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THE JEWISH WAR
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ANTIQUITIES
Ant. Jud., Bk 1
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Ant. Jud., Bk 3
Ant. Jud., Bk 4
Ant. Jud., Bk 5
Ant. Jud., Bk 6
Ant. Jud., Bk 7
Ant. Jud., Bk 8
Ant. Jud., Bk 9
Ant. Jud., Bk 10
Ant. Jud., Bk 11
Ant. Jud., Bk 12
Ant. Jud., Bk 13
Ant. Jud., Bk 14
Ant. Jud., Bk 15
Ant. Jud., Bk 16
Ant. Jud., Bk 17
Ant. Jud., Bk 18
Ant. Jud., Bk 19
Ant. Jud., Bk 20
OTHER
Vs Apion, Bk 1
Vs Apion, Bk 2
Life/Autobiog.


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Introduction

Gospel of--
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The Sundays of Eastertide

Year A

Easter Sunday, Year A

2nd Sunday of Easter (A)

3rd Sunday of Easter (A)

4th Sunday of Easter (A)

5th Sunday of Easter (A)

6th Sunday of Easter (A)

Ascension of the Lord (A)

7th Sunday of Easter (A)

Pentecost Sunday (A)

Year B

Easter Sunday, Year B

2nd Sunday of Easter (B)

3rd Sunday of Easter (B)

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6th Sunday of Easter (B)

Ascension of the Lord, Year B

7th Sunday of Easter (B)

Pentecost Sunday, (B)

Year C

Easter Sunday (Year C)

2nd Sunday of Easter (C)

3rd Sunday of Easter (C)

4th Sunday of Easter (C)

5th Sunday of Easter (C)

6th Sunday of Easter (C)

Ascension of the Lord (C)

7th Sunday of Easter (C)

Pentecost Sunday (C)

The Bible readings for Mass, following the Irish Liturgical Calendar. Texts from the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) are marked by consistently inclusive language. Homily notes, from a wide variety of sources, have already appeared in the ACP website, in the section edited by Fr. Patrick Rogers, Dublin, Ireland.


 

Easter Sunday

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

Peter and the other apostles are witnesses to the resurection

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

Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-4

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

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

or: 1 Corinthians 5:6-8

celebrate the festival with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth

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

Gospel: John 20:1-9

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

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

Bible


A Mystery Beyond Words

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

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

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

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


2nd Sunday of Easter, (A)

1st Reading: Acts 2:42-47

As a sign of their faith the early Christians shared their possessions freely and expressed their unity by celebrating the Eucharist together

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

Second Reading: First Letter of St Peter 1:3-9

Christ's resurrection has removed the hopelessness and despair from the lives of his followers; they respond to his resurrection with hope, praise and joy

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

Gospel: John 20:19-31

The presence of the risen Jesus dispels fear and brings peace to his friends. They are to continue his life-giving mission through the gift of his creative Spirit

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

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

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

Bible


Unlocking the doors

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

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

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

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


3rd Sunday of Easter, (A)

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

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

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

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

Second Reading: First Letter of St Peter 1:17-21

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

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

Gospel: Luke 24:13-35

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bible


A Gospel within the Gospel

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

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

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

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


4th Sunday of Easter, (A)

1) Acts 2:14, 36-41

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

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

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

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

2nd Reading: First Letter of St Peter 2:20-25

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

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

Gospel: John 10:1-10

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

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

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

Bible


The Good Shepherd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


5th Sunday of Easter, (A)

1st Reading: Acts 6:1-7

Under pressure, a solution is found to deal with new needs of the community. The apostles devote themselves to the service of the Word

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

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

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

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

Second Reading: First Letter of St Peter 2:4-9

Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, we are invited to come to Christ, and to be faithful members of his church

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

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

Gospel: John 14:1-12

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

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

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

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

Bible


Building up the house of God

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

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

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

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

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

6th Sunday of Easter, (A)

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

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

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

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

Second Reading: First Letter of St Peter 3:15-18

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

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

Gospel: John 14:15-21

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

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

Bible


Keeping our sense of the sacred

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

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

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


The Ascension of the Lord, (A)

1st Reading: Acts 1:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

2nd Reading: Ephesians 1:17-23

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

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

Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20

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

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

Bible


Last Will and Testament

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

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

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

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


7th Sunday of Easter, (A)

(Seldom used)

Pentecost Sunday

1st Reading: Acts 2:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gospel: John 20:19-23

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

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

Bible


Source of the Higher Impulses

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

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

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


Easter Sunday

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

Peter and the other apostles are witnesses to the resurection.

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

2nd Reading: Colossians 3:1-4

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

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


or: 1 Corinthians 5:6-8

Celebrate the festival with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth

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


Gospel: John 20:1-9

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

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

Bible

A Mystery Beyond Words

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

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

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

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


2nd Sunday of Easter (B)

1st Reading: Acts 4:32-35

Total sharing, among the first Christians

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

2nd Reading: 1 John 5:1-6

By this we know that we love the children of God

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

Gospel: John 20:19-31

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

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

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

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

Bible

Unlocking our doors

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

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

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

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

The Gift of Peace

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

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

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

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


3rd Sunday of Easter (B)

1st Reading: Acts 3:13-15

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

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

2nd Reading: 1 John 2:1-5

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

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

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

Gospel: Luke 24:35-48

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

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

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Repent and be forgiven

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

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

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

Empowered with trust

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

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

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

The gift of forgiveness

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

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

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

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

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


4th Sunday of Easter (B)

1st Reading: Acts 4:8-12

By the power of the risen Jesus we can be saved.

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

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

2nd Reading: 1 John 3:1-2

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

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

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

Gospel: John 10:1-10

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

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

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

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Pastors who care for people

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

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

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

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

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


A very personal relationship

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

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

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

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


5th Sunday of Easter (B)

1st Reading: Acts 9:26-31

Barnabas introduces Paul the convert to the church in Jerusalem.

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

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

2nd Reading: 1 John 3:18-24

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

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

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

Gospel: John 15:1-8

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

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

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More than just a code to guide us

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

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

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

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

Relationship: a note on John 15

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

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

False Prophets

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

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

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

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


6th Sunday of Easter (B)

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

Peter baptises the household of Cornelius

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

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

2nd Reading: First Epistle of St. John 4:7-10

Not that we first loved God but that he loved us

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

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

Gospel: John 15:9-17

Chosen by Jesus, abiding in love

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

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

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

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Choosing and being chosen

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

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

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

God first loved us

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

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

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

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


The Ascension of the Lord, Year B

1st Reading: Acts 1:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

2nd Reading: Ephesians 1:17-23

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

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

Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20

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

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

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Heaven on earth

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

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

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

Fr. Thomas Rosica (adapted)

Last Will and Testament

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

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

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

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

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

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


7th Sunday of Easter (B)

(Seldom used: only if the Ascension is celebrated on Thursday)

Pentecost Sunday

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

1st Reading: Acts 2:1-11

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

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

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

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

2nd Reading: Galatians 5:16-25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Source of the Higher Impulses

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

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

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


Easter Sunday, Year C

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

Peter and the other apostles are witnesses to the resurrection

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

Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-4

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

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

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

Celebrating the festival with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth

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

Gospel: John 20:1-9

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

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

Bible


Resurrection: Where To Seek The One Who Lives?

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

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

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

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

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

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


Rising with him to a new life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Mystery Beyond Words

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

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

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

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


2nd Sunday of Easter, Year C

1st Reading: Acts 5:12-16

High morale and healing influence of the early Christians

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

Second Reading: Apocalypse 1:9-13, 17-19

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

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

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

Gospel: John 20:19-31

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

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

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

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

Bible


Unlocking our doors

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

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

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

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


The Gift of Peace

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

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

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

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


Our struggle to believe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


3rd Sunday of Easter, Year C

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

The apostles were put on trial for preaching the Gospel

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

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

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

2nd Reading: Book of Revelation 5:11-14

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

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

Gospel: John 21:1-19

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

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

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

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

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

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The Big Catch

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

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

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

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


A lake-shore encounter

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

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

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

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


A learning experience

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

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

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

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

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


4th Sunday of Easter, Year C

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Reading: Book of Revelation 7:9, 14-17

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

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

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

Gospel: John 10:27-30

Christ is the true Shepherd, who knows each one personally

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

Bible


An urgent job to be done

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

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

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

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

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


God the Shepherd

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

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

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

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

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


Sharing the Good Shepherd's care

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

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

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

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

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

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


Pastors caring for people

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

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

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

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

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


5th Sunday of Easter, Year C

1st Reading: Acts 14:21-27

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

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

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

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

Second Reading: Book of Revelation 21:1-5

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

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

Gospel: John 13:31-35

Jesus gives the new commandment, to love one another

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

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

Bible


The Love We Need

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Overcoming Discouragement

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

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

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

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


Is the new commandment really possible?

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

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

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

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


6th Sunday of Easter, Year C

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Reading: Book of Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23

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

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

Gospel: John 14:23-29
Our Lord's words at the Last Supper are dominated by the thought of his imminent departure

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


Bible

A Special kind of Goodbye

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

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

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

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


The Listening side of Love

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

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

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

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


The power of relationship

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

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


The Ascension of the Lord, Year C

1st Reading: Acts 1:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:17-23

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

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

Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20

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

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


Bible

Heaven on earth

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

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

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


Last Will and Testament

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

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

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

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

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

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


7th Sunday of Easter, Year C

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

1st Reading: Acts 7:55-60

The heroic death of the first martyr, Stephen

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

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

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

The time will come for God to reward his servants

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

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

Gospel: John 17:20-26

Jesus prayed especially for unity among his followers

Jesus prayed to the Father,

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


Bible

Get Out and Do Something

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

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

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

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

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

Did Jesus Think of Us?

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

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

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

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

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

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


Pentecost Day

1st Reading: Acts 2:1-11

The extraordinary events at the coming of the Holy Spirit

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

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

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

Second Reading: Romans 8:8-17

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bible

Source of our best impulses

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

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

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


Imagining the Spirit

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

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

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