This in-between-time is a time for a “significant pause” – a pause that refreshes!
The Spirit is always a gift freely given, but also ‘waited upon’ – constantly sought anew in prayer. This Spirit is the powerful, tangible presence of the Risen Christ who strengthens us to work for the good of all. The Spirit is not given to answer our every manipulative request. The Spirit is the gratuitous, unmerited gift of God’s love and action in our lives. In order to welcome this Spirit and be ready to respond, we are called to prayer and to self-sacrificing discipleship. (M Birmingham, W& W Workbook for Year A, p. 330)
1st Reading: Acts 1: 12-14
Jesus was “taken up to heaven”. . . What is ‘heaven’ to you?
The eleven, so important to Luke’s gospel, are named, as is Mary the mother of Jesus. This is an indication of the parallel between the Spirit’s overshadowing of Mary at the conception of Jesus, and the Spirit’s overshadowing her and the other disciples at the birth of the Church. There is great significance in the coming together of Jesus’ followers, not only as individuals but also as one body. (Foundations in Faith, p. 101) What experiences of gathering together with family and friends during times of confusion or anticipation have you had? Why was it important to be together…what was the result of your coming together?
Prayer is a part of all of our readings today. Since the twelve play such a key role as witnesses to Jesus’ ministry and the subsequent gospel proclamation, Luke sees it as essential that they be at full complement before the coming of the Spirit. Mary, Jesus’ mother is the living personification of faith, the “brothers” of Jesus and the women (who were probably at the crucifixion) are all gathered together to pray (R. Faley, Footprints on the Mountain, p. 357). Margaret Guenther says, “…there is no such thing as a private Christian spirituality. Christian spirituality is a family affair: it is lived in the midst of relationships with God and those around us,” (The Practice of Prayer, p. 10). What does prayer do for you?
2nd Reading: 1 Peter 4: 13-16
In Kittel’s Theological Dictionary, it states: Greek, doxa (glory) – Hebrew, kabod, have these connotations: honor, splendor, divine radiance, something of great importance, that which reveals God’s very nature. It is God’s self-manifestation; it is what shows forth God’s impressiveness, importance, splendor! How is this connected to the “sufferings of Christ” and our sufferings? This reading is a warning about coming hardship and trials. As Christ was triumphant in the face of the horror of the cross, so we must trust that any of our trials and sufferings are transitory and are as nothing compared to the goodness and glory of God’s love for us. Any ‘dying’ that we must do is to be seen as an opportunity to share more fully in the paschal mystery of eternal life – a gift we have now and for ever more. (Living Liturgy, Year A, 2004 & M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Wbk. For Yr. A, p. 329)
Rob Bell, in his podcast series on Alternative Wisdom:
- Pre-conventional Wisdom: unaware that there’s a way things are usually done, against the rules
- Conventional Wisdom: the rules, how things are done
- Post-conventional Wisdom: mindful bending or application of the rules, resisting or moving beyond rules because of reasons
You have to learn conventional wisdom before you can get to post-conventional. It’s the wisdom after wisdom. This is what Peter is talking about. Jesus showed us that he suffered because of evil in the world. If we want to be like Jesus, then we might have to as well. But it is all for good. Knowing that can bring us peace and glorifies God. It is a deep knowing that abides with us now. It is the other side of knowing…does that make sense? How can you incorporate that in your life?
The Gospel: John 17: 1-11
What does it mean that Jesus “revealed God’s name”? Kittel states: “It is a common belief of antiquity that the name is not just a label, but part of the personality of the one who bears it . . .the name carries will and power. The “name conjures up the person” carrying a real sense of presence and power. (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged, 694)
Another time to ponder Ronald Rolheiser’s discussion of the Paschal Mystery in The Holy Longing, chapter 7:
The Paschal Mystery is a cycle for rebirth; this is what Jesus taught and lived.
There are two kinds of death:
Terminal death — a death that ends life and ends possibilities.
Paschal death – a death that while ending one kind of life, opens the person undergoing it to receive a deeper and richer form of life.
There are two kinds of life:
Resuscitated life – when one is restored to a former life and health.
Resurrected life – this is an entirely new way of life. Jesus did not get his old life back. He received a new life – a richer life and one within which he would not have to die again.
Jesus gives us a pattern in which with his help we, too, can experience this Paschal Mystery – throughout our lives – in many little deaths and risings – until someday we enter into the ultimate experience of this mystery – which is really God’s love for us – calling us always to fully experience his eternal love and life.
