Third Sunday of Easter

Lectionary: 46

Realize that you were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb.

He was known before the foundation of the world  
but revealed in the final time for you, who through him believe in God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

The word futile comes up occasionally in health care. Everyone must die and there comes a time when certain treatments -- medicines, surgeries, and therapies -- that work for healthier patients should not be given to dying patients. They would only cause more stress and suffering even if they prolonged the patient's life for a few hours or days. That kind of care is called futile.

It's not always clear to everyone what care would be futile. Doctors, families and patients may disagree. Doubts, fears and suspicions arise in the hearts and minds of those involved. Sometimes the professionals may administer certain protocols just to ease the mind of the patient or his people. It's better to err on the side of life. 

Some old people refuse treatments that would relieve distress because they figure they won't live long enough to make it worth the expense. The family, doctor or minister might ask, "But you don't know that, do you? You might live another twenty years and this knee- or hip-replacement will make those twenty years far more comfortable!" And what is expensive in the service of life? That's what money is for! 

Some people might say the word futile should never come up in the discussion about human life, but Saint Peter reminded his disciples of the futility of their past way of life which they inherited from their ancestors! Not only you, but your parents and grandparents spent your lives in vain, pointless, unprincipled and useless effort. 

The Psalmist asks, "How long, O people, will you be hard of heart? Why do you love what is worthless and chase after lies?"

There's no need to be scandalized by the question; it's very familiar to the Old Testament. "Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity!" said Qoheleth. "I uselessly spent my strength" cried the Isaiah's suffering servant. And Job cursed the day he was born for forty chapters! 

In the United States the question of futility has yet to appear in partisan politics but that may be coming soon. The plagues of suicide and death by overdose tell us that millions of Americans find no meaning in a life touched with disappointment, loneliness or pain. Rare is the family, business or church that has not been challenged by a member's decision to terminate her life; leaving the rest to pick up the pieces and start again. The VA is daily shaken by an average of 22 suicides among Veterans. 

While the federal government is hamstrung by its own futility, cities and counties are addressing the issues without partisanship but we don't seem to be making headway. Is the pursuit of happiness  another vanity of vanities? 

As a hospital chaplain I meet dying patients whose only ambition is to live a few more weeks or months. They want to see something specific; the birth of a first grandchild, the graduation or marriage of a daughter, or a fiftieth wedding anniversary. Then, they suppose, they'll be content to die. Often they manage that goal and they are satisfied! 

But human life is not about goals and ambitions; nor is there an explanation for human life. If you find a religious or philosophical reason to live, you probably won't find it persuasive. 

Realize that you were ransomed... not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb.
Eating the Precious Body of the Lord and drinking his Precious Blood we find the one who is our way, truth and life. Jesus is not a reason, explanation or goal to be attained. He is the Savior who takes each of us by the hand and leads us on a step-by-step, day-by-day journey out of futility. He walks with us, as we heard in today's gospel; and while he walks with us our hearts are burning within us with delight and satisfaction.  He is the Life we live, the Truth we believe and the Way we must follow. 

Memorial of Saint Catherine of Siena, Virgin and Doctor of the Church

When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they began to be afraid. But he said to them, "It is I. Do not be afraid."

This story in John 6 clearly represents a transition; the question is, "to what?" In the synoptic gospels "the storm at sea" usually reminds us of the great distress the early Church suffered as it became a gentile religion.

Founded by a Jewish Messiah who gathered Jewish disciples, they were astonished and profoundly disappointed that more Jews did not accept Jesus and were not baptized. They had supposed his sending them from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth meant visiting every synagogue in the vast Roman empire, which they did from India to Spain and Britain. But not many Jews accepted the faith, and many gentiles did.

By the time the Gospel of Saint John was written, around 100 AD, the new Christian religion had separated from Judaism and would never be reconciled.  So where are we going now, as Jesus walks on the water toward his foundering disciples? And why doesn't he get in the boat?

The story is intentionally placed between his feeding five thousand men -- no mention of women or children -- and his sermons about the Bread of Life. The five thousand might have been a formidable army, especially if they were led by a messiah who could feed thousands with a loaf of bread, heal the wounded and raise the dead! But Jesus fled up the mountain and escaped that ridiculous prospect. He did not reappear to his disciples until they found him walking on the lake in a storm, and to the crowds until they found him back in Capernaum. (Of course they'll want to know "how did you get here?" because they cannot see the signs Jesus is doing or make sense of his mission.)

