Saturday, April 30, 2016

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Catechism Links[1]
CCC 2746-2751: Christ’s prayer at the Last Supper
CCC 243, 388, 692, 729, 1433, 1848: the Holy Spirit as Advocate/Consoler
CCC 1965-1974: the New Law fulfills the Old
CCC 865, 869, 1045, 1090, 1198, 2016: the heavenly Jerusalem

“The Holy Spirit” by Corrado Giaquinto, 1750s


Reading 1: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29
Commentary on Acts 15:1-2, 22-29

The two sections of this selection from Acts begin and end the discussion about whether the Gentile converts to Christianity should have to follow all of Mosaic Law, including circumcision. The first Council of Jerusalem concludes that, all that is necessary for the Gentiles is to follow some of the dietary laws, not circumcision. The Church finds unity in consensus between the various members, keeping core Jewish values.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8

R. (4) O God, let all the nations praise you!
R. Alleluia.
Commentary on Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8

Psalm 67 is a blessing and has elements of the ancient blessing of Aaron from Numbers 6:22ff. This blessing has more of a plaintive tone (a group lament), or petition asking for a bountiful harvest, this selection points to the universal salvation promised by God to all the peoples.

Commentary on Rv 21:10-14, 22-23

God shows St. John the New Jerusalem, Christ’s heavenly kingdom. The Evangelist has borrowed much of his description from Ezekiel (Chapters 40-48). He is taken to a high mountain (Ezekiel 40 2-3) and sees the heavenly vision as God’s presence transforms his kingdom into a radiant fortress. St. John’s description supports images of evangelization (see 2 Corinthians 4:6). The repeating number 12 (twelve angels, twelve tribes, twelve names) alludes to the perfect continuity between God’s relationship with the Old Testament peoples (Ezekiel 48:30-35 and Exodus 28:17-21) and the Church (Matthew 19:28 and Luke 22:29-30). He concludes his vision of the city by providing an analogy, the preaching of the Apostles (and Prophets) is to the Church as a foundation is to an edifice (see Ephesians 2:20).

The final verses of this passage differentiate the heavenly Jerusalem from the city on earth.  There is no temple.  God himself, with the Lamb of God, Jesus, are the Holy of Holies, they are the light of the world that illuminates the hearts of the faithful.

CCC: Rv 21:10-11 865; Rv 21:12-14 765; Rv 21:14 857, 865, 869; Rv 21:22 586
Gospel: John 14:23-29
Commentary on Jn 14:23-29

The farewell speech of the Lord continues with the promise of the Holy Spirit – the Paraclete. This promise is made because the disciples are becoming worried and are afraid of being left without Jesus’ guidance. In addition to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he leaves his peace, not just the greeting “Shalom” but an inner peace that conquers fear.

This passage concludes with the Lord telling the disciples he is going to be with the Father and they should rejoice with him. He tells them this in advance so their faith may be strengthened when the events come to pass.

CCC: Jn 14:23-26 2615; Jn 14:23 260; Jn 14:26 243, 244, 263, 692, 729, 1099, 2466, 2623

It has been six weeks since we celebrated the resurrection of the Lord.  Since that Easter day we have, in our liturgies, journeyed with the disciples as they first fearfully cowered in locked rooms in Jerusalem, and now spread the Good News throughout the known world.  In the weeks immediately following our celebration of the resurrect of Jesus, the Gospels reminded us of how, in his life among us, he worked to show us by word and action what the Law of God, handed on to Moses, meant.  He showed us, through his actions, what the prophets of the Old Testament had long ago envisioned.  Indeed, he revealed God’s will and showed us how God’s great plan for his adopted children was to unfold.

Today, as we continue our Easter celebration, we sense the climax of the events that followed the empty tomb.  In the first reading, we can see how the truth of the Lord's words comes about.  Recall, on several occasions, how the Lord said that God revealed himself, first to the Hebrew people but since they could not find faith that Jesus was the Messiah, others would be invited to God’s great wedding feast?  We hear how the early Church struggled to find its identity.  There was a debate about whether Christians were a Jewish sect and subject to all of the rules in the Law of Moses, or were Christians something different?

The reading from Acts inverts the old understanding.  The Apostles, guided by the Holy Spirit, understand that Jesus had transformed the Law and focused on the heart of the faith, not simply some of its trappings.  As a result many of the elements of the Law of Moses were set aside (and we are glad of it, otherwise we would have to live a significantly different life style).  With wisdom provided by the divine advocate, the Christian faith became inclusive, universal, and Catholic, excluding none of the Gentiles.

