6th Sunday of Easter, Cycle C (2)

Even after the Lord’s Ascension, which we’ll celebrate this week, the Lord promised that we’d always have an Advocate to look out for us and help us: the Holy Spirit. Today’s reading remind us that the decisions made by the Church are always done with the help of the Holy Spirit, whom we’ll be remembering in a special way on Pentecost Sunday in two weeks.

In today’s First Reading there is a dispute at to whether non-Jewish converts to Christianity are required to be circumcised and follow the Mosaic Law of Jewish converts to Christianity. At first the apostles did not preach the Gospel to Gentiles (non-Jews), but Paul and Barnabas, when they saw Jews rejecting the Gospel, started to preach the Gospel to anyone who would listen. Some disciples in Antioch did the same, and soon Gentiles were embracing Christianity as well as Jews. A debate arose about how Jewish the converts to Christianity needed to act, whether Jews or Gentiles. The first Church council was convoked, the Council of Jerusalem, to discuss the matter. When the decision was made, and a letter was drafted to communicate it, the apostles don’t say they’ve reached a decision on their own: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us…” The Church listened to the Holy Spirit and decided based on what the Spirit had to say. She still does.

In today’s Gospel the Advocate is promised by Jesus to the Apostles to help them in caring for his Church. The Advocate is the Holy Spirit. In St. John’s account of the Last Supper discourse Our Lord knows his disciples will need help when he is gone, and that help comes in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we’ll celebrated in two weeks on Pentecost Sunday. A recurring theme in St. John’s Gospel is that there were some things the disciples did not fully understand until they were helped to do so by the Spirit. For example, John 7:39: “Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” On the eve of the Resurrection Jesus breathed upon them and gave them the Holy Spirit (see John 20:22). At the start of today’s Gospel the Lord promised that he and the Father would come and dwell in those who keep his word, and just a few verses earlier (see John 14:17) he promises that the Holy Spirit would dwell in us too. The Holy Spirit helps the Church through her shepherds to remain faithful throughout the ages to the Lord’s word.

John in his First Letter puts us on guard about just blindly following whatever spirit presents itself: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). A lot of people offer advice, but you must examine the spirit behind that advice to avoid false prophets. A feeling or intuition that seeks to influence your decisions may non necessarily have a good spirit behind it in a world that advocates doing whatever feels good and worrying only about yourself. If a choice implies self-renunciation and sacrifice there’s a good chance the Holy Spirit may be behind it, trying to help you accept God’s will, simply because the thought of that choice is costly to you. It may be a choice to be more disciplined, or a choice to be less demanding on yourself or others. The Holy Spirit wants to help you be objective about yourself.

Readings: Acts 15:1–2, 22–29; Psalm 67:2–3, 5–6, 8; Revelation 21:10–14, 22–23; John 14:23–29.See also 6th Sunday of Easter, Cycle C and 5th Week of Easter, Monday.

7th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Today’s readings remind us that Our Lord has taught us a truly human way of living, giving us an example in his earthly life so that we gradually learn to treat others not necessarily as they treat us, but as how Our Lord would treat them.

In today’s First Reading not-yet-King David is being pursued by King Saul and an army because Saul is envious of David and knows he will deprive him of his throne. David and his men come upon Saul and his army while all are asleep, and he easily sneaks up to Saul himself. This is the second time David had a chance to ambush and kill Saul (cf. 1 Samuel 24). David spared his life to show his loyalty, and Saul acknowledged that he would one day be king and stopped pursuing him. Now Saul was pursuing him again, and David’s servant Abishai was urging him to do what he should have done the first time: slay his enemy while he had the chance.

David kept to a code that was more important than political expediency: if the Lord has not struck down his king, David would not do so either. When he spirits away Saul’s spear and water jug he has every right to gloat, but instead he appeals to Saul to see that David means him no harm and has no pretensions against his rule. David knew, and teaches us, that if we seek justice, we must remember that it is for the Lord to mete it out, not us.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that we have been made in the image and likeness of God and are called to show it. The first pages of Sacred Scripture teach us that Adam and Eve were created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Genesis 1:26-27). Then they Fell. Hard. Even the fallen humanity ushered in by Adam and Eve reflected God, but it also gave him a “bad name” in Creation. Not only was the image and likeness disfigured in them, but they were too wounded and weak to restore it.

Enter the new Adam: Jesus Christ, who not only showed us the true image and likeness of God to which we care called, but filled us with his Spirit so that we were capable of living it through a life of grace, transforming a simply “earthly” life gradually into a “heavenly one.” With the Incarnation of Our Lord we see that image and likeness taking flesh to show us what it means to be in the image and likeness of God. If a transformation in the Spirit is supposed to be taking place within us, then it should be reflected in our actions and attitudes toward others.

Our Lord in today’s Gospel teaches us how we should respond to being mistreated, a response aided by grace and the Spirit, rising above the fallen earthly attitude of just responding in kind. If David in today’s First Reading simply respected King Saul and wished him no harm, Our Lord teaches us more: to love those are enemies to us.

We were all enemies of Our Lord when he died for us (cf. Romans 5:8-11). He was subjected to blows, scourging, spitting, and ridicule and didn’t respond in kind. He was stripped of his clothing and his life was taken from him. He teaches us to “Do unto others as you would have them do to you,” but he qualifies that by saying we should not only love those who love us, but also those who hate us.

Do we expect to be loved? If we expect to be loved, why would we expect ourselves to be exempt from loving? What should move us to love instead is the fact that Our Lord and others love us even when we don’t love them in return. Not just as what is due to those who love us, but as the way to truly live in the image and likeness of God.

A serious obstacle to holiness is making enmity with someone a two-way street. Make a list in prayer this week of people who have wronged you or don’t seem to like you, either personally or as a Catholic. Transformation in Christ comes through effort and grace, so pray for each person on the list this week and make a conscious resolution to harbor no ill will toward them.

Readings: 1 Samuel 26:2, 7–9, 12–13, 22–23; Psalm 103:1–4, 8, 10, 12–13; 1 Corinthians 15:45–49; Luke 6:27–38.

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Today’s readings remind us that a relationship with Our Lord is not optional in our lives if we truly want a fulfilled and complete life. A life without the Lord is ultimately a life without hope. What he taught, did, and experience in his life has ramifications for ours from here to eternity.

In today’s First Reading the prophet Jeremiah describes the importance of a relationship with the Lord in terms of favorable conditions for growth and unfavorable ones. Jeremiah condemns those who put their trust in human beings and the flesh and turn away from the Lord, but believers are not mistrusting people. What is he trying to say? The example of the barren bush teaches us that trust in human beings and the flesh at the expense of Our Lord is ultimately a withered life that just limps along and subsists as best it can, monotonous and agonizing. It is a dry and arid life, compounded by the fact that human beings and the flesh are ultimately mortal and finite. Even putting your trust exclusively in those things is futile in the end: you’ll be separated from others and from health by death. Putting your trust in the Lord changes your life dramatically: it doesn’t mean you or others won’t follow the earthly course of life and die, but it does mean that you’ll have a new source of life that weathers adversity, even the adversity of physical death, and is not only subsistence living, but thriving in this life and the next.

In today’s Second Reading Paul teaches us that a life without the Lord is ultimately a futile life, because a life with the Lord is a life redeemed and transformed by the Resurrection into a life of hope. Paul is shocked when he hears Christians are denying that the Resurrection happened. He teaches them that if Christ didn’t rise from the dead it would not just be bad news for Our Lord, but for all of us. If Our Lord didn’t rise from the dead, neither would we. If death had the last word, there would be no reason to hope. Why? What does Christ’s Resurrection have to do with us today and every day? Our Lord’s life is so fruitful, like the well-placed plant in today’s First Reading, that it gives life to all of us constantly, even eternally, if we let it. He is the “firstfruits” of those who have fallen asleep: we too, redeemed by him, will rise from the dead. However, that requires turning to him for redemption, and if Christ did not conquer death in the Resurrection, he did not conquer sin either, and we remain in a sinful life that is as finite, fleeting, and arid as the bleak desert bush of today’s First Reading. But Christ has risen from the dead, conquering sin and death not only for himself, but for those who believe in him. We now live a redeemed life hoping that one day he will raise us from the dead too.

In today’s Gospel we hear Luke’s account of the Beatitudes and the consequences of not only living them, but ignoring them. The well-placed plant in today’s First Reading stays green during heat waves and fruitful during droughts: it draws on a deeper source that is undiminished by adverse conditions. The Christian who draws from hope in Our Lord, hope in the promises he makes in the Beatitudes, draws from something undiminished by poverty, hunger, sorrow, or persecution. He knows that there are bad seasons and good ones in life, but a good harvest will ultimately come. Luke’s account also recalls Our Lord’s warning to those who would put their trust in other things, like the barren plant of today’s First Reading. Those who trust in riches, a full belly, a perpetual good time, and the flattery of others, separated from Our Lord, will find how fleeting and ultimately unsatisfying those things truly are in comparison to what Our Lord offers: a resilient life that thrives and blossoms in eternity.

