Introduction: Today’s Scripture selections emphasize the need for Christians to abide in Christ as a condition for producing fruits of kindness, mercy, charity and holiness.
Scripture lessons: The first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, testifies to the abundance of spiritual fruits yielded by the apostles because of their close bond with the risen Lord. The reading tells us how the Lord pruned the former Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus, a fanatic who had persecuted the Church, to produce a fruit-bearing branch called Paul, the zealous Apostle to the Gentiles, entirely dedicated to the proclamation of the Gospel. Even Paul’s forced return to Tarsus for a brief period is an example of God’s pruning of the vine to bring forth a greater harvest, namely, the mission to the Gentiles.
In today’s second reading, John, in his first letter to the Church, explains that only if we remain united to Christ by putting our Faith in him and drawing our spiritual strength from him, will we be able to obey God’s commandments, especially the commandment of love.
In the Gospel, taken from the Last Supper discourse, Jesus uses his favorite image of the vine and branches to help his disciples understand the closeness of their relationship with him and the necessity of their maintaining it. They are not simply rabbi and disciples. Their lives are mutually dependent - as close as a vine and its branches. In fact, in using this image, Jesus is explaining to them and to us what our relationship with him should be like.
Life messages: 1) We need pruning in our Christian life. Cutting out of our lives everything that is contrary to the spirit of Jesus and renewing our commitment to Christian ideals in our lives every day is the first type of self-imposed pruning expected of us. A second means of pruning is to practice self-control over our evil inclinations, sinful addictions and aberrations. Cordial mingling with people of different cultures, races, religions and orientations in our neighborhood and society enables us to prune away our selfish and prejudicial tendencies as we treat others in the society with Christian charity and openness. Jesus prunes, purifies and strengthens us by allowing us to face pain and suffering, contradictions and difficulties with the courage of our Christian convictions.
2) We need to abide in Christ and let Christ abide in us: The four Gospels teach us how to become true disciples of Jesus and how to abide in him as branches abide in the main trunk of the vine, drawing their life from it. Personal and liturgical prayers, frequenting of the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation, daily and meditative reading of the Bible and selfless, loving acts of kindness, mercy and forgiveness enable us to abide in Jesus, the true vine, as fruit-bearing branches.
EASTER V (May 3): ACTS 9: 26-31; 1JOHN 3:18-24; JN 15: 1-8
Anecdotes: #1: Hampton Court vine: Donald Grey Barnhouse tells about a grapevine in Hampton Court near London that is about 1,000 years old. See more at: http://www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/stories/palacehighlights/TheGreatVine#sthash.Vfmdv4c1.dpuf. It has but one root which is at least two feet thick. Some of the branches are 200 feet long. Because of skillful cutting and pruning, the vine produces several tons of grapes each year. Even though some of the smaller branches are 200 feet from the main stem, they bear much fruit because they are joined to the vine and allow the life of the vine to flow through them (Sermons Illustrated). If we, the branches, are not bearing much fruit, it may be that we are not feeding as we ought upon the life-giving flow from the vine. The great truth that Jesus is trying to tell us is that if we want life in all its fullness, then we must be connected to the "true vine," the very source of life. "Abide in me as I abide in you," Jesus said. We draw our life from him.
# 2: "Jesus nut" The “Jesus nut,” also called the “Jesus pin,” is the nut that holds the main rotor to the mast of some helicopters, such as the UH-1 Iroquois helicopter. The long and strong metallic fans of the helicopter are fitted to the main rotor of the mast. The “Jesus nut” is a slang term first coined by American soldiers in Vietnam; the technical term is MRRN or main rotor retaining nut. The origin of the term comes from the idea that, if the “Jesus nut” were to fail in flight, the helicopter would detach from the rotors and the only thing left for the crew to do would be to pray to Jesus before the helicopter crashed. Today’s Gospel explains why Jesus must be the pivotal point in our lives, through the little parable of the vine and the branches.
3: Stay connected to Christ the servant: Some years ago, Mother Teresa was asked by a reporter one day, “What is your biggest problem?” Without a moment of hesitation, Mother Teresa answered with one word: “Professionalism.” She said: “Here are these servants of Jesus who care for the poorest of the poor. I have one who just went off and came back with her medical degree. Others have come back with registered nurse degrees. Another with a master’s in social work… and when they came back with their degrees… their first question always is, ‘Where is my office?’ Then she said, ‘But you know what I do? I send them over to the House of the Dying where they simply hold the hands of dying people for six months and after that, they’re ready to be servants again.’” [Victor D. Pentz, “Take This Job and Love It” Protestant Hour Sermon, (3/14/2005), p.3.] This was the greatness of Mother Teresa… her unflinching commitment to stay connected to Christ’s Servant Mentality.
Introduction: Today’s Scripture selections emphasize the need for Christians to abide in Christ as a condition for producing fruits of kindness, mercy, charity and holiness. The first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, testifies to the abundance of spiritual fruits yielded by the apostles because of their close bond with the risen Lord. The reading tells us how the Lord pruned the former Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus, the fanatic who had persecuted the Church, to produce a fruit-bearing branch called Paul, the zealous Apostle to the Gentiles, entirely dedicated to the proclamation of the Gospel. Even Paul’s forced return to Tarsus for a brief period is an example of God’s pruning of the vine to bring forth a greater harvest, namely, the mission to the Gentiles. In today’s second reading, John, in his first letter to the Church, explains that only if we remain united to Christ by putting our faith in him and drawing our spiritual strength from him, will we be able to obey God’s commandments, especially the commandment of love. In the Gospel, taken from the Last Supper discourse, Jesus uses his favorite image of the vine and branches to help his disciples understand the closeness of their relationship with him and the necessity of their maintaining it. They are not simply rabbi and disciples. Their lives are mutually dependent - as close as a vine and its branches. In fact, in using this image, Jesus is explaining to them and to us what our relationship with him should be like.
First reading, Acts 9:26-31: Today’s first reading, taken from Acts, concentrates on one apostle in particular, namely Paul, who was pruned like a vine to be an apostle "by the will of God" (1 Cor 1:1). The story of Paul’s conversion and call to become the Apostle to the Gentiles is narrated three times in Acts, in Chapters 9, 22 and 26. Today’s reading, taken from Acts 9, describes the aftermath of his transformation from enemy of the early Christian movement to a God-chosen instrument bringing the Gospel to non-Jews. Jesus himself pruned away the former Saul, the Saul who had persecuted the Church, to make Paul, a man whose life was entirely dedicated to the proclamation of the Gospel. But when Paul came to Jerusalem after preaching in Damascus for “a long time,” the disciples in Jerusalem were afraid of him. Finally they recognized the transforming power of the Spirit of God operating in Paul and gave their full support to him. Because Paul had become a vigorous witness for Christ, the Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews), tried to kill him. When Paul’s life was threatened, the other apostles helped him to leave Jerusalem and return to Tarsus. But even this setback in Paul's missionary work turned out to be just one more example of God’s pruning of Paul - the vine-branch - to bring forth a greater harvest: the mission to the Gentiles.
Second Reading, 1 John 3:18-24: The New American Bible states that some members of John’s early Christian community were advocating false doctrines, by refusing to accept the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus, by disregarding the commandment of love of neighbor, by refusing to accept Faith in Christ as the source of sanctification and by denying the redemptive value of Jesus' death. Hence, John says in the opening sentence in today’s reading, “Little children, let us love in deed and in truth and not merely talk about it." John is criticizing pious Christians who are comfortable with their petty hatreds and uncaring indifference, as though such attitudes were acceptable behavior for those saved by Christ. The next sentence, "His commandment is this: We are to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and are to love one another as He commanded us," summarizes best the essence of Christianity and disapproves extreme ideological positions like those threatening the Church today, namely, (1) dogmatic conservatism, which makes creedal orthodoxy the only criterion, (2) fideism in which all that matters is "accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior," and (3) liberalism, which reduces Christianity to living peacefully with others. The concluding advice, "keep (God's) commandments," invites us to a transformed life, flowing from a mutual, intimate relationship between God and each of us individual believers -- our union in His love. It follows that we must love each other with the same selfless, sacrificial, forgiving love with which Jesus Christ loved us; indeed, that is His command to us. John also teaches us that personal assurance of salvation doesn't depend on intense religious experience (being "born again"), or dramatic charismatic expressions among believers (like speaking in tongues, healing, or handling poisonous snakes). Rather, we are saved because we are members of Christ – of His Church, the community gifted with God's "Spirit," in which the Spirit's presence is corroborated by the members’ genuine, loving concern for each other.
Exegesis: The context: Today’s Gospel text is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse during his Last Supper with his disciples, as found in John 13–17. Jesus explains to his apostles how they and their disciples can carry on when he is no longer bodily or physically present. Jesus assures them, using the parable of the vine and branches, that the life-giving Spirit Whom Jesus will send them, will be present and active within and among his disciples and their successors.
