Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 15:1-6; John 15:1-8)

A theologian of some repute once challenged Mother Teresa’s famous dictum that the Lord does not ask us to be successful but only to be faithful.  The theologian reasoned that it is a waste of talent and time to go about oblivious to the effects of our actions.  Rather, he would say, it is only prudent to make our efforts as productive as possible. 

As often happens, both sides in this debate have a hand on the truth.  Certainly Jesus calls us to accountability for what we do.  Wasting resources and producing results which harm as much as they help are not the fruits that he looks for.  But some fruit trees, like the tropical mangosteen, take over a dozen years to grow from seed.  Faithfulness on the part of the planter is required if their fruit is ever to be harvested and enjoyed. Just so, sometimes our best efforts require years to produce the results we desire.

In today’s gospel Jesus prescribes faithfulness as the one indispensable quality to produce any worthwhile fruit.  He calls himself the vine to which we must stay connected.  Apart from him our well-intended actions either devolve into egotism or are summarily abandoned.  Both results are like incipient fruit that shrivels when plucked off the vine.  Staying connected to Jesus we produce a harvest which both benefits people and glorifies God.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 14:19-28; John 14:27-31a)

Sometimes parishes celebrate the paying off of their mortgage with a social.  Parishioners feel relieved not to have to channel their efforts to raising money.  Now they can concentrate on the more fundamental tasks of evangelization and caring for the community.  Relief from debt indicates why Jesus can say in today’s gospel that his peace is different from the world’s.

Jesus’ peace is the conferral of the Holy Spirit on his disciples.  It comes with his appearance on the night of his resurrection.  He announces peace, breathes on them, and sends them forth with the Holy Spirit to forgive sins.  They and those to whom they in turn announce “peace” can live without worry that past sins -- or debts -- will overwhelm them.  The world’s peace is temporary – a mere respite from the continual battle to keep ahead of creditors.

Too often we worry about what others think of us.  Such fret wastes our energy.  Ever more reassuring is seeking the peace Jesus bestows by examining our consciences, confessing our sins, and trusting in his mercy.  

Monday, April 29, 2013

Memorial of Saint Catherine of Siena, virgin and doctor of the Church

(Acts 14:5-18; John 14:21-26)

An expert in medieval music was commenting on the composition of a nun from that era.  The expert mentioned how the nun was motivated by love for her spouse, Jesus Christ.  To the expert’s credit she did not doubt the reality of the nun’s spousal love or the possibility of its enhancing the ability to compose beautiful music.  Catherine of Siena demonstrated such love for the same Jesus.

Catherine also considered herself the spouse of Christ as indeed we all should.  Her love moved her to enter in such profound spiritual union with Jesus that she thought of his heart as being hers.  She used to pray, “Lord, I give you your own heart.”  Out of love for Christ, Catherine exhausted herself seeking the reunification of his Body, the Church.  She died in effort to bring the pope back to Rome from Avignon where he lived in self-imposed exile.

In today’s gospel Jesus asks his disciples to love him which in sum means to love one another.  We should not hesitate to do this because we wonder whether our love will go unrequited.  No, Jesus loves each of us with even greater intensity than Catherine loved him.  He can have such love for all not because he is human but because he is God.  We need only to trust in his love to realize its richness.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 13:26-33; John 14:1-6)

Projection is the psychological phenomenon by which a person hides from himself an inner evil by projecting it on another.  There he can condemn the evil without feeling any guilt.  So it happens that people often see and hate in others what is most repellant about themselves.  In today’s first reading Paul enables the Jews of Antioch in Pisidia see their own sins by telling them of the crime of their coreligionists in Jerusalem.

Paul says that the Jerusalemites condemned Jesus as a false prophet and had Pilate crucify him.  But, Paul concludes, God confirmed the truth of Jesus’ message and, indeed, his whole life by raising him from the dead.  Now, he will go on to say, his hearers may have their own sins -- which by association are the same as those of Jerusalem Jews – forgiven by accepting Jesus as God’s Messiah.

