34, Year C

WEEKDAYS
(Ordinary Time)
Weeks 1-11 (Year 1)
Weeks 1-11 (Year 2)
Wks 12-22 (Year 1)
Wks 12-22 (Year 2)
Wks 23-34 (Year 1)
Wks 23-34 (Year 2)

OTHER
Solemnities
Baptisms
Weddings
Funerals
Saints Days

Patristic
(Menu)


Clement of Rome

Ignatius of Antioch

Polycarp of Smyrna

Barnabas,(Epistle of)

Papias of Hierapolis

Justin, Martyr

The Didachë

Irenaeus of Lyons

Hermas (Pastor of)

Tatian of Syria

Theophilus of Antioch

Diognetus (letter)

Athenagoras of Alex.

Clement of Alexandria

Tertullian of Carthage

Origen of Alexandria



Eastertide Sundays

Year A

Easter Sunday, A
2nd Sun. East. (A)
3rd Sun. East. (A)
4th Sun. East. (A)
5th Sun. East. (A)
6th Sun. East. (A)
Ascension (A)
7th Sun. East. (A)
Pentecost (A)

Year B

Easter Sunday, B
2nd Sun. East. (B)
3rd Sun. East. (B)
4th Sun. East. (B)
5th Sun. East. (B)
6th Sun. East. (B)
Ascension (B)
7th Sun. East. (B)
Pentecost (B)

Year C

Easter Sunday, C
2nd Sun. East. (C)
3rd Sun. East. (C)
4th Sun. East. (C)
5th Sun. East. (C)
6th Sun. East. (C)
Ascension (C)
7th Sun. East. (C)
Pentecost (C)

Eastertide Weekdays

Week 1

Easter Monday
Easter Tues
Easter Wednes
Easter Thurs
Easter Fri
Easter Sat

Week 2

Mon. East. Wk 2
Tues. East. Wk 2
Wed. East. Wk 2
Thur. East. Wk 2
Fri. East. Wk 2
Sat. East. Wk 2

Week 3

Mon. East. Wk 3
Tues. East. Wk 3
Wed. East. Wk 3
Thur. East. Wk 3
Fri. East. Wk 3
Sat. East. Wk 3

Week 4

Mon. East. Wk 4
Tues. East. Wk 4
Wed. East. Wk 4
Thur. East. Wk 4
Fri. East. Wk 4
Sat. East. Wk 4

Week 5

Mon. East. Wk 5
Tues. East. Wk 5
Wed. East. Wk 5
Thur. East. Wk 5
Fri. East. Wk 5
Sat. East. Wk 5

Week 6

Mon. East. Wk 6
Tues. East. Wk 6
Wed. East. Wk 6
Thur. East. Wk 6
Fri. East. Wk 6
Sat. East. Wk 6

Week 7

Mon. East. Wk 7
Tues. East. Wk 7
Wed. East. Wk 7
Thur. East. Wk 7
Fri. East. Wk 7
Sat. East. Wk 7

Feasts

Holy Trinity

Corpus Christi

Sacred Heart

 

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Easter Sunday Years A, B, C

1st Reading: Acts (10:34, 37-43)

Peter and the other apostles are witnesses to the resurrection

Then Peter began to speak to them: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 118)

R./: This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
   for his mercy endures forever.
Let the house of Israel say,
   His mercy endures forever. (R./)

The right hand of the Lord has struck with power;
   the right hand of the Lord is exalted.
I shall not die, but live,
   and declare the works of the Lord. (R./)

The stone which the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone.
By the Lord has this been done;
   it is wonderful in our eyes. (R./)

2nd Reading: Colossians (3:1-4)

Christ is now in glory; we share in his risen state

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

or: 1 Corinthians (5:6-8)

celebrate the festival with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, no with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Gospel: John (20:1-9)

The empty tomb seen by Peter and the Beloved Disciple is a sign of the resurrection of Jesus

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus" head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

BIBLE

A Mystery Beyond Words

Mary Magdalene finds the empty tomb and runs to the apostles to tell them her astonishing news. St John's is the only account where the apostles are directly involved in finding that the tomb was empty, and where neither Jesus nor angels were there to give any guidance about the meaning of it. The Beloved Disciple was present with Peter to see the discarded burial-cloths within the tomb, and he at once realised what this meant: that Jesus was risen from the dead!

I remember my reaction the first time I saw the anything as vast as the Grand Canyon in Arizona; my whole being was thrilled by the awesomeness of it all. I had a camera, and I used it to the best of my ability, trying to capture the vision, the emotions, the experience, and the wonder of it. Later I realised the futility of such photos when I came home and tried to explain to friends what my experience had been. The fact was that it would be necessary for the others to see for themselves what I saw, before there was any hope of real understanding or appreciation taking place. For those who don't understand, no words are possible, and for those who do understand, no words are necessary. That's the sense we have when reading the resurrection story. It tells of a deeply mysterious fact, but we can't quite capture what its impact was within the hearts of his followers, that first Easter day.

Let's remember that this gospel, this truly great news, is timeless and so is still for here and now. In a real sense, I am reflected by every person in that story, and should try to put myself within the story as told by Saint John today. Am I like Magdalene who told the others the news of resurrection? Or like the apostles who responded immediately by running to the tomb to see for themselves. I'm not exactly sure when I first heard about the resurrection of Jesus. But it was many years later when I personally experienced this for myself. The discovery came in moments of darkness and desolation, when I cried out to God for help. We all have our moments when we cry out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' But God does not forget or forsake us, and the darkest hour is just before the dawn.

On Easter morning, the stone was rolled away from the mouth of the tomb. Could I think of my heart as a tomb awaiting a resurrection? Can I identify anything akin to a stone that is holding me back from enjoying the fullness of life? It could be an addiction, a compulsion, a resentment, or some hidden and dark secret that I have never shared with anyone. We can be as sick as our secrets. But as our pope Francis puts it so well, "We are called to be people of joyful hope, not doomsday prophets!" Because of the resurrection of Jesus, we can all have hopeful joy, and go out to share it with the world.


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2nd Sunday of Easter, (A)

1st Reading: Acts (2:42-47)

As a sign of their faith the early Christians shared their possessions

They devoted themselves to the apostles" teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 117: 2-4, 13-15, 22-24)

R./: Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting

Let the sons of Israel say:
'His love has no end.'
Let the sons of Aaron say:
'His love has no end.'
Let those who fear the Lord say:
'His love has no end.' (R./)

I was thrust, thrust down
and falling but the Lord was my helper.
The Lord is my strength and my song;
he was my saviour.
There are shouts of joy and victory
in the tents of the just. (R./)

The stone which the builders rejected
has become the corner stone.
This is the work of the Lord,
a marvel in our eyes.
This day was made by the Lord;
we rejoice and are glad. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Peter (1:3-9)

Christians respond to his resurrection with hope, praise and joy

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith-being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire-may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Gospel: John (20:19-31)

The presence of the risen Jesus dispels fear and brings peace to his friends

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

BIBLE

Unlocking the doors

We have all become security conscious nowadays. Most houses are now alarmed; the alarm has become as basic an item as table and chairs. We also need to have good strong locks; long gone, at least in the cities and towns, are the days when you could just leave the key in the door, and allow neighbours to casually ramble in for a chat and a cup of tea. We are more fearful about our security than we used to be, and this fear and anxiety has led us to take more precautions to protect ourselves. Fear of what others can do to us tends to close us in on ourselves, in the physical sense of getting stronger security, but also in other senses. We tend to be somewhat withdrawn around people we perceive to be critical. We are slow to open up to someone we think will judge us. We hesitate to share ideas and plans we might have with those who are known not to suffer fools gladly. Fear of others can hold us back and stunt our growth.

In the gospel reading today we find the disciples locking themselves into a room because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities. Even though Mary Magdalene had come to them from the empty tomb announcing, "I have seen the Lord," this was not enough to overcome their fear. What had been done to Jesus could be done to them. .. which led to their hiding in self-imposed confinement. The turning point came when the risen Lord himself appeared to them behind their closed doors and helped them over their fear. He did this by breathing on them the Holy Spirit, filling them new energy and hope, freeing them from fear and releasing them to share in his mission. "As the Father sent me, so am I sending you," he said. In the power of the Spirit they came to life and went out from their self-imposed prison and bear witness to the risen Lord. This is the picture of the disciples that Luke gives us in the first reading today. He describes a community of believers, the church, witnessing to the resurrection both in word and by the quality of their living.

We can all find ourselves in the situation of those first disciples locked in their hiding place. Any combination of the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" can water down our commitment to following the Lord. Like the disciples in the gospel reading, we can be tempted to give up on our faith journey. The will to self-preservation can prevent us from doing what we are capable of doing with the Lord's help. The wounds we carry from earlier, failed initiatives make us hesitate to try again. Even when someone seems full of enthusiasm and hope like a Mary Magdalene, we shrug it off. We let them get on with it, while we hold back and stay safe. The gospel reading today suggests a way out of our self-imposed confinement. If Magdalene makes no impact on us, the Lord will find another way to enter our lives and to fill us with new life and energy for his service. No locked doors, nor even locked hearts, can keep him out. He finds a way to enter the space where we have chosen to retreat and he empowers us to resist what is holding us back. He does require some openness on our part; at the least some desire on our part to become what he is calling us to be. The risen Lord never ceases to recreate us and to renew us in his love. Easter is the season to celebrate the good news.

Just as the disciples were unmoved by the hopeful enthusiasm of Mary Magdalene who announced, "I have seen the Lord," so Thomas was unmoved by the witness of the disciples who said to him, "We have seen the Lord." Thomas, it seems, was an even harder nut to crack than the other disciples. He is one of those people who insist on certain conditions being met before he makes a move, "Unless I see.." As he had done with the other disciples, the Lord took Thomas on Thomas" own terms. He accommodated himself to Thomas" conditions, "Put your finger here.." The gospel reading today implies that the Lord meets us wherever we are. He takes us seriously in all our fears and doubts. The Lord is prepared to stand on our ground, whatever that ground is, and from there he will speak to us a word that is suited to our own state of mind and heart. We don't have to get ourselves to some particular place in order for the Lord to engage with us. He takes himself to where we are, wherever it is a place of fear or of doubt. We might pray this Easter season for the openness to receive the Lord's coming into the concrete circumstances of our own lives, so that we too might say with Thomas, "My Lord and my God." We might also pray that, like the Lord, we would receive others where they are, rather than where we would like them to be.


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3rd Sunday of Easter, (A)

1st Reading: Acts (2:14, 32-33)

Jesus' greatest moment was when God raised him to glory. His resurrection shows the Father's plan for all of us

Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say

This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 15: 1-2, 5, 7-11)

R./: Lord, you will show us the path of life

Preserve me, God, I take refuge in you.
I say to the Lord: 'You are my God.
O Lord, it is you who are my portion and cup;
it is you yourself who are my prize.' (R./)

I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel,
who even at night directs my heart.
I keep the Lord ever in my sight:
since he is at my right hand, I shall stand firm. (R./)

And so my heart rejoices, my soul is glad;
even my body shall rest in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead,
nor let your beloved know decay. (R./)

You will show me the path of life,
and the fullness of joy in your presence,
at your right hand happiness for ever. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Peter (1:17-21)

Christians are called to live in obedience to the Father. This life is founded on faith and hope in Christ who has been raised from the dead

If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.

Gospel: Luke (24:13-35)

Two disciples come to recognise our risen Lord in the breaking of the bread, as he opened the Scriptures to them

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?"

He asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him."

Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, becase it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?" That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

BIBLE

A Gospel within the Gospel

The Emmaus story is like a gospel within the gospel. It holds so much of what is central to the whole Christian message that it is often used as a summary of what Christian life is all about. For these disciples on the road, it was all over. For the previous few years life had been exciting, and they were in the middle of it all. It is unfair to blame them, but they just hadn't grasped a great deal of what Jesus had said. We can empathise with them, because mostly we too forget or we fail to take seriously the promises of the Lord. He promised that he would be there for us, that he would never abandon us in the storm, that he would walk every step of the road with us, and that he would bring us safely through the desert and the Red Sea of death into the Promised Land of the Father.

It is more than interesting that Jesus used scripture as his way of enlightening them. Scripture is the word of God. It contains the promises of the Lord, and it reveals the heart of God. The words of scripture are not at all like the words in our daily newspaper. The word of God is empowered as by an electric current, and it is inspired and shot through with the Spirit of God. With God's word comes the power to respond to that word, and to carry it out. Because of various factors, the study of scripture was not greatly emphasised or appreciated in Catholic circles. It was seen as more of a Protestant thing, and it was something that ordinary lay persons could not be trusted with interpreting properly. That trend, thankfully, is now reversed, and this is an important part of the whole process of church renewal.

It is significant that they recognised Jesus in the breaking of bread. Breaking of bread among friends was a living symbol of friendship and belonging. What was special about the way Jesus broke the bread is something at which I can only hazard a guess. It must have been the whole atmosphere of self-giving that he invested in the act that revealed to them who he really was. There was a level of sincerity, of giving, of sharing, of sacredness that must have been unique to Jesus, and it must have been something they had experienced on previous occasions. This unique something touched their deepest hungers, and the nourishment provided was no longer just a physical thing. It was food that required them to open their hearts as well as their mouths to receive.

Life is a journey made up of many journeys. It is a wonderful gift of God's Spirit to have the sense of being accompanied on the journey, of being led by the Spirit, of having a sense of direction in life. All of this is only possible through my own personal yes, and my willingness to be open to the accompanying presence of the Lord. "You'll never walk alone when you walk with God" is an important truth. The only real sin for the Christian is not to have hope. Because of Jesus we already have the victory. We are a risen people, a people of power, and a people to whom Jesus has entrusted full authority over all the power of the evil one. Again, all of this makes no difference whatever, unless I personally take possession of what Jesus offers me and makes possible for me. Again and again and again I am called on to repeat my own personal YES of trust and commitment. The response the Lord is most seeking is my YES of here and now.


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4th Sunday of Easter, (A)

1st Reading: Acts (2:14, 36-41)

Paul and Barnabas preach the Gospel first to the Jews, then to pagans, who receive it with joy

Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. . . Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified." Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, "Brothers, what should we do?"

Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him."

And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 22: 1-6)

R./: The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want

The Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I shall want.
Fresh and green are the pastures
where he gives me repose.
Near restful waters he leads me,
to revive my drooping spirit. (R./)

He guides me along the right path;
he is true to his name.
If I should walk in the valley of darkness
no evil would I fear.
You are there with your crook and your staff;
with these you give me comfort. (R./)

You have prepared a banquet for me
in the sight of my foes.
My head you have anointed with oil;
my cup is overflowing. (R./)

Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me
all the days of my life.
In the Lord's own house shall I dwell
for ever and ever. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Peter (2:20-25)

In praise of the early martyrs, who came triumphantly through times of great persecution trusting in Christ, the Good Shepherd

If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God's approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

Gospel: John (10:1-10)

Christ is the true Shepherd, each one personally; and no one can take away his sheep

"Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers." Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Again Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

BIBLE

The Good Shepherd

Jesus often illustrated his teaching by referring to shepherds and sheep. He sees himself as the Good Shepherd foretold by the prophets. Today's gospel considers the relationship between the Good Shepherd and the sheep. The imagery is old. The message is topical. It is relevant to us. By faith we accept Jesus, Our relationship is a deeply personal one. The bond of love uniting us is based on the love that unites the Father and Jesus. Our new existence is founded on God's unbreakable love and faithfulness.

In order to enter eternal life we must listen to Jesus and obey him. The alternative opening prayer puts this in practical terms. We have to tune our minds to the sound of his voice. Self-centredness can make us deaf to the voice of Jesus. Easy options can draw us into easier paths than the one he has traced. Pressure to abandon Christian principles is inevitable. But God is faithful and will not let us be tempted beyond our strength. No one can drag us away from him, The Father has entrusted us to his Son. The same God who kept faith with Jesus by raising him from the dead will also raise us by his power.

Paul and Barnabas 'spoke out boldly', and made an impact. A courageous proclamation of the gospel to our contemporaries can be as fruitful now as it was in apostolic times. All the baptized, particularly those who are confirmed, are bound to spread the faith. Laity as well as priests and religious are in the service of the Risen Lord. Our faith urges us to take personal part in the work of evangelisation. Are we doing so? How many evils persist in our society just because good people say nothing and do nothing? A breviary hymn of Eastertide (no.25) spells out what is expected of us by the Risen Lord: Now he bids us tell abroad/How the lost may be restored/How the penitent forgiven/ How we too may enter heaven.

"Good Shepherd Sunday" is a good occasion for us to think and pray about how the catholic church will fare for priests in the future. In Ireland right now it appears that the average age of ordained priests is about sixty five, a statistic that demands significant change in how to recruit priests for the future, and what is to be expected of them. Padraig McCarthy made this point thus, "there is no such thing as a priestless parish. There may not be an ordained priest there, but the parish is a priestly people. How will this priesthood of the baptised take flesh in the coming decades? What factors which had value in the past are now hindering the mission of the church? What new model of ministerial priesthood is needed?"

Here are three questions worth pondering by us all, bishops, priests and laity:

1) Who will be the true shepherds in the coming years?

2) How will those shepherds carry out the mission to those outside the fold?

3) What needs to change in the church so that each Eucharistic community can have a full celebration every Sunday?


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5th Sunday of Easter, (A)

1st Reading: Acts (6:1-7)

Under pressure, a solution is found to deal with new needs of the community

Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.

And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word."

What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 32: 1-2, 4-5, 18-19)

R./: Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you

Ring out your joy to the Lord, O you just;
for praise is fitting for loyal hearts.
Give thanks to the Lord upon the harp,
with a ten-stringed lute sing him songs. (R./)

For the word of the Lord is faithful
and all his works to be trusted.
The Lord loves justice and right
and fills the earth with his love. (R./)

The Lord looks on those who revere him,
on those who hope in his love,
to rescue their souls from death,
to keep them alive in famine. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Peter (2:4-9)

Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God's sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture: "See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame."

To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner," and "A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Gospel: John (14:1-12)

We have a deep basis for inner peace, because Christ has prepared a place for us in the Father's house

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going." Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?"

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him."

Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, "Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.

BIBLE

Building up the house of God

Acts 6 shows how any class or racial discrimination was quickly resolved in the church's early days. The Hellenist (converts whose language was Greek), complained that their widows were not getting a fair share of the church's social services. The apostles' solution to the problem shows how changes of practice are not only possible but necessary for the health of the church.

The episode reminds us of two important dimensions of church life: prayer and service; and that living our Christian vocation requires a balance between the two. Each of us is personally called to prayer, to a dialogue of worship with God; and we are also called to service. No matter what we do in life, our work affects others in some way. We should be of service to our neighbours; and provided we have an attitude of respect, no task we do is a menial task. Prayer and preaching the word was of primary importance to the apostles; but service to the widows and the needy in the community was also vital, so they appointed seven trusted men to attend to it, and initiated them by an evocative ceremony.

As a result, the disciples in Jerusalem greatly increased in numbers.. We may wonder how this could be revived in our day. Is the word of the Lord still spreading? Is the number of disciples increasing? In the letter of St Peter, the church is seen as a spiritual house, with ourselves as the living stones making up a house of God. Everytime we say the Lord's Prayer we say 'thy kingdom come.' Perhaps by this prayer we take upon ourselves some responsibility for spreading the word and doing something for the growth of the church? We can contribute to the building of God's house by our daily conduct and attitudes.

The cornerstone in this church is Christ himself, and he speaks to us in encouraging words today. If he is going away, it is to prepare a place for us, in his Father's house, where there are many rooms. So, no matter who we are or what we do, there is a place for us all in the kingdom. Each has his own unique gifts of nature and grace, each is important to God, and the words of Christ here remind us again of the respect for each and all that was exemplified for us in the first reading by the action of the apostles.

There are so many notions about what God is like, and in our day many leave God aside as irrelevant because their notion of God is faulty or distorted. Jesus tells us today that if we want to see the authentic picture of God we should look to him. 'I am in the Father and the Father is in me.' When we see Christ in the pages of the gospel concerned for others, interested in everyone, respecting everyone, encouraging sinners to repent, we can reflect that this is what the invisible Father is like. 'It is the Father, living in me, who is doing this work.'

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6th Sunday of Easter, (A)

1st Reading: Acts (8:5-8, 14-17)

Philip's mission in Samaria shows the joy of the original Gospel faith

Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did, for unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who were possessed; and many others who were paralyzed or lame were cured. So there was great joy in that city.

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 65: 1-7, 16, 20)

R./: Let all the earth cry out to God with joy

Cry out with joy to God all the earth,
O sing to the glory of his name.
O render him glorious praise.
Say to God: 'How tremendous your deeds! (R./)

'Before you all the earth shall bow;
shall sing to you, sing to your name!'
Come and see the works of God,
tremendous his deeds among men. (R./)

He turned the sea into dry land,
they passed through the river dry-shod.
Let our joy then be in him;
he rules for ever by his might. (R./)

Come and hear, all who fear God.
I will tell what he did for my soul:
Blessed be God who did not reject my prayer
nor withhold his love from me.
Let all the earth cry out to God with joy. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Peter (3:15-18)

Peter prepares us for persecution, reminding us of the suffering of Christ

Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God's will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.

Gospel: John (14:15-21)

The Spirit of truth is in those who love God. Our love of God should show in our actions

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. "I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them."

BIBLE

Keeping our sense of the sacred

When I was a boy, we were encouraged to show respect for adults. Our teachers and priests were always acknowledged with a salute when we passed them in the street. Other adults we greeted with "Good morning, Sir" or "Good evening, Ma'am" depending on the time of day. These courtesies were invariably observed among adults themselves. A similar gesture survives, at least in rural Ireland, as a mark of respect for the dead: men still uncover their heads when a funeral hearse passes. Now most of these formalities have gone, like the world of my childhood which valued them so highly.

Their end was hastened by the cinema and television, with a tacit link being made between egalitarianism and informality. The cowboys and crooks, the cops and hoodlums on the big screen were not noted for their courtly manners. They shot from the hip, verbally as well as with their guns. And audiences were eager students, shedding their manners like an elderly relative. Nowhere seems to have escaped this new informality. What Hollywood did for secular society, the vernacular liturgy introduced into the church. We seem to have lost some of our sense of the sacred. For us, the Real Presence was real indeed. Whatever contribution the new liturgy has made, and its contribution is very real, this sense of the sacred has been an unintended casualty. It demystified the Mass and like the sixteenth century Reformers, "stripped the altars." Gone are the "Thou's" of God language, like the altar rails that once enclosed the sanctuary, and God has joined our egalitarian ranks.

"Reverence the Lord in your hearts," Peter tells us in today's reading. If God is not revered as sacred, nothing is sacred anymore. Neither husband for wife, nor wife for husband, neither parents for children, nor children for parents. Maybe that accounts for the growing break-down in families. And in a timely warning to those in Ireland and elsewhere engaged in religious debate, he urges them to make their arguments "with courtesy and respect." These two qualities are notably absent in most religious disputes. Reverence for God, respect for persons and courtesy are all facets of the same virtue. Those who are courteous may not always be believers, but the discourteous can never be true followers of Jesus Christ.


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The Ascension of the Lord, (A)

1st Reading: Acts (1:1-11)

Ascension concludes Jesus' ministry on earth and prepares for the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. "This," he said, "is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."

So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 47)

R./: God goes up with shouts of joy, the Lord goes up with trumpet blast

All you peoples, clap your hands,
   shout to God with cries of gladness.
For the Lord, the Most High, the awesome,
   is the great king over all the earth. (R./)

God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy;
   the Lord, amid trumpet blasts.
Sing praise to God, sing praise;
   sing praise to our king, sing praise. (R./)

For king of all the earth is God;
   sing hymns of praise.
God reigns over the nations,
   God sits upon his holy throne. (R./)

2nd Reading: Ephesians (1:17-23)

God has raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him above every created being. It is a privelege to belong to his body, the church

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Gospel: Matthew (28:16-20)

Before he leaves this world, Jesus gives his disciples a magnificent mission. Through his power they are to form a new, world-wide community and he will be with them always

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

BIBLE

Last Will and Testament

The final paragraph of St Matthew's gospel makes no direct reference to the ascension, but it gives us the Lord's final instructions, his Last Will and Testament. I was speaking to somebody the other day who was troubled over making a will. She had grown up in those times when making a will, or receiving what were called "The Last Sacraments" were things that you put off until the last moment. There was something ominous about it. Indeed some of us may know families that were left completely divided because someone hadn't made a will. In today's gospel, Jesus has little to say, but he is definite about what he has to say. This is in sharp contrast to the fact that, even at this last minute, some of his disciples still doubted. The disciples did what he told them to do. He asked them to meet him on the mountain, and they did that. Like any gathering of people, their feelings were varied. Some of them worshipped him, while some of them still doubted. Jesus didn't seem to have any great problem with that, because he knew that, when the Spirit came, all of those doubts would be ended. It would seem, indeed, that he was in a hurry to take his leave of them, so that the second part of his plan of salvation could get underway.

In an earlier episode Jesus says, "I have given you authority over the power of the evil one." But authority over everything, however, is something that he reserves to himself. Those who go in his name, do so with his authority. The authority goes with the mission, so he adds, "Go, therefore." As if to say, "because I have the authority, you can go wherever I send you. My power, my promises, and my Spirit will go with you, and will see you through." Then he concludes with the clear and definite promise, "and be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

The mission of the apostles was simple to understand; difficult to carry out. It was to teach others all that he had taught them. Just as he asked his disciples to obey him, they were to ask that others should obey his directions and instructions also. This is like when a doctor puts you on a course of antibiotics. The original sin was a lie. The Spirit is a spirit of truth. One of the rules connected with taking antibiotics is that it is essential to complete the course. Some people begin to feel well after a few days, and they discontinue taking the medicine and, of course, their condition gets worse. The programme of redemption and salvation must continue from generation to generation, until the end of time. With all the changes in the church and in society, the two things that have not changed are Jesus himself, and every word of his message. The Message and the Messenger have never, and never will change. People who are bothered about changes in the church today should be reminded that the only two things that matter have not changed at all.

"You write a new page of the gospel each day, through the things that you do and the words that you say. People will read what you write, whether faithful or true. What is the gospel according to you?" Even sharing with another something you heard here today that you find helpful is to give witness. It must seem obvious to anyone who wishes to see, that the evidence of someone who is trying to live the sort of life that Jesus has taught us to live, must be a powerful witness, indeed. There seems to be a lot of depression around today, or it may be that we are now more conscious or aware of it. But there is a great difference between being alone and being lonely. I could be in the midst of a crowd, and be lonely; while one can also feel, like Cicero, never less alone than when alone ( "minus solum, quam cum solus" De officiis 3.1). This applies especially to those who take seriously the final words of today's gospel, "lam with you always." Communication with our Lord doesn't even need words. If I am open to His presence in my life, and live with a conscious awareness of his presence, I can experience fully that "Joy of the Gospel" about which Pope Francis spoke so warmly.


7th Sunday of Easter, (A)

(Seldom needed)

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Pentecost Sunday

1st Reading: Acts (2:1-11)

The Spirit of God gives energy to the apostles and sends them out on their mission

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs-in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power."

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 103: 1, 24, 29-31, 34)

R./: Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth

Bless the Lord, my soul!
Lord God, how great you are,
How many are your works, O Lord!
The earth is full of your riches. (R./)

You take back your spirit, they die,
returning to the dust from which they came.
You send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the earth. (R./)

May the glory of the Lord last for ever!
May the Lord rejoice in his works!
May my thoughts be pleasing to him.
I find my joy in the Lord.
Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.(R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians (12:3-7, 12-13)

It is through the Spirit that Christ works in his community, the church

Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

Gospel: John (20:19-23)

They disciples receive the power of the Spirit to continue the mission of Jesus

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

BIBLE

Source of the Higher Impulses

The Holy Spirit used to be the forgotten person of the Trinity. Perhaps he suffered from being a spirit, since for many of us, only concrete things are real. The Father and Son make an impact because one took flesh and the other was given a beard. Have you ever imagined the Holy Spirit with a beard? Whatever the reason, even among devout Christians, the Holy Spirit had been overlooked. He had been cast in the role of a third candidate, valued for his transfers to the front-runners, but never earmarked for a seat in the House, much less a post in the Cabinet. It's only recently that he has been coming into his own. And about time too! There are several reasons why we should never forget the Spirit. The first is that he wasn't forgotten by Jesus. On the contrary. On the eve of the Passion, he promised to send the Spirit to the disciples. In fact, he took pains to emphasise the importance of the Spirit's role. Here was no poor substitute, a duckling doing "locum" for a swan. He would be a helper, a counsellor, a teacher, a replacement for Christ himself. Indeed, Our Lord's words of introduction are rather startling: "It is for your own good that I am going, because unless I go, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you" (Jn 16:7).

Another reason for acknowledging the Spirit is the example of the early Christians. He made such a difference to their lives that they could never forget him. Before his coming they were timid and afraid, like children huddling together in a storm. When he descended upon them in a miraculous confusion of wind, fire and speech, they were utterly transformed. "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:4), St Luke tells us, and we think of billowing sails or mothers filled with child. But some of the bystanders were less poetic in their reaction. "They're drunk" (Acts 2:13), they sneered, and for once the cynics were right, drunk they were, drunk with the Spirit of Christ's love and their own furious eagerness to proclaim his message. The Spirit was breathing where he would and from now on "Jesus is Lord" (1 Cor 12:3) would be shouted from the housetops. They stayed drunk for life, in this sense. They were never to be sober again. For as long as they lived, the Spirit would stay in the bloodstream. Every decision they made would be Spirit-shaped: the choice of seven deacons; the admission of Gentiles to the Church; the sending of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. And the influence of the Spirit was not confined to decision-making at executive level. It was felt at the ordinary level too, at what politicians love to call the "grassroots." It was felt in the gifts that were Spirit, sent for the service of the Church, unusual gifts like healing or prophecy, designed to meet the needs of an infant Church, but ordinary gifts too, required to meet the needs of God's children everywhere, "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self control" (Ga 5:22).

It is by exercising these gifts that we remember the Spirit best. When we are loyal to a demanding partner, when we are cheerful and courageous, when we console the bereaved, link the old or encourage the young, we are doing the work of the Holy Spirit. When we curb our evil instincts, we honour him. When we respond to the better impulse, we honour him more. The Holy Spirit is "the rising sap'. He is also the climbing warmth in our hearts. It is through and with our better instincts that the Spirit works. "Whether we're aware of it or not, he is never idle. Our part is to grunt and heave with him and to push our stalling lives to the top of the hill.


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Easter Sunday (Years A, B, C)

1st Reading: Acts (10:34, 37-43)

Peter and the other apostles are witnesses to the resurection

Then Peter began to speak to them: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 118)

R./: This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
   for his mercy endures forever.
Let the house of Israel say,
   His mercy endures forever. (R./)

The right hand of the Lord has struck with power;
   the right hand of the Lord is exalted.
I shall not die, but live,
   and declare the works of the Lord. (R./)

The stone which the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone.
By the Lord has this been done;
   it is wonderful in our eyes. (R./)

2nd Reading: Colossians (3:1-4)

Christ is now in glory; we share in his risen state.

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.


or: 1 Corinthians (5:6-8)

Celebrate the festival with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, no with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.


Gospel: John (20:1-9)

The empty tomb seen by Peter and the Beloved Disciple is a sign of the resurrection of Jesus

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus" head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

BIBLE

A Mystery Beyond Words

Mary Magdalene finds the empty tomb and runs to the apostles to tell them her astonishing news. St John's is the only account where the apostles are directly involved in finding that the tomb was empty, and where neither Jesus nor angels were there to give any guidance about the meaning of it. The Beloved Disciple was present with Peter to see the discarded burial-cloths within the tomb, and he at once realised what this meant: that Jesus was risen from the dead!

I remember my emotion on seeing the Grand Canyon in Arizona; my whole being was thrilled by the awesomeness of it all. I had a camera, and I used it to the best of my ability, trying to capture the vision, the emotions, the experience, and the wonder of it. Later I realised the futility of such photos when I came home and tried to explain to friends what my experience had been. The fact was that it would be necessary for the others to see for themselves what I saw, before there was any hope of real understanding or appreciation taking place. For those who don't understand, no words are possible, and for those who do understand, no words are necessary. That's the sense we have when reading the resurrection story. It tells of a deeply mysterious fact, but we can't quite capture what its impact was within the hearts of his followers, that first Easter day.

Let's remember that this gospel, this truly great news, is timeless and so is still for here and now. In a real sense, I am reflected by every person in that story, and should try to put myself within the story as told by Saint John today. Am I like Magdalene who told the others the news of resurrection? Or like the apostles who responded immediately by running to the tomb to see for themselves. I'm not exactly sure when I first heard about the resurrection of Jesus. But it was many years later when I personally experienced this for myself. The discovery came in moments of darkness and desolation, when I cried out to God for help. We all have our moments when we cry out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' But God does not forget or forsake us, and the darkest hour is just before the dawn.

On Easter morning, the stone was rolled away from the mouth of the tomb. Could I think of my heart as a tomb awaiting a resurrection? Can I identify anything akin to a stone that is holding me back from enjoying the fullness of life? It could be an addiction, a compulsion or some hidden and dark secret that I have never shared with anyone. We can be as sick as our secrets. But as pope Francis declares, "We are called to be people of joyful hope, not doomsday prophets!" Because of the resurrection of Jesus, we can all have hopeful joy, and go out to share it with the world.


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2nd Sunday of Easter (B)

1st Reading: Acts (4:32-35)

Total sharing, among the first Christians

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 118)

R./: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love is everlasting

Let the house of Israel say,
   His mercy endures forever.
Let the house of Aaron say,
   His mercy endures forever.
Let those who fear the Lord say,
   His mercy endures forever. (R./)

I was hard pressed and was falling,
   but the Lord helped me.
My strength and my courage is the Lord,
   and he has been my saviour.
The joyful shout of victory
   in the tents of the just. (R./)

The stone which the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone.
By the Lord has this been done;
   it is wonderful in our eyes.
This is the day the Lord has made;
   let us be glad and rejoice in it. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 John (5:1-6)

By this we know that we love the children of God

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Gospel: John (20:19-31)

The presence of the risen Jesus banishes fear and brings peace to his friends

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

BIBLE

Unlocking our doors

Most houses are well alarmed nowadays; the computerised alarm has become as basic an item as table and chairs. We also need to have good strong locks; long gone, at least in the cities and towns, are the days when you could just leave the key in the door, and let neighbours ramble in casually for a chat and a cup of tea. We are more fearful about our security than we used to be, and this fear and anxiety has led us to take more precautions to protect ourselves. Fear of what others can do to us tends to close us in on ourselves, not just in the physical sense of getting stronger door-locks, but also in other senses. We tend to be somewhat withdrawn around people whom we perceive to be critical. We are slow to open up to someone we think will judge us. We hesitate to share ideas and plans we might have with those who are known not to suffer fools gladly. Fear of others can often hold us back and stunt our growth.

In the gospel we find the disciples locking themselves into a room because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities. Even after an excited Mary Magdalene came to them from the empty tomb announcing that she had seen the Lord, this was not enough to overcome their fear. What had been done to Jesus could be done to them. .. which led to their hiding in self-imposed confinement. The turning point came when the risen Lord himself appeared to them behind their closed doors and helped them over their fear. He did this by breathing the Holy Spirit into them, filling them new energy and hope, freeing them from fear and releasing them to share in his mission. "As the Father sent me, so am I sending you," he said. In the power of the Spirit they came to life and went out from their self-imposed prison, to bear witness to the risen Lord. This is the picture of the disciples that Luke gives us in today's reading from Acts. He describes a community of believers, the church, witnessing to the resurrection both in word and by the quality of their living.

We can all find ourselves in the situation of those first disciples, locked in their hiding place. Any combination of the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" can water down our commitment to following the Lord. Like the disciples in today's gospel, we can be tempted to give up on our faith journey. The will to self-preservation can prevent us from doing what we are capable of doing with the Lord's help. The wounds we carry from earlier, failed initiatives make us hesitate to try again. Even when someone seems full of enthusiasm and hope like a Mary Magdalene, we shrug it off. We let them get on with it, while we hold back and stay safe. The gospel reading today suggests a way out of our self-imposed confinement. If Magdalene makes no impact on us, the Lord will find another way to enter our lives and to fill us with new life and energy for his service. No locked doors, nor even locked hearts, can keep him out. He finds a way to enter the space where we have chosen to retreat and he empowers us to resist what is holding us back. He does require some openness on our part; at the least some desire on our part to become what he is calling us to be. The risen Lord never ceases to recreate us and to renew us in his love. Easter is the season to celebrate the good news.