- Good Friday . . . “the loss of life – real death”
- Easter Sunday . . . “the reception of new life”
- The Forty Days . . . “a time for readjustment to the new and for grieving the old”
- Ascension . . . “letting go of the old and letting it bless you, the refusal to cling”
- Pentecost . . .”the reception of new spirit for the new life that one is already living”
In more common language of our day this means:
- “Name your deaths”
- “Claim your births”
- “Grieve what you have lost and adjust to the new reality”
- “Do not cling to the old, let it ascend and give you its blessing”
- “Accept the spirit of the life that you are in fact living”
Father Bob’s homily last Sunday…
5th Sunday of Easter A
I have been following St. Thomas a lot this year. We heard him showing great courage when Jesus decides to return to Judea to raise Lazarus from the dead. As all his enemies are waiting for Jesus there, he says to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go to die with him.” Then we witnessed most famously his denial of the resurrection after the others have seen the risen Lord. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” When you put those two statements together, you realize that Thomas was neither primarily brave nor doubtful. He is a realist. So it is not surprising as Jesus gives his speech to the disciples at the Last Supper, saying, “Do not let your hearts be…
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1st Reading: Acts 8: 5-8, 14-17
Just before this passage Luke tells us in Acts, that Stephen was stoned and that a severe persecution broke out upon the church in Jerusalem. Persecution did to the church what wind does to seed; it scattered it, and it did produce a greater harvest. As this church was scattered like a farmer’s seed, it carried with it the goodness of God’s Word and Love to be sown in every welcoming heart. Here we see Philip, a devout Jewish Christian, offering the Samaritans (previously seen as deviant, tainted, unclean enemies) this Good News of God’s love and truth. His words of love were matched by works of love, and so healing and joy abounded. Evil was overcome, and abundant life was begun. (Celebration, May 1999)
When true faith and authentic Christianity is lived, joy is generated. Luke is stressing that this out-reach was also authentically a part of the Jerusalem church. This calling of Peter and John to come to Samaria just confirms the right and goodness of this missionary movement. It is not correct to see this as an early separation of baptism and confirmation. Such a separation was not known in the early church. In fact, Luke even has the Holy Spirit come upon believers before baptism as in the case of Cornelius and his household (10:44-48). Also, in Acts 2:38 Luke clearly states that the Spirit is received by those who are baptized. (Celebration, May, 2002, & Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
What is it to be “of one accord”? The unity and clarity of thought that is described in this reading is palatable. Remember this when we get to our next reading…
2nd Reading: 1 Peter 3: 15-18
It wasn’t and isn’t easy to be Christian; not only do we have to overcome our own prejudices and blind-spots (with the help of Spirit) – but we can be threatened at times by persecution, or at least by misunderstanding and criticism. The community for which this letter was written was being increasingly threatened. On the local level they were despised as evildoers and challengers to sacredly-held codes and values (2:12). Believers were defamed (3:16) vilified (4:4), and insulted (4:14). Christians were seen as lacking in patriotism; when they refused to participate in the feasts of Roman gods and the cult of the emperor, they were seen as traitors. Yet, they were to give back good for any evil; they were to live Jesus’ law of love – ‘in season and out of season’. Their words of love needed to be lived even in the midst of hatred and confusion. The newly baptized are being warned that they have not been promised a ‘rose garden’. Like Jesus, when crosses come, they must pick them up with love and carry on. So must we. (Celebration, May, 2002, & Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
Hans Kung, a great theologian and scholar, who has been both applauded by many and silenced by his own church, despite his struggles gives testimony to the Spirit of Jesus that is alive in him. He says: “Why do I remain committed? I know what I can hold on to because I believe in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, who is alive today, who is the Spirit of God himself, who is the Holy Spirit. This living Spirit enables me and countless others to be truly human; not only to live but also to die – because in everything, both positive and negative, in all happiness and unhappiness, we are sustained by God.” To have this awareness – to believe this Good News – is to have salvation: fullness of life. (Celebration, May, 2002)
This quote by Hans Kung points to the “of one accord” from our 1st reading and nods in this 2nd reading (“sanctify” from Latin, to make holy and “conscience clear”). These words illustrate a point that being closer to God and inviting Spirit to work in our lives involves intention and openness. Richard Rohr in The Naked Now says, “The mind wants a job and loves to process things. The key to stopping this game is, quite simply, peace, silence, or stillness…stop labeling, ranking, and categorizing people and things and just see them…when this happens to you, you are now a living paradox: at one and the same time utterly connected to everybody else in a compassionate and caring way, and absolutely free to be your own self.” Do you hear it?