I think this story is about transition but it's not about a Jewish religion become gentile; it concerns the challenge of the Eucharist. It's about his strange pronouncement, "Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no part in me!" 

You'll also recall his angry remark to Peter, "If I do not wash your feet, you have no part in me." 

Can we follow Jesus into these unfathomable depths where he must use words of slavery and cannibalism to explain his love for us? We're not going to understand with our rational minds what is happening, and when people ask "the reason for your hope" we're not going to know what to say. 

An older man once invited me, a very young man, into a relationship that -- I know now -- was totally inappropriate. Young and naive, I didn't know what to make of it but -- Thank God -- I was wise enough to politely decline the offer. 

Perhaps there is a comparison here. It's not around the illegality of the old man's offer, but the fear I had of entering such an imbalanced relationship. I would have been swallowed morally and psychologically. 

The Lord invites us also into a relationship that is at least frightening; his words are daunting. And yet he is worthy of our trust and his courtesy is boundless. He invites without coercion or threat. His hand is upon our feet as he washes them and, intimidated as we are, we cannot pull back. We might even make a joke of it, as Peter does, "Wash not only my feet but my whole body!" 

Where is this going? Peter certainly didn't know. 

Suddenly the boat came aground and the disciples reached the opposite shore although, only minutes before, they had been three or four miles across an eight miles lake. We will have to make this crossing many times as we continue to explore the mystery of Communion. 

Friday of the Second Week of Easter


When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, "Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?"

Today’s gospel passage introduces a series of readings continuing into next week; John 6 concerns the Eucharist; or, more simply, food.

Periodically experts warn us how vulnerable our food systems are. Millions of people living within small areas require enormous and continual supplies of food and drink. We’ve been working on these systems since prehistoric times but we have suffered any number of disasters when systems collapsed. Drought, disease, storms, earthquakes, fires, war, terrorism or civil unrest – to name a few – threaten hungry populations at every turn.

The Bible saw these occurrences as God’s punishment; think of the “four horsemen” of apocalypse. Moderns think we should be able to manage all the variables to keep our food streams flowing. Some suppose we’ve solved all the problems!

Today’s gospel recalls a crisis that involved about five thousand men. They had eagerly pursued Jesus into the wilderness, apparently without planning or forethought. Their plight recalls that of the Hebrew refugees who fled Egyptian slavery into the Sinai wilderness. They had looted the Egyptians of gold and silver and had brought herds of animals with them. But, inevitably, the food ran out. After several hours in Jesus’ company this crowd was also hungry.

The Gospel  of John never gets very far from ordinary. He doesn’t deal in romance or fantasy. He seems to avoid the spectacular. What could be more commonplace than hunger? Or more dangerous for the people and their leaders?

 If someone challenged me about my faith I would have to admit I have little faith in human providence. Our systems, precisely because they are created and managed by sinful human beings, are prone to catastrophe. We build buildings but cut corners and they collapse; airplanes full of people disappear without a trace; bridges fall into rivers; signed contracts fail when one party decides he can get a better deal.

Like everyone including Jesus, I have to live in this world of shoddy workmanship and half-hearted agreements. I cross bridges daily; I eat in restaurants; I enter buildings and rely on health care systems; but if you ask what I believe in, “I believe in God the Father Almighty….”

The fanatics who followed Moses in the wilderness and Jesus into the desert believed in God’s providence. We exercise the same faith when we attend Mass. Like every human being since the race evolved we must trust each other and we must believe a Providential God will sustain us. Guaranteed is a hoax but faith is assured.

Thursday of the Second Week of Easter

Lectionary: 270
Whoever does accept his testimony certifies that God is trustworthy. For the one whom God sent speaks the words of God. He does not ration his gift of the Spirit. The Father loves the Son and has given everything over to him.

I never learned Greek but I have heard that Greek pronouns can be hard to decipher. When Jesus says, "He does not ration his gift of the Holy Spirit" is he speaking of the Father or himself?

Fortunately, neither the Father nor the Son is parsimonious in their gift of life, love, courage, generosity and the many gifts of the Holy Spirit! His mercy is superabundant, which is why we can sing alleluia for seven weeks of Easter and throughout the year.

Recently I was invited at the VA Hospital to bless a one-day Red Cross blood drive. Every eight weeks the crew returns to accept donations from hospital staff and volunteers. (I also donate regularly, but in downtown Louisville on a different schedule.)

I was struck by the readiness of people to donate blood. The Red Cross attempts to honor the donors and notifies us when someone has received our blood but, in fact, it's an anonymous process. We don't know or expect to know who receives the blood. Donors give because they can, in gratitude for the good health they enjoy and the hope they might share it with others.

