Thursday, March 31, 2016

Living By Laws Is Living Death

Living By Laws Is Living Death
FRIDAY, first week of Easter:

The Responsorial Psalm gives us the key to Christian living: “The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone” (Psalm 118).

Our life must be built on interacting with Jesus, consulting his mind, responding to his inspirations, relying on his strength. The cornerstone of Christian life is constant interaction with the living person of Jesus, who is with us and within us.

Acts 4: 1-12 contrasts Israel’s “leaders, elders and scribes… and all who were of the high-priestly caste” with the disciples of Jesus. For the authorities and recognized leaders in Israel, Jesus was “the stone rejected by the builders.” But for those who believe, he “has become the cornerstone” — of the Church, of life, and of that “life to the full” which is salvation. “There is no salvation through anyone [or anything] else.” If we want to “have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10), we have to deal with Jesus.

What other options are there?

The most common wrong choice for religious people is to build their lives and base their security on blindly keeping God’s laws. But those who do this do not build their lives on God’s deepest, most fundamental and all-embracing laws — such as “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might,” “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (changed by Jesus to “Love one another just as I have loved you”), and “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself.”1 These are all general principles that, instead of spelling out precisely what we should do, require us to think. But many prefer to focus on concrete rules, usually of minor (although real) importance, and to obey them rigidly, refusing the challenge of personal interpretation and prophetic application to particular situations. This is called legalism. It was the religion of the Pharisees and the “chief priests,” who rejected Jesus because he was summoning them to interact with the living God. The prophets are those who try to apply rules and principles to concrete circumstances according to the mind of God — by consulting the Spirit of Jesus within them.

John 21: 1-14 gives us a guideline for discerning whether an inspiration is from God. When they followed the voice from the shore and their nets were filled, John said, “It is the Lord!” The sign it was Jesus was the fruit his instructions bore. We should ask if the choices we make are life-giving. Life is a sign of God.

1Deuteronomy 6:5; John 13:34); and Leviticus 19: 18, 34.

Initiative: Be a prophet. Focus on the living Jesus, not on the dead letter of law.

With Us, In Us, Through Us

With Us, In Us, Through Us
 THURSDAY, first week of Easter

The Responsorial Psalm is our response of faith to Jesus’ death and resurrection: “O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8).

The theme of Acts 3: 11-26 is that through the resurrection of Jesus — as made manifest in the Church, his risen body on earth today — God “has glorified his servant Jesus” and made clear to all that he “has thus brought to fulfillment what he had announced beforehand through the mouth of all the prophets.”

God’s promise to Abraham was, “In your offspring all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This was not the blessing of prosperity through political justice and peace. Jesus did not come to achieve political reforms. He came, not to change the environment, but to change people who would change the environment. He came to establish peace and justice on earth, but indirectly, by first establishing the peace of justice and love in human hearts. Then in and through those humans, his own risen body, he would work “until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets.” The blessing Jesus gives is conversion and transformation of heart: “God raised up his servant and sent him to bless you by turning each of you from your evil ways.” This is how God chooses to “renew the face of the earth.”

What God promised through the prophets of old he will bring about through the prophets of today — through those who apply his teaching and principles creatively to current reality. The true mission of the prophets is not to predict the future but to create it by living it out in preview. The lifestyle and behavior of the prophetic Church should make the whole world cry out in admiration: “O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!

Luke 24: 35 to 48 makes the point that the risen Jesus is only revealed in flesh and blood. Jesus said, “Look at my hands and my feet…. Touch me and see that a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” And he “ate in front of them.”

The role of the Church is to give the risen Jesus visible “flesh and bones.” We who live and work and eat and drink with others must do it in such a way that we reveal the presence of the living Jesus in us. Our witness is in what we embody. If in our actions we “give flesh” to the words of Jesus, then indeed we are “witnesses of these things” and the world will cry out, “O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!”

Initiative: Be a prophet. Embody the Good News in your lifestyle: in your words, actions and choices; in what you buy, use and produce; in your profits and losses.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Three-Step

The Three-Step
WEDNESDAY, Easter, week one

The Responsorial Psalm tells us the path to joy: “Rejoice, O hearts that seek the Lord” (Psalm 105). Those who seek will find; and what they find will give them the fullness of joy.

