Sunday, May 31, 2009

As The Father Has Sent Me, I Am Sending You. Receive The Holy Spirit

Acts 2: 1-11
When the day of Pentecost came they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome, (both Jews and converts to Judaism) Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!"

1 Corinthians 12:3b-7; 12-13
No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in everyone.

Just as a body is one although it has many parts, and all of them are parts of the same body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jews or Greek, whether slaves or free men, and we have all been given to drink of the one Spirit.

John 20:19-23
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

+++ +++ +++ +++

Fifty days have passed since the Jewish people gathered together to celebrate the first feast of the agricultural year, the spring festival, the time of planting, which is also a great festival of their liturgical year, Pesach, the Passover, recalling that the Angel of Death passed over the homes of those who had marked the lintel of their doorway with the blood of the lamb they had sacrificed to the Lord God. Now, seven weeks later, it is time for them to celebrate the first harvest of spring grain, of wheat and barley, and to present the first fruits of their fields as an offering in thanksgiving to the Lord for sending sun and rain to make the crops grow. This celebration is called Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, in Hebrew; but Greek speaking Jews, even in the first century of the current era, called it Pentecost, which simply means Fifty.

In today’s reading from Acts, Luke echoes the Feast of Weeks, the celebration in thanks for the divine gift of rain to make the crops grow, in presenting the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples gathered in the Upper Room which has been their refuge since Jesus was crucified on the first day of the Paschal festival, and rose from the dead on the third day. Today, God sends the Holy Spirit so that there might be a new harvest, not of grain, but of souls. The disciples have kept the Upper Room as their meeting place, even after the Resurrection, and a cloud of fear has come over them since Jesus rose into the heavens just three days ago. Now, the Holy Spirit comes and the cloud of fear has burst; the graces of courage and wisdom are pouring out like rain upon the disciples. Now they will go out into the Temple Square to bring the message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ to the peoples of every place and time.

The people there are gathered to celebrate Shavuot, but few of them speak Hebrew, which has become a liturgical language, not an everyday mode of communication. Yet when the Apostles begin to preach the people in the square are bewildered, because each one of them hears the message in his native language. “Aren’t these men all Galileans? How is that that each of us hears them in his own native language?” Luke’s list begins with Parthians, Medes and Elamites from Asia; it continues with Egypt and Lybia in Africa; and concludes with visitors from Rome, in Europe – the entire world known to the people of that time and place. And all of them hear the wonders of God proclaimed in their own language!

Today’s gospel is John’s account of Jesus “breathing” the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. As in Luke’s account, the disciples are gathered in the Upper Room hiding in fear. Here again, after receiving the Holy Spirit, they are sent forth to preach and teach the Good News of salvation to the people of the whole world. John is writing several decades after the event, and he has no particular interest in the chronology of Jewish festivals – Pesach and Pentecost. His focus is not chronology but theology. Jesus’ breathing forth the Spirit echoes the creation of the universe from the abyss of nothingness by the breath of God in the first chapter of Genesis. In Greek hagia pneuma, in Latin, sanctus spiritus, in English – holy breath or Holy Spirit. In John’s perspective, the ever on-going process of creation is to bring to a world which is not “unformed” as it was at the beginning, but “deformed” by the weakness and wickedness of humankind, the charismatic gift of God’s Spirit, the source of love and peace.

We are not called to ask God to “breathe again” upon his creation. Rather, we celebrate that the Spirit of God has been breathing on the created universe since the moment at which time began. We ask that our minds and hearts might be fully open to the inspiration of the Spirit, giving fuller form and substance to our mission as God’s people, sent forth into our selves, our homes, our neighborhoods, our cities, our nation, and our world – in that order. If we want God’s positive will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven, we must be the instruments by which that goal will be accomplished. For that to happen, each and every one of us must echo a familiar saying: “Our work must truly be God’s own.”

Saturday, May 30, 2009

It Is Because Of The Hope of Israel That I Am Bound With These Chains

When he entered Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him.

Three days later, he called together the leaders of the Jews. When they had assembled, Paul said to them: “My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people, or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar—not that I had any charge to bring against my own people. For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with these chains."

For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own lodgings and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.
Acts 28:16-20, 30-31

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them, the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is going to betray you?" When Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?" Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me." Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what concern is that to you?"

This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
John 21:20-25

+++ +++ +++ +++

This reading from the Acts of the Apostles brings to mind how often we have read about people in history, or experience in our own lives, people who have been falsely accused. It seems to be an inevitable aspect of human nature to accept as true what is said about someone else without knowing the facts, or even questioning whether the allegation might be false. Even after the real truth has been revealed, some folks still want to lend credence to the untruth, perhaps because they think that changing their opinion might reflect badly on them, while right reasoning suggests the contrary. Which is better, to accept a lie as true even when it is proved false, or to acknowledge that we have been deceived by someone else’s false statement, and that we now accept the truth.

In today’s first reading, Paul states, “It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with these chains." What is the “hope of Israel”? It is the promise that God would send a savior. But when Jesus came to the people of Israel, many of the Jews refused to accept him as the Savior. The life of Jesus, and the message he preached, was one which some found difficult, even fearsome, to accept. Jesus taught “Love one another as God has loved you”, and “When someone strikes you on one cheek, don’t strike back, but turn the other cheek” and “Give to what belongs to God – and to Caesar what belongs to Caesar”. Jesus teaches “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

In today’s gospel, we are encouraged not to be jealous of what others possess, or to be concerned if their values are different from our own. Instead, we are asked to focus on living our lives according to the teachings of Jesus. If we preach to others that their behavior is contrary to God’s law, they are likely to turn their backs and walk away, and will continue doing what they are doing. And if God believes that they are sincere, although mistaken in their belief, they will be saved. If our own behavior is contrary to the message we preach, they will not walk away, but run; and we will have to face divine judgment for our hypocrisy.

This is the final scene of John’s gospel, when once again, Peter is invited by Jesus, “Come, follow me!” Earlier, Jesus had said, “Where I am going, you can not follow now, but you will follow later. Now, that moment has arrived. Peter recalls that previous dialogue, but now he is beginning to understand what following Jesus might involve, that some day, “you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will lead you to where you do not want to go.” “Lord, what about him?” Peter asks, referring to John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. “What about him?” Jesus replies. “If I want him to stay until I come again in glory, what difference should that make to you?” Jesus wasn’t saying that John would live until the Second Coming, but reminding Peter “What concern is that to you?”

Peter has been given a significant role in the community of the disciples of Jesus: “Feed and tend my sheep.” There is no doubt now about what that responsibility will entail. He will not be lording it over the others like a Pharisee, a Teacher of the Law, or a Roman Emperor. Instead, like the Good Shepherd, he will give his life for his flock. He will be crucified during the persecution under the Emperor Nero in the sixth decade of the first century of the Christian era.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Do You Love Me?

The story of Simon Peter’s denial of Jesus is told in all four gospels. When the big fisherman from Galilee, Simon Peter, denied that he was a disciple of Jesus, that he didn’t even know the fellow, he added some rather forceful curses and oaths in persuading his listeners – not to mention saving his own life.

