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For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/050717.cfm
I would guess that for most of us the words “sheep” and “shepherds,” evoke idyllic images of meadows, flowing waters and pleasant tranquility. The reality is, though, that sheep are not the cleanest of animals and they certainly aren’t very intelligent. And, at the time of Jesus, shepherds were not well paid and shepherding definitely was not an important job. In fact, shepherds were often looked on with suspicion, and were not accorded a great deal of respect. Despite this, in the Old Testament, the images of sheep and shepherds were often used to describe God’s relationship with his people. Jesus too, often used this image to describe his relationship to his disciples. This is certainly true this weekend as we celebrate the 4th Sunday of Easter. Each year in our three year cycle of readings, we always read from the 10th chapter of John’s Gospel on this weekend, and we always hear of sheep and shepherds.
In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus reminds us of four important things. 1. The sheep “hear the voice of the shepherd.” 2. The “shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” 3. The shepherd “walks ahead of them and the sheep follow him.” 4. “A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
In our first reading this Sunday, we continue to read from Peter’s speech on the first Pentecost. In the section we read today, Peter challenges his hearers to “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children.” The last sentence is important. It reminds us that God’s promise of salvation is universal and timeless.
For our second reading this Sunday we continue to read from the First Letter of Peter. In the section we read today, Peter reminds us that Jesus is our model in any sufferings. “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- In today’s world, do the images of sheep and shepherds still work to help us understand our relationship with God?
- What helps you to hear the voice of the shepherd?
- Why do some people better seem to bear “suffering” better than others?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/043017.cfm
Our Gospel reading for the Third Sunday of the season of Easter is the familiar and beautiful story of two of Jesus’ disciples encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus. We are told that these disciples were on their way to Emmaus “conversing about all the things that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.” As they walked along, Jesus “interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.” As they approached the village Jesus gave the impression that he was going further, but they urged him: “Stay with us……” Jesus then ate with them and as he took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them, “their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.” They then said to each other: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us.” Later, they recounted to the other disciples what had happened, and “how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
I believe the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus is really the story of every Christian. There are times as we journey through life when we are completely oblivious to Christ’s presence with us. Then we read or hear a scripture passage, or we come to the table of the Lord, and we discover anew Christ’s abiding presence and realize that he had been with us all along, though we failed to recognize his presence.
Our first reading this Sunday is again taken from the Acts of the Apostles. It describes the early Christian community. “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.”
Our second reading this weekend is from the first Letter of Saint Peter. Most likely this letter was written to Christians who were experiencing some unspecified trials. It reminded them that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection: “although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Has there been a time when --- in retrospect --- you realize Christ had been with you, even though you didn’t recognize it at the time?
- We believe that the Eucharist is the preeminent way that Christ is present to us. We also believe, though, that he is present when we read the scriptures. Additionally, we know that he is present where two or three are gathered in his name? Where else have you experienced Christ abiding presence?
- We know that the life of the early Christian community, as described in the Acts of the Apostles, didn’t last very long. Why do you think that is?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
Today we celebrate the Second Sunday of Easter, which is also known as Divine Mercy Sunday. Each year on the Second Sunday of Easter we read the story of Thomas ----- and his doubt. Now to be honest, I have always felt a great deal of sympathy for Thomas and have become somewhat of an apologist for him. Very specifically, I think Thomas got a bad deal in being stuck with the epithet “doubting” Thomas. I say this for three reasons. First, I think Thomas’ doubt really centered on the credibility of the other disciples. Stop and think about it. The other disciples couldn’t have been very effective witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection if they couldn’t convince Thomas --- whom they had been with for three years --- that Jesus had truly been raised from the dead. Second, I wonder if the other disciples might not have asked for the same proof Thomas did if Jesus hadn’t shown them “his hands and his side” when he first appeared to them. Finally, notice that it was Thomas who was the first disciple to put it all together and to give words to Easter faith: “My Lord and my God!” Given these things, while Thomas may not have been a model of faith, I think it is a bit harsh that for centuries he has had to bear the nickname: “doubting” Thomas.
Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Acts of the Apostles. Our first reading will be taken from the Acts of the Apostles throughout the Easter season. It is a description (perhaps a bit idealized) of the life of the earliest Christian community. The early disciples were dedicated to prayer, study and community living. They also “devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking break in their homes.” These last few words are an obvious reference to the Eucharist.
Our second reading this weekend is taken from the first Letter of Peter. In it Peter reminds his audience that because of Jesus Christ, they have an inheritance in heaven which is kept for them “although now for a little while you may have to suffer though various trials………..."
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. What would you say to someone who had doubts about the resurrection?
2. Why is it hard for us to live as the early Christians did in the first reading?
3. While I wholeheartedly believe that because of Jesus we have an inheritance in heaven, I don’t know that this is always comforting to someone who is suffering trials now. Is this an issue for you?
The experience of death and resurrection is universal. It occurs in every person and every community. Sometimes the “deaths” we experience are real and actual. More often, though, the “deaths” we experience aren’t actual deaths; rather they are death-like experiences, e.g. the loss of a job; the end of a relationship; the experience of physical limitations; the loss of a sense of security or belonging. In either case, though, they are painful, difficult to bear, and often take time to move through.
Sometimes the deaths we experience just happen. They aren’t our fault. We still need to acknowledge them, though, mourn them, and then begin anew. On the other hand, sometimes the deaths we experience are our fault. We screw up and a mess ensues. In that case, we need to acknowledge our fault, repent, dust ourselves off, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and try to fix what we messed up.
What happens, though, when we don’t think we have it in us to try to begin anew after a death-like experience? What do we do when we can’t easily fix things or make them better? In these cases, we need to honestly acknowledge our situation, accept the fact that there will be times when there is no good explanation as to why something happened, and move forward in faith.
How, though, do we move forward in faith after an experience that feels like death? Well, I believe we start with prayer. In and through our prayer we can experience God’s presence and love. In and through our prayer we can discover that we are not alone, that God is with us. And in and through our prayer we can open ourselves to God’s healing and strengthening grace. Now in saying this, we need to be clear that prayer may not change the situation, but it can and does change us. It can help us see things from a different perspective or in a new way.
Once we have experienced God’s grace then we need to
- hang on (coping & hoping)
- and continue to believe that a new dawn will come eventually—even when or even though it may not be the dawn we were planning on.
The Feast of Easter calls us to remember that our God is always offering us new life and hope in the midst of the sadness, sorrows, hurts, disappointments, trials, and pains we experience—the actual deaths, as well as the “little deaths” of this life. This new life enables us to continue when the way seems dark and uncertain. It allows us to live with the loss of our dreams. It gives us the ability to accept our human frailties and weaknesses and those of others. And it helps us to believe that after each death, the dawning of a new and glorious morning will occur. In essence this is the Paschal Mystery—that because of Jesus Christ—out of death comes new life and new hope. This is the message; this is the hope of Easter.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/041617.cfm
As a child, Easter meant only one thing: the end of Lent and a return to eating candy and other sweets. (Giving up sweets was the Lenten activity of “forced” choice in our family.) As I grown older, and especially now as an adult, I have come to appreciate Easter --- not just as the end of Lent --- but as much more. It is the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, his promise to abide with us always and his offer of eternal life to believers.
At the Mass of the Easter Vigil and at the Masses on Easter morning we always read one of the accounts of the finding of the empty tomb. In this regard, it is important to note that while all four Gospels, tell the story of the finding of the empty tomb and recount various resurrection appearances of Jesus, there are no accounts of the actual resurrection in any of the Gospels. The reason for this is that the resurrection is a divine event. It is not something that can be taken in by our human senses or consciousness. It is something believers experience only at the time of death when we come to know fully the promise and gift of eternal life.
The readings listed above are for the Mass on Easter Sunday morning. The first reading is a part of a speech by Peter. It is a brief synopsis of Jesus’ ministry and his ultimate death and resurrection. Peter reminds the people that: “He (Jesus) commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.” The second reading reminds us that: “When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.” Finally, the Gospel contains the account of the finding of the empty tomb by Mary of Magdala. We are told that: “she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and told them………...” They in turn ran to tomb and found it empty just as Mary had said.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- What helps you to believe in or hinders your belief in the resurrection?
- Where do you see evidence of Christ’s resurrection in the world --- in your community --- in your life?
- Why do some people have difficulty believing in the resurrection and the promise of eternal life?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040917.cfm
This Sunday we celebrate Palm Sunday, and the beginning of Holy Week. Each year on Palm Sunday we read one of the accounts of Jesus’ passion from the synoptic (Matthew, Mark, or Luke) Gospels. We read John’s account of the Passion on Good Friday. Since we are in the A cycle of our three year cycle of readings, this Sunday we read Matthew’s account of the Passion.
While all the Gospel writers tell the story of Jesus’ passion and death, each one does so from their own perspective. In his passion narrative Matthew includes details about Judas that aren’t included in Mark or Luke. Specifically, he mentions the exact payment Judas received for betraying Jesus, and Judas’ attempt to return that payment. Also, in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus refers to Judas as “friend” when Judas approaches to betray him. Additionally, at the Last Supper Matthew includes Jesus’ words that his blood will be shed “for the forgiveness of sins.” Also, since Matthew was written primarily for a Jewish audience, he includes Jesus’ statement that these events were unfolding so that the “Scriptures be fulfilled.” His Jewish audience probably would have understood this as a reference to the “servant of the Lord” mentioned in the prophet Isaiah, and the “righteous one” mentioned in the book of Wisdom. Another variant in Matthew’s passion narrative is that the chief priests and Pharisees ask that a guard be posted at Jesus’ tomb so that Jesus’ followers won’t be able to steal the body and claim that Jesus rose from the dead.
