Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

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 have all 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. 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 was a contemporary Christian song a few years back that said, “Sometimes he calms the storm, and other times he calms his child.”

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 Saint 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. 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.

The Fourth Sunday of Easter

Today’s readings

Some days, I think there isn’t much I would do for just five minutes of peace and quiet.

If you’re a parent, maybe you’d amend that to longing for just five seconds of peace and quiet!  We are all probably sadly familiar with the many loud distractions our world puts before us.  And we’ve become conditioned to accepting it, even needing it on some primitive level, I think.  I’ve been to many a parish meeting where, when we are praying, someone jumps in to fill a moment of silence, when silence would have been good for all of us.  And don’t we often get out of bed and flip on the radio or television right away, or check our text messages or email before our feet even hit the floor?  I know I’m guilty of that.  There’s a whole lot of noise out there and it’s become so that we are very uncomfortable with any kind of quiet.

And the noise doesn’t lead us anywhere good.  The Psalmist talks about walking through death’s dark valley.  I think some of the noise out there resembles that dark valley pretty closely.  There are voices out there tempting us to all sorts of evil places: addictions, selfishness; pursuit of wealth, prestige, or power.  Those same voices call us to turn away from the needy, from family, God and the Church.  Those same voices tell us that we are doing just fine on our own, that we don’t need anyone else to make us whole, that we are good enough to accomplish anything worthwhile all by ourselves.  And those voices are wrong, dead wrong.

Those are the voices of those Jesus mentions in the Gospel who circumvent the gate and come to “steal and slaughter and destroy.”  The frightening thing is, we have become so used to these distracting voices that we have turned away from God, turned away from the Savior we so desperately need, and have been led astray.  That’s the heart of why our pews aren’t filled, why people call themselves “spiritual but not religious”, why the likes of Oprah and Doctor Phil have become so popular in this day and age.

So maybe we have to become a little more like sheep.  And I don’t mean that in the sense of cultivating blind obedience.  Because, as it turns out, sheep aren’t as dumb as we often think of them.  Here’s the backstory on today’s Gospel image of the sheep, the shepherd, and the sheepfold:  In Jesus’ day, the shepherds would gather several flocks in the same fenced-enclosure. The sheepfold might be constructed in a pasture using brush and sticks; or, it would adjoin a wall of a house and have makeshift walls for the other sides. Owners of small flocks of sheep would have combined them in the secure enclosure at night.  Someone – the gatekeeper – would then guard the flocks. The “gate” would have been a simple entrance, but the gatekeeper might even stretch out across the opening and literally be the “gate.” The shepherds would arrive early in the morning and be admitted by the gatekeeper. They would call out to their sheep and the members of the flock recognize the voice of their own shepherd, and that shepherd would “lead them out.”  The shepherd then walks in front of the flock and they follow. (Jude Sicilliano, OP)

We, like the sheep, have to cultivate the silence and the ability to hear our shepherd’s voice and follow him, being led to green pastures, and not be distracted by all the noise out there.  As we rediscovered during Lent, we are a people in great need of a Savior, of the Good Shepherd.  We desperately need the guidance of the one who leads us to eternity, laying down his own life to keep us out of the eternal clutches of sin and death.  Jesus came into this world and gave himself so that we might “have life and have it more abundantly.”

Here’s a way to pray with this in the coming week.  Take five minutes, or even just five seconds if that’s all you can find, and consciously turn off the noise: whether it’s the physical noise of the television or radio, or the internal noise of distractions in your head.  And then reflect on what voices are out there distracting you from hearing  the voice of your Good Shepherd.  Ask the Good Shepherd to help you tune them out so that you can more readily discern his voice and follow the right path.

Saturday of the Third Week of Easter

This particular Gospel reading has a very special claim on my spiritual life. On those occasions when I have questioned my faith or my vocation, those words of the disciples come to mind: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Those words remind me that turning from the path the Lord has marked out for me would mean turning away from the Lord himself, something that I cannot do, something that would mean that life doesn’t make sense.

The apostles had to work through that too. Peter himself is the poster child for those who have difficulty with their faith sometimes. He would take three steps forward, and then two steps back. He even denied knowing the Lord when push came to shove. But look at him now, in today’s first reading, he has conformed himself closely to his Lord, taking up the cross, gifted with Christ’s own healing ministry.