We too should find our sins among those of the Jews who had Jesus crucified.  Our jealousy and envy is reflected in the Jewish leaders who wanted Jesus out of the way.  Our prejudice against others kinds of people finds a parallel in the attitude of the Jerusalem Jews toward the carpenter from Galilee.  Our failure to recognize every person as an image of God likewise is seen in the rush to have Jesus executed.  We too must repent and believe in Jesus.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Feast of Saint Mark, evangelist

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

The Gospel according to Mark represents a literary landmark.  It is not only seems to be the first of the four canonical gospels to be written, but the first gospel of any kind.  Never before had the world witnessed a pronouncement of “good news” (what “gospel” literally means) based on one man’s work, death, and glorious aftermath.  We might say that the originality and sheer wonder of Jesus’ story required a new form of literature.  As Jesus says in the same gospel, “new wineskins.”

We may enjoy reading Mark’s Gospel because it exhibits an earthiness about Jesus that is true of his Palestinian roots.  Only in Mark of the four gospels is Jesus called a carpenter.  Only Mark mentions Jesus living among wild beasts in the desert during his long pre-ministry retreat.  Only in this gospel does Jesus use both fingers and spittle at the same time to cure the deaf mute.  And only Mark quotes Jesus healing in Aramaic, his native tongue, when he tells the dead girl to arise, “Talita koum.”  Jesus is a man of his times in Mark but also one that transcends those times because of his divine mission.

For almost the entire gospel Mark treats the disciples as dim-witted and cowardly.  After Jesus feeds the five thousand and walks on water, Mark says that the disciples still do not understand.  Likewise, they abandon Jesus like thieves in the night when he is arrested in Gethsemane.  The disciples must await the grace of the resurrection in order to understand who Jesus is and to carry out his mission.  In today’s gospel passage we see them going forth charged by that grace which accompanies Jesus’ commands.  And that is where we are today – renewed and mandated to show God’s love to the world. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 12:24-13.5a; John 12:44-50)

One of the sad realities in the Church today is the high percentage of youth who stop coming to Mass after they receive the sacrament of Confirmation.  It is as if the laying on of hands had the effect of weakening their faith, not strengthening it for mission.  Today’s first reading indicates what the practice should produce. 

The church of Antioch discerns the Holy Spirit’s will that Saul and Barnabas become its agents in bringing the good news to the world.   Interestingly, it does not merely give assent and presume that everything will be all right but prays and makes sacrifices on their behalf.  Then the people lay their hands on the two sending them off to preach the gospel.  Their preaching will bring new life to many in Jesus’ name.

Somehow we must instill in our youth the promise of this abundant life in Jesus.  Perhaps it will come about if we, like the church at Antioch, pray and sacrifice our time on their behalf.  The more we live our faith, the more those who come after us will find it worthwhile.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter


(Acts 11:19-26; John 10:22-30)


The railroad in a small town long ago announced that it needed to fill a position.  Soon a roomful of applicants filled the office anxiously hoping for an interview.  After a while without anyone being called, a tapping noise was heard in the background.  One person rose from his chair and walked to the receptionist desk.  Then a sign was posted that the position was filled.  The people in the room were infuriated not to be given an opportunity to display their skills.  But the railroad officer told them that the tapping noise they heard was Morse code inviting anyone who understood the message to claim the job.  Today’s gospel tells a similar story.


Jesus explains to his listeners that only those people given him by the Father will recognize that he is the Messiah.  Others may similarly see the marvelous deeds that he has done but will not come to him because they cannot hear his voice.  Its subtlety is not tonal but conceptual.  His followers realize that Jesus is not a Messiah who will free the nation of Roman domination but one who will liberate them from sin.