Next, at the very end of the New Testament, we hear St. John describing the New Jerusalem.  All that once was has passed away, and now the faithful followers of the Lord rejoice in the heavenly city, where there is no more pain or sorrow.  The Lamb has wiped away every tear, and the faithful enjoy an eternal reward.  It is God’s response to the prayer found in our Psalm.

At last, we come to St. John’s Gospel.  At the very beginning of this section of the Lord’s farewell speech to the disciples Jesus tells them what is expected:

“Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

All that is necessary for us to reap the reward promised is to understand that short sentence and respond.  We need only ask the question: what does Jesus mean, “keep my word”?  We get a good sense of what that word is by listening to Jesus own words when he was asked by the Pharisees to name the greatest commandment of the Law.  He tells us to love God, and the second is like it, to love one another.

That sounds fairly straight forward, right?  Except what does loving one another really mean?  Is it simply being nice to each other? Is that what Jesus did?  No, he truly cared for everyone he met.  He disregarded social conventions. (Remember how he reached out to lepers and tax collectors, in spite of being criticized by the religious authorities.)

Perhaps loving one another means accepting whatever another person does as being acceptable as long as it does not hurt anyone else, as secular society would have us believe.  We know the Lord did not have that understanding.  He told us directly that the Law of Moses (which includes the 10 Commandments) was important.  No, when we see another person behaving in an immoral way, it is not a victimless crime.  That person’s soul is in grave danger, and, if we love that person, we must speak to them, try to guide them by word and example.

Jesus defined what he meant by telling us to “love one another” by his actions.  He treated all people with respect, even those who hated him, even those who killed him.  We are called to do the same.  That is what the Lord meant by telling us: “Whoever loves me will keep my word.” 

What he asks is not easy.  We are challenged not to keep his word each day.  There are many who rejoice in our failures.  We all know that when we leave this sacred space we will be invited, in myriad ways, to violate God’s commandments, to hate rather than love, to disrespect others rather than respect and honor them as we are enjoined to do.

It is enough to make us throw up our hands and say, “I give up.”  But fortunately, St. John’s Gospel also gives us hope.  Remember, this is the Lord saying goodbye to his disciples.  He tells them that he will not leave them alone.  He is good to his word. He will not leave them without his guidance, because he is sending the Holy Spirit to guide them through the difficult road they must follow.

That same Holy Spirit was passed on to us, given to us first in Baptism.  In a special sacrament it was sealed in Confirmation.  We have it!  What the Lord gave to the disciples, the gift that allowed them to fearlessly proclaim the Good News to a world that wanted nothing to do with it, is also ours.  And we too are asked to proclaim the Good News to a world that wants nothing to do with it.  In two weeks we will celebrate the fullness of that gift in the great Feast of Pentecost.  Today, almost as a sneak preview, we are reminded that we do not go into the world alone.  God is with us in spirit and in truth. We go forward thank God for the gift of that Advocate and Guide as well as the peace we are offered, knowing we can depend upon him to help us as we strive to bring greater glory to God by faithfully following his word.

On this date in other years: Optional Memorial for Saint Joseph the Worker

[1] Catechism links are taken from the Homiletic Directory, Published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 29 June 2014
[3] The Picture is “The Holy Spirit” by Corrado Giaquinto, 1750s

Friday, April 29, 2016

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Optional Memorial for Saint Pius V, Pope, Religious

