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“Don’t worry, Be happy” was the title of a song made popular several years ago by Bobby McFerrin. From my rather biased perspective the lyrics of this song were just this side of insipid. They encouraged a relaxed “don’t worry about anything” attitude without offering a reason why we shouldn’t worry. A superficial reading of today’s Gospel could give one the impression that Jesus is advocating a similar approach to life when he told his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” The fact is though, that Jesus tells us not to let our hearts be troubled because he is “the way, the truth and the life” and he is “going to prepare a place for us”, so that he “ will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”
Jesus goes on to tell us the reason we can trust his words is because “The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves.” Jesus is clear that if we have trouble believing his words, his works should convince us to trust in him and not let our hearts be troubled.
We continue reading from the Acts of the Apostles for our first reading this Sunday. As the early community of disciples continued to grow, “the twelve” didn’t think it was right “to neglect the word of God to serve at table.” They suggested that the community “select from among you seven reputable men, filled with Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task,” We identify these men as the first deacons in the early church.
Again this Sunday our second reading is taken from the first Letter of Saint Peter. In the section we read this Sunday, Paul reminds us that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
Questions for Discussion/Reflection:
1. When has your heart been troubled?
2. Did your faith help you to find peace when your heart was troubled?
3. Have you ever thought of yourself and being “chosen?”
A few weeks ago, I texted a friend of mine to ask how his mother was doing. She had some surgery and had experienced some complications after surgery. He texted back that his mom was doing great. In his text message he went on to say: “God is so good. He has bedbugs (sic) so good to her and our entire family.” Now I was pretty sure that he meant to type that “God has been so good to her and their entire family,” but I texted him back just to be sure. He claimed he was a victim of his phone’s autocorrect program, and having myself fallen prey to autocorrect, I could certainly understand how that could happen.
When you are typing fast, and if you have chubby fingers, it is easy to mistype a word. And with autocorrect, you may not even realize your error unless you proofread your message before you send it. Most of the time, when I am sending a text or an email, because I know what I intend to say, I just expect it to be there. I have been surprised on more than one occasion, though, when I mistyped a word, that autocorrect had changed it to a word I hadn’t intended. And in most cases the new word had changed what I intended to say.
I would guess that 95% of the time autocorrect is a good thing. It can save time and effort in our communication efforts when we don’t have to go back and correct typos. Occasionally, though, it can be problematic, especially when a mistyped word is changed by autocorrect into something we didn’t intend, as was the case with my friend’s text message. This experience has been a good reminder to me to always proofread my texts and emails before sending them.
While there are times when autocorrect can change the meaning we intended, we are fortunate that we don’t have to worry about this in regard to our prayer. As we are reminded in Psalm 139, “Before a word is on my tongue, behold O Lord, you know the whole of it.” (Ps. 139:4) Having created us, our God knows us better than we know ourselves. God knows our needs, our wants, our heartaches, our joys, our sadness, our sorrows, our every thought. In prayer we don’t have to worry that we will get it wrong, and/or that God won’t understand what it is we are trying to say. God knows what is on our mind and in our heart without our ever having to give voice to it. Knowing this, we need to trust that the God who loved us into existence, will continue to hold us in that love regardless of the words we use in our prayer.
It is very comforting for me to know that on those days when I’m a bit tongue-tied or the words don’t come out as I want, that God knows and understands my prayer. I don’t need to worry that anything will change the meaning or intent of my prayer. This is true for all of us. Before ever a word is on our tongue, God knows the whole of our prayer. And while God does not always answer our prayer in the way we had anticipated or hoped, God does hear our prayers, and will always give us the grace we need in our lives.
To find this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
The fourth Sunday of Easter is often called Good Shepherd Sunday because in our three year cycle of readings the Gospels for these Sundays taken from the 10th Chapter of John’s Gospel in which Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd.
In the section of John’s Gospel we read this weekend, Jesus reminds us that the Good Shepherd enters through the gate, and “the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…………. He walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.” Later in the Gospel Jesus says: “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved……………. I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
Clearly Jesus was reminding us that it is in listening for his voice and in following him we will find our salvation.
In our first reading this Sunday from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear Peter exhort the people: “Repent and be baptized, everyone 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.” We are told that “those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.”
Our second reading this Sunday is taken from the first Letter of Saint Peter. Peter’s words continue the theme of the Gospel. “For you have gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. What helps you to listen for the voice of the shepherd?
2. What do you think Jesus meant when he said that he came that we might have life and have it more abundantly?
3. Have you ever “gone astray?” What helped you to return to the shepherd?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/050414.cfm
Our Gospel this weekend is the beautiful story of two of Jesus’ disciples encountering the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus. We are told that initially they didn’t recognize him. He walked with them, though, and talked with them and “interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.” When “he gave the impression that he was gong on farther, they urged him: ‘Stay with us,” And “while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.” The disciples then made their way to Jerusalem “where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them…………….Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
I’d like to suggest that the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus is really all of our stories. There are times when Jesus walks with us on our journey of life, but for some reason we are not able to recognize him. Then something happens and our eyes are opened and we realize that Jesus has indeed been with us all along. Those moments of insight and recognition don’t occur as often as I would like, but the memory of them helps me to believe that Jesus is always with me ---- even and perhaps especially at those times when, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, I am experiencing some turmoil or confusion.