So, it is not surprising that after the events of that weekend, Peter returned to his former occupation, and so did the other surviving members of The Twelve. Jesus appears on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, where the boys are mending nets, returning from a night on the water with empty nets. He sends them out again, and this time the hold is so full of fish that the boat is in danger of sinking. Then they all enjoy a breakfast of freshly caught and freshly cooked fish (and no doubt some bread and wine).

But that’s merely the prelude to the real story. After breakfast, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” A second time Jesus asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Again, Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus then said, “Feed my sheep.” Then Jesus asked a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” By now, Peter is disturbed, not only by the repeated question, but no doubt by the reawakened memory of his triple denial in the courtyard of Pilate’s palace. “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you!”

In addition, something else is happening in the original language, something that doesn’t appear in English. To understand “the rest of the story”, you have to be aware that in Greek there are several verbs that mean “to love”. Two of these verbs are used in this dialogue.  Philein means to love someone as a friend – (as in the name of a city in Egypt, and one in Pennsylvania, “Philadelphia” -- brotherly love. Agapan means to love  unselfishly, as Jesus did, “Greater love than this no one has, than to give one’s love for a friend”. In John’s usage, this type of love agape is both deeper and broader than friendship. It does not depend on mutuality, but asks no response from the loved one; it can extend even to one’s enemy.

In this dialogue, Jesus first asks Peter, Agapas me? (Do you love me selflessly?) Peter answers, Philo se (I love you as a friend.) The second time, the question and answer are the same. But the third time, Jesus asks, Phileis me? (Do you love me as a friend?) Peter answers as he did the two previous times.

There is something very moving about this dialogue. At this point in his life, Peter is not yet able to love in a heroic manner. He can love Jesus only as a friend he has known for three years. The third time, though, Jesus changes the question. He asks Peter to profess what he is able to offer at the time; his capacity for selfless love will improve, as we will see later.

There is another aspect of the question Jesus raised to Peter. What role do you have in shepherding the flock of Jesus? Each of us will answer that question in our own way: priests and bishops, mothers and fathers, doctors, nurses, laboratorians also tend to their portion of the flock. What about the rest of us?

Each of us must answer that question for ourselves, but there is an answer for all of us in the Gospels. Jesus did not come only for “the flock”, but especially for the sheep that stray, and for those “who do not belong to this flock.” Our love must be – or at least strive to be – universal. Are there some people I have excluded from my love? “You don’t have to like the boy who gave you the bloody nose during recess yesterday, but you do have to love him”, as a mother told her son about sixty years ago.

At the end of the dialogue, Jesus says to Peter, “When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will lead you where you do not want to go.” Peter will achieve the fullness of love as a total gift of self on Vatican Hill in Rome. That is the bottom line of faith and trust in God. It’s easy to be a friend of Jesus, if I have the opportunity to choose where I want to go, and what I want to do. I become a true disciple when I allow him to ask me to do what I don’t want to do, and to go where I don’t want to go.

Lord, give me eyes to see as you see, hands that are willing to help, a heart that is compassionate and courageous, and unshakeable trust in the power of your grace to transform my life and the lives of those I meet.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

As You Sent Me Into The World, So I Send Them. Consecrate Them In the Truth

At Miletus, Paul spoke to the leaders of the Church of Ephesus:

Keep watch over yourselves, and over the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.  Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.  know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing. You are well aware that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: "It is more blessed to give than to receive."

When he had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.
Acts 20:28-38

Lifting his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed:

Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, any more than I am of it. Consecrate them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I consecrate myself, that they too may be truly consecrated in the truth.
John 17:11b-19

+++ +++ +++ +++

It was just four days ago, on Sunday, that the gospel of the day was this passage from the Gospel according to John.  One of the themes of the reflection that day was the meaning of the Greek word hagiazo, which is rendered "consecrate", or "sanctify" in English translations of the Scripture.  In the Old Testament, this verb is used in reference to the sacrifice of lambs or pigeons (for those who could not afford lambs) in the Temple, and at the Paschal Meal (the Seder Supper on the first night of Passover). 

In today's first reading, Paul's message to the leaders of the Church of Ephesus carries the same message:  The Holy Spirit has chosen you as leaders of the disciples of Jesus.  Tend them as a shepherd tends his sheep. Remember the example Jesus gave of the Good Shepherd, who protected the flock entrusted to him, who went out into the wilderness to find the lost sheep, and who gave up his own life to save his flock. 

After Paul left Asia Minor to go to Rome, there were indeed wolves in sheep's clothing among the flock, who perverted the truth in order to draw the sheep away from the fold.  In every age of the Church the same scenario has been repeated.  Just yesterday I read a letter on-line from someone who suggested that the first schisms and heresies did not affect the Church until the first half of the Second Millenium.  But the truth is that there were divisions within the Church beginning not long after Paul and Peter arrived in Rome. 

The message of Paul to his disciples echoes the prayer of Jesus in the gospel, and it is as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago:   May we (today's disciples) be one, as Jesus is one with the Father; through the Holy Spirit, may we be one with Jesus, and with one another, and may all divisions cease.  It will only be then that the whole world will know that Jesus is God, and that we are all God's children.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Consecrate Them In The Truth.

Acts 1:15-26

In those days, Peter stood up among the believers, who numbered about a hundred and twenty, and said:

“Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the voice of David, concerning Judas, who was the guide of those who arrested Jesus – He was a member of our community, and shared in this ministry. For it is written in the Book of Psalms: May another take his place of leadership.

“Therefore, it is necessary for us to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time that the Lord Jesus came and went among us, starting from the baptism of John, until the time when Jesus was taken up from us. One of these must join us as a witness to his resurrection.”

So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he was destined to go.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias, and he was counted among the twelve apostles.

1 John 4:11-16

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is made complete in us.

We know that we live in him, and he in us, since he has given us of his Spirit. We have seen and can testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. This is how we have come to know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

John 17:11-19

Lifting his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed:

Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – the name you have given me – so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by the name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction, so that the Scripture could be fulfilled.

I am coming to you now, but I am saying these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world, any more than I am of the world.

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one. Consecrate them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world; and I consecrate myself, so that they too may be consecrated in the truth.

+++ +++ +++ +++ +++

Today’s gospel is a portion of the Priestly Prayer which forms the climax of the Last Supper Discourse that replaces the narrative of the Last Supper in the Gospel of John. Jesus prays for all those who believe in him, that they might be one just as he is one with his divine and Holy Father. In this prayer, Jesus mentions the purpose for his coming into this world: to save those whom the Father has given him from the destruction of the evil one. In preparing this reflection, I found references to an article syndicated by the Associated Press and to a series of articles in the British newspaper the Telegraph:

• Murder, Suicide Among Teens Caught in World of Satanism
• Predators tell children how to kill themselves
• New Bridgend suicides “not part of cult”
• 20 year old ends her life after suicide of her 15 year old cousin
• Father found hanged after suicides of daughter and nephew

The key to the treasure of meaning in Jesus’ prayer is found in the concluding verse: “And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in the truth.” The words used in Greek are these: εγω αγιαζω εμαυτον, which literally mean “I offer myself as a sacrifice”.

