5th Sunday of Easter, Cycle B

At his Mass of Solemn Inauguration as Pope (April 24th, 2005), Pope Benedict XVI commented on something that the tremendous attendance at Saint John Paul II’s funeral showed the world: the Church is alive, and the Church is young. Our Lord today, describing his relationship to his disciples and his Church, presents us an image of the Church alive and young: a vine.

In today’s First Reading we see that the life of Christ reaches the most unlikely people, just like a vine is difficult sometimes to trace to its trunk: Saul the persecutor through Our Lord became Paul the apostle. Paul being a believer after all the trouble and mayhem he caused among the first Christians was difficult for Christians to believe. What if it was as ruse?

Barnabas, however, had seen the signs that Our Lord was present and active in Paul. “Saul” had undergone a profound conversion in Damascus and his preaching there was just the beginning. After meeting with the apostles he pursued his mission with such zeal that he had to leave Jerusalem or risk death. Through hardships too numerous to list he stayed rooted in Our Lord and, as Paul himself said, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

In today’s Second Reading we’re reminded by Saint John that the decision to stay rooted in Our Lord is ultimately ours, and there is only one way to abide in the vine. John knows from past experience that there are “religious” people who just go through the motions and do not love in “deed and truth.” If we love in deed and truth we know Our Lord will take care of us. John summarizes abiding in Our Lord as believing in him and loving one another. Our Lord doesn’t leave us alone in striving to believe in him and love one another. His Holy Spirit communicates the grace we need to abide in him.

Jesus in the Gospel today invites the disciples, like he invites us, his disciples, to remain in him. Jesus is that true vine, that trunk, from which the Holy Spirit flows and gives us life, as the readings remind us of today. However, just abiding in the vine is not enough. The vine is not just drawing life from the trunk; with its leaves it is gathering life from the sun and with the water to give life to the rest of the vine as well. Which is why Jesus reminds us that the sign of any healthy vine is its fruits. When God sees we’re putting out feelers or heading in fruitless directions, he nips those feelers in the bud. That can hurt, but, just like a doctor poking and prodding at what ails us, it is a necessary pain.

The life of Christ reached Paul in an unexpected way, but it didn’t stop with him. It transformed the zeal of a persecutor into the zeal of an apostle. Paul knew Our Lord wanted him to go out and help the life of Christ reach others. As he said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16). Woe to us as well if we do not preach the Gospel. A vine spreads through its branches and the Heavenly Father, as today’s Gospel reminds us, expects us to bear fruit in his Son. Ask yourself today whether you are sharing the Gospel with anyone.

Readings: Acts 9:26–31; Psalm 22:26–28, 30–32; 1 John 3:18–24; John 15:1–8.


4th Sunday of Easter, Cycle B

In today’s readings we see Our Lord described as the cornerstone on which the Church is built, the big brother who always watches out for us, and the Good Shepherd who not only was willing to lay his life down for us, but did. The common denominator of all these images is the charity of Our Lord and the important of building our own lives on that charity.

In today’s Gospel we see the concern Our Lord has for every soul, a concern he describes as like a shepherd toward his sheep. Throughout Church history this has been seen as “pastoral” concern for others, and in today’s First Reading we see the Good Shepherd has entrusted his sheep to Peter and the Apostles without relinquishing them so that their pastoral needs can continue to be met. Peter has made a great commotion in healing a crippled man who begged at one of the entrances to the Temple area for a long time. However, he does not take credit for it: he did it in the name of Jesus.

Just as Our Lord worked signs for the sake of the Gospel Peter has received the power and the authority to preach in the Lord’s name. Peter speaks today of Our Lord as the cornerstone: a stone essential to maintaining the stability of a structure. A sheep cannot take the place of a shepherd, which is why Our Lord remains the Good Shepherd, the key to pastorally caring for us, his sheep. The foundation of our pastoral well-being is his death and resurrection, and it continues to be so.

In today’s Second Reading we’re reminded that Our Lord laid down his life so that we could become not only his property, but his adopted brothers and sisters. In the Old Testament a treasured lamb is described as being like a daughter to her owner (cf. 2 Samuel 12:3), but John reminds us that God is not just our Father metaphorically. Our adoption as sons and daughters is thanks to the Son, our big brother. Just as he shows and ensures a pastoral concern for us, he also watches over us like a big brother should. As children of God the Father we should also respect and cherish God Our Big Brother who made it all possible.