Israel as God’s vine and vineyard: There are numerous Old Testament passages which refer to Israel as a vine: Ps 80:8-16, Is 5:1-7, Jer 2:21, Ez 15:1-8, 17:5-10, 19:10-14, and Hos 10:1. "The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel,” sings the prophet Isaiah in his song of the Vineyard (Is 5:1-7). "Yet I planted you a choice vine" is God's message to Israel through Jeremiah (Jer 2:21). "Israel is a luxuriant vine," says Hosea (Hos 10:1). The vine is part and parcel of Jewish imagery and the very symbol of Israel, serving as an emblem on the coins of the Maccabees. One of the glories of the Temple was the great golden vine upon the front of the Holy Place. But the symbol of the vine is never used in the Old Testament apart from the idea of degeneration and infidelity deserving of Yahweh’s severe punishment. That is why Ezekiel says that it should be burned in the fire (Ez 15).
Jesus claims that he is the true vine: Since Israel has become a degenerate vine producing wild and bitter grapes, Jesus makes the unique claim that he is the true and ideal vine and his disciples are the living and fruit-producing branches. He clarifies his statement, explaining that his Heavenly Father is the Vine-grower (v. 1), he (Christ) is the vine (v. 5), his disciples are branches (v. 5) and those who do not abide in him are useless branches, suitable only to be cut away and thrown into the fire (v. 6). Jesus is the true vine, because the old vine, the original chosen people, was succeeded by the new vine, the Church, whose head is Christ (cf. 1 Cor 3:9). To be fruitful, one must be joined to the new, true vine, Christ. It is living the life of Christ, the life of grace, which gives the believer the nourishment which enables him or her to yield the fruits of eternal life. This image of the vine also helps us to understand the unity of the Church. St. Paul explains that we are Christ's mystical body in which all the members are intimately united with the head and united to one another (1 Cor 12:12-26; Rom 12:4-5; Eph 4: 15-16).
Pruning an essential part of growing fruit-producing branches: In the vineyards in Palestine, pruning was done in late fall or early winter because pruning in spring or summer caused excessive bleeding that weakened the vine. Dead branches were cut away to save the vine. Other branches were pruned so that they would bear more grapes than leaves in the next growing season. John describes God as the Vine-grower who has planted a vine, Jesus. The Father removes every branch that bears no fruit and prunes the other branches so they may bear more fruit. Jesus tells his apostles that they have already been pruned by the words he has spoken to them. He refers to the announcement that he will soon be leaving them by his death on the cross. The apostles will not feel the full impact of this "pruning" until Jesus is actually taken away from them in death. Eventually, they will be pruned of all attachment to the things of this world so that they may be ready to attach themselves to the things of Heaven. It is a sorry sight to see that some of us just come to Church Sunday after Sunday in search of spiritual "handouts" or just to "fulfill our Sunday obligation," but give little or nothing back to the community. They are like fruitless, leafy branches draining life from the trunk without giving anything in return.
Abiding in Jesus as condition for fertility: Even a well-pruned branch cannot bear grapes unless it abides in the vine, drawing water and minerals from the main trunk and transporting food prepared in the leaves to the main trunk and to the roots. Jesus reminds us that we can not bear fruit either, unless we abide in him just as he abides in us. Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” What Jesus means is that by abiding in him we will bear much fruit, and that apart from him we can do nothing. Abiding in Christ means that God has to be inside us and we have to be inside God. We abide in Christ by drawing near to God and by experiencing His being near to us, or by living every moment as he has commanded us to do, with the radiant presence of Christ all around us. This life of intimate union with Christ in the Church is maintained by the spiritual helps common to all the faithful, chiefly by active participation in the Liturgy. Those of us who do not abide in Jesus will wither and be thrown away, just as withered branches are thrown into the fire to be burned. Fruit-bearing in Christian life is not just of our own making. It is the sign that Christ is working in us and through us.
Life messages: 1) We need pruning in our Christian life. Cutting out of our lives everything that is contrary to the spirit of Jesus and renewing our commitment to Christian ideals in our lives every day is the first type of self-imposed pruning expected of us. A second means of pruning is practicing self-control over our evil inclinations, sinful addictions and aberrations. Cordial mingling with people of different cultures, races, religions and orientations in our neighborhood and society enables us to prune away our selfish and prejudicial tendencies and to treat others in our society with Christian charity and openness. Jesus prunes, purifies and strengthens us by allowing us to face pain and suffering, contradictions and difficulties with courage of our Christian convictions.
2) Let us abide in Christ and let Christ abide in us: The four Gospels teach us how to become true disciples of Jesus and how to abide in him as braches abide in the main trunk of the vine and draw their life from the vine. Personal and liturgical prayers, frequenting of the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation, daily and meditative reading of the Bible and selfless, loving acts of kindness and mercy and forgiveness enable us to abide in Jesus, the true vine, as fruit-bearing branches.
Prepared by Fr. Antony Kadavil (email@example.com) and published in the CBCI Website.
Scripture lessons: In today's first reading, Peter asserts unequivocally before the Jewish assembly that there is no salvation except through Christ the Good Shepherd whom the Jewish leaders have rejected and crucified and in whose name the apostles preach and heal. In the second reading, St. John tells us how Yahweh the Good Shepherd of the Old Testament expressed His love for us through His Son Jesus, the Good Shepherd, by making us His children. In the Gospel passage the Pharisees asks Jesus to clarify if he is the promised messiah. Jesus’ answer is “I am the good shepherd.” Jesus claims that as a good shepherd he knows his sheep and loves them so much that he is ready to die for them. The Gospel text offers us both comfort and challenge. The comforting good news is that Jesus the Good Shepherd knows us, provides for us and loves us. The challenge is that we should become good shepherds to those entrusted to our care and good sheep in our parish, the sheepfold of Jesus the Good Shepherd.
Life messages: Let us become good shepherds and good sheep
1) Let us become good shepherds: Everyone who is entrusted with the care of others is a shepherd. Hence pastors, parents, teachers, doctors, nurses, government officials and politicians are all shepherds. Since shepherding a diocese, a parish, a civil community or a family is very demanding, dedication, commitment, sacrifice and vigilance are needed every day on the part of the shepherds. We become good shepherds by loving those entrusted to us, praying for them, spending our time, talents. Health and wealth for their welfare, and guarding them from physical and spiritual dangers. Parents must be especially careful of their duties as shepherds, becoming role models for their children by leading exemplary lives.
2) Let us be good sheep in the fold of Jesus, the Good Shepherd: Our local parish is our sheepfold, and our pastors are our shepherds. Jesus is the High Priest, the bishops are the successors of the apostles, the pastors are their helpers and the parishioners are the sheep. We become good sheep of our parish a) By hearing and following the voice of our shepherds through their homilies, Bible classes, counsel ling and advice. b) By taking the spiritual food given by our pastors through regular and active participation in the Holy Mass and by frequenting the sacraments, prayer services, renewal programs and missions. c) By cooperating with our pastors giving them positive suggestions for the welfare of the parish, encouraging them in their ministry, occasionally correcting them with constructive criticism and by praying for them. d) By cooperating as good stewards in the activities of various councils, ministries and parish associations.
3) Let us pray for vocations to priestly and religious life so that we may have more holy and Spirit-filled shepherds to lead, feed and protect the Catholic community. Christian thinking on vocation has been summarized in one profound saying: “All are priests, some are priests, but only one is the Priest.” Christ Jesus is the Priest in the full sense because he is the one mediator between God and humanity who offered himself, a unique sacrifice on the cross. The universal priesthood of all believers, the sharing of all the baptized in the priesthood of Christ, has received special emphasis since Vatican II. Those who are called to make a lifelong commitment to serve as ordained ministers share the ministerial priesthood of Jesus. On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations we are asked to encourage and pray for our young men to respond to God’s call to serve His Church in the ministerial priesthood.
Anecdote #1: Pope John Paul II, the good shepherd. The most beautiful and meaningful comment on the life and the legacy of Pope John Paul II was made by the famous televangelist Billy Graham. In a TV Interview he said: “He lived like his Master the Good Shepherd and he died like his Master the Good Shepherd.” In today’s gospel, Jesus claims that he is the Good Shepherd and explains what he does for his sheep.
# 2: A good shepherd and the Ku Klux Klan: On June 22, 1996 at Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Ku Klux Klan held a rally at the City Hall. They had a permit for the event, it was advertised in advance, and more than 300 demonstrators appeared to protest the rally. One Klansman, who was wearing clothes displaying the Confederate flag, was attacked by a swarm of demonstrators and pushed to the ground. Appalled, an 18-year-old African-American girl named Keisha Thomas threw herself over the fallen man, shielding him with her own body from the kicks and punches. Keisha, when asked why she, a black teenager, would risk injury to protect a man who was a white supremacist, said, “He’s still somebody’s child. I don’t want people to remember my name but I’d like them to remember I did the right thing.”
