Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Saint Paul was obviously a pretty tough guy.  I don’t know about you, but if I barely weathered the storm of people throwing rocks at me and leaving me for dead, I might think twice about how I handled my ministry.  That’s nothing to be proud of, but I think that’s part of fallen human nature.  How blessed we are to have the saints, like Saint Paul, to give example of how to weather the storm and live the faith and preach the word.  Indeed, if it weren’t for the grace-filled tenacity of those saintly apostles, we would very likely not have the joy of our faith today.

But contrast the storminess of Paul’s stoning with the wonderful words of encouragement and consolation we have in today’s Gospel reading: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give it to you.  Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”  We can think of all sorts of situations in which these words would be welcome.  We may have experienced health problems in ourselves or in those close to us, job difficulties, family problems, and so many more.  How wonderfully consoling it is to know that in the midst of the many storms we daily face, our Savior is there: offering us peace.

But the peace Jesus offers us in this reading is a bit different from what we might expect.  It’s not the mere absence of conflict, nor is it any kind of placating peace the world might offer us.  It’s also not a magic wand that makes all our troubles go away.  This peace is a genuine one, a peace that comes from the inside out, a peace that calms our troubled minds and hearts even if it does not remove the storm.  There is a contemporary Christian song that says, “Sometimes he calms the storm, and other times he calms his child.”  How true that is!

God knows that we walk through storms every day.  He experienced that first-hand in the person of Jesus as he walked our walk in his earthly life.  He knows our joys and our pains, and reaches out to us in every one of them with his abiding presence and his loving embrace.  He was there for St. Paul when he was being stoned, and he is there for us too.  His presence abides in us through the Church, through the holy people God has put in our lives, through his presence in our moments of prayer and reflection, and in so many ways we could never count them all, and we’re probably not even aware of them all.  This peace from the inside out is one that our God longs for us to know, whether we are traversing calm waters or braving a vicious storm.

We pray, then, for the grace to find peace in our daily lives, the peace that comes from Jesus himself.

Saint Catherine of Siena

Saint Catherine was born at Siena, in the region of Tuscany in Italy.  When she was six years old Jesus appeared to Catherine and blessed her.  As many parents do for their children, her mother and father wanted her to be happily married, preferably to a rich man.  But Catherine didn’t want that, she wanted to be a nun.

And so, to make herself as unattractive as possible to the men her parents wanted her to meet, she cut off her long, beautiful hair.  Her parents were very upset and became very critical of her.  They also gave her the most difficult housework to do.  But Catherine did not change her mind: her goal was to become a nun and give herself entirely to Jesus.  Finally, her parents allowed her to become a nun, and her father even set aside a room in the house where she could stay and pray.

When Catherine was eighteen years old, she entered the Dominican Third Order and spent the next three years in seclusion, prayer and works of penance.  Gradually a group of followers gathered around her—men and women, priests and religious.   They all saw that Catherine was a holy woman and they flocked to her for spiritual advice.  During this time she wrote many letters, most of which gave spiritual instruction and encouragement to her followers.  But more and more, she would speak out on many topics and would stand up for the truth.  Because of this, many people began to oppose her and they brought false charges against her, but she was cleared of all of wrongdoing.

Because of her great influence, she was able to help the Church navigate a tumultuous period of two and eventually three anti-popes.  She even went to beg rulers to make peace with the pope and to avoid wars.  At one point, Saint Catherine asked the real pope to leave Avignon, France, where he had been staying in exile, and return to Rome to rule the Church, because she knew that this was God’s will.  He eventually took her advice, and this eventually led to peace in the Church.

Saint Catherine was always eager to share the love of Christ.  She nursed sick people and comforted the prisoners she visited in jail.  Even though she spent a lot of time in prayer, she was still able to reach out to those who were hurting.

Catherine had a mystical love of God, whose goodness and beauty was revealed to her more and more each day.  She wrote of God, “You are a mystery as deep as the sea; the more I search, the more I find, and the more I find the more I search for you.  But I can never be satisfied; what I receive will ever leave me desiring more.  When you fill my soul I have an even greater hunger, and I grow more famished for your light.  I desire above all to see you, the true light, as you really are.”

Saint Catherine is one of just three female Doctors of the Church, being named so by Pope Paul VI in 1970.  She is the co-patron saint, with Saint Francis, of Italy.  Through her intercession may we all have a deep appreciation and love for the depths of the mysteries of God.

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

Today’s readings

One of the most exciting lines in today’s Liturgy of the Word comes in the second reading: “The One who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’”  The book of Revelation is all about the persecution of the early Christians, and it looks forward to the day when God would put all that persecution to an end.  People were dying for the faith, being forced to give it up or be cast out of the synagogues.  That left them open to the persecution of the Romans who demanded that they take up the worship of their pagan gods or face death.  They were a people looking for newness, healing, and re-creation.  Fittingly then, John reports what is heard in his vision: “Behold, I make all things new.”

