Thursday, April 30, 2015

“Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord”

April 30, 2015
THURSDAY, Easter week four

Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord
The Responsorial Psalm invites us, for the third day in a row, to praise God. On Tuesday and Wednesday it was for the breadth of the extension of the Good News to “all nations” and for the depth to which direct access to God’s word invites us. Today it is for the length of God’s fidelity in time and for the height from which the message comes to us: “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord” (Psalm 89).
In Acts 13: 13-25 Paul gives the history of God’s guidance of his people through messengers, culminating in the “Savior, Jesus.” But Jesus was on a uniquely higher level; no one could compare with him. Even John the Baptizer said, “I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.”
This is the point Jesus himself makes in John 13: 16-20. And he gives the ultimate reason, the fact that he is God: “I AM” (see Exodus 3: 13-14).
Jesus is God who came as a human being; who “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,” even washing his disciples’ feet as a servant. And he embraced weakness to a scandalizing degree: “He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross” (Philippians 2: 5-11). It was to prepare his disciples for this shock that John shows Jesus declaring his divinity: “…so that when it happens you may believe that I AM.”
Like those before him, Jesus came as a messenger. But he was unique. Not only does Jesus emphasize repeatedly that he was sent by the Father; he also makes the claim, “Whoever sees me sees him who sent me” (John 12:45) because “the Father and I are one” (John 10:30).
Then Jesus reveals the mystery of our identification with him: “Whoever receives the one I send receives me.” We are not just messengers sent by Jesus. The mystery of our Baptism is that by “offering our bodies as a living sacrifice” we “became Christ” (St. Augustine, quoted by John Paul II). We are his living body, his real presence on earth. We are not one with Jesus exactly as he is one with the Father, although Jesus comes close to saying it (see John 6: 56-57; 15:15; 17: 20-22). His presence in us is not the same as his presence in the Eucharist; but it is just as real.
That is why it is so important for us as prophets to let his words be “made flesh” in us, in our actions and lifestyle. It is to reveal that in us, his messengers, Jesus the Shepherd is risen and continuing his presence and mission on earth— until the end of time: “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.

Initiative: Be a prophet. Let Christ’s presence appear in your words and actions.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

“O God, let all the nations praise you”

April 29, 2015
WEDNESDAY, Easter week four

 O God, let all the nations praise you” 
The Responsorial Psalm celebrates the value of God’s way and the desire to teach it to everyone: “May your way be known among all nations….” This inspires the Response: “O God, let all the nations praise you” (Psalm 67). “May the nations be glad and exult because you rule… and guide” all people as universal shepherd.
Acts 12:24 to 13:5 describes the missionary spirit inspired in the Church by the Holy Spirit. “The word of God continued to spread and grow” because the whole community — not just those in authority — were filled with zeal. In addition to the Apostles and “elders” (from which our word “presbyter” or “priest” comes), “there were in the Church at Antioch prophets and teachers” — just as there are in every parish today. The impulse to send out Barnabas and Paul to evangelize the Gentiles came to these members of the community “while they were worshipping the Lord and fasting.” The Holy Spirit spoke through them.
This is the “age of the laity.” A recent analysis of the current “Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America” concludes: “The leadership throughout American Catholicism is changing. Nothing can stop that. Leadership by priests and nuns is giving way to leadership by laypeople…. The Church’s future cannot be understood apart from the astonishing emergence of a new category of Catholic leadership that has already quietly transformed much of church life.”1 The laity are beginning to assume their role as prophets.
John 5: 17-30 roots prophetic insight in attention to God’s word. It is not enough to settle for Church teaching as predigested and packaged in the official Catechism of the Catholic Church, or as translated into rules and regulations for general use. We must go to the source, to God’s revealed truth as taught and embodied in Jesus himself: “I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness.” The Shepherd is Jesus.
It is possible to believe in Jesus and still remain in darkness if we do not seek direct contact with the light shining through his own words. Obviously the Church also guides us as shepherd; but to be guided we have to be under way. God’s word gives us inspiration, motivation, forward motion, and “breadth and length and height and depth” (Ephesians 3:18). The guidance system of the Church, if we know how to use it, keeps us from getting off course. To be prophets we need Scripture, the “magisterium,” and the Holy Spirit.
1A People Adrift…, by Peter Steinfels, (Simon and Schuster, 2003), pages 307, 330. See also the theological basis for lay leadership in the Vatican II documents on the Church and on the Apostolate of the Laity.

Initiative: Be a prophet. Soak in the light of Christ’s words. And listen to him. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

“All you nations, praise the Lord.”