If we hear Jesus’ voice, we will understand that he comes not to make Catholic ethics public law but to give us access to eternal life.  Yes, for the common good we press for the prohibition of abortion and the abolition of capital punishment.  However, we should not be discouraged if our efforts are not soon rewarded.  We know that being faithful to Jesus, he will give us the life he promises.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

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

As a simple way to safeguard yourself from Internet porn, a wise man suggests placing an image of Jesus crucified on your computer screen.  If you are tempted to click on furtive link, being reminded of Jesus may dissuade you.  In the gospel today Jesus presents himself in a similar way.

The sheep gate is the entrance of a cove the fold is resting.  It keeps the sheep together while allowing admittance only to the shepherd who comes to care for the animals.  In the extended parable Jesus pictures himself in both roles.  He keeps his flock, the Church, together and tends to its needs.  His word gives the people a common mind and his Body and Blood provide the fullness of spiritual life.

Some resist the image of Jesus as shepherd because it implies that they are as apparently simple-minded as sheep.  This may be an affront to sheep who know at least to come out of the rain.  But more importantly, the image conveys the closeness between Jesus and ourselves.  Like the shepherd gives his or her sheep total concern, Jesus has died that we may live to the fullness of our potential. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Friday of the Third Week of Easter

(Acts  9:1-20; John  6:52-59)

Fifty years ago Catholics were strictly forbidden to participate in Protestant services.  Today they may enthusiastically sing Protestant hymns, listen to Protestant preaching, and join hands with Protestants for prayer.  But Catholics should never receive Communion from Protestants.  The reason for this strict prohibition is inferred in the gospel today.

Jesus tells the synagogue assembly that his Flesh is real food and his Blood, real drink.  He is referring to the Eucharist which he will leave for his disciples.  The Flesh is real food because it is made from bread.  The Blood is real drink because it is produced from wine.  Yet it is not bread and wine that his followers consume but, again, his Flesh and his Blood.  Protestants generally do not accept the new substances that the bread and wine become.  But even if they do, there has been a breach in the line of their ministers receiving ordination from Jesus’ apostles.

In some ways relations between Catholics and Protestants have never been better.  Still serious differences exist, and at times the rivalry between us and them is intense.  Because we all claim Jesus as Lord, we should cooperate as much as possible.  We should also pray for the day in which we can partake with integrity and together of Jesus’ Flesh and Blood. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Thursday of the Third Week of Easter

(Acts 8:26-40; John 6:44-51)

Coincidence means that two events happen at the same time and place without being planned.  When two friends meet on an airplane, one of the two may say their meeting was coincidental.  The other might opine that God’s Providence arranged the meeting.  In the first reading today there is such an apparent coincidence.

Some might think that Philip’s meeting the Ethiopian official on the road to Gaza happens entirely by chance.  After all, neither knew of the other when they started out that day.  But the author of Acts believes that God planned the meeting, albeit without informing either party beforehand, since His angel tells Philip to travel that road on that day. 

Coincidence has significant ramifications today in the field of evolutionary biology.  Did God cause the emergence of land animals precisely when plants were evolving which use animals to spread their seeds? Or are the two happenings entirely coincidental?  Our best answer to the conundrum is that yes God is behind all evolutionary developments but He acts without leaving a trace of planning. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter

(Acts 8:1b-8; John 6:35-40)

In today’s gospel Jesus claims to be the bread of life who nourishes those who come to him so that they never hunger.  Yet many fret over their needs although they regularly take Communion.  Why the discrepancy?  To answer the question compare Jesus’ offer with a more commonly thought of bread that is often undervalued.

In White Bread, a book published last year, Professor Aaron Bobrow-Strain describes the trajectory of the famous American food.  In the days when bread provided most of the common person’s calories, people needed to be assured that it was not contaminated by soot, sawdust, and other adulterations.  Manufacturing bread using bleached flour provided a product that could be eye-tested for purity.  Automatic slicing enhanced white bread’s utility, and enriching it with vitamins made it the veritable “staff of life.”  As food tastes evolved, however, sophisticates have decried white bread as yokel fare with dietetic and creative limitations.  Boborw-Strain contends to the contrary that it is the food of a democratic society where people, assured of the value of what they eat, can dream of improving their lives through education and work.