“Martyrdom of the Apostles” 
Altarpiece (interior left wing) 
by Stefan Lochner, 1435-40
Reading 1: Acts 16:1-10
Commentary on Acts 16:1-10
In this passage from Acts, Paul finds Timothy to whom he later writes his great descriptions on the infrastructure of the Church.  Together, they travel throughout the region and, as the reading says: “Day after day the churches grew stronger in faith and increased in number.”  Paul had Timothy circumcised so he could minister to the Jews as well as the Greeks in their travels.  Paul himself held fast to Jewish Law.  God calls them onward through visions of the work to be done in God’s service.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 100:1b-2, 3, 5
R. (2a) Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
R. Alleluia.
Commentary on Ps 100:1b-2, 3, 5
Psalm 100 is a song of praise and thanksgiving.  In this section we praise God because He created us. We praise God because he continues to guide us. It affirms God’s saving grace given to His sons and daughters through all generations.
Gospel: John 15:18-21
Commentary on John 15:18-21
Jesus gives the disciples a paradox in telling them that, while they are part of the world (meaning here, in secular society), they are separated from that society through their association with Christ. He then reminds them that because they are his, they too will suffer persecution by those he (and they) came to save.
CCC: Jn 15:19-20 675; Jn 15:20 530, 765
During this Easter Season we do well to remember the legacy of the likes of St. Paul. The reading from Acts describes the great work he has undertaken because, as Christ says in the Gospel, “…I have chosen you out of the world.” We will soon venerate Saint Bernadine (May 20) on his feast day. He spoke to this very issue in one of his homilies, and we cannot do better than this saint. Here is an excerpt from his legacy:
When a fire is lit to clear a field, it burns off all the dry and useless weeds and thorns. When the sun rises and darkness is dispelled, robbers, night-prowlers and burglars hide away. So when Paul's voice was raised to preach the Gospel to the nations, like a great clap of thunder in the sky, his preaching was a blazing fire carrying all before it. It was the sun rising in full glory. Infidelity was consumed by it, false beliefs fled away, and the truth appeared like a great candle lighting the whole world with its brilliant flame.
By word of mouth, by letters, by miracles, and by the example of his own life, Saint Paul bore the name of Jesus wherever he went. He praised the name of Jesus "at all times," but never more than when "bearing witness to his faith."
Moreover, the Apostle did indeed carry this name "before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel" as a light to enlighten all nations. And this was his cry wherever he journeyed: "The night is passing away, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves honorably as in the day." Paul himself showed forth the burning and shining light set upon a candlestick, everywhere proclaiming "Jesus, and him crucified."
And so the Church, the bride of Christ strengthened by his testimony, rejoices with the psalmist, singing: "O God from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds." The psalmist exhorts her to do this, as he says: "Sing to the Lord, and bless his name, proclaim his salvation day after day." And this salvation is Jesus, her savior.
-from a sermon by Saint Bernadine of Siena

[2] The picture used is “Martyrdom of the Apostles” Altarpiece (interior left wing) by Stefan Lochner, 1435-40

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Memorial of Saint Catherine of Siena, Virgin and Doctor of the Church


"The Ecstasy of St Catherine of Siena" 
by Pompeo Batoni, 1743
Reading 1: Acts 15:22-31
Commentary on Acts 15:22-31
The conclusion of the First Council of Jerusalem is described in this selection. St James, in conjunction with the rest of the Apostles, selects a delegation to return to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas to tell the good news to the Gentile Christians, that, with the exception of Mosaic dietary regulations, they are free to express the Christian faith without the need to adopt all of the religious regulations of Judaism. (Most especially, circumcision is not required.) This is important in scripture since it demonstrates the authority of the Apostles to define orthodoxy, authority that has been transmitted to their successors through Apostolic Succession.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 57:8-9, 10 and 12
R. (10a) I will give you thanks among the peoples, O Lord.
R. Alleluia.
Commentary on Ps 57:8-9, 10 and 12
Psalm 57 is a lament. These strophes, however, constitute a song of thanksgiving. In the Easter tradition, the psalmist gives thanks for God’s salvation, and sings of God’s glory to all the nations.
Gospel: John 15:12-17
Commentary on Jn 15:12-17
This selection is part of the discourse on the union of Jesus with his disciples. His words become a monologue, and go beyond the immediate crisis of his departure. There is much made of the use of the difference in the Greek words for “love” used in this discourse. When Jesus says: “No one has greater love than this…,” the word agapao (intimate, selfless love) is used, while when he says: “You are my friends…,” the word phileo (casual "friendly" (brotherly) type of love) is used. St. John uses the two words synonymously so the message is clear – reiterated at the end of the passage – “love one another.
CCC: Jn 15:12 459, 1823, 1970, 2074; Jn 15:13 363, 609, 614; Jn 15:15 1972, 2347; Jn 15:16-17 2745; Jn 15:16 434, 737, 2615, 2815
We are graced to hear this familiar expression: “love one another,” continuing the discourse on unity with Christ. In all honesty, it is so important that it should be our mantra every day. Each time we encounter another person the Lord’s words should spring to our mind. The phrase should color our every action, always combined with its necessary precursor: “Love God.”
“Love one another” is repeated many times in sacred scripture, especially the New Testament (actually repeated 14 times, 4 times in St. John’s Gospel alone). It is central to how we behave in the community of faith. All that we do and say must be measured against that standard.
The Gospel, of course, tells us that Jesus is about to express his love for mankind by offering his life, that all might find life again. This act, he tells them, is the ultimate expression of the phrase: “Love one another.” And (ironically) with the exception of St. John, the author of this Gospel, all of the Apostles did just as the Lord had done; they laid down their lives in martyrdom for love of God and love of one another.
We pray that we will never be put to this severe a test, but if we do, that we, like Christ and his friends, will find the strength, coupled with the help of the Holy Spirit, to stand courageously for Christ and the Gospel. That is how others should know us isn’t it, that we “love one another”?