As a chaplain, I often see the dark red bags hanging on I-V poles in the hospital rooms as patients receive these gifts. When I was struck by a car in 1993 I was given three pints of blood from three different donors.

In many ways it's a small gift involving a sharp pinprick and a half-hour of one's busy schedule. I have never felt any inconvenience following my donation. But it saves some lives and facilitates many recoveries.

How much more is God's generosity, which is shown to us by the passion and death of Jesus? He does not ration his blood!

The Spirit is for us an enormous reservoir of good will, generosity and courage at our disposal. As we are given opportunities to do the right thing each day, we naturally hesitate. An instinct of self-preservation urges us to hold back and wait a while; but the Spirit of God often overcomes that hesitation. We simply tap into that reservoir, open the spigot, Let Go and Let God.

Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter

Lectionary: 269

But during the night, the angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison,
led them out, and said,
"Go and take your place in the temple area,
and tell the people everything about this life."

The Acts of the Apostles is full of high comedy as the Spirit-guided disciples of Jesus run smack into the petty leaders of religion and government. Clearly, the Holy Spirit is not going to be foiled or frustrated by the rules. The Gospel must be announced and there's no time like now and no place like here. 

In this story, the angel of the Lord directs the apostles to "tell the people everything about this life." Many years later, drawing on the memory of that moment when the angel opened prison doors and gave him a new command, Saint Peter would urge his people: 
Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope ....
So if someone said to you, "I see you go to Church; tell me everything about this life." what would you say? Where would you begin? 

That directive is the founding principle of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA.) The catechumens should learn about our doctrines and beliefs and be acquainted with our customs; but, primarily, they should be told about this life and how we live it. Or, to cite a principle of Alcoholics Anonymous, "How I work the program and how the program works for me."

First, we know, love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. There's no point in calling yourself Catholic or Christian is you are not fascinated by, and fastened to, Jesus. His guiding Spirit is our guiding spirit; our decisions, attitudes and opinions are formed in relationship to him. Nothing in our life is outside his purview.

The Acts of the Apostles witnesses the extraordinary dimensions of this transformation. The disciples who fled the Garden of Gethsemane in abject terror walk out of the temple jail and into the temple courtyard and take up where they left off, announcing the Gospel. They are simply fearless. Neither Jewish nor Roman authorities can daunt them. They will face the hazards of travel on land and sea without hesitation. If anyone dies at the hands of an enraged mob or by a king's command, the rest fill his place.

We call this fearlessness freedom. The disciples of Jesus simply ignore the restrictions that customs and law place upon the Gospel. When "they tell the people everything about this way of life" the first thing people notice is their freedom. That unspoken declaration of independence is powerful, attractive and delightful; the people of Jerusalem find it irresistible.

These ancient Christians speak to us again today and from that same part of the world. Security has become an idol and so-called terrorist ruthlessly exploit that general, paralyzing weakness. The love of security undermines democracy; it eats at our sanity like the parasite of mad cow disease.

We have better things to do. We must tell the people everything about this way of life.

Feast of Saint Mark, evangelist

I write you this briefly through Silvanus,
whom I consider a faithful brother,
exhorting you and testifying that this is the true grace of God.
Remain firm in it.
The chosen one at Babylon sends you greeting, as does Mark, my son.
Greet one another with a loving kiss.
Peace to all of you who are in Christ.

Why do people support charitable organizations? I've done some fund raising in my life and I learned that people give because a particular person asked. They might believe in the organization (#2) or the cause (#3). They might even want a tax deduction (#6) but the primary (#1) reason they give is they know and trust the person who is asking for money. In the end, life is about our personal relationships; the happiest people are those who trust and are trusted by others. 

The Church has taken a bad rap in the last few years, especially in the secular media. People who were already distant from the Church were further alienated by the news stories. But the people who attended church regularly and liked their pastors stayed. They often spoke in defense of their priests and reassured them of their support.

Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Mark and our first reading, from the First Letter of Saint Peter makes a passing reference to the Evangelist Saint Mark. Peter calls him "my son." We suppose that means a disciple and protégé of the first pope. ("Babylon" is the empyreal city of Rome.)

This early document reminds us that "the church" is just people, a group of men and women with their children who support one another in the practice of our faith.