Just as the disciples were unmoved by the hopeful enthusiasm of Mary Magdalene who had seen the Lord, so Thomas was unmoved by the witness of the disciples who told him they too had seen the Lord. Thomas, it seems, was an even harder nut to crack than the other disciples. He is one of those people who insist on certain conditions being met before he makes a move, "Unless I see, I can't believe." As he had done with the other disciples, the Lord takes Thomas on his own terms. He accommodates himself to Thomas' conditions and says, "Put your finger here." The gospel today implies that the Lord meets us wherever we are. He takes us seriously in all our fears and doubts. The Lord is prepared to stand with us on our own ground, whatever that ground is, and from there he will speak to us a word suited to our personal state of mind and heart. We don't have to get ourselves to some particular place in order for the Lord to engage with us. He takes himself to where we are, wherever it is a place of fear or of doubt. We might pray this Easter season for the openness to receive the Lord's coming into the concrete circumstances of our own lives, so that we too might say with Thomas, "My Lord and my God." We might also pray that, like the Lord, we would receive others where they are, rather than where we would like them to be.

The Gift of Peace

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was archbishop of Chicago. He was told in August 1996 that a cancer which had been in remission had returned and that he had only a short time to live. He died the following November. During those two months he wrote a book covering the previous three years of his life, entitled, 'The Gift of Peace'. One of the most difficult experiences of those last three years of his life was a much publicized accusation of misconduct which was made against him by a young man called Stephen. He subsequently withdrew the accusation and acknowledged that it was false. In his book Cardinal Bernardin describes the reconciliation which he initiated with his accuser. Stephen was dying of AIDS at the time, and at their meeting he offered the cardinal an apology which was gently accepted. Cardinal Bernardin offered Stephen a gift, a Bible in which he had inscribed words of loving forgiveness. Then he showed him a one hundred year old chalice, a gift to the cardinal from a man who asked him to celebrate Mass sometime for Stephen. That Cardinal Bernardin celebrated Mass there and then. He described his meeting with Stephen as the most profound and unforgettable experience of reconciliation in his whole priestly life.

In this morning's gospel we find the first disciples dispirited and terrified after the death of Jesus. They have to confront their failure to be faithful to Jesus in the hour of his passion and death. They are in a huddle, having locked themselves away in a room. Suddenly Jesus stands among them and says to them, 'Peace be with you' and breathes the Holy Spirit upon them. The risen Lord was reconciling his failed disciples to himself; they came to recognize themselves as forgiven, and, so their hearts were filled with joy. Having experienced the gift of the Lord's forgiveness, they are sent out in the power of the Spirit to offer to others the gift of forgiveness they have received. 'Those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven'. That gift and mission is given to all of us who have been baptized into the risen Jesus. Having been reconciled to the Lord we are all sent out as ministers of reconciliation. The sacrament of reconciliation is, of course, a privileged moment of reconciliation, when we receive anew the Lord's forgiveness and extend that forgiveness to those who have hurt us. However, there are other, more frequent, moments of reconciliation: the daily forgiveness of our brothers and sisters; the speaking of the hard words, 'I am sorry' and the gracious acceptance of another's offer of apology. In these moments, Jesus is standing in our midst, helping us to break out of situations that can be draining of life for everyone involved.

Thomas had not been in the room when the risen Lord appeared to the other disciples. He had missed out on the Lord's bestowal of the gifts of peace and forgiveness. Thomas seems to have cut himself off from the community of the disciples. He had gone off on his own to nurse his wounds, and so he missed out on the Lord's presence in the midst of the fearful and failed disciples. He is not unlike so many today who, for a variety of reasons, have cut themselves off from the church. When we cut ourselves off from the community of believers, we lose out greatly. For all its flaws and failings, the church is the place where we encounter the risen Lord. The Lord continues to stand among the community of disciples, especially when we gather in worship and pray, when we gather to serve others in the Lord's name. It is there that we hear the Lord say, 'Peace be with you', that we experience his forgiveness for our past failures, that we hear the call to go out in his name as his witnesses, that we receive the Holy Spirit to empower us to be faithful to that mission. The community of disciples reached out to Thomas; they shared their newfound faith with him, their Easter faith, 'We have seen the Lord'. Those first disciples remind us of our calling to keep reaching out in faith to all those who, for whatever reason, have drifted away from the community of believers and no longer gather with us. If we do so, we may encounter the same negative response that the first disciples experienced from Thomas, 'I refuse to believe'.

Yet, even though our efforts may fail, as the efforts of the disciples failed, we know that the Lord will keeps reaching out to us when we cut themselves off from the community of faith, just as the Lord reached out to Thomas. 'Doubt no longer', he said to him, 'but believe'. Then, out of the mouth of the sceptic came one of the greatest acts of faith in all of the gospels, 'My Lord and my God'. Thomas Merton wrote in his book Asian Journal, 'Faith is not the suppression of doubt. It is the overcoming of doubt, and you overcome doubt by going through it. The man of faith who has never experienced doubt is not a person of faith'. There was a great honesty about Thomas; he didn't pretend to believe when he didn't. The gospel suggests that such honesty is never very far from authentic faith.


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3rd Sunday of Easter (B)

1st Reading: Acts (3:13-15)

Peter blames his Jewish listeners for the death of Jesus, then calls them to repentance

The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 4)

R./: Lord, let your face shine on us

When I call, answer me, O my just God,
   you who relieve me when I am in distress;
   have pity on me, and hear my prayer! (R./)

Know that the Lord does wonders for his faithful one;
   the Lord will hear me when I call upon him.
O Lord, let the light of your countenance shine upon us!
   You put gladness into my heart. (R./)

As soon as I lie down, I fall peacefully asleep,
   for you alone, O Lord,
   bring security to my dwelling. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 John (2:1-5)

Even Christians are prone to sin. But if we sin, forgiveness is available to us

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, "I have come to know him," but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him:

Gospel: Luke (24:35-48)

The risen Jesus appears to his apostles, for he is real and not a ghost

Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you-that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

BIBLE

Repent and be forgiven

"You see how it is written that the Christ would suffer, and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations." This prediction or mandate of the risen Christ is echoed by Peter in the first reading, "Now you must repent and turn to God, that your sins may be wiped out." In John's epistle too, we are urged to stop sinning, and if we have sinned the sacrifice of Christ can take our sins away. People who live without thought of God or of His will, may silence their consciences with the promise of repenting some future day. But is it possible that a change of heart can happen in a single day? Can we our character and habits possibly improve by an act of our will?

Some may be inclined to wonder, "Why all the fuss if everyone is a sinner, and if forgiveness is easily got?" To this, St. John has a sober warning, "We can be sure that we know God only by keeping his commandments." Knowing God has a moral dimension and has almost nothing to do with intellectual understanding. To know God means to have a close and personal relationship with our Maker and Father. This happens most surely if we live in imitation of Christ, or put on Christ, as St Paul says. Being Christians gives us the great privilege of a relationship with Jesus; but it also makes great demands on us, for we cannot be like Christ unless we aim to become pure in heart. ,

There was a poor and simple man who regularly visited a certain church, and there pray on his knees before a large crucifix. When he was asked why his lips never moved while praying before the cross he said, "I just look at him, and he looks at me." Words had given way to contemplation. Those who look long enough at Christ, will finally become like Christ, seeing him as he really is.

Empowered with trust

This is one of the many post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, except that here more than elsewhere, he is at pains to convince them that he is real, that all has happened as foretold in scripture, and was part of a divine plan.

It's an extraordinary fact that one of our basic attitudes towards God is one of fear. The first time fear is mentioned in the Bible is when Adam and Eve sinned. We are told that they hid, because they were afraid. From then on, most contacts with God begin with the words Fear not; be not afraid. This was even said to Mary, as it was to the shepherds. It is reckoned that Jesus used this expression several dozen times throughout the gospels. When the apostles cried Out to him in the storm, he replied, "Why did you fear, Oh you of little faith?" Today's gospel speaks of the apostles being terribly frightened. This seems strange, as the reason for the fear is the one person who had always been their best friend. This fear certainly shows up the limitations of our humanity. It was always a put-down, when I was a child, to be told that I was afraid of my shadow.

Imagine Jesus pleading with them to believe him. He invites them to touch him, to give him something to eat, to examine his hands and his feet. Human nature is so fragile, and so fickle. I'm not blaming anyone here. Obviously, this is the first time the apostles ever came across a situation like this. We might think that seeing Lazarus, or the daughter of Jairus, or the young man in Naim, getting up and walking after seeming to be dead, should have prepared them for this moment. They had known Jesus on a personal basis, and had felt at home in his company. This time things were different. He had broken free of the constraints of the human body, and there was a unique presence in him that they had never seen before. We cannot grasp the utter transformation they felt, when someone they knew and loved was so utterly transformed, and now has an unearthly aura about him. While they still doubted, they were filled with joy and wonder as Jesus spoke to them about the promises of scripture, and how he had fulfilled them. Then he sent them to continue what he had begun. In the following line, that is not included in today's gospel, he promises that he will send them the Spirit and they will have a whole new power, when they will share in the new power into which he has now entered.

The gift of forgiveness

If we look back over our lives most of us will find something or other that we very much regret. We might remember speaking or acting in ways that hurt or damaged others. We might be aware of not doing something that we could have done and, that in our heart of hearts, wanted to do. Sometimes these experiences of personal failure can leave us very burdened. We can find it hard to move on from them; they trouble us and we struggle to be free of them. They can weight heavily on us and drain us of energy. We can find ourselves going back in memory to them over and over again.

The first disciples of Jesus must have felt like this in the aftermath of Jesus' crucifixion. During the days of Jesus' final journey, they had all deserted him. Their mood in the aftermath of Good Friday can only have been one of deep regret. They must have felt that their relationship with Jesus was over. According to this morning's gospel, however, the first words the risen Jesus spoke to his disciples were, 'Peace be with you'. These words assured the disciples of the Lord's forgiveness. For those first disciples, the initial experience of the risen Lord took the form of a profound experience of forgiveness. This was the risen Lord's gift to them. The gift of forgiveness can be difficult to receive at times. We wonder if we are really forgiven. According to the gospel, when Jesus said 'Peace be with you', they responded with alarm and fright and thought that they might be seeing a ghost. The risen Jesus then questioned them, 'Why are you so agitated, and why are these doubts rising in your hearts?' It took the disciples a while to realize that they were forgiven.

It is only after the disciples had come to receive this gift of forgiveness that they were sent out as messengers of the Lord's forgiveness to others. According to our gospel, the risen Lord, having assured them that they were forgiven, went on to commission them to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins to all the nations. It is forgiven sinners who are entrusted with the task of proclaiming the good news of God's forgiving love to all. This is what we find Peter doing in today's first reading. He declares to the people of Jerusalem that, although they had handed Jesus over to Pilate, God's forgiveness was available to them if they turned to God by believing in Jesus. The church has been faithful to the mission entrusted to the disciples, proclaiming down the centuries the good news that God's forgiveness is stronger than human sin. In raising Jesus from the dead and sending him back to those who had rejected him and failed him, God was declaring that he can raise anyone from their sins. The risen Jesus reveals a faithful, forgiving God. Today's 2nd Reading states this clearly: 'If anyone does sin, we have our advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, who is just'.

Before we can receive the Easter gift of God's forgiveness that comes to us through the risen Lord, we must first acknowledge our need of that gift. In the words of today's 2nd Reading, we need to admit the truth. The truth is that we are always in need of the gift of God's forgiveness. Recognizing our need and asking God for the gift of forgiveness is what we call repentance. Peter in the first reading calls on the people of Jerusalem to repent and turn to God so that their sins may be wiped out. The risen Lord in the gospel sends out his disciples to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a privileged opportunity to admit the truth, to acknowledge our need of God's forgiveness and to ask directly for it. In that sacrament that the risen Lord says to us, 'Peace be with you'. The words of absolution include the prayer, 'through the ministry of the church may God grant you pardon and peace'.

The first disciples, having received the gift of the Lord's forgiveness, were sent to spread that forgiveness to others. In a similar way, we who receive the same gift are sent out on the same mission. As forgiven sinners we proclaim with our lives the presence of a forgiving and faithful God. We extend to others the gift we have received from the Lord. This will not always come easy to us. Who was it who said, 'to err is human, to forgive is divine'? If that is true, we need divine help to do what is divine. In the verses that immediately follow where today's gospel ends, the risen Jesus promises his disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit upon them. It is only in the power of the Holy Spirit that they would be able to engage in the task that Jesus was entrusting to them. We need the same Spirit if we are to forgive as we have been forgiven. In the weeks ahead that lead up to the feast of Pentecost, we might pray the prayer, 'Come Holy Spirit, fill my heart and enkindle in me the fire of your love'. We could pray this prayer especially during those times when we find ourselves struggling to pass on to others the gift of forgiveness that we continue to receive from the Lord.


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4th Sunday of Easter (B)

1st Reading: Acts (4:8-12)

By the power of the risen Jesus we can be saved

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.

This Jesus is 'the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.' There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved."

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 118)

R./: The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
   for his mercy endures forever.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
   than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
   than to trust in princes. (R./)

I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me
   and have been my saviour.
The stone which the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone.
By the Lord has this been done;
   it is wonderful in our eyes. (R./)

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord;
   we bless you from the house of the Lord.
I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me
   and have been my saviour.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
   for his kindness endures forever. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 John (3:1-2)

The love of the Father, lavished on all God's children

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

Gospel: John (10:1-10)

Christ is the true Shepherd; nobody can take away his sheep

"Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers." Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Again Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

BIBLE

Pastors who care for people

Jesus illustrates his teaching by referring to shepherds and sheep, seeing himself as the Good Shepherd foretold by the prophets. It's about the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep. Though the imagery is old, the message is topical. It is relevant to us here and now. . By faith we accept Jesus, and our relationship is a deeply personal one. The bond of love uniting us is based on the love that unites the Father and Jesus. Our new existence is founded on God's unbreakable love and faithfulness.

In order to enter eternal life we must listen to Jesus and obey him. The alternative opening prayer puts this in practical terms. We have to tune our minds to the sound of his voice. Self-centredness can make us deaf to the voice of Jesus. Easy options can draw us into easier paths than the one he has traced. Pressure to abandon Christian principles is inevitable. But God is faithful and will not let us be tempted beyond our strength. No one can drag us away from him, The Father has entrusted us to his Son. The same God who kept faith with Jesus by raising him from the dead will also raise us by his power.

Paul and Barnabas 'spoke out boldly', and made an impact. A courageous proclamation of the gospel to our contemporaries can be as fruitful now as it was in apostolic times. All the baptized, particularly those who are confirmed, are bound to spread the faith. Laity as well as priests and religious are in the service of the Risen Lord. Our faith urges us to take personal part in the work of evangelisation. Are we doing so? How many evils persist in our society just because good people say nothing and do nothing? A breviary hymn of Eastertide (no.25) spells out what is expected of us by the Risen Lord: Now he bids us tell abroad/How the lost may be restored/How the penitent forgiven/ How we too may enter heaven.

"Good Shepherd Sunday" is an opportunity to think and pray about how priestly ministry the catholic church will fare into the future. In 2015 Ireland the average age of ordained priests is about sixty five, a statistic that urgently calls for significant change in how we recruit priests for the future, and what is to be expected of them. In a recent article about this impending crisis, Padraig McCarthy invites us to remember that there is no such thing as a priest-less parish. "There may not be an ordained priest as is the practice at present, but the parish is a priestly people. How will this take flesh in the coming decades? Are there factors which had value in the past which now are an obstacle to the mission of the church? What new model of ministerial priesthood is called for?" Fr. McCarthy divides the shepherding challenge into three questions that are worth examining by bishops, priests and laity:

1) Who will be the true shepherds in the coming years?
2) How will those shepherds carry out the mission to those outside the fold?
3) What needs to change in the Catholic Church, so that each local community can have a full Eucharistic celebration every Sunday?


A very personal relationship

When people go to Rome on pilgrimage, they usually try to include a visit to the Catacombs, the earliest Christian cemeteries in existence. The earliest Christian art is there in the catacombs, in images are very simple and unadorned compared to the art that would emerge in later centuries. Yet these pictures are very striking just because of their simplicity and directness. One of the images of Jesus most found in the catacombs is that of the Good Shepherd. One is in the Catacomb of San Callistus, showing a young beardless man with a sheep draped around his shoulders and holding a bucket of water in his right hand. Clearly the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd that we find in today's gospel spoke to Christians from the earliest days of the church.

The shepherd image in the catacombs appealed to Christians from the start, because it conveys the personal nature of the relationship between Jesus and his followers; it portrays the close personal care that the shepherd has for the sheep. The shepherd has gone looking for the one sheep that was wandered off and having found it, he takes it home to the flock upon his shoulders. There is a bond between the shepherd and this one sheep. That is what Jesus conveys in today's gospel. He declares that he knows his own and his own know him, just as the Father knows him and he knows the Father. It is an extraordinary statement to make. Jesus is saying that the very personal relationship he has with his heavenly Father is the model for the equally personal relationship he has with each one of us. Jesus knows us as intimately as the Father knows him, and he wants us to know him as intimately as he knows the Father. There is a great deal to ponder there. When it comes to the Lord we are not just one of a crowd, lost in a sea of faces. In a way that we will never fully understand, the Lord knows each one of us by name. He relates to us in a personal way and he invites us to relate to him in a personal way. He wishes to enter into a personal relationship with each one of us. I am often struck by a line in Saint Paul's letter to the churches in Galatia, where he says, 'I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me'. We can each make our own those words of Saint Paul. When Jesus says in today's gospel that, as the good shepherd, 'I lay down my life for my sheep', he is saying that he lays down his life for each one of us individually.

The Lord who knows us by name, who gave himself in love for each one of us, also calls us by name. Today is Vocations Sunday. The Lord has a calling that is personal to each one of us. He calls us in our uniqueness with our very particular temperament, our unique identity, the background that is specific to each one of us. No one of us is like anyone else. Parents know how distinct and unique each of their children is. They will all have been given the same love; they grow up in basically the same environment. Yet, from a very early age, their uniqueness becomes very evident. The family is a microcosm of the church as a whole. From the time of our baptism, we are each called to be the Lord's disciples, to follow the good Shepherd. However, the way we do that will be unique to each one of us. The particular way in which the Lord works through us is unique to each one of us. I can do something for the Lord that only I can do. Each person in this church can do something for the Lord that only he or she can do. Each one of us has a unique contribution to make to the work of the Lord in the world, to the life of the church, and that contribution is just as important as anyone else's contribution. We each have a unique vocation and each vocation is equally significant. Each one of us is vitally important to the Lord. When we each respond to our unique vocation, we give a lift to everyone else. When any one of us fails to respond to that vocation, we are all a little bit impoverished.

The first reading talks about the stone that was rejected by the builders becoming the keystone of the building. There is a clear reference there to Jesus himself, the rejected one. We can all feel at times like the rejected stone, for whatever reason. Yet, we are never rejected in the Lord's eyes. He continues to call us in the way that is unique to us. He sees us as the keystone for some aspect of his work. He recognizes the potential for good that is within us all. On this Vocations Sunday we commit ourselves anew to hearing and responding to the call of the good shepherd.


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5th Sunday of Easter (B)

1st Reading: Acts (9:26-31)

Barnabas introduces Paul the convert to the church in Jerusalem

When he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He spoke and argued with the Hellenists; but they were attempting to kill him. When the believers learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 22)

R./: I will praise you, Lord, in the assembly of your people

I will fulfill my vows before those who fear the Lord.
   The lowly shall eat their fill;
they who seek the Lord shall praise him:
   May your hearts live forever! (R./)

All the ends of the earth
   shall remember and turn to the Lord;
all the families of the nations
   shall bow down before him. (R./)

To him alone shall bow down
   all who sleep in the earth;
before him shall bend
   all who go down into the dust. (R./)

And to him my soul shall live;
   my descendants shall serve him.
Let the coming generation be told of the Lord
   that they may proclaim to a people yet to be born
   the justice he has shown. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 John (3:18-24)

To live as God intends we must above all love one another

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment: that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

Gospel: John (15:1-8)

The image of Vine and Branches, on Christ's closeness to his disciples

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

BIBLE

More than just a code to guide us

People's fascination with the history of ancient Egypt and its Pharaohs is not only for the wonderful buildings and sculptures they left behind, but also from the social point of view. For here we had a whole people organised for one purpose, to secure the continuation of the Pharaoh in the next world. They surrounded their rulers' burial with such detailed customs, laws and rituals, the purpose of which was to create the impression that the Pharaoh was still alive. They even placed food in his tomb, together with his favourite furniture, chariots, games and weapons. But the striking thing about mummies, whether royal or not, is that they are very, dead indeed. Religion too can degenerate into code and cult, just a set of laws to be kept and rites to be fulfilled, but such a religion will in time become dry and musty, and like the mummies utterly devoid of life. A celebrity was asked on a T.V. religious programme about the place of religion on his life, and if he could easily do without it, and he answered, "Yes, maybe, but then it is always a guide to help one keep in line." For him religion was a code to help him regulate his conduct. People of that mindset often want religion to be mummified, like a static signpost in their lives. But, if it means anything, Christianity must be a living, a vibrant force in one's life. Not only does Christ live on in the community of believers, but through them, he carries on his mission of ministering to people in need of his mercy and love.

In those who spread the words of the gospel to others, whether in the mission fields, in the parish, in our schools, we have the fulfilment of Jesus' prayer at the Last Supper, "That they may know the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." In every instruction in the faith, given and received, we have a figure of Christ restoring his sight to the poor man, who at first beheld people dimly, as if they were trees, and then came to see clearly. In every sinner who comes to repentance we see, as it were, Lazarus raised once more from the dead, casting off the shroud of sin that enveloped him. In every coming together around the Table of the Eucharist, we, like the Apostles are witnesses before the whole world to the task, entrusted to us by Christ, of proclaiming his death and resurrection until he comes at the end of time. Christianity is not, and never should be, mere code or mere cult.

If you see Christianity as a code -- "you must do this, you must avoid that, you must be present at this Mass" -- is one often heard -- then it is possible to begin to credit your account before God by claiming, "I attend Mass, I observe this law, I have progressed so much on the way you require of me." It is possible to reach the stage where you begin to see yourself as being perfect, with no further need of a saviour. But, alas, such an assessment of one's standing before God is precisely that of the Pharisees, of whom Christ said to his listeners, "I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5:20). True Christianity is the vision of ourselves as being encompassed by God's love, that despite our faults, God loves us to the point of foolishness, to the point of death on a cross. If we believe in Christ, God is ready to regard us as his children and friends. Friends do not ask for literal commands, but from their personal acquaintance with the one that loves them, they try and understand his half-words. From love of him they try and anticipate his wishes.

If we see our lives as a response to the immense love God has for us, then there will no longer be constraint. Rather will religion have a liberating effect in our lives. We will enjoy what scripture describes as "the liberty of the children of God." But then again, so great is the love of God for us that we will see our efforts at responding to that love as always falling short of what we desire. The trouble with those who see their lives as blameless is that they have limited vision. They do not raise their eyes above themselves. Why should we continue to strive after something which seems beyond us? The answer from St Augustine is that we must do so because we have an inbuilt need for God, and nothing short of him will ever satisfy that inner seeking which is with us all our lives.

Relationship: a note on John 15

The speech on the true vine in John 15 is very rich and worth exploring at length. There is, as always, a distant background in the OT and a nearer context the Synoptic Gospels. Nevertheless, the Fourth Gospel receives these traditions in its own way and makes innovative use of them. It responds to a very simple question: how can I be a follower of Jesus?

The risk in our culture is to think straight away of behaviour, as if morality were at the centre. When we say X is very Christian, we mean s/he has acted well. But there are other views. At the centre, according to the Fourth Gospel, is relationship with the Risen Lord through the Holy Spirit. This is deep, even mystical discourse. Naturally, there are consequences for actions, but it is relationship which is at the heart of it all. [from Kieran O'Mahony, OSA, Biblical Resources. See also his notes for this Sunday]

False Prophets

Admirers have suggested that the brilliance of Oscar Wilde's plays was only surpassed by that of his conversation. He was a superb raconteur whose conversational offerings were heavily laced with irony. He had a particular penchant for parables, often recounting them in the style of the gospel narrative. Here is one of them. "One day, an unknown man walked down the street. It was the first hour of daylight and people had not yet gathered in the market place. The man sat down by the wayside and, raising his eyes, he began to gaze up to heaven. And it came to pass that another man who was passing that way, seeing the stranger, he too stopped and raised his eyes to heaven. At the second and third hour, others came and did likewise. Soon word of this marvellous happening spread throughout the countryside and many people left their abodes and came to see this stranger. At the ninth hour, when the day was far spent, there was a great multitude assembled. The stranger lowered his eyes from heaven and stood up. Turning towards the multitude, he said in a loud voice: "Amen, amen~ I say unto you. How easy it is to start a religion!"

To start a religion, as Wilde observed, may not be that difficult, but to ensure its survival is quite another matter. People are gullible. Futurists predict a growth in religious activity in the 21st century. For them it forms part of the leisure industry which is expected to expand dramatically. Whether one should greet this prediction with joy or apprehension is a matter for debate. A purely statistical increase in church membership is a dubious gain. What counts for Christianity -- indeed, what ensures its survival -- is not external but internal growth. What is required is not more members of the Catholic Church, but better disciples of Jesus Christ.

Mere membership and full discipleship are worlds apart. Christianity has always suffered from a surfeit of members and a shortage of disciples. Humans are social animals and crave to be associated. In a world grown cold and depersonalised the churches offer a comfortable ambiance of friendship and security. Often the gospel is diluted to accommodate the prejudices and lifestyle of the parishioners. Few preached fearlessly enough, like St Paul, to risk their livings, let alone their lives. The radical Christ is made into a benign bishop and the collection plate registers members' approval. Too many withered branches remain un-pruned.

St John tries gently to prod us into discipleship. "My children, our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active." You won't meet Christ in your Sunday liturgy, if you haven't rubbed shoulders with him in the office, in the factory or in the kitchen. You won't hear his message from the altar, if you were deaf to his call at your office desk. Jesus put it simply and bluntly: "It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit and then you will be my disciples."


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6th Sunday of Easter (B)

1st Reading: Acts (of the Apostles 10:25-26, 33-35, 44-48)

Peter baptises the household of Cornelius

On Peter's arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshipped him. But Peter made him get up, saying, "Stand up; I am only a mortal."Then Peter proceeded to speak and said, "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him."

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 98)

R./: The Lord has revealed his saving power to the nations

Sing to the Lord a new song,
   for he has done marvellous deeds;
His right hand has won victory for him,
   his holy arm. (R./)

The Lord has made his salvation known:
   in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
   toward the house of Israel. (R./)

All the ends of the earth have seen
   the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the Lord, all you lands;
   break into song; sing praise. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 John (4:7-10)

Not that we first loved God but that he loved us

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Gospel: John (15:9-17)

Chosen by Jesus, abiding in love

"As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.

You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. "If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.

BIBLE

Choosing and being chosen

The experience of being chosen by someone can be a welcome one. It might be as simple as someone choosing us to be on their team; or, some years later, to be their referee, when applying for a job; they trust us to give them a good reference. But being chosen can be even more significant still. At the root of every happy marriage is the fact that two people once chose and then kept on choosing each other. At the heart of every true friendship is a similar choice. Two people choose to be friends with each other; they valued their relationship as special and worthwhile. As in marriage, the choice must be mutual if the friendship is to last. When the choice is one-sided, there can be heartbreak for the one not chosen in return. One of life's really painful experiences is unrequited love.

In the gospel today Jesus uses this language of choice and friendship. He tells them (and us), "I chose you," "I call you friends." We can each hear those words as addressed to us. The disciples here represent us all. He has handed over his life for us all. Like St. Paul we can each say that the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me. In giving his life for us, Jesus chose us, personally, called each of us his friend. His words are to us, "You are my friends." The Mass makes present the self-giving death of Jesus in every generation, to every community that gathers for the Breaking of Bread. Right here and now he continues to speak those same words from the last supper, "You are my friends," "I chose you." But here's a thing: In our personal lives, choosing one means not choosing another. This is not the case with the good Lord, who is able to choose each of us equally. As Peter says in the first reading, "God does not have favourites."

If I choose someone as a friend, I want that person to make a similar choice of me. Similarly, the Lord's choice of us seeks and desires our choice of him. Having chosen us, he wants us to reciprocate that choice. Earlier in the gospel, at a time when many people stopped following him, he turned to his disciples and said to them, "Do you also wish to go away?" Jesus was inviting them to respond to the choice he had made of them. At that highly-charged moment, Peter said on behalf of them all, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the message of eternal life." In this way he publicly declared his choice of Jesus. At Mass we both celebrate the Lord's choice of us and we renew our choice of him. When we respond to his invitation to take and eat, we take Him to heart and renew our choice him as our way, our truth and our life.

God first loved us

It is said that St. John lived to a great age, and as an old man was carried each Sunday to where the Christians at Ephesus were celebrating the Eucharist. Invariably he was asked to address the little congregation, and always he spoke about the love of God, until even these devout people grew a little weary of the same recurring theme. The old man would not change his subject but persisted in speaking about love, because for him the central theme of Jesus' message was the overwhelming love of God. "We believe in love," was the motto of those who were in full agreement with John.

This could easily be an empty slogan, except that John stated clearly what he meant by love, and it is echoed in today's 2nd Reading. "This is the love I mean: not our love for God, but God's love for us, when he sent his Son to be the sacrifice that takes away our sins." The deep truth about God is not that he loves us or that he is a lovable being, but rather that, in himself, he is love. By his nature God gives and shares of his inner self. It also means that whoever receives the gift of God's love must mirror God's own sharing of self. God's love was such as to impel him to give his only Son so that we might have life through him.

I am quite unable to love myself to the same degree that God loves me. God is even closer to me than I am to myself. Through the prophet Isaiah (49:16) God addresses to me the consoling words, "See upon the palm of my hand I have written your name." Indeed, in the person of Jesus, God, as it were, reaches out to us with two hands -- the one extended in forgiveness which saves us from being engulfed here and now in our evil ways, the other casting a ray of light beyond the portals of death, reminding us that as God raised Christ from the. dead, so he will redeem us too, when we have completed our earthly existence. That we are able to grasp those hands of God extended to us, that we are able to cling to them steadfastly, is more a gift of God's grace that our own accomplishment. No amount of self-pruning, of teeth-gritting human striving, will bring us any closer to God.

But if we try and go through life in the conviction that God's loving care is watching over us, we will cease to be anxious about our own happiness, about what we would like to become. Strange as it may seem, faith in God's love for us frees us from all kinds of inner pressures, and yet at the same time brings us to a closer and more completely loving our God. "There are three things that last," St Paul tells us, "faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor 13:13). For coming into the presence of God, faith will give way to vision, hope to attainment, but love will continue alive and well for all eternity.


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The Ascension of the Lord, Year B

1st Reading: Acts (1:1-11)

Ascension concludes Jesus' ministry on earth and prepares for the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. "This," he said, "is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."

So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 47)

R./: God goes up with shouts of joy, the Lord goes up with trumpet blast

All you peoples, clap your hands,
   shout to God with cries of gladness.
For the Lord, the Most High, the awesome,
   is the great king over all the earth. (R./)

God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy;
   the Lord, amid trumpet blasts.
Sing praise to God, sing praise;
   sing praise to our king, sing praise. (R./)

For king of all the earth is God;
   sing hymns of praise.
God reigns over the nations,
   God sits upon his holy throne. (R./)

2nd Reading: Ephesians (1:17-23)

God has raised Jesus and exalted him. It is a privilege to belong to his body, the church

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Gospel: Matthew (28:16-20)

Jesus wants a world-wide group of believers; and will be with them always

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

BIBLE

Heaven on earth

Jesus didn't simply dissolve into thin air. On Ascension day, one might think that he removed himself into a new form of divine exclusion. But the case is exactly the opposite. In being with God, Jesus is here with us in a new and very specific way. Only by his physical separation from the historical scene can his spiritual union be complete with all the world for all time. Jesus one day left the world in order to be available to everyone through all time. He had to dissolve the bonds he had made with his friends, in order to be available for everybody. In Jesus, the future has already begun!

At the Ascension, his disciples hear his last instruction, not to try to stare into the future nor be asking when he will come back. We must not stand idly staring upward or moaning about the past, about which we can do nothing except to bury it deeply in God's hands and heart! The Lord will be glorified, and it follows that his disciples will also share in his glory.

Let's get going and carry a piece of heaven into our world. This is the meaning of the Resurrection and the Ascension of our Lord, the divine empowerment of his Gospel dream! May Christ's dying and rising move us to make God's glory dwell on earth. May our hope for the future inspire us in a respect for the present. May our desire for heaven not make us neglect our work on earth.


Last Will and Testament

Today's final paragraph of St Matthew's gospel does not describe the ascension, but reports some of our Lord's final instructions to his disciples before leaving them. I was once speaking to an elderly parishioner who was troubled over making a will. In her mind making a will, or receiving what were then called "The Last Sacraments" were things that you put off until the last moment. There was something rather ominous about it. Some of us may know families that became completely divided because someone hadn't decided to clearly make their will. In today's gospel, Jesus has little to say, but he is clear about what he has to say. This is in sharp contrast to the fact that, even at this last minute, some of his disciples still doubted.

The first thing about the disciples is that at least they did what he told them to do. He asked them to meet him on the mountain, and they did that. Like any gathering of human beings, each had his own emotions. Some of them worshipped him, while some of them still doubted. Jesus didn't seem to have any great problem with that, because he knew that, when the Spirit came, all of those doubts would be ended. It would seem, indeed, that he was in a hurry to take his leave of them, so that the second part of his plan of salvation could get underway.

Notice that Jesus begins his few words by telling them that he, not they, have full authority in heaven and on earth. In an earlier account in Luke's gospel, he says, "I have given you full authority over all the power of the evil one." The full authority over everything, however, is something that he reserves to himself. Those who go in his name, do so with his full authority. The authority goes with the mission. That is why he adds, "Go, therefore."; in other words, because I have the authority, you can go wherever I send you. My power, my promises, and my Spirit will go with you, and will see you through. After telling them what to do, he concludes with the clear and definite promise, "and be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

The mission of the apostles was a simple one. It was to teach others all that he had taught them. Just as he asked his disciples to obey him, they were to ask that others should obey his directions and instructions also. This is like when a doctor puts you on a course of antibiotics. The original sin was a lie. The Spirit is a spirit of truth. One of the rules connected with taking antibiotics is that it is essential to complete the course. Some people begin to feel well after a few days, and they discontinue taking the medicine and, of course, their condition gets worse. The programme of redemption and salvation must continue from generation to generation, until the end of time. With all the changes in the church and in society, the two things that have not changed are Jesus himself, and every word of his message. The Message and the Messenger have never, and never will change. People who are bothered about changes in the church today should be reminded that the only two things that matter have not changed at all.

"You write a new page of the gospel each day, through the things that you do and the words that you say. People will read what you write, whether faithful or true. What is the gospel according to you?" Even sharing with another something you heard here today that you find helpful is to give witness. It must seem obvious to anyone who wishes to see, that the evidence of someone who is trying to live the sort of life that Jesus has taught us to live, must be a powerful witness, indeed.

There seems to be a lot of loneliness and depression around today, or it may be that we are now more conscious or aware of it. There is a great difference between being alone and being lonely. I could be in the midst of a crowd, and be lonely. On the other hand, it is said that I am never less alone than when alone. This applies especially to those who take the final words of today's gospel seriously, "lam with you always." Like a young mother, nursing her baby who is sound asleep, communication doesn't need words. If I am open to the presence and reality of the Lord in my life, then be sure that he will respond to that, and I will live with a conscious awareness of his presence.


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7th Sunday of Easter (B)

Seldom used: only if the Ascension is celebrated on Thursday.

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Pentecost Sunday

Alternative Readings are: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13; and John 20:19-23

1st Reading: Acts (2:1-11)

The Spirit of God gives energy to the apostles and sends them out on their mission

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs-in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power."

