Monday, May 1, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Easter - May 7, 2017

First Reading Commentary
This is a continuation of last weekend's speech from Peter.  Again, it's very tempting to think that the hearers of this message are being read the riot act; but an angry tone delivered among adults usually produces the same in return.  But the fact that the hearers "were cut to the heart" intimates something very different.  Peter, perhaps in a deeply sad tone, delivered these poignant words.  Fortunately, Peter is quick to offer a remedy for such a barbaric series of events in the form of sacramental Baptism.  He might very well be wearing on his sleeve his own personal experience of betraying Jesus. 

Even though as disciples of Jesus we are most grateful for our Lord's ocean of mercy, our often feeble minds are not so quick to forget some of the sins committed.  The Image of our Lord nailed to the Cross is a vivid reminder of the wages of sin.  But our Lord's love for us will not abandon us to live out a life of despair.  We are a sacramental Church which produces healing and the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

In this Reading the question, "What are we to do, my brothers?" surely suggests a desire to repent.  Much of the childhood and early adult years of Jesus was hidden.  What we don't know and is interesting to consider is how many of the hearers of Peter's message grew up with Jesus and maybe played together as kids or were friends as teenagers?  How many are a little older and perhaps associated with Joseph and Mary and maybe shared meals together?  What drives friendships to utter betrayal?  How did "Hosanna!" turn to "Crucify Him!"?  Saint Peter makes it clear who the real enemy is: "Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, prowls about seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8).  Saint Peter's exhortation to "save yourselves from this corrupt generation" reaches even our ears separated by two thousand years.  We've all suffered the consequences for not always being so vigilant. 

The French philosopher, Blaise Pascal, said: "Jésus sera en agonie jusqu'à la fin du monde; il ne faut pas dormir pendant ce temps-là" – "Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world; during this time we must not sleep."  When we find that sleep or a lack of vigilance has become habitual, that is also when we will find ourselves very much a part of the corrupt generation. To live a sacramental life is to stay close to the Bosom of Jesus Who envelops us with His Love; and love which freely offers forgiveness is a wounding blow to our adversary.

Second Reading Commentary
Saint Peter desires that we follow in the Footsteps of our Lord especially when he uses the example of Christ handing Himself over to the One Who judges justly.  You can bet that the Church's first pope prays for us unceasingly in heaven.  Our commitment to discipleship is an act of handing ourselves over to our Lord and trusting in His Providential care.  Our sufferings in which Peter calls us to patient endurance are inevitable.  No one will escape suffering.  Suffering without patient endurance, however, no matter how minimal or extreme can be a catalyst to sin. 

Our struggle to be without deceit in our mouths, our struggle to remain silent when insulted and our struggle to offer no threats in the heat of the battle perhaps is caused by unwittingly adhering to the whispers of the tempter which leads to an unbeknownst pulling away from the embrace of Jesus.  And because of that human weakness, that elusive ingredient within us that needs to control, or at least is led to believe we're in control, the straying sheep that we are need a means in which we can return to the Shepherd and Guardian of souls.  And hopefully the graces received from the frequent reception of that sacrament will help us to remain more intently in the Bosom of our Lord while going astray like sheep becomes a rarity.

Gospel Commentary
Concerning the sheepfold, the Catechism of the Catholic Church shares these words: "The Church is, accordingly, a sheepfold, the sole and necessary gateway to which is Christ.  It is also the flock of which God Himself foretold that He would be the Shepherd, and Whose sheep, even though governed by human shepherds, are unfailingly nourished and led by Christ Himself, the Good Shepherd and Prince of shepherds, Who gave His life for His sheep" (CCC 754). 

All three Readings this weekend plead with us to stay close to Jesus.  This message would not be necessary if it weren't for our tendency to stray.  The prophet Ezekiel speaks of God's intention of taking care of His sheep by taking the sheep away from shepherds who feed themselves.  This prophecy of God taking care of His sheep also reveals that this will occur through a Davidic Prince (cf. Ezekiel 34:1-24).  And, of course, this Prince from the line of David is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

The thieves and robbers that our Lord speaks of could refer to the false prophets who preceded Him throughout salvation history; but Jesus is speaking mysteriously in the present tense when He says: "All who came before Me are thieves and robbers."  The word "are" is present tense and agrees with the ancient texts, therefore, Christ is most likely referring to the scribes and Pharisees. 

There's a level of intimacy here that cannot be overlooked.  There must be a deep, personal relationship with Jesus in order to recognize His Voice.  And one can really get a sense of the personal closeness intended when Jesus says that He calls His own sheep by name.  And that intimacy with our Lord rewards us with abundant life.  The great opportunity we have in the here and now cannot be overemphasized.  Meditating on Sacred Scripture every day enables us to recognize the Voice of the Master. 

In "The Plan of Life" of the Hermits of Bethlehem who are located in Chester, NJ, using our Blessed Mother as the model, there is a very beautiful passage which applies not only to hermits but anyone who desires to make Sacred Scripture a vibrant part of their life.  The passage reads as follows: "Like Mary, the hermit strives to be a servant-bearer of the Word by daily opening oneself to the presence and mystery of the Word (Isaiah 50:4), listening to and pondering the Word (Luke 2:19, 10:39), believing and treasuring the Word (John 17:20), waiting patiently for the Word to take flesh in the heart through the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14), proclaiming the Word not only by one's speech, but by the very actions and attitudes of one's life (John 2:5), celebrating the Word (Acts 2:46; Luke 4: 17, 18), responding in love to the Word (John 15:23; Mark 3:35), resting in the word (Psalm 62:1-5; Matthew 11:29) surrendering himself in trust that the day-to-day experience is the mysterious revelation of God's plan." 

And it was our Savior Himself Who said: "Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it" (Luke 11:28).