Thursday, March 31, 2016

Friday in the Octave of Easter

“Appearance on Lake Tiberias” by Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1308-11
Reading 1: Acts 4:1-12
Commentary on Acts 4:1-12
This selection follows Peter and John as they proclaim Christ crucified and risen. In these verses, their effective apology has now gained them an audience with Caiaphas and the rest of the Sanhedrin, the very same people who handed Jesus over to be crucified. Peter, having just performed a saving act in Jesus’ name, reminds them of this fact with the famous cornerstone (in other versions the word used is “keystone” or “head of the corner”) speech using imagery from their own hymnal Psalm 118:22.
CCC: Acts 4:10 597; Acts 4:11 756; Acts 4:12 432, 452, 1507
R. (22) The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.
R. Alleluia.
This litany of thanksgiving features the cornerstone image that, in addition to Acts 4:1-12, was also used in the Gospel of St. Mark (Mark 12:10), the first epistle of St. Peter (1 Peter 2:7), and the following Old Testament references: Job 38:6; Isaiah 28:16; Jeremiah 51:26.
CCC: Ps 118:22 587, 756; Ps 118:26 559
Gospel: John 21:1-14
Commentary on Jn 21:1-14
This passage relates the Lord’s third appearance to the disciples.  Again, he is not at first recognized.  In typical Johannine fashion, the first to recognize the Lord was the disciple whom Jesus loved, presumed to be St. John himself.  It is significant that they are found at Lake Tiberias.  They have done what the Lord asked and returned to Galilee (Matthew 28:10).
Jesus tells them were to cast the net and indeed, they net a great number of fish (153 was probably symbolic of universal mission of the Church, the total species of fish known at the time, or the sum of numbers from 1-17).  Peter is so excited he jumps into the water and swims to shore, discovering Jesus with a fish already cooking and bread, a Eucharistic reference.
When they are joined by the other disciples, they were so overawed that they could not even speak.  Then the Lord broke the bread.
“The Fathers and Doctors of the Church have often dwelt on the mystical meaning of this episode: the boat is the Church, whose unity is symbolized by the net which is not torn; the sea is the world, Peter in the boat stands for supreme authority of the Church, and the number of fish signifies the number of the elect (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, 'Commentary on St. John, in loc.').”[4]
CCC: Jn 21:4 645, 645, 659; Jn 21:7 448, 645; Jn 21:9 645; Jn 21:12 1166; Jn 21:13-15 645
One week ago today we recalled the Passion of our Lord and felt the tragic pang of sorrow as he was laid in the tomb.  It always seems odd to see the tabernacle bare and empty, the vigil light extinguished.  Lots of folks can’t seem to understand or perhaps they are just so accustomed to reverencing the Eucharist they don’t think about what it is that‘s missing.
Today, that missing component is back, back in the tabernacle.  The Lord too is back with the disciples who themselves are back fishing, where many of them started.  Now the Lord lets them (and us) know that, while he has fulfilled the Father’s plan, the mission is not completed.  The Lord has made them “fishers of men” as he promised.  Now as then, he directs us, and we are to cast his net. The net we cast is made up of each of us.
Knowing we need strength for such a difficult task, he feeds us with his own body in the Eucharist. He says: “Come, have breakfast.”  The scripture story has one additional piece of symbolism for us after that invitation. The disciples, the ones he called and who had been walking with him for three long years, were there and they too were afraid of the task that he laid before them.
Today as we again pray in thanksgiving that: “He is Risen!” We also ask God for the strength to carry on the work to which, like the disciples on the shore of Galilee, we are called.  May his Holy Spirit guide us and his body, the Eucharist, strengthen us.

[2] The picture used is “Appearance on Lake Tiberias” by Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1308-11
[4] The Navarre Bible, Gospels and Acts, Scepter Publishers, Princeton, NJ, © 2002, pp.705

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Thursday in the Octave of Easter

