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FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER – B – April 29, 2018

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 9:26-31
A reading from the first Letter of John 3:18-24
A reading from the holy gospel according to John 15:1-8

Dear Reader,

It is easy to be self-absorbed even when we are thinking about faith.  We may talk about the challenge to love and in reality be tapping into the desire to be loved.  Our fifty-day celebration of Easter is a great time to reorient those priorities and to come face to face with the truth that faith results when God breaks into our consciousness.  We do learn how to love when we accept that the One who called us into being loves us.  This does not begin with us.  It begins with God.  The lesson we have to learn is Jesus, who he is and what he does.

Eliza Doolittle demanded: Don’t talk of love.  Show me and show me now!  John, in the second reading, says the same thing: Children let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.  There is only one way to do that – translate the gospel journey into action.  Think of that dramatic encounter between Peter and Jesus that followed the Transfiguration on the Mount.  The moment of glorious revelation confirmed all of Peter’s expectations regarding the one for who he had left everything in order to follow.  The glory that Peter had seen emanating from that radiant face and those shimmering garments convinced him that this was the Messiah, and Peter would have a major role in the messianic kingdom that would soon result.  Instead, Jesus talks about his immanent betrayal, suffering, and death.  Peter rebukes Jesus for such thoughts protesting that such things should never befall him.  How could the glory and power that seemed to radiate from Jesus in that moment on the Mount come about if Jesus were to die like a criminal?  What would be Peter’s reward for all he had given up?  Jesus rebukes Peter with harsh words:  Get behind me you Satan and learn from me!  What Peter must do, so must we.

Don’t worry.  Jesus is not calling Peter a devil in the sense of the evil one.  He is calling Peter a tempter, one who argues against the way that Jesus sees resulting from God’s will for him.  The challenge for Peter and for us is to walk in Jesus’ footsteps, to look over Jesus’ shoulder, as it were, and watch what he does, how he meets and treats people, and how he calls them to fuller life.  With Jesus everything begins with the emptying of self.  In his Incarnation Jesus emptied himself of everything that was divine, its power and glory, and took on everything that is human, weakness and vulnerability, in a uniting of the human and divine that will never end and will always express itself in the pouring out of self for the other.  It did not make sense then.  It does not make sense now – without faith – that vision that only God can give.

Read the lives of the saints and many times you will read accounts of conversion, moments of encounter that changed them.  Leprosy was one thing that repulsed St. Francis.  Then one day he saw a leper by the side of the road, begging.  Francis intended to go by, but something froze him in place and compelled him to ponder the leper.  In a moment his revulsion transfigured into adoration as he recognized Christ in the leper.  Francis knelt and embraced the leper, kissed him, bathed him and dressed his wounds and clothed him.  Then he shared a meal with the poor man.

The Gospel’s challenge to love does not equate with loving the lovable.  It has nothing to do with romantic love and everything to do with self-emptying love.  Whom would you find to be most difficult to love?  Who repulses you?  In whom would you find it impossible to see Christ?  That is the one the Gospel demands you to love in deed and in truth.  That is never easy until it happens and changes you for the rest of your life.  Of course the experience might put you on the Cross in a way you never expected.

The transforming insight happens when we realize that the one who repulses us is beloved of God.  Dead Man Walking is Sister Helen Prejean’s account of how she came to dedicate her life to ministering to people on Death Row.  Nothing in her book ignores or denies the horrific actions that brought individuals to that perilous place.  She had been asked by another nun to begin a pen-pal relationship with a convicted killer.  The result was a coming to know the person and a desire for that person to know forgiveness and God’s love.  The result changed her life forever.

Of course it is easier not to go there.  It is easier to turn away and to ignore.  The result will be impoverishing.  On the other hand, if you do go there, if you do love the one you had thought unlovable, you will know the love of God in ways you have never imagined.  Dorothy Day is a modern-day saint.  Read her biography, the story of her conversion, and you will begin to understand.

Something you will discover when you love this way is that you will become less and less mindful of self and the cautions that self imposes.  One of the damning catchphrases used to describe the values of contemporary society is: it’s all about me.  Self-absorption that blinds one to others needs is prevalent.  The chasm that separates the elite from the poor widens.  Some see nothing wrong with amassing fortunes while ignoring the poverty that enslaves and demeans others.  Pope Paul VI said that we do not have a right to excess wealth as long as others live in poverty.  That statement like much of the Church’s social Gospel is widely ignored.  The result is loving in word and speech but not in deed and truth.

