Monday, June 26, 2017

Monday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 12:1-9; Matthew 7:1-5)

In order to appreciate God’s call of Abram from Genesis today, one has to note the context.  Babel has just fallen and with the illusion that humans left to their own devices can do much good. Although God has scattered the peoples all over the earth, He intends to bring them together in peace.  His plan is to establish a new nation with Abram as its founder to be an exemplar of loving obedience.  This nation’s virtue will draw all peoples to it.

Abram is an unlikely candidate to engender a new nation.  Although his name means exalted father, he is, in fact, childless at seventy-five years of age!  He is also homeless and nation-less.  He does have a wife, the beautiful Sarai, whom he loves – a fact that does offer him some recommendation.  He also has ambition as he responds to the unlikely call to greatness.

God directs Abram to leave his father’s house for a new land.  There God will give him the first lessons in nation-building.  Abram will thus become the greatest of the biblical patriarchs, but not the kind which feminists love to hate.  God will teach Abram to be conscious and fair, not arbitrary and self-promoting.  He will lead Abram to a consistent respect and tender care for women, not to hardness and domination.  He will cherish his children, and not neglect them.  These are lessons for all men to note as we listen to the story of Abram unfold.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

(Deuteronomy 7:6-11; I John 4:7-16; Matthew 11:25-30)

With all the attention given to on-line learning, one might think that classroom teaching will soon be obsolete.  But this is not likely.  As much as computers abet instruction, students often need physical contact with a person.  They have questions that computers cannot understand and difficulties that only human intuition can ascertain.

In the gospel today Matthew presents Jesus as the “teacher of the ages.”  His meekness will not reject anyone.  His integrity assures that he never says one thing then does another.  The yoke that he lays on apprentices is the lessons they are to follow.  It is not unduly burdensome because he helps students bear it.  Put simply, the yoke is that his students love another. 

The heart of Jesus, pierced and aflame, symbolizes all the richness of this gospel nugget.  Its ardor reaches all people without exception.  Its vulnerability knows the trials of the weak who in different ways include everyone.  It invites each of us to enter its chambers where we might be renewed for the journey to truth, goodness, and love.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Memorial of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, martyrs

(II Corinthians 11:1-11; Matthew 6: 7-15)

As the Fourth of July approaches, Americans think about patriotism.  What might they do for their country?  They may want to display a flag or to explode firecrackers.  But these acts are superficial.  Love of one’s country entails sacrifices for the good for which the country stands.  We have examples of this deep kind of patriotism in today’s saints.

Saints John Fisher and Thomas More lived in Tudor England.  John was a churchman and Thomas, a lawyer.  They were loyal subjects of Henry VIII until the king placed himself above justice.  They then ceased to serve although they did not protest publicly.  Still Henry demanded their allegiance and eventually beheaded them for not giving it.  Among Thomas’ last words was the proclamation of patriotism's right order: “I am the King’s good servant, but the Lord’s first.”

Americans will soon have to struggle with the questions of illegal immigration.  Millions of immigrants have either entered the United States illegally or stayed, again illegally, beyond the time permitted by their visas.  Most of these people have established a home in the country.  They have worked, gave birth to children, and built strong social ties.  Patriotism calls citizens to discern a just way of resolving their status.  It seems cruel to send the undocumented packing.  Yet law-breaking should not be ignored.  Somehow the undocumented must be penalized without jeopardizing their future.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Memorial of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, religious

(II Corinthians 9:6-11; Matthew 6:1-6.16-18)

St. Aloysius Gonzaga died rich in the eyes of God although perhaps poor in the sight of many in the world.  He gave up a claim to his family’s fortune to become a Jesuit.  Once a religious, he dedicated himself to caring for the victims of the plague which was racking Italy.  Eventually he contracted the disease and died from it.  His willingness to give himself completely out of love for Christ amply illustrates today’s first reading.

St. Paul is urging the Corinthians to be generous in his collection of alms for the Christians in Jerusalem.  He tells them that they will reap what they sow.  In other words, if they make significant sacrifices, they will merit marvelous reward.  Because God ultimately produces eternal life as well as crops, they will not be disappointed for their efforts.

We may tire of being pestered by charities.  As we hear of names being passed from one charitable organization to another, we may not want to help anyone new.  Let us not make such a decision out of frustration, however.  Rather let us pray for the grace to make prudent use of our resources for the good of the needy. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary time

(II Corinthians 8:1-9; Matthew 5:43-48)

A long time ago a protégé of Reinhold Niebuhr commented on the difference between him and the great twentieth-century American theologian.  He said that where Niebuhr strove for perfection, he just wanted “to be a little bit better.”  The statement indicates the faulty human condition at the heart of today’s gospel passage.  It also helps clarify what Jesus means by “perfection.”

Jesus reverses the wisdom of the ages when he tells his followers that they must love their enemies.  They may not hate them, but pride makes them want to appear as better than all rivals.   Jesus demands that such competition cease.  He deems perfection not in achieving “all A’s” or in besting all opponents but in loving those who would do one harm.  This kind of love, he says, makes one truly like God, the Father.

We should not underestimate the great challenge in loving one who would do us wrong.  Achieving perfect grades or a perfect score might be a neurotic pursuit, but loving an enemy is no easy task.  It takes prayer as much as effort.  We pray for the spirit to makes us so meek that our predominant goal is always to please our heavenly Father.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(II Corinthians 6:1-10; Matthew 5:38-42)

Rodney King became an unlikely prophet twenty-five years ago.  The former convict and then alleged victim of police abuse called for reconciliation among peoples during the Los Angeles race riots of 1992.  The people were reacting to the acquittal of the police officers who apparently brutalized King while arresting him.  Nevertheless, King pleaded for peace: “I just want to say - you know - can we all get along? Can we, can we get along?” Rodney King’s words echo St. Paul’s in today’s first reading.

Paul appeals to his beloved Corinthians to end all strife among themselves.  “’Behold now is the acceptable time’” Paul says, “’now is the day of salvation.’” Paul proceeds to use himself as an example for reconciliation.  As he has suffered hardship and distress for the sake of the Lord, so should the Corinthians put behind them disagreements and resentments.  Mutual love must become the mark of Christians as a testimony to the grace bestowed on them by God through Jesus.

We too must rise above personal preferences and petty differences to embrace one another in solidarity.  It becomes difficult when we believe that we are in the right but suffering a loss of esteem or property.  Nevertheless, civility should always mark our approach and understanding, our attitude.  As long as no one is seriously jeopardized, we probably can afford some loss of resources for the sake of Christ’s peace.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Friday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Corinthians 4:7-15; Matthew 5:27-32)

Pope Francis has been accused of creating confusion over today’s gospel message.  Noting the possibility of divorced and remarried persons receiving Communion in Orthodox churches, Francis floated the idea to the synod of bishops meeting two years ago in Rome.  It cannot be said with complete candor that just because Jesus in the gospel forbids marriage of divorced people, that it is absolutely impossible.  After all, in the very next section of the Sermon on the Mount he forbids the taking of oaths.  Yet presidents and peons have sworn in the name of God.

