Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

I love it when engaged couples pick this reading for their weddings. Not just because it’s sentimental, all talking about love and everything. I like it because of the way it talks about love. Because it would be easy enough to say that if we just love each other a little more, everything will be fine.

But Jesus reminds us that this is not how love works. And that sentiment is not at all what he had in mind when he said “Remain in my love.” The word “remain” here is a translation of the Greek word meno, which is a word that connotes an abiding presence, a rootedness at one’s core. “Remain” is too passive a word, kind of like sitting around and doing nothing, all covered with the love of God. I think the better translation would be “live and breathe always in my love.”

And that’s what Jesus goes on to say. “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” So this remaining in Jesus’ love involves keeping his commandments. Do you remember what those commandments were? Well, they revolve around love. In Matthew’s Gospel, when the scholar of the law asks which of the commandments was the greatest, Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

Putting God and neighbor first in the same way as Jesus did for us is what this kind of love entails. And note carefully that the way Jesus put us first was by laying down his life on the cross. Remaining in Jesus’ love, the command he gives us today, involves loving others in a sacrificial way, putting aside our own interests and ambitions at times, dying to self, so that we can give life to others.

But this is not to make ourselves martyrs or even grumpy Christians. This love leads to true joy, because in many ways it takes away the worry of having to think about ourselves. “I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.” And so it is with great joy that we remain in Christ’s love; loving others as he has loved us – sacrificially and unconditionally. And with this great love, as the Psalmist says, we “Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.”

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Some of you might be thinking Saint Paul was a typical man. He’s almost stoned to death and left, in fact, for dead, and he gets up and enters the city like nothing was wrong. 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.

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 Fifth Sunday of Easter: I Love You Period!

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. So it is with great hope, then, that 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. And that is to say nothing of those Christians in the Middle East, especially Syria, who face danger and death for living their faith. We Christians today are persecuted just as surely as the early Christians, whether we pay for it with our lives or not. 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…” Perhaps you have heard it yourself: “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.” But 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 deserve for our unfaithfulness. It wasn’t nails that held him to that cross, it was love, and we are totally undeserving of it. Even greater then, is the gift of the Resurrection in which we see 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.”

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter 

Today’s readings

Today’s readings are full of messengers. In the first reading, Paul is a messenger bringing news of the real meaning of the ancient Scriptures in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus. And he speaks of another messenger, John the Baptist, who paved the way for the coming of Jesus by preaching a baptism of repentance. In the Gospel, Jesus points out that a messenger is never greater than the one who sent him, and that those messengers sent by Christ should be accepted as Christ, since Jesus himself was sent by the Father. Accepting the messenger is accepting Jesus is accepting God the Father.

The word messenger goes back to old French and Latin words for “send” and is closely tied to the word “mission.” The messenger is truly on a mission from the one who sent him. When you think of it, all of us disciples are messengers on a mission. We all have been charged with the mission of proclaiming the Gospel and witnessing to Christ. We do that in our own ways; sometimes, as St. Francis would say, we use words. But often we do not. Most often our witness depends on how well we live our mission, the message that we send comes in the things we do and the way we live. As my father used to say, “actions speak louder than words.”

And so we come to this place to be nourished for our mission. We hear the words of Scripture that gives us the message to preach and receive the Eucharist that gives us strength for the journey. People will come to know Christ as they come to know us. We pray that our message might be a good one, a message that compels everyone we meet to turn to our God. Because the mission, the message that we have is better than anything on earth. As the Psalmist says, “For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.”

Thursday of the Third Week of Easter 

Today’s readings

I don’t believe in coincidences. Being in the right place at the right time isn’t usually a coincidence. Far more often than we realize, it’s the work of the Holy Spirit. Certainly that is 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.

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. 

What I think is 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 are right now is the place where the Holy Spirit wants us to find God and to proclaim God. That might be in the midst of peace, or chaos, or any situation. We never know how God may feed us in those 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 in every moment and every situation. 

The Third Sunday of Easter: Do You Love Me More Than These?

Today’s readings

What Satan wants is a community of disciples so mired in their sins, that they do nothing to foster the Kingdom of God and live the Gospel. Bookmark that thought, because I’ll come back to it in a bit.

