Sunday, April 30, 2017

Monday of the Third Week of Easter

(Optional Memorial for Saint Joseph the Worker)
“St. Stephen the Martyr” 
by Vincenzo Foppa, 1480s
Reading 1: Acts 6:8-15
Commentary on Acts 6:8-15
The first deacon, St. Stephen, through his zeal had angered the Jewish community in Jerusalem (as if the Apostles were not enough).  The witnesses testified that Stephen placed Jesus above Moses which was, in fact, true and there would have been no defense possible.  There were two other charges: Stephen also disputed the centrality of the Temple (“…saying things against this holy place “), including its destruction.  He also reminded them that through Jesus’ revelation, Mosaic customs would be transformed.  With the introduction of false witnesses, St. Luke draws a parallel between St. Stephen and the fate of Jesus in the hands of the Sanhedrin.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 119:23-24, 26-27, 29-30
R. (1ab) Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!
R. Alleluia.
This psalm extols those who follow the Law of Moses. The response praises those who are steadfast in its observance. Psalm 119 takes the form of an acrostic poem. (Each of the eight verses of the first strophe begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet (aleph). Each verse of the second strophe begins with the second letter (beth) and so on.) The psalm is one of the longest, and while its genre is somewhat mixed between wisdom, hymn, and lament, the entire work is in praise of the Law. In this instance, that is ironic as in the reading from Acts, St. Stephen has just pointed to the fact that Jesus redefines the Law.
CCC: Ps119:30 2465
Gospel: John 6:22-29
Commentary on Jn 6:22-29
This dialogue with the people begins St. John’s great discourse on the bread of life. In this selection Jesus begins by telling the crowd, which had just been witness to the feeding of the multitude with the barley loaves, that they should focus on spiritual food rather than filling their stomachs. The use of the word “bread” in this entire section is a metaphor for “doctrine.” His reference here is that through their belief in him as the Son of God, they are doing God’s will.
CCC: Jn 6 1338; Jn 6:26-58 2835
The Acts of the Apostles speak of the ministry of St. Stephen, the first Deacon (and first Martyr of the Church). He is doing more than he was ordained to do if you will remember earlier. His initial call was to make sure the widows and orphans of the Greek Christians were getting what they needed. Yet, here he is, filled with grace and power, working great wonders and signs among the people. It is instructive that the actions he performed on behalf of those widows and orphans should feed his spirit and cause him to appear suddenly, filled with the Spirit, performing signs among the people.
As we have seen in other parts of scripture, Christians must believe that faith without action is empty. “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his own face in a mirror.  He sees himself, then goes off and promptly forgets what he looked like.” (James 1: 23-24)  We believe that true faith must manifest itself in the world through the actions of believing individuals and a believing community.  These actions not only do good things for others, but also proclaim our belief in the Father.  We are instructed to do this by Christ in St. John’s Gospel as he tells us: “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”
As we see in St. Stephen, deep faith in Christ, coupled with the gift of the Holy Spirit, is a powerful thing. It cannot be hidden or contained. It must shine forth in various ways. In many cases, the person in whom this Spirit resides, and in which it shines out, does not even realize that suddenly they are a beacon. We see this also in St. Stanislaus whose memorial we celebrate today.
Discerning what God wants us to do and be is a lifelong process. Many holy people have recommended that if we do the simple, inwardly focused building of our own faith, those actions which glorify the Father naturally result.
Just in case a person new to the faith reads these words and thinks, “Gosh, that’s easy enough,” watch carefully what happens next to St. Stephen. There are people in his story that do not appreciate what he is doing and saying, even if it is coming from God. Like our Lord, all but one of the Apostles discovers that being filled with faith is not a safe road for our earthly bodies.

[1] The picture used is “St. Stephen the Martyr” by Vincenzo Foppa, 1480s

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Third Sunday of Easter

Catechism Links[1]
CCC 1346-1347: The Eucharist and the experience of the disciples at Emmaus
CCC 642-644, 857, 995-996: The apostles and disciples as witnesses of the Resurrection
CCC 102, 601, 426-429,2763: Christ the key to interpreting all Scripture
CCC 457, 604-605, 608,615-616, 1476, 1992: Jesus, the Lamb offered for our sins