When Saint Francis wrote his "last will and testament" he said, "The Lord gave me brothers." By the time he wrote that document  the small band had grown into an enormous organization, but he urged the friars to think of one another as brothers and friends. Our loyalty is to one another, not the institution. If we were to go bankrupt, as happens periodically, we would still support one another. We'd just find ways to adapt.

In the VA hospital most of the Catholic men and women I meet have fallen away from the Church. There are many reasons; each one is a story. Some have real complaints about the people whose mean or cruel behavior drove them away. Some were so appalled by what they experienced in the military they lost all faith in "right and wrong." Others experienced upheaval as they entered the military or "recommissioned" back to civilian life; they forgot to recommit to their community of faith. In the rush toward adulthood they sought education, a spouse, a career and a place to live before considering church.

They don't come to the hospital to meet the chaplain but they may be here due to that omission. Life without faith can be pretty brutal.

I hope that in meeting me and receiving the sacraments I offer -- Anointing of the Sick, Eucharist and Reconciliation -- they might rediscover the fellowship which Jesus founded so long ago. A few of us are exemplary saints; most of us are decent people who trust the Son of Mary and gratefully gather to worship his Father.

Monday of the Second Week of Easter

Lectionary: 267

There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him."

During the weeks before and after Easter the Church reflects intensely on the Gospel according to Saint John. Today we begin a series of readings from the third chapter, Jesus' discussion with Nicodemus.

For once, the conversation is not very confrontational. Nicodemus has come to Jesus under cover of darkness, apparently because he wants to speak with him privately, without the pressure and conspiratorial atmosphere of a public encounter. Although a member of the Sanhedrin, which has both religious and political authority, he has come as a private citizen. He addresses Jesus respectfully and "acknowledges that you are a teacher who has come from God."

But the simplest statement Jesus can make about his teaching astonishes and confuses Nicodemus. "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God."

First there is the bewildering authority of "Amen, Amen, I say to you...." Jesus cannot speak to Nicodemus like a colleague; they are not two "men of the cloth" who share a tacit understanding that "we're human beings like anyone else, but we dress and act in public like religious authorities." Jesus in private is the Son of God. There is no distance between himself and his authority, nor between himself and his word.

Saint Luke would recall that Jesus spoke not like the scribes and the people were amazed. If at one time, as a child of twelve years, he listened to the elders and asked them questions, he has no time now to discuss the merits of various ideas. He does not explore opinions to see how they might sound to others, be developed in conversation, or to see who will agree or disagree with him. Rather, he boldly states the truth in a manner that can be understood by those ready to hear.

"...unless one is born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God."

Nicodemus is so astonished by this teaching he wonders, "How can a man once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother's womb and be born again, can he?"

Baptism effects a transformation more fundamental than birth. It is an ontological event, a rewriting, re-framing and redefinition of what it means to be human. The baptized may enjoy his place in family, society and class but these relationships fade and disappear in the relationship with God. "If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple."

The baptized disciple has been born again as a new creature. The Jewish scribe is not prepared to have his whole world upended.

As the conversation continues, Jesus cannot offer Nicodemus a compromise. The member of the Sanhedrin cannot be a Jewish disciple of Jesus. "What is born of flesh is flesh; and what is born of spirit is spirit."

Nicodemus will leave Jesus' presence and return to the dark night deeply distressed by what he has heard. However, we will meet him again. First he will appear in his role as member of the Sanhedrin, defending Jesus against growing hostility in that body. Already a rift has developed between him and "the Jews." Born again, he cannot run with the mob to join in Jesus' murder.

He will finally emerge from the darkness that consumed Judas to prepare the body of Jesus for burial.

The Church regards him as a saint; despite his initial astonishment and bewilderment he believed in Jesus. He had been born again of the Spirit.

Sunday of Divine Mercy

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead....

Occasionally I meet an aging Veteran in the hospital who declines my offer of sacraments, saying, "I have not gone to church in many years. I'd be hypocritical if I started now."

There is a certain dignity in the remark but I wonder what he actually wants to do. I understand he thinks he must live by the decisions he has made, but what does he want to do?

Freedom may be called the ability to do what I want to do. The Lord lets us live with the consequences of our decisions but never takes away our freedom. In fact God is the very fountain of freedom; without God we never could have been, are not and never shall be free.

I asked a group of Veterans in treatment for alcoholism if an inmate at state prison might enjoy any freedom. Several had been there and assured me they enjoyed substantial freedom in jail. If one's sense of freedom is measured by one's desires, all you have to do is be content with your lot and you're as free as a bird.

The old man who still refuses the sacraments feels honor bound by past decisions and attitudes, but what does he want to do?