There is a clamor for newness, I think, in every age and society.  We are a people who could use some re-creation even today.  Look at the way our own faith is received.  The voices of death have such a foothold that they have many faithful Catholics believing that babies can be aborted in favor of personal choice.  Sunday family worship takes a further back seat to soccer games, baseball, and other activities, as if worshipping God were just one possible choice for the many ways people could spend the Lord’s day.  Rudeness and hurtful language are used in every forum, and we call it entitlement.  Prayer is not welcome in almost any public location, for fear that someone might be offended by our religiosity.  Concern for the poor and needy, and a longing for peace and justice are bracketed in favor of capital gain.  We Christians today are persecuted just as surely as the early Christians, even if we don’t pay for it with our lives.  We Christians today are in need of hearing those great words: “Behold, I make all things new.”

The good news is that as an Easter people, we can already see the newness that is God’s re-creation of our world.  We know the story of our salvation: This world was steeped in sin and we are a people who, though created and blessed by our God, time after time and age after age turned away from our God.  Every generation turned away in ways more brazen than the last.  We are the heirs of that fickle behavior and we can all attest that our sins have led us down those same paths time after time in our own lives.  But God, who would be justified in letting us live in the hell we seemed to prefer, could not live without us.  So he sent his only Son into our world.  He was born as one of us and walked among us, living the same life as ours in all things but sin.  He reached out to us and preached the new life of the Gospel.  And in the end, he died our death, the death we so richly deserved for our sins.  And not letting that death have the last word in our existence, he rose to a new life that lasts forever.  He did all that motivated by the only thing that could ever explain away our fickle sinfulness, and that motivation is love.

I give you a new commandment: love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.

The love that Jesus is talking about here is not some kind of emotional infatuation that fades as quickly as it grows.  It is not a love that says “I will love you if…”  You have heard it before, I know: “I will love you if you remain faithful to me.”  “I will love you if you are successful in school.”  “I will love you if you meet all my own selfish expectations.”  “I will love you if you ignore my imperfections.”  “I will love you if you become more perfect.”  Because the kind of love that says “I will love you if…” is not love at all.  If God loved us if… we would be dead in our sins and there would be no reason to gather in this holy place day after day.  If God loved us if… we would have nothing to look forward to in the life to come.

No, God does not love us if… God loves us period.  As we know, God is love.  God is love itself, love in all its perfection.  Love cannot be experienced in a vacuum, so God created us to love him and for him to love us.  We are the creation of God’s love and God cannot not love us!  The kind of love Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel can only be summed up by the cross and resurrection.  Jesus takes our sinfulness and brokenness upon himself, and stretches out his arms to die the death we had deserved for our unfaithfulness.  It wasn’t nails that held him to that cross, it was love, and we are totally undeserving of it.  Then, the Resurrection means that, because of love, death and sin have lost their sting.  They no longer have the last word in our existence, because our God who is love itself has recreated the world in love.

And with this great act of sacrifice that restores us to grace, Jesus also gives those who would be his disciples a commandment: Love one another.  Which sounds like an easy enough thing to do.  But the second line of that commandment gives us pause and reminds us that our love can’t just be a nice feeling.  He says to us: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”  And we know how he has loved us, don’t we?  Whenever we forget, all we have to do is look at the nearest crucifix.  Our love must be sacrificial.  Our love must be unconditional.  Our love cannot be “I will love you if…” but instead, “I love you period.”  Our love must be a love that re-creates the world in the image of God’s own love.

We live in a world that is broken and dark and evil at times.  But our God has not abandoned us.  Taking our death upon himself, he has risen triumphant over it.  In spite of our unfaithfulness, he has re-created us all in his love.  So now we disciples must continue his work of re-creation and love the world into a new existence.

“Behold, I make all things new.”

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Now think about this just for a minute – pretend you are Paul or Barnabas or one of the other apostles.  Think about all the things they went through in that first reading. Paul hasn’t even been a Christian for very long, and already he is being hounded and persecuted.  Maybe that makes sense because I’m sure some people viewed his conversion as a kind of treason.  Whatever the case, as they speak out boldly in the name of Jesus, they receive nothing but violent abuse from the Jews.  So they turn then to the Gentiles who were delighted to hear the Word preached to them.  But the Jews didn’t even leave that alone; they stirred up some of the prominent Gentiles to persecute Paul and Barnabas and eventually they expelled them from their territory.  What a horrible reception they received over and over again.

But, listen to the last line of that first reading again: “The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.”

Really?  Think about it.  Would that be your reaction?  Or would you say, “enough is enough” and let God stir up someone else to preach the Word?  Obviously, that’s not what Paul and Barnabas, or any of the other disciples did, or we wouldn’t be here today.  No, they were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit, thanks be to God!

That’s the way joy works. It’s not something conditioned by the external events of a person’s life.  Joy is not a feeling. Joy, instead, is a direct result of the disciple’s decision to give their life to Christ and to follow his way – wherever that may take him or her.  Joy does not mean that the disciple won’t experience sadness or even hard times.  I have experienced that in my own life, and I’m sure you have too.  But joy does mean that the disciple will never give in to the sadness or the hard times because all those things have been made new in Christ.

Christ is the source of our true joy.  We disciples must choose to live lives of joy and remain unaffected by the world and the events of our lives.  We choose joy because we know the One who is our Salvation, and because it is he who fills us with joy and the Holy Spirit.

