Saturday, April 30, 2016

Joy and Peace in the Universal Church

Joy and Peace in the Universal Church

The Sixth Sunday of Easter: May 1, 2016 (Year C)

Ask yourself... 
What gives me my greatest joy and security in life right now? Are both of these rooted in my experience of Jesus Christ alive and dealing with me?

Consider this...
The Entrance Antiphon calls us to “speak out with a voice of joy” because “the Lord has set his people free!” Basically, Jesus has set us free from: 

1. the guilt of sin
2. the consequences of sin: (death);  
3. slavery to sin (through enslavement to our culture); 
4. the slavery of the law (legalism). 

By freeing us from these, he has also removed the greatest threats (and false supports) to our security.

The Opening Prayer gives the key to our joy and to all of these freedoms. “Ever-living God, help us to celebrate our joy in the resurrection of the Lord.” Jesus’ death and resurrection “took away” the guilt of our sins, showed that death had no power over us, freed us as a “new creation” in Christ from enslavement to culture, and as his risen body on earth, guided by his Holy Spirit, from enslavement to the law. We find our joy and our security by living “in Christ.” The Responsorial Psalm celebrates this: “O God, let all the nations praise you (Psalm 67).

The catholic Catholics
In Acts 15: 1-29 the Church made the momentous decision to free Christianity from restriction to any particular culture or cultural ways of living and expressing the faith. By deciding the Church is not a Jewish church, they also decided that it was not a Greek church or a Roman one. The Church is just as much Asian or African or Native American as it is European. Any tendencies (and there have been long-standing ones) to make newly evangelized countries conform to the customs and mentality of the Roman rite of the universal catholic Church have been aberrations contrary to her true nature. We only began to start correcting these since the Second Vatican Council ended in 1965.

The “apostles and elders” assembled in Jerusalem sent word to the new converts from the non-Jewish milieus of Greece and Syria that they did not have to accept all the laws and customs of the Jewish Scriptures in order to be Christian. When God gave those laws to his People, religion and culture were inseparable. With the resurrection of Jesus that changed: Jesus would rise to live in every baptized person, of whatever nation, race or culture, and express his divine goodness and beauty through every legitimate form of human behavior. People would be guided primarily from within, by the Holy Spirit, instead of from without, by the religious laws and customs native to any particular society.

There would be laws and customs, of course, liturgical forms and structures of church government — no human community can exist without them — but no culture’s customs would be normative for another’s. And thus were born the various “Rites” of the universal “catholic” Church: Armenian, Byzantine, Coptic, Greek, Latin and others, approximately eighteen in all, with their own structures, laws and liturgies. But these cultural customs are not the essentials of our religion:

For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials:
that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.
If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.

O God, let all the nations praise you!”

The stability of Spirit:
 John 14: 23-29 identifies the universal sign of true acceptance of Jesus: “Those who love me will keep my word.” They may not all express their faith in the same external forms and ceremonies, but if they love Jesus, they will do essentially what he says. “And my Father will love them, and we will come to them.” God makes no distinctions based on cultures and civilizations. “And we will make our home with them.” God is comfortable and “at home” in parishes and populations some of us might not feel at home in at all. That simply says God is more “catholic” than we are. And there have been times in history when, yes, God was much more Catholic than the pope!

But if we can accept what Jesus says, and accept other believers as he does, he promises, “Peace I leave with you; my own peace I give to you, a peace the world cannot give.” There is a false sense of security in having everything the way it was in the “world” we grew up in. But real peace comes from trustfully following the Holy Spirit who, Jesus promises, “will teach you everything.” Our true security is not in the stability of customs, but in constancy of surrender to the ever-changing winds of the Spirit.

O God, let all the nations praise you!”

The old in the new
 In Revelation 21: 10-23 the “New Jerusalem” incorporates the old into the new. It has twelve gates “and on the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of Israel….The wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb.” The city is the Church Christ founded on the twelve Apostles as an extension of the twelve tribes of the Chosen People. The temple of stone is replaced by the temple of Christ’s body, with all his members. And there is no lamp, because the glory of God is its light.1

O God, let all the nations praise you!”

