Sunday, April 23, 2017

Third Sunday of Easter - April 30, 2017

First Reading Commentary
Saint Peter in this Reading is exercising his office as the Supreme Pontiff.  The Gospel verse, "He who hears you, hears Me" (Luke 10:16) comes to mind here.  It's tempting to think that the tone of Peter's voice is quite stern.  Here's something to consider, however: The apostle Peter we've grown accustomed to from the Gospels is quite different from the Holy Father Peter heard in this Reading.  Peter speaks here with authoritative confidence - the same confidence which always flowed from our Lord Jesus Christ.  Obviously Peter has been given the graces needed to carry out his appointment as the Vicar of Christ, and so by now, after being an apostle of Jesus, learning His teachings, seeing His miracles and having witnessed His Resurrection, there is evidence that Peter has spiritually matured to a lofty degree.  Thus it might be a mistake to assume that when Peter "raised his voice" it means that he was harsh.  Most likely he "raised his voice" only to be heard. 

An elevated level of Christian spiritual maturity usually means that one conducts themselves with the compassion and mercy of Christ – although it cannot be ignored that some saints were known to have a short fuse.  Most likely Peter's tone is one of heartfelt tenderness even with his use of the blunt words, "you killed" since Peter himself is quite aware of his own thrice denial of Jesus. 

The more that one is exposed to the Light of Christ, the higher awareness one has of their own sinfulness.  The saints were most grateful for that, which is why all of them were very faithful to the Sacrament of our Lord's mercy.  Thus Peter knows he has traveled a long, difficult road to reach the point of what intimates to be an exalted spirituality.  An important theme in Peter's speech is a bit subdued and could be missed if reflection doesn't accompany the perusing of Peter's address.  That theme is - what has happened to Jesus, from brutality to glory, was a divine plan.  Peter says that with the words "set plan and foreknowledge of God" but they are somewhat overshadowed by the words "you killed, using lawless men."  But now Peter and the other apostles stand before us as witnesses to Christ's Resurrection. 

Concerning the Resurrection of our Lord, Peter first points out that David had prophesied it and quotes the king's words from Psalm (15) 16.  After quoting David, Peter then proclaims that he and the others are eyewitnesses to the fulfillment of King David's prophecy.  Another subtle hint that Peter's speech is one of commiserative fellowship rather than angry judge is his use of the affectionate term, "My brothers." 

At the Vatican web site you'll find that most public addresses made by popes began with the words: "Dear Brothers and Sisters."  There's something both ordinary and extraordinary about these words.  First, they are an acknowledgement from these men of God that we are all brothers and sisters in the Lord.  But also, when these words come specifically from the Vicar of Christ, we also hear Jesus speaking through them and thus it is the Lord Himself saying to us: "You are My brothers and sisters." 

Peter proclaimed that it was impossible for Christ to be held by death and that is prophesied here by David; but another side to David's prophecy is to understand that Israel's king is also referring to himself and all humanity.  Because of Christ, death no longer can hold us as we are called from death to the paths of life, to be filled with joy in our Lord's presence forever.

Second Reading Commentary
Like the First Reading, it is Saint Peter who addresses us; and what he has to say here might seem obvious but it's not terribly difficult to become weighed down by life and all its concerns and thus turn the focus away from God.  Basically what Peter says here is that if you address God as Father, then conduct yourself like you are His child.  Let your appreciation of the fact that you have been ransomed with the Blood of Christ be evidenced by your actions. 

Reverence is exemplified early on in scripture when God commands Moses to remove his sandals because he was standing on holy ground (cf. Exodus 3:5).  Jesus showed reverence to His heavenly Father by falling flat on the ground to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane (cf. Mark 14:35).  Saints Vincent Ferrer, Vincent de Paul, Francis de Sales, Jean-Marie Vianney and others prayed the Divine Office on their knees.  Many who were privileged to attend a private Mass of Saint John Paul II testified that upon entering the pope's private chapel, they would find the Holy Father kneeling before the Tabernacle immersed in deep prayer. And it has been said that Pope Pius IX prayed the entire Divine Office kneeling without any support.  These examples of reverence were realizations in the lives of these servants of the Servant that we have been ransomed with His precious Blood. 