Jesus similarly offers himself as the basis of a new kind of life.  Following him we grow in care for one another that lifts us from the competition of natural life and places us in the environment of Trinitarian love.  The struggle that we often have in the process indicates how deeply immersed we are in the world of domination.  Yet the more we acquire Jesus’ ways, the more our hunger for power will vanish.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter

(Acts 7:51-8:1a; John 6:30-35)

A few years ago Clint Eastwood made a movie in which the protagonist dies in Christ-like fashion.  In “The Grand Turino” Eastwood plays a retired auto worker who undergoes a conversion.  Originally hostile to minorities, the man changes his outlook when he experiences the integrity of a Hmong family who move into his neighborhood.  In the movie’s last scene the hero willingly walks into a death trap in order to redeem the life of a young Hmong.  As he is riddled with bullets, he outstretches his arms like Christ on the cross.

In the first reading we see Stephen also dying like Jesus.  As Jesus was unjustly executed so is Stephen.  As Jesus was taken past the walls of Jerusalem for crucifixion, Stephen is stoned outside the city.  Stephen’s last words are paraphrases of Jesus’.  First, he petitions Jesus, as Jesus the Father, to “…receive my spirit.”  Then, like Jesus, he asks forgiveness for his executioners. 

Since death is an inevitability of life, we should prepare ourselves so that we too might die like Jesus.  By rehearsing, “Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit,” before bed every night, we may emit these words with our dying breath.  By daily praying for those who have offended us, we are not likely to have any enemies when we die.  But if any remain, we will easily remember to pray for them as we go to God.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Monday of the Third Week of Easter

(Acts 6:8-15; John 6:22-29)

Just last month a mob of Muslim extremists attacked a Christian village in Lahore, Pakistan, burning down 200 homes.  The outrage occurred after a Muslim boy accused a Christian of blaspheming the prophet Mohammed while playing a game.  Such incidents occur with regularity in that country with its overwhelming Muslim majority and plethora of extremist-religious schools.  A similar situation is reported in the first reading today.

Stephen is accused of blaspheming “’Moses and God’” before the ruling Sanhedrin.  The author reports that his serene countenance should tip off the judges that Stephen is innocent, but because of the prejudice against the growing Christian sect, the judicial body eventually condemns him to being stoned to death.  (An objective observer might also question the prudence of Stephen’s remarks against the Jewish leaders.)

We who value religion must stop and think here.  Truth may call for a reply to outrageous statements.  However, does not justice require a response in kind without turning to violence?  We must speak out with integrity but judiciously when confronted with perversions.  Our goodwill and wisdom will make the validity of our position evident. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Friday of the Second Week of Easter (Acts 5:34-42; John 6:1-15)
 A Jewish immigrant doctor in San Antonio took care of many Mexican, African, and white Americans before World War II.  Doc Stein was everyone’s friend and healer.  If someone worried about money to pay him back, he would tell him or her: “You should worry to pay me?  You think maybe I want to become a millionaire?  Pay me when you can.”  And he treated the soul as well as the body by admonishing his patients: “Just think only about getting well, and believe in Gott and pray for health.”
 We might think of Gamaliel in the reading from Acts today as a Doc Stein kind of person.  His unshakeable faith in God allows him to tolerate a budding competitor to his beloved Judaism without fluster.  “…if it (Christianity) comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them,” he tells his fellow Jews.  As St. Paul’s teacher, Gamaliel perhaps imparted the acumen for Scripture and the love for God that made his star pupil the most efficacious of Christian apostles.
 Gamaliel and Doc Stein together remind us that religious toleration may not go far enough.  We are wise to learn what other religions teach and how they are practiced.  As a result of these efforts we are likely to better fulfill Jesus’ command to love our neighbors.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thursday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 5:27-33; John 3:31-36)

It often seems incredible that one may be saved by simply expressing faith in Jesus.  St. Paul classically expresses this thought in his letter to the Romans: “For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.”  But faith is more than lip-service as today’s gospel indicates.