# 3: “I only know them by name." Rev. Tony Campolo loves to tell the story of a particular census taker who went to the home of a rather poor family in the mountains of West Virginia to gather information. He asked the mother how many dependents she had. She began, "Well, there is Rosie, and Billy, and Lewella, Susie, Harry, and Jeffrey. There's Johnny, and Harvey, and our dog, Willie." It was then that the census taker interrupted her aid said: "No, ma'am, that's not necessary. I only need the humans." "Ah," she said. "Well, there is Rosie, and Billy, and Lewella, Susie, Harry, and Jeffrey, Johnny, and Harvey, and...." But there once again, the census taker interrupted her. Slightly exasperated, he said, "No, ma'am, you don't seem to understand. I don't need their names, I just need the numbers." To which the old woman replied, "But I don't know them by numbers. I only know them by name." In today’s Gospel Jesus the good shepherd says that he knows his sheep by name.
# 4: A good shepherd-sergeant’s story: There was once a sergeant in the Marines who was the senior enlisted man in his platoon. One day his outfit was ambushed and pinned down by enemy fire. The lieutenant in command was badly wounded as were many of the men. The sergeant took over and extricated the men from the trap, though he himself was wounded twice. He carried out the wounded commanding officer by himself. Miraculously every man in the platoon survived, even the wounded lieutenant. Later the men said that if it were not for the incredible bravery of the sergeant they all would have been killed. He was recommended for the Medal of Honor, but received the DFC. He never wore the medal, however, because he said the lives of his men were more important than any medal. Later when he had children of his own, he loved them almost like a mother. His wife said that during the war he had learned how to be tender.
Introduction: The fourth Sunday of Easter is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. It is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. The scripture lessons are about shepherds. Each year on this Sunday we reflect on the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, devotedly taking care of his flock. The title of the parish priest, "pastor," means shepherd. A shepherd leads, feeds, nurtures, comforts, corrects, and protects his flock—responsibilities that belong to every church leader. The earliest Christians had seen Jesus as the fulfillment of the ancient Jewish dream of a good shepherd. They also wished to include the Gentiles as part of God’s flock. In today's first reading, Peter asserts unequivocally before the Jewish assembly that there is no salvation except through Christ the Good Shepherd whom the Jewish leaders have rejected and crucified, and in whose name the apostles preach and heal. In the second reading, St. John tells us how Yahweh the Good Shepherd of the Old Testament expressed His love for us through His Son Jesus, the Good Shepherd, by making us His children. The Gospel text offers us both comfort and challenge. The comforting good news is that Jesus the Good Shepherd knows us, provides for us and loves us. The challenge is that we should be good shepherds to those entrusted to our care.
First reading, Acts 4:8-12: After describing the ascension of Jesus in the first chapter and the descent of the Holy Spirit in the second chapter, the Acts of the Apostles describes in its third chapter Peter’s healing and preaching ministry. The healing of the cripple and the resulting evangelization by Peter resulted in his arrest by the Temple guards. They hauled Peter and his companions to the assembly of the leaders, elders and the scribes. Today's reading tells us that in the trial before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:5-22), Peter was empowered by the Holy Spirit to bear a renewed Easter witness to the Son of God, Jesus Christ the Nazarene, who had been unjustly crucified, but whom God had raised from the dead. Peter explained that he had healed the cripple in the name of Jesus, whom the Jews had despised and rejected but whom God had made into the cornerstone of his faith. What moved Peter to act on behalf of the cripple was his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who, as the good shepherd, cares for such people. In imitation of the Lord who had always cared for the sick and the lowly, Peter was also moved by the same risen Lord to reach out, touch, and heal the cripple. Then Peter made the startling statement about salvation coming only through Christ Jesus: “Salvation is to be found through him alone. In all the world there is no one else whom God has given who can save us.”
Second Reading, 1 John 3:1-2: The New American Bible in its introduction to John’s letters states that John wrote these letters to the Judeo-Christian community some of whose members were advocating false doctrines (2:18-26; 3:7). They refused to accept the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus, disregarded the commandment of love of neighbor, refused to accept faith in Christ as the source of sanctification and denied the redemptive value of Jesus' death. After recognizing and correcting these errors, John in today’s second reading reminds his people that they should remember their privileges. First, it is their privilege to be called the children of God. John clarifies that we are not merely called the children of God; we are God's children in actuality. It is by grace through baptism that we become God’s children. The more we know and love the God we believe in, the more we will strive to act and live as God's children. In other words, we become like the God we believe in. As the culmination of all our privileges as children of God, when Christ appears, we shall see him “as He really is,” and we shall be like him.
Exegesis: The context: It was in the wintertime, probably the time of the Jewish Hanukkah feast (the Feast of Dedication), which commemorated the triumph of the Jewish commander Judas Maccabaeus over the Syrian leader Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 165 B.C. Jesus was walking on the east side of the temple, which offered protection against the cold winds from the desert. The Jews had gathered round him. They were not sure whether or not Jesus was the promised Messiah. They tried to assess the situation, by asking Jesus whether he was the Christ or simply a wandering preacher, one of the many wandering preachers and healers. Instead of giving them a straight answer, Jesus tells them that he is the Good Shepherd and explains to them his role as such.
Shepherds in the Old Testament: In the Old Testament, the image of the Shepherd is often applied to God as well as to the leaders of the people. The book of Exodus several times calls Yahweh a shepherd. Likewise, the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel compare Yahweh’s care and protection of His people to that of a shepherd. “He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against His breast and leading the mother ewes to their rest.” (Is. 40:11). Ezekiel represents God as a loving shepherd who searches diligently for the lost sheep. Psalm 23 is David’s famous picture of God as The Good Shepherd: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack. In green pastures you let me graze; to safe waters you lead me.” The prophets often use harsh words to scold the selfish and insincere shepherds (or leaders) of their day. Jer. 23:1: “Doom for the shepherds who allow the flock of my pasture to be destroyed and scattered." Ez. 34: 2: “Trouble for the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Shepherds ought to feed their flock.”
The Good Shepherd in the New Testament: Introducing himself as the good shepherd of his flock, Jesus makes three claims in today’s Gospel.
1) He knows his sheep and his sheep hear his voice: Just as the Palestinian shepherds knew each sheep of their flock by name, and the sheep knew their shepherd and his voice, even so Jesus knows each one of us, our needs, our merits and our faults. Of course the knowledge talked of here is not mere intellectual knowing but knowledge that comes from love and leads to care and concern for the other. He loves us as we are, with all our limitations, and he expects us to receive and return his love by keeping his words. He speaks to us at every Mass, through the Bible, through our pastors, through our parents, family and friends and through the events of our lives. "God whispers to us in our pleasures, he speaks to us in our consciences, and he Shouts to us in our pain!" (C.S. Lewis).
2) He gives eternal life to his sheep by receiving us into his sheepfold through Baptism. He strengthens our faith by giving us his Holy Spirit in Confirmation. He supplies food for our souls by the Holy Eucharist and by the divine words of the holy Bible. He makes our society holy by the sacraments of matrimony and the priesthood.
3) He protects his sheep by placing them in the loving hands of his mighty Father. Without him to guide us and protect us, we are easy prey for the spiritual wolves of this world: that includes Satan, as well as the seven deadly sins of pride, avarice, envy, gluttony, anger, lust and sloth. In the first part of chapter ten of John’s Gospel, Jesus adds two more roles to those of the good shepherd. He goes in search of stray lambs and heals the sick ones. Jesus heals the wounds of our souls by the sacrament of Reconciliation and strengthens us in illness and old age by the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.
4) Jesus dies for his sheep: Just as the shepherds of ancient days protected their sheep from wild animals and thieves by risking their own lives, so Jesus died in expiation for the sins of all people. In the final part of this Gospel Jesus invites those who are touched and saved by the love of the Shepherd, to shepherd and care for others. “There are other sheep that are not of this fold and these I have to lead as well." Though he cares for his own, he does not discriminate and ultimately dies because he cares for all peoples.
Life messages: Let us become good shepherds and good sheep.
1) Let us become good shepherds: Every one who is entrusted with the care of others is a shepherd. Hence pastors, parents, teachers, doctors, nurses, government officials and politicians are all shepherds. Since shepherding a diocese, a parish, a civil community or a family is very demanding, dedication, commitment, sacrifice and vigilance are needed every day on the part of the shepherds. We become good shepherds by loving those entrusted to us, praying for them, spending our time and talents for their welfare, and guarding them from physical and spiritual dangers. Parents must be especially careful of their duties as shepherds by becoming role models for their children by leading exemplary lives
2) Let us be good sheep in the fold of Jesus, the Good Shepherd: Our local parish is our sheepfold, and our pastors are our shepherds. Jesus is the High Priest, the bishops are the successors of the apostles, the pastors are their helpers and the parishioners are the sheep. Hence, as the good sheep of our parish, a) Let us hear and follow the voice of our shepherds through their homilies, Bible classes, counseling and advice. b) Let us take the spiritual food given by our pastors through regular and active participation in the Holy Mass and by frequenting the sacraments, prayer services, renewal programs and missions. c) Let us cooperate with our pastors by giving them positive suggestions for the welfare of the parish, encouraging them in their duties, occasionally correcting them with constructive criticism and by praying for them. Let us also cooperate in the activities of various councils, ministries and parish associations.
3) Let us pray for vocations to priestly and religious life so that we may have more holy and Spirit-filled shepherds to lead, feed and protect the Catholic community. Christian thinking on vocation has been summarized in one profound saying: “All are priests, some are priests, but only one is the Priest.” Christ Jesus is the Priest in the full sense because he is the one mediator between God and humanity who offered himself as a unique sacrifice on the cross. The universal priesthood of all believers, the sharing of all the baptized in the priesthood of Christ, has received special emphasis since Vatican II. Those who are called to make a lifelong commitment to serve as ordained ministers share the ministerial priesthood of Jesus. On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations we are asked to encourage and pray for our young men to respond to God’s call to serve His Church in the ministerial priesthood.
Prepared by Fr. Antony Kadavil (firstname.lastname@example.org) and published in the CBCI Website.
Introduction: The common theme of today’s readings is the challenge to adjust our lives in the living presence of the risen Lord, well aware of his presence, within us and all around us as his Holy Spirit. This awareness should strengthen our hope in his promises, bring us to the true repentance for our sins and the renewal of our lives, and lead us to bear witness to Christ by our works of charity. The readings also remind us that the purpose of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus was to save us from sins.
Scripture lessons: The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes Peter’s second sermon addressing the Jewish assembly at the Portico of Solomon in Jerusalem. Peter forcefully declares how the messianic prophecies have been fulfilled in the crucified and risen Jesus and challenges the Jews to turn toward God so that their sins may be wiped away. Answering doubts raised by the early heretics of his time, John in the second reading asserts the fundamental Christian doctrine that Jesus’ death was a sacrifice offered for the expiation for our sins. Today's gospel describes Jesus’ appearance to his apostles in their hiding place in the Upper Room of the Cenacle. It tells us how Jesus removed the doubts of his apostles about his resurrection by inviting them to touch him and by eating a piece of cooked fish. Jesus explained to them how the prophecies had been fulfilled in him. Then he commissioned them to bear witness to him and preach "repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name after receiving the Holy Spirit."
1) Share the apostles’ "Upper Room Experience" in the Holy Mass: The same Jesus who, in the upper room of the Cenacle, prepared his disciples for their preaching and witnessing mission, is present with us in the Eucharistic celebration. In the "Liturgy of the Word of God," Jesus speaks to us. In the "Liturgy of Bread and Wine," Jesus becomes our spiritual food and drink. Thus, today's gospel scene is repeated every Sunday on our parish altars. Like the early disciples, we come together to repent of our sins, express our gratitude for the blessings received, listen to God’s words and offer our lives to God along with our petitions and His gifts of bread and wine. We also share in the spiritual food Jesus supplies, thus gaining the strength necessary for sharing his message with the entire world mainly by living transparent Christian lives.
2) Jesus needs us as witnesses to continue his mission. Jesus needs Spirit-filled followers to be his eyes, ears and hands and to bear witness to his love, mercy and forgiveness.
3) Let our daily lives be the means of experiencing and sharing the risen Lord with others. Just as the disciples experienced their risen Lord in their community, let us learn to feel the presence of Jesus in our own homes, social service centers, nursing facilities, hospitals and schools. Jesus wants us to be a community which shares and cares, a community which knows how to recognize Jesus in the poor, in the marginalized, in the sick.
EASTER III SUNDAY (April 22): ACTS. 3: 13-15, 17-19; I JN 2:1-5; LUKE 24: 35-48
Anecdote # 1: The ghost story!There is a true story in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not about a judge in Yugoslavia who had an unfortunate accident. He was “electrocuted” when he reached up to turn on the light while standing in the bathtub. His wife found his body sprawled on the bathroom floor. She called for help--friends and neighbors, police--everyone showed up. He was pronounced dead and taken to the funeral home. The local radio picked up the story and broadcast it all over the air. In the middle of the night, the judge regained consciousness. When he realized where he was, he rushed over to alert the night watchman, who promptly ran off, terrified. The first thought of the judge was to phone his wife and reassure her. But he got no further than, "Hello darling, it’s me," when she screamed and fainted. He tried calling a couple of the neighbors, but they all thought it was some sort of a sick prank. He even went so far as to go to the homes of several friends, but they were all sure he was a ghost and slammed the door in his face. Finally, he was able to call a friend in the next town who hadn't heard of his death. This friend was able to convince his family and other friends that he really was alive. Today’s gospel tells us that Jesus had to convince the disciples that he wasn’t a ghost. He had to dispel their doubts and their fears. He showed them his hands and his feet. He invited them to touch him and see that he was real. And he even ate a piece of cooked fish with them--all to prove that he was alive and not a ghost or spirit. He stood there before them, as real and alive as he had been over the past three years. (The Autoillustrator)
# 2: "What in the world happened to you?" A man showed up at church with both his ears painfully blistered. After the service, his concerned pastor asked "What in the world happened to you?" The man replied, "I was lying on the couch yesterday afternoon watching a ball game on TV and my wife was ironing nearby. I was totally engrossed in the game when she left the room, leaving the iron near the phone. The phone rang and keeping my eyes glued to the television, I grabbed the hot iron and put it to my ear." "So how did the other ear get burned?" the pastor asked. "Well, I had no more than hung up and the guy called again." (COUNTRY, Oct-Nov 1994, p. 45, "Overheard at the Country Cafe," Bill Teweles.) Now there is a man who was focused. He was so caught up in watching the game, he didn't know what he was doing. In our gospel lesson for today the disciples of Jesus have lost their focus. They are confused and weary. They needed a break.
#3: A man at the Super Bowl. A man bought the very last seat for the Super Bowl. It was a rotten seat, closer to the blimp than to the field, but early in the first quarter, he noticed an empty seat on the 50-yard line. He scrambled down and somewhat furtively sat in the seat. "Excuse me," he asked, "is anyone sitting here?"
"No," said the man on his right.
"That's incredible. Who in his right mind would pass up a seat like this for the Super Bowl?"
"Well, actually," said the man, "the seat belongs to me. I was supposed to be here with my dear wife, but she passed away. This is the first Super bowl in twenty years that we haven't been together."
"How sad!" said the other fellow. "But couldn't you find someone to come with you, a relative or a close friend?"
"No," said the man, "they're all at the funeral of my wife!"
The widower in the story was missing something in head and heart. Emotional crisis can blur our vision of reality as happened to the apostles in today’s Gospel.
Introduction: The common theme of today’s readings is a challenge that our faith in the living presence of the risen Lord should strengthen our hope in his promises, call us to true repentance for our sins and lead us to bearing witness to Christ by our works of charity. The readings also remind us that the purpose of Jesus’ death and resurrection was to save us from sins. Hence they invite us to make our bearing witness to the risen Lord more effective by repenting of our sins, renewing our lives, and meeting Jesus in the Word of God and at the Eucharistic Table. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes how Peter fulfills the mission of preaching Jesus. In this second sermon, Peter goes on with the preaching mission begun on Pentecost in Jerusalem, and again presents Jesus as the fulfillment of all the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. He also asks the Jews to turn toward God so that their sins might be wiped away. In the second reading, John tells us that true knowledge and love of God consist in acknowledging that Jesus is the expiation for our sins, by bearing witness to Him in our lives and by obeying His commandments. Today's Gospel leads us to reflect on faith, doubts and crises. It shows us how Jesus convinced his disciples of his resurrection and how he commissioned them to be his witnesses throughout the world. He prepared them to receive God's power through the coming descent of the Holy Spirit upon them, and he commanded them to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins.
The first reading: Acts 3: 13-15, 17-19: Saint Luke wrote for an audience of cosmopolitan, middle-class Gentiles, living in a skeptical society, yet attracted to a religion with long historic Jewish roots. This new religion reached out to all humankind. To tell that story, to ground his audience in their adopted religious heritage, and to keep them focused on the new religion's mission, Luke needed to tell the story of Jesus anew in a second book, the Acts of the Apostles. Today’s lesson is the second of five discourses preached by Peter. Today’s episode from the Acts of the Apostles reports Peter’s forceful address to the astonished crowd gathered at the Portico of Solomon in the Jerusalem Temple after a healing miracle. This reading tells us about the Jewish heritage of Christianity -- how the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob sent His Son Jesus as the Messiah to save the world and how his chosen people rejected him and conspired with the Romans to execute him. It also tells us how Jesus was raised from the dead and fulfilled all the messianic prophecies. The sermon concludes with the admonition to the Jews to repent of their sins and be converted. “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away” (Acts 3:19). Although we were not part of that crowd demanding his death, it was our sins that Christ carried to the cross, and it was for those sins that Christ asked the Father's forgiveness from the cross. Hence we are the ones who need to reform our lives and turn to God with repentant hearts. If we believe that Christ has forgiven our sins, we must forgive the sins of others.