Of the great variety of sacrifices in the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament), one form is especially relevant to the Priestly Prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper. In this tradition, someone could offer an animal (for instance, a lamb), representing the person or even the entire family as a sacrifice to God. That is the significance of the Seder Meal at Passover, commemorating the meal of roast lamb which each family shared before leaving on the Exodus to the Holy Land.  It is no coincidence at all that the Priestly Prayer is offered at the end of the Seder Jesus shared with his disciples on the night before he died.

The lamb is roasted to signify passage from this world to the realm of the Most Holy. God accepts the substitute sacrifice, and those who offer it, and invites them to share in a sacrificial banquet as an expression of their communion with God. Now, it is a Latin word which expresses a reality beyond our full understanding: communio – total union with – God. There is a multi-millennial tradition (between 3500 and 4000 years) which explains that the offering of sacrifice to God is associated with joy – most especially, the joy of freedom of worship.

In his Priestly Prayer, Jesus says to the Father, “Now, I am coming to you; and I am consecrating myself to you for them.” Jesus is not offering a lamb, like the ones being sold in the Temple when he chased off the sellers and moneychangers. Or like the one he was sharing with his disciples on the night before he died. Jesus is offering his entire human life – from the moment of his conception, to the moment of his death on the morrow – as the sacrificial offering. The completion of his sacrifice comes when he is lifted up on the altar of the cross, and is accepted by his Holy Father in the resurrection. He is “the priest and the lamb of sacrifice, the victim who dies no more, the lamb once slain who lives forever.”

During this Paschal Meal, Jesus reveals to his disciples the good news that they will be consecrated, just as he is consecrated. They – the twelve at table with him and the others who might well have been at other tables in that banquet room – and we ourselves, have been given the same mission as was given to Jesus by the Father. We have been sent into the world of our own day, a fallen world, which God loves nonetheless, to bring it into the joy of divine life. The presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the mystery of his eternal sacrifice is made present in every celebration of the Lord’s Supper in the Holy Mass.

Today, we also hear the good news that our self-giving becomes one with the self-giving of Jesus. Whenever I have said that, someone is bound to think – and some are brave enough to ask – “but what can I add to the sacrifice of Jesus?” The answer to that question is one which will be given a few minutes from now, if you’re listening to this reflection from the pews in front of the pulpit – or the next time you attend Mass, if you’re reading it in “Bear Witness to the Light”. The answer is “Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum… “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you …” “Señor, no soy digno que entres en mi casa …” He knows you are not worthy. He knows I am not worthy. That’s why the prayer before Holy Communion ends the way it does: All he has to do is say the word, and we are healed, made whole, and made holy.

We share in the sacrificial banquet to which God has invited us; we receive Jesus himself as our food and drink, for the healing and the sustenance of the eternal life to which we have been called. The Lord Jesus then sends us into the world as he was sent into the world by the Father, to become bread and wine for others, so that they may be healed and nourished, and so that one day all may rejoice at being one with him in the life and love of God, His Father and ours, at the banquet table prepared in Heaven for those whom he loves, and who have loved him in return.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

God Reigns Over All The Nations; For The King Of All The Earth Is God!

After staying in Antioch for some time, Paul left there and went from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, bringing strength to all the disciples.

Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, an eloquent orator, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and spoke with great fervor about Jesus, though he had experienced only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him they invited him to their home, and began to explain the Way of God more accurately to him.

When Apollos wanted to cross over to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him, and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On his arrival, he was a great help to those who had come to believe through grace. He vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, demonstrating from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.
Acts 18:23-38

Jesus said to his disciples:

I tell you truly, whatever you ask for in my name the Father will grant you. Until now, you have not asked anything in my name. Ask and you shall receive, and your joy will be complete.

Although I have told you this using figures of speech, the time is coming when I will no longer used this type of language, but will speak plainly to you about my Father. When that day arrives, you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I have come from God. I have come from the Father and have entered the world; now I am leaving the world, and returning to the Father.
John 23-38

In a letter to the Bishops, Priests, Consecrated Persons and Laity of the Catholic Church in China, dated May 27, 2007, Pope Benedict XIV wrote:

Dear Pastors and all the faithful, the date 24 May could in the future become an occasion for the Catholics of the whole world to be united in prayer with the Church which is in China. This day is dedicated to the liturgical memorial of Our Lady, Help of Christians, who is venerated with great devotion at the Marian Shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai. I would like that date to be kept by you as a day of prayer for the Church in China. I encourage you to celebrate it by renewing your communion of faith in Jesus our Lord and of faithfulness to the Pope, and by praying that the unity among you may become ever deeper and more visible …

On that same day, the Catholic of the whole world – in particular those who are of Chinese origin – will demonstrate their fraternal solidarity and solicitude for you, asking the Lord of history for the gift of perseverance in witness, in the certainty that your sufferings past and present for the Holy Name of Jesus, and your intrepid loyalty to his Vicar on earth will be rewarded, even if at time everything can seem a failure.

Prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan

Virgin Most Holy, Mother of the Incarnate Word and our Mother, venerated in the Shrine of Sheshan under the title “Help of Christians”, the entire Church in China looks to you with devout affection. We come before you today to implore your protection. Look upon the People of God and, with a mother’s care, guide them along the paths of truth and love, so that they may always be a leaven of harmonious coexistence among all citizens.

When you obediently said “yes” in the house of Nazareth, you allowed God’s eternal Son to take flesh in your virginal womb, and thus to begin in history the work of our redemption. You willingly and generously cooperated in that work, allowing the sword of pain to pierce your soul, until the supreme hour of the Cross, when you kept watch on Calvary, standing beside your Son, who died that we might live.

From that moment, you became, in a new way, the Mother of all those who receive your Son Jesus in faith and choose to follow in his footsteps by taking up his Cross. Mother of hope, in the darkness of Holy Saturday you journeyed with unfailing trust toward the dawn of Easter. Grant that your children may discern at all times, even those that are darkest, the signs of God’s loving presence.

Our Lady of Sheshan, sustain all those in China who, amid their daily trials, continue to believe, to hope, to love. May they never be afraid to speak of Jesus to the world and of the world to Jesus. In the statue overlooking the Shrine you lift your Son on high, offering him to the world with open arms in a gesture of love. Help Catholics always to be credible witnesses to this love, ever clinging to the rock of Peter on which the Church is built. Mother of China and of all Asia, pray for us, now and for ever. Amen!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Anything You Ask the Father In My Name He Will Give You

In a dream, the Lord spoke to Paul: “Don’t be afraid. Don’t stop preaching, and don’t remain silent. No one is going to attack you or harm you, for I am with you, and I have many friends in this city.” So, Paul remained in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching the people the word of God.

Later, when Gallio became the governor of Achaia, the Jews there made a concerted attack on Paul, and brought him before the court. “This man is trying to convince people to worship God in ways that are against the law.”

Just as Paul was about to speak in his own defense, Gallio spoke to his accusers: “If you Jews were complaining about a serious crime, or even some misdemeanor, I would be willing to listen to you. But since the question is about words, and names, and about your own religious statutes, then settle the matter among yourselves. I’m not going to get involved in making judgments about such things.” He had them ejected from the court.