Pope Francis, emulating his namesake Saint, from the moment he accepted the responsibility of the Bishop of Rome, has been challenging the leaders in the Church to get behind Jesus and learn from him.  His call is to a servant Church serving the needs of the poor.  Some were shocked and disgusted when Francis said the shepherds should shepherd in the midst of the sheep and even smell like the sheep.  That is not what motivated some to become bishops.  How dare the Bishop of Rome wash the feet of criminals, young men and women, some believers some not?  He lives on the ground floor in a small apartment, invites street people in to share breakfast with him, and drives himself in a small car.  It took great humility for Pope Francis to apologize for the mistake he made in responding to a sexual abuse scandal in Chile.  He invited the victims and their families to visit him in the Vatican.

The Second Vatican Council proclaimed the Eucharist to be the source and summit of all we do in faith.  The danger is to think that the reference is to Eucharist as object, something to be adored, rather than Eucharist as action, our giving thanks to god in the renewal of Christ’s dying and rising in Bread and Wine.  From that action comes a sharing of the one Bread and one Cup.  From that action there is a sending forth of those who co-celebrated to be in the market place a continuation of bread being broken and cup being poured out, a self-emptying in imitation of Jesus’ way of loving.  But, as we said before, that way of loving can also put you on the cross.

If we spend time contemplating the Easter Mystery, if we seek to live it, we will come to yield to the insight proclaimed in this Sunday’s gospel.  I am the vine and you are the branches.  The newly baptized among us rejoice because they have put on Christ.  So did we in that same experience.  Christ lives in us as we live in Christ.  This speaks of intimacy with Christ and with each other, an intimacy that reflects Christ’s intimacy with the Father.  We are not on our own as individual sojourners.  We are one in Christ, you and I and those we might be tempted to despise.  That is what resulted when God seized us and empowered us to believe.  On that first Easter night Jesus breathed the Spirit on us and wished us Peace.  That is what resulted when we were plunged into the waters and the heavens opened over the chaos and God’s voice proclaimed: This is my beloved one.

Look around the next time you gather around the Table.  Do not indulge in the temptation to think that what is happening is a moment of isolation between you and Jesus.  Dare to believe that the action is a realization of one Bread, one Body, of one vine and the life flowing through the many branches, still one Vine.  Then dare to go and bear fruit, the fruit that results when you love as Jesus loves.  Do not be surprised if in that moment the Cross makes sense, not because the horror of the cross is gone, but because you will see the Cross’s transforming power that does not end in death but leads to Resurrection and Life – forever.

Sincerely yours in the Risen Christ,



A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 4:8-12
A reading from the first letter of John 3:1-2
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 1:11-18

Dear Reader,

The only sound in the church was the burbling of the water in the baptismal font.  It was late afternoon and the sun, deep in the western sky, shimmered through the stained-glass windows and dappled the church in reds and blues.  My practice was to sit near the Font for vespers, my evening prayer to end the day.  Light played on the water’s surface as the tower bells tolled the Angelus.  These waters are your tomb and your mother.  One of the early Fathers of the Church coined that phrase regarding the Font that has fascinated me from the first time I heard it.

Some may think the phrase to be an oxymoron, a combination of contradictory terms that the mind struggles to wrap around and to reconcile.  Some, failing to do that would dismiss one part of the phrase or the other.  My choice is to ponder and plumb the depths for meaning.  Sometimes that can be a scary course that surfaces implications that are difficult and demanding, with implications with which I would rather not have to deal.  The tomb part, the dying, isn’t so bad.  The possibility of dying to sin and everything that would separate us from the love of God comforts a troubled spirit.    One can rest there.  It is the birthing part that troubles.  Entering the tomb to die is essentially passive, a letting go.  The community baptized me.  It was done to me.  Maybe being born is passive, too; but the implications are phenomenal, the ensuing responsibilities, tremendous.

In the early Church, when adults were baptized in the course of the Easter vigil, the elect came to the Font’s edge and shed their clothes, stripping themselves of everything that was of their former lives.  Naked, they entered the waters to be immersed in them.  Drowning is an apt image.  So is dying.  But then they rose from the depths and crossed over to the other side.  As they emerged, they were clothed in a white, alb-like garment.  You have put on Christ.  In him you have been baptized.  That is the birth that goes deeper than putting on as one would a shirt or a pair of trousers.  The new birth results in identification with Christ.  The new life lived is Christ’s own.  The love bond that results is tremendous and will never be broken.

