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.

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

Today’s readings remind us why today, Divine Mercy Sunday, it is the Risen Christ, once crucified, now glorious, who brings us peace. If we do not experience peace and communion we need to examine ourselves to see from where those divisions and turbulence arise; they do not come from Our Lord.

In today’s First Reading we see the budding Church experiencing peace and communion in everything. Anyone who was in need received aid, and they shared everything they had. The Apostles not only taught them gladly, but also guided them and healed them with their “power.” The apostles preaching centers on the Resurrection of Christ, in part because of what we’ll consider in today’s Gospel. It was their experience of peace given by the Risen Christ that made them his ministers of that same peace.

In today’s Second Reading St. John reminds us that by loving God and obeying his commandments we are sure to love others and conquer the worldliness that tries to separate us from God and others. It is worldliness that robs us of peace and communion. Believing in Our Lord as the Son is the key to turning our backs on a world that often tries to divide us and isolate us in selfishness. In Saint John’s writing the “world” almost invariably refers to all the forces opposed to Christ, his teaching, and our faith.

If Our Lord brings peace and communion, divisions and turbulence can only come from the world. The world is not just something “out there”; a spirit of worldliness often tests us. As much as the world tries to claim otherwise, the teachings of Our Lord bring peace to a troubled world and to troubled consciences. This process is not easy. Saint John insists that Our Lord did not just have to pass through water, but blood as well. He was baptized, but he also had to take up his cross and struggle all the way to Calvary. So do we. Saint John also reminds us that the Holy Spirit helps us identify and check the worldliness that always tries to afflict us.

The Risen Lord shows his wounds today in the Gospels to the disciples and says, “Peace be with you.” They’d all abandoned him when he needed them. Showing those wounds could have been to shame them, but Jesus wanted to communicate a message of mercy, not condemnation. Sometimes we forget that we’ve been forgiven. Jesus in showing his wounds today says, in a sense, “what happened, happened, but be at peace, I forgive you.”

Every sin we commit wounds Our Lord, and if we don’t realize that, obviously we’re not going to be asking mercy from anyone, and not showing much mercy when others hurt us. Conversion means realizing we’ve gone off-track and hurt people along the way, including the people we love. Our Lord is always waiting for us to turn back to him and accept his peace to get back on track. In every sacrament of Confession we acknowledge that we’ve hurt Christ and hurt others: we acknowledge the wounds we’ve inflicted and Christ tells us to be at peace, because all is forgiven.

Our Lord gives the Apostles a special gift of the Holy Spirit today to become his ministers of peace, reconciliation, and communion. It’s the Risen Lord who makes this possible. If Our Lord were simply dead and gone, or ascended straight away without appearing to his disciples, we’d never truly know if he’d have forgiven us. He returned, Risen, and his first words were words of peace and a desire to share that peace with others. He sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins, a forgiveness that brings peace.

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday. Reconciliation with God and reconciliation with others are two sides of the same coin. Show your appreciation for divine mercy this week by asking someone you’ve hurt or wronged for forgiveness.

Readings: Acts 4:32–35; Psalm 118:2–4, 13–15, 22–24; 1 John 5:1–6; John 20:19–31.