1See John 2: 19-21; Exodus 27:20; Leviticus 24:2.

What makes me feel “at home” in church— the presence of Jesus or what?


Think of the Church “stripped down” to bare essentials. What would you miss?

Friday, April 29, 2016

Rejection Can Be A Sign

Rejection Can Be A Sign
 SATURDAY, Easter week five: April 30, 2016

Though both readings speak of opposition to the Gospel and persecution, the Responsorial verse tells us: “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy” (Psalm 100). The truth is that people’s rejection of the Church can be a sign that we are truly united with Jesus, the “stone that the builders rejected,” who “has become the cornerstone” (1Peter 2:7). Anything that indicates we have “died with Christ” to the attitudes and values of this world is an assurance that we have also “risen to new life in him” (Entrance Antiphon). This is a cause to rejoice.

In Acts 16: 1-10 we see Paul subjecting Timothy to the unnecessary pain of circumcision in order to make his ministry acceptable to Jews who were still locked into the law. We know that the Apostles were ready to endure persecution for preaching the Gospel (see Acts 4; 18-33; 14: 8, 19-21), but still the “Holy Spirit prevented them” from preaching in some places — presumably because God knew they would not be accepted there. Christians neither seek persecution nor let it deter them; they simply follow the Holy Spirit without regard for consequences. This is the guiding principle behind prophetic witness. Whether we are accepted or rejected, praised or persecuted, “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy” (cf. Philippians 1: 12-22; 2Timothy 4: 1-9).

In John 15: 18-21 Jesus tells us that being rejected by people can be a sign we are united to Christ: “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world--therefore the world hates you.”

There could be other reasons for rejection, of course. Christians — and more commonly clerics, because of their public status and high visibility — might be hated because of their arrogance, injustice or hypocrisy. Peter warns the early Christians: “Let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker. Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name” (1Peter 4:14-16). As prophets, we are not trying to draw attention to ourselves by getting ourselves stoned (civil disobedience is a separate issue); we are just trying to live out the message of Jesus authentically. And no matter how people respond to it, we will persevere in peacefulness and in love. As long as we are united to Christ, whether in his suffering or in his glory, “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.

Initiative: Be a prophet. Bear witness to the Resurrection by living the Gospel fearlessly, regardless of consequences.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Spirit Of The Church

The Spirit Of The Church
FRIDAY, Easter week five: April 29, 2016

The Responsorial Psalm is the exclamation of one who rejoices in God’s saving love for all people: “I will give you thanks among the peoples, O Lord ” (Psalm 57).

In Acts 15: 22-31 we see this saving love embodied in the Church’s response to the Gentile converts. The community disclaims those who “without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind.” The Apostles and presbyters confidently affirm, “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities….”

The spirit of the Church guided by the Spirit is the exact opposite of what Jesus condemned in the Pharisees and “scribes,” or specialists in the application of the law: “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them” (Matthew 23:2-4; Luke 11:46). The spirit that should always prevail in the Church is the spirit Jesus expressed when he said, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

This is the spirit of the prophets, who look, not to the letter of the law, but to the goal of the law, conscious that the intention that governs and determines the goal of every law or regulation in the Church is Jesus’ commission to Peter, “Feed my sheep.” In fulfilling this command we know that we truly love him and those to whom he has sent us (see John 21: 15-17).

The freedom of spirit with which prophets approach laws is rooted in Jesus’ words at the Last Supper (John 15: 12-17):I no longer call you servants, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” Prophets try to judge out of intimate knowledge of God’s mind and heart. Because of this the prophets are constantly ministering to others as priests (by Baptism). This is to live Christ’s love. Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.” To minister, serving the needs of others, is literally to “give one’s life” for others, because every minute we give to another in service is a minute of our life. On this earth life and time are synonymous; for any one of us they begin and end together.