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 103: 1, 24, 29-31, 34)

R./: Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth

Bless the Lord, my soul!
Lord God, how great you are,
How many are your works, O Lord!
The earth is full of your riches. (R./)

You take back your spirit, they die,
returning to the dust from which they came.
You send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the earth. (R./)

May the glory of the Lord last for ever!
May the Lord rejoice in his works!
May my thoughts be pleasing to him.
I find my joy in the Lord. (R./)

2nd Reading: Galatians 5:16-25

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Gospel: John (15:26-27, 16:12-15)

The Spirit who will lead believers to complete truth is promised by Jesus

Jesus said to his disciples: "When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

BIBLE

Source of the Higher Impulses

The Holy Spirit used to be the forgotten person of the Trinity. Perhaps he suffered from being a spirit, since for many of us, only concrete things are real. The Father and Son make an impact because one took flesh and the other was given a beard. Have you ever imagined the Holy Spirit with a beard? Whatever the reason, even among devout Christians, the Holy Spirit had been overlooked. He had been cast in the role of a third candidate, valued for his transfers to the front-runners, but never earmarked for a seat in the House, much less a post in the Cabinet. It's only recently that he has been coming into his own. And about time too! There are several reasons why we should never forget the Spirit. The first is that he wasn't forgotten by Jesus. On the contrary. On the eve of the Passion, he promised to send the Spirit to the disciples. In fact, he took pains to emphasise the importance of the Spirit's role. Here was no poor substitute, a duckling doing "locum" for a swan. He would be a helper, a counsellor, a teacher, a replacement for Christ himself. Indeed, Our Lord's words of introduction are rather startling: "It is for your own good that I am going, because unless I go, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you" (Jn 16:7).

Another reason for acknowledging the Spirit is the example of the early Christians. He made such a difference to their lives that they could never forget him. Before his coming they were timid and afraid, like children huddling together in a storm. When he descended upon them in a miraculous confusion of wind, fire and speech, they were utterly transformed. "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:4), St Luke tells us, and we think of billowing sails or mothers filled with child. But some of the bystanders were less poetic in their reaction. "They're drunk" (Acts 2:13), they sneered, and for once the cynics were right, drunk they were, drunk with the Spirit of Christ's love and their own furious eagerness to proclaim his message. The Spirit was breathing where he would and from now on "Jesus is Lord" (1 Cor 12:3) would be shouted from the housetops. They stayed drunk for life, in this sense. They were never to be sober again. For as long as they lived, the Spirit would stay in the bloodstream. Every decision they made would be Spirit-shaped: the choice of seven deacons; the admission of Gentiles to the Church; the sending of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. And the influence of the Spirit was not confined to decision-making at executive level. It was felt at the ordinary level too, at what politicians love to call the "grassroots." It was felt in the gifts that were Spirit, sent for the service of the Church, unusual gifts like healing or prophecy, designed to meet the needs of an infant Church, but ordinary gifts too, required to meet the needs of God's children everywhere, "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self control" (Ga 5:22).

It is by exercising these gifts that we remember the Spirit best. When we are loyal to a demanding partner, when we are cheerful and courageous, when we console the bereaved, link the old or encourage the young, we are doing the work of the Holy Spirit. When we curb our evil instincts, we honour him. When we respond to the better impulse, we honour him more. The Holy Spirit is "the rising sap.' He is also the climbing warmth in our hearts. It is through and with our better instincts that the Spirit works. "Whether we're aware of it or not, he is never idle. Our part is to grunt and heave with him and to push our stalling lives to the top of the hill.


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Easter Sunday (same for Years A, B, C)

1st Reading: Acts (10:34, 37-43)

Peter and the other apostles are witnesses to the resurrection

Then Peter began to speak to them: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 118)

R./: This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
   for his mercy endures forever.
Let the house of Israel say,
   His mercy endures forever. (R./)

The right hand of the Lord has struck with power;
   the right hand of the Lord is exalted.
I shall not die, but live,
   and declare the works of the Lord. (R./)

The stone which the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone.
By the Lord has this been done;
   it is wonderful in our eyes. (R./)

2nd Reading: Colossians (3:1-4)

Christ is now in glory; we share in his risen state

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

{{or: 1 Corinthians (5:6-8)}}

Celebrating the festival with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, no with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.}}

Gospel: John (20:1-9)

The empty tomb seen by Peter and the Beloved Disciple is a sign of the resurrection of Jesus

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus" head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

BIBLE

Resurrection: Where To Seek The One Who Lives?

Faith in Jesus, raised by the Father, didn't spring up easily or spontaneously within the hearts of the disciples. Before their meeting with him, now full of new life, the Gospel writers talk about their confusion, their search around the tomb, their questions and uncertainties. Mary of Magdala is the best prototype of what probably happens to all of them. According to John's story, she seeks the crucified in the shadows, "when it was still dark." Naturally she seeks him "in the grave." She still doesn't know that death has been conquered. That's why the emptiness of the tomb leaves her upset. Without Jesus, she feels lost.

The other Gospel writers gather a different tradition that describes a search by the whole group of women. They can't forget the Master who has welcomed them as disciples: their love brings them to the tomb. They don't find Jesus there, but hear the message that points out to them where they need to direct their search: "Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He isn't here. He has risen."

Faith in the risen Christ isn't born spontaneously in us either today, just because we have listened from childhood to catechists and preachers. In order to open us to faith in Jesus' resurrection, we need to make our own way. It's decisive to not forget Jesus, to love him passionately and to seek him with all our energies, but not in the world of the dead. The one who lives must be sought where real life is.

If we want to meet the risen Christ, full of life and creative energy, we need to seek him, not in a dead religion, one that is reduced to fulfilling and observing external laws and norms, but there where people live according to Jesus' Spirit, where people are welcomed with faith, love and responsibility for Jesus' followers.

We need to seek him, not among people who are divided and engaged in sterile battles, empty of Jesus' love and of Gospel passion, but there where we go about building communities that put Christ in their center because they know that "where two or three gather in his name, there he will be also."

We won't meet the one who lives in a faith that is stuck in routine, wasted in every kind of topic and formula separate from experience, but in a faith that seeks a new quality in our relationship with him and in our identification with his project. A Jesus who is obscure and inert, who doesn't fall in love or seduce, who doesn't touch hearts or spread freedom, is a "dead Jesus." He isn't the living Christ, risen by the Father, the one who lives and who gives life. (J A Pagola)


Rising with him to a new life

Jewish tradition tells of a rabbi who gathered his students together very early in the morning while it was still dark, and asked them this question: 'How can you tell when the night has ended and the day has begun?' One student answered: 'Maybe it's when you see an animal and you can distinguish if it's a sheep or a dog.' 'No,' the rabbi said. A second student answered: 'Maybe it's when you are looking at a tree in the distance and you can tell whether it's a fig tree or a peach tree.' 'No,' said the rabbi. After a few more guesses the students demanded the answer. The rabbi replied: 'It's when you look on the face of any woman or man and see that she is your sister and he is your brother. If you cannot do this, no matter what time it is, it is still night.'

In St John's account, the Easter story begins very early in the morning of the first day of the week while it is 'still dark'. In one of his letters, the same writer insists that 'the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining'. But this is strictly on one condition, which he spells out clearly: 'Whoever loves his brothers and sisters,' John says, 'lives in the light.' On the other hand, 'whoever prefers to hate . . . is in the darkness.' (1 Jn 2:8-11).

Just two days ago, as we remembered the sufferings and death of the most marvellous human being the world has ever known, we came face to face with the dark side of human nature, the darkness that led the enemies of Jesus to torture, humiliate, and finally murder him on a cross. On that black day in Jerusalem, the capacity of human beings to hate, hurt and harm one another went completely out of control. It's no wonder, then, that 'darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon', that 'the sun's light failed'', and that 'the curtain of the temple was torn in two' (Lk 23:24).

Between light and darkness, between good and evil, one mighty struggle is still going on. It's going on in the physical cosmos, in human societies, and within our own personalities. Although the darkness often appears to be stronger than the light, it has not yet triumphed. The light is remarkably resilient. Often in danger of being extinguished, it manages to survive, and even to win many victories. The words of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of modern India, still ring as true as when he spoke them seventy years ago: 'When I despair I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but, in the end, they always fall.' The words of the Easter Vigil liturgy express the same truth in an equally appealing way: 'The power of this holy [Easter] night,' it proclaims, 'dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy. It casts out hatred, brings us peace, and humbles earthly pride.' Our celebration of Easter reminds us that the darkness of evil and hatred will never have the last say. For the resurrection of Jesus proclaims the ultimate triumph of light over darkness and goodness over evil, both in us and in our world.

Jesus was buried at sunset, as darkness was once again creeping over the earth, to all appearances a victim and a failure. But on the third day afterwards the sun came up on him victorious and triumphant, alive, powerful and influential. Once again, 'the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world'' (Jn 1:9)

So we celebrate his resurrection today by rising from darkness and death ourselves. The Risen Lord himself, represented here by this beautiful Easter candle burning in our midst, is asking us to leave behind the works of darkness, to renounce and reject anything and everything in our lives which is dark, sinister and evil, and as persons connected to him by baptism, to 'walk always as children of the light', following in his footsteps.

So we are now invited to renew our baptismal promises. Reject darkness, evil and sin in every shape and form. And promise to follow Jesus Christ from now on, in a life of light, goodness and love, a life shaped by his own powerful example, a life supported and guided by the Holy Spirit, whom he first gave us at baptism and whom he gives us again right now. So together, dear People of God, let us renew our baptismal promises, and renew them as loudly, clearly, joyfully and enthusiastically as we possibly can.


A Mystery Beyond Words

Mary Magdalene finds the empty tomb and runs to the apostles to tell them her astonishing news. St John's is the only account where the apostles are directly involved in finding that the tomb was empty, and where neither Jesus nor angels were there to give any guidance about the meaning of it. The Beloved Disciple was present with Peter to see the discarded burial-cloths within the tomb, and he at once realised what this meant: that Jesus was risen from the dead!

Like many others, I felt deep emotion on seeing the Grand Canyon in Arizona; my whole being was thrilled by the awesomeness of it all. I had a camera, and I used it to the best of my ability, trying to capture the vision, the emotions, the experience, and the wonder of it. Later I realised the futility of such photos when I came home and tried to explain to friends what my experience had been. The fact was that it would be necessary for the others to see for themselves what I saw, before there was any hope of real understanding or appreciation taking place. For those who don't understand, no words are possible, and for those who do understand, no words are necessary. That's the sense we have when reading the resurrection story. It tells of a deeply mysterious fact, but we can't quite capture what its impact was within the hearts of his followers, that first Easter day.

Let's remember that this gospel, this truly great news, is timeless and so is still for here and now . In a real sense, I am reflected by every person in that story, and should try to put myself within the story as told by Saint John today. Am I like Magdalene who told the others the news of resurrection? Or like the apostles who responded immediately by running to the tomb to see for themselves. I?m not exactly sure when I first heard about the resurrection of Jesus. But it was many years later when I personally experienced this for myself. The discovery came in moments of darkness and desolation, when I cried out to God for help. We all have our moments when we cry out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?? But God does not forget or forsake us, and the darkest hour is just before the dawn.

On Easter morning, the stone was rolled away from the mouth of the tomb. Could I think of my heart as a tomb awaiting a resurrection? Can I identify anything akin to a stone that is holding me back from enjoying the fullness of life? It could be an addiction, a compulsion or some hidden and dark secret that I have never shared with anyone. We can be as sick as our secrets. But as pope Francis declares, "We are called to be people of joyful hope, not doomsday prophets!" Because of the resurrection of Jesus, we can all have hopeful joy, and go out to share it with the world.


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2nd Sunday of Easter, Year C

1st Reading: Acts (5:12-16)

High morale and healing influence of the early Christians

Many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon's Portico. None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high esteem. Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he came by. A great number of people would also gather from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 117: 2-4, 22-27)

R./: Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting

Let the sons of Israel say:
'His love has no end.'
Let the sons of Aaron say:
'His love has no end.'
Let those who fear the Lord say:
'His love has no end.' (R./)

The stone which the builders rejected
has become the corner stone.
This is the work of the Lord,
a marvel in our eyes.
This day was made by the Lord;
we rejoice and are glad. (R./)

O Lord, grant us salvation;
O Lord, grant success.
Blessed in the name of the Lord
is he who comes.
We bless you from the house of the Lord;
the Lord God is our light. (R./)

2nd Reading: Revelation (1:9-13, 17-19)

John sees risen Jesus, in the form of the glorious Son of Man

I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, "Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea." Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades. Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this.

Gospel: John (20:19-31)

The presence of the risen Jesus dispels fear and brings peace to his friends

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

BIBLE

Unlocking our doors

Most houses are well alarmed nowadays; the computerised alarm has become as basic an item as table and chairs. We also need to have good strong locks; long gone, at least in the cities and towns, are the days when you could just leave the key in the door, and let neighbours ramble in casually for a chat and a cup of tea. We are more fearful about our security than we used to be, and this fear and anxiety has led us to take more precautions to protect ourselves. Fear of what others can do to us tends to close us in on ourselves, not just in the physical sense of getting stronger door-locks, but also in other senses. We tend to be somewhat withdrawn around people whom we perceive to be critical. We are slow to open up to someone we think will judge us. We hesitate to share ideas and plans we might have with those who are known not to suffer fools gladly. Fear of others can often hold us back and stunt our growth.

In the gospel we find the disciples locking themselves into a room because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities. Even after an excited Mary Magdalene came to them from the empty tomb announcing that she had seen the Lord, this was not enough to overcome their fear. What had been done to Jesus could be done to them. .. which led to their hiding in self-imposed confinement. The turning point came when the risen Lord himself appeared to them behind their closed doors and helped them over their fear. He did this by breathing the Holy Spirit into them, filling them new energy and hope, freeing them from fear and releasing them to share in his mission. "As the Father sent me, so am I sending you," he said. In the power of the Spirit they came to life and went out from their self-imposed prison, to bear witness to the risen Lord. This is the picture of the disciples that Luke gives us in today's reading from Acts. He describes a community of believers, the church, witnessing to the resurrection both in word and by the quality of their living.

We can all find ourselves in the situation of those first disciples, locked in their hiding place. Any combination of the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" can water down our commitment to following the Lord. Like the disciples in this morning's gospel, we can be tempted to give up on our faith journey. The will to self-preservation can prevent us from doing what we are capable of doing with the Lord's help. The wounds we carry from earlier, failed initiatives make us hesitate to try again. Even when someone seems full of enthusiasm and hope like a Mary Magdalene, we shrug it off. We let them get on with it, while we hold back and stay safe. This morning's gospel suggests a way out of our self-imposed confinement. If Magdalene makes no impact on us, the Lord will find another way to enter our lives and to fill us with new life and energy for his service. No locked doors, nor even locked hearts, can keep him out. He finds a way to enter the space where we have chosen to retreat and he empowers us to resist what is holding us back. He does require some openness on our part; at the least some desire on our part to become what he is calling us to be. The risen Lord never ceases to recreate us and to renew us in his love. Easter is the season to celebrate the good news.

Just as the disciples were unmoved by the hopeful enthusiasm of Mary Magdalene who had seen the Lord, so Thomas was unmoved by the witness of the disciples who told him they too had seen the Lord. Thomas, it seems, was an even harder nut to crack than the other disciples. He is one of those people who insist on certain conditions being met before he makes a move, "Unless I see, I can't believe." As he had done with the other disciples, the Lord takes Thomas on his own terms. He accommodates himself to Thomas' conditions and says, "Put your finger here." This morning's gospel implies that the Lord meets us wherever we are. He takes us seriously in all our fears and doubts. The Lord is prepared to stand with us on our own ground, whatever that ground is, and from there he will speak to us a word suited to our personal state of mind and heart. We don't have to get ourselves to some particular place in order for the Lord to engage with us. He takes himself to where we are, wherever it is a place of fear or of doubt. We might pray this Easter season for the openness to receive the Lord's coming into the concrete circumstances of our own lives, so that we too might say with Thomas, "My Lord and my God." We might also pray that, like the Lord, we would receive others where they are, rather than where we would like them to be.


The Gift of Peace

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was archbishop of Chicago. He was told in August 1996 that a cancer which had been in remission had returned and that he had only a short time to live. He died the following November. During those two months he wrote a book covering the previous three years of his life, entitled, 'The Gift of Peace'. One of the most difficult experiences of those last three years of his life was a much publicized accusation of misconduct which was made against him by a young man called Stephen. He subsequently withdrew the accusation and acknowledged that it was false. In his book Cardinal Bernardin describes the reconciliation which he initiated with his accuser. Stephen was dying of AIDS at the time, and at their meeting he offered the cardinal an apology which was gently accepted. Cardinal Bernardin offered Stephen a gift, a Bible in which he had inscribed words of loving forgiveness. Then he showed him a one hundred year old chalice, a gift to the cardinal from a man who asked him to celebrate Mass sometime for Stephen. That Cardinal Bernardin celebrated Mass there and then. He described his meeting with Stephen as the most profound and unforgettable experience of reconciliation in his whole priestly life.

In this morning's gospel we find the first disciples dispirited and terrified after the death of Jesus. They have to confront their failure to be faithful to Jesus in the hour of his passion and death. They are in a huddle, having locked themselves away in a room. Suddenly Jesus stands among them and says to them, 'Peace be with you' and breathes the Holy Spirit upon them. The risen Lord was reconciling his failed disciples to himself; they came to recognize themselves as forgiven, and, so their hearts were filled with joy. Having experienced the gift of the Lord's forgiveness, they are sent out in the power of the Spirit to offer to others the gift of forgiveness they have received. 'Those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven'. That gift and mission is given to all of us who have been baptized into the risen Jesus. Having been reconciled to the Lord we are all sent out as ministers of reconciliation. The sacrament of reconciliation is, of course, a privileged moment of reconciliation, when we receive anew the Lord's forgiveness and extend that forgiveness to those who have hurt us. However, there are other, more frequent, moments of reconciliation: the daily forgiveness of our brothers and sisters; the speaking of the hard words, 'I am sorry' and the gracious acceptance of another's offer of apology. In these moments, Jesus is standing in our midst, helping us to break out of situations that can be draining of life for everyone involved.

Thomas had not been in the room when the risen Lord appeared to the other disciples. He had missed out on the Lord's bestowal of the gifts of peace and forgiveness. Thomas seems to have cut himself off from the community of the disciples. He had gone off on his own to nurse his wounds, and so he missed out on the Lord's presence in the midst of the fearful and failed disciples. He is not unlike so many today who, for a variety of reasons, have cut themselves off from the church. When we cut ourselves off from the community of believers, we lose out greatly. For all its flaws and failings, the church is the place where we encounter the risen Lord. The Lord continues to stand among the community of disciples, especially when we gather in worship and pray, when we gather to serve others in the Lord's name. It is there that we hear the Lord say, 'Peace be with you', that we experience his forgiveness for our past failures, that we hear the call to go out in his name as his witnesses, that we receive the Holy Spirit to empower us to be faithful to that mission. The community of disciples reached out to Thomas; they shared their newfound faith with him, their Easter faith, 'We have seen the Lord'. Those first disciples remind us of our calling to keep reaching out in faith to all those who, for whatever reason, have drifted away from the community of believers and no longer gather with us. If we do so, we may encounter the same negative response that the first disciples experienced from Thomas, 'I refuse to believe'.

Yet, even though our efforts may fail, as the efforts of the disciples failed, we know that the Lord will keeps reaching out to us when we cut themselves off from the community of faith, just as the Lord reached out to Thomas. 'Doubt no longer', he said to him, 'but believe'. Then, out of the mouth of the sceptic came one of the greatest acts of faith in all of the gospels, 'My Lord and my God'. Thomas Merton wrote in his book Asian Journal, 'Faith is not the suppression of doubt. It is the overcoming of doubt, and you overcome doubt by going through it. The man of faith who has never experienced doubt is not a person of faith'. There was a great honesty about Thomas; he didn't pretend to believe when he didn't. The gospel suggests that such honesty is never very far from authentic faith. [MH]


Our struggle to believe

When we come together for Mass every Sunday we come to remember Jesus. Our presence and participation in the Eucharist is an act of faith – an act of personal faith and an act of shared faith. In praying together we also help one another believe, hope and love more strongly. So we become a stronger Christian community. It might be said of us what was said in our First Reading today about the infant Church in Jerusalem: .".. the number of people who came to believe in the Lord increased steadily."
Our shared faith is above all faith in Jesus Christ. We believe that he has risen from the dead, that he is alive in himself and alive in us, and that he is our Teacher, Lord and Leader. But nobody can do our believing for us. This is powerfully illustrated in our gospel story today.

It's Easter Sunday and the disciples are huddled together in a locked room. After what happened to Jesus just two days before, they dare not venture out because of fear for their lives. But Jesus himself does not hide away. Suddenly he comes among them. His greeting is peace. Their response is joy. For the story-teller John, Easter Sunday is Pentecost, and the gift of the Spirit is the breath of the Risen Christ. The disciples breathe in the Spirit and the Spirit becomes part of their lives. Soon they will leave the Upper Room changed persons – fearless and courageous, energetic and zealous people. In short they will leave as persons animated, fired and propelled outwards by the Holy Spirit.

But one of their group is missing. His name is Thomas. He is one of the apostles, part of the group. But he is also a distinct, independent self, a real individual. He cannot be both loyal to the group and disloyal to his own inner self. That would make his loyalty deceitful and worthless. For Thomas honesty and sincerity are, in fact, more important than loyalty and belonging. So when the others say, 'We have seen the Lord', he declares strongly and emphatically that before he is willing to believe that Jesus is really risen and alive he must see and test the evidence for himself. He won't accept that claim just on their say-so. So it's his honesty that makes him doubt and leads to him being called ever afterwards 'Doubting Thomas'.

We learn from the gospel story that Thomas comes to believe in the Risen Jesus in the same way as the other disciples, i.e. when he sees the Lord for himself. But in the way John tells the story Thomas stands for all those who have not yet seen the Lord in the flesh but who are called to believe in him just the same. That's where we come into the story. We are among those many generations of believers ever afterwards of whom it may be said: 'Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.'

It's understandable that Thomas was so slow to believe. One reason is that he was such a rugged individual, a real self-starter. The other is because he was not present when Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into his fellow-disciples.

But Jesus has given the Spirit to you and me, first at Baptism, then at Confirmation, and subsequently at every Eucharist we celebrate. The Spirit which Jesus gives is the Spirit of truth. It's the same Spirit that empowers us to say to Jesus with Thomas: 'My Lord and my God!'

Our faith is one of the main gifts the Spirit has given us. But it is not a one-off gift that we lock away in a safe like some precious jewel. As a form of life we must let our faith grow and mature. On the other hand, like other forms of life, our faith can wither and die from neglect and lack of exercise. We need to pray about our faith, think about our faith, and express it in works of love.

This does not mean that we will never have any doubts. After all even great and saintly characters like Mother Teresa had to struggle with doubts her whole life long. But if like Thomas we care about what we believe, surely sooner or later our faith, revived by the Holy Spirit, will bring us into the presence of God in the person of Jesus, whom our 2nd Reading today calls 'the Living One'. (B. Gleeson)


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3rd Sunday of Easter, Year C

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

The apostles were put on trial for preaching the Gospel

When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man's blood on us."

But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him."

When they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the name.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 29: 2, 4-6, 11-13)

R./: I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me

I will praise you, Lord, you have rescued me
and have not let my enemies rejoice over me.
O Lord, you have raised my soul from the dead,
restored me to life from those who sink into the grave. (R./)

Sing psalms to the Lord, you who love him,
give thanks to his holy name.
His anger lasts but a moment; his favour through life.
At night there are tears, but joy comes with dawn. (R./)

The Lord listened and had pity.
The Lord came to my help.
For me you have changed my mourning into dancing;
O Lord my God, I will thank you for ever. (R./)

2nd Reading: Revelation (5:11-14)

The throne of the Lamb, a vision of Christ crucified and the risen

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!" Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, "To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!" And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" And the elders fell down and worshiped.

Gospel: John (21:1-19)

The risen Jesus appears on the shore of Lake Tiberias, and confirms Peter as chief pastor

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.

Jesus said to them, "Children, you have no fish, have you?" They answered him, "No." He said to them, "Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.

Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

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." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the 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. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me."

BIBLE

The Big Catch

Fish are funny creatures. They are always so busy and yet seem so pointlessly busy. Ever on the move, they flit about, dashing and darting hither and thither, full of agitation and enthusiasm. How easily they are alarmed by every ripple, every shadow on the water! Always keyed-up, on the alert, so ready for the unexpected, and yet so easily duped. So quick to react to the first rumours of danger and yet so easily caught.

Dare I say, there is a certain "fishiness" about us, in the spiritual sense. We are among the fish Christ sent Peter out to catch. Like fish, we are immersed in a sea of troubles and distractions, easily alarmed and agitated by every ripple of excitement, every shadow of doubt that crosses our paths. We expend so much energy on what are, in the end of the day, trivialities. We can dangerously dally with temptation, and let ourselves be hooked by unhealthy lures, from cigarettes to status symbols. It is little wonder that Christ showed a marked preference for fishermen when he chose his first apostles.

Today's story reflects the miracle of our own lives. Through his church, Christ has thrown his net over us, a net of grace. He says: "The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind." And like a fisherman's net it remains unseen beneath the surface. And we are drawn into it, if we allow it to happen. Even in spite of our struggling may we be caught in God's net "I liontaibh Dé go gcastar sinn."

Today's miraculous catch of fish recalls that other big catch to which Christ compared the kingdom of heaven. We may be sharp in our estimates of the world and its ways. We might be accurate in our judgement of individuals. We may be keen critics of those whose behaviour falls short of the demands of the gospel. But we cannot limit the infinite sufficiency of God's grace. There is no telling what size the catch will be until the net is finally drawn in at the end of time. Like today's catch, it may well astonish even the most seasoned of fishermen. Who knows what queer fish will be caught there spluttering and gasping at the breadth of God's mercy? The "big catch" is Christ's answer to those prophets of gloom who would put so many outside his reach.


A lake-shore encounter

We have a graphic encounter between Jesus and his apostles after his resurrection. It is as if he wants them to recognise him, so that they will have no doubt whatever that he is risen from the dead. And it adds another miracle involving a catch of fish, followed by the human touch of Jesus preparing breakfast for the apostles. This includes the healing of any scars of guilt that Peter bore, because of denying Jesus during the Passion.

For Jesus to cook breakfast for the Apostles is a lovely lesson. They must have remembered that this was the same Jesus who carried a cross to Calvary. We know the phrase "some things never change," and St Paul tells us that "Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and always." Although he has overcome death and now enjoys the freedom of a life beyond death, he still keeps that human touch, a down-to-earth relationship with those whom he calls his friends.

If we read carefully we notice that Peter never actually apologises, in so many words. It's almost like the famous line "Love means never having to say you're sorry ." While this can make sense, in another way Love means saying sorry even when you don't have to. When the woman washed his feet with her tears Jesus said, "Many sins are forgiven her because she loves much." St Peter could have spent the rest of his life confessing his sin, begging forgiveness, or he could simply open his heart and say aloud that he really did love Jesus. Peter was direct and uncomplicated and knew that Jesus loved him. Because of his failures and being well aware of them, he was the ideal person to lead the others. Earlier, he had recoiled at the notion of Jesus washing his feet, but once he understood the meaning of it he was totally open to this sign of loving service. Because he couldn't afford to point a finger at others, or to condemn them for their human weaknesses, he had the compassion necessary to be a leader. To be a leader of the followers of Jesus, was to be of service to others.

Notice also that, despite all the drama of Christ's death, the apostles had returned to work, and were getting on with life. They had moved on from that sense of withdrawal that affected them when after seeing Jesus transfigured in glory, Peter wanted simply to stay there, basking in the glory. But they had to come down off the mountain, and get on with everyday living. Still, having seen his glory, all was changed for them, and from then on they knew what was their life's task.


A learning experience

Some people refer to Jesus' meeting with Peter by the lakeshore, as Peter's Conversion. Others call it his Confession. Peter's Confession is appropriate if we understand it as a declaration of faith. It is easy to see Jesus triple question to Peter "Do you love me?" and Peter's triple answer in the positive as Peter's confession of faith in Jesus. What is not so easy is to see how this dialogue represents Peter's confession of guilt. Did you ever wonder why Jesus had to ask Peter three good times if he loved him? We can see here a correspondence with Peter's triple denial of Jesus. But that is not all. In English, when Jesus asks "Do you love me?" and Peter responds, "Yes, I love you," it all sounds right. But in Greek we find that Peter is not exactly responding to the question Jesus is asking him.

In Greek there are several different words translated by the one English word love. C.S. Lewis wrote wittily about them in The Four Loves. There is Storgé (affection) the quiet liking you might have for a neighbour who is agreeable and with whom you occasionally share a pleasantry. There is eros, a sensual or erotic love, the kind of love that can bond a couple along with their friendship and often leads to marriage. Then there is philia, meaning friendship, the admiring companionship we feel toward people with whom we share some significant interests. Finally there is agapé, which mainly means generous and self-giving love, even when there is nothing tangible to be gained. (These are just generalised definitions and are not verified in every case for each of these terms).

Back to the gospel story. Jesus asks Peter, "Agapas me – Do you have agapé for me?" meaning "Do you love me in such a manner as to sacrifice your life for me." Peter knows that he has not lived up to this standard of love. He knows that he disowned Jesus in order to save his life. So what does Peter answer? He answers, "Philo se . Yes, Lord, I do have philia for you," meaning, "Yes, Lord, you know how much I deeply admire you and how devoted I am to you." You see why it is a confession of failure? Peter is saying to Jesus, "Yes, I love and admire you, but no, I have not been able to love you with a self-sacrificing love as you demand." So Jesus asks him a second time whether he has agape for him and Peter again replies that he has philia for him. Finally, unwilling to embarrass him further, Jesus then asks him "Do you have philia for me?" And Peter answers "Yes, I have philia for you." Jesus accepts Peter the way he is; even his friendship (philia) is good enough. Fullness of agapé can come later.

The Peter we see here is not the boastful man who thought he was better than the other disciples but a wiser, humbler heart that would not claim more than he can deliver. Peter's confession is like that of the father of the possessed boy who said to Jesus, "I believe; help my unbelief!" What Peter is saying is "I love you, Lord; help my lack of love."

In our worship services we often sing hymns that profess our love for Jesus, such as Oh, the Love of the Lord Is the Essence . Peter challenges us today to realise that hymns like these only tell half of the story. The other half is that there is a part of us that does not love, that denies the Lord when our life or our well-being is at stake. Peter's example invites us to bring this negative experience to God for healing. So today, let us join Peter in his confession: "I love you, Lord; help my lack of love."


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4th Sunday of Easter, Year C

We celebrate Christ our Good Shepherd. Hearing his voice in the proclamation of the gospel, we follow him by living the gospel.

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

Paul and Barnabas preach first to the Jews, then to the pagans

They went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down…. When the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.

The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul. Then both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, 'I have set you to be a light for the Geniles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'"

When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers. Thus the word of the Lord spread throughout the region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their region. So they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 99: 1-3, 5)

R./: We are his people, the sheep of his flock

Cry out with joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing for joy. (R./)

Know that he, the Lord, is God.
He made us, we belong to him,
we are his people, the sheep of his flock. (R./)

Indeed, how good is the Lord,
eternal his merciful love.
He is faithful from age to age. (R./)

2nd Reading: Revelation (7:9, 14-17)

In praise of the martyrs, who came through persecution into glory

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!" And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen."

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?" I said to him, "Sir, you are the one that knows." Then he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

Gospel: John (10:27-30)

Christ is the true Shepherd, who knows each one personally

And Jesus said to his disciples: "My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father's hand. The Father and I are one."

BIBLE

An urgent job to be done

During this period following on the Easter celebrations, there is one thing that the liturgy readings try to impress upon us, and that is the zeal and urgency the Apostles showed in preaching the good news about Christ. They disregarded every attempt on the part of the Jews to put a stop to them. Threats did not deter them, and whether people accepted their message or not, they appeared to be driven on by an inner Godgiven sense of mission to hand on to everyone their faith in Jesus. This weekend every year is set aside as a time of prayer for vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, and we must bear in mind that the idea of vocations and that of handing on the faith are closely linked. We might from time to time ponder over the question: "Why did God create us?" The answer has to be that God is love, that God is goodness, and love and goodness are only meaningful if they are communicated to others, if there is someone else to be loved and to experience that goodness.

The Holy Spirit poured out his graces and gifts in abundance on the members of the early Church, and they in turn felt compelled to share them with others. In season and out of season, as St Paul puts it, the Apostles and those close to them preached the marvellous news about the salvation won for the world by Christ. And with the departure through death or old age, of these disciples, from the scene of this activity, there was no scarcity of people to take their place. It is this willingness on the part of chosen members of a community to devote their lives to the task of spreading the gospel message that helps that community to survive and adapt to new circumstances. There is no doubt about the quality of missionary zeal among the first members of the early Church, nor indeed that of the Irish people during the golden age of Irish monasticism, when throughout Europe monks and missionaries from these shores spread the Christian ideals of love of God and of living together in harmony and peace.

If here and now we are found wanting in these ideals there is one thing we can and must do, pray. People only pray for things they really want, such as health, success, secure employment, provision for their children's future. But it is possible to enjoy all of these and yet be conscious of a profound emptiness in one's life, for we were intended for something greater than these passing attainments. God has created us for himself, to be the recipients of his love and goodness for all eternity. This surely is something worth praying for, as are the vocations of those God chooses as his special agents in helping people attain their destiny. Not only is it important to pray for these, to think and talk about them, but they are so vitally necessary as to urge parents to encourage sons and daughters to consider seriously the option of a vocation within the family.

It is within the context of family that most vocations are nurtured. The French Jesuit, scientist and philosopher, Teilhard de Chardin, once said, "I come from a family where I became who I am. The great majority of my opinions, of my likes and dislikes, of my values and appreciations, of my judgments, my behaviour, my tastes, were moulded by the family I came from." For this reason parents remain, and always will remain, the first and most important teachers of the faith to their children. In fulfilling this role they should strive to make prayer, daily family prayer, a natural part of life within the home. By so doing, they will most certainly be sowing the seeds of those vocations which in the providence of God will be necessary to minister to the spiritual needs of the next generation. Such vocations, however, must also be seen in the context of the whole spiritual life, the spiritual values, the spiritual aspirations of the community in which they are nurtured.

Each one here present can truly say, "as God called the Israelites to be his special people, just so has he called me. So what I do, what I am, concerns other people to as great an extent as it does myself." Therefore, on this special Sunday, each one should feel in duty bound to ask God's blessing, so that generous souls may not be wanting in the apostolic work of teaching and preaching to all nations. Christ's injunction to his disciples was quite explicit, "Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he may send labourers to his harvest" (Mt 9:37).


God the Shepherd

Jesus often illustrated his teaching by referring to shepherds and sheep. He sees himself as the Good Shepherd foretold by the prophets. Today's gospel considers the relationship between Jesus the Good Shepherd and the sheep. The imagery is old. The message is topical. It is relevant to us. By faith we accept Jesus, Our relationship is a deeply personal one. The bond of love uniting us is based on the love that unites the Father and Jesus. Our new existence is founded on God's unbreakable love and faithfulness.

In order to gain eternal life, the ultimate benefit of our new existence, we must listen to Jesus and obey him. The alternative opening prayer puts this in practical terms. We have to attune our minds to the sound of his voice. We have to allow him to lead our steps in the path he has shown. We could reflect on whether we are doing that. Self-centredness can make us deaf to the voice of Jesus. The easy option can cause us to wander into easier paths than the one he has traced. Pressure to abandon Christian principles is inevitable. There is no need for anxiety. God is faithful. He will not allow us to be tempted beyond our strength. No one can drag us away from him, The Father has entrusted us to his Son. The same God who displayed his unbreakable faithfulness to Jesus by raising him from the dead will also raise us by his power.

Paul and Barnabas 'spoke out boldly', and made an impact. A courageous proclamation of the gospel to our contemporaries can be as fruitful now as it was in apostolic times. All the baptized, particularly those who are confirmed, are bound to spread the faith. Laity as well as priests and religious are in the service of the Risen Lord.

Recent popes have often urged us to take persoal part in the work of evangelisation. Are we doing so? How many evils persist in our society just because good people say nothing and do nothing? A breviary hymn of Eastertide (no.25) spells out what is expected of us by the Risen Lord: Now he bids us tell abroad/How the lost may be restored/How the penitent forgiven/ How we too may enter heaven.