One thing is certain. We disciples will have tough times, our faith will be tested, and we might be tempted to turn away. But ultimately in those times, we have to ask the question: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Thursday of the Third Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Being in the right place at the right time isn’t usually a coincidence.  Far more often than we realize, I think it’s the work of the Holy Spirit.  Certainly that has to be the case in today’s first reading.  How else would we explain an angel directing Philip to be on a road at the very same time as the Ethiopian eunuch passed by, reading a passage from the prophet Isaiah that referred to Jesus?  Seizing the moment, Philip proclaims Jesus to him in a way that was powerful enough and moving enough that, on seeing some water as they continued on the journey, the eunuch begged to be baptized.  Then, as the Spirit whisks Philip off to Azotus, the eunuch continues on his way, rejoicing in his new life.

The same is true for those who were fortunate enough to hear Jesus proclaim the Bread of Life discourse that we’ve been reading in our Gospel readings these past days.  Having been fed by a few loaves and fishes when they were physically hungry, they now come to find Jesus who longs to fill them up not just physically but also, and more importantly, spiritually.  Their hunger put them in the right place at the right time.

Maybe what’s important for us to get today is that we are always in the right place at the right time, spiritually speaking.  Wherever we find ourselves is the place that we are directed by the Holy Spirit to find God.  Wherever we find ourselves is the place that we are directed by the Holy Spirit to proclaim God.  And so we may be called upon to find God in the midst of peace, or chaos, or any situation.  We never know how God may feed us in those situations.  And we may indeed be called upon to proclaim God in those same peaceful, or chaotic, situations.  Because we never know when there will be someone like an Ethiopian eunuch there, aching to be filled with Christ’s presence and called to a new life.

It is no coincidence that we are where we are, when we are.  The Spirit always calls on us to find our God and proclaim him as Lord of every moment and every situation.

Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter

Today’s readings

At our core, we all want peace and security in our lives.  We don’t want rough waters, or pain, or discord in our families, and that’s all understandable.  I think it’s that sentiment that is behind our Scripture readings today.

The Jewish people, the elders and the scribes, the religious establishment of the time, had their laws and customs, and for them, following those laws and customs represented a peaceful and secure life.  So they were not at all open to any kind of teaching that challenged their way of life.  Saint Stephen points out that whenever a prophet called them to a deeper reality – a deeper sense of God’s call – rather than accept that teaching and reform their lives, their ancestors instead murdered the prophets.  And so their response was to prove his point.  They could not accept Stephen’s own prophecy that Christ in his glory was the key to human salvation.  So they stone him to death, with the tacit approval of a man named Saul, a man for whom God had future plans.

The crowd in the Gospel reading wants peace and security too.  They had recently been fed in the miracle of the loaves and fishes.  But they had missed the point.  They wanted just the bread they could eat for today; they didn’t get and didn’t want to get the bread Jesus really wanted them to have – the bread of eternal life.  And so they ask today for another feeding sign.  Just like Moses was able to provide bread from heaven, they wanted Jesus to feed their physical hunger too.  But Jesus is more interested in their spiritual hunger, and longs to provide that in himself, he who is the Bread of Life.

But if all we hunger for is peace and security, bread for today, then we will certainly miss receiving the Bread of Life.  Our hearts have to be open and our desires have to be for the deepest longings.  Then we can receive our Savior who wants to give us everything we truly need.  “I am the Bread of Life;” he says to us.  “Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Thursday of the Second Week of Easter

In these Easter days, the Scriptures begin to speak to us about the gift of the Holy Spirit. This gift, is not rationed, as Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel reading. This gift is empowering and renewing and, according to the Psalmist, de-marginalizing.

We all know the kind of men the Apostles were. Yet now, given the gift of the Holy Spirit, they have been transformed completely. Cowardice has been replaced by something very close to bravado. Ineffectuality has been replaced by miracle work. Hiding has been replaced by boldness fired by the truth. In a sense, they have been resurrected in these Easter days. They are new creations because of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

This is the gift that Jesus wants for us in these Easter days too. He wants us to know a complete transformation by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Having done penance during Lent, we now have the grace of that Spirit to transform our lives, our hearts, and our desires during Easter. And we are assured by our Risen Lord that the Spirit will not be rationed. Whatever it is that is lacking in us will be completely transformed in the Spirit so that we too can boldly proclaim the wonderful works of our God.

That transformation happens little by little as we put ourselves in the presence of our God. We have the opportunity to do that in so many ways. Opening ourselves up by taking quiet time for prayer, spending time with our Lord in adoration, reading Scripture for a few minutes each day, reaching out to others in prayerful service; all of these help us to be transformed in the Spirit. We will never know how wonderful are the gifts that the Spirit is longing to bestow upon you, and how much they will transform us.