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.

3rd Sunday in Lent, Cycle B

Spring is only a few weeks away, and with spring comes the tradition of spring cleaning. This Sunday the liturgy recalls Our Lord clearing the Temple. It’s a good occasion to remind us of the importance of Lenten cleaning so we can get started. We still have three weeks before Holy Week, so there’s still time to examine your heart and clear your temple too.

When you live in filth it’s easy to forget what is filthy and what is not. Today’s First Reading reminds us how we should do a good Lenten cleaning: by examining how we’ve lived the Ten Commandments. They present a simple question: is the world in which we live happier when they’re lived or not?

  • Is a world that doesn’t put God first a happier world? Not the caricature of God that people paint of an overbearing and cruel being, but a loving Father.
  • Is the world happier when the only time you hear God’s name is as a swear word, not as an invocation and acknowledgment of someone who loves you?
  • Is the world happier when we work 24/7 instead of taking out time for God and family once a week?
  • Is the world happier when we ignore or just tolerate our parents instead of cherishing them and their role in giving us life?
  • Is the world happier when we hate, harm, or kill others out of payback?
  • Is the world happier when we cheapen “love” and make it egotistical by avoiding or abandoning commitment?
  • Is the world happier when we don’t give others their due, or respect their property?
  • Is the world happier when we get back at someone by lying about them, or dishonestly get out of trouble at their expense?
  • Is the world happier when all we can think of is what our neighbors have and what we don’t?

As much as we might try to convince ourselves otherwise, we all know the answer.

In today’s Second Reading Paul points to the best response to those who take issue with God or what he expects of us: Christ Crucified. The Jews demanded signs proving someone was from God or favored by him. Suffering and misfortune for them was a sign of punishment from God. So how does that logic fit with God crucified on a Cross for us? The Greeks sought to cultivate a refined view of the world and man and to live life in the most satisfying way possible through philosophy. When Paul preached to them about the Resurrection, they laughed at him (see Acts 17:28–34). This life was all there was, according to their “philosophy”; live it to the full.

Christ crucified challenged their philosophy: what seemed folly to them, a failed life, was actually the path to an eternal life that would make them see their earthly life in a new light. The destruction of Christ’s Temple, his Passion and death, would pave the way not only for his eternal life, but for ours. It’s worth noting that not all the Greeks laughed at Paul about the Resurrection. We have to always be open to the greater truth of life’s meaning and fulfillment.

Today’s Gospel is a good opportunity to remind us of the importance of Lenten cleaning. Our Lord not only clears out the Temple; he associates it with himself. He goes from denouncing those who commercialized his Father’s house to describing his own body as a Temple. Paul would later teach that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 and 6:19-20). If Our Lord established a parallelism between a Temple of stone and us, the temples of his Spirit, it’s an opportunity to see whether we need to clear out our temple from all the wheeling and dealing that makes us simply want to profit from God and others and not love them with all our heart.

Our Lord is kind, compassionate, merciful, and ready to lay down his life, but in the case of those vendors and money changers he was firm and unyielding: his Father, our Father, came first. He didn’t ask them to leave; he drove them out. We need to have the same firmness when casting out anything in our heart that would come between us and God. Our Lord foretold that the temple of his own body would be destroyed, but also rebuilt. Sin destroyed Our Lord’s body, a sin for which he was blameless, but sin did not have the last word. If we clean house this Lent we should not fear that the only thing that would be left is a ravaged temple. It is sin that ravages our temple. Our Lord will rebuild us, no matter how much we’ve wrecked our temple, if we try to be holy.

You are a Temple of the Holy Spirit. The Most Holy Trinity came into your heart the moment of your Baptism, and the only one who can evict God is you (through grave sin). The innermost, most sacred part of the Israelite’s Temple’s was called the Holy of Holies, and your heart is the same thing for your “temple.” Your heart is meant to be a place where you can be with your Lord alone, free of distractions and worries, speaking heart to heart. If there’s anyone or anything else in there coming between you and the Lord, or if you feel your time with the Lord is more wheeling and dealing than family time, it’s time to clear out your heart.

Readings: Exodus 20:1–17; Psalm 19:8–11; 1 Corinthians 1:22–25; John 2:13–25.

3rd Week in Ordinary Time, Monday, Year II

Today’s Gospel has a strong admonition regarding blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. An unforgivable sin should give pause to anyone, but in this case the Evangelist explains what the Lord is condemning: calling the Holy Spirit an “unclean spirit.” Jesus works his miracles in the power of the Holy Spirit, but the scribes claim the demon Beelzebub is powering his works. A clearer blasphemy is not possible. Our Lord refutes their absurd logic: why would demons cast out demons? What would it benefit them? The scribes are so paranoid about Our Lord that their theories are increasingly absurd.

Let’s pray today that everyone receive the gift of faith to see the Holy Spirit at work and acknowledge it.

Readings: 2 Samuel 5:1–7, 10; Psalm 89:20–22, 25–26; Mark 3:22–30. See also 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday.


3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Today’s readings teach us that this fleeting world is just a stop on the way to a greater and better one that will last forever. If we get bogged down in the things of this passing world, we’ll pass away with them. The key to avoiding this is spiritual detachment.

In today’s First Reading the prophet Jonah begrudgingly warns the people of Nineveh that if they don’t repent for their sins they’ll be destroyed. The Ninevites were enemies of Israel, which is why Jonah did not want them to be saved, but the Lord did. The Ninevites didn’t even worship the Lord, but they believed he would follow through on his warning. They expressed their sorrow for whatever they had done wrong, and the Lord spared them. Repentance is the first step of conversion. Our Lord at the start of his public ministry, which we recall in today’s Gospel invited people to “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Paul in today’s Second Reading reminds us that if we get stuck on the things of this world we will pass away just like them. Christian life implies a healthy detachment from the things of this world. Detachment is not the same as renunciation. It’s not always about giving things up; rather, it is about using them properly to help you from here to eternity. It means relationships that don’t separate you from your most important relationship: with God. It means not letting sorrow drive you to despair and self-destruction, spiritual or otherwise. It means not being so superficial and goofy in the light of your duties that you let down the Our Lord or anyone else. It means purchasing what you need, not necessarily what you want, resisting the itch of consumerism or keeping up with the neighbors. It means, in short, not treating this world as if it is the be all and end all of things, but as something to help you live happily one day in Heaven.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord begins his ministry with a simple message and recruits four disciples who would soon become his apostles. John the Baptist had preached repentance, like Jonah, and was now under arrest. Our Lord goes beyond Jonah, starting at Galilee: he not only preached repentance, but the Gospel, the Good News able to not just forgive believers, but to transform them and transform the world. He intends that message to reach the whole world. Our Lord presents an opportunity for forgiveness and transformation that should not be passed up: “The kingdom of God is at hand.”

The Kingdom is not something that will come at the end of history. It comes with Christ (the King) himself and is meant to spread and grow, transforming the world. With Simon, Andrew, James, and John he took it one step further: he invited them to be his disciples and to help him with his work. It didn’t mean abandoning the talents they had, just using them in a renewed way. Simon and Andrew would now be fishers of men. James and John left behind their family, their business, and their colleagues to follow Our Lord. Ultimately all four apostles laid down their lives to show that Our Lord was the one thing necessary for them. No matter what level of discipleship to which you are called, it always implies leaving something behind for the sake of something greater. It means leaving beside sin as the road to nowhere, but it can also mean leaving aside good things for the sake of more important, spiritual ones.

Detachment implies leaving something behind for the sake of something greater. Here are some practical steps toward greater detachment that you can try this week:

  • Check your drawers, closets, and shelves and give away to the poor those things that you can live without. How long has it been sitting there untouched? If it’s been over a year, donate it. You don’t need it.
  • Do you regret that you haven’t spent quality time with someone in your life, or let a feud isolate you from a friend? Has someone done something you’re having a hard time forgiving? Reconnect and remind someone how much you love them. Forgive. Ask for forgiveness and say you’re sorry.
  • Spend some time reading Scripture instead of surfing the web or watching dumb videos on your phone (emphasis on dumb).
  • Spend some quiet time in prayer to examine your life and see whether the way you are living it would please Our Lord. Ask him to help you see beyond the status quo and strive to improve yourself spiritually.