In Acts 3: 1-10 the lame man found something he did not seek. Instead of money he received healing. And his cure brought others to find something they were not seeking.

There is a three-step pattern in the Apostles’ preaching of the Good News. First, there is an event that shocks— like the cure of the lame man or the enthusiasm of Pentecost. The event is something that raises a question (Acts 2: 1-13; 3: 9-11; 4:7). This is called pre-evangelization. It prepares people to listen. It makes those who were not seeking want to hear an answer.

This is the work of the prophets. It doesn’t take miracles; the lifestyle of Christians should be different enough, shocking enough, to raise questions that cannot be answered without the preaching of the Gospel. This is what prepares people to listen to the Good News.

In Luke 24: 13-35 the event that shocked the disillusioned disciples on the road to Emmaus was the apparent defeat of Jesus. In answer to their confused discouragement Jesus passes to the second step — evangelization — which is the proclamation and explanation of the Good News in answer to the question raised. “He interpreted to them the things about himself in all the Scriptures.” As he did so, their “hearts were burning within them” (and see Acts 2: 14-40; 3: 12-26; 4:8-12).

But the process is not complete until it is celebrated, which is normally in Eucharist. “He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (and Acts 2: 41-42; 4: 21 to 5:32) It is not enough just to hear and receive the message of the Gospel; we have to respond to it. We have to express our faith and our joy in celebration. “Rejoice, O hearts that seek the Lord.” When we find what we seek we have to celebrate it. Otherwise we will not really assimilate and appreciate it. In this we pass from prophets to priests.

But the starting point is seeking. And what makes people seek is pre-evangelization: something that raises a question that can only be answered by the news of Jesus Christ. The function of the prophets is to raise that question by the way they live and act. The prophets challenge, but their challenge leads to joy. “Rejoice, O hearts that seek the Lord.

Initiative: Be a prophet. Live in a way that cannot be explained except through the principles and values taught (and lived out) by Jesus Christ. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

See, Judge, Act

See, Judge, Act
 TUESDAY, first week of Easter

The Responsorial Psalm insists: “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” (Psalm 33). In the darkest times the earth is full of light if we look for it. When we feel like saying, “We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader” (Daniel 3: 25), the truth is, the Church is filled with prophets and leaders. We ourselves have the gifts of prophecy and leadership. We just have to use them.

In Acts 2: 36-41 Peter proclaims Christ’s defeat on the cross as his victory: “God has made him both Lord and Christ [Anointed, Messiah]…. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” St. Paul reaffirms this: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good: (1Corinthians 12:7). The gift of the Spirit is the fruit of Christ’s death and resurrection: his “first gift to those who believe.”

The ability to give us the Spirit is what makes Jesus able to be Lord and Savior today. Through his Spirit, enlightening and strengthening the members of his body on earth, Jesus is able to continue his mission in the world. The “earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” because Jesus is acting in and through us who are gifted with his Spirit.

This means that we are all called to be leaders. Anyone who sees what needs to be said or done in particular circumstances is called to exercise leadership by suggesting it or trying to get it done. Leaders don’t have to have authority (any more than authorities have to be leaders); we follow leaders voluntarily, because we believe they are right.

Leadership begins with example. If we begin doing what is right ourselves — especially what is prophetically right, right that has not yet been generally recognized as right — we give others a chance to follow. This is prophetic leadership.

John 20: 11-18 is one of many examples that show us Jesus using leaders to guide authorities. The Apostles were the ones to whom Jesus gave authority in the Church. But he gave them instructions on what to do through the women who were the first to go to the tomb (Matthew 28: 7, 10; Mark 16:7; John 20:17). And he used Paul to bring Peter, the chief among the Apostles, into line when Peter was afraid to do what was right (Galatians 2: 6-14). In the Old Testament God spoke more through the prophets than through the priests. In today’s Church, since all are prophets and priests by Baptism, we have no reason to assume that prophetic leadership is restricted to the ordained clergy. “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.” We just have to use the gifts given to all.

Initiative: Be a prophet. Lead when you see the way.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Faith Lets Prophets See

Faith Lets Prophets See
MONDAY, first week of Easter: 1

The Responsorial Psalm is a key to the readings: “Keep me safe, O God, you are my hope” (Psalm 16).