In our first reading this weekend from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter boldly proclaims Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of the Holy Spirit. “Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured him forth as you see and hear.”
Our second reading this weekend is from the first Letter of Saint Peter. In it Peter reminds us that we “were ransomed from your futile conduct, handled on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, have you ever suddenly discovered Christ’s presence with you?
2. What helped you to recognize/realize Christ’s presence?
3. The disciples on the road to Emmaus couldn’t wait to share their experience of the risen Lord with the other disciples. Have you shared your experience of Christ with anyone?
Please click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser for this Sunday’s readings:
Poor Thomas. Each year on the Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday) we read the account of his doubting that Jesus had been raised from the dead and had appeared to the other disciples while he was absent. As a result, over the years he has come to be known as “doubting Thomas.”
Now I have to admit, I have a grudging respect for Thomas. And as a result, each year I feel compelled to offer a defense of him. I base my defense on three things. 1. I believe the witness of the other disciples wasn’t nearly as strong as it could have been. Think about it for a minute. The disciples had been with Jesus for three years. And yet they couldn’t convince Thomas they had seen the risen Lord. It seems to me that if their witness was a little more compelling, perhaps they could have convinced Thomas. 2. When Jesus first appeared to his disciples we are told that after he had greeted them “He showed them his hands and his side.” Jesus must have known that his disciples would need to see some kind of physical proof before they would believe he had risen from the dead. Thomas was asking for no more than what the other disciples had already been given. 3. When Jesus appeared a week later he invited Thomas to put his finger in the nail wounds and his hand in his side. Thomas, though, didn’t do this. Instead he was the first to give voice to Easter faith: “My Lord and my God.” The other disciples had a whole week to think about their encounter with the risen Lord, but none of them had put it all together in a clear, concise, and dramatic statement of faith.
Given the above, I think Thomas deserves to be “rehabilitated” or at least to lose the nickname: “doubting Thomas.”
Our first reading this Sunday is from the Acts of the Apostles. It speaks of the life of 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.”
In our second reading this Sunday, from the first Letter of Saint Peter, we are reminded that because of Jesus’ resurrection we have been given “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. Do you think Thomas deserves the nickname: “doubting Thomas”?
2. How would you try to convince someone of Jesus’ resurrection?
3. Is it more difficult for modern day Christians to devote themselves to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to prayer than it was for the early Christians? Why or why not?
A few weeks ago I updated the instructions for my funeral. It definitely was time to do this, as a few of the priests I had suggested as homilists have left ministry to marry. Now please don’t worry or start celebrating, I am not sick and/or dying. Rather, priests of our Archdiocese are asked to plan their funeral so that if we should die suddenly there is clarity about our wishes and intent. It also helps our families who would otherwise be left with the unenviable task of trying to figure out what we would want in regard to our funeral. I think my instructions are fairly simple and when the time comes, I hope they will be honored. I just hope Johan can find the elephants for the procession on short notice.
It is a sobering task to plan one’s funeral. And I did shed a few tears in the process. If the truth be told, however, there was also a certain “rightness” to this task. It was very faith affirming. I say this because it reminded me that while funerals are a celebration of a person’s life, they are also — and from my perspective more importantly — an affirmation of our faith. For our faith calls us to believe that death is not the end; that because of Jesus Christ the promise and gift of eternal life is offered to all believers.
In one of the Prefaces (the prayer that leads into the Holy, Holy, Holy) for the Mass of Christian burial we hear the words: “Indeed for your faithful, Lord, life is changed, not ended, and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven.” I like the idea that at the time of death “life is changed, not ended.” For me this speaks powerfully not just of our belief in eternal life, but in the idea of the “communion of saints” —our belief in our fellowship in Christ, not only among us believers here on earth, but also between us and those who have died marked with the sign of faith. We don’t lose those who have died; rather our relationship with them takes on another dimension as we now share the life of Christ with them in a new way.
Certainly the time of death is a time of sadness and sorrow as we mourn the loss of someone who was a part of our lives. For believers, though, because of our belief in the promise of eternal life, it is also a time of hope and faith. On this great Feast of Easter as we remember and celebrate Christ’s resurrection, we also remember and celebrate his promise of eternal life which he offers to all those who believe in and seek to follow him. For it is the promise of eternal life that gives us comfort and consolation at the time of death, and hope as we continue our lives in faith.
For the Readings for Easter Sunday click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser
As a child, Easter meant only one thing to me ----- the end of Lent and a return to eating candy and other sweets. (Giving up candy was the Lenten activity of “forced” choice in our family.) As I grew 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 offer of eternal life to believers, and his promise to abide with us always.