I love today’s Gospel because it features one of my favorite characters, Saint Peter. Saint Peter has been inspirational to me because, despite being called to do great things for God, he does a lot of messing up and often has to pick himself up and start all over again. Today’s Gospel reading has him trying to figure things out. He’s very recently been through the arrest and execution of his Lord, only to find out that he is risen, and has appeared to various disciples, including Peter himself. I think today’s story has him trying to make sense of it all and figure out where to go from here. But he’s trying to figure it out in the midst of having fallen again, since he denied even knowing the Lord three times on the night of Holy Thursday.

So, in an effort to figure things out, he goes back to what he knows best, which is to say he goes fishing. And he takes some of the others with him. And, as is very typical of Peter’s fishing expeditions recorded in the Gospels, he catches nothing even though he’s been hard at it all night long. It’s not until the Lord is with them again and redirects their efforts, that they eventually pull in an incredibly large catch of fish. Jesus then invites them to dine with him, using one of my favorite commands in all of Sacred Scripture, “Come, have breakfast.”

Then we have this very interesting, and in some ways tense, conversation between Jesus and Peter. Jesus takes him off to the side after breakfast, and just as he redirected Peter’s efforts while they were fishing earlier, now he redirects Peter’s efforts in his life. There are a couple of points of background that we need to keep in mind. First, just as Peter three times denied his Lord on the night of Holy Thursday, so now Jesus gives him three opportunities to profess his love and get it right.

Second, the Greek language has a few different words that we translate “love.” Two of them are in play in this conversation. The first is agapeo, which is the highest form of love. It’s a love that always wills the best for the other person, a love that is self-sacrificing and enduring. It’s the love that God has for us. The other kind of love that is used here is phileo, a bit lower form of love that is something like a strong affection for someone else. Where agapeo is an act of the will, phileo is more of a feeling. Many scholars don’t see this as an appreciable difference and say John in his Gospel just uses two different words to mean the same thing. But I think John is careful with language, and the two uses mean something, as we will see.

So the conversation begins, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” That’s literally a loaded question, so let’s look at it. First of all, Jesus calls Peter “Simon, son of John.” But Jesus is the one who changed his name from Simon to Peter. So this seems to be a bit of a rebuke: Okay, Peter, if you’re just going to revert to your former self and pretend you haven’t known me the last three years, then I’ll just use your old name. I’m sure Peter didn’t miss the inference. Then at the end, “do you love me more than these?” Scholars have a lot of opinions on what “these” are: Do you love me more than you love these other guys? Do you love me more than these other guys love me? Do you love me more than this fishing equipment, the tools of your former life? It doesn’t matter what he meant by “these,” the effect is the same: Peter is called to a higher love, which is evidenced in the word Jesus uses for love, which is agapeo. Peter responds, acknowledging Jesus’ omniscience, “Lord you know that I love you.” But he uses phileo, perhaps acknowledging that he is not capable of the agapeo kind of love. And he’s probably right about that, since sin does diminish our capacity to love. He receives the response “Feed my lambs,” of which I’ll say more later.

The conversation continues in the same manner, using the same forms of the word “love” in both the question and the response, and ending with the injunction, “Tend my sheep.” But the third question is interesting. Jesus asks the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” But this time Jesus uses the word phileo, as much as to say, “Okay, Peter, do you even have affection for me?” And Peter seems to get the inference, because he responds emotionally: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” And he’s right: Jesus does know. But Jesus needed Peter to know it too. Jesus, in his Divine Mercy, has healed Peter, forgiven his sins, and helped him to remember his mission, redirecting his efforts to “Feed my sheep.”

Because if Jesus hadn’t done this, Satan would have won. He would have had that community of disciples so mired in their sins, that they do nothing to foster the Kingdom of God and live the Gospel. And then we wouldn’t be here today, would we?

And let’s be clear about this. We, like Peter, all have a mission to accomplish. We all have some part of the Kingdom to build. We may not be the rock on which Jesus will build his Church, but we are indeed part of it. And we are all affected by our sins. We have all denied our Lord in one way or another by what we have done and what we have failed to do. And so the Lord in his mercy says to us today, “Patrick, do you love me?” “Susan do you love me?” And we respond with whatever love we’re capable of. In that moment, Jesus redirects our life’s efforts too, so that we can do what we’re called to do. We, who have been purified by our Lenten penance, are now called to the life of the Resurrection, in which all God’s lambs are cared for, and all his sheep tended.

Thursday of the Second Week of Easter 

Today’s readings

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. That’s how we can come to know how wonderful are the gifts that the Spirit is longing to bestow upon us, and how much they will transform us.