Acts 2: 14-33 says that because David was a prophet “he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ,” and that when he wrote (in Psalm 16) “you will not abandon my soul to the nether world, nor will you suffer your holy one to see corruption,” he meant the Messiah would be raised from the dead.

This is true, but we should not be simplistic about it. We don’t have to say that David was consciously aware of this. He could have been talking about himself, and only meant that God was not going to let him be killed anytime soon. But actually, whether he knew it or not, he was talking about the resurrection of Jesus. There are many things in the Old Testament that we can only understand in the light of what actually happened later, when Jesus came. (See, for example, Matthew 1: 22-23; 2:15; 2:23; John 19:36).

We saw yesterday that when John and Peter found Jesus’ tomb empty, “they did not yet understand the Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.” But they “saw and believed.” Then they were able to understand what had happened. When reading Scripture, we do not believe because we understand; rather, we come to understand because we believe. This is what makes us prophets.

Prophets are those who can see how teachings in the Gospel that are general and abstract apply to the concrete circumstances of their own time and place. Because they really believe, for example, that we should love one another as Jesus loves us, they recognize all sorts of things this love calls us to do, from abolishing slavery to talking to people everyone else ignores. Those who are not living out their baptismal consecration as prophets do not see these things, because they do not have enough real faith in what Jesus says to want to live it out in action. So they just follow the crowd and see things the way everyone else does.

Matthew 28: 8-15 gives us an example of this. Those who appreciated the teachings of Jesus enough to want to believe would accept the women’s witness to his resurrection. Those who did not want to accept his teachings would accept the soldiers’ story. Sometimes our perception of truth depends on what we recognize and accept as goodness. We see that happening today.

Weekday readings are the same every year during Easter season.

Initiative: Be a prophet: Approach the Scriptures with faith and love. Read and reflect on the words of Jesus, desiring to be challenged. Take it on faith that, in spite of appearances, everything he calls you to do will lead you to greater happiness.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Easter

The Call to Prophetic Witness 

EASTER SUNDAY (Morning Mass, Year A-B-C)
We are prophets sent to bear witness as Christ’s risen body.

What do you see that needs to be changed — reformed or renewed — in our society? What do you see the Church doing about it?
Stop. When you asked what “the Church” is doing, were you thinking of what the bishops and clergy are doing? Or were you spontaneously thinking of the whole Church — bishops and nuns, laity and priests — all working together?
Do you think of the “Church” as guided and directed “from the top down”? Or do you assume that most of the leadership and initiatives are coming “from the bottom up,” and that those in authority are just accepting and encouraging these initiatives?
Do you think of yourself, with your family and friends, as being the Church? Do you feel called to bear witness as Church wherever you are? In everything you do?
How would you summarize your “job description” as a Christian?

Three things are unique about today’s lay Catholics:
1. The laity who assemble for Mass today are the most educated congregations priests have faced since the beginning of the world.
2. They are the first since the earliest days of the Church to be told that they are called to perfection, and not just to “save their souls” (Vatican II: “The Church,” no. 40: “Thus it is evident to everyone that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of love”).
3. They are the first to have it explained to them that the vocation for which they are consecrated and empowered by God is the work of transforming society — the mission to “renew the face of the earth.” (Vatican II, “Decree On the Apostolate of the Laity,” chapter 1).

In the Opening Prayer we ask God to “raise us up and renew our lives by the Spirit that is within us.” That Spirit was given to us at Baptism, when we were solemnly anointed with chrism on the top of our heads and consecrated to carry on the work of Jesus: Prophet, Priest and King. This is our “job description” as Christians: to be the risen Christ, Prophet, Priest and King, and let him continue his mission in us.
In the Prayer over the Gifts we offer God “the sacrifice by which your Church is reborn and nourished.” The sacrifice we offer at Mass is not only Jesus, but ourselves as included and incorporated in him as members of his body. When the bread and wine are placed on the altar at the Presentation of Gifts there should be a host on the plate for each person present — a sign that we are presenting ourselves to be offered with Christ and in Christ for the life of the world. This is our vocation.