I love Jesus' question to the beggar Bartimaeus, "What do you want?" And I love the blind man's response, "I want to see." Simple question; simple answer. Very often our freedom is right there in front of us if only we would say what we want.

Mercy Sunday is a response to the odd phenomenon of Christians appearing in churches on Easter Sunday. Few can say why they came, or what they wanted. Perhaps they hoped they would not be noticed in the crowd. Announced a week in advance, Mercy Sunday invites un-churched believers to "come back and do what you want to do."

Saint Thomas dug himself into a hole when he sarcastically replied to the disciples, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."

He was astonished when Jesus took him up on that challenge. Fortunately he was humble enough to eat his own words and reply, "My Lord and My God."

Every Sunday, every day, at every hour of every day the Lord offers us the freedom to love. So long as we choose to love we are free.

Saturday in the Octave of Easter

Lectionary: 266

When Jesus had risen, early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told his companions who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.

Biblical scholars in the Roman Catholic tradition generally agree that the passage we heard today from the Saint Mark's Gospel was written by someone else and tagged onto the end of the document. Apparently some members of the Church felt Mark had finished too soon, so they added certain stories from the writings of Saint Matthew and Saint Luke. This passage is honored as "canonical" and also recognized as an afterthought. 

The original document ended with the women finding a young man in the tomb, hearing his message and leaving: 
Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Like everyone else, I have wondered about this abrupt ending to Saint Mark's story. Why does he not tell the stories that another scribe added to the text? Is it possible he didn't know them? 

But, in fact, all of the "resurrection narratives," taken as a whole, leave a lot unsaid. First, nothing is said directly about his resurrection. We're only told what happened afterward. "An angel came and rolled away the stone" but apparently not to let the revived corpse escape. He was already gone! Artists have given us pictures of his resurrection but they take their details from his Transfiguration when his clothes were brilliant white and his face shone like the sun. No one saw him rise!

Scholars point to two different traditions. Luke and John finish their stories in Jerusalem; Mark and Matthew direct the disciples back to Galilee for Jesus' final appearance. The modern reader would ask, "Which was it?"

Only Luke tells us about his appearances for forty days but very little about what happened during those days. Did he walk with them, eat with them, laugh and talk and teach them as he had before? In the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Peter says certain witnesses "ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead" but we do that every day at Mass.

We'd like to know more. John says he appeared on Easter Sunday and on the following Sunday. There is one final appearance by the Sea of Tiberias but he does not tell us whether that was soon after Easter or years later. The Evangelists and other New Testament authors give us no consistent narrative about Jesus' resurrection. So Saint Mark's abrupt, inconclusive ending is different, but not very different. 

I have found that imprecision curiously satisfying. It's a story that tells much but leaves much unsaid because there will never be an answer to all our questions. Over the centuries Christians have speculated endlessly about the incidents of that weekend. And we have artifacts like the Shroud of Turin, Veronica's Veil, relics of the True Cross and hundreds of nails to buttress our accounts though none of them proves much of anything. All the facts in the world do not add up to Truth. 

Our faith, the Church, and scripture tells us the Father has raised Jesus from the dead. We're delighted by that. We celebrate it daily in our prayers, weekly in our Mass, and annually with our cycle of liturgical seasons. That's all ye know and all ye need to know. 

Friday in the Octave of Easter

Lectionary: 265

On the next day, their leaders, elders, and scribes were assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly class. They brought them into their presence and questioned them, "By what power or by what name have you done this?"

The time is out of joint. O cursèd spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!

So complained Prince Hamlet when his murdered father appeared to him, despite the ban heaven had laid on such phenomena. The dead were not supposed to appear on Christmas Eve.

Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes / Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated, / The bird of dawning singeth all night long. / And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad. / The nights are wholesome. Then no planets strike, / No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm, / So hallowed and so gracious is that time.
The people of Jerusalem thought the time was out of joint when the Fullness of Time appeared among them and a new age -- or "dispensation" -- had begun. Neither they nor their leaders were prepared to welcome the Holy Spirit or to invoke the Holy Name of Jesus.

Many people in the United States, after World War II, believed the time was not right for the Civil Rights Movement. They urged postponement, or at least a slowing down, of the march toward full integration. Many preferred to "Wait till I am dead!" before they should have to meet, work with, pray with or talk to African Americans.