John spells out the implications in bold relief.  Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.  Christ is the Word made flesh.  Christ is the only Son of God, the Father’s beloved one.  The baptized are born into that relationship and assume the mantle of God’s beloved.  There may be passivity in accepting this new identity; we cannot be passive in living out what that identity means.

The baptized are called to do what Jesus does, called to act in, with, and through Christ and to do all in his name.  What power resides there!  That is what peter declares as he reminds the leaders of the people that the healing of the crippled man that now incriminates him was done by the power and in the name of the Risen One whom they condemned.  Peter says this, not to denounce the leaders, but to invite them to repent and embrace the Name.

Hear the words of the Gospel today.  Jesus speaks of his role as shepherd, the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep, just as the sheep know him.  The language speaks of intimacy of relationship, reflective of Jesus’ relationship with the Father.  I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.  Be vulnerable to those words.  Let them penetrate to the core of your being.  Hear the conclusion to the declaration: I will lay down my life for the sheep.

Not to belabor the issue, but we might be comforted to know we are sheep.  Not the brightest of God’s creatures, sheep cannot possibly have much of a burden or conscience or responsibility.  They simply follow.  Not so here.  Being identified with Christ means taking on the responsibility of shepherding and knowing the sheep.  At once we are both sheep and shepherds.

The language begins to limp.  So let us speak in clearer terms.  What is your experience of Church?  What is your experience of parish?  What role do you play?  The call to membership is not to embrace passivity.  The Church, the parish is a communal reality; all members have shared responsibility.  The faith resides in them.  Members must know each other and must reflect the depth of that knowing.  The members come together to celebrate the Sacraments.  It is the community that baptizes.  The members of the community are co-celebrants of Eucharist, and not mere passive spectators.  As the Assembly, they are called to full, active, and conscious participation.  Passive attendance will not cut it, if you will.  When you gather with your parish community, is love so strong that you know the others would lay down their lives for you, just as you would for them?

Sometimes the evening news doubles as a powerful catechist.  The image of people, most of them strangers to each other at this point, realize that there is a young man, the cycle rider, under the car.  No one hesitates.  They move in on the burning car and together lift it.  One of their number stoops down and pulls the man from beneath the car and saves his life.  Later, to a person, when their deed is praised, they refuse to be called heroes.  They just did what anyone would do in those circumstances.  Would that that were so!

There is more.  Jesus says: I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.  Jesus’ call is universal.  His desire is that there be one human family, and that all believe they are sisters and brothers in the human experience.  Our sense of responsibility must be universal, too.  No one is beyond the pale. Kenyans and Ugandans are our brothers and sisters.  So, too, are Israelis and Iraqis.  So are those of every family and tribe on the face of the earth.  That is not easy to deal with; but it is the truth and is our responsibility if we have put on Christ.  That is what it means to live in Christ and for Christ to live in us.

The Gospel concludes with Jesus’ being confident as he moves toward the crucifixion.  I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.  No wonder the cross, that horrid instrument of torment, has become for us a symbol of hope and life.  Jesus suffered these things and so entered into glory.  So will we if we do the same.

Where will all this take us?  God only knows.  But if we believe that God loves us with the same love God has for Christ, what does it matter?  Hear again what John says in the second reading.  Listen and remember.  Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.  We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  That will happen even if the worst befalls us.  That is the promise.

So it is that often I paused by the Font and remembered.  Remembering gives the courage to go on.

Sincerely yours in the Risen Christ,


THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER – B – April 15, 2018

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 3:13-15, 17-19
A reading from the first Letter of John 2:1-5a
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 24:35-48

Dear Reader,

Isn’t it strange that Catholics have the reputation for being overly burdened with guilt?  To have a sense of guilt, one must have a sense of sin, that there is such a thing as acting contrary to the way God would have one act.  While it seems apparent today that there is ample evidence of the lack of that sense, of the desire to live a lifestyle that says anything goes, there is also ample evidence that many have a desire for meaning and purpose in their lives, for an ethic that ennobles, and for a reason to hope.

It is healthy to have a consciousness of sin, past or present, in one’s life.  There is nothing unhealthy about admitting to having done something wrong, regretting the action, and wishing to atone.  In this fifty-day Feast of Easter, we exult because we believe that Christ triumphed over sin, suffering and death.  We believe that Christ atoned for our sins and bestowed forgiveness upon us.  During this long Easter Day Festival, we rejoice with those among us who have passed through the Waters of Baptism where they, too, died to sin and rose to be identified with Jesus.  They have begun to walk with Jesus on the Way.

