2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday), Cycle C (2)

This Sunday, as we conclude the eight-day solemnity of Easter and continue into the liturgical season of Easter, we celebrate the gift of divine mercy. It’s easy to forget sometimes that mercy is not something to which we have a right. The Lord has freely given it to us.

In the First Reading we see the power of healing flowing from Peter and the faith of the people who sought him out. Peter over this last week’s readings has been the first to tell us that the power comes from Jesus, not from him. People in today’s First Reading are just trying to fall under the Peter’s shadow in order to be healed. Peter himself would probably admit that he is a shadow of Our Lord, but the Lord uses him to heal those who seek him, just as those who seek forgiveness and healing through the sacraments draw close to our sacred ministers, knowing that it is Our Lord who heals and forgives through them.

In today’s Second Reading the apostle John has a vision of Our Lord holding the keys “to death and the netherworld.” Our Lord is not identified by name but reveals himself as the “first and the last” to John, who is imprisoned on the isle of Patmos for giving witness to Jesus. His keys represent his authority: specifically, to bind and to loose. If we ask him to liberate us, he will, but we have to ask him. When you see sin as a liberation, not an imprisonment, you see the great gift of mercy. Our Lord’s mercy is the key to liberation from our sins.

Our Lord didn’t have to forgive Thomas for his lack of faith in today’s Gospel, just as Adam and Eve didn’t have to receive mercy after the Fall, a Fall that condemned all their posterity (all of us) to separation from God forever. We didn’t commit the Original Sin, nor was the Lord obliged to forgive it or redeem all of us from its effects. In appearing to the Apostles today Our Lord’s message is one of peace and reconciliation, not condemnation. Our Lord in today’s Gospel empowers his Apostles to be instruments of his mercy.

When a priest or bishop absolves his penitent from his sins, that mercy and power come from Jesus. Instead of remaining in doubt and regret about whether we’ve truly been forgiven Our Lord has given sacraments that in faith we know bring us his forgiveness. Baptism, which we remembered in a special way over these last eight days as we celebrated those who were baptized in the Easter Vigil a little over a week ago, also wipes away sins. All these means of healing and mercy are freely given gifts of Our Lord. We don’t have to receive them, but we’d be fools not to seek them out.

The Risen Lord offers the same gift of lasting peace to us that he offered his first disciples in today’s Gospel. His peace is a gift, and a gift can be accepted or rejected. Are we ready to leave aside the pain and sorrow of sin and really accept his peace? Ask Our Lord for the grace of accepting his peace. You won’t regret it.

Readings: Acts 5:12–16; Psalm 118:2–4, 13–15, 22–24; Revelation 1:9–11a, 12–13, 17–19; John 20:19–31. See also 2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday), Cycle C2nd Sunday of EasterSt. Thomas the Apostle, and Pentecost Sunday.

Pentecost Sunday, Cycle B

Today the Easter season concludes with Pentecost Sunday, remembering that moment in the upper room where timid disciples waiting to see what would come next received an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit emboldened them to become tireless apostles who would spread the Gospel throughout the world and throughout history. Today we also celebrate in a special way the Person of the Most Holy Trinity who expounded on the teaching of Our Lord and the words of the Father and paved the way to us to live a truly fulfilling life: life in the Spirit.

In today’s First Reading we see that at Pentecost the divisions and discord caused by sin, as the Old Testament story of the tower of Babel teaches us, start to be reversed by the Holy Spirit who enables believes to understand each other again and to welcome the Gospel into their lives. The work of salvation has been powered by the Holy Spirit from the beginning: it was in the power of the Holy Spirit that the Word became flesh in Mary’s womb, and raised Jesus from the dead.

After Our Lord’s Ascension the Holy Spirit gives that vital impulse to help the Church to grow and reach unheard of places, even today. The Spirit continues to make Our Lord present through the sacraments and pours grace into our hearts. The Spirit helps the Church’s shepherds to remain faithful to the Gospel message handed down from Christ through the Apostles. As the story of Pentecost reminds us, the Holy Spirit makes the Gospel understood by everyone of good will, and that knowledge leads to a new life.

In today’s Second Reading (Galatians 5:16–25) Paul reminds us that if the Spirit of God is within us we should live and be led by the Spirit, not by the desires of the flesh. The “flesh” is everything base and carnal. It is focusing on self-gratification to the exclusion of all else. The path of self-gratification is ultimately the path of striving after things that will never ultimately or completely satisfy us. We always need another, more intense “fix,” with the anxiety that more may not be forthcoming or what we have might no longer be enough.

The Spirit opposes those things because they separate us from him and close us off from the Kingdom of God. The Spirit strives to show us the right path, the path that will grant us peace in our earthly life and eternal happiness. The path traced out by the Spirit is deeper than just volatile feelings. It comes from deeper and nobler convictions that engender love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are all fruits of letting the Holy Spirit lead us to a life in the Spirit.

In today’s Gospel (John 15:26–27, 16:12–15) before his Passion and death the Lord promises to send us a new Advocate to help us after his Resurrection and Ascension, someone new in our corner looking out for our interests. We know from Saint John’s Last Supper Discourse that we abide in the Lord, and the Lord abides in us if we keep his commandments. Our Lord promises that Father and Son will send this Advocate to those who love and obey God. The whole Trinity is involved. The Holy Spirit comes to be in our corner, to Advocate for us, and to help us remain faithful to Our Lord’s teachings and Our Father’s will. Our Lord’s promise to send the Advocate to the Apostles is fulfilled on Pentecost. The Holy Spirit, sent by the Father in Jesus’ name, taught them and reminded them of everything. Through the Apostles’ successors, the bishops, the Holy Spirit continues to teach and remind the whole Church.

At Pentecost the Holy Spirit helped the Apostles translate the Good News into something all their listeners could understand, overthrowing the pride that lead to the linguistic chaos of Babel. The Good News for those first listeners was translated into a new life, a life led by the Spirit and not by the desires of the flesh. The Church continues to share the Good News, and the Gospel still needs to be translated into life. We start by translating it into our own lives, because others see our lives and, if they’re impressed, change their lives accordingly. The best evangelization we can do is living a Gospel life, led by the Spirit. Let your life, helped by the Spirit, be the best translation of the Gospel it can be.

Readings: Acts 2:1–11; Psalm 104:1, 24, 29–31, 34; 1 Corinthians 12:3b–7, 12–13; John 20:19–23. See also Pentecost Sunday.

7th Sunday of Easter, Cycle B

In one week we’ll celebrate Pentecost, when the Easter season will end and we will return to Ordinary Time. After the prolonged joy of celebrating the Risen Lord we might be expecting things to return to normal, but that’s the wrong attitude. The disciples on the road to Emmaus thought things would return to normal, but Our Lord quickly set them straight. The Risen Lord teaches us that things can never be the same again. We continue to be in the world, but we’re called to no longer be of the world, because now we’re Our Lord’s.

Today’s First Reading brings us to the cusp of Pentecost, when Peter sees the Twelve must be twelve in order to fulfill the Scriptures. Our Lord chose twelve apostles and connected them with the twelve tribes of Israel because those twelve tribes had an eschatological significance, just as the Twelve do. With Judas dead the Eleven felt the need to complete their number, and ultimately, the first disciples proposed candidates, but the Lord made the final decision. By casting lots to see who’d replace Judas they were putting the final decision in his hands, not their own. Saint Matthias became one of the Twelve to fulfill Our Lord’s will regarding the Twelve. In this we see that the first disciples knew they should seek out the Lord’s will when deciding on their plans, not their own.

In today’s Second Reading the apostle and evangelist Saint John reminds us it’s not just our faith in the Lord as Almighty that motivates us, but our faith that he loves us. The Lord, God Almighty, has not just shown himself to be Almighty, a serious motivation for not wanting to displease him, but also shown himself to be love. A faith-filled awareness of that fact is what assures us that he is always with us and motivates us to love one another as the greatest way to please him. As we prepare for Pentecost this week Saint John reminds us that the Holy Spirit also reminds us that we abide in God and God in us. We’re united.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord prays not only for the disciples hearing his words during the Last Supper, but for every Christian. He prays for us to be just as united, just as “one” as he and the Father are one, and that is a tall order. We are called to live a unity like the unity of the Trinity, and he actually enables us to participate in that unity, albeit not in the same way as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but a unity that we call communion. Jesus is praying today for us to share a communion of life and love, not just with God, but with each other. The biggest obstacle to living that communion is us. The “world” Jesus speaks of today is everything that goes contrary to communion with each other and with God. We live in this environment, and we struggle with it every day. Sometimes the “world” seems more organized, more successful, but Jesus prays that we be consecrated in truth to remember than any illusion of communion between the worldly will vanish when their interests start to diverge.

Ultimately it is the difference between selflessness–genuinely caring for others and seeking their good as much as our own–and selfishness–a life of alliances that are made and broken, often at the expense of others and leading us in the end to a friendless existence. Our Lord wants to free us from places, circumstances, and mindsets that are simply worldly, and worldliness is a constant temptation in this life, which is why Our Lord prays for us today to be free of it.

A worldly outlook is ultimately a selfish, shortsighted, and superficial outlook. The love we have, and have for others, takes us out of ourselves, broadens our horizons, and enables us to appreciate life more deeply than a worldly outlook ever could. Let’s ask Our Lord today for the grace to conquer a little more of the worldliness in which we live by living a charitable life that is concerned with God and with others.

Readings: Acts 1:15–17, 20a, 20c–26; Psalm 103:1–2, 11–12, 19–20; 1 John 4:11–16; John 17:11b–19. See also 7th Week of Easter, Sunday.

Solemnity of the Ascension, Cycle B

Our Lord has ascended into Heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand, but before he goes he makes sure we know that his mission is now our mission, and promises that the Holy Spirit will help us, a fact that we’ll celebrate soon on Pentecost.

In today’s First Reading Saint Luke reminds us that with Our Lord’s Ascension our chapter as Church of helping salvation history to continue begins. It’s not by chance that Saint Luke wrote two books: when Our Lord’s work on earth concludes, his earthly ministry, the Gospel as the story of what Our Savior said and did during his earthly lifetime—from Incarnation to Ascension—ends. As the events of the Gospel end, ours begin.

Saint Luke begins the Acts of the Apostles with a recap of what happened in Our Lord’s earthly life before launching into how the Church took up Our Lord’s mission and continues to carry it out. The Apostles didn’t act right away. Our Lord took the lead during his earthly ministry, but also promised them the help of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is poured out in a special way to help the Apostles take the lead now. Ascension is followed by Pentecost, the day the Easter season draws to a close. The Lord is Risen and Ascended and now it’s time for us to take up the work.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul prays that we have everything we need to carry out Our Lord’s mission. We need wisdom and revelation, and the Spirit gives us the wisdom and revelation to know God. We need the insight of an enlightened heart to know that which is truly worthy of how hope and how wonderful it is. An enlightened heart also believes in the power of God, the power that raised his Son from the dead and set him above all things, including his Church. We may be taking up Our Lord’s mission, but Our Lord is still in charge in a vital and intimate way, just as a head is vital to the whole body, ensuring its health and growth.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord makes it clear that the work is just beginning. In today’s First Reading the Apostles seem confused, thinking the work is over, but the Lord makes it clear that there is a lot of work to do. The stakes are high: people need something to believe in, and just as Our Lord came so we could believe in him, we must go out and invite others to believe in him as well. There was a whole world that did not know Our Lord, and even today too many don’t know him. Our Lord wants to reach them through us.

Our Lord has Ascended. He intercedes for us and directs us from the right hand of the Father, but he is now counting on us to spread the faith. Have you spread the faith with your family, your friends, your co-workers? There are many people in our world who don’t truly know Our Lord and live incomplete lives. We can help them to live.

Readings: Acts 1:1–11; Psalm 47:2–3, 6–9; Ephesians 1:17–23; Mark 16:15–20.

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6th Sunday of Easter, Cycle B

Over the last few weeks of Easter readings we’ve seen the Church gradually understand that the Gospel was meant to go beyond the confines of Judaism to other cultures and, ultimately, to every culture, including Cornelius. The Church is reaching new frontiers in her mission to spread the Gospel. Today those cultural confines are not always ethnic or geographic: they can be person to person.

In today’s First Reading we see one of the culminating moments in the early Church: the Holy Spirit helping the first disciples to take the Gospel beyond Judaism. Saint Peter did not meet Cornelius, a Roman centurion, on his own initiative. The Holy Spirit told him to go with the men Cornelius sent. Cornelius was a God-fearing man despite the fact that he’d never heard the Gospel and received a vision telling him to seek out Peter. Jewish law prevented Peter from entering the home of a non-Jew, but in a vision the Lord told him to enter Cornelius’ home. When Saint Peter saw that Cornelius was a God-fearing man he recognized the work of the Lord in his soul, and the Holy Spirit was active in him. Saint Peter ordered them baptized, and the Gospel was brought to a new frontier, beyond the confines of Judaism.

In today’s Second Reading the apostle and evangelist Saint John reminds us that there are no confines to the love of God, so there should be no confines to our love either. An experience of God is an experience of love. Without that experience it would be no surprise if we didn’t love at all. We experience God, and his love, through Christ. He was sent so that we could have life. Our Lord put no limits on his love and he teaches us to push our own limits too. It took time for the first disciples to realize that the love of Christ had not limits. It takes time for us too. We put limits on our love and have to push on to new frontiers.

Jesus in today’s Gospel teaches us that the Gospel spreads to the degree that we love one another. The Gospel spreads to the degree that people realize God is willing to lay down his life for them. They find that out when we show a similar friendship. Our Lord wants our relationship with him, as well as our fellow man, to be one of friendship, not domination. The mark of true friendship is your willingness to sacrifice for the sake of your friend. The good news of the Gospel is that Our Lord laid down his life for us and wants to be our friend, not just our master. When we second that concern for others, striving to be their friend, we spread the Gospel.

Our Lord teaches us this Sunday that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friend. Make an extra effort this week to go out of your way for a friend, especially a friend who needs it.

Readings: Acts 10:25–26, 34–35, 44–48; Psalm 98:1–4; 1 John 4:7–10; John 15:9–17.