April 28, 2015
TUESDAY, Easter week four

All you nations, praise the Lord.
Psalm 87 is a hymn proclaiming Jerusalem the true birthplace even of Jews who were born elsewhere. In the present context it proclaims the Church the true home of all Christians, whether Jew or Gentile in origin. The Responsorial verse is from Psalm 117 (and see Romans 15:11): “All you nations, praise the Lord.
Acts 11: 19-26 affirms the action of the Holy Spirit in those who brought the Gospel to the Gentiles in Antioch. It was in Antioch that “the disciples were first called ‘Christians,’” because the number of Gentiles made the community stand out clearly in distinction from Judaism.
However, the admission into the Church of Gentiles who were not required to follow Jewish customs sparked a conflict between those who were following the Spirit and those who were fixated on the law. Paul had to confront Peter himself on this (see Galatians 2: 11-16). “Some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘It is necessary for them [the Gentile converts] to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses.’” In response to this criticism the “apostles and the elders” met in Jerusalem and “decided unanimously” with the “consent of the whole church” to impose on the Gentiles “no further burden” than a few observances they judged necessary to preserve unity (Acts 15: 1-31). But the “circumcision faction” continued to cause division, just as those who resist the Spirit who spoke in Vatican Council II continue to cause division in the Church today. The spirit of legalism dies hard.
There will always be those who prefer a Church tightly knit by adhesion to rules and customs over a Church that opens itself pastorally to all. The spirit of the Good Shepherd is to open the doors to everyone: “All you nations, praise the Lord.
John 10: 22-30 shows Jesus being harassed by the legalists of his day. They found fault with everything he said and did, just listening to “trap him in his speech” instead of trying to understand his message and respond to it (Mark 12:13; Luke 20:20). Every speaker and writer in the Church today who is the least bit prophetic has experienced this same blind and deaf opposition.
Jesus’ response was to return to the image of the Good Shepherd. Those who believe in him and want to be fed spiritually will listen and live: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.” This gives us reason to sing, “All you nations, praise the Lord.
Initiative: Be a prophet. Welcome the challenge of diversity and change.

Monday, April 27, 2015

“Athirst is my soul for the living God”

April 27, 2015
MONDAY, Easter week four

 “Athirst is my soul for the living God” 
The Responsorial Psalm affirms the universal hunger of the human heart for God: “Athirst is my soul for the living God” (Psalm 42). And in the readings we see Jesus, the good shepherd, eager to satisfy that hunger in every person on earth.
In Acts 11: 1-18 Peter is explaining to some of the “circumcised believers” (the “judaizers”: Jewish Christians who clung to the Jewish laws and customs they had grown up with and wanted to impose them on everyone who accepted Christ) why he broke the legal barrier between Jews and Gentiles by entering the house of Gentiles and eating with them. He explained it as an inspiration of the Holy Spirit — “The Spirit told me to accompany them without discriminating” — and as a response to their evident faith, confirmed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them: “If God gave them the same gift he gave to us… who was I to be able to hinder God?”
Peter is doing two things here: first, he is showing us that to be prophets we must respond to the living voice of God, even leading us in unexpected directions, instead of remaining fixated in blind observance of laws. Legalism cuts off communication between us and the Spirit.
Second, Peter is modeling obedience to Jesus’ great command to him: “If you love me, feed my sheep” (John 21: 15-17). The first concern of every Church member and minister should be to nourish people who are “athirst for the living God” and invite them to the table, not keep them away by general rules that do not consider the concrete reality of individual persons and circumstances.
John 10: 11-18 teaches us the attitude of Jesus, the good shepherd, toward those whom the “wolf” has “scattered” – and toward everyone who does not gather with his sheep. He will seek them out, welcome them, lead them: “And they will hear my voice.” When we encounter anyone who is hearing the voice of Jesus, we need to say with Peter, “Who am I to be able to hinder God?” If someone is “athirst for the living God,” God must be calling. How can we ignore that?
The spirit of Jesus, good shepherd, is the spirit of universal love; love that reaches out, that removes barriers and smoothes the way for those advancing toward Jesus, whose “souls are athirst for the living God.” The shepherds who do not do this are just working “for pay, and they have no concern for the sheep.” In defending automatically the letter of the law they are breaking the most fundamental law of pastoral ministry: “If you love me, feed my sheep.

Initiative: Be a prophet. Recognize God’s voice in others’ hearts and help them respond. Never turn them away.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Shepherd Who Leads To Life

April 26, 2015
The Shepherd Who Leads To Life

Inventory (Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B)
Do I see my religion as construction work? Am I building my life through the acts of my religion? What have I chosen as the foundation of my life? What is the cornerstone I measure from? How does Jesus fit in? Does he play an active role in my life? A constructive role? In what ways?
The Entrance Antiphon speaks of an active, dynamic God: “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” because “by the word of the Lord the heavens were made” — and are still being made, being sustained in existence by the presence and action of God in the universe.
God is not only keeping us in existence; he is leading us like a shepherd into perfection and the fullness of life. But both the (alternative) Opening Prayer and the readings affirm that to be led by Christ into light and life we must know him and hear him. “Attune our minds to the sound of his voice… that we may know [his] strength… and enjoy the light of his presence forever.” We fear no evil because we “follow in faith the call of the shepherd.” Our good depends on hearing, recognizing and knowing Jesus in order to follow him into the “unity and peace of his kingdom” (Communion Rite of the Mass). Acting with and being acted upon by Jesus is the key to it all: “In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God” (see Ephesians 2: 11-22).