They, like we have been fourteen days on this Easter journey so far this year.  That is long enough for some of the perhaps naïve enthusiasm we felt in the light of the Easter Candle in the Vigil Night, when they stood wet and reborn on the other side of the Font and we glowed in the renewal of our baptismal promises.  We all thought we were through with sin forever.

Now, fourteen days later, there may be evidence that we have not yet achieved the perfection longed for.  The newly baptized with their promises fresh in their minds may have been stunned that some of the old and former ways still exercise a hold over them.  We, on the other hand, with years of experience to draw from, may not be quite as shocked that some of our moral weaknesses still persist.  There may be evidence of growth, but there is evidence of sin, too.  Should we then succumb to guilt, the way our ancestors in the faith are reputed to have done?  I don’t think so, not if we take in the Liturgy of the Word proclaimed on this Third Sunday of Easter.

Each of the readings speaks to us of sin and, yes, of our guilt for sin.  But they rush on to put before us the reality of our Advocate who through his dying and rising offered himself in satisfaction for our sins, and the sins of all of humankind.  Remember that bumper stick that had some popularity some time ago?  Christians aren’t different; they’re just forgiven!  That may be a bit simplistic; but it is the truth.

In the first reading Peter confronts the crowd of Jews gathered in the Temple area.  They have witnessed a miracle at Peter’s hands and wonder about his powers.  Peter is quick to give the credit where the credit is due.  It is in the Name of Jesus that the miracle happened.  This opens the door for Peter to place Jesus in Jewish history, in line with God’s promise that began with Abraham, continued through Isaac and Jacob, and now results in Jesus’ glorification as the holy and Righteous One, the same one the audience denied and handed over to be crucified.

Is Peter laying a guilt-trip on the Jews?  Not if you listen carefully.  What was done by them was done out of ignorance.  What is possible now is the acceptance of Christ as the fulfillment of what was foretold in the Scriptures as the Messiah who would suffer and so change radically the image of Messiah that they had cherished and longed for.  With that acceptance your sins may be wiped away.  They are not left to wallow in guilt, but are invited to conversion, forgiveness and new hope.

The second reading from John’s first Letter places us all under that umbrella as sinners once forgiven, but who know what it means to relapse into sinning again.  Notice that John does not pummel us.  Rather he accepts the fact of human weakness and rushes on to remind us that we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one.  He is expiation for our sins and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.  At the same time, John does not tell us to sin with abandon.  If we believe, if we profess to know Jesus and have him in our lives, then we will strive after the perfection that God has in mind for us.  It is God’s work.  It is Jesus who accomplishes it.  It is grace that empowers.

Today’s Gospel begins with the conclusion of the Emmaus story and the two disciples who recognized Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread.  They returned to Jerusalem and to the other disciples to recount what had happened on the Road.  Our own experience is recapped in their story.  Remember when they said that their hearts burned as the Risen One explained the Scriptures to them?  Someone brought each one of us to Jesus by telling us about him.  Our hearts burned in the recognition.  Then we came to know Jesus in the Scriptures and in the celebration of the Sacraments, in Baptism and Eucharist.  Now we see him, come face to face with him through his presence in the Assembly, those with whom we gather in Eucharist.  That’s a whole other area we can discuss sometime, how Jesus is present in a threefold way when we gather to celebrate Mass – in the Word, in the Bread and Wine, and in the Assembly.  Do not miss that means a presence in each one of us.

Savor the words the Risen Christ speaks to us at the conclusion of today’s Gospel: Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nation, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.

You and I are witnesses of these things.  We are witnesses because we know what it means to sin, what it means to repent, and what it means to be forgiven.  We are growing in our understanding of what it means to be on the Way with the Risen One.  With all that in mind, do you see now why every Eucharist we celebrate concludes the same way – with our being sent to witness?  If we believe, then we must translate what we celebrate into action and thereby make it possible for others to recognize Christ, to experience his mercy and forgiveness through his love manifested in our acts of Charity.

So, do you see why it doesn’t make sense that we Catholics have the reputation for walking under the cloud of perpetual guilt?  What makes much more sense would be our growing reputation for welcoming all and inviting all to know the forgiveness that is ours in Jesus, the hope that all who come to him will live with him forever.

Sincerely yours in the Risen Christ,