Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sixth Sunday of Easter - May 1, 2016

First Reading Commentary
Many of the converts from Judaism held the belief that circumcision was still necessary for salvation.  They held on to this belief not only for themselves but also for those who converted to Christianity from paganism.  It was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question.  The words “apostles” and “elders” in the Greek text are translated as “bishops” and “priests”.  Paul and Barnabas are following the proper procedure which is still followed today by taking questions concerning faith to the authoritative office of the Church as established by Jesus Christ.  The decision handed down in writing does not absolutely forbid the use of Jewish customs but also does not obligate the use of them either. 

“We have heard that some of our number who went out without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind.”  From this statement we can see that heresy existed at a very early stage in Christianity.  There were men who tried to preach and teach without any authority from the Church's governing body which was set up by Christ.  This led to many false teachings.  Christ promised the guidance of the Holy Spirit and here in this Reading the apostles and elders proclaim their decision as being from the great Paraclete. 

Saint John Chrysostom observes that this is not an irreversible decision but only one that is necessary for this particular moment in time; therefore, these current laws or necessities are not unchangeable precepts.  This may actually be the first general council ever held in the Church by which the governing body of apostles along with the chief apostle who is Peter offered guidance to the faithful. 

Second Reading Commentary
In this Reading John is given the privilege of seeing the Bride, the Spouse of Christ coming down out of heaven.  John likens it to precious stones in an attempt to capture the beauty of it.  The gates are inscribed with the twelve tribes of Israel and the foundation stones are inscribed with the names of the twelve apostles.  This is the fulfillment of the Church at the end of time: one, holy, catholic and apostolic in her ultimate identity because in her is the Kingdom of heaven and the reign of God.  The Kingdom came to earth in the Person of Christ Who grows in the hearts of those incorporated into Him until it has, as depicted in this Reading, reached its fulfillment.  This is when all those Christ has redeemed will be gathered together as the one People of God, the Bride of the Lamb (cf. CCC 865). 

There is no temple because God in all His perfection is present to all the blessed where nothing can distract them from their eternal Adoration of Him.  There is no sun or moon because God's brilliance will forever shine on the redeemed.  As John attempts to describe eternal life in all its perfection, we still can only get an inkling of it from this Reading.  The beauty, perfection and reality of it all are still far beyond what we are able to comprehend.

Gospel Commentary
It is God's desire to dwell within us.  Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity offered this prayer:  “O my God, Trinity Whom I adore, help me forget myself entirely so to establish myself in You, unmovable and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity.  May nothing be able to trouble my peace or make me leave You, O my unchanging God, but may each minute bring me more deeply into Your mystery!  Grant my soul peace.  Make it Your heaven, Your beloved dwelling and the place of Your rest.  May I never abandon You there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to Your creative action.” 

Jesus tells His disciples that the Father will send in His Name the Holy Spirit Who will teach them everything.  The Holy Spirit is introduced as the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity.  This Divine knowledge and wisdom of the Advocate continues to be passed on to the teaching authority of the Church known as the Magisterium which consists of the Pope and the Bishops.  “The Holy Spirit is the Church’s living memory” (CCC 1099).  The Paraclete is always active in the Church bringing to full development the Truth revealed by Christ. 

Jesus says that the Father is greater than Him.  For those in the ancient world who believed that the Father and the Son were not equals or that Jesus was not divine at all, this text in Scripture was surely their proof.  Things, however, are not always as they seem.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are indeed equals.  So what did Jesus mean by this statement?  Jesus is a Divine Person with both a Divine and Human Nature.  He is the Word, the Son of the Father and as Man He is the Word Incarnate.  As Son of the Father He is equal; as Man, He assumed our lowly, inferior nature.  It is this lowly, inferior nature of humanity which God willingly, lovingly and sacrificially entered into that enables Jesus to humbly, - and from our mysterious, incomprehensible, veiled Trinitarian perspective, - perhaps even scandalously proclaim the Father as greater.

And how veiled is our perspective? Well, arguably the greatest mind of the Church, Saint Thomas Aquinas, after all his bedazzling and monumental writings about God, and his mystical encounters with the Almighty, including our Lord saying to him: “You have written well of Me, Thomas,” - towards the end of his life declared his writings as “Straw” – meaning that even in all the brilliance of his sacred writ, and it’s approval by Jesus Himself, doesn’t even scratch the surface of Who God really is.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Fifth Sunday of Easter - April 24, 2016

First Reading Commentary
The purpose of this missionary journey by Paul and Barnabas was to oversee the organization of new churches and to add to the numbers of those adhering to the Christian faith. 
“It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.”  Origen, one of the early Church writers, shares these words: “God does not want to impose the good, but wants free beings.  There is a certain usefulness to temptation.  No one but God knows what our soul has received from Him, not even we ourselves.  But temptation reveals it in order to teach us to know ourselves, and in this way we discover our evil inclinations and are obliged to give thanks for the goods that temptation has revealed to us.”  The Catechism of the Catholic Church adds: “The Holy Spirit makes us discern between trials, which are necessary for the growth of the inner man.  We must discern between being tempted, and consenting to temptation.  Discernment unmasks the lie of temptation, whose object appears to be good, a delight to the eyes and desirable, when in reality its fruit is death” (CCC 2847). 
Truthfully, most of us would rather get through this life without any temptations or hardships.  This kind of philosophy, however, cannot be embraced without first considering this warning from Denys the Carthusian: “Woe to you, lovers of this world, who wish to pass your lives without tribulation.  Enemies of the Cross!  Is the disciple above his Master?  Did it not become Christ first to suffer, and thus to enter into His glory?  Shall we pretend to enter by any other means?” 
Evangelization is a hot topic in today's Church.  Evangelization can be done by preaching and teaching but perhaps the most powerful way to evangelize is to live one’s life in accordance with the teachings of the Church.  Living our faith by example will often lead others to ask questions about our faith which opens the door for us to share our faith.  As this Reading emphasizes “what God had done,” our opportunities to evangelize are available to us not by our own doing but by our willingness to allow God to work through us.
Second Reading Commentary
A new heaven and a new earth is the definitive realization of God's plan to bring under a single Head, all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth (cf. CCC 1043). 
The holy city or new Jerusalem is understood as the citizens of heaven: the angels and saints.  This is the Church triumphant. 
“Behold, God's dwelling is with the human race.”  The Latin Vulgate is translated as: “Behold, the tabernacle of God with men.”  It expresses that we, the chosen sons and daughters of God, will dwell in His tabernacle forever and ever; and in this perfect existence sorrow will no longer be a part of our makeup.  The Catechism refers to this moment as God's victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause His Bride to come down from heaven (cf. CCC 677).  At this moment all is accomplished and all is made new.  Until we have arrived at that place, however, where “there shall be no more death and mourning, wailing or pain” consideration should be given to the human tabernacle – the indwelling of Christ.  As we expect to walk into our churches and see a Tabernacle that is beautiful, those same expectations should be true of the human tabernacle.  Christ deserves to dwell in a heart and soul that attempts to remain as spotless as possible, turning to our spotless Blessed Mother as our model and intercessor.
Gospel Commentary
All this glorifying sounds confusing!  It is much easier to grasp if you keep in mind that the Father is God and the Son is God, therefore the Father and the Son are One.  Not even that is completely understood especially when you add the Holy Spirit to the mix.  Jesus said: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him.”  Christ is referring to the miracle of His death and Resurrection.  Jesus is glorified as Man because He was able to rise from death which also glorifies God because rising from the dead is impossible without God.  Christ promises resurrection for us but this requires two beings: It requires us, that is, the human person who is to be resurrected and it requires God, Who does the resurrecting.  With Christ’s Resurrection, only One Being was required as He is both God and Man. 
Since we’re in the Easter Season, it’s best to forget that this Gospel story occurs before Christ’s death.  It’s more beneficial to focus on the glorification of Christ as God and Man because of these events. 
Jesus commands us to love one another.  As human beings, when we think about strong bonds of love we tend to consider the love a husband has for his wife and a wife for her husband, and the love that parents have for their children.  It’s difficult for us to apply that kind of intense love to acquaintances and perfect strangers; and without God, indeed it is downright impossible.  Let us keep in mind, though, that if Christ commands it, it is very possible or else He would never have commanded it. 
Faith assures us that our Lord supplies the graces needed to do that which human logic doesn’t consider possible.  Our part in this is to be conformed to the will of God.  Saint Augustine offers an excellent way of expressing this divine love for one another with these words: “As Christ the Savior loved us, so charity should be a thirst for the spiritual salvation of our neighbors, all of whom God wills to be saved.”  Just this past week Pope Francis tweeted these words: “Love is the only light which can constantly illuminate a world grown dim.”  Thus the Holy Father presents to us the reality…and the solution.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Easter - April 17, 2016