The Cornerstone:
The Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 118) alerts us to examine what we are selecting — and may be rejecting — as the foundation of our lives: “The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.” If we are not consciously building our lives around Jesus, we and God are using different blueprints.
Acts 4: 8-12 makes it clear that “There is no salvation in anyone else” but Jesus. “Nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” We do not want to be distracted by the fundamentalist question about whether people have to know Jesus explicitly by name. We who recognize “baptism of desire” for those who never heard of Jesus can focus on the relevant question: “Are we who do believe in Jesus actually making him the cornerstone of our lives?” Do we think we can find happiness and fulfillment by focusing on anything else?
The finished product:
If we make Jesus the cornerstone of our lives, what will be the outcome? 1John 3: 1-2 tells us what real fulfillment consists in. In a word, “We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
We already know God, but not as we will know him. We are already like Jesus — we “have the mind of Christ” (1Corinthians 2:16) — but we are not like him the way we will be. We are “God’s children now,” but “what we shall later be has not yet come to light.” We are a building still under construction (1 Corinthians 3: 10-17; Ephesians 4: 11-16; 1Peter 2: 4-10). Our religion is a dynamic religion. Our Savior is a moving Savior, a shepherd leading the way. To accept Jesus is to get on the road; it is to follow him. If we stop moving, stop changing, stop growing in knowledge, love and service, we have stopped being fully and authentically Christian. We have stopped following.
Jesus defined himself as the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). If we are not going anywhere with him we have rejected him as the Way. If we are not trying to learn more from him, we have rejected him as the Truth. If we are not trying to grow to the “perfection of love” we have rejected him as the fullness of Life. Jesus is not just a rock on which we sit; he is the cornerstone around which we build.
The blueprint
John 10: 11-18 tells us our relationship with Jesus is one of mutual knowledge and love: “I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” For Jesus to lead us as our Shepherd, we have to know him well enough to recognize his voice. The sheep follow Jesus “because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger” (John 9: 4-5). If we believe in Jesus but he is, for all practical purposes, a “stranger” to us, we may do some of the things he teaches, but we will not really be following him. John Paul II made this clear:
“Following Christ” is not an outward imitation, since it touches us at the very depths of our being. Being a follower of Christ means "becoming conformed to him" who became a servant even to giving himself on the Cross (cf. Philippians 2:5-8). The Splendor of Truth, no. 21.
If we know the Shepherd, we will become shepherds ourselves, willing to “give our lives” for the sheep. We will “die” to our isolated, individualistic existence in order to live in Christ and let Christ live in us. Jesus foresaw this when he said, “My sheep know me in the same way that the Father knows me and I know the Father.” In the measure this happens, “We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” At the end all will be one with God and with each other, “one flock, one shepherd” in the “unity and peace” of the Kingdom. Those who reject unity with others reject Christ. But for those who accept universal peace and love, “The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.
This is the “fullness of life” to which Jesus is leading us — provided we know him, listen to his voice and follow, as prophets initiating constant changes in our lifestyle to make our lives express his life and action in us.

What is the “cornerstone” of my life? Do I make everything “fit” with it?


Be conscious that Jesus and the Church are moving. Keep looking forward to see where you are going, and backward to be sure the line has not bent.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

“How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?”

April 25 2015
SATURDAY, Easter week three

 “How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?
The readings, summarized in the Responsorial Psalm, are about acknowledging and repaying the good someone has done: “How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?” (Psalm 116).
Acts 9: 31-42 shows us God rewarding Tabitha, who had been “devoted to good works and acts of charity.” When she died, “all the widows came to Peter weeping and showing him the tunics and cloaks she had made while she was with them.” Through Peter, God “raised her up” to life again. God’s return to her and to us for the good that we do is everlasting life, joy forever.
In John 6: 60-69 we see the opposite taking place. People Jesus had blessed with his ministry, even his own disciples, began “murmuring” against his promise, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.” Many of his disciples said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” When he gave them miracles, they were happy to be with him. But when he asked them for faith they refused him.
We find the same mystery that Jesus found in people’s free responses. Why do some people find joy in the faith while others with the same background and training — perhaps members of the same family — give up the faith as meaningless to them?
The answer Jesus gives sounds like predestination: “Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe…. And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.’” But he is not denying free will or saying that some are given the grace to believe and others are not. He is simply pointing out that faith is a gift; it is not just a free human choice but the acceptance of a gift from on high. And some will not accept to believe on those terms; they want everything to be clear and simple to them, reduced to understandable human dimensions. They want their religion to be humanly “meaningful.” Many stop going to Mass, mindless of its mystery, because it doesn’t “turn them on.”
Jesus did not explain how we can “eat his flesh.” It was believe or not believe — no middle ground. As a result, “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him.” Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Peter answered for all, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
How shall we make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for us?” The answer is simple: “Believe” — not because we understand, but simply to be faithful to Jesus Christ.

Initiative: Be a prophet. Respond with faith even when you don’t understand. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

“Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.”

April 24, 2015
FRIDAY, Easter week three

Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.