Jesus who gave us the commandment, “love one another as I love you” told us later, “I chose you to go and bear fruit.” We show our love for God and others by constantly giving expression to the life of God in us in order to communicate it to others.

Initiative: Be a prophet. Listen, learn and live by the heart (love) of Christ.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Spirit Of Jesus

The Spirit Of Jesus
THURSDAY, Easter week five: April 28, 2016
The Responsorial Psalm directs us to focus our attention on what God is doing, and to let that guide our judgments about human behavior: “Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations” (Psalm 96). In particular, our interpretation of laws should be based on what we experience the Spirit doing in the Church. This is what the readings teach us.

In Acts 15: 7-21 the “Apostles and presbyters” resolved the dissension between the missionaries and the Pharisee party in the Church by basing their decision on three things.

First was the spiritual experience that Peter, Paul and the missionaries had of the Holy Spirit blessing their work among the Gentiles. Peter reminded them that God chose “that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the Gospel and believe. And God… bore witness by granting them the Holy Spirit just as he did us” (see Acts 10 and note the immediate opposition of the Pharisee party, Acts 11: 1-18). Then “Barnabas and Paul… told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles.”

Second, James quoted God’s words in Scripture to show how “the words of the prophets agree with this.”

Finally, their conclusion reflects political sensitivity to the feelings of the Jewish Christians. The Gentile converts were asked to give up some foods that were especially abhorrent to Jews. These restrictions disappeared as their cause ceased to be an issue.

In their discussion and discernment, the Apostles and elders were in fact following Jesus’ instructions in John 15: 9-11:Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” Their focus was on love, not law observance. The “commandments” Jesus urged them to keep were his own, not the rules and regulations already established in Judaism. And the greatest of his commands was simply, “Love one another as I love you.” Their decision was guided by their desire to love the Gentiles as Jesus loves all.

Jesus told them to keep his commandments “just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.” This focuses us on mission, because that is what the Father sent Jesus to do. And it coincides with Jesus’ great command to Peter: “If you love me, feed my sheep” (John 21: 15-17). To truly obey Jesus with love, we must love and nurture his sheep. That is what guided the community’s decision about what to impose and not impose on the Gentile converts. And that is the spirit that must guide us all today. To do this we must have the courage to interpret laws in the light of the Spirit and their pastoral purpose.

Pope Francis said in his closing address that this is what the 2015 Synod on Family Life was all about: “bringing the joy of hope without falling into a facile repetition of what is obvious or has already been said…

“It was about seeing difficulties and uncertainties in the light of the Faith, carefully studying them and confronting them fearlessly, without burying our heads in the sand…
“about listening to and making heard the voices of the families and the Church’s pastors…  
“about showing the vitality of the Catholic Church, which is not afraid to stir dulled consciences or to soil her hands with lively and frank discussions about the family…
“about trying to view and interpret today’s realities through God’s eyes, so as to kindle the flame of faith and enlighten people’s hearts in times marked by discouragement, social, economic and moral crisis, and growing pessimism…
“about bearing witness to everyone that, for the Church, the Gospel continues to be a vital source of eternal newness, against all those who would “indoctrinate” it in dead stones to be hurled at others…
“about laying bare the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families…
“about making clear that the Church is a Church… not simply of the righteous and the holy, but rather of those who are righteous and holy precisely when they feel themselves to be poor sinners.

“It was about trying to open up broader horizons… so as to defend and spread the freedom of the children of God, and to transmit the beauty of Christian Newness, at times encrusted in a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible.”

This is the Spirit of Jesus, the true spirit of the Church.

Initiative: Be a prophet. Look to the goal of each law and do what will achieve it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Focus On Fruitfulness

Focus On Fruitfulness
 WEDNESDAY, Easter week five: April 27, 2016

The Responsorial Psalm tells us: “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122). The readings give us a choice of what we will rejoice in.