But divorce affects life at its deepest levels.  It ends a relationship where two people by word and deed have promised lifelong fidelity.  It often leaves children in desperation.  Moreover, as Christian marriage is a sacrament expressing Christ’s love for the Church, divorce becomes a countersign of that love.  Furthermore, the proscription of divorce has been the perpetual practice of the Church since antiquity.

Of course, Francis only wanted to exhibit God’s mercy.  Many innocent people have been adversely affected by divorce, and many divorced persons have undergone significant conversions.  Life’s contingencies do not always neat solutions to these situations.  Yet Francis eventually yielded to the majority opinion of the synod.  In his apostolic exhortation The Joy of Love he restates the traditional teaching of the Church with some pastoral recommendations. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Thursday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Corinthians 3:15-4:1.3-6; Matthew 5:20-26)

A scholar once wrote a book criticizing the idea that Shakespeare transcends the times in which he wrote.  He demonstrated that although Shakespeare’s thoughts have a universal scope, to understand them well one has to know about his world.  Paul is saying something similar in today’s first reading. 

Paul writes that Jews read Moses’ Law (the first five books of the Bible) with their faces veiled (I.e., superficially) unless they read him through lens of Christ.  An example might be taken from today’s gospel.  It is not sufficient to follow literally the Law’s command not to kill.  Jesus insists that people care for one another.  Paul adds that when people read Moses through Christ, they actually become like Christ.

We often give up the quest to be like Christ because we may fail early and often to love.  We should not become discouraged but look for little ways to care for others.  A smile, kind words, perhaps an offer to share an apple at lunch – all make us more like Christ.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wednesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary time

(II Corinthians 3:4-11; Matthew 5:17-19)

Schools today often encourage teachers and students to make contract agreements.  The agreements serve as a law so that all have a clear sense of their rights and responsibilities.  It is this literal sense of law that both the first reading and the gospel transcend.

St. Paul writes of a new covenant not written in stone but on the heart.  Christian recipients of this new covenant or law don’t sense it as an imposition of their freedom.  Rather they readily carry it out because it is natural to them.  In the gospel Jesus says that he comes to fulfill the law because he will dispense the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit will move its possessor beyond the give and take of contracts to sacrifice of self for the other.

The new law has been written on our hearts.  We have received the Holy Spirit.  Aware of this grace we should not hesitate to perform acts of love.  Doing so, we will share the company of the saints.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Memorial of Saint Anthony of Padua, priest

(II Corinthians 2:18-22; Matthew 5:13-16)

St. Anthony of Padua achieved fame in his day as a preacher.  Evidently for this reason early images of him were depicted with a Scripture in hand.  Curiously over time that Scripture has been replaced with an image of the child Jesus.  Like St. Paul in today’s first reading Anthony’s familiarity with the word of God has been rightly associated with a close relationship with the Lord himself.

Paul wants to assure the Corinthians of Christ’s love.  He is afraid of a misunderstanding because he has changed his plan to visit them.  So that they do not think that Christ is a fickle Lord because of his messenger’s change of plan, he asserts here that he did it with good reason.  He did not visit them so that God’s design could be fulfilled. 

Sometimes we too have to break a promise.  It may cause disappointment, but if done with good reason and sincere apology it is neither sinful nor ultimately hurtful. Those to whom the promise is made should be able to see that we still care for them. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Monday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Corinthians 1:1-7; Matthew 5:1-12)

“We’re number one! We’re number one!” college students love to brag when their team wins a game that thrusts it to the top of a sportswriters’ poll.  Losers are never so cheerful.  They take consolation in that they played well, abided by all the rules, and emerge as better people in the sojourn of life.  Once a student praised his losing team for having won a “moral victory.”  In today’s first reading Paul describes such a consolation for the church at Corinth.

Because Christians in Corinth are a minority, they no doubt suffer the disdain of the powerful.  They also face interior division over beliefs and loyalties.  The letter does not spell out exactly the nature of these problems.  It could be that Jewish-Christian preachers from Palestine were preaching adherence to the Law.  Another possibility is that Greek charismatic preachers were giving divisive interpretations to the gifts of the Spirit.  In any case, Paul reminds his readers that in Christ’s sufferings they like him can find comfort.  After all, Christ’ humiliating death on the cross led to the glory of his resurrection.

No one likes to suffer.  But we can bear with almost any suffering if it has positive meaning.  We will find that meaning when we unite ourselves to Christ.  With him the pain of disease or accident serves for the building up of the Church.  In him even the suffering brought about by our own faults endured patiently redounds for our eternal benefit.  

Friday, June 9, 2017

Friday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Tobit 11:5-17; Mark 12:35-37)

The Rite of Marriage used to mention the difficulties of married life.  It advised the couple standing before the priest that love alone could make the marriage work and perfect love could make the marriage a joy.  Those difficulties surely include being thrown into a living situation with a person from another household with its own customs.  Then, of course, there is the instant sharing of a bed, a room, and just about everything else.  Love supplies the balm that allows the couple to value each other’s differences.  Parents of the couple have a part to play in the adjustment process.  The first reading today provides a model for parents of the bridal couple.

Tobit goes out of his way to welcome his new daughter-in-law Sarah.  He not only blesses her but also relates how she is a blessing to his son.  He shows no reservation in calling her “daughter” so that she may feel completely at home.

We, friends of the bridal couple, also have a role in the process.  We should pray that the couple’s relationship be loving and faithful.  We should not let old relationships with either the bride or groom remain old relationships but should become friends to both.  Finally, we want to encourage both to live up to their marriage vows especially when the road turns uphill and becomes rocky.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Thursday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Tobit, 6:10-11.7:1bcde.9-17.8:4-9a; Mark 12:28-34)

The gospels of yesterday and Tuesday told of Jesus’ rivals trying to discredit him.  First, the Pharisees and then the Sadducees ask Jesus questions whose answers should compromise his authority.  Jesus, however, smells foul play and deftly frustrates his opponents.  Today a scribe asks Jesus a question in an honest search for wisdom.  He is rewarded with the roadmap to eternal life.

When Jesus says that the first commandment is to love God with all one’s power, he means that we are to love him more than anyone or anything.  We are to desire His presence, to think about Him day and night, and to sacrifice ourselves for His benefit.  It is considerable quest in a world with many side attractions.  But it promises us the greatest prize there is – the Kingdom of God.

Jesus tells the scribe, “’You are not far from the kingdom.’”  He means that the scribe now knows the way to true happiness.  When he follows that way by loving God above all and his neighbor as well, he will have entered the Kingdom. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Wednesday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Tobit 3:1-11a.16-17a; Mark 12:18-27)

Today’s first reading gives glimpses of two people who feel despised.  The pious, old Tobit has insulted his wife who turns around and calls him a fraud.  The young beauty Sarah senses that people ridicule her because multiple husbands have dropped dead on their marriage bed.  Both petition God to let them die.

Many today contemplate suicide out of similar feelings of depression.  Those who feel ashamed about their sexual inclinations often fall into this category.  They need to be assured that they are good and loved. 

