Thursday, April 26, 2018

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 13:13-25; John 13:16-20)

Pope Francis has recently proclaimed Pope VI a saint.  St. Paul VI, a wise and holy man, wrote two outstanding Church documents.  One, Humanae Vitae, critiqued the ascendant values or, better, disvalues of artificial contraception.  The other, Evangelii Nuntiandi, proposed a dynamic plan for Church members in the modern world.  This plan reflects a statement in today’s gospel

Jesus indicates to his disciples that they are being sent into the world.  He wants them to proclaim his death on the cross as the definitive sign of God’s love.  The same disciples carried out their mission, but still not all the people believed.  So the mission has been handed on to Christian disciples today.

That is, it has been given to us.  We are proclaim the love of God not so much by word as by deed.  Jesus shows the disciples on hand what love means by washing their feet.  He then asks that they do likewise.  In the same way we are to wash the feet of others.  The washing is not literal.  We are not to open foot baths all over town.  Rather the washing is figurative.  We are to serve others by doing what is truly helpful and needed.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Feast of Saint Mark, evangelist

(1 Peter 5:5b-14; Mark 16:15-20)

St. Mark’s gospel is the shortest of the four and in all probability the first written.  Its Greek is rustic, and its text is full of primary emotions.  But none of these factors make it so compelling.  More than anything Mark’s gospel conveys urgency because it justifies the suffering of discipleship.

After Peter intuits Jesus’ identity as Messiah, Jesus gives a warning to those who will accept him as such.  Since he will suffer for the sake of God’s kingdom, they must prepare themselves for the same.  Jesus does not tolerate any pretension of glory among them.  Rather he tells them that the one who will be first must serve the rest until the end.  The passion narrative in Mark does not spare Jesus any pain or cruelty.  He is tortured, ridiculed, and lingers on the cross more in Mark than in any other gospel.  His followers can expect similar mistreatment.

With few exceptions Christians experience suffering even martyrdom in greater numbers today than ever.  But in truth few of us are likely to be tortured physically.  However, we may be belittled or even ostracized for making Sunday worship a priority or for defending refugees and life in the womb.  As readers of Mark’s gospel, we should welcome such opportunities to follow our Lord and Savior.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 11:19-26; John 10:22-33)

The gospel reading today begins by declaring that the Feast of the Dedication was taking place.  The occasion marked the successful Jewish revolt against their Greek overlords.  By Jesus’ time Rome has taken control of Israel.  The Romans may not have been as oppressive as the Greeks, but their occupation was deeply resented.  The desire for a Messiah to lead a new revolt precipitates the demand of Jesus to declare himself.

In all the gospels Jesus alters the role of a Messiah.  He indicates, be it directly or indirectly, that he is not a warrior-Messiah like David.  In the passage at hand, however, he says that he is still like David in another respect.  He is a shepherd who cares for his flock.  He says that he gives those who follow him something greater than political autonomy.  He provides them “eternal life.”  This new way of living with neither bitterness nor regret transcends natural desire.  It belongs exclusively to God.  For this reason Jesus says that he does the work of his Father.

Like the Jews in Jesus’ day, we have to reconsider what we want.  Are we taken up with vindication and domination?   Or do we seek peace through love?  The former qualities belong to the world as we know it.  The latter is the promise of God in Jesus Christ.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 11:1-18; John 10:1-10)

“Growing pains” occasionally affect children in their sleep.  They cause some to wake up in the night with discomfort in their legs.  Since researchers have not found an underlying cause for these pains, they are named for growth, a phenomenon associated with children.  In the first reading we find the early Church afflicted with its “growing pains.”

One of the great issues for the Church in its first decades is whether to accept non-Jews into its fold.  Non-Jews are not gentiles who become Jews through circumcision and eating kosher but gentiles who refuse to accept Jewish customs.  Since Jesus was a Jew, could gentiles follow him without living as he did?  This is the critical question.  In the reading from Acts today Peter defers to none other than the Holy Spirit for an answer.  He explains to the Jerusalem inquisition that he baptized Cornelius’ household upon seeing that they manifested the gifts of the Spirit.

Today the Church has other issues to deal with.  We can easily name a few – people in second marriages after a divorce, the care of the sick in “persistent vegetative state,” the possibility of ordaining women to the diaconate.  Too often differences on these questions create fragmentation and suspicion.  Like Peter we should turn to the Holy Spirit for guidance.  That is, we should recognize that what is most authentically Christian is the primacy of charity.  On some issues change may be impossible for reason of consistency with tradition and coherency with established teaching.  Even here, however, there is an imperative to treat the people who are passionately involved with respect and tenderness.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Friday of the Third Week of Easter

(Acts 9:1-20; John 6:52-59)

In his new apostolic exhortation Pope Francis writes of the need for humiliation.  He says that people need to be humiliated so that they may become saintly.  He continues that humiliation conforms Christians to Jesus who suffered so much at the hands of humans.  He adds that Christ reveals the humility of his Father, who has accompanied His people only to be continually rejected.  In today’s first reading Paul undergoes significant humiliation.  It may be considered the fundamental step in his journey to saintly prominence.

Paul’s first humiliation is in meeting Jesus whom he dismissed as dead.  He has discovered that the cause to which he has dedicated himself is not only vain but also blasphemous.  He also suffers the humiliation of being blinded and having to be led about like a child.  For a capable man like Paul this humiliation must have been very frustrating.  Finally, Paul suffers the humiliation of initially being considered suspect by other Christians.  He is feared, no doubt, as a possible double agent.  These humiliations prove to be transformative.  Paul becomes so humble that he will accept hardship, torture, even execution.  Nothing is too great for him to endure in order to complete the mission given to him by the Lord.

It is interesting that Francis does not use “humbling” but “humiliation.”  Humbling would be less radical, more a regular step toward self-knowledge.  Humiliation implies an inflated self-image that calls for considerable downsizing.  Francis is suggesting, perhaps, what our mothers tried to teach us.  We must learn the world does not center around us.  Rather we have to serve in it, above all, the God who has created and redeemed us.