“Christ Takes Leave of His Disciples” 
Artist and Date are UNKNOWN
Reading 1: Acts 3:11-26
Commentary on Acts 3:11-26
Following the earlier cure of the lame beggar, a crowd gathers in the temple area and Peter launches into the second kerygmatic discourse or proclamations about the nature of Christ. When Peter sees the Jews are amazed, in response to the crowd's incredulity, he explains that the God anointed his "servant Jesus." In the original Greek, the word used is "pais," it is translated into Latin as "puer," which can be understood as "slave/servant" and as "filius" - son. Peter uses the same formula: "The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" from Exodus 3:6. He also uses a new title for the Savior, “The Author of Life.”
"This second address by St. Peter contains two parts: in the first (vv. 12-16) the apostle explains that the miracle has been worked in the name of Jesus and through faith in this name; in the second (vv. 17-26) he move his listeners to repentance - people who were responsible in some degree for Jesus' death.  This discourse has the same purpose as that of Pentecost - to show the power of God made manifest in Jesus Christ and to make the Jews see the seriousness of their crime and have them repent."[4]
He concludes this discourse with a call for conversion and repentance. He cites Moses’ prophecy using a paraphrase of Deuteronomy 18:15, demonstrating that Old Testament prophecy was fulfilled in Christ. 
CCC: Acts 3:13-14 597; Acts 3:13 599; Acts 3:14 438, 601; Acts 3:15-16 2666; Acts 3:15 612, 626, 632, 635; Acts 3:17-18 591, 600; Acts 3:17 597; Acts 3:18 601; Acts 3:19-21 674
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 8:2ab and 5, 6-7, 8-9
R. (2ab) O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!
R. Alleluia.
Commentary on Ps 8:2ab and 5, 6-7, 8-9
Psalm 8 is another of the songs of thanksgiving.  In this selection we hear the title “son of man” used.  It is, in this instance, referring to all the faithful as opposed to Jesus.  The song reflects on the creation account from Genesis and how God gave man dominion over the life he had created. The humility expressed in this song has the same sense of questioning humility found in Hebrews 2:5-12. It also marvels at the fact that God made his creation subject to man.
CCC: Ps 8:2 300, 2566; Ps 8:6 2566, 2809
Gospel: Luke 24:35-48
Commentary on Lk 24:35-48
This is the first appearance of the Risen Christ to the disciples immediately following his appearance on the road to Emmaus, the account of which is referenced at the beginning of this selection. No mention is made of St. Thomas’ presence or absence as in the account from St. John (see John 20:19-31). He shows the disciples his wounds, and then to prove he is corporeal, he asks for food and eats in front of them.
As with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus “opened their minds” so they could see how the Law and Prophets were fulfilled in him. Then, satisfied that they believe, the Lord brings them to understand the prophetic significance of what had taken place. He concludes pointedly by saying: “You are witnesses to these things.” This statement is important since later in St. Luke’s narrative in the Acts of Apostles, their witness becomes the foundation of faith for others.
CCC: Lk 24:36 641, 645; Lk 24:38 644; Lk 24:39 644, 645, 645, 999; Lk 24:40 645; Lk 24:41-43 645; Lk 24:41 644; Lk 24:43 2605; Lk 24:44-48 652; Lk 24:44-46 112; Lk 24:44-45 572, 601; Lk 24:44 702, 2625, 2763; Lk 24:45 108; Lk 24:46 627; Lk 24:47-48 730; Lk 24:47 981, 1120, 1122; Lk 24:48-49 1304
The mystery of the Lord’s Supper held in the upper room is unraveled in the locked room.  Even though Jesus is quoted in St. John’s Gospel as having said “my body is true food and my blood true drink” (John 6:55), there are many who cannot accept that Jesus left us the gift of his true body and blood in the Eucharist.  If he had done that, it is argued, the bread and wine would change their outward appearance; they would taste and feel differently.
So difficult was this to accept that, during the Reformation, most Protestants who had decided that they could interpret sacred scripture as well as the Church decided that the last supper was merely symbolic, and that the words of St. John were only a metaphor.  They could not bring themselves to believe that Christ would physically make himself available to all those who followed him in faith.  In essence, they put God in a box of human understanding, and would not allow the possibility of something beyond their human logic.
Jesus’ appearance in the locked room transforms our understanding of what is possible for God.  We must ask ourselves: “Did God violate the laws of physics in order for Jesus to physically stand in that room with the disciples?”  Did God somehow beam Jesus into the room like some Star Trek episode?  How did a physically solid Jesus get into a room without using a door or window?  There is really only one possibility.  The body Jesus showed to the disciples was a body transformed, it was a gloriously risen body which, while bearing the marks of his passion, was transformed into something while real and substantial, not like anything physics has described.  In short, it is the essence of the Eucharist, real but unexplainable except by faith.
If we believe that Jesus walked with the disciples at Emmaus, if we believe that he came (twice) to the disciples in the locked room and to Peter on the shore, we must believe that his body is truly present in the Eucharist we share.  To deny that relationship is to deny Christ himself.