First Reading Commentary
Although Paul and Barnabas are Christians, the word "Sabbath" here is still a reference to the Jewish Sabbath (the seventh day), not the Christian Sabbath (the first day), for Paul and Barnabas entered the Jewish synagogue. 
From this Reading it is clear that the choice is ours whether or not to be disciples of Christ.  God has given us free will and would never take that away from us because it would be contrary to His superabundant love for us. 
All three Readings today imply that choosing to follow Jesus leads to eternal life.  This Reading does state, however, that all who were destined for eternal life came to believe.  That word "destined" has been the source of many theological differences of opinion over the centuries.  Some have argued that anything destined impedes upon our free will.  Although this is a great mystery, the Church does not accept the belief that our free will is ever tampered with.  It is certain that God is infallible and has knowledge of all things past, present and future.  His foreknowledge, however, never interferes with humanity's liberty; therefore, assuming sound mental health, all of us are responsible for our own actions.  Again, this is a great mystery which led the Council of Trent to advise us that it is better to submit to the mysteries of our faith rather than argue about these mysteries which are impossible to understand.  Saint Augustine once said: "How much wiser and better it is to confess our ignorance on mysteries, than idly dispute on mysteries!" 
The choices we make are solely ours but since God has foreknowledge of all things to come, He already knows what choices we will make.  Paul and Barnabas are quoting from the prophet Isaiah with the words: "I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth" (Isaiah 49:6).
Second Reading Commentary
The opening verse makes it clear that Christ's saving grace is intended for every nation, race, people, and tongue. 
The white robes worn by the great multitude represents those who have been purified and cleansed from sin by the merits and grace of Christ crucified.  They have followed in the Footsteps of Jesus by carrying their cross.  Now they stand before God's Throne worshipping Him day and night.  These are the saints.  While this Reading speaks of so many souls that have gone before us, surely it is our hope that this Reading is also prophetic in the sense that this will be our future, if one can use the word future when speaking of eternity. 
It is our prayer that we will survive our own time of great distress by staying close to Jesus, trusting that He will lead us to springs of life-giving water whereby we will have the privilege of singing His praises before His Throne.  For it is the Lamb Who is in the center of the Throne and we pray that He will shepherd us for all eternity.
Gospel Commentary
Jesus said: "My sheep hear My Voice."  Every word in this Gospel passage is spoken by Jesus.  When read slowly and meditatively, there is an encompassing sense of intimacy that cannot be expressed in words; and Jesus desires to have that intimacy with all of us. 
We, His sheep, hear His Voice and follow Him.  Through prayer, sacred reading and charitable works it becomes vividly clear that His love surrounds us; and He assures us that no one can take us away from Him.  Christ's enfolding and loving embrace offers comfort in times of trial and also carries us into eternal life. 
The Parable of the Lost Sheep (Matthew 18:10-14) is a reassuring reminder that Jesus wishes all to be saved and desires not to lose any of His sheep.  At Mass the Voice of Jesus is heard in the Liturgy of the Word; and the Word of God, the Bread of Life nourishes souls by making Himself present to us truly, really and substantially in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. 
Anyone who lives in the Middle East would have a clearer understanding of what Jesus means when He says: "My sheep hear My Voice; I know them, and they follow Me."  Many of us have never witnessed a shepherd and his sheep interact.  Father Benedict Groeschel, was a priest of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, as well as an author, psychologist, and well-known EWTN personality.  He once shared a story of his visit to the Holy Land in which he watched shepherds work with their sheep. He said that there were a bunch of sheep walking around along with three shepherds. He said that the shepherds split up and each walked into a different direction, and then made a whistling sound with their mouths. The sheep, which were all bunched together, then began to divide and walk towards the direction of their own particular shepherd; each of them recognized their own shepherd’s whistle and followed him.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Third Sunday of Easter - April 10, 2016