The basic choice appears in Acts 15: 1-6. We can rejoice in “all that God has done” or just in the fact that the rules are being kept. The latter was the obsession of those who “had come down from Judea” to Antioch and were instructing the new Gentile converts whom Paul and Barnabas had brought into the Church, “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.” They were not rejoicing in “all that God had done” through Paul and Barnabas, and “how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27). All they cared about or rejoiced in was law observance and narrow-minded “orthodoxy” according to their own understanding of what acceptable teaching was.

There are still those in the Church — and their “name is legion” (see Mark 5:9) — who perpetuate this same attitude. They are the natural descendants of the Pharisees, identifiable in any parish or diocese by their auto-assumption of responsibility for defending the Church against all pastoral interpretations or prophetic applications beyond the letter of the law. They do not care about “opening a door” for anyone. They just want to close the door to any innovations or change. Any priest or lay minister whose first concern is to “feed the sheep” (John 21: 15-17) will be harassed by them in “dissension and debate” as Paul and Barnabas were. Law and order are all that gives them joy, and they are usually recognizable by their joylessness.

When the Church envoys told of the conversion of the Gentiles they “brought great joy to all the believers” — except for the those who came from the “party of the Pharisees.” These “stood up and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and direct them to keep the law of Moses.’” What a contrast!

At his daily morning Mass, October 31, 2014, Pope Francis said the Pharisees—of Jesus’ time and ours—“followed the laws and neglected justice… They followed the laws and they neglected love… And for these people, Jesus had only one word (to describe them):  hypocrites.”

Francis called them: “Closed-minded men, so attached to the laws, to the letter of the law that they were always closing the doorway to hope, love and salvation… Men who only knew how to close doors.”

 “The path Jesus teaches us is totally opposite to that of the doctors of law… Jesus draws close to us… the path God has chosen to save us is through his closeness."

In John 15: 1-8 Jesus teaches us to rejoice in what bears fruit — which really means to focus on union with him. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit…. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” The focus is on union of mind and heart with Jesus, not on law.

Disciples are learners. Learners change and grow. The Father “prunes” them so that they will “bear more fruit.” Not to change, grow and bear increasing fruit may mean that we are not “abiding” in Christ and that his words are not “abiding in us.” And it probably means we will not “go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.

Initiative: Be a prophet. Focus on bearing fruit through live union with Christ.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Recognize, Report and Celebrate

Recognize, Report and Celebrate
 TUESDAY, Easter week five: April 26, 2016

The Responsorial Psalm alerts us to the importance of celebrating the action of the risen Jesus in the Church: “Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your kingdom” (Psalm 145).

In Acts 14: 19-28 we see a pattern that both reveals and promises the permanent presence of Jesus in the Church:

  1. Paul recovers from his stoning after being left for dead, and “the next day went on with Barnabas to Derbe,” where they “proclaimed the good news….” This is a fulfillment of Jesus’ promise in today’s Gospel: “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid…. I am going away, and I will come back to you.” In the “risen” Paul Jesus gets up and continues to work.
  2. In Derbe and other cities Paul and Barnabas “made a considerable number of disciples,” and before they left, “appointed presbyters for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith.” They left the new church communities provided with all the priestly functions of Jesus necessary to assure their continuation; especially, but not solely, the celebration of Eucharist.
  3. On their return to Antioch they “called the church together and reported what God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles,” doing what the Responsorial Psalm recommends: “Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your kingdom.” Making known and celebrating the work of God in the Church is an important element in maintaining the community’s faith and awareness of the risen Jesus in their midst.

 In John 14: 27-31, Jesus predicted all of this and its fruits: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” Yes, the Church will suffer persecution and setbacks. But just as Jesus had strengthened the apostles, saying, “I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe,” so Paul and Barnabas “strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, ‘It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.’” Each time that the work of the Spirit in the Church shows that Jesus has indeed “come back,” we need to celebrate it — because the “world must know” that the “ruler of this world” has “no power” over Jesus. To assure this, “Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

Initiative: Be a prophet. Recognize, report and celebrate the action of the risen Jesus in the Church — especially as revealed through setbacks and persecution.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Life is From the Spirit

Life is From the Spirit
Monday, Easter Week five: April 25, 2016
Also Feast of St. Mark: 1 Peter 5:5-14; Psalm 89; Mark 16:15-20

The Responsorial Psalm teaches us to experience God by depending on God: “Not to us, O LORD, but to your name give glory” (Psalm 115).