Paul remained in Corinth for quite some time. Then he left the brethren there, and sailed for Syria, together with Priscilla and Aquila.
(Acts 18:9-18)

Jesus spoke to his disciples: “I tell you truly, that you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. When a woman is giving birth, she feels pain because her time has come; but when the child is born, she forgets the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world. It is the same for you: Now is the time of your grief, but I will see you again; then, you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. When that day comes, you will not longer ask anything of me. I tell you truly, my Father will give you anything you ask for in my name.”
(John 16:20-23)

+++ +++ +++ +++

Although Paul was being reassured by God in Acts 18 because of his own doubts and concerns, his experience can be reassuring for us, as well. Fear is often a part of our lives, even though we know Jesus taught that fear is incompatible with faith. We are not alone: Saint Paul also struggled with fear. God’s word to him speaks directly to his need: “Don’t be afraid. Don’t stop preaching, and don’t remain silent, for I am with you.”

It is unusual for Christians in this country to be attached whether verbally or physically for what we say or what we believe. But recent events have reminded us of the price to be paid for holding fast to the truth. Some weeks ago, Miss California made a bold statement in favor of traditional marriage (and thereby, in opposition to same sex unions). As a consequence, she became the subject of vicious personal attacks by those who disagreed with her viewpoint, apparently designed to deter others from standing up and bearing witness to the truth. So, the present situation is really not so different from Paul’s. Fear and intimidation abound, but faith is at work as well.

Today’s Gospel also reminds us that practicing our faith often means being at odds with the spirit of the times. Those who do not love God, or choose not to follow in his way may rejoice over things that cause us sorrow and pain. Yet, we are encouraged to persevere, and are promised that the day will come when our grief will be turned into joy. Jesus illustrates this truth with the analogy of a woman in labor, who swiftly forgets the pain of childbirth in the joy of new life. Some of you have heard before that I have two brothers and three sisters, thirty three nieces and nephews, and fifteen grandnieces and nephews. I have shared as a family member in the joy that a new child has been born, but I am well aware that my happiness does not match the elation of the mother.

One last comment, on the conclusion of today’s gospel reading: When that day comes, you will not longer ask anything of me. I tell you truly, my Father will give you anything you ask for in my name.” In English translation, two different Greek verbs are translated as “ask”. One, erotao is used for making inquiries – asking questions; the other, aiteo, is used for making petitions – asking for favors. Paraphrasing the gospel to bring it closer to the Greek – and clearer in meaning – we might say, “When you see me (Jesus) again, you won’t be full of questions; instead, you will be interceding with the Father in my name.” Please God, you and I will be there with Jesus, pleading on behalf of our families and friends in Jesus’ name.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Lord Was Taken Up To Heaven, Where He Is Seated At The Right Hand Of God.

Jesus speaks to his disciples:

Go out into the whole world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever refuses to believe will be condemned.

These signs will accompany those who believe: They will drive out demons in my name; they will speak new languages; they will drink deadly poison, but it will not hurt them at all; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will be healed. After the Lord Jesus had said these things, he was taken up into heaven, where he sits at the right had of God.

Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them, and confirmed his promise to them by the signs they performed.
(Mark 16:15-20)

+ + + + + + + + + + + +

Luke begins the second volume of his book about the foundation and formation of the Church by reminding the reader that he had dealt with what Jesus did and said in the first volume.

After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to the apostles and gave them instructions they were to carry out by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. During the forty days between his resurrection and ascension Jesus presented himself as alive, and spoke to the disciples about the Kingdom of God. On one occasion, while sharing a meal with them, he gave them this instruction: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, and which you have heard me speak about. John baptized with water, but within the next few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.

While they were all together, they asked him, “Lord, are you going to restore the Kingdom to Israel at this time?”

He answered, “It is not for you to know the dates and times the Father has set by his own authority. You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. Then you will be my disciples, in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and then a cloud hid him from their sight.

As they stood there, staring up at the sky, two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee, why are you standing here, looking up at the sky? Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will be coming back in the same manner you have seen him go up to heaven.”

+ + + + + + + + + + + + 

From his prison cell, Paul writes to the people of Ephesus:

I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

Be humble and gentle. Be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit by living peacefully with your neighbors.

There is but one body and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God who is Father to all and is over all, through all, and in all.

TGod’s grace has been given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. That is why the scripture says, “When he ascended on high, he led captives who followed him, and gave his gifts to men.

What does “he ascended” mean, except that he first descended to the lower regions of the earth. He would went down into the earth is the same as he who ascended high above the heavens, and now the entire universe is filled with his presence.

Before he arose, he gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers. All work together to equip God’s people for works of service, so that the full body of Christ might be built up, until we attain the unity of faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, and become mature, attaining to the measure of the fullness of Christ.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Spirit Of Truth Will Guide You To The Whole Truth

During his missionary voyage in Achaia, Macedonia and Attica, Paul speaks to pagan Greeks in a very different language than he uses in preaching to the children of Abraham, his fellow Jews. Yet, Jewish people in Greece at this time don’t speak Hebrew, they speak Greek! What is truly amazing is not that Paul is a polyglot – that he is fluent in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. It is his ability to speak to country folk and city dwellers, merchants and buyers, aristocrats and slaves in their own vernacular.

Today, while strolling through the Areopagus, the public square and market place of Athens, Paul notices a shrine different from all the other shines. There are monuments to Zeus, Athena, Aphrodite and the other denizens of the Greek pantheon; there are similar shrines to the deities of Rome, and of the peoples of western Asia, eastern Europe and northern Africa who come to the market to sell and to buy. But this shrine is dedicated “To an Unknown God”.
Paul makes this shrine to an anonymous deity to introduce the mystery of Christ Jesus to pagan ears. At the same time, he acknowledges the deity all genuine religions and philosophies have in common, for there is one God, who created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, and in whom “we live and move and have our being.” Speaking to the heart and soul of his listeners, Paul sets in place the cornerstone of faith in Christ, his resurrection from the dead. Some of them shake their heads and walk away. Some say, “Come back some other time”. Some listen, and become believers.

Preaching and teaching the truth about God is on Jesus’ mind today, as well. His disciples have much more to learn, but they’re not ready to hear it yet. But he is about to return to the Father, and they will be taught by the Spirit of truth, who will share the fullness of truth with them. The Spirit will inform them of what is coming in the future. He will not be speaking on his own, since his source with be Jesus, and what Jesus has received from the Father. The Spirit of Truth will guide the disciples of Jesus in the truth.

One reason the disciples are not yet ready to hear the whole truth at this the Seder supper is an event about to take place later that night and on the next day: the arrest, trial, crucifixion and death of their Teacher. Never mind any consideration of his resurrection and ascension, or the coming of the Spirit. At the time, they could not have perceived Jesus of Nazareth as different from the prophets who came before him: a remarkably learned and holy man.
When people of any generation, from theirs to ours, consider Jesus without the guidance and inspiration of the Spirit that is the only conclusion they can come to: He is a remarkable man. Since the time of the Apostles, and especially during the last three centuries: from Voltaire and Rousseau, to Kant and Freud, to Russell and Marx, the opinions range from “dealer of opium to the people, on the left to “a remarkable man”, on the right.

Without the guidance of the Spirit, the sincere study of the teachings of Jesus would gain a disciple, at best, a place among the Pharisees. It is the Spirit alone that can open our minds to the mind of "the man from Nazareth."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God and faith in me.