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 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:
1. What helps you to believe in or hinders your belief in the resurrection?
2. Where do you see evidence of Christ’s resurrection in the world --- in your community --- in your life?
3. Why do some people have difficulty believing in the resurrection and the promise of eternal life?
Click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser for this Sunday’s readings:
Each year on Palm (Passion) Sunday we read one of the accounts of Jesus’ passion and death. Since we are in year A of our three year cycle of readings, this year we read Matthew’s account of the Passion.
While each of the evangelists tells the story of Christ’s passion, each one does it from their own perspective. For example, Matthew saw and portrayed Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. Further, in Matthew’s account, Jesus’ disciples didn’t come across very well. Not only did they fall asleep during Jesus’ agony in the garden, but they also deserted him. And Peter’s denial of Christ was accompanied by cursing and swearing. Another element unique to Matthew is a more detailed account of Judas’ betrayal and his tragic end. Finally, in Matthew’s account, the Chief priests and Pharisees requested that Pilot help them make sure Jesus’ disciples do not steal Jesus’ body and then later claim that he had been raised from the dead.
Perhaps the most important element that is unique to Matthew, though, occurs when Pilot asked the crowd about the fate of Jesus. Specifically Matthew added 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,”
Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It is part of the third of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant Songs. In the last four verses of the passage we read this Sunday remind us of the Servant’s trust in God’s ultimate vindication. Certainly this was Jesus’ stance during his passion and death “The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.”
Our second reading this weekend is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians. It is a hymn of praise to Jesus Christ, who “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with god something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself………”
Questions for reflection and/discussion:
1. As you reflect on Jesus’ passion, what part stands out for you?
2 Are you challenged in any way by Jesus’ passion?
3. Jesus was able to trust in God the Father, even in his suffering and death. What helps you to trust in God?
Click on the link below or copy and past it into your browser for this Sunday’s readings:
We often read the story of the raising of Lazarus at funerals. The reason for this is that Jesus’ words in this Gospel: “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.” contain the promise and hope of eternal life. These words remind us that this present life is not the end. Because of Jesus Christ, because of his life, death and resurrection, those who believe in and seek to follow him will come to share in the life he has won for us.
Where there are several things in this Gospel that are worth commenting on, from my perspective two things in particular deserve comment. The first, is Martha’s reaction to Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would never have died.” I believe, these words are --- at least initially --- a very human reaction when something bad happens. We wonder where God was and why the bad thing happened. When we move beyond this initial reaction, though, we are able to reaffirm our belief that God is with us even, and perhaps especially, in the difficulties and trials we encounter in this life. The second thing in this Gospel that deserves comment is a clarification that the raising of Lazarus from the dead is a resuscitation, not a resurrection. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ we are given the promise of a new and eternal life, not just a return to this life.
In our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel. In the section we read this Sunday God assured the people that, despite the destruction of the Temple, God had not abandoned God’s covenant with them and ultimately would restore them: “Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people!”
Our second reading this Sunday is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans. In the passage we read this Sunday, Paul reminds us 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, through his Spirit dwelling in you.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. Why does belief in eternal life come so easily for some people and not at all for others?
2. How would you explain eternal life to someone who didn’t believe in it?
3. How do you know when the “Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead” dwells in you?
There is an old axiom in our church that you shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. While these words are often used when activities and plans were not as successful as one had hoped, I think they can also be applied to our lives as Christians. All too often I think we use perfection as our model for the Christian life, and when we fail to live up to that standard we feel bad about ourselves and may give up trying to do better and be better.
I don’t believe that is a good way to operate. What I would suggest instead is that we use “growth,” not “perfection,” as the model for our lives as Christians. By this I mean that we need to ask ourselves on a regular basis: “Am I growing in my spiritual life? Am I a better person today than I was a year ago, or five years ago or ten years ago?” I think these are the key questions for anyone who takes their spiritual life seriously. If we can see growth occurring in our spiritual lives, we know we are on the right track.
Now this does not mean that our spiritual lives are always on the ascendancy. Rather I would guess that for most of us our spiritual lives look a little bit like the stock market. There are ups and downs, but there is also a “trend line” that marks continual improvement. It is easy to become somewhat discouraged when we are experiencing a down period in our spiritual lives. This feeling is worsened, I believe, when we use “perfection” as the model for the Christian life. When we use “growth” as the model, though, while occasionally we can still become discouraged, we also know that as there have been, so there will continue to be peaks in our spiritual life—times when our prayer is good and we feel close to God.
It would be great if there were never any lulls or lows in our spiritual life. Over the years, though, in talking with a variety of people, I have come to realize that the lulls and lows are part of everyone’s spiritual life. (There may be some exceptions to this, but I suspect there aren’t many. Even the great saints had some low spots on their spiritual journey.) If we can accept the lulls and lows as simply part of the spiritual journey, I believe we will be less apt to give up trying to do better and be better, and more apt to hang in there and keep trying.
Continuing to grow in our spiritual lives isn’t always easy and at times can be frustrating. The challenge is to take the long view and see where growth has taken place and continues to take place in our spiritual lives. Certainly there may be ups and downs, but I’m willing to bet that for all of us there is a “trend line” that reminds us that the effort is well worth it.