In Acts 14: 5-18 we see again the pattern of the “kerygmatic” or “heraldic” preaching of the Good News: First, pre-evangelization: a miracle raises a question to which the only true explanation is Christ’s action in his risen body (14: 8-14): “Not to us, O LORD, but to your name give glory.

Then comes evangelization, the preaching of the Gospel in answer to the question (14: 15-18, with Paul’s presumed development). But unlike previous occasions (see Acts 2: 41-47; 4:4, 23-36), there is no record of the third phase, eucharist: the celebration of the Good News by those who believe — presumably because the Jewish faction “won over the crowds, stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city” (verse 19).

To bear witness to Christ as prophets we don’t have to work healing miracles. But we do have to be a visible, living miracle of grace! The “pre-evangelization” essential to effective proclamation of the Good News is a lifestyle, a way of living and acting, which raises questions that cannot be answered except by the teaching of Jesus and the empowerment that comes from his resurrection. The cost of prophetic witness is to live in radical contradiction to the spirit of this world and to risk persecution by those who are threatened by this.

In John 14:21-26 the apostle Jude Thaddeus asks, "Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” Why do people, even within the Church, resist the prophets and reject their witness?

The answer is that, like the Jews who stoned Paul, they identify religion with observance of the rules and adherence to cut-and-dried formulations of doctrine, and find their security in this. But those who love Jesus enough to want to know him will become disciples, studying his words. They will enter into intimate union with God: “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

Obviously, right doctrine and rules are important; they are just not Christianity. Christianity is truth and love experienced live with God: “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send, will teach you everything.” Constant attention to and dependence on God’s action through the Holy Spirit is our only real security. Without the Spirit, doctrines are dead letter and law observance is Phariseeism. “Not to us, O LORD, but to your name give glory."

Initiative: Be a prophet. Live in dependence on the Spirit. Seek guidance through God’s words in Scripture. Listen, love and live.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

All Are Called To Bear Fruit through Living Union With Jesus

All Are Called To Bear Fruit through Living Union With Jesus
The Fifth Sunday of Easter: April 24, 2016 (Year C)

The Entrance Antiphon invites us to: “Sing to the Lord” because he has “revealed to the nations his saving power” (Psalm 97). What “marvelous deeds” of God do we celebrate together? Do we make them a communal experience?

In the (alternative) Opening Prayer we ask God to “give us voice to sing your praise.” But we cannot celebrate together what we have not experienced together. If God has “filled all ages with the words of a new song,” it is because he has “revealed to the nations” his saving power. If we are going to celebrate together as Church, we need to share with each other what God has done — and is doing still through us. This sharing was taken for granted in the early Church.

Sharing faith and works:
 In the Responsorial Psalm the Church invites us to sing: “I will praise your name forever, my King and my God”(Psalm 145). What, specifically, do we recall when we sing this?

In Acts 14: 21-27 we see Paul and Barnabas putting “fresh heart into the disciples, encouraging them.” They didn’t do this by preaching alone. They “revealed God’s saving power” to each community by “calling the church together and relating all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles.” This helped everyone say, “I will praise your name forever, my King and my God.’

More significantly, in every church they founded, “they appointed elders, and with prayer and fasting they commended them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.”

The word “elders” [English for “presbyters”] is not precisely defined in the Acts and letters of the apostles. But Vatican II tried:

As a general rule the conciliar texts try to follow the Scriptures and to restrict the word ‘priest’ (sacerdos) to Jesus himself and to the ‘common priesthood’ of the baptized; and when talking about the ordained they use the word ‘presbyteros.1

It is significant that, first, the apostles left ordained priests in every town they evangelized. Second, that those they ordained had no more instruction in the faith than the apostles could give in the short time they spent with them. The apostles showed their trust, both in God and in those they ordained by simply “commending them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.”

It must have been encouraging to the people to see that the apostles trusted so much in the power of the grace they had received. Those chosen to be made “presbyters” by the sacrament of Holy Orders were not different from the rest. They were not set apart on a pedestal as “sacred” ministers compared to the laity. The laity, who knew they were priests by Baptism, recognized the “elders” as ordained for a special function, but not as a higher class of Christian. There was no “clerical caste” in the early Church. The awesome power of the grace of Christ was recognized in everyone, and every member of the community felt called to ministry.

It was also encouraging for the Apostles’ converts to know they would never be deprived of Eucharist or the ministry of ordained priests. The Apostles made sure they ordained “presbyters” in every town. They chose people they judged apt and graced by God for the job. Their use of the power to ordain, essential to the role of bishop, was not limited by rules that allowed them to choose only from a narrow field of candidates whose eligibility depended on other factors besides grace, aptness for ministry, and God’s call. Those restrictions came later, and because of them we see some parishes today closing down and others making do without the daily (or even weekly) ministry of ordained priests. Bishops are no longer allowed to use their episcopal power as needed to fulfill the first command Jesus gave to Peter and to them: “If you love me, feed my flock.” This is discouraging to bishops, clergy and laity alike. Nevertheless, with Pope Francis, reform is in the air. And, as we see God bringing about changes in his Church, we continue to sing, “I will praise your name forever, my King and my God.”
The New Commandment
 John 13: 31-35 shows us the greatest change Jesus made in the God’s law. He changed the “second greatest” commandment from “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” to his “new commandment”: “Love one another just as I have loved you.” Now we are commanded — and therefore empowered — to love on the level of God.2

Of all the “signs and wonders” that support belief in Jesus, this is the greatest: “By this love you have for one another, everyone will know you are my disciples.” Our task as prophets is to see and show how we can love as Christ in daily life.
A “new creation”
 Revelation 21: 1-5 shows us the fruit of this love. “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them….” This is a vision of the perfect peace and reconciliation of the “wedding banquet of the Lamb” that we ask for when we pray, “Give us the bread [of the banquet: Jesus] and forgive us… as we forgive.” We look forward to the “end time” and sing, “I will praise your name forever, my King and my God,” because he is “making all things new.”3

1Patrick J. Dunn, Bishop of Auckland, New Zealand, Priesthood:A Re-Examination of the Roman Catholic Theology of the Presbyterate: Alba House, New York, 1990, p. 110.    
2Compare Leviticus 19:18 and Matthew 22:39 with Matthew 5: 43-48 and this Gospel.   
3See Revelation 19: 7-9.

What do I see that makes me say, “I will praise your name forever, my King and my God”? How often do I share my experience of him with others?


Be a prophet. Begin talking with family and friends about what God is doing.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Laity are Leaven

The Laity are Leaven
 SATURDAY, Easter week four: April 23, 2016

The Responsorial Psalm promises: “All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God” (Psalm 98). The readings take on special meaning if we understand “ends of the earth” to mean, not just countries, but in every country all areas of life and activity: family and social life, business and politics. When and how will the “saving power of God” be seen in all of these areas? And when it is, will not the prophetic words of the Church’s prayer be realized: “Send forth your Spirit and our hearts will be regenerated. And you will renew the face of the earth!”

In Acts 13: 44-52 we see God using the very opposition of his enemies to accomplish his purposes. This is a pattern in the Gospels, most evident in the triumph of Jesus through his death and defeat on the cross (see Matthew 2:23; 4:12-16; Acts 11:19). In this reading the Apostles saw that, when the Jews in Antioch rejected their preaching, this opened another door: “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it… we are now turning to the Gentiles…. so that we may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”

In the Church of our day vocations to the priesthood and religious life have declined. But it
takes only a little prophetic insight to recognize how God is using this to raise up the laity and animate them to live out their baptismal consecration by full participation in the ministry and apostolate of the Church.