During his Farewell Address to the disciples at the Passover Meal, on the night before he died, Jesus warned them that not everyone would be receptive to the Good News they would bring to the world. Many of the hearers would simply turn their backs and walk away, but some of the disciples would be put in prison, some would be executed according to the law, and some would simply be murdered. But, at the beginning and the end of his message, Jesus made this pledge: Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God and faith in me.

Paul and Silas are imprisoned at the behest of the owners of the slave girl who was possessed by an evil spirit. An earthquake struck Philippi – not an unusual occurrence there, then or now. The prison doors and the doors of the cells flew open, and the prisoners chains were pulled loose. The jailer, in a panic, drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul called out, “Don’t harm yourself. We’re all still here!”

The jailer rushed in and, trembling with fear, fell at the feet of the Paul and Silas. Then he released them and asked, “What must I do to be saved?”

They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your entire household.” Paul and Silas spent the rest of the night speaking the word of the Lord to him and the others in his house. He then took them into his house, and bathed their wounds. He and his family were baptized. Then he had a meal prepared for everyone there, filled with joy because he and his entire household had come to have faith in God.
(Acts 16:22-34; John 16:5-11)

At the Last Supper, the apostles are sad because Jesus leaving them. They are uneasy, afraid that after he has returned to the Father they will be leaderless and lost. The disciples who accompany Paul on his voyages around the Mediterranean basin have similar concerns. They are often arrested and imprisoned. They run the risk of being executed or murdered, and some will pay that price.

But Jesus tells them to relax: he is not going to abandon them. He will send the Holy Spirit, who will give them knowledge and wisdom to instruct their minds; courage and fortitude to calm their fears, as they witness to their faith in God. They know – because they speak Greek, at least as a second language – that “martyr” means “witness”, and that preaching the Word of God sometimes results in dying, but dying for the Word of God is the gateway to eternal life.

At the end of the day, they will learn more about Jesus from the Spirit than they did from Jesus himself while he walked among them. They need to learn to let him go, before they learn that he will never leave.

It is never easy to learn that lesson: If you love someone, let them go. If they never return, they never shared your love to begin with; if they come back to stay, you will be united in love forever.

Monday, May 18, 2009

When The Advocate Comes

Luke's log of the journey of Paul and Silas (continued)

We set sail from Troas, and made a straight run for the island of Samothrace, and the following day we tied up at Neapolis (New Town) on the gulf of Kavalia. From there we went on foot to Philippi, the main city in Macedonia, and, more significantly, a Roman colony, where we stayed for several days.

On the Sabbath, we left the city and went down to the riverside, where we heard there would be a prayer meeting. We sat and spoke with the women who had gathered there. One of them, a dealer in fine textiles named Lydia, was a God-fearing woman who listened attentively to what we had to say; the Lord opened her heart, and she believed!

After she and her household were baptized, she extended an invitation to us: “If you are confident that I am a believer in the Lord, come to my home and be my guests.” At first, we hesitated, but we soon realized it was an offer we could not refuse.

A few days later, when we went to the place of prayer near the river, we were met by a slave girl who was possessed by a spirit by which she foretold the future. She made a great deal of money for her owners as a fortune teller. She began to follow Paul and the rest of our group, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they are telling you the way to be saved!” She kept this up for several days, until Paul became so troubled that he turned around and shouted, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to come out of her!” And the spirit left her forthwith.

When the owners of the slave girl realized that there money-maker was gone, they seized Paul and Silas, brought them before the local magistrate and said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing the peace!”
(Acts 16:11-20)

(To be continued)


After they had completed the Seder Banquet, Jesus spoke to his disciples.(continued)

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will give witness about me. You also must give witness, as you have been with me from the start.

I have shared all this with you so that you won’t fall away. They are going to throw you out of the synagogues. In fact, the time is coming when those who put you to death will think they are offering service to God. They will do these things because they don’t know the Father, and they don’t know me.

I am telling you these things so that when the time comes, you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you until now, because I did not want you to be afraid.
(John 15:26-15:4)


In his Farewell Address to his disciples, Jesus promised them the Holy Spirit, who would guide them in what to say on their mission to bring the world to knowledge of the truth. But at the same time, he warned them that their mission would not always be well received. To the contrary, they would first be laughed at and ignored, then be run out of town, and eventually, be arrested, tried, found guilty and executed. Why didn’t he tell them these things until the Last Supper? Simple: He did not want them to get scared and leave.

Today’s first reading gives us examples of both phases of Jesus’ prophesy of how the mission of the Apostles would be received.

On the Sabbath, Paul and his companions go down to the riverside, to the place where the Jews in Philippi gathered for prayer. They spoke to the women (Luke gives the impression that there may have been no men there), and met a textile dealer named Lydia, who offers them hospitality. Paul and his companions, Timothy Silas and Luke, stay with her during their stay in Philippi.

The Greek text describes the goods Lydia sold as purple cloth. Purple cloth was very costly, because it was difficult to make. The dye came from a shellfish; it was white when first collected, but on exposure to the sun, the liquid changed to bright purple and red colors. It took a lot of shellfish, and a great deal of work to provide enough dye for even one garment. The beautiful cloth was used mainly by members of the royal families and by Roman senators, who had purple bands on the edges of their togas.

Yet once again, the tide changes. The next time the four missionaries go down by the riverside, they are accosted by the young slave possessed by the evil spirit. The girl is exorcised, but her owners are not pleased. We will hear more this incident in tomorrow’s reflection.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

This is my command: Love One Another (2)

When I read over the First Reading for this Sunday, I opened the tenth chapter of Acts, and read the story there. I remember writing about this chapter recently, and I wondered if I had written a reflection for the wrong Sunday. I checked back, and found that the First Reading for Easter Sunday is taken from the same chapter. So, having refreshed my memory, I thought it appropriate to refresh yours.

Cornelius, a company commander in the Roman Army, is a pagan, but a prayerful man. He receives a vision from an angel of the LORD, telling him that his prayer and generosity have made him acceptable to God. He is advised to send for Peter, who is in Joppa, a town now called Haifa, on the southern coast of Israel, near the Gaza strip.

Meanwhile, Peter, who is taking a nap before dinner, has a dream which suggests that he is rather hungry. A big sheet comes down from the sky, with all sorts of creatures in it, many if not all of them not kosher. Peter, who rarely has his tongue in his pocket, protests, “I don’t eat unclean food!” The voice responds: “Since God has made it clean, who are you to say it is unclean?”

While Peter is mulling this over, the messengers sent by Cornelius arrive to bring him to Caesarea. When he gets there, Cornelius has gathered his friends and family to listen to what Peter has to say. After Peter has finished speaking, in a part of Acts 10 we don’t hear in today’s reading, the Holy Spirit descends on the gathering, and Peter announces that all of these pagan Romans are to be baptized.

The Jewish disciples of Jesus who accompanied Peter to Caesarea are puzzled that these pagan men are going to be baptized without first being circumcised. At this point, Peter’s vision of the unclean and clean animals comes into new focus. The message is not only about what food is acceptable to God, but about who is acceptable to God. Peter understands that the mission of the Church is to bring the message of God, the Father who creates, the Son who redeems, and the Spirit who sanctifies, to the entire world. In brief, God does not play favorites. The “New Creation” brought about by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus includes everyone who is willing to believe in God’s law.