Second Reading, 1 John 2:1-5: In liturgical year B, we read from the First Letter of Saint John on the Sundays of Easter. This Letter was addressed to the early Christian community beset with many problems. Some members were advocating false doctrines. These errors are here recognized and rejected. Although their advocates had left the community, the threat posed by them remained. They refused to acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who came into the world as a true man. They were difficult people to deal with, claiming special knowledge of God but disregarding the divine commandments, particularly the commandment of love of neighbor. Likewise, they refused to accept faith in Christ as the source of sanctification. Thus they denied the redemptive value of Jesus' death. While neither today’s reading from Luke nor the reading from Acts explains how Jesus’ death and resurrection frees us from sins, John in his letter provides an explanation, calling Jesus “expiation for our sins.” This presupposes that the death of Jesus was a sacrifice, like the sacrifices prescribed in the Old Testament (Numbers 5:8). The sacrifice of Jesus makes up for sins, and so offers an opportunity for their forgiveness. Jesus continues to remain our advocate when we encounter the harsh reality of our sins in our lives. Hence John advises true Christians to approach Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins and to lead true Christian lives by obeying his commandments.
Exegetical notes: The context: This apparition of Jesus took place on Easter evening, after Jesus had appeared to the two disciples of Emmaus. The two disciples to whom Our Lord appeared on their way to Emmaus, returned hurriedly to Jerusalem to report the glad news that they met him in the person of the stranger who explained to them the Sacred Scriptures and whom they recognized at the breaking of bread. They discovered that the apostles were convinced, by that time, of the resurrection of Jesus because Simon also had seen him. While they were discussing these things Jesus appeared in their midst, surprising and terrifying them. This story was told and retold and recorded by Luke for at least three reasons: (1) Jesus' death and resurrection fit God's purpose as revealed in scripture; (2) the risen Jesus is present in the breaking of bread; and (3) the risen Jesus is also physically absent from the disciples.
The facts emphasized: 1) The reality of Christ’s resurrection. By inviting his apostles to look closely at him and touch him, Jesus removed any fear that they were seeing a ghost and instilled confidence in him by greeting them: “peace be with you.” By eating a piece of fish before their eyes, he convinced them that they are not dreaming or having a mere vision or hallucination. Jesus wanted them to be authentic witnesses to the reality of his life as their risen Lord with his glorified soul and body.
3) The Resurrection of Jesus gives meaning to the Old Testament prophecies. Bible scholars cite 324 Messianic prophecies scattered throughout the Old Testament, especially in the prophets and in Psalms. Jesus explained to his disciples how these prophecies had been fulfilled in him so that they may become witnesses to their risen Lord in Jerusalem and to all the nations.
4) Commissioning of the disciples with the missionary task of preaching the good news of salvation through repentance and faith in Jesus. Jesus told the disciples what they were to preach, namely: a) that the Son of God was crucified and died on the cross for the expiation of our sins; b) that he rose from the dead and conquered death; and c) that all people must repent of their sins and obtain forgiveness in his name. In this gospel passage, Jesus also commanded His disciples to remain in Jerusalem and pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Life messages: 1) Renew the "Upper Room Experience" in the Holy Mass: The same Jesus who, in the upper room of the Cenacle, prepared his disciples for their preaching and witnessing mission, is present with us in the Eucharistic celebration. He invites us to share in the "Liturgy of the Word of God" and in “The Liturgy of Bread and Wine." In the first part of the Mass, Jesus speaks to us through the "Word of God." In the second part, he becomes our spiritual food and drink. Thus, today's gospel scene is repeated every Sunday on our parish altars. Like the early disciples, we come together to repent of our sins, express our thanks for the blessings received, listen to God’s words and offer ourselves to God along with our gifts of bread and wine. We also share in the spiritual food Jesus supplies, and we are sent to share his message with the entire world.
2) Jesus needs us as witnesses to continue his mission. Jesus needs Spirit-filled followers to be his eyes, ears and hands and to bear witness to his love, mercy and forgiveness. The church badly needs dedicated witnesses: priests, Brothers, Sisters, teachers, doctors, and nurses – all of us. The essence of bearing witness is to testify by our lives that the power of the risen Jesus has touched and transformed us. In other words, Jesus is to speak to other people through us. In Calcutta, a dying old woman with her head in the lap of Mother Teresa, looked at her for a long time, and, in a feeble voice, asked: "Are you the God Jesus who loves the poor and the sick"?
3) Let our daily lives be the means of experiencing and sharing the risen Lord with others. Just as the disciples experienced their risen Lord in their community, let us learn to feel the presence of Jesus in our own homes, social service centers, nursing facilities, hospitals and schools. These are also the places where we have the opportunity to convey our peace and joy to others.
4) Be agents with Jesus in the establishing of the Kingdom in our world: Jesus wants us to be a community which shares and cares and in which everything is shared; a community which knows how to recognize Jesus in the poor, in the marginalized, in the sick; a community to bring healing into people's lives; and a community of peacemakers and not makers of division or conflict.
Prepared by Fr. Antony Kadavil (email@example.com) and published in the CBCI Website
Introduction: The readings for this Sunday are about God’s mercy, the necessity for trusting faith and our need for the forgiveness of sins. The opening prayer addresses the Father as "God of everlasting Mercy." In the responsorial psalm we repeat several times, “His mercy endures forever!” (Ps 118). God revealed His mercy, first and foremost, by sending His only-begotten Son, to become our Savior and Lord by His suffering, death and Resurrection. Divine mercy is given to us also in each celebration of the Sacraments, instituted to sanctify us.
Scripture lessons: The first reading stresses the corporal acts of mercy practiced by the early Christian community before the Jews and the Romans started persecuting them. Practicing the sharing love, compassion and the mercy of God as Jesus taught, this witnessing community derived its strength from community prayer, “the Breaking of the Bread” and the apostles’ teaching, read at the worship service. The second reading: After focusing on the spiritual works of mercy such as: convert the sinner, counsel the doubtful and bear wrongs patiently, John reminds us that everyone who claims to love God has to love the others whom God has begotten, especially those who believe that Jesus is the Christ. Today’s Gospel vividly reminds us of how Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a sacrament of Divine Mercy. The Risen Lord gave his apostles the power to forgive sins with the words, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained" (Jn 20: 19-23). Presenting the doubting Thomas’ famous profession of faith, “My Lord and my God,” the Gospel illustrates how Jesus showed his mercy to the doubting apostle and emphasizes the importance of faith.
Life messages: 1) We need to accept God's invitation to celebrate and practice mercy in our Christian lives: One way the Church celebrates God’s mercy throughout the year is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Finding time for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is another good way to receive and give thanks for Divine Mercy. But it is mainly through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy that we practice mercy in our daily lives and become eligible for God’s merciful judgment.
2) Let us ask God for the Faith that culminates in self-surrender to God and that leads us to serve those we encounter with love. Living faith enables us to see the risen Lord in everyone and gives us the willingness to render to each one our loving service. The spiritual Fathers prescribe the following traditional means to grow in the living and dynamic faith of St. Thomas the Apostle: a) First, we must come to know Jesus personally and intimately by our daily and meditative reading of the Bible. b) Next, we must strengthen our Faith through our personal and community prayer. c) Third, we must share in the Divine Life of Jesus by frequenting the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist. Bl. Mother Teresa presents it this way: “If we pray, we will believe; if we believe, we will love; if we love, we will serve. Only then we put our love of God into action.”
EASTER II [B] (DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY) (April 12, 2015)
(Acts 4: 32- 35, I John 5: 1-6, John 20: 19-31)
Anecdote #1: Mercy in the midst of tragedy: The news is filled with illustrations of mercy—or the need for mercy—in our world. One of the most moving stories came to us on October 6, 2006, when an armed man entered an Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. He chased out the little boys and lined up the 10 little girls in front of the blackboard. He shot all of them and then killed himself. Five of the girls died. After the medics and police left, the families of the fallen came and carried their slain children home. They removed their bloody clothes and washed the bodies. They sat for a time and mourned their beloved children. After a while they walked to the home of the man who killed their children. They told his widow they forgave her husband for what he had done, and they consoled her for the loss of her spouse. They buried their anger before they buried their children. Amish Christians teach us that forgiveness is central. They believe in a real sense that God’s forgiveness of themselves depends on their extending forgiveness to other people. That’s what the mercy of God is all about. That mercy is why we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. (Rev. Alfred McBride, O. Praem: Catholic Update – March 2008).
# 2: "Law v Mercy” In Reader’s Digest, Jim Williams of Montana, writes: "I was driving too fast late one night when I saw the flashing lights of a police car in my rearview mirror. As I pulled over and rolled down my window of my station wagon, I tried to dream up an excuse for my haste. But when the patrolman reached the car, he said nothing. Instead, he merely shined his flashlight in my face, then on my seven-month-old in his car seat, then on our three other children, who were asleep, and lastly on the two dogs in the very back of the car. Returning the beam of light to my face, he then uttered the only words of the encounter. “Son,' he said, 'you can’t afford a ticket. Slow down.” And with that, he returned to his car and drove away.” Sometimes mercy triumphs over law. So it is for sinners who call out to Jesus.” (Sent by Fr. firstname.lastname@example.org on March 1, 2013)
# 3: Divine Mercy in action: A TIME magazine issue in 1984 presented a startling cover. It pictured a prison cell where two men sat on metal folding chairs. The young man wore a blue turtleneck sweater, blue jeans and white running shoes. The older man was dressed in a white robe and had a white skullcap on his head. They sat facing one another, up-close and personal. They spoke quietly so as to keep others from hearing the conversation. The young man was Mehmet Ali Agca, the pope’s would-be assassin (he shot and wounded the Pope on May 13, 1981); the other man was Pope St. John Paul II, the intended victim. The Pope held the hand that had held the gun whose bullet had torn into the Pope’s body. This was a living icon of mercy. John Paul’s forgiveness was deeply Christian. His deed with Ali Agca spoke a thousand words. He embraced his enemy and pardoned him. At the end of their 20-minute meeting, Ali Agca raised the Pope’s hand to his forehead as a sign of respect. John Paul shook Ali Agca’s hand tenderly. When the Pope left the cell he said, “What we talked about must remain a secret between us. I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned and who has my complete trust.” This is an example of God’s Divine Mercy, the same Divine Mercy whose message St. Faustina witnessed. (http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/CU/ac0308.asp)
# 4: St. Faustina and the Image of the Divine Mercy: St. Faustina of Poland is the well-known apostle of Divine Mercy. On the 30th of April, 2000, at 10:00 AM on the Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday, the Feast requested by Jesus in His communications with St. Faustina), His Holiness Pope St. John Paul II celebrated the Eucharist in Saint Peter’s Square and proceeded to the canonization of Blessed Sister Faustina. [John Paul himself would be canonized on this same Feast Day – April 27 in 2014 – by Pope Francis.] Saint Faustina invites us by the witness of her life to keep our Faith and Hope fixed on God the Father, rich in mercy, Who saved us by the precious Blood of His Son. During her short life, the Lord Jesus assigned to St. Faustina three basic tasks: 1. to pray for souls, entrusting them to God's incomprehensible Mercy; 2. to tell the world about God's generous Mercy; 3. to start a new movement in the Church focusing on God's Mercy. At the canonization of St. Faustina, Pope St. John Paul II said: “The cross, even after the Resurrection of the Son of God, speaks, and never ceases to speak, of God the Father, Who is absolutely faithful to His eternal love for man. ... Believing in this love means believing in mercy." “The Lord of Divine Mercy,” a drawing of Jesus based on the vision given to St. Faustina, shows Jesus raising his right hand in a gesture of blessing, with His left hand on his heart from which gush forth two rays, one red and one white. The picture contains the message, “Jesus, I trust in You!” (Jezu ufam Tobie). The rays streaming out have symbolic meaning: red for the Blood of Jesus, which is the life of souls and white for the Baptismal water which justifies souls. The whole image is symbolic of the mercy, forgiveness and love of God.
Introduction: The readings for this Sunday are about God’s mercy, the necessity for trusting Faith and our need for God’s forgiveness of sins. The opening prayer addresses the Father as "God of Mercy." In the responsorial psalm we repeat several times, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His mercy endures forever” (Ps 118). God revealed His mercy first and foremost by sending His only-begotten Son to become our Savior and Lord by his suffering, death and Resurrection. Divine Mercy is given to us also in each celebration of the Sacraments. The first reading stresses the corporal acts of mercy practiced by the early Christian community before the Jews and the Romans started their persecutions. Practicing the sharing love, compassion and mercy of God as Jesus taught, this witnessing community derived its strength from community prayer, “the Breaking of the Bread” and the apostles’ teaching, read at the worship service. The second reading: After focusing on the spiritual works of mercy such as: convert the sinner, counsel the doubtful and bear wrongs patiently, John reminds us that everyone who claims to love God has to love the others whom God has begotten, especially those who believe that Jesus is the Christ. In today’s Gospel, as we recall Jesus’ appearance to the Apostles on that first Easter evening, we are vividly reminded of the Sacrament of Reconciliation – the power to forgive sins which Our Lord gave to His Apostles -- "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained" (Jn 20-23). Today’s Gospel also emphasizes the importance of Faith in the all-pervading presence of the Risen Lord of Mercy. To believe without having seen is every later Christian’s experience. We are invited to receive liberation from doubts and hesitation by surrendering our lives to the Risen Lord of Mercy. Let us ask God our Father to open our hearts so that we may receive His Mercy in the form of His Holy Spirit.
The first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, gives us a summary of the life of the early Christian community before the Jews and the Romans began their persecutions. We get a glimpse of Divine Mercy in action in today’s selection. The early Christians were so filled with the Holy Spirit that "no one claimed any of his possessions as his own." Rather, they "distributed to each according to his need." It was a community which practiced the sharing love, compassion and mercy taught by Jesus. It was a witnessing community of “one heart and one mind,” bearing witness to the continued presence of the Risen Lord in their hearts and lives by holding everything in common and distributing to each one according to his or her needs. In a later portion of the Acts, we learn that the early Christian community derived its strength from community prayer, from “the Breaking of the Bread” and from listening to the teaching of the apostles. Owners of property were few among the early Christians, and the fact that they mixed lovingly at this level with the mass of common folk was astonishing. This passage implies that the Christian community was assuming the nature of a family and beginning to overcome distinctions based on wealth. Also, the authority accorded to the apostles is worthy of note. They were beginning to take on the authority formerly granted to Jewish priests.
The second reading (1 John 5:1-6) While the first reading from Acts, calls our attention to the corporal works of mercy, the second reading, taken from St. John's first letter, focuses on both corporal and spiritual works of mercy. John urges our obedience to the commandments given by God, especially the commandment of love as clarified by Jesus. Loving others as Jesus loves us demands that we treat others with his mercy and compassion. John reminds us that everyone who claims to love God, especially those who believe that Jesus is the Christ, has to love the others whom God has begotten. We are to conquer the world by putting our faith in Jesus and in the Sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, two sacraments of Divine Mercy that Jesus instituted. The “water” refers to Jesus' baptism, at the beginning of his ministry. The “blood” refers to Jesus' bloody death at the end of his ministry. Both refer to the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist.
Exegesis: Today’s Gospel: The first part of today’s Gospel (verses 19-23), describes how Jesus entrusted to his apostles his mission of preaching the “Good News” of God’s love, mercy, forgiveness and salvation. This portion of the reading teaches us that Jesus uses the Church as the earthly means of continuing His mission. It also teaches us that the Church needs Jesus as its source of power and authority, and that it becomes Christ’s true messenger only when it perfectly loves and obeys Him. The Risen Lord gives the apostles the authority to forgive sins in His Name. He gives the apostles the power of imparting God’s mercy to the sinner, the gift of forgiving sins from God’s treasury of mercy. In the liturgy, the Church has proclaimed the mercy of God for centuries through the Word of God and the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. The Gospel text also reminds us that the clearest way of expressing our belief in the presence of the Risen Jesus among us is through our own forgiveness of others. We can’t form a lasting Christian community without such forgiveness. Unless we forgive others, our celebration of the Eucharist is just an exercise in liturgical rubrics.
The second part of the Gospel (verses 24-29), presents the fearless apostle St. Thomas in his uncompromising honesty demanding a personal vision of, and physical contact with, the risen Jesus as a condition for his belief. Thomas had not been with the Apostles when Jesus first appeared to them. As a result, he refused to believe. This should serve as a warning to us. It is difficult for us to believe when we do not strengthen ourselves with the fellowship of other believers. When the Lord appeared to Thomas later, He said: “Blessed are those who have not seen but have believed.” Thomas was able to overcome his doubts by seeing the risen Jesus. Modern Christians, who are no longer able to "see" Jesus with their eyes, must believe what they hear. That is why Paul reminds us that "Faith comes from hearing" (Rom 10:17).
The unique profession of faith: Thomas, the “doubting" apostle, makes the great profession of faith, “My Lord and my God.” Here, the most outrageous doubter of the Resurrection of Jesus utters the greatest confession of belief in the Lord Who rose from the dead. This declaration by the “doubting" Thomas in today’s Gospel is very significant for two reasons. 1) It is the foundation of our Christian faith. Our faith is based on the Divinity of Jesus as proved by His miracles, especially by the supreme miracle of His Resurrection from the dead. Thomas’ profession of faith is the strongest evidence we have of the Resurrection of Jesus. 2) Thomas’ faith culminated in his self-surrender to Jesus, his heroic missionary expedition to India in A.D. 52, his fearless preaching, and the powerful testimony given by his martyrdom in A.D. 72.
Life messages: 1) Let us accept God's invitation to celebrate and practice mercy. One way the Church celebrates God’s mercy throughout the year is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Finding time for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is another good way to receive Divine Mercy. The Gospel command, "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful," demands that we show mercy to our fellow human beings always and everywhere. We radiate God's mercy to others by our actions, our words, and our prayers. It is mainly through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy that we practice mercy in our daily lives and become eligible for God’s merciful judgment.
2) Let us ask God for the Faith that culminates in self-surrender to God and leads us to serve those we encounter with love. Living Faith enables us to see the Risen Lord in everyone and gives us the willingness to render to each one our loving service (“Faith without good works is dead” James 2:17). It was this Faith in the Lord and obedience to His missionary command that prompted St. Thomas to travel to India to preach the Gospel among the Hindus, to establish seven Christian communities (known later as “St. Thomas Christians”), and eventually to suffer martyrdom. The Fathers of the Church prescribe the following traditional means to grow in the living and dynamic Faith of St. Thomas the Apostle. a) We must come to know Jesus personally and intimately by our daily and meditative reading of the Bible. b) We must strengthen our Faith by the power of the Holy Spirit through our personal and community prayer. c) We must share in the Divine life of Jesus by frequenting the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist. Blessed Mother Teresa presents it this way: “If we pray, we will believe; if we believe, we will love; if we love, we will serve. Only then we put our love of God into action.”
3) We need to meet the challenge for a transparent Christian life -- "I will not believe unless I see." This "seeing" is what others demand of us. They ask that we reflect Jesus, the Risen Lord, in our lives by our selfless love, unconditional forgiveness and humble service. The integrity of our lives bears a fundamental witness to others who want to see the Risen Lord alive and active, working in us. Christ’s mercy shines forth from us whenever we reach out to the poor, the needy and the marginalized, as Blessed Mother Teresa did. His mercy shines forth as we remain open to those who struggle in Faith, as did the Apostle Thomas in today’s Gospel. We should be able to appreciate the presence of Jesus, crucified and raised, in our own suffering and in our suffering brothers and sisters, thus recognizing the glorified wounds of the Risen Lord in the suffering of others.
4) Like St. Thomas, let us use our skepticism to help us grow in Faith. It is our genuine doubts about the doctrines of our religion that encourage us to study these doctrines more closely and thus to grow in our Faith. This will naturally lead us to a personal encounter with Jesus through our prayer, study of the Word of God, and frequenting of the Sacraments. However, we must never forget the fact that our Faith is not our own doing, but is a gift from God. Hence, we need to augment our Faith every day by prayer so that we may join St. Thomas in his proclamation: “My Lord and my God."
5) Let us have the courage of our Christian convictions to share our faith as St. Thomas did. We are not to keep the gift of faith locked in our hearts, but to share it with our children, our families and our neighbors, always remembering the words of Pope St. John XXIII: “Every believer in this world must become a spark of Christ’s light.”
Introduction: Significance of Easter: Easter is the greatest and the most important feast in the Church for three reasons: 1) The Resurrection of Christ is the basis of our Christian Faith. It is the greatest of the miracles, for it proves that Jesus is God. That is why St. Paul writes: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain; and your Faith is in vain” (I Cor 15: 14). “Jesus is Lord, he is risen” (Rom 10: 9), was the central theme of the kerygma (or 'preaching'), of the Apostles because Jesus prophesied his Resurrection as a sign of his Divinity: “Tear down this temple and in three days I will build it again” (Jn 2: 19). The founder of no other religion has an empty tomb as Jesus has. Besides, the Jews or the Romans could not disprove Jesus’ Resurrection by presenting the dead body of Jesus. The Apostles and the early Christians were absolutely sure about the Resurrection of Jesus. Otherwise they would not have faced martyrdom for a dead leader lying in the tomb. The sheer existence of a thriving, empire-conquering early Christian Church, bravely facing and surviving three centuries of persecution, supports the truth of Christ’s Resurrection. 2) Easter is the guarantee of our own resurrection. Jesus assured Martha at the tomb of Lazarus: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me will live even though he dies” (Jn 11: 25-26). 3) Easter is a feast which gives us hope and encouragement in this world of pain, sorrows and tears. It reminds us that life is worth living. It is our belief in the Real Presence of the Risen Jesus in our souls, in His Church, in the Blessed Sacrament and in Heaven that gives meaning to our personal as well as our communal prayer, strength to fight against temptations and freedom from unnecessary worries and fears.
Life Messages: 1) Let us live the lives of Resurrection people: Easter gives us the joyful message that we are a “Resurrection people.” This means that we are not supposed to lie buried in the tomb of our sins, evil habits, dangerous addictions, despair, discouragement or doubts. Instead, we are expected to live a joyful and peaceful life, constantly experiencing the living presence of the Risen Lord in all the events of our lives and amid the boredom, suffering, pain and tensions of our day-to-day life. 2) We need to live new, disciplined lives in the Risen Jesus. Our awareness of the all-pervading presence of the Risen Lord in and around us and the strong conviction of our own resurrection help us to control our thoughts, desires, words and behavior. This salutary thought inspires us to honor our bodies, keeping them holy, pure and free from evil habits and addictions. Our conviction about the presence of the Risen Lord in our neighbors and in all those with whom we come into contact should encourage us to respect them and to render them loving, humble and selfless service. 3) We need to become transparent Christians: We are called to be transparent Christians, showing others through our lives the love, mercy, compassion and spirit of self-sacrificing service of the Risen Jesus living in our hearts. 4) We need to live lives of love in the power of Jesus’ Resurrection: Each time we try to practice Christian charity, mercy and forgiveness and each time we fight against temptations, let us recall that we share in the Resurrection of Jesus here and now.
EASTER SUNDAY (April 5) Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20: 1-9
Anecdote: # 1: He is risen indeed: You probably do not remember the name Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin. Many years ago he was one of the most powerful men on earth. A Russian Communist leader, he took part in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. He was the editor of the Soviet newspaper Pravda and was a full member of the Politburo. His works on economics and political science are still read today. There is a story told about a journey he took from Moscow to Kiev in 1930 to address a huge assembly of Communists. The subject was atheism. Addressing the crowd, he attacked Christianity, hurling insults and arguments against it. When he had finished, he looked out at the audience. "Are there any questions?" he demanded. Deafening silence filled the auditorium. Then one man stood up, approached the platform and mounted the lectern. After surveying the crowd, he shouted the ancient greeting of the Russian Orthodox Church: "CHRIST IS RISEN!" The crowd stood up and shouted in a thundering voice: "HE IS RISEN INDEED!" Amazed and dejected, Bukharin left the stage in silence. Finally, he had learned the lesson that faith in Christ’s Resurrection was deeply rooted in his Russian Orthodox Communist followers!
# 2: The greatest comeback in history: In its November 12, 2001 issue, Sports Illustrated ranked the 10 greatest comebacks in world history. Among those making the list, the following names are to be specially noted.
1. Michael Jordan, 1995. Quits basketball to make his first triumphant comeback.
5. Muhammad Ali, 1974. Seven years after being stripped of his title and his boxing license, defeats George Foreman in Zaire to win back the belt.
8. Japan and Germany, 1950s. They were the former Axis Powers which rose from the ashes of World War II to become industrial superpowers.
10. Jesus Christ, 33 A.D. Defies Jewish critics and stuns the Romans with his Resurrection. It was the greatest comeback of all time. And He’s been specializing in comebacks ever since.
# 3: The phoenix bird: The late Catholic Archbishop of Hartford, John Whealon, had undergone cancer surgery resulting in a permanent colostomy when he wrote these very personal words in one of his last Easter messages: "I am now a member of an association of people who have been wounded by cancer. That association has as its symbol the phoenix, a bird of Egyptian mythology. The Greek poet Hesiod, who lived eight centuries before Jesus was born, wrote about this legendary bird in his poetry. When the bird felt its death was near (every 500 to 1,461 years), it would fly off to Phoenicia, build a nest of aromatic wood and set itself on fire. When the bird was consumed by the flames, a new phoenix sprang forth from the ashes. Thus, the phoenix symbolizes immortality, resurrection, and life after death. It sums up the Easter message perfectly. Jesus gave up His life, and from the grave He was raised to life again on the third day. New life rises from the ashes of death. Today we are celebrating Christ's victory over the grave, the gift of eternal life for all who believe in Jesus. That is why the phoenix bird, one of the earliest symbols of the Risen Christ, also symbolizes our daily rising to new life. Every day, like the phoenix, we rise from the ashes of sin and guilt and are refreshed and renewed by our living Lord and Savior with His forgiveness and the assurance that He still loves us and will continue to give us the strength we need." Archbishop John Whealon could have lived in a gloomy tomb of self-pity, hopeless defeat, and chronic sadness, but his faith in the Risen Lord opened his eyes to new visions of life.
Introduction: Significance of Easter: Easter is the greatest and the most important feast in the Church. It marks the birthday of our eternal hope. "Easter" literally means "the feast of fresh flowers." We celebrate it with pride and jubilation for three reasons:
1) The resurrection of Christ is the basis of our Christian Faith. The Resurrection is the greatest of the miracles -- it proves that Jesus is God. That is why St. Paul writes: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain; and your Faith is in vain… And if Christ has not been raised, then your Faith is a delusion and you are still lost in your sins… But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I Cor 15: 14, 17, 20). If Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, then the Church is a fraud, and Faith is a sham. But if He really did rise from the dead, His message is true! Without the Resurrection, Jesus would have remained forever a good person who had met a tragic end. People would remember some of his teachings, and a handful of people might try to live according to them. All the basic doctrines of Christianity are founded on the truth of the Resurrection. “Jesus is Lord; He is risen” (Rom 10: 9) was the central theme of the kerygma (or "preaching"), of the Apostles. In fact, the seventeenth-century philosopher, John Locke, some of whose ideas were incorporated into the Declaration of Independence, wrote, "Our Savior’s Resurrection is truly of great importance in Christianity, so great that His being or not being the Messiah stands or falls with it."
2) Easter is the guarantee of our own resurrection. Jesus assured Martha at the tomb of Lazarus: “I am the Resurrection and the life; whoever believes in Me will live even though he dies” (Jn 11: 25-26). Christ will raise us up on the last day, but it is also true, in a sense, that we have already risen with Christ. By virtue of the Holy Spirit, our Christian life is already a participation in the death and Resurrection of Christ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1002, #1003).
3) Easter is a feast which gives us hope and encouragement. In this world of pain, sorrows and tears, Easter reminds us that life is worth living. It is our belief in the Real Presence of the Risen Jesus in our souls, in His Church, in the Blessed Sacrament and in Heaven that gives meaning to our personal, as well as to our common, prayers. Our trust in the all-pervading presence of the Risen Lord gives us strength to fight against temptations and freedom from unnecessary worries and fears. The prayer of St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland, reads: “Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ within me, never to part.”
Reasons why we believe in the Resurrection of Jesus (1) Jesus himself testified to his Resurrection from the dead (Mark 8:31; Matthew 17:22; Luke 9:22). (2) The tomb was empty on Easter Sunday (Luke 24:3). Although the guards claimed (Matthew 28:13), that the disciples of Jesus had stolen the body, every sensible Jew knew that it was impossible for the terrified disciples of Jesus to steal the body of Jesus from a tomb guarded by an armed, 16-member Temple Guard detachment. (3) The initial disbelief of Jesus’ own disciples in His Resurrection, in spite of His repeated apparitions, serves as a strong proof of His Resurrection. Their initial disbelief explains why the Apostles started preaching the Risen Christ only after receiving the anointing of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. (4) The transformation of Jesus’ disciples transformed men who were hopeless and fearful after the crucifixion (Luke 24:21, John 20:19), into men who now were confident and bold witnesses to the Resurrection (Acts 2:24, 3:15, 4:2). (5) Neither the Jews and the Romans could disprove Jesus’ Resurrection by presenting the dead body of Jesus. (6) The Apostles and early Christians would not have faced martyrdom if they were not absolutely sure of Jesus’ Resurrection. (7) The Apostle Paul’s conversion from a persecutor of Christians to a zealous preacher of of Jesus supports the truth of Jesus’ Resurrection (Galatians 1:11-17, Acts 9:1, Acts 9:24-25, Acts 26:15-18). (8) The sheer existence of a thriving, empire-conquering early Christian Church, bravely facing and surviving three centuries of persecution, supports the truth of the Resurrection claim. (9) The New Testament witnesses do not bear the stamp of dupes or deceivers. The Apostles and the early Christians were absolutely sure about the Resurrection of Jesus. Anglican bishop and New Testament scholar N.T. Wright has commented incisively that if Jesus had not been raised bodily from the dead, Christianity would never have survived as a Messianic movement. Wright says that the clearest indication to a first-century Jew that someone was not the Messiah would be his death at the hands of the enemies of Israel. That the Church of Christ endured as a Messianic religion is possible only on the assumption that the Crucified One was, nevertheless, objectively alive.
Exegesis: The Resurrection of Jesus had certain special features. First, Jesus prophesied it as a sign of His Divinity: “Tear down this temple and in three days I will build it again” (Jn 2: 19). Second, the founder of no other religion has an empty tomb as Jesus has. We see the fulfillment of Christ's promise on the empty cross and in the empty tomb. The angel said to the women at Jesus’ tomb, “Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive? He is not here: he has been raised” (Luke 24: 5-6). The third special feature is the initial disbelief of Jesus’ own disciples in His Resurrection, in spite of His repeated apparitions. This serves as a strong proof of His Resurrection. It explains why the Apostles started preaching the Risen Christ only after receiving the anointing of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Proclamation and witness-bearing are the main themes of today’s readings. In the first reading, St. Peter shares his own experience of Christ’s Resurrection and its joy with the newly baptized members of Cornelius’ family. In the second reading, St. Paul, converted on the Damascus Road by Jesus from a persecuting Pharisee into a zealous apostle of Jesus, urges his converts to live the new life in the risen Christ to which they were raised by their conversion in order to share in the glory of Christ on His return. Today’s Gospel explains the empty-tomb-resurrection-experience of Mary Magdalene, Peter and John. Mary Magdalene proclaims her personal experience: “I have seen the Lord.” “The best proof of the Resurrection is a church on fire.” Clarence Jordan, Christian Century 7/9/14 year of service to the Church in the U.S.
Life messages: 1) We are to be a Resurrection people: Easter, the feast of the Resurrection, gives us the joyful message that we are a “Resurrection people.” This means that we are not supposed to lie buried in the tomb of our sins, evil habits and dangerous addictions. It gives us the Good News that no tomb can hold us down anymore - not the tomb of despair, discouragement or doubt, nor that of death. Instead, we are expected to live a joyful and peaceful life, constantly experiencing the real presence of the Risen Lord in all the events of our lives. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad” (Psalm 118:24).
2) We need to seek our peace and joy in the Risen Jesus: The living presence of the Risen Lord gives us lasting peace and celestial joy in the face of the boredom, suffering, pain and tensions of our day-to-day life. “Peace be with you!” was His salutation to His disciples at all post-Resurrection appearances. For the true Christian, every day must be an Easter Day, lived joyfully in the close company of the Risen Lord.
3) We are to be transparent Christians: We are called to be transparent Christians, showing others, through our lives of love, mercy, compassion and self-sacrificing service, that the Risen Jesus is living in our hearts.
4) We need to live new, disciplined lives in the Risen Jesus: Our awareness of the all-pervading presence of the Risen Lord in and around us, and the strong conviction of our own coming resurrection, help us control our thoughts, desires, words and behavior. This salutary thought inspires us to honor our bodies, keeping them holy, pure and free from evil habits and addictions. Our conviction about the presence of the risen Lord in our neighbors, and in all those with whom we come into contact, should encourage us to respect them, and to render them loving, humble and selfless service.
5) We need to remember Easter in our Good Fridays: Easter reminds us that every Good Friday in our lives will have an Easter Sunday and that Jesus will let us share the power of His Resurrection. Each time we display our love of others, we share in the Resurrection. Each time we face a betrayal of trust, we share in the Resurrection of Jesus. Each time we fail in our attempts to ward off temptations – but keep on trying to overcome them – we share in the Resurrection. Each time we continue to hope – even when our hope seems unanswered – we share in the power of Jesus’ Resurrection. In short, the message of Easter is that nothing can destroy us – not pain, sin, rejection nor death – because Christ has conquered all these, and we too can conquer them if we put our faith in Him.
6) We are to be bearers of the Good News of Resurrection power. Resurrection is Good News, but at the same time, it’s sometimes painful because it involves death. Before the power of the Resurrection can take hold in our own lives, we’re called to die to sin, to die to self. We may even have to die to our own dreams, so that God can do what He wants to do with our lives. Resurrection is about seeing our world in a new way. Early that Easter morning, Mary did not find what she was looking for, the dead body of Jesus. But she found something better than she could have imagined: the Risen Jesus. Sometimes, the things we think we want most are not granted to us. What we get instead is an experience of God’s new ways of working in the world. That’s the power of the Resurrection. When those moments come, we must spread the news--just as Mary did: We have seen the Lord!