John's magnificent vision depicts the happiness of heaven. Our departed sisters and brothers, many of whom suffered persecution and martyrdom, now see God as he really is. They rejoice in his presence in satisfied love. We are still on our pilgrim way. The resurrection gives us firm ground for hoping that we will eventually share their happiness. Even now we are united with them in the communion of saints. The liturgy we are celebrating and the heavenly liturgy portrayed by John form two parts of one canticle of praise. We offer it through the glorious and triumphant Christ to the One who sits on the throne.


Sharing the Good Shepherd's care

'The sheep that belong to me,' Jesus says, 'listen to my voice.' Have you ever lost a dog, a cat or any other pet, and were at your wit's end searching to find it? I ask this because it relates to what this Good Shepherd Sunday is about.
Iin Australia we don't easily relate to those sheep mentioned in the gospel. Sheep there are so many that Australians tend to view them just as dumb,smelly animals. But for some shepherds in Jesus' day they were more like the pets in our day so dear to us. Alone with them in the fields shepherds would talk to them (perhaps for lack of anyone else to talk to), and would call each one by name out of their common holding pen. They would then respond to the sound of their own pet name and follow their shepherd into the fields for grazing.
The bond between sheep and shepherd in the Gospel can help us better understand a basic need of us humans. This is our need for intimacy, for being connected to others and accepted as an individual, and even as someone special and unique. We also share a need for intimacy with God in a close, continuing loving relationship.

Another connection with the gospel picture of sheep and shephered is the 'weakness' generally associated with them. Jesus himself understood this connection when he said that he was sending his disciples out like 'lambs among wolves' (Lk 10:3). In our First Reading from Acts today we hear of Paul and Barnabas and their bold attempts to tell the good news of Jesus, and how they were rejected and thrown out of the city of Antioch. But as they walked out of town, so the Reading tells us, perhaps to our surprise, they 'were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit'.

What it suggests is that the story of the Good Shepherd and the call and responsibility we all have to shepherd one another centres around the different kind of power that Jesus has taught us about. The power of Jesus was not the power of domination, the power to bully or boss people around. That kind of power is illustrated by the story of the captain of a destroyer who saw a light ahead and notified the radio signalman to order the approaching ship to change its course 20 degrees to the south. A message came back: 'You change your course 20 degrees to the north.' The captain sent another message: 'Change your course . . . I am Captain Cunningham.' The message came back: 'Change your course . . . I am Able Seaman 3rd class Jones.' Finally, angry and determined, the captain sent a third message: 'Change your course right away. I am a destroyer.' The message came back: 'Change your course right away. I am a lighthouse.'

Today, Good Shepherd Sunday, as we focus on pastoral care of one another we might worry about how few people nowadays seem to feel drawn to the priesthood and religious life. I wonder if we, as Church, were to put more emphasis on relational power rather than dominant power, whether there would be more persons wanting to take up that kind of shepherding relationship.
With ever larger parishes there is no way a priest can truly get to know every parishioner. The challenge is now, more than ever before, for all parishioners to be shepherds to one another. This involves the effort, first of all, to learn the names of more and more people in the parish each week, and to work at remembering their names and greeting them by name.

This is to imitate the Good Shepherd who knows each of us by name, and calls out to each of us by name. The more we strive to build a family relationship in the parish, the more we will get to know the ones who would stand out as good shepherds. We might then quietly and gently approach them to take on that special leadership role in the Church that being a religious or a priest involves.
The benefit of being in a shared loving relationship with Christ our Good Shepherd is illustrated powerfully in our 2nd Reading today from the Book of Revelation: 'They will never hunger or thirst again; neither the sun nor scorching wind will ever plague them, because the Lamb who is at the throne will be their shepherd and will lead them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away all tears from their eyes.'

As we approach the table of our Good Shepherd today for Holy Communion, let us ask him to lead us to springs of living water by giving us an experience of a deeper and closer relationship with him personally, and with all our brothers and sisters gathered with us around the same table, his table. (B. Gleeson)


Pastors caring for people

Jesus illustrates his teaching by referring to shepherds and sheep, seeing himself as the Good Shepherd foretold by the prophets. It's about the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep. Though the imagery is old, the message is topical. It is relevant to us here and now. . By faith we accept Jesus, and our relationship is a deeply personal one. The bond of love uniting us is based on the love that unites the Father and Jesus. Our new existence is founded on God's unbreakable love and faithfulness.

In order to enter eternal life we must listen to Jesus and obey him. The alternative opening prayer puts this in practical terms. We have to tune our minds to the sound of his voice. Self-centredness can make us deaf to the voice of Jesus. Easy options can draw us into easier paths than the one he has traced. Pressure to abandon Christian principles is inevitable. But God is faithful and will not let us be tempted beyond our strength. No one can drag us away from him, The Father has entrusted us to his Son. The same God who kept faith with Jesus by raising him from the dead will also raise us by his power.

Paul and Barnabas 'spoke out boldly', and made an impact. A courageous proclamation of the gospel to our contemporaries can be as fruitful now as it was in apostolic times. All the baptized, particularly those who are confirmed, are bound to spread the faith. Laity as well as priests and religious are in the service of the Risen Lord. Our faith urges us to take personal part in the work of evangelisation. Are we doing so? How many evils persist in our society just because good people say nothing and do nothing? A breviary hymn of Eastertide (no.25) spells out what is expected of us by the Risen Lord: Now he bids us tell abroad/How the lost may be restored/How the penitent forgiven/ How we too may enter heaven.

"Good Shepherd Sunday" is an opportunity to think and pray about how priestly ministry the catholic church will fare into the future. In 2015 Ireland the average age of ordained priests is about sixty five, a statistic that urgently calls for significant change in how we recruit priests for the future, and what is to be expected of them. In a recent article about this impending crisis, Fr Padraig McCarthy invites us to remember that there is no such thing as a priest-less parish . "There may not be an ordained priest as is the practice at present, but the parish is a priestly people. How will this take flesh in the coming decades? Are there factors which had value in the past which now are an obstacle to the mission of the church? What new model of ministerial priesthood is called for?" McCarthy divides the shepherding challenge into three questions that are worth examining by bishops, priests and laity:

1) Who will be the true shepherds in the coming years?
2) How will those shepherds carry out the mission to those outside the fold?
3) What needs to change in the Catholic Church, so that each local community can have a full Eucharistic celebration every Sunday?


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5th Sunday of Easter, Year C

1st Reading: Acts (14:21-27)

Paul situates Jesus as the goal of the history of God's people

Then they asked for a king; and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. When he had removed him, he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, 'I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.'

Of this man's posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised; before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his work, he said, 'What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet."

"My brothers, you descendants of Abraham's family, and others who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent. Because the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize him or understand the words of the prophets that are read every sabbath, they fulfilled those words by condemning him."

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 144: 8-13)

R./: I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God

The Lord is kind and full of compassion,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
How good is the Lord to all,
compassionate to all his creatures. (R./)

All your creatures shall thank you, O Lord,
and your friends shall repeat their blessing.
They shall speak of the glory of your reign
and declare your might, O God,
to make known to men your mighty deeds
and the glorious splendour of your reign. (R./)

Yours is an everlasting kingdom;
your rule lasts from age to age. (R./)

2nd Reading: Revelation (21:1-5)

The vision of a new world, portrayed as the new, heavenly Jerusalem

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away." And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true."

Gospel: John (13:31-35)

Jesus gives the new commandment, to love one another

When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.'

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

BIBLE

The Love We Need

Some people say they don't read newspapers anymore because there's too much bad news in them. They have a point. A while back e,g, a national newspaper ran stories about footballers knowingly or unknowingly taking banned performance-enhancing substances; a pedestrian killed by a hit-run driver; the terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels and other capitals; the wretched conditions of refugees gathered in makeshift camps in Turkey, Greece and elsewhere, fleeing from the chaos of Syria's civil war. News like that may well turn people off reading their newspapers.

Thank God such bad news is not all the news there is! On its front page a while back the same paper ran a story about Eugene ('Curly') Veith, a rich man and a Christian, aged 94. As business prospered, Curly says that he 'used to lie awake at night thinking of the hungry and homeless children all over the world. So I decided to give all my money away to help them!' About $23 million so far! He has set up Mission Enterprise Limited to channel funds to worthy causes everywhere – American Indians in Colorado, street kids in Bangkok, water wells in East Africa, land for a school in Queensland.
More than that, with the courage of his convictions about doing good, he has been going to other rich businessmen and businesswomen and challenging them to give generously to people and projects in need. Clearly this old gentleman has taken strongly to heart today's message of Jesus to his friends and followers the night before he died for them: 'I give you a new commandment: love one another; just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples.'

At an isolated roadhouse in North West Queensland, two children aged eight and six tell a visiting traveller about a play they have put on at their local church. They have teamed up with a friend to dramatize how Jesus wants us to love one another. The first child gets a phone call from Jesus to say he will be coming along that day and will want some help. The two children are to keep a lookout for him. Well, Jesus turns up in the guise of the third child who has hurt her knee and is looking for some first aid. One of the first two reaches out to help and asks the second who is talking to Jesus on the phone to also help. She says she is too busy talking to Jesus, and is still waiting for him to arrive. But in the end she too goes to help the injured one. At the end of the day she receives another phone call from Jesus. He thanks her for helping him. She says she doesn't understand. She waited and waited for him, she points out, but he didn't turn up. Then Jesus explains that he did come after all, in the form of the child that needed help.

That's the wonderful thing about the kind of love that Jesus wants of us. It's a love modelled on his kind of love. He showed his love for people in so many wonderful ways – in kindness, compassion, generosity, patience, perseverance, endurance, faithfulness and forgiveness. There was no limit to what his love would give or where it would go.
The love which imitates the love of Jesus for others is therefore a practical, down-to-earth kind of love. It's a kindness and compassion kind of love, a self-forgetting kind of love. It's a self-sacrificing kind of love even to the point, as shown by so many brave soldiers in two World Wars, of giving up their own lives so that others might be free – free to be good, kind, unselfish, generous and loving persons too.

It's our love for others that keeps the great love of Jesus for people alive in our world today. An American journalist, watching Mother Teresa caring for a man with gangrene, remarked to her: 'I wouldn't do that for a million dollars.' Mother Teresa replied: 'Neither would I do it for that amount, but I do it for love of God.'
True love is the opposite of selfishness. Selfishness confines us, keeps us shut in. It builds barriers, even walls, between us and others. What frees us is caring about others and caring for others, being friends, being sisters and brothers, being good neighbours. In short, it's love alone that frees us from the cage of selfishness. A doctor, who has shared some of the deepest moments in the lives of many patients, says that people facing death don't think about the degrees they've earned, the positions they've held, or how much wealth they've amassed. What really matters at the end is whom you have loved and who has loved you.

Love always demands the best from us, and brings out the best in us. Being loved gives us a surprising energy and courage. Love makes us fruitful, productive, strong and constant in doing good. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, famous for her work on the stages of dying, has written: 'Love is the flame that warms our soul, energises our spirit and supplies passion to our lives. It's our connection to God and to one another.'

To love is to heal, both those who receive it and those who give it. To refuse to love is to die. To decide to love is to live. But love is a choice, not a feeling, and when we choose to be loving, caring, healing, helping, and forgiving persons, we experience well-being, contentment and happiness.
Freedom from selfishness and freedom to love and care for others, surely that's what life is all about! There's really no other way. So Jesus insists, strongly insists: 'Love one another, as I have loved you.' (B. Gleeson)


Overcoming Discouragement

Paul and Barnabas warned their converts that they must experience many hardships before entering the kingdom of God. Yet, earlier we are told how those two apostles were filled with joy when they were driven out of Antioch (Acts 13:52). Reading the first book in the New Testament to be written, Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians, (written at least twelve years before Mark's gospel, and maybe thirty years before the Acts,) we find Paul warning his Christian followers in Thessalonika about difficulties ahead. "Affliction is bound to come our way," he warns, "we must expect to have troubles to bear" (1 Thess 3:3f). Paul himself was to experience this often, as he bore witness, in his own life, to the sufferings of Christ.

The apostles did not dwell on this theme of suffering in any kind of morbid way. Their purpose, at all times, was to put fresh heart into the disciples, to encourage them to persevere in the faith, just as Paul urged the Thessalonians to comfort one another, to sustain each other's hopes of eternal salvation. "All things work together in a good way, for those who love God," he wrote to the Christians in Rome (8:28). We can be certain that our God is central impulse of love, and in today's gospel, Our Lord asks us to let this love give direction and shape to our lives. Indeed every chapter in the New Testament carries a message from him to us; and often it echoes what he told his Apostles at the Last Supper; "Let not your hearts be troubled. Trust in God and trust in me" (Jn 14:1).

We see this move from despondence to courage in the encounter of the risen Christ with the two disciples, who were weighed down with gloom on their trek to Emmaus, on that first Easter Sunday. At first their eyes were kept from recognising him, but when questioned as to what they were discussings, and why they were so glum, they tried to explain the tragic things that had taken place in Jerusalem shortly before. "What things?," he asked them, as if Christ had forgotten his own Passion! That brief question, "What things?," suggests that so perfectly has Christ passed into the freedom, and joy, and glory of his Father, that he scarcely remembers the terrible journey he had travelled in arriving there. There are no dark clouds on God's horizon, nor any sorrowful memories weighing upon the mind of God.

The disciples at Emmaus were led gradually to make an act of faith in the risen Christ. When the moment of recognition came, amazingly, "he had already vanished from their sight." It was not by the optical sight of their eyes, but rather by the faith response in their hearts that he made himself known. "Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road," they said in retrospect. When a Christian comes to celebrate the Eucharist, his/her primary purpose should not be to complain, or even to ask for graces, but rather to give heartfelt thanks to God.


Is the new commandment really possible?

We may wonder whether this Last-Supper commandment of Jesus to love one another is really all that new. After all, he could point to an Old Testament requirement to love my neighbor as myself (Lev 19:18). The clearest new element is that we are to love just as Jesus loved us, and that was totally, to the last drop of his blood, poured out on the hill of Calvary. Another sense in which the Christian commandment to love is new is in the breadth of the definition of who is my neighbor, whom I should love. In the parable of the Good Samaritan it appears that now everyone is my neighbor – even those of different nationality or religion. So now, love for our neighbor is very demanding, and goes beyond all racism or prejudice.

The really hard question is whether such love is possible. While giving a hesitant yes to this as a possibility, it is clear that most of us, most of the time clearly fail to live this new commandment fully. We can only love in this way by cooperating very generously with the grace of God. But the power to do is is made possible by the New Covenant set up by Christ, and because we have the living presence of the risen Jesus always with us, to help us love in his way.

Of course there are difficult situations where it is very demanding to love our neighbor as ourselves or even to love our neighbor in any way at all. In the face of Islamic extremism or any other form of terrorism, or in time of war, we are strongly tempted to dehumanise the enemy and regard them as no longer part of the human family, and so unworthy of any kind of love or respect. But Jesus' commandment to love, and his own example of forgiving those who crucified him, constantly call us to reconsider things and seek for reconciliation rather than total victory.

In the end, it is only when working with the grace of God that we can love our neighbor as ourselves in this new way. It is only by living every day with Jesus that we can love our neighbor as ourselves in this new way. Can we live our day in such a way that we are in communion with Jesus in some way all day? It is only by living our day with Jesus that we can love as he loved. It is only by living close to Jesus that we can love as Jesus asked us. If not, we will be relying only on our human efforts alone, and we will love with some other type of love but not the unconditional love Jesus asked for when he said, "I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you."


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6th Sunday of Easter, Year C

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

At this Council, the leaders made decisions with the consent of the congregation

Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this?

Then the apostles and the elders, with the consent of the whole church, decided to choose men from among their members and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers, with the following letter: "The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the believers of Gentile origin in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings.

Since we have heard that certain persons who have gone out from us, though with no instructions from us, have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your minds, we have decided unanimously to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell."

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 66: 2-3, 5-6, 8)

R./: O God, let all the nations praise you!

O God, be gracious and bless us
and let your face shed its light upon us.
So will your ways be known upon earth
and all nations learn your saving help. (R./)

Let the nations be glad and exult
for you rule the world with justice.
With fairness you rule the peoples,
you guide the nations on earth. (R./)

Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
May God still give us his blessing
till the ends of the earth revere him. (R./)

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

In his exile on Patmos, John paints a dazzling picture of the new Jerusalem

And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. It has a great, high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites; on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. The angel who talked to me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width; and he measured the city with his rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, one hundred forty-four cubits by human measurement, which the angel was using. The wall is built of jasper, while the city is pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the wall of the city are adorned with every jewel; the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates are twelve pearls, each of the gates is a single pearl, and the street of the city is pure gold, transparent as glass I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.

Gospel: John (14:23-29)

Our Lord's words at the Last Supper, in view of his imminent departure

Jesus answered him, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. "I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, 'I am going away, and I am coming to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.


BIBLE

A Special kind of Goodbye

French vocabulary is sometimes more precise than English. "Goodbye" is a case in point. The French use Au revoir for those everyday temporary separations, while Adieu is reserved strictly for final departures; it means roughly "until we meet in heaven." Life is a succession of Au revoirs and Adieus . The number of the latter grows with the passing years. Our hearts and memories are peopled with faces that once were dear to us. Some, like our parents, died. Others moved away out of our lives never to reappear again. If their names crop up in conversation we say, "I wonder what became of so-and-so." They may say the same about us too. Life is a series of little deaths until our own death which for us will be the last great Adieu .

We are, as never before, a pilgrim people, on the move. We need faithful friends who travel with us. In today's gospel, Jesus alerts his disciples to his imminent departure, his ascension into heaven. He doesn't say Adieu but Au revoir . "I am going away, but I shall return." We never really say goodbye to God, for God always goes with us.

Notice how immigrants who leave their families, friends, language and cultures and settle, often penniless and in a hostile environment, on the other side of the globe, begin by building houses of worship. Such was the case with the Irish in America or Australia. Such is the case today with immigrant Muslims building mosques all over Europe. God is what they cling on to.

God keeps his promise to be with us always. He will always keep his side of the bargain. It is up to us to keep ours. And when we come to the end of our pilgrimage here and have to make our last goodbye, it will be literally Adieu, "going to God."


The Listening side of Love

Obedientia, the Latin for obeying, literally means to listen hard, to hold one's ear to something. The first rule of the road that we all learned was "Stop! Look! Listen!" Before you cross the railway tracks, stop and listen. There may be a train coming.

"I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart." What a beautiful promise, what a special gift. Peace is not the absence of war. It is the presence of something real and tangible. It is something I can experience, and it results from having my relationships the way they ought to be. I will deal in greater detail with this later.

We are all familiar with invitation cards that have RSVP on them. The person is looking for a response from us. Every word that Jesus speaks is calling for a response. A rule of thumb is to learn to listen, and then listen to learn.

My response must be practical; it must entail doing something. Believing something up in my head is nothing more than mental assent. Knowing that Jesus is God is not faith. Satan knows that. Faith is not up in the head; it is in the heart, and it eventually makes its way down into my feet. It is only then that I will be prepared to step out, and act on the direction given me by Jesus. The message of the gospel is simple, definite, and direct. There is not one "maybe" or one "might" in all the promises of Jesus.


The power of relationship

John's Gospel has a higher theology than the three synoptic gospels. But the remarkable fact is not its strong theological slant but how early in the Church's history such a Trinitarian perspective emerged. By the time of St. John the idea of God linked the Father, Jesus and the Paraclete, the guarantor of the peace that Jesus has given.

Already we have hints that God is a community of relationships, that there is so much knowledge and love in God that the knowledge and love transform into distinct personages. This truth is revealed to enlighten our minds, not to provide theologians with raw material for speculations (nothing wrong with that), to dazzle us with the brightness of God's glory, the power of God's knowledge and the passion of God's love. The use of the word "spirit," a translation of the Hebrew Shekinah hints at a maternal aspect in God as the word is feminine and was used in Hebrew folk religion as the name of Yahweh's consort. St. John hardly thought of this, yet the gender of the noun might well be part of the meaning.


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The Ascension of the Lord, Year C

1st Reading: Acts (1:1-11)

Ascension concludes Jesus' ministry and prepares for the Spirit at Pentecost

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. "This," he said, "is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."

So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 47)

R./: God goes up with shouts of joy, the Lord goes up with trumpet blast

All you peoples, clap your hands,
   shout to God with cries of gladness.
For the Lord, the Most High, the awesome,
   is the great king over all the earth. (R./)

God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy;
   the Lord, amid trumpet blasts.
Sing praise to God, sing praise;
   sing praise to our king, sing praise. (R./)

For king of all the earth is God;
   sing hymns of praise.
God reigns over the nations,
   God sits upon his holy throne. (R./)

2nd Reading: Ephesians (1:17-23)

God has raised Jesus and exalted him. It is a privilege to belong to his body, the church

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Gospel: Matthew (28:16-20)

Jesus wants a world-wide group of believers; and will be with them always

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."


BIBLE

Heaven on earth

Jesus didn't simply dissolve into thin air. On Ascension day, one might think that he removed himself into a new form of divine exclusion. But the case is exactly the opposite. In being with God, Jesus is here with us in a new and very specific way. Only by his physical separation from the historical scene can his spiritual union be complete with all the world for all time. Jesus one day left the world in order to be available to everyone through all time. He had to dissolve the bonds he had made with his friends, in order to be available for everybody. In Jesus, the future has already begun!

At the Ascension, his disciples hear his last instruction, not to try to stare into the future nor be asking when he will come back . We must not stand idly staring upward or moaning about the past, about which we can do nothing except to bury it deeply in God's hands and heart! The Lord will be glorified, and it follows that his disciples will also share in his glory.

Let's get going and carry a piece of heaven into our world. This is the meaning of the Resurrection and the Ascension of our Lord, the divine empowerment of his Gospel dream! May Christ's dying and rising move us to make God's glory dwell on earth. May our hope for the future inspire us in a respect for the present. May our desire for heaven not make us neglect our work on earth. Fr. Thomas Rosica (adapted)


Last Will and Testament

Today's final paragraph of St Matthew's gospel does not describe the ascension, but reports some of our Lord's final instructions to his disciples before leaving them. I was once speaking to an elderly parishioner who was troubled over making a will. In her mind making a will, or receiving what were then called "The Last Sacraments" were things that you put off until the last moment. There was something rather ominous about it. Some of us may know families that became completely divided because someone hadn't decided to clearly make their will. In today's gospel, Jesus has little to say, but he is clear about what he has to say. This is in sharp contrast to the fact that, even at this last minute, some of his disciples still doubted.

The first thing about the disciples is that at least they did what he told them to do. He asked them to meet him on the mountain, and they did that. Like any gathering of human beings, each had his own emotions. Some of them worshipped him, while some of them still doubted. Jesus didn't seem to have any great problem with that, because he knew that, when the Spirit came, all of those doubts would be ended. It would seem, indeed, that he was in a hurry to take his leave of them, so that the second part of his plan of salvation could get underway.

Notice that Jesus begins his few words by telling them that he, not they, have full authority in heaven and on earth. In an earlier account in Luke's gospel, he says, "I have given you full authority over all the power of the evil one." The full authority over everything, however, is something that he reserves to himself. Those who go in his name, do so with his full authority. The authority goes with the mission. That is why he adds, "Go, therefore."; in other words, because I have the authority, you can go wherever I send you. My power, my promises, and my Spirit will go with you, and will see you through. After telling them what to do, he concludes with the clear and definite promise, "and be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

The mission of the apostles was essentially to teach others all that he had taught them. As Jesus asked his disciples to obey him, they were to ask that others should obey his directions and instructions also. This is like when a doctor puts you on a course of antibiotics. The original sin was a lie. The Spirit is a spirit of truth. One of the rules connected with taking antibiotics is that it is essential to complete the course. Some people begin to feel well after a few days, and they discontinue taking the medicine and, of course, their condition gets worse. The programme of redemption and salvation must continue from generation to generation, until the end of time. With all the changes in the church and in society, the two things that have not changed are Jesus himself, and every word of his message. The Message and the Messenger have never, and never will change. People who are bothered about changes in the church today should be reminded that the only things that matter have not changed at all:

We write a page of our gospel each day
through the things we do and whatever we say.
People will know if it's faithful and true.
What is the gospel according to you?

Even sharing with another something you heard here today that you find helpful could be a way of witnessing to Christ. It will be clear to anyone who wishes to see, that someone who is trying to live the sort of life Jesus taught us must be a powerful witness, indeed. There seems to be a lot of loneliness and depression around today, or maybe we are now more aware of it. Being alone is not the same as being lonely. I could be among a crowd and still be lonely. On the other hand, as the wise Cicero once said, once may feel never less alone than when alone (minus solum, quam cum solus esse). This applies especially to any who take seriously the final words of today's gospel, "l am with you always." Like a young mother, nursing her baby while it is sound asleep, communication doesn't always need words. If one is open to the presence and reality of the Lord in my life, then God responds to that, and we can live with a conscious awareness of his presence.


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7th Sunday of Easter, Year C

If the Ascension is not celebrated that Sunday, these Readings:

1st Reading: Acts (7:55-60)

The heroic death of the first martyr, Stephen

Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!"

But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he died.

2nd Reading: Revelation (22:12-14, 16-17, 20)

The time will come for God to reward his servants

"See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone's work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end." Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.

"It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star." The Spirit and the bride say, "Come." And let everyone who hears say, "Come." And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. The one who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

Gospel: John (17:20-26)

Jesus prayed especially for unity among his followers

Jesus prayed to the Father, "I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. "Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."


BIBLE

Get Out and Do Something

The Gospel today is taken from the Last Supper story, where St John spin out at great and powerful length his theme of the unity between Jesus and the Father and our resultant unity through Jesus ( to whom we are united) with the Father. While the discourse is a theological reflection on the revelation of the nature of God which Jesus unveiled, it is nothing more than an attempt to plumb the depths of the good news which Jesus preached - We are inextricably united to God and we can never be separated from God's love, a love in which both the maternal and the paternal are combined.

Once upon a time Grace Daniels discovered she had a real problem with the girls basketball team at her High School. Grace was class president, student body president, captain of the volleyball, basketball, and chess team, prefect of the sodality (they still had one at her school) and had the best grades in her class. The president of the high school often said that she was delighted that Grace permitted her to remain in office. To which Grace goes, "like REALLY!" Well Grace did make mistakes. As her boyfriend Joe says, "she's like occasionally in error, but NEVER in doubt."

WELL, the problem on the team was the poor kids that never played - the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth players on a team which had only nine really good players. Well, pretty good. So since the games were always close these other players never got in. And when Mother Mary would win close games against schools like Lord Jesus High and all the crowd went wild and hugged those who had played, they ignored the tenth and eleventh and twelfth players.

These young women were good sports and never complained, but one day Grace noticed how silent and sad they were down at the end of the bench. So she goes to the coach, "We have to do something about them." The coach didn't understand (often times they don't, you know). If those girls played, they'd lose. Well, Grace wanted to win as much as anyone (maybe a tad more). But she didn't like those sad faces on people she liked a lot.

So what did Grace do? She organized a party at her house for all the basketball team and praised the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth players for their hard work and good sporting spirit, and gave each of them a totally neat blouse she had found at the mall. There was a lot of weeping and hugging. And no more long faces. And Grace goes to Joe, like we really have to take care totally of everyone!

Did Jesus Think of Us?

When we read the promises of Jesus to his disciples, do we not sometimes wonder whether He thought of us too, or whether he only had in mind his disciples who were right there before him. Today's gospel passage is unique in the sense that this is the only place in the gospels where we get the assurance that Jesus thought not only about his immediate disciples but about us as well. The rendering of John 17:20 in the International Children's Bible brings out more clearly the point we are making: "I pray for these men. But I am also praying for all people who will believe in me because of the teaching of these men."

It is good to realise that Jesus thought of us, that he had us in mind as he died and gave his life for the salvation of the world, that he actually prayed for us. We know that God always hears the prayer of Jesus. So, if Jesus prayed for us we would like to know what it was that he prayed for us about. What Jesus asked the Father in our behalf is basically one thing: unity.

Father, I pray that all people who believe in me can be one. You are in me and I am in you. I pray that these people can also be one in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me (John 17:21 ICB).

He went on to say, "I have given these people the glory that you gave me. I gave them this glory so that they can be one, the same as you and I are one" (John 17:22 ICB). In other words, Jesus has bequeathed glory to the church. But this glory can only manifest itself when the unity among Christians reflects the unity between Jesus and the Father. Lack of unity takes away from the glory which Jesus intended for the body of believers.

Finally he prayed for us so that the love with which the Father has loved him may be in us (v.26). The unity for which Jesus prayed is a unity based on divine love. It is a unity that is possible only with the love of God in us. It is not a unity based on human wisdom, on power or on diplomacy. It is not a unity of uniformity or a unity which deprives others of their individuality but a unity in the essentials, that makes room for diversity. The famous saying that goes back to St Augustine is a good guide for the church as it works it way slowly toward the unity for which Jesus prayed: "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty; in all things, charity."

As we wait and pray for a rekindling of the fire of divine love in the hearts of the faithful at Pentecost, let us all resolve, in our own little ways, to work for the realisation of the full unity of all Christians for which Jesus prayed. And the best way to work for this unity is to live in the love of God and our neighbour.


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Pentecost Sunday

1st Reading: Acts (2:1-11)

The extraordinary events at the coming of the Holy Spirit

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs-in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power."

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 103: 1, 24, 29-31, 34)

R./: Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth

Bless the Lord, my soul!
Lord God, how great you are,
How many are your works, O Lord!
The earth is full of your riches. (R./)

You take back your spirit, they die,
returning to the dust from which they came.
You send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the earth. (R./)

May the glory of the Lord last for ever!
May the Lord rejoice in his works!
May my thoughts be pleasing to him.
I find my joy in the Lord. (R./)

2nd Reading: Romans (8:8-17)

You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit

Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh- for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ-if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Gospel: John (14:15-16; 23-26)

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will teach you everything

Jesus said to his disciples, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever….

Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you."

Alternative Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3-7; 12-13; John 20:19-23


BIBLE

Source of our best impulses

The Holy Spirit used to be the forgotten person of the Trinity . Perhaps he suffered from being a spirit, since for many of us, only concrete things are real. The Father and Son make an impact because one took flesh and the other was given a beard. Have you ever imagined the Holy Spirit with a beard? Whatever the reason, even among devout Christians the Holy Spirit had been overlooked. He had been cast in the role of a third candidate, valued for his transfers to the front-runners, but never earmarked for a seat in the House, much less a post in the Cabinet. It's only recently that he has been coming into his own. And about time too! There are several reasons why we should never forget the Spirit. The first is that he wasn't forgotten by Jesus. On the contrary. On the eve of the Passion, he promised to send the Spirit to the disciples. In fact, he took pains to emphasise the importance of the Spirit's role. Here was no poor substitute, a duckling doing "locum" for a swan. He would be helper, advocate, counsellor, teacher, a replacement for Christ himself. Indeed, Our Lord states this clearly: "Unless I go, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you" (Jn 16:7).

Another reason for seeking the Spirit is the example of the early Christians. He made such a difference to their lives that they could never forget him. Before his coming they were timid and afraid, like children huddling together in a storm. When he descended upon them in a miraculous confusion of wind, fire and speech, they were utterly transformed. "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:4), St Luke tells us, and we think of billowing sails or mothers filled with child. But some of the bystanders were less poetic in their reaction. "They're drunk" (Acts 2:13), they sneered, and for once the cynics were right, drunk they were, drunk with the Spirit of Christ's love and their own furious eagerness to proclaim his message. The Spirit was breathing where he would and from now on "Jesus is Lord" (1 Cor 12:3) would be shouted from the housetops. They stayed drunk for life, in this sense. They were never to be sober again. For as long as they lived, the Spirit would stay in the bloodstream. Every decision they made would be Spirit-shaped: the choice of seven deacons; the admission of Gentiles to the Church; the sending of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. And the influence of the Spirit was not confined to decision-making at executive level. It was felt at the ordinary level too, at what politicians love to call the "grassroots." It was felt in the gifts that were Spirit, sent for the service of the Church, unusual gifts like healing or prophecy, designed to meet the needs of an infant Church, but ordinary gifts too, required to meet the needs of God's children everywhere, "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self control" (Ga 5:22).

It is by exercising these gifts that we honour the Spirit. Whenever we are loyal to a demanding partner, whenever we console the bereaved, support the old or encourage the young, we are doing the work of the Holy Spirit. When we curb our evil instincts, we honour him. When we respond to the better impulses, we let the Spirit work in us. The Holy Spirit is the rising sap moving all that is best in us. It is through and with our better instincts that the Spirit works. Whether we're aware of it or not, he is never idle. Our part is to grunt and heave with him and to push our stalling lives to the top of the hill.


Imagining the Spirit

When you look around our church you will find that there is no shortage of images, mostly in the form of statues, paintings, stained glass, carvings and plaster moulds. They are mostly images of Jesus, Mary and of the saints. There are also images of some figures from the Old Testament, such as Abraham and Melchizedek to the front of the altar. There is a long tradition of images within the church, beginning with the paintings in the Catacombs in Rome. The Holy Spirit, whose feast we celebrate today, does not lend itself all that easily to imagery. The traditional image of the Holy Spirit is the dove. That is drawn from the gospel accounts of the baptism of Jesus. However the language of the evangelists in that passage is very tentative; they simply saw that the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove, in the way that a dove might descend. There are two other images of the Holy Spirit in this morning's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. There again the language is very tentative. Luke says that all who gathered in one room heard what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven; he goes on to say that something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire. Just as the evangelists do not say that there was an actual dove at the baptism of Jesus, Luke does not say that there was an actual wind and fire at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit does not lend her/himself to concrete representation, because the Holy Spirit cannot be seen as such. Yet the Holy Spirit is profoundly real .

There is much in our universe that is real but is not visible to the naked eye. It is now accepted that what we see with our eyes is only a fraction of our physical world. The Holy Spirit is part of the spiritual world, and it is no surprise that we cannot see the Spirit with our eyes. Yet, there are helpful ways of imagining the Holy Spirit. In today's 2nd Reading, Paul uses an image drawn from nature, speaking about the fruits of the Spirit . He is talking about the visible impact of the Spirit on one's life. We may not be able to see the Holy Spirit, but we can see the impact of the Spirit in our life, just as we cannot see the wind but can see the impact of the wind on people and objects of various kinds. Paul is saying that wherever we find love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control, the Spirit is there at work. The Spirit becomes visible in and through these qualities and virtues. The person who most of all had those qualities was Jesus because he was full of the Holy Spirit, full of the life of God . The Holy Spirit is essentially the very life of God, and that life is a life of love. It is that divine life, that divine love, which was poured out at Pentecost, initially on the first disciples but through them on all who were open to receive this powerful and wonderful gift. Paul expresses it simply in his letter to the Romans, 'God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us'. It is that Spirit of God's love we have received who bears the rich fruit in our lives that Paul speaks about in today's 2nd Reading. The Spirit is constantly at work in our lives, making us more like Jesus. The ordinary, day to day expressions of goodness and kindness, of faithfulness and self-control, of patience and gentleness, are all manifestations of the Spirit that has been given to us by God. We can recognize the Spirit's presence in the common happenings of everyday life. The spiritual is not something other-worldly; it is humanity at its best.

We have an example of humanity at its best in today's first reading. On that first Pentecost, there was a wonderful communion between people from all over the Roman Empire. They were united in hearing in their own native language the preaching of the first disciples about the marvels of God. In spite of differences of language and culture there was a profound communion among them. Wherever we find such communion of heart and spirit today among those who are strikingly different, there the Holy Spirit is at work. Unity in diversity is the mark of the Spirit. In the gospel Jesus points out another manifestation of the Spirit, and that is the pursuit of truth. Jesus declares that one of the Spirit's roles is to lead us to the complete truth. If someone has a genuine openness to truth, a willingness to engage in the search for truth, there the Spirit is at work. Full truth is always beyond us; we never possess it completely. In John's gospel Jesus declares himself to be the truth and he is always beyond us; we never fully possess him in this life. One of the roles of the Spirit is to lead us towards the complete truth, in all its dimensions and manifestations.