Remember the word flesh, “sarx”, is the whole person as s/he lives wounded, broken and attention-seeking (little self that is insecure and trapped). Spirit, “Pneuma”, is the whole person when knowing and trusting God (the true, big self that responds to God’s love). We are living into our baptism as we live more in Spirit!
The Gospel: John 14: 15-21
Recall Deacon Ron’s homily on Spirit as our spiritual GPS. We must only believe and trust in Spirit to show us the way, or re-calculate when we stray!
From Living Liturgy, 2004, p. 128:
When does God dwell among us? The gospel says it is when we love, keep Jesus’ word, and believe. Rather than three different tasks, these are really three descriptions of the same action – giving of one’s self – a self-sacrifice that leads to life. And, what does God bring when God dwells among us? God brings us Holy Spirit, the Advocate, to enlighten us, to empower us, to put our troubled, fearful hearts at work and at peace. What does this mean to you?
From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu:
The word, “Advocate,” is sometimes translated “paraclete,” “counselor” or “comforter” – the Greek word basically means “advocate,” a legal term that is for the “one who stands by the side of a defendant.” From its use in the gospel it seems that it has three functions or activities.
1) It is the continued presence of Jesus on earth after his life/death/resurrection
2) It is a truth-telling Spirit (14:17; 16:13) assuring us that Jesus is not a shameful failure, but the beloved of God.
3) It reminds them of things that Jesus said (14:26) and reveals things Jesus was unable to convey (16: 12-14).
In other words, this Advocate represents divine presence and guidance. It is all we need!
Some thoughts from Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium:
“Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!” (p. 3)
“Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.” (p. 4)
“Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” (p. 4 quoting, Pope Benedict XVI)
“An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice.” (p. 8)
1ST READING: ACTS 6: 1-7
Hellenists were congregations of Diaspora Jews (those who had lived outside the Holy Land) but returned to Jerusalem. They were more open to new ideas and less rigid in regard to ritual law than their fellow Jews. Because of this, they were despised and persecuted by the non-Christian Jews, and were eventually driven out of Jerusalem. It was providential because it ended up spreading the new faith (Church History, J. Dwyer. P. 25-27).
St. Stephen is the patron saint of deacons. This is one of the primary roles of deacons to bring alms to the widows. The apostles are beginning to organize themselves. The laying on of hands suggests the idea of being called into formal service. The apostles listened to the needs of the people and responded. How do our deacons do this today?
From Celebration, April 2005: Church is not a monarchy, but a community. Note verse 5: “The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen” . . . Some conclusions from this text about leadership in the church:
* leadership within the church arises from the community’s need
* leadership arises from ‘below’, not from ‘above’
2ND READING: 1 PETER 2: 4-9
It is likely that this reading is taken from an early homily, perhaps given as instruction for candidates for baptism (W&W, Birmingham, p.308). This reading calls us. How does it call you?
The early Christians did not ‘build’ a church until the 4th century; they met in homes and, at times, catacombs – What can we learn from their idea of church?
“chosen race” – “royal priesthood” – “holy (consecrated) nation” What does each mean for you? How does each move us from darkness into God’s light? Christians, the living stones, are joined by Christ himself who is the cornerstone – the foundation that supports the living stones. In the Old Testament no one was to approach the rock of Sinai, under penalty of death. Contrast that with Jesus, the cornerstone, who invites his people to come close to him. He has created something new and wonderful. He has gathered his living stones and formed them into a new people, a new religion (W&W, Birminham, p. 308).
From Celebration, April 2005:
At Vatican II, it was reaffirmed that “the Church is all the people of God.” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, #9) It overturned the pyramid model, stressing the privileges and responsibilities of all baptized believers. Hans Kung says that “Laypersons do not belong to the Church, nor do they have a role in the Church. Rather, through baptism, they are Church.” Vatican II states: “All are endowed with charisms for the upbuilding of the Church and all share in the threefold office of Christ: priestly, prophetical, and royal. Among all the people of Christ, there is a true equality, a genuine freedom, a profound dignity, a global responsibility, a sense of vocation and a personal union with Christ and his mission” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, #30-33,37)
THE GOSPEL: JOHN 14: 1-12
Remember, these words come before the crucifixion in John’s gospel.
Yet, they are truly a life-giving Easter message.
