7th Sunday of Easter, Cycle C (2)

Pentecost, the end of the Easter season, is only a week away, and today’s readings remind us that, like the first apostles and disciples, we must let ourselves be shaped by the Word and his Spirit. That may involve taking a new direction in life, drawing closer to the fount of grace in order to achieve a glorious life through giving witness, even unto death, of the glories Our Lord has worked in us and will work through us.

In today’s First Reading St. Stephen, the first martyr, is speaking in a language that his persecutors understand. It is a message that comes with the power of the Holy Spirit, who’s coming on Pentecost to energize the budding Church for her mission that we’ll celebrate in a special way next week. He bears Our Lord’s own words: “Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Those words brought death to Jesus as well, because they were a testimony that Our Lord was the Messiah. Stephen’s testimony went to martyrdom, and that martyrdom bore fruit: Saul became the great apostle St. Paul.

In today’s Second Reading St. John reminds us that Jesus’ Word is above all an invitation to enjoy eternal life. The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”—the Church, that bride described by St. John—in the power of the Holy Spirit extends that invitation that Christ may come into her life and the life of all believers. Let the hearer say, “Come.”—he wants that invitation to be repeated on our lips as well. He wants Christ to come into our lives, and to come into the lives of those to whom we give witness. That invitation is to satisfy a deep need in man that mankind can satisfy in no other way: “Let the one who thirsts come forward, and the one who wants it receive the gift of life-giving water.” That life-giving water is grace, the love and life of God, which unites us to God and to each other and lets the glory of God shine within us.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord prays for those who will believe in him through the words of his disciples. Like St. Stephen, we must bear the word of Jesus so that others can believe. It means giving witness, it means taking the blows of ridicule, misunderstanding, contempt. We may not suffer a physical martyrdom, but there may be a character assassination, ridicule, and scorn. Through Jesus’ word, he prays that we will be united as he is united to his heavenly Father. Through Jesus’ word, he prays that we will share the same glory that his heavenly Father has given him, and through that unity and glory he prays that the world will know that he was sent by his heavenly Father and that the heavenly Father loves them as much as he loves Jesus.

Irenaeus described the glory of God as being man truly living his life: Gloria Dei vivens homo. Man glorifies God by living his life in truth and love to the maximum degree, bolstered by the grace and love of God. Not just passing things, so many toys that are new, then boring, then discarded—money, career, pleasure, power. Not just surviving in an evil and troubled world. Living the Gospel in all its fullness. Eternal life started in our hearts the day of our baptism and wants to grow, to take hold of us and transform us. That growth is made possible by Christ in the power of his Spirit. His word must become our word. His Spirit must become our Spirit, and through faith and prayer and sacrifice we make his words our own, and his Spirit will fill us and transform us.

Readings: Acts 7:55–60; Psalm 97:1–2, 6–7, 9; Revelation 22:12–14, 16–17, 20; John 17:20–26. See also 7th Sunday of Easter, Cycle C, 7th Week of Easter, ThursdaySt. Stephen, First Martyr, and 3rd Week of Easter, Tuesday (2).

7th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday, Year I

In today’s First Reading the Lord through Sirach makes a strong case for the benefits of having wisdom in your life. Society today has a tendency to seek immediate results in an immediate way–success, gratification, etc.–but often lacks the most important thing: wisdom. Wisdom is ultimately an insight into the big picture of things and the ability to apply that wisdom to life’s decisions, big and small.

As Sirach describes today, embracing Wisdom paves the way for being blessed by the Lord. He describes bringing wisdom into your life as a process. It can be unsettling, even painful, at first, because wisdom sheds new light on you attitudes and your actions, and part of that process is a realization of the foolishness in your life too. In yesterday’s First Reading Sirach taught us that the Lord is the source of all wisdom. He’s written wisdom into all of his Creation and when we discover that, we discover blessings and happiness.

St. Paul describes Our Lord as the Wisdom of God (see 1 Corinthians 24,30). In Christ we find the Wisdom of God incarnate. Let’s welcome him and his wisdom into our life.

Readings: Sirach 4:11–19; Psalm 119:165, 168, 171–175; Mark 9:38–40. See also 26th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.


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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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.

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