Through the full participation of the laity in the Church’s mission, the reign of God will be established in all those areas the clergy can never reach: business, politics, family and social life. Vatican II says that this is where the laity are by vocation:

They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God… for the sanctification of the world from within, in the manner of leaven. (Church, #31).

For those who feel unworthy to exercise ministry and leadership in the Church Jesus tells Philip in John 14: 7-14 that just as the Father is working in Jesus, Jesus will be working in his followers: “Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these.” As the Father is “glorified in the Son” so the Son is glorified in the members of his body. “Whoever has seen me [Jesus] has seen the Father.” And whoever has seen the graced members of the Church, clergy or laity, in action has seen the Church and Jesus. It is the function of the prophets to assure this “by the witness of a life resplendent in faith, hope and love” (ibid.) so that “all the ends of the earth may see the saving power of God.

Initiative: Be a prophet. Take Christ’s truth with you wherever you go. Live it.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Jesus With and Within

Jesus With and Within
FRIDAY, Easter week four: April 22, 2016

 The Responsorial Psalm proclaims that Jesus is a Shepherd who will always be with us, because he is divine: “You are my Son; this day I have begotten you” (Psalm 2). The proof is that he rose alive from death.

Acts 13: 26-33 tells us “the inhabitants of Jerusalem and their leaders failed to recognize” Jesus. They were not his sheep; if they had been, they would have known his voice. Foolishly, they thought they could get rid of him by having him put to death. But by this they simply “accomplished all that was written about him.” And then “God raised him from the dead.” He returned!

Jesus’ resurrection is the central fact to which the Church bears witness. Without the Gospel nothing can explain it, and nothing in the Gospel can be explained without it. To rise from the dead Jesus had to be divine; and because he was divine he had to rise from the dead. His resurrection was the Father’s way of reasserting: “You are my Son; this day I have begotten you.” By raising Jesus the Father validated all of Jesus’ claims — to take away our sins, to give life and joy “to the full,” to give peace, the Holy Spirit and eternal life — and “has fulfilled for us what God promised to our ancestors.” Jesus is with us, shepherding forever.

John 14: 1-6 shows us that Jesus fulfilled another promise of God, and is “with us” in a way beyond our imagining: “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days… I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 10:10).

The way we need to follow, the truth we need to know, the life we need to live is within us, because Jesus is within us. At the Last Supper, when Thomas asked, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus answered: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.” But he is in us; he has made us his body. Following Jesus means being Jesus, sharing in his own divine life, light and love. God has said to each of us: “You are my Son; this day I have begotten you!

Jesus added, “I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” The truth is, we can be where Jesus is now, because where he is we are, and where we are Jesus is. He is the divine Shepherd who guides and enlivens us from within. We can consciously make him a part of everything we do by saying repeatedly, “Lord, I give you my body. Do this with me, do this in me, do this through me.” And he will.

Initiative: Be a prophet. Let Jesus act in and through everything you do.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Messenger in the messengers

The Messenger in the messengers
 THURSDAY, Easter week four: April 21, 2016

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 faithful guidance of his people through a long chain of 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 the shock of his apparent defeat that John’s Gospel 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). Nor is his presence in us 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. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Three-Legged Stool

A Three-Legged Stool
 WEDNESDAY, Easter week four: April 20, 2016

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 worshiping 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. These are a three-legged stool: without any one of them, we topple over.

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. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Laws Close, Love Opens

Laws Close, Love Opens
 TUESDAY, Easter week four: April 19, 2016

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 Gentile converts 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.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Love Gives Life

Love Gives Life
 MONDAY, Easter week four: April 18, 2016

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 accepted into the community) 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 “one size fits all” rules that do not take into account 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 smooths 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.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Shepherd Who Leads To Life

The Shepherd Who Leads To Life
 The Fourth Sunday of Easter: April 17, 2016 (Year C)

How did I receive the gift of faith? Who taught me? Do I believe because of my parents and teachers, or because I have heard “the call of the shepherd,” Jesus himself? When and how did I become conscious of his voice?