In the passage the speaker (probably Jesus although the identity is actually ambiguous) juxtaposes belief in the Son with disobedience to him.  The implication here is that faith surpasses giving assent to propositions about Jesus and even having a trusting relationship with him.  Rather, the gospel is saying that faith is obedience to Jesus’ commands.  He will tell us to love one another by performing acts of service.

Is faith then just another name for love?  This is a tempting conclusion, but it is wiser to maintain a distinction between the two.  Faith recognizes the need to love and moves one to act.  Love guides the action to completion with the recognition of God in the other.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 5:17-26; John 3:16-21)

The famous Rabbi Hillel was once challenged to recite the whole Law while standing on one leg.  The Rabbi could do it easily by repeating the golden rule.  Many Christians would have equally little trouble summarizing the New Testament.  They would just repeat the first verse of today’s gospel passage.

The remarkable quality of God’s love expressed in the reading is not so much its abundance as its action.  God’s love expresses itself in giving humans a way out of the mire into which they have wandered.  Jesus, God’s gift, not only provides direction but also strength to overcome human faults that block their way to happiness.

We hear of God’s love so often that it is surprising that we do not tire of listening about it.  Yet despite plentiful evidence, many of us become unsure of such love and need reassurance.  However, the surest way to feel it is not to contemplate it but to show it.  The more we love others, the more God’s love will be made manifest to us. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 4:32-37; John 3:7b-15)

When the archbishop of Buenos Aires went to Rome for the recent papal election, his friends persuaded him to accept a new pair of shoes.  Archbishop Bergoglio was not given to buying new clothes but did go out of his way to bless the needy.  He would have found himself at home in the first Christian community as reported in today’s passage from the Acts of the Apostles. 

It is often said that the Acts of the Apostles paints an idealized picture of the early Christians.  Although the reading today sounds almost too good to be true, the author reports that not everyone is quite so magnanimous as St. Barnabas who gives the sum of the proceeds from the sale of his house to the apostles.  He also tells of a couple who retained for themselves some of the money from the sale of their property.  To whatever extent communal sharing is actually lived in Acts, the author sees it as an outpouring of the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Communitarian life, as most religious know, can be daunting.  Especially when we are hurting, it is hard to see others’ needs as greater than our own.  Yet as much as we can practice it now, we will be prepared to enter the Reign of God.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

(Isaiah 7:10-14.8:10; Hebrews 10:4-10; Luke 1:26-38)

In a bitter attack on faith the so-called new atheist Sam Harris equates Christianity with “the claim that we must love and be loved by a God who approves of the scapegoating, torture, and murder of one man – his son…”  Although Mr. Harris’ broadside may find basis in the writings of some theologians, it misconstrues genuine Christian redemption summarized in the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews today.

God no more delights in human bloodshed than parents in bickering among their children.  What God does enjoy is his creation following the path of goodness leading to its edification.  Human adherence to that way was a long time in coming but at last found its realization in Jesus whose incarnation is celebrated today.  He will be in such perfect accord with God’s will that the world, distorted by Satan’s power, will have him executed.  Anticipating the grace flowing from Jesus’ obedience, Mary gives her assent to God’s word in the gospel.

Today’s Feast of the Annunciation wells up awe and wonder within us.  The consideration of natural birth begins the excitement.  The meditation on God’s becoming human increases the marvel.  And the contemplation of this God-man’s being rejected and executed for the sake of human redemption leads to our adoration and self-surrender.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Friday of the Octave of Easter

(Acts 3:11-26; John 21:1-14)

“It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”  This reportedly Confucian proverb was adopted by the Christophers, a humanist movement founded by Maryknoll Father James Kelleher in the middle of the last century.  Adherents saw themselves as bringing Christ, the light of the world, to others.  One can see the importance of having Christ in mind in today’s gospel.

