Third Sunday of Easter

Today’s readings

There is a big difference in Peter in the Gospel and Peter in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles today.  As the Gospel story begins, we find Peter completely wounded by his past.  He had denied his Lord, not once, but three times.  Now that the crucifixion and resurrection has taken place, Peter is unsure as to where to go next.  So he, and the disciples, return to what they knew best, they go fishing.  Only they aren’t very successful at that either.  “Children, have you caught anything?” Jesus asks.  And the response is amazingly concise and honest for a bunch of fishermen: “No.”  Whenever the disciples try to fish without Jesus, they catch exactly nothing, and this time is no exception.

Jesus does three very significant things for them in this story.  First, he tells them to go fishing once again, and this time, they catch more than they can carry.  Because their real catch will be just like that: many men and women for the kingdom of God.  Second, he cooks breakfast for them.  This is a foreshadowing of the Eucharistic meal that will nourish the disciples and their progeny throughout the ages, the same Eucharistic meal which nourishes us.  Finally, he takes Peter aside and asks him if he loves him.  Not just once, but three times.  Peter denied his Lord three times, and the Lord gives him three opportunities to accept healing.

Having been healed and nourished, Jesus then sends Peter out on mission.  We are never given any gift, most especially reconciliation, to keep just for ourselves.  God gives us gifts in order that we might share them with others.  Just as Peter was healed, so he was expected to go out and introduce others to the healing of Jesus Christ.  We too, have been healed and nourished, and the expectation is there for us as well.  We have been healed of our sins through a triple affirmation: Lord, have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord have mercy.  We are about to be nourished with the meal prepared for us by our Savior.  And so we must go out and feed his sheep, take care of his lambs.

Peter changed a lot in two short readings.  If the Gospel began by finding him frightened and unsure, the reading from Acts finds him confident and bold.  The difference is the Holy Spirit, the One who gives witness with him.  We have received the Holy Spirit too, those of us who have been baptized and have been confirmed.  We can rely on the Spirit to give witness with us also.  We might have to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name, but we can rejoice that we are fulfilling our ministry in the name of our Lord who feeds us and heals us.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Friday of the Second Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Once again, the disciples are overjoyed that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the Name.  That seems rather counter-intuitive, but when you stop to think about it, given all the possible reasons to suffer dishonor and to be beaten, the best reason is “for the sake of the Name.”  We know that those who suffer in that way are treasures for our God, and they are given their just reward.

What I think is interesting in today’s first reading though, is the unintentional prophecy of Gamaliel.  His words are a combination of a brush-off, since he obviously thinks the early Christian community is a bunch of kooks, and a bit of rear-end covering, since if it does turn out that these kooks are right, then at least they don’t get to be guilty of putting them to death.  At least not yet.

But the courage of the apostles is inspiring, isn’t it?  They have been warned twice and put in prison, and now beaten, and still we are told that “all day long, both at the temple and in their homes, they did not stop teaching and proclaiming the Christ, Jesus.”  We are grateful for their new-found courage today, or we wouldn’t be here worshipping right now.

We are called to display that same courage and to speak non-stop of our Lord Jesus Christ in all that we say and do.  The psalmist today reminds us that the only thing worth seeking is to dwell in the house of the Lord, and the only way to do that is to follow our Risen Lord.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Today’s first reading is one of the most exciting readings of the New Testament for me.  And it’s the angel of the Lord, the Lord’s messenger, who puts it all into crystal clear focus.  The angel opens the prison doors as if they weren’t even locked and says to the imprisoned disciples, “Go and take your place in the temple area, and tell the people everything about this life.”  Two things stand out in that for me.

First of all, the angel says “Go and take your place…”  The disciples weren’t created for life in prison, they weren’t created for obscurity in their old lives from before they met Jesus.  They were created for ministry, and their place was in the temple area, preaching what they had come to know and believe.

Second, the angel tells them to “tell the people everything about this life.”  I love those words: “this life” – faith in Jesus wasn’t just a pastime, diversion or sport.  It was their very life – it was everything they were and were created for.

I think people today get this wrong a lot.  The parish where I was before this one hosted a pretty successful football league for elementary and junior high school boys.  You couldn’t live in Naperville and not have heard of St. Raphael Football.  The interesting thing was that when I would be talking to people socially, I would often hear things like, “Oh yes, we go to St. Raphael’s – our sons are on the football team.”  I tried to find a way to tell them politely that we celebrated Mass there too.

The point is that we were created to live our faith, and not just observe it as a pastime, or try to practice it whenever our schedule isn’t too hectic.  We were created to be people who tell others everything about this life that we live, this life of faith in Jesus Christ.  Our faith is the only permanent thing that we have in this life, the only thing that we have now that we’ll also have in eternity.  And we have to make sure that everyone knows how important that is.

Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Our first reading from Acts this morning tells us that the early Christian community cared for one another deeply, and were generous in that care.  They were even selling their possessions to give to those who were in need.  Nobody felt needy, nobody felt cheated, nobody felt like they were doing more than their share.  People were worshipping not just with their minds, but also with their hearts, and their worshipping didn’t stop when they left the worship place.  That was the kind of worship Jesus was encouraging Nicodemus to practice as well.

So the same has to be true for us, really. We have to be willing to give of our hearts, to believe not just when we’re in church, but also when we are in the rest of our life.  We have to trust God to take care of us when we stick our neck out to help someone else.  We have to worship not just with our minds but also with our hearts.

Monday of the Second Week of Easter

Today’s readings

One of the great things about being Catholic, I think, is the celebration of Easter. We do it up right, and keep doing it for fifty days! In fact, just yesterday we completed our celebration of Easter Day, which lasts for eight full days. It certainly makes sense to us that the joy of our salvation should be celebrated with great festivity, and we shouldn’t be so eager to toss the lilies out of the church (even if they do make me sneeze sometimes!).

Today we begin the second phase of our Easter celebration. Having completed the Octave of Easter, we now begin the preparation for the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the first Apostles, and later to each Christian. We have in our Gospel today the emergence of the interesting figure of Nicodemus. He was a Jew, and one of the Pharisees. But he found Jesus and his message compelling, so a few times in John’s Gospel we get to hear from Nicodemus. Even though the rest of the Pharisees flat out rejected Jesus, Nicodemus knew that he couldn’t reject him so quickly. There was something to this Jesus, and he wanted to get to the bottom of it. As far as we know, he never fully, publicly accepted Jesus, but he took many steps on the way.

Today Nicodemus and Jesus speak about being born again, born of the Spirit. This for us is a process of accepting the Gospel in faith, and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit and then living as a people reborn. Although we can point to our Confirmation day, and even the day of our Baptism as days when we received the Holy Spirit, the process of accepting the Gospel in faith and living as a people reborn in the Spirit is one that takes the rest of our lives. What we celebrate with joy today is that we are on that journey. Because of the Resurrection of Our Lord and his gift of the Holy Spirit, we can now live according to the Spirit’s direction in our lives, confident that that Holy Spirit will give us the gifts and courage to do what we are called to do. The Apostles did that in today’s first reading, and now we must do the same.

Easter Saturday

Today’s readings

We are confronted in today’s Gospel with something we all have to struggle with, and that is a reluctance to believe. In the disciples’ case, it was a slowness to believe based on the fact that they didn’t really have the resources that we do – like the Gospels and two millennia of Church teaching. But still, they did have Jesus’ words, which they apparently didn’t understand, which they in some ways really didn’t believe.

We come to Mass today having been there, done that. Like I said, we have more resources: the Gospels and the Church, and so it often seems like we should know better. And I think we do believe, at least in our heads. But when it comes to believing with our heats, it’s another thing entirely. How easy is it to believe that God loves us and has a plan for us when we are confronted with a difficult situation? When a loved one is dying? When we’ve lost a job? When the economy has eaten up our retirement? When we’ve just learned that we are seriously ill?

But like the disciples, Jesus comes to us today and tells us that our faith must be the bedrock of our lives: helping us to be joyful in the good times and providing a source of strength in our bad times. And just when we are all thinking about ourselves – about what we need, about what we’re going through – just when the disciples are trying to figure out what to do next – Jesus makes it clear: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” Get back on the horse, get back into life, live the faith and be a witness. That’s the life of the disciple, that’s the life of faith.

And we can do all that today and every day because of what we celebrate on this Easter Day: Christ is risen, and sin and death have been destroyed. God does have a plan for us, he does love us, and he has done all he needs to do to prove it.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Easter Friday

Today’s readings

It is always interesting to me that the disciples, who we are told were trained fishermen, never catch anything unless they are with Jesus.  Go through the Gospels and you will see that this is true.  Their nets always come up empty until he gives the command to cast the nets.  Then they can hardly bring in the catch because of the sheer number of fish they have caught.  Today’s episode finds the disciples dejected, not sure where to go, ready to return to their former life and their former career.  They have no idea what to do so they do what they always used to do … they go fishing.  And it is Jesus once again who not only gives them the fish, but cooks breakfast for them.  We too, are called to go fishing for the Lord in some way, but we’ll never catch anything if we go off on our own.  Praise God that he is always willing to go fishing with us!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Easter Thursday

Today’s readings

I’m trying to get a picture of how the disciples were feeling at this point.  Prior to today’s Gospel selection, the women found the empty tomb, Peter has seen the Lord, and the two disciples had experienced him in the breaking of the bread on the way to Emmaus.  Their minds were most likely reeling with excitement; trying to get a grip on the things he had said to them while he was still with them.  I’m sure they were trying to figure out what all this meant, what they needed to do next.

I think that’s why the Lord’s initial words to them are “Peace be with you.”  And it doesn’t work, because they think they’re seeing a ghost.  After he eats some fish and speaks to them of the Scriptures, he sends them on mission with the words: “You are witnesses of these things.”

The peace that Jesus gives them is not the absence of conflict.  That they will be witnesses to the fulfillment of the Scriptures will be anything but peaceful for them.  They will have to make sacrifices – sacrifices of their very lives – to witness as Jesus calls them to, but there is no other choice.  They are now beginning to understand the significance of what has happened among them, and they must go forward to do what they had been chosen to do.

When we have to make the decision to follow God’s call in our lives, we too will have to sacrifice.  Not our lives, probably, but we will have to sacrifice our own comfort, our control over our own lives, our own point of view.  But just like the disciples, we must remember what we have been chosen to do, and follow where we are being led.

We are witnesses of these things too, we are called to live and proclaim the Gospel.  May we too receive the peace of Christ that we might focus on our call.

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