The Response (Mark 16:15; used with Psalm 117) is a mandate to all Christians consecrated at Baptism to be prophets: “Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.
In Acts 9: 1-20 Saul receives the Good News the “hard way”: being struck down and blinded by the brightness of God as Jesus identifies himself to him and tells him what he must do. Jesus seems to take Saul’s conversion for granted; and in fact, when Ananias cures him, Saul, now known as Paul, is baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit. Then “he began at once to proclaim Jesus.”
The sequence here is 1. encounter with Jesus; 2. instruction (we presume) from Ananias; 3. Baptism; 4. the gift of the Holy Spirit (which may have preceded Baptism); 5. proclamation of the Good News with joy.
 In the Church’s pastoral practice today, children usually receive Baptism first, then instruction — in the course of which, hopefully, they encounter Jesus. And then they may or may not — depending on how consciously they have received the Holy Spirit — begin to proclaim the Good News to others.
Jesus called Paul “an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles.” We are all chosen instruments of God, as truly as Paul was, consecrated as prophets by Baptism and empowered by the Spirit at Confirmation to proclaim the Good News of Jesus. But before we will do this we must encounter Jesus in a way that is deep, real and personal to us. And we need to pursue instruction as disciples in order to embody the message of Jesus au-thentically in our lives and express it without distortion in our words.
Eucharist is a key element in all this. If we participate “fully, actively and consciously,” we can both receive instruction and encounter Jesus, come to know him, “in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24: 27-35).
Eucharist also sustains and nourishes Christ’s life in us. In John 6: 52-59 Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me” — and will in turn be sent by Jesus to share with others the joy of life in Christ.
We are sent, not just by Christ, but as Christ: Jesus goes out with us to work in us and through us, as in his own body (which we are). He can give divine life through us because he abides in us, and we in him. Jesus has life from the Father; we have life from Jesus; and in us Jesus gives life to the world. This is our encouragement to “Go out to all the world and tell the Good News”: Christ in us.

Initiative: Be a prophet. Proclaim the Good News with joy. And train for it.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Let all the earth continue to cry out to God with joy

April 23, 2015
THURSDAY, Easter week three
Let all the earth continue to cry out to God with joy
The Responsorial Psalm has the same response as yesterday — “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy” (Psalm 66) — but the verses selected focus on God’s saving help rather than his “tremendous deeds.” The readings likewise focus on the joy that comes from being saved: saved from death through the gift of everlasting life.
In Acts 8: 26-40 Philip is asked to explain a passage about the suffering of the Savior that does not seem to speak of joy: “In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who will tell of his posterity? For his life is taken away from the earth.” But when Philip explained about Jesus, the meaning of his death and the triumph of his resurrection, his listener believed, was baptized, and “continued on his way rejoicing.” Even suffering, whether Jesus’ or our own, need not deprive us of joy if we can find meaning and value in it. “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy,” for Jesus has risen from the dead and so will we.
Philip brought joy to the eunuch by teaching him the meaning of Scripture, as Jesus did: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). But joy actually comes through the new life given in Baptism. Jesus said, “I came that they might have life and have it to the full (John 10:10). He gives us joy by giving us the divine life of God.
John 6: 44-51 presents the same sequence of learning-believing-life. Jesus quotes Isaiah 54:13: “They shall all be taught by God,” and continues, “Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.” It is not just listening and learning that saves; it is choosing to believe: “Whoever believes has eternal life.”
Believing involves coming to Jesus in faith. We find divine life in living contact with Jesus: “I am the bread of life…. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” Divine life comes through incorporation into Jesus, through assimilation into his body.

This is expressed, experienced and realized in a unique way in Eucharist. Saint Augustine explains that in contrast to ordinary eating, when we receive Communion we become what we eat. We are transformed more fully, assimilated more completely into Christ. Because we “become Christ” by the sacrament of Baptism (St. Augustine again), we can no more be overcome by death than Jesus was. Because his life in us is sustained and nurtured by the Eucharist, we will “eat and not die.” “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy,” because in Jesus we have the Bread of Life, now and forever.

Initiative: Be a prophet. Embody your faith, hope and joy in the way you participate in Eucharist — through your words, actions and enthusiasm.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

“Let all the earth cry out to God with joy”