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Today’s readings
Mass for the school children.

One of the most important things we can ever learn is that God loves us very much.  God created us because of love: if he didn’t love us, he never would have made us, because God never makes anything that he doesn’t love.  God is love, and so God can’t do anything other than love us.

Unfortunately, we can sometimes do something other than love God.  He gave us free will, and sometimes that’s a problem.  Sometimes that’s a challenge.  God freely chose to love us, and so he wants us to freely choose to love him.  But, because we have free will, sometimes we don’t do that.  There are lots of things out there that we often choose to love instead: we might love things, choosing to care about the nice things we own rather than about other people or about our relationship with God.  We might even choose to do things that turn us away from God, like following the crowd and doing things we shouldn’t, like bullying others, that kind of thing.

And the problem is, it’s easy to get distracted from God’s love.  There are lots of people that try to get us to go the wrong way.  It might be a commercial that convinces us that we have to have something we really don’t need.  It could be someone who is trying to get us to try drugs or alcohol.  It could be a person who tells us we’re ugly, or dumb, or just not a good person.  All these voices are wrong, but we hear them so often, it’s hard sometimes to find God in all the confusion.

But there is a way.  And that’s what today’s Gospel is all about.  Because God loves us, he wants us to find our way back to him.  He wants us to hear that he is still there, that he still loves us, even among all those voices that confuse us sometimes.  He made us out of love, and he wants us to return to him one day and share eternal life with him.  And when life confuses us and tries to convince us that we aren’t worthy of God’s love, he gives us Jesus.  Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.  He is the one way back to the Father.

And that’s good news, because we know Jesus, don’t we?  We know that we can find him in our lives and especially here at Mass.  We can be with Jesus as we hear the words of the readings, and as we come to receive him in Holy Communion.  We don’t need all kinds of useless “stuff.”  We don’t need drugs or alcohol or anything else.  We are not ugly or dumb or unlovable.  We are made by God who makes all things good and makes all of us out of love.  All we need is Jesus who wants more than anything for us to know that God loves us.  Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.  Don’t ever forget that.  Don’t ever take your eyes off Jesus.

Saint Mark, Evangelist

Today’s readings

We aren’t completely sure who St. Mark was.  He might have been the first bishop of Alexandria, Egypt.  Some scholars say he might have been the one described in chapter 14 of Mark’s Gospel, at the arrest of Jesus: “Now a young man followed him wearing nothing but a linen cloth about his body. They seized him, but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked.”  But others question whether he ever saw Jesus in person at all.  We know that he was a companion of Peter and Paul in the missionary journeys, and that he was the first to write about Jesus’ life.  It is estimated that the Gospel of Mark was written around 60 or 70 AD, after the death of both Peter and Paul.  As you might expect since this was the first Gospel written, it is used as a source for both Matthew and Luke’s Gospels.

Whoever Mark really was, I think the key idea for this feast today is that he was one who willingly embodied the command of Jesus that we have in today’s Gospel reading: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”  His missionary work, and his work as the Evangelist testify to his passion for the Gospel and his efforts to see that the whole world came to believe in Jesus.

What we celebrate on his feast day, though, is that the work of that command is far from complete.  There is so much of the world that has yet to hear of Jesus.  Some of them are in far off lands, others are in our workplaces, schools, and communities.  Because of that, it is imperative that we all continue the work of Mark and the other Evangelists.  We are the ones who have to testify to the Gospel in word and in deed, witnessing to what we believe in everything that we say and do.  Our life’s work is not complete until we are sure that those who know us also know the Lord in and through us.

“The favors of the LORD I will sing forever;” the Psalmist says today, “through all generations my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness.”  May we, like St. Mark, sing of the Lord’s goodness in every moment of our lives.

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

I think most of the time, we really need to be reassured that we are in the hands of God.  Things here on earth can be pretty uncertain on a daily basis.  The state of the economy, wars being fought all over the globe, terrorism and natural disasters, the disrespect for human life, antagonism toward Christ-like values, all of this makes us feel pretty uncertain, at best.  Add to that the stuff that affects us directly: illness, death of a loved one, unemployment, family difficulties, our own sins – all of this may find us asking the question from time to time, “Where is God in all this?”

That’s why it’s so good to hear Jesus say today:

My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.

This does not, of course, mean that life is going to be easier for us, or that we won’t still be challenged in this world. But it does give us confidence that we are on the right track, and that our ways are being guarded.  With this confidence, we are expected then to be disciples.  We are expected to go forth and do what God asks of us, ministering to those in need, reaching out to the broken, preaching the Good News just by the way that we live our life.

We can live and preach the Gospel with confidence, we can be called Christians as our brothers and sisters in the first reading were for the first time, knowing that God has our back.  Whatever we may suffer in this life for the sake of Christ will more than be rewarded in the life to come.  And the good works we do here on earth, as small as they may seem to us in the face of such adversity, are never for nothing: God takes our efforts and makes them huge advances in the battle for souls.

Jesus says that the Father is greater than all, and that all of us, safe in the Father’s hands, can never be taken from him.  Praise God for his providence and mercy and protection today.