In the Scripture story God responds to both petitioners’ pleas -- not with an angel of death but one of life.  He sends Rafael to match Tobit’s son Tobias with Sarah and to guard their marriage bed.  In the process Rafael will find a solution to Tobit’s problem.  We should try to act in such helpful ways when we meet people in need.  Kind words will lift their hearts.  A touch on the hand or arm may reassure their self-worth.  We can see ourselves also as God’s agents assisting in His response to the distressed. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Tuesday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Tobit 2:9-14; Mark 12:13-17)

Joe Louis was one of the greatest boxing champions because of his readiness to take on all challengers.  He defended his heavyweight champion title a record twenty-five times.  If you don’t mind the comparison, Jesus in the gospel these days is confronted by different opponents who resent his popularity among the people.  He has no more trouble putting down their arguments than the “Brown Bomber” in conquering all foes.

In today’s passage an unlikely alliance of Pharisees and Herodians questions Jesus on the controversial issue of the census tax.  The people thought the tax unjust, but few wanted to invite reprisal by speaking against it openly.  So the band asks Jesus openly of his opinion of the tax.  Jesus sniffs out the conspiracy and responds quite deftly by avoiding the issue.  In the process he wins even more fame among the people.

In this case Jesus appears both clever and wise.  But more instructive is his profound trust in God.  He stands composed because he knows – not through intuition but by constant prayer -- that his Father is with him.  We should follow his example.  It is better not to strategize to outwit those who take opposite positions from us.  Rather, we should pray for God’s enlightenment with due effort to comprehend the issue at hand.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Memorial of Saint Boniface, bishop and martyr

(Tobit 1:3.2:1a-8; Mark 12:1-12)

St. Boniface was born in England and raised there in a Benedictine monastery.  He was a successful teacher but desired to be a missionary among the pagans in what is now Germany.  When he arrived, he achieved notoriety by chopping down an old oak tree worshipped by the people without incurring harm.  He labored successfully throughout the land.  After a distinguished career in which he was named “Primate of Germany,” Boniface retired to where he began his mission.  There he and a group of followers were martyred by a band of pagans.

Missionaries leave their native place for many reasons.  But they need to have love of both Christ and the people to whom they preach if they are to succeed.  Their purpose is not to change the culture which they find in the land of their destination but to deepen it.  They will demonstrate how the best part of any culture resonates with the teachings of Christ.  Sometimes people will resent the connections that are being made.  This is what happened to St. Boniface and cost him his life.  The gospel today relates how Christ was a missionary whose life was taken out of resentment for what he said.

Christian missionaries serve humanity as well as the Church.  At their best, they bring the message of God’s love for the world and His mandate that we love one another.  They also crossbreed cultures leaving behind the best of their culture and often taking the new culture home before they die.  Today we sing their praises. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(Acts 25:13b-21; John 21:15-19)

Fishermen seem to love their pastime more than others. When they arrive at the water, they take off their watches with little urge to know the time.  For fishermen a successful day fishing is not one in which they catch a quantity of fish but just one in which they are on the water.  Because of the unique absorption of fishermen with their occupation, Jesus gauges Peter’s capacity for leadership with a question regarding his preference for him over fishing.

Peter is not only a fisherman by trade but has been portrayed by the evangelist as a fisher of men and women.  Now Jesus wants him to undertake a new profession.  He is to be the shepherd of his flock; that is, he will oversee the care of the community of believers.  Before he confers on him the ministry, he tests Peter with a trifold question concerning Peter’s love.  First of all, he asks Peter if he loves him “more than these.”  Some people think that “these” refers to the other disciples in the sense that Peter loves Jesus more than the other disciples do.  But it is more likely that “these” refers to the accoutrements of fishing.  When Peter assures Jesus of his predilection of him to nets, boats, lines and hooks, Jesus puts him in charge of the Christian community.

Pope Francis seems to be a worthy successor of Peter.  His love for the Lord and his flock is palpable.  Although this generation has been blessed with other gracious popes, Francis has shown a unique capacity to care for all people.  As much as the Church is mother of all peoples populating the planet, Francis has exhibited the desire to touch them with God’s mercy.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Memorial of Saint Justin, martyr

(Acts 22:30.23:6-11; John 17: 20-26)

Paul’s trial before the Roman commandeer is reminiscent of a famous episode in the life of St. Justin Martyr whom the Church remembers today.  Justin was a second-century philosopher who embraced Christianity.  He was taken into custody for not worshipping the Roman gods.  At his trial before the Roman prefect, he explained why it would be absurd for a Christian to offer sacrifices to idols.  He said, “No one who is right thinking stoops from true worship to false worship.”  The refusal to comply with this Roman law won for him a martyr’s glory.

Paul, of course, fares better, at least for the time being.  When he is accused of preaching Jesus, He cleverly instigates a dispute among the two parties of Jews leveling the charge.  One party declares Paul innocent when he puts himself on its side of the dispute.  Paul, however, will not escape martyrdom.  Indeed, Jesus tells Paul in this same passage that he will have to bear witness to him in Rome.  There he will be beheaded.

We should be aware that Christians today are facing the same kind of martyrdom as befell St. Justin and St. Paul.  Ideas matter, and some people cannot tolerate the beneficent ideas of Christianity.  That should not deter us from proclaiming them.  To say that Jesus is the Son of God is to declare God’s love for the world.  Even if that idea offends some people, it is worth dying for.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Luke 1:39-56)

Some parents say that they do not wish to baptize their children because Baptism would prejudice the way their children look at the world.  Echoing the thought, young people claim to suspend their belief so that they might experience the world in new ways.  The serious believer, however, knows that these stratagems actually put one at a definite disadvantage, like not getting eyeglasses when one is noticeably near-sighted.  The gospel portrays Mary as eminently believing and therefore able to foresee the blessings that God will accomplish in Jesus.

Mary visits Elizabeth not to test what the angel told her but because she believes that it is true.  Elizabeth herself recognizes this faith when she exclaims to Mary, “Blessed are you who believed what was spoken to you by the Lord…”  Then Mary voices her famous song praising God for what will be accomplished in Jesus – remembering His promise of mercy and filling the hungry with good things.

Dazzled by the products of science and technology, some see faith as increasingly heavier baggage.  They want it all – the surety of faith and the autonomy of not committing themselves to any worldview.  Some even try to rationalize the question positing that they do not have the gift of faith.  But they likely do have faith.  God has offered it to most of us if not through our parents then through blessed companions all the way.  Rather than putting it on hold, we should allow it, as Mary does in the gospel, to bring us unmerited rewards.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(Acts 20:17-27; John 17:1-11a)

Few scenes give more glory to a country than a cemetery of its dead warriors.  The multiple rows of graves testify to the greatness of the land for which the men and women shed their blood.  It is a picture that transcends sadness and fills observers with awe.  In today’s gospel Jesus speaks of giving such glory to his Father.

Jesus has labored to bring his Father’s love to the people.  He has been like a good shepherd and a vinedresser caring for God’s people.  Now is the moment for him to give God the ultimate glory.  He will die so that the people know the extent of God’s love for them.

We need to ask ourselves to whom or what we want to give glory.  By all means, let it not be something frivolous – a rock group or a baseball team.  No, let us say that we live for the sake of our families, our communities, or perhaps for the pursuit of knowledge.  These beneficiaries can be readily aligned with the greatest good.  In the end we should want to say with Jesus that it is God to whom we give glory.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(Acts 19:1-8; John 16:29-33)

Memorial Day is sometimes called Decoration Day.  This is so because on this day Americans have traditionally put flowers on the graves of their deceased loved ones.  The custom started after the Civil War which claimed the lives of more Americans than any other.  In time people decorated the graves of all loved ones, not just fallen soldiers.

Flowers symbolize new life.  They are fitting for Christian graves because Christians believe that the dead will live again.  The Holy Spirit will reintegrate their bodies and unite them with their souls.  Then they will praise God in joy for eternity.  We have a foreshadowing of this day in today’s first reading.

Paul meets twelve Ephesians who identify with the Jesus.  Perhaps because they do not exhibit much joy, Paul asks the twelve if they have received the Holy Spirit.  When they admit ignorance of the Spirit, Paul baptizes them in Jesus’ name.  The effect is wonderful.  The Spirit moves the Ephesians to pray in tongues and to tell the wonders of God.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Memorial of Saint Philip Neri, priest

(Acts 18:9-18; John 16:20-23)

Today’s first reading tells of Jesus encountering Paul.  The Lord tells him not to be afraid of Jewish persecution in Corinth because he has “many people” in the city.  Then the reading gives an example.  Gallio, the Roman leader, refuses to hear the accusation made by the Jews against Paul.  St. Philip Neri had a similar mystical experience that moved him to become one of the most celebrated Catholics of his time.

In the middle of the sixteenth century Philip was pursuing a career in business.  A mystical experience, however, set him on a different course.  He went to Rome where there was a malaise after the scandals of the Renaissance popes and the initial jolts of the Reformation.  Philip began to preach openly on the streets where the people responded in droves to his wisdom, devotion, and cheerfulness.  He became venerated as a saint in his last years and was canonized one just twenty-seven years later.

Some people claim to have visions of the Lord.  They speak of Jesus telling them to do something or not to do another.  It may seem weird, but why deny it?  Rather let us pray that the Lord may at least consider us one of his “many people.”  And let us also respond to such a positive designation by being cheerful, wise and devoted like Philip Neri. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 18:1-18; John 16:16-20)

Jesus’ disciples seem confused.  He has told them that they will not see him for a little while and then they will see him.  They may be wondering if he is not going on a vacation.  But if he would tell them that he is going to his mission of self-sacrifice, they would hardly be able to understand that either.  His saving death and resurrection are so entirely unique that one has to experience them before believing.

It may be compared to the cars that are supposed to drive themselves.  Can one believe that they really can maneuver the traffic of a big city for years on end without a mishap?  It seems impossible that they will not regularly have problems.  Yet these cars are evidently on the road in Pittsburgh.  With Jesus the even more improbable resurrection from the dead has taken place.  He appeared to his disciples just as he says in today’s passage.

We can believe not only in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead but also in his sending of the Holy Spirit.  With his ascension he gives us the help to maneuver through the temptations and trials of life.   the Spirit will see us through to our destination alongside of Jesus.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 7:15.22-18.1; John 16:12-15)

No doctrine of the Church is harder to explain than the Holy Trinity.  How the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are both three and one almost defies explanation.  It is not that they are three entities that make up a collective like the Three Musketeers, but each one makes of the fullness of the divine nature.  How do they differ then?  They differ only by their relationships – one is Father; one is Son; and one is the life or Spirit among them.  In today’s gospel Jesus reassures his disciples with reference to the unique triad and unity of the Holy Trinity.

Jesus underscores the unity of the Trinity when he says that the Spirit will teach only what it receives from him.  In turn he passes on only what he has received from the Father.  One might ask whether only the Spirit would be present to Jesus’ disciples or to Christians today.  No, Jesus has said in this same discourse (last Sunday’s gospel reading) that all three are present to his disciples.

Although we have difficulty understanding exactly the nature of the Trinity, we can see it as a model for Church life.  The Church like the Trinity is a community of love.  Like the Trinity where the Father has a certain priority so in the Church the Bishop of Rome as well as local bishops have a kind of priority. We cannot be one exactly like the Trinity is one, but we should strive for at least a unity of mind and heart.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 16:22-34; John 16:5-11)

A man worked for a long time as a product inspector in a factory.  He said that he took such pride in his work that when he put the label of the company on the product, he was sure that it would do its job.  The jailer in today’s first reading seems to have this kind of self-respect.

The jailer becomes extremely upset when he thinks that his prisoners have escaped.  In fact, he is going to kill himself until Paul intervenes.  Then, convinced that Paul and Silas are holy men, the jailer begs to receive the gospel.  The remaining part of the story gives more evidence of the jailer’s decency.  He bathes the prisoners’ wounds and gives them something to eat.

Although the Church draws a few great sinners, the majority of people who come to her already exhibit goodness.  They are looking for something more, something solid to ground their inclination to do what is right.  We can give these people what they are looking for.  Our kindness of opinion and gentleness of words in Christ’s name will do it.  At least a few of these people will join our community of faith if they see it supporting our efforts. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 16:11-15; John 15:26a-16:4)

In today’s reading from Acts, Paul, evidently accompanied by the author of Acts whom we know as St. Luke, crosses the Hellespont into Europe.  It is the beginning of a new frontier.  The gospel evidently arrived in Rome through others apostles.  But Paul, like Christopher Columbus landing in America, is the one credited for taking the gospel to Europe.

Paul does not begin preaching in the marketplace before non-believers, but goes on the Sabbath to a river where Jews habitually pray.  He obviously figures that they would most likely give him a hearing.  His hunch bears out.  We should not be surprised that a woman is the first one of his converts.  Lydia is a Greek proselyte of Judaism.  We may speculate regarding what about Jesus attracts her to him.  Perhaps it was his message of love for neighbor who included even one’s enemies.  Maybe it was his courage to face opposition even to the point of death.  Or it might have been the promise of resurrection to those who believe in him.  We will never know.

But we can examine our own motives for belief.  It would be disappointing to hear that we espouse Christianity only because our families do or because it connects us to important people or even because it gives meaning to our lives.  Hopefully we can say that Christ’s teaching draws us, his story fills us with expectation of eternal life, and his Holy Spirit has compelled our assent. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 15:22-31; John 15:12-17)

In his book The Four Loves C.S. Lewis writes that friendship is grossly undervalued in modern times.  He says that the ancients considered friendship as “the happiest and most fully human of all loves.”  In contrast, he continues, modern people have trouble seeing friendship as a love at all.  Friendship, according to Lewis, is sharing personally and fully over common interests.  By no means does he equate friendship with regular companionship, however.  That is the point; with very few people would a person risk relating feelings of the heart. It is remarkable then that in today’s gospel Jesus calls all his disciples’ friends.