April 22, 2015
WEDNESDAY, Easter week three

 “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy” 
The Responsorial Psalm invites us to Easter joy — all year long: “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy” (Psalm 66). The key to this joy, affirmed in all the readings, is seeing and believing. The Psalm continues: “Come and see the works of God …. Therefore let us rejoice in him.”
Acts 8: 1-8 begins with persecution and the “lament” over Stephen. But it ends with “great joy” in the city where Philip, fleeing from persecution, proclaimed Christ and worked miracles. Those who “paid attention” to Philip’s preaching and “saw the signs he was doing” found faith and joy. The pattern is seeing, believing, rejoicing — even in persecution.
In John 6: 35-40 Jesus promises: “Anyone who sees the Son and believes in him [will] have eternal life,” joy now and forever. The source of our joy is Jesus himself, just the fact of knowing him, being in union with him, sharing his divine life: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” In Christ we will find satisfaction, peace and joy.
What do we have to “see” in order to believe and receive this joy? In the first period of evangelization God supported the proclamation of the Gospel with “signs,” miracles of healing and deliverance from demonic possession. But what people really saw in these signs was not just the miraculous event; they saw Jesus acting, proof that he was risen and alive. Miracles that don’t reveal the person of God are worth nothing; they certainly don’t lead to real faith or joy. What we need to see is Jesus alive in the members of his body on earth and acting through them. We don’t need miracles to see this, just prophets, people acting in ways that cannot be explained without grace. When divine faith, hope and love are made visible in action, then people can “see the Son” and believe he is truly risen and alive. This is our joy.
A prophetic Church makes the Spirit of Jesus visible. Insistence on law observance doesn’t do this; especially if we exclude from full participation sinners who are seeking greater union with Christ. Jesus said, “I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came, not do my own will, but the will of the one who sent me,” which is “that I should not lose anything of what he gave me.” Our first pastoral concern as Church should be to embody this same accepting love of Jesus and express it in all our ministries. If people are weak and failing, we need to draw them in, not drive them out. We want all the earth to “cry out to God with joy,” finding his love in us.

Initiative: Be a prophet. Let people see Jesus in you, especially in the way you embody his love for the sinful, the struggling and the weak.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

“Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit”

April 21, 2015
TUESDAY, Easter week three
Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit” 

The Responsorial Psalm is a response to make at the moment of death and at every moment in life: “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit” (Psalm 31).
These are the words Jesus said to the Father when he died (Luke 23:46). In Acts 7:51 to 8:1 Stephen addresses the same words to Jesus as he dies: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” In both cases they are a profession of belief and hope in life after death, life with God, life “to the full,” that only God can give. And so, to act on this hope is a prophetic witness to the divine life of God within us.
In John 6: 30-35 Jesus says we can have this same “life to the full” now. It is not the unmixed fullness of total joy we experience in heaven, but it is joy and essentially the same. We have now the joy  we will experience in its fullness when we die. That is why the refrain of our hearts should be constantly, “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.” Into your hands I commend my thoughts, my desires, my priorities and purposes, all my words and actions. “Lord Jesus, I give you my body — as I did at Baptism, as I will at the moment of death. Live this day with me, live this day in me, live this day through me. Let me think with your thoughts, speak with your words and act as your body on earth: Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Jesus says that he himself is the “true bread from heaven.” He is the bread that “gives life to the world.” If we have him we have life and joy. And we can have the experience of possessing him — a human, physical, concrete experience — every time we receive him in Eucharist. He is our life, not only hereafter but here.
Bread is not just life-giving; it is satisfying. It satisfies hunger and gives pleasure. Eating together brings people together in joy. We eat and drink to celebrate.
This is what Eucharist is — “whoever comes to me will never hunger” — and the aftermath of Eucharist is a deeper, more abiding awareness of the presence of Christ in our hearts, of our union of body, soul and spirit with him and with one another. In Eucharist, when the host is lifted up and we offer ourselves with Christ and in Christ, saying with him “This is my body given up for you,” we are saying “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit — and my flesh, my whole existence, all I do.” In Communion we say it again as Jesus gives himself totally to us and we to him. This is “life, life to the full” (John 10:10). This is Christian joy.

Initiative: Be a prophet. Change the way you participate at Mass. Listen intently to the words, grasp their meaning, make their meaning your own. Live them.

Monday, April 20, 2015

April 20, 2015
MONDAY, Easter week three

Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord

The Responsorial Psalm identifies the “path of life” with following God’s law: “Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord” (Psalm 119).
Acts 6: 8-15 puts us on guard, however, against identifying religion with law observance. Those who did that, the Pharisee party in Israel, were Jesus’ most bitter enemies. After the Resurrection, it was the “judaizing party” who were the greatest source of division in the Church (see Acts 15: 1-29). Paul fought against them during his whole ministry. And in today’s Church, those who focus on rules and regulations, judging and criticizing all who appear not to observe them, are the same well of bitterness and division.
What all these groups have in common is: they resist change, clinging to the rules and customs they grew up with, their “traditions” (Matthew 15: 1-9). Those who attacked Stephen did so because they were afraid Jesus would “change the customs that Moses handed down to us.”
But change is what prophets are all about. We are living up to our baptismal consecration as prophets when we see and show, in new and creative ways, how to apply the general principles of Jesus (such as “love one another as I have loved you”) to the concrete circumstances of our time and place. In the prophets the words of God “take flesh,” because they become concrete and practical. The prophets keep making our religion more and more authentic by adapting it to the reality of changing circumstances in a multitude of ways. This upsets those who want a religion fixed in frozen inertia. Their religion is “dead” and so are they.
Cardinal John Henry Newman said, “To live is to change, and to live fully is to change frequently.” The most practical way become a prophet is to promise God you will make constant changes in your lifestyle — guided by a desire to make everything you say, do, decide or use bear witness to Christ ‘s values.
In John 6: 22-29 Jesus teaches us how to “follow the law of the Lord” authentically: “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” The first law of Christians is to interact with the person of Jesus with living faith: faith that he is risen and alive; faith that he is with us and within us; that he is acting through us, guiding and strengthening us. We interpret and apply all rules in the light of our living knowledge of his mind and heart and will. This is what brings religion to life and makes us say, “Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.” And this is the joy of the prophets.