We know the time was precisely right for the Civil Rights movement; and the first century was precisely right for Jesus. He was born in the fullness of time, and was crucified when his hour had come. It is rank foolishness to suppose Jesus might have been born at another time, in another place or to a different woman. You and I are creatures of our time and place in just the same way; we have been created in the last age before the Judgment Day.

The Divine Author of the Letter to the Hebrews goes to great lengths to show us that we are the most fortunate generation. The eleventh chapter reviews the many generations who saw the Holy City from afar.

The world was not worthy of them. They wandered about in deserts and on mountains,  in caves and in crevices in the earth. Yet all these, though approved because of their faith, did not receive what had been promised.
In the twelfth chapter the same author reviews the blessings we have received which our ancestors only hoped for, and reminds us, "In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood."

Certainly our age is confounding. Not only could our ancestors have never imagined the changes of our time; we can't either! Very often we can't believe our own eyes and we say, "Is this really happening?"

Hebrews urges us to endure these trials as "discipline."

for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.” Endure your trials as “discipline”; God treats you as sons. For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are without discipline, in which all have shared, you are not sons but bastards. Besides this, we have had our earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not [then] submit all the more to the Father of spirits and live? They disciplined us for a short time as seemed right to them, but he does so for our benefit, in order that we may share his holiness. At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it. So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed.
Our trials are not proof of God's anger but clear signs of his fatherly love. Encouraged by the Holy Spirit and equipped with his Holy Name, we embrace the challenges of our time even as Jesus embraced the cross in his time.

Thursday in the Octave of Easter

Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away, and that the Lord may grant you times of refreshment and send you the Christ already appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the times of universal restoration of which God spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old. 
For Moses said: 
A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen in all that he may say to you. Everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be cut off from the people. 

As Saint Luke tells the story, Jesus fulfilled the promise of Deuteronomy; he is the prophet like Moses whom "God has raised up for you from among your own kin," When the people of Jerusalem saw the crippled man walking and dancing and praising God and heard Saint Peter's explanation, they realized they had missed the opportunity. Now heaven "has received him until the times of universal restoration" and they must wait until he is sent again. 
But Luke is less interested in Jesus' Second Coming and more interested in Jesus as prophet and his Church as a church of prophecy. 
When I studied theology in preparation for ordination, less than ten years after the Second Vatican Council, our professors and my classmates were optimistic about the future. Following the Second World War, surviving nations erected great international institutions to create a more stable world. The United Nations, the World Court in the Hague, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) hoped to promote broad economic and educational equality for future generations, regardless of their national identity. 
After the horror of Nazism, nationalism appeared to wane and people began to think of themselves as citizens of the world. In the late 1960's photos of the Earth from the Moon, and growing awareness of our compromised atmosphere helped us to re-envision the world without boundary lines or great walls. 
Many of the bishops of the Council shared that optimistic vision. The Church hoped to work with the secular world of government and business for the progress of all people. Our prophetic voice was not raised in opposition to government and business but in harmony with them. 
By the 1980's that optimism had begun to sour. Banks eagerly loaned money to corrupt government leaders who, too often, fled justice into comfortable exile, taking their bank accounts with them. Visions of equality and opportunity disappeared as a new class of super-rich appeared. In response the Church developed its "preferential option for the poor." The voice of prophecy is the cry of the poor, opposing the godless authorities who believe only in The Economy and promise only Security. 
But much has changed since the 1980's as the middle class "comes apart" into separate groups. There is the college-educated middle-management, middle class with stable marriages who doggedly adjust to changing technologies and survive in a fluid job market. And there is the slipping middle class, plagued by disabilities, addictions to cigarettes, alcohol and prescription drugs, failing marriages and poor health, disillusioned with religion and increasingly dependent upon government entitlements. (I meet the more fortunate one's served by the Veterans Health Administration.) 
The bright promises of the post-war years have faded and succeeding generations are less wealthy than their parents. The Boom Generation will never enjoy the retirement benefits of their parents and grandparents; their children cannot expect even a reliable health care system. 
Predictably, nationalism has reappeared in North America and Europe. It promises a return to the past but portends a future of endless war. 
What does the prophetic church say to our time? The testimony of scripture assures us the prophet will always challenge established political, social and religious structures. The Holy Spirit drives Abraham's children from the church, synagogue or mosque into the streets. The pious cannot be assured of religious comfort if they harbor animosity against anyone, rich or poor, native or alien. 
Pope Francis advocates for refugees and exiles. Many people have heard his appeal. sometimes defying their own governments to offer sanctuary to God's children. Other Christian leaders have championed the unborn, the elderly, the imprisoned and innumerable minorities. 
But most bishops and priests have dedicated their lives to shoring up the failing institutions of parishes, Catholic schools and retreat houses. We still believe faith is practiced primarily in the local face-to-face, palm-to-palm, side-by-side community.  There is no virtual church.
Saint Peter warned the people of Jerusalem, "Everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be cut off from the people." 
It is certainly difficult to practice fidelity in these changing times. The old recommendation for the Christian faithful, "Pay, pray and obey." satisfies no one. We must daily ask the Lord, "'What do you want of me today?" as the Holy Spirit forms, instructs, inspires and guides a prophetic church through the chaos of our time. 