Today’s gospel and second reading are expressions of the God's Law, that, like the first reading, are echoed over and over again during the Easter Season.

The second reading and the gospel of this Sunday are, like the first reading, proclaimed in the Sunday and daily masses of the Paschal season, the gospel as recently as the day before yesterday. It seems clear that the Holy Spirit wants to be sure we get the message:

1 John 4:

7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his only-begotten Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as atonement for our sins.

John 15:

9"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command. 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17This is my command: Love each other.

At this point, I have nothing more to say, except to close with the words of the Apostle and Evangelist as set to music by someone who, like myself, bears the same given name:

All you need is love.
All you need is love.
All you need is love, love.
Love is all you need.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

One Step At A Time

Whenever I log on, click on to Documents, then Tribunal, I am sure that the documents contained therein are related to my ministry as an Offical of the Tribunal of my diocese. There are no surprises.

But, whenever I click on Documents, then Homilies, to prepare a homily for the Sunday Mass, or a Reflection for “Bear Witness”, I often get surprised by what I discover.

This morning, when I logged on (a bit late for the Saturday reflection, admittedly), I was brought back to the joys of my youth, when, during the summer, I would spend a week or two at Brightside, the orphanage ministered to by the Sisters of Providence of Holyoke, where my father, John Patrick, and his brothers, James Anthony and William Daniel, spent their childhood and their youth after my grandmother, Margaret O’Connor, wife of John Lawrence Sullivan, passed from this universe to a more perfect one.

The sensory memory was that of the farm located just south and west of Brightside. It was not a cattle farm; the meat of the animals raised there was not beef, but pork; and on a bright and humid summer day, the air was thick with the pungent perfume of the piggery.

The owner-operator of the piggery, a contemporary and good friend of my dad, was Joe Bobala. The reason I remember him today is that May 16 is the feast day, on the current church calendar, of Saint Andrew Bobala, S. J., who has to be a collateral ancestor of Joe’s.

Andrew Bobala was born a member of a noble Polish family in 1591. He entered the Society of Jesus at Vilnius in 1622, and became a preacher at the Church of Saint Casimir there. He took solemn vows in 1630, and was appointed superior of the Jesuit community at Brobusik, where he preached and distinguished himself by works of mercy during a plague.

In 1636, Andrew was sent to the Jesuit mission in Pinsk, Belarus, where a house was furnished to him by Prince Radziwill. He ministered there in spite of attacks by enemies of the Church – not pagans, but adherents of other communities that called themselves Christians.

On May 10, 1657, Andrew was captured by two Cossacks who beat him, tied him to the saddles of their horses, and dragged him off to a place of torture. He was flayed alive and then decapitated. His remains were buried in Pinsk, and later moved to Potosk.


The life and death of Saint Andrew Bobala echoes the theme of today’s readings.

Paul went to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived. His mother was Jewish, and a believer, but his father was Greek. The brethren at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the missionary journey, but because of the Jews in Lystra, who know that Timothy’s father was Greek, he first had him circumcised.

As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.

Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." After Paul had seen the vision, Luke writes, “We sought passage to Macedonia at once, concluding that God was calling us to proclaim the Good News there.”
(Acts 16:1-10)

Jesus said to his disciples: "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master. 'If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me."
(John 15:18-21)

I close with a message I remember hearing long ago: “If folks don’t make fun of you for following Jesus, you might not be following him as closely as you ought to; if you’re not being persecuted, you’ve still got a way to go before you’re doing it perfectly.” And I conclude with a message I’ve learned more recently, one that you’ve heard before, “Don’t try to do it perfectly all at once. Set your goal on doing better tomorrow than you did yesterday. And if you didn’t do it today as well as yesterday, just try to do better tomorrow than you did today.” The way to perfection is not travelled by leaps and bounds, but one step at a time."

Friday, May 15, 2009

The One Command I Give You Is This: LOVE ONE ANOTHER

As Paul and Barnabas continue their missionary journey in Asia Minor, an underlying conflict continues between two viewpoints: Some insist that new converts to the Way of Jesus first become Jews; others consider that this is not necessary. The conflict is not resolved until the question is brought before the Council of Apostles and Elders in Jerusalem. The decision of that First Ecumenical Council can be summed up in a single sentence, which expresses a principle that must guide and direct the leaders of every community of God's people within Christ's Church, whether local, regional, national or worldwide: God is the creator of the people of every race, place and time; he invites all of them to become fully his own, and he wants to make it easy for them.

The apostles and elders chose two of their number to join Paul and Barnabas in Antioch: Judas, called Barsabbas, and Silas, who were both known for their leadership ability. The Council composed this letter to be sent with them:

To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, greetings!

We have heard that you were visited by some who left here without any mandate from us, and brought a message that troubled you. So we have agreed to choose some of our companions and send them to you, and to work with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul. They are men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm in person what we are writing here:

It is the will of the Holy Spirit and our judgment not to burden you with anything beyond the following minimum requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from uncooked meat, from the flesh of strangled animals, and from sexual misbehavior. You would be best to avoid these things. Farewell.

When Judas and Silas arrived in Antioch, they assembled the community and delivered the message. The people received it well, and were happy with its encouraging words.


In today's gospel, Jesus continues his farewell address to the disciples, at the end of the Seder banquet they celebrated together on the night before he died:

I have only one commandment to give you: Love one another as I have loved you.

No one has greater love than this, to lay down his life for his friends. You are not my servants, but my friends. I cannot call you servants, because servants don't know their master's business. I call you my friends, because I have shared with you everything that I learned from my Father.

You might think that you chose to become my followers, but the truth is that I am the one who has chosen you to be my friends. I have appointed you my messengers, and sent you forth to go out and bear fruit -- fruit that will last. You are truly my friends if you do what I ask you to do. Obey my directives, to the best of your ability, and the Father will grant you whatever you want in my name.

This is my command to you: Love one another.

Some years ago, I was invited on a weekend retreat. The retreat master was Father Norbert M. Dorsey, C. P., a Passionist father who later was appointed Bishop of Orlando in Florida. I can't help thinking about that conference while composing these reflections on Jesus' Farewell Address, and the mission of Paul and Silas. His theme, and the theme of these readings is LOVE and JOY.

I will continue in dialogue form, because it makes the message clearer. My words will be in in this type face; Philothea's (the traditional name for the interlocutor in these dialogues since Francis de Sales and Jeanne de Chantal) will be in italics.

So, for our joy to be complete, His joy must be in us.
For any joy at all to be in us, since all joy comes from Him.

The greatest joy would be to be in heaven with Him.
Yes, but only when that moment comes.

Then, the real message is to be joyful all the time.
That is true. Be joyful in the present moment.

You said once that Jesus was joyful on the Cross. Didn't you hear that at a retreat?
Yes, that's true. Jesus had joy in his heart because He was doing the Father's will.

Were the people who were martyred for their faith joyful, too?
Yes, they were. Do you know why?

Because they were offering their lives as witness to their faith in Him.
Well said! That's what martyr means, and what martyrdom is: witness to the faith.