Initiative: Be a prophet. Look for Jesus in everything you do. Interact with him, respond to his words, to the voice of his Spirit. Live by living faith in Jesus alive.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

“The Lord hears the cry of the poor”

April 16, 2015
THURSDAY, Easter week two

 “The Lord hears the cry of the poor

The Responsorial Psalm tells us: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor” (Psalm 34). He pours out on them his Spirit and bears witness through them.
Acts 5: 27-33 shows us the Apostles, ordinary, weak men without any human power or resources, standing up to the highest authority in Israel, the Sanhedrin (council of seventy-one elders, chief priests and scribes, presided over by the high priest). Their strength came from the certitude of their faith about two things: 1. God had raised Jesus from the dead and “exalted him… as leader and Savior.” 2. They were doing God’s will: “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” Ultimately, this is where our own strength comes from as we try to live the Christian life. Other things may motivate us more consciously or immediately. But this is the rock-bottom foundation of our courage, and we need to be aware of it.
What was God’s will for the Apostles that they were so sure about? It was to bear witness: “We are witnesses of these things.” They had to bear witness because they were witnesses. Even in civil law, people who know something about a case being tried are obliged to testify; it is their duty. Does that oblige us to testify to Christ? Are we witnesses? We did not see Jesus rise. What
makes us able to testify to him?
The Apostles said that they were bearing witness along with “the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” What we are witnesses to is the certitude the Holy Spirit has given us: the certitude of faith: the greatest certitude there is.
Faith is vision. St. Paul said, “At present we see indistinctly [or “darkly”], as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:12), but we see. We don’t imagine, guess, speculate, simply accept what others have told us or just draw conclusions from rational arguments. We see. Faith is an act of sharing in God’s own act of knowing. It is the gift of knowing with the certitude of vision without the experience of seeing in a human way.
We see in a divine way. John 3: 31-36 insists on the contrast between “the one who comes from above” and “the one who is of earth.” The one from above, Jesus, “testifies to what he has seen and heard.” And those who accept his testimony “see” the truth with him and in him, as members of his body, through the gift of the Spirit. The experience of grace is the source and foundation of all Christian witness. We need to get in touch with our experience of the Spirit by living according to his inspirations. Begin by taking God’s words seriously. The rest will follow. “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.

Initiative: Be a prophet. Live divinely. Act on what you see by the light of faith.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

“The Lord hears the cry of the poor”

April 15, 2015
WEDNESDAY, Easter week two

The Responsorial Psalm assures us that God can deliver us from anything that holds us back from the fullness of life: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor” (Psalm 34).
In Acts 5: 17-26 God sent his angel to deliver the Apostles from a physical prison. But he did it to send the Apostles themselves as “angels”(messengers) to “tell the people all about this new life.” What really delivers people is the life of grace, especially when lived with the mutual support of a community of faith. That is to “be Church.”
We are all imprisoned — to a greater or lesser extent, but still deeply and dangerously — in our “culture.” We can’t see beyond the stone walls of attitudes, values and behavior “everyone” takes for granted. We are held “in the box” without chains: just by the fact that we can’t imagine anywhere else to go. We don’t really know or believe we have an option.
Our allocation of time is dictated, not by our priorities, but by the priorities of other people in our society who themselves are responding to pressures not totally of their own making. How many events take priority over family life? In many “Catholic” areas of the country high school football games, and even practices, are scheduled for Sunday morning. Sports banquets are held on Holy Thursday evening. Stores are open on Sunday and we who believe in “keeping the Sabbath” nevertheless shop on Sundays for convenience, “voting with our dollars.” Social events are scheduled without regard for religious feasts or seasons (such as Advent and Lent), and everyone knows Christians will let them take precedence over religious services, missions, talks or youth retreats. It is commonplace to hear even pre-teens say, “I can’t come to the… (church event) because I ‘have to’ go to (band-basketball-dance) practice or such-and-such a party.” Parents don’t take a stand, because their children must either dance to society’s tune or “miss out.” This is a cultural prison. And unlike the guards sent to arrest the Apostles, those who pressure people into society’s cells have no fear of “being stoned by the people.” Christians just don’t react.
We are not a “separatist” religion. In John 3: 16-21 Jesus makes it clear that God loves the world: so much that he “gave his… Son so that those who believe in him might not perish…. For God did not send his Son… to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” But if we truly love the world we will lead it into the light, not stay with it in darkness. “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” So should we.