First Reading Commentary
"We must obey God rather than men."  The Catechism of the Catholic Church applies this verse to our own lives with these words: "The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel.  Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community" (CCC 2242).  In our modern day we see the Church’s opposition to political authority as religious liberty, for example, is being challenged, which threatens the dignity of human life and reduces morality to something that has no place in public life. 
What happened to these men who are called apostles?  Aren't these the same men who ran away when Jesus was apprehended?  Isn't Peter the one who denied Jesus three times for fear of losing his own life?  How did they so quickly become brave and fearless?  The argument could be made that their sudden change is proof of Christ's Resurrection.  Peter and the others tell us that they are witnesses to the Resurrection of Christ the Savior Who grants repentance and forgiveness of sins.  Their witness is our faith builder.  If they hadn't been witnesses to these events, plus the complete turnaround in their own behavior, our own faith would probably struggle considerably more because we wouldn't have such a strong foundation.  The apostles' drastic change in attitude may have come through learning what a mighty fortress this divine gift known as love is.  After witnessing Jesus rise from the dead, the thought of what He endured out of love for us must have surely enveloped their hearts and minds.  And now they are sent to express love themselves by spreading His love through evangelization. 
Any loving parent would willingly lay down their life for their child.  It is this kind of love that must branch out and spread to all God's people.  Committing ourselves to Him through intimate prayer is how we can receive a greater, divine dosage of that mystery known as love.  And as recipients of such a gift, we also know that as servants of Christ, that gift must be shared.
Second Reading Commentary
The angels, the living creatures and the elders surrounding the Throne are described as "countless in number".  The Latin translation defines them as "thousands of thousands" while the Greek translation reads "ten thousand times ten thousand".  Here we see the intercession of the witnesses.  The prophets and the saints, all those who were slain on earth for their witness to Jesus, the vast throng of those who, having come through the great tribulation, have gone before us into the Kingdom, all sing the praise and glory of Him Who sits on the Throne, and of the Lamb (cf. CCC 2642). 
The One Who sits on the Throne and the Lamb are given blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever.  These words were important in the early Church because of some of the heresies which claimed that the Father and Jesus were not equals.  But as we read, the elders fell down and worshiped.  Worship is an act reserved for God alone; therefore, the One Who sits on the Throne and the Lamb are not only equals but God Almighty.
Gospel Commentary
Reading that Peter and some of the other disciples returned to fishing is very indicative of our own lives.  Lent is now over and it is tempting for us to breathe a sigh of relief, rejoice that we can eat meat again on Fridays, and return to the way things were before we began our Lenten disciplines.  The disciples tried to return to their former occupation but caught nothing until Jesus appeared to them and instructed them; hence the amount of fish caught was too heavy to pull.  The overabundance of fish represents the amount of souls that needed to be reeled in by these fishers of men.  Jesus speaks to us loudly and clearly in this scene.  He's telling us that if we are desirous to return to our former way of life, we will find nothing of any worth.  But if we hold fast to our Lenten convictions and continue to grow closer to Jesus through intense prayer, He will continue to lead us and guide us.  Jesus speaks to our hearts reminding us that He has called us to be His disciples and any attempt to forsake that calling and live according to our own design will prove to be fruitless. 
Saint Gregory instructs us: "We can never be allowed to give ourselves to employments which of themselves lead to sin."  In other words, any kind of spiritual sloth which will lessen our time with our Lord, and not keep Jesus perpetually in our hearts, opens up a doorway that allows many temptations to creep in which could lead to sin. 
If during Lent you went to Confession, read more from the Good Book, or spent more time in prayer, Christ lovingly pleads with you not to stop just because Lent is over. 
John, the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord."  In the encounter with the Risen Jesus, the title of “Lord” becomes adoration.  It thus takes on a connotation of love and affection (cf. CCC 448). 
Saint John Chrysostom observes the different characters of Peter and John: Peter was more ardent and vehement while John was more sublime and penetrating; and it is for these reasons that John was the first to recognize Christ while Peter was the first to hasten to Him. 
"Do you love Me?"  Our Divine Savior puts this question to Peter three times.  Saint Augustine suggests that being asked three times might correspond to Peter's thrice denial of Jesus.  Notice the first time, however, Jesus asks Peter: "Do you love Me more than these?" meaning the other disciples.  Peter simply answers:  "Yes, Lord, You know that I love You."  Peter, in humility, could not say that He loves Jesus more than the others.  Perhaps we are seeing here that humility is a must when called to be the Vicar of Christ.  Peter is given the authority to govern the Church.  Jesus confirms this mandate with the words: "Feed My sheep" (cf. CCC 553).  Love is the conqueror of all.  Peter's fear led him to deny Christ three times but what is evident in this Gospel is that love is victorious over fear.  Can you hear Jesus asking you the same question: "Do you love Me?"  It's a question that cannot simply be answered verbally and then pushed aside.  Peter was asked this question three times.  When examining our own lives, serious consideration as to how many times Jesus would need to ask us that question would be commendable especially when trying to grow in the spiritual life.  In other words, what expendable and unnecessary things are clung to that deny Jesus His rightful time with us in prayer?  What are we afraid to let go of even though we know it comes between us and that chance at intimacy with Him?  The answer, of course, is different for all of us as individuals and only we know what is necessary and what is unnecessary but it does require us to be honest with ourselves.  This removal of junk is an evolving process.  Perhaps there are things currently embraced that may now be deemed vital to our way of life; but as we grow ever closer to Jesus we may find that those crucial possessions are no longer that important.  Remember how Jesus asked the question the first time: "Do you love Me more than these?"  What is it in our own lives that could be categorized as "these"?  There are some things, depending on our state in life, which will always be necessary and consider it a blessing from God that He supplied it or entrusted it to us as a gift.  But when we can identify and get around all the road blocks, then Jesus is seen more clearly because love for Him will outweigh all else. 
Jesus speaks to the heart constantly with the words: "Follow Me."  It’s easy to accept such a gracious invitation, but the human heart struggles to remain always faithful to that acceptance.