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Holy Trinity, Year A

1st Reading: Exodus (34:4-6, 8-9)

The Lord God, ruler of all, merciful and loving

With the two tablets of stone in his hands, Moses went up the mountain of Sinai in the early morning as the Lord had commanded him. And the Lord descended in the form of a cloud, and Moses stood with him there.

He called on the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, 'Lord, a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness.' And Moses bowed down to the ground at once and worshipped. ‘If I have indeed won your favour, Lord,' he said ‘let my Lord come with us, I beg. True, they are a headstrong people, but forgive us our faults and our sins, and adopt us as your heritage.'

Responsorial Psalm: (Daniel 3:52-56)

R./: Glory and praise for ever!

You are blest, Lord God of our fathers. (R./)

Blest your glorious holy name. (R./)

You are blest in the temple of your glory. (R./)

You are blest on the throne of your kingdom. (R./)

You are blest who gaze into the depths. (R./)

You are blest in the firmament of the heaven. (R./)

2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians (13:11-13)

Try to grow perfect. Help one another. Be united

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Brothers, we wish you happiness; try to grow perfect; help one another. Be united; live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with the holy kiss. All the saints send you greetings. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the holy Spirit be with you all.

Gospel: John (3:16-18)

God sent his Son to save the world through him

Jesus said to Nicodemus,
'God loved the world so much
that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him
may not be lost but may have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world
not to condemn the world,
but so that through him the world might be saved.
No one who believes in him will be condemned;
but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already,
because he has refused to believe
in the name of God's only Son.'

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Holy Trinity, Year B

1st Reading: Deuteronomy (4:32-34, 39-40)

The Lord himself is God in heaven above and on earth below: there is no other

Moses said to the people: 'Put this question to the ages that are past, that went before you, from the time God created man on earth: Was there ever a word so majestic, from one end of heaven to the other? Was anything ever heard? Did ever a people hear the voice of the living God speaking from the heart of the fire, as you heard it, and remain alive? Has any god ventured to take to himself one nation from the midst of another by ordeals, signs, wonders, war with mighty hand and outstretched arm, by fearsome terrors — all this that the Lord your God did for you before your eyes in Egypt? 'Understand this today, therefore, and take it to heart: The Lord is God indeed, in heaven above as on earth beneath, he and no other. Keep his laws and commandments as I give them to you today so that you and your children may prosper and live long in the land that the Lord your God gives you for ever.'

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 32:4-6, 9, 18-20, 22)

R./: Happy the people the Lord has chosen to be his own

The word of the Lord is faithful
and all his works to be trusted.
The Lord loves justice and right
and fills the earth with his love. (R./)

By his word the heavens were made,
by the breath of his mouth all the stars.
He spoke: and they came to be.
He commanded; they sprang into being. (R./)

The Lord looks on those who revere him,
on those who hope in his love,
to rescue their souls from death,
to keep them alive in famine. (R./)

Our soul is waiting for the Lord.
The Lord is our help and our shield.
May your love be upon us, O Lord,
as we place all our hope in you.(R./)

2nd Reading: Romans (8:14-17)

A reading from the letter of St Paul to the Romans

You have received the Spirit that makes you God's own children, and in that Spirit we call God: Father, our Father!
Everyone moved by the Spirit is a son of God. The spirit you received is not the spirit of slaves bringing fear into your lives again; it is the spirit of sons, and it makes us cry out, 'Abba, Father!'
The Spirit himself and our spirit bear united witness that we are children of God. And if we are children we are heirs as well: heirs of God and coheirs with Christ, sharing his sufferings so as to share his glory.

Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20)

Baptise them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit

The eleven disciples set out for Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them. When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated. Jesus came up and spoke to them. He said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.'

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Holy Trinity, Year C

1st Reading: Proverbs (8:22-31)

Wisdom is the first-born of creation

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.

Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth ?
when he had not yet made earth and fields, or he world's first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 8:4-9)

R./: O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth

When I see the heavens, the work of your hands,
the moon and the stars which you arranged,
what is man that you should keep him in mind,
mortal man that you care for him? (R./)

Yet you have made him little less than a god;
with glory and honour you crowned him,
gave him power over the works of your hand,
put all things under his feet. (R./)

All of them, sheep and cattle,
yes, even the savage beasts,
birds of the air, and fish
that make their way through the waters. (R./)

2nd Reading: Romans (5:1-5)

Peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ

Brothers and sisters, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Gospel: John (16:12-15)

When the Spirit of truth comes

"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."

BIBLE

Not such a remote God

In bygone times practically everybody agreed about the existence of God. At those days, religious divisions came from conflicting beliefs about God, rather than any conflict between theism and atheism. This is not the case nowadays. Not only do many openly profess their lack of faith, but the quality of life we pursue tends to promote a kind of atheism in all of us. Especially in our large cities, surrounded by a world of largely human inventiveness, people are at a distance from the things of nature. As a result even the rural-based of our population are bound to feel in some degree God's apparent remoteness from our situation, God's silence, remaining hidden to the end of our earthly days.

Today we celebrate the Most Holy Trinity, the revelation of the mystery of God's inner life. This mystery will remain for all of us as long as we live in this world, even though the veil which covers it is lifted ever so little. Our Bible assures us that not only is our God a personal God, but God exists as three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, while remaining one God. Although we cannot even begin to give a logical explanation for this, our faith enables us in some small measure to experience the presence of God. How this can happen is stated by St Augustine in a most beautiful passage from his "Confessions" (p. 211). "What do I love when I love my God?" he asks. Then he continues; "Not material beauty or beauty of a temporal order; not the brilliance of earthly light, so welcome to our eyes; not the sweet melody of harmony and song; not the fragrance of flowers, perfumes and spices; not manna or honey; not limbs such as the body delights to embrace. It is not these that I love when I love my God. And yet, when I love him, it is true that I love a light of a certain kind, a voice, a perfume, a food, an embrace; but they are of the kind that I love in my inner self." "So tell me something of my God," he asks. And loud and clear they answered, "God is he who made us."

Seeing God will change us utterly, and this salvation is a pure gift that always comes from the Father, announced and realised in his divine Son, and made effective in each of us through the action of the Holy Spirit. St Paul tells us that "in one Spirit we have access through Christ to the Father" (Eph 2:18). But the God's reaching down to us must be answered by the up-reach of our soul to God. To succeed in this we must break free from the sinful pursuits which hold us captive. Then as Paul says, like mirrors we will reflect the brightness of the Lord, until finally we are changed into that image which we reflect (2 Cor 3:17f). For this great promise, glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, forever, Amen.


The Fullness of Love

Much debate in the 20th century centred on the thought of three outstanding figures, Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx, described irreverently as "the unholy trinity." They pushed us into the modem world, often in spite of our protests. Charles Darwin's theory of evolution was greeted, particularly by the established churches, with howls of derision, and had to battle hard for recognition. Sigmund Freud opened up the universe of the unconscious and profoundly affected conventional attitudes. The socialist theories of Karl Marx came to dominate one half of the planet and considerably influenced the other. Of the three, only Darwin and his theory of evolution remain intact. Recent events in the Eastern Bloc have largely discredited Marx. The theories of Freud are more and more contested in recent times. Time has taken its toll of "the unholy trinity."

The Holy Trinity, whose feast we celebrate today, is beyond the reach of time and the grasp of human reasoning. It is a mystery of our faith. We can only fumble in the dark in search of glimmers of light. "Two is company, three is a crowd" is a popular expression. The gospel would have it otherwise. There, the figure three symbolises completeness and perfect symmetry, and re-appears at all the key moments of the Christ story. His life itself constantly reflected the Trinity. Three figures make up the nativity scene in Bethlehem – the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Their first visitors were the three wise men. Later, in the desert preparing to begin his public life, Jesus was tempted three times by the devil. A good story should have a beginning, a middle and an end. Christ was a storyteller par excellence and three figures prominently in his parables. The Prodigal Son is about a father and his two sons; the Good Samaritan tells of the behaviour of three passers-by, the priest, the Levite and the Samaritan; the sower sowed his seed in three different types of terrain, yielding three different levels of harvest. The end of his life, as the beginning, has again the three motif. During his Passion, Peter denied him thrice. On the road to Calvary, he fell three times. The crucifixion scene has three figures, Christ between two thieves. Before his resurrection, he spent three days in the tomb.

God is love. There are Three Persons in the Trinity, the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit. Together they represent the fullness of love. The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father. The Holy Spirit is their love for each other. We are made in the image of a triune God. God the Father, who created us, his Son who saved us, and the Holy Spirit who continues to guide us. Our lives should reflect the Trinity. We should be always creative like the Father, compassionate like his Son, and dispose our talents in the service of others like the Holy Spirit.


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The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)

Corpus Christi, Year A

1st Reading: Deuteronomy (8:2-3, 14-16)

He gave you food which you and your ancestors did not know

Moses said to the people: 'Remember how the Lord your God led you for forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, to test you and know your inmost heart — whether you would keep his commandments or not. He humbled you, he made you feel hunger, he fed you with manna which neither you nor your fathers had known, to make you understand that man does not live on bread alone but that man lives on everything that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

'Do not then forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery: who guided you through this vast and dreadful wilderness, a land of fiery serpents, scorpions, thirst; who in this waterless place brought you water from the hardest rock; who in this wilderness fed you with manna that your fathers had not known.'

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 147:12-15, 19-20)

R./: Praise the Lord, Jerusalem

O praise the Lord, Jerusalem!
Zion, praise your God!
He has strengthened the bars of your gates,
he has blessed the children within you. (R./)

He established peace on your borders,
he feeds you with finest wheat.
He sends out his word to the earth
and swiftly runs his command. (R./)

He makes his word known to Jacob,
to Israel his laws and decrees.
He has not dealt thus with other nations;
he has not taught them his decrees. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians (10:16-17)

A reading from the first letter of St Paul to the Corinthians

Though we are many, we form a single body because we share this one loaf.
The blessing-cup that we bless is a communion with the blood of Christ, and the bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ. The fact that there is only one loaf means that, though there are many of us, we form a single body because we all have a share in this one loaf.

Gospel: John (6:51-58)

My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink

'I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.
Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever;
and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.'

Then the Jews started arguing with one another: 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?' they said. Jesus replied:
'I tell you most solemnly,
if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man
and drink his blood,
you will not have life in you.
Anyone who does eat my flesh
and drink my blood has eternal life,
and I shall raise him up on the last day.
For my flesh is real food
and my blood is real drink.
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood
lives in me and I live in him.
As I, who am sent by the living Father,
myself draw life from the Father,
so whoever eats me will draw life from me.
This is the bread come down from heaven;
not like the bread our ancestors ate:
they are dead,
but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.'

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Corpus Christi, Year B

1st Reading: Exodus (24:3-8)

Ratification by Moses and the people of their covenant with God on Mount Sinai

Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, "All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do." And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and set up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. He sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed oxen as offerings of well-being to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he dashed against the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, "All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient." Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, "See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words."

2nd Reading: Hebrews (9:11-15)

Through Christ our high priest, God has made an eternal covenant with his people

But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.

Now if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God! For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 115:12-13, 15-18)

R./: I will take the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord

How can I repay the Lord
for his goodness to me?
The cup of salvation I will raise;
I will call on the Lord's name. (R./)

O precious in the eyes of the Lord
is the death of his faithful.
Your servant, Lord, your servant am I;
you have loosened my bonds. (R./)

A thanksgiving sacrifice I make:
I will call on the Lord's name.
My vows to the Lord I will fulfil
before all his people. (R./)

Gospel: Mark (14:12-16, 22-26)

The Passover meal Jesus ate with his disciples the night before he died

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, "Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?" So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, 'The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there." So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, "Take; this is my body." Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

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Corpus Christi, Year C

1st Reading: Genesis (14:18-20)

Melchizedek brought bread and wine and pronounced a blessing

Melchizedek king of Salem brought bread and wine; he was a priest of God Most High. He pronounced this blessing:
'Blessed be Abraham by God Most High,
creator of heaven and earth,
and blessed be God Most High
for handing over your enemies to you.'
And Abraham gave him a tithe of everything.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 109:1-4)

R./: You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek

The Lord's revelation to my Master:
'Sit on my right:
I will put your foes beneath your feet.' (R./)

The Lord will send from Zion
your sceptre of power:
rule in the midst of all your foes. (R./)

A prince from the day of your birth
on the holy mountains;
from the womb before the daybreak
I begot you. (R./)

The Lord has sworn an oath he will not change.
'You are a priest for ever,
a priest like Melchizedek of old.'
You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians (11:23-26)

A reading from the first letter of St Paul to the Corinthians

Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming the death of the Lord.
This is what I received from the Lord, and in turn passed on to you: that on the same night that he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread, and thanked God for it and broke it, and he said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this as a memorial of me.'
In the same way he took the cup after supper, and said, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.'
Until the Lord comes, therefore, every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death.

Gospel: Luke (9:11-17)

They all ate and were filled

Jesus made the crowds welcome and talked to them about the kingdom of God; and he cured those who were in need of healing. It was late afternoon when the Twelve came to him and said, 'Send the people away, and they can go to the villages and farms round about to find lodging and food; for we are in a lonely place here.'

He replied, 'Give them something to eat yourselves.' But they said, 'We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we are to go ourselves and buy food for all these people.' For there were about five thousand men. But he said to his disciples, 'Get them to sit down in parties of about fifty.'

They did so and made them all sit down. Then he took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven, and said the blessing over them; then he broke them and handed them to his disciples to distribute among the crowd. They all ate as much as they wanted, and when the scraps remaining were collected they filled twelve baskets.

 

BIBLE

The table of fellowship

Sitting together for a meal can generate a special feeling of togetherness. Each of us will have our own memories of table companionship or fellowship. Many of these will be happy experiences of celebration and laughter, of love received and shared. Some memories of table fellowship may be sad, times when we were more aware of one who was absent than of those who were present. Jesus shared table many times with his disciples. It is likely that, when sharing food with his disciples, he also shared with them his vision of God's kingdom . At table, the disciples imbibed something of Jesus' mind and heart and spirit. Of all the meals he shared with them, the meal that stayed in their memory more than any other was their last meal together, what came to be known as the last supper. Today's gospel gives us Mark's account, his word-picture, of that last supper.

This last meal Jesus shared with his disciples stood out in their memory, capturing the imagination of generations of disciples right up to ourselves. He did more than share his vision with the disciples; he gave them himself in a way he had never done before, and in a way that anticipated the death he would die for them and for all, on the following day. In giving himself in the form of the bread and wine of the meal, he was declaring himself to be their food and drink. In calling on them to take and eat, to take and drink, he was asking them to take their stand with him, to give themselves to him as he was giving himself to them.

It was because of that supper and of what went on there that we are here in this church today. Jesus intended his last supper to be a beginning rather than an end. It was the first Eucharist. Ever since that meal, the church has gathered regularly in his name, to do and say what he did and said at that last supper–taking bread and wine, blessing both, breaking the bread and giving both for disciples to eat and drink.

Jesus continues to give himself as food and drink to his followers. He also continues to put it up to his followers to take their stand with him, to take in all he stands for, living by his values, walking in his way, even if that means the cross. Whenever we come to Mass and receive the Eucharist, we are making a number of important statements. We are acknowledging Jesus as our bread of life, as the one who alone can satisfy our deepest hungers. We are also declaring that we will throw in our lot with him, as it were, that we will follow in his way and be faithful to him all our lives, in response to his faithfulness to us. In that sense, celebrating the Eucharist is not something we do lightly. Our familiarity with the Mass and the frequency with which we celebrate it can dull our senses to the full significance of what we are doing. Every time we gather for the Eucharist, we find ourselves once more in that upper room with the first disciples, and the last supper with all it signified is present again to us.


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The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

Sacred Heart, Year A

1st Reading: Deuteronomy (7:6-11)

God has chosen you because he loves you

Moses said to the people: 'You are a people consecrated to the Lord your God; it is you that the Lord our God has chosen to be his very own people out of all the peoples of the earth.

'If the Lord set his heart on you and chose you, it was not because you outnumbered other peoples: you were the least of all peoples. It was for love of you and to keep the oath he swore to your fathers that the Lord brought you out with his mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know then that the Lord your God is God indeed, the faithful God who is true to his covenant and his graciousness for a thousand generations towards those who love him and keep his commandments, but who punishes in their own persons those that hate him. He is not slow to destroy the man who hates him; he makes him work out his punishment in person. You are therefore to keep and observe the commandments and statutes and ordinances that I lay down for you today.'

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 102:1-4, 6-8, 10)

R./: The Lord's kindness is everlasting to those who fear him

My soul, give thanks to the Lord,
all my being, bless his holy name.
My soul, give thanks to the Lord
and never forget all his blessings. (R./)

It is he who forgives all your guilt,
who heals every one of your ills,
who redeems your life from the grave,
who crowns you with love and compassion. (R./)

The Lord does deeds of justice,
gives judgments for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses
and his deeds to Israel's sons. (R./)

The Lord is compassion and love,
slow to anger and rich in mercy.
He does not treat us according to our sins
nor repay us according to our faults. (R./).

2nd Reading: 1 John (4:7-16)

We love God because he has loved us first

My dear people,
let us love one another
since love comes from God
and everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.
Anyone who fails to love
can never have known God, because God is love.
God's love for us was revealed
when God sent into the world his only Son
so that we could have life through him;
this is the love I mean:
not our love for God, but God's love for us
when he sent his Son to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away.
My dear people,
since God has loved us so much,
we too should love one another.
No one has ever seen God;
but as long as we love one another
God will live in us and his love will be complete in us.
We can know that we are living in him
and he is living in us because he lets us share his Spirit.
We ourselves saw and we testify
that the Father sent his Son as saviour of the world.
If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God,
God lives in him, and he in God.
We ourselves have known
and put our faith in God's love towards ourselves.
God is love and anyone who lives in love lives in God,
and God lives in him.

Gospel: Matthew (11:25-30)

I am meek and humble of heart

Jesus exclaimed, 'I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do. Everything has been entrusted to me by my father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

'Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.'

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Sacred Heart, Year B

1st Reading: Hosea (11:1, 3-4, 8-9)

I have no wish to destroy

Thus says the Lord:
When Israel was a child I loved him,
and called my son out of Egypt.
I myself taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them in my arms;
yet they have not understood
that I was the one looking after them.
I led them with reins of kindness,
with leading-strings of love.
I was like someone who lifts an infant close against his cheek;
stooping down to him I gave him his food.
My heart recoils from it,
my whole being trembles at the thought.
I will not give rein to my fierce anger,
I will not destroy Ephraim again,
for I am God, not man:
I am the Holy One in your midst
and have no wish to destroy.

Responsorial Psalm: Isaiah (12:2-6)

R./: You will draw water from the springs of salvation

Truly, God is my salvation,
I trust, I shall not fear.
For the Lord is my strength, my song,
he became my saviour.
With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation. (R./)

Give thanks to the Lord, give praise to his name!
make his mighty deeds known to the peoples!
Declare the greatness of his name. (R./)

Sing a psalm to the Lord
for he has done glorious deeds,
make them known to all the earth!
People of Zion, sing and shout for joy
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. (R./)

2nd Reading: Ephesians (3:2-12)

Paul preaches to the gentiles the rich mystery of Christ

You have heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you; how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, which will let you perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.

Gospel: John (19:31-37)

The death of Christ, the witness of John the apostle

It was Preparation Day, and to prevent the bodies remaining on the cross during the sabbath – since the sabbath was a day of special solemnity – the Jews asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken away. Consequently the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with him and then the other. When they came to Jesus, they found that he was already dead, and so instead of breaking his legs one of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance; and immediately there came out blood and water. This is the evidence of one who saw it – trustworthy evidence, and he knows he speaks the truth – and he gives it so that you may believe as well. Because all this happened to fulfil the words of scripture:
Not one bone of his will be broken:
and again, in another place scripture says:
They will look on the one whom they have pierced.

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Sacred Heart, Year C

1st Reading: Ezekiel (34:11-16)

The Lord God will search for His sheep and pasture them

For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.

I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will fed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 22)

R./: The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want

The Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I shall want.
Fresh and green are the pastures
where he gives me repose.
Near restful waters he leads me,
to revive my drooping spirit. (R./)

He guides me along the right path;
he is true to his name.
If I should walk in the valley of darkness
no evil would I fear.
You are there with your crook and staff;
with these you give me comfort. (R./)

You have prepared a banquet for me
in the sight of my foes.
My head you have anointed with oil;
my cup is overflowing. (R./)

Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me
all the days of my life.
In the Lord's own house shall I dwell
for ever and ever. R.
The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.

2nd Reading: Romans (5:5-11)

God proves his love for us, through the sacrificial love of Christ

Hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.

But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Gospel: Luke (15:3-7)

The lost sheep, sought and found by the good shepherd

Jesus told them this parable: "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

BIBLE

God's love made visible

Our readings overflow with the theme of God's constant love for his "sheep," just like the shepherd who tends his flocks. Jesus goes further, with his parable of the lost sheep, to show the Father's tireless search for our salvation. Based on the "Heart of Jesus" as a symbol of love, the Church strongly promotes devotion to Christ as the incarnate love of God. A key text in St. Luke is about God the Shepherd who, on losing one stray sheep, leaves the other ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until he finds it. Later, in St. John's Gospel, Jesus transfers this Shepherd imagery to his own life's work. He himself became the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for the sheep. This developing awareness that Jesus is the visible manifestation of God's love in our world gradually led to an explicit homage to the Heart of Jesus as the symbol of God's love for us.

We find the first clear signs of a focus upon the Sacred Heart in the early middle ages, in the fervour of Cistercian monasticism. But it became a widespread popular devotion in the 17th century, largely owing to the preaching of St Jean Eudes (1602-1680). It gained greater impetus through the visionary Margaret Mary Alacoque in the convent of Rue de Bac (Paris), whose intense devotion to the Heart of Jesus urged her to "spread the treasures of His goodness," convinced that He had chosen her especially for this work.

Still, requests to Rome to officially recognize the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus were turned down, until in 1765, the papacy allowed the Feast to the Sacred Heart to be celebrated in France. A century later, Pope Pius IX extended the Feast to the universal Church, with emphasis on the need for reparation for sins and abuses whether personal or social. Today, the devotion to the Sacred Heart underlines the centrality of Divine love, encouraging all to trust in God's overflowing benevolence towards the world He has made.


A life-giving love

A picture of the Sacred Heart was a hugely popular image of Christ for generations of Catholics. It speaks of the love of Christ, a love most totally shown upon the cross. The pierced heart of Christ proclaims that "greater love" of which Jesus says: "No one can have greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends." The image of the Sacred Heart offered the message of love in a very personal way, echoes in St Paul's words, "I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me." St John gives us one of the shortest yet most profound statements about God in all of the Bible: "God is love." He adds that "God's love was revealed when God sent into the world his only Son."

Jesus is the supreme revelation of God who is love. All authentic love is life-giving and that is uniquely true of Jesus, the revelation of God's love. In the gospel, He uses the image of "resting" to speak of that love. He invites all who are burdened to come to him and to find rest, to find life. Even a slight inkling of the tremendous love of God for us can have a transforming effect. It can empower us to love one another as God has loved us.


2nd Week of Easter

Monday, Week 2 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (4:23-31)

The first Christian community prays for help to survive the threatened persecution

After they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, "Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them, it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant: "Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples imagine vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers have gathered together against the Lord and against his Messiah." For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus." When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 2: 1-9)

R./: Happy are all who put their trust in the Lord.

Why this tumult among nations,
among peoples this useless murmuring?
They arise, the kings of the earth,
princes plot against the Lord
and his Anointed.
'Come, let us break their fetters,
come, let us cast off their yoke.' (R./)

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord is laughing them to scorn.
Then he will speak in his anger,
his rage will strike them with terror.
'It is I who have set up my king on Zion,
my holy mountain.' (R./)

I will announce the decree of the Lord:
The Lord said to me 'You are my Son.
It is I who have begotten you this day.
Ask and I shall bequeath you the nations,
put the ends of the earth in your possession.
With a rod of iron you will break them,
shatter them like a potter's jar.' (R./)

Gospel: John (3:1-8)

Jesus's words about being born again, of the Holy Spirit

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?"

Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, "You must be born from above." The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."

BIBLE

The wind blows where it will

When and where the Spirit comes, and with what consequences for our lives, cannot be determined ahead of time. "The wind blows where it will… You do not know where it comes from or where it goes." In both Hebrew and Greek one and the same word means wind and spirit. Nor can a previous reception of the Spirit determine how it will be done the next time. In today's gospel, as again in Acts 10:44-48, the Spirit descends unexpectedly. In fact, the sudden gift of the Spirit to the unbaptized household of the Roman cohort, "religious and God-fearing," yet non-Jewish and non-Christian, took even Peter by surprise. Yet immediately Peter exclaims: "What can stop these people who have received the Holy Spirit, even as we have, from being baptized with water?" Peter is prepared for the consequences of immediately baptizing pagan Romans, without first making them undergo Jewish circumcision. He thus anticipated Saint Paul in opening the doors of the Church to gentiles.

John portrays Nicodemus as one whose mind is clouded and who attempts to neutralize Jesus' highly spiritual statements with his own earthly ones. Nicodemus finds this talk about re-birth quite foolish! "How can a man be born again once he is old? Can he return to his mother's womb?" Despite such opposition, bordering on sarcasm, the Holy Spirit can manifest God's presence.The gift of the Spirit shakes a person's life to its roots; it induces new birth. It overcomes all opposition, be it military, political or religious. It states positively and unmistakably: you are an entirely new person. You live a new life. Everything about you will look different. Your responses to friends, your hopes for yourself or for your family and community, your ideals, your scale of values, all these vital aspects of life will look different. Your eyes will look out with the wonder of a newly born infant. You will run in all directions like a child and find that everything brings adventure. You will be accompanied with "cures and signs and wonders to be worked in the name of Jesus."

Yet at the same time, you remain the same person that you were before. What the Spirit achieves is a spiritual rebirth. A person does not re-enter his mother's womb. Rather an interior transformation takes place which activates hidden potential, which enlightens what was covered over with darkness (Jesus is " the light!"), which sharpens what had become dull and boring (Jesus is "salt of the earth!").

An unusual Pharisee

Many different kinds of people meet with Jesus in the course of John's gospel. In today's gospel, Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. He was a Pharisee, a member of that group who are consistently hostile to Jesus in John's gospel. Yet, here was a Pharisee who stood out somewhat from his peers. He was attracted by Jesus, and he allowed himself to be drawn to Jesus, even though it meant going against the prevailing current. His first approach to Jesus is tentative, coming to Jesus under cover of darkness. His last appearance in John's gospel is much less tentative; along with Joseph of Arimathea, he sees to it that Jesus is given a dignified burial. Nicodemus journeyed closer to Jesus in the course of the gospel of John. His story encourages us to make progress in our own relationship with Jesus, even when that means going against the prevailing tide. Even if our relationship with the Lord seems tentative at times, Nicodemus encourages us to believe that it can become less so. Jesus' words to Nicodemus in today's gospel remind us, however, that our growing towards the Lord is not just our own doing; it is ultimately the work of the Spirit in our lives. Jesus declares that we need to be born of the Spirit to enter the kingdom of God. As a sailing boat needs the wind, we need the Spirit at our back if we are to make our way towards the Lord. That Spirit is available to us all. The season of Easter is a good time to invite the Spirit afresh into our lives.


Tuesday, Week 2 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (4:32-37)

The sharing spirit among the early Christians

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means "son of encouragement"). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 91: 1-2, 5)

R./: The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty.

The Lord is king, with majesty enrobed;
the Lord has robed himself with might,
he has girded himself with power. (R./)

The world you made firm, not to be moved;
your throne has stood firm from of old.
From all eternity, O Lord, you are. (R./)

Truly your decrees are to be trusted.
Holiness is fitting to your house,
O Lord, until the end of time. (R./)

Gospel: John (3:7-15)

Only the Son of Man, who descended from heaven, can reveal heavenly things

Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.' The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."

Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" Jesus aswered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? "Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

BIBLE


A perfectly united community?

The Acts passage raises the issue whether a fair sharing of property can be achieved within the church. We see how, at least for a while, the early Christians at Jerusalem pooled all their resources, and there was no one in financial distress. Later, however, their destitution was such that Paul has to take up a collection during his travels in Greece for the sake of the Jerusalem community. Communal sharing of goods remained an ideal but was quickly abandoned as a prescribed way of life.

The idealism of the early Christians can rouse our desire to relive such an idyllic experience of community. How wonderful if we shared all our goods, cared for one another, were equal in wealth and poverty, and found our greatest contentment and strength in community and God's providence. But isn't it more often that our gifts and talents divide us one from another? We are too demanding that our personal priorities and insights which differ from others should prevail. The artist seems too impractical, the talented person too dominating, the capable leader turns dictatorial, the scholar demands our consent before we have time to think out the question.

Peace comes by humbly realizing that no one has a corner on all the gifts. Tensions can then be healthy and prevent us from speeding in any single direction and overlooking other turns and possibilities. Tensions remind us that gifts are given not just personal fulfilment but rather to be shared in the joy and love of family. None of us, no matter how gifted, can be saved unless our talents are shared with others and balanced by others' gifts. Community balances us, lest our gifts get out of hand, and can bring extraordinary surprises into our lives. The best growth takes place within community, because there is where the Spirit dwells.


Guided by what light?

We can notice a stretch in the evenings these days, now that it is bright beyond 7.00 pm. Most of us like the light. We are pleased to know that the daylight is lengthening every day at this time of the year. Our heart sinks a bit in Winter when we see how the days have begun to get shorter. Even though most of us like the light, the gospel notes how people seem to prefer darkness to light. The evangelist is referring there not to daylight, but to the one who declares himself to be the light of the world. Our calling is to "come out into the light," in the words of the gospel. Today's gospel makes the very generous statement that all who live by the truth come out into the light. All who seek the truth are already standing in the light of Christ, even though they may not be aware of it. The gospel suggests that people of faith, those who seek to be guided by the light of Christ, will always have something very fundamental in common with all who seek the truth with sincerity of heart.


Wednesday, Week 2 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (5:17-26)

The Temple police arrest the apostles, but without violence

Then the high priest took action; he and all who were with him (that is, the sect of the Sadducees), being filled with jealousy, arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, brought them out, and said, "Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life." When they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and went on with their teaching.

When the high priest and those with him arrived, they called together the council and the whole body of the elders of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the temple police went there, they did not find them in the prison; so they returned and reported, "We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside." Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were perplexed about them, wondering what might be going on. Then someone arrived and announced, "Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!" Then the captain went with the temple police and brought them, but without violence, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 33: 2-9)

R./: The Lord hears the cry of the poor.

I will bless the Lord at all times,
his praise always on my lips;
in the Lord my soul shall make its boast.
The humble shall hear and be glad. (R./)

Glorify the Lord with me.
Together let us praise his name.
I sought the Lord and he answered me;
from all my terrors he set me free. (R./)

Look towards him and be radiant;
let your faces not be abashed.
This poor man called; the Lord heard him
and rescued him from all his distress. (R./)

The angel of the Lord is encamped
around those who revere him, to rescue them.
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
He is happy who seeks refuge in him. (R./)

Gospel: John (3:16-21)

"For God so loved the world" the basic axiom of our faith

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God."

BIBLE


A religion of sincerity and truth

Peter and John are caught in a conflict that involves the high priest and the entire Sanhedrin besides the temple guards. The apostles are imprisoned, and God sends angels to intervene. This same struggle is echoed at universal level in John's gospel about God's sending his only son as the light of this world. Light and darkness clash, leading to a judgment for the world. After being freed by an angel, Peter and John are again in the temple courtyard, preaching to an enthusiastic audience. They seem to ignore their recent escape, acting as though nothing had taken place, forgetful of their deliverance by an angel. And when the police intervene, they must do so "without any show of force for fear of being stoned by the crowd." Somehow or other, these ordinary people without any weapons except the stones on the ground, bring the police to peaceful submission,

Likewise, in the gospel Jesus seemingly asks for nothing other than sincerity, to act "in truth," and to live in the light of his presence. The deep intuitive faith of people at large then turns out to be the stable ingredient of religion. Their matter-of-fact response, their enthusiasm, their spontaneous rallying around defenceless Peter and John, their ability to call everything and everyone by their right name, their continuing loyalty, their confidence in Jesus' presence in their midst, their spirit of hope in the goodness of God's creation, here is where the difference is made between success or failure in accomplishing God's will for our salvation.

Jesus not only promotes love in our lives, but nourishes that life by his hidden presence and by the Eucharist. His presence surrounds us on every side. And yet like the sunlight, he is never really under our control. Gently the Spirit of Jesus coaxes us to grow in love and trust; he endorses a warm enthusiasm for life, trust in others, quickness to rally around whatever is good, noble and worthy of faith (Phil 4:8).


Loving the light

We can notice a stretch in the evenings by now, in the northern hemisphere that is. Most of us like the added light. We are pleased by the extra daylight every day at this time of the year. In Autumn, our heart sinks a bit when we realize that the days have begun to get shorter. Even though most of us like the light, the gospel declares that people have shown they prefer darkness to light. The evangelist is referring there not to daylight, but to the one who declares himself to be the light of the world. Our calling is to 'come out into the light', in the words of the gospel. Today's gospel makes the very generous statement that all who live by the truth come out into the light. All who seek the truth are already standing in the light of Christ, even though they may not be aware of it. The gospel suggests that people of faith, those who seek to be guided by the light of Christ, will always have something very fundamental in common with all who seek the truth with sincerity of heart.


Thursday, Week 2 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (5:27-33)

What Peter and the apostles told the Jewish council

When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man's blood on us." But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him." When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 33: 2, 9, 17-20)

R./: The Lord hears the cry of the poor.

I will bless the Lord at all times,
his praise always on my lips.
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
He is happy who seeks refuge in him. (R./)

The Lord turns his eyes to the just
and his ears to their appeal.
They call and the Lord hears
and rescues them in all their distress. (R./)

The Lord is close to the broken-hearted;
those whose spirit is crushed he will save.
Many are the trials of the just man
but from them all the Lord will rescue him. (R./)

Gospel: John (3:31-36)

The Father loves the Son and has put all things in his hands

The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony. Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true. He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God's wrath.

BIBLE


Speaking our truth with love

How to distinguish inner strength from a stubborn love of confrontation? How to know if our convictions are from God and should be obeyed at all costs? Could our resistance to authority be just stubborn pride? Direct revelations from above must be quite rare, so how can we tell if God is really prompting us? To follow Jesus and speak in his name presumes that we are ready to walk the way of the cross with him, radically. We cannot forget that Jesus was nailed to a tree, the most public and painful of deaths, in defence of his convictions.

Today's text from Acts offers a clue about whether we are courageously following Jesus : "We testify and so does the Holy Spirit." We regularly invite the Holy Spirit into our hearts through personal prayer, on a regular basis. We can also consult the Holy Spirit by checking out our ideas with an honest mentor. It is good to have someone who will tell us the plain truth, on request. Prayer and spiritual guidance can help us grow beyond our own obsessions and our comfort zones. Another test of validity is suggested by Peter's reference to the God of our ancestors. So, do I pay heed to the Bible and listen to it, to have my spirit in tune with the early church's faith? We need this kind of listening to acquire a valid, integral spirituality. If we just pick and choose texts to suit ourselves, we may be just reinforcing our own oddities and stubborness. We must respect our origins, so that our present position can be a flowering of the seed that was planted in the past. Then our word, like Jesus' own, will witness to what we have seen and heard.


Increasing and decreasing

John the Baptist says that Jesus comes "from above," and that the Father has "entrusted everything to the Son." None of those things can be said about the Baptist himself. He profoundly appreciates the uniqueness of Jesus, which is why he can say, "he must increase, but I must decrease." In this life we cannot fully appreciate the specialness of Jesus. The more we see, the more we recognize what is yet to be seen. The closer we come to him, the more we realize how much deeper our relationship with him could be. There is always a sense in which we can use with John the Baptist's words, "he must increase; I must decrease." As he increases in us and we decrease, we don't cease to be ourselves. Rather, the more Jesus increases in us, the more we become our true selves, our Christ-selves, the person God is calling us to be.


Friday, Week 2 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (5:34-42)

Gamaliel prudently advises his colleagues against condemning Jesus' followers

a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to them, "Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them, in that case you may even be found fighting against God!"

They were convinced by him, and when the had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 26: 1-4, 13-14)

R./: One thing I seek: to dwell in the house of the Lord.