Initiative: Be a prophet. Don’t conform to priorities you don’t agree with.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

“The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty”

April 14 2015
TUESDAY, Easter week two

“The Lord is king; He is robed in majesty” 
The Responsorial Psalm is a proclamation of victory: “The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty” (Psalm 93). And this is what Christianity is: a proclamation that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and won the gift of divine life for all who believe in him. The prophets make this proclamation credible by visibly embodying the teachings of Jesus in their lifestyle. They make the living Jesus visible in their bodies.
Acts 4: 32-37 shows us the first Christians as a community making the divine life of Jesus visible in their lifestyle: “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed anything as a personal possession, but they had everything in common…. There was no needy person among them, for all who owned property or houses would sell them… and the proceeds were distributed to each according to need.”
Suppose all Christians had continued to live like this for the past two thousand years — not literally, but according to the spirit described here: all providing for others’ needs as much as for their own — would there still be poverty on earth? How many wars would never have happened? How many people would be turning to drugs and alcoholism to escape a society they can’t stand?
How many changes will come about if just the prophets begin to live in this spirit? (All the baptized are consecrated, commissioned and committed to be prophets, but not all are aware of what that means). When all of us accept personally this element of our baptismal consecration, we will renew the face of the earth.
Is that possible? “The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty.” Jesus has triumphed over sin and death. His reign is assured. It is just a question of how long it takes for us to establish it on earth.
John 3: 7-15 tells us that to do this we must be “born from above.” What is humanly impossible is not impossible to Jesus working in and through the members of his body who have united themselves to him and to each other in mind and will and heart by “devoting themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.“ They are “born of the Spirit” and ready to follow his voice. No matter “where it comes from or where it goes,” they will follow the Spirit’s inspirations. Through them it will become evident that Jesus is risen as Lord and king, robed in majesty.”

Initiative: Be a prophet. Live the Gospel with “radical” love: love that reaches to the roots of your life-goals and choices.

Monday, April 13, 2015

"Happy are all who put their trust in the Lord”

April 13 2015
MONDAY, Easter week two

"Happy are all who put their trust in the Lord” 
The Responsorial Psalm shows us how to deal with fear when we are threatened because of the witness we bear to Jesus: "Happy are all who put their trust in the Lord” (Psalm 2).
In Acts 4: 23-31 Peter and John seek support from the faith of the community after they have been commanded by the priests and elders “never to mention that man’s name [Jesus] to anyone again.”
The response of the whole community is first to recall and proclaim the sovereignty of God “who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them.” Next they affirmed God’s power and the certainty of his triumph over his enemies: “Why did the Gentiles rage, the peoples conspire in folly… against the Lord and his anointed?” Those who conspired against Jesus “brought about the very things which in your powerful providence you planned long ago.”
Then they asked God to give them “complete assurance” by granting “cures and signs and wonders to be worked in the name of Jesus.” And God responded: “The place where they were gathered shook as they prayed. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God’s word with confidence.”
Normally God does not give such dramatic signs of his presence and power. In John 3: 1-8 Jesus tells Nicodemus that the most basic source of our assurance is in the simple fact that we have been born again; that we are sharers in God’s own divine life; that, in Augustine’s words, “we have become not only Christians, but Christ!”(quoted by John Paul II in The Splendor of Truth, no. 21). We say with the same Saint Augustine, “Give me the grace to do what you command, Lord, and command whatever you wish — Da quod jubes et jube quod vis.” Why? Because “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Jesus lives in us; we are his body; he has poured out his Spirit into our hearts; he himself acts in and through us. All we have to do is put his words creatively into practice and live them out in the concrete circumstances of our time and place by surrendering to his inspirations. We need to follow the voice of his Spirit, even when we “do not know where it comes from or where it goes” — meaning we have to give up the need for security and control that insists on seeing with mathematical certitude precisely where an inspiration is coming from and leading. This is our role as prophets and we were anointed by God to fulfill it. We will be blessed and bless the world if we do. Happy are all who put their trust in the Lord.”

Initiative: Be a prophet. Trust in the inspirations of the Holy Spirit even when you are not sure where they may lead you. But discern with the community.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Experiencing and Expressing the Risen Life

April 12 2015

Experiencing and Expressing the Risen Life
When do you experience yourself as most alive by grace? Does this usually depend on some expression other people are giving to their faith that supports and inspires you? How much of your experience of grace depends only what you yourself are doing? What have you done that has given you the experience, the felt conviction, of being alive by grace?
The Entrance Antiphon counsels us, “Like newborn infants, long for pure, spiritual milk, so that through it you may grow into salvation.” One way to experience life is to eat food that energizes us. The readings will show us what that food is in our daily lives.
The Opening Prayer reminds us that we are reborn: that God “gives us new birth in the Spirit.” We ask God to “increase our awareness” of the blessings that are ours because of this new life — not so that we will rest complacently in them, but so that we will long for more. We pray, “Renew your gift of life within us.” We ask for divine energy to “grow… toward the fullness of eternal life.” We want our religion to be brought alive by the experience of Christ’s life within us.
The Readings show us how we become aware of this experience. The Responsorial Psalm declares the spontaneous response it evokes: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting” (Psalm 118).