[2] The picture used is “Christ Takes Leave of His Disciples” Artist and Date are UNKNOWN
[4] The Navarre Bible, “Gospels and Acts”, Scepter Publishers, Princeton, NJ, © 2002, pp.738

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Wednesday in the Octave of Easter

“The Emmaus Disciples” by Abraham Bloemaert, 1622
Reading 1: Acts 3:1-10
Commentary on Acts 3:1-10
This dramatic cure of the lame beggar is the first miracle worked by the Apostles and begins a series of events that place the disciples in the footsteps of Jesus. "'This cure,' says St John Chrysostom, 'testifies to the resurrection of Christ, of which it is an image. [...] Observe that they do not go up to the temple with the intention of performing a miracle, so clear were they of ambition, so closely did they imitate their Master' (Hom, on Acts, 8)."[4]
In this first action, the beggar is cured in the name of Jesus and immediately he is led into the temple area. The symbolism here is Jesus heals us and leads us to faith. The miraculous cure also serves a secondary purpose. In addition to demonstrating the power of God’s intense love invoked through the name of Jesus, it also serves to draw a large crowd to hear the kerygmatic discourse of St. Peter which follows.
CCC: Acts 3:1 584; Acts 3:9 2640
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 105:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8-9
R. (3b) Rejoice, O hearts that seek the Lord.
R. Alleluia.
The song of praise exhorts us to praise the Lord constantly and to remember his covenant with Abraham and Isaac. We praise him also for the new covenant in Jesus, for which the Son of God became the sealing sacrifice.  It emphasizes the saving power of the name of the Lord.  In using the name of God, the speaker implicitly gives glory to God for the blessings that follow.
CCC: Ps 105:3 30
Gospel: Luke 24:13-35
Commentary on Lk 24:13-35
This story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus is only found in Luke’s Gospel. There is a mention in Mark (Mark 16;12) that is vague but probably refers to this event. The actual location of Emmaus is not known, but it is estimated that it was between 7 and 18 miles from Jerusalem. The focus of the story is the unrecognized Jesus (similar: in John 20:11-18, Mary Magdalene thought he was a gardener).  Jesus interprets scripture and then he is recognized in the breaking of the bread (the Eucharistic reference).
“In the course of their conversation with Jesus, the disciples' mood changes from sadness to joy; they begin to hope again, and feel the need to share their joy with others, thus becoming heralds and witnesses of the risen Christ.”[5]
CCC: Lk 24:13-49 1094; Lk 24:13-35 1329, 1347; Lk 24:15 645, 659; Lk 24:17 643; Lk 24:21 439; Lk 24:22-23 640; Lk 24:25-27 112, 601; Lk 24:26-27 572, 652; Lk 24:26 555, 710; Lk 24:27 555, 2625; Lk 24:30 645, 1166; Lk 24:31 659
The disciples on the road to Emmaus were almost assuredly giving up.  They had just seen the Lord, for whom they had such high hopes, crucified and killed by the Romans.  Now they were headed toward Emmaus for some unknown reason.  It has been speculated that they were going home or perhaps, fearing further violence against Jesus’ supporters, they were simply running away.  Whatever their reasons might have been, the most likely purpose for their trip was to be headed away from the Lord rather than toward him.
The story tells us that Jesus joined them as they walked and, after hearing them explain how they perceived events that had taken place, he proceeded to break open the Law and Prophets, citing all of those instances that predicted what had unfolded in Jerusalem three days prior (remember, this is taking place at almost the same time as Mary is finding the empty tomb).  Intellectually the disciples must have been thinking all of this made sense (in retrospect they would look back and remember how that revelatory conversation had caused their hearts to burn).
Still they did not recognize him until he recreated the Eucharist for them at the meal.  How blessed they were, who were shown Jesus in the Eucharist in such a way.  And how sad it is that many of us today have failed to do the same, even when we are told countless times that Jesus left us his body and blood in just that way.
The beauty of the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus is that we can all put ourselves in the place of the disciples.  Sometimes, on that dusty road, we are frightened and we feel like we don’t know it is the Lord who is walking with us.  At times we are very close to Jesus and at times we feel like those disciples must have felt at the beginning of their journey; that they were running away.  We place ourselves at different times and in different places on that road, and pray that we always recognize the Lord in those that travel with us.  We most especially pray that in this Easter Week we recognized the Lord in the bread and wine, his Risen Body broken for us.