So, our goal is to reach Heaven, where we will be together not only with Jesus, but with everyone who has ever believed in him. All of us together will worship Him and adore Him. We will be in Him and He will be in us, fully and forever.
Again, well said! But not only us who have learned of Him and believed in Him, but all thoSe who have lived their lives according to His law, even though they've never heard of Him.

That's because God's Law is written in their hearts.
True. And what is God's law?

Jesus said it in the gospel: The one command I give you is to love one another.
That is the whole law and all the prophets. And that is the end of today's dialogue.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The only command I give you is this: Love one another.

Since Monday, we have been reading from Chapters 14 and 15 of the Acts of the Apostles, about the missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas to a part of the world that Luke, in Acts, calls “Asia”; that the medieval geographers called “Asia Minor”, and that the people who live there now call, “Anatolia”. It is the westernmost part of the continent of Asia, and it constitutes the greater part of the country of Turkey, from the east bank of the Bosporus to the borders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Iran.

In today’s reading, we go back to Chapter 1, to the first order of business on the agenda of the group we know as “The Twelve”: the election of a replacement for Judas Iscariot, who was no longer one of them.

Place: The Upper Room, Jerusalem

Date: The third day before the beginning of the Feast of Weeks

Present: Peter, John, James, Andrew; Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew: James son of Alpheus, Simon called the Zealot, and Jude, son of James.

Also in attendance: Mary, the mother of Jesus, and others, a total of approximately 120.

Peter, presiding, takes the floor:
Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David, concerning Judas Iscariot, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. He was one of us, and shared in this ministry. It is written in the book of Psalms, “May his dwelling place be deserted, and let there be no one to fill it”, and “May another take his place of leadership.”

Now it is necessary to chose one among the men who have been with us from the outset, since the Lord Jesus came and went in our midst, starting at the time of John’s baptism, until the time when Jesus was taken up from us. One of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

The assembly then deliberated and proposed two men: Joseph, called Barsabbas, also known as Justus, and Mathias. Then they prayed, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs."
Finally, they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

Signed and submitted: Luke, secretary to the Twelve.


Today’s gospel, a segment of Jesus’ “Farewell Address” to his disciples before he rose into heaven, reminds us that, like the original twelve, and like Mathias, we have all been chosen to follow him:

Just as the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.
You will remain in my love if you obey my commandments,
just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.
I am telling you this so that my joy will be in you, and your joy will be complete.

My message to you is this: Love one another as I have loved you.
Greater love no one has than this, to lay down his life for his friends.
You are my friends if you do what I ask of you.

I do not call you servants, because servants do not know their master’s business.

I call you my friends, because I have shared with you everything that I have learned from my Father.

You did not choose me,
I chose you, and sent you out to bear fruit – fruit that will last.
The Father will give you anything you ask for in my name.
The only command I give you is this: Love one another.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

We Must Not Make Things Difficult For Those Who Are Turning To God

Today’s first reading continues the account of the missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas.

Some men came from Judea to Antioch and were telling the disciples there: “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” This gave rise to sharp dispute between them and the two apostles. So Paul and Barnabas were sent up to Jerusalem, together with some other believers, to consult with the apostles and elders about this question. On their way, as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told about how the Gentiles were being converted. This news made all the brethren very happy.

When they arrived in Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the Church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything that God had done through them. Then some believers who had been among the Pharisees said, “These gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.”

The apostles and elders met to consider the question. After much debate, Peter arose and addressed the assembly: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the gentiles might hear the good news and believe. God, who knows the human heart shows that he accepts them, since he has given the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them. So then, why are you trying to put God to the test, by putting around the necks of the disciples a yoke that we and our forefathers were unable to bear? No! We believe that it is by the grace of God we are saved, and so are they.”

The entire assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told about the miraculous signs and wonders God had wrought through them. When they had finished speaking, James spoke up:

Brothers, pay attention to me. Simon Peter has described to us how God first showed his concern by taking from among the gentiles a people of his own. It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make things difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Rather, we should write to them, and tell them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from raw meat, and meat of animals strangled as pagan holocausts. Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times, and the Scripture is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.
(Acts 15: 1-21)

As Paul and Barnabas continue their missionary journey throughout Asia Minor, an underlying conflict continues between two attitudes: those who insist that new converts to the way of Jesus first become Jews, and those who consider that this is not necessary. The conflict is not resolved until the matter is brought to Jerusalem, and presented to “the apostles and elders” there. The last paragraph of this reading is a model of the supreme authority in the Church at work: the decision of the First Ecumenical Council. James, the host bishop, announces the decision in simple terms, “God chose from among the pagan nations a people he chose to be his own, the people of Israel. Now, we must not make things difficult for the gentiles of our generation who are turning to God.” God is the creator of the people of every race, place, and time, and he invites all to become fully his own; and he wants to make it easy for them.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My Peace I Give You.

We continue to follow Barnabas and Paul on their missionary journey.

We mentioned yesterday that Jews from Pisidian Antioch and from Iconium had come to Lystra, and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul, and dragged his body outside the city, thinking he was dead. But when the disciples gathered around him, he awakened, got up, and went back into the city. The following day, he and Barnabas left Lystra and headed to Derbe, where they preached the good news, and won a large number of disciples.

Then they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and even to Antioch. They encouraged the disciples to remain steadfast in spite of their difficulties, and to remain true to the faith. “We must endure many hardships in order to enter into the Kingdom of God”, they said. Paul and Barnabas ordained elders for the disciples in each of these churches. With prayer and pasting, they committed them to the Lord, in whom they put their trust.

The voyage continued, through Perga and Pamphylia, and down to Attalia. From there they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed by the grace of God to the mission they had now accomplished. Upon their arrival, they gathered the church together, and reported everything that the Lord had done through them, and how he had opened the gates of faith to the Gentiles. They stayed there with the disciples for a long time. (Acts 14:19-28)

Jesus said to his disciples, shortly before he arose into Heaven.

Peace I leave with you; my piece I give you. I do not give it as the world gives peace. Do not be troubled, and do not be afraid, because you’ve heard me say, “I am going away and I will come back again.” If you love me, you will be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.

I have told you this now, before it happens, so that when it happens you will believe. I will not be speaking with you much longer, since the prince of this world is coming. The prince of this world has no claim on me, but the world must learn that I love the Father, and I will do precisely what my Father has commanded me to do.” (John 14:27-31a)

What is peace? In the modern world, the word refers to a cessation of hostilities. In the Scriptures, peace is a right relationship with God and with others because it is first with God. In this perspective, there can be no peace in the world unless the people of the world are at peace with God. But, in the past century, we have often settled for less. There was no peace treaty, but an armistice (literally “putting down arms”) ending the conflict on 11-11-1918. There was no peace treaty at the end of the Korean War – for that matter, it wasn’t even a war, but a “police action”. And there was no peace after the fall of Saigon. We simply went home and within months what we had purportedly tried to prevent had occurred. The entire peninsula was under one rule, and that was the outcome we had fought to prevent.

Our usual expression for the beginning of a war is that it “breaks out”. Sounds rather like the onset of a skin disease, leprosy? small pox? chicken pox? acne? Perhaps there is more to the analogy than appears on the surface. After all, the causative agents of these diseases are hidden until they break out. Why doesn’t anyone speak about peace breaking out? Like the skin conditions previously mentioned, peace cannot break out unless it is there within us to begin with. And, truth told, it is. “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you.”