The Lord is my light and my help;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
before whom shall I shrink? (R./)

There is one thing I ask of the Lord;
for this I long,
to live in the house of the Lord,
all the days of my life,
to savour the sweetness of the Lord,
to behold his temple. (R./)

I am sure I shall see the Lord's goodness
in the land of the living.
Hope in him, hold firm and take heart.
Hope in the Lord! (R./)

Gospel: John (6:1-15)

Multiplication of loaves and fishes. But Jesus won't let himself be made king

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.

When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, "Six months" wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?" Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world."

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

BIBLE


Knowing our motives

When the people proclaim him as the prophet foretold by Moses, Jesus is uneasy. If the church is right in seeing him as the fulfilment of Israel's hopes, then why, we wonder, does he react so negatively when the people want him as their king? Maybe they wanted to harness his miraculous powers for their own aims. The miracle that Jesus performed on a single occasion, the people wanted to turn into an everyday handout. The request is perfectly understandable, for he was born to be a king. But the reason for Jesus' displeasure must be in the people's motivation.

In the reading from the Acts, we see how various messiahs had arisen and many people had been confused and misled by them. A member of the Jewish council then proposed a wise standard for judging the issue: If a work is of merely human origin, it will not last for long; but if it comes from God, no one should try to stop it. Even so, the apostles were not fully exonerated. The Sanhedrin decided to flog them before releasing them. But on their release they continued to preach in Jesus' name, fully willing to suffer for his sake.

In the end we may trust in Providence. If what we are doing is God's work, it cannot end in failure. No worthy project is wasted energy. And as we look about us at people who have survived tests of endurance or at institutions that have continued to serve the church over the centuries, we ought to be convinced that such things are part of God's plan. There are many such institutions which deserve much more respect than we often give them; and this thought can be a real spur to ecumenism.


Sharing our resources

Today we find Jesus and his disciples faced with a hungry crowd and little or no means of feeding them. In this situation of need, people reacted in different ways. Philip made a calculation: on the basis of the number of people and the amount of money available to buy food, and decided that nothing could be done. Andrew recognized that one of the crowd had a small amount of food but he dismissed this small resource as of no value. There were two other reactions in the story. There is the reaction of the small boy who willingly handed over the few pieces of food that he had. This is the reaction of the generous person, prepared to share all he or she has, even though it appears far less than what is needed. He gave whatever he could. Then there is the reaction of Jesus himself. He took the slim resources the young boy was generous enough to part with and, having prayed the prayer of thanksgiving to God over this food, he somehow fed the enormous crowd. The gospel teaches us that if we give generously from our resources to others, the Lord will work powerfully through those resources, small as they may seem to us.


Saturday, Week 2

1st Reading: Acts ((6:1-7)

Selection and ordination of the church's first deacons

Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word." What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 32: 1-2, 4-5, 18-19)

R./: Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.

Ring out your joy to the Lord, O you just;
for praise is fitting for loyal hearts.
Give thanks to the Lord upon the harp,
with a ten-stringed lute sing him songs. (R./)

For the word of the Lord is faithful
and all his works to be trusted.
The Lord loves justice and right
and fills the earth with his love. (R./)

The Lord looks on those who revere him,
on those who hope in his love,
to rescue their souls from death,
to keep them alive in famine. (R./)

Gospel: John (6:16-21)

Jesus calms a storm on the lake

When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.

When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

BIBLE


To serve the Church's real needs

This gospel implies some moments in life when we forge ahead without reference to Jesus … and then find ourselves engulfed by waves that threaten to sink us. But then it shows Jesus alongside us to put us back on course again. Seeking to link today's scriptural texts, in the gospel we see a decisive intervention of the Lord, while in the Acts we see how the apostles succeed in healing a crisis in the Christian community by compromise and common sense. The Greek-speaking early believers find that their widows were being neglected by church officers, in favour of the native Hebrew-speakers born in the Holy Land. The Twelve asked the community to nominate seven men who were both spiritual and prudent, to oversee the care of the Greek-speaking widows.

The appointing of the first deacons suggests a possible solution for a major need facing our Church today: how to ensure continuation of sacramental service to the People of God. It is clear that the apostles did not seek to end all debate on disputed issues by dogmatic decree, forbidding all further discussion! And their process of selecting the deacons, seeking consensus among the faithful about worthy candidates, has much to recommend it, over and against today's overly-centralised methods of episcopal selection . We are expected to make good use of our intelligence and common sense when seeking solutions. The apostles did not act like curial dictators, imposing decisions from headquarters to rectify a local situation. While they made a prudent decision, still they left the discernment about its implementation to the community, or as we might say "those on the ground." The Twelve could not neglect their duty of preaching and teaching, so they asked the Greek-speakers to select their own representatives, seven deacons, known for their prudence, who were then publicly ordained by the laying on of hands.

Of course, we cannot to rule out the possibility of miraculous intervention on God's part, if necessary reforms in the Church seem to be blocked by obstinacy or lack of insight among the magisterial office-holders. God can step in and immediately change the situation from one of desperation to one of new life. In the gospel the disciples immediately found themselves safely on the shore; their fears of drowning at sea quickly wiped away. Despite widespread discontent with aspects of church leadership today, the faith can continue. There's much encouragement in this episode of Jesus walking on the water. We do not know exactly what God will do, to heal the Church of our present widespread malaise. Miracles are not predictable, still less discussed and voted on; they simply happen! Belief in miracles presumes an attitude which surrenders both our individual and social/ecclesial wellbeing to God. It is a state of mind that does not demand total clarity and control. It is willing to live a risky existence, that adventure of faith whereby God can step in at crucial moments and shift gears for us.

Continuity is needed too. And when problems arise, our first recourse ought to be humanly planned and discussed with others. As a priority, we determine to remain within our faith community even if we have to sometimes raise our voice in loyal protest. We do not stomp out because of frustration, or respond so angrily that a shouting match breaks out! In the Acts we are impressed by the quiet, non-dominant style of the Twelve. Along with prudence and common sense, they have recourse to prayer and they consult the faithful before taking decisions that affect the whole community. That is how authority was exercised in the early Church. Would that the same moderate style could be seen replicated in today's Church.


A friend nearby, amid life's storms

Jesus had sent his disciples away in their boat, to cross the Lake of Galilee, while he himself went off into the hills to pray. The gospel suggests that his communion with God in prayer did not remove him from the needs of h is friends. He became aware of the disciples struggling in their boat against a headwind, worn out with the rowing. If our own prayer is genuine, it will deepen our awareness of others. As we enter into communion with God in prayer, we are drawn up into God's love for people. When prayer is a real opening up to God, it leaves us more open to others, especially any who are struggling and feel overwhelmed by the storms of life. In this morning's gospel, Jesus gets into the boat with his struggling disciples and, with him in the boat, the wind dropped and the disciples found themselves in a much calmer space. We too must open ourselves up to the Lord's calming and strengthening presence. We go out from our prayer strengthened to be channels of that life-giving presence of the Lord to others.


 

3rd Week of Easter

Monday, Week 3 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (6:8-15)

Stephen's preaching stirs the crowd: Is he against Moses?

Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen as it was called, Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. Then they secretly instigated some men to say, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God." They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council. They set up false witnesses who said, "This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us." And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 118: 23-24, 26-27, 29-30)

R./: Blessed are they who walk in the way of the Lord.

Though princes sit plotting against me
I ponder on your statutes.
Your will is my delight;
your statutes are my counsellors. (R./)

I declared my ways and you answered:
teach me your statutes.
Make me grasp the way of your precepts
and I will muse on your wonders. (R./)

Keep me from the way of error
and teach me your law.
I have chosen the way of truth
with your decrees before me. (R./)

Gospel: John (6:22-29)

We should work for the food that endures for eternal life

The next day the crowd that had stayed on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there. They also saw that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?" Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. or it is on him that God the Father has set his seal." Then they said to him, "What must we do to perform the works of God?" Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent."

BIBLE


Seeing beneath the surface

We only see a character in its true nature if we take the trouble to really look . The members of the Sanhedrin looked on the face of Stephen, and it seemed like that of an angel. Jesus tells the crowd: "You are not looking for me because you have seen signs but because you have eaten your fill of the loaves." Each of us looks outward in many different ways: with wide interest or with narrow bias, with a large heart open to goodness everywhere or with a narrow focus limited to personal concerns, with faith that accepts even miracles or with pessimism that sees only the worst, with wonder that peers beneath the surface to teeming possibilities or with a dull shrug of the shoulders that hardly pays attention to miracles! Somehow or other, our present world and all the more surely our future existence turn into what we see, at least so far as our own personal life is concerned.

A saint like Stephen, ordained to care for the poor and for neglected widows, was endowed by God with such a large heart that he overlooked trivia and did not allow himself to be caught on the sticky paper of petty worries. Instead of such narrow-mindedness, he reached out to the needs of the helpless. Yet he was dragged before the court for acting against the customs of the people. Important, intelligent people were willing to argue about customs when the poor were going hungry. The members of the Sanhedrin looked at a saint and turned him into a sinner. They saw the face of an angel and twisted it into that of a devil.

When Jesus fed the hungry in the desert, they were concerned only about stuffing food between their teeth. They did not ask about the goodness and generosity of God who cares for them; they did not inquire about their ways of sharing with others and so of imitating the goodness of Jesus. They did not stop to listen to the words of Jesus, ponder them prayerfully and ask for their implications in their daily lives. They simply wanted more food. Eventually, John's gospel links this miraculous multiplication of bread and fish with the Eucharist, Jesus' very own body and blood given for the life of the world.


Food for eternity

Jesus distinguishes between food that grows stale with time and food that endures to eternal life. He has fed the people in the wilderness with bread and fish, aware that hunger must be satisfied; but as people continued looking for more of this physical food, he invites them to look for the food that gives eternal life and satisfies the deepest of our hungers. He came not just to give people physical food but to give them the spiritual food of God's presence, God's life and God's Spirit. The gospel reminds us that, while the physical and material is vital because we are physical and material beings, our searching must not stop at the physical and the material. There is a great deal more to life than the satisfaction of our physical needs. We have deeper, spiritual hungers and thirsts as well that we need to attend to if we are to live a truly balanced life and be at peace within ourselves. In the gospel Jesus offers himself to us as the one who offers us the food that endures to eternal life. He can satisfy the deepest hungers and thirsts in our hearts. Our seeking must ultimately be directed towards him; it cannot stop at or be satisfied with anything less.


Tuesday, Week 3 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (7:51-8:1)

Stephen's temple-criticism stirs up the mob, who put him to death by stoning

"You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it."

When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he died.

And Saul approved of their killing him. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 30: 3-4, 6-8, 17, 21)

R./: Into your hands, O Lord, I entrust my spirit.

Be a rock of refuge for me,
a mighty stronghold to save me,
for you are my rock, my stronghold.
For your name's sake, lead me and guide me. (R./)

Into your hands I commend my spirit.
It is you who will redeem me, Lord.
As for me, I trust in the Lord:
let me be glad and rejoice in your love. (R./)

Let your face shine on your servant.
Save me in your love.
You hide those who trust you
in the shelter of your presence
from the plotting of men. (R./)

Gospel: John (6:30-35)

My Father gives you the true bread from heaven

So they said to him, "What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, "He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" Then Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always."

Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

BIBLE


Stephen's death and Christ's

In Acts, Luke compares Stephen's martyrdom to Jesus' death on the cross. Each of them, accused of blasphemy, is condemned to death by the Sanhedrin. Each sees a vision of someone coming on the clouds, at the right hand of God. Each asks God to receive the spirit and each prays for the forgiveness of the executioners (See Luke 22-23). Stephen becomes the proto-martyr of Christianity. Yet paradoxically, when one's death is modeled on that of Jesus, such a death turns into a moment of triumph and glory! The final moments of Stephen seemed anything but glorious and joyful, at the time. A pall of sorrow must have descended upon the small Christian community. Luke even adds how that day saw the beginning of a great persecution of the church in Jerusalem. All except the apostles scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Soon afterwards, Saul began to harass the church.

Even one as well meaning as Saul of Tarsus approved of stoning one who was promoting heresy. But Stephen himself accepted his fate peacefully, "filled with the Holy Spirit." Even when dragged outside the city amid a vortex of hatred, Stephen did not answer anger with anger, nor frustration with rage. He rose above the unbelief and violence by the strength he drew from the risen Lord. Self-possessed, he reasoned with his judges in the court of the Sanhedrin. He recognized God's providence and design where others were caught in anger, frustration and violence. Stephen stayed in possession of himself because he had surrendered that self to the Lord Jesus.


Living and dying like Jesus

In Acts we read about the execution of Stephen, the first recorded Christian martyr. Luke, who wrote this account, describes Stephen's death in a very similar way to how he had described the death of Jesus in his first volume, the gospel. Just as Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do," so Stephen prays, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." Just as Jesus said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit," so Stephen prays to the risen Lord, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." It is as if Luke is saying that the fundamental attitudes of Jesus are to be reproduced in that of his followers. The risen Lord seeks to continue living in and through his followers, and that includes us all. Because the Lord wants to live out his life in us, he invites us to come to him as our bread of life, in the words of this morning's gospel, "I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry." Our coming to the Lord in faith, and our receiving nourishment from him, creates an opening for him to live out his life in us, so that, in some way, we can continue to give flesh to his fundamental outlook and attitudes.


Wednesday, Week 3 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (8:1-8)

After Stephen's burial, Saul starts persecuting the church

And Saul approved of their killing him. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.

Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did, for unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who were possessed; and many others who were paralyzed or lame were cured. So there was great joy in that city.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 65: 1-7)

R./: Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.

Cry out with joy to God all the earth,
O sing to the glory of his name.
O render him glorious praise.
Say to God: 'How tremendous your deeds!' (R./)

'Before you all the earth shall bow;
shall sing to you, sing to your name.'
Come and see the works of God,
tremendous his deeds among men. (R./)

He turned the sea into dry land,
they passed through the river dry-shod.
Let our joy then be in him;
he rules for ever by his might. (R./)

Gospel: John (6:35-40)

Jesus says, "I am the bread of life -- I will raise them up on the last day."

Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day."

BIBLE


Insiders and Outsiders

Jerusalem, which had been a special place of Jesus' ministry, now violently rejects his disciples, while outsiders, particularly in Samaria, listen to the word, are willing to accept miracles, and are converted to the Lord. Sophisticated Jerusalem with its religious schools and centuries-old traditions, never gives Jesus or his disciples a fair a fair hearing; while Samaria, despised, yet open and spontaneous toward good news, listens to the disciples, responds with joy to the gospel message.

Comparing Jerusalem with Samaria alerts us to the fact that receiving the gospel is more than just an intellectual assent. In Jerusalem the sacred tradition of Moses was preserved, by the central governing body of Judaism. Yet, Jerusalem violently rejected Jesus and his first disciples. There was a direct simplicity about the Samaritans that made them open to new possibilities. They were not afraid of saying Yes to something new and then, suddenly, the flower of faith blooms among them.

Truly, the Bread of Life is most readily received by the humble of heart.


Even if they first reject it

Philip shares the gospel in Samaria and his message is welcomed. In Luke's first volume, Jesus tries to speak to the Samaritans but they reject him because he is heading for Jerusalem. But later they welcome his gospel gladly, from the lips of Philip. The gospel can blossom even where it was first rejected. Even though we may turn from the Lord at times, he never turns from us. This is in keeping with what Jesus says in this morning's gospel, "Whoever comes to me I shall never turn away." Easter celebrates the faithfulness of God to his Son Jesus, and the faithfulness of Jesus to all of us. The Lord's faithfulness encourages us to keep turning back to him, to keep coming to him, even after we have turned away from him. Even when we fail to respond to his coming, he offers himself to us as the bread of life and he continues to promise us that if we come to him we will never hunger and if we believe in him we will never thirst.


Thursday, Week 3 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (8:26-40)

Philip's joyful spreading of the faith

Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." (This is a desert road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go over to this chariot and join it." So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" He replied, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.

Now the scripture that he was reading was this: "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth."

The eunuch asked Philip, "About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?" Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?" He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 65: 8-9, 16-17, 20)

R./: Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.

O peoples, bless our God,
let the voice of his praise resound,
of the God who gave life to our souls
and kept our feet from stumbling. (R./)

Come and hear, all who fear God.
I will tell what he did for my soul:
to him I cried aloud,
with high praise ready on my tongue. (R./)

Blessed be God
who did not reject my prayer
nor withhold his love from me. (R./)

Gospel: John (6:44-51)

A promise of life: "Whoever eats this bread will live forever."

Jesus said to his disciples, "No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."

BIBLE


Learning from an Outsider

God was already drawing the Ethiopian toward faith. This highly-placed eunuch was a God-fearing gentile who believed in Israel's God, and followed whatever Torah rules were compatible with his family life and culture. The Spirit was attracting this man to a deeper understanding of life, through reading Isaiah's Suffering-Servant Songs. As Philip the deacon headed south along the route taken by the Ethiopian's chariot, Providence was clearly at work. The man was grappling with the Scriptures, but still felt unable to understand their mysterious message. "Do you really grasp what you are reading?" asks Philip, and the African politely replies, "How can I unless someone explains it to me?" When he heard how the mysterious Suffering Servant Song points to Jesus' death on the cross, the Ethiopian asks to be baptized and he is at once welcomed into the church. Notice the steps of his conversion, not so much as a progression from sin to grace, but as grasping the opportunity offered by grace, and wanting its full realization.

Like the Ethiopian we must be "God-fearers," reverencing what God is doing in our lives. Like this foreigner, we should join regularly in worship, as he did in the temple. The Ethiopian was reading from Isaiah Chapter 53 which he felt to be profound even while he did not understand to whom or what it referred. He waited for the Lord to enlighten him. When he met Philip he was very soon ready to be received into the church. The Ethiopian asked for baptism, and the door of the church was opened wide for him. This hospitable church is the ideal persuasively urged on us by Pope Francis -- a desire to let the joy of the Gospel shine on the lives of all who are ready to welcome it. And then we see how the good news was spread, when the Ethiopian journeyed home to bring the faith to his own country.

Through the church we receive not only baptism and new life in Jesus but also the bread or nourishment to sustain that life strong and vigorous. The gospel tells us: "I myself am the living bread come down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread that one shall live forever.


Word and Eucharist

In the first reading the Ethiopian returning home from his pilgrimage stops to read the Scriptures and is very touched by a passage in Isaiah. This leads him to ask questions which later leads to his receiving baptism into the church at the hands of Philip. Then in the gospel Jesus speaks of the bread that he will give for the life of the world, a clear reference to the Eucharist. We have the elements of word, baptism and eucharist in our two readings. Each of them is part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. In our own lives, the sequence is usually: baptism, word, eucharist. We were baptized as infants; then introduced to Jesus through the stories in the gospels, with pieces of the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Paul, and the great texts of the Jewish Scriptures. That in turn led to receiving the Eucharist. For us who have been baptized, the connection between Word and Eucharist remains very close. At every Mass we first have the Liturgy of the Word, and then the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Word nourishes our faith, and it is out of that nourished faith that we come to the Eucharist. The bread of the Word prepares us for the bread of the Eucharist. The bread of the word is a necessary first course, as it were, preparing us to receive the Eucharist well.


Friday, Week 3 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (9:1-20)

On the road to Damascus, Saul converts to the Way

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" He asked, "Who are you, Lord?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do." The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lordsaid to him in a vision, "Ananias." He answered, "Here I am, Lord." The Lord said to him, "Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight." But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name." But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God."

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 116)

R./: Go out to all the world, and tell the Good News.

O praise the Lord, all you nations,
acclaim him all you peoples! (R./)

Strong is his love for us;
he is faithful for ever. (R./)

Gospel: John (6:52-59)

A promise of life: "Whoever eats this bread will live forever."

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" So Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever." He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

BIBLE


Persecutor to Promoter

St Paul's conversion is here presented for the first of three times in the Acts of the Apostles (see also 22:4-26; 26:12-18). Here it highlights the movement of the church beyond Judaism to the gentile world. This account is preceded in Acts by the story of the Ethiopian eunuch who was baptized by deacon Philip and then followed by the conversion of the Roman centurion Cornelius. Both the Ethiopian and Cornelius were baptized without going through the full procedures of becoming Jews by circumcision and by accepting the Jewish dietary laws. The conversion of these foreigners shared an important feature with Saul's conversion. Each took place because of special, miraculous intervention by God.

Up till now Paul had been persecuting the church, in Jerusalem and now (he had thought) in Damascus. His conversion, however, would bring an entirely new type of suffering to the small group of disciples. In becoming an apostle to the gentiles, Paul insisted that it was not necessary to be circumcised nor to follow Mosaic laws like those for food and drink, in order to be a follower of Jesus. This action on Paul's part split the church right down the center. The controversy comes to the surface in Paul's Epistle to the Galatians and in a later chapter in Acts. Paul, therefore, was considered a traitor by his own Jewish family and coreligionists, and he was to be isolated and calumniated even by his Christian community. When Jesus announced to Ananias that Paul "will have to suffer for my name," he was referring not just to Paul's eventual martyrdom in Rome but even more to a life of martyrdom within his own church!

Wherever then we bring the good news of Jesus and the family love of the Eucharist, we are also instruments of suffering. Our lives are intertwined as closely as flesh and blood. Blood brings the strength and vigor for flesh to suffer crucifixion. Flesh keeps the blood circulating within a single body where we are all united.

Once Paul was converted, both he and the church took the consequences. Each would suffer the effect of the other's gifts, insights and apostolate. And as each one is strengthened further by Jesus' eucharistic bread come down from heaven, each will be clearer in insights, more forceful in demands and expectations, even more impatient at the slow or indifferent reaction of others. This process of life, into death, for a new and greater life is the story of Jesus, Paul and each of us.


Questioning Jesus

Many questions are asked by people in the course of the gospels. Some are posed by Jesus; others are asked by those who meet him. Today it is the Jews who ask, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Far from pulling back in response to that scornful, dismissive question, Jesus goes on to speak of the need not only to eat his flesh but to drink his blood as well. The language of eating the flesh, the body, of Jesus and drinking the blood of Jesus is shocking. Yet, it is the language of John's gospel. Jesus, who gave his life for us on the cross, gives himself to us as our food and our drink in the Eucharist. Jesus goes on to state that he gives himself to us as food and drink so that we might draw life from him. "Whoever eats me will draw life from me." The life which flowed from the side of Jesus as he hung from the cross, symbolized by the blood and water, is conveyed personally to each of us when we eat his body and drink his blood. We come to the Eucharist to draw life from the Lord, as branches draw life from the vine. We are then sent from the Eucharist to live with his life, to live his life.


Saturday, Week 3

1st Reading: Acts (9:31-42)

During Peter's ministry in Lydda he restores Tabitha to life

Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers. Now as Peter went here and there among all the believers, he came down also to the saints living in Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden for eight years, for he was paralyzed. Peter said to him, "Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!" And immediately he got up. And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.

Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, "Please come to us without delay." So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, "Tabitha, get up." Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 115: 12-17)

R./: What return can I make to the Lord for all that he gives to me?

How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me?
The cup of salvation I will raise;
I will call on the Lord's name. (R./)

My vows to the Lord I will fulfil
before all his people.
O precious in the eyes of the Lord
is the death of his faithful. (R./)

Your servant, Lord, your servant am I;
you have loosened my bonds.
A thanksgiving sacrifice I make:
I will call on the Lord's name. (R./)

Gospel: John (6:60-69)

"We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.."

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, "Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father." Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.

So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

BIBLE


Peter's inspiring faith

Through the Easter season the risen Christ is summoning what seems dead within us, to make it bud forth into new existence. But despite this inner transition within ourselves, we continue to be recognisable the same as before. The lady whom Peter called back to life was the same Dorcas whose "good deeds and acts of charity" had established a family bond with many of the poor and oppressed, particularly with the widows in the city of Joppa. "It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless, The words I spoke to you are spirit and life." "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." If I decide to follow Peter's example and to kneel in prayer, believing that God can work miracles, if he wills. Do I accept that God can achieve what seems impossible for weak human nature? "It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh cannot do it."

We are inspired by the story of Peter's missionary efforts to bring the faith to the wider world. On his journeys he often had the power of working miracles. God does not ask the ordinary person to such heights. Still, all of us are summoned occasionally to things out of the ordinary. The wonders we are called to do may not be as startling Peter bringing a dead person back to life. But God may suddenly ask me to forgive another person, or to be silent and no longer make an issue out of an unpleasant situation, to accept the loss of a friend or relative, to live silently and patiently with an ailment. Moments of heroic faith come occasionally. We think that God is asking the impossible, but "It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh cannot do it."


Probing Questions

In John's gospel, Jesus often asks very probing questions. We find one of them today, when he asks the Twelve, 'What about you, do you want to go away too?' In the previous verses many of his followers are depicted as leaving Jesus because of his words about needing to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Their leaving is the occasion for Jesus to place the twelve before a moment of decision, 'Do you want to go away too?' He was probing, looking for them to make a personal decision as to whether they would stay with him or leave him like so many others.

The risen Lord looks for a similar personal decision from us, asking us, 'do you want to go away too?' In the culture in which we live not everyone has chosen to respond in faith to the Lord's presence and call. As a result, we each have to make a more personal and more deliberate decision for the Lord than was needed in the past, the kind of decision the Lord looks for in this morning's gospel. As we strive to make that decision we can do no better than to make our own the response of Peter to Jesus' question, 'Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.'


 

4th Week of Easter

Monday, Week 4 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (11:1-18)

By inspiration, Peter baptises the first pagan converts

The apostles and believers in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, "Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?" Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, "I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, "Get up, Peter; kill and eat." But I replied, "By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth." But a second time the voice answered from heaven, "What God has made clean, you must not call profane." This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven.

At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man's house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, "Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved." And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, "John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?" When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, "Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life."

Responsorial Psalm: (Pss 41: 2-3; 42: 3-4)

R./: My soul is thirsting for the living God.

Like the deer that yearns
for running streams,
so my soul is yearning for you, my God. (R./)

My soul is thirsting for God,
the God of my life;
when can I enter and see the face of God? (R./)

O send forth your light and your truth;
let these be my guide.
Let them bring me to your holy mountain
to the place where you dwell. (R./)

And I will come to the altar of God,
the God of my joy.
My redeemer, I will thank you on the harp,
O God, my God. (R./)

Gospel: John (10:1-10)

Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who keeps his sheep safe from harm

"Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers." Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

BIBLE


Peter's pastoral style

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are proactive, reaching into the depths of our personality, summoning us to new possibilities of life. Peter learned how to be a pastor by practice, on the hoof, as it were. Going out from Jerusalem to coastal Caesarea to tend Christ's flock, he found himself baptizing a gentile household not to give them the Holy Spirit but because he saw them already graced by the Spirit in visible ways. Although Peter was an observant Jew, like Jesus, obeying the laws and observances of his people, he could not refuse baptism to those he recognised as chosen by God. Without hesitating, he baptized them!
What creative, courageous leadership he showed, pointing the way forward for the church. At the same time he showed courageous leadership in another way, equally vital for today. When challenged by other members of the church for his daring initiative, Peter patiently explained the reason for his action. His leadership is not dictatorial but a blend of inspiration and dialogue. On the question of how gentiles could belong to the church, Peter had decisively opened the door. We may discern that flavour of openness and encouragement also in pope Francis' first year of leadership of the universal church; long may it last!

This dynamic in the church where questions are worded out theologically with an eye to tradition while yet being open to new and startling manifestations of the Holy Spirit, was anticipated by Jesus in the parable of the Good Shepherd. This Shepherd knows each sheep by name, calls each one by a sound which reaches into the depths of the person. Each change in life, whether for the group or for the individual, must be in continuity not only with our past life but also with him from whom our spiritual life is received, the Good Shepherd who calls us by our name. In times like ours too the Spirit may intervene surprisingly and lead our bishops and other leaders to new decisions beyond our expectations, as happened to Peter in the days of the Apostles. As we approach Pentecost, we and our church leaders must seek to be attuned to what the Spirit wants to change in our church, to make us more effective instruments of the grace of Jesus for the men, women and young people of our day.


Not getting in God's way

Peter asks the question, 'Who am I to stand in God's way?' When the Holy Spirit came down upon the pagan Cornelius and his household Peter realized that God was doing something in the lives of these pagans and, at the very least, Peter's role was not to get in the way of what God was doing. In the gospel, Jesus speaks of himself as the gate. Far from getting in God's way, Jesus was the gate through whom God came to people and they came to God. Jesus is the open gate onto God. People can go freely in and out through him and experience the life of God. As Jesus says in that gospel, 'I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.' There is a sense in which we all share in that role of Jesus to be the gate. We too are called to be openings for God, people through whom God can enter people's lives, just as the Spirit of God entered the lives of Cornelius and his household through Peter in the first reading. At the very least, this will mean, in the words of Peter, not standing in God's way. We have a role to play in each other's lives but we also have to leave room for God to work. There is a time to be the shepherd and a time to be the gate.


Tuesday, Week 4 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (11:19-26)

Barnabas goes to Antioch and sees the grace of God at work

Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they spoke the word to no one except Jews. But among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord. News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord.

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called "Christians."

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 86: 1-7)

R./: All you nations, praise the Lord.

On the holy mountain is his city
cherished by the Lord.
The Lord prefers the gates of Zion
to all Jacob's dwellings.
Of you are told glorious things,
O city of God! (R./)

'Babylon and Egypt I will count
among those who know me;
Philistia, Tyre, Ethiopia,
these will be her children
and Zion shall be called “Mother”
for all shall be her children.' (R./)

It is he, the Lord Most High,
who gives each his place.
In his register of peoples he writes:
'These are her children'
and while they dance they will sing:
'In you all find their home.' (R./)

Gospel: John (10:22-30)

Jesus shows himself as the Saviour in whom we must trust

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly." Jesus answered, "I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father's hand. The Father and I are one."

BIBLE


Paul's Mentor in discipleship

The initiative for faith and discipleship must come from God, Jesus says. From him we receive eternal life, and through him we are caught up into the Holy Trinity. United with Jesus, we are joined to the Father and the Holy Spirit; and we inherit our Lord's promise: "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand."

Jesus speaks these profound words about our eternal future in answer to a question put to him while he taught in the Temple. Somebody demanded to know: "How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are really the Messiah, tell us so in plain words." Many people tended to reject his mystical language about union with God, demanding a plain answer, Yes or No, to the question, "Are you the Messiah?" What they meant was, "If yes, then we can begin the revolt against Rome."

God can brighten the mystery of our lives only if we allow the time to be perceptive and contemplative. These are qualities that characterized the apostle Barnabas, virtually canonized even in his lifetime as "a good man filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith." Elsewhere his name is interpreted as "son of encouragement" (Acts 4:36). Originally named Joseph, he was called Barnabas because of his encouraging style and supportive personality.

The openness of Barnabas to God's gifts led him to Tarsus to search for Paul and bring him to join the church in Antioch. If it had not been for him, Paul might have been lost in the silent sands of some desert solitude. Taking a cue from today's gospel, we reckon that through Barnabas Jesus called by name this straying sheep "Paul" and led him into a path that transformed the missionary enterprise and the very nature of the church. We need to think how we too can be instrumental in helping others to perceive their dignity, their potential and the service they can give when called by God.


The value of paying attention

Many of us are concerned about break-ins to our home, anxious that someone might steal from us or do us harm. We take security precautions to prevent that from happening. In our gospel today, Jesus refers to breaking in and stealing; and goes on to declare that no one will ever steal his followers from him. It is as if to say that he has such a strong grip on his followers that no on will ever take them from him against his will. When you reflect on that, it is indeed very reassuring. Jesus will do all in his power to keep us united with himself and to prevent us from being taken away from him or falling away from him.

There is something we must do as well, for he also declares, "The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice." We need to pay attention to the Lord. We try to hear what he may be saying to us; we seek to follow where he is leading us. If we do that, the gospel suggests that we can be assured that the Lord will do the rest. Our Lord's contribution to the relationship between us and him is much more powerful than our own. Our ultimate salvation is much more the Lord's doing than ours. Therein lies our confidence and hope.


Wednesday, Week 4 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (12:24-13:5)

The growing church sends Barnabas and Saul on mission

The word of God continued to advance and gain adherents. Then after completing their mission Barnabas and Saul returned to Jerusalem and brought with them John, whose other name was Mark.

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John also to assist them.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 66: 2-3, 5-6, 8)

R./: O God, let all the nations praise you!

O God, be gracious and bless us
and let your face shed its light upon us.
So will your ways be known upon earth
and all nations learn your saving help. (R./)

Let the nations be glad
and exult for you rule the world with justice.
With fairness you rule the peoples,
you guide the nations on earth. (R./)

Let the peoples prise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
May God still give us his blessing
till the ends of the earth revere him. (R./)

Gospel: John (12:44-50)

Whoever believes in Jesus is trusting in the One who sent him

Then Jesus cried aloud: "Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come as ligh into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me."

BIBLE


His Mission Goes On

Today's texts offer a glimpse of the community of life between Jesus and his heavenly Father, and between the members of the church in Antioch among themselves and with God. "For I have not spoken on my own; no, the Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to speak." Jesus' personality is formed by this obedient regard to the Father, this receptivity to the Father's will and wisdom, this total community of life with the Father.

In the church at Antioch, the community gathers for liturgy while fasting from food and drink. This would remind them that their strength comes from God, not from themselves. Fasting also induces a bond of compassion, a willingness to suffer together, a sense of being one with all the world's poor and oppressed. As such, they are thoroughly open to God for guidance and for strength. That was when the Holy Spirit inspired a prophecy: "Set apart Barnabas and Saul." The language reminds us of great prophets, like Jeremiah, called and set apart from his mother's womb, or the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, called from birth to be a light to the nations (Jer 1:5; Is 49:6).

Through Barnabas and Paul a new and wider community is to be established. The bond of Jesus' disciples is to spread across the Roman empire, during this first missionary journey to the island of Cyprus. The Holy Spirit did not give precise, detailed instructions, only a call to proceed forward on the journey. At first they proclaim the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. Yet, all the while God's main purpose was to attract more and more gentiles so that Christianity can bring the message of Moses, the prophets and Jesus to all the world.

Just as Jesus and the Father formed one intimate life and as the disciples were united among themselves through the Holy Spirit, so the church at Antioch was to reach outward toward the world to unite people as one family in Christ. At the heart of this growing and increasing family was the word of life from the heavenly Father. It is this outreach toward others in love that keeps us from over-controlling the word of God. As we share this word with others, it always seems to become something new, fresh, demanding, upsetting, as whenever new life is added to any family. Yet, this life is in continuity with the word of the Father to Jesus. This mystery of God's hidden message, spoken in Jesus and heard through the prophets within our midst, is the most deepest, truest voice we will ever hear. It comes from the Father, and sends us on a missionary journey of kindness and love to others.


Sent by the Father

Frequently in John's gospel, Jesus speaks of the God who sent him. The eternal God sent his Son among us out of love for the world. This sending was an act of generosity on God's part, involving a real giving for John speaks of God as giving his Son. In the first reading, the church of Antioch send two of their most gifted members to parts of the Roman Empire where Christ had not yet been preached.

The sending of Barnabas and Paul on mission involved a real giving on the part of the Antioch Christians, who were sacrificing two of their most valuable assets for the sake of others. Over the centuries the Irish church has sent and given some of its most gifted members to proclaim the gospel far from home. That is the nature of our Church and the nature of our call as Christians. We give away what is most precious to us so that others can benefit from our resources. Each local church, each parish, is called not just to serve itself, but to serve other local churches whether next door or far away. We are to be generous with each other as God has been with us.


Thursday, Week 4 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (13:13-25)

Paul's summary of Israel's history, up to the time of Christ

Then Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. John, however, left them and returned to Jerusalem; but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the law and the prophets, the officials of the synagogue sent them a message, aying, "Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, give it." So Paul stood up and with a gesture began to speak:

"You Israelites, and others who fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. For about forty years he put up with them in the desert. After he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance for about four hundred fifty years. After that he gave them judges until the time of the prophet Samuel. Then they asked for a king; and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. When he had removed him, he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, "I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes." Of this man's posterity God has brought to Israel a Saviour, Jesus, as he promised; before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his work, he said, "What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet."

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 88: 2-3, 21-22, 25, 27)

R./: For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.