In part, our love for God is expressed by how quickly we repent and reconcile ourselves to our Lord when we fall.  It was Archbishop Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York who once said that to truly mean it when you say, "I love you, Lord" - the words, "I'm sorry" must immediately follow.

Gospel Commentary
It's not clear if these two men were prevented from recognizing Jesus because our Lord purposely made Himself appear different or if it is because His glorified Body has vastly different features.  But since our Lord is not recognized until the breaking of the bread, it would seem that our Redeemer has something to say to all of us.  "Jesus drew near and walked with them."  This is not all that different from our own experiences in life.  If Christ dwells within us, then He is close to us in every person we meet; but like these two men, we often fail to recognize Him in that person - and in ourselves. 

No one knows for certain who Cleopas is; Saint Jerome thought him to be a citizen of Emmaus who invited Jesus to stay with him at his house.  Saint Jerome also testified that during his day there was a church that existed which was originally thought to be the house of Cleopas.  Origen, one of the writers of the early Church, thought Cleopas to be Simon Peter.  Other speculations include: the brother of Saint Joseph, or Saint Luke the writer of this Gospel story, or the father of Saint James the Less. 

Jesus interpreted to them all that was in the Scriptures concerning Him.  This must've taken a great deal of time but what a tremendous blessing for these two men to have been given a bible lesson by Jesus Christ Himself.  Jesus, however, does say to them beforehand: "Oh, how foolish you are!"  The lesson for us in that statement is to familiarize ourselves with Sacred Scripture and learn what the prophets say of Him and how those prophecies were fulfilled by Him in the New Testament.  Understanding the Old Testament really makes the New Testament come to life.  Through the comprehension of Scripture we are able to welcome Jesus Christ into our lives based on what is preordained by divine decree and not by something our imaginations conjure up. 

The "breaking of bread" was a popular term for the Eucharist during the apostolic times.  It cannot be ignored that our Lord is demonstrating something that is strikingly similar to the liturgy: First, there is the breaking open of the Scriptures – the Liturgy of the Word – an explanation of the Scriptures follows – the homily – and then the breaking of the bread – the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  This Gospel should be an eye opening experience for Catholic Christians who only acknowledge Jesus in their lives for one hour a week.  If there is no daily prayer life of any kind, i.e. meditation, reflection, spiritual reading or daily reading of scripture, then Jesus will pass by every day and probably will not be recognized.  It is only during the breaking of Bread at Sunday Mass that He will be recognized, albeit under the guise of bread and wine.  Jesus shows up in our lives every day and takes on many different forms: Sometimes He is the cause of our ability to be in the right place at the right time; sometimes He is the delay that takes us off our schedule because being on schedule would place us right in the middle of an unfortunate circumstance; other times He is found in others who lend a helping hand; and at other times He is even that person who plucks your last nerve especially when having a tendency to be overly impatient. 

On Sundays we're all standing in line to receive the Eucharist since it is there at Mass that we most recognize our Lord, and it is at Mass that He feeds our souls with His Body and Blood.  But Jesus speaks to us daily and He calls us to reflect daily where He works and moves in our lives.  If we can identify our Lord under the veil of ordinary bread and wine, then through daily prayer, sacred reading and meditation certainly His Holy Spirit can be detected in other persons, places or things that are a part of our everyday experience, as well as seeing Him within ourselves.

On the importance of prayer, Saint Jean-Marie Vianney said: “Prayer is the inner bath of love into which the soul plunges itself.”  And one could never exhaust the importance of the breaking of bread - the Eucharist, to which this humble saint said: “There is nothing so great as the Eucharist.  If God had something more precious, He would have given it to us.”