Jesus promises that he is going “to prepare a place for you.” William Barclay explains that this means that Jesus will act as our prodromoi which means a forerunner, a scout . . . it was also used at the time to refer to the small pilot boat sent ahead of great ships to lead them through a “dangerous or difficult harbor.” Jesus tells us that he will go ahead, find a path, and secure our passage from death to life. He just asks us to trust – to “have faith in this.” (Celebration, April 2005)
= THE WAY (the way beyond dead ends): the God we find in Jesus is a faithful God of new beginnings
= THE TRUTH: that which is real, that which will set us free (Jn 8:32)
=AND THE LIFE – that which nurtures, cares, labors, grows, creates, loves
From Mary Birmingham: Only through self-giving love can human beings become their most authentic selves. We were created to love. Jesus shows us what that means. If we live the love that Jesus lived, we will know God, who Is Love. . . the Christians of John’s community were beginning to feel the sting of religious prejudice. They were expelled from the synagogue. The synagogue has been heart and hearth to them. For Yahweh’s chosen people, it was the place of encounter with God. How would they now encounter God? Jesus encouraged them and us, ‘If you know me, you know God.’” ( Word and Worship Workbook, Year A, p..311)
From Celebrations, April, 2002:
There is no secret word, no magic potion, no hidden wisdom. If there were, Jesus would surely have found it. We must learn to read the truth between the lies. Jesus is not the Solution; He is the Way. And the best he can give us is some direction along the way.
Fr. Bob’s homily 3rd Sunday of Easter…
3rd Sunday of Easter A
The story of the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus is my story. It fits all I believe of Christ. It holds paramount meaning in my life. The Journey Retreat is based on the story of Emmaus. When we started the Albany Catholic Worker, we called it Emmaus House and as I read to my mother the Gospels for funerals as she lay dying, she passed away as I read about Emmaus. I thought, “Of course.” These verses from Luke have always brought me consolation, challenge and joy. I hope you have a favorite Christ story, a story you can have a special relationship with that could speak to you at a first communion, a wedding or a funeral. Emmaus is my story.
I love the story for its multiple images of Jesus upon which I can rely. This time I saw Jesus along…
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1st Reading: The Acts of the Apostles: 2: 14a, 36-41
Peter’s listeners were “cut to the heart”. This is what repentance or conversion is all about. Peter’s message was urgent. Repentance was not understood just as the turning away from a laundry list of sins. For Peter’s crowd it meant a radical reassessment of who Jesus really was-what his significance was (W&W, Birmingham, p. 300). Who is Jesus to you? Right now?
Reflect on this Arthurian tale:
In one of his quests Percival enters the castle of the Fisher King who has been wounded in the groin in a hunting accident, representing a loss of his generative powers. His wound will not heal and as a result, his kingdom becomes a wasteland. There is drought, crops will not grow, pestilence and disease are everywhere, all of which is symbolic of a disease of the soul. The wasteland comes about when one acts not out of authenticity, but out of the power of one’s position. Joseph Campbell calls this wasteland the inauthentic life, a state of being which is barren of the truth of who you are. In ancient cultures, the vitality of the kingdom was dependant on the vitality of the king. Percival, who had always acted spontaneously out of his own nature, for the first time remembers that a knight is not supposed to speak to a king until spoken to first, and even though he is moved to do so, does not ask, “What ails you?” the words that would have healed the king. He is escorted from the castle and when he turns to look back, it is gone. He says, “Alas, what is God? Were He great, He would not have heaped undeserved disgrace on us both. I was in his service, expecting His grace. But I now renounce Him and His service. If He hates me, I shall bear that. Good friend, when your own time comes for battle, let a woman be your shield, (CM, 452). You are not supposed to get a second chance. Percival realizes his mistake and spends many years searching for the castle, during which time he falls in love. Now in this new kind of relationship to a woman, Percival again finds the castle, asks of the Fisher King, “What ails you?” and thus heals the king and restores the land. When Parzival asks ‘what ails you?’ he has experienced the other in himself. The reality is that compassion is in humanity, and is our prime expression.
What cuts to Percival’s heart? What results from his conversion? His own change of heart affects the whole kingdom. Note the parallels in this story to the scripture passage. Jesus is our heart of compassion within us.
2nd Reading: I Peter 20 – 25
Remember that Jesus’ wounds became his identification marks after resurrection. As ‘wounded healers’, we can let the Spirit of Jesus help us to bring life out of the good and the bad times of our lives. This letter is written to a people –many of whom were slaves — who were being persecuted for their faith under the Roman Emperor Domitian at the end of the first century. Their endurance in the face of suffering helped the church to survive even to this day. May we trust in this same Spirit when we face difficulties.