But it is not even the case that those men who gathered around Jesus the night before he died exhaust his list of friends.  Really all serious followers of Jesus become his friends because they recognize in him one whom they can trust implicitly. They can tell him how they yearn to know God.  In reply he will urge them to keep his commandment of love.

We should see the course of our lives as grooming our friendship with Jesus.  As children we will listen with awe the gospels stories of him helping the needy.  As youth we will imitate his virtue in our quest to find a mate and launch a career.  And in old age we will confide in him as one who suffered own worries.  His friendship will not let us down.  Rather, it will bring us to eternal life.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 15:7-21; John 15: 9-11)

What if the Catholic Church, in order to foster unity with Protestant communities of faith, relaxed the requirement of attending Sunday Eucharist?  Surely many would oppose the change as an aberration to a Catholic custom that has been practiced almost since the beginning.  Others would say that there is no Scriptural mandate to assist in the Sunday Eucharist and therefore the Church precept is alterable. This question is similar to what the primitive Church confronts in today’s first reading from the Book of Acts.

It is hard to understate the importance of this meeting of the primitive Church.  The leaders are to decide the direction of the Church in the future.  Will it continue to be primarily a movement within Judaism, or will it allow Gentiles to be Gentiles while finding their salvation in the Lord Jesus?  The decision seems to boil down to what James will say.  Peter has already been convinced of the need to let Gentiles eat pork.  Paul and Barnabas, of course, have no objections to the idea.  Opposed to the change are the so-called “Judaizers” who see Christianity as a renewal of Israel with its necessity of keeping the Law.  James’ speaking in favor of the change with only a few restrictions clinches the argument. 

It probably is not a good idea to abandon the Sunday Eucharist obligation.  But Catholics should be open to similar non-essential changes in order to accommodate Christian unity.  We should not emphasize our differences from others.  Rather we should seek commonalities so that Christ may be one without diluting all that he is and all that he tells us. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

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

In one of her novels Ann Tyler writes of a man commenting on a sign in a grocery store.  The sign reads, “Vine Grown Tomatoes,” and draws the remark: “So what that tomatoes are grown on a vine?  Where else can they grow?  What’s important is that they are vine ripened.”  Jesus says something very similar in today’s gospel.

Jesus is telling his disciples that they must stay close to him if they are to meet their objectives.  This applies to every legitimate thing that they do.  Whether they raise a family, start a business, or preach the gospel, they have to follow Jesus’ commands.  If they do not -- if they want to be served more than to serve, if they have contempt rather than love for one another – their enterprise is sure to encounter significant problems.

At times Jesus seems remote.  We do not think he cares about us or we think that we don’t really need him.  Yet he remains, as St. Augustine said, closer to us than we are to ourselves.  We stay close to Jesus by both following his ways and praying for his assistance. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

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

Christ and Culture was written by H. Richard Niebuhr in the early 1950s to describe different approaches theologians have taken to the world.  It says that some Christian writers have seen the world as intractably evil and opposed it.  Others, it continues, have found the world as fundamentally good and endorsed it.  It recommends more nuanced approaches.  These will recognize the world as a mixture of good to be embraced and of bad to be shunned if it cannot be transformed.  In today’s gospel Jesus is more negative.  He speaks of the world as the realm of the devil.

As the devil’s domain, the peace of the world is delusory at best.  It may seem like a good thing but can bring about great harm.  It is the absence of sensitivity that excessive alcohol induces or the exuberance of illicit sex.  Jesus’ peace is permanent serenity because it frees one from sin and bestows the Holy Spirit.

We should be at least cautious of what the world offers.  Certainly society still bears some good as it was created by God.  But it has been compromised over time by the persistent presence of evil.  In any case we will want to sow in it the seed of the gospel by doing good in the name of Jesus.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter

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

Western theology speaks a lot of grace.  It is famous for describing how grace transforms the human person to love unselfishly.  Eastern theology is more effusive about divine indwelling.  Although its effects are similar to those of grace, its implications are more suggestive.  Divine indwelling is the presence of the Holy Trinity within the person.  It fills the person like ecstatic music moving her to do beautiful things.  The Greek Fathers of the Church had no qualms in stating that this indwelling divinizes the person.  In today’s gospel Jesus speaks of coming with the Father and the Holy Spirit to dwell within those who keep his commandments.

One woman after raising her family and burying her husband dedicated herself to her church community.  Assisting in the parish office, she knew everyone within the community.  When the neighborhood began to change both economically and racially, she remained a resident for many years.  She became acquainted with her new neighbors and participated in the newly formed block club.  She kept Jesus’ commandments to believe in him and to love another.  Perceptive people could notice the indwelling of Father, Son, and Spirit in her.

All of us probably have met people like this woman in whom God dwells.  They are observant but always kind.  They pursue justice in ways we hardly imagine without making us uncomfortable.  They do not make much of themselves but bring out the best in us.  We should be imminently grateful for these vessels of God in our midst.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter

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

People’s hearts become troubled when they have a terminal disease.  They worry about a poor quality of life which includes issues of severe pain, loss of control, and becoming a burden to others.  Hand in hand with quality of life, people desire control over their death.  They also are concerned that their choices will not be honored.  Jesus offers some consolation to those whose death is imminent in today’s gospel.

He tells his followers not to let their hearts be troubled.  Of course, they are disturbed that Jesus is going to die, not they.  Yet the anguish over loss is at least similar.  Jesus assures them that he is going for their benefit and that he will return.  Further, he implies that they can follow him by living in the ways that he has instructed.

We should not expect that everyone embrace Jesus’ assurances when death comes knocking.  To those who resist wanting to take their own lives we can offer some reasons not to.  First, taking one’s life has become trendy leading to others feeling pressured into doing something they do not want to do.  Second, they do not have to use all the mechanisms available to prolong life but may take advantage of effective palliative care.  Finally and most importantly, we will be there to the end helping them as much as reasonably possible. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter

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

The man is an active Catholic working with you in his parish.  He has a small, successful business and is married with a family.  He would hardly have dreamt being so blessed fifteen years ago.  Then he was in jail reeling from a troubled childhood.  In time he met the Lord largely, as he tells the story, through the prison chaplain.  The encounter turned his life around.  His story parallels that of St. Paul preaching in a synagogue in the first reading today.

Capture the irony.  Just a few years before Paul would have been in a similar synagogue ferreting out Jews having inclinations toward Jesus whom Christians believed was the Christ or Messiah.  Now he preaches quite openly that indeed Jesus is the savior of the people.  His turnabout came through a sensed encounter with Jesus risen from the dead.

Many today have experiences such as Paul’s.  The Church sponsors activities such as “Cursillo” and “Christ Renews His Parish” so that participants may know Christ in ways beyond the intellect.  Many others have a relationship with Christ without such a felt experience.  They know him to be real and influential although they would never admit to hearing him speak to them.  In any case we should treat Jesus as he is preached by Paul – a friend who comes to save us from our folly and all its effects.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 12:24-13:5a; John 12:44-50)

In today’s gospel Jesus states once again that he is the light of the world.  He means that he enables people to distinguish good from bad.  He can do this unfailingly because he is both God and human.  As he says, “’…whoever sees me sees the one who sent me.’”   Jesus’ reference to himself as light corresponds to what scientists have learned about light many centuries later.  Both have a dual nature.