[2] The picture used is "The Ecstasy of St Catherine of Siena" by Pompeo Batoni, 1743

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Optional Memorial for Saint Peter Chanel, Priest and Martyr)
(Optional Memorial for Saint Louis Mary de Montfort, Priest)

“St. James the Lesser” by El Greco, 1610-1614


Reading 1: Acts 15:7-21
Commentary on Acts 15:7-21

The debate over whether the Gentiles must follow all of the Law of Moses continues, as St. Paul has brought a volatile topic to the Apostles in Jerusalem. Supported by St. Peter, he has made the fundamental argument that all are invited to be saved through faith in Christ. The “yoke” Peter speaks of is a reference to the “Yoke of the Torah” or the “Kingdom of Heaven,” not necessarily a burden but a goal.

The response of St. James the Lesser (the same James related in Galatians 2:1-10 presiding over the Council of Jerusalem) cites Amos 9: 11-12 and makes an apostolic decree. He minimizes the Hebrew Laws the Gentles must follow, binding them to Leviticus 17:7-9 [false idols] and Leviticus 17:10ff [dietary rules]. St. Luke here apparently combines two distinct events; the First Jerusalem Council which deals with circumcision and the second which deals with dietary laws.

CCC: Acts 15:10 578
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 96:1-2a, 2b-3, 10

R. (3) Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.
R. Alleluia.
Commentary on Ps 96:1-2a, 2b-3, 10

This selection from Psalm 96 is a song of praise and thanksgiving (Psalm 96 is a Royal Psalm). It is used in conjunction with the theme of unity, announcing God’s salvation to all peoples of all lands.

CCC: Ps 96:2 2143
Gospel: John 15:9-11
Commentary on Jn 15:9-11

The discourse on the union of Jesus with his disciples continues. Jesus’ words become a monologue and go beyond the immediate crisis of his departure.  In this passage Jesus focuses on the chain of love from the Father, through the Son, to his followers. In the concluding statement (v.11), Jesus expresses the means by which the peace he offers is accomplished, through the unity of faith and trust in God's only Begotten Son.

CCC: Jn 15:9-10 1824; Jn 15:9 1823

If you were asked to do one of those word association tests where you say the first thing that comes to mind when one word was said, and the word you were given was “love,” what would come to mind?  If what came to mind were words that had similar meanings, you might have come up with: “passion, piety, rapture, adoration, or respect.”  If you associated love with a common phrase, you might have thought of “marriage,” and if you thought about opposites you may have come up with “hate.”

In the Gospel, when Jesus, tells the disciples, “…keep my commandments,” he speaks specifically of the only commandment he has personally given them: love God and love one another.  He makes it clear that this is the path to his peace, the peace he has wished them, the peace he wishes us.  The Lord sees clearly what happens to people who cannot live this commandment of his.  How can one find peace if hatred is in their heart?  If one embraces hate, it becomes like a cancer eating away the soul.  In hatred there is only sorrow, there can be no joy.  And the only remedy for hatred is forgiveness from the heart.

In this very short Gospel, Jesus sums up all he has tried to teach his friends about God’s mission in the world.  It is the very reason Jesus had to come to us, to show us that God was love itself, not some vengeful judge who visited death and destruction on his enemies.  Jesus speaks to his friends and to us, making it clear that, to find the path the God, all we need to do is replace all of the ignoble feelings of hate, lust, and greed with one feeling and one purpose, love for one another.

It is his commandment to us and in following it we find peace and eternal life.


[2] The picture is “St. James the Lesser” by El Greco, 1610-1614