“Supper at Emmaus” by Willem Herreyns, 1808
Reading I: Acts 2:14, 22-33
Commentary on Acts 2:14, 22-33
This is the first of the six professions (“kerygma” or proclamations) in Acts about the resurrection set immediately following the Pentecost event. In this proclamation, Peter, speaking to the Jews in Jerusalem (many of whom would have been in the crowd that saw Jesus crucified), first tells them that: “This man (Jesus)” demonstrated, through “signs and wonders,” that he was the Christ. He then makes the accusation: “you killed,” and concludes with, “but God raised him up.” He reminds them that David had been promised an eternal dynasty (quoting Psalm 16:8-11), and  that promise had been fulfilled in the resurrected Messiah, Jesus.
CCC: Acts 2:22 547; Acts 2:23 597, 599
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 16:1-2a and5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
R. (1) Keep me safe, O God; you are my hope.
R. Alleluia.
Psalm 16 is a song of thanksgiving that has become prophetic. It speaks clearly of the resurrection accomplished in Christ. It is a hymn of trust in God. Each strophe ends with an affirmation of faithfulness. Key, in the context of the Easter season, is the idea of trust in God who has conquered death and offers the same gift. ("Because you will not abandon my soul to the nether world, nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption.") The psalmist prays that God will shield the faithful from harm, and expresses confidence in the Lord’s salvation; closing the passage with praise for God’s loving mercy.
CCC: Ps 16:9-10 627
Reading II: 1 Peter 1:17-21
Commentary on 1 Pt 1:17-21
This selection is concerned primarily with the call of God's people to holiness and to mutual love. St. Peter encourages them to act in accord with their call, and through those actions accept their redemption through the blood of Christ.
At the beginning of the passage, St. Peter cautions the faithful: “If you invoke as Father him who judges impartially […] conduct yourselves with reverence.” “Refers to addressing God as ‘Abba’ or ‘Father’ in prayer (Matthew 6:9; Romans 8:15; CCC 2780-82).” – “impartially: i.e. with absolute fairness. Because God exercises perfect justice, he cannot be bribed to show favoritism toward some and not others (Deuteronomy 10:17) according to his deeds.”[5]
The “unblemished lamb” is a clear reference to the Passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7) whose blood caused death to pass by (Exodus 12:1-14), the expression of God’s salvation.
CCC: 1 Pt 1:18-20 602; 1 Pt 1:18-19 517; 1 Pt 1:18 622; 1 Pt 1:19 613
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."[6]
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; Lk 24:34 552, 641
Emmaus – The story that was proclaimed in the Gospel of St. Luke today mentions the village by name.  Yet if you look at a map, even the earliest maps of that region, you would not find it.  Yes, there are references to it in early manuscripts and there is speculation that places it between 8 and 17 miles north east of Jerusalem.  But as a physical place you could not go visit it if you took one of the pilgrimages to the Holy Land, except by speculation and extrapolation.  Emmaus does not exist today in a physical sense.  Yet, as a destination, it is a place we are all seeking at our own pace and in our own way.
The disciples who were traveling that way on the day the Lord was revealed in the resurrection were probably traveling there in fear.  They had seen the Son of God beaten, mocked, crucified and then skewered with a lance as he slumped dead against the cross.  The long awaited Messiah was no more.  They had seen his body hastily laid in a tomb. 
We hear echoes of the emotions they felt in the passages from Acts of the Apostles, and the First Letter of Peter.  In Acts we heard the Apostles boldly using the gift of the Holy Spirit they had just received at Pentecost, as they told their Jerusalem audience: “This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God, you killed, using lawless men to crucify him.”  We can almost see St. Peter pointing his finger at the members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish leadership.  And then in St. Peter’s First Letter the Apostle says:
“…conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning,
realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct,
handed on by your ancestors,
not with perishable things like silver or gold
but with the precious blood of Christ
as of a spotless unblemished lamb.”
We hear the awe and reverence of the Apostle as he recalls the Savior bleeding upon the cross, the innocent Lamb of God, offering himself as our sacrifice of atonement.
Those disciples on the road to Emmaus were not just frightened; they were crushed, fleeing to a place of safety perhaps.  One record of the journey by these disciples to Emmaus, found in the manuscripts of Eucebius of Caesarea, refers to a church in the house of Cleopas in that village.  It is states that Cleopas was one of the disciples who traveled that road.  Putting the pieces together, we can speculate that they were headed for the house of Cleopas to sort things out.  As our two fleeing disciples traveled, they are joined by a stranger (we wonder if they thought he was a gardener as Mary Magdalene had just done).
It is such an easy analogy; isn’t it?  How often do we find ourselves fleeing to places of safety when we are faced with trials or difficult situations?  How often do we seek the help of God and travel that road in fear seeking answers to the things in our lives that make no sense?
And how like those frightened disciples are we?  How often do we seek answers only to find out later that the Lord has already answered us and we just did not recognize it? He was walking with us and we did not know it.
We can go further too.  When the disciples finally recognized the Lord in his Eucharistic celebration they suddenly regained their courage.  They found the strength that had left them in the fear of the moment, and ran back to Jerusalem to tell the others who they had encountered. 
Yes, the village of Emmaus does not exist on any map, but it is certainly the destination each of us who hope to follow Christ is constantly seeking.  We travel a path that leads to a place where the Lord will reveal himself to us in his glorified body, sitting at a table with us, and giving us the sudden knowledge that he has been walking with us the whole way, and we didn’t even know it.
Our journey this Easter season is still ahead of us as we look toward Pentecost.  As we travel that road may we all be comforted in knowing that the Lord was with us, even when we did not know he was there.

[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
[2] The picture is “Supper at Emmaus” by Willem Herreyns, 1808
[5] Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, © 2010, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA. pp.452
[6] The Navarre Bible, “Gospels and Acts”, Scepter Publishers, Princeton, NJ, © 2002, pp. 513