[2] The picture used is “The Emmaus Disciples” by Abraham Bloemaert, 1622
[4] The Navarre Bible, Gospels and Acts, Scepter Publishers, Princeton, NJ, © 2002, pp 737
[5] The Navarre Bible, “Gospels and Acts”, Scepter Publishers, Princeton, NJ, © 2002, pp. 513

Monday, March 28, 2016

Tuesday in the Octave of Easter

“Noli Me Tangere” by Hans the Younger Holbein, 1524
Reading 1: Acts 2:36-41
Commentary on Acts 2:36-41
The selection from Acts continues the First Discourse by Peter concerning the Messiah. In this section he introduces Baptism in the name of Jesus. This is in accord with the instructions of all four Gospels found here for the first time. Peter’s arguments are compelling and we are told that three thousand people accepted the call.
We note here also that Peter called for “repentance” in addition to the call to Baptism. While Baptism washes away past sins, repentance is a call to on-going conversion of heart. The indelible change in character is a consequence of the gift of the Holy Spirit also given in Baptism.
CCC: Acts 2:34-36 447, 449; Acts 2:36-38 1433; Acts 2:36 440, 597, 695, 731, 746; Acts 2:38 1226, 1262, 1287, 1427; Acts 2:41 363, 1226
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 33:4-5, 18-19, 20 and 22
R. (5b) The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
R. Alleluia.
Psalm 33 is a song of praise and thanksgiving.  In this selection the emphasis is on faithfulness to God who has saving power combined with hope, a central component of faith in God. The sense of God’s adoption of his chosen ones is expressed as the singer rejoices in the interdependence of the people and God’s love.
Gospel: John 20:11-18
Commentary on Jn 20:11-18
Today we are given St. John’s account of the first meeting between Mary Magdalene and Jesus following the Lord’s crucifixion. It is likely, given her past relationship with Jesus, that Mary throws herself at the Lord, embracing either his knees or feet.  The Lord’s response, “stop holding,” or in other translations “stop touching me,” (Noli Me Tangere) may indicate that relationships have changed, that Christ must now let go of earthly ties to assume his Godhead.   In this account, we get a distinct picture that the ascension had not been completed, but the Lord is waiting to deliver his final instructions.
There is debate about when the Lord ascended to the Father. Clearly, his last earthly appearance was fifty days following the resurrection. Most scholars believe Jesus ascended immediately following his meeting with Mary depicted here. His return, and his actions from this point to the Ascension (Acts 1:1-11), were to reassure the disciples and to bestow the gift of the Holy Spirit he had promised.
CCC: Jn 20:11-18 641; Jn 20:13 640; Jn 20:14-15 645, 659; Jn 20:14 645; Jn 20:16 645; Jn 20:17 443, 645, 654, 660, 2795
It is surprising, while we are still in the Octave of Easter, that the message conveyed by scripture is not simply one of rejoicing.  It has a very practical message.  Mary Magdalene is weeping at the tomb, capturing the sense of loss initially felt before realization dawned on the disciples about Jesus’ resurrection.  Yet in a temporal shift, we would hear St. Peter exhorting the Jews to repentance.  Yes, he is making his point, primarily about faith in Jesus and the need to accept the cleansing bath of Baptism, but beyond that he is exhorting the need for repentance – a change in how they act going forward.
Repentance is more than simply saying we are sorry.  True repentance is a fundamental change in how we act, and even think about the world and those around us.  It is conforming ourselves to Christ’s mind in such a way that we react to people with what we will call the “Christ Reflex.” 
Anyone who has trained for a sport knows that there is something called muscle memory.  That means, when an athlete trains long enough under strict supervision, their muscles automatically perform without conscious thought.  They reflexively act as they were trained.  Repentance means we train ourselves to have the “spiritual memory” of how Christ would react.  Through repetition and coaching we train ourselves to think and act as if Christ were whispering in our ear in real-time.
We are an Easter people.  We believe that our Savior came to the world so that we might take his message of love to heart, and to understand that it is God’s will that we apply his example in our lives.  The only way we can do that is to develop the “Christ Reflex.”  When we see the poor, the infirm, or the marginalized, our reflex should be love, not fear or revulsion.  When we are wronged, mentally or physically, our reaction must be compassion and forgiveness, not hatred or the desire for vengeance.  It is difficult, this Christ Reflex.  And it will not come overnight.  Further we cannot do it in a vacuum.  We need a coach.  Getting a spiritual director is advised, and having a training partner is also recommended.  Keep each other honest and on track.  And, of course we need the whole team to cheer us on (that would be our faith community).
Our Easter joy is somewhat tempered by the knowledge of how far we must grow to become the disciples the Lord expects.  Now while the echo of the Gloria bells still reverberates, let us make a pledge to work toward that Christ Reflex and to accept his challenge and example.

[2] The picture use is “Noli Me Tangere” by Hans the Younger Holbein, 1524