I will sing for ever of your love, O Lord;
through all ages my mouth will proclaim your truth.
Of this I am sure, that your love lasts for ever,
that your truth is firmly established as the heavens. (R./)

I have found David my servant
and with my holy oil anointed him.
My hand shall always be with him
and my arm shall make him strong. (R./)

My truth and love shall be with him;
by my name his might shall be exalted.
He will say to me: 'You are my father,
my God, the rock who saves me.' (R./)

Gospel: John (13:16-20)

Whoever receives one whom I send receives me; I know whom I have chosen

Truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfill the scripture, "The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me."

I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he. Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me."

BIBLE


History: God at Work

In today's readings a line of continuity stretches through Israel's history right through to ourselves. Jesus is sent by the heavenly Father, with a message not just in words but in his very person. He himself is a message from the heart of the Godhead; he is the great I AM. This I AM title not only identifies Jesus with the eternal divinity, but also involves him in the long history of Israel. God was revealed to Moses at the burning bush as the mysterious I AM (Ex 3:14) "I am who I am." Put into the third person, it reads: "He who is always with you." As a Hebrew name it takes the form of Yahweh.

God revealed Godself as the one who will always be with his people. In some way the ongoing, merciful divine interaction with the lives of his people determine who God is: He is as they find him in their questions and answers, their hopes and struggles and triumphs. This sacred I AM is adopted by Jesus as his own: "that you may believe that I AM," linking himself to the entire history of Israel, and of mankind.

While preaching in Pisidian Antioch (not the Sryian Antioch of Acts 11:19), Paul reviews some great moments of Israel's history, with special attention to Moses, David and John the Baptist. The line of continuity extended from heaven to earth, then from the Patriarchs and Moses on to David, to John the Baptist, and to the one John announced, Jesus.

Within this line all through Israel's long history from the eternal God to Jesus of Nazareth, some very disruptions disruptions and new situations occurred. Israel was persecuted and oppressed in Egypt. Then their entry to the land of promise was delayed for forty years while they wandered in the desert and even when it was won by conquest there was a long period before they were securely rooted there, with a united monarchy. Their first king, Saul was rejected as from the throne; and some centuries later the Davidic dynasty had also disappeared from history. This series of ups and downs, of rejection and renewal continued within the life of Jesus and of the church. One of his own disciples betrayed him, when Judas "raised his heel against me." But just after announcing his betrayal, Jesus added, "I tell you this before it takes place, so that when it takes place you may know that I AM."

Change of plans cuts across the line of continuity in history. At first, such interruptions seem to be a disaster. But in the life of Jesus such disruption marked the very presence of God: "that you may believe that I AM." God suddenly moves in ways never anticipated in advance. We are not in control! It is not that we should be totally passive. On the example of Jesus and of Paul we turn to God in prayer, and realize from the start it is God who has directed all the events. We believe and can then be inwardly at peace.


Welcoming the little ones

When Jesus told his disciples to welcome children in his name, it was an important lesson. They were arguing about which of them was most important. But Jesus insisted that seeking social status was not a value for him and had no place the kingdom of God. What is of value in God's kingdom is becoming servant of all, including servant of those whom the world does not consider of any standing or status, such as children. Like the disciples we can easily buy into a set of values that are not those of the kingdom of God. It is only by keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus and becoming more attentive to his word that we allow his values to shape how we think and speak and act.


Friday, Week 4 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (13:26-33)

Jesus was put to death, but raised and exalted by God

"My brothers, you descendants of Abraham's family, and others who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent. Because the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize him or understand the words of the prophets that are read every sabbath, they fulfilled those words by condemning him. Even though they found no cause for a sentence of death, they asked Pilate to have him killed. When they had carried out everything that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead; and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, and they are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second Psalm, "You are my Son; today I have begotten you."

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 2: 6-11)

R./: You are my Son; this day I have begotten you.

'It is I who have set up my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.'
I will announce the decree of the Lord:
The Lord said to me: 'You are my Son.
It is I who have begotten you this day.' (R./)

'Ask and I shall bequeath you the nations,
put the ends of the earth in your possession.
With a rod of iron you will break them,
shatter them like a potter's jar.' (R./)

Now, O kings, understand,
take warning rulers of the earth;
serve the Lord with awe
and trembling, pay him your homage. (R./)

Gospel: John (14:1-6)

In my Father's house there are many dwelling places

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going." Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

BIBLE


Many rooms in God's House

It was so good to hear our Pope say some months back that the doors of our church must be wide open and welcoming. This message is a fine antidote to any narrow, legalistic form of church, where the barriers to eucharistic communion were constantly reiterated. Today we can resonate to those Last Supper words of Jesus which are central to our faith: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." In some mysterious way, to be seeking is already to be found, to be on the way is to have arrived, to be reaching out to Jesus means that we are being sought by him. He draws us even before we feel inclined to look for him. The flower is touched by sunlight before it turns toward the sun.

In the epistle Paul roams through the Hebrew Bible, beginning with the patriarchs and Moses and ending with John the Baptist, who pointed to Jesus. Some of this was in yesterday's reading. Now, in the second half of his sermon at Pisidian Antioch, Paul directly addresses the situation of his hearers. He turns from the words of Scripture, inscribed in a book, to those same words as spoken by the living God. Everything in Scripture, he maintains, can be read in the light of Jesus who gives each statement its full meaning. He moves from the book to a person, calling us to move from merely formal doctrine to bear personal witness to Jesus.

We are "on the way" as we move from the creed to personal encounter with Jesus who speaks to our hearts. We are also on "the way," strangely enough, when sin or misfortune forces us out into a desolate place. Even in times of turmoil for the church, we can be "on the way," with Jesus. Just as there are many mansions in the Father's house, so the ways that lead to those mansions are many and varied. The only absolute guideline Jesus gives about staying on the track with him is always couched in terms of love, that agapé which was the hallmark of Jesus' whole life on earth.


Taking us to the Father

Today's gospel is often chosen to be read in the funeral liturgy and is easy to understand why that is so. Jesus assures his troubled disciples that while he is going away from them in death, he is really going back to his Father, journeying back to the one from whom he came into the world. He assures his disciples that the journey he is about to make is one that they too will make one day. He promises to return to take his disciples with him to the Father's house, so that they can be with him forever. Jesus promises the same to all of us, that he will take us to the Father at the end of our lives. He came among us to show us the Father, to reveal God to us. The whole purpose of his mission was and is to bring God to us and to bring us to God.

His description of his Father's house as having many rooms suggests the great hospitality of that house. Heaven, it seems, is not a confined space for a selected few; it is an open space for the many, just as Jesus himself did not come for the few, for the elect, but for all. Jesus is the Way to the Father for all who turn to him in faith. That is why he said, "when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself." We pray today that we would always take him as our Way so that at the end of our lives we would join him in his Father's house.


Saturday, Week 4

1st Reading: Acts (13:44-52)

After failing to convert Jews, Paul and Barnabas turn to the Gentiles

The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul. Then both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, "I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'"

When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers. Thus the word of the Lord spread throughout the region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their region. So they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 94: 1-4)

R./: All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.

Sing a new song to the Lord
for he has worked wonders.
His right hand and his holy arm
have brought salvation. (R./)

The Lord has made known his salvation;
has shown his justice to the nations.
He has remembered his truth and love
for the house of Israel. (R./)

All the ends of the earth
have seen the salvation of our God.
Shout to the Lord all the earth,
ring out your joy. (R./)

Gospel: John (14:7-14)

Jesus tells Philip, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father."

Jesus said to his disciples, "If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him." Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied."

Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, "Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

BIBLE


Adapting to changing times

Adapting our understanding of God to large-scale changes in the surrounding culture can be difficult and divisive, as Catholics very well know. Our church found it so in the wake of Vatican II, and is still experiencing this tension fifty years later, with traditional doctrines being critically tested against widely shared values of our times. Such trends and changes can be a way of fulfilling Jesus' words to the apostle Philip: "Whoever believes in me will do the works I do, and greater far than these." How can our works be greater than those of Jesus? Is he teasing us with unreal praise or inviting us, prodding us to move on?

Here Jesus is expressing something that parents often think and say to their children: "what I couldn't do, you must do! Take up my dreams and make them real in your lifetime." Jesus dreamed of a mission to the entire world and yet in practice could not act upon it in his lifetime. He told the Canaanite woman, just outside the territory of the Jewish people, "My mission is only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." And when she persisted, he stood his ground against her argument, before saying, "Woman, you have great faith! Your wish will come to pass" (Matt 15:21-28). Your wish, Jesus seemed to say, is my wish, how I long to see us all one, joined around the heavenly banquet table. No one would then have to survive from crumbs that fall to the ground!

When Paul and Barnabas were excommunicated from the synagogue and expelled from the territory, it served the spread of the Gospel. On this occasion Paul quotes from Isaiah: "I have made you a light to the nations, a means of salvation to the ends of the world." We can reread this in the context of any personal crisis or change, in the conviction that the whole process is under the loving, guiding providence of our God.


The heart's hunger

You'll often hear parents say to children, "you are never satisfied." There is a sense in which that is probably true of all of us. We are never satisfied. Saint Augustine said that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. In today's gospel, Philip expresses the same sentiment. He says to Jesus, "Lord, let us see the Father, and then we shall be satisfied." He understood that it is only in seeing God that all the longings of his heart would be satisfied. Jesus replies to Philip's words with the statement, "To have seen me is to have seen the Father." Jesus reveals the Father; he is the way to the Father. We won't see God the Father in this life, but God has sent us his Son. Although we cannot see Jesus in the way the apostles saw him, we can see him with the eyes of faith in this life. We can see him in his Word, in the Eucharist, in the other Sacraments, in each other. Such "seeing" of the Lord won't fully satisfy us but it gives us a glimpse of what awaits us.


 

5th Week of Easter

Monday, Week 5 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (14:5-18)

At Lystra a crippled man is healed by Barnabas and Paul

And when an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, the apostles learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country; and there they continued proclaiming the good news.

In Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been crippled from birth. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, said in a loud voice, "Stand upright on your feet." And the man sprang up and began to walk. When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, "The gods have come down to us in human form!" Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice.

When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, "Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good--giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy." Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 113: 1-4, 15-16)

R./: Not to us, O Lord, but to your name give the glory.

Not to us, Lord, not to us,
but to your name give the glory
for the sake of your love and your truth,
lest the heathen say: 'Where is their God?' (R./)

Our God he is in the heavens;
he does whatever he wills.
Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands. (R./)

May you be blessed by the Lord,
the maker of heaven and earth.
The heavens belong to the Lord
but the earth he has given to men. (R./)

Gospel: John (14:21-26)

Jesus will send the Holy Spirit as Advocate, to keep his message alive

Jesus said to his disciples,
"They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them." Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, "Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?" Jesus answered him, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you."

BIBLE

Letting the Spirit guide us

If we are led by the Holy Spirit, we can be instruments of healing power, like Paul and Barnabas. We may find faith strong enough to help and heal them, as they did. Today's Scriptures suggest this healing frame of mind.

First, we must be obedient to the Holy Spirit. This same Spirit reminds us of all that Jesus has said, relevant to our situation, and revives our capacity for prayer, love and helpfulness. Our vocation will be fanned to fresh life and bring back some of the freshness of youth when we were stirred by high ideals. The Holy Spirit touches us, reminding us that we are full of potential, meant to be instruments of love and so to reveal the wonderful presence of God.

Second, grace is near at hand, all around us. God's word is written everywhere. The Spirit enables us to hear God's word, as though spoken for the first time, directly to our hearts. The message comes from the Father and sent Jesus out on his ministry of healing. As Paul expressed it in today's reading: "the living God made heaven and earth and the sea and all that is in them. … In bestowing his benefits, he has not hidden himself from us. From the heavens he sends down rain and rich harvests; your spirits he fills with food and delight."

Thirdly, if the word is everywhere, it belongs to everyone. It cannot be hoarded as our private property. By its nature it must be shared or it dies. Just as the Father's word, as Jesus said, "is not mine" but is "to instruct you in everything," so the word we receive in our hearts must continuously flow through us to inspire new life in others.

Fourthly, we must trust God unconditionally. Each of us can be God's instrument, even to the extent of working small miracles. As God's Word infuses new life into our thoughts and expressions, it brings healing as to the crippled man at Lystra. Remember, Jesus promised that "The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit… will instruct you in everything."

A legacy of love

The verb "to love" occurs very significantly in today's gospel. It speaks of our love for Jesus, Jesus' love for us, and God the Father's love for us. God the Father expresses his love for us by giving us the Son. Jesus expresses his love for us by laying down his life for us, and by making known to us all he has learnt from the Father. We express our love for Jesus by keeping his word, by living according to his teaching, which, in John's gospel, is summed up as "love one another as I have loved you." The gospel also makes reference to the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. As the Father expresses his love for us by giving us the Son; the Father and Son together express their love for us by giving us the Holy Spirit. The role of the Holy Spirit, according to our reading, is to be our teaching, to keep bringing to our minds the teaching, the word, of Jesus. The Holy Spirit helps us to keep Jesus' word, especially his command to "love one another as I have loved you." In that short gospel reading, there is a whole vision of the Christian life, of God's relationship with us as Father, Son and Spirit, and of our relationship with each other.


Tuesday, Week 5 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (14:19-28)

Paul is stoned and left for dead; but survives to continue his ministry

Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city. The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.

After they had proclaimed the good news to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, then on to Iconium and Antioch. There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, "It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God." And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.

Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From there they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had completed. When they arrived, they called the church together and related all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles. And they stayed there with the disciples for some time.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 144: 10-13, 21)

R./: Your friends tell the glory of your reign, o Lord.

All your creatures shall thank you, O Lord,
and your friends shall repeat their blessing.
They shall speak of the glory of your reign
and declare your might, O God,
to make known to men your mighty deeds
and the glorious splendour of your reign. (R./)

Yours is an everlasting kingdom;
your rule lasts from age to age. (R./)

Let me speak the praise of the Lord,
let all mankind bless his holy name for ever,
for ages unending. (R./)

Gospel: John (14:27-31)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you

Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, "I am going away, and I am coming to you." If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way."

BIBLE


Following our Leader

Jesus speaks of going away, of returning to the Father. He directs his mind toward the cross, resurrection and ascension. After his sacrifice he will be with the Father and the Spirit, in heaven. Earlier, Philip requested, "Show us the Father and that will be enough for us;" and earlier still, Thomas argued with Jesus: "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" In one sense, we cannot follow Jesus into the realm of God. Yet in some real way we must walk in his footsteps, for he said "I am going to prepare a place for you … I am the way."

One way to follow Jesus into his life with God is to grow in mindfulness, let our spirit become more aware within us. Here is where the temple of God is to be found; here is the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant rests, written in our hearts. Here is where we hear God's word, the "commandment" that requires our full response. This transcendent God speaks with us and calls us "friends." But only by faith can we know that way, and faith means a surrender in love to the unknown. This unknown aspect of faith becomes all the more mysterious and undecipherable because it is not a quality of an object but the love of a person. That person is God, Father, Son and Spirit.

Like Paul and Barnabas the door is opened for us to move out from old securities and live among people who may seem outside the range of God's grace but are not really so. From the word of God, we get strength and wisdom. Ideals take on the force of a divine commandment as they are spoken anew by God.

Following such apostolic ideals would ask a lot from us. As Paul said to the Christians of Pisidia, "We must undergo many trials to enter the reign of God." But along with the call to be brave, we are also called by Jesus to peace. And peace means forgiving others, accepting differences, building bridges. His words remain, "Peace is my gift to you. Do not be distressed or fearful."


Bringing fresh heart

What a fine description of the ministry of Paul and Barnabas in the Acts, this morning. Visiting churches that were struggling in a pagan world, we are told that they put fresh heart into the disciples, encouraging them to persevere in the faith. In the gospel Jesus is described as doing something very similar. He turns to his disciples who are distressed at the prospect of his immanent departure, or death, and he says to them, 'Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.' There is a time when, as disciples, we need to be challenged, but there is also a time when, as disciples, we need to be encouraged. Jesus and Paul knew how to give encouragement when encouragement was needed. The risen Lord continues his work of giving encouragement to disciples today. Getting discouraged about how we are doing as disciples of the Lord can be a very life-draining business; it can drag us down. Such discouragement does not come from the Lord. The Lord is much more about putting fresh heart into us, what the gospel calls a 'peace the world cannot give.' Every so often when we are feeling somewhat discouraged about ourselves, and how we are doing, it can be good to turn to the Lord and to invite him to put fresh heart into us so that we can be joyful and energetic in the living of our faith. The Lord puts fresh heart into us through the Holy Spirit. That is why one of the names given to the Holy Spirit is 'Comforter'/'Consoler' and why we can turn to the Holy Spirit and pray, 'Heal our wounds, our strength renew; On our dryness pour thy dew.'


Wednesday, Week 5 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (15:1-6)

The Council of Jerusalem, on what is needed for salvation

Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders. So they were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they reported the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the believers.

When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, "It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses." So the apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 121: 1-5)

R./: Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.

I rejoiced when I heard them say:
'Let us go to God's house.'
And now our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem. (R./)

Jerusalem is built as a city
strongly compact.
It is there that the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord. (R./)

For Israel's law it is,
there to praise the Lord's name.
There were set the thrones of judgement
of the house of David. (R./)

Gospel: John (15:1-8)

The Vine and the branches

Jesus said to his disciples; "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."

BIBLE


Why circumcision was dropped

Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth (Luke 2). So were Peter, Andrew, James, John and Paul and indeed all boys from Jewish religious families, as a sign of submission to the Mosaic law. Then Paul came forward with a new idea about the practice of circumcision. True, spiritual circumcision, he maintained, is of the heart, where bonds of love and loyalty bind the people to their God. And Jesus belongs at the heart of this relationship. So to be baptised into Jesus is to be spiritually circumcised, bound in covenant to God.

He tells us, "I am the vine, you are the branches." But the question about circumcision was a very divisive one, early in the church's history. They hotly debated whether it should be required of all male converts to faith in Christ? And if female, were they required to undergo the ceremonial bath and to follow the strict dietary laws? Paul's theology triumphed, that Jesus had brought the Old Law to its final fulfilment, and because of his birth, death and resurrection, it was no longer necessary to first become a Jew in order to become a Christian. The impact of this question upon early Christianity and its relation with Judaism has a continuing resonance for our church and its decisions today. Things long held immutable can and sometimes must change.

We and our leaders are challenged by the Spirit of Jesus to have the courage for necessary changes, to open the Gospel to today's world. Just as the early church could reach beyond the actual practice of Jesus and no longer demand circumcision, our church may be asked today to leave behind some ideas that now separate us from many thoughtful, ethically-aware people of today and to make brave decisions for social justice and for the future of our planet? Surely this was the vision of Vatican II, for the pilgrim people of God. If our leaders openly discuss such matters with the active and concerned laity, the resultant decisions can be trusted as divinely guided just as was the decision to abandon circumcision. If we live deeply in God, there will be divine direction in our life.


Doing the pruning

Those who have roses will know that they need to be pruned if you are to get the best out of them. What is true of roses is true of most plants; pruning brings on new life. Jesus refers to that procedure of pruning in this morning's gospel. He suggests that in various ways God prunes our lives to make them even more fruitful than they presently are. There are some things we may need to shed if we are to become all that God is calling us to be. Some experiences of letting go, which can be very painful at the time, can help us to grow in our relationship with God and with others. Yet, during those painful experiences of pruning in our lives, the Lord is in communion with us. In the words of the gospel, he makes his home in us, he remains in us. We don't have to face into that experience of being pruned on our own, or in the strength of our own resources alone. The Lord who makes his home in us will sustain us in those times, and will lead us through the painful experience of pruning into a new and more fruitful life. However, for that to happen we need to remain in him as he remains in us; we need to keep in communion with him, as he is in communion with us.


Thursday, Week 5 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (15:7-21)

Peter and James defend Paul's missionary practice

After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will." The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles.

After they finished speaking, James replied, "My brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first looked favourably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name. This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written, "After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it up, so that all other peoples may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called. Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things known from long ago." Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood. For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every sabbath in the synagogues."

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 95: 1-3, 10)

R./: Proclaim his marvellous deeds to all the nations.

O sing a new song to the Lord,
sing to the Lord all the earth.
O sing to the Lord, bless his name. (R./)

Proclaim his help day by day,
tell among the nations his glory
and his wonders among all the peoples. (R./)

Proclaim to the nations: 'God is king.'
The world he made firm in its place;
he will judge the peoples in fairness. (R./)

Gospel: John (15:9-11)

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love

Jesus said to them: "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete."

BIBLE


The power of enthusiasm

A spirit of love and enthusiasm was found to exist among non-baptized gentiles by both Peter and Paul. What Jesus had prayed for among his disciples was found among foreigners even before their baptism. Peter recognised a second Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon the household of the Roman, Cornelius, just as when the Spirit came to the disciples in the upper room. So he let these people be baptized at once in the name of Jesus Christ. They were not required to be circumcised first, or to obey the Jewish dietary laws. To baptize them immediately seemed the right thing to do, even though Jesus himself had submitted to circumcision and other Mosaic prescriptions.

We gain insight, when we are faced with a fait accompli, the fact of a person with undeniable gifts of the Spirit but who rebel against our Catholic tradition. These people are sincere, gifted with common sense, yet unable to agree about magisterial doctrine. They are like the "gentiles" who received the spirit in a way that clashes with Jewish traditions and customs. To put it bluntly, they seemed outside of God's law! So in what way can they be directed by the spirit of Jesus? Or, they are partly right and we partly wrong, partly blinded and biased?

The Bible offers two lines of advice on this point: First, we must never deny the presence of the Holy Spirit wherever kindness, patience and self-sacrifice for the sake of others are manifestly present. These are gifts of the Spirit, no matter what misconceptions may also lodge in the same person. The household of Cornelius may have still clung to many pagan, superstitious ideas. Yet, Peter allowed their baptism immediately.

The second advice is in what the Council of Jerusalem laid down. The gentile converts must respect some deeply embedded sensitivities of their (Jewish-) Christian brethren, procedures all somehow related to blood: not to marry with close relatives; not to consume blood directly, or indirectly in the case of animals improperly butchered; and not to buy meat that had been offered to pagan gods. Both sides were asked to make concessions for the sake of others. Conversion does not consist only in doctrine; it is a reconciliation with a family where Jesus is the head.


The joy of Jesus

We often find reference to 'joy' and 'rejoicing' in the New Testament. St Paul often writes, 'I rejoice', and he refers to 'joy' as the fruit of the Spirit. In the gospel this morning Jesus says that he wants his own joy to be in us. Joy is very much at the heart of the gospel; it is not surprising when we consider that gospel literally means 'good news.' On the night before he dies Jesus says to his disciples that he wants his joy to be in them. It seems strange that Jesus should speak of 'joy' in that rather ominous setting, with hostility and violent death facing him. The 'joy' he refers to is not what would normally be considered joy by others. It is the fruit of knowing that he is loved by God the Father, no matter what happens, and it is the fruit of sharing that love with his disciples and with all humanity. The joy he wishes for his disciples, for all of us, the sharing is his own joy, is the fruit of knowing that we are loved by Jesus to the end and the fruit of sharing that love with others, of loving one another as he has loved us. Joy is the reverse side of authentic love, the Lord's love for us and our loving for one another with the Lord's own love.


Friday, Week 5 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (15:22-31)

The decision of the Jerusalem Council goes out as a circular letter

Then the apostles and the elders, with the consent of the whole church, decided to choose men from among their members and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers, with the following letter: "The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the believers of Gentile origin in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. Since we have heard that certain persons who have gone out from us, though with no instructions from us, have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your minds, we have decided unanimously to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell."

So they were sent off and went down to Antioch. When they gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. When its members read it, they rejoiced at the exhortation.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 56: 8-12)

R./: I will praise you among the nations, O Lord.

My heart is ready, O God,
my heart is ready.
I will sing, I will sing your praise.
Awake my soul, awake lyre and harp,
I will awake the dawn. (R./)

I will thank you Lord among the peoples,
praise you among the nations;
for your love reaches to the heavens
and your truth to the skies.
O God, arise above the heavens;
may your glory shine on earth! (R./)

Gospel: John (15:12-17)

The disciple who truly loves will bear fruit, fruit that will last

Jesus said,
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another."

BIBLE

Adaptation promotes Community

Today's readings combine high ideals with reasonable compromise and adaptation. A very demanding loyalty was required within the early church, but they could, in face of real difficulties, find workable compromises on what at first seemed insurmountable points of dispute. After vigorous debate, the Jerusalem disciples allowed that gentile converts to membership of the Christian church. Both the decision of the Jerusalem Council and the call to love without limit are at the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

Some people regard all compromise as tainted and asopposed to fidelity. Yet the message of the Jerusalem Council was: "It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and ours too, not to lay any burden beyond that which is strictly necessary." The word strictly indicates some relaxing of the rules; but it was a Spirit-inspired compromise that helped resolve one of the sharpest threats ever faced by the church. If the conservative Jewish Christians had repudiated Paul's visionand held to a narrow view of church, Christianity would have remained a small satellite of Judaism, and never blossomed into what Jesus intended; the new covenant for the whole world.

The church faced this crucial test of her nature and mission by calling an assembly of the whole church in Jerusalem, under direction of the apostles and elders. That Council followed the policy of open discussion, so that everyone bore the responsibility of the decision. It also voted for freedom wherever possible. Conservative Christians disliked the compromise reached at the Jerusalem Council. Practices of piety and devotion, styles of worship and prayer that were received from their ancestors would no longer be binding on gentile members who would soon far outnumber the Jewish Christians. The torch was being passed to a new generation. If it is a moment of growth it was also a moment of pain and separation. It makes one wonder what kind of compromises are called for in our church, today.

As I have loved you

Friendship is one of the great blessings of life. Friendships don't just happen; two people have to choose each other as friends, on the basis of a mutual attraction of some kind, a set of common interests, a shared way of looking at things. Friends tend to share deeply with each other. In today's gospel, Jesus calls his disciples friends, "I shall not call you servants any more.. I call you friends." He goes on to say to them, "You did not choose me, no, I chose you." The Lord has taken the initiative to befriend them; he has chosen them as friends. The Lord has chosen to befriend all of us. He has demonstrated his friendship by sharing deeply with us; he has revealed to us what is most personal to him, his own relationship with God his Father. He has also demonstrated his friendship by emptying himself on our behalf, by laying down his life for us. He has done his part, but if the friendship is to happen, we need to do our part. We need to choose him as he has chosen us; we need to befriend him as he has befriended us. We need to remain in his love, his friendship. According to the gospel, that will entail loving one another as he has loved us, befriending one another as he has befriended us.


Saturday, Week 5

1st Reading: Acts (16:1-10)

Timothy, a half-Jew, joins Paul in the missionary work

Paul went on also to Derbe and to Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and had him circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they went from town to town, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily.

They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 99: 1-3, 5)

R./: Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.

Cry out with joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing for joy. (R./)

Know that he, the Lord, is God.
He made us, we belong to him,
we are his people, the sheep of his flock. (R./)

Indeed, how good is the Lord,
eternal his merciful love.
He is faithful from age to age. (R./)

Gospel: John (15:18-21)

Servants are not greater than their master. Disciples must not expect an easy time

Jesus said to his disciples,
"If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, Servants are not greater than their master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me."

BIBLE


Getting on with the work

Adversity played big part in Paul's apostolate; and perhaps in ours too. Persecuted in one place, the disciples fled to another place; so the gospel moved onward and continued to spread across the Roman Empire. Local conditions threw road-blocks in Paul's way keeping him from preaching as he had intended; and St Luke offers this explanation, "They were prevented by the Holy Spirit from preaching the message." This interpretation allows that even human intrigues, jealousy and misunderstanding such as later happened to Paul in Corinth, can be part of God's providential plan for apostolic workers. The Gospel spreads within a human setting, despite faulty human judgment and selfish motives, but the Holy Scripture still recognizes a mystery of salvation being achieved by the Holy Spirit, through human instruments.

Oddly it seems, Paul had Timothy circumcised "because of the Jews of that region." Yet, at the same time Paul was transmitting for observance the decision the apostles and elders had made in Jerusalem. Once it was settled that circumcision was not necessary for salvation, Paul felt free to circumcise out of respect for others! This procedure included some rather sophisticated reasoning, hard bargaining with the Jerusalem church, loyalty to principle and yet compromise on non-essentials. Now that circumcision was no longer a prerequisite for salvation, Paul could have his his assistant Timothy circumcised, so as not to scandalise the Jews of that region!

Called to go to Macedonia is how Paul (and Luke) perceived the decision to cross the Dardanelles. Yet it was a monumental decision, by which Christianity passes into Europe for the first time. The heart of biblical religion will no longer be located at Jerusalem but somewhere else. That step was induced by a set of human circumstances, some petty and insignificant yet all the while annoying, others more theological and reflective. Paul handled the situation with a combined reaction of stern principle and diplomatic compromise. All the while, he was convinced that he was being led by the Holy Spirit.


Servant and master

Jesus predicted the world's hatred for him and for his followers. The gospels show that he was realistic about the hostility that would come his own way and the way of his followers. Yet, he wanted his followers to relate to the world not on the basis of how the world relates to them but on the basis of how God relates to the world.

When he says, "A servant is not greater than his master," it can be read in two ways. One way is, "if the master experienced hostility so will the servants." The other way is, "if the master washed the feet of the servants, including the one who betrayed him, the servants must do likewise; they must reveal the love of God to others regardless of how they relate to them." That saying of Jesus, "a servant is not greater than his master" gives us much to ponder. It also brings home to us our dependence on the Holy Spirit, if we are to be like the master in every respect.


 

6th Week of Easter

Monday, Week 6 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (16:11-15)

When Paul reaches Philippi, Lydia becomes his first European convert

We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home." And she prevailed upon us.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 149: 1-6, 9)

R./: The Lord takes delight in his people.

Sing a new song to the Lord,
his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel rejoice in its Maker,
let Zion's sons exult in their king. (R./)

Let them praise his name with dancing
and make music with timbrel and harp.
For the Lord takes delight in his people.
He crowns the poor with salvation. (R./)

Let the faithful rejoice in their glory,
shout for joy and take their rest.
Let the praise of God be on their lips:
this honour is for all his faithful. (R./)

Gospel: John (15:26-16:4)

The Holy Spirit will support us in whatever comes; this is Jesus' farewell promise

Jesus said to his disciples, "When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

"I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me. But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.

BIBLE

The First European Christians

Arriving in Europe, Paul experienced a major transition in his life and ministry. Up till now in Asia Minor (modern Syria and Turkey), he had been plagued by Jewish Christians who challenged his credentials as an apostle and contradicted his understanding of the gospel. Summoned by a vision to come to Macedonia (northern Greece), Paul began a peaceful phase of in his ministry, on reaching the city of Philippi. There he was kindly received by a wealthy businesswoman named Lydia, who offered her home to the missionaries, as a working base.

Paul literally fell in love with the church he founded in Philippi. His later epistle to the Philippians is among the warmest of his writings. He wrote: "I give thanks to my God every time I think of you, which is constantly, rejoicing in every prayer I utter on your behalf? You helped promote the gospel from the very first? God knows how much I long for each of you with the affection of Christ Jesus! (Phil 1:3-8). Today's text from Acts, describing Paul's stay in Philippi, helps to correct any notion that he was a misogynist. If he had been that, how would a sophisticated, merchant woman like Lydia have come to faith through Paul, and then have offered him the use of her own house?

While living at Philippi, Paul seemed to be surrounded with contentment and success, at least at first. And yet today's reading from John's gospel mentions how Christians were to be expelled from religious assemblies and even be put to death by people who claimed to be serving God. This clash in themes may seem extreme, yet it is as real as life can be. Today, somewhere in the world, Christians are being driven from their homes and their churches, dragged before law courts and sentenced to long imprisonment and to death. The church remembers all these experiences of life. The Spirit who prompts all good actions and who consoles all sorrowing people, that same Spirit comes to us from the Father and bears witness on behalf of Jesus.


Reciprocating favours

Three reflective points leap out from today's readings. 1. "The Lord takes delight in his people" (as the responsorial Psalm today reminds us). We are graciously loved through life, by God's fatherly good-will. 2. Secondly, Jesus promises us that at moments of special need we can rely on the great "Helper," the Paraclete or Advocate, that is the Holy Spirit. 3. Thirdly, we see in the interaction of Paul and Lydia how God blesses and helps us through one another. We are meant to be inter-dependent, to form a community of mutual love, care and assistance. Appreciating what others do for us, we are led by a kind of noblesse oblige to find ways of reciprocating, in return.

Lydia offered kindly hospitality to Paul. 'If you really think me a true believer, come and stay with us;' and she would not take no for an answer! Having received the gift of the gospel from Paul, she was moved to offer the gift of hospitality in return. After being graced by the Lord through Paul, she graced Paul and his companions by her offer of a place to stay. We have all been graced in various ways by the Lord. The first reading this morning suggests that the appropriate response to the experience of being graced is to grace others in return. Having received from the Lord, we give from what we have received. St John at the beginning of his gospel declares that from the Lord's fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. Because of that, we look for ways to grace others as we have been graced, to bless others as we have been blessed. Lydia knew what that meant for her - showing hospitality to Paul. The Lord will make clear how, concretely, we can give from what we have received.


Tuesday, Week 6 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (16:22-34)

By their courage, Paul and Barnabas win new converts, in the Philippi jail

The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here." The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They answered, "Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved you and your household." They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 137: 1-3, 7-8)

R./: Your right hand has saved me, O Lord.

I thank you, Lord, with all my heart,
you have heard the words of my mouth.
Before the angels I will bless you.
I will adore before your holy temple. (R./)

I thank you for your faithfulness and love
which excel all we ever knew of you.
On the day I called, you answered;
you increased the strength of my soul. (R./)

You stretch out your hand and save me,
your hand will do all things for me.
Your love, O Lord, is eternal,
discard not the work of your hands. (R./)

Gospel: John (16:5-11)

His disciples must not be sad to hear that Jesus is going back to the Father

Jesus said,
"But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, 'Where are you going?' But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned."

BIBLE

A Happy Outcome

We can sympathize with Paul's annoyance in today's story, but may wonder if some more patience could have saved him a lot of trouble! Perhaps he was stirred with pity for the unfortunate girl being exploited for profit by her boss. In any case, after his protest the situation changed dramatically and Paul and Silas were flogged and thrown in prison. The flogging could not normally be inflicted upon a Roman citizen, so Paul would later demand and receive a public apology from the magistrates.

During the night as Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, an earthquake broke down the prison gates. While the missionaries could have escaped, they remained within the prison. The jailer woke up, saw the prison gates open and drew his sword to kill himself, afraid of the consequences. Paul calms him down and after a quick instruction about Jesus, baptizes the jailer and his entire household. Then there is a feast to celebrate his newly found faith.What a roller-coaster of experiences.

Like Paul and Barnabas, the modern Christian often stands in need of spiritual help, from the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus. Crises like those met by Paul are not just a test of our personal character but can be the occasion to renew our trust in the love of the Holy Spirit. The love of Jesus surpasses our predictions and fears. He is no less able now than then to bring things to a happy outcome. Even out of the most threatening vortex, good can emerge and, as Julian of Norwich serenely believed, "All manner of things will be well!"

Ultimately, truth will prevail

Jesus assures us that when the Advocate, the Holy Spirit comes, he will show the world how wrong it was about sin, about who was in the right and about judgement. Those who were responsible for the death of Jesus concluded that Jesus must have been a sinner to have died in the way he did; his ignominious death showed that God had judged him. Therefore, those responsible for Jesus' death thought of themselves as in the right. They were right to put this sinner to death. Jesus declares that the Holy Spirit will demonstrate that this unbelieving world is totally wrong in these assessments. Jesus was not a sinner; he was not judged by God; those who put him to death were not in the right. We see here the enormous disparity between God's perception and human perception. The one whom God looked upon as a beloved Son, others looked upon as a sinner. The one whom vindicated was considered judged or condemned by God. Those who saw themselves as in the right were judged by God to be completely in the wrong. Our perspective can be very wide of the mark. We need to keep growing into God's perspective, to see as God sees, to judge as God judges. It is the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, who gives us God's perspective. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to see as God sees, to know as God knows, to understand as God understands, to be wise in the way God is wise. That is why we desperately need the Holy Spirit to keep filling our hearts and our minds afresh.


Wednesday, Week 6 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (17:15, 22-18:1)

Paul's clever sermon in the Areopagus, to lead the Greeks to the true God

Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; an after receiving instructions to have Silas and Timothy join him as soon as possible, they left him.