The resurrection appearance occurs after Peter and six other disciples have been fishing all night without success.  They may have already started cursing their luck when Jesus harkens them as the rising sun from the shore.  He tells them to throw their net on the right side of the boat.  Following his directive brings an extraordinary catch.  Evidently the 153 fish represent all the different types in zoological records at the time signifying, of course, that they will convert all the nations. 

We should not allow ourselves to fret when challenges amount or frustrations arise.  Rather we are wiser and more successful when we turn to the Lord in our need.  We might ask ourselves, “How would he have us act?” And we should always ask his assistance.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Thursday of the Octave of Easter

(Acts 3:11-26; Luke 24:35-48)

There are only about 15 million Jews in the whole world.  The number is not growing much because Jews, often marrying outside their religion, do not raise their children to observe Jewish law.  Jewish rabbis have asked their Catholic counterparts not to evangelize Jews at least in part because of their vulnerable number.  Although Church leaders generally try to cultivate favorable relations with Jews, they have demurred on this point.  The first reading today provides a Scriptural basis for this demurral.

Peter is preaching among the Jews in the Temple area.  He says that Jesus fulfills the prophecies in Scripture of the Messiah.  Further he gives as testimony the miraculous healing that was done in the name of Jesus.  Eventually the preaching brings thousands of Jews to confess faith in Jesus although by no means the whole nation.  In the end Christian preachers turn their efforts to non-Jews, but they never refuse in principle to accept Jews into the faith.

Christians must keep a positive concept of Jews in mind and heart.  They are our elder brothers and sisters in the faith in the one God.  Further, Jesus, Mary, Joseph and all the apostles were Jewish.  We should pray for them as we do explicitly on Good Friday that they may keep their covenant with God.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Wednesday of the Octave of Easter

(Acts 3:1-10; Luke 24:13-35)

We say Christ is present in the Eucharist in various ways.  He is present in the members of the congregation through Baptism, especially in the priest consecrated to lead the faithful.  He is also present in the passages of Scripture, which is the word of God.  Most importantly, Christ is present in the bread and wine when then are blessed and broken to be shared by all.  The disciples on the road to Emmaus discover this reality as they sit at table with their guest.

The resurrection appearance in today’s gospel is primarily an encounter with Christ in the Eucharist.  This is not to say that Cleopas and his unnamed companion did not visually see Christ.  Rather, it invites Catholics to recognize him every time they take part in the Eucharist.  For the grace to have full effect they should carefully participate by singing the hymns, listening to the readings, including their personal intentions among the many expressed, and entering mindfully into the Eucharistic prayers.

We often take advantage of Mass time as a retreat from the busyness of life.  It is time apart, in a usually comfortable space, giving a sense of approval.  But it avails us much more than respite.  The Eucharist enables us to deepen our relationship with Jesus.  He brings more than completion to our lives; he brings us an eternal destiny. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Tuesday of the Octave of Easter

(Acts 2:36-41; John 20:11-18)

Magdi Allam, an Egyptian-born, Italian journalist, was baptized by Pope Benedict in the Easter Vigil service five years ago.  Recently he announced that he is leaving Catholicism.  Unfortunately, a significant percentage of Catholics who enter the Church through the RICA similarly exit.  This reality suggests the need of a strong culture of faith to support perseverance.  It also indicates how in the reading from Acts today the apostles enjoy such phenomenal success in preaching to Jews but eventually fail in converting the nation.

According to John’s gospel even Jesus has many followers who eventually leave him (see John 6:60).  People leave for different reasons as the parable of the sower in the synoptic gospels accounts: some because they do not understand what faith means, others because they are seduced by worldly concerns, and still others because they do not nourish their faith with prayer.  Faith in Jesus is appealing to all because it promises eternal life, but it requires attention and devotion on the part of adherents.

Perhaps we should leave these concerns aside for now.  After all, Easter is the time to rejoice for the blessing of knowing that our lives have eternal destinies when we link them to Jesus.’  His graces abound in the Church community as well as, in northern climes at least, in nature at this time of year.