The Entrance Antiphon calls us to recognize that what we experience in the world is the goodness of God himself: “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.” It is God’s power, goodness and beauty that are actually present and expressed in everything he made and sustains in existence. When we say, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,” — we mean they are still being made and given to us by the presence and action of God in the universe.

The Opening Prayer(s) remind us that the greatest experience of God we have is our experience of his presence in our minds and hearts and wills by grace — the favor of sharing in the divine life of God. Through grace we “enjoy the light of his presence,” and “hear the sound of his voice” and “know the strength” of “Christ our shepherd” whom we ask to “lead our steps.

The Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 100) reminds us of who we are and what makes us that: “We are God’s people” and “the sheep of his flock” — because we know the Shepherd.

The voice we follow:

In Acts 13: 14, 43-52 the preaching of Paul and Barnabas is accepted by some and rejected by others. And those who rejected their preaching “worked upon some of the devout women of the upper classes and the leading men of the city and persuaded them” to drive Paul and Barnabas out of town.

You wonder what those people felt when they died and realized to whom they had refused to listen and whom they had rejected!

It makes us ask to whom we listen in the way we live from day to day. Whose advice do we follow? Who sets the standards for our social life, professional conduct, political options? What trends and values does our family life follow? What priorities rule our use of time, our buying, our dress, speech, and selection of school, neighborhood and friends? Do we follow the culturally-accepted “devout women of the upper classes and the leading men of the city”?

Shepherd and flock:

In John 10: 27-30 Jesus says, “The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice.” As long as they do that, “They will never be lost, and no one will ever steal them from me.”

We meet people every day who no longer follow Jesus; at least, not in any conscious or explicit way. If they believe in him, they do not think of themselves as members of his “flock” — or of any flock. They don’t believe in “organized religion.” They don’t assemble with other believers to hear God’s word and worship him as members of a community.

That raises a question: we speak of “lone wolves,” but has anyone ever heard of a “lone sheep”? For Jesus the lone sheep is a lost sheep; he speaks of such only to say he will lead them back into the flock.1

Jesus speaks to every human heart. But he always sent people out to preach in two’s — as a community. And those who responded to the preaching always gathered together as Church. Christianity is not a self-serve, do-it-yourself, one-on-one religion. It is a communal experience of responding to God in a community. Without the Church Jesus founded to be together as his flock there is no Christianity. It is not just a philosophy or private way of relating to God.

And yet, within the community, and taking for granted all that the community gives and asks of us, we do have to deal with Jesus privately, one-on-one, in many do-it-yourself ways. At Mass, for example, we assemble with others, sing and respond as a group, but it is up to each individual to pay deep attention to the words, say or sing them with conscious intent, and participate with personal involvement in all the Mass expresses. If not, the Mass will be dead for us.

And in our response to the Gospel, we have to absorb Jesus’ teachings and apply them to our own personal life, family life, school and professional life in ways so personal they are prophetic. As “prophets” by Baptism we have to ask how we can live the general principles of Jesus in the unique circumstances of our own time and place. This can be different for each one of us. And when we try to do this we hear the voice of Jesus speaking to us individually — not in sounds, but in thoughts so clear in our hearts that we know they come from him. Jesus said the shepherd “calls his own sheep by name and… they know his voice.”

We will hear it and know it if we listen for it — with intention to act on what we hear. Then we will know, and be able to say from personal experience, “We are his people: the sheep of his flock.”

The Lamb

Revelation 7: 9-17 holds up to us the image of heaven. And, just as the Mass is communal celebration, heaven is communal happiness” — “a huge number, impossible to count, from every nation, race tribe and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”

To “be Church” is to experience this on earth. It is the experience of all who believe, united in recognition and praise. “We are his people: the sheep of his flock.”

1See Matthew 18:12; 26:31; John 10:16.

How do I experience Jesus speaking to me most often in private? In church?

Gather with others in church, but interact personally with Jesus.