A visible stance:
Acts 4: 32-35 speaks about experiencing the grace (favor) of divine life through the stance we take toward money and possessions.
We may not have great experiences in prayer or feel a lot of devotion when we are at Mass or doing “spiritual” things. We may even feel “turned off” by religion and indifferent to God.
But feelings are not a good gauge of how religious we are. Feelings come and go. Feelings are produced according to the laws of cause and effect; not by free will. We cannot measure our personal, our real, response to anything by the way we feel about it. Love is shown — and experienced — in deeds.
The problem with experiencing our love for God through deeds is that there are not a lot of things we can do that touch God directly. Also, God is invisible, so we can’t see what effect our actions are having on him.
The way to “see” the stance we are taking toward God is to take a stance toward people and things on this earth — a visible stance that can only be explained or understood as resulting from a stance toward God.
For example, in the early Church, when “all who owned property or houses sold them and donated the proceeds…. to be distributed to everyone according to each one’s need,” this was pretty strong evidence of real belief in the teachings and promises of Jesus. Why else would anyone do that?
The stance we take toward money and possessions is a pretty good indication of the stance we take toward life in this world — and toward life in the world to come. The “eternal life” Jesus promises does not begin when we die; it is ours from the moment we accept it here on earth. The eternal life of heaven is simply the eternal life given to us on earth extended and brought to fullness. To believe in eternal life promised is to experience eternal life given — if our belief is embodied in action.
The way to experience eternal life — divine life, “grace” — given to us is to do something we could not do without it. The way most ready to hand is to take a stance toward treasure on earth that makes it very clear that our hearts are set on treasure in heaven. This is what the early Christians did. It is what Christians still do — in a variety of ways. And when they do they experience freedom, reassurance and joy. They speak from personal knowledge when they say, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting.

Faith in the flesh:
John made the point in his Gospel: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son… who has made him known” (John 1:18 ). Jesus did that by “taking flesh,” taking a human body and becoming a visible member of the human race. This has been the pattern of Christian spirituality ever since. Our religion is faith made flesh, hope embodied in physical human choices, love empowering physical human actions.
“Who [indeed] is the victor over the world?” 1John 5: 1-6 tells us it is those who are “begotten by God” by believing that Jesus, the “only begotten Son of the Father,” became flesh in a physical human body and physically died to give us spiritual life.
Jesus came “through water and blood… not by water alone, but by water and blood.” His own baptism was not just the symbolic gesture of being washed in the Jordan river. The “baptism” toward which his life was bent was a washing in his own blood (Luke 12:50).
On the cross Jesus proved (and experienced) the “breadth and length and height and depth” of his love for the Father and for us by a physical action, his passion and death, that left no doubt about his love. If we want to experience our real, our live union with him in that love, then our love too must be embodied in actions. These are not just any actions: they are actions that could have no other motivation than faith: “The victory that conquers the world is our faith.” Whatever we can do, conquer or achieve without faith is not an unambiguous proof of the life and power of God within us.
This is Christian witness. We bear witness to Jesus Christ as prophets through actions that are both the expression and the experience of his divine life active within us. Through our visible human choices we reveal the invisible life of grace enlightening our minds to believe what Jesus said, converting our desires into hope for what he promises, strengthening our hearts to love beyond the limits of this world.
Then we can say and inspire others to say with us, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting.
Unless I see and touch…
When the risen Jesus appears to his disciples in John 20: 19-31 his opening words are always, “Peace be with you.” Where does that peace come from?
Jesus’ first words after the greeting tell us. The first time, “When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.” He showed them the proof of his passion and death so they would know that the living man in front of them had truly risen from the dead. The first source of our peace is in the fact that Jesus is risen and is living still. He is still with us.
After his second greeting, Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he “breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.”
The second source of our peace is in the fact that we are sent and empowered by the Spirit to continue Christ’s work on earth. We have a meaning and purpose in life. We know what we are here for, and what we have to do. And we know that the light and strength to do it are coming, not from us, but from the gift of the Spirit within us. In other words, we know that the risen Jesus is living and acting in us. We are the risen Jesus.
Jesus said that he would go down into the grave to rise multiplied through resurrection in every living member of his body on earth: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Our peace is in the fact that Jesus is risen and living in us.
But Thomas could not find this peace just from the other disciples’ report that they had seen Jesus. He said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands” and touch his wounds myself, “I will not believe.”
Thank God for hard-headed disciples! Thomas voiced the need we all have to see flesh-and-blood evidence that Jesus is risen and real. Where do we find it? In the flesh-and-blood reality of his body on earth — in the flesh–and-blood experience that we and others are living the life of grace, the risen life, the divine life of Jesus living in us. Every time we act in a way that expresses our faith, and especially when nothing but faith can explain it, Jesus in us is saying to anyone who doubts, “See my hands. Touch me. And do not be unbelieving but believe — that through this belief you may have life.”

What do I do that cannot be explained except by my faith in Jesus Christ? Are there things I do that I know I would not do unless I were motivated by faith, even though other people might do them for other motives?


Take God’s words seriously. Make some choices consciously based on them.