The Jews of biblical times, and even today, great one another with the word, Shalom!, which means Peace! Like any other greeting, that word can easily become superficial unless we see the depth of God in it. It is not a vague wish for the other person, like “Don’t worry, be happy.” Or like the post-modern expression greeting, “Whassup?”

Here is the original text in which the Jews were told to bless and greet one another with “Peace”.

The LORD bless you
and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace." '
(Numbers 6:22-26)

May HIS peace be with you and yours.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Abide In Me

During their first missionary voyage, Paul and Barnabas caused such a commotion in Iconium that they were run out of town by Jews and gentiles who sought to stone them. They moved on to Lystra, in Laconia, where they preached the good news of Jesus, with good results, at least at the start.

At Lystra, there was a man lame from birth. Seeking that he truly believed that he could be healed, Paul commanded him to stand on his own two feet. The man not only got up, but started to walk, and jump, and dance around with joy. When the bystanders saw what had happened, they thought that Paul and Barnabas were gods. They called Barnabas Zeus, and Paul Hermes, since he was doing all the talking. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the city gates, brought garlands of flowers to greet them, and oxen to perform a holocaust on the spot!

Barnabas and Paul immediately tried to clear the air, insisting that they were not divine, but merely human. The healing was not the result of any power of theirs, but of the power of God, the same God they have known through the rains from heaven and the fruitful seasons of the earth, the one true God and father of all, who created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. But that only fueled the people’s enthusiasm for offering sacrifice to them. (Acts 14:5-18)

Today’s lectionary reading ends there. The people from Iconium and Pisidian Antioch then arrive in Lystra, and start telling their side of the story about Barnabas and Paul. The people who moments ago were ready to offer them divine homage now start picking up stones to cast at Paul, who is dragged out of the city and left for dead. Amazingly, when they reach him, he is able to get up and walk. After a night’s rest, they move on to Derbe, where their preaching wins “a great number of new disciples.” They appoint leaders of the newly founded Christian community in Derbe. Then they return to their home base, Antioch in Syria, where they report to the Christian community “what God had done with them, and how they had opened the doors of faith to the Gentiles.”

In today’s gospel, Jesus says to his disciples, “Whoever knows my commandments and obeys them is the one who loves me. My Father will love those who love me, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” Then Judas (not Iscariot, but Thaddeus) said, “Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us, but not to the world?”

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and abide with them. Whoever does not love me will not obey my teaching. The words you hear are not mine, but the words of the Father who sent me.

I have told you all this while I am still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name will teach you all things, and will remind you of everything I have told you.” (John 14:21-26)

There is a Greek verb used repeatedly in the chapters of John’s gospel which are read at Mass during this season between Easter and Pentecost. The verb has many shades of meaning, and several translations: “to stay”, “to remain”, “to live”, “to settle down”, “to make one’s home”. My preference, in this text is “to abide”.

It is a wonderful word, the German mystic Meister Eckhart writes, “It is not right to love God for the sake of Heaven, nor for the sake of anything. We should love Him for the goodness that He is in Himself. Whoever loves God for any other reason does not abide in Him, but abides in whatever he wants to obtain from Him. Therefore, if you want to abide in God, you must love Him for nothing but Himself.”

That is how we behave at home -- or ought to.  We love the members of our family for themselves, not for what they can give us, or do for us. Saint Teresa de Jesus wrote that she would like to close down both heaven and hell, so that people would love God for God’s own sake, and love other people for their own sake, not for the rewards we might gain, or the punishment we might endure. That is abiding in God.

Today’s gospel begins with the obverse of the same truth: God abiding in us. At the beginning of today’s reading, Jesus says “Whoever loves me, my Father will love, and I will love. We will come to them and abide in them.” At the end of the reading, Jesus sais, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send you in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I told you.” This means that the Trinity lives in us, and we in the Trinity.

Where did we ever get the notion that God is distant from us? It may well be because the people who spoke to us about God had in mind the phrase “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. I suspect that they were not familiar enough with the Scriptures to realize that the Greek word translated “fear” is better translated “awe”. Our God is an awesome God, not a fearsome God. Or it may be that the only way they knew how to maintain discipline in their family is the way that discipline was maintained when they were youngsters themselves. In either case, the notion that “God is love” was absent from their mindset. There is a saying in French “Qui aime bien, chatie bien” [Whoever loves much, punishes much.] The former French teacher writing this recognizes a saying typical of the 16th century; the student of church history attributes the attitude – if not the words themselves, to the Dean of Geneva, Jean Chauvin (aka John Calvin).

Love unites; fear separates. It makes you want to run away. We flee from the very source of our being like frightened rabbits at the sound of the horn and the bark of the dogs. How awful! On the other hand, if we be still, and know that He is God; that He stands at the door of our heart knocking; that He stands there, patiently waiting for you to open the door and let him in. There is no need to be afraid of him. He can hardly wait for you to unlock the door. He longs for you, a thousand times more than you long for him. How awesome!

But remember: the door to your heart opens only from the inside. You can abide in Him, only if you invite Him to abide in you.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I Am The Vine, You Are The Branches.

Last Sunday, Jesus was the good shepherd and we were the sheep. Today Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches.

I cannot read this gospel without remembering my uncle “Sonny”, whose home was two lots down the street from the house we moved into not long after I graduated from college. Between his property and the neighbor’s between us, there was a tangle of long tendrils sprouting out of five or six rootstocks along the fence. In our back yard, there was an even larger tangle of similar tendrils surrounded by a cloud [that second letter is an L, not an R] of tiny flying beasties that caused an itch if they landed on your skin.

Long story short (or at least, shorter), the tangle in our yard was doused with flammable liquid and set afire. The tangle along Uncle Sonny’s fence was ignored for several years, until one pleasant early summer afternoon, when he and I noticed that there were tiny spheres, hardly bigger than the dot on a lower case I, along soft tendrils that were sprouting along the surface of the older, larger ones.

“John L, what do you think we ought to do with this?” Uncle Sonny asked.

“I’d say, let them grow, and see what comes of them. If nothing good happens, we’re none the worse. If something good happens, we’ll be glad we waited.”

Long story ending: Two years later, the fellow at the wine and beer supply store in Northampton identified the pale green berries with the white spot as Riesling grapes. Over the next two decades, with the assistance of a hired hand (and a higher power), the owner of that vineyard produced several hundred gallons of light greenish tinged white wine. A couple whom I brought communion on First Fridays said that it was Alsatian (like themselves), from the vines planted by their compatriot Mr. Chrétien, who planted vines from his homeland all the way from Arcade Street to Grattan Street before the property was divided into house lots and Edward Street, Percy Street and Trilby Avenue were laid out in what had been Pépère Chrétien’s vineyard.

This week, for a change, the Scripture is posted after the reflection:


Jn 15:1-8

Jesus said to his disciples:
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.

Remain in me, as I remain in you.
Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine,
so neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,
because without me you can do nothing.

Anyone who does not remain in me
will be thrown out like a branch and wither;
people will gather them and throw them into a fire
and they will be burned.

If you remain in me and my words remain in you,
ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.
By this is my Father glorified,
that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."