Wednesday in the Octave of Easter

Lectionary: 263

And he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are!
How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!
Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?"
Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets,
he interpreted to them what referred to him
in all the Scriptures.

"What just happened?" In today’s gospel two disciples find themselves in the middle of a story and are trying to make sense of it. Both have spent the last several months following “Jesus the Nazarene” as he and his hordes advanced upon Jerusalem. The Master had planned and orchestrated the campaign carefully, sending 36 teams of two disciples each to every town and village he planned to visit. Jerusalem had heard about this grassroots movement and wildly greeted him upon his arrival. They had waved branches from trees and spread their cloaks on the road as he entered the gated city.

Then suddenly the mood changed and he was crucified. And then, just as suddenly, on the third day the city was abuzz with rumors that he had been raised from the dead. Cleopas and his friend are trying to make sense of it all as they head out of town.

But they haven’t a clue. This incident will never make sense; the story will remain frustrating and inconclusive until something else occurs. Or perhaps it will blow over; something else will happen and the trauma of that Passover will be forgotten. What just happened?

God lives in eternity, we're told. He sees the past and the future as if they were present, because there is no past or present in God. I'm not sure I buy that but I am sure that we human beings are not privileged with such a perspective. Creatures of the present moment, our knowledge of the past is limited to personal and shared memories, all of it colored by particular ideas and opinions. There are things we'd rather not remember, which may be important. There are other things we treasure as hugely important, and hope they are.

Fortunately, with our marvelous facility for language, we tell stories. We could not be human without them. And then we argue about our stories. Is this one important? Or that one? What do they mean?

...beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.
On the road to Emmaus Jesus told his story as it should be understood. He didn't speak only of the last weekend, or even of the past few years. He didn't need to point out how his healings had generated rancor among his enemies. He didn't need to remind them of the uneasy balance of powers between disgruntled Jews and sword-happy Romans. Rather, they needed a historical perspective beginning with "Moses and all the prophets."

His account would make sense not only to the puzzled pedestrians but to the whole world, and for all the future. Eventually, the walkers would realize the helpful stranger was Himself! No one else could do it because he is both messenger and message.

The import of "what just happened" was still staggering but now it made sense, and they knew precisely what they had to do. Taking their part in history, Cleopas and his friend sped back to the City because the Gospel must begin at Jerusalem.

Tuesday in the Octave of Easter

"Repent and be baptized, every one of you,
in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins;
and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
For the promise is made to you and to your children
and to all those far off,
whomever the Lord our God will call."

The people of Jerusalem, hearing Peter’s sermon and remembering the spasm of violence during the Passover, are “cut to the heart”  and ask “What are we to do?”

The Apostle explains they must repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then he promises more than atonement; he promises the Holy Spirit. It is one thing to get back on track with God; but being filled with the Holy Spirit is to enter a new dimension. It is more than a change from still photos to motion pictures, or from black-and-white to color; it is as radical as the shift from two dimensions to three. Normal will never be the same.
Preachers, theologians, catechists and parents have struggled throughout the centuries to say something definitive about the Holy Spirit. No sooner had the Fathers of the Church developed a clearer understanding of God the Father and God the Son than they must name God the Spirit as the third person of the Trinity. The doctrine sometimes feel like an afterthought but it is impelled by the testimony of scripture, the liturgy and everyday experience.
Saint Peter promised the crowds, " will receive the Holy Spirit." He could not repress that announcement. Just as it is impossible to keep joy to oneself, so must we share the Holy Spirit with others -- despite the fact we have no authority over the Spirit. Only God can bestow that gift to those who dispose themselves to receive it, to those who repent and are baptized.
It is easy to speak of the Holy Spirit but sometimes we take for granted that others know what we're talking about. I heard a sermon once on "justification by faith" and, for the life of me, I could not figure out what the preacher was talking about. It seemed to have no connection to my experience of relationships, health or happiness. He didn't even mention the Original Sin of being white, American and male. Christians use other words with that same careless abandon: saved, grace, freedom, to name a few.