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, "What does this babbler want to say?" Others said, "He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities." (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means." Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus an said, "Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, "To an unknown god." What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him?though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For "In him we live and move and have our being;' as even some of your own poets have said, "For we too are his offspring." Since we are God's offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."

When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, "We will hear you again about this." At that point Paul left them. But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them. After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 148: 1-2, 11-14)

R./: Heaven and earth are filled with your glory.

Praise the Lord from the heavens,
praise him in the heights.
Praise him, all his angels,
praise him, all his host. (R./)

All earth's kings and peoples,
earth's princes and rulers;
young men and maidens,
old men together with children. (R./)

Let them praise the name of the Lord
for he alone is exalted.
The splendour of his name
reaches beyond heaven and earth. (R./)

He exalts the strength of his peoples.
He is the praise of all his saints,
of the sons of Israel,
of the people to whom he comes close. (R./)

Gospel: John (16:12-15)

All will be made clear, when the Spirit of truth comes

"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

BIBLE

Recognising the unknown God

At the Areopagus in the heart of Athens, Paul recognized the wonderful, exquisite beauty of artworks carved out of marble. The Greeks admired perfect artistic expression of the human form and carved some of the finest of all statues of male and female deities. Their temples to Athena and other gods of their pantheon remain wonders of the world even today. By their statuary and architecture the Greeks sought to communicate with others and to commune among themselves about this wonders of the world and of human nature.

Addressing the Athenians Paul tried to win them over to appreciate the divine influence on all human life. He pointed to the altar inscribed "To a God Unknown." and declared, "What you are thus worshipping in ignorance I intend to make known to you." He ends his polished, well-articulated speech with an idea that leaped beyond reason and beyond any perfection of human nature as it appeared to the Greeks. When he affirmed that God has endorsed Jesus in the sight of all by raising him from the dead, he lost his audience. That was the point when "some sneered, while others said, 'We must hear from you on this some other time.'" At best he received a polite, condescending smile: maybe we'll get back to this later, but maybe not! Yet, a tiny minority did become believers in Jesus, a man called Dionysius and a woman named Damaris and a few others. They came to know that the unknown God, (agnostos theos ) of the Greeks does not dwell in statues or sanctuaries. Rather as Paul held, "it is he who gives to all life and breath and everything else." Jesus sends the Spirit to reveal the fullness of things little by little. By the Spirit we have within us the Person of God, the life-giving message of Jesus, the pledge of what we are to become by dying and rising with him.


Growing in insight

There is only so much that people can learn at each stage of their lives. The great life-truths take a long time to absorb. This is certainly the case with the elements of our faith. We enter into those truths gradually, over time, with the unfolding experience of life. Jesus seems to acknowledge this in today's gospel. He tells his disciples that he has many things to say to them but that they are not yet ready to hear them, "they would be too much for you now." Jesus declares that the Paraclete, the Spirit of Truth, who will be sent to them after Jesus' death and resurrection, will begin to reveal these things to them and will lead them towards the complete truth. The Holy Spirit is given to us all to lead us to the complete truth, the truth about Jesus, God, our world, ourselves. This is a life-long journey. Indeed, there is a sense in which we never attain the complete truth in this life. We are always on the way. We can never really afford to say, "I have the complete truth." Rather, we must always leave ourselves open to being led by the Spirit ever more closely towards the complete truth, towards the one who said of himself, "I am the truth."


Thursday, Week 6 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (18:1-8)

The early days of Paul's mission in Corinth, and the friends he found there

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together - by trade they were tentmakers. Every sabbath he would argue in the synagogue and would try to convince Jews and Greeks.

When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with proclaiming the word, testifying to the Jews that the Messiah was Jesus. When they opposed and reviled him, in protest he shook the dust from his clothes and said to them, "Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles." Then he left the synagogue and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshipper of God; his house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the officer of the synagogue, became a believer in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul became believers and were baptized.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 97: 1-4)

R./: The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.

Sing a new song to the Lord
for he had worked wonders.
His right hand and his holy arm
have brought salvation. (R./)

The Lord has made known his salvation;
has shown his justice to the nations.
He has remembered his truth and love
for the house of Israel. (R./)

All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.
Shout to the Lord all the earth,
ring out your joy. (R./)

Gospel: John (16:16-20)

Jesus is going to the Father, and promises to come again

Jesus said,
"A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me." Then some of his disciples said to one another, "What does he mean by saying to us, 'A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me'; and 'Because I am going to the Father'?" They said, "What does he mean by this 'a little while'? We do not know what he is talking about." Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, "Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant when I said, 'A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me'? Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy."

BIBLE

Coping with Life's Changes

Coping with Life's Changes

Paul left the capital, Athens, with its sophisticated audience and proceeded to the seaport of Corinth, notorious for its riotous atmosphere. Here he ran into fierce opposition within the Jewish community, yet one of the synagogue leaders came to accept Paul's Gospel message. As more and more Greek gentiles accepted the message and turned to faith in Jesus, Paul gradually focused his ministry away from the Jews and toward gentile audience. Significant changes also appear in today's gospel. Here it is expressed in terms of Jesus' presence, absence and new presence. Such changes remind us that no stage of our existence is permanent. "The world as we know it is passing away" (1 Cor 7:31).

Life transitions can often take us by surprise. No matter how well we think to be preparing ourselves, we seem to be caught unaware, at least unable to cope with all that happens. St Paul shows remarkable ability to adapt to change, in his travelling ministry. The work that needed to be done to spread the Gospel urged him to become "as a Greek with the Greeks, and as a Jew with the Jews." The same openness to change was required of the first disciples when Jesus told them he must go away. 'A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.' Their grief at his absence is real, but he taught them to wait with patience for his return. "You will grieve for a time, but your grief will be turned into joy."

A providential meeting helped St Paul to adapt to his new situation in tumultuous Corinth. The apostle met a couple who engaged in the same trade as himself; they were tent-makers. It seems they were also Jewish-Christians like himself. Not only did they help to keep Paul in contact with his roots, which could have been severed by his rejection in the synagogue, but they also kept him rooted and down to earth in the practical details of everyday life. With Prisca and Aquila he would work for his living, with his own hands.  In the secular marketplace where everyone equally works for a living, Paul heard the Lord calling him to broaden his ministry and to gather the foreigners into the community of Jesus' disciples.


Preparing a place for us

On the night of the Last Supper, Jesus speaks to his disciples about his going away, going to the Father. His death will involve a real departure which will cause his disciples to grieve. If they had their way they would have wanted him to stay. But he tells them that if they really loved him they would be glad, knowing that he is returning to the Father. If they really loved him, he says, they would not try to make him stay.

We are invited to rejoice at his departure, because in going back to the Father Jesus can do so much more for his disciples and for disciples of every generation than if he stayed. In returning to the Father he passes into a new and more glorious life, opening up a way to that life for all who believe in him. Through going to the Father, he will be able to send the Holy Spirit to his disciples. In this way, his departure is very much to their advantage and to the advantage of all of us. That is why if they really loved Jesus, they would willingly let them go. Sometimes the greatest expression of our love for others is to let them go, not trying to hold onto them, to letting them go to whatever God wishes and desires for them.


Friday, Week 6 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (18:9-18)

Paul's trial by Gallio the proconsul breaks down for lack of evidence

One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, "Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people." He stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

When Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal. They said, "This man is persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to the law." Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, "If it were a matter of crime or serious villainy, I would be justified in accepting the complaint of you Jews; but since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves; I do not wish to be a judge of these matters." And he dismissed them from the tribunal. Then all of them seized Sosthenes, the officer of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of these things.

After staying there for a considerable time, Paul said farewell to the believers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had his hair cut, for he was under a vow.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 46: 2-7)

R./: God is king of all the earth.

All peoples, clap your hands,
cry to God with shouts of joy!
For the Lord, the Most High, we must fear,
great king over all the earth. (R./)

He subdues peoples under us
and nations under our feet.
Our inheritance, our glory, is from him,
given to Jacob out of love. (R./)

God goes up with shouts of joy;
the Lord goes up with trumpet blast.
Sing praise for God, sing praise,
sing praise to our king, sing praise. (R./)

Gospel Acclamation
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
Christ had to suffer and to rise from the dead,
and so enter into his glory. (R./)

Gospel: John (16:20-23)

They will grieve when he goes to the Father - but he will return

Jesus said to his disciples,
"Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labour, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. On that day you will ask nothing of me. Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete."

BIBLE

He is always with us

Sometimes we migh be given the impression that all possible questions regarding faith or morals can be resolved from the Bible and tradition. Today's Gospel, however, suggests that we will have questions on our mind until the Lord's second coming. "[Only] on that day you will have no questions to ask me," says Jesus. Maybe such a statement might be expected from the earliest strands of the New Testament, say from the gospel of Mark, or the Epistle to the Thessalonians. Yet, the statement comes in the gospel of John, written some sixty years after the resurrection. Since the author of this gospel could survey almost the the whole New Testament, he should have had all the answers, we imagine. Yet he gives it as the mind of Christ that we must wait until the second coming of Jesus before all questions cease.

To balance this, we have the assurance that the risen Jesus is with us, as we seek answers to the questions that life continues to throw up. In a moment of uncertainty about how to go about sharing the Gospel message in Corinth, Jesus appeared to Paul assuring him: "I am with you." Yet after this initial promise Paul has some serious crises to face. He is dragged before the Roman proconsul, and then the Jewish protestors turn upon their synagogue leader, Sosthenes (who has supported Paul) and beat him up. Then Paul's loyalty to Mosaic tradition shows up clearly in his taking of the Nazirite vow (Num 6:1-21). He shaved his head and would not cut his hair again until the vow is completed. He would follow strict dietary laws and keep himself ceremonially pure. It looks as though Paul returned more fully to Jewis practice and immersed himself in traditional Jewish customs, before leaving Cenchreae (the seaport of Corinth) and beginning his journey toward Jerusalem.

Why would Paul continue living as a fervent Jew, while proclaiming the freedom of Jesus' disciples from these laws and regulations. Evidently, Jesus' will for Paul was taking a long time to be clarified - one might imagine that the way forward was gestating in the apostle's mind and heart. This brings to mind the words of Jesus about a woman in labour. She suffers pain and grief just before delivering her child. She may be anxious about the unborn child, about its sex, facial features, health, about its future. In some sense, we are all like that pregnant woman, for we are called to pledge ourselves to others and to our work, when often the future is not clear. But we have the assurance of Jesus that "your grief will be turned into joy." And when more questions arise, Jesus' presence gives us strength to live with our questions still longer!


During his absence

Jesus is very honest about the impact which his death on the following day will have on his disciples, "I tell you most solemnly, you will be weeping and wailing... you will be sorrowful." The death of someone close to us always generates strong feelings of sadness and loss within us. Jesus speaks to his disciples in the awareness that they will experience all these feelings when he is taken from them in death. Yet he also assures them that these feelings won't last forever. Their sorrow will turn into joy, a joy that no one will take from them, because Jesus will see them again when he rises from the dead. He reassures them that because his death will be an opening to new life, their sorrow and pain will be a prelude to joy, just as the pain of a pregnant woman is the prelude to the joy of new life. Jesus is assuring us all that sorrow and pain and death will not have the last word in our lives either. Because he has triumphed over death and has passed from death to new life all our sorrows, pains and losses will be ultimately transformed by him. Because he is present to us here and now in the power of his risen life this transformation can begun to be experienced here and now. Because he journeys with us as risen Lord, he can say to us, "your sorrow will turn to joy," not just in the life beyond death but on our present life journey. This was something the two disciples on the road to Emmaus discovered, and that we can all discover for ourselves.


Saturday, Week 6

1st Reading: Acts (18:23-28)

Aquila, a learned convert from Judaism, helps the church in southern Greece

After spending some time there he departed and went from place to place through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.

Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately. And when he wished to cross over to Achaia, the believers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. On his arrival he greatly helped those who through grace had become believers, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 46: 2-3, 8-10)

R./: God is king of all the earth.

All peoples, clap your hands,
cry to God with shouts of joy!
For the Lord, the Most High, we must fear,
great king over all the earth. (R./)

God is king of all the earth.
Sing praise with all your skill.
God is king over the nations:
God reigns on his holy throne. (R./)

The princes of the peoples are assembled
with the people of Abraham's God.
The rulers of the earth belong to God,
to God who reigns over all. (R./)

Gospel: John (16:23-28)

Final promises: Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete

Jesus said to his disciples,
"On that day you will ask nothing of me. Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.

"I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father. On that day you will ask in my name. I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father."

BIBLE

Priscilla and Aquila, Lay Apostles

While the gospel implies our dependence on the Holy Spirit, the Acts takes a different slant: our faith also needs guidance from our fellow human beings. Apollos was certainly on the way toward being a disciple of Jesus and showed great goodwill, but he needed the help of others. In the plan of God, he would be led into the mystery of Jesus through the ministry of the couple Priscilla and Aquila. Remarkably, the wife is named before her husband, which indicates the strong role of this woman in the early Church's ministry. Texts like this help us to appreciate the attitude of St. Paul toward women and the teamwork of married people in the Church's apostolic work.

Prisca and Aquila not only provided a welcome for other Christians in Ephesus but served as educators in theology. To dialogue with someone as knowledgeable as Apollos and lead him beyond the message of John the Baptist meant that the couple were well informed, capable of dialogue and open to insights from the Holy Spirit. Apollos was risking his security and his renown as a learned preacher to be led beyond the borders of his eloquence. His journey of fuller conversion was made under the direction of Priscilla and Aquila. Evidently the Spirit is received while people share their faith with one another. A community of faith must be formed in which it becomes evident that all are open to what the Holy Spirit will reveal.

Jesus himself exemplified this process of transformation. He must leave this world in order to send the Holy Spirit. This offers a good comparison with the risks of leaving behind the tried and true, as experienced by Apollos. To belong to Jesus we must share in Jesus' total surrender to the Father. On making such a gift of oneself we will more fully realize where Jesus is leading us: "I have come from the Father, into the world. Now I am leaving the world to go to the Father."


A talented and sharing community

Today's text from Acts describes members of the early church supporting and helping each other in their faith. Paul is shown encouraging all the followers, and reference is also made to Apollos, a member of the church in Ephesus, a very gifted man, but not fully formed in the faith. A married couple, Priscilla and Aquila, took a great interest in him and gave him further instruction in the faith, sharing their deeper understanding of the faith with him. Then when Apollos decided to journey from Ephesus to the church in Corinth, the members of the church in Ephesus encouraged him to do so. Since they realized that others could benefit from his gifts, they didn't want to keep him for themselves, and even sent a letter of recommendation ahead of him to the church in Corinth. When Apollos arrived in Corinth the Acts says that his knowledge of the Scriptures was a great help to the believers there. The reading paints a wonderful picture of the church at its best - believers helping, supporting and encouraging each other in the faith, helping one another to grow in the Lord. This is what the church is called to be in every generation; this is the church in which the Spirit of Christ is alive and active. As we approach the feast of Pentecost we need to pray for an increase of the gift of the Spirit among us, as Jesus says in today's gospel, "Ask and you will receive, and so your joy will be complete."


 

7th Week of Easter

Monday, Week 7 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (19:1-8)

In Ephesus, followers of John the Baptist become full members of the church

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?" They replied, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." Then he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" They answered, "Into John's baptism." Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus." On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied?altogether there were about twelve of them.

He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 67: 2-7)

R./: Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth.

Let God arise, let his foes be scattered.
Let those who hate him flee before him.
As smoke is blown away so will they be blown away,
like wax that melts before the fire,
so the wicked shall perish at the presence of God. (R./)

But the just shall rejoice at the presence of God,
they shall exult and dance for joy.
O sing to the Lord, make music to his name;
rejoice in the Lord, exult at his presence. (R./)

Father of the orphan, defender of the widow,
such is God in his holy place.
God gives the lonely a home to live in;
he leads the prisoners forth into freedom. (R./)

Gospel: John (16:29-33)

Approaching his Passion, Jesus says, Take courage; I have conquered the world!

His disciples said, "Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God." Jesus answered them, "Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!"

BIBLE

Speaking plainly

"I am speaking to you plainly," he said, yet the plain language of Jesus' discourse in John's gospel still baffles us. How will the disciples find peace in Jesus, once they are scattered, and Jesus is left alone? How does such a disintegration of friendship convince them that Jesus knows everything and has come from God? The "plain" language is scrambled still more when the disciples speak in tongues and prophesy. Such an extraordinary manifestation of the Spirit goes beyond rational discourse. When God's Spirit descends on a group, we can do one of two things: either declare it an illusion and walk away, or acknowledge that God is present, beyond our capacity to understand or explain. Earlier in the Acts (chapter 10), when a group of gentiles began to speak in tongues, Peter saw there was nothing to stop these people from being baptized. (Acts 10:47). And when he was later challenged about it Peter's defence was that "the Holy Spirit came upon them - Who was I to interfere with him?" The Church had no choice but to accept the intervention of the Holy Spirit.

Normally, plain speech moves with clear ideas and in logical sequence. We are able to obtain further clarification and refine our reasoning. We can express our difficulties about the logic of an argument. If we are alert and we are able to express our ideas clearly, our minds are in control. Tongues and prophecy, on the contrary, go beyond the limits of logic and plain speech. They are an ecstatic expression of the experience of the Holy Spirit. Their communication is more by experience, touching the strings of emotion and the fibres in the heart. They are not subject to logic; they just happen! And if they happen, one can only say: Amen! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! Or say like Peter, "the Holy Spirit came upon them?. Who was I to interfere?"

Jesus' plain speech suggests the potential in all of us to act beyond reason (not against reason) and to do what can only afterwards be explained as beautiful and good. Even though the disciples scattered and left him alone, still his own steadfastness was such that we are not left alone; Jesus and the Father are with us. At no time does our Lord's example call us to forgive so much as during his Passion. when he exemplifies the meaning of forgiving seventy times seven (Matt 18:22) and of being willing to die for the sake of one's friends (John 15:13).


Not entirely alone

Jesus is very aware that those closest to him will soon abandon him. Rather than following his way, the disciples will go their own way, leaving him alone. Yet he speaks with the conviction that he is never really alone because God his Father is always with him. Even as he hung from the cross, God was with him, supporting him.

What Jesus says of himself we can all say of ourselves. There are times in our lives when we find ourselves alone. This is true especially of those who have never married or of older people whose spouse has died and whose families are away. Yet, even when we are alone, we can say with Jesus "I am not alone." God the Father is with us as he was with Jesus. Indeed the risen Jesus is also with us, as is the Holy Spirit who has been poured into our hearts. Even when we are alone, we are always in the presence of the Trinity, we are living members of that wonderful family of love. Our awareness of that can bring us a deep peace, a peace the world cannot give. As Jesus says in today's gospel, even when in the world we have trouble, we will find peace in him.



Tuesday, Week 7 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (20:17-27)

Paul's testament to church leaders, on his way to Jerusalem

From Miletus he sent a message to Ephesus, asking the elders of the church to meet him. When they came to him, he said to them: "You yourselves know how I lived among you the entire time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, enduring the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews. I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly and from house to house, as I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus. And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God's grace.

"And now I know that none of you, among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom, will ever see my face again. Therefore I declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 67: 10-11, 20-21)

R./: Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth.

You poured down, O God, a generous rain:
when your people were starved you gave them new life.
It was there that your people found a home,
prepared in your goodness, O God, for the poor. (R./)

May the Lord be blessed day after day.
He bears our burdens, God our saviour.
This God of ours is a God who saves.
The Lord our God holds the keys of death. (R./)

Gospel: John (17:1-11)

The high priestly prayer of Jesus, for those he must leave behind in this world

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

"I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

BIBLE

Famous Last Words

In today's readings we have some famous last words from Paul and from Jesus. Each states that the substance of his work is done. Paul must proceed to Jerusalem and hopes, if he survives the dangers in that city, to sail westward to Rome and bring the Gospel to Spain. Jesus says he has finished the work given to him by his heavenly Father and now prays: "Father, give me glory at your side." Paul offers parting advice about the duties of pastors and religious leaders; while Jesus prays for them and for all who will join them in times to come.

Both Paul's sermon and Jesus' prayer look to the future with calm faith and both candidly state that they have done their very best. Paul says plainly: "You know how I lived among you from the first day I came here, how I served the Lord with humility through the sorrows and trials that came my way." And Jesus affirms the identity of his friends: "Those whom you gave me were yours; they have kept your word." Paul faces a future of uncertainty, knowing that prison probably awaits him at Jerusalem. Jesus did not predict exactly what lies ahead; he would only pray that his followers remain faithful to his person and to his teaching.

Their situation was no different from that facing priests, religious and committed laity today. We too should face the uncertain future with faith and calmness. For when we finish the work given to us by the Father, God will take us to Himself.


Through the Cross

For the next couple of days we will be reading from Our Lord's prayer during the Last Supper. He begins by praying for himself, "Father? glorify your Son." Jesus is aware that the path to glory is through the cross. His lifting up on the cross is the cause of his lifting up in glory. Jesus is ready to return to the Father from whom he came because, as he says in that prayer, "I have finished the work that you gave me to do." We all have some work to do while we are on this earth; we have all been given some sharing in the Lord's own life-giving work.

Hopefully there will come a day when, like Jesus, we can turn to God in prayer and say, "I have finished the work you gave me to do. Now, take me to yourself in glory." In the meantime, we try to be faithful to the Lord's work, to the mission that the Lord has given each of us, the mission to make the Lord known to others by the way we live. In the carrying out of that mission we are not left to our own devices. The Lord works with us and is praying for us. In today's gospel, having prayed for himself, the Lord prayed for his disciples, who are to be his witnesses in the world. That includes you and me. The Lord lives forever to intercede for all us, so that we may be faithful to the work he gives us. When we find it a struggle to pray for ourselves, we can be sure that the Lord is praying for us.



Wednesday, Week 7 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (20:28-38)

Paul's final advice to the church leaders: shepherd the church of God

Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to warn everyone with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified. I coveted no one's silver or gold or clothing. You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions. In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive.""

When he had finished speaking, he knelt down with them all and prayed. There was much weeping among them all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, grieving especially because of what he had said, that they would not see him again. Then they brought him to the ship.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 67: 29-30, 33-36)

R./: Sing to God, O Kingdoms of the earth.

Show forth, O God, show forth your might,
your might, O God, which you have shown for us.
For the sake of your temple high in Jerusalem
may kings come to you bringing their tribute. (R./)

Kingdoms of the earth, sing to God,
praise the Lord who rides on the heavens, the ancient heavens.
He thunders his voice, his mighty voice.
Come, acknowledge the power of God. (R./)

His glory is over Israel; his might is in the skies.
God is to be feared in his holy place.
He is the Lord, Israel's God.
He gives strength and power to his people.
Blessed be God. (R./)

Gospel: John (17:11-19)

Before leaving them, Jesus prays to the Father, Sanctify them in the truth

Jesus said to them, "And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth."

BIBLE

Giving is more blessed than taking

Paul offers his colleagues both advice and example. They are to remember his example of manual labour and of preaching the gospel tirelessly. Conviction and commitment are revealed in his words. Just as he worked ("with these hands of mine") to support himself and his companions he urges the elders to do the same. One of the values of work is to enable us to help the weak. Church leaders are there to serve the people, not exploit them, and to build up the community. Paul quotes Jesus as saying, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." This precise phrase is not found in any of the gospels, and it surprises us not to find it in Luke's first volume. But its inclusion here serves to illustrate the truth that if all that Jesus said and did were written down "there would not be room in the entire world to hold the books" (John 21:24).

Despite the difficulties we may foresee for our church, we are encouraged to live joyfully, for Jesus intends us to share in his joy. Trusting in him fits us well enough to face whatever the future may bring.


Powerful intercession

Jesus declares how he has watched over his disciples and protected them. Now his prayer to the Father on their behalf is a further expression of his loving care. His intercessory prayer is an extension of the many ways he had served them since they first began to follow him. In a similar way, our prayer for others is an extension of our care for them; it is another form of service.

By his intercessory prayer for his disciples - and that includes all of us - Jesus teaches us the value of all intercessory prayer. Intercessory prayer has been at the heart of the church's prayer life since the time of Jesus. Paul in his letters reports on his intercessory prayers for his churches and he often called on his churches to pray for him. Both Jesus and Paul, of course, were heirs to a Jewish tradition that greatly valued this form of prayer. Praying for others is one of the ways we give expression to our communion with others in Christ.



Thursday, Week 7 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (22:30; 23:6-11)

Paul is cross-examined by the Jewish Council, in Jerusalem

Since he wanted to find out what Paul was being accused of by the Jews, the next day he released him and ordered the chief priests and the entire council to meet. He brought Paul down and had him stand before them.

When Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, "Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead." When he said this, a dissension began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three.) Then a great clamor arose, and certain scribes of the Pharisees" group stood up and contended, "We find nothing wrong with this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?" When the dissension became violent, the tribune, fearing that they would tear Paul to pieces, ordered the soldiers to go down, take him by force, and bring him into the barracks. That night the Lord stood near him and said, "Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome."

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 15: 1-2, 5, 7-11)

R./: Keep me safe, O God; you are my hope.

Preserve me, God, I take refuge in you.
I say to the Lord: 'You are my God.'
O Lord, it is you who are my portion and cup;
it is you yourself who are my prize. (R./)

I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel,
who even at night directs my heart.
I keep the Lord ever in my sight:
since he is at my right hand, I shall stand firm. (R./)

And so my heart rejoices, my soul is glad;
even my body shall rest in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead,
nor let your beloved know decay. (R./)

You will show me the path of life,
the fullness of joy in your presence,
at your right hand happiness for ever. (R./)

Gospel: John (17:20-26)

The final part of Jesus' high-priestly prayer, on behalf of his followers

Jesus said to his disciples,
"I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

"Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."

BIBLE

Church unity, a difficult goal

Jesus calls unity the most characteristic mark of his disciples, a vital goal of true faith, when he prayed: "that they may be one in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me." Yet in the Acts, Saint Paul defends himself by deliberately stirring up debate, pitting the Sadducees pitted against the Pharisees on the subject of resurrection from the dead. Wherever he went there was controversy. Paul aligned himself with the Pharisees (23:6); however, he was not always stirring up trouble but eloquently appealed for peace and unity in 1 Corinthians and in Ephesians.

On the other hand, Jesus was not always a messenger of peace. He had put this question: "Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? - I have come for division. From now on, a household of five will be divided three against two and two against three; father will be split against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother" (Luke 12:51-53). His disciples were not united around the weak principle that nobody should ever dare hurt the feelings of anyone else, but rather around an intense desire to enable one another to seek and share the best.

Jesus urged his followers towards a shared vision of goodness, kindness, peace and justice. More than anything else, according to the gospel for today, this unity was to be modelled upon that of the Holy Trinity. Jesus in turn will share with his disciples the glory given to him by the Father before the world began, "so that your love for me may live in them, and I may live in them." Looking at some of the procedures and strictures of our Church leadership, one has to wonder if they remember that unity is to be generously striven for, not imposed in an authoritarian tone. Jesus puts before us a vision that leads us beyond what we consider possible. He states that desire as something that he personally holds dear, "with I in them, and you Father in me, may their unity be complete." If we love him, we must try to make that vision a reality.


Remain in my love

"As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Remain in my love." Jesus speaks those words to all disciples of every generation. Just as God the Father's love for Jesus is a given, so Jesus' love for us is a given. All that is asked of us is that we remain in his love by remaining in communion with him. In the case of those disciples who were with Jesus at the last supper, they did not succeed in remaining in Jesus' love; they did not remain in communion with him. With the exception of the beloved disciples, they all went on to abandon him. According to John's gospel, the first question the risen Jesus asks Peter is, "Do you love me?" giving Peter the opportunity to come back under Jesus' love, back into communion with him.

The risen Lord gives the same opportunity to all of us, and gives us that opportunity over and over again. The question, "Do you love me?" is asked by the one who has loved us as the Father has loved him, who has loved us with a divine love. It is not an accusing question, therefore; it is more an inviting question calling us back into communion with the Lord if, for whatever reason, we have fallen out of communion with him. The Eucharist or Holy Communion, as we often call it, is a moment when we hear that question addressed to us in a special way; it is also an opportunity for us to respond to that question as Peter does in today's gospel, and to renew our communion with the Lord if we have broken it.


Friday, Week 7 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (25:13-21)

Paul, in prison at Caesarea, explains his predicament to king Agrippa

After several days had passed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to welcome Festus. Since they were staying there several days, Festus laid Paul's case before the king, saying, "There is a man here who was left in prison by Felix. When I was in Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me about him and asked for a sentence against him. I told them that it was not the custom of the Romans to hand over anyone before the accused had met the accusers face to face and had been given an opportunity to make a defense against the charge. So when they met here, I lost no time, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought. When the accusers stood up, they did not charge him with any of the crimes that I was expecting. Instead they had certain points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who had died, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. Since I was at a loss how to investigate these questions, I asked whether he wished to go to Jerusalem and be tried there on these charges. But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of his Imperial Majesty, I ordered him to be held until I could send him to the emperor." Agrippa said to Festus, I would like to hear the man myself." "Tomorrow," he said, "you will hear him."

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 102: 1-2, 11-12, 19-20)

R./: The Lord has set his throne in heaven.

My soul, give thanks to the Lord,
all my being, bless his holy name.
My soul give thanks to the Lord
and never forget all his blessings. (R./)

For as the heavens are high above the earth
so strong is his love for those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west
so far does he remove our sins. (R./)

The Lord has set his sway in heaven
and his kingdom is ruling over all.
Give thanks to the Lord, all his angels,
mighty in power, fulfilling his word. (R./)

Gospel: John (21:15-19)

Jesus entrusts Peter with the responsibility: "Feed my sheep."

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." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the 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. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me."

BIBLE

Pastor, par excellence

In moments of fear we often fall short of our best. This happened even to Peter, our church's chief apostle and pastor, when terrified he denied Jesus three times. After the resurrection Peter returned to his former job as a fisherman, and Jesus appeared to him by the lakeside and three times asked the incisive question, "Do you love me?" Peter was no longer the brash, impulsive man of former days, for after betraying Jesus he tasted a flood of humility and remorse. He had returned to the work he knew best, sobered by failure and now ready to get on with his life, with new self-awareness. After tasting his own need for mercy he had learned compassion for others, and became the kind of man to effectively lead Christ's Church. Not once, not twice, but three times Jesus asks him, "Do you love me?" Only when Peter answers with humble love and total surrender, "Lord, you know everything," does Jesus commission him to "Feed my sheep."

Moving out from Jerusalem into a wider field of mission, Peter brought the Gospel message first to Joppa and then Antioch and later to Rome itself. Love, contrition and obedience to the Lord's prompting became the hallmarks of his ministry. As such, he is the rock of the Church and patron of all apostolic people. Even though Peter speaks with authority, there is a quality of patience about him, clearly reflected in his epistle when he writes "I, who am an elder myself, appeal to the church elders among you" (1 Pt 5:1). He is able to love and be loved, humble and open to others in their ideas and talents, aware of sin and able to appreciate the weakness of others, ready to obey Jesus at all costs. This is the authentic Petrine ministry our Church reveres and prays for. Jesus singled out Peter from all the apostles and particularly sent him to "Feed my sheep." He was to be the iconic pastor of the Church.


Say it one more time...

Before Jesus was crucified Peter denied Jesus three times. After Jesus rose from the dead he appeared to Peter and asked him three times, "Do you love me?" as we heard in today's gospel. The question on the lips of Jesus is not, "Why did you deny me?" but "Do you love me?" The question Jesus asked is not one that focuses on the past but, rather, one that focuses on the present. The past is past; it is the present that matters.

The question "Do you love me?" is one we can all hear as addressed to each one of us personally. That question calls on us to make the Lord the focal point of our love; he is to be our first and our deepest love. Earlier in John's gospel Jesus had said, "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you, remain in my love." That relationship of love between the Lord and ourselves is at the heart of our faith; everything else flows from that love and presupposes it. Peter could not be commissioned to feed the Lord's flock until he first declared publicly his love for the Lord. Our own personal relationship with the Lord comes before any work we might do in his name. Our life of faith, our sharing in the Lord's work of caring for his flock, for each other, is the living out of a personal relationship of love with the Lord.


Saturday, Week 7 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts (28:16-20, 30-31)

Paul is imprisoned in Rome, for two years, awaiting trial

When we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him. Three days later he called together the local leaders of the Jews. When they had assembled, he said to them, "Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors, yet I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. When they had examined me, the Romans wanted to release me, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to the emperor--even though I had no charge to bring against my nation. For this reason therefore I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is for the sake of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain." They replied, "We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken anything evil about you. But we would like to hear from you what you think, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against."

After they had set a day to meet with him, they came to him at his lodgings in great numbers. From morning until evening he explained the matter to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets. Some were convinced by what he had said, while others refused to believe. So they disagreed with each other; and as they were leaving, Paul made one further statement: "The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah,

"Go to this people and say, You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn--and I would heal them." Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen."

He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

Responsorial Psalm: (Ps 103: 1-2, 24, 27-30, 35)

R./: Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.

Bless the Lord, my soul!
Lord God, how great you are,
clothed in majesty and glory,
wrapped in light as in a robe! (R./)

How many are your works, O Lord!
In wisdom you have made them all.
The earth is full of your riches.
Bless the Lord, my soul. (R./)

All of these look to you
to give them their food in due season.
You give it, they gather it up:
you open your hand, they have their fill. (R./)

You take back your spirit, they die,
returning to the dust from which they came.
You send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the earth. (R./)

Gospel: John (21:20-25)

John concludes: the world could not contain all that could said about Jesus

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?" When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, "Lord, what about him?" Jesus said to him, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!" So the rumor spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?"

This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

BIBLE

Ending on a high note

The readings today are the final verses of Acts and of John's gospel. Acts rounds out Saint Luke's theological purpose, which extended from his earlier book (the Gospel) into his second book (Acts). In his Gospel Luke moves from Old Testament Jerusalem (chs. 1-2) via the Jordan River and John the Baptist (ch. 3) and a wandering ministry of preaching and healing, to complete the circle back again in Jerusalem, where Jesus was crucified and glorified and where the disciples are back again in the temple, praising God (Chs. 22-24). A major section of Luke's gospel is the Journey Narrative (chapters 9-19, which sets Jesus' entire ministry as a "going up" to Jerusalem, on his way toward the cross and glorification.

Acts too begins in Jerusalem and its central section(chs. 13-28) reports Paul's "Journey Narrative," his travels through the Greek speaking world, founding churches and bringing people into the Christian community. All of Paul's activity leads up to Rome, where Israel's cherished hope now triumphs through the worldwide spread of the faith. Rome, then, is the new Jerusalem where the disciples praise the Lord.

The "Journey" theme of Luke's Gospel and Acts must find place in our lives. Every moment and every experience, good or bad, easy or difficult, is bringing us toward this new "Jerusalem," this "Rome." Here we praise God for his wonderful acts in our lives. Prophecies are fulfilled. Both the Gospel and Acts inflame our faith and confidence. All is part of a meaningful journey. There are stages of joy and of effort. Sometimes we have to go around a barrier, and even for a while seem to be going backward. There is the need for resting and recouping strength, such as are found in the gospel and in Acts. Jesus can turn each experience, no matter what it may have been, into a new stage of our road toward our destination, the heavenly Jerusalem.

"Wait until I come." Eternity will be the continuation of the final moment in our earthly journey. Jesus comes to us again and again. Our prayer now is a foretaste of heavenly joy. What Paul said to his Jewish visitors in Rome, he says to us: we too share the hope of Israel, as fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus at Jerusalem.


Peter and the beloved disciple

There are three characters in today's gospel, Jesus, Peter and the beloved disciple. Jesus had just given Peter an important role in the church, "Feed my lambs, feed my sheep," Jesus had said to him. Peter then asks Jesus about the beloved disciple, "What about him, Lord?" he said. In reply Jesus seems to say, "Look I have other plans for him. You follow me, in accordance with the work I have given you." Peter and the beloved disciple each had their own role to play, but they were different roles. Peter gave his life for Jesus in Rome. The beloved disciple was responsible for the fourth gospel and seems to have lived to an old age. The Lord has different roles for all of us. There is something each of us can do for the Lord that no one else can do. Rather than looking over our shoulders at others, as Peter was inclined to do in today's gospel, we have to try and discern the particular calling the Lord has given us and then be as faithful and as generous in our response to it as we can. We cannot be someone else; we can only be ourselves. The Lord wants us to be ourselves because he has a unique role in mind for each one of us.