Even in the spiritual life we can fall into routine and superficiality, but that’s because we stop making an effort to go deeper in our relationship with Our Lord. That enormous source of water described by Jeremiah today is the mystery of God. We can try to plumb its depths, but we never will. It never goes dry or gets stagnant. Dryness can occur in the spiritual life when Our Lord is trying to show us that we must go deeper in our relationship with him than mere sentimentality, than an empty stomach, a diminishing bank account, or sorrow. If we truly place our trust in him he will help us to spiritual grow with profundity.

Readings: Jeremiah 17:5–8; Psalm 1:1–4, 6; 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16–20; Luke 6:17, 20–26.

6th Sunday of Easter, Cycle B

Over the last few weeks of Easter readings we’ve seen the Church gradually understand that the Gospel was meant to go beyond the confines of Judaism to other cultures and, ultimately, to every culture, including Cornelius. The Church is reaching new frontiers in her mission to spread the Gospel. Today those cultural confines are not always ethnic or geographic: they can be person to person.

In today’s First Reading we see one of the culminating moments in the early Church: the Holy Spirit helping the first disciples to take the Gospel beyond Judaism. Saint Peter did not meet Cornelius, a Roman centurion, on his own initiative. The Holy Spirit told him to go with the men Cornelius sent. Cornelius was a God-fearing man despite the fact that he’d never heard the Gospel and received a vision telling him to seek out Peter. Jewish law prevented Peter from entering the home of a non-Jew, but in a vision the Lord told him to enter Cornelius’ home. When Saint Peter saw that Cornelius was a God-fearing man he recognized the work of the Lord in his soul, and the Holy Spirit was active in him. Saint Peter ordered them baptized, and the Gospel was brought to a new frontier, beyond the confines of Judaism.

In today’s Second Reading the apostle and evangelist Saint John reminds us that there are no confines to the love of God, so there should be no confines to our love either. An experience of God is an experience of love. Without that experience it would be no surprise if we didn’t love at all. We experience God, and his love, through Christ. He was sent so that we could have life. Our Lord put no limits on his love and he teaches us to push our own limits too. It took time for the first disciples to realize that the love of Christ had not limits. It takes time for us too. We put limits on our love and have to push on to new frontiers.

Jesus in today’s Gospel teaches us that the Gospel spreads to the degree that we love one another. The Gospel spreads to the degree that people realize God is willing to lay down his life for them. They find that out when we show a similar friendship. Our Lord wants our relationship with him, as well as our fellow man, to be one of friendship, not domination. The mark of true friendship is your willingness to sacrifice for the sake of your friend. The good news of the Gospel is that Our Lord laid down his life for us and wants to be our friend, not just our master. When we second that concern for others, striving to be their friend, we spread the Gospel.

Our Lord teaches us this Sunday that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friend. Make an extra effort this week to go out of your way for a friend, especially a friend who needs it.

Readings: Acts 10:25–26, 34–35, 44–48; Psalm 98:1–4; 1 John 4:7–10; John 15:9–17.

6th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday, Year II

In today’s First Reading St. James reminds us that temptation does not come from God: God created us as good creatures who sought to do good things. After the Fall of Adam and Eve man’s tendency toward the good was twisted into an unhealthy and unholy attraction to seek and use good things in sinful ways, corrupting us instead of helping us grow in virtue and holiness.

In today’s Gospel the disciples are put on guard against the “leaven” of the Pharisees and Herod. Leaven produces a fermentation in bread that the Jews saw as corruption, which is why in worship they used unleavened bread. Metaphorically, leaven meant moral corruption. For the Pharisees it was hollow, loveless, religious observance without compassion: religious hypocrisy. For Herod, and the Sadducees, religion was just another tool to get what you wanted: worldliness and hedonism.

Temptation always comes across as something small, under the guise of something good or reasonable. When we consent to temptation we start leavening ourselves with corruption. Let’s ask Our Lord to detect and address any “leaven” impacting our lives in a sinful way.

Readings: James 1:12–18; Psalm 94:12–13a, 14–15, 18–19; Mark 8:14–21.