Light acts as both matter and energy.  It travels as waves of energy, but it can be broken down into tiny particles which scientists call photons.  Its dual nature allows light to increase its energy for work.  Laser technology is the harnessing of amplified light energy to perform different tasks like minimally invasive surgeries.

We should keep ourselves close to Christ.  As human he knows our needs.  As God, he can help us in any situation.  His light will keep us out of trouble.  Even more importantly, it will guide us to our eternal destiny.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

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

In 1947 Archbishop Joseph Ritter of St. Louis ordered all Catholic schools of the city to accept African-Americans.  Many white Catholic parents opposed the order and threatened to sue the Church.  The archbishop responded by declaring that any Catholic who took part in the lawsuit would be excommunicated.  He understood better than most that the Church is an assembly for all people of faith.  The first reading today shows the Church integrating different peoples at an early stage of its development.

Although there are prior instances of gentiles accepting Christ in the Book of Acts, the passage read today presents a new picture.  It indicates that many non-Jewish Greeks participate in the Christian community in Antioch.  As the members of the community were known as “Christians,” its mixed nature tells what Christianity is about.  The new religious movement intends to unite all people in mutual love.

We can be grateful to be part of a Church that resists the tendency to tolerate racism.  Unfortunately, the Church’s record is not perfect in this regard.  But still we can be certain that Christ died for all people and calls all kinds of people together in his Church.  The more we promote racial integration, the truer we are to Christ.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

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

When Fr. Stanley Rother received a message threatening his life, he refused to leave his mission.  “The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger,” he said.  Fr. Rother was a priest from Oklahoma working among indigenous people in Guatemala.  Eventually he did leave, but he could not stay away long.  Urged by the words of today’s gospel, he returned to the people he had come to love.  Not long afterwards, he was assassinated.  As Pope Francis has declared him a legitimate martyr, Rother will be beatified this September.

Jesus, the Son of God, will lay down his life for all humans.  His death will be neither suicidal nor resisted.  Rather it will manifest sacrificial love for the good of sinners.  Jesus makes them holy – the first meaning of sacrifice – by acting as their representative.  On their behalf he perfectly obeys the Father’s will that he immerse himself in the world.  It is the world under the spell of the evil one who has him crucified.  God in the end will raise him and those who join themselves to him from the dead.

We join ourselves to Jesus in Baptism and live this union in our relationships with others.  Mothers exhibit Jesus’ sacrificial love when they care for a sick child through the night.  Children reflect his love when they take their feeble parents to see the doctor.  All of us show Jesus’ love when we care about and support one another.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Friday of the Third Week of Easter

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

Many people today are concerned about quality of life.  The elderly worry about having good health in retirement.  For them quality of life is not to have to live with chronic pain and, even more critical, not to lose their minds.  Meanwhile, young people consider quality of life in economic terms.  For them to have a high quality of life means to have the money to buy season tickets to their favorite sports team’s home games and to take a cruise every other year.  In today’s gospel Jesus has an alternative conception of quality of life to consider.

Of course, Jesus does not use the term quality of life at all.  Rather he speaks of as having his life within.  His life is much more than biological life, which bread and wine by themselves can sustain.  No, he means eternal life or life in abundance which comes from participating in God’s love.  It is a life of gratitude because one is assured of God loves for her or him.  The Eucharist, Jesus’ gift of his body and blood, depicts this perfectly.  Derived from the Greek language, the word means to be thankful

We are a Eucharistic people -- a people who continually give thanks to God.  Yet we strive to become ever more so.  We see the efforts people make for us and thank them.  We recognize how we have benefitted from the work of people in times past and feel a sense of gratitude for them as well.  Even if our quality of life is not that great in the eyes of others, we know differently.  Sick or well, poor or rich, we enjoy a high quality of life because we know of God’s love for us and are thankful for it. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Thursday of the Third Week of Easter

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

It is said that bread is the staff of life.  Supplying most of the calories in a western person’s diet, bread was once the staple of half the world.  Today a range of foods provides the calories for subsistence.  More peculiar is the fact that many people have recently been diagnosed with an intolerance of gluten, a composite of wheat proteins.  They cannot digest most bread well and should not eat any product containing more than a trace of gluten.  How does this development affect today’s gospel claim that Jesus is “the bread of life”?

Just as the life that Jesus offers is greater than physical life, the bread he gives is more than regular bread.  It is his “Eucharistic” bread which provides the superior life.  Eucharistic bread enables a life of gratitude.  It recognizes God as its source, its sustenance, and its end.  Assured of such a benefactor, the person who consumes Eucharistic bread should give thanks always.

We have daily access to Eucharistic bread at mass.  It transforms us inwardly to become more grateful for everything.  Consuming Eucharistic bread, we lovingly recognize those who help us.  We can even accept the difficulties that burden our lives with a sense of appreciation.  Shouldered without rancor, they make us stronger and wiser.  Becoming more Eucharistic, which means becoming more like Jesus himself, should bring us to mass more often.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Feast of Saints Philip and James, apostles

(I Corinthians 15:1-8; John 14:6-14)

St. Veronica is the legendary woman whose name is associated with a famous maneuver in bullfighting.  She is always portrayed as holding with both hands the cloth with which she wiped the face of Jesus and on which his image remains.  In bullfighting when the matador swipes the cape held with both hands before the charging bull, he has performed a veronica.   The name Veronica actually means true image, but in the gospel the true image does not refer to Veronica or her cloth, but to Jesus himself who is the perfect representation of God the Father.

The apostle Philip has trouble understanding Jesus when he says that anyone who has seen him has seen the Father.  “Show us the Father,” Philip requests, not out of defiance but from confusion. It is the same difficulty that Dan Brown and many others have in imagining that Jesus is really God.  “He was a remarkable man,” the skeptics say and then ask, “but how could he be the creator of the ever-expanding universe?”  It is this awesome wonder that makes the Incarnation one of the two core beliefs of Christianity.

Jesus invites us to believe in him by promising to empower us to work mighty deeds.  What does he have in mind – to turn water into wine?  No, one expert says, Jesus is not referring here to “the petty things of life.”  Rather he means to help us overcome lust, greed, and pride.  Even more, he promises to enable us to assist the poor who may repel us and love the enemy who might harm us.  In all these ways he prepares us to live with him in glory.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Memorial of Saint Athanasius, bishop and doctor of the Church

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

When St. Francis of Assisi heard that some of his friars were enticing Muslims into killing them, he put a stop to the practice.  He insisted that the missionary norms of his order prohibit both using arms to force conversions and taunting Muslims to martyr missionaries.  One wonders if Stephen in today’s first reading should not have been prudent in this way.

Stephen is a Greek-speaking Jew.  He comes from the Diaspora with little stake in the Jerusalem temple.  His diatribe against it perhaps reflects the sentiment of his background.  More than that, Stephen is a fervent convert to Christ.  He no doubt harbors resentment for the people of Jerusalem for having executed Jesus.  His outburst deserves some response, but certainly stoning is uncalled for.

Stephen’s story presents us with a few lessons.  First, we want to imitate his zeal to tell others about Christ who is our comforter and helper.  Second, we want to avoid Stephen’s harshness.  More people will be drawn to Christ by reflecting his peace than by exhibiting Stephen’s fury.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, like Stephen imitating Jesus, we want to forgive those who have offended us.  We should begin now so that we do not forget to do so at death.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Memorial of Saint Joseph the Worker

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

The man said that he loved his work.  He even claimed that he would do it even if he didn’t get paid.  But is it really work if one does not receive compensation?  Or is not the satisfaction of earning a livelihood for oneself and one’s family a necessary part of work?

There is a painting by Georges de La Tour of St. Joseph working.  He is bent over and painstakingly drilling a hole in wood.  Next to him stands the boy Jesus holding a candle so that his foster father might complete his task.  The painting first reminds us of Joseph’s role as the provider of Jesus and Mary.  It also indicates how Jesus enlightens the effort.  He teaches us that work brings the human person closer to God as it benefits others.

Today’s gospel likewise gives this lesson.  Jesus tells the people that they need spiritual more than physical sustenance.  He wants them to see that no matter how much they enjoyed the bread that he provided, his example of service is more valuable.  He will die on the cross so that they might live for one another and not exclusively for themselves.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Friday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 5:34-42; John 6:1-15)

It goes without saying that Pharisees are not gospel favorites.  Many picked on Jesus because they could not recognize that his healing on the Sabbath marked the dawning of a new age.  But the New Testament does recall some Pharisees who helped Christ.  Nicodemus in the Gospel of John comes first by night to learn from him and then in daylight to bury him.  Paul calls himself a Pharisee.  In today’s reading form the Acts of the Apostles a leading Pharisee defends the apostles in front of the Jewish Sanhedrin.

Of course, Gamaliel does not accept Jesus.  He only states that as a matter of policy religious tolerance is more judicious than persecution.  His reasoning is memorialized in the saying: “…if (Christianity) comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.”  Such religious tolerance was mandated by Vatican II but with a different logic.  The Council taught that the human conscience is inviolable.  No state or person has a right to interfere with how an individual worships God.

During Easter time the first reading at mass from Acts guides our recall of the early Church.  Every day we learn more of Christianity’s spread from Jerusalem throughout the world.  From the readings we should realize that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit.  She has no reason to fear other faith traditions.  Indeed, there is need to dialogue with them concerning the experience of God.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Thursday of the Second Week of Easter

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

A couple of years ago a florist in Seattle was sued by a patron when she wouldn’t provide flowers for his “marriage” to another man.  The florist, a woman, did not harbor personal dislike for the client.  Rather she believes that homosexual marriage violates God’s law and that her providing flowers would comprise sinful complexity in evil.  In a letter to the Seattle Times the florist wrote: “Rob (the patron) was asking me to choose between my affection for him and my commitment to Christ.  As deeply fond as I am of Rob, my relationship with Jesus is everything to me.”  The florist expresses the same sentiment as the apostles in today’s first reading.

The Jewish authorities have told the apostles that they are not to preach the name of Jesus.  But they cannot not do it.  They have been commissioned by Jesus and charged by the Holy Spirit to witness to him as the world’s salvation.  Obeying the authorities would be defying God’s will.

We need to ask ourselves whether our relationship with Jesus is the most important element of our lives.  Do we love him above all because of what he has done for us?  He created us, shared our struggles, and then died to free us from sin’s claws.  More than anyone or anything, he is worth our allegiance.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter

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

Today’s gospel contains the most famous verse of the Bible.  People have only to see the reference to know its content.  Indeed, “John 3:16” has become a kind of code reminding Christians of God’s love and calling skeptics to trust.

Curiously, the words are not put in quotation marks.  Evidently, modern editors think they belong to a narrator, not to Jesus.  It would be at least a little odd that Jesus would speak of himself in the third person.  More likely, the words are those of teachers like the apostles in today’s first reading.  Certainly, calling those who do not believe in Jesus “condemned” will raise the ire of Jewish priests.

We may be repulsed when seeing “John 3:16” on poster board at football games.  But that is because of the modern tendency to privatize religion.  Those who brandish such signs hardly wish to condemn anyone.  They likely want only to tell the world of Jesus Christ.  Perhaps we can enhance their efforts by Christian service.  When we feed the hungry and visit the sick in the name of Christ, our deeds will speak more eloquently than words.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Feast of Saint Mark, evangelist

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

There is irony in the use of this gospel passage on this feast of St. Mark.  In all probability the author of the “second gospel” did not write it.  More likely a scribe appended it to the original gospel years later.  But this twist should be no reason for disillusionment.  All four gospels belong to the Church more than they belong to specific authors.  As such, today’s passage bespeaks the role of the Church in the world.

The passage confirms how an appearance of the resurrected Jesus is associated with a commission to the Church to tell others about him.  In this case, the disciples are not just to preach “to all nations,” as Matthew’s gospel has it, but to “every creature.”  The reason for this universal destination is salvation.  The passage’s proposes an “either-or” response to the message indicating that individuals will be either saved or condemned according to their reception of the message.  This alternative is simplistic in a sense.  For one reason, the signs that are to accompany the preaching are not manifest.  Exorcisms, spontaneous new languages, handling of vipers, swallowing poisons, and curing the sick are rarely seen.  Indeed, non-Christians have often found the gospel overbearing because of the counter-testimony to it which Christians give.

Yet Jesus Christ is still necessary for the world’s salvation.  Only by practicing his message of forgiveness and love will the world move beyond enmity.  This is increasingly necessary as the force of arms and the rapidity of actions increase.  As Martin Luther King once said, "We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools."

Monday, April 24, 2017

Monday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 4:23-31; John 3:1-8)

A Jewish man had, as a boy, been taken from his parents and imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. He survived only because a German soldier reached out to him in kindness.  He now says that he made a decision not to be bitter about the experience but would always return to them the kindness he had received.  Well into old age the man’s countenance reflects his decisions.  He beams with peace.  Whether or not the man was ever baptized, he has been born of the Spirit of which Jesus speaks in today’s gospel.

Jesus is explaining to Nicodemus that people must not follow the ways of the world.  Those ways dictate that people are to “look out for number one”; “get even with those who wrong you”; and a hundred other maxims of the ever dominant ego.  In contrast Jesus teaches that people have to love one another and to forgive those who persecute them.  His message may be difficult for those who have undergone significant hardship.  But it leads to a life of everlasting peace for all.

The season of Lent should have chastened us, and now Easter graces have been poured out on us.  We can commit ourselves to Jesus Christ.  Models like the Holocaust survivor exist.  More than ever it is time for us to live in the Spirit.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday within the Octave of Easter

(Acts 4:1-12; John 21:1-14)

Ken Untener was bishop of Saginaw, Michigan, for twenty-four years.  He organized the diocese so well that he found time to give workshops on preaching nation-wide.  Two years ago a book of his homilies was published posthumously.  It was entitled My Name Is Ken and I Will Be Your Waiter a Long, Long Time.  The name of Jesus might be substituted for Ken to understand today’s gospel.

Like a waiter, Jesus has food prepared for his guests.  He will be serving his disciples until the end of time.  His food will nourish them so that they might go forth and tell others about God’s love.  In the gospel his food is bread and fish.  These are symbols for his very self – his body and spirit – that sustain his disciples in hardship and bring them true happiness.

We come forward to receive Jesus’ body and spirit in the Eucharist.  Doing so, we identify with Christ’s disciples.  We then have to go out to others telling them of God’s ever-gracious care. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Thursday within the Octave of Easter

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

There is an old “good news-bad news” joke about a messenger reporting to the apostles of Jesus’ resurrection.  The messenger first announces the good news -- the Lord indeed rose from the dead.  Then he gives the bad news -- he wants to speak to them about what happened in the garden on Thursday night.  Luke's gospel does not mention the disciples fleeing Jesus when he is arrested. Nevertheless, there is a sense in which their meeting Jesus after the resurrection is not pure pleasure.

The resurrection account we hear today establishes that Jesus rose from the dead in body as well as soul.  He offers his flesh and bones, to be touched if desired, as proof that his disciples are not imagining his presence.  Then he bites into a piece of fish as further evidence.  The disciples can rejoice that their leader has returned.  Now comes the hard part.  The Scriptures, which foretold Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection, also predicted that repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached in his name.  As the chief witnesses to the wonders of the resurrection, the disciples inherit the responsibility of preaching it to the world.

It is a formidable task for at least two reasons.  First, the disciples must reform their lives in perfect conformity with the gospel.  Dom Helder Camara once warned confirmed Christians, “Your lives may be the only gospel your sisters and brothers will ever read.”  Second, they will be resisted as many will hear the call to change their ways as a threat to their well-being.   We, likewise, can be sure that just in living the gospel we will incur hostility at times.

Wednesday within the Octave of Easter

Wednesday within the Octave of Easter

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

The name Christian registers negatively in the minds of many today.  At Christmas people refuse to use the word.  The Crusades are seen as unforgiveable sins even as current Muslim atrocities beg Christian forbearance.  Standing Christian morality respecting life from conception and preserving sexual intimacy for marriage is viewed as quaint.  It should be noted, therefore, how St. Peter employs the name of Jesus in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

Peter, John, and all Christians of the day go to temple for prayer.  They do not see themselves as separate from their countrypersons although they recognize they have an advantage.  A crippled man begs them for alms as is his custom.  Peter does not turn away but acknowledges the beggar’s need by looking at him intently.  He tells the man that as a human being, he is powerless to help him.  Then he invokes the name of Jesus which has the power to save.  Pulling the man up from the ground, Peter watches him walk. 

Invoking Jesus’ name allows us to overcome natural limitations.  We should hardly be ashamed of using it name except, of course, in vain.  We need to recognize publicly that it is Jesus who gives us the grace to visit the sick and speak up for immigrants.  We have to keep in mind as well that his name represents love and peace, never oppression and violence.  If the world is to be saved, it will be through his name.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tuesday within the Octave of Easter

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

In listening to the gospel today, two questions come to mind.  First, why does Mary Magdalene have difficulty recognizing the risen Lord?  Second, why does Jesus tell Mary not to cling to him?  Answering these questions gives a better understanding of the resurrection.

Mary does not recognize Jesus because the resurrection has transformed him. He does not have the same kind of body as before he died.  It has been eternalized.  It is more than cleansed and more even than restored with blood.  It is recreated so that it beams life.  As a meager comparison, we might think of the difficulty of recognizing a formerly shiftless youth who just undergone basic Marine training.  His body now vibrates energy.

The resurrected body is not to be clung to because it does not belong to this world.  Its eternal nature belongs with the Father in heaven.  When Jesus has ascended, he will send his Spirit which has a place among us.  That Spirit guiding, inspiring, and informing us will be Jesus’ abiding presence to us. It will lead us to eventual full union with Jesus.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Monday within the Octave of Easter

(Acts 2:24.22-23; Matthew 28:8-15)

Of all the evangelists Matthew is most cynical toward the Jews.  He alone pictures Jewish leaders scheming with Judas to arrest Jesus.  Likewise, he alone records the Jewish people saying that Jesus’ blood should fall on them and their children.  The cynicism toward the Jews concludes in today’s gospel.  Matthew alone explains the natural skepticism that arises with the report of a dead person’s coming to life by describing the Jewish authorities bribing the Roman soldiers and promulgating a lie.

Scholars attribute such negativity in Matthew (and John) to the persecution that Christians were experiencing at the hand of Jewish leaders at the time of his writing.  Jewish-Christians were being purged from synagogues as Jewish leaders were reforming the practice of their faith with the destruction of the Jerusalem temple.  Saying that an evangelist read back into the account of Jesus’ life events which reflect his own times does not undercut the authority of Scripture.  Rather it should help Christians to understand and live their faith.

We should not doubt the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  That Jesus appeared to his disciples and to Paul in a glorified body after he died is firmly attested to in Scripture.  His resurrection and visitations have precipitated the coming of the Holy Spirit upon us.  The Spirit enables us to accept the quite implausible occurrence of the resurrection so that we too hope to experience it at the end of time.   The same Spirit moves us to search for the truth of all matters so that our testimony to the resurrection of Jesus has credibility. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion

(Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42)

The Gospel according to John portrays Jesus as fond of personal encounters.  At the beginning of his ministry Jesus engages Nicodemus and then the Samaritan woman in one-on-ones.  These encounters lead to the salvation of both although it is not apparent in Nicodemus’ case until today’s gospel reading.  Jesus also encounters the crippled man at the pool of Bethesda, the man born blind in Jerusalem, and Martha and Mary individually in Bethany -- all with positive outcomes.  However, in today’s account of Jesus’ passion his face-off with Pontius Pilate ends regrettably.

Pilate meets Jesus with objectivity.  He seems interested in determining the veracity of the Jews’ claim that Jesus makes himself out to be a rival to the Roman emperor.  He asks him, “’Are you the King of the Jews?’”  Jesus answers him obliquely which precipitates a conversation on the nature of kingly power.  As the conversation continues, Pilate becomes satisfied that Jesus does not threaten Roman sovereignty.  Pilate quickly maneuvers to release Jesus by first claiming him as the beneficiary of the annual Passover pardon and then by having him scourged so that the normal person would say that he has suffered enough.  But the Jews are portrayed as implacable as they bully Pilate into betraying his judgment of the case.

Each of us should see Jesus as personally confronting her or him today.  He is asking, “Carmen, do you believe that I died on the cross to win your salvation?  Or is this service only a ritual to mark time, no more significant than Halloween?”  Hopefully, we can answer honestly, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Savior of the world.”  That said, we will want to give him homage.