(Celebration, April 2005). How do you think we are ‘healed’ by the wounds of Christ?
“Happy are they who have reached the end of the road we seek to tread, who are astonished to discover the by no means self-evident truth that grace is costly just because it is the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Happy are the simple followers of Jesus Christ who have been overcome by his grace, and are able to sing the praises of the all-sufficient grace of Christ with humbleness of heart. Happy are they who, knowing that grace, can live in the world without being of it, who, by following Jesus Christ, are so assured of their heavenly citizenship that they are truly free to live their lives in the world. Happy are they who know that discipleship simply means the life which springs from grace, and that grace simply means discipleship. For them the word grace has proved a fount of mercy,” (Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, p. 60).
The Gospel: John 10: 1-10
Three important Hebrew Scripture readings serve as background for this passage:
Ezekiel 34+: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel . . . who have been pasturing themselves! Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep? . . . I am coming against these shepherds . . . I will save my sheep . . . I myself will look after and tend my sheep . . . The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal [but the sleek and strong I will destroy], shepherding them rightly.
Jeremiah 23+: “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter . . . I myself will gather the remnant of my flock . . . and bring them back to their meadow . . . so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none will be missing, says the Lord.
Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd” . . .
Some ideas and facts concerning shepherds:
In Palestine sheep were kept mostly for their wool – not for their meat only. The sheep were often with the shepherd for many years; they were called by descriptive ‘pet’ names. A shepherd had to be a vigilant and fearless guide for his sheep. (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of John, Vol.II, p.56)
In this land of winding paths and rock cliffs with thin pastures surrounded by desert and wild animals, an alert and wise shepherd was indispensable to the survival of the sheep. At the end of the day, the shepherd would hold out his rod, close to the ground, having each sheep pass under it as the shepherd would examine it to see if it needed any care. Wounded ones would be ‘cleaned’ and anointed with oil; thirsty ones would be given water. When all had been cared for, the shepherd would lie down and sleep across the entrance to the sheepfold. He was the safe ‘gate’ by which the sheep could come and go. In this way, the shepherd became the source of life and goodness [salvation]. The gate did not ‘confine’ the sheep, but provided a “spaciousness of security, peace, and protection.”
In the morning when it was time to take the sheep to pasture, the shepherds would call to their sheep by a special sound or whistle, laugh or strange type of noise or song. Each sheep recognized the voice of their own shepherd. They followed that voice for it meant food, protection, warmth, healing and safety. This sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, armed shepherd was the source of life and protection, strength and guidance for the sheep. (Celebration, April 1999 & 2005, as well as John Pilch, http://liturgy.slu.edu/4EasterA041308/theword_cultural.html).
Sheep are naturally very vulnerable animals. If one gets lost, it will fall to the ground and ‘bleat’ loudly until the shepherd finds it. We can learn a lot from sheep!(The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, John Pilch, p.77)
The image of being sheep can make us a bit uncomfortable – it can imply we are just part of a ‘flock’ – sort of stupid and dependent. It seems to imply that we need to be ‘blindly’ obedient. But remember that obedience first means to listen. When we listen to our Shepherd Jesus, we find insight, truth, vision, understanding. He accompanies us through dark valleys and shows where to find life and real safety. (Living Liturgy, Year A, 2002, p.131)
In today’s world we encounter many gates. There are gated communities, gates of entry into theaters and sporting events, toll gates. Each gate represents both a dividing line and a means of entry. How does this speak to your spirituality?
In John’s gospel, there is a series of solemn statements that identifies aspects of Jesus’ identity. These are called the “I am” statements, such as “I am . . . the bread of life (6:48); the Good Shepherd (10:11, 14), the way, the truth, and the life (14:6), the light of the world (8:12; 9:5), the resurrection and the life (11:25). In this week’s gospel, Jesus asserts, “I am the gate” (10:7, 9). This gate opens up to abundant life . . .
Pray about which image seems most meaningful to you.
(“Working with the Word” http://liturgy.slu.edu/4EasterA041308/theword_working.html)
Going through the gate instead of hopping the fence…reminds us that there is no easy way out of our difficult times. We can’t skip steps. We have to go THROUGH, and a pasture will await us there. From Riding the Dragon (R. Wicks, p. 150, quoting The Alchemist by P. Coelho), “Once you get into the desert, there’s no going back,” said the camel driver. “And when you can’t go back, you have to worry only about moving forward. The rest is up to Allah, including the danger.”