I think of the Holy Spirit in terms of that freedom which God has promised to his elect. In John 8, we hear the Jews quarrel with Jesus,
"We are descendants of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How can you say, ‘You will become free’?”
Jesus insists they are not free:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains. So if a son frees you, then you will truly be free. I know that you are descendants of Abraham. But you are trying to kill me, because my word has no room among you.

No one wants to be told he is not free; we like to live in the illusion that we are happy, generous, open-minded and free. But when we meet someone who is truly happy, generous, open-minded and free we realize, "This person is blessed. Can I be so blessed?"
The crowds in Jerusalem on that Pentecost saw the disciples streaming out of the Upper Room filled with the Holy Spirit and realized they were living their lives in black-and-white while these Christians enjoyed color.

Those who practice freedom in the Holy Spirit have a different normal. Jesus explained to Nicodemus, "The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
This will always make perfect sense to the Children of God, and will always sound like nonsense to everyone else.

Monday in the Octave of Easter

Monday in the Octave of Easter
Lectionary: 261


This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God, you killed, using lawless men to crucify him.
But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it.


If someone were to ask, “Okay, Jesus was crucified and has been raised up. What difference does it make?” we could cite the Acts of the Apostles. We’re already familiar with these feckless fellows from the Gospel of Saint Luke. We remember them as clueless, jockeying for position among themselves, sometimes eager, often distress and confused. With Luke’s second book we’ll find them energized and wise in the ways of God. They will fearlessly announce the Gospel to the whole world  beginning at Jerusalem and ending in Rome. For the season, the book has been neatly broken down into passages; we’ll read them daily until Pentecost Sunday.

In today’s reading Saint Peter begins the herculean task of rewriting the history of the Jewish people. The facts will not change but the understanding  of them will be totally altered. His story begins with the recent crucifixion of Jesus, which occurred fifty days ago, just before Passover.  

Everyone should remember; Jesus had been welcomed to Jerusalem with hysterical excitement. Some speculated he was the Messiah; and he didn’t exactly deny it. His disciples certainly thought so as they flooded the city. Then suddenly the mood soured; the welcome turned hostile. There were reasons for that; Jewish leaders and Roman authorities had grave misgivings about this unorthodox preacher. But the “man in the street” might ask himself, “Why did I become so enraged at the stranger? Why did I stand with the crowd and demand his crucifixion? What came over me?”

On Pentecost, Saint Peter offered an explanation. He was “delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God….”

People, cities and nations can be swept along by strange, irrational moods. They can perpetrate unspeakable crimes one day, and then wake up the next day wondering, “What was that about?” They may have long standing anxieties about strangers, especially peculiar strangers like Hispanics, Jews, Muslims or Sikhs. They might not even care which is which; they’re all strangers and they’re all suspicious.

They have resentments born of poverty, hardship and disappointment. Looking for real persons to blame – a cabal or conspiracy -- and dissatisfied with global, impersonal explanations like “the economy” or “history,” they direct their grief at the usual suspects

Then suddenly something happens and the mob goes berserk, each person urging the other to more outrageous acts. Even persons of their own race or religion who might urge caution or plead for rationality will be swept away by the violence and destroyed as alien sympathizers.

Later some people will wonder, “ Why did I do that?” Or they might just prefer not to think about it, as if it never happened. It was a dream, a nightmare, an anomaly; it doesn’t fit anything of what I know about myself or about my people. It doesn’t matter; it never happened. That was not “me.”

And so Peter with the Galilean accent must first remind the people of Jerusalem about that little episode three months ago, just before Passover. It’s a painful memory but, in fact, “This man was delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God.”

The crime exposed the criminal mind of Jerusalem; there is no evading remorse and shame about the incident. But the all-merciful God has turned it to our advantage, because it was impossible for him to be held by death.

When they realize they crucified the Messiah and that he was raised up again, the people must rejoice in God’s mercy even as they freely acknowledge their part in the violence. It is not possible to know Jesus without facing one’s complicity in his death.  A grace that does not penetrate and illuminate the heart of darkness is unworthy of the name. A salvation which forgets the past, whether it be the Shoah in Europe or slavery in America, is only skin deep.

The Easter season must lead us ever deeper into a realization of God’s love. In the revelation we will see the enormity of our sins and the superabundance of God’s mercy. Having dug holes in the sand by our sins, we will see them completely erased by a flood of blessings.