7th Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

On the Seventh Sunday of Easter we are in prayerful expectation of the coming the Holy Spirit next Sunday at Pentecost, just as the first disciples were. The Easter season concludes in a week with Pentecost. How are we preparing for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit?

In today’s First Reading, just after the Ascension, the disciples gather, wait, and pray. The angels had to give them a little nudge to see that it was over (see the First Reading for Ascension Thursday), but they’ve taken the hint and come down from the mountain. However, it is not a John 21 moment; they haven’t returned to their day to day affairs as if nothing had happened. Our Lord had promised they would receive the power of the Holy Spirit if they wait, so they don’t just fill their time with mundane little chores; they gather and pray. We are gathered in prayer today, just as we should pray this whole week, awaiting the Holy Spirit.

In today’s Second Reading Peter reminds us that the Holy Spirit will be with us, but the mission we have received will still be tough. Just before his Ascension Our Lord charged the Apostles with going out and baptizing the whole world (see the Gospel for Ascension Thursday). About two millennia have passed. Are we there yet? He promised to be with them always, and that the power of the Holy Spirit would come upon them. If you read the Acts of the Apostles you see he was good on his promises, yet every Apostle but one suffered martyrdom. If we suffer in the name of Christ we know that the “Spirit of glory and of God rests” upon us.

In today’s Gospel we’re reminded that even as we wait in prayerful expectation of the Holy Spirit we know that Our glorified Lord is praying for us too at his Father’s right hand. He may have vanished from the world’s sight at the conclusion of his earthly ministry, but now the Risen Lord has concluded his time with his faithful disciples on earth and ascended into Heaven until he returns one day in the future. All the glory Our Lord asks the Father for in today’s Gospel is now being given to him. He spent his time on earth glorifying the Father through doing his will. Now he can grant eternal life: to know God and to know whom he sent. Now he prays for us to take up the torch, lit by the Holy Spirit, and continue his work.

The disciples today teach us the merits and importance of patient and trusting prayer. Our prayer life at times can be very staccato: almost as soon as one petition or expectation escapes our lips in prayer we’re moving to the next one. Sometimes we just keep asking for immediate things, skeptical Our Lord will truly help. If you’ve never really striven to persevere in prayer for something, now is the time to start. Perseverant prayer is also realistic prayer. Sometimes we try to tie Our Lord’s hands by asking for something very specific in a very specific way. Specificity is okay, but it must be combined with openness to God’s will. In Our Lord’s most anguished prayer in Gethsemane he said, “not my will, by thine be done.”

We all have prayer intentions that are very important to us, faced with dire situations. When tempted by discouragement it’s important to remember all the little prayers Our Lord has answered throughout your life. Good weather on a day you plan to picnic. Good results on an exam. A clean bill of health at the doctor’s office when some ache or pain has worried you. Thanking Our Lord whenever things work out, even if you didn’t dedicate a lot of prayer time, helps to foster more trust that he wants what’s best for you. Remember: he knows what you need before you ask.

Readings: Acts 1:12–14; Psalm 27:1, 4, 7–8; 1 Peter 4:13–16; John 17:1–11a. See also Ascension of the Lord, Cycle A.

7th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year I

Everyone has a moment where they question the purpose of life, often a moment of depression or discouragement. Sirach today presents a list of wonders from the Lord today in the First Reading that helps us see our life as one big gift basket:

The gift of life. Our Lord created us, and he was not obliged to create us. As the most reasonable being ever, he had some idea in mind when he created us, which means we have some purpose in life to discover and enjoy.

The gift of being made in God’s image. God is pretty amazing, and he decided to make us like him. We’re a work of art depicting something wonderful.

The gift of time. We’re not living on borrowed time, but gifted time. Life is full of milestones, and we all have a deadline. Deadlines can make us amazingly productive, and the big deadline at the end of our earthly life will be the biggest milestone of all: it catapults us from here to eternity. Time is a gift, and each moment is a treasure.

The gift of his creations. The Lord has blessed us with all sorts of things in order to live, to grow, and to be happy. He’s given us so many choices of pets, but also many choices of menu. He’s given us wool sweaters, guide dogs, and hamburgers with all the trimmings.

The gift of understanding and creativity. He’s given us scientific knowledge that amazes us, movies, novels, paintings, and sculptures. He’s given us great things to discover and to share with others. He’d made us creative like him, and also made us inquisitive so that we seek him through his creatures and always strive to unravel mysteries.

The gift of knowledge beyond our immediate perceptions. We know, thanks to him, that there is a whole spiritual world underpinning our material one and also going beyond it. A world that makes life more than just a rat race of eat, sleep, strive, die. A world beyond the ordinary happenings of everyday life and any one life.

