Introduction: The mystery of the most Holy Trinity is a basic doctrine of Faith in Christianity, understandable not with our heads but with our hearts. It teaches us that there are three distinct Persons in one God, sharing the same Divine Nature. Our mind cannot grasp this doctrine which teaches that 1+1+1 = 1 and not 3. But we believe in this Mystery because Jesus who is God taught it clearly, the Evangelists recorded it, the Fathers of the Church tried to explain it and the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople defined it as a dogma of Christian Faith.
Importance in Christian life: 1) All prayers in the Church begin in the Name of the Holy Trinity and end glorifying the Trinity.
2) All Sacraments are administered (we are baptized, confirmed, anointed, our sins are forgiven and our marriage blessed, our Bishops, priests and deacons ordained) in the name of the Holy Trinity.
3) Church bells ring thrice daily, reminding us to pray to the Holy Trinity.
4) We bless ourselves, and the priest blesses us, in the name of the Holy Trinity.
Biblical proofs: There are only vague and hidden references to the Trinity in the Old Testament. But the New Testament gives clear teachings on the Holy Trinity.
1) At the Annunciation, God the Father sends His angel to Mary, God the Holy Spirit overshadows her and God the Son becomes incarnate in her womb.
2) At the baptism of Jesus, when the Son receives baptism from John the Baptist, the Father’s Voice is heard and the Holy Spirit appears as a Dove.
3) At the Ascension, Jesus gives the missionary command to his disciples to baptize those who believe, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In John, chapters 15-18, we have a detailed account of Jesus’ teaching of the role of each Person of the Holy Trinity:
1) God the Father creates and provides for His creatures.
2) God the Son redeems us and reconciles us with God.
3) God the Holy Spirit sanctifies us, strengthens us, teaches us and guides us to God.
Life messages: 1) Let us respect ourselves and others because everyone is the temple of the Holy Spirit where all the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity abide.
2) Let us have the firm conviction that the Trinitarian God abides in us, that He is the Source of our hope, courage and strength and that He is our final destination.
3) Let us practice the Trinitarian relationship of love and unity in the family relationships of father, mother and children because by Baptism we become children of God and members of God’s Trinitarian family.
4) Let us practice the I–God–my neighbor vertical and horizontal Trinitarian relationship in society by loving God living in others. (Fr. Tony) L/15
HOLY TRINITY (May 31): Dt 4:32-34, 39-40; Rom 8:14-17; Mt 28:16-20
Anecdote # 1: Simplified explanations by Ss. Patrick, Cyril and John Maria Vianney: The shamrock, a kind of clover, is a leguminous herb that grows in marshy places. St. Patrick, the missionary patron saint of Ireland, used the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity. The story goes that one day his friends asked Patrick to explain the Mystery of the Trinity. He looked at the ground and saw shamrocks growing amid the grass at his feet. He picked one up one of its trifoliate leaves and asked if it were one leaf or three. Patrick's friends couldn't answer – the shamrock leaf looked like one but it clearly had three parts. Patrick explained to them: "The mystery of the Holy Trinity – one God in Three Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit - is like this, but more complex and unintelligible.” St. Cyril, the teacher of the Slavs, tried to explain the Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity using sun as an example. He said, "God the Father is that blazing sun. God the Son is its light and God the Holy Spirit is its heat — but there is only one sun. So there are three Persons in the Holy Trinity but God is One and indivisible." St. John Maria Vianney used to explain Holy Trinity using lighted candles and roses on the altar and water in the cruets. “The flame has color, warmth and shape. But these are expressions of one flame. Similarly the rose has color, fragrance and shape. But these are expressions of one reality, namely, rose. Water, steam and ice are three distinct expressions of one reality. In the same way one God revealed Himself to us as Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.” Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQLfgaUoQCw&feature=player_detailpage
# 2: Trinity prayer of Tolstoy’s monks: Three Russian monks lived in a faraway Island. Nobody ever went there. However, one day their bishop decided to make a pastoral visit to learn more about their religious life. But when he arrived he discerned that they did not know even the Lord’s Prayer. So he spent all his time and energy teaching them the Our Father and then left them, satisfied with his pastoral visit. But when his small ship had left the island and was back in the open sea, he suddenly noticed the three hermits walking on the water – in fact they were running after the ship. When they approached it, they cried out. “Dear bishop we have forgotten the Lord’s Prayer you taught us. The bishop, overwhelmed by what he was seeing and hearing asked them, “But dear brothers, how then do you pray?” They answered, “We just say, there are three of us and there are three of you, have mercy on us.” The bishop, awestruck by their sanctity and simplicity said, “Go back to your island and be at peace.” (Adapted from Leo Tolstoy- The Three Hermits" (Russian: Три Старца), a short story by Russian author Leo Tolstoy (Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy), was written in 1885 and first published in 1886 in the weekly periodical Niva (нива).
# 3: "But that is impossible, my dear child:” There is a very old and much-repeated story about St. Augustine, one of the intellectual giants of the Church. He was walking by the seashore one day, attempting to conceive of an intelligible explanation for the mystery of the Trinity. As he walked along, he saw a small boy on the beach, pouring seawater from a shell into a small hole in the sand. "What are you doing, my child?" asked Augustine. "I am trying to empty the sea into this hole," the boy answered with an innocent smile. "But that is impossible, my dear child,” said Augustine. The boy stood up, looked straight into the eyes of Augustine and replied, “What you are trying to do - comprehend the immensity of God with your small head - is even more impossible.” Then he vanished. The child was an angel sent by God to teach Augustine a lesson. Later, Augustine wrote: "You see the Trinity if you see love." According to him, the Father is the lover, the Son is the loved one and the Holy Spirit is the personification of the very act of loving. This means that we can understand something of the Mystery of the Holy Trinity more readily with the heart than with our feeble mind. Evagrius of Pontus, a Greek monk of the 4th century who came from what is now Turkey in Asia and later lived out his vocation in Egypt, said: "God cannot be grasped by the mind. If God could be grasped, God would not be God."
Introduction: Today’s feast invites us to live in the awareness of the presence of the Triune God within us: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The mystery of the Holy Trinity, a doctrine enunciated by the ecumenical councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, is one of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity and the greatest mystery of our Faith, namely, that there are Three Divine Persons, sharing the same Divine nature in one God. “There is one God, Who has three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each Person is God, yet there is still only one God” (C.C.C. #234, #253-256). We have Father Who is the Creator, Son the Redeemer and Holy Spirit the Sanctifier and the Counselor. The doctrine of Three Persons in one God, equal in Divinity yet distinct in Person, is not explicitly spelt out in the Bible. Even the very word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible. But the doctrine of the Trinity underlies all major Christian feasts, including Christmas, the Epiphany, Good Friday, Easter, the Ascension and Pentecost. All the official prayers of the Church, including the Holy Mass and the Sacraments, begin with an address to the Holy Trinity: “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We are baptized, absolved of our sins and anointed in the name of the Blessed Trinity. Throughout the world, church bells can ring three times a day inviting Christians to pray to God the Father (the Provider); God the Son (the Savior); and God the Holy Spirit (the Sanctifier). We bless ourselves with the Sign of the Cross invoking the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and we conclude our prayers glorifying the Holy Trinity, saying “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.” Today’s readings convey the fundamental mystery that the Triune God reaches out to people in love, seeking the deepest communion.
Scripture lessons: Today’s first and second readings do not give us a clear and elaborate presentation of the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. The first reading, however, tells us that God is deeply involved in the world from its beginning, showing Fatherly care for His people and setting an example that summons us to imitation. In the second reading, Paul describes the role of God the Holy Spirit in making us true children of God the Father and brothers and sisters of God the Son, Jesus. Today’s Gospel describes Jesus’ final apparition to his apostles just before his Ascension into Heaven. At that moment, He commissioned them to make disciples of all nations and commanded them to baptize those who came to believe, “in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.“ Here is the Trinitarian apostolic blessing of St. Paul, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).
First reading: Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40: Deuteronomy was written down much later than the time of Moses (ca. 1250 BC), during the Babylonian Captivity (587-539 BC). Internal corruption and external pressures had brought the Jewish people to the brink of extinction. Kings, priests, prophets, and Temple had all failed to hold them together. Those who produced the written document responded to this crisis by offering amplified explanations of the Mosaic legal traditions, in the hope of setting the Jews on a viable course for their future. Since the audience for the written presentation of Deuteronomy was having a very hard time holding on to faith and identity, the book’s reminder, that their ancestors had the same struggle to achieve or to maintain their strict belief in the one, true and invisible God, must have been encouraging. In today's reading, Moses gives the people all the reasons to be proud of how they differ from their pagan neighbors. He asserts, in effect, "We have a better God Who gave us a better law and we're a better people. There's no other god like ours, nor law like ours, and no other people like us, so shape up!"
Second Reading, Romans 8:14-17: As a response to some who insisted that pagan converts to Christ had to practice the Jewish law, Saint Paul tries to get his audience to let themselves be saved by the grace of God, instead of trying to save themselves by their own efforts, obeying Mosaic laws. He advises them to lead their life “in the Spirit,” that is, to let God take over. This reading addresses some of the relations between Spirit, Father and Son, as we experience our relationship with God.
Exegetical notes 1) The development of the Trinitarian doctrine in the Church. The oldest doctrinal formulation of the Church’s belief in the Trinity is found in the Apostles’ Creed which has served as the basis of instruction for catechumens and as the Baptismal confession of Faith since the second century. Later, the Nicene Creed, originating at the Council of Nicaea (AD 325), stated the doctrine more explicitly. This creed was introduced into our Western liturgy by the regional council of Toledo in AD 589. God has revealed to us three separate functions that are carried out by the Three Persons. He has told us that it is proper to attribute to God the Father the work of creation, to God the Son the work of Redemption and to God the Holy Spirit the work of Sanctification. Our knowledge of God as Trinity is made possible by God, who has chosen to be revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As Father, God has brought forth the created universe, including our own being. As Son, Jesus has made known a God who hears our cries, who cares, who counts the hairs on our head and who loves us so passionately that He became one of us in order to suffer for our sins, and even to die for us. As Spirit, God remains with us and within us.
2) The Triune God as seen in the Old Testament: Since Yahweh, the God of Israel, was careful to protect His Chosen People from the pagan practice of worshipping several gods, the Old Testament books give only indirect and passing references to the Trinity, and the Jewish rabbis never understood them as references to the Holy Trinity. Genesis 1:26 presents God speaking to Himself: "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness." Genesis 18:2 describes how Yahweh visited Abraham under the appearance of three men, an event that the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates as the “Trinitarian Experience of Abraham.” In Genesis 11:7, before punishing the proud builders of the Tower of Babel, God says, “Come, let Us go down among them and confuse their language.”These passages imply, rather than state, the doctrine of the Trinity.
3) Clear doctrine of the Trinity in the New Testament.
a) The Annunciation (Luke 1: 26-38), describes how God the Father sent the angel Gabriel to Mary to announce to her that God the Holy Spirit, would "overshadow" her, and that God the Son would be made flesh in her womb.
b) During the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3: 16-17), the Holy Spirit was shown descending on Jesus in the form of a Dove, while the Voice of God the Father was heard from the clouds.
c) John (Chapters 15 through 18), presents the detailed teaching of Jesus on the Persons of the Holy Trinity.
d) In the preaching mission given by the risen Lord to the disciples, Jesus commanded them to baptize people “in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Confer also Matthew 28:19; John 10:30).
Life messages: 1) We need to respect ourselves and respect others. Our conviction of the presence of the Triune God within us should help us to esteem ourselves as God’s holy dwelling place, to behave well in His holy presence, and to lead purer and holier lives, practicing acts of justice and charity. This Triune Presence should also encourage us to respect and honor others as "Temples of the Holy Spirit."
2) We need to be aware of God as the Source of our strength and courage. The awareness and conviction of the presence of God within us, gives us the strength to face the manifold problems of life with Christian courage. It was such a conviction that prompted the early Christian martyrs, when taken to their execution, to shout the heroic prayer of Faith from the Psalms: "The Lord of might is with us, our God is within us, and the God of Jacob is our helper" (Psalm 46).
3) We need to see the Trinity as the model for our Christian families: We are created in love to be a community of loving persons, just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are united in love. From the day of our Baptism, we have belonged to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How privileged we are to grow up in such a beautiful Family! Hence, let us turn to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in prayer every day. We belong to the Family of the Triune God. The love, unity and joy in the relationship among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit should be the supreme model of our relationships within our Christian families. Our families become truly Christian when we live in a relationship of love with God and with others.
4) We are called to become more like the Triune God through all our relationships. We are made in God’s image and likeness. Just as God is God only in a Trinitarian relationship, so we can be fully human only as one member of a relationship of three partners. The self needs to be in a horizontal relationship with all other people and in a vertical relationship with God. In that way our life becomes Trinitarian like that of God. Modern society follows the so-called “I-and-I” principle of unbridled individualism and the resulting consumerism. But the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity challenges us to adopt an "I-and-God-and-neighbor" principle: “I am a Christian insofar as I live in a relationship of love with God and other people.” Like God the Father, we are called upon to be productive and creative persons by contributing to the building up of the fabric of our family, our Church, our community and our nation. Like God the Son, we are called upon to reconcile, to be peacemakers, to put back together that which has been broken, to restore what has been shattered. Like God the Holy Spirit, it is our task to uncover and teach truth and to dispel ignorance. (Trinitarian spirituality: “The doctrine of the Trinity affirms that it belongs to God’s very Nature to be committed to humanity and its history that God’s Covenant with us is irrevocable, that God’s face is immutably turned toward us in love, that God’s presence to us is utterly reliable and constant.... Trinitarian spirituality is one of solidarity between and among persons. It is a way of living the Gospel attentive to the requirements of justice, understood as rightly ordered relationships between and among persons.” Dictionary of Spirituality)
St. Francis Xavier’s favorite prayer was: “Most Holy Trinity, Who live in me, I praise You, I worship You, I adore You and I love You.” Let the Son lead us to the Father through the Spirit, to live with the Triune God forever and ever. Amen.
Prepared by Fr. Antony Kadavil (email@example.com) and published in the CBCI Website.
Pentecost literally means 50th. It is a feast celebrated on the 50th day after the Passover feast by the Jews and a feast celebrated on the 50th day after the feast of Jesus’ Resurrection by the Christians. The Jewish Pentecost was originally a post-harvest thanksgiving feast. Later, the Jews included in it the remembrance of God’s Covenants with Noah after the Deluge and with Moses at Mt. Sinai
The event: On the day of Pentecost 1) The Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary in fiery tongues. 2) The frightened apostles were transformed into fiery preachers and evangelizers by a special anointing of the Holy Spirit. 3) The audience experienced a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit with the gift of tongues, hearing Peter speaking in their languages. 4) The early Christians became powerful witnesses and brave martyrs for their Faith in Jesus.
The role of the Holy Spirit in Christian life: 1) As an indwelling God, He makes us His Living Temples (I Cor 3:16). 2) As a strengthening God, He strengthens us in our fight against temptations and in our mission of bearing witness to Christ by transparent Christian lives. 3) As a sanctifying God, He makes us holy through the Sacraments: a) He makes us children of God and heirs of heaven through Baptism. b) He makes us temples of God, warriors and defenders of faith, through Confirmation. c) He enables us to be reconciled to God by pardoning our sins through Reconciliation. d) He gives us spiritual nourishment via the Holy Eucharist by converting bread and wine into Jesus’ Body and Blood through Epiclesis. 4) As a teaching and guiding God, He clarifies and constantly reminds us of Christ’s teachings. 5) As a listening and talking God, He listens to our prayers and enables us to pray, and He speaks to us mainly through the Bible. 6) As a giver of gifts, He gives us His gifts, fruits and charisms.
Life messages: We need to permit the Holy Spirit to take control of our lives:
1) By constantly remembering His holy presence and behaving well.
2) By praying for His daily anointing so that we may fight against our temptations and control our evil tendencies, evil habits and addictions.
3) By asking His daily assistance to pray, listening to God through meditative Bible reading and talking to Him.
4) By asking the help of the Holy Spirit to do good for others and to be reconciled to God and others every day.
Pentecost (May 24): Acts. 2:1-11; I Cor. 12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23
1) “Lower your bucket-- taste and see”: More than a century ago, a great sailing ship was stranded off the coast of South America. Week after week the ship lay there in the still waters with not a hint of a breeze. The captain was desperate; the crew was dying of thirst. And then, on the far horizon, a steamship appeared, headed directly toward them. As it drew near, the captain called out, "We need water! Give us water!" The steamship replied, "Lower your buckets where you are." The captain was furious at this cavalier response but called out again, "Please, give us water." But the steamer gave the same reply, "Lower your buckets where you are!" And with that they sailed away! The captain was beside himself with anger and despair, and he went below. But a little later, when no one was looking, a yeoman lowered a bucket into the sea and then tasted what he brought up: It was perfectly sweet, fresh water! For you see, the ship was just out of sight of the mouth of the Amazon. And for all those weeks they had been sitting right on top of all the fresh water they needed! What we are really seeking is already inside us, waiting to be discovered, waiting to be embraced: the Holy Spirit of God Who has been living within us from the moment of our Baptism. The Holy Spirit is saying to us at this very moment from deep in our heart, "Lower your buckets where you are. Taste and see!" Come, Holy Spirit! Fill our hearts, and set us on fire! Amen.
2) "Well, Chippie doesn’t sing much anymore.” It happened in Galveston, TX. A woman was cleaning the bottom of the cage of her parrot Chippie with the canister vacuum cleaner. She was not using an attachment on the tube. When the telephone rang, she turned her head to pick it up, continuing to vacuum the cage as she said, "Hello," into the phone. Then she heard the horrible noise of Chippie being sucked into the vacuum. Immediately she put down the phone, ripped open the vacuum bag, and found Chippie in there, stunned but still alive. Since the bird was covered with dust and dirt, she grabbed it, ran it into the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and held the bird under the water to clean it off. When she finished that, she saw the hair dryer on the bathroom sink. She turned it on and held the bird in front of the blast of hot air to dry him off. A few weeks later, a reporter from the newspaper that originally published the story went out to the house to ask the woman, "How’s Chippie doing now?" She said, “He just sort of sits and stares." Today’s Gospel tells us that it was what happened to the apostles. They all were traumatized by the arrest and crucifixion of their master and bewildered by his post-Resurrection appearances and his command to prepare for the coming of his Holy Spirit. Many of us can identify with Chippie and the apostles. Life has sucked us up, thrown cold water on us, and blown us away. Somewhere in the trauma, we have lost our song. Hence, we, too, need the daily anointing of the Holy Spirit to keep us singing songs of Christian witnessing through agápe love. http://www.biblestudyresources.com/devotionals/jesus/he_keeps_me_singing.htm
# 3: Treasure within: An old beggar lay on his deathbed. His last words were to his youngest son who had been his constant companion during his begging trips. “Dear son," he said, “I have nothing to give you except a cotton bag and a dirty bronze bowl which I got in my younger days from the junk yard of a rich lady.” After his father’s death, the boy continued begging, using the bowl his father had given him. One day a gold merchant dropped a coin in the boy’s bowl and he was surprised to hear a familiar clinking sound. “Let me check your bowl,” the merchant said. To his great surprise, he found that the beggar’s bowl was made of pure gold. “My dear young man," he said, “why do you waste your time begging? You are a rich man. That bowl of yours is worth at least thirty thousand dollars.” We Christians are often like this beggar boy who failed to recognize and appreciate the value of his bowl. We fail to appreciate the infinite worth of the Holy Spirit living within each of us, sharing His gifts and fruits and charisms with us. On this major feast day, we are invited to experience and appreciate the transforming, sanctifying and strengthening presence of the Holy Spirit within us. This is also a day to renew the promises made to God during our Baptism and Confirmation, to profess our Faith, and to practice it.
Introduction: The Jewish Pentecost: Both the Jews and the Christians now celebrate Pentecost. Along with the Feast of the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles, Pentecost was one of the major feasts of the Jews. During these three great Jewish festivals, every male Jew living within twenty miles of Jerusalem was legally bound to go to Jerusalem to participate in the feast. The word Pentecost is Greek for “pentecostes” which means “fiftieth.” The feast received this name because it was celebrated fifty days after the Feast of the Passover. Another name for the Jewish Pentecost is Shebuot or "The Feast of Weeks (the "week" of seven Sabbaths between Passover and Pentecost)." It was originally a day of thanksgiving for the completion of the harvest. During Passover, the first omer (a Hebrew measure of about a bushel), of barley was offered to God. At Pentecost, two loaves of bread were offered in gratitude for the harvest. Later, the Jews added to the Feast of Pentecost the element of Yahweh’s Covenant with Noah which took place fifty days after the great deluge. Still later, they made this feast an occasion to thank God for His Sinaitic Covenant with Moses which occurred fifty days after the beginning of the Exodus from Egypt.
The Christian Pentecost: Pentecost Sunday is one of the most ancient feasts of the Church, celebrated early enough to be mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (20:16) and St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians (16:8). Pentecost marks the end and the goal of the Easter season. For Christians, it is a memorial of the day the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and the Virgin Mary in the form of fiery tongues, an event that took place fifty days after the Resurrection of Jesus. The Paschal mystery of the Passion, the Death, the Resurrection, and the Ascension of Jesus culminates in the sending of the Holy Spirit by the Father at the request of His Son on Jesus' disciples. The feast also commemorates the official inauguration of the Christian Church by the apostolic preaching of St. Peter which resulted in the conversion of 3000 Jews to the Christian faith. Pentecost is, thus, the official birthday of the Church. But years ago, This Rock Magazine reported that there were at that time 34,000 Protestant denominations which means that, on the average, more than sixty-nine new denominations had sprung up every year since the Reformation began in 1517. So whose birthday is it anyway? You could say, Pentecost is the birthday of the Church Jesus established nearly 2,000 years ago. Today’s Scripture readings remind us that Pentecost is an event of both the past and the present. The main theme of today’s readings is that the gift of the Holy Spirit is something to be shared with others. In other words, the readings remind us that the gift of the Holy Spirit moves its recipients to action and inspires them to share this gift with others.
The first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1-11), describes in detail the miraculous transformation that took place during the first Pentecost, thus fulfilling Jesus’ promise to his apostles. There was first “a noise like a strong driving wind.” Then there were “tongues as of fire” resting on the disciples, and each of them was filled with the Holy Spirit. The first manifestation of their reception of the Holy Spirit came when the apostles began to proclaim the Good News of Jesus, and everyone there (regardless of their many different native languages), was able to understand them “in his own tongue.” The Jews in the crowds came from sixteen different geographical regions. The miracle of tongues on Pentecost thus reverses the confusion of tongues wrought by God at the Tower of Babel, as described in Genesis 11. Later, the Acts of the Apostles describes how the Holy Spirit empowered the early Christians to bear witness to Christ by their sharing love and strong faith. This "anointing by the Holy Spirit” also strengthened the early Christian martyrs during the period of brutal persecution that followed.
In the second reading (I Cor 12:3-7, 12-13) St. Paul explains how the sharing of the various spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit enriches the Church. He refers to the varieties of gifts given to the Church as coming from the same Spirit Who activates all of them in Christians for the common good. They are described as the gifts, fruits and charisms of the Spirit. They may take different forms like prophecy, teaching, administration, acts of charity, healing and speaking in tongues, and they may reside in different persons like apostles, prophets, teachers, healers and so on. Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit in his Letter to the Galatians “What the Spirit brings is … love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control” (5:22). He continues, “Since the Spirit is our life, let us be directed by the Spirit” (5:25). Paul insists that these spiritual gifts are to be used in the present time for the benefit of others, for the common good and for the building up of the Body of Christ.
Today’s Gospel relates how the risen Jesus gave his apostles a foretaste of Pentecost on the evening of Easter Sunday by appearing to them and inviting them to carry on the mission given him by his Heavenly Father. He then empowered them to do so by breathing upon them and saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” On the day of Pentecost, Jesus fulfilled his promise to send the Advocate or Paraclete. The gift of the Spirit would enable them to fulfill Jesus’ commission to preach the Gospel to all nations as well. Today’s Gospel passage also tells us how Jesus gave to the Apostles the power and authority to forgive sins. “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.” These wonderful words which bind together inseparably the presence of the Holy Spirit and the gift of forgiveness are referred to directly in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But they have a much wider meaning. Those words indicate the power we are all given of being the agents of forgiveness in the world of today, which is often fiercely judgmental and vengeful.
Exegetical notes: Role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and of the Church: How beautiful is the thought that the Holy Spirit lives within us! Saint Paul reminds the Corinthian community of this fact when he asks, "Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?" (I Corinthians 3:16). It is the Holy Spirit who develops our intimacy with God. "God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying, ‘Abba!' ('Father!’)” (Gal 4:6). "God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us" (Romans 5:5). "No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit" (I Corinthians 12:3). Moreover, we know that it is the Holy Spirit Who teaches us to pray (Romans 8:26). By the power of the Spirit, we also know the Lord Jesus through his Church. Pentecost Sunday is the birth date of the Church. It is the Holy Spirit who enlivens, enlightens, guides, and sanctifies the Church. The Psalm refrain for this Sunday says it so well, “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.” We know Jesus through the Sacramental Mysteries of the Church, and Holy Spirit is at the heart of the Sacramental life of the Church. Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders are the Sacramental Mysteries through which people receive the seal of the Holy Spirit. It would be impossible for us to receive Jesus in the Eucharist without the descent of the Holy Spirit at the Epiclesis of the Divine Liturgy. Even the forgiveness of sins comes through the Holy Spirit (John 20:21-23). The Holy Spirit both confirmed the apostles in Holy Orders as priests and empowered them to forgive sins by His power, a work which He continues today in each of our priests.
The action of the Holy Spirit in the daily lives of Christians: The Spirit is that Paraclete (a Greek word that is translated as Counselor, Comforter, Helper, Encourager, or Enabler), Who quietly works in us and through us every day behind the scenes in the basic activities of our lives and the lives of the people around us. He is there in all his fullness wherever people worship and pray in the name of Jesus. When we believe and trust in Jesus, we have that Faith through the Holy Spirit working in us and filling us. The Holy Spirit leads us to turn away from our sinfulness. Further, He reassures us that we are still loved in spite of our sin and that Jesus died on a cross for just those moments when we rebel against God's way. He confronts us and urges us to take a good look at ourselves and where we are heading, to make a U-turn, to leave the old behind and try something new. He’s not afraid to challenge us and stretch us to go and do things for Christ – things we have never done before or ever imagined ourselves doing. He’s the One who says to us, "Stop being so self-focussed. Stop looking into yourself all the time and being depressed by what you see, or fool yourself into thinking that what you see in yourself is enough to get you through! Look up, look away, look to Jesus and let him turn your around; let him take control!"
The Holy Spirit, the Helper is quietly at work: in the sincere concern of a friend for our health; in the generosity of those who give us so much help; in the inner strength we discover in times of crisis; in those moments when we admit that we have been wrong; in making a tough choice; in the resilience of people who face one bad thing after another; in times when we have dared to love even though it was hard to do so. The Holy Spirit, the Helper is quietly at work: in our taking on responsibilities that we once thought beyond us; in our refusing to let the greed of society take over our soul; in our giving thanks always even though times have been hard; in our rising above past failures and putting past hurts behind us; in our finding a central core of peace in the midst of turmoil; in an adult patiently teaching a child self-esteem and self-control; in the person sitting quietly beside a hospital bed; in a parent praying for a troubled son or daughter. The Spirit calls us to repentance, to turn our lives around; He calls us to Faith and to take up our cross and follow Jesus. However we look at the Holy Spirit, He is always our Helper, always helping us to be what God made us to be. He helps us to be truly great, namely, to be servants to one another. Likewise the Spirit promotes Jesus in our lives; He gathers us around the cross of Jesus; He changes our lives, helping us to be more patient and forgiving, to seek new beginnings in our relationships with one another and to let the power of God's love have the final say over the conflicts we get into. He is available to us every moment of every day as we face the choices between self-centeredness or being the God-centered people the Spirit has called us to be in Christ. (Adapted from Vince-reflections).
Life messages: 1) We need to permit the Holy Spirit to direct our lives: a) By constantly remembering and appreciating His Holy Presence within us, especially through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. b) By fortifying ourselves with the help of the Spirit against all types of temptations. c) By seeking the assistance of the Spirit in our thoughts, words, and deeds, and in the breaking of our evil habits. d) By listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to us through the Bible and through the good counsel of others e) By fervently praying for the gifts, fruits and charisms of the Holy Spirit. f) By renewing our lives through the anointing of the Holy Spirit. g) By living our lives in the Holy Spirit as lives of commitment, of sacrifice, and of joy. We are called to love as Jesus loved, not counting the cost. As Saint Paul exhorts us, "Walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit" (Galatians 5:16, 25).
2) We need to cultivate the spirit of forgiveness. The feast of the Pentecost offers us the chance to look at the role which forgiveness should play in our dealings with others. Thus, we are challenged to examine our sense of compassion, patience, tolerance and magnanimity. Learning to forgive is a lifelong task, but the Holy Spirit is with us to make us agents of forgiveness. If we are prepared on this day of Pentecost to receive the Holy Spirit into our lives, we can have confidence that our lives will be marked by the Spirit of forgiveness.
3) We need to observe Pentecost every day. "It will always be Pentecost in the Church," affirmed Blessed Oscar Romero, Archbishop of El Salvador, on Pentecost Sunday 1978, "provided the Church lets the beauty of the Holy Spirit shine forth from her countenance. When the Church ceases to let her strength rest on the Power from above which Christ promised her and which he gave her on that day, and when the Church leans rather on the weak forces of the power or wealth of this earth, then the Church ceases to be newsworthy. The Church will be fair to see, perennially young, attractive in every age, as long as she is faithful to the Spirit that floods her and she reflects that Spirit through her communities, through her pastors, through her very life" (The Violence of Love, The Plough Pub. Co., Farmington, PA: 1998). Archbishop Romero’s declaration reminds us -- as does today’s Gospel -- that Pentecost is not just one day, but every day. Without breath, there is no life. Without the Spirit, the Church is a field of dry, dead bones. Fulton J. Sheen once said about the Church, "Even though we are God's chosen people, we often behave more like God's frozen people--frozen in our prayer life, frozen in the way we relate with one another, frozen in the way we celebrate our faith." Today is a great day to ask the Holy Spirit to rekindle in us the spirit of new life and enthusiasm, the fire of God's love. Let us repeat Cardinal Newman’s favorite little prayer, “Come Holy Spirit:” (Archbishop Romero was beatified by Pope Francis on May 23, 2015).
4) We need to be Spirit-filled Christians: Spirit-filled people acknowledge their weaknesses, ask for the strengthening, anointing and guidance of the Holy Spirit every morning, ask for His forgiveness every evening and pass on that forgiveness to those who sin against them. Spirit-filled people are praying people. Paul encourages us, "Pray on every occasion as the Spirit leads. For this reason keep alert and never give up; pray for all God's people" (Eph 6:18). They are praying and worshipping God in their families and parishes. They try to grow continually in their Faith, and they seek out every opportunity to discover Christ and what it means to be children of God. Spirit-filled people are people who allow the Spirit to change their lives through their daily reading of the Bible and the frequenting of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist. Spirit-filled people speak words that heal, restore, make people happy and build people up instead of tearing them down. Spirit-filled people pass on the love of God to the people living around them by their acts of kindness, mercy and charity. Hence, let us pray for a spirit of love instead of hate, a spirit of helpfulness instead of non-cooperation, a spirit of generosity instead of greed and a spirit of gentleness instead of ruthlessness.
“Come Holy Spirit
Make our ears to hear
Make our eyes to see
Make our mouths to speak
Make our hearts to seek
Make our hands to reach out
And touch the world with your love. AMEN.”
Introduction: Today’s readings describe the Ascension of the Lord Jesus into his Heavenly glory after promising his disciples the Holy Spirit as their source of Heavenly power, and commanding them to bear witness to him by their lives and preaching throughout the world. But the ascended Jesus is still with us through the indwelling Holy Spirit as he has promised, "I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.” Today’s feast is a celebration of Jesus’ final glorification after his suffering, death and Resurrection – a glory in which we also hope to share.
The Scripture lessons: The first reading gives an account of the event of the Ascension as recorded in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. First, Jesus instructed his apostles to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the baptism by the Holy Spirit so that they might become his “witnesses to the ends of the earth” by the power of the Holy Spirit. Then a cloud took Jesus from the sight of the disciples and two heavenly messengers in white garments gave them the assurance of Jesus’ “second coming” or return in glory. Today's Responsorial Psalm suggests that by his Ascension, the risen Lord "mounts his throne" in glory. In the second reading, Paul explains the theological meaning of Jesus’ exaltation giving us the assurance that one day, we too will be ascending to heavenly glory provided we do the mission entrusted to us by the ascending Lord. Today's Gospel describes how Jesus ascended to Heaven after giving his final blessing and missionary command to his disciples. The command was to proclaim the Good News to the whole creation,” to be his witnesses," and “to make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19).
Life messages: 1) We need to be proclaimers and evangelizers: To be a Christian is to be a proclaimer and an evangelizer. There is a difference between preaching and proclaiming. We preach with words but we proclaim with our lives. Let us ask the guidance of the Spirit of God to bear witness to Jesus by our transparent Christian lives.
2) We have a teaching mission: Jesus taught us lessons of faith, hope, love, forgiveness, mercy and salvation by his life and preaching and gave us the mission to teach these to others. Hence, let us learn about Jesus and his teachings by our daily study of the Bible and the teachings of the Church, experience him in personal prayer, reception of the Sacraments and works of charity, and convey to others Jesus whom we have experienced with the help of his Holy Spirit. 3) The ascended Jesus is our source of strength and encouragement: We will be able to overcome doubts about our faith and baseless fears, anxieties and worries by meditating on Jesus’ Ascension and the lesson it teaches that we, too, are called to share his glory in heaven.
THE FEAST OF ASCENSION OF OUR LORD – (May 17) L-15
(Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1: 17-23 or 4:1-13; Mk 16:15-20)
Introduction: Today’s readings describe the Ascension of the Lord Jesus into his Heavenly glory after promising the Holy Spirit as the source of Heavenly power for his disciples and commanding them to bear witness to him by their lives and preaching throughout the world. What is celebrated is Jesus’ exaltation and the end of his earthly existence as a prelude to the gift of the Spirit. The ascended Jesus is still with us because of his promise, "I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.” He is with us at all times and in all places, releasing a new energy upon the earth, the energy of the Holy Spirit to preach his Good News of salvation by bearing witness to him. Hence, today’s feast is the celebration of Jesus’ glory after his suffering and death – the glory in which we also hope to share. The Ascension and Pentecost, together, mark the beginning of the Church. The feast of the Ascension tells us that the Church must be a community in mission, guided by God’s Spirit and confident of God’s protection even amid suffering and death.
The first reading (Acts 1: 1-11), gives an account of the event of Ascension as recorded in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. First, Jesus instructed his apostles to wait in Jerusalem for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4-5), so that they might become his “witnesses to the ends of the earth” by the power of the Holy Spirit. Then “a cloud took him from their sight” (Acts 1:9), and two Heavenly messengers in white garments gave them the assurance of Jesus’ return in glory.
Today's Responsorial Psalm, “God is king of all the earth,” (Psalm 47:3), celebrates God's universal Kingship. It was originally sung in connection with a cultic procession honoring the Ark of the Covenant. By his Ascension, the risen Lord likewise "mounts his throne" in glory.
The second reading (Eph 1: 17-23 or 4: 1-13): Paul explains the theological meaning of Jesus’ exaltation by saying, "May God enlighten the eyes of our hearts so that we may know the great hope to which we have been called" (Eph 1:18). Our great hope is that one day we too will be ascending to heavenly glory provided we complete our part of the mission entrusted to us by the ascending Lord. Our mission is to preach the Good News of salvation to the whole world by word and deed. We continue to receive the Divine assistance and spiritual gifts necessary for our Christian witnessing through the gift of Jesus and the Father to us of the Holy Spirit living within us.
In today's Gospel, Jesus gives his final message, his final instructions, his final promise, and his final blessing to his apostles. Our mission, as recorded in Mark, Acts and Mathew, is to 1) proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark.16:15). 2) "Preach the good news and be my witnesses:" (Acts 1:8). 3) “Make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Completing Jesus’ mission should be our goal in life, and the prospect of sharing the ascended Jesus’ Heavenly glory should be the driving force of our lives.
Exegetical notes: A) The Ascension: Each Sunday we profess through the Creed, "He ascended into Heaven." Christ’s Ascension was the culmination of God’s Divine plan for Christ Jesus, and he returned to his Father with “Mission Accomplished." The Ascension is the grand finale of all his words and works done for us and for our salvation. It was a culmination, but not the conclusion. As he is now with God in glory, he is now with us in Spirit: "Lo, I am with you always." The feast of the Ascension celebrates one aspect of the Resurrection, namely Jesus’ exaltation. He did not wait 40 days to be glorified at God’s right hand. That had already happened at his Resurrection.
A) The focus of this feast is the heavenly reign of Christ, not the historical details, the when and where of the Ascension itself. The Lord would be “seated at God’s right hand,” meaning He alone would be in control of the continuing plan of salvation through the Spirit, unrestricted by time, space or culture. Thus the Paschal Mystery of Jesus' passion, death, Resurrection, Ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit forms one unbroken reality which is to be understood by Faith. Ascension means that Jesus is with his Father in glory now, and will return to us in glory at the Last Judgment.
Grounds for the defense of a literal Ascension: Two of the Evangelists, Mark (16:19-20), and Luke twice (Luke 24: 50-53; Acts 1: 6-12), recount a literal Ascension.
1) Mark says, "He was taken up into Heaven, and took His seat at the right hand of God" Mark 16: 19 Like all the evangelists, Mark was concerned with an accurate report of the events and teachings of Jesus' life on earth as the Messiah of God and Savior of humankind and the universe. Further, he is seen traditionally to be associated with Peter and to be the recorder of Peter's account of his experiences with Jesus during the three or so years of His life in flesh and time. His purpose was to save the materials of the eyewitnesses as these were beginning to be eliminated by martyrdom, and to spread the Good News to other local Church communities as well as to his own. If the Ascension had not happened visibly, he would certainly not have said it did.
2) Luke, who declares specifically at the head of his Gospel the pains he has taken to verify the accuracy of the details of every event he narrates (Luke 1:1-4), declares his reason for this labor: "I, too, have decided, after investigating accurately anew, to writ it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received" (Luke 1:3-4).
In his Gospel account of the Ascension, Luke says, "Then He led them [out] as far as Bethany, raised His hands and blessed them. As He blessed them, He parted from them and was taken up to Heaven. They did Him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the Temple, praising God" (Luke 24: 50-53.
3) Luke wrote Acts, he explains, as a continuation of his verified, accurate of "the narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us" (Luke 1:1), which had already been written down by "eyewitnesses." His verifications of the events in the later history of the Apostles events would certainly have followed the same painstaking labor he had employed in composing the Gospel and for the same reason -- certainty of the teachings Theophilus had received. Luke picks up the account with the 40 day period after the Resurrection, material he had not unfolded in the Gospel.
4) When he comes to the Ascension, Luke reports the initial question of the Apostles about the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel, meaning the Kingdom of God, Jesus' response, "It is not for you to know the times or seasons that The Father has established by His own authority" (Acts 1:6-7) and His promise that the Holy Spirit will come to them, and "you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Thus, Theophilus and all of us are assured that the teachings we have from the successors of the Apostles come to us from the Holy Spirit Who, Jesus had told them before His death and Rising (and so told us, through them), "will not come unless I go."
5) Immediately thereafter, Luke reports, "When He had said this, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him from their sight" (Acts 1:9). Not only does this "lifting up" complete the meaning an purpose of the "lifting up" of the crucifixion, it also states that the Ascension was a literal reality, just as His Resurrection was literally real and just as His death on the cross was literally real, and all that flows from this Paschal Mystery's reality is also real, from God and essential for belief.
6)That Luke meant the details he had so carefully gathered and checked to be taken literally is demonstrated by his inclusion of what happened next. He reports,
"While they [the Apostles and disciples] were still looking intently up at the sky as He was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, 'Men of Galilee, why are you standing there, looking at the sky? This Jesus Who has been taken up from you into Heaven will return in the same way as you have seen Him going into Heaven"(Acts 1:10-11).
7) And now we see why it is so important for Theophilus (and for us, today), to understand that the Ascension was a literal reality; it is the promise of Jesus' own return to us in glory, to judge the living and the dead and to take us home with Him. As for the mountain, Matthew (28:16-20) mentions the mountain and ends with the declaration of the Lord that He will "be with you always, until the end of the age” Luke also reports the mountain, but not until he has dealt with the really important truths we have just examined. He ends his account with the report, "Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is a Sabbath day's journey away" (Acts 1:12).
B) The Ascension account: The Biblical accounts of the Ascension focus not so much on the details of the event as on the mission Jesus gave to his disciples. For example, in the accounts narrated in Luke and Acts, the Ascension took place in Jerusalem. In Matthew and Mark, on the other hand, the event occurred in Galilee. All accounts, however, agree that the Ascension took place on a mountain. In Luke and Acts, the Ascension happened forty days after the Resurrection, a period during which Jesus appeared repeatedly to his followers. In Matthew and Mark there is no indication of the time period between the Resurrection and the Ascension. The Gospel writers apparently were not aiming at accuracy of historical detail but were more concerned with transmitting Our Lord’s message.
C) The Ascension message: "Preach the Good News and be my witnesses:"
Matthew, Mark and Acts record Jesus’ last words differently: 1) “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). 2) “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). 3) “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark.16:15). All are in agreement that (a) Jesus gave his disciples a mission of bearing witness to him by preaching and living the good news. They are to tell and re-tell the story of Jesus' life, suffering, death and Resurrection. (b) He assured them of the Divine assistance of his Holy Spirit in the carrying out of this mission.
D) Christmas and Ascension: The Ascension is most closely related in meaning to Christmas. In Jesus, the human and the Divine become united in the Person and life of one man. That's Christmas. At the Ascension, this human being – the person and the resurrected body of Jesus – became for all eternity a part of who God is. It was not the spirit of Jesus or the Divine nature of Jesus that ascended to the Father. It was the resurrected body of Jesus: a body that the disciples had touched, a body that had eaten and drunk with them, a real, physical, but gloriously restored body, bearing the marks of nails and a spear. This is what ascended. This is what, now and forever, is a living, participating part of God. The Ascension, along with the Incarnation, is here to tell us that it is a good thing to be a human being; indeed it is a wonderful and an important and a holy thing to be a human being. It is such an important thing that God did it. Even more, the fullness of God now includes what it means to be a human being.
Life messages: 1) We need to be proclaimers and evangelizers: In today's Gospel, Jesus gives his mission to all the believers: "Go out to the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” This mission is not given to a select few but to all believers. To be a Christian is to be a proclaimer and an evangelizer. There is a difference between preaching and proclaiming. “We preach with words but we proclaim with our lives.” As we celebrate the Lord’s return to His Father in heaven – His Ascension -- we are being commissioned to go forth and proclaim the Gospel of life and love, of hope and peace, by the witness of our lives. On this day of hope, encouragement and commissioning, let us renew our commitment to be true disciples everywhere we go, beginning with our family and our parish, "living in a manner worthy of the call [we] have received.”
2) We need to live a life of Christian joy in the presence of the ascended Lord. According to Luke, the disciples "returned to Jerusalem with great joy." Apparently Jesus' exaltation and final blessing gave them, as it gives us, the assurance that, though absent, he is still present, present even in the pain and sorrow we undergo. That is why St. Augustine assures us, “Christ is now exalted above the heavens, but he still suffers on earth all the pain that we, the members of his body, have to bear. He showed this when he cried out from above: 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?' and when he said: 'I was hungry and you gave me food.' While in heaven he is also with us; and while on earth we are with him. He is here with us by his Divinity, his power and his love. We cannot be in Heaven, as he is on earth, by divinity, but in him, we can be there by love."
3) We have a teaching mission: Jesus taught us lessons of Faith, Hope, forgiveness, mercy, redemption and Love. We cannot put these lessons on a shelf and ignore them. They stand before us in the Person of Jesus. Although no longer visibly present in the world, He is present in his words. We must make his words real in our lives and in the lives of others. Christianity was meant to be a Faith in which Jesus’ followers would help and care for others, just as Jesus had done. But the spreading of the Good News to all nations is not a goal that can be attained by human might and craft. This is why Jesus promises to empower his messengers with His abiding presence and that of the Holy Spirit. The challenge of sharing the Good News with all mankind should, therefore, begin with our admission that we have often been arrogant and overbearing. We must learn to be humble and let the Holy Spirit lead the way.
4) The ascended Jesus is our source of strength and encouragement: Perhaps some of the nagging doubts which inevitably accompany the journey of faith could be lessened by our meditating on the Ascension and its implications. When we are too far from faith to pray on our own, let us remember that we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous, praying for us. When the trials of life feel too heavy to bear, we must remember that Christ will come again in glory, the same glory in which he arose from the tomb, the same glory in which he ascended, and the same glory in which he currently abides. Though our limited perception might find him absent, he is fully present, participating in every moment of our lives. By His Ascension, Christ has not deserted us but has made it possible for the Holy Spirit to enter all times and places. In this way it is possible for each of us to be transformed by the power of the Spirit into agents or instruments of Christ. We become enlivened with the Holy Spirit. Our actions become animated in a new way by the Spirit of the God we love and serve. We have become Christs in the world.
5) We need to use the power of the ascended Lord in our lives: The ascended Lord is ready to use his power in our lives, our families, and our work places. He is ready to use his power when we are overcome with fear, worry, grief, and pain. Just before Jesus ascended to heaven he said, "I will be with you always, to the end of the age" (Matt 28:20). That means that Jesus not only has the power to be present in our lives as we come to terms with what is happening, but as Lord of lords and King of kings he has the power to do something about it.
When we learn that we have a serious health problem; when we hear the news that someone close to us has died; when we worry about money, our children, our job or lack of it; when we are upset, hurt, guilty, angry or depressed; when we have to make difficult decisions about the future; we are reminded that the ascended Jesus is close by and ready to use his power.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.