Witnesses to the Resurrection:
The Responsorial Psalm is a meditation on the first reading. The response it calls for is: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad” (Psalm 118) And this gives us a key to all the readings.
Acts 10: 34-43 shows us Peter explaining the Good News for the first time to a Gentile audience. The good news is that Jesus has risen from the dead. His enemies did not defeat him. He has saved the world. We too will rise from the dead. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.”
To establish his credibility Peter declares, “We are witnesses of all that he did….” And he says Jesus showed himself visibly “to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” He says he is preaching because Jesus “commissioned us to… testify” as witnesses do. And he concludes “To him all the prophets bear witness….”
This is the first work of a Christian: to bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus. We do this, not just by talking about it, but by showing that Jesus is alive and active in us who are his risen body on earth. The “sign of Jonah,” which is the only sign Jesus promised to those who asked for signs (Matthew 12: 39-40; 16:4) is not just the fact that Jesus came out of the tomb after three days, as Jonah came out of the fish. A sign has to be seen. And what is seen today is the living presence of Jesus in his body on earth today, which is us. Jesus shows himself visibly in and through us, witnesses chosen by God, who to this day “eat and drink with him” and recognize him in the “breaking of the bread” at Mass (Luke 22:31).

“If you were raised…”
For the living Jesus to be visible in us, we have to live and act in ways that cannot be explained except by his life present within us (see Acts 2: 1-36; 12: 1-26). We don’t have to work miracles; we just have to think, speak and act on the level of God. We have to set our hearts visibly on the life Jesus promises us in heaven. We have to live visibly by the ideals Jesus preaches, not just by good human principles of reasonable conduct (see 1Corinthians 1: 17-26; 2: 1-16; 3:18-23). We have to live in such a way that our life does not make sense — cannot be explained — except in the light of the Gospel and by the power of the risen Jesus living and acting in us.
In Colossians 3: 1-4 Paul tells us this: “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.”
This is a question of identity. To be authentically Christian we have to simply “die” to living life in this world according to ordinary human standards. We have to give up everything this world holds out to us, just as if we were dead. Then we have to come to life again to live in this world under an entirely different set of terms. We come back to life to live as the risen body of Jesus. We live for what he lived for and wants to live for now in us. We live to continue his presence and his mission in the world. That is all we live for. Everything else that is presented to us as a possible object of choice — every job, every enjoyment, every relationship, every invitation to do anything — we evaluate in terms of how it will help us carry out the mission of Jesus on earth. There is nothing else to live for. We have died, and our old life was buried with Christ. We have been raised up with Christ to be his risen body on earth. Our minds therefore are set on whatever is important to him. That is what we live for; that and nothing else. This is the good news of our new meaning and purpose in life: a meaning and purpose that are divine. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.”
This is the day that “makes our day”—every day!
In practice, this means we decide never to ask again just whether something would be to our advantage or not, enjoyable or not, profitable or not, acceptable to our friends or not. We might ask these questions. We will certainly take the answers to them into consideration. But we will decide what to do based on the answer to another question: “If I choose to do this, how will I be bearing witness to Jesus Christ — to his values, to his presence within me? How will this job, this relationship, this activity help me to live a life of prophetic witness as the risen body of Jesus on earth?”
It is a simple matter of accepting our new identity as the risen body of Jesus. We live to let him live in us. It is that simple. We say with St. Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
If this sounds too radical to even think about, remember you don’t have to be perfect overnight. The path to perfection starts with a beginning. So begin.

“They saw and believed”
John 20: 1-9 tells us to begin with believing. The first step is to believe that in truth you are the risen body of Jesus. When John and Peter ran to the tomb and found it empty, “they did not yet understand the Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.” But they “saw and believed.”
And then, the Gospel says, “the disciples returned to their homes.”
If you accept, and accept deeply, to believe you are the risen body of Jesus, and that Jesus is alive and living in you, you can “return to your home” — and to all your daily occupations — but you will not return to live as you did before. You will try, little by little, step by step, to live as Christ and to let Christ live in you. This is to begin a new life, a life the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.”

Have I really given my body without reserves to be the body of the risen Jesus? Do I find this too threatening to deal with? What is the alternative?


Begin each day by saying, “Lord, I give you my body. Live this day with me, live this day in me, live this day through me.”