Readings: Jonah 3:1–5, 10; Psalm 25:4–9; 1 Corinthians 7:29–31; Mark 1:14–20.

3rd Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

The Easter season is a time for rejoicing that Our Lord has shattered the bonds of death through his Resurrection. We celebrate his victory because it is our victory as well. He didn’t just shatter the bonds of death for himself, but for all of us.

St. Peter in today’s First Reading proclaims to the astounded crowds at Pentecost that it was impossible for Christ to be held by the throes of death. Peter makes allusion to David because he is convincing his listeners through giving witness to Christ’s Resurrection that Our Lord is the Messiah. The real conquest of the Messiah is death. When the Lord promised David that one of his descendants would be the Messiah he said that descendant would reign forever (see 2 Samuel 7:12-13: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.”). The angel Gabriel told the same announcement to Mary: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32–33). Our Lord was that descendant of David, the Messiah. It goes without saying that forever is a long time. Dynasties rise and fall, but David’s endures forever in Our Lord’s because it was impossible for Christ to be held by the throes of death: “God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death.” Peter quotes Psalm 16 and attributes it to David (as the psalms traditionally are) as a prophecy that David knew death would be conquered for him too, through his descendant who would reign forever.

In today’s Second Reading St. Peter reminds us that Our Lord’s blood paid the ransom for our life as well. Through his death and Resurrection the chains of our slavery have been shattered. When Peter speaks of the “futile conduct” handed on by our ancestors he is speaking of sin, including Original Sin, which in some mysterious way spreads to us all and separates us from God. Death came into the world due to sin, and even when we are ignorant of sin, death is a reminder of its presence and its evil. If death had the last world, everything we do in life is futile. Whether our achievements are noble or base, they’d come to nothing. Heaven doesn’t take Visa, MasterCard, or Bitcoin. There’s only one “currency” that grants us eternal life: the blood of Christ. We know that “currency” works because Christ was raised from the dead, and that encourages us to believe and to hope that if we sojourn in a way pleasing to Our Heavenly Father we too will be ransomed from death and our conduct will be worthwhile from here to eternity.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord helps two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus to see that their hopes were misplaced because they didn’t factor in the Resurrection properly. As far as they were concerned, Our Lord was dead. The Messiah was supposed to live forever, but he was dead, so Jesus was just another prophet. There’s a subtle difference between the vocation of the Messiah and the vocation of the prophet: the prophets spoke on behalf of God and performed signs to back it up, but, ultimately, they were rejected and killed. In the disciples’ mind, Jesus fit that pattern perfectly, as events revealed. The Messiah would redeem Israel, and, apparently, Jesus didn’t do it: “…we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel…” Yet they had some facts that they didn’t know how to process: women announcing that angels had announced that Jesus was alive, but their buddies finding only an empty tomb. Our Lord, with all the pastoral tact merited by the case replies, in so many words, “Duh!” He called them foolish and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken. He helped them connect the dots. The clincher was when he revealed who he was to them. They only saw a glimpse of him before he vanished, but that was enough. They ran back to their buddies to share the news and found out they’d had a visit too.

The world today is plagued by people who do not have someone in their life who cares enough about them to tell them “Duh!” once in a while when they’re being foolish. We’re so steeped in a relativistic culture and mindset that no one wants to impose his or her view on someone else, yet when someone is walking off a cliff, figuratively or literally, relativism goes right out the window. Every Christian must admit that Jesus’ response to the disbelief and dashed hopes of the disciples on the road to Emmaus could have easily been said to any one of us when our faith and hope start to wane: “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!” Let’s go to Christ in prayer this week and tell Our Lord, “Lord, I am ready for my ‘Duh!’ moment. Tell me what I need to hear. Turn me away from the cliff.”

Readings: Acts 2:14, 22–33; Psalm 16:1–2, 5, 7–11; 1 Peter 1:17–21; Luke 24:13–35.