Our Lord describes himself in today’s Gospel as the Good Shepherd. A good shepherd cares so much for his sheep that he is willing to lay down his life for them. A person hired to do such a job would just say “this is not in my contract” and abandon them. Even the owner of the sheep might write them off as a wolf drew close, thinking to himself, “I’m insured,” or “I’ll just need to write this off as a loss on my tax returns.” The Good Shepherd shares his life with his sheep. He’s not indifferent to their trials and sufferings, so he’s not indifferent to their death. He’d rather die first. That attitude goes beyond just business or even obligation: Jesus says he willingly lays down his life for us, his sheep. He cares about each one of us.

Our Lord is not just willing to lay down his life for us. He did. Let’s try to show our gratitude today by letting him lead us in humility wherever he wants to lead us, knowing it’ll always be toward more verdant pastures.

Readings: Acts 4:8–12; Psalm 118:8–9, 21–23, 26, 28–29; 1 John 3:1–2; John 10:11–18. See also 4th Sunday of Easter.

3rd Sunday of Easter, Cycle B

The Gospel today makes us ask ourselves one key question, an important question in the Easter Season: how would you react if Jesus appeared to you?

Would you recognize him? In the First Reading Saint Peter tells the Jews that they didn’t recognize the author of life, their redeemer, and handed him over to suffer and die. He also said that it didn’t matter, if their hearts were open, now that they knew. God was ready to forgive them for their ignorance, and the way to receive that forgiveness was by receiving Baptism to wipe away their sins.

Does the thought of meeting with him at the end of your life fill you with fear? In the Second Reading Saint John reminds us that we have Our Lord as our Advocate to stand up for us, and that Our Lord makes expiation for the sins of the whole world. Our sins and the price of them is what fills us with fear, but Jesus has wiped away those sins, if we open our hearts to him. To recognize Jesus when we meet him is one thing, to know him is another. We have acquaintances in our life, and we have friends. Saint John tells us how we truly know God: by keeping his commandments. Jesus at the Last Supper gives the greatest commandment, the commandment that shows we are his friends: to love one another as he has loved us. Saint John also reminds us that whoever keeps God’s word, the love of God is truly perfected in him.

Would you be afraid of him, whenever he appeared? For the disciples in the Gospel today, the first thought that came to their minds was, “a Ghost!” We could have that same reaction: Jesus as someone from the past, someone dead, coming back to haunt us for what we’ve done to him. However, he tells them, and he tells us, “Peace Be With You,” and shows the wounds in his hands and feet to show that his suffering wasn’t just a dream, it really happened, and, in spite of that, he wants peace with us (see John 20:19-21).

As Christians we know that his next coming will be in glory to the whole world. We also know that we’ll see him face to face one day, each of us, when we die. However, he does “appear” to me, even now. He appears whenever I follow my conscience, love, and don’t sin. He appears to me in the Eucharist every time I come to Mass and receive him in Holy Communion. He appears to me every time I go to the sacrament of Reconciliation and tell him I’m sorry for sinning and for not loving him as I should. In these encounters with Our Lord we prepare for that big encounter one day when we’ll see him just as he appeared to the apostles in today’s Gospel, and we’ll be filled with joy, not fear.

Jesus comes to us in the sacraments and gives us a chance to recognize him, to know him, and to re-establish our friendship with him again whenever we stumble or fall. Whenever we come to Mass, the first thing we do is the Penitential Rite, and when we encounter Our Lord by receiving the Eucharist, he keeps us from falling when we stumble, and makes sure we stay on our feet. Every time we come to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, whether we are stumbling, flat on the ground, even spiritually dead inside, he comes to us and pulls us back on our feet. We have to help him do that by opening our hearts, by loving him and helping him, by being sorry for what we’ve done, otherwise it’s like he’s trying to lift us up, and we’re trying to pull him down onto the ground, or we just don’t want to get up.

Readings: Acts 3:13–15, 17–19; Psalm 4:2, 4, 7–9; 1 John 2:1–5a; Luke 24:35–48.

Easter Vigil, Cycle B

The Easter Vigil has many readings, some optional, but since it presents a recap of salvation history it’s not surprising that it stretches from the dark, formless waste before Creation to the dawn of the Resurrection on Easter morning.

In the account of Creation (Genesis 1:1–2:2) we see the Lord creating everything we now experience and declaring it good.

  • It all began with a dark abyss and a formless wasteland.
  • Then light was created, and the distinction between night and day.
  • Then the sky.
  • Then the sea and the earth.
  • Then the plants.
  • Then the sun, the moon, and the stars.
  • Then the living creatures of the sky and sea.
  • Then the living creatures of the land.
  • Then, as a category set apart, he created man and entrusted him with the stewardship of Creation.

The Lord didn’t just give us a beginning; he gave us a good one.

In the story of Abraham being put to the test (Genesis 22:1–18) we see his faith in the face of a terrible trial, but also a foreshadowing of the Lamb who would be sacrificed: Our Lord. When Isaac asks Abraham about what was to be sacrificed, Abraham replied, “God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust.” We may think Abraham’s act of faith ended with the ram caught in the bushes that he sacrificed instead of his son, but that’s not entirely accurate. The Lord renewed his promise to Abraham as being the father of a great nation, but that nation would need redemption. God the Father spared Isaac, but sacrificed his own Son, and, in the Son, God sacrificed himself.

In the story of the Israelites escaping the wrath of the Egyptians (Exodus 14:15–15:1) we see a foreshadowing of Baptism. The Israelites were saved from death and slavery by passing through the waters, just as we are saved from death and the slavery of sin through the waters of Baptism. Crossing through the waters not only saved their lives; it led to a new life as the People of God. Baptism has the same effect in our lives: it leads us to new life and makes us part of the People of God, destroying the chains of sin and death in the process.

In Isaiah’s vision of the new Jerusalem (Isaiah 54:5–14) we see our ultimate destination: Heaven. The Church is the Bride of Christ, and, as a good husband should, Our Lord protects her from every threat, every evil, seeking to make her eternally happy. The Church, while on pilgrimage, it still menaced and dogged by sin, but her husband watches over her and leads her to the day when they’ll be together, secure and loved, forever. On that day all the “marital” strife we’ve caused our perfect Spouse will end, and he’ll never turn his face from us again.

Isaiah’s goes on to remind us (Isaiah 55:1–11) that we should turn to the Lord for whatever we may need. He offers us the waters that will wash us of our sins and sow the seed of eternal life: Baptism. He nourishes us with the Eucharist without asking anything in return. He makes his presence known so that we can turn to him. Conversion literally means, “with a turning toward.” He shows us how we can turn back to him after we’ve sinned. He sends out his Word—Jesus—so that we can hear him, and his Word always succeeds.

Baruch reminds us (Baruch 3:9–15, 32–4:4) that the solution to all our problems is to return to the fount of wisdom. He is addressing the Israelites in exile due to their infidelity. Sin will also exile us from the Promised Land if we let it. Wisdom has been entrusted to the People of God. Wisdom comes from God, and, in the case of Our Lord, we experience Wisdom in Person.

Ezekiel reminds us (Ezekiel 36:16–17a, 18–28) that the Lord wishes to write a new covenant on our hearts. The Ten Commandments were brought down from Mt. Sinai on tablets of stone. The Israelites were as cold hearted in valuing them as a stone would be. They were scattered and, wherever they were, they gave the Lord a bad name due to their iniquity. The Lord promises to reunite them, cleanse them, and change their hearts. The People of God today, the Church, have been reunited, cleansed, and changed in their hearts by Our Lord through his sacrifice and the “sprinkling” of Baptism.

With the Epistle we pass from the Old Testament to the New (Romans 6:3-11), and St. Paul reminds us that in Baptism we die in Christ and then receive new life from him. In many celebrations of the Eucharist this evening we welcome people into the Church through Baptism. The water goes over our heads, whether by immersion or aspersion, to represent the burial in Christ that Paul speaks of this evening in the Epistle. The person who comes up out of that water comes up into new life, just as Our Lord did when the tragedy of the Cross was behind him. If we’re dead as far as sin is concerned, we need to act like it. Dying in Christ is dying to sin so that living in him leads to a new and eternal life.

In this evening’s Gospel the disciples thought they were doing one last kindness for Our Lord. They were trying to overcome an obstacle that seemed insurmountable: the stone sealing the tomb. That didn’t stop them from moving forward. In the end the obstacle was removed without them having to lift a finger, and their life took an unexpected turn. Instead of one last gesture of kindness and closure for a departed friend, they received a wonderful surprise: their friend was alive and well. They also received a new mission: they had to spread the news. In the light of Christ’s victory over death we know that if we continue along the path he’s shown us (love for him and for others), even when there are obstacles, even when we don’t understand, those obstacles will be overcome and those mysteries will be explained, because Christ overcame the biggest obstacle and mystery of all: sin and death.

This evening catechumens receive the sacraments of Christian initiation throughout the Western world and become neophytes. Born anew of water and the spirit in Christ, neophytes are taking their first baby steps in the faith. Congratulate anyone in your parish who has just come into the Church and pray for neophytes everywhere.

Readings: Genesis 1:1–2:2; Genesis 22:1–18; Exodus 14:15–15:1; Isaiah 54:5–14; Isaiah 55:1–11; Baruch 3:9–15, 32–4:4; Ezekiel 36:16–17a, 18–28; Romans 6:3–11; Mark 16:1–7. See also Easter Vigil.

Pentecost Sunday, Cycle A

Today the Easter season concludes with Pentecost Sunday, commemorating that day in the budding Church when the Father and the Son poured out the Holy Spirit in a special way on the Apostles and they took up the mission of proclaiming the Gospel throughout the whole world. The Holy Spirit throughout the Church’s history has showered down gifts upon her to keep her faithful to the teaching she’s received from Our Lord, and to keep the fires burning to inspire hearts to turn to Our Lord and be reconciled with God and with man.

In today’s First Reading with wind and fire the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the Twelve in a way that cannot be contained. It’s a sign no one can ignore. A rushing wind and tongues of fire. It draws a crowd. It’s a sign everyone is able to understand. It goes beyond the barriers of language to help humanity reunite once again in the Spirit. It’s the sign everyone has been seeking: the truth about God, the world, and man. Every point of origin the shocked witnesses mention today was a full-fledged Christian communion by the time St. Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles. The fire of the Holy Spirit spread like wildfire, uncontainable.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that the presence and action of the Holy Spirit is often perceived as gifts, gifts for the edification and unity of the Church. The Holy Spirit gifts us the gift of prayer to express in faith that Jesus is Lord. The spiritual gifts are unified in the Church through their source: the Holy Spirit. The ways we serve are unified in serving Our Lord. All the workings of the Spirit in us come from God. Each gift is for our benefit, another’s, or both.

In today’s Gospel we’re reminded of one of the Spirit’s greatest gifts, a gift Our Lord conferred to the Apostles on the eve of his Resurrection: the gift of reconciliation with God. Our Lord first bestows the gift of reconciliation with his dearest friends, the friends who abandoned him in his moment of need: “Peace be with you.” It’s no coincidence that he repeats this desire for reconciliation even as he is breathing the Holy Spirit upon them. It is the Holy Spirit who makes reconciliation possible. The Spirit raised Jesus from the dead and gave him new life so that reconciliation would be possible.

One of the most saddening ways to break off a relationship with someone is to say, “you are dead to me;” In God’s eyes, even in those situations the Spirit can make that person come alive again through the grace of mercy, whether mercy received or mercy given. The separation between God and man, recalled by the story of the Tower of Babel, is reversed by the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost: in pride man distanced himself from God and his fellow man, and communication broke down. Through the gift of tongues the Holy Spirit reestablishes the lines of communication. In the Spirit man reconciles not only with God, but with his fellow man.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday were crowning gifts for the good of the Church and the world. This Sunday is not just a moment to ask the Spirit for more gifts, although they are abundant; it is a moment to take stock of the all the spiritual gifts we have received in gratitude. People receive gifts that they don’t think they really need and chuck them in the closet all the time. Have we relegated any of the Holy Spirit’s gifts to the closet? Paul reminds us today that gifts are for the benefit of someone.

Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how you can best use his gifts.

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

Image result for pentecost