Perhaps the most significant element that is unique to Matthew, though, occurs when Pilot asked the crowd about the fate of Jesus. Specifically Matthew adds the verse that Jesus’ blood “should be upon us and on our children” (Mt. 27.25). Unfortunately through the centuries this verse (and others) have been used to suggest that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. This idea was definitively rejected by the Second Vatican Council in its document: “Nostra Aetate,” and more recently by Pope Benedict XVI in his book: “Jesus of Nazareth – Part II.”
The important and essential thing about Matthew’s passion narrative is that he saw Jesus’ suffering as the fulfillment of the scriptures and that Jesus was the Messiah promised by God.
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It is a part of the “Servant Songs.” The servant does the will of God, despite any suffering or hardship, and ultimately is vindicated by God.
Our second reading this Sunday is from the Letter of Paul to the Philippians. It is a hymn of praise to Christ who “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him………”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- As you read or listen to the passion, what stands out for you?
- In what way does Jesus’ passion challenge you?
- Why is it so hard for us to believe that because of Jesus Christ our sins are forgiven? Or perhaps the question really is: why is it so hard for us to accept this forgiveness?
While I’m embarrassed to admit it, every year as we head into the home stretch of Lent, I breathe an almost audible sigh of relief. I tell myself that once Lent is finally over, things can get back to normal. I can eat sweets again. I can have a glass of wine or a drink. I can cut back on the extra prayer time. And I won’t have to try to see Christ in all those people I encounter—especially the ones I find difficult or troublesome. Now as I type these words, I realize how foolish and insincere they sound. I take a small measure of comfort, though, in thinking that I am not the only one who feels this way.
Instead of breathing a sigh of relief as we head into the homestretch of Lent, however, perhaps instead it might be an opportune time for all of us to pause and consider how we have approached Lent thus far. Do we consider it an interruption of our otherwise comfortable life and normal routine, and once it is over we can go back to the way things were; or do we see it as a time to break old habits and/or try to develop new ones.
In regard to the above, more often than I care to admit I see Lent as a season to be endured, and not a time for spiritual growth and renewal. Too often, I consider the activities and practices of Lent as being strictly penitential and sometimes even punitive. While on the one hand I know this is the wrong way to approach Lent, on the other hand I have grown fond of the ruts I have gotten into. I don’t like having to do “extra” things or “give up” things during Lent. As the psalmist says: “My sin is before me always.” (Ps.51.5) to which I want to add: “and I’ve grown accustomed to my sins, and am not sure I want to try to change them.”
Now certainly the normal activities of our lives can make it difficult to maintain our Lenten practices and resolutions once Lent has come to an end. There are just so many things that demand our time and attention that it is hard to focus on other things. And it could also be argued that extending the practices and activities we have begun in Lent could cause us to not fully appreciate and celebrate the great joy of Easter. I think that there is a middle ground between simply going back to life as usual after Lent, and trying to preserve our Lenten practices and enshrine them in our lives.
For myself, that would probably mean not breathing a sigh of relief and saying a prayer of thanksgiving that Lent is almost over and I can go back to my normal routine. Instead it would mean not so much cutting out, but rather cutting back on desserts and alcohol. It would mean continuing to give more time to prayer. And it would mean trying to be more attuned to God’s presence in my life—especially in other people. In this regard, the key for me is to set goals for myself that are realistic and achievable. I think this is true for all of us.
If we are open to it, Lent can be a time of great grace for us. It gives us an opportunity to evaluate our lives and ask what we need to do to grow closer to God. Certainly this involves works of charity, as well as penitential acts and additional prayer. And while we may not be able to carry all of our Lenten practices forward after Lent comes to an end, perhaps we can choose a couple that we can try to work into the routine of our lives. The important thing, though, is that we make the effort. And if we fail—well there is always Lent next year.
For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040217.cfm
This Sunday we celebrate the 5th Sunday of the season of Lent. Our Gospel for this Sunday is the familiar story of Lazarus being raised from the dead. Despite the familiarity of this story, there are a couple of intriguing details that defy easy explanation. 1. If Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary, why then, when Jesus learned of Lazarus’ illness, did he not immediately go to him instead of “remaining for two days in the place where he was.”? 2. Also, after Jesus’ saw Martha and Mary weeping and the Jews who had come with them weeping why did: “He became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, ‘’Where have you laid him’”. What caused him to be perturbed and troubled? Any responses to these questions are at best educated guesses. What we do know from the story, though, is very important. Specifically this story reminds us that Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth --- and he has promised eternal life to all those who believe in him. His words are clear: “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
In regard to this Gospel, there is one more thing to note. When Lazarus was raised from the dead, he returned to this life. The story of Lazarus is the story of a resuscitation, not a resurrection story.
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel. In the section we read this Sunday, the Israelites are in captivity in Babylon. In this terrible situation Ezekiel reminds the Israelites that God will restore them --- not because they deserve it, but rather as a sign of God’s sovereignty. "I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon the land, thus you shall know that I am the Lord. I have promised, and I will do it, says the Lord.”
Our second reading this Sunday is taken from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans. In the section we read this Sunday Paul reminds the people that “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, though his Spirit dwelling in you.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- While we don’t know what the resurrected life will be like, we do know that it is not the same as a resuscitated life. What’s your conception of the resurrected life?
- Jesus called Lazarus to come forth from the tomb. Where is Christ calling you to come out of a tomb?
- What do you think Paul meant when he talked about the Spirit of God dwelling in us?
For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032617.cfm
My mother’s father (my grandpa Degnan) went blind about 20 years before he died. He accepted his blindness so well, that it was never an issue. It was just a part of who he was. In fact, it wasn’t until around 2nd or 3rd grade that I that I realized that not everyone had a grandfather who was blind.
I always think of my grandfather when I read today’s Gospel. In that Gospel, for the 4th Sunday of Lent, Jesus healed a man “blind from birth.” Unfortunately, since Jesus had healed the blind man on a Sabbath, some of the Pharisees criticized Jesus because “This man is not from God, because he does not keep the Sabbath.” Others, however, said: “How can a sinful man do such signs?” As a result, “there was division among them.” In an effort to resolve the issue the Pharisees asked the blind man about Jesus. He responded: “he is a prophet.” The Pharisees (or at least some of them) obviously didn’t like his answer because they replied: “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” (At the time of Jesus, misfortune or hardship were thought to be a punishment from God for some personal sin or the sin of one’s relatives.) “Then they threw him out.” When Jesus heard what happened he sought out the blind man and informed him that he was the “Son of Man.” We are told that the blind man then worshiped Jesus.
Our first reading this weekend is taken from the first book of Samuel. In it Samuel is sent to “Jesse of Bethlehem for I have chosen my king from among his sons.” Jesse then brought seven of his sons before Samuel, but the Lord rejected all of them. Then Samuel asked Jesse: “Are these all the sons you have?” Eventually David, the youngest son, who was tending sheep, was presented. The Lord said: “There --- anoint him, for this is the one!”
The message of both the Gospel and the first reading is clear. God “sees” things differently than we do.
Our second reading this weekend is taken from the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians. In it Paul urges the people of Ephesus to “Live as children of the light………”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- In the New Testament, physical blindness if often a metaphor for spiritual blindness. Can you recall a time when you were spiritually blind? How did you come to see?
- Has someone or something ever caused you to see things in a new way or to see things from God’s perspective?
- What do you think Paul meant when he invited people to live as children of the light?
In life there are no “do overs.” There are no rewind buttons. And we can’t erase the tape or record over it. We can’t undo the past. This is particularly true in regard to mistakes or missteps we have made. Given this, I suspect we all live with a regret or two, and perhaps some misgivings about the past. But mentally rerunning scenes from the past or replaying old tapes is not healthy. It can take a toll on us physically, emotionally and spiritually. At a certain point, for our own health and well being, we need to let go of our regrets, push the reset button, and move forward in faith and hope.
Now, the above is not to suggest that we should try to forget any mistakes or missteps from the past, or worse, pretend they didn’t occur. As George Santayana famously said; “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” However, it is one thing to remember the past so that we don’t repeat it, and quite another to live in the land of regret and remorse. That is an arid and lifeless land and is spiritually deadening.
When we find ourselves brooding over past failings we need to push the reset button and start anew. Lent is a great time to do this. It is a time when we can acknowledge the sins and failings of our past, push the spiritual reset button, and open ourselves to God’s grace. The ways we do this are many and varied. However, prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the traditional disciplines of Lent that can help us push the reset button on our spiritual lives. Another, good way to do this, though, is in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Now to be honest, people are not coming to confession in the numbers they did in the past. And certainly people haven’t always had good experiences in the confessional. I don’t believe, though, that these things negate the beauty and the power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation we are reminded that there is no sin too great as to be beyond the power of God’s grace and forgiveness. When we come to the Sacrament of Reconciliation we bring our faults, our failings, and our sins to God, and ask for God’s forgiveness. And because God loves us with a love that is beyond belief and without reason, we know and believe that our sins are forgiven, we are given pardon and peace, and we are offered the grace we need to start anew.
It would be easy to let the “regret ghosts” of the past haunt us and hold us bound. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, though, we have the opportunity to be set free from the past and start anew. God’s grace has the power to free us from the should-haves, could-haves, might-haves of the past. We have only to open our heart to that grace, and God will do the rest.