The gift of wisdom regarding good and evil. He’s given us a conscience to learn and to know right from wrong, not just because of the satisfaction or guilt it might bring, but as a path to true growth and happiness. He’s given us freedom to choose, but also the responsibility to choose wisely, the rewards that come from living a good life, and the consequences of living a bad one.

The gift of knowing and respecting God. He’s revealed himself to us, as we know from the first chapters of Genesis, and he’s shown us throughout history that he is amazing, loving, and worthy of our respect.

The gift of a relationship and covenant with him. He’s made the deal of a lifetime with us that he never rescinds. He never shortchanges us, and he shows us how to live a worthy life. He also warns us about living an unworthy life, and, like a loving Father, is always watching over us to keep us out of trouble.

The gift of a relationship and covenant with others. He’s also given us others like us so that we never need to be alone. He’s given us the gift of family, friends, society, and culture so that we can love and enrich one another. In the Gospel today we’re reminded about the gift of children, who teach us simplicity in striving for the Kingdom of God and the joy and purity of innocence.

Take stock of your gift basket today and give thanks to God. You’ll find at least one gift that makes your life worth living.

Readings: Sirach 17:1–15; Psalm 103:13–18; Mark 10:13–16. See also 19th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year II and 19th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday.

7th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, Year I

Anyone who uses FaceBook occasionally receives a post from a “friend” who wonders whether his “friends” are willing to show their friendship. He asks his post be re-posted on his “friend’s” FaceBook to show not only that his “friend” is reading his posts, but that he acknowledges him publicly as a friend. Not surprisingly some “friends” get upset at this kind of request. FaceBook probably chose to name the magic button “friend” because “acquaintance” was too long a word.

Sirach in today’s First Reading reminds us that there is a difference between a friend and an acquaintance: a friend is someone you can trust and count on; an acquaintance is simply someone you know. Some friends do not go the distance: they’re friends in fair weather, but abandon ship in hard times. They turn on you when you upset them. That’s why a true and faithful friend is a rare treasure, and it’s only something you discover over time. That doesn’t mean avoiding others; Sirach also counsels us to be on good terms with everyone, but also to be very cautious in making friends.

We all have a faithful friend who fits the profile perfectly: a sturdy shelter, beyond price, and a life-saving remedy. You already know His name. Why not get in touch with Him today if you haven’t spoken in a while? No FaceBook required.

Readings: Sirach 6:5–17; Psalm 119:12, 16, 18, 27, 34–35; Mark 10:1–12. See also 19th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday and 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

7th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday, Year I

A few weeks ago we recalled how Adam and Eve somehow convinced themselves they’d not get “caught,” yet right after they ate of the fruit they hid at the first sign of God. Did it work? Sirach in today’s First Reading reminds us that God sees everything and he is the only one on which we can rely. If we convince ourselves that money, power, or cleverness will enable us to get away with whatever we want, Sirach reminds us today that the Lord watches over us as closely (and more) as a loving Father, and a loving father rewards or punishes accordingly. Sometimes we see him as a police officer, an authority against which we want to prove our autonomy, but in the end, he only wants the best for us.

Sirach also reminds us that God ultimately decides when to be merciful, so we must not abuse of his mercy. When you knowingly sin, for example, but tell yourself, “I’ll just go to confession afterwards,” you are abusing of God’s mercy. In early Christianity some notorious pagans, including the emperor Constantine, put off their Baptism until their deathbed so that they could “enjoy” themselves before taking on the demanding commitments of being a Christian. If Constantine had been instantly killed in battle or an accident, his opportunity for mercy would have died with him. If we live as if we’ll be held accountable for what we do, we’ll treat ourselves and others better.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord reminds us of the merit of even a small act of kindness, and also the need to be radical to avoid a life of sin and its consequences. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to tweak our consciences whenever we think we can get away with something.

Readings: Sirach 5:1–8; Psalm 1:1–4, 6; Mark 9:41–50. See also 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

7th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday, Year I

When a goalie stands in front of the net, he doesn’t wonder about whether the shots will come; they do. Sirach in today’s First Reading teaches us the same lesson about life. If we serve the Lord, the shots will come, and we must stand firm in our moral convictions and remain faithful to him. Some shots get past us, some shots we take, and some shots cause us a lot of pain.

A good servant is tested, not just by his master, but by circumstances. He can not only question his moral convictions, but his master as well. Sirach today reminds us that to “fear the Lord” not only means to respect him, but to trust him. Sometimes that trust is all that keeps us in front of the net.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord tries to share this wisdom with his disciples, and he will be the example of a faithful and dedicated son who takes all the shots life gives him, even to the point of death. Let’s imitate Our Lord today and don’t shy away from any shots that may come.

Readings: Sirach 2:1–11; Psalm 37:3–4, 18–19, 27–28, 39–40; Mark 9:30–37. See also 26th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B19th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday.