2nd Week of Easter, Tuesday

In today’s First Reading we see the first Christian community united in mind and heart and demonstrating a charity that puts the needs of others first. Even today the Church strives to perform corporal and spiritual works of mercy in many ways: charitable institutions, healthcare, education, counseling, prayer, and so on. While we don’t do it in exactly the same way today (with the exception of certain forms of consecrated life and apostolic life that do pool their resources and make a vow of poverty) it does remind us of the principle behind our giving: making sure everyone gets what they really need.

If we measure up our Church life to that of the first Christians, we realize that unity of mind and heart goes beyond a small donation in the collection basket every Sunday. There are many needs inside and outside the Church today, and addressing those needs is much more complex than in the days of the first Christians. This shouldn’t discourage us; rather, it should inspire us to seek the best ways to truly address the real needs of as many people as we can. It begins at home caring for our own family, but it also extends to finding ways to effectively help the poor and afflicted get back on their feet, not just subsist from one handout to another. This requires a combined effort, which is why the practice of real charity in these cases is the best way to unite the hearts and minds of believers behind a common cause: the cause of the Gospel translated into kindness and concern.

Let’s thank Our Lord for all those people in our life who have helped address our needs, and let’s resolve to help others to identify and address their true needs as well.

Readings: Acts 4:32–37; Psalm 93:1–2, 5; John 3:7b–15. See also Second Week of Easter,Tuesday

Annunciation of the Lord

Today we celebrate an unexpected moment in Mary’s life, when Mary received a visit from an angel. Mary knew that signs from the Lord meant that the Lord had something to say; what would you do if an angel appeared to you? Joshua fell on his face when he realized that the Lord had sent him an army of angels (Joshua 5:14). Samson’s mother went to go get Samson’s father (Manoah) and when he realized he had seen an angel, he was sure he was going to die, until his wife calmed him down (Judges 13). Ahaz in today’s First Reading didn’t want a sign, but that was because he was afraid he’d get one. He knew God had something to say, and that had him shaking in his boots. Ahaz didn’t have faith in the Lord to deliver him and his people from Assyria, and Assyria conquered him in the end.

In today’s Gospel Gabriel acknowledges something Mary in her humility would never do: that she was full of grace. If she was full of grace, and the Lord was with her, why a visit from an angel? Perhaps what was troubling Mary was trying to think of what more she could do for the Lord, but it’s more likely that she was concerned about having displeased him somehow. Why else would he send an angel? We’re not quite in the same category as Mary. We have our limitations and failings and we try to do everything the Lord asks of us. However, we also always have a little fear: it seems we’re giving everything, that we’re pushed to our limits, but then God starts dropping big or small hints that he is expecting something more.

Gabriel assures Mary that she is pleasing to the Lord (“full of grace”), and then gives her the news (or drops the bomb, depending on how you look at it). The Lord wants her to be the Mother of the Messiah. When she asks “how can this be?” it gets even more astounding. The Messiah is the Son of God, she is being invited to be the Mother of the Son of God, therefore she is being invited to be the Mother of God. No one in salvation history could have ever expected such an invitation. Most Israelites in Mary’s day would have reacted like Samson’s father: terror. How can this be that the Lord would call a woman Mom? That was too much. What about when he descended in fire and smoke on Sinai? The Lord was someone powerful, transcendent, and awe-inspiring. The simplest answer, in a language that Mary understood, was that it would be possible by the power of God.

When God drops bombs on us we too can ask “how can this be?”, but we already know the answer: by the power of God. God in his mercy knows too that our faith doesn’t work in a vacuum: he gives us signs to help us keep moving forward. He gives Mary a sign that is funny if you consider the First Reading. Ahaz got the sign of a virgin being with child. Mary got the sign of an old married woman being with child, and the assurance of what we all know in our hearts: nothing is impossible to God. Mary didn’t  play wait and see; she didn’t go to visit Elizabeth and see whether the angel had told the truth: Mary believed, because she knew all things were possible for God, and that’s exactly what Elizabeth said to her when she did go to see her: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

We shouldn’t be afraid of the signs when they come, and we shouldn’t go looking for them either. If we have faith, we will see the signs. They are a gift for having faith. Jesus himself said to Thomas, blessed are they who have not seen, but have believed. The power of God working with our faith overshadows all our expectations. When something overshadows you it is so huge that you see how tiny you are in comparison. God’s expectations are huge for all of us, but he promises to help us to meet them.

Let’s follow Mary’s example today. Let’s have that same spirit of faith and humility when God asks us something way beyond our possibilities. Let’s have that faith that the power of the Most High will make it happen. Let’s respond just as Mary did: be it done to me Lord according to your word.

Readings: Isaiah 7:10–14, 8:10; Psalm 40:7–11; Hebrews 10:4–10; Luke 1:26–38. See also Immaculate Conception.

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

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. 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 did the Lord have 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 also empowers his Apostles to be instruments of his mercy. 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, and when a priest or bishop absolves his penitent from his sins, that mercy and power comes from Jesus too. 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 remember 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.

Let’s thank Our Lord today for the gift of his mercy, and also strive to remain in the same peace that he wishes to share with us, not only between us and him, but among ourselves in a world wounded by sin.

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 EasterSt. Thomas the Apostle, and Pentecost Sunday.

Easter Saturday (2)

The chief priests and elders in today’s First Reading have no more cards to play. A crippled man had been healed in Jesus’ name, and two uneducated men, Peter and John, were proclaiming the Gospel and converting thousands. The saddest thing is that the priests and elders still think they have some cards to play: they think just on their moral and religious authority they can forbid Peter and John from preaching in Jesus’ name (an expression that also refers to Jesus’ authority), but, in addition to not really having any authority anymore, Peter does not recognize it, because he has received his authority from the Son of God, who has proven his credentials by rising from the dead.

The priests and elders do not realize it, but they’re looking at their replacements. The end of today’s Gospel narrates Jesus commanding the Apostles to go out into the whole world and preach the Gospel. The priests and elders cannot countermand that, even though they try. The Apostles are now entrusted with caring for and teaching the People of God, not the priests and elders, who have lost credibility and can’t try covering things up anymore using their authority and their scheming. Their threats are now empty.

Today as disciples we have to face secular authorities or authorities of other religions who try to make us obey them instead of God. Let’s ask for the grace and eloquence of the apostles, always putting obedience to Christ in first place and giving witness to our faith.

Readings: Acts 4:13–21; Psalm 118:1, 14–15b, 16–21; Mark 16:9–15. See also Easter Saturday.

Easter Friday (2)

The transformation of Peter in today’s First Reading is amazing if you consider that he is now being questioned by the same people who put Christ to death. He had performed a great sign in public, and the religious authorities treated him exactly as they had Our Lord. We can only imagine what would have happened if he’d healed the crippled man on the Sabbath. What is the source of Peter’s transformation? He’s gone from being intimidated by a servant girl to standing before the Sanhedrin and telling them their own guilt for having crucified Our Lord.

Peter is not concentrating on condemning the Sanhedrin, but showing them that their scheming was useless in thwarting God’s plan. He was an eye witness to everything inflicted on Our Lord, but also to Our Lord Risen and alive. He knows the only true salvation comes from Our Lord, “nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” When you’re not afraid of death, what more is there to fear? Peter’s strength comes from the certainty that Our Lord has conquered death.

Peter not only drew boldness from his faith in the Risen Lord. He was also full of the Holy Spirit. Even when our convictions start to fail us, the Holy Spirit is willing to strengthen us in times of trial. If the Risen Lord is not much of a motivation for you this Easter season, ask the Holy Spirit to help you reclaim the boldness of being a believer. You may not convert five thousand as Peter did, but you will bring people closer to God through his Son.

Readings: Acts 4:1–12; Psalm 118:1–2, 4, 22–27a; John 21:1–14. See also Easter Friday.